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Archive for April, 2010

Posted by Just Foreign Policy on April 30th, 2010

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

Yesterday, an organization that lobbies on peace issues asked me to contribute money in the upcoming Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary between Senator Arlen Specter and his challenger, Representative Joe Sestak. I’m ready to donate. But first I need a key piece of information: which candidate will act to end the war in Afghanistan?

Both candidates are currently serving in Congress, so we can compare their records. Last year, Senator Specter strongly opposed sending more troops to Afghanistan, while Representative Sestak strongly supported sending more troops.

But now the troops are on their way, and the key question facing Members of Congress right now on the Afghanistan war is this: who supports establishing a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan?

Whichever one comes out first saying that they support a timetable for withdrawal, that candidate will get my donation. Perhaps the candidates will address this in tomorrow’s debate.

But even if the issue is not addressed during tomorrow’s debate, there is a straightforward means to test which is the Afghanistan peace candidate: who will be the first to co-sponsor the Feingold-McGovern bill, which would require the President to establish a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan?

The support of either one would give this effort a major boost.

McGovern’s House bill, H.R. 5015, currently has 63 co-sponsors, but not a single one of them is from the great state of Pennsylvania. Yet there are 6 co-sponsors from neighboring New York, three co-sponsors from New Jersey, one from Maryland, and two from Ohio. Representative Sestak would be a great addition to this list.

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Posted by The Agonist on April 30th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

April 30


Soldiers viewed all Iraqis as ’scum’, Baha Mousa inquiry hears

An officer of the regiment detaining Baha Mousa, a Basra hotel worker, when he was beaten to death said his soldiers held the view that “all Iraqis were scum”, it was disclosed today.

One officer tried to mount an “arse covering” exercise after Mousa’s death, while others expressed ignorance of basic rules covering the treatment of prisoners, the public inquiry into the incident heard.

Mousa, a 26-year-old receptionist, was beaten to death on 15 September 2003 on suspicion of being an insurgent. He sustained 93 separate injuries while in the custody of soldiers from 1 Battalion Queen’s Lancashire Regiment (1QLR).

** Iraq’s Maliki rejects rival’s call for intervention
** Iraq urges return of Jewish documents

French defence minister expresses regret over killing of Afghan civilians, defends troops

France’s defence minister says he deeply regrets the killing of four Afghan civilians in a French military operation and is defending the soldiers responsible.

Herver Morin says the killings east of Kabul resulted from an unfortunate convergence of events, and that “I absolutely do not want us to consider our soldiers at fault.”

** Lt Col Thorneloe died after insisting on taking ‘top cover’ position
** Poppy production surges in Afghanistan
** Afghan elder who spoke out shot dead near Kandahar
** Rethink Afghanistan

Please check comments for related articles and discussion

Pakistan Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud is alive, says spy agency

The Taliban leader in Pakistan, Hakimullah Mehsud, survived an American drone strike in January and is alive and well, a senior official with Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence agency told the Guardian today.

Mehsud was reported to have died in a CIA drone strike in South Waziristan in January but, although Pakistan’s interior minister claimed he had been killed, the death was never confirmed by either US or Pakistani intelligence.

Today the senior intelligence official said he had seen video footage of the missile attack on Mehsud but other intelligence had since confirmed the insurgent leader survived. He declined to elaborate further.

“He is alive,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “He had some wounds but he is basically OK.”

** Legal questions raised over CIA drone strikes
** Actually, the Army Kind of Likes Your Blog
** Pentagon issues downbeat assessment on Afghanistan
** Afghanistan – the new skiing destination
** Rethink Afghanistan

Iraqi men tortured, raped at secret jail, group contends

Iraqi prisoners were tortured and raped at a secret detention centre in Baghdad in the past year, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.

Men who had been held at the Muthanna prison in western Baghdad reported abuse including beatings, electric shocks to their genitals and rape, Human Rights Watch said in an e-mailed statement.

** Iraq ’secret prison’ inmates allege horrific torture
** Sadr: Renegotiate ‘illegal’ Iraq oil deals

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on April 29th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

I've thought for some time now that there was a good case to be made that drone attacks on the sovereign territory of nations which the U.S. hadn't declared war against were probably war crimes by virtue of the Nuremberg decision about aggressive warfare – just like Iraq. I also believe there's a good case that drone strikes which cause collateral civilian casualties, be they ever so few, are thus doubly war crimes. But law professors giving testimony to a Congressional panel on Wednesday presented yet another case that drone attacks are war crimes – because they're not conducted by lawful combatants.

Loyola Law School professor David Glazier, a former Navy surface warfare officer, said the pilots operating the drones from afar could — in theory — be hauled into court in the countries where the attacks occur. That’s because the CIA’s drone pilots aren’t combatants in a legal sense. “It is my opinion, as well as that of most other law-of-war scholars I know, that those who participate in hostilities without the combatant’s privilege do not violate the law of war by doing so, they simply gain no immunity from domestic laws,” he said.

“Under this view CIA drone pilots are liable to prosecution under the law of any jurisdiction where attacks occur for any injuries, deaths or property damage they cause,” Glazier continued. “But under the legal theories adopted by our government in prosecuting Guantánamo detainees, these CIA officers as well as any higher-level government officials who have authorized or directed their attacks are committing war crimes.”

 The drones themselves are a lawful tool of war; “In fact, the ability of the drones to engage in a higher level of precision and to discriminate more carefully between military and civilian targets than has existed in the past actually suggests that they’re preferable to many older weapons,” Glazier added. But employing CIA personnel to carry out those armed attacks, he concluded, “clearly fall outside the scope of permissible conduct and ought to be reconsidered, particularly as the United States seeks to prosecute members of its adversaries for generally similar conduct.”

… Mary Ellen O’Connell, professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, was much more blunt in her statement. “Combat drones are battlefield weapons,” she told the panel. “They fire missiles or drop bombs capable of inflicting very serious damage. Drones are not lawful for use outside combat zones. Outside such zones, police are the proper law enforcement agents, and police are generally required to warn before using lethal force.” “Restricting drones to the battlefield is the most important single rule governing their use, O’Connell continued. “Yet, the United States is failing to follow it more often than not.”

O'Connell also agreed with Glazier:

"Only a combatant – a lawful combatant – may carry out the use of killing with combat drones," said Mary Ellen O'Connell, a professor from the University of Notre Dame law school.

"The CIA and civilian contractors have no right to do so. They do not wear uniforms, and they are not in the chain of command. And most importantly they are not trained in the law of armed conflict."

O'Connell also claimed that "we know from empirical data … that the use of major military force in counterterrorism operations has been counterproductive." The U.S. government, she asserted, should only use force "when we can accomplish more good than harm, and that is not the case with the use of drones in places like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia."

In Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, drone strikes are the "only game in town" when it comes to military strikes on suspected militants. That doesn't make them right, or lawful. As we've seen time and again, the Obama administration is so scared of being labelled weak on national security that it has kept going or even escalated Bush administration unlawful programs. But "for reasons of domestic politics" is no more a legal defense than "just following orders".

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Posted by The Agonist on April 29th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

April 29

Pakistan Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud is alive, says spy agency

The Taliban leader in Pakistan, Hakimullah Mehsud, survived an American drone strike in January and is alive and well, a senior official with Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence agency told the Guardian today.

Mehsud was reported to have died in a CIA drone strike in South Waziristan in January but, although Pakistan’s interior minister claimed he had been killed, the death was never confirmed by either US or Pakistani intelligence.

Today the senior intelligence official said he had seen video footage of the missile attack on Mehsud but other intelligence had since confirmed the insurgent leader survived. He declined to elaborate further.

“He is alive,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “He had some wounds but he is basically OK.”

** Legal questions raised over CIA drone strikes
** Actually, the Army Kind of Likes Your Blog
** Pentagon issues downbeat assessment on Afghanistan
** Afghanistan – the new skiing destination
** Rethink Afghanistan

Iraqi men tortured, raped at secret jail, group contends

Iraqi prisoners were tortured and raped at a secret detention centre in Baghdad in the past year, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.

Men who had been held at the Muthanna prison in western Baghdad reported abuse including beatings, electric shocks to their genitals and rape, Human Rights Watch said in an e-mailed statement.

