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JFP 12/21: US moots opening new war front in Pakistan
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 21 December 2010 - 9:14pm
Just Foreign Policy News
December 21, 2010
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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.
In These Times: "Terrorist by Association"
The Justice Department targets nonviolent solidarity activists.
1) Senior US military commanders in Afghanistan are pushing for an expanded campaign of Special Operations ground raids across the border into Pakistan's tribal areas, the New York Times reports. The decision to expand US military activity in Pakistan would amount to the opening of a new front in the nine-year-old war, the Times says.
2) NATO denied a New York Times report that US forces are pushing to expand special operations raids into tribal areas of Pakistan, AP reports. "There is absolutely no truth to reporting in The New York Times," said NATO's deputy chief of communications. In Washington, a senior defense official also said the story was "not true." Other Pentagon officials said the idea has not risen through the chain of command to a point where it is a formal proposal and being given serious consideration. Pakistan's ambassador, responding to the report, said: "we will not accept foreign troops on our soil."
3) Night-time raids by US Special Forces have turned much of the local population in the war zone against the Western presence, Time Magazine reports. A senior U.S. officer who has commanded forces in Afghanistan maintains that a single lethal error has the power to drive an entire family or village irretrievably into enemy hands. "In the long term, building the relationship with the local community is more significant ... than killing any one local insurgent leader or commander," he says. Despite official boasts that a rising body count has handicapped the Taliban, the tenacity of the insurgency seems to suggest otherwise, Time notes.
4) Vice President Biden said next summer's planned withdrawal would be more than a token reduction and that the U.S. would be out of the country by 2014 "come hell or high water," AP reports. Biden's prediction appeared to go further than statements by President Obama, who last month said there would be a reduced U.S. footprint in Afghanistan by 2014 but that the number of troops that would remain was still in question. "We're starting it in July of 2011, and we're going to be totally out of there, come hell or high water, by 2014," Biden told NBC's "Meet the Press" in an interview broadcast Sunday.
5) Scientists have become increasingly persuaded that people who suffer brain injuries benefit from "cognitive rehabilitation therapy" in which patients relearn basic life tasks such as counting, cooking or remembering directions to get home, ProPublica and NPR report. But despite pressure from Congress and the recommendations of military and civilian experts, the Pentagon's health plan for troops and many veterans refuses to cover the treatment - a decision that could affect tens of thousands of service members who have suffered brain damage while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Critics say the military's insurer, Tricare, is simply trying to duck costs, which can run to $15,000 to $50,000 per soldier.
6) Human Rights Watch said Honduran authorities should take concrete steps to curb ongoing attacks against journalists, human rights defenders, and political activists in a report released yesterday. The report documents 47 cases of threats or attacks - including 18 killings - against journalists, human rights defenders, and political activists since the inauguration of President Lobo in January 2010.
7) Congressional investigators say the Pentagon allowed a "secrecy obsessed" business group to supply jet fuel to a U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan, turning a blind eye to an elaborate fraud involving fuel deliveries from Russia, the Washington Post reports. "The fact that the Department of Defense and Department of State ignored or were unaware of the false certifications is astonishing," said Rep. John Tierney, chair of the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs. The subcommittee report said lack of proper oversight had left Washington blind to "political, diplomatic and geopolitical collateral consequences." These include the ouster of two Kyrgyz governments in popular revolts stirred in part by anger over alleged jet fuel corruption, the Post notes.
8) $6 billion a year will be needed to sustain Afghanistan's security forces, Walter Pincus reports in the Washington Post. "We are looking at two decades of supplying a few billion a year to Afghanistan," said Michael O'Hanlon of Brookings a year ago. Pincus suggests that US military construction plans at Bagram belie claims the US will be out of Afghanistan militarily by 2014, and notes that in 2007, the commander of U.S. Central Command described Bagram to Congress as "the centerpiece for the CENTCOM Master Plan for future access to and operations in Central Asia."
9) More than 900 rabbis from around the world, the majority from the U.S., have signed a letter denouncing a religious edict promoted by Israeli rabbis against renting to Arabs, the Guardian reports. The rabbis' letter implies that the discriminatory religious edict threatens the relationship between Israel and world Jewry, the Guardian notes. Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial centre, also strongly criticized the discriminatory religious edict, the Guardian notes.
10) US officials say Iraqi political developments, and in particular the resurgence of the Sadrists, are casting new doubt on establishing any enduring US military role in Iraq, the New York Times reports. The shifting political landscape in both countries has made it increasingly possible that the 2011 withdrawal could truly be total, officials said. US commanders have begun to acknowledge the US might be able to leave Iraq to handle its own security. "There's no doubt you can get to zero," the departing commander of US forces in central Iraq said. "The president's given us direction, and the answer is zero," he said. "So that's where we're going."
11) Critics say leaked US cables from Peru show a deep contradiction between US diplomacy and US military policy, Inter Press Service reports. The cables disclose US military drug war collaboration with Peruvian officials that US diplomats believed to be taking payoffs to protect drug traffickers.
12) Despite years of U.S. political and financial support for Cuban dissidents, the top U.S. diplomat in Havana said opposition leaders are largely unknown, badly divided and unlikely to ever run the country, according to a secret diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks, Reuters reports. "We see very little evidence that the mainline dissident organizations have much resonance among ordinary Cubans," U.S. Interests Section chief Jonathan Farrar said. He described the dissident movement as largely ineffectual, due to factors including internal conflict, outsized egos, preoccupation with money, outdated agendas and infiltration by the Cuban government.
1) U.S. Seeks to Expand Military Raids Inside Pakistan
Mark Mazzetti and Dexter Filkins, New York Times, December 20, 2010
Washington - Senior American military commanders in Afghanistan are pushing for an expanded campaign of Special Operations ground raids across the border into Pakistan's tribal areas, a risky strategy reflecting the growing frustration with Pakistan's efforts to root out militants there.
The proposal, described by American officials in Washington and Afghanistan, would escalate military activities inside Pakistan, where the movement of American forces has been largely prohibited because of fears of provoking a backlash.
The plan has not yet been approved, but military and political leaders say a renewed sense of urgency has taken hold, as the deadline approaches for the Obama administration to begin withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan. Even with the risks, military commanders say that using American Special Operations troops could bring an intelligence windfall, if militants were captured, brought back across the border into Afghanistan and interrogated.
The Americans are known to have made no more than a handful of forays across the border into Pakistan, in operations that have infuriated Pakistani officials. Now, American military officers appear confident that a shift in policy could allow for more routine incursions.
America's clandestine war in Pakistan has for the most part been carried out by armed drones operated by the C.I.A.
Additionally, in recent years, Afghan militias backed by the C.I.A. have carried out a number of secret missions into Pakistan's tribal areas. These operations in Pakistan by Afghan operatives, known as Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams, have been previously reported as solely intelligence-gathering operations. But interviews in recent weeks revealed that on at least one occasion, the Afghans went on the offensive and destroyed a militant weapons cache.
The decision to expand American military activity in Pakistan, which would almost certainly have to be approved by President Obama himself, would amount to the opening of a new front in the nine-year-old war, which has grown increasingly unpopular among Americans. It would run the risk of angering a Pakistani government that has been an uneasy ally in the war in Afghanistan, particularly if it leads to civilian casualties or highly public confrontations.
Still, one senior American officer said, "We've never been as close as we are now to getting the go-ahead to go across."
The officials who described the proposal and the intelligence operations declined to be identified by name discussing classified information.
In the past, the American military has had only limited success in its few cross-border operations. In October, an American military helicopter accidentally killed a group of Pakistani soldiers during a flight over the border in pursuit of militants. The episode infuriated Pakistan's government, which temporarily shut down American military supply routes into Pakistan. Several fuel trucks sitting at the border were destroyed by insurgents, and American officials publicly apologized.
Two years earlier, in September 2008, American commandos carried out a raid in Pakistan's tribal areas and killed several people suspected of being insurgents. The episode led to outrage among Pakistan's leaders - and warnings not to try again.
2) NATO Denies US Military Pushing For Pakistan Raids
Patrick Quinn, Associated Press, Tuesday, December 21, 2010; 2:00 PM
Kabul, Afghanistan - The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan on Tuesday denied a report that American forces are pushing to expand special operations raids into tribal areas of neighboring Pakistan where Islamist militants are known to find refuge.
NATO's deputy chief of communications, U.S. Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, said there was no truth to the report published in The New York Times.
Citing unnamed American officials in Washington, the Times reported on its website late Monday that U.S. military commanders believe special operations forces could capture militants for interrogation, bringing in an intelligence windfall. "There is absolutely no truth to reporting in The New York Times," Smith said
In Washington, a senior defense official also said the story was "not true." Two other Pentagon officials said it's no surprise that there would be commanders on the ground who think having the U.S. go after insurgents itself would be useful, but that the idea has not risen through the chain of command to a point where it is a formal proposal and being given serious consideration.
In response to the newspaper report, Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, said:
"Pakistani forces are capable of handling the militant threat within our borders and no foreign forces are allowed or required to operate inside our sovereign territory. We work with our allies, especially the U.S., and appreciate their material support but we will not accept foreign troops on our soil - a position that is well known."
3) Why Night Raids May Doom U.S. Prospects In Afghanistan
Jason Motlagh and a TIME reporter, Time Magazine, Saturday, Dec. 18, 2010
Kabul / Loyi Rud - Night-time raids by Special Forces have become a mainstay of the U.S.-led war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, but they have turned much of the local population in the war zone against the Western presence. The conflicting narratives over what transpired in an Oct. 3 raid in the rugged farming hamlet of Loyi Rud, near the Pakistan border, is typical of the disconnect between the NATO mission and many of those it purports to protect. And that disconnect dims the prospects for success of the U.S. war strategy reaffirmed Thursday by the Obama Administration following a progress review.
When area residents were jolted awake by an explosion late that Sunday, they assumed that foreign troops had come to destroy a local hashish factory. Outside their mud compounds, they saw the burning wreckage of a pick-up truck owned by a low-level drug smuggler. Soldiers moving through the hamlet dragged at least eight men, including the smuggler, from three compounds. And then, say locals and Afghan police officials, the operation took a wrong turn: In a fourth home, 28-year-old Nimatullah and his wife were lying in bed afraid, she claims,when several American soldiers crashed through their door, shouting over flashes of light and sharp, popping sounds that made her reach for her husband. He was already dead. "My clothes became wet with his blood," she says. "I pulled at his body and the soldiers were pulling me from him." The ordeal ended with her locked up in an adjacent room with her daughter and women relatives.
Western military officials tell a different story of that night's events. A statement by the NATO mission released the following day said intelligence reports had indicated that a Taliban operative smuggling weapons through the area was holed up in Loyi Rud. When a loudspeaker was used to call the suspect out of a compound, another man ran to a nearby building. He showed "hostile intent" when confronted, officials say,and was killed. The alleged Taliban facilitator was detained with several associates, who were said to be in possession of machine guns, grenades and 20 bags of wet opium. Lt. Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for the NATO mission, flatly denies that coalition forces shot an innocent man in his bed. "We stand by the material in this release, which I verified through operational reporting channels," he says, adding: "It is understandable that rumors can get stretched after so much time goes by."
Military officials hail night raids as an effective tactic that has killed or captured hundreds of low to mid-level militant commanders, and they say that more than 80 percent of the time, not a single shot is fired. But critics, including the Afghan government, insist that costly mistakes are made with self-defeating regularity. A UN report released in August says that 41 civilians were killed in 13 raids during in the first half of 2010 - although it noted that because of limited reporting of such raids, many of them clandestine, the real civilian toll is likely much higher.
Last month President Hamid Karzai demanded an end to night raids, which he says alienate rural communities to the Taliban's benefit. (The demand was rejected.) Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks reveal that the Afghan president has been privately lobbying in vain against the tactic for almost two years. Over the same period, the frequency of night raids has reportedly grown fivefold, despite dire internal memos from State Department officials warning that civilian casualties would doom the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.
In Loyi Rud, the effects of the night raid appear to have alienated even the local law enforcement officials. Nimatullah, after all, had no prior criminal record, and was well known to neighbors and area police as a simple farmer who minded his own business. "The fact is that Nimatullah was just a farmer, not a Talib or a smuggler," says district governor Haji Abdul Ghani.The job of rooting out suspected Taliban or criminals, he argues, is best left to Afghan forces who have a better knowledge of local people and their affiliations.
U.S. military officials counter that while Afghan forces are usually included in the operations, tipping off local authorities, many of which are riddled with corruption, risks compromising operational security. But many Afghans have seen too many instances of innocent civilians being killed to accept NATO's explanations. Each incident no doubt has its own distinct story, but the pattern has made the prospects of the U.S. and its allies winning local hearts and minds increasingly improbable. After burying Nimatullah, about 60 Loyi Rud villagers traveled to the Spin Boldak district center to demonstrate against U.S. forces in their country. Several chanted "Death to America."
The aggressive tempo of Special Forces raids this year suggests that U.S. commanders believe that the tactical impact of eliminating local insurgent leaders outweighs the hearts-and-minds cost of the occasional mistake. But a senior U.S. officer who has commanded forces in Afghanistan maintains that a single lethal error has the power to drive an entire family or village irretrievably into enemy hands. "In the long term, building the relationship with the local community is more significant ... than killing any one local insurgent leader or commander," he says. After all, despite official boasts that a rising body count has handicapped the Taliban, the tenacity of the insurgency seems to suggest otherwise.
4) Biden Says US To Be Out Of Afghanistan By 2014
Associated Press, Sunday, December 19, 2010; 2:32 PM
Washington - Despite uneven progress in Afghanistan, Vice President Joe Biden said next summer's planned withdrawal would be more than a token reduction and that the U.S. would be out of the country by 2014 "come hell or high water."
Biden's prediction appeared to go further than statements by his boss, President Barack Obama, who just last month said there would be a reduced U.S. footprint in Afghanistan by 2014 but that the number of troops that would remain was still in question.
Obama has discussed maintaining a counterterrorism capability in Afghanistan after 2014. As recently as Dec. 16, he said the U.S. and its NATO allies would have an enduring presence there after 2014, although the details of that were unclear.
The Obama administration has said repeatedly that July would mark the beginning of the troop withdrawals and that their size would depend on military conditions.
"We're starting it in July of 2011, and we're going to be totally out of there, come hell or high water, by 2014," Biden told NBC's "Meet the Press" in an interview broadcast Sunday.
Nevertheless, Biden said plans have not changed on Obama's pledge to begin U.S. troop reductions next summer. "We are going to, come July, begin to draw down American forces" and begin to transfer responsibility to the Afghans, he said. "It will not be a token amount."
5) Pentagon Health Plan Won't Cover Brain-Damage Therapy for Troops
T. Christian Miller, ProPublica, and Daniel Zwerdling, NPR, Dec. 20, 2010
During the past few decades, scientists have become increasingly persuaded that people who suffer brain injuries benefit from what is called cognitive rehabilitation therapy - a lengthy, painstaking process in which patients relearn basic life tasks such as counting, cooking or remembering directions to get home.
Many neurologists, several major insurance companies and even some medical facilities run by the Pentagon agree that the therapy can help people whose functioning has been diminished by blows to the head.
But despite pressure from Congress and the recommendations of military and civilian experts, the Pentagon's health plan for troops and many veterans refuses to cover the treatment - a decision that could affect the tens of thousands of service members who have suffered brain damage while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tricare, an insurance-style program covering nearly 4 million active-duty military and retirees, says the scientific evidence does not justify providing comprehensive cognitive rehabilitation. Tricare officials say an assessment of the available research that they commissioned last year shows that the therapy is not well proven.
But an investigation by NPR and ProPublica found that internal and external reviewers of the Tricare-funded assessment criticized it as fundamentally misguided. Confidential documents obtained by NPR and ProPublica show that reviewers called the Tricare study "deeply flawed," "unacceptable" and "dismaying." One top scientist called the assessment a "misuse" of science designed to deny treatment for service members.
Tricare officials said their decisions are based on regulations requiring scientific proof of the efficacy and quality of treatment. But our investigation found that Tricare officials have worried in private meetings about the high cost of cognitive rehabilitation, which can cost $15,000 to $50,000 per soldier.
With so many troops and veterans suffering long-term symptoms from head injuries, treatment costs could quickly soar into the hundreds of millions, or even billions of dollars - a crippling burden to the military's already overtaxed medical system.
6) Honduras: Prosecute Post-Coup Abuses
Attacks and Threats Remain a Very Serious Concern
Human Rights Watch, December 20, 2010
Honduran authorities should take concrete steps to end impunity for abuses committed after the country's 2009 coup, and to curb ongoing attacks against journalists, human rights defenders, and political activists, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 65-page report, "After the Coup: Ongoing Violence, Intimidation, and Impunity in Honduras," documents the state's failure to ensure accountability for abuses committed under the country's de facto government in 2009. The report also documents 47 cases of threats or attacks - including 18 killings - against journalists, human rights defenders, and political activists since the inauguration of President Porfirio Lobo in January 2010.
"We undertook this independent assessment because a year and a half after the coup in Honduras, the consequences for human rights are still being felt," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "It is clear from our findings that until Honduran authorities take concrete steps to reduce impunity and stop the attacks, it will be very difficult to restore trust in the country's democratic system."
The lack of accountability - and ongoing violence and threats - have had a chilling effect on free speech and political participation in Honduras, particularly among those who opposed the 2009 coup, Human Rights Watch said.
The 2009 coup was condemned by the international community. The OAS suspended Honduras's membership, and many Latin American governments withdrew their ambassadors from the country. The United States also objected to the coup; though, unfortunately, it waited more than two months before imposing effective sanctions on the de facto government.
After the coup, security forces committed serious human rights violations - including excessive force against demonstrators and arbitrary detentions - as well as illegitimate restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly.
No one has been held criminally responsible for any of these violations. The Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General's Office has filed charges in 20 cases of alleged violations committed under the de facto government. Judges acquitted the defendants in eight cases and the rest remain pending before the courts, including some cases that are stalled because the accused remain at large.
Security forces obstructed investigations of abuses committed after the coup, Human Rights Watch found. They failed to turn over firearms for ballistics tests, to respond to information requests to identify officers accused of committing abuses, and to grant access to military installations. While security forces have been somewhat more cooperative since President Lobo took office, the earlier lack of cooperation has had a lasting impact on the investigations.
In addition, the Supreme Court created a climate in which lower-court judges were discouraged from ruling against de facto authorities, Human Rights Watch said. The court endorsed the military's actions on the day of the coup, and subsequently disregarded constitutional appeals challenging policies of the de facto government. It also exercised its disciplinary powers in an arbitrary and seemingly political fashion in May, when it fired four judges who had publicly questioned the coup's legality.
Since President Lobo's inauguration, at least 18 journalists, human rights defenders, and political activists have been killed, several in circumstances that suggest the crimes may have been politically motivated. For example, on February 15, gunmen shot and killed Julio Benitez, an opponent of the coup who had received numerous threatening phone calls warning him to abandon his participation in opposition groups.
Human Rights Watch has also received credible reports of 29 other cases involving threats or attacks against journalists, human rights defenders, and political activists.
Available information indicates that Honduran authorities have made very little, if any, progress in investigating these cases. In the absence of thorough investigations it is difficult to determine how many of the attacks were politically motivated or whether there was official involvement in any of them.
Yet the ongoing political polarization in Honduras and circumstantial evidence in the majority of the 2010 cases in this report - including explicit statements by perpetrators in some instances -suggest that many victims may have been targeted because of their political views, fueling a climate of fear that has undermined basic freedoms in Honduras.
7) Pentagon, State Blasted Over Kyrgyz Jet-Fuel Deals
Andrew Higgins and Walter Pincus, Washington Post, Monday, December 20, 2010; 11:00 PM
To keep U.S. warplanes flying over Afghanistan, the Pentagon allowed a "secrecy obsessed" business group to supply jet fuel to a U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan, turning a blind eye to an elaborate fraud involving fuel deliveries from Russia, according to congressional investigators.
In a report due to be released Tuesday, the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs hammers the Pentagon and also State Department diplomats for ignoring red flags raised by jet fuel contracts worth nearly $2 billion for the Manas Transit Center, a U.S. base used for in-flight refueling over Afghanistan.
The U.S. military's long but mostly hidden dependence on Russian fuel is a sensitive issue. The congressional report, which details the use of false end-user certification to evade Russian export restrictions, comes as Moscow and authorities in Kyrgyzstan are pushing to wrest control of the lucrative jet fuel supply business from a Gibraltar-registered business group comprising Mina Corp. and Red Star Enterprises.
Subcommittee chairman John F. Tierney (D-Mass.) warned that the United States "should be very cautious about the potential for overreliance on Russian fuel supplies supporting the mission in Afghanistan." He added that the previous use of deception to obtain Russian fuel raised concerns. "The fact that the Department of Defense and Department of State ignored or were unaware of the false certifications is astonishing."
The report, which follows an eight-month investigation into the jet fuel contracts, found no evidence of corrupt ties between Mina Corp. or Red Star and the families of Kyrgyz leaders. Yet it cautioned that a lack of proper oversight and a neglect of America's broader interests in the region had often left Washington blind to "political, diplomatic and geopolitical collateral consequences." These include the ouster of two Kyrgyz governments in popular revolts stirred in part by anger over alleged jet fuel corruption and also U.S. ties with Moscow.
8) Gauging The Price Tag For Afghanistan's Security
Walter Pincus, Washington Post, Monday, December 20, 2010; 7:14 PM
As the United States begins to look closely at reducing future spending, it may be time to put a dollar figure on President Obama's commitment, restated last week, to the long-term security of Afghanistan.
Let's start with the cost of maintaining Afghan security forces after they reach their planned goal by October - 171,000 in the military and 134,000 police. John Ferrari, deputy commander for programs for the NATO training mission in Afghanistan told reporters last week that the estimate is that $6 billion per year would be needed to sustain that overall force.
According to the latest figures published by the CIA, the Afghan government takes in revenues of $1 billion a year and has expenditures of $3.3 billion. Today, that deficit is made up through contributions by other nations. But that figure does not include the costs of Afghanistan's military and police units. As Farrari put it, "We procure all of their equipment. We sustain them. We pay for a lot of their training."
This year, for example, the United States is spending $9.2 billion on Afghan security forces and the administration has requested another $11.6 billion for the coming year, funds now tied up in Congress. About a third of that is for equipment - "about 80,000 vehicles, 175,000 radios and technical equipment, about 400,000 weapons and 146 different aircraft," according to Farrari. All of that is expected to cost some $10 billion by the time the full force is outfitted, he added.
But the question remains, who will pay the $6 billion a year in the future? As of now, there is no Afghan security sustainment fund. "How the international community decides to help the government of Afghanistan to fund that needs to be determined in the future," Ferrari said.
Some say compared with today, $6 billion could be a bargain should the Afghans be able to take over their own security by 2014. As Ferrari noted, the United States is now spending about $8 billion a month to maintain 98,000 American troops in Afghanistan, while the rest of the 30,000 to 40,000 coalition forces cost several billion dollars a month. "So the $6 billion per year is a very good return...on your investment for 300,000 Afghan security forces," Farrari said.
A year ago, Michael E. O'Hanlon, a senior fellow and military expert at the Brookings Institution predicted, "We are looking at two decades of supplying a few billion a year to Afghanistan." He added, "It's a reasonable guess that for 20 years, we essentially will have to fund half the Afghan budget...We are creating a [long-term military aid] situation similar to the ones we have with Israel, Egypt and Jordan."
One thing different in Afghanistan is the presence of a major American facility - Bagram Air Field. The facility continues to grow even as the president emphasizes his goal of reducing the level of U.S. troops beginning in July. A year ago, some 20,000 American military and civilian personnel were housed there, along with major Air Force units and coalition partners.
Just last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers put out a "presolicitation notice" for a contractor to build the eighth of nine planned increments for troop housing "to replace expeditionary housing facilities" for 1,520 personnel. According to the notice, building the proposed facility could cost from $25 million to $100 million. The contract will not be awarded before March.
What's interesting is that the facility is expected to take a year to build, meaning it would not be completed before April 2012. That's less than two years before the 2014 date when Afghans are expected to take over security, with the U.S. presence reduced to training units.
But is that the real plan? Back in 2008, a supplemental funding bill for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars contained $62 million for an ammunition storage facility at Bagram, where 12 planned "igloos" were to support Army and Air Force needs. In requesting that money from Congress, the Army wrote, "As a forward operating site, Bagram must be able to provide for a long term, steady state presence which is able to surge to meet theater contingency requirements." A year earlier, Adm. William J. Fallon, then commander of U.S. Central Command, described Bagram to Congress as "the centerpiece for the CENTCOM Master Plan for future access to and operations in Central Asia."
9) World rabbis denounce edict forbidding Jews from renting homes to Arabs
Letter signed by 900 rabbis around the world describes ruling backed by many Israeli rabbis as a 'painful distortion' of Judaism
Harriet Sherwood, Guardian, Wednesday 15 December 2010 14.20 GMT http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/15/rabbis-denounce-arab-rental-ban
[The Rabbis' letter: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/rabbisagainstracism/ - JFP.]
Jerusalem - More than 900 rabbis from around the world have signed a letter expressing "great shock and pain" at a ruling backed by scores of Israeli rabbis forbidding Jews from renting or selling property to non-Jews. The letter describes the ruling as a "painful distortion of our tradition" and a "desecration of God's name" and appeals to Israeli rabbis to "take a public stand and oppose those who misrepresent our tradition".
Most of the signatories are from the US, but they include rabbis from many countries, among them the UK.
The ruling, which originated with Shmuel Eliyahu, the municipal rabbi of the city of Safed, has caused controversy and division within Israel. It has also been strongly criticised by Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and president, Shimon Peres.
But it attracted widespread support among nationalist rabbis. It is mainly targeted at Arab citizens of Israel but also the country's growing refugee and economic-migrant community.
The global signatories, who describe themselves as Rabbis Against Religious Discrimination, address their letter to "our rabbinic colleagues in Israel" to whom they are turning "at a time of crisis".
It says: "The attempt to root discriminatory policies based on religion or ethnicity in Torah is a painful distortion of our tradition. Am Yisrael [the people of Israel] know the sting of discrimination, and we still bear the scars of hatred."
It adds that Jews in the diaspora "struggle to maintain a strong, loving relationship" with Israel. "Every day that challenge grows more difficult. Many of our congregants love Israel and want nothing more than the safety and security of the Jewish homeland, but for a growing number of Jews in America this relationship to Israel cannot be assumed."
There have been calls for rabbis who backed the ruling [against renting to Arabs] and whose salaries are paid from public funds to be disciplined or removed from their posts. Israel's attorney-general has described the ruling as "inappropriate public conduct".
Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial centre, also strongly criticized the ruling.
10) Politics In Iraq Casts Doubt On A U.S. Presence After 2011
Steven Lee Myers, Thom Shanker and Jack Healy, New York Times, December 18, 2010
Baghdad - The protracted political turmoil that saw the resurgence of a fiercely anti-American political bloc here is casting new doubt on establishing any enduring American military role in Iraq after the last of nearly 50,000 troops are scheduled to withdraw in the next 12 months, military and administration officials say.
Given Iraq's military shortcomings, especially in air power, intelligence coordination and logistics, American and Iraqi officials had long expected that some American military presence, even if only in an advisory role, would continue beyond 2011. That is the deadline for a troop withdrawal negotiated under President George W. Bush more than three years ago and adhered to, so far, by President Obama.
Even as contingency planning for any lasting American mission has quietly continued in Baghdad and at the Pentagon, however, the shifting political landscape in both countries has made it increasingly possible that the 2011 withdrawal could truly be total, the officials said. Both Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq and Mr. Obama, struggling to retain the support of their political bases, have repeated their public vows to adhere to the deadline.
The military and administration officials emphasized in interviews that the White House had made no final decision on whether any troops might remain beyond the scheduled withdrawal - and that it would not even consider one unless asked by Mr. Maliki's government.
The question is so politically delicate - here and in Washington - that officials would speak only on condition of anonymity. Further, they say the topic has not been broached in detail even in recent private meetings between senior Iraqi and American officials, including one in Baghdad last week between Mr. Maliki and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen.
After parliamentary elections in March led to a protracted period of deadlock and deal-making, Mr. Maliki now leads an unwieldy coalition with parties pursuing conflicting agendas, including lawmakers allied with Moktada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric in exile whose fighters actively battled against American and Iraqi forces until they were routed in 2008.
Their new partnership, which propelled Mr. Maliki's nomination to a second term, will make it politically risky for him to now reverse himself. Even Ayad Allawi, the leader of a multisectarian bloc who has long been supportive of the Americans, said in an interview last week that there was not yet any consensus among Iraqi leaders to request an extension of the American military presence.
Militarily, at a minimum, the administration plans to create an Office of Security Cooperation that, like similar ones in countries like Egypt, would be staffed by civilians and military personnel overseeing the training and equipping of Iraq's security forces. Privately, officials say the Iraqis needed such an office if they hope to continue purchasing and learning how to use M1A1 tanks, F-16 fighter jets and other equipment necessary to rebuild the country's shattered armed forces.
The officials said that a small office would not require a new security agreement with the Iraqi government to replace the existing one, but the size of the office now under active consideration - with as many as 1,000 personnel - certainly would, even without a larger contingent of American troops in bases around Iraq after 2011.
While officials said there was still time in the coming months to negotiate with the Iraqis, if they want to, the deadline was rapidly approaching.
"I think everybody understands we can't wait until the end of the year, and also that whatever agreement we are going to reach, we need to start working on that as soon as possible," Admiral Mullen said in an interview after meeting with Mr. Maliki in Baghdad. "There's a finite amount of time. There is a physics problem with this, a mechanical problem, to physically move people and equipment out."
At the same time, American commanders have also begun to acknowledge that the United States might in fact be able to leave Iraq to handle its own security, something almost unthinkable only a few years ago. Even shortcomings like control of its airspace and electronic surveillance could, in theory, be covered using American aircraft based elsewhere in the Persian Gulf, they say.
"There's no doubt you can get to zero," [Gen. Terry A. Wolff, the departing commander of American forces in central Iraq] said, noting that critics questioned the consequences of reducing the number of troops to 50,000 from more than 140,000 when Mr. Obama took office. "The president's given us direction, and the answer is zero," he said. "So that's where we're going."
11) Wikileaks Cables Reveal Two-Faced Politics by US
Ángel Páez, Inter Press Service, Dec 16
Lima - "It's not surprising for the United States to cooperate with military or government officials in Peru about which it has information linking them to serious crimes," said activist Ricardo Soberón, referring to contradictions revealed in cables released by the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks.
Soberón, with the non-governmental Centre for Research on Drugs and Human Rights (CIDDH), says "since 1987, the U.S. Department of State has been concerned about the risk of corruption among the Peruvian military in drug trafficking zones, but that concern has not been shared by the Pentagon (Department of Defence), which was more interested in expanding its missions in the Andes region, without regard to the costs."
"The leaked cables reflect a deep political contradiction between Washington's institutional diplomacy, and the military diplomacy characterised by the promotion of strategies like (the U.S.-financed counterinsurgency and anti-drug strategy) Plan Colombia, the Merida Initiative (a multi-billion dollar U.S. counter-drug assistance programme for Mexico and Central America), hot pursuit across borders, or the 'hammer and anvil' tactic in the Colombian armed conflict," he told IPS.
"The revelations by the cables represent a continuity of these dichotomies in the discourse and practices of U.S. agencies with different objectives and interests in the region," he said.
A Mar. 12, 2009 cable sent by then-U.S. Ambassador in Lima Michael McKinley, which was released by WikiLeaks and published by the El Pais newspaper in Spain, says army commanders fighting remnants of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) Maoist rebels received "lucrative payoffs from drug traffickers."
The sources cited by the document referred to drug traffickers operating in league with Sendero insurgents in the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRAE) region, and contended that "the army - for fear of disrupting these drug trafficking networks and losing access to payoffs - is unwilling to commit the large force needed to pacify the VRAE."
But at the same time, the U.S. embassy has pressed for Washington to respond to requests by Peru's army brass for increased military aid to squelch Sendero, according to seven confidential cables dated 2009, which were among the thousands of documents released by Wikileaks.
Despite McKinley's serious allegations of drug corruption against Peruvian army officers fighting in the VRAE, Peru's main cocaine-producing region, just eight months later, on Nov. 25, 2009, the ambassador himself asked the chief of the U.S. Southern Command for greater aid to the Peruvian army in its fight against Sendero.
In the Mar. 12, 2009 cable, McKinley also notes that under the government of Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), government officials cooperating with the United States in the fight against drugs at the same time received payoffs to cooperate with drug traffickers.
"Former President Alberto Fujimori's (1990-2000) intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos, for example, collaborated with top army and other security officials to develop a web of protection for favoured drug traffickers while cooperating with U.S. officials to combat others," McKinley wrote.
12) Dissidents have little support in Cuba: WikiLeaks.
Jeff Franks, Reuters, Fri Dec 17, 2010 4:11am EST
Havana, - Despite years of U.S. political and financial support for Cuban dissidents, the top U.S. diplomat in Havana said opposition leaders are largely unknown, badly divided and unlikely to ever run the country, according to a secret diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks.
U.S. Interests Section chief Jonathan Farrar said the dissidents deserved backing as the "conscience of Cuba," but Washington "should look elsewhere, including within the government itself, to spot likely successors to the Castro regime."
"We see very little evidence that the mainline dissident organizations have much resonance among ordinary Cubans," Farrar said. Without changes, he said, "the traditional dissident movement is not likely to supplant the Cuban government."
The cable, published on Thursday by Spanish newspaper El Pais, is one of 250,000 confidential U.S. diplomatic cables Wikileaks has begun issuing on the Internet and provided to a number of media outlets.
Farrar's comments, made in a cable dated April 15, 2009, raise questions about the wisdom of the United States' longtime policy of supporting Cuban dissidents as an alternative to the Communist government that has ruled the island since a 1959 revolution put Fidel Castro in power.
Despite claims they are supported by thousands of Cubans, Farrar said "informal polls we have carried out among visa and refugee applicants have shown virtually no awareness of dissident personalities or agendas."
He described the dissident movement as largely ineffectual, due to factors including internal conflict, outsized egos, preoccupation with money, outdated agendas and infiltration by the Cuban government. "The greatest effort is directed at obtaining enough resources to keep the principal organizers and their key supporters living from day to day," Farrar wrote.
He told of one political party organization that told him "quite openly and frankly it needed resources to pay salaries" and presented him "with a budget in hopes the (interests section) would be able to cover it."
"With seeking resources as a primary concern, the next most important pursuit seems to be to limit or marginalize the activities of erstwhile allies, thus preserving power and access to scarce resources," he said.
Farrar said dissidents get "much of their resources" from exile groups, but also look upon the exiles with suspicion. "Opposition members of all stripes complain the intention of the exiles is to undercut local opposition groups so that they can move into power when the Castros leave," he wrote.
Dissident leaders tend to be "comparatively old" and out of touch with a Cuban society less concerned with freeing political prisoners than "having greater opportunities to travel freely and live comfortably," Farrar wrote.
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