Saturday, September 27, 2008

Thursday, September 25, 2008

U.S., Pakistani troops exchange fire

WASHINGTON — U.S. and Pakistani ground forces exchanged fire across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border on Thursday, the latest in a string of incidents that has ratcheted up diplomatic tension between the two allies.

No casualties or injuries were reported after Pakistani forces shot at two U.S. helicopters from a Pakistani border post. U.S. and Pakistani officials clashed over whether the American helicopters had entered Pakistan.

The incident follows a U.S. campaign of attacks on militant targets inside Pakistan, including a September 3 U.S. commando raid on a village compound in South Waziristan. Islamabad has protested those strikes and warned it would defend itself.

"Just as we will not let Pakistan's territory be used by terrorists for attacks against our people and our neighbors, we cannot allow our territory and our sovereignty to be violated by our friends," Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said in New York on Thursday.

But in Washington, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman insisted the helicopters had not entered Pakistan. He described the incident as "troubling" and called on Islamabad for an explanation.

"The flight path of the helicopters at no point took them over Pakistan," he said. "The Pakistanis have to provide us with a better understanding of why this took place."

According to Pakistan's military, its soldiers fired warning shots at two U.S. helicopters after they intruded into Pakistani airspace. The U.S. military said the helicopters were protecting a patrol about one mile inside Afghanistan when Pakistani forces opened fire.


"The (helicopters) did not return fire but the ground forces fired suppressive fire at that outpost. The Pakistani forces then returned that fire. The whole exchange lasted about five minutes," said an official with U.S. Central Command, which oversees American military operations in Afghanistan.

The U.S. forces were operating under NATO command.

Thursday's confrontation followed a dispute earlier this week over reports of a downed U.S. drone in Pakistan. Pakistani officials said a small unmanned American aircraft crashed in Pakistan, but U.S. officials denied it, saying a drone went down in Afghanistan and was recovered.

The rugged border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan is seen by Washington as critical to its fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban. The Bush administration considers Pakistan an ally in counterterrorism but U.S. officials say Islamabad has not done enough against militants there.

The uncertain border also complicates efforts, making it difficult for forces to determine when they are in Afghanistan or Pakistan, both U.S. and Pakistani officials concede.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, after meeting Zardari on Thursday, said she believed he was strongly committed to fighting militants.

"We talked about how we might assist Pakistan in doing what it needs to do, but I think there is a very strong commitment. And after all, it is the same enemy," she said in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

Via Comcast.


The US military had better get to the bottom of this, or it risks completely alienating the tribes.

US, Pakistan, Afghanistan to create joint military force

WASHINGTON: The US is discussing with Pakistan and Afghanistan to create a joint military force to combat insurgents in the two south Asian nations, a senior US official confirmed Tuesday.

"We’re obviously taking a good look at it. We’re going to analyse it and see where we go from here," State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood said, adding that "We will probably have something to say once we’ve done a thorough analysis of it."

Last month, officials from the three countries began discussing the creation of a joint military force for anti-insurgency operations on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the Washington Post quoted Afghan Defence Minister Rahim Wardak as saying Tuesday.

"The terrorists have not recognised any boundaries. So to fight them, we have to eventually come up with some arrangement, together with our neighbour Pakistan," Wardak said.

"Pakistan’s government is considering the plan. They say they are looking at it," he added.



This is more like it. The recent unilateral attacks on Pakistan have been nothing short of catastrophic.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Pakistan troops 'repel US raid'

Pakistani troops have fired warning shots at two US helicopters forcing them back into Afghanistan, local Pakistani intelligence officials say.

The helicopters flew into the tribal North Waziristan region from Afghanistan's Khost province at around midnight, the reports say.

Tensions have risen after an increase in US attacks targeting militants.

The incident comes amid mounting security fears after a militant bomb attack on the Islamabad Marriott hotel.

Pakistan's army has said it will defend the country's sovereignty and reserves the right to retaliate to any border violations.

The government has said it will take targeted action against the militants, promising raids in some "hotspots" near the border with Afghanistan.


The latest confrontation between US and Pakistani forces took place in North Waziristan's sparsely populated Ghulam Khan district, west of the main town in the region, Miranshah, local officials say.

