Borderline Case: U.S. Attacks Pakistan Military

(UPDATED BELOW)

OK, maybe I was wrong -- maybe Pakistan is not going to have to wait to have its turn as a Terror War target.


Yesterday I noted the RAND Corporation's latest Pentagon-funded analysis, which called for military action in Pakistan's border country, where Taliban forces are launching strikes into Afghanistan with, RAND says, the direct help of "Pakistani intelligence agents and [government-sponsored] paramilitary forces." Clearly, a casus belli was being prepared for an expansion of the "War on Terror" into Pakistan, in part to try to salvage the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. (And partly, well, just because Pakistan is there to be hit. The Terror War is like a shark; it has to keep moving or it will die. And then what would become of all those lovely war profits, and all the power and privilege -- and politicians -- they buy? Perish the thought!)

Yet, as I said yesterday, most indications point toward Iran as being the next target of Terror War escalation, with Pakistan held in reserve for later. This probably still holds, at least in terms of a major strike -- but it looks like the Bush Regime has already got a pretty good little shooting war going with Pakistani forces. Yesterday at least 10 Pakistanis soldiers were killed in an attack by U.S. and Afghan forces, the BBC reports:

At least 18 people are reported to have been killed in clashes on the Pakistan-Afghan border. Ten of the dead were Pakistani troops, unnamed officials said. Reports said some of the troops may have died in an air strike by US forces.

Eight Taleban militants were also killed in the fighting, a Taleban spokesman said. An unnamed senior Nato official told the BBC an attack had been carried out by US - not Nato - forces.

The New York Times has more:

The dead included a major and were all from the Mohmand Rifles, a paramilitary detachment of the Frontier Corps, the force deployed in Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, a security official said, speaking in return for customary anonymity. Officers in the Frontier Corps are generally assigned from the Pakistani Army.

News agencies reported that militants sought to infiltrate Afghanistan from Pakistan, provoking a counterattack from forces in Afghanistan in which the Pakistani paramilitary soldiers were killed late Tuesday...

Pakistani newspapers also reported an air strike in the area by a pilot-less U.S. drone, although it was not clear if it was the same incident. There have been several such strikes on insurgents inside Pakistani territory.

Yes, there have been "strikes on insurgents" -- but it is civilians who are often killed. (Much like the old joke about Wernher von Braun, the father of the American space program -- who also happened to have produced, with slave labor, the deadly V-2 rocket for Hitler. Von Braun became an American hero, and the subject of a Hollywood biopic: "I Aim for the Stars" -- to which wags at the time often added: "But Sometimes I Hit London.") As we noted here in 2006 (see the original for the supporting links):

Last month, President George W. Bush murdered four children. This is not a controversial statement. There is no dispute about the facts. Indeed, Bush's own minions fully acknowledge – even celebrate – the deed. Nor has the political opposition or the national media offered the slightest objection to the principle of presidential murder.

Strange, isn't it?  While the American Establishment is now convulsed over the issue of a president ordering wiretaps without court approval, the same president's assertion of the right to kill anyone on earth he chooses without charges, trial or judicial review is readily accepted on all sides. Even when these "targeted assassinations" go horribly awry – as in Pakistan last month, when 18 innocent people, including four children, were obliterated in their homes by Hellfire missiles, as the Observer reports – there is no demur, no moral shock. Just tough talk about "doing whatever it takes" to defend civilization from the barbarians.

The misfired Hellfires were reportedly aimed at al-Qaeda honcho Ayman al-Zawahiri, thought to be the Dick Cheney-style brains behind the gang's dimbulb, Bush-like frontman, Osama bin Laden. The missiles were directed by unmanned CIA Predator drones, acting on the usual "credible intelligence" that Zawahiri was in the village of Damadola, near the Afghan border. But of course, in this kind of shell game, you can never know exactly which coconut the evil ones might be hiding under – so the CIA targeted not one but three houses, just to be sure. Thus even if the intelligence had not been the usual half-chewed cud and Zawahiri really had been in Damadola (sitting on top of Saddam's phantom WMD, perhaps), the scattershot attack on the residential area would have guaranteed civilian casualties in any case.

In other words, "collateral damage" – always "regretted" with copious crocodile tears from the damagers – was actually built into the mission. As in Bush's ongoing, ever-intensifying, unreported aerial bombing of urban areas in Iraq – which has killed thousands of civilians, TomDispatch reports – the deliberate killing of non-combatants in Damadola and other targets of Bush's "extrajudicial" wrath is meant to convey a clear message: "Knuckle under – or else."

Indeed, the Bush brass in Iraq have been explicit on this point. As Michael Schwartz reports in Mother Jones, the regular use of massive, indiscriminate force in anti-insurgent operations – e.g., destroying an entire apartment building, and everyone in it, if suspected guerrillas are thought to be hiding there – is a key component of Bush's "larger strategy" in the occupied land. Schwartz quotes an officer who told the New York Times that American attacks are meant to "punish not only the guerrillas, but also to make clear to ordinary Iraqis the cost of not cooperating." This, as Schwartz accurately notes, is "the textbook definition of terrorism – attacking a civilian population to get it to withdraw support from the enemy."

But of course this textbook method is being used throughout the far-flung fronts of the Terror War, not just in Iraq. For example, yet another U.S. missile attack yesterday killed four civilians in the "good war" in Afghanistan. From the BBC:

In a separate incident, in a different region, four civilians were killed in an operation by US-led forces in eastern Afghanistan, the coalition said. Three women and a child died as troops targeted militants in Paktika province, a US military spokeswoman said, describing the deaths as "tragic".

"Tragic," to be sure, but main point was that the "knuckle under" message was delivered once again. This is of course the same message that the Taliban delivers in its own attacks on civilians. The insatiable need for domination by violence is one of the many traits shared by all the players in the Terror War.

In any case, drone bombing in Pakistan has been going on for a long time. But yesterday's direct ground-air assault against Pakistani forces could be the start of a more substantial escalation. At the very least, we can expect to see more of these incidents in the coming months, as the "good war" in Afghanistan grinds endlessly on -- especially if the new democratic government of Pakistan continues to prove less slavishly obedient to Washington's wishes than the military dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf. (Who is still hanging on to his ill-gotten presidency -- and is still backed to the hilt by his fellow junta leader, George W. Bush.)

UPDATE: More info on the border strike is now coming in from the BBC. It was indeed an American operation -- and the Pakistanis are hopping mad about what they describe as "a completely unprovoked and cowardly" act of aggression. From the BBC:

A spokesman for the US forces in Afghanistan confirmed to the BBC that the operation on the border was carried out by US forces, but said the military had no further comment to make.

In a statement, the Pakistani military quoted a spokesman who condemned "this completely unprovoked and cowardly act", which it blamed on "coalition forces".

The spokesman said the incident "hit at the very basis of cooperation and sacrifice with which Pakistani soldiers are supporting the coalition in war against terror" and added that the army had launched a "strong protest".

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad says the statement was very strongly worded, describing the incident as an "act of aggression".

...Our correspondents says these strikes have caused anger in Pakistan as they are widely seen as a violation of its sovereignty, and there has been a lot of disquiet in Pakistan during the past month over the issue.

She says that if one of these air strikes did kill some Pakistani soldiers, it will certainly not help US-Pakistan relations, which some analysts say seem to be at their lowest ebb since the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US.

Pakistani troops have been killed in "friendly fire" on the border with Afghanistan on several occasions in the past. But the latest is thought to have been the most deadly single incident....

Also on Wednesday, Pakistan's military denounced a report by the US-funded Rand corporation accusing Pakistan's intelligence services and its paramilitaries of supporting Taleban insurgents with information and training.

The Pakistani military dismissed the claims as "factually incorrect" and "yet another smear campaign maligning Pakistan armed forces".