Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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The following article was posted to CNN online, October 1, 2009
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It isn't clear whether the United States will ever be able to declare victory in Iraq, the top U.S. commander there said Thursday.
'm not sure we will ever see anyone declare victory in Iraq, because first off, I'm not sure we'll know for 10 years or five years," Army Gen. Ray Odierno told reporters at the Pentagon.
About 123,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq now, and President Obama says all combat forces will be gone by the end of August 2010, leaving as many as 50,000 noncombat troops to advise and train Iraqi forces before leaving by the end of 2011.
Odierno has said he wants to draw down the U.S. forces at a faster rate than planned if the security situation allows it. On Thursday, he said he expected the number of U.S. troops to drop to 120,000 by the end of October, and to as few as 110,000 by the end of 2009.
"What we've done here is we're giving Iraq an opportunity in the long term to be a strategic partner of the United States, but more importantly, be a partner in providing regional stability inside of the Middle East," Odierno said.
Odierno also highlighted continuing security issues inside the country, saying Iraqi security forces have recently seized several "very large" caches of Iranian-made rockets and armor-piercing munitions known as explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs.
"If you're training people ... in Iran to come back into Iraq, and you're providing them rockets and other things, I call that significant because it still enables people to conduct attacks not only on U.S. forces but on Iraqi civilians," Odierno said.
At a congressional hearing Wednesday, Odierno said the main threat to stability in Iraq are Arab-Kurd tensions, adding there has been difficulty bringing the two sides together for possible joint patrols.
"We've had some very good meetings," he said. "But we still have some ways to go on that."
This article, by Robert Dreyfuss, was posted to The Nation, September 14, 2009
The hawks, neoconservatives, and Israeli hardliners are squealing, but the US and Iran are set to talk. The talks will begin October 1, among Iran and the P5 + 1, the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.
Mohammed ElBaradei, the outgoing head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was ebullient, even as he urged Iran to "engage substantively with the agency," saying:
"Addressing the concerns of the international community about Iran's future intentions is primarily a matter of confidence-building, which can only be achieved through dialogue. I therefore welcome the offer of the US to initiate a dialogue with Iran, without preconditions and on the basis of mutual respect."
That's exactly the right tone and message, and it underscores that President Obama is doing precisely what he campaigned on, namely, to open a dialogue with Iran. It's an effort that began with his comments on Iran during his inaugural address, his videotaped Nowruz message to Iran last winter, a pair of quiet messages to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Leader, and Obama's careful and balanced response to the post-election crisis over the summer. Once started, the talks aren't likely to have a swift conclusion, but the very fact that they're taking place will make it impossible for hawks to argue successfully either for harsh, "crippling" sanctions on Iran or for a military attack.
That didn't stop Bibi Netanyahu, for one, from trying. Speaking to Israel's foreign affairs and defense committee today, the Israeli leader said:
"I believe that now is the time to start harsh sanctions against Iran -- if not now then when? These harsh sanctions can be effective. I believe that the international community can act effectively. The Iranian regime is weak, the Iranian people would not rally around the regime if they felt for the first time that there was a danger to their regime -- and this would be a new situation."
Netanyahu's belief in sanctions, harsh measures, and regime change was echoed by John Hannah, the former top aide to Vice President Cheney, who wrote an op-ed criticizing Obama for taking regime change off the table in dealing with Iran. Hannah utterly ignored the fact that eight years of anti-Iran, pro-regime change bombast from the Bush-Cheney administration did nothing but strengthen Iran's hawks, while Obama's softer, dialogue-centered approach to Iran helped boost the power of the reformists and their allies in Iranian politics. Indeed, it was precisely Obama's less belligerent tone that confused the Iranian hardliners, emboldened the liberals, reformists and pragmatists in Iran, and therefore did more to create the conditions for "regime change" than anything that Bush, Cheney, and Hannah did.
Nevertheless, here's Hannah:
"It is ironic, of course, that just as the Obama administration seemed prepared to write off regime change forever, the Iranian people have made it a distinct possibility. It would be tragic indeed if the United States took steps to bolster the staying power of Iran's dictatorship at precisely the moment when so many Iranians appear prepared to risk everything to be rid of it. It would also seem strategically shortsighted to risk throwing this regime a lifeline."
Hannah adds that whatever happens in the talks, Obama had better be careful not to undermine the possibility that the regime might collapse. "However engagement now unfolds, Obama should do nothing to undermine this historic opportunity."
Other, less temperate hawks have forthrightly condemned Iran's offer to negotiate. The Weekly Standard ridiculed Iran's five-page statement on opening negotiations:
"The Iranian response is a bad joke. It makes a complete mockery of the situation."
And the churlish Washington Post, in an editorial written before the US agreed to start talks with Iran, huffed that Iran's offer to talk was a "non-response" and complained that so far Obama has had no results:
"President Obama's offer of direct diplomacy evidently has produced no change in the stance taken by Iran during the George W. Bush administration, when Tehran proposed discussing everything from stability in the Balkans to the development of Latin America with the United States and its allies -- but refused to consider even a temporary shutdown of its centrifuges."
And the Post again brought up the importance of getting "tough" with Iran and pushing for sanctions, a la Netanyahu, even though neither Russia nor China will have anything to do with more sanctions. (The Europeans don't really want more sanctions either, though they say they do. And Venezuela has offered to export whatever gasoline Iran needs if, in fact, the United States tries to impose a cut-off of refined petroleum products imported by Iran.)
We can only hope, now, that the United States and the rest of the P5 + 1 will table an offer to Iran to allow Tehran to maintain its uranium enrichment program, on its own soil, combined with a system of stronger international inspections. That's the end game: not regime change, not Big Bad Wolf threats of military action, not Hillary Clinton-style "crippling sanctions," not an Iran without uranium enrichment -- but an Iran that is ushered into the age of peaceful use of nuclear energy, including enrichment, in exchange for a comprehensive settlement.
This article, by Ernesto Londoño and Karen DeYoung, was published in the Washington Post, July 17, 2009.
BAGHDAD, July 17 -- The Iraqi government has moved to sharply restrict the movement and activities of U.S. forces in a new reading of a six-month-old U.S.-Iraqi security agreement that has startled American commanders and raised concerns about the safety of their troops.
