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U.N. concerned over Kashmir unrest

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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has expressed concern over the weeks of violent anti-government protests in Kashmir which have killed more than 30 people, dragged in more troops and locked down the disputed Himalayan region.

A separatist strike and security lockdown has dragged on for nearly a month-and-a-half in Muslim-majority Kashmir, a region at the core of a dispute between India and Pakistan.

“In relation to recent developments in Indian-administered Kashmir, the Secretary-General is concerned over the prevailing security situation there over the past month,” Farhan Haq, Ban Ki-Moon’s spokesperson said in a statement.

The Secretary-General has called on all concerned to exercise utmost restraint and address problems peacefully.

But security forces, to quell the daily street protests, have launched a major crackdown across Kashmir and detained at least 1,400 people. The arrests are fuelling more anger.

Most separatist leaders have been arrested or placed under house arrest.

The government has ordered a judicial probe into the deaths of 17 people, mostly protesters, in an attempt to end the crisis amid the biggest demonstrations against Indian rule in two years across the Valley.

But separatists have rejected the magisterial probe and termed it mere eyewash.

The Indian government has blamed separatists and Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based militant group for stoking the latest protests but Kashmiris say the pro-freedom demonstrations are mostly spontaneous.

Most of those killed in the protests are teenagers and many who take part in daily protests are young. Kashmir’s new generation of radicalised separatists may prove a big challenge to New Delhi in future.

Analysts are worried that if New Delhi fails to check the growing protests, deaths and rights violations Kashmir could slide into a fresh phase of armed uprising that could hurt peace efforts between India and Pakistan.

Peace in Kashmir is seen as crucial for improving relations between the two. Both claim the Kashmir region in full but rule it in part.

According to the U.N. statement, Ban Ki-Moon has encouraged both India and Pakistan to rekindle the spirit of the composite dialogue, which was initiated in 2004.

One of the oldest U.N. missions, the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), still monitors a 1949 ceasefire line dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

Afghan war ‘harder’ than anticipated: CIA chief

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WASHINGTON – The Afghan war is tougher than anticipated, the head of the CIA admitted Sunday, insisting progress was being made despite rising Taliban attacks and the sacking of the top US commander.


A US soldier of the 97th MP Battalion stands in the mobile gun position of a Mine Resistant Armoured …

“There are some serious problems here,” Leon Panetta, installed last year as President Barack Obama’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief, told the ABC network’s “This Week” program.

“We’re dealing with a tribal society. We’re dealing with a country that has problems with governance, problems with corruption, problems with narcotics trafficking, problems with a Taliban insurgency.

“We are making progress. It’s harder, it’s slower than I think anyone anticipated.”

Emboldened perhaps by divisions in the US war effort exposed by the sacking this week of Afghan commander General Stanley McChrystal, Taliban attacks are on the rise — a fact Panetta did not attempt to hide.

“I think the Taliban obviously is engaged in greater violence right now. They’re doing more on IED’s (improvised explosive devices). They’re going after our troops. There’s no question about that.”

Obama says his strategy will be unaffected by the shock departure of McChrystal, whose remarks to a magazine about top Obama administration figures betrayed the toxic ties between the commander and his civilian counterparts.

Panetta insisted Obama’s surge strategy — to put 150,000 pairs of boots on the ground by the end of August — is the right one.

“That’s a pretty significant force, combined with the Afghans,” he said.

“I think the fundamental key, the key to success or failure is whether the Afghans accept responsibility, are able to deploy an effective army and police force to maintain stability.

“If they can do that, then I think we’re going to be able to achieve the kind of progress and the kind of stability that the president is after.”

Asked for signs of progress, Panetta pointed to Marjah — a southern town long under the control of Taliban which 15,000 US, NATO and Afghan troops stormed in February, driving out the insurgents and local drug traffickers.

“I think that what we’re seeing even in a place like Marjah, where there’s been a lot of attention… agriculture, commerce is moving back to some degree of normality. The violence is down from a year ago.”

There are 140,000 troops in Afghanistan, with the number set to peak at 150,000 by August in the hope of forcing an end to the insurgency by ramping up efforts in the southern province of Kandahar, the Taliban’s heartland.

Panetta said the “fundamental goal” of the US mission in Afghanistan was to rid the country of Al-Qaeda.

