Wars in Pakistan and Afghanistan leave 150,000 dead, U.S. study estimates

AFP reports: The wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan have left nearly 150,000 soldiers and civilians dead since 2001, a new US study estimates.

Another 162,000 have been wounded since the US-led offensive that toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks, says the study by the Costs of War project, based at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.

The war in Afghanistan is intensifying rather than moving toward an end, it added, as the number of deaths and injuries has increased significantly in recent years. [Continue reading…]

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In shift, Pakistanis fleeing war flow into beleaguered Afghanistan

The New York Times reports: Through three decades of war, waves of Afghans have fled their homes along the eastern border areas, many of them seeking shelter in the Pakistani tribal regions next door.

Last summer another wave of refugees surged through the area. But in a reversal, it is Pakistanis, not Afghans, who are fleeing war at home.

“There was fighting everywhere,” said Sadamullah, a laborer who fled with his family last month from Dattakhel, a district in Pakistan’s tribal areas. “There was shelling, and military forces were firing mortars on our villages. They carried out an operation in our area, and a woman was killed by them.”

Mr. Sadamullah, who like many tribesmen here has only one name, was speaking about the Pakistani military’s continuing offensive against Islamist militants in the North Waziristan region. The military has been clearing territory in the region since June, forcing an exodus of at least 1.5 million residents. As many as 250,000 of them have since crossed the border into Afghanistan, officials say. [Continue reading…]

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CIA drones quit one Pakistan site — but U.S. keeps access to other airbases

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports: Despite its very public withdrawal from Shamsi airfield at the weekend, the United States continues to have access to a number of military airfields inside Pakistan – including at least one from which armed drones are able to operate, the Bureau understands.

The first concrete indications have also emerged that the US has now effectively suspended its drone strikes in Pakistan. The Bureau’s own data registers no CIA strikes since November 17.

Islamabad is furious in the wake of a NATO attack which recently killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on its Afghan borders. As well as suspending NATO supply convoys through Pakistan, anti-aircraft missiles have also reportedly been moved to the border with Afghanistan. Pakistan also demanded that the US withdraw from Shamsi, a major airfield in Balochistan controlled and run by the Americans since late 2001.

US Predator and Reaper drones have operated from the isolated airbase for many years. Technically the base is leased to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, which allowed Pakistan to deny a US presence for many years. Now the US has quit Shamsi, with large US transporter planes stripping military hardware from the base.

But the US will continue to have access to at least five other Pakistani military facilities, according to a Pakistani source with extensive knowledge of US-Pakistani military and intelligence co-operation.

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U.S.-Pakistan relations deteriorate

Al Jazeera reports: The US has vacated the Shamsi air base in Pakistan’s Balochistan province after a 15-day ultimatum given by Islamabad, prompted by the deaths of at least 24 of its soldiers in a NATO air raid last month.

Sunday’s withdrawal was completed when the final flight carrying US personnel and equiptment flew out.

Nine planes carrying personnel and 20 carrying equiptment – including drone aircraft and weapons – left for neighbouring Afghanistan, officials said.

Shamsi was believed to be the staging post for US drones operating in northwest Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, a senior Pakistani military official told a US television network on Sunday that his country “will shoot down any US drone that enters its territory”.

Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder, reporting from Islamabad, said that Pakistani parliamentarians had “asked their air chief whether they had the capability to shoot down the drones if they were to violate their frontiers”.

“The air chief told them point blank that the decision to shoot down the drones was a political one and if they were ordered to do so they would comply,” he said.

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Pakistan stops NATO supplies after raid kills up to 28

Reuters reports: NATO helicopters and fighter jets attacked two military outposts in northwest Pakistan on Saturday, killing as many as 28 troops and plunging U.S.-Pakistan relations, already deeply frayed, further into crisis.

Pakistan retaliated by shutting down vital NATO supply routes into Afghanistan, used for sending in almost half of the alliance’s non-lethal materiel.

