“Contact with the [Pakistani military] when these incidents are going on is often nonexistent. We usually can’t get a hold of these guys. When we do get a hold of these guys, they say they are not aware or can’t see it. Looking at the terrain, it is very hard to believe.”
"Tensions Flare as G.I.’s Take Fire Out of Pakistan," by C.J. Chivers for the New York Times, October 16:
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHARANA, Afghanistan — American and Afghan soldiers near the border with Pakistan have faced a sharply increased volume of rocket fire from Pakistani territory in the past six months, putting them at greater risk even as worries over the disintegrating relationship between the United States and Pakistan constrain how they can strike back.
Ground-to-ground rockets fired within Pakistan have landed on or near American military outposts in one Afghan border province at least 55 times since May, according to interviews with multiple American officers and data released in the past week. Last year, during the same period, there were two such attacks. [...]
In this climate, American officers were in a difficult position when describing the attacks. Many, especially those who might be identified, painstakingly tried not to blame Pakistan directly.
“I don’t have the smoking gun,” said Col. Edward T. Bohnemann, who commands the 172nd Infantry Brigade, which has hundreds of American soldiers in outposts near the border. “Do I have my thoughts, just because it happens so often? Yes, I have my thoughts. But there isn’t a smoking gun.”
But other officers viscerally rejected Pakistan’s official position, and said elements of the Pakistani military or intelligence service were most likely involved.
“The level of command and control, and the level of sophistication of the IDF, is showing that there is some type of expertise being employed,” said one American officer, using the acronym for indirect fire, the term the military uses for mortar, artillery and rocket attacks. The officer spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic tensions.
The precise reasons for the increase in rocket fire are unclear. Whether the surge in attacks indicates Pakistani military retaliation, an emboldened insurgency, some degree of both or some other factors cannot be determined from the data alone.
The attacks covered by the military’s data included those on three American-Afghan outposts — Forward Operating Base Tillman, Combat Outpost Boris and Combat Outpost Margah — and usually involved two to four rockets each, officers said. The incoming fire has continued through recent days, including an attack last Friday that set buildings ablaze at Forward Operating Base Tillman.
The data release does not include attacks against American military positions in provinces other than Paktika or against Forward Operating Base Lilley, in the same province, which is used by the C.I.A.
But it does include attacks from several insurgent positions just inside Afghanistan, some within 200 yards of the border, from where rocket crews fire and then rush to Pakistan. [...]
The perils and sensitivities surrounding the rocket fire starkly underscored the longstanding difficulties faced by the latest rotation of soldiers in the Afghan war, who are in front-line positions built by previous units, under fire, but with restrictions on firing back or when planning operations to deter more attacks.
Another officer, who analyzed each incident, said attacks often come from positions next to Pakistani military or Frontier Corps border posts. He said there has been no sign of Pakistani units trying to stop the firing, or of willingness to help American units identify who is shooting at them.
He offered a commonly held assessment: “They are getting help,” the officer said of the insurgents. “It’s PakMil,” he added, using the acronym for Pakistani military.
Asked what evidence supported this claim, he said: “Contact with the PakMil when these incidents are going on is often nonexistent. We usually can’t get a hold of these guys. When we do get a hold of these guys, they say they are not aware or can’t see it. Looking at the terrain, it is very hard to believe.”
The officer pointed on a map to several frequently used firing sites. Then he pointed to Pakistani military positions. Some Pakistani military positions were less than a mile from insurgent firing positions — and had clear line of sight. The officer asked not to be identified....