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US vows to shore up international support for flood-hit Pakistan

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WASHINGTON, The United States is working to shore up international support for Pakistan’s staggering task to rebuild millions of lives and livelihoods in the face of unprecedented flooding catastrophe, senior American officials, associated with aid effort, said. Dan Feldman, Deputy Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan and Mark Ward, Acting Director of USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, said Washington remained optimistic about the much-needed international help towards multi-billion dollars rebuilding and rehabilitation phases.

For its part, the United States – which has now committed 250 million dollars to the immediate relief and early recovery effort – will continue to do whatever it can to assist the South Asian nation in meeting massive recovery demands ahead, the officials said.

“We are doing as much as we can to encourage countries to not only meet the obligations of already pledged money – particularly Tokyo pledges – but also to pledge on top of that (for) what the needs may be,” Feldman said at a roundtable with Washington-based Pakistani journalists.

The monsoon floods, first hitting Pakistan’s northern regions in late July have now finally begun receding in the upper parts, having affected more than 20 million people, exposed displaced communities to waterborne diseases and washed away growth prospects in 23 per cent of the country’s total land under cultivation.

The Asian Development Bank and World Bank are carrying out a damage and needs assessment as the colossal humanitarian tragedy continues to unfold in the southern Sindh province as floodwater courses its way to Arabian sea. The sweeping water has severely afflicted houses and farmlands in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, southern Punjab and parts of Balochistan.

Pakistani officials estimate cumulative losses to the calamity could be as high as 50 billion dollars.

The U.S. will ask major countries to commit more assistance at a series of international events as well as at bilateral forums, officials said.

Feldman felt some of the commitments made by donors at Tokyo Friends of Pakistan meeting a couple of years ago – and which have not been delivered as yet could be used to aid immediate flood recovery effort but added “certainly in our bilateral conversations, we are encouraging countries to give on top of the Tokyo pledge.”

Mark Ward said the U.S. and Pakistan certainly are going to need the international community for a long time in the reconstruction phase as has been the case with rebuilding in northern parts of the country shattered by a 7.6-magnitude earthquake in 2005.

“We are pretty confident that when we get this assessment from the World Bank and the Asias Development Bank and see what the specific needs are and have these international conferences to put these figures in front of the international community, when they see the size of it and when they see how long we are going to need the help, we are going to get support,” the USAID official said.

Regarding the September 19 meeting, being hosted by the UN Secretary General on Pakistan flood situation, the U.S. officials said it is a follow on the Aug 18 UN General Assembly’s special meeting, when the world community expressed its support for Pakistan.

“We will use the opportunity to see what we have done over the last month and wehere, we will see this process is going. There is also hope that we will get the initial broad outlines of what needs may be coming up (for flood recovery) as well as laying a framework for how the international community will work over the coming months to address that,” Feldman said.
The review and fresh input at the Sept 19 moot will help sketch out what can be done in a series of upcoming multilateral meetings including a mid-October Friends of Pakistan meeting in Brussels, officials said.

More than 700 million dollars pledged by the world community in response to UN appeal last month, are meant only for providing relief to flood victims in the first 90 days and experts and international aid organizations have warned that much more is needed in new aid – not just recycling of existing pledges – in the months ahead.

Huge leak of secret files sows new Afghan war doubts

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WASHINGTON – The leak of 90,000 secret military files has emboldened critics of the war in Afghanistan, who raised fresh questions Tuesday about the viability of the increasingly unpopular US-led campaign.

The New York Times said in an editorial Tuesday the documents made public by the website WikiLeaks “confirm a picture of Pakistani double-dealing that has been building for years.”

The Times said President Barack Obama will have to deal firmly with Islamabad in response to the most controversial files, which indicate that key ally Pakistan allows its spies to meet directly with the Taliban.

“If Mr Obama cannot persuade Islamabad to cut its ties to, and then aggressively fight, the extremists in Pakistan, there is no hope of defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan,” wrote the daily.

Americans are increasingly weary of this costly war,” wrote the Times, one of three media organizations, along with German magazine Der Spiegel and Britain’s Guardian, to have received the documents weeks ago from WikiLeaks.

Some members of Congress questioned Obama’s Afghanistan strategy, as well as an as-yet unpassed 37-billion dollar funding bill for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, following the leaks.

Democratic Senator Russell Feingold said the disclosures “make it clear that there is no military solution in Afghanistan.”

