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Archive for August 2010

Key Karzai Aide in Graft Inquiry Is Linked to C.I.A.

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KABUL, Afghanistan – The aide to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan at the center of a politically sensitive corruption investigation is being paid by the Central Intelligence Agency, according to Afghan and American officials.


Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts met last Saturday in Kabul with President Hamid Karzai. Mr. Kerry said he believed that he had won a commitment from the Afghan president to allow an American-backed anticorruption unit to work unhindered.

Mohammed Zia Salehi, the chief of administration for the National Security Council, appears to have been on the payroll for many years, according to officials in Kabul and Washington. It is unclear exactly what Mr. Salehi does in exchange for his money, whether providing information to the spy agency, advancing American views inside the presidential palace, or both.

Mr. Salehi’s relationship with the C.I.A. underscores deep contradictions at the heart of the Obama administration’s policy in Afghanistan, with American officials simultaneously demanding that Mr. Karzai root out the corruption that pervades his government while sometimes subsidizing the very people suspected of perpetrating it.

Mr. Salehi was arrested in July and released after Mr. Karzai intervened. There has been no suggestion that Mr. Salehi’s ties to the C.I.A. played a role in his release; rather, officials say, it is the fear that Mr. Salehi knows about corrupt dealings inside the Karzai administration.

The ties underscore doubts about how seriously the Obama administration intends to fight corruption here. The anticorruption drive, though strongly backed by the United States, is still vigorously debated inside the administration. Some argue it should be a centerpiece of American strategy, and others say that attacking corrupt officials who are crucial to the war effort could destabilize the Karzai government.

The Obama administration is also racing to show progress in Afghanistan by December, when the White House will evaluate its mission there. Some administration officials argue that any comprehensive campaign to fight corruption inside Afghanistan is overly ambitious, with less than a year to go before the American military is set to begin withdrawing troops.

“Fighting corruption is the very definition of mission creep,” one Obama administration official said.

Others in the administration view public corruption as the single greatest threat to the Afghan government and the American mission; it is the corrupt nature of the Karzai government, these officials say, that drives ordinary Afghans into the arms of the Taliban. Other prominent Afghans who American officials have said were on the C.I.A.’s payroll include the president’s half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, suspected by investigators of playing a role in Afghanistan’s booming opium trade. Earlier this year, American officials did not press Mr. Karzai to remove his brother from his post as the chairman of the Kandahar provincial council. Mr. Karzai denies any monetary relationship with the C.I.A. and any links to the drug trade.

Mr. Salehi was arrested by the Afghan police after, investigators say, they wiretapped him soliciting a bribe – in the form of a car for his son – in exchange for impeding an American-backed investigation into a company suspected of shipping billions of dollars out of the country for Afghan officials, drug smugglers and insurgents.

Mr. Salehi was released seven hours later, after telephoning Mr. Karzai from his jail cell to demand help, officials said, and after Mr. Karzai forcefully intervened on his behalf.

The president sent aides to get him and has since threatened to limit the power of the anticorruption unit that carried out the arrest. Mr. Salehi could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. A spokesman for President Karzai did not respond to a list of questions sent to his office, including whether Mr. Karzai knew that Mr. Salehi was a C.I.A. informant.

A spokesman for the C.I.A. declined to comment on any relationship with Mr. Salehi.

“The C.I.A. works hard to advance the full range of U.S. policy objectives in Afghanistan,” said Paul Gimigliano, a spokesman for the agency. “Reckless allegations from anonymous sources don’t change that reality in the slightest.”

An American official said the practice of paying government officials was sensible, even if they turn out to be corrupt or unsavory.

“If we decide as a country that we’ll never deal with anyone in Afghanistan who might down the road – and certainly not at our behest – put his hand in the till, we can all come home right now,” the American official said. “If you want intelligence in a war zone, you’re not going to get it from Mother Teresa or Mary Poppins.”

Last week, Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat, flew to Kabul in part to discuss the Salehi case with Mr. Karzai. In an interview afterward, Mr. Kerry expressed concern about Mr. Salehi’s ties to the American government. Mr. Kerry appeared to allude to the C.I.A., though he did not mention it.

“We are going to have to examine that relationship,” Mr. Kerry said. “We are going to have to look at that very carefully.”

Mr. Kerry said he pressed Mr. Karzai to allow the anticorruption unit pursuing Mr. Salehi and others to move forward unhindered, and said he believed he had secured a commitment from him to do so.

“Corruption matters to us,” a senior Obama administration official said. “The fact that Salehi may have been on our payroll does not necessarily change any of the basic issues here.”

Mr. Salehi is a political survivor, who, like many Afghans, navigated shifting alliances through 31 years of war. He is a former interpreter for Abdul Rashid Dostum, the ethnic Uzbek with perhaps the most ruthless reputation among all Afghan warlords.

Mr. Dostum, a Karzai ally, was one of the C.I.A.’s leading allies on the ground in Afghanistan in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The agency employed his militia to help rout the Taliban from northern Afghanistan.

Over the course of the nine-year-old war, the C.I.A. has enmeshed itself in the inner workings of Afghanistan’s national security establishment. From 2002 until just last year, the C.I.A. paid the entire budget of Afghanistan’s spy service, the National Directorate of Security.

Mr. Salehi often acts as a courier of money to other Afghans, according to an Afghan politician who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation.

Among the targets of the continuing Afghan anticorruption investigation is a secret fund of cash from which payments were made to various individuals, officials here said.

Despite Mr. Salehi’s status as a low-level functionary, the Afghan politician predicted that Mr. Karzai would never allow his prosecution to go forward, whatever the pressure from the United States. Mr. Salehi knows too much about the inner workings of the palace, he said.

“Karzai will protect him,” the politician said, “because by going after him, you are opening the gates.”

