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Act of War: US copters kill 30 inside Pakistan

September 27, 2010 Leave a comment
Isaf confirmed that the helicopters struck at the Haqqani Network fighters in Pakistan on Sunday.

WASHINGTON: US attack helicopters have killed more than 30 people inside Pakistan, diplomatic sources told Dawn on Sunday.

US military sources say that all 30 – killed during a hot pursuit on Friday – were Haqqani Network fighters.

The militants, the sources said, had attacked Combat Outpost Narizah, an Afghan base eight miles from the Pakistani border in Tani district of Khost.

US forces repelled the attack and pursued the militants to their post just across the border in North Waziristan.

“An air weapons team in the area observed the enemy fire, and following Inter-national Security Assistance Force rules of engagement, crossed into the area of enemy fire,” the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release.

“The Isaf aircraft then engaged, killing more than 30 insurgents.”

Isaf confirmed that the helicopters struck at the Haqqani Network fighters in Pakistan.

The attack helicopters launched their attack “after following the proper rules of engagement under inherent right of self-defence,” Master Sergeant Matthew Summers, a public affairs official, told reporters.

On Saturday, Isaf launched a second attack against the Haqqani Network, after taking fire in the border area. “Several additional insurgents” were killed in that attack.

The assault on Combat Outpost Narizah is the sixth against outposts in eastern Afghanistan since the end of August.

The US claims that the Haqqani Network is based near Miramshah in North Waziristan, and has close ties to Al Qaeda and other Pakistani and Central Asian militant groups.

US officials say that Isaf forces are permitted to pursue Taliban forces across the border if they are engaged in fighting or are under attack.

They said that US and Pakistani military commanders have agreed to a set of rules for hot pursuit, which says that US forces must be engaged with the Taliban or Al Qaeda as they cross into Pakistan.

US forces, however, not penetrate more than six miles into Pakistani territory.

But they can go deeper inside Pakistan if they identify the location of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahri, or Mullah Omar.

Pakistan denies having such an agreement while US officials refuse to offer on the record comments on this issue.

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US/NATO Need To Watch Their Back From Afghan Soldiers

Was the Taliban behind the actions of a rogue Afghan army soldier who allegedly shot dead three British servicemen overnight while they slept? The militants claimed that the incident, which included a shooting and a grenade assault, was a premeditated attack, part of a new strategy to push back against coalition forces spread out in record numbers across southern Afghanistan’s battle zones. Although the inside-job claim remains unconfirmed, the killings cast a shadow on the quality and reliability of Afghan security forces deployed in a hostile region where they are being groomed to take the reins of the country’s own security and wean themselves away from dependence on western troops.

The incident took place at a British military outpost in Nahr-e-Saraj district, a Taliban stronghold near the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah. A senior Afghan National Army (ANA) officer identified the gunman as Talib Hussein, 23, a member of the ethnic Hazara minority from Ghazni province who had served for less than a year, mainly in remote swaths of Helmand, far from home. After killing a Major in his bed, the suspect fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the base’s command center that left a British lieutenant and Nepalese Gurkha dead and four others injured, before he managed to flee outside the wire. A manhunt has ensued even as the Taliban assert he is now with them in a “safe place.”

It’s a strange sequence of events, given how the Hazara were brutally persecuted under a Pasthun-dominated former Taliban regime that massacred thousands. Today, Hazara Taliban are all but unheard of due to the history of bad blood and differences of orthodoxy: Hazaras are Shi’ite Muslims, considered heretics by the rigidly Sunni Taliban hardliners. By way of explanation, Gen. Ghulam Farook Parwani, the deputy corps commander for the ANA’s southern forces, alleged that Hussein was a habitual hashish smoker, a widespread phenomenon within the ranks. Even if it’s true, however, this hardly provides a clear motive for the deadly outburst.

But this is also not the first time that Afghan security forces in Helmand have turned against their foreign partners. In November, five British soldiers were gunned down by an Afghan policeman they were training in Nad-e-Ali district. In that incident, there were reports the policeman might have lashed out after being repeatedly insulted. While these cases are still isolated, they are sure to amplify existing anxieties felt by NATO military planners over the status of Afghan security forces, expected to shoulder greater responsibility when foreign troops eventually start to withdraw. Though the Afghan army is held in higher regard than the national police, which is widely deplored as corrupt and erratic, when put to the test, billions in American taxpayer dollars nonetheless appear to have yielded less than stellar results.

