The AfPak Reader

September 3, 2009

WDR AfPak Focus – Summer 2009 – Week 1

Filed under: Defense News,Summer 2009 — huntingnasrallah @ 6:36 am

These are the AfPak stories that caught the eye W. Thomas Smith, Jr. over at his excellent resource blog – World Defense Review – during the first week of summer. 

June 22, 2009
U.S. Tightens Airstrike Policy in Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan — The new American commander in Afghanistan said he would sharply restrict the use of airstrikes here, in an effort to reduce the civilian deaths that he said were undermining the American-led mission.

In interviews over the past few days, the commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, said the use of airstrikes during firefights would in most cases be allowed only to prevent American and other coalition troops from being overrun.

Even in the cases of active firefights with Taliban forces, he said, airstrikes will be limited if the combat is taking place in populated areas — the very circumstances in which most Afghan civilian deaths have occurred. The restrictions will be especially tight in attacking houses and compounds where insurgents are believed to have taken cover.

“Air power contains the seeds of our own destruction if we do not use it responsibly,” General McChrystal told a group of his senior officers during a video conference last week. “We can lose this fight.”

“When we shoot into a compound, that should only be for the protection of our forces,” he said. “I want everyone to understand that.”

The statements by General McChrystal signaled the latest tightening of the rules for using airstrikes, which, while considered indispensable for protecting troops, have killed hundreds of civilians.

They have also angered the Afghan government, which has repeatedly criticized American and NATO forces for not taking enough care with civilian lives.

In December, the American commander at the time, Gen. David D. McKiernan, issued guidelines ordering his soldiers to use force that was proportional to the provocation and that minimized the risk of civilian casualties.

General McChrystal’s new guidelines follow a deadly episode last month in the Afghan village of Granai, where American airstrikes killed dozens of civilians.

The episode highlighted the difficulties facing American officers under fire, as they are forced to balance using lethal force to protect their troops with rules restricting the use of firepower to prevent civilian deaths.

The episode, on May 4, began when a large group of Taliban fighters attacked a group of about 200 Afghan soldiers and police officers and American advisers. During the firefight, which began just after noon and carried on into the night, the Americans on the ground called for air support.

American fighter jets, and then bombers, came to the scene, dropping a number of 500- and 2,000-pound bombs. The bombs succeeded in ending the attack, but they did much more damage as well.

A Pentagon report estimated that at least 26 civilians had been killed in the airstrikes. It concluded that American personnel had made significant errors, including violating procedures, that led to those deaths. Among those errors, the report said, was a failure by the American personnel to discern whether Afghan civilians were in the compound before they attacked.

Other credible estimates of civilian deaths in Granai ranged much higher. An investigation by a Kabul-based group, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, said that at least 86 women and children had been killed, and as many as 97 civilians altogether. The Afghan government said 140 civilians had been killed.

The Pentagon report did not dispute the conclusions reached by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, and referred to its “balanced, thorough investigation.”

The deaths in Granai make up part of the huge rise in civilian casualties that are characterizing the war in Afghanistan.

A United Nations report found that the number of Afghan civilians killed in 2008 was 40 percent higher than in 2007. The Taliban and other insurgents caused the majority of the civilian deaths, primarily through suicide bombers and roadside bombs.

The changes highlighted by General McChrystal go to the heart of what went wrong in Granai. In that case, there were at least four airstrikes: the first by F-18 fighters and the other three by a B-1B bomber. The report found that it was the last two airstrikes that probably caused the civilian deaths.

In those cases, the report found, the bomber’s crew tracked suspected Taliban fighters as they entered a building, and then attacked without determining whether civilians were inside. The report said there were probably civilians inside those buildings when they were destroyed.

Under the rules that General McChrystal outlined, those strikes would almost certainly be prohibited. They would be prohibited, the general said, even if it meant letting some Taliban get away.

Referring to airstrikes, General McChrystal said, “If it is just to defeat the enemy, then we are not going to do it, even if it means we are going to step away from that firefight and fight another time.”

According to the Pentagon report, the B-1B dropped five 500-pound bombs and two 2,000-pound bombs. The initial airstrikes, carried out by four F-18 fighters-bombers, the report said, killed insurgents but no civilians.

Ahmad Nader Nadery, the director of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, said Sunday that the American response in Granai was “disproportionate.” And he said he was pleased by the changes outlined by General McChrystal.

“We are looking forward to seeing the new guidelines, and actually seeing how they would be translated into practice,” he said.

Last September, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates ordered new rules specifically to defuse tensions over Afghan civilian deaths.

During a recent visit to Kabul, Mr. Gates said the American military would quickly apologize and offer compensation to survivors in cases of civilian deaths, even in advance of formal investigations to determine exactly what had happened.

“I think the key for us is, on those rare occasions when we do make a mistake, when there is an error, to apologize quickly, to compensate the victims quickly, and then carry out the investigation,” Mr. Gates said after a meeting with President Hamid Karzai.

Thom Shanker contributed reporting from Washington.
Why Afghanistan might gain a CEO
As race for presidency nears, a new role is eyed for a former US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad: Help Kabul work with the outside world.
By Ben arnoldy | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
from the June 21, 2009 edition

Kabul, Afghanistan – Afghan voter Bakhtiar Najman has some 40 other options this August besides President Hamid Karzai, whose leadership he describes as “bad.” The trouble is, the others strike him as worse.

“So I will vote for bad,” says Mr. Najman, a law student at Kabul University.

Mr. Karzai’s popularity has slipped among Afghans and in Washington. Yet he enters the presidential race in a strong position, having sidelined and co-opted his strongest opponents.

Analysts and opposition figures blame the political paradox on the centralized nature of the government and the concentration of power in the presidency. And with elections fast approaching, proposed reforms are buzzing around Kabul, including the creation of a prime ministerial post. Perhaps most intriguing of all the possible solutions to decentralize power are the reports that former US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad could step in as the country’s “chief executive officer.”

The CEO idea appears to hold appeal among frustrated Afghans, while the position’s lack of definition and constitutional legitimacy worries experts.

“The office of president is … a 48-hour job given a 24-hour time frame,” says William Maley, an Afghanistan expert at Aus­tralian National Uni­ver­sity. “Some­thing to relieve the burdens of the office is vital. On the other hand, simply going down the path of having a CEO as an agent of the president, there’s no foundation for institutionalizing the office.”

As president, Karzai controls the appointments of governors and heads of ministries. With his popularity eroding, Karzai pulls this lever of power to manage political rivals, most recently choosing notorious warlord Muhammad Fahim to be one of his two running mates.

The allegiances of these Afghan officials are to Karzai, as there’s little anyone else can do about the appointments. Indeed, when parliament tried recently to exercise its oversight role in requesting a new foreign minister, Karzai refused.

The idea of a CEO provides the possibility of taking some powers away from the presidency.

The New York Times first reported last month that Mr. Khalilzad and Karzai were discussing the possibility of the Afghan-American becoming an unelected CEO for the country, citing unnamed senior US and Afghan officials. Other reports followed, as did denials by the Afghan palace, the US, and Khalilzad himself.

Yet Kabul power brokers remain unconvinced, saying the signals have been mixed.

The business paradigm of the CEO frames the Afghan government’s problem less in terms of accountability and more as a bottleneck in bureaucracy.

Some analysts suspect the CEO, if instituted, would be tasked with coordinating the relationship between the Afghan government and the international community. Westerners are frustrated with working through ministers who owe their positions to patronage. Afghans are frustrated that their government lacks the capacity to oversee projects.

“A CEO might be someone who could be in control of monitoring all these projects that are implemented by the government or by donor countries, especially these contractors,” says Haroun Mir, a Kabul-based analyst. But he joins a chorus of reservations about the idea: “I don’t think it’s a good thing for democracy. A nonelected person would have huge influence of power in the country.”

Another danger: The person winds up having no power. Ashraf Ghani, a top presidential candidate, warns that the position has no legal basis – and no real sway with ministers.

Yet in more than a dozen interviews across Kabul and in Bamiyan and Parwan provinces, northwest of the capital, voters mostly viewed Khalilzad as a strong administrator. Many didn’t mind having an American citizen in the No. 2 position.

“He played the role of a bridge between the West and Afghanistan and I’m sure he could do that well,” says Mortaza Nabizada, a fuel seller in Kabul. “And he always united different commanders and different factions.”

Mr. Ghani questions whether Khalilzad’s tenure as ambassador proves administrative chops. “His power derived from being an American ambassador,” he says. “If he comes as an Afghan player, that’s on very different terms.”

Another potential solution is to have a government run by a prime minister. That would give parliament greater oversight. A leading opposition candidate for president, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, is pushing for adding the post.

“It would make the government more accountable and transparent,” Mr. Abdullah says, denying a Reuters report that Karzai offered him the CEO post in exchange for exiting the race.

