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Afghan Night Raid Deaths Lead to Thousands Protesting, Up to Twelve Deaths

5:31 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

David Petraeus’ favorite tool for cowing populations into quiescence, the night raid, has led yet again to deaths NATO characterizes as insurgents but Afghans say are civilians. In this case, four were killed in an overnight raid Tuesday night, two men and two women. A crowd of two to three thousand took to the streets in Taloqan and there were multiple deaths when police opened fire on the crowd.

Reuters, in its story, is careful to note the difference between what Afghan civilians say and what NATO says in identifying those killed in the raid:

Local police and residents say the four people killed in the raid late on Tuesday night in Taloqan were civilians. NATO-led forces said those killed in the raid were armed insurgents.

Via Dawn, AFP also covers the raid:

The troubles erupted after Nato-led forces said they killed four insurgents including two armed women in an overnight raid in the town.

A spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said the raid targeted the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a militant group that operates from bases including in Afghanistan.

But the protesters claimed those killed during the Nato raid were civilians.

The Reuters article goes into more detail on the NATO claim the women killed were insurgents:

In male-dominated Afghanistan, female fighters are very rarely found among insurgent ranks, and the few who have been identified are mostly foreigners. A NATO spokesman said he did not know the nationalities of the dead women.

Notably, it wasn’t just foreign troops who were the objects of the protest:

In Taloqan, demonstrators threw stones and handfuls of mud at a billboard of Karzai and also chanted “death to Karzai.”

Even though Afghan President Hamid Karzai has publicly spoken out against night raids repeatedly, it appears that he now is getting some of the blame when it is believed that civilians have been killed. If Karzai is going to be targeted by large protests each time there is a disputed night raid, this could well change the dynamic going forward.

It will be very interesting to watch for further details as they emerge from this raid. Karzai would seem to be in a position to make an even stronger protest than he has in the past, so the wording and nature of his response will bear watching. Also, NATO must overcome the barrier Reuters points out that Afghan women almost never join the armed insurgency, and we already have a statement from NATO claiming the women were armed.   Aruguing in NATO’s favor is the mention that the group targeted comes from Uzebekistan, so it is possible the women were not from Afghanistan.  Recall in this context also that just over a year ago, US special operations forces actually dug their bullets out of the bodies of women they killed in a raid (see video above for more coverage of that raid). NATO will need to provide credible evidence that the women killed were indeed insurgents, and they will have to do this in the context of a history of tampering with evidence in previous raids gone bad.

Karzai Rejects US Apologies on Civilian Deaths, Gates Suddenly Appears

7:34 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

DoD photo of General David Petreaus greeting Secretary Gates on his arrival in Afghanistan on Monday.

Over the weekend, Afghan President Hamid Karzai informed General David Petraeus that US apologies for civilian deaths in Afghanistan are no longer sufficient. In response, Defense Secretary Robert Gates made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Monday.

CNN.com described Karzai’s rejection of US apologies over the killings of nine boys, ages nine to fifteen, who were gunned down from US helicopters last week:

Apologies are not sufficient when it comes to civilian casualties, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the NATO commander Sunday, days after a NATO airstrike killed nine Afghan boys.

Karzai told Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, that incidents of civilian casualties during coalition military operations are the main reason for tensions in the U.S.-Afghan relationship and he demanded there be no more, according to a statement from Karzai’s office.

Even President Obama is in on the apology parade:

U.S. President Barack Obama also expressed regret for the deaths, calling it a “tragic accident.” A White House statement said Obama and Karzai agreed that such incidents undermine shared U.S. and Afghan efforts in fighting terrorism.

Perhaps because Karzai sees the apologies as not sufficient, Defense Secretary Gates suddenly appeared in Afghanistan Monday:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates met Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Monday at a time of increased strain between Kabul and its Western backers and with important security transition milestones looming.

Karzai complained ahead of Gates’s unannounced visit after nine Afghan children were mistakenly killed by helicopters from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Even Reuters, in this same article, strains to put a positive spin on NATO “progress” in Afghanistan:

Gates is expected to visit parts of southern and eastern Afghanistan where NATO commanders say they have weakened the Taliban and created “bubbles” of security they hope to link up.

Defense Department tool spokesperson Geoff Morrell tried to put a positive spin on the trip in a Defense Department press release:

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Gates will visit areas in regional commands South and East, where he will meet with troops and assess progress on the ground.

