Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
It’s not just Pakistan where the United States has stepped up air raids against members of al Qaeda and the Taliban. Last month, U.S-led NATO planes in Afghanistan conducted 700 missions, more than twice the number for the same month the previous year. It was also one of the highest single-month totals of the nine-year Afghan War, the military-focused Danger Room blog said, citing U.S. Air Force statistics.
September was also the month when missile strikes by unmanned U.S. drone planes in northwest Pakistan hit the highest level of 20 since America launched its secret war inside Pakistan, widely seen as the main battleground of the Afghan war because of the sanctuary provided to top al Qaeda and Taliban. And as if that was not enough, NATO helicopters from Afghanistan crossed the border on at least three occasions, triggering a firestorm of criticism in Pakistan which closed off the supply lines to the foreign troops in Afghanistan.
Is there a pattern to this ? Has America under new commander General David Petraeus turned up the heat on Pakistan and Afghanistan ahead of a strategy review in December and before next July’s planned beginning of a troop drawdown ? While there have been spikes in the past, this looks like part of a creeping rise in the use of air power, which had been eschewed by former commander LieutenantGeneral Stanley McChrystal because of the risk of civilian casualties from the raids. NATO planes carried out 500 sorties in August, up from 405 for the same month the previous year.
Some of the rise in the use of air raids can be attributed to the surge itself – with more troops on the ground and in harm’s way, you can expect them to call in air support more often. More troops means more hard fighting as they go out and engage the enemy where previously they didn’t. They will also go into areas they were earlier too stretched to enter. All this means greater use of air power.
The CIA is using smaller, advanced missiles – some of them no longer than a violin-case – to target militants in Pakistan’s tribal belt, according to the Washington Post.
The idea is to limit civilian casualties, the newspaper said quoting defence officials, after months of deadly missile strikes by unmanned Predator aircraft that has so burned Pakistan both in terms of the actual collateral damage and its sense of loss of sovereignty.
Pakistani army chief of staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani offered a rare apology at the weekend for a deadly air strike in the Khyber region in the northwest in which residents and local officials say at least 63 civilians were killed.
Tragically for the Pakistani military, most of the victims were members of a tribe that had stood up against the Taliban. Some of them were members of the army. Indeed as Dawn reported the first bomb was dropped on the house of a serving army officer, followed by another more devastating strike just when people rushed to the scene. Such actions defy description and an explanation is in order from those who ordered the assault, the newspaper said in an angry editorial.