Mr. Salehi is a confidant of some of the most powerful people in the Afghan government, including Engineer Ibrahim, who until recently was the deputy chief of the Afghan intelligence service. Earlier this year, Mr. Salehi accompanied Mr. Ibrahim to Dubai to meet leaders of the Taliban to explore prospects for peace, according to a prominent Afghan with knowledge of the meeting.

Mr. Salehi was arrested last month in the course of a sprawling investigation into New Ansari, a money transfer firm that relies on couriers and other rudimentary means to move cash in and out of Afghanistan.

New Ansari was founded in the 1990s when the Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan. In the years since 2001, New Ansari grew into one of the most important financial hubs in Afghanistan, transferring billions of dollars in cash for prominent Afghans out of the country, most of it to Dubai.

New Ansari’s offices were raided by Afghan agents, with American backing, in January. An American official familiar with the investigation said New Ansari appeared to have been transferring money for wealthy Afghans of every sort, including politicians, insurgents and drug traffickers.

“They were moving money for everybody,” the American official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The flow of capital out of Afghanistan is so large that it makes up a substantial portion of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product. In an interview, a United Arab Emirates customs official said it received about $1 billion from Afghanistan in 2009. But the American official said the amount might be closer to $2.5 billion – about a quarter of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product.

Much of the New Ansari cash was carried by couriers flying from Kabul and Kandahar, usually to Dubai, where many Afghan officials maintain second homes and live in splendorous wealth.

An American official familiar with the investigation said the examination of New Ansari’s books was providing rich insights into the culture of Afghan corruption.

“It’s a gold mine,” the official said.

Following the arrest, Mr. Salehi called Mr. Karzai directly from his cell to demand that he be freed. Mr. Karzai twice sent delegations to the detention center where Mr. Salehi was held. After seven hours, Mr. Salehi was let go.

Afterward, Gen. Nazar Mohammed Nikzad, the head of the Afghan unit investigating Mr. Salehi, was summoned to the Presidential Palace and asked by Mr. Karzai to explain his actions.

“Everything is lawful and by the book,” a Western official said of the Afghan anticorruption investigators. “They gather the evidence, they get the warrant signed off – and then the plug gets pulled every time.”

This is not the first time that Afghan prosecutors have run into resistance when they have tried to pursue an Afghan official on corruption charges related to New Ansari.

Sediq Chekari, the minister for Hajj and Religious Affairs, was allowed to flee the country as investigators prepared to charge him with accepting bribes in exchange for steering business to tour operators who ferry people to Saudi Arabia each year. Mr. Chekari fled to Britain, officials said. Afghanistan’s attorney general issued an arrest warrant through Interpol.

American officials say a key player in the scandal is Hajji Rafi Azimi, the vice chairman of Afghan United Bank. The bank’s chairman, Hajji Mohammed Jan, is a founder of New Ansari. According to American officials, Afghan prosecutors would like to arrest Mr. Azimi but so far have run into political interference they did not specify. He has not been formally charged.

In the past, some Western officials have expressed frustration at the political resistance that Afghan prosecutors have encountered when they have tried to investigate Afghan officials. Earlier this year, the American official said that the Obama administration was considering extraordinary measures to bring corrupt Afghan officials to justice, including extradition.

“We are pushing some high-level public corruption cases right now, and they are just constantly stalling and stalling and stalling,” the American official said of the Karzai administration.

Another Western official said he was growing increasingly concerned about the morale – and safety – of the Afghan anticorruption prosecutors.

So far, the Afghan prosecutors have not folded. The Salehi case is likely to resurface – and very soon. Under Afghan law, prosecutors have a maximum of 33 days to indict a person after his arrest. Mr. Salehi was arrested in late July.

That means Afghan prosecutors may soon come before the Afghan attorney general, Mohammed Ishaq Aloko, to seek an indictment. It will be up to Mr. Aloko, who owes his job to Mr. Karzai, to sign it.

“They are all just doing their jobs,” the Western official said. “They are scared for their lives. They are scared for their families. If it continues, they will eventually give up the fight.”

Prudently handle Tibet issue: China tells India

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The Times of India

BEIJING: China on Tuesday said it hopes India would abide by its commitment of not letting Tibetans to engage in anti-China activities and “prudently handle” the issue so as not to “disrupt” the overall bilateral ties.

Commenting for the first time on the recent meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Dalai Lama, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said that Beijing’s opposition to any foreign leaders meeting the Tibetan spiritual leader has been conveyed to India.

“China opposes foreign political leaders meeting the Dalai Lama and we have made our position clear to the Indian side,” the spokesperson office said replying to a query on the recent meeting between Singh and the exiled Tibetan leader.

“The Indian government has on many occasions expressed that it recognised Tibet Autonomous Region as part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China and it will not allow Tibetans to engage in anti-China political activities in India,” it said.

“China hopes that the Indian side observes its commitments to Tibet related issues and prudently handle relevant issues so as to refrain from (causing) any disruption to the overall relationship between China and India,” it said.

The spokesperson’s reactions made no direct reference to external affairs minister S M Krishna’s clarification on the issue stating that India considers the Tibetan leader an “honoured guest” but it does not “encourage” him to engage in political activities.

Seeking to downplay the issue, Krishna said India considers Tibetan Autonomous Region as part of China and his clarification “should bring down curtains on any controversy”.

Krishna said, “India’s position (on Tibet and the Dalai Lama) has been stated repeatedly, unequivocally and categorically”, that the Nobel Laureate is an “honoured guest” of India and a “spiritual leader” respected by millions of people in the country.

China’s reaction to Singh’s meeting with the Dalai Lama was in sharp contrast to that of the last month’s meeting of Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao with the Tibetan leader.

Beijing did not directly react to that meeting and commented on it only when the question was asked in a press briefing, where in the spokesperson hoped India would abide by its comments to not to allow its soil to be used by Tibetans to carry out anti-China political activities.