Their shortcomings were cast in sharp relief when U.S. Marines launched a February offensive to clear the Taliban out of Marjah, the opium-poppy trafficking area in central Helmand. Despite a game fighting spirit exhibited by many of the Afghan troops involved, U.S. officers grew more and more frustrated with the ANA’s general inability to follow complex orders and coordinate attacks against a determined foe. As the campaign wore on, they were largely consigned to a secondary role. Much to the dismay of American officers, these troubles persist in parts of Marjah where the Taliban has since regrouped with help from outside fighters trying to chip away at the Marines’ hard-won gains.

The summer fighting season is now in full gear across the south. Over the past 24 hours, eight American troops died in a series of attacks that included a car bomb assault and gunfight outside the Kandahar City police compound. In Marjah, where fierce firefights and roadside bomb strikes occur every day, the ANA often appear to be yet another burden for U.S. forces, with problems ranging from insubordination to the careless handling of weapons. On a morning patrol on the edge of town late last month, for example, a gunshot rang out within seconds of U.S. troops stepping outside the base, sending Marines ducking for cover. The discharge, however, was accidental, occuring as an Afghan soldier fumbled his rifle. It wasn’t the first time something like that has happened.

The love-hate relationship was better illustrated during a route clearance operation later in the week. The three Afghan army soldiers who accompanied Marines were useful when a private compound with women and children needed to be searched for possible weapons. With respect to the deeply conservative mores of the area, Marines stood back while the Afghans talked reassuringly with the family and checked things out. That same day, however, the men brazenly disobeyed the orders of a Marine officer when they refused to walk any further toward a dangerous stretch of road. They simply stood their ground as he cursed up a storm and made threats to throw them in the nearby canal, threats they could not understand.

“These guys are gonna be in pretty bad shape when we finally get out of here,” said a low-level Marine officer, shaking his head. “Most of them are a danger to themselves.” He wasn’t entirely kidding. In the case of one frontline unit based in northern Marjah, three attached Afghan soldiers, at last count, had shot themselves in the foot and one in the hand. Whether intentional or not, the upshot is that such accidents usually result in quick transfers out of the battle zone.

This story was reported with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

US withdrawal from Afghanistan on target in July 2011-White House, Pentagon

US withdrawal from Afghanistan on target in July 2011-White House, Pentagon

As expected the Pentagon and the White House have once again reaffirmed that the troop withdrawal will happen on time and on schedule. The surge has failed to garnish the results that had been advertised, but that does not shake the resolve of the Obama Administration, the NATO command, the the US Generals–they are committed to a timely withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The negotiations with the Anti-Occupation forces are going on full steam ahead.

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration reaffirmed Sunday that it will begin pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan next summer, despite reservations among top generals that absolute deadlines are a mistake.

President Barack Obama’s chief of staff said an announced plan to begin bringing forces home in July 2011 still holds.

“That’s not changing. Everybody agreed on that date,” Rahm Emanuel said, adding by name the top three officials overseeing the policy girding the war: Gen. David Petraeus, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen.

Petraeus, the war’s top military boss, said last week that he would recommend delaying the pullout if conditions in Afghanistan warranted it. Days after the date was announced in December, Gates pointedly said it was not a deadline.

Emanuel’s remarks reflect the White House view that Obama must offer a war-weary American public and Congress a promise that the nearly nine-year war is not open-ended. The problem, congressional Republicans and some military leaders say, is that a fixed date encourages the Taliban-led insurgency and undermines U.S. leverage with Afghan leaders.

Gates pledged Sunday that some troops would begin to leave in 13 months, but he was more cautious.

“We clearly understand that in July of 2011, we begin to draw down our forces,” Gates said. “The pace with which we draw down and how many we draw down is going to be conditions-based.”

Uniformed and civilian defense leaders accepted the announcement of a date to begin leaving as a condition of Obama’s major expansion of the war. Obama ordered an additional 30,000 troops, the last of whom are arriving now, with a mission to squeeze the Taliban on its home ground, build up Afghan security forces and improve chances that local people would swing behind the U.S.-backed central government.

With little progress apparent in the critical Taliban heartland of southern Afghanistan, the split between politics and tactics is again on display. As Gates acknowledged Sunday, it is taking longer than he hoped to gain an enduring edge over the Taliban in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

Gates asked for time and patience to demonstrate that the new strategy is working. He lamented that Americans are too quick to write off the war when Obama’s revamped strategy has only just begun to take hold.

“It is a tough pull,” Gates said. “We are suffering significant casualties. We expected that; we warned everybody that would be the case last winter.”

At least 34 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan this month, making June among the deadliest months of the war. Casualties are expected to rise through the summer and fall as fighting expands in Helmand and Kandahar.

