Wednesday, September 09, 2009

US War News Update: More Soldiers Dead in Iraq and Afghanistan; Germany Defends Occupation of Afghanistan Amid Massacre of Scores of Civilians, etc.

US military deaths in Iraq war at 4,343

By The Associated Press (AP)

As of Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2009, at least 4,343 members of the U.S. military had died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

The figure includes nine military civilians killed in action. At least 3,469 military personnel died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers.

The AP count is two more than the Defense Department's tally, last updated Tuesday at 10 a.m. EDT.

The British military has reported 179 deaths; Italy, 33; Ukraine, 18; Poland, 21; Bulgaria, 13; Spain, 11; Denmark, seven; El Salvador, five; Slovakia, four; Latvia and Georgia, three each; Estonia, Netherlands, Thailand and Romania, two each; and Australia, Hungary, Kazakhstan and South Korea, one death each.

Since the start of U.S. military operations in Iraq, 31,495 U.S. service members have been wounded in hostile action, according to the Defense Department's weekly tally.

The latest deaths reported by the military:

_ One soldier died Tuesday when a roadside bomb struck a patrol in southern Baghdad.

_ Three soldiers died Tuesday when a roadside bomb struck a patrol in northern Iraq.

The latest identifications reported by the military:

_ No new identifications reported.

On the Net:

FACTBOX-Security developments in Iraq, Sept 9

Wed Sep 9, 2009 7:18am EDT

Sept 9 (Reuters) - Following are security developments in Iraq at 1100 GMT on Wednesday. * denotes new or updated item

* BAGHDAD - An investigative council has charged 29 Iraqi security officials with negligence relating to two truck bombs outside government ministries in Baghdad last month that killed 95 people, Baghdad security spokesman Qassim al-Moussawi said.

BAGHDAD - A bomb attached to a car wounded three civilians in Baghdad's western district of Jamiaa on Tuesday, police said.

MOSUL - A roadside bomb wounded three soldiers on Tuesday on the northern outskirts of Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD - A bomb planted on a motorcycle killed one civilian and wounded seven others on Tuesday in southern Baghdad, police said.

September 9, 2009

Attacks Muddle American Plans to Draw Down in Iraq

New York Times

BAGHDAD — In the worst day of violence against American soldiers in Iraq since combat troops moved out of the cities this year, two bombings left four Americans dead, underscoring the dangers troops here still face even as they prepare for their exit from this country.

The American military provided little detail about the attacks, saying only that one soldier was killed in a roadside bombing in southern Baghdad and that three more were killed in another roadside bombing in northern Iraq.

While the American presence here has been greatly diminished, with Iraqis and Americans rarely conducting joint patrols and Iraqis eager to appear in control of their own security, there are still thousands of American soldiers working as advisers inside cities and towns across Iraq. Tens of thousands more are also on the road every night as Americans move equipment and resources in preparation for the large-scale reduction of forces scheduled to begin after January elections here.

One critical calculation is how the Americans can both provide the protection needed to move the vast accumulation of equipment from six years of war and maintain the capacity to support Iraqi forces if violence spins out of control.

Iraq’s security forces also continued to come under attack on Tuesday, with at least 10 police officers killed, including a police commander, and 6 more wounded in Kirkuk Province.

While Iraq’s police and army have long been targets of insurgents, August was the deadliest month for them since the Americans withdrew combat troops from the cities in late June, with 32 members killed. Since January, 164 Iraqi police officers and army soldiers have been killed.

The strategy of those committing violence in Iraq, never easy to divine, is particularly difficult to gauge when dealing with attacks on police officers in local areas.

Insurgents, of course, seek to destabilize the government. But there are also networks and overlays of crime, corruption, political power plays, ethnic rivalries and local factions in competition for control over vital areas.