Rao’s meeting with the Dalai Lama took place in the immediate aftermath of the visit of National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon who held talks with the Chinese leaders as Singh’s Special Envoy.

China considers the 75-year-old Dalai Lama as a separatist who is trying to split Tibet from China.

300 tons of explosives go missing in central India

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NEW DELHI: Some 61 trucks loaded with over 300 tons of explosives have gone missing in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, a senior police official said on Friday.

“The trucks were sent from a state-owned factory, Rajasthan Explosives and Chemicals Limited, in Dholpur to a private company called Ganesh Explosives in the state’s Sagar district. But it never reached there,” the official said.

A massive search is on to track down the trucks as fear is mounting that if the explosives, including detonators and gelatin sticks, reach the wrong hands, it could be devastating, he added.

Meanwhile, the Rajasthan Explosives and Chemicals Limited has claimed that it can’t be blamed for this disappearance as it sent explosives only in trucks authorised by the company.

We hand over the explosives to those who have the license. And they then dispatch it on their truck. Now, whatever happens to that explosive thereafter, we are not responsible for that,” YC Upadhyay of the company said.

A Case of Decency Deficit – An Analysis

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By Lawrence Davidson

It is true that in any given population there will always be a range of decency. Some might use the term morality instead of decency, but morality is loaded with too many disputed meanings. The term decency, hopefully, has a broader recognizable footprint. At the lowest end of any range of decency are those who are so egocentric or perverted that they not only act in ways that are harmful to others, but they do so as a form of enjoyment.

In extreme cases, such people usually end up in prison, or even asylums for the criminally insane. They have committed serial murders or some other form of horrible physical abuse. They have robbed their elderly neighbors for the fun of it or set fire to the local hospital or what have you. Yet, it is a strange quirk of our way of doing things that such degenerates can actually find a place in society where there is an accepted scope for their particular attitudes and actions. That place would have to bring them into contact with people outside the community and toward whom their society is hostile, where the “rules of engagement,” as the phrase goes, is much more flexible and fuzzy than back home. That place is the military in times of war. This is not to say that every soldier is suffering from a severe case of “decency deficit.” However, if one has been in the military, particularly in a combat environment, one will most likely recognize the type. While everyone else is scared and counting the days until they can get out of an essentially inhuman environment, these people are enjoying themselves.

There has been a recent case of moderate decency deficiency involving a 20 year old female Israeli soldier by the name of Eden Abargil.

Ms Abargil had her picture taken as she “guarded” Palestinian prisoners who were bound and blindfolded. She stands there with her rifle and smiles at the camera. She is not the only one who comes away from serving in Israel’s occupation army with such photographic trophies. What makes her special is that she posted this and other pictures on Facebook, under the title “The Army, the best time of my life.”

According to the Israeli human rights group Breaking the Silence, these sort of trophy pictures are such a “widespread phenomenon” that taking them constitutes “a norm.” Why so? Because it is the “necessary result of a long term military control of a civilian population.” No doubt this is true, though if you are sufficiently decency deficient your exposure does not have to be “long term” at all.

Ms. Abargil gave an interview on Israeli Army Radio on August 17. She proclaimed herself “mystified” by those who were upset at the postings. She asked the audience, “what is wrong with that [putting the pictures on Facebook]?” After all, she continued, “there was no violence in the pictures” and “they reflect the military experience.” Abargil seems to have decency deficit problems. If nothing else she cannot see that there is in fact violence in her photos. The Palestinian men whom she is so gleefully guarding have obviously suffered violence simply by being bound and blindfolded for resisting illegal occupation. In fact, these scenes scream violence to anyone who can see them within a context of an occupation which itself is violent on a daily basis- anyone who is aware of the Geneva conventions, U.N. resolutions, the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, plain human decency. Yet, that is the rub. Eden Abargil cannot see it. Why not?

Well, her problem might be a personal one. That is, she may be one of those small number of people found worldwide who are incapable of recognizing the difference between right and wrong. If so we can compare her to another young lady whose psyche might qualify for this condition. This woman was also in the military, but she is a 28 year old American. Her name is Lynndie England. She was one of eleven soldiers court marshaled in 2005 for the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Here too it was trophy pictures that exposed the smiling England romping among horribly abused captives. Ms. England said that she was just following orders.

In the case of Eden Abargil there is yet another possibility. How can you tell if you have a behavior problem or are simply misunderstood by outsiders, when you live in a community were decency deficiency is normal? After all, if Breaking the Silence, and other Israeli Human Rights organizations (whose memberships are quite small but collectively an important humane voice) are right, the taking of trophy pictures is “a widespread phenomenon, not an aberration caused by a single soldier.” In this regard it should noted that the IDF appears upset with Abargil, whose action it has labeled “crude,” not because she had “the best time of my life” posing for such pictures, but because she was indiscrete enough to display them to the world via the web.

To clarify the above question, consider the environment in which Eden Abargil was born and raised. It is an environment in which most Israelis are taught from childhood that the world is against them. When informed that her facebook postings might “injure Israel’s image in the International arena” Abargil responded, “We shall always be attacked. Whatever we do, we shall always be attacked.” Many Israelis are convinced that the Palestinians are barbarians, “beasts walking on two legs,” who want to “push the Jews into the sea.” The answer to this alleged threat is to convince the Palestinians that they are “a defeated people.” Yet they never seem to get this message and so Israel’s destructive power never gives its citizens the security they crave. On the other hand, many Israelis believe that to compromise with the enemy is to encourage them to keep trying to “push the Jews into the sea.” So they just continue on an illogical path of trying to humiliate the Palestinians into total surrender. The majority of Israelis have this problematic worldview reinforced throughout their lives by their parents, their schoolmates and teachers, their friends and co-workers, and their compatriots in the military. They even get it from their rabbis. Under the circumstances it is very difficult to avoid the taint of racism. So, is Eden Abargil’s decency deficiency a personal problem, or is she simply an acculturated, “normal” member of a society that is collectively deficient of decency?