They told the BBC that troops at border posts in the mountainous region fired at two US helicopters which crossed into Pakistani territory.

The helicopters returned to Afghanistan without retaliating.

A senior security official based in Islamabad told the AFP news agency that the helicopters had been repelled by both army troops and soldiers from the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC).

"The helicopters were heading towards our border. We were alert and when they were right on the boundary line we started aerial firing. They hovered for a few minutes and went back," the official said.

"About 30 minutes later they made another attempt. We retaliated again, firing in the air and not in their direction, from both the army position and the FC position, and they went back."

A Pakistani military spokesman, Maj Murad Khan, said he had no information "on border violation by the American helicopters".

The US military in Afghanistan also said it had no information on the incident.

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad says after increased American incursions this month, the army stressed that it reserved the right to retaliate.

Our correspondent says standard procedure would be to first fire warning shots.



I'm not sure how much credence to give this. The sources are either local or anonymous, and the governments of both nations deny it— unlike the ground assault earlier this month. On the other hand, the politics of the situation are extremely complicated, and it may well be that the two governments are trying to minimize the incident in public while duking it out behind closed doors.

What it really comes down to, though, is the description of the event itself. We are fully aware that Pakistan has troops stationed along the border. I find it to be unlikely that our method of getting past these troops would be to bumble around in helicopters.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Pakistan Marriott blast shows signs of al-Qaida

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Taliban militants based near the Afghan border and their al-Qaida allies are the most likely suspects behind a massive truck bombing at Islamabad's Marriott Hotel, officials and experts said Sunday. At least 53 died in the explosion, including two U.S. Defense Department employees and the Czech ambassador.

The truck sat burning and disabled at the hotel gate for at least 3 1/2 minutes as nervous guards tried to douse the flames before they, the truck and much of the hotel forecourt vanished in a fearsome fireball on Saturday night, according to dramatic surveillance footage released Sunday.

The attack on the American hotel chain during Ramadan, among the deadliest terrorist strikes in Pakistan, will test the resolve of its pro-Western civilian rulers to crack down on growing violent extremism which many here blame on the country's role in the U.S.-led war on terror.

While no group has claimed responsibility, the scale of the blast and its high-profile target were seen by many as the signature of media-savvy al-Qaida.

Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik said "all roads lead to FATA" in major Pakistani suicide attacks — referring to Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where U.S. officials worry that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri are hiding.

Mahmood Shah, a former government security chief for Pakistan's tribal areas, said that while the attack had "all the signatures" of an al-Qaida strike, homegrown Taliban militants probably had learned how to execute an attack of such magnitude.

Al-Qaida was providing "money, motivation, direction and all sort of leadership and using the Taliban as gun fodder," he suggested.

A Pakistani intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the record to media, said investigators were examining just that theory.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the attack was an attempt to "destabilize democracy" in Pakistan, which this year emerged from nine years of military rule, and destroy its already fragile economy.

Gilani also claimed that the bomber attacked the hotel only after tight security prevented him from reaching Parliament or the prime minister's office, where President Asif Ali Zardari and many dignitaries were gathered for dinner.



I had not realized how close to the seat of government the blast was. In this map, the hotel is in the upper left corner of the screen, and the two square buildings on the right are the cabinet and the parliament; just beyond them is the palatial residence of the president.

Ironically, I had just been thinking to myself that it had been a while since al-Qaeda had done anything.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A look at the Afghan frontier

This clip gave me a much better understanding of why the region has been so hard to control.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Report Says Pakistan Troops Fire on US Helos

Islamabad - Pakistani security forces and armed tribesmen on Monday foiled an attempt by US troops to enter Pakistani territory by firing shots at them, security officials said.

The attacks came as Pakistani forces killed up to 20 Taliban militants in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

Two US military helicopters crossed into Pakistan and tried to land near Angor Adda area of South Waziristan tribal district along the Afghan border before dawn, a local security official said.

"But our security forces and the tribesmen who were alert opened fire at them and forced them to flee back to Afghanistan," added the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

There were conflicting official versions of the attempted US strike.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman denied the attack on U.S. forces had occurred, saying the Pakistani security official’s statement “didn’t appear to be accurate,” wire reports said.

A senior official in the country's foreign ministry said American ground troops, which were backed by US helicopter gunships, tried to cross over border, but were forced to flee by the tribesmen.

