Drones

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“Success” in GWOT: Evacuated Embassies in Yemen, Open Season on Muslims in US

You can bet that the “he was just a disturbed person who snapped, don’t look at it as a trend” pieces to start flowing any minute, but how can we see the brutal, senseless murders of Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammad and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha as anything other than the natural consequence of over 13 years of the US targeting Muslims around the world? Just this week, despite his own role in the carnage of brown people, when Barack Obama tried to dial things back a bit by noting that violence has been perpetrated in the name of Christianity, we had shocking defenders of the Crusades rush into the debate.

As I noted back in December, the evidence is strong that a military approach to terrorism is almost always doomed to failure. And yet, the US just cannot let go of this military-industrial-antiterror complex. It leads to exceptionally deluded thinking. Obama was claiming as recently as September that Yemen was an example of “success” in the approach to terror. We knew even then that the claim was bullshit. The US got played as a dupe early there when Saleh dialed up a drone hit on a rival. There was ample evidence that the drone strikes were a boon to AQAP recruitment. The US even stooped so low as to kill a teenaged US citizen in a drone strike there.

That shining beacon of antiterror success in Yemen is folding now just as surely as our failures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and beyond. France and the UK are joining the US in closing embassies as Yemen crumbles further.

The war on Muslims has created a United States that is polarized to the point of taking up arms against innocent victims. It has created factions that defend atrocities both in the past and in current events. We reward Hollywood with near-record profits for a movie in which the we vicariously shoot Muslim evil-doers from a sniper’s perch.

How different would the world be today if the US had chosen to respond to 9/11 as a police matter rather than a military mission?

Rauf Exploited One Last Time, Now Latest Drone Victim

On January 30, I noted how the varied history of Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim had seen him on many different sides of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. His history depends on whoever is describing it, but it is clear he spent time at Guantanamo, where leaked documents said that he was “substantially exploited“. He was released from Guantanamo and held for at least some time in Afghanistan’s notorious Pul-e-Charkhi prison. Many reports put him serving on the Quetta Shura of the Afghan Taliban at a later point and getting quite close to Mullah Omar. Most recently, he was said to be an active recruiter for the Islamic State and perhaps even serving as the IS governor of the region.

Multiple reports today state that Rauf has been killed by a US drone strike in Afghanistan. From the Reuters report:

A missile-firing drone killed six people in Afghanistan on Monday including a veteran militant believed to have defected to Islamic State (IS) from the Taliban, Afghan officials said.

The senior militant, former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mullah Abdul Rauf, was killed in the violence-plagued southern province of Helmand, officials there said.

Police chief Nabi Jan Mullahkhel said Rauf was travelling in a car when the drone attacked. The other casualties included his brother-in-law and four Pakistanis, Mullahkhel said.

More details from the area:

Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), said in a statement Rauf was in charge of IS in southwestern Afghanistan and he was killed just after mid-day in “a successful military operation”.

Helmand’s deputy governor, Mohammad Jan Rasulyar, said Rauf’s membership of IS could not be confirmed but his associates were dressed in black outfits often worn by IS members.

“It is too early to confirm that he was Daish but his people were wearing the same clothes and mask,” Rasulyar said, referring to IS.

It is hardly surprising that the CNN account of his death would open with the recidivist angle:

He was a Taliban commander captured by the United States and held at Guantanamo Bay. But he was let go and returned to Afghanistan. Mullah Abdul Rauf went on to become a recruiter for ISIS in Afghanistan.

He was killed in a drone strike Monday, two officials told CNN.

And, as with seemingly all stories of this type at the early stages, the possibility that Rauf escaped has been presented. Khaama Press relays the same reports of Rauf’s death, but adds this to their story:

However, Pacha Gul Bakhtyar, Security Officer of Helmand Province had told Khaama Press earlier in the afternoon that Mullah Abdul Rawouf Khadim sustained serious injuries while four of his fighters were killed in the attack.

He said that Mullah Abdul Rawouf Khadim was traveling along with a group of his people in a Saracha vehicle when their vehicle was targeted, leaving Khadim seriously wounded and four of his people killed.

He said that Mullah Abdul Rawouf has escaped in wounded conditions.

So, while Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security states outright that Rauf was in charge of IS recruiting for the region, the Ministry of the Interior was insisting as recently as Sunday that the presence of IS fighters in Afghanistan was nothing more than a publicity stunt:

Rejecting the infiltration of the Islamic State (IS) fighters to Afghanistan, the Ministry of Interior (MoI) has said the rumors about the sightings of theses fighters were nothing more than publicity.

