Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Arms From U.S. May Be Falling Into Taliban Hands

New York Times
KABUL, Afghanistan — Insurgents in Afghanistan, fighting from some of the poorest and most remote regions on earth, have managed for years to maintain an intensive guerrilla war against materially superior American and Afghan forces.

Arms and ordnance collected from dead insurgents hint at one possible reason: Of 30 rifle magazines recently taken from insurgents’ corpses, at least 17 contained cartridges, or rounds, identical to ammunition the United States had provided to Afghan government forces, according to an examination of ammunition markings by The New York Times and interviews with American officers and arms dealers.

The presence of this ammunition among the dead in the Korangal Valley, an area of often fierce fighting near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan, strongly suggests that munitions procured by the Pentagon have leaked from Afghan forces for use against American troops.

The scope of that diversion remains unknown, and the 30 magazines represented a single sampling of fewer than 1,000 cartridges. But military officials, arms analysts and dealers say it points to a worrisome possibility: With only spotty American and Afghan controls on the vast inventory of weapons and ammunition sent into Afghanistan during an eight-year conflict, poor discipline and outright corruption among Afghan forces may have helped insurgents stay supplied.

The United States has been criticized, as recently as February by the federal Government Accountability Office, for failing to account for thousands of rifles issued to Afghan security forces. Some of these weapons have been documented in insurgents’ hands, including weapons in a battle last year in which nine Americans died.

In response, the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, the American-led unit tasked with training and supplying Afghan forces, said it had made accountability of all Afghan police and military property a top priority, and taken steps to locate and log rifles issued even years ago. The Pentagon has created a database of small arms issued to Afghan units.

No similarly thorough accountability system exists for ammunition, which is harder to trace and more liquid than firearms, readily changing hands through corruption, illegal sales, theft, battlefield loss and other forms of diversion.

American forces do not examine all captured arms and munitions to trace how insurgents obtained them, or to determine whether the Afghan government, directly or indirectly, is a significant Taliban supplier, military officers said. The reasons include limited resources and institutional memory of issued arms, as well as an absence of collaboration between field units that collect equipment and the investigators and supervisors in Kabul who could trace it.

In this case, the rifle magazines were captured last month by a platoon in Company B, First Battalion, 26th Infantry, which killed at least 13 insurgents in a nighttime ambush in eastern Afghanistan. The soldiers searched the insurgents’ remains and collected 10 rifles, a rocket-propelled-grenade launcher, 30 magazines and other equipment.

Access to Taliban equipment is unusual. But after the ambush, the company allowed the items to be examined by this reporter.

Photographs were taken of the weapons’ serial numbers and markings on the bottoms of the cartridge casings, known as headstamps, which can reveal where and when ammunition was manufactured. The headstamps were then compared with ammunition in government circulation, and with this reporter’s records of ammunition sampled in Afghan magazines and bunkers in multiple provinces in recent years.

The type of ammunition in question, 7.62x39 millimeter, colloquially known as “7.62 short,” is one of the world’s most abundant classes of military small-arms cartridges, and can come from dozens of potential suppliers.

It is used in Kalashnikov rifles and their knockoffs, and has been made in many countries, including Russia, China, Ukraine, North Korea, Cuba, India, Pakistan, the United States, the former Warsaw Pact nations and several countries in Africa. Several countries have multiple factories, each associated with distinct markings.

The examination of the Taliban’s cartridges found telling signs of diversion: 17 of the magazines contained ammunition bearing either of two stamps: the word “WOLF” in uppercase letters, or the lowercase arrangement “bxn.”

“WOLF” stamps mark ammunition from Wolf Performance Ammunition, a company in California that sells Russian-made cartridges to American gun owners. The company has also provided cartridges for Afghan soldiers and police officers, typically through middlemen. Its munitions can be found in Afghan government bunkers.

The “bxn” marking was formerly used at a Czech factory during the cold war. Since 2004, the Czech government has donated surplus ammunition and equipment to Afghanistan. A.E.Y. Inc., a former Pentagon supplier, also shipped surplus Czech ammunition to Afghanistan, according to the United States Army, including cartridges bearing “bxn” stamps.

Most of the Wolf and Czech ammunition in the Taliban magazines was in good condition and showed little weathering, denting, corrosion or soiling, suggesting it had been removed from packaging recently.

There is no evidence that Wolf, the Czech government or A.E.Y. knowingly shipped ammunition to Afghan insurgents. A.E.Y. was banned last year from doing business with the Pentagon, but its legal troubles stemmed from unrelated allegations of fraud.

Given the number of potential sources, the probability that the Taliban and the Pentagon were sharing identical supply sources was small.

Rather, the concentration of Taliban ammunition identical in markings and condition to that used by Afghan units indicated that the munitions had most likely slipped from state custody, said James Bevan, a researcher specializing in ammunition for the Small Arms Survey, an independent research group in Geneva.

Mr. Bevan, who has documented ammunition diversion in Kenya, Uganda and Sudan, said one likely explanation was that interpreters, soldiers or police officers had sold ammunition for profit or passed it along for other reasons, including support for the insurgency. “Same story, different location,” he said.

The majority of cartridges in the remaining 13 Taliban magazines bore headstamps indicating they were made in Russia in the Soviet period. Several rounds had Chinese stamps and dates indicating manufacture in the 1960s and ’70s. A smaller number were Hungarian. Much of this other ammunition was in poor condition.

Hungarian and Chinese ammunition had also been provided to the Afghan government by A.E.Y., making it possible that several of the remaining magazines included American-procured rounds.

The American military did not dispute the possibility that theft or corruption could have steered Wolf and Czech ammunition to insurgents.

Capt. James C. Howell, who commands the company that captured the ammunition, said illicit diversion would be consistent with an enduring reputation of corruption in Afghan units, especially the police. “It’s not surprising,” he said.

But he added that in his experience this form of corruption was not a norm. Rather than deliberate diversion, he said, the more likely causes would be poor discipline and oversight in the Afghan national security forces, or A.N.S.F. “I think most A.N.S.F. don’t want their own stuff coming back at them,” he said.

Captured Taliban rifles provide a glimpse at arms diversion as well.

After the battle in the eastern village of Wanat last year, in which 9 Americans died and more than 20 were wounded, investigators found a large cache of AMD-65 assault rifles in the village’s police post, which was implicated in the attack, according to American officers. In all, the post had more than 70 assault rifles, but only 20 officers on its roster. Three AMD-65s were recovered near the battle as well.

The AMD-65, a distinctive Hungarian rifle, was rarely seen in Afghanistan until the United States issued it by the thousands to the Afghan police. They can now be found in Pakistani arms bazaars.

In the American ambush last month, all of the 10 captured rifles had factory stamps from China or Izhevsk, Russia. Those with date stamps had been manufactured in the 1960s and ’70s.

Photographs of the weapons and serial numbers were provided to Brig. Gen. Anthony R. Ierardi, the deputy commander of the transition command. Upon checking against the Pentagon’s new database, the general said one of the Chinese rifles had been issued to an Afghan auxiliary police officer in 2007. How Taliban insurgents had acquired the rifle was not clear.

The auxiliary police, which augmented the Afghan Interior Ministry, were riddled with corruption and incompetence. They were disbanded last year.

Speaking about the captured Taliban ammunition, General Ierardi cautioned that the range of headstamps could indicate that insurgent use of American-procured munitions was not widespread. He noted that the captured ammunition sampling was small and that munitions might have leaked through less nefarious means.

“The mixed ammo could suggest battlefield losses; it could suggest captured ammo,” he said. He added, however, that he did not want to appear defensive and that accountability of Afghan arms and munitions was of “highest priority.”

“The emphasis from our perspective is on accountability of all logistics property,” he said. Leakage of Pentagon-supplied armaments to insurgents was an “absolutely worst-case scenario,” he said, adding, “We want to guard against the exact scenario you laid out.”

Security forces locked in fierce street battle with militants

ISLAMABAD:Militants in Pakistan are getting reinforcement from Afghan Taliban and extremists from different countries bordering Afghanistan are taking part in insurgency in Swat and other parts of Malakand, besides Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), said Inter-Services Public Relation Director General Major General Athar Abbas, on Tuesday.

Afghan militants are supplying arms, money and manpower to Pakistani militants lined up against the security forces, General Abbas said. He said the insurgency could be effectively countered by cutting the supply routes being used by these militants. He said the PAF has been requisitioned to hit high value targets in conflict zone.

Meanwhile, in update on Malakand situation, the ISPR spokesman revealed that the security forces have entered fierce street battle with Taliban fighters in insurgency-hit Swat and other parts of Malakand Division during last 24 hours and killed 16 militants while four security officials including a major were martyred besides 16 officials wounded.

Security forces during the ongoing military operation "Rah-e-Raast", are consolidating their positions in the restive valley of Swat and other parts of Malakand Division, while search and destroy operations are continuing, the spokesman said.

He said security forces were advancing on several fronts towards Mingora. They are conducting cordon and search operations inside the Matta Town, at Nazarabad, during which exchange of fire took place between security forces and militants, resultantly one officer Major Abid and one soldier martyred while 7 soldiers got injured, the spokesman said.

He said that in Kanju and Takhtaband areas, troops have successfully cleared more than 40 houses in Kanju and area ahead of Takhtaband Bridge. Fierce clashes are taking place at both places. Fourteen miscreants were killed during exchange of fire with security forces at Takhtaband, while 2 soldiers were martyred and 8 injured, he added.

He said that the operation in Buner is continue to clear Sultanwas, where the security forces are conducting cordon and search operations in various parts. In Peochar, the security forces are consolidating their positions in the valley by conducting search and destroy operations. During clashes one soldier got injured while 2 miscreants were killed.

More than 1,000 militants and at least 49 troops have been killed in operation Rah-e-Raast so far, earlier named as Operation Rah-e-Haq, launched in the districts of Lower Dir on April 26, Buner on April 28 and in Swat on May 8

Zardari honours politician who stood up to Swat militants

ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari Tuesday conferred a coveted civil award on a senior politician who stood up against Taliban militants, the president's spokesman said.

Afzal Khan Lala, a veteran politician of the ruling Awami National Party who lives in the rural town of Druskhela in the troubled Swat valley, had refused to leave the area despite threats from militants.

Zardari 'in recognition of the great courage and steadfastness demonstrated by him in the war against militants in Swat region' has conferred Hilal-i-Shujaat (crescent of courage) on him, the spokesman said.

'When the victims of militants' brutalities were streaming out of Swat for safety, the 78-years-old Afzal Khan stood up against the militants and refused to abandon his ancestral home,' Babar said.

'The veteran Afzal Khan Lala stood like a rock against the militants and refused to heed the advice to migrate to a safer place. In standing up to the militants he became a tower of strength and encouragement to a besieged people.'

Babar said that Lala had miraculously survived several attempts on his life by militants who wanted to eliminate him to remove 'a symbol of defiance and courage.'

Lala and his nephew were seriously wounded in one attack. In another attack his two grandsons were killed and body guards seriously wounded last year.

'The conferment of Hilal-i-Shujaat on Afzal Khan also signifies determination of the president to honour symbols of courage in the fight against militants and to assure the victims that the state will not abdicate its duty to protect them,' Babar said.

More than 1.45 million people have been displaced across the region by the fighting since May 2, however, raising alarm among humanitarian agencies.

Authorities say more than 1,030 militants and at least 53 troops have been killed in a three-pronged onslaught launched in the districts of Lower Dir on April 26, Buner on April 28 and Swat on May 8.

Five burqa-clad Arabs arrested in Mohmand


GHALANAI: At least 13 militants were killed in a clash with security forces following arrest of five burqa-clad Arabs, one Afghan national and a local man in Mohmand Agency on Tuesday.

Four of the five Arabs are Saudi nationals — Ahmed, Ali, Mohammad and Obaidullah — and one Libyan national, Abdullah. The Afghan national has been identified as Habibullah and the local man as Shad Ali. They were detained at the Khapakh checkpost. The Afghan was living in Chakdara area of Lower Dir.

When troops were taking the detained men to Ghalanai, about 60 militants attacked them in an area between Ziyari Kando and Nasapai. The clash continued for more than two hours, an official spokesman said.

Security forces shelled militants’ positions from Ghalanai with mortars and cannons. Thirteen terrorists were killed and the others escaped. Two vehicles of militants were destroyed, the spokesman said.

Security personnel brought the body of one militant to the Ghalanai FC camp; the other bodies were taken away by the attackers. The administration sealed all entry points to the tribal region and beefed up security to apprehend the fleeing militants.

Troops also launched a search operation in Mian Mandi Bazaar.

A jirga of tribal elders will be held in Ghalanai on Wednesday to discuss the presence of militants, including foreigners, in the area.

The spokesman said the detained militants had been hiding in Kareer Qandaharo and Kung Khwayzai for several days and they had attacked the Khapakh post.

‘They came to Pakistan via Afghanistan which is financing them,’ he alleged.

He said SMGs, hand-grenades, Kalashnikovs, passports and other important documents had been seized from them and their vehicle had been impounded.

Sweet revenge as FC kills 13 rebels Arabs among five held in Mohmand Agency Fakhar-e-

GHALANAI: After continued beheading of the Frontier Corps personnel for the last two days the security forces managed to take revenge by killing 13 of the local rebels when they attacked the forces to seek release of their arrested colleagues. Earlier, while checking at Chamkh, the security forces arrested seven insurgents, including five burqa-clad foreigners, on Tuesday. While the arrested insurgents were being taken to the headquarters, about 60 of the local rebels attacked the security forces to secure their release. The forces retaliated the attack. The fighting continued for about two hours and resulted in the killing of 13 insurgents near Zeri Kandaou and Nasapai. The forces also used artillery firing and mortar shelling from the headquarters. Body of one of the rebels was taken to the Forces heaquarters in Ghalanai.The bodies of other killed rebels were taken away by insurgents while fleeing. Three of the arrested foreigners, Mohammad, Ali and Khalid, belong to Saudi Arabia, Abdullah to Libya and Habibullah is from Kunar province of Afghanistan. The other two arrested, Haji Firdous Khan and Shad Ali are the local Taliban. Security in Mohmand Agency has been tightened and closed to all kinds of traffic. Search operation was also carried out in Mandi Bazar and local jirga was also convened. Later briefing the media at Ghalanai F.C camp, the spokesman of security forces said that some of the rebels made good their escape from the battlefield. The spokesman said in the two hours fierce fighting heavy gun fire was used by both the sides. He said the foreigners were active in Crater Kandaro and Kong Khowzai for the last many days and had attacked the Chamakh checkpost also. He said they wanted to weaken Pakistan and to bring bad name to Islam. They are also receiving funds and infiltrating the country from Afghanistan. Hand grenades, Klashnikovs, foreign passports and many important documents were also recovered from their possession A thorough investigation would be conducted from the arrested rebels, the spokesman said. He said the burqa-clad were entering the area with the help of local people while Afghan national was accompanying them as an interpreter. There was no casualty from security forces' side, he concluded.

Pakistan will get up to $110 million in U.S. aid for displaced, Clinton says

The announcement appears to reflect concern that Pakistan's offensive on militants in tribal areas may create a humanitarian catastrophe that could turn civilians against counterinsurgency efforts.

The United States plans to provide as much as $110 million to help Pakistanis who have been displaced by their government's attacks on militants in northwestern tribal areas, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday.

Clinton, speaking at the White House, said U.S. relief officials were already on the ground in northwestern Pakistan evaluating the needs of the hundreds of thousands of people who have been driven from their homes since the Pakistani government's offensive began last month.

"Providing this assistance is not only the right thing to do, but we believe it is essential to global security and the security of the United States," she said. "And we are prepared to do more as the situation demands."

The announcement appeared to reflect, in part, the Obama administration's concern that the Pakistani offensive, which was strongly urged by Washington, not create a humanitarian catastrophe that might turn ordinary Pakistanis against the counterinsurgency effort.

