Posts Tagged ‘Nato’
By Miles Amoore and Christina Lamb
THE two men should be sworn enemies. One is a Taliban commander waging what he says is a holy war against foreign soldiers in Afghanistan. The other is an Afghan army officer trained and paid by Nato to fight the Taliban.
Yet rather than do battle, the two men have forged a secret alliance. In the area of Ghazni province where both are based, just an hour’s drive south of Kabul, they collaborate to loot Nato supply convoys, dividing up the proceeds. They even share intelligence about military operations.
“We lost seven men in an ambush when I first arrived at the base,” explained Afghan army lieutenant Mohammad Wali, who commands 18 men. “So I thought, why risk my life when there’s another way?”
These are the security forces on which Nato strategy depends as world leaders gather in Chicago today to set in motion an end to the alliance’s biggest military operation — if not an end to the war itself.
The drawdown — officials avoid the word withdrawal — is based on handing over security to an Afghan army able to prevent Afghanistan from plunging into civil war when most of the 130,000-strong Nato-led force pulls out in 2014.
Last week, the alliance announced the transfer of another chunk of territory to Afghan control and soon three-quarters of the Afghan population will come under the protection of the Afghan security forces (ANSF).
In its latest report to the US Congress, the Pentagon claims 40% of operations are already led by Afghans. But Michael O’Hanlon, a defence expert at the Brookings Institution, who visited Afghanistan last week, said almost all were simple operations.
Revelations of secret ceasefire agreements between Taliban insurgents and Nato-trained Afghan soldiers appear to undermine Nato’s confidence that the latter can hold the line.
Nato handed over control of Ghazni city, the provincial capital, to Afghan security forces at the end of last year. Last month the Taliban closed down 100 schools in the province.
Wali said he had been approached by the local Taliban commander six months ago. Meeting in a bazaar, the pair agreed a ceasefire and a plan to ambush Nato supply convoys on the Kabul-Kandahar highway, which passes through the province.
“The plan is simple,” said Wali. “When the Taliban attack the convoys we stay in our bases. If the Taliban capture something valuable then they share it with us later.” Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Britain is drawing up plans to pull its forces out of Afghanistan much sooner than had been intended after high-level indications from Washington that American troops may leave early.
Sources in London and Kabul suggested last week that President Barack Obama was considering accelerating the withdrawal from Afghanistan in the run-up to presidential elections in November next year.
“The Americans need to pull out early for financial and electoral reasons,” said a source. “It’s all part and parcel with the decision to pull out of Iraq by the end of the year.”
With British troops in Helmand now a small part of an American-dominated Nato force, Ministry of Defence planners have been forced to look at speeding up the withdrawal of UK troops. MoD officials insisted that any British withdrawal would be “conditions-based” and dependent on an agreement with the Afghan government.
“The Americans are now looking to pull out much faster than previously planned,” said a senior British official. “We have no choice but to dovetail our planning with theirs.”
At present Nato plans to withdraw the vast bulk of its troops by the end of 2014, leaving a small contingent of conventional troops and special forces. As part of the process, the Americans are due to withdraw 33,000 troops by September 2012.
That would leave 68,000 US troops in Afghanistan. But a Nato official in Kabul said the chances of there being anywhere near that number by the end of 2013 were “slim to none”.
Although no final decision had been taken, it was “highly likely” that American troops would be pulled out more rapidly and in far greater numbers than previously discussed, said sources in London and Kabul. Other Nato countries are as keen as the Americans to bring their troops home early. Read the rest of this entry »
A suicide bomber yesterday killed 17 people, including five US soldiers and eight British and American civilian contractors, when he drove a minibus packed with explosives into the side of a military bus in Kabul in one of the deadliest attacks inside the city since the conflict began.
The explosion hurled the heavily armoured bus into the air, engulfing it in a fireball as it travelled in a convoy of armoured vehicles towards a nearby Nato base in the southwest of the Afghan capital.
Thick black smoke poured from the side of the bus as it lay on its side opposite Kabul’s American University and Darulaman palace, the bombed-out seat of Afghanistan’s former kings and presidents.
The victims included five American soldiers, a Canadian soldier, five American civilian contractors, two British contractors, an Afghan policeman and three Afghan civilians. Two children were among the wounded.
Ambulances and fire engines sped to the scene as Nato soldiers treated some of the casualties. The twisted frame of a motorcycle lay among the charred metal fragments that littered the road.
“There was a huge explosion and I turned to see a massive cloud of smoke rising into the air,” said Mokhtar Aria, who works as a mechanic. “The bus was on fire. I watched them pulling the bodies from it.”
Two Nato helicopters landed to evacuate the dead and wounded to a military hospital near Kabul. Later, witnesses saw US soldiers carry three black body bags from the bus before lifting out another badly charred body from the burnt-out wreckage.
Another witness said he saw the badly charred bodies of US soldiers inside the military bus, known as a Rhino because of its heavy armour. In accordance with usual practice, none of the military victims has been named.
Throughout yesterday, French and American bomb disposal units conducted a forensic examination of the area while Afghan intelligence officials scoured the site for evidence. A military guard dog was also killed in the blast.
As Nato cordoned off the surrounding streets, the wounded were rushed to Kabul’s Estiqlal hospital. Among them was Ali Ahmad, 9, who was yesterday recovering.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, although in the past the Haqqani network, the most lethal insurgent force in Afghanistan, has been blamed for similar high-profile attacks in the capital. Read the rest of this entry »