Earlier this month, Gates said the United States and its partners must demonstrate progress this year or risk the collapse of already dwindling public support for the war.

Petraeus told Congress last week that he would recommend postponing the start of the withdrawal if security conditions and the capability of the Afghan government could not support it.

That does not mean Petraeus is opposed to bringing some troops home, and he said repeatedly that he supports Obama’s strategy. His caution, however, is rooted in the fact that the uniformed military — and counterinsurgency specialists in particular — have always been uncomfortable with fixed parameters for an inexact process of persuasion.

The war strategy Obama adopted is based on the success of Petraeus’ counterinsurgency tactics in the Iraq war. It combines a short-term “surge” of forces to blunt rising violence and a longer-term project to persuade locals to help uproot a homegrown insurgency.

Emanuel did not dispute quoted remarks from Vice President Joe Biden that “a whole lot” of forces would come home in July 2011. Biden, who argued within the administration for a narrower mission in Afghanistan involving fewer troops, was interviewed for the book “The Promise,” by Jonathan Alter.

Gates, however, said he had never heard Biden say such a thing, and that the evaluation by the on-the-ground war commander will largely determine the scope of the withdrawal.

“That absolutely has not been decided,” Gates said. “I’m not accepting, at face value, that … he said those words.”

Emanuel spoke on ABC’s “This Week.” Gates appeared on “Fox News Sunday.”

Afghan War Becoming a Bloody Farce

Since last summer, President Obama has publicly doubted whether Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s corruption and incompetence make him a fit partner for our policy goals in Afghanistan. Now, according to Saturday’s New York Times:

“Mr. Karzai (has) lost faith in the Americans and NATO to prevail in Afghanistan.”

Regretfully, both presidents are correct. Neither of them has a national partner in whom he can place any reasonable confidence. The two governments cannot agree on a common fighting strategy. Nor can those facts be materially changed in time to make a difference, given President Obama’s firm commitment to start withdrawing troops no later than the middle of next year.

The current price for staying is approximately one American troop fatality a day (plus several wounded and an undisclosed number of killed and wounded American contract employees). British troops are being killed at the same rate proportional to their troop level. The fatality rate for the remainder of NATO forces (proportionally) is about one-fifth the Anglo-American level of sacrifice.

As these truths become more broadly understood and accepted, I think more Americans — Republicans and Democrats, hawks and doves, liberals and conservatives — will come around to the lamentable conclusion that a continued, substantial U.S. militarily presence inAfghanistan will do no good for the United States or the long-suffering people of Afghanistan.

As the New York Times article Saturday went on to observe regarding Mr. Karzai’s state of mind:

People close to [Karzai] say he began to lose confidence in the Americans last summer, after national elections in which independent monitors determined that nearly one million ballots had been stolen on Mr. Karzai’s behalf. The rift worsened in December, when President Obama announced that he intended to begin reducing the number of American troops by the summer of 2011. ‘Karzai told me that he can’t trust the Americans to fix the situation here,’ said a Western diplomat in Kabul. … He believes they stole his legitimacy during the elections last year. And then they said publicly that they were going to leave.

I made this same point three months ago in this space when I reiterated my call from November for us to get out of Afghanistan:

If we need a credible ‘local partner,’ our local partner needs a reliable, supportive ‘large brother’ (to wit: the United States). But by first hesitating to support Mr. Karzai, then saying we will support him — but only for 18 months, then publicly admonishing him to end the endemic corruption, then leaking the fact that his own brother is a major drug smuggler, we have undermined and infuriated him, without whom we cannot succeed inAfghanistan.

Then this spring, as the toxic relations between Mr. Obama and Mr. Karzai became the subject of newspaper headlines rather than mere diplomatic gossip, Mr. Obama invited Mr. Karzai to the White House to be treated right royal. Fine food and fine words could not undo the fatal damage done to the alliance by the public White House words of the previous year. Mr. Karzai was intent on undoing American policy, and he has succeeded.

The essence of Mr. Obama and Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s strategy for counterinsurgency and “population-centric” mini-nation-building was to: (1) Build up allied troop levels quickly, (2) as a first step, drive the Taliban out of Marja, an insignificant town of 60,000 in Helmand province, and set up some governance to demonstrate the feasibility of our “clear, hold and build”strategy , and (3) go on in June to execute the Kandahar Offensive, which would overwhelm and replace the Taliban in their spiritual homeland stronghold. Gen. McChrystal called this the “decisive” battle of the nine-year-old Afghan war. But as early as April, the London Times reported, “Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, threatens to block NATO offensive (in Kandahar).” This entire strategy was premised on inducing Mr. Karzai to let us help him set up minimally competent local governance on which the local people could rely. It was openly said that we would get rid of Mr. Karzai’s powerful mobster brother, Wali, in Kandahar as a necessary precondition for good governance.

