The bottom line is clear: Our vital interests in Afghanistan are limited and military victory is not the key to achieving them. On the contrary, waging a lengthy counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan may well do more to aid Taliban recruiting than to dismantle the group, help spread conflict further into Pakistan, unify radical groups that might otherwise be quarreling amongst themselves, threaten the long-term health of the U.S. economy, and prevent the U.S. government from turning its full attention to other pressing problems. -- Afghanistan Study Group

Sunday, February 22, 2009

News of the Day for Sunday, February 22, 2009

Iraqi electoral employees count ballot forms by lamplight during a powercut after provincial elections on January 31. Iraq has won the battle to protect its battered electricity sector from insurgents but now faces a fight to fund its way to 24-hour coverage, Electricity Minister Karim Wahid has said.
(AFP/File/Ali Yussef)

Reported Security Incidents


Jamal al-Kilani, an official of the Iraqi Islamic Party, escapes an assassination attempt but his driver is injured in an IED attack.

Al-Qassem, south of Hilla

A man is injured by gunmen, and 3 mortar shells land on the local Iraqi army HQ.

Abu Saif, south of Baquba

Army seizes an explosives belt.

Other News of the Day

Tight security planned for pilgrims heading to Najaf for Tuesday's commemoration of the death of the Prophet.

Baghdad Operations Command claims that bodyguards of MP Mohammed al-Daini have confessed to murder. Al-Daini asserts that the arrests were carried out by an extra-constitutional force controlled by Nuri al-Maliki, and that the arrests constitute terrorism. According to Al Bawaba, a warrant has now been issued for al-Daini himself. "The lawmaker, Mohammed al-Dayni, was implicated in confessions from two former bodyguards, who were detained last week, said Iraqi military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi. Tapes of their interrogations, which were played at a news conference, contained claims that al-Dayni sanctioned attacks and raids that included killing gold merchants and looting their shops." Authorities have also implicated him in the 2007 suicide attack inside the parliament building, although no motive is stated.

U.S. and Iraqi forces announce a security sweep against "al Qaeda" militants in Ninevah.

Parliament is still unable to act as it struggles to elect a new Speaker. According to AP's Sinan Saleheddin:

The impasse has frozen debate on important measures such as Iraq's budget and regulations on foreign oil investment and sharing revenue among the nation's groups.

The latest twist came when the largest Sunni political group, the Iraqi Islamic Party, asked for the nation's Supreme Court to rule on how many votes are needed: a majority of the 275-seat parliament, as the current rules say, or just most of the lawmakers casting votes.

On Thursday, the candidate backed by the Islamic Party, Ayad al-Sammaraie, failed by only two votes. The appeal to the high court immediately suspended efforts for another vote and could cause an indefinite delay in the process.

Afghanistan Update

An operation the U.S. military at first described as a "precision strike" instead killed 13 Afghan civilians and only three militants, the U.S. said Saturday, three days after sending a general to investigate. I'm getting quite tired of this -- I have to post one of these stories every damn week . . .

So this is no surprise . . .
Afghan public opinion turning against the presence of U.S. troops. Excerpt:

The additional 17,000 soldiers that the US is preparing to send to Afghanistan will face a well-armed Taliban insurgency and an unarmed but equally daunting foe: public opinion.

In interviews across Kabul last week, Afghans said that instead of helping to quell the violence, more foreign forces will exacerbate the problem.

The comments echoed a recent survey by the BBC and the American ABC News that found that although 90 per cent of Afghans oppose the Taliban, fewer than half view the US favourably, a sharp drop from a year ago, and a quarter say attacks on US troops can be justified.

People interviewed spoke with anger and suspicion about the US-led coalition forces - questioning their motives and bitterly complaining about civilian casualties, home invasions and other alleged abuses.

And, we have no way of knowing whether we should believe this. NATO coalition and Afghan troops killed at least 14 suspected militants in two attacks in southern Afghanistan, officials said Sunday.

NATO troops raided a suspected militant hide-out in Kandahar province Saturday, with six suspected insurgents dying in the operation, police told CNN.

And in Helmand province, a NATO air strike killed eight suspected militants who were traveling in a car, a the spokesman for the province's governor told the U.S. broadcaster. A Taliban spokesman denied the car was carrying any of its members, saying the victims were civilians.

And this is also no surprise, from McClatchy's Jonathan Landay. U.S. patrol finds anger and distrust in Afghanistan.

Britain expects to increase its troop presence in Afghanistan to about 10,000 this year, from current 8,300, pushing "Britain's Armed Forces to the very limit of its fighting capability." Excerpt:

The new British battle group will consist of an infantry battalion, composed of around 700 troops, bolstered by at least one rifle company of 120 troops. The force will be supported by signallers, medics, engineers and elements of the Royal Artillery. The Army has notched up a series of major successes against the Taliban, including the retaking of Musa Qala in northern Helmand, a former insurgent stronghold, as well as the operation to create a functioning hydro-electric power station at Kajaki.

But the much vaunted plans to bring reconstruction to the region have stalled, following the deterioration of security in the province. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has now increased troops numbers in Helmand every six months since 2006, when just 3,300 troops were sent to southern Afghanistan to secure the area and to allow reconstruction to begin.

John Hutton, the defence secretary, has persistently called on Britain's allies to do more of the "heavy lifting" in Afghanistan but, apart from France, virtually all have refused to do so.

And, in a related issue . . .

UK agents 'colluded with torture in Pakistan'. Mark Townsend of The Observer reports. Excerpt:

A shocking new report alleges widespread complicity between British security agents and their Pakistani counterparts who have routinely engaged in the torture of suspects.

In the study, which will be published next month by the civil liberties group Human Rights Watch, at least 10 Britons are identified who have been allegedly tortured in Pakistan and subsequently questioned by UK intelligence officials. It warns that more British cases may surface and that the issue of Pakistani terrorism suspects interrogated by British agents is likely to "run much deeper".

The report will further embarrass the foreign secretary, David Miliband, who has repeatedly said the UK does not condone torture. He has been under fire for refusing to disclose US documents relating to the treatment of Guantánamo detainee and former British resident Binyam Mohamed. The documents are believed to contain evidence about the torture of Mohamed and British complicity in his maltreatment. Mohamed will return to Britain this week. Doctors who examined him in Guantánamo found evidence of prolonged physical and mental mistreatment.

Ali Dayan Hasan, who led the Pakistan-based inquiry, said sources within the country's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), the Intelligence Bureau and the military security services had provided "confirmation and information" relating to British collusion in the interrogation of terrorism suspects.

Hasan said the Human Rights Watch (HRW) evidence collated from Pakistan intelligence officials indicated a "systemic" modus operandi among British security services, involving a significant number of UK agents from MI5 rather than maverick elements. Different agents were deployed to interview different suspects, many of whom alleged that prior to interrogation by British officials they were tortured by Pakistani agents.

Quote of the Day

Now, we are the last to be critical of oversight. The more the better. But we have to note the political overtones here. Why, during the Bush administration, didn’t the Republicans establish an “Iraq spending watch program”?

Why did they not invite American troops and civilian workers over there to report their observations of waste? Why didn’t they ensure that federal agencies were undertaking preemptive initiatives to ensure accountability? Had they done so, and with the same alarmist fanfare they are now creating over emergency domestic spending, perhaps their stance on the stimulus bill would not appear so politically motivated.

Untold billions were wasted in Iraq with no outcry from congressional Republicans. Now, with a bill that spends money at home amid multiple layers of transparency and accountability, the Republicans are on the hunt for any hint of abuse. Go figure.

Las Vegas Sun editorial board