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Is It Possible 20 Were Killed at Panjwai, 3 by Another Soldier?

Update: See this post, which gives DOD’s latest update on the lack of military operations during the attack.

According to Amy Davidson, the explanation that Robert Bales’ 17th victim was an unborn child, which I noted here, has been debunked. That explanation was based on the presence of an unnamed Afghan male–listed as murder charge 5–in Bales’ charge sheet. But that explanation missed another unnamed victim–this one a female–under murder charge 4.

So let’s take a step back, and consider another possibility: that there are actually more than 17 victims, several of whom Afghans aren’t naming, and possibly at least one other solider known to have killed at least 3 Afghans as well. Here’s why I think that may be true.

First, when asked about the discrepancy in numbers yesterday, here’s how General John Allen answered.

Q:  General, one quick housekeeping thing and then a question. There’s been some ongoing confusion over the jump in the number of casualties from 16 to 17.  I was wondering if you might be able to discuss that briefly.

[snip]

GEN. ALLEN:  I’m getting your one question in three parts here, so give me just a second.  And if I miss one, let me — just tell me.

There is a — there was an increase in the number of what we believe to have been those who were killed tragically in this event. But this is — the number increased was based upon the initial reporting by the Afghans.  And so we should not be surprised that in fact, as the investigation went forward, that an — that an additional number was added to that.  So that is something that we understand and we accept, and as the investigation goes forward, we’ll get greater clarity in that.

[snip]

Q:  (Off mic) — 16 versus 17, did the — just to be clear — did the Afghans miscount?  Did someone die after the initial assessment?

GEN. ALLEN:  We’ll have to let that come out in the investigation.

Note that he never says 17 is the correct number. Rather, he says the original number came from the Afghans, “there was an increase in the number,” and “we’ll have to let” the correct number “come out in the investigation.”

All that is perfectly consistent with the number being greater than the 17 the reporters are working with, which is based on Bales’ charge sheet.

So now compare Bales’ charge sheet with the two lists offered by Afghans.

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Obama, Gilani Meet in Seoul While Allen Undermines Talks

ISAF Commander John Allen

In Seoul today for an international nuclear security summit, President Obama met with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. The meeting was viewed by many as an opportunity to bring the two nations closer together while the parliament in Pakistan reviews how to move forward in re-establishing cooperation between the two countries in counterterrorism efforts. Remarkably, ISAF Commander General John Allen appears to be doing his best to undermine these talks, appearing at the Brookings Institution yesterday to reprise divisive remarks delivered by Admiral Michael Mullen just before he retired as Chair of the Joint Chiefs last September.

As a reminder, here is the remark from Mullen that set off a firestorm in Pakistan last year:

In a scathing and unprecedented public condemnation of Pakistan, Admiral Mike Mullen said the country’s main intelligence agency ISI was actively supporting Haqqani network militants blamed for an assault on the US embassy in Kabul last week.

The Haqqani network is probably the most dangerous faction in the Afghan Taliban and founded by a CIA asset turned al Qaeda ally. During the 1980s, the CIA funneled arms and cash to the Haqqanis to counter Soviet forces.

“The Haqqani Network, for one, acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency,” Mullen told the US Senate Armed Services Committee.

That comment dominated US-Pakistan relations until the US attack that killed 24 Pakistani troops at a border station in November overshadowed it and relations between the two countries reached a new low. Now, as the countries work toward re-establishing better relations, Allen ham-handedly re-runs Mullen’s remark by claiming he won’t mention it:

“In this forum I can’t really speculate on why the ISI does anything with respect to the Haqqanis. I don’t think we should be surprised that they have a relationship, that relationship with the ISI and a number of these organisations goes back a very long time,” he said.

But he added that the fact these relationships exist are not of particular surprise. “We shouldn’t be surprised that they have a relationship, I would not speculate on what specific operational support they have or whether they are an actual arm. Read more

Fallout From NATO Attack on Pakistani Border Posts Continues: Afghanistan At Center of Conflict

While a great deal of the attention on the effects of Saturday’s NATO attack on two (or three) Pakistani border posts that killed at least 24 Pakistani soldiers centers on US-Pakistan relations, the importance of these developments on relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan should not be overlooked. Most reports on the incident suggest that Afghan soldiers in the border region were responsible for calling in the air attack.  While NATO and Afghan accounts claim that the Afghan forces were under fire from the Pakistani border outposts, the Pakistani military insists that the attacks were unprovoked. It should be noted that an Afghan group of investigators had arrived in Islamabad on Thursday before the incident on Saturday. This group was in Pakistan to investigate Pakistani ties to the militant group that killed former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani on September 20 when he was starting peace talks with the Taliban.

