JFP 9/27: Drone strikes report breaks through MSM wall; US delegates head to Pakistan

Just Foreign Policy News, September 27, 2012
Drone strikes report breaks through MSM wall; US delegates head to Pakistan

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Go Straight to the News Summary

I) Actions and Featured Articles

Medea Benjamin: Americans Take Anti-Drone Stance Directly to Pakistan
On October 7, Imran Khan, Pakistan's most popular leader, will be leading a peace march to Waziristan, where U.S. drones have killed so many people. He expects some 50,000 Pakistanis to join the march. Among those marching will be the U.S. delegation organized by CODEPINK. [JFP is supporting this delegation, in which JFP's Robert Naiman will participate.]
http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/09/26-5

Video and Report: Living Under Drones
Brave New Foundation is promoting the Stanford/NYU report with video; you can also find the report there..
http://livingunderdrones.org/

Video: George Galloway interviews JFP: "Obama already set red line on Iran"

Bibi says he wants the US to set a red line for Iran, but the US already did: no nuclear weapon. Bibi's problem isn't that the US hasn't set a red line, but that he doesn't like what the red line is. He wants the red line to be "nuclear weapons capability," the situation that arguably already exists today. Bibi's real fear is that if Iran doesn't fear military attack, that might deter Israel from military adventures in Lebanon and Gaza.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hHwdyEXJEI

*Action: JFP/NIAC: Tell Meet the Press: Real Journalism Requires Challenging False Information on Iran
Meet the Press allowed Netanyahu to give his stump speech for war on the Iran nuclear issue, without challenging his scaremongering with reference to known facts. Just Foreign Policy and the National Iranian American Council are teaming up to challenge pro-war distortions in the mainstream media with our "Iran Fact Check" campaign. Tell Meet the Press: real journalism requires challenging politicians when they spew false information on Iran.
http://www.iranfact.org/tell-mtp-challenge-false-information-on-iran/

Map: Natl Conference of State Legislatures: Voter ID Laws by State
Does your state have a "voter ID" law? If so, what does it require?
http://www.ncsl.org/legislatures-elections/elections/voter-id.aspx

Summary:
Report on Drone Strikes in Pakistan
1) The dominant U.S. narrative about drone strikes in Pakistan of a precise tool that makes the U.S. safer by enabling "targeted killings" of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral damage is false, write James Cavallaro and Sarah Knuckey in the New York Times, based on their new report. 474 to 881 civilians have been killed; drone strikes cause considerable harm to the daily lives of civilians, who live in a constant state of fear; evidence the strikes have made the U.S. safer is weak: "high-level" targets killed are 2% of deaths, and strikes have motivated further attacks.

2) A report on killing by C.I.A. drones in Pakistan's tribal area concludes the strikes have killed more civilians than US officials have acknowledged, alienated Pakistani public opinion and set a dangerous precedent under international law, Scott Shane reports in the New York Times. The study is among the most thorough on the subject to date, the Times says. Sarah Knuckey, a veteran human rights investigator, said she was particularly struck by the pervasive anxiety that residents of the tribal area described as a result of hearing drones buzzing overhead and knowing that a strike could come at any time. She said Pakistani journalists and humanitarian workers who work in the area described the same fear.

She also noted the pattern of second drone strikes after initial strikes, targeting rescuers and relatives responding to a site. One humanitarian organization told them its policy is to wait at least six hours after a drone strike before visiting the site.

3) The Obama administration has championed the use of remotely operated drones for killing senior Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders, but the study concludes that only about 2% of drone casualties are top militant leaders, reports David Zucchino in the Los Angeles Times. The report says the drone strike policy violates international law because, in part, the government has not proved the targets are direct threats to the U.S.

4) The study by Stanford and New York universities' law schools blames President Obama for the escalation of "signature strikes" in which groups are selected merely through remote "pattern of life" analysis, Owen Bowcott reports for the Guardian. Families are afraid to attend weddings or funerals, the study says, since drone strike operators might mistakenly target them as gatherings of Taliban or al-Qaida militants

The "best available information", the study says, is that between 2,562 and 3,325 people have been killed in Pakistan between June 2004 and mid-September this year – of whom between 474 and 881 were civilians, including 176 children. The figures have been assembled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which estimated that a further 1,300 individuals were injured in drone strikes over that period. [Note that "civilian" is different from "noncombatant" - a person outside of a zone of armed conflict is not necessarily a target of lawful warfare, even if they are armed. The TBIJ numbers suggest that between 14% and 34% of the deaths were civilian - this is the event that John Brennan has called "exceedingly rare" - JFP.]

