Follow Every Bear Market Economics blog post on Facebook here

This site may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in an effort to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. we believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to:http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

FAIR USE NOTICE FAIR USE NOTICE: This page may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This website distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for scientific, research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107.

Read more at: http://www.etupdates.com/fair-use-notice/#.UpzWQRL3l5M | ET. Updates
FAIR USE NOTICE FAIR USE NOTICE: This page may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This website distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for scientific, research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107.

Read more at: http://www.etupdates.com/fair-use-notice/#.UpzWQRL3l5M | ET. Updates

All Blogs licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Third World War: Why NATO Troops Can't Deliver Peace in Afghanistan


The Third World War

Why NATO Troops Can't Deliver Peace in Afghanistan

By Ullrich Fichtner

Forty nations are embroiled in an unwinnable war in Afghanistan. Anyone who travels through the country with Western troops soon realizes that NATO forces would have to be increased tenfold for peace to be even a remote possibility.

Thirteen days before the next attempt on his life, Afghan President Hamid Karzai arrives at a cabinet meeting, surrounded by a swarm of bodyguards. He holds his shirt collar shut against the rainy cold in Kabul. It's a Monday in mid-April -- and while there may be some good news this morning, most of it is bad. The Canadians want Karzai to dismiss the governor of Kandahar, the United Nations contingent is missing 50,000 tons of food and the Kazakh ambassador is promising money for a hospital in Bamyan. A suicide bomber has blown himself up in Helmand, the Norwegian defense minister is visiting Kabul and the opium harvest has begun in southern Afghanistan. A cabinet meeting is about to begin in the presidential palace.

Karzai is the last to arrive, long after his ministers have gathered at the palace. Visitors must pass through four security checkpoints, walk through metal detectors three times and turn over their bags to be sniffed by dogs. It takes an hour to reach the innermost courtyard, where Karzai's palace -- the cheerful villa Gul Khana, set in a garden planted with cedar trees -- is located. When the president enters the room at 9 a.m., everyone sitting around the long conference table stands up, 28 men and one woman. This is the group that governs Afghanistan -- officially, at least.

To begin the meeting, an imam chants lengthy suras from the Koran. Then Karzai listens to a report from his defense minister, who has just returned from a trip to India. The president's demeanor is that of a royal leader. Instead of asking many questions, he simply gives orders. He is not wearing his trademark felt cap and brightly colored coat. Instead, he chairs the meeting in his shirtsleeves, and the demands he imposes on the cabinet are impossible. He wants the ministers to take immediate action against high food prices, he orders the transportation minister to finally bring security to the highway between Kabul and Kandahar, and he says: "It's raining in the north; at least that's good news."

At 10:15, a secretary wearing a pinstriped suit enters the room quietly, sidles along the table and hands the president a piece of paper. Karzai reads the note and nods. The aide leaves the room and returns with a telephone.

Karzai picks up the receiver, and when he speaks everyone in the room can hear him. "What? Pakistani troops have crossed the border? Where exactly? They're shooting with rockets? There is fighting?" The news descends on Karzai's mood like a hammer. He hangs up the phone, wipes his hand across his bald head and says: "I handed the students at the university their diplomas yesterday. That was a very good day."

Good days are in short supply in Afghanistan, a country at war -- or involved in several wars, to be exact. There is constant fighting on many fronts, hard and soft. The newspapers, and there are many of them in Kabul now, serve up pages of chaotic images every day. Their reports are about bombs and drinking water, holy warriors and wheat prices, NATO air attacks and schoolbooks, kidnapped children, refugees and bandits.

Almost seven years have passed since the overthrow of the Taliban regime, and in those seven years half of the world has tried to bring a better future and, most of all, peace to this new country, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. As part of the NATO military operation known as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), 40 nations have 60,000 soldiers deployed in the country. There are 26 United Nations organizations in Afghanistan, and hundreds of private and government agencies are pumping money, materials and know-how into the country's 34 provinces. But anyone seeking success stories or asking about failures will encounter reports that do not seem to be coming from the same country.

According to the speeches and statements Western military officials, diplomats and politicians are constantly churning out, the security situation has improved substantially, the military successes are obvious and the Taliban are as good as defeated. But peace and Afghanistan, say the Afghanis when speaking to a domestic audience, are still two incompatible words.

Last year, 1,469 bombs exploded along Afghan roads, a number almost five times as high as in 2004. There were 8,950 armed attacks on troops and civilian support personnel, 10 times more than only three years earlier. One hundred and thirty suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2007. There were three suicide bombings in 2004.

There is no peace anywhere in Afghanistan, not even in the north , which officials repeatedly insist has been pacified. Anyone who travels the country -- making the obligatory rounds to its ministries, speaking with Western ambassadors, UN directors, ISAF commanders and provincial governors, and meeting with women's rights activists, narcotics officers and police chiefs -- is bound to return with many dark questions and an ominous feeling that this mission is not a task to be measured in years, but in decades, many decades.

A dramatic chapter in world history is being written in the process, in this country dominated by the Hindu Kush mountains and the formidable Sefid Kuh range, and the endless deserts of Kandahar and Helmand. The United States and Europe have stumbled their way into a new type of international war, one in which all of today's global and regional powers are involved. What will happen to NATO if it fails in the first out-of-area mission in its history? And where will the UN be if this ambitious nation-building project is ultimately a disappointment?

The country is in the grip of global interest-driven politics. It is, as so often in its history, a pawn on a chessboard surrounded by many more than two players. If the concerted efforts of the Western community are not delivering results as quickly as expected, this can be attributed partly to the fact that the efforts of one half of the world are constantly being thwarted by those of the other half.

While NATO tries to disarm the population, the flow of bazookas and guns coming into the country from Pakistan remains unabated. The Iranian government is accused of promoting the trade in Afghan opium and heroin to inflict harm on the West. Meanwhile, Russia is blamed for using its Soviet-era influence to weaken NATO, its old rival, on Afghan soil.

China, Afghanistan's easternmost neighbor, hopes to exploit untapped mineral sources in the nearby mountains. Dubai, the Liechtenstein of the Middle East, offers a place to launder and park dirty money. It is as if a first, crude world war of the 21st century were taking place on Afghan soil, a war that remains unacknowledged and undeclared.

"What We're Fighting For"

"Look at this," says ISAF Commander Dan McNeill, wearing sunglasses as he stands next to a Canadian C-130 transport plane about to take off from Kabul's military airport. "Look, take a picture of this. This here is what we're fighting for."

The general cuts through the delegation he is accompanying to Helmand in the south. He pushes aside Zalmai Rassoul, President Karzai's national security advisor, brushing past deputy interior ministers and even General Karimi, the chief of operations for the Afghan national army. On this hazy day, McNeill finally reaches the lone woman standing at the back of the group, an Afghan woman, wearing makeup and no veil.

McNeill presents her like a trophy, and says: "Here, this is it." The woman, a government employee who looks to be about 40, smiles shyly and gives the impression of wanting to be somewhere else. The four-star general, wearing his combat uniform, poses for a photograph with the woman. McNeill, in his last few days as ISAF commander and accustomed to giving orders, says: "Write about this. This is why we're here."

The flight to Helmand passes along mountain chains south of Kabul. Within about an hour, the plane lands at Camp Bastion, little more than a dusty airstrip in a vast, empty desert. The delegation from Kabul has to transfer to a helicopter to reach Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province. There they will meet with the new governor, Gulab Mangal, who has invited them to attend a grand shura, or council of elders, leaders and religious figures.

The travelers board two Sea Knight helicopters, which take them on a high-speed, low-altitude flight westward across a sea of opium poppy fields.

At the landing site, a soccer field, the guests board armored personnel carriers in groups of three and don bulletproof vests. Eventually the long convoy embarks on what amounts to a very short journey. The destination, the governor's official residence, is less than 300 meters from the soccer field, past Afghan soldiers who line the street, saluting the visiting dignitaries. Leading up to the Helmand trip, McNeill had been brimming with success stories and rosy analyses. He said: "All neighboring countries are interested in regional stability." And he said that not a single child could attend school before the ISAF operation began, and that there are now 6 million schoolchildren in the country. Of course, the general added, there are still "volatile areas" along the border with Pakistan. But the security situation, he insisted, had "improved significantly."