"Pakistani troops did not take part in the action," he said seeking anonymity.

No one was hurt in the incident, which an army spokesman denied took place.

"We completely deny the incident. There was no violation of our border from the Afghan side and therefore there was no question of any firing from our side," Major Murad Khan insisted.

However, he said firing was heard in the area but the army did not know where it had come from and where it was aimed.

A local resident, Sher Ali, said the tribesmen in the Angor Adda area had been on alert since September 3 when US special forces dropped by US helicopters killed more than 20 civilians.

"People had information since Sunday night that the US forces were gathering across the border so thousands of armed tribesmen were guarding their area," he added.

"Good for them (Americans) that they turned back. Otherwise, people were ready to give them the sort of welcome they deserve."

Tension has been brewing between Islamabad and Washington in recent weeks as US forces have increased missile attacks, mostly carried out by drones, at the suspected hideouts of militants who launch cross-border raids on international forces in Afghanistan.

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen told the US Congress last Wednesday that Washington was planning military operations to eliminate militant sanctuaries in Pakistan.

In response, Pakistan's military chief General Ishfaq Parvez Kayani has vowed to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country "at all cost."

The US attacks have also fuelled anger among the Pakistani public which is now demanding the new government in Islamabad abandon cooperation with the US in the international fight against terrorism.

But there are no indications that the government, led by the widower of slain Benazir Bhutto, President Asif Ali Zardari, intends to do that. The government has vowed to resolve the issue through diplomacy.

On Tuesday Zardari will meet British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London to discuss the matter and next week he is expected to see US President George W Bush after he arrives in Washington on an official visit.

Meanwhile, in Bajaur tribal district up to 20 militants died as Pakistani jets, helicopters and artillery pounded positions in Kamangar, Loi Sum and Banda, according to a local security official.

Army spokesman Major Murad said several militant positions were attacked on Monday but the losses had yet to be ascertained.



At this point, it is extremely difficult to determine what, if anything, happened. In addition to the versions reported above, it has also been claimed that "Pakistani paramilitary soldiers at a checkpoint opened fire into the air and the US troops decided not to continue forward."¹ Sher Ali's claim that the tribesmen had received reports that the US was preparing to launch an attack is almost certainly false, as there isn't anything to speak of on the other side of the border that they could have observed. The BBC version linked to above, which describes the troops as arriving in Chinook helicopters, is more likely to be correct, but even it makes very little sense, as it also says that the Chinooks were accompanied by helicopter gunships, which then just sat there during the actual incursion. The big problem with all of these versions, however, is that they claim that the troops ran away rather than fight. If you're engaging in a military incursion, you're probably ready for some combat.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Arrests over Afghan civilian deaths

Afghan police have arrested three men alleged to have provided "wrong information"
which led to the deaths of scores of civilians in a US air raid.

More than 90 people, mostly women and children, were killed in the village of Azizabad in western Herat's Shindand district on August 22, according to the Afghan government.

Police began an investigation into the incident on September 4 after villagers said US-led forces in Afghanistan had been fed false information about the presence of Taliban members in Azizabad following a tribal dispute, the interior ministry said.

A statement said: "After examining all the police reports and direct claims made by people in the area, three suspects who are said to be key people in giving false information regarding the bombardment of Azizabad, have been arrested in a police operation."

The three were on a list of people provided to Hamid Karzai, the president, by the villagers. Karzai visited relatives of the victims earlier this month and pledged to punish those responsible.

Karzai has already sacked two senior army commanders over the incident.

Tribal dispute

Locals told Al Jazeera that the air raid hit a memorial service at a compound belonging to Reza Khan, a tribal leader who had been in dispute with Nader Tawakal, another local leader.

"We were holding a prayer ceremony when the bombs started to fall ... it was heavy bombardment. The whole village was on fire and about 90 were killed," Abdul Rasheed, the brother of one of the dead, said.

Villagers have denied that the gathering was a meeting of the Taliban, which has been fighting Afghan and international forces since being forced from power in 2001. They said that Khan, who died in the raid, was a businessman with security contracts at a nearby US base.

"Nader gave the US special forces wrong information," Gullah Ahmed, one villager, said.

"But instead of surrounding the village they just started bombing."

