Three short weeks from tomorrow marks the date on which Afghanistan’s new president is to be sworn in. The problem, though, is that Abdullah Abdullah refuses to believe that he could have beaten Ashraf Ghani by a million votes in the first round and then lost to him by a million votes in the runoff a few weeks later. Both US Secretary of State John Kerry and the UN have tried to defuse the crisis, but neither effort has had any effect whatsoever.
No words are needed to describe Kerry’s failure. In their story on Kerry’s visit to Kabul today, Reuters carried photos of Ghani and Abdullah with Kerry in front of the same backdrop of US and Afghan flags. The photo of Ghani and Kerry could pass as a propaganda photo handed out jointly by the two governments to promote a continued relationship between the US and Afghanistan with Ghani as the new president. The photo with Abdullah, on the other hand, shows a deeply distrustful Abdullah casting a sideways glance at Kerry, who seems not to have the courage to look Abdullah in the eye, let alone shake hands as he did with Ghani. Perhaps Abdullah and Kerry did shake hands, but photographer Jim Bourg seems to have captured the essence of the crisis perfectly.
Meanwhile, the UN proposal for additional auditing has fallen flat. From the New York Times:
The United Nations proposal centered on a special audit of suspected fraudulent votes, and it appeared to be a winner when the office of President Hamid Karzai called reporters shortly after midnight Friday, the beginning of the Afghan weekend, to spread the news of the new plan.
Aimal Faizi, the spokesman for Mr. Karzai, said the president was backing the proposal, which involved a deeper audit of votes from 8,000 polling stations, or about 43 percent of the 8.1 million ballots cast. The plan had been presented to Mr. Karzai on Thursday evening by Jan Kubis, the special United Nations envoy for Afghanistan, who was to brief Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani about it later on Friday, Mr. Faizi said.
But within minutes, Mr. Abdullah’s campaign said it had already made clear to United Nations officials that the plan was not acceptable during discussions on Thursday about possible ways out of the crisis. A senior aide to Mr. Abdullah said the campaign had its own plan, which would entail audits of votes from about 11,000 of the roughly 22,000 polling stations.
Western reports on the election crisis that I have read have danced around a very important central issue without ever addressing it. The huge problem that Afghanistan faces is that there is no real way to audit this election after the fact. Elections in Afghanistan do not take place in the way that elections in the West are conducted. Once outside of Kabul, Afghan society is structured around village life and women often live their entire lives without going outside the walls of the family compound. Village elders carry huge influence for all residents of the village.
In his book No Good Men Among the Living, Anand Gopal provided a couple of very informative vignettes of previous presidential elections. On page 156, we have this from the 2004 election: Continue reading
Since word emerged on Sunday that Jeish Al-Adl executed one of the five Iranian border guards that had been abducted last month, there has been a very interesting series of developments between Iran and Pakistan. Iran has summoned Pakistan’s ambassador to lodge a formal complaint about the death and Pakistan’s apparent inability to find the terrorist group and release the hostages. Iran’s Foreign Minister also sent an open letter to the UN, appealing for help in controlling “state sponsored” groups that are responsible for this and other attacks on Iran. Pakistan, meanwhile, has announced today that they don’t believe the border guards are being held in Pakistan. Complicating matters even further, Iran now is claiming that it would be within their right to employ special forces in a raid on Pakistani territory to release the hostages and kill those responsible for the kidnapping.
The summoning of the ambassador seemed innocuous enough:
Iran’s Foreign Ministry has summoned Pakistan’s ambassador to Tehran over Iranian kidnapped guard’s death and expressed strong objections to Pakistan for lack of control of its borders.
Deputy Director General of the department of West Asian countries of Iran’s Foreign Ministry expressed Islamic Republic of Iran’s objection on Iranian border guards’ abduction and their transfer to Pakistan emphasizing on Iran’s demand for their release, health and also delivering the terrorists to Iran.
He continued “Pakistan should have proper control over its borders and prevent recurrence of such events unless two countries’ good relations would be affected.”
Pakistan’s ambassador to Iran, Noor Mohammad Jadmani, offered condolences for one of the Iranian abducted guard’s death in Pakistan and expressed regret for the terrorist incident.
“Pakistan is also worried about the growth of terrorist actions and extremism.” added he and that “Pakistan will not let such incidents be repeated again and affect the two countries’ relations.”
