A few links on Pakistan/Afghanistan

March 30, 2009 at 6:30 pm | Posted in International | 1 Comment

Thanks to work-related stuff, blogging will be very light between now and Saturday, and non-existent for the week after (I’m off to the Lake District for a week, and those holiday cottages are apparently too precious to install broadband access), so anything I post between now and then will be little more than posts of analysis-free link dumping.

Since the failed seige at the Manawan police training school outside Lahore has forced the perilous situation in Pakistan back in the news, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve watched/read over the past day or so. The first is this helpful primer from a documentary Brave New Films has made about the Afghanistan conflict, and how closely it relates to the turmoil in their neighbouring state:

The next two are both from Reuters’ excellent blog on the region. This, from Myra MacDonald, outlines the extent of the distrust and the lack of co-operation between American and Pakistani security forces, and how that makes President Obama’s hopes of reducing the power of militant groups much more difficult:

General Ashfaq Kayani, now head of the Pakistan Army, tells a rather revealing story about this. He is quoted in Brian Cloughley’s book “War, Coups and Terror” as describing the case of a tribesman with a performing monkey who gathered an audience of turban-clad, rifle-bearing men around him in a village in 2005. The U.S. controllers of the drone mistook the event for a weapons-training session or military briefing and dropped a missile, killing many in the audience (he doesn’t say what happened to the monkey). “This, said the General, was an example of lack of cultural understanding,” writes Cloughley.

“The monkey incident, and other attacks by the U.S. within Pakistan,” adds Cloughley, “have convinced the population of North West Frontier Province and a disturbing number of other citizens, including many in uniform, that there is nothing to be gained by supporting the United States, which they consider to be overbearing and imperceptive in its engagement with the country.”

So has intelligence-sharing moved on since then?  If the United States wanted to be sure of hitting the right targets, it could ask the Pakistani military to help it guide the drones and then assess, on looking through the remote camera, whether they were on course.  Or as Foreign Minister Mahmood  Qureshi said last month, it could give Pakistan drones to carry out the task itself.

But intelligence-sharing is not easy at the best of times between different national armies. It’s particularly tough when you don’t trust your allies. Senior U.S. military officers say they believe elements in Pakistan’s Inter-Services intelligence, or ISI, provide support to Taliban or al Qaeda militants. Has Obama worked out how to square that circle? As yet, we don’t know.

And this incredibly illuminating post by Joshua Foust, who has just spent 10 weeks embedded with American troops in Afghanistan, highlights a weakness in American military procedures which actually amounts to reducing the incentives of success.

There are entire swaths of territory that have been ceded to the militants in Afghanistan. In some cases, entire districts are essentially “no go” areas, starved of development and even regular security resources. The abandonment of these areas – at a cost in Afghan lives – has not resulted in any punishments or reprimands of the commanders who did so. Rather, they were praised for reducing their own casualties.

It is a mindset bred into the very framework of the U.S. Army. If a soldier dies in combat, his or her commanding officer is investigated. A “15-6,” as they are called, is convened by Court Martial authority, and should any fault be found on the commander’s part, his or her career could be destroyed.

“No one has ever gotten a 15-6 for losing a village in Afghanistan,” a Lieutenant Colonel who worked at the U.S. Army’s headquarters in Afghanistan recently said, “but if he loses a soldier defending that village from the Taliban, he gets investigated.”

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  1. […] Bleeding Heart Show gives us a few links on Pakistan and Afghanistan, definitely stuff that is worthwhile but outside mainstream media. Elsewhere Erkan gives us a […]


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