Nader was not among those arrested on Friday.

The US military maintains that between 30 and 35 Taliban fighters were killed, but has agreed to reopen the investigation after a mobile phone video emerged showing bodies of people said to have been killed in the attack.

It says the original investigation found that a senior Taliban commander was among the dead in the air raid, which was called in after Afghan army US-led ground forces came under intense fire.

Civilian casualties

One resident of Azizabad said that US forces raided his house after the bombing and demanded to be shown the bodies of the dead Taliban fighters.

"I said there were no Taliban here," he told Al Jazeera. "I saw their facial expressions when they realised that civilians had been killed."

More than 500 civilians have been killed during military operations by foreign and Afghan forces so far this year, according to the Afghan government and some aid groups.

Daoud Sultanzoy, an Afghan MP, said that such incidents were destroying people's faith in the Afghan government and international forces in the country.

"The weak Afghan government and weak leadership is trying to take advantage of this and trying to deflect attention from their own problems that are the root cause of these kind of things," he told Al Jazeera.

"Lack of co-ordination of our intelligence, lack of co-ordination of our security forces and lack of co-ordination of our leadership have led to these kind of problems ... if we are not careful we will cross a threshold and alienate the civilian population."

Via Al Jazeera.


This is turning out to be quite the fiasco. I had initially not covered it because the differences between the numbers provided by the military and those provided by the locals had led me to believe that it was primarily, though not necessarily entirely, an attempt by Taliban sympathizers at propagandizing. It turns out, though, that the military's figures were based on an embedded FOX news reporter, who turned out to be, almost unbelievably, Oliver North.

Al Jazeera has suggested elsewhere that Bush is apparently ratcheting up efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan in hopes of capturing Osama bin Laden before his term expires. I hope to God that this is not true. Everything that Bush has ever tried to do has failed. If he attempts to, as an American commander put it, "kill [his] way to victory," we might as well just start paying bin Laden a pension right now.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The centrality of bin Laden

On News Hounds, I had said, "just as Hitler was Nazi Germany, so too is bin Laden al-Qaeda. So long as he is free, it is free; capture him, and it will be broken." Another poster expressed doubt that this was the case, and I composed a detailed response for him. Since I've been meaning to put together a post on this topic for quite some time, I am posting it here as well.

Osama bin Laden is the lynchpin that holds al-Qaeda together. Even before 9/11, al-Qaeda was very strongly focused on him; his lieutenants swore an oath of fealty to him personally, which is unheard of in other such organizations. After 9/11 seared his name into history, he became almost mythical. His immense prestige is what prompted other such organizations to join forces with him.

It is important to remember that al-Qaeda is organized in a very unusual way. It does have a very firm, hierarchical structure, but the nature of that structure is very different from that of, say, a military. In militaries, location in the hierarchy is based solely on authority; in al-Qaeda, it is based primarily — though not exclusively — on deference. In other words, the various components of al-Qaeda work together not because they have to, but because they want to. Now, this does not mean that you can just change your mind and go your own way — just ask Zarqawi — but such insubordination is usually not an issue. Furthermore, individual components are autonomous, and are thus not often called upon to show deference.

In the al-Qaeda of today, there is no question that the regional commanders defer to bin Laden. To suggest otherwise is just silly. Whether or not they would show the same deference to bin Laden's successor, though, especially if we had already gotten Zawahiri, is another matter entirely. It is entirely possible that al-Qaeda would break up into its component organizations, and even if it didn't, the inability of its new leader to gain such unquestioning authority would mean that the whole system would eventually break down. Even if it remained intact, though, it would lose most of its momentum.

'US drone' fires on Pakistan target

A suspected US drone aircraft has left at least eight people dead in northern Pakistan, while dozens of suspected fighters have been killed in the Bajaur region, Pakistani officials say.

The drone aircraft on Friday fired on a house near Miran Shah, the main town in the North Waziristan tribal region, leaving another 10 people injured.

North Waziristan, seen by the US as a safehaven for supporters of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, is part of a belt of tribally governed territory where Pakistan's government has little control.

Residents said two missiles were fired at a former government school where suspected fighters and their families were living in Tul Khail village, 5km east of Miran Shah.

Those killed were members of Al Badar, the armed Afghan group of veteran leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, according to an unnamed Pakistani official.

