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Wednesday, 13 May 2009

From Today's Papers - 13 May 09

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U.S. commander must enforce Afghan attack rules - U.N.

Tue May 12, 2009 8:55pm IST

By Robert Birsel

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The new commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan will have to ensure respect for rules set by his predecessor that have cut the number of civilian casualties despite recent bloodshed, a U.N. envoy said.

In a surprise move, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates removed the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan on Monday and picked a former special forces commander to oversee President Barack Obama's strategy against a growing Taliban insurgency.

The change comes amid increased tension between Washington and Kabul over reports that scores of civilians were killed in U.S. air raids in the western province of Farah last week.

U.N. envoy for Afghanistan Kai Eide said in an interview in Islamabad on Tuesday that outgoing commander General David McKiernan had made "tremendous efforts" to establish rules for the use of air power and cut the number of civilian casualties.

With U.S. reinforcements on the way and fighting expected to intensify, it was vital that new commander Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal ensured the rule were kept, Eide said.

"It is one of the most important tasks that a new commander will have, to make sure that with all of these additional troops, and with intensified fighting this summer, that the rules set by General McKiernan are respected," Eide said.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said as many as 130 civilians may have been killed in Farah and he has demanded the United States halt air strikes. Without giving any figure, the United States says the toll was probably lower and it cannot fight without air power.

A spokesman for Karzai said earlier he hoped the new commander would take more steps to reduce civilian deaths.

LOWER TREND

But Eide said the trend was already lower with fewer Afghans killed by international forces this year compared with the same period last year.

"In spite of the recent incident in Farah, we've seen a lowering of the number of civilian casualties caused by international military forces," he said. "The challenge, with almost 20,000 troops coming in, will be to maintain the trend."

Eide said he did not believe a ban on the use of air power, as demanded by Karzai, was the right step. But rules on air power had to be reviewed in light of the Farah incident and kept under constant observation.

"To ban the use of an asset which could be of critical importance to troop-contributing nations and could influence their decision to deploy troops -- that is very hard."

U.N. investigators had been unable to reach the villages in Farah where the civilians were killed and the truth of the incident might never be known, he said.

"It is quite clear to me that a number of civilians have been killed by the Taliban during the fighting. It's also quite obvious that civilians were killed during the bombing," he said.

"What the ratio is, it's too early to say. Maybe we will never know."

Eide, in Pakistan for a two-day regional economic conference on Afghanistan beginning on Wednesday, welcomed an improvement in relations between the uneasy neighbours.

Ties were often tense between Karzai and former Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf, in particular over Afghan complaints Pakistan was not doing enough to tackle militants in remote enclaves on the Pakistani side of the border.

Pakistan last week launched a major offensive against Taliban militants in the Swat valley, northwest of Islamabad, and Eide said progress against the insurgency in Pakistan would have a positive impact on security in Afghanistan.

http://in.reuters.com/articlePrint?articleId=INIndia-39576120090512

751 Taliban Killed, Heliborne Troops Land in Swat

Islamabad
At least 751 insurgents have been killed in the security forces' operation in Pakistan's troubled northwest, the military said Tuesday, on a day when heliborne troops landed in the heartland of the Swat Taliban for what seemed to be the final push against the militants.

Chief military spokesperson Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas told reporters that 751 militants had so far been killed in Operation Raah-e-Haq that began April 26, while 29 security personnel had lost their lives and 77 were injured.

According to Abbas, the security forces had accomplished "significant achievements" in their operations in Swat and two other districts of the North West Frontier Province.

Images and videos of the dead militants will be released Wednesday, Abbas, who heads the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), added.

The statement acquires significance in the light of questions being raised by Pakistani citizens on the manner in which the operations were being conducted.

"Today", The News said in an editorial, "there is guarded support from the common man, but questions are beginning to be asked - where are all these dead Taliban for one?"

