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History > 2008 > USA > Wars > Afghanistan (IV)



warning: graphic / distressing
























The Afghan police said the bodies of three children killed

in the American raid were taken to a mosque in Azizabad on Aug. 22.



Afghan Police, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images


U.S. Inquiry Is Said to Conclude 30 Civilians Died in Afghan Raid

















Press And "Psy Ops"

to Merge At NATO Afghan HQ:



November 29, 2008
Filed at 2:01 a.m. ET
The New York Times


KABUL (Reuters) - The U.S. general commanding NATO forces in Afghanistan has ordered a merger of the office that releases news with "Psy Ops," which deals with propaganda, a move that goes against the alliance's policy, three officials said.

The move has worried Washington's European NATO allies -- Germany has already threatened to pull out of media operations in Afghanistan -- and the officials said it could undermine the credibility of information released to the public.

Seven years into the war against the Taliban, insurgent influence is spreading closer to the capital and Afghans are becoming increasingly disenchanted at the presence of some 65,000 foreign troops and the government of President Hamid Karzai.

Taliban militants, through their website, telephone text messages and frequent calls to reporters, are also gaining ground in the information war, analysts say.

U.S. General David McKiernan, the commander of 50,000 troops from more than 40 nations in NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), ordered the combination of the Public Affairs Office (PAO), Information Operations and Psy Ops (Psychological Operations) from December 1, said a NATO official with detailed knowledge of the move.

"This will totally undermine the credibility of the information released to the press and the public," said the official, who declined to be named.

ISAF spokesman Brigadier General Richard Blanchette said McKiernan had issued a staff order to implement a command restructure from December 1 which was being reviewed by NATO headquarters in Brussels, but he declined to go into details of the reorganization.

"This is very much an internal matter," he said. "This is up with higher headquarters right now and we're waiting to get the basic approval. Once we have the approval we will be going into implementation."

But another ISAF official confirmed that the amalgamation of public affairs with Information Operations and Psy Ops was part of the planned command restructure. This official, who also declined to be named, said the merger had caused considerable concern at higher levels within NATO which had challenged the order by the U.S. general.


NATO policy recognizes there is an inherent clash of interests between its public affairs offices, whose job it is to issue press releases and answer media questions, and that of Information Operations and Psy Ops.

Information Operations advises on information designed to affect the will of the enemy, while Psy Ops includes so-called "black operations," or outright deception.

While Public Affairs and Information Operations, PA and Info Ops in military jargon, "are separate, but related functions," according to the official NATO policy document on public affairs, "PA is not an Info Ops discipline."

The new combined ISAF department will come under the command of an American one-star general reporting directly to McKiernan, an arrangement that is also against NATO policy, the NATO official said.

"While coordination is essential, the lines of authority will remain separate, the PA reporting directly to the commander. This is to maintain credibility of PA and to avoid creating a media or public perception that PA activities are coordinated by, or are directed by, Info Ops," the NATO policy document says.

"PA will have no role in planning or executing Info Ops, Psy Ops, or deception activities," it states.

The United States has 35,000 of the 65,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, operating both under ISAF and a separate U.S.-led coalition operation, but both come under McKiernan's command.

Washington is already scheduled to send another 3,000 troops to arrive in the country in January and is now considering sending 20,000 more troops in the next 12 to 18 months, further tipping the numerical balance among ISAF forces.

"What we are seeing is a gradual increase of American influence in all areas of the war," the NATO official said. "Seeking to gain total control of the information flow from the campaign is just part of that."

(Editing by John Chalmers)

Press And "Psy Ops" to Merge At NATO Afghan HQ: Sources, R, 29.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/world/international-us-afghan-nato.html







Talking With the Taliban


November 21, 2008
The New York Times

Afghanistan’s swift unraveling has created new — and in some quarters unrealistic — enthusiasm for talks with the Taliban.

We agree that there should be a serious effort to win over lower-level militants and tribal leaders — people who are not true believers but have allied with extremists because they had no choice, needed the money or have grown so disillusioned with the Afghan government that they forgot the horrors of Taliban rule.

President-elect Barack Obama has said that he is open to such an approach. Gen. David McKiernan, the top American commander in Afghanistan, says he is working on a plan to engage militants in local councils provided they reject the Taliban and accept the basic civil rights and political freedoms in the Afghan Constitution.

At the same time, we are deeply skeptical that there is any deal to be cut with Taliban leaders who gave sanctuary to Al Qaeda before 9/11 and would undoubtedly insist on re-imposing their repressive, medieval ways, including denying education and medical care to women.

We fear that some NATO members may be so eager to withdraw their troops that they would be willing to trade away the Afghans’ future. Or that the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, may be far too eager to compromise in hopes of increasing his re-election chances. He made aides to Mr. Obama (as well as us) nervous this week with an offer, since rejected, to draw the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar into negotiations.

There was real joy in Afghanistan — and around the world — when America and its Afghan allies defeated the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Seven years later, both are back with a vengeance. This is the deadliest year for NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan since 2001. The country is on a downward spiral, with a breakdown in central authority, rampant corruption, a booming heroin trade and increasingly sophisticated attacks by militants on both sides of the Pakistan border.

President Bush shortchanged the Afghan war in favor of his disastrous Iraq war. Mr. Karzai is also culpable. His government’s venality and ineptitude has driven his people back to the extremists. Mr. Bush has belatedly woken up to the mess he created and sent more — although still not enough — troops to Afghanistan. Force alone will not defeat the militants.

Afghanistan’s only chance is a long-term American commitment that also includes far more economic assistance and support for political development. Washington also must come up with a better mixture of incentives and pressures to persuade Pakistan to shut down havens of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Mr. Karzai must cut all ties with corrupt officials and clean up and strengthen his national police.

Negotiations with tribal leaders and low-level militants also can be part of that strategy. Afghan, Saudi and Pakistani officials should keep probing for interlocutors. For now, the Taliban has all of the momentum. American and NATO forces will have to continue their assault on the insurgents through the winter and make a much greater effort to limit civilian casualties.

Instead of leaving it to Mr. Obama, Mr. Bush should quickly authorize the extra 20,000 American troops that his commanders have requested. The United States and its allies also must ensure that Afghanistan has the food aid it needs to compensate for this year’s failed harvest. Widespread hunger would drive even more civilians to the Taliban.

    Talking With the Taliban, NYT, 21.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/21/opinion/21fri1.html






Afghan Girl Says

Acid Attack Won't Stop Her Lessons


November 15, 2008
Filed at 3:54 a.m. ET
The New York Times


KABUL (Reuters) - A victim of an acid attack on schoolgirls in Afghanistan said Saturday she was determined to stay in school and finish her education even if that meant risking death.

The girl, who gave her name as just Shamsia, was the most seriously injured of a group of girls attacked outside their school by unidentified men in the southern city of Kandahar on Wednesday.

"I'll continue my schooling even if they try to kill me. I won't stop going to school," Shamsia said from her bed at Afghanistan's main military hospital in Kabul.

Shamsia, 17, suffered damage to one of her eyes when the men pulled off the girls' head scarves and threw acid in their faces. She has been brought to hospital in the capital for treatment.

There was no claim of responsibility for the attack but it bore the hallmarks of the Taliban, who banned girls from school during their hardline rule from 1996 to 2001.

The insurgents have attacked and destroyed hundreds of schools across the country since they were forced from power in 2001, after the September 11 attacks on the United States.

While some teachers and school caretakers have been killed, most of the attacks on schools have been at night and violence against children has been rare.

The attack on the schoolgirls has shocked a country long used to violence. President Hamid Karzai said the men responsible were the enemies of education.

Shamsia, much of her face covered in a yellow ointment, said she had to finish her lessons to help the country.

"I'll continue going to lessons. I'm studying to be able to build our country," she said.

Senior education official Najiba Nuristani, who was visiting Shamsia in hospital, was also defiant.

"These incidents, these suicide attacks, can not stop education in Afghanistan, especially for girls," she said.

Shamsia's doctor, Mohammad Wali, said the girl had suffered damage to an eye but was in good condition. A medical panel would decide if she needed to be sent to India for treatment, he said.

(Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

    Afghan Girl Says Acid Attack Won't Stop Her Lessons, NYT, 15.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/world/international-us-afghan-acid.html






10 Militants Killed in Afghanistan, U.S. Military Says


November 15, 2008
Filed at 3:13 a.m. ET
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- A strike by coalition troops against a bomb-making cell in eastern Afghanistan killed 10 militants, the U.S. military said Saturday.

The troops were targeting several key figures in a network run by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a militant leader believed to operate out of Pakistan, the military said in a statement.

Several groups of armed militants fired on the coalition troops during the operation Friday, according to the statement. The coalition forces returned fire, killing their attackers and destroying a weapons cache.

Separately, Afghan police said two national intelligence agents and one police officer were killed late Friday in a bomb attack on their vehicle south of Kabul.

The three were killed while responding to an earlier bomb attack that injured three police officers, said Regional Police Commander Gen. Zalmai Oryakhail.

The U.S. military said those killed in eastern Paktya province were Haqqani militants and foreign fighters known to have planned and conducted bomb attacks on civilians and coalition forces, and to coordinate suicide bombings.

The United States once considered Jalaluddin Haqqani a ''freedom fighter'' against the former Soviet Union but he and his son Sirajuddin are now seen as closely associated with the Taliban.

Suicide attacks have been one of the Taliban's preferred tactics in their attacks against Afghan and foreign troops. Most of the victims of such attacks have been civilians.

On Friday, an Afghan official said suspected Taliban militants had killed a religious leader in the west after he criticized the use of suicide attacks.

Shamsudin Agha was kidnapped Tuesday, days after he condemned the use of suicide attacks, provincial police chief Abdul Ghafar Watandar said. Authorities recovered his body Wednesday.

More than 5,400 people -- mostly militants -- have died in insurgency-related violence this year in Afghanistan, according to a tally by The Associated Press of figures provided by Afghan and international officials.


Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS SUBS 5th graf to correct spellign to Oryakhail.)

    10 Militants Killed in Afghanistan, U.S. Military Says, NYT, 15.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/world/AP-AS-Afghanistan.html






19 Killed in Attack in Afghanistan


November 14, 2008
Ther New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — A day after a fierce suicide bombing in southern Afghanistan, insurgents struck Thursday in the east of the country when an American military convoy was attacked in a crowded market, killing one soldier and 18 civilians, according to the United States military and Afghan police officials.

One of the dead was a 12-year-old boy, who died when a suicide car bomber in a Toyota Corolla approached an American military convoy and then swerved into a weekly market at around 8 a.m., according to American and Afghan accounts. Dr. Ajmal Pardes, the director of public health in the area, said 74 people were injured.

The strike was in the Bati Kot district of eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province.

An Associated Press photographer said that an American military vehicle, two civilian vehicles and two rickshaws were destroyed.

United States Navy commander Jeff Bender, an American military spokesman in Kabul, said the civilian death count, initially put at 10, had risen to 18.

On Wednesday, a tanker truck packed with explosives detonated outside the provincial council office in Kandahar, Afghanistan’s largest southern city, killing the driver and at least six other people and wounding more than 40 others.

