Acrimony Over American Double-Talk In Terror War

Acrimony at Afghan role for US

Jason Burke, Kabul

American and Afghan officials are locked in increasingly acrimonious talks about a long-term security agreement.American and Afghan officials are locked in increasingly acrimonious talks about a long-term security agreement. Photo: Reuters

AMERICAN and Afghan officials are locked in increasingly acrimonious talks about a long-term security agreement which is likely to see US troops, spies and air power based in the troubled country for decades.

Though not publicised, negotiations have been under way for more than a month to secure an agreement which would include an American presence beyond the end of 2014 – the agreed date for all 130,000 US combat troops to leave.

American officials admit that although US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently that Washington did not want any ”permanent” bases in Afghanistan, her phrasing allows a variety of possible arrangements.

Advertisement: Story continues below

”There are US troops in various countries for some considerable lengths of time which are not there permanently,” a US official said.

Precedents include the US military presence in Europe and Japan since World War II and, more recently, in Iraq.

British troops, NATO officials say, will also remain in Afghanistan long past the end of 2014, largely in training or mentoring roles.

Although they will not be ”combat troops”, it does not mean they will not take part in combat. Mentors could regularly fight alongside Afghan troops, for example.

Senior NATO officials also predict that the insurgency in Afghanistan will continue after 2014.

There are at least five bases which are likely candidates to house large contingents of American special forces, intelligence operatives, surveillance equipment and military hardware post-2014. The bases would constitute rare strategic assets in a volatile region.

News of the US-Afghan talks has sparked deep concern among powers in the region and beyond. Russia and India are understood to have made their concerns about a long-term US presence known to Washington and Kabul. China has also made its disquiet clear.

American negotiators will arrive later this month in Kabul for a new round of talks. The Afghans rejected the Americans’ first draft of a strategic partnership agreement in its entirety, preferring to draft their own proposal. This was submitted to Washington two weeks ago. The US draft was ”vaguely formulated”, one Afghan official said.

Afghan negotiators are now preparing detailed annexes to their own proposal which lists specific demands.

The Afghans are playing a delicate game, however. President Hamid Karzai and senior officials see an enduring American presence and broader strategic relationship as essential, in part to protect Afghanistan from its neighbours.

Ashraf Ghani, a former presidential candidate and one of the Afghan negotiators, said that while there was ”consensus on core issues”, big disagreements remained.

One is whether the Americans will equip an Afghan air force. Another is the question of US troops launching operations outside Afghanistan from bases within the country. A third contentious issue is the legal basis on which troops might remain. The Afghans also want to have ultimate authority over foreign troops’ use and deployment.

GUARDIAN

Pak commanders meet PM, President on “security situation”

Pak commanders meet PM, President on “security situation”

PTI | 02:06 PM,Jun 14,2011

From Rezaul H Laskar Islamabad, Jun 14 (PTI) In what could be a prelude to a possible operation in North Waziristan against the al-Qaeda militants holed up there, Pakistani military commanders have met with the President as well as the Prime Minister, a move termed by a leading daily here as “far from routine”. Pakistan’s armed forces has also sought the government’s support on a number of issues during the meeting held against the backdrop of increasing domestic and international criticism of the military. President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani met the entire military leadership, including powerful army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in the presidency yesterday to discuss the “security situation”, an official statement said. However, the meeting was “far from routine” and discussed the political and security implications of a possible military operation in North Waziristan tribal region as is being demanded by the US, The Express Tribune newspaper quoted its sources as saying. The chiefs of the armed forces asked the civilian leadership to take up the possible operation in parliament, similar to the effort made when a campaign was launched in the restive Swat valley two years ago. The meeting also discussed the political, monetary and security implications of such an operation, the report said. Following the May 2 US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in the garrison city of Abbottabad, the US has pressured Pakistan to launch an operation in North Waziristan Agency, described by Washington as a safe haven for Taliban and al-Qaeda elements that carry out cross-border attacks in Afghanistan.

Only an insane person would think about an anti-Taliban lashkar here

Pakistan wants tribal militias in militant hub

By ASIF SHAHZAD

Associated Press

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan is trying to persuade tribesmen in a key militant sanctuary near the Afghan border to take up arms against al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in their midst, a top political official said Tuesday.

The U.S. has repeatedly demanded that Pakistan launch a military offensive in North Waziristan to try and sap the strength of militants who regularly attack foreign forces in Afghanistan, jeopardizing Washington’s hopes of drawing down troops.

The latest effort to bring tribesmen on board appeared to be a new attempt to replicate the successes of the U.S. military in Iraq to turn the tribes there against al-Qaida.

So far, it has been less promising in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and at least two prominent North Waziristan locals said it would never work in their area. It is also unclear whether the government and the U.S. have the same militants in mind for targeting.

The Pakistani government has promoted the creation of tribal militias elsewhere in the northwest, but many of their members have been killed in militant attacks. Others have complained that the government has not given them enough support.

Tariq Hayat, the top political official for Pakistan’s entire semiautonomous tribal region, said talks with the North Waziristan tribesmen began in recent days and the government has promised “moral and material support,” but not weapons.

“If they feel now that they are strong enough and they are getting signals from the authorities about all our support, yes they would love to throw the terrorists out from their homes,” said Hayat.

Kamran Khan, a lawmaker from North Waziristan, said he was not aware of the recent negotiations, but said people are too angry over U.S. airstrikes in the region to back the effort.

“As long as the American drones are hitting us every day, no such idea can get public support,” said Khan.

The Pakistani government is also extremely unpopular in North Waziristan, a poor region that is effectively controlled by militants despite the presence of thousands of Pakistani troops.

A leading member of one of the two main tribes in North Waziristan ruled out local militias — known locally as lashkars — because of the danger of retaliation by the militants.

“Only an insane person would think about an anti-Taliban lashkar here,” he told the AP, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted by either the militants or the army.

It’s unclear whether Pakistan’s attempt to establish tribal militias is a precursor to an operation in North Waziristan or an attempt to deflect U.S. pressure, which has increased following the American raid last month that killed Osama bin Laden in an army town not far from Islamabad.

Also unknown is whether the government has been pushing the tribesmen to target the same militants the U.S. wants taken out. Washington is most focused on the Haqqani network, which it considers the most dangerous militant group fighting in Afghanistan. But many analysts believe Pakistan is reluctant to target the group because of historical ties and the belief that it could be a useful ally in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.

Instead, the more likely target could be groups like al-Qaida and the Pakistani Taliban, which have declared war on the government and have carried out scores of bombings throughout the country.

Hayat, the political official, said the government wanted the tribesmen to target foreign militants and members of the Taliban, but did not indicate whether that group includes the Haqqani network and other Afghan fighters battling foreign forces.

The Pakistani army did not respond to requests for comment on the recent talks or on whether a North Waziristan operation was imminent. Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani recently called on the people of North Waziristan “to evict all foreigners from their soil.”

Associated Press Writer Rasool Dawar contributed to this report from Peshawar, Pakistan.

Libyan Bombing Breaking the British Bank

Navy chief: Britain cannot keep up its role in Libya air war due to cuts

The British military intervention in Libya is unsustainable, the head of the Navy has said.

Adml Sir Mark Stanhope said the campaign would have been more effective without the Government’s defence cuts.

The aircraft carrier and the Harrier jump-jets scrapped under last year’s strategic defence review would have made the mission more effective, faster and cheaper, he said.

Sir Mark warned that the Navy would not be able to sustain its operations in Libya for another three months without making cuts elsewhere.

The First Sea Lord’s comments will stir the debate over defence cuts that have left Britain without a working aircraft carrier and forced the Royal Navy’s Harrier jump jets to be mothballed.

Highlighting military anger over the shrinking Armed Forces, another admiral warned that “comical” defence cuts would leave the Navy without enough ships to be effective.

Ministers have repeatedly argued that Britain has had no need of either HMS Ark Royal or the Harriers in the Libyan mission because planes can fly from bases in Italy, such as Gioia del Colle.

But Sir Mark said the carrier and its planes would have been useful in Libya. “If we had Ark Royal and the Harriers, I feel relatively reassured that we would have deployed that capability off Libya,” he said.

Harriers would have been used for “ground support” operations, attacking Col Gaddafi’s land forces, he said.

Sir Mark appeared to contradict ministers’ assurances on the Italian bases. He said operating Harriers from an aircraft carrier would have allowed British forces to respond more quickly to events on the ground in Libya.

“The pros would have been a much more reactive force,” he said. “Rather than deploying from Gioia del Colle, we would deploy within 20 minutes as opposed to an hour and a half, so obviously there are some advantages. It’s cheaper to fly an aircraft from an aircraft carrier than from the shore.” Scrapping Ark Royal and its Harriers was perhaps the most controversial decision made in last year’s Strategic Defence and Security Review. The Coalition has said it could not afford to maintain the ship or the planes. Military analysts and retired defence chiefs have said the cuts have limited Britain’s military capabilities.

Despite his remarks, Sir Mark said there could be no going back on the cuts. “We have got to look forward.”

British forces have been in action in Libya since March, yet Col Gaddafi remains in power. On June 1, Nato extended the military mission by another 90 days.

Sir Mark said British forces would be “comfortable” with another three months of operations.

“Beyond that, we might have to request the Government to make some challenging decisions about priorities,” he said. “There are different ways of doing this. It’s not simply about giving up standing commitments, we will have to rebalance.”

Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, said last week that Britain and France were struggling to maintain the Libyan operation without significant American support and supplies.

Sir Mark confirmed that the Navy had been forced to ask the US to resupply Tomahawk cruise missiles used by submarines targeting Libya.

“We are not running out, but we certainly have to take action to replace those weapons to bring stockpiles back up to where they were,” he said.

As well as Ark Royal and the Harriers, the Navy is losing 5,000 posts under the defence review.

Rear-Adml David Steel, the head of Navy personnel, said the defence cuts would be a major challenge for the Senior Service.

“Our ships are hugely capable but we just don’t have enough of them,” he told a veterans’ conference in Plymouth at the weekend.

“Having to make so many people redundant would be almost comical if it were not so serious.”

Dr Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, defended the defence review last night. He said: “We continue to have the resources necessary to carry out the operations we are undertaking.”

An MoD source said: “Unfortunately Harriers wouldn’t have been able to carry the precision weapons needed for these operations.”

Vietnam Signs Order Preparing Draft, Amid Tensions with China

Vietnam’s navy said it conducted nine hours of artillery training in the South China Sea Monday (AFP, Vietnam News Agency)

Vietnam signs military order amid tensions

(AFP)

HANOI — The prime minister of Vietnam has signed an order on eligibility for military conscription, at a time of high maritime tension with China, the official army newspaper reported Tuesday.

The decree is not a mobilisation order but clarifies who will be exempt from military service in the event of war, including key government officials and men with no siblings, Quan Doi Nhan Dan said. It will take effect on August 1.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung signed the document on Monday, the same day Vietnam’s navy said it conducted about nine hours of live-fire artillery training in the tense South China Sea.

Hanoi is sending a message to China that Vietnam “has significantly upped the ante in this dispute,” said Ian Storey, a security analyst with the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

“Tensions have never been higher in the South China Sea,” he said.

Relations between Vietnam and fellow communist China have sunk to their lowest point in years following recent sea confrontations which reignited a row over sovereignty of the potentially oil-rich Paracel and Spratly archipelagos.

In comments published last week, Dung said Vietnam was determined to protect the “incontestable” sovereignty of the islands.

Analysts believe the possibility of a clash between the two sides has risen, although Beijing said Tuesday that it would not use or threaten force in the South China Sea.

Vietnam has said it wants to see a peaceful resolution and adherence to international laws.

The situation escalated in late May after Vietnam accused China of violating its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

Hanoi said three Chinese marine surveillance vessels severed the exploration cables of a Vietnamese oil survey ship, allegedly violating the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Last week Vietnam accused a Chinese fishing boat of deliberately ramming the cables of another oil survey ship in the zone.

Beijing has warned Vietnam to halt all activities that it says violate China’s sovereignty in the disputed area.

Vietnamese bitterly recall 1,000 years of Chinese occupation and, more recently, a 1979 border war — the last time Hanoi ordered a general military mobilisation for people aged 18-45.

According to Vietnam’s 2009 defence white paper, the latest available, the country of about 86 million has 450,000 active military personnel and a reserve of five million.

More than 70 Vietnamese sailors were killed in 1988 in a brief naval battle with China off the Spratlys.

U.S. needs to completely withdraw from Iraq

U.S. needs to completely withdraw from Iraq

By Adil E. Shamoo and Bonnie Bricker

Don’t count on the United States to withdraw its 47,000 troops from Iraq by the end of this year, as President Obama has promised.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, along with other Obama administration officials, has exerted tremendous pressure on the Iraqi government to “ask” the United States to keep troops in Iraq. Neither Iraqis nor Americans signed up for this kind of a deal: the permanent occupation of Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is trying to satisfy this American goal of remaining in Iraq while simultaneously attempting to placate his domestic allies who want our forces to leave entirely.

Iraqis from disparate groups have formed a large nationalist movement against occupation and have demanded that the U.S. government keep its pledge to completely exit Iraq by the end of this year. The U.S. government blames the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr for this movement. But this is simplistic and misleading. Al-Sadr is responding to strongly held sentiments in Iraq. That’s why he can marshal 70,000 demonstrators to rally for withdrawal. What’s more, tens of thousands of other Iraqis have already joined anti-occupation movements that al-Sadr does not lead.

Candidate Obama promised the American people that U.S. troops would leave Iraq as soon as possible if he were elected president. Then, after winning the election, he pledged to bring all troops home by the end of this year, as required by the Status of Forces Agreement that President Bush negotiated with Iraq.

But even if President Obama withdraws all our troops, which seems improbable today, the United States would still have tens of thousands of private contractors there, along with a huge embassy. Last February, Congress authorized the State Department to increase its embassy staff in Iraq to 17,000. This is by far the largest contingency of American embassy personnel in the world. The embassy compound is actually an enclosed and fully functioning city within Baghdad. Embassy staff will also be placed at five additional locations across Iraq, and the embassy will operate 24 helicopters and 19 planes.

Millions voted for Mr. Obama — not Hillary Clinton — in the Democratic primaries because of Obama’s clear opposition to the war in Iraq and his intent for a quick withdrawal. But President Obama is not keeping his word.

Adil E. Shamoo is a senior analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus, writing on ethics and public policy, and is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Bonnie Bricker is a teacher and writer. They can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

Sidelining Pakistan

Sidelining Pakistan

A Nato air strike killed 12 children and two women in the southern province of Helmand on May 27. President Karzai, then in Turkmenistan, cut short his visit and returned to Kabul in reaction to the tragedy. He called on the US military to avoid operations that kill Afghan civilians, saying this was his last warning to Washington. The toll on civilians as a result of direct air strikes in Afghanistan is a staggering 30,000 Afghan men, women and children.

The basis for US invasion of Afghanistan was said to be intended to eliminate Al-Qaeda following the Sept 11 attacks. But the death and destruction caused by the United States in Afghanistan in past decade has provided a reason to young Afghans to join the ranks of the Taliban. Their joining the Taliban is not a result of coercion. Unemployment, the absence of job opportunities and shrinking means of other means of livelihood become an added incentive for them to do so. Added to this is the powerful motivation of ideology and religion.

Now that Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has been eliminated by the US forces, it will be hard for the administration of Barack Obama to sell the idea of putting in more money in the war in Afghanistan. More and more people have come to realise that the Afghan war has lingered so long not because Ben Laden was the pursuit for the Americans but because they sought to use his presence as the main justification for the conflict. This is a war where American field commanders have been both judges and executioners, no matter whom they were dealing with, combatants or non-combatants. Many Republican and Democratic leaders have started questioning the wisdom of the Obama administration to continue the funding of the war in Afghanistan. In any case, there is no moral justification for the continued killing of Afghans, as in the case of the latest atrocity that took place on May 27.

The American military forces assassinated Osama bin Laden in a night raid in Abbottabad on May 1-2. His assassination was celebrated across the United States despite the fact that it was another instance of US forces meting out rough justice to the enemy. The media joined in by commenting on every grisly detail of the operation. The outburst of jingoism and anti-Muslim bigotry took a truly vulgar form when some Americans spray-painted the walls of a mosque in Portland, Maine, with slogans against Islam and Muslims.

US administration officials appear to believe that the assassination will persuade the Taliban to turn to reconciliation and engage with the state of Afghanistan. Even it that reconciliation materialises, the United States’ assumed desire to stay on in Afghanistan – in one form or another – will prove to be an impediment in the way of a permanent settlement in that country. If press reports on US-Taliban talks over the past few weeks are accurate, it would appear as if the endgame in Afghanistan is not too far off. However, the United States wants to utilise the talks’ process for two objectives: one, to augment Obama’s support for the Afghan war despite Osama bin Laden’s death; and, two, to create fissures in the Taliban ranks over their ties with Pakistan. The Taliban are being offered hefty amounts of money to distance themselves from Pakistan and in the process weaken the Taliban’s resolve to stick with the decade-old demand for US withdrawal as a precondition for any talks on reconciliation. Without any regard to Pakistan’s interests despite the great sacrifices rendered by this country in the “war on terror,” the Americans have not taken Pakistan into confidence, even though the Afghans have been briefed, as was appropriate.

The UK’s point man on Afghanistan and Pakistan told journalists in Islamabad that “the Taliban leadership was engaged in talks with various stakeholders with the full backing of the US with the sole aim of finding a solution to Afghanistan from within, without any involvement of foreign players.” This indicates the lack of trust the United States and its Nato allies have in their frontline ally in the “war against terror.”

Meanwhile, the US moves on Afghanistan fail to take into account the relationship of Pakhtun tribes across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The ancient tribal and social bonds across the divide are too strong to be affected by the existence of an international frontier.

The United States is doing everything to divide the Taliban. At the same time, it is trying to sideline Pakistan in talks on an Afghan settlement. Both efforts are destined to failure in the long term – especially the latter. It would be a great geo-strategic blunder if the Americans sideline Pakistan, rather than make use of it as a critical player in the Afghan reconciliation progress. Whether the Americans recognise this or not, Pakistan is a part of the solution in Afghanistan, not part of the problem.

Osama bin Laden’s elimination has created a historic opportunity for the United States to move forward in Afghanistan. But the opportunity will slip if Washington does not play its cards well. The United States would be committing its greatest folly if it did not take Pakistan on board in the reconciliation process. Long-term stability in that war-torn country will remain a pipedream.

Email: munir.baloch@janggroup.com.pk