In a curt missive issued by the Baghdad Operations Command on July 2 -- the day after Iraqis celebrated the withdrawal of U.S. troops to bases outside city centers -- Iraq's top commanders told their U.S. counterparts to "stop all joint patrols" in Baghdad. It said U.S. resupply convoys could travel only at night and ordered the Americans to "notify us immediately of any violations of the agreement."
The strict application of the agreement coincides with what U.S. military officials in Washington say has been an escalation of attacks against their forces by Iranian-backed Shiite extremist groups, to which they have been unable to fully respond.
If extremists realize "some of the limitations that we have, that's a vulnerability they could use against us," a senior U.S. military intelligence official said. "The fact is that some of these are very politically sensitive targets" thought to be close to the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The new guidelines are a reflection of rising tensions between the two governments. Iraqi leaders increasingly see the agreement as an opportunity to show their citizens that they are now unequivocally in charge and that their dependence on the U.S. military is minimal and waning.
The June 30 deadline for moving U.S. troops out of Iraqi towns and cities was the first of three milestones under the agreement. The U.S. military is to decrease its troop levels from 130,000 to 50,000 by August of next year.
U.S. commanders have described the pullout from cities as a transition from combat to stability operations. But they have kept several combat battalions assigned to urban areas and hoped those troops would remain deeply engaged in training Iraqi security forces, meeting with paid informants, attending local council meetings and supervising U.S.-funded civic and reconstruction projects.
The Americans have been taken aback by the new restrictions on their activities. The Iraqi order runs "contrary to the spirit and practice of our last several months of operations," Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, commander of the Baghdad division, wrote in an e-mail obtained by The Washington Post.
"Maybe something was 'lost in translation,' " Bolger wrote. "We are not going to hide our support role in the city. I'm sorry the Iraqi politicians lied/dissembled/spun, but we are not invisible nor should we be." He said U.S. troops intend to engage in combat operations in urban areas to avert or respond to threats, with or without help from the Iraqis.
"This is a broad right and it demands that we patrol, raid and secure routes as necessary to keep our forces safe," he wrote. "We'll do that, preferably partnered."
U.S. commanders have not publicly described in detail how they interpret the agreement's vaguely worded provision that gives them the right to self-defense. The issue has bedeviled them because commanders are concerned that responding quickly and forcefully to threats could embarrass the Iraqi government and prompt allegations of agreement violations.
A spate of high-casualty suicide bombings in Shiite neighborhoods, attributed to al-Qaeda in Iraq and related Sunni insurgent groups, has overshadowed the increase of attacks by Iran-backed Shiite extremists, U.S. official say.
Officials agreed to discuss relations with the Iraqi government and military, and Iranian support for the extremists, only on the condition of anonymity because those issues involve security, diplomacy and intelligence.
The three primary groups -- Asaib al-Haq, Khataib Hezbollah and the Promised Day Brigades -- emerged from the "special groups" of the Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) militia of radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, which terrorized Baghdad and southern Iraq beginning in 2006. All receive training, funding and direction from Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force.
"One of the things we still have to find out, as we pull out from the cities, is how much effectiveness we're going to have against some of these particular target sets," the military intelligence official said. "That's one of the very sensitive parts of this whole story."
As U.S. forces tried to pursue the alleged leaders of the groups and planned missions against them, their efforts were hindered by the complicated warrant process and other Iraqi delays, officials said.
Last month, U.S. commanders acquiesced to an Iraqi government request to release one of their most high-profile detainees, Laith Khazali. He was arrested in March 2007 with his brother, Qais, who is thought to be the senior operational leader of Asaib al-Haq. The United States thinks they were responsible for the deaths of five American soldiers in Karbala that year.
Maliki has occasionally criticized interference by Shiite Iran's Islamic government in Iraqi affairs. But he has also maintained close ties to Iran and has played down U.S. insistence that Iran is deeply involved, through the Quds Force, in training and controlling the Iraqi Shiite extremists.
U.S. intelligence has seen "no discernible increase in Tehran's support to Shia extremists in recent months," and the attack level is still low compared with previous years, U.S. counterterrorism official said. But senior military commanders maintained that Iran still supports the Shiite militias, and that their attacks now focus almost exclusively on U.S. forces.
After a brief lull, the attacks have continued this month, including a rocket strike on a U.S. base in Basra on Thursday night that killed three soldiers.
The acrimony that has marked the transition period has sowed resentment, according to several U.S. soldiers, who said the confidence expressed by Iraqi leaders does not match their competence.
"Our [Iraqi] partners burn our fuel, drive roads cleared by our Engineers, live in bases built with our money, operate vehicles fixed with our parts, eat food paid for by our contracts, watch our [surveillance] video feeds, serve citizens with our [funds], and benefit from our air cover," Bolger noted in the e-mail.
A spokesman for Bolger would not say whether the U.S. military considers the Iraqi order on July 2 valid. Since it was issued, it has been amended to make a few exemptions. But the guidelines remain far more restrictive than the Americans had hoped, U.S. military officials said.
Brig. Gen. Heidi Brown, the commander overseeing the logistical aspects of the withdrawal, said Iraqi and U.S. commanders have had fruitful discussions in recent days about the issue.
"It's been an interesting time, and I think we've sorted out any misunderstandings that were there initially," she said in an interview Friday.
One U.S. military official here said both Iraqi and American leaders on the ground remain confused about the guidelines. The official said he worries that the lack of clarity could trigger stalemates and confrontations between Iraqis and Americans.
"We still lack a common understanding and way forward at all levels regarding those types of situations," he said, referring to self-defense protocols and the type of missions that Americans cannot conduct unilaterally.
In recent days, he said, senior U.S. commanders have lowered their expectations.
"I think our commanders are starting to back off the notion that we will continue to execute combined operations whether the Iraqi army welcomes us with open arms or not," the U.S. commander said. "However, we are still very interested in and concerned about our ability to quickly and effectively act in response to terrorist threats" against U.S. forces.
This essay, by Norman Soloman, was published in the Truthout, February 3, 2009
The United States began its war in Afghanistan 88 months ago. "The war on terror" has no sunset clause. As a perpetual emotion machine, it offers to avenge what can never heal and to fix grief that is irreparable.
For the crimes against humanity committed on September 11, 2001, countless others are to follow, with huge conceits about technological "sophistication" and moral superiority. But if we scrape away the concrete of media truisms, we may reach substrata where some poets have dug.
W.H. Auden: "Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return."
Stanley Kunitz: "In a murderous time / the heart breaks and breaks / and lives by breaking."
