Archive for the ‘Pakistan’ Category
By Nicci Smith and Miles Amoore
Pakistan gave the go-ahead to American airstrikes last weekend that inadvertently killed 24 of their own troops, according to new claims from US officials.
The account is the latest twist in the blame game surrounding the worst friendly fire incident in the history of the 10-year war in Afghanistan, an event that has plunged America’s already precarious relations with Pakistan into a new crisis.
US officials speaking to The Wall Street Journal said that an Afghan-led assault force that included American commandos came under fire from a camp in Pakistan’s Mohmand tribal region, a lawless border area that adjoins Kunar province in Afghanistan.
Afghan intelligence said the force was searching for a senior insurgent commander, but they stumbled onto a unit of Pakistani soldiers dressed in plain clothes, who shot at them first.
“The reports show that the Americans thought these guys were insurgents, so they opened fire on them,” a senior intelligence official told The Sunday Times.
The “militants” now appear to have been Pakistani border troops who had established a temporary base.
An initial American account based on interviews with the commandos claims the team requested aerial back-up to strike the camp, contacting a joint border-control centre to establish whether Pakistani forces were in the area. The centre is manned by US, Afghan and Pakistani officials to coordinate information to prevent clashes.
When called, the Pakistani officials at the centre allegedly said they had no military forces in the area, clearing the way for the airstrikes.
The US has acknowledged mistakes were made on both sides. To protect troops, officials working in the centre need to know whether NATO forces are planning operations, but no advance warning had been sent of the 26 November operation.
US officials have been reluctant in the past to share information for fear of it leaking out to insurgents.
Washington has expressed its regret over the “ tragic accident”, but pointedly stopping short of an apology.
But its condolences have been rebuffed by an unforgiving Pakistan, where the military and government have united to angrily condemn the incident as an “unprovoked act of blatant aggression.”
The Pakistani military categorically denied the latest American version of events, claiming Pakistan had been fed “wrong information” and was contacted only after the strike began. Read the rest of this entry »
The US has expressed regret and offered its “deepest condolences” after 24 Pakistani soldiers who were killed in cross-border Nato air strikes were buried on Sunday, calling the attacks a “tragic unintended incident”.
Pakistani troops fired mortars at American ground soldiers patrolling the Afghan border, triggering Nato air strikes, according to Afghan officials and western sources. The killings, which occurred in the early hours of Saturday when Nato bombs smashed into two Pakistani military checkpoints, threaten to further damage the already shaky relationship between America and Pakistan.
Pakistan has responded to the killings by ordering the closure of a CIA drone base and by cutting Nato’s supply line into Afghanistan.
Details of what happened remain murky. Pakistan said the air strikes took place in the Pakistani tribal agency of Mohmand. Pakistani officials called the bombardment a “grave infringement” of the country’s sovereignty.
But The Sunday Times has learned that the two checkpoints hit by the air strikes were in fact constructed on Afghan soil, in Kunar province’s Khas Kunar district between the villages of Shaley and Shrunkey.
When American ground forces, who were conducting a night time patrol on Saturday morning, approached the two Pakistani checkpoints, the Pakistani soldiers stationed there responded by firing mortars at the Americans, according to local intelligence and western officials.
Standard operating procedures dictate that Nato forces must withdraw when fired upon by Pakistani troops, an occurrence which takes place more often than reported, according to western analysts who monitor security developments in the east.
But, on this occasion, Nato called in air strikes to stop the mortar teams from firing at the American ground troops.
“In the early night hours of this morning, a force consisting of Afghan forces and coalition forces, in the eastern border area where the Durand Line is not always 100 per cent clear, got involved in a fire fight,” said Nato spokesman, Brigadier General Carsten Jacobsen.
Pakistani troops have made an increasing number of cross-border incursions into Afghan territory since the beginning of the year, according to western and local Afghan officials.
Part of the problem is that the exact location of the border between the two countries, known as the Durand Line, remains disputed and ambiguous.
“It is still not clear if the Americans knew that the people attacking them were Pakistani military forces or whether they thought they might be insurgents. But the firing must have been intense for them to respond like this,” said one western official.
It is possible that the Americans may have mistaken the Pakistani soldiers for Taliban insurgents, especially because the operation took place in the dark. But officials said that the Americans would have known the location of Pakistani military bases along the border.
Pakistan’s army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said map references of all of the force’s border posts had been given to NATO several times. Read the rest of this entry »
THE Taliban commander waited at the ramshackle border crossing while Pakistani police wielding assault rifles stopped and searched the line of cars and trucks travelling into Afghanistan.
Some of the trucks carried smuggled goods — DVD players, car stereos, television sets, generators, children’s toys. But the load smuggled by Taliban fighter Qari Rasoul, a thickset Pashtun from Afghanistan’s Wardak province, was altogether more sinister.
Rasoul’s boot was full of remote-control triggers used to detonate the home-made bombs responsible for the vast majority of Nato casualties in Afghanistan. The three passengers sitting in his white Toyota estate were suicide bombers.
The policemen flagged down Rasoul’s car and began to search it. They soon found the triggers, hidden beneath a bundle of clothes in the back of the estate. They asked him who he was and who the triggers belonged to. “I’m a Taliban commander. They belong to me,” he told them.
Two policemen took Rasoul into their office in Chaman, a small town that borders Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan, and sat him down on a wooden chair.
Instead of arresting him, the elder policeman rubbed his thumb and index finger together and, smiling, said: “Try to understand.”
Rasoul phoned a Pakistani friend. Two hours later he was released, having paid the policemen 5,000 Pakistani rupees, the equivalent of about £40, each.
“That was the only time I ever faced problems crossing the border with Pakistan,” said Rasoul, who is responsible for delivering suicide bombers trained in Pakistani camps to targets in Afghanistan.
Pakistani support for the Taliban in Afghanistan runs far deeper than a few corrupt police officers, however. The Sunday Times can reveal that it is officially sanctioned at the highest levels of Pakistan’s government.
Pakistan’s own intelligence agency, the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), is said to be represented on the Taliban’s war council — the Quetta shura. Up to seven of the 15-man shura are believed to be ISI agents.
The former head of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, Amrullah Saleh, who resigned last week, said: “The ISI is part of the landscape of destruction in this country, no doubt, so it will be a waste of time to provide evidence of ISI involvement. They are a part of it.”
Testimony by western and Afghan security officials, Taliban commanders, former Taliban ministers and a senior Taliban emissary show the extent to which the ISI manipulates the Taliban’s strategy in Afghanistan.
Pakistani support for the Taliban is prolonging a conflict that has cost the West billions of dollars and hundreds of lives. Last week 32 Nato soldiers were killed.
According to a report published today by the London School of Economics, which backs up months of research by this newspaper, “Pakistan appears to be playing a double game of astonishing magnitude” in Afghanistan.
The report’s author, Matt Waldman, a Harvard analyst, argues that previous studies significantly underestimated the influence that Pakistan’s ISI exerts over the Taliban. Far from being the work of rogue elements, interviews suggest this “support is official ISI policy”, he says. Read the rest of this entry »