"Why is artillery being used to attack the Taliban rather than infantry who can then hold the position they have just taken? What is the physical state of the centre of towns like Mingora and why can't we have a couple of 'embedded' correspondents who can write a pooled dispatch for the English and Urdu press every day?" the editorial wondered.

"We know surprisingly little - in fact beyond official daily briefings almost nothing - about the war with the Taliban," it said.

TV channels show stock footage of Cobra helicopters and armour being moved on flatbed trucks "and the very-capable army spokesperson gives a daily update in measured tones that tell us next to nothing of substance - and is not backed up by any battlefield reports or even still-pictures of our army in action", the editorial pointed out.

Earlier Tuesday, another army officer was quoted as saying: "Heliborne troops have landed in Peochar."

Peochar is the headquarters of Swat Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah, the son-in-law of radical cleric Sufi Mohammad who had brokered a widely panned-peace deal with the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) government.

Under the deal, Sharia laws were to be imposed in Swat and six other districts of the NWFP, which are collectively known as the Malakand division, in return for the Taliban laying down their arms.

The accord came into force in mid-April but the Taliban reneged on it and instead moved south from Swat to occupy Buner district that is just 100 km from Islamabad.

The Pakistani Army went into action initially in Lower Dir to the west of Swat and which is Sufi Mohammad's home district and then in Buner and Swat.

http://news.boloji.com/2009/05/30108.htm

Inside Pakistan
Swat war: looking for exit route
by Syed Nooruzzaman

As the war between Pakistani troops and Taliban militants rages in Swat and the rest of Malakand division in the NWFP, Islamabad has begun to concentrate on an "exit policy". As Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told the National Assembly on Monday, the military action had to be followed by measures to strengthen the law-enforcement agencies "with enhanced capacities and better equipment, bomb-proof police stations and devices to jam illegal FM radio broadcasts used for rebel propaganda". This is what he described as the "exit policy", according to Dawn.

Mr Gilani has agreed to call for an all-party meeting, as demanded by some opposition leaders. There will also be in-camera briefing for parliamentary group leaders following the allegation that the government is not sharing full information with the opposition parties.

As The News says, "Every TV channel in the country (Pakistan) has it (the war) as the lead story. Every newspaper has it as the headline. It is discussed ad-nauseum on the TV, the radio and in countless blogs on the Internet." Yet there is tightly managed access to information relating to what is going on in the Swat region. The government has its own reasons. In the name of "Press freedom", it does not want the militants to know anything about troop movements because they are experts in using any information that comes their way to their advantage.

Exodus problem

The government has been assuring the people that all efforts are being made to see that the collateral damage in the military operation against the Taliban remains the minimum. But the reality is different. Few people are interested in knowing the number of those killed mainly because of the massive exodus of people from the areas where the gun battle is on. According to the UN, over 360,000 people have fled Swat, Buner and Lower Dir since May 2.

The Nation says, "The exodus from Dir, Swat, Malakand and Buner constitutes the largest internal displacement of population since 1947. Earlier, military operations conducted since August last had displaced nearly six lakh people. With fresh migrations from the present area of conflict, the total tally is likely to exceed 15 lakh."

The paper adds, "Thousands of people caught in cross-fire suffer from injuries. There is a large number of women, children and old men among them."

As Business Recorder points out, "If there are any discrepancies between the various concerned agencies and officials over counting the numbers (of internally displaced persons or IDPs) it is so mainly because given the time-honoured tradition of Pushtun hospitality, an average IDP family would prefer to live with a relation or a friend than taking shelter in a refugee camp."

Whatever is the truth, the challenge of taking care of the lakhs of displaced persons is as daunting a task for the government as it is to defeat the Taliban.

Army to blame

It is not easy to get rid of the scourge of militancy at this stage. Some of the Taliban militants may be killed in the military operation, but many may escape. How Pakistan handles the situation remains to be seen. As the crisis is deepening and taking a new form, the government appears to be successful in making the people realise that it Pakistan's war that is being fought against the militants. It is not America's war, as the militants want the people to believe.

