Another day and more Wikileaks revelations. Who the hell is saying there’s nothing in these documents? Only people who resent light being shone on the true dealings of the US. More, please.
Last year Zardari told the US ambassador, Anne Patterson, that if he was assassinated, “he had instructed his son Bilawal to name his sister, Faryal Talpur, as president“.
This year Zardari requested the United Arab Emirates to allow his family to live there in the event of his death. His wife lived in self-imposed exile in the UAE for years before her ill-fated return to Pakistan in 2007.
The cables provide a changing portrait of Zardari, America’s key Pakistani ally along with the army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani. A sharp-edged 2008 description of Zardari notes that he hails from a tribe with “little social standing” in Sindh; “there is a story that as children, Sindhis were told ‘a Zardari stole it’ if something went missing”.
But later dispatches portray him as a more capable leader, with considerable political nous, although often burdened by his association with deep-seated corruption.
Zardari is frank about the strength of the Taliban – “I’m sorry to say this but we are not winning” the war against extremists he told the US vice-president, Joe Biden, in 2009 – and his own limitations.
“I am not Benazir, and I know it,” he told the US ambassador after his wife’s death.
Small teams of US special forces soldiers have been secretly embedded with Pakistani military forces in the tribal belt, helping to hunt down Taliban and al-Qaida fighters and co-ordinate drone strikes, the embassy cables reveal.
The numbers involved are small – just 16 soldiers in October 2009 – but the deployment is of immense political significance, described in a cable that provides an unprecedented glimpse into covert American operations in the world’s most violent al-Qaida hotbed.
The first special forces team of four soldiers was deployed to an old British colonial fort in the northern half of the tribal belt in September 2009, helping Frontier Corps paramilitaries to carry out artillery strikes on a militant base.
A month later, two more teams of six soldiers each were deployed to Pakistani army bases in North and South Waziristan, a lawless warren of mountains considered to be the global headquarters of al-Qaida.
Their job was to provide “intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance” support – ISR in military jargon – “general operational advice” and to help set up a live satellite feed from American drones flying overhead, presumably CIA-operated Predator and Reaper aircraft.
American officials, who had long been pushing for such a deployment in the face of “adamant” Pakistani opposition, were jubilant, viewing it as a sign of growing trust in an often troubled relationship.
“The developments of the past two months thus appear to represent a sea change in [the military’s] thinking,” read the cable.
The British government promised to protect America’s interests during the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war, according to a secret cable sent from the US embassy in London.
Jon Day, the Ministry of Defence’s director general for security policy, told US under-secretary of state Ellen Tauscher that the UK had “put measures in place to protect your interests during the UK inquiry into the causes of the Iraq war”.
The admission came in the cable sent on 22 September 2009, which recorded a series of high-level meetings between Tauscher and UK defence officials and diplomats, which involved the then foreign secretary, David Miliband.
Day was a senior adviser to the Labour government, and told the American delegation that “Iraq seems no longer to be a major issue in the US”, but said it would become a big issue – a “feeding frenzy” – in the UK “when the inquiry takes off”.
The revelation of the move to defend Washington threatens to undermine the inquiry, which was launched by Gordon Brown ‘to identify lessons that can be learned from the Iraq conflict’. It is due to deliver its findings around the turn of the year.
The diplomats do not record which measures the British government took to protect US interests. No American officials were called to give evidence in public, and evidence from US officials was heard in private during visits by inquiry members to the US. The inquiry was also refused permission to publish letters between George Bush and Tony Blair written in 2002 in the run-up to the war, even though they were referred to in evidence. There were fears that the release of the details could harm both UK-US relations, and those with other countries. In January, a Blair ally told the Guardian: “They are full of scurrilous remarks about other people, including [Jacques] Chirac [the former French president].”
Besieged by criminal inquiries and Congressional investigators, how could the world’s most controversial private security company drum up new business? By battling pirates on the high seas, of course.
In late 2008, Blackwater Worldwide, already under fire because of accusations of abuses by its security guards in Iraq and Afghanistan, reconfigured a 183-foot oceanographic research vessel into a pirate-hunting ship for hire and then began looking for business from shipping companies seeking protection from Somali pirates. The company’s chief executive officer, Erik Prince, was planning a trip to Djibouti for a promotional event in March 2009, and Blackwater was hoping that the American Embassy there would help out, according to a secret State Department cable.
But with the Obama administration just weeks old, American diplomats in Djibouti faced a problem. They are supposed to be advocates for American businesses, but this was Blackwater, a company that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had proposed banning from war zones when she was a presidential candidate.
The embassy “would appreciate Department’s guidance on the appropriate level of engagement with Blackwater,” wrote James C. Swan, the American ambassador in Djibouti, in a cable sent on Feb. 12, 2009. Blackwater’s plans to enter the anti-piracy business have been previously reported, but not the American government’s concern about the endeavor.
According to that cable, Blackwater had outfitted its United States-flagged ship with .50-caliber machine guns and a small, unarmed drone aircraft. The ship, named the McArthur, would carry a crew of 33 to patrol the Gulf of Aden for 30 days before returning to Djibouti to resupply.
And the company had already determined its rules of engagement. “Blackwater does not intend to take any pirates into custody, but will use lethal force against pirates if necessary,” the cable said.
At the time, the company was still awaiting approvals from Blackwater lawyers for its planned operations, since Blackwater had informed the embassy there was “no precedent for a paramilitary operation in a purely commercial environment.”
Lawsuits filed later by crew members on the McArthur made life on the ship sound little improved from the days of Blackbeard.