** Iraq ’secret prison’ inmates allege horrific torture
** Sadr: Renegotiate ‘illegal’ Iraq oil deals

Please check comments for related articles and discussion

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on April 28th, 2010

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

Sometime between now and Memorial Day, the House is expected to consider $33 billion more for war in Afghanistan. This "war supplemental" is largely intended to plug the hole in Afghanistan war spending for the current fiscal year caused by the ongoing addition of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, whose purpose is largely to conduct a military offensive in Kandahar that 94% of the people there say they don’t want, preferring peace negotiations with the Taliban instead.

Of course, by itself the number $33 billion is totally meaningless. To make it meaningful, we need to compare it to something – what else could we do with $33 billion?

A recent missive from the AFL-CIO gives a compelling answer: we could use $33 billion to put America back to work:

 

If the Local Jobs for America Act (H.R. 4812) becomes law, it will create or save more than 675,000 local community jobs and more than 250,000 education jobs, according to the latest estimates from the House Education and Labor Committee.

According to the House Education and Labor Committee, the bill includes $75 billion over two years for local communities to hold off planned cuts or to hire back workers for local services who have been laid-off because of tight budgets. The bill also includes $24 billion, already approved by the House in December, to help states support 250,000 education jobs, put 5,500 law enforcement officers on the beat, and retain, rehire, and hire firefighters.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on April 28th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

NPR today has a story notable for two reasons.

The Pentagon is sending 800 more American soldiers to Afghanistan in the coming weeks to work as trainers for the Afghan security forces. The contingent is needed because other NATO countries still haven't fulfilled their pledges to send their own troops to train the Afghan army and police.

A battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division will be heading to Afghanistan soon. The soldiers will work as trainers for at least several months. The unit is beyond the 30,000 additional troops that President Obama already approved for Afghanistan this year.

Firstly, no matter what they may be saying about sticking with the U.S., other NATO nations obviously have no intention of getting any deeper in the Afghan quagmire than they need to – and who can blame them?

Secondly – these 800 troops are an escalation over the Obama/McChrystal "Surge" and are probably only the thin edge of an escalation by increments by the U.S.

Wherever you stand on the occupation, there's something not right about this dynamic. Matt Yglesias suggests today that the problem is the US military is now doing COIN for COIN's sake.

The war in Afghanistan isn't a major front in partisan political struggles, so it's substantially slipped off the radar. But the U.S. military is already in the early phases of what will soon (exactly how soon is secret, of course) be a major new offensive in the Taliban stronghold province of Kandahar, and most indications are that it's going to go badly. The problems with the planned operation are in some respects complicated, but they mostly boil down to the fact that the best evidence available — like an Army-commissioned poll reported on by Wired's Nathan Hodge on April 16 — indicates that the local population wants nothing to do with it. The Taliban is more trusted than the local government: 85 percent of Kandaharis describe them as "our Afghan brothers," and 94 percent say it would make more sense to negotiate with the Taliban than to intensify fighting. Naturally, we're going in guns blazing.

…I worry that Afghanistan is being conducted too much as a proving ground for counterinsurgency concepts without enough attention paid to what can be accomplished at a reasonable price.

Indeed, the major problem in Kandahar isn't the Taliban – it's the Karzai's and their coterie of paranoid thugs. Yglesias again:

our basic posture is riddled with contradictions. A recent report from the Institute for the Study of War, Kimberly Kagan’s counterinsurgency-oriented neoconnish think tank, concluded that "Ahmed Wali Karzai's influence over Kandahar is the central obstacle to any of [International Security Assistance Force]'s governance objectives." Who's Ahmed Wali Karzai? Why, he's governor of the province! He's also the brother of Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai. Establishing the authority of the Karzai brothers' national and provincial governments in the face of the fact that Karzai himself is a key impediment to our goals would be a neat trick — but so would drawing a square circle.

Consider this story today:

Three weeks after President Hamid Karzai promised better security and government services in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar Province, escalating armed violence has killed dozens of people, according to human rights organizations.

“I won’t return to Kabul unless I solve Kandahar’s problems,” Karzai vowed during his visit on 4 April. But, when he insisted on knowing about the “real problems” people were facing in Kandahar, Haji Abdul Manan, a tribal elder, stood up at a public meeting and declared: “If I tell you the truth I won’t see the sun tomorrow.”

Karzai, who has been under fire for alleged nepotism in Kandahar, went to the insurgency-stricken province ahead of a major anti-Taliban military operation by NATO forces.