He said the terrorists are, by and large, little more than a fractured bunch, no longer capable of launching substantial attacks. Those were the words of Dan McNeill, the words he used in his messages intended for a Western audience, the words he used in his standard speech, written for chancellors and prime ministers. But little of what the general said jibes with the reports he is now getting during his visit to Helmand.

Part 2: Bomb Attacks, Roadside Bandits and Kidnappers

In an office behind closed doors, filled with furniture upholstered in a floral motif, the governor reports that half of the districts in his province are out of control. Alliances formed by the Taliban and drug barons, he says, rule the villages, and none of the highways are safe against bomb attacks, roadside bandits and kidnappers. According to Mangal, Pakistan has a finger in every pie here, driving the teachers from the schools (the ones that haven't been burned to the ground yet), and forcing farmers to plant opium poppies.

The delegates from Kabul listen and drink their tea. They are listening to familiar words, the words of reports meant for the Afghan and not the Western public, words that are brutally realistic and unadorned.

McNeill promises the governor that he is now able to send an additional 3,200 US Marines to Helmand, and that the British have also maximized their troop levels in the province. Things are moving forward, the general insists, and things will continue to move forward. Karzai's people promise money and show good faith.

The guests nibble on nuts and raisins, and after two hours the conversation begins to subside. "If you want people to produce melons instead of heroin, you have to give them a market for melons," says a man in the governor's group. No one even attempts to respond to his sentence. Food is brought in: soup, salad, flatbread and kebabs on long skewers. The armored personnel carriers are waiting outside. It's time for the guests to return to Kabul.

Three Million People Whose Livelihoods Depend on Opium

Since the fall of the Taliban regime almost seven years ago, the country's opium harvest has been more abundant in almost each successive year. Last year, 93 percent of the heroin traded in the world came from Afghanistan. In 2007, opium poppies were grown on 193,000 hectares (476,900 acres), a 17-percent increase over the previous year. Meanwhile, ISAF looks on without taking any action. But its inaction is a precautionary measure.

For fear of triggering hostility against foreign troops among the local population, the powers that be agreed early on that the Afghans would have sole responsibility for waging the drug war, with no NATO involvement whatsoever. To demonstrate their supposed commitment, the police and Afghan army occasionally stage symbolic drug burnings, and sometimes they even wade into the fields to decapitate a few plants. The operation, dubbed "eradication," is one of the most dangerous in this war.

The narcotics agents routinely face enemy fire. The drug mafia's militias, the Taliban and al-Qaida, launch perfectly planned counterattacks, almost as if someone had faxed them the government forces' plans in advance. Drugs and corruption go hand-in-hand in Afghanistan, where a policeman can count himself lucky if he earns €200 to €300 ($315 to $470) a month. When the harvest begins, even army officers shed their uniforms to work in the fields as pickers. Teachers moonlight as smugglers, mayors operate heroin laboratories and provincial governors have been stopped with 150 kilograms (331 pounds) of pure heroin in the trunks of their cars.

"We assume that 500,000 families have their fingers in the pie," says General Mohammed Daoud, once a young commander under the legendary mujahedeen leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. Today Daoud is the deputy interior minister in charge of running Kabul's anti-drug operation. "And if you consider that an Afghan family has at least six members," says Daoud, "you have 3 million people in our country whose livelihood depends on opium production." This contingent, one-tenth of the country's total population of 30 million, is much larger than any army in Afghanistan.

Daoud has 2,500 men under his command to wage his battle against the opium industry. Last year, his department arrested 820 smugglers, nabbed 20 corrupt army officers, destroyed 63 heroin laboratories and removed tons of heroin from the market.

But when Daoud's people capture a few criminals, the arrests are nothing but symbolic. Afghanistan has never developed anything approaching an effective judicial system. There are no mechanisms in place to enforce sentences, and there are few lawyers and judges. Although the country supposedly has 1,500 prosecutors, only half of them have studied law. "We have certainly arrested people and sentenced them to 19 years in prison," says Daoud, "but all of them were released by the next day."

It is still 10 days before the next attempt on the life of Hamid Karzai. It is near the end of April, and there is good news and a lot of bad news. In Zabul and Ghazni, dozens of Taliban fighters are killed in battles with government troops, while Afghanistan's women's network expresses its concern over the growing number of children being forced into marriages. In Nimruz, a suicide bomber blows himself up in front of a mosque, killing 23 people. Germany promises additional millions of euros for police training. And in the Maiwand district of Kandahar Province, soldiers in the B Company of the Third Battalion of the British Parachute Regiment are preparing for a patrol.

The unit has received warnings that the enemy has planted remotely detonated bombs northeast of Hutal, in planning quadrant 9951. Hutal is a small district capital with about 7,000 residents living in mud huts, with no electricity or running water. The town has a bazaar along the main street, a school, a veterinarian and, in the north, an old fort that the British once tried to capture, albeit unsuccessfully, in the 19th century.

'We Know They're Out There Somewhere'

They arrived here in late March, the first Western troops to set foot in the area. The Canadians, who are in fact responsible for Kandahar, lacked the manpower to deploy troops to all of the districts in the province. When the British arrived, they expected to encounter resistance. They brought in 500 soldiers, vehicles and equipment, and on March 26 they stood, in the gaping desert north of Hutal, and proceeded to march westward into operations zones identified on their maps with names like "Birmingham," "Camberley" and "Thailand." But nothing happened.

They drove and marched for four days, hoping to flush out the enemy, but all they found were generators in "Burma," which they seized, and an enemy radio station in "Malaysia." But the fighters themselves, from the Taliban and other groups, were nowhere to be found. They turned to Hutal, where they wanted to establish a base, and were assigned three dilapidated concrete police buildings. It is a drafty, sandy outpost, where the men haven't shaved in five weeks and have had little opportunity to shower or even wash themselves, and where they spend much of their time lounging around, drinking instant tea from plastic bottles.

"They're hiding," says Major Stuart McDonald, a 35-year-old company commander with a Jesus-like face. At home, his daughter celebrated her third birthday three days ago, "which breaks my heart." He and his officers are standing on a makeshift veranda surrounded with sandbags, planning a patrol toward the northeast, where there could be bombs, and where they hope that they finally will be able to flush out the enemy.

"We know that they're out there somewhere," says McDonald. "They are observing us, but they're hiding. It's pathetic." His unit, known in Great Britain simply as "3 Para," is part of an elite force within the British Army.

At the beginning of the week, his men opened fire on a teenager on a moped who, with his brother sitting on the back, was foolishly driving in their direction. They could only conclude that he was a suicide bomber, because he ignored all gestures and all warnings, and simply continued driving toward them. The company doctor later tended to his wounds, and now the boy is up and walking in his village again, but the mood has deteriorated since then. The locals say that the foreign troops are shooting at their children.

The company's 6th Platoon, a group of 30 to 35 men, heads out on patrol, leaving the camp in loose formation, their guns at the ready, and turns toward the northeast. Since the moped shooting incident, the locals know that it's better to stop whenever they see soldiers. Now life comes to a sudden standstill as soon as the British appear. Cars stop and pedestrians freeze. Only on the highway do trucks and buses continue traveling. The buses are carrying migrant workers from around the country who have come to work in the opium harvest. There are hundreds of buses, traveling around the clock, many with German writing on the sides: "Prima Tours Günther" or "Alpina Express."

The soldiers cross a wide, dry riverbed where there are freshly dug graves marked by flags of mourning and the green color of the prophet. The air is hot and heavy with the stench of decay. Children, women and the elderly gather in front of dwellings along the route, standing still and staring at the soldiers. The foreigners occasionally toss pieces of chewing gum or chocolate to the children. Every child here knows one English sentence by heart: "Mister, give me one dollar."

The soldiers have soon reached the desert, a landscape of sand and stone stretching to the horizon, which is part of enemy territory near the road and may be mined. They are in planning quadrant 9951. The paratroopers stop to rest. It is hot and each of them is carrying 60 pounds of equipment. They kneel in the sand and drink from their canteens. Then they continue marching, without making enemy contact, in a wide arc back to the camp.

The Taliban and their allies have learned that man-to-man combat with NATO troops isn't worthwhile. Anyone who attacks a US platoon or a British unit directly will likely face the devastating firepower of Apache helicopters within minutes. This realization has led to the development of a ghostly indirect war, a war by remote control, conducted with booby traps, land mines, home-made explosives and cars turned into bombs. It is a lopsided contest.

