Posts Tagged ‘ ISAF ’

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to establish the parameters for US military-security involvement in Afghanistan after the US and its allies have withdrawn most of their troops from Afghanistan by 2014.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.

U.S.-Pakistan Ties Further Strained by Air Strike

By Saeed Shah and Nancy A. Youssef for McClatchy Newspapers

Tension between Pakistan and the United States rose Sunday over a U.S. air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, as the two sides offered widely disparate accounts of what might have happened.

NATO officials said Afghan and U.S. troops operating inside Afghanistan early Saturday had been fired on from the Pakistani side of the border and had requested close air support to help defend themselves. What happened next is still under investigation, officials said.

But Pakistan’s chief military spokesman said he did not believe that there had been any fire directed at the Americans from Pakistan, and said he did not believe the attack could have been inadvertent.

Major Gen. Athar Abbas said the military outpost on a mountain top at Salala in the Mohmand part of Pakistan near the Afghan border was well-marked on maps that both Pakistan and NATO have, and that the U.S. air assault lasted for more than an hour.

“I cannot rule out the possibility that this was a deliberate attack by ISAF,” Abbas said, referring to NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. “This was a visible, well-made post, on top of ridges, made of concrete. Militants don’t operate from mountaintops, from concrete structures.”

The incident sent U.S.-Pakistani relations to their lowest point since the May raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout, when U.S. troops entered Pakistan without notifying Pakistani officials and killed the al Qaeda leader. U.S. officials believe bin Laden had lived for years in Abbottabod, the site of Pakistan’s premier military academy.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a prepared statement that Saturday’s events were a “tragic unintended incident.” But NATO provided no details on what happened. U.S. Army Col. Greg Julian, a NATO spokesman, said officials are still investigating.

The Pakistan positions hit are about 300 yards inside Pakistan, Abbas said, and ISAF troops made “no attempt” to contact the Pakistani side using the established border coordination system. He said that the map references to the Pakistani positions had been previously passed to ISAF.

Taliban fighters often use Pakistan’s tribal area as a sanctuary, from which to launch artillery or rockets, or as a place to retreat under fire from NATO.

Pakistan announced Saturday that it would “review” all military, intelligence and diplomatic cooperation with the United States and ISAF forces in response to the incident.

Pakistan also closed its border with Afghanistan to trucks carrying supplies for ISAF, and announced that American forces would be expelled from Shamsi, a remote air base in Pakistan that was turned over to U.S. forces after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and used as a launching point for the U.S.’ controversial drone program.

On Sunday, Pakistan raised the possibility that it would also boycott a conference next month in Bonn, Germany, on Afghanistan’s future. Pakistan’s cooperation is considered vital for stabilizing Afghanistan and bringing the Taliban into negotiations.

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.”

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