But tribal elder Manan told IRIN: “Since his visit nothing has improved. In fact, a lot has got worse.”

Abdul Qadir Noorzai, director of the provincial branch of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), agreed: “The situation has never been as bad as it is now.”

It's fairly obvious that the tribal elder thinks he'd be permanently silenced if he dared to speak the truth about Karzai's brother, who described himself the other day as the "Nancy Pelosi of Kandahar". These are the people the US is escalating troop numbers to prop up. All of this prompted Afghanistan expert Joshua Foust to tweet this morning:

It is shocking how badly civil society is under assault in Afghanistan… by the U.S.-supported government. What are we DOING?

No wonder other NATO members are shying away.

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Posted by Josh Mull on April 28th, 2010

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

Happy Mujahideen Victory Day! This is the national holiday when Afghans celebrate their victory over the communists in the 1980’s. We remember the Mujahideen of course, they’re the folks we gave all that CIA training and Stinger missiles to kill Soviets with. We all at least saw the film version of Charlie Wilson’s War, right?

Basically the historical narrative is that the Soviet superpower (who incidentally invaded in the name of democracy and development), the bad guys, are defeated by the heroic Americans, the good guys, who saved the hapless, incoherent hillbillies, the Afghans, by giving them lots of weapons to kill each other with. Yay for freedom fighters! The danger, our story warns, is that we abandoned Afghanistan after Mujahideen Victory Day, causing America to become the victims. Blowback! Poor, foolish America should have interfered more with Afghanistan I suppose. But we’re ignoring the Afghan version of history, and completely missing the point of Mujahideen Victory Day. (more…)

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on April 28th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

Commentary By Ron Beasley

If you read the book I reviewed last weekend, Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War by Matt Gallagher, you come away with the impression that both the civilian and military officials managing the counterinsurgency effort in Iraq didn't know what they were doing.  As Steve points out below the same applies to Afghanistan. Mark Weisbrot thinks we are about to see the biggest COIN Fail yet as the US and NATO prepare a major offensive in Kandahar.  The people of Afghanistan see 61% of their GDP going to the police and army.  Needless to say they just want the fighting to end.

Not surprisingly, the Afghan people are looking for a way out. They want negotiations to end the conflict. But the United States says no. The US and its Nato allies are preparing for a major military offensive, perhaps the biggest of the war so far, in the southern province of Kandahar.

A poll sponsored by the US army showed that 94% of Kandahar residents support negotiating with the Taliban, rather than military confrontation.

The New York Times reports this week that "in some parts of the country, American and Nato convoys are already considered by Afghans to be as dangerous a threat as Taliban checkpoints and roadside bombs, raising questions about whether the damage" to the perception of US forces caused by the continued US killings of Afghan civilians "can be reversed to any real degree".

"'People hate the international forces,' said Bakhtialy, a tribal elder in Kandahar. ' … Their presence at the moment is too risky for ordinary people. They are killing people, and they don't let people travel on the road.'"

A series of high-profile atrocities by US and Nato forces that have surfaced recently has made matters worse. Three weeks ago Nato admitted that US special operations forces had killed five civilians, including three women, two of them pregnant. Nato had previously engaged in a cover-up, claiming that special operations forces had "found the bodies of three women who had been tied up, gagged and killed".

So the people of Afghanistan don't want us there and they are not alone
the American people don't support the effort either and Congress is
starting to listen.  If things go badly in Kandahar the pressure will
only increase.  So could Kandahar be the beginning pf the end?

How does this get us out of Afghanistan? My colleague Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy explains:

"A signal like this is likely to have dramatic political effects in Afghanistan, just as these things had dramatic political effects in Iraq. In 2007, Congress never succeeded legislatively in writing a military withdrawal timetable into US law. But the fact that the majority of the House and Senate went on the record in favour of a timetable had dramatic effects in Iraq. It put pressure on the Bush administration to compromise its objectives, to start serious negotiations with people it had previously been trying to kill."

The result was a signed agreement between the US and Iraq for a timetable to withdraw US troops.