Parliamentary systems “better contribute toward stabilization of disrupted societies” by allowing more voices to be heard, Mr. Maley says.

Afghanistan rejected the idea of a prime minister, however, when the Constitution was ratified in 2004: Ethnic minority leaders backed the idea while the dominant Pashtuns came to see it as an effort to constrain their power. The debate around adding a prime minister continues to be based on ethnicity, says Maley.
Pakistan puts Taliban leader in crosshairs
As the Army begins attacking South Waziristan, it has targeted hideouts of Baitullah Mehsud. Killing or even dislodging the militant chief could deal a severe blow to the movement, analysts say.
By Issam Ahmed | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
from the June 22, 2009 edition

Lahore, Pakistan – As Pakistan’s military wraps up its offensive against the Taliban in Swat Valley, it’s turning attention to the tribal area of South Waziristan – and homing in on Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, who is based there.

Several Pakistani security analysts say that killing or capturing the young, secretive man – who is becoming an iconic figure for his role in major terror attacks in Pakistan since 2004 – could deal a severe blow to the aspirations of militants throughout the country.

“He is the center of gravity in the war on terror…. If you could take out the leadership, it would be a great force multiplier for Pakistan,” says Mahmood Shah, a security analyst and former security chief of Pakistan’s tribal areas.

In addition to the number of attacks Mr. Mehsud has been accused of masterminding, including the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, he holds nearly legendary status among militants, says Ismail Khan, Peshawar bureau chief of Dawn, a leading English-language daily. “For another individual to [step in and] gain that stature would take four to five years,” he says.

At the same time, experts caution that despite Mehsud’s significant stature, the government cannot simply eliminate Mehsud to cripple the Taliban. It would have to kill or capture the entire Pakistani Taliban leadership, says Rifaat Hussain, a security analyst at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad.

Since the military confirmed last Tuesday that it would launch an offensive into South Waziristan – one of seven tribal areas bordering Afghanistan – it has deployed troops to strategic positions and bombed and shelled suspected militant targets. Air Force jets have attacked the town of Makeen – known widely to be a hideout of the Taliban leader.

Mysterious figure, ruthless operator

Mehsud was formally chosen to lead the Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella organization created by 40 regional militant chiefs, at its inception in December 2007. The position made him titular commander of some 20,000 fighters, many of them part of his Mehsud clan, which is based in South Waziristan.

His appointment marked the culmination of three years of fierce fighting with security forces, during which Mehsud established himself as a master of guerrilla warfare and a brave and ruthless operator, instilling fear in his enemies through mass beheadings. He is also a veteran of the anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan during the 1980s.

In August 2007, following the collapse of a two-year peace deal with the government, Mehsud’s militias captured 200 soldiers, who were later released in exchange for 25 militants.

Since becoming the Pakistani Taliban leader, Mehsud has claimed responsibility for dozens of high-profile terrorist attacks throughout the country. In March the US placed a $5 million bounty on his head.

Mehsud’s refusal to be photographed and his rare public pronouncements have given him an aura of mystery. Getting to Mehsud is a tough proposition: He has been protected by his legion of followers, his firm command over his mountainous stronghold, as well his famously fierce secrecy.

Mehsud rival could pose bigger threat than military

The advent of a serious rival from within his own clan, however, may hold the key to his downfall – even more so than the impending military threat, says Ismail Khan, the bureau chief of Peshawar, a northwestern city, for Dawn.

“You need a Mehsud to catch a Mehsud,” says Mr. Khan, to split the loyalty of the tribe and fight in the local terrain better than the military can.

Qari Zainuddin, a young man also based in South Waziristan, now claims to be the rightful heir of Abdullah Mehsud, a one-legged former detainee at the US’s Guantánamo prison camp who led the Mehsud tribe till his death in 2006.

Last Wednesday, Mr. Zainuddin told Geo TV that differences of opinion had led to a rift between himself and Mehsud. Islam does not permit attacks inside Pakistan, and religion cannot be spread by force, he said.

Zainuddin has teamed up with Turkistan Bhittani, a leader of the Bhittani clan, also of South Waziristan, and the duo are leading an effort to block the movement of Mehsud’s men in the neighboring districts of Tank and Dera Ismail Khan.

Still, it would be a mistake for the government to place all of its faith in Mehsud’s rivals, says Mr. Shah, the former security chief. “They might give you promises, but they should be taken with a pinch of salt.”