However, the Pakistan Army is being blamed for bringing the situation to this pass. Had it acted earlier in a decisive manner, the reality would have been different today.

According to an article in The Frontier Post by Ghani Khan (May 12), "The army is responsible for the bad situation in which Pakistanis find themselves today. America is becoming impatient towards the Taliban. It wants to have them eliminated as soon as possible, preferably in a week or two at the most, but it is apparent that during the last seven or eight years of fighting against the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, their (militants') number has increased as well as their will to fight has become stronger …. Pakistani forces were forced out of Waziristan. In Swat, too, their performance was widely criticised by the local population. Now in Buner the army is facing stiff resistance and it seems that the elimination of Taliban is not an easy task."

http://www.tribuneindia.com/2009/20090513/edit.htm#8

Pak 'kills' 751 militants, but shows no evidence

IANS

FIRE POWER: Pakistani para military troops patrol in Buner in Pakistan's troubled valley of Swat.

Islamabad: At least 751 militants have been killed in the security forces' operation in Pakistan's troubled northwest, the military said on Tuesday after heliborne troops landed in the heartland of the Swat Taliban for what seemed to be the final push against the militants.

Chief military spokesperson Major General Athar Abbas told reporters that 751 militants had so far been killed in 'Operation Raah-e-Haq' that began April 26, while 29 security personnel had lost their lives and 77 were injured.

According to Abbas, the security forces had accomplished "significant achievements" in their operations in Swat and two other districts of the North West Frontier Province.

Images and videos of the dead militants will be released on Wednesday, said Abbas, who heads the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).

The statement acquires significance in the light of questions being raised by Pakistani citizens on the manner in which the operations were being conducted.

"There is guarded support from the common man, but questions are beginning to be asked - where are all these dead Taliban for one?" said The News said in an editorial on Tuesday.

"Why is artillery being used to attack the Taliban rather than infantry who can then hold the position they have just taken? What is the physical state of the centre of towns like Mingora and why can't we have a couple of 'embedded' correspondents who can write a pooled dispatch for the English and Urdu press every day?" the editorial wondered.

"We know surprisingly little--in fact beyond official daily briefings almost nothing--about the war with the Taliban," it said.

TV channels show stock footage of Cobra helicopters and armour being moved on flatbed trucks "and the very-capable army spokesperson gives a daily update in measured tones that tell us next to nothing of substance - and is not backed up by any battlefield reports or even still-pictures of our army in action", the editorial pointed out.

Earlier Tuesday, another army officer was quoted as saying: "Heliborne troops have landed in Peochar."

Peochar is the headquarters of Swat Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah, the son-in-law of radical cleric Sufi Mohammad who had brokered a widely panned-peace deal with the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) government.

Under the deal, Sharia laws were to be imposed in Swat and six other districts of the NWFP, which are collectively known as the Malakand division, in return for the Taliban laying down their arms.

The accord came into force in mid-April but the Taliban reneged on it and instead moved south from Swat to occupy Buner district that is just 100 km from Islamabad.

The Pakistani Army went into action initially in Lower Dir to the west of Swat and which is Sufi Mohammad's home district and then in Buner and Swat.

http://ibnlive.in.com/printpage.php?id=92441&section_id=2

Holbrooke refuses to comment on India's role in AfPak

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | May 13, 2009 | 02:22 IST

Richard Holbrooke, the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, onTuesday scrupulously eschewed commenting on what the US can do to urge India to ease its tensions with Pakistan to help alleviate the Pakistani military's 'obsession' with India and hence be a catalyst in promoting President Barack Obama's Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy.