The Western troops, most of them still trained to conduct land-based wars the way warfare was waged at the beginning of the 20th century, are faced with an adversary that carries guerilla tactics to the extreme. The Taliban, whoever they are, are not bound by any NATO doctrine, and certainly not by the Geneva Convention. According to their logic, the mass murder of civilians can be counted as a victory. Blowing up the guests at a wedding can provide strategic advantages, while television images of dead children become a dirty bomb in the battle for public opinion.

Part 3: ISAF Flags Provide Illusion of Success

In the evening, the British play volleyball in their camp. The pitch is delineated with pieces of rope on the ground, while a burning pile of garbage smolders in an adjacent hole in the ground. One in four soldiers suffers from chronic diarrhea, and all of them have sunburns. Major McDonald is pleased, he says, "that this vacation here will soon be over."

The paratroopers are getting ready to move on to Helmand, where they will join up with US Marines. A Portuguese company will replace them at the Hutal camp. Two of the Portuguese commanding officers visited the camp at noon. Since then, Major McDonald's mood has worsened significantly.

The Portuguese were not satisfied with the condition of the camp. They asked their British counterparts whether it would be possible to set up an Internet café prior to their arrival. They also wanted an ice machine and an ATM. "An Internet café," says McDonald, "and an ice machine, now that's impressive."

The next attempt on the life of Hamid Karzai is still nine days away. April days are hot in Kandahar, as the Portuguese move into the camp at Hutal. An advance guard arrives in the early morning hours in Humvees with the Portuguese flag fluttering from the antennas, looking like victors entering captured enemy territory.

The Portuguese soldiers pose in front of their vehicles in groups, taking pictures to send home and behaving as if they were on vacation. McDonald, the British major, stands there, looking disgusted. He hands over command of the camp to his successor, the Portuguese commander Antonio Cancelinha. When the two men shake hands, they look as if they hoped to never cross paths again.

Graphic: Mission Impossible?

Graphic: Mission Impossible?

Anyone standing in front of a map of Afghanistan, with shading delineating the five ISAF regional commands, must conclude that the country is under control. Colorful little flags identify the NATO troops' presence throughout the country, with Germany's colors flying in the northeast, Italy's in the far west, the Stars and Stripes covering the east, and the Union Jack and Canada's Maple Leaf blanketing the south. Interspersed among these flags are those of the Turks, the Dutch, the Lithuanians, Australians, Swedes and Spaniards. But the flags are an illusion.

ISAF Commander McNeill has said himself that according to the current counterterrorism doctrine, it would take 400,000 troops to pacify Afghanistan in the long term. But the reality is that he has only 47,000 soldiers under his command, together with another 18,000 troops fighting at their sides as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, and possibly another 75,000 reasonably well-trained soldiers in the Afghan army by the end of the year. All told, there is still a shortfall of 260,000 men.

Large, intricately subdivided tables hang on the wall at ISAF headquarters in Kabul. The charts indicate which troops, from which country, can be used for which operations -- or, conversely, are barred from engaging in certain operations. Very few units can be used for everything, including combat missions. In conversation, General McNeill says that NATO is running "on reserve" in Afghanistan. Otherwise, he says, cooperation is "generally quite good."

Good News and a Lot of Bad News

Seven days still remain before the next attempt on Hamid Karzai's life, and on this day the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) are launching a vaccination campaign in Kabul. In only three days, their goal is to vaccinate 7 million Afghan children against polio. There is good news and a lot of bad news.

In Pakistan, the army has begun razing the 30-year-old Jalozai refugee camp, which had provided shelter for 80,000 Afghans, who will now be forced to return home, joining a flood of millions of other refugees. In Kandahar, five policemen are killed by an improvised mine. In Paktiam, the Taliban have kidnapped two trucks loaded with military equipment, and in Khost the teachers at 15 schools are on strike because they haven't been paid in months. A petite woman named Habiba Sarabi is sitting in the tearoom at the Serena Hotel in Kabul.

She is the governor of Bamyan Province, the country's only female governor. Her region is one of the poorest in a poorhouse of a country. The topography is too mountainous for ordinary farming, the weather is too cold for decent harvests, in the winter the region is often cut off from the outside world for four months at a time, and even in the summer it is relatively inaccessible.

In some parts of Bamyan, 99 percent of residents can neither read nor write. A man is considered wealthy if he owns a mule, and anyone who falls seriously ill is given up for lost. This is the life that 90,000 people lead.

The Italians have promised to build a new road to Kabul, crossing the Hajigag Pass into Wardak Province, but no one has even broken ground yet. Habiba Sarabi says: "We need the wisdom to take advantage of this opportunity, or else we will fail once again, and this time it will be permanent."

That opportunity, she says, is the world's current interest in Afghanistan, an interest that Sarabi is convinced will not last. People are weary, she says, and even former members of the Taliban have laid down their weapons. "There is a development taking place, but it began 'at zero,'" says Sarabi.

A native of Mazar-i-Sharif, she an ethnic Hazara and she's a good woman who knows how to give straightforward answers to simple questions, and who doesn't sugarcoat anything. After studying medicine in Kabul and India, she fled from the Taliban regime in 1996, taking her family with her to Peshawar in neighboring Pakistan. When the Taliban later destroyed the famed Bamiyan Buddhas, she read about the incident in the newspaper.

When President Karzai offered her the governorship three years ago, Sarabi accepted without hesitation. She is undeterred by the fact that death threats are now part of her life, and that other governors refuse to interact with her because she is a woman. "We will also change the brains of men in Afghanistan," she says, "it will take a long time, but it will happen."

Cheerful Little Corners in a Down-at-its-Heels City

Six days before the next attempt on the life of Hamid Karzai, two US military trucks come under rocket fire in Khost, and in Faizabad a delivery truck containing 9,000 schoolbooks plunges into the Kokcha River. The police defuse a car bomb in Paktia, and in Kabul Chris Alexander, political director of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), walks across the marketplace to have dinner at the Boccaccio Restaurant.

Alexander is 39, a boyish-looking Canadian, and pundits at home in Canada predict that he has an important political career in his future. He has already been his country's ambassador in Kabul and he worked in Moscow for several years. The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, chose him as a "Young Global Leader," a distinction that he acknowledges with a shy smile. He orders beef Carpaccio and pizza, while he and his friends at the table discuss the situation.

Drinking Chianti, the four friends, young businessman and diplomats, occasionally glance to the side to greet cabinet ministers who are also fond of dining at Boccaccio. At the surrounding tables, American intelligence agents cut their steaks, Swedish embassy employees load their forks with spaghetti, and bodyguards from New Zealand drink Corona beer. It is a collection of the members of Kabul's parallel world, envoys of a many thousand-headed army of helpers and mercenaries. After dinner, they go to La Cantina for a cocktail or to Bella Italia for dessert. Kabul, an otherwise down-at-the-heels city, has its cheerful little corners, populated almost exclusively by foreigners from around the world.

Alexander tells the story of how 40 convoys from the World Food Program disappeared last year, somehow, somewhere, entire columns of trucks loaded with food and medicine. Forty civilian aid workers were killed, he says, and 89 were abducted.

Yes, says Alexander, there is a lot of bad news, but there is also good news to report. "We had less than 1,000 schools here in 2001. Today there are 9,000, which is quite impressive."

The conversation at the table soon turns to the Karzai government. It has been in office for six years, but has failed to produce any presentable successes. Two-thirds of the ministries are hopelessly corrupt, they say, the cabinet is split along ethnic lines. As for Karzai? Merely the mention of his name is a source of amusement. He is seen as nothing but a weak, paranoid leader.

Part 4: Karzai, the Mayor of Kabul

Five days before the next attempt on the life of Hamid Karzai, anti-drug officers in Baghlan incinerate 300 bottles of hard liquor, 94 kilograms of opium, 93 kilograms of hashish and 13 kilograms of heroin. In the afternoon, Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, who returned to the country from exile in Germany, says that he considers the lack of faith in democracy in his country to be his "personal nightmare." On that same afternoon, General Khodaidad, the minister in charge of the government's anti-drug policies, takes a drive out into the countryside.

