JFP 3/15 - Biden: Israel's Policies Threatening US Troops
Just Foreign Policy News
March 15, 2010
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1) In January, Gen. Petraeus sent a team of officials to tell Admiral Mullen that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel and that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, Foreign Policy reports. This was reportedly the context in which Vice-President Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu: "This is starting to get dangerous for us…What you're doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan." Yedioth Ahronoth reported: "The vice president told his Israeli hosts that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel's actions and US policy, any decision about construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops fighting against Islamic terrorism."
2) The Obama administration is beginning to consider whether it has gained the upper hand sufficiently to justify an effort to begin talks with the Taliban, the New York Times reports. "It is now more a question of 'when' than a question of 'if,' " an administration official said, when asked about the idea of reconciliation talks with senior Taliban officials. But officials told the NYT that there are no plans for reaching out soon to high-ranking Taliban leaders. That effort, they said, is likely to wait until after the US takes on Taliban insurgents in Kandahar. [see Gareth Porter analysis, #6 below - JFP.]
3) Israel's Ministry of Justice said would "reexamine" its decision to close its inquiry into the shooting last year of American peace activist Tristan Anderson after Anderson's parents filed an appeal against the decision to close the case, Jewish Voice for Peace reports. "Tristan's case is actually not rare; it represents hundreds of other cases of Palestinian victims whose investigations have also failed," said the Anderson's attorney, Michael Sfard. Anderson remains hospitalized with severe brain damage.
4) Pakistani intelligence sources confirm a Los Angeles Times report that Taliban militants in Fata are distancing themselves from Al Qaeda, Dawn reports from Pakistan.
5) The Obama administration is demanding that Israel call off a contentious building project in east Jerusalem, AP reports. The US has also demanded that Israel officially declare that talks with the Palestinians will deal with all the conflict's big issues, including final borders, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees who lost their homes during the war that followed Israel's 1948 creation. Israeli newspapers reported Monday that Israel's ambassador to Washington told Israeli diplomats Saturday that their country's relations with the U.S. haven't been this tense in decades.
6) President Obama's suggestion that the time might be ripe for talks with senior leaders of the Afghan Taliban is opposed by Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Defense Gates, who want more time for military offensives, writes Gareth Porter for Inter Press Service.
7) Under the cover of a government information-gathering program, a Defense Department official set up a network of private contractors in Afghanistan and Pakistan to help track and kill suspected militants, the New York Times reports. It is generally considered illegal for the military to hire contractors to act as covert spies, the NYT says. In Pakistan, the secret use of private contractors may be seen as an attempt to get around the Pakistani government's prohibition of US military personnel operating in the country. A government contractor hired to gather information about Afghan society said the information was used improperly to kill people.
8) An Afghan family whose members were killed in a night raid have rejected "blood money" from the Government and vowed to carry out suicide attacks unless the perpetrators are brought to justice, the Times of London reports. If the force that carried out the attack was controlled by the CIA, it would be exempt from McChrystal's directive limiting night raids, the Times says. US officials refused to identify the force involved.
9) McChrystal's directive curbing night raids has has created tensions with officers commanding special forces units, who often launch night operations without informing NATO commanders, the Times of London reports. Human rights activists point to a lack of accountability currently enjoyed by the CIA, whose role in Afghanistan involves commanding militias that conduct some of the raids. "Intelligence and [special forces] are the ones primarily conducting these raids, so if they don't adhere to the rules then there's no point at all in the rules," said Erica Gaston, a human rights lawyer.
10) The Afghan government was holding secret talks with the Taliban's No. 2 when he was captured in Pakistan, and the arrest infuriated President Karzai, according to one of Karzai's advisers, AP reports. Last week, Karzai said he and his Western allies were at odds over who should be at the negotiating table. Karzai said the US was expressing reservations about talks with the top echelon of the Taliban while the British were "pushing for an acceleration" in the negotiation process. Karzai said overtures to the Taliban stood little chance of success without the support of the US and its international partners. He says his previous attempts to negotiate with insurgents were not fruitful because "sections of the international community undermined - not backed - our efforts."
