Thursday, May 7, 2009

Obama and the Long Haul in Pakistan and Afghanistan

This morning's NY Times has a couple of reports on the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan, especially on the 3-way meeting among the leaders of the US (with the president and the Sec of State very high profile), Afghanistan, and Pakistan. A lot of brave optimism from Obama and Clinton, but beneath that gloss, lots of suspicion as to whether Pakistan's president is truly committed to what the US wants, and whether the Pakistani military is even up to the task. Meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton did not win herself many friends in Pakistan by referring to the two countries (Pakistan and Afghanistan) as "conjoined twins." Many Pakistanis resent that comparison very deeply. They regard themselves as a much more advanced, sophisticated society than the less developed, highly tribal society of Afghanistan.

Especially dire were the comments of one US official about the Pakistani military:

“They’re fundamentally not organized, trained or equipped for what they’ve been asked to do,” said a senior administration official who is closely following the Pakistani military operations in Swat, and who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid offending the visiting Pakistani leaders. “They will displace the Taliban for a while. But there will also be a lot of displaced persons and a lot of collateral damage. And they won’t be able to sustain those effects or extend the gains geographically.”
Pakistan is already dealing with a major refugee problem caused by the fighting with the Taliban, as well as "collateral damage" (again, for the poorly informed, that diplo-military-speak for slaughtered civilians and flattened villages). Odd though that the official laid the collateral damage at the doorstep of the Pakistani army. Pakistanis are just as angry about the deaths caused by missiles fired via remote control from US drones.

And the thousands of Pakistani refugees from the embattled regions of Swat and Buner are angry and terrified of the advances that the Taliban have made, and the harshness of their rule.

As the Times also reports, people in Afghanistan are extremely angry and protesting loudly about the recent US airstrike that killed as many as 130 people in western Afghanistan village - many of them women and children. According to the report,

In a phone call played on a loudspeaker on Wednesday to outraged members of the Afghan Parliament, the governor of Farah Province, Rohul Amin, said that as many as 130 civilians had been killed, according to a legislator, Mohammad Naim Farahi. Afghan lawmakers immediately called for an agreement regulating foreign military operations in the country.

“The governor said that the villagers have brought two tractor trailers full of pieces of human bodies to his office to prove the casualties that had occurred,” Mr. Farahi said. “Everyone at the governor’s office was crying, watching that shocking scene.”
US military spokesmen are laying much of the blame on the Taliban, and there seems to be some evidence that some of the villagers were killed by grenades, which the US attributes to the Taliban. (On the other hand, US Special Forces were also engaged - which is why the "close air support" that bombed villagers in their houses was called in. I would assume that grenades were part of their arsenal as well. And it may be wise as well to look behind what "close air support" actually means. Some military aircraft - like the A-10 "Warthog" - are low-flying, slow-flying aircraft designed indeed to support ground troops - not that the pilots are always able to distinguish between villagers and combatants. But many of the planes that have been called in in such situations are supersonic F-series fighters designed to operate most efficiently at higher speeds and altitudes. "Pinpoint" precision in their bombing - despite all the claims about vaunted "smart" bombs - is not their forte.

And however the blame gets apportioned here, the villagers are going to come away with the feeling that they are completely vulnerable and unprotected by their supposed (and very faraway) government in Kabul, who lets the Americans bomb them with impunity. When Mr. Obama declares to Mr. Karzai that the US is committed to the long haul, that's not necessarily music to the ears of people such as these.

Emphasis on Al Qaeda at Three-Way Talks -

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