Khan says that forcing Mehsud to leave his present stronghold in South Waziristan could be enough to weaken him.

“If he is evicted or goes across to [other] tribal areas he would not be the Baitullah we know,” Khan says. Under the Pashtun honor code that governs the tribal areas, he explains, Mehsud would effectively be a guest under a neighboring chief’s protection. “That will be very damaging for his reputation” as well as his freedom to operate.
Reporters Escape Taliban Captors
New York Times, Afghan Journalists Were Held 7 Months

By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 21, 2009

NEW YORK, June 20 — A New York Times reporter kidnapped by the Taliban and held for seven months in the rugged mountainous region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border escaped Friday, along with a local Afghan reporter, by climbing over a wall and finding a nearby Pakistani army base, according to the newspaper, U.S. officials and the journalist’s family.

David Rohde, 41, was taken captive Nov. 10 along with local reporter Tahir Ludin, 35, and their driver while Rohde was researching a book on Afghanistan. News organizations, including The Washington Post, did not report on the abduction at the request of the Times and Rohde’s relatives, who feared that publication of the news could endanger the lives of the captives.

Rohde was kidnapped after he, Ludin and their driver, Assadullah Mangal, 24, set out by car for a prearranged interview with a local Taliban commander. Rohde, described by friends and colleagues as a brave but cautious reporter who always measured risks before traveling, told colleagues at the Times’ Kabul bureau that he expected to be fine. But as a precaution, he left instructions on whom to call if he did not return.

The reporter, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner, was beginning work on a book about the history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. He had been held captive in 1995 in Bosnian Serb territory while reporting for the Christian Science Monitor on mass killings at the height of the Bosnian war.

Rohde was apparently planning to journey to the eastern province of Logar to meet with a top commander linked to the insurgent network controlled by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son, Sirajuddin Haqqani. The Haqqani network, believed to control large swaths of eastern Afghanistan, has emerged in recent years as a powerful antagonist to U.S. efforts to stabilize that country and root out insurgent havens in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan. The Haqqani network is suspected of launching a number of spectacular attacks in recent years, including a deadly suicide bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul that killed more than 50 people in July 2008.

Ludin, the local reporter, has worked with several Western news organizations and arranged other high-level meetings with Taliban commanders for journalists over the years, and he arranged the meeting at Rohde’s request.

The Times reported on its Web site Saturday that at the time of their escape, Rohde, Ludin and Mangal were being held in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan. The paper said it was unclear why the driver did not escape with the others. The Times initially reported that Mangal opted to stay behind.

The Times said Rohde and Ludin escaped by climbing over a wall of the compound where they were being held. They walked until they came upon a Pakistani soldier, near Miran Shah, the main town of North Waziristan. The soldier escorted them to a nearby Pakistani military base.

Senior U.S. and Pakistani officials with knowledge of the case, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic and security concerns, have confirmed that the abductors initially demanded a multimillion-dollar ransom and the release of several insurgent commanders in exchange for Rohde’s safe return. State Department officials at U.S. embassies in Islamabad and Kabul have been aware of the kidnapping for months.

According to sources, the FBI worked closely with the Times in Afghanistan to negotiate his release. There were intermittent communications with the kidnappers, who also provided several “proof of life” videos confirming Rohde was alive. But sources said the family insisted on using private security consultants to resolve the case, and it was those consultants who insisted on an absolute news blackout.

Bill Keller, executive editor of the Times, and Rohde’s family declined to discuss details of the efforts to free the captives except to say that no ransom was paid and no Taliban or other prisoners were released. “Kidnapping, tragically, is a flourishing industry in much of the world,” Keller said. “As other victims have told us, discussing your strategy just offers guidance for future kidnappers.”

A senior Pakistani official said that “Pakistan released no Taliban prisoners” and that “no concessions were made to the kidnappers.”

Rohde’s family issued a statement saying: “It is hard to describe the enormous relief we felt at hearing the news of David and Tahir’s escape and learning they were safe. Every day during these past seven months, we have hoped and prayed for this moment. During this time, we received the generous support of many people at The Times, in the media, in the U.S. State and Defense Departments and other parts of our government as well as the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere.”

In Maine, Rohde’s father, Harvey Rohde, said by telephone that he had not yet heard from his son and that he had no information other than what he read on newspaper Web sites. “We’re obviously delighted,” he said.

