After Sunday got off to a historic start with the announcement of an agreement between the P5+1 and Iran, the day continued to be momentous as the loya jirga in Kabul approved the Bilateral Security Agreement between the US and Afghanistan. Even though the jirga coupled its approval of the agreement with a plea to Karzai to sign it immediately (the chair of the meeting, a former Afghan president, threatened to leave the country if Karzai doesn’t sign), Karzai followed through on his warning from his opening remarks of the four day meeting on Thursday and stated that he will delay signing the agreement until Afghanistan’s elections are completed in April.
Formal approval of the BSA comes as a big surprise for me. I have maintained since the start of negotiations a year ago that the Afghanistan agreement would go the same route as the Iraq agreement and that our military would be forced into a complete withdrawal, primarily over the issue of criminal immunity for the troops remaining in the country. While that “zero option” remains a distinct possibility, it now would be forced by Karzai’s delay in signing the agreement where immunity has now been granted.
The second big surprise for me is that I did not expect security surrounding the jirga to be a complete success. I feared at least one successful attack, especially after the site was hit with a suicide attack just a few days before the gathering began. However, a security force that apparently numbered around 25,000 strong appears to have thwarted a number of additional suicide attacks and at least one planned rocket attack.
By having the approval for the BSA in hand while refusing to sign it, Karzai has built a huge point of leverage over the final issue that threatened to derail the agreement. Unilateral counterterrorism raids by the US, especially in the form of night raids that enter the homes of Afghan citizens, were the final sticking point for Karzai. The US reluctantly agreed at the final minute to provide an assurance in the form of a letter from President Barack Obama that such raids would occur only under exceptional circumstances when the lives of US troops were at stake. Most likely because he remembers just how readily the US lies when developing agreements with Afghanistan on issues where there is disagreement, Karzai has warned the US that the very next night raid will mean that he never signs the agreement. From ToloNews:
“If there is one more raid on Afghan homes by U.S. forces, there is no BSA. The U.S. can’t go into our homes from this moment onward,” President Karzai said in his closing remarks at the Jirga on Sunday.
Karzai’s brinksmanship has set up a very high stakes game of “chicken” played by two junkies. The US has stated that it must know by the end of this year whether the BSA will be signed now that it has been approved. Karzai has stated that he will wait until at least April for signing. Just who will blink first is anyone’s guess. The US is strongly addicted to night raids. Will they be able to hold off on them, even for a month? Karzai is equally addicted to the billions of dollars the US pumps into Afghanistan’s economy. Will he hold off his signature past the date at which the US has warned it will drop pursuit of the agreement and proceed with a full withdrawal–of both troops and funds? Will the US allow the decision point on the zero option to be delayed until after the April elections?
I was at a desk, two from the rear, in the left most row, in Mrs. Hollingshead’s first grade class. Each kid had their own desk, and they were big, made out of solid wood and heavy. They had to be heavy, of course, because they were going to protect us when we ducked and covered from a Soviet nuclear strike. There were, as there were in most elementary school classrooms of the day, a large clock and a big speaker on the wall up above the teacher’s desk.
I can’t remember what subject we were working on, but the principal’s voice suddenly came over the loudspeaker. This alone meant there was something important up, because that only usually occurred for morning announcements at the start of the school day and for special occasions. The voice of Mr. Flake, the principal, was somber, halting and different; perhaps detached is the word. There was a prelude to the effect that this was a serious moment and that the teachers should make sure that all students were at their desks and that all, both young and old, were to pay attention.
There had occurred a tragic and shocking event that we all needed to know about. Our attention was required.
Then the hammer fell and our little world literally caved in.
President John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been assassinated. Shot and killed in Dallas Texas. Then without a moment’s pause, we were told that the nation was safe, Vice-President Johnson was in charge, the government was functioning and that we need not have any concerns about our own safety. We were not at war.
Twenty four some odd little hearts stopped, plus one from Mrs. Hollingshead. You could literally feel the life being sucked out of the room like air lost to a vacuum. Many of us began looking out the window, because no matter what Mr. Flake said, if our President was dead, we were at war and the warheads were coming. They had to be in the sky. They were going to be there.
