JFP 11/12: A Hundred Cities Against Escalation As the President Announces It
Just Foreign Policy News
November 12, 2009
A Hundred Cities Against Escalation As the President Announces It
Recent press speculation suggests at least even odds that sometime in November, President Obama will give a speech announcing that he intends to send tens of thousands of more U.S. troops to Afghanistan in 2010. If people in a hundred cities committed in advance to hold local demonstrations to get into the President's news cycle with the response that "escalation is not the answer" and publicized that commitment, would that affect the White House decision?
'Legitimacy' in Afghanistan?
For those who want to end the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, the question of legitimacy in Afghanistan that matters most is whether Afghans participating in and supporting insurgency can be persuaded that the Afghan government is legitimate. Political negotiations that result in an Afghan government more widely accepted by those now supporting insurgency is the development most likely to end the war and bring about the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
NoEscalation.org: Help Us Push and Track Congress on Afghanistan Escalation
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1) U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry has lobbied strongly against sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, the Washington Post reports. The ambassador has worried that sending tens of thousands of additional American troops would increase the Afghan government's dependence on U.S. support Eikenberry also has expressed frustration with the relative paucity of funds set aside for spending on development and reconstruction this year in Afghanistan. He asked for $2.5 billion in nonmilitary spending for 2010, a 60 percent increase over what Obama had requested from Congress, but the request has languished even as the administration has debated spending billions of dollars on new troops. Military planners put the additional annual cost of McChrystal's recommendation of 40,000 troops at $33 billion, although White House officials say the number is probably closer to $50 billion.
2) President Barack Obama rejected the Afghanistan war options before him and asked for revisions, AP reports. The president wants to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government, an official said. Obama is still expected to approve a substanial troop increase, AP says.
3) Ambassador Eikenberry has opposed sending additional troops to Afghanistan "without an exit strategy" and urged that the president to adopt a "purely civilian approach" with the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in the lead, not the military, Spencer Ackerman reports in the Washington Independent. Ackerman says that Obama has demanded three new options by Friday that would include timetables for withdrawal.
4) Honduran President Zelaya said Secretary of State Clinton had assured him as recently as last week that the U.S. government was seeking his return to the presidency, the Washington Post reports. But he said that U.S. pressure had eased in recent days. Key American lawmakers were startled by remarks by Assistant Secretary of State Shannon last week that the U.S. government would recognize the election results irrespective of whether the ousted Honduran president was returned to office promptly, the Post says.
5) US military officials in Kabul estimate that a minimum of 10 percent of the Pentagon's logistics contracts in Afghanistan- hundreds of millions of dollars - consists of protection payments to insurgents, The Nation reports. The heart of the matter is that insurgents are getting paid for safe passage because there are few other ways to bring goods to the combat outposts and forward operating bases where soldiers need them, The Nation says. Security firms don't really protect convoys of American military goods in southern Afghanistan, because they simply can't; they need the Taliban's cooperation. "Most escorting is done by the Taliban," an Afghan private security official said.
6) Former US Ambassador Peter Galbraith stands to earn perhaps a hundred million dollars in oil wealth as a result of provisions in the Iraqi constitution he helped negotiate as an advisor to the Kurds, when he had an economic interest in those provisions, the New York Times reports. At the same time he was writing op-eds for the New York Times and the New York Review of Books advocating Iraqi federalism, in which he had an economic interest that was not disclosed to readers.
7) Over 240 academics and experts on Latin America sent a letter to President Obama yesterday urging him to to demand the immediate restitution of Honduran President Zelaya, according to a press release published by Common Dreams. The letter notes that last Thursday, the Rio Group, which includes all of Latin America and most of the Caribbean, issued a statement declaring that they would consider the November 29 elections to be illegitimate if Zelaya is not first reinstated.
8) Since 2003, about two-thirds of the nearly $30 billion in international aid to Afghanistan has been routed through foreign consultants, companies, and organizations hired by the US government, the Boston Globe reports. Afghan officials complain the Americans are often overpaid, underqualified, and unfamiliar with the culture of the country. The US practice of hiring its own as consultants risks undercutting the message that Afghan president Karzai must root out corruption, some say, because many Afghans view it as cronyism. A typical US adviser earns about $500 per day - several times what the average Afghan earns in a month. The US has donated $30 million to a program which allows Afghan officials to hire advisers of their own choosing, at cheaper rates, from fellow Muslim countries. But that contribution represents just a fraction of the $2.7 billion that the Obama administration expects to spend on economic assistance to Afghanistan next year, the vast majority of which will be used to hire US contractors.
9) Three engineers working with USAID in Afghanistan have resigned because of threats against them and their families, the Washington Post reports. Defense Department officials said one reason for the higher number of attacks on aid projects is expanded U.S. and coalition military operations.
10) A senior Iraqi official said he had ordered an investigation into whether top officials of Blackwater approved of bribes to Iraqi government officials, the New York Times reports.
11) Some Okinawans are impatient with the new Japanese government's failure to follow through on promises to move a U.S. base off the island, the New York Times reports. US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma has occupied the center of Ginowan, a city of 92,000, since it was built on land seized in World War II. Okinawa hosts about two-thirds of the 37,000 shore-based US military personnel in Japan. Anger is high at the Obama administration after Secretary of Defense Gates warned that any changes to a deal to relocate the base on Okinawa might undo an agreement with Washington to move about 8,000 Marines to Guam; he was criticized in the Japanese news media as a bully.
12) Iran has effectively stopped expanding active uranium enrichment since September, Reuters reports. Although Iran's stock of low-enriched uranium has probably risen since U.N. inspections in August, its centrifuge machines are working at half their capacity. Analysts attributed this to a variety of possible reasons, including technical glitches and politically motivated restraint by Iran, to avoid closing the door to diplomacy with world powers
1) U.S. envoy resists increase in troops
Concerns Voiced About Karzai
Cables sent as Obama weighs deployment options
Greg Jaffe, Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, November 12, 2009
The U.S. ambassador in Kabul sent two classified cables to Washington in the past week expressing deep concerns about sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan until President Hamid Karzai's government demonstrates that it is willing to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that has fueled the Taliban's rise, senior U.S. officials said.
Karl W. Eikenberry's memos, sent as President Obama enters the final stages of his deliberations over a new Afghanistan strategy, illustrated both the difficulty of the decision and the deepening divisions within the administration's national security team. After a top-level meeting on the issue Wednesday afternoon - Obama's eighth since early last month - the White House issued a statement that appeared to reflect Eikenberry's concerns.
"The President believes that we need to make clear to the Afghan government that our commitment is not open-ended," the statement said. "After years of substantial investments by the American people, governance in Afghanistan must improve in a reasonable period of time."
On the eve of his nine-day trip to Asia, Obama was given a series of options laid out by military planners with differing numbers of new U.S. deployments, ranging from 10,000 to 40,000 troops. None of the scenarios calls for scaling back the U.S. presence in Afghanistan or delaying the dispatch of additional troops.
Eikenberry also has expressed frustration with the relative paucity of funds set aside for spending on development and reconstruction this year in Afghanistan, a country wrecked by three decades of war. Earlier this summer, he asked for $2.5 billion in nonmilitary spending for 2010, a 60 percent increase over what Obama had requested from Congress, but the request has languished even as the administration has debated spending billions of dollars on new troops.
The ambassador also has worried that sending tens of thousands of additional American troops would increase the Afghan government's dependence on U.S. support at a time when its own security forces should be taking on more responsibility for fighting. Before serving as the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Eikenberry was in charge of the Afghan army training program.
Each of the four options that were presented to Obama on Wednesday were accompanied by troop figures and the estimated annual costs of the additional deployments, roughly calculated as $1 billion per thousand troops. All would draw the United States deeper into the war at a time of economic hardship and rising fiscal concerns at home.
The most ambitious option Obama received Wednesday calls for 40,000 additional U.S. troops, as outlined by McChrystal in his stark assessment of the war filed in late August.
Military planners put the additional annual cost of McChrystal's recommendation at $33 billion, although White House officials say the number is probably closer to $50 billion. The extra troops would allow U.S. forces to attempt to take back and hold several Taliban havens in the southern and eastern regions of Afghanistan.
2) Obama said to want revised Afghanistan options
Ben Feller and Anne Gearan, Associated Press, Thu Nov 12, 12:26 pm ET http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20091112/ap_on_go_pr_wh/us_us_afghanistan
Washington - President Barack Obama rejected the Afghanistan war options before him and asked for revisions, his defense secretary said Thursday, after the U.S. ambassador in Kabul argued that a significant U.S. troop increase would only prop up a weak, corruption-tainted government.
At the war council meeting, Obama asked for changes in the four options he was given that could alter the dynamic of both how many additional troops are sent to Afghanistan and their timeline in the war zone.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the discussion turned on "how can we combine some of the best features of several of the options to maximum good effect." He added: "There is a little more work to do. I do think that we're getting toward the end of this process."
One issue in the discussions, Gates said, has been "How do we signal resolve and at the same time signal to the Afghans and the American people that this isn't an open-ended commitment."
The president wants to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government, said another official, who spoke on condition of anonymity discuss administration deliberations.
Obama is still expected to send in more troops to bolster a deteriorating war effort.
He remains close to announcing his revamped war strategy - troops are just one component - and probably will do so shortly after he returns from a trip to Asia that ends Nov. 19.
Yet in Wednesday's pivotal war council meeting, Obama wasn't satisfied with any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national security team, one official said.
Military officials said Obama has asked for a rewrite before and resisted what one official called a one-way highway toward commander McChrystal's recommendations for more troops. The sense that he was being rushed and railroaded has stiffened Obama's resolve to seek information and options beyond military planning, officials said, though a substantial troop increase is still likely.
3) Inside This Morning's White House Afghanistan Meeting: Anger With Eikenberry, 'Beef' With McChrystal
Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent, 11/12/09 10:06 AM http://washingtonindependent.com/67521/inside-this-mornings-white-house-afghanistan-meeting-anger-with-eikenberry-beef-with-mcchrystal
It was a tense meeting this morning at the White House, as Ambassador Karl Eikenberry addressed the National Security Council by teleconference from Kabul just hours after the media got hold of his dissent on the crucial question of sending more troops to Afghanistan. "He is very unpopular here," said a National Security Council staffer who described the meeting.
But Eikenberry - who also briefed the White House by teleconference yesterday - reiterated his concerns. The ambassador told the NSC not to send additional troops to Afghanistan "without an exit strategy" and urged that the president to adopt a "purely civilian approach" with the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in the lead, not the military.
Eikenberry's contribution to the NSC meeting ended at about 9:30 a.m., although the discussion is apparently continuing. "They are pulling together the alternatives [Obama] requested" on refining options for resourcing the war, the NSC staffer continued. "They have until Friday to give him three new ones with withdrawal timetables."
4) Honduras Accord Is on Verge of Collapse
Ousted president says U.S. lacks commitment to reinstatement
Mary Beth Sheridan, Washington Post, Thursday, November 12, 2009 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/11/AR2009111126949.html
Less than two weeks after U.S. diplomats announced a historic agreement to reverse a coup in Honduras, the accord is in danger of collapse and both Honduran officials and U.S. lawmakers are blaming American missteps for some of the failure.
Ousted president Manuel Zelaya, who was expelled by the military in June, said in a telephone interview that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had assured him as recently as last week that the U.S. government was seeking his return to the presidency. But he said that U.S. pressure had eased in recent days and that he no longer had faith in the agreement.
José Miguel Insulza, the head of the Organization of American States, which is helping implement the accord, said that negotiations between Zelaya and the de facto government had fallen apart and that he would not send a mission to Honduras to observe presidential elections at the end of the month. That added to the possibility that the previously scheduled elections will not be internationally recognized - and that Honduras's five-month-old crisis will continue.
The Obama administration has invested its credibility in the Oct. 30 accord, which was reached after Clinton dispatched a senior diplomatic team to bring the two sides together. But the agreement started to fray within days, with each side interpreting the vaguely worded document its own way. Key American lawmakers, and Zelaya's followers, were startled by remarks by Assistant Secretary of State Thomas A. Shannon Jr. last week that the U.S. government would recognize the election results irrespective of whether the ousted Honduran president was returned to office promptly.
"The State Department's abrupt change of policy towards Honduras last week - recognizing the elections scheduled for Nov. 29 even if the coup regime does not meet its commitments under the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord - caused the collapse of an accord it helped negotiate," said Frederick L. Jones, a spokesman for Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).
Zelaya said he was finished with the agreement. "Everything they do will be tricks," he said, referring to the de facto government led by Roberto Micheletti. He said U.S. guarantees had formed the underpinning for the agreement.
"Their priorities were my restitution. . . . This is a very dangerous change of foreign policy for the United States," he said.
Shannon's comments on the elections coincided with an announcement by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) that he would no longer block Shannon's nomination as ambassador to Brazil. DeMint said he made the decision after Shannon told him that the U.S. government would recognize the Nov. 29 Honduran election results whether or not Zelaya was back in the presidency.
5) How the US Funds the Taliban
Aram Roston, The Nation, November 11, 2009 [November 30, 2009 print edition.]
Welcome to the wartime contracting bazaar in Afghanistan. It is a virtual carnival of improbable characters and shady connections, with former CIA officials and ex-military officers joining hands with former Taliban and mujahedeen to collect US government funds in the name of the war effort.
In this grotesque carnival, the US military's contractors are forced to pay suspected insurgents to protect American supply routes. It is an accepted fact of the military logistics operation in Afghanistan that the US government funds the very forces American troops are fighting. And it is a deadly irony, because these funds add up to a huge amount of money for the Taliban. "It's a big part of their income," one of the top Afghan government security officials told The Nation in an interview. In fact, US military officials in Kabul estimate that a minimum of 10 percent of the Pentagon's logistics contracts-hundreds of millions of dollars-consists of payments to insurgents.
The real secret to trucking in Afghanistan is ensuring security on the perilous roads, controlled by warlords, tribal militias, insurgents and Taliban commanders. The American executive I talked to was fairly specific about it: "The Army is basically paying the Taliban not to shoot at them. It is Department of Defense money." That is something everyone seems to agree on.
Mike Hanna is the project manager for a trucking company called Afghan American Army Services. The company, which still operates in Afghanistan, had been trucking for the United States for years but lost out in the Host Nation Trucking contract that NCL won. Hanna explained the security realities quite simply: "You are paying the people in the local areas-some are warlords, some are politicians in the police force-to move your trucks through."
Hanna explained that the prices charged are different, depending on the route: "We're basically being extorted. Where you don't pay, you're going to get attacked. We just have our field guys go down there, and they pay off who they need to." Sometimes, he says, the extortion fee is high, and sometimes it is low. "Moving ten trucks, it is probably $800 per truck to move through an area. It's based on the number of trucks and what you're carrying. If you have fuel trucks, they are going to charge you more. If you have dry trucks, they're not going to charge you as much. If you are carrying MRAPs or Humvees, they are going to charge you more."
Hanna says it is just a necessary evil. "If you tell me not to pay these insurgents in this area, the chances of my trucks getting attacked increase exponentially."
But the heart of the matter is that insurgents are getting paid for safe passage because there are few other ways to bring goods to the combat outposts and forward operating bases where soldiers need them. By definition, many outposts are situated in hostile terrain, in the southern parts of Afghanistan. The security firms don't really protect convoys of American military goods here, because they simply can't; they need the Taliban's cooperation.
For the most part, the security firms do as they must to survive. A veteran American manager in Afghanistan who has worked there as both a soldier and a private security contractor in the field told me, "What we are doing is paying warlords associated with the Taliban, because none of our security elements is able to deal with the threat." He's an Army veteran with years of Special Forces experience, and he's not happy about what's being done. He says that at a minimum American military forces should try to learn more about who is getting paid off.
"Most escorting is done by the Taliban," an Afghan private security official told me. He's a Pashto and former mujahedeen commander who has his finger on the pulse of the military situation and the security industry. And he works with one of the trucking companies carrying US supplies. "Now the government is so weak," he added, "everyone is paying the Taliban."
To Afghan trucking officials, this is barely even something to worry about. One woman I met was an extraordinary entrepreneur who had built up a trucking business in this male-dominated field. She told me the security company she had hired dealt directly with Taliban leaders in the south. Paying the Taliban leaders meant they would send along an escort to ensure that no other insurgents would attack. In fact, she said, they just needed two armed Taliban vehicles. "Two Taliban is enough," she told me. "One in the front and one in the back." She shrugged. "You cannot work otherwise. Otherwise it is not possible."
6) U.S. Adviser to Kurds Stands to Reap Oil Profits
James Glanz and Walter Gibbs, New York Times, November 12, 2009
Oslo - Peter W. Galbraith, an influential former American ambassador, is a powerful voice on Iraq who helped shape the views of policy makers like Joseph R. Biden Jr. and John Kerry. In the summer of 2005, he was also an adviser to the Kurdish regional government as Iraq wrote its Constitution - tough and sensitive talks not least because of issues like how Iraq would divide its vast oil wealth.
Now Mr. Galbraith, 58, son of the renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith, stands to earn perhaps a hundred million or more dollars as a result of his closeness to the Kurds, his relations with a Norwegian oil company and constitutional provisions he helped the Kurds extract.
In the constitutional negotiations, he helped the Kurds ram through provisions that gave their region - rather than the central Baghdad government - sole authority over many of their internal affairs, including clauses that he maintains will give the Kurds virtually complete control over all new oil finds on their territory.
Mr. Galbraith, widely viewed in Washington as a smart and bold foreign policy expert, has always described himself as an unpaid adviser to the Kurds, although he has spoken in general terms about having business interests in Kurdistan, as the north of Iraq is known.
So it came as a shock to many last month when a group of Norwegian investigative journalists at the newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv began publishing documents linking Mr. Galbraith to a specific Norwegian oil company with major contracts in Iraq.
Interviews by The New York Times with more than a dozen current and former government and business officials in Norway, France, Iraq, the United States and elsewhere, along with legal records and other documents, reveal in considerable detail that he received rights to an enormous stake in at least one of Kurdistan's oil fields in the spring of 2004.
As the scope of Mr. Galbraith's financial interests in Kurdistan become clear, they have the potential to inflame some of Iraqis' deepest fears, including conspiracy theories that the true reason for the American invasion of their country was to take its oil. It may not help that outside Kurdistan, Mr. Galbraith's influential view that Iraq should be broken up along ethnic lines is considered offensive to many Iraqis' nationalism. Mr. Biden and Mr. Kerry, who have been influenced by Mr. Galbraith's thinking but do not advocate such a partitioning of the country, were not aware of Mr. Galbraith's oil dealings in Iraq, aides to both politicians say.
Some officials say that his financial ties could raise serious questions about the integrity of the constitutional negotiations themselves. "The idea that an oil company was participating in the drafting of the Iraqi Constitution leaves me speechless," said Feisal Amin al-Istrabadi, a principal drafter of the law that governed Iraq after the United States ceded control to an Iraqi government on June 28, 2004.
In effect, he said, the company "has a representative in the room, drafting."
Mr. Istrabadi, who was also the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations from 2004 to 2007, said the case was especially troubling given the influence of Mr. Galbraith's policy views. In his writings - some of them on the Op-Ed page of The Times and in the New York Review of Books - he is generally identified as a former ambassador or with some other generic description that gives no insight into his business interests in the area.
7) Honduran Elections: Over 240 Academics and Experts on Latin America Call on Obama to Denounce Human Rights Abuses by Honduran Dictatorship
Free and Fair Elections Are Possible Only After the Coup is Reversed, They Say
Press Release, Common Dreams, November 12, 2009
Claremont, Calif. - Over 240 academics and experts on Latin America sent a letter to President Obama yesterday urging him to denounce the ongoing human rights violations perpetrated by the coup regime in Honduras ahead of the planned November 29 elections. They also urged him to demand the immediate restitution of President Manuel Zelaya and to support a full three months of electoral campaigning after the coup has been overturned and "debating, organizing, and all other aspects of election campaigns can be conducted in an atmosphere that is free from fear; in which all views and parties are free to make their voices heard - not just those that are allowed under an illegal military occupation." This would mean that this month's elections - which Latin America and the European Union have said they will not recognize - would need to be rescheduled.
"With only days left before the scheduled November 29 elections, the U.S. government must make a choice," the letter states. "It can either side with democracy, along with every government in Latin America, or it can side with the coup regime, and further isolate the United States in the hemisphere."
Last Thursday, the Rio Group, which includes all of Latin America and most of the Caribbean, issued a statement declaring that they would consider the November 29 elections to be illegitimate if Zelaya is not first reinstated.
8) Afghanistan wary of US plan to send more advisers
Farah Stockman, Boston Globe, November 12, 2009
Since 2003, about two-thirds of the nearly $30 billion in international aid to Afghanistan has been routed through foreign consultants, companies, and organizations hired by the US government and its allies to help Afghan officials write laws, set up banks, and otherwise help run the country. The foreign advisers became so powerful and numerous that they constituted a de facto shadow government.
Now, the Obama administration plans to send hundreds more American advisers as part of a so-called civilian surge, increasingly seen in Washington as perhaps as important as the pending decision about whether to send more troops.
But Afghan officials have begun to push back, complaining the Americans are often overpaid, underqualified, and unfamiliar with the culture of the country. Even the best, most qualified advisers can sow mistrust because they answer to the US government or firms rather than to Afghan officials.
The American practice of hiring its own as consultants also risks undercutting the Obama administration's message that Afghan president Hamid Karzai must root out corruption, some analysts say, because many Afghans view it as cronyism.
"Whenever we raise the issue of corruption with Karzai, he flips it and says it is American contracting practices that are the true corruption in the country," said John Dempsey, a former adviser to the Afghan Ministry of Justice who now works for the United States Institute of Peace in Kabul. "He has a point to some degree. There has certainly been a lot of waste."
A typical US adviser earns about $500 per day - several times what the average Afghan earns in a month. Add on the costs of security, accommodations, and support, and the cost reaches about $2,000 per day, or $500,000 a year, usually paid to a US firm, according to Paul O'Brien, a vice president at Oxfam America, a Boston-based international relief organization that monitors aid effectiveness.
Last month the Afghan government announced a new program called the Civilian Technical Assistance Plan, which allows Afghan officials to hire advisers of their own choosing, at cheaper rates, from fellow Muslim countries such as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. The Obama administration has joined other donor countries in supporting the plan, donating $30 million to help finance it.
William Frej, the Afghanistan mission director for the US Agency for International Development, called the program "a major step forward for the Afghanistan government in determining its own development needs and priorities."
But that contribution represents just a fraction of the $2.7 billion that the Obama administration expects to spend on economic assistance to Afghanistan next year, the vast majority of which will be used to hire US contractors. US officials say that is, in part, due to concerns about corruption in the Afghan government.
But to Afghan officials, "it makes the corruption arguments sound a little bit funny," said O'Brien, who, while working for a Virginia-based consulting firm BearingPoint in 2007, served as an adviser to Afghanistan's then-finance minister Ashraf Ghani.
"They would say, 'At the same time we are paying out $2,000 a day to get a $450 adviser, we know we can get an Indian adviser for a fraction of that cost, who speaks the language, who has held a higher position in their government, who is much more able to move around,' " O'Brien said.
9) Aid Agency Cites Afghanistan Threats
Walter Pincus, Washington Post, Thursday, November 12, 2009
Three engineers working with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Afghanistan have resigned because of threats against them and their families, according to a new Governmental Accountability Office report on the worsening security environment in that country.
In a Sept. 29 letter to the GAO, Drew W. Luten, acting assistant administrator of USAID, described several other ways that security conditions are negatively affecting his agency's operations.
Luten said supplies to the $16 million Kajaki dam project in Helmand province must now be flown in "due to the deteriorating security situation." Attacks on construction workers building the road to the dam, designed to provide electricity for Kabul, caused that project to be abandoned after $5 million had been spent on it.
In addition, Luten noted that the decline in security in southern and eastern Afghanistan "significantly hindered or stopped in some areas" the monitoring of the delivery of health services.
The brief GAO report found that the situation in Afghanistan "continues to worsen as enemy-initiated attacks increase."
Defense Department officials, in comments attached to the report, said one reason for the higher number of attacks relates to expanded U.S. and coalition operations.
10) Charges Prompt Iraqis To Look Into Blackwater
James Risen, New York Times, November 12, 2009
Washington - A senior Iraqi official said Wednesday that he had ordered an investigation into whether top officials of Blackwater Worldwide approved of bribes to Iraqi government officials after shootings by Blackwater guards in 2007 left 17 Iraqi civilians dead.
In an interview with CNN, Iraq's interior minister, Jawad al-Bolani, said that his ministry was beginning an investigation that was prompted by a report in The New York Times on Tuesday that top Blackwater officials approved cash payments intended to silence criticism and win support for the company after the shootings in Nisour Square in Baghdad.
The Times article reported that former Blackwater executives who learned of the plans said they did not know whether the money was, in fact, delivered to Iraqi officials.
Mr. Bolani said he had asked the appropriate commanders to prepare a report about the accusations and to follow up on the matter, CNN reported.
11) Okinawans Grow Impatient With Dashed Hopes On U.S. Base
Martin Fackler, New York Times, November 12, 2009
Ginowan, Japan - Okinawans like Zenji Shimada, who have spent most of their lives under the thudding of helicopters from a busy American air base, are accustomed to disappointment. Decades of complaints about the base here and others on the island have gone largely unheeded, and a painstakingly negotiated plan to move the Marines from populated areas remains years from completion.
This summer was no different. Hopes stirred by the election of a new Democratic Party government were quickly dashed after members of the administration of the incoming prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, backed away from the party's pre-election promises to move the base off the island. "We feel like Mr. Hatoyama has been jerking us around," said Mr. Shimada, 69, a Protestant pastor who joined a lawsuit against the base.
When President Obama visits Tokyo on Friday as part of a weeklong tour of Asia, the base issue is perhaps the most prominent of several he will face as the countries' long-close relations enter a new period of uncertainty. While Mr. Hatoyama has affirmed that the military alliance with the United States remains the cornerstone of Japanese foreign policy, he has also called for ending Japan's "overdependence" on Washington and reorienting his nation toward a resurgent Asia.
As the two nations search for a new balance, the fate of the base, the sprawling United States Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, has taken on heightened significance. Futenma has occupied the center of Ginowan, a city of 92,000, since it was built on land seized in the closing days of World War II.
It was this base, with its busy runway lying adjacent to homes and a university and its flight paths running directly over crowded neighborhoods, that Washington initially agreed to move in 1996 after a public outcry over the rape of a 12-year-old schoolgirl by three American servicemen.
Washington wants to proceed with a 2006 agreement to move the Marines to a less heavily populated part of Okinawa by 2014. But Mr. Hatoyama's party is now backtracking, saying it may seek to renegotiate the deal. Mr. Hatoyama has postponed making a formal decision until after local Okinawan elections in January.
For many Okinawans, Futenma has become the most visible symbol of an unfair burden placed on the island, home to about two-thirds of the 37,000 shore-based United States military personnel in Japan. On Sunday, 21,000 protesters gathered in Ginowan to demand that Mr. Hatoyama fulfill his party's earlier promises to move the base off Okinawa.
Anger here also runs high at the Obama administration after Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates's visit to Tokyo in October to press for the existing deal for a move to Henoko. When Mr. Gates warned that any changes might undo a broader agreement with Washington to move about 8,000 Marines to Guam, he was criticized in the Japanese news media as a bully.
12) Diplomats Cite Pause In Uranium Activity
Reuters, Thursday, November 12, 2009
Iran has effectively stopped expanding active uranium enrichment since September while considering an offer by major powers to fuel an Iranian medical reactor if Tehran turns over enriched material seen as an atomic bomb risk, diplomats said Wednesday.
Although Iran's stock of low-enriched uranium has probably risen since U.N. inspections in August, its centrifuge machines are working at half their capacity, said a senior diplomat in Vienna, where the U.N. nuclear watchdog is based.
Analysts attributed this to a variety of possible reasons, including technical glitches and politically motivated restraint by Iran, to avoid closing the door to diplomacy with world powers and provoking harsher international sanctions over its nuclear program.
Precise figures will come next week in an IAEA report on its inspections in Iran, whose record of atomic secrecy has raised suspicions that it is illicitly pursuing nuclear weaponry and has drawn U.N. sanctions.
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