Yesterday I noted this:
Eight people including four women and children were killed when the residential compound of a Muslim cleric was attacked by US helicopters in Saidgi, North Waziristan near the Afghan border.
Pakistan has protested to the U.S. military in Afghanistan over firing at a Pakistani village near the Afghan border that killed eight people, the Foreign Ministry said Monday.
Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said cross-border firing from Afghanistan killed the people in Saidgi village in the tribal region of North Waziristan early Saturday, but added that Pakistan was still trying to determine whether U.S. helicopters landed there as claimed by local elders.
"We have protested to the coalition forces because they are responsible for security on the other side," Aslam told a news conference in the capital, Islamabad.
"The Americans did not enter our territory. We did receive fire from across the border," said Aslam, without elaborating. "The Americans have denied their troops were involved in this attack, but we have initiated an inquiry into what exactly happened."
So now the Pakistani government's story is that Americans (or their Afghan allies) fired shells OVER the border and into the tiny village of Saidgi, and just so happened to flatten the house of a specific cleric, killing four men and four women and children.
Firing "over the border" might be likely if this was Iraq or Saudi Arabia, but the border in this case is one of the most mountainous in the world. This would have to mean that the artillery piece was set way up high in the mountains, allegedly just inside the magical line that separates Pakistan and Afghanistan.
I say "magical line" because the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is the Durand Line, drawn on a map by Sir Mortimer Durand, the British Foreign Secretary to the Indian government in 1893. It is 2,640 kilometers or 1,610 miles long, it runs right between a mountain range and is essentially unguarded and unguardable.
Waziristan is part of what's known as the "Federally Administered Tribal Areas" of Pakistan and detailed maps are difficult to find. The best I could do is here, which doesn't show the village of Saidgi but does show the hamlet of Miran Shah, where "tribal forces" killed 8 Pakistani soldiers last Friday. But according to this article, the village is called Dandi Sadghy and is just 8km north of Miran Shah.
According to the BBC, the FATA region is home to at least 5.7 million people, nearly all of them ethnic Pashtuns - the same peoples that live on the other side of the border in Afghanistan and were (and are) the core constituent of the Taliban. The Durand Line in fact was drawn specifically to weaken the Pashtun, who proved to be a real thorn in the side of the colonizing British.
As I reported on Saturday, there are definitely Taliban elements not only moving in and out of the FATA but are also attacking government troop positions. And then the Pakistani government has just "protested" that the Americans fired over the border into the FATA. But the local villagers say something else:
Momin Khan, a tribal elder, said he and other tribal elders complained to the area's top commander, Maj. Gen. Akram Sahi, that U.S. helicopters launched the attack, landed and took away five tribesmen, then flew toward Afghanistan.
He said Sahi had assured the elders that Pakistan's military was investigating.
What makes this even more ominous is that Lt. Mike Cody, the American military spokesperson in Kabul, denied both the helicopter "snatch and grab" as well as the "firing over the border" incident.
More information on the snatch and grab:
As many as 22 persons, including nine personnel of the law-enforcement agencies, were killed and 20 others injured in air and ground attacks in North Waziristan Agency and Tank in the Frontier region early Saturday.
However, officials of the political administration and armed forces in the areas neither confirmed nor denied the reports.
Besides eight paramilitary personnel, the dead included an officer of the Khasadar Force and eight family members of a local religious leader, Maulana Noor Muhammad, in Miranshah and the Mir Ali subdivision of North Waziristan Agency. The Maulana was among the injured.
Local tribesmen and injured members of the Maulana's family, who have been admitted to the agency headquarters hospital, informed journalists that the cleric's house was attacked from the air at about 00.30am on Saturday, resulting in the killings of eight persons - four men, two women and two children. Nine members of the family have been admitted to the hospital. The injured were four men, four women and a three years old girl.
The injured claimed that four members of the family were taken away by the raiding US soldiers.
A couple of days back the houses of Maulana Noor Muhammad and three other tribesmen were searched by personnel of the Pakistani security forces, but they made no arrests or recovery from the houses. A US drone had been seen hovering over the region for the last three days and nights, locals claimed.
The incident took place in the Dandi Saidgai village, some 13km north of Miranshah and about three kilometres from the Pak-Afghan border.
The injured persons claimed that all those killed, injured and missing were locals, while some reports claimed that the raid and the attack on the houses were the result of the alleged presence of suspected militants, including some foreigners, in the premises.
The Maulana is believed to be close to former Taliban minister for frontier and tribal affairs Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqani, who is wanted by the US on charges of terrorism.
Those killed in the Saidgai attack were identified as Bal Khan, his brother, two sons and mother, Salam Khan, his mother and a brother, while Maulana Noor Muhammad, Ali Jan, Muhammad Shafi, Shah Mehmud, Asadullah, Hazratullah and two women were among the injured. Two of the missing tribesmen have been identified as Gulabat Shah and Rehmat Khan, while the names of the two others could not be ascertained.
So Maulana Noor Mohammed, the target of the attack, was only wounded and got away while 8 other people were killed and at least 4 abducted. Plus now we've got reports about a drone aircraft. Here's more:
The tribal Jirga headed by two notables, Malik Momin Khan and Malik Mahshar, complained that US forces have violated the Pakistani airspace and territory by attacking four houses in Saidgai, adding that American soldiers came about six kilometres inside the Pakistani territory, which the GOC promised to probe.
The US has been blamed for targeting the house of a local tribesman in Miranshah some time back, in which the authorities claimed the killing of suspected Al-Qaeda leader Hamza Rubia along with two other Arab nationals from a drone.
Indeed they have been. From December 4, 2005:
Pakistani tribesmen on Sunday displayed parts of a U.S.-marked missile they said hit a house and killed two boys, evidence at odds with the government which says an explosion there killed a top al Qaeda commander.
Whatever the cause of the blast, the death of Abu Hamza Rabia would be a coup for Pakistan and the United States which describe him as al Qaeda's chief of international operations.
But his body has not been found.
Sat amid the ruins of his mud and concrete-walled home in the restive North Waziristan tribal agency, Haji Mohammad Siddiq told Reuters his 17-year old son and an eight-year-old nephew were killed in a missile attack, but denied there were any militants present.
"I don't know anything about them -- there were no foreigners in my house," Siddiq said. "I have nothing to do with foreigners or al Qaeda.
"We were sleeping when I heard two explosions in my guest room. When I went there I saw my son, Abdul Wasit, and my eight-year-old nephew, Noor Aziz, were dead," said the tall, moustachioed tribesman as he received condolences from a stream of relatives and neighbours.
Pakistan, sensitive to domestic public opinion, has denied U.S. drone aircraft have carried out missile strikes on its soil in the past and Washington has declined to comment.
But tribesmen in Haisori showed U.S.-marked fragments of missiles they said hit the village early on Thursday. One piece of casing clearly bore the words US and MISSILE.
"I heard more explosions and went out to the courtyard, and when I looked up at the sky, I saw a white drone," said Siddiq. "I saw a flash of light come from the drone followed by explosions."
So that's two reports of drone activity and two reports of missiles or artillery fire being used to smash up some houses where Al-Qaeda or other terrorist leaders live. And in both cases, innocent people died while the target survived.
But wait, that's not the only incident of drones/missiles. Back on September 14, 2005, the Pakistani military found a drone somewhere in FATA but this time they said that Al-Qaeda was the one who had been using it.
And on May 13, 2005:
A senior al Qaeda operative was killed by a missile fired from a CIA Predator aircraft on the Pakistani side of the remote area near the Afghan border earlier this week, U.S. intelligence officials told ABC News.
Haitham al-Yemeni, a native of Yemen known for his bomb-making skills, had been tracked for some time in the hope that he would help lead the United States to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, intelligence officials said. But with the recent capture in northwest Pakistan of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, thought to be al Qaeda's No. 3 man, officials worried al-Yemeni would soon go into hiding, and decided to take action.
Al-Yemeni was in line to replace al-Libbi, intelligence analysts said.
"It's an important step that has been taken in that it has eliminated another level of experienced leadership from the directorate of al Qaeda itself," said Vince Cannistraro, former head of counterterrorism for the CIA and now an ABC News consultant. "It will help weaken the organization and make it much less effective."
The CIA has the authority to fire at will against senior al Qaeda figures anywhere in the world, though it is unclear whether the Pakistanis approved of the action in advance. A spokesman for the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, D.C., said he was unaware of any such actions this week.
Hmmm... fire anywhere in the world? And the Pakistani Embassy knew nothing about it? Weirder and weirder...
Here's what the WaPo had to say when the drone killed al-Yemeni:
The CIA and U.S. military Special Operations forces have been operating inside Pakistan for more than two years with the knowledge of Pakistani authorities. But the U.S. presence is highly controversial with the largely Muslim Pakistani public, which is generally sympathetic to bin Laden and al Qaeda. For that reason, Pakistani officials routinely play down U.S.-Pakistani cooperation.
So it seems like the villagers were right when they said they saw American helicopters over the weekend in Saidgi.
