Posts Tagged ‘ NATO Bombing ’

Pakistani Parliament Approves Proposals on US Ties

As Reported By The Associated Press

Pakistan’s parliament on Thursday unanimously approved new guidelines for the country in its troubled relationship with the United States, a decision that could pave the way for the reopening of supply lines to NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

The guidelines allow for the blockade on U.S. and NATO supplies to be lifted, but also call for an immediate end to American drone strikes against militants on Pakistani soil.

However, the lawmakers did not make a halt in the CIA-led missile attacks a prerequisite to reopening the supply lines, as some lawmakers had been demanding. The government and the army will use the recommendations as the basis for re-engaging with Washington.

Ties between the U.S. and Pakistan all but collapsed in November after U.S. airstrikes inadvertently killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border, after which Islamabad blocked the supply lines in protest. Washington wants the relationship back on track.

The U.S. State Department expressed respect for the Pakistani parliament’s decision. “We respect the seriousness with which parliament’s review of U.S.-Pakistan relations has been conducted,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. “We seek a relationship with Pakistan that is enduring, strategic, and more clearly defined. We look forward to discussing these policy recommendations with the Government of Pakistan and continuing to engage with it on our shared interests.”

About 30 percent of supplies used by NATO and U.S. troops in landlocked Afghanistan are transported through Pakistan. Washington also needs Islamabad’s cooperation to negotiate an end to the Afghan war because many insurgent leaders are based on Pakistani soil.

The drones are a source of popular outrage in the country and have fueled anti-U.S. sentiment, although Pakistan’s powerful army has tacitly aided the missile attacks in the past, weakening Islamabad’s official stance that they are a violation of sovereignty.

Washington has ignored previous entreaties by the parliament to end the strikes, and is seen as unlikely to change its policy now.

Despite calls by Islamists for a permanent supply line blockade, few inside the Pakistani government or the army believed this was desirable, given that Pakistan relies on the U.S. and other NATO countries for its economic survival and diplomatic and military support.

Soon after the deadly airstrikes on the border, the Pakistani government called on parliament to draw up new guidelines for Islamabad’s relations with the U.S. The government’s move was widely seen as way to give it political cover for reopening the routes.

The national security committee presented a first set of proposals last month but opposition parties riding a wave of anti-American sentiment rejected them, seemingly unwilling to share any fallout ahead of elections this year or early next.

But on Thursday the opposition voted with government lawmakers to approve a revised set of guidelines, which differed little from the original ones. Opposition lawmakers didn’t explain why they had dropped earlier objections, but they could have come under pressure from the army or extracted other, unrelated concessions from the government.

The guidelines call for NATO and the U.S. to pay Pakistan more for the right to ship supplies across its soil and stipulate that no arms or ammunitions be transported. Western forces have only ever trucked fuel and other nonfatal supplies across Pakistan because of the risk they could fall into the hands of insurgents.

“We believe that the world has heard the voice of the people of Pakistan,” Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told parliament. “I would like to assure the house that our government will implement the recommendations that have been made in both letter and spirit.” Gilani did not say when the supply lines would reopen.

Western officials have said Pakistan would come under intense criticism if routes remained blocked during a NATO conference in Chicago on May 20-21 where more than 50 heads of state will discuss progress on ending the war.

Washington’s public line has been that it is waiting for the parliament to finish its review before calling for Pakistan to reopen the routes. It has refused to apologize for the border incident in November, and last week put a $10 million bounty on the head of a militant leader believed close to Pakistan’s security forces.

Behind the scenes, however, negotiations have been going on between the U.S. and Pakistan over the supply line issue and drone strikes. It was unclear whether there has been any new agreement on the strikes, which Washington believes are key to keeping al-Qaida on its back foot.

U.S. officials had said they had offered Pakistan notice about impending strikes and new limits on which militants are being targeted. For most of the Afghan war, 90 percent of the supplies came through Pakistan, but NATO has increased its reliance on an alternate, so-called “northern” route, through Central Asia in recent years.

Increased use of the northern route has removed some of the leverage Islamabad had over the West, but at a cost to the coalition.

Pentagon officials now say it costs about $17,000 per container to go through the north, compared with about $7,000 per container to go through Pakistan.

