Thursday, October 15, 2009

Obama talks US nonmilitary efforts in Afghanistan

As President Barack Obama inches closer to a decision on new troops for Afghanistan, his latest war council debate Wednesday centered on how to strengthen U.S. civilian efforts there and significantly ramp up training of the Afghan police and army.

Obama met for three hours with his national security team, the fifth of six such meetings scheduled for the president to consider where to take the 8-year-old war.

The White House added a meeting for next week, by which time there may be a decision on whether to hold a runoff presidential election in Afghanistan between President Hamid Karzai and his chief challenger, Abdullah Abdullah.

The allegations of widespread fraud in the Aug. 20 voting are among the most troublesome factors in Obama's strategy review. An Afghanistan government seen as illegitimate by its people could create openings for the Taliban and a renewed safe haven for al-Qaida. Many fear that any U.S. effort - no matter how big or well-targeted - could fail as a result.

The U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission could rule as soon as Saturday on whether to discard enough Karzai votes to force a runoff with Abdullah. The new vote, logistically difficult to pull off, would have to be held within two weeks.

Though some administration officials and Obama advisers differ on whether a narrower, counterterror-style approach or a broader counterinsurgency mission is the better approach, all seem to agree that increasing nonmilitary efforts to improve Afghanistan's agricultural industry and economy, rule of law and governing institutions are key to any success. Similarly, the administration hopes to train significantly more local police and army in the hope they could eventually take the burden off of U.S. shoulders of protecting the country from a Taliban resurgence and al-Qaida infiltration.

"Having a strong and credible partner is extremely important to this process," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

He denied a report circulating in Britain that the president had made a decision on a troop increase that falls in about the middle-range of the options presented by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

McChrystal's still-secret troop request outlines three options - from as many as 80,000 more troops to as few as 10,000 - but favors a compromise of 40,000 more forces, officials have told The Associated Press. There now are 67,000 American troops in Afghanistan, and 1,000 more are headed there by the end of December.

Obama has said he would make up his mind in the coming weeks, and no announcement is expected before November. A senior administration official said the president is still working through and considering various options and has not settled on one. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the debate is ongoing.

"Like the other meetings, there wasn't one magic sentence or one magic phrase," Gibbs said of Wednesday's discussion in the White House Situation Room, in which nearly two dozen officials participated.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodman Clinton, who joined the discussion by phone because she was traveling overseas, said in a television interview that a big problem facing Obama and his team was "to sort out who is the real enemy."

"Our goal is to disrupt, dismantle, defeat al-Qaida and its extremist allies. But not every Taliban is al-Qaida," she told ABC News' "Nightline." "There are people who are Taliban, who are fighting because they get paid to fight. They have no other way of making a living."

Other tribal groups in Afghanistan find it beneficial to ally with the Taliban because they are conservative, she said. But those groups also are "not a direct threat to us," Clinton said.

However, a warning about overly de-emphasizing the focus on the Taliban came Wednesday from a key U.S. ally. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced his country would send 500 more troops to Afghanistan, for a total of about 9,500, but seemed to dismiss the notion of depending too much on increasing the focus on al-Qaida through precise aerial and special forces strikes.

"If we limit ourselves simply to targeting al-Qaida, without building the capacity of Afghanistan and Pakistan to deal with terrorism and violent extremism, the security gains will not endure," Brown said.

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official who chaired Obama's previous policy review in March, said more troops are needed, though he didn't know the right level.

"We need some kind of shock therapy," he said. "If we stay where we are we are committing ourselves to a long-term stalemate."

Britain's Brown pledges more Afghanistan troops

 British Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledged Wednesday to send more troops to Afghanistan but only if NATO and the Afghan government do more to help fight the Taliban.

Brown said his government would increase British troop levels to 9,500 — an increase of about 500 — on the condition that President Hamid Karzai reduce corruption and improve his government’s performance. Brown also pledged to send troops only if he can provide them with the proper equipment, and if NATO allies increase their contributions to the war effort. 

Military experts said Brown wants to show British support for the war as the U.S. debates an increase in its Afghan troop levels and he is unlikely to call off the deployment. Brown did not specify what contributions he is seeking from NATO nations, or exactly what the Afghans must do to get the extra forces, an indication that the conditions are largely designed to put political pressure on Karzai and NATO, they said. 

The increase in British troops is small and may be of mostly symbolic importance, but it will likely be welcomed by President Barack Obama as his administration ponders difficult options in Afghanistan. These include a possible increase in U.S. forces, which now number about 67,000. Britain is the second-largest force in the 42-nation NATO coalition in Afghanistan. 

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the administration was pleased by Brown’s announcement. He said Brown informed Obama of his decision last week when the two leaders spoke by telephone. 

“Obviously, the British people and those that serve there have borne an enormous price in casualties,” Gibbs said Wednesday. “Obviously, we’re thankful for a strengthening of the coalition, and our assessment continues. But again ... we’re happy for their increase in contributions.” 

Retired Col. Christopher Langton, a senior fellow at The International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said it is extremely unlikely that Brown will ultimately decide to cancel the deployment even if the conditions he demanded are not met, in part because Brown has said he is responding to requests from senior military advisers. 

Langton said, however, that Brown will have to make sure the troops are properly equipped and trained, as promised, or face tremendous public anger at home. The government has already been criticized for not providing enough body armor and heavy vehicles. 

“That’s the one condition he must meet,” Langton said. “The others he can sort of manage.” 

Brown has faced conflicting pressures at home as public opinion polls show drooping support for the war and former commanders say more troops are needed fast to avoid defeat at the hand of Taliban insurgents. 

Brown appeared to dismiss an argument put forward by some in the U.S. administration that Western forces should avoid raising troops levels and limit their goals to eliminating al-Qaida through precise strikes by aerial drones and special forces. 

“Our objective is clear and focused: to prevent al-Qaida launching attacks on our streets and threatening legitimate government in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” he said. “But if we limit ourselves simply to targeting al-Qaida, without building the capacity of Afghanistan and Pakistan to deal with terrorism and violent extremism, the security gains will not endure.” 

Brown also said he will demand a better performance from Karzai’s government. 

“I asked them for an assurance that they will sign a contract with us and the other allied powers about the elimination of corruption, the proper conduct of government, the appointment of governors who can actually manage in the provinces and the appointment of junior officials who can do that as well, as well as asking them to support our forces with a proper number of Afghan forces working with them,” Brown said. 

He said Britain will also send 10 million pounds (US $16 million) in aid to Pakistan and Afghanistan. He said the fight against the al-Qaida terrorist network cannot be confined to Afghanistan while the government of Pakistan is under threat. 

It is not clear that the proposed extra deployment is large enough to have an impact on the battlefield, where Taliban loyalists have been able to plant roadside bombs with devastating impact on British troops. 

Steven Bowns, a specialist at the Chatham House think tank in London, said troops will remain vulnerable on the ground until more helicopters are procured. 

“They are indeed needed but it seems like a political gesture rather than a serious deployment,” he said. 

Brown’s recently retired army chief accused him of turning down the military’s request for an extra 2,000 troops, an allegation the prime minister’s office denied. 

Brown’s supporters have questioned retired Gen. Richard Dannatt’s motives, noting that he has since been picked to become a senior adviser to the opposition Conservative Party.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

CAPITAL CULTURE: The phrase Obama can't do without

For all his flourish, President Barack Obama sure falls back on a few familiar phrases.

Make no mistake. Change isn't easy. It won't be happen overnight. There will be setbacks and false starts.

Those who routinely listen to the president have come to expect some of those expressions to pop up in almost every speech. (That includes you, cynics and naysayers, the ones Obama mentions all the time without identifying who is saying nay.)
Yet in the portfolio of presidential phrases, none is more pervasive than Obama's four-word favorite: Let me be clear.

It is his emphatic windup for, well, everything.

"Let me be clear," he said in describing his surprise at winning the Nobel Peace Prize. "I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations."

"Let me be clear," he said in one of his dozens of pitches for a health insurance overhaul. "If you like your doctor or health care provider, you can keep them."

Presidents talk so much in public that is not surprising to find rhetorical patterns. Although Obama is known for a flair with the written and spoken word, his hardest mission is often to make complicated matters relevant to the masses.

So clarity, it seems, is of the highest order.

Terrorists? "Now let me be clear: We are indeed at war with al-Qaida and its affiliates."
Student testing? "Let me be clear: Success should be judged by results, and data is a powerful tool to determine results."

Iran? "Let me be clear: Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran's neighbors and our allies."

Auto bailouts? "Let me be clear: The United States government has no interest in running GM."
The president takes the phrase everywhere.

In Moscow: "Let me be clear: America wants a strong, peaceful, and prosperous Russia."

In Ghana: "Let me be clear: Africa is not the crude caricature of a continent at perpetual war."

In Italy, bemoaning poor U.S. leadership on climate change: "Let me be clear: Those days are over."

In Trinidad, announcing new aid: "Let me be clear: This is not charity."

Obama has used the same phrase, or a variation of it, to make his point about the strategy in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, U.S.-China relations, bipartisanship, pet legislative projects and Turkey's bid to join the European Union.

He has relied on it to look ahead ("Let me be clear: We pay for this plan," Obama says of his college initiative) and to look back ("Let me be clear: Those ideas have been tested, and they have failed" he says of economic models he dislikes.)

White House spokesman Josh Earnest says Obama's style, which he referred to as presidential throat "clearing", is purposeful.

"While some in Washington seek political advantage by hiding behind ambiguity," Earnest said, "the president regularly seeks to make it clear where he stands and what he intends to do."

