Defense Minister Vecdi GÃ¶nül, who is in Poland to attend a NATO meeting today and Friday, is likely to hear US demands for more commitments in Afghanistan after President Barack Obama ordered in 17,000 more troops on Tuesday to battle a worsening insurgency there.
GÃ¶nül is attending a two-day meeting in Krakow, bringing together defense ministers from NATO countries in preparation for the alliance’s summit in April. Turkish officials have avoided comments on possible US requests for more Turkish troops in Afghanistan amid reports of European reluctance to boost their military presence to fight the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
President Obama sees Afghanistan as a foreign policy priority and said the new US troops were needed to “stabilize a deteriorating situation.”
“Turkiye, which already has more than 800 soldiers in Afghanistan to help the NATO-led International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF), is seen as a possible troop supplier because of its large army, which is trained in counterterrorism due to the three-decade battle against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and because of its relatively positive image among the Afghan population.
Obama phoned Turkish President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday, discussing, among other things, the situation in Afghanistan.
Stephen Flanagan of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies said he did not expect many more European combat troops to be pledged, but said Turkiye could provide more. Noting that Obama discussed Afghanistan and Pakistan with Turkish leaders on Monday, he told Reuters, “They have a very large force that’s trained in counterinsurgency … and see themselves as having interests in Central Asia.”
NATO spokesman James Appathurai said an immediate task was to start moving in temporary reinforcements for the Aug. 20 presidential election and to strengthen the police force, which has been bearing the brunt of worsening violence.
NATO diplomats say up to 10,000 troops could be required specifically as election reinforcements and the European contribution could be the equivalent of two battle groups, or up to 3,000 men.
But with international forces bogged down more than seven years after overthrowing the Taliban, Washington has struggled to persuade allies to commit more forces, and is not expecting substantial new pledges of combat troops from them in Krakow. “We always go with the hope of being pleasantly surprised,” Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said. “But I don’t think we go there with the expectation of additional forces for Afghanistan at this meeting.”
He said Washington’s message was that “more NATO support is needed” and Obama wanted at least to see more help for the civilian effort, which includes programs to push development and improved governance and the vital area of police training. “We are obviously welcoming of that, if that is an easier pill to swallow,” Morrell said. “But we need more help to ensure that Afghanistan is a success.”
US regional envoy Richard Holbrooke warned last week the threat posed by militancy in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan would be tougher to deal with than Iraq. Obama said Afghanistan had not been given “the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires.”
The US troop increase will bring US numbers in Afghanistan to around 55,000. Allies from 40 other, mostly NATO, countries have around 30,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan.
Morrell said US Defense Secretary Robert Gates would advise his fellow defense ministers on the progress of Obama’s ongoing Afghan policy review, which is expected to stress the need for better police training, governance and development — aims the allies have been flagging for years.
Obama Widens Missile Strikes Inside Pakistan
By MARK MAZZETTI and DAVID E. SANGER
WASHINGTON — With two missile strikes over the past week, the Obama administration has expanded the covert war run by the Central Intelligence Agency inside Pakistan, attacking a militant network seeking to topple the Pakistani government.
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Members of Pakistani tribes offered funeral prayers on Feb. 15 for victims of an American missile attack in the North Waziristan region, near the Afghan border.
The missile strikes on training camps run by Baitullah Mehsud represent a broadening of the American campaign inside Pakistan, which has been largely carried out by drone aircraft. Under President Bush, the United States frequently attacked militants from Al Qaeda and the Taliban involved in cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, but had stopped short of raids aimed at Mr. Mehsud and his followers, who have played less of a direct role in attacks on American troops.
The strikes are another sign that President Obama is continuing, and in some cases extending, Bush administration policy in using American spy agencies against terrorism suspects in Pakistan, as he had promised to do during his presidential campaign. At the same time, Mr. Obama has begun to scale back some of the Bush policies on the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects, which he has criticized as counterproductive.
Mr. Mehsud was identified early last year by both American and Pakistani officials as the man who had orchestrated the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister and the wife of Pakistan’s current president, Asif Ali Zardari. Mr. Bush included Mr. Mehsud’s name in a classified list of militant leaders whom the C.I.A. and American commandos were authorized to capture or kill.
It is unclear why the Obama administration decided to carry out the attacks, which American and Pakistani officials said occurred last Saturday and again on Monday, hitting camps run by Mr. Mehsud’s network. The Saturday strike was aimed specifically at Mr. Mehsud, but he was not killed, according to Pakistani and American officials.
The Monday strike, officials say, was aimed at a camp run by Hakeem Ullah Mehsud, a top aide to the militant. By striking at the Mehsud network, the United States may be seeking to demonstrate to Mr. Zardari that the new administration is willing to go after the insurgents of greatest concern to the Pakistani leader.
But American officials may also be prompted by growing concern that the militant attacks are increasingly putting the civilian government of Pakistan, a nation with nuclear weapons, at risk.
For months, Pakistani military and intelligence officials have complained about Washington’s refusal to strike at Baitullah Mehsud, even while C.I.A. drones struck at Qaeda figures and leaders of the network run by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a militant leader believed responsible for a campaign of violence against American troops in Afghanistan.
According to one senior Pakistani official, Pakistan’s intelligence service on two occasions in recent months gave the United States detailed intelligence about Mr. Mehsud’s whereabouts, but said the United States had not acted on the information. Bush administration officials had charged that it was the Pakistanis who were reluctant to take on Mr. Mehsud and his network.
The strikes came after a visit to Islamabad last week by Richard C. Holbrooke, the American envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In a telephone interview on Friday, Mr. Holbrooke declined to talk about the attacks on Mr. Mehsud. The White House also declined to speak about Mr. Mehsud or the decisions that led up to the new strikes. A C.I.A. spokesman also declined to comment.
Senior Pakistani officials are scheduled to arrive in Washington next week at a time of rising tension over a declared truce between the Pakistani government and militants in the Swat region.
While the administration has not publicly criticized the Pakistanis, several American officials said in interviews in recent days that they believe appeasing the militants would only weaken Pakistan’s civilian government. Mr. Holbrooke said in the interview that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and others would make clear in private, and in detail, why they were so concerned about what was happening in Swat, the need to send more Pakistani forces to the west, and why the deteriorating situation in the tribal areas added to instability in Afghanistan and threats to American forces.
Past efforts to cut deals with the insurgents failed, and many administration officials believe that they ultimately weakened the Pakistani government.
But Obama administration officials face the same intractable problems that the Bush administration did in trying to prod Pakistan toward a different course. Pakistan still deploys the overwhelming majority of its troops along the Indian border, not the border with Afghanistan, and its intelligence agencies maintain shadowy links to the Taliban even as they take American funds to fight them.
Under standard policy for covert operations, the C.I.A. strikes inside Pakistan have not been publicly acknowledged either by the Obama administration or the Bush administration. Using Predators and the more heavily armed Reaper drones, the C.I.A. has carried out more than 30 strikes since last September, according to American and Pakistani officials.
The attacks have killed a number of senior Qaeda figures, including Abu Jihad al-Masri and Usama al-Kini, who is believed to have helped plan the 1998 American Embassy bombings in East Africa and last year’s bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad.
American Special Operations troops based in Afghanistan have also carried out a number of operations into Pakistan’s tribal areas since early September, when a commando raid that killed a number of militants was publicly condemned by Pakistani officials. According to a senior American military official, the commando missions since September have been primarily to gather intelligence.
The meetings hosted by the Obama administration next week will include senior officials from both Pakistan and Afghanistan; Mrs. Clinton is to hold a rare joint meeting on Thursday with foreign ministers from the two countries. Also, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief, will meet with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Lt. Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan’s military spy service, will accompany General Kayani.
Bomber Kills More Than 30
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The police on Friday blamed a suicide bomber for a powerful explosion that killed more than 30 people and wounded at least 50 in the Pakistani city of Dera Ismail Khan, according to residents and Pakistani television reports.
The bombing, aimed at the funeral of a Shiite man who had been shot, set off chaos in the city of a million people on the edge of Pakistan’s tribal areas. Mobs attacked security forces, ransacked shops and surrounded hospitals said the mayor, Abdur Rauf.
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.
No casualties in Lebanon in exchange of rockets, shells
BEIRUT, Feb 21 (KUNA) — Lebanese officials said on Friday that no casualties were inflicted on Lebanese territory during exchange of rockets and shells across the border with Israel earlier in the day.
The official sources confirmed that at least two Katyusha rockets fired from southern Lebanon landed in northern Israel.
One woman in northern Israel was lightly wounded in explosion of one of the rockets in the Israeli town of Maalot near the border with Lebanon, Israeli police reported.
Israeli artillerymen retaliated for the rocket attack firing shells into the regions around the Lebanese villages of Quleileh and Al-Hennieh, some 10 kilometers north of the border line.
The tit-for-tat attacks followed reports about an Israeli leisure boat that drifted into Lebanese sea waters over the night. Israeli military forces searching for the lost boat fired flares over the Lebanese regions over the night.
Several rockets installed in the direction of Israel were discovered recently in South Lebanon, during the Israeli offensive on Gaza.
PREDATOR ATTACKS DRIVE TRIBES TOGETHER—EVERYONE IS “TALIBAN” NOW
Top Taliban join hands in Waziristan
MIRANSHAH: Top Taliban leaders from North and South Waziristan met on Friday to forge an alliance, said sources. The sources said that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Baitullah Mehsood and Taliban leaders Maulvi Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadar met at an undisclosed location in Waziristan and agreed to form an alliance. The sources said that the three Taliban leaders had formed a 13-member committee and authorised it to make ‘all decisions’. They also agreed that they would jointly defend attacks against them, and make plans in consultation with the committee. haji mujtaba
America Confusing Swat
Swat is exactly what the demonization of Afghan Taliban and the creation of a fake ‘Pakistani Taliban’ is all about. Pakistan has supported Afghan Taliban, so create these monsters inside Pakistan, call them ‘Taliban’, make them kill ordinary Pakistanis mercilessly, and when anger builds up, point the finger at Pakistani military. What the Pakistani media is not noticing is how that everything that the so-called Pakistani Taliban does ends up supporting the U.S. government and military’s argument for boosting troops in Afghanistan and advocating U.S. military intervention in Pakistan. Swat peace deal is good for Pakistan; has nothing to do with America, is none of Europe’s business. There is no way to eliminate the insurgency in Afghanistan without political reconciliation inside Afghanistan itself. Drone attacks and peace deals in Pakistan are irrelevant.
By AHMED QURAISHI
Saturday, 21 February 2009.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—The peace deal in Swat is confusing Pakistanis and Pakistan-watchers across the world. The central question is: Is the deal good as Pakistan says or bad as America says?
One of the classic examples of the confusion is this headline from the U.S. newspaper, USA Today: ‘Pakistan appeases militants, endangering itself and U.S. The Deal allowing Islamic law in key area emboldens Taliban, al-Qaeda.’
Here are quick answers and explanations that should dispel confusion, expose fallacies and establish the Pakistani interest in Swat and the tribal belt adjoining Afghanistan:
QUESTION: Why is Swat peace deal good for Pakistan?
ANSWER: Let’s admit it. The situation on the Pak-Afghan border is confusing even for the most seasoned experts on the region. Most self-styled ‘terrorism’ experts you hear these days generally interpret developments through the prism of U.S. government and military interests. The media develops its perspective based on these experts, indirectly promoting U.S. government interests. The problem with this interpretation is that it leads to biased analysis that ends up hiding important pieces of the puzzle.
Thanks to the biased coverage of the Anglo-American news organizations, there are many pieces to this puzzle that escape the eye of the public opinion in Britain and the United States, not to mention the rest of the world that is beholden to the Anglo-American media machine.
First, understand the players on the ground in Swat [and to some extent in tribal belt]:
Militants who only attack American and allied occupation soldiers in Afghanistan.
Militants who only attack Pakistani civilians and military across Pakistan.
U.S. drones DO NOT ATTACK the second type, the anti-Pakistan militants. They only attack the Afghan Taliban that are giving the occupation forces a hard time in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s priority is to eliminate those militants who only attack Pakistani civilians and military, as in Swat, and also in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, FATA.
This is a major point of divergence between Washington and Islamabad. [More details later in this report.]
The problem in Swat is that three distinct elements are fighting there: the Leaders, the Foot Soldiers, and the Criminals.
1. The Leaders: These are the shady commanders of the so-called Pakistani Taliban. Most of them are unknown, with no history linking them to the jihad in Afghanistan the 1980s. They are mostly local. But the secrecy surrounding their identities and the new ruthless tactics they have introduced in the region [throat-slitting, FM radio, hanging in public squares, and other psychological warfare tactics] show a degree of expertise in guerrilla warfare that never existed in these areas before 2004. There used to be small groups, well known to both locals and to security officials but nothing like these cutthroat professional guerrilla leaders that operate today across western and northern Pakistan. Some Pakistani officials believe that what they are seeing in Swat and in some of the other areas close to Afghanistan is something that bears the classic hallmarks of an organized insurgency, sustained from beyond the borders but using local commanders and fighters. In fact, the presence of well trained foreign mercenaries masquerading as Afghan Taliban and fluent in Pashto has been reported on several occasions. Pakistani officials have shared some evidence regarding this with the highest level of U.S. military and intelligence. [More details about this later in this report.]
2. The Foot Soldiers: These are the regular members of the militias in Swat. They are mostly local. Some of them are passionately religious, angry at Pakistani government and military supporting the United States, Others have been convinced that they are fulfilling a religious duty by supporting with these militias that claim to be Taliban. There is no doubt that tactics such as suicide bombings and the extreme barbarian methods used by these militia members against local Pakistanis were introduced by mercenary elements coming from Afghanistan. These gory methods are designed to make the local population subservient to the brutal militia. There are two other places where such methods were used. One is Iraq where the Americans unleashed their own terrorism squads that maligned the Iraqi resistance by committing indiscriminate atrocities. Another place is Algeria, an oil-rich country where the United States is supposed to have used the same tactics, in cooperation with the Algerian military, to convince Algerians to stop supporting the ‘terrorist’ religious parties that had won fair and free elections. The guerrilla methods are the same and the only common element between the two examples and the Swat example is U.S. interest. In Swat, most of these Pakistanis who are regular members and ‘foot soldiers’ of these militias in Swat are misguided elements whose religious zeal is exploited by ruthless and professional guerrilla warfare criminals that command these militias.
3. The Criminals: Local criminal groups that have been emboldened by the chaos in the area. While they are all locals, Pakistani officials are astonished by the endless supply of weapons and money that sustain these groups.
QUESTION: Is it right to call the militias in Swat ‘Pakistani Taliban’?
ANSWER: No it is not. There is only one Taliban, and that is the Afghan Taliban who also are the original Taliban. They are Afghan and they are part of a larger Afghan resistance to the American occupation of their country. The concept of ‘Pakistani Taliban’ emerged with the arrival of Abdullah Mehsud, a Pakistani citizen arrested by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2001 during the war against the Taliban, and then released in 2004 from Guantanamo Bay and handed over to Afghanistan, only to enter Pakistan to raise a 5,000-strong militia to fight the Pakistani government and military. Mehsud was an ordinary volunteer in the Taliban army that fought the Americans in 2001 but when he returned from Afghanistan in 2004, he managed to raise a well armed fighting force in no time. This is when the American media began talking about ‘Pakistani Taliban’. Mehsud also associated himself with the Afghan Taliban. Mullah Omar in Afghanistan initially welcomed Mehsud’s ‘Pakistani Taliban’. But seeing that Mehsud’s first order of business was to kidnap Chinese engineers inside Pakistan and kill one of them, and seeing also Mehsud’s insistence on fighting and killing Pakistanis instead of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, Mullah Omar ordered the Afghan Taliban to cease any links to Mehsud and his militias. The American and the British media, however, continued to prop up the myth of the ‘Pakistani Taliban’ led by Abdullah Mehsud. Reports emerged later that Mr. Mehsud was probably a U.S. intelligence asset. He was not released back to Pakistan from Guantanamo prison. Mehsud managed to raise an army of 5,000 fighters, well armed, trained and equipped to fight the Pakistani military. After attacking the Chinese and his call to the tribals to exclusively fight the Pakistani army and destroy its installations and bases, it became obvious that Mehsud was working an agenda that had nothing to do with Afghan Taliban. Pakistani security forces killed Mehsud one night in July 2007 far away from the tribal belt where he was based. Mehsud was sneaking back into Pakistan from Afghanistan, where he reportedly met his foreign intelligence handlers. He was cornered and killed in Zhob, Balochistan. The Pakistani government deliberately leaked the story to the local and international media in order to send a message to U.S. and Karzai’s puppet government authorities in Afghanistan. After Mehsud’s death, several other mysterious ‘rebel mullahs’ emerged across the area, all well armed, well financed and well trained. One year after Abdullah Mehsud’s death, in July 2008, Pakistan’s president and army chief and the ISI formally warned the chief of the U.S. military and the number two in CIA to desist from sponsoring terrorism inside Pakistan.
QUESTION: Why the other powers would want to sponsor the so-called ‘Pakistani Taliban’?
ANSWER: There is no question that Pakistan did support the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan. And why not, it was a Pakistan-friendly government made up of Afghans who had spent a considerable time in refugee camps in Pakistan in the 1980s and had a strong respect for Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban’s hardline view on some issues was their domestic affair and there was and nor there is anything for Pakistan to be apologetic about for its ties to that government. Islamabad had tremendously suffered in previous decades because of weak governments in Kabul acting as proxies for the Soviet Union. India exploited its alliance with the Soviets to launch terrorists from Afghanistan into Pakistan. The 1970s and ‘80s saw a wave of bombings in all the major Pakistani cities planned from Afghanistan by the Indians. So Pakistan had every reason to support a friendly government in Kabul. Fast forward to 2004, when it seemed that Washington had concluded that Pakistan will continue sympathizing with the Afghan Taliban, especially when the Americans filled Kabul with pro-Indian and anti-Pakistan government officials. The creation of a brutal ‘Pakistani Taliban’ is meant to discredit the Afghan Taliban and to show ordinary Pakistanis that their government and military is supporting terrorists who are in turn killing them. The key word here is ‘Taliban’. No distinction is made between the Afghan Taliban that Pakistan had supported, and the fake ‘Pakistani Taliban’. Pakistan has no problem with the Afghan Taliban, and should not have any problem with it. But the so-called ‘Pakistani Taliban’ are enemies of the Pakistani state and need to be eliminated. The ‘Pakistani Taliban’ have gone to extremes to discredit the Afghan Taliban by resorting to gory and brutal methods of killing ordinary Pakistanis. Some of the stories of the brutalities of these militias are stunning. While the ‘foot soldiers’ of these militias may not realize this, but the commanders who order these acts are only achieving two things: Discrediting the Afghan Taliban and confusing the minds of ordinary Pakistanis about their military by linking it to the ‘Taliban’.
QUESTION: So ‘Pakistani Taliban’ does not exist at all?
ANSWER: If any do, they have been lost between Abdullah and Baitullah Mehsud and their counterparts in Swat. As I said, the Afghan Taliban and whoever followed them have never advocated fighting Pakistan and killing Pakistanis. They are focused on the occupation armies in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Why does not the Pakistani military eliminate the so-called ‘Pakistani Taliban’ in Swat? Why let Swat fall?
ANSWER: There are two reasons why Swat fell to these criminal militias that pretend to be Taliban. First, the military came late. The army was busy on two fronts, the west and the east. It was not watching Swat, which was the responsibility of other security forces. Second, Swat fell because the local police and security forces were unable to match the organizational and material capabilities of these militias, receiving aid from Afghanistan. Well trained elements were sneaking into Pakistan in large numbers. On Jan. 11, 2009, for example, 600 fighters crossed from Afghanistan into Pakistan to attack a Pakistani military base. These fighters were Afghan but were not part of the Afghan Taliban. So who were they fighting for? Who armed them? Who paid for them? And who sent them? Second, Pakistani military could and still can clear Swat in a few days but only at a great cost in lives of ordinary Pakistanis. The beauty of insurgent warfare is that it deliberately plants itself among civilians. So when the regular army attacks, civilian casualties will end up creating more enemies for the known force (the military) and bolster the case of the unknown and hidden force (the militias). The tactics of both Hezbollah and Hamas in south Lebanon and Gaza are two good examples of this.
QUESTION: The Pakistani military and ISI are involved in supporting the so-called Pakistani Taliban in Swat?
ANSWER: This perception is exactly what the demonization of Afghan Taliban and the creation of a fake ‘Pakistani Taliban’ is all about. Pakistan has supported Afghan Taliban, so create these monsters inside Pakistan, call them ‘Taliban’, make them kill ordinary Pakistanis mercilessly, and when anger builds up, point the finger at Pakistani military. What no one notices in the Pakistani media is that everything that the so-called Pakistani Taliban does ends up supporting the U.S. government and military’s argument for boosting troops in Afghanistan and advocating U.S. military intervention in Pakistan. And the answer to the question above is, of course, no. Pakistani military and ISI are not likely to support those who have on many occasions killed Pakistani soldiers mercilessly and decapitated their bodies.
QUESTION: Richard Holbrooke, Washington’s pointman on Afghanistan and Pakistan, says 9/11 perpetrators, Mumbai attackers, and the Swat extremists are the same?
ANSWER: Mr. Holbrooke is either a novice on the affairs of this region or is deliberately promoting a confusing sales pitch that supports the military and strategic interests of his government in this area. The key players in Swat have been described in detail in paragraph 1 above. They hardly have known links to the Afghan Jihad, let alone any links to the 9/11 perpetrators who were from al Qaeda. As for the Mumbai attackers – if the Indian version of the story is true and if the Indian government answers a list of 30 Pakistani questions and the ‘loopholes’ in the Indian story turn out to be convincing – are from Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, which is a Kashmiri group that has been fighting Indian soldiers inside Indian-occupied Kashmir and has not been active in global struggle like al-Qaeda. Mr. Holbrooke is deliberately sowing confusion in making the above statement. [Remember a similar statement by by Secretary of State Colin Powell in the U.N. Security Council in Feb. 2003 where he showed fake CIA pictures of Iraqi WMD mobile units that turned out to be fake?]
QUESTION: So if Pakistan signs peace deals with the militants, and U.S. stops drone attacks, then what will work?
ANSWER: The U.S is misleading the entire international public opinion when it says that the roots of Afghan problem lie in Pakistan. The core of this entire problem is the U.S. failure at political reconciliation in Afghanistan. This is the key to the entire U.S.-made, post-9/11 Afghan tragedy. Armchair strategists cannot exclude at will a huge segment of Afghans from power by calling them ‘terrorists’. Washington routinely dismissed reasonable Pakistani suggestions internal Afghan reconciliation in the weeks that led to the creation of a new Afghan government in Kabul in 2002. Instead, Washington allowed its policy to be influenced by elements that are strongly pro-Indian and bought the Indian view on how things should be done in Afghanistan [especially on punishing the Pashtuns] and how Pakistan and its military and its intelligence should be targeted as a means to defeating the Afghan Taliban. Even now, the U.S. military is somehow not willing to recognize the vast indigenous support to the Afghan resistance. There is no way to eliminate the insurgency in Afghanistan without political reconciliation inside Afghanistan itself. Drone attacks and peace deals in Pakistan are irrelevant. U.S. and NATO failures in Afghanistan are destabilizing the region. The mess in the Pakistani border areas is a result of the failed American project in Afghanistan, not vice versa.
Secrecy and denial as Pakistan lets CIA use airbase to strike militants
The CIA is secretly using an airbase in southern Pakistan to launch the Predator drones that observe and attack al-Qaeda and Taleban militants on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan, a Times investigation has found.
The Pakistani and US governments have repeatedly denied that Washington is running military operations, covert or otherwise, on Pakistani territory — a hugely sensitive issue in the predominantly Muslim country.
The Pakistani Government has also repeatedly demanded that the US halt drone attacks on northern tribal areas that it says have caused hundreds of civilian casualties and fuelled anti-American sentiment.
But The Times has discovered that the CIA has been using the Shamsi airfield — originally built by Arab sheikhs for falconry expeditions in the southwestern province of Baluchistan — for at least a year. The strip, which is about 30 miles from the Afghan border, allows US forces to launch a Drone within minutes of receiving actionable intelligence as well as allowing them to attack targets further afield.
It was known that US special forces used Shamsi during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, but the Pakistani Government declared publicly in 2006 that the Americans had left it and two other airbases.
Key to the Times investigation is the unexplained delivery of 730,000 gallons of F34 aviation fuel to Shamsi. Details were found on the website of the Pentagon’s fuel procurement agency.
The Defence Energy Support Centre site shows that a civilian company, Nordic Camp Supply (NCS), was contracted to deliver the fuel, worth $3.2 million, from Pakistan Refineries near Karachi.
It also shows the fuel was delivered last year, when the United States escalated drone attacks on Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas, allegedly killing several top Taleban and al-Qaeda targets, but also many civilians.
A source at NCS, which is based in Denmark, confirmed that the company had been awarded the contract and had supplied the fuel to Shamsi, but declined to give further details.
A spokesman for the US embassy in Pakistan told The Times: “Shamsi is not the final destination.” However, he declined to elaborate and denied that the US was using it as a base.
“No. No. No. No. No. We unequivocally and emphatically can tell you that there is no basing of US troops in Pakistan,” he said. “There is no basing of US Air Force, Navy, Marines, Army, none, on the record and emphatically. I want that to be very clear. And that is the answer any way you want to put it. There is no base here, no troops billeted. We do not operate here.”
He said that he could not comment on CIA operations.
The CIA declined to comment, as did the Pentagon. But one senior Western source familiar with US operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan told The Times that the CIA “runs Predator flights routinely” from Shamsi.
“We can see the planes flying from the base,” said Safar Khan, a local journalist. “The area around the base is a high-security zone and no one is allowed there.”
He said that the outer perimeter of Shamsi was guarded by Pakistani military, but the airfield itself was under the control of American forces.
Shamsi lies in a sparsely populated area about 190 miles southwest of the city of Quetta, which US intelligence officials believe is used as a staging post by senior Taleban leaders, including Mullah Omar. It is also 100 miles south of the border with Afghanistan’s southern province of Helmand and about 100 miles east of the border with Iran.
That would put the Predators, which have a range of more than 2,000 miles and can fly for 29 hours, within reach of militants in Baluchistan, southern Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s northern tribal areas.
Paul Smyth, head of operational studies at the Royal United Services Institute, said that 730,000 gallons of F34, also known as JP8, was not enough to supply regular Hercules tanker flights but was sufficient to sustain drones or helicopters.
Other experts said that Shamsi’s airstrip was too short for most aircraft, but was big enough for Predators and ideally located as there were few civilians in the surrounding area to witness the drones coming and going.
Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for the President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, said that he did not know anything about the airfield. HOwever, Major General Athar Abbas, the chief military spokesman, confirmed that US forces were using Shamsi. “The airfield is being used only for logistics,” he said, without elaborating.
He added that the Americans were also using another airbase near Jacobabad, 300 miles northeast of Karachi, for logistics and military operations.
Pakistan gave America permission to use Shamsi, Jacobabad and two other bases — Pasni and Dalbadin — for the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. US Marine Special Forces were based at Shamsi and, in January 2002, a US Marine KC130 tanker aircraft crashed close to its runway, killing seven Marines on board.
Jacobabad became the main US airbase until Bagram, near Kabul, was repaired, while Pasni, on the coast, was used for helicopters and Dalbadin as a refueling post for special forces’ helicopters. However, in December 2001, Pakistan began sharing Jacobabad and Pasni with US forces as India and Pakistan began massing troops on their border. In July 2006 the Pakistani Government declared that America was no longer using Shamsi, Pasni and Jacobabad, although they were at its disposal in an emergency.
The subject has become particularly sensitive in the past few weeks as President Obama has made it clear that he will continue the strikes while reviewing overall US strategy in the region.
The latest strike on Monday — the fourth since Mr Obama took office — killed 31 people in the tribal agency of Kurram, and another on Saturday killed 25 people in South Waziristan, according to Pakistani officials.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the Pakistani Foreign Minister, responded on Sunday by categorically denying that Pakistani bases were used for US drone attacks.
— Armed predator unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been in use since 1999
— The aircraft is controlled from the ground using satellite systems and onboard cameras
— The MQ9 craft, which is used in Afghanistan, is 11m long, has a 20m wing span and a cruise speed of up to 230mph. Each can carry four Hellfire missiles and two bombs
— Three systems were bought by the RAF last year for £500m
Sources: Jane’s Information, US Airforce, RAF, Times archives