Yvonne Ridley slams US moral selectivity

December 29, 2010

By Yvonne Ridley

I wonder if Hillary Clinton really believes in the pompous invective that shoots from her lips with the rapidity of machine gun fire.

We had a classic example of it just the other day when she let rip in her grating, robotic monotones over a Moscow court’s decision to jail an oil tycoon.

To be fair to Clinton, she was not alone. There was a whole gaggle of disapproving foreign ministers who poured forth their ridiculous brand of Western arrogance which has poisoned the international atmosphere for far too long.

The US Secretary of State said Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s conviction raised “serious questions about selective prosecution and about the rule of law being overshadowed by political considerations”.

Although Khodorkovsky, 47, and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, 54, were found guilty of theft and money laundering by a Moscow court, critics like Clinton say the trial constitutes revenge for the tycoon’s questioning of a state monopoly on oil pipelines and propping up political parties that oppose the Kremlin.

Clinton’s censure was echoed by politicians in Britain and Germany, and Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, urged Moscow to “respect its international commitments in the field of human rights and the rule of law”.

Now while it may appear to be quite touching to see all these Western leaders express their outrage over a trial involving the one-time richest and most powerful man in Russia’s oil and gas industry, you have to ask where were these moral guardians when other unjust legal decisions were being made in US courts, for example?

So why have the Americans and Europeans rushed to make very public and official statements so quickly on a matter of oil and gas, in another country? Okay, so it is a rhetorical question!

But shouldn’t Clinton put a sock in it? The USA is still squatting in Cuba overseeing the continuing festering mess caused by one of the biggest boil’s on the face of human rights – yes, Guantanamo is approaching a decade of incarcerating men without charge or trial. At least Khodorkovsky had his day in an open court and can appeal.

Instead of sticking her nose in to other country’s courts, perhaps the US Secretary of State would care to look into her own backyard and tell us why one of her soldiers was given a mere nine month sentence earlier this month after shooting unarmed civilians in Afghanistan?

And after he’s served his sentence US army medic Robert Stevens can still remain in the army, ruled the military hearing. His defence was that he and other soldiers were purely acting on orders from a squad leader during a patrol in March in Kandahar.

Five of the 12 soldiers named in the case are accused of premeditated murder in the most serious prosecution of atrocities by US military personnel since the war began in late 2001. Some even collected severed fingers and other human remains from the Afghan dead as war trophies before taking photos with the corpses.

By comparison, just a few months earlier, Dr Aafia Siddiqui, was given 86 years for attempting to shoot US soldiers … the alleged incident happened while she was in US custody, in Afghanistan. She didn’t shoot anyone although she WAS shot at point blank range by the soldiers. The critically injured Pakistani citizen was then renditioned for a trial in New York. The hearing was judged to be illegal and out of US jurisdiction by many international lawyers.

Did Clinton have anything to say about that? Did any of the foreign ministers in the West raise these issues on any public platform anywhere in the world? Again, it’s a rhetorical question.

Of course a few poorly trained US Army grunts, scores of innocent Afghans, nearly 200 Arab men in Cuba and one female academic from Pakistan are pretty small fry compared to an oil rich tycoon who doesn’t like Vladamir Putin.

But being poor is not a crime.

Exactly how would the Obama Administration have reacted if Russian President Dmitry Medvedev criticized the lack of even handedness in the US judicial system and demanded Dr Aafia Siddiqui be repatriated? What would be the response if Medvedev called an international press conference and demanded to know why 174 men are still being held in Guantanamo without charge or trial?

Just for the record the US judicial system imposes life sentences for serious tax avoidance and laundering of criminally-received income – crimes for which the Russian tycoon has been found guilty. Sentencing will not take place until Moscow trial judge, Viktor Danilkin, finishes reading his 250-page verdict, which could take several days.

In her comments Clinton said the case had a “negative impact on Russia’s reputation for fulfilling its international human rights obligations and improving its investment climate”.

How on earth can anyone treat the US Secretary of State seriously when she comes out with this sort of pot, kettle, black rhetoric? This from a nation which is morally and financially bankrupt, a country which introduced words like rendition and water-boarding into common day usage.

My advice to Clinton is do not lecture anyone about human rights and legal issues until you clean up your own backyard. In fact the next time she decides to open her mouth perhaps one of her aides can do us all a favour and ram in a slice of humble pie.

British journalist Yvonne Ridley is the European President of the International Muslim Women’s Union as well as being a patron of Cageprisoners.

Afghanistan – behind enemy lines

November 15, 2010

By: James Fergusson

The sound of a propeller engine is audible the moment my fixer and I climb out of the car, causing us new arrivals from Kabul to glance sharply upwards. I have never heard a military drone in action before, and it is entirely invisible in the cold night sky, yet there is no doubt what it is. My first visit to the Taliban since 2007 has only just begun and I am already regretting it. What if the drone is the Hellfire-missile-carrying kind?

Three years ago, the Taliban’s control over this district, Chak, and the 112,000 Pashtun farmers who live here, was restricted to the hours of darkness – although the local commander, Abdullah, vowed to me that he would soon be in full control. As I am quickly to discover, this was no idle boast. In Chak, the Karzai government has in effect given up and handed over to the Taliban. Abdullah, still in charge, even collects taxes. His men issue receipts using stolen government stationery that is headed “Islamic Republic of Afghanistan”; with commendable parsimony they simply cross out the word “Republic” and insert “Emirate”, the emir in question being the Taliban’s spiritual leader, Mullah Omar.