Perhaps the nation should have seen this coming. Candidate Obama set the tone.
"Let me be clear: It's outrageous that we find ourselves in a position where taxpayers must bear the burden for the greed and irresponsibility of Wall Street and Washington," Obama said in September 2008.

Not that his Republican opponent ceded the expression. "Let me be clear," Sen. John McCain said in an August 2008 riff about Obama and Iraq. "I am not questioning his patriotism; I am questioning his judgment."

As president-elect, Obama broke out "let me be clear" in announcing his economic team.

And his national security team. And his intelligence team.

There must be something catchy to all this. The people around Obama are just as insistent.

Here's Vice President Joe Biden, assuring members of Georgia's Parliament that U.S. efforts to reset relations with Russia wouldn't come at their expense: "Let me be clear: They have not, they will not, and they cannot."

And senior adviser David Axelrod, on missed legislative deadlines on health care: "Let me be clear. We're less interested in hard deadlines than in moving the process forward."

Lest anyone get too serious about this, Obama has lightened the mood with the phrase, too. He made state lawmakers laugh when he said the massive taxpayer-financed stimulus plan wouldn't be spent on frivolous projects such as dog parks.

"Now, let me be clear," Obama said in March, before Bo the dog arrived. "I don't have anything against dog parks."

IBM to Apply Analytics to War on Terror

Big Blue will supply its analytics know-how to a key U.S. military force in the battle against terrorism

Can the analytic science that powers operations at Wal-Mart (WMT) and Federal Express (FDX) make inroads against terrorists? IBM (IBM) is going to give it a shot. Big Blue's Global Services Div. just landed a five-year, $20 million contract to apply its analytical know-how to the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), the key military force in the battle against terrorism. 

For years, industry has been using analytics to make so-called supply chains run well, ensuring companies are able to pull together all the pieces they need, at the right time, to build everything from airliners to chip fabs. But according to Kevin P. Green, a retired Navy vice-admiral who heads up defense consulting for IBM Global Business Services, the military has lagged behind. "In the past, they've had to depend on heroic administration, people responding on very short notice and putting together disparate systems," Green says. An operation in Afghanistan, for example, requires pulling up data on manpower, repair parts, weapons, food, and is often carried out piece by piece on different computers in place. 

The new approach, which will take years to fully implement, would start with a model of the operation, and then suggest the most efficient and effective deployment of all the parts. 
Lessons from World War II

It's surprising that the military would be a latecomer to industrial analytics. It was during World War II that British and U.S. mathematicians began using problem-solving approaches that would later evolve into what's now known as business analytics. At the time, these scientists were trying to confront the challenge posed by German U-boats that were sinking the ships carrying arms and provisions to Britain. These teams came up with large-scale mathematical models, and figured out how to deploy them to keep attrition at a minimum. This was called optimization, and the process gave birth to operations research, one of the pillars of analytics. 

Following the war, IBM dedicated the new science to making the best use of its own industrial supply chain. Over the following decades, Big Blue and others embedded this expertise in software and sold it to industrial customers all over the world. In recent years, with the explosion of digital data, IBM has been scooping up analytics companies, spending more than $10 billion in acquisitions. The most recent is the $1.2 billion buyout of Chicago-based SPSS in July. 

The IBM team, Green says, will involve 12 full-time consultants with expertise in cybersecurity, defense, transportation, and the other pieces needed to model the military's Special Operations. The company has carried out similar, smaller services contracts for the armed forces in Britain and Finland. IBM's team is supported by subcontractors, including CACI International (CACI) and National Interest Security Co., both specialists in defense, intelligence, and homeland security. A spokesman for U.S. Special Operations says the bidding involved a number of tech companies, but he could not provide the names.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Blood, rage & history: The world's first terrorists

Imagine it. A network of violent radicals is picking off the world's leaders one by one. They have killed the American President, the Russian head of state, the French President, the Austrian head of state, and the Spanish Prime Minister. 

Bomb attacks are ripping through the world's richest cities: explosions devastate Wall Street, the London Underground, a theatre in Barcelona, cafés in Paris, parades in Moscow. The police profile of a typical bomber warns: "He walks to his death with courage and no regrets." There is panic, and governments launch programmes of torture and deportation targeted at immigrant communities. Yet still the radicals wash defiantly across the world, killing as they go. They say they have "only one aim, one science: destruction". 

It sounds like a feverish novel about al-Qa'ida, set 30 years from now. But it has already happened. It is a story from our past. In the late 19th and early 20th century, anarchist bombers did all this. They were prepared to die for their beliefs. They lived in the same places as today's Islamists – such as Whitechapel, in east London – and they struck the same targets, like lower Manhattan on a clear September morning.

In a new documentary – The Enemy Within, by Joe Bullman – young Islamists read the words of yesterday's Jewish anarchists, from their writings and trial transcripts. While the societies they dream of building after the bombs are very different, their rage, their alienation, and their tactics are almost identical. The words fit so easily into their mouths that the Islamists say it is "creepy". 

Mark Twain said: "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme." Are there lessons buried in this ripple of rage spreading across a century? For decades, anarchist radicals seemed like an ineradicable force that would bleed Western societies forever. Within a generation, they were gone. So can the anarchists show us what makes young men attack their own societies – and what makes them stop? Can it tell us what tactics defeat an amorphous underground movement, and what only makes them stronger? From the nitroglycerine of the 19th century, is there a fuse that ends with the jihadists of 2009? 

I. Terminus 

As the sun set on 12 February 1894, the Café Terminus at the Gare Saint-Lazare was full of young Parisians listening to an orchestra when the music stopped abruptly. A fireball consumed everything in sight: the world went black. When the survivors came round, there was a jigsaw of body parts around them, and people on fire, running, screaming. It was the work of a smartly dressed 20-year-old French accountant called Emile Henry. He had placed a bomb in a metal workman's lunchbox and hurled it at the orchestra. This wasn't his first attack: a few months before, he had blown up a police station, killing five people, and returned calmly to his desk, where he finished the ledgers he had been working on. 

But it was the first time a private individual had randomly blown up civilians. As the historian Dr John Merriman, who teaches at Yale University, says: "It was the day that ordinary people became the targets of terrorists." But Emile Henry was not an anarchist from Central Casting. He was an intellectual born into the French bourgeoisie, living in part off handouts from his rich aunt. He was – by all accounts – a sensitive person who had spent his life appalled at the cruelty all around him. He claimed his act would save lives in the end: that he was murdering out of compassion. 

Henry was living in a Paris of vertiginous inequalities. In a quarter of an hour you could walk from the palatial glamour of the opera house to slums where babies were routinely dying of tuberculosis. The divide ran right though his soul: he had the education of the rich, but he had slumped down into the tubercular slums. 

Emile's father, Fortune Henry, had run away from his middle-class family in 1848 at the age of 16 to join the revolution in Paris. When Parisians seized control of their own city in 1871 and ran it as a democratic commune, Fortune manned the barricades and rallied the crowds. But when the French state recaptured Paris – massacring 25,000 people as it went – he was condemned to death, and fled to Spain. Emile Henry was born there, and he was raised on tales of how the French state had brutally suppressed freedom. The boy grew to see all governments as evil, especially when the Spanish authorities confiscated the family's belongings to punish their anarchist sympathies. His father was forced to work in filthy factories where he contracted mercury poisoning. He died when his son was 10. 

Henry's mother begged for cash from her wealthy relatives, who helped send Henry to the best schools in Paris. He was an exceptionally successful student, and for a time – as a pale, tall young man, with a reddish beard – he became an engineer. But, on a meagre trainee engineer's salary, he was still stuck in the poorer arrondisements of Paris, where he was stunned by the waste of life all around him. The poor majority had no political voice, and scarcely enough food to live: a quarter of all children died before reaching adulthood. 

"I would like simply to disappear, to annihilate myself, in order to escape the perpetual anguish that strangles and breaks heart and soul," he wrote. He concluded that wealthy Paris was dominated by "frauds", and "only the cynics and grovellers can get a place at the banquet ... [The rich have] appropriated everything, robbing the other class not just of the sustenance of the body but also the sustenance of the mind." 

Across Europe, the nation-state was asserting its power over ordinary citizens in a deeper and harsher way than ever before, with governments seizing taxes and young men for conscription at an unprecedented rate. In response, there was a growing anarchist movement that simply said that the state was illegitimate, and should be disbanded. 

The term "anarchist" had originally been an insult, but, in 1840, a French provincial printer's assistant called Pierre-Joseph Proudhon picked it up and wore it with pride. He said if governments were disbanded, people would organise themselves into peaceful democratic communes that would run their own affairs, without police or laws or taxes. It was the state – with its apparatus of coercion and violence – that made people bad. Remove the state, and you would have a natural order at last, based on personal freedom. Law is tyranny; property is theft. 

In a society where the emaciated poor were routinely being worked to death, it was an appealing message. As he lay dying because he had been made to work in toxic factories since childhood, a porcelain worker known to history only as "M L" wrote: "Accursed society, you are responsible for my illness. Thoughtless and cynical bourgeois, do you not sense that I can transform myself into someone who can right wrongs, an avenger of the innumerable existences that your society has massacred, an avenger of all those who have revolted and live as outlaws, and those who have been tortured or eliminated? Bourgeois ... I want to talk with me at least some of those who are responsible for my death." 

To Emile Henry, it seemed persuasive. He took money from his bourgeois aunt – and wrote cordial letters of thanks – but cursed the bourgeoisie as "evil". When he was ordered to attend the military lottery, where he could have been conscripted, he went on the run. At lectures across the city, he heard the argument put by anarchists that the only way to put their philosophy into practice was by "the propaganda of the deed". Acts of violence against the state or the populace would show the state's power was illusory and stir a general revolt. Just as most Muslims reject jihadism today, most anarchists rejected violence against civilians, calling it "common murder". But developments in France made Henry more determined to side with the furious fringe of anarchism: striking miners were crushed by troops, and the rich became richer. He wrote: "The entire bourgeoisie lives from the exploitation of the unfortunate, and all of it should pay for its crimes." 

He was captured at the scene of the bombing. He said he had one regret: that he didn't kill more "bourgeois". If only he had a bomb big enough, he boasted, he would have blown up the whole of Paris. Only from the rubble could a just society emerge. In a letter to his mother, he said: "You must not believe those who will say that your son is a criminal. The real criminals are those who make life impossible for anyone with a heart, those men who uphold a society in which everyone suffers." 

After Henry was executed at the age of 21, a series of revenge bombings staged by anarchists ripped through France. One of the killers, Auguste Vaillant, declared: "We will spare neither women nor children because the women and children we love have not been spared. Are they not innocent victims, these children, who in the faubourgs slowly die of anaemia, because bread is rare at home? Those women who in your workshops suffer exhaustion and are worn out in order to earn 40 cents a day? These old men whom you have turned into machines so that they can produce their entire lives and whom you throw out on to the street when they have been completely depleted? You will add other names to the bloody lists of our dead ... but what you can never destroy is anarchy. Its roots are too deep, born in a poisonous society that is falling apart. It is everywhere, which makes anarchy elusive. It will finish by killing you." 

II. All-American Anarchism 

Emile Henry was only one member of a scattered freelance army who believed they could end the idea of government itself, and usher in an era of perfect freedom. Their attacks were made possible by the coincidence of two historical developments: the development of anarchist philosophy, and the invention of dynamite. In 1866, the Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel invented this easy-to-carry, easy-to-make explosive, and it spread through the world's mining and construction industries like a rapidly fizzing fuse. But it took a tiny, malformed German anarchist to see how it could change the world's politics. 

Johann Most was a 5ft-tall bookbinder filled with rage. As a child, an operation on his jaw had gone wrong, leaving it painfully jutting forward. His attempts to hide it under a huge red beard only attracted more attention. Most turned his humiliation outwards on to just causes – at least at first. He too ran away to Paris, and was immediately jailed after the crushing of the Commune, for demanding the vote for everyone. He argued for socialism, to be brought about through parliamentary democracy – and when he was released from jail he was elected to the German Reichstag on precisely this platform. But Otto von Bismarck launched a purge of all leftists, and Most had to flee again. 

The purge crushed Most's belief in gradual reform. He became convinced the system could only be changed by blowing it up – and suddenly realised that explosives were now lying all over Europe and the US, in sheds controlled by ordinary workers. Dynamite needed no expertise to operate; it could be carried in your pocket; and it could kill. He announced: "It is within the power of dynamite to destroy the capitalist regime just as it had been within the power of gunpowder and the rifle to wipe feudalism from the face of the earth. A girdle of dynamite encircles the world!" 

Most travelled from country to country, urging workers to pick up their dynamite and use it against the bosses who forced them to work 12-hour days, seven days a week, for starvation wages. He became the model for Ossipon, the refugee-anarchist Ossipon in Joseph Conrad's novel The Secret Agent, who walks the street with a bomb forever strapped to him, ready to blow himself up the moment the police swoop. In anticipation of Islamism, Ossipon brags that his enemies "depend on life ... whereas I depend on death, which knows no restraint and cannot be attacked. My superiority is evident." 

Although it has been consigned to the memory-hole, one of the places where Most found the most recruits was the US. He washed up in the 1880s in a continent where 35,000 American workers died every year in industrial accidents. Whenever they went on strike for better conditions, they were savagely beaten by the police. The richest 2 per cent owned 60 per cent of the wealth, and the politicians and police did their bidding. 

One of his most fervent disciples was a hard-drinking cowboy from Utah, never seen without a stetson and a strut. He was called "Big Bill" Haywood. He spent his childhood moving from one mining town to another, and had his eye slashed out in a mechanical accident when he was nine. By the age of 15, he spent almost all his time hacking at rock underground, where he saw men routinely get crushed or blasted. Writing about one typical town, he explained: "The people of this mining camp breathed copper, ate copper, wore copper, and were thoroughly saturated with copper ... Many of the miners were suffering from rankling copper sores, caused by the poisonous water. Human life was the cheapest by-product of this great copper camp." 

Big Bill turned to anarchism after witnessing systematic state violence against ordinary people. When he organised a strike, US soldiers rounded up 1,000 miners at random and placed them in a barbed-wire bull-pen. They were detained there for seven months. As the police officer in charge declared, "To hell with the constitution!" They called it the "American Bastille." 

Class war didn't seem like a metaphor to him: it was the reality of everyday life. The industrialist Jay Gould openly bragged: "I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half." So Haywood – some historians believe – blew up the governor of Idaho, Frank Steunenberg, in 1907, and his trial was the biggest news story of the year. His lawyer, the legendary Clarence Darrow, urged the jury to side not with "the spiders of Wall Street" but with "the men who toil with their hands ... through our mills and factories, and deep underneath the earth. I am here to say that in a great cause these labour organisations have stood for the weak, they have stood for every humane law that was ever placed on the statute books. I don't care how many wrongs they have committed – I don't care how many crimes – I just know their cause is just." 

It is a sign of how widespread the sympathy for anarchists was that Haywood was acquitted, and became an American folk hero. He eventually had to flee the US during the First World War when he urged people to resist the draft, and was sentenced to 20 years in jail. He fled to the Soviet Union, found it to be "hell", and drank himself to death. 

This is only one small slice of a larger story unfolding in every developed country. Anarchist attacks on politicians were remarkably successful, starting when three young men hurled bombs into a carriage carrying Tsar Alexander II in 1881, killing him and several members of the crowd. Anarchists claimed their heftiest scalp when, in 1901, a young militant called Frank Czolgosz waited in line to shake US President McKinley's hand in Buffalo – and stabbed him hard in the gut. (This act gave us President Theodore Roosevelt, one of the most aggressively imperialist and racist presidents in US history). But gradually the anarchist fervour boiled down further and further into attacks on ordinary civilians – which is why they still echo into our world today. 

III. "It was written 100 years ago, but it is happening today" 

Does this anarchism bear any relationship to the jihadists who bomb the very same targets today? When the film-maker Joe Bullman got young British Muslims with some sympathy for the 7/7 bombers to read the words of anarchists put on trial at the Old Bailey a century ago, they showed an exhilarated recognition. Adam Munevar Khan says: "It was written 100 years ago, but it is happening today – to the Muslims." Mohammed Rahmen says: "Anarchism has been represented to be a doctrine of insanity and murder – its principles, its ideals, they've been unmentioned, lied about. That really penetrated my way of thinking. That's exactly how Islam is." 

The Islamists read the anarchist lines to camera with feeling. One of them says: "We are met by the cry of assassins, dynamiters, fiends – but let's see who utters these cries. It's the same people who daily massacre more people than the anarchists of all countries have ever killed." It could be Mohammad Sidique Khan, the 7/7 murderer, announcing: "Your democratically elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world. And your support of them makes you directly responsible, just as I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters. Until we feel security, you will be our targets. And until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people, we will not stop this fight." 

Yet it's easier, at first glance, to see the differences between the two ideologies. Anarchists loathed religion, seeing it as another form of tyranny to be destroyed; Islamists want their severe interpretation of religion to be obeyed by everyone. Anarchists were some of the first to fight for feminism and sexual freedom; Islamists want to imprison women in burqas and in their homes, and to kill gays. Anarchists demanded absolute free speech; Islamists chant "death to free speech". Anarchists loathed racism; Islamists are frequently racist against Jews. Anarchists wanted a society of absolute freedom; Islamists want a society of absolute obedience. 

But neither had a very clear picture of what the world would look like after the smoke from their bombs had cleared. Their visions of the future were vague: both no-state and the caliphate were hazy hope-dreams. Below and beneath them, there were deep structural similarities. 

Both groups believed their violence was justified by the larger illegitimate state violence they witnessed as young men. For the anarchists, it was the crushing of the Paris Commune and the executions of innocent anarchists after the Haymarket bomb of 1886 in Chicago; for the Islamists it is the assaults on the Palestinians, on Afghanistan, and on Iraq. However warped, they believe they are killing out of compassion for the victims of these crimes. The anarchist Emma Goldman wrote: "To those who say hate does not give birth to love, I reply that it is love, human love, that often engenders hate." 

They justified their attacks to themselves by claiming they were trying to give the wealthy, or the West, a taste of how "their people" felt. Yet in both movements, intriguingly, it was largely middle class intellectuals who turned to violence. Both Emile Henry and Mohammed Atta – the leader of the 9/11 hijackings – were engineers who found in mathematics a sense of purity and order and rationality that soothed them, and seemed like a refuge from a chaotic world. The leading anarchists in Europe – Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin – were both Russian noblemen, just as Osama bin Laden is the son of a Saudi billionaire. (Bakunin and Kropotkin, however, strongly opposed targeting civilians.) They were people who chose to renounce their riches and side with the embattled tribe "beneath" them, and claimed to be fighting for its survival. 

Both waves of violence were reactions to tectonic shifts in how power worked in the world. Anarchist attacks were a violent reaction to the rise of the nation-state; Islamist attacks within the West are to a significant degree a violent kick-back against Western states asserting their power abroad. These reactions were only made possible by new networks of communication. For the anarchists, the revolution in shipping and telegrams made movement across continents suddenly faster and freer than ever: a genuinely international network moving rapidly between countries could develop for the first time. For Islamists, the internet made the movement of ideas and plans instantaneous: a global movement simultaneously operating in Tora Bora and Manhattan was suddenly possible. 