Unlike the hokey color coded terror alerts, ginned up fear mongering of Bush/Cheney, Ashcroft and Ridge, and today the terroristic fearmongering of Keith Alexander, James Clapper, Mike Rogers and Dianne Feinstein, things were dead nuts serious at the height of the cold war. If President Kennedy had been killed, we were at war; the missiles were on their way. Had to be. Looking back, the school officials and teachers had to have been as devastated and afraid as we were, yet they were remarkable. They kept themselves in one piece, held us together, talked and comforted us into calm.
We had not been back in class from lunch break for long; it was still early afternoon in the west. Before the announcement was made, the decision by the school officials had been made to send us home. The busses would be lined up and ready to go in twenty minutes. Until then there would be a brief quiet period and then the teachers would talk to us and further calm the situation. Then off we would go to try to forge a path with our families, who would need us as much as we Continue reading
Fars News reports that Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Catherine Ashton, chief negotiator for the European Union, will meet for lunch tomorrow just before the next round of P5+1 talks with Iran kick off in Geneva later in the afternoon. But even though an interim agreement that would freeze Iran’s current nuclear work in return for a release of some impounded funds to Iran while a longer term agreement is finalized seems more likely than not, those who oppose any deal are desperately lashing out at the last minute. This morning, two bomb blasts near the Iranian embassy in Beirut killed more than twenty and injured well over a hundred. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ramped up his rhetoric even further, making the outrageous claim that Iran has on hand sufficient uranium enriched to 5% to make up to five bombs within a few weeks of a “breakout”. Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry seem to have quelled for now any Congressional attempts to ratchet up sanctions ahead of this week’s negotiations, but should no agreement emerge this week, look for Washington politicians to race one another to see who can introduce the most severe new sanctions.
Although Beirut has seen several attacks back and forth recently with various Sunni and Shia groups attacking one another, the timing of today’s blasts suggest that the nuclear negotiations may be a target, as well. The Reuters article informs us that an al Qaeda group has claimed responsibility:
A Lebanese-based al Qaeda-linked group known as the Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for what it described as a double suicide attack on the Iranian mission in southern Beirut.
Lebanon has suffered a series of bomb attacks and clashes linked to the 2-1/2-year-old conflict in neighboring Syria.
Security camera footage showed a man in an explosives belt rushing towards the outer wall of the embassy before blowing himself up, Lebanese officials said. They said the second explosion was caused by a car bomb parked two buildings away from the compound.
But the Syrian information minister goes further, blaming Israel and Saudi Arabia for supporting the attack:
Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi implicitly blamed Saudi Arabia and Qatar for supporting radical militants, who have been accused for previous attacks against Shi’ite targets.
Just as they have been working together to arm and fund Sunni fighters for Syria, Israel and Saudi Arabia have joined together to fight against any agreements between the West and Iran on nuclear technology.
Last week, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Washington, DC for a series of meetings. The final press appearance by Sharif and Barack Obama was noted by the New York Times to be somewhat awkward as Sharif paid whispered lip service to Pakistani objections to drone attacks while Obama ignored the topic entirely. The joint appearance was quickly overshadowed by release of an article from Greg Miller and Bob Woodward leaking a number of documents relating to the drone program. Both Marcy and I commented on the release and what it could mean.
The concept of the end of the war in Afghanistan got a bit of a mention in the Times article on Sharif’s visit:
With the United States’ winding down the Afghan war, Mr. Obama reminded Mr. Sharif of the importance of a stable, sovereign Afghanistan. American officials have long been suspicious of links between the Pakistani military and militant groups like the Haqqani network, which has carried out attacks on Westerners in Afghanistan.
For its part, the Sharif government has signaled an interest in negotiating with the Pakistani Taliban, a process that analysts said the United States should encourage.