The blast shook the entire city, caused at least five houses to fall and left a crater near the council building, which housed an office of a national security service.

“The enemies of Afghanistan and peace once again put us in mourning,” Gen. Rahmatullah Roufi, the provincial governor, told reporters. He announced a “purification” operation to arrest insurgents in and near the city.

In a separate incident reported on Thursday, two soldiers from the American-led NATO alliance were killed in an explosion in the south of the country in an explosion on Wednesday, the alliance said, but did not specify the soldiers’ nationality.

The Defense Ministry in London later identified the two soldiers as members of Britain’s Royal Marines who were taking part in a joint patrol with Afghan soldiers in the Garmsir district of Southern Helmand Province.

The American contingent is the largest foreign force in Afghanistan but Britain has about 8,000 troops there. A survey broadcast Thursday by the BBC said more than two-thirds of those questioned believed Britain should withdraw its soldiers over the next year while less than a quarter favored their continued deployment.This year has been the bloodiest since the American-led invasion of late 2001 that toppled the Taliban regime, whose supporters have revived their campaign to drive out foreign forces.

The latest American fatalities brought to around 148 the number of American military deaths so far this year, compared to 111 in the whole of 2001, the A.P. reported. Additionally, around 110 soldiers from other coalition forces have died this year.

More than 5,400 people, including almost 1,000 civilians, have died in violence related to the insurgency this year, the news agency said, citing figures provided by Afghan and international officials.

C. J. Chivers contributed reporting from Kabul, Taimoor Shah from Kandahar and Alan Cowell from London.

    19 Killed in Attack in Afghanistan, NYT, 13.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/14/world/asia/14afghan.html?hp






G.I.’s in Remote Post Have Weary Job, Drawing Fire


November 10, 2008
The New York Times


COMBAT OUTPOST LOWELL, Afghanistan — The small stone castle, sandbagged and bristling with weapons and American soldiers, rises from a rock spur beside the Landai River. Mountains lean overhead.

Once a hunting lodge for Mohammad Zahir Shah, Afghanistan’s last king, the castle is home for a year for an American cavalry troop, an Afghan infantry company, a Navy corpsman and two American marines. In the deadly contest for Afghanistan’s borderlands, it plays what might seem a singularly unattractive role. The position lies exposed near the bottom of a natural amphitheater deep within territory out of government control.

Insurgents hide in caves surrounding it and in villages nearby, operating unhindered almost to the castle’s concertina wire and lobbing mortar shells toward it at will. The steep slopes facing the walls are littered with shattered boulders and trees blown to splinters by the artillery and airstrikes with which the soldiers have fought back.

The Americans’ mission is to disrupt the Taliban and foreign fighters on supply paths from Pakistan’s tribal areas. Col. John Spiszer, the commanding officer for the larger task force in the region, distilled how the mission often worked. The American presence, he said, is a Taliban magnet, drawing insurgents from more populated areas and enhancing security elsewhere.

First Lt. Daniel Wright, the executive officer of the American cavalry unit — Apache Troop of the Sixth Battalion, Fourth Cavalry — put things in foxhole terms.

“Basically,” he said, “we’re the bullet sponge.”

That analogy is a measure of the profound and enduring difficulties in the war in Afghanistan, which this year became more deadly for Americans than the Iraq conflict. President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to refocus the Pentagon on winning this war, now in its eighth year.

In roughly four months, Apache Troop has taken fire on at least 70 days. The attacks have come by rocket, mortar, machine gun and rifle fire. The troop’s patrols have been ambushed. Its observation posts have been hit by rocket fire.

On one day alone, the outpost was attacked four times.

The fighting is so frequent, and the terrain so rugged and heavily populated by insurgent spotters, that the outpost’s patrols dare not venture far.

On Saturday, insurgents fired on Apache Troop for an hour in the morning with a mix of mortar shells, rockets and large-caliber sniper fire. The soldiers fought back until they thought the attack had ended. Then the Taliban opened fire again.

Fighting broke out again at 1 p.m. During the exchange, a mortar round landed at the base of the castle’s southern wall and exploded with a thunderous crack, shaking the compound. About 15 long seconds later, a radio operator called to the other bunkers over the two-way radios. “Everyone’s O.K.,” he said.

Shortly before 5 p.m., the insurgents struck again with rocket and automatic rifle fire aimed at engineers who were moving equipment near an observation post. After a firefight that lasted about five minutes, they slipped away in the fading light.

Afghan Effort Undercut

The unvarnished consensus among soldiers here, many of them veterans of the war in Iraq, is that the Pentagon’s efforts in Iraq undermined its efforts in Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda plotted attacks on the United States. The military has been reviewing its Afghan strategy.

Before Election Day more soldiers had been ordered to Afghanistan to rejoin the fight. They are due to arrive soon. (The Army forbids disclosing deployment dates or troop numbers at outposts.)

For now, the soldiers of Apache Troop absorb and repel attack after attack. Sgt. Michael S. Ayres, a squad leader, summarized the practical mentality: standing watch behind heavy machine guns, the soldiers are waiting for reinforcements so they can change the nature of their fight.

“We need all the help we can get out here, so we can push out patrols and get out of the defensive,” he said.

Many also find they are managing their frustration at taking harassment fire from the heights overhead and ambushes from opposite ridges.

Because of the severity of the terrain, and the insurgents’ quickness, there is little ability to fight at close range.

“I’m just so tired of seeing muzzle flashes at 800 yards,” said Gunnery Sgt. Daniel McKernan, who trains and advises the Afghan Army here. “This is like Vietnam. Hike around these mountains and you never see them. But they are always out there. And they always attack you.”

While the soldiers wait, their days are filled by the routines of life in a hostile land. Soldiers stand guard around the clock. Each soldier is allowed to sleep in brief shifts, in crowded bunkrooms shared with bed bugs, flies and mice, while other soldiers man the guns.

By day the soldiers burn garbage and the stinking waste accumulated in latrine barrels. In the summer, many of their mattresses were so badly infested with parasites that they burned them, too.

At night the soldiers douse the smoldering pile so its red glow does not guide the Taliban’s aim.

The soldiers lift weights when they can, although incoming mortar shells have had an uncanny attraction for the weight room and the plywood hut that serves as the latrine.

Some soldiers exercise or visit the latrines only in darkness, when attacks are less common.

“Did you get the word?” a sergeant asked a reporter last month as they took cover and a mortar round exploded about 100 feet away, beside the latrine. “Stay out of there by day.”

Showers are an occasional luxury, when water is available. The tank above the shower heads is fed by a pipe carrying spring water from the mountains. The Taliban often disconnect the pipe near its source. Sometimes livestock step on it and break it, too.

There is no Internet except at the troop’s command center, and no television. Limited electricity means the soldiers have far fewer comforts than veterans recall from other tours.

“We don’t have the same amenities they had in previous deployments, say to Iraq,” said Sgt. First Class Shawn Tiarks, platoon sergeant for the troop’s second platoon. “A lot of soldiers thought it was going to be identical to that, and it was a little shocking to find the environment we have.”

Resupply and troop rotation can come solely by helicopters, because the twisting dirt road to the castle has been made impassable for military vehicles by the destruction of two bridges — one that collapsed and another that was blown up by the Taliban. Barring an emergency, helicopters risk flying here only at night.

The limits on travel have meant shortages.

Several areas of the outpost remain dangerous because the troop lacks the supplies to harden the castle more fully.

“We don’t get enough sandbags, and at the present moment, we are plumb out,” Sergeant Tiarks said.

Foothold and Statement

Colonel Spiszer, the regional commander, said in an e-mail message that despite the difficulties, keeping the Taliban focused on the outpost had advantages, because the task force could mass firepower and fight with less risk to civilians than in other places.

“Due to the remoteness of the area we are better able to use our advantages in fires — mortars, artillery, attack helicopters and close air support — to fight and usually defeat the enemy pretty decisively,” he wrote.

The outpost, he suggested, was both a foothold in the region and a statement. Withdrawing from it, he said, would allow the Taliban to claim it had driven the Americans back, as they did when the task force closed another remote outpost earlier this year.

On Thursday, residents of Kamu, a nearby village, warned the outpost that insurgents were planning a larger assault. Twenty enemy fighters had been seen congregating in one village, one man said, and 40 in another.

The insurgents had at least six mortar tubes, he said, and were being helped by the Pakistani intelligence service, which is a common and unverifiable claim here. Their mortars were being moved into place by donkey, he added. (The man’s name was withheld to protect him from being killed as an American collaborator.)

The soldiers discussed the information. Six mortar tubes would be enough to pound the outpost, they said.

On several recent days, a single Taliban mortar tube, firing multiple rounds, had driven the soldiers for cover and had to be countered with mortar shells, artillery or low-flying fighter planes before going silent. The firing would resume the next day.

During one attack, soldiers took shelter in the castle, waiting to see where each incoming round would strike. “How’s a guy supposed to quit smoking?” said Staff Sgt. Josiah Coderellis, a scout, between explosions.

As intense as the fighting has been, the troop — and when this subject is raised they almost invariably tap on anything made of wood — has suffered only one serious injury since arriving: Pvt. First Class Evan Oshel, who was struck by shrapnel in August. He is recovering in Fort Hood, Tex.

“It’s hard to believe there’s only one,” said Capt. Frank Hooker, the troop commander, shaking his head.

In October, the attacks became more dangerous. On one day, a rocket-propelled grenade severed the right arm and part of the right foot of a local teenager working in the laundry. Several days later, a mortar round killed an Afghan guard and injured an Afghan cook, who remained in critical condition last week.

There were also close calls. One mortar round exploded by the open-air weight room, nearly killing a marine captain and a photographer for The New York Times, who crouched together against a stone wall about 15 feet away. The wall absorbed the shrapnel. The captain suffered a concussion.

Another round struck directly in front of a machine gun bunker, where soldiers huddled as it screamed down and exploded. Pvt. First Class William Solorzano described the unforgettable sound. “It’s a bad noise,” he said.

Then he reconsidered. “Actually, it’s a beautiful noise, if you get to hear it,” he said. “Because if you don’t hear it, that’s because you’re dead.”

Keeping Foe Off Balance

In an effort to keep the Taliban off balance, the troop and the Afghan Army conduct occasional patrols, varying the routine so insurgents will not anticipate them.

On one recent evening, a squad of Afghan soldiers and three American advisers left the castle and slipped out just before dusk. They picked their way up a rocky trail, wondering whether they had been seen.

The answer came quickly. A rocket-propelled grenade hissed through the air from an opposite ridge, passed the patrol and flew by the castle. It exploded in the riverbed with an ear-splitting crack.

A brief firefight ensued. Along the castle’s walls, the soldiers peered through their rifle scopes. A few shouted insults. The troop’s 120-millimeter mortar crew began shelling the Taliban firing position, a cave entrance on a ridge about 1,000 yards away.

First they fired explosive rounds, then white phosphorous, which set the vegetation by the cave on fire, marking it for an F-15 fighter jet that dropped a 500-pound guided bomb.

The detonation shook the valley. Quiet settled on the outpost. On the castle’s roof, voices floated in the darkness, and soldiers’ faces were briefly illuminated when they puffed on cigarettes. They wondered whether the insurgents had been killed.

