Pakistan condemns US drone use in north-west

Pakistan condemns US drone use in north-west as Pak-US relations hit new low. Attack on British Embassy in Yemen highlights declining security situation there. Ugandan president offers to send 20,000 troops to bolster UN peacekeepers in Somalia. Guinean officials agree to run-off presidential vote date after weeks of delay. All this and more in today's security briefing.
Josephine Whitaker
7 October 2010

The Pakistani government has publicly condemned the United States’ use of unmanned drones in its north-western provinces, after an attack in North Waziristan killed four people today, highlighting the difficult relationship between the two allies.

A spokesman from the foreign ministry, Abdul Basit, described the use of drones as counter-productive and a violation of Pakistan’s national sovereignty, adding that “We [the Pakistani government] hope that the US will revisit its policy.” 

Drone attacks, always a controversial tactic, have killed over 150 people this month alone, but there is little clarity over what proportion of these were militants or civilians.

The openSecurity verdict: Islamabad’s condemnation of the use of drones comes just one week after a Nato airstrike on Pakistan’s northern border with Afghanistan left two border guards dead. The ensuing row led Pakistan to close a key border crossing at Torkham, which Nato forces in Afghanistan reportedly rely upon for 80% of their supplies.  

The closure has stranded hundreds of lorries between the Afghan and Pakistani borders, and led to traffic jams at the remaining border crossings. Taliban militants have seized this opportunity to launch attacks on Nato convoys, with up to seventy fuel tankers set alight over the past week.

Nato continues to supply troops using more southerly and inconvenient border crossings, and insists the closure has “not impeded” its operational capabilities in Afghanistan. Both the US and Nato have formally apologised for the attack last week. Pakistan, however, has announced that it will keep borders closed, pending a review.

Although Pakistan has called for an end to drone attacks several times, it is the first time Pakistan has used such strident language to condemn US military operations on its territory. The statement issued by the foreign ministry gives voice to an increasingly strong public outcry about the terms of cooperation between Islamabad and Washington.

Relations between the states have come under added pressure this week after the release of a White House report to Congress that questions Pakistan’s willingness to tackle militants in its north-western regions, where a lack of government control provides a safe haven for militant groups fighting in Afghanistan. The report also claims that agents of Pakistan’s secret intelligence agency, the infamous ISI, are encouraging attacks on Nato troops.

These increasingly fraught relations are unlikely to improve until a mutually acceptable and – crucially – effective strategy is used to tackle militant activity in north-western Pakistan. Talks that began today between the Afghan Quetta Shura Taliban and the Afghan government offer a glimmer of hope for the region only insofar as Pakistan does not feel excluded from the negotiations. It has been suggested that raids against high-ranking Taliban in Pakistan last February were designed to disrupt negotiations with Kabul.

As the US and Nato work towards winding down their commitments in Afghanistan, a breach with Pakistan jeopardises the ability of ISAF forces to continue operations in Afghanistan.  

Attacks on Europeans show Islamic militants still strong in Yemen

A rocket-propelled grenade attack on a British embassy convoy in the Yemeni capital yesterday, left one member of staff and an unknown number of bystanders injured. It is the second attack on European targets in Yemen in less than a week. An earlier, unrelated incident saw a French contractor killed after a security guard opened fire at an Austrian gas company just outside the capital. Yesterday’s attack came just 24 hours after police tightened security after a warning about increased militant activity in the capital.

The attacks have focused media attention once again on this impoverished Gulf state, where the weak central government is not only facing international pressure to neutralise an active al-Qaeda presence, but also battling an array of resource conflicts in its remote regions.

These and the approximately thirty other terrorist attacks, many directed at foreigners, which have rocked Yemen this year, indicate mounting public hostility to high profile cooperation between Sana’a, Washington and London. Since a Nigerian al-Qaeda militant, trained in Yemen, attempted to blow up an American passenger plane in December 2009, the US has been quick to increase military and financial backing to Yemen’s struggle against al-Qaeda. Although the Yemeni government was equally quick to accept such offers, animosity to strengthened ties with the US and Europe suggests that the government’s popular legitimacy must be strengthened if al-Qaeda is to be beaten there.

Many analysts agree that the security situation has deteriorated since the beginning of the year when this security cooperation began. The situation also looks set to worsen, with a top leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the group responsible for the Christmas bomb plot, releasing a video earlier this year, that warned of "an army of 12,000 fighters are being prepared in Aden and Abyan,” which will be used to “establish an Islamic Caliphate.”

Museveni offers 20,000 peacekeepers to UN in Somalia

Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni has said his country is willing to send up to 20,000 Ugandan troops into Somalia, to bolster the struggling 7,000-strong African Union force currently carrying out a United Nations’ peacekeeping mission. The UN is said to be considering Museveni’s request to fund the additional peacekeepers.

“The number is not a big deal, we can provide any number," said Museveni of his offer. He warned that “Somalia should not be taken over by terrorists. That's the bottom line."

The Ugandan president also yesterday called for a no-fly zone to be imposed over Somalia, as well as the closing of Somalia’s ports, in an effort to clamp down on militant movement across east Africa.  

There are currently 6,000 Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers in AMISOM, the African Union Mission in Somalia, there to bolster the Transitional Federal Government of Sheikh Sharif Shekih Ahmed. AMISOM forces are battling against a number of militant Islamist groups bent on destroying the government, which is widely accepted to have control of just a few strategic blocks in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

Ugandan concern about militant Islamists in Somalia has intensified dramatically since terrorist bombings hit the Ugandan capital in July, leaving nearly eighty dead. Al-Shabab, one of Somalia’s biggest Islamist groups, claimed responsibility for the attack, in a vivid demonstration of the danger this struggling east African state poses to the region.

Analysts remains divided over whether more AMISOM troops would bolster or undermine the government. Some argue that the presence of foreign troops merely enhances the militants’ cause, whilst others believe that a troop ‘surge’ might give the government the breathing space it needs to strengthen its grip on the country.

Guinea run-off date set for 24 October

Guinea’s run-off presidential election will be held on 24 October after almost a month’s delay, the interim military ruler, Sekouba Conate, has announced. The hope is that the vote will end weeks of uncertainty, which saw periodic violence between rival supporters of the two presidential front runners.

The fraud conviction of Ben Sekou Sylla, former electoral commission chief,  and another senior electoral official last month provoked violence on the streets of Conakry. Arguments over a replacement for Sylla, who died in France of unrelated causes just days after the verdict was announced, have also heightened tensions between the two sides.

Presidential favourite, Cellou Dalein Diallo, a former prime minister who secured 44% of the vote in the first round, accused the ruling military junta of stalling for time to favour opponent, Alpha Conde.  Cone, a long-time opposition candidate, achieved an 18% share of the vote in June’s first round. Diallo and his supporters remain unhappy about Sylla’s replacement, Louceny Camara.  "It's all very well to have set a date but for us it is out of question that this Louceny Camara should lead the process to the end," a spokesman for the presidential hopeful told Reuters. However, there have been no suggestions that Diallo will refuse to stand in the second round. Conde’s supporters are upbeat about their prospects, arguing that their share of the vote in the first round was undermined by electoral irregularities.

Some observers have suggested that September’s violence stems from Guinea’s ethnic divisions, with Conde and Diallo belonging to rival ethnic groups. It is unclear, however, how far these suspicions are borne out.

The vote, Guinea’s first democratic elections since its independence from France in 1958, is intended to return Guinea to civilian rule after years of military rule and regular coups.

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