Pakistani forces have been using heavy artillery and aircraft to batter the militants, but the fighting has sent columns of civilians fleeing the Swat Valley and prompted criticism that the government's tactics are heavy-handed. The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 2 million Pakistanis have fled their homes.

U.S. officials urged the Pakistani government to begin the offensive after hundreds of Taliban fighters stormed out of the valley -- a beautiful mountainous area where many better-off Pakistanis spend their summers -- and into nearby districts.

The Taliban's offensive brought the militants within 60 miles of the capital, Islamabad, and prompted warnings that the government could be imperiled.

Clinton said aid workers were providing items such as tents, food, generators and radios. The U.S. military is providing some water trucks, she said.

The secretary of State said the United States had provided $3.4 billion in aid to Pakistan since 2002 for humanitarian relief and other nonmilitary purposes, including economic development and assistance with governance.

Drone attacks to continue in Pakistan: CIA chief

LOS ANGELES: CIA director Leon Panetta defended the use of unmanned aircraft to target Al-Qaeda militants on Monday and said President Barack Obama’s policies had severely disrupted the network’s leadership.

In his first speech since taking over as head of the Central Intelligence Agency in February, Panetta told a luncheon in Los Angeles that counter-terrorism and defeating Al-Qaeda remained the agency’s top priority.

‘Al-Qaeda remains the most serious security threat that we face ... to US interests and our allies overseas,’ Panetta told the gathering organized by the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles.

Panetta said Obama’s stated aim to ‘disrupt, dismantle and defeat’ Al-Qaeda had already resulted in ‘serious pressure’ being brought to bear on Al-Qaeda’s leaders, believed to be hiding in Pakistan’s border regions.

‘There is ample evidence that the strategy set by the president and his national security team is in fact working,’ Panetta said.

‘We do not expect to let up on that strategy. I am convinced that our efforts in that part of the world are seriously disrupting every operation that Al-Qaeda is trying to conduct and is interfering with their ability to establish plans to come at this country and we will continue that effort.’ Responding to a question, Panetta said unmanned drone strikes — whose use has caused tension with Pakistan — had been ‘very effective’ in targeting Al-Qaeda’s leadership.

‘I think it does suffice to say that these operations have been very effective,’ Panetta said.

‘It is very precise, it’s very limited in terms of collateral damage and very frankly, it’s the only game in town in terms of confronting and trying to disrupt the Al-Qaeda leadership.’ Predator drones run by the CIA are regularly flown covertly in Pakistan, targeting Al-Qaeda militants. Officials say the US military does not participate in the armed drones program inside Pakistan.

Pakistani officials say the drone strikes, which have killed more than 390 people in about 42 attacks since August 2008, violate its territorial sovereignty and deepen resentment in the nuclear-armed nation.

Meanwhile Panetta said US authorities remained alert to the possibility of Al-Qaeda fleeing Pakistan or Afghanistan for refuge elsewhere, saying Somalia and Yemen were regarded as possible safe havens for the group.

‘Al-Qaeda is known however for seeking shelter elsewhere,’ Panetta said.

‘One of the dangers we confront is that as we disrupt their operations in
Pakistan ... they will ultimately seek other safe havens.

‘Today Somalia and Yemen represent that potential as safe havens for Al-Qaeda in the future ... Disrupting the senior leadership in Pakistan is crucial, but it alone will not eliminate the danger.

‘The goal must be to pursue Al-Qaeda to every hiding place, to continue to disrupt their operations, and to continue ultimately to work towards their destruction.’

Nuclear Worries

Panetta also said that the United States does not know the location of all of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons but is confident the country has them secure.

‘We don’t have, frankly, the intelligence to know where they all are located,’ Panetta said, adding the US is confident the Pakistani government has a ‘pretty secure approach to try to protect these weapons.’

‘That security is something the US is watching,’ he said. ‘The last thing we want is to have the Taliban have access to nuclear weapons in Pakistan.’

At a congressional hearing last week, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked whether there was evidence that Pakistan was adding to its nuclear arsenal. He replied: ‘Yes.’