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NATO Expands Afghan War Into Pakistan

September 30, 2010 1 comment

On October 7 the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization military allies will begin the tenth year of their war in Afghanistan, over 3,000 miles from NATO Headquarters in Brussels.

The following month midterm elections will be held in the U.S. and NATO will hold a two-day summit in Portugal. The American administration is eager to achieve, or appear to have achieved, a foreign policy triumph in an effort to retain Democratic Party control of the Congress and NATO something to show for the longest and largest military mission in its 61 years of existence.

President Barack Obama has tripled the amount of American combat troops in Afghanistan to 100,000 and along with forces from other NATO member states and partner nations there are now over 150,000 foreign troops in the nation, the most ever stationed in the war-wracked country. 120,000 of those soldiers are now under the command of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the most ever serving in a North Atlantic Alliance-led military operation. NATO Kosovo Force at its peak had 50,000 troops, but they entered the Serbian province after an almost three-month air war had ended.

The 120,000 NATO forces currently in theater – from 50 nations already with more pegged to provide troops – are at the center of the world’s longest-lasting and increasingly deadly hot war. NATO’s first ground war, its first combat operations in Asia.

Last year was the most lethal for the U.S and NATO in what is now a nine-year conflict and this year has already proven even more costly in terms of combat deaths. And there are three more months to go.

Washington and Brussels could decide to save face and end the fighting through some combination of an internal political settlement and a true international peacekeeping arrangement – rather than the subversion of the International Security Assistance Force that was established by a United Nations mandate in December of 2001 but which is now the Pentagon’s and NATO’s vehicle for waging war in Afghanistan. And in neighboring Pakistan.

But the military metaphysic prevalent in Washington over the past 65 years will allow for nothing other than what is seen as victory, with a “Who lost Afghanistan?” legacy tarnishing the president who fails to secure it and the party to which he belongs being branded half-hearted and defeatist.

As for NATO, the Strategic Concept to be adopted in November is predicated upon the bloc’s expansion into a 21st century global expeditionary force for which Afghanistan is the test case. A NATO that loses Afghanistan, that loses in Afghanistan, will be viewed more critically by the populations of its European member states that have sacrificed their sons and daughters at the altar of NATO’s international ambitions. In the words of then-Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer six years ago: “What is NATO doing in Afghanistan? Defending values at the Hindu Kush in the present day international climate. We have to fight terrorism wherever it emerges. If we don’t do it at the Hindu Kush, it will end up at our doorstep. In other words, this perception gap [of the North Atlantic military alliance operating in South Asia] in the long run must be closed and must be healed – that is, for NATO’s future, of the utmost importance.” [1]

Not satisfied with the Vietnam that Afghanistan has become, NATO has now launched its Cambodian incursion. One with implications several orders of magnitude greater than with the prototype, though, into a nation of almost 170 million people, a nation wielding nuclear weapons. Pakistan.

As the U.S. delivered its 20th deadly drone missile attack of the month inside Pakistan on the 27th, five times the amount launched in August and the most in any month since they were started in 2004, NATO conducted a series of attacks with helicopter gunships in Northwest Pakistan. Claiming the “right of self-defense” and in “hot pursuit” of insurgents that had reportedly attacked a NATO camp, Combat Outpost Narizah, in Afghanistan’s Khost province near the Pakistani border, this past weekend NATO attack helicopters conducted two forays into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas where U.S. drone strikes have killed a record number of people this month.

Estimates of those killed, dutifully referred to in the Western press as insurgents, militants or terrorists, were 30, then 50, afterward 60, 70 and later “82 or higher.” [2]

The amount, like the identify, of the dead will never be definitively known.

Press reports stated the targets were members of the Haqqani network, founded by veteran Afghan Mujahedin leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, who when he led attacks from Pakistani soil against Afghan targets slightly over a generation ago was an American hero, one of Ronald Reagan’s “freedom fighters.” Two years ago the New York Times wrote: “In the 1980s, Jalaluddin Haqqani was cultivated as a ‘unilateral’ asset of the CIA and received tens of thousands of dollars in cash for his work in fighting the Soviet Army in Afghanistan, according to an account in ‘The Bin Ladens,’ a recent book by Steve Coll. At that time, Haqqani helped and protected Osama bin Laden, who was building his own militia to fight the Soviet forces, Coll wrote.” [3]

As to the regret that the otherwise praiseworthy Haqqani has of late allied himself with the Taliban, one voiced by among other people the late Charlie Wilson who once celebrated Haqqani as “goodness personified,” in an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press last year Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari told his American audience that the Taliban “was part of your past and our past, and the ISI and the CIA created them together. And I can find you 10 books and 10 philosophers and 10 write-ups on that….” [4]

On September 27 two NATO helicopters attacked the Kurram agency in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, killing six people and wounding eight. A local Pakistani government official described all the victims as civilians. According to Dawn News, “Nato has also shelled the area before.” [5] Three attacks in three days and as many as 100 deaths.