Gates has settled into a regular rhythm of Afghanistan visits, averaging a trip each quarter, Morrell said.

“Frequent, regular visits provide him with good measuring sticks to determine how rapidly progress is being made,” Morrell said, noting that the secretary has repeatedly said visiting forces in the field and getting their assessment of conditions is the most important part of his trips.

Those on-the-ground assessments have been positive over the last few visits, Morrell said, with troops and leaders who are “taking on the Taliban” expressing confidence in their Afghan counterparts and reporting improved security conditions in former Taliban-controlled areas.

After painting this rosy picture of “progress” and how Gates loves measuring that progress himself, Morrell then moves on to noting that Gates will meet with Karzai. What will Gates have to offer to Karzai to get him to join the happy chorus on US “progress”?

Here is the video apology from Petraeus’ number two in command in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General David M. Rodriguez, issued last week:

What I haven’t seen in any of these “apologies” is even the beginning of an explanation of how helicopter gunners could possibly have mistaken boys as young as nine years old for enemy insurgents. How can Rodriguez, Petraeus, Gates and Obama believe that their apologies will be seen as sincere when they haven’t addressed such a huge issue?

Update: It appears that an apology and some tears from Gates have been enough for Karzai to now say he accepts the apology.

Iran Bursts onto Scene as US, Afghanistan and Pakistan Hold Tripartite Commission

12:56 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

ISAFMedia photo

In a very interesting bit of coincidental timing, two stories have emerged on the role of Iran in Afghanistan. The Times of London (behind a subscription paywall) reported on Friday that “intelligence officials have revealed that the Iranian government is releasing significant al-Qaeda terrorists from jail so that they can help to reorganise its battered structures in border areas of Pakistan.” The Times also reported that Iran is directly aiding the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. Conveniently providing confirmation for this story, NATO informed the press that an Iranian Revolutionary Guard al-Quds officer was captured Saturday by NATO forces in southern Afghanistan.

Dawn (via AFP) provided more details from The Times’ article:

Citing Pakistani and Middle Eastern officials speaking anonymously, the Times said Iranian authorities were giving covert support to the Islamist militants as they fight against Nato troops.

“In many cases they are being facilitated by Iranian Revolutionary Guards,” The Times quoted a senior Pakistani intelligence official as saying.

The Times said those released include Saif al-Adel, a high-ranking Egyptian al Qaeda member on the FBI’s most wanted list for alleged involvement in the deadly 1998 bombings of US embassies in East Africa.

They also include Suleiman Abu Ghaith, a Kuwaiti accused of being Al-Qaeda’s official spokesman at the time of the September 11, 2001 attacks, and Abu Khayr al-Masri, a key aide to al Qaeda deputy leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri.

Three members of the family of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden were also among those freed, the officials were quoted by the Times as saying.

More details on the captured Iranian come from AFP:

The man, described as a “key Taliban weapons facilitator”, was captured Saturday in Zhari district, Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan, a volatile district targeted in recent coalition offensives.

He was targeted “for facilitating the movement of weapons between Iran and Kandahar through Nimroz province,” a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.

It is thought he was connected to smuggling small arms between the countries.

“The now-detained man was considered a Kandahar-based weapons facilitator with direct ties to other Taliban leaders in the province,” the ISAF spokesman added in a statement.

The most interesting part about the timing of these two stories is that they came out just as the US (or ISAF), Afghanistan and Pakistan were holding their Tripartite Commission. The photo above comes from Thursday. ISAFMedia provided the following caption for the photo:

Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, met with Afghan Chief of General Staff LTG Sher Mahammed Karimi, and Pakistan Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, during a Tripartite Commission, Dec. 23. The commission is a recurring event, and today’s discussions centered on regional cooperation and economic development, as well as post-Lisbon way ahead on reconciliation and reintegration programs and transition. ISAF is a key component of the international community’s engagement in Afghanistan, assisting Afghan authorities in providing security and stability while creating the conditions for reconstruction development.

Given that this meeting was going on at the time of the revelations of Iran’s involvement, it is interesting to go back and note that the story on Iran’s release of al Qaeda militants states that the information comes primarily from Pakistani sources. Further, the AFP article on the capture of the Iranian in Afghanistan observes:

Kabul has insisted that Iran, as a neighbouring country, has a legitimate concern in helping the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan.

So it would appear that while Afghanistan sees a “legimate” role for Iran in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US are doing their best to keep Iran in a negative light while they meet with Afghanistan to discuss reconstruction.

