Pakistan Withdraws Cooperation From Key Border Posts, McCain and Graham Stir Pot

Pointy heads John ("Get Off My Lawn!") McCain and Lindsey ("Holy Hell!") Graham grab some microphone time in Kabul on July 5, 2010. (ISAFMedia photo)

Although it is now a week and a half since the November 26 NATO attack on two border posts that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, it appears that the barrage of official statements and official actions is not yet slowing. Despite a Sunday phone call from President Obama to President Zardari that was meant to emphasize cooperation, Pakistan withdrew its representatives today from two of three key border posts that coordinate communications between troops on both sides of the border region. And, as if things weren’t already bad enough with Pakistan boycotting the Bonn conference on the future of Afghanistan, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham decided that they should issue their own set of demands for Pakistan.

On Sunday, President Obama made a phone call to Pakistan’s President Zardari.  Here is the statement on the call released by the White House:

Earlier today the President placed a phone call to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to personally express his condolences on the tragic loss of twenty-four Pakistani soldiers this past week along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The President made clear that this regrettable incident was not a deliberate attack on Pakistan and reiterated the United States’ strong commitment to a full investigation.  The two Presidents reaffirmed their commitment to the U.S.-Pakistan bilateral relationship, which is critical to the security of both nations, and they agreed to stay in close touch.

Even though this statement ends by claiming both presidents “reaffirmed their commitment to the US-Pakistani bilateral relationship”, Pakistan followed that reaffirmation up by withdrawing its cooperation from key border posts that provide coordination and communication:

Pakistan is pulling out troops from two of the three border coordination units at the Pak-Afghan border set-up for communication between Nato and Pakistani troops in retaliation to the Nato November 26 attack, said a report by the The Associated Press.

The report quoted US officials on the condition of anonymity saying that the move will be a set-back for Nato troops in Afghanistan as they will remain more cautious during attacks on militants in fear of making another mistake.

This is a very important move because of the importance of these posts in recent events. As the Express Tribune points out in the same article, one of these posts plays a key role in the disputed November 26 events:

British newspaper The Telegraph reported earlier this month that it was the ‘error’ of the Nato troops that led to the attack which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at a checkpost in Mohmand Agency. It quoted a Pakistani officer as saying that the information given to the Pakistani border coordination unit prior to the attack was incorrect.

Furthermore, it appears that one of these posts functioned as designed in preventing another tragedy on November 30, as an episode of cross-border artillery fire was quickly ended before any loss of life:

In the latest border incident, General Jacobson said it was reassuring that normal channels of cooperation and communication had been opened to resolve the issue.

“We haven’t got the details yet but the most important thing is the normal methods of cooperation worked and there were no casualties, no damage despite heavy firing,” he said.

The AP story on Pakistan’s move, as carried by the Washington Post, says that the removal of Pakistani troops from the coordination centers is expected to be temporary:

The troops were pulled back for “consultation” on how to improve coordination with NATO and should be back at their posts within the next few days, said Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas. He did not specify the number of troops who would be recalled, but said some would remain at the border centers.

In addition, Pakistan’s military has opted out of planned meetings with the US:

Members of the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces have cancelled all their trips, scheduled or otherwise, to US and NATO member countries following the NATO air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers a week ago.

Director General Joint Staff Headquarters, Lt. General Muhammad Asif was due to lead a 15 man delegation to America on a scheduled trip. A source close to the Lt. General said that the group was due to depart for the trip in the first week of December. However, following the NATO air strike, the trip has been cancelled.

Meanwhile, the Bonn conference on the future of Afghanistan took place yesterday despite Pakistan boycotting it (and with the ironic attendance of Iran).  Afghan President Hamid Karzai today stated yet again that Pakistan will be key to bringing the Taliban to any peace negotiations with Afghanistan:

“Pakistan’s role in any negotiations with the Taliban is very important and that is what we are seeking,” he told a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“Pakistan unfortunately suffers from the presence of sanctuaries (for Taliban insurgents) there and unless we address the sanctuaries and work together towards a comprehensive understanding of our problems and the eradication of radicalism we will neither see peace in Afghanistan nor peace and stability in Pakistan,” he added.