“I don’t know if he’s dead,” Sergeant Coderellis said. “But he ain’t happy.”

“I think he’s dead,” Sergeant Tiarks said.

“At least his ears are ringing,” a third soldier said.

“They aren’t ringing,” Sergeant Coderellis said. “They’re bleeding.”

Like any other feeling, bravado here comes and goes. At other moments, servicemen were contemplative. They were waiting, they said, for many things.

They were waiting for the Afghan Army to become competent, so it could secure the country with less American help; this, the soldiers said, will take years.

They were waiting for a new strategy and for more American units to arrive, to allow soldiers in forward outposts to perform more ambitious operations; this will take at least several weeks, and probably longer.

Some were waiting for leave, and a chance to see home.

Meanwhile, as the Taliban set the pace, the soldiers waited to see what each hour would bring. Late on one recent night, Petty Officer Third Class Ramon Gavan arranged his rifle, helmet and flak jacket beside his bed, putting it all at arm’s reach.

“Living the dream,” he said, repeating a one-liner often heard here.

“This is where you realize not to take every breath for granted,” he said, and he swung his legs onto his bed, pulled a poncho liner across his face, and fell asleep. The next day, he was back on patrol.

    G.I.’s in Remote Post Have Weary Job, Drawing Fire, NYT, 10.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/10/world/asia/10outpost.html?hp






Pakistan Says 13 Killed in US Missile Strike


November 8, 2008
Filed at 2:43 a.m. ET
The New York Times


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) -- A suspected U.S. missile targeting a Taliban commander killed 13 people near the Afghan border Friday, a sign that America's new general for the region is not heeding Islamabad's pleas for a halt to the strikes.

There has been a surge in U.S. cross-border attacks since August, angering Pakistani officials who say the raids violate the nuclear-armed country's sovereignty and undermine its anti-terror war in the border region.

Repairing strained ties while keeping the pressure on al-Qaida and Taliban commanders leaders hiding in the lawless frontier area will be a key challenge for Barack Obama when he becomes U.S. president in January.

The latest attack took place in Kam Sam village in North Waziristan region, a stronghold for militants blamed for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan and suicide blasts within Pakistan.

A Pakistani intelligence official said an agent who visited the village reported that 13 suspected militants were killed. The official said the targeted house belonged to a Taliban commander and that authorities were working to determine the identities of the dead.

A government representative in the region also put the death toll at 13.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Pakistan's Information Minister, Sherry Rehman, said late Friday that such ''unilateral actions'' by Washington on Pakistan's soil are a ''self-defeating strategy.'' She said such attacks damage the global efforts to combat terrorism and urged the U.S. to halt them.

It was the first suspected American attack since Gen. David Petraeus took over as head of the U.S. Central Command on Oct. 31, giving him overall command of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He visited Pakistan and Afghanistan this week.

In an interview with The Associated Press in Afghanistan on Thursday, Petraeus said the border strikes have killed three ''extremist leaders.'' He did not identify the men.

There have been unconfirmed media reports that senior al-Qaida operatives Abu Jihad al Masri, described by the U.S. government as the terror network's propaganda chief, and Khalid Habib, a regional commander, died in missile strikes in Pakistan in October.

Similar attacks in the border region killed senior al-Qaida commander Abu Laith al-Libi in January and Egyptian explosives and poisons expert Abu Khabab al-Masri in July.

The rugged, mountainous region where the government has never had much control is considered a likely hiding place for Osama bin Laden and his No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri.

There have been at least 18 missile strikes into Pakistan since August, more than three times as many as in 2007, apparently reflecting U.S. frustration at insufficient action by Islamabad against extremists.

Pakistan leaders said they asked Petraeus to call a halt to the strikes, which they said were angering residents, making it more difficult to get their cooperation with military offensives.

Petraeus said he would ''take on board'' what they said, but Pakistani officials said he gave them no promise the attacks would stop.

During the election campaign, Obama said he would attack al-Qaida targets in the border area if Pakistan was unwilling or unable to do so, suggesting he would not stop the strikes.

The frequency of the raids has led some analysts to speculate that Pakistani leaders have privately agreed to them on the understanding they will publicly criticize them -- something denied by Pakistani officials.

Pakistan's elected leaders have little leverage with the United States to force it to stop the strikes because they need Washington's help to get the country out of a crushing economic crisis.

The Pakistani army is undertaking a major offensive in the border region against militants.

Late Thursday, Pakistani helicopters and jets killed 17 suspected militants in Taliban strongholds near the Afghan border, said Jamil Khan, the No. 2 government representative in the semiautonomous Bajur region.

Meanwhile, authorities exchanged three captured Taliban militants -- including a deputy to Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud -- for 10 military personnel held by insurgents.

Haji Afzal Khan, the mayor in northwestern Hangu district, said the prisoners were swapped Wednesday and that Mehsud's freed deputy Rafiuddin had assured authorities he would help with peace efforts.

Rafiuddin was captured in July and the soldiers were seized later that month. The government has made similar prisoner exchanges in the past.


Associated Press Writers Ishtiaq Mehsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Habib Khan in Khar and Riaz Khan in Peshawar contributed to this report.

    Pakistan Says 13 Killed in US Missile Strike, NYT, 8.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/world/AP-AS-Pakistan.html






Afghan Report: 37 Civilians Killed in US Strike


November 7, 2008
Filed at 6:52 a.m. ET
The New York Times


KAANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) -- A U.S. coalition airstrike and clashes with the Taliban militants in southern Afghanistan earlier this week killed 37 civilians and 26 insurgents, according to an Afghan government report released Friday.

The report also accused the Taliban militants of seeking shelter near a wedding party in the Kandahar province's Shah Wali Kot district shortly after ambushing a coalition patrol on Monday, according to the findings compiled by the governor of Kandahar province.

The report said that another 27 civilians were wounded in the strike. It added that the government has already paid $2,000 to families of each victim, and $100 to those who were wounded -- a standard practice in these cases.

The majority of the civilians killed were woman and children, the report said.

After the strikes and the clashes, villager Abdul Jalil, a grape farmer whose niece was getting married, told an Associated Press reporter at the scene of the bombing that U.S. troops and Taliban fighters had been fighting about a half mile from his home.

Fighter aircraft destroyed his compound and killed 37 people, Jalil said than.

Following these deaths, President Hamid Karzai urged U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to help stop the killing of civilians in coalition operations, actions which undermine popular support for the Afghan government and the international mission.

On Thursday, another coalition airstrike killed seven civilians and 13 Taliban militants in the northwestern Badghis province, Afghan officials said.

Civilian casualties in operations by foreign troops have strained relations between Karzai's government and its foreign backers. Despite U.S. and NATO pledges to take greater care in targeting, the incidents have continued.

U.S. and NATO commanders often blame Taliban fighters for using civilians as human shields, thus causing civilian casualties.

The U.S. military said Thursday that civilians ''reportedly attempted to leave the area, but the insurgents forced them to remain.''

The statement did not say where the U.S. got that report from. It quoted Kandahar's police chief as saying several civilians were injured while attempting to leave the area.

Separately, a clash between police and the Taliban in neighboring Zabul province on Friday, killed seven insurgents and wounded two policemen, said provincial deputy police chief Jalani Khan.

More than 5,300 people -- mostly militants -- have died in insurgency-related violence this year, according to a tally compiled by The Associated Press based on figures provided by the Afghan government and international officials.

    Afghan Report: 37 Civilians Killed in US Strike, NYT, 7.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/world/AP-AS-Afghanistan.html






U.S. Airstrike Reported to Hit Afghan Wedding


November 6, 2008
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — Tensions between American forces and the Afghan government over civilian casualties from coalition airstrikes spiked again on Wednesday with a report by Afghan officials that a missile from a United States aircraft had killed 40 civilians and wounded 28 others at a wedding party in the southern province of Kandahar.

Afghan officials said casualties from the airstrike, on Monday, included women and children. The United States military command said it was conducting an urgent investigation with the Afghan Interior Ministry. Although the command’s statement made no mention of a missile strike or any death toll, it appeared to acknowledge the possibility that noncombatants had been killed.

“Though facts are unclear at this point, we take very seriously our responsibility to protect the people of Afghanistan and to avoid circumstances where noncombatant civilians are placed at risk,” the command said. “If innocent people were killed in this operation, we apologize and express our condolences to the families and people of Afghanistan.”

The episode in Kandahar followed others this year in which American airstrikes in some of the war’s most hotly contested battle zones killed civilians.

The report of the missile strike, in Shah Wali Kot, a rural district north of the city of Kandahar, prompted a renewed protest from the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who referred to the episode at a news conference on Wednesday that was called to congratulate Senator Barack Obama on his election victory.

“The fight against terrorism cannot be won by bombardment of our villages,” Mr. Karzai said. “My first demand from the U.S. president, when he takes office, would be to end civilian casualties in Afghanistan and take the war to places where there are terrorist nests and training centers.”

In one of the worst cases of civilian deaths by an American strike this year, an attack aimed at a meeting of Taliban insurgent leaders on Aug. 22 killed at least 33 civilians, according to a Pentagon inquiry. Other investigators said the numbers were much higher. According to an Afghan parliamentary investigation, an airstrike in July in the eastern province of Nangarhar also struck a wedding, killing 47 civilians, including the bride.

An initial American military inquiry into the August attack, in the western province of Herat, said only five to seven civilians had died when an American AC-130 gunship attacked the nighttime Taliban meeting, contradicting Afghan and United Nations reports that as many as 90 civilians had died.

The ensuing furor among Afghans, including an angry protest by President Karzai, prompted the top American commander in the country, Gen. David D. McKiernan, to order a second investigation, which raised the civilian death toll to 33.

General McKiernan also ordered a tightening of procedures for launching airstrikes and reporting promptly and accurately on civilian casualties. He has said that minimizing civilian casualties is crucial to turning the worsening tide of the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Zalmay Ayoby, a spokesman for the governor of Kandahar, said the strike on Monday took place when Taliban and American-led forces were engaged in a firefight near the village of Wegh Bakhtu. He said that an airstrike was called in after the Taliban opened fire on a coalition unit, and that a missile struck a compound where a wedding party was being held.

“Unfortunately we should say that an airstrike on a wedding party had killed and injured a huge number of people in Shah Wali Kot,” he said.

Ahmed Wali Karzai, a brother of the Afghan president and leader of the provincial council in Kandahar, said that there were civilian casualties, but that it was unclear how many people had died. He said he had spoken with some people wounded in the attack who had been admitted to Kandahar’s main hospital. They told him that as many as 32 civilians had been admitted, including women and children from the wedding party, he said.

Dr. Qudratullah Hakimi of the Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar said by telephone that the hospital admitted 22 women and 6 children after the attack. The children’s ages were 1 to 11, he said. He said the bride had had an operation and was stable. He said that his patients had reported that up to 90 people were killed or wounded, and that some were buried under the rubble, although this could not be independently confirmed.

In Washington on Wednesday, the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, an advocacy group, urged President-elect Obama to appoint a senior Pentagon official to oversee policies to help avoid civilian casualties.

