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Military Commanders Testify on Impact of Bradley Manning’s Disclosures on US-Pakistan Relations Behind Closed Doors

Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata. File photo from the FOAO.

A high-ranking United States military commander, who had overseen US special operations forces in Pakistan, took the stand as a government witness in the sentencing phase of Pfc. Bradley Manning’s trial. He was called to testify on how the publication of US State Embassy cables affected US-Pakistan relations, but testimony specifically detailing alleged impact was classified and was given entirely behind closed doors.

Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata, who served as a deputy commander of the Office of Defense Representative to Pakistan (ODRP), a defense attaché for the US Embassy in Islamabad from July 2009 to September 2011. He testified briefly about the “large and robust program” of “security assistance” provided to the Pakistan military including the Air Force and Navy. The “security assistance” was deployed to support “counterinsurgency efforts” against violent extremists including alleged members of the Taliban.

A “growing population of US special operations personnel” were brought to Pakistan to provide “direct support” in the Northwest Province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the border of Afghanistan. The Pakistan military had requested this increased presence of US special operations forces, according to Nagata.

Military prosecutor, Cpt. Joe Morrow, had Nagata describe why the relationship with Pakistan was “important” to US national security and Nagata told the court the Pakistan military was combatting the “same violent extremist” enemy in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas that NATO and US forces are combatting in Afghanistan. The border is “porous” and “this adversary has the ability to flow across the border” with a “great deal of impunity.” Therefore, anything the US can do to support the Pakistan military’s effectivness is important.

Nagata also stated Pakistan is a “nuclear armed state” under “significant threat from violent extremist organizations.” The United States has an interest in securing Pakistan to prevent a connection from being made between terrorist and extremist organizations and the nuclear arsenal. There also is a “long history of armed confrontation between Pakistan and India” and anything that destabilizes the relationship can affect the “US national interest.”

He mentioned how military-to-military relations had benefited from the humanitarian relief effort in the summer and in the fall of 2010 when there was a massive flood. At that point, the government called for the court to go into a closed session.

The defense had no questions for Nagata to ask in open court so there were no hints as to whether they were going to object to any of Nagata’s testimony.

What the press and public know from viewing is that the testimony was likely to address how the releases impacted the ability to conduct “counterinsurgency” operations, protect Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal from being compromised by terrorist groups or how they complicated Pakistan-India relations, which according to Nagata, if destabilized, can impact US national security.

Jeremy Scahill, journalist for The Nation, referred Firedoglake to tweets he had sent out in reaction to testimony from Nagata. He said, “After I reported” on Joint Special Operations Command operations in Pakistan, “Nagata met privately with Pakistani military leadership to assure them my report was false.” He “submitted a classified report” to a congressional intelligence committee on his reporting (as well as Seymour Hersh’s reporting) on Pakistan “saying we had invented stories.”

“The Wikileaks cables later validated many aspects of my reporting on JSOC/Pakistan, which Nagata claimed were false,” Scahill stated. “The cables showed that even the US ambassador was deeply concerned about JSOC’s activities in Pakistan,” activities which Nagata had denied.

Following Nagata, former defense attaché of Islamabad, Col. Julian Chesnutt of the United States Air Force, who was a military advisor to the US ambassador, took the stand. He worked in the US Embassy from mid-November 2010 to October 2012. He gave advice on how best to assist the Pakistan military.

That was the extent of his testimony in open court. No specifics related to the alleged impact of Manning’s disclosures came out before the courtroom was closed.

The Pakistan-based media organization, Dawn, published and covered US cables from Pakistan in May 2011.

“Despite Pakistan’s repeated assurances that its history as a nuclear scofflaw was firmly behind it,” according to cables, Sultana Saifi of Dawn reported, the “US has continued to intensely monitor Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programs.”

Cables featured details of pursuits of “suspicious” shipments that “often involved discussions with Chinese authorities.” One cable even featured US Ambassador Anne Patterson reminding Pakistan President Asif Zardari of “Pakistan’s financial dependence on the United States and therefore the need to pay heed to matters of concern to the US government.”

Madiha Sattar highlighted civil-military tensions over US funding for the Pakistan military. The Pakistan government was initially unaware of American funding that was being provided directly. “Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin ‘appealed’ to the ambassador to keep him informed of funds the US” directed to the Pakistan military. The cables also showed money for the military was in some cases not being used for “counterinsurgency purposes” but for regular budgeted costs in the country.

The cables further showed that the United States was worried that Pakistan would oppose its interests at the United Nations and the US wanted “closer scrutiny of ‘cash couriers’ providing terror financing.”

With regard to the use of drones, a cable showed Pakistan General Ashfaq Kayani, Chief of Army Staff  requested “continuous Predator coverage of the conflict area” from US CENTCOM Commander, Admral William J. Fallon. Fallon was unable to offer the “assets to support his request,” but offered Joint Tactical Aircraft Controller (JTAC) support for Pakistani aircraft. Kayani emphasized the need for tactical signals intelligence capability for Pakistan’s military aircraft. Though not interested in Predator drones, he said he wanted to procure Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs) and asked if the US could “grant or loan them to Pakistan.”

Another cable showed that Zardari welcomed the “acquisition of modern technology,” like drones, which could be used to target militants. He sought drones because he felt it would be easier to deflect criticism against the Army for allowing Pakistan’s sovereignty to be violated. A cable from 2008 showed how political leaders had responded to what was believed to be the first drone attack in the settled areas of the Northwest Frontier Province, outside of the tribal areas.

As mentioned previously, they confirmed reporting by The Nation‘s Jeremy Scahill that US special operations were coordinated with the personal consent of Kayani and were from the “most elite force within the US military made up of Navy SEALs, Delta Force and Army Rangers—JSOC.

An October 2009 cable acknowledged the risk of what might happen if details on special operations leaked:

These deployments are highly politically sensitive because of widely-held concerns among the public about Pakistani sovereignty and opposition to allowing foreign military forces to operate in any fashion on Pakistani soil. Should these developments and/or related matters receive any coverage in the Pakistani or US media, the Pakistani military will likely stop making requests for such assistance.

Why were cables containing sensitive details on JSOC not classified top secret? Given the exceptionally grave damage to efforts that could have been caused by the release, that is a key question. Unfortunately, it is one the public will not get an answer to during this trial.

There are any number of policies or developments between the United States and Pakistan that could have created tension in the past two to three years. It is very likely that effects from drone strikes, the SEAL team operation to kill Osama bin Laden, the CIA’s use of a fake polio vaccination program to find bin Laden, the Raymond Davis incident, the attack on the US Embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul by the Haqqani Network, which the US alleged Pakistan’s intelligence agency had carried out, etc.

Any number of factors could be responsible for why relations are strained between the US and Pakistan right now. Importantly for Manning, what one is unlikely to find is any note in any expert analysis or news report about how the WikiLeaks releases are partly responsible for tension.

It is very easy for US military or government officials to blame Manning for their inability to improve relations or take responsibility for how military, intelligence or diplomatic operations might be fueling tension. If military prosecutors cannot show a direct relation between an event (like something specific happening) as a result of the release of cables, the testimony is pure speculation.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

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