Heykmatyar is an Afghan leader who fought against Soviet occupation in the 1980s and against the Taliban in the 1990s. He reportedly allied with the deposed group after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, demanding the withdrawal of foreign forces.

US tensions

Friday's missile attack brings to five the number of such raids in the past two weeks.

Thirty-eight people, including women and children, have been killed in the past week's missile attacks.

Both the US military and the CIA operate drone aircraft armed with missiles of the type believed to have killed two senior al-Qaeda commanders in Pakistani territory earlier this year. Pakistan says it does not have missile-equipped drones.

Tensions between the US and Pakistan have further risen after a raid last week in which helicopter-borne US commandos landed in Pakistan's South Waziristan - the first known incursion into Pakistan by US troops since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.

Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan's military chief, on Wednesday denounced the apparent US raids, saying unilateral actions risked undermining their co-operation.

He warned that "the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country will be defended at all cost. No external force is allowed to conduct operations inside Pakistan."

A day later, The New York Times reported that George Bush, the US president, had secretly approved orders in July to allow US special forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the approval of the Pakistani government.

Bajaur fighting

Concurrent with the attack in North Waziristan, Major Murad Khan, a Pakistani military spokesman, announced 32 fighters had been killed, as well as two soldiers, over the last day during violence in the Bajur region.

Pakistani officials say hundreds of fighters have been killed there during a week-long offensive, which has forced 500,000 people to flee their homes. Officials acknowledge that civilian have been killed and villages badly damaged in the fighting.

Rehman Malik, the Pakistani interior minister, had previously announced a government ceasefire with fighters in Bajaur and other tribal areas in honour of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting.

Via Al Jazeera.


First off, a note on the article itself. As is mentioned, only militants were killed in the raid. Nevertheless, Al Jazeera decided to include a picture of a wounded child, the explanation given being that "Earlier air raids, which have killed and wounded civilians, have angered Pakistanis." This is blatantly biased, the sort of thing I'd expect from FOX, and if it continues I may have to reconsider using Al Jazeera as my primary news source.

As for the raid, ordinarily I would not have objected to it, because if Pakistan wants to claim that it has sovereignty over Waziristan, then it needs to actually exercise that sovereignty. However, it has now begun to do just that. With Pakistan finally taking the threat from TTP seriously, there is no need for us to intervene directly. Doing so, especially against their expressly declared wishes, is foolish.

Apologies on not posting more often. I have my hands full with my Persian lit. class.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11

May we remember this day, and understand who was truly responsible for it.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Zardari takes Pakistan presidency

Asif Ali Zardari, co-chairman of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and widower of Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister assassinated last year, has become the president of Pakistan.

Zardari took 481 votes out of 702, needing only 352 votes to guaranteed him victory, according to provisional election results.

The PPP said Zardari's win was "a victory for democracy".

Sherry Rehman, the country's information minister, said: "It is an historic win. This man suffered jail for more than 11 years for the sake of democracy and today he is elected as the president of the country.

"It is a sign of the strengthening of democracy."

Votes from the four provincial assemblies are yet to be fully counted.

Zardari will succeed Pervez Musharraf, who resigned on August 18 under threat of impeachment.



Insofar as this blog is concerned, this is probably good news, as it means that operations against the Taliban will most likely continue. However, it remains to be seen what sort of a leader Zardari will be, as there are substantial allegations that he is corrupt and mentally ill.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Ground assault by US-led forces: Women, children among 20 killed in Waziristan

WANA, Sept 3: At least 20 people, most of them women and children, were killed in an assault by US-led coalition forces on a village near the Afghan border on Wednesday.

According to people in Musa Neka Ziarat, three US helicopters landed in the plains at around 4am, troops disembarked from them and attacked a house, killing 10 people.

They said that two children, three women and five men were killed in the attack on the house of one Payo Jan Torjikhel. A woman survived the indiscriminate shooting, they said.

The troops then opened fire on villagers who had come out of their homes, killing another 10 people. The victims, including three children and two women, belonged to the families of Faiz Mohammad and Nazar Jan.

Payo Jan and Nazar Jan were also killed.

Local people said Payo Jan and the two other families had no association with militants.