Sarah Holewinski, the group’s executive director, said the official could “make sure proven techniques to avoid civilians are in place and constantly improved, maintain proper investigative and statistical data on civilian harm in combat zones, and ensure prompt compensation” to civilians unintentionally harmed by American combat operations.

Ms. Holewinski said in a telephone interview that she had been discussing the idea with advisers to Mr. Obama over the past six months. “The issue is important enough to get right, lest we continue to lose public support in Afghanistan,” she said.

Abdul Waheed Wafa reported from Kabul, and John F. Burns from Cambridge, England. Mark McDonald and Graham Bowley contributed reporting from New York, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

    U.S. Airstrike Reported to Hit Afghan Wedding, NYT, 6.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/world/asia/06afghan.html?hp






A Warning, a Blast, a Fight to Save an Afghan Life


November 1, 2008
The New York Times


COMBAT OUTPOST LOWELL, Afghanistan — Jamaludin, an aging Afghan cook, twisted and writhed on the green stretcher. Blood ran from his mouth and nose. Medics had cut away his clothes, revealing puncture holes where shrapnel from a Taliban mortar round had struck him minutes before.

Capt. Norberto A. Rodriguez, an American Army doctor, listened through a stethoscope as two Army medics and a Navy corpsman inventoried Jamaludin’s wounds. There were holes on his back, neck, buttocks, left leg and beside his right eye.

Jamaludin, who like many Afghans has only one name, had been made wild by fear and pain. But for some reason he could not speak. He shook his head, sputtered and vomited blood. “Oh no, no, no,” Captain Rodriguez said, and quickly rolled him to his side.

The patient had heavy internal bleeding and was choking on his own seepage. The captain needed information. Was it shrapnel, a shock wave or both that had ruptured him inside? Jamaludin was near death. They were racing against time.

“Hey, can you ask these guys if he got blown, if he got thrown?” the captain asked an interpreter, to relay the question to the knot of Afghan men gathering outside by the body of another man, who had been killed and was now covered with a sheet.

The captain pushed his hand into Jamaludin’s mouth. He would keep this man alive. “Don’t bite my thumb,” he said, as much to himself as to a patient who spoke no English.

Jamaludin’s jaws clamped shut. “Ahhh,” the captain said, fighting to keep his hand there until suction and a breathing tube could be snaked down.

Combat Outpost Lowell is a company-size American and Afghan position in Nuristan Province, near the border with Pakistan. Far from view and named for Jacob Lowell, an Army specialist killed in the province in 2007, it is meant to play a remote role in the counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan, disrupting the Taliban and foreign fighters on a route to Pakistani tribal areas, and tying up Taliban forces far from more populated areas. It is one of the United States’ most forward positions in a war now in its eighth year.

Isolated, ringed by forested ridges and under such regular fire that helicopter pilots prefer to avoid flying here, especially by day, the outpost imposed an unforgiving condition: anyone injured would have to wait for an evacuation. It was up to Captain Rodriguez and a team of trauma medics to keep Jamaludin alive.

On this October day, the Taliban began firing mortars about 10:30 a.m. An American Army sergeant’s voice had crackled over a loudspeaker. “Incoming! Incoming!” it said.

Somewhere high overhead, an explosive 82-millimeter mortar round was in a free fall.

The soldiers of Apache Troop, the cavalry unit in the First Infantry Division that is assigned here, had scrambled to slip into flak jackets and helmets and waited for the round to come down. It exploded near an ammunition bunker with an earth-shaking roar.

Marine Capt. Markus Trouerbach, 40, the officer assigned to train the post’s Afghan soldiers, uttered an unprintable word. “That one was real close,” he added.

In the mountains ringing the outpost, he knew, the Taliban mortar crew had found the range.

The loudspeaker repeated the warning call. Another round was inbound. It was a teardrop-shaped steel canister packed with explosive putty, weighing perhaps seven pounds.

It screamed in and detonated beside a bunker used by the post’s local guards, blasting shrapnel deep into two Afghan men.

The guards’ second in command, Nezamudin, was killed outright, smacked by shrapnel in the neck and face. Jamaludin, the cook, a man with a nearly atrophied leg and a thick red beard, fell stunned to the ground. Blood rushed from his wounds.

If there is any universal and binding compact among military men under fire, it is this: If you are hit, we will come to get you. Among units that endure, it is a pledge more inviolable than law. And it comes with a corollary. You will do the same for me.

As soon as the word came over the two-way radio that the Afghans had been hit, Petty Officer Third Class Ramon G. Gavan, 23, Captain Trouerbach and Gunnery Sgt. Daniel P. McKernan, 36, grabbed their weapons and nodded knowingly to one other. They checked their helmets. They were on tight.

Within seconds, they were sprinting in the open across the outpost, where they met Army Sgt. Michael S. Ayres, 24, a scout, and a group of Afghans, who had slid the broken men onto litters and began to make their way to the doctor, who was in an aid station inside a tiny stone building.

“Incoming! Incoming!” the loudspeaker said.

The Afghans and Americans all dived to the ground and waited for the next shots to end. Then they were up and running again, carrying Jamaludin, who was semi-fetal on the litter, moaning.

It would be more than an hour before a helicopter could get here, if it could run the gantlet of fire. Could the trauma team keep the grievously wounded Afghan alive?

As Captain Rodriguez assessed him, Sgt. Zackary Filip called for help. “They need to call a medevac,” he said. “They need to call it now. Urgent.”

Sergeant Filip’s hands were covered in blood. He said he had always worn rubber gloves; on this day, there had been no time. He had been applying pressure to Jamaludin’s wounds and bandaging him. Now he began taking the patient’s pulse.

Petty Officer Gavan inserted an intravenous line in each of Jamaludin’s arms and cleaned the clotting blood on his face and beard, and leaned in to examine his ruined right eye. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

He prepared an oxygen line, and turned to an Afghan interpreter. “Tell him this will help with his breathing,” he said.

Jamaludin started to fight, tearing at his intravenous lines and oxygen mask. The captain and the corpsman tried to pry his hands free. They handed a syringe to a reporter, and asked him to inject its contents into an intravenous bag; it contained morphine.

Then they injected Jamaludin with ketamine and versed, two sedatives, to calm him down.

When he stopped swinging his arms, they inserted a breathing tube, and soon were helping him breathe again with the oxygen mask.

A change came over Jamaludin swiftly. Bleeding from the eye, nose and mouth, naked and sprawled across the messy litter, he was relaxing. He began to look restful. His oxygen level climbed to 94 from 80. One hundred is the maximum score.

Captain Rodriguez, 32, started to seem confident. A few minutes before, Jamaludin was near death. Maybe he might make it.

First Sgt. Douglas K. Terrell, 36, the senior enlisted man in Apache Troop, stepped into the room. He looked at Jamaludin. He was curled in a pool of blood. But he was stable.

“Can we get an E.T.A. on the bird?” the first sergeant asked into his radio, trying to determine when the helicopter could arrive. The answer came back: 45 minutes.

Captain Rodriguez looked up. “How many,” he asked. “Four-five?”

The first sergeant did not want to leave the helicopter exposed on the landing zone. He wanted everyone ready to rush the patient outside early.

“Go with about 40,” the first sergeant said. “At max.”

“He’s going to roll in here,” he said. “But I would tell you all right now,” he nodded, “be prepared.” The implication was clear: When the helicopter arrived, the Taliban would be firing.

He turned to the Afghan interpreter, Rahatullah. First things first. He wanted Jamaludin to hear encouragement in Pashto, his native language. “Tell him we’ve got him,” he said. “We’ve got him.”

Petty Officer Gavan, his face glistening with sweat, was on his knees, trying to reach the injured man in other ways. He clutched Jamaludin’s left hand with both bloody gloves, kneading his fingers, coaxing him to fight.

Sergeant Filip had a moment free, and he scrubbed Jamaludin’s blood from his fingers. “I hope he doesn’t have anything,” he said. Sweat dripped from his forehead and rolled off his nose. “I didn’t have time to put gloves on,” he said. “You have to stop the bleeding however you can.”

Forty-five minutes passed. No helicopter. Jamaludin was kept alive by another medic, Specialist Jeremy W. Wright, 20, who kept him breathing by pumping an oxygen bag. Jamaludin’s stomach rose and fell.

At about minute 65, the rotors could be heard in the valley. By then the medics and Captain Rodrigiuez were running with Jamaludin, now bandaged and strapped onto a litter, back across open ground.

The first sergeant had been right. The Taliban were waiting. As the medics loaded Jamaludin onto the helicopter, the mortars started again. The first round landed wide.

The loudspeaker was barely audible over the roar of the Blackhawk’s rotors. “Incoming! Incoming!” it said.

As Captain Rodriguez and the medics ran clear of the rotor blades, the helicopter shuddered, rose and lurched forward to gather speed for the run past the hills.

“Get down!” Captain Trouerbach shouted. “Get down!”

Everyone bounded from bunker to bunker back to the aid station, where for a few minutes the medical team, now with nothing to do, circled and paced. Jamaludin’s soaked clothes and bandages were knotted into ugly clumps on the soiled floor.

Sergeant Filip stepped behind a screen and prayed.

The silence had come suddenly. The helicopter was gone. The mortars had stopped again. Captain Rodriguez leaned onto his desk. There have been dozens of mortar attacks here since Apache Troop arrived four months ago.

His voice was almost a whisper. “I don’t know what to think,” he said, unprompted, looking up toward the sky that they fell from. “I’m happy to wake up every morning.”

An hour or so later the call came in. The helicopter had reached the next base. Jamaludin was in surgery. He was alive.

    A Warning, a Blast, a Fight to Save an Afghan Life, NYT, 1.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/01/world/asia/01afghan.html?hp






U.S. Drone Kills 20 in Pakistan


October 28, 2008
The New York Times


PESHAWAR, Pakistan — An American drone aircraft hit a militant compound in South Waziristan Sunday night, killing 20 people, including two important local Taliban commanders known for their attacks against American soldiers in Afghanistan, a senior government official and a local resident said.

One of the dead commanders, Eida Khan, was wanted by the Americans for his cross-border attacks from bases in Waziristan, the government official said. Another, Wahweed Ullah, worked with Arabs who were part of Al Qaeda, the local resident said.

Mr. Ullah, in his late 20s, was known as an ideologically committed fighter who specialized in attacks against Americans in Afghanistan, the resident said.

The drone launched a missile attack on a compound in the village of Manduta, close to Wana, the capital of South Waziristan, about 20 miles from the Afghanistan border.

Mr. Khan and Mr. Ullah, as well as two brothers of Mr. Khan, were affiliated with the militant network of Jalaluddin Haqqani, a senior Taliban figure with close connections to Al Qaeda, said the official and the local resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The strike was part of an escalating campaign by the Bush administration to hit the Taliban and their Al Qaeda backers at their bases in the tribal belt.

The latest strike appears to have been the 19th by pilotless Predator aircraft in the tribal areas since the beginning of August. In the first seven months of 2008, there were five strikes.

The Bush administration has intensified the drone attacks after backing away from using American commandos for ground raids into the tribal belt. A ground assault on September 3 produced an angry public riposte from the chief of the Pakistani Army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who said he would defend Pakistan’s borders “at all costs” against such intrusions, an unusually strong statement from one ally to another.