“Winning in Afghanistan is having a country that is stable enough to ensure that there is no safe haven for Al-Qaeda or for a militant Taliban that welcomes Al-Qaeda,” he said.

“That’s really the measure of success for the United States. Our purpose, our whole mission there is to make sure that Al-Qaeda never finds another safe haven from which to attack this country.”

Pakistan clash kills six soldiers, 30 Taliban

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PESHAWAR, Six Pakistani soldiers were killed Tuesday when Taliban militants stormed a checkpoint in the northwest, prompting a retaliatory strike by the army that left 30 insurgents dead, officials said.


Armed Pakistani Taliban gather at a hideout in the semi-autonomous tribal district of Orakzai in 2009. …

The clash took place in the village of Karonchi in Orakzai district, part of a semi-autonomous tribal belt where the military has been waging an anti-Taliban offensive since late March.

Eight soldiers were wounded in addition to the six dead, a spokesman for the paramilitary Frontier Corps said.

He said the militants were armed with heavy weapons and that troops responded with heavy artillery, as a result of which “at least 30 insurgents were killed.”

Local administration official Sajjad Ahmed confirmed the casualties and said dozens of armed militants were involved in the attack.

Independent confirmation of the casualty figures was not possible however because the area is a closed military zone inaccessible to aid workers and journalists.

Pakistani forces opened a new front in Orakzai on March 24 in an attempt to flush out Taliban who escaped a major assault last year on South Waziristan, a headquarters for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leadership.

The TTP is a major force behind a bombing campaign that has killed 3,300 people across Pakistan in three years. The group attracted global attention when it was blamed by the United States for a failed car bomb plot in New York on May 1.

Washington says Pakistan’s tribal belt, which lies outside direct government control, is an Al-Qaeda headquarters and a stronghold of militants plotting attacks on US-led troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Pakistan last week declared an end to major combat operations in the region.

A military spokesman in Peshawar said lower Orakzai was now under government control, while intelligence sources said troops were engaged in the more volatile central and upper Orakzai areas.

Atrocities in Afghanistan

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By: Kathy Kelly and Dan Pearson

Peace activists can hasten an end to the US war in Afghanistan by demanding a timetable for US military withdrawal. A bill in the US Congress introduced by Reps. James McGovern and Walter Jones, requires such a timetable. In the Senate, a similar bill has been introduced by Sen. Russ Feingold. Arguments in favor of a timetable for withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan should include readiness to examine disturbing patterns of misinformation regarding US/NATO attacks against Afghan civilians.

It is worth noting that even Gen. Stanley McChrystal acknowledges that US forces have killed civilians who meant them no harm. During a biweekly videoconference with US soldiers in Afghanistan, he was quite candid. “We’ve shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force,” said General McChrystal. “To my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I’ve been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it.”

Those families and individuals that McChrystal refers to should be our primary concern. We should try to imagine the sorrow and horror afflicting each individual whose tragic story is told in the “timetable” of atrocities committed against innocent people. How can we compensate people who have endured three decades of warfare, whose land has been so ravaged that, according to noted researcher Alfred McCoy, it would cost $34 billion to restore their agricultural infrastructure? We should notify our elected representatives that the $33 billion supplemental funding bill sought by the Obama administration to pay for US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq could be directed toward helping Afghanistan replant its orchards, replenish its flocks and rebuild its irrigation systems. We should insist on an end to atrocities like those which follow.

The list below describes, in part, the suffering and agony that people in Afghanistan have endured since April 2009. To focus on this list doesn’t excuse atrocities committed by Taliban fighters. It does indicate our own responsibility to urgently educate others and ourselves about a deeply disturbing pattern: US/NATO officials first distribute misleading information about victims of an attack and later acknowledge that the victims were unarmed civilians.

Date: April 9, 2009
Place: Khost Province, Ali Daya

Circumstances: US forces were positioned on the rooftop opposite the home of Brigadier Artillery Officer Awal Khan. In a night raid, US forces burst into Khan’s home. He was away at the time. His family members ran to the rooftop, believing robbers had entered the home. When they emerged on their rooftop, US forces on the opposite roof opened fire, killing Khan’s wife, his brother, his 17 year-old daughter Nadia and his fifteen year-old son, Aimal and his infant son, born just a week earlier.

US/NATO initial response: April 9, 2010, coalition forces issued a statement that the four people killed by troops were “armed militants.” Later that same day another statement admitted that further inquiries “suggest that the people killed and wounded were not enemy combatants as previously reported.”

US/NATO acknowledgement that the people killed were unarmed civilians: The Times of London reported the following, on April 11, 2009:

The US military conceded that its forces killed the civilians in error during the nighttime raid that targeted the neighboring compound of a suspected militant. The father of the dead family is a lieutenant-colonel in the Afghan Army fighting the Taliban in the restive province of Ghazni.
The US military reported that two males, two females and an infant were believed to have died in the incident, and two other women were wounded. A relative of the dead family told reporters that the dead infant was a boy born last week. “This was a terrible tragedy,” a US spokesman, Col. Greg Julian, told The Times.

Date: December 26, 2009
Place: Kunar Province

Circumstances: In a night raid, US forces, claiming to attack a bomb-making factory, attacked a house where eight youth, ages 11-18, were sleeping. They pulled the youngsters out of their beds, handcuffed them and executed them. Villagers said that seven of those killed were students and one was a neighboring shepherd.

US/NATO acknowledgement that the people killed were unarmed civilians:

February 24, 2010 – US forces issued an apology, admitting that the US had killed seven schoolboys and a neighboring shepherd.

Date: February 2010
Place: Helmand Province

During this month, US/NATO forces launched a military offensive against three hamlets in the Marja district. Researcher Professor Marc Herold presents a detailed summary and analysis of Afghan civilians killed directly by U.S/NATO forces during this particular month.

Date: February 12, 2010
Place: Paktika Province

Circumstances: In a night raid, US forces attacked a home where 25 people, three of them musicians, had gathered for a naming celebration. A newborn was being named that night. One of the musicians went outside to relieve himself. A flashlight shone in his face. Panicked, he ran inside and announced that the Taliban were outside. A police commander, Dawoud, the father of the newborn, ran outside with his weapon. US forces opened fire, killing Officer Dawoud, a pregnant mother, an 18-year-old, Gulaila, and two others.

US/NATO initial response: February 12, 2010 – US forces claimed that the women had been killed earlier, in an honor killing. Nato’s initial press release bore the headline: “Joint Force Operating in Gardez Makes Gruesome Discovery.” The release said that after “intelligence confirmed militant activity” in a compound near a village in Paktika province, an international security force entered the compound and engaged “several insurgents” in a firefight. Two “insurgents” were killed, the report said, and after the joint forces entered the compound, they “found the bodies of three women who had been tied up, gagged and killed.”

March 16, 2010 – The UN issued a scathing report, stating that the US had killed the women. Villagers told Jerome Starkey, reporting for the Independent, that US troops tried to tamper with evidence by digging bullets out of the womens’ bodies and out of the walls.

US/NATO acknowledgement that the people killed were unarmed civilians:

April 6, 2010 – Almost two months later, the Pentagon was finally forced to admit that international forces had badly bungled the raid that night in Paktika, and that US troops had, in fact, killed the women during their assault on the residence. One of the women was a pregnant mother of ten, and the other was a pregnant mother of six children.

Date: February 21, 2010
Place: Convoy en route to Kandehar

Circumstances: US aerial forces attacked a three-car convoy traveling to a market in Kandehar. The convoy had planned on continuing to Kabul so that some of the passengers could get medical treatment. At least three dozen people were passengers in the three cars. The front car was an SUV type vehicle, and the last was a Land Cruiser. When the first car was hit by US air fire, women in the second car jumped out and waved their scarves to indicate that they were civilians. US helicopters continued to fire rockets and machine guns, killing 21 people and wounding 13.

US/NATO initial response: February 22, 2010 – The day after the attack, the US-led military coalition said that NATO forces had fired on a group of “suspected insurgents” who were thought to be on their way to attack Afghan and coalition soldiers a few miles away. When troops arrived after the helicopter strike, they discovered women and children among the dead and wounded.

US /NATO acknowledgement that the people killed were unarmed civilians: February 24, 2010 – General Stanley McChrystal delivered a videotaped apology.

Date: April 12, 2010
Place: Kandahar

Circumstances: According to The New York Times, “American troops raked a large passenger bus with gunfire near Kandahar on Monday morning, (April 12).” The attack killed five civilians and wounded 18.

