By Alex Shone, UK Defence Forum Research Associate in Residence
The total number of drone attacks for 2011 has now reached 19 according to the Long War Journal resulting in a total of 83 insurgent and terrorist casualties. The journal now reports at least 21 civilian casualties as a result of attacks.
March has been a month of steady drone activity. Notable events were the controversial attack on the 17th March which is thought to have killed a large number of suspected militants, though perhaps also to have killed civilians.
It is also worthy of note the reaction by militant groups in the region to the drone strikes, particularly the strike of the 17th. Action taken by the militants against those they deem as 'spies', the human intelligence assets helping to target drone strikes, appears to have intensified.
The Taliban have created a group assigned to hunt down tribesmen suspected of providing information to the CIA that enables the Predator campaign to target terrorist leaders in Pakistani tribal areas.
The group, known as the Lashkar-e-Khorasan, or Army of the Khorasan, was established in North Waziristan last year by both the Haqqani Network and Taliban forces under the command of Hafiz Gul Bahadar. The creation of the group was confirmed by Pakistani intelligence officials, tribesmen, and members of the Taliban.
A "dual hatted Taliban and al Qaeda commander" who leads forces on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border has threatened to avenge a recent controversial Predator strike in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.
Qari Zia Rahman, who commands both al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan, threatened to retaliate against US forces in Afghanistan for the March 17 Predator strike in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan. The strike, which was denounced by top Pakistani military and political leaders, killed more than 30 people, including 10 Taliban fighters and a senior lieutenant loyal to North Waziristan Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar.
The Taliban executed four more so-called 'US spies' who were accused of providing information that led to last week's controversial Predator airstrike in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan.
The Taliban also accused the men of aiding the US in the March 17 Predator strike that killed more than 30 people, including 10 Taliban fighters and a senior lieutenant loyal to North Waziristan Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar.
US Predators carried out another attack in the al Qaeda haven of Datta Khel in Pakistan's Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan, the second in the area in two days.
Reports as to the precise number of casualties differ as do those surrounding the target of the strike. It is believed that a large number of militant fighters were among the dead, as were civilians and even perhaps members of the security forces.
This strike was strongly and openly condemned by Pakistan's top military commander, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
Since December 6th the United States has carried out six unmanned airstrikes:
December 10th: Four 'militants' were killed in an airstrike against a vehicle and compound in the village of Khadar Khel, Datta Khel, North Waziristan. No senior al Qaida or Taliban operatives were thought to be amongst the casualties.
December 14th: Two missiles were fired at a vehicle travelling through the village of Spalga, Miramshah, North Waziristan. Four 'militants' were killed in the attack.
December 16th: The United States carried out their first unmanned airstrike outside of North Waziristan since late September. Unmanned aircraft fired missiles at a vehicle travelling in the Tirah Valley, Khyber. Seven 'militants' believed to be from Swat and South Waziristan were reportedly killed in the attack. The airstrike was only the second undertaken within the Khyber region since the US began its unmanned campaign in 2004.
December 17th: The Khyber region remained the focus of US airstrikes for the second day running. Three separate strikes reportedly resulted in the deaths of 54 'militants'. Fifteen were reported killed in an attack on a compound in the village of Shandana in the Tirah Valley; seven were killed in an airstrike on a similar building in the village of Nakai, Malik Deen Khel. According to reports, 32 members of the Lashkar-e-Islam were killed in an attack on a compound in the village Speen Drang, Tirah Valley. As with all recent attacks no senior al Qaida or Taliban operatives were amongst the casualties.
According to the Long War Journal the recent relocation of the unmanned campaign to the Khyber region may represent a shift in US strategy. The Khyber – and in particular the Tirah Valley – has become a hub of Taliban and al Qaida activity. This came in response to Pakistani military operations in South Waziristan in late 2009.
By Nick Watts, Defence Correspondent, Great North News Services
British military sources are confident that the Afghan National Army will be ready to take over operations from ISAF by 2014. At the Lisbon summit NATO committed itself to hand over counter insurgency operations to the Afghan National Army (ANA) by the end of 2014. Recently the British prime minister spoke of beginning to withdraw personnel as early as next year. British experience of partnering with 3215 Brigade ANA, which was raised in February this year, is cited as a good example of how this ambition is progressing. Much depends on this process succeeding.
NATO leaders recognize that the way to ensure that ISAF can hand over by 2014 is to step up the tempo of training of the ANA. The target for recruited and trained strength of the ANA is 171,600 by November 2011. Currently there are 144,000 trained soldiers in 28 Kandaks (Battalions). Following the transition of ISAF forces from Mentoring to partnering the emphasis has shifted to putting ANA forces in the lead on operations, with British and other ISAF forces in support. This has meant that the quality of soldiers needs to be raised.
The priority of the ANA is to concentrate on counter IED training (CIED), which Afghan soldiers take pride in doing well. Another priority is to improve medical training. In parallel with this is the need to improve absenteeism, which is addressed through better pay, and illiteracy which is being addressed by putting 34,000 soldiers through literacy training.
Putting the ANA into the front line more has had the effect of raising their self esteem, according to MOD commanders. The NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan (NTMA) estimates that as of November 2010, of 28 ANA Kandaks, seven are capable of undertaking operations with minimal advice; ten remain reliant on ISAF for direct assistance; nine are at an early stage of development and a further two are still being assessed. British officers admit that the ANA is being fashioned from the bottom up and that future senior leaders will emerge from the current cadres of middle ranking officers. Technical training is increasing alongside tactical training, but this will take time.
British experience with 3215 ANA Brigade has been positive. A small operation OMID DO was undertaken earlier this year, which the ANA planned and lead. There were no major tactical engagements with insurgents but the new partnering system proved itself. A subsequent larger scale operation OMID CHAR was launched in support of the governor of Garesh district, again with ANA elements taking a leading role. British commanders are upbeat about progress, but admit that General Petreaus's ambition to increase the tempo of operations against the insurgents will require a close eye to be kept on how the ANA progresses.
Since November 3rd the United States has carried out 10 unmanned airstrikes.
November 7th: The US carried out two airstrikes in North Waziristan today. Unmanned Predators or Reapers first attacked a vehicle and a compound in the village of Ghulam Khan in the Miramshah area. Nine 'militants' were reported killed in the attack.
The second attack targeted a vehicle in the village of Maizer, Datta Khel. Five 'foreigners' – the term used to describe Arab and Central Asian operatives – were killed in the strike.
No senior al Qaida or Taliban figures were reported killed in the attack.
November 11th: Six missiles were fired at a compound in the village of Gulli Khel, Ghulam Khan. The attack targeted a group of 'fighters' returning to North Waziristan from Khost province in Afghanistan. Of the six killed in the attack none were believed to be senior operatives. However the nature of the strike suggests that a senior figure or wanted operative was the main focus of the attack.
November 13th: An unmanned airstrike targeted a compound and a vehicle in the village of Ahmad Khel in the Mir Ali region of North Waziristan. Whilst Pakistani officials claimed four 'militants' were killed in the attack, reports from the scene also suggested that civilians may have been killed in the strike.
November 19th: Three 'militants' were killed in an attack on a vehicle travelling in the village of Norak, Mir Ali. No senior al Qaida or Taliban operatives were believed to be amongst the casualties.
November 21st: The US struck a compound and vehicle in the village of Khaddi, near Miramshah. Pakistani intelligence officials initially indicated that six 'militants' were killed in the attack. However later press reports speculated that nine 'militants' were killed and that three civilians harbouring operatives were also amongst the casualties.
November 22nd: The second attack in as many days targeted a vehicle and motorcycle in the village of Khushali, Miramshah. Five 'militants' were reported killed in the attack, yet none were believed to be senior al Qaida or Taliban operatives.
November 26th: An unmanned airstrike today against a vehicle travelling within the village of Pir Kali, Mir Ali, North Waziristan. The area is known to host a number of al Qaida operatives. Yet of the four killed in the attack none were deemed to be senior figures.
November 28th: The US undertook a similar strike against a vehicle as it travelled within the village of Hasan Khel, Mir Ali. Despite the continued concentration on a region known to host al Qaida operatives, the four 'militants' killed in the strike were not thought be senior figures in this movement or the Taliban.
December 6th: After a period of relative quiet the United States today struck a vehicle and a compound in the village of Kyshore, Datta Khel. The U.S. drone first attacked the 'militants' vehicle, killing two whilst another three escaped. The drone then attacked a shop hiding the others. This strike killed the three 'militants' whilst wounding three others.
According to the Long War Journal the United States has carried 106 unmanned airstrikes to date throughout 2010. This is a 50% increase from last year, and just over 50% of all airstrikes undertaken since 2004. The focus of attacks has overwhelmingly been North Waziristan. To date, 92% of all strikes have been carried out here in comparison with 7% in South Waziristan. Interestingly there has been a significant shift in the targeting of al Qaida/Taliban factions. In 2009 the main focus of attack was the Mehsud network. However 2010 saw an increase in attacks on Bahadar network and to a lesser extent the Haqqanis.
Since October 13th the United States has carried out 12 unmanned air strikes.
October 15th: The United States today launched a pair of unmanned air strikes against villages in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan. The first strike hit a compound in the village of Marchi Khel, killing five 'militants'. The second attack on a vehicle in the village of Aziz Khel killed an additional four 'militants'. No senior Taliban or al Qaida operatives were reported killed in the attacks.
October 18th: Six missiles were fired at a compound and vehicle in Sunzalai village, Datta Khel, North Waziristan. Six 'militants' were reported killed in the attack, with an additional five injured. Interestingly, four Predators appeared to circle over the scene after the attack.
October 27th: The United States launched its first strike in nine days with two attacks on targets in North Waziristan. The first attack struck a compound in the village of Spin Wam, Mir Ali. The target was a house belonging to a militant identified as Nasimullah Khan. According to the Associated Press foreign fighters were reported to be staying at the house. Two 'militants' were reported killed in the attack.
The second strike hit a vehicle in the village of Degan, Datta Khel. Two Arab al Qaida members and two 'Westerners' were reported killed in the attack.
In both instances, the exact targets of the strikes remain unclear, and no senior operatives were thought to be amongst the victims.
October 28th: The US launched their third attack in two days against a compound in the village of Ismail Khan, Datta Khel. Seven 'militants' were reported killed and were wounded.
November 1st: Two missiles were fired at a compound in the village of Haider Khan, Mir Ali, North Waziristan. According to Pakistani security sources the compound belonged to a local tribesman and was believed to be sheltering local 'militants'. Six 'militants' were reported killed; however none were thought to be senior operatives.
November 3rd: Thirteen 'militants' were killed in three separate airstrikes within North Waziristan. In the first strike four 'militants' were reported killed after two missiles were fired at a vehicle in Qutub Khel, a suburb of Miramshah. The vehicle was reportedly laden with arms and ammunition.
In the second strike another vehicle was targeted in the village of Kaiso Khel, Datta Khel. Five 'militants' were reported killed in this strike.
Yet another vehicle was attacked in a strike in the Mir Ali area. Four 'militants' were reported killed in this attack. Yet despite the intensity of today's airstrikes, no senior al Qaida or Taliban operatives were believed to be amongst the dead.
November 7th: Two airstrikes today in North Waziristan killed 14 'militants', including five 'foreigners'.
In the first attack missiles were fired on a compound and vehicle in the village of Ghulam Khan, Miramshah. Nine 'militants' were killed in this strike.
The second airstrike of the day targeted a vehicle in the village of Maizer, Datta Khel. Five 'foreigners' – a term used to describe Arab or Central Asian al Qaida operatives – were reported killed. However in both instances no senior operatives were believed to be amongst the casualties.
In comparison with last month's Drone Wars, the United States appears to have dramatically scaled back its unmanned campaign. Nevertheless, the Long War Journal reports that the US has conducted 97 airstrikes to date in 2010. Should the attacks continue with the same intensity throughout the rest of November/early December then the United States is likely to double its tally of unmanned strikes in comparison with 2009.
North Waziristan remains the overwhelming focus for the majority of airstrikes. However on the 8th November the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (TTP) claimed that six Taliban groups in South Waziristan had now joined the larger organization. The groups have all reportedly expressed their confidence in the leadership of the TTP's Hakeemullah Mehsud. As a result of increased TTP activities in South Waziristan, it will be interesting to monitor how many airstrikes are undertaken here throughout the rest of 2010.
Since August 27th the United States has carried out 31 unmanned airstrikes.
September 3rd: The United States carried out two airstrikes in North Waziristan. The first attack saw two missiles fired at a compound near Miramshah. Six 'local militants' were killed in the attack, with none believed to be senior al Qaida or Taliban figures. A second strike hit a compound in the town of Data Khel. Nine Taliban fighters were reported killed in this attack, including a local commander known as Inayatullah.
September 4th: A third airstrike in the space of two days focussed upon a compound and vehicle in the Data Khel region of North Waziristan. Between five and eight militants were reported in the attack on the village of Mizer.
September 6th: Two missiles were fired at a vehicle in the village of Khar Qamar, Data Khel, North Waziristan. Pakistani intelligence officials claimed that five militants were killed in the attack, although none were believed to be senior al Qaida or Taliban operatives. However, the Long War Journal indicates that not only is Data Khel the stronghold of Hafiz Gul Badahar – a leading Taliban commander – it is also a known hub for al Qaida's top leadership.