“The Americans came in helicopters, landed, walked up to the houses, started shooting and then flew back towards Afghanistan,” a villager told Dawn.

“It is an outrage,” NWFP Governor Owais Ahmad Ghani said in a statement. “This is a direct assault on the sovereignty of Pakistan and the people expect that the armed forces of Pakistan will rise to defend the sovereignty of the country and give a befitting reply.”

The attack comes amid an increase in the number of missile and predator attacks on suspected Al Qaeda hideouts in Waziristan in recent days.

It was the first known ground assault of its kind.

A security official said the Americans no longer shared information with Pakistan before launching missile or predator attacks in the tribal region. “They are not sharing any information with us. These are all totally unilateral actions.”

Our Reporter in Islamabad adds: Inter-Services Public Relations chief Maj-Gen Athar Abbas said, “In the wee hours of the morning on Sept 3, Isaf (International Security Assistance Force) troops in two helicopters landed at a village near Angoor Adda, South Waziristan Agency, and as per reports received so far, killed seven innocent civilians.”The army spokesman condemned the “completely unprovoked act of killing” and regretted the loss of precious lives.

He blamed the coalition forces for the violent act and said that such acts of aggression would not serve the common cause of fighting terrorism and militancy in the area.

He said the Pakistan Army had lodged a strong protest with the Office of the Defence Representative in Pakistan and said that “we reserve the right of self-defence and retaliation to protect our citizens and soldiers against aggression”.

There were unconfirmed reports that the Isaf troops had also captured some people and taken them to Afghanistan.

Via Dawn.


Hmm. I smell something here. According to Al Jazeera, "Both the US-led forces operating in Afghanistan and the separate Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) have said they have no knowledge of the incident."¹ Ordinarily I wouldn't attach too much importance to this, but the only sources for this raid are South Waziri locals, who are not exactly impartial, and the account of the raid simply doesn't make sense. Why on earth would they have gotten out of their helicopters? Why would they have even left the country? We have Predators for that sort of thing. South Waziristan is an extremely dangerous place, and I can't imagine us needlessly risking our troops lives like that.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Taliban claims Pakistan attack

The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibilty for an assasination attempt on Yousuf Gilani, Pakistan's prime minister.

Shots were fired at the pime minister's motorcade on Wednesday near Islamabad's international airport, but officials and police said Gilani was not in the car at the time.

The Taliban said it was behyind the attack and said it was targeting Gilani because he was responsible for offensives against their fighters in the country's northwest.

"We will continue such attacks on government officials and installations," Muslim Khan, a spokesman for the group, said.

The prime minister's office said multiple sniper shots had been fired at the prime minister's car and television pictures showed two bullet marks a couple of inches apart on the cracked bullet-proof window.

Some reports suggested Gilani's son, Moosa, and Qamar Zaman Kaira, the federal minister for Kashmir and Northern affairs, were in the motorcade at the time, travelling to the airport to pick up the prime minister.

Officials said a formal investigation into the incident had been launched.

In the past, suspected al-Qaeda fighters have launched attacks on Pervez Musharraf - who stepped down as Pakistan's president last month - attacks the former president only narrowly survived.

Via Al Jazeera.


It looks like the Taliban has opted for the John McCain approach of victory through force and force alone rather than the Barack Obama approach of victory pursued on all fronts. Had the Taliban just sat back and let Pakistani politics do its thing it would be in pretty good shape, as Khalid Aziz notes:

when the government is near success the old game of using parliament as a prop to defeat the will of the state is brought into play. Any revision of policy at this stage will be a great blow to the government. At the same time Pakistan is in the midst of a severe political crisis. This has occurred due to a breakdown of the coalition at the time of a Presidential election. The tribal areas have 20 electoral votes in this contest. The tribal MNAs and Senators have said that they would like the military activity stopped in Bajaur as a precondition for casting their votes for the PPP candidate. In short the Presidential contest has become a negotiable item in the path of security operations. The JUI (F) which has more than 30 Electoral College votes has categorically asked for a halt to all military operations.

This foolish strike on the Prime Minister's convoy will have the dual effect of hardening him against any compromise and of shoring up public sympathy for him and his party.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Pakistan army 'just miss' Zawahiri

Pakistan's security forces have missed the opportunity to capture al-Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, a senior government official has said.

