Controversial Drone Attacks Avoid Big Name Targets
Pakistan: The Pakistani Taliban confirmed on Thursday that Wali ur Rehman Mehsud was killed by a US drone attack.
Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan told press, "I confirm the martyrdom of Wali ur Rehman Mehsud in a drone strike on Wednesday. We are shocked at the martyrdom of our leader but are proud of his sacrifices."
"We had sincerely offered peace dialogue to the government but we strongly believe that the government has a role to play in the drone strikes."
He said the Taliban consider the Pakistani government fully responsible for drone strikes in the region, because the government is passing information to the United States.
Comment: For now the talks are dead and the price/incentive package for future talks has just risen for the Pakistan government.
NightWatch received several insightful feedback comments on this topic. One point is that peace talks were unlikely to go anywhere so there is no harm done by the drone attack.
A second point is that Pakistan's air force and army have the weapons to shoot down drones but have never done so. Their inaction belies official public outrage over violations of sovereignty. If the nation's leaders wanted to stop the drone attacks, they have had the military means to do so for years. The public denunciations, therefore, are for the masses and not the real position of successive governments.
The US position is that it has the permission of the Pakistani government for drone attacks, which is evidenced by shared intelligence and the permissive air environment.
NightWatch takes no sides, but notes a few facts. Repeated polls in Pakistan have found that the majority of Pakistanis consider the US the enemy of Pakistan largely because of the drone attacks. The price of the drone attacks is the alienation of most of a nation, especially a generation of Pakistani youth.
No drone attacks have ever been directed against Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar and his cohorts who have resided in Quetta or Karachi since late 2001. Omar still directs the Afghan Taliban without fear of a US drone attack or commando raid.
Drone attacks against the Haqqanis and Hekmatyar have not prevented them from executing sensational attacks in Kabul.
Iraq: Comment: Today, 30 May, was another bloody day in Iraq. Sectarian attacks killed 33 more people.
The lack of a pause means that the fighters on both sides did not require a stand down this week for ammunition resupply or for acquiring supplies for bombs and for building them. If the attacks continue with no significant lull, that condition would signify that the fighting has reached a new plateau of sustainability in manpower and supplies. It has become a limited war.
Syria: Fighting. Press service reports indicate that the combined Syrian army and Hizballah forces have control of most, or all, of the town of al-Qusayr. Government claims of success were matched by opposition pleas for assistance from other areas.
Comment: Control of Qusayr means control of Homs Governate and city, which had been in opposition control for months. Opposition groups remain in control of the northern border with Turkey and parts of eastern Syria bordering Iraq, mainly because the government decided to abandon areas too difficult to hold with limited resources.
Peace talks. The various opposition groups are so fractious that they have been unable to agree on representation at the US-Russian sponsored peace talks in Geneva next month. As a result, the main opposition political group announced it would boycott the talks, ostensibly because the Syrian government would not comply with its condition that Asad step down first. This condition is an attempt to put the best face on the failure to craft a united position and presence for talks.
Asad's interview. President Bashar al-Asad announced that the Syrian Army has accomplished major achievements in facing militants on the ground. In an interview broadcast on the Al-Manar television channel on 30 May, he confirmed that the military scales have completely turned in favor of the army. Al-Asad said that "Syria and Hizballah are a single axis," adding that there are "groups of Hizballah fighters in border areas of Lebanon, but the Syrian Army is doing the fighting, running the battle in the face of the armed groups, and will continue this battle until they vanquish those that he described as terrorists.
Al-Asad denounced the roles of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar in supporting and funding armed groups and he spoke of the presence of nearly 100,000 militants with different Arab and foreign nationalities that entered with the support of these countries.
Al-Asad confirmed his preliminary decision to participate in the Geneva meeting, criticizing the leaders of the international opposition. He did not show any confidence that the meeting will yield important results.
As for the Israeli issue, Al-Asad confirmed that "the Syrian Army will respond immediately to any new Israeli invasion of Syrian lands," clarifying that "the Syrian Government will not stand in the way of any Syrian groups that want to declare a war of resistance to liberate the Golan Heights." Al-Asad claimed that Syria received some Russian arms recently and claimed that the Russians are committed to completing the delivery of all items under contract.
Comment: In an advance copy of Asad's scripted remarks that was distributed to reporters, he was supposed to have said that the Russians already delivered a shipment of S-300 missiles. During the actual interview he did not mention S-300s and only commented on continuing Russian delivery of contracted weapons.
Israeli analysts accused Asad of lying about the delivery of S-300 missiles. Unnamed US officials said there was no evidence of a recent missile delivery. An unidentified Russian defense official denied that S-300s had been delivered. If they show up, some intelligence services are going to be embarrassed.
A Syrian victory at al-Qusayr makes it easy for Asad to agree to talks because he now has a position of relative strength. That strength, however, ensures that the opposition will not talk, even if it were more united. Politically it is discredited. The government has no one with which to negotiate and no reason to compromise.
There is no way to confirm Asad's statement that 100,000 foreign militants are the enemy. On the other hand, his accusation is hard to refute and it justifies the Hizballah militia in joining the fight.
End of NightWatch
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