One war

IssueJune 2009
News by Gabriel Carlyle

On 3 May, more than 100 Afghan civilians were killed during airstrikes on the villages of Gerani, Gangabad and Koujaha in Farah province, western Afghanistan.
The US/NATO have confirmed that they use white phosphorus in Afghanistan, but when accused of particular white phosphorus attacks, they suggest (without providing any evidence) that the Taliban may have fired the rounds.

Meanwhile, on 19 May, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 1.5m Pakistanis had been displaced since 2 May by the Pakistani government’s latest military offensives in the North Western Frontier Province.

This figure is in addition to the half-million internal refugees from earlier government offensives (see PN 2509).The Taliban do appear to have violated the spirit (and presumably the letter) of a February peace deal in Swat by moving into the neighbouring districts of Buner and Dir, providing a convenient pretext for the US to destroy the deal (which they had always opposed) and to pressure the Pakistani government into engaging in further acts of state terror (again, see PN 2509).

The US has intensified pressure on Pakistan to launch an offensive in Waziristan since president Barack Obama came to power. This is likely to occur in June.

Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari told the Sunday Times on 17 May: “We’re going into Waziristan, all these regions, with army operations. Swat is just the start. It’s a larger war to fight.”

The Times (13 May) reports that Britain helped to train some of the Pakistani commandos who took part in the Swat offensive, and the Guardian (4 May) says that Britain is stepping up its military and intelligence presence in Pakistan to help in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qa’eda. According to the Wall Street Journal (16 May), the UK is a joint partner with the US in setting up two new training camps in Baluchistan province for Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps.

David Kilkullen, senior counterinsurgency advisor to the Pentagon, recently noted that, since 2006, US drone strikes in Pakistan have killed 14 mid-level or lower-level al-Qa’eda leaders, and over 700 civilians. He commented: “That’s a hit rate of 2% on 98% collateral. It’s not moral”. He added: “We need to call off the drones.”

Swat Valley timeline

Feb: “Peace deal” signed between the Taliban in Swat and the Pakistani government.
21 April: Taliban overrun town of Buner, but most militants leave after the Pakistani army issues a 24-hour ultimatum on 24 April. US officials apply massive pressure, and, behind the scenes, threaten to launch missile attacks on Swat and to withhold, or attach strict conditions to, billions of dollars of military and civilian aid.
23 April: Hilary Clinton accuses the Pakistani government of “abdicating to the Taliban”.
26 April: Pakistani army offensive begins in Lower Dir, after a US ultimatum.
28 April: Pakistani offensive begins in Buner.
6-7 May: Zardari visits Obama in Washington.
8 May: Pakistan declares a “full-scale” offensive against Taliban insurgents in the Swat valley.