Khodaidad perches majestically in a four-ton, armor-clad Toyota Land Cruiser, as he embarks on a laborious two-day tour that will take him across thousands of kilometers of bumpy country roads and steep mountain passes.

The general is visiting the governors of Sar-e-Pol and Jowzjan in the far north, near the border with Turkmenistan. Parliamentarians from both regions are also along for the ride, as the Land Cruiser climbs through the icy splendor of the Salang Mountains, through Baghlan, Samangan and Balkh, traveling along the same route taken by the withdrawing Soviet army after almost 10 years of futile fighting.

Khodaidad was part of that army, a Soviet commander from Afghanistan, fighting for Afghanistan. He knows every valley and every hiding place here, and he knows the back roads that no American Humvee will ever take. Massoud was his adversary in the Pandjir Valley, as was General Daoud, who fought for the mujahedeen and is now a deputy interior minister, and with whom Khodaidad now cooperates in his effort to eradicate opium farming. "It's difficult for you to understand, isn't it? That we now work together? But the explanation is easy: We ruined this country together, and now we must rebuild it together."

Khodaidad has brought along a lot of music. He is a short, impish-looking man with eyes hidden behind fleshy eyelids. His glasses sit so crookedly on his face that he peers through the lens with one eye and over the top of the frame with the other, while the stereo blares the love songs of Afghan pop singer Nashena.

He periodically uses his walkie-talkie to confer with the other drivers in the convoy of five Land Cruisers, which includes an armed guard of 22 soldiers. A more prosperous and more peaceful Afghanistan soon begins to unfold: the north, where the land is farmed and where there is a rhythm to life, where dromedaries graze and children play -- children who look as though they had time to play.

Khodaidad is using the trip to promote his political agenda, which mainly consists in simply showing his face. The governors he meets, with whom he drinks tea, eats nuts and kebabs and spends entire evenings sitting barefoot on carpets, say that they haven't seen a cabinet minister in their provinces in two years. "Those who never leave Kabul," says Khodaidad, "lose their connections. But what is politics in Afghanistan? Nothing but connections. Have you heard what Karzai is called? The people call him the 'mayor of Kabul'…"

In Sar-e-Pol, late in the evening, Khodaidad's chief of current operations, Mohammed Ibrahim Azhar sits in the garden of the provincial government's guesthouse. One of his brothers died in the struggle against the Soviet occupiers and he lost three cousins in the war against the Russians. Azhar himself smuggled weapons and money into the country from Pakistan for the mujahedeen. Before taking his current position with the ministry, he worked for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Once a week, he meets with ISAF personnel and Americans to discuss strategy. But he and his foreign counterparts have little to say to each other.

The Americans, says Azhar, refuse to understand that for many Afghans, there is no alternative to growing opium. "There is no market for wheat, rice, fruit or vegetables. We import all of these things, from Pakistan, Iran and China. What can you say to a farmer who makes $4,000 (€2,550) per hectare (2.47 acres) with opium and only $300 (€191) with wheat? A year!"

His telephone rings. His ring tone is the triumphant march from Verdi's "Aida." The people from Nangarhar are calling again. A suicide bomber blew up himself and 25 police officers in an opium field in Nangarhar that afternoon.

Three days before the next attempt on the life of Hamid Karzai, Ambassador William Wood is sitting in his large apartment in the fortress-like US embassy in Kabul. He asks the photographer not to take his picture while he smokes a cigarette. Wood arrived from Colombia last year. His knowledge of drug cultivation is extensive, but he doesn't know a whole lot about Afghanistan. His nickname is "Chemical Bill," because he doggedly champions a policy of large-scale aerial spraying of the poppy fields with pesticides to destroy the crops.

Wood says that Afghanistan's "drug tragedy" also feeds into the tragedy of terror. The ISAF countries, he says, should realize that they are losing more of their citizens to heroin than on the battlefield in Afghanistan. He adds that 2007 was a good year, all things considered, with the possible exception of corruption. All neighboring countries want regional stability, he says, adding that more than 6 million children now attend school in Afghanistan. It sounds as if he were giving a speech using McNeill's notes.

Two days before the next attempt on the life of Hamid Karzai, Najia Zewari, of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), says that Afghanistan actually looks very good on paper. Women's rights are guaranteed under the constitution, says Zewari, and they are part of the country's future development. One-fourth of the members of parliament are women but, she adds, "the daily reality is unfortunately a different story altogether."

More nine- and 10-year-old girls are being forced into arranged marriages once again, she says. Outside Kabul, almost all women over 13 are required to wear the burqa. According to Zewari, girls do not go to school, and no one reports kidnappings and rapes. "Do not misunderstand me," says Zewari, "it's a great thing that the terror of the Taliban is over. But that doesn't mean that their rules have disappeared. Their rules are the Afghan rules."

These Afghan rules are the rules that foreigners find so difficult to understand.

The overthrow of the Taliban took place just over seven years ago. Until well into the 1990s, the warlords and the mujahedeen were constantly at war and constantly forming new coalitions. In the area around Kabul, they conducted their own version of total war. The withdrawal of Soviet troops happened less than 20 years ago. The wounds inflicted by all of these wars are still raw. The country has a great deal of history to work its way through, a great deal of suffering to digest and, most of all, a great deal of mourning to make up for.

But there are already voices -- in the parliament, in Karzai's cabinet and in the remote provinces -- that point to a new rivalry among ethnic groups, groups jockeying for power, influence and the legends of history.

Old warriors with world-famous names, like Dostum and Hekmetyar, are active once again, as old rifts spark anew between the peoples of the country's south and north. Mutual suspicions continue to grow as it becomes clear that the new era is failing to produce successes. Rival clans are already embroiled in their small wars and feuds. Afghanistan remains a combustible country, a potential battlefield where civil war is still an option -- a civil war that some are already waging.

On the day of the attack on Hamid Karzai, Mujahedeen Day, a national holiday in Afghanistan and a day of parades, three men have been lurking for at least 36, probably 72 hours, in a guesthouse less than 500 meters from the Kabul parade ground. Their accomplices have locked them into their room from the outside. A padlock is on the door to create the impression the room is unoccupied. The assassins have stocked up on energy drinks, water and crackers. They urinate into bottles and send short text messages to telephone numbers in Pakistan.

The room on the fourth floor, which offers a clear line of fire at the grandstand where the government of Afghanistan, headed by President Karzai, and the country's top generals and religious leaders, members of parliament and foreign guests, ambassadors, ISAF commanders and UN directors are about to sit down, has been rented for 45 days. One of the attackers, a Turkmen, claimed to be a carpet merchant with business at the nearby bazaar. The weapons are hidden in rolled-up carpets.

Spies for the Defense Ministry have been scanning the area around the parade ground for weeks, asking residents about suspicious activities and strangers new to the area. The police have gone into every house, inspecting rooms and looking out of windows, including the guesthouse where the would-be assassins are holed up, which they visited one or two days before the attack. But the door to the room was locked from the outside, the owner of the guesthouse tells police. The people aren't home, he says, and he hasn't seen them in a while. Why break down the door, he asks?

Part 5: A Plot against the President

No one has any idea that a police colonel is part of the plot. The Taliban have a mole in the heart of the country's security apparatus. Perhaps their man is guiding preparations for the parade in the wrong direction, or perhaps he is sending police on the wrong track.

The mole is the one who procures the weapons for the attack. Unable to get sniper rifles, he does manage to bribe his way into buying assault rifles. Corrupt accomplices set the guns aside in an Afghan army training camp, behind the Americans' backs. They even manage to line up a bazooka and a grenade launcher.

The guests begin arriving on the parade ground at 8 a.m. on April 27. McNeill is there, and so is UN Director Chris Alexander. US Ambassador Wood and his British counterpart, Sherard Cowper-Coles, are standing between chairs, chatting. The government of Afghanistan is gathering on the central stands.

At this time, Karzai is standing below the grandstand, in the hatch of a Humvee, waiting for his appearance. At 9 a.m., the Humvee begins traveling at a walking pace along the grandstand, and then it turns toward an honor guard standing at attention in front of the Id Gah Mosque -- a force of 1,000 men, trained by the West to take charge of security for Kabul beginning in August.

At 9:25, Karzai has returned from the honor guard and takes his seat on the grandstand. The attackers wait, less than 500 meters away, keeping a watchful eye on Karzai. They plan to open fire during the national anthem -- for the effect.

