Posts Tagged ‘ International Security Assistance Force ’

Afghan Village Massacre Will Compound US Problem

By Amin Saikal for The Sydney Morning Herald

US forces are stumbling from one disaster to another in Afghanistan. The latest is the killing of at least 16 Afghan civilians by an American soldier in Kandahar province, the spiritual seat of the Taliban.

It comes shortly after the American burning of copies of the Koran that set off a week of riots across Afghanistan in which some 30 Afghans were killed. This latest incident is set to heighten anti-American sentiment in the country, with serious repercussions for the international forces and their Afghan partners.

President Barack Obama and the commander of the International Security Assistance Force, General John Allen, have profusely apologised and promised an immediate investigation. The perpetrator is described as a rogue soldier, who recently had a nervous breakdown. This is unlikely to placate many Afghans, especially in the ethnic Pashtun-dominated areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the Taliban-led insurgency is at its peak. Nor will it deter the Taliban from capitalising on the incident to once again castigate the US and its allies as infidel occupiers, and the Karzai government as their stooge.

It is also bound to add to the complexity of the new strategic partnership that Washington and Kabul are currently negotiating to establish the parameters for US military-security involvement in Afghanistan after the US and its allies have withdrawn most of their troops from Afghanistan by 2014. While Karzai will find it expedient to become more demanding in the negotiations to show that he is not an American lackey, the Obama administration may need to make more concessions to Karzai, despite the fact that he has proved to be an incompetent and untrustworthy partner, who has continued to preside over a corrupt and dysfunctional government for more than a decade.

Rogue actions in conflicts are not unusual. There were many during the Vietnam War and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The present US-led military involvement in Afghanistan has not been free of them either. An American soldier has just been convicted of premeditated murder of three Afghans two years ago.

American and ISAF troops have also been killed by rogue Afghan soldiers for one reason or another. However, what makes the latest incident alarming is that it has been enacted by a soldier who had a nervous breakdown, and yet was still on duty. He committed a massacre in a zone of insurgency where the Taliban had not been active for six months. Inhabitants across the region now will become more receptive to the Taliban than ever before.

All this does not augur well for a smooth withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, and the current efforts by Washington, and, for that matter, the Karzai government, to reach a political settlement with the Taliban as part of the US-led NATO exit strategy. As the anti-US and anti-Karzai government feelings escalate, the more they will play into the hands of the Taliban and their supporters, most importantly Pakistan’s notorious military intelligence, ISI, to drive a hard bargain. The Taliban and ISI have never found the situation more conducive to their belief that the final victory is ultimately theirs. All they now need to do is await the substantial drawdown of foreign troops and further ineffectiveness and humiliation of the Karzai government. As one Taliban commander joked: ”We have the time and the Americans have the watch.”

It is most unfortunate that after some $450 billion in military expenditure, more than $60 billion in reconstruction costs, and 3000 foreign troops, mostly American, killed, and thousands of Afghans sacrificed, stability, security and good governance still elude most Afghans. The biggest question that will confront the US and its allies by 2014 is: what was that all about?

If it was for the purpose of destroying al-Qaeda and its harbourers, the Taliban, this objective has not been achieved. Osama bin Laden is dead, as are many of his ranking operatives, but the network remains operative, especially in Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia. As for the Taliban, the US now wants to negotiate a political deal with the militia.

If it was for rebuilding and securing Afghanistan, this goal is nowhere near fruition. The country continues to teeter on the verge of the return of the Taliban to power and civil war, with the prospects of Afghanistan’s neighbours intensifying their scramble for influence.

Amin Saikal is professor of political science and director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University and the author ofย Modern Afghanistan.

Pakistan Stops NATO Supplies After Deadly Raid

By Shams Momand for Reuters

NATO helicopters and fighter jets attacked two military outposts in northwest Pakistan Saturday, killing as many as 28 troops and plunging U.S.-Pakistan relations deeper into crisis.

Pakistan shut down NATO supply routes into Afghanistan – used for sending in nearly half of the alliance’s land shipments – in retaliation for the worst such incident since Islamabad uneasily allied itself with Washington following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

Islamabad also said it had ordered the United States to vacate a drone base in the country, but a senior U.S. official said Washington had received no such request and noted that Pakistan had made similar eviction threats in the past, without following through.

NATO and U.S. officials expressed regret about the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers, indicating the attack may have been an error; but the exact circumstances remained unclear.