The most astonishing thing about this rebel district – and for Nato leaders meeting in Lisbon this week, a deeply troubling one – is that Chak is not in war-torn Helmand or Kandahar but in Wardak province, a scant 40 miles south-west of Kabul. Nato commanders have repeatedly claimed that the Taliban are on the back foot following this year’s US troop surge. Mid-level insurgency commanders, they say, have been removed from the battlefield in “industrial” quantities since the 2010 campaign began. And yet Abdullah, operating within Katyusha rocket range of the capital – and with a $500,000 bounty on his head – has managed to evade coalition forces for almost four years. If Chak is in any way typical of developments in other rural districts – and Afghanistan has hundreds of isolated valley communities just like this one – then Nato’s military strategy could be in serious difficulty.

Relatives Tell of Civilians Killed by U.S. Soldiers

October 6, 2010


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - It was difficult enough for the people of western Kandahar Province. They are beleaguered both by the Taliban, who control the roads, demand taxes and execute anyone suspected of disloyalty, and by the American military, who often show little regard for people and whose demands that locals stand up to the insurgents seem unreasonable.

Still, there was no reason to anticipate something far worse: American soldiers suspected of being a sadistic rogue band led by Sgt. Calvin Gibbs.

For Mullah Allah Dad, a poppy farmer and the mullah of a hamlet of just 15 homes in Kandahar Province, the end came quickly. He was sipping tea when he heard screams, and several of his children ran in. American soldiers in tanks were coming, they told him. Moments later, two young soldiers came in and grabbed him, his wife, Mora, said.

“In a minute I heard shooting,” she said. “I saw my husband face down, and a black American stood next to him. Another soldier pushed me away. They pushed me back into the house and the interpreter made me go inside one of the rooms.

“Minutes after that I heard an explosion,” she said. “I rushed out of that inner room and out the gate and the translator was telling me to stop, but I did not pay any attention, and then I saw my husband, my husband was burning.”

According to court papers filed by the military, Mullah Allah Dad, 45, of the Kalagi hamlet, was the third victim of soldiers who killed Afghan civilians for no apparent reason.

Five of the platoon soldiers have been charged in at least three murders, one of them Mullah Allah Dad’s, and seven other soldiers have been charged with crimes including assault, the use of hashish and attempts to impede the investigation.

The New York Times sent an emissary to Maiwand, the western district of Kandahar where the killings took place, to find the families of the three who were killed. Mullah Allah Dad’s family was afraid to come to the provincial capital to meet with a Times reporter because they feared that coalition troops might again attack them or that the Taliban would stop them. They agreed to come only as far as a nearby village that had cellphone coverage, and they were interviewed by phone.

Mrs. Dad described how the soldiers searched the family’s house, apparently trying to justify the killing. “They tore and broke everything,” she said. “But they did not find a single bullet in my home.”

Later, Mrs. Dad’s father, Abdullah Jan, and two tribal elders listened in disbelief to an Afghan intelligence agent at the district governor’s office as he related his conversation with American soldiers when they handed over Mullah Allah Dad’s body.

“He told me that the Americans claimed that Allah Dad had a grenade and was going to attack them, and then the grenade went off and he was killed,” said Mr. Jan. “I tried to explain his background, that he was a mullah in his village mosque, he had no link with the Taliban and he didn’t want one.

“They put the grenade under his body,” he said.

An hour later, Mr. Jan said, he picked up his son-in-law’s body and was shocked to find that it was wrapped in a black plastic bag. “It was treated like garbage,” he said.

Just a mile or two from Kalagi, near the village of Karez, another man died in almost the same way.

Gulbaddin, 37, was moving into his new home on a chilly January day when American soldiers came in several armored vehicles to the village, said Haji Abdul Qayoum, a neighbor and tribal elder there. “His son was crying, but the soldiers did not care,” he said. “He was shot right before his home and with his son there.”

Mr. Qayoum, at the request of The New York Times, went to ask Gulbaddin’s father if he would discuss his son’s death. His response was the cry of every father who has lost his child.

“Don’t talk about my son,” said Gulbaddin’s father. “My mind is not ready even to hear his name. Even you mentioning his name makes me angry and puts my heart in pain. Please, please don’t hurt my heart.”

Local elders estimate that in the past eight months at least 42 civilians have been killed in Maiwand during American operations. The Taliban have also killed civilians in the district, but it is the 42 whose deaths are etched in local memory.

“I am from the area, and my family has been living here for centuries,” said Haji Hayatullah, an elder from Maiwand District. “I know the people who are supporting the Taliban and the people who are not. But the Americans have killed many people who did not support the Taliban, which is painful for us and actually creates hatred toward Americans. And that is why there is little or no help to the Americans from the civilians here.”

“For us, death is inevitable, but not in the way they have been killing.”

The family of Mullah Allah Dad has received no apology and no compensation for his death, his father-in-law said.

A spokeswoman for the Army, Maj. Kathleen Turner, said she could not answer any questions about the case because of the continuing investigation.

Taimoor Shah reported from Kandahar, and Alissa J. Rubin from Kabul, Afghanistan.

CIA backed by military drones in Pakistan

October 4, 2010

By Greg Miller

The CIA is using an arsenal of armed drones and other equipment provided by the U.S. military to secretly escalate its operations in Pakistan by striking targets beyond the reach of American forces based in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said.

The merging of covert CIA operations and military firepower is part of a high-stakes attempt by the Obama administration to deal decisive blows to Taliban insurgents who have regained control of swaths of territory in Afghanistan but stage most of their operations from sanctuaries across that country’s eastern border.

The move represents a signification evolution of an already controversial targeted killing program run by the CIA. The agency’s drone program began as a sporadic effort to kill members of the al-Qaeda terrorist network but in the past month it has been delivering what amounts to a cross-border bombing campaign in coordination with conventional military operations a few miles away.