But Mr. Karzai, who had lost faith in the U.S., didn’t cooperate. No decent governance could be set up in Marja, where Taliban executions of U.S. friendly locals are being carried out in daylight, in public.

Mr. Karzai has refused to remove his brother, and the White House has moved up the date to judge our success in Afghanistan from June 2011 to December 2010. U.S. Brig. Gen. Frederick B. Hodges, director of operations for southern Afghanistan, told the London Times: “Our mission is to show irreversible momentum by the end of 2010. That’s the clock I’m using.” Gen. McChrystal has shifted hisstrategy away from population-centric nation-building to Special Forces night raids against the Taliban.

Then, last week, Gen. McChrystal begrudgingly announced, “The Kandahar operation (previously scheduled to ramp up in June and largely conclude by August) will unfold more slowly and last longer than the military had planned.” According to British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, who commands allied forces in Kandahar, “One would hope that by November-time, one is demonstrating positive trends.”

Thomas Paine, during the Revolutionary War, argued in The Crisis that there are serious moments in the life of a country when “to deceive is to destroy; and it is of little consequence, in the conclusion, whether men deceive themselves, or submit, by a kind of mutual consent, to the impositions of each other.”

We are at such a moment in this forlorn war in Afghanistan. Only self-deception can justify the continued sacrifice of our finest young men and women in uniform. Given the two presidents in command and their irreversible dispositions toward this war and each other, failure is virtually inevitable. For a lesson in how wartime allied presidents ought to struggle to work together for victory, consider the Franklin D. Roosevelt/Winston Churchill partnership.

What is not inevitable is the number of American (and allied) troops who must die before failure becomes undeniable.

Iran and Pakistan sign gas export agreement

Iran and Pakistan formally signed yesterday an export deal which commits the Islamic republic to supplying its eastern neighbour with natural gas from 2014.

The contract is the latest step in completing a multi-billion dollar gas pipeline between Iran and Pakistan within the next four years.

“This is a happy day,” Iran’s Deputy Oil Minister Javad Ouji told reporters at the contract signing ceremony in Tehran. “After decades of negotiations, we are witnessing today the execution of the agreement… to export more than 21 million cubic metres of natural gas daily from 2014 to Pakistan,” he added.

He said that from today, Iran will start building the next 300-kilometre leg of the pipeline from the southeastern city of Iranshahr to the Pakistani border, through the Iranian port of Chabahar.

Iran has already constructed 907km of the pipeline between Asalooyeh, in southern Iran, and Iranshahr, which will carry natural gas from Iran’s giant South Pars field. Pakistan’s Deputy Energy Minister Kamran Lashari, who was present at the signing ceremony, said Islamabad will conduct a one-year feasibility study for building its section of the pipeline.

It will then “take three years for constructing the 700km pipeline” from the Iranian border to the Pakistani city of Nawabshah, he added. The pipeline was originally planned between Iran, Pakistan and India, but the latter pulled out of the project last year. Pakistan plans to use the gas for its power sector.

Maoists winning the battle to control India

Friday’s train crash in India has been blamed on “sabotage” by Maoist rebels. It was the latest in a series of rebel attacks after the government launched an offensive against them. The BBC’s Soutik Biswas asks whether the rebels are gaining the upper hand.

It is not surprising that Maoist rebels are being blamed for the derailment of an express train in India’s West Bengal state, in which 71 passengers were killed.

The police claim they have found posters signed by a local Maoist militia claiming responsibility for removing part of the track, which led to the train skidding off and colliding with a freight train coming in the opposite direction.

West Midnapore district, where the incident happened, is the hotbed of Maoist rebellion in West Bengal, one of the states where the rebels have a presence.

Tribespeople dominate the district, especially the forested Junglemahal region bordering Jharkhand state.

They feel ignored and deprived by the Communist government which has been ruling the state since 1977. Most live in abject poverty. The only visible signs of “development” I spotted during a trip to the area some years ago were cheap liquor shops.

Strong support

Fed up with the state of affairs, Junglemahal’s tribespeople even agitated for a separate state.

When neighbouring Jharkhand was carved out as a separate state, their alienation grew and they were quick to welcome the Maoists, who wield most influence in areas which are poor and dominated by tribespeople.

The security forces are on the backfoot after a spree of rebel attacks
The Lalgarh area in Junglemahal is the rebels’ most formidable stronghold.
In February, they stormed a police camp in Lalgarh, killing 24 policemen.
Rebels love to describe Lalgarh as a “liberated zone” where the state has withered away – schools and medical centres have closed down because teachers and doctors are afraid to attend, and policemen are confined to the police stations fearing reprisals.