MoI spokesman Sediq Sediqqi at a press conference on Sunday in Kabul said that the security agencies were aware of the movements of all enemies of the country.

He warned the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) would suppress all rebel groups whether they were operating under the name of IS or other brands.

As a final note, the case of Rauf and his constantly changing sides should be seen as the rule for areas where the US military has engaged in its misadventures rather than an exeception. Other stories in today’s news note disputes over Afghan police with ties to the Taliban and Iraqi militias operated by a member of Parliament attacking Iraqi citizens at the same time they pursue ISIS.

So, of course, the US should promptly arm troops in Ukraine, as well, so that we can have another region where US arms raise the stakes the rapid changing of sides in a conflict.

Pentagon Slowly Coming to Realization That There Might Possibley Be Civilian Deaths from Airstrikes On ISIS

Hell froze over yesterday:

The United States military is investigating reports of civilian casualties that may have occurred as part of the American-led fight against the Sunni militancy known as the Islamic State, a senior Pentagon official said Tuesday.

Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters during a news conference that investigators with the United States Central Command had begun looking into whether coalition airstrikes, which have targeted Islamic State fighters, equipment and oil depots, may have inadvertently hit civilians. Admiral Kirby said he had no additional information. It was the first time that the Pentagon had acknowledged that the air campaign against the Islamic State may have caused civilian deaths.

Recall that US air strikes began in early August. In late September I looked into some of the reports of civilian casualties, and it was not difficult at all to find credible reports. Later on the same day of that post, Michael Isikoff reported that the White House had exempted ISIS air strikes in Iraq and Syria from the new standards of preventing civilian deaths in drone strikes that Obama had announced in 2013.

The Pentagon provided the flimsiest of excuses for having no evidence of civilian deaths at that time:

Earlier Monday, the Pentagon admitted that some assessments of civilian casualties were “inconclusive” since the U.S. was only using drones to assess the results of strikes from the air.

“The evidence is going to be inconclusive often. Remember we’re using [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] to determine the battle damage assessment,” Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said Monday.

A defense official told The Hill earlier this month that accurate assessments of damage from strikes are impossible without U.S. forces on the ground to exploit the attack sites, since Iraqi and Syrian partners did not have the capability.

So the Pentagon claims that they have sufficient intelligence resources to choose targets for attacks, but those same resources magically become incapable of determining the outcome of those attacks.

It’s not like the Pentagon would have to work hard to find credible reports of civilian deaths in their air strikes. Reuters reported back in October that in Syria alone, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had documented 32 civilian deaths from US air strikes in a one month period.

The numbers are much worse when we move to Iraq. CNN cited Iraq Body Count data for 2014:

But according to Iraq Body Count’s analysis, 1,748 civilians were reported killed by Iraqi military airstrikes, while 4,325 were killed by ISIS. There were also 118 civilians reported killed by U.S. coalition airstrikes last year.

So while Iraqi air strikes dwarfed US strikes in terms of civilian deaths, it still is remarkable that the Pentagon is finding it so hard to find incidents to investigate when there are over a hundred known dead from our strikes in Iraq in the last year.

Despite those staggering numbers, here is all Central Command could come up with in followup to Kirby’s statement at the top:

Sgt. First Class Sheryl Lawry, a spokeswoman for Central Command in Tampa, Fla., said in an email that Centcom was investigating two instances, one in Iraq and one in Syria, that may have resulted in civilian casualties. The investigations are a result of Centcom’s internal review process. Another three reports of civilian casualties are pending an internal assessment before determining whether they need to be investigated, she said.

The military has examined the credibility of 18 allegations that coalition airstrikes led to civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria from Aug. 8 to Dec. 30 last year, Sgt. Lawry said. Of those, 13 have been determined not to be credible.

Imagine that. Of the the 13 investigations completed, all 13 have cleared the US of killing civilians. There are two that are credible enough that they are still under investigation. Presumably, it is taking some time to manufacture a basis for claiming the reports are not credible. And who knows what those three events still under “assessment” means; we can only guess that they are more recent events and the Pentagon is merely determining how large the whitewash brush needs to be.

Broad Response By Pakistan to Peshawar School Attack

Pakistan's army chief  General Raheel Sharif meeting with Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani on December 17 to discuss cooperation in fighting terror.