On the same day a U.S. drone-launched missile strike killed four people in the North Waziristan agency. “The identities of the four people killed in the attack were not known….” [6]

The above events occurred against the backdrop of the revelation in Bob Woodward’s new book Obama’s Wars that “a 3,000-strong secret army of Afghan paramilitary forces run by the Central Intelligence Agency had conducted cross-border raids into Pakistan.” [7]

After mounting in intensity for two years and consisting in part – helicopter gunship attacks and special forces assassination team raids – of covert operations, the U.S. and NATO war in Northwest Pakistan is now fully underway and can no longer be denied.

The Pentagon – the helicopters used in the attacks on September 25 and 26 were American Apaches and Kiowas – defended the strikes over the weekend as falling within its rules of engagement and Defense Department spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said the U.S. had adhered to “appropriate protocol” and “Our forces have the right of self-defense.” [8]

A spokesmen for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force initially denied that Alliance forces had launched any attacks inside Pakistani territory, although Afghan police officials had confirmed that they did. On September 27, however, the International Security Assistance Force verified that NATO forces had conducted the deadly strikes. As the third attack by NATO helicopters occurred on the same day, “Coalition officials said the cross-border attacks fell within its rules of engagement because the insurgents had attacked them from across the border.” [9]

A NATO official informed the press that “ISAF forces must and will retain the authority, within their mandate, to defend themselves in carrying out their mission.” [10]

Mehmood Shah, former top security official of the Pakistani government in the region where the helicopter gunship and drone strikes have killed over 200 people so far this month, said of the recent NATO attacks: “This should be considered a watershed event. They [Nato] must be warned: the next time you do this, it can lead to war. Our units should be deployed to fire upon them. This border has sanctity. Nato must realise they have a mandate to operate in Afghanistan, not in Pakistan.” [11]

On September 27 Interior Minister Rehman Malik denounced the NATO raids as a violation of Pakistani territorial integrity and national sovereignty and told the nation’s Senate that the Afghan ambassador to Islamabad would be summoned to explain the attacks. Malik and the Pakistani government as a whole know that the Hamid Karzai administration in Kabul has no control over what the U.S. and NATO do in its own country, much less in Pakistan. The interior minister’s comment were solely for internal consumption, for placating Pakistani popular outrage, but as Pakistan itself has become a NATO partner and U.S. surrogate [12] its officials, like those of Afghanistan, will not be notified of any future attacks.

Nevertheless domestic exigencies compelled Malik to denounce the strikes inside his country and assert “I take the drone attacks in Pakistani territory as an attack on the sovereignty of Pakistan.” A senator from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz “asked the government to inform the parliament about any accord it had reached with the US under which drone attacks were being carried out.” [13]

At the same time Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit went further and lodged what was described as a strong protest to NATO Headquarters in Brussels over the weekend’s air strikes, issuing a statement that said in part: “These incidents are a clear violation and breach of the UN mandate under which ISAF operates,” as its mandate “terminates/finishes” at the Afghan border.

“There are no agreed ‘hot pursuit’ rules. Any impression to the contrary is not factually correct. Such violations are unacceptable.” [14]

By the evening of September 27, after the Pakistani complaints were registered, NATO’s ISAF attempted to conduct damage control and reverted to the military bloc’s original position: That it has not launched attacks inside Pakistan at all. On that very day it had dispatched two more helicopter gunships for the third raid in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

NATO will continue to launch lethal attacks inside Pakistan against whichever targets it sees fit and will proffer neither warnings nor apologies. The U.S. will continue to escalate attacks with Hellfire missiles against whomever it chooses, however inaccurate, anecdotal and self-interested the reports upon which they are based prove to be.

The death toll in Pakistan this month is well over 200 and for this year to date over 2,000. The justification for this carnage offered by the U.S. and NATO is that it is intended to extend the policy of Barack Obama to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” insurgent networks in Afghanistan into Pakistan, supposedly the sooner to end the war.

