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American Resistance To Empire

‘Israeli Army Eyes Attack on Iran within Hours of Green Light’

‘Israeli Army Eyes Attack on Iran within Hours of Green Light’

Readers Number : 40

18/04/2009 The Israeli military is preparing itself to launch a massive aerial assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities within days of being given the go-ahead by its new government, the London Times reported Saturday.

Among the steps taken to ready Israeli occupation forces for what would be a risky raid, requiring pinpoint aerial strikes, are the acquisition of three Airborne Warning and Control (AWAC) aircraft and regional missions to simulate the attack.

Two nationwide civil defense drills, scheduled to be held in the next few weeks, are said to help prepare the public for the retaliation that Israel could face. “Israel wants to know that if its forces were given the green light they could strike at Iran in a matter of days, even hours. They are making preparations on every level for this eventuality. The message to Iran is that the threat is not just words,” the report quoted a senior defense establishment official as saying.

Officials believe that Israel could be required to hit more than a dozen targets, including moving convoys. The sites include Natanz, where thousands of centrifuges produce enriched uranium; Esfahan, where 250 tons of gas is stored in tunnels; and Arak, where a heavy water reactor produces plutonium.

The distance from Israel to at least one of the sites is more than 870 miles, a distance that the Israeli force practiced covering in a training exercise last year that involved F15 and F16 jets, helicopters and refueling tankers.

‘ATTACK UNLIKELY WITHOUT US SUPPORT’
The possible Israeli strike on Iran has drawn comparisons to its attack on the Osirak nuclear facility near Baghdad in 1981. The strike eradicated the facility in under 100 seconds, with no Israeli losses.

“We would not make the threat (against Iran) without the force to back it. There has been a recent move, a number of on-the-ground preparations, that indicate Israel’s willingness to act,” said another official from Israel’s intelligence community.

He added that it was unlikely that Israel would carry out the attack without receiving at least tacit approval from the United States, which has so far advocated a more reconciliatory tone in dealing with Iran under its new administration.

An Israeli attack on Iran would entail flying over Jordanian and Iraqi airspace, where US forces have a strong presence.

Ephraim Kam, the deputy director of the Institute for National Security Studies, said it was unlikely that the US would approve an attack: “The American defense establishment is unsure that the operation will be successful. And the results of the operation would only delay Iran’s program by two to four years,” he said.

A visit by US President Barack Obama to the Zionist entity in June is expected to coincide with the national elections in Iran – timing that would allow the US Administration to re-evaluate diplomatic resolutions with Iran before hearing the Israeli position.

“Many of the leaks or statements made by Israeli leaders and military commanders are meant for deterrence. The message is that if (the international community) is unable to solve the problem they need to take into account that we will solve it our way,” he added.

Israel will conduct an exercise with US forces to test the ability of Arrow, its US-funded missile defense system. The exercise would test whether the system could intercept missiles launched at Israel.

“Israel has made it clear that it will not tolerate the threat of a nuclear Iran. According to Israeli Intelligence they will have the bomb within two years … Once they have a bomb it will be too late, and Israel will have no choice to strike – with or without America,” an official from the Israeli Defense Ministry said.

Suicide Blast in Hangu, Pakistan 20 Killed

Suicide Blast in Hangu, Pakistan 20 Killed

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HANGU: Eighteen policemen among 20 people have been killed in a deadly suicide attack at a security check-post here.

Eyewitnesses that a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden

pickup into a police check-post at Doaba area of Hangu when a convoy of security forces was passing by.

At least 20 people, including 18 policemen, were killed in the incident while ten others were injured who were rushed to the local hospital.

SHO of local police station was also among deceased, police officials told the newsmen.

The explosion was as powerful as it severely damaged nearby shops. Heavy contingent of the law enforcement agencies have been arrived at the scene and the area has been cordoned off.

Navies to guard undersea cable from Somali pirates

Navies to guard undersea cable from Somali pirates

NAIROBI, April 16 (Reuters) – Foreign navies have agreed to protect a vessel installing an undersea high-speed Internet cable from pirates off the coast of Somalia, a Kenyan minister said on Thursday.

Sea gangs from lawless Somalia have been increasingly striking the Indian Ocean shipping lanes and strategic Gulf of Aden, capturing dozens of vessels and hundreds of hostages in attacks that have driven up insurance rates.

Patrols by Western navies have done little to deter the attacks.

Kenyan Information and Communications Minister Samuel Poghisio said the 5,000 km (3,107 miles) fibre optic cable was on course for completion in June.

Last month, a government official said the route for the East African Marine Cable (TEAMS) had been shifted an extra 200 km from the coastline for fear of pirates.

“These are concerns we have but they are being addressed. We know it will be secure and will land in Mombasa on time,” Poghisio said in a statement on Thursday.

“The process (of laying the cable) has begun and will probably take two months. It is likely that by the middle of June the ship should be anchoring in Mombasa, or rather delivering the cable to Mombasa,” he added.

The $130 million cable will link Kenya’s coastal town of Mombasa with Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates.

Kenya has been putting down a terrestrial cable connecting different parts of the country to prepare for the arrival of the marine cable, which could be east Africa’s first speedy but cheap telecoms link with the rest of the world.

Another undersea project known as SEACOM is also expected to be operational in the second half of 2009 and two others are due to land in 2010 — the Eastern African Submarine Cable System (EASSy) and the France Telecom/Orange Sat3-wasc-Safe cable.

East Africa has relied on expensive satellite connections for telephones and Internet. Telecoms operators and outsourcing firms are eagerly awaiting the cable’s arrival, which is expected to slash costs and speed up connectivity. (Reporting by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura; Editing by Jack Kimball)

Pentagon jams Web, Radio links of Taliban in Pak and Afghanistan

Pentagon jams Web, Radio links of Taliban in Pak and Afghanistan

Submitted 5 hrs 17 mins ago

The Obama administration is starting a broad effort in Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent Taliban from using radio stations and Web sites to intimidate civilians and plan attacks, according to senior U.S. officials. As part of the classified effort, American military and intelligence personnel are working to jam the unlicensed radio stations in Pakistan’s lawless regions on the Afghanistan border that Taliban fighters use to broadcast threats and decrees. U.S. personnel are also trying to block the Pakistani chat rooms and Web sites that are part of the country’s burgeoning extremist underground. The Web sites frequently contain videos of attacks and inflammatory religious material that attempts to justify acts of violence. The push takes the administration deeper into “psychological operations,” which attempt to influence how people see the U.S., its allies and its enemies. Officials involved with the new program argue that psychological operations are a necessary part of reversing the deterioration of stability in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Sleepwalking to disaster

Sleepwalking to disaster

By Irfan Husain

Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. - APP/File photo

However, we must also accept the fact that we are where we are because the army refused to fight the Taliban in Swat. The government had few options due to this lack of military resolve. – APP/File photo

WHEN faced with a frightening civil war and reeling from repeated blows from a ruthless and determined foe, how does our government react? It puts the country’s clocks forward by an hour. I suppose this is one of the few things it can do to show it exists at all.

