JFP News 9/4: Biden Opposes More Troops to Afghanistan
Just Foreign Policy News
September 4, 2009
Team Obama Divided, Public Strongly Opposed, to More Troops in Afghanistan
Top officials of the Obama Administration are divided on the expected request of the Pentagon for more troops in Afghanistan, the New York Times reports today. Leading the opposition is Vice-President Biden. Biden has the wind of public opinion at his back. Recent polls show that the majority of Americans now oppose the Afghan war. But on the question of sending more troops, public opinion is even more clear. They're against it.
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1) Top officials of the Obama Administration are divided on the expected request of the Pentagon for more troops in Afghanistan, the New York Times reports. Leading those with doubts is Vice President Biden, who has expressed deep reservations about an expanded presence in Afghanistan on the grounds that it may distract from what he considers the more urgent goal of stabilizing Pakistan. Military strategists said General McChrystal might offer three options. The smallest proposed reinforcement, from 10,000 to 15,000 troops, would be described as the high-risk option. A medium-risk option would involve sending about 25,000 more troops, and a low-risk option would call for sending about 45,000 troops.
2) An IMF spokesperson indicated today that the Fund may not allow the de facto government of Honduras to have access to $164 million dollars that it was allocated on August 28, CEPR reports. "If this happens, it would be the most important economic sanction to date leveled against the de facto government," said Mark Weisbrot.
3) A NATO airstrike in Afghanistan Friday killed 80 people or more, at least some of them civilians, the New York Times reports. The public health officer for the province said a medical team sent to the village reported that 80 people had been killed, and he said that "most of them were civilians and villagers."
4) The White House issued a rebuke of Israel Friday, expressing "regret" at the Israeli government's announcement that it would expand settlements in Palestinian areas, the Washington Post reports. "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement expansion and we urge that it stop," the White House said. Israeli media reported Friday that Prime Minister Netanyahu soon will approve the construction of hundreds of new housing units in settlements. U.S. officials are clearly worried that such Israeli actions will undercut the delicate effort by envoy George Mitchell to lay the groundwork for new talks, the Post says.
5) The U.S. government Thursday toughened its stance against Honduras's coup leaders and supporters, threatening to put them "in a box" by not recognizing the winner of a presidential election set for November, the Washington Post reports. "Based on conditions as they currently exist, we cannot recognize the results of this election. So for the de facto regime, they're now in a box," said a State Department spokesman. "And they will have to sign on to the San Jose accords to get out of the box." He was referring to the plan for Zelaya's return, which was negotiated in the Costa Rican capital.
6) The Treasury Department formally lifted nearly all U.S. restrictions on family travel to Cuba on Thursday, along with limits on how much money families can send to relatives on the island, the Washington Post reports. Treasury also eased regulations prohibiting U.S. telecommunications and satellite linkages between the U.S. and Cuba and licensing requirements for visitors engaged in agricultural and medical sales.
7) There are new claims that U.S.-funded contractors have been spending a hefty chunk of U.S. aid funding in Afghanistan on protection payments to the Taliban, CBS News reports. GlobalPost quoted several unnamed contractors who said 20 percent of their budgets - or more - go to pay off the Taliban so it won't bomb their projects, or their people. Experts say the kickbacks could have netted the Taliban tens of millions of dollars and are such an open secret on the streets that the U.S. government had to know.
8) Brazil's President Lula is one of the principal opponents to the West's increasing pressure on Iran over its nuclear program, AFP reports. Lula slammed a renewed push by the U.S. and European countries for sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. "We need to convince them politically. They can't be backed into a wall," he said. "This policy of 'all or nothing' doesn't exist." Iran had a right to peaceful nuclear energy, he insisted, adding that he believed the US-led criticism of its arch-foe in the Middle East was reminiscent of Washington's fallacious justification for the war in Iraq. [AFP could have noted that Brazil - like Iran - is a non-nuclear weapon state that enriches uranium and is a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty - JFP.]
9) Palestinian emergency medical personnel say they are routinely attacked by Israeli soldiers and obstructed from providing emergency medical assistance, Inter Press Service reports. Since 2000, 17 Palestinian Red Crescent [the Palestinian affiliate of the Red Cross - JFP] personnel have been killed, 250 injured, 80 arrested, 170 ambulances damaged, and 36 ambulances completely destroyed by the Israeli military.
10) The government of Guatemala said the malnutrition affecting more than 50 percent of Guatemalan children has taken the lives of at least 20 youngsters so far this year, EFE reports. Fifty-two percent of Guatemala's more than 13.3 million people live below the poverty line and 16 percent are classified as indigent.
1) Advisers to Obama Divided on Size of Afghan Force
Peter Baker and Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times, September 4, 2009
Washington - The military's anticipated request for more troops to combat the insurgency in Afghanistan has divided senior advisers to President Obama as they try to determine the proper size and mission of the American effort there, officials said Thursday.
Even before the top commander in Afghanistan submits his proposal for additional forces, administration officials have begun what one called a "healthy debate" about what the priorities should be and whether more American soldiers and Marines would help achieve them.
Leading those with doubts is Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has expressed deep reservations about an expanded presence in Afghanistan on the grounds that it may distract from what he considers the more urgent goal of stabilizing Pakistan, officials said. Among those on the other side are Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative to the region, who shares the concern about Pakistan but sees more troops as vital to protecting Afghan civilians and undermining the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has been vocal in favor of more troops, and while some officials said she had not shown her hand during the current deliberations, they expected her to be an advocate for a more robust force.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has voiced concern that putting so many troops in Afghanistan would make the United States look like an occupier, but during a news conference on Thursday he sounded more supportive of the prospect.
Although General McChrystal included no specific force proposals in his review, officials expect him to send a separate request in the coming weeks. Military strategists, including one who has advised General McChrystal, said he might offer three options. The smallest proposed reinforcement, from 10,000 to 15,000 troops, would be described as the high-risk option. A medium-risk option would involve sending about 25,000 more troops, and a low-risk option would call for sending about 45,000 troops.
Obama has already ordered 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan this year for a total American force of 68,000, on top of 40,000 NATO troops. Clinton and Holbrooke pushed for those reinforcements, while Biden resisted. "It is true that Hillary was very forceful; I had some disagreement in degree with her," Biden later told USA Today. "The president ended up landing on a spot that was where she was."
Biden has argued that a sizable increase in resources for Afghanistan invariably means less for Pakistan, a concern born out of his frustration as a senator during the Bush administration pushing for more aid to Islamabad. In some ways, he has told colleagues, Pakistan is more important than Afghanistan because extremism is on the rise there, Al Qaeda has operating room and the government of Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation, remains vulnerable.
2) IMF May Withhold $164 Million Allocated to Honduras
Center for Economic and Policy Research, September 4, 2009
Washington - IMF spokesperson Bill Murray indicated today that the Fund may not allow the de facto government of Honduras to have access to $164 million dollars that it was allocated on August 28.
Rebeca Santos, Finance Minister for the constitutional government of President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras, told CEPR that their government had received assurances from the IMF that the de facto government would not be allowed access to these funds.
When asked if he could confirm this, Murray indicated that he could not officially do so, but also said "you should go with what you were told" by the Finance Minister.
"If this happens, it would be the most important economic sanction to date leveled against the de facto government that seized power in a military coup on June 28," said Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of CEPR.
The funds are part of an allocation approved by the IMF for all member countries. The IMF decided in August to make $283 billion available in order to counteract the world recession. The money would be allocated to the IMF's 186 member countries according to their quota at the Fund.
The money would be particularly important for the Honduran de facto regime for two reasons: First, the country has been losing reserves since the coup. The net international reserves of the Honduran Central Bank have shrunk by over $300 million, from $2.4 billion to $2.1 billion in the two months since the coup. This could be a problem for the de facto government and its management of the economy, which has been hard hit by the uncertainty and international isolation since the coup.
Second, the U.S. State Department announced yesterday that it would terminate some $30 million in aid to the Honduran government. This move would have very little impact if the de facto government had access to $164 million of new funding from the IMF.
3) NATO Plans Inquiry After Afghan Strike Kills Scores
Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Abdul Waheed Wafa, New York Times, September 5, 2009
Kabul - A NATO airstrike before dawn on Friday killed 80 people or more, at least some of them civilians, in a once-calm region of northern Afghanistan that has recently slipped under control of insurgents, Afghan officials said.
NATO officials acknowledged that coalition aircraft had destroyed two hijacked fuel tankers in the tiny village of Omar Kheil, about 10 miles south of Kunduz. They said they were investigating reports of civilian deaths, but stressed that the attack was aimed at Taliban militants.
German forces in northern Afghanistan under NATO command called in the attack, the German defense ministry said. Afghan officials said the strike had killed insurgents as well as civilians who had surrounded the trucks and were siphoning fuel when the bombs struck. There were differing accounts of how many civilians were killed.
The airstrike comes three months after the lead NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, tightened the rules governing the use of airstrikes here, in an effort to reduce the civilian deaths that he said were undermining the American-led mission by creating anger and opposition among Afghans.
According to new rules of engagement, NATO airstrikes will in most cases be allowed only to prevent American and other coalition troops from being overrun by enemy fighters. Even in the case of active firefights with Taliban forces, airstrikes will be limited if the combat is taking place in populated areas, Gen. McChrystal said.
From initial accounts of Friday's airstrike from NATO and Afghan officials, it was unclear whether this strike had met those conditions. NATO promised a full investigation, and Afghan officials expressed anger over the incident.
Participation in the NATO-led Afghanistan mission is deeply unpopular in Germany, and there were concerns that this episode might deepen resistance if a high number of civilian casualties are confirmed. It could also become a big election issue in Germany, just three weeks before the federal ballot in which Chancellor Angela Merkel is seeking a second term.
The episode began late Thursday when a gang of Taliban guerrillas hijacked the two diesel trucks on the main highway south of Kunduz, Afghan and NATO officials said, and drove the trucks to Omar Kheil. But when they came to a river, the trucks could not cross, so they told villagers to siphon off the diesel, and scores turned out, Afghan officials said.
The air attack exploded the tankers, and people close to the trucks were blown to bits. Some of those farther away died from severe burns, said the police chief of Kunduz Province, Gen. Razaq Yaqoobi.
Afghan officials gave varying accounts of the tally of Taliban and civilian deaths. The village, which is on the border of the districts of Ali Abad and Char Dara, is now controlled by Taliban commanders, said the Ali Abad governor, Haji Habibullah, making the distinction more difficult. Putting the toll at "80 to 90," he said, "Some of them were civilians and some of them were Taliban fighters."
The public health officer for Kunduz Province, Dr. Azizullah Safar, said a medical team sent to the village reported that 80 people had been killed, and he said that "most of them were civilians and villagers."
It was also clear that some of the dead were militants, he said, noting that the site was scattered with remnants of ammunition vests and other gear carried by insurgents.
4) White House Rebukes Israel Over Reports of Renewed Settlement Expansion in West Bank
Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, Friday, September 4, 2009 12:41 PM
The White House issued an unusual rebuke of Israel on Friday, expressing "regret" at the Israeli government's announcement that it would expand settlements in Palestinian areas. "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement expansion and we urge that it stop," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
Israeli media reported Friday that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu soon will approve the construction of hundreds of new housing units in settlements, apparently an effort to placate members of his right-leaning Likud party before he officially reaches a deal with the Obama administration to freeze settlement activity for six to nine months in order lay the groundwork for new peace talks.
The administration's special envoy for Middle East peace, former senator George Mitchell, has been negotiating the settlement freeze over the past months, with the aim of announcing a deal this month at the annual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. The Israeli government has told U.S. officials that even under a freeze it is unable to halt construction of 2,500 housing units in 700 buildings, but the new construction apparently would be in addition to that activity.
The White House statement was unusual both because it was issued so quickly after the initial media reports and because it publicly criticized Israel in the midst of delicate negotiations. U.S. officials are clearly worried that such Israeli actions will undercut the delicate effort by Mitchell to lay the groundwork for new talks. Palestinian officials have said they will refuse to resume talks unless settlement activity is halted, and several Arab states are poised to take symbolic steps toward normalization with Israel if a credible settlement freeze is reached.
5) U.S. May Not Recognize Results of Honduran Vote
Mary Beth Sheridan, Washington Post, Friday, September 4, 2009
The U.S. government on Thursday toughened its stance against Honduras's coup leaders and supporters, threatening to put them "in a box" by not recognizing the winner of a presidential election set for November.
The de facto government had hoped that the election would provide an end to the crisis that has gripped the Central American country since the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya on June 28. The balloting had been scheduled well before Zelaya was detained and whisked out of the country by the military.
But U.S. officials said for the first time that they would continue to shun the country unless Honduran leaders went back to a negotiated plan that would allow the return of Zelaya with limited powers until the expiration of his term in December.
"Based on conditions as they currently exist, we cannot recognize the results of this election. So for the de facto regime, they're now in a box," said State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley. "And they will have to sign on to the San Jose accords to get out of the box." He was referring to the plan for Zelaya's return, which was negotiated in the Costa Rican capital.
The announcement amounted to a gamble that the threat would finally force the de facto government to back down. So far, that government, led by longtime congressman Roberto Micheletti, has resisted intense international pressure, both economic and political.
The U.S. moves were applauded by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who has encouraged a negotiated settlement. "The coup regime has engaged in undemocratic practices that cast a dark shadow over elections scheduled for November. Those elections will lack legitimacy unless the regime embraces and faithfully implements the San Jose Accord," he said in a statement.
Major Latin American countries have said they would not recognize the results of the November election unless the coup is reversed.
6) U.S. Lifts Almost All Curbs on Family Visits to Cuba
Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, Friday, September 4, 2009
The Treasury Department formally lifted nearly all U.S. restrictions on family travel to Cuba on Thursday, along with limits on how much money families can send to relatives on the island.
The department also eased regulations prohibiting U.S. telecommunications and satellite linkages between the United States and Cuba and licensing requirements for visitors engaged in agricultural and medical sales.
President Obama first announced most of the changes in April as part of a general opening that he said would allow Americans to reach out to the Cuban people, and he ordered Cabinet departments to take steps to implement the changes. Since then, the administration has also resumed a regular dialogue with the Cuban government on immigration issues and said it would move toward a resumption of direct mail service between the two countries.
The United States severed diplomatic relations with communist Cuba and first imposed a broad trade embargo during the Kennedy administration. Restrictions on travel and other nongovernmental contact have ebbed and flowed over the past five decades, with the tightest limits on family travel and remittances imposed during the administration of President George W. Bush.
U.S. citizens and residents were limited to family visits once every three years, and strict ceilings were placed on the amount and frequency of remittances. Although a congressional majority pushed through provisions exempting the sale of certain agricultural and medical goods from economic sanctions, the Bush administration set tight rules for allowing American sales representatives to travel to Cuba to negotiate the deals.
The amendments expanded the definition of "close relatives" - previously limited to parents, spouses and children - and said there would be "no limits" on the frequency or duration of their visits to Cuba. Virtually all restrictions on money sent to Cuban family members were lifted.
The measure easing the sale of agricultural products was not part of the changes Obama initially announced, but it was pushed by Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), who said in a statement Thursday that the change "will make it easier for our producers to sell their goods to Cuba, and it makes good economic sense for family farmers in North Dakota and across the country."
7) Is Taxpayer Money Funding the Taliban?
Resources Intended for Development Projects May Be Going to Protection Payments
Nancy Cordes, CBS, Sept. 3, 2009
It is taxpayer money meant to fund aid and development projects in Afghanistan: roads, bridges and schools. But there are new claims that U.S.-funded contractors have been spending a hefty chunk of that funding on protection payments to the Taliban - for years, reports CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes.
"That translates into money that the Taliban are using to attack and kill American military personnel, and that's just simply outrageous," said Rep. Bill Delahunt.
The international news organization GlobalPost quoted several unnamed contractors who said 20 percent of their budgets - or more - go to pay off the Taliban so it won't bomb their projects, or their people. It's a protection racket far more sophisticated than the typical mob-style shakedown.
"The Taliban literally has an office in Kabul where it works out what percentage will be charged on these contracts," said Charles Sennott, the executive editor of the GlobalPost. "This is so open."
The State Department has spent more than $4 billion on development contracts in Afghanistan since 2002. Experts say the kickbacks could have netted the Taliban tens of millions of dollars and are such an open secret on the streets that the U.S. government had to know.
8) 'Big power' Brazil stands by Iran, Venezuela: Lula
Marc Burleigh, AFP, September 3, 2009
Brasilia - Brazil is poised to become one of the 21st century's great powers, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told AFP, as he fended off international criticism of its role as a "conciliator" in dealings with Iran and Venezuela.
And with those ambitions comes a flexing of muscles in the international arena said Lula, 63, one of the principal opponents to the West's increasing pressure on Iran over that country's nuclear program.
Soon, probably this month, he is to host Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the latter's first overseas trip since being declared the winner of disputed June 12 elections.
Lula slammed a renewed push by the United States and European countries for sanctions against Iran over fears its nuclear program was hiding the development of atomic weapon. "We need to convince them politically. They can't be backed into a wall," he said. "This policy of 'all or nothing' doesn't exist."
Iran had a right to peaceful nuclear energy, he insisted, adding that he believed the US-led criticism of its arch-foe in the Middle East was reminiscent of Washington's fallacious justification for the war in Iraq. "Even today, those leaders in favor of the war in Iraq are unable to explain why they invaded if there were no chemical weapons. Well, I am seeing the same sort of things starting to happen over Iran," he said.
9) Israelis Target Medical Teams
Mel Frykberg, Inter Press Service, Sep 3
Jelazon, West Bank - Fourteen-year-old Muhammad Nayif's mother broke down as she spoke to IPS. Nayif died after being shot three times in the chest by Israeli soldiers Monday night.
Palestinian medical personnel who tried to reach the critically injured boy near the Jelazon refugee camp north of Ramallah were threatened at gunpoint by Israeli soldiers and shot at.
"We were sure that the boy was seriously wounded and needed urgent medical attention," said Sameh Barghouti a medic in the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) ambulance which tried to evacuate the youngster. "But the soldiers pointed their guns at us and told us to go back. When we asked to speak to their captain they shot rubber coated metal bullets and teargas canisters at the ambulance, but fortunately missed," Barghouti told IPS.
Another ambulance driver, Osama Jarrer, was injured in the leg with a teargas canister after he too tried to reach the wounded child. Under Israeli law teargas canisters are meant to be fired in an upward arch and not directly at protestors so as not to endanger lives.
Suliman Massoud from Jelazon who witnessed the aftermath of the shooting said an Israeli helicopter later flew the boy to hospital but he was already dead.
"The interception of the ambulances in Nayif's case is just the latest in a long list of such incidents we have faced through the years from the Israelis in trying to provide Palestinians with the necessary medical assistance," says Raed Yassin, director of the Ramallah PRCS's emergency department.
"The problems revolve around attacks on our personnel, on the ambulances, damage to our equipment, long delays at checkpoints, and the refusal of access for critically injured patients despite having the requisite security permits from the Israelis," Yassin told IPS. "We had a case recently of a 16-year-old boy with cancer from Tulkarm in the northern West Bank. He had a permit from the Israelis but was refused entrance through Qalandia checkpoint to East Jerusalem where the specialist hospitals are."
Mutasim Awad, director of the PRCS's humanitarian law unit speaks of "lack of protection for medical personnel and their vehicles and the delay and denial of access to East Jerusalem on a daily basis. "During military operations we are regularly targeted by the Israelis in shelling and shooting attacks. During the Gaza war 16 Palestinian medical personnel were killed, more than 30 injured, while dozens of clinics, hospitals and medical centres were bombed."
Since 2000, 17 PRCS personnel have been killed, 250 injured, 80 arrested, 170 ambulances damaged, and 36 ambulances completely destroyed by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).
10) 20 Guatemalan Children Have Died of Malnutrition in 2009
EFE, September 2, 2009.
Guatemala City - The malnutrition affecting more than 50 percent of Guatemalan children has taken the lives of at least 20 youngsters so far this year, the government said Tuesday.
A report prepared by the presidential bureau of food security, known as Sesan, says that 18 of the children who died were residents of the impoverished province of Jalapa, in Guatemala's central "dry corridor."
In that region, which also includes the province of El Progreso, Zacapa, Chiquimula, Jutiapa, Santa Rosa and Baja Verapaz, live 54,564 families - the report said - who have lost their corn and bean harvests due to the prolonged drought.
The mayor of Jalapa city, Alfredo Sandoval, warned Tuesday about the danger to more than 70 children who are in the municipal hospital suffering from malnutrition. "It's urgent that measures be taken to prevent this from becoming a disaster," Sandoval told the media.
President Alvaro Colom made a commitment on Monday "against hunger" - along with the Catholic and Protestant churches in the country, as well as about a dozen social organizations and the national ombudsman's office - to conduct a nutritional census in the affected zones.
The ombudsman, Sergio Morales, told reporters on Tuesday that the information collected in the census would help authorities locate the places where emergency aid is required. "The most affected children will be immediately transported to health centers to receive care," Morales said.
Since last week, Sesan has been distributing baskets of basic foods to the most affected communities and Colom announced on Sunday that over the remainder of this year the aid program will be extended to some 100,000 families nationwide.
The World Food Program has already donated to the government some 100 tons of corn and soy flour, 70 tons of beans and 30 tons of corn to help the families that have lost their harvests to the drought.
Fifty-two percent of Guatemala's more than 13.3 million people live below the poverty line and 16 percent are classified as indigent.
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