While much attention has been paid to the risk of a US attack on Iran, little notice has been taken of the escalating war in Afghanistan and the increasing danger of deeper US intervention in Pakistan. Britain is signalling the possible doubling of troop levels in Afghanistan, and is escalating aerial attacks, including with thermobaric weapons.
In mid-August the Taliban mounted “their most serious attacks in six years of fighting”, the New York Times noted, “including a coordinated assault by at least 10 suicide bombers against one of the largest American military bases in the country, and another by about 100 insurgents who killed 10 elite French paratroopers” near Kabul.
NATO and US officials blame the Pakistani military for signing peace deals in February allowing “militants” in Pakistan’s tribal areas greater freedom to train, recruit and carry out attacks into Afghanistan.
According to general David McKiernan, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, the Pentagon is planning to send 12,000 to 15,000 additional US troops, possibly as soon as the end of this year, and he has asked for more forces in 2009.
Senior British military officers believe that it may be necessary to increase the number of British troops from 8,200 to 14,000 to defeat the Taliban. Britain’s SAS and SBS special forces will play a key role in the “surge”, expanding the “decapitation” strategy against the Taliban leadership (reported in PN 2497).
However, even these escalations are not thought to be enough. Paul Rogers of Bradford School of Peace Studies is warning that “many US planners believe that it may be impossible for paramilitary forces in Afghanistan to be defeated or even curbed without neutralising the major military advantage of operating bases and training camps across the border in Pakistan.”
According to the Guardian’s Simon Tisdall: “Unless the political situation turns around dramatically, the extension of the Afghan war into western Pakistani territory now looks highly probable.”
The current proposal is for US-trained Pakistani special forces to be deployed in the border areas, backed by US advisers, US air power and US-supplied technology – as well as the greater use of US Predator drone missile strikes.
More US airstrikes
The US has used Predator drones already inside Pakistan, including, it seems, in the attack on a compound in southern Waziristan on 13 August, which killed between 13 and 25 people.
The US has reportedly more than doubled the number of unmanned hunter-killer drones operating in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past year.
According to the US Air Force Times, in the first half of 2008, US aircraft dropped 1,853 bombs – more than they released during all of 2006 and more than half of 2007’s total. Human Rights Watch has obtained internal US Air Force figures indicating that 300 tons of bombs were dropped on Afghanistan during June and July alone – the same as the amount dropped on the country during the whole of 2006.
An estimated 17 civilians were killed in a strike in Nuristan on 4 July. Over 50 civilians, including 39 women and children, are estimated to have been killed in a 6 July strike in Nangarhar. President Hamid Karzai condemned the US for air strikes in the western province of Herat on 22 August which were unilateral, “innocently martyring at least 70 people, most of them women and children.” Police in the area said 15 houses were destroyed in the strikes.
According to the Observer, “the number of legal claims lodged by Afghan civilians against the British government has grown more than five-fold during the past 12 months to almost 1,300, suggesting a dramatic increase in the number of innocent victims.”
British forces are using thermobaric weapons – which “create a pressure wave that sucks the air out of victims, shreds their internal organs and crushes their bodies” – in Afghanistan.
MoD legal experts spent over a year debating whether they were legal, and decided in the end to redefine them as “enhanced blast” weapons, despite the fact that the manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, markets them as “thermobaric” weapons.
See, for example, the 23 August 2005 press release entitled “Hellfire Thermobaric Warhead Approved for Production”.
The Hellfire AGM-114N will now be fired by RAF Reaper drones controlled by RAF “pilots” from Creech air force base in Nevada.