Belmont Club

Non-news of the Day

Pakistan has asked the US to abandon a drone base. The US rejected the demand but Pakistani officials insisted the demand has already been complied with, even as they reiterated it.

On Thursday, Mukhtar told Reuters: “When they (U.S. forces) will not operate from there, no drone attacks will be carried out.”

He said Islamabad had been pressuring the U.S. to vacate the base even before the May 2 commando raid in which U.S. Navy SEAL commandos killed Osama bin Laden. After the raid, Mukhtar said, “We told them again.”

The official said no base in Pakistan was presently used by the Americans for drone operations. But he did not give a precise date for when drones supposedly stopped operating from Shamsi.

The U.S. officials disputed that account. If anything, the Obama administration is moving to a counter-terrorism strategy based more on drone strikes and other covert operations than on deploying large numbers of troops.

The US has set a goal of moving 75% of its supplies through routes outside of Pakistan because of the rampant thievery found there. Containers have been sawed open and pilferage goes on up and down the chain of supply. But despite these efforts key military supplies still have to go through Pakistan because of restrictions on what may be transited through other countries. A considerable amount of supply is now airdropped into Afghanistan — just as if it were an outpost surrounded by hostiles. Leaving will be a kind of modern-day Anabasis. Logisticians are now trying to determine just how to get out of Afghanistan.

Thieves would cut off the entire back of a container to steal their contents. They would fill the container with sandbags and weld it back together, all while never breaking the seal. While the Army’s technology alerted leaders to breaches, they could not be certain of exactly where the events were occurring in real time.

Next month the Army will begin using of satellite tags to track shipments. It also has started using “smart” containers in Afghanistan. These are made of a lightweight polymer material and are able to broadcast to a global satellite communications network a container’s location, condition and security status.

Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, had a goal of moving 75 percent of ground cargo into Afghanistan from the north, therefore bypassing Pakistan. The Army so far is shy of that goal, Stevenson said.

“What’s holding us up is that the countries we have to transit have conditions on what they will allow to go through their countries,” he said. At least one country on every northern route into Afghanistan will not permit coalition forces to carry “lethal” cargo inside their borders. This is interpreted to mean that the Army cannot ship certain assets — such as Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles — through the north.

To avoid these roadblocks and mitigate theft, forces have turned to the air to get cargo to the battlefield. One proposal would move supplies by surface to a friendly Middle Eastern country — which Stevenson declined to identify — and from there load it onto C-17 aircraft to fly it into Afghanistan. …

Since 2005, the Army has dropped from the air nearly 75 million pounds of material into Afghanistan. These drops range from the use of disposable parachutes from about 100 feet above the ground to precision drops from 5,000 feet using an electronic guidance system.

With a drawdown from Afghanistan on the horizon, troops are expecting to face some of the same challenges while moving materials out of the country.

“Going out through the north is going to be very important,” Stevenson said. The United States hopefully will be able to negotiate agreements with certain countries to remove their ban on lethal cargo transports, he said.

Both these incidents underscore just how “problematic” relations with Pakistan have become. From a strategic point of view, the War on Terror, whose existence the administration would prefer to deny, has blown the sand away from a number of states and intelligence agencies which form the core of international terrorism. But it is still official policy to concentrate on the proxies, not the masterminds. John Brennan recently said:

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, as Americans seek to understand where we stand a decade later, we need look no further than that compound where bin Laden spent his final days. There he was, holed-up for years, behind high prison-like walls, isolated from the world. But even he understood the sorry state of his organization and its ideology.

It may be true that al-Qaeda has been defeated. But there’s plenty more where they came from. The states and intelligence agencies which gave rise to 9/11 attacks are all alive and well; all this is, except Iraq. The Guardian reports that a US “roadmap” which envisions “Syrian reform”, but with Assad kept in place.

The US is pushing the Syrian opposition to maintain dialogue with Bashar al-Assad’s regime as details emerge of a controversial “roadmap” for reforms that would leave him in power for now despite demands for his overthrow during the country’s bloody three-month uprising.

Syrian opposition sources say US state department officials have been discreetly encouraging discussion of the unpublished draft document, which is currently in circulation. But Washington flatly denies backing it, and organisers of an unprecedented opposition conference held on Monday in Damascus say it was not discussed there. …

Robert Ford, the US ambassador, has been urging opposition figures to talk to the regime, said Radwan Ziadeh, a leading exile, who insisted the strategy would not work. “They are asking Bashar to lead the transition and this is not acceptable to the protesters,” he said. “It is too late.”

The state department has been forced to defend Ford from Republican critics who have demanded his withdrawal. It has said he meets a “broad cross-section of the opposition” and “occasionally…with members of the government as appropriate.” Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, has said Assad is losing legitimacy and is not indispensable. But the US has not called openly for his overthrow – in striking contrast to policy towards Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.

Stability uber alles. But will it work?

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