Friday, July 03, 2009

South Asia and Middle East Developments

By Carol Gee

Vice President Joe Biden is in Iraq. He is there for meetings with military commanders, Ambassador Chris Hill, and Iraq's President Talibani and Prime Minister Malaki. His visit comes on the heels of the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from the cities to the bases near the perimeters around metropolitan areas. Iraqis celebrated the transition to more control over their own destiny, and more risk of security breakdowns. But it was by their design and our that we are now implementing this formal Status of Forces agreement signed last December. And from the beginning of this year military operations have been refocusing on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The US army says it has launched a major offensive against the Taliban in south Afghanistan's Helmand province. "Operation Strike of the Sword gets under way," according to today's BBC News. To quote further from the story:

The US military says about 4,000 marines as well as 650 Afghan troops are involved, supported by Nato planes. Brig Gen Larry Nicholson said the operation was different from previous ones because of the "massive size of the force" and its speed.

A Taliban spokesman said they would resist in various ways and that there would be no permanent US victory.

. . . It is the first such large-scale operation since US President Barack Obama authorised the deployment of 17,000 extra US troops to Afghanistan, as part of a new strategy for winning the conflict. Many of them are being redeployed from operations in Iraq, to help with training Afghan security forces and to tackle the insurgency.

A House Intelligence panel late last month reported out with a warning of emerging threats to the nation's security, according to a 6/29 story in CQ Politics. The report also "thinks spy agencies are behind in addressing cybersecurity, diversity and foreign language training, according to a committee report released Monday." The Democratic Intelligence Committee also approved the 2010 intel authorization bill that includes a provision that eliminated the administration's "right to control when the full intelligence panels are briefed as opposed to more limited 'Gang of Eight' briefings for panel and congressional leaders."

Countries mentioned that face security challenges include Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Mexico. Today's post focuses on Middle East developments. The Intel Committee Report says that the "political and military situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan continues to deteriorate." As an example, according to the Financial Times (6/23/09), "A tribal leader who vowed to lead an uprising against Pakistan's most notorious Taliban militants was killed, raising doubts over the success of a planned military offensive along the Afghan border." Qari Zainuddin, 26, was reportedly shot by one of his own guards in Dera Isamil Khan in northwest Pakistan. A BBC 6/24 report said, to quote:

. . . at least 43 people have died in missile strikes by a US drone aircraft in a militant stronghold of Pakistan [in South Waziristan], a Taliban spokesman said. The people killed had been attending the funeral of a military commander killed in an earlier strike.

. . . There have been more than 35 US strikes since last August - killing over 340 people - and most have landed in the North and South Waziristan tribal regions. Pakistan has been publicly critical of drone attacks, arguing that they kill civilians and fuel support for militants like Baitullah Mehsud.

NATO partner, the United Kingdom, has intensified its fight in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province. Significant progress to hold territory was only made possible because of the arrival of additional U.S. troops to assist. Great Britain has lost 169 soldiers in Afghanistan since 2001. Also, "three German soldiers are killed in Afghanistan when their patrol came under fire, the defence ministry in Berlin says," to quote the BBC. The attack happened in the northern city of Kunduz, where the Germans have a military base where a 3,700 member German military force is stationed. The Germans have lost 35 troops since 2002.

In an interesting aside, Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News (6/15/09), wrote that the new U.S. Afghanistan Commander did not get complete support for his appointment to the post. To quote:

Gen. Stanley McChrystal was confirmed by the Senate last week to be the new commander of U.S. (and NATO) forces in Afghanistan, a role that he assumed today. But his nomination was opposed by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) who objected to the General’s advancement on unspecified “classified” grounds.

“I oppose the nomination of LTG Stanley McChrystal to command U.S. forces in Afghanistan for two reasons,” Senator Feingold said on June 11. “The first relates to a classified matter about which I have serious concerns. I have conveyed those concerns in a letter to the President.”

The second reason cited by Sen. Feingold was McChrystal’s embrace of interrogation techniques that went beyond those authorized in the Army Field Manual on the subject.

News bites associated with the above items come from CQ Behind the Lines newsletter July 1, 2009, by David C. Morrison. To quote:

Courts and rights: The alleged shooter in the deadly Holocaust Memorial Museum assault, himself wounded, is still unfit to appear in court, CNN has a judge declaring — as Pakistan’s The Nation says a defense-hired shrink will testify in a New York courtroom today on the mental soundness of a terror-charged Pakistani neuroscientist. The foreman of the Florida jury that acquitted an Egypt-born student on terror charges is convinced that the defendant — now facing deportation on charges levied by ICE — is a victim of profiling, CNN, again, spotlights. A federal judge who authorized habeas challenges in U.S. courts for military detainees in Afghanistan ruled Monday that that right doesn’t apply to at least one Afghan prisoner, AP reports.

(Cross-posted 7/2/09, at South by Southwest.)

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