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As Fraud History Emerges for Bales, US Pushes FISA Court as Ideal for Afghan Night Raid Approval

The background for Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, the suspect in the mass killing of civilians in Afghanistan last week, became much murkier with the revelation that his career as an investment manager ended in a judgment of $1.4 million against him for fraud. He was accused of “churning” a client’s retirement account, selling off holdings in safer investments to purchase more volatile penny stocks. In the meantime, the fallout from the attack continues, as the US continues its effort to reach a SOFA agreement with Afghanistan ahead of the NATO summit in Chicago scheduled for May. The latest offering appears to be establishment of a system in which Afghan judges would be put into position to approve “warrants” before night raids take place. Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough took to the airwaves on NPR this morning to hold up the US FISA court as the shining example on which the Afghan system should be modeled.

In this morning’s Washington Post, we get quite a few details on the fraud case against Bales. The former client, Gary Liebschner, had employed the firm Bales worked for to manage his retirement account:

That is not the man that Liebschner said he dealt with when Bales was much younger and listed as the “investment executive” on his retirement account. The fund held stock that Liebschner had inherited and earned during his AT&T days, as well as other investments.

/snip/

A severe reaction to medication left Liebschner hospitalized and in a rehabilitation center from November 1998 until June 1999. At the time, his wife, Janet, who took time off from her nursing job, was pressed for money to cover car and mortgage payments, as well as the cost of renovations to their home to make it wheelchair-accessible, she said.

She hadn’t previously been in charge of the couple’s finances, she said, but after she began to examine account statements, she realized that the fund had been severely depleted.

Her husband’s retirement account had nearly $700,000 in 1998, his statements show. By early 2000, the fund had about $30,000 in it.

That is an appallingly bad job of investment management, and it is easy to see how a finding of fraud was found against Bales and the firm for which he worked. A big caveat here, though, is whether Janet Liebschner withdrew funds to cover the home renovation and other expenses listed, and if so, how much was withdrawn. We don’t have the exact dates of when the account sat at about $700,000 or when it was found to be depleted, but the period of 1998 through 2000 was fairly robust for investments. Below is a chart of the Dow Jones Industrial Average from the beginning of 1998 through the end of 2000. There was a dip in mid-1998 that gave up the gains from earlier that year, but then from the fall of 1998 through the end of 2000, the market advanced by roughly 33%, from about 7500 to about 10,000: Read more

Karzai, Taliban Begin Angling for Afghanistan Dominance, Confirming Failure of US Mission

The Ides of March has not been kind to the US mission in Afghanistan. Despite Barack Obama and David Cameron putting their best spin on the situation yesterday and claiming that NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan will not be accelerated by the recent atrocities perpetrated by US forces, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban both took moves today indicating that they are now angling for dominance in an Afghanistan that is soon to be rid of occupation by western troops. These moves by Karzai and the Taliban appear to me to be signalling that they independently have come to the conclusion that the COIN strategy of “training” Afghan security forces to take over by 2014 as NATO forces are drawn down is no longer viable.

Karzai’s move is to call for western troops to withdraw from their smaller operating outposts in villages back onto large bases. From the Washington Post:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded Thursday that the United States pull back from combat outposts and confine its troops to military bases, an apparent response to Sunday’s shooting rampage by a U.S. staff sergeant.

/snip/

Foreign troops in Afghanistan must withdraw from village outposts and return to large NATO bases, the president’s statement said. Karzai also said he wants Afghan troops to assume primary responsibility for security nationwide by the end of next year, ahead of the time frame U.S. commanders have endorsed.

The Post then goes on to play into the hands of the Taliban (see below) by painting Karzai as powerless to affect US actions in Afghanistan:

Karzai does not have the authority to enforce a pullback of foreign troops, however. And the United States has rebuffed previous demands that it halt night raids, ban private security companies and immediately transfer control of prisons to the Afghan government.

Virtually simultaneously with Karzai’s demand for withdrawal from villages, the Taliban announced that they have ended their preliminary talks with the US that many hoped would lead to a negotiated end to hostilities in Afghanistan. From Reuters:

U.S. and Taliban negotiators were believed to have had preliminary contacts aimed at establishing an office for the Taliban in the Gulf state of Qatar to launch peace negotiations.

“The Islamic Emirate has decided to suspend all talks with Americans taking place in Qatar from (Thursday) onwards until the Americans clarify their stance on the issues concerned and until they show willingness in carrying out their promises instead of wasting time,” the group said in a statement.