With US-Pakistan relations poised on the precipice, what could be better than another blustering statement from those towering statesmen of the war party, John McCain and Lindsey Graham?  Here is their statement, in all of its war-mongering beauty:

“We fully appreciate the importance of U.S. relations with Pakistan, which we believe can serve U.S. national security interests. The cross-border air action that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers was unfortunate and unintentional, and we are confident that the investigation being conducted by NATO and the U.S. military will clarify the circumstances of this terrible tragedy. We join the President and our colleagues in once again expressing our deep condolences to those who lost loved ones.

“The Pakistani government’s response to these events, however, has been deeply troubling and has added to the continued deterioration of our relationship. In recent days, the government has prevented NATO supplies from entering Afghanistan through Pakistan. It has ordered U.S. intelligence officers to leave the country and disrupted their work on important national security matters. And it has boycotted an international conference in Bonn, Germany that supports peace in Afghanistan.

“If these actions were not concerning enough, there were reports just this morning that the Pakistani government has allegedly decided to suspend all bilateral agreements related to counterterrorism, as part of a broader review of Pakistan’s political, diplomatic, and military relations with the United States. Such steps by the Pakistani government would mark a new low for our relationship.

“The United States has been incredibly patient with Pakistan. And we have been so despite certain undeniable and deeply disturbing facts. Most importantly, Pakistani army and intelligence officials continue to support the Haqqani Network and other terrorist groups in Pakistan that are killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and the vast majority of the material used to make improvised explosive devices used against U.S. forces in Afghanistan originates from two fertilizer factories inside Pakistan.

“The time has come for the United States to fully review its relations with Pakistan. We must assess the nature and levels of our support for Pakistan. In particular, all options regarding U.S. security and economic assistance to Pakistan must be on the table, including substantial reductions and stricter standards for performance. Most of all, U.S. policy toward Pakistan must proceed from the realistic understanding that certain actions of Pakistan’s military are contributing to the death and injury of our men and women in the military and jeopardizing our national security interests.

“In light of what could be an entirely new relationship with Pakistan, the United States and our allies must develop contingency plans to ensure the continued logistical support necessary for our military operations in Afghanistan.”

In addition to how generally inappropriate it is for two minority party Senators to be issuing their own set of demands to a country with whom relations are endangered and fluid, several other parts of the statement stand out.

First, it is almost humorous how McCain and Graham have to refer to being kicked out of the Shamsi air base in Pakistan, as they can’t officially acknowledge that this is a site where the CIA has been operating drones.  Instead, they have to say that Pakistan ” has ordered U.S. intelligence officers to leave the country and disrupted their work on important national security matters”. I guess that last part should be said with an “If you know what I mean” like they used to say on Whose Line Is It Anyway so that we can look for the hidden reference to CIA drones.  And just whose national security are these drones protecting?

Finally, this was the first time I had seen reference to the story apparently “broken” in October when we learned that 80% of the IED’s in Afghanistan are produced using fertilizer manufactured in Pakistan.  It’s very difficult to see how Afghan farmers will be expected to get by if the US decides that they can’t have access to a basic fertilizer like calcium ammonium nitrate from the closest sources because some of it is diverted to bombs.

Perhaps folks like McCain and Graham would be more helpful if they spent some time trying to come up with policies that would encourage conventional uses of fertilizer instead of improvised ones.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.
17 replies
  1. rugger9 says:

    I guess LIEberman was busy or out of town, how’d he miss the soiling otherwise? In practical terms, the questions raised by Graham and McSame are in general valid, there are elements in the Pakistan government [aided and abetted by the PRC in my opinion] that want us tied down there. That means even though the elected government may not be in the Haqqani pocket [which has to remind everyone in Pakistan that they are sovereign, did Lindsey really think we would be different if the shoe was on the other foot? Doesn’t he understand “face”?], the Haqqanis do have powerful friends. We saw that with OBL and with the continued protection for AQ Khan how there are those who can live pretty openly there and are protected from the consequences of their previous actions. Kind of like our banksters and Bu$hies.

    My question remains, if we don’t know really who our friends are, why are we still there?

  2. Jim White says:


    In practical terms, the questions raised by Graham and McSame are in general valid

    Indeed, it’s just the height of irresponsibility for them to be trying to take the lead on this when the situation is so delicate. They profess concern when it can be argued that the only thing likely to result from their actions is to make things worse. And from their previous history, it can be argued that’s precisely what they want.

