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Drone Strikes Again on Hold As US-Pakistan Relations Continue to Deteriorate

5:44 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Gen. James (fun to shoot some people) Mattis is meeting with the head of Pakistan's military today. What could possibly go wrong? (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As relations between the US and Pakistan continue to deteriorate, it appears that drone strikes have again been put on hold. I can find no reports of any strikes since the March 17 strike on a village jirga killed over forty people. This strike especially infuriated Pakistan, coming just a day after Raymond Davis was released and, despite ample evidence of many civilians being killed, the initial US response was defiant, claiming that only militants were killed and that those killed “weren’t gathering for a bake sale”. Pakistan immediately canceled its participation in the already delayed (due to the Davis case again) trilateral meeting with the US and Afghanistan. I can find no new date yet announced for this meeting.  The US military has clearly stated that General David Petraeus has not apologized to Pakistan’s military for the strike and now General James (fun to shoot some people) Mattis is meeting with the head of Pakistan’s army today.  This meeting comes amid yet another escalation in the diplomatic break between the two countries, as Dawn reports that a number of US military personnel have been barred from the leaving the country.

There is a chronological list of drone strikes in Pakistan at Wikipedia.  Note that Raymond Davis was arrested after killing two Pakistanis on January 7 of this year.  It took a while for relations over this incident to fray, but notice that at the height of the Davis crisis, there were no drone strikes between the strikes on January 23 and February 21, a gap of almost a month.  It was in the middle of that gap, on February 12, when the US announced that it was delaying the trilateral meeting, presumably as a protest against Davis being held.  We now are in a gap of three weeks, with no reported attacks since the March 17 attack a day after Davis’ release.  This attack prompted a rare immediate response from the Pakistan military:

The Pakistani military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, issued an unusual and unusually strong condemnation of the attack. “It is highly regrettable that a jirga of peaceful citizens, including elders of the area, was carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard to human life,” the statement said.

And as mentioned above, the US response only heightened the crisis:

But American officials on Thursday sharply disputed Pakistan’s account of the strikes and the civilian deaths, contending that all the people killed were insurgents. “These people weren’t gathering for a bake sale,” an American official said. “They were terrorists.”

After some local Pakistani press reports that Petraeus had apologized to Kayani for the attack, the US military made the strange move of denying such an apology:

The International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) Commander in Afghanistan General David Petraeus has neither apologised nor given any explanation to Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani regarding the killing of 44 civilians in the March 17 drone attack in Dattakhel area of North Waziristan Agency.

A local news agency reported that Petraeus had contacted Kayani to apologise over the killings.

/snip/

When contacted by The News, a US military source in Pakistan denied these reports carried by a local news agency, and said, “With regards to the allegation that General Petraeus contacted the Pakistani military or that he expressed regret over this alleged incident, I can assure you that General Petraeus hasn’t had any contact with Pakistani military leaders since his meeting with General Kayani on March 3.”

In a further escalation of diplomatic moves, Pakistan has now barred a number of US military personnel from leaving the country:

There are varying claims about the number of US soldiers denied exit from the country. Some sources claim that about 20-30 people have been affected, while others contend the figure is slightly less than one hundred.

The men were assigned to the US Office of Defence Representative in Pakistan (ODRP), which oversees Washington`s military relations with Islamabad, including training and equipment.

Most of these people had been working on different projects with the Pakistan military. Some of the soldiers had overstayed their visas while a majority of them had expired NOCs.

In the midst of these tensions comes today’s meeting between General James Mattis, head of Central Command and Kayani:

General Mattis, head of US Central Command overseeing the wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East, would meet Pakistan’s army chief Ashfaq Kayani for a “regular, scheduled visit”, the US embassy in Islamabad said.

“It’s not extraordinary… it’s a military to military relationship,” said embassy spokesman Alberto Rodriguez.

But the visit comes after a US report this week criticised the Pakistani military for failing to forge a clear and sustained path to beat religious insurgents holed up in the lawless regions bordering Afghanistan.

Let’s hope that Mattis has learned some diplomacy since his famous speech in 2005:

Lt. Gen. James Mattis, who commanded Marine expeditions in Afghanistan and Iraq, made the comments Tuesday during a panel discussion in San Diego, California.

“Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot,” Mattis said, prompting laughter from some military members in the audience. “It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling.

“You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil,” Mattis said. “You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.”

What could possibly go wrong by sending this man to a critical meeting during a time of frayed relations?

US Strategy in Afghanistan Doomed Because Pakistan Army Chief Will Not Target Taliban

7:36 am in Afghanistan by Jim White

Petraeus is very good at sucking up to people, so he dutifully took his turn with Kayani last August. (ISAFMedia photo)

Saturday’s Washington Post lays out in excruciating detail why the US strategic plan in Afghanistan will never succeed. The article opens by noting that one “key to success in the Afghan war” is “the elimination of havens inside Pakistan where the Taliban plots and stages attacks on coalition troops in Afghanistan.” That element of the strategic plan of course relies on the cooperation of Pakistan’s military. Such cooperation will never happen, because Pakistan’s chief military officer, General Ashfaq Kayani, does not believe that the US and Pakistan will ever achieve their goal of eliminating the Taliban. Instead, he views the Taliban as a useful long-term insulation against the influence of India in the region, and so he refuses to take positive action against them. With such a huge primary obstacle to its success, this makes the US strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan a cruel and meaningless waste of lives and resources.

The Post states outright that Kayani believes US efforts are headed for failure:

Kayani, who as Pakistan’s army chief has more direct say over the country’s security strategy than its president or prime minister, has resisted personal appeals from President Obama, U.S. military commanders and senior diplomats. Recent U.S. intelligence estimates have concluded that he is unlikely to change his mind anytime soon. Despite the entreaties, officials say, Kayani doesn’t trust U.S. motivations and is hedging his bets in case the American strategy for Afghanistan fails.

We also learn that Kayani was personally behind the closing of Torkham Crossing in retaliation for the deaths of Pakistani soldiers in a botched NATO raid into Pakistan:

In recent months, Kayani has sometimes become defiant. When U.S.-Pakistani tensions spiked in September, after two Pakistani soldiers were killed by an Afghanistan-based American helicopter gunship pursuing insurgents on the wrong side of the border, he personally ordered the closure of the main frontier crossing for U.S. military supplies into Afghanistan, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials.

After that near meltdown in US-Pakistani relations, the US continued its efforts to court Kayani, even bringing him to Washington for direct talks with President Obama (although I can’t find any official photographs with Obama and Kayani together), only for Kayani to reject the requests to cooperate:

In October, administration officials choreographed a White House meeting for Kayani at which Obama could directly deliver his message of urgency. The army chief heard him out, then provided a 13-page document updating Pakistan’s strategic perspective and noting the gap between short-term U.S. concerns and Pakistan’s long-term interests, according to U.S. officials.

Despite this undeniable evidence that Pakistan will not take the actions that the US needs in order to achieve its objectives, December’s “strategy review” produced no changes in US strategy:

The core goal of the U.S. strategy in the Afghanistan and Pakistan theater remains to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al-Qa’ida in the region and to prevent its return to either country. Specific components of our strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan are working well and there are notable operational gains. Most important, al-Qa’ida’s senior leadership in Pakistan is weaker and under more sustained pressure than at any other point since it fled Afghanistan in 2001. In Pakistan, we are laying the foundation for a strategic partnership based on mutual respect and trust, through increased dialogue, improved cooperation, and enhanced exchange and assistance programs. And in Afghanistan, the momentum achieved by the Taliban in recent years has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in some key areas, although these gains remain fragile and reversible.

While the strategy is showing progress across all three assessed areas of al-Qa’ida, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the challenge remains to make our gains durable and sustainable. With regard to al-Qa’ida’s Pakistan-based leadership and cadre, we must remain focused on making further progress toward our ultimate end state, the eventual strategic defeat of al-Qa’ida in the region, which will require the sustained denial of the group’s safe haven in the tribal areas of western Pakistan, among other factors. And in Afghanistan, we are confronting the inherent challenges of a war-torn nation working to restore basic stability and security in the face of a resilient insurgency that finds shelter in a neighboring sanctuary. More broadly, we must continue to place the Afghanistan and Pakistan challenges in larger and better integrated political and regional contexts.

And, of course, as that failing strategy is still being pursued, drone attacks inside Pakistan continue at their accelerated pace, with missiles fired from drones killing fifteen people on Saturday alone.

It is long past time to end the stalemate in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, withdraw our troops and embark on a new plan that does not have killing as its central thesis.

Mixed Signals in US-Pakistan Tensions: Drone Strikes Escalated; Torkham Closing “Temporary”

7:30 am in Afghanistan, Pakistan by Jim White

Tense relations between the United States and Pakistan are leading to a mixed set of signals today. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the US is secretly diverting military drones from Afghanistan for CIA use in Pakistan, resulting in a record month for drone strikes in Pakistan. As if to prove this point, Reuters reports that on Saturday two drone strikes in Pakistan killed 18 people. Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani on Friday addressed the Pakistan National Assembly and spoke of unspecified "other options" should the US continue its helicopter raids over the border, but a telephoned apology from General David Petraeus to General Ashfaq Kayani (Chief of Staff of Pakistan’s army) seems to have calmed tensions to the point that the closure of the Torkham crossing now is described as temporary.  Adding to the mix, Iran’s PressTV trots out Zaid Hamid (Googling him brings many references to him being a conspiracy theorist and Pakistan’s answer to Glenn Beck) to comment on the situation, ascribing US actions to panic over the prospect of losing the war in Afghanistan.