Mr. Ullah, who is usually in North Waziristan, was believed to have been visiting the compound in Manduta to pay respects to the families of those killed in an American drone strike on Friday on a madrassa in North Waziristan run by Mr. Haqqani.

The people killed in the North Waziristan strike came from the area around Manduta in South Waziristan, the government official and local resident said.

Mr. Khan was well known to the Pakistani authorities. He was arrested in 2004 and jailed until last year when he was released under a prisoner exchange, the government official said.

While the drone attacks appear to be more acceptable to the Pakistani authorities than ground incursions, government officials have complained about the intensity of the strikes and the choice of targets by the Americans.

The Americans were concentrating on Taliban and Al Qaeda forces that hurt American and coalition troops in Afghanistan but were ignoring militants targeting Pakistan, a senior Pakistani official in the administration that oversees the tribal region said Monday.

“The Americans are not interested in our bad guys,” the official said. He was referring in particular to Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistani Taliban leader, who is said by Pakistani authorities to be responsible for many of the suicide bombings of the last 18 months.

The Pakistani army is fighting the Pakistani Taliban in Bajaur, another part of the tribal region to the east of Waziristan, and that conflict appeared to be on the verge of spreading Monday after a suicide bomber rammed his car into a checkpoint manned by paramilitary forces in the Mohmand region.

The attack was the first in Mohmand, an area adjacent to Bajaur. It killed nine troops, the government said.

The Pakistani Army has said it planned to launch a campaign against the Taliban in Mohmand once it has completed its mission in Bajaur.

The conflict in the tribal region was discussed at a government-sponsored gathering of tribal leaders from Pakistan and Afghanistan in Islamabad Monday. The meeting, known as a mini-jirga, is part of a dialogue initiated last year by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The emphasis at the meeting was on talks between those Taliban willing to renounce violence and the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The fact the gathering took place was seen as a sign that the new Pakistani government is willing to participate in a process that had been largely ignored by the former president, Pervez Musharraf.

The foreign minister of Pakistan, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, echoing a parliamentary resolution last week that encouraged dialogue with willing militants, said: “There is an increasing realization that the use of force alone cannot yield the desired results.”

Jane Perlez and Ismail Khan reported from Peshawar, Pakistan, and Pir Zubair Shah reported from Islamabad.

    U.S. Drone Kills 20 in Pakistan, NYT, 28.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/28/world/asia/28pstan.html






U.S. Takes to Air to Hit Militants Inside Pakistan


October 27, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The White House has backed away from using American commandos for further ground raids into Pakistan after furious complaints from its government, relying instead on an intensifying campaign of airstrikes by the Central Intelligence Agency against militants in the Pakistani mountains.

According to American and Pakistani officials, attacks by remotely piloted Predator aircraft have increased sharply in frequency and scope in the past three months.

Through Sunday, there were at least 18 Predator strikes since the beginning of August, some deep inside Pakistan’s tribal areas, compared with 5 strikes during the first seven months of 2008.

At the same time, however, officials said that relying on airstrikes alone, the United States would be unable to weaken Al Qaeda’s grip in the tribal areas permanently. Within the government, advocates of the ground raids have argued that only by sending Special Operations forces into Pakistan can the United States successfully capture suspected operatives and interrogate them for information about top Qaeda leaders.

The decision to focus on an intensified Predator campaign using Hellfire missiles appears to reflect dwindling options on the part of the White House for striking a blow against Al Qaeda in the Bush administration’s waning days.

After months of debate within the administration and mounting frustration over Pakistan’s failure to carry out more aggressive counterterrorism operations, President Bush finally gave his approval in July for ground missions inside Pakistan.

But the only American ground mission known to have taken place was a Special Operations raid on Sept. 3, in which the roughly two dozen people killed included some civilians. American officials say there has not been another commando operation since.

American officials acknowledge that following the Sept. 3 raid they were surprised by the intensity of the Pakistani response, which included an unannounced visit to Washington, three weeks after the incursion, by the country’s national security adviser, Mahmud Ali Durrani. He registered his anger in person with top White House officials.

A senior administration official said Sunday that no tacit agreement had been reached to allow increased Predator strikes in exchange for a backing off from additional American ground raids, an option the officials said remained on the table. But Pakistani officials have made clear in public statements that they regard the Predator attacks as a less objectionable violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

“There’s always a balance between respecting full Pakistani sovereignty, even in places where they’re not capable of exercising that sovereignty, and the need for our force protection,” said the administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Top American officials have justified the Sept. 3 ground raid as a self-defense response against militants who use havens in Pakistan to launch attacks against American and allied forces in Afghanistan. Those attacks have increased by about 30 percent from a year ago, according to military officials.

As part of the intensified attacks in recent months, the C.I.A. has expanded its list of targets in Pakistan and has gained approval from the government there to bolster eavesdropping operations in the border region, according to United States officials.

Once largely reserved for missions to kill senior Arab Qaeda operatives, the Predator is increasingly being used to strike Pakistani militants and even trucks carrying rockets to resupply fighters in Afghanistan.

Many of the Predator strikes are taking place as deep as 25 miles into Pakistani territory, not just along the border.

Spokesmen for the White House and the C.I.A. declined to comment for this article.

The information about the American operations inside Pakistan was described in interviews by a dozen military and civilian officials from the United States and Pakistan, who insisted on anonymity because of diplomatic concerns and because details remained classified.

While Pakistan is now headed by a new civilian government, under President Asif Ali Zardari, the tense discussions between the countries over counterterrorism operations appear to echo at least some of the uneasiness that long characterized the partnership between Mr. Bush and Pervez Musharraf, the former president. He was defeated in parliamentary elections in February and left office in August.

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, told the Council on Foreign Relations this month that the two nations were cooperating in deploying “strategic equipment that is used against specific targets.”

On Oct. 16, a Predator strike in South Waziristan killed Khalid Habib, a senior Qaeda operative. But the strikes sometimes have unintended consequences. On Sept. 8, one in Miranshah on a compound owned by a Taliban leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani, failed to kill him but did kill women and children. On Aug. 27, a Predator strike near the village of Wana missed its target; it is unclear whether civilians were killed.

Senior military and counterterrorism officials say the increased Predator strikes have disrupted planning, pushed some insurgents deeper into Pakistan, prompted some militant commanders to post additional sentries and forced the militants to use their cellphones and satellite phones, which American eavesdropping operations can monitor.

“It’s fair to say that it has caused key Al Qaeda figures to focus even more on their safety and security,” said a Western counterterrorism official. “It has caused them to be more suspicious of people they don’t know well, and it also has caused frictions between Al Qaeda and tribal elements.”

But the official acknowledged that the intensified operations have failed to shake Al Qaeda’s hold on the tribal areas. “Things haven’t gotten to the point that they would even consider another option,” he said.

Pakistan and the United States are also taking steps to repair the relationship between their intelligence services, which reached a nadir this summer after evidence emerged that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate had a hand in the July bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan’s top military official, recently replaced not only the ISIs commander but also four midlevel generals believed to have had advance knowledge of the embassy bombing.

The C.I.A. has also put a new station chief in Islamabad, replacing one whose tour of duty had ended and whose relationship with the ISI had become contentious.

Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the new head of the ISI, is in Washington this week and is scheduled to meet with the C.I.A. director, Michael V. Hayden.

Pentagon officials have publicly praised the Pakistan Army’s aggressive campaign against militants in the Bajaur tribal agency. But privately, some American officials are wincing at a full-scale military operation that is taking a heavy toll on civilians as well as insurgents, and has not diminished the cross-border attacks.

“They don’t have a concept of counterinsurgency operations,” one senior American officer said. “It’s generally a heavy punch and then they leave.”

More than 200,000 people have now fled the attack helicopters, warplanes, artillery and mortar fire of the Pakistani Army, and some officials in Washington say the Pakistani government has been slow to follow up with food, water and other assistance to help displaced villagers. The United States has approved $8 million to aid the refugee effort.

Still, a senior official in the State Department said the situation was a vast improvement from years of Pakistan’s off-again-on-again military operations in the tribal areas.

“They have shown more fight than ever before,” that official said of the Pakistanis. “They show no desire to negotiate with the militants.”

The official said that Pakistan’s civilian government had been moved to act in part by large-scale terrorist attacks in Pakistan, like the Sept. 20 bombing at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, which killed more than 50 people.

    U.S. Takes to Air to Hit Militants Inside Pakistan, NYT, 27.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/27/washington/27intel.html?hp






5 Dead in Suspected US Missile Strike in Pakistan


October 23, 2008
Filed at 3:01 a.m. ET
THe New York Times


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) -- Suspected U.S. missiles struck a Taliban-linked school in northwest Pakistan on Thursday, killing five people in an apparent sign of U.S. frustration with the country's anti-terror efforts, intelligence officials said.

The strike came hours after Parliament warned against ''incursions'' on Pakistani soil in a resolution that also called for reviewing the national security strategy and making dialogue with militants the highest priority.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan is also in the midst of an economic crisis brought on by high fuel prices, dwindling foreign investment, soaring inflation and militant violence.

Late on Wednesday, the government formally requested financial help from the International Monetary Fund to avoid a possible meltdown, a decision that could cost the government political support.

The suspected U.S. missiles hit the religious school on the outskirts of Miran Shah, the main town in the militant-infested North Waziristan region, four intelligence officials said.

Relying on informants and agents in the area, two officials said at least five people were killed and two wounded.

The religious school belonged to a local pro-Taliban cleric, the intelligence officials said. The cleric has been linked to veteran Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, considered a top foe of the United States, they said.

The intelligence officials gave the information on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Militants in the northwest are blamed for rising attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan as well as surging suicide attacks within Pakistan.

The cross-border missile attacks have angered many Pakistani lawmakers and the pro-U.S. government has protested them as violations of the country's sovereignty.

The parliamentary resolution was vague and lacking in details, apparently a result of political compromise after two weeks of closed-door debate.

The document did not directly mention two of the most divisive issues surrounding the terror fight: army offensives in the northwest and calls for unconditional talks with the extremists.

The major opposition parties recognize the need for military action against the insurgents but rarely forcefully express this because they need to maintain support among ordinary Pakistanis who are deeply suspicious of the war.

The seven-month old government -- which is desperate for lawmakers to support its military offensive -- hailed the 14-point document as a ''historic moment for the country.''

''This will definitely help to improve the situation and to rid the country of the menace of terrorism,'' Information Minister Sherry Rehman said.

The resolution calls for an ''independent foreign policy,'' a sign of wariness of American influence. But it also states Pakistan will not let its soil be used for terrorist attacks elsewhere -- an apparent nod to U.S. complaints about militants hiding in northwest Pakistan.

The resolution also alludes to the U.S. missile attacks, stating that Pakistan ''stands united against any incursions and invasions of the homeland, and calls upon the government to deal with it effectively.''

While saying dialogue ''must now be the highest priority,'' it stipulates that talks should be pursued with those ''elements'' willing to follow the constitution and the ''rule of law.''