Washington Post Blames Brits to Protect Petraeus in Mansour Impostor Fiasco

7:19 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

How will Petraeus try to convince Obama that he shouldn't be fired at the next Afghan review? (ISAFMedia photo)

On Tuesday we learned that the much-heralded “peace talks” NATO orchestrated between the Afghan government and Taliban officials had included several meetings with an impostor claiming to be Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour. This news appeared to place General David Petraeus in a very bad light, as he had even been described as having “facilitated the talks by allowing Taliban officials to fly to the meetings in safety.” Little wonder, then, that the Washington Post felt obligated to engage in some Petraeus image rehabilitation. They happily did so today by trying to place the blame for the impostor on the British. The New York Times was quite happy to join in on this effort, contributing a “no comment” from British intelligence and quoting a passage from the Post article describing “the British as more aggressive than the Americans in pushing for a political settlement to end the war.”

Here’s the Post placing blame on the Brits:

President Hamid Karzai’s chief of staff on Thursday said that British authorities were responsible for bringing a Taliban impostor into the presidential palace and that foreigners should stay out of delicate negotiations with the Afghan insurgent group.

/snip/

“This shows that this process should be Afghan-led and fully Afghanized,” Daudzai said. “The last lesson we draw from this: International partners should not get excited so quickly with those kind of things. . . . Afghans know this business, how to handle it. We handle it with care, we handle it with a result-based approach, with very less damage to all the other processes.”

The episode has embarrassed Afghan and Western officials, and it has undercut the notion circulated earlier this year by senior U.S. officials that there was some momentum toward possible peace talks.

Not to be outdone, the Times piled on to the Brits:

Authorities in London withheld a formal response on Friday to a reported accusation by a senior Afghan official that the British introduced an impostor posing as a high Taliban commander into the presidential palace in Kabul to meet President Hamid Karzai.

/snip/

Asked to comment on the report on Friday, a spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office in London said only: “We do not comment on operational matters.”

But even the Times felt obligated to note that the Brits are hardly independent actors in Afghanistan:

Only last month, Sir John Sawers, the head of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, highlighted cooperation between British and American spy agencies “an especially powerful contributor to U.K. security.”

With the next formal assessment of “progress” in Afghanistan quickly approaching, it will be very interesting to see what other actions will be taken in order to paint Petraeus as anything other than the abject failure that he is.

Petraeus Can’t HIDE From Mullah Mansour Imposter Fiasco

5:42 am in Afghanistan by Jim White

Almost a month ago, The Guardian was warning that the Afghanistan “peace talks”, which General David Petraeus was claiming to aid by transporting key Taliban figures, had “less than meets the eye“.  However, on Tuesday, the New York Times revealed that the “key” figure who had been meeting with NATO and Afghan officials was not Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, who is believed to be second in command in the Taliban behind Mullah Omar.  In fact, the Washington Post went so far as to point out that the imposter was “a lowly shopkeeper from the Pakistani city of Quetta.”  This development is a remarkable setback for Petraeus and NATO, especially because there have been so many claims about the famed “biometric database” that has been developed for rapid identification of insurgents.  The equipment used in this endeavor has been given the rather unfortunate acronym “HIDE”, for Handheld Interagency Detection Equipment.  Because of HIDE, it will be very difficult for Petraeus to hide from the failure of his intelligence operatives to determine that “Mansour” was an impostor.

Here is The Guardian warning us about the negotiations in late October:

Recent widely-reported contacts between senior Taliban and the Kabul government have little to do with a peace settlement and involve scarcely more than exchanges of cash and prisoners, diplomats and observers have told the Guardian.

/snip/

Nato officials spoke of meetings with four Taliban commanders, including a top member of the movement claiming to express its “collective will” with the approval of its leader, Mullah Omar.

The US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, even said his forces had facilitated the talks by allowing Taliban officials to fly to the meetings in safety.

But according to officials briefed on the talks, there is, in the words of one source, “less than meets the eye”.

Just as predicted by The Guardian, the facade of the “negotiations” then fell when the New York Times made its revelation:

For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise, if only because of the appearance of a certain insurgent leader at one end of the table: Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement.

But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all. In an episode that could have been lifted from a spy novel, United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little.

“It’s not him,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul intimately involved in the discussions. “And we gave him a lot of money.”