And from 1965, when another faraway war got its jolt of righteous escalation from Washington's certainty, Richard Farina wrote: "And death will be our darling and fear will be our name." Then as now came the lessons that taught with unfathomable violence once and for all that unauthorized violence must be crushed by superior violence.
The US war effort in Afghanistan owes itself to the enduring "war on terrorism," chasing a holy grail of victory that can never be.
Early into the second year of the Afghanistan war, in November 2002, a retired US Army general, William Odom, appeared on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" program and told viewers: "Terrorism is not an enemy. It cannot be defeated. It's a tactic. It's about as sensible to say we declare war on night attacks and expect we're going to win that war. We're not going to win the war on terrorism."
But the "war on terrorism" rubric - increasingly shortened to the even vaguer "war on terror" - kept holding enormous promise for a warfare state of mind. Early on, the writer Joan Didion saw the blotting of the horizon and said so: "We had seen, most importantly, the insistent use of Sept. 11 to justify the reconception of America's correct role in the world as one of initiating and waging virtually perpetual war."
There, in one sentence, an essayist and novelist had captured the essence of a historical moment that vast numbers of journalists had refused to recognize - or, at least, had refused to publicly acknowledge. Didion put to shame the array of self-important and widely lauded journalists at the likes of The New York Times, The Washington Post, PBS and National Public Radio.
The new US "war on terror" was rhetorically bent on dismissing the concept of peacetime as a fatuous mirage.
Now, in early 2009, we're entering what could be called Endless War 2.0, while the new president's escalation of warfare in Afghanistan makes the rounds of the media trade shows, preening the newest applications of technological might and domestic political acquiescence.
And now, although repression of open debate has greatly dissipated since the first months after 9/11, the narrow range of political discourse on Afghanistan is essential to the Obama administration's reported plan to double US troop deployments in that country within a year.
"This war, if it proliferates over the next decade, could prove worse in one respect than any conflict we have yet experienced," Norman Mailer wrote in his book "Why Are We at War?" six years ago. "It is that we will never know just what we are fighting for. It is not enough to say we are against terrorism. Of course we are. In America, who is not? But terrorism compared to more conventional kinds of war is formless, and it is hard to feel righteous when in combat with a void ..."
Anticipating futility and destruction that would be enormous and endless, Mailer told an interviewer in late 2002: "This war is so unbalanced in so many ways, so much power on one side, so much true hatred on the other, so much technology for us, so much potential terrorism on the other, that the damages cannot be estimated. It is bad to enter a war that offers no clear avenue to conclusion.... There will always be someone left to act as a terrorist."
And there will always be plenty of rationales for continuing to send out the patrols and launch the missiles and drop the bombs in Afghanistan, just as there have been in Iraq, just as there were in Vietnam and Laos. Those countries, with very different histories, had the misfortune to share a singular enemy, the most powerful military force on the planet.
It may be profoundly true that we are not red states and blue states, that we are the United States of America - but what that really means is still very much up for grabs. Even the greatest rhetoric is just that. And while the clock ticks, the deployment orders are going through channels.
For anyone who believes that the war in Afghanistan makes sense, I recommend the January 30 discussion on "Bill Moyers Journal" with historian Marilyn Young and former Pentagon official Pierre Sprey. A chilling antidote to illusions that fuel the war can be found in the transcript.
Now, on Capitol Hill and at the White House, convenience masquerades as realism about "the war on terror." Too big to fail. A beast too awesome and immortal not to feed.
And death will be our darling. And fear will be our name.
This analysis, by Juan Cole, was originally published to Informed Comment, February 8, 2009
While the attention of the US public and the news media here has been consumed (understandably enough) by the congressional debate over the economic stimulus plan, America's war in Afghanistan has nearly collapsed because of logistical problems.
First, the Taliban destroyed a crucial bridge west of Peshawar over which NATO trucks traveled to the Khyber Pass and into Afghanistan. 75% of US and NATO supplies for the war effort in Afghanistan are offloaded at the Pakistani port of Karachi and sent by truck through the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan. Then the Taliban burned 10 trucks carrying such materiel, to demonstrate their control over the supply route of their enemy. The Taliban can accomplish these breathtaking operations against NATO in Pakistan in large part because Pakistani police and military forces are unwilling to risk much to help distant foreign America beat up their cousins. That reluctance is unlikely to change with any rapidity.
Well, you might say, there are other ways to get supplies to Afghanistan. But remember it is a landlocked country. Its neighbors with borders on the state are Pakistan, China, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan; Kyrgyzstan is close enough to offer an air route. Pakistan is the most convenient route, and it may be at an end. China's short border is up in the Himalayas and not useful for transport. Tajikistan is more remote than Afghanistan. The US does not have the kind of good relations with Iran that would allow use of that route for military purposes. A Turkmenistan route would depend on an Iran route, so that is out, too.
So what is left? Uzbekistan and (by air) Kyrgyzstan, that's what.
More bad news. Kyrgyzstan has made a final decision to deny the US further use of the Manas military base, from which the US brought 500 tons of materiel into Afghanistan every month. It is charged that Russia used its new oil and gas wealth to bribe Kyrgyzstan to exclude the US, returning the area to its former status as a Russian sphere of influence. (Presumably this would also be payback for US and NATO expansion on Russia's European and Caucasian borders).
Then there was one. The US has opened negotiations with Uzbekistan, which had given Washington use of a base 2002-2005 but ended that deal after it massacred protesters at Andizhon in 2005. Some Uzbeks charged that the US had promoted an "Orange Revolution" style uprising similar to the one in the Ukraine against Uzbek stongman Islam Karimov. But even if the US could get a stable relationship with Karimov, the Uzbeks are not offering to be the transit route for military materiel, only for nonlethal food, medicine and other items.
In the light of these logistical problems (which are absolutely central to the prospects for success of the Afghanistan War), and given that no clear, attainable, finite mission in Afghanistan has ever been enunciated by US civil or military leaders, it is no wonder that President Barack Obama is reported to be putting the "Afghan surge" or the sending of 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan on hold until a clearer mission can be formulated. TheTimes of London writes:
'The president was concerned by a lack of strategy at his first meeting with Gates and the US joint chiefs of staff last month in “the tank”, the secure conference room in the Pentagon. He asked: “What’s the endgame?” and did not receive a convincing answer. '
and adds, 'Leading Democrats fear Afghanistan could become Obama’s “Vietnam quagmire”.'
