Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Investigation into Uruzgan 'mis-targetting' published

In February 2010 23 Afghans travelling in three vehicles in Uruzgan province were attacked and killed by US helicopters firing Hellfire missiles and aerial rockets. A commander on the ground engaged in an operation thought the civilians were insurgents attempting to execute a flanking manoeuvre on his soldiers.
The investigation into the event, in which women and children were also injured, has now been published and blames "inaccurate and unprofessional reporting of the Predator crew" that was controlling the drone circling overhead at the time and was based thousands of miles away at Creech airforce base in Nevada, as well as "poorly functioning command posts" in Afghanistan.
The full report, totalling 2,100 pages, can be found here. A shocking interview with a female Afghan survivor in hospital can be found here.

Analyzing the US Army Human Terrain Teams

More on the US Army's Human Terrain System, which I have touched on several times before (here  and here). The US Army's Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin for Oct-Dec 2011 is a special issue devoted to the subject. Some of the articles relate to Iraq, but several are devoted to the HTS in Afghanistan, including case studies of Rural Human Terrain in Kandahar, engaging local religious leaders in the Central Helmand River Valley and articles on bilingual data collection and HTS support to Information Operations.
One paper describes how a HTT demonstrated that a micro-credit programme could provide farmers with an alternative to relying on (pro-Taliban) lenders for financing and in the longer term, free them from becoming subject to a cycle of debt. The brigade intelligence officer then integrated the analysis into its targeting cycle, using a farming cycle calendar to determine the times of the year when farmers were most vulnerable to financial pressure from insurgents.
This all seems very interesting, but as one of the papers notes: "Difficulties integrating HTS teams into Army units arise because the HTS program brings together two professions (social science and military studies) that tend to operate within different problem-solving paradigms, speak different languages, consist of different personalities, and have misconceptions one about the other. Academia is stereotyped as theoretical, long winded, and perhaps of no practical use at the moment. Military studies are stereotyped as too practical, laconic, and operating under the slogan that a 70 percent solution is good enough right now in the battle space." Quite.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Bearing witness to a massacre

Congratulations to Wall Street Journal reporters Charles Levinson, Yaroslav Trofimov and Ghousuddin Frotan whose report on the victims of the massacre allegedly perpetrated by Staff Sgt Robert Scott Bales actually names all those killed and wounded. Almost all the reports I have read on this shocking event avoid mentioning the names of anyone except householders or informants. Reporters have a duty to bear witness, but sadly those civilians killed or injured by military action in Afghanistan (and Pakistan) are seldom identified by major media outlets.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Afghan killings by Bales a war crime?

Article 3 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which the United States is a signatory, makes it a war crime to murder civilians. If the killing of a civilian - a non-combatant - is intentional or is not justified by military necessity, a war crime has been committed. For example, the execution of hostages or prisoners would be such a crime. In an international conflict, the violation could be prosecuted as wilful killing under the grave breaches provisions of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949; in an internal conflict, the crime could be prosecuted as murder under domestic law of the country where the killings took place or under Article 3.
Therefore it came as a surprise today to read that Staff Sergeant Robert Scott Bales is to be prosecuted in America under US Army law on 17 counts of murder, six counts of attempted murder and other violations of military law, for the alleged massacre of 17 – up from 16 – Afghans on 11 March in Panjwai. 
Can anyone explain why he was removed from the scene of the crime to Kansas and is being prosecuted in the United States and not at the International War Crimes Tribunal?Already it has been made clear that he will not face the death penalty for his alleged crimes and that there will be probably be 'difficulties' getting Afghan witnesses to come to America to testify. This decision stinks of old fashioned imperialism.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Army killer a known conman

So it turns out that mass killer Staff Sgt Robert Scott Bales, who shot 16 men, women and children dead in Panjwai last week, is a conman who "engaged in fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, churning, unauthorised trading and unsuitable investments." America's Financial Industry Regulatory Authority found that while Bales had been working as a stockbroker in 2003 he had taken a client's stock to sell, but had not handed over any money. Here is a link to the FINRA report on Bales.
Following arbitration Bales was ordered to pay $637,000 in compensation to the elderly couple he defrauded, a similar amount in punitive damages and $216,000 in legal fees. Instead of paying up, Bales - who had been banned from working as a broker - joined the Army and 'disappeared', declining even to show up at the disciplinary hearing that barred him from associating with "any NASD member in any capacity". Doubtless he "can't remember" that incident either.

A few words from the ISI's director-general

Lt Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha, who retired on Sunday as DG of ISI
Public utterances by leaders of the ISI in Pakistan are few and far between. So the leaked email from Stratfor's Kamran Bokhari describing his meeting last April with ISI director-general Lt-Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha - who retired on Sunday - makes for interesting reading. The email is one of five million hacked by the Anonymous hacking group and posted by Wikileaks. Whilst many of the leaked emails are speculative or opinionated, this particular email, from Stratfor's main Middle East analyst, reports a conversation and is thus more interesting.
Bokhari, who had met Pasha twice before, met the ISI director general in the ISI's new headquarters building in Islamabad. After describing the extremely tight security at the building, the conversation began with pleasantries about Libya and the Raymond Davis case, which Pasha said could have been solved "if the Americans had kept it between the CIA and the ISI". Pasha added that there were "unresolved questions" about the two men shot dead by Davis: "He said they were not ISI sleuths as some suspect. Rather, low level thugs who had a lot of cash on them and in different currencies...".
Pasha said that the domestic insurgency situation in Pakistan was improving, although "it would take another 10-12 years to completely get rid of the issue and a lot depends on how the Americans settle Afghanistan." Pasha said he had been arguing for several years for an operation in North Waziristan, but that the issue was one of logistics. "The only way to mount an offensive in North Waziristan is through South Waziristan, which we are trying to stabilize with the building of roads and resettlement of locals. We also needed to stabilize the tribal agencies to the north of North Waziristan, which is also a work in progress. Once we have achieved our goals of stabilizing South Waziristan, we will move into North Waziristan."
Pasha said the Americans were wrong to think that Pakistan wanted the Taliban to come to power again. This was an outdated view, he said. Pakistan wanted a broad-based government that can end the civil war. This would include the Taliban, but not exclusively: "Such a govt can only come about when the Karzai government can reach a negotiated settlement with the insurgents, which is not going to happen by talking to the former Talibs like Zaeef, Mutawakkil, etc. I asked him if the Obama admin had approached Pakistan to help with the negotiations. He said no such thing happening, which he said was the problem. He added that DC and Kabul need to involve us in the process because if anyone can deliver it is us and we have an interest in doing so. Look at what happened during that incident with the meeting with the man who they thought was Mullah Mansoor but in reality he was a shopkeeper who swindled them for money and made a mockery of everyone including Petraeus who actually met the guy (laughs and smirks at this point)."
I think we all laughed and smirked at that point.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Taliban talks breakdown over Bergdahl exchange?