Initial US/NATO response: A statement issued by the American-led military command in Kabul said four people were killed. It said “an unknown, large vehicle” drove “at a high rate of speed” toward a slow-moving NATO convoy that was clearing mines.

US/NATO acknowledgement that the people killed were unarmed civilians: April 12, 2010 – “ISAF deeply regrets the tragic loss of life in Zhari district this morning. According to ISAF operational reporting, four civilians were killed, including one female, and five others were treated for injuries at the scene of the incident today. Upon inspection, NATO forces discovered the vehicle to be a passenger bus.”

April 13, 2010 – The New York Times reported that “a military spokeswoman confirmed that a convoy traveling west, in front of the bus, opened fire, but said the second convoy was traveling east toward the passenger bus. She also said the driver of the bus was killed. A survivor, however, identified himself as the driver and said he did not violate any signal from the troops. ‘I was going to take the bus off the road,’ said the man, Mohammed Nabi. ‘Then the convoy ahead opened fire from 60 to 70 yards away,’ he said.”

Date: April 20, 2010
Place: Khost Province

Circumstances: A NATO military convoy attacked a car approaching a checkpoint, claiming that the car sped up after being warned to stop. Four young men were killed. According to The New York Times, “The shooting Monday night in Khost province sparked an immediate outcry from the victims’ family, who insisted that all four were civilians driving home from a volleyball game. ‘The youngest boy was just 13,’ said Rahmatullah Mansour, whose two sons and two nephews were killed in the shooting. Mansour said that the victims in Monday’s shooting were his sons Faizullah, 13, and Nasratullah, 17; and nephews Maiwand and Amirullah, both 18. He said all were students except Amirullah, who was a police officer.”

Initial US/NATO response: April 21, 2010 – From The New York Times: “Without offering proof, NATO described the dead as two insurgents and their “associates.” In a statement on Tuesday, NATO said the vehicle ignored warning shots and accelerated toward the military convoy. But the statement did not challenge the Afghan account that no weapons were found in the vehicle.”

US/NATO acknowledgement that the people killed were unarmed civilians: April 22, 2010 – NATO acknowledged Wednesday that four unarmed Afghans who were killed this week when a military convoy opened fire on their vehicle were all civilians, correcting an earlier claim that two of the dead were ”known insurgents.”

Date: April 28, 2010
Place: Surkh Rod district, near Jalalabad

Circumstances: According to Safiya Sidiqi, a member of the Afghan Parliament, dozens of Afghan and US soldiers entered her family home, blindfolded and handcuffed men and women, and killed her brother-in-law, Amanullah, a 30-year-old car mechanic with five children. “They shot him six times. In his heart, in his face, in his head,” Sidiqi said on Thursday, April 29. Both legs were broken.

Initial US/NATO response: April 29, 2010 – An Afghan-international security force killed one armed individual while pursuing a Taliban facilitator in Nangarhar last night.

US/NATO acknowledgement that the person killed was an unarmed civilian: None, as yet. The case is still under investigation.

Curing Afghanistan

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BY LT. GEN. WILLIAM B. CALDWELL IV, CAPT. MARK R. HAGEROTT

Two officers on the battlefield offer a new metaphor for the understanding conflict in the region — and how to end it.

The battle for Marja in southern Afghanistan and the coming campaign in Kandahar are important, but victory on these battlefields will not win the war, though they will help set the conditions for success. It will take a comprehensive, holistic effort to bring stability to Afghanistan.

Drawing on our experience as institution builders, and after spending six months on the ground in Afghanistan, we would like to offer a different way to think about diagnosing this country’s ills — and finding the appropriate cures. In the course of our duties, we have helped build the Afghan army, police, air corps, educational institutions, military hospitals, logistics, and the bureaucracies of defense and interior. Rather than describing Afghanistan with the language of war and battles, we have come to think of the country as an ailing patient — in many ways analogous to a weakened person under attack by an aggressive infection.

To extend this analogy further, to rebuild the country’s long-term health, Afghan and coalition leaders must address the ailment at three levels: curing the body, mind, and spirit of the nation. This means rebuilding the body of physical infrastructure and physical security; restoring the mind of governmental and educational institutions; and reinvigorating the spirit of civil leadership and traditional, tolerant Islam.