Forty years ago Obama’s predecessor Richard Nixon began his speech announcing the expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia with these words: “Good evening, my fellow Americans. Ten days ago, in my report to the nation on Vietnam, I announced the decision to withdraw an additional 150,000 Americans from Vietnam over the next year. I said then that I was making that decision despite our concern over increased enemy activity in Laos, in Cambodia, and in South Vietnam. And at that time I warned that if I concluded that increased enemy activity in any of these areas endangered the lives of Americans remaining in Vietnam, I would not hesitate to take strong and effective measures to deal with that situation.” [15]

He claimed that “enemy sanctuaries” in Cambodia “endanger the lives of Americans who are in Vietnam,” and “if this enemy effort succeeds, Cambodia would become a vast enemy staging area and a springboard for attacks on South Vietnam along 600 miles of frontier: a refuge where enemy troops could return from combat without fear of retaliation.”

The course he ordered was to “go to the heart of the trouble. And that means cleaning out major North Vietnamese and Vietcong occupied territories, these sanctuaries which serve as bases for attacks on both Cambodia and American and South Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam.”

The practical application of the policy was that “attacks are being launched this week to clean out major enemy sanctuaries on the Cambodian-Vietnam border.”

In language that has been heard again lately in Washington and Brussels – with nothing but the place names changed – Nixon claimed: “We take this action not for the purpose of expanding the war into Cambodia, but for the purpose of ending the war in Vietnam….”

Washington indeed expanded the Vietnam War into Cambodia, with what disastrous effects the world is fully aware, and soon thereafter departed Southeast Asia in defeat, leaving vast stretches of Vietnam and Cambodia in ruins.

Afghanistan and Pakistan will not fare any better.

Pakistan exploits troubled US effort in Afghanistan

* Afghan officials say Pakistanis are pushing various other proxies, with Kayani personally offering to broker a deal with Taliban
* Pak official says Taliban, including Haqqani group, ready to ‘make a deal’ over al Qaeda
* Analyst says Haqqanis’ willingness aimed at thwarting military action in NWA

Daily Times Monitor

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is exploiting the troubled United States military effort in Afghanistan to drive home a political settlement with Afghanistan that will give Islamabad important influence there but is likely to undermine US interests, Pakistani and American officials said, according to the New York Times.

The dismissal of General Stanley McChrystal will almost certainly embolden the Pakistanis in their plan as they detect increasing American uncertainty, Pakistani officials said. Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani preferred McChrystal to his successor, General David H Petraeus, whom he considers more of a politician than a military strategist, say people who have spoken recently with Kayani.

Pakistan is presenting itself as the new viable partner for Afghanistan to President Hamid Karzai, who has soured on the Americans.

Proxies: In addition, Afghan officials said the Pakistanis were pushing various other proxies, with Kayani personally offering to broker a deal with the Taliban leadership, New York Times reported.

Washington has watched with some nervousness as Kayani and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha shuttle between Islamabad and Kabul, telling Karzai that they agree with his assessment that the US cannot win in Afghanistan, and that a post-war Afghanistan should incorporate the Haqqani network, a long-time Pakistani asset. Despite McChrystal’s 11 visits to Kayani in Islamabad in the past year, the Pakistanis have not been altogether forthcoming on details of the conversations in the last two months, making Islamabad’s moves even more worrisome for the US, said an American official.

“They know this creates a bigger breach between us and Karzai,” the official said.

Although encouraged by Washington, the thaw heightens the risk that the US would find itself cut out of what amounts to a separate peace between the Afghans and Pakistanis, and one that does not necessarily guarantee Washington’s prime objective in the war, denying al Qaeda a haven, New York Times reported.

The network of Sirajuddin Haqqani – an ally of al Qaeda who runs a major part of the insurgency in Afghanistan – has long been Pakistan’s crucial anti-India asset and has remained virtually untouched by Pakistani forces in their redoubt inside Pakistan, in the Tribal Areas on the Afghan border, even as the Americans have pressed Islamabad for an offensive against it.

At a briefing this week at the ISI headquarters, Pakistani analysts laid out a view of the war that dovetailed neatly with the doubts expressed by Karzai. They depicted a stark picture of an American military campaign in Afghanistan “that will not succeed.”

The offer by Pakistan to make the Haqqanis part of the solution in Afghanistan has now been adopted as basic Pakistani policy, said Riffat Hussain, a professor of international relations at Islamabad University, and a confidant of top military generals. “The establishment thinks that without getting Haqqani on board, efforts to stabilise the situation in Afghanistan will be doomed,” Hussain said. “Haqqani has a large fighting force, and by co-opting him into a power-sharing arrangement a lot of bloodshed can be avoided,” he added, according to the New York Times.