And for this reason, both movements produced vicious backlashes against immigrants that went far beyond the people who actually carried out the attacks. In Bullman's film, he gets contemporary asylum-bashing pundits like Gary Bushell and Nick Ferrari to read the rage directed at Jews in Britain after a small number of Jewish immigrants became anarchists and launched bombings. Ferrari reads a Daily Mail column from 1911 that barks: "There are hundreds of anarchists in Whitechapel ... but there's no way of learning anything about them. In this great foreign city east of Aldgate the English policeman is an uncomprehending foreigner ... We can't continue to let the scum of Europe [come here]." 

And this perhaps points to the most important echo of all. When governments reacted to these attacks, at first they charged angrily down a path that made anarchism worse – and guaranteed more of their citizens would die. 

IV. Why did the attacks stop? 

The postscript to anarchist bombings in almost every country was a bonfire of civil liberties. After Wall Street was blasted with a massive bomb in 16 September 1920, killing 38 people including a 16-year-old newspaper delivery boy, the US government launched a huge indiscriminate programme of deportations of "radicals" – often peaceful left-wingers. It was masterminded by a young man called J Edgar Hoover, who learned then the tactics of indiscriminate smearing he was to use throughout the cold war. For the first time in the country's history, Congress declared an idea to be "un-American", and said anybody preaching anarchism – however peacefully – would be held responsible for "aiding" the attacks. There was a raft of convictions of people who had done nothing except discuss anarchism and suggest there was some justice in its analysis. 

There was a smattering of small countervailing voices in America, but in the initial hysteria, they were drowned out. The federal judge George W Anderson said the Justice Department was engaging in "utterly illegal acts, committed by those charged with the highest duty of enforcing the laws." The US Attorney Francis Fisher Kane resigned, warning that "the policy of raids against large numbers of individuals is generally unwise and very apt to result in injustice". 

A presidential commission warned that this crackdown only made the anarchist warnings about a police state seem prescient. To the young men teetering on an act of violence, torture and police brutality made the anarchists sound right – and violent resistance necessary. The commission said the structural causes of the violence had to be dealt with instead, explaining: "The crux of the question is – have the workers received their share of the enormous increase in wealth which has taken place in this country? The answer is emphatically – no ... Throughout history where a people or a group has been arbitrarily denied rights, reaction has been inevitable. Violence is a natural form of protest against injustice." 

But nobody wanted to hear these arguments. The public and the politicians wanted vengeance. Some governments, like France's, exploited the attacks to shut down all left-wing protest. Hoover employed a raft of agents to find a bogus "Russian connection" to the Wall Street bombing, to justify aggression against the Soviet Union. 

Eventually, the American people returned to their senses, and chose a president who saw the threat in a cooler way. President Warren Harding said: "It is quite true that there are enemies of the government within our borders. However, I believe their number has been greatly magnified." 

But the countries that had the harshest crackdowns ended up with the largest anarchist movements of all, while those that reacted calmly and kept their freedoms open saw the movements implode much faster. Professor John Merriman – whose book The Dynamite Club is one of the best accounts of the anarchist attacks – explains: "After the Italian king Umberto I was assassinated by the anarchist Gaetano Bresci, the Italian state response was deliberately restrained and minor. This undercut the movement. By contrast, Spain reacted at the same time with a programme of brutal repression and torture. They ended up with the biggest anarchist movement in Europe. Then later, when they stopped torturing people, the anarchist attacks stopped. I'm not an expert on contemporary terrorism, but the lesson for us seems pretty clear." 

From the 1920s on, the anarchist attacks began to dwindle, and by the late 1930s they were over. Why? What happened? Nobody is entirely sure – but most historians suggest a few factors. After the initial wave of state repression, civil liberties slowly advanced – undermining the anarchist claims. The indiscriminate attacks on ordinary civilians discredited anarchism in the eyes of the wider public: after a young man blew himself up in Greenwich Park in 1892, his coffin was stoned and attacked by working class people in the East End. The anarchists' own cruelty and excess slowly deprived them of recruits. 

But, just as importantly, many of the anarchist grievances were addressed by steady reforms. Trade unions were finally legalised, and many of their demands were achieved one by one: an eight-hour working day, greater safety protections, compensation for the injured. Work was no longer so barbaric – so the violent rejection of it faded away. The changes were nowhere near as radical as those demanded by the anarchists, but it stripped them of followers step-by-step. 

Could the same be done with Islamism? The lesson from the death of violent anarchism is that the solution lies beyond blanket violent repression of them or its polar opposite, capitulation to their demands. The answer is gradual reform that ends some – but not all – of the sources of their rage. Clearly, many of Islamists' "grievances" should be left unaddressed: we must never restrict the rights of women or gay people or end the freedom to discuss religion openly, as they demand. But there is plenty we can do. 

When the huge violence directed at workers and the poor stopped, violent anarchist attacks stopped. An end to the extensive violence directed towards many Muslims could have a similar effect. It would require significant changes here at home. We would have to kick our addiction to oil, so we will no longer be drawn into hellish oil-grabs into Muslim countries, or into holding hands with murderous tyrannies like the House of Saud. We will have unequivocally to renounce torture (even when it is practised by "allies" such as the Egyptian dictatorship), and press for peace for the Palestinians instead of arming and funding the assault on them. This will never be enough for the jihadists, of course – but if we do it, they will find their base of furious young men dissolving beneath their feet. 

The ghosts of Emile Henry and Johann Most and Big Bill Haywood are standing before us, with their sticks of dynamite slowly fizzing. Are we going to make the same mistake that our governments did when dealing with them – or, after a century, have we learned how to put out the fire this time?

India is not exporting terrorism

Prime minister Manmohan Singh dismissed Pakistan's charge of India fomenting trouble in Balochistan. He said, "We are not in the business of spreading terror in Pakistan, or any other country. The people of Pakistan will know that the accusations made against India by the government are false."

Singh was commenting on Pakistan interior minister Rehman Malik's allegations that India was promoting terrorism in Balochistan and Afghanistan. Expressing concern over the developments in these countries, he said, "The people of Pakistan should realise that patronising terrorist groups has caused great harm to them, as well as to the South Asian region. The situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan is not what it should be. The rising role of terrorists is a matter of concern to all of us."

"We have to make adequate preparations to deal with the consequences of this overflow of terrorism from our neighbours to our country. Even though adequate measures necessary to tackle cross-border terrorism are being taken, the results will be much better if the countries work together," he added.

Friday, October 9, 2009

White House weighs Pakistan's role in winning war

Recognizing the US can neither win in Afghanistan nor succeed more broadly against Al Qaeda without Pakistan's cooperation, President Barack Obama's war council is weighing a new role for Pakistan in the 8-year-old struggle in the region.

Obama planned sessions Thursday with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the White House to continue the intense discussion about the increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan. The White House scheduled another, larger war council session — a fifth of five announced — for Friday, when the focus may finally shift to just how many additional troops would be needed to execute Obama’s vision for a war he inherited but now must execute. 

The White House disclosed that Obama has in hand — and has for nearly a week — the troop request prepared by the top US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. It is said to include a range of options, from adding as few as 10,000 combat troops to — McChrystal’s strong preference — as many as 40,000. 

A senior Pentagon official said Thursday that the Obama administration’s delay in deciding on a strategy has, in turn, stalled European allies who are weighing how much more to contribute to Afghanistan. 

Allies ‘who may be asked to vote for additional resources at some point are all waiting to see exactly what the US decides to do in the wake of the McChrystal assessment,’ Assistant Defense Secretary Alexander Vershbow, who oversees international security affairs, told reporters. ‘In the meantime, they have their own domestic issues and each individual country, those countries that have suffered high casualties are obviously having to deal with some who are arguing that the cost of this war isn’t worth it.’ 

However, most foreign governments realize that the overall goal is security — and not necessarily improved relations with the United States or NATO, said Vershbow, a former ambassador. 

‘When they have the answers for what the US is going to do, I think we can expect them to take leadership in their countries to try to keep up their side of the operation,’ he said. 

Obama’s national security team marked the war’s eighth anniversary on Wednesday with a three-hour session in a secure room in the White House basement. The focus on Pakistan, the suspected hiding place of Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda terrorists as well as Taleban leaders, could provide a hint into the president’s leanings. 

Obama and some of his key aides are increasingly pointing to recent successes against Al Qaeda through targeted missile strikes and raids in Pakistan but also in Somalia and elsewhere. Obama said Tuesday that Al Qaeda has ‘lost operational capacity’ as a result. 

In Pakistan, though, the government has shown new willingness to battle extremists, with most believed to be operating from the largely ungoverned terrain along the border with Afghanistan. But these operations, as well as the strikes by unmanned US aircraft, continue to stoke controversy throughout the country, causing problems for the already weak U.S.-backed civilian government. 

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama asked for McChrystal’s request last week before he flew to Copenhagen to lobby for Chicago’s bid to host the Olympics and meet with the general on the sidelines. The numbers could become the focus of concentrated White House attention as soon as Friday, Gibbs said. 

While Gibbs had said previously that Obama did not want to see the request until he had determined the strategy, aides said the president decided it had simply become absurd to wait to read it given the high-profile debate. 

McChrystal’s recommended approach calls for additional troops in Afghanistan for a counterinsurgency campaign to defeat the Taleban, build up the central government and deny Al Qaeda a haven. McChrystal, whose plan is somewhat reminiscent of President George W. Bush’s Iraq troop surge in 2008, says extra troops — preferably at the higher end of his option range — are crucial to turn around a war that will probably be won or lost over the next 12 months. 

