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Taliban was a participant or observer in the following events:
Sir Richard Dannatt. [Source: Associated Press]The London Times later reports that British forces in Afghanistan have cut a secret truce with the Taliban around this time, ceding authority in a portion of the Helmand province of southern Afghanistan to Taliban forces and agreeing to withdraw entirely from the region. The region centers around the town of Musa Qala, where British forces have sustained heavy losses attempting to defend a government outpost. Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the British Army, has recently warned that British troops in Afghanistan were stretched to their capacity and can only “just” cope with the demands placed on them. According to the truce, both Taliban and British forces will withdraw from the region, but few believe the Taliban will adhere to the agreement. A British officer concedes, “There is always a risk. But if it works, it will provide a good template for the rest of Helmand. The people of Sangin are already saying they want a similar deal.” One British officer sent a recent e-mail, published days earlier, saying in frustration, “We are not having an effect on the average Afghan. At the moment we are no better than the Taliban in their eyes, as all they can see is us moving into an area, blowing things up and leaving, which is very sad.” [London Times, 10/1/2006]
NATO Commander Gen. James L. Jones, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, says that the Taliban and al-Qaeda continue to profit from the sale of opium in Afghanistan. He says: “We’re losing ground. It affects the insurgency because there’s increasing evidence that a lot of funding goes from the narcotics traffickers to the criminal elements, to what’s left of al-Qaeda, to the Taliban and anyone else that wants to create mischief.” [ABC News, 9/21/2006]
In a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, NATO supreme commander General James L. Jones testifies that the Taliban headquarters is in Quetta, Pakistan. The Taliban presence there has been widely known in intelligence circles since at least 2003 (see April 22, 2003), but this marks the first time a major US figure publicly acknowledges the fact. However, the US still is not pressuring Pakistan very much over the issue. For instance, President Bush did not even bring up the issue when he hosted a dinner recently for Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. [International Herald Tribune, 10/12/2006]
Lieutenant General David Richards, the British general commanding NATO troops in Afghanistan, meets with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on October 9, 2006, in an effort to persuade him to stop the Pakistani ISI from training Taliban fighters to attack US and British soldiers in Afghanistan. The day before, he tells the Sunday Times there is “a Taliban problem on the Pakistan side of the border.… Undoubtedly something has got to happen.” Richards has evidence compiled by NATO, US, and Afghan intelligence of satellite pictures and videos showing training camps for Taliban soldiers and suicide bombers inside Pakistan. The evidence includes the exact address of where top Taliban leader Mullah Omar lives in Pakistan. Richards wants Pakistan to arrest Omar and other Taliban leaders. One senior US commander tells the Times: “We just can’t ignore it any more. Musharraf’s got to prove which side he is on.” [Sunday Times (London), 10/8/2006] What happens between Richards and Musharraf is unknown, but there are no subsequent signs of the ISI reducing its support for the Taliban or of Pakistan arresting Taliban leaders.
The Chenagai madrassa after the Predator strike. [Source: BBC]The US launches a Predator drone missile strike on a madrassa (religious school) in the Bajour district of Pakistan’s tribal region, then Pakistan sends in helicopters to attack the survivors. The aim is to kill al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri, but he is not there. Pakistani officials initially claim that a number of al-Qaeda operatives are killed, including Abu Ubaida al-Masri, an operational leader. But the next day they only say that some Taliban members are killed. [ABC News, 10/30/2006; ABC News, 10/31/2006] The attack is said to have killed 82, many of them students at the madrassa located in Chenagai, a hamlet of Damadola village, which had been hit by a Predator strike earlier in the year (see January 13, 2006). [London Times, 11/26/2006]
Speaking publicly before a Congressional committee, CIA Director Michael Hayden says that “the lessons learned in Iraq are being applied to Afghanistan” by al-Qaeda. For instance, the number of suicide bombings in Afghanistan is greatly increasing (see 2004-2007). [Rashid, 2008, pp. 282, 442] The Taliban also greatly increase the use of IEDs (improvised explosive devices), the roadside bombs which have proven highly effective in Iraq. The use of IED bombings rises from 530 times in 2005 to 1,297 in 2006. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 367]
Mullah Bakht Mohammed. [Source: Al-Jazeera]Britain spends more than £1.5 million (approximately $2.4 million) in Afghanistan in a scheme to bribe members of the Taliban to stop fighting and abandon their ranks. Yet the operation fails to persuade any significant Taliban members to defect, attracts mostly lower-level foot soldiers, and results in no decrease in fighting in Helmand Province. “It hasn’t had the results we’d hoped,” admits a senior British Foreign Office official, “though not for want of effort on our part.” The money is allocated in January and May through intelligence agencies and the UN-backed peace strengthening commission after the killings of two top Taliban commanders and ruling shura members, Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani and Mullah Dadullah Akhund (see December 19, 2006 and May 13, 2007). The funds are disbursed with the intention of capitalizing on a dip in Taliban morale and anticipated defections referred to as the “Dadullah effect.” The money is used to “spread this message” and pay for housing and transport for any Taliban who decide to defect. The Sunday Times reports that efforts to use Dadullah’s death to warn others were likely undermined by the Afghan government’s release of five Taliban prisoners, including Mullah Dadullah’s brother, Mullah Bakht Mohammed, in return for a kidnapped Italian journalist. Mullah Bakht Mohammed is now believed to be commanding Taliban operations in Helmand. The Sunday Times report does not mention if or how the bribe money is accounted for, or if any of the money is diverted to Taliban structures. [Sunday Times (London), 7/22/2007]
Vice President Dick Cheney flies to Pakistan to meet with President Pervez Musharraf. The White House is tight-lipped about the trip and refuses to provide details about what the two leaders discuss. But media accounts, citing administration officials, suggest that Cheney warns Musharraf that US aid to Pakistan could be in jeopardy if his government does not improve in its efforts to combat al-Qaeda and the Taliban. [New York Times, 2/26/2007] Cheney’s trip comes after the head of US military operations in Afghanistan compiled a dossier of evidence indicating the Pakistani government is secretly supporting the militants attacking US troops in Afghanistan (see Autumn 2006- February 2007). But Cheney is known to be a strong supporter of Musharraf and generally has blocked pressure against him (see June 27, 2007). Pakistani intelligence sources will later tell ABC news that the two leaders discussed a secret operation (see 2005 and After) to support attacks against Iran by the Sunni militant group Jundullah. [ABC News, 4/3/2007]
In early March 2007, the Pakistani government announces that a top Taliban official has been captured. Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, the Taliban’s former defense minister, was supposedly captured on February 26, 2007, the same day that Vice President Cheney visited Pakistan, which the Associated Press says “has been under growing international pressure to crack down on Taliban militants believed to seek sanctuary on its soil.” If so, he would be the most senior Taliban leader ever captured since 9/11. However, the Swiss weekly SonntagsBlick claims that one of its reporters interviewed him in Quetta, Pakistan on February 28, just two days after his supposed capture. SonntagsBlick writes, “The world press reported: top-Taliban imprisoned. At the same time he was sitting with a SonntagsBlick reporter having coffee.” [Associated Press, 3/2/2007; Associated Press, 3/11/2007] He was also reportedly captured by the Northern Alliance in early 2002 and then released with US approval (see Early January 2002).
Larry Wilkerson. [Source: New York Times]Military and national security experts outside of the neoconservative orbit view the US occupation of Iraq as a calamity that actually increases the threat towards both Israel and the US. “[Bush’s wars] have put Israel in the worst strategic and operational situation she’s been in since 1948,” says retired colonel Larry Wilkerson, who was Colin Powell’s chief of staff in the State Department. “If you take down Iraq, you eliminate Iran’s No. 1 enemy. And, oh, by the way, if you eliminate the Taliban, they might reasonably be assumed to be Iran’s No. 2 enemy.” The Brookings Institution’s Martin Indyk adds, “Nobody thought going into this war that these guys would screw it up so badly, that Iraq would be taken out of the balance of power, that it would implode, and that Iran would become dominant.” The Israeli hawks have decided that because of the disaster in Iraq, the only course left to protect itself against Iran is a military strike. “Attacking Iraq when it had no WMD may have been the wrong step,” says Uzi Arad, who advised former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on foreign affairs. “But then to ignore Iran would compound the disaster. Israel will be left alone, and American interests will be affected catastrophically.” [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
Mullah Dadullah Akhund. [Source: Reuters]Mullah Dadullah Akhund, the Taliban’s top military commander, is killed in Afghanistan. The Telegraph claims that, “Since the Taliban’s ousting in late 2001, Dadullah emerged as probably the militant group’s most prominent and feared commander.” He often appeared in videos and media interviews. [Daily Telegraph, 5/14/2007] He is only the second high-ranking Taliban leader captured or killed since 9/11 (see December 19, 2006). ABC News claims that 36 hours before he was killed, Dadullah said in a videotaped interview that he was training US and British citizens to carry out suicide missions in their home countries. US officials claim to have tracked him from this interview in Quetta, Pakistan, back to a Taliban hiding base in Afghanistan, then carried out a helicopter assault against his base. [ABC News, 5/14/2007] The Taliban immediately announce that his younger brother, Mullah Bakht Mohammed, will be his replacement as the chief military strategist (see June 5, 2007). [CBC News, 5/14/2007]
Agents from MI6 engage in secret talks with Taliban leaders despite the British government’s claims that there are no negotiations with terrorists. The Daily Telegraph cites intelligence sources who say that British intelligence agents have been staging discussions known as “jirgas” with senior insurgents on several occasions over the summer. “The [MI6] officers were understood to have sought peace directly with the Taliban with them coming across as some sort of armed militia. The British would also provide ‘mentoring’ for the Taliban,” says one intelligence source. There have reportedly been up to half a dozen meetings between MI6 agents and the Taliban, taking place at housing compounds on the outskirts of Lashkah Gah and in villages in the Upper Gereshk valley, which is to the northeast of the main town in Helmand province. During the talks, the compounds are surrounded by a force of British infantry providing a security cordon. Afghan officials are reported to be present at the clandestine meetings to show that President Hamid Karzai’s government was leading the negotiations. “These meetings were with up to a dozen Taliban or with Taliban who had only recently laid down their arms,” another intelligence source says. “The impression was that these were important motivating figures inside the Taliban.” Helmand province produces most of Afghanistan’s opium, which accounts for up to 90 percent of the world’s supply of heroin. The United Nations has reported that the Taliban derive funding from the trafficking of Afghan opium. [Daily Telegraph, 12/26/2007; United Nations, 11/27/2008]
Aftab Khan Sherpao. [Source: Associated Press / Army Times]A document by Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao warns that the Taliban and other Islamist militant groups are growing in strength in Pakistan. They are spreading beyond their strongholds in Pakistan’s tribal regions near the Afghanistan border and without “swift and decisive” action, they could destabilize the entire country. Sherpao narrowly escaped a suicide bombing in April, near the city of Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province. The attack on his life caused him to reconsider the government’s policy of appeasing militant groups. The Interior Ministry report is presented to the US National Security Council on June 4 with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in attendance. The report says: “The ongoing spell of active Taliban resistance has brought about serious repercussions for Pakistan. There is a general policy of appeasement towards the Taliban, which has further emboldened them.” A Western diplomat familiar with the report says it is the first acknowledgment from Pakistan as to the danger of the militant threat. The diplomat calls it “an accurate description of the dagger pointed at the country’s heart. It’s tragic it’s taken so long [for Pakistan] to recognize it.” [New York Times, 6/30/2007] The report’s gloomy predictions will quickly be proven correct as the raid on the Red Mosque one month later greatly increases militant violence throughout Pakistan (see July 3-11, 2007 and July 11-Late July, 2007).
A high-ranking Taliban leader says that Osama bin Laden is alive and well. Mullah Bakht Mohammed (a.k.a. Mansoor Dadullah) says in an interview with Al Jazeera: “Sheikh Osama bin Laden is alive and active. He’s carrying out his duties. The latest proof that he is alive is that he sent me a letter of condolences after the martyrdom of my brother.” Bakht’s brother, Mullah Dadullah Akhund, was the Taliban’s top military commander, but was killed in May 2007 (see May 13, 2007), and Bakht immediately took his place. [Al Jazeera, 6/5/2007] In December 2007, the Taliban will announce that Bakht has been replaced as military commander due to insubordination. He will continue fighting for the Taliban however, and will be injured and captured by Pakistani forces near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in February 2008. [Associated Press, 2/11/2008]
Indian intelligence allegedly warns US intelligence that Osama bin Laden is likely living in Pakistan away from the tribal region, probably in northwest Pakistan. This is according to an article published in the Times of India shortly after bin Laden’s death in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). Reportedly, the warning comes shortly after a Taliban meeting in Peshawar, Pakistan, also attended by al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, top leaders of the Haqqani network (a semi-autonomous Taliban faction based in Pakistan), and at least two officials of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Immediately afterwards, al-Zawahiri visits Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital city in the country’s northwest. An unnamed top Indian official will later say: “The urgency with which al-Zawahiri visited Islamabad or the area in its vicinity suggested that he was there for some purpose. We told [the US] about al-Zawahiri visiting Islamabad and we also told them that we believed Osama may not be hiding in caves but in a highly urbanized area somewhere near Islamabad. Of course, nobody had spotted him and it was a conclusion we drew on the basis of the information we got.” Islamabad is only 31 miles from Abbottabad, where bin Laden will eventually be found. Indian officials do not get the impression that US officials are particularly interested in their lead. [Times of India, 5/4/2011]
An explosion at the Red Mosque during the government raid. [Source: Inter Services Public Relations]Prior to the Pakistani Army’s raid on the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) from July 3-11, 2007, the Pakistani government had generally maintained an uneasy alliance with Pakistani Islamist militants, although these militants sometimes launched violent attacks on the government. But in the immediate aftermath of the Red Mosque raid (see July 3-11, 2007), Pakistani militants and government forces openly war with each other. In 2005 and 2006, the government made peace deals with militants in the tribal regions of South Waziristan and North Waziristan (see February 7, 2005 and September 5, 2006). But these deals immediately collapse. On July 11, the last day of the mosque raid, al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri apparently condemns the raid and calls for Pakistanis to overthrow their government (see July 11, 2007). On July 12, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf vows in a nationally televised address that he will crush extremists throughout Pakistan. He says, “Terrorism and extremism has not ended in Pakistan. But it is our resolve that we will eliminate extremism and terrorism wherever it exists. Extremism and terrorism will be defeated in every corner of the country.” He also says that over the next few months, security forces will retake the tribal regions near the Afghanistan border now controlled by a mix of Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other militants. On the same day, Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi, who ran the Red Mosque along with his brother but was arrested during the raid, is allowed to speak at the funeral of his brother. He says, “God willing, Pakistan will have an Islamic revolution soon. The blood of martyrs will bear fruit.” Also on July 12, the first retaliatory suicide bombings take place. [Associated Press, 7/12/2007; London Times, 7/16/2007] Over the next three weeks, 167 people, including 120 soldiers and police, are killed in 21 militant attacks, many of them suicide bombings. Most of these take place in the North-West Frontier Province and the tribal regions, both of which have a strong militant presence. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will later comment, “The government’s inept handling of the [Red Mosque] crisis was a turning point for al-Qaeda, Pakistani Taliban, and other extremist groups, who now joined together and vowed to topple the government and create an Islamic state.” Hundreds of potential new suicide bombers vowed revenge and began training in the tribal regions. Al-Qaeda’s focus “shifted from Afghanistan to Pakistan, where it saw a demoralized army, a terrified citizenry, and an opportunity to destabilize the state. For the first time, senior Pakistani officials told me, the army’s corps commanders accepted that the situation had radically changed and the state was under threat from Islamic extremism. In fact, the Pakistan army was now fighting a civil war.” [Rashid, 2008]
Justice Department official Patrick Philbin testifies in a closed session of the House Intelligence Committee on the subject of interrogation tactics. Philbin testifies that each of the 24 approved interrogation tactics used by US personnel to interrogate terrorist suspects are “plainly lawful.” He notes that laws such as the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act and the Uniform Code of Military Justice define, to an extent, what is and is not torture, and prohibit excessive interrogation methods that might come under that rubric. He also notes that the US is a signatory to the Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994), which defines torture broadly as the intentional infliction of “severe pain or suffering” by anyone acting in an official capacity. He insists the US has done nothing to violate this treaty, nor the War Crimes Act, the Geneva Conventions, or Fifth and the Eighth Amendments to the US Constitution. Although terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda and “extragovernmental” organizations such as the Taliban do not fall under the protection of the Geneva Conventions, Philbin argues that the US continues to follow its guidelines in its treatment of prisoners from those groups “to the extent consistent with military necessity…” [House Intelligence Committee, 7/14/2007 ] However, in 2004, a classified report by the CIA’s Inspector General concluded that some of the interrogation techniques used by the CIA probably did violate the Convention Against Torture (see May 7, 2004).
Entity Tags: War Crimes Act, US Department of Justice, Uniform Code of Military Justice, Patrick F. Philbin, Geneva Conventions, Convention Against Torture, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, House Intelligence Committee, Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
In the wake of the Pakistani government’s attack on the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) in early July 2007 (see July 3-11, 2007), peace deals between the government and militant groups in Pakistan completely break down (see July 11-Late July, 2007). Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf fires Ali Jan Orakzai, a regional military commander sympathetic to the Taliban who had been promoted to governor of the North-West Frontier Province. Then, on July 19, 2007, the Pakistani army formally launches an offensive in Pakistan’s tribal region. The Taliban and al-Qaeda are believed to have their central leaderships there. There is no quick resolution, and fighting rages for months. Militants divert the army’s attention by launching suicide bombings and other attacks in other parts of the country. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 385]
President Bush signs Executive Order 13440, which authorizes the CIA to continue using so-called “harsh” interrogation methods against anyone in US custody suspected of being a terrorist, or having knowledge of terrorist activities. The order relies on, and reaffirms, Bush’s classification of “al-Qaeda, Taliban, and associated forces” as “unlawful enemy combatants” who are not covered under the Geneva Conventions. The order also emphasizes that the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) “reaffirms and reinforces the authority of the president to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions.” The order does not include “murder, torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, mutilation or maiming, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, rape, sexual assault or abuse, taking of hostages, or performing of biological experiments… other acts of violence serious enough to be considered comparable to murder, torture, mutilation, and cruel or inhuman treatment… any other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment prohibited” by law. It also precludes acts of extreme humiliation “that any reasonable person, considering the circumstances, would deem the acts to be beyond the bounds of human decency, such as sexual or sexually indecent acts undertaken for the purpose of humiliation, forcing the individual to perform sexual acts or to pose sexually, [or] threatening the individual with sexual mutilation, or using the individual as a human shield.” The order also excludes acts that denigrate a detainee’s religion or religious practices. [White House, 7/20/2007] The order does not apply to the Army, which has numerous interrogators operating at Guantanamo and other US detention facilities. [Social Science Research Network, 3/18/2008] CIA Director Michael Hayden says, “We can now focus on our vital work, confident that our mission and authorities are clearly defined.” Administration officials say that because of the order, suspects now in US custody can be moved immediately into the “enhanced interrogation” program. Civil libertarians and human rights advocates are much less enamored of the new order. Human Rights Watch official Tom Malinowski says, “All the order really does is to have the president say, ‘Everything in that other document that I’m not showing you is legal—trust me.’” [Washington Post, 7/21/2007] In January 2009, President Obama will withdraw the order. [Washington Independent, 4/21/2009]
Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, Tom Malinowski, Taliban, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, Al-Qaeda, Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency, Military Commissions Act, Michael Hayden
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Baitullah Mahsud. [Source: Associated Press]On August 30, 2007, Pakistani militants led by Baitullah Mahsud surround a convoy of more than 270 soldiers belonging to Pakistan’s Frontier Corps. The militants are vastly outnumbered, but get the soldiers to surrender without firing a shot. In the following days, dozens more soldiers surrender or even desert to Mahsud. This is a humiliating debacle for the Pakistani army and a reflection of low morale. The Washington Post comments: “The troops’ surrender has called into question the army’s commitment to fighting an unpopular war that requires Pakistanis to kill their countrymen. It has also exposed the army to ridicule.” [Washington Post, 10/3/2007] Mahsud demands the release of 30 jailed militants and the end of Pakistani military operations in South Waziristan, the tribal region where Mahsud is the de facto ruler. After weeks of slow negotiations, he orders the beheading of three of his hostages. On November 3, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf declares a state of emergency throughout Pakistan (see November 3-December 15, 2007). Musharraf claims that his emergency powers will give him a stronger hand to fight militants like Mahsud, but the next day he releases 28 jailed militants in return for the release of the nearly 300 soldiers still held. Eight of the released militants are would-be suicide bombers. For instance, one of them had just been sentenced to 24 years in prison after being caught carrying two suicide belts. The incident propels Mahsud into becoming the figurehead of Pakistan’s militant movement, and from this time on many violent incidents are blamed on him, although his forces are probably not linked to them all. Mahsud had strong ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. He fought with the Taliban in the 1990s and helped al-Qaeda leaders escape the battle of Tora Bora in late 2001. [Washington Post, 10/3/2007; Rashid, 2008, pp. 385-388; Newsweek, 1/7/2008]
A secret US government document from this month called the “Joint Task Force Guantanamo Matrix of Threat Indicators for Enemy Combatants” calls the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, a terrorist organization. The ISI is listed with al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah as threats. The document is meant for interrogators at the Guantanamo prison who are trying to determine which detainees to release. It suggests that any link to any of these groups is an indication of terrorist activity, and evidence the detainee poses a future threat. The US has never officially declared the ISI a terrorist group, suggesting its public posture differs from its private one for political reasons. After this and other Guantanamo documents are leaked to The Guardian in 2011, The Guardian will report: “The revelation that the ISI is considered as much of a threat as al-Qaeda and the Taliban will cause fury in Pakistan. It will further damage the already poor relationship between US intelligence services and their Pakistani counterparts, supposedly key allies in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other Islamist militants in south Asia.” The newspaper will further note that although the document is from 2007, it is unlikely the ISI’s status at Guantanamo has changed by 2011. Other Guantanamo documents leaked to The Guardian describe instances where the ISI helped US efforts, but also instances where the ISI was seen helping Islamist militants. [Guardian, 4/25/2011]
David Miliband (L), Manouchehr Mottaki (R). [Source: Press TV]Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki criticizes ongoing talks between British officials and the Taliban in Afghanistan, characterizing them as the wrong approach. “Such moves indicate the continuation of the wrong policies which will only strengthen the Taliban and undermine Afghanistan’s government,” he says at a meeting with his British counterpart David Miliband in New York. He also slams Britain’s counter-narcotics efforts, pointing out that the production of narcotics has been increasing in Afghanistan despite British presence in areas of the country central to opium production, such as Helmand province. [Press TV, 10/2/2007]
The Washington Post reports, “Pakistan’s government is losing its war against emboldened insurgent forces, giving al-Qaeda and the Taliban more territory in which to operate and allowing the groups to plot increasingly ambitious attacks, according to Pakistani and Western security officials.” Since the government’s raid on the Red Mosque in July 2007 (see July 3-11, 2007 and July 11-Late July, 2007), militants have gone all out in trying to overthrow the government, but Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has been consumed by a struggle to stay in power (see October 6, 2007 and November 3-December 15, 2007) and has done little in return to fight them. Brig. Gen. Mehmood Shah, a top security official in the tribal regions until he retirement in 2005, says: “The federal government is busy with its problem of legitimacy. Getting Musharraf elected for another five years—that is keeping everything on hold.” Militants not only control much of the country’s mountainous tribal regions, but they are increasingly moving down the hills to threaten larger towns and cities. A Western military official based in Pakistan says the militants have “had a chance to regroup and reorganize. They’re well equipped. They’re clearly getting training from somewhere. And they’re using more and more advanced tactics.” But this official says that Pakistan’s military are “not trained for a counterinsurgency. It’s not their number one priority. It’s not even their number two priority.” This person adds, “The sad thing about it is that a lot of these militants are better off than the Frontier Corps,” referring to the Pakistani paramilitary force guarding the tribal region. The militants “have rockets. They have advanced weapons. And the Frontier Corps has sandals and a bolt-action rifle.” The Post notes that although the US has given about $10 billion to Pakistan since 9/11, “the aid does not seem to have won the United States many friends here. Nor has it successfully prepared the Pakistani army to battle insurgents.” [Washington Post, 10/3/2007]
Benazir Bhutto’s motorcade bombed in Karachi. [Source: BBC]Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto returns to Pakistan after eight years in exile. Earlier in the month she had made a deal with President Pervez Musharraf that gave her amnesty in return for not opposing Musharraf’s reelection vote (see October 4, 2007). Bhutto, Pakistan’s most popular opposition politician, is greeted by large, enthusiastic crowds as she arrives in the city of Karachi. But as her motorcade is moving through the crowd at night, a suicide bomber approaches on foot and throws a grenade to attract attention. Then the bomber sets off a larger blast that kills at least 139 and injures around 400. Bhutto is not hurt, as she had just moved inside her vehicle from the roof moments before. CNN reporter Dan Rivers, filming the motorcade just before the attack, later comments on the lack of security. He says it was possible to walk right up to the side of her vehicle without being stopped. [CNN, 10/19/2007]
Bhutto Assigns Blame - The next day, Bhutto says, “I am not accusing the government [as a whole], but I am accusing certain individuals who abuse their positions, who abuse their powers.… I know exactly who wants to kill me. It is dignitaries of the former regime of General [Muhammad Zia ul-Haq] who are today behind the extremism and the fanaticism.” She has long accused the ISI of opposing her. Aides close to her say that she specifically names Ijaz Shah, a former ISI official linked to Saeed Sheikh (see February 5, 2002) and the director general of the Intelligence Bureau, another Pakistani intelligence agency. She also says that an unnamed “brotherly country” had warned her that several suicide squads were plotting attacks against her, including squads from the Taliban and al-Qaeda. She says this government gave the Pakistani government the phone numbers the plotters were using, but implies investigators did not take advantage of the lead. She further says the street lamps had been turned off along the motorcade route, making it difficult for her security detail to scan the crowd for possible bombers, and demands an investigation into this. [New York Times, 10/20/2007]
Others Assign Blame - Her husband Asif Ali Zardari is more direct, saying, “I blame the government for these blasts. It is the work of the intelligence agencies.” The government by contrast complains that the security situation was extremely difficult. She was taking a big risk, moving though crowds of hundreds of thousands in a notoriously violent city of 16 million people. [Australian, 10/20/2007] The US by contrast, quickly blames al-Qaeda. Only one day after the bombing, US State Department officials say they believe there is a “strong al-Qaeda connection” and that it “bears the hallmarks” of an al-Qaeda attack. [CNN, 10/20/2007]
The Taliban’s former chief spokesman, Mullah Mohammad Is’haq Nizami, reveals that talks are being held between Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government and key lieutenants of former Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Mullah Nizami says that he has been relaying messages for months from Kabul to Mullah Omar’s aides in the Quetta Shura, the Taliban’s ruling council based in Pakistan. The Quetta Shura is thought to be responsible for orchestrating attacks across the border in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, Afghanistan. The disclosure contradicts British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s carefully worded statement to Parliament a day earlier insisting that no negotiations would be held with Taliban leaders. “We are not negotiating with the leadership, but we want to support President Karzai in his efforts at reconciliation. If he is successful in bringing across those members of the insurgency who then declare that they will give up fighting and support democracy and be part of the system, then these are efforts at reconciliation that are important to the future of the whole country,” Brown states during a session of prime minister’s questions. Mullah Nizami, who also ran the regime’s radio station Voice of Sharia until 2001, says that the negotiations aim to isolate Mullah Omar by wooing his lieutenants in the Quetta Shura. “Karzai is trying to get the 18 people in the Quetta Shura. If he succeeds it will be a defeat for Mullah Omar. The Taliban and the government are tired of fighting and they want to negotiate,” he says. Nizami fled to Pakistan in 2001 when the Taliban regime collapsed, but returned to Kabul under an ongoing reconciliation programme in an effort to open talks. Mullah Nazimi further explains that the Taliban want to take part in the Afghan government, want sharia law instituted, and want the withdrawal of international forces. The Belfast Telegraph reports that talks will continue “under the table” until the two sides can agree on something warranting a public announcement. The Independent reports that the British government was prepared to admit that the talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban had taken place and that dialogue should be opened with Taliban leaders, but Gordon Brown changed his mind just before prime minister’s questions on December 12, denying any negotiations with Taliban leadership. Brown’s denial is further contradicted by a report that British MI6 agents had engaged in secret talks with the Taliban and other Afghan insurgent leaders in Helmand Province earlier this summer (see Summer 2007). [Independent, 12/12/2007; Belfast Telegraph, 12/13/2007]
British military sources tout the success of secret meetings and negotiations held with elements of the Taliban, claiming that direct contact has led insurgents to change sides and has provided intelligence leading to the deaths of key insurgent commanders. But critics, such as officials within the Afghan government, argue that the tactics—including the use of bribes for information—undermine democracy and allow the Taliban a back door back into power. In addition, Afghan military sources claim that insurgents are using coalition forces to settle scores with rivals. American officials say the policy of engagement by the British has led to serious mistakes, such as the agreement reached in Musa Qala in February under which British forces were withdrawn in return for tribal elders pledging to keep the Taliban out. The Taliban quickly occupied the town and held it for seven months. The Independent also reports that the Taliban has killed and tortured insurgents, children included, who were seen to be collaborating with British and the Afghan governments. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government continues to officially deny Britain has been involved in negotiations with the Taliban. [Independent, 12/14/2007]
Maulana Fazlullah. [Source: NBC News]In mid-December 2007, 40 militant commanders in Pakistan’s tribal region and the North-West Frontier Province hold a secret meeting and unify their forces. They create a new umbrella organization called Tehrik-i-Taliban, meaning Movement of the Taliban. They are also known as the Pakistani Taliban. They appoint Baitullah Mahsud, head of militant forces in South Waziristan, as their overall leader. Mahsud became a key figure after his forces successfully kidnapped almost 300 Pakistani soldiers and then traded them for about 30 imprisoned militants (see August 30-November 4, 2007). Other key leaders attending the meeting are: Maulana Fazlullah, militant leader in the Swat Valley, Faqir Mohammed, leader in the tribal region of Bajour, and Sadiq Noor, leader in North Waziristan. Together, these commanders at the meeting are estimated to lead about forty thousand armed followers. The leaders are closely tied to the Taliban, as the name of the new organization indicates, and many are also linked to al-Qaeda. Mahsud in particular is believed to be in regular contact with al-Qaeda leaders, and looking to them for strategic direction. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 386]
An armed attacker in the lobby of the Serena Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, on January 14, 2008. [Source: TV2 Norway]Militants attack a luxury hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, with machine guns and a suicide bomber. Six people are killed and six more are injured. The suicide bomber blows himself up and one of the machine gunners is killed, and two other attackers apparently escape. The target is the Serena Hotel, a heavily guarded five-star hotel frequented by Westerners. A Norwegian journalist and a US citizen are among those killed. A Taliban spokesperson immediately takes credit for the attack. [BBC, 1/15/2008] Months later, the New York Times will report that the attack was actually masterminded by a leader of the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban, which is largely based in Pakistan. The leader is not named, but Sirajuddin Haqqani will later boast in an interview that he planned the attack (see March 25, 2009). According to the Times: “Pakistani forces have been reluctant to move against the Haqqanis. According to European officials and one senior Pakistani official, [top leader Jalaluddin] Haqqani has maintained his old links with Pakistani intelligence [the ISI] and still enjoys their protection.” In a video, Jalaluddin boasts of his role in an attack on a hotel, which presumably is the Serena Hotel attack, as well as boasting of other attacks. Jalaluddin is Sirajuddin’s father. [New York Times, 6/17/2008]
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testifies before Congress that the security situation in Afghanistan is “deteriorating.” He estimates that the official Afghan government led by Hamid Karzai controls only about 30 percent of Afghanistan, while the Taliban controls 10 percent and the rest is controlled by various tribes and warlords. He says that the key to the Taliban’s success “is the opportunity for safe haven in Pakistan.” Karzai’s government denies McConnell’s claims. However, various think tank reports echo McConnell’s conclusions. One report headed by former NATO commander Gen. James L. Jones concludes that “urgent changes” are immediately required to “prevent Afghanistan becoming a failed state.” [Guardian, 2/29/2008]
According to a later book by New York Times reporter David Sanger, in May 2008, US intelligence records General Ashfaq Kayani, head of Pakistan’s military, referring to militant leader Jalaluddin Haqqani as “a strategic asset.” Haqqani heads a group of militants in Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region, that is known as the Haqqani network. It is considered a semi-independent branch of the Taliban. The surveillance was ordered to confirm suspicions that the Pakistani military is still secretly supporting the Taliban, even though the US gives aid to help fight the Taliban. The transcript of Kayani’s comments is passed to Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell. US intelligence will later intercept calls from Pakistani military units to Haqqani, warning him of an imminent Pakistani military operation in the tribal region designed to make it appear to the US that Pakistan is taking action against militant groups. An unnamed source will later explain, “It was something like, ‘Hey, we’re going to hit your place in a few days, so if anyone important is there, you might want to tell them to scram.’” Further US surveillance will reveal a plot between the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and Haqqani to bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008). Pakistani officials deny they are supporting Haqqani. [London Times, 2/17/2009] An unnamed senior Pakistani intelligence official also called Haqqani an asset in 2006 (see 2006).
A blasted vehicle in front of the prison. [Source: Allauddin Khan / Associated Press]A suicide truck bomber hits the front gate of the Sarposa Prison, south of Kandahar, Afghanistan. A second suicide bomber on foot hits the back wall of the prison a short time later. Then, about 30 Taliban on motorbikes rush into the prison, killing nine guards and freeing the prisoners. Between 900 to 1,100 prisoners escape, including about 400 Taliban militants. Minibuses waiting at the front of the prison then drive many of the escaped prisoners away, while the rest flee on foot. [Associated Press, 6/14/2008] A US official says no internationally recognized Taliban leaders were in the prison, but some significant mid-level fighters did escape. Officials also say the attack is noteworthy “because of the evident planning behind it and the skill with which it was carried out—a demonstration of the Taliban’s ability to carry out complex and bold operations with modest manpower.” [Newsweek, 6/17/2008] The provincial police chief of Kandahar, the local head of the intelligence agency, and the head of police criminal investigations are fired several days later for negligence. It is not alleged that any of them helped stage the escape. [BBC, 6/26/2008]
Members of the Frontier Corps near Shakai, in the region of South Waziristan, in August 2004. [Source: Kamran Wazir / Reuters / Corbis]The British newspaper The Observer reports that the Frontier Corps, a Pakistani government paramilitary force operating in Pakistan’s tribal regions near the border with Afghanistan, sometimes join in attacks on US-led forces in Afghanistan. The article alleges there are “box loads” of after-action reports compiled after armed clashes near the border, detailing the Frontier Corps working with the Taliban and other allied militants. Some attacks are launched so close to Frontier Corps outposts that Pakistani cooperation with the Taliban is assumed. There has been a dramatic increase in cross-border incidents compared to the same time the year before. An anonymous US official says: “The United States and NATO have substantial information on this problem. It’s taking place at a variety of places along the border with the Frontier Corps giving direct and indirect assistance. I’m not saying it is everyone. There are some parts that have been quite helpful… but if you have seen the after-action reports of their involvement in attacks along the Afghan border you would appreciate the problem.” The US government continues to downplay such incidents, worried about its relationship with the Pakistani government. A NATO spokesman says: “The real concern is that the extremists in Pakistan are getting safe havens to rest, recuperate and retool in Pakistan and come across the border. The concerns have been conveyed to the Pakistan authorities.” [Observer, 6/22/2008]
US intelligence allegedly discovers that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and a faction of the Taliban are planning a spectacular bombing somewhere in Afghanistan. US intelligence is intercepting Pakistani government communications in an attempt to find out if the Pakistani government is still supporting militants fights US soldiers in Afghanistan. Communications intercepts already revealed an active link between the Pakistani government and the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban headed by Jalaluddin Haqqani (see May 2008). According to a later book by New York Times reporter David Sanger, new intercepts at this time show that the ISI is working to carry out a spectacular bombing in Afghanistan. But apparently, the exact target is not known. Two weeks later, the Indian Embassy in Kabul will be bombed (see July 7, 2008). Afterwards, the US will accuse the ISI and the Haqqani network of plotting the bombing, mostly based on these intercepts from before the bombing (see July 28, 2008 and August 1, 2008). [London Times, 2/17/2009]
Polish intelligence warns India and the US that the Taliban are likely to attack the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. The embassy will be bombed one week later, killing 54 (see July 7, 2008). The document giving the warning is entitled, “Threat Report… Threat to Indian Embassy.” It is based on information received one day earlier. It states, “Taliban are planning to carry out an attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul.” It goes on to describe how a suicide bomber plans to use a stolen Afghan government car and stolen uniform to get past security. The document will be publicly leaked in 2010 as part of a massive WikiLeaks release of US documents relating to the US war in Afghanistan. [Press Trust of India, 7/27/2010] It is unclear how or where Polish intelligence got this information. US intelligence apparently learns around this time that the Taliban and ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, are planning a spectacular bombing somewhere in Afghanistan (see Late June 2008). However, it appears that India acts on at least one of the warnings, because the Indian ambassador to Afghanistan will later say that India took extra security measures in the weeks before the bombings because “we were expecting trouble.” Most importantly, sand-filled blast barriers are placed around the main embassy building. That, plus the quick action of security guards, will prevent the bomber from getting closer to the building, and thus reduce the number of lives lost. [Associated Press, 7/9/2008]
Foreign military deaths in Afghanistan. Data comes from the Defense Department and www.icasualties.org. [Source: New York Times] (click image to enlarge)It is reported that June 2008 was the deadliest month for US troops in Afghanistan since the US invaded that country in late 2001. There were 28 US combat deaths there that month, which nearly equals the 29 US combat deaths in Iraq in the same month. A total of 46 soldiers in the US-led coalition in Afghanistan were killed in June, the highest monthly total of the war. There have been 533 US combat deaths since the US-led occupation of Afghanistan, called Operation Enduring Freedom, began in late 2001 (but this number includes deaths in the region outside of Afghanistan). Top US commanders say that the number of violent incidents has risen nearly 40 percent during the first half of 2008 compared with the previous year. US officials and Afghanistan experts say the increasing soldier death toll is a sign of the Taliban’s resurgence. For instance, Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University, says: “What it points to is that the opposition is becoming more effective. It is having a presence in more areas, being better organized, better financed and having a sustainable strategy. In all, their strategic situation has improved.” [Washington Post, 7/2/2008] The same day as the new peaks of soldier deaths in Afghanistan is front-page news in most US newspapers, President Bush announces that the number of US troops in Afghanistan will be increased by the end of 2008. However, he gives no details on exactly when or by how many. [Associated Press, 7/2/2008]
A suicide bombing at the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, kills 54 people and injures 140 others. The main target appears to be a diplomatic convoy that had just entered the embassy gate, directly followed by the suicide truck. Among the dead are two senior Indian diplomats, including the military attaché, Brigadier Ravi Mehta. Many of those killed are people standing in line waiting for visas. [London Times, 8/3/2008] The Indian government received at least one warning about an attack on the embassy, and it took extra security precautions that helped reduce the loss of lives (see July 1, 2008). The Afghan interior ministry quickly asserts that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, helped the Taliban with the attack. A presidential spokesman states at a news conference, “The sophistication of this attack and the kind of material that was used in it, the specific targeting, everything has the hallmarks of a particular intelligence agency that has conducted similar terrorist acts inside Afghanistan in the past.” The Afghan government has asserted that the ISI is responsible for other attacks in Afghanistan, including an attempted assassination of President Hamid Karzai in late April 2008 (see April 27, 2008). The Indian government also quickly blames the ISI and the Taliban. [Financial Times, 7/8/2008; Taipei Times, 7/9/2008] The Taliban deny involvement in the attack, but the New York Times notes that the Taliban usually deny involvement in attacks with a large number of civilian casualties. [New York Times, 7/8/2008] Less than a month later, US intelligence will accuse the ISI of helping a Taliban-linked militant network led by Jalaluddin Haqqani to plan the bombing (see August 1, 2008). President Bush will even directly threaten Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani with serious consequences if another attack is linked to the ISI (see July 28, 2008).
Yousaf Raza Gillani. [Source: Public Domain]Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, visits the US and meets with President George Bush in Washington, D.C. Bush privately confronts Gillani with evidence that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, has been helping the Taliban and al-Qaeda. US intelligence has long suspected that Pakistan has been playing a “double game,” accepting over a billion dollars of US aid per year meant to help finance Pakistan’s fight with Islamic militants, but at the same time training and funding those militants, who often go on to fight US soldiers in Afghanistan. The London Times reports that Gillani “was left in no doubt that the Bush administration had lost patience with the ISI’s alleged double game.” Bush allegedly warned that if one more attack in Afghanistan or elsewhere were traced back to Pakistan, the US would take “serious action.” The key evidence is that US intelligence claims to have intercepted communications showing that the ISI helped plan a militant attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier in the month (see July 7, 2008). US officials will leak this story of ISI involvement to the New York Times several days after Bush’s meeting with Gillani (see August 1, 2008). Gillani also meets with CIA Director Michael Hayden, who confronts him with a dossier on ISI support for the Taliban. Pakistanis officials will claim they were shocked at the “grilling” they received. One Pakistani official who came to the US with Gillani will say, “They were very hot on the ISI. Very hot. When we asked them for more information, Bush laughed and said, ‘When we share information with your guys, the bad guys always run away’.” When the story of Bush’s confrontation with Gillani is leaked to the press, Pakistani officials categorically deny any link between the ISI and militants in Afghanistan. But senior British intelligence and government officials have also told the Pakistanis in recent days that they are convinced the ISI was involved in the embassy bombing. This is believed to be the first time the US has openly confronted Pakistan since a warning given several days after 9/11 (see September 13-15, 2001). The US is said to be particularly concerned with the ISI’s links to Jalaluddin Haqqani, who runs a militant network that the US believes was involved in the bombing. And the US is worries about links between the ISI and Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistan-based militant group that is said to have been behind a recent attack against US forces in Afghanistan that killed nine. [London Times, 8/3/2008]
Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s information minister, admits to journalists that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, still contains pro-Taliban operatives. She says, “We need to identify these people and weed them out.” However, she later changes her statement, claiming that the problems were in the past and there will be no purge. [London Times, 8/3/2008] Her comment comes right as US intelligence accuses the ISI of involvement in a recent bombing of the Indian embassy in Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008 and August 1, 2008).
Former Afghan National Police (ANP) trained by US forces including the controversial American security contractor Blackwater are defecting to the Taliban, according to Al Jazeera. The channel reports that around 70 former police in the province of Herat have joined the Taliban in the past two months. Recruits featured in a video report carry weapons provided by the Afghan government and certificates for weapons training from the US. Some of the fighters openly display their Blackwater-issued IDs. One new Taliban recruit, Abdul Rahim, says he received training from Blackwater for 45 days. “I can use the training to save my life in these mountains and I can also use it to fight them,” he explains. The former members of the ANP tell Al Jazeera that they have joined the Taliban for ideological reasons and are using their weapons and training to fight the coalition. Another defector, Sulieman Ameri, along with 16 men under his command, were until a month ago enlisted in the ANP and patrolling the border with Iran. “Our soil is occupied by Americans and I want them to leave this country. That is my only goal,” he says. [Al Jazeera, 10/15/2008; Al Jazeera, 10/15/2008]
Angry Afghani citizens march in protest against the US air strike at Azizabad. [Source: Reuters]A series of US airstrikes kills over 90 civilians, mostly women and children, in the western Afghani province of Herat, according to an Afghan government investigation. Most of the deaths take place in and around the village of Azizabad. Nematullah Shahrani, the Afghan Religious Affairs Minister, says the strikes, carried out by US, NATO, and Afghan forces, were planned to strike at a Taliban commander, but were not coordinated and did not kill any Taliban fighters. The US-led coalition claims 30 militants and no civilians died, a claim repudiated by Afghan officials and the United Nations. “We went to the area and found out that the bombardment was very heavy, lots of houses have been destroyed and more than 90 non-combatants including women, children, and elders have died,” says Shahrani. “Most are women and children.” President Hamid Karzai fires two senior Afghan army commanders in the area over the strikes, and sharply criticizes American and NATO military commanders for the errant air strikes. Shahrani says he intends to meet with US Special Forces commanders who were involved in the operation. “They have claimed that Taliban were there. They must prove it,” he says. “So far it is not clear for us why the coalition conducted the air strikes.” Local residents engage in angry, grief-stricken demonstrations outside the blast zones. Such incidents, Shahrani says, have a “very bad impact” on the local populace. “It causes the people to distance themselves from the government.” The UN special representative in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, agrees, saying that such operations undermine the “trust and confidence of the Afghan people.” Karzai has ordered Shahrani’s team to pay 100,000 afghanis ($2,000) for each person killed. [Agence France-Presse, 8/24/2008; Financial Times, 8/26/2008] Karzai later says that the raid did not kill “a single Taliban” but caused serious harm to US-Afghan relations. A government spokesman will say that the US acted on false information provided by a rival tribe. A UN investigation later finds that 92 civilians died in the strikes. [Associated Press, 9/16/2008] Karzai says he will launch a “full review” of the agreements allowing US and NATO forces to operate in his country. “The government of Afghanistan has repeatedly discussed the issue of civilian casualties with the international forces and asked for all air raids on civilian targets, especially in Afghan villages, to be stopped,” the government says in a statement. “The issues of uncoordinated house searches and harassing civilians have also been of concern to the government of Afghanistan which has been shared with the commanders of international forces in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, to date, our demands have not been addressed, rather, more civilians, including women and children, are losing their lives as a result of air raids.” [Financial Times, 8/26/2008]
Civilian deaths in Afghanistan from US and NATO air strikes almost tripled from 2006 to 2007, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW). A spate of recent airstrikes has exacerbated the problem and is fueling a public backlash, the report says. The report also condemns the Taliban’s use of “human shields,” a direct violation of the laws of war. The report is titled “‘Troops in Contact’: Airstrikes and Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan.” It analyzes the use of airstrikes by US and NATO forces and resulting civilian casualties, particularly when used to make up for the lack of ground troops and during emergency situations.
Different Types of Strikes - The vast majority of civilian deaths occur during unplanned, impromptu airstrikes, the report finds; planned airstrikes result in far fewer civilian casualties. “Rapid response airstrikes have meant higher civilian casualties, while every bomb dropped in populated areas amplifies the chance of a mistake,” says HRW official Brad Adams. “Mistakes by the US and NATO have dramatically decreased public support for the Afghan government and the presence of international forces providing security to Afghans.”
Deaths Escalate from 2006 to 2007 - In 2006, 116 Afghan civilians died during US/NATO airstrikes; in 2007, 321 died during US/NATO airstrikes. In both years, the number of civilians dying due to Taliban strikes far outnumbered those killed by US or NATO forces. All of these trends continue during the first seven months of 2008.
'Poor Response by US Officials' - HRW is highly critical of what it calls “the poor response by US officials when civilian deaths occur.” The report finds: “Prior to conducting investigations into airstrikes causing civilian loss, US officials often immediately deny responsibility for civilian deaths or place all blame on the Taliban. US investigations conducted have been unilateral, ponderous, and lacking in transparency, undercutting rather than improving relations with local populations and the Afghan government. A faulty condolence payment system has not provided timely and adequate compensation to assist civilians harmed by US actions.”
Demanding Solutions - Adams says that the US must work to curtail the unplanned airstrikes that kill so many Afghan civilians, and when civilians are killed, the US must take the proper responsibility and provide “timely compensation.” He adds: “While Taliban shielding is a factor in some civilian deaths, the US shouldn’t use this as an excuse when it could have taken better precautions. It is, after all, its bombs that are doing the killing.” HRW also notes that in many instances, civilian deaths are accompanied by destroyed villages, causing that entire village’s population to become refugees. Afghanistan has a large and ever-growing number of what HRW calls “internally displaced persons.” Adams says: “The recent airstrikes killing dozens of Afghans make clear that the system is still broken and that civilians continue to pay the ultimate price. Civilian deaths from airstrikes act as a recruiting tool for the Taliban and risk fatally undermining the international effort to provide basic security to the people of Afghanistan.” [Human Rights Watch, 9/7/2008]
The United Nations reports that 1,445 Afghan civilians have died during fighting between Taliban insurgents and US and/or NATO forces in 2008. This is a 40 percent increase over 2007 (see September 7, 2008). Around 55 percent of those civilian deaths were caused by Taliban attacks or by al-Qaeda or local strikes, says the UN report. Around 40 percent of those deaths were due to US, NATO, and/or Afghan troop attacks. Of those deaths, 395 were from US or NATO airstrikes. The number and percentages of civilian deaths at the hands of US/NATO forces is up significantly from 2007. “This is the highest number of civilian deaths to occur in a single month since the end of major hostilities and the ousting of the Taliban regime at the end of 2001,” says UN human rights chief Navi Pillay. He calls for greater transparency in accountability procedures for US and NATO forces involved in civilian casualties. The UN does not provide information on how its figures were collected. Afghan officials say that a recent US-led operation in the western village of Azizabad killed 90 civilians, including 60 children, dramatically increasing the death toll and damaging US-Afghan relations (see August 22, 2008). US General David McKiernan, the commander of US-led forces in Afghanistan, says he is fighting the war with too few ground troops. As a result, he is forced to rely more on air power, and that costs civilian lives. With violence escalating, McKiernan says he is fighting the war with too few ground troops, and that the shortage compels him to rely more on air power, at the cost of higher civilian casualties. Some 65,000 coalition ground troops are in Afghanistan, 33,000 of those American. Still, the UN emphasizes, most civilians die at the hands of Taliban attacks. Militants routinely kill civilians in suicide bombings and random strikes, but are also targeting Afghans that they suspect are working with the government of President Hamid Karzai, or with US-led forces. “There is substantial evidence indicating that the Taliban are carrying out a systematic campaign of intimidation and violence aimed at Afghan civilians they believe to be supportive of the government, the international community, and military forces,” says Pillay. [Associated Press, 9/16/2008]
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia hosts “ice-breaking” talks between the Afghan government, current and “former” Taliban, and representatives of other militant groups. Among the participants are Mullah Omar’s former “foreign minister” and his former Kandahar spokesman, Afghan government officials, and a representative of former mujaheddin commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose group, Hezb-i-Islami, is labeled a “terrorist organization” by the United States. [CNN, 10/5/2008] Hamid Karzai’s brother, Abdul Qayum, and ex-Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif are also reported to be in the meetings. [Independent, 10/8/2008; Independent, 11/13/2008] During the talks, all parties reportedly agree that continued dialogue should be sought. AFP, citing Saudi sources, reports that the negotiators move on to Islamabad, Pakistan on Sunday, September 27, 2008. A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai will later deny that negotiations were held, saying that Afghan religious scholars had visited Saudi Arabia during Ramadan and attended a dinner with King Abdullah. A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahed, also denies any meetings. [Agence France-Presse, 10/7/2008]
Wahid Mujda, an Afghan political analyst and former Taliban official for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tells the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) network that the US is supplying arms to the Taliban to “jeopardize the security situation” as a justification to stay in Afghanistan. According to Iranian Press TV, Mujda says the US invaded Afghanistan on the pretext of fighting terrorism, but actually wanted to create a base to exercise pressure on rivals in the region. He also says that NATO-led forces are even encouraging cross border attacks by the Taliban from Pakistan. Alluding to meetings held in the United Arab Emirates, Mujda further suggests that the US has begun direct talks with the Taliban to secure results in the 2009 Afghanistan presidential election, implying the possibility of negotiations on an important role for the Taliban in the next Afghan government. [Press TV, 9/28/2008]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai reportedly briefs British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on talks his government has been holding with Taliban representatives on ways to work together to end the conflict in Afghanistan. The Independent discloses that Karzai’s government has also been holding secret talks with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar through members of his family, which is consistent with news published early the following year (see February 2009). Karzai is visiting London after meetings in New York with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, figures who have also been involved in the ongoing Afghan government-Taliban insurgent dialogue. In September, the Saudi King sponsored talks between the Afghan government and emissaries of the Taliban and other insurgent groups, including representatives of Hekmatyar, at a series of confidential meetings held in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008). The British government continues to publicly deny any involvement in negotiations or direct contact with the Taliban and other insurgents while encouraging the Afghan government to reach out to moderate elements of the insurgency and the Taliban. [Independent, 11/13/2008]
It is reported that the US is attempting to place former ISI Director Hamid Gul on a United Nations Security Council list of people and organizations that assist al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban. Additionally, the US is trying to add four other former ISI officials to the list. If a person is added to the list, all UN countries are supposed to freeze the person’s assets and deny them visas. However, all 15 Security Council members must sign off on additions to the list, including permanent member China. In the past, China has not always signed off on additions that the Pakistani government does not want on the list, due to China’s close ties to Pakistan. There is no indication that Gul or any of the others have actually been added to the list. [Reuters, 12/7/2008; Hindu, 12/9/2008]
Charges against Gul - A document listing the charges against Gul is leaked to some Pakistani newspapers. He is accused of helping to relocate al-Qaeda fighters from Iraq to Pakistan’s tribal region earlier in the year, providing financial and military support to the Taliban, and helping to recruit fighters to attack US forces in Afghanistan. It is also claimed he is in contact with Baitullah Mahsud, leader of Tehrik-i-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban). [Reuters, 12/7/2008] Gul strongly denies the allegations. He was head of the ISI from 1987 to 1989 (see April 1987). Since then, he has maintained a high public profile in Pakistan, generally speaking in support of Islamist militant groups, and even defending Osama bin Laden on occasion. According to the Washington Post, both Indian and US officials say that Gul has maintained particularly close ties to the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba, and he is believed to have played an advisory role in several of that group’s recent attacks. [Washington Post, 12/9/2008] The names of the other four ex-ISI officials the US wants to add to the UN list have not been made public. However, ex-ISI official Khalid Khawaja says he suspects he is one of the other names. “I openly say I have links” to the Taliban and other militants, Khawaja says, but he denies there is anything illegal about his activities. [Reuters, 12/7/2008] The US could also place Gul on its own terrorist blacklist, but if it has done so, it has not made this public.
Taliban presence map: January-September 2009. [Source: International Council on Security and Development]An international research and policy group reports that the Taliban have attained a permanent presence in about 80 percent of Afghanistan, up from 72 percent in November 2008 and 54 percent in November 2007. The International Council on Security and Development (ICOS), formerly known as The Senlis Council, also reports that another 17 percent of Afghanistan is seeing “substantial” Taliban activity. Furthermore, it reports a recent sharp rise in Taliban activity in the north, a formerly peaceful area. “The dramatic change in the last few months has been the deterioration of the situation in the north of Afghanistan, which was previously one of the most stable parts of Afghanistan. Provinces such as Kunduz and Balkh are now heavily affected by Taliban violence. Across the north of Afghanistan, there has been a dramatic increase in the rate of insurgent attacks against international, Afghan government, and civilian targets,” states Alexander Jackson, a policy analyst at ICOS. Spokeswoman Jane Francis says ICOS’s data is based on reports from a team in Afghanistan and was gathered from daily insurgent activity reports between January and September 2009. “The unrelenting and disturbing return, spread, and advance of the Taliban is now without question,” says Norine MacDonald QC, president and lead field researcher for ICOS. [International Council on Security and Development, 9/10/2009; Associated Press, 9/10/2009]
President Obama says that the US’s battle against global terrorism will be refocused away from Iraq and towards Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the first step in that process, Obama names veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke as the US’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan (see January 22, 2009). In his acceptance remarks, Holbrooke says: “This is a very difficult assignment as we all know. Nobody can say the war in Afghanistan has gone well.… In Pakistan the situation is infinitely complex. I will say that in putting Afghanistan and Pakistan together in the one envoy, we fully respect Pakistan has its own history and its own traditions.” Obama says that the situation remains “perilous” in Afghanistan, and any progress in combating the Taliban-led insurgency will take time. Holbrooke will lead “our effort to forge and implement a sustainable approach to this critical region,” Obama adds. [The Nation (Lahore), 1/23/2009]
An array of Afghan and Pakistani human rights representatives and former Guantanamo inmates say that President Obama’s plans to close the detention camp (see January 22, 2009) do not go far enough. Other US detention centers should also be shut down and former inmates should be compensated, they say. Obama “is closing it in order to put an end to the criticism from human rights groups and also to get rid of the bad image it created for the Americans,” says Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan who spent more than three years imprisoned at Guantanamo. “But he needs to restore justice for prisoners who were persecuted there during investigations. There were innocent people imprisoned there. He needs to put on trial those who were involved in the persecution of inmates.” Lal Gul Lal, the head of the Afghanistan Human Rights Organization, calls the Guantanamo prison “a flagrant violation of international and American laws.” He continues: “If Obama’s administration wants to get rid of the criticism and wants to implement justice then it should hand over to their respective countries all the prisoners it has in various prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. If that does not happen the closure of Guantanamo will have no meaning.” Some 250 prisoners are still being held in Guantanamo, around 600 prisoners still remain in custody at the detention facility at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, and more are being held in camps at Kandahar and Khost. Many of the detainees have never been charged with a crime. Amina Masood Janjua, a Pakistani campaigner for the release of detainees, says while the closing of Guantanamo will be a positive development, “those governments which are running illegal torture cells and safe houses set up by intelligence agencies and militaries should be forced to close them too.” Khalid, a former Pakistani security agent who now heads the Defense of Human Rights organization, calls the closure “nothing… a media stunt.” He adds: “After brutally and inhumanely treating inmates, now they’re pretending that they believe in justice and human rights. What about the human rights crimes committed there? What about those who have seen the worst time of their lives there? Is it that easy to ignore or forgive?” [Reuters, 1/22/2009]
Secret negotiations backed by the British government are under way to bring warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar back into Afghanistan’s political process, according to Al Jazeera. The talks between Taliban-linked mediators, Western officials, and the Afghan government are believed to involve a proposal for the return to Afghanistan of Hekmatyar, granting him immunity from prosecution there. Hekmatyar would first be offered asylum in Saudi Arabia under the proposal. The meetings recall earlier Afghan negotiations involving Hekmatyar and a Saudi role (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008). Ghairat Baheer, a Hektmatyar son-in-law released from the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan in May last year after six years in custody, is reported to be involved in the negotiations. Baheer, an ambassador to Pakistan in the 1990s, was given a visa to travel to London by British authorities last month. Humayun Jarir, a Kabul-based politician and another son-in-law of Hekmatyar, is also said to have been involved. This is consistent with a report published late last year of Hekmatyar family members being engaged in negotiations with the Afghan government in coordination with Britain (see November 13, 2008). James Bays, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Kabul, adds that the plan is to widen these talks and bring in elements of the Taliban. [Independent, 10/8/2008; Al Jazeera, 2/27/2009]
A US military newspaper reports that continued resurgence of the Taliban has led residents in Kabul to surmise that the US is supporting the Taliban. US support for the Taliban is “virtually ubiquitous” in Kabul, according to Stars and Stripes. “Now we think America is supporting both the Taliban and the Afghan government. That’s what everyone says,” states Kabul shopkeeper Qand Mohmadi. “We don’t know for sure why they are doing it,” says real estate broker Daoud Zadran. “Politics is bigger than our thoughts. But maybe America wants to build up the Taliban so they have an excuse to remain in Afghanistan because of the Iranian issue.” Stars and Stripes also reports that many residents suspect that the US and Western companies are colluding with Afghan officials to pilfer the economy. [Stars and Stripes, 2/15/2009]
National Opinion Survey Reveals Public Alarm, Plummeting Confidence - A public opinion survey conducted by ABC News, the BBC, and the German TV station ARD finds plummeting public confidence in and support for the Afghan government and its Western allies. Just 40 percent of those surveyed say they feel the country is heading in the right direction, down from 77 percent in 2005. Approval of overall US efforts in Afghanistan is only 32 percent, compared to 68 percent three years ago. The poll also shows falling support for the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In 2005, 80 percent of Afghans said they supported the Karzai regime, but just 49 percent say the same thing today. In addition to corruption and complaints about food, fuel, and the economy, the resurgence of the Taliban is a key element of the public’s alarm: 58 percent of Afghans see the Taliban as the biggest danger to the country. 43 percent say the Taliban have grown stronger in the past year in comparison to 24 percent who think the movement has weakened. [ABC News, 2/9/2009]
Police Chief Doubts Veracity of Public Suspicions - One district police chief in Kabul expresses frustration with American efforts, but finds it hard to believe that the US is supporting the Taliban. “People see that America is so strong and they wonder—why can’t it wipe out the Taliban?” says Col. Najeeb Ullah Samsour, adding that he does not personally think the US is supporting the insurgents. “People are saying that for six or seven years we have all these international troops, but everything is getting worse… security, the economy, everything. So they think America must be supporting the Taliban.”
Osama bin Laden - “This government is so corrupt that if Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar were crossing the street together right outside, no one would call the police because they know the police would just take a bribe to let them go,” says resident Habib Rahman. “A lot of people say that Osama is really from America,” according to Nasrallah Wazidi. “They say he’s just playing a role like a movie star.” [Stars and Stripes, 2/15/2009]
The US Defense Department admits that it lacks a strategy for victory in Afghanistan even as it prepares to deploy 17,000 additional troops to that beleaguered country, but it has made some recommendations to change the US strategy there. Last week, during President Obama’s meeting with Defense Secretary Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Obama asked, “What is the end game” in the military’s strategy for Afghanistan? According to one military official present in the briefing, the response was, “Frankly, we don’t have one.” Senior military officials confirm that the Joint Chiefs have delivered a classified memo to Obama that recommends refocusing the military’s mission in Afghanistan to defeating al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and leaving the “hearts and minds” aspect of the war to other US agencies—particularly the State, Justice, and Agriculture Departments—and NATO. “This is a classic counnterinsurgency strategy, but the military cannot do it alone,” says one official. The officials admit that the Taliban “has definitely gained the upper hand” in some areas of Afghanistan, particularly the south, because there’s just too much territory and too few American forces to “clear and hold” an area. “The Taliban is no match” for US forces, the officials say, but once the Americans drive the Taliban from a region, then leave, the Taliban immediately filter back in and regain control. “In many remote areas, the Taliban have established ‘shadow governments’ and in some cases gained the confidence and support of the locals,” says an official. “We need a strategy that will convince the Afghan people [in the remote areas] that the Taliban’s extremism is no longer attractive as a government or a career,” the officials say. Such a strategy must increase Afghan security, then establish strong, fair local governments and create jobs and educational opportunities. “But that is not the military’s job,” one military official says. “We can build the schools, we can build the courthouses, but we cannot help them establish the good governance, justice and educations systems” that are needed. The new strategy also targets the Afghani drug trade, and loosens the previous rules of engagement that only allowed for eradication of poppy fields and confrontation with drug lords after it had been established that those activities were directly connected to the Taliban or al-Qaeda. The new rules assume any drug activities help the insurgency and are, therefore, “fair game.” [MSNBC, 2/4/2009]
British Military commanders and officers brief Foreign Secretary David Miliband during his 2-day fact-finding visit to Helmand province on their discovery that British-made electronic components have been found in remote controls and roadside bombs used by the Taliban and other insurgents against coalition troops in Afghanistan. The British military concludes that British Muslims are providing the Taliban with these electronic devices, which they claim are either sent to sympathizers in the region or smuggled into Pakistan en route to Afghanistan. Brigadier Gordon Messenger, the Royal Marine commander of the British battlegroup in Helmand, leads the briefing in which the devices are displayed and details of their origin are explained. “We have found electronic components in devices used to target British troops that originally come from Britain,” a British explosives officer tells Miliband. The electronic devices range from basic remote control units that are normally used to fly model airplanes, mobile phones filled with explosives, and more sophisticated devices that can be used against military vehicles and for remote attacks from up to a mile away. The Telegraph, however, does not report any evidence the military may have to substantiate these claims. [Daily Telegraph, 2/20/2009]
NWFP Minister Bashir Bilour with Swat Treaty Hasham Ahmed. [Source: Agence France Presse - Getty Images]Pakistan agrees to a truce with Taliban fighters that would impose strict Islamic religious law—sharia—on the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan, a setback for the Obama administration’s hopes to mount a united front against Islamist militants there and in Afghanistan. The agreement gives the Taliban religious and social control of the Swat region, considered of critical strategic importance in battling insurgents in the wild border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. James Dobbins, a former Bush administration envoy to Afghanistan, says: “It is definitely a step backwards. The Pakistanis have to take a stronger line with extremists in the region.” Obama administration envoy Richard Holbrooke says, “We are very concerned about Pakistan and stability.” A Pentagon official calls it a “negative development,” but other officials are more circumspect. “What is, of course, important is that we are all working together to fight terrorism and particularly to fight the cross-border activities that some Taliban engage in,” says Pentagon spokesman Gordon Duguid. NATO officials take a tougher stance, with NATO spokesman James Appathurai calling the truce a “reason for concern.” He adds, “Without doubting the good faith of the Pakistani government, it is clear that the region is suffering very badly from extremists and we would not want it to get worse.” Amnesty International official Sam Zarifi says, “The government is reneging on its duty to protect the human rights of people from Swat Valley by handing them over to Taliban insurgents.” [Associated Press, 2/18/2009]
Mullah Agha Jan Mutassim, a former Taliban finance minister and member of the group’s political council, tells al-Samoud magazine that the Taliban are willing to work with all Afghan groups to achieve peace. “We would like to take an Afghan strategy that is shared and large-scale, in consultation with all the Afghan groups, to reach positive and fruitful results,” Mutassim is quoted as saying in an interview translated by the US-based Site Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi web sites. Mutassim, thought to be close to Mullah Omar, stresses that Afghanistan’s problems can be solved only if foreign troops withdraw from the country. “If these forces leave, the problem will be over, the question will be finished, and peace will prevail,” he says. Despite harsh words for the West, Mutassim praises the government of Saudi Arabia, according to the report. Saudi Arabia, which has allegedly been a source of funding for the Taliban (see 1996) and was one of only three states to recognize the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan between 1997 and 2001 (see May 26, 1997), has hosted talks between former Taliban, Afghan government officials, and others (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008). Mutassim adds that the Taliban are not seeking to share power in an “agent government,” but want the institution of an Islamic Emirate in which “educating women is as necessary as educating men.” [Site Intelligence Group, 2/25/2009; Reuters, 2/26/2009]
The Afghan government initiates preliminary negotiations with the al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, considered one of the most dangerous insurgent factions in the region. In return, the Haqqani network, a key Pakistan-based Taliban ally that has had ties to the ISI, CIA, and Osama bin Laden (see Early October 2001), tentatively agrees to discuss a peace proposal with government-backed mediators, according to a Christian Science Monitor report. In the talks, mediators draft a road map for an eventual settlement in which the first stage would ensure that the Haqqani network stops burning schools and targeting reconstruction teams, while the US military stops house raids and releases Haqqani-network prisoners. The draft proposal states that if these conditions are met on both sides, the next step would be to agree on a system of government. The Haqqani network and the Taliban say they want an “Islamic Emirate” based solely on their interpretation of Islamic law. The final stage would set a deadline for the withdrawal of foreign military forces, which Jalaluddin Haqqani and other leaders of the Haqqani network would require before accepting any Afghan government posts. Analysts say that the American concessions or changes to their counterinsurgency strategy are unlikely; they are more likely to give political concessions, rather than military ones. “If the Haqqanis can be drawn into the negotiation process, it would be a serious sign that the insurgents are open to one day making a deal,” says Kabul-based political analyst Waheed Muzjda. “Ultimately, the US will have to come to a political settlement, and that may mean a situation where insurgent leaders are brought into the government.” The Christian Science Monitor notes that initial contact between the Afghan government and the Haqqani network may have begun in the months after meetings were held the previous year between the Afghan government and representatives of various insurgent groups under Saudi auspices in Mecca (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008). [Christian Science Monitor, 3/19/2009]
The New York Times reports that there is fresh evidence the Pakistani government supports many Islamist militant groups who are fighting US forces. Pakistani support for militants has mainly run through the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency.
US Pressure Not Effective - Shortly after Asif Ali Zardari became president of Pakistan in September 2008 (see September 9, 2008), he faced accusations by the US that the ISI helped the militants bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008 and July 28, 2008). Zardari promised that the ISI would be “handled” and anyone working with militants would be fired. Some top ISI officials were replaced, including ISI Director Nadeem Taj (see September 30, 2008). However, many US and even Pakistani officials have since complained to the Times that there has been little effect seen. The Times reports that “new details reveal that the spy agency is aiding a broader array of militant networks with more diverse types of support than was previously known—even months after Pakistani officials said that the days of the ISI’s playing a ‘double game’ had ended.”
The Mysterious S Wing - US officials say that it is unlikely that the highest ranking Pakistani officials are managing relationships with militants. Instead, most of the contacts are done by the S Wing of the ISI. Very little is publicly known about the S Wing. [New York Times, 3/26/2009] However, a later Times article will note, “Pakistani military officials give the spy service’s ‘S Wing’—which runs external operations against the Afghan government and India—broad autonomy, a buffer that allows top military officials deniability.” [New York Times, 7/26/2010] The groups S Wing is believed to support include:
The Taliban. Taliban leaders are believed to be given safe haven in the Pakistani town of Quetta.
The Haqqani network. This is a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban, based in Pakistan’s tribal region. Its leader is Jalaluddin Haqqani, who has been an ISI asset since the 1980s.
The Gulbuddin Hekmatyar network. Like the Haqqani network, Hekmatyar’s network is based in Pakistan but attacks US forces in Afghanistan in alliance with Taliban forces.
Lashkar-e-Taiba. This Pakistani militant group is not very active in Afghanistan, but it has been linked to a number of attacks, including the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India.
The ISI’s S Wing gives these groups funding, training, protection, and intelligence. The groups are tipped off to planned US drone strikes and other attacks. S Wing operatives even search radical madrassas (boarding schools) in Pakistan to find new recruits for the groups. Most shockingly, ISI officials regularly sit in on meetings of Taliban leaders and other militant leaders and help decide strategy. This practice has become so widely known that in recent months, the British government has repeatedly asked the ISI to use its influence with the Taliban to scale back attacks in Afghanistan before the August presidential elections there.
Opposition to Tehrik-i-Taliban - Not all militants are supported, however. For instance, the Pakistani government generally opposes the Tehrik-i-Taliban (also known as the Pakistani Taliban), even though it is linked to the Taliban and other groups Pakistan does support, because this group has the goal of overthrowing Pakistan’s government. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair recently told US senators, “There are some [groups the Pakistani government] believe have to be hit and that we should cooperate on hitting, and there are others they think don’t constitute as much of a threat to them and that they think are best left alone.”
Pakistan's Reasoning - Publicly, Pakistan denies all support for militant groups. But privately, unnamed Pakistani officials tell the Times that “the contacts were less threatening than the American officials depicted and were part of a strategy to maintain influence in Afghanistan for the day when American forces would withdraw and leave what they fear could be a power vacuum to be filled by India, Pakistan’s archenemy.” One official says that Pakistan needs groups like the Taliban as “proxy forces to preserve our interests.” [New York Times, 3/26/2009]
Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, former intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington (see May 1998), recommends the Obama administration emulate earlier administrations and work with insurgent leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, a key Pakistan-based Taliban ally who has had ties to the ISI, CIA, and Osama bin Laden (see Early October 2001). Haqqani is “someone who could be reached out to… to negotiate and bring [the Taliban] into the fold,” Prince Turki tells a group of government and business leaders and journalists over a dinner in Washington organized by blogger Steve Clemons. Haqqani is thought to be behind recent suicide attacks in Afghanistan, and is suspected to have been behind the attempted assassination of Hamid Karzai (see April 27, 2008). Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President Gerald Ford and President George H. W. Bush, also urges the US to negotiate with some members of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan in remarks following Prince Turki’s. [Washington Times, 4/27/2009]
Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington, tells editors and reporters from the Washington Times that Pakistan can survive the Taliban threat provided the military remains intact. He asserts that the army does not want to intervene in politics, but suggests a military coup is possible if the civilian government does not improve its performance. Criticizing the Pakistani government, he charges that it has not found a proper way of dealing with the Taliban. Prince Turki, who oversaw Saudi funding and support of the mujaheddin two decades ago during the fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (see Early 1980), downplays concerns about Pakistan’s stability in the face of mounting security threats. “As long as the armed forces are intact, the state is not going to be at risk,” he says. [Washington Times, 4/28/2009]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says his administration is investigating numerous reports of “unknown” military helicopters carrying gunmen to the northern provinces of the country amid increasing militancy in the area. At a press conference, Karzai says that his government has received information over the last five months from local residents and officials indicating that unmarked helicopters have been ferrying militants to Baghlan, Kunduz, and Samangan provinces, and have been air-dropping them at night. “Even today we received reports that the furtive process is still ongoing,” he tells journalists, though he does not share any evidence, arguing that the issue is too sensitive. Karzai adds that authorities have received similar reports in the northwest as well, and that a comprehensive investigation is underway to determine which country the helicopters belonged to, why armed men are being snuck into the region, and whether increasing insecurity in the north is linked to this. “I hope in the near future we will find out who these helicopters belong to,” he says. [Ferghana Information Agency, 10/12/2009; Press TV, 10/12/2009; Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 10/12/2009] Western officials will later deny there is any truth to the reports (see October 14 - 29, 2009). The Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) notes that helicopters are almost entirely the exclusive domain of foreign forces in Afghanistan; NATO forces control Afghanistan’s air space and have a monopoly on aircraft. IWPR reports that Afghans believe the insurgency is being deliberately moved north, with international troops transporting fighters in from the volatile south to create mayhem in new locations. [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009] The International Council on Security and Development has reported a dramatic rise in Taliban presence and activity in the formerly peaceful north in recent months (see Between January and September 2009), coinciding with the helicopter reports. The Asia Times reports that the Taliban now have complete control over several districts in the northern province of Kunduz. [Asia Times, 10/16/2009]
Who Are the Militants? - The majority of reports cite eyewitnesses who claim the militants are Taliban. In Kunduz province, northern Afghanistan, a soldier from the 209th Shahin Corps of the Afghan National Army tells of an incident in which helicopters intervened to rescue Taliban during a battle. “Just when the police and army managed to surround the Taliban in a village of Qala-e-Zaal district, we saw helicopters land with support teams,” he says. “They managed to rescue their friends from our encirclement, and even to inflict defeat on the Afghan National Army.” Residents in a district of Baghlan province also witness a battle in which they insist that two foreign helicopters offload Taliban fighters who then attack their district center. “I saw the helicopters with my own eyes,” says Sayed Rafiq of Baghlan-e-Markazi. “They landed near the foothills and offloaded dozens of Taliban with turbans, and wrapped in patus [a blanket-type shawl].” According to numerous media reports, the district police chief along with the head of counter-narcotics and a number of soldiers are killed in the attack. The governor of Baghlan-e-Markazi, Commander Amir Gul, insists that the Taliban fighters are delivered by helicopter. “I do not know to which country the helicopters belonged,” he tells the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. “But these are the same helicopters that are taking the Taliban from Helmand to Kandahar and from there to the north, especially to Baghlan.” According to Gul, the district department of the National Security Directorate has identified the choppers, but refuses to comment. Baghlan police chief, Mohammad Kabir Andarabi, says that his department has reported to Kabul that foreign helicopters are transporting the Taliban into Baghlan. Baghlan provincial governor, Mohammad Akbar Barikzai, tells a news conference that his intelligence and security services have discovered that unidentified helicopters have been landing at night in some parts of the province. “We are investigating,” he says. [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009] Other officials say the militants are not only Taliban. The provincial governor of Kunduz claims the fighters being transported are members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Sanobar Shermatova, a Moscow-based Central Asia analyst, writes that the IMU likely comprises the bulk of Taliban-allied militants moving into northern Afghanistan. [Eurasianet, 10/13/2009; Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 11/6/2009] Afghan Lower House representative, Ms. Najia Aimaq, quotes Interior Ministry authorities who say that helicopters are transporting Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s men to the northern provinces to fight the Taliban. [Nukhost Daily via UNAMA, 10/14/2009]
Who Is Providing the Air Transport? - Unconfirmed reports are circulating that the helicopters are American, according to Iran’s Press TV. [Press TV, 10/12/2009] McClatchy suggests that although Karzai does not say which nations he suspects are providing the helicopters, his remarks stir speculation that the US is somehow involved. However, a Karzai campaign staffer will later clarify that Karzai does not mean to imply the helicopters are American (see October 14 - 29, 2009). “We believe what the American ambassador [Karl Eikenberry] has said, and that the helicopters don’t belong to America,” says Moen Marastyal, an Afghan parliament member who has worked on the Karzai re-election campaign. [McClatchy, 10/14/2009] Afghan political analyst Ghulam Haidar Haidar asserts that foreign forces led by the US are behind the increasing instability in Kunduz and that coalition forces are training and equipping the insurgents in order to spread insecurity to Central Asia. “The United States wants a base from which to threaten Russia,” he says. An unnamed resident from Chahr Dara district echoes Haidar’s analysis, insisting that the Taliban are being supported by the US. “I saw it with my own eyes,” he says. “I was bringing my cattle home in the evening, and I saw Taliban getting off American helicopters. They were also unloading motorcycles from these aircraft. Later, a local mullah whom I know very well went to talk to the Americans, and then the helicopter left.” [Asia Times, 10/16/2009] Press TV will later cite unnamed diplomats who say the British army has been relocating Taliban insurgents from southern Afghanistan to the north via its Chinook helicopters. [Press TV, 10/17/2009] According to Rahim Rahimi, a professor at Balkh University, both America and Britain are trying to undermine security in Afghanistan to justify the need for foreign forces. “They will try and destabilize the north any way they can,” he says. “It is a good excuse to expand their presence in the area, to get a grip on the gas and oil in Central Asia.” [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009]
Entity Tags: North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Sanobar Shermatova, Rahim Rahimi, Taliban, Stanley A. McChrystal, Najia Aimaq, Sayed Rafiq, Mohammad Kabir Andarabi, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Moen Marastyal, Afghan National Security Forces, Amir Gul, Mohammad Akbar Barikzai, Ghulam Haidar Haidar, International Security Assistance Force, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Hamid Karzai
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
A New York Times investigation finds that some munitions procured by the Pentagon for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are leaking to the Taliban and other insurgents for use against American troops. Arms and ordnance collected from dead insurgents are found to be identical to ammunition the United States and other allies have provided to Afghan government forces, according to an examination of ammunition markings and interviews with American officers and arms dealers conducted by the New York Times. Military officials, arms analysts, and dealers say that poor American and Afghan controls on the vast inventory of weapons and ammunition sent to Afghanistan—as well as outright corruption among Afghan forces—may have helped insurgents stay supplied. Furthermore, military officers say that American forces do not examine all captured weapons to trace how insurgents obtain them, nor do they seek to determine whether the Afghan government, directly or indirectly, is a significant Taliban supplier. An American unit from the 26th Infantry allows the New York Times to examine the weapons it had retrieved from a raid on Taliban fighters. Examination of the Taliban’s cartridges finds telling signs of diversion in which the ammunition bears markings from an American company which sells cartridges to Afghan soldiers and police officers through middlemen. Ammo from a Czech company which has donated surplus ammo to the Afghan government is also identified.
Afghan Government and Security Forces Blamed for Weapon Diversions - The New York Times cautions that given the large number of potential weapons sources, “the probability that the Taliban and the Pentagon were sharing identical supply sources [is] small.” James Bevan, a researcher specializing in ammunition for the Geneva-based research group, Small Arms Survey, says that the munitions have most likely slipped from Afghan state custody. Mr. Bevan, who has documented ammunition diversion in Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan, surmises that interpreters, soldiers, or police officers sell ammunition for profit or pass it along for other reasons, including support for the insurgency. The American military does not dispute the possibility that theft or corruption could be steering ammunition to insurgents, but it backs Mr. Bevan’s statement that illicit diversion of arms is the fault of Afghan security forces, particularly corruption within the police. Capt. James C. Howell, commander of the unit that captured the ammunition, says the findings are unsurprising but explains that this form of corruption is not the norm, citing poor discipline and oversight in the Afghan national security forces rather than deliberate diversion. Another officer, Brig. Gen. Anthony R. Ierardi, the deputy commander of the transition command, cautions that insurgent use of American-procured munitions is not widespread, noting that the captured ammunition sampling was small and that munitions might have leaked to the Taliban through less nefarious means.
United States Military Also to Blame - The United States military was recently criticized by the Government Accountability Office and the Pentagon’s Inspector General, which blamed the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan for failing to account for hundreds of thousands of weapons issued to the ANSF, warning that unaccounted for weapons were at great risk of being diverted to insurgents (see February 12, 2009) and (see October 24, 2008). [New York Times, 5/19/2009]
Entity Tags: Taliban, Small Arms Survey, James C. Howell, New York Times, Afghan National Security Forces, Afghan National Police, Afghan National Army, Anthony Ierardi, Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, Government Accountability Office, James Bevan, Office of the Inspector General (DoD)
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Pakistan’s army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, suggests that NATO weapons are crossing the border from Afghanistan and going to the Taliban in Pakistan. In an interview with CNN, General Abbas links Afghanistan to the battle between Pakistani armed forces and the Taliban in Pakistan’s Swat valley, saying that the Taliban are “very well equipped from the border area.” Abbas adds that the United States should “stop worrying about the nukes and start worrying about the weapons lost in Afghanistan.” He explains that Washington is neglecting this problem by focusing too much on the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. General Abbas further suggests, without elaborating, that the Taliban are also getting weapons and support from “foreign intelligence agencies.” [CNN, 5/29/2009]
Thousands of US Marines launch Operation Khanjar (“Strike of the Sword”) in a campaign to assert control in the lower Helmand River valley, a stronghold of the Taliban and other insurgent groups and center of the world’s largest opium poppy producing region. Nearly 4,000 Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) are deployed in the offensive, which is being called one of the biggest operations conducted by foreign troops in Afghanistan since the 1989 Soviet withdrawal. Approximately 650 Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police forces also participate in the mission. An adjacent operation called “Panther Claw” initiated by British-led Task Force Helmand has been under way in northern Helmand for a week. Operation Khanjar marks the beginning of a new effort by the US and its allies to assert control in Afghanistan since the arrival of commander General Stanley McChrystal, as well as the first major initiative under the Obama administration’s troop increase and counterinsurgency strategy, which it says is intended to secure and stabilize the country. US commanders say the operation is part of an effort to restore the authority of local government and security forces in Helmand and to secure the region for the presidential elections scheduled for August. “What makes Operation Khanjar different from those that have occurred before is the massive size of the force introduced, the speed at which it will insert, and the fact that where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build, and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces,” says Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commanding general of the MEB in Afghanistan. US Forces reportedly meet with very little direct resistance as insurgents blend into the local population and prepare for later attacks. [Reuters, 7/2/2009; Marines.mil, 7/2/2009]
US military leaflet dispersed to villages in Paktika and Ghazni provinces, Afghanistan. [Source: CBS]The US military blankets at least two southeastern Afghan villages with leaflets made at Bagram Air Base that threaten to “target” villagers with aggressive measures if a US soldier who was kidnapped by the Taliban in the area is not freed. Villagers tell CBS News that aircraft drop the leaflets over a period of several days, and that the papers are found stuck in trees and scattered on rooftops. One side of the leaflet shows a US soldier with his head bowed and the message, “If you do not free the American soldier, then…” The message continues on the other side: “… you will be targeted” (or “hunted,” according to one translation) over an image of Western troops kicking down a door to break into a house. Military spokeswoman Captain Elizabeth Mathias later confirms that the leaflets are produced at Bagram Air Base and distributed in the region. She will contradict the villagers’ account, however, saying they were distributed by hand, not by aircraft. Mathias then explains that another, non-threatening leaflet was dropped from aircraft in the region. This leaflet informs locals that a US soldier is missing and requests information on his whereabouts. Mathias’ colleague, Lieutenant Commander Christine Sidenstricker, says no threats were made in this air-dropped leaflet, which, according to the US military’s translation, reads: “One of our American guests is missing. Return the guest to his home.” The leaflet includes a phone number and shows a US soldier sitting among smiling Afghan children. Taliban commander Mawlavi Sangin tells Reuters that US forces have been harassing Afghans in Paktika and Ghazni provinces over the kidnapping. “They have put pressure on the people in these two provinces and if that does not stop we will kill [the kidnapped US soldier],” Sangin says by telephone. [CBS News, 7/16/2009; Reuters, 7/16/2009]
Winning over and Protecting the Local Population? - The US military launched a major operation in the southern province of Helmand on July 2 (see Early Morning July 2, 2009) under US President Obama’s recent troop escalation and counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan that new US commander Stanley McChrystal has said is intended, in part, to “win over” and protect the Afghan people. “At the end of the day, you’re fighting for the population, not with the population or against the population,” McChrystal tells the New York Times. [New York Times, 7/15/2009]
Villagers from towns in Helmand province accuse provincial Afghan police forces of perpetrating abuse against the local population recently and in the period before the Taliban re-gained control of the region. The reports include accusations of extortion and the rape of pre-teen boys. Villagers tell US and British troops who have arrived in the area for major operations (see Early Morning July 2, 2009) about the abuses, and say that the local police are a bigger problem than the Taliban. In fact, village elders say that they are willing to support the Taliban against coalition troops if these police forces are allowed to return. The accusations are acknowledged by some Western civilian and military officials, but their response is tepid. Adding to the problem of abuse and corruption is that the districts where the US-British military operation in Helmand is taking place are especially sensitive because they contain the main opium poppy fields in the province. Some of the police are linked to the private militia of a powerful warlord who has been implicated in drug trafficking. Former US ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald Neumann, says that the problem is not surprising and can be traced back to the creation of the national police after the overthrow of the Taliban regime in late 2001 (see November 13, 2001). Neumann recalls that the Afghan police were “constituted from the forces that were then fighting the Taliban.” [Inter Press Service, 7/29/2009]
Child Rape, Extortion - “The police would stop people driving on motorcycles, beat them, and take their money,” says Mohammad Gul, an elder in the village of Pankela, which British troops have been operating for the past three days. Gul also points to two compounds where pre-teen boys have been abducted by police to be used for the local practice of “bachabazi,” or sex with pre-pubescent boys. “If the boys were out in the fields, the police would come and rape them,” he says. “You can go to any police base and you will see these boys. They hold them until they are finished with them and then let the child go.” The Interior Ministry in Kabul says it will address the reports only after contacting police commanders in the area. [Reuters, 7/12/2009] A villager in the village of Aynak, Ghulam Mohammad, says that villagers are happy with the Afghan army, but not the police. “We can’t complain to the police because they take money and abuse people,” he says. [Associated Press, 7/13/2009]
Some Locals Prefer Taliban to Afghan Police - Mohammad Rasul, an elderly farmer, says that local people rejoiced when the Taliban arrived in the village 10 months ago and drove the police out. Even though his own son was killed by a Taliban roadside bomb five years ago, Rasul says the Taliban fighters earned their welcome in the village by treating people with respect. “We were happy [after the Taliban arrived]. The Taliban never bothered us,” he says. “If [the British] bring these people back, we can’t live here. If they come back, I am sure they will burn everything.” Another resident adds: “The people here trust the Taliban. If the police come back and behave the same way, we will support the Taliban to drive them out.” [Reuters, 7/12/2009] Similarly, within hours of the arrival of US troops in Aynak, villagers report the police abuse to US military officers and claim the local police force is “a bigger problem than the Taliban.” [Associated Press, 7/13/2009]
Police Linked to Narco Warlord's Militia - Afghan police in the province are linked to corrupt local warlord Sher Mohammed Akhunzadeh. Akhunzadeh, a former Mujihideen commander and ally of President Hamid Karzai, has been implicated in heroin trafficking and the maintenance of a vengeful private militia from which many of the local police force were drawn under a Karzai plan to form an “Afghanistan National Auxiliary Police.” Akhundzada was the Karzai-appointed governor of Helmand for four years but was forced to step down after a British-trained counter narcotics team found nearly 10 tons of heroin in his basement. He remained powerful in the province, however, after Karzai appointed weak governors and/or allies in his place, allowing him to maintain control of the police, who were drawn in part from his own 500-man private army. Akhundzada’s predatory reign ended in 2008 when the Taliban regained control of the region. [Inter Press Service, 7/29/2009]
Official US and UK Response Tepid - The spokesman for British-led Task Force Helmand, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, tells IPS that the task force is aware of the grievances voiced by village elders to British officers. He declines, however, to specify the grievances that are imparted to the British and says, “If there is any allegation, it will be dealt with by the appropriate authorities.” He specifies that this would mean “the chain of command of the Afghan national police.” The spokesman for the US 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB), Captain William Pelletier, is even less helpful. He tells IPS that he has no information about the allegations of misconduct by police as reported to British officers. IPS notes that the MEB’s headquarters in Helmand are right next to those of the British Task Force Helmand. Pelletier does not respond to another IPS query about the popular allegations made to US officers of police abuses in the US area of responsibility in Helmand. [Inter Press Service, 7/29/2009]
Training for Afghan National Police - The Associated Press reports that after US troops arrive in the district, they send the old police force in Aynak to a US-sponsored training program called “focused district development.” The program, launched last spring, is geared toward police officers mainly from districts in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, and gives them eight weeks of intense training. Thousands of the nation’s 83,000-strong police force have already undergone training at regional training centers staffed by Western military personnel and police officers hired by US private security firm DynCorp, according to an NPR report. It is unclear whether the abusive police in Aynak had received US training under this program, but the head of the interim police force that replaced the abusive police, Colonel Ghulam, says that these officers had already had training. “They had training but not enough, and that’s why the people had problems with them,” he says. [National Public Radio, 3/17/2008; Associated Press, 7/13/2009]
Entity Tags: Task Force Helmand, Sher Mohammed Akhunzadeh, Taliban, Ronald Neumann, Hamid Karzai, Nick Richardson, Afghan Ministry of Interior, Afghan National Army, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Afghan National Police, DynCorp International, Ghulam, Afghan National Security Forces, William Pelletier
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Inter Press Service correspondent Gareth Porter reports that provincial police forces in Helmand province of Afghanistan accused of systemic abuses against the local population are likely returning to the opium-rich area behind US and British forces engaged in major military operations there (see Early Morning July 2, 2009). One stated goal of the coalition operations is to clear out the Taliban and secure the region in order to allow the Afghan National Army and police to take over control of the population. Porter reports that the strategy poses an acute problem because the Afghan police in the province are linked to corrupt local warlord Sher Mohammed Akhunzadeh and have systematically committed abuses against the population, including the abduction and rape of pre-teen boys. As a result, the local population has repeatedly expressed a preference for the Taliban over the local police force (see July 12-14, 2009). Akhunzadeh, an ally of President Hamid Karzai, has been implicated in heroin trafficking and the maintenance of a vengeful private militia from which many of the local police force were drawn under a Karzai plan to form an “Afghanistan National Auxiliary Police.” Porter writes that it is not clear whether US and British forces in Helmand will prevent the return of these abusive police. On the one hand, US troops in the town of Aynak have reportedly sent problematic police stationed in the local headquarters out of the province for several weeks of training, replacing them with a unit they had brought with them. Yet this implies the old police will return after training. Furthermore, the spokesman for the British Task Force Helmand, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, tells Porter that both the Afghan military and police, who had been ousted by the Taliban before the US-British offensive in Helmand, “are returning to the area bit by bit.” In fact, the Associated Press reports that US troops encountered a group of these police occupying the headquarters when they entered the village of Aynak, suggesting the police force had either returned or had never left. [Associated Press, 7/13/2009; Inter Press Service, 7/29/2009]
The July death toll for coalition troops fighting in Afghanistan reaches 47, surpassing full month highs set in August and June 2008. The record toll comes in the two weeks since the US and its allies launched a massive offensive dubbed “Operation Khanjar” in opium-ridden Helmand province as part of the Obama administration’s new escalation and counterinsurgency strategy (see Early Morning July 2, 2009). According to a CNN count based on government figures, the deaths in July so far include 23 Americans, 15 Britons, five Canadians, two Turks, an Italian, and a NATO soldier whose nationality has not been revealed. [CNN, 6/16/2009]
Surge and Death Rate Mirror Iraq War - In the two weeks coinciding with the launch of US-led “Operation Khanjar,” international troops have died at an average rate of three a day, which is almost 20 times the rate in Afghanistan from 2001-04 and approaching the death rate of the deadliest days in Iraq. “It is something we did anticipate occurring as we extend our influence in the south,” says US Rear Admiral Greg Smith, spokesman for US and NATO forces, adding that the increased violence is likely to continue for several months at minimum. The Obama administration’s escalation strategy resembles some tactics of the “surge” of additional forces that then-President Bush ordered in Iraq in 2007, which saw months of increased American casualties before violence declined (see December 30, 2007). The US military does not use the term “surge” to refer to the increase in forces in Afghanistan because the escalation is considered indefinite as opposed to the time limit the Bush administration set in Iraq. [Reuters, 6/15/2009]
US troop deaths in Afghanistan reach 31, the highest toll for US troops in Afghanistan in any month since the war began in late 2001, surpassing the previous record of 28 deaths in June 2008. “This is probably the new normal,” says Seth G. Jones, an analyst for the Rand Corporation and author of a new book on the war in Afghanistan. “I’d actually be shocked if casualties didn’t continue to increase.” The Washington Post notes that although thousands of US Marines are in the midst of a major operation in the southern province of Helmand (see Early Morning July 2, 2009), American troops suffer the heaviest losses in the eastern part of the country where 16 US soldiers have been killed so far this month. The majority of the fatalities are caused by roadside bombs, which have grown increasingly sophisticated. [Washington Post, 7/22/2009] By the end of the month, the death toll for US troops will reach at least 43 among 75 coalition troops killed. [Voice of America, 7/31/2009] A similar spike in US military fatalities occurred in Iraq in 2007 just after then-President George W. Bush dispatched around 30,000 additional troops to the country (see December 30, 2007). US troop levels will roughly double this year in Afghanistan, a rate of increase sharper than that of the Iraq “surge” ordered by Bush (see January 10, 2007). [Washington Post, 7/22/2009]
On the eve of the Afghan elections, Hezb-i-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar speaks out on the war in Afghanistan in statements to various media outlets. In a statement given to CNN, Hekmatyar says that he is willing to “help” the US and NATO forces if they announce a pullout timeline and prepare to leave Afghanistan. “We are ready to help with the United States and… other coalition forces if foreign troops announce the time frame for the pulling out their troops from Afghanistan,” he says in the statement. “I am sure Afghans will fight US forces and will continue Jihad against them like they fought against Russia before if they don’t leave the country,” he adds. Hekmatyar does not define what he means by “help,” nor is it clear if he would agree to join coalition forces against the Taliban and other insurgents. [CNN, 8/17/2009] In an interview with Sky News on the same day, Hekmatyar elaborates. He emphasizes that he is open to negotiation and a political process, but says his forces would stop fighting only if negotiations for an end to the occupation are made in good faith: “We are not against [a] political solution.… We are ready to negotiate with friends and enemies, with Afghans and non-Afghans. We will not close the door to negotiations.” However, he reaffirms his demand for an end to foreign occupation and also rules out participation in any Afghan government formed under US and NATO occupation. “We never want to take part in a puppet government under foreign dictators and to end occupation and establishing an Islamic government in a free Afghanistan via a free election,” he says. Hekmatyar also says he is open to negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, but points out that there are some Taliban who refuse to cooperate with the Hezb-i-Islami to form a united Islamic front. The United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia, and the Afghan government have been engaged in negotiations with Hekmatyar representatives over the last year (see February 2009 and Early April 2009) to discuss possible arrangements in which Hekmatyar, who is wanted by the US government for terrorism, is granted immunity and a role in a future Afghan government. In the Sky News interview, Hekmatyar denies negotiations with Britain, but acknowledges having had contact with the Afghan government, which he describes as a “dirty swamp” of corruption under foreign control of which he wants no part. He indicates that Kabul is powerless and unwilling to implement the advice (and conditions) he sent it for “ending the war.” [Sky News, 8/17/2009] Hekmatyar is considered to be among the most ruthless and extreme of the Afghan warlords and has had deep ties to Osama bin Laden, the CIA, the ISI, and the drug trade (see 1984, 1983, and March 13, 1994).
A US drone strike kills Tahir Yuldashev, the top leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an al-Qaeda-linked militant group based in nearby Uzbekistan. The strike apparently hits the town of Kanigoram, South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. Yuldashev may initially survive the strike but slowly dies of his injuries afterwards. Pakistani officials confirm his death several weeks later. The IMU confirms his death nearly a year later, and names his successor, Usmon Odil. [News (Islamabad), 9/30/2009; BBC, 10/9/2009; Daily Times (Lahore), 8/19/2010] In the late 1990s, most IMU operatives fled Uzbekistan when the government cracked down on the group. Under Yuldashev’s leadership, they resettled in Afghanistan and developed close ties to both the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Yuldashev appears to have had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks (see Late July 2001). After the US conquest of Afghanistan in late 2001, Yuldashev and most of the IMU appear to have resettled in Pakistan’s tribal region, and they became a powerful force there. For instance, a Pakistani army offensive in 2004 targeted Yuldashev (see March 18- April 24, 2004). [BBC, 10/2/2009; BBC, 10/9/2009]
The Taliban’s capabilities and attacks have grown increasingly sophisticated according to US military officials who say it appears as if they have received training from elite forces. Several officials interviewed by the Washington Post say that it appears as if the insurgents attended something akin to the US Army Ranger School. “In some cases… we started to see that enhanced form of attack,” says a US Army general who previously oversaw forces in Afghanistan. He tells the Post that the insurgents have “developed the ability to do some of the things that make up what you call a disciplined force.” Another officer stationed at the Pentagon suggests that the Taliban are improving with experience by studying US forces in remote areas such as the Korengal Valley near the border with Pakistan. According to the officer, battles in this region “are a perfect lab to vet fighters and study US tactics.” Some officers conjecture that fighters are receiving professional instruction from Arab and Central Asian countries though the use of embedded trainers, a mentoring technique used by the US military. [Washington Post, 9/2/2009] Last year, Al Jazeera reported that former members of the Afghan National Police who had received training from US forces including Blackwater were defecting to the Taliban (see (August) - October 15, 2008).
Marine Corporal Dakota Meyer ignores orders to remain in place and leads five forays into a ravine outside the village of Ganjigal, Afghanistan, after members of his column are ambushed by Taliban while attempting a meeting with the village elders. Meyer and Staff Sergeant Juan J. Rodriguez-Chavez, who are off to a flank and not inside the ambush, rush in and rescue several trapped American and Afghan soldiers after Captain Will Swenson of the US Army calls for artillery support and the request is denied. Meyer, Rodriguez-Chavez, Swenson, and others also retrieve the remains of three fallen Marines and one Navy corpsman. [New York Times, 9/15/2011] Meyer will later be given the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions (see September 15, 2011) [New York Times, 9/15/2011] and Rodriguez-Chavez will receive the Navy Cross. [CNN, 6/10/2011]
Limits and Dangers of Counterinsurgency Theory - The event will later be examined and used as an example of the problems that can occur with the counterinsurgency theory that has been pressed upon the troops by the Pentagon. The villagers’ betrayal to the Taliban, ambiguous lines of command, and refusal of help from nearby units will all been documented as the kinds of problems that enlisted soldiers typically face in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 9/15/2011]
Following a reassessment by top US Army Allied Commander General Stanley A. McChrystal, and on the advice of Vice President Joe Biden and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, President Obama reconsiders the military endeavor that might modify US strategy in Afghanistan. The result is a scaling back of political and economic development reforms in the strife-torn zone. During recent television news program appearances, Obama seemed to question the primary assertion that the current US approach is the proper means for achieving the US goal of hunting down al-Qaeda and its close allies.
Scaling Back Military Operations - In what White House officials call a “strategic assessment,” Obama seems to be favoring scaled-down attacks utilizing small Special Operations teams and armed Predator drones, thus averting the need for additional troops, according to US officials and experts. The renewed debate is said to have shocked some, while leaving military officials scrambling to estimate how drastic the changes could be. The shift in the White House position is said to have also come about after Obama ordered 21,000 additional US troops to help with last month’s Afghan national election, a ballot broadly seen as counterfeit. However, Obama has also questioned McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy, asking whether it is worth committing extra troops. Reports indicate that the administration might opt for a narrower objective that primarily focuses on disrupting al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other extremist groups, a strategy that would require fewer than the 68,000 troops presently approved for the war. During a recent appearance on CNN, Obama asked, “Are we pursuing the right strategy?” while on NBC’s Meet the Press, he stated he would only expand the counterinsurgency endeavor if it aided the goal of defeating al-Qaeda. “I’m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan… or sending a message that America is here for the duration,” Obama said. It is unclear how many additional troops McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy would require, and the dissenting view advocating a more limited Afghanistan mission not only has been strengthened by Afghan election irregularities but also growing doubts about the war among Congressional Democrats as well as the US citizenry.
'Buyer's Remorse' - During a recent meeting with the Canadian prime minister, Obama signaled that a deeper administration review was in progress. “It’s important that we also do an assessment on the civilian side, the diplomatic side, the development side, that we analyze the results of the election and then make further decisions moving forward,” he said. A defense analyst and regular military adviser speaking on condition of anonymity says the Obama administration is suffering from “buyer’s remorse for this war.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/22/2009]
Anne Patterson, the US ambassador to Pakistan, sends a frank cable to her superiors back in the US warning that the US needs to change its policy towards Pakistan. Patterson says, “There is no chance that Pakistan will view enhanced assistance levels in any field as sufficient compensation for abandoning support” to the Taliban and other Islamist militant groups, “which it sees as an important part of its national security apparatus against India. The only way to achieve a cessation of such support is to change the Pakistan government’s own perception of its security requirements.” She adds that “No amount of money will sever” the link between Pakistan and those groups. Instead, she says the US has to address Pakistan’s real worries about India. Pakistan is concerned that India is gaining influence in Afghanistan with its sizable foreign aid there, and the US may eventually pull its troops out. Pakistani support of militant groups allows it to have a big influence in Afghanistan if militant forces eventually take over there. The US needs to focus on Pakistan’s relationship with India to solve its support of militants, for instance by “resolving the Kashmir dispute, which lies at the core of Pakistan’s support for terrorist groups.” Pakistan and India have fought over the disputed region of Kashmir for decades. It is not known if the US follows any of Patterson’s advice. [Guardian, 11/30/2010; Guardian, 11/30/2010]
US and Pakistani analysts and officials say that a series of deadly coordinated attacks this week on army and police installations in Pakistan demonstrate the increasing sophistication of a “syndicate” of militant groups who employ commando tactics and display inside knowledge of Pakistani security structures. Attacks this week on Pakistan’s army headquarters in Rawalpindi, two attacks at a police station in Kohat, and attacks at a federal investigations building and two police training centers—one of them a respected school for elite forces—in Lahore demonstrate the expanded range and effectiveness of a militant network thought to comprise Tehrik-i-Taliban, Jaish-e-Muhammad, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi working together in Pakistan, possibly with al-Qaeda. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik is quoted by the New York Times as saying that a syndicate of militant groups wants to ensure Pakistan becomes a failed state. “The banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Jaish-e-Muhammad, al-Qaeda, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are operating jointly in Pakistan,” Malik tells journalists. [New York Times, 10/15/2009] Mehdi Hassan, the dean of the School of Media and Communications at Lahore’s Beaconhouse National University, says in a telephone interview that the commando attacks are “part of a well-planned psychological war campaign” and have helped create “a national atmosphere of crisis” in Pakistan. [Bloomberg, 10/16/2009] Last month, US military officials said the Taliban in Afghanistan were increasingly improving their capabilities and demonstrating tactics typical of specially trained elite forces (see September 2, 2009).
Days after Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that his administration is investigating reports of “unknown” military helicopters carrying gunmen to the increasingly unstable northern provinces of the country (see May-October 12, 2009), US, NATO, and Afghan officials reject the reports and insinuations that Western forces are aiding the Taliban or other militants. US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, denounces reports that the US is secretly helping Afghanistan’s enemies with weapons and helicopters as outrageous and baseless. “We would never aid the terrorists that attacked us on September 11, that are killing our soldiers, your soldiers, and innocent Afghan civilians every day,” he says. [Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 10/15/2009] A Karzai campaign staffer says that Karzai did not mean to imply the helicopters were American. “We believe what the American ambassador [Karl Eikenberry] has said, and that the helicopters don’t belong to America,” says Moen Marastyal, an Afghan parliament member who has worked on the Karzai re-election campaign. [McClatchy, 10/14/2009] According to the Ariana Television Network, the German ambassador to Afghanistan, Werner Hans Lauk, professes ignorance when asked about Karzai’s claim that helicopters are carrying armed individuals to the northern provinces. Germany is assigned command responsibility for the north. [Ariana Television Network, 10/14/2009] “This entire business with the helicopters is just a rumor,” says Brigadier General Juergen Setzer, who is the recently appointed commander for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the north, which has overall control of the air space in that region. “It has no basis in reality, according to our investigations.” Captain Tim Dark, of Britain’s Task Force Helmand, is also vehement in his denunciation. “The thought that British soldiers could be aiding and abetting the enemy is just rubbish,” he says. “We have had 85 casualties so far this year.” [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009]
Said Bahaji’s passport recovered in 2009. [Source: BBC]Pakistani soldiers conducting a security sweep of Taliban strongholds in Pakistan’s tribal region find a passport belonging to Said Bahaji, a member of al-Qaeda’s Hamburg cell. Bahaji was believed to be close to Mohamed Atta and the other 9/11 hijackers in the cell. The passport is found in a mud compound in Sherawangi village, in South Waziristan, which is said to be a local Taliban command and control base. Other documents are found showing the presence of some other militants from European countries in the area. It is unclear if Bahaji was in the village, or if just his passport was. The passport is shown to journalists on October 29, 2009, and its discovery is widely reported. Bahaji is a German citizen, and his German passport was issued on August 3, 2001. Stamps show that he obtained a Pakistani tourist visa one day later, and arrived in Pakistan on September 4, 2001. Bahaji went to an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan shortly thereafter (see Shortly After September 11, 2001), and investigators believe he has generally remained in Afghanistan or Pakistan ever since. He was last heard of in 2007, when he called his mother in Germany (see 2007). [Guardian, 10/29/2009; Dawn (Karachi), 10/30/2009]
Political Implications of Passport Find - The Guardian comments that if authentic, the passport provides “stark proof of what Western allies have insisted upon for years, but which Pakistani officials have only recently accepted - that the tribal belt, particularly South and North Waziristan, is the de facto headquarters of al-Qaeda, and that Osama bin Laden is most likely hiding there.” The passport also is evidence that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are working together. [Guardian, 10/29/2009]
Bahaji Officially Wanted by Spain and Germany but Not US - Bahaji is wanted in Spain and Germany on terrorism charges (see September 21, 2001). According to CNN, “A US counterterrorism official said only that Bahaji is a senior propagandist for al-Qaeda who had ties to some of the September 11 hijackers and is very much of interest to the United States.” However, the US has never put a bounty on Bahaji, or even put him on their most wanted lists. [CNN, 10/30/2009]
Timing of Passport Discovery Seems Suspicious, Authenticity Is Uncertain - The BBC comments, “The appearance of the passport raises a lot of questions - not least is it genuine? For now that is unclear.” The BBC also notes that the discovery of the passport comes just after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton harshly criticized Pakistan’s failure to find al-Qaeda figures hiding in the tribal region. [BBC, 10/31/2009] Clinton said, “I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are, and couldn’t get them if they really wanted to. Maybe that’s the case. Maybe they’re not gettable. I don’t know.” [Guardian, 10/29/2009] One British analyst questions the “convenient” timing of the discovery after Clinton’s comments, and says the passport would need to be closely examined to make sure it is authentic. [BBC, 10/31/2009]
The death toll for the US military in Afghanistan reaches a record 59 total fatalities according to the independent website iCasualties.org. More US troops are killed this month than in any other since the war in Afghanistan began in October 2001. [iCasualties, 11/1/2009] This number includes one period in which 24 Americans were killed within 48 hours. [CNN, 10/28/2009] Seventy-four coalition troops are also killed this month. The Wall Street Journal notes that Afghan insurgents have killed at least 70 coalition soldiers in every month since June. The spike in coalition deaths comes as the coalition expands its war and increases troop levels. Likewise, the insurgency has been growing and militant attacks have increased in sophistication. [Wall Street Journal, 10/28/2009; iCasualties, 11/1/2009]
US Special Operations and CIA paramilitary forces more than quadruple the number of clandestine kill or capture raids they carry out in Afghanistan. The secret teams carry out 90 raids in November as compared to 20 in May, according to US officials. The Los Angeles Times reports that top commander General Stanley McChrystal orders the change in US military strategy, which intensifies Special Operations missions and shifts away from hunting al-Qaeda leaders to targeting mid-level Taliban commanders. Black operations teams involved in the missions reportedly include the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy SEALs’ Team Six, working together with CIA paramilitary units. [Los Angeles Times, 12/16/2009] These special units fall under the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a secretive structure formerly headed by McChrystal (see May 11, 2009).
Al Jazeera broadcasts footage showing Afghan insurgents in possession of American weapons and ammunition. The fighters depicted in the video brandish the weapons, including anti-personnel mines with US markings on them, in a remote district of Nuristan Province in eastern Afghanistan. The area was the site of a battle in which up to 300 fighters bombarded a joint US-Afghan army outpost with small arms, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortar shells, killing eight US troops and three Afghan soldiers. The US military subsequently abandoned the post and claims that its forces had removed and accounted for their equipment. NATO spokespersons Lieutenant Colonel Todd Vician and Angela Eggman confirm that the material in the footage “appears to be US equipment” but say it is unclear how or when the insurgents got the weapons. “It’s debatable whether they got them from that location,” Vician says, referring to the mountainous zone where the nearly six-hour battle took place. “Before departing the base, the units removed all sensitive items and accounted for them,” states Eggman. However, General Mohammad Qassim Jangulbagh, provincial police chief in Nuristan, says that the US destroyed most of the ammunition, but left some of it behind only to fall into the hands of insurgents. Al Jazeera reports that the insurgents say they seized the weapons from two US remote outposts in Nuristan. General Shir Mohammad Karimi, chief of operations for the Afghan Defense Ministry, expresses skepticism. “As far as I know, nothing was left behind,” he says. The Associated Press notes that it is unclear when the video was filmed. [Associated Press, 11/10/2009; Al Jazeera, 11/11/2009]
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton circulates a diplomatic cable that states Pakistani intelligence continues to support some Islamist militant groups. The cable is sent to US ambassadors and other US diplomats, and contains “talking points” to raise with host governments. In Pakistan, the diplomats are told to press the Pakistani government to take action against the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban operating in Pakistan, and to enforce sanctions against Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistani militant group linked to the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India. The cable reads, “Although Pakistani senior officials have publicly disavowed support for these groups, some officials from the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) continue to maintain ties with a wide array of extremist organizations, in particular the Taliban, [Lashkar-e-Toiba], and other extremist organizations. These extremist organizations continue to find refuge in Pakistan and exploit Pakistan’s extensive network of charities, NGOs, and madrassas.” (A madrassa is an Islamic boarding school.) The contents of the cable will be made public by Wikileaks, a non-profit whistleblower group, in 2010. [Daily Telegraph, 5/31/2011]
President Obama asks the Pakistani government for permission to launch raids on the ground against strongholds of militant leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, but the request is refused. Haqqani has become the de facto leader of the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban. Although it is based in Pakistan’s tribal region, it launches attacks on US troops in Afghanistan. The US has put a $5 million bounty on Haqqani’s head, and attempts to kill him with drone strikes have been unsuccessful (see for instance September 8, 2008). Obama makes the request in a letter to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, which is hand delivered by National Security Adviser General Jim Jones. General David Petraeus, head of US forces in the region, follows up with a meeting with General Ashfaq Kayani, head of Pakistan’s military. However, Pakistan says no. A senior Pakistani official says that a fight with the Haqqani network would create too many problems for Pakistan’s over-stretched army. “We have drawn a red line and would not accept any cross-border strikes by US forces,” he says. However, US intelligence believes that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, is actually allied with the Haqqani network and has been for over 20 years. [Daily Beast, 1/6/2010] US intelligence believes that in 2008, the Haqqani network and the ISI worked together to bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008 and August 1, 2008). Later in the month, a suicide bomber will kill nine people at a CIA base in Afghanistan, and US intelligence will suspect that the Haqqani network was involved in the attack (see December 30, 2009) and the ISI may have played a role as well (see January 6, 2010).
A suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest kills five CIA officers, two private US military contractors, a Jordanian, and an Afghan at a remote base in Afghanistan. Six others are wounded. The chief of the base is one of those killed. The attack at the CIA base known as Forward Operating Base Chapman is in Khost Province, only 10 miles from the Pakistan border. It is one of two bases in Afghanistan directly run by the CIA; both are used in the effort to hit al-Qaeda targets with Predator drones in Pakistan.
Triple Agent Suicide Bomber - The suicide bomber, Humam Khalil al-Balawi, is a Jordanian doctor. He also turns out to be a triple agent. Originally a supporter of al-Qaeda and other Islamist militant groups, he was recruited to be an informant for Jordanian intelligence. (The Jordanian killed in the suicide attack, Sharif Ali bin Zeid, was his handler.) Then the Jordanians passed him on to the CIA and he was an informant for them too. For months, he fed both intelligence agencies information that was used by US forces in Predator drone strikes. However, none of the targets were important, and this apparently was just a ploy to gain the CIA’s trust. He also was able to provide details on al-Qaeda sites in Pakistan in a way that proved he had been there. He even turned over photographs that gave “irrefutable proof” he had been in the presence of al-Qaeda’s top leadership.
Promising Meeting - Having gained the CIA’s trust, al-Balawi was able to enter the base through three checkpoints without being closely checked, although even visiting dignitaries must be checked. He promised important information about the whereabouts of al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. This was considered the best lead on al-Zawahiri in years, and the White House had been told to expect important information from al-Balawi’s debriefing. Typically, only one or two intelligence officials are present in informant debriefings, but his information is considered so important that eight people are near him when his bomb goes off. [London Times, 1/6/2010; Washington Post, 1/10/2010]
Base Commander Is 'World Class' Al-Qaeda Expert - Previously, al-Balawi had only met with Jordanian intelligence, but he was considered such a promising source that the CIA wanted to talk to him in person. The locale was chosen in part because the base commander, Jennifer Lynne Matthews, was considered a “world-class expert on al-Qaeda and counterterrorism operations,” who spent nearly 20 years in the CIA. She had been part of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, back in the 1990s. After 9/11, she was “integrally involved in all of the CIA’s rendition operations,” according to an intelligence source. For instance, she managed the operation that located and captured Abu Zubaida in 2002. From 2005 to 2009, she was the chief of the counterterrorism branch in London, and had a key role in breaking up a 2006 al-Qaeda plot to blow up airplanes. Then she volunteered to work in Afghanistan. [Washington Post, 1/10/2010; Washingtonian, 1/2011]
Seven Americans Killed - The CIA officers killed are Matthews, Darren LaBonte, Elizabeth Hanson, Harold Brown Jr., and Scott Michael Roberson. Blackwater private military contractors Jeremy Wise and Dane Clark Paresi are also killed in the attack. [Washington Post, 6/8/2010]
Lax Security Leads to Deaths - Al-Balawi is still outside when he is greeted by several CIA officials. Just as he is about to be carefully searched, he sets his bomb off. The blast is so powerful that it kills people standing some distance away. The CIA will later conduct an internal investigation and conclude that there were crucial security mistakes in letting him get so far into the base without being searched. [Washington Post, 1/10/2010; Washingtonian, 1/2011]
Militant Groups Claim Credit - Several days after the bombing, a video will emerge of al-Balawi sitting next to militant leader Hakimullah Mahsud. In it al-Balawi says that he will martyr himself in revenge for the 2009 killing of militant leader Baitullah Mashud. Baitullah led the Tehrik-i-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban), and was replaced by Hakimullah after his death. The video makes obvious that the Tehrik-i-Taliban had a major role in the attack, but other Islamist militant groups take credit as well. Al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid also will take credit for the attack on behalf of al-Qaeda. He will say it is in revenge for Baitullah’s death, plus the death of two other militant leaders killed in Predator drone attacks. Since, as previously mentioned, al-Balawi apparently had photos and other evidence showing his al-Qaeda connections, it seems al-Qaeda has a role as well. Additionally, the CIA base is just across the border from North Waziristan, the center of power for the Haqqani network, which is a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban. US officials believe that nothing happens in the region without the knowledge of the Haqqanis, and that network is probably involved as well. In the days after the suicide attack, the US will respond with an unusual number of drone attacks, most of them targeting Haqqani sites. US analysts fear the attack shows that the Tehrik-i-Taliban, Haqqani network, and al-Qaeda are effectively working together. [ABC News, 1/7/2010; New York Times, 1/9/2010] A later report will suggest that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, could have supplied the explosives used in the bombing (see January 6, 2010).
Entity Tags: Jennifer Lynne Matthews, Jeremy Wise, Taliban, Sharif Ali bin Zeid, Scott Michael Roberson, Tehrik-i-Taliban, Harold Brown Jr., Haqqani Network, Humam Khalil al-Balawi, Elizabeth Hanson, Al-Qaeda, Baitullah Mahsud, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Dane Clark Paresi, Central Intelligence Agency, Hakimullah Mahsud, Darren LaBonte
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Sirajuddin Haqqani. [Source: State Department]The US fires a missile from a Predator drone aimed at Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, but fails to kill him. Haqqani is believed to hold major responsibilities for the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban. His father Jalaluddin Haqqani still technically leads the network, but is over 60 years old and ill. The US blames the Haqqani network for a role in a suicide bombing against a CIA base in Afghanistan in December 2009 (see December 30, 2009), as well as other attacks. Sirajuddin’s younger brother is killed, but this brother is believed to have little to no role in the network. Three others are also killed by the strike, which hits a village in North Waziristan. The Haqqani network is believed to have many fighters in Afghanistan combating US-led forces. It is also said to be closely linked to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. [New York Times, 2/19/2010]
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accuses the Pakistani government of knowing where Osama bin Laden and other top militant leaders are hiding. She says, “I’m not saying that they’re at the highest levels, but I believe that somewhere in this government are people who know where Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda is, where Mullah Omar and the leadership of the Afghan Taliban is, and we expect more co-operation to help us bring to justice, capture or kill those who attacked us on 9/11.” A Pakistani government spokesperson dismisses Clinton’s claim. [Daily Telegraph, 5/11/2010] In March 2011, a US strike force will assault a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
A Washington Post article suggests that Hamid Gul, head of the ISI from 1987 to 1989, has been frequently linked to recent Islamist militant activity. The ISI is Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and in the 1980s Gul worked closely with the US to support the mujahedeen in Afghanistan and defeat the Soviets there (see April 1987). The Post article states that “more than two decades later, it appears that General Gul is still at work. [Newly leaked] documents indicate that he has worked tirelessly to reactivate his old networks, employing familiar allies like Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose networks of thousands of fighters are responsible for waves of violence in Afghanistan.” The Post is referring to thousands of classified US government documents made public by WikiLeaks, a non-profit whistleblower group. The documents often appear to be raw intelligence that sometimes turns out to be inaccurate. But nonetheless, the Post notes that “General Gul is mentioned so many times in the reports, if they are to be believed, that it seems unlikely that Pakistan’s current military and intelligence officials could not know of at least some of his wide-ranging activities.”
Link to Recent Taliban and Al-Qaeda Activity - For example, according to one intelligence report, Gul met with a group of militants in South Waziristan (in Pakistan’s tribal region), on January 5, 2009. He allegedly met with Taliban and al-Qaeda figures, and planned an attack to avenge the death of al-Qaeda leader Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam), who had been killed several days earlier by a US drone strike (see January 1, 2009). The group discussed driving a truck rigged with explosives into Afghanistan to be used against US forces there. According to another report, in January 2008, Gul directed the Taliban to kidnap high-level United Nations personnel in Afghanistan to trade for captured Pakistani soldiers. [Washington Post, 7/26/2010]
Gul Frequently Mentioned in Intelligence Reports - Gul lives openly in an exclusive district of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, and he frequently shares his pro-Taliban views with reporters. But a Der Spiegel article published on this day notes that the nearly 92,000 documents recently published by WikiLeaks “suggest that Gul is more than just a garrulous old man. If the accusations are true, Gul isn’t just an ally of the Taliban in spirit, but is also supplying them with weapons and thereby actively taking part in the fight against Western forces. Gul is effectively being accused of being an important helper of the Taliban, and possibly even one of their leaders.” In fact, “The name Hamid Gul appears more often than virtually any other” in the documents. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 7/26/2010]
Gul Still Linked to Pakistani Government? - Gul denies all the allegations. Pakistani officials also deny that Gul still works with the ISI in any way. But the Post reports: “Despite his denials, General Gul keeps close ties to his former employers. When a reporter visited General Gul this spring for an interview at his home, the former spy master canceled the appointment. According to his son, he had to attend meetings at army headquarters.” [Washington Post, 7/26/2010] In late 2008, the US government attempted to put Gul on a United Nations list of terrorist supporters, but apparently that move has been blocked by other countries (see December 7, 2008).
Speaking publicly in India, British Prime Minister David Cameron claims that the Pakistani government is exporting terrorism. He says, “We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that [Pakistan] is allowed to look both ways and is able to promote the export of terror, whether to India or Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world. That is why this relationship is important. But it should be a relationship based on a very clear message: that it is not right to have any relationship with groups that are promoting terror. Democratic states that want to be part of the developed world cannot do that. The message to Pakistan from the US and from [Britain] is very clear on that point.” He also says that “[G]roups like the Taliban, the Haqqani network, or Lakshar-e-Taiba should not be allowed to launch attacks on Indian and British citizens in India or in Britain.” All three militant groups mentioned have been accused of terrorist bombings and there are claims the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, has been backing them.
Cameron Does Not Back Down - Later in the day, Cameron is asked in an interview if Pakistan exports terrorism. He replies, “I choose my words very carefully. It is unacceptable for anything to happen within Pakistan that is about supporting terrorism elsewhere. It is well-documented that that has been the case in the past, and we have to make sure that the Pakistan authorities are not looking two ways.”
Diplomatic Row Ensues - Pakistani officials immediately take offense and reject the validity of Cameron’s statement. The Guardian reports that Cameron’s unusually blunt comments spark a “furious diplomatic row” between Britain and Pakistan. Cameron’s comments appear to be based on a briefing he was given by US officials one week earlier (see July 21, 2010). [Guardian, 7/28/2010]
The United States believes that at least a dozen senior leaders of al-Qaeda are on the run in Pakistan, according to Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI). He says, “Of the 20 senior leaders in al-Qaeda, at least a dozen of them we believe to be traveling around Pakistan someplace.” Rogers chairs the House Intelligence Committee, and is privy to secret intelligence not even most other members of Congress are briefed about. His comments come one day after Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan (see May 2, 2011). The Telegraph publishes a list of the 12 wanted in Pakistan, which seems to be based on intelligence from Rogers:
Ayman al-Zawahiri. He is al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, and presumably the top al-Qaeda leader now that bin Laden has been killed.
Saif al-Adel. He possibly is al-Qaeda’s military chief. Possibly recently released from house arrest in Iran.
Suliman Abu Ghaith. He was al-Qaeda’s spokesperson until he was detained in Iran in 2002 or 2003. He apparently was allowed to leave in 2010 (see September 29, 2010), and it is believed he has rejoined al-Qaeda.
Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah. He is said to be on al-Qaeda’s top council. He may also be in Iran.
Adnan Shukrijumah. He used to live in the US, and he may be in charge of al-Qaeda operations in North America.
Rashid Rauf. He was involved in a 2006 plot to blow up airplanes in Britain (see August 10, 2006). He escaped from a Pakistani prison in 2007 (see December 14, 2007), and was reported killed by a US drone attack in 2008 (see November 22, 2008), but some sources say he is still alive.
Ilyas Kashmiri. He is thought to have masterminded some recent attacks in India and Pakistan.
Hakimullah Mahsud. He is leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban), a group said to be closely allied with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. [Daily Telegraph, 5/3/2011]
Ghulam Mustafa. He may have been al-Qaeda’s chief in Pakistan, but he was arrested and released twice by the Pakistani government between 2004 and 2006. Other militants now suspect him because of his suspiciously quick releases from prison, but he is still wanted by the US. [Asia Times, 1/5/2006; Daily Telegraph, 5/3/2011]
Sheikh Abu Yahia al-Libi. He escaped from a US prison in Afghanistan in 2005 (see July 11, 2005), and has become a respected religious figure for al-Qaeda.
Anas al-Liby. The US has a $5 million reward for him. He may have been arrested in 2002 (see January 20, 2002- March 20, 2002).
Qari Saifullah Akhtar. He is the leader of the Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami (HUJI, or the Movement of Islamic Holy War), a Pakistani militant group. He also is an alleged member of al-Qaeda who was released by Pakistan from custody in December 2010. [Daily Telegraph, 5/3/2011]
Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri, Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Anas al-Liby, Adnan Shukrijumah, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, Suliman abu Ghaith, Sheikh Abu Yahia al-Libi, Tehrik-i-Taliban, Rashid Rauf, Ilyas Kashmiri, Hakimullah Mahsud, Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami, Mike Rogers, Ghulam Mustafa, Qari Saifullah Akhtar, Saif al-Adel
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says that he believes even senior Pakistani officials knew where Osama bin Laden was hidden (see May 2, 2011) and they still know the location of other top militants.
Knowledge at High Levels - Levin says: “At high levels, high levels being the intelligence service… they knew it.… I can’t prove it. [But] I can’t imagine how someone higher up didn’t know it. The thing that astounds me more than anything else is the idea that people in Pakistan higher up in the intelligence service [the ISI] or their police or their local officials didn’t know he was there. I find that difficult to believe.”
Possible Hearings - He says that the Senate Armed Services Committee has started a preliminary investigation into the issue of Pakistan’s possible knowledge of bin Laden’s location before his death, and the committee may hold public hearings on the issue in the future.
Pakistan Shelters Other Militant Leaders - Levin adds that he has “no doubt” that people at the highest levels of Pakistan’s government are protecting others, including top Taliban head Mullah Omar and leaders of the Haqqani network, which is a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban. He says that Omar and others “live openly” in Pakistan. “They cross the border into Afghanistan and kill us. And the Pakistan government knows where they’re at, they’re openly living in north Waziristan. The Pakistan government knows where the so-called Quetta Shura is, which is the Afghan Taliban leadership in Pakistan.”
Denials Predicted - He concludes: “[T]he government of Pakistan is going to continue to say they didn’t know bin Laden was there. It’s kind of hard to believe that higher level people didn’t know, but they’ll continue to say that. But what they won’t say is that they don’t know where the Haqqani terrorists are because they do know, and they’ve told us they know.” [ABC News, 5/5/2011]
Amrullah Saleh, head of the NDS (National Directorate of Security), Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, from 2004 to 2010, claims that the Pakistani government is hiding the top Taliban leaders. He says that he is certain Taliban top head Mullah Omar is hiding in a safe house in Karachi, Pakistan, run by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. “He is protected by ISI. [ISI head Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja] Pasha knows as I am talking to you where is Mullah Omar and he keeps daily briefs from his officers about the location of senior Taliban leaders, simple.” [Guardian, 5/5/2011] Saleh’s comments come shortly after the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan (see May 2, 2011).
Radio Free Europe reports that RAW, India’s external intelligence agency, had long known Abbottabad, Pakistan, was a major al-Qaeda and Taliban operations center. RAW had put the town on a list of such operations centers prior to the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011 (see May 2, 2011). The article claims that “[t]he US was watching carefully as well.” For instance, Abbottabad was used by Islamic militant groups to train new recruits for at least a decade (see July 2001). [Radio Free Europe, 5/6/2011]
History of Militant Links - Several militant camps have existed near Abbottabad since the 1990s (see May 22, 2011). Key al-Qaeda leaders lived in the town around 2004, and US intelligence was aware of this (see 2004 and After April 2004). An important Indonesian militant leader, Umar Patek, was arrested in Abbottabad in January 2011 (see January 25, 2011).
One day after bin Laden’s death, neighbors told the Wall Street Journal that there had been a recent influx of suspicious Arabs in the town. [Wall Street Journal, 5/3/2011]
Completely Contradictory Accounts - On May 4, an unnamed senior US official told the Wall Street Journal that Abbottabad was “a place we always looked” because “we always figured that Osama bin Laden would not be in a cave.” [Wall Street Journal, 5/4/2011] Yet, on May 5, an unnamed former US intelligence official involved in trying to find bin Laden told the Washington Post, “Abbottabad is not a place where Islamic extremists went, because it wasn’t a stronghold.” The official added that when analysts considered likely locations for him, “Abbottabad wouldn’t be on that list.” [Washington Post, 5/6/2011]
Former US Representative Michael D. Barnes (D-MD) claims that ex-Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto firmly believed Osama bin Laden was being protected by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Barnes says that he was a good friend of Bhutto before her assassination in 2007, and he regularly socialized with her when she visited the US. He says that on more than one occasion, she told him that she was virtually certain bin Laden was not living in a remote mountain cave. Instead, she claimed: “He’s living comfortably somewhere in Pakistan. He’s being supported and protected by Pakistani intelligence. You can bet on it.” She also complained that the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the ISI were “in cahoots,” working together to attack US forces in Afghanistan. She felt her own life could be in danger (see December 27, 2007) because of her opposition to this covert Pakistani policy. [Washington Post, 5/13/2011]
The Associated Press reports that three active Islamist militant training camps have existed for a long time just 35 miles from Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was killed earlier in the month (see May 2, 2011). The camps are in the Ughi area of the Mansehra district, a more mountainous and remote region than Abbottabad. The Associated Press claims to have spoken to many people, even some of the militants in the camps, and has learned the three camps together house hundreds of militants.
Camps Operate with Government Knowledge - The Pakistani military claims to be unaware of any such camps, but villagers near the camp say this is impossible. They point out there even is a military checkpoint on the road to one of the camps. There have been militant camps in the area since the 1990s. One camp attendee says that attendees can take part in a four-week course of basic military skills, or a three-month course on guerrilla warfare. Promising graduates are then sent to the Pakistani part of Kashmir for more training. The camps are very close to Kashmir, a region disputed between Pakistan and India, and most of the camp attendees presumably aim to fight India in Kashmir with Pakistani government approval. But there are inevitably some trained in the camps who get involved with other militant activities and groups instead. [Associated Press, 5/22/2011]
Militant Groups and Bombers Linked to Camps - Radio Free Europe has also claimed that militant groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed have long been active in the Abbottabad area, “seemingly tolerated by the Pakistani military and intelligence services,” and the Taliban have a strong presence in the area as well. [Radio Free Europe, 5/6/2011] Some of the suicide bombers in the London 7/7 bombings trained in the Mansehra area (see July 2001), and five British Pakistanis found guilty of a 2004 fertilizer bomb plot (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004) trained there too. [London Times, 5/8/2011]
Operational Link between Bin Laden and Nearby Camps? - The militant group Harkat ul-Mujahedeen has training camps in the Mansehra area as well, and Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, bin Laden’s trusted courier who lived with him in Abbottabad, had numerous Harkat phone numbers in his cell phone that was confiscated in the US raid that killed bin Laden (see June 23, 2011). He also visited a Jaish-e-Mohammed camp in the Mansehra area at some point. [New York Times, 6/23/2011]
President Obama presents Marine Sergeant Dakota Meyer with the Medal of Honor. [Source: Reuters]President Obama presents Sergeant Dakota Meyer with the Congressional Medal of Honor for actions in combat against Pakistani insurgents (in some media accounts they are labelled simply as “Taliban”) in Ganjigal, Afghanistan (see September 8, 2009 and November 8, 2010). [New York Times, 9/15/2011]
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