In few places do those tensions form as combustible a mix as they do in Kirkuk Province, known as the country’s fault line because of the simmering tensions between the central government in Baghdad and the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan to the north. The deadliest attacks against Iraqi police officers on Tuesday took place around the city of Kirkuk. In one bombing in the town of Armeli, populated with Shiites from Iraq’s Turkmen ethnic minority, the local police commander was killed along with three other officers when his convoy struck a roadside bomb. In a separate attack in the same area, four other police officers were killed.

The continuing tensions in Kirkuk Province are an increasing focus for American commanders here, who have announced a new initiative to try to bring stability to the factions competing for power in the area. The details of the campaign, and how American troops will be involved, remain unclear.

There were also attacks against the Iraqi police in Baghdad on Tuesday, with at least six officers wounded in two bombings.

Another bombing in Baghdad took aim at an official in the Health Ministry, killing one of his employees and wounding 12 more people. But the official emerged unharmed.

Even as security forces are singled out, civilians here often bear the brunt of the violence, with 4,111 people killed around the country so far this year.

The continuing violence has raised questions about the ability of Iraqi forces to maintain security as the American role shrinks, especially after deadly attacks in the heart of the capital last month left roughly 100 people dead.

Seeking to address those doubts, the Iraqi government on Tuesday announced that 29 police and army officers arrested after that bombing were being charged with negligence in the performance their duties.

“There was clear negligence from the security forces,” said Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, the spokesman for Baghdad’s security command center. “Absolutely, what has been achieved so far in the intelligence and security efforts is below expectations.”

An Iraqi employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Kirkuk Province.

Iraq bombings kill 4 U.S. soldiers

The attacks in Baghdad and northern Iraq occur on the deadliest day for the troops since June 29. In the north, six Iraqi policemen are slain by roadside bombs

By Ned Parker and Ali Windawi
September 9, 2009
Reporting from Baghdad and Amerli, Iraq

Four U.S. soldiers were killed Tuesday in bomb blasts in Baghdad and northern Iraq and six Iraqi policemen died in attacks in the country's north.

It was the deadliest day for the Americans since June 29, when four soldiers were killed in Baghdad. The next day, most U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq's cities, where their movements have since been restricted, though they have greater latitude in the countryside. Seven American soldiers died in August.

In Tuesday's attacks, a roadside bomb killed three soldiers on patrol in Salahuddin province, north of the capital, the U.S. military said. The fourth soldier died when an explosive device targeted his patrol in south Baghdad.

Before the latest incidents, the U.S. Defense Department put the American death toll in Iraq at 4,340.

It was also a bloody day for the Iraqi security forces around Kirkuk, the oil-rich northern region at the center of a land dispute involving Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens. Two Iraqi policemen were killed and four wounded in a road bombing less than 20 miles from the city of Kirkuk.

A roadside bomb also claimed the life of Maj. Zaid Hussein, who headed a counter-terrorism police unit, and three of his men in the town of Amerli, a Shiite Turkmen district not far from Kirkuk's provincial boundaries. The blast tore apart Hussein's white Nissan Patrol. The bomb was planted at an intersection on the edge of town.

Some residents blamed militants associated with the group Al Qaeda in Iraq.

"I carried the dead body of the major," said Hassan Hadi, a 28-year-old resident. The attack "has the fingerprints of Al Qaeda, which wants to ignite sectarianism."

A suicide truck bombing in Amerli in July 2007 killed about 160 people.

The country's north remains mired in ethnic tensions. The U.S. military proposed last month that the Iraqi army, U.S. forces and Kurdish paramilitary fighters known as peshmerga jointly patrol the disputed districts. The aim would be to build trust among the ethnic groups, but no formal arrangement has been announced.

Meanwhile, Iraq's government continued to investigate bombings last month in Baghdad at the finance and foreign ministries, which killed about 90 people and shook Iraqis' confidence that their capital was becoming secure.

The spokesman for Baghdad's security command, Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta Moussawi, said 29 Iraqi security personnel had been reprimanded for their performance in relation to the attacks and their cases were being forwarded to a special court.

Windawi is a special correspondent. Times staff writers Usama Redha and Saif Hameed in Baghdad contributed to this report.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009
05:06 Mecca time, 02:06 GMT

Deadly blasts hit Iraqi cities

The attacks follow the withdrawal of US forces from major Iraqi urban areas

Bombs have exploded in three Iraqi cities killing at least 15 people.

In the deadliest attack on Monday a suicide car bomber killed at least seven people and wounded 15 others at a security checkpoint in western Iraq, police said.

Security and hospital officials said three policemen were among those killed when the bomber drove a car loaded with explosives into a checkpoint near Ramadi, the capital of western Anbar province.

Mohammed Hussein Alwan, a 40-year-old farmer, said he was riding in a lorry about 200 metres from the attacker's car when the blast occurred.

"I ran to the site and saw five burning cars and a child who was thrown by the explosion and landed on the top of a car," he was reported by The Associated Press as saying.

"I tried to approach him to see whether he was alive or dead, but the police started to open fire in all directions and we had to run away," he added.

Shia targets

In another suicide attack on Monday, a man dressed as a policeman killed four people and injured 20 more after detonating his explosive vest next to a Shia mosque in Baquba, the capital of Diyala province, police said.

Worshipers were gathering for evening prayers at the time, in the city 65km northwest of Baghdad, the capital.

A separate incident also occurred in Kerbala, a mostly Shia city 80km south of Baghdad, where a bomb exploded on a bus.

The blast killed four people and wounded another eight, police said.

Ramadi was once a key al-Qaeda stronghold following the US-led invasion of 2003, but violence has significantly decreased since 2006, when local tribes sided with the US military.

Sporadic attacks

Sporadic attacks still continue in the province, with a series of bombings in July prompting Iraqi security forces to declare a state of emergency there.

Diyala province has remained restive while other areas of Iraq have seen levels of violence fall.

The withdrawal of US forces from towns and cities in Iraq at the end of June had raised concern that the country would see a renewed surge in violence.

Over the last two months Iraq has seen a number of deadly attacks, including a bombing at government ministries in Baghdad in August that killed almost 100 people.

There have also been a series of attacks in areas of northern Iraq where tension is high between Arabs, Kurds and other minorities.

The violence has shaken public confidence ahead of national elections in January.

Source: Agencies

State Dep't contractor electrocuted


WASHINGTON — A State Department contractor apparently has been electrocuted while showering in Baghdad even as U.S. authorities in Iraq try to remedy wiring problems that have led to the deaths of American troops there.

The contractor, Adam Hermanson, 25, died Sept. 1, his wife, Janine, said Tuesday. She added that a military medical examiner told her that preliminary findings indicate her husband died from low voltage electrocution.

Electrical wiring has been an ongoing problem in Iraq. At least three troops have been electrocuted in the shower since the start of the Iraq War, while others have been electrocuted under other circumstances such as while operating a power washer. Inspections and repairs are under way at 90,000 U.S.-maintained structures there.

Hermanson grew up in San Diego and Las Vegas. He joined the military at age 17, and did three tours in Iraq with the Air Force before leaving at the rank of staff sergeant. He returned to Iraq as an employee of the Herndon, Va.-based private contractor Triple Canopy.

Jayanti Menches, a spokeswoman for Triple Canopy, said in an e-mail that the company was saddened by his death but would not be commenting further until an investigation was complete.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood also offered condolences to the family, but would not elaborate further on the cause of death, pending an investigation.

Janine Hermanson said her husband took the contracting job so they would have money to buy a house in Muncy, Pa., where they were planning to live. She said she'd already moved there and was living with her parents.

The two would have celebrated their fourth wedding anniversary on Sunday.

"He was supposed to come back and we had a lot of plans," said his wife, who also served in Iraq with the Air Force.

Besides three Iraq tours, Adam Hermanson served in Uzbekistan with the Air Force. His mother, Patricia Hermanson, 53, of Las Vegas, said everyone in her family was struggling to understand how he could survive four war tours, then die suddenly in a seemingly safe place.

"We all know that Adam was as strong as a tank," his mother said. "He was in good health."

In July, the Defense Department's inspector general said that of the 18 electrocution deaths of U.S. soldiers and contractors in Iraq, eight involved possible equipment faults or malfunctioning that caused or contributed to the electrocutions. The accidental touching of live wires was blamed in about half the deaths.

With U.S. Forces in Iraq Beginning to Leave, Need for Private Guards Grows

By Walter Pincus
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Washington Post

As the United States withdraws its combat forces from Iraq, the government is hiring more private guards to protect U.S. installations at a cost that could near $1 billion, according to the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

On Sept. 1, the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) awarded contracts expected to be worth $485 million over the next two years to five firms to provide security and patrol services to U.S. bases in Iraq.

Under this contract, the firms will bid against one another for individual orders at specific bases or locations. These "task orders" in the past have ranged from supplying one specialist to providing as many as 1,000 people to handle security for a major base.

Under a similar contract with five security contractors that began in September 2007, the MNF-I spent $253 million through March 2009, with needs growing over that 18-month period. That contract, which was to run three years, had a spending limit of $450 million.

Against that background, the inspector general for reconstruction predicted that costs for private security at U.S. facilities in Iraq "will grow in size to a potential $935 million." The inspector general's report, issued this year, said the MNF-I planned to switch to private guards for Victory Base Camp, one of its largest installations. That facility alone would require "approximately 2,600 security personnel," the report said.

The need for contract guards began growing this year. The Central Command's June quarterly report on contracting showed a 19 percent increase from the three previous months in the number of security guards in Iraq hired by the Defense Department. The Central Command attributed the increase, from 10,743 at the end of March to 13,232 at the end of June, mainly to "an increased need for PSCs [private security companies] to provide security as the military begins to draw down forces."

In its study, the inspector general's office found that at 19 sites where private guards replaced soldiers, many more guards were needed to do the same job. It said the task order for Camp Bucca, primarily a detention facility, called for "417 personnel to free up approximately 350 soldiers for combat operations." At Forward Operating Base Hammer, the task order called for 124 private guards to allow 102 soldiers to take on combat activities.

In some cases, as at Camp Taji, a major supply installation, the report says that more than 900 private personnel replaced 400 soldiers, but that the private guards took on additional tasks "to address deficiencies in existing site security."

The United States also uses contractors when coalition forces withdraw. When Georgian soldiers left unexpectedly last August from a base near the Iranian border where they were providing security, private contractors replaced them.

The Central Command study found that of the armed private security personnel working in June, 623 were Americans, 1,029 were Iraqis and 11,580 were third-country nationals. Most of that group "were from countries such as Uganda and Kenya," according to the inspector general's report.

Under the new MNF-I contract, guards must be at least 21 years old, speak English "at a level necessary to give and receive situational reports," and be an expatriate or an Iraqi, but the latter only when specifically allowed. Those who handle dogs used to inspect vehicles and search out explosives must be at least 25 years old and "must be expatriates." Shift supervisors, who direct guard teams, must also be at least 25 and be fluent in reading and writing English.

The inspector general's report shows that government estimates of the total cost of replacing soldiers with contractors are hidden in public accounting. The report notes that government services provided to the private guard force -- food, housing and other benefits -- are not considered, only payments going directly to the contractors. The report estimated that such services provided to private security personnel in the 12 months ending in March cost "more than $250 million," at a time when listed outlays to the contractor firms in that period totaled $155 million.

In the new contracts, private contractors will continue to be allowed to use government dining facilities, living quarters, barber services, some transportation within Iraq and emergency medical care.

Another new contract, posted Sept. 3 for "Advisor & Atmospherics technical support services," calls for providing information to senior commanders of U.S. forces in Iraq to assist them "in gaining a deeper understanding of the many complex issues across Iraq." The aim is to provide "anecdotal information derived from varied native sources" so that commanders can become aware of "the Iraqi viewpoint of life in Iraq, the government of Iraq, U.S. forces, key events and other perceptions that are relevant to accomplishing the mission in Iraq."