At the White House, press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement: “We are very pleased to see that David Rohde is now safe and returning home. This marks the end of a long and difficult ordeal for David’s family, friends, and co-workers.” Gibbs added that the FBI had been “the lead agency on his case.” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she was “pleased and greatly relieved” at Rohde’s release.

Law enforcement officials said the long and complex case involved FBI liaisons in Kabul and Pakistan; the bureau’s field office in Boston, which made the initial contact with Rohde’s family in Maine; and eventually the FBI’s New York field office, which has experience in counterterrorism cases, kidnapping and the Taliban.

The officials said hostage negotiators and behavioral scientists from the bureau’s Critical Incident Response Group in Quantico, Va., worked with Rohde’s family and the Times. New York-based agents traveled to Pakistan and worked leads for many months. Some had worked on the 2006 kidnapping of Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carroll in Iraq.

A senior Pakistani official and a Western journalist, both of whom had knowledge of Rohde’s kidnapping and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Rohde and the other captives were moved constantly between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to several locations in the North Waziristan area. North Waziristan is a remote tribal region along the border that is a longtime haven for an array of allied Islamist insurgents including Pakistani Taliban, Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda members from other countries.

There was some concern among those looking for Rohde that increased military pressure and intensified U.S. drone attacks — begun under President George W. Bush and continued by the Obama administration — had forced his captors to move him around. The American military, as well as other U.S. government officials, were actively looking for Rohde, but reporters who were aware of the case said there had been few updates lately. “His case went cold. We hadn’t heard anything about him,” the reporter said.

Rohde set out for Logar province by car only days after another Western journalist — kidnapped four weeks earlier — had been released. Canadian journalist Mellissa Fung was working on a story about Afghanistan’s growing population of displaced people for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. when she was abducted near a refugee camp at the edge of western Kabul by Taliban gunmen in October. She was apparently held in chains in a cave in neighboring Wardak province for about four weeks before her release was negotiated.

Some Canadian media reported that a ransom was paid, but the Canadian government and the CBC denied it.

Fung’s kidnapping, like Rohde’s, was kept secret by news organizations at the request of the CBC.

Sources in Afghanistan told a Washington Post correspondent Saturday that tribal elders and other leaders in Logar worked over a long period to negotiate Rohde’s release and that this may have helped keep him alive. Law enforcement officials reportedly told his family and co-workers that the longer Rohde was alive, the less likely he was to be killed.

At one point, people familiar with the case said, Rohde refused an offer to be released because it did not include Ludin.

Kidnapping of journalists and aid workers has become a major industry in Afghanistan and Iraq, with Westerners increasingly taken for ransom rather than for political reasons. Local residents have been angered by what they see as a double standard in resolving the cases. When an Italian journalist was kidnapped two years ago in Afghanistan, a public outcry followed when the reporter was released after ransom was paid, but his Afghan interpreter was killed.

Rohde is known by his colleagues as an intrepid reporter willing to work in some of the world’s most dangerous places, and he has won numerous awards for his war coverage. He won a Pulitzer Prize while with the Christian Science Monitor for his coverage of the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 and was part of another Pulitzer-winning New York Times team this year for work in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Before joining the Monitor, Rohde was a freelance journalist in the Middle East and the Baltic States. He wrote a book based on his war reporting in Bosnia. But colleagues said he was no “cowboy,” the term journalists use for colleagues who take careless risks. He was described as a cautious risk-taker who carefully calculated whether the story warranted the danger involved.

Rohde worked on the Times’ Metro staff until the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when he joined the team of reporters dispatched to cover the war in Afghanistan. He grew deeply interested in the country and the region and later became the newspaper’s South Asia co-bureau chief.

Rohde, a 1990 Brown University graduate, married Kristen Mulvihill in September in Maine. They honeymooned in the Asian subcontinent, until Rohde returned to Afghanistan to begin researching his book.

“We’ve been married nine months,” Mulvihill told the Times. “And seven of those, David has been in captivity.”

Correspondents Pamela Constable in Islamabad and Joshua Partlow in Washington; and staff writers Glenn Kessler, Carrie Johnson, Karen DeYoung, Michael A. Fletcher and Mary Beth Sheridan and staff researchers Julie Tate and Magda Jean-Louis in Washington contributed to this report.
Pakistan’s Plans for New Fight Stir Concern
Swat Refugees, Others Question Move to Battle Insurgents in Tribal South Waziristan

By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, June 24, 2009


CAMP JALOZAI, Pakistan — As they bake in a sea of plastic tents under the relentless sun, families displaced by the recent army campaign against Taliban forces in the Swat Valley have a single, burning question about the Pakistani government’s plans for a far more ambitious military assault against armed extremists in the tribal area of South Waziristan.