The recent trips by Kayani and Pasha to Kabul were an “effort to make this happen,” he said.

As for the Haqqanis, whose fighters stretch across eastern Afghanistan all the way to Kabul, they are prepared to break with al Qaeda, Pakistani intelligence and military officials said.

Deal: The Taliban, including the Haqqani group, are ready to “make a deal” over al Qaeda, a senior Pakistani official close to the Pakistan Army said. The Haqqanis could tell al Qaeda to move elsewhere because it had been given nine years of protection since the 9/11 attack, the official said. But this official acknowledged that the Haqqanis and al Qaeda were too “thick” with each other for a separation to happen. They had provided each other with fighters, money and other resources over a long period of time, the official said.

The Haqqanis may be playing their own game with their hosts, the Pakistanis, Hussain said.

“Many believe that Haqqanis’ willingness to cut its links with al Qaeda is a tactical move which is aimed at thwarting the impending military action by the Pakistan Army in North Waziristan,” he said, according to the New York Times.

Stanley McChrystal’s war path on White House

  • Stanley McChrystal — the Runaway General
  • Excerpts from the Rolling Stone interview with General Stanley McChrystal
  • The White House must decide whether stability in the war effort outweighs the need to discipline the commander.
  • As President Obama weighs whether to relieve his Afghanistan commander over inappropriate comments in a magazine article, he is also wrestling with the future of a war that he has taken on as his own.
  • If he fires Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, Obama will be forced to consider revising his strategy, which relies on large numbers of U.S. troops and a far-reaching counterinsurgency effort to promote governance and development in Afghanistan.
  • The White House now has to decide whether stability at the top of the war effort outweighs the need to discipline a commander who twice has seemed to publicly challenge civilian oversight of the war.

The article in this week’s Rolling Stone depicted Gen Stanley McChrystal – the top US military commander in Afghanistan – as a lone wolf on the outs with many important figures in the Obama administration and unable to persuade even some of his own soldiers that his strategy could win the war.

The interview describes McChrystal as “disappointed” in his first Oval Office meeting with President Barack Obama. The article says that although McChrystal voted for Obama, the two failed to connect from the start. “McChrystal thought Obama looked ‘uncomfortable and intimidated’ by the roomful of military brass,” said the magazine about the general’s first meeting with his new commander-in-chief, a week after the latter took office.

McChrystal’s one-on-one meeting with the president a few months later did not go much better either. “It was a 10-minute photo-op,” the magazine quotes an adviser to McChrystal. “The Boss was pretty disappointed,” the aide had said, referring to the general.

The Rolling Stone article, which quotes several McChrystal aides anonymously, portrays a split between the US military and Obama’s advisers at an extremely sensitive moment for the Pentagon, which is fending off criticism of its strategy to turn around the Afghanistan war.

  • Firing McChrystal would also probably ignite fierce debate in Congress, with some Republicans charging that Obama had sacrificed an effective wartime commander because of comments that, while intemperate, did not challenge the course set by civilians.
  • Opponents in Congress of the current strategy would probably respond by pressing even harder for a shift in strategy.
  • In December, Obama essentially sided with McChrystal, who recommended a troop buildup and a dedicated counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan.
  • And he rebuffed, at least for the moment, Vice President Joe Biden and other advisors, who expressed skepticism about the strategy.
  • Obama set a July 2011 deadline for beginning a troop drawdown in Afghanistan and promised to review the strategy in December — in effect giving McChrystal a year to show results.
  • McChrystal’s approach already has been under fire, because stabilization efforts have proved less successful than expected in Helmand province and the general has extended an operation around the city of Kandahar because of delays in getting Afghan support.
  • Officials who back the current strategy say that firing McChrystal would set back that effort even further.

Obama appointed McChrystal to lead the Afghan effort in May 2009. He was, however, not happy with the proposals the general was making – calling, among other things, for another 40,000 troops – to avoid a ‘mission failure’, writes the magazine.

“The White House was furious. McChrystal, they felt, was trying to bully Obama, opening him up to charges of being weak on national security unless he did what the general wanted. It was Obama versus the Pentagon, and the Pentagon was determined to kick the president’s ass,” states the Rolling Stone piece.

“I found that time painful,” McChrystal said in the article. “I was selling an un-sellable position,” he added.

Obama agreed to dispatch an additional 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan only after months of study, which many in the military found frustrating. And the White House’s troop commitment was coupled with a pledge to begin bringing them home in July 2011, in what counter-insurgency strategists advising McChrystal regarded as an arbitrary deadline.

