Serving you since 1998
December 2008 :   2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

December 11, 2008 

US defence chief Gates in Afghanistan
by Jim Mannion December 11, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) – US Defence Secretary Robert Gates arrived Thursday in Afghanistan, where the United States is looking to increase its military presence to fight a mounting insurgency.

Gates: More brigades to Afghanistan by summer
By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer – Thu Dec 11, 8:08 am ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – The Pentagon is moving to get three of the four combat brigades requested by commanders into Afghanistan by summer, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said as he traveled here to meet with military leaders.

US details Afghan reinforcements
Thursday, 11 December 2008 BBC News
The US hopes to get three out of four combat brigades requested by the army into Afghanistan by the summer, Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said.

China to continue help Afghanistan's economic reconstruction
Xinhua / December 11, 2008
China will continue to help Afghanistan with its economic reconstruction work, said top political advisor Jia Qinglin here on Thursday.

U.K. Delays Aircraft Carriers to Conserve Cash for Afghan War
By Mark Deen and Kitty Donaldson
Dec. 11 (Bloomberg) -- The U.K. said it will delay the purchase of aircraft carriers and other heavy equipment to give priority to Afghanistan, raising concern that Prime Minister Gordon Brown is sapping future capability.

Manage Afghan labour migration to curb irregular flow to Iran, study urges
11 Dec 2008 13:30:37 GMT
KABUL, Afghanistan, December 11 (UNHCR) – A study of Afghan deportees from Iran has revealed that economic pressures are the main reasons behind the increase in irregular population movements from Afghanistan

Saudi Arabia and the Future of Afghanistan
Greg Bruno Council on Foreign Relations December 11, 2008
Introduction
Reports of Saudi-brokered talks between Afghan officials and the Taliban in late 2008 prompted a new round of speculation about the role Riyadh might play in the future of Afghanistan. Amid U.S. calls

Ex-minister slates UK policy on Afghanistan
The Guardian Patrick Wintour Thursday December 11 2008
The former Foreign Office minister with responsibility for Afghanistan yesterday accused the country of being corrupt "from top to bottom", and said the international community had wrongly treated President Hamid Karzai with kid gloves.

Torture of Afghan detainees continues, say human rights groups
By Tim Naumetz, The Canadian Press Wed Dec 10, 5:19 PM
OTTAWA - An agreement between Canada and the Afghanistan government has not stopped the torture of Afghan detainees after Canadian troops hand them over to Afghan security forces, the Federal Court of Appeal heard Wednesday.

The Aimless War
By Joe Klein time.com Thursday, Dec. 11, 2008
"Things have gotten a bit hairy," admitted British Lieut. Colonel Graeme Armour as we sat in a dusty, bunkered NATO fortress just outside the city of Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, a deadly piece of turf along Afghanistan's

NEDA Telecommunications, Afghanistan's Largest ISP to Deploy Quick Start IP Trunking Solution from O3b Networks, Ltd.
Afghanistan's largest ISP to use O3b Networks' low-latency constellation to expand internet services throughout the provinces and urban centers
ST. JOHN, Jersey, Channel Islands, Dec 11, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- O3b Networks the developer of a new fiber-quality, satellite-based, global Internet backbone for telecommunications operators and Internet Service Providers

Obama and the Middle East: Fundamental Changes or Deja vu?
Huffington Post, NY Muhammad Sahimi December 10, 2008
It is probably the greatest understatement of 2008 to say that many progressives in the Obama coalition, who played a crucial role in his victory, have been greatly disappointed with his national security team (NST).

U.K. Delays Aircraft Carriers to Fund Afghan War
By Mark Deen and Sabine Pirone
Dec. 11 (Bloomberg) -- The U.K. government delayed the purchase of aircraft carriers and other weapons systems to give spending priority to the war in Afghanistan, raising concern that Prime Minister Gordon Brown is sapping future capability.

Ten year carpet export strategy unveiled
Written by www.quqnoos.com Wednesday, 10 December 2008
One of Afghanistan's most famous products seeks new access to global markets

Samangan faces disaster this winter - Provincial Council
Written by www.quqnoos.com Wednesday, 10 December 2008
Aid must reach drought effected province before snow shut roads, residents say

Back to Top
US defence chief Gates in Afghanistan
by Jim Mannion December 11, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) – US Defence Secretary Robert Gates arrived Thursday in Afghanistan, where the United States is looking to increase its military presence to fight a mounting insurgency.

Gates, who was to meet with commanders on the ground battling Taliban militants, said Washington wanted to get thousands more troops into Afghanistan but warned of the difficulties foreign forces have had in the country.

"We are going to try and get two additional brigade combat teams into Afghanistan by summertime," he told reporters on his plane. "How long it will be before we can get the others, we don't know yet."

The two brigades would be in addition to a brigade from the 10th Mountain Division that is already scheduled to deploy in January.

That is still short of the more than 20,000 additional troops sought by General David McKiernan, the commander of both US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. There are currently 32,000 US troops in Afghanistan.

The general, who took Gates into a lunch with Dutch and British commanders in the troubled southern sector of Afghanistan, has asked for four additional combat brigades, an aviation brigade and other support troops.

But Gates said the incoming administration of Barack Obama should be careful in undertaking a build-up of foreign troops in a country that has often proved to be their undoing.

"The history of foreign military forces in Afghanistan, when they have been regarded by the Afghans as there for their own interests and as occupiers, has not been a happy one," he said.

"The Soviets couldn't win in Afghanistan with 120,000 troops and they clearly didn't care about civilian casualties. So I think we have to think about the longer term in this," he said.

"Making sure the Afghans are out in front is a key element, but also figuring out how many foreign troops is too many in terms of being successful," Gates said. "I think that is still an unanswered question."

A US-led invasion following the September 11 attacks on the United States toppled the hardline Islamist Taliban from power in Afghanistan in late 2001.

But they have since been waging an increasingly bloody insurgency against the foreign forces deployed here in support of the government of President Hamid Karzai.

Until now, the biggest constraint on the deployment of more US troops to Afghanistan has been the hold that Iraq has exerted over US forces.

But Gates indicated that is changing with a new status of forces agreement with Iraq that requires all US combat troops to be out of Iraqi cities by the end of June, and out of the country by the end of 2011.

"I think that there probably will be considerable interest in keeping as much of our strength there (in Iraq) as we can through the provincial elections, and probably for some period of time after that," Gates said.

But the June deadline for pulling troops out of the cities "really marks a significant transition of the mission," he said.

"If all eighteen provinces at that point are under Iraqi provincial control then we are going to be dealing more and more with the train-and-equip mission, the counter-terrorism mission, and support of the Iraqis," he said.

Gates, who has been kept on as defence secretary, said he has had several telephone conversations with Obama, but they have been focused mostly on personnel issues.

"We really haven't sat down yet for a thorough discussion of specific foreign policy or national security issues," he said.

He said the results of strategy reviews on Afghanistan would be handed to the incoming administration to incorporate as it sees fit.

"I think it is the right approach, instead of a big splash here right at the end of an administration."

Gates said everyone agreed that the training of the Afghan National Army needs to be accelerated and that the Afghans needed to be in the lead.

But he went on to say he felt strongly that the Afghans need to be in the lead.

"I think there is a concern on the part of the Afghans that we sort of tell them what we're going to do, instead of taking proposals to them, and getting their input and then working out with them what we're going to do," Gates said.

"This is their country, their fight and their future."
Back to Top

Back to Top
Gates: More brigades to Afghanistan by summer
By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer – Thu Dec 11, 8:08 am ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – The Pentagon is moving to get three of the four combat brigades requested by commanders into Afghanistan by summer, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said as he traveled here to meet with military leaders.

In his most specific comments to date about how soon he will meet the call for up to 20,000 more troops in Afghanistan, Gates said he will not have to cut troop levels further in Iraq to free up at least two of those three brigades for Afghan duty.

At the same time, Gates said a key "course correction" in the Afghanistan war for the administration of President-elect Barack Obama will be to build up the Afghan army and better cooperate with Kabul on security operations.