This article, by juan Cole, was posted to Informed Comment, February 5, 2009
It is being alleged by US pundits that the outcome of the provincial elections in Iraq, as far as it is known, indicates a defeat for the religious parties and for Iran.
This allegation is not true. In the Shiite provinces, the coalition of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Islamic Mission Party (Da'wa) will continue to rule. Both parties are close to Tehran, and leaders of both spent time in exile in Iran. Da'wa appears to have become more popular than ISCI. But Da'wa was founded in the late 1950s to work for an Islamic republic in Iraq, and current leader Nuri al-Maliki has excellent relations with the Iranian leadership.
Da'wa is more "lay" in the composition of its leadership, which is made up of lawyers, physicians and other white collar types. ISCI has more clerics at the top, though it also comprises technocrats such as VP Adil Abdul Mahdi. But Da'wa will need Iranian economic and development aid just as much as previous governments did.
In the Sunni provinces there appears to have been a turn to more secular parties, but neither the Sunni fundamentalists nor the Arab nationalists have much use for Iran to begin with.
The Kurdish leadership is also quite close to Iran. They will have elections in May.
This article, by Robert Reid, was published by the Aslciated Press, January 21, 2009
Iraq is willing to have the U.S. withdraw all its troops and assume security for the country before the end of 2011, the departure date agreed to by former President George W. Bush, the spokesman of the Iraqi prime minister said.
Spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh made the comment Tuesday, a day before President Barack Obama and his senior commanders were to meet in Washington to discuss the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obama promised during the campaign to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office. The new president said in his inaugural address Tuesday that he would "begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people."
The government-owned newspaper Al-Sabah reported Wednesday that Iraqi authorities have drafted contingency plans in case Obama orders a "sudden" withdrawal of all forces and not just combat troops.
Al-Dabbagh told Associated Press Television News that Iraqis had been worried about a quick U.S. departure.
But with the emphasis on a responsible withdrawal, al-Dabbagh said the Iraqi government was willing for the U.S. to leave "even before the end of 2011." The Bush administration agreed in a security agreement signed in November to remove all U.S. troops by the end of 2011.
The chairman of parliament's defense committee, Abbas al-Bayati, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the Iraqis hoped Obama would stick by the timeline laid the agreement.
"Nevertheless, we already have a 'Plan B,' which is that we have the ability to deploy any needed troops to any hot area in Iraq," al-Bayati said. "We are capable of controlling the situation in the country and we believe we have passed the worst" despite a lack of air and artillery power.
The war has left many Iraqis conflicted - anxious to see the Americans leave but fearful of the future if they depart too soon. Distrust of rival sectarian and ethnic groups still runs deep, along with doubts about Iraq's political leadership.
Across this war-shattered country, many Iraqis watched the transfer of power in Washington on Arab satellite television stations. Many of them expressed hope that the departure of the president who launched the Iraq war in 2003 would speed the return of peace.
"I think that the U.S. image and policies will improve because Obama will try to avoid the awful mistakes committed by Bush," said Ripwar Karim, 26, a Kurdish merchant who watched the inauguration in a cafe in Sulaimaniyah.
Several others in the cafe cheered when Obama appeared on the TV screen but gave a "thumbs-down" sign when the camera honed in on Bush.
"Bush was as a nightmare on the chests of the Iraqis for the last eight years," said Ahmed Salih, an engineer in Fallujah. "Today we got rid of a problem that lasted eight years. Bush divided Iraq instead of uniting it. He proclaimed democracy but we haven't seen it."
U.S. officials are carefully watching the Jan. 31 provincial elections in Iraq as a sign of whether the country is moving sectarian and ethnic conflicts from the battlefield to the ballot box.
Violence is down sharply but attacks still continue.
A car bomb exploded Wednesday near the convoy of Sunni politician and educator Ziyad al-Ani, killing three people and wounding five, police said. Al-Ani escaped injury, they said.
A roadside bomb also exploded early Wednesday in the northern city of Kirkuk, killing one civilian and wounding another, police Col. Baldar Shukir said.
A blast late Tuesday killed an Iraqi soldier and wounded another in Baghdad, police in the capital said.
This reoport was originally broadcast by Deutsche Welle Worlde, January 21, 2009
In a paper on transatlantic cooperation published to coincide with the inauguration of Barack Obama as US president, Chancellor Merkel's conservatives call for a new political strategy to end the conflict in Afghanistan.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc in parliament this week proposed setting up a "contact group" of nations to forge a new political strategy to stablilize Afghanistan.
The group, the document says, should not only include the five permanent UN Security Council members -- the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia -- but also the European Union, Iran and Pakistan.
The policy paper does not specifically mention Iran but German media quoted Andreas Schockenhoff, vice chairman of Merkel's Christian Democratic Party (CDU ) saying the conservatives would welcome Iran's participation.
Germany hopes to include Iran
"Such an initiative, that would include Iran, would benefit if it came to direct talks between Washington and Tehran," Schockenhoff said in comments released by his office.
"The group should aim to reach an international consensus...that the stability of Afghanistan should be an objective of the utmost importance," the paper said, adding that weakening al Qaeda is "a common interest".
"Given the lack of an international consultation forum (on Afghanistan), an international contact group that is legitimized by the UN Security Council, should carry out such an initiative," the paper reads.
A similar idea for a "contact group" to coordinate international strategy in Afghanistan was proposed by former French President Jacques Chirac in 2006, but was not supported by Washington.
Presented on the day of President Barack Obama's inauguration and under the title "For a Closer Transatlantic Partnership", foreign policy experts from the Christian Democrats called on the new US president to look for alternatives to an increase in troops, which Obama has advocated.
Germany bracing for troops request
Germany is among European nations bracing for demands from the new US administration that they do more in Afghanistan, but the Germans are reluctant to send more troops and believe talks on a new strategy for stabilizing the country are the main priority.
Chancellor Merkel has said that she would not accede to any request from the new US administration to send troops to southern Afghanistan, the scene of much of the heavy fighting against Taliban insurgents. "Wherever Germany commits itself, a wholeness of military and civilian assistance should be visible," she said.
German forces, the third-biggest component in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), are based in safer northern Afghanistan. Other armies have borne the brunt of the fighting in the south.