  3. MadDog says:

    A wee bit OT – Last night Greg Miller of the WaPo had this piece:

    “Drone belonged to CIA, officials say

    The unmanned surveillance plane lost by the United States in Iran was a stealth aircraft being used for secret missions by the CIA, U.S. officials said Monday…

    …The mission of the downed drone remains unclear…

    …The RQ-170 has been used by the CIA for highly sensitive missions into other nations’ airspace, including months of surveillance of the compound in Pakistan in which Osama bin Laden was hiding before he was killed in a May raid by Special Operations forces…


    …The disclosure that the drone apparently recovered by Iran was being flown by the CIA comes after previous signals from U.S. officials that had created the impression that the plane was being flown by the U.S. military on a more mundane mission over Afghanistan and had simply strayed into Iranian territory…

    I would note that as is typically the case, eventually some anonymous US officials always spill the beans. However, nobody, even anonymously, seems willing to divulge the drone’s mission. What does that say about what the CIA was/is doing?

  4. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: And credit where credit is due, NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski originally broke this story yesterday:

    “Drone that crashed in Iran risks secret U.S. technology

    An American drone that crashed in Iran last Thursday was on a mission for the CIA, and is now in the hands of Iran’s military, NBC News has learned.

    U.S. officials tell NBC that CIA operators were flying the unmanned drone when it veered out of control and headed deep into Iran. The drone eventually ran out of fuel and crashed in Iran’s remote mountains.

    The nature of the drone’s mission was secret and sources say it’s still not clear whether the drone was operating in Iran or Afghanistan.

    Officials here confirm that the vehicle was a highly secret stealth drone called an RQ-170, which looks more like a flying wing than an airplane — the same kind of drone that circled over Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan as Navy Seals targeted the fugitive al-Qaida leader…

  5. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: And this morning from the Los Angeles Times:

    “Drone that crashed in Iran may give away U.S. secrets

    The Sentinel drone has cutting-edge stealth and surveillance technology that other nations could exploit. One of the aircraft crashed in Iran, and a U.S. official says it was on a CIA mission…

    …The radar-evading drone that crash-landed over the weekend in Iran was on a mission for the CIA, according to a senior U.S. official, raising fears that the aircraft’s sophisticated technology could be exploited by Tehran or shared with other American rivals.

    It was unclear whether the drone’s mission took it over Iran or whether it strayed there accidentally because of technical malfunctions, the official said.

    Though the drone flight was a CIA operation, U.S. military personnel were involved in flying the aircraft, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the secrecy involved…


    …Another U.S. official with access to intelligence said that losing the Sentinel is a major security breach. The official, who was not authorized to publicly speak about the information, wouldn’t say how the drone fell into Iranian hands, but confirmed that the downed drone was largely intact.

    “It’s bad — they’ll have everything” in terms of the secret technology in the aircraft, the official said. “And the Chinese or the Russians will have it too…”

  6. Jim White says:

    @MadDog: Oh noes! Now the poor little CIA, military and drone makers will need even more money to develop new technology the evil hordes don’t have!

    Funny that this should happen just as the drone industry starts a major PR drive. See Glenn Greenwald’s post for today…

  7. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: Regarding speculation as to what the drone’s mission actually was, I’ll repeat my earlier observation:

    Why would you use a stealthy radar-evading drone against a foe, the Taliban, that has no radar? You wouldn’t!

    Hence it would seem logical that the CIA’s use of a stealthy radar-evading RQ-170 Sentinel drone involved a CIA mission that placed it in an environment where evading radar was required.

  8. EH says:

    @rugger9: I think Lieberman’s laying fallow for now until he’s called up as a big-gun during the campaign season. Don’t worry, I’m confident lame-duck Joe won’t dissapoint, and in fact I believe he and Barney Frank are going to really be put into service over the next year.

  9. MadDog says:

    @Jim White: A couple of other observations:

    1) If the RQ-170 Sentinel drone was recovered by the Iranians “relatively intact” is true as reported, the CIA has likely made a bunch of mortal enemies over at DOD. The DOD is not going to be happy that our stealth coating technology that underpins the value of the entire leading edge US Air Force, Navy and Marine current and future aircraft inventory (B-2, F-22, and F-35) is now available to our foes for a minute fraction of its development price.

