JFP News 10/27: Top US Official Resigns in Protest Over Afghanistan
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October 27, 2009
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1) A top U.S. official in Afghanistan has resigned in protest of the war, the Washington Post reports. "I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States' presence in Afghanistan," Matthew Hoh said in his letter of resignation. Many Afghans, he wrote, are fighting the US largely because its troops are there - a growing military presence in villages and valleys where outsiders, including other Afghans, are not welcome and where the corrupt, U.S.-backed national government is rejected. While the Taliban is a malign presence, and Pakistan-based al-Qaeda needs to be confronted, he said, the US is asking its troops to die in Afghanistan for what is essentially a far-off civil war. Hoh said he decided to speak out because "I want people in Iowa, people in Arkansas, people in Arizona, to call their congressman and say, 'Listen, I don't think this is right.'" [You can do that here.]
2) Senior Obama administration officials plan to travel to Honduras this week in an effort to resolve the political crisis, the New York Times reports. This will be the first time since the coup that the Obama administration has taken a leading role in pressuring the leaders of the de facto government to restore democratic order. Most Latin American countries have said that they would not recognize elections next month unless President Zelaya is first restored to power. The coup in Honduras has threatened to become a sore point between the Obama administration and Latin America, where an increasing number of leaders have accused the US of failing to put sufficient pressure on the de facto government to force it to compromise and stop its repression of journalists, human rights activists and pro-Zelaya demonstrators, the NYT says. Senator Kerry, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, has called on the administration to stand firm in condemning the coup.
3) Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of the Iranian Parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, said that even if the country agreed to a plan to ship its enriched uranium abroad for further processing, it would not send it all at once, the New York Times reports. But the French government, a party to the deal, say the uranium must be shipped out all at once before the end of the year. Iran has said it will formally respond to the plan by Friday. Analysts said Boroujerdi's comments might be a trial balloon to discern Western responses to possible changes to the plan. Some Iranian officials appear to fear that the proposed deal could be a trap and that the fuel might not be returned.
4) U.S. troops who die in Afghanistan are twice as likely to be killed in helicopter crashes as are their counterparts in Iraq, Time Magazine reports. And a key reason for that discrepancy is that the Taliban's growing footprint has forced the U.S. to be far more reliant on moving troops and supplies by air.
5) Eight Americans died in combat in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday, bringing October's total to 53 and making it the deadliest month for Americans in the eight-year war, the New York Times reports. The US has been increasing the number of soldiers and marines in Afghanistan and many have gone into some of the toughest areas of the country.
6) Amnesty International says Israel is denying Palestinians access to even the basic minimum of clean, safe water, the BBC reports. AI says Israeli water restrictions discriminate against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, and that in Gaza, Israel's blockade has pushed the already ailing water and sewage system to "crisis point." Amnesty says that on average Palestinian daily water consumption reaches 70 litres a day, compared with 300 litres for the Israelis. It says that some Palestinians barely get 20 litres a day - the minimum recommended even in humanitarian emergencies.
7) Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan began a visit to Iran with criticism of Western pressure on Iran over its nuclear program and promises to double trade with Iran by 2011, the Washington Times reports.
8) Iraq's political parties failed to agree on election laws on Tuesday, despite a proposed deal put together by the nation's top political figures the day before, the New York Times reports. Elections can still be held on time in January if the parties agree on terms this week, a UN official said. Party members said there was broad general agreement on allowing people to vote for individual candidates, rather than lists. But the parties remained divided on laws governing elections in Kirkuk.
1) U.S. official resigns over Afghan war
Foreign Service officer and former Marine captain says he no longer knows why his nation is fighting
Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, Tuesday, October 27, 2009
[Text of Hoh's 4-page letter of resignation, a devastating critique of the war:
When Matthew Hoh joined the Foreign Service early this year, he was exactly the kind of smart civil-military hybrid the administration was looking for to help expand its development efforts in Afghanistan.
A former Marine Corps captain with combat experience in Iraq, Hoh had also served in uniform at the Pentagon, and as a civilian in Iraq and at the State Department. By July, he was the senior U.S. civilian in Zabul province, a Taliban hotbed.
But last month, in a move that has sent ripples all the way to the White House, Hoh, 36, became the first U.S. official known to resign in protest over the Afghan war, which he had come to believe simply fueled the insurgency.
"I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States' presence in Afghanistan," he wrote Sept. 10 in a four-page letter to the department's head of personnel. "I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end."
The reaction to Hoh's letter was immediate. Senior U.S. officials, concerned that they would lose an outstanding officer and perhaps gain a prominent critic, appealed to him to stay.
U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry brought him to Kabul and offered him a job on his senior embassy staff. Hoh declined. From there, he was flown home for a face-to-face meeting with Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
While he did not share Hoh's view that the war "wasn't worth the fight," Holbrooke said, "I agreed with much of his analysis." He asked Hoh to join his team in Washington, saying that "if he really wanted to affect policy and help reduce the cost of the war on lives and treasure," why not be "inside the building, rather than outside, where you can get a lot of attention but you won't have the same political impact?"
Hoh accepted the argument and the job, but changed his mind a week later. "I recognize the career implications, but it wasn't the right thing to do," he said in an interview Friday, two days after his resignation became final.
"I'm not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love," Hoh said. Although he said his time in Zabul was the "second-best job I've ever had," his dominant experience is from the Marines, where many of his closest friends still serve. "There are plenty of dudes who need to be killed," he said of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. "I was never more happy than when our Iraq team whacked a bunch of guys."
But many Afghans, he wrote in his resignation letter, are fighting the United States largely because its troops are there - a growing military presence in villages and valleys where outsiders, including other Afghans, are not welcome and where the corrupt, U.S.-backed national government is rejected. While the Taliban is a malign presence, and Pakistan-based al-Qaeda needs to be confronted, he said, the United States is asking its troops to die in Afghanistan for what is essentially a far-off civil war.
As the White House deliberates over whether to deploy more troops, Hoh said he decided to speak out publicly because "I want people in Iowa, people in Arkansas, people in Arizona, to call their congressman and say, 'Listen, I don't think this is right.' "
The border picture was taken in early summer, after he arrived in Zabul following two months in a civilian staff job at the military brigade headquarters in Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan. It was in Jalalabad that his doubts started to form.
Hoh was assigned to research the response to a question asked by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during an April visit. Mullen wanted to know why the U.S. military had been operating for years in the Korengal Valley, an isolated spot near Afghanistan's eastern border with Pakistan where a number of Americans had been killed. Hoh concluded that there was no good reason. The people of Korengal didn't want them; the insurgency appeared to have arrived in strength only after the Americans did, and the battle between the two forces had achieved only a bloody stalemate.
Korengal and other areas, he said, taught him "how localized the insurgency was. I didn't realize that a group in this valley here has no connection with an insurgent group two kilometers away." Hundreds, maybe thousands, of groups across Afghanistan, he decided, had few ideological ties to the Taliban but took its money to fight the foreign intruders and maintain their own local power bases.
"That's really what kind of shook me," he said. "I thought it was more nationalistic. But it's localism. I would call it valley-ism."
By the time Hoh arrived at the U.S. military-run provincial reconstruction team (PRT) in the Zabul capital of Qalat, he said, "I already had a lot of frustration. But I knew at that point, the new administration was . . . going to do things differently. So I thought I'd give it another chance." He read all the books he could get his hands on, from ancient Afghan history, to the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, through Taliban rule in the 1990s and the eight years of U.S. military involvement.
In accordance with administration policy of decentralizing power in Afghanistan, Hoh worked to increase the political capabilities and clout of Naseri, the provincial governor, and other local officials. "Materially, I don't think we accomplished much," he said in retrospect, but "I think I did represent our government well."
Naseri told him that at least 190 local insurgent groups were fighting in the largely rural province, Hoh said. "It was probably exaggerated," he said, "but the truth is that the majority" are residents with "loyalties to their families, villages, valleys and to their financial supporters."
Hoh's doubts increased with Afghanistan's Aug. 20 presidential election, marked by low turnout and widespread fraud. He concluded, he said in his resignation letter, that the war "has violently and savagely pitted the urban, secular, educated and modern of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate and traditional. It is this latter group that composes and supports the Pashtun insurgency."
With "multiple, seemingly infinite, local groups," he wrote, the insurgency "is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies. The U.S. and Nato presence in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and police units that are led and composed of non-Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified."
American families, he said at the end of the letter, "must be reassured their dead have sacrificed for a purpose worthy of futures lost, love vanished, and promised dreams unkept. I have lost confidence such assurances can be made any more."
This week, Hoh is scheduled to meet with Vice President Biden's foreign policy adviser, Antony Blinken, at Blinken's invitation.
If the United States is to remain in Afghanistan, Hoh said, he would advise a reduction in combat forces.
He also would suggest providing more support for Pakistan, better U.S. communication and propaganda skills to match those of al-Qaeda, and more pressure on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to clean up government corruption - all options being discussed in White House deliberations.
"We want to have some kind of governance there, and we have some obligation for it not to be a bloodbath," Hoh said. "But you have to draw the line somewhere, and say this is their problem to solve."
2) U.S. Sending Envoys to Try to End Crisis in Honduras
Ginger Thompson, New York Times, October 27, 2009
Washington - Senior Obama administration officials are scheduled to travel to Honduras this week in an effort to resolve a political crisis that began nearly four months ago when soldiers detained President Manuel Zelaya and forced him into exile.
This will be the first time since the coup that the Obama administration has taken a leading role in pressuring the leaders of the de facto government to restore democratic order in Honduras. The stepped-up pressure comes after months of apparently fruitless talks about whether Zelaya will be returned to power.
The new effort began on Friday, officials said, when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made calls to both Zelaya and the head of the de facto government, Roberto Micheletti.
In those calls, officials said, Clinton told the two leaders that there was "increasing frustration" in the United States and Latin America over the deteriorating situation in Honduras, the hemisphere's third-poorest country. She reserved her toughest comments for Micheletti, officials said, because the United States believes he has been "the most difficult."
"During the call, he spent a lot of time talking about the past," a State Department official said. "She wanted to talk about the future."
Among other things, Micheletti has refused to accept any political deal that would allow Zelaya to return to power. He has demanded that the international community declare Zelaya's ouster a legal transition of power. And, with the help of lobbyists in Washington, he has tried to pressure the United States to agree to recognize the outcome of presidential elections scheduled for next month.
Most Latin American countries have said that they would not recognize the elections unless Zelaya, who is holed up in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, is first restored to power. The United States has threatened to do the same.
A senior administration official said Clinton spoke to Micheletti on Friday for more than half an hour. "The purpose was to remind him there were two pathways to the elections," the official said, "one where Honduras goes by itself and the other where it goes with broad support from the international community."
The coup in Honduras has threatened to become a sore point between the Obama administration and the rest of Latin America, where an increasing number of leaders have accused the United States of failing to put sufficient pressure on the de facto government to force it to compromise and stop its repression of journalists, human rights activists and pro-Zelaya demonstrators.
Meanwhile, Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has called on the administration to stand firm in condemning the coup. Frederick Jones, a spokesman for Kerry, said Monday, "It should be perfectly clear to Micheletti that the coup, and his martial provisions to shut down media outlets, harass and arrest politicians, and influence the elections are unacceptable, and will not succeed."
3) Iran Hints at Changes to Uranium Plan Backed by U.N.
Robert F. Worth, New York Times, October 28, 2009
Beirut, Lebanon - A high-ranking Iranian official said that even if the country agreed to a United Nations-sponsored plan to ship its enriched uranium abroad for further processing, it would not send it all at once, Iranian news media reported Tuesday.
But the French government, a party to the deal, has made clear that the uranium must be shipped out all at once before the end of the year.
Iran has said it will formally respond to the plan by Friday. The proposal is intended to delay the country's ability to produce a nuclear weapon for about a year and buy time for a broader diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear standoff.
On Tuesday, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of the Parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, said that if Iran agreed to ship its uranium out, "this must not happen in one go" and that the fuel would have to be shipped in installments, according to the Iranian Students News Agency.
Boroujerdi also said "our basic opinion" is that Iran preferred to purchase processed nuclear fuel rather than ship its uranium abroad for processing. Other officials have made similar comments, and the Iranian reaction so far appears to reflect complex internal politics rather than any clear indication of what the decision will be.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has final authority on state matters, and he often allows various high-ranking officials to express their views before making a decision.
Analysts said Boroujerdi's comments might be a trial balloon to discern Western responses to possible changes to the plan.
United Nations inspectors are now in Iran, visiting a uranium enrichment site near the holy city of Qum whose existence was a state secret until September.
Some Iranian officials appear to fear that the proposed deal could be a trap and that the fuel might not be returned. The idea of shipping it in installments might be meant to alleviate that fear.
4) Why Flying Choppers In Afghanistan Is So Deadly
Mark Thompson, Time Magazine, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009
Washington - The 14 Americans who died in Afghanistan on Monday were a reminder that U.S. troops who die in Afghanistan are twice as likely to be killed in helicopter crashes as are their counterparts in Iraq. And the reasons for that discrepancy are not to be found in the country's skies, but on the ground - the Taliban's growing footprint has forced the U.S. to be far more reliant on moving troops and supplies by air. And the rugged terrain often makes helicopters the only option, even as the altitudes involved greatly increase the risks.
Afghanistan's few roads are now increasingly monitored - and mined - by insurgents, meaning that many of the 180 U.S. outposts spread across the country can now only be reached by helicopters. "We don't have freedom of movement on the ground," a senior Army logistics officer says. "We're resupplying between 30% and 40% of our forward operating bases by air because we just can't get to them on the ground."
That forces the U.S. military to rely on helicopters, not only to reach remote outposts, but also to carry out dangerous combat missions that thinly spread troops couldn't do without the helicopter's ability to hopscotch hundreds of miles. It was precisely such an antidrug mission that a twin-rotor Army MH-47 Chinook was flying when it went down in western Afghanistan, killing 10 Americans including three civilians with the Drug Enforcement Administration. Earlier in the day, a Marine UH-1 Huey troop helicopter collided in midair with an A-1 Cobra helicopter gunship over southern Helmand province, killing four. U.S. officials said they don't believe hostile fire caused either crash. The death toll could rise because some of the 28 people left injured by the crashes are in critical condition.
"Helicopters are not shot down in battle very much in either place [Iraq or Afghanistan]," says Brookings Institution defense analyst Michael O'Hanlon. He and his colleagues are keeping running tallies of U.S. fatalities in both theaters. While 5% of U.S. deaths in Iraq have been caused by helicopter crashes - 216 out of 4,348 - the total is 12% in Afghanistan - 101 of 866 - even before Monday's losses.
Helicopters are swift but delicate machines. The physics of flight make them inherently [more] unstable, and therefore less reliable, than fixed-wing aircraft which generate their lift from stationary wings instead of egg-beater-like rotor blades. More critically, chopper pilots are commonly expected to fly in hot weather at high altitudes, where less-dense air offers them less control over their aircraft.
5) In Deadliest Month, 53 U.S. Troops Die in Afghanistan
Alissa J. Rubin, New York Times, October 28, 2009
Kabul - Eight Americans died in combat in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday, bringing October's total to 53 and making it the deadliest month for Americans in the eight-year war. September and October were both deadlier months overall for NATO troops.
The troops, along with an Afghan civilian accompanying them, were killed in several attacks involving "multiple, complex" improvised bombs, according to a statement from the NATO-led coalition.
A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, said that Taliban in Zabul Province were responsible. He said they had blown up two armored vehicles carrying the troops. He also said that the Taliban had engaged in a fierce firefight lasting more than a half-hour with Afghan police in Zabul and killed eight officers. His report could not be verified because the American military is with-holding additional information until the families of the dead had been notified.
The October toll of 53 American soldiers killed exceeds that of August, when 51 died, according to icasualties.org, a Web site that tracks military losses in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The United States has been increasing the number of soldiers and marines in Afghanistan and many have gone into some of the toughest areas of the country. Southern Afghanistan has been the most contested ground with both locally-based insurgents and fighters that cross the border from Pakistan.
6) Report: Palestinians denied water
BBC, Tuesday, 27 October 2009
Israel is denying Palestinians access to even the basic minimum of clean, safe water, Amnesty International says. In a report, the human rights group says Israeli water restrictions discriminate against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
It says that in Gaza, Israel's blockade has pushed the already ailing water and sewage system to "crisis point". Israel says the report is flawed and the Palestinians get more water than was agreed under the 1990s peace deal.
In the 112-page report, Amnesty says that on average Palestinian daily water consumption reaches 70 litres a day, compared with 300 litres for the Israelis. It says that some Palestinians barely get 20 litres a day - the minimum recommended even in humanitarian emergencies.
While Israeli settlers in the West Bank enjoy lush gardens and swimming pools, Amnesty describes a series of Israeli measures it says are discriminating against Palestinians:
- Israel has "entirely appropriated the Palestinians' share of the Jordan river" and uses 80% of a key shared aquifer
- West Bank Palestinians are not allowed to drill wells without Israeli permits, which are "often impossible" to obtain
- Rainwater harvesting cisterns are "often destroyed by the Israeli army"
- Much of the land cut off by the West Bank barrier is land with good access to a major aquifer
- Israeli military operations have damaged Palestinian water infrastructure, including $6m worth during the Cast Lead operation in Gaza last winter
- The Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza has "exacerbated what was already a dire situation" by denying many building materials needed for water and sewage projects.
The report also noted that the Palestinian water authorities have been criticised for bad management, quoting one audit that described the sector as in "total chaos".
"Water is a basic need and a right, but for many Palestinians obtaining even poor-quality, subsistence-level quantities of water has become a luxury that they can barely afford," Amnesty's Donatella Rovera said. "Israel must end its discriminatory policies, immediately lift all the restrictions it imposes on Palestinians' access to water."
7) Erdogan Hits West Over Iran Nuke Pressure
Iason Athanasiadis, Washington Times, Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Istanbul - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan began a high-level visit to Iran on Monday with criticism of Western pressure on Iran over its nuclear program and promises to double trade with the Islamic republic by 2011.
The visit comes as the United States and its allies consider stronger sanctions if Iran does not accept a plan to send out much of its nuclear fuel and U.N. inspectors examine a uranium enrichment plant whose existence Iran hid until last month.
Besides potentially weakening Western leverage with Iran, the visit could further undermine Turkey's relations with Israel. Turkey recently canceled a NATO training exercise because Israel was supposed to participate. Erdogan has harshly criticized Israel's offensive last year in Gaza, and Turkish television has broadcast programs accusing Israel of committing atrocities against the Palestinians.
Erdogan's 200-strong delegation includes 18 members of parliament and Turkeys ministers of foreign affairs, foreign trade and energy and natural resources. It was a rare high-level visit by a NATO member to Iran, particularly in the aftermath of Iran's disputed presidential elections.
Erdogan has increasingly championed the interests of Turkey's Muslim neighbors while underscoring Turkey's diplomatic importance to the West. Specialists on Turkey said Erdogan wants to present Turkey as a Muslim mediator between Europe and the Middle East.
"Erdogan sees a huge opportunity," said Elaine Papoulias, director of the Kennedy Schools Kokkalis Program on Southeastern Europe at Harvard University. She noted that there is a greater possibility of Iranian reconciliation with the West and that Erdogan is "not afraid of doing bold things such as receiving Hamas leaders or going to Syria when people didnt think it was a great idea. A year later, [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi was in Syria."
Erdogan - like Ahmadinejad, a former mayor of his country's largest city - told reporters that he hopes to double annual bilateral trade from about $10 billion to "up to $20 billion by 2011."
While Italy and other European nations have cut back business to pressure Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program, Turkish construction, telecommunication and processed foods companies have major business in Iran, and Iran is Turkey's largest supplier of natural gas after Russia. Turkey signed a preliminary $3.5 billion deal last year that calls for Iranian gas to be exported to Europe through Turkey. Turkish firms are producing gas in Iran's South Pars field.
While in Iran, Erdogan is expected to see Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, a rare honor for a foreign head of state. Immediately after the trip, Erdogan heads to Washington for a Thursday meeting with President Obama.
8) Legislators in Iraq Block a Deal on Election Law
John Leland, New York Times, October 28, 2009
Baghdad - The country's political parties failed to agree on election laws on Tuesday, despite a proposed deal put together by the nation's top political figures the day before. The stalemate marked another blockage in negotiations that have dragged on for weeks, threatening national elections scheduled for January 16th.
The official deadline for passing an election law was October 15th. Elections can still be held on time if the parties agree on terms this week, but not much later, said Said Arikat, a spokesman for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, which proposed guidelines to break the logjam among the parties.
"This is really crunch time," Arikat said. "We have everything in place to conduct an election on time. With every passing day, it becomes more difficult." Any postponement in the elections carries the potential for slowing the withdrawal of American troops.
Legislators said they would continue to meet but that they were far from agreement. "Yes, we're closer than a week ago," said Osama Nujaifi, a parliament member from the Iraqiya bloc, who said he was confident that the elections would go forward as scheduled on Jan. 16.
Iraq's top political leaders, including Prime Minister Nuri Kamal Al-Maliki and President Jalal Talibani and their deputies, moved quickly Monday night to agree on a compromise in the wake of coordinated suicide bombings on government buildings that appeared intended to stall negotiations.
Dr. Abdul-Hadi al-Hassani, of the Shiite Dawa party, said the recent bombings had added urgency to the election discussions, encouraging the parties to cooperate. "It makes us see the enemy and all want to join together," he said.
Party members said there was broad general agreement on allowing people to vote for individual candidates, rather than lists. But the parties remained divided on laws governing elections in Kirkuk, an oil-rich province to the north of Baghdad that has long been a point of contention between Kurds and Arabs.
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