September 8th: There were four unmanned airstrikes over twenty-fours as the United States' campaign in North Waziristan gathered momentum. The first strike against a compound in the town of Danda Darpa Khel reportedly killed ten militants. This was followed by another attack claiming the lives of four Haqqani network fighters. A third airstrike took place in the town of Ambor Shaga, Data Khel. In this attack three missiles were fired at a vehicle, killing four militants. No senior al Qaida or Taliban operatives were reported killed in these strikes.
The fourth airstrike of the day focussed upon the town of Miramshah. Three missiles were fired at a compound resulting in the death of six Taliban fighters and five injuries. It was reported that some of the victims were Afghans. Whilst no senior operatives at the time were believed to have been killed in this attack, the Taliban reportedly cordoned off the area and attempted to recover the dead and the wounded.
However on September 30th reports emerged that eight Germans and two Britons were amongst the dead in the Data Khel airstrike. They were involved in the recently exposed plot to conduct a range of Mumbai-style attacks throughout Europe. The casualties also included an Islamic Jihad Group commander who trained Europeans to carry out attacks on their home soil.
The Islamic Jihad Group – a splinter faction of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan – is known to operate a 'German Taliban village' in Waziristan.
Today was the first time that the United States carried out four airstrikes within a 24 hour period.
On the 8th June the Global Strategy Forum hosted the above lecture given by Dr Shirin Akiner. Outlined below are some of the key points from that lecture.
The origins of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) can be traced to the end of the Cold War. For much of the Cold War era relations between China and the Soviet Union were characterised by antagonism and suspicion. The heavily guarded Sino-Soviet border, for example, was fiercely contested territory prone to sporadic outbursts of conflict. However, in the early 1990s China embarked on a diplomatic initiative to change the status quo.
International Security Assistance Force - Afghanistan have recently released the following statement:
Three months after the launch of Operation Moshtarak, clear signs of progress are evident throughout central Helmand.
"There are many positive indicators, especially in the areas of development and economic growth," said Major General Nick Carter, commander of ISAF Regional Command (South). "We have roads being built, district centres being reconstructed, and a lot of minor infrastructure projects underway."
By Ian Simcox-Heath, Great North News Services correspondent
US Marine Corps Major General Richard Mills and his Deputy Commander, Brigadier George Norton, held a media briefing last Tuesday at the Ministry of Defence to report on security conditions over the past year in Helmand province, the region once referred to by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates as 'perhaps the most dangerous place on earth'. Speaking via satellite link from Camp Leatherneck, the commanders noted 'sustained', 'continuous' and 'unrelenting' progress since the US troop surge last year.
'The insurgent leadership has fled the province', said General Mills. 'We believe that he suffers from a lack of money and a lack of recruits. His leadership has been decimated by our special forces.'
Reflecting on the 'very dark place' that Sangin district was a year ago when he took command of Britain's 8,000 troops and 20,000 US Marines in Helmand province, Mills said there was 'a powerful insurgency that controlled the bulk of the population and the majority of the terrain... that controlled the roads... and ran a very well organised and surprisingly sufficient supply chain... Today we see quite a different province'.
Over the last year, coalition forces successfully expanded and connected 'security bubbles' that have eliminated large encounters and lengthy engagements with the Taliban. Commanders now see a broken enemy supply line, a robust Afghan security force, repaired roads, new infrastructure, a 'flourishing' and even 'aggressive' free media and competent district governors. A national election also came off 'fairly and virtually incident free'.
Brigadier Norton emphasized the 'significantly reduced' numbers of enemy fighters on the ground, a trend he explained as the 'local' nature of the insurgency. Fighters are drawn from local villages and 'simply drift away' from the insurgency when faced with steady resistance.
Major General John Lorimer chaired the 15 March media briefing and discussed the recent successes of the 1st battalion Royal Irish Regiment in Helmand. 500 Royal Irish soldiers took part in a massive air assault codenamed Operation 'Black Winter' in Helmand's Nad-e Ali district, the biggest operation for 1st Battalion since the crossing of the Rhine in 1945. Previously one of the most dangerous insurgent strongholds in Nad-e Ali, Zaborabad is now safely under coalition control. Last month, 1st battalion also recovered a huge stash of deadly Taliban weapons and ammunition in Nad-e Ali, a find that Lorimer says is a testament to the improved level of trust between security forces and the local population. Everyday citizens often provide the most valuable intelligence on the whereabouts of Taliban fighters and their stored weapons.
Successes have come at a price, noted the commanders. The U.S., U.K., Denmark, Georgia and other coalition partners lost a combined 179 soldiers from enemy fire in Helmand over this period.
'There is still much work to be done', admitted Mills. 'The areas north of Sangin remain an insurgent controlled area.' Forces must link up with Kandahar and 'we have to address the Pakistani border at some point in the future', he added.
Commanders are expecting a renewed offensive by the Taliban-led insurgents in the spring and summer that will test the readiness of Afghan forces and could undermine some of the year's achievements. Efforts must coordinate with the gradual transition of security from NATO forces to the Afghan army, which begins this July and ends with the withdrawal of all foreign combat troops from the country by the end of 2014.
Today, Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced details about the first transitional phase. Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, is among the seven areas to take part.
'We hold the initiative', Norton reassured. 'The challenge of it is to develop it and sustain it over time.'
Ian Simcox-Heath is a London-based freelance journalist with expertise in defence and security issues. He holds a Master's degree in International Conflict Studies from King's College London.
By Nick Watts, Great North News Services Correspondent
Recent events in Libya have served to distract from the UK's main defence effort at the moment, Afghanistan. This morning at RUSI General David Petraaus commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) gave a presentation which served to remind the audience of the scale and complexity of the enduring Afghan campaign. In October 2009 Petraeus' predecessor Gen McChrystal gave a stellar exposition of the situation as he found it. At the time ISAF was struggling to understand the nature of the insurgency and the means necessary to deal with it. McChrystal had at least started asking the right questions.
Now the situation has moved on. The talk is of the end game and transfer of responsibility for the security of Afghanistan to its own army the ANA. To some extent Petraeus is a lucky general, just as his forebear was unlucky. He has inherited a situation which he summarised as "only recently have we got the inputs right". Only in 2010 was ISAF able to reverse the momentum of the insurgency, which Petraeus characterized as gaining momentum from 2005 onwards. He is referring not only to the uplift in troop numbers, but also to the way ISAF does business in terms of building up the governance of the country, and "getting the big ideas right". Up until then there were too many competing organizations working in silos without talking to each other. So part of the governance piece has been getting the NGOs and contractors as well as the UN and EU working together.
The NATO Lisbon summit committed ISAF to hand over responsibility for security to the Afghan government by the end of 2014. In addition President Obama has committed to the beginning of a draw-down of US forces, beginning in July this year. In answer to some questions on this aspect Petraeus made the point that both NATO and some troop contributing nations, including the UK, were discussing with the Afghan government arrangements for post 2014. He would not be drawn on specifics but mentioned that one key element of the Afghan security forces was still being developed, namely "enablers". These are the vital support functions such as artillery, medical and logistic services, as well as air lift and command and control functions. This might be taken to imply that some elements of NATO's on-going support after 2014 could involve surveillance and special operations forces.
One of Petraeus' earlier appointments had seen him re-writing the US Army's counter insurgency manual, so here was the man who wrote the book explaining how it works on the ground. He was at pains to stress that the military element was only one piece in the jigsaw of COIN. He has also previously been quoted as saying that Afghanistan "is all hard, all of the time"; so he does not see that progress is yet irreversible. He also stressed how important it is to keep our own public opinion supportive of the costly nature of the campaign.
An intriguing piece of the COIN jigsaw is what is called "reintegration" by which is meant the various strands being used to encourage members of the insurgency to lay down their arms altogether or to change sides. On this matter Petraeus was matter of fact, but opaque. There are efforts in hand to encourage both the lower echelon fighters to stop fighting, as well as the higher echelons. More emphasis is being put into tackling local corruption, which is often one of the grievances which cause people to join the insurgency.
There is also recognition by the Karzai government that the culture of patronage has to be dealt with, including his own family. On their own none of these things is a winner; but added to the improvements in ISAF's tactical situation, they all add up to reasons for wavering insurgents to remain at home, or to change sides. A British officer, Maj Gen Phil Jones is in charge of the force reintegration effort, to get ex-Taliban insurgents into the ANA.
Petraeus' presentation was much more assured than the one given by McChrystal in 2009. Back then ISAF was striving for credibility in the capitals of the NATO nations, never mind how it was doing in the campaign against the insurgents. Petraeus has managed his tenure well and things seem to be going reasonably well, although he didn't want to sound complacent. He said that there was still hard fighting ahead. It is to be hoped that should there be setbacks, as there may well be, Petraeus will not also find himself carpeted by his President, but given the top cover he needs to finish the job.