The attack is the worst single incident of its kind since Pakistan uneasily allied itself with Washington in the days immediately following the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. targets.

Relations between the United States and Pakistan, its ally in the war on militancy, have been strained following the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces in a raid on the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad in May, which Pakistan called a flagrant violation of sovereignty.

The Pakistani government and military brimmed with fury.

“This is an attack on Pakistan’s sovereignty,” said Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. “We will not let any harm come to Pakistan’s sovereignty and solidarity.”

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World history at warp speed

Helena Cobban asks: From Afghanistan, to Iraq, to Pakistan, to Somalia, to Yemen– and now, to Libya… What has the U.S. military brought in its wake?? The collapse of communities, of whole economies, of institutions, and families… Tragedies, wherever you look.

This is not to indict individual members of the military, which as a group of people probably contains as great a proportion of decent, competent people as any group of that size. What has happened has not been the fault of the individual people in the military, but in the fact that it was the military that was used at all in response to all these problems. For each and every one of those “problems”, there were non-military policies that were available and could have been pursued– most likely with, at the end of the day, a lot more success from the American people’s point of view than we ended up winning. But the rush, the urge, the unseemly push to use military force proved overwhelming. Especially to those three presidents– Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama– who had never themselves experienced the horrors of war.

Almost none of this destruction need have happened– if only these men and their advisers had kept fast to the older, more principled visions of America as a country that upholds and strengthen the rule of international law and all the institutions built up around it… If only these men had not been so easily tempted by the ‘flash-bang’ wizardry and testosterone-driven arrogance of war.

But here we are. And at the other end of the Mediterranean this week, there have been two notably different kind of gatherings. At one of them, on Monday, world leaders gave a strong vote to Palestine’s application to become a member of the UN’s Educational, Scientific, and Cultural organization (UNESCO). In that vote, 107 nations (including several substantial European allies of Washington) defied vigorous American arm-twisting to support the Palestinian request.

The U.S. State Department announced almost immediately that it would stop providing the funding it has been giving to UNESCO. Far-reaching legislation passed over recent years by the strongly Israeli-controlled U.S. Congress means that the administration may have to extend its funding cut-off to other agencies, too.

How very, very far the United States has come from those idealistic days, 60 years ago, when it was a victorious America, standing unchallenged astride the the whole world, that exercised wisdom and restraint by setting up the United Nations as a set of institutions based on the key principles of human equality, respect for the rule of law, and the need to stress nonviolent, negotiated ways to resolved conflicts whenever possible.

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Costs of war: 225,000 killed, $3.2-4 trillion

On September 14, 2001, when President Bush shouted through a bullhorn to rescue workers at the ruins of the World Trade Center, he said: “I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people — and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”

In response the workers shouted: “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! ”

But suppose Bush had added this: “And for every innocent life lost here, we will kill a hundred more innocent people. And we will get our vengeance — even if it means driving the country into economic ruin.”

Would the crowd have then fallen silent? Would Americans, still in shock, have realized that their government was seeking support for what amounted to a collective act of insanity?

The “Costs of War” report from the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University says:

The President of the United States has told the American people and the rest of the world that even as the U.S. withdraws some troops from Afghanistan and continues to withdraw from Iraq, the wars will continue for some years. The debate over why each war was begun and whether either or both should have been fought continues.

What we do know, without debate, is that the wars begun ten years ago have been tremendously painful for millions of people in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, and the United States, and economically costly as well. Each additional month and year of war will add to that toll. To date, however, there has been no comprehensive accounting of the costs of the United States’ wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. The goal of the Costs of War project has been to outline a broad understanding of the domestic and international costs and consequences of those wars. The Eisenhower Research Project based at Brown University assembled a team that includes economists, anthropologists, political scientists, legal experts, and a physician to do this analysis.

We asked:

  • What have been the wars’ costs in human and economic terms?
  • How have these wars changed the social and political landscape of the United States and the countries where the wars have been waged?
  • What will be the long term legacy of these conflicts for veterans?
  • What is the long term economic effect of these wars likely to be?
  • Were and are there alternative less costly and more effective ways to prevent further terror attacks?

Some of the project’s findings:

  • While we know how many US soldiers have died in the wars (just over 6000), what is startling is what we don’t know about the levels of injury and illness in those who have returned from the wars. New disability claims continue to pour into the VA, with 550,000 just through last fall. Many deaths and injuries among US contractors have not been identified.
  • At least 137,000 civilians have died and more will die in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as a result of the fighting at the hands of all parties to the conflict.
  • The armed conflict in Pakistan, which the U.S. helps the Pakistani military fight by funding, equipping and training them, has taken as many lives as the conflict in neighboring Afghanistan.
  • Putting together the conservative numbers of war dead, in uniform and out, brings the total to 225,000.
  • Millions of people have been displaced indefinitely and are living in grossly inadequate conditions. The current number of war refugees and displaced persons — 7,800,000 — is equivalent to all of the people of Connecticut and Kentucky fleeing their homes.
  • The wars have been accompanied by erosions in civil liberties at home and human rights violations abroad.
  • The human and economic costs of these wars will continue for decades, some costs not peaking until mid-century. Many of the wars’ costs are invisible to Americans, buried in a variety of budgets, and so have not been counted or assessed. For example, while most people think the Pentagon war appropriations are equivalent to the wars’ budgetary costs, the true numbers are twice that, and the full economic cost of the wars much larger yet. Conservatively estimated, the war bills already paid and obligated to be paid are $3.2 trillion in constant dollars. A more reasonable estimate puts the number at nearly $4 trillion.
  • As with former US wars, the costs of paying for veterans’ care into the future will be a sizable portion of the full costs of the war.
  • The ripple effects on the U.S. economy have also been significant, including job loss and interest rate increases, and those effects have been underappreciated.
  • While it was promised that the US invasions would bring democracy to both countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, both continue to rank low in global rankings of political freedom, with warlords continuing to hold power in Afghanistan with US support, and Iraqi communities more segregated today than before by gender and ethnicity as a result of the war.
  • Serious and compelling alternatives to war were scarcely considered in the aftermath of 9/11 or in the discussion about war against Iraq. Some of those alternatives are still available to the U.S.

There are many costs of these wars that we have not yet been able to quantify and assess. With our limited resources, we focused on U.S. spending, U.S. and allied deaths, and the human toll in the major war zones, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. There is still much more to know and understand about how all those affected by the wars have had their health, economies, and communities altered by the decade of war, and what solutions exist for the problems they face as a result of the wars’ destruction.

The Costs of War Since 2001: Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan” (PDF)

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Poll: Majority says US military involved in too many places

The Hill reports:

An overwhelming number of voters believe the United States is involved in too many foreign conflicts and should pull back its troops, according to a new poll conducted for The Hill.

Seventy-two percent of those polled said the United States is fighting in too many places, with only 16 percent saying the current level of engagement represented an appropriate level. Twelve percent said they weren’t sure.

Voters also do not think having U.S. soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq has made the country safer, according to the poll.

Thirty-seven percent said the continued presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan makes no impact on national security, while another 17 percent said it makes the United States less safe. By contrast, 36 percent said the United States is safer because forces are in Afghanistan.

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Listening Post – Pakistan: The most dangerous place to report from

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Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11

Gareth Porter on the new book by recently murdered Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad.

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Prominent journalist Saleem Shahzad murdered after exposing ties between Pakistan’s navy and al Qaeda

Declan Walsh reports:

A prominent Pakistani journalist who investigated links between the military and al-Qaida has been found dead, triggering angry accusations against the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency.

Saleem Shahzad, Pakistan correspondent for a news service based in Hong Kong, disappeared on his way to a television interview in Islamabad on Sunday evening. On Tuesday, police said they found his body on a canal bank in Mandi Bahauddin, 80 miles south-east of the capital.

Shahzad’s abandoned car was found 25 miles away. Television images of his body showed heavy bruising to his face. Media reports said he had a serious trauma wound to the stomach.

Human Rights Watch had already raised the alarm over the disappearance of the 40-year-old father of three, citing a “reliable interlocutor” who said he had been abducted by ISI.

“This killing bears all the hallmarks of previous killings perpetrated by Pakistani intelligence agencies,” said a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch in south Asia, Ali Dayan Hasan. He called for a “transparent investigation and court proceedings”.

Other journalists reacted angrily, directly accusing ISI of responsibility on television and social media. “Any journalist here who doesn’t believe that it’s our intelligence agencies?” tweeted Mohammed Hanif, a bestselling author.

In his last published report, Shahzad wrote:

Al-Qaeda carried out the brazen attack on PNS Mehran naval air station in Karachi on May 22 after talks failed between the navy and al-Qaeda over the release of naval officials arrested on suspicion of al-Qaeda links, an Asia Times Online investigation reveals.

Pakistani security forces battled for 15 hours to clear the naval base after it had been stormed by a handful of well-armed militants.

At least 10 people were killed and two United States-made P3-C Orion surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft worth US$36 million each were destroyed before some of the attackers escaped through a cordon of thousands of armed forces.

An official statement placed the number of militants at six, with four killed and two escaping. Unofficial sources, though, claim there were 10 militants with six getting free. Asia Times Online contacts confirm that the attackers were from Ilyas Kashmiri’s 313 Brigade, the operational arm of al-Qaeda.

Three attacks on navy buses in which at least nine people were killed last month were warning shots for navy officials to accept al-Qaeda’s demands over the detained suspects.

The May 2 killing in Pakistan of Osama bin Laden spurred al-Qaeda groups into developing a consensus for the attack in Karachi, in part as revenge for the death of their leader and also to deal a blow to Pakistan’s surveillance capacity against the Indian navy.

The deeper underlying motive, though, was a reaction to massive internal crackdowns on al-Qaeda affiliates within the navy.

Several weeks ago, naval intelligence traced an al-Qaeda cell operating inside several navy bases in Karachi, the country’s largest city and key port.

“Islamic sentiments are common in the armed forces,” a senior navy official told Asia Times Online on the condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the media.

“We never felt threatened by that. All armed forces around the world, whether American, British or Indian, take some inspiration from religion to motivate their cadre against the enemy. Pakistan came into existence on the two-nation theory that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations and therefore no one can separate Islam and Islamic sentiment from the armed forces of Pakistan,” the official said.

“Nonetheless, we observed an uneasy grouping on different naval bases in Karachi. While nobody can obstruct armed forces personnel for rendering religious rituals or studying Islam, the grouping [we observed] was against the discipline of the armed forces. That was the beginning of an intelligence operation in the navy to check for unscrupulous activities.”

The official explained the grouping was against the leadership of the armed forces and opposed to its nexus with the United States against Islamic militancy. When some messages were intercepted hinting at attacks on visiting American officials, intelligence had good reason to take action and after careful evaluation at least 10 people – mostly from the lower cadre – were arrested in a series of operations.

“That was the beginning of huge trouble,” the official said. [Continue reading…]

Pepe Escobar, a fellow correspondent for Asia Times, describes Shahzad as “a brother.”

In the aftermath of 9/11 we worked in tandem; he was in Karachi, I was in Islamabad/Peshawar. After the US ”victory” in Afghanistan I went to visit him at home. He plunged me into Karachi’s wild side – in this and other visits. During a night walk on the beach he confessed his dream; he wanted to be Pakistan bureau chief for Asia Times, which he regarded as the K2 of journalism. He got it.

And then, years before ”AfPak” was invented, he found his perfect beat – the intersection between the ISI, the myriad Taliban factions on both sides of AfPak, and all sorts of jihadi eruptions. That was his sterling beat; and no one could bring more hardcore news from the heart of hardcore than Saleem.