That is how the Afghan war will end. The pressure will build until President Obama and his military have no choice but to begin the US exit from Afghanistan.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on April 27th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Anand Gopal reports in his latest for McClatchy that the US deal to arm a tribal militia from the Shinwari tribe in Afghanistan is falling apart because the people the US did the deal with only spoke for one Shinwari clan.

Achin district, a home of the Shinwari tribe, is part of an ambitious countrywide U.S. push to fund tribal militias to stand against the Taliban and stabilize the violence-plagued region. A months-long feud between Shinwari clans has brought Achin to a standstill, however, threatening to undermine the effort and illustrating the difficulties in enlisting tribes to combat the insurgency.

U.S. military officials rewarded the tribe with $200,000 and promised more development funds to come.

With the funds and newfound prestige, however, came infighting. Like most other Afghan tribes, the Shinwari are subdivided into a tangle of clans and sub-clans, each with its own leaders. Only one of the clans, the Shobli, had made the pledge against the Taliban .

"We haven't participated in that decision," said Muhammad Nabi , an Achin resident and member of another Shinwari clan, the Ali Sher Khel. "Those tribal elders don't represent us, and they don't speak for all Shinwaris." A number of others who were interviewed agreed with this sentiment.

Shortly after the decision to expel the Taliban was announced, the Ali Sher Khel claimed that the Shobli had occupied part of their land on the outskirts of the Achin bazaar, and launched an attack. Thirteen people were killed and 35 injured, and most of the houses there were reduced to rubble.

Many Shobli fled, leaving behind smoldering ruins and heightened tensions. Locals said life still hadn't returned to normal. "Look around," Achin resident Abdul Habib said, pointing to a gaunt, nearly deserted central bazaar. "There is fear everywhere. The (clans) don't trust each other and they think fighting will start again at any minute."

The Shobli that remain in the area don't patrol or otherwise attempt to enforce the Taliban ban, for fear that it would further stoke tensions. Moreover, the police rarely venture far from the main bazaar into the patchwork of farms and orchards in the countryside or the nearby barren flatland, where many Ali Sher Khel live.

As a result, the Taliban still roam openly in parts of Achin, according to locals and government officials.

So the US military rushed to a deal without making sure all relevant angles had been covered and the Shobi thought US support meant they could strongarm their neighbours. That blew up in their faces and left the US holding an even smellier bag of shit. As Joshua Foust tweeted to me this afternoon, it's not as if this wasn't predicted by many independent observers. Meanwhile, the usual stenographers thought it was a good idea.

Joshua wrote, back in March when the internicine fighting between Shinwari clans began:

 The Shinwari are behaving exactly like the Shinwari normally behave. To see that we didn’t plan for it, even at all, demonstrates—again—a pretty shocking and depressing ignorance of how these communities operate. If we’re going to hire tribes because The McChrystal said we should, then at least the people doing it could put in a little, tiny bit of homework so they don’t get blindsided first, right? Sigh.

But there are all kinds of reasons why the powers-that-be don't care to do that kind of due dilligence, stuff having to do with keeping military budget dollars flowing, keeping military careers moving forward and playing games to do with domestic perception of the occupation for domestic political ends.

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Posted by The Agonist on April 27th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Ismail Sameem | Kandahar | Apr 27

Reuters – The United Nations has shut its mission in Kandahar and evacuated many foreign staff from the southern Afghan city, it said on Tuesday, a sign of worsening security ahead of a major U.S. offensive.

The U.N. pullout further alarmed residents as thousands of U.S. troops plan to launch the biggest operation of the nearly nine-year-old war in coming weeks.

U.N. spokeswoman Susan Manuel said all Afghan staff in Kandahar had been told to stay home, and some foreign staff had been moved to the capital Kabul for their safety a day earlier.

She would not say how many international staff had stayed behind, or whether a specific threat was behind the decision.

“The security situation has gotten to the point where we needed to withdraw them yesterday,” she said. “We hope people can go back and keep doing what they have been doing. We see it as a very temporary measure.”

Hours after the U.N. announcement, suspected Taliban infiltrators blew up tankers at fuel depot outside the city, near the air field that serves as the biggest NATO base in the province. Sher Mohammad Zazai, a senior Afghan army commander in the south, said 10 guards at the depot were wounded in the attack.

NATO spokesman Major Marcin Walczak said the blast was a few thousand metres (yards) from the base. No NATO troops were hurt.

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