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US armed forces

Since the 25th July the United States has carried out five unmanned airstrikes:

August 14th: The U.S. carried out its first airstrike in almost three weeks on a compound in the village of Issori, near Miramshah, North Waziristan. Reports suggested that twelve al Qaida or Taliban operatives sheltering in the compound were killed in the attack. None were believed to be senior figures.

August 21st: Reports claimed that the United States fired four missiles from an unmanned aircraft at vehicles and a compound outside the village of Anghar Kala, Miramshah, North Waziristan. The airstrike killed six people, including 'foreigners'.

August 23rd: An unmanned airstrike targeted a compound in the village of Danda Darpa Khel, Miramshah, North Waziristan. Five terrorists and seven civilians were killed in the attack. In a second attack, five Taliban fighters were killed when UAVs fired two missiles at a compound in the village of Derga Mandi. The latter strike was the 53rd conducted by the United States this year. This meant that the United States had now matched its entire strike total for the previous year.

August 27th: The United States changed the focus of its unmanned airstrikes to the tribal agency of Kurram. An unmanned airstrike hit two vehicles near a compound in the village of Shahidano. Whilst no senior al Qaida or Taliban figures were amongst the four killed in the attack, Pakistani sources claimed the airstrike targeted members of Hakeemullah Mehsud, leader of the Tehreek-e-Taliban. According to the Long War Journal the Taliban regrouped in Kurram after the Pakistani military launched its offensive in South Waziristan in 2009. The Taliban in Kurram are commanded by Maluvi Noor Jamal, who is regarded as a potential successor to Hakeemullah.

 

Taliban fighters are increasingly using civilians as human shields in the assault on the southern town of Marjah, an Afghan official said Wednesday as military squads resumed painstaking house-to-house searches in the Taliban stronghold.

About 15,000 NATO and Afghan troops are taking part in the offensive around Marjah, which has an estimated 80,000 inhabitants and was the largest town in southern Helmand province under Taliban control. NATO hopes to rush in aid and public services as soon as the town is secured to try to win the loyalty of the population.

With the assault in its fifth day, insurgents are firing at Afghan troops from inside or next to compounds where women and children appear to have been ordered to stand on a roof or in a window, said Gen. Mohiudin Ghori, the brigade commander for Afghan troops in Marjah.

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U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton said during today's hearing on the Fiscal Year 2011 budget request of the Department of the Army:

"The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continue to drive a relentless tempo and although we hope to see some relief soon, the pace has not slackened perceptibly yet. To support this level of activity, the administration has requested a $2.5 billion increase over last year's base budget level for the Army. This would support a 1.4 percent across-the-board military and civilian pay raise and support the Army's continued focus on providing support to military families. I am pleased to see the continued, sustained attention paid to the well-being of our soldiers.

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Military.com editor Ward Carroll and managing editor Christian Lowe are currently embedded with American troops in eastern Afghanistan. This despatch was published in military.com (who retain copyright) on 21st May 2010

FORWARD OPERATING BASE RUSHMORE -- It took elements of First Platoon, Angel Company, 3-187, an hour to navigate a convoy of MRAPs across 10 miles of bumpy dirt road between the Combat Outpost at Yosef Khel to the village of Mest. And that slow ride was considered a good commute by infantry standards -- no IEDs hit; no RPGs fired at them, and no small-arms contact with the enemy.

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Earlier Wednesday, a NATO helicopter providing support to British troops in southern Afghanistan was shot down by Taliban gunners, and military officials said all four American crewmen aboard were killed.

The deaths brought the number of American service members killed in Afghanistan to at least 19 this month, according to icasualties.org, a nongovernmental Web site that tracks war fatalities in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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By George Friedman

On Sunday, The New York Times and two other newspapers published summaries and excerpts of tens of thousands of documents leaked to a website known as WikiLeaks. The documents comprise a vast array of material concerning the war in Afghanistan. They range from tactical reports from small unit operations to broader strategic analyses of politico-military relations between the United States and Pakistan. It appears to be an extraordinary collection.

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By Scott Stewart

On April 25, The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) posted a statement on the Internet confirming that two of its top leaders, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayub al-Masri, had been killed April 18 in a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation in Salahuddin province. Al-Baghdadi (an Iraqi also known as Hamid Dawud Muhammad Khalil al-Zawi), was the head of the ISI, an al Qaeda-led jihadist alliance in Iraq, and went by the title "Leader of the Faithful." Al-Masri (an Egyptian national also known as Abu Hamzah al-Muhajir), was the military leader of the ISI and head of the group's military wing, al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

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By Scott Stewart

The drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq has served to shift attention toward Afghanistan, where the United States has been increasing its troop strength in hopes of forming conditions conducive to a political settlement. This is similar to the way it used the 2007 surge in Iraq to help reach a negotiated settlement with the Sunni insurgents that eventually set the stage for withdrawal there. As we've discussed elsewhere, the Taliban at this point do not feel the pressure required for them to capitulate or negotiate and therefore continue to follow their strategy of surviving and waiting for the coalition forces to depart so that they can again make a move to assume control over Afghanistan.

Indeed, with the United States having set a deadline of July 2011 to begin the drawdown of combat forces in Afghanistan and with many of its NATO allies withdrawing sooner the Taliban can sense that the end is near. As they wait expectantly for the departure of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from Afghanistan, a look at the history of militancy in Afghanistan provides a bit of a preview of what could follow the U.S. withdrawal.

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By Scott Stewart

Sept. 11, 2010, the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, was a day of solemn ceremony, remembrance and reflection. It was also a time to consider the U.S. reaction to the attack nine years ago, including the national effort to destroy al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in order to prevent a repeat of the 9/11 attacks. Of course, part of the U.S. reaction to 9/11 was the decision to invade Afghanistan, and the 9/11 anniversary also provided a time to consider how the United States is now trying to end its Afghanistan campaign so that it can concentrate on more pressing matters elsewhere.

The run-up to the anniversary also saw what could have been an attempted terrorist attack in another Western country. On Sept. 10 in Denmark, a potential bombing was averted by the apparent accidental detonation of an improvised explosive device in a bathroom at a Copenhagen hotel. The Danish authorities have not released many details of the incident, but it appears that the suspect may have been intending to target the Danish Jyllands-Posten newspaper, which has been targeted in the past because it published cartoons featuring the Prophet Mohammed in 2005. Groups such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have tried hard to ensure that the anger over the cartoon issue does not die down, and it apparently has not. It is important to note that even if the perpetrator had not botched it, the plot at least as we understand it so far appears to have involved a simple attack plan and would not have resulted in a spectacular act of terrorism.

Yet in spite of the failed attack in Denmark and all the 9/11 retrospection, perhaps the most interesting thing about the 9/11 anniversary in 2010, at least from an analytical perspective, was what did not happen. For the first time, the al Qaeda core leadership did not issue a flurry of slick, media-savvy statements to mark the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. And the single statement they did release was not nearly as polished or pointed as past anniversary messages. This has caused us to pause, reflect and wonder if the al Qaeda leadership is losing its place at the ideological forefront of the jihadist cause.

When it comes to anniversaries, al Qaeda has not always seized upon them as opportunities for attacks, but it has long seen them as tempting propaganda opportunities. This first began in September 2002, when the group released numerous messages in a multitude of forms to coincide with the first anniversary of 9/11. These included a one-hour video titled "The Nineteen Martyrs," referring to the 9/11 attackers; a book released by al-Ansar media telling the story of the 9/11 attacks; an audio tape from al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri; a statement from al Qaeda's "Political Bureau"; and a statement from al Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. Then, on Oct. 7, 2002, Al Qaeda released a message from Osama bin Laden to the American people to commemorate the first anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

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By Scott Stewart

On Friday, Oct. 22, the organization known as WikiLeaks published a cache of 391,832 classified documents on its website. The documents are mostly field reports filed by U.S. military forces in Iraq from January 2004 to December 2009 (the months of May 2004 and March 2009 are missing). The bulk of the documents (379,565, or about 97 percent) were classified at the secret level, with 204 classified at the lower confidential level. The remaining 12,062 documents were either unclassified or bore no classification.

This large batch of documents is believed to have been released by Pfc. Bradley Manning, who was arrested in May 2010 by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigations Command and charged with transferring thousands of classified documents onto his personal computer and then transmitting them to an unauthorized person. Manning is also alleged to have been the source of the classified information released by WikiLeaks pertaining to the war in Afghanistan in July 2010.

WikiLeaks released the Iraq war documents, as it did the Afghanistan war documents, to a number of news outlets for analysis several weeks in advance of their formal public release. These news organizations included The New York Times, Der Spiegel, The Guardian and Al Jazeera, each of which released special reports to coincide with the formal release of the documents Oct. 22.

Due to its investigation of Manning, the U.S. government also had a pretty good idea of what the material was before it was released and had formed a special task force to review it for sensitive and potentially damaging information prior to the release. The Pentagon has denounced the release of the information, which it considers a crime, has demanded the return of its stolen property and has warned that the documents place Iraqis at risk of retaliation and also place the lives of U.S. troops at risk from terrorist groups that are mining the documents for tidbits of operational information they can use in planning their attacks.

When one takes a careful look at the classified documents released by WikiLeaks, it becomes quickly apparent that they contain very few true secrets. Indeed, the main points being emphasized by Al Jazeera and the other media outlets after all the intense research they conducted before the public release of the documents seem to highlight a number of issues that had been well-known and well-chronicled for years. For example, the press has widely reported that the Iraqi government was torturing its own people; many civilians were killed during the six years the documents covered; sectarian death squads were operating inside Iraq; and the Iranian government was funding Shiite militias. None of this is news. But, when one steps back from the documents themselves and looks at the larger picture, there are some interesting issues that have been raised by the release of these documents and the reaction to their release.

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