Rehman Malik, the adviser to Pakistan's prime minister on security affairs, said on Monday they also received a report al-Zawahiri's wife had been in the tribal region of Mohmand.

Pakistani forces stormed the location but did not find the couple, he said, without indicating when the raid took place.

He said al-Zawahri moved between Mohmand and the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Paktika.

"We certainly had traced him at one place, but we missed the chance. So he's moving in Mohmand and, of course, sometimes in Kunar, mostly in Kunar and Paktia."

Al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda's leader, have been in hiding since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

They are both believed to be in tribal region that straddles northwest Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan.

According to Malik, three weeks of fighting in the Pakistani-Afghan border district of Bajur had killed a number of civilians and badly damaged several villages.

Al Jazeera's correspondent in Islamabad quoted a tribal and security sources as saying 15 Pakistani civilians were killed in tribal area of Bajaur when two shells fell on their two homes.

Of about 500,000 people who fled, many of them to government relief camps, about 30,000 had returned by Monday.

Hand in glove

Malik said the Pakistani Taliban were working directly with Al-Qaeda, providing them with shelter and acting as their mouthpiece.

"They have not only connections, I would say Tehrik-e-Taliban is an extension of Al-Qaeda," he said, referring to a Pakistani Taliban umbrella group which authorities blame for a string of bomb attacks over the past year that have killed hundreds of people.

Pakistan last month banned the Taliban group, which was also accused of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, in December.

The US says Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters are based in sanctuaries in Pakistan's tribal areas where they orchestrate attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and plot
violent attacks in the West.

The resignation of Pervez Musharraf, the former president and staunch US ally, last month raised questions about the government's commitment to the unpopular US-led "war on terror" campaign.

But US Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US armed forces, said last week he was encouraged by recent Pakistani action against fighters, while adding both Pakistan
and the United States needed to do more to shore up security.

Via Al Jazeera.


The article confuses the similarly named Paktia and Paktika provinces. Paktia is probably the one that is meant, because of its proximity to the other two and the Taliban's strong presence there.

While I can easily understand Zawahiri moving between Mohmand and Kunar (which are right next to each other), I'm not sure what he's doing in Paktia. There is a relatively safe corridor connecting it to Mohmand via the Khyber and Kurram Agencies, but it is still a little out of the way.

If the article did mean Paktika, it would be extremely interesting, because Paktika borders the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan. I can definitely imagine Zawahiri and bin Laden being hidden in the Apostasy's two principal strongholds in Pakistan, and meeting with each other in Paktika.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Pakistani tribesmen organize private armies to fight Taliban

Pakistan's Taliban might be getting stronger, wreaking havoc along the country's border with Afghanistan, but they are also growing wildly unpopular, inciting their own tribesmen to turn against them.

In the latest of a series of incidents, a lashkar, or private army comprised of Pakistani tribesmen, torched the houses of Taliban commanders in Bajaur, near the Afghan border, vowing to fight them until they are expelled, the Daily Times, a Pakistani newspaper, reports.

Tribesmen in Bajaur Agency's Salarzai tehsil on Sunday formed a private army (lashkar) of around 30,000 people against the local Taliban. A local jirga decided to form the lashkar in the wake of the increasing presence of the local Taliban in the area. The lashkar torched 14 houses, including the house of a local Taliban commander. Tribal elder Malik Munsib Khan, who heads the lashkar, said tribesmen would continue their struggle until the Taliban were expelled from the area, adding that anyone found sheltering Taliban militants would be fined one million [rupees] and his house would be torched. The tribesmen also torched two important centres of the Taliban in the area and gained control of most of the tehsil.

Dawn, another English-language daily in Pakistan, cited the lashkar at a much lower number.

The tribe has raised a lashkar of more than 4,000 volunteers. Malik Munasib Khan, who is leading uprising against the militants, said that the houses destroyed by the volunteers included one of militant leader Naimatullah, who had occupied several government schools and converted them into seminaries.

The development comes in the midst of the Pakistan Army's bombardment campaign, which has been unfolding for weeks in the tribal agency of Bajaur, a militant stronghold where some top commanders of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden, are believed to be hiding. The bombardment, which has left some 400 militants dead according to The New York Times, highlights the rising power of the Taliban some seven years after they were first ousted from power in Afghanistan. But it also showcases why the Taliban are highly unpopular: Some 200,000 people have been displaced because of fighting, while dozens of citizens have been killed in clashes between the militants and military.