"I think there's a concern on the part of some of the Afghans that we sort of tell them what we're going to do, instead of taking proposals to them and getting their input and then working out with them what we're going to do, so it's a real partnership," Gates told reporters traveling with him to Afghanistan. "That's an important aspect of this, that I think we need a course correction."

Gates met on Thursday with Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, and with U.S. troops in Kandahar.

McKiernan told reporters after the meeting that he believes the U.S. and its allies need to make a sustained commitment of troops over the next three or four years. He would not say whether that would be at the expected level of close to 50,000 U.S. troops — the current total plus the additional 20,000 he has asked for.

Asked about where additional troops might be deployed, he said, "I think the area that we need to increase our security presence the most in this country is in the south and southwestern parts." Kandahar is in the south of Afghanistan.

Standing outside the headquarters of Regional Command South in Kandahar, Gates said, "This is a long fight, and I think we're in it till we are successful along with the Afghan people."

Asked how many troops that means, Gates said: "I do believe there will be a requirement for sustained commitment here for some protracted period of time. How many years that is and how many troops that is I think nobody knows at this point."

Gates later told a large gathering of troops at a town hall-type meeting that they can expect to see a surge in economic development and other projects in the south.

The meetings come as senior military leaders and the White House are pulling together a broad new military strategy for Afghanistan, one that would shift the focus from the waning fight in Iraq to the escalating Afghan fight.

Gates said he expects the troop levels in Iraq to remain fairly steady through the provincial elections early next year and "probably for some period of time after that."

While there is wide agreement that the military emphasis will now shift to Afghanistan, long regarded as the secondary priority behind Iraq, there is still debate on how best to do it.

McKiernan said Thursday that a key priority is to increase the size of the Afghan army and police. The U.S. has said it wants to double the size of the Afghan army, and McKiernan said he believes it will be three or four years before it is less reliant on international forces.

Gates would not detail any of the findings that have surfaced in strategy reviews. But the push to increase the size of the Afghan army is reflected in at least one of the ongoing studies.

The White House, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the incoming Obama administration and Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, all are conducting their own reviews. Obama has said getting more troops to Afghanistan is a priority.

Gates said he has no details on the expected deployments to Afghanistan next year, adding that he has not approved any orders for specific units. He added that he does not know when he will be able to send the fourth requested brigade.

Officials already had announced that one unit — the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division — would go to Afghanistan in January. But military leaders have resisted identifying the other units or saying when they would go, saying much depends on how quickly troop levels can be cut in Iraq. A brigade is about 3,500 troops.

The U.S. is working to meet deadlines in its agreement with Baghdad that require combat troops to leave the cities by June and be out of Iraq in three years. As planned, the number of combat brigades in Iraq is dropping to 14 early next year, and Gates said that level will enable him to get a second brigade to Afghanistan by summer.

There are 31,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, including 13,500 with the NATO-led coalition and 17,500 training Afghan troops and fighting the insurgency. There are 149,000 troops in Iraq.

Gates' stop in Afghanistan was designed initially as a farewell tour to visit troops as he prepared to leave office. But that changed when he was asked to stay on by Obama.
___

On the Net:

Defense Department: http://www.defenselink.mil
Back to Top

Back to Top
US details Afghan reinforcements
Thursday, 11 December 2008 BBC News
The US hopes to get three out of four combat brigades requested by the army into Afghanistan by the summer, Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said.

Correspondents say his comments are the most specific to date on how the US will meet a pledge by President Bush to deploy 20,000 more troops.

Mr Gates is in Afghanistan to meet commanders on the ground.

He said Washington wanted to get thousands more troops into Afghanistan despite "operational difficulties".

Continuity

"We are going to try and get two additional brigade combat teams into Afghanistan by summer time," Mr Gates said.

"How long it will be before we can get the others, we don't know yet."

Officials say that the two brigades - each comprising 3,500 men - are in addition to another that is already scheduled to deploy in January.

The BBC's diplomatic correspondent says that part of Mr Gates' message is to signal to allies and enemies alike that as far as policy in Washington is concerned, continuity will be the order of the day.

Nonetheless, our correspondent says that there is a growing sense of urgency about the US mission in Afghanistan and its operation there is set to grow in scope and scale - which in turn will increase pressure on other troop contributors to reinforce their own contingents.

Mr Gates said the incoming administration of Barack Obama should "be careful" in pledging a build-up of troops in a country that has often proved difficult terrain for foreign forces.

"The history of foreign military forces in Afghanistan, when they have been regarded by the Afghans as there for their own interests and as occupiers, has not been a happy one," he said.

"The Soviets couldn't win in Afghanistan with 120,000 troops and they clearly didn't care about civilian casualties. So I think we have to think about the longer term in this," he said.

"Making sure the Afghans are out in front is a key element, but also figuring out how many foreign troops is too many in terms of being successful," Gates said. "I think that is still an unanswered question."

Mr Gates said it was important that the administration of President-elect Obama built up the Afghan army and co-operates more effectively with the Afghan government on security operations.

"I think there's a concern on the part of some of the Afghans that we sort of tell them what we're going to do, instead of taking proposals to them and getting their input and then working out with them what we're going to do.

"I think we need a course correction," he said.
Back to Top

Back to Top
China to continue help Afghanistan's economic reconstruction
Xinhua / December 11, 2008
China will continue to help Afghanistan with its economic reconstruction work, said top political advisor Jia Qinglin here on Thursday.

Jia, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), made the remarks when meeting with Sayed Hamed Gailani, first deputy speaker of the House of Elders of Afghan National Assembly.

"We always attach great importance to Afghanistan's economic reconstruction and take an active role in this area," Jia said.

Hailing the relations between China and Afghanistan, Jia said the two nations have supported each other since forging diplomatic ties 53 years ago.

Since the establishment of the new Afghan government, the two countries had witnessed increasing mutual trust in politics and positive progress in exchanges and cooperation in various areas, he noted.

Jia applauded Afghanistan's support of China during the Beijing Olympic Games and on issues such as Taiwan, Tibet and combating the terrorist forces of "East Turkistan."

The CPPCC would work with the House of Elders of Afghan National Assembly to increase exchanges in various areas, so as to jointly push forward the Sino-Afghan partnership of comprehensive cooperation.

Gailani said the Afghan people were grateful for China's unselfish assistance. Afghanistan would work with China to advance bilateral relations, he noted.

Abdul'ahat Abdulrixit, vice chairman of the National Committee of the CPPCC, also met with Gailani later on Thursday.
Back to Top

Back to Top
U.K. Delays Aircraft Carriers to Conserve Cash for Afghan War
By Mark Deen and Kitty Donaldson
Dec. 11 (Bloomberg) -- The U.K. said it will delay the purchase of aircraft carriers and other heavy equipment to give priority to Afghanistan, raising concern that Prime Minister Gordon Brown is sapping future capability.

“Support to current operations remains our highest priority,” Defence Secretary John Hutton said in a written statement to Parliament. Bringing the defense equipment budget into balance has “required a reprioritization of investment,” he said.

The statement follows a “short” defense spending review ordered by Hutton after he joined the department and began to grapple with a budget that officers, lawmakers and defense industry executives say has been stretched by two wars and years of spending restraint.

“We’re mortgaging our future capability to support what we’re doing today,” Bernard Jenkin, a lawmaker for the opposition Conservative Party who sits on Parliament’s defense committee, said in an interview. This “is in fact a defense review by stealth. Everyone knows the Ministry of Defence has run out of money.”

For Brown, demands for aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and fighter jets to defend Britain into the 2020s clash with the need to contain a swelling budget deficit and bolster an economy that is in recession for the first time since 1991.

Brown introduced a 20 billion-pound ($29 billion) package of tax cuts and spending last month, including a temporary cut in value-added tax. The stimulus plan will drive the U.K. budget deficit to 8 percent of gross domestic product in the year through March 2010, the Treasury estimates.

With 8,760 soldiers in Afghanistan and 4,100 in Iraq, Brown is also seeking to funnel remaining defense resources to the frontlines.

As part of the review, Hutton dropped General Dynamics Corp. as the preferred bidder for the FRES armored vehicle program. He set aside 70 million pounds to upgrade 12 existing Lynx helicopters and said the aircraft carrier orders, confirmed earlier this year, will be delayed by between one and two years.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Manage Afghan labour migration to curb irregular flow to Iran, study urges
11 Dec 2008 13:30:37 GMT
KABUL, Afghanistan, December 11 (UNHCR) – A study of Afghan deportees from Iran has revealed that economic pressures are the main reasons behind the increase in irregular population movements from Afghanistan, and that illegal human smuggling from Afghanistan has thrived despite the range of restrictive and deterrent measures adopted.

Analyzing the factors that drive Afghan migrants into Iran and the circumstances under which some are deported, the report proposes that the governments of Afghanistan and Iran should identify how to manage migration in a way that will benefit all parties.

The research study was conducted by Altai Consulting and funded by the UN refugee agency and the International Labour Organization (ILO) as part of a project called "Cooperation towards Comprehensive Solution for Afghan Displacement."

It was prompted by the lack of clear analysis of the nature of Afghan deportees, notably their confusion with the registered Afghan refugee population in Iran. The result is a quantitative survey of 784 deported Afghans – the vast majority of them single men – in the provinces of Herat, Farah, Nimroz and Kabul in March and April this year.

One of the survey's main conclusions is that the high rate of unemployment, low wages, and widespread poverty in Afghanistan are major push factors for single men to migrate to Iran in search of employment. In contrast, the labour opportunities and an average salary that is four times higher than in Afghanistan are major pull factors for many Afghans. "Their migration is motivated by economic and labour considerations and is unlikely to end as it is a key livelihoods strategy for populations in Afghanistan," notes the report.

Pull factors in Iran include a strong demand among employers for cheap, flexible and reliable migrant labour. The existence of a transnational social network consisting of relatives or friends in Iran also makes it easier for Afghan migrants to live and work in the informal job market.

The number of undocumented Afghans in Iran is unknown. In the last two years the Iranian authorities have deported more than 700,000 Afghans they allege have broken immigration laws and are working illegally. But an estimated US$500 million is sent back to Afghanistan in remittances per year – some 6 percent of Afghanistan's national gross domestic product (GDP).

The methods of migration have shifted since 2001 with the rise of a better organized human smuggling network on both sides of the border. As the report's Executive Summary points out, "This network has thrived despite restrictive policies put in place by the government of Iran, showing not only the failure of dissuasive measures in responding to the irregular labour migration flow from Afghanistan to Iran, but also the role played by restrictive border management policies in favouring the development of and reliance on a network of smugglers with consequences for security, law and the protection of migrants."

Part of the reason for the popularity of using smugglers' services is that it costs twice as much (US$740) for a migrant to enter Iran legally than to do so through smugglers (US$361). In addition, some interviewed deportees said that a work visa costs too much, takes too long to deliver, and only lasts for three months with no guaranteed right of employment. The resulting reliance on clandestine migration is costing both the Iranian and Afghan governments more than US$221 million a year in lost revenue.

"The current migration flow between Afghanistan and Iran is predominantly overwhelmingly a labour migration issue, not a refugee issue," the study stresses. It makes several recommendations on how to address this highly organized and irregular flow while reducing the vulnerabilities faced by the migrants.

Firstly, the Afghan government should seek to prevent irregular labour migration by reminding its citizens of their responsibility to respect Iranian immigration laws and of the risks and consequences of not doing so. It should also crack down on abusive migration practices at the border while developing specific programmes and training in provinces from where labour migration originates.

While recognizing the right of every state to deport undocumented people on its territory, the report appeals to the government of Iran to improve the process of detention and deportation and to respect the rights of all those in custody. The Afghan authorities, in turn, should provide immediate assistance for deportees to minimize their vulnerabilities, and help them reintegrate by investing in skills they learnt in Iran – especially in construction, agriculture, manufacturing, professional and technical services.

Most importantly, the study advocates for bilateral negotiations between the two governments to expand the avenues for regular labour migration. "The governments of Iran and Afghanistan will need to agree on a temporary visa policy that will be accessible and affordable for potential migrants and which will deter them from relying on clandestine migration to Iran," it says, suggesting a legal framework under which the Afghan government must show its commitment to curb irregular migration and build a strong migration management strategy with Iran.

By Mohammed Nadir Farhad In Kabul, Afghanistan
Back to Top

Back to Top
Saudi Arabia and the Future of Afghanistan
Greg Bruno Council on Foreign Relations December 11, 2008
Introduction
Reports of Saudi-brokered talks between Afghan officials and the Taliban in late 2008 prompted a new round of speculation about the role Riyadh might play in the future of Afghanistan. Amid U.S. calls for a regional approach to the Afghan crisis, observers and politicians--including President-elect Barack Obama during the U.S. presidential campaign--have said Saudi intervention could shape the success of the Western-led mission, from fostering talk with militants to encouraging Pakistan to help stabilize Afghanistan. But some analysts say Saudi brokering is motivated by more than just a desire to bring peace to Afghanistan. Following the reported September 2008 talks, only Iran condemned the negotiations; some believe the Afghan war zone has become a battleground for influence (ISN) between Riyadh and Tehran, as it was during the 1980s and 1990s.

Saudi Ties to Afghanistan

Saudi Arabia's ties to Afghanistan exploded into view on September 11, 2001. Saudi national Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 mastermind and al-Qaeda chieftain, was given refuge by the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the kingdom's connections to Afghanistan predate the U.S. terror attacks. Beginning in the late 1980s, Saudi Arabia--along with the United States, Pakistan, and others--began supporting the Afghan resistance movement against the Soviet occupation. Saudi Arabia funneled money and fuel directly to Afghans, as well as through Pakistan's covert intelligence agency, the ISI. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid writes in his 2000 book, Taliban, that the Saudis gave nearly "$4 billion in official aid to the [mujahadeen] between 1980 and 1990, which did not include unofficial aid from Islamic charities, foundations, the private funds of Princes and mosque collections."

But Saudi policy in Afghanistan suffered a setback after the fall of the Mohammad Najibullah government in 1992. Unlike Iran, which primarily supported Shia groups (though Tehran later provided funds to Tajiks, like former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, and Uzbeks, including warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum), Pakistan and Saudi Arabia turned their funding support to Saudi-trained Wahhabi leaders. (Wahhabism is a conservative brand of Sunni Islam, and is the dominant form of Islam in Saudi Arabia). These pro-Wahhabist Pashtuns would eventually form the core of the Taliban's leadership. Following the ouster of Najibullah, infighting erupted within mujahedeen factions, and two key Saudi-backed pro-Wahabbists split. With warlords Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf going separate ways, Saudi influence in Afghanistan was dramatically weakened.

Aiding the Rise of the Taliban

Some analysts say it was as much strategy as ideology that shaped Saudi Arabia's early ties to the Taliban. Riyadh helped foster the rise of the Taliban beginning in the mid-1990s largely to serve as a proxy force against Afghanistan's post-Soviet leadership. But Saudi Arabia also supported the radical Islamic militants to counter Iran. "Saudi Arabia still feared Iranian influence in Afghanistan and Central Asia," writes U.S. journalist Steve Coll in Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001.

Yet there is little disagreement that religious ideology--specifically, an interest in exporting Wahhabism--played a key role in Saudi support. Rashid writes that it was Riyadh's Muslim legal scholars, or the ulema, that pushed the Saudi-Taliban connection, building up grassroots support for the Taliban during Friday prayer services in the mid-1990s. "In return, the Taliban demonstrated their reverence for the Royal Family and the ulema and copied Wahhabi practices such as introducing religious police," Rashid writes. But Coll suggests that early Saudi support was extended with a belief that the Taliban--like the Islamic militia that helped establish modern Saudi Arabia--would evolve into a responsible state. Refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden to Saudi officials in 1998, and the Taliban's sheltering of al-Qaeda, proved those hopes shortsighted.

Pushed by international pressure--and still smarting from the bin Laden rebuff--Saudi Arabia severed official ties with the Taliban following 9/11. "The Taliban government has paid no attention to the calls and pleas of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to stop harboring, training and encouraging criminals," the Saudi government said in a statement two weeks after the terror attacks. The end of diplomatic ties with the Taliban did not mark a halt to Saudi interest in Afghanistan, however. In February 2002 Riyadh reopened its embassy in Kabul, establishing official channels with the new Afghan government, and Saudi officials have expressed interest in investment opportunities. Aid dollars also continue to flow. One year after severing ties with the Taliban government, Saudi Arabia announced its humanitarian assistance efforts had topped $230 million--more on a per capita basis "than any of the major donors." (By contrast, U.S. redevelopment funds for fiscal year 2002 were roughly $26.9 million, according to USAID). Donations of food and relief supplies continued through the end of 2008.

Peace Brokers or Strategic Lobbyists?

Despite food aid and the occasional business venture, Saudi ties to Afghanistan remained out of the public eye for much of the last decade. It is not clear what spurred Saudi involvement in the late 2008 talks with the Taliban. In October, the Saudi-owned daily Asharq Al-Awsat reported that a Taliban delegation met with Afghan officials in Mecca during Ramadan. Attendees included Taliban leader Mullah Omar's spokesman, Mullah Mohammed Tayeb Agha, a number of former Taliban government officials, and a smattering of Afghan officials, including parliamentarian Arif Noorzai. Additional talks were reportedly attended by Afghan President Hamid Karzai's brother, Qayum Karzai. The discussions were reportedly hosted by King Abdullah in the Saudi city of Mecca. Saudi officials have offered few details of the meetings, though Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal confirmed talks were held (AFP) "at the request of Afghan President Hamid Karzai." Saud added that further Saudi involvement was conditional on Afghan parties laying down their arms and entering the political mainstream. F. Gregory Gause III, a leading expert on Saudi Arabia at the University of Vermont, says that given Riyadh's historic ties to the Taliban, it's unlikely the kingdom acted solely out of strategic interests. "My guess is they're doing it at the behest of the Afghan government," Gause says. "The Saudis were burned by their connection to the Taliban. It got them into big trouble after 9/11, obviously, and it caused problems for them before 9/11. It seems to me that the only reason that they would do this is if Karzai had asked them to."

Others believe Saudi Arabia is motivated by a more strategic end. CFR Senior Fellow Daniel Markey says Saudis are aiming to be "unifiers of the Sunni community" in Afghanistan. During a recent visit to Afghanistan, Markey says he was told by a senior Western official that Saudi Arabia wants to prevent ongoing war within the Sunni community, partly because Iran benefits from such a war. Mai Yamani, an expert on Saudi Arabia and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says that explanation is plausible. "You have to look at it in the context of the new Saudi foreign policy," Yamani says. "With all the changes in the region, and especially the challenge and the threat of Iran, the Saudis have become more active in their foreign policy." Yamani adds: "Everything that Saudi Arabia is doing at the moment is in trying to contain Iran." In recent months Saudi Arabia has participated in or facilitated talks on peace between Israel and Arab states, as well as reconciliation efforts in Iraq and Somalia.

Leveraging Saudi Support
Whether Saudi Arabia will successfully leverage its Taliban and regional ties remains uncertain. In calling for a regional solution to the Afghan crisis, U.S. officials and experts have focused on Afghanistan's eastern neighbor, Pakistan, where al-Qaeda and Taliban militants have found refuge in the troubled tribal areas. But a possible Saudi role in bringing stability to Afghanistan is gaining new attention. According to the Economist, Saudi Arabia is uniquely positioned to serve as an interlocutor between Kabul and Western governments; the country's conservative Sunni Muslims have ties with the Taliban, and it was one of just three governments to recognize the Taliban's 1996-2001 Islamic emirate. Journalist Rashid and Barnett R. Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University, writing in the November/December 2008 Foreign Affairs, also see a significant role for Saudi facilitators. They say Saudi Arabia could leverage its role as "a serious investor in and ally of Pakistan, former supporter of the Taliban, and custodian of the two holiest Islamic shrines" to convince Pakistan to do more to resolve regional issues, and lure reconcilable Taliban elements to put down their weapons.

Washington, too, has endorsed the concept of an expanded Saudi role in the region. State Department officials have praised Saudi efforts to combat terrorism, and White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, speaking in mid-November 2008, said the Bush administration supports Karzai's initiatives to push for Saudi-brokered talks. While President Bush is "skeptical about what the Taliban's ultimate intentions are," Perino told reporters, the administration recognizes that "at some point there might be some Taliban willing to reconcile and to renounce violence and to be productive members of the Afghanistan society." Gen. David Petraeus, the new head of U.S. Central Command, has also expressed interest in engaging Saudi Arabia to help with the Taliban (NYT).

And yet past Saudi mediation efforts have some analysts skeptical about their efforts in Afghanistan. Saudi diplomacy in 2007 aimed at promoting reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza proved unsuccessful, as did attempts to forge lasting peace in Lebanon. Saudi Arabia was excluded from additional negotiations with in Hezbollah there in mid-2008, replaced instead by Qatar (NYT). "The question [in Afghanistan] is what are the possibilities of success for Saudi Arabia?" Yamani says. Adds Gause: "The chances of the Saudis playing a major role in bringing stability to Afghanistan are very low." Gause notes that a complicating factor is the lack of unity in the Taliban's command structure. "It is one thing to bring relatively strong players together and help them cut deals, since the strong players themselves can enforce those deals. But in Afghanistan are there any strong players? The Karzai government seems pretty weak."
Back to Top

Back to Top
Ex-minister slates UK policy on Afghanistan
The Guardian Patrick Wintour Thursday December 11 2008
The former Foreign Office minister with responsibility for Afghanistan yesterday accused the country of being corrupt "from top to bottom", and said the international community had wrongly treated President Hamid Karzai with kid gloves.

The criticism came from Kim Howells, who was in charge of the Afghanistan brief for three-and-a-half years until he stepped down as a foreign affairs minister in the October government reshuffle. The remarks reflect his considered judgment on what has been described as the most difficult foreign policy challenge facing the UK government and its armed forces.

Breaking his silence on the issue, he told MPs: "Institutionally, Afghanistan is corrupt from top to bottom. There are few signs that the chaotic hegemony of warlords, gangsters, presidential placemen, incompetent and under-resourced provincial governors and self-serving government ministers has been challenged in any effective way by President Karzai.

"On the contrary, those individuals appear to be thriving, not least because Hamid Karzai has convinced himself that he cannot afford to sack or challenge the strongmen who, through corruption, brutality, power of arms or tribal status are capable of controlling their territories and fiefdoms."

Howells told the Guardian that Karzai had repeatedly put pressure on the Foreign Office not to back the dismissal of corrupt and brutal provincial governors.

He told MPs that British public support for the war in Afghanistan was fragile. The government, he said, "will be asked, quite properly, why the lives of our service personnel should be risked ... We will be asked why we are fighting to preserve what looks remarkably like a regime that is being undermined by corrupt cliques that have access to the highest levels."

He said the government had to change its "daft" rhetoric on the war. "Forget the nonsense about being prepared to fight on the mountains and plains of Afghanistan for 30 years. People will not accept the notion that British families should send their sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters to risk their lives fighting religious fanatics, tribal nationalists, corrupt warlords and heroin traffickers in one of the most godforsaken terrains on the face of the earth. The notion is daft, however much we may try to rationalise it by arguing that it is better to fight al-Qaeda over there than over here."

He said the only hope of peace lay in Nato countries being more willing to fight, especially the Germans, and in persuading Karzai to tackle corruption and start a proper process of reconciliation.

Howells' remarks come as Gordon Brown conducts a review of Britain's Afghan policy in light of Barack Obama's decision to make Afghanistan his main priority. Howells is chairman of the intelligence and security committee responsible for overseeing the security services, an appointment that reflects the high standing he is still held in by Downing Street.

He was joined by another former foreign office minister, Derek Twigg, who said he had been constantly frustrated by the failure of Britain's Nato partners to commit themselves to fighting in Afghanistan.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Torture of Afghan detainees continues, say human rights groups
By Tim Naumetz, The Canadian Press Wed Dec 10, 5:19 PM
OTTAWA - An agreement between Canada and the Afghanistan government has not stopped the torture of Afghan detainees after Canadian troops hand them over to Afghan security forces, the Federal Court of Appeal heard Wednesday.

A lawyer for human-rights groups that want to extend Canadian human-rights protection to the detainees told court the agreement reached in February has not ended abuses that came to light in 2007.