On roughly the opposite end of the spectrum, an alternative favored most prominently by Biden would keep the American force in Afghanistan around the 68,000 already authorized, including the 21,000 extra troops Obama ordered earlier this year, but increase the use of surgical strikes with unmanned Predator drones and special forces. 

Shrinking the number of troops in Afghanistan and turning the effort into a narrow counterterror campaign is not on the table, officials say, and neither is drastically ballooning the military footprint. 

In weighing whether to follow McChrystal or Biden or land somewhere in between, Obama faces a stern test and difficult politics. 

Many lawmakers from his own Democratic Party, aware of rising anti-war sentiment in their ranks and the war protests that have dotted Washington this week, do not want to see additional US troops sent to Afghanistan. According to a new Associated Press-GfK poll, public support for the war has dropped to 40 percent from 44 percent in July. 

Republicans, meanwhile, are urging Obama to heed the military commanders’ calls soon or risk failure. 

With this and Americans’ dwindling patience in mind, Obama is engaged in a methodical review of how to overhaul the war.

Obama focusing on al-Qaida, not Taliban

President Barack Obama is prepared to accept some Taliban involvement in Afghanistan's political future and will determine how many more U.S. troops to send to the war based only on keeping al-Qaida at bay, a senior administration official said Thursday.

The sharpened focus by Obama's team on fighting al-Qaida above all other goals, while downgrading the emphasis on the Taliban, comes in the midst of an intensely debated administration review of the increasingly unpopular war.

Aides stress that the president's decision on specific troop levels and the other elements of a revamped approach is still at least two weeks away, and they say Obama has not tipped his hand in meetings that will continue at the White House on Friday.

But the thinking emerging from the strategy formulation portion of the debate offers a clue that Obama would be unlikely to favor a large military increase of the kind being advocated by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. McChrystal's troop request is said to include a range of options, from adding as few as 10,000 combat troops to - the general's strong preference - as many as 40,000.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Perpetrators of 26/11 attacks not friends of Pakistan: Qureshi

Calling those who carried out the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks as no friends of Pakistan, its foreign

minister Shah Mahmood
Qureshi has said it's in Islamabad's enlightened self-interest to normalise and live in peace
with India.

The government of Pakistan believes that terror organisations like the one behind the Mumbai attacks "have to be checked, curtailed and shut," he said at the Council of Foreign Relations, a Washington-based think tank, on Wednesday.

India has asked Pakistan to give up terror as a state policy and has demanded concrete and speedy action against those responsible for the Mumbai terrorist attacks blamed on the Pakistan based terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba as a condition for normalising relations with its neighbour.

Indian external affairs minister SM Krishna had made it clear to Qureshi at their Sep 27 meeting in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly that an environment free of violence and terrorism was essential for the success of a meaningful dialogue process.

Asked about what action Pakistan has taken against the Mumbai attackers, Qureshi on Wednesday avoided a direct answer. "Those who carried out the Mumbai terrorist attack that killed 166 innocent people are not friends of Pakistan," he said.

"In the interest of stability and peace in the region, it is in the interest of Pakistan's enlightened self-interest to normalise and live in peace with India," Qureshi said. "The government of Pakistan believes that these organisations have to be checked, curtailed and shut," he added.

In response to another question, Qureshi said the India-US civil nuclear agreement was discriminatory. "And when you sign agreements that are discriminatory in nature, it does not help," he said.

Pakistan wants conditionless dialogue with neighbours

Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi today sought an intensive dialogue between the South Asian neighbours without any conditions.

"It doesn't take much genius to understand that terrorists threats require more intensive dialogue between South Asian neighbours, accompanied by a sincerity of purpose and resolving disputes rather than pauses and conditionalities," Qureshi said in his address to the Council on Foreign Relations: a Washington-based think tank.

As the region is facing serious threat from terrorism, he said that it makes no sense that instead of pooling their resources to fight terrorism, they squander these to threaten the other.

"Instinctive reactions, coupled with hasty and unsubstantiated accusations, strengthen the very forces that we profess to defeat," said Qureshi, who is currently on a three-day visit to Washington to meet Congressional leaders and top officials of the Obama administration.

"It is fine to move beyond the rhetoric. Each country has to stand up to terrorism and be counted. Cold War calculations to gain short-term advantages have no relevance in these times. Long-term interests of all countries of the region lie in promoting stability and work towards socio-economic uplift of the people of the region," he argued.

Replying to a question, he said the groups responsible for the Mumbai terrorist attack are not a friend of Pakistan and needs to be checked, curtailed and shut. "Organisations that carried out the acts those results in Mumbai attack are certainly no friend to Pakistan because through those acts they not only killed people they could have triggered off something more serious than that," Qureshi said.

"We have to guard against that mindset. In the interest of stability and peace in the region, it is in the interest of Pakistan's enlightened self-interest to normalise and live in peace with India. The Government of Pakistan believes that these organisations have to be checked, curtailed and shut," he asserted.

His remarks comes even as the Pakistani Army and the ISI have been reportedly trying to push Taliban militants inside Jammu and Kashmir. India has insisted that Pakistan needs to show commitment and progress that it is taking action against those responsible for the Mumbai terrorist attack. 

Qureshi had met external affairs minister SM Krishna in New York last month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session. Though the meeting was said to be fruitful by both sides, no dates have been set for the next round of talks between the two South Asian neighbours.

In response to another question, Qureshi said the US civilian nuclear deal with India is discriminatory.

"And when you sign agreements that are discriminatory in nature it does not help," he said in direct reference to the civilian nuclear deal with India, which was signed by the then US president George W Bush last year.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

US stands right beside Islamabad

While the foreign policy debate here has focused primarily on Afghanistan and Iran over the past two weeks, official Washington has been moving to tighten ties with a key neighbor of both countries, Pakistan. 

Late last week, Congress finally cleared legislation that would triple the current level of US non-military aid to Islamabad over the next five years, to an annual rate of US$1.5 billion. Only a fraction of the $11 billion provided to Pakistan under the administration of US president George W Bush from 2001 was devoted to non-military assistance. 

While the additional assistance will likely help bolster Washington's badly damaged image among the general public in Pakistan, however, the new bill omitted a key provision that would have granted generous trade preferences for exports from the country's regions where both Taliban insurgencies in both Afghanistan and Pakistan have gained most of their recruits. 

Passage of the bill, which President Barack Obama is expected to sign this week, comes amid reports that the Pakistani army is preparing to launch a major offensive - long encouraged by Washington - against the Pakistani Taliban's and al-Qaeda's main stronghold in South Waziristan. 

The pending campaign, which follows the army's conquests of Bajaur and Mohmand agencies in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Swat Valley in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), is designed to take advantage of the August 5 killing - apparently by a US Predator drone strike - of the Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, and reported infighting among Taliban leaders that followed it. 

While Washington had hoped that the Pakistani military would have moved earlier into South Waziristan, it has been encouraged by the army's recent performance in taking on the Taliban in North Waziristan and the NWFP. 

"If South Waziristan is indeed next, that would be a significant development," said Bruce Riedel, a South Asia specialist and former senior Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analyst who chaired the White House's review on Afghanistan and Pakistan ("AfPak") after Obama came to office. 

"More pressure is being put on al-Qaeda's safe haven [in Waziristan] today than at any time since 2003 and 2004," he told an audience at the Brookings Institution, where he serves as a senior fellow, Monday. 

He credited both the Pakistani army's recent aggressiveness against the Taliban and Washington's increasingly effective use of drone strikes against suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders on Pakistani territory. 

At the same time, he cautioned, neither al-Qaeda, which is closely allied with the Taliban, nor the Taliban itself should be considered any less dangerous. 

Indeed, that assessment was echoed back in Pakistan itself on Monday when a suicide bomber dressed as a member of the paramilitary Frontiers Corps struck the lobby of the World Food Program's (WFP) headquarters in Islamabad, killing at least five aid workers. 

The WFP has been the main provider of relief supplies to some two million people who fled the Swat Valley as the army's counter-insurgency campaign got underway there earlier this summer. 

The attack followed two suicide car bombings that killed at least 16 people in northwest Pakistan, including the NWFP's capital, Peshawar, last week in what the Taliban claimed was retaliation for Mehsud's killing. 

It also followed an interview with five Pakistani reporters on Sunday with Mehsud's apparent successor, Hakimullah Mehsud, and other key Pakistani Taliban leaders in the town of Sararogha in South Waziristan that embarrassed Pakistani and some US intelligence officials who had claimed that Hikimullah had been killed in factional fighting that broke out after Baitullah's death. 

"We are fully prepared for that operation," Hakimullah told reporters in reference to the army's pending attack on Taliban strongholds in South Waziristan, "and we will give full proof of those preparations once the offensive is launched." 

While Hakimullah's survival and confidence likely disappointed officials here, Washington is still much more hopeful about the direction of events in Pakistan than last winter when the Taliban's takeover of Bajaur put it within 100 kilometers of Islamabad itself. Some independent experts had warned at the time that the nuclear-armed Pakistani state, led by an increasingly unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari, could collapse under the pressure. 

The Obama administration now believes that the Pakistani Taliban had effectively over-reached and that Pakistan's elite, including the army, has come to see it and its al-Qaeda ally as a much greater threat to the country than ever before. 

This perception, in turn, has led to significantly greater military and intelligence cooperation by the army with the US, as demonstrated by the increased effectiveness of dozens of US drone strikes against suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban targets on Pakistani soil so far this year. 

Such cooperation remains deeply unpopular within Pakistan, according to recent public opinion polls. Indeed, a survey of nearly 5,000 Pakistanis conducted at the end of July and early August and released late last week by the International Republican Institute (IRI) found that 80% of respondents oppose cooperation with the US "war on terror", up from 61% as recently as last March. A slightly smaller percentage opposes US drone attacks. 