The campaign continued Saturday amid reports that two new CIA drone strikes had killed 16 militants in northwest Pakistan, following 22 such attacks last month.

The strategy shift carries significant risks, particularly if it is perceived as an end-run around the Pakistan government’s long-standing objections to American military operations within its domain.

Indeed, the surge in drone strikes over the past four weeks has to a large extent targeted elements of a network led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a militant regarded as a close ally of Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence directorate.

Officials said last week that some of the recent strikes have also been aimed at disrupting al-Qaeda terror plots targeting Europe. A U.S. official said the State Department was weighing whether to issue an alert that would caution Americans to be “vigilant” when traveling in Europe – guidance that could come as soon as Sunday.

The U.S. military quietly has been providing Predator and Reaper drones, as well as other weaponry, to the CIA in an effort to give the agency more capacity to carry out lethal strikes in Pakistan, American officials said.

“Increasing the operational tempo against terrorists in Pakistan has been in the works since last year,” a U.S. official said. “The CIA sought more resources to go after terrorists in Pakistan, which the White House strongly supported.”

The official added that Defense Secretary Robert Gates and CIA Director Leon E. Panetta “worked closely together to expand the effort. The foundation for the latest intensification of strikes was laid then, and the results speak for themselves.”

Although President Obama’s announcement in December of the results of a U.S. strategy review in the region focused on deployment of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, officials said the months-long evaluation centered largely on the need to eliminate insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan. In late November, Obama wrote a personal letter to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari offering an expanded partnership and bluntly warning that continued ambiguity in Pakistan’s relationship with the militants would no longer be tolerated. If the Pakistani military did not take more forceful action, Obama warned, the United States would be forced to act.

That message was reinforced last spring after intelligence indicated that the failed Times Square bomber had been trained in Pakistan. Panetta and National Security Adviser James L. Jones traveled to Pakistan to make clear that the United States was dissatisfied with Pakistan’s efforts.

The White House said Saturday that it had no comment on the drone campaign.

Better intelligence

The intensification of the drone campaign is unprecedented in scale. According to records kept by the New America Foundation, the 22 strikes the CIA is known to have carried out in September nearly doubled the previous monthly record, which was set in January after seven agency personnel were killed in a suicide attack in Afghanistan.

All but three of the September strikes have been aimed at insurgent nodes in North Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s largely ungoverned tribal territories that is a stronghold of the Haqqani group.

The attacks have reportedly killed dozens of insurgents and an unknown number of civilians in a region that sits almost directly across from a cluster of U.S. military and secret CIA forward operating bases, which have been used by the agency to build a network of informants that stretches into Pakistan

“Our intelligence has gotten a lot better,” the U.S. official said. “And you want to have the capabilities to match the quality of the intelligence coming.”

Both the agency and the military have at times struggled with a shortage in the number of available drones, an asset that has transformed warfare over the past decade and that is in ever-increasing demand.

The military’s willingness to lend at least part of its fleet to the CIA, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Saturday, reflects rising frustration within the U.S. military command with Pakistan’s inability or unwillingness to use its own forces to contain Haqqani’s and other insurgent groups.

Officials said Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. military leader in Afghanistan, has advocated a more aggressive posture with Pakistan, and been particularly supportive of the CIA drone effort, which was first authorized by President George W. Bush.

The strikes are seen as a critical to crippling Taliban elements at a time when U.S. forces are facing looming deadlines to show progress in Afghanistan and to begin making plans for at least a small withdrawal of troops beginning in July.

Obama has promised Congress and the American public an assessment in December of whether the overall strategy is working. In a National Security Council meeting last month, Petraeus told the president he expected to show progress in five areas, including in the number of kills and captures of senior insurgents. In addition to the targeted drone attacks in Pakistan, Special Operations forces have escalated attacks against selected Taliban commanders in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

“Frustration with Pakistan is reaching the boiling point,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst who led the Obama administration’s initial overhaul of its Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy. “The consequence is there is a green light to whack away.”

Aggressive at border

Although the drone strike count has soared, its impact on the war effort remains unclear. Only scant information has surfaced on the targets that have been struck, let alone whether the damage will be sufficient to slow the insurgent campaign.

Beyond the drone strikes, the U.S. military has also become more aggressive in recent weeks along the border, carrying out helicopter raids that on at least three occasions crossed over into Pakistani air space in pursuit of targets accused of firing on American troops.

“It’s moving from using [drones] as a counterterrorism platform to an almost counterinsurgency platform,” said Riedel, a counterterrorism expert at the Brookings Institution. “Instead of using it to take out top operatives planning attacks in the United States, you’re now using it almost tactically to soften up the sanctuary safe haven [to aid] our military.”

“The risk that we run here is that at some point we’re going to overload the circuit in Pakistan and they’re going to say, ‘too much,’ ” Riedel said, adding that the new use of CIA drones to strike targets on behalf of the American military alters the scale of an operation that depends on permission and cooperation from Pakistan.

There are recent indications that Pakistan is losing patience with the more aggressive American posture. Recent U.S. helicopter forays enraged Islamabad, prompting the nation to close, at least temporarily, a key U.S. military supply route into Afghanistan.

It was unclear whether the drones lent to the CIA by the military are being flown by CIA personnel, but officials said the aircraft now operate under the agency’s authorities as part of a program under broad agency control.

CIA drone flights are restricted to “flight boxes,” or boundaries set by the Pakistanis. The aircraft have been flown from bases inside Pakistan as well as Afghanistan.

Panetta was in Pakistan last week meeting with senior government officials. The trip had been planned for some time, officials said, and it was not clear whether it had been scheduled in anticipation that the accelerated pace of strikes would lead to new tensions.

The CIA operations come at a time when the U.S. military has opened a major phase of operations in and around Kandahar as part of an effort to reverse Taliban momentum on its home turf and provide security for citizens loyal to the beleaguered government in Kabul.

Staff writers Karen DeYoung, Glenn Kessler and Craig Whitlock contributed to this report.

CIA Afghan paramilitary force hunts militants

September 23, 2010


KABUL, Afghanistan – A U.S. official in Washington confirmed reports that the CIA is running an all-Afghan paramilitary group in Afghanistan that has been hunting al-Qaida, Taliban, and other militant targets for the agency.

A security professional in Kabul familiar with the operation said the 3,000-strong force was set up in 2002 to capture targets for CIA interrogation. A former U.S. intelligence official said members of the covert Afghan force are used for surveillance and long-range reconnaissance and some have trained at CIA facilities in the United States.

The sources spoke Wednesday on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence.

The force, called the Counterterrorist Pursuit Team, was described in a new book by Bob Woodward, “Obama’s Wars.” The paramilitaries, designed after U.S. commando teams, operate in violence-wracked provinces including Kandahar, Khost, Paktia and Paktika, as well as the capital, Kabul, the security professional said.

Woodward also reports the units conduct covert operations inside neighboring Pakistan’s lawless border areas as part of a campaign against al-Qaida and Taliban havens there. Pakistan does not permit U.S. special operations forces to enter the area, except for limited training missions. The alleged use of Afghan paramilitaries to carry out spying activities will likely inflame already frayed political relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“We do not allow any foreign troops or militia to operate on our side of the border,” said Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas. “There are no reports of any such incident, and, should it happen in future, they will be fired upon by our troops.”

The U.S. military, including special operations forces, has been working with the CIA in an intensified crackdown against militants on both sides of the Afghan and Pakistan border. Drone strikes run by the CIA are at their highest level yet against Afghan Taliban, Haqqani and al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan, while U.S. special operations forces have been staging combined raids with Afghan army special forces against the midlevel leadership that operates on the Afghan side.

It’s unclear whether the CIA-run Afghan paramilitary units also work alongside U.S. special operations forces, but the security professional said the units do coordinate their operations with NATO.

The former official said the Afghan force became the focus of an internal turf battle last year between CIA and military officials over who would control its operations. The CIA remained the lead agency, the former official said.

The U.S. official said the force is highly trained and its raids have made “major contributions to stability and security.”

The force’s Kandahar branch was accused of killing the Kandahar police chief in 2009 over a dispute when one of its own members was arrested. The U.S. official said the incident had been “reviewed fully.”

The official added that the incident was “not typical” of the force and that the paramilitaries were reacting to what they viewed as the “unfair arrest of one their people by one of their rivals.”

Associated Press Writers Adam Goldman in Washington and Chris Brummitt in Islamabad contributed to this report.

Blame game and Pakistan

August 2, 2010

By Alam Rind

WikiLeaks has provided another opportunity to propagandists who want to create a wedge in Pakistan-US relations.

It is a fact that the creation of Taliban was through joint efforts of USA and Pakistan. The crop of religious zealots was trained, armed and made operational through US covert assistance to beat back Soviet offensive in Afghanistan. After the Soviet exit, the Americans dumped Taliban but Pakistan had to maintain relations due to geographical compulsions. These relations continued to exist till President Musharraf took a U-turn in the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks. That resulted into fragmentation of Taliban groups and most of them got reduced to the level of mercenaries operating for the masters funding them.

The recent Wikileak comprising about 92,000 documents, these besides exposing inadequacies of the US military operations in Afghanistan also makes an effort to establish contact between Pakistan’s intelligence agencies and Taliban. The whole move seems to be an effort to malign Pakistan’s intelligence agencies and to downplay the role Pakistan has played in combating terrorism.

More so, the leaks are based on single source comments and rumors, which don’t reflect present ground realities. Implicating Pakistan’s intelligence of supporting Taliban in Afghanistan presumably against US/Nato forces, once cities and defense establishments of Pakistan are being targeted by them is simply absurd.

The situation on ground in Afghanistan is that, recently Nato had lost district Barge Matal of Nuristan province to Taliban forces. Taliban had gone so strong that reportedly they want to trade body of a US soldier in exchange of their prisoners. Marjah has become a bleeding wound for Nato forces. They have suffered an ever-highest figure of casualties in a single month i.e. over hundred dead in June 2010.

General Petraeus has scraped General McCrystals Kandahar plan and is in the process of reviewing US strategy in Afghanistan. The major shift that is being contemplated is creating local militias through bribed defections from the ranks of Taliban. The troops are expected to work with these local militias to form strong local governments in places like Kandahar. Reportedly, Nato had decided not to destroy poppy crop this year to prevent farmers from joining the ranks of Taliban. One can only wonder how these strategies are going to be implemented.

Chairman US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has predicted that they are “likely to see further tough causalities and level of violence” in Afghanistan. In a recent visit to Afghanistan he confessed that “we don’t have a lot of time, the clocks are working against us”.

US certainly is confronted with a difficult situation in Afghanistan. They apparently seem to be under pressure to leave the country due to economic compulsions, increasing causalities and growing public disapproval for war.

To wriggle out of the situation Pakistan is considered as an important ally. US officials have repeatedly said that war in Afghanistan can’t be won with out the support of Pakistan. Although Pakistan is a non-Nato ally and a front line state in war against terror yet it appears that support from Pakistan is being accrued through coercion. It is evident from the statements of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen during their recent visits to Pakistan asserting that Osama Bin Leden and Mullah Omer are in Pakistan. Wikileaks have further implicated Pakistani authorities of supporting Taliban.

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s remarks in Bangalore to an Indian audience that Pakistan is exporting terror and Afghan President Hamid Karzai,s assertion that sanctuaries, funding centers and training places of terrorism are outside Afghanistan indirectly referring to Pakistan, that needs to be destroyed.

He said, “Our international allies have this ability, but the question is why they are not doing it?” All these statements seem to have been made to force Pakistan to initiate operations in North Waziristan.

Although government of Pakistan had repeatedly said that Pakistan armed forces will initiate operations in North Waziristan at the time of its choosing than why so much of fuss. And if, this operation is so important, than why US administration is not providing attack / transport helicopters, night vision sights and other military equipment need for operations. Neither US administration seems to be willing to stabilise Pakistan’s economy, which according to an estimate has suffered a loss of over $43 billion in war against terror.

Even India is not being influenced to close training camps that they are operating in Afghanistan to perpetrate terrorist activities in Pakistan. All these developments cast serious doubts on American sincerity towards Pakistan. War on terror is important and Pakistan is willing to combat this menace for its own sake and for the sake of global peace and safety but at the same time Pakistan deserves to be supported and helped to overcome the problems it is confronted with.

Osama dead or alive

July 26, 2010

Yasmeen Ali

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on her recent visit to Pakistan that she believed Osama bin Laden was still in Pakistan, in a television interview between high-level talks in Islamabad.

“I believe (bin Laden) is here in Pakistan and it would be very helpful if we could take them (al-Qaeda leaders),” Clinton said. The US secretary of state sought tougher action from Islamabad to combat militants ahead of a key conference in Afghanistan.

The information that Osama Bin Laden is dead, first came from sources in Afghanistan and Pakistan many years ago,the fugitive died in December [2001] and was buried in the mountains of southeast Afghanistan.

With an ego the size of Mount Everest, Osama bin Laden would not have, could not have, remained silent for so long if he were still alive. He always liked to take credit even for things he had nothing to do with. Would he remain silent for nine months and not trumpet his own survival? [New York Times. July 11, 2002]. Bin Laden has often been reported to be in poor health. Some accounts claim that he is suffering from Hepatitis C, and can expect to live for only two more years. According to Le Figaro, lin [2000] he ordered a mobile dialysis machine to be delivered to his base at Kandahar in Afghanistan. [Guardian]. FBI: Bin Laden ‘probably’ dead; The US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s counter-terrorism chief, Dale Watson, says he thinks Osama bin Laden is “probably” dead. [BBC]. The editor-in-chief of a London-based Arab news magazine said a purported will it published in the year [2001] by Osama bin Laden, and shows “he’s dying or he’s going to die soon.” [CNN]. Usama bin Laden has died a peaceful death due to an untreated lung complication, the Pakistan Observer reported, citing a Taliban leader who allegedly attended the funeral of the Al Qaeda leader. “The Coalition troops are engaged in a mad search operation but they would never be able to fulfill their cherished goal of getting Usama alive or dead,” the source said. [FOX News].

Yet, Secretary Clinton, has decided, to claim, that not only Osama Bin Laden is alive and kicking, but in Pakistan. Yet, Secretary Clinton gives no proof as to why, suddenly, she thinks he is alive. If there are clues, they must surely be shared with Pakistan for them to not only ascertain the veracity of the claim but to help them “find” Osama.
Secretary Clinton is in a position where irresponsible statements can be ill afforded.

Many claim, this desire to revive Osama is to justify the continuation of the War on Terrorism. Gordon Duff, Senior Editor Veteran News, USA, in a recent article states,” Has the United States established exactly what its strategic interests are in the region? Oil is flowing freely as is heroin. Money is flowing into the region by the plane load and back out, into banks in Dubai, Tel Aviv and Switzerland. Is $500 billion a year being spent to defend Israel from invasion by, well, we aren’t sure? What is being spent to secure Israel, or empower Israeli recklessness, is nearly one third of America’s entire budget. Wouldn’t it simply be cheaper to give Israel the United States or do they own it already? ”
The Pakistani public is wary of these statements, as issued by Secretary Clinton, and are widely interpreted as self serving and nothing to do with ground realities.

Pakistan is a country that has suffered tremendously in this War on Terror. If America has a genuine appreciation of the sacrifices made by Pakistan, she should make an effort to solve the issues being faced by Pakistan. One of the foremost is to intercede and stop India from violating the 1960 Indus Water Treaty. To this, Secretary Clinton has given her flat denial.

The West needs to review its arrogant policies followed in this part of the world. They need to answer some questions: what has been the ratio of suicide attempts since the invasion of Afghanistan? How sharply have the terrorist attacks risen since then? How many US soldiers have actually been killed on ground as compared to the soldiers, civilians: women, old people and children from other side of the fence?

At the end of the day, what political and military victory has USA achieved by attacking and invading Afghanistan? USA is once again contemplating reaching an understanding with the Taliban in Afghanistan. So what were these eight years all about? Or is, Gordon Duff, right after all?

Kandahar and “Counter-Insurgency-in-a-Box”

July 9, 2010

Amb. Marc Ginsberg
Former US Amb. to Morocco

This 4th of July weekend, war weary Americans are being force-fed more foreboding Afghan geography, just as they were force-fed Iraqi geography. “Marja,” “Helmund,” and now “Kandahar.”
These names of the Taliban’s birthplace and heartland mean little to most Americans, but everything to the thousands of U.S. soldiers deployed in southern Afghanistan, and their families back in the U.S. who know that the pending battle for Kandahar is shaping up to be the pivotal engagement in the war against….against….whom exactly? The Taliban? Al Qaeda? The Taliban that matter?

Many empires have fought over the centuries to control Kandahar — a city of 450,000 and Afghanistan’s second largest — due to its strategic location. It has also once served as the capital of the Afghan empire, and more recently, as the capital of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan until the Taliban were routed from it after 9/11. But when America turned its back yet again on Afghanistan to invade Iraq, a good part of it was recaptured by the Taliban; and a small part was recaptured by Hamid Karzai’s corrupt warlord half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai.

So why should Americans and their fellow NATO soldiers die for Kandahar? I frankly don’t know…since the dots just don’t seem, at least on paper or via media reports, to connect.

The cornerstone of General Petreaus’ military strategy comes down to this…to weaken the Taliban into a more defensive, negotiating posture, Americans will have to fight door-to-door in Kandahar to rid 4 of its 10 parishes of entrenched Taliban and in so doing win the hearts and minds of its inhabitants and turn them away from the Taliban — classic counter-insurgency surge doctrine…but not classic counter counter-terrorism doctrine. Then turn the city over to Hamid Karzai (who will inevitably turn it over to his corrupt half brother) to administer.

Gen. Petreaus testified this week before Congress that capturing Kandahar is pivotal to NATO’s strategy in Afghanistan. Sen. Carl Levin, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee echoed that by stating that America’s support for the war in Afghanistan “…will depend on this Fall (i.e., NATO offensive) in Kandahar.”

I am not a general, and have no pretentions of becoming an arm-chair general. But the decision to pin a Petreaus — directed revised counter-insurgency strategy on the conquest of Kandahar — let alone the real-life cost of American lives and treasure – waves a red flag right in my face.

One need not wear a uniform to read a map….the Taliban’s real sanctuary lies not in Kandahar, but across the border in Pakistan, in the city of Quetta. How can NATO sufficiently weaken the Taliban if it can evaporate across the border once we invade Kandahar? And, we have been telegraphing to them for months of our intentions to invade.

General Petreaus is a visionary military strategist and a remarkably accomplished leader. I greatly admire him. In an increasingly grim situation in Afghanistan deferring to his military judgment is understandable. But even he is not superhuman and even he cannot change what lurks in the dark vestiges of Hamid Karzai’s heart.

Is it fair, therefore, to him and to our brave men and women to pin so much hope on a goal that even he has difficulty reducing to a believable elevator speech.

The Kandahar offensive is way behind schedule because the ingredients Petreaus needs to replicate his brilliantly executed Iraqi “take and hold” surge strategy are MIA , and it seems unlikely the ingredients will miraculously arrive by the Fall – like a cavalry relief column – to sustain any U.S.-led Kandahar battleground gains.

And what are some of those missing ingredients?

  1. An adequately trained, capable Afghan army and police force to take over from NATO. This week, an Inspector General’s Report issued by the Pentagon exhorted the Defense Department for greatly exaggerating the real capability of Afghan troops and U.S. training results.
  2. A leadership in Kabul that the inhabitants of Kandahar respect. As a test in Marja, NATO parachuted in a “government-in-a-box” to win the hearts and minds of its inhabitants. Today, as Gen. McChrystal stated, Marja is a “bleeding ulcer; ” and U.S. troops are under regular attack; the Taliban are slaughtering anyone who dares cooperate with NATO and by all accounts, there is nothing that resembles a sustainable Afghan government military or civilian presence.
  3. A trustworthy cadre of local officials working transparently and tirelessly with NATO to protect supply lines instead of the corruption prone organized crime-like war lords on whom NATO is banking (and opening its bank) to protect supply lines. It is common knowledge that while Kandahar is mostly in Afghan government hands – the hands that it is in are dirty. Ahmed Karzai by ALL accounts, runs a city hall that makes Tammany Hall look like a nursery school. His small tribe — the Popalzai — are the source of his mafia-style militia.
  4. A sustainable presence of allied NATO troops who will remain with us in and around Kandahar to help shoulder the American burden. Instead, Petreaus confronts the likelihood of a withdrawal of Dutch, Canadian and British troops just as the Fall offensive is about to commence, and responsibility will fall into the hands of 23 unregistered security companies who answer to their quartermaster, whoever that may be. Question: what do our allies know that we don’t know?
  5. An ability to stop the Taliban’s assassination spree of local officials, foreign aid workers and tribal elders before there is no one left inside Kandahar who can help sustain the hard-fought NATO gains. Not a day goes by when reports seep out of Kandahar of how successful the Taliban’s own counter-U.S. insurgency campaign has been. In recent weeks, there has been report after report of beheadings, death threats, bombings and the like by the Taliban that is slowly ridding the city of anyone who can aid the surge from within. And there is growing local opposition to a military invasion among anti-Taliban elements inside and around Kandahar.
  6. Most importantly, a way to choke off the Taliban’s access to its Pakistani sanctuaries. These sanctuaries inside Pakistan are like the oil spill: the source of a seemingly endless Taliban torrent that may undermine the best counter-insurgency strategy. Without a change of heart inside Pakistan against those sanctuaries, General Petreaus is about to wage a battle with two hands tied behind his back. That is no way to dispatch our best general to the battlefield.

If Gen. Petreaus is to convert a battlefield surge into a sustainable victory against the Taliban, it is increasingly unlikely that, under present conditions, Kandahar will yield even a modest return on investment.

