US considering expanding drone strikes into Balochistan: NYT

Discussion in 'International Politics' started by Rage, Mar 22, 2009.

  1. Rage

    Rage DFI TEAM Stars and Ambassadors

    Feb 23, 2009
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    US considering strikes in Balochistan: NYT

    Thursday, 19 Mar, 2009 | 12:02 AM PST |


    NEW YORK: President Obama and his national security advisers are considering expanding the American covert war in Pakistan far beyond the tribal areas and striking at a different centre of Taliban power in Balochistan, where top Taliban leaders are orchestrating attacks into southern Afghanistan, says a report in the New York Times.

    Citing senior administration officials the newspaper said that two high-level reports on Pakistan and Afghanistan forwarded to the White House in recent weeks called for broadening the target area to include a major insurgent sanctuary in and around the city of Quetta.

    It said that Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar had operated with near impunity out of the region for years, along with many of his deputies.

    According to The Times, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on a news show that the White House strategy review addressed the ‘safe haven in Pakistan — making sure that Afghanistan doesn’t provide a capability in the long run or an environment in which al Qaeda could return or the Taliban could return’.

    But another senior official cautioned that ‘with the targets now spreading, an expanding US role inside Pakistan may be more than anyone there can stomach’.

    As part of the same set of decisions, according to senior civilian and military officials familiar with the internal White House debate, Mr Obama will have to choose from among a range of options for future American commitments to Afghanistan.

    President Obama’s core decision may be whether to scale back American ambitions there to simply assure it does not become a sanctuary for terrorists. ‘We are taking this back to a fundamental question,’ a senior diplomat involved in the discussions told the paper. ‘Can you ever get a central government in Afghanistan to a point where it can exercise control over the country? That was the problem Bush never really confronted.’

    The extensive missile strikes being carried out by Central Intelligence Agency-operated drones have until now been limited to the tribal areas, and have never been extended into Balochistan which abuts the parts of southern Afghanistan where recent fighting has been the fiercest. Fear remains within the American government that extending the raids would worsen tensions. Pakistan complains that the strikes violate its sovereignty.

    But some American officials say the missile strikes in the tribal areas have forced some leaders of the Taliban and Al Qaeda to flee south towards Quetta, making them more vulnerable. In separate reports, groups led by both Gen David H. Petraeus, commander of American forces in the region, and Lt-Gen Douglas E. Lut, a top White House official on Afghanistan, have recommended expanding American operations outside the tribal areas if Pakistan cannot root out the strengthening insurgency.

    Ground actions

    Many of Mr Obama’s advisers, the newspaper said, were also urging him to sustain orders issued last summer by President George W. Bush to continue Predator drone attacks against a wider range of targets in the tribal areas.

    They also are recommending to preserve the option to conduct cross-border ground actions, using CIA and Special Operations commandos, as was done in September. Mr Bush’s orders also named as targets a wide variety of insurgents seeking to topple Pakistan’s government. Mr Obama has said little in public about how broadly he wants to pursue those groups.

    The Times said that a spokesman for the National Security Council, Mike Hammer, declined to provide details and said: ‘We’re still working hard to finalise the review on Afghanistan and Pakistan that the president requested.’

    No other officials would talk on the record about the issue, citing the administration’s continuing internal deliberations and the politically volatile nature of strikes into Pakistani territory.

    ‘It is fair to say that there is wide agreement to sustain and continue these covert programmes,’ said one senior administration official. ‘One of the foundations on which the recommendations to the president will be based is that we’ve got to sustain the disruption of the safe havens.’

    Mr Obama’s top national security advisers, known as the Principals Committee, met on Tuesday to begin debating all aspects of Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy. Senior administration officials say Mr Obama has made no decisions, but is expected to do so in coming days after hearing the advice of that group.
  3. Rage

    Rage DFI TEAM Stars and Ambassadors

    Feb 23, 2009
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    US to extend drone strikes to Balochistan


    Wed, Mar 18, 2009

    ISLAMABAD: US President Barack Obama and his top aides are considering expanding covert operations against Taleban leaders in Pakistan to southwestern Balochistan province, The New York Times reported yesterday. Two reports sent to the White House call for broadening the target area to include the region in and around Quetta, the newspaper reported, citing unnamed senior administration officials.

    Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi declined to comment on the report, but reiterated that the US had agreed to review the overall policy of drone strikes.“We have made them agree to think over it,” he said. “In the next interaction, there is a chance to put this issue up for further discussion.”

    Asked about reports that Pakistan has allowed the US to use bases on its soil to land and launch the unmanned drones behind the missile strikes, Qureshi said the country “has not given uses of its bases for kinetic strikes.” Abdul Basit, a spokesman at the Foreign Ministry, also downplayed the report. “We have seen The New York Times report. It appears to be speculative and we cannot comment on speculations.”