The Attack

The Washington Post account of the attack has this key passage on the background situation:

The poorly patrolled and ill-marked border is the central sore point in Pakistan’s relations with both the United States and Afghanistan. American military officials say al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban fighters live on the Pakistani side and cross the border to attack U.S. troops — with the knowledge of and help from Pakistani intelligence. Pakistan says the homegrown militants its army is fighting in the restive tribal areas can easily find refuge ineastern Afghanistan, which borders Mohmand, and that CIA drone strikes in the region inspire militants.

The Saturday airstrike came one day after [Commander of US forces General John] Allen met with [Pakistan’s Army head General Ashfaq] Kayani to discuss border security.

That Friday meeting between Allen and Kayani certainly makes the subsequent events on Saturday hard to understand. Only one day after discussing border security at the highest levels, we see a massive communications breakdown at a critical moment:

Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, a Pakistani military spokesman, stopped short of that characterization [describing the attack as a US offensive action], but he said the strike was “inexplicable.” In an interview, he said the two border posts are clearly marked and their locations are known to Afghan and coalition forces. No militant or military firing preceded the NATO assault, nor did coalition troops inform Pakistan that they were receiving fire from the Pakistani side, as is procedure, Abbas said.

Once the strike began, Abbas said, soldiers notified their commanders in the nearby city of Peshawar, who told officials at military headquarters in Rawalpindi, who then informed two trilateral border coordination centers located at the Torkham pass and the border of Pakistan’s North Waziristan region.

“But somehow it continued,” Abbas said of the firing. “Our side believes there is no possibility of confusion. The post location is not where a Taliban would take position.”

The Express Tribune carries more of Abbas’ remarks: Read more

NATO Helicopter Attack Kills Up to 28 at Pakistani Border Post, Supply Crossings Closed

Backlog of supply trucks at Torkham crossing after closure in September, 2010. (DIgital Globe photo on Flickr)

In September of 2010, the US and Pakistan faced a crisis in relations after the killing of two Pakistani soldiers at a border outpost.  Pakistan closed the Torkham supply crossing through the Khyber Pass as a result of the incident. Today, Pakistan has closed both the Torkham and the Chaman crossings, indicating a very strong response to an incident in which up to 28 have been killed at a Pakistani border post.

The Washington Post describes the situation in this way:

The Pakistani army on Saturday accused NATO helicopters of firing on two Pakistani border checkposts and killing 24 soldiers, and officials quickly closed a key border crossing used by convoys carrying supplies to Afghanistan.

The attack, which took place early Saturday in the Mohmand region of Pakistan’s tribal belt along the Afghan border, seemed certain to mark a new downturn in the ever-rocky U.S.-Pakistan alliance. NATO troops battling militants in Afghanistan coordinate border operations with the Pakistani military, but Pakistan does not allow coalition forces to enter or fire inside its territory without permission. Various Islamist militant factions are based in Pakistan’s remote tribal areas, from where they can easily slip across the border to attack inside Afghanistan.

Pakistani officials issued swift condemnations. The powerful army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said in a statement that the firing was an unprovoked act of “aggression” that prompted Pakistani troops to fire in self-defense. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the matter would be “taken up by the foreign ministry, in the strongest terms, with NATO and the U.S.”

We learn from the Express Tribune that the order to close at least the Torkham crossing was not a local decision:

Official sources confirmed the suspension of supplies, adding that all containers were stopped at the Takhta Baig check post in Jamrud tehsil of Khyber Agency.

“We have suspended the supply and will not let even a single container move ahead,” the official added.

“We have stopped NATO supplies after receiving orders from the federal government,” Mutahir Hussain, a senior administration official in Khyber tribal region, on the Afghan border, told AFP. ”Supply trucks are being sent back to Peshawar.”

The Reuters description of the incident tells us the Chaman crossing also is closed: Read more