Merkel skeptical of Obama's Iran policy
Merkel indicated on Tuesday that Obama would draw a blank in Berlin if he pressed Germany to send more troops to Afghanistan, and also expressed doubts on whether Obama's stated wish to talk to Iran would bear fruit. In contrast to President George W. Bush, Obama has said he is open to talks with Iran, a step Germany has welcomed.
"On the European Union side we have held talks with Iran on multiple occasions, but unfortunately very unsuccessfully over a long period of time," Merkel said. "I think it will remain clear that so long as Iran keeps its nuclear program so opaque, and as long as it wants to destroy Israel, there will of course be points when we will say that on this basis we cannot come together."
But she added: "I believe in any case that we should try it."
On September 28, 2002, President Bush proclaimed: “The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons . . . The regime has long-standing and continuing ties to terrorist groups, and there are Al Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq.” Just over a year after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the president and his administration used these two fears — unconventional weapons and terrorism — to win public approval for going to war in Iraq. But the premises proved to be false. The chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq concluded that President Saddam Hussein had no such weapons or the means to produce them, and the U.S. intelligence community determined that there was no meaningful connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq. These conclusions came too late, however. On March 20, 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom began in an attempt to kill the Iraqi president and overthrow his regime. The Center for Public Integrity found that Bush and seven members of his administration made 935 demonstrably false statements in the lead-up to the war, from September 2001 to September 2003, as reported in Iraq: The War Card. The failure of the commander in chief and his administration to gather solid intelligence before sending U.S. troops to war has cost thousands of American and Iraqi lives, billions of tax dollars, and the trust of not only of U.S. allies abroad, but also of a majority of the American people. When asked about the War Card study, a White House spokesman responded: “The actions taken in 2003 were based on the collective judgment of intelligence agencies around the world.”
ABU GHRAIB PRISON SCANDAL
Few incidents have done more damage to America’s image in the world than the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. In late April 2004, Americans got their first glimpse of the haunting photographs of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad: scenes of naked, humiliated prisoners piled on top of one another, some forced to assume sexual positions, all while American soldiers posed nearby, smiling at the camera. The photos provoked an instant outcry around the world. In addressing the scandal, President Bush insisted that it was the fault of a few dishonorable soldiers, not a systematic problem with how the U.S. was managing the war in Iraq — but investigations suggest that the blame likely rises higher up the military’s chain of command. Some senior officials, such as General Janis Karpinski, who was in charge of military prisons in Iraq, were reprimanded and suspended. But the blame mainly fell on low-level soldiers, who were convicted and sent to prison for participating in sexual abuse, beatings, and other brutal acts. Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said news of the abuse “stunned him.” But a military report by Major General Antonio Taguba found that the prison was overcrowded, undermanned, and short of resources, making accountability for prisoner treatment rare. Taguba also noted in 2004 that the Central Intelligence Agency had serious concerns about the kinds of interrogation techniques military forces used on detainees. But Taguba wasn’t permitted to delve much deeper; an article in The New Yorker in 2007 reported that military investigators were not allowed to look into the role of Rumsfeld and other Department of Defense officials. What is known is that the Pentagon found out about the existence of the photos in January 2004 and Taguba filed his report in March. President Bush knew about the abuses at Abu Ghraib at least by March, but he did not address the issue until the media publicized it in late April. Congress found out about the abuse the same day the American public did. “This is entirely unacceptable,” said Senator Richard Lugar, a Republican of Indiana and then chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. The scandal, Lugar added, “pushed international resentment and distrust of the United States to levels unprecedented in recent times.” The biggest failure, according to watchdogs: the lack of accountability for military officials who failed to stop or prevent the abuses. The White House press office did not respond to a request for comment, but has previously stated that the administration and the military acted quickly “to hold people to account and bring them to justice, and to also take steps to prevent something like that from happening again.”
ARBITRARY DETENTION AT GUANTANAMO
The U.S. military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has held hundreds of detainees without charging them with a crime. The White House conceived of Guantanamo as an extralegal zone for hardened terrorists whom it unilaterally declared were exempt from the Geneva Conventions. There, terrorists would have no recourse to the American legal system, lawyers at the Department of Justice argued; instead, they could be imprisoned for as long as the government saw fit. In June 2004, the Supreme Court struck down the administration’s plan and declared that the foreign nationals held at Guantanamo had the right to petition for their release in U.S. courts. Once forced to confront the legal status of its prisoners, the Department of Defense (DOD) began releasing or transferring many of the inmates. By October 2004, the United States had released 202 detainees from the prison camp and between late 2004 and March 2005 the remaining 558 detainees passed through “Combatant Status Review Tribunals,” which determined that 520 of these prisoners were “
By 2008, however, after further review of cases and intervention by U.S. courts, the number of prisoners held at Guantanamo dropped to approximately 255, according to the Pentagon. Another 60 or so have been cleared for release but can not be repatriated because their home country refused to accept them or due to other diplomatic complications. Lawyers for Guantanamo detainees have struggled to obtain documents from the U.S. military believed to contain evidence against their clients, and in some cases, the United States has had to drop prosecutions of Guantanamo inmates because much of their case was built on evidence obtained through interrogation methods widely considered to be torture. Asked to comment, a DOD spokesman directed the Center to a factsheet on Guantanamo: “Detainees held at Guantanamo Bay are not only afforded the majority of the protections granted to prisoners of war,” it states, “but many additional privileges that exceed the requirements established by the Geneva Conventions.
PENTAGON OFFICE’S MISLEADING INTELLIGENCE
An under-the-radar Department of Defense (DOD) office produced highly politicized intelligence assessments and promulgated one of the most inaccurate justifications for U.S. invasion of Iraq: that the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein had a working relationship with Al Qaeda. The Office of Special Plans, part of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy led by Douglas Feith, created and provided these assessments to senior U.S. officials. Though neither illegal nor unauthorized, these assessments were, in the view of the DOD inspector general, “inappropriate” and “did not clearly show the variance with the consensus of the Intelligence Community.” A Senate Intelligence Committee report found not only that the work of other intelligence agencies, such as the Central Intelligence Agency, was ignored, but also suggested that the Office of Special Plans shaped intelligence to fit the desires of policymakers — a cardinal sin in the intelligence world. According to several Democratic senators on the intelligence committee, “[C]riticism of the CIA’s analysis was sent by Under Secretary for Policy Feith to Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld.” W. Patrick Lang, the former chief of Middle East intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency, told investigative journalist Seymour M. Hersh, “The Pentagon has banded together to dominate the government’s foreign policy, and they’ve pulled it off.” The 9-11 Commission would later conclude that it found “
no credible evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.”
