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Drone Strikes in Pakistan Resume After Key ISI-CIA Meeting

4:27 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

On Tuesday, Marcy Wheeler pointed out that the meeting in Washington between Leon Panetta and his Pakistani counterpart, ISI head Lt. General Ahmed Shuja Pasha was cut short. A key topic in the meeting was the ongoing tension over US drone strikes in Pakistan. On cue, and apparently while Pasha was still in transit back from Washington, four drone-fired missiles struck in South Waziristan on Wednesday, killing four and prompting more protests from Pakistan. This strike was the first since a strike on March 17, the day after Raymond Davis was released, killed a large number of civilians, provoking widespread outrage in Pakistan and leading to a halt in US strikes.

The headline announcing the drone strikes in Pakistan’s Express Tribune captured what is likely a response that spread through Pakistan as news of the new drone strike spread: “US mocks Pak demand with fresh drone strike“. After describing the attack, which in this article was said to kill six rather than four, the article went on to provide details:

“Four missiles were fired. The target was a vehicle. Six militants were killed,” a military official told AFP requesting anonymity.

Intelligence officials said the dead belonged to the Haqqani Network, an al Qaeda-allied group run by veteran Afghan warlord Sirajuddin Haqqani and based in North Waziristan.

An administration official in South Waziristan said those who died were “all Afghans.”

Dawn noted that the nature of Pakistan’s protest over this strike is different from past complaints:

An unusual aspect of the remonstration was that it was the first time in a couple of years that a démarche was made on a missile strike targeting militants — an indication that Islamabad may be revisiting its tacit tolerance of hits by pilotless predators on militant sites.

Military sources confirmed to Dawn that those killed and injured in the drone attack on Wednesday were Afghans.

“Pakistan strongly condemns the drone attack at Angoor Adda today. We have repeatedly said that such attacks are counter-productive and only contribute to strengthening the hands of terrorists,” Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir told US Ambassador Cameron Munter while lodging the protest with him.

Noting how the attacks “strengthen the hands of terrorists” is a very interesting tactic and seems to be new.

At the same time as this attack, Dawn also was providing information from the annual report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan:

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has issued its annual report which states that over 900 people were killed due to American Drone attacks in the tribal areas of Pakistan, DawnNews reports.

The reports which focuses on human rights violations in the country also lays an emphasis on terror attacks in 2010 as a result of which 1100 people were killed.

In other words, the number killed by US drones is within 20 percent of those killed in terrorist attacks within Pakistan.

In a blog post at Dawn, Nadir Hassan provides a very interesting analysis of the ongoing struggles between Pakistan and the US. Hassan notes that Pakistan has no leverage in its quest to end the drone strikes:

Let’s get real though. Making demands is one thing. Expecting those demands to be fulfilled is quite another. The alliance between the US and Pakistan is often called a “transactional relationship.” The US pays for what it wants and we give it to them, holding our nose and counting the cash. In such a relationship you don’t get to have your complaints heard.

Before making demands, we need leverage. Cash-strapped as we are, we cannot tell the US to keep its foreign aid and we’ll keep our sovereignty, thank you very much. The problem is we do not have any other kind of leverage either. The US has two fears about Pakistan: that the country will be taken over by terrorists or that they will get their hands on our nuclear arsenal. As much as we use the Taliban threat – and it is a very real threat, although not one that will take over the government, as panicked Westerners fear – to wring more strings-attached aid out of the US, ultimately everyone knows that it is equally in Pakistan’s interest to keep the Taliban at bay. Sure, we may use them and keep them alive to bolster our misguided policy, but the Taliban is as much a threat to the military and civilian leadership here as it is to the US. Similarly, we cannot bluff the Americans into agreeing to our demands by implying that we will hand over a nuke or two to the militants. Basically, it all boils down to having no leverage.

There is one negotiating tactic the military could use, although its chances for success are slim. Pakistan is a vital supply route for Nato forces in Afghanistan, one that the army could threaten to shut down if some of their concerns aren’t addressed. It would be inconvenient for the US to rely solely on Central Asian routes to supply the coalition forces so perhaps this threat could get us a minor concession or two. For that, too, the window of opportunity is narrow. If President Barack Obama follows through on his promise to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan next years, Pakistan’s role as a hub will diminish.