If it is the former, the answer might be therapy, parole of one year to live in an Arab-Israeli town, or just keeping Ms Abargil indefinitely away from guns and cameras. If it is the latter, the first step to a cure is the isolation of the entire Israeli society on the model used against apartheid South Africa. Personally, I agree with Breaking the Silence. The problem goes beyond Eden Abargil. In fact she is only the latest public symptom of an indecent state and ideology (Zionism). For a long time both have done nothing but harm to the Jewish people and religion. It is for their sake, as well as for the long suffering Palestinians, that the treatment of isolation must be attempted.

Task Force 373, F3EA, etc. also in WIKILEAKS

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By: Pratap Chatterjee

“Find, fix, finish, and follow-up” is the way the Pentagon describes the mission of secret military teams in Afghanistan which have been given a mandate to pursue alleged members of the Taliban or al-Qaeda wherever they may be found. Some call these “manhunting” operations and the units assigned to them “capture/kill” teams.

Whatever terminology you choose, the details of dozens of their specific operations — and how they regularly went badly wrong — have been revealed for the first time in the mass of secret U.S. military and intelligence documents published by the website Wikileaks in July to a storm of news coverage and official protest. Representing a form of U.S. covert warfare now on the rise, these teams regularly make more enemies than friends and undermine any goodwill created by U.S. reconstruction projects.

When Danny Hall and Gordon Phillips, the civilian and military directors of the U.S. provincial reconstruction team in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, arrived for a meeting with Gul Agha Sherzai, the local governor, in mid-June 2007, they knew that they had a lot of apologizing to do. Philips had to explain why a covert U.S. military “capture/kill” team named Task Force 373, hunting for Qari Ur-Rahman, an alleged Taliban commander given the code-name “Carbon,” had called in an AC-130 Spectre gunship and inadvertently killed seven Afghan police officers in the middle of the night.

The incident vividly demonstrated the inherent clash between two doctrines in the U.S. war in Afghanistan — counterinsurgency (“protecting the people”) and counterterrorism (killing terrorists). Although the Obama administration has given lip service to the former, the latter has been, and continues to be, the driving force in its war in Afghanistan.

For Hall, a Foreign Service officer who was less than two months away from a plush assignment in London, working with the military had already proven more difficult than he expected. In an article for Foreign Service Journal published a couple of months before the meeting, he wrote, “I felt like I never really knew what was going on, where I was supposed to be, what my role was, or if I even had one. In particular, I didn’t speak either language that I needed: Pashtu or military.”

It had been no less awkward for Phillips. Just a month earlier, he had personally handed over “solatia” payments — condolence payments for civilian deaths wrongfully caused by U.S. forces — in Governor Sherzai’s presence, while condemning the act of a Taliban suicide bomber who had killed 19 civilians, setting off the incident in question. “We come here as your guests,” he told the relatives of those killed, “invited to aid in the reconstruction and improved security and governance of Nangarhar, to bring you a better life and a brighter future for you and your children. Today, as I look upon the victims and their families, I join you in mourning for your loved ones.”

Hall and Phillips were in charge of a portfolio of 33 active U.S. reconstruction projects worth $11 million in Nangarhar, focused on road-building, school supplies, and an agricultural program aimed at exporting fruits and vegetables from the province.

Yet the mission of their military-led “provincial reconstruction team” (made up of civilian experts, State department officials, and soldiers) appeared to be in direct conflict with those of the “capture/kill” team of special operations forces (Navy Seals, Army Rangers, and Green Berets, together with operatives from the Central Intelligence Agency’s Special Activities Division) whose mandate was to pursue Afghans alleged to be terrorists as well as insurgent leaders. That team was leaving a trail of dead civilian bodies and recrimination in its wake.

Details of some of the missions of Task Force 373 first became public as a result of more than 76,000 incident reports leaked to the public by Wikileaks, a whistleblower website, together with analyses of those documents in Der Spiegel, the Guardian, and the New York Times. A full accounting of the depredations of the task force may be some time in coming, however, as the Obama administration refuses to comment on its ongoing assassination spree in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A short history of the unit can nonetheless be gleaned from a careful reading of the Wikileaks documents as well as related reports from Afghanistan and unclassified Special Forces reports.

The Wikileaks data suggests that as many as 2,058 people on a secret hit list called the “Joint Prioritized Effects List” (JPEL) were considered “capture/kill” targets in Afghanistan. A total of 757 prisoners — most likely from this list — were being held at the Bagram Theater Internment Facility (BTIF), a U.S.-run prison on Bagram Air Base as of the end of December 2009.

Capture/Kill Operations

The idea of “joint” teams from different branches of the military working collaboratively with the CIA was first conceived in 1980 after the disastrous Operation Eagle Claw, when personnel from the Air Force, Army, and Navy engaged in a disastrously botched, seat-of-the-pants attempt to rescue U.S. hostages in Iran with help from the Agency. Eight soldiers were killed when two helicopters collided in the Iranian desert. Afterwards, a high-level, six-member commission led by Admiral James L. Holloway, III recommended the creation of a Joint Special Forces command to ensure that different branches of the military and the CIA should do far more advance coordination planning in the future.

This process accelerated greatly after September 11, 2001. That month, a CIA team called Jawbreaker headed for Afghanistan to plan a U.S.-led invasion of the country. Shortly thereafter, an Army Green Beret team set up Task Force Dagger to pursue the same mission. Despite an initial rivalry between the commanders of the two groups, they eventually teamed up.

The first covert “joint” team involving the CIA and various military special operations forces to work together in Afghanistan was Task Force 5, charged with the mission of capturing or killing “high value targets” like Osama bin Laden, senior leaders of al-Qaeda, and Mullah Mohammed Omar, the head of the Taliban. A sister organization set up in Iraq was called Task Force 20. The two were eventually combined into Task Force 121 by General John Abizaid, the head of the U.S. Central Command.