5) A US report says civilians are being "terrorised" 24 hours a day by CIA drone attacks that target mainly low-level militants in north-west Pakistan, the BBC reports. Rescuers treating the casualties are also being killed and wounded by follow-up strikes. The authors say: children are being taken out of school out of fear of a drone-strike or to compensate for income lost from a dead or wounded relative; there is "significant evidence" of the practice of "double-tap" strikes in which rescuers arriving at the scene are targeted in follow-up attacks.

U.S./Top News
6) President Obama hit back hard in a "60 Minutes" interview at Romney's criticisms of his handling of Syria and Iran, saying that if Romney "is suggesting that we should start another war, he should say so," Yahoo News reports. That remark echoed suggestions from some of the president's advisers that Romney relies on neoconservative advisers like those who championed the war in Iraq under Bush, Yahoo News says.

7) Republican defense hawks are urging Romney to separate himself from Obama on Afghanistan and back an extended presence for U.S. troops in the country, The Hill reports. Sen. Lindsey Graham told The Hill the Romney camp needed to distance itself from the Obama administration's goal of pulling all American forces from Afghanistan by 2014. "On the first day of a Romney administration," Romney needed to call a meeting of the top U.S. commanders in Afghanistan and chart a different strategic course for the country, Graham said. "And if [they] need to change the timetable in Afghanistan, that is what we will do," Graham said.

The main question on the minds of lawmakers is whether the White House should continue steadily cutting troop numbers, or freeze those troop levels until 2014, The Hill says. "The key issue is whether we continue to reduce troops after the surge forces are out," said Senate Armed Services Chair Carl Levin, who advocates for continued reductions. "What's going to happen between 2012 and 2014: Are we going to go this way or this way," he said in reference to the conflicting proposals. "That's the big issue."

Afghanistan
8) Gilles Dorronsoro, an Afghanistan expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, predicts that the regime in Kabul "will most probably collapse in a few years" given current trends, writes Jim Lobe for Inter Press Service. Dorronsoro's report joined the call by a growing number of experts for Washington to open negotiations with the Taliban as soon as possible. Dorronsoro's report noted that, in some respects, the current regime in Kabul is less prepared to survive a challenge by the Taliban than the communist government that hung on for three years against the mujahideen after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. Dorronsoro notes that "the current regime does not possess the ideological and social cohesion of the communist regime, and its ability to survive militarily has not been demonstrated" and that "the Taliban form a united movement with few rifts, compared to the infighting of the mujahideen in the 1990s."

Dorronsoro is particularly critical of Washington's counter-insurgency strategy which gave precedence to tactical military operations aimed at systematically eliminating local insurgent leaders over a political approach of engaging the rebel leadership based in Pakistan. Washington should understand that it will "not be able to pursue its longer-term interests in and around Afghanistan if it is not willing to deal with the Taliban" which, alone among the various contenders for power if the Kabul regime collapses, "can potentially control the Afghan border and expel transnational jihadists from Afghanistan," Dorronsoro wrote.

Guatemala
9) Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina is advocating the international legalization of drugs even as he is moving to fight narcotics cartels with the biggest military buildup in Guatemala since its civil war, AP reports. But he says there is no contradiction, because Guatemala can't take unilateral action on legalization, which will be gradual. The OAS is studying legalization and will issue a report in a year, AP notes.

Venezuela
10) Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a note to investors that President Chavez is on track to beat Henrique Capriles Radonski in the Oct. 7 election, Bloomberg reports. Chavez would have won 56.3 percent of the vote and Capriles 43.7 percent had the election been held this month, bank economist Francisco Rodriguez said, basing his estimates on seven surveys conducted in late August and early September by polling companies including Consultores 30.11 and Hinterlaces. "These results suggest the most likely scenario would be a Chavez re-election, with a high likelihood of a double-digit advantage," Rodriguez wrote.