The potentially insurmountable challenges NATO forces face before the gates of Kandahar are breached are shaping up to be a clarion call for compelling a major rethink whether Kandahar — as General Petreaus most important Afghan experiment for applying “counter-insurgency in-a-box” is the right target. Mr. President, General Petreaus, it is not too late if it means saving even one American life.

US enlists ex-warlord’s men for Afghan police force

June 17, 2010

By Claire Truscott (AFP)

RAWHANAY, Afghanistan – Drawing on a cigarette held between his tattooed fingers, Mohammed Daoud is thanked by an American junior officer for dispatching 5,000 Afghan militiamen to join the police force.

Sherzai, a burly Pashtun and ex-mujahideen, was governor of Kandahar from 2001 to 2003

“This would make me very happy to stand side by side with my friends,” US Lieutenant Jared Hollows tells the 35-year-old commander and loyalist of former warlord Gul Agha Sherzai in a village in Kandahar.

US troops fighting to control the southern province have cut a deal to bring Sherzai’s militia into the police, providing salaries and uniforms in return for help quelling Taliban unrest.

NATO commanders hope such deals can help reverse the tide of the nine-year Afghan war in the crucial months ahead under a strict timetable, as US President Barack Obama is keen to start getting troops out next year.

“We’re building an Afghan solution that puts the legitimate power where it belongs — in the government and in the security apparatus,” said US Lieutenant Colonel John Paginini, commander of the 1st squadron, 71st cavalry regiment.

“There is no distinction between them and any other policemen from any other tribe or any other family.”

But alliances with men like Sherzai — former warlords suspected of pursuing personal profit — are not universally welcomed.

At least 30 US and NATO soldiers died in Afghanistan last week. Record casualty numbers and tough fighting across the south have raised questions about the course of the war, with commanders under intense pressure to show progress.

“The time wasn’t right before, but it is now,” Daoud assured the Americans in Dand district just south of Kandahar city, the crude tattoos on his fingers apparently self-inked while behind bars during the 1980s Soviet-backed regime.

“They want to serve the district, the province, their country,” he added, without elaborating further on the decision to push his men into the police.

The case highlights the complexities behind many of the relationships that US field commanders try to forge with strongmen who can have competing interests in Afghanistan’s fractured, tribal society.

US General Stanley McChrystal, commander of the 142,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, has already warned that the Kandahar campaign will be slower than expected because Afghan forces are in short supply and the local population wary.

Named as a future president by his die-hard supporters, Sherzai, a burly Pashtun and ex-mujahideen, was governor of Kandahar from 2001 to 2003 before being relocated to run Nangarhar province on the Pakistani border.

Sherzai counts himself as a Karzai ally, but is reputed to be an arch rival of the president’s brother and Kandahar provincial council chief, Ahmed Wali Karzai, who is saddled with Western accusations of corruption and drug smuggling.

The governor of Dand, 32-year-old Hamadullah Nazick, who is close to both Sherzai and Wali Karzai, said any public harmony between the pair is fragile, with NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) acting as a sticking plaster.

“I don’t think Sherzai and Ahmed Wali Karzai will continue to get along after ISAF forces leave,” he tells AFP.

In Daoud’s home village of Rawhanay, new policemen proudly told AFP that Sherzai was their boss. The former warlord ran for the presidency against Karzai in 2009, withdrawing only days before the fraud-tainted election.

After bidding farewell to the Americans from his white-painted mud hut, Daoud pointed to the walls plastered with pictures of Sherzai.

“Everyone around here would like Gul Agha Sherzai to be the next president,” he told AFP.

But Carl Forsberg, an Afghanistan expert at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW), said Sherzai’s militia is likely to continue to answer to him while wearing Afghan police uniform.

“We should be very cautious about any offer Sherzai makes to integrate his militias into the ANP (Afghan national police) because he will plan to ensure they stay under his influence,” he said.

“Sherzai has given clear signals that he would like to reassert himself in Kandahar politics (and) has always understood the importance of having ISAF support.”

The real story behind Petraeus’s collapse

June 17, 2010

By Malou Innocent

To most people who follow developments in Afghanistan, it was clear that building a viable Afghan state would take more troops, more money, and more patience than the United States and its international partners could ever commit. These long-standing reservations were only intensified last November, when U.S. President Barack Obama announced plans for a 30,000-troop surge that would not only pacify population centers and train Afghan security forces, but also begin to wind down by July 2011-within 18 months of escalation.

But at a Senate hearing yesterday (before U.S. CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus passed out from dehydration), it became glaringly obvious that “success,” if it’s even still achievable, will take far longer than July 2011. Under intense questioning from both Sens. Carl Levin and John McCain, Gen. Petraeus explained that the drawdown would be based on conditions at the time, adding, “In a perfect world, Mr. Chairman, we have to be very careful with timelines.” (It’s not as if Gen. Petraeus promised the president that he can “train and hand over” the fight to Afghan security forces before next summer… Oh wait, he did.)

Indeed, earlier this year, military leaders hoped to have two successes to put before the White House for review: Kandahar and Marjah. Operations in Kandahar, a key Taliban stronghold, have been delayed until autumn. In Marjah, a village of roughly 80,000, in the southern province of Helmand, results are mixed.

On the eve of the offensive in Marjah, the coalition’s largest military operation since the invasion, U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said, “This is all a war of perceptions.” In keeping with that logic, Marjah was hailed as an exemplar of population-centric counterinsurgency, a successful offensive that would be ceaselessly repeated in the media and used as a prop to retain public support for the war. Before the February offensive, the Taliban had been collecting taxes, providing policing and a rudimentary court system, and protecting the opium economy that many residents relied on. After the offensive, Afghanistan-based journalist Anand Gopal found that many residents despised the Afghan police at least as much as the Taliban. Worse, after the coalition cleared the area, there was no judicial system in place to jail suspected Taliban insurgents. With summer approaching, NATO forces-not Afghan troops -still control much of Marjah.

