al Jazeera did a bit of its own investigation in Pakistan. Its bureau chief said US forces had just last week attacked another Pakistani tribal village in the Mirah Shah area, killing eight Pakistani civilians. The Pakistani Foreign Ministry lodged a protest. Thousands of people had demonstrated in the area against the callous and arrogant US air strike.
Why has the US military been so aggressive against a sovereign country’s territory – in fact its ally, Pakistan?
Well, apart from pressure from Washington to produce some urgent news of success against high value al Qaeda targets, so as to help boost President Bush's plummeting ratings, Pakistani intelligence officials has probably been furnishing dodgy information to the US military. I wasn't surprised at all that the Pakistanis had told the US military that the area, where the two airstrikes has occurred within one week, was a stronghold of Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (Movement for the Implementation of Muhammad's Sharia Law), a pro-Taliban group. The same intelligence also claimed that fighters from Afghan regional commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami, were known live among sympathetic tribesmen in Bajaur.
Either the US military or the CIA has been led to believe al Qaeda No 2 man, al-Zawahiri was there too.
However, Pakistani officials have now announced that al-Zawahiri was not at the site attacked. Instead 18 villagers were killed. The earlier report of 5 women and 5 children killed by the American attack have since increased to 8 women and 6 children, the latter all aged below 10 years old. That would make the Americans extremely ‘popular’ in Pakistan and the Muslim world.
CNN said that the CIA ordered the last airstrike after receiving intelligence information that al-Zawahiri was in a village near the border with Afghanistan. The Americans are hoping to confirm that al-Zawahiri was among the dead through forensic testing but Pakistani senior officials threw a damper on that, stating that the CIA had acted on wrong information, and that the al Qaeda top strategist was not there at all. The Pakistan's government will issue a formal finding soon.
As I had blogged often, the Pakistani military have close ties with the Taliban and al Qaeda, and would have alerted the insurgents to scoot off if they have any inkling of an American attack. A CIA launched strike using Predator drones have the advantage of keeping the operations secret from the Pakistani and thus any leaks. However, the villagers have reported aeroplanes dropping bombs which meant that the US military was involved. Mind you, to a villager, drones looks like aeroplanes and missiles like bombs.
I am inclined to believe the Americans have received false intelligence, leading to the terrible air strikes that have killed innocent villagers. Of course there could be a possibility that indeed al-Zawahiri had been killed but his body was taken away by friendly Pakistanis, to prevent disclosure of his death. The denial of his death could be to prevent adverse morale among the insurgents.
Unfortunately, with Pakistan, one can never find out the truth about Taliban or al Qaeda.