But what about the target of the attack and snatch-and-grab? Well the word Maulana is a title, something akin to "Reverend". So in English he would be the Reverend Noor Mohammed.
It's unknown whether it's the same guy or not, but there is a politician Maulana Noor Mohammed, and he's openly pro-Taliban:
Sitting at his office in downtown Quetta, Maulana Noor Mohammad is hardly invisible. He's a member of Pakistan's National Assembly and part of the ruling coalition of religious parties that controls Baluchistan.
"The Taliban [retreated] because they wanted to avoid the bloodshed, and we decided to fight by guerrilla war," says the Maulana Mohammad. A visitor asks the maulana whether he meant to say "we" or "they" when describing the Taliban. He says "we."
"Now in the whole of Afghanistan, there is not a single place where there is peace," the Islamist lawmaker says proudly. "It took some years to defeat the Russians, but it won't take much time to defeat America."
A few moments later, a local reporter's mobile phone rings. The caller is a commander in the Taliban, and he asks the reporter to hand the phone to Maulana Noor Mohammad for a quick chat.
That article is from December 2003, so it's not referring to the times of pre-9/11 when Pakistan openly supported and financed the Taliban.
But Noor Mohammed isn't just a politician, he also teaches at madrassas (religious schools) run by Jamiat Ulema-e-Islami:
Quetta remains a centre of fundamentalist learning. Madrasas run by Jamiat Ulema-e-Islami, a radical Islamist party, helped incubate a generation of Talib fighters in the 1990s. Today the schools are still open and their leaders are unapologetic.
"Yes we support the Taliban morally ... The holy Qur'an teaches that jihad is the responsibility of every Muslim," says Maulana Noor Muhammad, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islami leader in Quetta, as he fingers his wooden prayer beads.
Whether the MNA Noor Mohammed and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islami Noor Mohammed are the same guy, I cannot say. But the latter is also connected to Nek Mohammed, a very active pro-Taliban militant/terrorist, who was killed in 2004. Inside that article is this interesting snippet:
The US has exclusive facilities across the world to interrogate militants, many of them captured in Pakistan. They are believed to number about 3,000, and they are spread over different areas. The biggest interrogation center for al-Qaeda detainees is Bagram Air Base north of the Afghan capital Kabul. Al-Tamara detention center, eight kilometers out of Rabat in Morocco, houses dozens of people arrested in Pakistan, while others are kept in Egypt, Thailand, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Thanks to the CIA secret prisons scandal, we already know that the detention facilities in Afghanistan, Egypt and Thailand have been confirmed. That's the first I heard of Saudi Arabia and Qatar though.
In Part 2 of the above article, we get further confirmation about U.S. activity inside Pakistan's borders:
Ten days later, on April 28, Barno in an interview to The New York Times stated further: "The Americans have been training Pakistanis in night flying and airborne assault tactics to combat foreign and local fighters in the tribal areas of Pakistan near the Afghan border." Significantly, this was the first time the American military acknowledged the training. [Then U.S. commander in Afghanistan Lt. General David] Barno further admitted that the presence of American troops in Pakistan was regarded as extremely delicate, adding that he had visited the Special Services Group headquarters of the Pakistan army at Cherat, near Peshawar, recently, where he watched a display by the units trained by the US in their new Bell 4 helicopters.
Connecting the dots, there seems to be a major clandestine American operation in the FATA (Pakistan) against Al-Qaeda elements. This includes drones, drones firing missiles as well as the use of helicopters.
If you remember my story, the Ballad of Abdullah Mahsud from March 2005, the Americans let a Taliban fighter go free from Guantanamo Bay. He then returned to the FATA and began leading an active insurgency. I wonder whether he was "turned" or released in exchange for gathering intelligence on Al-Qaeda in the area.
Remember that report that Noor Mohammed was a close friend and colleague of Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqani? Well Haqani is a very active fellow on the Afghan side of the border:
Meanwhile, in a relevant development, fighters loyal to Afghan leader and former `Mujahideen' commander, Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqani attacked the district headquarters of Aryub in Paktia province on the night between Sunday and Monday and took control of the headquarters building for more than an hour. A spokesman of Haqani, who identified himself as Muhammad told The News on telephone from an undisclosed location that the fighters loyal to Haqani's group captured all the check posts around the building, as the Afghan security forces had fled the area before the attack, but the `Mujahideen', a reference to the Taliban and their supporters, withdrew from the area soon after the US gunship helicopters and jets rushed to the spot intending to bomb the area. "We withdrew because the bombing is so heavy and ruthless, that it kills civilians than the attackers. We did not want the US forces to kill or hurt non-combatants," Sharif said.
The U.S. has been after Haqani for a long time. Back on November 2001, U.S. warplanes dropped bombs on Kunduz during the Taliban's "last stand" and killed a number of Haqani's men. And more bombs in December 2001:
The bombing on Paktia and Khost was believed connected to the pursuit of bin Laden and some local Taliban leaders -- including a Taliban leader, Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqani, who escaped an earlier assassination attempt when U.S. planes bombed his home and the adjacent madrassa (religious school), killing 16 people and injuring dozens of others last month.
And more evidence of U.S. military operations inside Pakistan, from May 2002:
Under intense pressure from Washington, Pakistan's military strongman General Pervez Musharraf has given the green light for US troops to operate inside the country alongside local army forces in pursuing so-called Al Qaeda and Taliban suspects.
The first operation on April 26 was a joint raid on a religious school in Darpa Khel village in northwestern Pakistan near the Afghan border. According to Pakistani officials, 24 US Special Forces soldiers, backed by Apache attack helicopters, joined some 200 paramilitary troops in storming a seminary founded by the Taliban's former Tribal Affairs Minister, Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani. Five people were detained for "suspected links" to the Taliban or Al Qaeda.
But wait! There's some conflicting information about Haqani. From an old webpage about the Taliban leadership:
Moulavi Jalaluddin Haqani, belongs to the Pashtoon tribe of Jadran. He is resident of Paktia province and was previously affiliated with Maulavi Khalis party and was then a prominent commander in Paktia province. In 1996 due to pressure from Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and the government of Pakistan he was forced to back Taliban Movement. Currently his followers are fighting against Massod and Rabbani forces in Bagram and Shakardara districts. He is currently working as minister of boundaries. Reports (rumours) saying that Haqani is not willing to continue his cooperation with Taliban Movement and that he might quit the Taliban and pull his followers back to Paktia.
Pressured by the Pakistani secret service eh? Perhaps that's because the ISI was being funded and remote-controlled by the CIA:
"Two former CIA allies in Afghanistan are now fearsome warlords responsible for killing scores of American troops in the escalating border war," the New York Daily News reported in a December 2 article. The article, entitled "Ex-CIA allies leading Afghan fight vs. G.I.s," focuses on Afghan warlords Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the principal jihadist leaders carrying out attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Both are reportedly receiving generous financial support from al-Qaeda-linked Arabs, as well as steady infusions of Arab recruits and advisers.
The CIA has extensive files on Hekmatyar and Haqqani, which is not surprising since both were favored clients of the agency during the 1980s and 90s. Hekmatyar, especially, was a major recipient of CIA cash, weapons, and supplies. However, this historical relationship between U.S. intelligence and the terrorists is news to many of the young U.S. Special Forces soldiers who are tasked with hunting terrorists in Afghanistan?s forbidding mountain terrain. Understandably, some of them are upset to learn that the CIA has withheld this information from them. The Daily News quotes one unidentified U.S. soldier in Afghanistan as being "shocked" that our government has denied this intelligence to our men on the ground. "The information would have been extremely useful", he said.
Indeed it would. So it now seems quite evident that the U.S. is undertaking a major anti-terrorism campaign inside of Pakistan's FATA. This weekend's helicopter gunfire and snatch operation seems to have been targeting Haqani.
Frankly it reminds me of the secret bombing and infiltration campaign that the U.S. undertook in Cambodia during the Viet Nam war, only on a much smaller scale.
It does make sense, in a geopolitical way. The FATA is home to 5 million Pashtuns, who are either sympathetic to the Taliban or outright supporters. The Pakistani Army has been conducting military operations since 2003 but has regularly sustained heavy losses. Even today there are only 70,000 troops in the region and unlike a Baghdad or Basra, most of the FATA is extremely mountainous terrain with tiny villages pocketed here and there.
The Taliban regularly continues to attack American and Afghan forces in Afghanistan and can easily cross the border into FATA to be with their kinsmen. The secret CIA and Special Forces operations have to be secret because the vast majority of Pakistanis are against U.S. operations inside Pakistani soil and the confirmation of such would seriously weaken dictator Pervez Musharraf's grip on power. And the U.S. seems to be involved in the "dirty work" because frankly the Pak government doesn't have the stomach to lead a full assault on the region.
And mixed in with all this pro-Taliban and pro-independence fighting are elements of Al-Qaeda, potentially including the elusive leadership of Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, amongst others.
This definitely bears further monitoring...
Cross-posted from Flogging the Simian