11) Gunmen believed to be linked to drug traffickers shot a pregnant US consulate worker and her husband to death in Ciudad Juárez, the New York Times reports. Gunmen also killed the husband of another consular employee. President Obama praised the antidrug offense begun three years ago by President Calderón, which is backed by more than $1 billion in US money. But a growing chorus of critics of Mexico's drug war, which has led to spiraling levels of violence in hot spots across the country, has asked Calderón to find a new approach. Former Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda said the killings ought to prompt the Obama administration to rethink its support for what he called Calderón's failed strategy.
1) The Petraeus briefing: Biden's embarrassment is not the whole story
Mark Perry, Foreign Policy, Saturday, March 13, 2010 - 11:05 PM http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/03/14/the_petraeus_briefing_biden_s_embarrassment_is_not_the_whole_story
On Jan. 16, two days after a killer earthquake hit Haiti, a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The team had been dispatched by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus to underline his growing worries at the lack of progress in resolving the issue. The 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM's mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) "too old, too slow ... and too late."
The January Mullen briefing was unprecedented. No previous CENTCOM commander had ever expressed himself on what is essentially a political issue; which is why the briefers were careful to tell Mullen that their conclusions followed from a December 2009 tour of the region where, on Petraeus's instructions, they spoke to senior Arab leaders. "Everywhere they went, the message was pretty humbling," a Pentagon officer familiar with the briefing says. "America was not only viewed as weak, but its military posture in the region was eroding."
The Mullen briefing and Petraeus's request hit the White House like a bombshell. While Petraeus's request that CENTCOM be expanded to include the Palestinians was denied ("it was dead on arrival," a Pentagon officer confirms), the Obama administration decided it would redouble its efforts - pressing Israel once again on the settlements issue, sending Mitchell on a visit to a number of Arab capitals and dispatching Mullen for a carefully arranged meeting with the chief of the Israeli General Staff, Lt. General Gabi Ashkenazi. While the American press speculated that Mullen's trip focused on Iran, the JCS Chairman actually carried a blunt, and tough, message on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: that Israel had to see its conflict with the Palestinians "in a larger, regional, context" - as having a direct impact on America's status in the region. Certainly, it was thought, Israel would get the message.
Israel didn't. When Vice President Joe Biden was embarrassed by an Israeli announcement that the Netanyahu government was building 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem, the administration reacted. But no one was more outraged than Biden who, according to the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, engaged in a private, and angry, exchange with the Israeli Prime Minister. Not surprisingly, what Biden told Netanyahu reflected the importance the administration attached to Petraeus's Mullen briefing: "This is starting to get dangerous for us," Biden reportedly told Netanyahu. "What you're doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace." Yedioth Ahronoth went on to report: "The vice president told his Israeli hosts that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel's actions and US policy, any decision about construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops fighting against Islamic terrorism." The message couldn't be plainer: Israel's intransigence could cost American lives.
There are important and powerful lobbies in America: the NRA, the American Medical Association, the lawyers - and the Israeli lobby. But no lobby is as important, or as powerful, as the U.S. military. While commentators and pundits might reflect that Joe Biden's trip to Israel has forever shifted America's relationship with its erstwhile ally in the region, the real break came in January, when David Petraeus sent a briefing team to the Pentagon with a stark warning: America's relationship with Israel is important, but not as important as the lives of America's soldiers. Maybe Israel gets the message now.
2) White House Weighs Talks With Taliban After Afghan Successes
Helene Cooper and Mark Landler, New York Times, March 12, 2010
Washington - With American troops pouring into insurgent strongholds in Afghanistan and the United States succeeding in killing insurgent leaders with drone attacks in Pakistan, the Obama administration is beginning to consider whether it has gained the upper hand sufficiently to justify an effort to begin talks with the Taliban. President Obama met with his war cabinet on Friday, and the issue of reconciling with the Taliban is gaining traction, even as administration officials debate whether the time is right.
"It is now more a question of 'when' than a question of 'if,' " the administration official said, when asked about the idea of reconciliation talks with senior Taliban officials. Another official, who like the senior administration official spoke on condition of anonymity because internal administration discussions were still at an early stage, said, "There's been a lot of energy applied to the reconciliation issue in the last few weeks."
But both officials added that, for now, there are no plans for reaching out soon to high-ranking Taliban leaders. That effort, they said, is likely to wait until after the United States takes on Taliban insurgents in Kandahar in what is expected to be the next major military offensive in Afghanistan.