Contents:
Report on Drone Strikes in Pakistan
1) What the U.S. Won't Discuss
James Cavallaro and Sarah Knuckey, New York Times, September 26, 2012, 10:26 AM
http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/09/25/do-drone-attacks-do-more-harm-than-good/us-tries-to-drown-out-the-downsides-of-drone-strikes

[ James Cavallaro of Stanford Law School and Sarah Knuckey of New York University School of Law are co-authors, with Stephan Sonnenberg of Stanford, of the report "Living Under Drones."]

In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a "surgically precise" and effective tool that makes the U.S. safer by enabling "targeted killings" of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral damage. This narrative is false.

After nine months of research, two investigations in Pakistan, and more than 130 interviews with victims, witnesses, journalists, humanitarian workers and medical doctors, we found significant evidence of harmful civilian impacts of drone policies.

First, there are civilian deaths and injuries; 474 to 881 civilians have been killed by drones in Pakistan since 2004, according to the most reliable available estimates.

Second, U.S. drone strikes cause considerable harm to the daily lives of ordinary civilians. Civilians face the constant worry that a strike may be fired at any moment – at someone's home or car, or at a school, mosque or market. Civilians and even humanitarian workers are afraid to assist victims for fear they may be killed in a second strike.

Third, publicly available evidence that the strikes have made the U.S. safer is ambiguous at best: they have certainly killed alleged combatants, but the number of "high-level" targets killed is estimated at just 2 percent, and there is evidence that strikes have motivated further attacks.

Fourth, U.S. practices undermine respect for the rule of law and international legal protections, and may set dangerous precedents for other governments. Do we want a world in which governments are permitted to track down their enemies in any other nation, and target and kill them, with no real oversight or accountability? Even a brief thought experiment along those lines becomes very frightening, very quickly.

What should be done? The U.S. should conduct a fundamental re-evaluation of current targeted killings practices, taking into account all available evidence, the concerns of all relevant stakeholders, and the short- and long-term costs and benefits. These stakeholders must include the Pakistani civilians directly affected by drones.

Today, it is almost impossible to have an informed public debate about U.S. policies on drone warfare – primarily because of efforts by the government to shield its targeted killings program from democratic accountability. The U.S. should release Department of Justice memorandums outlining the legal basis for targeted killings, make public critical information about U.S. policies, ensure independent investigations into drone strike deaths (with prosecutions, as appropriate) and establish compensation programs for affected civilians.

2) Report Cites High Civilian Toll in Pakistan Drone Strikes
Scott Shane, New York Times, September 25, 2012, 9:47 AM
http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/25/report-cites-high-civilian-toll-in-pakistan-drone-strikes/

A new report on targeted killing by C.I.A. drones in Pakistan's tribal area concludes that the strikes have killed more civilians than American officials have acknowledged, alienated Pakistani public opinion and set a dangerous precedent under international law.

The report, by human rights researchers at the Stanford and New York University law schools, urges the United States to "conduct a fundamental re-evaluation of current targeted killing practices" including "short- and long-term costs and benefits." It also calls on the administration to make public still-secret legal opinions justifying the strikes.

Human rights groups have previously reached similar conclusions, and the report draws heavily on previous reporting, notably by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism in London. But the study is among the most thorough on the subject to date and is based on interviews with people injured by drone-fired missiles, their family members, Pakistani officials, lawyers and journalists.

Research is difficult on the ground in Pakistan's dangerous tribal regions, where militant groups are situated and most drone strikes occur, and the law school teams did not visit them. They did, however, meet in Pakistani cities with 69 people who had been injured in strikes, witnessed strikes or surveillance drones, or had relatives who were witnesses. The report includes excerpts from interviews with a dozen witnesses.

Sarah Knuckey, a veteran human rights investigator who led the N.Y.U. team, said she was particularly struck by the pervasive anxiety that residents of the tribal area described as a result of hearing drones buzzing overhead and knowing that a strike could come at any time. She said Pakistani journalists and humanitarian workers who work in the area described the same fear.