Florian Flade, who writes the very useful Jih@d website, is the latest to suggest that Bowe Bergdahl, the American soldier held by the Haqqani Network in Pakistan, is the 'Western hostage' who was being lined up for release in exchange for five high-ranking Taliban prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay. A negative political reaction to the deal in Washington is the likely reason talks with the Taliban broke down last week.
Flade notes that on 31 January the Obama Administration briefed US Senate leaders that a prisoner transfer deal was being considered. In exchange for an unnamed hostage, the five Taliban leaders slated for release to house arrest in Qatar were due to include former Taliban interior minister Mullah Khair Khowa, former provincial governor Noorullah Noori and former commander Mullah Fazul Akhund.
However, the reaction from the eight Senate leaders was lukewarm to say the least; most refused to comment directly on the deal or to confirm Bergdahl's participation, but several made negative-sounding comments: "If it's intended to be a ‘confidence-building measure,' that is an extreme measure. If it's a swap, it's worthy of consideration of Congress, if that is the premise of it," said Senator John McCain.
Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein said "These are major Taliban figures, they are not minor people. And they will not be in the same kind of custody, maximum-security custody. Forget that it won't be Guantánamo, just maximum-security custody," she said. "And in my view, there's no way of knowing what they may do and what kind of propaganda they may breed."
This negative reaction to the proposed deal is the likely reason that the Taliban broke off negotiations with the Americans last week.
As the Taliban noted in a formal statement on its own website last Thursday: "the political envoys of the Islamic Emirate agreed upon the inauguration of a diplomatic office, the arrangement about which was already made with the government of Qatar and started holding preliminary talks with the occupying enemy over the exchange of prisoners. The Americans initially agreed upon taking practical steps regarding the exchange of prisoners and to not oppose our political office but with the passage of time, they turned their backs on their promises and started initiating baseless propaganda portraying the envoys of the Islamic Emirate as having commenced multilateral negotiations for solving the Afghan dilemma."
Clearly pissed off with the apparent backtracking by the Americans, the Taliban added: "the Islamic Emirate has decided to suspend all talks with Americans taking place in Qatar from today onwards until the Americans clarify their stance on the issues concerned and until they show willingness in carrying out their promises instead of wasting time."
Bergdahl has been held by the Taliban since 20 June 2009, when he walked out of a military outpost in Paktika and disappeared. Since then the Taliban has issued five videos featuring him. In most of these videos Bergdahl appears to be somewhat cooperative with his captors, although his family and supporters deny this. He has spoken critically of US foreign policy and there are unconfirmed reports that he has converted to Islam. In his last video he was wearing a long beard. His captor is thought to be Mullah Sangin Zadran, a powerful warlord loyal to the Haqqanis from the Zadran tribe that straddles the Afghan border and into North Waziristan.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

US Army smartbook now a smart app

Screenshot of Afghanistan Smart Book app
Not sure how I missed it after all this time, but it is worth taking a look at the US Army's Afghanistan Smart Book, recommended to soldiers deploying to Afghanistan and now available as a smartphone download. Previous editions of the book for 2011, 2010 and 2009 were in printed format. Written by the Army's TRADOC Culture Center, the aim of the publication is "To ensure that US Army personnel have a relevant, comprehensive guide to use in capacity building and counterinsurgency operations while deployed in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan." No obvious errors in this publication, although comments are welcome. The same cannot be said of the Pre-deployment Afghanistan Reading List, published by the US Army's Combined Arms Center which still recommends Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

More survey gold from Understanding FATA

I am a fan of the Understanding FATA  publications written by Naveed Shinwari and published by the Community Appraisal and Motivation Programme (CAMP), based in Islamabad. Subtitled 'Attitudes Towards Governance, Religion and Society in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas', Volume V, covering 2011, has just been published.
Its more than 200 pages, based on in-depth interviews, provides the best data on attitudes in this off-limits area that is at the heart of the militancy now affecting Pakistan. This is the fifth year of publication and Naveed Shinwari rightly congratulates the 50 enumerators who interviewed 4,000 people for this latest survey. As well as the raw data, 18 focus groups were held to gather qualitative opinions from the men and women of FATA.
The key findings are:

  • Compared to the last survey there is a decline in optimism within FATA, with more than two-thirds feeling that Pakistan is going in the wrong direction.
  • Concern about deteriorating law and order is perceived as Pakistan's biggest problem (66%), followed by inflaton (14.4%), bad governance (14.3%) and bomb blasts (8.4%).
  • FATA's biggest problems are education and health services, followed by law and order. Fear of Talibanisation has fallen from 15% in 2010 to zero.
  • Just 43% felt safe, well down on previous levels.
  • Bizarrely, people believed that the USA, India or Israel were primarily responsible for suicide bombings in FATA, rather than the actual culprit, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.
  • Less than half of FATA residents (42.6%) felt that Islamic extremism was a threat to Pakistan, down from 66% previously.
  • Almost two-thirds of those asked thought that drone attacks were never justified, with only 1.7% saying they were always justified.
  • Significantly, considering that the Pakistani government has recently allowed political parties to organise in FATA for the first time, support for this measure has fallen dramatically from 59.7% to just 33% over the last year.
  • Two-thirds of those asked were unfavourable to the TTP, and even support for the Afghanistan Taliban has dropped dramatically from 40% to 23.5%. Most people wanted foreign fighters to leave, by force if necessary.
Plenty more information can be gleaned from the report itself, which I recommend to all readers.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Hell in Baba Amr

My interview with Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy, published in Asharq al-Awsat and describing his dreadful experiences in the Syrian city of Homs and his escape from Baba Amr, can be found here.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Anyone seen a pair of (very expensive) SUVs?

Army Times is reporting that the US Army is offering a $10,000 reward for any information as to the whereabouts of two SUVs equipped with classified technology used to jam roadside bombs that were stolen from under the noses of soldiers at a military base in Kabul.
The vehicles — black armoured Toyota Land Cruisers outfitted with CREW Duke electronic jamming systems and valued at $344,000 — disappeared from Camp Eggers in Kabul in January, according to a notice on the Army Criminal Investigation Command’s website.
Neither the US Army nor ISAF would comment on the affair. It appears that the two key fobs belonging to the vehicles were stolen from the supply room of the 26th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Base Support Group, on 7 January and that both vehicles were stolen within days.
The brigade, which has now returned to the USA, was responsible for base operations for 11 bases and 3,000 troops in Kabul, providing quick reaction forces for the capital, advising Afghan police and protecting personnel travelling between US and NATO installations.
Performance specifications for the CREW systems are classified “secret” but it is known that CREW Duke systems use state-of-the-art jamming technology to block radio signals used to set off roadside bombs. CREW is an acronym for Counter Radio-controlled Electronic Warfare.
You would have thought that for the money these vehicles cost, someone would have thought about installing a tracking device.

Counting dead militants in Pakistan

While the debate on the accuracy of figures detailing the number of militants and civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan continues, it is worth taking a look at the reported figures for militants killed in clashes with the Pakistani Army. After all, most of these figures originate with the same ISI officers who brief local journalists on drone casualty figures.
I have been perplexed for some time by the figures for militants killed in clashes with the Pakistani Army and Airforce. If accurate, then given the massive attrition these figures suggest, it is surprising that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan can still find anyone willing to fight for it. True, there are tensions within the TTP at present, with deputy emir Maulvi Faqir Mohammad from Bajaur being sacked from his job this week because he had been engaged in peace talks with the military. However, the number of deaths as reported in the Pakistani press beggar belief.
Newspaper reports for December 2011 indicate that at least 161 militants were killed by Pakistani forces in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). There were no drone strikes during this period. For January this year, the figures suggest at least 119 militants were killed and dozens more injured. Most of the reports suggest that numerous ‘hideouts’ were also destroyed. For February, the figures, excluding drone strikes, suggest at least 216 militants were killed. An army officer was quoted as saying that more than 700 militants have been killed and 500 sustained injuries in the ongoing military action in Orakzai Agency alone. The same source said 71 soldiers had been killed and 150 injured in the fighting.
Thus in the last three months - and accepting that these figures are not complete - a reported 496 militants, mostly members of the TTP or Lashkar-e-Islam, have been killed in military action in the FATA region of Pakistan. A similar number have been injured. Can this be possible? If so, it certainly confirms FATA as more of a battlefield than southern Afghanistan, for example, where reported deaths of militants are much lower. Either that, or the official figures are suspect. You decide.
For those of you who are interested, here are some of the reports that have appeared in the Pakistani press:

28 Feb: Security officials said on Monday they faced resistance from the militants during a raid on their hideouts in Seplatoi area of South Waziristan on Saturday that left four soldiers and 10 militants dead in the ensuing clash. A senior military official said the raid was conducted after reports about the presence of militants in the area inhabited by the Mahsud tribesmen. The militants resorted to firing at security forces in the village. “It led to a clash between the security forces and militants and the fighting continued for some time. (The News).
27 Feb: At least six extremists were killed as helicopter gunships attacked the banned Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) hideouts in Nari Baba area. According to sources, many bases of the LI were destroyed, and a large quantity of weapons was recovered in a search operation after the attack. Security forces and Tawheedul Islam volunteers also made progress on the ground destroying posts under LI’s control in order to clear the entire area of the terrorists. (Daily Times)
25 Feb: Three soldiers and 14 militants were killed in separate incidents in the Khyber Agency on Friday, official and tribal sources said. Three soldiers and seven militants were killed and five others injured in an exchange of fire and helicopter shelling in Nala area of Bara Tehsil. The sources said an exchange of fire started when the militants attacked a convoy of security forces carrying soldiers for duty in Nala area. (The News)
24 Feb: Jets bombed militant hideouts in tribal areas early on Thursday, killing 17 Taliban militants, officials said. The aircraft targeted hideouts in the Upper Orakzai area and destroyed four compounds in the rugged terrain near the Afghan border. (Dawn)
23 Feb: Pakistani jets bombed militant hideouts in a northwestern tribal area early Thursday, killing at least 15 Taliban insurgents, officials said. The jets targeted hideouts in the Upper Orakzai area and destroyed four compounds in the rugged terrain near the Afghan border. “Two war planes were sent to the area early this morning after reports from local intelligence sources that militants from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) were hiding in the mountainous region,” a senior military officer said. (Dawn)
22 Feb: The security forces claimed to have regained control of strategic Tor Chappar area of Darra Adamkhel during a lengthy operation, launched against militants last month. The sector commander of Tor Chappar operation, Col Shahid, told journalists that 55 militants were killed and scores of suspects were arrested during the operation. However, some of them managed to escape to other areas. The operation was launched in the area on January 27. (Dawn)
18 Feb: HANGU: The security forces on Friday claimed killing 15 militants in an attack by jetfighters in Orakzai Agency. The official sources said that 15 militants were killed and 10 others were injured when the jetfighters targeted their positions in Alikhel, Tor Samat and Dabori areas in Orakzai Agency. The sources said that five hideouts of the militants were also destroyed in the attack. (The News)
According to sources, more than 700 militants have been killed and 500 sustained injuries in the ongoing military action in Orakzai Agency. They said 71 soldiers were killed and 150 injured in the fighting.
17 Feb: Sixteen persons were killed and four others sustained injuries in two separate missile attacks by the US drones in North Waziristan on Thursday. Tribal sources said a drone fired two missiles at a house in Spalga village located on the Miramshah-Razmak Road early in the day. The villagers said six people were killed and four others sustained injuries in the attack. Local tribesmen said the house caught fire and collapsed when it was hit by the unmanned aerial vehicle. (The News)
10 Feb: PESHAWAR: Security forces killed 11 militants and injured 19 others in Mamuzai area of Orakzai Agency, Geo News reported Friday. According to sources, security forces targeted militants’ hideout in Mamuzai area of Upper Orakzai and destroyed three compounds. 11 militants who were hiding in the compounds were also killed while 19 others got injured. (The News)
9 Feb: Ten people, suspected to be militants, were killed in a US drone attack on Torikot village near Spalga area of North Waziristan tribal region on Wednesday. Tribal sources said the drone fired two missiles at a house in Torikot in Spalga, 15 kilometres east of Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan. Local tribesmen said the house was razed to the ground when hit by the missiles fired from the drone and those living there were buried under the debris. (FRC)