In a clear signal that the Taliban believe US influence in Afghanistan is about to end and that they are in a struggle with Karzai’s government for future control of the country, they attacked Karzai as a US puppet. Returning to the Post article: Read more

Panjwai Rogue Night Raider: Probably Not a Malingerer

In yet another “isolated event” in Afghanistan that is guaranteed to incite a number of other “isolated events”, at least one US soldier in the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province killed sixteen Afghan civilians early Sunday morning. Most of the dead were women and children.

Details of the attack are still emerging. Marcy posted on the event yesterday, and I would especially urge reading the series of comments by MadDog, where he discusses the security arrangements at Forward Operating Bases and poses the very important question of how a soldier could have left the base alone. I would add that soldiers being off base and alone is given heightened concern since Bowe Bergdahl was captured after being lured away from his base. What is even more curious about the soldier being allowed to leave the base is that Dawn reports via AFP that the soldier was “heavily armed and with night vision equipment”.

Perhaps the most important point still not fully resolved is whether the soldier acted alone or if a group of soldiers, possibly even drunk, carried out the attack. In today’s New York Times, we have this from Abdul Hadi, who survived the attack:

“My father went out to find out what was happening, and he was killed,” he said. “I was trying to go out and find out about the shooting, but someone told me not to move, and I was covered by the women in my family in my room, so that is why I survived.”

Mr. Hadi said there was more than one soldier involved in the attacks, and at least five other villagers described seeing a number of soldiers, and also a helicopter and flares at the scene.

The competing narrative comes from US officials:

United States officials and diplomats insisted that there had been only one attacker. A senior American diplomat told a meeting on Monday morning with diplomats from allied countries that the gunman acted alone after walking off the base, first to a village and then to a cluster of houses some 500 yards away. He kept shooting before returning to the base. He is to face charges under the military justice system, the officials said.

While some Afghans had speculated that helicopter-borne troops were involved, the senior American diplomat said helicopters and other troops arrived only after the shooting and that helicopters were used to evacuate the wounded.

Although the bodies appear to have been buried already, we will know just how serious the US is about establishing the number of shooters involved in the attack if they actually visit the homes invaded to recover shell casings and bullets. Even rudimentary forensic evaluation should be able to establish conclusively how many weapons were fired. Slightly more advanced forensics can determine whether all the weapons involved were in the possession of the soldier who has turned himself in.

The few details that have emerged about the suspected attacker who turned himself in are very disturbing on two related points. Read more

Agreement in Principle Signed on Handover of Afghan Prisons, Night Raid Agreement to be Separate

Creating conditions dangerously close to those under which we have been warned that Lindsey Graham’s head will explode, the US and Afghanistan have signed an agreement in principle on the handover of prisons to Afghan control. The negotiations were carried out under the pressure of dual deadlines, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai having put today as his deadline for insisting on an agreement and President Obama declaring that an agreement had to be in place before the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago.

The agreement appears to use semantics to say that the prisons are being handed over today, but with the reality being that there will be a gradual process taking six months. From the New York Times:

The memorandum of understanding would officially hand over control of detainees to an Afghan official as of Friday, but would also allow for a six-month period of transition to full Afghan control of the American-held detainees, American officials said.

As a practical matter, American officials are expected to maintain day-to-day control over the 3,200 detainees, most of them suspected Taliban insurgents.

During the six months, custody of the American-held prisoners would gradually transfer to Afghan authority, with the first 500 prisoners to be transferred within 45 days, according to American military and diplomatic officials who spoke on condition of anonymity as a matter of policy.

The move is a major concession to the Afghans, but the Americans will retain ultimate veto authority over releases of any insurgent detainees as long as American troops are in Afghanistan, and will continue to monitor humane treatment of the prisoners, the American officials said.

With the US maintaining veto power over release of any prisoners, perhaps Senator Graham will have to hold off on throwing his next tantrum, as his major objection to the handover had been that the Afghans would release prisoners who would immediately attack US troops. It’s not clear how the US will be monitoring humane treatment of the prisoners, since it is US training that put the torture methods in place to begin with.

There is no indication in this Times article, or in articles from AP carried in the Washington Post or the Reuters article about the signing of the prison agreement on when an agreement on night raids is expected. The night raid issue appears to be the one remaining sticking point that needs to be addressed before the long term status of forces agreement can be established for laying out the ground rules after the expected US withdrawal from Afghanistan late next year. Presumably, the Obama administration will be pushing to have both the night raid agreement and status of forces agreement in place before the May NATO summit.

Oh, and those non-Afghan prisoners we’re holding at Bagram that the US wants us all to forget about? They stay under US control, of course.