Likewise, the letter to the UN starts off as normal diplomacy, but it eventually gets to some fairly broad claims about attacks on Iran:
It is extremely regrettable that all available evidence indicate that these cowardly acts of terror targeting the Islamic Republic of Iran and its citizens have been perpetrated by State-sponsored extremist groups, with similar patterns of funding, coordination, support and direction. The entire international community should be alarmed by the regional and extra-regional ramifications of sectarian tension and extremist violence, which are being systematically organized, sponsored and orchestrated in various parts of our region. In fact, learning from recent history, a sober assessment of the medium and long-term implications of this dangerous trend will show that the very sponsors of such hatred, who for ill-conceived interests have hastily resorted to such short-sighted tactics to remedy their strategic miscalculations and failures, stand to lose the most from the sectarian and extremist violence that they are spreading.
What a strange passage. In protesting attacks against themselves, it appears that the Iranians are making a not very veiled threat to carry out their own “sectarian and extremist violence” against those they perceive to be behind the attacks.
Trying to prove once again that no level of hypocrisy is ever high enough for the US security theater industrial complex, today’s New York Times gives space for John Brennan to lament the use of Syria as a training ground for al Qaeda terrorists. Never mind that the US touted its efforts at developing death squads to send into Syria last fall, we must be outraged against this latest development:
Dozens of seasoned militant fighters, including some midlevel planners, have traveled to Syria from Pakistan in recent months in what American intelligence and counterterrorism officials fear is an effort to lay the foundation for future strikes against Europe and the United States.
“We are concerned about the use of Syrian territory by the Al Qaeda organization to recruit individuals and develop the capability to be able not just to carry out attacks inside of Syria, but also to use Syria as a launching pad,” John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, told a House panel recently.
But wait a minute. Didn’t we spend all that time and money droning the shit out of the terrorists in Pakistan? Oh, yeah:
The extremists who concern Mr. Brennan are part of a group of Qaeda operatives in Pakistan that has been severely depleted in recent years by a decade of American drone strikes. But the fighters still bring a wide range of skills to the battlefield, such as bomb-building, small-arms tactics, logistics, religious indoctrination and planning, though they are not believed to have experience in launching attacks in the West.
That is just classic Brennan security theater. We are supposed to get our panties in a wad about a group that he spent years to render “severely depleted” and now they suddenly are going to move to Syria, where they will magically develop the ability to attack the West even though they “are not believed to have experience in launching attacks in the West”.
Okay, then. Recall that just back in September, the US was thumping its chest over its own efforts in training death squads for Syria. Except that Obama then had to doctor the record a bit on the timing and size of the first death squad we sent in when it coincided too closely with the chemical weapons attack in August. Oh, and we had to tell people that the guy eating his opponent’s heart really was from one of the moderate groups we were training.
The bottom line is that the US can use the region to train any group of terrorists it wants to use in service of its own goals, but nobody else is allowed to do exactly what we are doing.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in Syria remains dire. Reuters reports on a just released but not published report from the UN. And, of course, the US is wasting no time in spinning the findings of the report:
A U.N. report on how Syria’s neediest civilians are often not accessible to humanitarian relief workers makes it clear that the government of President Bashar al-Assad shoulders most of the blame, a U.S. official said on Tuesday.
“What the report shows is that the magnitude and frequency of violence committed by the Assad regime far outstrips that of the armed groups in Syria,” a U.S. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
“The Syrian government’s massive and indiscriminate use of violence is the single most important factor driving the humanitarian crisis,” the official said. “The report is very clear on this and in pointing to the government’s failure to implement the resolution’s provisions.”
Information released to date doesn’t make either side look very good: Continue reading
The United Nations is the best source of information on the impact of the war in Afghanistan on civilians. They released their latest data this weekend (pdf), and their results show that the vaunted “surge” of US troops into the country in early 2010 through late 2012 failed to protect civilians. In fact, the data show that civilian injuries have shown a steady rise from 2009 pre-surge levels through 2013′s post-surge period. Civilian deaths rose in 2010 and 2011. They went down slightly in 2012 before rising again in 2013.