Appearing before the powerful Senate Foreign Relations to talk about the AfPak strategy going forward in the wake of the trilateral summit between Obama and the Pakistani and Afghan presidents Asif Ali Zardari and Hamid Karzai last week at the White House, Holbrooke, said, "Senator, I appreciate the questionit's of the highest importance.(But) With great respect, since we are in the final days and hours of an election in India where 700 million people are voting, and since any comment I would make, might be misunderstood in that context, I would rather just simply restrict myself to saying that my job is Afghanistan and Pakistan," he said.

However, Holbrooke, who was responding to the question posed by Senator Robert P Casey Jr, Pennsylvania Democrat, and close ally of Obama who helped the latter carry Pennsylvania in the presidential election, pointed out that "at all steps in the process, we keep the Indians fully informed.They are not only an interested party, they are arguably the interested party," he emphasized, "although many other countries, including most notably China and Iran have borders with Afghanistan and have also interests."

But Holbrooke reiterated that "India's interests are very high--India is the great regional power and I have great personal respect and affection for India." He told the lawmakers that "they (India) have a new ambassador (Meera Shankar)who just arrived and I met her as soon as she was in Washington, and we will keep India fully informed and the issues you raised are on great concern to us. But, if you'll permit me, I'd like to stop at that point," Holbrooke implored.

Casey in his preamble to this question, spoke of the Pakistani military obsession with India, which according to some analysts and even the Obama Administration, led to their denial that the Taliban and al Qaeda threat was a more existential threat to Pakistan than India is, and have urged Pakistan to move more troops from its eastern border to its western front. "I think that most Americans can understand or appreciate some of that obsession," Casey argued. "Every country, has its focus--we had a threat over many generations posed by the Soviet Union. (So), We understand that."

But, he bemoaned that "it's becoming an increasingly difficult problem to solve because if the Pakistani government and their military forces are focused only or largely on India, it's going to be very difficult to make it work militarily." Casey said, "I ask you this and I say this as someone last May--I was in all three countries (India, Pakistan and Afghanistan) and at one point sitting with the National Security Adviser in India in the context of Iran, I said, 'Look, I know that you have a lot of ties to Iran--India does. And, I know that you have strong relationships. But you got to help us with this nuclear threat posed by Iran.'"

The Senator told Holbrooke, obviously in pushing the Administration to urge New Delhi to ease up on its tensions with Pakistan to facilitate the AfPak strategy, that "we've asked a lot of countries and countries have asked us to set aside or to move to one side temporarily, a rivalry or concern.I ask you this and I know it's a long lead-up, (but) I ask you this with regard to Indiasteps that India an take in the context of this whole discussion to help lower the temperature or create an environment where Pakistan can ease up a little bitas they have already because I know they've moved some of their military forces from the borderbut are there efforts that India can undertake, not just on its own, but by our urging that would help here."

But Holbrooke just wasn't biting, particularly not on the eve of the final phase of India's election.

http://news.rediff.com/report/2009/may/13/holbrooke-refuses-comment-on-india-afpak.htm

Recession is good for the armed forces: Recruitment way up

Josh Smith

May 12th 2009 at 11:00AM

Even with a high unemployment rate, you can always count on one company to be hiring: the United States Military.

All branches of the armed forces are meeting or exceeding their 2009 recruitment goals, and active duty branches of the military are up almost 6,000 recruits over April of last year, an increase of 7%. This isn't an unexpected bump, Former Under Secretary of Defense Personnel And Readiness, Dr. David Chu told Congress in October that armed forces, "benefit when things look less positive in civil society."

Lest we forget the recession isn't limited to America, the India Times is reporting that the British Army's recruitment was up 14% from last year, as thousands of young Britons turn to the military due to poor job prospects in the private sector. An uptick in visits to recruitment offices of 20-25% was first noticed in January, and combined with fewer people leaving, these forces will likely lead to a full-strength British Army by 2011.

Dr. Chu provided a corollary between the economy and recruitment in the U.S. during his recent testimony to congress; "So what difficult economic times give us, I think, is an opening to make our case to people who we might not otherwise have. And if we make our case, I think we can be successful."

