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America’s Silent War In Pakistan Unmasked

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

06 February, 2010

Three US Marines were killed and another two injured in a suicide attack in Dir, northern Pakistan on Wednesday. The Americans, disguised in traditional Pakistani dress, were traveling with Pakistani military officers in a five-car convoy to attend the inauguration of a girl school, which had been renovated with the U.S. humanitarian assistance. Four schoolgirls and a paramilitary soldier were also killed in the attack while more than 120 school girls were injured.

To many Pakistanis the most shocking aspect of the latest Taliban suicide bombing the question was: What was a team of American soldiers doing in a volatile corner of North West Frontier province?

According to Pakistan’s leading newspaper, The News, the three US soldiers were apparently in the area to train the paramilitary Frontier Corp personnel engaged in the military operations against the Taliban in the area.

The suicide bombing on Wednesday was the first against the US soldiers in Pakistan. And it was the first time that so many American soldiers were killed and injured in Pakistan. A US Embassy statement said they were the US military personnel in Pakistan to conduct training at the invitation of the Frontier Corps.

The News reported that the slain US soldiers were part of a 100-member strong special American military training unit which was dispatched to Pakistan in 2008 to raise a 1,000-member strong well-trained paramilitary commando unit which could conduct guerrilla operations against the Taliban militants active in the Pak-Afghan tribal belt.

The military training program was never officially announced by Pakistan to avoid a possible backlash by the masses which are opposed to the American military presence on the Pakistani territory. Interestingly, the US-funded training course for the largely under-equipped and under-trained Frontier Corps included both classroom and field sessions.

The News said that besides dispatching American marines to train the Frontier Corps personnel, the Pentagon had also sent a special team of its Special Forces military advisers, communication experts, technical specialists and combat medics to help establish coordination centers on Pak-Afghan border so that the American and Pakistani officials could share intelligence about al-Qaeda and Taliban elements in and around the tribal areas.

In the beginning, the American military trainers confined themselves to training compounds due to security concerns in Pakistan. However, they had now started accompanying Pakistani troops on special guerrilla operations against the Taliban, eventually leading to the Wednesday incident in Dir Lower which shares a border with Afghanistan and with the restive Swat district, where the Army had carried out a massive military operation last year.

Pakistani press reports indicated that the American soldiers were part of a $100 million Pentagon-funded training program which is meant to equip the Frontier Corps with new body armor, vehicles, and surveillance equipment, and plans to spend $75 million more during the next year. As per the program, the Pentagon intended to spend around $400 million more in the next few years to train and equip the Frontier Corps. This is in addition to a 7.5 billion dollars US assistance for the next five years announced last year under controversial the Kerry-Lugar Act. But behind the scenes the US is engaged in other ways. Over the past decade it has given over $12bn in cash directly to the ­military to subsidize the costs of fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida. Ominously, part of the money doled out to Pakistan’s mercenary army by the Pentagon is for what United States Special Operations Command (USSOC) calls Foreign Internal Defense (FID) a key pillar of Special Forces' Unconventional Warfare doctrine.

El Salvador Option:

Unconventional or irregular warfare is conducted "by, with, or through surrogates." According to Unconventional Warfare doctrine: Irregulars, or irregular forces, are individuals or groups of individuals who are not members of a regular armed force, police, or other internal security force. They are usually nonstate-sponsored and unconstrained by sovereign nation legalities and boundaries. These forces may include, but are not limited to, specific paramilitary forces, contractors, individuals, businesses, foreign political organizations, resistance or insurgent organizations, expatriates, transnational terrorism adversaries, disillusioned transnational terrorism members, black marketers, and other social or political "undesirables." (Unconventional Warfare, Defense Department, September 2008, p. 1-3)

Significantly, as in El Salvador, Colombia and a score of other global "hot spots" tagged for resource extraction or geopolitical control by America's corporatist masters, the USSOC manual calls for the direct training of paramilitary forces.

United States Special Operations Command (USSOC) touts the "success" of their "mission" in El Salvador as an applicable model for countering insurgencies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

For 12 years, beginning in 1979, the United States assisted the El Salvador military in becoming a more professional and effective fighting force against the Communist-backed Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). A U.S. military group assisted the El Salvadoran army by establishing a facility for basic and advanced military training. SF advisors, primarily from the 7th Special Forces Group, served with El Salvadoran units to support small-unit training and logistics. The advisors helped the El Salvadoran military become more professional and better organized, while advising in the conduct of pacification and counter guerrilla operations. Advisors were also present at the brigade levels assisting in operations and intelligence activities. From 1985 to 1992, just over 140 SF officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) served as advisors to a 40-battalion army. From a poorly staffed and led force of 8,000 soldiers in 1980, SF trainers created a hard-hitting (counter insurgency force) COIN force of 54,000 by 1986. U.S. forces supported U.S. interests by creating an effective COIN force that fought the guerrillas to a standstill and established the groundwork for a negotiated settlement by 1991. (Foreign Internal Defense (FID) document p A-6)

Translation: between 1980-1991 Special Operations Forces "assistance" to the brutal Salvadoran military produced 75,000 civilian deaths, by and large the result of Army massacres carried out in tandem with far-right narco-trafficking death squads who ruled the roost with an iron fist.

The "hard-hitting COIN force," while shying away from battles with tough FMLN guerrillas, kidnapped and "disappeared" peasants, labor organizers, students, Catholic priests and nuns, or just plain folks caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, often subjecting them to hideous torture before lining the roads with their brutalized corpses.

Today, Pentagon planners and their cheerleaders in the corporate media are touting these tactics as a "fresh approach" to beat back the Taliban. In Afghanistan and Pakistan today, to ensure that effective measures of "populace and resource control" (PRC) are brought to bear to stem the insurgent tide, FID theorists recommend widespread political repression and panoptic methods of surveilling the "target" population.

The authors' aver: Rights on the legality of detention or imprisonment of personnel (for example, habeas corpus) may be temporarily suspended. This measure must be taken as a last resort since it may provide the insurgents with an effective propaganda theme.

PRC measures can also include the following:

* Curfews or blackouts.
* Travel restrictions.
* Restricted residential areas, such as protected villages or resettlement areas.
* Registration and pass systems.
* Control of sensitive items (resources control) of critical supplies, such as weapons, food, and fuel.
* Checkpoints, searches, and roadblocks.
* Surveillance, censorship, and press control.
* Restriction of activity that applies to selected groups (labor unions, political groups, and so on). (FID, op. cit. p. A-12)

We see implementation of these measures in the current Pakistan army military operations in South Waziristan as well as in Swat which is occupied by the army in the aftermath of last year’s military operation that displaced more than three million people, killed thousands of innocent people and destroyed neighborhoods and economic centers. At least 400,000 people have been displaced in the current operation in South Waziristan while millions of so-called Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) on return find their homes, shops and neighborhoods damaged by the indiscriminate air strikes and shelling by the army.

If the army atrocities in May-July 2009 operation against the militants in Swat are any indication then we may find extra-judicial killings and mass graves in South Waziristan as uncovered in Swat. Returning residents of Swat displaced by the army operation often found unclaimed bodies dumped in agricultural fields, by the roadside or on the banks of Swat River. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) sent a fact-finding mission to Swat which documented accounts of not only extrajudicial killings but also the discovery of mass graves.

While the Swat displaced people are still clamoring for rehabilitation, the South Waziristan operation has created another humanitarian problem. More than three months after the Pakistani military launched the US-financed offensive, humanitarian aid organizations are only now gaining access to the people who have fled the fighting in the region.

Not surprisingly, according to the Defense of Human Rights of Pakistan, between 8,000 to10,000 people disappeared in Pakistan since General Parvez Musharraf government joined the US “global war on terror.”

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan claims responsibility

A Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Azam Tariq has claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s bombing, saying the dead Americans belonged to the Iraq-ill famed US mercenary army Blackwater - now known as Xe. “We claim responsibility for the blast,” Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan spokesman Azam Tariq said in a call from an unspecified place. “The Americans killed were members of the Blackwater group. We know they are responsible for bomb blasts in Peshawar and other Pakistani cities,” he said.

Pakistan's government could now face further anti-American feeling as the deaths disclosed the extent of the unpopular US military involvement. Tensions over American Predator drone missile strikes against Taliban and al-Qaeda militants on Pakistani soil have already led to widespread anti-American protests. In the most intense barrage yet an estimated eight drones fired at least 17 missiles at different compounds and vehicles in North Waziristan on Tuesday which killed at least 31 people.

The American soldiers were probably made targets as a result of the drone strikes, according to Syed Rifaat Hussain, professor of international relations at Islamabad University. “The attack seems a payback for the mounting frequency of the drone attacks,” Professor Hussain said.

If the American soldiers were the targets, the attack raised the question of whether the Taliban had received intelligence or cooperation from within the Frontier Corps. Pakistani analysts said Wednesday's bombing underscored the strength of militant networks in the area despite the military presence and last year's bloody offensive. "The attack shows maybe they had some advance information that the convoy had some foreigners... and that the militants' intelligence is still active, and this is a matter of concern," said retired intelligence officer Saad Khan. "The situation in the area is still not normal and it is not going to be over soon."

According to Khalid Aziz, a former chief secretary of the North-West Frontier Province, which includes Swat and Dir, it was odd that American soldiers would go to such a volatile area where Taliban militants were known to be prevalent even though the Pakistani army insisted that they had been flushed out.

The killing of the three US soldiers was a deep embarrassment to the US client Pakistani government of President Asaf Ali Zardari. The Pakistani public has been increasingly upset about the alleged activities of the US military and Blackwater (Xe) in their country. There is a general impression among Pakistanis that the wave of bombings besetting their country, blamed by the mainstream on the Taliban, is secretly carried out by American agents, in order to destabilize Pakistan and justify a US imperial presence.

A survey last August for international broadcaster al Jazeera by Gallup Pakistan found that 59 percent of Pakistanis felt the greatest threat to the country was the United States. A separate survey in August by the Pew Research Center, recorded that 64 percent of the Pakistani public regards the U.S. "as an enemy" and only 9 percent believe it to be a partner.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Executive Editor of the online magazine
American Muslim Perspective: Email:




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