    Quetta, located 70 km from the border with Afghanistan and with a population of about one million, is the capital of Balochistan. Up to now missile strikes, launched by US drones against insurgents who carry out attacks in Afghanistan, have been limited to the North-West Frontier Province, the report pointed out.

    “It is fair to say that there is wide agreement to sustain and continue these covert programs,” an unnamed senior US administration official told the newspaper. “One of the foundations on which the recommendations to the president will be based is that we’ve got to sustain the disruption of the safe havens.”

    Top Obama advisers, however, are split on the issue of Balochistan. Some fear that such strikes could increase tensions with Pakistan, which said in late February it wanted to discuss ending drone attacks inside its territory.

    Mullah Omar, who led the Taleban government ousted by the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan, has operated out of the region for years, along with many of his deputies, the newspaper said.

    Unlike the semi-autonomous tribal belt, Balochistan — which borders Iran and Afghanistan — is under the authority of the central government. The province has rich energy resources but is rife with regional insurgency and sectarian violence. Hundreds of people have died in insurgent unrest in the province since 2004, when rebels began demanding autonomy and a greater share of profits from Balochistan’s natural resources.

    Courtesy: Arab News
  4. Rage

    Rage DFI TEAM Stars and Ambassadors

    Feb 23, 2009
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    Burn, Balochistan, burn

    By Pepe Escobar
    Mar 20, 2009

    The "strategic reviewers" of United States President Barack Obama's "good war" in Afghanistan are almost finished. Even before the new policy is set in stone - in Badakshan's famed lapis lazuli, maybe? - by Obama himself within the next few days (with sensitive covert aspects of course withheld from public opinion), its contours are raising many an eyebrow.

    The new mix will likely feature an ongoing wild goose chase for "good Taliban"; an expanded Central Intelligence Agency-operated drone war (a George W Bush policy decision); assorted CIA and special forces cross-border attacks (also a Bush policy decision); more carrots for the Pentagon-friendly Pakistani army (and Inter-Services Intelligence); more US troops in Afghanistan (starting with the announced 17,000 who will hit Helmand province before summer); and more training for the Afghan army.

    The CIA and Pentagon couldn't be happier with their clean and safe - at least for the drones - remote-control war on the Pakistani tribal areas. But they want more. Bombing Pashtun weddings and decimating tribals in Waziristan is not that much fun anymore. Of all the national security adviser groups who are delivering their suggestions to the White House, two key reports want to (literally) go south. Their authors are Central Command chief General David "I'm always positioning myself to 2012" Petraeus, and White House Afghan expert Lieutenant General Douglas E Lute.

    So welcome to a new (drone) hit series - "Burn, Balochistan, burn".

    It's Quetta time

    The new "strategic" Petraeus front is in and around Quetta, a teeming urban center and the capital of the vast, mostly deserted Pakistani province of Balochistan. Quetta now happens to be historic Taliban Central, harboring, among others, according to US intelligence, none other than The Shadow, Taliban leader Mullah Omar himself.

    When the drones hit Balochistan a disaster movie will be in the making. Bombing remote Pashtun tribal area mud houses by remote control is one thing. Bombing a major Pakistani urban center - surrounded by over-crowded Afghan refugee camps - is a completely different story. It's like the Russians bombing Phoenix or Sedona in Arizona.

    Were that to happen, Senator John McCain would certainly not sit idly by. Not only Pakistani popular opinion (but not US puppet Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari) will - rightly - interpret it as the US declaring war on their country, the banned Balochistan Liberation Front, fueled by even more rage, will have a field day with it, and run rings around the Pakistani army.

    Up to this projected escalation there were two major competing strategies calling for Obama's attention.

    What could be dubbed the "State Department scenario" boils down to no safe haven for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in exchange for the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) getting out. It involves Obama's special envoy Richard Holbrooke hiring Professor Barnett Rubin of New York University and Pakistani journalist Ahmad Rashid as advisers. Rubin and Rashid are knowledgeable: they would never suggest anything as demented as missiles raining on Quetta.

    The Pentagon strategy - so far - was basically an extended Petraeus' counter-insurgency gambit: the hunt for the "good Taliban" - a Hindu Kush replay of "Sons of Iraq" with convenient help from the House of Saud, which is more than glad to shower with gold any Taliban commander who wouldn't get cozy with al-Qaeda.

    So now Petraeus has gone definitely schizo: while trying to locate these elusive "good Taliban", why not extend toy targets among Pashtuns and Balochis?

    None of these strategies seem to understand the obvious: for the Pashtuns who happen to be Taliban it's not essentially about money (though Samsonites full of dollars help) or religion (strict application of Deobandi views): it's first and foremost about getting rid of foreign occupation.