The same polls, however, have shown a strong shift against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, as well. Nearly nine out of 10 respondents in the IRI poll said they considered the two groups a "serious problem" in Pakistan, up from just over 50% one year ago. Seventy percent said they supported the army's counter-insurgency efforts, up from less than 30% two years ago. 

It is in that context that Washington hopes to improve its own standing among the Pakistani public, in part by substantially increasing non-military aid and doing more to ensure that its intended beneficiaries receive it. The State Department last week announced that it intended to sharply reduce its reliance for the delivery of aid to Pakistan on private contractors which have been accused of waste and corruption. 

Congress put some conditions on the new assistance package. Under one provision, for example, half of the annual disbursement would be withheld until the special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, currently Richard Holbrooke, certified that Islamabad was making "reasonable progress" in carrying out the main purposes of the aid. These include democratic reform, reducing corruption, and improving health care and public education, especially for women and girls. 

Disbursement of military aid, which is also expected to increase as part of Washington's "AfPak" strategy, is also dependent on presidential certification that the army is cooperating with US counter-terrorism efforts, both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

The latter is likely to prove problematic, according to Riedel and other experts who say that, while the army clearly sees the Pakistani Taliban as a major threat, its position on Afghanistan's Taliban, whose main leadership is widely believed to be based in Pakistan's Balochistan, is far more ambiguous. 

Pakistan's military was the Afghan Taliban's main sponsor in its rise to power in the 1990s and has long been seen as a strategic asset against India, a major backer of the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Pakistan goes for militants' jugular

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari can be well pleased with his recent visit to New York, securing US$1.5 billion annually for five years in non-military aid and gaining unprecedented political support from over two dozen heads of states under the Friends of Democratic Pakistan initiative. 

Now it is the turn of the military to deliver following its successful campaign this year in the Swat Valley in North-West Frontier Province: it is poised for a major operation in the heart of Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda territory, the North Waziristan and South Waziristan tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan. 

The need for this operation in the two Waziristans, over which the Pakistani armed forces had previously expressed grave concerns, was agreed on in a meeting in New York last week between the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other US security officials and Zardari, who is also the supreme commander of the armed forces. 

The director general of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, has been in the US to coordinate the operation with the US. The aim, simply, is to conclusively defeat al-Qaeda at its global headquarters in the Waziristans. 

Adding urgency to task was the brazen attack on Monday by a suicide bomber dressed as a member of the paramilitary Frontiers Corps on the United Nations' World Food Program's headquarters in the capital Islamabad, killing at least five aid workers. 

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said on Tuesday that the Taliban carried out the attack to avenge the August 5 killing in a US Predator drone missile attack in South Waziristan of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. "We should expect a few more [attacks]," he said. 

Asia Times Online has learned that the operation in the Waziristans will be actively supported with technical and intelligence support from the CIA for Pakistani ground troops as well as the air force. 

Pakistan is confident that the chances of success are higher than ever, even though the military will be venturing into dangerous territory and that previous operations in other tribal areas have proved highly divisive and unpopular across much of the country. 

Malik told Asia Times Online recently in New York that the time was now ripe as it is believed all of the top al-Qaeda commanders of the South Asian region, in addition to commanders who have fled Iraq, are now based in the Waziristans. 

The Pakistani political establishment is also upbeat in that there is a new positive mood in the country; even the stock exchange has surged to its highest levels in one-and-a-half-years. But most importantly, the tone in the military establishment has changed. 

Immediately after the president's return to Pakistan, armed forces spokesman Major General Athar Abbas, who had earlier rejected the idea of an operation in the Waziristans, speaking from the garrison city of Rawalpindi, confirmed that the tribal areas would be attacked. 

"It [the operation] is only a matter of time, which of course, the military will not disclose or give any hint about." 

Abbas did hint hint, though. He said the weather could be one of the many factors that planners were taking into account - the winter snows are well set in by late November. 

"The rudderless leadership of the terrorists provides an ideal opportunity to launch operations and inflict a severe blow to the terrorists," Abbas said, presumably referring to the killing of Baitullah Mehsud. 

The army has mounted several operations in the two Waziristans, but they have all resulted in heavy casualties. As a result, the military has tended to sign peace deals, most of them on the militants' terms and conditions. This gave a morale boost to the militants, and after each operation their numbers increased, and numbers which were pumped into Afghanistan to aid the insurgency there. 

This time, the stage is better set for the military. With the help of the CIA, many of al-Qaeda's and the militants' leaders have been eliminated, with drone attacks being particularly effective. 

The military is also buoyed by its operation in Swat. In late April, the military began a massive offensive and by early June declared that most of Swat had been freed from the Taliban and that Mingora, the main town of Swat, was in complete government control. In the process, though, millions of people were displaced, causing a major humanitarian crisis. Ironically, the attack in Islamabad on Monday targeted the very United Nations organization that had helped with this tragedy. 

The Swat operation also saw the military fully commit to its task - indeed, some say it displayed a level of ruthlessness not seen since its crackdown on Bengali separatists in the former East Pakistan, a struggle that led to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. 

This was so much so that several Western media outlets, including the British Broadcasting Corporation, have released videos of torture allegedly committed by the armed forced against the Taliban, including extra-judicial killings. 

In addition to all this, however, is the key part played by the Pakistani Interior Ministry, which resolved that the best way to sap the strength of al-Qaeda and the militants lay in cutting their financial arteries. 

This is not a novel approach to root out militancy, but one that has not successfully been implemented by Pakistan. 

Soon after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation targeted financial institutions and charities that supported al-Qaeda, with some success. 

However, US institutions were unable to track the Taliban's financial arteries as these are mostly primitive, based on non-banking and non-traditional financial sources and tribal connections. Asia Times Online has documented how difficult it is to disrupt this flow of money. (See How the Taliban keep their coffers full Asia Times Online, June 10.) 

Interior Minister Malik recognized the problem, and tackled it head-on, first with Baitullah's Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP - Taliban Movement of Pakistan). 

In an interview in New York, Malik confidently claimed that over 80% of the financial arteries of the TTP and al-Qaeda's funds coming from the Middle East had been blocked. 

"The TTP's approach was unique in all aspects and it could have been very hard to trace. First, the TTP gathered information from Mehsud tribal people living in the Middle East. They were mostly skilled and unskilled labors who sent money to their families through hundi [non-banking money transfers]. The TTP contacted these labors, individually, and warned them that a certain percentage of the money they sent to their families should be remitted to the TTP," Malik said. 

"We carefully studied the whole mechanism before we moved for a clampdown. The first thread of the strategy was the scanning and subsequent clampdown on illegal money transfers through hundi businesses. We studied all the business deals of the money exchange companies who were mostly involved in such transfers. 

"Previously, Pakistan received US$3 billion to $4 billion [in remittances] through banking channels. After our operations on the money exchange companies, you will see that our [foreign exchange] reserves have soared [from $7 billion to $8 billion] to $14 billion to $15 billion as we have not left any choice to the remitters except to send their money through [regular] banking channels," Malik said, implying that the money the country now received from remittances had doubled. 

"However, in this broader operation, we traced a triangular syndicate based in Pakistan comprising al-Qaeda, the TTP and the jihadi organizations, like the Laskhar-e-Jhangvi. Sometimes they got financial support from Middle Eastern philanthropists. Our intelligence agencies tracked the whole mechanism of how the money traveled from one hand to the other, so, for instance, money aimed for al-Qaeda benefited the whole syndicate. This syndicate had so strongly knitted its financial arteries together that they [militants] were able to hire a fighter for $500 per month," Malik said. 

"After 9/11, security institutions tried to break down financial arteries. They spotted several institutions and successfully blocked their financial support. However, in the past few years, the dynamics of the money supply to those terror networks changed. They split themselves into segments and they developed a human chain network which could pass on cash from one hand to the other. 

"In the past year, the situation became more complicated as the financial arteries feeding the insurgencies to this region and to Iraq were merged in our region," Malik said, adding that it happened because after the US military operation in Iraq against al-Qaeda, all top al-Qaeda operators relocated in North Waziristan and South Waziristan. 

Having begun the process of strangling the financial lifeblood of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, Islamabad now feels it is in a position to go for the jugular with an all-out military offensive. In Pakistan's eyes, this battle will be the start of the endgame. The militants might view it differently, as just the beginning of a real war.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Arab governments move to ease Yemen crisis

Arab League's Amr Moussa to meet president after Yemen government launched offensive against Houthis in August

Yemen may be a faraway land of which the west knows little. But Arab governments are showing alarm at its multiple crises and are stepping up efforts to help amid concern that the poorest country in the region is incapable of dealing with problems that could risk pushing it to the edge of collapse – and benefit al-Qaida.

Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, is due in the capital Sana'a tomorrow for urgent talks with President Ali Abdullah Saleh, one of the Middle East's veteran leaders. Ahmed Abu al-Gheit, the Egyptian foreign minister, warned yesterday that "foreign hands" were stirring trouble – an unmistakable reference to Iran's alleged support for northern rebels.

Abu al-Gheit and Egypt's powerful intelligence chief, General Omar Suleiman, flew from Sana'a to Saudi Arabia, which is also backing the Yemeni government and deeply concerned about the instability of its impoverished neighbour. Egypt, which always aspires to an Arab leadership role, is taking this crisis very seriously and trying to persuade others to do the same.

Yemen's latest trouble erupted in mid-August when the government launched an offensive – codenamed "Scorched Earth" in case anyone doubted its intention – against Houthi rebels from the northern Sa'ada region. The Houthis belong to the Shia Zaydi sect – but Saleh is also a Zaydi, underlining why portraying this as simply a sectarian conflict is misleading. Still, there is no doubt Sunni fundamentalists have gained in strength because of Saleh's intimate ties to the Saudis.

