Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Airstrikes Hit Civilians In Pakistan: Hundreds Dead In Latest Round Of Terror War By Proxy

Hundreds of people have been killed in the past few days in battles between the Pakistani military and suspected insurgents in North Waziristan, the mountainous northwest bordering on Afghaninstan.

Pakistani tactics have included airstrikes and have taken a toll on civilians, including children, as Imtiaz Ali and Griff Witte in the Washington Post:

250 Dead in 4 Days of Pakistan Clashes
Up to 250 people, including at least 45 soldiers, have been killed in fierce fighting in northwestern Pakistan over the past four days, with Pakistani military jets bombing suspected insurgent hide-outs amid tough resistance, officials and residents said Tuesday.

The most intense clashes have occurred in the town of Mir Ali, where the military has deployed heavy artillery, helicopter gunships and fighter jets to try to oust insurgents who have been waging an aggressive campaign against the Pakistani army. The use of fighter jets is unusual, but government officials said it was necessary given the firepower they were facing from the radical fighters.
In the New York Times, Carlotta Gall had more about the alleged necessity of using airstrikes:

Heavy Fighting Reported in Pakistan
The state of the bodies of 31 soldiers that had been retrieved by local elders — some of the bodies were decapitated, some burned — had led the military to resort to aerial bombardment of the militants’ holdouts, according to a military official who asked not to be named.

Dozens of civilians have been killed and wounded in the bombing, in particular at a village, Hasu Khel, which is a known hub for foreign fighters. As villagers fled the area, some had reached hospitals in the region where they told of bombing in at least six villages and of as many as 55 civilians killed, including women and children.

Most of the latest fighting is taking place in villages around the town of Mirali, in North Waziristan, an area known for a strong presence of foreign fighters. Sher Khan, a councilman from North Waziristan who lives near Mirali, said he had lost 12 members of his family when several bombs fell on his house. Eighteen bodies were reported by villagers to have been pulled from the rubble in Hasu Khel.
Seen in this light, the WaPo piece looks like both spin and mega-spin:
"The resistance from local Taliban is tougher than what the government usually expects," conceded a tribal affairs official in Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province. "Such tough resistance also gives credence to speculation that al-Qaeda-trained foreign fighters might be backing these local Taliban."
Of course it's all about retaliation, or at least that's the pretext:
The fighting in Pakistan's northwest, which began late Saturday with an insurgent strike on a military convoy, has taken a heavy toll on civilians. There were reports Tuesday of large numbers of casualties among local residents caught in the crossfire. Civilians in some villages used mosque loudspeakers to appeal to both sides not to target homes or shopping areas.

Meanwhile, an exodus was underway for those who were able to leave.
The Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported on the sudden exodus:

Pakistani families flee North Waziristan battle zone
Thousands of families began fleeing Mir Ali, a town in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region, after three days of fierce clashes between militants and security forces killed nearly 200 people, witnesses said Tuesday.

Families streamed out of the town of 50,000 people and outlying villages, making their way on foot, in tractor trailers and cars.

“Eighty to ninety percent of families of Mir Ali have gone. Just one or two people are staying behind in each house to guard their belongings,” Sher Khan, a resident, told Reuters.

“The main bazaar of Mir Ali is sealed by the army. All shops are closed. We have nothing to eat. That's why I have sent my family to Bannu,” he said, referring to a town in the North West Frontier Province at the tribal region’s gateway.

The latest clashes erupted after militants ambushed a military convoy near Mir Ali late Saturday.

Casualties mounted as the army struck back and pounded militants with helicopter gunships and fighter jets.

The jets destroyed most houses around Essori, a village near Mir Ali where most of the fighting was concentrated.
Thousands may have been fleeing but others were not so lucky, as the Washington Post reported:
"I have seen people digging graves for the dead bodies," said Malik Mumtaz, a tribal elder from North Waziristan. "Others are busy rushing their injured to the nearby hospitals."

He said many of the wounded had to be taken to hospitals in Bannu or Peshawar because electricity had been cut in North Waziristan and the hospitals were out of medicine.
The military situation looks bad, as Kim Barker reported in the Chicago Tribune.

Pakistani army's stature takes hit
So far, the government's campaign to control the militants has had little success in the remote semiautonomous regions, which follow tribal rather than national laws. Sending in 80,000 soldiers didn't work. Neither did government truces with pro-Taliban elders.

At present, 100,000 soldiers are stationed in the mountainous terrain, but they are hardly welcome visitors in the region. A local religious ruling has even decreed that soldiers who die fighting militants should not receive Islamic funerals.

"The army is helpless," said Talat Masood, a retired army general and political analyst. "It's not achieving any military results in the tribal belts."
But the military situation is not the only situation that's going badly. Things are deteriorating rapidly on the political front as well, as Mark Sappenfield reports for the Christian Science Monitor:

New political deal angers Pakistanis
Atif Jehangir sits in the half-light of Rajah Market on a cool late-summer evening and says that the events of the past week here could push him to terrorism.

It is an unexpected admission, not only because the young business student could be the face of Pakistani moderation: educated, beardless, and dressed in Western clothes. But also because the power-sharing deal announced last week between President Pervez Musharraf and political leader Benazir Bhutto has been hailed in many corners of the West as the keystone to political calm.

Instead it has set Mr. Jehangir alight: "There is no way this is going to bring stability," he says. "It is going to create more terrorists among people like me."