“Senior U.S. civilian and military officials have been in touch with their Pakistani counterparts from Islamabad, Kabul and Washington to express our condolences, our desire to work together to determine what took place, and our commitment to the U.S.-Pakistan partnership which advances our shared interests, including fighting terrorism in the region,” said White House national security council spokesman Tommy Vieter.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar spoke by telephone, as did General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

The NATO-led force in Afghanistan confirmed that NATO aircraft had probably killed Pakistani soldiers in an area close to the Afghan-Pakistani border.

“Close air support was called in, in the development of the tactical situation, and it is what highly likely caused the Pakistan casualties,” said General Carsten Jacobson, spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

He added he could not confirm the number of casualties, but ISAF was investigating. “We are aware that Pakistani soldiers perished. We don’t know the size, the magnitude,” he said.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said the killings were “an attack on Pakistan’s sovereignty,” adding: “We will not let any harm come to Pakistan’s sovereignty and solidarity.”

Pakistan’s Foreign Office said it would take up the matter “in the strongest terms” with NATO and the United States, while army chief Kayani said steps would be taken to respond “to this irresponsible act.”

“A strong protest has been launched with NATO/ISAF in which it has been demanded that strong and urgent action be taken against those responsible for this aggression.”

Two military officials said up to 28 troops had been killed and 11 wounded in the attack on the outposts, about 2.5 km (1.5 miles) from the Afghan border. The Pakistani military said 24 troops were killed and 13 wounded.

The attack took place around 2 a.m. (2100 GMT) in the Baizai area of Mohmand, where Pakistani troops are fighting Taliban militants. Across the border is Afghanistan’s Kunar province, which has seen years of heavy fighting.

“Pakistani troops effectively responded immediately in self-defense to NATO/ISAF’s aggression with all available weapons,” the Pakistani military statement said.

The commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, General John R. Allen, offered his condolences to the families of Pakistani soldiers who “may have been killed or injured.”

Dempsey’s spokesman, Colonel David Lapan, could not confirm the closure of the Pakistani border crossing to trucks carrying supplies for ISAF forces. However, he noted that “if true, we have alternate routes we can use, as we have in the past.”

POORLY MARKED

Around 40 troops were stationed at the outposts, military sources said. Two officers were reported among the dead. “They without any reasons attacked on our post and killed soldiers asleep,” said a senior Pakistani officer, requesting anonymity.

The border is often poorly marked, and Afghan and Pakistani maps have differences of several kilometres in some places, military officials have said.

However, Pakistani military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said NATO had been given maps of the area, with Pakistani military posts identified.

“When the other side is saying there is a doubt about this, there is no doubt about it. These posts have been marked and handed over to the other side for marking on their maps and are clearly inside Pakistani territory.”

The incident occurred a day after Allen met Kayani to discuss border control and enhanced cooperation.

A senior military source told Reuters that after the meeting that set out “to build confidence and trust, these kind of attacks should not have taken place.”

BLOCKED SUPPLIES

Pakistan is a vital land route for nearly half of NATO supplies shipped overland to its troops in Afghanistan, a NATO spokesman said. Land shipments account for about two thirds of the alliance’s cargo shipments into Afghanistan.

Hours after the raid, NATO supply trucks and fuel tankers bound for Afghanistan were stopped at Jamrud town in the Khyber tribal region near the city of Peshawar, officials said.

The border crossing at Chaman in southwestern Baluchistan province was also closed, Frontier Corps officials said.

A meeting of the cabinet’s defense committee convened by Gilani “decided to close with immediate effect NATO/ISAF logistics supply lines,” according to a statement issued by Gilani’s office.

The committee decided to ask the United States to vacate, within 15 days, the Shamsi Air Base, a remote installation in Baluchistan used by U.S. forces for drone strikes which has long been at the center of a dispute between Islamabad and Washington.

The meeting also decided the government would “revisit and undertake a complete review of all programs, activities and cooperative arrangements with US/NATO/ISAF, including diplomatic, political, military and intelligence.”

A similar incident on Sept 30, 2010, which killed two Pakistani service personnel, led to the closure of one of NATO’s supply routes through Pakistan for 10 days. NATO apologised for that incident, which it said happened when NATO gunships mistook warning shots by Pakistani forces for a militant attack.

Relations between the United States and Pakistan were strained by the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces in Pakistan in May, which Pakistan called a flagrant violation of sovereignty.

Pakistan’s jailing of a CIA contractor and U.S. accusations that Pakistan backed a militant attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul have added to the tensions.

“This will have a catastrophic effect on Pakistan-U.S. relations. The public in Pakistan are going to go berserk on this,” said Charles Heyman, senior defense analyst at British military website Armedforces.co.uk.