A diplomatic incoherence among several officials in the Obama administration dealing with the war in Afghanistan, opines the magazine, has effectively allowed McChrystal’s team to call the shots and “hampered efforts to build a stable and credible government in Afghanistan”.

The magazine goes on, “part of the problem is personal: In private, Team McChrystal likes to talk shit about many of Obama’s top people on the diplomatic side. One aide calls Jim Jones, a retired four-star general and veteran of the Cold War, a ‘clown’ who remains ‘stuck in 1985′.”

“Politicians like [John] McCain and [John] Kerry, says another aide, ‘turn up, have a meeting with Karzai, criticise him at the airport press conference, then get back for the Sunday talk shows. Frankly, it’s not very helpful,” quotes the magazine.

Only US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton receives good reviews from McChrystals advisers. “Hillary had Stan’s back during the strategic review,” an adviser tells Rolling Stone, adding, “She said, ‘If Stan wants it, give him what he needs’.”

The assessment of McChrystal’s team of Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the official charged with the reintegration of the Taliban is not nearly as rosy: “‘The Boss says he’s like a wounded animal’,” the magazine quotes a member of the general’s team. “‘Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous. He’s a brilliant guy, but he just comes in, [and] pulls on a lever, whatever he can grasp onto’,” quotes the magazine.

McChrystal, says the magazine, does not bother concealing his annoyance over the diplomat. “At one point during a trip to Paris, he checks his BlackBerry. ‘Oh, not another e-mail from Holbrooke’, he groans. ‘I don’t even want to open it’, he says. He clicks on the message and reads the salutation out loud, then stuffs the BlackBerry back in his pocket.”

McChrystal, a widely respected former special operations chief, has enjoyed mostly sympathetic US media coverage since he took over the NATO-led force last year with a mandate from Obama to launch a major counter-insurgency offensive.

In the interview, McChrystal said he felt betrayed by US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, the man the White House chose to be his diplomatic partner. If Eikenberry had the same doubts, McChrystal said he never expressed them until a leaked internal document threw a wild card into the debate over whether to add more troops last November. In the document, Eikenberry said Afghan President Hamid Karzai was not a reliable partner for the counter-insurgency strategy McChrystal was hired to execute.

McChrystal accused the ambassador of giving himself cover.

“‘Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books’,” McChrystal told the magazine, adding, “‘Now, if we fail, they can say ‘I told you so’.”

  • The most logical successor would be Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who is already in Afghanistan serving as McChrystal’s deputy. Replacing McChrystal with Rodriguez would signal continuity, rather than a shift in approach.
  • Another name being mentioned as a possible successor was Marine Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of the U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va. He has command combat experience in Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • Even if he remains the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, McChrystal is almost certain to emerge from the furor as a damaged figure, less able to defend his war strategy against those in the administration hoping to change it.
  • “I strongly believe McChrystal will return, but the damage is done,” said a senior military official sympathetic to McChrystal.
  • Among the issues Obama will have to decide is whether McChrystal can remain effective as commander in the wake of the furor.
  • “Does he come back weakened or gun shy or hesitant to make that case?” asked one senior official. “We need him engaged.”

The article depicts the strained relationship between McChrystal and Eikenberry. “According to those close to the two men, Eikenberry – a retired three-star general who served in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2005 – can’t stand that his former subordinate is now calling the shots. He’s also furious that McChrystal, backed by NATO’s allies, refused to put Eikenberry in the pivotal role of viceroy in Afghanistan, which would have made him the diplomatic equivalent of the general.”

The job instead went to British ambassador Mark Sedwill – a move that effectively increased McChrystal’s influence over diplomacy by shutting out a powerful rival.

“‘In reality, that position needs to be filled by an American for it to have weight’,” the magazine quotes a US official familiar with the negotiations.

The Rolling Stone article appeared to catch him and his staff in unguarded moments, including a drinking session at an Irish pub in Paris.

In the article, McChrystal joked sarcastically about rehearsing an answer for US Vice-president Joe Biden, known as a sceptic of the general’s strategy of hurling thousands more troops into the fray.

“‘Are you asking about Vice President Biden?’ McChrystal says with a laugh.

‘Who’s that?’” the article quotes him as saying. “‘Biden?’ suggests a top adviser. ‘Did you say: Bite Me?’”

Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan – the brainchild of McChrystal – will see NATO and US numbers peak at 150,000 later this year before a draw-down scheduled to start next year.