Graham Throws Tantrum Over an Afghanistan With No Night Raids or US Control of Prisons

Proof from April, 2010 that we have trained the Afghans to manage their own prisons.

With most eyes yesterday on Super Tuesday and political wrangling over Iran’s nuclear technology, not many took notice of the update from Reuters Tuesday morning letting us know that an agreement on transfer detention faciliies to full Afghanistan control is expected by the end of this week. Lindsey Graham did notice the news,however, and chose to vent to Josh Rogin just before lunch.

Lindsey is not happy:

Graham, who has been one of the strongest congressional supporters for continuing the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan beyond 2014, said today that unless Karzai relents on his demands that the United States immediately hand over control of Afghan prisoners and end night raids against insurgents, there is no way the U.S. can achieve its objectives in Afghanistan and therefore should just end its involvement there.

“If the president of the country can’t understand how irrational it is to expect us to turn over prisoners and if he doesn’t understand that the night raids have been the biggest blow to the Taliban … then there is no hope of winning. None,” Graham said in the hallways of the Capitol Building just before entering the GOP caucus lunch.

“So if he insists that all the prisoners have to be turned over by March 9 and that we have to stop night raids, that means we will fail in Afghanistan and that means Lindsey Graham pulls the plug. It means that I no longer believe we can win and we might as well get out of there sooner rather than later.”

Graham gets so much wrong in his rant. He seems to think that the US is planning to hand over full control of the prisons on Friday. Reuters reports that the most likely agreement is for the process to start on Friday but take place over a six month period:

In a meeting Monday between Afghan President Hamid Karzai, U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. John Allen, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, the American side proposed a six-month timeline for the transfer.

Karzai was reported to have set a deadline of March 9 for the United States to hand over the detention facilities.

An Afghan official said that under one possible scenario, a transfer of prisons could start within the next few days and it may be completed within six months.

Next, Graham complains that the Afghans will merely turn insurgents loose to “start killing Americans again”, despite the fact that Afghanistan appears to hang onto some prisoners long enough to have built up quite a reputation for torture there.

And Graham seems to have forgotten that training has been a cornerstone of US policy in Afghanistan, presumably equipping the Afghans for the time when we could hand over prisons and other security arrangements to the Afghans so that we could go home. Read more

US Vows No Change of Course in Afghanistan Despite 17% of NATO Deaths in 2012 From Fratricide

"There is absolutely no reason to change course when we're making the kind of progress we're making" -- Pentagon spokesman George Little, February 27, 2012

Displaying a remarkable inability to process the meaning of ongoing events, both White House spokesman Jay Carney and Pentagon spokesman George Little ventured dangerously close to “Baghdad Bob” territory on Monday, declaring that there is no reason to change the strategy or timetable for withdrawal in Afghanistan despite violence levels that have been on a steady rise since the US diverted its attention from Afghanistan to Iraq in 2003 and a rising toll of NATO forces being killed by Afghan forces.

The first question in Monday’s White House press briefing went right to the heart of the crisis that is ongoing in Afghanistan:

But I’m wondering how you explain to the average American who has seen this war go on for 10 years and is ready for troops to come home — how do explain it when the people that we’re training turn their guns on us, or U.S. officers in a secure Afghan Interior building are shot dead?  How do you explain why it’s working?

After Jay Carney responded with a very long “stay the course” explanation of how we must remove any possibility of al Qaeda re-emerging and that we must make conditions appropriate for handing off security to the Afghans, there was this follow-up:

Q    So you just sort of recounted the case there of how the President redefined the mission and how it’s important to stick with it, to stay the course.  But I’m wondering what you do about the attitudes of the American people who, in the case — more than one case in this last week — they say the people that we are going to war with, in some cases, are killing us.  Why should we still support this war?  How do you make that case?  And do you worry that it’s going to erode — the American public support will continue to erode in an election year?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the incidents that you refer to are tragic and horrific and indefensible, there’s no question.  But it is important to remember that 95 to 97 percent of the missions the U.S. forces embark on in Afghanistan, they do so with their Afghan partners.  We’re talking about thousands and thousands of operations that proceed successfully with Afghan partners without anything like this happening.

These are isolated incidents — which does not, of course, mean they are not terrible — and are being investigated by both the Afghan government and ISAF.  But the overall importance of defeating al Qaeda remains and that is why we need to see — to continue the focus on that; to continue the process of, in the implementation of the President’s objectives, transferring security lead over to the Afghans so that American troops can come home.

It’s important to remember the President has already, through his strategy, laid out a process by which American troops will come home as we turn over security responsibility, security lead to Afghan forces.  And as we do that, we will be unrelenting in our pursuit of al Qaeda and unrelenting in our efforts to remove leaders of al Qaeda from the battlefield.

That’s just stunning. Carney insists that “These are isolated incidents” and yet, if we look at the numbers from this year, they are horrific. From AP:

Of 52 U.S. and NATO troops killed this year in Afghanistan, nine were apparently killed by Afghan forces or impersonators. Read more

Hiding Report on Fratricide in Afghanistan Doesn’t Make It Go Away

On January 20, the New York Times carried what they at first thought was a scoop on a “classified” report (pdf) on Afghan military and police personnel killing NATO forces. After they were told that the Wall Street Journal had written on the report back in June, they admitted as much in a correction. They later added another correction after I pointed out that a version of the report clearly marked “unclassified” could be found easily even though the Times referred to the report as classified. It turns out that the report had indeed been published first as unclassified but then was retroactively classified while the Wall Street Journal article was being prepared.

Events over the last few days serve to demonstrate the folly of trying to hide damaging information rather than openly reviewing it and trying to learn lessons from it. The report in question went into great detail to document the cultural misunderstandings that exist between NATO forces and their “partner” Afghan forces, and how these misunderstandings escalate to the point that Afghan personnel end up killing NATO personnel. In the executive summary of the report, we learn that “ANSF members identified numerous social, cultural and operational grievances they have with U.S. soldiers.” Arrogance on the part of U.S. soldiers often was cited, as well.

This clash of social values is at the heart of the newest wave of anti-US and anti-NATO violence in Afghanistan which erupted after an Afghan employee found Korans among materials being burned last week at a NATO base. A part of the response to the Koran burning is that on Saturday, two NATO personnel were killed inside Afghanistan’s interior ministry building. BBC reports that an Afghan police officer is suspected in the shootings:

Afghanistan’s interior ministry has said one of its own employees is suspected of the killing of two senior US Nato officers inside the ministry.

Officials earlier named police intelligence officer Abdul Saboor from Parwan province as the main suspect behind Saturday’s attack.

The NATO response to the killing was swift:

Nato withdrew all its personnel from Afghan ministries after the shooting.

The importance of this move cannot be overstated. Read more

Carnage in Pakistan’s Tribal Region Continues: US Drones Kill 21 Thurs., Suicide Bomber Kills 26 Fri.

Despite some prospects on negotiations toward peace looking better in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the carnage in Pakistan’s tribal areas continues at a rapid pace. Two separate US drone attacks in North Waziristan on Thursday killed 21 people and a suspected suicide bomber killed 26 in the Kurram Agency region on Friday.

According to Dawn, the first drone attack killed six:

According to sources, six people were killed and two others injured when two missiles slammed into a compound in the village of Spilga near Miramshah. The identities of the persons who died could not be ascertained.

The second attack was just a few hours later:

Hours later, another drone attacked a moving vehicle on the Zekerkhel-Khaisur road in Mirali tehsil.

Official sources said 15 members of a militant group were killed. Their bodies were charred.

The article noted that “unmanned planes” continued to fly around the area as local rescuers came to the scene.

There were reports that those killed in the second attack were Uzbek.

As for those killed in the first attack:

Those who died in the first attack belonged to Badar Mansoor and the Haqqani network, loyal to the Afghan Taliban, another official said. Last Thursday, officials said Mansoor, described as the “de facto leader of Al Qaeda in Pakistan” had been killed in a drone strike in North Waziristan.

There appears to be a Haqqani network tie to the suspected suicide bomb attack earlier today in Kurram Agency:

The bomber struck outside the mosque in a busy market in Parachinar, the main town in Kurram, after Friday prayers, in the latest attack by Sunni militants against minority Shias.

/snip/

Fazal Saeed, leader of a breakaway faction of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack.

“We have targeted the Shia community of Parachinar because they were involved in activities against us,” he told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

/snip/

He is said to have close ties with the Haqqani militant group, one of the most feared factions of the Afghan Taliban.

The Express Tribune coverage of this attack states that there were 26 deaths and also raises questions of whether it was a suicide bomber or another type of blast, but the Dawn article appears to be at least two hours more recent than the Express Tribune article. A Reuters article just a few minutes old as of this writing also placed the death toll in the bombing at 26 and said that it was the work of a suicide bomber.

It’s very difficult to see how either the US or the Taliban can be engaged in peace negotiations while at the same time killing large numbers of people. For both sets of killings, it appears there are more than enough survivors in the area to take up the cause of those killed, perpetuating the cycle of killing.

Peace Talks Breaking Out All Over

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal (behind a paywall, so no link!) Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said that Afghanistan has joined the “secret” talks that have been underway for some time now between the US and the Taliban. From Reuters:

Karzai’s government had previously been excluded from early, exploratory contacts between the Taliban and the United States, with the insurgents seen as resisting the involvement of a local administration they regard as a puppet of Washington.

But the Journal quoted Karzai on Thursday as saying the Taliban were “definitively” interested in a peace settlement to end the 10-year war in Afghanistan, and that all three sides were now involved in discussions.

“People in Afghanistan want peace, including the Taliban. They’re also people like we all are. They have families, they have relatives, they have children, they are suffering a tough time,” the Journal quoted Karzai as saying in an interview conducted on Wednesday in the Afghan capital.

“There have been contacts between the U.S. government and the Taliban, there have been contacts between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and there have been some contacts that we have made, all of us together, including the Taliban.”

Karzai also arrived in Islamabad today and entered immediately into discussions with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. From the Express Tribune:

Earlier in the day, President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani welcomed Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the President House.

In a meeting at the Prime Minister House, Gilani and Karzai discussed a range of issues, including the regional situation and bilateral ties, which have been hit by mistrust following recent cross-border attacks. The two leaders also discussed ongoing efforts for restoring peace in conflict-hit Afghanistan, such as US’ negotiations with the Taliban in which both Pakistan and Afghanistan have felt neglected by the US.

But those were the second and third paragraphs of the Express Tribune article. The first paragraph has material that is not nearly as prevalent in the US reporting on the talks among the US, the Taliban, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It turns out that Karzai has traveled to Islambad to take part in three way meetings with Pakistan and Iran. The first paragraph:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has arrived in Pakistan for a two-day visit to attend the Pakistan-Iran-Afghanistan trilateral summit in Islamabad, Express News reported on Thursday. Read more

UN Finds Cluster Munition Evidence in Libya, PressTV Runs Video of US Cluster Bombs in Afghanistan

B1 bomber dropping cluster bombs. (US Air Force photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In the At War blog on the New York Times website, it was reported yesterday that the UN has found additional evidence of the use of cluster bombs in Libya. The munitions found appear to have been used by pro-government forces:

Civilian de-miners working in Libya have found another type of cluster bomb used last year during the war that overthrew Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, according to the United Nations and Mines Advisory Group, or MAG, a nongovernment organization helping to clean up areas littered with mines and unexploded ordnance.

/snip/

About 30 of the submunitions were found, some exploded, others not, near the main road about 20 miles from the southern gate of Ajdjabiya, according to Ivica Stilin, MAG’s technical operations manager in Libya.

/snip/

Mr. Stilin said the evidence pointed to the Libyan Arab Republic Air Force’s having dropped the bomblets in March 2011. The discovery also aligned with a photo analysis made at that time by David Cencio, an Italian aviation blogger who closely followed the war. In a post on March 14, 2011, Mr. Cencio noted that a photograph made several days before by Marco Longari of Agence France-Presse-Getty appeared to show a Libyan Su-22 flying at low-elevation carrying RBK-250’s.

Only after the reader scrolls through eight paragraphs and a second photo below the headline photo do we find the notation that the US has not joined in the world ban on cluster munitions:

The use of cluster munitions has been widely banned under international convention, though several nations — including Libya, China, Russia and the United States – have not signed the convention. NATO has publicly said that neither its forces nor any of the foreign military armies that participated with the alliance in the conflict used cluster munitions.

Just one day after that post at the Times website, Iran’s PressTV has put up a new story (warning: the video is set on auto-play) today claiming to have video of US cluster bomb usage in Afghanistan. There is no date on the video and the accompanying story with the video does not explicitly state that the video is recent. Note that the image at the very beginning of the PressTV video, which is also the image shown when the video loads before being played, is the US Air Force photo found on Wikimedia Commons which I included above. Here is a part of the description from the PressTV story:

New footage has emerged showing US-led warplanes dropping cluster bombs in war-torn Afghanistan, Press TVreports.

The US-led forces have used cluster munitions since their invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. The bombings have caused huge loss of life and property damage.

Apart from the civilians who fall victim to such bombs during the raids, other people continue to be killed by bomblets that do not detonate upon impact.

/snip/

The US and Israel are the world’s top producers of cluster bombs. Washington and Tel Aviv have refused to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions which has been in force since 2010.

The Afghanistan situation regarding cluster bombs is quite intriguing. On December 3, 2008, Afghanistan surprisingly defied the lame-duck Bush administration and signed the cluster bomb treaty: Read more