But heaven forbid that Afghanistan should attempt to talk with Pakistan’s Taliban. Recall that earlier this month, the US snatched a high-ranking figure of the Pakistan Taliban from Afghan security forces as they were bringing him to a meeting. The cover story at the time from Afghanistan was to suggest that they were attempting to start peace talks with Latif Mehsud. An article in yesterday’s New York Times suggests that Afghanistan actually intended to work with Mehsud to develop a sort of alliance with the Pakistan Taliban and to use them as a pressure point against Pakistan’s government. What intrigues me most about this possibility is that Afghanistan claimed that this tactic was merely an imitation of what the US has done repeatedly in Afghanistan:
Another Afghan official said the logic of the region dictated the need for unseemly alliances. The United States, in fact, has relied on some of Afghanistan’s most notorious warlords to fight the insurgency here, the official tartly noted.
“Everyone has an angle,” the official said. “That’s the way we’re thinking. Some people said we needed our own.”
Afghan officials said those people included American military officers and C.I.A. operatives. Frustrated by their limited ability to hit Taliban havens in Pakistan, some Americans suggested that the Afghans find a way to do it, they claimed.
So Afghanistan’s intelligence agency believed it had a green light from the United States when it was approached by Mr. Mehsud sometime in the past year.
Just in case you’ve forgotten, the last time we checked, the most notorious warlord war criminal of them all, Rashid Dostum, was still getting about $100,000 every month from the US while also drawing a salary as Karzai’s Army Chief of Staff. Coupling that with the Petraeus plan of incorporating the worst militias directly into the death squads of the Afghan Local Police while providing them support from the CIA and JSOC, and we can see why Afghanistan would feel that there are zero moral constraints on working with groups having a violent tendency.
But apparently in the Calvinball playing field of Afghanistan, only the US is allowed to make shadowy alliances, and so the US snatched Mehsud away from Afghanistan before any alliance could be formed. But even if we chalk that move up to an honest move to take a noted terrorist out of action, US behavior on other fronts relating to Afghanistan and Pakistan still continue to illustrate that the only US priorities are more military action in Afghanistan and more drone strikes in Pakistan.
Sharif’s next stop after Washington was London. But instead of awkward public appearances, the UK has instead set up meetings for Sharif directly with Hamid Karzai: Continue reading
There sure R a lot of US officials talking about classified ops in this article on CIA’s secret aid to Syrian rebels http://t.co/T58OsthYXh
— Remi Brulin (@RBrulin) October 3, 2013
Miller even notes the covert nature of the program:
The descriptions of the CIA training program provide the most detailed account to date of the limited dimensions and daunting objectives of a CIA operation that President Obama secretly authorized in a covert action finding he signed this year.
And yet, despite the fact that even the authorization of this operation was supposed to be covert, Miller seems to have no trouble getting folks to talk to him about it. I’ve attempted to list here all the times he mentions things someone told him. I’ve only copied the references here when they relate to the covert training program, not to other information being conveyed to Miller:
U.S. officials said
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said
The CIA effort was described
said a U.S. official familiar with operations in Syria
The descriptions of the CIA training program
U.S. officials said the classified program
a former senior U.S. intelligence official said
the former U.S. intelligence official said
what some officials have described
senior CIA officials have raised the concern
said a former senior U.S. intelligence official
the former official said
All of those are the anonymous quotes that Miller included. When it came time to get anyone to go on the record: Continue reading
The US has set the end of this month as its artificial deadline for signing a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA, also Bilateral Security Agreement, or BSA) with Afghanistan to govern the presence of US troops inside Afghanistan after the scheduled end of NATO operations at the end of 2014. The driving force behind this push to have the SOFA in place so far ahead of the end of next year was to prevent a repeat of the embarrassment that the US suffered when it was unable to get the terms it wanted–specifically, full criminal immunity for US troops–in Iraq and wound up withdrawing all troops instead of leaving a force behind after the stated end of military operations.
The news today out of Afghanistan does not bode well for the US to meet its deadline. Although the issue of criminal immunity still seems likely to me to be just as big a barrier in Afghanistan as it was in Iraq, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has raised a different concern that the US seems quite unlikely to address in the way he wants. From Reuters:
But two issues have emerged as potential “deal breakers”, President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, told reporters late on Tuesday.
One is a U.S. desire to run independent counter-terrorism missions in Afghanistan after 2014, Faizi said. The other was a U.S. refusal to agree to a wide-reaching promise to protect Afghanistan from foreign aggression.