“What about us?” demanded Tahir Khan, 35, a farmer who fled Swat with his family one month ago and now lives among 50,000 people in this former Afghan refugee camp in northwest Pakistan. “Our homes are destroyed, our crops are burned, our animals are dead. The Taliban could come back anytime. Why is the army going into Waziristan when they haven’t finished the job in Swat?”

Khan’s question has a strategic dimension as well as a human one, and it is among many concerns being raised in Pakistan about the government’s decision to launch a second major army operation, aimed at flushing thousands of well-armed Islamist insurgents out of the toughest terrain and most rebellious tribal territory in the country.

On Tuesday, in a setback to the army’s momentum, a key pro-government commander was fatally shot in his compound. Officials and witnesses said the killer was apparently a loyalist of Baitullah Mehsud, a Taliban leader who is the main target of the government’s South Waziristan campaign.

Over the past several months, a solid national consensus has developed for the first time that the Taliban and other violent Islamist groups must be stopped. This has bolstered the army’s determination to crush the extremists after several years of failed raids and peace deals, and has done much to redeem the military’s prestige after a decade of unpopular rule.

In preparing for a full-fledged battle, the military has pounded South Waziristan for days with bombs and heavy artillery and moved in more than 50,000 troops. A sizable number have been shifted from the eastern border with India, signaling a major psychological shift in a military establishment groomed to fight a conventional war with its Hindu-majority neighbor.

“Finally, the mind-set has changed,” said Mahmood Shah, a retired security official in northwest Pakistan who often reflects military thinking. “There is a realization that the threat to Pakistan in modern times is not Indian divisions and tanks, it is a teenaged boy wearing a jacket” full of explosives.

But the Waziristan campaign, formally announced by the government last week, has also unleashed a flood of concerns. Military experts worry about the danger of opening too many fronts at once and challenging hostile tribes that historically have been notorious for defeating foreign invaders.

There is also widespread confusion about exactly who the enemy is and what the operation’s goals are. Numerous militant groups operate in the mountainous, tribal no-man’s-land straddling the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. In the past, Pakistan has tolerated local extremists while blaming those in Afghanistan for its problems, but today there are ever-closer alliances and fuzzier distinctions between them.

Among the homegrown militants, it is becoming difficult for Pakistan’s security and intelligence services to separate “good” Taliban leaders, whom authorities can presumably control or use against foreign adversaries, from “bad” ones, who have a rogue, anti-state agenda — especially since the two groups often seem to change places because of personal enmity or political convenience.

At the moment, Pakistan’s Public Enemy No. 1 is Mehsud, an elusive religious fanatic said to command thousands of fighters and dozens of suicide bombers. He has asserted responsibility for a series of devastating attacks that have shaken the nation in the past year, including the truck bombings of two luxury hotels in the cities of Islamabad and Peshawar.

“He has had a hand in virtually every terrorist attack in Pakistan,” the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, said this month. Other officials have variously described Mehsud as a monster, an enemy of the state and — perhaps to capitalize on public antipathies in this impoverished Muslim society — an agent of India and the United States.

As a counterweight, the government reached out this month to several other tribal militant leaders once affiliated with Mehsud. In a high-profile campaign to isolate him, military officials made agreements with two once-hostile fighters, Qari Zainuddin and Haji Turkistan Betani, and began hailing them as patriots.

On Saturday, a spokesman for Zainuddin said in a phone interview that his forces had established control over most of Mehsud’s turf. The spokesman also said that Zainuddin, a former Islamist rebel in his late 20s, had broken with Mehsud over his terrorist methods and fully supported the government.

But Tuesday, while Zainuddin was napping after morning prayers in the town of Dera Ismail Khan, a gunman burst in and shot him dead. Pakistani officials said the gunman was probably acting on behalf of Mehsud. Experts said the killing illustrated the unpredictable and risky nature of official efforts to play favorites among tribal groups, which are constantly embroiled in feuds and whose loyalties to the state are fleeting.

Yet another problem is the conflicting priorities of Pakistani and U.S. military planners as they struggle to refine their often uneasy alliance against Islamist radicals. Last week, just as the government was courting yet another militant leader as part of its prewar planning, a U.S. drone rained missiles on his territory, presumably aiming at an al-Qaeda or Taliban target but unintentionally jeopardizing the deal.

