Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Russian Regime Beefs Up Internal Forces to Defend Stability and Itself

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 20 – Even at a time when it is cutting back on a variety of public programs elsewhere, the Russian government is investing sizeable sums to boost the size and effectiveness of force structures designed to counter domestic challenges, even providing them with weapons specifically designed for crowd control.

This "crisis militarization" of Russia, RBC-Daily reports today, means that the domestic forces which now total more than 2.5 million personnel outnumber the country's armed forces which exist to defend the country, a trend that various experts suggested reflects Moscow's growing concern about deteriorating social and economic conditions across the country.

Dmitry Oreshkin, a leading Russian political scientist, said that it is clear that the regime is worried about "internal security" given the social fallout of the current economic crisis, but both he and other experts were skeptical that this buildup would bring stability or ultimately protect those in power (

Indeed, Gennady Gudkov, a member of the Duma security committee, said that unfortunately, "part of the federal bureaucracy is under the illusion that [the government and its allies] can protect themselves through the use of force. This is an illusion." As governments tend to forget, "the militarization of the state may only increase the danger of armed clashes."

And he cited Napoleon's famous dictum that while bayonets are useful for many things, they are not particularly comfortable to sit on.

The report that the number of people in domestic security organizations – from the interior ministry troops to corporate guards to fish and game wardens – now exceeds the number of people in the military, of course, is certain to attract greater attention from the rest of the world – it is naturally easier to grasp --the other part of the equation may matter more.

But commentaries today suggest that Russians are more focused on water cannons, crowd control weapons the regime first purchased from Israel and now is producing on its own (,, and, with its own special spin,

Because such devices have no other purpose that crowd control, commentator suggest, they highlight Russian government nervousness that mounting unemployment, strikes like those which have hit the Don (, and the likelihood of more demonstrations in major cities, the Russian government is circling the wagons.

And that makes three other high-profile stories in the Moscow media especially important: First, "Novoye voyennoye obozreniye" today reported that the military itself, the last line in the government's defense, is increasingly corrupt and now resembles "a mafia in epaulettes" rather than an army (

Indeed, as the article makes clear, the military is not only ineffectual but angry, given the decision of the regime to retire many senior officers and cut national defense programs at precisely the same time that it has increased spending on domestic security units and the intelligence agencies, traditional enemies of military commanders.

Second, the Levada Center released the results of a study it conducted together with the Civic Verdict Foundation about public attitudes toward Russian law enforcement agencies. Among other things, this study shows that many Russians not only are skeptical about these groups but see them as failing to protect them against crime.

Such attitudes provide support for the conclusion that the government's decision to arm itself against the population could backfire, given that the Russian people have anything but a positive view of those the regime might decide to use against people going on strike or taking part in demonstrations (

And third, as various writers have pointed out, Moscow faces so many problems that it is ignoring some like nationality ( and the situation in the regions ( in hopes that the current crisis will end before the government's money runs out.

But what is perhaps most striking about today's announcement about increases in the size and armament of internal forces is not how worried the regime is about its fate but rather its self-confident assumption that force alone will be enough to keep it in power, a decision, like one to fight a grease fire with only water, that could prove a grave miscalculation.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Tajikistan: On the Pot-holed Road to Failed-State Status

Paul Quinn-Judge

19 February 2009
Transitions Online

Tajikistan has a long southern border with Afghanistan and would like better relations with the West. Too bad it's on the verge of collapse.

A combination of geographic position and wishful thinking has put Tajikistan front and center in the fight for Afghanistan, but those in diplomatic and military circles pinning their hopes on Dushanbe should think again. The idea that Tajikistan might form part of a reliable supply route to the conflict area and a northern bulwark against extremism might look good on paper, but the reality is starkly different. If the international community must rely on Tajikistan to be a useful and productive ally, then Afghanistan is in serious trouble.

Tajikistan is a weak state, teetering on the edge of failure, and things are likely only to get worse there. Chronic food insecurity, disintegrating energy infrastructure, and endemic corruption are driving the country deeper into crisis. This downward slide will only accelerate as migrant laborer remittances, forming as much as 50 percent of GDP, fall dramatically in the world economic crisis.

The United States would clearly like to make Tajikistan part of its new supply route into Afghanistan and is talking about shipping goods through the country by train and truck. Rahmon would almost certainly be happy to help - he would love more money, not to mention attention from the West. But there are a number of barriers. He would have to square it with the Russians, who are looking increasingly irritated at outsiders operating in their traditional sphere of influence, as their recent deal with Kyrgyzstan and Bishkek's threatened closure of the U.S. airbase at Manas shows. It could also draw increased attention from radical Islamic movements. How much traffic his shaky infrastructure could accommodate is another matter.

The West needs to consider if its security priorities in the region will usefully be served by an enfeebled, venal state. The fundamental preconditions to the creation of a real bulwark against the spread of instability from Afghanistan - economic and political reforms and a viable system of government - will not happen for decades.

This year and beyond look bleak for Tajikistan. At the very least the government will face serious economic problems, and the desperately poor population will be condemned to yet more deprivation. At worst the government runs the risk of social unrest. There are few indications that the Rahmon administration is up to this challenge.

The full article is here

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Should we expect the 2nd war in Georgia this summer?

A Russian tank during the pullout from Gori in central Georgia in mid-August
February 20, 2009
By Ahto Lobjakas
Talks this week in Geneva between Russia, Georgia, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia reached a minor milestone with an agreement on "incident prevention" mechanisms intended to give international monitors access to the entire zone of conflict following last year's Russia-Georgia war.
But EU sources say it remains unclear whether Moscow and the Russian-backed authorities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia have a genuine desire to see the deal work. The scheme commits both sides to cooperate on preventing security incidents in and around the breakaway regions of South Ossetia -- where Moscow and Tbilisi fought a war in August -- and Abkhazia.
Any accord is seemingly fragile, with the two sides still deeply mistrustful of each other. It is also far from certain that cooperation will be forthcoming from officials in either South Ossetia or Abkhazia, both of which have declared independence with Moscow's backing.
Speaking with RFE/RL's Georgian Service ahead of the Geneva talks, Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said the situation along the cease-fire line in Georgia remained extremely volatile and warned another war was "very likely.""[As long as] the cease-fire regime stays as it is, provocations, or what both sides understand as provocations -- clashes, exchanges of fire, in other words an undependable cease-fire arrangement -- it means there is a very high likelihood that all this could spill over into an armed conflict," Felgenhauer said. [...]
What appears to disturb the EU most is what one diplomat described as Russia's "mixed messages" at the Geneva talks. Moscow did reportedly force recalcitrant Abkhazia and South Ossetia into concessions during the talks. But such steps may prove of little consequence if Moscow pursues a "divide-and-conquer" strategy -- wanting the United Nations to take charge of Abkhazia, the OSCE to deal with South Ossetia, and the EU to take responsibility for Georgia -- that could severely limit the West's effectiveness in the region.
Cynics might argue that Moscow is playing for time. Felgenhauer certainly takes that view, predicting that another Russia-Georgia war is merely a question of time.
The first war -- which Felgenhauer predicted long before its onset -- was seen as recompense for Russia's antipathy toward Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his determined pursuit of NATO membership. But Felgenhauer says there is more to Moscow's long-term strategy: "[Russia] may not like Saakashvili, we may not like NATO, but there is also another thing: Armenia is cut off; [Russian] troops in Armenia are cut off. There's no transit by land. That means technology cannot be taken out of there for repairs or modernization, and technology cannot be taken in, other than by air. Such a situation cannot last long. "The Armenian bases are important to Moscow, Felgenhauer argues, as a symbol of Russian ambitions in the South Caucasus. Armenia is a close Russian ally, but its isolation could cause Yerevan to "start looking the other way," Felgenhauer says. Russia's subjugation of Georgia would remove that threat, and would in turn isolate Azerbaijan, which is currently resisting Russia and putting out feelers to the EU and the United States.
Felgenhauer predicts that the next Russian assault on Georgia will be a "war to a victorious end." He predicts its main theater could be the road between Gori and Mtshketa just outside Tbilisi. But, Felgenhauer says, Tbilisi itself would not be the Russian army's top strategic objective: "What is important is not so much Tbilisi. But west of Tbilisi there is the Tbilisi international airport [and] many airfields." This is important, Felgenhauer said, "because right now in South Ossetia we do not have a single permanent airstrip, as the terrain is highly uneven."The closest Russian air base is currently in Beslan, in North Ossetia.
The best time for war, according to Felgenhauer, would be between June and August, when high mountain passes are free of snow. He said Russian forces would also need at least two months in hand to wind down operations before winter returns in October.
Felgenhauer discounts the eventuality of an intervention on the part of the United States. He notes President Barack Obama's main goal is victory in Afghanistan, to effect which he will need to transit supplies and men through Russia and countries in its sphere of influence. In exchange, the thinking in Moscow goes, the United States will be willing to trade its interest in Georgia. Thus, to Felgenhauer's mind, a war is all but inevitable. "The only way you could avoid it," he says, "is if there's regime change in Tbilisi -- or regime change in Moscow."

NATO Ministers Seek To Keep Door Open To Ukraine, Georgia

February 20, 2009

Talks by NATO defense ministers at an informal gathering in Poland have focused on ways to keep alive the membership hopes of two former Soviet republics -- Ukraine and Georgia.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Yury Yekhanurov, speaking to reporters in Krakow, pleaded for NATO to keep its door open to new members. "We feel that it is extremely important for all of us that we maintain the principle of NATO's open door, which gives each separate country not only a chance to guarantee its security within the network of the collective security system but -- what is even more important -- divide mutual responsibility for its formation and guarantee," Yekhanurov said.

Today’s talks included meetings of the NATO-Ukraine Commission and the NATO-Georgia Commission. The commissions include defense ministers from NATO’s 26 members, as well as their counterparts from Kyiv and Tbilisi.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, speaking before talks at the NATO-Ukraine Commission, addressed Kyiv’s bid to join NATO."We have today a timely opportunity to review Ukraine's defense and security sector reform efforts and consider ways in which the alliance can continue to support its preparations for NATO membership," de Hoop Scheffer said.

"NATO remains ready to assist Ukraine in undertaking comprehensive reforms in its defense and security structures. We are determined to continue to develop this strategic partnership," he added.

Full article is here

Afghanistan and its poppies


The Afghan opium crop: buy it or legalise it?
Jeremy Page, South Asia Correspondent
The Times, Feb 20, 2009

For Western governments exasperated by their failure to curb the Afghan drugs trade there are two tempting solutions gaining credence in some circles: buy it or legalise it.

When the US-led invasion toppled the Taleban Government eight years ago, Afghanistan's opium production was virtually zero because the clerics had largely eradicated poppy cultivation. Last year Afghanistan produced 7,700 tonnes of opium - worth about $2.9 billion (£2 billion) - accounting for 90 per cent of the world's illegal supply.

The US alone spends $1 billion a year in Afghanistan on a counter-narcotics strategy that Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to the region, calls “the single most ineffective policy in the history of American foreign policy”. Britain, for its part, spent £2.5 billion last year on military operations against a Taleban insurgency inextricably linked to the drugs trade.

So wouldn't it be cheaper and easier to purchase the entire crop? James Nathan, a former State Department official and now a professor at Auburn University in Alabama, believes so. “Purchasing the whole crop would take it away from the traffickers without cutting more than half the economy out of Afghanistan,” he wrote recently.

He estimated it would cost between $2 billion and $2.5billion a year; a fraction of the $200 billion Afghanistan has cost the US taxpayer so far. The opium would be stored in the US, and perhaps released for future medical emergencies.

A less radical proposal comes from the International Council on Security and Development (ICSD), a London-based NGO, which wants Afghanistan to produce legal opiate medicine such as codeine and morphine. The ICSD proposes granting international licences to poppy farmers, placing Afghanistan alongside Turkey, India and Australia as a legal opium producer.

However, the plan to purchase the entire crop takes into account only the price of the opium, ignoring the enormous potential cost of running the operation year after year. It also assumes the corrupt Afghan Government is capable of carrying out such an enormous logistical task.
Another risk is that taking most of the crop off the international market would drive up the price of illegal opium.

The legalisation proposal is criticised for overestimating demand for opiate medicines, and being too complex to have any short-term effect.

Experts think that Afghanistan's more than 300 000 acres of poppies could produce 100 000 of biodiesel, roughly 2,5% of current global demand. Afghanistan is very dependent on imported fuel, not least to power many thousands of local electrical generators. Shortages are frequent and power stoppages very disruptive to the economy. Village-scale biodiesel processing is available technology. Poppyseed biodiesel would be a carbon-neutral energy source, produced and processed in very many localities in Afghanistan and becoming the foundation of a major export industry, especially into the rapidly expanding European market. The business model might involve villages jointly owning the production, crushing and biodiesel processing equipment.

Poppy is an adaptable crop, able to tolerate the extremes of environment in Afghanistan and able to grow where most crops fail. Furthermore Afghan farmers have a long history of poppy cultivation and are already expert in poppy agriculture. Consequently the shift to a legal poppy crop would require little initial cultural shift, and would be motivated by potential increased profitability, the attraction of participation in a legal and supported agribusiness, and the potential to alleviate pressing local and national energy and fuel needs.
Proposal from CSIRO Plant Industry, Canberra, Australia


Soaring food prices have led to violent riots and swift setbacks in the global fight against poverty this year. But in Afghanistan, which has been hit particularly hard by the spike in wheat prices, a silver lining to the food crisis is emerging. The high price of wheat might be accomplishing something the international drug war never could: convincing Afghan farmers, who supply 90 percent of the world’s opium, to abandon poppies for growing food.

Because wheat prices have nearly tripled in the past year, the price of bread for Afghans has risen dramatically. David Mansfield, an independent researcher who has studied Afghanistan’s opium market for nearly two decades, thinks that the price increase has made wheat a far more attractive crop to many poppy farmers. In 2007, a farmer could expect returns of about $320 per acre of wheat and $640 for an acre of poppy. But by this spring, the return on an acre of wheat had risen to $840 per acre, while poppy had fallen to $400 an acre.
According to nearly 500 interviews Mansfield recently conducted with Afghan farmers, poppy yields this year have been much lower than expected, which suggests that farmers are planting more wheat in response to market pressures. “[P]eople said they were going to grow more poppy than they subsequently did,” Mansfield explains. He says that even farmers in the poppy capital of Helmand province may have torn up and replanted their fields with wheat as the price began to jump. According to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Counter Narcotics, 20 provinces are poppy free this year, seven more than in 2007, largely because farmers were switching to legal crops.

Still, the likelihood that Afghan farmers will stop growing poppies is remote. Bad roads, checkpoints, and corrupt intermediaries make it hard for many farmers to transport their wheat surpluses to market. For now, most farmers are finding that extra wheat makes it easier to feed their families or sell locally. But, interestingly, it was supply and demand—not aggressive antidrug efforts—that made the progress possible.

Foreign Policy, September/October 2008

Afghanistan: Humanitarian Crisis in Freezing Weather

by Amnesaty International
18 February 2009

Tens of thousands of Afghans displaced from their homes by escalating fighting and ongoing food shortages require immediate humanitarian assistance.

Amnesty International has called on the international community to implement a comprehensive strategy for assisting the Afghan people. The call came as US President Barack Obama announced the deployment of an additional 17,000 US troops to Afghanistan.

"The US and the international community should adopt an approach that emphasizes the rights and well-being of the Afghan people and not just focus on a military solution," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director.

Around 235,000 people are currently displaced in Afghanistan, according to estimates by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Most are displaced as a result of the fighting between government forces (and allied US and NATO troops) and armed opposition groups including the Taleban, particularly in the South, Southeast and Northwest regions of the country.

Obama Expands Missile Strikes Inside Pakistan

Members of Pakistani tribes offered funeral prayers on Feb. 15 for victims of an American missile attack in the North Waziristan region, near the Afghan border.

Published: February 20, 2009

New York Times
With two missile strikes over the past week, the Obama administration has expanded the covert war run by the Central Intelligence Agency inside Pakistan, attacking a militant network seeking to topple the Pakistani government.
The missile strikes on training camps run by Baitullah Mehsud represent a broadening of the American campaign inside Pakistan, which has been largely carried out by drone aircraft. Under President Bush, the United States frequently attacked militants from Al Qaeda and the Taliban involved in cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, but had stopped short of raids aimed at Mr. Mehsud and his followers, who have played less of a direct role in attacks on American troops.
The strikes are another sign that President Obama is continuing, and in some cases extending, Bush administration policy in using American spy agencies against terrorism suspects in Pakistan, as he had promised to do during his presidential campaign. At the same time, Mr. Obama has begun to scale back some of the Bush policies on the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects, which he has criticized as counterproductive.
Mr. Mehsud was identified early last year by both American and Pakistani officials as the man who had orchestrated the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister and the wife of Pakistan's current president, Asif Ali Zardari. Mr. Bush included Mr. Mehsud's name in a classified list of militant leaders whom the C.I.A. and American commandos were authorized to capture or kill. [...]

For months, Pakistani military and intelligence officials have complained about Washington's refusal to strike at Baitullah Mehsud, even while C.I.A. drones struck at Qaeda figures and leaders of the network run by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a militant leader believed responsible for a campaign of violence against American troops in Afghanistan.
According to one senior Pakistani official, Pakistan's intelligence service on two occasions in recent months gave the United States detailed intelligence about Mr. Mehsud's whereabouts, but said the United States had not acted on the information. Bush administration officials had charged that it was the Pakistanis who were reluctant to take on Mr. Mehsud and his network. [...]
Senior Pakistani officials are scheduled to arrive in Washington next week at a time of rising tension over a declared truce between the Pakistani government and militants in the Swat region.

While the administration has not publicly criticized the Pakistanis, several American officials said in interviews in recent days that they believe appeasing the militants would only weaken Pakistan's civilian government. Mr. Holbrooke said in the interview that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and others would make clear in private, and in detail, why they were so concerned about what was happening in Swat, the need to send more Pakistani forces to the west, and why the deteriorating situation in the tribal areas added to instability in Afghanistan and threats to American forces.
Past efforts to cut deals with the insurgents failed, and many administration officials believe that they ultimately weakened the Pakistani government. But Obama administration officials face the same intractable problems that the Bush administration did in trying to prod Pakistan toward a different course. Pakistan still deploys the overwhelming majority of its troops along the Indian border, not the border with Afghanistan, and its intelligence agencies maintain shadowy links to the Taliban even as they take American funds to fight them.
The full article is here

Pakistan Taliban agree "permanent ceasefire" in Swat

By Junaid Khan
February 21, 2009

MINGORA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Taliban fighters and Pakistani officials have agreed to a "permanent ceasefire" in the northwestern Swat valley, a senior government official said on Saturday.Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah, also known as Mullah Radio because he uses illegal FM radio to spread his message, was expected to announce the ceasefire later.
"They have made a commitment that they will observe a permanent ceasefire and we'll do the same," Syed Mohammad Javed, the Commissioner of Malakand, told reporters after meeting with elders in Swat.Around 1,200 people have been killed and between 250,000 and 500,000 people have fled the valley which lies within the Malakand division of North West Frontier Province.
Western governments, and many Pakistanis, have been alarmed by the government's offer to reinstate Islamic sharia law in Malakand if the Taliban agreed to peace.They fear that a ceasefire could result in another sanctuary in Pakistan where al Qaeda and Taliban militants could move freely, and also worry that Taliban fighters elsewhere in the region will be encouraged by the government's move.
Last Sunday, Islamist militants called a 10-day ceasefire in the valley as a "goodwill gesture" toward the peace talks.Javed said efforts were being made to persuade the Taliban to allow girls' schools to reopen. Militants had torched around 200 girls' schools in Swat in a campaign against female education. Boys' schools will reopen on Monday.The ceasefire announcement came a day after Fazlullah met his father-in-law, Maulana Sufi Mohammad, a radical cleric freed by the government to negotiate peace.
The deal was agreed in principle on Monday by the government for NWFP and Sufi Mohammad, who then carried back the proposals to Fazlullah. He is said to have forged links with other Pakistani jihadi groups and al Qaeda.Sufi Mohammad led a revolt in 1994 in an attempt to bring Islamic sharia law back to Swat, and went on to lead an army of thousands of tribesmen in a futile attempt to help Taliban and al Qaeda fighters hold off U.S.-led forces in 2001.
He was arrested after his return to Pakistan and spent six years in jail before the government released him last year.Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan told Reuters that Fazlullah would make an announcement on the radio shortly."I can't say what he would say but there would be good news for people of Swat," Khan said.Richard Holbrooke, special U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, expressed unease over developments in Swat on Thursday and said he had been told by President Asif Ali Zardari that the pact being negotiated with the Islamists was an "interim arrangement" to stabilize the Swat region.
Zardari will not sign off on the re-introduction of Islamic law in Malakand unless peace is assured, according to officials.Holbrooke visited Pakistan last week on his first tour of the region since being appointed by U.S. President Barack Obama.Pakistani officials said U.S. officials had urged Pakistan to exert more force in Swat, rather than negotiate.
But the army is fighting Taliban insurgencies elsewhere in the northwest, notably the tribal regions of Bajaur and Mohmand, and wants to be supplied with counter-insurgency equipment.Former Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, who survived at least two assassination attempts by Pakistani Taliban suicide bombers in late 2007, said any agreement would be fragile."For the time being, Fazlullah might bow to what his father-in-law and teacher says, but later he could sabotage everything by making any excuse," Sherpao said.
(Additional reporting by Kamran Haider; Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; editing by Robert Woodward)

India sidesteps US invite for trilateral meet on Afghanistan-Pak

21 Feb 2009, Indrani Bagchi
The Times of India

NEW DELHI: India has sidestepped a US invitation for a ringside seat at a trilateral US-Pakistan-Afghanistan conference scheduled for next week in Washington. This will be Richard Holbrooke's first exercise in the US' attempt to stabilize the Af-Pak region. The conference is part of a more comprehensive strategic review of US policy for the region.
While it has a strong military component, the exercise could also explore the possibility of an eventual deal with some version of the Taliban. The meeting will see high level delegations from Pakistan and Afghanistan led by the two foreign ministers who will participate in the conference.
India will be kept in the loop by the US and Afghanistan, but during Holbrooke's visit, India also made its interests in Afghanistan and its stability very clear. India will officially keep its position of an "interested bystander" watching the unfolding events in this theatre.India sought and received an assurance from the US that its decisions and policies in this region would not make India a "target". In other words, India doesn't want to be unpleasantly surprised by a set of events that adversely affects Indian interests in Afghanistan.
The US right now is furious with Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai for consistently hitting out at America but is equally wary of the Pakistan government particularly after the ill-advised "peace deal" with the Taliban in Swat Valley.It's no secret the Obama administration wants Karzai to go. Therefore, the coming elections in Afghanistan, originally scheduled for May but which may now be delayed until August, will be crucial to whether Karzai can manage to hold on. The Obama inauguration saw four invitees from Afghanistan who might be alternative candidates backed by the US - former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, former interior minister Ali Ahmed Jalali and governor of Nangarhar Gul Agha Shirzai. It is widely believed that one of these four men would be supported by the US in the coming elections.
India will not get into domestic Afghan politics but will resist attempts to rope in the Taliban into the governing structure, because that would be tantamount to giving the Pak army carte blanche in exercising its policy.Ultimately, any attempt at stabilization in the region would necessitate working hard on the Pakistani system, which is where Holbrooke will find his greatest challenge.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Taliban bombs made with British electronics: report

By Con Coughlin in Helmand
21 Feb 2009
Daily Telegraph

The devices, which enable Taliban fighters to detonate roadside bombs by remote control, are either sent to sympathizers in the region, or carried by volunteers who fly to Pakistan and then make their way across the border.

Details of how British electronic components have been found in roadside bombs were given to David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, when he visited British troops at their military compound at Lashkagar, in Helmand province, earlier this week.

In a briefing on British operations in southern Afghanistan by Brigadier Gordon Messenger, the Royal Marine commander of the British battlegroup, Mr Miliband was shown examples of the crude, home-made devices that are being used in attacks against British patrols. They included mobile phones filled with explosives, which could kill or seriously injure British soldiers patrolling on foot, and more sophisticated devices that can be used against military vehicles.

Explosives experts who have examined the devices say they have found British-made electronic components that enable Taliban insurgents to detonate their home-made, road-side bombs by remote control. The electronic devices smuggled into Afghanistan from Britain range from basic remote control units that are normally used to fly model airplanes to more advanced components that enable insurgents to conduct attacks from up to a mile away from British patrols.

"We have found electronic components in devices used to target British troops that originally come from Britain," a British explosives officer told Mr Miliband during a detailed briefing on the type of improvised explosive device (IED) used against British forces. When asked how the components had reached Afghanistan, the officer explained that they had either been sent from Britain, or physically brought to Afghanistan by British Muslims who had flown over.

The disclosure is the latest in a string of suggestions from British commanders about the connections between British Muslims and violence in Afghanistan. In August, Brigadier Ed Butler, the former commander of UK forces in Afghanistan, told the Telegraph that there are "British passport holders" in the Taliban ranks. Other officers believe their soldiers have killed British Muslims fighting alongside the Taliban. And last year, it was revealed that RAF Nimrod surveillance planes monitoring Taliban radio signals in Afghanistan had heard militants speaking with Yorkshire and Midlands accents

British commanders have recorded a significant rise in the use of IEDs during the past two years, partly the result of the success British forces have recorded in defeating the Taliban in conventional attacks.

The full report is here

NATO allies reluctant to increase Afghan presence

February 20, 2009
International Herald Tribune

KRAKOW, Poland: NATO defense ministers concluded two days of talks here Friday with indications that few allies were willing to offer significant numbers of additional combat troops for Afghanistan but that they might seek to compensate by deploying more civilians to train local security forces and build the country's economy.

The announcement this week that the Obama administration would send 17,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan by the summer was met with formal offers from allies numbering only in the hundreds of fresh troops of their own.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking at the conclusion of the session, emphasized the importance of having sufficient troops on the ground to guarantee that national elections in Afghanistan, now scheduled for August, are safe and credible. He went out of his way to compliment a handful of countries that, like the United States, had contributed both troops and civilian development teams. But in a tacit acknowledgement that other countries would be unwilling or unable to send more combat forces, Gates appealed for allies to send civilians to carry out important, noncombat development tasks.

"We are making a substantial addition to the military side," Gates said. "And if other countries are unable to strengthen their military commitment - but they are willing and able to make a contribution on the stability side, on the development and governance - those contributions would be very welcome."

The full article is here

Friday, February 20, 2009

Iran has more enriched uranium than thought

February 20, 2009


In their first appraisal of Iran's nuclear program since President Barack Obama took office, atomic inspectors have found that Iran recently understated by a third how much uranium it has enriched, United Nations officials said Thursday.

The officials also declared for the first time that the amount of uranium that Tehran had now amassed — more than a ton — was sufficient, with added purification, to make an atom bomb.

In a report issued in Vienna, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it had discovered an additional 460 pounds of low-enriched uranium, a third more than Iran had previously disclosed. The agency made the find during its annual physical inventory of nuclear materials at Iran's sprawling desert enrichment plant at Natanz.

Independent nuclear weapons experts expressed surprise at the disclosure and criticized the atomic inspectors for making independent checks on Iran's progress only once a year.

"It's worse than we thought," Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, said in an interview. "It's alarming that the actual production was underreported by a third."

The political impact of the report, while hard to measure, could be significant for the Obama administration. Obama has said that he wants to open direct talks with Iran about its nuclear program. But starting that process could take months, and the report suggests that Iran is moving ahead briskly with its uranium enrichment.

"You have enough atoms" to make a nuclear bomb, a senior United Nations official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the topic's diplomatic sensitivity, told reporters on Thursday. His remarks confirmed estimates that private nuclear analysts made late last year. But the official noted that the material would have to undergo further enrichment if it was to be used as fuel for a bomb and that atomic inspectors had found no signs that Iran was making such preparations.

Full article is here

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Moscow's New Grouping 'No Counterweight to NATO,' Russian Analyst Says

Paul Goble
Window on Eurasia

Vienna, February 10 – The agreement between Moscow and what some call the "inner CIS" to create a joint military force does not constitute "the counterweight to NATO" that its backers in Moscow claim and that some commentators in the West fear, according to a leading Russian specialist.

Instead, Sergey Markedonov says in an analysis posted online today, the agreement at last week's summit of the Organization of the Treaty on Collective Security represents at best a first step toward greater military cooperation among these countries and at worst "the imitation of a counterweight" which should deceive no one (

The accord, which calls for the creation of a joint 15,000-man rapid reaction force to be used to resist aggression or support peacekeeping operations, attracted widespread attention especially after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev publicly declared that this force "should be by its military potential no worse than the forces of the North Atlantic alliance."

Anyone drawing sweeping conclusions from the agreement or that remark, Markedonov says, does not understand the limited amount of agreement among the Organization's members, the reluctance of its members other than Russia to make a major contribution to this force, and the unwillingness of the signatories – including Russia – to alienate the West.

For an alliance to work, the Moscow analyst points out, there has to be a relatively high level of agreement about basic goals. But the seven members of the inner CIS – Russia plus Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – do not agree on many things, including those Moscow is most concerned about.

To give but one example, Markedonov says, the Russian government at the group's September 2008 meeting was not successful in getting any one of these states to agree to follow its lead in recognizing the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And while "much has changed" since then, that has not.

Consequently, there is little likelihood that the members of this grouping of states would agree to the use of this force, when and if it is created, beyond the borders of the former Soviet space or, what is almost more certain, within these borders, given the very different foreign policy interests of these states.

Indeed, Markedonov argues, if one considers where conflicts on the territory of the CIS are most likely to break out, such as the southern Caucasus or Central Asia, "not one state of the CIS which is a signatory of the Collective Security Treat would undertake an operation together with the Russian Federation."

Moreover, he continues, if one examines the specific plans that Moscow has announced for the force itself, plans that make it clear that any discussion about this combination as "the birth of a real alternative to NATO (or even the entire Western world) are premature," the Moscow specialist continues.

While the announcement says that the countries forming this new force will conduct joint exercise, something that could prove "extraordinarily important" as an integrative factor, it does not say where the force will be based, exactly how it will be staffed and commanded, and who other than Moscow will pay.

So far as one can tell, Markedonov says, Russia will contribute most or even all of the soldiers and most or even all of the money "Tashkent," he notes, "declared that military personnel from Uzbekistan will not be part of [the new force] on a continuing basis, and Belarus said that its military will be used only on its territory."

And the last but far from the least important reason to conclude that this new initiative will constitute "a counterweight" to NATO, Markedonov argues, is that none of the countries involved – including Russia – is currently interested in or ready for a "harsh" competition with the West.

"All the states of the CIS, including Belarus and Armenia," the two generally considered the closest to Russia, "have their own interests in the West and their own expectations from the European Union and the United States." And Russia, especially at this time of economic crisis, also is not interested in actual, as opposed to "imitative" struggle with the West.

Russian history provides many examples of such Potemkin villages. But these cases suggest that they are useful only if those against whom they are employed do not recognize them for what they are and at the same time only if those who build them remain aware of precisely that.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ankara Carefully Monitors French Plans to Rejoin NATO's Military Command

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 26
February 9, 2009
Category: Eurasia Daily Monitor, Turkey, Military/Security
By: Saban Kardas

Recent discussions on France's return to NATO's military structures have highlighted the intricate links between Turkish-French relations on the one hand and their implications for Turkey's relationships with NATO and the European Union, on the other. Turkey is a full member of NATO and is negotiating accession terms for EU membership. Turkey's EU membership process has been stalled recently, and Ankara puts a large portion of the blame on obstacles created by EU-members France and Greek Cyprus. In particular, Ankara is irked by the French and Cypriot objections to the EU's efforts to open new negotiation chapters with Turkey (EDM, January 20).

Turkey's problematic relations with the EU may have negative repercussions for NATO-EU security cooperation. Paris has been pushing for strengthening the EU's military capabilities without undermining NATO's role in European security. For France, a greater European role in security and defense affairs would complement NATO's collective security responsibilities. Despite the EU's progress toward acquiring autonomous military capabilities, however, it still depends on NATO assets to carry out military missions.

Turkey supports greater European autonomy in principle, but Ankara is troubled by its exclusion from the decision-making mechanisms of the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP), the EU's security arm. Being the largest non-EU contributor to the ESDP, Turkey demands greater participation of non-EU NATO allies in the European defense initiatives. Ankara supports NATO's primacy in managing European security and objects to the development of EU-only capabilities that might undermine NATO.

In an effort to retaliate for the Greek Cypriots' objections to Turkish-EU cooperation, Turkey uses its position in NATO to prevent Greek Cypriot participation in EU operations utilizing NATO assets. Ankara maintains that since Cyprus does not have a security agreement with the alliance, it cannot have access to sensitive information. Sources argue that this situation "makes it difficult to work out detailed tactical arrangements between NATO and the EU. It is a potential burden on operation settings" (Hurriyet Daily News, February 2). [...]
Before departing for the Munich Conference, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan told reporters that Turkey was still evaluating a French return to NATO. Babacan noted that Turkey would await clarification of whether a unanimous vote was necessary. Describing the situation of France as a unique case, Babacan added "the matter is more political than legal... The key concern here is for NATO to continue operating as a strong international organization. But, we will see how the French decision will be implemented... Here, the modalities of French participation are important, and we expect the French to present their modalities in the coming days" (ANKA, February 6).

Though maintaining Turkey's policy of ambiguity, Babacan avoided confrontational language. He gave indications that Turkey would prioritize alliance interests and go along with its NATO allies.
Nonetheless, even if a unanimous decision might not be required, political bargaining would be needed for the distribution of command posts. Given the high premium NATO attaches to political consensus among its members, France and the United States will have to work hard to bring Turkey on board.
The full article is here

Poland to end 3 military missions to save money

February 4, 2009

Poland plans to end its military missions in Lebanon, the Golan Heights and Chad as it cuts spending due to the global economic crisis, the defense minister said Wednesday.

Other Polish deployments, such as those in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Bosnia, are unaffected by the decision.

Poland is trying to cut its defense spending this year by about 2 billion zlotys ($56 million) as its economy, the largest among the European Union's new ex-communist members, shows signs of a significant slowdown.

Poland has about 500 troops in a U.N. force in Lebanon, 360 troops on U.N. duty on the Golan Heights — a territory captured by Israel from Syria in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war — and about 400 in Chad on a European Union mission that is to become a U.N. mission in March.

"These three missions will be scrapped," Defense Minister Bogdan Klich said. "Due to spending cuts but also because ... U.N. missions are lower down among our security policy priorities."

Klich did not say when the deployments would end. The government's plan needs approval from parliament and from President Lech Kaczynski, who is the supreme commander of the armed forces.

The planned defense savings are part of wider government efforts to cut spending by some 19.7 billion zlotys this year.

Photo of the Week # 5/2009

Reuters, February 7, 2009

This Munich Security Conference will likely be remembered as the moment the US tried to press the reset button not just on its relations with Russia but with its traditional allies in Europe.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, an annual gathering of leaders and defence experts, Biden said the new US administration of President Barack Obama was determined to "set a new tone" in Washington and with its allies.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

France aims to take its full place in NATO

By Judy Dempsey
Sunday, February 8, 2009

MUNICH: President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and top NATO officials will begin a diplomatic effort this month to persuade lawmakers in Paris to accept Sarkozy's plans to return France to full membership in NATO military command structures in time for the alliance's summit meeting in April.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the NATO secretary general, will address the foreign affairs and defense committee of the National Assembly on Thursday, and Sarkozy is due to give a major speech on NATO to legislators on Feb. 20.

In Washington and Brussels, the United States is finalizing details over which command posts France will be offered when and if Sarkozy wins parliamentary approval for a policy shift that has prompted unexpected political opposition.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Sarkozy was uncharacteristically cautious about announcing when and how France would join.

"My conviction is that France should improve its links with NATO, by being an independent ally, a free partner of the United States," Sarkozy told the 350 delegates. "The alliance with the United States and the alliance with Europe do not call the independence of my country into question, it strengthens its independence. This is something I am going to explain to the French people."

Sarkozy has made better U.S. relations one of the cornerstones of his foreign policy since he was elected nearly two years ago.

That includes rejoining the NATO command structures that former President Charles de Gaulle withdrew from in 1966.

De Gaulle also expelled NATO headquarters from Paris and nearby Fontainebleau to protest what he saw as U.S. dominance in Europe.

At the Munich conference, Sarkozy was joined by Joseph Biden Jr., the first American vice president to come to this annual event for world leaders, defense and security experts.

Biden said that President Barack Obama "underscored his strong support for France's full participation in NATO, should France wish it."

"We would expect France's new responsibilities to reflect the significance of its contributions throughout NATO's history and strengthen the European role within the alliance," Biden said.

Rejoining the command structure would give France considerable power to influence the strategic doctrine that NATO is set to consider after the April summit meeting. Paris, too, could increase European influence inside the 26-member organization, which includes Canada.

Scheffer said it would be extremely important "for France to take its full place in NATO."

"I would like to see France getting a place in the command structure which respects and is in accordance with France's position in NATO's operations and missions, which is very strong," Scheffer said in an interview. "France would be adequately represented in the command structure."

But Sarkozy has yet to convince public opinion and French lawmakers, who want to know what France will get out of returning to NATO and what the move means for the future of security and defense in France and Europe.

France has long supported a European Union that would play a greater military and security role and act independently of NATO. But Sarkozy has made the improvement of European defense capabilities a precondition for joining NATO command structures.

Such aims, however, have been hampered by countries reluctant to spend more on military capabilities and pool resources so as to avoid duplication.

France has already been playing an increasingly important role inside NATO.

It rejoined the military committee several years ago. French generals have commanded NATO missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan. The country also sent two generals to the Allied Command Transformation headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, which is in charge of revamping NATO to address new security issues.

The full article is here.

Who can unite the allies?

Jan 22nd 2009
From The Economist print edition

THE world’s most successful military alliance is looking for a new boss. On January 26th, NATO ambassadors will start talking about who should replace Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as secretary-general when he steps down this summer. The decision could be made at the 60th-anniversary summit in April, though that may be too soon for America’s new administration.

Poland’s foreign (and ex-defence) minister, Radek Sikorski, is an early front-runner. An Oxford-educated refugee from communism, he would symbolise the continent’s unification, say his supporters. He runs Poland’s newly emollient foreign policy fairly convincingly and knows Afghanistan from cold-war days. But west European countries with good ties to Russia, particularly Germany, worry that his appointment would irritate the Kremlin.

Another eastern possibility is Solomon Passy, the Trabant-driving former foreign minister of Bulgaria. He has already headed the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a broad security forum that includes Russia. That could make him more acceptable to the Kremlin. But he may be too obscure: many allies want a secretary-general with political clout, “somebody whose phone calls will be answered when he calls European leaders”, as a NATO insider puts it.

Clout is Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s strong suit. As Danish prime minister since 2001, he sent his country’s troops to serve alongside American ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Mr Fogh Rasmussen is thought to be more interested in becoming the EU’s first permanent president, if that position ever materialises. Radical Islamists’ ire over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in Danish newspapers might be another problem: a Danish connection might not help NATO to pacify the Taliban.

Two Canadian possibilities are Peter MacKay and John Manley, defence and former foreign ministers respectively. Canada has transformed its armed forces and fought hard in Afghanistan. But NATO may prefer somebody from an EU country to help overcome the friction between the two bodies. If so, that would rule out another possible European, Norway’s foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Store.

One contender is Britain’s soft-spoken former defence secretary, Des Browne. But Britain is detested by jihadists even more than Denmark. Mr Browne lost his cabinet seat last year, and a Briton, George Robertson, was secretary-general as recently as 2003. A French candidate might seal that country’s re-entry into NATO’s military structure, which will be confirmed at the April summit. But many allies will want to wait to see more evidence that France has really given up being the leader of NATO’s awkward squad.

That role is passing to Germany, which places big restrictions on what its forces can do in Afghanistan, and has ties with Russia that irk former Soviet satellites. Some NATO insiders think the best way to stop Berlin from becoming the new Paris might be to appoint a senior German with solid pro-American credentials to NATO’s top job—in effect, not Germany’s man at NATO, but NATO’s man for Germany.

NATO chief admits failure in drawing EU closer

by Valentina Pop
January 27, 2009

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – Outgoing NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has said he regrets not having been able to bring the military alliance and the EU closer together.
"I'm sad that at the end of my mandate as secretary general I have not been able to bring this relationship more forward than on a pragmatic basis. I hope that after the end of July my successor, NATO and the EU will have a fresh look and see how we can bring the parties together," Mr Scheffer said on Monday (26 January).
In his first public appearance since the Obama administration took office in Washington last week, Mr Scheffer gave a speech and answered questions at Security and Defence Agenda, a Brussels-based think-tank.

He mentioned Kosovo, where NATO and the EU work "side by side", but also highlighted "political reasons" for the difficult transatlantic relationship, as most European countries are part of both organisations.

The double membership means there are limited resources for sending troops to different EU and NATO missions. [...]
Mr Scheffer said Europeans should not expect President Barack Obama to wave a "magic wand" over the world's problems and underlined that Washington needed Europe to step up its burden sharing, especially in NATO's main theatre of operation – Afghanistan.

"If Europeans expect that the United States will close Guantanamo, sign up to climate change treaties, accept EU leadership on key issues, but provide nothing more than encouragement, for example in Afghanistan – then they should think again," the NATO secretary-general warned.
For the first time, Mr Scheffer mentioned Iran as part of a regional solution to Afghanistan's problems, echoing the change in Washington, where Mr Obama has pledged to involve his country in direct diplomacy with Tehran if certain conditions are met.
The full article is here

Hezbollah plots bloody vengeance

Nicholas Blanford in Beirut
January 17, 2009
The Times

Israel’s bloody offensive in Gaza may be drawing to a close but there were growing fears last night that a new conflict may be looming with Hamas’s ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah.

Nearly a year after suspected Israeli agents assassinated Imad Mughniyeh, the group’s military commander, sources on both sides of the Israeli-Lebanese border predict renewed conflict. The Shia militant fighter, credited with transforming his troops into one of the world’s most effective irregular armies, passed on to Hamas in Gaza some of the tactics that enabled Hezbollah to battle the Israeli army to a standstill in south Lebanon in 2006.

Hezbollah has vowed to avenge Mughniyeh’s death in a car bomb blast in Damascus on February 13 and, with the first anniversary coming up, Israel fears an imminent attack.

The Israelis have reason to be concerned. Speaking two weeks ago, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, said: “The Zionists will discover that the war they had in July \ was a walk in the park if we compare it to what we’ve prepared for every new aggression.”

The Times has learnt that at least one attack was foiled in Azerbaijan weeks after Mughniyeh’s assassination when Azeri Intelligence discovered a plot to blow up the Israeli Embassy there. Recently, intelligence sources say, Egypt broke up an alleged Hezbollah cell in the Sinai headed by a Lebanese citizen, Sami Shehab, which included Palestinians and was planning to attack Israeli targets.

There are concerns that Hezbollah, operating through its external security organisation, is planning further attacks on Israeli or Jewish targets outside Israel. Hezbollah’s ‘1800 Unit’ is said to be working on possible attacks inside Israel. [...]
Ibrahim al-Amine, of Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper and a confidant of Sheikh Nasrallah, wrote last week that up until his death Mughniyeh was obsessed with the idea of passing on Hezbollah’s military secrets to Hamas.

Dozens of Palestinian fighters travelled to Lebanon, Syria and Iran for training, he wrote. Mughniyeh taught Hamas that communications was a strategic weapon. Hezbollah has installed a complex internal communications system, including a fibre-optic landline network, linking its military bases and command centres.

The military assistance to Hamas apparently continued after Mughniyeh’s assassination. A European intelligence source told The Times that two Iranian teams, including communications and rocket specialists, were working with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza last summer.

Hamas reportedly has constructed a network of war bunkers in Gaza similar to those built by Hezbollah in south Lebanon before the 2006 war.

Hezbollah has built new lines of defence farther north, extending to its heartland in the northern Bekaa Valley. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of volunteers have been recruited.

Israeli officials say that Hezbollah has tripled the number of rockets in its arsenal since 2006. Hezbollah fighters have hinted that in the next war Shia militants could launch commando raids inside Israel.
The full article is here

China: New defense posture

By Adam Wolfe in New York for ISN Security Watch
February 2, 2009

On the day that Barack Obama was sworn in as US president, China's defense department issued a white paper on the current status and plans of the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) - an English-language report aimed primarily at an international audience concerned about China's growing military presence.

It is the sixth such white paper since 1998, and the sixth demonstration that the country's attempts at transparency can be maddeningly unclear to western observers.

The paper reflects China's growing confidence in its increasingly important role on the world stage, while at the same time downplaying issues that have strained ties with the international community.

As with previous reports, China's National Defense in 2008 is short on specifics about equipment and technology. Also, the US intelligence community remains convinced that China has understated its military budget by about 50 percent and is deliberately hiding its intentions. What is notable about the new paper is that it directly addresses the budget.

In one of its longest sections, the paper states that China's military budget has grown by about 20 percent annually in recent years for three reasons: rising salaries and benefits for servicemen; compensation for the rise in food and fuel prices; and modernizing the PLA's equipment. The paper further argues that as a percentage of GDP, China's defense spending remains much lower than that of the US, the UK, France, Germany or Japan. Even if the CIA's higher estimates of China's defense budget were accepted, this would remain true. [...]
Strengthening US ties

While the old concerns remain for both sides (Beijing's lack of budgetary transparency, Washington's weapon sales to Taiwan), the overall trend is toward closer ties between the Pentagon and the PLA.

The US-China relations probably hit their lowest point since the establishment of diplomatic relations early in the Bush administration when a Chinese F-8 fighter and a US Navy EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft collided near Hainan, China in April 2001. At the time, the Pentagon had put military-to-military communications on hold pending a review. After the incident was resolved, both sides began to take steps to ensure that a dialogue would remain open between their militaries, even if both continued to see each other as potential competitors.

Chinese and US forces staged their first joint search-and-rescue maneuvers in the Pacific and South China Sea in 2006, and Washington downplayed an unexpected surfacing of a Chinese submarine near a US aircraft carrier later that year. There were some hiccups along the road - such as Beijing's refusal to grant a US aircraft carrier a port call in November 2007 - but the both sides continued to pursue a deeper dialogue.

In April 2008, a military-to-military hotline was established to prevent any misunderstandings as Beijing begins to project its power beyond its littoral waters. Obama's decision to retain Defense Secretary Robert Gates seems to indicate that the trend will continue, though there are likely to be further problems along the way.

The new white paper also highlights some of the steps that the PLA has taken to improve its transparency on the international stage - one of the main sticking points for the Pentagon.
The full article is here

Obama preserves renditions as counter-terrorism tool

The role of the CIA's controversial prisoner-transfer program may expand, intelligence experts say.

By Greg Miller February 1, 2009
Los Angeles Times, U.S.

Reporting from Washington -- The CIA's secret prisons are being shuttered. Harsh interrogation techniques are off-limits. And Guantanamo Bay will eventually go back to being a wind-swept naval base on the southeastern corner of Cuba.But even while dismantling these programs, President Obama left intact an equally controversial counter-terrorism tool.
Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States.Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that the rendition program might be poised to play an expanded role going forward because it was the main remaining mechanism -- aside from Predator missile strikes -- for taking suspected terrorists off the street.
The rendition program became a source of embarrassment for the CIA, and a target of international scorn, as details emerged in recent years of botched captures, mistaken identities and allegations that prisoners were turned over to countries where they were tortured.The European Parliament condemned renditions as "an illegal instrument used by the United States." Prisoners swept up in the program have sued the CIA as well as a Boeing Co. subsidiary accused of working with the agency on dozens of rendition flights.But the Obama administration appears to have determined that the rendition program was one component of the Bush administration's war on terrorism that it could not afford to discard.
The full article is here

Germany to send troops to France as army ties deepen

By Sophie Hardach
February 2, 2009

PARIS (Reuters) - German troops will be stationed in France for the first time since World War Two when German forces occupied much of the country, a source said on Monday, a sign of ever closer military ties between the two historic foes.

A battalion of some 450-800 soldiers will probably be stationed near the northeastern city of Strasbourg, but France and Germany are still negotiating over the precise location, the diplomatic source told Reuters. "The question of whether this will happen has basically been decided, it's now about the 'how' and 'how many' and 'where'," the source said.

Relations between Germany and France used to be bitterly hostile as a result of the 1870 Franco-German conflict and two world wars, but the former enemies now run a bi-national brigade and have shaped the core of Europe's joint defence strategy."The prospect of seeing German troops settle in France again regularly makes my grandfather splutter," wrote a French reader on the website of newspaper Liberation when the idea was first floated by President Nicolas Sarkozy last November.For the online commentator it was something to welcome: "What an extraordinary symbol of Franco-German reconciliation" read the post.

Sarkozy proposed the move amid negotiations over the future of the 5,000-strong French-German brigade, which has been on missions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan since it was founded 20 years ago. The brigade's main units are currently stationed in the German towns of Donaueschingen, Muellheim and Immendingen. But their future looked uncertain after France said it would recall some of the troops to plug gaps left by military cutbacks and a strategic re-shuffle of regiments at home.

"Now we have to agree on a location and what kind of unit will be offered. Talks are taking place at the highest level," the source said. The troops are likely to settle in Alsace or Lorraine, regions that were alternately claimed by Germany and France for centuries and now form part of France. Germany favours the Alsatian towns of Colmar and Illkirch as a new home for its battalion, while France would prefer the towns of Metz or Bitche in Lorraine, but may be willing to settle on Illkirch, the source said.

France preparing return to NATO

by Elitsa Bucheva,
EUobserver, 05.02.2009.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his advisers are in the final phase of preparing France's return to NATO's military structures, after Paris obtained US-backing for two senior command positions.

US national security adviser James Jones has agreed in principle with Jean-David Levitte, a diplomatic adviser to President Sarkozy, that French officers could take over the reins of the Allied Command Transformation unit based in Norfolk, Virginia (US), according to a report in French daily Le Monde's Thursday edition (5 February).
The Norfolk unit is in charge of overseeing transformations within the alliance such as its doctrine, organisation and the use of forces.

The second senior post given to the French would be a regional NATO command based in Lisbon – the headquarters of the Rapid Reaction Force and of a centre for satellite-photo analysis.

"All we can say today is that these are the two posts the United States is ready to give up and that France is ready to take them over," a NATO military officer told French news agency AFP, confirming Le Monde's report.

However, France has as yet no guarantees that it would be given the command of the structures, stressed the officer, who was speaking on condition of anonymity.

"France is not necessarily the only one in line and the discussions about the revision of staff at the headquarters are not over," he said, explaining that NATO allies could make an initial decision on the issue in around two weeks.
The full article is here

Sikorski: Nato has 'no will' to admit Georgia or Ukraine

Nato is suffering from 'enlargement fatigue' and has no will to admit Georgia or Ukraine, according to Poland's foreign minister Radek Sikorski.

By David Blair, Diplomatic Editor
January 25, 2009

Mr Sikorski, who is a leading contender to become Nato's secretary-general when the Alliance selects a new chief in April, told The Daily Telegraph that membership for both countries was a "fairly distant prospect". But he denied that Russia, which attaches great importance to thwarting Nato's enlargement, had achieved a victory.

Ukraine and Georgia were both promised Nato membership at a summit in Bucharest last April. But no timetable was offered and, four months later, Russia raised the stakes by invading Georgia. Mr Sikorski said that Nato should "maintain the Bucharest consensus" and the "credible promise of membership". Asked whether the will to admit Ukraine and Georgia existed, however, he replied: "Not at the moment. At the moment, there's a will to encourage them to reform themselves. But I believe all of our institutions, both the EU and Nato, suffer from enlargement fatigue." He added: "It's always harder to enlarge in a recession."

Yet the onset of "enlargement fatigue" did not amount to a victory for Russia. "I don't have the feeling that Russia has increased its credibility in the last six months," he said. "The Soviet Union never cut off gas supplies to Western Europe. Soviet strategists had a wonderful expression called 'correlation of forces' which meant all the factors - material and immaterial - affecting any situation. I don't believe that either through the Georgia crisis or the gas dispute Russia has improved the correlation of forces to its advantage."

Mr Sikorski, 45, escaped from Communist Poland and was given asylum in Britain in 1982. While studying at Pembroke College, Oxford, he was a member of the Bullingdon drinking club along with David Cameron and Boris Johnson. Mr Sikorski took British citizenship - and diplomats say that he kept his British passport until he was made Poland's foreign minister in 2007.

During the 1980s, he was a foreign correspondent, covering the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan for The Sunday Telegraph. His firsthand experience of war in Afghanistan gives him a unique qualification for taking the helm of Nato, which now deploys 55,000 troops in the country.
The Alliance's 26 members will probably choose a new secretary-general at their 60th anniversary summit in April. When Nato Ambassadors meet on Monday, they will begin considering possible candidates, who include Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish prime minister.

As for whether he might be Nato's next secretary-general, Mr Sikorski replied: "I believe that Nato needs continued leadership from the front. We have a war in Afghanistan that we mustn't lose. Nato is the most successful alliance in history and that needs nurturing. I believe that the appointment should be made on merit.

"I'm flattered by such suggestions because they imply that Poland is now a regular member and that indeed we've made worthwhile contributions to Nato and that therefore we deserve to be seriously considered for the top job."

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Corporal Glukhov's deserts to Georgia: the propaganda war begins

By Varvara Pakhomenko
February 4, 2009
The latest round in the conflict between Georgia and Russia/South Ossetia in August 2008 is the propaganda war being fought over Corporal Glukhov, who deserted to Georgia. Neglected, underfed and bullied, the soldiers of Russia's army do not feel like victors, reports Varvara Pakhomenko.
Nothing out of the ordinary - a soldier deserts his military unit. For anyone who has any idea what our army is like, there is nothing surprising about this. According to official data, around 2,000 soldiers in Russia leave their military units every year. Human rights advocates say that the real figure is at least double that. Statistics show that most soldiers flee the army because of bullying. Only less than a year ago, the Supreme Court vindicated soldiers who deserted for just this reason. Until now the punishment for leaving a military unit, whatever the reason, was quite strict: up to 10 years' imprisonment.

So there would be nothing unusual about the desertion of 21-year-old national service corporal, Alexander Glukhov from the small Udmurt town of Sarapul... if he had not turned up in a neighbouring country and appealed to the president on central television to grant him asylum. Russian soldier Glukhov fled from Georgia to Georgia, or from South Ossetia to Georgia - the interpretation depends on one's political views. So does the name of the disputed area where his division is deployed - Akhalhori or Leningori (the Georgian and Ossetian versions of the name respectively).

While the politicians cross swords, Russian soldiers and Ossetian armed formations remain in the strategically important area that was occupied after the events of August and local residents continue to leave it.

For several months human rights advocates have been raising the alarm over the catastrophic situation which has developed in this region: the vast majority of the population, which until August last year consisted of ethnic Georgians, is running away. The main danger is not the bands of armed Ossetian looters, who are still roaming the region. A much greater danger comes from the impending mandatory issue of Ossetian passports, currently being talked about by the Tskhinvali authorities. There are also concerns that entry to Georgia - which has now been significantly complicated - will be closed completely by the new Ossetian authorities.
Full article is here