Pakistan’s army chief General Raheel Sharif meeting with Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani on December 17 to discuss cooperation in fighting terror. (ISPR photo)


The deadly attack by Pakistan’s Taliban, the TTP, against a school in Peshawar on Tuesday has prompted a huge and sweeping response in Pakistan and beyond. Perhaps most significantly, Pakistan’s army chief, General Raheel Sharif, went to Kabul the very next day:

General Raheel Sharif, Chief of Army staff today visited Afghanistan and held separate meetings with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and General John F Campbell, ISAF commander. Matters related to security situation along Pak-Afghan border region came under discussion. Vital elements of intelligence were shared with concerned authorities, with regard to Peshawar incident. Afghan President assured General Raheel Sharif that Afghan soil will not be allowed for terrorists activities against Pakistan and any signature found in this regard will be immediately eliminated.

COAS also assured Afghan President full support to the Unity government in all spheres including joint efforts against terrorists.

ISAF commander also assured of its complete support in eliminating terrorist in his area of responsibility.

Pakistan and Afghanistan have long been at odds about Taliban factions within each country using it as a haven from which to attack the other. ToloNews reports on the potential for the Peshawar attack to change this relationship:

Following his visit, General Sharif said that the Afghan president and ISAF commander assured him that the Taliban would not be allowed to use Afghan soil as a launching pad for attacks on Pakistan, exposing the simmering distrust that remains between the sides after 13 years of war. The general’s comments come after Afghan and NATO coalition leaders have for years pleaded with the Pakistani government to do more to keep the Taliban from using the tribal belt as a safe haven for recruiting fighters and launching attacks into Afghanistan.

But after the Tuesday’s deadly attack by Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on a military-run school in Peshawar, it is possible the Pakistani armed forces and civilian government in Islamabad are more inclined to crack down on terrorism and seek help in doing so than ever before. A number of security analysts have encouraged that view, arguing that Afghanistan and Pakistan should come together and establish a joint counter-terrorism task force.

Other steps that Pakistan has taken have been swift. Military courts for trial of terrorism suspects are being established and Pakistan’s moratorium on the death penalty for terrorism offenses has been lifted. Six executions are expected within the next 24 hours. In choosing to move forward with military courts, I guess Pakistan is overlooking the horrible track record in the US for military commissions at Guantanamo when compared to trying terror suspects in criminal court.

Pakistan’s military action against terrorists launched in June, Zarb-e-Azb, is being expanded, with attacks now taking place outside the tribal areas. But it is not just Pakistan’s military that is expanding its activity outside the tribal area. A drone strike today took place right on the Afghan border with Pakistan, just outside Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. US drone strikes in Pakistan have been almost exclusively in the tribal region, so an attack right on the border of another province is rare. Dawn reports that the attack targeted those believed to be responsible for the Peshawar attack: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Vindictive John Brennan Should Be Fired Before He Strikes Again

Rarely do we get to see both faces of John Brennan.

Rarely do we get to see both faces of John Brennan.

Since the release of the summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on torture, I don’t think we’ve seen a return of the fawning press pieces over John Brennan where we see reverent mention of his moral rectitude. That’s a good thing, since the hummus incident in the report would suggest that those he leads at the CIA display something more like moral rectaltude. Sadly, though, it seems that outgoing Senator Mark Udall of Colorado is the lone voice in the wilderness calling for Brennan to be fired. Here he is on Wednesday, in the Senate, disclosing more information from the Panetta review on torture and calling for Brennan to be fired over his continued lies to Congress and the American people (at 3:09 of the video, “In other words, the CIA is lying.”):

As Udall notes, Brennan has continued to cover for CIA lies and misrepresentations to Congressional overseers. He also has mostly claimed that CIA torture saved lives, although yesterday he did engage in some semantics over that point, presumably in response to Udall’s Wednesday speech.

But besides Udall’s point about Brennan needing to be fired over his failure to clean house over torture or even to fully recognize it, there is another, stronger, reason to call for Brennan’s removal. Brennan has demonstrated, multiple times, that he will allow political vindictiveness to drive his actions. And he has done so in the worst possible way: in his previous counterterrorism role and then at CIA in his control of drone strikes.  As I have noted in this post and this one, drone strikes in which Brennan would have played a controlling role can be seen as being driven by political retaliation rather than security.

A man who has used drone strikes as political retaliation tools has no business running a CIA that is once again under siege for its crimes. Even though few in the US are calling for prosecutions, calls for prosecutions have now come from more than one UN figure.

Also, don’t forget another event that will factor into Brennan’s anger over calls for prosecutions and/or his removal: he undoubtedly feels that the anti-torture crowd caused him to have to wait to take his rightful role as head of CIA. Recall that he withdrew his name for consideration in 2008 due to his association with the torture program and has been director now for less than two years.

How can Barack Obama leave in office a man who has used lethal drone strikes in the past to score political points to remain in office when the organization he leads is under siege for its demonstrated breaches of international law? Brennan makes the case for his removal even more urgent when he says that a return to torture is simply a question for future policymakers rather than something that is clearly illegal.

Iran Threatens to Chase Terrorists in Pakistan (Just Like US!)

As I noted in discussing the first reports of the explosion at Parchin, early September saw a larger than usual incident along the Iran-Pakistan border, with a force of over 70 militants and a truck packed with over 1000 pounds of explosives attacking an Iranian border station. Thomas Erdbrink then noted last week that two separate incidents along the border resulted in the deaths of “a senior officer” and “three police officers” in two separate incidents in the same region.

Iran is quite upset by these events and no less than the second in command of the IRGC is speaking out today, warning Pakistan that if they can’t control the terrorists in the border region, then Iran will have no alternative but to chase them, even in Pakistani territory:

Iran will step in to contain terrorists if Pakistan refuses to take measures in order to secure its borders to keep terrorists from slipping into the Islamic Republic, a senior Iranian military commander says.

“We believe that every country should respect its commitments vis-à-vis its own internal security as well as that of neighboring countries. Border security is a common and pressing need for neighboring countries. We are, in principle, against intervening in the affairs of any country, but if they fail to abide by their obligations we will have [no choice but] to act,” the second-in-command of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), Brigadier General Hossein Salami, said on Thursday.

“Terrorists, wherever they may be, even on the soil of neighboring countries, we will find them, and if they do not give up acts of terrorism, we will deal with them without reservation,” the senior commander added.

Gosh, maybe the US should go to the UN or the ICC to complain about such a blatant violation of Pakistani sovereignty if such an attack takes place. Just as soon as the US stops violating Pakistani sovereignty with drones, that is.

The article goes on to quote Salami that Iran has very good intelligence on the terrorist groups in the border region and then notes that “Iranian security forces have apprehended a number of perpetrators behind the recent killings” regarding the incidents described in the Erdbrink report.

Gosh, with intelligence that good on the border zone terrorists, maybe Iran will start using drones in Pakistan, too. I can only imagine the chaos that would sow among the chattering classes inside the Beltway.

US Air Strikes in Syria Proceeding as Expected: Civilian Deaths Documented, ISIS Recruitment Up

Last week, besides pointing out the obscene fact that the US Senate approved $500 million for the US to get more involved in the Syrian civil war on the same day the UN announced a $352 million funding shortfall for feeding civilian refugees of the war, I predicted that the “training” of Syrian rebels would fail just like training in Iraq and Afghanistan but civilian deaths from the US air strikes and at the hands of the rebels would greatly aid recruiting in extremist groups like ISIS.

It turns out that ISIS recruiting shot up even on Obama’s announcement of the US effort:

At least 162 people joined the radical al Qaeda offshoot in northeast and eastern Aleppo in the week after Obama’s speech on Sept. 10, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which gathers information on the conflict.

Islamic State has put particular pressure on rival insurgent groups in this part of Aleppo.

An additional 73 men had joined the group on Sept. 23 and 24 in the northeast Aleppo countryside since the start of the strikes, the Observatory said, bringing the total number since Sept. 10 to at least 235.

“This means these people are not scared. Even if there are air strikes, they still join,” said Rami Abdelrahman, who runs the Observatory.

And, just as could be expected from the “pinpoint” US air strikes, for which we have virtually no on-site intelligence to guide the strikes (other than reconnaissance flights by drones), we are now getting reports of civilian casualties. From Reuters yesterday:

U.S.-led air strikes hit grain silos and other targets in Islamic State-controlled territory in northern and eastern Syria overnight, killing civilians and militants, a group monitoring the war said on Monday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strikes hit mills and grain storage areas in the northern Syrian town of Manbij, in an area controlled by Islamic State, killing at least two civilian workers.

