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JFP 12/15: LAT, NYT: Classified Intel Contradicts Rosy Afghan Review
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 15 December 2010 - 8:49pm
Just Foreign Policy News
December 15, 2010
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Honor Holbrooke: "Stop This War in Afghanistan"
To honor Holbrroke's memory, we should obey his last command.
Rep. McDermott: Could WikiLeaks Have Prevented 9/11?
"… the information that's coming out is very important. I read an editorial in the Los Angeles Times, about the fact that had we had WikiLeaks in 2001, we may well not have had 9/11 occur." McDermott was referring to the op-ed by former FBI agent Coleen Rowley.
CNN: Ex-CIA Ray McGovern Supports Wikileaks' Julian Assange
"Of course he's a journalist - unlike the 'Fawning Corporate Media.'"
St. Louis Flash Mob: Boycott Israeli Apartheid
"Hang up on Motorola."
Afghanistan experts call for peace deal and exit strategy
Afghanistan experts with decades of experience in the country call on President Obama to change course and push for a peace settlement and exit strategy. Signers include: Scott Atran, Michael Cohen, Gilles Dorronsoro, Bernard Finel, Joshua Foust, Anatol Lieven, Ahmed Rashid, and Alex Strick van Linschoten.
Rap News 5: Wikileaks & the war on journalism
A "special report with Robert Foster" recounts the story of WikiLeaks vs. the Empire. Sam Husseini calls this "the best video of the year."
1) Two new assessments by the U.S. intelligence community present a gloomy picture of the Afghanistan war, contradicting a more upbeat view expressed by military officials, the Los Angeles Times reports. The classified intelligence reports contend that large swaths of Afghanistan are still at risk of falling to the Taliban. The reports also say Pakistan's government remains unwilling to stop its covert support for members of the Afghan Taliban. Key members of Congress are watching the Obama strategy warily, the NYT says. "Our political and diplomatic efforts are not in line with our military efforts," said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), who is under consideration as the next chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. "It may be time to consider a smaller troop footprint."
2) Both Republican and Democratic administrations have refused to make a decisive choice between making war with Iran or talking peace, write Daniel Brumberg and Barry Blechman for Foreign Policy. Sustained U.S.-Iranian engagement would undercut the "threat" that hardliners invoke to legitimate their efforts to pummel or isolate their critics. An escalation of U.S.-Iranian tensions will only harm the efforts of those Iranian leaders who favor internal dialogue to make their voices heard. Secretary of State Clinton's recent BBC interview, in which she stated U.S. conditional acceptance of Iran's enrichment rights, provides one step in the right direction.
3) Bradley Manning has never been convicted of any crime, writes Glenn Greenwald for Salon. Despite that, he has been detained at the U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia for five months - and for two months before that in a military jail in Kuwait - under conditions that constitute cruel and inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many nations, even torture.
4) The US military has dramatically stepped up air strikes and manhunts in Afghanistan in a bid to weaken the Taliban, reflecting a return to "counter-terrorism" tactics, AFP reports. The previous commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, scaled back air strikes and artillery to try to reduce civilian casualties, but his successor, General David Petraeus, has taken a more aggressive approach. US aircraft flew 850 combat sorties in November, three times the number for the same month last year, according to the US Air Force. More firepower will be on display soon in southern Afghanistan, where Marines will have M1A1 tanks in their arsenal - the first use of US tanks in the war.
5) Israel's ambassador to the U.S. said Israel is still seeking 20 additional F- 35 fighter jets even after the failure of a U.S. offer to provide the planes in exchange for a freeze on Israeli settlement construction, Bloomberg reports. Defense officials from both countries are discussing ways to pay for the "expensive" jets because Israel lacks the funds, Michael Oren said.
6) Leading Australian journalists have stepped up to defend WikiLeaks, reports John Nichols in The Nation. Dozens of major newspaper editors, broadcasters and leading journalists have signed a letter defending Wikileaks. In the US, FAIR is circulating a statement of support. [Nichols reproduces the FAIR letter, which JFP signed; you can sign here: http://bit.ly/hIhPMS - JFP.]
7) Two new classified intelligence reports offer a more negative assessment than the White House review and say there is a limited chance of success unless Pakistan hunts down insurgents operating from havens on its Afghan border, the New York Times reports. Some Democrats are losing patience with the war, the NYT says. "You're not going to get to the point where the Taliban are gone and the border is perfectly controlled," said Representative Adam Smith, who serves Armed Services Committee and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Smith said there would be increasing pressure from the political left on Obama to end the war, and predicted Democrats in Congress would resist continuing to spend $100 billion annually on Afghanistan.
8) The Red Cross says Afghanistan security has deteriorated to its worst point since the overthrow of the Taliban nine years ago and is preventing aid groups from reaching victims of conflict, the New York Times reports. By every measure that the Red Cross tracks, the situation has worsened throughout the country for civilian casualties, internal displacement and health care access and all of it is "against the background of a proliferation of armed actors," the head of the Afghanistan office said. Access, he said, "in 30 years has never been as poor and as difficult as it is today."
9) A Shiite religious ceremony in Iran was shattered by a double suicide bombing on Wednesday, leaving at least 39 people dead, the New York Times reports. Jundollah claimed responsibility. Iranian officials blamed the US, which the US denied. The Obama administration recently added Jundollah to a list of foreign terrorist organizations. Jundollah's leaders have "confirmed its commitment to continue its terrorist activities," the State Department said.
10) Israel barred a group of Palestinian firefighters on security grounds from attending a ceremony where they were to be honored for their help in battling a deadly forest fire, Al Jazeera reports. The Israeli military said the denial was a mistake and issued a statement of regret. But the Palestinian fire chief whose permit arrived too late for him to attend said entry refusals for no apparent reason were routine for many Palestinians.
11) Former Colombian president Uribe confirmed the contents of a State Department cable exposed by Wikileaks, according to which he contemplated sending troops across into Venezuelan territory to capture and arrest FARC guerrilla leaders, Mercopress reports.
1) U.S. intelligence reports cast doubt on war progress in Afghanistan
The assessments contradict defense officials' optimistic outlook. They contend that large swaths of the country remain at risk of falling to the Taliban and that Pakistan is still supporting militants, officials say.
Ken Dilanian and David S. Cloud, Los Angeles Times, December 15, 2010
Washington - Two new assessments by the U.S. intelligence community present a gloomy picture of the Afghanistan war, contradicting a more upbeat view expressed by military officials as the White House prepares to release a progress report on the 9-year-old conflict.
The classified intelligence reports contend that large swaths of Afghanistan are still at risk of falling to the Taliban, according to officials who were briefed on the National Intelligence Estimates on Afghanistan and Pakistan, which represent the collective view of more than a dozen intelligence agencies.
The reports, the subject of a recent closed hearing by the Senate Intelligence Committee, also say Pakistan's government remains unwilling to stop its covert support for members of the Afghan Taliban who mount attacks against U.S. troops from the tribal areas of the neighboring nation. The officials declined to be named because they were discussing classified data.
The intelligence community's analysis contrasts sharply with remarks last week by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who said after visiting the region that he is convinced the administration's strategy is turning around the Afghanistan war.
On Tuesday, military officers hotly contested the intelligence estimates, saying they are "dated" because the review period ended in September, as the last of additional American forces were arriving in Afghanistan. The defense officials said the assessments did not reflect recent gains.
A senior intelligence official countered that claim, saying, "The notion that intelligence officers aren't on the ground in Afghanistan and on the front lines in the fight against terrorism is preposterous. Our people are working side by side with the United States military and our foreign partners to thwart our common enemies."
National Intelligence Estimates make use of analysis and information from all the intelligence agencies, including those that are part of the Pentagon.
Obama, who sent 30,000 additional troops to support his counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, has pledged that military withdrawals would start in July 2011, contingent on conditions there. But Obama told members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization last month that 2014 is the date by which the U.S. hopes to cede full control to Afghan forces, an indication that any 2011 drawdown is likely to be small.
The latter announcement was meant in part to emphasize to Pakistan that the U.S. intended to remain heavily engaged in the region, increasing pressure on the South Asian nation to cut its ties to Afghan Islamist insurgents, one U.S. official said.
Military commanders acknowledge that a failure to destroy the Taliban's sanctuary in Pakistan could further delay the success of the Obama strategy. The intelligence estimates conclude that Pakistan is unwilling and unable to stop harboring and supporting the Taliban, one U.S. official said.
Pakistan, which is due to receive $7.5 billion in U.S. civilian aid over three years, denies secretly backing the Taliban. However, intelligence gathered by the U.S. continues to suggest that elements of Pakistan's security services arm, train and fund extremist militants, according to military and State Department documents disclosed this year by WikiLeaks.
Unless the Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan are closed, "it's going to take a lot longer" to achieve stability and hand over security responsibilities to Afghan troops, Army Maj. Gen. John C. Campbell, the senior commander in eastern Afghanistan, told reporters last week.
Privately, a senior military official acknowledged that "there are no guarantees as to how Pakistan will ultimately address the sanctuary problem."
Key members of Congress are watching the Obama strategy warily. "Our political and diplomatic efforts are not in line with our military efforts," said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), who is under consideration as the next chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. "It may be time to consider a smaller troop footprint."
2) Strategic engagement with Iran
Daniel Brumberg and Barry Blechman, Foreign Policy, December 14, 2010
[Brumberg is a special advisor to the U.S. Institute of Peace. Blechman is Vice President of the Stimson Center.]
Frustrated by the absence of substantive progress during the latest round of P5+1 talks in Geneva, some Iran analysts would have U.S. policy plunge once again into the murky territory of regime change. Some hope that a military attack might bring about this goal. Others, taking what seems to be the high road, argue that the U.S. should back a people's democratic revolution. This second idea is deeply alluring. After all, it accords with our most cherished ideas while also offering a solution that serves U.S. national interests. What advocate of democracy would not want Iran's Green Movement to prevail? In one fell swoop, its victory would bring to the table legitimate Iranian leaders who keenly defend Iran's right to peaceful nuclear power, but who would also provide a far more constructive negotiating partner for the U.S. and its allies.
The problem, however, is that democratic reform in Iran is a long-term proposition. As a result, it cannot serve as the basis for an effective U.S.-Iran policy. If the Obama White House were to rest its efforts to dissuade Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons on regime change, it would end up with an Iran policy as incoherent as those of the administrations that preceded it.
That incoherence is rooted in the reluctance of both Republican and Democratic administrations to make a decisive choice between making war or talking peace. Given the costs of both it is hardly surprising that our leaders have been unwilling or unable to mobilize political and bureaucratic support for either option. Instead, they have split the difference by using a mix of punitive measures and tepid incentives to in one way or another "contain" Iran - thus avoiding the domestic discomfort that would inevitably accompany a more strategically cogent policy.
If, as administration officials insist, sanctions are a "means rather than an end," we need to define that end far more clearly. If it is stopping Iran's nuclear program, then let's be clear: sanctions may be slowing that program down, but by themselves they will not compel Iran's leaders to comply with the International Atomic Energy Commission or the UN Security Council. To get the attention of Iran's current leaders, we must decide whether the goal of sanctions (or for that matter, engagement) is to set the stage for war or for sustained peace negotiations.
There is one thing, however, that the U.S. can do promote political decompression in Iran, and that is to make détente with the Islamic Republic a top priority. Sustained U.S.-Iranian engagement would undercut the "threat" that ultra hardliners regularly invoke to legitimate their efforts to pummel or isolate their critics. The latter include prominent conservatives, many of whom are eager to deflect the efforts of Revolutionary Guard to undermine the autonomy of clerical institutions, private sector businesses, and the parliament. Fighting for their very political and economic survival, these conservative leaders are likely to push for a process of internal political accommodation that could open up some doors for reformists. While they face many hurdles, one thing is sure: an escalation of U.S.-Iranian tensions (much less a war!) will only harm the efforts of those Iranian leaders who favor internal dialogue to make their voices heard.
In the coming decade, Iran's politics will be defined by a slow, agonizing struggle waged through rather than against the institutions of the Islamic Republic. If we indulge in the seductive dream of a sudden democratic revolution - whether delivered by bombs from above or by popular resistance from below - we will destroy the seeds of a political change in Iran. But we if we push for a process of engagement that moves Iran and the U.S. from conflict to diplomatic coexistence, we can help nurture Iran's own capacity to change and transform from within.
Let us hope that 2011 will be the year, not for war, but for a revitalized diplomatic initiative to resolve the crisis over Iran's nuclear program. If we do not pursue a bolder engagement strategy, the U.S. and its allies will ultimately have no choice but to contain a nuclear Iran. Secretary of State Clinton's recent BBC interview, in which she stated U.S. conditional acceptance of Iran's enrichment rights, provides one step in the right direction. The Obama administration must move forward, despite the obstacles at home and abroad.
3) The inhumane conditions of Bradley Manning's detention
Glenn Greenwald, Salon, Wednesday, Dec 15, 2010
Bradley Manning, the 22-year-old U.S. Army Private accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, has never been convicted of that crime, nor of any other crime. Despite that, he has been detained at the U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia for five months - and for two months before that in a military jail in Kuwait - under conditions that constitute cruel and inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many nations, even torture. Interviews with several people directly familiar with the conditions of Manning's detention, ultimately including a Quantico brig official (Lt. Brian Villiard) who confirmed much of what they conveyed, establishes that the accused leaker is subjected to detention conditions likely to create long-term psychological injuries.
Since his arrest in May, Manning has been a model detainee, without any episodes of violence or disciplinary problems. He nonetheless was declared from the start to be a "Maximum Custody Detainee," the highest and most repressive level of military detention, which then became the basis for the series of inhumane measures imposed on him.
From the beginning of his detention, Manning has been held in intensive solitary confinement. For 23 out of 24 hours every day - for seven straight months and counting - he sits completely alone in his cell. Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he's barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions. For reasons that appear completely punitive, he's being denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, including even a pillow or sheets for his bed (he is not and never has been on suicide watch). For the one hour per day when he is freed from this isolation, he is barred from accessing any news or current events programs. Lt. Villiard protested that the conditions are not "like jail movies where someone gets thrown into the hole," but confirmed that he is in solitary confinement, entirely alone in his cell except for the one hour per day he is taken out.
In sum, Manning has been subjected for many months without pause to inhumane, personality-erasing, soul-destroying, insanity-inducing conditions of isolation similar to those perfected at America's Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado: all without so much as having been convicted of anything. And as is true of many prisoners subjected to warped treatment of this sort, the brig's medical personnel now administer regular doses of anti-depressants to Manning to prevent his brain from snapping from the effects of this isolation.
Just by itself, the type of prolonged solitary confinement to which Manning has been subjected for many months is widely viewed around the world as highly injurious, inhumane, punitive, and arguably even a form of torture. In his widely praised March, 2009 New Yorker article - entitled "Is Long-Term Solitary Confinement Torture?" - the surgeon and journalist Atul Gawande assembled expert opinion and personal anecdotes to demonstrate that, as he put it, "all human beings experience isolation as torture." By itself, prolonged solitary confinement routinely destroys a person's mind and drives them into insanity. A March, 2010 article in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law explains that "solitary confinement is recognized as difficult to withstand; indeed, psychological stressors such as isolation can be as clinically distressing as physical torture."
For that reason, many Western nations - and even some non-Western nations notorious for human rights abuses - refuse to employ prolonged solitary confinement except in the most extreme cases of prisoner violence. "It's an awful thing, solitary," John McCain wrote of his experience in isolated confinement in Vietnam. "It crushes your spirit."
4) In bid to break Taliban, US embraces more firepower
AFP, December 15, 2010, 8:01 pm
Washington - The US military has dramatically stepped up air strikes and manhunts in Afghanistan in a bid to weaken the Taliban, reflecting a return to "counter-terrorism" tactics.
Dropping more bombs and carrying out more raids by special operations forces underscores a sense of urgency in the war effort, as the White House prepares to release a strategy review and commanders try to change the dynamic of a conflict mired in stalemate.
In announcing a surge of 30,000 troops a year ago, President Barack Obama embraced the idea of a "counter-insurgency" strategy that focused less on firefights with the Taliban and more on securing key towns, training Afghan forces and bolstering local government.
But the need to cut off the insurgency's supply routes to sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan has led to a renewed emphasis on more conventional "targeting" operations, said General James Cartwright, vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The previous commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, scaled back air strikes and artillery to try to reduce civilian casualties, but his successor, General David Petraeus, has taken a more aggressive approach.
US aircraft flew 850 combat sorties in November, three times the number for the same month last year, according to the US Air Force.
From January to the end of November, warplanes carried out 30,000 close air support missions for troops on the ground, a 13 percent increase compared with the whole of 2009, it said.
In the past six months, coalition forces have carried out more than 7,000 special operations missions, killing or capturing more than 600 militant leaders and inflicting heavy losses on insurgent fighters, with 2,000 rank and file soldiers killed, the NATO-led force told The Long War Journal.
More firepower will be on display soon in southern Afghanistan, where Marines will have M1A1 tanks in their arsenal - the first use of American tanks in the war.
The intensifying pace of lethal operations has been accompanied by record casualties among US and NATO-led forces, in the most deadly year yet in the nine-year-old war with 693 soldiers killed, according to the independent website icasualties.org.
5) Israel Pursues 20 Added F-35 Jets Offered in U.S. Peace Swap
Gopal Ratnam and Viola Gienger, Bloomberg, December 14, 2010, 8:08 PM EST
Dec. 15 - Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, said his country is still seeking 20 additional F- 35 fighter jets even after the failure of a U.S. offer to provide the planes in exchange for a freeze on Israeli settlement construction.
The 20 jets would be in addition to the 20 Lockheed Martin Corp.-built F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, valued at about $2.8 billion, that Israel ordered in October, Oren told Bloomberg News reporters and editors in Washington yesterday. "It was clear from the beginning that the 20 we were purchasing would not be enough and we'd require more," Oren said. The F-35 planes are the "ballast in helping Israel maintain its qualitative military edge" over potential foes in the region, he said.
Defense officials from both countries are discussing ways to pay for the "expensive" jets because Israel lacks the funds, Oren said.
The U.S. had offered the 20 additional F-35 jets as part of an effort to revive direct Middle East peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which stalled after an earlier freeze on West Bank settlement construction ended in September. Israel's Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi confirmed the offer at a Nov. 17 news conference at the Pentagon.
The Obama administration said last week that it would stop pushing Israel for a renewed 90-day construction moratorium. "The 90-day extension discussion is off the table but the 20 extra jets are very much on the table," Oren said. "It's not attached to the 90-day freeze."
6) Journalists Begin, Finally, to Stand Up in Defense of WikiLeaks and Freedom of Information
John Nichols, The Nation, December 14, 2010
Leading Australian journalists have stepped up in a big way to defend WikiLeaks, with the head of the nation's major media union arguing that "attacks on WikiLeaks can also be seen as attacks on the Australian media outlets which have worked with the organisation to publish leaked material."
In response to calls for the prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (an Australian) and attempts to block the distribution of leaked US diplomatic cables, Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance federal secretary Christopher Warren says: "Allegations that the work of WikiLeaks is somehow illegal are yet to be proven in Australia, or in any other country. The Alliance and (the International Federation of Journalists Asia-Pacific section) calls on governments to refrain from prejudicial speculation that risks harming our democratic system."
While most US journalists have been slow to defend WikiLeaks - and some have been openly critical of the website's distribution of leaked US diplomatic cables - their Australian peers are pushing back against attempts to constrain freedom of information and the press.
Dozens of major newspaper editors, broadcasters and leading journalists have signed a letter defending Wikileaks, and the nation's most respected senior journalists are condemning Australian officials - including Prime Minister Julia Gillard and federal Attorney General Robert McClelland - for suggesting that Assange broke the law by publishing the diplomatic cables.
"What they said was ridiculous," declared Laurie Oakes, a veteran newspaper and broadcast journalist who for years has been one of the nation's highest-profile political commentators. "To brand what the WikiLeaks site has done as illegal when there is no evidence at all of any breach of the law, was I think, demeaning. I think as journalists we should make it clear that that is our view. Whether it's a letterbox full of classified cables, or a quarter of a million documents in digital form, the principle is the same, and we should fight for the right to publish."
American journalists have been slower to step up. And some have even joined Sarah Palin and others in attacking WikiLeaks at a time when key players in Congress are proposing official assaults on the website and those associated with it.
But the media watchdog group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting  has stepped up with a strong letter signed by author Barbara Ehrenreich, academic Noam Chomsky, Pentagon papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and a number of journalists associated with The Nation, Salon, In These Times, Free Speech TV and other outlets.
[Nichols reproduces the FAIR letter, which JFP signed; you can sign it here: http://bit.ly/hIhPMS - JFP]
7) Intelligence Reports Offer Dim View of Afghan War
Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times, December 14, 2010
Washington - As President Obama prepares to release a review of American strategy in Afghanistan that will claim progress in the nine-year-old war there, two new classified intelligence reports offer a more negative assessment and say there is a limited chance of success unless Pakistan hunts down insurgents operating from havens on its Afghan border.
The reports, one on Afghanistan and one on Pakistan, say that although there have been gains for the United States and NATO in the war, the unwillingness of Pakistan to shut down militant sanctuaries in its lawless tribal region remains a serious obstacle. American military commanders say insurgents freely cross from Pakistan into Afghanistan to plant bombs and fight American troops and then return to Pakistan for rest and resupply.
The findings in the reports, called National Intelligence Estimates, represent the consensus view of the United States' 16 intelligence agencies, as opposed to the military, and were provided last week to some members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. The findings were described by a number of American officials who read the reports' executive summaries.
The White House review comes as some members of Mr. Obama's party are losing patience with the war. "You're not going to get to the point where the Taliban are gone and the border is perfectly controlled," said Representative Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat who serves on the Armed Services Committee and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, in an interview on Tuesday.
Mr. Smith said there would be increasing pressure from the political left on Mr. Obama to end the war, and he predicted that Democrats in Congress would resist continuing to spend $100 billion annually on Afghanistan. "We're not going to be hanging out over there fighting these guys like we're fighting them now for 20 years," Mr. Smith said.
8) For Red Cross, Afghanistan Situation Now at its Worst
Alissa J. Rubin, New York Times, December 15, 2010
Kabul, Afghanistan - The International Committee of the Red Cross, which usually seeks to avoid the public eye, held a rare news conference here Wednesday to express deep concern that Afghanistan security has deteriorated to its worst point since the overthrow of the Taliban nine years ago and is preventing aid groups from reaching victims of conflict.
"The sheer fact the I.C.R.C. has organized a press conference is an expression of us being extremely concerned of yet another year of fighting with dramatic consequences for an ever-growing number of people in by now almost the entire country," said Reto Stocker, the head of the Afghanistan office.
By every measure that the Red Cross tracks, the situation has worsened throughout the country for civilian casualties, internal displacement and health care access and all of it is "against the background of a proliferation of armed actors," Mr. Stocker said.
The Red Cross, one of the oldest relief organizations in the world, began working 30 years ago in Afghanistan when Afghans started to fight the Soviet occupation. Unlike many other groups, it maintains dialogue with all sides in conflicts so that it can reach and treat victims of violence regardless of their allegiances. The Red Cross admission that it is unable to reach people it has a mandate to help is a measure of the gravity of the situation here.
Throughout the country civilian casualties have risen steadily , said Mr. Stocker, pointing to the growing numbers of wounded taken to Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar, which the Red Cross supports. Compared with the 2009, admissions so far this have increased by 25 percent to 2,650, and an increasing proportion of wounds are from roadside bombs, he said. "This is a big, big problem," he said.
The number of internally displaced people - those who have fled conflict or natural disaster - has also risen 25 percent compared with last year, said Mr. Stocker.
He noted that the Red Cross may be undercounting because it can no longer travel many parts of the country. Access, he said, "in 30 years has never been as poor and as difficult as it is today."
9) Dozens Die in Suicide Bombing in Iran
William Yong, New York Times, December 15, 2010
Tehran - A solemn Shiite religious mourning ceremony near a mosque in southeastern Iran was shattered by a double suicide bombing on Wednesday, leaving at least 39 people dead and many more wounded.
Jundollah, an outlawed insurgent group that has carried out other attacks in the region near the Pakistan border, claimed responsibility. Iranian officials said they had evidence that American agents were responsible, which the United States denied.
"The advanced equipment and facilities of the perpetrators show that this attack was supported by the regional intelligence services of the United States," said Ali Abdolahi, deputy for security at the Interior Ministry, in comments published on the official IRNA news agency Web site.
Mr. Abdolahi confirmed that two bombers detonated explosive-packed belts on Wednesday morning among crowds gathered outside the Imam Hussein Mosque in the city of Chabahar, near the border with Pakistan. One attacker was said to have been identified by the police and shot before setting off his explosives to little effect. The police arrested a third attacker, according to reports by semiofficial news agencies.
Jundollah's claim of responsibility was first reported by Al-Arabiya, a Web site based in Dubai. Members of Jundollah,, whose stated aim is to fight alleged discrimination against Sunnis of the Baluch ethnic group, have vexed Iran's security services for years. Iran has long accused the United States of backing the group, although the Obama administration recently added Jundollah to a list of foreign terrorist organizations.
"Jundollah uses a variety of terrorist tactics, including suicide bombings, ambushes, kidnappings and targeted assassinations," the State Department said in a statement, adding that the movement's leaders have "confirmed its commitment to continue its terrorist activities."
10) Israel bars entry to W Bank firemen
Ceremony to honour firefighters cancelled after Israel denies entry permits to Palestinians who helped battle blaze.
Al Jazeera, 14 Dec 2010 20:31 GMT http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2010/12/20101214151434351650.html
Israel has barred a group of Palestinian firefighters from attending a ceremony where they were to be honoured for their help in battling a deadly forest fire last week.
At least 10 Palestinians were invited to attend the event in northern Israel, where the four-day fire left 41 people dead and ravaged large swaths of forest. But Ahmad Tibi, an Arab member of the Israeli parliament and one of the organisers of the ceremony, said the event was cancelled when three of the Palestinians were refused entry permits to Israel on Tuesday.
He said the military had turned the firefighters away on security grounds. "It's a theatre of the absurd," he told The Associated Press news agency. "This is a regular day-to-day practice of the occupation, and it exposes its ugly face."
The Israeli military said the Palestinians were denied entry due to a "technical mistake". It said permits have now been issued, and it later issued a statement expressing "regret" for the incident.
But Ahmed Rizek, the Palestinian fire chief whose permit arrived too late for him to attend, said entry refusals for no apparent reason were routine for many Palestinians.
He said he and his staff were surprised to learn when they arrived at the checkpoint that not all of the men would be granted entry into Israel.
Palestinians are required to have permits to enter Israel from the West Bank, and many complain that Israeli approval or rejection can be arbitrary.
About 20 Palestinian firefighters joined the international effort to battle the fire that swept through the Carmel forest in northern Israel.
11) Uribe confirms Wikileaks: he was prepared to cross into Venezuela territory
Mercopress, Tuesday, December 14th 2010
Former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010) confirmed the contents of a confidential US State Department confidential cable exposed by Wikileaks, according to which he contemplated sending troops across into Venezuelan territory to capture and arrest FARC guerrilla leaders.
In his Twitter Uribe wrote: "Reply to Wikileaks: I proposed it and I did it: to protect Colombians you must capture the terrorists where ever they are", although he did not give details of any such actions.
According to the cable Uribe in early 2008 spoke of sending troops into neighboring Venezuela to capture Colombian FARC leaders he suspected were hiding there, the U.S. envoy in Bogota said in one of the cables.
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