Los Angeles Times & Associated Press & Pamela Constable and Shaiq Hussain / Washington Post – 2008-09-19 22:26:48
Gates Regrets Afghan Cvilian Toll
Gates said from now on the US would apologise first and then investigate [AFP]
Los Angeles Times
KABUL, Afghanistan (September 18, 2008) — Robert Gates has expressed regret over the deaths of Afghan civilians in US air raids. The US defence secretary, who is on a visit to Afghanistan, said on Wednesday that he would find better ways to target fighters. Gates said: “I think the key for us is, on those rare occasions when we do make a mistake … is to apologise quickly, to compensate the victims quickly and then carry out the investigation.”
Gates’ visit comes weeks after a US-led air raids killed more than 90 civilians, including women and children, in the western province of Herat.
The growing civilian toll had prompted the Afghan government to seek new rules of military engagement by international troops. In a report released by Human Rights Watch, a US-based group, at least 119 civilians were killed in air raids in the first seven months of 2008, mostly in US-led operations.
The defence secretary’s visit also comes at the time of a series of controversial cross-border raids on Pakistan by US forces. “I think what we have seen and I have been pleased about, is in recent weeks to see the Pakistani army once again putting pressure in this area. It is my hope that we can work closely with the Pakistanis to prevent this from being a safe haven that threatens both Afghanistan and a democratic Pakistan,” Gates said after meeting Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president.
“In addition to the forces our international partners have agreed to send, we will be sending additional forces in 2009, and my expectation is we will be able to meet the requirements the commanders have in the course of 2009,” he said.
General David McKiernan, the senior US commander in Afghanistan, said on Tuesday that he needed more than 10,000 combat troops in addition to those already committed. The US had announced an increase of 4,500 soldiers for Afghanistan early next year. There are currently at least 33,000 US troops there, with a similar number provided by other international forces.
Six Die in Suspected US Missile Strike in Pakistan
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (September 17, 2008) — Air-fired missiles hit a militant compound near the Afghan border and killed at least six people Wednesday evening, officials said, soon after a senior American officer met with government leaders to discuss the furor over US attacks inside Pakistan.
The airstrike was likely to further fan anger among Pakistanis over a surge in cross-border operations by US forces that have strained the two countries’ seven-year alliance against terrorist groups.
Two Pakistani intelligence officials told The Associated Press that several missiles hit a compound in the South Waziristan tribal area that has been used by Taliban militants and Hezb-i-Islami, another extremist group involved in escalating attacks in neighboring Afghanistan.
One official said a pilot-less drone of the type used by the CIA and US military forces in Afghanistan was heard in the area before the attack. Both said informants in the area reported six people killed and three wounded, but their identities were not immediately clear.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Capt. Christian Patterson, a spokesman for the US-led coalition in Afghanistan, said he had no reports of any attack into Pakistan. Officials at the US Embassy in Islamabad could not be reached immediately. The White House declined to comment on the report.
Hours earlier, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, met separately with Pakistan’s prime minister and the army chief, both of whom have voiced strong protests to attacks on suspected militants havens in the country’s restless northwest.
According to a US Embassy statement, Mullen “reiterated the US commitment to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and to develop further US-Pakistani cooperation and coordination on these critical issues that challenge the security and well-being of the people of both countries.”
President Bush made a similar statement about Pakistan’s sovereignty in July after meeting with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in Washington.
Since then, suspected US missile attacks inside Pakistan have intensified, and US commandos staged a helicopter-borne ground assault in a South Waziristan village Sept. 3.
American officials complain Pakistan has not done enough to keep militant groups from using the tribal belt as a base to stage attacks in Afghanistan. The tribal areas are semiautonomous regions where the Pakistani government has traditionally had limited influence.
“The Pakistani government has to take control on its side of the border and we are working in a variety of ways to help the Pakistani government build its capabilities,” Richard Boucher, US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, told reporters in Brussels, Belgium, on Wednesday.
Pakistan acknowledges extremist groups and al-Qaida fugitives are in its frontier region and concedes it is difficult to prevent militants from slipping into Afghanistan.
But it insists it is doing its best to flush out militants and paying a heavy price. It points to the deployment of 120,000 soldiers in the northwest, heavy losses by security forces, and recent military offensives that have drawn a wave of retaliatory suicide attacks by the Taliban.
One such offensive, against insurgents in the Bajur border region, has garnered US praise amid signs it is helping reduce violence on the Afghan side of the border.
On Wednesday, Pakistani troops backed by jet fighters killed at least 19 suspected insurgents there, officials said. The army says more than 700 suspected militants and 40 soldiers have died in six weeks of fighting. It declines to estimate civilian casualties.
But the US ground attack and missile strikes from drones have embarrassed Pakistan’s government and military, threatening to intensify anti-American sentiment. Many Pakistanis say the country is being made a scapegoat for Western failures in Afghanistan and contend the cross-border attacks only fuel militancy.
The army commander, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, issued a strong public rebuke to the US last week, insisting Pakistan’s territorial integrity “will be defended at all cost” and denying there was any agreement for US forces to operate there.
Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the army’s chief spokesman, told the AP on Tuesday that Pakistani commanders had received orders to fire on any intruding forces following the Sept. 3 cross-border raid.
Some analysts said it was unlikely Pakistan would risk losing billions in American aid by targeting US soldiers or aircraft. Civilian leaders have stressed that they must solve the issue through diplomacy.
“We cannot pick up guns and say that ‘here we are coming,'” Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar told Dawn News television Wednesday. “I don’t want to say anything which can jeopardize this relationship we have with the Americans on the issue of terrorism.”
He said President Asif Ali Zardari would take up the issue during an upcoming trip to Washington.
Associated Press writers Stephen Graham in Islamabad, Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Habib Khan in Khar and Paul Ames in Brussels, Belgium, contributed to this report.
Copyright 2008 Associated Press
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
US Strike Reported as Mullen Consults Pakistanis
Pamela Constable and Shaiq Hussain / Washington Post Foreign Service
KABUL, (September 18, 2008) — A new reported US missile strike inside Pakistan on Wednesday threatened to undermine American efforts to defuse a growing confrontation with Pakistan over aggressive US military actions against Islamist extremists in the country’s turbulent northwest border region.
The strike in the South Waziristan tribal area, which officials said killed six people, came as the United States’ top military officer pledged during a hastily arranged visit to Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, that Washington would respect that nation’s sovereignty. He did not specifically rule out further raids, however.
According to a statement from the US Embassy in Islamabad, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Pakistani officials that he “appreciated the positive role Pakistan is playing in the war on terror” and “reiterated the US commitment to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty” and to develop further bilateral cooperation on critical security issues.
Pakistan and the United States have cooperated closely in fighting Islamist extremists since shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But Pakistan has been far more willing to hunt down alleged foreign al-Qaeda terrorists than to attack homegrown Islamist groups. The Pakistani military has long tacitly condoned strikes by US Predator drones in the tribal region — Wednesday’s attack appeared to be another of those operations — but the Pakistani public and many politicians are deeply against them at a time when the military’s influence in the country appears to have declined.
Two weeks ago, the United States escalated its cross-border campaign by staging the first known ground attack inside Pakistan, a strike 20 miles over the border by helicopter-borne commandos. That caused a public furor and led the Pakistani military to protest as well.
On Wednesday, even before word spread of the new US strike, senior Pakistani military and civilian officials stressed that no further cross-border incursions by foreign forces would be tolerated, though they stopped short of repeating a military spokesman’s statement Tuesday that any future raids would be forcibly repelled.
“The sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan will be safeguarded at all costs,” Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani told the Associated Press of Pakistan after meeting with Mullen.
A military spokesman said Pakistan reserves the right to “retaliate for any aggression” to protect Pakistani lives and territory.
Mullen met privately with both Gillani and Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani. The embassy described the talks as “extremely frank, positive and constructive.” There were no joint statements or public appearances afterward, and the Joint Chiefs chairman reportedly left Pakistan on Wednesday evening.
The contretemps highlighted the gulf between American and Pakistani priorities, though the two countries remain official allies in the war against international Islamist terrorism.
US military officials are frustrated by what they see as Pakistan’s reluctance to aggressively take on Taliban fighters operating from its soil and staging increasingly bold attacks in next-door Afghanistan. In recent months, the Americans have felt increasingly justified in unilaterally pursuing those targets, despite widespread opposition inside Pakistan.
Pakistan, for its part, has been held back by domestic political and religious concerns, including alleged years of close relations between some extremist groups and government intelligence agencies and a growing anti-American sentiment in the Muslim-majority nation of 160 million people. Those feelings have intensified with a recent series of US cross-border raids that have killed numerous civilians as well as fighters.
“The outrage is spreading right through society,” Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani author and expert on Islamic militancy, said by telephone Wednesday night from Lahore. “People are genuinely upset, and anti-Americanism is increasing, in the military most of all. This can make it much harder for the next US president to deal with Pakistan.”
On the other hand, Rashid said, Pakistan has shown “continued reluctance to deal with the Afghan Taliban leaders on its soil, and the military has no cohesive strategy to deal with the terrorist threat.”
There was no official US confirmation of Wednesday’s strike by a drone aircraft, but Pakistani officials privately said that it had hit a compound near the town of Angor Adda in South Waziristan that was a known Taliban base. The officials said six Taliban members had been killed.
The Sept. 3 commando raid was conducted in the same area. Fifteen to 20 people were reported killed in that operation, including some civilians.
Public condemnation has been especially acute among tribal communities in the border region, which is not directly controlled by Pakistani authorities. For years, it has been a hotbed of violence, smuggling, and local and foreign Islamist extremists.
On Wednesday, tribal elders in South Waziristan held a mass meeting in which they strongly condemned the strikes, asked the government to stop them and vowed to retaliate against any further foreign attacks.
Ahmed Gul Wazir, a tribal elder, said by telephone from the area that the local populace believed the attacks were intended to drive a wedge between them and the government, force them to resort to violence and thus justify a major Pakistani military operation there.
Hussain reported from Islamabad.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes