Tora Bora Blowback

September 17, 2008

As the nation seemingly ponders the application of lipstick on various barnyard animals and the financial IED on Wall Street, long-simmering Afghanistan has finally boiled over onto Pakistan.
Near seven years ago, this little conflict was indeed a “slam dunk” win — the original Taliban routed, Osama and a few of his boys corralled in the Tora Bora Mountains –all this in just a few short weeks of work by a fired-up, muscle-flexed US military working really without much of a clue.

After a horrific sidebar in Iraq for more than five years, draining US peoples and treasure, Afghan shit is ready to hit the old fan.
Military operations in Afghanistan are coming apart at the seams, and despite what Barack Obama and Jackboot John McCain blubber, no amount of additional troops — another “surge” Afghan style, if you will — sent to the region will help.
A case of even more troops too late.

Today Defense Secretary Bob Gates was in Kabul attempting a ‘I’m sorry’ pitch for the US-led coalition’s slaughter of civilians.

  • Mr. Gates accepted a proposal from Afghan officials to establish a permanent joint investigative group to determine the facts surrounding civilian casualties more quickly. And he pledged that even before all the facts are known, the United States would apologize for civilian casualties and offer compensation to survivors.
    “I think the key for us is, on those rare occasions when we do make a mistake, when there is an error, to apologize quickly, to compensate the victims quickly, and then carry out the investigation,” Mr. Gates said, speaking after meeting with President Hamid Karzai here.

However, Bob just couldn’t let it go.

  • “While no military has ever done more to prevent civilian casualties, it is clear that we have to work even harder,” Mr. Gates said.

Hey, Bob, you’re full of shit.
Only just yesterday did senior American military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David D. McKiernan, said rules for air operations would be “tightened” in an effort to reduce civilian casualties.

Too little, too late.
The UN says that from January to August this year, 1,445 civilians were killed — a rise of 39 percent from the same period in 2007.
Last week, Human Watch released a 43-page report, “Troops in Contact: Airstrikes and Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan,” and the bottom line is air power has its limits.
And the limit is reaction — planned airstrikes had less “collateral damage” than unplanned ones.
Duh!
As the Afghan war degenerated, attacks from a much-more vicious and sophisticated Taliban, with help by a resurgent al-Qaeda, became overwhelming, the tendency/panic response was for GIs to call in air support — termed ‘rapid-response airstrike.’
Capt. Dan‘s plea — but a lot of women, children die in the process.
The US should have some compassion, the report reported.

  • “Rapid response airstrikes have meant higher civilian casualties, while every bomb dropped in populated areas amplifies the chance of a mistake,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
    “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.”

    Human Rights Watch criticized the poor response by US officials when civilian deaths occur.
    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.
    “The US needs to end the mistakes that are killing so many civilians,” said Adams. “The US must also take responsibility, including by providing timely compensation, when its airstrikes kill Afghan civilians. 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.”

And the seething vapor from the Afghan pot is burning Pakistan.
Decider George in his deep-as-a-well wisdom had secretly ordered last July that it’d be Okay if US troops chased down those Taliban/al-Qaeda/terrorists/militants, whatever, into Pakistan.
Although apparently (hopefully) the jackass did get some kind of approval from the Pakistani military for those hot pursuits, so to speak, but the orders didn’t make it down to the ground level.
Monday morning some US choppers were fired upon by some supposedly Pakistani soldiers during a raid similiar to another operation that went bad earlier this month.
The choppers were forced to return back into Afghanistan.

According to Reuters via WireDispatch:

  • The incident took place near Angor Adda, a village in the tribal region of South Waziristan where U.S. commandos in helicopters raided a suspected al Qaeda and Taliban camp earlier this month.
    “The U.S. choppers came into Pakistan by just 100 to 150 metres at Angor Adda.
    Even then our troops did not spare them, opened fire on them and they turned away,” said one security official.
    The U.S. and Pakistani military both denied that account, but Angor Adda villagers and officials supported it.

    One official told Reuters by telephone that “the troops stationed at BP-27 post fired at the choppers and they turned away”.
    Two Chinook helicopters appeared set to land when troops began shooting, alerting tribesmen who also opened fire on the intruders, said a senior government official in Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province.
    A resident described the tension in the village through the night.
    “We saw helicopters flying all over the area. We stayed awake the whole night after the incident,” he said.
    The fiercely independent tribesmen of the region carry weapons regardless of whether they are militants.

And also yesterday came reports the Pakistani military will indeed start shooting at NATO troops skirmishing across the Afghan border into Pakistan — creating another conflict hotspot in a nation of hotspots.

  • General Athar Abbas, an army spokesman, told the Associated Press that after a cross-border assault in the south Waziristan region earlier this month, the military told its field commanders to take action to prevent any similar raids.
    “The orders are clear,” Abbas said in an interview. “In case it happens again in this form, that there is a very significant detection, which is very definite, no ambiguity, across the border, on ground or in the air: open fire.”
    The remarks mark a sharp deterioration in military relations between the US and Pakistan, which have been close allies in the “war on terror” since the September 11 attacks seven years ago.

    As the US steps up its military activity in the sensitive tribal area, Pakistani officials have warned that an increase in cross-border raids will achieve little and fuel the insurgency in Pakistan. Some complain that the country is being made a scapegoat for the failure to stabilise Afghanistan.

These orders apparently come from the top as Pakistan proclaimed its right/ability to handle the militants gathering, fighting and controlling the western provinces.

  • Acting President Dr Fehmida Mirza on Sunday said Pakistan would resolve the problem of militancy on its own, adding that the government was committed to safeguard the sovereignty and geographical frontiers of the country.
    She was talking to journalists after addressing a ceremony at the Frontier House here to distribute cheques among the displaced people of Bajaur Agency.
    Dr Fehmida Mirza said, “Our security forces are effectively combating militancy and there is no need of any foreign force to fight terrorism in our country.”

Yeah right.
While Gates tried to apologize in Kabul, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in Pakistan on Tuesday in an attempt to defuse all this bluster/fuck-up on the conduct of the mishandled, mucked-up Afghan war — those nasty border problems.
Which means interal strife for Pakistan.
Writer, journalist, filmmaker Tariq Ali has a good view of the impact of these US-related incidents at tomdispatch.
A couple of snippets:

  • Its effects on Pakistan could be catastrophic, creating a severe crisis within the army and in the country at large.
    The overwhelming majority of Pakistanis are opposed to the U.S. presence in the region, viewing it as the most serious threat to peace.

    The neo-Taliban now control at least twenty Afghan districts in Kandahar, Helmand, and Uruzgan provinces.
    It is hardly a secret that many officials in these zones are closet supporters of the guerrilla fighters.
    Though often characterized as a rural jacquerie they have won significant support in southern towns and they even led a Tet-style offensive in Kandahar in 2006.
    Elsewhere, mullahs who had initially supported President Karzai’s allies are now railing against the foreigners and the government in Kabul.
    For the first time, calls for jihad against the occupation are even being heard in the non-Pashtun northeast border provinces of Takhar and Badakhshan.

What a complicated mess effecting an entire region.
And all because Decider George only had eyes for Baghdad.
Therefore, we return to December 2001 and those beautiful, but villainous Tora Bora Mountains.
Osama bin Laden, the supposed master-chef of the 9/11 attacks, had retreated into the mountain’s bowels to escape the oncoming US troops and its Afghan allies — those many anti-Taliban factions that cared not much for jihad.
Veteran Middle East correspondent Mary Ann Weaver covered those days in an interesting, finely-researched article, which ran Sept. 11, 2005, in the New York Times Magazine.
A long piece, though, well worth the full read and can be found here.
Weaver paints a frenzied, byzantine-like situation in Afghanistan in late 2001 as saturation bombing began to mash Osama out of the mountains, but the only thing that really happened was hundreds of civilians died:

  • And yet, one American intelligence official told me recently, if any one thing distinguished Osama bin Laden on that cold December day, it was the fact that the 44-year-old Saudi multimillionaire appeared to be supremely confident.

    One evening earlier this summer, I asked Masood Farivar, a former Khalis officer who had fought in Tora Bora during the jihad, to tell me why the caves were so important.
    “They’re rugged, formidable and isolated,” he said.
    “If you know them, you can come and go with ease.
    But if you don’t, they’re a labyrinth that you can’t penetrate.
    They rise in some places to 14,000 feet, and for 10 years the Soviets pummeled them with everything they had, but to absolutely no avail.
    Another reason they’re so important is their proximity to the border and to Pakistan” – less than 20 miles away.

Osama and some of his boys got away, all to return and fight another day.
And that day was today as the U.S. embassy in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a was attacked and although at least 16 people were killed, no US personnel.
State Department spokesman said the incident “bears all the hallmarks of an al-Qaeda attack.”

A memory reaction from August 1998 and the al-Qaeda bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Does the US military ever learn?

Osama will never die, even if he’s been dead the last three years.

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