"It is our submission it is not working," lawyer Paul Champ told a court tribunal. "There are still human-rights abuses in Afghanistan."

Champ later said investigations by UNICEF and the Afghanistan Human Rights Commission have found recent evidence of torture in Afghanistan.

But he said it has been impossible to obtain information from the Canadian Forces about the treatment of prisoners they hand over to Afghan police.

Champ urged the tribunal to overturn a Federal Court ruling earlier this year that rejected an application by Amnesty International and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association for a court order to halt Canadian transfers because they violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Justice Anne Mactavish ruled the government could not extend the charter to cover Afghan citizens, in part because the government of Afghanistan had not requested it and international law protecting the sovereignty of independent states otherwise prevented it.

She made the ruling after earlier rejecting an application from the two groups for a temporary ban on the transfers until she ruled on the Charter question.

It had been revealed the Canadian Forces had already secretly suspended the transfers. They were resumed in late February after Afghanistan reached a new agreement to prevent abuse.

Champ referred to several Supreme Court of Canada rulings and other cases to argue at the appeal tribunal that the Charter of Rights applies to Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, and prevents them from taking part in prisoner transfers if there are reasonable grounds to suspect Afghan police intend to torture the detainees.

Federal lawyers argued the charter does not apply to Canadian troops taking part in military operations at Afghanistan's request, and does not protect Afghans who claim they have been tortured.

Champ responded that the charter is intended to prevent Canadian government officials and agents from taking part in activities that could eventually lead to human-rights violations.

He cited the case of a Somali man who was tortured to death by a Canadian airborne soldier in the early 1990s after a commanding officer of the Canadian unit urged troops to abuse prisoners because of an increase in thefts on the peacekeeping outpost in Somalia.

"What if Amnesty International and the B.C. Civil Liberties had intervened when (the commander) issued the order," Champ told the appeal tribunal.

Federal lawyers Sandy Graham and Jeff Anderson argued Canada had no right to extend charter protection to Afghan civilians, pointing out a range of international covenants requires Canadian troops and other soldiers in Afghanistan to protect human rights.

Graham noted the Criminal Code of Canada even contains a section incorporating international human-rights law.

Champ said that should not preclude a ruling that the charter applies to activities of the Canadian troops.

"Why is it so controversial to say that the Canadian charter also applies?" he asked the tribunal, chaired by Court of Appeal Chief Justice John Richard.

The court reserved judgment in the case.
Back to Top

Back to Top
The Aimless War
By Joe Klein time.com Thursday, Dec. 11, 2008
"Things have gotten a bit hairy," admitted British Lieut. Colonel Graeme Armour as we sat in a dusty, bunkered NATO fortress just outside the city of Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, a deadly piece of turf along Afghanistan's southern border with Pakistan. A day earlier, two Danish soldiers had been killed and two Brits seriously wounded by roadside bombs. The casualties were coming almost daily now.

And then there were the daily frustrations of Armour's job: training Afghan police officers. Almost all the recruits were illiterate. "They've had no experience at learning," Armour said. "You sit them in a room and try to teach them about police procedures — they start gabbing and knocking about. You talk to them about the rights of women, and they just laugh." A week earlier, five Afghan police officers trained by Armour were murdered in their beds while defending a nearby checkpoint — possibly by other police officers. Their weapons and ammunition were stolen. "We're not sure of the motivation," Armour said. "They may have gone to join the Taliban or sold the guns in the market." See pictures of Training Afghanistan's Police Force.

The war in Afghanistan — the war that President-elect Barack Obama pledged to fight and win — has become an aimless absurdity. It began with a specific target. Afghanistan was where Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda lived, harbored by the Islamic extremist Taliban government. But the enemy escaped into Pakistan, and for the past seven years, Afghanistan has been a slow bleed against an array of mostly indigenous narco-jihadi-tribal guerrilla forces that we continue to call the "Taliban." These ragtag bands are funded by opium profits and led by assorted religious extremists and druglords, many of whom have safe havens in Pakistan.

In some ways, Helmand province — which I visited with the German general Egon Ramms, commander of NATO's Allied Joint Force Command — is a perfect metaphor for the broader war. The soldiers from NATO's International Security Assistance Force are doing what they can against difficult odds. The language and tactics of counter-insurgency warfare are universal here: secure the population, help them build their communities. There are occasional victories: the Taliban leader of Musa Qala, in northern Helmand, switched sides and has become an effective local governor. But the incremental successes are reversible — schools are burned by the Taliban, police officers are murdered — because of a monstrous structural problem that defines the current struggle in Afghanistan.

The British troops in Helmand are fighting with both hands tied behind their backs. They cannot go after the leadership of the Taliban — still led by the reclusive Mullah Omar — which operates openly in the Pakistani city of Quetta, just across the border. They also can't go after the drug trade that funds the insurgency, in part because some of the proceeds are also skimmed by the friends, officials and perhaps family members of the stupendously corrupt government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Helmand province is mostly desert, but it produces half the world's opium supply along a narrow strip of irrigated land that straddles the Helmand River. The drug trade — Afghanistan provides more than 90% of the world's opium — permeates everything. A former governor, Sher Mohammed Akhundzada, was caught with nine tons of opium, enough to force him out of office, but not enough to put him in jail, since he enjoys — according to U.S. military sources — a close relationship with the Karzai government. Indeed, Akhundzada and Karzai's brother Ahmed Wali — who operates in Kandahar, the next province over — are considered the shadow rulers of the region (along with Mullah Omar). "You should understand," a British commander said, "the fight here isn't really about religion. It's about money."

Another thing you should understand: thousands of U.S. troops are expected to be deployed to Helmand and Kandahar provinces next spring. They will be fighting under the same limitations as the British, Canadian, Danish and Dutch forces currently holding the fort, which means they will be spinning their wheels. And that raises a long-term question crucial to the success of the Obama Administration: What are we doing in Afghanistan? What is the mission? We know what the mission used to be —to kill or capture Osama bin Laden and destroy his al-Qaeda command. But once bin Laden slipped away, the mission morphed into a vast, messy nation — building effort to support the allegedly democratic Karzai government. There was a certain logic to that. The Taliban and al-Qaeda can't base themselves in Afghanistan if something resembling a stable, secure nation-state exists there. But the mission was also historically implausible: Afghanistan has never had a strong central government. It has been governed for thousands of years by local and regional tribal coalitions. The tribes have often been at one another's throats — a good part of the current "Taliban" uprising is nothing more than standard tribal rivalries juiced by Western arms and opium profits — except when foreigners have invaded the area, in which case the Afghans have united and slowly humiliated conquerors from Alexander the Great to the Soviets.

The current Western presence is the most benign intrusion in Afghan history, and the rationale of building stability remains a logical one — but this war has become something of a sideshow in South Asia. The far more serious problem is Pakistan, a flimsy state with illogical borders, nuclear weapons and a mortal religious enmity toward India, its neighbor to the south. Pakistan is where bin Laden now lives, if he lives. The Bush Administration chose to coddle Pakistan's military leadership, which promised to help in the fight against al-Qaeda — but it hasn't helped much, although there are signs that the fragile new government of President Asif Ali Zardari may be more cooperative. Still, the Pakistani intelligence service helped create the Taliban and other Islamic extremist groups — including the terrorists who attacked Mumbai — as a way of keeping India at bay, and Pakistan continues to protect the Afghan Taliban in Quetta. In his initial statements, Obama has seemed more sophisticated about Afghanistan than Bush. In an interview with me in late October, Obama said Afghanistan should be seen as part of a regional problem, and he suggested that he might dispatch a special envoy, perhaps Bill Clinton, to work on the Indo-Afghan-Pakistani dilemma. Clinton seems a less likely prospect since his wife was named Secretary of State. The current speculation is that Richard Holbrooke may be selected for the job, which would be a very good idea. Holbrooke is a great negotiator, but he's also a great intimidator, and the first step toward resolving the war in Afghanistan is to lay down the law in both Islamabad and Kabul. The message should be the same in both cases: The unsupervised splurge of American aid is over. The Pakistanis will have to stop giving tacit support and protection to terrorists, especially the Afghan Taliban. The Karzai government will have to end its corruption and close down the drug trade. There are plenty of other reforms necessary — the international humanitarian effort is a shabby, self-righteous mess; some of our NATO allies aren't carrying their share of the military burden — but the war will remain a bloody stalemate at best as long as jihadis come across the border from Pakistan and the drug trade flourishes.