The political temperature rose at the weekend when Abdel-Majid al-Zindani, Yemen's most popular Sunni cleric (he once taught Osama bin Laden and is accused by the US and UN of financing terrorism), blamed Tehran for backing the Houthis. "The way events are moving indicates that Iran wants to export the Shia ideology by force, which we utterly reject," Zindani said.

Otherwise there is a general sense of grievance about resources, marginalisation and the crushing of the independence the Zaydis enjoyed until the 1960s.

In recent weeks unrest has also escalated in the south, where a separatist opposition movement wants to reestablish the south Yemeni state that unified with its northern neighbour in 1990 and failed to secede in a brief war in 1994.

On top of all that, the US, Britain and other western governments fear the unrest may make life easier for al-Qaida, which over the last two years has found a haven in Yemen after being defeated in Saudi Arabia. In August a Saudi al-Qaida fugitive travelled from Yemen to Jeddah and blew himself up in a failed attempt to kill the Saudi security supremo. Yemen's record of tolerance towards homegrown extremists does not inspire confidence about its ability to contain this threat: three years ago 23 al-Qaida suspects escaped from a Sana'a prison en masse, arousing strong suspicions of official collusion.

Yemen, once known as "Arabia Felix" (happy Arabia), is beset today by declining oil revenues, mass unemployment, rapid population growth and crippling water shortages. Diplomats and analysts see it as a dangerously fragile state that is "failing in slow motion". The Sa'ada war has already created some 150,000 refugees, a crisis which Oxfam and other aid agencies warn could ignite into a full-blown disaster unless immediate action is taken to stop the fighting between the government and the Houthi rebels. Arabs and others will be hoping that Egypt's mediation efforts bear fruit sooner rather than later.

WH says Obama won't pull US out of Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (Map, News) - 
President Barack Obama won't walk away from the flagging war in Afghanistan, the White House declared Monday as Obama faced tough decisions - and intense administration debate - over choices that could help define his presidency in his first year as commander in chief.

The fierce Taliban attack that killed eight American soldiers over the weekend added to the pressure. The assault overwhelmed a remote U.S. outpost where American forces have been stretched thin in battling insurgents, underscoring an appeal from Obama's top Afghanistan commander for as many as 40,000 additional forces - and at the same time reminding the nation of the costs of war.

Obama's defense secretary, Robert Gates, appealed Monday for calm - and for time and privacy for the president to come to a decision.

Last week the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, called publicly for the administration to add more resources, which prompted a mild rebuke from Obama's national security adviser, James Jones, for lobbying in public.

Obama may take weeks to decide whether to add more troops, but the idea of pulling out isn't on the table as a way to deal with a war nearing its ninth year, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

"I don't think we have the option to leave. That's quite clear," Gibbs said.

The question of whether to further escalate the conflict after adding 21,000 U.S. troops earlier this year is a major decision facing Obama and senior administration policy advisers this week.

Obama also invited a bipartisan group of congressional leaders to the White House on Tuesday to confer about the war. And Obama will meet twice this week with his top national security advisers.

Divided on Afghanistan, Congress takes up a massive defense spending bill this week even before the president settles on a direction for the war.

Gates said Monday that Obama needs elbow room to make strategy decisions about the war - as the internal White House debate goes increasingly public.

"It is important that we take our time to do all we can to get this right," Gates said at an Army conference. "In this process, it is imperative that all of us taking part in these deliberations - civilians and military alike - provide our best advice to the president candidly but privately."

Gates has not said whether he supports McChrystal's recommendation to expand the number of U.S. forces by as much as nearly 60 percent. He is holding that request in his desk drawer while Obama sorts through competing recommendations and theories from some of his most trusted advisers.

"I believe that the decisions that the president will make for the next stage of the Afghanistan campaign will be among the most important of his presidency," Gates said.

In trying to blunt the impression that the White House and military are at odds, Gates did not name names. But his remarks came days after McChrystal bluntly warned in London that Afghan insurgents are gathering strength. Any plan that falls short of stabilizing Afghanistan "is probably a shortsighted strategy," the general said.

For his part, Jones, a retired four-star Marine general, said of McChrystal's comments that is "better for military advice to come up through the chain of command," said Jones.

At issue is whether U.S. forces should continue to focus on fighting the Taliban and securing the Afghan population, or shift to more narrowly targeting al-Qaida terrorists believed to be hiding in Pakistan with unmanned spy drones and covert operations.

Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday the goal for the war remains to disrupt al-Qaida and prevent it from again threatening the United States, but they added that a reassessment of the means to do that is appropriate. Speaking to CNN during a rare joint interview with Gates, Clinton said a "snap decision" about the next step would be counterproductive. The interview will air Tuesday.

Gates and some other advisers appear to favor a middle path. A hybrid strategy could preserve the essential outline of an Afghan counterinsurgency campaign that McChrystal rebuilt this summer from the disarray of nearly eight years of undermanned combat, while expanding the hunt for al-Qaida next door.

"Speaking for the Department of Defense, once the commander in chief makes his decisions, we will salute and execute those decisions faithfully and to the best of our ability," Gates told the annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army.

The top three U.S. military officials overseeing the war in Afghanistan favor continuing the current fight against the Taliban, and have concluded they need tens of thousands more U.S. troops beyond the 68,000 already there.

Officials across the Obama administration have acknowledged that the Taliban is far stronger now than in recent years, as underscored by the U.S. deaths in Nuristan province.

The fighting Saturday marked the biggest loss of U.S. life in a single Afghan battle in more than a year. It also raised questions about why U.S. troops remained in the remote outposts after McChrystal said he planned to close down isolated strongholds and focus on more heavily populated areas as part of his new strategy to focus on protecting Afghan civilians.

Also being considered as part of a potential force increase is the impact on troops who are already stretched thin from fighting in two wars. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey told reporters that he cannot rule out extending the length soldiers are sent to fight - from 12 months to 15 - although "I would hope we don't get there."

Casey also signaled that the year that soldiers are currently guaranteed at home between deployments could be at risk.

"Simple math: The more troops you have deployed, the less time they'll spend at home," Casey said Monday.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Turkey seeks tie-up with Iraq

Turkey and Iraq held the first ministerial meeting of the High Level Strategic Cooperation Council (HLSCC) in Istanbul on September 17-18. To give substance to the HLSCC, eight Turkish and 10 Iraqi ministers with responsibility for various portfolios gathered at a joint cabinet meeting. The ministers then held face-to-face meetings with their counterparts to elaborate joint projects in their respective fields. 

The parties agreed to sign agreements or memorandums of understanding in over 40 areas. The detailed technical work on these projects will continue before final approval at the Turkish-Iraqi inter-governmental meeting during Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's visit to Baghdad in October. 

The Turkish and Iraqi delegations agreed to cooperate on a widerange of issues, ranging from environmental cooperation to energy partnership. Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said he agreed with his Iraqi counterparts to "develop joint projects for the production and transportation of natural gas and oil". The two delegations discussed the renewal of the Kirkuk-Yumurtalik pipeline carrying Iraqi crude oil to world markets through Turkish territory. Yildiz referred to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's remarks during the Nabucco signing ceremony in July that Iraq could export up to 15 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe through the Nabucco pipeline. He said that they will continue their bilateral talks on signing a memorandum of understanding on this issue. 

One of the most remarkable decisions was to create a free-trade area and form a joint commission to streamline mutual investments. This idea reflects the political weight that Ankara attaches to the HLSCC initiative: aimed at integrating both economies. Turkey also has initiated a similar HLSCC process with the Gulf Cooperation Council and Syria and expects this form of partnership to include other countries in the region. Ankara also plans to organize a Turkish-Arab forum. 

Given Turkey's experience of a free-market economy, it could spearhead the integration of the regional countries into the global economy. In return, the region might serve as a future destination for Turkey's growing exports and investments, while Turkey could also attract capital from the region, especially the Persian Gulf, to stimulate its economic development. 

The Turkish government increasingly views such bilateral partnerships as the nucleus of a regional cooperation scheme, which might evolve into an organization similar to the European Union. The Turkish press has started to discuss the prospect that the current idea of "full economic cooperation" might produce a common market, which could eventually lead to political integration. The idea is to use economic interdependence as a peace building project to ensure the stability of the region. Obviously, the prospects for such an ambitious vision, among others, depend on the elimination of political differences and conflicts of interest among the regional countries. 

The need to reduce political tension brings to the fore another area of cooperation agreed at the HLSCC: combating terrorism. Ankara has been fostering closer relations with Baghdad and Irbil, the capital of the regional Kurdish government in northern Iraq, to tackle the threat posed by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is using northern Iraq as a safe haven to carry out its terrorist campaign inside Turkey. The tacit support of the Northern Iraqi Kurdish authorities for the PKK and the inability of the Baghdad regime to end the PKK's presence in the region has long strained Turkish-Iraqi relations and has provoked occasional Turkish cross-border operations. 

Ankara's engagement policy has partly paid off, as the Iraqi authorities have taken steps toward reducing the activities of the PKK inside their country. Moreover, a trilateral Turkish-Iraqi-American security mechanism has been established to coordinate the fight against the PKK. Speaking at the end of the HLSCC, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hosyar Zebari reiterated Baghdad's support for Turkey's fight against the PKK, arguing that "no armed entity can operate on our territory under the Iraqi constitution". 

Nonetheless, the intensification of PKK terrorism inside Turkey in recent weeks has raised questions about the effectiveness of Turkey's campaign against the PKK despite the improvement of diplomatic relations. A spokesperson for Turkey's Chief of the General Staff General Ilker Basbug announced that the Turkish army conveyed a request to the government to extend its mandate to conduct cross-border operations in northern Iraq for another year. The current mandate, originally granted in October 2007, will expire on October 17, and the renewal of the authorization will require parliamentary approval. 