Although the U.S. government has strongly endorsed Pakistan’s new get-tough policy toward the extremists, American officials are also concerned that the Waziristan campaign could merely drive them into Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of U.S. and NATO forces are waging a grueling and protracted war against Afghan Taliban fighters and other insurgents.

“Pakistan wants to get rid of these militants from our territory now,” said Shah, the retired official. “The goal is not to push them into Afghanistan, but we can’t be underwriting the security of the U.S. and NATO. They need to fend for themselves.”

Despite the now-broad public antipathy toward Islamist extremists and the unprecedented support for army operations against them, the humanitarian toll from the recent Swat campaign — with hundreds of civilians killed and more than 2 million forced to flee their homes — has added a layer of caution to the general enthusiasm for the fight.

In the sweltering government camps and makeshift tent colonies dotting North-West Frontier Province, people cluster around radios, hoping for news that it is safe to go home. The army has proclaimed the Swat campaign a success and begun to escort thousands of people home to the neighboring district of Bunir. But many refugees are still haunted by the specter of fanatical fighters slipping back to harass them again.

“There are still pockets of Taliban everywhere, and they still have sophisticated weapons. A lot of them escaped to the hills or cut off their beards,” said Khurshied Ali, 42, who fled from Swat last month with 320 other villagers in a convoy of rented trucks. “They are not defeated yet. Before the army starts a new fight, we need them to finish this one.”

Special correspondent Haq Nawaz Khan contributed to this report.
‘Shift needed’ in Afghan combat
The new commander of US and Nato-led troops in Afghanistan has said troops must shift from conventional warfare to protecting Afghan civilians.

Gen Stanley McChrystal is expected to release new combat rules aimed at reducing the number of civilian deaths.

A US military report has found that US air strikes in May in which Afghan civilians died had breached guidelines.

The Afghan government has repeatedly called for measures to cut the number of civilian casualties.
“ If our operation causes them to lose property or loved ones, there is almost no way somebody cannot be impacted ”
Gen Stanley McChrystal

Speaking during a visit to a new US marine base in southern Helmand province, Gen McChrystal said that US and Nato troops must make a “cultural shift” from conventional warfare to protecting Afghan civilians.

“Traditionally American forces are designed for conventional, high-intensity combat. In my mind what we’ve really got to do is make a cultural shift,” he said

“When you do anything that harms the people you just have a huge chance of alienating the population. And so even with the best of intentions, if our operation causes them to lose property or loved ones, there is almost no way somebody cannot be impacted in how they view the government and us, the coalition forces.”

Rising tensions

Gen McChrystal, who took command of the 56,000 US troops and 32,000 Nato-led forces in Afghanistan last week, is due within days to release new guidelines on minimising civilian deaths.

They are expected to advise troops to break off from firefights with the Taliban rather than call in air strikes that might kill civilians.

The deputy commander of Nato-led forces in Afghanistan, Jim Dutton, said a “fundamental mindset change” had been taking place for some time and was now being reinforced under Gen McChrystal.
“If you are in a situation where you are under fire from the enemy… if there is any chance of creating civilian casualties or if you don’t know whether you will create civilian casualties, if you can withdraw from that situation without firing, then you must do so,” he told the BBC.

The changes come amid increased tension between Kabul and Washington over the number of civilian casualties.

The deadliest recent US air raid was in western Farah province in May.

The US has admitted that at least 26 people were killed, but the Afghan government and human rights groups say the toll was more than 100.

A US military report blamed the civilian deaths on a failure by US forces to follow procedures in air strikes.

The UN says US, Nato and Afghan forces killed 829 civilians while fighting Taliban insurgents last year.
Published: 2009/06/25 06:18:54 GMT
June 28, 2009
Taliban Losses Are No Sure Gain for Pakistanis
MARDAN, Pakistan — For the past month and a half, the Pakistani military has claimed success in retaking the Swat Valley from the Taliban, clawing back its own territory from insurgents who only a short time ago were extending their reach toward the heartland of the country.

Yet from a helicopter flying low over the valley last week, the low-rise buildings of Mingora, the largest city in Swat, now deserted and under a 24-hour curfew, appeared unscathed. In the surrounding countryside, farmers had harvested wheat and red onions on their unscarred land.

All that is testament to the fact that the Taliban mostly melted away without a major fight, possibly to return when the military withdraws or to fight elsewhere, military analysts say. About two million people have been displaced in Swat and the surrounding area as the military has carried out its campaign.