Isn’t that nice? Our intelligence-gathering for the air strikes can’t distinguish ISIS bases from silos used to distribute grain to starving civilians. How many new recruits will ISIS get from families whose only food supply was bombed in that strike or whose family members were killed by it?

Of course, the US military refuses to believe any evidence that it could possibly make a mistake. From the same Reuters story:

The U.S. military said on Monday an American air strike overnight targeted Islamic State vehicles in a staging area adjacent to a grain storage facility near Manbij, and added it had no evidence so far of civilian casualties.

“We are aware of media reports alleging civilian casualties, but have no evidence to corroborate these claims,” said Colonel Patrick Ryder, a spokesman at the U.S. military’s Central Command. He promised that the military would look into the report further, saying it took such matters seriously.

You betcha. I’m sure Central Command will get right on that investigation of how it killed silo workers (and see below for the military admitting that it can’t properly evaluate the effects of strikes). Just as soon as they get the next fifty or so new targets for air strikes put on their targeting lists.

Sadly, this strike on the silos is not the only instance of civilian deaths from the US strikes. The Daily Mail has more information from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights about yesterday’s strike and the overall civilian death toll from all strikes:

Mr Abdulrahman, said today: ‘These were the workers at the silos. They provide food for the people.’ The airstrikes ‘destroyed the food that was stored there’.

The group says at least 19 civilians have been killed so far in coalition airstrikes.

And, of course, the US has not acknowledged any of the previous civilian casualties, either. All they will say is that the evidence is “inconclusive”:

Earlier Monday, the Pentagon admitted that some assessments of civilian casualties were “inconclusive” since the U.S. was only using drones to assess the results of strikes from the air.

“The evidence is going to be inconclusive often. Remember we’re using [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] to determine the battle damage assessment,” Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said Monday.

A defense official told The Hill earlier this month that accurate assessments of damage from strikes are impossible without U.S. forces on the ground to exploit the attack sites, since Iraqi and Syrian partners did not have the capability.

Gosh, I don’t understand how we can have sufficient analytical ability to select targets but insufficient ability to assess the results of strikes on those targets. Sounds to me like the military is just bombing Syria for shits and giggles.

And to help contractors sell more bombs.

NY Times, Reuters Whitewash US Drone Strike Killing of Mehsud From Taliban Reasons for Karachi Airport Attack

Karachi’s Airport has resumed operations today, but a deadly late night attack shut it down for many hours overnight. It appears that ten militants entered the airport Sunday night, most likely uniformed as airport security personnel, and killed up to 18 people before they were killed by airport security and rapidly responding military units. The TTP, Pakistan’s Taliban, has claimed responsibility for the attack. The New York Times and Reuters, however, chose to be very selective in how they reported the TTP’s claim of responsibility. Both news outlets left out the TTP’s prominent mention of the US drone strike in November that killed TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud in describing the TTP’s reasons for the attack. By contrast, AP and the Washington Post included the TTP’s reference to the drone strike.

Here is how the Post article opens:

Heavily armed gunmen disguised as security forces attacked Karachi’s international airport Sunday night, killing at least 18 people before government troops regained control early Monday. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault, which appeared to dash hopes for peace talks.

The government said all 10 of the attackers were killed in more than five hours of fighting at the airport, which would bring the total number of deaths to 28. A doctor at Karachi’s Jinnah Hospital said 18 bodies were brought to the morgue there and that 11 of the dead were airport security personnel, the Associated Press reported. The bodies of the attackers remained in police custody.

In a statement Monday, Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, said the attack was in response to recent Pakistani military airstrikes in northwestern Pakistan and to a U.S. drone strike in November that killed Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the radical Islamist group.

Shahid added the attack should be viewed as a sign that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s efforts to engage the group in peace talks had failed.

“The message to the Pakistani government is that we are still alive to react to the killings of innocent people in bomb attacks on their villages,” said Shahid, adding the attack followed months of intensive planning.

The AP article twice mentions the attack as in response to the drone killing of Mehsud, and although it mentions Pakistan’s airstrikes in the tribal regions after peace talks broke off, it doesn’t tie those air strikes to the TTP reasons for the attack. The Times and Reuters, in contrast, only tie the attack to the air strikes and not to the Mehsud drone strike. From the Times:

 The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility Monday for a ferocious overnight assault in Karachi that stretched into the morning in which gunmen infiltrated Pakistan’s largest international airport and waged an extended firefight against security forces that resulted in 29 deaths and shook the country’s already fragile sense of security.