I flew by helicopter from Helmand to the enormous NATO base outside Kandahar to learn that three Canadian soldiers had been killed that morning in an ambush. I stood in a small, bare concrete plaza as the Canadian flag was raised, then lowered to half-staff. Next the Danish flag and finally the NATO flag were raised and left to rest at half-staff. A small group of soldiers from assorted countries stood at attention and saluted as the flags rose and fell. There were no American flags this day, but there soon will be. Before he sends another U.S. soldier off to die or be maimed in Afghanistan,

President-elect Obama needs to deliver the blunt message to the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan that we will no longer tolerate their complicity in the deaths of Americans and our allies, a slaughter that began on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and continues to this day. Obama will soon own this aimless war if he does not somehow change that dynamic.
Back to Top

Back to Top
NEDA Telecommunications, Afghanistan's Largest ISP to Deploy Quick Start IP Trunking Solution from O3b Networks, Ltd.
Afghanistan's largest ISP to use O3b Networks' low-latency constellation to expand internet services throughout the provinces and urban centers
ST. JOHN, Jersey, Channel Islands, Dec 11, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- O3b Networks the developer of a new fiber-quality, satellite-based, global Internet backbone for telecommunications operators and Internet Service Providers announced today that NEDA Telecommunications will deploy O3b Networks' Quick Start service as part of a multi-year, multi-million dollar agreement. The agreement will provide low-latency, fiber quality, internet connectivity between Afghanistan and the global internet infrastructure.

O3b Networks, funded by Google Inc., Liberty Global, Inc. and HSBC Principal Investments, recently announced it will deploy the world's first ultra-low-latency, Medium Earth Orbit (MEO), Ka-band, fiber-speed satellite network. The network is designed to improve Internet access for millions of consumers and businesses in emerging and developed markets, as well as selected vertical markets. Service activation and ground equipment is scheduled for late 2010.

"O3b Networks allows us to significantly enhance our ISP services," said Paul Shaw, CEO of NEDA. "With O3b's low-latency connection to the global internet, our customers will be able to fully utilize today's web 2.0 applications. There is a substantial and continuously growing demand all across Afghanistan for Internet services. Throughout the world low latency access to the Internet at significantly lower costs is proving to be a key factor in economic and social development. We are proud to be a part of bringing the O3B service to Afghanistan, and helping Afghanistan to compete on an equal basis with the rest of the world."

"Providing backhaul to NEDA Telecommunications is a great example of what O3b Networks can do", said John Finney, EVP Sales and Marketing for O3b Networks. "Customers, like NEDA Telecom, get connected directly to the global fiber internet infrastructure, without a huge capital expenditure. Our Quick Start offer provides an affordable, reliable, backhaul solution for connecting directly to the global internet whilst QuickVAR provides a way for NEDA to provide cellular backhaul to thousands of towers across Afghanistan. In emerging countries like Afghanistan, having an affordable, low-latency connection to the global internet provides the opportunity to stimulate economic development on par with the connected world."

About O3b Networks
O3b Networks is building a new fiber-quality, satellite-based, global Internet backbone for telecommunications operators (telcos) and Internet service providers (ISPs) in emerging markets. With deployment scheduled for late 2010, the O3b Networks system will combine global reach and the speed of a fiber-optic network. With investment and operational support from Google Inc., Liberty Global, Inc. and HSBC Principal Investments, the O3b Networks system will provide telcos and ISPs with a low-cost, high-speed alternative to connect their 3G, WiMAX and fixed-line networks to the rest of the world. This will allow billions of consumers and businesses in more than 150 countries to benefit from high-speed Internet connectivity for educational, medical and commercial applications. O3b Networks' headquarters is in St. John, Jersey, Channel Islands. Ground systems and technical development are managed through its wholly owned subsidiary in Englewood, Colorado. For more information visit www.o3bnetworks.com.

SOURCE: O3b Networks, Ltd.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Obama and the Middle East: Fundamental Changes or Deja vu?
Huffington Post, NY Muhammad Sahimi December 10, 2008
It is probably the greatest understatement of 2008 to say that many progressives in the Obama coalition, who played a crucial role in his victory, have been greatly disappointed with his national security team (NST). I do not wish to rehash all the discussions about Obama's NST by the progressives, but one statement that he made when introducing his NST left me dumbfounded. Mr. Obama said that he believes in having "strong personalities and strong opinions," and that he will welcome "vigorous debate" inside the White House.

So, the question is, could Obama not pick even one progressive with "strong opinions" to counter the NST that he has picked, in order to make the debates inside the White House more "vigorous?"

One glaring sign of how "great" are Obama's selections is the praise that he has been receiving for the selection of his cabinet from the far right, the neoconservatives, and the War Party. To begin with, that greatly despised inventor of the even more greatly despised Rovian politics, Carl Rove, called the selections "reassuring." Condoleezza Rice declared, "The country will be in good hands."

Max Boot, the wacky neocon, said, "I am gobsmacked by these appointments... this all but puts an end to the 16-month timetable for withdrawal from Iraq." The "sane" neocon, David Brooks of the New York Times, declared the selections "superb." Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard, the neocons' mouthpiece, declared that the selections indicate, "Surprising continuity on foreign policy between President Bush's second term and the incoming administration .... the expectation is that Obama is set to continue the course set by Bush."

In the Senate, the turncoat Joe Lieberman, whose sole purpose in life seems to be starting a war with Iran, called the selections "virtually perfect," and his pal, John McCain, opined, "I certainly applaud many of the appointments." Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, said, "The new administration is off to a good start." Even more disheartening was Mr. Obama's insistence on keeping Lieberman in the Democratic fold, after all of his back-stabbings.

I leave it to others to decide how Obama's NST may perform when it comes to confronting many critical issues around the globe, such as North Korea, and Russia. Here, I only want to describe how his NST sees the Middle East and the area around it, the most strategically important region in the world, where three high-intensity wars - Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel/Palestinians - and three low-intensity ones - US-supported attacks on Iran by the armed opposition, the Hezbollah/Israel skirmishes, and Pakistan's internal strife - have been going on for years.

I restrict myself to the conflicts that directly have to do with Iran and its neighbors, as this is the subject I write frequently about.

Iraq: The foundations for invasion of Iraq were laid in October 1998 when the Senate passed unanimously the Iraqi Liberation Act, the House passed it 360-38, and Hillary Clinton was the biggest cheerleader of what her husband and Madeleine Albright were doing to Iraq, including causing the death of 500,000 Iraqi children as a result of tough sanctions. More importantly, did Hillary not vote to authorize war with Iraq without even reading the intelligence report, and declared that Saddam Hussein "has given aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al-Qaeda," and that he "has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons"?

General James L. Jones, Mr. Obama's national security advisor, has a solid reputation for being bipartisan, and has said that the war in Iraq has caused the US to "take its eyes off the ball" in Afghanistan. But, when asked about setting a deadline for withdrawal of the US forces from Iraq, did he not tell McCain in a Senate hearing that, "I think deadlines can work against us, and I think a deadline of this magnitude would be against our national interest"? Has he not called for increased defense spending (for what?)? Did the National Review Online not declare his selection "a pretty good sign for hawks, a pretty bad sign for doves"? Perhaps part of the "continuity" that Goldfarb is talking about is that, just as the first national security advisor of George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, had connections to Chevron, so does General Jones.

How about Susan Rice, who will be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations? She did not have to vote for any Iraq war Resolution, so she could claim that she was opposed to the war. But, did she not propagate the lies about Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction? Did she not say in 2002 that, "It is clear that Iraq poses a major threat"?

