Friday, December 28, 2007

For Al Qaeda, Bhutto Was "A Precious American Asset" In Pakistan They Simply Had To Kill

Al Qaeda-Linked Militant Leader Blamed By Pakistan Government Denies Involvement

Syed Saleem Shahzad, writing in the Asia Times shows once again why he is one of the better best 'War on Terror' reporter in the world today :
”We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat mujahideen.”

These were the words of al-Qaeda’s top commander for Afghanistan operations and spokesperson Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, immediately after the attack that claimed the life of Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto on Thursday (December 27).

Bhutto, with Western backing, had been hoping to become prime minister for a third time after general elections next month.

“This is our first major victory against those [eg, Bhutto and President Pervez Musharraf] who have been siding with infidels [the West] in a fight against al-Qaeda and declared a war against mujahideen,” Mustafa told Asia Times Online by telephone.

He said the death squad consisted of Punjabi associates of the underground anti-Shi’ite militant group Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, operating under al-Qaeda orders.

The assassination of Bhutto was apparently only one of the goals of a large al-Qaeda plot, the existence of which was revealed earlier this month.

On December 6, a Pakistani intelligence agency tracked a cell phone conversation between a militant leader and a local cleric, in which a certain Maulana Asadullah Khalidi was named. The same day, Khalidi was arrested during a raid in Karachi. The arrest, in turn, led to the arrest of a very high-profile non-Pakistani militant leader, which, it is said, revealed an operation aimed at wiping out “precious American assets” in Pakistan, including Musharraf and Bhutto.

The operation is said to have involved hundreds of cells all over Pakistan to track targets and communicate with their command, which would then send out death squads.

Mustafa referred to a recent address by Bhutto in North West Frontier Province, in which she lambasted Islamic extremism and asked the people to stand against it. Bhutto was the only Pakistani leader who regularly spoke against al-Qaeda.

Bhutto’s killing, it would seem, is only the first major incident in al-Qaeda’s war against “American assets”, which is likely to plunge the country into further chaos and divert it from the democratic path.
Read The Full Story Here

Another Al Qaeda-linked leader fingered by the Pakistan government denies having anything to do with the murder of Benazir Bhutto, claiming "we don't kill women" :

Al-Qaeda linked Pakistani militant Baitullah Mehsud was not involved in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, his spokesman said.

"He had no involvement in this attack," Mehsud's spokesman Maulvi Omar said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

"This is a conspiracy of the Government, army and intelligence agencies," he said.

"I strongly deny it. Tribal people have their own customs. We don't strike women."

The Pakistan Government has claimed that Mehsud was responsible for Benazir Bhutto's killing as she left an election rally in Rawalpindi on Thursday.

Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema said the Government yesterday recorded an "intelligence intercept" in which Mehsud "congratulated his people for carrying out this cowardly act".

Mr Cheema described Mehsud as an "al-Qaeda leader" and said he was also behind the October 18 bombing against Ms Bhutto's homecoming parade through Karachi that killed more than 140 people.

Mehsud is a commander of pro-Taliban forces in the lawless Pakistani tribal region South Waziristan, where al-Qaeda fighters are also active. His forces often attack Pakistani security forces.

He was recently quoted in a Pakistani newspaper as saying he would welcome Ms Bhutto's return from exile with suicide bombers. Mehsud later denied that in statements to local television and newspaper reporters.

Mr Cheema said Mehsud was "behind most of the recent terrorist attacks that have taken place in Pakistan".

Maulvi Omar said the transcript released by the Government, allegedly of a phone call between Mehsud and a militant discussing Bhutto's death after the fact, was a "drama".

He said it would have been "impossible" for militants to get through the security cordon around the campaign rally where she was killed.

"Benazir was not only a leader of Pakistan but also a leader of international fame. We express our deep grief and shock over her death," Maulvi Omar said.

Pakistan Government Claims Bhutto Died From "Skull Fracture" Not Assassin's Bullets Or Suicide Bomber Blast
India Views Events In Pakistan With Growing Horror

The Times Of India details the growing fears of Indian government officials over Pakistan border instability and the possibility of an Islamic extremist takeover :
With Pakistan tottering on the brink of uncertainty after Benazir Bhutto's assassination, the Indian security and foreign policy establishment promptly went into a huddle on Thursday evening to discuss the implications for India.

The first reading of the situation was there would be "no immediate repercussions" for India in terms of a jihadi or any other spillover from across the border.

The Pakistan Army as well as the nefarious ISI, as it is, are getting increasingly bogged down within their own borders to create major mischief across their eastern flank in India.

The mid-term to long-term estimate, however, held that the emerging situation with fundamentalists pushing the jihadi envelope from the frontier areas to well-fortified garrison towns in Pakistan, was fraught with serious consequences for India.

"An unstable Pakistan, in the danger of imploding, does have security implications for us. The terror infrastructure in Pakistan and PoK directed against India is, after all, still very much intact," said a top security official.

Far more serious is the fear that the threat of a fundamentalist takeover is not just a wargame scenario, but a possibility getting stronger by the day. "Groups of terrorists enjoying state patronage are worrisome enough. But the cost that we may have to pay if they get to control the state apparatus, the army and nuclear arsenal can't even be comprehended," said an intelligence officer.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

'Surge' Of US Special Forces Expected In Pakistan In Early 2008

In the wake of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a 'surge' of US Special Forces for Pakistan's remote tribal lands is unlikely to face heavy opposition from President Musharraf, who will be busy trying to stop his own name, and that of his political party, from being linked with Bhutto's assassins.

The shock of Bhutto's death, so close to the January 8 elections which were tipped to see her elected prime minister, is also likely to lessen public opposition to the increase of US troops inside Pakistan.