Marjah shined a harsh light on the Afghan National Army (ANA)-the entity that is supposed to take over responsibility for security and allow U.S. forces begin to come home. Despite being one of the war’s very few success stories, a report released last month by the International Crisis Group (ICG) found that ANA training has prioritized quantity over quality. “Kabul powerbrokers are distributing the spoils of increased NATO spending on army development among their constituents in the officer corps, fuelling ethnic and political factionalism within the army ranks,” the report said.

One retired military officer told the ICG: “From the lower officers upward, it is not a national army. It is a political army. You have people working for different factions within the ministry of defense, so today what you have is an army that serves individuals not the nation.”

These developments do not bode well for the coalition’s strategy. In this respect, the Obama administration’s overly ambitious policies do more than needlessly inflate Afghan expectations; they severely erode America reputation in globally. Promising to “end the tragic conflict in Afghanistan and promote national reconciliation, lasting peace, stability and respect for human rights in the country” is absurd. Promising to do so according to an 18-month timetable is laughable. Afghanistan has been in continuous war since the 1970s. Americans should recognize that the Obama-McChrystal-Petraeus strategy grossly overestimates America’s power to spread wealth and stability, and demand a new set of goals that will allow the United States to bring this long war to a swift end.

Malou Innocent is a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute. She recently returned from a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan.

The Shangri-la dialogue

June 10, 2010

By Ikram Sehgal

Defence personnel tend to be taciturn. Once in a while one is privileged to listen to uninhibited exchanges of views, the Annual IISS (International Institute of Strategic Studies) Summit in Singapore being one such event. Senior national security officials in the region often use the occasion to enunciate fresh thinking about relevant security issues. The Asia-Pacific Security Summit, or the “Shangri-La Dialogue,” is named after the hotel where it is held every year.

As was expected, the South Korean president used his plenary address to condemn North Korea for the unwarranted and devastating torpedo attack that destroyed the naval vessel Cheonan and cost the lives of 46 sailors. Attending his fourth consecutive “Shangri-La Dialogue,” US defence secretary Robert Gates said that the US was a Pacific nation deeply committed to contributing to both individual and collective security to ensure peace and prosperity in the region.

He condemned North Korea strongly for the surprise attack on the South Korean naval vessel, adding that such unwarranted, irrational behaviour could not go without severe censure and/or meaningful reprimand to go with enforceable sanctions. The US defence secretary called on China (and other nations having some say with North Korea) to restrain such rogue actions from threatening regional peace and, given North Korea’s crude nuclear capability, even world peace.

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With U.S. Aid, Warlord Builds Afghan Empire

June 9, 2010

TIRIN KOT, Afghanistan – The most powerful man in this arid stretch of southern Afghanistanis not the provincial governor, nor the police chief, nor even the commander of the Afghan Army.

A security post on the road controlled by Matiullah Khan in southern Afghanistan. He leads a private army that earns millions of dollars guarding NATO convoys


It is Matiullah Khan, the head of a private army that earns millions of dollars guarding NATO supply convoys and fights Taliban insurgents alongside American Special Forces.

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Disease ‘to cut Afghan opium by up to 70%’

May 17, 2010

by Sardar Ahmad

KABUL (AFP) – A mystery disease infecting opium poppies in Afghanistan could cut this year’s illicit crop in some areas by up to 70 percent, an official said Sunday.

US soldiers patrol near a poppy field in Kandahar on May 11. A mystery disease infecting opium poppies in Afghanistan could cut this year’s illicit crop in some areas by up to 70 percent, an official said Sunday.

The disease has led authorities to expect a “significant” reduction in opium production this year, with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) saying this week that the output could fall by up to 25 percent.

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US-NATO parting kicks to people of Afghanistan

May 10, 2010

By Asif Haroon Raja

Soon after coming to power, Obama approved sending additional 21000 troops to Afghanistan in March 2009. Idea was to use maximum combat power to reverse the rising power of Taliban who had gained influence over nearly 80% of Afghan territory.

Failing to make any progress against resistance forces in Helmand and suffering heaviest casualties as well as reverses such as in Nuristan province, another troop surge of 30000 was approved by Obama by the close of the year in response to personal request from Gen McChrystal. At the same time withdrawal date was also announced.

Purpose behind the second troop surge is to deliver parting kicks to people of Afghanistan before departure. The US wants to win important battles of Helmand and Kandahar which in their assessment would break the back of resistance forces. Kandahar in their view is the heartland of Taliban and its fall will render them weak. It will then become easier for the US to negotiate with the Taliban from a position of strength and force a political solution of its choice.

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Taliban say Afghan buildup under way

April 19, 2010


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - The Taliban are moving fighters into Kandahar, planting bombs and plotting attacks as NATO and Afghan forces prepare for a summer showdown with insurgents, according to a Taliban commander with close ties to senior insurgent leaders.

NATO and Afghan forces are stepping up operations to push Taliban fighters out of the city, which was the Islamist movement’s headquarters during the years it ruled most of Afghanistan. The goal is to bolster the capability of the local government so that it can keep the Taliban from coming back.

The Taliban commander, who uses the pseudonym Mubeen, told The Associated Press that if military pressure on the insurgents becomes too great “we will just leave and come back after” the foreign forces leave.

Despite nightly raids by NATO and Afghan troops, Mubeen said his movements have not been restricted. He was interviewed last week in the center of Kandahar, seated with his legs crossed on a cushion in a room. His only concession to security was to lock the door.

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