8 Feb: KALAYA: Security forces claimed to have killed 18 militants and injured 11 others in jetfighters’ shelling in various areas of Orakzai Agency on Tuesday, official sources said. The sources said security forces backed by jetfighters targeted the hideouts of militants in Torkamar, Akhun Kot, Adokhel, Jandri Killay in Mamozai and Chappar and Khadezai in the Alikhel areas of Orakzai Agency. Official sources said around 18 militants were killed and 11 others sustained injuries while seven of their hideouts were also destroyed in the shelling. The claim, however, could not be confirmed from independent sources. Security forces said a search operation was launched in Koroonchaki, Mulla Patai, Ghundi Killay and Narik. Forces recovered 38 rocket shells and a huge quantity of explosives from the insurgents’ positions. (Dawn)
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Orakzai Agency chapter, Hafiz Saeed, rejected official claims and said the jetfighters had targeted the abandoned houses of tribal people. (The News)
7 Feb: ORAKZAI: Security forces pounded militant hideouts with jet fighters, killing at least 15 and injuring eight militants in different areas of Upper Orakzai, Geo News reported. According to sources, security forces jet fighters destroyed four militant hideouts in Khadzai, Mamozai and Torsamant. (The News)
4 Feb: Three militants and a volunteer of the tribal lashkar were killed in fresh fighting between the outlawed Lashkar-e-Islam and the Zakhakhel tribe in Sherkhel area in Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency on Friday, tribal sources said. The sources said that the Zakhakhel tribal lashkar continued its advance towards Sherkhel and Zor Killay amid tough resistance from the rival side. (The News). Two soldiers and two militants were killed while six others sustained injuries in separate clashes in Bara subdivision in Khyber Agency, official sources said Friday. (The News)
3 Feb: PESHAWAR: Six militants were killed in a battle with security forces in Upper Orakzai area while one troop was killed in Khyber Agency, Geo News reported Friday. According to sources, security forces pounded militants’ hideouts in Upper Orakzai that destroyed 2 compounds and killed six militants. (The News).
Also: The security forces claimed to have killed five militant commanders and cleared several areas from the insurgents in the ongoing military action in Jawakai and Darra Adamkhel in the Frontier Region (FR) Kohat. The official sources said on Thursday the security forces blitzed the militant hideouts in FR Darra Adamkhel and Jawakai and took control of their stronghold Tor Chappar area in Jawakai. The sources claimed that five militant commanders of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) were killed in the fresh clashes in Tor Chappar area. (The News)
1 Feb: PESHAWAR: Pakistani warplanes pounded militants’ hideouts in the northwestern tribal area before dawn on Wednesday, killing at least 20 Taliban insurgents, security officials said. Other reports put the number of dead at 38. The jets targeted hideouts in the tribal Orakzai district and at least four compounds were hit, they said, in the latest surge of fighting between security forces and militants in the Afghan border areas. Local intelligence officials confirmed the air strikes killing at least 20 Taliban militants in the bombing. The hideouts belonged to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commanders Mulla Tufan and Commander Moheyuddin, a security official said. There are reports that Moheyuddin may have been killed in the bombing, he said. (The News)
Also: Thirty-five militants and eight Pakistan Army soldiers were killed in fierce fighting in the Jogi area near Mamozai, located between the Orakzai and Kurram tribal regions, on Tuesday. Military sources said 15 soldiers and several militants had sustained injuries in the fighting. They said the fighting started after around 100 militants, believed to be members of the Hakimullah Mahsud-led Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), attacked a newly-established security post at Jogi near the Mamozai area with heavy weapons. (The News)
Also: At least six militants were killed in a clash with security personnel on Tuesday, the third day of an operation in the Kohat Frontier Region. The security forces intruded for the first time into the Golono Tangi area in the semi-autonomous tribal area while chasing militants and a fierce gun battle took place between the two sides. (Dawn)
31 Jan: The bodies of two suspected militants were found in Qamberabad area of Bara tehsil in Khyber Agency on Monday, local sources said. The two slain persons, identified as Jalal and Umer, were reportedly arrested by the police for their alleged links with the banned Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) militant group from the Jalozai Camp the other day. (The News)
