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Afghanistan Affects US-Pakistan Dance, Signing Agreement With India; US Met With Haqqani Network

The never-ending twists and turns in the relationship between the US and Pakistan continues, with Afghanistan now entering the picture by signing an agreement with Pakistan’s chief rival India.  Also, it is being reported that earlier this summer, Pakistan’s ISI helped to arrange a meeting between US officials and the Haqqani network.  This is a remarkable development since the relationship between the ISI and the Haqqani network has been the central feature of the latest dispute between the US and Pakistan.

While still in New Delhi after signing the agreement with India, Afghan President Hamid Karzai realized he needed to reassure Pakistan, whose biggest fear is that India will have more influence than Pakistan in Afghanistan after the US exit:

“Pakistan is our twin brother, India is a great friend. The agreement we signed with our friend will not affect our brother,” Karzai said in a foreign policy speech in New Delhi.

“This strategic partnership … is not directed against any country … this strategic partnership is to support Afghanistan.”

The Reuters report goes on to characterize the agreement:

Karzai and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sealed an agreement on Tuesday that spanned closer political ties to fighting terrorism and allowed India to help train its police and army.

It signals a formal tightening of links that may spark Pakistani concern that India is increasingly competing for leverage in Afghanistan.

In another very remarkable development, the Wall Street Journal is reporting this morning that earlier this summer, Pakistan’s ISI arranged a meeting between the US and the Haqqani network.  That article is behind a paywall, so here is how Pakistan’s Express Tribune reports on the development:

US officials met with leaders of the Haqqani network in a meeting arranged by the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) earlier this summer, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

The meeting was held “in an effort to draw” the group into talks “on winding down the war.”

The fact that the US would meet with the Haqqani network is stunning, given the strong rhetoric the US has used in accusing the ISI of aiding the Haqqani network attack on the US embassy and ISAF headquarters.  As a result, the story of the meeting seems full of internal inconsistencies:

Officials from Pakistan and the US said the initiative did not yield much. Washington had earlier also said that the group was “beyond reconciliation.”

The report states that the US had come to terms with the fact that targeting the group was not the solution and that they would have be drawn into peace talks.

Given the current rhetoric, it is hard to accept that ” the fact that targeting the group was not the solution” is still the operative belief held by the US.  In fact, there are reports this morning of the US taking out a major leader of the Haqqani network in an airstrike near the Pakistan border in Afghanistan.  Despite the overwhelming evidence that the US position now appears to be one of attacking the Haqqani network until it is decimated, the Express Tribune article carries this quote from a US official describing the decision to meet with the Haqqani network:

We’ve got no illusions about what the Haqqanis ultimately are. The war is going to end with a deal. That’s what we’re trying to make inevitable. The more parties involved in talking, that’s probably going to make for a better deal.

It would be interesting to know whether the summer meeting, followed by the enhanced rhetoric this fall, represents evolution in the consensus of US leaders, where an attempt at negotiation was found to be fruitless or, alternatively, whether there are competing camps within US leadership who continue to hold to advocate opposite approaches favoring violent or peaceful solutions.  Only time will tell.

Cover-up Specialist Mark Martins Chosen as Gitmo Chief Prosecutor

Brigadier General Mark Martins, CEO of Cover-ups R Us.

On Sunday, Carol Rosenberg informed us that there will be a new Chief Prosecutor in charge of military commissions at Guantanamo:

The Obama administration’s handpicked choice to run prosecutions at the Guantánamo war crimes court is pledging a new era of transparency from the remote base, complete with near simultaneous transmissions of the proceedings to victims and reporters on U.S. soil.

Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins made the disclosure in a profile published Sunday in the Weekly Standard that likened the West Point, Oxford and Harvard Law graduate to a James Bond-style problem solver. It also cast Martins as “The Rebrander” of the at-times denounced military commissions system, which Barack Obama scorned as a candidate and senator then reformed with Congress as president.

Despite the Weekly Standard’s fawning profile of Martins as some sort of savior to the system who will lend an air of legitimacy to the military commissions, Martins is in reality a hack who is dragged out periodically by the Pentagon to cover up its worst abuses. Martins was chosen by Obama to head the committee that attempted to re-brand indefinite detention as legal, has served as Commander and Deputy Commander of JTF 435, the notorious JSOC group charged with running detention programs in Afghanistan, has served as legal adviser to David Petraeus, and, in the most outrageously named position of all, now commands “the newly established Rule of Law Field Force-Afghanistan”.

Here is how Martins’ recent positions are spun in his official biography from which I took the quote on his current position:

Brigadier General Martins assumed command of the newly established Rule of Law Field Force-Afghanistan on 1 September 2010. During the previous year, he served as the first Commander of Joint Task Force 435 and then as its first Deputy Commander upon Senate Confirmation of Vice Admiral Robert Harward. In these roles, Brigadier General Martins led the effort to reform United States detention operations in Afghanistan. Immediately prior to his deployment to Afghanistan, Brigadier General Martins co-led the interagency Detention Policy Task Force created by the President in January 2009.

Martins’ career, then, consists of using his “West Point, Oxford and Harvard Law” degrees to cover up the blatantly illegal indefinite detention policy of the US, along with justifying torture and improper arrest of civilians in night raids in Afghanistan.

Back in April of 2010, I described how Martins had been chosen first to review detention policy and then to go to Afghanistan to implement the “new” policy he had designed. Here is how that description ended:

I fail to see how the process described above is any kind of improvement in achieving release of prisoners who have been improperly detained. This description of the process also serves to expose as a sham the entire Special Task Force’s charge of improving how the US handles prisoners. And right in the middle of this mess is Obama’s hand-picked (through Gates) architect of the process, who now is dutifully overseeing its implementation.

There is no getting around the fact that it would have been known that Martins would come up with a program designed to continue the efforts to cover up the imprisonment of innocent citizens. As I noted above, his previous assignments overlap with previous significant cover-ups. Also, as just one more example, Martins wrote an article (pdf) in 2004 that lovingly described the legal justification for the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP) in Iraq. This program was in reality so loosely set up that it has been the subject of significant attention for misuse of funds.

So while there is perhaps an improvement of conditions for reporters such as Rosenberg who will be covering the proceedings of the military commissions with the advent of near real-time broadcasts of the hearings, don’t expect any sudden changes in favor of the rule of law. Mark Martins has built his career around covering up the worst of Pentagon abuses and he now is in charge of covering up what can be considered its most prominent legal quagmire. Martins was chosen for this position precisely because the Pentagon knows it can count of him to promote the status quo while lending a false air of legitimacy.

Relentless Expansion of the Great War on Terror Despite Achieving Primary Goal

Predator drone (US Air Force photo)

It is widely acknowledged that with the death of Osama bin Laden and a number of other high level leaders, al Qaeda is severely crippled in its one-time haven of Pakistan.  Rather than acknowledging this victory in the primary objective of Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Afghanistan (passed on September 18, 2001 in response to the 9/11 attacks) and beginning to phase out the War on Terror, the US instead is finding a new target in Pakistan and building bases from which to launch even more drone attacks in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, moves which amount to a significant expansion of the war effort.

In Pakistan, the Washington Post reports that the US is applying extreme pressure on Pakistan to dissolve the relationship between the ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence service) and the Haqqani network:

The Obama administration has sharply warned Pakistan that it must cut ties with a leading Taliban group based in the tribal region along the Afghan border and help eliminate its leaders, according to officials from both countries.

In what amounts to an ultimatum, administration officials have indicated that the United States will act unilaterally if Pakistan does not comply.

This threat of unilateral action is unlikely to be seen as mere bluster since the hit on bin Laden was unilateral.

It turns out that the Haqqani network is yet another example of a group the US helped to form only to become one of its targets:

The organization was formed by Jalaluddin Haqqani as one of the resistance groups fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, with U.S. and Pakistani assistance. In the Afghan civil war that followed, Haqqani sided with the Taliban forces that took power in Kabul in 1996. His fighters fled after the Taliban overthrow in late 2001 to Pakistan, where U.S. intelligence officials think they are in close coordination with al-Qaeda forces.

Pakistani intelligence maintained close connections to the network, now operationally led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the founder’s son, as a hedge against the future in Afghanistan.

The Post article goes on to speculate that the Haqqani network’s attack on the US embassy in Kabul last week may have been final act to drive such strong language coming from Washington.

As if the declaration of a new enemy in Pakistan worthy of unilateral US action were not enough in the escalation of US war efforts, we also learn from the Washington Post that a new network of bases for drones is being built:

The Obama administration is assembling a constellation of secret drone bases for counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as part of a newly aggressive campaign to attack al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen, U.S. officials said.

One of the installations is being established in Ethi­o­pia, a U.S. ally in the fight against al-Shabab, the Somali militant group that controls much of that country. Another base is in the Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, where a small fleet of “hunter-killer” drones resumed operations this month after an experimental mission demonstrated that the unmanned aircraft could effectively patrol Somalia from there.

The U.S. military also has flown drones over Somalia and Yemen from bases in Djibouti, a tiny African nation at the junction of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. In addition, the CIA is building a secret airstrip in the Arabian Peninsula so it can deploy armed drones over Yemen.

Recall that just last week, the Obama administration was depicted as being in an internal debate on the legality of expanding the drone war outside of Pakistan to these very areas where the bases are being built.  Considering that the bases are now already under construction, last week’s “debate” story would appear to have been nothing more than a mere academic exercise whose outcome had already been determined.

Only a fool would bet against Washington choosing more war in more locations.

Despite Accuracy Improvement, Huge Increase in Afghan Night Raids Detains More Innocent Civilians

US soldiers on night raid Nov. 22, 2010. (US Army photo)

In Friday’s post, I noted in passing the recent revelation that only about 50% of night raids had accurate targeting.  A new report (pdf) released today by the Open Society Foundations and The Liaison Office informs us that targeting for night raids in Afghanistan is now about 80% accurate, but because the rate of raids has increased more than five-fold, the number of innocent civilians detained in the night raids continues to go up.  As one might expect, the backlash from these improper detentions is significant and likely contributes to the increased rate of insurgent attacks.

The press release announcing the report provides a broad picture of the findings:

Ten years after the invasion of Afghanistan, security is at its worst level since the fall of the Taliban. U.S. and NATO forces argue that night raids are their best tool against insurgents, but a new report by the Open Society Foundations and The Liaison Office finds that the cost of the raids outweighs the benefits.

/snip/

An estimated 12 to 20 night raids now occur per night, resulting in thousands of detentions per year, many of whom are non-combatants. Mass detention operations, holding entire villages for questioning on site for prolonged periods of time, may violate international prohibitions against indiscriminate detention, the report found.

Civilians feel caught between the warring parties, and often blame international forces. As one man from Nangarhar, interviewed in the report said, “They claim to be against terrorists, but what they are doing is terrorism. It spreads terror. It creates more violence.” Weak accountability mechanisms where civilian casualties and mistaken detention occur and a failure to explore alternatives to night raids further increase anger over the raids. Read more

Will a Role in Afghan Peace Negotiations Trump Indefinite Detention?

The Telegraph reports that a High Peace Council convened by Hamid Karzai may request that some Gitmo detainees be freed so they can participate in peace talks. (h/t Carol Rosenberg)

Taliban prisoners would be freed from Guantánamo Bay to potentially join peace negotiations under a proposal from the Afghan council appointed to find a settlement to the insurgency.

[snip]

The 68-strong High Peace Council was inaugurated by Hamid Karzai last month to pursue a twin-track strategy of reaching out to Taliban leaders while coaxing foot soldiers from the fight.

Mullah Rahmani, an education minister in the Taliban regime, heads a group of former Taliban on the council and chairs a subcommittee on political prisoners.

[snip]Mullah Rahmani said he wanted influential prisoners freed from American and Pakistani custody as a confidence-building gesture and potentially to join talks.

[snip]

He said: “We could use these people in negotiation. They have good contacts and are trusted by the Taliban.” Khairullah Khairkhwa, Taliban governor of Herat province until 2001, and Mullah Mohammad Fazl, deputy chief of staff in the Taliban army, were among those who should be freed from Guantánamo he said.

Khairkhwa is “a hardliner in terms of Taliban philosophy”, with “close ties to Osama bin Laden” according to his Guantánamo case file. Fazl was second-in-command of the Taliban’s army at the time of the United States’ invasion.

As these peace talks have developed, I’ve been suspecting something like this would happen. In particular, I’m curious whether this request would need to — and would — trump the US government’s decision that Khairkhwa and Fazl needed to be indefinitely detained.

I asked Rosenberg whether she knew if Khairkhwa was among the 40-some detainees slotted for indefinite detention, and she responded that she did not recall his name submitted for trial.

I asked that question because the Gitmo Task Force Report (pdf) had included top Taliban leaders among those who had been picked for indefinite detention.

In contrast to the majority of detainees held at Guantanamo, many of the detainees approved for detention held a leadership or other specialized role within al-Qaida, the Taliban, or associated forces.

[snip]

Others were Taliban military commanders or senior officials, or played significant roles in insurgent groups in Afghanistan allied with the Taliban, such as Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin.

Khairkhwa and Fazl would certainly qualify as “military commanders or senior officials.”

Now, if Khairkhwa and Fazl are senior enough members of the Taliban and legitimate and necessary peace partners, doesn’t that suggest they were not illegal combatants, but rather legitimate political leaders? And doesn’t that mean they should have been treated as POWs from the start?

We Spend $1 Billion/Year Fighting Each al Qaeda Member in Afghanistan

Think Progress does the math on Panetta’s admission that there are just 100 al Qaeda members in Afghanistan, and discovers we’ve got 1,000 American troops in Afghanistan for each al Qaeda member.

The U.S. has committed nearly 100,000 troops to the mission in Afghanistan. ABC This Week host Jake Tapper asked CIA Director Leon Panetta how big is the al Qaeda threat that the soldiers are combating:

TAPPER: How many Al Qaeda, do you think, are in Afghanistan?

PANETTA: I think the estimate on the number of Al Qaeda is actually relatively small. I think at most, we’re looking at 50 to 100, maybe less. It’s in that vicinity. There’s no question that the main location of Al Qaeda is in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

The 100,000 U.S. forces that have been tasked to dismantle the 100 or so al Qaeda members — a ratio of 1000:1 — is complicated by the fact that we are also engaged in operations going after the Taliban leadership.

Now let me add to their math. Even Afghan war fans admit that it costs $1 million a year–on top of things like salary–to support a US service member in Afghanistan.

Michael O’Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution, says one useful way to break down these huge numbers is to look at how much it costs to send just one soldier to war.

“We are at a point where it’s unbelievably costing us close to a million dollars, in additional costs — above and beyond salaries and the equipment that’s already in the inventory — per soldier or Marine per year,” he says.

Fighting in Afghanistan means fighting in one of the most remote regions on Earth, and that plays a large role in the seemingly astronomical figure.

Dov Zakheim, a former chief financial officer for the Defense Department, says the $1 million price tag includes getting the soldier to Afghanistan, getting his equipment to Afghanistan, and moving the soldier around once in the country.

So 1,000 US troops per al Qaeda member, at a cost of $1 million each. That’s $1 billion a year we spend for each al Qaeda member to fight our war in Afghanistan.

This sort of adds a new twist to that old Einstein quip about the definition of insanity being doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Because we’re doing the same thing over and over again–at a cost of $1 billion a year per nominal opponent–and expecting anything other than bankruptcy.

Has Aafia Siddiqui’s Daughter Surfaced?

Aafia Siddiqui has been at the center of one of the many mysteries flowing from the Bush and Obama administrations’ conduct of  intelligence operations. A Pakistani native and former MIT scientist, background on Siddiqui can be found several places, including a Seminal diary by ondelette here.

The stories of Siddiqui’s disappearance and  her recent trial in the US are too convoluted to easily summarize.  For purposes of the story now emerging — the possible appearance of Siddiqui’s daughter — the bare bones are that, after returning to Pakistan from the US, Aafia Siddiqui was named by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in his US-run torture interrogations.  Shortly thereafter, in March, 2003, Siddiqui disappeared. Her three children —  oldest son Ahmed, 4-year-old Maryam and her infant son, Suleman — disappeared with her.

After seven years, Siddiqui suddenly reappeared in Afghanistan, where the US alleged she was involved in the attempted shooting of an American soldier as she was being detained for interrogation. When Aafia was  apprehended in Afghanistan, a boy was with her. The US handed off the boy to Afghan intelligence while they shipped Siddiqui to the US for trial.

Pakistan became involved diplomatically over the child and demanded his return. He was handed over to Siddiqui’s family in Pakistan, but her other children have remained missing. There has been controversy in Pakistan over the status of the boy and whether he truly was Siddiqui’s son or not.

Last weekend a girl approximately 12 years old, who spoke only English and Persian and claimed her name was  “Fatima,” was dropped off in front of the home of Siddiqui’s sister.  Some stories indicate an American named “John” may have been with her. Dawn reported a senior policeman described that the girl was:

… wearing a collar “bearing the address of the house in case she wandered off”.

That was last week.

This week, April 11 marks the start of a visit by Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, to the Read more

Operation “The Surge Is a Success–Bury the Afghanistan NIE”

John McCain has a narrow road to the Presidency. He has to bank on his claimed greater qualifications to be Commander-in-Chief to attract the votes of those who still believe the Global War on Terrorists and the Nations We Occupy (GWOTANWO) is our biggest concern. To win his Commander-in-Chief argument, McCain has to downplay the fact that Obama’s gradual withdrawal from Iraq is in fact the plan Maliki supports (and McCain has to hope Bush remains successful in shutting Maliki up about it), emphasize the spin that Obama has said the surge was a success, and hope no one remembers that McCain was a big hawk on the Iraq war back when we could have avoided it.

Oh, and he has to hope no one talks about how the McCain-Bush Iraq myopia led to the utter neglect of Afghanistan, thereby letting the terrorists regain a foothold in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

And to that end, the Bush Administration will not tell us what its NIE on Afghanistan says.

Officials say a draft of the classified NIE, representing the key judgments of the US intelligence community’s 17 agencies and departments, is being circulated in Washington and a final "coordination meeting" of the agencies involved, under the direction of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is scheduled in the next few weeks.

According to people who have been briefed, the NIE will paint a "grim" picture of the situation in Afghanistan, seven years after the US invaded in an effort to dismantle the al Qaeda network and its Taliban protectors.

After all, the only way the Iraq surge can look even remotely successful is if we remain ignorant of the opportunity costs we paid to execute it.

Entangling Alliances

When I read Peter Baker’s description of Bush bailing on a NATO meeting early, I guessed that his stated reason for Bush’s departure–he was bored–was wrong. After all, Baker notes that Bush was only the third NATO leader to leave the meeting.

Bush was not the first leader to leave while the conversation dragged on. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper were seen leaving before Bush did.

Two leaders with whom Bush should get along splendidly (well, except for the whole tradition of DeGaulle in France), Sarkozy and Harper, bailing before he did. I suspected then that our NATO allies were fed up with the US and close affiliates blaming the French, especially, but also the Canadians and Germans, for not providing enough troops in Afghanistan. After all, I can imagine the Canadians and French thinking, if the US had just heeded allies’ warnings about the Iraq War–or even simply abided by international law–the US would have plenty of troops to contribute to the Afghan cause. Why should NATO allies have to pay because the US has degraded its own military so badly?

So I was not surprised to hear Bob Gates announce the US is going to raise our troop levels in Afghanistan (on President Obama’s or President Clinton’s watch, mind you).

The United States intends to send many more combat forces to Afghanistan next year, regardless of whether troop levels in Iraq are cut further this year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday.

It is the first time the Bush administration has made such a commitment for 2009.

[snip]

Gates said he advised Bush to make the pledge to allied leaders in Bucharest even though the movement of the unspecified additional troops would ultimately be a decision for the next president, who will take office in January.

And, just as surely, TP reports that our NATO allies were no more interested in helping Bush out with his plans to allow Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance.

Even though Bush was putting “his personal prestige on the line” in supporting membership for the former Soviet Republics, he was forced to check his legacy at the door. NATO rebuffed, a “remarkable rejection of American policy in an alliance normally dominated by Washington.” Read more

The Taliban and the Towers

Barnett Rubin offers an explanation for something we’ve been pondering for some time: why has the Taliban been blowing up cell phone towers in Afghanistan?

Setting up a cell phone tower anywhere in Afghanistan requires the consent of whoever "controls" the territory, or at least has the power to blow up the cell phone tower.

I have not yet been able to conduct a systematic survey of where the four mobile phone companies in Afghanistan (Afghan Wireless, Roshan, Etisalaat, and Areeba) pay the Taliban or other powerholders taxes/extortion/bribes to protect their phone towers, but one friend in the business says that the companies have to pay the Taliban in most of southern Afghanistan, right up to Kabul province.

[snip]

I have been told that Taliban (or people claiming to represent them) sometimes call up mobile phone companies and claim that they are right at a tower with explosives, which they will detonate unless money is immediately transferred to their mobile phone. This is a new technology that enables migrant workers to send cash home without going through either a hawala or Western Union.

Read more