September 9, 2009

Afghan ambush kills 4 Marines


GANGIGAL, Afghanistan -- Four U.S. Marines died Tuesday when they walked into a well-laid ambush by insurgents in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province.

Seven Afghan troops and an interpreter for the Marine commander also died in the ambush and subsequent battle, which lasted seven hours.

Three American service members and 14 Afghan security force members were wounded.

It was the largest number of American military trainers to die in a single incident since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

The battle took place around the remote hamlet of Gangigal, in a valley about 6 miles from the Pakistani border, after local elders invited U.S. and Afghan forces for a meeting. American officers said there was no doubt that they had walked into a trap.

The latest deaths bring to 11 the number of U.S. service members killed so far in September. Last month was the deadliest for American forces in Afghanistan since the invasion in late 2001 to oust the Taliban regime, when 51 troops died.

4 U.S. troops killed in Iraq

Four U.S. soldiers were killed by roadside bombs Tuesday, the deadliest day for American forces in Iraq since combat troops pulled back from urban areas more than two months ago.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Additional Facts
Fatal strike under review

Civilian deaths confirmed: NATO forces acknowledged for the first time Tuesday that Afghan civilians were among the dozens of people killed in a German-ordered air strike last week.

Top NATO and U.S. commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal appointed a Canadian major general to lead an investigation into Friday's strike on two hijacked fuel tankers in northern Kunduz province. An Afghan official appointed by President Hamid Karzai to examine the attack said his best estimate of the death toll was 82, including at least 45 armed militants.

Alcohol banned: McChrystal on Tuesday banned the sale of alcohol at the military alliance's Kabul headquarters after becoming frustrated when he had trouble getting in touch with some of his staff after the predawn attack in Kunduz, said Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, a U.S. military spokeswoman.

The ban does not affect U.S. troops, who already are barred from drinking. Forty other nations participate in the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Some are more lenient than others when it comes to alcohol policy.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009
12:54 Mecca time, 09:54 GMT

Fraud claims mar Karzai poll 'win'

The Electoral Complaints Commission has ordered a recount of votes from several polling stations

Incumbent Hamid Karzai appears to have won Afghanistan's presidential elections, with nearly all the votes counted, but a UN-backed commission says it has "clear and convincing evidence of fraud".

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) said on Tuesday that with 91.6 per cent of polling stations tallied, Karzai had 54.1 per cent of the vote, more than the 50 per cent needed to avoid a second round run-off.

Karzai's nearest rival, Abdullah Abdullah, won 28.3 per cent of the vote, the IEC said.

But the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) said earlier on Tuesday that it had found evidence of fraud in the election and ordered a partial recount of the vote.

Al Jazeera's James Bays, reporting from Kabul, said if the IEC results were to stand, there would be no run-off and Karzai would be returned as president.

"But things are not that simple," he said.

Fraud allegations

Bays said: "We've had the Election Complaints Commission come out, saying they have clear and convincing evidence of fraud in these elections.

"They point to three provinces where they have particular concerns and they have launched a wide ranging order - anywhere nationwide ... where there was a 100 per cent turnout, they want a recount and an audit of everything that was in the ballot box.

"And also where one candidate has got more than 95 per cent of the vote, they want a recount and an audit.

"They want to look at all these ballots again, look at the handwriting, make sure for example that they were not written by the same person."

The commission said it would set aside results from 600 polling stations where it suspected irregularities.

Owing to mounting allegations of fraud, the IEC has excluded around 200,000 votes from 447 polling stations from preliminary results to be announced later this week, Daoud Ali Najafi, IEC chief electoral officer, told German Press Agency dpa.

The votes were suspicious and were sent to the ECC for adjudication, Najafi said, adding: "The ECC will decide if they would throw it out of the final result."

The ECC also ordered the IEC to recount votes from polling stations where more than 600 votes were cast - the most that could be cast at a single station.