30 Jan: A soldier was killed in a landmine blast while six militants and a volunteer of the pro-government Amn Lashkar were killed in fresh clashes in the Jawakai area in the Frontier Region Kohat on Sunday, official sources said. Sources said security forces along with the volunteers of the Amn Lashkar launched an operation in the mountains of Jawakai and Taodo Oba. A group of militants, the sources said, opened fire on the forces and the lashkar, killing a volunteer, Wahidur Rehman. The forces also returned fire and killed six militants, sources added. (The News)
27 Jan: At least 20 militants were killed while 27 insurgents and 22 soldiers sustained injuries in fresh clashes in the Jogi area of central Kurram Agency Wednesday night, official sources said. Sources said clashes between security forces and militants continued over the occupation of the security post in the Jogi mountainous area in central Kurram Agency. (FRC)
26 Jan: Six soldiers and 20 militants were killed while two soldiers and 13 militants sustained injuries in fresh clashes in the Jogi area in central Kurram on Wednesday, official sources said. The sources said security forces and militants exchanged heavy gunfire as they tried to take hold of the security post in the mountainous area of Jogi. Six soldiers and 20 militants were killed while three soldiers and 13 militants sustained injuries in the gunbattle, sources added. (FRC)
25 Jan: Two soldiers and seven militants were killed in a clash in the Jogi area in Kurram Agency on Tuesday, official sources said. Sources said a group of militants attacked a security forces post in the mountainous Jogi area in the central part of Kurram Agency, leaving four soldiers injured. In retaliation, security forces targeted the hideouts of the militants from Sadda town with artillery and killed seven militants. This claim could not be confirmed by independent sources. (FRC)
19 Jan: At least three militants were killed when they clashed with volunteers of a peace committee in Bara tehsil of Khyber Agency on Wednesday 18th. (FRC)
13 Jan: PESHAWAR: At least 15 militants were killed and eight others injured as gunship helicopters heavily pounded militants’ positions in area near the Afghan border in upper Orakzai Agency, official sources said. The gunship choppers targeted militants in Kabo Kamar, Mamozai, Torsamat and Sama Bazzar, destroying five hideouts. (Dawn)
12 Jan: KALAYA: Eleven militants were killed and six others wounded when jetfighters of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) blitzed various hideouts in the militants-controlled Mamozai area in upper part of Orakzai Agency on Wednesday, official sources claimed. Sources said the jets bombed hideouts of the militants in the far-flung Jabba, Torsamat, Akhunkot and Mirqalamkhel to dismantle the sanctuaries of the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants in the area. There was no independent confirmation of official claims. (The News)
6 Jan: PESHAWAR: Security forces on Friday carried out an operation in different areas of upper Orakzai Agency, killing five suspected militants, DawnNews reported. According to sources, armed forces pounded militant safe-houses in Mamozai and Khadizai areas of upper Orakzai region, destroying at least two hideouts. (Dawn)
SADDA: Seven militants were killed and a soldier sustained injuries in a clash during a search operation in the Zemusht area of Kurram Agency on Thursday, official sources said. The sources said militants opened fire on security forces in Chinarak village in Zemusht area during the operation. A soldier Sikandar Ali was injured in the attack. Security forces returned fire and killed seven militants, sources added. The claim couldn’t be independently confirmed. (Dawn)
3 Jan: KARACHI: Nine militants were killed and four insurgent hideouts were destroyed in shelling by security forces in the Orakzai tribal region. Clashes between security forces and militants are ongoing in upper and central Orakzai. In upper Orakzai’s Mamozai area, four militants were killed and two insurgent hideouts were destroyed during heavy shelling by security forces. Moreover, in central Orakzai’s Ali Sherzai area, five militants were killed and two insurgent hideouts were destroyed by security forces’ shelling. (Dawn)
2 Jan: PESHAWAR: Eight suspected militants were shot dead as they clashed with security forces in the Orakzai agency area on Monday, DawnNews reported. According to security sources, armed rebels clashed with security forces in the Galju area of Orakzai agency, wounding a soldier. Security forces killed eight suspected militants in retaliatory action. (Dawn)
1 Jan: PESHAWAR: Security forces on Sunday destroyed several suspected militant hide-outs in different areas of Orakzai agency. According to government sources, at least 11 suspected militants were killed in the operation using fighter jets. At least six suspected militant hideouts were targetted in the areas of Mamozai, Jabba, Jandri and Torsamt in upper Orakzai agency, wounding an additional six militants. Security officials claim to have cleaned up to 90 per cent of the area in the operation. (Dawn)