All Confused On the Western Front: NATO and Libya’s Rebels Don’t Jibe

By Steven Sotloff for TIME

“Where is NATO?” the rebel asks, with no small amount of frustration. It is just after midnight, Friday, June 17, and he is holed up in Dafniyah, a hamlet west of the revolutionary enclave of Misratah on the coast of western Libya. Like all the fighters in the dry fields outside the rebel city, Ashrf Ali, 30, had anticipated that the military alliance would launch a bombing campaign in the early hours of the morning last Friday, hitting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s troops to allow the rebels to push further inland. Instead, NATO planes have merely buzzed the sky in routine reconnaissance and patrol sorties, leaving Ali and his fellow fighters unable to advance.

Throughout parts of Libya under rebel control, people are frustrated with NATO. Between its slow pace of attacks and the errant strikes that have killed rebel fighters, the speculation now is that the Western coalition lacks the resources and resolve to help the rebels topple Gaddafi.

The chief problem plaguing both NATO and the rebels is lack of coordination. Rebel leaders complain that they must jump through hoops to reach NATO officials. Field commanders requesting air strikes and relaying troop movements have no direct communication with the alliance’s military command in the region, much less headquarters in Brussels, which must issue the ultimate orders. Instead, they call their senior officers via satellite phone at a rebel command center in Benghazi. The officers then relay the information to NATO officials in the same building, who only then contact Brussels. The byzantine process squanders valuable time in a war where seconds are precious.

Unable to order airstrikes, rebels in the field are forced to wait for unannounced NATO bombings before they can advance. “I never know what to tell my fighters,” says Sa’adun Zuwayhli, 29, a field commander in Dafniyah, which is how far the rebels have advanced out of Misratah in their excruciatingly slow advance toward Gaddafi’s capital Tripoli. “Advance, retreat, hold — they are all guesses until we see the bombs from NATO,” he laments.

The rebels never know when NATO will fly in to their rescue. During a fierce offensive by Gaddafi’s forces between June 7 and June 10, one that left more than 70 rebel dead under a barrage of long-range Grad rockets, the soldiers of “Free Libya” waited for a NATO counterattack that never materialized. The coalition’s failure to defend the rebels angered their commanders. “NATO is to be blamed for Friday’s deaths,” Misratah’s military council spokesman Ibrahim Bayt al-Mal told journalists. The alliance’s officials have responded to such comments in the past by noting that their mandate extends only to protecting civilians, not toppling Gaddafi.

The lack of direct communication between the two sides has left NATO unable to differentiate between Gaddafi’s forces and rebel fighters, leading to friendly fire incidents in which rebels were attacked. In April, two errant bombings in the rebel-held areas killed at least 20. Last Saturday, NATO mistakenly targeted a rebel convoy in which at least four were injured. The coalition immediately released a statement explaining that “a particularly complex and fluid battle scenario” led it to believe that the rebel column was a Gaddafi battalion because his forces “had recently been operating” in the area. All three attacks occurred in the area between the cities of Ajdabiyah and Brega in eastern Libya.

NATO’s explanation, though, did not satisfy rebel leaders. “We are upset when civilians die,” explained the rebel’s military spokesman in Benghazi Ahmad Bani. Libyans in Misratah were even blunter. “We are fighting against a dictator with advanced weapons. We can’t be fighting NATO as well,” says Khalid Elaas, 39. “They need to figure out how to run this campaign or the people will be burning pictures of NATO leaders next to those of Gaddafi’s.”

NATO’s actions have left Misratah’s rebels not only angry, but puzzled as well. After the military alliance introduced helicopters last week for the first time, it dropped illustrated Arabic leaflets declaring, “NATO forces will take all the steps necessary to destroy the war instruments that threaten civilians.” But instead of reaching their intended targets, the leaflets landed in rebel held positions, leaving the fighters there perplexed.

Confusion is the least of the rebels’ worries. By the time the sun rises on Friday, Ashrf Ali is exasperated, having waited all night for an offensive that never materialized. “If NATO does not get its act together, this war is never going to end,” he complains, as he heads for a nearby canvas tent to get some sleep.

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