At 9:45, the national anthem begins booming from the loudspeakers. "This is the land of Afghanistan, the pride of all Afghans. A land of peace, a land of the sword, a land of courageous sons." A salute is fired, a long series of shots beginning with a single cannon beat, followed by two, three, four and five shots. The assassins get into position and aim their guns.

"This country will shine forever," the hymn continues, as machine gun fire suddenly explodes into the parade. Three members of parliament are hit on the grandstand, 25 meters (82 feet) below Karzai to the right. Grenades explode on the asphalt, killing a child and a policeman in the line of fire.

The people on the parade ground and on the grandstand begin running and jostling, security personnel form rings around their VIPs and lead them away, up along the rows of seats to an area behind the stadium, but there is also shooting there, where a second group of attackers is firing haphazardly at the fleeing dignitaries. The scene has disintegrated into scores of people ducking and waiting, running and cowering, on this national holiday in Afghanistan, a day that ends up making world headlines. On this day, the news from Afghanistan is not good. In fact, on this day the news from Afghanistan is exclusively bad, chaotic and disastrous.

The next day, US Ambassador Wood will say: "The whole thing was over within 120 seconds." This is the sugarcoated version for the Western public. The people in Afghanistan, however, know that in reality the shooting continued for 25 or 30 minutes, and that the attackers used bazookas, machine guns and grenades. Soon there were helicopters in the air and the assassination attempt turned into a battle, with the presidential guard returning fire, eventually killing the three attackers and chasing three of their accomplices through the city.

These are the images of war in downtown Kabul, in the heart of Afghanistan, where half the world has spent the last seven years trying to bring peace to an oppressed country, and where the fighting continues, in Afghanistan's valleys, mountains, cities and deserts, on many fronts hard and soft, day after day.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

How Washington Creates Global Instability

Tomgram: Nick Turse, How Washington Creates Global Instability

It was built for... well, not to put too fine a point on it, victory. I’m talking, of course, about the ill-named Camp Victory, the massive military complex, a set of bases really, constructed around an old hunting lodge and nine of former dictator Saddam Hussein’s opulent palaces near Baghdad International Airport.

Within months of American troops entering Baghdad in April 2003, it was already “the largest overseas American combat base since the Vietnam War.” It would become the grand visiting place for American politicians -- back when the U.S. was still being called the global “hyperpower” -- arriving in what was almost imagined as our 51st state. It was the headquarters for the American military effort and later “surge” strategy in Iraq. It was also the stomping grounds for at least 46,000 U.S. troops stationed there and who knows how many spooks, contractors, hire-a-guns, Defense Department civilians, and third-world workers. It had its own Cinnabon and Burger King, its massive PXs, and it’s 27-mile perimeter of “blast walls and concertina wire,” as well as its own hospital and water-bottling plant. It was a “city,” a world, unto itself.

American reporters passed through it regularly and yet for most Americans who didn’t set foot in it, our massive outpost in the heart of the oil heartlands of the planet (the place we were supposed to garrison for decades, if not generations) might as well not have existed. For all the news about Iraq that, once upon a time, was delivered to Americans, the humongous Camp Victory itself never struck journalists as particularly newsworthy, nor generally did the billions of dollars that went into building the more than 500 U.S. bases, mega to micro, that we now know were constructed in that country at U.S. taxpayers’ expense.

All this was true until Camp Victory was at the edge of what can only be called ultimate defeat and finally found, if not its chronicler, then its obituary writer in Annie Gowan of the Washington Post. Perhaps it’s often true that only at a funeral do any of us get our due. But with the last American slated to leave Camp Victory (though not Iraq) in early December, with the gates to be locked and the keys turned over to the Iraqi government, she quotes Lt. Col. Sean Wilson, an Army public affairs officer, on the emptying of the base this way: “This whole place is becoming a ghost town. You get the feeling you’re the last person on Earth.” (Of course, Iraqis might have a different impression.)

The U.S. military will evidently conduct no final interment ceremonies in which the base is renamed Camp Defeat before being abandoned. Nonetheless, even as Washington hangs on grimly to its remaining militarized toeholds in Iraq, that should be the one-line summary obit on America’s great Iraq adventure.

In his latest piece of reportage for TomDispatch, Nick Turse offers us an eye-opening reminder that, while the U.S. is drawing down to bare bones in Iraq, it has actually been building up its forces, operations, and infrastructure in the Greater Middle East. Still, somewhere in the Camp Victory story, isn’t there a modest lesson that Washington could draw? (Though, as Turse makes clear, it won't...) Tom

Obama’s Arc of Instability
Destabilizing the World One Region at a Time

By Nick Turse

It’s a story that should take your breath away: the destabilization of what, in the Bush years, used to be called “the arc of instability.” It involves at least 97 countries, across the bulk of the global south, much of it coinciding with the oil heartlands of the planet. A startling number of these nations are now in turmoil, and in every single one of them -- from Afghanistan and Algeria to Yemen and Zambia -- Washington is militarily involved, overtly or covertly, in outright war or what passes for peace.

Garrisoning the planet is just part of it. The Pentagon and U.S. intelligence services are also running covert special forces and spy operations, launching drone attacks, building bases and secret prisons, training, arming, and funding local security forces, and engaging in a host of other militarized activities right up to full-scale war. But while you consider this, keep one fact in mind: the odds are that there is no longer a single nation in the arc of instability in which the United States is in no way militarily involved.

Covenant of the Arc

“Freedom is on the march in the broader Middle East,” the president said in his speech. “The hope of liberty now reaches from Kabul to Baghdad to Beirut and beyond. Slowly but surely, we're helping to transform the broader Middle East from an arc of instability into an arc of freedom.”

An arc of freedom. You could be forgiven if you thought that this was an excerpt from President Barack Obama’s Arab Spring speech, where he said “[I]t will be the policy of the United States to… support transitions to democracy.” Those were, however, the words of his predecessor George W. Bush. The giveaway is that phrase “arc of instability,” a core rhetorical concept of the former president’s global vision and that of his neoconservative supporters.

The dream of the Bush years was to militarily dominate that arc, which largely coincided with the area from North Africa to the Chinese border, also known as the Greater Middle East, but sometimes was said to stretch from Latin America to Southeast Asia. While the phrase has been dropped in the Obama years, when it comes to projecting military power President Obama is in the process of trumping his predecessor.

In addition to waging more wars in “arc” nations, Obama has overseen the deployment of greater numbers of special operations forces to the region, has transferred or brokered the sale of substantial quantities of weapons there, while continuing to build and expand military bases at a torrid rate, as well as training and supplying large numbers of indigenous forces. Pentagon documents and open source information indicate that there is not a single country in that arc in which U.S. military and intelligence agencies are not now active. This raises questions about just how crucial the American role has been in the region’s increasing volatility and destabilization.

Flooding the Arc

Given the centrality of the arc of instability to Bush administration thinking, it was hardly surprising that it launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and carried out limited strikes in three other arc states -- Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia. Nor should anyone have been shocked that it also deployed elite military forces and special operators from the Central Intelligence Agency elsewhere within the arc.

In his book The One Percent Doctrine, journalist Ron Suskind reported on CIA plans, unveiled in September 2001 and known as the “Worldwide Attack Matrix,” for “detailed operations against terrorists in 80 countries.” At about the same time, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld proclaimed that the nation had embarked on "a large multi-headed effort that probably spans 60 countries.” By the end of the Bush years, the Pentagon would indeed have special operations forces deployed in 60 countries around the world.

It has been the Obama administration, however, that has embraced the concept far more fully and engaged the region even more broadly. Last year, the Washington Post reported that U.S. had deployed special operations forces in 75 countries, from South America to Central Asia. Recently, however, U.S. Special Operations Command spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told me that on any given day, America’s elite troops are working in about 70 countries, and that its country total by year’s end would be around 120. These forces are engaged in a host of missions, from Army Rangers involved in conventional combat in Afghanistan to the team of Navy SEALs who assassinated Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, to trainers from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines within U.S. Special Operations Command working globally from the Dominican Republic to Yemen.