A study conducted by a DOD-funded think tank, after a review of captured Iraqi government documents, also found no “
between Al Qaeda and Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Trumpeted by the White House as a key reason to invade Iraq, the much touted close “relationship” between Al Qaeda and Iraq simply did not exist.
MILITARY FAILURE TO SECURE IRAQ AFTER INVASION
Calling them “wildly off mark,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz dismissed the assessments of his own Army chief of staff, General Eric Shinseki, and a 1999 Department of Defense (DOD) war game scenario, both of which predicted the need for hundreds of thousands of troops to secure post-invasion Iraq — far more than the 148,000 who were eventually assigned the job. According to an official U.S. Army history of the conflict in Iraq, “The military means employed were sufficient to destroy the Saddam regime; they were not sufficient to replace it with the type of nation-state the United States wished to see in its place.” A 2005 unclassified study for the Army by the RAND Corporation, which was suppressed until media reports and congressional pressure brought it to light, said that the chaotic security situation after Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled were “conditions [that] enabled the insurgency to take root, and the Army and Marine Corps have been battling the insurgents ever since.” Though there were some strategies for securing post-invasion Iraq, “few if any made it into the serious planning process,” according to the RAND report. These ideas were “held at bay, in the most general sense, by two mutually reinforcing sets of assumptions that dominated planning . . . at the highest levels” — that few armed forces would be necessary after the invasion and that the military would not be an occupying force. Just days before the war began, Vice President Cheney said, “My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.”
LACK OF ARMORED PROTECTION FOR TROOPS
The U.S. military failed to provide adequate body armor and armored vehicles to soldiers and Marines fighting the Iraq war. Key assumptions made before the invasion and early in the occupation of Iraq proved faulty: namely, that the Iraqi people would welcome the United States’ presence and that the American military would not face an insurgency. In April 2003 military supply chiefs told the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Army Strategic Planning Board, led by General Richard Cody, that there was enough body armor and that the 50,000 troops behind the front lines did not need armor, according to a 2005 piece in The New York Times. By mid-May, as troops behind front lines faced attacks, Cody reversed that decision and ordered body armor for all, “regardless of duty position.” The case was similar for military vehicles. According to an Army history: “When OIF [Operation Iraqi Freedom] began, as in every previous war the U.S. Army has fought, logistical vehicles were largely unarmored or lightly armed. . . . The ‘360-degree’ Iraqi insurgency once again exposed the danger of this approach.” The early missteps were soon compounded by other problems. It took time for the bureaucracy at the Pentagon to move; for example, at one point, the Army's equipment manager reportedly reduced the priority level of armor to the same status of socks. Also, DOD relied on several unproven contractors, which led to delays. The result was that for too long too few troops had adequate armor in a conflict that turned out to have no front lines. Soldiers almost anywhere in Iraq could be targeted, especially by the insurgents’ weapon of choice, improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Between the beginning of the conflict in March 2003 through November 1, 2008, 2,145 troops were killed and nearly 21,000 troops were wounded by IEDs and other types of explosive devices in Iraq.
PENTAGON’S SLOW ADAPTATION TO A WAR-FOOTING
The Department of Defense (DOD) has often been unresponsive or slow to react to the needs of soldiers and Marines on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in the United States when they return. “A lesson I learned fairly early on was that important elements of the Department of Defense weren’t at war,” and thus failed to support those who were in a wartime posture, said Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates. Instead, he explained, they were “preoccupied with future capabilities and procurement programs, wedded to lumbering peacetime process and procedures, stuck in bureaucratic low-gear. The needs of those in combat too often were not addressed urgently or creatively.” According to The New York Times, “In Iraq, Army officers say the Air Force has often been out of touch, fulfilling only half of their requests for the sophisticated surveillance aircraft that ground commanders say are needed to find roadside bombs and track down insurgents.” The DOD press office did not respond to a request for comment, but Gates has criticized the Pentagon’s slow initial procurement of MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles), saying, “I believe that one factor that delayed the fielding was the pervasive assumption . . . that regimes could be toppled, major combat completed, the insurgency crushed, and most U.S. troops withdrawn fairly soon.” Gates sees a lack of accountability at the root of the problems, citing as an example Walter Reed Army Medical Center: “Over a year ago, The Washington Post broke the story about inadequate out-patient care at Walter Reed. I was disappointed by the initially-dismissive response of some in the Army’s leadership, who went into damage-control mode against the press and, in one case, blamed a couple of sergeants. Wrong move. I concluded responsibility lay much higher and acted accordingly.”
INADEQUATE PLANNING FOR POST-INVASION IRAQ
The United States planned poorly for the post-invasion administration of Iraq, contributing to the rise of a broad insurgency and the loss of thousands of lives and billions of dollars. The blame can be cast widely. An official Army history of the Iraq conflict found that “
the Army, as the service primarily responsible for ground operations, should have insisted on better . . . planning and preparations. . . .” A RAND Corporation study concluded that the State Department’s “main postwar planning effort . . . raised many of the right questions. . . . Yet the Department of Defense largely ignored this project.”
Rand also found that much of the confusion between the State and Defense departments stemmed from poor direction from the National Security Council, which failed to mediate disputes between the departments. Others blame the Coalition Provisional Authority, led by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, which issued two orders that disbanded the Iraqi military and gutted the Iraqi government by banning members of the Ba'ath Party. Critics say those decisions, which took many U.S. civilian and military leaders by surprise, contributed to the rise in violence. Before Bremer replaced him as director of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Iraq, Lieutenant General Jay Garner drafted a postwar plan for Iraq, which he introduced with, “History will judge the war against Iraq not by the brilliance of its military execution, but by the effectiveness of the post-hostilities activities.”