In a new book to be released this month, Operation Darkheart, Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer describes the work of Task Force 121 in 2003, when he was serving as part of a team dubbed the Jedi Knights. Working under the alias of Major Christopher Stryker, he ran operations for the Defense Intelligence Agency (the military equivalent of the CIA) out of Bagram Air Base.

One October night, Shaffer was dropped into a village near Asadabad in Kunar province by an MH-47 Chinook helicopter to lead a “joint” team, including Army Rangers (a Special Forces division) and 10th Mountain Division troops. They were on a mission to capture a lieutenant of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a notorious warlord allied with the Taliban, based on information provided by the CIA.

It wasn’t easy. “They succeeded in striking at the core of the Taliban and their safe havens across the border in Pakistan. For a moment Shaffer saw us winning the war,” reads the promotional material for the book. “Then the military brass got involved. The policies that top officials relied on were hopelessly flawed. Shaffer and his team were forced to sit and watch as the insurgency grew — just across the border in Pakistan.”

Almost a quarter century after Operation Eagle Claw, Shaffer, who was part of the Able Danger team that had pursued Al Qaeda in the 1990s, describes the bitter turf wars between the CIA and Special Forces teams over how the shadowy world of secret assassinations in Afghanistan and Pakistan should be run.

Task Force 373

Fast forward to 2007, the first time Task Force 373 is mentioned in the Wikileaks documents. We don’t know whether its number means anything, but coincidentally or not, chapter 373 of the U.S. Code 10, the act of Congress that sets out what the U.S. military is legally allowed to do, permits the Secretary of Defense to empower any “civilian employee” of the military “to execute warrants and make arrests without a warrant” in criminal matters. Whether or not this is indeed the basis for that “373” remains a classified matter — as indeed, until the Wikileaks document dump occurred, was the very existence of the group.

Analysts say that Task Force 373 complements Task Force 121 by using “white forces” like the Rangers and the Green Berets, as opposed to the more secretive Delta Force. Task Force 373 is supposedly run out of three military bases — in Kabul, the Afghan capital; Kandahar, the country’s second largest city; and Khost City near the Pakistani tribal lands. It’s possible that some of its operations also come out of Camp Marmal, a German base in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Sources familiar with the program say that the task force has its own helicopters and aircraft, notably AC-130 Spectre gunships, dedicated only to its use.

Its commander appears to have been Brigadier General Raymond Palumbo, based out of the Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Palumbo, however, left Fort Bragg in mid-July, shortly after General Stanley McChrystal was relieved as Afghan war commander by President Obama. The name of the new commander of the task force is not known.

In more than 100 incident reports in the Wikileaks files, Task Force 373 is described as leading numerous “capture/kill” efforts, notably in Khost, Paktika, and Nangarhar provinces, all bordering the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of northern Pakistan. Some reportedly resulted in successful captures, while others led to the death of local police officers or even small children, causing angry villagers to protest and attack U.S.-led military forces.

In April 2007, David Adams, commander of the Khost provincial reconstruction team, was called to meet with elders from the village of Gurbuz in Khost province, who were angry about Task Force 373’s operations in their community. The incident report on Wikileaks does not indicate just what Task Force 373 did to upset Gurbuz’s elders, but the governor of Khost, Arsala Jamal, had been publicly complaining about Special Forces operations and civilian deaths in his province since December 2006, when five civilians were killed in a raid on Darnami village.

“This is our land,” he said then. “I’ve been asking with greater force: Let us sit together, we know our Afghan brothers, we know our culture better. With these operations we should not create more enemies. We are in a position to reduce mistakes.”

As Adams would later recall in an op-ed he co-authored for the Wall Street Journal, “The increasing number of raids on Afghan homes alienated many of Khost’s tribal elders.”

On June 12, 2007, Danny Hall and Gordon Philips, working in Nangarhar province just northeast of Khost, were called into that meeting with Governor Sherzai to explain how Task Force 373 had killed those seven local Afghan police officers. Like Jamal, Sherzai made the point to Hall and Philips that “he strongly encourages better coordination… and he further emphasized that he does not want to see this happen again.”

Less than a week later, a Task Force 373 team fired five rockets at a compound in Nangar Khel in Paktika province to the south of Khost, in an attempt to kill Abu Laith al-Libi, an alleged al-Qaeda member from Libya. When the U.S. forces made it to the village, they found that Task Force 373 had destroyed a madrassa (or Islamic school), killing six children and grievously wounding a seventh who, despite the efforts of a U.S. medical team, would soon die. (In late January 2008, al-Libi was reported killed by a Hellfire missile from a Predator drone strike in a village near Mir Ali in North Waziristan in Pakistan.)

Paktika Governor Akram Khapalwak met with the U.S. military the day after the raid. Unlike his counterparts in Khost and Nangarhar, Khapalwak agreed to support the “talking points” developed for Task Force 373 to explain the incident to the media. According to the Wikileaks incident report, the governor then “echoed the tragedy of children being killed, but stressed this could’ve been prevented had the people exposed the presence of insurgents in the area.”

However, no military talking points, no matter in whose mouth, could stop the civilian deaths as long as Task Force 373’s raids continued.

On October 4, 2007, its members called in an air strike — 500 pound Paveway bombs — on a house in the village of Laswanday, just six miles from Nangar Khel in Paktika province (where those seven children had already died). This time, four men, one woman, and a girl — all civilians — as well as a donkey, a dog, and several chickens would be slaughtered. A dozen U.S. soldiers were injured, but the soldiers reported that not one “enemy” was detained or killed.