The United States is now involved in wars in six arc-of-instability nations: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. It has military personnel deployed in other arc states, including Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates. Of these countries, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Djibouti, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates all host U.S. military bases, while the CIA is reportedly building a secret base somewhere in the region for use in its expanded drone wars in Yemen and Somalia. It is also using already existing facilities in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and the United Arab Emirates for the same purposes, and operating a clandestine base in Somalia where it runs indigenous agents and carries out counterterrorism training for local partners.

In addition to its own military efforts, the Obama administration has also arranged for the sale of weaponry to regimes in arc states across the Middle East, including Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. It has been indoctrinating and schooling indigenous military partners through the State Department’s and Pentagon’s International Military Education and Training program. Last year, it provided training to more than 7,000 students from 130 countries. “The emphasis is on the Middle East and Africa because we know that terrorism will grow, and we know that vulnerable countries are the most targeted,” Kay Judkins, the program’s policy manager, recently told the American Forces Press Service.

According to Pentagon documents released earlier this year, the U.S. has personnel -- some in token numbers, some in more sizeable contingents -- deployed in 76 other nations sometimes counted in the arc of instability: Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Syria, Antigua, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Venezuela, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

While arrests of 30 members of an alleged CIA spy ring in Iran earlier this year may be, like earlier incarcerations of supposed American “spies”, pure theater for internal consumption or international bargaining, there is little doubt that the U.S. is conducting covert operations there, too. Last year, reports surfaced that U.S. black ops teams had been authorized to run missions inside that country, and spies and local proxies are almost certainly at work there as well. Just recently, the Wall Street Journal revealed a series of “secret operations on the Iran-Iraq border” by the U.S. military and a coming CIA campaign of covert operations aimed at halting the smuggling of Iranian arms into Iraq.

All of this suggests that there may, in fact, not be a single nation within the arc of instability, however defined, in which the United States is without a base or military or intelligence personnel, or where it is not running agents, sending weapons, conducting covert operations -- or at war.

The Arc of History

Just after President Obama came into office in 2009, then-Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair briefed the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Drawing special attention to the arc of instability, he summed up the global situation this way: “The large region from the Middle East to South Asia is the locus for many of the challenges facing the United States in the twenty-first century.” Since then, as with the Bush-identified phrase “global war on terror,” the Obama administration and the U.S. military have largely avoided using “arc of instability,” preferring to refer to it using far vaguer formulations.

During a speech at the National Defense Industrial Association's annual Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Symposium earlier this year, for example, Navy Admiral Eric Olson, then the chief of U.S. Special Operations Command, pointed toward a composite satellite image of the world at night. Before September 11, 2001, said Olson, the lit portion of the planet -- the industrialized nations of the global north -- were considered the key areas. Since then, he told the audience, 51 countries, almost all of them in the arc of instability, have taken precedence. "Our strategic focus,” he said, “has shifted largely to the south... certainly within the special operations community, as we deal with the emerging threats from the places where the lights aren't."

More recently, in remarks at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., John O. Brennan, the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, outlined the president’s new National Strategy for Counterterrorism, which highlighted carrying out missions in the “Pakistan-Afghanistan region” and “a focus on specific regions, including what we might call the periphery -- places like Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and the Maghreb [northern Africa].”

“This does not,” Brennan insisted, “require a ‘global’ war” -- and indeed, despite the Bush-era terminology, it never has. While, for instance, planning for the 9/11 attacks took place in Germany and would-be shoe-bomber Richard Reid hailed from the United Kingdom, advanced, majority-white Western nations have never been American targets. The “arc” has never arced out of the global south, whose countries are assumed to be fundamentally unstable by nature and their problems fixable through military intervention.

Building Instability

A decade’s evidence has made it clear that U.S. operations in the arc of instability are destabilizing. For years, to take one example, Washington has wielded military aid, military actions, and diplomatic pressure in such a way as to undermine the government of Pakistan, promote factionalism within its military and intelligence services, and stoke anti-American sentiment to remarkable levels among the country’s population. (According to a recent survey, just 12% of Pakistanis have a positive view of the United States.)

A semi-secret drone war in that nation’s tribal borderlands, involving hundreds of missile strikes and significant, if unknown levels, of civilian casualties, has been only the most polarizing of Washington’s many ham-handed efforts. When it comes to that CIA-run effort, a recent Pew survey of Pakistanis found that 97% of respondents viewed it negatively, a figure almost impossible to achieve in any sort of polling.

In Yemen, long-time support -- in the form of aid, military training, and weapons, as well as periodic air or drone strikes -- for dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh led to a special relationship between the U.S. and elite Yemeni forces led by Saleh’s relatives. This year, those units have been instrumental in cracking down on the freedom struggle there, killing protesters and arresting dissenting officers who refused orders to open fire on civilians. It’s hardly surprising that, even before Yemen slid into a leaderless void (after Saleh was wounded in an assassination attempt), a survey of Yemenis found -- again a jaw-dropping polling figure -- 99% of respondents viewed the U.S. government’s relations with the Islamic world unfavorably, while just 4% “somewhat” or “strongly approved” of Saleh’s cooperation with Washington.

Instead of pulling back from operations in Yemen, however, the U.S. has doubled down. The CIA, with support from Saudi Arabia’s intelligence service, has been running local agents as well as a lethal drone campaign aimed at Islamic militants. The U.S. military has been carrying out its own air strikes, as well as sending in more trainers to work with indigenous forces, while American black ops teams launch lethal missions, often alongside Yemeni allies.

These efforts have set the stage for further ill-will, political instability, and possible blowback. Just last year, a U.S. drone strike accidentally killed Jabr al-Shabwani, the son of strongman Sheikh Ali al-Shabwani. In an act of revenge, Ali repeatedly attacked of one of Yemen's largest oil pipelines, resulting in billions of dollars in lost revenue for the Yemeni government, and demanded Saleh stop cooperating with the U.S. strikes.

Earlier this year, in Egypt and Tunisia, long-time U.S. efforts to promote what it liked to call “regional stability” -- through military alliances, aid, training, and weaponry -- collapsed in the face of popular movements against the U.S.-supported dictators ruling those nations. Similarly, in Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, popular protests erupted against authoritarian regimes partnered with and armed courtesy of the U.S. military. It’s hardly surprising that, when asked in a recent survey whether President Obama had met the expectations created by his 2009 speech in Cairo, where he called for “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” only 4% of Egyptians answered yes. (The same poll found only 6% of Jordanians thought so and just 1% of Lebanese.)

A recent Zogby poll of respondents in six Arab countries -- Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates -- found that, taking over from a president who had propelled anti-Americanism in the Muslim world to an all-time high, Obama managed to drive such attitudes even higher. Substantial majorities of Arabs in every country now view the U.S. as not contributing “to peace and stability in the Arab World.”

Increasing Instability Across the Globe

U.S. interference in the arc of instability is certainly nothing new. Leaving aside current wars, over the last century, the United States has engaged in military interventions in the global south in Cambodia, Congo, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Egypt, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Iraq, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Libya, Panama, the Philippines, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Somalia, Thailand, and Vietnam, among other places. The CIA has waged covert campaigns in many of the same countries, as well as Afghanistan, Algeria, Chile, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iran, and Syria, to name just a few.

Like George W. Bush before him, Barack Obama evidently looks out on the “unlit world” and sees a source of global volatility and danger for the United States. His answer has been to deploy U.S. military might to blunt instability, shore up allies, and protect American lives.

Despite the salient lesson of 9/11-- interventions abroad beget blowback at home -- he has waged wars in response to blowback that have, in turn, generated more of the same. A recent Rasmussen poll indicates that most Americans differ with the president when it comes to his idea of how the U.S. should be involved abroad. Seventy-five percent of voters, for example, agreed with this proposition in a recent poll: “The United States should not commit its forces to military action overseas unless the cause is vital to our national interest.” In addition, clear majorities of Americans are against defending Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and a host of other arc of instability countries, even if they are attacked by outside powers.

After decades of overt and covert U.S. interventions in arc states, including the last 10 years of constant warfare, most are still poor, underdeveloped, and seemingly even more unstable. This year, in their annual failed state index -- a ranking of the most volatile nations on the planet -- Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace placed the two arc nations that have seen the largest military interventions by the U.S. -- Iraq and Afghanistan -- in their top ten. Pakistan and Yemen ranked 12th and 13th, respectively, while Somalia -- the site of U.S. interventions under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, during the Bush presidency in the 2000s, and again under Obama -- had the dubious honor of being number one.