An additional contributing factor to the increase of new recruits since the economy took a nose dive has been an increase in support by older Americans; a factor which jumped from a one- third approval rating to almost two thirds, according to the military's latest poll.

It's not that the army is lowering its standards; only three out of 10 youths meet the current standards for enlistment, or that the job market has gotten so bad that the only option left for thousands of youth is to sign up to be a grunt. Rather, it's the fact that the economy has more people looking for the best option out there. This leads to more people listening to what the military has to offer, and in turn realizing that for all the danger associated with deployment, a military career is one of the few options left, save AIG, which offers bonuses, tuition reimbursement, 30 days vacation and a competitive health care package. (Unfortunately, I kid.)

However you look at it, this surge in recruits will be welcome news to the military officials and to the current troops who are serving second and third tours of duty in the Middle East.

http://www.walletpop.com/blog/2009/05/12/recession-is-good-for-the-armed-forces-recruitment-way-up/print/

US sacks top military commander in Afghanistan

U.S. Army General David McKiernan

(Jason Reed/Reuters)

General David McKiernan, who will be replaced after only 11 months in post

Tom Baldwin in Washington

The top US military commander in Afghanistan was sacked yesterday after both the Pentagon and the White House decided that "fresh thinking" was needed to win the war.

General David McKiernan, who has spent just 11 months in charge of Nato forces in Afghanistan, will be replaced by Lieutenant-General Stanley McChrystal who previously led the special operations command and is credited with killing the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Lieutenant-General David Rodriguez will be handed a new position of deputy commander of US forces in Afghanistan.

Robert Gates, Defence Secretary, told a Pentagon press conference that, after consultation with military chiefs "and with the approval of the President, I have asked for the resignation of General David McKiernan".

He added: "This is the right time to make the change, at a time when we are at the beginning of the implementation of a new strategy. The focus here is simply on getting fresh thinking, fresh eyes on the problem, and in how we implement the strategy and the mission going forward."

Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff confirmed that General McKiernan was being moved long before the usual tour of duty that "under normal circumstances" would have lasted up to two years.

Today's announcement was unexpected. As recently as last week, the Pentagon had indicated it was sending Lieutenant-General Rodriguez to Afghanistan to assist with the day-to-day management of the war so that Geneneral McKiernan could "concentrate on overall strategy".

Both Mr Gates and President Obama have, however, viewed the lack of progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan with growing alarm in recent weeks.

Although the President plans to increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan to around 60,000 later this year, General McKiernan had complained that the international forces would still be at least two battalions short to break what he has described as a "stalemate" in the battle against the Taleban.

Yesterday's change appears to mirror that in Iraq at the start of the surge in 2007 when General George Casey was replaced by General David Petraeus after two and a half years in charge.

General Casey, however, was made Army chief of staff while it was reported that General McKiernan would immediately be getting a new post.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article6269236.ece

US, Pakistan build military ties, one officer at a time

Revived exchange program points up Pakistan's importance to US aims in Afghanistan.

By Gordon Lubold | Staff writer

Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

In Classroom 2318 here, Major Naeem is studying the American Civil War, but the lessons being learned are less about Jeb Stuart's Ride or the Confederate advance than about building trust.

Naeem is one of dozens of Pakistanis attending US military schools this year, part of a long tradition in which senior foreign officers visit the United States not only to learn military culture, tactics, and history but also to create lasting relationships.

Naeem is proud of the bonds he has made with fellow officers. But he's also frustrated. He cites a general lack of understanding here about his country and says he thinks the US is disrespecting Pakistan and its Army by using unmanned aircraft to attack militant havens inside its borders.

"Any drone attack hurts me," he says quietly after class.

Success in Afghanistan hinges on its neighbor, Pakistan, and on America's ability to leverage its on-again, off-again relationship with the government in Islamabad. Critics say the US is relying too heavily on the Pakistani military to fight militants there. But others say the US must rebuild a lasting and strategic relationship with Pakistan that gets beyond the suspicions and veiled insults that often emanate from both sides.