Adding insult to injury, the Washington Post informs us of the true identity of the imposter:

A man purporting to be one of the Taliban’s most senior commanders convinced both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the NATO officials who flew him to Afghanistan’s capital for meetings, but two senior Afghan officials now believe the man was a lowly shopkeeper from the Pakistani city of Quetta.

His daring ruse has flummoxed those attempting to start a peace process with a determined Taliban adversary.

“He was a very clever man,” one of the officials said.

It would appear that Petraeus and his team are finding “clever” to be in very short supply on their side of the negotiating table.

A role for Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI, in this ruse cannot be ruled out. It should be recalled that the previous number two in command of the Taliban, Abdul Ghani Baradar, was “arrested” (by ISI, with CIA help) when he was reputed to be in peace negotiations back in January.

Whether he was duped by the Taliban, ISI or just a clever shopkeeper, Petraeus has suffered yet another massive blow to his credibility just before the next Afghanistan strategy session scheduled for the Obama administration. How many failures will Petraeus be allowed before he is sent to an early retirement?

Petraeus’ Absolutely Relentless Killing Machine Fails Despite Claims of Success

6:28 am in Afghanistan by Jim White

General David Petraeus and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke speak in Afghanistan on October 26. (photo: ISAFMedia on Flickr)

Despite a propaganda buildup that began last weekend, with both General David Petraeus and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen making claims of regaining momentum against the Taliban in the Kandahar offensive, Wednesday’s Washington Post destroys those claims with the headline that “U.S. military campaign to topple resilient Taliban hasn’t succeeded“.   As if the destruction of Petraeus’ propaganda offensive by the Post is not enough on its own, BBC chimes in Wednesday, as well, with a fresh quote from Mikhail Gorbachev that victory in Afghanistan is impossible.

Last weekend’s spin began with a Reuters article published on Friday, where Rasmussen was given the opportunity to speak:

“The insurgency is under pressure, under pressure like never before in Afghanistan. Our aim for this year was to regain momentum,” Rasmussen said. “Now we have it.”

The article then went on to explain the means by which NATO claimed to be regaining momentum:

Tarak Barkawi, a defense expert at Britain’s Cambridge University, said the stepped up activity, driven by U.S. and NATO commander General David Petraeus, aimed to put pressure on the insurgents while encouraging them to seek reconciliation.

He said the strategy had been backed by a big increase in special forces activity, and in the use of unnmanned aircraft to target insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas.

“Petraeus is fighting a much more kinetic war. He’s let loose the airstrikes a bit more; there’s a huge special forces war going that’s largely outside of media coverage,” he said.

“They have set up a killing machine that is absolutely relentless in the pressure it’s putting on the insurgents. They are clearly now killing off various commanders in the Taliban hierarchies, which is inflicting some serious pain.”

Petraeus himself then grabbed the spotlight in the Washington Post on Saturday:

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said allied forces are in the “final stages” of a large operation to clear insurgent fighters from key regions just west of Kandahar, the country’s second-largest city and principal focus of the coalition’s military campaign against the Taliban.

Petraeus, speaking in an interview at NATO headquarters in Kabul, said the operation in the Zhari and Panjwai districts, which began a month ago and involves thousands of U.S., Afghan and Canadian troops, is proceeding “more rapidly than was anticipated.” Military officials and Afghan leaders have reported increasing stability in large swaths of the area that had been firmly in the grip of insurgents a few weeks ago, although they acknowledge that they remain contested by pockets of Taliban holdouts.

The progress in Kandahar City’s western fringe is shaping up to be an important part of the case Petraeus plans to make, during crucial assessments of the mission this fall by NATO and the White House, that international and Afghan forces have regained the momentum after years of losing ground to the Taliban.

Petraeus was no doubt very pleased with himself for having planted the concept that momentum was now back on his side in Afghanistan, so he must be quite upset with today’s Post article pointing out that this “momentum” is meaningless:

An intense military campaign aimed at crippling the Taliban has so far failed to inflict more than fleeting setbacks on the insurgency or put meaningful pressure on its leaders to seek peace, according to U.S. military and intelligence officials citing the latest assessments of the war in Afghanistan.

Escalated airstrikes and special operations raids have disrupted Taliban movements and damaged local cells. But officials said that insurgents have been adept at absorbing the blows and that they appear confident that they can outlast an American troop buildup set to subside beginning next July.