The attack “was a response to the recent attacks by the government,” Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said by telephone. “We will continue carrying out such attacks.” He insisted, however, that the group was seeking to resuscitate peace talks with the government.

And from Reuters:

The Pakistani Taliban, an alliance of insurgent groups fighting to topple the government and set up a sharia state, said they carried out the attack in response to air strikes on their strongholds near the Afghan border and suggested their mission was to hijack a passenger plane.

“It is a message to the Pakistan government that we are still alive to react over the killings of innocent people in bomb attacks on their villages,” said Shahidullah Shahid, a Taliban spokesman.

“The main goal of this attack was to damage the government, including by hijacking planes and destroying state installations.”

Pakistan’s Dawn News gives the broader range of TTP explanations:

The TTP further said: “It’s just the beginning, we have taken revenge for one (Mehsud), we have to take revenge for hundreds.”

/snip/

Shahidullah Shahid moreover dismissed the Pakistani government’s peace talks methodology as a “tool of war”.

Shahidullah Shahid said the attack was planned much earlier but had been postponed due to the peace talks.

The TTP spokesman in a statement issued to the media said that the attack was also carried out to avenge the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone strike.

“We carried out this attack on the Karachi airport and it is a message to the Pakistani government that we are still alive to react over the killings of innocent people in bomb attacks on their villages,” TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said.

Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was revenge for the army’s air strikes in areas along the Afghan border where the insurgents are based.

By citing only Pakistan’s air strikes against the TTP, the New York Times and Reuters portray the Karachi airport attack as a problem that is solely due to politics internal to Pakistan. That is a gross misrepresentation of the situation, as the US drone strike on Hakimullah Mehsud came at an extremely critical time when the peace talks first began to look like a concrete possibility. That US strike was a huge external intervention by the US and clearly put Pakistan on a path to even more bloodshed. At least the Washington Post and AP allow their readers to see that blowback for US intervention played a significant role in this attack.

Pakistani Troops Seize Miram Shah. Does That Remove Drone Strike Justification?

Aside from a May 14 drone strike described as being on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, there have been no documented US drone strikes in Pakistan since December 26 of last year. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism links this break in drone strikes to the peace talks that Pakistan has been engaged in with the Taliban. On the surface, then, one might expect this week’s offensive carried out by Pakistani troops in the North Waziristan stronghold of the terrorists targeted by the US to signal both the end of the peace talks and the opportunity for the CIA to re-start its drone campaign. As the New York Times reports, the peace process does appear to be dead:

Analysts cautioned that the surge in fighting did not appear to be the start of a much-anticipated military offensive across North Waziristan — a longstanding demand of American officials. But it did appear to spell an effective end to faltering peace talks between the government and the Pakistani Taliban.

“The talks will fizzle out if this campaign continues,” said Talat Masood, a retired general and political analyst. “The military leadership feels the militants aren’t serious about talking — and I think the civilian leadership is starting to see that too.”

But note that even though this isn’t seen as the beginning of a major offensive, Pakistani troops are now in control of Miram Shah:

Pakistani soldiers seized control of a neighborhood dominated by foreign Islamist militants in the North Waziristan tribal district on Thursday as part of the most concerted military operation in the area in several years, a senior security official said.

Over 1,000 troops, backed by tanks and helicopter gunships, moved after dawn into a neighborhood on the edge of the district’s main town, Miram Shah, that had become a sanctuary for Uzbek and Chinese fighters, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

If Miram Shah and its surrounds are now under the control of the Pakistani military, then one of the Obama administration’s criteria for use of drones could well no longer apply to the area. See this post by bmaz on the issue of “Kill or Capture”. While the central issue in that analysis is the decision to kill US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, we see that one of the justifications trotted out by the Obama administration was that al-Awlaki could not be captured to be brought to trial. The claim could well have been bogus, as bmaz states:

Who says there was no way between the combined capabilities of the US and Yemen Awlaki could not at least be attempted to be captured?

But with the Pakistani military now controlling Miram Shah, shouldn’t they be in a position to capture terrorists that the US wants to be taken out of action? That is, if they haven’t already been killed by the offensive:

“Troops used explosives to blow up more than a hundred houses belonging to militants in Machis Camp,” an intelligence official in Miramshah said. He added that artillery and helicopter gunships were targeting militant hideouts while troops on the ground had begun a door to door search operation for militants.