She also noted the pattern of second drone strikes after initial strikes, evidently targeting rescuers and relatives responding to a site. One humanitarian organization, which she said the authors agreed not to name for security reasons, told them its policy is to wait at least six hours after a drone strike before visiting the site.
[...]

3) Drone strikes in Pakistan have killed many civilians, study says
David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times, September 24, 2012, 9:01 p.m.
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-drone-study-20120925,0,5793737.story

Far more civilians have been killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas than U.S. counter-terrorism officials have acknowledged, a new study by human rights researchers at Stanford University and New York University contends.

The report, "Living Under Drones," also concludes that the classified CIA program has not made America any safer and instead has turned the Pakistani public against U.S. policy in the volatile region. It recommends that the Obama administration reevaluate the program to make it more transparent and accountable, and to prove compliance with international law.

"Real people are suffering real harm" but are largely ignored in government or news media discussions of drone attacks, said James Cavallaro of Stanford, one of the study's authors.

Cavallaro said the study was intended to challenge official accounts of the drones as precise instruments of high-tech warfare with few adverse consequences. The Obama administration has championed the use of remotely operated drones for killing senior Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders, but the study concludes that only about 2% of drone casualties are top militant leaders.
[...]
Cavallaro said the report decided to give more credence to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism report rather than an analysis by the Long War Journal, a website that monitors drone strikes, which estimated 138 civilians killed since 2006. The site relies too heavily on anonymous and Pakistani government sources, Cavallaro said.

The study challenges official versions of three attacks between 2009 and 2011, including a drone strike on March 17, 2011, that killed an estimated 42 people. The gathering was a jirga, a meeting of elders, called to settle a dispute over a chromite mine, the report says.

According to the report, most of those killed were civilians, including elders and auxiliary police. Only about four known members of a Taliban group attended, the study says, citing survivors and news accounts. U.S. officials insisted that all the dead were militants, the report says.

The authors recommend that the U.S. Justice Department publicly state the legal basis for targeted killings by drones and the criteria for "signature strikes," those authorized against armed men who fit the profile of militants. The report says the strikes violate international law because, in part, the government has not proved the targets are direct threats to the United States.

4) Drone attacks in Pakistan are counterproductive, says report
US academics' report says drones kill large numbers of civilians and increase recruitment by militant groups
Owen Bowcott, The Guardian, Monday 24 September 2012
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/sep/25/drone-attacks-pakistan-counterproductive-report

The CIA's programme of "targeted" drone killings in Pakistan's tribal heartlands is politically counterproductive, kills large numbers of civilians and undermines respect for international law, according to a report by US academics.

The study by Stanford and New York universities' law schools, based on interviews with victims, witnesses and experts, blames the US president, Barack Obama, for the escalation of "signature strikes" in which groups are selected merely through remote "pattern of life" analysis.

Families are afraid to attend weddings or funerals, it says, in case US ground operators guiding drones misinterpret them as gatherings of Taliban or al-Qaida militants.
[...]
The authors admit it is difficult to obtain accurate data on casualties "because of US efforts to shield the drone programme from democratic accountability, compounded by obstacles to independent investigation of strikes in North Waziristan".

The "best available information", they say, is that between 2,562 and 3,325 people have been killed in Pakistan between June 2004 and mid-September this year – of whom between 474 and 881 were civilians, including 176 children. The figures have been assembled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which estimated that a further 1,300 individuals were injured in drone strikes over that period.
[...]
"US drones hover 24 hours a day over communities in north-west Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning," the American law schools report says.

"Their presence terrorises men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves.

"These fears have affected behaviour. The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims."
[...]
Coming from American lawyers rather than overseas human rights groups, the criticisms are likely to be more influential in US domestic debates over the legality of drone warfare.
[...]
The report supports the call by Ben Emmerson QC, the UN's special rapporteur on countering terrorism, for independent investigations into deaths from drone strikes and demands the release of the US department of justice memorandums outlining the legal basis for US targeted killings in Pakistan.

The report highlights the switch from the former president George W Bush's practice of targeting high-profile al-Qaida personalities to the reliance, under Obama's administration, of analysing patterns of life on the ground to select targets.

"According to US authorities, these strikes target 'groups of men who bear certain signatures, or defining characteristics associated with terrorist activity, but whose identities aren't known'," the report says. "Just what those 'defining characteristics' are has never been made public."
[...]

5) Drones in Pakistan traumatise civilians, US report says
BBC, 25 September 2012 09:02 ET
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-19704981

Civilians are being "terrorised" 24 hours a day by CIA drone attacks that target mainly low-level militants in north-west Pakistan, a US report says.

Rescuers treating the casualties are also being killed and wounded by follow-up strikes, says the report by Stanford and New York Universities.
[...]
The report highlights the impact of drone attacks on civilians in Pakistan's tribal regions. Citing "extensive interviews with the local population", the authors say:
- children are being taken out of school out of fear of a drone-strike or to compensate for income lost from a dead or wounded relative
- there is "significant evidence" of the practice of "double-tap" strikes in which rescuers arriving at the scene are targeted in follow-up attacks
- drones flying overhead have led to "substantial levels of fear and stress... in the civilian communities"
- as well as injury or death, the attacks cause property damage, severe economic hardship and emotional trauma for the injured and their families
- people are afraid to attend gatherings such as funerals for fear of attack

One humanitarian worker - previously based in the US - compared the levels of fear in Waziristan to those in New York after the 9/11 attacks.
[...]

U.S./Top News
6) Obama: Does Romney want 'to start another war' in Middle East?
Olivier Knox, Yahoo! News/The Ticket, Sun, Sep 23, 2012
http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/ticket/obama-does-romney-want-start-another-war-middle-014855301--election.html

President Barack Obama hit back hard in a "60 Minutes" interview broadcast Sunday at Mitt Romney's criticisms of his handling of Syria and Iran, saying that if the Republican standard-bearer "is suggesting that we should start another war, he should say so."
[...]
Romney has accused Obama of not doing enough to curb Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran says is a civilian energy program but America and its allies say is an effort to develop the ability to build a nuclear weapon. He has also charged that the president has done too little to help rebels against Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad topple his regime as the civil war there has left perhaps as many as 20,000 dead.

Asked about those criticisms, Obama bristled. "Let's see what I've done since I came into office: I said I'd end the war in Iraq. I did. I said that we'd go after Al Qaeda. They've been decimated in the FATA," he said, referring to Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, along the remote border with Afghanistan. "That we'd go after bin Laden. He's gone. So I've executed on my foreign policy. And it's one that the American people largely agree with."

"So if Governor Romney is suggesting that we should start another war, he should say so," Obama said. That remark echoed suggestions from some of the president's advisers that Romney relies on so-called "neoconservative" advisers like those who championed the war in Iraq under President George W. Bush.
[...]

7) GOP lawmakers push Romney to break from Obama's Afghanistan strategy
Carlo Munoz, The Hill, 09/23/12 06:00 AM ET
http://thehill.com/blogs/defcon-hill/policy-and-strategy/251113-gop-pushing-romney-to-break-from-white-houses-afghan-strategy-

Republican defense hawks are urging Mitt Romney to separate himself from President Obama on Afghanistan and back an extended presence for U.S. troops in the country.

The advice comes as the White House hits the halfway point in its timeline to withdraw all U.S. troops and after Romney faced criticism for not mentioning the Afghan conflict in his acceptance speech for the Republican nomination.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told The Hill on Wednesday the Romney camp needed to distance itself from the Obama administration's goal of pulling all American forces from Afghanistan by 2014.

They should, instead, pursue a war plan focused on "what we leave behind" in the country, not just ending the war as soon as possible, according to Graham.

"It's about getting it right," the South Carolina Republican said. Getting it right, he added, almost certainly means keeping U.S. forces in country past the administration's deadline.

"On the first day of a Romney administration," the presumed president-elect needed to call a meeting of the top U.S. commanders in Afghanistan and chart a different strategic course for the country, Graham said.

"And if [they] need to change the timetable in Afghanistan, that is what we will do," Graham said.

The Romney camp has been hammered in recent months by Democrats and by some within the GOP for not clearly defining the candidate's position on Afghanistan.

On the campaign trail, Romney has publicly agreed with the 2014 deadline, but chastised the administration for giving insurgents a date certain for a U.S. pullout.
[...]
Things have gotten so bad in the country, McCain suggested - for the first time —the Obama administration should consider an early withdrawal from Afghanistan as part of a wholesale change to the White House's current war strategy.

However the Arizona Republican and ardent defense hawk backtracked from that position on Thursday, saying while an early withdrawal should be an option on the table, going with that option would be the "worst possible course of action" for the United States in Afghanistan.

McCain's comments highlight the mixed opinions on Capitol Hill over how to end the war in Afghanistan. The main question on the minds of lawmakers is whether the White House should continue steadily cutting troop numbers, or freeze those troop levels until 2014.

With surge forces now gone, roughly 68,000 American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines remain in Afghanistan.

"The key issue is whether we continue to reduce troops after the surge forces are out," said Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who advocates for continued reductions.

"What's going to happen between 2012 and 2014: Are we going to go this way or this way," he said in reference to the conflicting proposals. "That's the big issue."
[...]

Afghanistan
8) U.S.: Gloomy News, Prognosis Out of Afghanistan
Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service, Sep 26 2012
http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/09/u-s-gloomy-news-prognosis-out-of-afghanistan/

Washington - With all foreign troops due to leave Afghanistan just two years from now, the news out of the Central Asian nation is becoming increasingly gloomy.

Adding to the pessimism is a just-released report by one of the most astute observers of the U.S. war, Gilles Dorronsoro, an Afghanistan expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), who, among other things, predicts that the regime in Kabul "will most probably collapse in a few years" given current trends.

"Political fragmentation, whether in the form of militias or the establishment of sanctuaries in the north, is laying the ground work for a long civil war" that is likely to be fuelled by competition among regional powers, according to his report, which also joined the call by a growing number of experts for Washington to open negotiations with the Taliban as soon as possible.

Indeed, a series of setbacks just this month have renewed questions about even the short-term viability of the U.S.-led strategy to keep the Taliban at bay while bolstering the central government enough to persuade key elements of the insurgency to negotiate rather than fight on.

In recent days, some of the most die-hard Republican supporters of U.S. intervention have suggested throwing in the towel early, particularly in view of the growing number of fatal "insider" attacks – 51 so far this year – by uniformed Afghan personnel against U.S. and coalition trainers and soldiers.

The latest attacks prompted U.S. commanders to sharply curb joint operations by coalition and Afghan forces pending a massive re-vetting of the latter for possible Taliban sympathies. The move, according to more than a few observers, strikes at the heart of the U.S. strategy of building up Afghan forces while gradually transferring more security responsibilities to them.

"I think we should remove ourselves from Afghanistan as quickly as we can," said Rep. Bill Young, the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Defence Committee. "I just think we're killing kids that don't need to die."
[...]
The latest incidents all took place even before Dorronsoro finished drafting his deeply pessimistic report which noted that, in some respects, the current regime in Kabul is less prepared to survive a challenge by the Taliban than the communist government that hung on for three years against the mujahideen after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989.

There are "two major differences," he wrote. "First the current regime does not possess the ideological and social cohesion of the communist regime, and its ability to survive militarily has not been demonstrated. …Second, the Taliban form a united movement with few rifts, compared to the infighting of the mujahideen in the 1990s."

Already next year, when tens of thousands of coalition forces will remain in Afghanistan, Dorronsoro predicted that the eastern part of the country and the region around the capital itself will be "gravely threatened by a Taliban advance" with the onset of spring.

"The situation will only worsen after 2014, when most U.S. troops are out of the country and aid going to the Afghan government steeply declines," according to the 23-page report, 'Waiting for the Taliban in Afghanistan'.

As coalition forces withdraw, including the 68,000 U.S. combat troops that remain in-country, the Taliban will "automatically" advance, especially in the east and the south where the insurgency has been contained as a result of constant pressure by the coalition forces.

Dorronsoro is particularly critical of Washington's counter-insurgency strategy which gave precedence to tactical military operations aimed at systematically eliminating local insurgent leaders over a political approach of engaging the rebel leadership based in Pakistan.
[...]
Meanwhile, the Karzai regime will face three major crises while the coalition withdraws: an economic crisis precipitated by a sharp drop in Western aid and spending; an institutional crisis with the end of Karzai's term in 2014 and indications that much of the political elite are already preparing to go into exile; and a security crisis in which large parts of the country fall outside the government's control despite the overwhelming official size of the security forces.

"Maintaining control of Afghanistan's major cities and main transport corridors is …the only realistic goal," according to the report.

Certain eventualities could stabilise the situation for a few years, including a reduction in Pakistani support for the Taliban, the development of divisions within the insurgency, and the possibility that a new president in Kabul who could inspire greater confidence and support than Karzai.

"In reality, these developments are unlikely and would come about only as a result of unpredictable events – a major political crisis in Pakistan or the death of the Taliban's spiritual leader Mullah Omar, for instance," according to the report.
[...]
And while negotiations with the Taliban are unlikely before the troops withdrawal, Washington should understand that it will "not be able to pursue its longer-term interests in and around Afghanistan if it is not willing to deal with the Taliban" which, alone among the various contenders for power if the Kabul regime collapses, "can potentially control the Afghan border and expel transnational jihadists from Afghanistan".

Thus, Washington "must not further limit its ability to open negotiations with the Taliban", and coalition military and drone operations "should focus first and foremost on foreign jihadist groups", not on the Taliban insurgency.

In his blog at the nationalinterest.com, Paul Pillar, a former top CIA analyst who served as the National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, called Dorronsoro's recommendation "good advice".

Sound policy, he noted, requires "getting away from the mistaken tendency to view the Afghan Taliban as if they were themselves a transnational terrorist group – which they are not, notwithstanding their previous alliance with Usama bin Laden."

Guatemala
9) Guatemala prez says legalize drugs
Claudia Torrens and Romina Ruiz-Goiriena, Associated Press, Tue, Sep. 25, 2012
http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/09/25/3020574/ap-interview-guatemala-prez-says.html

Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina is advocating the international legalization of drugs even as he is moving to fight narcotics cartels with the biggest military buildup in the Central American country since its long and bloody civil war.

There's no contradiction, the president said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, a day before he plans to address the U.N. General Assembly.

"We can't take unilateral action, it will be gradual," Perez said, referring to his push for legalization. "Meanwhile, while we're taking these steps, we're not going to let Guatemala become an open corridor for trafficking and consuming drugs."

Perez Molina said he may be the first head of state to propose legalizing drugs before the General Assembly, but the Organization of American States already is studying the idea, with a report due in a year.

"With cocaine and heroin, for example, they're substances that are damaging and addictive," he said. "We would have to regulate the procedures for selling them: a prescription or series of things that would come out of the discussion."

The legalization proposal came just a month after the retired general took office in January with promises of an "iron fist" against crime, and it provoked strong criticism from the United States, as well as intense discussion within Guatemala.

The president said the traditional war on drugs had failed over the past half century, and that the United States' inability to deal with its drug consumption problem left Central America with no option but to promote legalizing drugs in some way.
[...]

Venezuela
10) BofA Sees Chavez Re-Election Even as Lead in Polls Narrows
Randall Woods and Charlie Devereux, Bloomberg, 2012-09-24T21:18:07Z
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-09-24/bofa-sees-chavez-re-election-even-as-lead-in-polls-narrows-2-.html


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is on track to beat Henrique Capriles Radonski in the Oct. 7 election even as the incumbent's lead shows signs of narrowing, Bank of America Merrill Lynch said, citing polls conducted by other companies.

Chavez's lead over Capriles narrowed to 10 percentage points from 15 percentage points in the latest Datanalisis survey taken between Aug. 25 and Sept. 5, bank economist Francisco Rodriguez wrote in a report e-mailed to investors today. He would have won 56.3 percent of the vote and Capriles 43.7 percent had the election been held this month, Rodriguez said basing his estimates on seven surveys conducted in late August and early September by polling companies including Consultores 30.11 and Hinterlaces.

"This rate of decline appears insufficient to close the remaining gap between the candidates by election day," Rodriguez wrote. "These results suggest the most likely scenario would be a Chavez re-election, with a high likelihood of a double-digit advantage."
[...]


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