Antibiotics

This diagnosis of Afghanistan’s illnesses came too late, allowing the infection that has debilitated it — i.e., insurgent forces and the Taliban — to grow in strength. As a result, a low-level antibiotic is now insufficient to the task of restoring health. For several years, coalition and Afghan senior leaders did not fully appreciate the potential lethality of the Taliban’s infectious insurgency.

The 30,000 additional troops approved by U.S. President Barack Obama in December 2009 can be viewed as a late but powerful and much-needed dose of antibiotics. The surge was designed to shock and stunt the insurgency, thereby gaining time and space to allow the country’s indigenous immune system to be restored.

NATO’s combat presence in Afghanistan is considerable. At its peak, combat troops will number nearly 130,000. NATO countries provide the conventional combat troops distributed across the country by region, with especially heavy concentrations in the south, where the Taliban infection is particularly virulent. These troops are augmented by special operations forces and complete coalition air dominance through both manned and unmanned armed platforms.

To be sure, similar to a powerful antibiotic, the use of large numbers of combat troops brings with it side effects that can cause discomfort and pain to the body politic of Afghanistan. The effects range from disruption of civilian day-to-day life to, regrettably, sometimes civilian casualties. Senior NATO commanders seek to minimize civilian casualties and thus apply combat power with restraint and, to the extent possible, surgical precision.

This surge of combat power, along with the Marja and Kandahar offensives, will suppress the Taliban infection in the near term, but is only a temporary reprieve. The current high level of U.S. and NATO combat power cannot be maintained forever. Therefore, without a rejuvenated immune system, the infection will come back.

Immune System

The Afghan equivalent of the body’s immune system is the collective security forces: the police, the military, and the security bureaucracy. But the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are underdeveloped and need time and space to develop to a point where they can effectively shoulder the responsibility of suppressing nascent infections that threaten the country’s health.

Some have asked: How could the ANSF still require growth and development almost nine years after international forces entered the country? Like a doctor who fails to correctly diagnose an illness, so did security experts fail to appreciate the danger of the Taliban. Moreover, the coalition did not fully appreciate the magnitude of the task entailed in building an indigenous immune system comprised of a large and robust army and police. NATO officials now recognize the size of the task, and the immunity-building effort has, accordingly, expanded dramatically.

In November 2009, the NATO alliance stood up a dedicated training command with the mission of building the ANSF. NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan is responsible for the generation, development, and professionalization of the Afghan army, police, army air corps, and all the various supporting structures, from back-office support systems to military schools. The financial resources devoted to this training mission are among the largest of its kind in the world.

But it isn’t just dollars flowing into the country: Trainers, instructors, advisors, engineers, and logisticians are flowing in rapidly and will peak at several thousand. Training facilities and infrastructure include basic-training camps in every regional command, logistical infrastructure, new military hospitals and clinics, and a national military academy modeled after U.S. military academies. The output of these camps and schools is rapidly climbing, producing almost 10,000 police and soldiers per month.

Spirit of Service

Although we have made massive investments in the surge and are moving aggressively to restore Afghan immunity, efforts to restore general health are lagging. The rebuilding of critical infrastructure, the restoration of good governance, and expanded education will be essential to restoring the body and mind.

Restoring the spirit of Afghanistan is perhaps the most difficult and complex. The challenges are twofold: the restoration of Afghanistan’s tradition of tolerant Islam and the restoration of a sense of service to nation and tribe that predated the rise of warlordism and its associated corruption.

Fortunately, Afghan leaders today realize that a spirit of national service was lost for a generation and are taking steps to fill the void. At a conference at Camp Eggers in Kabul, sponsored by NATO Training Mission in early 2010, we listened as senior Afghan leaders vigorously debated how to restore a sense of service and virtuous leadership. For all the recent turmoil in the U.S. relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the Kabul government has kept its word: establishing new officer training schools for police; implementing a lottery system for officer assignments (as a counter to favoritism and nepotism); and developing new laws (now awaiting final approval by the Afghan parliament and president), which seem likely to pass, that together will strengthen the professionalism of the security forces. At the National Military Academy of Afghanistan, one can already see the new spirit of national service and selfless leadership becoming manifest in young men and women.

The road to a healthy body politic is not easy, but the first step is appreciating what a lasting cure will require.