In his faded camouflage uniform and with his backpack filled with books on US history, Naeem personifies this connection. The US hosted some 260 Pakistani officers last year – from year-long programs to shorter exchanges. Ties built here pay dividends years later: Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, head of the Pakistani Army and a linchpin of US interests in Pakistan, graduated from the Leavenworth program decades ago.

Recently, the Pakistan connection has become so important that the US is seeking to double the number of officers in the exchange within five years, says a Central Command official. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has urged this expansion, saying it is vital to engage with Pakistan for the long term and in positive ways.

It is a bid to change the relationship between the two countries, which has been characterized by fits and starts since the end of the cold war. It hit a low in the 1990s after Congress approved sanctions on Pakistan to (unsuccessfully) prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon. Weapons sales and officer programs were put on ice.

The US saw Pakistan as an important ally again only after 9/11. Defense officials refer to the years in between as "the lost decade," a time of essentially no personal interaction between the militaries.

"There's an entire generation ... of Pakistani military officers who never had the opportunity to visit the United States because of various sanctions that were on – some for understandable reasons," said Gen. David Petraeus, head of Central Command, a region of responsibility that includes South Asia and the Middle East, during a television interview in April.

Naeem, accompanied by his wife and two children, is studying at Leavenworth for a year. He asked that his full name not be used, for security reasons.

The US military is different from what Naeem had expected, in that it is extremely professional and more open to self-criticism. He suggests that military culture here is more religious than the typically more secular military institutions in Pakistan.

He says his country well understands the need to fight militants on its western border with Afghanistan. But concerns about its dispute with India over Kashmir are "genuine," he says, and it is difficult for Pakistan to move on from those hostilities. Meanwhile, fighting the insurgency on its Afghan border is complex and requires a deep understanding of the battle space. Too often, the American relationship with Pakistan is defined by a quid pro quo, he says, referring to popular perceptions among the Urdu media in Pakistan: That US gives Pakistan money, and Pakistan responds with dead militants.

"Killing doesn't solve the whole insurgency thing," he says. "We are working as hard as we can. The enemy are smart fighters."

Fellow student Major Tayyab, who also asked that his full name not be used, agrees: The US sees Pakistan too simplistically. The great majority of Pakistanis are law-abiding, secular, and moderate, he says. But the US view is far different. "If they are going to look at every man with a beard with suspicion, then there is a long way to go," says Tayyab.

Yet all agree that the officer exchanges are crucial. Students come from around the world to study at American military academies, the National Defense University in Washington, and other top schools.

"It's a cumulative thing; they live here among us for a year, and they see how our institutions work and maybe see how their own institutions don't always work," says Jim Fain, who oversees the Army Command and General Staff College and International Military Student Division at Leavenworth. "They are smart guys, and they can draw their own conclusions."

But as Naeem implies, the understanding must flow in both directions: The US must have a better grasp of Pakistan for the two countries to be truly allied. The officer exchange programs hosted by the US are typically one-sided, with the bulk of Pakistani officers coming to the US – not the other way around. Many suggest it may be more important for American military officers to learn about Pakistan.

"It's essential that we start spending more time in Pakistan," says Gen. John Abizaid, the former Central Command boss, in a rare phone interview. "The Pak military is the key to Pakistan, and Pakistan is the key to Afghanistan."

As the four-star general overseeing South Asia between 2003 and 2007, General Abizaid took counsel from a handful of aides who had studied in Pakistan. He found their advice "absolutely essential."

The US military hasn't been as quick to send officers to Pakistan. Many are not available, and the military's promotion and assignment system isn't designed to reward officers for overseas study. There are also obvious security concerns for US officers studying in Pakistan.

But it's a bigger risk not doing it, Abizaid says: "We have officers all over the world. I think Pakistan is where we really need them."•

http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0511/p21s01-usmi.html

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