Despite this clear indication that the surge was a waste of lives and money, recall that the Pentagon continued to spew its positive spin as troops were drawn down. From September, 2012 as the surge ended:
Very quietly, the surge of troops into Afghanistan that President Obama announced to such fanfare in late 2009 is now over.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said today that 33,000 troops have been withdrawn, calling the Afghan surge “a very important milestone” in a war the Obama administration is winding down; there are sill 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The “surge did accomplish its objectives of reversing the Taliban momentum on the battlefield and dramatically increase the size and capability of the Afghan national security forces,” Panetta said.
As seen in the UN data, the surge did nothing to reverse attacks on civilians, with civilian casualties continuing a steady increase. How about Panetta’s other claim, the one about dramatically increasing the size and capability of Afghan national security forces? To answer that, we depend on data supplied by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Their latest report can be found here (pdf). Once again, the target for ANSF size was not achieved, even after moving the goalposts (footnotes removed):
This quarter, ANSF’s assigned force strength was 334,852, according to data provided by CSTC-A. This is short of the goal to have an end strength of 352,000 ANSF personnel by October 2012. That goal had been in the Department of Defense’s (DOD) April 2012 Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan. When that end strength was not met, DOD revised the goal to 352,000 ANSF by 2014 (187,000 ANA by December 2012, 157,000 ANP by February 2013, and 8,000 Air Force by December 2014). Neither the ANA nor the ANP met their end-strength goal by the revised deadline, as shown in Table 3.6.
But the reality could be far worse than those numbers indicate. While the force size falls just barely short of the target, the functionality of those troops is suspect. Further, it appears that Afghanistan may be playing games with the meaning of “available” (sorry, this bit of text won’t copy, so I have to use images instead): Continue reading
On October 24, 2012, Nabila Rehman, who was eight years old at the time, was helping her grandmother pick vegetables in the family’s garden in North Waziristan. Here is her description of what happened next:
Remarkably, Pakistan’s government has now indirectly called Nabila’s grandmother, Mamana Bibi, a terrorist. That is because the government has released new figures, radically revising downward their estimate of civilians killed in US drone strikes in Pakistan. They must be calling Bibi a terrorist, because the figures claim that there were zero civilian casualties in 2012. Amnesty International provides many more details (pdf) on the strike that killed Bibi and on another strike in 2012 that killed eighteen civilian workers.
Here is Declan Walsh writing in the New York Times on the new figures from Pakistan:
In a surprise move, Pakistan’s government on Wednesday sharply revised downward its official estimate of civilian casualties caused by American drone strikes in the tribal belt, highlighting again the contentious nature of statistics about the covert C.I.A. campaign.
The Ministry of Defense released figures to lawmakers saying that 67 civilians were among 2,227 people killed in 317 drone strikes since 2008. The remainder of those killed were Islamist militants, the ministry said.
Recently, a United Nations special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, Ben Emmerson, said that the Pakistani government had reported at least 400 civilian deaths since the drone campaign started in 2004.
In an email, Mr. Emmerson noted that the revised figures were “strikingly at odds” with those he had been given earlier by the Pakistani Foreign Ministry and said he would be writing to the government seeking clarification.
“It is essential that the government of Pakistan now clarify the true position,” he said.
BBC gives us the directly comparable figures from The Bureau for Investigative Journalism:
The latest figures released by Pakistan differ dramatically from previous estimates, but no explanation was given for the apparent discrepancy.
London’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which researches Pakistan drone strikes, told the BBC it estimated based on reports that between 308 and 789 civilians had died since 1 January 2008 (of between 2,371 and 3,433 total deaths).
Since 2008 then, Pakistan has now revised their civilian death toll estimate down to 67 during a period when TBIJ documents a minimum of 308 civilian deaths and as many as 789. Somehow, Pakistan has reclassified several hundred deaths from civilian to terrorist. And among them is Mamana Bibi, who is now a terrorist okra-picking grandmother. [That one hits me especially hard; I have fond memories of my grousing about how itchy the okra plants were when I picked okra with my grandfather in his garden.]
In a continuation of Barack Obama’s pivot to diplomacy, it appears that the US and Russia, along with several other UN Security Council members, have come to an agreement on how to structure the UNSC resolution on the surrender and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. Further good news comes in the early analysis of the disclosure by Syria of its chemical weapon stockpile, as it appears that most of the material is composed of binary precursors. Because of this, Syria can be effectively disarmed quickly by destruction of the mixing equipment. Further, these sarin precursors can be destroyed more quickly and safely than sarin that has already been prepared. Finally, hints are now being dropped that the rapid progress on the diplomatic front may have been brought about by a realization that Assad may not be in full control of the use of Syria’s chemical weapons.
Talks between the US and Russia had been stalled for some time over the issue of how Chapter 7 of the UN Charter would be invoked in the UNSC resolution. The US has favored putting that language into the resolution currently under discussion, spelling out military action to be taken should Syria default in its responsibilities in the disarming process. Russia has resisted such an automatic process. It appears that the issue has been resolved by making it clear that if Syria should violate the initial agreement, the Security Council will meet again to vote on invocation of Chapter 7 and potential military action. Although war hawks will dismiss this approach as allowing Syria to delay and obfuscate, it also prevents manipulation by the US to blow a minor violation out of proportion and initiate military action without a full hearing before the Security Council.
Reuters emphasizes the current absence of Chapter 7 consequences in the draft resolution in the opening of its article on developments:
Ending weeks of diplomatic deadlock, the United States and Russia agreed on Thursday on a U.N. Security Council draft resolution that would demand Syria give up its chemical arms, but does not threaten military force if it fails to comply.
Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said a deal was struck with Russia “legally obligating” Syria to give up its chemical stockpile and the measure went to the full Security Council in a closed-door meeting on Thursday night. U.N. diplomats said a vote could come within 24 hours.
The process which would be followed in the event of a violation of the agreement by Syria is described by the New York Times:
Western diplomats said the resolution would be legally binding and would stipulate that if Syria failed to abide by the terms, the Security Council would take measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the strongest form of a Council resolution. Such measures could include economic sanctions or even military action. But before any action could be taken, the issue would have to go back for further deliberations by the Security Council, on which Russia, like the other permanent members, holds a veto.
By making any Chapter 7 actions subject to a separate vote both the US and Russia will be forced to provide convincing evidence for the positions they take. The US won’t be able to move for military action on shaky grounds and Russia will be under a huge amount of pressure if they attempt to prevent a response to a clear violation. Gosh, such a process would put the UN into a position of functioning as it was intended. What a concept.
With all of the usual caveats that this is yet another transcription by Joby Warrick, there is very interesting and encouraging news coming from the initial disclosures on Syria’s chemical weapons: Continue reading
The US grand strategy of arming moderate groups within Syria’s opposition in the ongoing civil war (remember, we only arm folks so moderate that they eat enemies’ hearts) took a huge blow yesterday, as several groups previously aligned with the moderates threw their support into a group including the Islamist group Jabhat al Nusra, which has affiliations with al Qaeda. With the moderate coalition in disarray, it occurred to me to wonder whether al Nusra will now undergo a reputation-scrubbing and a lobbying campaign similar to that applied to MEK, which has been removed from the official list of terrorist organizations and continues to support US politicians who are willing to sell their services to any group with enough funding. There is hope for the future, though, as a UN treaty that would take significant steps toward stemming the flow of conventional weapons is gathering steam and has now been signed by more than half of the members of the UN.
The Washington Post brings us the news of the fractured moderate coalition:
American hopes of winning more influence over Syria’s fractious rebel movement faded Wednesday after 11 of the biggest armed factions repudiated the Western-backed opposition coalition and announced the formation of a new alliance dedicated to creating an Islamic state.
The al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, designated a terrorist organization by the United States, is the lead signatory of the new group, which will further complicate fledgling U.S. efforts to provide lethal aid to “moderate” rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The defecting groups are blaming the US for failing to come through with promised arms and for not bombing Assad after the August 21 chemical weapons attack:
Abu Hassan, a spokesman for the Tawheed Brigade in Aleppo, echoed those sentiments, citing rebel disappointment with the Obama administration’s failure to go ahead with threatened airstrikes to punish Assad for using chemical weapons in the suburbs of Damascus last month, as well as its decision to strike a deal with Russia over ways to negotiate a solution.
“Jabhat al-Nusra is a Syrian military formation that fought the regime and played an active role in liberating many locations,” he said. “So we don’t care about the stand of those who don’t care about our interests.”
Toward the end of the New York Times story on this development, we see the al Nusra group being described as less radical than the new kid on the block, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS): Continue reading
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
The UN has finally released its report (pdf) on the analysis of both human and environmental samples relating to the chemical weapon attack in the Ghouta area of Syria on August 21. The report finds unequivocal evidence of sarin in blood, urine and environmental samples.
A total of 36 primary victims and first responders who were exposed were interviewed. Sixteen of them were from Moadamiyah and twenty were from Zamalka. Seventy eight percent of them lost consciousness, 61% had difficulty breathing and 42% had blurred vision. Thirty four of the thirty six had blood samples taken (two refused) and 15 showing the most severe symptoms submitted urine samples. The materials were sent to two separate laboratories for analysis:
Rockets that could have delivered the chemical agent were found at some sites. At least one was capable of carrying up to 50 liters of liquid. Schematic of intact rocket:
The engine end was exposed at the impact site:
But of course, these inspections came on August 26 in Moadamiyah and August 28 and 29 in Zamalka, so 5 to 8 days passed between the attack and the analysis. The key point to keep in mind when considering the rocket evidence is this:
People had plenty of time to move things around before the UN inspectors came onto the site. The possibility that evidence has been manipulated cannot be ruled out.
My first impressions from the report are that it is without question that the people interviewed and who submitted samples were indeed exposed to sarin. How it was delivered is another question entirely. Rockets were found in the vicinity where people were exposed and environmental samples, including from the rockets themselves, showed evidence of sarin, but it is impossible to conclude the rockets definitely delivered the sarin. It is impossible to rule out sarin being put onto the rocket debris after impact.
I’ve only skimmed the report, please consider this a working thread and share any findings in comments.
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Okay, this is breaking very rapidly and could turn out to be nothing, but it is amazing and would even be hilarious if it weren’t for the huge number of innocent lives that are at stake. As we learn from the New York Times this morning, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is making one last push for diplomacy in the face of an Obama administration that is determined to carry out military strikes against Syria:
The appalling suffering in Syria “cries out for international action,” Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Monday in a speech in Geneva. Employing chemical weapons was “one of the gravest crimes that can be committed” and their use in Syria “seems to be in little doubt,” even if the circumstances and the party responsible remained to be clarified, Ms. Pillay said.
While the United States is calling for a limited punitive strike to punish the Syrian government, Ms. Pillay warned that “a military response or the continued supply of arms risk igniting a regional conflagration, possibly resulting in many more deaths and even more widespread misery.”
Ms. Pillay chastised the international community for being “late, very late” in acting to stop the violence in Syria that has killed more than 100,000 people. “This is no time for powerful states to continue to disagree on the way forward or for geopolitical interests to override the legal and moral obligation to save lives by bringing this conflict to an end,” she said.
In a rational world, one would expect the chief diplomat from the United States to be somewhat chastised by such strong language and to voice a new commitment to finding a peaceful solution to the problem. But this is the Obama administration we are talking about, and so John Kerry instead chose to make a statement that appears to mock calls for diplomacy. He states conditions which Syria could meet in order to avoid an attack but then immediately follows by stating that it would be impossible for Syria to meet those conditions:
When asked by a reporter whether there was anything Assad’s government could do or offer to stop any attack, Kerry said:
“Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week – turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting (of it) but he isn’t about to do it and it can’t be done.”
Oh my. That is cold and beyond cynical. But it appears that Syria may well be calling Kerry’s bluff:
Syria is ready to hand over its chemical weapons into UN control.
— Lakhdar Brahimi (@BrahimiUN) September 9, 2013
Wow. If the twitter account from which this came is real and if the offer is real, Kerry and the rest of the Obama administration will be facing a real conundrum. Kerry’s flip identification of an “impossible” condition which Syria could meet to avoid an attack may well have done the impossible. Stay tuned. Today could be very interesting.
Update: Twitter consensus is developing around the Brahimi twitter account being fake. There are also suggestions the State Department is doing some “walking back” of Kerry’s cynical statement.
Update: And as noted by commenter Erich Kuerschner, the twitter account has now been suspended. Even though the account was fake, it did a wonderful job of pointing out the horrible cynicism of Kerry’s “diplomacy”. What if Syria does offer up its chemical weapons? How is it Kerry’s job to pronounce that such a process is “impossible”?
Yet Another Update: It would appear that Putin appreciates the beauty of calling Kerry’s bluff:
BREAKING: Russian FM: Moscow will push Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control.
— The Associated Press (@AP) September 9, 2013
And that’s AP (unless they’ve been hacked again…)
Update: New York TImes:
Syria’s foreign minister says his country welcomes Russia’s proposal for it to place its chemical weapons under international control and then dismantle them quickly to avert United States strikes.