Joe Biden played a role in the invasion of Iraq that was even more important than that of Hillary Clinton. As the Chair of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee in 2002, Biden refused to bring before the committee objective experts to testify whether Iraq had any WMDs. For example, veteran diplomat Hans von Sponeck, who was the former head of the UN's Iraq program, had expressed his willingness to testify. In July 2002, eight months before invasion of Iraq, von Sponeck wrote in an article posted on Znet, entitled "Call Bush's Bluff," that, "The U.S. Department of Defense and the CIA know perfectly well that today's Iraq poses no threat to anyone in the region, let alone in the United States...."

As a candidate, Mr. Obama said, "I don't want to just end the [Iraq] war, but I want to end the mind-set that got us into war in the first place." So, are we to believe that this bunch, who played a major role in starting the illegal Iraq war, will suddenly undergo a fundamental transformation of mind-set? Not likely.

But, Obama himself seems to have changed his own mind-set. Gone are his proclamations about ending quickly the war he called "dumb" and "rash." He will not end it the way progressives like me think it should end, namely, bringing home every single soldier and all the private contractors. Also gone is his belief that the "surge" was a bad idea. He was forced by McCain and the right to say that the "surge" has succeeded "beyond our wildest dreams." No, it has not. Violence is down simply because fierce religious and ethnic cleansing took place. The Shit'ites killed the Sunnis, or drove them out of their areas, and vice versa, and Iraqi Kurds did that to both. So, the "peace" is actually very fragile.

Afghanistan: Here, every member of Obama's NST agrees with him, and with everyone else: There has to be an escalation - they call it "surge" again - of the war under the NATO guise. This is one promise by the President-Elect that the progressives hope he will not fulfill.

First of all, why are things so bad that even Hamid Karzai, the puppet President and former Unocal lobbyist, feels compelled to say that, "I wish I could intercept the [US] planes that are going to bomb Afghan villages, but that is not in my hands"? Because the Taliban were overthrown but not defeated. It then became what Hillary Clinton herself called "the forgotten front line," left in the hands of the NATO commanders who do not have the foggiest idea about the land, its people, and their religion, culture, history, and traditions. Corruption is rampant, opium production that had been banned by the Taliban is back with vengeance, and there is a huge political vacuum. Under such conditions, a disciplined group like the Taliban - as criminal as it may be - steps forward and can succeed.

Second, the grand illusion is that, Afghanistan - one of the most backward nations on Earth - can blossom into a Western-style democracy. It will not, at least not in our life time, even if the Taliban disappeared tomorrow.

Third, the lack of understanding of that region also makes it difficult to imagine how Obama will not escalate the war, when his Secretary of State will be the same woman who urged Bill Clinton to bomb Yugoslavia in 1999, in order "to defend our way of life" half way around the world! I am sure the same logic will be used to justify the escalation in Afghanistan.

Fourth, the British and the Soviets learned the lesson the hard way, but no one in Obama's NST seems to understand that the war in Afghanistan, and indeed in much of the Middle East, does not have a military solution. The root cause of the decades-old conflict, namely, poverty and illiteracy, must be addressed. If they are, the Taliban or any other extremist group will not find any sympathizers.

What has been happening in Afghanistan is not Obama's fault. But, if he does deliver on his promise of escalating the war in Afghanistan without addressing the root-cause of the conflict, the war will continue for many years to come, without any hope for any tangible results for the people of Afghanistan and the Middle East. Is that what he wants? Or, is this all meant to put US soldiers permanently in Afghanistan, next to Central Asia's vast oil and gas reserves, regardless of what may happen to the people of Afghanistan?

Pakistan: How much does Obama's NST know about Pakistan? As recently as January 2008, Hillary Clinton did not know that former dictator of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, had appointed himself as president for five more years, and was challenging him to put himself up for re-election!

The United States has had a major role in creating the chaos in Pakistan. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks the US has given Pakistan $11 billion in aid, in addition to forgiving its previous debts. 80% of the aid went to the military to supposedly fight the Al-Qaeda. But what has happened? 90% of the military aid has been used to buy advanced weapons and put them at the Pakistan/India border, one of the most unstable border areas in the world. Musharraf also signed peace agreements with the Taliban's sympathizers in the western and northern Pakistan provinces. The result is an unstable nuclear nation with a large number of radicals in its military Inter Services intelligence - the ISI - who support Taliban.

Obama has talked about carrying out "hot pursuits" of the Taliban and their sympathizers in Pakistan. How realistic is that? Pakistan's corrupt President Asif Ali Zardari (the infamous Mr. 10% in the 1990s), who has no base of support in the military, is trapped in the impossible land of trying to please the US, but also not doing anything to upset the radicals in the ISI, who are angry that the US has tilted towards India, and has quietly supported India's establishment of a major presence in Afghanistan, which Pakistan considers as its "backyard" and security asset, not to mention the fact that the US is fighting their creature - the Taliban.

Add to these the fact that everyone in the US military seems inclined to use coercion in dealing with Pakistan, and not giving it the respect that a large sovereign nation and a major "non-NATO ally" of the US deserves. All you have to do to see this is recalling the summoning of Pakistan's military chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, to the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln to meet with Admiral Mike Mullin and General David Petraeus, without going through the usual political protocol. Is Mr. Obama going to change such attitudes?

Iran: The neocons and the War Party, together with the right-wing of the Democratic Party and the Israel lobby, have staged an all out campaign to convince Barack Obama that Iran is the biggest threat to the US. Obama himself, as well as his NST, routinely talk about Iran's "nuclear weapon program" that the International Atomic Energy Agency has consistently declared to be non-existent.

Hillary Clinton voted for the Kyle-Lieberman Senate Resolution, which Obama called "reckless." The Resolution declared Iran's Revolutionary Guards (IRG) - part of Iran's legitimate armed forces - a foreign terrorist organization. She declared that the US would not just defend Israel, if Iran attacked it, rather it would obliterate Iran.

Since becoming Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates has repeated many times the baseless accusations that Iran is causing trouble in Iraq. He also claimed recently that, "I have been involved in the search for the elusive Iranian moderate[s] for 30 years." He does not know how to look.

In 1995 Iranian moderates, wishing to re-establish relations with the US, granted a large contract to Conoco to work on an Iranian oil field, but Bill Clinton prevented it from happening. Under former president Mohammad Khatami Iran provided crucial help to the US, when it attacked Afghanistan in the Fall of 2001, by opening its airspace to the US aircrafts and providing intelligence on the Taliban forces, and the forces that it had supported for years, the Northern Alliance, were the first to reach Kabul and overthrow the Taliban government.

Then, during the U.N. talks on the future of Afghanistan in Bonn, Germany, in December 2001, Iran's representative Mohammad Javad Zarif met daily with the US envoy James Dobbins, who praised Zarif for preventing the conference from collapsing. Two months later, President Bush, Gates' boss, rewarded Iranian moderates by making Iran a charter member of his imaginary "axis of evil."

In May 2003 the same Iranian moderates made a comprehensive proposal to the US, offering to negotiate all the important issues, recognizing Israel within its pre-1967 war borders, and cutting off material support to Hamas and Hezbollah. The proposal was rejected. That was when Bush's "mission accomplished" banner was everywhere!

Obama has declared repeatedly that he would negotiate with Iran without any pre-conditions, for which he was ridiculed by Hillary Clinton. Now, the same Clinton, who has consistently taken the most hawkish positions on Iran and has threatened Iran with obliteration, is going to implement Obama's Iran policy? The same Hillary Clinton, who voted for declaring the IRG a "terrorist organization," is going to sit across the table from Iran's delegation, made mostly of former and current IRG commanders? With what credibility? This defies logic.

The necons, the War Party and the Israel lobby constantly declare that negotiations with Iran will fail, implying that the US must attack Iran at some point. Even Bush decided that was not a wise idea. Obama, on the other hand, is insisting on Iran giving up its internationally-recognized rights for uranium enrichment - the neocons' demand. No Iranian government would dare to do that. So, if this is going to be the subject of the negotiations without any "pre-conditions," it will indeed fail. In that case, what will Mr. Obama do? Bomb Iran?

True, Obama has said that, "Understand where the vision for change comes from; first and foremost it comes from me. That is my job, to provide in terms of where we are going and to make sure, then, that my team is implementing." But, as Albert Einstein said,

We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

Many in Obama's NST had a large role in creating the huge problems in the Middle East. The same characters are supposed to provide him with solutions? An intelligent man like President-Elect Obama should know better.