The operation in Kandahar, the spiritual heart of the Taliban, is expected to be far more difficult than the recent offensive in Marja. "Urban warfare is a lot more complicated than when you're going into a hamlet like Marja," said Brian Katulis, a national security expert at the Center for American Progress. "The real test is Kandahar."
The momentum behind reconciliation got a major boost this week from Britain, the key American ally in Afghanistan. In a speech in Boston, the British foreign minister, David Miliband, called on President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan to make as concerted an effort to reach out to disaffected Taliban leaders as British and American troops are making to integrate lower-level Taliban soldiers.
"Without a genuine effort to understand and ultimately address the wider concerns which fuel the insurgency," Mr. Miliband said, "it will be hard to convince significant numbers of combatants that their interests will be better served by working with the government than by fighting against it."
The issue - brought up by Mr. Obama himself - was discussed during the 90-minute session in the White House on Friday, administration officials said. But no decisions were made. Participants included General Jones, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Admiral Mullen, and Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
3) Israel to Reinvestigate Police Shooting of U.S. Activist Tristan Anderson
Henry Norr, The Only Democracy (Jewish Voice for Peace), March 14th, 2010
A year ago, Israeli Border Police shattered the skull of Tristan Anderson with a high-velocity tear gas canister as he stood unarmed following a weekly demonstration against Israel's Separation Wall in the West Bank village of Nilin. Since then, his family, friends, and supporters around the world continue the struggle to hold Israel accountable.
Anderson, a now-39-year-old resident of Oakland, California, still lies in the Tel Hashomer hospital outside Tel Aviv, where he was taken after the March 13, 2009, shooting. Although his mother Nancy Anderson recently reported some welcome signs of progress in his recovery, he remains in critical condition, with severe permanent brain damage and an uncertain prognosis.
The Israeli authorities have done their best to sweep the case under the rug. Last August the Ministry of "Defense" declared the incident an "act of war" - a classification that, under Israeli law, relieves the state of any liability - and in December the Ministry of "Justice" decided to shut down its investigation into the case, on the grounds that the police had found "a lack of criminal culpability."
Early this month, however, Anderson's parents filed an appeal against the closing of the case. Their attorney, Michael Sfard, cited "severe negligence in the work of the investigation team," pointing out that the investigators had never even bothered to visit the scene of the shooting and that the Border Police unit they questioned was not the unit that had fired at Anderson.
"The astonishing negligence of this investigation and of the prosecutorial team that monitored its outcome is unacceptable, but it epitomizes Israel's culture of impunity," Sfard said as he released the appeal to the press. "Tristan's case is actually not rare; it represents hundreds of other cases of Palestinian victims whose investigations have also failed."
Sfard's detailed dissection of the glaring flaws in the police investigation evidently embarrassed the Ministry of "Justice" into an unusual retreat: a spokesman told the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz that in light of the appeal, the ministry would "reexamine" the decision to close the inquiry.
Meanwhile, activists both in Palestine and in the United States continue to champion Anderson's case, not only to seek justice for him but also to expose the violence and injustice inherent in the Israeli occupation. At the latest weekly demonstration against the Wall in Bil'in (not far from Ni'lin, the site of the shooting), Palestinian, Israeli, and international demonstrators carried posters of Anderson, according to participant Roy Wagner. And on Monday, March 15, friends of Anderson and other Bay Area supporters of justice in Palestine plan a noontime demonstration in his name at the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco.
4) Taliban distancing themselves from Al Qaeda: experts
Anwar Iqbal, Dawn (Pakistan), Sunday, 14 Mar, 2010
Washington: The blasts in Lahore are the last desperate measures of pro-Al Qaeda militants who are now being abandoned by the Taliban, diplomatic sources told Dawn.
The sources also confirmed a Los Angeles Times report, published on Saturday, that the Taliban militants in Fata were now refusing to collaborate with Al Qaeda fighters. The Taliban were declining to provide shelter or assist in attacks in Afghanistan even in return for payment, the report said.
"Yes, Pakistani intelligence sources also confirm this assessment," said a senior diplomatic source who did not want to be identified. "There is a sizeable shift away from Al Qaeda," he said. "Very few are left who still support Al Qaeda. The vast majority is distancing itself from them."
5) US To Israel: Cancel Controversial Settlement Plan
Mark Lavie, Associated Press, Monday, March 15, 2010; 5:02 PM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/15/AR2010031500556.html
Jerusalem - The Obama administration is demanding that Israel call off a contentious building project in east Jerusalem and make a public gesture toward the Palestinians to help defuse one of the worst U.S.-Israeli feuds in memory, officials on both sides said Monday.
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed little sign of yielding, saying Jewish construction in east Jerusalem "in no way" hurts Palestinians. A Jerusalem city spokesman suggested Jewish building there would continue.
After a weekend of rare broadsides from top U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, American demands became clear Monday. The U.S. wants Israel to cancel the construction plan, U.S. and Israeli officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because no announcement was made.
American officials said they were also insisting that Israel take significant steps to get peace talks back on track. These might include releasing Palestinian prisoners or turning over additional West Bank land to Palestinian control.
Washington, the officials added, also has demanded that Israel officially declare that talks with the Palestinians will deal with all the conflict's big issues, including final borders, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees who lost their homes during the war that followed Israel's 1948 creation.
But Netanyahu appeared unreceptive to the main demand, defending four decades of construction for Israelis in east Jerusalem. "The building of those Jewish neighborhoods in no way hurt the Arabs of east Jerusalem and did not come at their expense," he told his parliament on Monday. Netanyahu has apologized for the timing of the project's approval but has not said he will cancel it.
Palestinians say Jewish building in east Jerusalem, an area they hope to make their capital, eats up land they want for a future state, cuts off east Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and prevents the expansion of Arab neighborhoods. The Palestinians also point out that much of the land used for Jewish construction was expropriated from Arab owners.
The unusually harsh U.S. criticism has undercut Netanyahu's efforts to play down the crisis. Israeli newspapers reported Monday that Israel's ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, told Israeli diplomats in a conference call Saturday night that their country's relations with the U.S. haven't been this tense in decades.
6) Policy Battle over Afghan Peace Talks Intensifies
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service, Mar 15
Washington - The struggle within the Barack Obama administration over Afghanistan policy entered a new phase when the president suggested at a meeting of his "war cabinet" Friday that it might be time to start negotiations with the Taliban, according to a report in the New York Times Saturday.
Obama said that the success of the recent operation to take control of the "insurgent stronghold" of Marja, combined with the killing of insurgent leaders in Pakistan by drone attacks, might be sufficient to "justify an effort to begin talks with the Taliban", two participants in the meeting told the Times.
That proposal puts Obama directly at odds with key members of his national security team, especially Secretary of Defence Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Both Gates and Clinton have argued in recent months that attempting to negotiate with Taliban leaders would be fruitless unless and until they have been convinced by U.S. military operations that they are losing.
In an indication that Gates and Clinton intend to resist Obama's proposal to start talks soon, the Times reported that two unnamed officials who attended the meeting said any plans for "reaching out" to the leadership of the Taliban are likely to be delayed until after U.S. forces launch a major military offensive in Kandahar province.
That, of course, is the Gates-Clinton position on the issue, which is also held by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
When Obama announced a compromise strategy in November, he hinted that the war would have to end through negotiations, but left the question of how and when the United States would participate in those negotiations unresolved. In referring to the military objective in Afghanistan, Obama refused to talk about defeating the Taliban in his Dec. 2 speech. Instead, he referred to "a strategy that will break the Taliban's momentum and increase Afghanistan's capacity over the next 18 months."
That was in sharp contrast to his Mar. 27 speech, in which he referred to the "uncompromising core of the Taliban" and said "they must be defeated". Obama was clearly implying that negotiations would be a necessary part of the strategy.
But Obama provided no explicit policy guidance on when and how negotiations would begin. That allowed Clinton and Gates to continue to offer arguments against such negotiations publicly.
An administration official recalled recently that the George W. Bush administration adopted a firm policy against reconciliation with the Taliban, and that then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice once told Karzai in a phone conversation to "shut up about reconciliation" with the Taliban. But the Obama administration still hadn't adopted a new policy on the issue, the official told IPS.
Obama's initiative in proposing to take advantage of even modest successes in Afghanistan and Pakistan to start talks suggests that he was waiting for the earliest possible favourable moment politically to make a move toward diplomacy. It remains to be seen, however, whether he is willing to stand up to pressures from opponents of such an initiative or will retreat once again to avoid any confrontation with the military.
7) Contractors Tied To Effort To Track And Kill Militants
Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, March 14, 2010
Kabul, Afghanistan - Under the cover of a benign government information-gathering program, a Defense Department official set up a network of private contractors in Afghanistan and Pakistan to help track and kill suspected militants, according to military officials and businessmen in Afghanistan and the United States.
The official, Michael D. Furlong, hired contractors from private security companies that employed former C.I.A. and Special Forces operatives. The contractors, in turn, gathered intelligence on the whereabouts of suspected militants and the location of insurgent camps, and the information was then sent to military units and intelligence officials for possible lethal action in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the officials said.
While it has been widely reported that the C.I.A. and the military are attacking operatives of Al Qaeda and others through unmanned, remote-controlled drone strikes, some American officials say they became troubled that Mr. Furlong seemed to be running an off-the-books spy operation. The officials say they are not sure who condoned and supervised his work.
It is generally considered illegal for the military to hire contractors to act as covert spies. Officials said Mr. Furlong's secret network might have been improperly financed by diverting money from a program designed to merely gather information about the region.
Moreover, in Pakistan, where Qaeda and Taliban leaders are believed to be hiding, the secret use of private contractors may be seen as an attempt to get around the Pakistani government's prohibition of American military personnel's operating in the country.
Officials say Mr. Furlong's operation seems to have been shut down, and he is now is the subject of a criminal investigation by the Defense Department for a number of possible offenses, including contract fraud.
Government officials said they believed that Mr. Furlong might have channeled money away from a program intended to provide American commanders with information about Afghanistan's social and tribal landscape, and toward secret efforts to hunt militants on both sides of the country's porous border with Pakistan. Some officials said it was unclear whether these operations actually resulted in the deaths of militants, though others involved in the operation said that they did.
In addition, at least one government contractor who worked with Mr. Furlong in Afghanistan last year maintains that he saw evidence that the information was used for attacking militants.
The contractor, Robert Young Pelton, an author who writes extensively about war zones, said that the government hired him to gather information about Afghanistan and that Mr. Furlong improperly used his work. "We were providing information so they could better understand the situation in Afghanistan, and it was being used to kill people," Mr. Pelton said.
He said that he and Eason Jordan, a former television news executive, had been hired by the military to run a public Web site to help the government gain a better understanding of a region that bedeviled them. Recently, the top military intelligence official in Afghanistan publicly said that intelligence collection was skewed too heavily toward hunting terrorists, at the expense of gaining a deeper understanding of the country.
Instead, Mr. Pelton said, millions of dollars that were supposed to go to the Web site were redirected by Mr. Furlong toward intelligence gathering for the purpose of attacking militants. In one example, Mr. Pelton said he had been told by Afghan colleagues that video images that he posted on the Web site had been used for an American strike in the South Waziristan region of Pakistan.
8) Survivors Of Family Killed In Afghanistan Raid Threaten Suicide Attacks
Jerome Starkey, Times of London, March 15, 2010
Afghanistan - A family whose members were killed in a botched night raid in eastern Afghanistan have rejected "blood money" from the Government and vowed to carry out suicide attacks unless the perpetrators are brought to justice.
Two pregnant women, a teenage girl, a policeman and his brother were shot dead on February 12 by unidentified gunmen. Eight men were arrested in the raid on the village of Khataba in Paktia province. They have all been released.
No one has claimed responsibility for the killings. A US official in Kabul refused to identify the force involved, citing "utmost national and strategic security interests".
The United Nations has criticised intelligence agencies in Afghanistan in the past for using paramilitary groups to carry out "extrajudicial killings". If the force was controlled by the CIA or Afghanistan's domestic intelligence service it would be exempt from new Nato guidelines designed to limit night raids, which came into force on January 23.
Local elders delivered $2,000 in compensation for each of the five victims to the head of the family, Haji Sharabuddin, after protests brought Gardez, the capital of Paktia, to a halt. "I don't want money. I want justice," he said. "All our family, we now don't care about our lives. We will all do suicide attacks and [the whole province] will support us."
Nato had claimed that the assault force found the women's bodies "tied up, gagged and killed". In its initial statement it also said: "Several insurgents engaged the joint force in a fire fight and were killed."
An investigation by The Times at and around the scene found both those statements to be untrue. Although the family's claims that they did not shoot back could not be independently verified, none of the dead was an insurgent. Relatives say that the women were killed during, not before, the raid.
An undated document seen by The Times that was presented by US forces to Commander Dawood, the dead policeman, praised him for his work and "dedication and willingness to serve the people of Afghanistan". It said he would "ensure the stability of your country for many years".
Commander Dawood's brother, Saranwal Zahir, was a district attorney in Ahmadabad district, also in Paktia. The two married women were four and five months pregnant. The teenage girl, Gulalai, was engaged to be married this summer.
"Before, when I heard reports of raids like this and elders said [foreign troops] only came to colonise Afghanistan, I told them they are here to help us," said Sayed Mohammed Mal, the vice-chancellor of Gardez University, whose son Mansoor was Gulalai's fiancé. "But when I witnessed this in my family's home, I realised I was wrong. Now I accept the things those people told me. I hate [foreign forces]. I hate the Government."
Afghan officials insist that the raid was a mistake. None of the people reached by The Times said that the family had links with the Taleban. "My father was friends with the Americans and they killed him.," said Commander Dawood's son, Abdul Ghafar, as he held a dog-eared photograph showing the policeman with three US soldiers. One of the Americans had his arm around Mr Dawood. "They killed my father. I want to kill them. I want the killers brought to justice."
The family suspect that a spy may have deliberately misled the assault force and the relatives have appealed to President Karzai to hand him over. "If the Government don't give us the spy I will carry a holy Koran to the presidential palace and ask, why don't you help us? Why do you let the Americans carry out these operations?" Mr Dawood's mother, Bibi Sabsparie, said. Haji Sharabuddin, her husband, said that he wanted the spy shot, hanged and burnt.
"The foreigners are always talking about human rights. But they don't care about human rights," said Gulalai's father, Mohammed Tahir. "They teach us human rights then they kill a load of civilians. They didn't come here to end terrorism. They are terrorists." Mohammed Sabir, whose wife, Bibi Shirin, was killed, suggested vengeance: "If the Americans don't give us the spy, bring us seven Americans and we will kill them."
9) Afghan Family Killed As Special Forces Defy Night Raid Ban
Miles Amoore, Sunday Times, March 14, 2010
Kabul - The two helicopters swooped low over a cluster of mud homes, whirling in the cold night sky before landing in a wheat field on the edge of the small Afghan village. From his home nearby, 23-year-old Najibullah Omar strained his eyes in the darkness as he made out the faint shapes of armed men pouring from the helicopters' bellies. A third helicopter circled menacingly in the moonless sky above the village of Karakhil in Wardak province, southwest of Kabul.
Then a loud explosion shook the ground and a plume of smoke rose from his cousin Hamidullah's house 20 yards away. Its guest room caught fire. Omar heard a burst of gunfire before all went quiet. His worst fears were confirmed the moment he walked through the compound gate at first light.
The body of his cousin, a 32-year-old construction engineer who had taken a break from his job in a far-off province to visit his family, lay sprawled next to those of his wife and their seven-year-old son. Blood ran in dark pools on the mud floor of the terrace outside their door.
The wife and son had been shot in the head, each with a single bullet. The engineer had died from a shot to the chest. The precision of the killings, coupled with his failure to find any bullet casings after the raid, led Omar to believe that his cousin was murdered either by US special forces or by an intelligence agency. The sole survivor was the couple's younger son, aged six, whose upper torso was riddled with puncture wounds from grenade shrapnel.
Some of the villagers dug away the fallen wooden beams, revealing the charred corpses of three Taliban fighters - a mid-level commander and two bodyguards, apparently killed where they slept by a missile from the circling helicopter. "The Taliban often force themselves into our homes. What can we do?" said Omar. "We're afraid of them. It's better to keep your house and shelter the Taliban when they demand it than to lose your home."
Last week General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of Nato troops in Afghanistan, responded to President Hamid Karzai's call for a ban on night raids by publicly ordering his troops to curb their use.
The general's order aims to end the killing and detention of innocent civilians during night operations. According to the United Nations, 98 civilians were killed in such raids last year, provoking widespread outrage. They are believed to have swollen the ranks of the Taliban, who score an easy propaganda victory every time Nato kills a civilian. In his order, first issued confidentially to officers in January, McChrystal wrote that violating Afghans' homes made it more difficult to win vital public support.
The new policy has created tensions with officers commanding special forces units, who often launch night operations without informing Nato commanders.
McChrystal has tried to rein in the independently run special forces units blamed for many of the civilian casualties in night raids. "They are used as a blunt tool to kill insurgents, so they don't do McChrystal's brand of counterinsurgency very well," said one source close to the Nato command. "The [special forces] are not designed for a touchy-feely counterinsurgency."
Intelligence agencies such as the CIA fall outside the control of the military. Human rights activists point to a lack of accountability currently enjoyed by the CIA, whose role in Afghanistan involves commanding militias that conduct some of the raids.
"We can't refuse the Taliban shelter," said 42-year-old Mohammad Sediqi, Rahmatullah's nephew. "My other brother is so angry that he is considering joining the Taliban to take revenge."
During a US- and UK-led offensive in Helmand province last month, errant Nato missiles and strikes killed as many as 28 civilians in the first two weeks.
Although McChrystal's directive seeks to address these problems, doubt remains about how widely it will be heeded. "Intelligence and [special forces] are the ones primarily conducting these raids, so if they don't adhere to the rules then there's no point at all in the rules," said Erica Gaston, a human rights lawyer.
10) Aide: Karzai 'very angry' at Taliban boss' arrest
Deb Riechmann and Kathy Gannon, Associated Press, March 15, 2010
Kabul - The Afghan government was holding secret talks with the Taliban's No. 2 when he was captured in Pakistan, and the arrest infuriated President Hamid Karzai, according to one of Karzai's advisers.
The detention of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar - second in the Taliban only to one-eyed Mullah Mohammed Omar - has raised new questions about whether the U.S. is willing to back peace discussions with leaders who harbored the terrorists behind the Sept. 11 attacks.
Karzai "was very angry" when he heard that the Pakistanis had picked up Baradar with an assist from U.S. intelligence, the adviser said. Besides the ongoing talks, he said Baradar had "given a green light" to participating in a three-day peace jirga that Karzai is hosting next month.
The adviser, who had knowledge of the peace talks, spoke on condition of anonymity because of their sensitivity. Other Afghan officials, including Abdul Ali Shamsi, security adviser to the governor of Helmand province, also confirmed talks between Baradar and the Afghan government. Several media reports have suggested that Baradar had been in touch with Karzai representatives, but these are the first details to emerge from the discussions.
Far from expressing gratitude, members of Karzai's administration were quick to accuse Pakistan of picking up Baradar either to sabotage or gain control of talks with the Taliban leaders. Whatever the reason, the delicate dance among Karzai, his neighbors and international partners put the debate over reconciliation on fast forward.
Top United Nations and British officials emphasized last week that the time to talk to the Taliban is now. The Afghan government, for its part, has plans to offer economic incentives to coax low- and midlevel fighters off the battlefield. Another driving force is President Barack Obama's goal of starting to withdraw U.S. troops in July 2011.
The United States, with nearly 950 lives lost and billions of dollars spent in the war, is moving with caution on reconciliation.
At a breakfast meeting in Islamabad last week, Karzai said he and his Western allies were at odds over who should be at the negotiating table. Karzai said the United States was expressing reservations about talks with the top echelon of the Taliban while the British were "pushing for an acceleration" in the negotiation process. "Our allies are not always talking the same language," he said.
Karzai said overtures to the Taliban stood little chance of success without the support of the United States and its international partners. He says his previous attempts to negotiate with insurgents were not fruitful because "sections of the international community undermined - not backed - our efforts."
A U.S. military official in Kabul, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss reconciliation, said the top commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has not yet solidified his opinion on this issue. He said the U.S. is still debating the timing of the Afghan government's outreach to senior leaders of three main Afghan insurgent groups - Omar; Jalaluddin Haqqani, who runs an al-Qaida-linked organization; and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the boss of the powerful Hezb-e-Islami.
The official added that the international military coalition had no problem with the Afghan government's reaching out to anyone, at any time, but is concerned that a deal to end the violence not come at too high a price.
Karzai won't discuss his administration's talks with Taliban members or their representatives, but several Afghan officials confirmed that his government was in discussions with Baradar, who hails from Karzai's Popalzai tribe of the Durrani Pashtuns in Kandahar. "The government has been negotiating with Mullah Baradar, who took an offer to the Taliban shura," Shamsi said, using the word for the group's governing board.
Shamsi said he'd seen intelligence reports indicating that Omar resisted the offer and that Baradar's rivals within the Taliban leadership were fiercely opposed to any negotiations with the Afghan government.
An intelligence official in southern Afghanistan, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk with journalists, said there were reports that Omar was angry about Baradar's negotiations with the government and asked Pakistani intelligence officials to arrest him.
Nevertheless, Hakim Mujahed, a former Taliban ambassador to the United Nations, said many Taliban leaders are willing to talk. "The problem is not from the Taliban side," he said. "There is no interest of negotiations from the side of the foreign forces."
Hamid Gul, a former director of the Pakistani intelligence service who has criticized the U.S. role in Afghanistan, said the insurgents want three things from the U.S. before talks could begin - a clearer timetable on the withdrawal of troops, to stop labeling them terrorists, and the release of all Taliban militants imprisoned in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
11) Two Drug Slayings In Mexico Rock U.S. Consulate
Marc Lacey and Ginger Thompson, New York Times, March 14, 2010
La Unión, Mexico - Gunmen believed to be linked to drug traffickers shot a pregnant American consulate worker and her husband to death in the violence-racked border town of Ciudad Juárez over the weekend, leaving their baby wailing in the back seat of their car, the authorities said Sunday. The gunmen also killed the husband of another consular employee and wounded his two young children.
The shootings took place minutes apart and appeared to be the first deadly attacks on American officials and their families by Mexico's powerful drug organizations, provoking an angry reaction from the White House. They came during a particularly bloody weekend when nearly 50 people were killed nationwide in drug-gang violence, including attacks in Acapulco as American college students began arriving for spring break.
The killings followed threats against American diplomats along the Mexican border and complaints from consulate workers that drug-related violence was growing untenable, American officials said. Even before the shootings, the State Department had quietly made the decision to allow consulate workers to evacuate their families across the border to the United States.
American interests in Mexico have been attacked by drug traffickers before but never with such brutality. Attackers linked to the Gulf Cartel shot at and hurled a grenade, which did not explode, at the American consulate in Monterrey in 2008.
In his statement, Mr. Obama was quick to laud the antidrug offense begun three years ago by Mr. Calderón, which is backed by more than $1 billion in United States money. But a growing chorus of critics of Mexico's drug war, which has led to spiraling levels of violence in hot spots across the country, has asked Mr. Calderón to find a new approach.
One critic, former Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda, said in a telephone interview on Sunday that given the violence "it is surprising that this has not happened before." The killings, he said, ought to prompt the Obama administration to rethink its support for what he called Mr. Calderón's failed strategy.
In fact, Mr. Calderón is scheduled on Tuesday to make his third visit to Ciudad Juárez in the last five weeks as he tries to contain the disastrous public relations fallout from the killing of 16 people in January that Mr. Calderón first brushed off as "a settling of accounts" between members of criminal gangs.
It turns out the victims of the massacre were mostly students celebrating a birthday. By all accounts, they were just young people from a rough neighborhood trying to steer clear of the drug gang violence that has turned Ciudad Juárez into Mexico's deadliest city. More than 2,000 people were killed there last year, giving it one of the highest murder rates in the world.
Those killings and Mr. Calderón's blunder - he was in Japan at the time and later blamed mistaken information for his error - prompted the government to shift course after three years of its military-led crackdown on drug cartels and acknowledge that it has to involve citizens in the fight and deal with the social breakdown fueling the violence.
As killings have multiplied in Mexico, the government has long argued that the overwhelming majority of the casualties of the drug war are involved in the narcotics business. "The argument is absurd that the killings are a sign of his success," Mr. Castañeda said, repeating an oft-heard refrain of both the Mexican and American governments.
Concerned about the rising violence, the State Department had decided that employees at a string of consular offices along the Mexican border - Tijuana, Nogales, Ciudad Juárez, Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey and Matamoros - could temporarily evacuate their families to the United States. That decision was not formally announced until Sunday.
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