The Missing Afghan Story

Not all raids resulted in civilian deaths. The U.S. military incident reports released by Wikileaks suggest that Task Force 373 had better luck in capturing “targets” alive and avoiding civilian deaths on December 14, 2007. The 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne) was asked that day to support Task Force 373 in a search in Paktika province for Bitonai and Nadr, two alleged al-Qaeda leaders listed on the JPEL. The operation took place just outside the town of Orgun, close to U.S. Forward Operating Base (FOB) Harriman. Located 7,000 feet above sea level and surrounded by mountains, it hosts about 300 soldiers as well as a small CIA compound, and is often visited by chattering military helicopters well as sleepy camel herds belonging to local Pashtuns.

An airborne assault team code-named “Operation Spartan” descended on the compounds where Bitonai and Nadr were supposed to be living, but failed to find them. When a local Afghan informant told the Special Forces soldiers that the suspects were at a location about two miles away, Task Force 373 seized both men as well as 33 others who were detained at FOB Harriman for questioning and possible transfer to the prison at Bagram.

But when Task Force 373 was on the prowl, civilians were, it seems, always at risk, and while the Wikileaks documents reveal what the U.S soldiers were willing to report, the Afghan side of the story was often left in a ditch. For example, on a Monday night in mid-November 2009, Task Force 373 conducted an operation to capture or kill an alleged militant code-named “Ballentine” in Ghazni province. A terse incident report announced that one Afghan woman and four “insurgents” had been killed. The next morning, Task Force White Eagle, a Polish unit under the command of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, reported that some 80 people gathered to protest the killings. The window of an armored vehicle was damaged by the angry villagers, but the documents don’t offer us their version of the incident.

In an ironic twist, one of the last Task Force 373 incidents recorded in the Wikileaks documents was almost a reprise of the original Operation Eagle Claw disaster that led to the creation of the “joint” capture/kill teams. Just before sunrise on October 26, 2009, two U.S. helicopters, a UH-1 Huey and an AH-1 Cobra, collided near the town of Garmsir in the southern province of Helmand, killing four Marines.

Closely allied with Task Force 373 is a British unit, Task Force 42, composed of Special Air Service, Special Boat Service, and Special Reconnaissance Regiment commandos who operate in Helmand province and are mentioned in several Wikileaks incident reports.

Manhunting

“Capture/kill” is a key part of a new military “doctrine” developed by the Special Forces Command established after the failure of Operation Eagle Claw. Under the leadership of General Bryan D. Brown, who took over the Special Forces Command in September 2003, the doctrine came to be known as F4, which stood for “find, fix, finish, and follow-up” — a slightly euphemistic but not hard to understand message about how alleged terrorists and insurgents were to be dealt with.

Under Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in the Bush years, Brown began setting up “joint Special Forces” teams to conduct F4 missions outside war zones. These were given the anodyne name “Military Liaison Elements.” At least one killing by such a team in Paraguay (of an armed robber not on any targeting list) was written up by New York Times reporters Scott Shane and Thom Shanker. The team, whose presence had not been made known to the U.S. ambassador there, was ordered to leave the country.

“The number-one requirement is to defend the homeland. And so sometimes that requires that you find and capture or kill terrorist targets around the world that are trying to do harm to this nation,” Brown told the House Committee on Armed Services in March 2006. “Our foreign partners… are willing but incapable nations that want help in building their own capability to defend their borders and eliminate terrorism in their countries or in their regions.” In April 2007, President Bush rewarded Brown’s planning by creating a special high-level office at the Pentagon for an assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low-intensity conflict and interdependent capabilities.

Michael G. Vickers, made famous in the book and film Charlie Wilson’s War as the architect of the covert arms-and-money supply chain to the mujaheedin in the CIA’s anti-Soviet Afghan campaign of the 1980s, was nominated to fill the position. Under his leadership, a new directive was issued in December 2008 to “develop capabilities for extending U.S. reach into denied areas and uncertain environments by operating with and through indigenous foreign forces or by conducting low visibility operations.” In this way, the “capture/kill” program was institutionalized in Washington.

“The war on terror is fundamentally an indirect war… It’s a war of partners… but it also is a bit of the war in the shadows, either because of political sensitivity or the problem of finding terrorists,” Vickers told the Washington Post as 2007 ended. “That’s why the Central Intelligence Agency is so important… and our Special Operations forces play a large role.”

George W. Bush’s departure from the White House did not dampen the enthusiasm for F4. Quite the contrary: even though the F4 formula has recently been tinkered with, in typical military fashion, and has now become “find, fix, finish, exploit, and analyze,” or F3EA, President Obama has, by all accounts, expanded military intelligence gathering and “capture/kill” programs globally in tandem with an escalation of drone-strike operations by the CIA.

There are quite a few outspoken supporters of the “capture/kill” doctrine. Columbia University Professor Austin Long is one academic who has jumped on the F3EA bandwagon. Noting its similarity to the Phoenix assassination program, responsible for tens of thousands of deaths during the U.S. war in Vietnam (which he defends), he has called for a shrinking of the U.S. military “footprint” in Afghanistan to 13,000 Special Forces troops who would focus exclusively on counter-terrorism, particularly assassination operations. “Phoenix suggests that intelligence coordination and the integration of intelligence with an action arm can have a powerful effect on even extremely large and capable armed groups,” he and his co-author William Rosenau wrote in a July 2009 Rand Institute monograph entitled” “The Phoenix Program and Contemporary Counterinsurgency.”

Others are even more aggressively inclined. Lieutenant George Crawford, who retired from the position of “lead strategist” for the Special Forces Command to go work for Archimedes Global, Inc., a Washington consulting firm, has suggested that F3EA be replaced by one term: “Manhunting.” In a monograph published by the Joint Special Operations University in September 2009, “Manhunting: Counter-Network Organization for Irregular Warfare,” Crawford spells out “how to best address the responsibility to develop manhunting as a capability for American national security.”