Other analysts, including Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, predicted Pakistan would protest and close the supply lines for some time, but that ultimately “things will get back to normal.”

Envoy Insists Pakistan Will Tackle Terrorists As Attack Kills 3

By Nasir Habib for Cnn

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) — Gunmen in Pakistan opened fire on oil trucks bound for NATO forces in Afghanistan, setting some 20 vehicles on fire and killing three, police said Monday. The attack came shortly after Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States vowed his country would go after terrorists on its soil.

Naeem Iqbal, a police spokesman, said five people were wounded in the attack on tankers parked on a main road outside a housing complex near the capital city of Islamabad. Efforts to put out the blaze are ongoing, he said.

Bin Yamin, a deputy police chief, said eight gunmen entered the area on Monday around 12:15 a.m. local time. He said they told people near the trucks to run away and that most did. Then they opened fire.

The tankers were parked in the vicinity of an oil refinery where they were going to go to pick up fuel for NATO forces in Afghanistan, Yamin said. Video images of the scene showed firefighters working to put out flames that stood out in the night against the overturned trucks.

On Sunday, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States insisted his country would go after terrorists on its soil and needed only “technical” help from Washington, not U.S. troops on the ground.

Husain Haqqani, told CNN’s “State of the Union” that Pakistan would reopen a NATO supply route into Afghanistan “relatively quickly,” probably in less than a week.

Pakistan halted the convoys Thursday after officials blamed cross-border NATO helicopter fire for the deaths of three Pakistani soldiers. Haqqani said the United States and Pakistan were investigating the killings together. He said Pakistan will move against militants on its own schedule, not Washington’s.

“Pakistan is saying we will take care of all terrorists on the Pakistani side of the border, but we will do it on our timeline,” Haqqani said Sunday. “We cannot always follow a timeline that our allies set for us, because we are allies, not a satellite.”

Pakistan has lodged protests against NATO helicopter incursions into its territory — which the International Security Assistance Force says its rules of engagement permit — and is very sensitive about reported U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan.

There were a record number of drone strikes last month, according to a CNN count. On Saturday, three suspected drone strikes killed 18 people.

Pakistani intelligence officials said 10 people died in one drone strike targeting a militant hideout, four people died when a vehicle was struck, and four others were killed when another hideout was targeted.

All three occurred in the Data Khel area of North Waziristan. The intelligence officials did not want to be named because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

Security analysts have described North Waziristan as a haven for various factions of Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda militants. The majority of reported strikes this year have hit targets in the district, a mountainous tribal area on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, analysts said.

The United States does not officially acknowledge that it has unmanned aircraft firing missiles at suspected militants in Pakistan, but it is the only country operating in the area that is known to have the ability to do so.

Ambassador Haqqani also said Pakistan couldn’t do everything Washington wants “because sometimes we don’t have the capacity and sometimes we don’t have the means.” He said Pakistan’s geography makes it hard to hit militants.

“Sometimes people in the U.S. think … that it’s all flat land with everything visible. Not even the drones can identify everyone in North Waziristan because of the complexity of terrain,” Haqqani said.

Haqqani also argued that Pakistani politicians, just like U.S. counterparts, are constrained by public opinion. “All politics is local and the local situation in Pakistan is that the United States is not very popular amongst our public,” he said. “The fact remains that an elected democratic government in Pakistan is limited by public opinion to the extent of what it can do,” he said.

Slain American Volunteers Were Devoted to Service

By Laura King and Ashley Powers for The Los Angeles Times

They were a disparate group of American altruists who had long cared for the poor and ailing, thrown together on a mission to provide medical help in the most daunting and needy of places.

Last week, the six Americans were among 10 volunteers shot to death in a remote swath of Afghanistan while returning from an aid mission, a tragic end to their years of risk-laden service in the war-ravaged and impoverished nation.

Tom Little, for one, remained in Afghanistan through its brutal civil war in the 1990s, talking his way through checkpoints manned by various ethnic militias, and saving the lives of co-workers who might otherwise have been dragged from the car and killed.

Colorado dentist Thomas Grams often traveled with a bodyguard and told friends how he’d persuaded a tribal leader to bring his mother in for a dental exam by agreeing that she’d peel back as little of her burka as possible.

“He was just there out of kindness,” Katy Shaw, a friend of Grams, said Sunday, her voice catching. “I can’t get my arms around why someone would do that to a group of people trying to be helpful.”

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the ambush in a rugged, isolated valley, which also killed two Afghan men, a German woman and a British woman working with the International Assistance Mission. The Taliban accused the Christian group’s volunteers of proselytizing and spying for Western military forces, which the charity vehemently denied.

The charity team, which had been providing eye care and other health services to villagers, had hiked over a steep mountain pass into neighboring Nuristan province, where insurgents had been battling Afghan and Western forces. Police theorized that the assailants might have followed them back from there.

Two other Afghan members of the group escaped the massacre: an interpreter who had left before the ambush and a driver who told police he recited verses from the Koran as he pleaded for his life. Afghan authorities are still questioning the driver about his account of the incident, and police said it would take two days for investigators to reach the scene of the killings.

The Western military condemned the attack as part of a pattern of insurgent behavior that exacerbated the suffering of Afghan civilians.

“This is something the Afghan population has to face,” said Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz, a spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. “Because of these brutal, indiscriminate and absolutely deranged tactics and activities of the Taliban, international aid workers and nongovernmental organizations can’t do their job, which is so necessary for this country.”

The bodies of the slain American volunteers were flown by helicopter to the Afghan capital on Sunday from Badakhshan province, in Afghanistan’s northeast, the U.S. Embassy said. FBI agents in Kabul helped identify the victims and aid groups released most of their names. One American had not yet been publicly identified.

“We are heartbroken by the loss of these heroic, generous people,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Washington.

Even before deplaning in Afghanistan, the team’s members had devoted themselves to helping the world’s most destitute. Grams, 51, was a prime example.

In 2001, he became the first dentist to join a volunteer group in Denver that whisks teams of dentists around the world. At weeklong clinics, they provided children free cleanings, fillings, extractions and tooth-brushing lessons โ€” always without toothpaste, in case the villagers ran out.

Tall, blondish “Doctor Tom,” who usually manned the first of six chairs, stuck out among his thousands of Indian and Nepalese patients. But he’d put them at ease by pulling down his mask and sharing a toothy grin.

“In America, the view is that the dentist gives you pain,” said Laurie Mathews, Global Dental Relief’s director. “In these countries, he only relieves pain.”

Grams so enjoyed aid work that, a few years back, he gave up his dental practice. He’d also started traveling to Afghanistan periodically with other charity groups. It was no surprise to Mathews that Grams ended up in one of the country’s far-flung corners: Once, to treat patients on Mt. Everest, they’d hauled dental equipment to a Buddhist monastery on rented yaks.

“His life mattered,” Mathews said. “He is defined by more than how it ended.”

Another victim, Cheryl Beckett, 32, was a former senior class president in Ohio with a sharp sense of humor and a strong Christian faith, said her grandmother Jean Fink. Both characteristics helped the aid worker power through the last six years, with Beckett educating Afghan villagers in nutritional gardening and mother-child health, and herself in the local languages.

She had this love for the people and she immersed herself in their culture,” Fink said. “Cheryl was as beautiful inside as she was outside.”

Since 2008, Glen Lapp, a former nurse and real estate agent from Pennsylvania, had helped manage a program that delivered eye care to Afghanistan’s remote areas. In a report for the Christian aid group Mennonite Central Committee, he’d written that workers must continue “treating people with respect and with love and trying to be a little bit of Christ in this part of the world.”

“He just had a real sense of peace โ€ฆ toward the Afghan people,” said John Williamson, a fellow relief worker who talked to Lapp last month. Lapp, 40, told Williamson that he believed the country’s security situation was improving, and that he had high hopes for peace.

The British victim, Karen Woo, had given up a private medical practice in London to work in Afghanistan on mother-child health.

The deaths rattled the tightknit world of Afghanistan aid groups, which had already been struggling to weigh a deteriorating security situation against enormous humanitarian needs.

“People would walk long distances, sometimes carrying the old and sick on their backs, to see the doctors, getting glasses, treatment and minor surgery,” Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts Network wrote in a eulogy for the victims. “And many considered blind, literally getting their sight back.”

Two of the victims โ€” Little, a 61-year-old optometrist, and his longtime associate Dan Terry, 64 โ€” were both fathers of three, and both had worked in Afghanistan for decades and were fluent in Dari. The men told friends that, over time, they’d made peace with the battle-scarred country’s inherent dangers.

In the dingy halls of the Kabul eye hospital where the bespectacled Little spent much of his working life, the sorrow was palpable. Co-workers and patients paid emotional tribute to a man they described as kind, caring and determined to aid Afghans whose eye ailments might otherwise have condemned them to a lifetime of misery and poverty.

“God only knows why anyone would hurt them,” said a woman named Bibi Sheerrin, who was recovering from cataract surgery. “They were trying to help us.”

%d bloggers like this: