WASHINGTON: US diplomatic cables leaked over the past 24 hours show that Pakistan twice requested American soldiers to embed with its Frontier Corps in North Waziristan and South Waziristan, desperately sought US helicopters to deal with the insurgents and Pakistani leaders quietly approved drone attacks inside Fata.
“Chief of Army Staff Gen Kayani told Ambassador he was ‘desperate’ for helicopter support as he had only five MI-17s operational,” says a cable the then US ambassador, Anne W. Patterson, sent to Washington on May 5 last year.
These and other cables show a greater cooperation between the US and Pakistani armed forces than either side seems willing to acknowledge.
“It is critical to our interests that they receive help as soon as possible,” the ambassador writes. “We request expedited congressional notification of the MI-17 waiver. In the meantime, we continue to seek Cobra helicopter spare parts.”
Another set of cables contradict sustained denials by US and Pakistani officials of American military presence in Pakistan. The cables reveal that US military Special Operations Forces have been conducting offensive operations inside Pakistan, helping direct US drone strikes and conducting joint operations with Pakistani forces against Al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents in North and South Waziristan and elsewhere in Fata.
According to an Oct 9, 2009, cable by Ambassador Patterson, the operations were “almost certainly (conducted) with the personal consent of (Pakistan’s) Chief of Army Staff General Kayani” and were coordinated with the US Office of the Defence Representative in Pakistan.
US forces operating in Fata were forward operating troops from the Joint Special Operations Command, the most elite force within the US military made up of Navy SEALs, Delta Force and Army Rangers.
In one operation in September last year, four US special operations forces personnel “embedded with the Frontier Corps (FC)… in the Fata,” provided “ISR” — intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
The support from the US forces, according to the cable, “was highly successful, enabling the FC to execute a precise and effective artillery strike on an enemy location”.
A month later, the Pakistan army again “approved deployment of US special operation elements to support Pakistani military operations”, the cable adds. This was documented in the cable as a “sea change” in Pakistan’s military leaders’ thinking, saying they had previously been “adamantly opposed (to) letting us embed” US special operations forces with Pakistani forces.
The cable notes that “US special operation elements have been in Pakistan for more than a year, but were largely limited to a training role”, adding that the Pakistani units that received training from US special operations forces “appear to have recognised the potential benefits of bringing US SOF personnel into the field with them”.
In another operation cited in the cables, the US teams, led by JSOC, are described as providing support to the Pakistani Army’s 11th Corp and included “a live downlink of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) full motion video”. Whether the drones were used for surveillance or as part of a joint offensive is unclear from the documents.
“Patient relationship-building with the military is the key factor that has brought us to this point,” the cable says.
The embassy also notes the potential consequences of the leaking of the activities: “These deployments are highly politically sensitive because of widely-held concerns among the public about Pakistani sovereignty and opposition to allowing foreign military forces to operate in any fashion on Pakistani soil. Should these developments and/or related matters receive any coverage in the Pakistani or US media, the Pakistani military will likely stop making requests for such assistance.”
A second set of cables deals with US drone attacks inside Fata. One such cable describes a 2008 meeting with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in which he brushes aside concerns about the use of Predator drones against targets in the tribal areas and gives an insight into how he would deny any cooperation.
The cables quote Ambassador Patterson as saying that the country’s political leadership approved the strikes in Pakistan’s tribal regions.
The cable says that Interior Minister Rehman Malik suggested “we hold off alleged Predator attacks until after the Bajaur operation”.
The prime minister brushed aside Mr Malik’s remarks and said: “I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.”
It seems that Pakistan saw the drone attacks as so effective they wanted some of their own. At a meeting in Islamabad in June 2009 attended by then US National Security adviser Gen James Jones, President Asif Ali Zardari “made repeated pleas for drones to be ‘put in Pakistan’s hands’ so that Pakistan would own the issue and drone attacks (including collateral damage) would not provoke anti-Americanism”, one cable says.
President Zardari said the technology behind them was “not cutting-edge” and said he had raised the issue with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Human rights violations
In some cables sent to Washington, Ambassador Patterson also expresses deep concerns about alleged human rights violations in Swat and adjacent areas.
“A growing body of evidence is lending credence to allegations of human rights abuses by Pakistan security force” during fighting in the Swat valley and the tribal belt, Ambassador Patterson wrote in Sept 2009.
She said the most worrisome allegations concerned murders in which both regular army and paramilitary frontier corps soldiers — who are drawn from the Pashtun tribes — were implicated.
The ambassador said cultural traditions meant revenge killings were “key to maintaining a unit’s honour”, while commanding officers complained that Pakistan’s weak judicial system was incapable of prosecuting detainees.
Pakistani police were also involved in the killings but were dealt with through a separate chain of command, she said, adding that an estimated 5,000 detainees — picked up during anti-Taliban operations in Malakand division — were at risk. Ms Patterson proposed a number of measures to counter the problems, ranging from offering human rights training and promoting prison reform, to helping draft a new law that would create a “parallel administrative track” for charging and sentencing combat detainees. British officials could help draft the law, she suggested.
The embassy “fully recognises that there is little that the (US government) can do to change the culture of revenge that underlies many of the extra-judicial killings,” the ambassador wrote.
“However, it is our view that if senior commanders are offered a viable alternate to deal with detained combatants … the prevalence of human rights abuses will diminish. Much of this is dependent on goodwill … that can easily erode if too much public criticism from USG (US government) officials over these incidents is forthcoming. For this reason, post advises that we avoid comment … and that efforts remain focused on dialogue and the assistance strategy,” she added.
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