    A graphic example is what the Taliban have already demanded in not-so-secret negotiations: total control of at least 10 Afghan provinces (most of the south and southeast); a fixed timetable for total withdrawal from Western troops; and the release of the thousands of prisoners now congesting Bagram airbase.

    Standard Western ignorance - imperial arrogance rather - filters to details like the New York Times dubbing the tribal areas "unruly". This is ridiculous. The tribal areas have been ruled for centuries by a very rigorous code - the Pashtunwali. Pashtuns are bound by honor to respect and abide by it.

    The code requires any Afghan to defend the motherland (nowadays against what they see as US/NATO occupying troops). They have to grant asylum to any fugitive - irrespective of his creed or caste (that was the case with Osama bin Laden). Insult should be answered with insult. If you enter a Pashtun house with your armed patrol, disrobe their women or - worse still - bomb a wedding by remote control, you will suffer an extended family (and village) rage for eternity. And they will find any possible way to hurt you.

    More on Western arrogance. For the New York Times, "fear remains within the American government that extending the raids would worsen tensions". As if people shouldn't be "tense" when their village is hit by missiles in the middle of the night. And then the Times notes "Pakistan complains that the strikes violate its sovereignty". As if Pakistanis should shut up and be bombed quietly (as Zardari and the army, who control the failed - politically and economically - state of Pakistan actually do; after all they made a deal with Washington).

    Somebody has to (but won't ) tell Obama that a strong central government in Kabul capable of effectively overseeing all its provinces and porous borders is a mirage. It would imply decades of nation-building - from which Washington has fled like the plague. The Taliban can be - at the most - contained in areas of the south and southeast. As for NATO, it is not in the least interested in functioning as fodder for Petraeus' counter-insurgency schemes. The least bad solution for Afghanistan remains China's: a UN peacekeeping force, largely composed of Muslim soldiers.

    Calling Jack Bauer

    The bottom line is that the industrial-military complex always wins. The new Balochistan disaster movie, if Obama-approved, will mean a literally booming business for San Diego-based General Atomics, who manufactures the $4.5 million, snowmobile engine-powered drones flown via satellite from the West Coast. True, they tend to crash, but at least there's no collateral damage.

    The Pentagon insists that in more than 36 strikes, the Predator - and its meaner cousin the Reaper - remote-controlled action in the tribal areas has yielded so far nine dead among al-Qaeda's Top 20. Not exactly outstanding value for money. And no word, or course, on collateral damage (or crashes) although the Pentagon insists there's no hit if civilians are supposed to be around.

    For Predators and Reapers flying 34 patrols a day in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and transmitting 16,000 hours of video a month, the focus now is on decimating the leadership of notorious neo-Taliban Baitullah Mehsud. As for the Taliban who fled to Karachi, some strategic reviewer sooner or later will suggest bombing them as well.

    The US "won" the Vietnam war on film - via Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, which felt like the war on ground level. Not "won"; "expiated" rather, via two Conradian characters, one representing the logical conclusion of the madness of the system (Colonel Kurtz) and the other representing a "correction" (Captain Willard) that was in the end meaningless.

    The US has been winning the "war on terror" on TV - via the series 24, where hero, Jack Bauer, is basically a high-tech John Wayne. The more things change ...

    If only Obama could have Jack Bauer waterboard Mullah Omar, torture Osama on a rack and then hang them both by a chain in a deserted warehouse. In his absence, we all drone on.

    (Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd.

    Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

    He may be reached at
    [email protected]
  5. mattster

    mattster Respected Member Senior Member

    May 30, 2009
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    Pepe Escobar looks like he is drinking his own Kool-Aid. His article is long on sarcasm and cliches, but short on substance.

    The US use of drones to hit the Taliban is an unqualified success. Using his own numbers, getting 9 out of 20 top Pakistani Taliban leaders killed including the father and son Mehsud combination is a major success, without any loss of life on the US side. Using Drones for surgical strikes causes a lot less collateral damage than sending US Special Forces in there.

    The Pakistanis can also pretend to be upset but at least you dont have foreign troop invading Pakistani soil which would be a major violation of their sovereignity.

    If Pak Pashtun are so concerned about their sovereignity, then they need to kick the Pashtun Taliban out, or kill them themselves.
    Using drones to target the hideouts anywhere in Pakistan is definitely preferable to sending in troops.
    Until the US hits the tribal hideouts on these areas hard, the Pak military will not have an incentive to deal with these terrorists.

    The US is doing 2 things by expanding the drone war:

    1) First there are telling the Taliban punks that we can get you at anytime anywhere.

    2) Secondly they are sending a message to the Pak military and ISI that if you dont do the job, then we will do it for you and it will get really messy !!
  6. Armand2REP

    Armand2REP CHINI EXPERT Veteran Member

    Dec 17, 2009
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    So the US is going to use French UAVs to bomb Balochistan? Harfang doesn't even carry weapons. Idiots of Dawn...

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