Tag Archives: ISAF

McCrystal, Petraeus and Allen and the Tragedies in Afghanistan

The senior allied commander in Afghanistan has ordered new restrictions on airstrikes against Taliban fighters who hide in residential homes, coalition officials said Sunday (June 10, 2012), a move in response to a NATO attack in the eastern part of the country last week that Afghan officials say killed 18 civilians….Officials said the directive from Gen. John R. Allen, the commander for international and United States forces in Afghanistan, underscores NATO’s existing commitment to protecting civilians…On Sunday, however, American officials said General Allen’s order did not necessarily go that far and sought to describe it in more nuanced terms, saying that NATO would continue to conduct operations against insurgents who use civilian dwellings for shelter.  “When there is concern over the presence of civilians, air-delivered munitions will not be employed [ONLY] while other means are available,” said a senior United States defense official who was not authorized to speak publicly on the policy deliberations.  Militants often hide in civilian homes, so a complete ban on airstrikes could hinder the ability of American forces to pursue the Taliban. General Allen’s order does not affect ground operations against insurgents. An agreement between the two countries in April gave lead authority for night raids to the Afghans, although missions are to be conducted jointly and targets selected by consensus. Allied officials still retain control over dropping bombs in these operations, and Afghan officials say they were not involved in the decision to carry out the fatal airstrike last week.

The joint Afghan-NATO raid last week was hunting a Taliban commander and some of his fighters who had holed up in a home in Logar Province where a wedding had taken place, according to local residents. An early-morning firefight broke out between the coalition troops and the insurgents, with the civilians trapped inside. The coalition decided to call in an airstrike, which killed the insurgents but also 18 civilians, including 9 children, Afghan officials said.   On Friday, General Allen apologized for the civilian deaths and took the unusual step of meeting with the relatives of some of those killed……

General Allen’s directive comes nearly two years after Gen. David H. Petraeus, upon assuming command of international forces in Afghanistan, issued new guidelines on the use of force in Afghanistan that expanded restrictions on artillery strikes and aerial bombardment, but clarified that troops had the right to self-defense.  Troops widely complained that restrictions put in place by General Petraeus’s predecessor, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, exposed them to excessive risk by tying their hands when they sought to attack people suspected of being militants or destroy buildings used to harbor insurgents.  But General McChrystal’s rules were popular with Afghan officials, including President Karzai, and human rights advocates, who said the restrictions had significantly reduced Afghan civilian deaths.

On Sunday (June 10, 2012), human rights advocates expressed wariness about whether General Allen’s orders would have an immediate impact. “We’ve seen improvements in detention-related abuses and excessive force at checkpoints, but when it comes to civilian casualties, we’re still seeing tragic incidents, even today,” said John Sifton, Human Rights Watch’s advocacy director for Asia.

ERIC SCHMITT, Allies Restrict Airstrikes on Taliban in Civilian Homes, NY Times, June 10, 2012

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On Tuesday June 12, 2012, NATO said that Allen had issued an order telling U.S. and coalition forces “that no aerial munitions be delivered against civilian dwellings.”But the statement also contained this caveat: “As always, Afghan and coalition forces retain the inherent right to use aerial munitions in self-defense if no other options are available.”

At a Pentagon news conference on Tuesday, officials repeated the policy outlined by Allen but denied it differed greatly from Karzai’s.-

More than a Tally: Afghanistan

A Civilian population lost between the night raids, drone strikes, suicide bombings and targeted killings….Report from Reuters

In 2010, violence across Afghanistan was its worst since the Taliban were ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001, with civilian and military casualties at record levels.  A total of 711 foreign troops were killed in 2010, the deadliest year of the war for the coalition, and at least 340 have been killed so far this year, according to independent monitor http://www.icasualties.org and figures kept by Reuters.  U.S. and European military commanders have claimed significant success against Taliban insurgents in the south over the past 18 months, mainly with the help of an additional 30,000 U.S. troops deployed in the Taliban’s southern heartland to fight a growing insurgency.

However the Taliban and other insurgents have shown an alarming ability to adapt their tactics and shift the focus of their attacks out of the south into the east and the once relatively peaceful north and west….There has been a series of high-profile attacks and assassinations in the north in the past couple of years as insurgents seek to demonstrate their reach beyond their traditional southern heartland.  The police chief of north Afghanistan, General Dawood Dawood, was assassinated in late May by a massive bomb in Takhar province that also killed the Takhar police chief.  In June, a suicide bomber killed at least four policemen at a memorial service for Dawood in Kunduz. The attack appeared to target the police chief of Kunduz province, Sameullah Qatra, whose predecessor was killed by a suicide bomber in March.

NATO soldiers killed as Afghan violence flares, Reuters, Aug. 4, 2011

The Handover: Haqqani, bunkers, caves, raids, Afghanistan

At least 80 militants were killed in a series of operations involving Afghan and NATO forces during a day-long firefight last week in the country’s restive southeast, Paktika provincial governor Mukhlas Afghan said Sunday. NATO said it could only confirm 50 insurgents were killed in the fight.  The operation, which began Wednesday and spanned the night into Thursday, was fought in a “known Haqqani network” area.  The Haqqani network is an insurgent group loosely affiliated with the Taliban and is believed to be based in Pakistan’s frontier territories.  The raid included Afghan special forces and engaged “multiple groups of insurgents” who were armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and heavy machine guns, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force reported Friday.

Multiple insurgent groups were holed up in areas that included caves and fortified bunker positions, ISAF said.  Elsewhere, coalition raids on Sunday in Helmand province left five militants dead, including three Taliban commanders, according to provincial governor Dawood Ahmadi. Three others were captured, he said.  Sunday’s announcement coincides with formal ceremonies marking the handover of security to Afghan forces in parts of Kabul and Panjshir province.  They are the fifth and sixth areas to be transferred to national forces.

David Ariosto, Gunbattle in Afghanistan leaves 80 militants dead, governor saysBy,CNN, July 24, 2011

Petraeus on Afghanistan, resilient enemy, rugged safe havens, suicide vests

During his last full week commanding coalition and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus discussed his tenure there with NATO TV yesterday.“What we have done is implement the so-called NATO comprehensive approach, a civil-military campaign … that does indeed embody many of the principles of the counterinsurgency field manual that we developed back in 2006, and which we employed in Iraq in the surge of 2007-2008,” he said. “I think generally, it has borne fruit.”  Petraeus and Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis,who succeeded him in August as commander of U.S. Central Command, jointly oversaw the manual’s development and publication. Petraeus has issued further counterinsurgency guidance on troop operations and contracting since assuming the ISAF command in July 2010.

There have been setbacks as well as successes, the general said, but over the last year coalition and Afghan forces have halted the Taliban’s momentum in much of the country, and reversed the insurgent hold in central Helmand province, districts around Kandahar city and in the security bubble in and around the Afghan capital of Kabul.

While ISAF and Afghan forces have increased their hold in many population centers, there is still a tough fight for control of the country, he said.“We always say it gets harder before it gets easier, and we have definitely been in the ‘getting harder’ phase of this overall endeavor,” the general noted.  The number of enemy attacks between last May and this May was about the same, he said, and levels in June decreased by 3 to 5 percent from last year. That trend may not continue, but is still noteworthy for those two months, Petraeus said, particularly since the increase in violent incidents from 2009 to 2010 was “very, very significant.”  “But this is hard,” he said. “There is a resilient enemy, and there is no question … that enemy is willing to cause civilian casualties. It’s an enemy willing to blow himself up, in some cases, to achieve objectives.”  Enemy activity within Afghanistan’s border area with Pakistan is a very serious challenge, the general said.

Petraeus said ISAF and Afghan forces have worked together to establish a layered border defense in key locations such as the area between Khost province and North Waziristan. The protection force there “is quite effective and well supported,” he added. Coalition troops plan to expand that force and establish similar defenses in Paktika province and other “rugged, mountainous tribal areas in which the insurgents have been able to establish safe havens over the years,” he said.“Many of these areas, frankly, are just not those in which you will ever see sizeable Afghan or ISAF forces,” he acknowledged.

With mountains reaching to 14,000 feet and sparse population, he said, the border area requires sustainable security solutions that will deny insurgents access to the Afghan side of the border. The challenge then, he said, will be to “work with our Pakistani partners so that they can do the same on the other side.” “Keep in mind, many of these insurgents are posing what we believe is the most existential threat to Pakistan,” Petraeus said. “[They] pose the most urgent threat to the very existence of the Pakistani state, as its citizens know it, … killing dozens of Pakistani civilians in an average week.”

In contrast, and in keeping with the coalition’s emphasis on minimizing civilian casualties, he said, coalition special operations activities generally result in no shots fired.  “They have been very effective, indeed, in getting those individuals we’re seeking,” he said. “Typically capturing them, because we want to interrogate them and … learn more about their networks.”  The hierarchy of Afghan security forces is capable “with some caveats,” the general said.  “The Afghan special operations forces, over 12,000 of them now, [are] really quite capable and indeed leading nearly a quarter of the so-called night raids at this point,” he said. “We certainly provide enablers for them … but they are the ones going through the door, they’re the ones doing the apprehensions, the searches, and all the rest of that.”The Afghan regular army forces are “generally doing well,” he said. “Certainly there’s a range of them,” he added, “all the way from still being established … to an actual independent infantry battalion.” The Afghan police forces, he said, “run the gamut from quite good to some that are suspect in the eyes of the local population.”

Petraeus said that during the attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul on June 28, Afghan forces responded capably and relatively quickly in a situation involving a massive structure with hundreds of rooms, two huge wings and multiple floors.  “It does take a few hours to alert a force, assemble it, issue its equipment, develop initial plans, deploy to the location, get an update and then launch into operations,” he said, “keeping in mind that the individuals they were going after, each of them, was wearing a suicide vest and heavily armed.”  Afghan forces accomplished a “credible and courageous performance” clearing the hotel of heavily armed attackers in suicide vests, he said.

NATO forces assisted during the attack, Petraeus said. “But it was the Afghan forces that died in this operation,” he added. “There’s no better example … that they were the ones confronting these would-be suicide bombers, and ultimately forcing the remaining handful that remained up on to the roof, where they were killed by … other forces.”

Excerpt, By Karen Parrish, Petraeus: Counterinsurgency Strategy Has ‘Borne Fruit’, US Department of Defense, American Forces Press Service, July 12, 2011