The August 20 election was Afghanistan's only second direct presidential election, and has been overshadowed by claims of massive fraud.

Full result

The US, which has troops stationed across the country as part of its effort to defeat fighters allied to Taliban and al-Qaeda, said that the full result of the Afghan election could take weeks or months to emerge.

"It is very important that these elections are seen as legitimate in the eyes of the Afghan people, in the eyes of the international community. And I am not going to prejudge where this whole thing comes out," Ian Kelly, a spokesman for the US state department, said on Tuesday.

"It is not going to be a matter of days or weeks, it could be a matter of months to sort out all of these allegations."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Wednesday, September 09, 2009
15:12 Mecca time, 12:12 GMT

UK reporter rescued in Afghan raid

Farrell had travelled to Kunduz to investigate deaths from Nato's bombing

A Western journalist has been freed and an Afghan reporter killed in a raid aimed at securing the pair's release from their Taliban captors in Afghanistan.

Stephen Farrell, a reporter for the New York Times, and Mohammed Sultan Munadi, his Afghan colleague, were abducted earlier this month while attempting to visit the scene of a Nato air attack in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan.

But Munadi was killed during a British commando raid on the compound where they were being held, early on Wednesday morning.

One British service member died during the early morning raid, Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, announced.

Farrell, in a report on the newspaper's website, said: "We were all in a room, the Talibs all ran, it was obviously a raid.

"There were bullets all around us. I could hear British and Afghan voices."

Farrell said Munadi went forward shouting "Journalist!" but fell in a burst of gunfire, which Farrell said could have been from the rescuers or the kidnappers.

Farrell, a 46-year-old with dual Irish-British nationality, is the second New York Times journalist to be captured in less than a year.

David Rohde was held in Afghanistan and Pakistan for seven months until June, when the newspaper says he escaped from captivity in Pakistan.

Afghans' anger

Afghan journalists are said to be furious over the death of Munadi, a 34-year-old father of two who was working in Afghanistan on a break from university in Germany, saying negotiations were under way that would have freed the two.

Mohammad Sami Yowar, a spokesman for the Kunduz governor, said British special forces had dropped down from helicopters on to the house where the two journalists were being kept.

A Taliban commander who was in the house was killed, along with the owner of the house and a woman who was inside, Yowar said.

Farrell and Munadi had travelled to Kunduz to investigate the Nato raid that is believed to have killed scores of civilians.

Afghan officials said about 54 people died in a bombing on two tankers hijacked by Taliban fighters.

There were reports that villagers who had come to collect fuel from the tankers were among the dead, and Farrell had wanted to interview villagers.

Source: Agencies

Thursday, September 03, 2009
07:19 Mecca time, 04:19 GMT

Blast kills Afghan deputy spy chief

Security forces in Afghanistan are battling an increasing number of attacks

At least 23 people, including the deputy head of Afghanistan's intelligence service, have been killed in a suicide attack in the country's east.

Abdullah Laghmani was killed in the attack on Wednesday while visiting tribal elders near his home in Laghman province, sources have told Al Jazeera.

Sayed Ahmad Safi, the provincial governor's spokesman, confirmed that Laghmani, who is the deputy chief of the National Directorate for Security (NDS), was among the dead.

James Bays, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Kabul, said: "Behind the scenes Laghmani was key ... his death will be a big blow to the Afghan government and their fight against the Taliban."

Several other government officials were also thought to have been killed.

Targeted attack

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had targeted senior officials.

The attack came as a group of government officials were inaugurating a mosque in the city of Mehterlam, 100km east of Kabul, Afghanistan's capital.

Lutfullah Mashal, the governor of Laghman, who witnessed the attack, told Al Jazeera: "The deputy chief of the NDS is from Laghman province.

"He came to Laghman this morning to participate in the reconstruction of the central mosque. He wanted to visit the mosque.

"But before entering the mosque the suicide attacker rammed into his vehicle and exploded himself in a big crowd of religious scholars and tribal elders."