Karzai has long opposed operations in Afghanistan by U.S. special operations forces and the CIA, particularly when they run the risk of causing civilian casualties.
“These things are strongly related to our sovereignty,” Faizi said. “We find it to be something that will definitely undermine our sovereignty, if we allow the U.S. forces to have the right to conduct unilateral military operations.”
Recall that back in February of this year, Karzai grew frustrated with the death squad activities in Wardak province and called for the expulsion of US special forces there. As usual, the reference to “special operations forces and the CIA” means the death squads that the US organizes in Afghanistan (sometimes under the guise of Afghan Local Police) that carry out brutal night raids described as “counter-terrorism” operations.
Faizi is quoted on this issue further in an AFP piece picked up by Dawn:
“The US wants the freedom to conduct military operations, night raids and house searches,” Faizi told reporters late Tuesday.
“According to them, there are 75 Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, which is very strange as this agreement will be for 10 years to have the right to conduct military operations anywhere in the country.
“Unilaterally having the right to conduct military operations is in no way acceptable for Afghans.”
It appears that negotiations on this issue are now being carried out in direct phone conversations between Karzai and Obama. It’s hard to imagine that either will give up any portion of their position, so look for an announcement near the end of this month that the “deadline” has been extended. There already is discussion that the new Afghan president taking office after the April elections will be tasked with finalizing the agreement since Karzai and Obama seem unable to come to agreement.
The second sticking point is also fairly interesting. It appears that in this case, the US is actually showing restraint of a sort, since they don’t want to give Afghanistan wide latitude in determining what constitutes an attack on Afghanistan that would trigger the US responding in defense of Afghanistan. From the Dawn article:
Faizi also said the two sides could not agree on how the bilateral security agreement (BSA) should define an attack on Afghanistan that would trigger US protection.
“We believe that when terrorists are sent to commit suicide attacks here, that is also aggression,” Faizi said.
“We are a strategic partner of the US and we must be protected against foreign aggression. For us and for the US, that’s the conflicting point. We are not of the same opinion and we need clarity from the US side,” he said.
Cross-border skirmishes between various factions in Afghanistan in Pakistan are an ongoing process. In fact, there was a suicide bombing today at the Chaman border crossing that killed at least eight people. Today’s attacker appeared to have come from the Afghan side of the border, but it appears that the US wishes to avoid being forced to carry out attacks inside Pakistan under the guise of the SOFA when a suicide attack originates from inside Pakistan.
Of course, even a government shutdown hasn’t stopped the US carrying out drone strikes inside Pakistan, but that is a different issue entirely and seems to relate more to who has pissed off John Brennan lately rather than who organized a suicide attack.
I had seen several indications this morning that Obama planned to call for a diplomatic approach to the ongoing conflict in Syria despite the earlier indications that he intended to pursue a military strike even if the UK did not join and the UN did not provide a resolution authorizing force. I was hopeful that this new-found reliance on diplomacy would go all the way to calling for a ceasefire to provide safe conditions for the gathering and destruction of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons.
Alas, my hopes were once again dashed as Obama fell far short of proposing a ceasefire and he wound up delivering very convoluted remarks as he tried to maintain the fiction that Bashar al-Assad’s forces have been proven to have carried out the August 21 chemical weapons attack and that he favors diplomacy over military action. The quotations I will use here are from the Washington Post’s transcript of his speech.
In a move that approaches Colin Powell’s historic spinning of lies before the invasion of Iraq, Obama stated that there is no dispute that Syrian forces are responsible for the August 21 attack:
The evidence is overwhelming that the Assad regime used such weapons on August 21st. U.N. inspectors gave a clear accounting that advanced rockets fired large quantities of sarin gas at civilians. These rockets were fired from a regime-controlled neighborhood and landed in opposition neighborhoods.
It’s an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.
