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Alert: India Preparing for Nuclear War?

By Zaheerul Hassan

Reliable sources stated that Pakistani authorities have decided to move her forces from Western to Eastern border. The move of forces would start soon. The decision has been taken after receiving the threat from Indian Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor to strike Pakistan on November 22, 2009. Indian Chief warned that a limited war under a nuclear overhang is still very much a reality at least in the Indian sub-continent. On November 23, 2009 Pakistan Foreign Office Spokes man Abdul Basit asked the world community to take notice of remarks passed by the Indian Army Chief. He also said that India has set the stage and trying to impose a limited war on Pakistan. There are reports that Indian intelligence agencies have made a plan to hit some Indian nuke installation, alleging and then striking Pakistan. It is also added here that India has started purchasing lethal weapons. According to the careful survey a poor Asian country (India) has spent trillions on purchasing of Naval, Air force and nuke equipments.

Thus, Indian preparation simply dictates that she is preparing for nuke war. The Kashmir conflicts, water issue, borer dispute between China and India, American presence in Afghanistan, Maoist movements, Indian state terrorism, cold war between India and regional countries would be contributing factors towards Next third world war.

Indian Chief’s statement by design came a day earlier to Manmohan Singh visit to USA. The purpose of threatening Pakistan could also be justifying future Indian attack on Pakistan. Therefore, Islamabad concern is serious in nature since any Indian misadventure will put the regional peace into stake and would lead both the country towards nuclear conflict. Islamabad probably conveyed her ally (USA) regarding danger of limited war against Pakistan; she has to cease her efforts on western border for repulsing Indian aggression on eastern border. In fact, Indian government and her army chief made a deliberate try to sabotage global war against terror. In this connection Pakistan Army Spokesman Major General Athar Abbas time and again said that India is involved in militancy against Pakistan and her consulates located in Afghanistan are being used as launching pad.

It is worth mentioning here that Pakistan has deployed more than 100,000 troops on the border with Afghanistan and is fighting a bloody war against terrorism. Her security forces are busy in elimination of foreign sponsored militancy. Thousand of soldiers have scarified their lives not only for the motherland but to bring safety to the world in general. Pakistan is a key ally in the war on terror and the threat of withdrawal would alarm the USA as it could seriously hamper NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan. Pakistan is a nuclear power too and is able to handle any type of Indian belligerence.

In this context, earlier Pakistan Army Chief of Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has categorically expressed at number of occasions that Indian attack would be responded in full strength while using all types of resources. On November 25, 2009 General Kayani stated that the nation would emerge as victorious in the on-going war against extremism. While addressing a ceremony at Police Lines he paid rich tributes to the Frontier police for their valuable sacrifices in the war against terrorism. At this occasion General Kayani revealed that Pakistan was founded in the name of Islam by our forefathers and each one of us should work for strengthening the country and should made commitment towards achieving the goal of turning the country into a true Islamic state. He also announced Rs.20 million for the Frontier Police Shuhada Fund.

In response to Indian Army Chief’ statement he also put across the message that the protection and solidarity of the country are our main objectives as our coming generation owes this debt to us and resolved that any threat to the sovereignty and integrity of the country would not be tolerated. The General made it clear that Pak Army has the capability and the capacity to fight the war against terrorists and adversary too. He praised the sacrifices rendered by the security forces and high morale of the troops. Lt General Masood Aslam, Commander 11 Corps, IGFC Major General Tariq and IGP NWFP Malik Neveed Khan were also present at this historic moment.

Pakistan Army Chief visits of western border reflect his commitment to root out the foreign sponsored militancy from the area. This rooting out is directly helping global war on terror, whereas on the other hand his counter part (Indian Chief) keep on yelling and dreaming of striking Pakistan. He probably has forgotten that Pakistan is a responsible nuke power and capable to defend and strike. In 2001 and 2008 at the occasions of attacks on parliament and Mumbai, both the nations close to a nuke war, this was averted by interference from the world community India and USA. At that time too security officials have also told NATO and USA that they will not leave a single troop on the western border incase of Indian threat.

12-4

Shadow War in Afghanistan

By Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse

2010-01-09T110013Z_1558274224_GM1E6191GAK01_RTRMADP_3_PAKISTAN-CIA-BOMBER

Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud (L) sits beside a man who is believed to be Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal Al-Balawi, the suicide bomber who killed CIA agents in Afghanistan, in this still image taken from video released January 9, 2010. A Pakistan television station showed on Saturday what it said was the suicide bomber double agent who killed CIA agents in Afghanistan sitting with the Pakistani Taliban leader, and reported he shared U.S. and Jordanian state secrets with militants.

REUTERS/Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan via Reuters TV

It was a Christmas and a New Year from hell for American intelligence, that US$75 billion labyrinth of at least 16 major agencies and a handful of minor ones. As the old year was preparing to be rung out, so were the US’s intelligence agencies, which managed not to connect every obvious clue to a (literally) seat-of-the-pants al-Qaeda operation. It hardly mattered that the underwear bomber’s case – except for the placement of the bomb material – almost exactly, even outrageously, replicated the infamous, and equally inept, “shoe bomber” plot of eight years ago.

That would have been bad enough, but the New Year brought worse. Army Major General Michael Flynn, the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces deputy chief of staff for intelligence in Afghanistan, released a report in which he labeled military intelligence in the war zone – but by implication US intelligence operatives generally – as “clueless”. They were, he wrote, “ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced … and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers … Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the US intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy.”

As if to prove the general’s point, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, a Jordanian doctor with a penchant for writing inspirational essays on jihadi websites and an “unproven asset” for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), somehow entered a key agency forward operating base in Afghanistan unsearched, supposedly with information on al-Qaeda’s leadership so crucial that a high-level CIA team was assembled to hear it and Washington was alerted.

He proved to be either a double or a triple agent and killed seven CIA operatives, one of whom was the base chief, by detonating a suicide vest bomb, while wounding yet more, including the agency’s number-two operative in the country. The first suicide bomber to penetrate a US base in Afghanistan, he blew a hole in the CIA’s relatively small cadre of agents knowledgeable on al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

It was an intelligence disaster splayed all over the headlines: “Taliban bomber wrecks CIA’s shadowy war”, “Killings Rock Afghan Strategy”, “Suicide bomber who attacked CIA post was trusted informant from Jordan”. It seemed to sum up the hapless nature of America’s intelligence operations, as the CIA, with all the latest technology and every imaginable resource on hand, including the latest in Hellfire missile-armed drone aircraft, was out-thought and out-maneuvered by low-tech enemies.

No one could say that the deaths and the blow to the American war effort weren’t well covered. There were major TV reports night after night and scores of news stories, many given front-page treatment. And yet lurking behind those deaths and the man who caused them lay a bigger American war story that went largely untold. It was a tale of a new-style battlefield that the American public knows remarkably little about, and which bears little relationship to the Afghan war as we imagine it or as our leaders generally discuss it.

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A man reads a copy of the day’s newspaper whose front page shows a photo of suspected suicide bomber Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi in Amman January 9, 2010.

REUTERS/Ali Jarekji

We don’t even have a language to describe it accurately. Think of it as a battlefield filled with muscled-up, militarized intelligence operatives, hired-gun contractors doing military duty, and privatized “native” guard forces. Add in robot assassins in the air 24/7 and kick-down-the-door-style night-time “intelligence” raids, “surges” you didn’t know were happening, strings of military bases you had no idea were out there, and secretive international collaborations you were unaware the US was involved in. In Afghanistan, the American military is only part of the story. There’s also a polyglot “army” representing the US that wears no uniforms and fights shape-shifting enemies to the death in a murderous war of multiple assassinations and civilian slaughter, all enveloped in a blanket of secrecy.

Black ops and black sites

Secrecy is a part of war. The surprise attack is only a surprise if secrecy is maintained. In wartime, crucial information must be kept from an enemy capable of using it. But what if, as in the US’s case, wartime never ends, while secrecy becomes endemic, as well as profitable and privitizable, and much of the information available to both sides on the US’s shadowy new battlefield is mainly being kept from the American people? The coverage of the suicide attack on forward operating base (FOB) Chapman offered a rare, very partial window into that strange war – but only if you were willing to read piles of news reports looking for tiny bits of information that could be pieced together.

We did just that and here’s what we found:

Let’s start with FOB Chapman, where the suicide bombing took place. An old Soviet base near the Pakistani border, it was renamed after a Green Beret who fought beside CIA agents and was the first American to die in the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. It sits in isolation near the town of Khost, just kilometers from the larger Camp Salerno, a forward operating base used mainly by US Special Operations troops.

Occupied by the CIA since 2001, Chapman is regularly described as “small” or “tiny” and, in one report, as having “a forbidding network of barriers, barbed wire and watchtowers”. Though a US State Department provisional reconstruction team has been stationed there (as well as personnel from the US Agency for International Development and the US Department of Agriculture), and though it “was officially a camp for civilians involved in reconstruction”, FOB Chapman is “well-known locally as a CIA base” – an “open secret”, as another report put it.

The base is guarded by Afghan irregulars, sometimes referred to in news reports as “Afghan contractors”, about whom we know next to nothing. (“CIA officials on Thursday would not discuss what guard service they had at the base.”) Despite the recent suicide bombing, according to Julian Barnes and Greg Miller of the Los Angeles Times, a “program to hire Afghans to guard US forward operating bases would not be canceled. Under that program, which is beginning in eastern Afghanistan, Afghans will guard towers, patrol perimeter fences and man checkpoints.”

Also on FOB Chapman were employees of the private security contractor Xe (formerly Blackwater), which has had a close relationship with the CIA in Afghanistan. We know this because of reports that two of the dead “CIA” agents were Xe operatives.

Someone else of interest was at FOB Chapman at that fateful meeting with the Jordanian doctor Balawi – Sharif Ali bin Zeid, a captain in the Jordanian intelligence service, the eighth person killed in the blast. It turns out that Balawi was an agent of the Jordanian intelligence, which held (and abused) torture suspects kidnapped and disappeared by the CIA in the years of George W Bush’s “global war on terror.”

The service reportedly continues to work closely with the agency and the captain was evidently running Balawi. That’s what we now know about the polyglot group at FOB Chapman on the front lines of the agency’s black-ops war against al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the allied fighters of the Sirajuddin and Jalaluddin Haqqani network in nearby Pakistan. If there were other participants, they weren’t among the bodies.

The agency surges

And here’s something that’s far clearer in the wake of the bombing: among the US’s vast network of bases in Afghanistan, the CIA has its own designated bases – as, by the way, do US Special Operations forces, and according to a Nation reporter, Jeremy Scahill, even private contractor Xe. Without better reporting on the subject, it’s hard to get a picture of these bases, but Siobhan Gorman of the Wall Street Journal tells us that a typical CIA base houses no more than 15-20 agency operatives (which means that Balawi’s explosion killed or wounded more than half of the team on FOB Chapman).

And don’t imagine that we’re only talking about a base or two. In the single most substantive post-blast report on the CIA, Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times wrote that the agency has “an archipelago of firebases in southern and eastern Afghanistan”, most built in the last year. An archipelago? Imagine that. And it’s also reported that even more of them are in the works.

With this goes another bit of information that the Wall Street Journal seems to have been the first to drop into its reports. While you’ve heard about President Barack Obama’s surge in American troops and possibly even State Department personnel in Afghanistan, you’ve undoubtedly heard little or nothing about a CIA surge in the region, and yet the Journal’s reporters tell us that agency personnel will increase by 20-25% in the surge months. By the time the CIA is fully bulked up with all its agents, paramilitaries and private contractors in place, Afghanistan will represent, according to Julian Barnes of the Los Angeles Times, one of the largest “stations” in agency history.

This, in turn, implies other surges. There will be a surge in base-building to house those agents, and a surge in “native” guards – at least until another suicide bomber hits a base thanks to Taliban supporters among them or one of them turns a weapon on the occupants of a base – and undoubtedly a surge in Blackwater-style mercenaries as well.

Keep in mind that the latest figure on private contractors suggests that 56,000 more of them will surge into Afghanistan in the next 18 months, far more than surging US troops, State Department employees and CIA operatives combined. And don’t forget the thousands of non-CIA “uniformed and civilian intelligence personnel serving with the Defense Department and joint interagency operations in the country”, who will undoubtedly surge as well.

Making war

The efforts of the CIA operatives at Chapman were reportedly focused on “collecting information about militant networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and plotting missions to kill the networks’ top leaders”, especially those in the Haqqani network in the North Waziristan tribal area just across the Pakistani border. They were evidently running “informants” into Pakistan to find targets for the agency’s ongoing drone assassination war.

These drone attacks in Pakistan have themselves been on an unparalleled surge course ever since Obama entered office; 44 to 50 (or more) have been launched in the past year, with civilian casualties running into the hundreds. Like local Pashtuns, the agency essentially doesn’t recognize a border. For them, the Afghan and Pakistani tribal borderlands are a single world.

In this way, as Paul Woodward of the website War in Context has pointed out, “Two groups of combatants, neither of whom wear uniforms, are slugging it out on the Afghan-Pakistan border. Each group has identified what it regards as high-value targets and each is using its own available means to hit these targets. The Taliban/al-Qaeda are using suicide bombers while the CIA is using Hellfire missiles.”

Since the devastating explosion at Chapman, statements of vengeance have been coming out of CIA mouths – of a kind that, when offered by the Taliban or al-Qaeda, we consider typical of a backward, “tribal” society. In any case, the secret war is evidently becoming a private and personal one. Balawi’s suicide attack essentially took out a major part of the agency’s targeting information system.

As one unnamed NATO official told the New York Times, “These were not people who wrote things down in the computer or in notebooks. It was all in their heads … [The CIA is] pulling in new people from all over the world, but how long will it take to rebuild the networks, to get up to speed? Lots of it is irrecoverable.” And the agency was already generally known to be “desperately short of personnel who speak the language or are knowledgeable about the region”. Nonetheless, drone attacks have suddenly escalated – at least five in the week since the suicide bombing, all evidently aimed at “an area believed to be a hideout for militants involved”. These sound like vengeance attacks and are likely to be particularly counterproductive.

To sum up, US intelligence agents, having lost out to enemy “intelligence agents”, even after being transformed into full-time assassins, are now locked in a mortal struggle with an enemy for whom assassination is also a crucial tactic, but whose operatives seem to have better informants and better information.

In this war, drones are not the agency’s only weapon. The CIA also seems to specialize in running highly controversial, kick-down-the-door “night raids” in conjunction with Afghan paramilitary forces. Such raids, when launched by US Special Operations forces, have led to highly publicized and heavily protested civilian casualties. Sometimes, according to reports, the CIA actually conducts them in conjunction with special ops forces.

In a recent American-led night raid in Kunar province, eight young students were, according to Afghan sources, detained, handcuffed and executed. The leadership of this raid has been attributed, euphemistically, to “other government agencies” (OGAs) or “non-military Americans”. These raids, whether successful in the limited sense or not, don’t fit comfortably with the Obama administration’s “hearts and minds” counter-insurgency strategy.

The militarization of the agency

As the identities of some of the fallen CIA operatives at Chapman became known, a pattern began to emerge. There was 37-year-old Harold Brown Jr, who formerly served in the army. There was Scott Roberson, a former Navy SEAL who did several tours of duty in Iraq, where he provided protection to officials considered at high risk. There was Jeremy Wise, 35, an ex-SEAL who left the military last year, signed up with Xe, and ended up working for the CIA. Similarly, 46-year-old Dane Paresi, a retired special forces master sergeant turned Xe hired gun, also died in the blast.

For years, American author and professor Chalmers Johnson, himself a former CIA consultant, has referred to the agency as “the president’s private army.” Today, that moniker seems truer than ever. While the civilian CIA has always had a paramilitary component, known as the Special Activities Division, the unit was generally relatively small and dormant. Instead, military personnel like the army’s special forces or indigenous troops carried out the majority of the CIA’s combat missions.

After the 9/11 attacks, however, George W Bush empowered the agency to hunt down, kidnap and assassinate suspected al-Qaeda operatives, and the CIA’s traditional specialties of spycraft and intelligence analysis took a distinct back seat to Special Activities Division operations, as its agents set up a global gulag of ghost prisons, conducted interrogations by torture, and then added those missile-armed drone and assassination programs.

The military backgrounds of the fallen CIA operatives cast a light on the way the world of “intelligence” is increasingly muscling up and becoming militarized. This past summer, when a former CIA official suggested the agency might be backing away from risky programs, a current official spit back from the shadows: “If anyone thinks the CIA has gotten risk-averse recently, go ask al-Qaeda and the Taliban … The agency’s still doing cutting-edge stuff in all kinds of dangerous places.”

At about the same time, reports were emerging that Blackwater/Xe was providing security, arming drones, and “perform[ing] some of the agency’s most important assignments” at secret bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It also emerged that the CIA had paid contractors from Blackwater to take part in a covert assassination program in Afghanistan.

Add this all together and you have the grim face of “intelligence” at war in 2010 – a new micro-brew when it comes to Washington’s conflicts. Today, in Afghanistan, a militarized mix of CIA operatives and ex-military mercenaries as well as native recruits and robot aircraft is fighting a war “in the shadows” (as they used to say in the Cold War). This is no longer “intelligence” as anyone imagines it, nor is it “military” as military was once defined, not when US operations have gone mercenary and native in such a big way.

This is pure “lord of the flies” stuff – beyond oversight, beyond any law, including the laws of war. And worse yet, from all available evidence, despite claims that the drone war is knocking off mid-level enemies, it seems remarkably ineffective. All it may be doing is spreading the war farther and digging it in deeper.

Talk about “counter-insurgency” as much as you want, but this is another kind of battlefield, and “protecting the people” plays no part in it. And this is only what can be gleaned from afar about a semi-secret war that is being poorly reported. Who knows what it costs when you include the US hired guns, the Afghan contractors, the bases, the drones and the rest of the personnel and infrastructure? Nor do we know what else, or who else, is involved, and what else is being done. Clearly, however, all those billions of “intelligence” dollars are going into the blackest of black holes.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the Cold War and beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing. He also edited The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), an alternative history of the mad Bush years.

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com and the winner of a 2009 Ridenhour Prize for Reportorial Distinction as well as a James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, In These Times, and regularly at TomDispatch. Turse is currently a fellow at New York University’s Center for the United States and the Cold War. He is the author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (Metropolitan Books). His website is NickTurse.com.

(Copyright 2010 Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse.)

The Story of ‘Skateistan’

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

skate

Australian skateboard enthusiasts Oliver Percovich and Sharna Nolan started a quiet revolution in the Afghan capital of Kabul back in 2007 simply by riding their skateboards around the dusty war-ravaged city. The looks on the faces of the Afghan kids that happened upon them would be the catalyst that would drive the couple to create the very first skate park in the country. The Australian duo’s first skate park venture began with a small patch of land near an old fountain, three skateboards and a handful of interested kids.

Yet, as interest in skateboarding grew and the dangers of the reality of surviving in Kabul set in, both Percovich and Nolan knew that they needed something bigger and better. Thanks to help from donations adding up to over $650,000 and support from the Afghan Olympic Committee, ‘Skateistan’ recently opened its doors to any Afghan youth interested in learning to skateboard. The indoor skateboard arena measures a hefty 1,800 sq m (19,380 sq ft) and is composed of several dizzying obstacles for the Afghan skateboarders to learn and master.

The first obstacle is the ‘baby ramp’ which beginners can learn to skateboard on and perfect their balance. The intermediary obstacles include a set of wooden stairs with a rail and curb followed by a mini ramp with extension. For advanced skateboarders there is the ‘rocket wall’, which is the park’s signature obstacle, and the ‘Afghan gap’ that is made up of two large quarter ramps with a gap in the middle for tricks. There are also novel obstacles littered in between the main attractions, which ensures that every skateboarder has somewhere to ride their board.

More than 200 Afghan skateboarders have already signed up for the skate park roster. Boys and girls from all socio-economic classes learn to skateboard together in a whole new world far removed from the atrocities that years of Taleban rule and the U.S.’s war have wreaked on the country. According to Skateistan’s official website, the founders mission statement declares that, “Skateboarding is a widely-loved platform through which young men and women from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds can engage positively with each other. Considering the country’s recent political history, not to mention its longstanding social barriers, we believe that the community-building effects of skateboarding will be especially visible in Afghanistan. Skateistan’s mission is to build cross-cultural understanding and develop youth confidence, leadership, and life skills.”

Not everyone is happy about the success of the skate park. Sports in Afghanistan are considered to be exclusively for males. Women and girls are often deemed to be unsuitable for playing sports. But since skateboarding is so novel in Afghanistan, girls are enjoying the sport well under the radar. However, there have been some reports that a couple of female skateboarders have been beaten by male relatives to deter them from going back to the skate park.

The skateboard services of Skateistan are free for all Afghan children and include the free use of equipment, such as a helmet and skateboard. Off the ramps and obstacles, Afghan skateboarders are also privileged to the opportunity of receiving an education. Classrooms are located in the back of the skate park with subjects like English and Computer skills being offered. Due to the variety and expense of services the skate park offers there is an ever-growing need for volunteers and donors, which are actively sought on the official Skateistan website (www.Skateistan.org ).

While the location of Skateistan might be remote and not easily accessible for non-Afghans, the skate park is already gaining international recognition. This past December founder Oliver Percovich accepted the award for ‘Best Non-Governmental Organization of the Year’ in Monaco, which was presented under the auspices of His Highness Prince Albert II.

12-2

Afghan Attack: Was it Taliban Revenge?

Suicide bombing at CIA camp in Afghanistan likely revenge attack by Taliban warlord – a former ally

By James Gordon Meek, Daily News Washington

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Jalaluddin Haqqani in 1998 file photo. Once ally of CIA, he now supports Osama Bin Laden.

WASHINGTON – The suicide-bomb slaughter at a tiny CIA Afghanistan border camp was likely vengeance from a local Taliban tribal warlord who was once the agency’s ally.

Forward Operation Base Chapman in Khowst, where seven CIA officers died Wednesday, is a few miles from the ruins of Al Qaeda camps obliterated by U.S. missiles in a failed 1998 attempt to kill Osama Bin Laden.

“This will be avenged through aggressive counterterror operations,” an official said Thursday as drones blew up Al Qaeda goons in warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani’s territory across the border in Pakistan. “People at Langley are galvanized.”

The CIA backed Haqqani in the 1980s war against Afghanistan’s Soviet occupiers.

Despite aligning with the CIA as a mujahedeen leader to fight the Soviets, Haqqani refused its overtures after 9/11 and sided with his old friend Bin Laden, whom he has sheltered on both sides of the Afganistan-Pakistan border.

My first visit to the classified outpost, also called Chapman Airfield, in late 2005, was in a chopper dropping off Special Forces soldiers wearing long beards.

The camp, a one-time Soviet airfield, is named for Green Beret Nathan Chapman, who was fighting alongside the CIA when he became the first U.S. soldier killed in the war eight years ago.

The next day, a one-eyed, one-armed man tried to set off his suicide vest at the gate but was stopped. It was one of the first suicide attacks tried in the Afghan war and gave everyone jitters.

Haqqani’s son Siraj, the Afghan Taliban’s top field commander, introduced suicide bombs as weapons in this war.

Chapman hosted a provincial reconstruction team and was home to “OGAs” – Other Government Agencies, a euphemism for spies.

The dangerous mission of these CIA paramilitaries, case officers and analysts was to hunt high-value targets from Al Qaeda and the local Haqqani Network.

It’s that work that set the camp’s fate for what has become a blood feud between the spy agency and the Haqqani family.

In the past year, CIA drones have killed Haqqani relatives in safehouses used by Al Qaeda leaders plotting strikes on U.S. interests globally.

“There is no doubt” Haqqani sees a motive for revenge, said Shir Khosti, an ex-Afghan official now living in Queens who often worked at Chapman with the CIA.
So does the CIA.

“If it wasn’t personal before, it sure as hell is now,” a furious counterterror official said Thursday.

jmeek@nydailynews.com

12-2

In Yemen, Locals Worry About Obama Policy on Al-Qaeda

By Michael Horton, The Christian Science Monitor

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Yemeni family. (Photo: Richard Messenger / Flickr)

From smoky halls to the rugged mountains of Yemen, locals are worried that their country – threatened more by poverty and water shortages than terrorism, they say – could turn into another Afghanistan.

Sanaa, Yemen – Amid an intensifying US effort to curb Al Qaeda activity in Yemen, locals in this impoverished country are worried that a focus on military aid alone could backfire – spawning a more robust militant movement and potentially drawing the US into an Afghanistan-like war.

In a smoke-filled hall in the capital of Sanaa, where men gather to chew the mildly intoxicating leaves of the qat tree and smoke water pipes, most of the talk is about Al-Qaeda and American intentions in Yemen.

“By God, they want to turn this country into Afghanistan,” declares Mohammad al-Jaffi, a young man who says he fled the Arhab area, a mountainous region just north of Sanaa, after a recent attack on a suspected Al Qaeda hideout. On Monday, the government said it killed two Al Qaeda members in the Arhab region.

“We are not radicals here,” Mr. Jaffi adds, his cheek bulging with the pulpy green leaves that strict Salafis — the Muslim sect that Al Qaeda members belong to — consider forbidden. Holding up a qat branch, he yells, “Look at this. We all chew this here – in Afghanistan, in Saudi Arabia, the Wahhabis would kill us for chewing qat.”

But US and other foreign diplomats are clearly concerned. France, Germany, and Japan all closed their embassies Monday, following US and British closures the previous day, amid reports that a significant amount of explosives had gone missing from the Yemeni army.

“Exclusive Focus on Al Qaeda a Mistake”

With the reported surge in Al-Qaeda activity in Yemen, the Obama administration has reiterated its “partnership” with the increasingly vulnerable regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who faces a rebellion in the north and secessionists in the south. Gen. David Petraeus, who as head of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) is overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, announced on Jan. 1 that the US would double military aid to Yemen after allocating a reported $70 million in 2009.

It has been widely reported that the US is also providing the Yemeni government with intelligence and military trainers. Britain, meanwhile, has announced that it will fund an antiterror police force. Such a sole focus on suspected terrorism is seen as a mistake by some experts as well as locals.

“I think an exclusive focus on Al Qaeda to the exclusion of every other threat in Yemen is a mistake,” says Gregory Johnsen, a Princeton PhD candidate who was recently in Yemen for his research on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). “Viewing this threat only through the prism of Al Qaeda induces exactly the kind of result the US is hoping to avoid.”

Locals in two provinces often cited as Al Qaeda strongholds, Al-Jawf and Marib, are more concerned with severe poverty – an issue they say the central government has done little to alleviate.

“This government does not care about us. Everything we have, we have to fight for – to get money for a school or medicine we have to block the road. This is all they listen to,” says Ahmad al-Nasri. “By God the tribe is all we have, it is what protects us.”

Mr. Johnsen says that development aid is “crucial” in Marib and Al-Jawf, but disputes the popular depiction of Yemen as a place with large areas that are totally ungovernable.

“The government doesn’t appear to be able to constantly control these areas,” he acknowledges, citing recent flare-ups between tribal leaders and the government. “But the image of Yemen being a Wild West … is not necessarily accurate.”

Yemeni government offices in Sanaa were closed and the Yemeni embassy in Washington was unable to comment before press time.

Water Shortages

A potentially greater destabilizing influence than militancy in Yemen is water shortages, which are already the root of a large percentage of the inter-tribal fighting that plagues the country.

The UN has ranked Yemen as one of the most water-scarce countries, and one local geology professor has estimated that Sanaa’s wells will go dry by 2015 at current usage rates. The country is in desperate need of investment in new drip irrigation systems and water conservation measures.

“Look at these apricot trees,” says Mohammad Faris, who owns an orchard on the outskirts of Sanaa that once flourished. “Half of them are dead from lack of water.”

“We don’t need more guns in this country,” declares Mr. Faris as he stands among the parched remains of what used to be fertile ground. “This village needs a new water pump and we need new trees that drink less water.”

Increased Sympathy for Al Qaeda?

Many locals emphasize that the country’s primary need is development aid, which has in the past been hampered by international concerns about government corruption. But some say they’re ready to fight if the US comes – a prospect that as yet looks unlikely, though Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) of Connecticut recently suggested that without preemptive action a future war may occur.

“We have a long history of fighting invaders here,” says Ismail Hadi, a village elder in the rugged mountainous province of Hajjah, not far from the sectarian war being fought against Houthi rebels. As he looks out over his terraces of qat trees that cascade down towards a deep canyon, he adds, “We fought the Turks, we fought the Egyptians, God willing we will fight the Americans when they come.”

Back at the Sanaa qat hall, Uithman al- Ansi echoes that sentiment.

“If the Americans want a fight they will get it,” says Mr. Ansi as he grabs the hilt of his jambiya, the traditional dagger carried by many men here. Another man who says he is from Marib, one of the two frequently cited Al Qaeda strongholds, suggests that US attacks or support for attacks on suspected militants could increase the number of Al Qaeda sympathizers in Yemen.

“The Americans don’t know our customs,” says the man. “When they attacked al-Harithi [a suspected Al-Qaeda member who was targeted by a US drone in November 2002] on our lands, his people became our guests. We have long memories.”

Christa Case Bryant contributed reporting from Boston.

12-2

Is Yemen the New Hot Spot for Terrorism Training?

New America Media, Q&A, Aaron Glantz

Editor’s Note: Reports that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the suspect accused of trying to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day, was trained in Yemen have raised the specter of further U.S. military involvement in that country. To get a better sense of what’s going on in Yemen, NAM editor Aaron Glantz spoke with Jillian Schwedler, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author of the book, “Faith in Moderation: Islamist Parties in Jordan and Yemen.”

2010-01-06T200542Z_440314731_GM1E6170BC301_RTRMADP_3_YEMEN-QAEDA

A security personnel stands behind a machinegun installed on a vehicle in Sanaa January 6, 2010. Yemeni forces surrounded a suspected al Qaeda regional leader near the capital on Wednesday and captured three militants wounded in a raid, security sources said. Yemen, the poorest Arab country, was thrust into the foreground of the U.S.-led war against Islamist militants after a Yemen-based wing of al Qaeda said it was behind a Christmas Day attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound plane.                                

REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

What was your first reaction when you heard that Abdulmutallab was trained in Yemen?

Yemen has fairly porous borders and a lot of people are in and out of there. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything. It’s not like going to a camp in Afghanistan. It doesn’t have the same meaning. I mean, you go to a camp in Afghanistan, you’re pretty much going for one reason. It’s not the same as Yemen.

It seems like in the popular discussion, Yemen is becoming associated with fundamentalist clerics and terrorism.

There are definitely a lot of extremists there, but I think the bigger framework to think about Yemen is not as a hotbed of radicalism and terror but as a state where the government does not control all of the land. They’ve been fighting a significant insurgency in the North for six years now and there’s a separatist group in the South that’s in an armed conflict. The Ministry of Interior estimates that there are 60 million weapons outside of government hands in Yemen. And that’s in a country of 20 million people. So it’s a highly-armed, fragmented society and the government hasn’t really had control over the entire country for some time, if ever. So certainly there’s extremism there, but there’s a lot of stuff going on that the government isn’t really in control of.

So who is in the leadership of the government of Yemen?

The government of Ali Abdullah Saleh is essentially a central government, but there are many parts of the country that are not under the central government. There are armed areas that the government doesn’t police and doesn’t have anything to do with, except to offer very limited services. And we’re talking about big chunks of the country in the North and the East particularly. It’s not one little enclave.

And a huge part of the border with Saudi Arabia is not even defined because it’s a desert. There are not a lot of people there but there are chunks of the country that are frontier-land kind of areas where people move between those two states.

Yemen was two countries during the Cold War.

Even calling it two countries becomes sort of a fiction. For years, it was just sort of a bunch of enclaves including the British colony that was there for nearly 100 years in the South, various tribal governments, there was a Northern government. But from the ‘60s, you had two states, a Northern state which was the Yemen Arab Republic, and the Southern state which was the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, which was a Marxist, Soviet outpost. And so when the Soviet Union fell in 1989, they lost all their funding and then North Yemen was never particularly strong, and so the two decided that they would unite, which they did and initially had democratic elections in which nobody won a majority.

Northern loyalists were assassinating socialists in the South and the unification never really went forward. They unified the country formally, but former governments maintained their owned armies. That culminated in a civil war in 1994 that lasted two months. And the North defeated the South and has been in control ever since under the leadership of the same president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

So it’s really become an Egypt-style government where there’s a president who pretends to be elected and everyone else pretends to have candidates.

So during all this time, what has the U.S. government’s role been?

Well, right after Yemen unified in May 1990, Yemen had the unfortunate opportunity to have a rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council. So they had the seat during the first Gulf War in 1991 and they abstained from that Security Council vote. They did not vote for the coalition in 1990 and they did not vote against it; they abstained. So the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait all punished Yemen by unilaterally cutting all aid to the country. So it was a newly-unified country that had a tremendous amount of aid cut. Millions of Yemeni migrant workers in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were all deported and that had a devastating affect on the economy in Yemen.

But then relations gradually improved, with the U.S. not really having an interest in Yemen. Then, with the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole and subsequent events, the government of Ali Abdullah Saleh has been working very closely with the U.S. government because in some ways these Islamists are threatening to him as well. That said, there’s an Islamist party that’s closely aligned with the regime. So while the government is working with the U.S. to battle extremists, at the same time he’s playing this delicate balancing act that includes allying himself with extremists.

So basically, he’s allying himself with the United States in the war on terror, and with the people who are opposing that at the same time.

Exactly. And I don’t think he’s that brilliant as a politician. It’s just luck that it’s all held together at this point. It’s surprising to me that he’s pulling it off. A lot of people think it could get really bad there really quick.

Already, the Fullbright program has been suspended. People aren’t going there to study or do research. It’s really not safe.

So when you’re watching the news right now, what are you looking for? What are you looking for in these reports that will help you decide what’s going on?

In so much of what’s coming through, I hear mistakes in reports that frustrate me. What I want to know is: Are things realigning? Are new people coming on top? I haven’t seen this in the media, but for example: Saudi Arabia would have a clear interest in Yemen not becoming a failed state. So is Saudi Arabia sending more government and trying to bolster them and is that creating more Wahabi influence? Or this: Are you seeing a lot of the tribal sheiks realigning themselves? Because with that many weapons out of government control a few significant shifts in alignment could be game changers. Those are the kinds of things I’m interested in, but you don’t tend to see them in media a lot.

Jillian Schwedler is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author of the book, “Faith in Moderation: Islamist Parties in Jordan and Yemen.”

12-2

Al-Qaeda Using U.S. to Accomplish Goals — and U.S. Is Playing Along

William Pfaff, Chicago Tribune

PARIS — It is not widely understood that the policy objective of Al Qaeda is not to attack the Western countries, which in itself accomplishes nothing. Bringing down a Western airliner or blowing up a building in the United States or Britain is of no interest in itself, since the Islamic radical does no good by simply killing unbelievers. The ultimate purpose of Al Qaeda is to bring about an upheaval in the Islamic world in which Islam can be rescued from corrupted governments and degenerate practices.

When Gordon Brown or Barack Obama say that Western soldiers have to fight terrorists abroad so that they will not have to fight them in their own hometowns, they’re being silly, as such sophisticated men ought to know.

Why should Al Qaeda or the Taliban wish to fight in Peoria, Illinois, or a garden suburb of London? There are no recruits to be made there, and nothing to be gained in the real battle that the Muslim extremists are waging: to radicalize the Muslim world, and to rescue their co-religionists from heretical beliefs and Western practices.

The real reason for attacking Westerners in the West, or in airplanes on the way there, is to provoke the Western governments to send more Western soldiers to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere in the Muslim world to attack Muslim jihadists on the Islamists’ own ground, where the latter have tactical and human advantages that Western soldiers can never overcome.

Instead, attack by Western soldiers and the building of Western military bases on the soil of Muslim countries radicalizes and scandalizes ordinary people, and undermines the governments of those countries that choose to align themselves with the invaders — thereby, in the eyes of Islamic true believers, revealing themselves as traitors to orthodox Muslim belief.

The United States and the NATO countries are playing Al Qaeda’s game with every planeload of troops they dispatch to the Arab world and to Central Asia.

A headline in the Paris press says: “The CIA and U.S Special Forces lend a powerful hand to the government of Yemen.” The front-page headline in Tuesday’s International Herald Tribune says: “Yemen corruption blunts Qaeda fight.” This report explains that the Yemeni president’s government “is filled with members of his family and . . . wants to ensure that his son, Ahmed, 38, succeeds him.” The story goes on to say that “the economy has collapsed, with oil revenues down and oil and water running out.” This is the American-allied regime.

At the end of last year, we read about allegations of corruption in Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s own family, and the results of a national election were challenged as falsified. The president of Afghanistan has just ordered the nation’s parliament back from vacation in order to vote on his new cabinet nominees. These are to take the place of 17 of his 24 previous cabinet appointments, all rejected by parliament. Mr. Karzai is, of course, the man the United States put in place in Kabul to bring democracy to Afghanistan, so as to save it from the Taliban and al-Qaida.

No American who witnessed the waltz of U.S. senators with the health industry’s lobbyists during the ongoing effort to legislate health reform in the U.S. is in a position to be condescending about foreign corruption. If the United States has an occupying army that put in place, or sustains, the Afghan, Pakistani or Yemen government, then the ordinary citizen in those countries will see Americans and NATO as sources of their nation’s corruption, and perhaps the main one.

Moreover, the Taliban and al-Qaida are not fighting against corrupt governments in order to reform them. They want to destabilize and eventually destroy all of them so as to clear a political space in which 40 million Pashtuns and their fellow Sunni Arabs can create a new political dispensation of true believers, while the West declines.

That is fantasy, but it is a fantasy in which the United States and NATO are unwittingly playing leading roles.

(Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at www.williampfaff.com.)

The Next Step: A Stealth Drone

AFP

beastofkandahar2 WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US Air Force on Tuesday confirmed for the first time that it is flying a stealth unmanned aircraft known as the “Beast of Kandahar,” a drone spotted in photos and shrouded in secrecy. The RQ-170 Sentinel is being developed by Lockheed Martin and is designed “to provide reconnaissance and surveillance support to forward deployed combat forces,” the air force said in a brief statement.

The “RQ” prefix for the aircraft indicates an unarmed drone, unlike the “MQ” designation used for Predator and Reaper aircraft equipped with missiles and precision-guided bombs. Aviation experts dubbed the drone the “Beast of Kandahar” after photographs emerged earlier this year showing the mysterious aircraft in southern Afghanistan in 2007.

The image suggested a drone with a radar-evading stealth-like design, resembling a smaller version of a B-2 bomber.

A blog in the French newspaper Liberation published another photo this week, feeding speculation among aviation watchers about the classified drone. The air force said the aircraft came out of Lockheed Martin’s “Skunk Works,” also known as Advanced Development Programs, in California — the home of sophisticated and often secret defense projects including the U-2 spy plane, the F-22 fighter jet and the F-117 Nighthawk.

The photo of the drone in Afghanistan has raised questions about why the United States would be operating a stealth unmanned aircraft in a country where insurgents have no radar systems, prompting speculation Washington was using the drones for possible spying missions in neighboring Iran or Pakistan.

The Sentinel was believed to have a flying wing design with no tail and with sensors built into the top side of each wing, according to published photos.

The RQ-170 is in line with Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ request for more intelligence and surveillance resources and with the Air Force chief of staff’s plans to expand the fleet of unmanned aircraft, the air force said.

The new drone is flown by the 30th Reconnaissance Squadron out of Tonopah Test Range in Nevada, which is under Air Combat Command’s 432nd Wing at Creech Air Base, also in Nevada. The United States has carried out an extensive bombing campaign against Al-Qaeda figures in Pakistan using the Predator and larger Reaper drones.

Robots or “unmanned systems” in the air and on the ground are now deployed by the thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan.

12-1

Hearing Adjourned in Dr Aafia Case

The Daily Times, Pakistan

LAHORE: Justice Ijaz Ahmad Chaudhry of the Lahore High Court (LHC) has postponed until January 5 the hearing of a contempt petition against the government for not approaching the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui from the US custody.

The judge on December 10 had directed a deputy attorney general (DAG) to inform the court about the consequences of moving the ICJ for Dr Aafia’s release from the United States’ authorities, but the DAG did not appear in court on Monday.

Barrister Iqbal Jaffrey, counsel for Dr Aafia, has filed the petition. He submitted that the court had earlier directed the government to secure the release and repatriation of Dr Aafia within 30 days, but it had failed to comply with the court’s orders.

The counsel submitted that the court had also directed the government to move the ICJ for the release of Dr Aafia, but no action had been taken in this regard.
He said the government had allocated a substantial sum of money for pursuing the case, but did not spend a small amount to take up the matter with the ICJ.
He requested the court to initiate contempt proceedings against the respondents for defying court orders.

Dr Aafia was abducted from Karachi on March 30, 2003 and was taken to Afghanistan. Later, she was shifted to the US for allegedly attempting to kill two American investigators.

Two of her US national children are reportedly missing since her abduction while the Interior Ministry has handed over one of her children, a boy, to her sister.

12-1

Afghan War Costs

A 30,000-person surge will coast at least $30 billion.

By Jo Comerford

This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

$57,077.60. That’s what we’re paying per minute. Keep that in mind—just for a minute or so.

After all, the surge is already on. By the end of December, the first 1,500 US troops will have landed in Afghanistan, a nation roughly the size of Texas, ranked by the United Nations as second worst in the world in terms of human development.

Women and men from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, will be among the first to head out. It takes an estimated $1 million to send each of them surging into Afghanistan for one year. So a 30,000-person surge will be at least $30 billion, which brings us to that $57,077.60. That’s how much it will cost you, the taxpayer, for one minute of that surge.

By the way, add up the yearly salary of a Marine from Camp Lejeune with four years of service, throw in his or her housing allowance, additional pay for dependents, and bonus pay for hazardous duty, imminent danger, and family separation, and you’ll still be many thousands of dollars short of that single minute’s sum.

But perhaps this isn’t a time to quibble. After all, a job is a job, especially in the United States, which has lost seven million jobs since December 2007, while reporting record-high numbers of people seeking assistance to feed themselves and/or their families. According to the US Department of Agriculture, 36 million Americans, including one out of every four children, are currently on food stamps.

On the other hand, given the woeful inadequacy of that “safety net,” we might have chosen to direct the $30 billion in surge expenditures toward raising the average individual monthly Food Stamp allotment by $70 for the next year; that’s roughly an additional trip to the grocery store, every month, for 36 million people. Alternatively, we could have dedicated that $30 billion to job creation. According to a recent report issued by the Political Economy Research Institute, that sum could generate a whopping 537,810 construction jobs, 541,080 positions in healthcare, fund 742,740 teachers or employ 831,390 mass transit workers.

For purposes of comparison, $30 billion—remember, just the Pentagon-estimated cost of a 30,000-person troop surge—is equal to 80% of the total US 2010 budget for international affairs, which includes monies for development and humanitarian assistance. On the domestic front, $30 billion could double the funding (at 2010 levels) for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Or think of the surge this way: if the United States decided to send just 29,900 extra soldiers to Afghanistan, 100 short of the present official total, it could double the amount of money—$100 million—it has allocated to assist refugees and returnees from Afghanistan through the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

Leaving aside the fact that the United States already accounts for 45% of total global military spending, the $30 billion surge cost alone would place us in the top-ten for global military spending, sandwiched between Italy and Saudi Arabia. Spent instead on “soft security” measures within Afghanistan, $30 billion could easily build, furnish and equip enough schools for the entire nation.

Continuing this nod to the absurd for just one more moment, if you received a silver dollar every second, it would take you 960 years to haul in that $30 billion. Not that anyone could hold so much money. Together, the coins would weigh nearly 120 tons, or more than the poundage of 21,000 Asian elephants, an aircraft carrier, or the Washington Monument. Converted to dollar bills and laid end-to-end, $30 billion would reach 2.9 million miles or 120 times around the Earth.

One more thing, that $30 billion isn’t even the real cost of Obama’s surge. It’s just a minimum, through-the-basement estimate. If you were to throw in all the bases being built, private contractors hired, extra civilians sent in, and the staggering costs of training a larger Afghan army and police force (a key goal of the surge), the figure would surely be startlingly higher. In fact, total Afghanistan War spending for 2010 is now expected to exceed $102.9 billion, doubling last year’s Afghan spending. Thought of another way, it breaks down to $12 million per hour in taxpayer dollars for one year. That’s equal to total annual US spending on all veteran’s benefits, from hospital stays to education.

In Afghan terms, our upcoming single year of war costs represents nearly five times that country’s gross domestic product or $3,623.70 for every Afghan woman, man, and child. Given that the average annual salary for an Afghan soldier is $2,880 and many Afghans seek employment in the military purely out of economic desperation, this might be a wise investment—especially since the Taliban is able to pay considerably more for its new recruits. In fact, recent increases in much-needed Afghan recruits appear to correlate with the promise of a pay raise.

All of this is, of course, so much fantasy, since we know just where that $30-plus billion will be going. In 2010, total Afghanistan War spending since November 2001 will exceed $325 billion, which equals the combined annual military spending of Great Britain, China, France, Japan, Germany, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. If we had never launched an invasion of Afghanistan or stayed on fighting all these years, those war costs, evenly distributed in this country, would have meant a $2,298.80 dividend per US taxpayer.

Even as we calculate the annual cost of war, the tens of thousands of Asian elephants in the room are all pointing to $1 trillion in total war costs for Iraq and Afghanistan. The current escalation in Afghanistan coincides with that rapidly-approaching milestone. In fact, thanks to Peter Baker’s recent New York Times report on the presidential deliberations that led to the surge announcement, we know that the trillion-dollar number for both wars may be a gross underestimate. The Office of Management and Budget sent President Obama a memo, Baker tells us, suggesting that adding General McChrystal’s surge to ongoing war costs, over the next 10 years, could mean—forget Iraq—a trillion dollar Afghan War.

At just under one-third of the 2010 US federal budget, $1 trillion essentially defies per-hour-per-soldier calculations. It dwarfs all other nations’ military spending, let alone their spending on war. It makes a mockery of food stamps and schools. To make sense of this cost, we need to leave civilian life behind entirely and turn to another war. We have to reach back to the Vietnam War, which in today’s dollars cost $709.9 billion—or $300 billion less than the total cost of the two wars we’re still fighting, with no end in sight, or even $300 billion less than the long war we may yet fight in Afghanistan.

[Note: Jo would like to acknowledge the analysis and numbers crunching of Chris Hellman and Mary Orisich, members of the National Priorities Project’s research team, without whom this piece would not have been possible.]

Jo Comerford is the executive director of the National Priorities Project.

Hidden Costs of War–Stunning Statistics About the War Every American Should Know

By Jeremy Scahill / Rebel Reports

2009-12-18T130409Z_1544741587_GM1E5CI1M8H01_RTRMADP_3_TURKEY-AFGHANISTAN

Afghan soldiers take part in a military training exercise at a Turkish commando training center near the southern city of Isparta December 18, 2009. Dozens of Afghan troops are undergoing training on explosives, mountain climbing and anti-terrorism tactics at a Turkish commando training center. Turkey, NATO’s sole Muslim member, took over the rotating command of the peacekeeping mission in Kabul but does not want to participate in combat operations.

REUTERS/Umit BEKTAS

A hearing in Sen. Claire McCaskill’s Contract Oversight subcommittee on contracting in Afghanistan has highlighted some important statistics that provide a window into the extent to which the Obama administration has picked up the Bush-era war privatization baton and sprinted with it. Overall, contractors now comprise a whopping 69% of the Department of Defense’s total workforce, “the highest ratio of contractors to military personnel in US history.” That’s not in one war zone—that’s the Pentagon in its entirety.

In Afghanistan, the Obama administration blows the Bush administration out of the privatized water. According to a memo [PDF] released by McCaskill’s staff, “From June 2009 to September 2009, there was a 40% increase in Defense Department contractors in Afghanistan.  During the same period, the number of armed private security contractors working for the Defense Department in Afghanistan doubled, increasing from approximately 5,000 to more than 10,000.”

At present, there are 104,000 Department of Defense contractors in Afghanistan. According to a report this week from the Congressional Research Service, as a result of the coming surge of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, there may be up to 56,000 additional contractors deployed. But here is another group of contractors that often goes unmentioned: 3,600 State Department contractors and 14,000 USAID contractors. That means that the current total US force in Afghanistan is approximately 189,000 personnel (68,000 US troops and 121,000 contractors). And remember, that’s right now. And that, according to McCaskill, is a conservative estimate. A year from now, we will likely see more than 220,000 US-funded personnel on the ground in Afghanistan.

The US has spent more than $23 billion on contracts in Afghanistan since 2002. By next year, the number of contractors will have doubled since 2008 when taxpayers funded over $8 billion in Afghanistan-related contracts.

Despite the massive number of contracts and contractors in Afghanistan, oversight is utterly lacking. “The increase in Afghanistan contracts has not seen a corresponding increase in contract management and oversight,” according to McCaskill’s briefing paper. “In May 2009, DCMA [Defense Contract Management Agency] Director Charlie Williams told the Commission on Wartime Contracting that as many as 362 positions for Contracting Officer’s Representatives (CORs) in Afghanistan were currently vacant.”

A former USAID official, Michael Walsh, the former director of USAID’s Office of Acquisition and Assistance and Chief Acquisition Officer, told the Commission that many USAID staff are “administering huge awards with limited knowledge of or experience with the rules and regulations.” According to one USAID official, the agency is “sending too much money, too fast with too few people looking over how it is spent.” As a result, the agency does not “know … where the money is going.”

The Obama administration is continuing the Bush-era policy of hiring contractors to oversee contractors. According to the McCaskill memo:

In Afghanistan, USAID is relying on contractors to provide oversight of its large reconstruction and development projects.  According to information provided to the Subcommittee, International Relief and Development (IRD) was awarded a five-year contract in 2006 to oversee the $1.4 billion infrastructure contract awarded to a joint venture of the Louis Berger Group and Black and Veatch Special Projects.  USAID has also awarded a contract Checci and Company to provide support for contracts in Afghanistan.

The private security industry and the US government have pointed to the Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker(SPOT) as evidence of greater government oversight of contractor activities. But McCaskill’s subcommittee found that system utterly lacking, stating: “The Subcommittee obtained current SPOT data showing that there are currently 1,123 State Department contractors and no USAID contractors working in Afghanistan.” Remember, there are officially 14,000 USAID contractors and the official monitoring and tracking system found none of these people and less than half of the State Department contractors.

As for waste and abuse, the subcommittee says that the Defense Contract Audit Agency identified more than $950 million in questioned and unsupported costs submitted by Defense Department contracts for work in Afghanistan. That’s 16% of the total contract dollars reviewed.

11-

US Cutting Gaza Lifeline

By Ann Wright

2009-12-19T210125Z_191868094_GM1E5CK05E101_RTRMADP_3_PALESTINIANS-EGYPT

December 10, 2009 – No doubt at the instigation of the Israeli government, the Obama administration has authorized the United States Army Corps of Engineers to design a vertical underground wall under the border between Egypt and Gaza.

In March, 2009 the United States provided the government of Egypt with $32 million in March, 2009 for electronic surveillance and other security devices to prevent the movement of food, merchandise and weapons into Gaza. Now details are emerging about an underground steel wall that will be 6-7 miles long and extend 55 feet straight down into the desert sand.

The steel wall will be made of super-strength steel put together in a jigsaw puzzle fashion. It will be bomb proof and can not be cut or melted. It will be “impenetrable,” and reportedly will take 18 months to construct.

(http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8405020.stm)

The steel wall is intended to cut the tunnels that go between Gaza and Egypt.

The tunnels are the lifelines for Gaza since the international community agreed to a blockade of Gaza to collectively punish the citizens of Gaza for their having elected in Parliamentary elections in 2006 sufficient Hamas Parliamentarians that Hamas became the government of Gaza. The United States and other western countries have placed Hamas on the list of terrorist organizations.

The underground steel wall is intended to strengthen international governmental efforts to imprison and starve the people of Gaza into submission so they will throw out the Hamas government.

2009-12-21T160522Z_1241899875_GM1E5CM009Q01_RTRMADP_3_EGYPT-BORDER

A member of Hamas security forces stands guard near the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip December 21, 2009. Egyptian officials confirmed on Monday that Egypt is building an underground steel barrier next to its border with Gaza, where Palestinians have built tunnels to smuggle in goods to beat an Israeli blockade.                

REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Just as the steel walls of the US Army Corps of Engineers at the base of the levees of New Orleans were unable to contain Hurricane Katrina, the US Army Corps of Engineers’ underground steel walls that will attempt to build an underground cage of Gaza will not be able to contain the survival spirit of the people of Gaza.

America’s super technology will again be laughed at by the world, as young men dedicated to the survival of their people, will again outwit technology by digging deeper, and most likely penetrating the “impenetrable” in some novel, simple, low-tech way.

I have been to Gaza 3 times this year following the 22-day Israeli military attack on Gaza that killed 1,440, wounded 5,000, left 50,000 homeless and destroyed much of the infrastructure of Gaza. The disproportionate use of force and targeting of the civilian population by the Israeli military is considered by international law and human rights experts as as violations of the Geneva conventions.

When our governments participate in illegal actions, it is up to the citizens of the world to take action. On December 31, 2009, 1,400 international citizens from 42 countries will march in Gaza with 50,000 Gazans in the Gaza Freedom March to end the siege of Gaza. They will take back to their countries the stories of spirit and survival of the people of Gaza and will return home committed to force their governments to stop these inhuman actions against the people of Gaza.

Just as American smart bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq have not conquered the spirit of Aghans and Iraqis, America’s underground walls in Gaza will never conquer the courage of those who are fighting for the survival of their families.

One more time, the American government and the Obama administration has been an active participant in the continued inhumane treatment of the people of Gaza and should be held accountable, along with Israel and Egypt for violations of human rights of the people of Gaza.

Ann Wright is a retired US Army Reserve Colonel and a former U.S. diplomat who resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq. She served in as a US diplomat in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She is the co-author of “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”

Her March 19, 2003 letter of resignation can be read at http://www.govexec.com/ dailyfed/0303/032103wright.htm.

http://intifada-palestine.com/2009/12/11/us-cutting-gaza-lifeline/

See 2.:21 min video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NzhUcShtkSk&feature=player_embedded which accompanies this article.

11-53

U.S., Turkey Launch New Trade, Investment Forum

2009-12-21T113419Z_2140208691_GM1E5CL1I6101_RTRMADP_3_EU-TURKEY

Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis (L) talks to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu during a news conference at the European Union Council headquarters in Brussels December 21, 2009.    

REUTERS/Francois Lenoir  

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and NATO ally Turkey launched an initiative Monday aimed at boosting trade and investment ties, but said there were no plans for the two countries to negotiate a free trade agreement.

“We can … build on what is a good trade and commercial relationship and make it a much more robust one,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said at a press conference with Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan.

The initiative creates a new Cabinet-level forum to discuss ways to expand bilateral trade and investment flows and to try to resolve disputes when they arise, similar to one the United States has with China.

“This framework … will be an important vehicle for expanding trade and investment and creating new jobs for the workers and the people” of both countries, said U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.

The announcement followed a White House meeting between President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to discuss Iran’s nuclear program and U.S. plans to send more troops to Afghanistan.

Obama told reporters he believed Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country and long-time U.S. ally, could be an ‘important player’ in moving Iran toward resolving its dispute with the West over its nuclear program.

Erdogan said Turkey stands ready to do whatever it can to achieve a diplomatic solution on the nuclear issue.

Turkey, which has applied for membership of the European Union, is the United States’ fourth-largest trading partner in the Muslim world and 27th overall.

U.S-Turkey trade has dropped from a record of nearly $15 billion in 2008, but there is every reason to expect the two countries can surpass that “when the world economy gets back on its feet,’’ Locke said.

Babacan said the two countries would seek suggestions from business on how to increase trade in areas ranging from energy to agriculture to military equipment.
He downplayed the chances of Ankara using the forum to press Washington to reduce high U.S. tariffs that Turkey faces on textiles and some other exports.

Kirk said the initiative was not intended as a stepping stone to talks with Turkey on a free trade agreement. (Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Chris Wilson)

11-53

Exploring China’s Wild West

The Jakarta Globe

silk road hotan There is a smell of goats, fresh bread and melons. A cacophony of bleating animals rises, mixed with conversations full of hard-edged Turkic gutturals. A small boy clambers deftly onto the back of an unbroken, barrel-bellied pony, and reining it back sharply he somehow stays in place as it gallops wildly over the stony ground. Horse-trading elders with beards and skull caps look on with approval and begin to count wads of tattered money. Above everything arches a vast Central Asian sky.

I am in China, but here, at the Sunday livestock bazaar on the outskirts of Kashgar, an ancient city in the southwest corner of Xinjiang, I have to keep reminding myself of that fact.

Xinjiang is China’s Wild West, a state of deserts and mountains peopled by Muslim Uighurs, and leaning more to Bokhara than Beijing. It has long had a troubled relationship with the rest of the country, slipping in and out of effective Chinese control as imperial power waxed and waned over the centuries. Today the tensions continue. In July, protests by Uighurs in Urumqi, the state capital, turned violent and a government crackdown followed. But unlike in neighboring Tibet, the government has kept Xinjiang open to tourists. When I arrive in Kashgar on a long-distance train, rolling though vineyards and pomegranate orchards, there has been a state-wide telecommunications shutdown for over four months and army trucks bearing antiseparatist slogans were rolling down the streets. But I am free to go wherever I like, and the first place I head is Kashgar’s famous Sunday Market.

Kashgar stands astride the ancient Silk Road, the much-mythologized trade route that once linked China with Europe. From here trails led east along the fringes of the desert, and west over mountain passes. For centuries, people, religions and ideas passed along the caravan routes. The Uighurs’ Turkic ancestors dropped out of the mountains in the sixth century. Before them, Buddhism, Manichaeism and Nestorian Christianity had traveled west. A few centuries later, Islam arrived.

Today a hint of this old romance survives — the borders of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan lie within 150 kilometers of Kashgar, and trade goes on in weekly markets across the region. In the Kashgar Sunday Market I see carpets, fruits and embroidered cloth, mixed in with everyday metals and plastics. Women in sparkling headscarves jostle with old men in embroidered pillbox hats.

But the Chinese government is determinedly dragging Xinjiang into the mainstream. The market has now been corralled into a modern complex, and beyond it new high-rises tower over the remnants of the old mud-walled city. In recent years, swathes of the Uighur old town have been bulldozed, and immigration from other parts of China has been encouraged. These moves — and the dominance of immigrant Han Chinese in the job market — have only increased tensions. English-speaking Uighurs I meet on my journey whisper their disquiet in hushed, paranoid tones. A man at the Sunday Market explains the resentment at the destruction of old Kashgar.

“There is no privacy in a Chinese apartment,” he says. “Our traditional houses are built around a courtyard so we all live together, but with privacy. We don’t want to live in apartments.”

Looking for something a little more authentic, I head to the livestock bazaar. It is a glorious chaos of goats, donkeys, horses and sheep and haggling men in fabulous hats. I am hoping to see a camel or two — real evidence that I am on the Silk Road — but to my disappointment there are none. I console myself with a plate of greasy kebabs and plot my onward journey.

From Kashgar I head east. Human habitation in Xinjiang has long been squeezed into the narrow margin between the mountains and the desert. A string of oases runs along what was once the southern branch of the Silk Road. My first stop is Yarkand — a place once as fabled as Samarkand or Xanadu. During Xinjiang’s periods of independence from Chinese rule, Yarkand was usually the capital city. It was also the terminus of skeleton-strewn caravan trails over the mountains from India.

Today, it is a backwater. A Uighur old town of mud alleyways remains, and a dusty graveyard of royal tombs studded with the faded flags of mystic Sufi cults sprawls behind a medieval mosque with a vine-shaded courtyard. A modern Chinese town of arrow-straight boulevards dominates, but away to the south I can pick out the faint white line of the Kun Lun mountains, the back wall of the entire Himalayan range.

From the next oasis, Karghilik, I take a taxi into those hills along a road that leads, eventually, to Tibet. An army check-point by the chilly banks of the Tiznaf River is as far as I can go, but I scramble up a steep brown slope to take in the view. A mass of brown mountains, ribbed and scored with dark shadow, spreads east and west. Behind them, rising in a glittering white line, is the backbone of the Kun Lun. This was the barrier that Silk Road traders from India once had to cross en route to Kashgar, Yarkand, and my own final destination — Hotan.

The road to Hotan blazes across the stony desert, the mountains floating to the south. The vast void that surrounds it makes arrival in Hotan a strange experience, for here, at the very limit of China’s vastness, is another large, modern town. As a Uighur heartland, the Chinese government has been particularly keen to integrate Hotan with the rest of the country. Roads from the north now plough straight across the Taklamakan Desert, and from next year a railway line will link it to Kashgar. A Uighur man I meet at a kebab stall hisses, “When the railway is ready we will be finished — Hotan will be all Chinese.”

But something remains here: a week has passed and it is time for Hotan’s own Sunday Market. Nothing has been regimented here; the bazaar sprawls over a vast area, filling all the lanes and alleys of the old quarter with a mass of color and commerce. There are sections given over to cloth and carpets, to the jade mined from the banks of nearby rivers, to animals and even tractors. Donkey carts clatter through the crowds, the drivers calling out “ Bosh! Bosh! ” (“Coming through!”). When I am tired of wandering I feast on laghman (Uighur noodles) and slices of fresh watermelon.

And as I leave the market I spot something — what I had hoped to see in Kashgar. A boy is leading a pair of shaggy, twin-humped Bactrian camels through the crowd. They are enormous beasts and they pass through the chaos unperturbed and disappear among the trucks. I stare after them as they go, now sure, despite the political tensions and the heavy-handed Chinese modernization, that I am in Central Asia, and on the Silk Road.

11-52

A Talk with the Taliban

By Sara Daniel, Le Nouvel Observateur

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Former Taliban are part of the ongoing dialogue between the Karzai government and the Taliban in Pakistan. (Photo: Codepink / Flickr)

Obama has finally opted for troop reinforcement. But by evoking the beginning of a scheduled withdrawal 18 months from now, he has also incited the Karzai government to keep the channels of discussion with the Taliban open.

And what if the stabilization of Afghanistan could come only at this price? While Barack Obama’s decision to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan seems to sound the death knell for that option envisaged by the more cynical members of the American administration, those who don’t believe in a military solution in the country continue to militate in favor of a “discussion” with the enemy. Not with the “pragmatic” Taliban Hamid Karzai boasted of having been able to rally to his cause – and who are today considered traitors by the guerrilla – but with the most ideological fringe of the “students’ of religion” representatives, the Mullah Omar and Hezb-e-Islami leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. These are the ones who are inflicting losses on NATO’s forces and laying siege to Kabul. “If you want significant results, you have to talk to important people,” Norwegian diplomat and UN representative in the country Kai Eide declared the day before the elections to encourage discussions with the guerrilla movement’s leadership.

The idea is highly controversial. Its detractors explain that any attempt at dialogue would be considered a sign of weakness by the fundamentalist guerrilla at precisely the moment when the West is demonstrating the scope of its determination to pacify the country militarily. Didn’t Mullah Omar just violently reject the proposals for national reconciliation that President Karzai since his investiture has ceaselessly tried to engage him in? Nonetheless, Barack Obama has repeated that NATO’s troop withdrawal should begin in 18 months. Yet, nothing proves that the counterinsurgency strategy he has opted for will be a success in the meantime. Consequently, the Afghan president maintains all channels open and, far from official platforms, enemy leaders are talking to one another.

In spite of the fighting, meetings occur between the clandestine headquarters of the blind mullah and the Afghan government. From Pakistan to Kabul, intercessors see to it that messages are passed under the watchful eye of the Americans. Even American Defense Secretary Robert Gates has declared that, in Afghanistan as in Iraq, it would be necessary to come to the point of conducting a policy of a reconciliation with people who have killed American soldiers: “Isn’t that how wars always end?” he declared during a NATO meeting.

Maulvi Arsala Rahmani is one of those messengers. Under the Taliban regime, he was minister for religious affairs. Today, he has returned to the Afghan Senate. He receives people in his house in Kabul, where he is under good protection and spied on by several countries’ intelligence agents. Enveloped in an Uzbek coat lined in gray fur, he prays with fervor, as though better to reflect on the questions he is asked. To hear him tell it, he would like to reconcile everybody. For he likes Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and … Mullah Omar. He mentions his “friend, Osama” (bin Laden), whom he knew well in Sudan, then during the jihad. According to Rahmani, Mullah Baradar, the present Taliban operational commander, is a “good and honest man.” And he misses Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose armed groups are covering the south of the country with blood: “We always used to be together …” Nonetheless, he believes that the time has come for the guerrilla movement to dissociate itself from his “friend Osama.” But are the members of Mullah Omar’s choura (council of notables), with whom he is in contact, ready for that divorce? In his opinion, it’s not impossible. For, in spite of their military “success,” the Taliban, like all soldiers, would like to be able to go home. Moreover, and contrary to what has been suggested in Mullah Omar’s communiqués, it is sometimes the guerrilla leaders, and not the Afghan presidency, who take the initiative for these meetings, Maulvi Arsala Rahmani assures me. Last year, Mullah Baradar led a Taliban delegation to Kabul to talk with Karzai’s older brother, Qayyum.

Born to the same tribe as the Afghan president, Mullah Omar’s right hand man is supposed to be a more conciliating man than his mentor. Patient, charismatic, he has proved to be a redoubtable enemy for NATO’s troops. At the head of the Quetta choura in Pakistan, it is he who manages the war chest – the booty from kidnappings and trafficking – and who coordinates attacks. Above all, it is he who has been authorized to speak in the name of the man the insurgents consider the commander of the faithful: Omar. “Should there ever be discussions, he will be an indispensable interlocutor,” asserts Rahmani.

In Kabul, the former minister is sharing his home with another one of these “intermediaries” who sound out the Taliban and regularly meet with Barack Obama’s advisers. His beard is black, his turban, cream-colored: Pir Mohamed was the president of the University of Kabul under the Taliban regime: “Afghanistan is composed of several groups. No one should be excluded … That’s what I said to Holbrooke, who shares my point of view!” Repeating – for whatever purpose it might serve – that, at the time, he had tried several times to convince Mullah Omar to allow him to give girls a religious education, he asserts that today he has warned the White House special envoy against the new pacification strategy for the country: “Afghanistan is not Iraq. The Taliban come from very different origins. Mores come from Uzbekistan, Kandahar or Khost. And one may neither set the tribes against one another nor buy them: there are too many of them!”

Yet, is seems that the political leadership of the Taliban, tossing around between Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi, would like to put an end to its wanderings in Pakistan. That’s the sense of the messages from the Quetta choura and its representatives, Baradar and Mohamed Mansour, former chief education officer. The rebels would like to install themselves somewhere, then form a government-in-exile to elaborate the conditions for a negotiation with the Karzai government. Why not in Saudi Arabia where Mullah Zaeef, former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, has already tried to organize a meeting between the enemy sides? Then from Riyadh, the Taliban leadership could negotiate its own neutrality in exchange for a right to return, amnesty and participation in political life after the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Isn’t this scenario unrealistic or premature? Our intermediaries agree: it will not be easy to convince Westerners to guarantee a safe haven for the same people they’re fighting. But the two men insist on the necessity of cutting the guerrilla off from its Pakistani sanctuary. Even though they know Afghanistan will not be at peace until Pakistan agrees to it. “As long as Pakistan’s vital interests, such as the future of the Durand Line, are not taken into account, all discussions will fail,” explains Rahmani. According to him, the key to potential negotiations is in the hands of the Pakistani mullahs, themselves under ISI – the Pakistani secret services’ – control.  As are Mullah Fazel Rahman and Sami ul-Haq, who lead the coalition of Pakistani fundamentalist religious parties. “Before the Taliban, it is they who must be convinced to make peace, because today they control al-Qaeda and bin Laden and hold the future of the region in their hands …” On this point, at least, the former Taliban and Barack Obama come to the same conclusions.

Maulvi Rahmani

Religious affairs minister under the Taliban regime, he is a member of the Afghan Senate today. He has contacts within circles close to the Pakistani secret services.

Pir Mohamed

Former rector of Kabul University. He meets regularly with Richard Holbrooke and representatives of the Quetta choura.

Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef

He was the sole interface between the Taliban regime and the international community from 1996 to the end of 2001. He was imprisoned at Guantanamo from 2002 to 2005. He would like to see the Saudis play a role in future peace talks.

Wakil Muttawakil

Former foreign affairs minister for the Taliban, he played the role of intermediary between the Americans and Taliban groups in Kandahar and negotiated the conditions for surrender with the Americans at the fall of the regime.

11-52

Insurgents Intercept Drone Video in King-Size Security Breach

By Noah Schachtman, Wired Magazine

Even worse…

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military depends on an array of drones to snoop on and stalk insurgents. Now it looks as if insurgents are tapping into those same drones’ broadcasts, to see what the flying robot spies see. If true — and widespread — it’s potentially one of the most serious military security breaches in years.

“U.S. military personnel in Iraq discovered the problem late last year when they apprehended a Shiite militant whose laptop contained files of intercepted drone video feeds,” Wall Street Journal reports. “In July, the U.S. military found pirated drone video feeds on other militant laptops, leading some officials to conclude that militant groups trained and funded by Iran were regularly intercepting feeds.”

How’d the militants manage to get access to such secret data? Basically by pointing satellite dishes up, and waiting for the drone feeds to pour in. According to the Journal, militants have exploited a weakness: The data links between the drone and the ground control station were never encrypted. Which meant that pretty much anyone could tap into the overhead surveillance that many commanders feel is America’s most important advantage in its two wars. Pretty much anyone could intercept the feeds of the drones that are the focal point for the secret U.S. war in Pakistan.

Using cheap, downloadable programs like SkyGrabber, militants were apparently able to watch and record the video feed — and potentially be tipped off when U.S. and coalition forces are stalking them. The $26 software was originally designed to let users download movies and songs off of the internet. Turns out, the program lets you nab Predator drone feeds just as easily as pirated copies of The Hangover.

And here’s the real scandal: Military officials have known about this potential vulnerability since the Bosnia campaign. That was over 10 years ago. And, as Declan McCullagh observes, there have been a series of government reports warning of the problem since then. But the Pentagon assumed that their adversaries in the Middle East and Central Asia wouldn’t have the smarts to tap into the communications link. That’s despite presentations like this 1996 doozy from Air Combat Command, which noted that that “the Predator UAV is designed to operate with unencrypted data links.”

If you think militants are going to be content to just observe spy drone feeds, it’s time to reconsider. “Folks are not merely going to listen/watch what we do when they intercept the feeds, but also start to conduct ‘battles of persuasion’; that is, hacking with the intent to disrupt or change the content, or even ‘persuade’ the system to do their own bidding,” Peter Singer, author of Wired for War, tells Danger Room.

This has long been the nightmare scenario within Pentagon cybersecurity circles: a hacker not looking to take down the military grid, but to exploit it for his own purposes. How does a soldier trust an order, if he doesn’t know who else is listening — or who gave the order, in the first place? “For a sophisticated adversary, it’s to his advantage to keep your network up and running. He can learn what you know. He can cause confusion, delay your response times — and shape your actions,” one Defense Department cybersecurity official tells Danger Room.

Despite this rather massive vulnerability, drone operations show no signs of letting up. According to the Associated Press, “two suspected U.S. missile strikes, one using multiple drones, killed 17 people in a Pakistani tribal region.”

Meanwhile, military officials assure are scrambling to plug the hole. “The difficulty, officials said, is that adding encryption to a network that is more than a decade old involves more than placing a new piece of equipment on individual drones,”  the Journal notes. “Instead, many components of the network linking the drones to their operators in the U.S., Afghanistan or Pakistan have to be upgraded to handle the changes.”

So it may be quite some time before this enormous security breach is filled.

– Nathan Hodge and Noah Shachtman

As in the Days of the USSR

By Sara Daniel, Le Nouvel Observateur

Shahnawaz Tanaï, former defense minister for Najibullah’s pro-Soviet government, compares the two occupations of Afghanistan.

In the last presidential election, he came in sixth out of 41 candidates. A good showing for a man who was once defense minister to Najibullah, the former pro-Soviet president of Afghanistan, murdered by the Taliban. Shahnawaz Tanai nostalgically evokes the “good old days” of the Soviets, which he seems not to be the only one to miss. According to him, there are many commonalities between NATO’s occupation of Afghanistan and the Soviet period. First of all, the Russians, like the Americans, relied on warlords of evil repute in order to take over power. Then Russia, like NATO today, was unable to pacify the country because of the open border with Pakistan, which assured the Mudjahadijn a rear staging base. “In 1985, six years after the beginning of the Soviet invasion, the debates began in Russia, exactly like today in the West, on the legitimacy of the government in place in and on the Soviet Union’s economic troubles …The Russian Army’s morale was at a nadir and people in Moscow were wondering about the opportunity of sending more soldiers: Brejnev was for, the KGB was against …” In 1988, Najibullah sent his defense minister to Moscow to convince Gorbachev to stay in Afghanistan: “I gave him the advice I could give the Americans today: to envisage the stages of a withdrawal, you must first secure the major axes and the principle cities, Mazar, Herat, Kabul, and give the army logistical support.” Najibullah’s former minister remembers a meeting between Najibullah and Fidel Castro: “Castro advised Najibullah to appear less dependent on Gorbachev. Karzai should also put some distance between himself and the Americans …”

11-52

Who is Aafia Siddiqui?

By Mauri’ Saalakhan

As someone who has been a human rights advocate for most of his adult life, I have seen many cases come and go; few have been as heart rending and consequential as the mysterious case of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui.

More than six years into this saga there still remain many unknowns. What brought the US government’s attention to this soft-spoken, unassuming woman? Why was she abducted and secretly held for five years? Why did Pakistan hand over one of its citizens to the US? And given the nature of the allegations that were being made by US authorities around the time of Aafia’s disappearance, why have none of those terrorism-related innuendos found their way into the criminal indictment that was finally brought against Aafia in a US federal court?

Dr. Siddiqui and her three children (two of whom are American born) disappeared in March 2003 following their abduction from a taxicab in Karachi Pakistan. No one would know of their whereabouts for the next five years. As time passed, however, and tales began to spread about a mysterious woman being held at Bagram (Afghanistan), identified only as Prisoner 650, pressure began to build toward indentifying who that mysterious woman was.

Investigative journalist and human rights activist Yvonne Ridley – who produced an excellent documentary on the subject (“In Search of Prisoner 650”) – dubbed her “The Grey Lady of Bagram.” Shortly after Ridley traveled to Pakistan to build mass support for an investigation into who the grey lady really was, a disheveled and degraded Aafia Siddiqui reappeared on the streets of Ghazni, Afghanistan in July 2008, only to be drawn back into a deadly web of intrigue.

One of the most riveting parts of “In Search of Prisoner 650,” for this writer, was Ridley’s interview of Ghazni Counter-Terrorism Police Chief Abdul Qadeer. The chief recounted that on the day of Aafia’s re-arrest 12 to 13 Americans were given permission to interview her. After one went behind the curtain where she was being held, all of a sudden there was gunfire. Aafia was shot and seriously wounded.

The official story was that Aafia had tried to pick up a rifle to fire upon the investigators, but ended up being shot in the stomach herself. According to the report, she received emergency treatment only because Afghan authorities insisted on it. In the documentary, Abdul Qadeer expressed suspicion about why she was removed from their (Afghan) custody. When the Governor of Ghazni Province, Dr. Usman Usmani, was confronted with this question by Yvonne Ridley, he gave a rather confused and clearly uncomfortable response.

Who is Dr. Aafia Siddiqui?

Aafia Siddiqui is a 37 year old Pakistani national who did her graduate and post-graduate work in the United States, graduating from MIT and Brandeis University, where she received her PhD. Those who knew her in Boston (who this writer has spoken to) have had nothing but glowing things to say about her. Quiet, soft-spoken, focused; a devoted mother, excellent student, and committed muslimah who was known for her charitable work in the Boston community, is how she is invariably described.

She was married to a Pakistani doctor, but they were divorced (under acrimonious circumstances) by the time of her abduction. The two youngest children from this marriage are still missing to this day. The oldest, a now 12 year old son, was returned to his family just this past summer and now resides with Aafia’s sister, Fauzia.

What brought this young mother to the attention of U.S. authorities remains a mystery. Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, in a press conference years ago, described her as an “al-Qaeda facilitator.” And yet, now in custody awaiting trial, Aafia Siddiqui does not face even one terrorism related charge! 

What we can do

This case involving Dr. Aafia Siddiqui is one of the most important precedent-setting cases confronting the Muslim-American community post 9/11. (Laws are established on the basis of precedent.)

In 2002, Deputy Attorney General Viet Dinh – a prominent member of the Justice Department’s “cartel of conservative lawyers” – was the first high level official in the Bush-Cheney administration to openly admit the government’s use of “profiling” (both racial and religious) in the so-called “war on terrorism.” When questioned on the criteria employed, his response was, “The criteria Al-Qaeda itself uses; eighteen to 35 year old males who entered the country after the start of 2000 using passports from countries where Al-Qaeda has a strong presence.”

In his address to the American Bar Association conference in Naples, Florida earlier that year (Jan. 2002) he stated quite emphatically: “We are reticent to provide a road map to Al-Qaeda as to the progress and direction of our investigative activity. We don’t want to taint people as being of interest to the investigation simply because of our attention. We will let them go if there is not enough of a predicate to hold them. But we will follow them closely, and if they so much as spit on the sidewalk we’ll arrest them. The message is that if you are a suspected terrorist, you better be squeaky clean. If we can we will keep you in jail.”

Clearly this has been the policy of the U.S. government for Muslim males post 9/11. With the case of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, that policy was expanded to include Muslim females as well. If they can get away with what they’re doing to Aafia today, it will be others tomorrow.

A demonstration is being planned for the courthouse on the day of opening arguments in January 2010. The two most important things we can do for Aafia at this point are to keep her in our prayers, and show up on the date of this mobilization. As our beloved Prophet (pbuh) said: “Tie your camel, and have trust in ALLAH.”

Mauri’ Saalakhan serves as Director of Operations for The Peace And Justice Foundation. For more information on the upcoming mobilization call (301) 762-9162 or E-mail peacethrujustice@aol.com.

11-51

Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) Convention

By Susan Schwartz, MMNS

With the twin scourges of Islamophobia and racism prevalent in the United States and with the media acting as an echo chamber, a great burden is placed on individuals and groups who seek to speak the truth about Islam and the nature of the crises that effect us domestically and internationally.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), created in 1988, is one such organization. MPAC was formed to work for the civil rights of Muslim Americans and to facilitate their entry into American pluralism. MPAC works at the national as well as the grassroots level and has won the trust and respect of the Muslim and non Muslim community. MPAC has become an information source for those seeking to understand Islam and seeking also to put current events in their proper perspective.

MPAC held its ninth annual convention in Long Beach, Ca. this past Saturday. The event brought a capacity audience to attend workshops and listen to speakers, expert in their fields, and who provided insight and education into topics taken from today’s headlines. The title of the convention was: “With Change come Challenges.”

After thought provoking and informative workshops, the event ended with a banquet featuring Congressman Andre Carson (D,IN), awards, and entertainment.

Among the presenters (but not limited to) were Dr. Maher Hathout, a retired physician celebrated in the Muslim and non Muslim community for his dedication to peace and human rights and for his interfaith work. Dr. Hathout is the MPAC Senior Advisor, an author, and a sought after speaker.

Dr. Aslam Abdullah is the Editor-in Chief of The Muslim Observer, a weekly English language Muslim newspaper. He was recently elected vice president of the Muslim Council of America, a new organization which serves Muslims in the arena of policy and political affairs. Dr. Abdullah is active in Islamic affairs in Nevada which activity also includes being secretary of the Interfaith Council of Nevada.

Dr. Laila Al Marayati is a physician and the Chairperson of KinderUSA, an organization dedicated to the well being of children, focusing in particular on the children of Palestine. Dr. Al Marayati is also the spokesperson for the Muslim Women’s League, a Los Angeles group which seeks to strengthen the role of Muslim women.

Haris Tarin of MPAC is that group’s Community Development Director. Mr Tarin has traveled extensively and has spoken at various symposia on the topic of Islam and the Muslim community.

“Fort Hood: A Defining Moment” was the topic of an afternoon panel. Most of the audience spoke among themselves before the event began and indicated thoughtful interest in how the matter would be handled.

“I am so glad this is being discussed” said one young man to his companion.

“I know there is more than what the media say” said his companion.

When asked by panel moderator, Salaam Al Marayati, MPAC’s Executive Director, whether Muslims should respond to this event, Dr. Maher Hathout declared that Muslims should not be apologetic because of the deranged acts of one man who happened to be Muslim. He reminded his audience that Major Nidal Hasan shouted  “Allahu Akbar” before he began his killing spree.  He said that if he used those two words now, every non Muslim would run out of the room.Yet Muslims use the same two words forty two times a day during their prayers. It is wrong to tar Muslims with a broad brush as the media have been wont to do. Non Muslims, most of whom do not understand the phrase, and its meaning, “God is Greater”, automatically fear it. Muslims are an essential part of the solution to the problem of Muslim extremists. They are essential to the education of non Muslims about Islam and the only ones truly qualified to ascertain when there is extremism and to propose effective solutions.

Dr. Connie Rice, an attorney and activist and a second panel member, said that this incident indicates more than ever the essential role that MPAC and other moderate Muslim groups must play in partnering with law enforcement. This places a terrible burden on MPAC, she said,  but one which they will willingly and efficiently carry out. She seconded the presentation of Dr. Hathout in presenting the necessity for groups such as MPAC to educate the community about Islam and to partner with law enforcement.

After the panel MPAC received an award from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Dr. Maher Hathout accepted the award.

During a particularly timely panel on “”Rebuilding US-Muslim World Relations”, a State Department official, Jonathan Morgenstein of the Department of Defense, commented that in Iraq and Afghanistan American soldiers were interacting with the local population. Dr. Laila Al Marayati commented that it would be so much better if these men and women were doing so in the capacity of peace corps volunteers and not as occupiers.

A bazaar was held in the main room and featured booths representing different Islamic groups. These booths include (the list is incomplete): CAIR; Islamic Relief; the Muslim Women’s League; ACCESS; American Medical Overseas Relief (AMOR); the Islamic Center of Southern California (ICSC) Youth Programs, and Al-Madinah School. AMOR is dedicated to helping the medically needy in the Middle East with emphasis on children in Afghanistan. It may be accessed at: <www.AMORelief.org>.  The Al-Madinah school in Los Angeles is currently engaged in building projects that will be in the heart of urban Los Angeles.

Those wishing to learn more about MPAC and/or to make a contribution may access it at: www.mpac.org.

11-51

Obama, the Anti-Churchill?

By Fareed Zakaria

winston_churchill_01 If you take out just one sentence, Barack Obama’s speech on Afghanistan last week was all about focusing and limiting the scope of the U.S. mission in that country. The objectives he detailed were exclusively military: to deny al-Qaeda a haven, reverse the Taliban’s momentum and strengthen the Kabul government’s security forces. The nation that he was interested in building, he explained, was this one.

And then there was that one line: “I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.” Here lies the tension in Obama’s policy. He wants a clearer, more discriminating foreign policy, one that pares the vast commitments and open-ended interventions of the Bush era, perhaps one that is more disciplined than Bill Clinton’s approach to the world. (On the campaign trail, Obama repeatedly invoked George H.W. Bush as the president whose foreign policy he admired most.) But America is in a war that is not going well, and scaling back now would look like cutting and running. Obama is searching for a post-imperial policy in the midst of an imperial crisis. The qualified surge — send in troops to regain the momentum but then draw down — is his answer to this dilemma.

This first year of his presidency has been a window into Obama’s worldview. Once most presidents get hold of the bully pulpit, they cannot resist the temptation to become Winston Churchill. They gravitate toward grand rhetoric about freedom and tyranny and embrace the moral drama of their role as leaders of the free world. Not Obama. He has been cool and calculating, whether dealing with Russia, Iran, Iraq or Afghanistan. Obama is a realist by temperament, learning and instinct. More than any president since Richard Nixon, he has focused on defining American interests carefully, providing resources to achieve them and keeping his eyes on the prize.

“In the end,” the president said last Tuesday, “our security and leadership does not come solely from the strength of our arms.” He explained that America’s economic and technological vigor underpinned its ability to play a world role. At a small lunch with a group of columnists before his speech last week, he made clear to us that he did not want to run two wars. He seemed to be implying that the struggles in Iraq and Afghanistan were not the crucial path to America’s long-term security. He explained that challenges at home — economic growth, technological innovation, education reform — were at the heart of maintaining America’s status as a superpower. In fact, throughout history great nations have lost their way by getting bogged down in imperial missions far from home that crippled their will, strength and focus. (Sometimes even when they won they lost: Britain prevailed in the Boer War, but it broke the back of the empire.)

It is clear that Obama is attempting something quite ambitious — to reorient U.S. foreign policy toward something less extravagant and adversarial. That begins with narrowing the “war on terrorism”; scaling back the conflict with the Islamic world to those groups and countries that pose serious, direct threats to the United States; and reaching out to the rest. He has also tried to develop a better working relationship with major powers such as Russia and China, setting aside smaller issues in hopes of cooperation on bigger ones. This means departing from a bipartisan approach in which Washington’s role was to direct and hector the rest of the world, pushing regimes large and small to accept American ideas, and publicly chastising them when they refused. Obama is trying to break the dynamic that says that when an American president negotiates with the Chinese or Russians, he must return with rewards or concessions — or else he is guilty of appeasement.

For his policy to succeed, Obama will need to maintain his focus come July 2011. Afghanistan will not be transformed by that date. It will not look like France, with a strong and effective central government. The gains that will have been made will be fragile. The situation will still be somewhat unstable. But that should still be the moment to begin the transition to Afghan rule. We can find ways to secure American interests in that region more manageably. By the end of 2011, the United States will have spent 10 years, thousands of lives and $2 trillion trying to create stable, democratic governments in Iraq and Afghanistan, two of the most difficult, divided countries in the world. It will be time to move on.

Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International. His e-mail address is comments@fareedzakaria.com.

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