An Associated Press photographer at the site said US troops and Afghan officials had surrounded the blast site.

The NDS is headed by an ethnic Tajik, and analysts warn that the killing of Laghmani, a Pashtun, could further exacerbate ethnic tensions in the country.

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, condemned the incident and the United Nations in Afghanistan said the attack was "indefensible" during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Tuesday, September 08, 2009
22:09 Mecca time, 19:09 GMT

Deaths in Pakistan drone attack

At least 10 people have been killed after a suspected US drone fired missiles into Pakistan’s North Waziristan region, Pakistani intelligence has said.

The attack late on Tuesday targeted a Taliban residential compound in Dargamandi village in a tribal area bordering Afghanistan.

It was not immediately clear whether any Taliban fighters were present in the area at the time.

The United States has fired scores of missiles from unmanned drones into the tribal regions since last year in a campaign targeting al-Qaeda and Taliban commanders.

Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder reporting from Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, said: "No one is clear under what mandate the Americans are carrying out such strikes because this is the month of Ramadan and there is going to be a considerable backlash not just in those areas, but from across Pakistan.

"People are angered by the way the Americans are conducting their affairs in this particular conflict . This is an infringement of sovereignty.

"Aircraft with no pilots onboard are constantly flying into Pakistani aerospace and attacking targets within Pakistan ... it creates a very complex situation for the Pakistani military itself.

"The signal the Pakistanis want to send across is that they want to be able to work within their territory without outside interference."

Tuesday's attack was the second in the North Waziristan tribal region in less than 24 hours.

A similar strike targeting a madrassa (Islamic school) and an adjoining house in Machikhel village killed at least five people on Monday.

Residents on Tuesday said they had seen the drone hovering in the sky and had been expecting the missile attack.

Washington alleges Al-Qaeda and Taliban rebels who fled Afghanistan after the 2001 US-led invasion are holed up in the semi-autonomous tribal belt.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Tuesday, September 08, 2009
16:46 Mecca time, 13:46 GMT

Merkel defends role in Afghanistan

Friday's airstrike was targeted at Taliban fighters who had hijacked two fuel trucks

Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, has said she "deeply regrets" the loss of any innocent life in Afghanistan, but rejected criticism over a Nato airstrike ordered by a German commander that is believed to have killed scores of civilians.

Addressing the country's parliament in Berlin on Tuesday, Merkel also called for an agreement this year on how to transfer responsibility for security in the country to Afghan officials.

Her comments come days after widespread outrage over the Nato airstrike in Kunduz, a northern province, last Friday which killed 54 people, according to Afghan officials.

"Every innocent person killed in Afghanistan is one too many. Any innocent person killed or hurt, including through German actions, I deeply regret," Merkel said, and promised an "open" inquiry.

"We will not gloss over anything, but we will not accept any premature condemnation," she said.

"I refuse to tolerate that, either from Germany or from abroad."

'Big mistake'

Earlier on Tuesday, the Nato-led force in Afghanistan said it believed civilians were killed or injured in Friday's strike, after previously saying that civilians were only harmed.

General Stanley McChrystal, the head of international forces in the country, has ordered an investigation into the bombing.

The strike was reportedly ordered by a German commander after Taliban fighters hijacked two fuel trucks on a Nato supply route from Tajikstan.

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, called the decision a major "error of judgment".

Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, also called the airstrike a "big mistake", while Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, said it was a "very, very sad event".

Power transfer

But Merkel defended Germany's role in Afghanistan, where it has more than 4,200 troops stationed.

"No one should deceive himself: the consequences of not acting will be attributed to us just as much as the consequences of acting," she said.

"Everyone who calls for Germany to step aside from fighting international terrorism, particularly in Afghanistan, should consider that."

The chancellor said she had spoken to Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, about beginning a new era in the country.

"Now is the right moment, together with the new Afghanistan leadership, to set out at the end of this year how this transfer of responsibility will happen," she said.

Source: Agencies

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