Killing the Wrong People

The strange evolution of these concepts, the creation of ever more global hunter-killer teams whose purpose in life is assassination 24/7, and the civilians these “joint Special Forces” teams regularly kill in their raids on supposed “targets” have unsettled even military experts.

For example, Christopher Lamb, the acting director of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, and Martin Cinnamond, a former U.N. official in Afghanistan, penned an article for the Spring 2010 issue of the Joint Forces Quarterly in which they wrote: “There is broad agreement… that the indirect approach to counterinsurgency should take precedence over kill/capture operations. However, the opposite has occurred.”

Other military types claim that the hunter-killer approach is short-sighted and counterproductive. “My take on Task Force 373 and other task forces, it has a purpose because it keeps the enemy off balance. But It does not understand the fundamental root cause of the conflict, of why people are supporting the Taliban,” says Matthew Hoh, a former Marine and State Department contractor who resigned from the government last September. Hoh, who often worked with Task Force 373 as well as other Special Forces “capture/kill” programs in Afghanistan and Iraq, adds: “We are killing the wrong people, the mid-level Taliban who are only fighting us because we are in their valleys. If we were not there, they would not be fighting the U.S.”

Task Force 373 may be a nightmare for Afghans. For the rest of us — now that Wikileaks has flushed it into the open — it should be seen as a symptom of deeper policy disasters. After all, it raises a basic question: Is this country really going to become known as a global Manhunters, Inc.?

Bullets and stones

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By: Asif Ezdi

When Abdul Ahad Jan, a Kashmiri police official, hurled a shoe at Omar Abdullah at a ceremony in Srinagar to celebrate India’s Independence Day, he became an instant hero. Ahad also waved a black flag and chanted, “We want azadi,” The Indian authorities immediately declared him to be mentally disturbed but thousands of Kashmiris descended on his home village to congratulate his family. Women showered flowers on Jan’s wife and kissed and hugged her.

Omar Abdullah tried to laugh off the incident, saying that hurling a shoe was better than hurling a stone. But for the Kashmiris this is no laughing matter. They have been facing not shoes – or stones – but bullets from an occupying force which has been given the license to use lethal force to keep demonstrators off the streets and enforce curfews. Since June this year, when the current wave of protests began, nearly 60 Kashmiris have been killed, most of them youngsters and teenagers, some mere children. Scores have been injured, some maimed for life.
Abdullah’s Indian masters are also unlikely to have been amused by the shoe-throwing incident. They have been rattled by the mass scale of the demonstrations and especially the breadth of the support the protesters enjoy from the general public. Besides the youth, women have also been demonstrating on the streets with their pots and pans and have joined in throwing stones, the only “weapon” available to the unarmed population, at the hated occupation force. The New York Times wrote on 12 August that Delhi has been facing an intifada-like popular revolt against the Indian military presence that includes not just stone-throwing young men but their sisters, mothers, uncles and grandparents.

Indian officials have tried to belittle the scale and significance of the Kashmiri protest. Contrary to all evidence, Home Minister Chidambaram has said the protests were confined to Srinagar and “perhaps some other towns.” India has also pointed its finger at Pakistan for instigating the mass movement. Chidambaram said on 30 June that Lashkar-e-Taiba was behind the mass protests. In a statement in Parliament on 6 August, he went further and hinted that official agencies in Pakistan could be behind the protests. “Pakistan appears to have altered its strategy in influencing events in Jammu and Kashmir,” Chidambaram said. “It is possible that they believe that relying upon civilian unrest will pay them better dividends.”

At a meeting of the Congress Working Committee on 17 August, leaders of India’s ruling party expressed worry at what they saw as a “new chapter” in the history of separatism in Kashmir. There are good reasons for Delhi to be worried because the Kashmiri intifada signals the complete failure of India’s attempt spanning six decades to give legitimacy to its occupation of Kashmir. It also illustrates the truth of the maxim that what has been won through force and fraud can only be kept through more force and more fraud.

The response of the Manmohan Singh government to the mass protests has been to come up with some old tricks. On India’s Independence Day, he invited anyone “who abjures violence” for talks, offered greater autonomy to the state “within the ambit of the Indian constitution” and promised more jobs for the youth and more money for development. These “offers” were quickly rejected by the Hurriyat leaders who pointed out that their struggle is for azadi, not for autonomy, jobs or money.

In his speech on India’s Independence Day last year, Manmohan Singh had claimed that people of all areas of Jammu and Kashmir had participated in elections to the State Legislative Assembly in 2008 and the Lok Sabha in 2009. That was proof, Manmohan asserted, that there is no place for separatist thought in Jammu and Kashmir. The current resurgence in the Kashmiri movement for azadi has now proved this to have been an empty boast. As the New York Times noted, Kashmir’s demand for self-determination is sharper today than it has been at perhaps any other time in the state’s troubled history.

Clearly India has failed completely in winning the hearts and minds of the Kashmiris. But the silence of the international community at India’s bloody response to peaceful protests shows that it may be winning the diplomatic battle. The only significant voice raised against the excesses of the Indian occupation forces was a bland statement by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressing concern at the situation in Kashmir and calling on all to exercise the utmost restraint. Ban quickly backtracked when India protested.

The US and other major Western countries, which are usually quick to denounce human rights violations elsewhere, have been mum over Indian brutalities in Kashmir to avoid riling Delhi. Before becoming president, it is true, Obama considered appointing a special envoy on Kashmir, but he quickly gave up the idea when Delhi rejected the proposal out of hand. Obama’s interest in Kashmir, short-lived as it was, in any case did not arise from a concern for the rights of the Kashmiri people. Rather it was aimed at reducing Pakistan-India tensions so that Islamabad might be more forthcoming in responding to Washington’s demands for the deployment of the Pakistan army on the western frontier in support of the US war in Afghanistan.

The US is a strategic partner of India and has been assiduously cultivating the country. It is therefore naïve on the part of Pakistani leaders to keep seeking Washington’s mediation on Kashmir. We also need to realise that any intervention by Washington would be in favour of cementing the status quo. What we should be doing instead, loudly and publicly, is to urge Washington and the international community to use their leverage to press Delhi to end its human rights abuses in Kashmir.

At the same time, we will have to redefine our own Kashmir policy. Musharraf’s sellout in the back channel talks with India from 2005 to 2007 caused a setback to the Kashmiri freedom struggle. Foreign Minister Qureshi’s statement last March that Pakistan was reverting to its old stand on Kashmir was reassuring because it suggested that this government would repudiate the deal that Musharraf was negotiating.

But in his talks with Krishna in July, Qureshi gave a different message, apparently at Washington’s behest. According to the Indian side, he told Krishna that Pakistan regarded the “gains” made in back-channel talks under Musharraf as “important and useful” and would not put them “at naught.” The Indians see this concession as a major plus from the otherwise unproductive meeting.

The government would do well to clarify its position on this issue. Otherwise, it will lay itself open to the charge that it is trying to keep the Pakistani public in the dark on this important matter. An unambiguous statement from the government that it rejects the deal under which Musharraf was prepared to barter away the right of the Kashmiris to self-determination would also give a boost to their movement for azadi.

The government has so far been very timid in expressing support for the Kashmiri intifada. During his nine-day junket in France and Britain, Zardari did not utter the K-word even once. He may be forgiven because his interests and priorities lie in another field. But the reticence of the prime minister, the foreign minister and especially the Foreign Ministry is indefensible. If we are serious about extending political, moral and diplomatic support to the right of the Kashmiri people to self-determination, as we keep saying, the government will have to come out boldly in support of those who are braving Indian bullets to demand this right and mobilise international support for their demands.

Not only the government but also Parliament, political parties, the media and the civil society have a responsibility in this regard. The least they can do is to break their silence and proclaim their solidarity with the unarmed Kashmiri men, women and children who have decided to take their destiny in their own hands and are defying brute force.

Skip the lecture on Israel’s ‘risks for peace’

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By George F. Will

In the intifada that began in 2000, Palestinian terrorism killed more than 1,000 Israelis. As a portion of U.S. population, that would be 42,000, approaching the toll of America’s eight years in Vietnam. During the onslaught, which began 10 Septembers ago, Israeli parents sending two children to a school would put them on separate buses to decrease the chance that neither would return for dinner. Surely most Americans can imagine, even if their tone-deaf leaders cannot, how grating it is when those leaders lecture Israel on the need to take “risks for peace.”

During Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s July visit to Washington, Barack Obama praised him as “willing to take risks for peace.” There was a time when that meant swapping “land for peace” — Israel sacrificing something tangible and irrecoverable, strategic depth, in exchange for something intangible and perishable, promises of diplomatic normality.

Strategic depth matters in a nation where almost everyone is or has been a soldier, so society cannot function for long with the nation fully mobilized. Also, before the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel within the borders established by the 1949 armistice was in one place just nine miles wide, a fact that moved George W. Bush to say: In Texas we have driveways that long. Israel exchanged a lot of land to achieve a chilly peace with Egypt, yielding the Sinai, which is almost three times larger than Israel and was 89 percent of the land captured in the process of repelling the 1967 aggression.

The intifada was launched by the late Yasser Arafat — terrorist and Nobel Peace Prize winner — after the July 2000 Camp David meeting, during which then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered to cede control of all of Gaza and more than 90 percent of the West Bank, with small swaps of land to accommodate the growth of Jerusalem suburbs just across the 1949 armistice line.

Israelis are famously fractious, but the intifada produced among them a consensus that the most any government of theirs could offer without forfeiting domestic support is less than any Palestinian interlocutor would demand. Furthermore, the intifada was part of a pattern. As in 1936 and 1947, talk about partition prompted Arab violence.

In 1936, when the British administered Palestine, the Peel Commission concluded that there was “an irrepressible conflict” — a phrase coined by an American historian to describe the U.S. Civil War — “between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country.” And: “Neither of the two national ideals permits” a combination “in the service of a single state.” The commission recommended “a surgical operation” — partition. What followed was the Arab Revolt of 1936 to 1939.

On Nov. 29, 1947, the United Nations recommended a partition plan. Israel accepted the recommendation. On Nov. 30, Israel was attacked.

Palestine has a seemingly limitless capacity for eliciting nonsense from afar, as it did recently when British Prime Minister David Cameron referred to Gaza as a “prison camp.” In a sense it is, but not in the sense Cameron intended. His implication was that Israel is the cruel imprisoner. Gaza’s actual misfortune is to be under the iron fist of Hamas, a terrorist organization.

In May, a flotilla launched from Turkey approached Gaza in order to provoke a confrontation with Israel, which, like Egypt, administers a blockade to prevent arms from reaching Hamas. The flotilla’s pretense was humanitarian relief for Gaza — where the infant mortality rate is lower and life expectancy is higher than in Turkey.

Israelis younger than 50 have no memory of their nation within the 1967 borders set by the 1949 armistice that ended the War of Independence. The rest of the world seems to have no memory at all concerning the intersecting histories of Palestine and the Jewish people.

The creation of Israel did not involve the destruction of a Palestinian state, there having been no such state since the Romans arrived. And if the Jewish percentage of the world’s population were today what it was when the Romans ruled Palestine, there would be 200 million Jews. After a uniquely hazardous passage through two millennia without a homeland, there are 13 million Jews.

In the 62 years since this homeland was founded on one-sixth of 1 percent of the land of what is carelessly and inaccurately called “the Arab world,” Israelis have never known an hour of real peace. Patronizing American lectures on the reality of risks and the desirableness of peace, which once were merely fatuous, are now obscene.