Rhetoric often teeters toward the extreme in Pakistan, but there is no doubt that Mr. Musharraf's reelection this past weekend – and his pact with Ms. Bhutto – has only increased anger across much of the country.
The pact offered amnesty to a vast array of politicians, including former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who is due to arrive in Pakistan next week to contest parliamentary elections, but not incuding another former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, who was arrested and deported when he tried to do the same thing last month.

So it's not surprising, in an Orwellian way, that
Pervez Musharraf called a pact with Benazir Bhutto a “package ensuring free and fair elections.”
Mark Sappenfield continues:
Citizens see it not as a step toward democracy, but as a United States-brokered deal to prop up Pakistan's ruling elite, which is almost universally viewed as corrupt. As such, the deal exacerbates two of Pakistanis' most deeply ingrained frustrations: that America meddles too much in its affairs, and that justice is subverted by the rich and withheld from the poor.
Of course, these factors are inter-connected. America meddles in Pakistan's affairs for many reasons and in many ways. In the official doublespeak, the USA provides about a hundred million dollars a month to defray the expenses incurred by Pakistan's military in the war on terrorism. In plainer terms, part of the Pakistani army is being rented out to fight a proxy war for America.

With full employment go good times, and in the capital, Islamabad, congratulations were obviously in order. Here's Dawn again:

CJCSC, VCOAS call on President Musharraf
Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Tariq Majeed and Vice Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani separately paid courtesy call on President General Musharraf here Tuesday.

The President congratulated them on assuming charge of their new responsibilities and expressed the hope that under their able leadership the operational and professional capabilities of the Armed Force of Pakistan will be further enhanced.
There is no doubt that the American government would love to see the Armed Forces of Pakistan much enhanced and much more active. But as the WaPo points out,
Musharraf's cooperation with the United States on counterterrorism efforts has not been popular in Pakistan.

"The military operations are being conducted for the sole purpose of appeasing the United States at the expense of innocent tribesmen who have nothing to do with al-Qaeda and the Taliban," said Mumtaz, the tribal elder.

More than 250 Pakistani soldiers have been killed in fighting over the past three months. Another 250 remain in Taliban custody after they surrendered to a group of insurgents in late August.
Ahhh, the mass surrender. I didn't mention it at the time, but it seemed very strange -- and it still does!

Ismail Kahn and Carlotta Gall reported it this way for the New York Times:

Pakistani Militants Hold Army Troops Hostage
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Sept. 3 — Close to 300 Pakistani soldiers and officers have been held captive for four days after they were seized by pro-Taliban militants in a tribal region near the Afghan border without a shot being fired, government officials said Monday.
How do you capture 300 soldiers without a shot being fired? I'm not the only one who has been asking.
The Taliban claimed to have captured 300 men. A government official and a tribal elder, Maulan Esamuddin, who is involved in the negotiations, said 270 soldiers, officers and tribal paramilitary members had been captured. Nine were reported to be officers, including a colonel, and the Taliban had also seized 17 military trucks, officials have said.

The capture took place after an argument between officers and some militants. “Not a single shot was fired,” one official said.
Kim Barker of the Chicago Tribune found somebody else who was asking himself the same question:
"That's a very good battalion that put down their arms," said Hamid Gul, who once headed Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency.

"They didn't fire a shot. Why is that? They didn't want to fire on their own people. So they have been taken as guests of their own brothers. They are eating very well. Lovely fat-tailed sheep are being slaughtered for them," Gul said.
Gul, in a manner befitting a former intelligence chief, doesn't say much, but he does convey the impression that there is something very wrong with this picture.

In my opinion, the questions are obvious, and hard not to ask; the lying has been so transparent.

Ismail Kahn and Carlotta Gall continued:
The government has been reluctant to comment publicly on the situation. The chief military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad, has said little and could not be reached for comment on Monday. He has told reporters over the last few days that the soldiers had not been captured, but were lodging with tribal villagers after running into poor weather.

But in comments made Monday to the television channel Dawn News, General Arshad admitted that the soldiers were being held hostage.
And of course now that the Pakistani spin-meisters have decided to play this event as a capture rather than a defection, we will see more attempts at rescue than we otherwise would. So it gives a certain focus to the otherwise potentially random bombing and strafing.

And let's not make any mistakes; bombing and strafing there will be.

Why? Because!! That's why!
Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network is still trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction including nuclear and biological arms, a new White House report on homeland security said Tuesday.

“We also must never lose sight of Al-Qaeda's persistent desire for weapons of mass destruction, as the group continues to try to acquire and use chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear material,” the report said.
It's ludicrous, but it's also deadly serious, as Imtiaz Ali and Griffe Witte of the WaPo remind us:
On Tuesday, residents of Waziristan reported seeing scores of bodies -- including beheaded Pakistani soldiers -- on the outskirts of Mir Ali as they fled the area.
In America, where the White House manufactures the propaganda and the "maintsream media" deliver it non-stop until it almost starts to make sense, we think we're under threat of terrorism; we think we're fighting a war on terror; some of us even think we're winning. We have no idea.

Imagine what it means to leave your home and your possessions to get away from the bombing; think about gathering up your kids and your parents and forgetting all about your goats and your sheep and just getting lost somewhere a little safer; and don't forget to count the bodies -- including all the beheaded soldiers -- as you flee into the mountains.

Congratulations! You are now allied with the Americans in the Terror War. And nothing will ever be the same.

As the late great journalist, Edward R. Murrow, would say: "Good night, and good luck!"

That second part gets more important -- and more difficult -- with each passing day.