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Background to tensions in Gilgit-Baltistan

For a good backgrounder - admittedly from an Indian perspective - on the tense situation in Gilgit-Baltistan following the killing of 18 Shia pilgrims last week take a look at Ambreen Agha's article written for South Asia Terrorism Portal:
"Despite a fitful focus on the more extreme developments in the region, Gilgit-Baltistan has largely been ignored by the international media and community, substantially as a result of its remoteness and intentional isolation by Islamabad. The denial of basic rights is a quotidian reality in the region, with periodic escalation of orchestrated excesses by state agencies or Islamist extremist proxies. Despite clear directives from the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the ambiguity of the region’s constitutional status – and hence the denial of legal and constitutional protection to the population – persists."

Thursday, 1 March 2012

'Dubious, costly' US propaganda operations

USA Today has published a detailed and critical investigation of the Pentagon's propaganda campaigns - these days called "information operations" - in Iraq and Afghanistan, calling them "dubious" and "costly".
The investigation shows that from 2005 to 2009 spending on such operations rose from $9 million to $580 million. Following the drawdown in Iraq, the figure for 2011 fell back to $202 million. Pentagon officials have little proof that such operations work, says USA Today, nor will the Pentagon say in detail how the money was spent.
USA Today also reveals that the Pentagon's top information operations (IO) contractor in Afghanistan, Leonie Industries, based in California, was started in 2004 by a brother-and-sister team with no experience of working with the military. Camille Chidiac and Rema Dupont's company has US Army IO contracts worth around $130 million and has already been paid $90 million. Despite this, they have more than $4 million in liens on their homes and property for failing to pay federal income tax. The company's response to the USA Today article can be found here.
The main activity of companies such as Leonie Industries is to plant unattributed TV and radio broadcasts and articles throughout the media, to put up billboards in war zones, stage concerts and drop leaflets - all aimed at influencing civilians. There is little external assessment of the effectiveness of these activities.
In Afghanistan, for example, the US military produces at least 11 hours a day of "unattributed" radio and TV programming. The article quotes Rear Adm. Hal Pittman, who until recently was in charge of IO operations in Afghanistan, saying that they have borne fruit, quoting figures that showed 90 per cent of Afghans viewed their Army positively, while 80 per cent  approved of the national police. Others may care to disagree with these optimistic figures.
Officials in the past - including former defense secretary Robert Gates - have bemoaned the lack of adequately trained IO personnel. Both Chidiac and Dupont fall into this category, says USA Today, despite their success in winning contracts. Chidiac formerly worked as an assistant director on a series of low-budget direct-to-video movies, while Dupont had been in the advertising industry.
Although their company employees have been praised in some quarters, it has also been criticised for not paying for heat for its Afghan employees or for their medical care. At one point the Army threatened to drop the company's contracts unless it fixed these problems.
It is remarkable that despite the massive spending on IO in Afghanistan in recent years, it is the Taliban that continues to make the running. It operates a highly successful propaganda operation using a multi-language website, twitter and a number of spokesmen who can easily be contacted and who issue timely statements well in advance of any that come from military sources. And all for a few thousand dollars. Talk about asymmetric warfare!