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Vol. 74/No. 32      August 23, 2010

Restrictions eased on
air strikes in Afghanistan
(front page)
Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, announced adjustments in rules of engagement for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. His directive loosens restrictions on artillery and air attacks put in place by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former U.S. commander, while reaffirming the same basic strategy.

What Washington calls its counterinsurgency strategy focuses on clearing Taliban combatants and their allies from populated areas, sending in enough troops to hold these centers, and using material incentives to win support from the population.

The specifics of Petraeus’s August 1 order are classified, but the military has released small portions of it to the media. Before using firepower, “the commander approving the strike must determine that no civilians are present,” Petraeus wrote. “If unable to assess the risk of civilian presence, fires are prohibited” with two exceptions, the details of which were not released publicly because of “operational security.”

Since “some civilian casualties result from a misunderstanding or ignorance of local customs and behaviors,” stated Petraeus, all U.S. patrols and operations must include Afghan forces.

With little to show for its counterinsurgency efforts, Washington has been placing greater emphasis on “targeted killings,” noted the New York Times. Over the last five months “commando raids” have taken “more than 130 significant insurgents out of action,” the Times said.

The last of the 30,000 additional U.S. troops President Barack Obama ordered to Afghanistan last December are scheduled to arrive by the end of August. There are now 98,000 U.S. troops on the ground. Combined with NATO troops, nearly 150,000 soldiers are deployed in Afghanistan.

The rising numbers of U.S. and NATO troops, however, are making little progress in beating the Taliban and winning support from Afghan working people.

“A senior NATO official said one-third to one-half of the 82 districts around the country that NATO considers crucial to the war are now under insurgent influence,” reported the Washington Post. The number of Taliban fighters exceeds 30,000, according to U.S. and Afghan officials.  
Air strikes kill dozens of civilians
A few days after Petraeus issued his war directives, at least a dozen civilians were killed in air strikes in Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan. According to the New York Times, local residents said that the attack took place August 5 at 4:00 a.m. on “a house in Nakrro Khail and at a ford in Hashim Khail Wadi, where vehicles were blocked by a flood and the drivers had parked, waiting to cross.”

A total of 26 people were killed in the two air strikes, Mohammad Hassan, district chief of Khogyani district in Nangarhar, told Agence France-Presse. Less than two weeks earlier rocket strikes in Sangin district of Helmand Province killed dozens of civilians in a house where people had taken refuge from fighting between Taliban and U.S.-led forces. Hundreds of Afghans marched in Kabul to protest this attack.

According to the United Nations, almost 2,500 civilians were killed in Afghanistan last year by both sides, the highest number since Washington’s invasion in 2001.

Meanwhile, relations between Washington and the Afghan government continue to be fraught with tensions. President Hamid Karzai moved August 4 to assert control over two U.S.-backed task forces aimed at investigating government corruption. In response to the arrest of Mohammed Zia Saleh, who headed the administration of Afghanistan’s National Security Council, Karzai moved to investigate the investigators, charging they violated the country’s sovereignty.

Because of the government’s actions, a U.S. Congressional panel is withholding approval of the Obama administration’s request for $4 billion in nonmilitary aid to Afghanistan.

In another development, Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari told Le Monde, a French daily, that the U.S.-led forces “have lost the battle for hearts and minds” in Afghanistan and “is in the process of losing the war against the Taliban.” The comments were published August 3, five days after Karzai called upon U.S. forces to put more emphasis on targeting “sanctuaries” and “training places of terrorism” outside Afghanistan.  
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