The Bajaur lashkar might be the largest of its kind, but it is not the only such force to have turned against the Taliban, according to recent reports. The News, a leading Pakistani daily, reported two weeks ago that several such lashkars have arisen throughout the North West Frontier Province, where the Taliban are increasing their hold.



Khalid Aziz, in a blog post linked to from the main article, strongly suspects that political considerations will force the government to end the current campaign, which
will not only letdown the military but all those who have accepted the challenge to fight the militants at the community level. We have seen that while the government adheres to cease fires the militants do not. Under the excuse of cease fire the militants retaliate against those who risked attacking the militants. The government’s ascendancy that now prevails would be lost.
However, this would violate the number one rule of tribal politics: Never kill the elders. Slaughter babies, rape and pillage, but do not harm the elders. Once you do that, you're in deep trouble. Killing elders is what started the Anbar Awakening, and what prompted the elimination of a very large number of Uzbek militants back when this blog was just beginning. When you target tribal elders, you target the tribe, and when you target the tribe, you target a fundamental component of society, a component that, in this part of the world, is very heavily armed.

I do not know how this will play out. The tribes may be instrumental in the Taliban's defeat; they may play no role at all. However, that defeat will never come unless the tribes allow it.

Afghan family killed in house raid

A family of four, including two children, have been killed in an overnight raid by international troops, a police official and witnesses said.

Residents in Hud Kheil in the east of the capital said one of the two children was eight months old and grenades killed the family members during a joint Afghan-US special forces operation.

US special forces said they were not involved. Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said they were investigating media reports.

The deaths are likely to further strain relations between Afghanistan and the US and other foreign forces in the country, who have been accused of using excessive force in civilian areas.

Hundreds of people blocked a road in Kabul, protesting against the raid.

"It was past one o'clock when the troops came and surrounded our houses," said Sulaiman, one resident.

"They threw hand grenades in one house and killed three family members," he said.

Some locals told Al Jazeera there was an exchange of fire, and that the family may have been caught in the crossfire.

Damaged building

"Are these two children Al Qaeda?" an angry resident asked, as the bodies were taken for burial.

"We don't expect anything from the government because we don't have a government," Sulaiman said.

Several US and Nato military bases are located in the area. Three people were taken away by the troops, residents said.

The operation came a day after Nato said it received information from a "reliable source" that pro-Taliban fighters may be planning to falsely claim that international forces killed up to 70 civilians in southern Afghanistan.

The operation also comes Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's president, sacked an Afghan army general and a major after more than 100 civilians were reported to have been killed in an attack by US-led coalition forces.

Eyewitnesses and local people said more than 100 civilians, many of them women and children, were killed in the attack.

US officials, who said only three civilians were killed along with 25 Taliban fighters, have agreed to take part in a joint investigation with Afghanistan into the attacks.

Ground and air

Afghanistan's cabinet demanded last week a change in the rules governing international troops in the country, after the claims that more than 100 Afghans died in air attacks.

Despite Monday's deaths being caused by a ground operation, Daoud Sultanzoy, an Afghan MP, told Al Jazeera last week that it was air raids by Nato and US-led troops in villages and civilian areas that were causing the most damage.

The cabinet said that a review should focus on the "authorities and responsibilities" of troops and demand an end to air attacks in civilian areas, illegal detentions and unilateral houe searches.

"The authorities and responsibilities of the international forces in Afghanistan must be regulated through a "status of force agreement" consistent with both international and Afghan laws.

"Air strikes on civilian targets, unco-ordinated house searches and illegal detention of Afghan civilians must be stopped," a government statement said.

"With either good or bad intelligence, the most important lesson to learn from this is that we need to rely more on ground troops.

"Since Nato and the coalition don't have these troops, the reliance on air support is greater.

"If [Nato and the US] can increase their ground operations it would probably alleviate some of these problems."

The United Nations says that 255 of the almost 700 civilian deaths in fighting in Afghanistan this year have been caused by Afghan and international troops.

Via Al Jazeera.


Fun fact: As of July, there were 162,000 US troops in Iraq.¹