The Pakistani army is engaged in two major offensives in the northwest -- one in the Swat Valley and one in the Bajur tribal area. The latter has killed more than 1,000 militants, officials say. The U.S. has praised the crackdowns while warning that peace deals simply let militants regroup.

Pakistani officials had previously said turning to the IMF to avoid defaulting on billions of dollars of sovereign debt due in the coming months would be a last resort. Aid from the agency often comes with conditions such as cutting public spending that can affect programs for the poor, making it a politically tough choice for governments.

But in a statement Wednesday, the fund said Pakistan had requested help ''to meet the balance of payments difficulties the country is experiencing.'' It said the amount of money requested by Pakistan had yet to be determined and that talks on the loan package would begin in a few days.


Associated Press writer Bashirullah Khan in Miran Shah and Zarar Khan and Nahal Toosi in Islamabad contributed to this report.

    5 Dead in Suspected US Missile Strike in Pakistan, NYT, 23.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/world/AP-AS-Pakistan.html






Taliban Said to Kill Dozens on Bus


October 19, 2008
Filed at 8:38 a.m. ET
The New York Times


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Taliban insurgents killed 25 Afghan civilians, including a child, after firing on one bus and seizing control of another in the southern province of Kandahar, a local police chief said on Sunday.

Violence in the war-torn country has surged this year with attacks at their highest level in six years, the United Nations' top envoy in Afghanistan said this month. Some 4,000 people have died so far this year, a third of them civilians.

The latest attack, on Thursday, happened while two buses carrying passengers, including women and children, drove through Maywand district in Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban and where the hardline Islamists still draw a lot of support.

The Taliban tried to stop one of the buses but it carried on driving, said Kandahar police chief Matiullah Qateh. The insurgents then fired on the bus killing one child.

The militants managed to stop the second bus carrying about 50 passengers, said Qateh. They killed 24 of the travelers and freed the rest, he said.

Although an investigation was launched on Thursday, the bodies were only found later some distance from the road, said Qateh.

A spokesman for the Taliban, Qari Mohammad Yousuf, told Reuters they had killed 27 people he said were Afghan soldiers.

It was not possible to independently verify any of the casualty figures due to poor security and lack of access to the area where the attack took place.

Taliban militants often launch attacks against Afghan and foreign soldiers but the vast majority of those killed, some 80 percent, are Afghan civilians, security experts say.

(Reporting by Mirwais Afghan; Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Matthew Jones)

    Taliban Said to Kill Dozens on Bus, 19.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/world/international-us-afghan-violence.html?hp






The World

Afghans’ Toll Shakes Generals


October 19, 2008
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — A generation ago, when the Soviets were in Afghanistan, they lost the battle for hearts and minds quickly by showing scant concern for human rights. Estimates run as high as 1.5 million dead and 10,000 villages destroyed. Now, Americans labor in the shadow of that history, and that helps to explain why alarm bells are ringing in the NATO headquarters here over the latest accounts of air raids that went wrong, causing dozens of civilian casualties.

When such things happen, within an Afghan population deeply traumatized by the Soviet years, there is a quick resort to comparisons of the past occupier with the present one, even though the scale of casualties caused by Western forces — even taking the worst figures compiled by human rights groups — are but a fraction of the abuses committed by the Russians.

For Gen. David D. McKiernan, the American who commands 65,000 foreign troops from 39 nations in Afghanistan, concern over civilian casualties, especially from aircraft-launched bombs and missiles, has become the issue of the moment. Only if it is tackled effectively, senior officers here are now saying, can the hearts and minds of 30 million Afghans — many of them increasingly skeptical about the Western military presence, and angry about the civilian death toll — be won.

The NATO command has been intently focused on the issue since an attack in western Afghanistan on Aug. 22, when an AC-130 gunship mounted a nighttime raid on what the United States intelligence has identified as a meeting of about 30 Taliban fighters with a “high value” Taliban commander. Lethal cannon fire from the aircraft devastated several buildings in the mud-brick village of Azizabad, leaving more civilians dead than Taliban.

A similar pattern, according to Afghan officials and townspeople, was seen Thursday in the Nadali district of Helmand Province, where a coalition airstrike hit three houses sheltering families who had fled a Taliban assault. According to the Afghan accounts, the strike killed between 25 and 30 civilians, most of them women and children. The NATO command acknowledged that an airstrike had taken place and announced there would be an investigation, but said it could not confirm that there had been civilian casualties.

The timing of the airstrike and the ensuing accusations could scarcely have been worse for the NATO command. At the very moment when the Nadali incident was taking place, senior American and British officers were briefing Western aid representatives and reporters in Kabul on a new, more-thorough system for reducing civilian casualties.

“Our military forces are here to protect the civilian population, not to damage them,” said Lt. Gen. Jonathon Riley, the British deputy to General McKiernan, as he and other officers outlined tighter orders for “proportionality, requisite restraint and the utmost discrimination” in the use of firepower, particularly in airstrikes. The directives also call for accurately chronicling — and promptly admitting — when civilians are killed.

“We want to make it an absolute rule that we acknowledge our mistakes when they happen,” said Col. Gordon (Skip) Davis, an American officer who leads a strategic advisory group to General McKiernan. “Regardless of the number of deaths, we’ll come out and say, ‘We’re responsible, we are the ones who did it.’ ” A British colonel, Mike Newman, set out requirements that battlefield commanders report civilian casualties by radio as soon as an engagement is completed and file a fuller account within four hours of returning to base or, at the latest, within 24 hours.

A new unit led by a civilian will monitor the reports, as well as “credible allegations” of civilian deaths from ordinary Afghans, aid agencies and news accounts. Where coalition forces are judged responsible, the command will acknowledge that responsibility, and relatives will be offered “condolence payments” set by the nation whose troops were involved. In the case of Britain and the United States, the standard is a payment of $2,500 for each death and more at the discretion of commanders.

A theme that ran through the Kabul briefing was that the NATO command — in particular General McKiernan, who took command here in June — has concluded that previous approaches to the problem were seriously flawed. For General McKiernan, the realization appears to have come with the Azizabad airstrike.

Initially, he insisted that only five to seven civilians had been killed, and dismissed reports by local residents, Western aid groups and reporters that as many as 90 civilians had died. But 16 days after the attack, amid the storm of anger that arose among Afghans, he ordered a second investigation by a Pentagon-based general. That report, released two weeks ago, said that the dead included about 22 Taliban fighters and 33 civilians, among them at least 3 women and 12 children.

The report concluded that the firepower used at Azizabad was “in self-defense, necessary and proportional.” Nevertheless, one indication that Azizabad had been a wake-up call was an acknowledgment at the Kabul briefing that, until June, statistics on civilian deaths kept by the NATO command were not generally viewed as reliable, even within the command. Now, officers at the briefing said, the system for reporting casualties has been tightened, giving a more authentic sense of how broad the problem is. “We are getting a lot better at capturing the situation,” General Riley said.

According to statistics disclosed at the briefing, 156 civilians have been killed in coalition attacks so far this year, compared with 161 in all of last year. The statistics showed far higher civilian deaths from insurgent attacks, 757 so far this year as opposed to 690 last year. Both sets of figures were dwarfed by the command’s accounting of how many insurgents were killed in combat with coalition troops — 4,282 so far this year and 6,500 last year. But the total for the numbers of civilians killed by coalition forces since the start of 2007 — 317 — was still far below estimates made by some human rights groups.

Last month, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said reports gathered by the organization’s human rights representatives in Kabul showed that 629 civilians had been killed by “progovernment forces” in 2007, and 477 in the first eight months of this year — a total of 1,106. The United Nations figures, however, include people killed by Afghan security forces, while the NATO figures are for those killed by foreign troops only.

General McKiernan has instructed that the new tactical directive issued to field commanders on avoiding civilian casualties apply equally to the NATO and separate American forces he leads. It will not, however, apply to American special forces in Afghanistan, who are not under his command, nor to the 145,000-strong Afghan Army and police force, whose operations have drawn their own harsh criticism from human rights groups.

But the strongest criticism of the new NATO policy has come from those who say a high civilian death toll is inevitable in a war in which NATO commanders with insufficient ground troops must rely heavily on airstrikes. Critics also say the risks are compounded by a reliance on intelligence given by Afghans when choosing targets, because clan, tribe and ethnic rivalries among the Afghans have been identified in some errant bombings as a factor in skewing the intelligence.

But the NATO officers at the briefing rejected the notion that airpower has been used indiscriminately, and General Riley, the British commander, said foreign troops were the victims of exaggerated claims of wrongdoing, some of them from Taliban fighters. ”Allegations against us, however wild, tend to be believed, and they cause great anger,” he said. Still, he said, it was crucial to reduce the incidence of attacks causing civilian losses. “This,” he said, “goes to the heart of the credibility of our mission.”

    Afghans’ Toll Shakes Generals, NYT, 19.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/19/weekinreview/19burns.html?hp






Afghan Officials Say Airstrike Killed Civilians


October 17, 2008
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — A NATO airstrike on Thursday on a village near the embattled provincial capital of Lashkar Gah killed 25 to 30 civilians, Afghan officials in the area said. While NATO confirmed that an airstrike had taken place in the area, where Taliban fighters have been battling NATO forces, it said that the reports were being investigated and that the command was “unable to confirm any civilian casualties.”

Reliable information on the airstrike — whether it caused the deaths, as local officials and residents reported, and whether the number of civilian deaths was accurate — was elusive. But any substantial civilian death toll would further inflame an Afghan government and public already angered by a recent rise in civilian casualties from coalition airstrikes. American commanders have acknowledged that the war has been going badly in recent months as the Taliban and Al Qaeda have stepped up their campaign of bombings and assassinations.

Residents claiming to have witnessed the airstrike said at least 18 bodies, all women and children — including one 6-month-old — were pulled from the rubble and taken to the provincial governor’s compound in protest.

At nightfall in Kabul, the Afghan capital, the NATO command issued a statement confirming only that an airstrike had taken place in the Nadali District, about 10 miles northwest of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province in the southwest. The command said it expected to give more details on Friday.

The NATO command’s concern about airstrikes was heightened after Aug. 22, when an American AC-130 gunship attacked a suspected Taliban compound in the village of Azizabad in the western province of Herat, prompting claims by villagers that more than 90 civilians, the majority of them women and children, were killed. The American military under Gen. David D. McKiernan, the top American commander in Afghanistan, initially insisted that only 5 to 7 civilians were killed but then ordered another investigation after new evidence emerged from the United Nations and reporters who visited the scene. A subsequent report by a Pentagon-based general, released last week, concluded that more than 30 civilians died.

The Azizabad strike shook the already strained relationship between the Bush administration and the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai. American officials have criticized the Karzai government for what they say is its incompetence and corruption. Mr. Karzai has struck back with demands that American commanders rein in their airstrikes, saying that civilian casualties have undermined popular support for the war effort. After the Azizabad strike, President Bush called Mr. Karzai to express his regrets.

Less than two weeks later, General McKiernan issued a so-called tactical directive aimed at reducing civilian casualties.