POOR HEALTH CARE FOR VETERANS
Veterans enrolled in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care programs have long complained of receiving inadequate treatment at poorly funded facilities. According to a 2003 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, veterans were forced to travel long distances to receive care — about 25 percent of the vets lived more than a 60-minute drive from a VA hospital. They also had to endure long waits for appointments, especially in regions like Florida, home to a large number of aging veterans. Nursing homes for veterans were notoriously understaffed, making it difficult to keep up with the increasing population of older vets who need care. But the strains imposed by new veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan exposed a whole new litany of problems for the VA and the military. Citizens and lawmakers were outraged after The Washington Post exposed dismal conditions for veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2007. Several high-ranking Defense Department officials were fired or stepped down under pressure, and stories soon emerged about other medical facilities where veterans were placed in rooms teeming with fruit flies, slept on broken hospital beds or faced unprofessional staff. A subsequent investigation of 1,400 hospitals and other facilities for vets found more than 1,000 incidents of substandard conditions. The VA has also struggled to deal with the many young veterans complaining of mental health problems, especially post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Treatment for PTSD was found to be inadequate in 2005, when only half of VA medical centers had a PTSD clinical team. Congressional testimony indicated that VA examiners felt pressure to conduct exams of veterans in as little as 20 minutes. The larger problem is that the VA’s patient workload has nearly doubled in the past 10 years; there are now 7.8 million enrollees in the VA health system. The VA “has faced difficulties in managing its resources” in the face of this rising workload, concluded the GAO. While the agency has dealt with challenges in recruiting and retaining health care professionals, it has also encountered problems in its internal budget process, the GAO found. Those issues have been exacerbated by an often-unpredictable Congressional appropriations process, which has frequently been late in delivering a finalized VA budget. The result is considerable confusion and inconsistency in the timely delivery and quality of care. A VA spokesman did not respond to a request for comment, but Gerald M. Cross, acting principal deputy under the secretary of health, told Congress in 2007 that the department is committed to “providing timely, high-quality health care to those who have helped defend and preserve freedom around the world.”
VETERAN DISABILITY CLAIMS LANGUISH
For many injured veterans — aging former soldiers as well as younger ones recently back from Iraq and Afghanistan — disability claims are a vital and necessary source of income. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), however, has long failed to process claims in a timely manner, forcing many vets to wait an average of six months for their claim to be processed, and as long as two years to wait for an appeal. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported a growing backlog of claims and lengthy processing times in 2001, and the problem has persisted. By February 2007, the backlog had grown to almost 400,000 — more than 130,000 of which had exceeded the VA’s 160-day goal to process a claim. This is due in part to the growing number of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan filing disability claims — total claims have jumped from about 579,000 in 2000 to some 806,000 in 2006, a 39 percent increase. The Senate unanimously passed a measure in 2007 to provide the VA with $70.3 million to eliminate the backlog of disability claims by hiring new processors and implementing better staff training. But increasing the number of processors on staff did not immediately solve the crisis. The GAO says that increased numbers must be paired with “adequate training and performance management” in order to issue timely and accurate decisions. Daniel Akaka, Democrat of Hawaii and chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, has called for better technology, improved employee training, and an enhanced claims process to end the long delays. Until the problems are fixed, the persistent delays mean that tens of thousands of veterans and their families will continue to struggle financially. The VA press office did not respond to a request for comment, but Patrick Dunne, the department's acting under secretary for benefits, told Congress in July 2008 that the department is “
continually seeking new ways to increase production and shorten the time veterans are waiting for decisions on their claims,”
which include “
longer-term efforts to enhance and upgrade our claims processing systems through integration of today's technology.”
FAILURE TO SECURE WEAPONS IN IRAQ
In the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, U.S. troops failed to secure weapons depots across the country, allowing Iraqis to loot vast amounts of explosives, ammunition, and weapons that were then used to fuel and supply the insurgency. Many sites around Iraq remained unsecured even three and a half years after the invasion, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). “According to lessons-learned reports and senior-level DOD [Department of Defense] officials,” the GAO reported, “the widespread looting occurred because DOD had insufficient troop levels to secure conventional munitions storage sites due to several . . . planning priorities and assumptions.” Among those assumptions — which turned out to be wrong — was a belief that the Iraqi military would assist in securing these installations. The GAO also found that the Pentagon “did not have a centrally managed program for the disposition of enemy munitions until August 2003, after widespread looting had already occurred.” The sites included many well known to intelligence experts, such as the sprawling Al Qaqaa military facility south of Baghdad. The Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation each stressed to Pentagon officials the need to secure these sites, but the military largely failed to address the issue. Stolen explosives traced to the looting have been used to make improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, the number-one killer of U.S. troops in Iraq. Since the beginning of the war in Iraq, at least 2,145 troops have been killed by IEDs and other types of explosive devices. The DOD press office did not respond to a request for comment, but at a 2007 briefing, Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged the scope of the problem. “We have destroyed several hundred thousand tons of Iraqi munitions,” he told reporters. “I mean, fundamentally, the entire country was one big ammo dump. And there were thousands of these sites... we're doing our best to try and find them, but given the expanse of the country and all the other tasks which the military is trying to carry out there, it's a huge task.
CONTRACTORS FAILING TROOPS IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN
Since the invasion of Afghanistan, the Pentagon’s escalating use of outside contractors has coincided with a decrease in oversight, endangering the well-being of American troops serving there and in Iraq. The Department of Defense (DOD) has suffered a “complete breakdown in the procurement process” during the past seven years, according to Representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, echoing the findings of the Center for Public Integrity’s Windfalls of War and Windfalls of War II projects. Examples abound of companies providing substandard supplies to American forces, such as when Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), the largest contractor in Iraq, provided contaminated water to 5,000 U.S. troops in 2005 and when Halliburton, then KBR’s parent company, engaged in overcharges and questionable costs of $212.3 million for oil reconstruction work, as reported by DOD auditors. In July 2008, the Pentagon revealed that 16 Americans had died of accidental electrocution in Iraq, some tied to faulty wiring at facilities run by U.S. contractors. Among the problems cited by former electricians: inexperienced employees, including foreign electricians who did not speak English. Another problem plaguing U.S. contractors have been fires — 283 of them over just five months at facilities maintained by KBR, according to a 2007 report by the Defense Contract Management Agency. The most glaring case of poor oversight may be AEY Inc., which was awarded a nearly $300 million contract to supply ammunition for Afghanistan’s army and police. In a case that Representative Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican, said speaks “volumes about what's wrong with the military contracting process today,” AEY was allegedly run out of an unmarked office in Miami Beach by a 22-year-old; much of the ammunition he sold were reportedly old rounds shipped from Albania that were considered so unstable that NATO and the United States spent millions of dollars to destroy the stockpiles. These, prosecutors charge, included $10 million worth of rounds manufactured in China in the 1960s; the selling of Chinese ammunition is a breach of U.S. law. All this allegedly happened despite AEY being on a State Department watch list since 2005.