It is interesting that Hassan would mention attacks on supply convoys, since that tactic already has been used, as many fuel tankers were burned while Pakistan had closed a border crossing in the dispute over the US killing three Pakistani soldiers at a border station. Since Dawn is viewed by some to be a mouthpiece of the Pakistani military, it will be interesting to see if the next step in escalation of tensions will be a return to more attacks on supply convoys.

In contrast with the “mocking” nature of the US drone attack while Pasha was still in transit back from Washington, there is word today the Pakistan also appears to be going along with US demands to control Taliban forces within its borders:

Pakistani troops and paramilitary forces, backed by helicopter gunships and warplanes, targeted Taliban positions in the tribal region of Mohmand near the Afghan border on Thursday, killing at least 18 militants, a regional government official said.

Pakistan’s military has recently mounted an offensive in villages bordering Afghanistan’s eastern province of Kunar in pursuit of militants linked to al Qaeda and Taliban who want to destabilize the U.S. ally and impose Taliban-style rule.

“We are going after them with full force, using every kind of force. They carry out attacks and other activities from there,” Masood Khan, the government official, said.

Stay tuned for further developments.

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?

Mutually Exclusive Stories on US Drone, Helicopter Strikes in Pakistan Continue

11:24 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Bashir and Petraeus in Tampa, March 23, 2010. (US Navy photo)

Pakistan’s Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Noman Bashir spoke on Wednesday in Islamabad and once again reiterated the official Pakistani line that no foreign helicopter or drone raids would be allowed inside Pakistan. As if in response, we see from Dawn. com that both helicopter and drone attacks occurred again today. How long will this charade of completely different public and real stances be tolerated?

Bashir’s coments were published by ANI and picked up by oneindia news:

Drone or helicopter attacks inside Pakistan’s territory will not be allowed, as that would be an attack on the country’s sovereignty, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Noman Bashir has said, according to a TV channel.

Bashir made these comments while talking to journalists after addressing the annual ceremony of Bahria College in Islamabad, the Daily Times reported.

His remarks came in the wake of reports that the United States has renewed its pressure on Pakistan to expand the areas where CIA drones can operate inside the country.

Yet, a helicopter raid wounded three today:

At least three people were wounded when two Nato gunship helicopters opened fire in North Waziristan’s Dattakhel area after violating Pakistani airspace on Friday, television reports said.

The helicopters, incurring several kilometres into Pakistani territory, struck the Lowara Mandi village in Dattakhel.

Officials have neither confirmed nor denied the incident.

And a drone strike killed four:

Pakistani intelligence officials said a suspected US missile strike killed four alleged militants in the country’s northwest.

It’s the latest in a barrage of attacks by unmanned drones on the stronghold of Taliban fighters targeting American and Nato forces in Afghanistan.

The officials said a pair of missiles hit a moving vehicle in Pir Kali village in North Waziristan. The area is home to a mix of Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.

This strange dance of Pakistan publicly saying US incursions are not allowed, while the frequency of the attacks is increased is just one more of the many inconsistencies in US policy in the area. As the photo above proves, Petraeus has spoken with Bashir face to face, so why can’t they at least synchronize their stories?

Scahill’s Reporting Thoroughly Debunks Hiatt’s Latest Drone Defense

7:24 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

drone
Drone via WikiMedia Commons

In an editorial in Tuesday’s Washington Post, Fred Hiatt joins in on Harold Koh’s attempted whitewashing of drone strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It’s too bad he’s helping to spread lies.

The editorial is titled "Defending drones: The laws of war and the right to self-defense" and opens in this way:

WITHIN DAYS of taking office, President Obama authorized the deployment of unmanned drones to strike terrorism suspects in remote areas of Pakistan. Although first employed during the Bush years, drone attacks have been used increasingly during the Obama administration. They have, in short, become a centerpiece of national security policy.

Hiatt then goes on to cite the March 25 speech by Harold Koh in which the legal underpinnings of the program were defended. I want to concentrate on the closing of the editorial:

Such actions must be undertaken with caution. Mr. Koh asserted that the administration has taken "great care" to ensure that drone strikes are carefully and lawfully executed. "The imminence of the threat, the sovereignty of the other states involved, and the willingness and ability of those states to suppress the threat" are taken into account before striking, he said.