Local officials and residents of Nadali said Thursday that a bomb had hit three houses in a village in the Loy Bagh District that were sheltering seven families fleeing fighting elsewhere in the district over the past week. Mahboob Khan, the district chief, said in a telephone interview that 18 bodies had been pulled from the rubble, and that as many as 12 other bodies remained buried in the ruins. Mr. Khan said the bombing had caused widespread anger among the villagers. “They’re busy burying their family members now,” he said.

He added, “But tomorrow, they will demand to know why their houses were targeted.”

Mr. Khan’s account, and similar ones given by other local officials, could not be verified because reporters were unable to reach the site of the strike. Mr. Khan’s compound in Nadali is said to be the only place in the district that is under the control of the government. Accounts of the recent fighting in the area have said that the Taliban have virtually free run of the area, a situation that if true would mean that Taliban commanders would be in a position to exploit the strike by offering their own version of what occurred.

NATO commanders say there have been numerous attacks in which the Taliban have made false allegations of civilian casualties. But in the case of the Nadali strike, there were factors suggesting that the accounts of heavy civilian casualties might be true. One was the swift NATO confirmation that there had been an airstrike in the district. Another was the flurry of accounts by witnesses from Lashkar Gah of bodies that were laid out in front of the governor’s compound.

The BBC reported that one of its reporters had seen 18 bodies, all women and children, ranging in age from 6 months to 15 years. Accounts gathered over the telephone by a reporter for The New York Times in Kandahar, about 85 miles east of Lashkar Gah, were similar. Muhammed Akram, a shopkeeper in Lashkar Gah, said by telephone that the bodies had been brought into the city by angry residents. “They were badly mangled, and they included men, women and children,” he said.

The strike occurred at a time when General McKiernan, who took command here in June, had made curbing civilian casualties a high priority. At the moment when the airstrike in Nadali was said to have taken place, 1 p.m. Thursday, senior officers on the general’s staff were holding a briefing in Kabul, 340 miles away, at which they laid out for reporters and Western aid groups the new measures that General McKiernan had ordered for the purpose of “protecting the civilian population” during combat operations.

At a news conference in Kabul on Sunday, General McKiernan, just back from a top-level review of war strategy at the Pentagon, said the International Security Assistance Force, the coalition he commands, had adopted the most elaborate measures ever undertaken in war for avoiding civilian deaths. “Never in history has a military coalition taken greater measures to try and avoid civilian casualties than have been taken by ISAF,” he said.

At the briefing, Lt. Gen. Jonathon Riley, the British officer who is General McKiernan’s deputy, staunchly defended the way airstrikes were conducted, saying that the combat aircraft involved — mainly from the United States, Britain, France and Canada — used “precision-guided weapons that are much more precise than machine guns” and other battlefield weapons, and that airstrikes were not ordered without multiple sources of intelligence indicating that the targets were combatants.

Officers distributed copies of the directive issued by General McKiernan on Sept. 2. “We will demonstrate proportionality, requisite restraint and the utmost discrimination in the use of firepower,” the directive said.

“We will only use such munitions against Afghan houses or compounds when there is an imminent threat and when the on-the-scene commander determines there is no other way to protect the force.”

The coalition’s chief spokesman, Brig. Gen. Richard Blanchette of Canada, said in a telephone interview later that the directive had been accompanied by instructions intended to reduce the use of airstrikes in situations where they might cause civilian casualties. He said the NATO command had sent a “reminder” to commanders that they had the option of a “tactical withdrawal” from an engagement with the Taliban to avoid civilian casualties rather than resorting to airstrikes or other heavy weapons.

“A commander pinned down by enemy fire from a house where there are civilians has to determine his best course of action — whether it is to use his firepower or pull out of the area for a short period until he has a better opportunity to engage the enemy without endangering civilians,” the general said.

Taimoor Shah contributed reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan, and Abdul Waheed Wafa from Kabul.

    Afghan Officials Say Airstrike Killed Civilians, NYT, 17.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/17/world/asia/17afghan.html?hp







Downward Spiral


October 15, 2008
The New York Times

After years of denial and negligence, President Bush and his aides are finally waking up to the desperate mess they’ve made in Afghanistan. They have little choice, since the alarms are coming from all corners.

In a rare moment of agreement, America’s 16 intelligence agencies are warning that Afghanistan is on a dangerous “downward spiral.” Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is publicly predicting that next year will be an even “tougher year.”

As The Times reported last week, a draft intelligence report blames three problems for the breakdown in central authority and the Taliban’s rising power: rampant corruption, a booming heroin trade and increasingly sophisticated attacks from militants based across the border in Pakistan. Unless all three are addressed quickly, the war in Afghanistan could be lost.

Under pressure from the United States and other NATO governments, Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, appointed a new interior minister over the weekend who will be charged with cleaning up and strengthening the country’s police force. Mr. Karzai now must cut all ties with corrupt officials. He must take a hard and credible look at allegations that his brother may be involved in the heroin trade that is pouring $100 million annually into the Taliban’s coffers.

The United States will also have to send more troops into Afghanistan and persuade its allies to send more. It’s chilling to watch America’s defense secretary, Robert Gates, begging NATO — and the White House — for help. Germany’s commitment of another 1,000 troops is commendable but marred by its refusal to deploy them in southern Afghanistan where the fighting is heaviest. NATO members that can’t or won’t send more troops must contribute money to build Afghanistan’s national army and finance local development.

NATO’s recent decision to authorize its forces to go after drug lords and drug labs is a (much belated) start, but it still has far too many strings attached.

The Bush administration must drop its resistance to working with tribal leaders to fight the Taliban. The time for worrying about undermining President Karzai is long past. Reconciliation talks should also be explored with members of the Taliban — if they forsake violence.

Washington must also come up with a better mixture of incentives and pressures to persuade Pakistan to shut down Taliban and Al Qaeda havens. The country’s new civilian leaders and army chief say that they understand the threat posed by militants and are willing to fight them. That must be encouraged, including with more carefully monitored military and economic aid.

Imagine if Mr. Bush had not invaded Iraq in 2003 and instead put all of this country’s resources and attention into defeating Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Even optimistic analysts say that things have now gotten so bad that, with the best strategy, it could take another 5 to 10 years to stabilize Afghanistan.

That is one more reason why the next president must plot a swift, orderly exit from Iraq and begin a swift and serious buildup of troops and aid in Afghanistan — the real frontline in the war on terror.

    Downward Spiral, NYT, 15.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/15/opinion/15wed1.html






General Says He’s Hopeful About Taliban War


October 13, 2008
The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan — Less than 12 hours after NATO troops in Afghanistan defeated an ambitious attempt by the Taliban to storm a provincial capital in the far southwest, killing dozens of the fighters, the top American commander in the country urged doubters Sunday to believe that the war against the Taliban would be won.

The commander, Gen. David D. McKiernan, who leads more than 65,000 troops from about 40 foreign countries, including 33,000 Americans, said at a news conference in Kabul that there had been “too many” reports in the media recently asserting that the foreign forces and their Afghan allies were losing the war.

“I absolutely reject that idea, I don’t believe it,” the general said, adding: “It is true that there are many places in this country that don’t have an adequate level of security. We don’t have progress as even and as fast as any of us would like. But we are not losing in Afghanistan.”

At another point, he was more emphatic. There are major challenges facing the war effort, he said, “But we will win.”

The news conference was held on the general’s return from Washington, where he participated in a wide-ranging review of war strategy in Afghanistan. Earlier, the NATO command confirmed that its forces battled several hundred Taliban fighters at nightfall on Saturday as they prepared to attack Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province, the center of Afghanistan’s opium trade and one of the most heavily contested battlefields of the war.

A statement by the International Security Assistance Force, the official name of the NATO operation commanded by General McKiernan, said it had attacked the Taliban fighters at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, when the Taliban were preparing to launch a mortar attack on the city. At his news conference, General McKiernan said that fighting had continued until daybreak on Sunday, and that “a large number of Taliban” had been killed.

Dawood Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said by telephone that 62 Taliban fighters had been killed.

The spokesman said that a separate battle by Afghan and NATO troops to regain control of Nadali District, 15 miles west of Lashkar Gah, had ended Saturday after two days and that 40 Taliban fighters had been killed there.

If accurate, the figures would make the fighting among the most intensive that NATO forces have experienced with the resurgent Taliban. Lt. Col. Woody Page, a spokesman for the British forces in Helmand, said that about 50 Taliban were killed at Lashkar Gah, according to Agence France-Presse. He also confirmed that the Taliban had been driven out of Nadali, but he did not give a Taliban death toll there.

The NATO command statement said that its forces at Lashkar Gah had reacted to the sighting of Taliban fighters assembling outside the city by conducting an airstrike “in which multiple enemy forces were killed,” and that the strike was combined with a ground assault involving NATO and Afghan forces.

The wording of the statement suggested that the command viewed the Lashkar Gah attack as another in a series of so-called spectacular strikes by the Taliban in recent months in which the Taliban have aimed to demoralize NATO forces and Afghanistan’s roughly 30 million people and create a groundswell of opinion here that the American-led forces are heading for the same dismal fate that met the Soviet occupation force in the 1980s.

NATO officers had warned that major Taliban strikes might be launched before winter, when fighting in Afghanistan has usually declined. In its statement on the Lashkar Gah attack, the command quoted Brig. Gen. Richard Blanchette, the Canadian who is the principal command spokesman, as saying, “If the insurgents planned a spectacular attack prior to the winter, this was a spectacular failure.”

All the same, the Taliban, even in defeat, appeared to have served notice that as they neared the seventh anniversary of the collapse of Taliban rule in Kabul, the nation’s capital, they have reorganized into a formidable fighting force. Several times this year, they have shown that they are capable of massing hundreds of fighters for attacks in the east, south and southwest of Afghanistan that are within a few days’ trek of militant sanctuaries in the border areas of Pakistan.

In July, a large force of Taliban fighters carried out a bold assault on a remote American base in Kunar Province, close to the Pakistan border. Nine American soldiers were killed. That attack followed another daring attempt to threaten a major southern city, Kandahar. After a prolonged Taliban buildup in the Arghandab district, just outside Kandahar, Afghan and NATO forces struck in late June, clearing hundreds of Taliban fighters from 18 villages in the area and killing 56, according to NATO statements at the time.

American commanders have said that overall violence across the country has risen about 30 percent in the past year, with record numbers of casualties among American and other NATO troops. The United Nations has put the number of Afghan civilians killed so far in 2008 at nearly 4,000.

Confidence among Afghan citizens has plummeted, contributing to urgent calls by Western commanders and diplomats for a new war-fighting strategy that can put the effort here back on an ascending path.

At his news conference, General McKiernan appeared concerned about stemming the tide of pessimism. The general took command here in June, and he introduced a note of concern early on by saying that he did not believe NATO troops were winning, but that they could with a more effective approach. The message he appeared to have brought back from Washington was that doubts about the war had gone too far.

But he issued a new warning about inadequate NATO troop levels, a point made insistently in recent weeks by Robert M. Gates, the American defense secretary, and General McKiernan and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the two four-star American commanders who will now oversee the war here.

Taimoor Shah contributed reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan.