“The insurgency seems to be maintaining its resilience,” said a senior Defense Department official involved in assessments of the war. Taliban elements have consistently shown an ability to “reestablish and rejuvenate,” often within days of [sic] routed by U.S. forces, the official said, adding that if there is a sign that momentum has shifted, “I don’t see it.”

Clearly, the “senior Defense Department official involved in assessments of the war” not only isn’t on the same page as Petraeus and Rasmussen, but is flinging their “momentum” claim back in their faces, with an “I don’t see it”. That’s going to leave a mark.

BBC piles onto the pushback against Petraeus, trotting out Mikhail Gorbachev, who has a bit of experience with losing wars in Afghanistan, to offer some advice to Petraeus and the US:

The former leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, has warned Nato that victory in Afghanistan is impossible.

Mr Gorbachev said that the US had no alternative but to withdraw its forces if it wanted to avoid another Vietnam.

/snip/

“Victory is impossible in Afghanistan. Obama is right to pull the troops out. No matter how difficult it will be,” Mr Gorbachev said in an interview with the BBC’s Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg.

The picture at the top of this post represents the competing forces at play as the December White House assessment of Afghanistan nears. Will Obama double down on the “relentless killing machine” and the “huge special forces war going that’s largely outside of media coverage” with Petraeus, or will Richard Holbrooke, the special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan appointed by Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, be given a larger role in diplomatic efforts to end the war and withdraw the troops because victory is impossible? Stay tuned as the various factions in these discussions continue to jockey for position prior to the December assessment.

As Petraeus Perpetuates Afghanistan Training Myth, Kandahar Casualties Double

6:32 am in Afghanistan by Jim White

The New York Times has a fresh story on the training of Afghan security forces, and despite making claims of training progress in the headline, the story documents, yet again, that US efforts to shape a Western security force in Afghanistan are failing. At the same time, we learn from the ICRC that the offensive in the Kandahar area has doubled the rate of war injured treated at a local hospital.

The military and political career of General David Petraeus has been propelled forward many times on the basis of his ability to spin the same myth over and over. As I pointed out in this diary, Petraeus first burst on the scene by writing an op-ed in the Washington Post just before the 2004 elections. In the op-ed, Petraeus spouted ridiculous claims of "progress" in training Iraqi security forces and perhaps aided Bush’s re-election. Just three years later, all of Washington worshiped at the feet of Petraeus as he laid out his "new" plan for the Iraq surge, with a large reliance on training that started essentially from scratch. There was no reference to his prior claims of success or investigation into why the previous training had failed. That same diary then went on to point out that this second round of training in Iraq has failed, with Iraq’s highest ranking army officer admitting this summer that it would be at least five years before Iraq could provide its own security. That claim is borne out by the ongoing charade of 50,000 US "non-combat" troops remaining in Iraq despite the "end of combat operations" announced by President Obama.

The "success" of training in Afghanistan has been addressed a few times. See, for example, this diary in April or this one in June. Despite these earlier hints in the press that training might not be working as well as claimed, the New York Times insists on using "Gains in Afghan Training" as part of the headline on its current story. Those "gains" are nowhere to be found in this passage:

For that to be the case, the Pentagon must overcome a persistent problem in the Afghan security forces: attrition. Official estimates put attrition across the force at roughly 3 percent each month. Attrition is a powerful drain that makes growth difficult. Police officers and soldiers simply disappear, even as replacements flow in.

For this reason, for the army to grow by 36,000 more soldiers, the government must recruit and train 83,000 Afghans, according to projections released by NATO. Similarly, for the police to reach the hoped-for increase of 14,000, the government must train 50,000 more officers. This drives up costs to Westerners paying the bill.

The training mission in Afghanistan also labors under a legacy of unfulfilled past promises, inadequate training even in basic skills like marksmanship and driving military vehicles, and a pattern of overstating how ready or skilled the forces are.

I suppose it is progress of a sort that the Times will now acknowledge that there is a "legacy of unfilled past promises", but there is still a long way to go before that legacy and the deceit associated with it are tied more directly to Petreaus, who is the leading proponent of these overstatements. The Times touts as an example of the training progress being made the opening of an artillery school. Keeping up its part in this propaganda campaign, ISAFMedia has provided the photo above to document Afghans firing artillery at the school. Their caption reads:

Afghan National Army instructors fire artillery from the 122 milimeter howitzer D-30 Oct. 4, 2010. This demonstation marked the end of the train the trainer course and the opening ceremony for the artillery school where these instructors will teach.

