Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Drone strikes are police work, not an act of war?

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Launching an air strike in another nation would normally be considered an act of aggression. But advocates of America’s rapidly expanding unmanned drone programme don’t see it that way.

They are arguing, as Tom Ricks writes on his blog The Best Defense over at Foreign Policy, that the campaign to kill militants with missile strikes from these unmanned aircraft, is more like police action in a tough neighbourhood than a military conflict.

These raids conducted by sinister-looking Predator or Reaper aircraft in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen – and since last month in Somalia - should not be seen as a challenge to states and their authority. Instead they are meant to supplement the power of governments that are either unable to or unwilling to fight the militants operating from their territories.

They are precise, limited, strikes aimed at taking down specific individuals, and in that sense are more like the police going after criminals, rather than a full-on military assault. Ricks writes: 

Pakistan’s Shamsi base : a mystery wrapped in a riddle

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Pakistan Defence Minister Mukhtar Ahmad’s comments this week that the government had ended U.S. drone flights out of Shamsi air base deep in southwest Baluchistan province has injected new controversy in their troubled relationship. U.S. officials appeared to scoff at Mukhtar’s remarks, saying they had no plans to vacate the base from where they have in the past launched unmanned Predator aircraft targeting militant havens in the northwest region.

Washington’s dismissal of the Pakistan government’s stand is quite extraordinary. Can a country, even if it is the world’s strongest power, continue to use an air base despite the refusal of the host country ?  The United States is effectively encamped in Pakistan using its air strip to run a not-so-secret assassination campaign  against militant leaders including Pakistanis while Islamabad fumes.

Kabul : The hotel on the hill

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Taliban suicide bombers staged a dramatic attack on Kabul’s landmark  Intercontinental hotel  late on Tuesday. Here is a piece by two Reuters journalists reminiscing about the imposing hotel on the hill. 

                                                             By Robert Evans and Tom Heneghan

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A week in pictures 26 June 2011

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Last week a series of unconnected bomb attacks across Asia left dozens dead and many more injured.  Thirty-five people were killed in a suicide bombing next to a hospital in Afghanistan's Logar province south of Kabul, at least four police officers were wounded in blast in eastern Pakistan, and suspected Taliban militants stormed a police station in a town in northwestern Pakistan, killing at least five policemen. Four explosions rocked Myanmar's capital, Naypyitaw.  In Thailand a triple bombing by suspected insurgents kills at least two people and wounded nine others in Thailand's deep south.

A victim of a suicide bomb attack yells as medics apply burn cream to his torso after he was brought to the Lady Reading hospital for treatment in Peshawar June 20, 2011. A suicide bomber blew himself up in a market area on the outskirts of the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing at least two people and wounded three, police and hospital officials said. This image has been rotated 180 degrees.  REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz

An encounter with a paratrooper at Kabul airport

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The security at the very large military section of Kabul International Airport has recently been handed over to Belgian paratroopers, from a more relaxed unit of Macedonians .It’s hard to say if this is because NATO-led forces feel they need to step up security after a bloody shooting at the airport and Taliban threats of more attacks, or just the vagaries of NATO staffing.

But the reception they gave me – and some Afghans who arrived at the gate at the same time – was a reminder of why NATO is having such problems retaining Afghan support, despite all the blood and money being spent to secure the country.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A week in pictures, 19 June 2011

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Last week a report came out listing which countries are the most dangerous places for women to live; three of them were in Asia -- Afghanistan, Pakistan and India -- and the other two were Congo and Somalia. Afghanistan topped the list. I shamelessly include in this week's highlights a picture shot by Afghanistan-based Ahmad Masood that I think is one of the strongest images ever shot illustrating the harsh life of some women in Kabul. You can almost feel the cold and wet seep into your bones as they beg for money for food for their families.

Women beg on a road as snow falls in Kabul January 13, 2009. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Taliban talks: the new mirage in Afghanistan

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai has just said in public what many have been saying for months in private, that the United States is holding talks with the Taliban to try to reach a settlement to the decade-long war in Afghanistan.  "Peace talks are going on with the Taliban. The foreign military and especially the United States itself is going ahead with these negotiations," he said in a speech in Kabul.

We have been hearing reports about these talks for months. In the climate of disinformation that threads through the Afghan war, it is hard to say exactly when they started, but I first heard last November that the Americans had begun direct talks with representatives of the Taliban and if that was correct, they must have begun some time before that. 

Ten years on, still trying to frame the Afghan War

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U.S. President Barack Obama is in the midst of a wrenching decision on whether to quickly bring home the 100,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan or stay the course in the hope that the situation will stabilise in the country.

The problem is it is still not clear what the huge operation estimated to cost $100 billion a year is intended to do.  Here is what Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said last week when asked what would constitute success : “I think we’ll have a much better fix in terms of clarity towards the end of this year in terms of longer-term … potential outcomes — and when those might occur — than we do right now.”  The military were in the middle of the fighting season and once that ends when winter arrives, they would be in a better position to make a call. But how many fighting seasons has the military gone through already in Afghanistan ? Their logic is that the 30,000 additional troops that Obama sent in December 2009 have started to turn things around in the southern bastions of the Taliban, and more time is needed to extend the gains in the east where the insurgency is just as stubborn.

from Bernd Debusmann:

U.S. nation-building in the wrong place?

America's costly efforts at nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq came under intense scrutiny this month in critical reports and a gloomy Senate hearing that prompted a memorable assertion. "If there is any nation in the world that really needs nation-building right now, it is the United States."

That came from a Democratic Senator, Jim Webb, who continued: "When we are putting hundreds of billions of dollars into infrastructure in another country, it should only be done if we can articulate a vital national interest because we quite frankly need to be doing a lot more of that here."

Pakistan’s journalists won’t be silenced

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The killing of an Islamabad-based Pakistani journalist  ,who went missing a few days ago, has triggered an outpouring of grief and anger.   Pakistani journalists and activists are demanding answers for the murder of Saleem Shahzad, who Human Rights Watch said, told them before he was abducted that he was under threat from the Inter-Services Intelligence, the powerful spy agency.

Shahzad, a reporter for the Asia Times and the Italian news agency Adnkronos International, wrote on security/intelligence issues,  often delving deep into the dangerous world of Islamist militancy . The last story he wrote for the Asia Times  two days before  he was abducted, suggested that a militant attack on the navy’s main base in Karachi on May 22 was carried out because the navy was trying to crack down on cells from Al Qaeda that had infiltrated the force. 

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