For all the discussions here about (armed) “nation-building efforts” in the region, what we’ve clearly witnessed is a decade of nation unbuilding that ended only when the peoples of various Arab lands took their futures into their own hands and their bodies out into the streets. As recent polling in arc nations indicates, people of the global south see the United States as promoting or sustaining, not preventing, instability, and objective measures bear out their claims. The fact that numerous popular uprisings opposing authoritarian rulers allied with the U.S. have proliferated this year provides the strongest evidence yet of that.

With Americans balking at defending arc-of-instability nations, with clear indications that military interventions don’t promote stability, and with a budget crisis of epic proportions at home, it remains to be seen what pretexts the Obama administration will rely on to continue a failed policy -- one that seems certain to make the world more volatile and put American citizens at greater risk.

Nick Turse is a historian, investigative journalist, the associate editor of TomDispatch.com, and a senior editor at Alternet.org. His latest book is The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Verso Books). You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, and on Facebook. This article is a collaboration between Alternet.org and TomDispatch.com.

Copyright 2011 Nick Turse

Saturday, September 10, 2011

New evidence links Saudi Arabia to 9/11 hijackers: Graham


New evidence links Saudi Arabia to 9/11 hijackers: Graham

By Stephen Nohlgren and Susan Taylor Martin
In Print: Saturday, September 10, 2011

Abdulazzi al-Hiijjii, his wife and twins lived in this home in the Prestancia community of Sarasota. They left everything behind.
Abdulazzi al-Hiijjii, his wife and twins lived in this home in the Prestancia community of Sarasota. They left everything behind.

SARASOTA — Weeks after terrorists brought down the World Trade Center, FBI agents swarmed into a Sarasota gated community to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a wealthy young Saudi couple who apparently had ties to some of the hijackers.

The couple and their two children abandoned their home abruptly, just a week or so before Sept. 11, leaving behind cars, furniture and food on countertops.

According to one published report, the FBI discovered phone calls between the house and at least two of the hijackers and several other terrorism suspects stretching back a year.

Yet until a Fort Lauderdale website reported the news this week, no mention of the couple has ever appeared publicly — not in the Sept. 11 commission report, nor in FBI briefings to congressional investigators, former Florida Sen. Bob Graham said Friday.

Graham called on President Barack Obama to reopen the case.

"This is the most important thing about 9/11 to surface in the last seven or eight years,'' Graham told the St. Petersburg Times. "It's very important for the White House to take control of this situation. The key umbrella question is: What was the full extent of Saudi involvement prior to 9/11 and why did the U.S. administration cover this up?''

The Sarasota revelations parallel earlier information about a Saudi government employee who had lived in California for years, Graham said. That man, Omar al-Bayoumi, had paid for a San Diego apartment for two of the hijackers, funneled them money and then left the United States in July 2011.

Graham thinks Bayoumi and the Sarasota husband and wife, as well as her wealthy father could have helped form a shadow support system for the hijackers.

"These 19 people did not play out this plot as lone wolves,'' Graham said. "The chances that 19 people, most of whom had never been in the U.S., who did not speak English, and most of whom did not know each other, could have completed training, practiced and executed such a complicated plot defies common sense.''

The current administration should re-examine whether hijackers who stayed in New Jersey, Virginia and other U.S. cities also had secret Saudi supporters.

One Saudi living in America before Sept. 11 was Esam Ghazzawi, a financier and interior designer, who had built "a gigantic house'' on two waterfront lots on Longboat Key, according to former neighbor Betty Blair.

"I think he sent his kids to camp here, and that's why he'd come in the summers,'' she recalled on Friday.

In 1995, Ghazzawi and his American wife, Debra, paid $350,000 for a home in Prestancia, a lush gated community in south Sarasota.

Their daughter Anoud moved in, along with her husband, Abdulazzi al-Hiijjii, and their twin babies, neighbors said.

Abdulazzi appeared to be in his 20s, Anoud even younger, said neighbor Tom DiBello, who now lives in Fort Lauderdale. Abdulazzi said he was a student. Anoud was very religious.

"He would come over for a cigarette and a drink and to get away from that praying every two hours,'' DiBello said

The couple's house was elaborately furnished, with Persian rugs, statues and over-sized furniture. The wife's family supposedly had royal connections.

"He said his wife's father was friends with the prince or king or something,'' DiBello said.

Another neighbor, Patrick Gallagher, said he never saw Anoud in three years. Gallagher had only one contact with Abdulazzi — when he helped the Arab man fix his sprinkler system.

Then on Labor Day weekend 2001, Gallagher noticed "an incredible amount of trash'' piled in front of the al-Hiijjii home.

He asked one of the association directors, "What the hell is that trash doing there? There won't be any pickup until Tuesday or Wednesday.

"She said, 'They went back to Saudi Arabia and said they weren't ever coming back.' ''

Gallagher found it strange that a car was left in the driveway and that the house was not for sale.

He grew more suspicious a few days after Sept. 11 when it turned out that two of the hijackers had trained at a Venice flight school just 14 miles away. So Gallagher went on the FBI's website to report what he had seen.

What happened next comes from BrowardBulldog.org, a nonprofit investigative website in Fort Lauderdale that broke the Sarasota story this week, along with Irish journalist Anthony Summers, whose book The Eleventh Day: The full story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden, is due out next month.

Several weeks after Gallagher's tip, FBI agents arrived at Prestancia and discovered that guard gate logs of vehicle tags showed the al-Hiijjiis had received important visitors. A car owned by Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta had gone through. Driver's license information indicated that Atta and fellow hijacker Ziad Jarrah were in the car.

Phone records from the al-Hiijjiis' home contained calls to Atta, hijacker Marwan al-Shehhi and other terrorist suspects.

BrowardBulldog.org attributed this information to Larry Berberich, then a consultant for the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office who also oversaw security at Prestancia, and an unnamed "counterterrorism agent'' who had worked the case.

Both entered the abandoned al-Hiijjii house. "There was mail on the table, dirty diapers in one of the bathrooms and all the toiletries still in place . . . all their clothes hanging in the closet,'' BrowardBulldog.org reported.

Berberich could not be reached for comment Friday.

The counterterrorism agent said the FBI tracked the couple's departure. They left the United States along with her father, Esam Ghazzawi, and ended up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

According to BrowardBulldog.org, the counterterrorism agent said Ghazzawi and Abdulazzi Hiijii were both on the FBI's watch list before Sept. 11.

The house stayed vacant until it was sold in 2003.

Summers, the Irish author, recently stumbled across the Sarasota story while researching his book, said Graham, who has known Summers for years. Summers joined forces with BrowardBulldog.org because he is friends with editor Dan Christensen, Christensen said.

Graham, who co-chaired the joint congressional committee that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks, noted that the FBI heavily redacted portions of the committee's report that dealt with the extent of Saudi involvement.

Graham said he did not know why the FBI kept information about the Sarasota couple close to the vest. But he has a theory:

"The administration was so focused on avoiding a second attack that they decided they could not run the risk of irritating the Saudis and this was the results of that.''

Neither the FBI nor Justice Department responded Friday to a request for comment.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.

[Last modified: Sep 09, 2011 11:22 PM]

[Get Copyright Permissions] Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2011 St. Petersburg Times

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Looming Tragedy: Vision of the “New Libya” Visit the “New Iraq”

Dissident Voice: a radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and social justice

Looming Tragedy: Vision of the “New Libya”

Visit the “New Iraq”

Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious.

— Oscar Wilde, 1854-1900

As Eid, the great post Ramadan celebration of that month of abstinence, self sacrifice and reflection, dawned on Libya, marked there this year on August 31, the NATO “liberated” country, after seven months, looks a lot like “liberated” Iraq after eight years.

Queues of cars now wait for petrol in another oil rich country, other queues form, carrying containers for water (the multi billion$ development of Libya’s vast underground aquifers had been dubbed the “eighth wonder of the world). Shops are without food. The all is “absolute disaster”, according to an eminent legal observer, very familiar with the country. And with electricity largely off, those seeking knowledge as to whether friends and relatives are alive, injured, fled, dead, find internet and telephones dead.

As the terribly injured overwhelm hospitals, many are bombed, damaged or without power and pharmaceuticals. No power, no incubators, life support machines or surgery. Another country with a modern, developed infrastructure reduced to a pre-industrial age, with the rebuilding contracts reportedly already being divvied out — in the West.

NATO Members, however, eat, as their bombs destroy humanity and vital necessities for the living. Over a “working lunch”, on April 14, they “deplored violence” and underlined the: “need … to restore water, gas, electricity and other services …”

Still depriving others of the means to cook, or of any semblance of normality, at another “working lunch” (June 8) they further discussed their “clear mandate to protect civilians (and) populated areas …taking the upmost care to avoid civilian casualties.” This as “Tripoli experienced what were perhaps the heaviest daylight bombardments by NATO since the air strikes began in March.” (Guardian, June 8).

As they masticated and munched, they vowed to bring “a speedy resolution … to put an end to the violence”, under “Operation Unified Protector”. There’s delusional and there’s, arguably, psychotic.

Just twenty four hours later, on June 9, the decade long destruction of Afghanistan eclipsed Libya. NATO Defence Ministers met to declare it “NATO’s top operational priority.” General David Petraeus, returned from the ruins and about to be confirmed as CIA Head “explained … progress.”

“A working lunch commenced at 13.00 hours.”

A number of lunches later, on August 23, NATO spokeswoman, Oana Lungesco, re-affirmed their “mandate to protect civilians.” How this squares with hitting “over five thousand legitimate targets (in a) 24/7 operation (with) over twenty thousand sorties”, is confusing. Equally so is how destruction of services essential to maintaining life, State institutions, schools, hospitals, archeological sites and treasures, attacking of all which is illegal under swathes of international law, are included in this “legitimacy.”

By September 1, NATO operations from March 31st had reached “a total of 21,090, including 7,920 strike sorties.”

In context, this latest “shock and awe” brigandage is being rained down by a twenty-eight country alliance, on a country of under six-and-a-half million people (6,419,925) less than the population of London (7,754.000). The population of Tripoli is just 1,065,409 (or was, until unknown numbers of souls were liberated from their lives in a bombardment which, started with the unleashing of 110 Cruise missiles on March 20, eight years to the day – GMT- of the start of the Iraq invasion).

Coincidentally, the considerably Western-backed and funded “uprising” in Benghazi, which preceded the bombing, began on February 15, the eighth anniversary of millions, in the largest global peace rally in history, from Manchester to Melbourne, Hong Kong to Honolulu, rallying against an attack on Iraq.

The invaders, though, have “learned from past mistakes.” The “New Libya”, will not be like the “New Iraq” . It is surely beginning to look chillingly like it. A legitimate head of State again has a million$ bounty on his head and is “wanted dead or alive.” Since “boots are on the ground” only unofficially, the pack of playing cards with the “most wanted” on, has not yet been printed. But times are hard, and in 2003, the United States Playing Card Company, commissioned by the US Defence Intelligence Agency, received orders for 750,000 of the packs within a week.

Further, if the US and UK were blindly ignorant of Iraq’s social and tribal complexities, those of Libya are more so in orders of magnitude.

Just prior to the Iraq invasion, General Colin Powell was quoted as telling George W. Bush, that after the onslaught, “You will own twenty seven million people, Mr President.”

At the “Friends of Libya” gathering in Paris on September 1, hosted by Prime Minister Cameron and President Nicholas Sarkozy, a gloating, unnamed British official is quoted in the Economist as saying that “NATO’s involvement in the Libyan uprising means that now we own it”.

Sarkozy – recipient, claims Quaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, of his family’s funding for his 2007 French Presidential election campaign – is widely reported to have been promised one-third of Libya’s oil by the insurgents, the “National Transitional Council”, prior to NATO involvement. With “Friends” like these, Libya certainly needs no enemies.

“The international community will be watching and supporting” Libya, said Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, adding requirements to the new Libyan constitution. There is a “clear road map to democracy”. Afghan and Iraqi puppets now joined by Libyan ones.

When it comes to the rebuilding of Libya, “investors can’t call the tune”, was one theme, it must be “Libyan led.” UK Foreign Secretary William Hague blew that lie. Britain, he said: “would not be left behind”. Much focus was on rebuilding the oil industry. Heaven forbid that too follows the Iraq model, with the bereaved, dispossessed and invaded blowing up the pipelines – and contractors.

It also transpires that the UK’s surely mis-titled “International Development Minister”, former oil trader, Alan Duncan, allegedly had a hand in, and connections to, Swiss based energy giant Vitol, which established links with the NTC rebels, whilst starving Gaddafi’s troops of transportation fuels.

Vitol President, Ian Taylor, has allegedly donated very large sums to Cameron’s Tory Party. Opposition MPs are citing a possible covert “Libyan Oil Cell”, an allegedly billion$ deal, questioning whether Mr Duncan’s fingerprints are on it.

As to the Conference, there was one dissenting voice. Bertrand Badie, an expert on international relations, told Xinhua:

I think this conference is very bad sign, because starting a process of state building by an international conference dominated by western powers …

But even he did not mention mind-bending illegalities.

The half day carve-up (sorry, “meeting”) regarding assets of another sovereign land was followed by “a dinner”, according to a US State Department spokeswoman.

Incidentally, the Paris Cabal took place on the 42nd anniversary of the Free Officers Movement bringing Gaddafi to power (September 1, 1969.)

“You are either with us, or you are with the terrorists’, said George W. Bush on November 1, 2002. Ten years is certainly a long time in politics. There are many who would say they are now funded by the same US and protected by the might of NATO.

Activist Sandra Barr, has compiled just a small snapshot of a vast tragedy. Afew incidents amongst uncounted others, “collateral” humanity, to add to a pitiless twenty year rampage through mortality, legality, basic values and all the normal hold precious:

May 13, 2011: The murder of 11 Muslim Imams in Brega.

April 30, 2011: The bombing of the Downs Syndrome School in Tripoli

April 30, 2011: The bombing of a Gaddafi residence, murdering Saif Gaddafi, his friend and 3 Gaddafi children.

June 12, 2011: The bombing of the University of Tripoli. Death toll not yet established.

July 22, 2011: The bombing of the Great Man made Waterway irrigation system, which supplies most Libyans with their drinking water.

July 23, 2011: The bombing of the factory which makes the pipes for the water system, and the murder of 6 of its employees.

August 8, 2011: The bombing of the Hospital at Zliten. Resulting in the murder of a minimum of 50 human beings, many of them children. The bombing of hospitals is against all international laws, and a most grievous crime.

August 9, 2011: The bombing of the village of Majer, resulting in the murder of 85 civilians. 33 Children, 32 women and 20 men.

The persistent ongoing bombing of the civilian population in Zliten and Tripoli, death toll not yet established.

David Cameron has admitted that UK special services have assisted the terrorists on the ground in defiance of the UN mandate.

Today, Cameron has gone further, admitting that British forces played a “key role.”

Ms Barr demands the ICC take a stance. Sadly, it would amaze if they did.

On May 1 Muammar Gaddafi’s youngest son, Saif al-Arab, and three grandchildren were reported killed in an allied air strike on Tripoli. Another nauseating anniversary: George W. Bush, declaring: “Mission Accomplished” – the destruction of Iraq.

One can only fervently pray that we do not hear another sickening, “Viceroy” Paul Bremer wannabe, declaring: “Ladies and gentlemen, we got ‘im’, with accompanying kangaroo court and lynchings.

The “New Libya”, it seems, with its formerly free, high quality health care, is anyway in bit of trouble. This full page advertisement by Medcines san Frontieres appeared in today’s Mail and Guardian (SA):

Tripoli, Libya: Months of conflict have put extreme strain on the Libyan health system.

We desperately need more staff” – Jonathan Whittal, MSF Emergency Coordinator Tripoli, August 23.


Trauma surgeons
Orthopaedic Surgeons
ER Doctors
OT Nurses
Obstetricians and Midwives.

Available for short term contracts (3-4 weeks) – able to leave IMMEDIATELY.

MSF has been working in eastern Libya since February.

Another “liberation”, another unimaginable, international, criminal tragedy.

Felicity Arbuthnot is a journalist with special knowledge of Iraq. Author, with Nikki van der Gaag, of Baghdad in the Great City series for World Almanac books, she has also been Senior Researcher for two Award winning documentaries on Iraq, John Pilger's Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq and Denis Halliday Returns for RTE (Ireland.) Read other articles by Felicity.