US visiting refugee camps to further its oh so noble goals

The fusing of aid and military actions is a worrying development that threatens the independence of truly independent NGOs (and the US military isn’t part of this, sorry Barack):

A US military plan to survey refugee camps and aid agencies on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, possibly to obtain targeting information for air strikes, sparked alarm among diplomats in Islamabad.

In mid 2008 the US defence department special operations command requested US embassies in Kabul and Islamabad to provide information on camps housing Afghan refugees or civilians displaced by fighting with the Taliban.

“They have requested information on camp names and locations, camp status, number of IDS/refugees and ethnic breakdown, and NGO/humanitarian relief organisations working in the camps,” read a cable from the Islamabad embassy.

The defence attache’s office was instructed to “reach out” to the UNHCR (the UN refugee agency), USAid and the state department.

The information was requested in response to the special operations command – which oversees secret US military missions – “regarding [internally displaced people] IDP/refugee camps and NGO activity”. The purpose of the request was not clear, the cable noted cautiously.

“Some emails have suggested that agencies intend to use the data for targeting purposes; others indicate it would be used for ‘no strike’ purposes.”

The diplomats seemed alarmed by the idea. “We are concerned about providing information gained from humanitarian organisations to military personnel, especially for reasons that remain unclear. Particularly worrisome, this does not seem to us a very efficient way to gather accurate information,” the cable said.

The embassy curtly noted that such requests should be directed to the CIA station chiefs in Kabul and Islamabad and the local representatives of the director of national intelligence. The diplomats’ sensitivity was understandable. The request came three months after US navy Seals carried out a cross-border raid on a militant base in South Waziristan that drew a furious response from Pakistani officials.

The most likely target of any US strikes against refugee camps would be in the western province of Balochistan, home to the Taliban leadership council, the Quetta Shura. The cables show US and Pakistani officials believe the Taliban use such camps to arm, train and recruit fighters.