Meanwhile, Democratic Representative Jane Harman, who chairs a Homeland Security intelligence subcommittee, said the documents “reinforce the view that the war in Afghanistan is not going well.”

The 92,000 documents released Sunday, dating from 2004 to 2009, triggered an outcry from nations fighting in Afghanistan as the Pentagon scrambled to uncover the source of the security breach and whether it would endanger lives.

US experts were working to see if the huge cache “could jeopardize force protection or operational security, or even worse still, the national security of this country,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told Fox News.

In addition to the Pakistan allegations, the leaked files maintain that the deaths of innocent civilians have been covered up, and that Iran is funding Taliban militants eight years after the 2001 US-led invasion ousted the radical Islamic regime from power.

The bombshell revelations triggered outrage, with a top NATO general calling for increased vigilance against such leaks as the White House slammed them as “irresponsible.”

The coalition needed to be aware that some “documents are pushed out into the open via leaks, but that obliges us even more to work with the greatest care,” said General Egon Ramms, who is in charge of NATO forces in Afghanistan.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs warned that the leaks had put the names of service personnel and military operations in the public domain, but played down the likely strategic and political impact.

“In terms of broad revelations, there aren’t any that we see in these documents,” Gibbs said, pointing out that most of the period covered by the leaks was during the previous Bush administration.

Britain, which has some 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, said Monday it regretted the leak while Pakistan has said the reports were “skewed” and not based on the reality on the ground.

In Berlin, a defense ministry spokesman said releasing the documents “could affect the national security of NATO allies and the whole NATO mission.”

But WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange defended the decision to publish the leaked files, saying they showed “thousands” of war crimes may have been committed in Afghanistan.

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.”

U.S. indirectly funding Afghan warlords: House report

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By JoAnne Allen

WASHINGTON – The United States is indirectly paying tens of millions of dollars in protection money to Afghan warlords, and potentially to the Taliban, to secure convoys carrying supplies to U.S. troops in Afghanistan, congressional investigators said in a report.


In this Jan. 17, 2010 file photo, a U.S. armored personal carrier vehicle escorts a convoy …

The Pentagon’s system of outsourcing to private companies the task of moving supplies in Afghanistan, and leaving it up to them to provide their own security, frees U.S. troops to focus on counterinsurgency.

But its unintended consequences undermine U.S. efforts to curtail corruption and build an effective Afghan government, according to the report to be reviewed at a congressional hearing on Tuesday.

“This arrangement has fueled a vast protection racket run by a shadowy network of warlords, strongmen, commanders, corrupt Afghan officials, and perhaps others,” Representative John Tierney, chairman of a House of Representatives national security subcommittee, said in a statement.

Tierney, a Democrat, said the system “runs afoul” of the Defense Department’s own rules and may be undermining the U.S. strategic effort in Afghanistan.

The report by the subcommittee’s Democratic staff called protection payments “a significant potential source of funding for the Taliban,” citing numerous documents, incidents reports and emails that refer to attempts at Taliban extortion along the road.

Congressional investigators began looking into the Defense Department’s $2.16 billion Host Nation Trucking (HNT) contract in November 2009. The contract covers 70 percent of the food, fuel, ammunition and other supply distributions to U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

“HNT contractors and trucking subcontractors in Afghanistan pay tens of millions of dollars annually to local warlords across Afghanistan in exchange for ‘protection’ for HNT supply convoys to support U.S. troops,” the report said.

“The HNT contractors frequently referred to such payments as ‘extortion,’ ‘bribes,’ ‘special security,’ and/or ‘protection payments,'” the document said.

Many contractors have told U.S. military officials that warlords were demanding protection payments in exchange for safe passage and that these payments were funding the insurgency, the report said. But the contractors concerns were never appropriately addressed, it said.

It faults the Pentagon for a lack of effective oversight of its supply chain and private security contractors.

“The Department of Defense has little to no visibility into what happens to the trucks carrying U.S. supplies between the time they leave the gate to the time they arrive at their destination,” the report said.

The congressional investigators said the Defense Department must take direct responsibility for the contractors to ensure robust oversight.

They also recommended a top-to-bottom evaluation of the secondary effects of the HNT contract, including an analysis of corruption and the impact on Afghan politics.

WikiLeaks to release film of US Afghan air strike

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By Chris McGreal

WASHINGTON: The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks says it plans to release a secret military video of one of the deadliest US air strikes in Afghanistan in which scores of children are believed to have been killed.