The rest of us can be excused for doubting the presence of an administration, given the slide and drift we have been seeing over the last year. As the Taliban have made rapid inroads, and now strut about with greater impunity — to say nothing of immunity — than ever before, it has been painful to watch how ineffective the PPP-led coalition has been.

When her widower, Asif Zardari, signed that infamous instrument of surrender known as the Nizam-i-Adl, Benazir Bhutto must have turned in her grave. Whatever else she might have been accused of in her lifetime, even her worst enemies concede she was a courageous fighter. And although the original demand for Sharialaw in Malakand surfaced during her tenure in 1994, I doubt very much that she would have surrendered the state’s writ as easily as this government has done.

Another major politician who would have thoroughly disapproved of the turn of events in Swat and elsewhere is Khan Abdul Wali Khan. The late father of ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan, a member of the ruling coalition, was an avowed secularist. His National Awami Party was committed to Bacha Khan’s democratic ideals and struggled to keep religion separate from politics. The sight of his son cravenly handing over Swat (with the NWFP to follow) to the Taliban would have broken the tough old Pashtun leader’s heart.

To their credit, a handful of politicians did not roll over as the Nizam-i-Adl was propelled smoothly through the National Assembly. My old friend Ayaz Amir made sure this law did not pass without some serious doubts being expressed. And the MQM lived up to its secular credentials, although I would have been happier if they had resisted rather than boycotted the proceedings. By contrast, the PPP succumbed and feebly maintained the party line of surrender.

But the deed is done, and we are left to face the consequences of the government’s gutless display. However, we must also accept the fact that we are where we are because the army refused to fight the Taliban in Swat. It can be argued that due to this lack of military resolve, the provincial and federal governments had few options. But surely, given political will, the administration had enough resources at its disposal to confront around 5,000 militants.

This resounding defeat is the cumulative result of years of pandering to extremists. Partly, this happened because the army thought it expedient to use them to further its agenda in Afghanistan and Kashmir. But mainly, it is due to the massive confusion about the true nature of the threat. After my column (‘The high cost of defeat’) appeared in this space last week, I must have received at least a score of emails accusing me of, among other things, not wanting a dialogue with the Taliban. Several readers asked why I did not wish to treat the militants as errant brothers, and reason with them.

I wrote back saying that if any brother of mine went around blowing people up, and chopping off the heads of innocent people, I would want him locked up and tried for murder. No society anywhere advocates negotiations with known killers, whatever their stated motives.

This exchange goes to the heart of the muddled thinking that has thus far characterised our response to the Taliban threat. TV channels are full of so-called religious scholars and conservative pundits who have tried to justify the deal, assuring us that it would bring peace to Swat. While the gullible might buy this line, I paid more attention to a recent statement by Muslim Khan, the Swat Taliban spokesman. He is quoted as saying that “Muslims should take up arms instead of laying them down”. Thus, he has already broken a key provision of the deal that called for the militants to disarm.

Asif Zardari has declared that the deal brings Islamic justice, and not the Sharia, to Swat. Tell that to the women who can no longer leave their homes without their husband’s permission and to the thousands of young girls deprived of an education. And just to remind the government who’s in charge, Maulana Sufi Mohammed has declared that under the deal, those militants who terrorised Swat during their year-long campaign, cannot be tried for the murders and other atrocities they committed. So much for swift justice.

Over the last year, as the Taliban have edged closer to seizing control of the state, the country’s rulers have been indulging in irrelevant power plays. First it was about the reinstatement of the chief justice; then it was the Punjab government being sacked; and now the government and the opposition are squabbling over the implementation of the Charter of Democracy. Meanwhile, Gen Kayani is travelling the globe instead of seeing to the country’s defence.

And as the economy falters and stalls, the rest of the world is being asked to rescue us yet again. We are telling the Americans that we will not accept any strings to their assistance, while the Friends of Pakistan are being told that the country will collapse without a bailout. In some ways, we are holding a begging bowl in one hand, and a raised middle finger in the other. If we had a third hand, it would be holding a gun to our head. In fact, this is now our preferred negotiation mode.

It would help a lot if the government had a coherent plan to combat the militant menace. In fact, Pakistanis as well as the international community would welcome some sign that somebody in the government is doing some serious thinking. So far, we have been fed with clichés and idiotic waffle. Perhaps this absence of any sensible policy is even scarier than the continuing inaction. It seems the government is sleepwalking its way to disaster, with our leaders more interested in scoring political points than doing their duty, and fighting the Taliban threat.

We have been told that somehow, the government will separate the ‘moderate’ Taliban from the really bad guys and talk to the former, while using force against the latter. I wonder if the abandoned and terrorised people of Swat can tell the difference.

irfan.husain@gmail.com

Holbrooke Likes Saudi Choice for Next President

US warming up to Sharif in bid to broaden support

By Anwar Iqbal

Obama administration wants to broaden political support for the fight against terrorists in Pakistan.—APP/File

WASHINGTON: The United States is quietly warming up to the PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif as the Obama administration looks to broaden political support for the fight against terrorists in Pakistan.

The latest indication of renewed US interest in the former Pakistani prime minister was noticed in Washington this week when one of his close aides, Ahsan Iqbal, visited the US capital.

Mr Iqbal is a regular visitor to Washington and comes here almost every summer, meeting mainly prominent Pakistani-Americans and addressing PML-N meetings. But this time his presence was also noticed by ‘important Americans,’ as a PML-N supporter described his meetings in Washington.

Although his reported meetings with senior Obama administration officials are not confirmed, he did meet a number of influential US policy makers and scholars at half a dozen Washington think-tanks he visited or spoke at. These included several major think-tanks as well, such as the Council on Foreign Relations, the Atlantic Council and the Woodrow Wilson Centre.

When asked after these meetings if he believed the US would support a change of government in Pakistan at this stage, Mr Iqbal said: ‘There will probably be no need for such a change.’

He indicated that Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani military were working together to reform the present system of governance in Pakistan instead of seeking yet another regime change. The United States supported this effort.

‘We believe that the 17th amendment will be removed from the constitution,’ Mr Iqbal said. ‘The prime minister and the parliament will be empowered and the president will have as much power as a head of state does in the British parliamentary system.’

If this happens, ‘there will be no need to remove Mr Zardari. He can complete his tenure.’

A recent report in The Washington Post also confirmed Mr Iqbal’s ‘loud-thinking,’ as he described his thoughts. According to this report, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and special envoy Richard Holbrooke made several telephone calls to Mr Sharif during the judicial crisis.

‘The American officials signalled to Mr Sharif that they wouldn’t object to his becoming president or prime minister some day. Another key intermediary was David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, who urged dialogue with Mr Sharif,’ the report said.

The Post reported that when Ambassador Holbrooke and Chairman US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen visited Islamabad last week, they ‘reinforced the deal.’

‘They saw the key players and came away hoping that the three could form a united front against the Taliban insurgency in the Western frontier areas, rather than continue their political squabbling,’ the report added.

The three key players discussed in this report are President Zardari, Mr Sharif and army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani.

The report confirmed that instead of seeking to remove Mr Zardari, the Americans are backing the effort spearheaded by Gen. Kayani to bring about a political system in which powers of the prime minister, the parliament and the president are clearly defined.

The report indicated that if this happens, Mr Sharif will be a clear winner but Mr Iqbal hinted that instead of trying to topple Mr Zardari, Mr Sharif would prefer to support the emerging political infrastructure while staying out of the government.

This would place Mr Sharif in a very comfortable position. He would be able to influence all important decisions made by the government without having to face the consequences if the decisions go wrong.

Diplomatic sources in Washington say that the Obama administration confronted a major dilemma when it started working on a new strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan in February:  Can Mr Sharif be a reliable partner in the fight against extremists? Or will he use his popular support to blunt the military’s already fitful campaign against the insurgency of the Taliban and al Qaeda?

The Bush administration had rejected the populist politician because of his close ties to religious parties. But the Obama administration decided to work with him.

If Tehreek e-Taliban Pakistan Endorses You, Isn’t That a Bad Thing?

Zardari’s role positive: TTP

LAHORE: Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan spokesman Muslim Khan has termed President Asif Ali Zardari’s role in the enforcement of the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation in Swat positive. Talking to Dunya News, Khan said they were ready to cooperate with Zardari if he remained firm on the peace agreement and implemented it soon.

PM terms Balochistan situation conspiracy against Pakistan

PM terms Balochistan situation conspiracy against Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Apr 17: Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani Friday termed the situation in Balochistan as a conspiracy against the stability of the country and added that the matter would be brought up for debate in the Defence Coordination Committee of Cabinet.

In his address during Senate session, the Prime Minister said the meeting of Cabinet’s Defence Coordination Committee would be convened over Balochistan situation and national issues.

“There is no doubt on the loyalty of anyone to the country but there could be dire consequences of irresponsible behaviour,” he said.

Opposition leader in the Senate, Wasim Sajjad on the occasion said the present situation in Balochistan and lawlessness are a conspiracy and called for constitution of a commission for investigation.

Holbrooke Blinks, Ups the Pakistani Bribe


US admits trust deficit with Pakistan

WASHINGTON/TOKYO, April 18: The United States on Friday vowed to work with the Congress on a five-year $7.5 billion assistance package for Pakistan and said it would work with Pakistan to build mutual trust.

State Department Spokesman Robert Wood told the regular briefing that both anti-terrorism partners are committed to deal with the issue of trust. “There’s no question that there is trust — issues of trust.

But that’s why we’re working hard to try to resolve them. And there’s a commitment on both sides to try to deal with that question,” he stated in response to a question if the Tokyo conference on Friday presented an opportunity for the United States to repair a bit of trust deficit between the two countries.

Washington, the State Department spokesman said, would continue to work with Pakistan and added the issue of trust is not going to be resolved overnight.

“I’m not going to say that the issue of trust is going to be resolved overnight. It’s not. But it takes action on the part of both governments to try to deal fairly and squarely with a lot of these issues that confront us.”

“But as I said, the stakes are very high. And we need to work with Pakistan on trying to prevent the Taliban from wreaking more havoc, on not only Pakistan but Afghanistan in particular,” Wood said.

Earlier, the spokesman said in a statement that the US pledged $1 billion to Pakistan at the Tokyo conference as down payment of President Barack Obama’s commitment to working with the Congress on Kerry-Lugar measure that would authorise $1.5 billion economic assistance annually for Pakistan over five years. He said the US wants the taxpayers’ money is spent on the welfare of Pakistani people.

Pakistan needs further international support, US special envoy Richard Holbrooke said on Saturday as he warned that a pledge of five billion dollars was ‘not enough’ to stabilise the troubled nation.

Earlier in aid meeting in Tokyo on Friday, donor countries pledged a total of 5.28 billion dollars to stabilise Pakistan, seen as a frontline state against Islamic extremism.

The United States and Japan pledged one billion dollars each at the meeting Tokyo co-hosted with the World Bank.

‘Five billion dollars is not enough,’ said Holbrooke, US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

‘The terrorists in western Pakistan are planning other attacks around the world … so we need to work hard to strengthen the government of Pakistan, to deal with the tribal areas with all its problems,’ he said.

‘We should – after congratulating the result yesterday – we should be very mindful of the fact that the problem is far from over,’ he said.

He declined to give a figure on how much money was required to stabilise Pakistan, but noted that some economists say the number ‘is as high as 50 billion dollars.’

More than half of Pakistan’s people live below the poverty line of two dollars a day and ‘even in great cities like Karachi – which I would point out is the world’s largest Muslim city – 17 million people (live) with only a few hours of electricity a day,’ he added.

‘I can’t set a specific goal for 2012,’ when Obama’s term ends, said Holbrooke.

‘But I will say this: the situation in Afghanistan cannot be the same in 2012.’

‘The measurement of success in Afghanistan is returning the security responsibility to the local security authorities,’ he said.

‘Pakistan is even more difficult. There is a clear red line laid out publicly by the government. No foreign boots of the troops on that ground in Pakistan.

‘So it’s up to Pakistan to defend itself with the international assistance for economic and military,’ he said.

He said the people fighting alongside the Taliban were divided into three groups, led by a small group of ‘hard-core

Taliban who has extreme views on things like women’s rights, sharia law.’

The second group were those who joined the militants ‘because they have grievances against the government’ over corruption or military operations that killed family members, while the third group was a large number of people who fought for the Taliban because they paid more than the Afghan army.

‘When you talk about reconciliation, it’s reaching out to those last two groups,’ Holbrooke said.

Ethiopia is accused of aiding Somali pirates

Ethiopia is accused of aiding Somali pirates

By Abdul Rahman Shaheen, Correspondent
Published: March 15, 2009, 23:32

Riyadh: Eritrean Minister of Information Ali Abdu accused some parties in the Ethiopian government of aiding and abetting pirates off the coast of Somalia in the Red Sea.

“They are extending logistic support to the pirates besides harboring them at the Ethiopian camps located on the Somali-Ethiopian boarder regions. Ethiopian Troops gave them protection even inside Somali territories before their pull out,” he said.

Speaking to Gulf News during his recent visit to Saudi Arabia, Ali Abdu accused that some decision makers at the Ethiopian government are the real beneficiaries of piracy, which brought them millions of dollars.

“After carrying out each and every act of piracy, pirates used to flee into the Ethiopian camps on the Somali border,” he said while reiterating that it is impossible to end this criminal activity without returning sovereignty to the government of Somalia and driving out all the regional and international players, especially the Ethiopian elements that are interfering in the internal affairs of the lawless country.

According to Ali Abdu, the issue of piracy on the Red Sea is directly linked to the anarchy and political instability in Somalia. “If this is not the position, why are these acts of piracy restricted to the Somali coast alone? Why aren’t they taking place on the coasts of Eritrea or Sudan or Yemen? he asked.

Denying reports about Iranian security or military presences on the Eritrean coast, the minister challenged those who raise such claims to produce substantial evidence for it.

“These were false notions and were tantamount to the claims that have been raised ever since 15 years about the security and military presence of Israel on the Red Sea off the cost of Eritrea,” he said while stressing that Eritrea is an independent sovereign country maintaining diplomatic relations with various countries in a way protecting the interests of the people of the country.

“We have never made relations with any country either in the East or the West in a way putting at risk the interests of our people. Likewise, we are not in need of the support of the military forces of any country,” he clarified.

Replying to a question about Eritrea’s continued opposition to the new government of Somalia under President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed even though several countries came forward in recognizing it, Ali Abdu said that this was nothing to do with Sharif Sheikh Ahmed or Abdullah Yousuf or anybody else.

“Rather we are only concerned about the security, sovereignty and stability of Somalia. It is unacceptable for Eritrea to recognize any government in Somalia that was imposed by one foreign country or the other,” he asserted.

According to Ali Abdu, the government of Sheikh Sharif Ahmed is a group of individuals pushed to the Somali leadership. “Recognition of the new Somali government by some countries is not a significant thing as these countries’ role in Somalia was that of mediation.


That doesn’t mean that the government is really representing the people of Somalia,” he said while drawing attention to the fact that the new government, though recognized by a large number of countries, is still facing stiff popular resistance in the country.


Ali Abdu noted that Eritrean government last month underlined the need for pulling out of the African Peace Keeping Forces (AMISOM), comprising of 3200 troops from Uganda and Burundi, from Somalia in order to ensure peace and security in the violent-stricken Horn of Africa country. “Eritrea sees that it is inevitable to establish durable peace in Somalia. Ending the so called foreign interference and occupation should be put as a mandatory condition for realizing the aspirations of Somali people in rebuilding the war-ravaged country,” he said.

The Eritrean minister renewed his country’s solidarity with the government and people of Sudan against the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for Sudanese President Omar Bashir on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes in the Darfur region. “Such decisions would undermine the sovereignty and unity of Sudan.

Eritrea has rejected outright the arbitrary move of ICC on the very first day. We are of the firm view that the ICC move is posing a threat not merely to Sudan and its president but to all the countries in the region as well,” the minister said.


Referring to a question about Eritrea’s rejection of a Libyan initiative to solve the border dispute with Ethiopia, Ali Abdu said that the International Border Commission that was constituted following the Algiers Accord of 2000, had come forward with the final settlement of the border dispute between the two countries. “There was an agreement between the two countries earlier to accept provisions of the settlement.

However, the Ethiopian regime disavowed the agreement and refused to implement its provisions,” he said while rejecting any new initiative to settle the differences with Ethiopia as ‘they are not at all political’. “On the other hand, they are purely legal concerning with occupation of our land. We are determined not to hold talks with the neighboring country unless it withdraw forces from the Eritrean territories,” he said.

Ali Abdu refused to comment on the allegations of former US Administration that Eritrea was behind inciting troubles in Somalia. “False accusations against Eritrea were gone with the Bush Administration. Everybody knows the positive role of Eritrean government in Somalia as well as in its efforts to solve the problems in eastern Sudan, its mediatory role between Sudan and Chad and efforts to solve the Darfur problem,’ he said.

Referring to the government of Barack Obama, he hoped that the new US Administration would adopt a balanced and peaceful approach in its dealings with Eritrea. Ali Abdu blamed former President Bush for deteriorating the relations between Eritrea and the United States.

US Threatens to Invade Eritrea

US Threatens to Invade Eritrea

“President Obama Cannot Afford to Look Weak on Terrorism”

by Jason Ditz, April 17, 2009

The United States has reportedly threatened to invade Eritrea and subject it to “the same fate as Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11 attacks” for providing support to the al-Shabaab resistance movement in Somalia, which the US has since attempted to link with al-Qaeda. The Daily Telegraph quotes one source as saying “There are consequences for working with al-Shabaab when President Obama cannot afford to look weak on terrorism.”

Situated along the Red Sea, the State of Eritrea is a nation of under 5 million people with a long history of foreign occupation. Bought by an Italian shipping company in 1869, the region remained under Italian rule until 1941, when Britain took control of them. British control was formalized under UN auspices in 1947, and the United Nations ceded the region to Ethiopia.

What followed was a particularly bloodly 30-year long battle of secession between Ethiopia and an Eritrean rebel faction (the Eritrean Liberation Front), which ended in 1993 when Ethiopia finally gave in to demands for an independence referrendum, which passed with 99.79% of the votes in favor. Eritrea has remained on poor terms with Ethiopia since, fighting a border war which ended with the installation of a UN commission to establish the still tenuous border between the two.

In 2006, Ethiopia invaded Somalia with American support, vowing to crush the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) movement and prop up the self-proclaimed Transitional National Government (TNG) of Somalia, which had recently been chased from a Kenya hotel for failing to pay their bills and was attempting to assert control over the stateless region. Eritrea backed the ICU, and later the al-Shabaab movement ostensibly to repay Somali support for their own independence bid. Though the TNG remained on the verge of collapse, Ethiopia declared “mission accomplished” in December of 2008, withdrawing its troops and claiming it had foiled a “plan orchestrated by Eritrea.”

The Bush Administration attempted to have Eritrea declared a “state-sponsor of terrorism” numerous times for backing forces in opposition to the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia. Eritrea publicly denounced “foreign intervention” in Somalia and said the Ethiopian pullout had vindicated their position that military occupation would not stabilize the nation.

Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki remains defiant, saying he will continue to oppose the Western-backed TNG’s attempt to assert control over the nation. “There is no government, there is not even a naiton of Somalia existing,” the president insisted, calling for a peace conference in which all parties, including those branded by the US and Ethiopia as “extremists” would have a voice. “Peace is not guaranteed without a government agreed by all Somalis.”

The Reawakened Specter of Iraqi Civil War

The Reawakened Specter of Iraqi Civil War

Michael Wahid Hanna

April 17, 2009

(Michael Wahid Hanna is program officer for international affairs at the Century Foundation in New York. He conducted research in Iraq in 2006 and 2008.)

For background on the Iraqi provincial elections, see Reidar Visser, “A Litmus Test for Iraq,” Middle East Report Online, January 30, 2009.

April has already been a cruel month in Iraq. A spate of bombings aimed at Shi‘i civilians in Baghdad has raised fears that the grim sectarian logic that led the capital to civil war in 2005-2007 will reassert itself. On April 6, a string of six car bombs killed at least 37 people; the next day, shortly after President Barack Obama landed in Baghdad, another car bomb killed eight; and on the morrow, still another bomb blew up close to the historic Shi‘i shrine in Kadhimiyya just northwest of the capital’s central districts, taking an additional seven civilian lives. Worryingly for Iraqis, the bombings occurred following gun battles between the security forces of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shi‘i-led government and Sunni Arab militiamen, fueling rumors that the disgruntled militiamen have spearheaded the violent campaign.

The crackdown by Iraqi security forces on the Sunni Arab militiamen, known as the Awakenings (sahwat) in Arabic and referred to as the Sons of Iraq by the US military, pitted two ostensible US allies against one another. Together with arrests of other prominent militia leaders and the concrete timeline for the drawdown of US troops, the confrontations have raised questions as to whether some among these armed Sunni Arab factions are ready to return to insurgency in response to their treatment by Maliki’s government. The fate of the sahwat is but one aspect of a larger struggle over the nature of the Iraqi state and its component parts — a struggle in which the United States is increasingly relegated to a subsidiary role. This latest phase of the intra-Iraqi wrangling that dates back almost to the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, could tip the country back into sectarian civil war and complicate Obama’s efforts to extricate the US military from Iraq.

The Awakenings

The Awakening movement arose prior to the 2007 “surge” of US troops and the adoption in Washington of an alternative strategy focused on counterinsurgency. The factors leading to the improvement of the security situation have been the subject of considerable political controversy; it is universally acknowledged, however, that the Awakening movement was a crucial factor in the reduction of violence in areas previously inhabited or even controlled by the Sunni Arab insurgency. Previous efforts at outreach to tribal leaders, with whom the various insurgent groups were increasingly intertwined from the summer of 2003 onward, had been ad hoc and failed to produce lasting cooperation or a blueprint for future action. The first organized and sustained tactical alliances between US forces and Sunni Arab tribal leaders arose in 2006 in Ramadi, the capital of al-Anbar province, under the leadership of Col. Sean MacFarland.

It is difficult at this juncture to catalog precisely the types of impetus for the sea change in attitudes among Sunni Arab tribal leaders and former insurgents represented by the Awakening movement. Many analysts have understood the shift in their strategic calculus as a response to the brutality and arrogance of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia,[1] and that group’s efforts to assert its control over rival insurgents and tribal leaders in its areas of operation.[2] Additionally, by 2007 the sectarian civil war had eclipsed the anti-US insurgency and become the lens through which many Sunni Arabs perceived their long-term interests. The tactical US alliances with local forces were replicated throughout al-Anbar province and were later formalized and extended to other areas of the country, including Baghdad and “mixed” provinces, such as Diyala, Ninewa and Kirkuk, where no sectarian or ethnic group constitutes a large majority. The Awakenings eventually came to number over 100,000 militiamen. While the sahwat remained overwhelmingly Sunni Arab, US forces had some success in recruiting Shi‘i tribal forces into similar arrangements in the north and south of the country as well.

These alliances arose on a bilateral basis, without input from the Iraqi government, and were established outside the formal structures of the nascent post-Saddam Iraqi state. The arrangements were viewed warily by the Shi‘i Islamist and Kurdish political parties that held sway in the Green Zone after 2005 and even by the more established Sunni-identified parties. As such, US support was not indefinitely sustainable, and the military sought an alternate long-term solution that required the integration of these militiamen into the Iraqi security forces. The mutual suspicion between the Iraqi government and the sahwat complicated this approach. Brig. Gen. Nasir al-Hiti, commander of the Muthanna Brigade in Abu Ghraib, described members of the sahwat as “like cancer” and went on to say that the Iraqi government “must remove them.”[3] Others in the government have publicly acknowledged the important role of the sahwat in tamping down violence but have intimated that the process of integration risks infiltration of the security services by hostile elements. In this vein, national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Ruba‘i warned, “Once we get al-Qaeda in our security services, then we are doomed.”[4] Despite the Maliki government’s assumption of responsibility for the payment of the militiamen and its repeated assurances that some portion of the sahwat will be integrated, most have not been.[5]

In fact, the Iraqi government has undertaken periodic raids upon the offices and homes of militia leaders, arresting several. The government’s targeting of the councils is part of a gradual process that began in 2008. The most conspicuous crackdown prior to April’s occurred in the restive “mixed” province of Diyala, where numerous sahwa leaders were detained in the course an August 2008 military operation. The March 28, 2009 arrest of ‘Adil al-Mashhadani, chief of a militia in the heavily Sunni Arab district of Fadhl in Baghdad, was notable for the scope of the operation employed to detain him and for the violent resistance it provoked. The Iraqi government justified the arrest on the basis of a December 2008 arrest warrant that implicated al-Mashhadani in terrorist activity related to al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

The political context of this latest crackdown offers important clues to the motivations and mindset of Maliki and his government. To defang his Shi‘i rivals in the movement of Muqtada al-Sadr, Maliki employed carrot-and-stick tactics. In the spring and summer of 2008, Maliki ordered a series of military actions that targeted Jaysh al-Mahdi, the Sadrist militia, including the March offensive in Basra, the April-May assault on Sadr City, the Baghdad stronghold of the Sadrists, and a June operation in Maysan province. These operations resulted in the detention of scores of Sadrist fighters and leaders, and weakened the military capacity of Jaysh al-Mahdi. Yet following the January 2009 provincial elections, which saw the Sadrists achieve respectable results throughout the south, the prime minister’s electoral list is now in negotiations with them over the makeup of provincial coalitions. Maliki’s approach to the Sadrists could provide a rough sketch of the government’s plan for extending its writ and corralling the Awakenings. With Sadrists engaged in alliance politics and simultaneously pleading for the release of their party colleagues who remain in jail, Maliki appears confident that his security apparatus is able to bend the will of his political adversaries to reshape the country’s political dynamics.

This episode follows the near completion of the transfer of the sahwat to Iraqi government oversight and control (save for 10,000 militiamen in Salah al-Din province) and the government is now responsible for the monthly payments of the militiamen. It indicates that Maliki is bent on asserting authority over these groups, with no tolerance for open dissent over government treatment. Maliki’s actions in Baghdad appear to be part of a strategy to cement the fragmentation and political weakness of the councils in “mixed” areas of the country; they also appear to be premised on the government’s belief that the lack of centralized coordination among the sahwat and the fragmented state of Sunni Arab politics will allow an assertion of political control through force without triggering widespread reversion to insurgency.

The lack of a broad top-down structure spanning the various provinces and the multiplicity of local actors have likely created a sense of confidence that the patchwork set of agreements struck with the US military has hampered the groups’ ability to respond in a collective fashion and deterred widespread reprisals by disenfranchised militiamen. The acquiescence of these groups and the lack of sharp reaction to similar repression in Diyala have likely been interpreted by the government as a sign that the sahwat are exhausted by the years of insurgency, as well as the violent conflict with al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which has increasingly set its sights on the Sunni Arab militias. The biometric and census data gathered by the US military as a precondition for getting on the US payroll could also provide the Iraqi government with a tool to use against the erstwhile rebels should US forces share the information. The data “provides a useful enemies list to the government of Iraq, if they chose to use it,” commented Colin Kahl, now a deputy assistant secretary at Obama’s Pentagon, in the summer of 2008.[6]

At the same time, the government has tempered the clear sectarian overtones of the crackdown and advanced the nationalist gambit it used to such effect in the January provincial elections. It has done this through wide-ranging political discussions with Sunni Arab political parties it considers more palatable, such as the Iraqi National Project List led by Salih al-Mutlaq, and by courting leaders from the Anbar Awakening, the original sahwa that soon spawned imitators across the country. (Of course, the Anbaris, hailing from the large province west of Baghdad that is home to Falluja and Ramadi, were also some of the original insurgents.) Broadly speaking, the Anbar groups are perceived in a different light than those in “mixed” areas of the country due to their reliance on tribal structures, the overwhelmingly Sunni Arab population of the province and the political power they have accrued through provincial elections. Additionally, being enmeshed in the machinery of provincial governance will endow the winners among the Anbaris with the ability to placate their tribal and other allies through the provision of public-sector employment and the awarding of government contracts. The willingness of Maliki to consider political alliances with these groups has established the limited terms of reference for future engagement and has sent a message to all other branches of the Awakenings that, without a strong political grounding on the government’s terms, they have no future in Iraq.

In a recent appearance on al-Jazeera explaining the government’s position on the arrest of al-Mashhadani, Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Muhammad al-‘Askari differentiated among the sahwat and posited that the Anbar branch is a reaction to al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia and a model of those groups intent on national reconciliation. By contrast, al-‘Askari described the “other branch…in Baghdad, Diyala, Ninewa” as harboring an ulterior motive — the desire to take advantage of incorporation into the security apparatus in order to assist those still intent upon carrying out guerrilla operations. Similarly, Iraqi Vice President ‘Adil ‘Abd al-Mahdi, a member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), noted that the groups in Anbar “allowed us to expel al-Qaeda out of al-Anbar, and for that reason they received the support of the government and the Iraqi people.” He went on to distinguish between the “original sahwat” and those groups that “claim to be part of the forces of the sahwat but wait for the appropriate time to launch their attacks.”[7]

Maliki’s Aspirations

Ned Parker, a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times in Baghdad, has described the prime minister’s calculated repression of Sunni Arabs among the Awakenings who are former insurgent leaders and noted that Maliki has also sought to curb the influence of his most powerful Shi‘i rivals, ISCI, through the establishment of independent bases of support throughout the south. The picture that emerges is that of a highly sectarian leader with aspirations for centralized leadership that have required small steps toward cross-sectarianism and corresponding moves against his co-religionists.[8] By moving against some Sunni groups while negotiating with others, Maliki has further consolidated his grip on power, but left himself open to criticism from Shi‘i Islamists who are more doctrinaire. Concerned with their own diminished status and the possibility of government action targeting their members, these Shi‘i players have actively sought to hinder cross-sectarian politics and have distorted Maliki’s limited efforts at coopting Sunni Arab political actors. This is a crucial point, as Maliki’s nationalist posturing has yet to provide him with a truly cross-sectarian voting constituency and his electoral base remains overwhelmingly centered within the Shi‘i communities of Iraq.

Since the provincial elections, al-Maliki has openly discussed the possibility of allowing the re-entry of select Baathists into the political process.[9] He has also made public overtures to al-Mutlaq to explore the formation of provincial coalitions.[10] Both of these steps were greeted with suspicion by the Sadrists and ISCI, which remains Maliki’s primary Shi‘i rival for dominance in Baghdad and the southern provinces even after its electoral setbacks in January. Writing at his website historiae.org, the analyst Reidar Visser notes that following the elections, ISCI “is employing its favorite weapon, anti-Baathism, to try to recover some of the ground it lost.” In a defensive reaction, Maliki was forced to express his vociferous opposition to any and all discussions regarding the rehabilitation of the Baath, and his office released an official statement that emphasized that the “disbanded Baath party” could not legally participate in the political process.[11] He has more recently described those who support the party’s participation in the political life of Iraq as “delusional and ignorant.”[12] Thus the sequence of events suggests that the crackdown and the accusation that al-Mashhadani was engaged in Baathist political activity served the additional purpose of shielding the government from more strident criticism among other Shi‘i politicians and quelling any doubts that might have arisen among the Shi‘i populace.

None of the foregoing is meant to downplay Maliki’s continuing sectarian concerns regarding the Awakening Councils and the potential dangers of this overall course. The unwillingness of Maliki’s government to integrate sizable numbers from these groups into the security forces or provide them with reasonable civilian employment continues to cast a shadow over the general downturn in violence since mid-2007.

With the dramatic decline in the price of oil and the slashing of the budget for 2009, the prospects for integrating significant numbers of the sahwat into the security forces or otherwise accommodating them look bleak. To date, while the actual numbers are contested and public pronouncements by the government have varied, recent estimates suggest that only 5,000 of these individuals have been formally inducted into the security forces.[13] Furthermore, the outbreak of hostilities following al-Mashhadani’s arrest is still seen by many Sunnis in sectarian terms. A stepped-up and more comprehensive campaign against the sahwat could still trigger a broader sense of Sunni Arab grievance and a series of uncoordinated reactions that would catalyze a larger outbreak of destabilizing sectarian violence.

The Stakes

Understanding this backdrop is particularly important because the ability of the United States and its military forces to affect the trajectory of political accommodation and reconciliation has diminished. Some commentators have rightly pointed out that these actions have placed US troops at odds with their former Sunni allies.[14] Recalling the discussion surrounding the negotiations of the US-Iraqi status of forces agreement, Col. Peter Mansoor, Gen. David Petraeus’ executive officer, worried that the agreement “would put US forces into a position where they could not intervene to stop the government of Iraq from attacking the Sons of Iraq. If the Iraqi Security Forces needed help once engaged against the Sons of Iraq, US forces could be drawn into the fight against the very people who helped us turn the war around.”[15] At the same time, the direct involvement of US forces in support of the arrest of al-Mashhadani highlights the Maliki government’s continued reliance on the US military for logistics and air support and still represents the most potent form of leverage that US policymakers could exploit, should they wish to halt the spiral before it acquires momentum.

While the Obama administration remains solicitous of the stability of the Maliki government, US support for Iraqi military operations cannot be unconditional if the stated strategic goal of withdrawal is not to be compromised. Many of the Maliki government’s operations would not be feasible without US support or, if they were undertaken without such support, could only be successful at a much higher cost in casualties and reputation. If the US military simply enforces the decisions made by Maliki to consolidate his power against perceived enemies, the premier will merely be emboldened to take bigger and bigger risks. In instances such as the al-Mashhadani arrest, when US forces are deployed to rein in specific militia leaders, their cooperation risks making a mockery of Maliki’s repeated assurances of integration into the security forces or other public-sector employment.

It is entirely possible that al-Mashhadani is fully guilty of the charges against him — this would hardly be surprising given the background and history of the sahwat and many of their individual members. Targeting the worst of this lot is understandable, and perhaps desirable, from the perspective of the US and its Iraqi allies in the Green Zone, and when limited in scope is unlikely to spark Sunni Arab outrage that would provoke a reversion to full-scale insurgency. But the United States remains at risk of being enlisted as a proxy as the Shi‘i-dominated government dictates terms of surrender in an unfinished sectarian civil war. Litigating the rights and wrongs of the civil war through wholesale repression of the sahwat would constitute a form of victor’s justice — with no regard for the excesses and abuses carried out under government aegis or with government connivance. And it would increase the chances, already too high, that Iraqi civilians will be exposed to another and perhaps even bloodier round of internecine fighting.

Endnotes


[1] See, for instance, David Kilcullen, “Anatomy of a Tribal Revolt,” Small Wars Journal, August 29, 2007.

[2] See, for instance, John A. McCary, “The Anbar Awakening: An Alliance of Incentives,” Washington Quarterly (January 2009).

[3] New York Times, August 21, 2008.

[4] BBC News, February 4, 2008.

[5] The government has vowed on numerous occasions to integrate 20 percent of the militiamen into the Iraqi security forces. ‘Ali al-Dabbagh, the prime minister’s official spokesman, explicitly stated that the remaining 80 percent of the fighters will be given public-sector employment. Aswat al-‘Iraq, April 14, 2009. [Arabic]

[6] Noah Shachtman, “Could Iris Scans Stop a New Iraq Insurgency?” Wired, August 26, 2008.

[7] Al-Zaman (Baghdad), April 14, 2009. [Arabic]

[8] Ned Parker, “Machiavelli in Mesopotamia: Nouri al-Maliki Builds the Body Politic,” World Policy Journal (Spring 2009).

[9] Guardian, March 7, 2009.

[10]Anthony Shadid, “New Alliances In Iraq Cross Sectarian Lines,” Washington Post, March 20, 2009.

[11] See the official statement from Office of the Prime Minister, March 19, 2009, available online at http://www.pmo.iq/index/03-866.htm. [Arabic]

[12] Aswat al-‘Iraq, April 12, 2009. [Arabic]

[13] Los Angeles Times, March 30, 2009.

[14] Gareth Porter, “Al-Maliki Draws US Troops Into Crackdown on Sunnis,” Inter Press Service, April 1, 2009.

[15] Quoted by journalist Thomas E. Ricks at his blog on the Foreign Policy website: http://ricks.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/03/31/iraq_the_unraveling_ii.

Pakistan: ‘War on terror’ sparks stand-off with US

Islamabad, 17 April (AKI) – By Syed Saleem Shahzad – When Pakistan’s military chief Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani visited Washington this week, his relationship with United States Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Mike Mullen bolstered hopes that a new relationship between the two armies could make gains in the fight against terrorism this year.

But contrary to all expectations, the Pakistan Army refused point-blank a US demand to carry out special land operations in the northwestern Pakistani regions of Chitral and Kalam as well as in 12 other locations.

The relationship between Washington and Islamabad deteriorated further and was at an all time low recently when the Pakistan Army refused the US’s demand to replace the Pushtun dominated Frontier Corps in the federally administered tribal areas close to the Afghan border and instead to send Punjabi dominated Pakistan Rangers there to fight the Taliban.

Washington made all US military and civilian aid packages conditional upon the fulfilment of this demand. But an extremely composed and precise reaction was given to it through Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

“Pakistan wants foreign help – not ‘intrusion’ or ‘micro-management’ from any foreign country,” he stated.

These new ‘trust deficits’ between Pakistan’s armed forces and the US administration come at a time when Washington desperately needs Pakistani help to emerge from its deepening Afghan quagmire.

Pakistan’s most unexpected non-cooperation with the US could have serious consequences, according to some observers.

The request by the US to launch a special operation in Chitral and Kalam and elsewhere to hunt for Al-Qaeda’s leader Osama Bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, was the start of serious tension between the US and Pakistan that left Washington in quandary over how to react.

The request was based on some technical evidence presented to Pakistan’s army and Washington expected a honeymoon period on newly built relationship with the new army chief rather than defiance.

Pakistan had complied with the US military’s wish for it to train a group of Frontier Corps personnel to fight extremists in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Pakistan Frontier Corps comprises 80,000 paramilitaries who guard Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province and south western Balochistan province, both bordering Afghanistan.

The FC is dominated by ethnic pushtuns. After its paramilitaries received training and were deployed in operations in Bajaur and Mohmand tribal areas as well as NWFP’s troubled Swat district, the US surprised the Pakistani military by equating the FC paras to the Taliban.

The reasons the US gave for this claim included the FC paramilitaries’ beards, their prayerful way of life and their alleged reluctance to open fire on the Taliban.

The Pakistan Rangers is also a paramilitary force. It is dominated by Punjabis. It is deployed in Sindh and Punjab provinces, which border India . Pakistan’s army flatly refused the bizarre US demand that the Pakistan Rangers replace the FC paramilitaries in the northwest.

The army said the Pakistan Rangers were trained to fight against India and would be would be useless for any other operation.

This was when trust between the two armies began to fail and several other issues further complicated the relationship.

Pakistan frowned upon last week’s visit to the region by Mullen and the US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke.

During the visit, statements were issued that the US would start hunting for Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Balochistan and urging Pakistan to give up its ‘India-centric’ policies.

The second statement implicitly criticised Pakistan’s refusal to relocate Pakistan Rangers from the Indian to the Afghan border. At the same time, Pakistan’s ISI military intelligence gathered classified information that the CIA’s director had held talks with Indian intelligence officials and sought their support to hunt Taliban leaders in Balochistan.

The India’s Research and Analysis Wing secret service has conducted powerful proxy operations in Balochistan since the 1970s.

The CIA is perhaps the organisation with the best knowledge of the structure of Pakistan’s ISI. The CIA conducted joint operations with ISI during the Afghan war and retained very close ties through exchange programmes in which ISI officials were sent for training in the US from the 1980s onwards.

ISI’s failure to win the war against the Taliban has always upset the US precisely because its intelligence officials are aware of its abilities.

US officials made a fresh bid to woo ISI recently but the ISI chief, Ahmad Shuja Pasha, refused a private session and met the officials together with Kiyani.

And while the US delegation was still in Pakistan, ISI leaked the news to the media that due to ‘derogatory’ remarks made against ISI, its chief had refused to see the US officials, although chief army spokesman Athar Abbas and US officials scrambled to deny the reports.

While the Taliban’s Spring Offensive is expected by US officials to be bloodier than those of previous years, Pakistan and the US are engaged in a new debate.

“I think you would expect when the US taxpayer is providing money, assistance to a country, that we want to make sure we’re not only getting our money’s worth but that certain things that we care about, we want to see that they be dealt with,” US State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters.

“So we have said, we will provide and would like to provide 1.5 billion dollars over a five-year period to Pakistan,” he said.

“Clearly, we are going to establish benchmarks. We want to see certain standards and goals met,” Wood said.

But Pakistan showed no sign of complying with US demands.

Pakistan’s prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said in a statement: “The US should not attach conditionalities to the assistance.”

“Aid with strings attached would fail to generate the desired goodwill and results, ” he added.

However oftenWashington flexes its muscles against Pakistan, Pakistan knows that by the second week of May, a record numbers of Taliban attacks will convince the US that it has exhausted many of its options in the South Asian “war on terror”.

Medvedev slams ‘dangerous’ NATO Georgia exercises

Medvedev slams ‘dangerous’ NATO Georgia exercises

Posted: 18 April 2009 0004 hrs

BARVIKHA, Russia : Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Friday slammed NATO’s planned exercises in Georgia as “dangerous”, warning the war games would further strain Moscow’s tense relations with the alliance.

Analysts said Medvedev’s comments — some of his sharpest to date — reflected Moscow’s bitter disappointment with NATO’s decision just weeks after he and US President Barack Obama hailed a new era in US-Russian ties.

“I think this is a wrong decision, a dangerous decision,” Medvedev said of the planned exercises next month, at a news conference with visiting Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.

“Such decisions are disappointing and do not facilitate the resumption of full-scale contacts between the Russian Federation and NATO,” a stern Medvedev said.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation announced earlier this week that it would hold exercises in Georgia from May 6 to June 1 to improve cooperation between the alliance and partner countries.

Medvedev warned the exercises could cause “different kinds of complications” as tensions in the region still persisted and could threaten a recent thaw in Russia-NATO relations.

“This decision appears to be short-sighted, unpartner-like,” Medvedev said, noting that holding the war games in Georgia would be akin to conducting military maneouvres in the Middle East or next to North Korea.

“I am sure that it will not add positive emotions either to the people of South Ossetia or the people of Abkhazia,” Medvedev said, referring to the two breakaway regions of Georgia backed by Moscow.

“Decisions of this kind are aimed at muscle flexing. We will follow what happens there in the most thorough manner and take one or another decision if need be.”

Following talks on April 1 in London, Medvedev praised his “new comrade” Obama as Moscow and Washington both said they hoped to reverse the worst slump in the former foes’ ties since the end of the Cold War.

NATO’s plan to hold the war games in Georgia, with which Moscow fought a five-day bitter war last August, is likely to deal a blow to the US-Russia efforts to mend fences, analysts said.

The bloc agreed last month to resume high-level talks with Russia, ending a seven-month freeze sparked by Moscow’s decision to send troops into Georgia last summer.

A meeting of the so-called NATO-Russia Council was expected in late May or early June.

The exercises, which have been planned since the spring of 2008, are to involve about 1,300 people from 19 NATO and partner countries and will be held at a training centre 20 kilometres (12 miles) east of Tbilisi.

Moscow has been extremely wary of any cooperation between NATO and Georgia, a former Soviet republic whose pro-Western government has pushed hard to join the alliance.

Russia and Georgia fought a brief war last yeart over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which Russia later recognised as independent states.

Analysts said Moscow, which had high hopes for the Obama presidency, felt cheated to a large degree.

“Our (leaders) did not expect this to happen,” said Alexei Malashenko, an analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Centre. “They thought that because of a thaw the manoeuvres would not take place.

“Naturally, it causes a high degree of irritation. This is a gift to all those who’ve been against rapprochement with the West.”

Timofei Bordachyov, head of the Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies, said Medvedev’s reaction was “natural”.

“NATO will conduct the war games jointly with a country which can be declared an aggressor in its war with Russia,” he said.

Rebel Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh told reporters in Moscow that his breakaway republic and South Ossetia would likely reciprocate with similar war games that would involve Russia to counter NATO exercises in Georgia.

“Today the countries in the West are supporting Georgia, hold the war games, but there is a response to the games — we will conduct different games both in Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” Interfax quoted Bagapsh as saying.

“Believe me, there will be the same accents, the same responses.”