This report, published today in The Australian newspaper, appeared on the Murdoch media portal within half an hour of the confirmation of the announcement of Bhutto's death (excerpts) :
US Special Forces are to increase their presence in Pakistan amid assessments that the country is to become the central battlefield for al-Qaida as it is driven from Iraq.

"Pakistan should be carefully watched because it could prove to be a significant flashpoint in the coming year," US think tank Strategic Forecasting said in an evaluation of al-Qaida's tactics as the Islamist group comes under mounting pressure in Iraq.

With the "rapid spread of Talibanisation" in Pakistan's insurgent northwest, the country would become "especially important if the trend in Iraq continues to go against the jihadis and they are driven from Iraq", the assessment said.

"As the global headquarters for the al-Qaida leadership, Pakistan has long been a significant stronghold on the ideological battlefield."

The Stratfor assessment coincided with reports from Washington suggesting US Special Forces would expand their presence in Pakistan in the new year.

The boost in US forces was part of an effort to train and support Pakistan's army in its fight to stem the al-Qaida and Taliban-linked insurgency.

The Washington reports reflected Pentagon frustration with the Pakistani counter-insurgency effort, and said the head of the US Special Operations Command, Admiral Eric T. Olson, had made a series of visits to the country for discussions with senior military leaders.

"The first US (Special Forces) personnel could be on the ground in Pakistan early in the new year", the report said.

US Central Command chief Admiral William Fallon said the US forces would provide training and mentoring based on the US experience with the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

...the US reports coincided with the disclosure of an ambitious 15-year "anti-terror investment plan" for Pakistan that has been high on the agenda of US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte in recent visits to Islamabad.

Bhutto's murder is set to lead to the opening of a new front in the 'War on Terror' inside Pakistan, which has the potential to be as deadly, and terror-ridden, as the current wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.
Pakistan : Bhutto Assassinated In Suicide Bombing

Opposition Blames Musharraf Government For Terror Attacks

Musharraf : 'Terror Is Destroying Pakistan'

Terrible. What an horrific way for Pakistan to start 2008, a year that was supposed to mark the end of pseudo-military dictatorship and the beginning of real democracy. Elections that may well have seen Benazir Bhutto elected were to be held on January 8. Russian government ministers are warning her death will mark the beginning of a new storm of terror attacks, aimed at President Musharraf.

Benazir Bhutto's millions of supporters are obviously not going to take this well. She was seen by many as the saviour of Pakistan :
Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated Thursday in a suicide bombing that also killed at least 20 others at a campaign rally, a party aide and a military official said.

"At 6:16 p.m. she expired," said Wasif Ali Khan, a member of Bhutto's party who was at Rawalpindi General Hospital where she was taken after the attack. A senior military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment, confirmed that Bhutto had died.

Her supporters at the hospital began chanting "Dog, Musharraf, dog," referring to Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf. Some of them smashed the glass door at the main entrance of the emergency unit, others burst into tears.

More details :

The Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was killed in a gun and bomb attack after a rally in the city of Rawalpindi yesterday, her party said.

A official from the Pakistan People's Party, Rehman Malik, said: "She has been martyred."

Russia's Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Losyukov, predicted a "wave of terrorism" would result.

"An act of terror is a bad sign," Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov, Russia's most senior Asia diplomat, told Itar-Tass news agency. "We hereby offer our condolences. This will for certain trigger a wave of terrorism."

Police said a suicide bomber fired shots at Bhutto, 54, as she was leaving the rally in a park before blowing himself up.

"The man first fired at Bhutto's vehicle," said a police officer, Mohammad Shahid. "She ducked and then he blew himself up."

At least 16 people were killed in the attack, which occurred on the same day gunmen killed four supporters of another former Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, in Islamabad, police said.

Sharif was several kilometres from the shooting and was on his way to Rawalpindi after attending a rally. He blamed supporters of the pro-Musharraf party for the violence, but a spokesman for the party denied that its workers were involved.

"This all happened at the behest of the Government," Sharif told supporters on the outskirts of Rawalpindi. "They are 100 per cent responsible, but we are not scared of such actions."

Earlier Sharif, who was overthrown by Mr Musharraf in a 1999 coup and allowed back into the country last month after seven years in exile, had called for a revolution to unseat the pro-Musharraf party.

"You have to bring about a revolution," Sharif told a crowd of about 10,000 supporters in Gujjar Khan town in Punjab province.

Musharraf will face enormous pressure to launch a real war against extremists and terrorists in Pakistan now, particularly in the tribal lands bordering with Afghanistan.

In recent weeks there have been a growing number of reports that the US has wanted to deploy hundreds of special forces troops into Pakistan's tribal lands to round up militants and Islamic extremists. Musharraf, and the majority of Pakistanis, were deeply opposed to seeing US special forces 'officially' sent into their country.

Benazir Bhutto's death is likely to further the US case for sending troops into Pakistan, as Musharraf will be widely claimed now to be unable to deal effectively with the plague of terrorism.

Only a few days ago, during meetings with Afghanistan's president Karzai, Musharraf was quoted as saying that terrorism is destroying Pakistan : an apparently warm atmosphere before Musharraf was to host a state dinner for Karzai, he underlined the need for intelligence cooperation with Afghanistan to fight the militant threat.

He said the neighbours had to stop "this menace of extremism and terrorism which is destroying both our countries" and called on their respective intelligence agencies to work hand-in-hand.

Terror attacks have killed more than 770 people in Pakistan during 2007.

Bhutto would have clearly understood the great danger she faced from terrorists, considering they almost killed her during the worst terror attacks ever seen in Pakistan when she returned home in October.

Musharraf will find it all but impossible to deny his supporters are responsible for the assassination of Bhutto, though he will likely ramp up his earlier claims that terrorism in Pakistan is mostly the responsibility of "foreigners".

Pakistan Used Billions In Foreign Aid To Fight Terror To Re-Arm Against India

December 25 : Musharraf Promises Free And Fair Elections For January 8, Says "Foreign Terrorists" Will Not Be Allowed To Hijack Pakistan Democracy

Opposition Claimed Musharraf Government Was Planning To Rig Elections

Bhutto Recently Hailed As 2nd Most Influential Woman In The World

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Iraq : 2007 Saw A Storm Of Myth-Making Of War Successes

Depending on which mainstream media reports you choose to believe, 2007 was the year that the US alliance 'won' the war on Iraq or at the very least it saw great progress being made in bringing stability and peace to Iraqi towns and cities and the political process.

Middle East expert Juan Cole disagrees. He has compiled a Top Ten Myths On Iraq. Here's some excerpts :
Myth: The US troop surge stopped the civil war that had been raging between Sunni Arabs and Shiites in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.

Fact: The civil war in Baghdad escalated during the US troop escalation. Between January, 2007, and July, 2007, Baghdad went from 65% Shiite to 75% Shiite. UN polling among Iraqi refugees in Syria suggests that 78% are from Baghdad and that nearly a million refugees relocated to Syria from Iraq in 2007 alone. This data suggests that over 700,000 residents of Baghdad have fled this city of 6 million during the US 'surge,' or more than 10 percent of the capital's population. Among the primary effects of the 'surge' has been to turn Baghdad into an overwhelmingly Shiite city and to displace hundreds of thousands of Iraqis from the capital.

Myth: The US overthrow of the Baath regime and military occupation of Iraq has helped liberate Iraqi women.

Fact: Iraqi women have suffered significant reversals of status, ability to circulate freely, and economic situation under the Bush administration.

Myth: Iraq has been "calm" in fall of 2007 and the Iraqi public, despite some grumbling, is not eager for the US to depart.

Fact: in the past 6 weeks, there have been an average of 600 attacks a month, or 20 a day, which has held steady since the beginning of November. About 600 civilians are being killed in direct political violence per month, but that number excludes deaths of soldiers and police. Across the board, Iraqis believe that their conflicts are mainly caused by the US military presence and they are eager for it to end.

Go Here For The Full List From Juan Cole

Turkey Claims 150 Kurd Rebels Killed, 200 Targets Hit In Air Strikes In Northern Iraq

Suicide Bombers Hit Sunnis Allied To US, Dozens Killed

Despite Violence, Iraqi Christians Crowd Churches For Christmas

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Turkey Launches Third Round Of Air Strikes On Kurds In One Week

US Accused Of Violating Iraq Sovereignty By Helping Turkey Attack Kurds

There are contradictory reports across the media about whether or not the Turkish military has been using US intelligence in plotting its jet fighter and artillery attacks on Kurdish positions inside Iraq, and just how helpful that intelligence has been to Turkey's military operations.

For the third time in seven days, Turkey has hit Kurdish separatists in Northern Iraq :

Turkish aircraft attacked positions of the separatist organization PKK before shelling the area with artillery, AFP said, citing the statement.

The statement gave no details about the targets, saying that more information would be released next week and that Turkey would carry out more operations in spite of harsh winter conditions in the mountainous region, AFP said.

As for the Americans helping Turkey to bomb Kurdistan militants, the Kurdish coalition is obviously not very happy :

A Kurdistan Coalition leader criticized on Thursday the U.S. policy of providing military assistance to Turkish troops in their bombing of northern Iraqi regions, describing the cooperation as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.

While stressing the strength of U.S.-Kurdish relations, Kurdish leader Mahmoud Othman told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI), "U.S.-Turkish cooperation in the bombing of regions in northern Iraq is a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and a breach of U.S. commitment to protect Iraq's sovereignty and borders."

"It also contradicts the declaration of intentions and principles signed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and U.S. President George W. Bush last month, which provides for U.S. protection of Iraqi borders and national government," the parliamentarian indicated.

Slashing the United States for providing "incorrect intelligence reports" to the Turks, Othman said, "The victims of the Turkish shelling were civilians," in referernce to a Turkish bombing of villages in Iraq's Kurdistan region a few days ago.

On Tuesday Turkish Ambassador to Washington Nabi Sensoy said that the U.S. administration provided his country with necessary intelligence that led to raids in northern Iraq on Kurdish militants on Sunday.

On Monday, about 500-600 Turkish troops penetrated two kilometers into the Kurdistan region in pursuit of members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq.

Turkey has massed up to 100,000 troops along the frontier in preparation for a cross-border operation to crush about 3,000 guerrillas of the PKK, blamed for attacks that killed 15 Turkish soldiers.

Scott Sullivan, writing in Petroleum News, says it is a myth that Turkey is containing the Kurdish rebel group, the PKK. He pushes the line that Turkey must crush the PKK or face the break-up of both Turkey, and Iraq :

To avoid catastrophic defeat, Turkey must push for three options. First, Turkey should assert its claim to Mosul and send troops to Mosul, with or without US permission. The Kurds have armed forces in Kirkuk. The Iranians have armed forces in Basra. Turkey is entitled to have armed forces im Mosul.

Second, Turkey should request that Turkey and the US create a joint force to protect the oilfields in northern Iraq from Kurdish annexation. The US-Turkish joint force will push the Kurdish peshmerga militia from Kirkuk's oilfields. The peshmerga presence in Kirkuk is providing security for Kurdish officials who are literally stealing Iraq's oil. Moreover, the US will announce via President Bush that all Kurdish oil contracts must first be approved in Baghdad. The US will consider apprehending and prosecuting Kurdish officials who are stealing Iraq's oil reserves.

Finally, to demonstrate US resolve and fairness on Kurdish oil issues, President Bush shall the Hut Oil Company to suspend its oil contracts with the Kurds until such contracts are reviewed and approved by Iraq's central government.

Third, Turkey will announce that it will, with Talabani’s permission, push most of the population in Northern Iraqi PKK zones into areas controlled by Talabani. The purpose of this policy is to put an end, once and for all, to the PKK safe haven in Northern Iraq.

Fourth, the US shall request that the Iraqi flag be displayed in all government buildings in Northern Iraq. If Kurdish compliance with this rule is not forthcoming, the US shall withdraw its troops from the Kurdish zone.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Hamas Offers Truce But Israel Says No

Hamas clearly understands that the United States, and the international community, is rapidly losing patience with Israel over the establishment of a Palestinian state. Hamas has now made the extraordinary move of offering to begin truce talks with Israel.

Israel, however, has replied with a fast and firm "No" :

The Israeli Prime Minister's office has reacted coolly to an approach by the Hamas leader in Gaza suggesting truce talks.

The offer by the Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, was relayed through an Israeli reporter Sleman al-Shafhe, of Channel 2 television station. During the main news broadcast on Tuesday night, Shafhe said that Mr Haniyeh had phoned him earlier seeking to send a message to the Israelis.

Shafhe reported that Mr Haniyeh said he had the will and the ability to stop the rocket fire directed at Israel from Gaza, on condition that Israel stopped killing Palestinians there and lifted its economic blockade of the strip.

Mr Haniyeh had said he would have "no problem" negotiating with the Israeli Government on these issues, with an eye to reaching a mutual truce, Shafhe said.

But Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, said "our partner for dialogue is the legitimate Palestinian government", referring to the one appointed by the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas.

Israeli tanks and troops raided the central Gaza Strip again yesterday, killing at least two Palestinian gunmen, sources said. The Islamic Jihad's military wing, the Al-Quds Brigades, claimed the two dead men as its own.

Mr Haniyeh's conversation with Shafhe was not recorded, but a Hamas government spokesman, Taher Nunu, confirmed that it had taken place and that Mr Haniyeh had spoken about a truce.

Abu Hamza, a spokesman for the Al-Quds Brigades, said on Tuesday that he was angered by Mr Haniyeh's call for a truce, and that there would not be one until the group had avenged the killing of its commander, Majed al-Harazin.

The Hamas overtures could stem from fears that its leaders may again be targeted by Israel, and hopes to stave off a broad Israeli military operation in Gaza.

Israel questions how much control Mr Haniyeh has over the armed factions, saying that in the past Hamas has used lulls in the violence to build up its strength.

The Israeli President, Shimon Peres, released an unusually harsh statement opposing talks. He described the overture "a pathetic attempt to deflect world attention away from the crimes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad".

Mr Haniyeh's call followed a series of Israeli military strikes that killed at least 10 Palestinian militants in Gaza on Monday night and Tuesday morning, in a concerted effort to suppress the rocket fire. Eight of those killed were from Islamic Jihad, which has been responsible for most of the recent rocket fire, and included Majed al-Harazin.

Two others were from Hamas, which has mainly limited itself to firing shorter-range mortar shells at the border crossings and at Israeli border communities.

Israel and Hamas have never had direct contacts because of the group's violently anti-Israel ideology. But in the past, they agreed to short truces negotiated by third parties.

Speaking at a Wednesday morning prayer gathering at a Gaza soccer stadium for the beginning of the Eid al-Adha festival, Mr Haniyeh blamed Israel for the tense atmosphere, referring to Israel's two-day air assault. "We greet it with tears in our eyes and sadness in our hearts," he said
President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have been very forthright in their demands that Israel make important concessions in establishing the 'two state solution' and stop settlement activity, the latest of which is a huge series of apartment buildings planned for Jews in the West Bank and Jewish homes in East Jerusalem, infuriating Palestinians, who intend to claim East Jerusalem as their capital.

Many Israelis are now starting to wonder if they're slowly being abandoned by the US, as the influence of the righteously pro-Israel NeoCons and AIPAC falls in Washington. You often see such comments dominating the discussion boards of Israel news sites like Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post.

The American mainstream media coverage of Israel is also becoming more negative, as though media bosses are losing patience with Israel's stalling of giving Palestinians their own state.

The near ceaseless rocket attacks on Israeli towns from inside Gaza are barely mentioned anymore in the American mainstream media, but the Washington Post yesterday ran a long story on the 'ethnic cleansing' of Arabs from towns inside Israel's borders. The Israelis quoted in the story were presented as racist and unwilling to live in mixed societies, which no doubt is true enough for many Israelis, but it was clearly the theme of the story.

International donors recently committed more than $US7 billion to the Palestinian Authority to rebuild Palestine's economy, and infrastructure. In Gaza, Hamas' popularity is rebounding, as Palestinians generally remain as cynical as the Israelis that current talks and negotiations will lead to full implementation of the 'two state solution'.

President Bush's first official visit to Israel in January, 2008, is likely to be his final hard pitch for Israel to enter into wider, less restrictive negotiations with the Palestinians. His visit is likely to be met with protests from both Palestinians, and Jewish right wing extremists.

Israel Building Massive Nuclear Bunker - Prime Minister Olmert Gets 'Nuclear Shelter' In His Home

Bush To Make His First Presidential Visit To Israel In January, 2008

Olmert : If Two State Solution Talks Fail, "Israel Will Be Finished"

Top Catholic Leader Rejects Israel's Jewish Identity, Says Lands Must Be Shared

Israel Air Strikes In Gaza Kill 13 Militants

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

US Defence Secretary : NATO Alliance At Risk Of Breaking Apart

NATO countries are failing to "step up the plate" when it comes to Afghanistan, said US Defence Secretary Robert Gates. This failure, he said in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, puts the entire structure of the alliance at risk of collapse :
I know, as do you, the members of this committee, that if the world’s greatest democracies cannot summon the will to accomplish a mission that all agree is morally just and essential for our collective security, then the citizens of these democracies will begin to question the mission’s worth – and perhaps even the worth of the Alliance itself. We must not allow this to happen.
The Afghanistan mission has exposed constraints associated with interoperability, organization, critical equipment shortfalls, and national caveats. I believe the problem arises in large part due to the way various allies view the very nature of the Alliance in the 21st century – about facing threats that are quite different from those of the Cold War. NATO must adjust to the challenges associated with conducting operations in distant locations. And NATO needs to ensure that it has the resources and the organizational structure to counter terrorist networks and triumph over insurgencies that threaten to cause instability and failed states....
I have been urging our allies to commit more troops and resources to the fight and to remove restrictions on the troops they already deploy. I know that several members of Congress have been doing the same thing. We in the administration will continue to work with NATO to fix these shortfalls. I would also like to stress the importance of American unity on this matter. If other governments are pressured by this body and the Senate, it may help push them to do the difficult work of persuading their own citizens that it is time to step up to this challenge.

British Prime Minister Plans Peace Talks With Taliban

Is the Afghanistan War, like the Iraq War, now drawing to a close for Western military forces?

A report in the UK Independent claims that British PM, Gordon Brown, is preparing for preliminary peace talks with the Taliban, through Afghanistan's President Karzai :

As the deadliest year in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in 2001 comes to a close, Gordon Brown is ready to talk to the Taliban in a major shift in strategy that is likely to cause consternation among hardliners in the White House.

Six years after British troops were first deployed to oust the Taliban regime, the Prime Minister believes the time has come to open a dialogue in the hope of moving from military action to consensus-building among the tribal leaders. Since 1 January, more than 6,200 people have been killed in violence related to the insurgency, including 40 British soldiers. In total, 86 British troops have died. The latest casualty was Sergeant Lee Johnson, whose vehicle hit a mine before the fall of Taliban-held town of Musa Qala.

The Cabinet yesterday approved a three-pronged plan that Mr Brown will outline for security to be provided by Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) and the Afghan national army, followed by economic and political development in Afghanistan.

But the intention to engage Taliban leaders in a constructive dialogue, which Mr Brown will make clear in a parliamentary statement today, will be by far the most controversial element of the plan. A senior Downing Street source confirmed the move last night and one Brown aide who accompanied the Prime Minister on his recent visit to Kabul, said: "We need to ask who are we fighting? Do we need to fight them? Can we be talking to them?"

Senior government officials said it was an error to see the Taliban as a unified organisation rather than as a disparate group of Afghan tribesmen, often farmers recruited at the end of the gun, infiltrated by foreign fighters. The aim is to divide the Taliban's local support from al-Qa'ida and militants from Pakistan.

The shift of strategy will place the onus to deliver on Hamid Karzai, the Afghan President, who will take the lead in opening discussions with Taliban leaders through provincial governors.

"Musa Qala was a good example of what we are planning – once the town was stabilised, people were ready to appoint judges, local police chiefs, start laying on services and putting in power lines," said the No 10 source. "But the Afghan government has got to demonstrate they can deliver an alternative strategy."

The dialogue strategy is the latest attempt by Mr Brown to distance himself from the military legacy of the Blair era and the hardline instincts of President George Bush.

At the weekend, the Prime Minister made a surprise visit to Basra in southern Iraq and announced that the British handover of control of the region to local Iraqi forces would be completed within two weeks. British soldiers' combat role will then cease, as they move to an "overwatch" role, and retreat to Basra Air Station.

The determination to draw a line under the Bush-Blair years is threatening to heighten tensions between No 10 and the hardline neocons who still dominate the White House. The pace of the Basra handover has already caused dismay in hawkish Washington circles. The administration was also sceptical of the British deal with tribal elders that led to Musa Qala falling into the hands of the Taliban earlier this year...with Mr Bush in the final year of his presidency, his influence on events on the ground is waning.

A source at Number 10 Downing Street told the Independent that there had been "full consultation with the White House, and they have been talked through all of this."

The NeoCons will go nuts. US, British and Australian forces preparing to withdraw from Iraq, talks like with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and their plans to kick off a new 'War On Terror' front in Iran derailed by US Intelligence agencies and serving and retired generals in the US Army.

The UK Independent also has a short history of the Afghanistan War, from the POV of the
British military :

October 2001

The US and Britain begin air strikes when Taliban refuses to give up Osama bin Laden after 11 September. Taliban leader Mullah Omar flees.

December 2001

Interim government created under US-backed President Hamid Karzai.

January 2002

Peacekeepers arrive in the form of Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf). Britain leads force's first mission.

September 2002

Assassination attempt made against President Karzai.

April 2004

Britain accused by US of bungling its command of international campaign to rid Afghanistan of opium poppy in southern Helmand province amid unprecedented increase in heroin production.

January 2006

3,300 UK forces sent to Helmand as Isaf takes over military operations in the south. In May, UK takes charge of Isaf, which is kept separate from US hunt for Taliban leaders and Bin Laden.

August 2006

Fighting in Afghanistan described as "worse than the Korean war" by Isaf commander.

December 2007

British soldier killed in fight to recapture Musa Qala, an opium bazaar town in Helmand, bringing total British death toll to 86 since 2001. Britain currently has more than 6,000 troops in Afghanistan.

The United States has around 25,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. NATO countries contribute another 20,000 soldiers.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates Blasts NATO Countries Over Afghanistan Shortfalls

Six Years Later, US Forces Still Fighting Taliban - Attacks By Taliban Increase, Local Support Rises

UK To Pay Afghan Farmers To Stop Growing Opium Poppies

Monday, December 10, 2007

Afghan & NATO Troops Take Back Key Taliban Stronghold

Into 'The Valley Of Death' With American Troops As Afghanistan Falls Apart

British troops in Iraq are celebrating after being told their war is almost over. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is expected to withdraw thousands of troops in the coming weeks.

In Afghanistan, meanwhile, British, and NATO forces, are looking at a decade long fight to finally rout the Taliban. For today, they can celebrate a rare strategic victory, thanks to the Afghan Army :
Afghan and NATO troops have scored a significant victory by forcing the Taliban to withdraw from its urban stronghold in the south of the country.

The town of Musa Qala was taken by the Taliban in February and was the only major centre in Taliban hands.

The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown who is on a surprise visit to Afghanistan has described the recapture of the town as a vital step in the fight against the Taliban.

The Afghan army began the offensive on the town Musa Qala last Friday, supported by British and US forces. The Taliban has now withdrawn reportedly telling local elders they were not prepared to fight street by street.

Major Charles Anthony is a spokesman for the international forces. He says Afghan soldiers have recaptured the town's centre.

"The last report that we had is that the Afghan National Army had reached the town centre area, was holding their position, consolidating their gains at this point and in support (phonetic), ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) is in support of the Afghan National Army at this point."

The heavy fighting and aerial bombardment of the town has reportedly killed 12 Taliban fighters and two children, two NATO soldiers also during the four-day offensive. And thousands of local residents fled the fighting north across the desert and into the mountains.

British troops had occupied Musa Qala previously, but after making a deal with local elders they handed over control and withdrew. But the handover resulted in the Taliban reinstating themselves in the town in February this year and was until today the last big regional centre held by the Taliban.

British troops are expected to re-establish a town in Musa Qala; the defence will now be led by Afghan troops.

However the Afghan and British forces will have to regain the trust of the local people who have been displaced by fighting several times. And there's growing frustration that reconstruction projects have been to slow to materialise.

Veteran Taliban and Al Qaeda reporter Jason Burke explains why the battle for Musa Qala is the Afghanistan War in microcosm :
The battle for Musa Qala is to a significant degree an inter-tribal conflict in which religion, varying degrees of ethnic and nationalist sentiment and external support have all been pressed into service to continue centuries-old struggles for scarce resources.

When the Taliban fell, the president, Hamid Karzai, appointed loyalists within the Akhunzada sub-tribe to key positions of power locally. For three years, the other sub- tribes, the Pirzai, Ibrahimzai, and Khalozai, tried to secure a fairer redistribution of lucrative administrative posts through more or less peaceful means, largely to no avail.

The result was that, when in 2005 the ideological hardcore of the Taliban launched their offensive to retake the south and east of Afghanistan, they found large numbers of ready allies in northern Helmand.

But with stalemate in the current battle for Afghanistan, Musa Qala has now become far more than a tribal fight. Both sides are searching for a symbolic victory that will indicate the future course of the war. The losers all round of course, will be the villagers themselves.

Vanity Fair has an excellent, long feature by writer Sebastian Junger, who joins American forces in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, as they try to take control of a key strategic route used by the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The Korengal Valley has become known as one of the deadliest pieces of terrain in the world for American soldiers :
By many measures, Afghanistan is falling apart. The Afghan opium crop has flourished in the past two years and now represents 93 percent of the world’s supply, with an estimated street value of $38 billion in 2006. That money helps bankroll an insurgency that is now operating virtually within sight of the capital, Kabul. Suicide bombings have risen eightfold in the past two years, including several devastating attacks in Kabul, and as of October, coalition casualties had surpassed those of any previous year. The situation has gotten so bad, in fact, that ethnic and political factions in the northern part of the country have started stockpiling arms in preparation for when the international community decides to pull out. Afghans—who have seen two foreign powers on their soil in 20 years—are well aware of the limits of empire. They are well aware that everything has an end point, and that in their country end points are bloodier than most.

The Korengal is widely considered to be the most dangerous valley in northeastern Afghanistan, and Second Platoon is considered the tip of the spear for the American forces there. Nearly one-fifth of all combat in Afghanistan occurs in this valley, and nearly three-quarters of all the bombs dropped by nato forces in Afghanistan are dropped in the surrounding area. The fighting is on foot and it is deadly, and the zone of American control moves hilltop by hilltop, ridge by ridge, a hundred yards at a time. There is literally no safe place in the Korengal Valley. Men have been shot while asleep in their barracks tents.


The Korengal is so desperately fought over because it is the first leg of a former mujahideen smuggling route that was used to bring in men and weapons from Pakistan during the 1980s. From the Korengal, the mujahideen were able to push west along the high ridges of the Hindu Kush to attack Soviet positions as far away as Kabul. It was called the Nuristan-Kunar corridor, and American military planners fear that al-Qaeda is trying to revive it. If the Americans simply seal off the valley and go around, Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters currently hiding near the Pakistani towns of Dir and Chitral could use the Korengal as a base of operations to strike deep into eastern Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden is rumored to be in the Chitral area, as are his second in command, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, and a clutch of other foreign fighters. While thousands of poorly trained Taliban recruits martyr themselves in southern Afghanistan, bin Laden’s most highly trained fighters ready themselves for the next war, which will happen in the East.

In addition to its strategic value, the Korengal also has the perfect population in which to root an insurgency. The Korengalis are clannish and violent and have successfully fought off every outside attempt to control them—including the Taliban’s in the 1990s. They practice the extremist Wahhabi version of Islam and speak a language that even people in the next valley over cannot understand.

Junger's Vanity Fair feature
is easily one of the best reports from Afghanistan we've read all year.

Trenches, Snipers, Mines Greet British Forces As They Try To Take Back 'Taliban Town'

Afghanistan War Killed 6000 In 2007

17 Taliban Killed In NATO Airstrikes In Western Afghanistan

In Six Month Tour, Royal Anglicans Killed 1028 Taliban, Fired One Million Bullets And Lost Six Soldiers

Leaked Map Reveals Almost Half Of Afghanistan Is Too Dangerous For Aid Workers To Operate In

Afghan Foreign Minister Says There Is No Proof Iran Is Arming Taliban

Monday, December 03, 2007

US Intelligence Counters NeoCon Propaganda That Iran Is Building Nuclear Weapons

National Intelligence Estimate Concludes Iran Has Had No Viable Nuclear Weapons Program Since 2003

Cheney Stifled Release Of Report For More Than A Year

Four years ago, the cream of the United States intelligence agencies came to an understanding that Iran was, in fact, not working on nuclear weapons, and that it's nuclear energy program was, most certainly, peaceful.

More than a year ago, US Vice President, Dick Cheney, a key cheerleader in the "We Must Bomb Iran Now" NeoCon warpig pack, got his hands on the National Intelligence Assessment that declared Iran was nuclear weapons free, and would remain so for years to come, and he buried the report, while still going on TV and talking up the supposed threat posed by Iran's nuclear energy programs.

When President Bush talked about Iran and World War 3 in October, he already knew that his own intelligence community had found proof that Iran had built nuclear weapons, or was even getting close to beginning construction of nuclear weapons. All the same, he told the world :
"...I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon…"
Former US ambassador, John Bolton, has literally become a full-time spokesman for the 'Bomb Iran Now' crowd, along with Fox News and most of the Murdoch newspaper empire. The presumption that Iran is, right now, working on nuclear weapons falls from the mouths of news show hosts across American, British and Australian TV network not because this is what their own sources are telling them, but because this is what they see other media saying is going on in Iran.

In the light of the revelations from US intelligence, the opposition by Russia and China to further, harsher sanctions against Iran makes a lot more sense.

From the New York Times :
A new assessment by American intelligence agencies concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains frozen, contradicting judgment two years ago that Tehran was working relentlessly toward building a nuclear bomb.

The conclusions of the new assessment are likely to reshape the final year of the Bush administration, which has made halting Iran’s nuclear program a cornerstone of its foreign policy.

The assessment, a National Intelligence Estimate that represents the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies, states that Tehran is likely keeping its options open with respect to building a weapon, but that intelligence agencies “do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.”

Iran is continuing to produce enriched uranium, a program that the Tehran government has said is designed for civilian purposes. The new estimate says that enrichment program could still provide Iran with enough raw material to produce a nuclear weapon sometime by the middle of next decade, a timetable essentially unchanged from previous estimates.

But the new estimate declares with “high confidence” that a military-run Iranian program intended to transform that raw material into a nuclear weapon has been shut down since 2003, and also says with high confidence that the halt “was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure.”

Rather than painting Iran as a rogue, irrational nation determined to join the club of nations with the bomb, the estimate states Iran’s “decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs.”

The administration called new attention to the threat posed by Iran earlier this year when President Bush had suggested in October that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to “World War III” and Vice President Dick Cheney promised “serious consequences” if the government in Tehran did not abandon its nuclear program.

Yet at the same time officials were airing these dire warnings about the Iranian threat, analysts at the Central Intelligence Agency were secretly concluding that Iran’s nuclear weapons work halted years ago and that international pressure on the Islamic regime in Tehran was working.

The new report comes out just over five years after a deeply flawed N.I.E. concluded that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons programs and was determined to restart its nuclear program — an estimate that led to congressional authorization for a military invasion of Iraq, although most of the report’s conclusions turned out to be wrong.

Intelligence officials said that the specter of the botched 2002 N.I.E. hung over their deliberations over the Iran assessment, leading them to treat the document with particular caution.

“We felt that we needed to scrub all the assessments and sources to make sure we weren’t misleading ourselves,” said one senior intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity."

Think Progress reported on November 8 that Vice President Dick Cheney had, successfully up until then, kept the National Intelligence Estimate under wraps because it did not present a vivid and active case for military action on Iran, and points out that the dispute around the NIE echoes the build up to the War On Iraq in 2002, with the White House stiffling dissent and putting pressure on intelligence analysts.

And this from Think Progress in November 2006 when the Iran NIE was first leaked :

On CNN, New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh reported that a new CIA assessment concludes that “there’s no evidence Iran is doing anything that puts them close to a bomb.” Despite the intelligence agency’s conclusion, Hersh reports that the White House is still aggressively moving ahead with preparations for a military conflict with Iran.

As part of the White House’s preparations for Iran, Hersh says President Bush and Vice President Cheney are “stovepiping” intelligence and keeping information provided by the Israelis hidden from the CIA.

The Israelis are telling the White House, according to Hersh’s new article “The Next Act,” that they have a reliable agent inside Iran who reports that the nation is working on a trigger for a bomb. “Of course the people in the CIA want to know who [the agent] is, obviously,” Hersh said. “They certainly want to know what other evidence he has of actual making of a warhead. This is the internecine fight that’s going on — the same fight, by the way, that we had before Iraq.”

Seymour Hersh's New Yorker Story On How BushCo. Tried To Build The Case For War On Iran In 2006

UN Nuclear Watchdog Says Yes To Russia's Plan To Supply Iran With Nuclear Fuel

Iran's Navy Now Has Stealth-Capable Subs, Military Unveils Ballistic Missiles That Can Reach Israel, US Bases In Middle East

Bush Warned Of World War 3 Over Iranian Nukes That He Knew Did Not Exist

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Staggering Corruption In Iraq

"Everybody Is Stealing From The State"

Americans Arm, Train Former Sunni Insurgents Into Forces Shiites Fear Could One Day Be Capable Of Taking On Government

Kidnappings, roadside bombings, executions, beheadings and civilian massacres are down in Iraq. To a point. Depending on which month of 2006 or 2004 you choose to compare September or October's figures to, you can claim that violence has dropped substantially.

But an average day still sees 40 Iraqis murdered or blown apart, and dozens more wounded and kidnapped.

The Iraqi government is still rife with disputes and crippling walkouts by party members, the most recent by an Sunni bloc. Oil laws have still not been signed, holding back foreign investment to bring Iraq's oil production up to even pre-war levels.

And, as this New York Times story reveals, the levels of corruption in Iraq, where unemployment is believed to be as high as 40%, is staggering in its depth, and reach :

Jobless men pay $500 bribes to join the police. Families build houses illegally on government land, carwashes steal water from public pipes, and nearly everything the government buys or sells can now be found on the black market.

Painkillers for cancer (from the Ministry of Health) cost $80 for a few capsules; electricity meters (from the Ministry of Electricity) go for $200 each, and even third-grade textbooks (stolen from the Ministry of Education) must be bought at bookstores for three times what schools once charged.

“Everyone is stealing from the state,” said Adel Adel al-Subihawi, a prominent Shiite tribal leader in Sadr City, throwing up his hands in disgust. “It’s a very large meal, and everyone wants to eat.”

Corruption and theft are not new to Iraq, and government officials have promised to address the problem. But as Iraqis and American officials assess the effects of this year’s American troop increase, there is a growing sense that, even as security has improved, Iraq has slipped to new depths of lawlessness.

One recent independent analysis ranked Iraq the third most corrupt country in the world. Of 180 countries surveyed, only Somalia and Myanmar were worse, according to Transparency International, a Berlin-based group that publishes the index annually.

And the extent of the theft is staggering. Some American officials estimate that as much as a third of what they spend on Iraqi contracts and grants ends up unaccounted for or stolen, with a portion going to Shiite or Sunni militias. In addition, Iraq’s top anticorruption official estimated this fall — before resigning and fleeing the country after 31 of his agency’s employees were killed over a three-year period — that $18 billion in Iraqi government money had been lost to various stealing schemes since 2004.

The collective filching undermines Iraq’s ability to provide essential services, a key to sustaining recent security gains, according to American military commanders. It also sows a corrosive distrust of democracy and hinders reconciliation as entrenched groups in the Shiite-led government resist reforms that would cut into reliable cash flows.

Of growing concern to the Iraqi government, is the Americans program of training and arming former Sunni insurgents to fight 'Al Qaeda'. The Shiites are worried, and probably rightly so, that the Americans are raising a new army that could won day take on the government forces who had killed so many Sunnis in their peak of their death squad days of 2004-2006 :

The United States, which credits much of the drop in violence to the campaign, is enrolling hundreds of people daily in "concerned local citizens" groups. More than 5,000 have been sworn in in the last eight days, for a total of 77,542 as of Tuesday. As many as 10 groups were created in the past week, bringing the total number to 192, according to the American military.

U.S. officials said they were screening new members — who generally are paid $300 a month to patrol their neighborhoods — and were subjecting them to tough security measures. More than 60,000 have had fingerprints and DNA taken and had retinal scans, American officials said, steps that will allow them to be identified later, should they turn against the government. The officials said they planned to cap membership in the groups at 100,000.

But that hasn't calmed mounting concerns among aides to Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, who charge that some of the groups include "terrorists" who attack Shiite residents in their neighborhoods. Some of the new "concerned citizens" are occupying houses that terrified Shiite families abandoned, they said.

It also hasn't quieted criticism that the program is trading long-term Iraqi stability for short-term security gains.

"There is a danger here that we are going to have armed all three sides: the Kurds in the north, the Shiite and now the Sunni militias," said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst who's now at The Brookings Institution, a center-left policy organization in Washington, D.C.

Underscoring the division, Sunni politicians said the creation of the groups was justified because it made up for the U.S. decision to disband Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led army shortly after Baghdad fell in 2003. They also said the groups helped balance the infiltration of Iraq's security forces by Shiite militias during the rapid U.S.-sponsored expansion of those forces in 2004 and 2005.

"Those who fear are the ones who have militias blatantly operating from within the official institutions and law enforcement agencies and outside them," said Omar Abdul Sattar, a leading member of the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni group in parliament.

The thirst for revenge can last for generations.

Football Returns To Baghdad, Crowds Jubilant

'Only' 500 Iraqis Were Slaughtered In October, 2007

One Day In Iraq : 40 Iraqis Killed, Dozens Wounded, Dozens More Kidnapped

Iraq's Rainy Season Approaches, Baghdad's Ancient Decaying Sewers Not Expected To Cope, Cholera Crisis Looms

Training All Sides Could Lead To Viable Forces To Fight Prolonged Civil War

Americans Not Interested In Hollywood's Version Of The Iraq War