The reassertion of control over Swat has at least temporarily denied the militants a haven they coveted inside Pakistan proper. The offensive has also won strong support from the United States, which has urged Pakistan to engage the militants.

But the Taliban’s decision to scatter leaves the future of Swat, and Pakistan’s overall stability, under continued threat, military analysts and some politicians say.

The tentative results in Swat also do not bode well for the military’s new push in the far more treacherous terrain of South Waziristan, another insurgent stronghold, where officials have vowed to take on the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, who remains Pakistan’s most wanted man.

Signs abound that the military’s campaign in Swat is less than decisive. The military extended its deadline for ending the campaign. Even in the areas where progress has been made, the military controls little more than urban centers and roads, say those who have fled the areas. The military has also failed to kill or capture even one top Taliban commander.

It was “very disappointing,” said Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, a senior politician from the region, that none of the commanders had been eliminated. It turned out, he said, that early reports of the capture of Ibn Amin, a particularly brutal commander from Matta, were incorrect.

Many Taliban fighters have infiltrated the camps set up for those displaced by the fighting and are likely to return with them to Swat, said Himayatullah Mayar, the mayor of Mardan, the city where many of the refugees are staying. “Most of the Taliban shaved their beards, and they are living here with their families,” he said.

As of two weeks ago, the police had arrested 150 people in the camps suspected of being members of the Taliban, Mr. Mayar said. This figure did not include suspects arrested by the Intelligence Bureau, Pakistan’s domestic intelligence outfit, and the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, the country’s main spy agency, he said.

Meanwhile, the government, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, has yet to announce a full plan for how it will provide services like courts, policing and health care that will allow the refugees to return home and the government to fully assert control.

Those plans appear to be mired in conflict and mutual suspicion between the military and the civilian government, raising serious questions about whether the authorities can secure Swat and other areas and keep them from being taken back by the Taliban, military experts said.

“I’ve told the president and the prime minister and the chief of the army this is the time to act. Just take basic things and implement them,” said Gen. Nadeem Ahmad, the commander of the Special Support Group, an arm of the Pakistani military that is providing temporary buildings and some food for the displaced. “This is not talking rocket science.”

On a notepad, General Ahmad had drawn a chart of the four elements of what he called “lasting peace.” They were good government; improved delivery of services, including rebuilt schools; speedy justice (something the Taliban had provided); and social equity.

He appeared to be skeptical that those aspects could be delivered within what he called an essential one-year time frame. He said he had warned the leaders: “If you don’t deliver, it will be trouble. You will come back and do the operation again.”

Having witnessed past episodes of deal-making with the Taliban, the people of Swat say they want tangible proof that the military is serious this time and that they will be safe if they return home.

From the start, a rallying cry has been a demand that the army kill or capture Taliban leaders, a ruthless group of highly trained fighters, some with links to Al Qaeda. But the army has not been able to show any evidence that it killed any of the Taliban leaders.

The daily newspaper The News said in a recent editorial that unless Maulana Fazlullah, the Taliban’s main commander in Swat, and Mr. Mehsud, the country’s top enemy, were captured, “the Taliban are going to live to fight another day.”

Indeed, most of the damage from the recent fighting appears confined to small agricultural hamlets outside Mingora, according to interviews with displaced people. Some said they had heard from recent arrivals to the camps that areas 500 yards off the roads remained in control of the militants.

The “outlook was bleak” in Swat because the civilian government did not have the money or the skills to rebuild, said Shuja Nawaz, the author of a history of the Pakistani military and now the director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

Most of the two million displaced people are still living in tent camps and cramped quarters with relatives and even strangers, in cities as far flung as the southern port of Karachi.

Many displaced people were fed up with the cruelties inflicted under Taliban rule and have backed the military campaign. But as the fighting drags on in places, the mood among them grows increasingly despondent.

Some displaced people said that they were angry at the army for indiscriminate shelling in civilian areas. Others said they were confused about why the military operation was even necessary.

“We had no problem with the Taliban,” Umar Ali, a poultry trader from Qambar in Swat, said as he sat on the veranda of a home in Swabi, a town filled with displaced people. “We’re here because of the military shelling. I’m a trader, and the thing that affects my life is the curfew.”

Earlier Pakistani campaigns against the Taliban do not offer an encouraging precedent. In Bajaur, a part of the tribal areas, two main economic centers, the market towns of Loe Sam and Inayat Kalay, remain in ruins nearly eight months after the army smashed them in pursuit of the Taliban and claimed victory.


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