Friday’s incident in West Midnapore demonstrates how the rebels are taking the battle to their enemies ever since the federal government launched an offensive in what is known as India’s “red corridor” earlier this year.

This comprises 223 of India’s 636 districts in 20 states which the government says are “Maoist affected”, up from 55 districts in nine states six years ago.
Ninety of these affected districts, the government says, are experiencing “consistent violence.”

The rebels have been carrying out attacks with impunity in recent months – two major attacks Dantewada in Chhattisgarh state left more than 100 people dead, including 75 paramilitary troops.
But there are also theories that in this case the Maoist script went slightly awry.

Maoists frequently tamper with railway lines and often these lead to minor derailments; a number of such attempts have been caught well in time. There have been hijackings but no major attacks on civilian transport with such a death toll.

In the past year, Maoists have carried out 32 attacks on railways, mainly in Jharkhand, West Bengal, Orissa, Chhattisgarh – but no major casualties have been reported.

Support for the Maoist cause across India generally will be dented by such an attack, just as it was after the assault on troops in Dantewada.

Following the twin Dantewada attacks, the government said it was reviewing its strategy for fighting the rebels, who have refused to respond to repeated government offers for talks.

Analysts say that the strategy of “clearing, holding and developing” rebel-affected areas evidently inspired by the US strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan is not working.

‘Visible retreat’

One reason, they say, is that the surge of security forces and resources on the ground are not sufficient enough to take on the rebels who are spread over a vast swathe of remote mineral-rich forest lands.

Maoists call Lalgarh a “liberated zone”

The government is now in a “visible retreat” after a spree of rebel attacks, says security analyst Ajai Sahni.
He believes that a lack of adequate forces, training and intelligence is leading to these “disasters”.

“Unless local capacities for intelligence and operations are enormously augmented, this [offensive] can go nowhere, and lot of lives are going to be lost for no useful purpose,” Mr Sahni says.

But the under-equipped local police and intelligence-gathering networks remain Indian security’ s weakest link, and there no visible efforts to bolster them.

The government appears to be confused over how the rebels should be tackled – there are differences in the ruling Congress party itself on whether the state should strike hard against it’s own people.

Recently federal home minister P Chidambaram requested wider powers to deal with the rebels, saying that he had been given a “limited mandate.”
He said the chief ministers of some of the worst affected states have asked for air power to be used against the rebels – a measure that the government has refused to sanction.

Analysts believe that many states are not doing enough to take on the rebels, leading to a “centralisation” of the problem.

The train ‘”sabotage” was one of the biggest attacks launched by the rebels
“The principal responsibility for dealing with the Maoists remain that of the states; the first responders, the local police stations, have to be strengthened and equipped to deal with the task on their own.”

Till that happens, the rebels will be seen to have an upper hand in what promises to be long drawn out and bloody conflict, the like of which India has never seen.

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India left out. Iran and Pakistan ink $7.5 billion Pipeline deal

India left out. Iran and Pakistan ink $7.5 billion Pipeline deal

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan and Iran on Friday signed a “sovereign guarantee” agreement paving the way for the completion of a 7.5-billion-dollar gas pipeline project within the next four years.

The 900-kilometre (560-mile) pipeline will be between Asalooyeh, in southern Iran, and Iranshahr, near the border with Pakistan, and will carry natural gas from Iran’s South Pars field.

Pakistan petroleum minister Syed Naveed Qamar told reporters after a signing ceremony in Islamabad that originally the pipeline was planned between Iran, Pakistan and India, but the latter withdrew from the project last year.
“I am extremely pleased that after 17 long years this project is finally starting. It would help us generate energy for our industrial growth,” Qamar said of the Gas Sale and Purchase Agreement (GSPA) between the two countries.
Qamar added that “Iran had assured us that they would complete the project between two-and-half to three years, ahead of schedule.”

The imported natural gas — whose volume is estimated at nearly 20 percent of Pakistan?s current gas production — will be dedicated to the power sector.

Electricity generation through gas would result in “significant” annual savings when compared with other fuels, a petroleum ministry statement said.

Supply is contracted for a period of 25 years, the statement said, renewable for another five years.
“While all other CPs (Conditions Precedent) of the GSPA are completed, the project is now ready to enter into its implementation phase,” the ministry statement said.

“As per current project implementation schedule, the first gas flow is targeted by end 2014.
“The capital cost for the Pakistan section is estimated at 1.65 billion dollars.”