Despite the clear evidence that there will never be a Western-styled security apparatus to take over Afghanistan once NATO "liberates" it, the offensive to oust Taliban forces in the Kandahar area has resulted in a dramatic increase in casualties. From the ICRC:

The number of war casualties taken to Mirwais Regional Hospital in Kandahar for treatment is hitting record highs. The hospital, which is supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), registered almost twice as many new patients with weapon-related injuries in August and September 2010 as during the same months last year – close to 1,000 compared with just over 500 during the same period in 2009.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg, as those who suffer other sorts of injuries or contract disease as an indirect result of the conflict far outnumber weapon-wounded patients," said Reto Stocker, head of the ICRC delegation in Kabul. Every day, there are mothers who bring their sick children to hospital too late because they are afraid to travel or are held up by roadblocks, and relatives who take patients home before their treatment is completed. "The result is that children die from tetanus, measles and tuberculosis – easily prevented with vaccines – while women die in childbirth and otherwise strong men succumb to simple infections," added Mr Stocker.

The deteriorating security situation is affecting the Afghan people in many ways. Last week’s bombing that left eight children dead in Kandahar, like other serious recent incidents, is an example of how the conflict keeps on raging in various parts of the country.

The next Afghanistan strategy review is scheduled for December. Now is the time to start increasing the pressure for this review to include an acknowledgment of the abject failure that is called "training", because there simply is no prospect that the type of security force the US wants can ever be produced. Without such a force, the stated mission of "creating space" for the Afghan security force and government to take over becomes meaningless. With a meaningless mission, it is time to simply begin an orderly withdrawal. However, count on Petraeus to once again erase all memory of his failures and to secure more time for the training charade to continue.

Torkham Crossing Re-Opens; Gilani Pledges Anti-terrorism Efforts

5:54 am in Afghanistan, Pakistan by Jim White

NATO supply trucks waiting to cross the border into Afghanistan at the Torkham crossing in Pakistan. This photo was taken on October 8. (photo: DigitalGlobe-Imagery on Flickr)

Pakistan re-opened the Torkham crossing on Sunday, eleven days after it was closed in response to NATO helicopter incursions into the country. On Monday, Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani pledged that Pakistan would not allow flood reconstruction to detract from the country’s fight against terrorists. These are welcome developments in reducing US-Pakistan tensions that reached a very high point during the crisis.

The remarkable DigitalGlobe photo, taken on October 8, shows the massive accumulation of NATO supply trucks at the Torkham crossing waiting for it to re-open. On Sunday, the order finally came:

About 120 containers and 25 oil tankers queued up at the border in the morning, following an announcement made by the government that the border crossing would be reopened for vehicles carrying Nato supplies.

Customs officials made special arrangements for clearing the vehicles on Sunday.

Truckers had some anxious moments when the local administration refused to issue gate passes, saying it had not received written orders about the reopening of the border. It was only at about 1pm that the first trailer crossed into Afghanistan.

On Monday, Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani spoke at a dinner for diplomats and addressed many concerns that the west has about Pakistan:

Speaking at a reception held ahead of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FoDP) ministerial meeting scheduled in Brussels for Friday where international support for post-flood activities would be one of the main agenda topics, Mr Gilani touched upon the concerns of the West about governance, accountability, broadening of tax base and commitment to war on terror.

“While we are engaged in reordering our national priorities to mobilise greater resources for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the affected people, we are mindful of the need to continue and persist with the macro-economic stabilisation and reform process that was initiated by the government in consultation with international financial institutions.”

Rejecting fears that government’s preoccupation with post-flood activities could relegate counter-terrorism in its order of priorities, the prime minister said: “I would also like to emphatically state that the flood calamity will not distract us from pursuing the campaign against terrorism and extremists."

Coming on the heels of the multiple apologies from NATO and the US Embassy over the deaths of Pakistani soldiers in the helicopter incursion that prompted the Torkham closing, Gilani’s statement and the opening of the crossing appear to be significant steps toward reducing US-Pakistan tensions.

It remains to be seen, however, whether actions by the US and Pakistan will change along with their words. After a crisis that got so bad that the US was openly discussing its preferences for how a military coup in Pakistan should be carried out, these calmer words are a welcome development. Will calmer actions follow?