Here is the Wall Street Journal describing the transfer of drones from the military in Afghanistan to the CIA in Pakistan:

The U.S. military is secretly diverting aerial drones and weaponry from the Afghan battlefront to significantly expand the CIA’s campaign against militants in their Pakistani havens.

/snip/

The additional drones helped the CIA escalate the number of strikes in Pakistan in September. The agency averaged five strikes a week in September, up from an average of two to three per week. The Pentagon and CIA have ramped up their purchases of drones, but they aren’t being built fast enough to meet the rapid rise in demand.

The article goes on to claim that the drone strikes were partially in response to the disrupted al Qaeda plot against unspecified European targets. Buried a bit further in the article is an ominous warning:

U.S. officials say a successful terrorist strike against the West emanating from Pakistan could force the U.S. to take unilateral military action—an outcome all parties are eager to avoid.

Considering that the source of tensions in this situation has been Pakistan’s concerns about its sovereignty, a warning of a unilateral US incursion into Pakistan is an incredibly inflammatory action.

As if on cue from the Wall Street Journal report, here is Reuters describing the Saturday drone attacks:

Two U.S. drone attacks killed 18 militants in Pakistan on Saturday, intelligence officials said, after recent NATO incursions raised tensions with an ally Washington needs in efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

The United States has widened pilotless drone aircraft missile strikes against al Qaeda-linked militants in Pakistan’s northwest, with 21 attacks in September alone, the highest number in a single month on record.

Returning to the issue of Pakistan’s sovereignty, it  figures prominently in this Dawn article on the Prime Minister’s comments on Friday:

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told the National Assembly on Friday his government would consider unspecified “other options” to protect Pakistan’s sovereignty if Nato strikes into its tribal area from Afghanistan did not halt, but rebuffed a shouting ex-general on opposition benches who suggested (we) “beat them back”.

The prime minister said Pakistan would not compromise on its sovereignty and integrity because of its cooperation in the so-called “war on terror” which, however, “is our own war”, but “being a sovereign country and a nuclear power we will not do anything irresponsible”.

Senator John Kerry, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has been in discussions with Gilani. From the same article:

He said he had also told US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, who telephoned him on Thursday, that Pakistan would not allow infringement of its sovereignty and collateral damage and that “if you don’t rectify and apologise, we have other options to consider. If Pakistan’s sovereignty is attacked, we will think of other options.”

It appears that the apology from Petraeus to Kayani has calmed matters a bit. From another Dawn article:

As fury mounted over this week’s aerial incursions into the tribal areas, the commander of US-led forces in Afghanistan regretted on Friday the Nato strike that killed three Pakistani troops the previous day.

“International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) Commander Gen Petraeus called (army chief) Gen Kayani and expressed his sincere regrets over the death of Pakistani soldiers,” US military spokesman in Pakistan Lt-Col Patrick Ryder told Dawn.

The article then goes on to explain that the closure of Torkham crossing is now considered to be only temporary. Adding to the mixed signals for the day, however, there is further explanation of the burning of NATO fuel tankers that comes across as yet another veiled threat to NATO supply lines:

“There was no closing of Khyber Pass route as such. The movement of the convoys was stopped temporarily in view of growing resentment over the aerial attacks and the resulting threat to their security,” an official said in a clearly rehashed position on holding up of supplies.

An attack on oil tankers carrying Nato fuel in Shikarpur, analysts said, was just an indication of what could happen if Pakistan were to stop providing security to the convoys.

Nato fuel convoys are normally given security cover, but these vehicles appeared to be travelling undefended, probably because of withdrawn security.

Amidst the backdrop of these incredibly tense moments in US-Pakistan relations, the video above, from Iran’s PressTV becomes very interesting.  Iran can hardly be considered a disinterested player here.  To the extent that US attention is focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iran could be subject to less scrutiny.   On first glance,"Security Consultant" Zaid Hamid appears to be in military uniform in the video. However, a bit of internet searching shows him to be a media figure more than anything else, with many detractors calling him Pakistan’s Glenn Beck. Despite that reputation,  the theme of his comments where he ascribes US actions to panic arising from the prospect of losing the war in Afghanistan, is a theme I used in a series of posts beginning in June. I guess I’m just another Beck, too.