SURGE IN OUTSOURCING CREATES PROBLEMS IN PERFORMANCE, OVERSIGHT
A dramatic increase in the contracting of government services has resulted in a litany of problems, ranging from cost overruns and missed deadlines to a lack of oversight, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). From 2001 to 2005, the number of federal contractor jobs surged by 72 percent, increasing from 4.4 million to 7.6 million. Spending on contractors nearly doubled from FY 2001 to FY 2006, jumping from $234.8 billion to $415 billion The GAO has issued a series of reports identifying problems associated with the rise in outsourcing. Among the issues: “separating wants from needs; executing acquisition programs within available funding and established timeframes; using sound contracting arrangements with appropriate incentives and effective oversight; assuring that contractors are used only in appropriate circumstances and play proper roles; and sustaining a capable and accountable acquisition workforce ” GAO auditors found that interagency contracting was a “high-risk area” for outsourcing, as were the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The agency also cited concerns about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which now contracts out one-third of its workforce. Lack of competition is another problem. The Department of the Interior’s inspector general found that more than a quarter of the agency’s $380 billion in contracts were awarded without competition.
FAILURE TO REGULATE SECURITY CONTRACTORS
In a busy Baghdad square, a disturbance between a group of Americans and Iraqis on September 16, 2007 resulted in the shooting death of 17 Iraqi civilians. The Americans involved were not military; they were private security contractors from a company called Blackwater. To date security contractors in Iraq number around 48,000 from various companies. Similarly, jobs such as cooking and cleaning on military bases — positions that in past wars were largely filled by military or government personnel — are increasingly outsourced to private companies. The number of private contractors, as well as the amount of money the government pays them, has risen considerably as the Iraq war has gone on, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s 2007 report, Windfalls of War II. The result has been less coordination in missions involving both military and private groups, such as U.K.-based Erinys, and U.S.-based Blackwater and KBR. The problem was highlighted in 2004, when insurgents ambushed a KBR truck convoy and drivers refused to work until security was improved. Without the deliveries, the military was left without adequate fuel, water, and ammunition. A complicating factor has been the ambiguous legal status of private contractors. In the 2007 Blackwater shooting, the security firm initially maintained that the guards fired in self-defense, but investigations by the Iraqi government and the Federal Bureau of Investigation both conclude that the only shots fired came from Blackwater employees. The Department of Defense holds its contractors liable under laws covering the military, but Blackwater works for the State Department, which does not. Critics say that such large-scale security contracting results in a lack of coordination and accountability which poses a risk to American troops as well as to Iraqis, and that mistakes made by U.S. contractors will ultimately be seen by Iraqis as mistakes by the U.S. military. In a 2008 hearing, a senior official argued that contractors have long been an essential and cost-effective tool for ensuring safety in war regions. In Senate testimony, Patrick F. Kennedy, a State Department under secretary, said “The use of security contractors in these dangerous places has allowed the Department the flexibility to rapidly expand its capability… and to support national-security initiatives without the delays inherent in recruiting, hiring and training full-time personnel.
190,000 MISSING WEAPONS IN IRAQ
American weaponry intended for Iraqi security forces may have ended up in the hands of insurgents attacking U.S. troops in Iraq, due largely to oversights at the Department of Defense (DOD), according to government auditors. At least 190,000 AK-47 assault rifles and pistols disappeared between 2004 and 2005, some 30 percent of all weapons the United States distributed to Iraqi forces during that time, reported the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in an August 2007 study. While security assistance programs are traditionally operated by the State Department, the Pentagon — as it has in operations throughout the Iraq war— asserted control of the program early on, saying that it could provide greater flexibility. Until December 2005, neither the Pentagon nor Multinational Force-Iraq maintained any central record of equipment distributed during Iraqi security force training (then led by General David Petraeus). The GAO also found that 135,000 pieces of body armor and 115,000 helmets went missing during that time. A subsequent New York Times investigation found that Kassim al-Saffar, an Iraqi businessman Americans entrusted to supply Iraqi police cadets, turned the U.S. armory into a “private arms bazaar” selling weapons to anyone with cash in hand — meaning more U.S. resources wasted in Iraq and greater danger for American troops serving there.
This article, by Ramola Talwar Badam, was published by the Associated Press, January 15, 2009.
MUMBAI, India — Britain's foreign secretary suggested the U.S.-led war on terror may have "done more harm than good" as he issued a sharp rebuke Thursday to the outgoing Bush administration and it's approach to fighting extremism.
David Miliband's speech at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai was among the first public remarks from a senior British official criticizing how the battle against terrorism has been conducted since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The Taj was one of several sites in India's financial hub that was attacked by militants in a November siege that left 164 dead.
Although the early years of the war on terror saw Britain as the most reliable ally of the United States, Miliband sought to turn the page, saying Britain's government "has used neither the idea nor the phrase 'war on terror'" since 2006.
"Ultimately, the notion is misleading and mistaken," he said. "Historians will judge whether it has done more harm than good. But we need to move on to meet the challenges we face."
Miliband has denied suggestions that he timed his remarks to coincide with President George W. Bush's final days in office.
British opposition Liberal Democrat Party lawmaker Edward Davey said Miliband's criticism of the Bush administration was too little, too late.
"If the British foreign secretary had said this to President Bush many months, if not years ago, then it would have deserved some credit," Davey said Thursday in a statement. "Mimicking President-elect Obama's lines days before his inauguration does not show leadership."
Miliband has sought to align himself with Obama, who will be sworn in Tuesday, and has praised incoming U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her pledges to use a "smart power" mix of military might and diplomacy.
"The new administration has a set of values that fit very well with the values and priorities I am talking about," Miliband was quoted as telling The Guardian.
On Thursday, he restated his commitment to diplomacy and challenged the West to lead by example.
"If we want to promote the politics of consent instead of terror and of democratic opportunity rather than fear and oppression, we must up hold our commitments to human rights and civil liberties both at home and abroad," he said.
"Democracies must respond to terrorism by championing the rule of law, not subordinating it," he added.
Miliband had met India's prime minister and other senior leaders earlier in the week to discuss the investigation into the Mumbai attacks. Miliband told reporters he agreed with India's claims that the Pakistani-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, carried out the attack.
"When I visit Islamabad later this week, I will underline that there must be zero tolerance for such organizations," he said.
But he made clear that he did not back India's claims that the Pakistani state could have been involved in the attack, allegations that have raised tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals.