Tuesday, March 31, 2009

NATO in 2020: what lies ahead

NATO 60th Anniversary Summit is fastly approaching.

YATA will participate to the International Youth Conference "NATO in 2020: what lies ahead" with a delegation of 70 students and young professionals. The Conference will start Thursday morning and will be partly broadcasted on NATO TV Channel.

YATA blog will be updated live on all the features and activities of the conference.

Monday, March 30, 2009

NATO in the 21st Century

(article by Samuel de Paiva Pires, orginally published in portuguese in the Journal of the International Relations Student's Union (School of Social and Political Sciences of Lisbon Technical University), and also on the blog of the Portuguese ATA/YATA)

As we approach the beginning of April, efforts are intensified by the diplomatic representatives of the several member states of NATO. At the Strasbourg/Kehl Summit it will be celebrated the Alliance’s 60th anniversary. This Summit’s agenda is filled with several issues that require a strategic reflection in order to project the Atlantic Alliance as an ever important actor in the international relations system.

As F. Stephen Larrabee, from Rand Corporation, said in an interview to the Council on Foreign Relations, the most critical issue on the agenda is, undoubtedly, Afghanistan. It is crucial to find solutions to stabilize the country, in an operation that is directly related with NATO’s reputation. As far as one can tell, Barack Obama’s Administration is already aware of the need to act according to a strategic calculation that weights the diverse variables, something that implies a regional approach trough the approximation and consensus building with countries like India, Pakistan, China, Russia, and probably even Iran.

Joe Biden, U.S. Vice-president, in a meeting at the North Atlantic Council on March 10th, discussed with the allies the current situation in Afghanistan. In that meeting of preparation for the Summit, particular emphasis was given to the regional approach, the support to local afghan communities, as well as the need for a greater civilian effort and support to state building. 

Another issue that marks NATO’s agenda is the reentry of France in the military command. Over 40 years after General De Gaulle’s decision, the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, reaffirmed in the past March 11th, the intention to approach and reintegrate French forces in the military command of the organization, a decision to be officialized by the French Parliament. This is an attitude that can only please all members of the Alliance that now sees its military capability reinforced, especially in what concerns the relative importance of European forces in the organization.

On the other side, one of the main issues that NATO faces today is the relation with Russia. This is also connected with the broader dimension of the enlargement, especially in what concerns Georgia and Ukraine. In the 90’s, after the Berlin Wall fell, with the collapse of the communist system and the apparent Russian tendency of opening to the western liberalism, several countries from Central and Eastern Europe became members of the Alliance. This was made possible with Russia’s agreement, also because Moscow had no alternative. Nowadays, Russia’s attitude is in a diametrically opposed point.   

Just like Robert Kagan alerts in The Return of History and the End of Dreams, Hegel’s utopist dream and, more recently, Francis Fukuyama’s, on the so called End of History, concept related with the alleged natural expansion of liberal democracy to the rest of states, seems to be giving its place to the emergence of autocracies in opposition to democracies. Those autocracies have a strong sense of national pride. That is the case of Russia that with Vladimir Putin recovered the logic of a great power, acting in a determinant way in the pos-soviet space, thus setting itself apart of the image created in the 90’s.

Russia faces NATO and the West as strange forces, not wanting them to interfere in its traditional sphere of geopolitical influence. Two symbolic cases of this are the anti-missile shield issue, which the Russians even suggested was placed in other countries, Italy for example, especially because it does not want to see one of its former satellite states, Poland, acquire such capacity; and even more representative, the Georgian conflict which occurred last summer. By sending forces into Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russia sent a message to the world and NATO: it will not tolerate any interference in the countries of its near-abroad. 

This is one of the main issues NATO will face in the 21st century. How is it possible to compatibilize NATO’s enlargement to countries like Georgia and Ukraine, with Russia clearly ascending as a traditional power of a political nature opposed to the Western one? Although the Alliance has decided to normalize relations with Russia by resuming meetings at the NATO-Russia Council, how is it possible to compatibilize those relations with the anti-russian rhetoric of countries from Central and Eastern Europe?  

NATO’s relations with Russia are of extreme importance, because they have a natural implication on the enlargement of the Alliance, on its capabilities transformation, in defining new threats and in the elaboration of a new strategic concept. In accordance to the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, NATO has been restructuring and limiting its capabilities on the military level, aiming to become an organization that acts as a stability and security provider, intervening also in humanitarian crisis scenarios, and redirecting its strategic concept to fight new threats like terrorism. But it is necessary to diminish the strong anti-russian rhetoric from some member states. Even though it is comprehensible from an historical point of view, it is counterproductive, even because those states are already protected under the Alliance, and could have some more benefits from gradually approaching and cooperating with Moscow. 

NATO will have to deal with its own internal transformation in what regards the adequate capabilities to cope with new threats, while the relations with Russia will assume a central place in the Alliance’s agenda throughout this century. According to Kagan, the world is not ready to return to a Cold War logic, so, it is up to NATO to act proactively in order for the 21st century to be reminded for the best reasons.

Snap Seminar - NATO in the 21st Century

(report by Catarina Falcão, originally published in portuguese, on the blog of the Portuguese ATA/YATA)

On March 11th, students from several courses of the School of Social and Political Sciences of the Technical University of Lisbon gathered to discuss “NATO in the 21st Century”. In a session open to everyone and where individual opinions were the starting point for a broader debate, several essential questions to the Alliance were discussed.

Firstly, Professor Marcos Farias Ferreira talked about the importance of NATO in a post-Berlin Wall world. Should the end of the bipolar international system and the soviet threat also justify the end of the Atlantic Alliance?

Several opinions emerged. Many students were of the opinion that the cooperation with the United States of America, crucial for the European economic recovery after the Second World War, had allowed for the European political and economic unification, leaving the security issues for NATO. Other students, agreeing on the importance of NATO existence, mentioned the Alliance constitutes a basis for cooperation and integration in several levels, way beyond the military initiatives. Others mentioned NATO no longer made sense in the world we live in. They think the organization is too aggressive, preventing further cooperation with countries like Russia, and gave examples such as the anti-missile shield and the approximation of NATO to Eastern Europe countries.

Then it was discussed if Russia was a direct successor of the Soviet Union as a threat to the West. Its importance as an emerging power was recognized, especially if one takes into consideration Russia’s richness in natural resources and its considerable military power. Putin and he’s provocative position were also discussed, as well as certain actions such as the war with Georgia and the gas crisis in Ukraine, which serve the purpose of projecting Russian power. The western distrust regarding Russia was also a theme of discussion, as well as the new agreements forged and NATO’s role in those.

In this sense, should the approximation to Eastern Europe countries be seen as a direct threat to Russia? It is clear Eastern Europe countries aim to reinforce their sovereignty and development in several international organizations, for example, through the European Union, but they also aim for security, which they find in NATO. The enlargement of NATO to these countries has also generated issues among the Alliance, because countries like France or Germany do not intend to enter in direct conflict with Russia, something which is also related with the enlargement of the Alliance to Georgia and Ukraine.    

After that, some students raised a point on the instrumentalization of the Alliance by the U.S.. It was clarified that NATO only acts with international mandates and that except for the intervention in Yugoslavia, in what regards war theatres, NATO only operates in peacekeeping and peacemaking operations. Yet, all students agreed that the domain of the U.S. (in terms of costs, equipment and human resources), harms the Alliance image, narrowing it down to an American hard-power instrument. Thus, students praised President Obama’s idea to share the responsibilities and costs of the Alliance.

In order to adapt itself to the new realities, NATO also diversified its range of operations, intervening in humanitarian missions and supporting military coordination efforts with other entities like the African Union. 

But there are several challenges to the Alliance. Some the students pointed out were macro-terrorism, energetic security, Russian distrust, the difficulty to reach consensus in some issues, and the most recent one, the diminishing of funds and military resources due to the economic crisis.

Before the debate was over, there was still time to discuss the importance of NATO to Portugal. As a founding member, Portugal has been a beneficiary of the possibilities that arise from being part of NATO. Not only does it reinforce its relations with countries such as the U.S., as it also has the opportunity to keep its armed forces updated and in several operation theatres. Portugal is important for NATO due to its geographical position, especially the Azores islands. NATO can also help Portugal and Europe to fight narcotraffic and illegal immigration in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

In the end, it was concluded that NATO is an alliance of values, an organization which aims at perpetuating peace and democracy in the world, without leaving aside the virtues inherent to this mission.

Friday, March 27, 2009

NATO Secretary General in the United States

NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, held his first meeting with President Obama in the White House on March 25, 2009.
This extremely important meeting came few days earlier of the Strasbourg-Kehl Summit, where the Alliance will celebrate its 60 Anniversary and will discuss the future of the Alliance.
They discussed the operation in Afghanistan, a priority for NATO and the United States.
They also exchanged views on relations with Russia, both stressing the importance of improving cooperation and trust with Russia, without compromising on core Alliance principles, including enlargement.
Finally, they extensively discussed how a new Strategic Concept process might shape an agreed and forward leaning vision for NATO's roles in the 21st century.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Danish Atlantic Youth Seminar

For the 24th year in a row, the Danish Atlantic Treaty Association is proud to announce a call for participants to the Danish Atlantic Youth Seminar.

DAYS 2009 will take place from the 6th to the 12th of July under the general theme: "Seminar on diplomacy and crisis management in the backyard of Europe".

For further information on the programme, deadlines and application, search your national YATA chapter on atlantic-youth.org and ask them how to apply!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Message of H.E. László Sólyom, President of the Republic of Hungary, on the 10 years in NATO

“Exactly ten years ago, in the spring of 1999, the North Atlantic Alliance celebrated the 50th anniversary of its foundation. On March 12th, 1999, Hungary became a full-fledged member of NATO. While the accession of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, along with the anniversary of the founding of the Alliance, was cause for common celebration, it had a different meaning for the old and the new member states.

At the summit meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Washington, DC, the Heads of State and Government looked into the future: in their communiqué entitled “An Alliance for the 21st Century” they articulated their desire and commitment towards the security of the Balkan region as well as the development of NATO-Russia and NATO-Ukraine relations, including advancing broader cooperation in areas not limited to security and military affairs.

Besides, for Hungary NATO accession also meant the appreciation and the recognition of the post-1989 democratic transition. Indeed, becoming a NATO member was part of our return to the European and Euro-Atlantic community, where we had belonged to before communism, and for which already in 1956 we had fought a heroic, but solitary, freedom fight. For the new members, which had previously been members of the Warsaw Pact, the transition to NATO standards constituted not only the modernization of the defense forces, but in practice a complete transformation in terms of philosophy, organization and personnel, as well as in equipment.

Over the past 10 years, we have become the active participants in making decisions concerning the security of Hungary and the Euro-Atlantic region. Hungary’s presence and diligence in Afghanistan, the Western Balkans and Iraq has won recognition within the Alliance. I would like to take also this opportunity to express my appreciation of the conscientious and self-sacrificing service of the Hungarian soldiers. We take the rights and obligations that stem from full-fledged membership seriously. NATO does not guarantee our security instead of us, but together with us.

From the point of view of the security of the region neighboring Hungary, it is important that further countries also receive invitations to join the Alliance. Croatia and Albania will, hopefully, become members in time for NATO’s anniversary summit in April. The stability of the Balkan region requires that NATO remain open to the intention of new members to join. The quest for membership in NATO by Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro is to be supported. Our immediate neighbor, Serbia, also cooperates with NATO and participates in the Partnership for Peace program.

The global events of the past decade have justified the expectation that for Hungary and for the region, NATO membership guarantees stability and the possibility to develop in security. The deepening and further enlargement of the Alliance constitutes the condition for the true unification of Europe.
László Sólyom”
Source: Hungarian Ministry of the Foreign Affairs, www.mfa.gov.hu

Monday, March 9, 2009

NATO's U-Turn On Russia Bound To Be Seen As An Embarrassment

March 09, 2009
By Ahto Lobjakas, RFE/RL
International diplomacy is never an exact science. But rarely has post-Cold War history seen an equation as out of balance as that which emerged on March 5, when NATO decided to resume full diplomatic contacts with Russia.

NATO broke off relations with Moscow on August 19 in the wake of the five-day Russian-Georgian war, suspending indefinitely meetings of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC). The alliance took great pains at the time to explain its outrage.

NATO foreign ministers adopted a declaration saying Russian military action in Georgia was "incompatible with the principles of peaceful conflict resolution set out in the Helsinki Final Act, the NATO-Russia Founding Act, and the Rome Declaration [launching the NRC in 2002]."

The ministers continued: "We have determined that we cannot continue with business as usual. We call on Moscow to demonstrate -- both in word and deed -- its continued commitment to the principles upon which we agreed to base our relationship."

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said NRC meetings "would be placed on hold until Russia adhered to the cease-fire, and the future of our relations will depend on the concrete actions Russia will take to abide by the…[August 12] peace plan."

That plan -- mediated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy -- committed both Russia and Georgia to withdrawing their forces to pre-conflict lines.

On the day the Sarkozy plan was agreed -- August 12 -- de Hoop Scheffer told journalists in Brussels after an emergency meeting of NATO's ambassadorial North Atlantic Council that "[i]t is very important that all parties go back to what is called the status quo ante -- that is, the status quo as it existed on the 6th of August."

But this has never happened.

'Not Talking...Is Not An Option'

Thousands of new Russian troops remain entrenched in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Moscow has begun talks with both self-proclaimed republics about the establishment of permanent military bases.

It is also arguable that Russia has taken no real steps to return to the principles it has pledged to uphold with NATO.

Yet on March 5, de Hoop Scheffer felt able to announce a reversal of the decision taken in August on the grounds that "Russia is an important player. Russia is a global player, and that means that not talking to them is not an option."

De Hoop Scheffer said the situation in Georgia would be discussed at upcoming NRC meetings, and that Russia has indicated its agreement.

It can be argued that events have overtaken NATO and that other, more crucial, priorities now top the alliance's agenda.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made that case in Brussels on March 5, saying the alliance needs to reorient itself to face "the new threats of the 21st century." She said the United States believes that "those threats in the future are more likely to come from regimes and terrorist networks than from nation-states in the immediate vicinity. Therefore, we want to help Europe to be prepared."

But coming after just seven months, the U-turn on Russia is bound to be seen as an embarrassment.

'Into The Garbage Can'

Russia itself was certainly quick to exploit the situation, with its NATO envoy Dmitry Rogozin telling reporters in Brussels on March 5 that it had taken the alliance a long time to reach "the correct position" and throw "into the garbage can" the slogan, "No business as usual."

NATO could certainly have done more to soften the blow for Georgia. As things stood, the decision to revive the NRC seems to have caught Georgia off guard. Tbilisi had to scramble to set up an extraordinary meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission on March 5 in a bid to consolidate its position.

Also, as the French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said after the March 5 meeting, it took a spirited effort by his Lithuanian colleague Vytautas Usackas to persuade NATO ministers to instruct de Hoop Scheffer to issue a strong statement in support of Georgia as he announced the resumption of ties with Russia.

Clinton also expressed support for Tbilisi on March 5, saying NATO's door will remain open to both Georgia and Ukraine. But there was precious little evidence of movement in that direction on March 5. NATO also failed to revisit the promise it made in August to assist Georgia in rebuilding its civilian -- and possibly also military -- infrastructure.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Obama ponders outreach to the Taliban

IHT, March 7, 2009
President Barack Obama declared in an interview that the United States was not winning the war in Afghanistan and opened the door to a reconciliation process in which the American military would reach out to moderate elements of the Taliban, much as it did with Sunni militias in Iraq.

Obama pointed to the success in peeling Iraqi insurgents away from more hard-core elements of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a strategy that many credit as much as the increase of American forces with turning the war around in the last two years. "There may be some comparable opportunities in Afghanistan and in the Pakistani region," he said, while cautioning that solutions in Afghanistan will be complicated.
Full article is here
Dreaming of splitting the Taliban
Helene Cooper, March 8, 2009
But there is a growing belief, particularly among experts who have been advising the Obama administration on Afpak policy, that it is important to peel away some lower members of the Taliban, in sort of a divide-and-conquer strategy. Petraeus, the head of the United States Central Command, said last year that one element of the counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that might be applicable in Afghanistan was outreach to what he has described as "reconcilables" among the insurgents.

Under that principle, Mullah Omar is not considered, at least at this point by the West, as "reconcilable." But a local Taliban district commander might be.

Take Mullah Salam, a former Taliban commander who was persuaded by the British, with the aid of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, to cross sides in 2007. He remains ostensibly loyal to NATO forces, and some British officials mention him as an example of how a campaign to woo Taliban district commanders might work.

But it remains an open question whether Mullah Salam's defection has helped or hurt the war effort. The British installed him as district governor in Musa Qala, in Helmand Province. Mullah Salam has since been the focus of complaints from the local populace; he is unpopular and corrupt, the locals complain, adding that he demands bribes and tributes from anyone who needs something.

"The key to winning back the population is to establish legitimate government," says Clare Lockhart, a former adviser to the Afghan government and the co-author of "Fixing Failed States" (Oxford University Press). "If you give people a government with sufficient credibility — and basic jobs — you can win back their trust."
But critical to winning back the population's trust, many experts counter, is the absence of war. And getting to the absence of war may require making the American public comfortable with the idea that the Taliban might not necessarily equal Al Qaeda.

"There are multiple motivations for why these insurgents could be fighting," Brigety asserts, suggesting that for some lower-level Taliban, the fight against NATO forces could emanate from something other than a desire to bring down the Afghan government or to defeat the United States.

One NATO official agreed in an interview, saying that some lower-level Taliban members attack coalition forces simply because, say, the foreigners didn't ask permission before entering their valley. Or because a Taliban commander paid each Taliban member the equivalent of $20 a day to do so.

"More importantly, though, is there are fissures that could be exploited," Brigety said, returning to the divide-and-conquer theme. "As long as we've adopted a position that all are our enemies, we could be missing an opportunity to exploit those divisions."
That is actually the rationale that Pakistan's government used to explain its recent and much-criticized reconciliation deal with local Taliban leaders in Pakistan's Swat region. Pakistani officials have sought to reassure the Obama administration that their deal, which allows Islamic law and Taliban figures to hold sway in Swat, was not a surrender to the Taliban, but an attempt to drive a wedge between hard-core Taliban leaders and local pro-Taliban Islamists who might be wooed back to the government's camp.

Reports from Swat indicate, however, that at least some parts of the once-popular tourist area are now being shunned by terrified former residents as accounts emerge of the torture and killing of an anti-Taliban figure who returned after the truce as well as the shooting of soldiers who didn't alert the Taliban to their movements.

China's thirst for copper could hold key to Afghanistan's future

By Jonathan S. Landay McClatchy Newspapers

JALREZ VALLEY, Afghanistan — In this Taliban stronghold in the mountains south of Kabul, the U.S. Army is providing the security that will enable China to exploit one of the world's largest unexploited deposits of copper, earn tens of billions of dollars and feed its voracious appetite for raw materials.

U.S. troops set up bases last month along a dirt track that a Chinese firm is paving as part of a $3 billion project to gain access to the Aynak copper reserves. Some troops made camp outside a compound built for the Chinese road crews, who are about to return from winter break. American forces also have expanded their presence in neighboring Logar province, where the Aynak deposit is.

The U.S. deployment wasn't intended to protect the Chinese investment — the largest in Afghanistan's history — but to strangle Taliban infiltration into the capital of Kabul. But if the mission provides the security that a project to revive Afghanistan's economy needs, the synergy will be welcome.

"When you have men who don't have jobs, you can't bring peace," said Abdel Rahman Ashraf, a German-trained geology professor who's Afghan President Hamid Karzai's chief mining and energy adviser.

"When we take money and invest it in a project like Aynak, we give jobs to the people." Indeed, the project could inject hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties and taxes into Afghanistan's meager coffers and create thousands of desperately needed jobs.

Beijing faces enormous challenges in completing the project and gaining access to the estimated 240 million tons of copper ore that are accessible through surface mining. Taliban-led insurgents operate in large parts of Logar and Wardak; the area is sown with mines; and China must complete an ambitious set of infrastructure projects, including Afghanistan's first national railway, as part of the deal.

China's willingness to gamble so much in one of the world's poorest and riskiest nations testifies to its determination to acquire the commodities it needs to maintain its economic growth and social stability.

In Mt. Toromocho in the Peruvian Andes, for example, the only copper deposit said to be larger than Aynak, China is relocating a town and its inhabitants to get at a mountain of copper ore.

"Why the Chinese? Because they have money, they have lots of money," Ashraf said. "One day, when there is no more copper elsewhere in the world, the Chinese will have copper."

"If they (Chinese leaders) don't feed their immense industrial complex, their populace could become disruptive," said a Western official, who asked not to be further identified so he could speak freely. "We expect to see more such competitions" over Afghanistan's huge untapped reserves of natural resources.

Although China is contributing a much smaller share of the more than $15 billion in international assistance that's been pledged to Afghanistan since 2001 than the U.S. is, the Obama administration isn't complaining. China's investment in Aynak dovetails with the administration's emerging strategy for ending the war in part by delivering on unfulfilled vows to better the lives of the poor Afghans who constitute the vast majority of the Taliban's foot soldiers.

"The problem of security, the problem of the Taliban, we cannot solve these problems with the military," Ashraf said.

Site preparation work has begun. But it'll be some years before state-owned China Metallurgical Construction Corp. can begin the projected 15 to 20 years of production at the site 30 miles south of Kabul.
Full article is here
Aynak Copper Mine. Opportunities and Threats for Development from a Sustainable Business Perspective. A Report by Integrity Watch Afghanistan, January 2008

Pressured On Opium Crops, Many Afghan Farmers Switch To Cannabis

March 07, 2009
By Ron Synovitz
Opium-poppy eradication has been hailed as a success in much of Afghanistan's north and east, allowing counternarcotics officials to declare 18 provinces there as "poppy-free" despite record opium cultivation in the south and southwest.
But UN officials tell RFE/RL that many former opium farmers in those poppy-free areas have switched to another lucrative and illegal drug crop: cannabis.As a result, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says, Afghanistan is now the world's largest producer of two illegal drugs -- heroin from opium poppies and cannabis.
The UNODC's latest assessment on the Afghan narcotics trade, released in February, says cultivation of opium poppies in Afghanistan is likely to fall this year compared to the record crops of previous years.It says the 18 provinces labeled "opium-free" in 2008 will probably remain so in 2009. It also says seven other Afghan provinces are likely to reduce opium-poppy cultivation this year -- including the biggest opium-producing province, Helmand, in the volatile south.

Afghanistan's New Cash Crop
NYT, Nov 4, 2007

Afghanistan cannabis production

Al Jazeera, December 3, 2007

Rearming the South Caucasus

Al Jazeera, February 28, 2009



Ex-SAS chief in Afghanistan slams 'worthless' war

The Ministry of Defence admits the Snatch Land Rover is 'not suitable for high-risk environments'

7th March 2009

A former SAS commander in Afghanistan has claimed the Government had 'blood on its hands' over the 'unnecessary deaths' of four soldiers killed when their Snatch Land Rover hit a roadside bomb.

Major Sebastian Morley reportedly said Whitehall officials and military commanders repeatedly ignored his warnings troops would be killed if they continued to use the 'unsafe' vehicles. The 40-year-old resigned following the death of Corporal Sarah Bryant, the first female soldier to die in Afghanistan, and three of her male colleagues. Speaking for the first time since he stepped down, Major Morley accused Quentin Davies, the Minister for Defence Equipment and Support, of telling an 'unacceptable lie' in the wake of the deaths, that commanders had a choice of vehicles to use. And, speaking for the first time since he stepped down, he added that operations in Afghanistan were 'worthless' and likened the situation to the Vietnam war. He said: 'I had to resign. I had warned (the MoD) time and time again that there were going to be needless deaths if we were not given the right equipment, and they ignored this advice. There is blood on their hands.'

Major Morley said he was outraged by Mr Davies' suggestion, made shortly after his resignation was made public, that commanders had a choice of vehicles to use. Mr Davies said: 'Obviously, there may be occasions when, in retrospect, a commander chose the wrong piece of equipment, the wrong vehicle, for the particular threat that the patrol, or whatever it was, encountered and we had some casualties as a result.'

Mr Davies later said he had not meant to cause offence by his comments. But Major Morley told the Daily Telegraph: 'A Government minister is on record telling a lie about four deaths, and this is unacceptable. For him to reverse his position now is too little too late. To accuse an operational commander of having a choice, and for that man to have made a choice that led to death, is to accuse him of negligence. 'There was no other vehicle to use. The simple truth is that the protection on these vehicles is inadequate and this led to the unnecessary deaths.'

The grandson of the late newspaper tycoon Lord Beaverbrook, who was educated at Eton, said SAS soldiers under his command had nicknamed the Snatch the 'mobile coffin'. He predicted that the conflict in Afghanistan would escalate, saying: 'This is the equivalent to the start of the Vietnam conflict, there is much more to come.

'We hold tiny areas of ground in Helmand and we are kidding ourselves if we think our influence goes beyond 500 metres of our security bases. It's just crazy to think we hold that ground or have any influence on what goes on beyond the bases.

'We go out on operations, have a punch-up with the Taliban and then go back to camp for tea. We are not holding the ground. The Taliban know where we are. They know full well when we have gone back into camp.'

Veterans - Soviets in Afghanistan

Al Jazeera, March 31, 2008



Inside Story - Fighting the 'Right War'

February 10, 2009



Saturday, March 7, 2009

Swat : Life under Sharia Laws and the rule of the Taliban

By: Ghazal Mahtab
Afghanistan Monitor, March 3, 2009

A recent “Peace deal” between Pak provincial government and Tehrik Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi militant group (TNSM – Movement for Enforcing Mohammad’s Sharia Laws) although is described as “efforts to bring peace and negotiated settlement”, majority of Pakistanis see it as an instrument for converting NWFP into a safe haven for al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

On 16th Feb. 2009, Pakistan reached a “peace deal” agreement with Taliban in Swat valley, where its military has been battling insurgents since 2007. Under the deal, government will implement Sharia law in Malakand division of NWFP (which includes Swat valley) and military troops will be redeployed to their designated camps and forts.

Information Minister Sherry Rehman believes “The public will of the population of the Swat region is at the centre of all efforts and it should be taken into account while debating the merits of this agreement”. But critics argue majority of local people in Swat are not in favor of the deal, despite thousands in Swat demonstrated in support of it.

In an interview with Pakistani private TV channel, Geo news, Retired Lt. Gen. Hamid Nawaz, former Interior Minister and Defense Secretary, said “people in Swat were living in fear of militants and they have no other choice but to praise the accord.” Mr. Nawaz added, the accord reflects government’s “weakness and helplessness.”

Since the Taliban insurgency in 2007, more than 1,200 policemen, government servants and Swat residents have died in shelling by the army or from beheadings sanctioned by the Taliban. Tens of thousands of residents had fled the conflic in Swat and hundreds of schools had been demolished.

Many Pakistanis in country’s main cities were alarmed by the deal saying it marks a setback for girls and women’s rights. Taliban mostly have appeared to oppose girls’ education calling it “un-Islamic”. They demolished hundreds of schools and educational institutions in Swat valley since 2007. Eventually on December 24th 2008, Maulana Shah Dauran, a Taliban spokesman, announced that girls’ education was being outlawed in Swat valley from January 15 2009 and issued a warning that all girls’ schools would have to be closed by the set deadline.

However, Pakistan civilian government insists it needed to bring peace to the valley, so that girls could return to school and business return to normal.
Full article is here

Friday, March 6, 2009

MEPs are suggesting the creation of a Transatlantic Policy Council

European Parliament 25.02.2009.

A new transatlantic partnership is needed to strengthen ties between the EU and America now that Barack Obama has taken office, says the EP Foreign Affairs Committee. MEPs are calling for a new institutional architecture including a political council and a joint parliamentary committee.
The "new transatlantic agenda" dating from 1995 should be replaced by a new transatlantic partnership agreement based on a new institutional architecture, argues the report by Francisco José Millán Mon (EPP-ED, ES) adopted by the committee on Tuesday. The EU-US relationship is described in the report as "the most important strategic partnership" for the EU.

MEPs propose the creation of a Transatlantic Political Council as "a body for systematic high-level consultation and coordination in respect of foreign and security policy". It would be chaired by the High Representative/Vice-President of the Commission on the EU side and by the Secretary of State on the US side, and would meet at least every three months.

A unified transatlantic market: meet the target date of 2015

The full potential of the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC) should be used o overcome the existing obstacles to economic integration and to achieve a unified transatlantic market by 2015. MEPs ask the European Commission, on the basis of the study authorised and financed by the European Parliament in its 2007 Budget, to draw up a detailed road map of existing obstacles which need to be removed with the aim of achieving that target date.

They highlight the role to be played by the TEC in transatlantic macro-economic cooperation and they call for closer coordination between European and American monetary institutions.

An EP-US Congress parliamentary committee

A joint parliamentary committee should replace the current Transatlantic Legislators' Dialogue, says the report. It should be compromised of Members of the European Parliament and the US Congress, and should meet twice yearly.

The joint parliamentary committee should be able to make proposals to the Economic and Political Councils and to the EU-US summits. Both its co-chairs should be invited to participate in the opening session of meetings of both Councils. The committee should also have the right to conduct hearings with representatives of those Councils.

The report also recommends that EU-US summits take place twice a year "to provide the partnership with strategic direction and impetus".

CIA secret prisons, global issues

The U.S. administration is urged to close down any detention centres outside the United States, to put an end to the policy of extraordinary renditions and to ratify and accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

MEPs believe the new partnership should also enable the two sides to address, with Russia, the various challenges, threats and opportunities of mutual concern, such as disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation,

Lastly, it should permit better coordination of responses on other matters of joint interest such as promoting sustainable peace in the Middle East through the Quartet, the fight against terrorism and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, notably in Africa.

Procedure: Own-initiative -- Committee vote: 43 for, 1 against, 1 abstention -- Plenary vote: March II (Strasbourg)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Europeans start race for NATO leadership

Valentina Pop
March 04, 2009

After waiting for the Obama administration to take office, European states have started floating names for the next NATO secretary general to replace Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, whose mandate ends on 31 July.

Although there is less than a month to go until the 60th anniversary NATO summit in Strasbourg/Kehl, member states are still in the early stage regarding the nomination of the next NATO chief, Herman Schaper, the Dutch ambassador to the alliance, told EUobserver.

"We waited for the Obama administration and only started two to three weeks ago to invite countries to present their candidate. At this moment there is no official candidate," Mr Schaper explained.

Asked about the chances for an Eastern European secretary general, Mr Schaper said that there were already two names floated from Poland and Bulgaria – foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski and former top diplomat Solomon Passy, respectively.

"Nobody says that because they are from a new member state they should wait. The criteria for the job is to be experienced and a figure who can bring countries together, not someone who picks fights," Mr Schaper added, alluding to the provocative statements in the past of the Polish foreign minister, especially in regards to Russia.

An agent provocateur would pose a problem not only to Russia-friendly Western European countries such as Germany and France, but also to the new Obama administration's strive to avoid a Cold War-style confrontation with the Kremlin.

According to Gazeta Wyborcza, Mr Sikorski is about to submit his candidature for the secretary general job. Confidential instructions about "probing the intentions" as to the election of a new NATO secretary general were received by Polish ambassadors in the 27 NATO member states, the Polish newspaper reports.

Madame NATO?

The Dutch ambassador hinted at the existence of another new proposal, nicknamed "madame NATO" - French interior minister Michele Alliot Marie, who in the past held the position of defence minister.

"Does he or she speak French – that's important, as we have two languages at NATO. And most of all, whether you're seen by member states as a person they can trust and work with," Mr Schaper said.

But with France about to rejoin NATO's military command and to get two command-level posts, it is unlikely that Paris will also get the top job of the alliance.

The potential candidate broadly seen as having no problems is Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. He is the most high-ranking and would easily get the support from both sides of the Atlantic.

The only downside is his image problem in the Arab world, due to the Mohammed-cartoons scandal in 2006. This could develop into a serious handicap, for instance in NATO operations in Afghanistan.

Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Gahr Store is also in the running, after having recently given an "outstanding briefing" on the Nordic security dimension to NATO ambassadors, alliance sources told this website.

Abkhaz Incident Opens Up New Vista In Georgia Conflict

March 04, 2009
By Ahto Lobjakas

Irakli Bigvava, a 24-year-old Georgian, is at the center of a new dimension of the conflict simmering between Georgia and its separatist territories.Georgian officials say the young man fled last weekend from his village of Otobaia, in Abkhazia's Gali district, to Georgia proper to escape an attempt to force him to join the Abkhaz armed forces. Bigvava, who sustained serious wounds when he resisted conscription, was carried across the border by his relatives.

Some 70 women and children from Otobaia fled to Georgia along with him; RFE/RL's Georgian Service reports that Abkhaz authorities forced male villagers to remain in Otobaia as hostages. Bigvava now says he is being pressured by fellow escapees to return to Otobaia and turn himself over to the authorities.

Georgia's breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia saw their self-declared independence receive a boost after the Russia-Georgia war in August, when Moscow formally recognized their claim. Since then, both territories have sought to embrace the trappings of statehood in ways that are seen by their ethnic-Georgian populations as increasingly threatening.

Georgian and Western officials fear the Gali incident could constitute an ultimatum to ethnic Georgians -- either assimilate or leave. This would put the Georgian government in a very difficult position and further erode the international community's ability to influence events in the breakaway territories.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Taliban rivals unite to fight US troop surge

Saeed Shar, Peshawar

The Guardian, March 3, 2009

Three rival Pakistani Taliban groups have agreed to form a united front against international forces in Afghanistan in a move likely to intensify the insurgency just as thousands of extra US soldiers begin pouring into the country as part of Barack Obama's surge plan.

The Guardian has learned that three of the most powerful warlords in the region have settled their differences and come together under a grouping calling itself Shura Ittihad-ul-Mujahideen, or Council of United Holy Warriors.

Nato officers fear that the new extremist partnership in Waziristan, Pakistan's tribal area, will significantly increase the cross-border influx of fighters and suicide bombers - a move that could undermine the US president's Afghanistan strategy before it is formulated.

The unity among the militants comes after a call by Mullah Omar, the cleric who leads the Afghan Taliban, telling Pakistani militants to stop fighting at home in order to join the battle to "liberate Afghanistan from the occupation forces".

The Pakistani Taliban movement was split between a powerful group led by the warlord Baitullah Mehsud and his bitter rivals, Maulvi Nazir and Gul Bahadur. While Mehsud has targeted Pakistan itself in a campaign of violence and is accused of being behind the assassination of the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, Nazir and Bahadur sent men to fight alongside other insurgents in Afghanistan.

The move potentially provides short-term relief in Pakistan but imperils Nato forces, especially those stationed in southern and eastern Afghanistan, including the British, close to the Pakistani border.

Stephen Harper on NATO in Afghanistan

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper:

The implications of failure there would be large. "Afghanistan is a serious test for NATO," he warns. "NATO has taken on a United Nations mission and NATO must succeed or I do think the future of NATO as we've known it is in considerable doubt."

The disjointed effort in Afghanistan has exposed cracks in NATO. He praises allies who have delivered more than their fair share, "the East European countries, the Danes, Australia -- not even a NATO member." France has also "stepped up its contribution" since Nicolas Sarkozy became president. He skillfully sidesteps a question about Germany. But there is no equivocating on the risk of failure. "We have to get our act together . . . or NATO will not be able to undertake these kinds of missions in the future. There may be some around the NATO table who don't think it should. But if that's their position, that's not what they are saying."

An unreliable NATO has implications for Canada not least because Russia is once again becoming a menace. The Kremlin's claim to the Arctic seabed can be discounted, he argues, because it is being pursued through the United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty. But other provocations are worrisome. "They are testing our airspace more frequently than they have been doing in a long, long time," he says. "It's the aggression in the Arctic, aggression more generally, an aggression that is increasingly troublesome just to be troublesome."

Wall Street Hournal, February 28, 2009


Manley Report

On October 27, 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper established an Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan. Chaired by the Honourable John Manley, the panel was given the task of advising Parliament on options for the Canadian mission in Afghanistan once its mandate ends in February 2009.

In the past three months, the panel carried out a series of consultations with Canadian and international experts, including individuals from the political, diplomatic, development and security sectors, in order to develop a series of recommendations on Canada’s future role in Afghanistan.

On January 22, 2008, the panel (also referred to as the Manley Report) released its report and recommendations to the public.

Full report

Key recommendations from the Manley Report

Croatia Nato-entry

Valentina Pop,

EU Observer, March 4, 2009

Slovenia's potential referendum on Croatian Nato accession is also likely to come up at the ministerial meeting on Thursday at the Nato headquarters, meant to set out the main issues for the upcoming anniversary summit of the alliance from 2-4 April in Strasbourg and Kehl.

The US ambassador to the alliance still hoped "all our Nato allies" would ratify the accession of both Albania and Croatia in time for the summit.

However, the Dutch ambassador to Nato, Herman Schaper, maintained a more reserved line.

"What can we do about it? A referendum in Slovenia is not something we can oppose. We had hoped to be able to welcome both Croatia and Albania at the summit, but we're not sure anymore that that's possible," Mr Schaper told this website.

Considered a mere formality after the heads of state gave their green light at a Nato summit in Bucharest last year, the ratification of Croatia's accession protocol has now been delayed in Slovenia after two nationalist groups blocked the procedure by filing an application for a referendum on the issue.

The two parties now have at least five weeks to collect signatures from Slovenian citizens, while the Nato summit is only six weeks away. The groups said they might withdraw their initiative if Slovenian lawmakers pass a law on the country's sea border dispute with Croatia, an issue which also affects Zagreb's EU accession track.

"One of the conditions that were set out in the 90s for the countries who wanted to join Nato was not to bring unsolved bilateral issues and then to use your position in the allience to shut out others. Unfortunately, we have seen some of that", Dan Hamilton, director of the Washington-based Center for Transatlantic Relations and a former official in President Bill Clinton's administration told EUobserver.

Macedonia's Nato bid was also blocked by a bilateral dispute with Greece, while Nato-EU cooperation was hindered by the Turkish-Cypriot issue, Mr Hamilton added.

Afghan farmers turn from drugs to fish

By Hamid Shalizi

SARACHA, Afghanistan, March 4, (Reuters) - Haji Anzurullah grew opium in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province, but under pressure from the authorities he gave up the illegal crop and found a profitable alternative, fish breeding.

"I buy thousands of very small fish from Pakistan and rear them here. Once they are big enough, I sell them to fishmongers," said Anzurullah, who was trained in the fish farming business by a foreign aid organisation that helps villagers find alternative sources of income besides growing poppies.

Despite a 19 percent drop last year, Afghanistan still produces over 90 percent of the world's opium, the raw ingredient of heroin. Afghanistan's drug trade is believed to inject some $3 billion a year into the Afghan economy and the proceeds help fund the Taliban.

Last year, Nangarhar province went from being the second biggest poppy growing province in the country to almost poppy free.

This is partly due to Nangarhar's powerful governor, Gul Agha Sherzai, who has hinted at running in the Aug. 20 presidential election. Sherzai offers financial incentives to farmers in his provinces and assistance to choose alternative, legal forms of livelihoods, such as wheat farming or fish farming.

If farmers resist, their poppy crops are destroyed.

After the government razed his crop, Anzurullah, head of Saracha village on the outskirts of the provincial capital Jalalabad, turned his two poppy fields into fish ponds where he now rears more than 6,000 fish.

He pays just 1,000 afghanis ($20) for thousands of fish in Peshawar, just across the nearby border in Pakistan. He then grows them for about 10 months and sells them at a hefty profit.

Counter-narcotics experts say the key requirement to reduce opium cultivation is a strong government capable of carrying through disincentives that outweigh the considerable profits to be made from poppy farming.

Farmers also have to be persuaded that other crops can come close to providing a comparable income to opium.

"Economic and development assistance alone is not sufficient to defeat the narcotics trade in Afghanistan," said a U.S. government report on narcotics issued in February.

"Alternative development opportunities can and do yield reasonable incomes, but must also be backed by measures to increase risk to those who plant poppy, traffic in narcotics, and support cultivation and trafficking," it added.

Pakistan Is Steadfast Against Terror

By Asif Ali Zardari
Wall Street Journal, March 4, 2009

Last week's trilateral meeting in Washington between U.S. leaders and the foreign ministers, military and intelligence leaders of my country and Afghanistan was a crucial step forward in the war on terrorism and fanaticism in South and Central Asia. For the first time, Pakistan, the U.S. and Afghanistan agreed on a coherent military and political strategy to isolate and deal with those intent on destabilizing our region and terrorizing the world.

By reaching agreement, we have overcome the past legacy of distrust that has characterized Pakistani-Afghan relations for decades and has complicated strategic planning and common goals. Monday's terrorist attack against the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore shows once again the evil we are confronting.

But if Pakistan, Afghanistan and the U.S. are to prevail in the ongoing battle against terrorism, straight talk is essential. And this straight talk begins with a fact: Pakistan's fight against terrorism is relentless. Since the election of a democratic government last year, we have successfully conducted military operations in our Federally Administered Tribal Areas and other parts of the country, capturing or killing high officials of al Qaeda and the Taliban, as well as hundreds of their fighters. In the highly volatile Swat Valley, our strategy has been to enter into talks with traditional local clerics to help restore peace to the area, and return the writ of the state.

We have not and will not negotiate with extremist Taliban and terrorists. The clerics with whom we have engaged are not Taliban. Indeed, in our dialogue we'd made it clear that it is their responsibility to rein in and neutralize Taliban and other insurgents. If they do so and lay down their arms, this initiative will have succeeded for the people of Swat Valley. If not, our security forces will act accordingly. Unfortunately, this process of weaning reconcilable elements of an insurgency away from the irreconcilables has been mischaracterized in the West.

Moreover, we have not and will not condone the closing of girls' schools, as we saw last year when militants closed schools in pockets of Swat Valley. Indeed, the government insists that the education of young women is mandatory. This is not an example of the government condoning or capitulating to extremism -- quite the opposite.

Monday, March 2, 2009

US: Join Allies in Banning Landmines

Obama Should Reverse US Stance as Landmark Treaty Marks 10th Anniversary

February 27, 2009

Washington, DC) - The United States should reconsider its stance and join the treaty banning antipersonnel landmines, Human Rights Watch said today. Sunday, March 1 will mark 10 years since the treaty became binding international law.

"In the decade since the Mine Ban Treaty took effect, the weapon has become so stigmatized that it is almost inconceivable that the United States would ever use it again," said Steve Goose, director of the arms division at Human Rights Watch. "The US should stop being the odd man out and join its allies in banning antipersonnel mines."

Except for the US, every NATO member has foresworn the use of antipersonnel mines, as have other key allies, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Australia, and Japan. In the Western Hemisphere, only the US and Cuba have not joined the Mine Ban Treaty.

"A decision to sign the Mine Ban Treaty would certainly reinforce President Obama's stated commitment to international humanitarian law, protection of civilians, arms control and disarmament, and multilateralism," said Goose.

The Clinton administration in 1997 set the objective of joining the Mine Ban Treaty in 2006, but the Bush administration reversed course in February 2004 and announced that it did not ever intend to join.

On March 1, 1999, the Mine Ban Treaty entered into force, just 15 months after it was negotiated - the shortest time ever for a modern international treaty. The treaty comprehensively bans all antipersonnel mines, requires destruction of stockpiled mines within four years, requires destruction of mines already in the ground within 10 years, and urges extensive programs to assist the victims of landmines.

Since the treaty came into force, the use of antipersonnel mines has largely dried up; in recent years only the pariah government of Burma and a few rebel groups have laid significant numbers of mines. Trade in these weapons has virtually stopped. Only about a dozen of the more than 50 countries that manufactured antipersonnel mines in the past still retain the capacity. Some 42 million antipersonnel mines have been destroyed from stockpiles. Large tracts of land have been cleared of these mines and returned to productive use. The number of civilians killed and wounded by mines each year has fallen dramatically.

A total of 156 nations are party to the Mine Ban Treaty, and another two states have signed, but still not ratified. China, Russia, and the United States are among the 37 states that have not yet joined. But nearly all of those states are in de facto compliance with most of the treaty's provisions.

The United States has not used antipersonnel mines since 1991 (in the first Gulf War), has not exported them since 1992, has not produced them since 1997, and is the biggest donor to mine clearance programs around the world. But it still stockpiles more than 10.4 million antipersonnel mines for potential use in the future.

"The US did not need to use antipersonnel mines in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, or any place else in the past 17 years," said Goose. "Clearly the weapon has little or no military value to US forces today, and the political costs of using landmines would be very high."

On February 10, leaders from 67 national nongovernmental organizations issued a letter calling on President Obama to join the Mine Ban Treaty. Though he was supportive of efforts to restrict landmines during his time in the US Senate, the new administration has not yet taken a position on the agreement.

The letter also called on the Obama administration to join the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which was opened for signature in Oslo in December 2008 and has been signed by 95 governments to date. The Bush administration chose not to participate in the development or negotiation of that convention banning cluster munitions, which was modeled on the Mine Ban Treaty.

Step aside, limey, this is how to fight the Taliban

From The Sunday Times
March 1, 2009
Jerome Starkey in Delaram, Farah province

THE American marines call Route 515 the most dangerous road in Afghanistan. It is a bumpy desert track linking Helmand with Iran, and until recently it was beyond the reach of anyone but smugglers.

The men from Weapons Company expect to get blown up every time they leave their camp to patrol between the poppy fields in giant mine-resistant, ambush-proof trucks. “We’ve taken some hits,” said Sergeant Marquis Summers, in an unusual moment of understatement.

Automatic grenade launchers and 50-calibre machineguns peer over their turrets, but it is the mine rollers at the front – like massive snowploughs – that offer the best protection. They are designed to trigger pressure plates before the armoured vehicles pass over buried explosives.
In a month the marines have found more than 30 improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, buried in the road. The remains of the marines’ charred Humvees are piled up in Camp Bastion. Two of their comrades have died in the battle for control of the road. The soldiers say the Taliban pour petrol on the bombs to ignite their trucks.
Nato’s most senior commander in Afghanistan, David McKiernan, an American, has conceded that the British are locked in a stalemate in Helmand. Privately, British officials admit they do not have enough soldiers to control the ground. “We clear an area and the Taliban run away,” said one official. “But the soldiers can’t stay, so the Taliban creep back. It’s pointless.” American Green Berets and marine special forces are operating in parts of Helmand virtually untouched by the British. Small patrols drive into hostile areas to draw Taliban fire. Last Tuesday, 16 militants were killed in Nahr Sukh, a few miles from British headquarters in Lashkar Gah, when special forces called in airstrikes on a compound from which they had been attacked.
Nato officers say the number of troops in Helmand is expected to double when 8,000 marines and 4,000 soldiers promised by President Barack Obama start arriving at the end of May. Although Britain has about 8,300 troops in Afghanistan, only 4,500 are based in Helmand. The Americans are expected to outnumber them by the end of summer. Most of the marines in Helmand will be deployed in Garmsir to sever supply lines with Pakistan.
Major-General Mart de Kruif, Nato’s senior general in southern Afghanistan, said central Helmand was the Taliban’s top priority. “They see it as their heartland,” he said. “And they are fighting hardest there because there is a clear nexus between the insurgency and the drugs trade, which they are fighting to protect.”

There are signs of tension between the allies. American commanders even suggest that the British do not have a clear “campaign plan”. “Headquarters staff wanted to know what was going on, what was the goal,” said a western diplomat familiar with the row. The Americans have refused to take orders from Britain’s Taskforce Helmand, which is nominally in charge. They report directly to a regional headquarters in Kandahar. Americans joke that ISAF, the acronym for the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force, which includes most British forces, stands for I Saw Americans Fighting.
America’s focus on the routes through Helmand is linked to a clampdown on the drugs trade. US officials have been frustrated at Britain’s reluctance to tackle poppy farmers and heroin traffickers for fear of alienating local people. American diplomats advocate aerial spraying to wipe out poppy fields.

Lieutenant-Colonel David Odom, of the US marines ground combat element, stationed in Farah, said the insurgents used the roads west of Helmand to move “weapons, drugs and poppy money” to and from Iran and Pakistan.

The flying drones that patrol the roads day and night have watched thousands gather at impromptu bazaars to trade guns and drugs, often within a few miles of their bases. Even the Americans do not have sufficient troops to stop them.

Pakistan ISI top boss met Osama aide?

1 Mar 2009,

NEW DELHI: One of the top bosses of Pakistan's intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has held talks with Osama bin Laden’s key aides in Miram Shah in Pakistan’s restive federal administered tribal Area, according to Times Now. ( Watch )
In fact, highly placed intelligence sources told Times Now that around the time when Pakistan’s foreign minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi was visiting Washington and meeting officials of the Barack Obama administration and reaffirming Pakistan's determination to fight terrorism, a senior ISI official of the rank of a major-general no less was meeting Sirajuddin Haqqani considered an ally of the Taliban as also al-Qaida chief Laden.
Sources said that the subject of discussion in the meeting was the shifting of Haqqanis operations from North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) in Pakistan to Afghanistan in exchange for ceasefire with Pakistan army and to halt military operations if the Haqqanis moves their operations from the NWFP into Afghanistan. Another topic was the construction of the Khost-Gardez road being built by Indian company in Afghanistan. The ISI urged Haqqanis to sabotage efforts by the Indian government to help Afghanistan government to build the Khost-Gardez road.
The meeting assumes significance because the Haqqanis are not ordinary players but hold a great deal of influence in the region and can dictate the course of the war on terror in the region. Jalaluddin Haqqani and Sirajuddin Haqqani are Pashtun warlords and military leaders with links to Taliban and Laden. Haqqanis have been accused by the coalition forces of carrying out the late-December 2008 bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan at an Afghan elementary school near an Afghan barracks that killed several schoolchildren, an Afghan soldier, and an Afghan guard; no coalition or USA personnel were affected. They are also supposed to have facilitated the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul. Haqqanis were also linked to Maulvi Jabbar suspect in IC-814 hijacking.
Haqqanis are linked to Maulvi Jabbar of the Peshawar Shura who was in touch with the hijackers of the IC-814 in 1999. Haqqani is the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, one of the most feared Afghan commanders, who fought against the Soviet occupation during the 1980s. Jalaluddin, now aged and in failing health, lives in Khost and has passed the reigns of the Haqqani terror network on to his second son, Sirajuddin. Jalaluddin Haqqani once had strong ties with the CIA, according to published accounts. But now he and his son are wanted men. The US military has placed a bounty of $200,000 on Sirajuddin Haqqani's head.

Many in Afghanistan oppose Obama's troop buildup plans

Frustration and fear is sparking opposition to plans that would nearly double the size of US forces there.

By Anand Gopal Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
from the March 2, 2009 edition

Kabul, Afghanistan - Parliamentarian Shukria Barakzai says she has an innovative amendment to Washington's planned injection of up to 30,000 new troops here.

"Send us 30,000 scholars instead. Or 30,000 engineers. But don't send more troops – it will just bring more violence."

Ms. Barakzai is among the growing number of Afghans – especially in the Pashtun south – who oppose a troop increase here, posing what could be the biggest challenge to the Obama administration's stabilization strategy.

"At least half the country is deeply suspicious of the new troops," says Kabul-based political analyst Waheed Muzjda. "The US will have to wage an intense hearts-and-minds campaign to turn this situation around."

The lack of public support could provide fertile recruiting ground for the Taliban and hinder US operations, Mr. Muzjda says.

After a year that saw the highest number of civilian and troop casualties since the war began in 2001, officials in Washington recently pledged to send 17,000 soldiers to stem the growing violence. The move has broad support among the American public – a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 64 percent back the new deployments.

Much of the Afghan opposition comes from provinces dominated by the Pashtun ethnic group, which include areas that have seen the most fighting and where the new troops will be deployed. A group of 50 mostly Pashtun members of parliament recently formed a working group aimed at blocking the arrival of new troops and pushing for a bilateral military agreement between Kabul and Washington, which currently does not exist.

Pashtun support is crucial

Although any proposed legislation or motion condemning the troop increase would be purely symbolic – the Afghan government does not have direct say over the operations of Western forces – observers say that the development is an important gauge of public opinion in Pashtun areas.

Dozens of interviews with tribal elders, parliamentarians who are not part of the working group, and locals in Pashtun areas have revealed similar sentiments.

"I can't find a single man in the entire province who is in favor of more troops," says Awal Khan, a tribal leader from Logar province, just south of Kabul. "They don't respect our tradition, culture, or religion."

"The majority of my people disagree with this increase," says Hanif Shah Hosseini, an MP from Khost province who is not part of the working group. "More troops won't bring more security, just an increase in the fighting."

US supporters targeted

Many cite civilian casualties and house raids as the main reason for their opposition. Recently in Logar, armed locals blocked the highway into Kabul for hours, in protest of a night raid where US forces killed one and detained three others. According to local reports, the nearly 2,000 protestors burned tires and chanted anti-US slogans.

In Kandahar Province, villagers recently placed the bodies of two children who were killed by mines in front a government office, shouting anti-Western slogans. They alleged that unexploded Canadian ordnance killed the children.

Many locals also fear the reprisals of the Taliban in areas where troops operate. Recently in Wardak Province, locals saw two boys practicing their fledgling English with American soldiers who were passing by. The Taliban later executed the children, accusing them of being spies.

Some feel that the US should focus its efforts solely on reconstruction and the building of Afghan security forces. "The Americans spend thousands of dollars every month on a single soldier," says Khost MP Mr. Hosseini. "With this huge amount of money, they can train our soldiers more effectively."

Others say that if the troops must come, they should coordinate with the Afghan government. "Without such coordination, I don't think sending more troops will change anything," says Kandahar tribal leader Agha Lalai Dastageri.

He adds that if troops were under the control of the Afghan government, they would be deployed near the Pakistani border and away from populated areas, diminishing the chance of civilian casualties. Many Afghans believe that the source of insecurity partly lies in Pakistan, where the leadership of the insurgency allegedly takes refuge, and that policing the border will improve security throughout Afghanistan.

American military officials say that although the goal is to eventually transfer all security responsibilities to Afghans, troops are still needed now for development and security. "Our intent is to use the troops to secure rural areas," says Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, spokeswoman for US forces in Afghanistan. "The Afghans are showing great promise, but they need us here for now."

Snowmelt ups urgency

The injection of forces still enjoys support outside the Pashtun belt. Other ethnic groups, such as the Tajiks and the Hezaras, who predominantly hail from the country's relatively peaceful north and west, back the notion. "We need these troops to strengthen security in the unstable provinces," says Mirwais Yassini, chair of the Afghan Parliament and a Tajik. "We also need them [to provide security] for the upcoming presidential elections."

Support for more troops is higher in the non-Pashtun areas because residents there have experienced less violence, and because they may view US forces as a buffer between them and the Taliban, analysts say. The memory of the Taliban's harsh rule is still fresh in many non-Pashtun communities, who suffered greatly during that time.

But winning support in the rural Pashtun villages, where the war is being fought, is crucial for the plan, analysts say. Development will be a key component to this war. Military planners intend to continue focusing on projects meant to boost economic activity, which they say will show locals the benefits of US presence in the region.

"A couple of months ago Arghasan district in Kandahar was controlled by insurgents," says Kandahar provincial council member Hajji Qasim. "But ever since USAID started a road project there, the economic situation improved and the insurgency lost influence."

Military officials say that such development projects can only succeed if they are accompanied by a corresponding troop increase, since insurgents often attack reconstruction teams.

Officials in Washington and Pashtun villagers agree on one thing: They expect the violence to increase this summer as the new forces attempt to root out insurgent strongholds.

"I know once the snows melt, things will start to get much worse," Logar resident Nasar Ahmad says. "The fighting will be intense, and a lot of us villagers are talking about fleeing to Kabul."

"We are worried our families will be caught in the middle," he adds