    General Says He’s Hopeful About Taliban War, NYT, 13.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/13/world/asia/13afghan.html?hp






U.S. Inquiry Is Said to Conclude 30 Civilians Died in Afghan Raid


October 8, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — An investigation by the military has concluded that American airstrikes on Aug. 22 in a village in western Afghanistan killed far more civilians than American commanders there have acknowledged, according to two American military officials.

The military investigator’s report found that more than 30 civilians — not 5 to 7 as the military has long insisted — died in the airstrikes against a suspected Taliban compound in Azizabad.

The investigator, Brig. Gen. Michael W. Callan of the Air Force, concluded that many more civilians, including women and children, had been buried in the rubble than the military had asserted, one of the military officials said.

The airstrikes have been the focus of sharp tensions between the Afghan government, which has said that 90 civilians died in the raid, and the American military, under Gen. David D. McKiernan, the top American military commander in Afghanistan, which has repeatedly insisted that only a handful of civilians were killed.

The report was requested by General McKiernan on Sept. 7, more than two weeks after the airstrikes, in response to what he said at the time was “emerging evidence” about the raids. While American commanders in Afghanistan have contended that 30 to 35 militants were killed in the raid, the new report concludes that many among that group were in fact civilians, the military officials said.

According to the new report, fewer than 20 militants died in the raid, which was conducted jointly by American and Afghan forces, and in subsequent airstrikes carried out by an AC-130 gunship in support of the allied ground forces.

The revised American estimate for civilian deaths in the operation remains far below the 90 that Afghan and United Nations officials have claimed, a figure that the Afghan government and the United Nations said was supported by cellphone photos, freshly dug grave sites and the accounts of witnesses who saw the dead bodies.

But General Callan’s findings ran counter to those of the earlier American investigations. American Special Operations forces conducted an initial battlefield review, including a building by building search, and four days later, military investigators traveled to the vicinity of the raid. General Callan found that the people who conducted those investigations did not or could not do what was necessary to establish the full extent of the civilian killings, the military officials said.

In contrast, military officials said, General Callan was able to review the scene of the airstrikes more extensively. They said his team interviewed villagers, which the other military units had not done before, and examined new evidence, like cellphone videos and other images showing the bodies of women and children that were not available previously.

The report sticks to the military’s assertion that the compound was a legitimate target, a finding that is likely to rekindle tensions with the government of President Hamid Karzai. As a result of that finding, the report does not single out any individual for blame or recommend that any American troops be punished.

The report’s general findings were described by two American military officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the report has not yet been made public, and Afghan officials have not yet been briefed on the matter.

In recent days, both General McKiernan and Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the acting commander of the military’s Central Command, who appointed General Callan on Sept. 9 to investigate the episode, have received briefings on the report’s findings.

The New York Times on Sept. 8 described freshly dug graves, lists of the dead, and cellphone videos and other images showing bodies of women and children in the village mosque seen on a visit to Azizabad. Cellphone images a Times reporter saw showed at least 11 dead children, some apparently with blast and concussion injuries, among some 30 to 40 bodies laid out in the mosque.

Afghan and United Nations officials backed this accounting of a higher civilian death toll, putting them in direct conflict with the American military’s version of events. In that account, American Special Forces troops and Afghan commandos called in airstrikes after they came under attack while approaching a compound in Azizabad, a village in the Shindand district of Herat Province. Among the militants killed, the military said at the time, was a Taliban leader, Mullah Sadiq.

By the next day, Afghan officials complained of significant civilian casualties and President Karzai strongly condemned the airstrikes. American military officials rejected the claim, saying that extremists who entered the village after the bombardment encouraged villagers to change their stories and inflate the number of dead.

The initial investigating officer, an Army Special Forces major, visited the village after the airstrikes. Guided by aerial photographs, he visited six burial sites within a six-mile range of the attack, a military spokesman said; only one had any freshly dug graves, about 18 to 20. Afghan villagers said there were other burial sites that the Americans did not visit.

One of the military officials who agreed to discuss the new report said the Special Forces troops who had called in the strikes could conduct only a limited assessment of the damage and casualties afterward because they were forced to leave the village soon after the strikes, fearing retaliation from the villagers.

“We were wrong on the number of civilian casualties partly because the initial review was operating under real limitations,” said one of the military officials, who said of the Special Forces soldiers, “They were definitely not welcome there.”

Even before he requested the more senior investigator, General McKiernan issued orders on Sept. 2 tightening the rules about when NATO troops in Afghanistan were authorized to use lethal force. The new rules emphasized putting Afghan forces out front in searches of homes and requiring multiple sources of information before attacking targets.

General McKiernan told reporters in Washington last week that one of his “top challenges” was “to try to make sure we have the right measures in place to minimize the possibility of civilian casualties.”

He said the American military was trying to work with the Afghan authorities to ensure that further allegations involving civilian casualties would be investigated jointly rather than separately.

    U.S. Inquiry Is Said to Conclude 30 Civilians Died in Afghan Raid, NYT, 8.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/08/washington/08inquiry.html?hp






In Poverty and Strife, Women Test Limits


October 6, 2008
The New York Times


BAMIAN, Afghanistan — Far away from the Taliban insurgency, in this most peaceful corner of Afghanistan, a quiet revolution is gaining pace.

Women are driving cars — a rarity in Afghanistan — working in public offices and police stations, and sitting on local councils. There is even a female governor, the first and only one in Afghanistan.

In many ways this province, Bamian, is unique. A half-dozen years of relative peace in this part of the country since the fall of the Taliban and a lessening of lawlessness and disorder have allowed women to push the boundaries here.

Most of the people in Bamian are ethnic Hazaras, Shiite Muslims who are in any case more open than most Afghans to the idea of women working outside the home.

But the changes in women’s lives here are also an enormous step for Afghanistan as a whole. And they may point the way to broader possibilities for women, eventually, if peace can be secured in this very conservative Muslim society, which has been dominated by militia commanders and warlords during the last 30 years of war.

In a country with low rankings on many indicators of social progress, women and girls are the most disadvantaged.

More than 80 percent of Afghan women are illiterate. Women’s life expectancy is only 45 years, lower than that of men, mostly because of the very high rates of death during pregnancy. Forced marriage and under-age marriage are common for girls, and only 13 percent of girls complete primary school, compared with 32 percent of boys.

The cult of war left women particularly vulnerable. For years now they have been the victims of abduction and rape. Hundreds of thousands were left war widows, mired in desperate poverty. Particularly in the last years of Taliban rule, even widows, who had no one to provide for them, were not allowed to work or leave the home unaccompanied by a male relative.

Fear of armed militiamen left women afraid even to walk in front of the police station in the town of Bamian, recalled Nahida Rezai, 25, the first woman to join the police force here. “And I came right into the police station,” she said, admitting to some fears.

At the beginning, she had some problems. “I received some threats by telephone,” she said. “But now I am working as a police officer, I think nothing can deter me.”

Nekbakht, 20, joined the police force, too, and now helps her father, a casual laborer, support the family. They live in a single room tucked into the cliff face of Bamian valley, where homeless refugees have found shelter in caves inhabited centuries ago by Buddhist pilgrims.

“It was very difficult to find a job,” she said. “We had economic problems, and with the high prices life was difficult. Finally, I decided if I could not find another job, I should go into the police.” After joining nine months ago, she likes the job so much she says she is encouraging other women to join, too.

Indeed, growing economic hardship has helped drive some women to join the work force or to take other bold steps as they try to help their families cope with a severe drought, rising food prices and unemployment.

That was the case for Zeinab Husseini, 19. Her father, with seven daughters and no sons, says he had little choice when he needed a second driver to help at home.

“I like driving,” she said, seated at the wheel of her family’s minibus. “I was interested from childhood to learn to drive and to buy a car. I was the first woman in Bamian to drive.”

But over all, it is the return to relative peace here that has allowed for women’s progress, said the governor, Habiba Sarabi, a doctor and educator who ran underground literacy classes during the Taliban regime.

“If the general situation improves, it can improve the situation for women,” she said. She pushed to have policewomen so they could handle women’s cases, and there are now 14 women on the force, she said.

Some of the changes in Bamian have been echoed in more conservative parts of Afghanistan. But even the success stories sometimes end up showing the continuing dangers for women who take jobs to improve their lot. In Kandahar Province, one of the most noted female police officials in the country, Capt. Malalai Kakar, was gunned down on her way to work on Sept. 28.

In Bamian Province, Mrs. Sarabi, 52, has been the driving force behind women’s progress in public life. Her appointment by President Hamid Karzai three years ago as governor of Bamian was a bold move when jihadi leaders were still so powerful in the towns and countryside.

Some opponents are still agitating for her removal, Mrs. Sarabi said. “It is not only because they are against women,” she said, “but they do not want to lose power, so they make trouble for the governor.”

She mentioned her problems to Laura Bush, the first lady, who visited Bamian in June to show support for education and women’s projects in Afghanistan. Mrs. Bush’s visit prompted Mr. Karzai to make a visit of his own to Bamian to inaugurate the construction of a district road.

The people of Bamian say they accepted a woman as governor in the hope that an English-speaking, development-oriented technocrat like Mrs. Sarabi would deliver jobs and prosperity.

In fact, the success of women’s Community Development Councils here has caught the attention of the World Bank, which has been a major donor to the programs and is looking to develop them further. Around the country there are 17,000 such councils, which choose local development projects and could be expanded to work on district and regional levels, said the bank’s president, Robert B. Zoellick, who visited Bamian this year.

“They are very effective,” he said of the councils in a recent interview. “People feel they have an influence in the future.”

The quiet work being done by women on the councils and in other jobs has helped turn things around for many in Bamian.

Najiba, 48, is a woman in Yakowlang District who lost her husband in the notorious massacre by Taliban forces there in the winter of 2000-1.

The Taliban fighters came on horseback, forcing the villagers and townspeople to flee in the night, leaving everything behind. Their shops and homes were set on fire while they sought refuge in the mountains.

After the American intervention in Afghanistan and the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, they returned home to nothing, not even a roof over their heads.

“I just had one skirt, and I was always patching it,” Najiba said.

As the government began development programs in the provinces, Najiba was elected head of a newly formed women’s development council, representing her village and the neighboring village. Its job was to plan how to spend a government development grant.

The men’s council decided the area needed a road, and flood barriers to save the farming land near the river. The women’s council wanted instead to buy livestock for each family, traditionally the women’s domain in Afghan households, to improve the food supply for families.

The men won that debate. “We did not get the farming project,” Najiba said. “We are still suggesting it was valuable; we are trying to work on our projects so we don’t have to depend on the men.”

The women got their way with the next project: solar panels to provide light to groups of four houses. That project has opened up all sorts of ideas, for computers, televisions and educational and election programs, she said.

Women have participated in literacy and tailoring training programs, too. Najiba laughed as she explained: “We have changed our way of life. Now I have lots of skirts.”

She added, “It all comes down to the council.”

Now, women are taking courses run by nongovernmental organizations, getting educated and learning ways to improve their family incomes. Most important, the women have won over the men, she said.

“Their minds have changed,” Najiba said. “They want to share decisions, not too far, but they want to give us some share.”

In Poverty and Strife, Women Test Limits, NYT, 6.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/06/world/asia/06bamian.html



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