The military also targeted suspected militant hideouts in the nearby town of Mirali. “The troops have destroyed about 300 shops in the main Mir Ali bazaar,” a local official told AFP.

A spokesman for Inter Services Public Relations insisted the security forces were carrying out a ‘sanitisation’ operation in response to heavy shelling from militants on security installations in Miramshah following Wednesday’s air strikes in North Waziristan.

Today’s figures put the death toll in this week’s operation at more than 80.

It remains to be seen whether the CIA will re-start drone strikes around Miram Shah. While the peace talk process appears to be dead, if the military continues to hold some of the prime territory where US targets have resided, carrying strikes on those sites may be subject to a different prohibition.

US Strike Kills Five Afghan Soldiers in Charkh District

In what is virtually certain to be a new example of why he continues not to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is expected to react with anger toward the US strike this morning that killed five Afghan soldiers in an outpost in the Charkh District of Logar Province. Already, it is being pointed out that the US had to know about the location of the outpost. From the Washington Post:

“The coalition knows the location of every Afghan outpost,” said Abdul Wali, the head of the Logar Provincial Council. “How can such incidents happen?”

But BBC points out that it is even worse than that:

District governor Khalilullah Kamal, who has visited the scene, said the strike was carried out by a US drone.

“The post is totally destroyed,” he told the AFP news agency. “The Americans used to be in that post, but since they left the ANA [Afghan National Army] took over.”

Recall that in the incident where the US killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at a border checkpoint in 2011, at least parts of the facility that was attacked appeared to be makeshift structures that easily could have been mistaken for insurgent encampments. That clearly is not the case in the current situation, since the facility was built by and previously manned by the US. It seems to me that there is a good chance that the mistake in this case may have been that the US believed the post to have been taken over by the Taliban when it in fact was still manned by the ANA. Given the multiple reports that drones are often spotted in the area, we are left to wonder if the drones spotted a pattern of activity that prompted the airstrike. Otherwise, since the Afghans claim they did not call in a strike, we are left to wonder just why the strike was carried out and what the mission was believed to be.

Details are still coming out on the incident, with some stories claiming the attack came from a drone and others saying it was an airstrike by manned aircraft. The New York Times contributes this on the question:

A spokesman for the American military said that the incident did not involve a drone, but rather manned aircraft. He did not provide further details.

Even though he says in his statement that the strike was carried out by a drone, the information quoted above from the district governor about the post being “totally destroyed” sounds to me more like the damage that would come from multiple manned aircraft equipped with multiple rockets and bombs, especially if the post consisted of multiple buildings.

I have seen no statements on the incident attributed to Karzai yet. ISAF already issued this embarrassed acknowledgement:

We can confirm that at least five Afghan National Army personnel were accidentally killed this morning during an operation in eastern Afghanistan.

An investigation is being conducted at this time to determine the circumstances that led to this unfortunate incident.

Our condolences go out to the families of the ANA soldiers who lost their lives and were wounded.

We value the strong relationship with our Afghan partners, and we will determine what actions will be taken to ensure incidents like this do not happen again.

Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi is quoted by Reuters:

“We condemn the attack on the Afghan National Army in Logar,” said Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for Karzai. “The president has ordered an investigation.”

But in that Reuters article, Kamal, the district governor, seems to contradict some of the information he gave to BBC:

“Right now a discussion in the province is going on between Afghan officials and foreign forces to find out the reason for this attack,” he said, describing the attack as having targeted a new outpost of the Afghan army.

Is Kamal claiming the outpost is new to the ANA since they just took it over from ISAF, or is he saying it is a new one they established and not one previously manned by the US, as he said to BBC? If it is the latter, then it will be necessary to review whether and how the ANA informed the US of the location of the facility.

It is very interesting that the US would move so quickly to claim an airstrike instead of a drone in the statement to the Times. Given Karzai’s previous reactions to US airstrikes that have killed civilians, it is virtually guaranteed that he will reach a new high of outrage over this incident. There was a surge of nationalism over the incident where 21 troops were killed by the Taliban recently in Kunar (see the state funeral footage in this post), so look for Karzai to play off those sentiments in turning that anger now toward the US rather than the Taliban.

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bmaz .@TyreJim Either way pieces of hollow trash like Kanye West+Kardashian ought not exist is same human frame as Jagger/Richards+Clayton/Fisher
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