NATO’s Refusal to Take Responsibility for Deaths of Pakistani Soldiers Scuttles Joint Statement on Investigation

5:48 am in Afghanistan, Pakistan by Jim White

As I reported on Wednesday, although the joint NATO-Pakistan investigation of the deaths of Pakistani soldiers at a border post concluded on Tuesday, no joint statement had yet been issued. Dawn had listed the areas of disagreement that were delaying release of a statement. Late Wednesday, both NATO and the US Embassy in Pakistan released statements on the investigation and the incident, presumably signaling that no joint statement will be forthcoming. A review of Dawn’s list of areas of disagreement in light of the released statements shows that all but one of Pakistan’s demands were met. Pakistan had insisted that NATO take responsibility for the attacks and deaths, but neither the NATO nor US Embassy statement does so. A Washington Post story this morning provides more details on the sequence of events in the attacks on the border post, lending support to Pakistan’s account of what happened.

In their article describing the disagreement over issuing a joint statement arising from the joint investigation, Dawn explained that NATO had drafted a statement and submitted it to the Pakistani Army, which had then drafted its own version to send back to NATO. The two sides were then in discussions on how to reconcile the versions into a single release. Here is the description of the points of disagreement:

The source said there was an agreement that Pakistan’s airspace had been violated.

As Isaf intends to describe the violation by an air weapons team as an action in self-defence, Pakistanis want the Isaf command to acknowledge that the event was avoidable.

The Pakistani side wants that Nato accept responsibility for the incident and agree on remedial measures through better coordination.

Pakistanis are adamant that Isaf should apologise for the incident, but the coalition forces are only ready to express regrets and offer condolences to the families of the soldiers killed in the strike.

Note that the statements from NATO (issued through ISAF) and the US Embassy do admit the helicopters were on the Pakistan side of the border and that the Pakistani soldiers were firing warning shots, not firing at the helicopters. Both statements also apologize for the event and call for better coordination with Pakistan, but no acceptance of responsibility is to be seen.

Here is the ISAF statement, in full:

A joint Pakistan military-International Security Assistance Force team has completed their initial assessment into a border incident in which two Pakistan border forces were killed and four were wounded, Thursday.

The team concluded two coalition helicopters passed into Pakistan airspace several times. Subsequently, the helicopters fired on a building later identified as a Pakistan border outpost, in response to shots fired from the post. The assessment team considered it most probable that they had fired in an attempt to warn the helicopters of their presence. Unfortunately, following the engagement, it was discovered that the dead and wounded were members of the Pakistan Frontier Scouts.

“We believe the Pakistani border guard was simply firing warning shots after hearing the nearby engagement and hearing the helicopters flying nearby,” said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Tim Zadalis, ISAF IJC director of air plans and assessment team leader. “This tragic event could have been avoided with better coalition force coordination with the Pakistan military.”

“ISAF offers its deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of those killed and wounded, to the Pakistan military, and the people of Pakistan,” said ISAF Commander General David H. Petraeus. “We deeply regret this tragic loss of life and will continue to work with the Pakistan military and government to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

No responsibility there. And now the US Embassy in Pakistan statement in full:

U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson today extended an apology to Pakistan on behalf of the American people for the terrible accident on September 30th, which resulted in the deaths of two Pakistani Frontier Scouts and the injury of four others.

Ambassador Patterson said that a joint investigation of the incident had established that the U.S helicopters had mistaken the Pakistani Frontier Scouts for insurgents they had been pursuing. "We extend our deepest apology to Pakistan and the families of the Frontier Scouts who were killed and injured" said the Ambassador. "Pakistan’s brave security forces are our allies in a war that threatens both Pakistan and the U.S."

The Ambassador noted that the U.S. will coordinate with the government of Pakistan to prevent such tragic accidents from taking place in the future.

Again, no responsibility here. However, this statement refers to the deaths as "accidents". Given the new details released by the Washington Post, "accidents" seems to be a stretch:

U.S. and Pakistani officials viewed 21/2 hours of overhead video as part of the probe. The senior Pakistani military official said that it showed that the Frontier Corps post was on the Pakistani side of a hill, about 200 yards across the border, and was not visible from the Afghan side. The helicopters approached from inside Pakistan, apparently returning from what the coalition said was a strike on a Taliban position preparing a cross-border mortar attack.

The Frontier Corps position was well known to U.S. forces, the official said. The two sides exchange grid coordinates of each post every six months, most recently in June, and the one in question had been in place since 2005. The video, he said, shows a Pakistani soldier raising his rifle in the air and firing a warning, not toward the helicopters. After the 5:30 a.m. attack on the post, the official said, U.S. helicopters returned to the area about 9 a.m. and fired seven more missiles.

How can the deaths be "accidents" if the border post was properly noted on NATO maps and the two attacks were three and a half hours apart? Wouldn’t that be enough time to consult the maps at least one more time before flying across the border again and firing seven missiles?

Meanwhile, drone attacks and tanker burnings continue at a pace where recounting individual events becomes meaningless.  The Torkham crossing also remains closed.

[Note: the video (h/t harpie) above is from Dawn and was first released as part of this article.  The video itself is not particularly informative, but the key part of the article says of the video that it "shows Nato (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) aircraft hovering over the security post before blowing it up".  Taken along with the same account of multiple attacks in today's Washington Post, a very consistent account is emerging.]

US-Pakistan Tensions Continue: Joint Report Delayed, Trucks Delayed at Chaman Crossing

5:28 am in Afghanistan, Pakistan by Jim White

Tensions between the United States and Pakistan continue to grow. At the same time that NATO and Pakistan were concluding an investigation of the helicopter attack that killed three Pakistani troops, a US assessment that Pakistan is not aggressively pursuing terrorists became public. Perhaps as a result, release of a joint statement on the investigation has been delayed in a disagreement about its wording and some trucks have now been delayed at the Chaman crossing into Afghanistan, while attacks on fuel tankers continue.

Dawn, through Reuters, reports on the US assessment of Pakistan’s anti-terrorism efforts:

A new White House assessment concludes that Pakistan has been unwilling to aggressively pursue Al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban militants in a Pakistani tribal region.

The White House assessment, first reported by The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday and confirmed by Reuters, faults the Pakistan government and military for lacking the will to take action against the militants in North Waziristan.

“The Pakistan military continued to avoid military engagements that would put it in direct conflict with Afghan Taliban or Al-Qaeda forces in North Waziristan,” the assessment said, according to a US official who has seen the report.

“This is as much a political choice as it is a reflection of an under-resourced military prioritizing its targets,” the report said.

The timing for this report becoming public could not have been worse. NATO and Pakistan were completing their investigation of the NATO helicopter attack last week that killed three Pakistani troops, prompting Pakistan to close the Torkham crossing. From another Dawn article:

A joint investigation team of the military and the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force has concluded an initial probe into recent aerial incursions by Isaf helicopters into Kurram Agency, but the communique could not come through on Tuesday because the two sides were haggling over the phraseology.

Sources in Isaf and Pakistan military told Dawn that a statement on the initial probe, which was slated to be released on Tuesday night, was now likely to be made public on Wednesday.

/snip/

As Isaf intends to describe the violation by an air weapons team as an action in self-defence, Pakistanis want the Isaf command to acknowledge that the event was avoidable.

/snip/

Pakistanis are adamant that Isaf should apologise for the incident, but the coalition forces are only ready to express regrets and offer condolences to the families of the soldiers killed in the strike.

At the same time that NATO and Pakistan were disagreeing on the report language, Dawn reported that over 150 NATO supply trucks have been delayed at the Chaman crossing:

Pakistan Customs has detained 152 trailers and oil tankers at Chaman border carrying fuel and other supplies for Nato forces in Afghanistan after detecting some tampering with documents.

“Some tampering was found in Nato supplies documents presented at a Customs checkpoint in Chaman for clearance,” informed sources told Dawn.

/snip/

Custom authorities have decided to clear Nato tankers and trailers only after complete checking after receiving reports of smuggling through these vehicles under cover of Nato supplies.

“No vehicle carrying Nato supplies will be allowed to go to Afghanistan without checking,” the sources said.

This interference with supplies crossing at Chaman is significant, because it is one of the two main crossings into Afghanistan and is the only one open since Pakistan closed the northern Torkham crossing. A delay based on "paperwork" appears to me to be a warning that Pakistan is considering closure of Chaman.  Also note from the map at the bottom of this BBC story on today’s tanker attacks that the Chaman crossing is close to Kandahar, where a major NATO offensive is underway. Should Pakistan completely close this crossing as well, NATO logistics will be affected at least for the short term.

At the time of this writing, the day in Pakistan is quite advanced and yet the joint NATO-Pakistan statement on the investigation into the helicopter attack has not been released, even though it was expected early in the day. I will provide an update if and when the statement is made public.