– 2008-09-09 21:45:40
US Drones Kill 23 in Missile Attack in Pakistan
Haji Mujtaba / Reuters
MIRANSHAHi, Pakistan (September 8, 2008) — Missiles fired by U.S. drones killed 23 people, mostly relatives of a Taliban commander close to Osama bin Laden, in a region of Pakistan near the Afghan border on Monday, witnesses and intelligence officials said.
The missiles targeted a sprawling complex comprising a house and a religious school, or madrasa, founded by veteran Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani near Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan tribal region.
Ten militants were killed in the strike.
“There were two drones and they fired three missiles,” said a resident of Dandi Darpakheil, the village which was hit.
Those killed included one of the several wives of Haqqani, his sister-in-law, a sister, two nieces, eight grandchildren and a male relative. A son-in-law of Haqqani was wounded.
A senior intelligence official said the militants killed were Pakistani and Afghan Taliban but locals said five of them were low-ranking al Qaeda operatives, including three Arabs.
Haqqani is a veteran of the U.S.-backed Afghan war against the Soviet invasion in the 1970s and 1980s, and his extended family had been living in North Waziristan since then. Haqqani’s links with bin Laden go back to the late 1980s.
Taliban sources say he is in ill-health and his son, Sirajuddin, has been leading the Haqqani group. An intelligence official said the militants killed belonged to this faction.
One of Haqqani’s younger sons told Reuters his father and Sirajuddin were in Afghanistan when the attack took place.
Fifteen to 20 wounded people, most of them women and children, were taken to hospital in Miranshah, doctors said.
Military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said an incident had taken place and its cause was being ascertained.
Close links with ISI
Haqqani has had close links with Pakistani intelligence, notably the military Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
The New York Times reported in July that the U.S. CIA had given Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani evidence of the ISI’s involvement with Haqqani, along with evidence of ISI connections to a suicide bombing at the Indian embassy in Kabul that killed nearly 60 people on July 7.
Pakistan’s new president, Asif Ali Zardari, who is due to be sworn in on Tuesday, has vowed to defeat the Taliban and support the West’s mission in Afghanistan.
But the U.S.-led campaigns against al Qaeda and the Taliban are hugely unpopular among Pakistanis and Zardari’s coalition, which forced former army chief President Pervez Musharraf to resign last month, has to pay more heed to public opinion than Musharraf did.
U.S.-led forces have stepped up cross-border attacks against al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistani tribal areas.
Helicopter-borne commandos carried out a ground assault in South Waziristan last week, the first known incursion into Pakistan by U.S. troops since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, killing 20 people, including women and children.
A day later, four Islamist militants were killed and five wounded in a suspected U.S. drone attack in North Waziristan.
Security officials said five people were killed in another drone attack on Friday, but the Pakistan military denied it.
The U.S. commando raid and repeated territorial violations aroused anger in Pakistan, prompting the government to partially block supply lines to Western forces in landlocked Afghanistan.
Rehman Malik, who advises the prime minister on Interior Ministry issues, said on Monday the road was unblocked after a few hours, and that it had only been shut for security reasons, contrary to comments by the defence minister that it was a response to the violations.
Separately, the army killed 10 militants in clashes in the northwestern Swat Valley on Sunday night, while police arrested a teenaged suicide bomber who had planned to attack army installations in the northwestern garrison town of Nowshera.
Thirty people were killed in a suicide car bomb attack in the nearby city of Peshawar on Saturday.
(Additional reporting by Alamgir Bitani, Syed Salahuddin and Kamran Haider; Writing by Zeeshan Haider)
Civilian Casualties: Deadly US Air Strikes Undermine Mission, Report Says
Saeed Shah / Globe and Mail
Islamabad (September 8, 2008) — U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan are increasing and are causing “unacceptably high” civilian deaths, undermining the entire international mission in the country, according to a new report.
Civilians are primarily being killed in unplanned air strikes called by U.S. forces on the defensive, says Human Rights Watch, a New York-based group.
Between 2006 and 2007, there was nearly a three-fold increase in deaths of non-combatants from aerial attacks, while 2008 has seen a further rise in the use of air power.
In 2006, at least 116 Afghan civilians were killed by air strikes. In 2007, civilians killed by air strikes jumped to at least 321, the report said, adding it used the “most conservative figures available.”
In a war that seeks to win the “hearts and minds” of the Afghan people, civilian deaths lead to the loss of support of the population and, in the longer run, also endanger the lives of international troops deployed in the country, the report said. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly pleaded with international forces to reduce civilian deaths, saying in April that it “undermines our efforts to have an effective campaign against terrorism.”
An estimated 90 per cent of air power in Afghanistan is provided by the United States and there is a separate American ground force, with different rules of engagement. Even American soldiers under NATO command, in the International Security Assistance Force, have different rules of engagement.
“You have two wars going on in Afghanistan, a U.S. counterterrorism effort and the NATO stability operations,” said Marc Garlasco, the report’s author. “The U.S. counterterrorism effort is undermining the NATO stability operations.”
The United States has about 19,000 soldiers deployed independently of NATO command, largely in eastern and southern areas along the Pakistan border. There are a further 23,550 American troops as part of the 57,200-strong force led by NATO.
“Their [U.S.] rules of engagement are more permissive than NATO rules of engagement,” Mr. Garlasco said. “We found that casualties are primarily caused in defensive situations where somebody calls in an air strike. They’re under attack and they’re not taking adequate precautions to determine whether there are civilians in the area.”
The U.S. military rejected the report’s findings, but late last night said it had new evidence in an Aug. 22 raid, and was sending an officer to review its original findings. It had earlier disputed an Afghan allegation that more than 90 people – many of them women and children – had been killed.
“In light of emerging evidence pertaining to civilian casualties in the Aug. 22 counter-insurgency operation in the Shindand District, Herat province, I feel it is prudent to request that U.S. Central Command send a general officer to review the U.S. investigation and its findings with respect to this new evidence,” General David McKiernan, senior U.S. officer in Afghanistan, said.
He did not say what new evidence had emerged.
Special to The Globe and Mail; With a report from Reuters
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