    2) If this was a CIA mission, now CIA Director and former Army General Petraeus had to have signed off on it. Given how tightly integrated JSOC and the CIA are these days, as well as the general increasing militarization of the CIA, it can’t be disregarded that the downed RQ-170 Sentinel drone might have been deployed in support of another JSOC/CIA mission (see the OBL kill).

    I won’t rule out surveillance of Iranian nuclear and/or missile sites, but as I mentioned previously, I’d find the use of a drone for such a task somewhat perplexing given that our entire far more capable KH reconnaissance satellite fleet was designed at a cost of tens of billions of dollars for that express purpose.

  10. Mary says:

    You know I don’t really trust anyone in these stories, so I’m going to offer up a different take. In one of the stories I read a couple of days ago (could have been from even earlier) the US military source in the second part of the article talked about the supply routes issue and along with saying they wouldn’t be that big a deal, IIRC also said that some upcoming, planned big operations (that would likely be partly cross border ops) would not be affected by the supply slow down either.

    So another spin might be – you have Pakistan gov appeasing an angry populace by saying that they will respond strongly to any border violation; you have the US with a few big ops planned that are going to involve chasing insurgents and very possibly chasing them over the border – the easiest thing to do is pull back the military on the border so that no one has to actually follow through on the Pak threat to respond to border vioaltions, bc those guys aren’t there. Yes, some possible loss of intel for the US, but greatly outweighed by pulling guys back so the US can have free run on parts of the border during its ops and a population pitch that sells pulling them back as a smack at the US instead of an accomodation to it. Just another take to weigh in.

  11. Mary says:

    And another contrarian take – McCain and Graham deliberately playing black hats for the US, to apply more pressure on Pak gov that our weak and inept backseatdriver Pres can’t really do very much on the accomodation front, because the big bad Senators will eat his lunch.

  12. Jim White says:

    @Mary: Yes, that one does fit a bit. In fact, I recently ran across what I think was a PNAC doc written pre-W that suggested the US government needed to present a crazy, deranged side in discussions of security. W seemed to play that up big-time and the Three Musketeers Stooges (gotta include Lieberman here, too) have stepped up to play that role under Obama.

    It’s just a little easier for me to see these guys as truly deranged.

  13. rugger9 says:

    @Jim White: #13
    More of a perfect coinkydink. But as noted on the next blog post some of it hinges on just how real the RQ-170 was, and just how much the Creech hack damaged secrecy.

  14. Mary says:

    I see them as deranged too, but Graham has been so much in the CIAs pocket, I don’t see him getting too far off the reservation there, without CIA ok.

  15. Jim White says:

    After seeing a rash of tweets I couldn’t decipher speculating on a sudden trip to Dubai for Pakistan’s President Zardari, Josh Rogin once again blows the lid off with his story:

    A former U.S. government official told The Cable today that when President Barack Obama spoke with Zardari over the weekend regarding NATO’s killing of the 24 Pakistani soldiers, Zardari was “incoherent.” The Pakistani president had been feeling increased pressure over the Memogate scandal. “The noose was getting tighter — it was only a matter of time,” the former official said, expressing the growing expectation inside the U.S. government that Zardari may be on the way out.

    The former U.S. official said that parts of the U.S. government were informed that Zardari had a “minor heart attack” on Monday night and flew to Dubai via air ambulance today. He may have angioplasty on Wednesday and may also resign on account of “ill health.”

    “This is the ‘in-house change option’ that has been talked about,” said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, in a Tuesday interview with The Cable. Nawaz said that this plan would see Zardari step aside and be replaced by his own party, preserving the veneer of civilian rule but ultimately acceding to the military’s wishes to get rid of Zardari.

    “Unfortunately, it means that the military may have had to use its muscle to effect change yet again,” said Nawaz. “Now if they stay at arm’s length and let the party take care of its business, then things may improve. If not, then this is a silent coup with [Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza] Gilani as the front man.”

  16. MadDog says:

    @Jim White: I’m guessing that Haqqani memo was the real deal inspired by at least Zardari’s desire if not dictated word for word.

    Though they appear to be getting their way again, I’m guessing Pasha (ISI Chief) and Kayani (Army Chief) will want to still remain behind the curtains pulling the strings rather than go out front in a formal military takeover.

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