WikiLeaks announced the move in an email to supporters. It said it fears it is under attack after the US authorities said they were searching for the site’s founder, Julian Assange, following the arrest of a US soldier accused of leaking the Afghanistan video and another of a US attack in Baghdad in which civilians were killed.

WikiLeaks released the Baghdad video in April, prompting considerable criticism of the US military. It says it is still working to prepare the film of the bombing of the Afghan village of Garani in May 2009.

The Afghan government said about 140 civilians were killed in Garani, including 92 children. The US military initially said up to 95 people died, of which about 65 were insurgents. However, American officials have since wavered on that claim and a subsequent investigation admitted mistakes were made during the attack.

The video could prove to be extremely embarrassing to the US military and risks weakening Afghan support. The US said it was targeting Taliban positions when it used weapons that create casualties over a wide area, including one-tonne bombs and others that burst in the air. But two US military officials told a newspaper last year that no one checked to see whether there were women and children in the buildings.

The US commander, General David Petraeus, said a year ago the military’s video of the attack would be made public as evidence that the US assault on Garani was justified. But it was not released.

In an email to supporters, Assange said WikiLeaks has the Garani video and “a lot of other material that exposes human rights abuses by the US government”.

Last week, it was revealed that US authorities are trying to make contact with Assange to press him not to publish information the Pentagon says could endanger national security. Assange cancelled an appearance in Las Vegas last Friday.

In his email, Assange also calls on supporters to protect the website from “attack” by the authorities following the detention of a US soldier, Bradley Manning, who was arrested in Iraq after admitting to a former hacker that he leaked the Garani and Baghdad videos to WikiLeaks.

US intelligence zeroes-in on Afghan ‘corruption’

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WASHINGTON – US military intelligence in Afghanistan is increasingly focused on uncovering corruption among members of the Afghan government, security forces and contractors, the New York Times reported Sunday.


Karzai pleaded for patience with his much-criticized fight against corruption on a visit to Washington in May

A key goal to the US-led counter-insurgency campaign is to persuade the population to support the Kabul-based government rather than the Taliban — so the anti-corruption efforts are just as important as battling insurgents, unnamed senior US officials told the newspaper.

“Where once our whole network was to capture and kill Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, now the information we?re trying to get is the information for the networks of corruption and government and influence,” a senior US military officer in Afghanistan told the Times.

“The intelligence we were focused on before was just to drive the next target we were going to get,” the officer said.

“Now our targeting is much more focused on the government: How do you control for corruption? How does the process work for security contracts?”

Graft watchdog Transparency International in its last annual report found that Afghanistan had the worst corruption of any country except Somalia, which has no functional government.

President Barack Obama’s administration put a renewed focus on corruption when it took office last year, believing that the problem had grown so severe it was sapping Afghans’ support for the West and its anti-Taliban campaign.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai pleaded for patience with his much-criticized fight against corruption on a visit to Washington in May, saying day-to-day victories might be more obvious to US eyes in “another few years.”

US expects India to implement Iran sanctions

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WASHINGTON: The United States has expressed confidence that India would implement the tough new United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions against Iran for its alleged clandestine nuclear weapons programme.

“I think India’s record on implementation of previous Security Council resolutions has been an admirable one,” US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns told reporters on Thursday.

“And I do expect that India, as its leadership has made clear publicly, will follow through and implement the new resolution,” he said when asked if India and the US were on the same page on sanctions against Iran.

India, he noted, has voted three times in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors to hold Iran accountable for its failure to meet its international obligations.

“Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has also reinforced on a number of occasions the fact that India shares international concerns about a nuclear-armed Iran and the obvious negative consequences that would have for a part of the world that’s very important to both of us, as well as to the global economy,” Burns said.

Manmohan Singh has time and again underlined India’s traditional ties with Iran and voiced opposition to sanctions that, in New Delhi’s view, end up hurting the common people.

While India believes that a nuclear powered Iran is not in the interests of regional stability, it has consistently advocated dialogue and diplomacy to resolve the issue of the Iranian nuclear programme and supported Tehran’s right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy within the purview of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

New sanctions target Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard and include freezing the assets of 40 additional companies and organizations — 15 linked to the guards, 22 involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities and three linked to the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.

The sanctions also bar Iran from pursuing “any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons,” investing in nuclear-related activities like uranium mining, and buying some categories of heavy weapons, including attack helicopters and missiles.

The Iran issue figured during the recently concluded India-US Strategic Dialogue between team led by External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.