JFP News 9/16: Who's Afraid of A Terrorist Haven?
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September 16, 2009
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Paul Pillar: Afghanistan a "Terrorist Haven"? So What?
It's been a parameter of debate that the United States cannot allow Al Qaeda to re-establish a "terrorist haven" in Afghanistan. But in today's Washington Post, Paul Pillar challenges this assumption.
Al Jazeera video: UN inquiry finds Israel guilty of Gaza war crimes
Venezuela's "troubling" military spending?
Secretary of State Clinton has urged Venezuela to be "transparent" about its military spending. Borev.net publishes graphs that put this concern in context. Looking at military spending for 2007-8, among Brazil, Colombia, Chile, and Venezuela, Venezuela comes in last, both in absolute terms, and as a share of GDP.
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1) The existence of a "terrorist haven" in Afghanistan wouldn't affect the danger of terrorist attacks the U.S. nearly as much as the debate over the war seems to suppose, writes former counter-terrorism official Paul Pillar in the Washington Post. A convincing case about how such a haven would significantly increase the terrorist danger to the United States has not yet been made, Pillar says.
2) Senator Barbara Boxer said she would not support sending additional troops to Afghanistan, The Hill reports. "I won't support a request for more troops in Afghanistan," Boxer said. "I want to use the troops we have there now to train the Afghan security forces and go after al Qaeda."
3) Admiral Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee the Obama administration's strategy to counter Afghanistan militants probably means that more troops will be needed there, the Los Angeles Times reports. But Senator Levin, the committee chair, greeted the prospect of additional combat forces coolly. "Providing the resources needed for the Afghan army and Afghan police to become self-sufficient would demonstrate our commitment to the success of a mission that is in our national security interest, while avoiding the risks associated with a larger U.S. footprint," Levin said.
4) Secretary of State Clinton said the U.S. meeting with Iran Oct. 1 would fulfill President Obama's pledge to engage with Iran, the New York Times reports. A senior American official said the primary purpose of the meeting next month will be to determine whether Iran is serious about negotiating at all over its nuclear program.
5) The use of U.S. aid to purchase "hearts and minds" in Afghanistan is a weapon that is not working, argues Andrew Wilder in the Boston Globe. In many cases aid is contributing to conflict and instability. The main cause of insecurity identified by most Afghans interviewed by Wilson's team was not poverty, or a lack of reconstruction, or even the Taliban, but their highly corrupt and ineffective government. The Taliban exploits this sentiment, and seeks to legitimize its movement by promising better security, quick justice, and a less corrupt government, rather than more roads, schools, and clinics.
6) Spanish Foreign Minister Moratinos said Spain will prohibit the entry of members of the Honduran de facto regime who are preventing the restoration of constitutional order, EFE reports. Moratinos said the elections called for Nov. 29 in Honduras "will have no legitimacy" if they are not held within the framework of the return to constitutional order and the return of President Zelaya.
7) Costa Rican President Arias said he will meet Wednesday with at least four of the six candidates in the Nov. 29 election, including the top two contenders, in an effort to gain their support for restoring President Zelaya before the Nov. 29 ballot, AP reports. Arias said he will make clear the world will not recognize the outcome of the election unless Zelaya is reinstated before then. "The idea is to speak with them frankly," Arias said. "What good is there for a presidential hopeful in Honduras to win the elections if his future government will not be recognized by the international community and the sanctions will continue or even increase?"
8) The Taliban is composed of several layers, writes Tim McGirk in Time Magazine: a hard-core group of former Taliban commanders who operate out of sanctuaries in Pakistan and who maintain ties with Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency; bands linked to al-Qaeda whose ranks have swelled with non-Afghan fighters; and, a last group, probably the largest, made up of local tribesmen who have allied themselves loosely with the Taliban as a result of Karzai's often corrupt provincial officials pitting one tribe against another. In the Pashtun strongholds of Afghanistan, it is now perceived to be a good idea for a tribe to start siding with the Taliban. Elders who belong to once neutral tribes in Kandahar are now telling their youths to take up arms against the foreign invaders.