Iran Middle East Pakistan Barack Obama Iraq Afghanistan Hillary Clinton Joe Biden
Back to Top

Back to Top
U.K. Delays Aircraft Carriers to Fund Afghan War
By Mark Deen and Sabine Pirone
Dec. 11 (Bloomberg) -- The U.K. government delayed the purchase of aircraft carriers and other weapons systems to give spending priority to the war in Afghanistan, raising concern that Prime Minister Gordon Brown is sapping future capability.

The 3 billion-pound ($4.5 billion) ships made by BAE Systems Plc will enter service in 2018 instead of 2016, the Ministry of Defense said. It also delayed its FRES armored vehicle program and dropped General Dynamics Corp. from the bidding. Finmeccanica SpA won an order for 62 Lynx helicopters.

“Support to current operations remains our highest priority,” Defense Secretary John Hutton said in statement to Parliament in London today. Balancing the procurement budget “required a reprioritization of investment,” he said.

The decision is a blow for General Dynamics, which is still bidding for other work on U.K. contracts. For BAE, Europe’s biggest weapons maker, the move underpins jobs across the country for longer periods and makes workflows more manageable.

“The peaks of work that the two carriers brought will be flattened out,” said Bernie Hamilton, national officer for aerospace and shipbuilding at the Unite union representing BAE workers. “It will secure employment for workers in the sector for many more years with a stable workload.”

Budget Crunch
The statement follows a two-month review that Hutton ordered when he took up his post in October and is another step in the department’s effort to grapple with a budget that officers, lawmakers and industry executives say is stretched by years of spending restraint and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Conservative opposition said the moves will damage Britain’s ability to defend itself and put off more painful decisions about what programs are affordable given the need to keep a lid on the Treasury’s growing budget deficit.

“We’re mortgaging our future capability to support what we’re doing today,” Bernard Jenkin, a Conservative lawmaker who sits on Parliament’s defense committee, said in an interview. “Everyone knows the Ministry of Defence has run out of money.”

With 8,760 soldiers in Afghanistan and 4,100 in Iraq, Brown is funneling resources to maintain the troops at the front line. At the same time, Britain must retire a generation of ships, planes and vehicles ending their service life by 2020.

Hutton said the Treasury set aside an additional 635 million pounds for urgent operations next year, adding to 8.8 billion pounds spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. The U.K. plans to spend 35.4 billion pounds on defense in fiscal 2010 and 36.9 billion pounds in 2011.

Deficit Widening
Those funds are straining the Treasury’s budget, which clocked up the biggest deficit since World War II in the first six months of the fiscal year. Brown added to the burden last month by ordering a 20 billion-pound fiscal stimulus and 37 billion pounds to buy stakes in cash-strapped banks.

Even so, with real spending growth of 1.5 percent a year between 2008 and 2011, the Ministry of Defense has one of the tightest budgets of any department.

Industry executives and the Conservative opposition say the government isn’t keeping up with the inflating cost of defense technology. And they say today’s delays may ultimately cost the government more by requiring companies to keep on employees that would have finished work on projects earlier.

Higher Costs
“The downside to the delays will be an increase in the cost of these programs in the long run,” Rear Admiral Rees Ward, who is now director general of the Defence Manufacturers’ Association, said in an interview. “If you have a program that is supposed to run five years and you run it seven years, you have to pay the overhead for another two.”

BAE Systems and VT Group Plc are among the main contractors for the 65,000-ton aircraft carriers, the largest ever built for the Royal Navy. They said today’s announcement will have no impact on employment levels and that their business plan is on course, suggesting they had been planning for a delay.

“We have been aware of the significant budget pressures on the Ministry of Defense for some time,” said Nigel Whitehead, BAE managing director for programs. “We have planned our future U.K. business on robust assumptions.”

Hutton, whose electoral district is home to BAE shipyards in Barrow-in-Furness in Scotland, said the program “will still provide for stability for the core shipyard workforce, including 10,000 U.K. jobs.”

Armored Vehicles
On armored vehicles, Hutton said officials were redesigning the Future Rapid Effects System and would give priority to buying Scout vehicles and a Utility Vehicle. Officials, he said, were unable to agree terms of a contract with General Dynamics, which was offering a version of the Piranha 5 vehicle used by American forces.

“It is of course important that the MOD now moves swiftly to outline the future and the next steps in a timely manner, so that industry can manage and retain its skills and the soldiers can get the best vehicle when they need it,” General Dynamics said in a statement.

BAE remains a bidder for work on the program, which also involves QinetiQ Group Plc and Thales SA. General Dynamics is still bidding for other work on armored vehicles, about which the Ministry of Defense will make a more detailed statement sometime next month.

“We are clearly disappointed that FRES Utility Vehicle will not be going ahead as planned,” said Lindsay Walls, a spokeswoman for BAE. “We will have to consider what this package of decisions included in today’s announcement means for the size and shape of the Land Systems business.”

British officials also set aside 70 million pounds pay for Finmeccanica SpA’s AgustaWestland unit to upgrade 12 existing Lynx helicopters. Deliveries of the new Lynx choppers will begin in 2011 and come into service from 2014.

‘Better Fit’

“This decision will bring a better fit between the in service dates of these carriers and the aircraft that will fly from them,” Hutton told BBC television. “There’s not a lot of point of having new aircraft carriers if you don’t have the aircraft to fly from them.”

The Ministry of Defense also said it will defer purchase of the Mars fleet auxiliary program while it reviews “scope for alternative approaches” to building the new tanker ships.

Ward from the industry’s lobby group said companies have less “wiggle room” in their manufacturing schedules than in previous decades since executives and government officials tightened procurement schedules and the fabrication process following the end of the Cold War.

Today’s statement leaves open the question about how many projects will be affordable in the years to come. The U.K. currently has 520 helicopters across the armed forces, a figure that will fall to 215 by 2020 on current plans, said Jenkin, the Conservative lawmaker.

“We are simply not going to be configured to do the kind of operations we have being doing,” he said. “What sort of country do we want to be? Do we want to go from having global reach to being a bit player? We need to decide which bits.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Deen in Brussels at markdeen@bloomberg.netSabine Pirone in London at spirone@bloomberg.net
Back to Top

Back to Top
Ten year carpet export strategy unveiled
Written by www.quqnoos.com Wednesday, 10 December 2008
One of Afghanistan's most famous products seeks new access to global markets

The Afghan Export Agency hopes to boost the export of Afghan carpets significantly by 2018.

Currently, Afghanistan exports $180 million worth of carpets per annum. The Export Agency hopes to increase this figure to $360 million in the next decade.

As part of the plan, 28 carpet traders will be sent abroad to network and explore new markets for one of Afghanistan’s most famous products.

Afghan carpets clearly display their ancient pedigree and one specimen won the coveted ‘Best Carpet’ award at the Domtics carpet fair in Germany this year.

Local traders say that they struggle to obtain business loans and that when they send their wares abroad, leaky transportation often damage the goods in transit.

Others have accused rogue Pakistani carpet traders of misrepresenting the carpets they sell. They say that good Afghan carpets are sometimes rebranded as ‘Pakistani’ and sent to foreign markets. Other claim that poor-quality Pakistani carpets are often exported as ‘Made in Afghanistan’ thereby damaging global confidence in the Afghan brand.
Back to Top

Back to Top
Samangan faces disaster this winter - Provincial Council
Written by www.quqnoos.com Wednesday, 10 December 2008
Aid must reach drought effected province before snow shut roads, residents say

Authorities in Samangan have warned that the province faces a famine this winter.

The head of the northern province’s Provincial Council has warned that unless the central government brings aid before winter snows shut roads, the province may face disaster.

Local residents have echoed this call for action.

Drought in the province has hurt the agricultural sector on which most Samangan families depend. Widespread unemployment and poverty have inevitably followed the drought and leave many families particularly vulnerable as winter approaches.
Back to Top


 Back to News Archirves of 2008
 
Disclaimer: This news site is mostly a compilation of publicly accessible articles on the Web in the form of a link or saved news item. The news articles and commentaries/editorials are protected under international copyright laws. All credit goes to the original respective source(s).