Although representatives of the opposition parties declared that they would support the renewal bill, the government has yet to clarify its position on the issue. The discussions on the cross-border military authorization bill may further test the government's efforts to solve the Kurdish issue through closer diplomatic ties with Iraq and enhancing democracy at home. 

The conclusions of the HLSCC meeting signifies a major step toward the implementation of Turkey's new policy of boosting closer political and economic integration with its Middle Eastern neighbors, through the creation of new inter-governmental institutions. The road to this goal will be long and full of political obstacles, such as the ones raised by the issue of terrorism. Moreover, at a more fundamental level, this new process highlights Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's efforts to fulfill his grand vision for his country. 

As he has advanced in his academic work, Davutoglu assigns Turkey with the mission of reviving the once glorious Islamic and Turkish civilization. His remarks at the HLSCC echo his geo-cultural vision, which was already formed in his seminal book, Stratejik Derinlik (Strategic Depth). 

Davutoglu described the meeting as a historical turning point for bilateral relations and the region, adding that the projects created at the gathering "will link Basra [southern Iraqi province] to Edirne [western Turkish province]. The fate of Baghdad and Istanbul will be joined ... If the Turkish-Iraqi process expands [to other countries], the Middle East will no longer be mired in crises and conflicts, but it will be transformed into a common economic area, with a common political dialogue and security mechanism ... An area that will be able to revive that great civilization"

Obama Crafts New Plans For Iraq, Afghanistan

On his busy first day in office, President Barack Obama ordered military commanders, Joint Chiefs, national security advisers and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to launch a comprehensive review of Iraq policy.

Thirty-eight days later, Obama had his new Iraq plan, and he chose to unveil the strategy at Camp Lejeune, N.C., before a rapt audience of Marines. The plan centered on three goals: a responsible combat troop pullout, sustained diplomacy and comprehensive "engagement" in the Mideast.

"Let me say this as plainly as I can," Obama told the assembled Marines, "by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end."

Obama entered the Oval Office with a mountain of challenges to tackle, including the meltdown of the U.S. economy. But also at the top of his agenda was setting a new plan for U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In his Feb. 27 speech, Obama said that the United States would pare its 142,000 combat troops to a transitional force of 35,000 to 50,000 by August 2010. Those residual forces would have three jobs, he said: train, equip and advise Iraqi security forces, conduct counter-terrorism missions and protect ongoing civilian and military initiatives.

All U.S. forces would be withdrawn by the end of 2011, Obama said.

"As we carry out this drawdown, my highest priority will be the safety and security of our troops and civilians in Iraq," Obama said.

The plan marked one notable shift in his position from his campaign -- an extended timetable of 19 months for withdrawal, instead of 16.

After the Lejeune speech, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates promptly outlined their support for the plan.

Mullen, who in July had said setting timetables was dangerous, said after Obama's speech that he was comfortable with the president's strategy. Mullen explained on March 1 on "Fox News Sunday" that the conditions had improved "fairly dramatically," thanks in part to the surge, and were now right for Iraqi leaders to successfully take control of the country.

Gates told NBC's "Meet the Press" on March 1 that it was "fairly remote" that changing conditions in Iraq would alter Obama's plan, although he noted that Obama has the authority to change the strategy if U.S. security is endangered.

After August 2010, troops would be consolidated in a smaller number of bases for their protection, Gates said. The risk to troops there has gradually declined, Gates said.

Obama acknowledged that Iraq was not yet secure and that there would be "difficult periods and tactical adjustments" as the U.S. withdraws.

That put it mildly, said critics of the plan, many of whom predict a dramatic increase in violence as August 2010 approaches.

Obama should have given himself more flexibility, said Meghan O'Sullivan, a Harvard lecturer and deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007.

"What is more important -- adherence to the 18-month timetable or safeguarding Iraqi and regional stability?" O'Sullivan said in the Washington Post.

Other critics noted that political stability has not increased as security in Iraq has improved. Disputes inside Iraq remain on fundamental issues, including whether the nation's constitution is supreme law and how Iraq's regions should share in the country's rich resources, critics say.

"The United States will not be able to leave behind a stable and functioning Iraq until these disputes are resolved," Qubad J. Talabani, representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government to the United States, told the Post.

Obama Puts Renewed Attention On Afghanistan

Obama's strategy in Iraq is tied to his plan for Afghanistan, where the president said he would send an additional 17,000 troops this spring and summer, a hefty boost to the 36,000 already there. Even more could be committed after further review, the White House said.

Al-Qaida is supporting a resurgent Taliban and threatens America from its posts along the Pakistani border, Obama said. The troops are needed to "stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires," the president said in announcing the decision Feb. 17.

Obama added that the problem of Afghanistan cannot be solved by troops alone, stressing his plans for more diplomacy and development there.

The administration has said it plans to press U.S. allies in NATO to commit more troops. Obama also aims to invest more in Afghanistan�s economic development.

White House officials also have said they plan to demand the Afghan government do more to improve security in the country, including weeding out corruption and squelching the thriving illicit opium trade.

Some experts say challenges in Afghanistan are even thornier than those in Iraq.

Critics argue that troop increases could be counterproductive in Afghanistan, given resentment there for U.S. forces. Critics also have argued that Obama is escalating spending and stretching troops thin for a war with an undefined mission.

After seven years, the U.S. has not broken al-Qaida or the Taliban, has not found Osama bin Laden, and the Afghan government is still "woefully corrupt and ineffective," argued New York Times columnist Bob Herbert.

"Instead of cutting our losses, we appear to be doubling down," he wrote.

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., on March 3 said he was uneasy with Obama's plan to raise troop levels before a goal was defined. He estimated it would take 600,000 troops to quell violence there.

Obama's plan amounts to a troop shuffling from Iraq to Afghanistan that won't work, Andrew J. Bacevich, a Boston University international relations professor, said in the Washington Post. The U.S. has achieved modest and tenuous gains in Iraq, he noted.

"To imagine that simply trying harder in Afghanistan and Pakistan will produce a happier outcome is surely a fantasy," he said.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

U.S. prosecutors vie for Sept. 11 plotter trials

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - Federal prosecutors in New York, Washington and Virginia are vying to try the accused plotters of the Sept. 11 attacks if their cases are moved into U.S. civilian courts, the chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo war crimes court said.
File photo of a sketch by courtroom artist Janet Hamlin, reviewed by the U.S. Military, Sept. 11, 2001 attack co-defendants Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (2nd L) and Waleed Bin Attash (L) sit during a hearing at the U.S. Military Commissions court for war crimes, at the U.S. Naval Base, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, January 19, 2009. (REUTERS/Janet Hamlin)

The Obama administration said last week it would decide by Nov. 16 whether to try Guantanamo prisoners in a revised version of the much-maligned military tribunals or in regular civilian courts.

Case files for self-described 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged al Qaeda co-conspirators are already under review by U.S. attorneys in four federal court districts, the chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo court, Navy Captain John Murphy, told journalists at the base late on Sunday.

Those are Washington, the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York, and the Eastern District of Virginia, he said.

"They are working with us in a joint review of these cases and it is our collaboration that will ultimately make its way in written reports that go up to the attorney general and the secretary of defense to make a decision," Murphy said.

The Obama administration has ordered the Guantanamo detention camp shut down by Jan. 22 and is still debating what to do with the 226 captives it holds. Murphy said he still hopes to try 65 of them in military tribunals.

Some of those have already been indicted in U.S. federal courts, though Murphy would not say how many.

President Barack Obama has said he considers military commissions to be an appropriate forum for terrorism trials of Guantanamo captives but would prefer to try them in the federal courts if feasible.

Many congressional representatives, Republicans and Democrats alike, have tried to block efforts to move any Guantanamo prisoners to the United States, where they would enjoy U.S. constitutional rights.


The federal court districts in question are near the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and holding the accused plotters' trials near the sites of the hijacked plane attacks would draw from a pool of jurors close to the conflagration.

The five defendants are accused of 2,973 counts of murder and could be executed if convicted.

Moving the cases into the federal courts, where the rules are well established, would remove one major criticism of the ever-changing Guantanamo tribunals, which have undergone several revisions since U.S. President George W. Bush first authorized them shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Obama has asked Congress for additional changes to the 2006 law underpinning the current set of rules, including banning the use of evidence obtained through coercion and making it more difficult to use hearsay evidence.

The changes were approved in the Senate but are still pending in the House of Representatives, which has given no indication when or if it will take up the matter.

"We all understand that ultimately whether we can proceed with a case or not will be dependent on what the legislation looks like in the end," Murphy said.

If the tribunals survive, they could be held at other locations once Guantanamo is closed, Murphy said, adding that no location had been decided upon.

Over the objections of military defense lawyers, pretrial hearings were scheduled at Guantanamo this week in the Sept. 11 case and in the case of a Saudi prisoner accused of plotting boat-bomb attacks on ships in the Strait of Hormuz.

Obama asked last week for a 60-day freeze on the proceedings, until his administration decides where the trials will take place. The judges scheduled hearings to consider that request and to address the Sept. 11 defendants' request to fire all their lawyers.

"President Obama's words apparently don't amount to a hill of beans in (Defense Secretary Robert) Gates' Guantanamo," said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is working with civilian defense lawyers.

"What part of 'Halt' does the Department of Defense not understand?"

The military defense lawyers contend the hearing is designed to give the defendants another chance to boast of their guilt as they have in previous hearings, providing more non-coerced confessions for use against them at trial.

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