Archive for August 13th, 2010

Pakistan Fight Stalls for U.S.

By Julian Barnes for The Wall Street Journal

The U.S. military has stopped lobbying Pakistan to help root out one of the biggest militant threats to coalition forces in Afghanistan, U.S. officials say, acknowledging that the failure to win better help from Islamabad threatens to damage a linchpin of their Afghan strategy.

Until recently, the U.S. had been pressing Islamabad to launch major operations against the Haqqani network, a militant group connected to al Qaeda that controls a key border region where U.S. defense and intelligence officials believe Osama bin Laden has hidden.

The group has been implicated in the Dec. 30 bombing of a CIA base in Khost, a January assault on Afghan government ministries and a luxury hotel in Kabul, and in the killing of five United Nations staffers in last year’s raid on a U.N. guesthouse.

But military officials have decided that pressing Pakistan for help against the group—as much as it is needed—is counterproductive.

U.S. officials believe elements of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, are continuing to protect the Haqqani network to help it retain influence in Afghanistan once the U.S. military eventually leaves the country. U.S. officials say the support includes housing, intelligence and even strategic planning,

During a trip to Pakistan last month, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, chose not to raise the issue of an offensive against the Haqqani network—a departure from the message U.S. defense officials delivered earlier this year.

The U.S. also had intensified the pressure for Pakistani operations in North Waziristan in May after the attempted bombing of New York’s Times Square was linked to militants in Pakistan.

Pakistan officials reject the U.S. conclusions about their efforts. They say they are taking significant action against militants in North Waziristan. They say their intelligence service has severed all ties with the Haqqani network. Islamabad points to a series of surgical strikes the Pakistani military has executed in North Waziristan, and say they have ratcheted up those efforts in recent months in a precursor toward more aggressive moves.

Pakistan’s operations complement a Central Intelligence Agency drone campaign targeting militants in North Waziristan, a Pakistani official said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates praised the Pakistani effort to rout al Qaeda and other militants from Swat and South Waziristan. “Are they doing a lot to help us? The answer is yes,” Mr. Gates said Thursday.

U.S. officials acknowledged the recent Pakistani operations, but discounted their value against the Haqqani network.

A U.S. defense official said that most of the raids have been against the Pakistani Taliban, a militant group that poses no direct threat to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, but opposes the Pakistani government.

Pakistan has failed to act on detailed intelligence about the Haqqanis provided in recent months, said a senior military official. “Our forces have put a significant dent in the Haqqani network,” said the official. “It would be good if the [Pakistanis] would do the same on their side.”

U.S. officials say they have concluded that making more demands, public or private, on Islamabad to start a military offensive against the Haqqani network will only strain U.S.-Pakistani relations.

The Haqqani network has decades-long ties with al Qaeda leaders that date back to their days of fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan prior to al Qaeda’s formation.

The network now is believed to provide al Qaeda with protection, shelter and support in North Waziristan. The group’s historic base is in Afghanistan’s Khost province and it remains the most potent insurgent force in the eastern part of the country and is closely aligned with the Taliban.

The number of al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan is thought to be very small, under 100; Haqqani network fighters number in the thousands.

The U.S. shift partly is in recognition that the Pakistanis simply may not have the military capacity to expand operations enough to secure the North Waziristan area, one U.S. official acknowledged.

Pakistani efforts in North Waziristan so far are too small to have a significant impact, said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst who headed the Obama administration’s first review of U.S. policy toward Afghan and Pakistan.

“It is mostly show to keep the Americans happy,” he said.

In the wake of Pakistan’s recent flooding, U.S. officials also are concerned the Pakistanis may ratchet back counterterrorism operations as they redeploy troops to help respond to a burgeoning humanitarian crisis.

U.S. defense officials now argue the only way to convince Pakistan to take action in North Waziristan is to weaken the Haqqani network so much that Pakistan sees little value in maintaining an alliance with the group—though they acknowledge that will be harder without Pakistani help.

The U.S. military has stepped up its own operations against the Haqqani network since April, and most significantly in the last two weeks, according to military officials. Strikes have significantly reduced the Haqqani network’s ability to mount attacks in Kabul and outside their traditional tribal areas of eastern Afghanistan, said senior U.S. military officials.

In eastern Afghanistan, a task force of elite troops assigned to target the Haqqani network conducted 19 operations in April, 11 in May, 20 in June and 23 in July. The high pace continued in the first week of August with seven operations.

The Haqqanis threatened to disrupt an international conference in Kabul last month, but were not able to make good on the threat.

U.N. Appeals for Pakistan Aid as Rains Threaten More Flooding

By Saeed Shah for The McClatchy Newspapers

The United Nations appealed Wednesday for $459 million in emergency aid for Pakistan as fresh monsoon rains raised fears that new flooding could drive more people from their homes, deepening the humanitarian catastrophe.

Storms lashed the mountainous northwest, close to the border with Afghanistan, and the northeastern Gilgit region, swelling rivers that empty into the central Indus River before it reaches the city of Sukkur in southern Sindh province, which already is full of people displaced from surrounding areas.

More flooding would prevent vital repairs to Indus River embankments and dikes that protect farmland, allowing water to spread even further when the fresh flows reach Sukkur sometime next week, officials warned.

“Once this peak passes, another flood is being formed in the mountains and then a third,” Sindh’s irrigation minister, Saifullah Dharejo, said in an interview. “If we cannot plug the breaches (in the embankments), the water will keep expanding out.”

“This is a grave situation,” he said.

Sindh is now the focus of the worst floods in Pakistan’s history. They reached the province after washing down the Indus River Valley, powered by unusually fierce monsoon rains that began in northern areas of the country some three weeks ago.

The deluge has left a trail of devastation, destroying roads, bridges and other infrastructure and overwhelming the government’s ability to cope. It’s affected some 14 million people, of whom an estimated 1,600 have been killed and about 2 million left homeless.

The overwhelmingly Muslim country of 170 million, a key U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism, already had been struggling to cope with an economic crisis and Islamic militants allied with al-Qaida when the disaster hit.

The United Nations appealed Wednesday for emergency aid, warning that even those who had been saved from drowning were threatened with sickness and hunger.

“If we don’t act fast enough, many more people could die,” John Holmes, the U.N. humanitarian aid chief, said in New York. He called the disaster “one of the most challenging that any country has faced in recent years.”

In Sukkur, the head of Sindh’s provincial government, Qaim Ali Shah, dismissed the amount of international aid pledged so far as “peanuts.”

The U.S. will be beefing up its assistance to the relief effort with 19 helicopters from the U.S.S. Peleliu, an amphibious assault vessel that is deploying off the Pakistani port city of Karachi, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced Wednesday in Tampa, Fla. The helicopters will be used to distribute food aid and ferry displaced people.

The ship’s aircraft will replace six U.S. military helicopters that were diverted from missions in Afghanistan.

At the Sukkur Barrage, 1.13 million cubic feet of water per second was rushing through the 66 gates of the mile-wide flood-control barrier, which the former British colonial government built on the Indus River in 1932.

Experts think that the flooding at Sukkur probably will ebb Thursday, but with more rain falling in the north, the water will remain high and the next onslaught of flooding could push it even higher, they said.

“Rainfall (in the north) takes about a week to reach Sukkur,” said Muzammil Qureshi, a retired engineer formerly in charge of irrigation for Sindh. “All five rivers converge before Sukkur.”

The onslaught has burst dike banks, drowning hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland in Sindh alone.

Only from the air do the scale of the disaster and the remoteness of the affected villages become apparent.

A McClatchy Newspapers reporter toured the region around Sukkur on a Pakistani army helicopter and saw mile after mile of water, swamp-like in some places, like the open sea in others. Thatched roofs and the tops of trees rose above the water. The outlines of abandoned villages were just visible beneath the surface.

The helicopter pilots had been diverted from battling Taliban militants in the Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan. Around 60,000 Pakistani troops are participating in rescue efforts, raising concerns about the country’s anti-terrorism campaign.

When the helicopter swooped low, it became apparent that there were people struggling to survive in the watery landscape, marooned in dozens of villages on slightly raised ground. Women, men and children could be seen in waist-high water, their buffaloes wallowing in groups.

Hundreds of people had taken refuge on raised embankments, built to hold irrigation channels or dirt roads, but they were stranded without food or shelter from the ferocious sun. Goats, donkeys and trunks of possessions kept them company.

While the military continues to rescue people, many others are refusing to leave their villages, hoping for the water to recede. However, the fresh onslaught that’s on its way from the north could make survival all but impossible.

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