I had met some of his sources in Islamabad and Karachi – but over the years he kept excavating deeper and deeper into the shadows. Sometimes we seriously debated over e-mails – I feared some dodgy/devious ISI strands were playing him while he always vouched for his sources.

Cornered by the law of the jungle, no wonder most of my Pakistani friends, during the 2000s, became exiles in the United States or Canada. Saleem stayed – threats and all, the only concession relocating from Karachi to Islamabad.

Now they finally got him. Not an al-Qaeda or jihadi connection. Not a tribal or Taliban connection, be it Mullah Omar or Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. It had to be the ISI – as he knew, and told us, all along.

Shahzad had just published a book, Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11.

In an interview on the Real News Network recorded a few days before his murder, Shahzad described the transformation of al Qaeda over the last decade and that while the group itself has shrunk, its ideology has spread horizontally by incorporation inside and beyond the new Taliban.

First you have to understand this fact, that there are 17 Arab-Afghan groups which are operating inside Pakistani tribal areas and in Afghanistan, and most of these groups and most of the groups are aligned with al Qaeda but they are not part of al Qaeda — number one. And the strength of those 17 Arab-Afghan groups is over 1,000 approximately.

Second, those who are the members of al Qaeda are hardly 100, not more than 100.

The third thing is — and this is the most important thing — and that is the phenomenon of new Taliban — the new generation of those Afghan fighters, of the Pakistani fighters, or the fighters coming from the Pakistani tribal areas who previously pledged their allegiance to Mullah Omar and the Taliban, but now they — in the last ten years — they completely absorbed al Qaeda’s ideology inside-out, and they are more loyal to al Qaeda than to Mullah Omar or to the al Qaeda leaders, or to their jihadi commanders.

So this is the new group, this is al Qaeda horizontally, not only in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the tribal areas, but all across the globe, like in Yemen, in Somalia and other parts, even in Europe, even in America. So this is the new generation on which al Qaeda is heavily banking on. And not only those, but it also includes the new converts, white Caucasians which are living in North Waziristan and in South Waziristan. And many of them were sent back to their countries of origin in Europe, Canada and America, and different countries. So, this was a completely new phenomenon. Al Qaeda grew horizontally in different directions.

Watch Shahzad’s last interview (in two parts) with the Real News Network:

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NATO concern over Pakistan nuclear arsenal

Al Jazeera reports:

The head of NATO has admitted that the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons is a matter of concern, the day after the worst assault on a Pakistani military base in two years.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen was speaking in Afghanistan on Tuesday, where he met Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, to discuss the transition of security from NATO-led troops to Afghan security forces, which is due to begin in July.

“Based on the information and intelligence we have, I feel confident that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is safe and well protected,” Rasmussen said. “But of course, it is a matter of concern and we follow the situation closely.”

Pakistani forces battled Taliban fighters for 17 hours before reclaiming control of a naval base in Karachi on Monday.

The attack, the worst on a base since the army headquarters was besieged in October 2009, piled further embarrassment on Pakistan three weeks after al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was found living in the city of Abbottabad, close to the country’s military academy.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

The team of Islamist militants knew exactly where the naval base’s weak spot was.

Dressed in black and armed with AK-47 rifles, grenades and rocket launchers, they crept up to the back wall of Mehran Naval Station in Karachi, keeping clear of security cameras. Then, with just a pair of ladders, they clambered over the wall, cutting through barbed wire at the top, to launch a 17-hour siege that would renew disturbing questions about the Pakistani military’s ability to defend sensitive installations, including its nuclear arsenal.

The team, believed to consist of four to six militants, destroyed two U.S.-supplied maritime surveillance aircraft and engaged security forces in hours of pitched firefights. It was not until late Monday afternoon that Pakistani forces regained full control of the facility.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said 10 Pakistani security personnel were killed and 15 were injured. Four militants died and two were believed to have escaped, he said.

The Pakistani Taliban, the country’s homegrown insurgency with ties to Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack, which it said was meant to avenge the May 2 killing of Osama bin Laden in the military city of Abbottabad.

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