Wednesday, May 10, 2006

April 15 Afghan crisis

Firing under pressure

THE DEATH of Afghan civilians and policemen in operations carried out by the US military in the countryside — some of them in "friendly fire" incidents — highlight a new dimension to American activities in Afghanistan. There seems to be a frenzy for the US military to prove to show results of their operations in the country as the Pentagon has come under bitter criticism, with demands mounting for the resignation of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Rumsfeld has drawn fire for what his critics see as major shortcoming in planning the wars against Afghanistan as well as Iraq. In both cases, the US is far from realising its strategic and military goals , and it does not look like it would get any closer to the objectives in the short term.
In Afghanistan, the US military is combing areas near the border with Pakistan hunting for Al Qaeda guerrillas and allied Taliban fighters who melted away into the countryside by the time American soldiers could claim having taken over the country in late 2001. Strategic prizes of the invasion, Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar, eluded the wide American net along with close lieutenants.
Now they seem to be staging a comeback, with the frequency of their operations increasing every day in a deadly catch-me-if-you-can game.
In response, up to 2,500 US, British and Afghan forces last week launched Operation Mountain Lion aimed at flushing out Taleban-led militants assumed to be behind the recent upsurge in attacks. It is described as s the biggest joint operation since the Taleban were driven from power in 2001.
As the coalition forces battle it out in Afghanistan, the US is also finding itself getting more and more dragged into the crisis in Iraq, which is showing no signs of being contained. If anything, it is worsening and reports clearly indicate that it is all but a civil conflict in name in the beleaguered country, as military experts and analysts argue.
On Friday, according to reports, "friendly fire" killed six Afghan policemen in southern Kandahar province during a battle between US soldiers and militants.
On Saturday, seven civilians died during a battle with insurgents in the eastern province of Kunar when US airplanes and artillery carried out a blanket bombing of a militant-infected area.
Both incidents are under investigation. The details of who fired what, how and when are expected to be uncovered by the time the inquiries are over. What might not be made known to the public would be the fact that so much pressure was brought to bear upon the American commanders and soldiers that they were prompted into firing first and asking questions later because they had to produce physical results of their operations in Afghanistan. The pressure would only get more intense in the days and weeks ahead as Washington seeks to counter mounting criticism, and that would mean stepped-up search-and-kill operations that would inevitably lead to more "friendly fire" incidents and civilian deaths.