The president personally signs off on targets, and relevant lawmakers are periodically briefed on the program. That accountability is one more reason the drone strikes cannot be described as lawless.

Leaving aside the detailed legal arguments that Koh puts forth (although there are those at the UN who disagree on the legality of the program), we can only assume that Hiatt does not read Jeremy Scahill, because Scahill’s recent work thoroughly debunks Hiatt’s claims that the president signs off on the targets and that lawmakers are periodically briefed on the program.

Last November, Scahill provided dramatic revelations of the extent of US actions in Pakistan and the involvement of Blackwater with the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in carrying out drone strikes in Pakistan:

At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, "snatch and grabs" of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan, an investigation by The Nation has found. The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help direct a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus.

Scahill goes on to inform us that this structure of JSOC carrying out the strikes, with assistance from Blackwater, is set up specifically to avoid Congressional oversight:

The military intelligence source says that the drone strike that reportedly killed Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, his wife and his bodyguards in Waziristan in August was a CIA strike, but that many others attributed in media reports to the CIA are actually JSOC strikes. "Some of these strikes are attributed to OGA [Other Government Agency, intelligence parlance for the CIA], but in reality it’s JSOC and their parallel program of UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] because they also have access to UAVs. So when you see some of these hits, especially the ones with high civilian casualties, those are almost always JSOC strikes." The Pentagon has stated bluntly, "There are no US military strike operations being conducted in Pakistan."

The military intelligence source also confirmed that Blackwater continues to work for the CIA on its drone bombing program in Pakistan, as previously reported in the New York Times, but added that Blackwater is working on JSOC’s drone bombings as well. "It’s Blackwater running the program for both CIA and JSOC," said the source. When civilians are killed, "people go, ‘Oh, it’s the CIA doing crazy shit again unchecked.’ Well, at least 50 percent of the time, that’s JSOC [hitting] somebody they’ve identified through HUMINT [human intelligence] or they’ve culled the intelligence themselves or it’s been shared with them and they take that person out and that’s how it works."

The military intelligence source says that the CIA operations are subject to Congressional oversight, unlike the parallel JSOC bombings. "Targeted killings are not the most popular thing in town right now and the CIA knows that," he says. "Contractors and especially JSOC personnel working under a classified mandate are not [overseen by Congress], so they just don’t care. If there’s one person they’re going after and there’s thirty-four people in the building, thirty-five people are going to die. That’s the mentality." He added, "They’re not accountable to anybody and they know that. It’s an open secret, but what are you going to do, shut down JSOC?"

More recently, Scahill has expanded on the lack of oversight and how JSOC forces are exploiting it:

While the former CENTCOM employee said the US military’s training mission in Pakistan (he is against using contractors for such missions) is in the "US interest," he cautioned that there is growing concern within the military about what is perceived as the disproportionate and growing influence of JSOC’s lethal "direct action" mentality on the broader Special Forces operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As The Nation reported in November, JSOC operates a parallel drone bombing campaign in Pakistan, carrying out targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, "snatch and grabs" of high-value targets and other sensitive action. JSOC, a military intelligence source told The Nation, also operates several secret bases inside Pakistan. These actions are deeply classified and not subjected to any form of comprehensive oversight by Congress.

With General Stanley McChrystal, who commanded JSOC from 2003-2008, running the war, forces–and commanders–accustomed to operating in an unaccountable atmosphere now have unprecedented influence on overall US military operations, opening the door for an expansion of secretive, black operations done with little to no oversight. "The main thing to take away here is a recognition and acceptance of the paradigm shift that has occurred," says the former CENTCOM employee. "Everything is one echelon removed from before: where CIA was the darkest of the dark, now it is JSOC. Therefore, military forces have more leeway to do anything in support of future military objectives. The CIA used to have the ultimate freedom–now that freedom is in JSOC’s hands, and the other elements of the military have been ordered to adapt."

The bottom line is that Jeremy Scahill’s reporting on what is really happening in Pakistan makes Hiatt’s claim in the editorial that drone strikes are carried out with presidential authorization of targets and Congressional oversight of the program a complete lie. Hiatt has to be aware of Scahill’s reporting. Why does he continue to spread what he knows to be lies?