9) A UN-commissioned report says Israel targeted "the people of Gaza as a whole" in the military operation estimated to have killed more than 1,300 Palestinians at the beginning of this year, The Independent reports. A UN fact-finding mission led by South African former Supreme Court Judge Goldstone said Israel should face prosecution by the International Criminal Court unless it opened independent investigations of what the report said were repeated violations of international law, "possible war crimes and crimes against humanity" during the operation.
10) The Body Shop, the cosmetics giant which claims to source ingredients from companies that protect local farmers' rights, buys palm oil from an organization that pushed for the eviction of peasant families to develop a new plantation, The Observer reports. Daabon Organics, a Colombian firm that provides the British chain with 90% of its palm oil, was part of a consortium that asked the courts to remove farmers from a ranch north of Bogotá. Police in riot gear evicted the farmers. "The Body Shop should reconsider its decision to buy palm oil from Daabon in the light of this conflict," said the British charity Christian Aid, which is backing the farmers' legal action.
1) Who's Afraid of A Terrorist Haven?
Paul R. Pillar, Washington Post, Wednesday, September 16, 2009
[Pillar was deputy chief of the counterterrorist center at the CIA from 1997 to 1999. He is director of graduate studies at Georgetown University's Security Studies Program.]
Rationales for maintaining the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan are varied and complex, but they all center on one key tenet: that Afghanistan must not be allowed to again become a haven for terrorist groups, especially al-Qaeda. Debate about Afghanistan has raised reasons to question that tenet, one of which is that the top al-Qaeda leadership is not even in Afghanistan, having decamped to Pakistan years ago. Another is that terrorists intent on establishing a haven can choose among several unstable countries besides Afghanistan, and U.S. forces cannot secure them all.
The debate has largely overlooked a more basic question: How important to terrorist groups is any physical haven? More to the point: How much does a haven affect the danger of terrorist attacks against U.S. interests, especially the U.S. homeland? The answer to the second question is: not nearly as much as unstated assumptions underlying the current debate seem to suppose. When a group has a haven, it will use it for such purposes as basic training of recruits. But the operations most important to future terrorist attacks do not need such a home, and few recruits are required for even very deadly terrorism. Consider: The preparations most important to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks took place not in training camps in Afghanistan but, rather, in apartments in Germany, hotel rooms in Spain and flight schools in the United States.
The issue today does not concern what was worth disrupting eight years ago. And it is not whether a haven in Afghanistan would be of any use to a terrorist group - it would.
Instead, the issue is whether preventing such a haven would reduce the terrorist threat to the United States enough from what it otherwise would be to offset the required expenditure of blood and treasure and the barriers to success in Afghanistan, including an ineffective regime and sagging support from the population. Thwarting the creation of a physical haven also would have to offset any boost to anti-U.S. terrorism stemming from perceptions that the United States had become an occupier rather than a defender of Afghanistan.
The Obama administration and other participants in the debate about expanding the counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan can still avoid comparable error. But this would require not merely invoking Sept. 11 and taking for granted that a haven in Afghanistan would mean the difference between repeating and not repeating that horror. It would instead mean presenting a convincing case about how such a haven would significantly increase the terrorist danger to the United States. That case has not yet been made.
2) This time, Feingold is battling a Democrat in the White House
Alexander Bolton, The Hill, 09/15/09 06:00 AM ET
Sen. Russ Feingold has again staked out a lonely position on national security - but for the first time, he faces a fight with a Democratic president.
The Wisconsin senator is the only Democrat in the upper chamber to call on President Barack Obama to set a flexible timeline for withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan.
This time around, he may have some company sooner.
On Sunday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called for the American mission in Afghanistan to be "time-limited" and said the administration should tell Congress exactly when troops will return home. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) have signaled concerns that suggest they may join Feingold.
Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has questioned whether the military mission is accomplishing Obama's security goals and whether such a large military presence may be counterproductive, according to an aide.
After visiting the country, Brown said Afghanistan's fledgling government needs to show more signs of progress and has warned that U.S. military aid could be limited.
Casey, who also toured the combat zone during the August recess, says that the Afghan government has to take a larger role in providing security and warned the U.S. commitment will not be open-ended.
And Sanders, who caucuses with Democrats, now says that lawmakers need to begin a "real discussion" about an exit strategy for U.S. troops.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) told The Hill in a statement that she would not support sending additional troops. "I won't support a request for more troops in Afghanistan," Boxer said. "I want to use the troops we have there now to train the Afghan security forces and go after al Qaeda."
3) Joint Chiefs Chairman Mullen says more troops probably needed in Afghanistan
Addressing a Senate panel, Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen adds his voice to the chorus of top military officials favoring a larger U.S. force.
Julian E. Barnes, Los Angeles Times, September 16, 2009
Facing increasingly skeptical congressional Democrats, the nation's top uniformed officer said Tuesday that the Obama administration's strategy to counter Afghanistan militants probably means that more troops will be needed there.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the committee chairman, greeted the prospect of additional combat forces coolly. Levin has proposed sending more U.S. trainers, but believes the Pentagon should hold off sending combat troops until there are more Afghan forces in the field.
"Providing the resources needed for the Afghan army and Afghan police to become self-sufficient would demonstrate our commitment to the success of a mission that is in our national security interest, while avoiding the risks associated with a larger U.S. footprint," Levin said.
4) Clinton Lays Out Iran Requirements
Mark Landler, New York Times, September 16, 2009
Washington - When the United States sits down with Iran early next month for face-to-face talks, the Iranian nuclear program will be at the top of the American agenda, even though Iranian officials insist it is off the table, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday.
"Iran says it has a number of issues it wishes to discuss with us," Mrs. Clinton told reporters. "But what we are concerned about is discussing with them the questions surrounding their nuclear program and ambitions."
She said the meeting, to be held Oct. 1, would fulfill President Obama's pledge to engage with Iran. But she insisted that the United States would not be drawn into a lengthy and fruitless diplomatic dance with Iran, as some analysts have warned.
The timing of the meeting may deflect some pressure off Iran during the United Nations General Assembly session, which will bring Mr. Obama, Mr. Ahmadinejad and other world leaders to New York next week. American officials said they were ready to meet the Iranians as early as this week.
The United States has already offered Iran an arrangement known as "freeze for freeze," in which Iran would halt its production of nuclear fuels in return for the United Nations' halting new sanctions against it.
While that remains a viable option, a senior American official said, the primary purpose of the meeting next month will be to determine whether Iran is serious about negotiating at all over its nuclear program.
5) A 'Weapons System' Based On Wishful Thinking
Andrew Wilder, Boston Globe, September 16, 2009
[Wilder is a research director at the Feinstein International Center at Tufts.]
In April, the US Army published the "Commander's Guide to Money as a Weapons System," a handbook that provides guidance on how to use aid funding to win the support of the "indigenous population to facilitate defeating the insurgents." This summer the US government indicated that it plans to nearly double (to $1.2 billion) the main fund military commanders in Afghanistan use to support projects intended to "win hearts and minds."
This handbook and the surge of aid money illustrate the centrality of development assistance to the United States' counterinsurgency strategy. The underlying assumption is that aid projects, such as building schools, clinics, and roads, will win the hearts and minds of Afghans, give them more faith in their government, and turn them away from the Taliban. The logic sounds reasonable. But the problem is that there is little evidence to support it.
Some colleagues and I have spent the last year conducting more than 400 interviews in Afghanistan trying to understand the stabilization benefits of the billions of dollars worth of development aid that have been spent so far in Afghanistan. While many projects have clearly had important humanitarian and development benefits, we have found little evidence that aid projects are "winning hearts and minds," reducing conflict and violence, or having other significant counterinsurgency benefits.
In fact, our research shows just the opposite. Instead of winning hearts and minds, Afghan perceptions of aid and aid actors are overwhelmingly negative. And instead of contributing to stability, in many cases aid is contributing to conflict and instability. For example, we heard many reports of the Taliban being paid by donor-funded contractors to provide security (or not to create insecurity), especially for their road-building projects. In an ethnically and tribally divided society like Afghanistan, aid can also easily generate jealousy and ill will by inadvertently helping to consolidate the power of some tribes or factions at the expense of others - often pushing rival groups into the arms of the Taliban.
In the southern province of Urozgan, an Afghan government official said to me: "In this area the family and friends of Karzai get everything. All aid in these areas is to make them more powerful. They are corrupt and cruel people, but donors continue to support them."
The most destabilizing effect of aid, however, is its role in fueling massive corruption, which in turn is eroding the legitimacy of the government. Our research suggests that we have failed to win Afghan hearts and minds not because we have spent too little money, but because we have spent too much too quickly, often in insecure environments with extremely limited implementation and oversight capacity.
Significantly, the main cause of insecurity identified by most Afghans we interviewed was not poverty, or a lack of reconstruction, or even the Taliban, but their highly corrupt and ineffective government. In Paktia province, where the US-led Provincial Reconstruction Team has been funding aid projects since 2003, a tribal elder explained:
"Paktia has lots of problems, but the issue of lack of clinics, schools, and roads are not the problem. The main problem is we don't have a good government . . . Without a clean government, millions of dollars are stolen. If you increase the amount of money it will also be useless because the government will simply steal more. There's a growing distance between the people and the government and this is the main cause of the deteriorating security situation."
The Taliban exploits this sentiment, and seeks to legitimize its movement by promising better security, quick justice, and a less corrupt government, rather than more roads, schools, and clinics.
This is not to say that the United States and other donor countries should not fund development projects in Afghanistan. But foreign aid should focus on promoting humanitarian and development objectives, where there is evidence of positive impact, rather than on promoting counterinsurgency objectives, where there is not. Without compelling evidence to the contrary, the United States should stop wasting money on a "weapons system" that seems to be largely based on wishful thinking and the delusion that money can buy Afghan hearts and minds.
6) Members of Honduran De Facto Regime Barred from Spain
EFE, September 14, 2009
Brussels - Spain will prohibit the entry of members of the Honduran de facto regime who are preventing the restoration of constitutional order in that country, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said here Monday.
The European Union is scheduled on Tuesday to approve a statement regarding Honduras in which it will warn the de facto government in Tegucigalpa that it will prepare more restrictive measures if the political situation does not improve.
Moratinos said at a press conference that, once the decision is made, "Spain, starting tomorrow, will take measures to prevent the entry into the national territory of a significant number of figures" within the current Honduran regime.
Those officials, he said, are "the ones who continue blocking" the return of constitutional order and of President Mel Zelaya, ousted by the military on June 28.
Moratinos said that the elections called for Nov. 29 in Honduras, "will have no legitimacy" if they are not held within the framework of the return to constitutional order and the return of Zelaya, whose term ends in January.
In addition, Moratinos said that this is the stance of all Latin American countries and also of the U.S. administration, and thus "the European Union will maintain that same position."
7) Honduran presidential hopefuls to meet mediator
Marianela Jimenez, AP, September 15, 2009
San Jose, Costa Rica - The international community's chief mediator in the Honduran political crisis said Monday he will meet with the country's presidential candidates to emphasize that upcoming elections will not be recognized if held under the government installed by a coup.
Costa Rican President Oscar Arias said he will meet Wednesday with at least four of the six candidates, including the top two contenders, in an effort to gain their support for restoring ousted President Manuel Zelaya before the Nov. 29 ballot.
Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who has been leading U.S.-backed efforts to restore Zelaya, said he will make clear that the world will not recognize the outcome of the election unless Zelaya is reinstated before then. "The idea is to speak with them frankly," Arias said at a news conference in Costa Rica's capital, San Jose, where the meeting will take place. "What good is there for a presidential hopeful in Honduras to win the elections if his future government will not be recognized by the international community and the sanctions will continue or even increase?"
Arias said he hoped to persuade the candidates to back a compromise that he proposed weeks ago, which would return Zelaya to the presidency with limited powers until his constitutional term ends in January.
8) Why The Taliban Is Gaining Ground In Afghanistan
Tim McGirk, Time Magazine, Wednesday, Sep. 16, 2009
Kabul - The Taliban today in Afghanistan is a markedly different movement from that of those warriors whose one-eyed leader, Mullah Omar, riding on a motorcycle, escaped capture from American forces in Kandahar in December 2001. Mullah Omar is still their leader, even though, as a senior Afghan intelligence official told TIME, he is thought to be hiding across the border in Pakistan, moving between the towns of Quetta and Zob in the scorched Baluchistan desert. Nowadays, though, the Taliban encompasses a vast and disparate array of players. A look at who they are is key to understanding why they are gaining ground against 63,000 U.S. troops and their NATO partners after eight years of guerrilla war.
The Taliban is not monolithic. It is composed of several layers: a hard-core group of former Taliban commanders (including Mullah Omar) who operate out of sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan and who maintain ties with Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency (though Islamabad vehemently denies this); bands linked to al-Qaeda whose ranks have recently swelled with Arab, Chechen and Uzbek fighters operating in the craggy, northeastern ranges of Afghanistan; and, a last group, probably the largest, made up of local tribesmen who have allied themselves loosely with the Taliban as a result of President Hamid Karzai's often corrupt provincial officials pitting one tribe against another. Mullah Salam, a tribal elder from Helmand province, scene of heavy fighting between Taliban and NATO forces, told TIME why he switched to the Taliban: "Karzai's people made promises to me, and I in turn made them to my tribe, but these were never honored." This last segment of the Taliban is also made up of those seeking justice against NATO forces, a roster likely to grow after coalition jets killed over 30 villagers in Kunduz who were filling up fuel from hijacked NATO tankers.
After 30 years of war, Afghans have developed a sixth sense about survival: they can detect subtle shifts of power. Rarely do they have qualms about changing to the winning side, even in midconflict. In an essay on the Taliban for Foreign Affairs magazine, Afghanistan expert Michael Semple and MIT political scientist Fotini Christia write: "Changing sides, realigning, flipping - whatever you want to call it - is the Afghan way of war."
And right now, that Afghan sixth sense is telling them that the U.S. and the other Western nations are losing the heart for battle. In the Pashtun strongholds of Afghanistan, it is now perceived to be a good idea for a tribe to start siding with the Taliban, even though members of the tribe may not agree with their harsh medievalism. A critical mass is gathering, experts say. Elders who belong to once neutral tribes in Kandahar province are now telling their youths to take up arms against the foreign invaders, as their fathers did back in the 1980s against the Red Army. In Tahkt-e-Pul, on the edges of Kandahar city, an influential mullah recently refused to preside over the funeral of a dead Afghan government soldier, a local boy; meanwhile a Taliban, who died fighting the Americans or the British, was honored as a brave martyr.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani comrades of the Afghan Taliban are now locked in battle with the Pakistani army, and this has slowed the number of Pakistani volunteers infiltrating across the border to kill American soldiers. These frontier Pashtun tribesmen, who once provided the Afghans with a steady flow of weapons, young fighters and suicide bombers, are suddenly too pinned down to give anything but a trickle of support. Mullah Omar and the other members of the so-called Quetta Shura, or military council, have stayed on the sidelines for fear of losing their covert support from the Pakistani military and the ISI, who hate Karzai and his northern allies and want to see the Taliban back in power and the NATO forces gone from Afghanistan.
Says one top Afghan official: "We and the Americans gave the Pakistanis the addresses of madrasahs [religious schools] where the Taliban are training young recruits and suicide bombers, but the ISI refuses to act." Now that Pakistani authorities are finally realizing that support of an Islamist revival in Afghanistan comes with its own risks at home, that attitude may start to change. Only with the loss of his Pakistani sponsors can Mullah Omar and his Taliban be coaxed into striking a truce with Karzai.
9) UN says Israel should face war-crimes trial over Gaza
Report also censures Hamas but accuses Israelis of punishing entire population of the Palestinian Strip
Donald Macintyre, The Independent, Wednesday, 16 September 2009
Israel targeted "the people of Gaza as a whole" in the three-week military operation which is estimated to have killed more than 1,300 Palestinians at the beginning of this year, according to a UN-commissioned report published yesterday.
A UN fact-finding mission led by the Jewish South African former Supreme Court Judge Richard Goldstone said Israel should face prosecution by the International Criminal Court, unless it opened fully independent investigations of what the report said were repeated violations of international law, "possible war crimes and crimes against humanity" during the operation.
Using by far the strongest language of any of the numerous reports criticising Operation Cast Lead, the UN mission, which interviewed victims, witnesses and others in Gaza and Geneva this summer, says that while Israel had portrayed the war as self-defence in response to Hamas rocket attacks, it "considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: the people of Gaza as a whole".
"In this respect the operations were in furtherance of an overall policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population for its resilience and for its apparent support for Hamas, and possibly with the intent of forcing a change in such support," the report said. It added that some Israelis should carry "individual criminal responsibility."
10) Body Shop ethics under fire after Colombian peasant evictions
Critics hit out at the eco-friendly cosmetics firm after a supplier cleared Colombian ranch land to grow palm oil- and riot police were brought in to enforce the removal of farmers
Rajeev Syal, and Sybilla Brodzinsky, The Observer, Sunday 13 September 2009
The Body Shop, the cosmetics giant that claims to source ingredients from companies that protect local farmers' rights, buys palm oil from an organisation that pushed for the eviction of peasant families to develop a new plantation.
Daabon Organics, a Colombian firm that provides the British chain with 90% of all its palm oil, was part of a consortium that asked the courts to remove farmers from a sprawling ranch 320km north of the capital Bogotá with a plan to grow African palm. Police in riot gear evicted the farmers in July.
Now solicitors for 123 peasant farmers and their families are appealing against the decision with the backing of a British charity. They say that some locals had lived and worked on the land for more than 10 years and had already applied for the right to own it under Colombian law before the consortium bought it.
The disclosure will embarrass the Body Shop, which has claimed that it respects the rights of local farmers in developing countries and uses Daabon's oil to make the equivalent of 7.5 million bars of soap every year. It will also highlight the many battles between farmers and palm oil companies across the globe as the product becomes increasingly lucrative.
"The Body Shop should reconsider its decision to buy palm oil from Daabon in the light of this conflict," said Catherine Bouley of Christian Aid, which is backing the farmers' legal action. "The Colombian government would like to triple the area under palm cultivation, which will only exacerbate the problem of displacement." The dispute began in December 2006 when Daabon's subsidiary CI Tequendama and a partner company bought Las Pavas, a 1,100-hectare (2,700-acre) ranch in Southern Bolivar province. The consortium applied for an eviction order in January this year which was enforced in July.
Solicitors acting for the peasant farmers claim that the consortium should have been aware that the land had been home to families who had been cultivating crops including plantain, maize and squash for more than 10 years.
The peasants say they had previously been forced off the land in mid-2006 by paramilitary groups, but had moved back some six months later and made a legal submission to own it for good. Under Colombian law, ownership can be granted to farmers who have occupied abandoned land for more than three years.
Banessa Estrada, a solicitor for the peasants, said that the families had formed a co-operative and submitted an official claim on the land in mid-2006, several months before the consortium's purchase. "It was an illegal eviction because they did not take into account the claim of the land made by the peasants," she said.
A small group of farmers returned to the ranch last week for the first time since their eviction - with a reporter.
Misael Payares, leader of the peasants' association, pointed to a row of recently felled trees by the side of a new road. "This is what a supposedly ecologically friendly company is doing," he said.
Ader Rojas, who grew plantain on the ranch, said much of the plot had been churned up. The wooden shelter he built near the plot had been destroyed and a bog near his land had been drained. "This was all I had," he said.
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