As I stated shortly after the UN report came out, the report did not show that the rockets for which they determined trajectories carried sarin. That argument is strengthened further by the subsequent realization by others that not one of the environmental samples from the Moadamiyah site came back as positive for sarin. So now one of the famous lines that cross at a Syrian military installation has to be disregarded entirely because there is no evidence of sarin at the point of rocket impact. [Look for the website and reporters for the linked post to be attacked mercilessly. Both the Global Research site I linked to in one questioning post and the Mint Press site which suggested a Saudi false flag operation have been attacked savagely as to their credibility. Remarkably, I have yet to see any of those attacks actually contradict the questions that have been raised.*]
Let’s take a look at Obama’s logical gymnastics as he tried to justify both his initial intent to attack Syria and then his rediscovery that he prefers a diplomatic approach. Early in his Syria comments, he claimed ” A peace process is stillborn.” He gave no evidence of what, if any, role the US played in the peace process. In fact, his next sentence provides a partial clue to just how the peace process died: “America and others have worked to bolster the moderate opposition, but extremist groups have still taken root to exploit the crisis.”
You see, those moderate groups that we are arming are not able to defeat the extremists that others are arming. Sounds like a child caught fighting who says “he hit me back first”.
So that background of a stillborn peace process is why, even before the weak evidence from the UN that the US is misrepresenting came out, Obama insisted that he had to attack Assad. Obama’s ploy to support his actions approached a George W. Bush administration level of disdain for the UN itself as he supplied his rationalization: Continue reading
Apparently with the blessing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is taking huge and significant steps toward a thawing of relations with the West while also moving to lessen the grip of hard line positions within Iran.
Rouhani and US President Barack Obama have been exchanging letters that seem to have paved the way for further discussions and improved negotiations on the issue of Iranian nuclear technology. Iran released a number of political prisoners on Wednesday. Iran also appears headed toward another round of P5+1 talks, with the date to be arranged while diplomats are in New York next week for Rouhani to address the UN. The diplomatic push reached a high point on Wednesday when Rouhani sat down in Tehran for an interview with NBC’s Ann Curry:
The entire interview in this clip is compelling, but I want to emphasize one bit that occurs near the end once the discussion moved to Syria. From the NBC blog post where the interview video is posted:
Asked whether he thought Obama looked weak when he backed off the air-strike threat, Rouhani replied, “We consider war a weakness. Any government or administration that decides to wage a war, we consider a weakness. And any government that decides on peace, we look on it with respect to peace.”
What a different viewpoint than we see inside the DC beltway. Throughout the entire Syria episode, we have been bombarded with the refrain that Obama simply had to attack Syria because if he didn’t, he would lose his credibility and look weak. Rouhani, on the other hand, states that it is resorting to war that is the real weakness.
If going to war is the real weakness, then it appears that Lindsey Graham may want to be the weakest politician in the US:
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday he’s working on legislation that would give the president the green light to attack Iran if negotiations over the country’s alleged nuclear weapons program stall.
Graham is clearly approaching the issue from a very different side than Rouhani.
Who’s weak now, Lindsey?
Rouhani and Khamenei are taking steps to tell the “weaker” elements on their side to STFU:
On Monday, the new president said the Revolutionary Guards — who report to Khamenei and have been accused of backing hard-liners — should stay out of politics. The next day, Khamenei was quoted on state TV as saying, “It is not necessary for the Guards to have activities in the political field.”
If only Lindsey would show a little bit of strength and bite his tongue while diplomacy has its best chance in years.
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Lethal aid. Nonlethal aid. Moderate groups. Radical Islamist groups. Light weapons. Anti-aircraft weapons. We have been barraged with a dizzying array of descriptions of what is going on in Syria and to what extent the US is helping which groups.
I have been harping recently on the issue of why the Obama administration is going to great lengths to change the date and time of entry for the first CIA-trained and armed death squads the US sent into Syria. Despite public evidence the first group entered as at least 300 militants on August 17, both Barack Obama and the CIA have “leaked” that the first group of 50 entered or was armed in the last week of August or the first week of September, after the disputed chemical weapons attack on August 21. But keep in mind that these groups are the small death squads built on the US model of the CIA and JSOC troops “training” already organized militia groups that often are organized around ethnic or religious issues. These groups were at the heart of Petraeus’ vaunted COIN strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. In those countries, they were brutal groups that were known for night raids and the ruthless killing, torture and disappearing of innocent civilians. It’s hard to imagine that the CIA and JSOC have changed their “winning” syllabus for this training, so look for more of these types of atrocities.
Those small death squads being trained by the CIA and JSOC are separate from the larger Free Syrian Army headed by General Salim Idris, who was a General in Assad’s military until his defection in the summer of 2012. A big deal has been made about the fact that the US has not been providing direct lethal aid to the FSA. In fact, back on March 1, Idris took to the pages of Foreign Policy to make his plea for lethal aid directly:
The United States has repeatedly expressed its reluctance to provide Syria’s armed opposition with weapons, due to the fear that they will fall into the hands of extremists groups. At this week’s meeting in Rome, the U.S. government promised only to provide non-lethal support. It’s time for Washington and the international community to reconsider, because the only way to prevent the rise of warlords and extremist groups is to support the organized Syrian opposition in professionalizing the armed revolution.
But look, Idris promised us that his team has things under control and nothing could go wrong with us giving him lethal aid:
In fact, the Syrian Coalition, an internationally recognized umbrella group of opposition parties, has made great strides to account for all advanced weaponry under the rebels’ control. It now registers and traces all such arms to ensure that only trained officers under the command ever receive and use them.
The problem, though, is that Idris’ claim in March that the US wasn’t helping his group with lethal aid was bullshit. As CTuttle reminded us in a comment in my post yesterday, the New York Times discussed how the CIA has been “assisting” the flow of lethal aid to the FSA and other groups for over a year. The Times article was published a little over three weeks after Idris’ plea, but documents CIA involvement in weapons shipments for a long time before that point: Continue reading
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I still don’t quite know what the angle is for this particular obfuscation, but given the efforts first from Obama himself and now from the CIA, both with planted leaks, the Obama administration is continuing its efforts to hide the date on which CIA-trained death squads first began entering Syria. From my first post on this topic, beginning with a quote from the New York Times:
Officials said that in the same conversation, which included Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, Mr. Obama indicated that a covert effort by the United States to arm and train Syrian rebels was beginning to yield results: the first 50-man cell of fighters, who have been trained by the C.I.A., was beginning to sneak into Syria.
Taken at face value, this version of the story would have us believe that the first group of 50 trained by the CIA was presumably still in the process of “sneaking” into Syria on Monday.
The “Monday” in that context would be September 2. The post goes on to note that rather than September 2, after the disputed August 21 chemical weapon attack, French sources had actually documented that the first group of CIA-trained and armed fighters was as large as 300 (not 50) and entered Syria on August 17, well ahead of the release of chemical agents.
And yes, go back and parse that bit from the New York Times carefully, especially this: “covert effort by the United States to arm and train Syrian rebels”. We aren’t just training these death squads, we are arming them, too. That is what makes last night’s “revelation” in the Washington Post even more important to look at:
The CIA has begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria, ending months of delay in lethal aid that had been promised by the Obama administration, according to U.S. officials and Syrian figures. The shipments began streaming into the country over the past two weeks, along with separate deliveries by the State Department of vehicles and other gear — a flow of material that marks a major escalation of the U.S. role in Syria’s civil war.
Any doubts that this was a planned and sanctioned leak were wiped away within an hour of the Post putting up this story when Barbara Starr “confirmed” the report on Twitter. But we know from my first post on the topic that the death squads really started rolling into Syria on August 17. If we back up “two weeks” from last night’s report on September 11, we get only to August 28. This is a full week after the disputed chemical weapon attack and much closer to the September 2 date on which Obama leaked that the death squads were then in the process of beginning their entry into Syria.
The timing for the flow of arms to these groups is another way we can pinpoint when they became enmeshed in activities inside Syria. With yesterday’s leak on when the flow of arms began, we have once again seen the US try to shift the date for involvement of the death squads inside Syria from before the chemical weapons attack to after it.
Two completely unnecessary but very public leaks, one from Obama himself and the other from “U.S. officials and Syrian figures” have done their utmost to change the public record on when the CIA-trained groups first entered Syria. Why is it so important to the Obama administration to obscure the entry date?