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Vice President Gerald Ford prepares to take over the presidency from the resigning Richard Nixon (see August 8, 1974). Ford’s transition team suggests that, in line with Ford’s own views, Ford not appoint a chief of staff at this time. “However,” says the team’s memo, “there should be someone who could rapidly and efficiently organize the new staff organization, but who will not be perceived or eager to be chief of staff.” Ford writes “Rumsfeld” in the margin of the memo. Donald Rumsfeld is a former Navy pilot and Nixon aide. Rumsfeld has been the US ambassador to NATO and, thusly, was out of Washington and untainted by Watergate. Rumsfeld harbors presidential ambitions of his own and has little use for a staff position, even such a powerful position as a president’s chief of staff. (Werth 2006, pp. 7-8) Rumsfeld believes that Ford’s first task is to establish a “legitimate government” as far from the taint of Watergate as possible—a difficult task considering Ford is retaining Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the rest of the Nixon cabinet, Haig, and virtually the entire White House staff, although plans are for Haig and most of the White House staff to gracefully exit in a month. (Werth 2006, pp. 21) Shortly after noon, Ford takes the oath of office for the presidency, becoming the first president in US history to enter the White House as an appointed, rather than an elected, official. Ford tells the nation: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.… I assume the presidency under extraordinary circumstances.… This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts.” (Glass 8/9/2007)
The Party of Labor of Albania’s newspaper, Zeri i Popullit, prints an article on April 8, condemning Yugoslavia’s police actions and the treatment of Yugoslav Albanians, and supporting the protest demands. It also says, “The London and Versailles Treaties, which settled the frontiers between Yugoslavia and Albania, can no longer be imposed to the detriment of the Albanian people.” PLA First Secretary Enver Hoxha may be the anonymous author of the article. A Zeri i Popullit article two weeks later says hundreds were killed, wounded, missing, or arrested, and that it is Albania’s right to condemn Yugoslavia’s repeated actions, which it has not done officially. Zeri i Popullit points to Yugoslavia’s charges about the treatment of Croats and Slovenes across its border in Carinthia, which the article compares to Albanian concerns about Kosovar Albanians. Albania denies seeking to annex Kosova. The Yugoslav government sees these articles as evidence that Albania is behind the demonstrations, after initially blaming domestic and Western sources. As a result, previously increasing economic and cultural cooperation between the two countries will be reduced. On April 29, Lazar Kolisevski, a member of the Yugoslav Presidency, presents a report to a meeting of the Presidency and the Federal Council for the Protection of the Constitutional Order, charging that the PLA caused the demonstrations, which were “hostile and counter-revolutionary,” and sought unification with Albania. Kolisevski calls nationalism the greatest threat to Yugoslavia and says “economic nationalism,” economic divisions between groups in Yugoslavia, is the main cause of friction, which a Zeri i Popullit article also pointed out.
Allegedly PLA-Linked Kosovar Groups - Several allegedly PLA-linked organizations will be blamed for the protests: the Revolutionary Movement of Albanian Unification (whose leader, Adam Demaci, has been in jail since 1975), the Red Popular Front (considered closer to the PLA), eight “irredentist” groups arrested before the events, and the Albanian Communist Marxist-Leninist Party in Yugoslavia (represented at the 8th Congress of the PLA, in September 1981, and having almost the same program as the PLA). Besides these “extremists,” Kosovo President Xhavid Nimami blames “Ballists” led by Abaz Ermeni and “Zogists” led by Leka Zog, Zog I’s son, and equates calls for “united Albanians” to “United Serbs,” etc., saying they would destroy Yugoslavia. In 1997 an anonymous high-ranking official will allege that a meeting of officials and professors was held in Tirana to propose inciting Kosovars to seek more rights. Albanian anti-communist scholar Paulin Kola will suggest that this was done to distract Albanians from economic problems caused by the break in relations with China in the late ‘70s. Others will allege that Albania’s Sigurimi security agency organized the demonstrations, through ties with Albanians in Western Europe, especially Switzerland. Some Kosovars will say they received support from Albanians, but not from the Albanian government. Kola will point to the alleged role of the ex-communist Socialist Party of Albania in the formation of the KLA in the ‘90s as evidence that Albania was behind the 1981 events. In 1992-1993 and 2001 interviews, Xhafer Shatri will tell Kola that he thought the March 1981 demonstrations were unplanned. On the other hand, Albania benefits from trade with Yugoslavia and Yugoslavia acts as a buffer against the USSR. Albania will repatriate 249 Kosovar Albanian asylum seekers back to Yugoslavia from 1981 to 1983.
Alleged Soviet Involvement - In late April, Yugoslavia’s Fadil Hoxha says “Greater Albanian nationalism” would destabilize the Balkans as much as other nationalisms, and implies that the USSR wants to destabilize the Balkans to undermine the Non-Aligned Movement. In June, Zeri i Popullit will accuse the USSR of trying to use Serbia’s crackdown to cause problems in the Balkans and NATO. (Vickers 1998, pp. 202-207, 211-212; Kola 2003, pp. 158-160, 163)
The US and its NATO allies carry out a military exercise called “Able Archer,” or “Able Archer 83,” designed to simulate the use of nuclear weapons in an assault against the Soviet Union, and to test command and control procedures. The military exercise comes perilously close to touching off a real nuclear exchange with the USSR. The exercise—not the first of its kind, but the most expansive—is huge, spanning Europe from Turkey to Scandinavia; it involves the heads of state of countries like Great Britain and Germany; and, perhaps most alarmingly for the Soviets, involves NATO forces escalating their military alert levels to DEFCON-1, at which point NATO nuclear weapons have their safeguards disabled and are ready for launch. The Soviet’s VRYAN program to detect a possible assault (see May 1981) is extremely active. On November 8, Moscow sends high-priority telegrams to its KGB stations in Western Europe demanding information about a possible surprise first attack on the USSR. Though little actual evidence exists, some sources erroneously tell Moscow that NATO ground forces are mobilizing. The KGB concludes that “Able Archer” is a cover for a real military assault; Warsaw Pact fighter units armed with nuclear weapons are put on alert in East Germany and Poland. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 134-135; Miloudi 11/10/2008)
'Frighteningly Close' to Nuclear War, Says Soviet Intelligence Official - Oleg Gordievsky, the intelligence chief of the Soviet embassy in London and a British double agent, warns the British that the West is entering what he calls a “danger zone.” The Daily Telegraph will later write, “It was on Nov. 8-9 that the Kremlin had pressed what came close to a panic button.” (Washington Post 10/16/1988) In his memoirs, Gordievsky will write: “In the tense atmosphere generated by the crises and rhetoric of the past few months, the KGB concluded that American forces had been placed on alert—and might even have begun the countdown to war.… [D]uring ABLE ARCHER 83 it had, without realizing it, come frighteningly close—certainly closer than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.” (Fischer 3/19/2007)
Reagan 'Shocked' at Soviet Reaction - The exercise ends without incident, but National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane will later admit, “The situation was very grave.” Secretary of State George Shultz terms the exercise “a close call” and “quite sobering.” In early 1984, when the CIA reports that the Soviets had been convinced that the US was readying a nuclear strike, President Reagan will be, in author J. Peter Scoblic’s words, “shocked” to realize that he and his administration “had nearly started a nuclear war.” Reagan, in McFarlane’s recollection, will show “genuine anxiety” and begin talking about the concept of Armageddon—the Biblical end times—with his advisers. (Fischer 3/19/2007; Scoblic 2008, pp. 134-135)
A draft of the Defense Department’s new post-Cold War strategy, the Defense Planning Guidance (DPG), causes a split among senior department officials and is criticized by the White House. The draft, prepared by defense officials Zalmay Khalilzad and Lewis “Scooter” Libby under the supervision of Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, says that the US must become the world’s single superpower and must take aggressive action to prevent competing nations—even allies such as Germany and Japan—from challenging US economic and military supremacy. (Tyler 5/23/1992; Rupert and Solomon 2005, pp. 122; Scoblic 2008, pp. 165) The views in the document will become known informally as the “Wolfowitz Doctrine.” Neoconservative Ben Wattenberg will say that its core thesis is “to guard against the emergence of hostile regional superpowers, for example, Iraq or China.” He will add: “America is No. 1. We stand for something decent and important. That’s good for us and good for the world. That’s the way we want to keep it.” (Utley 8/24/2001) The document hails what it calls the “less visible” victory at the end of the Cold War, which it defines as “the integration of Germany and Japan into a US-led system of collective security and the creation of a democratic ‘zone of peace.’” It also asserts the importance of US nuclear weapons: “Our nuclear forces also provide an important deterrent hedge against the possibility of a revitalized or unforeseen global threat, while at the same time helping to deter third party use of weapons of mass destruction through the threat of retaliation.” (Tyler 3/8/1992) The document states, “We must maintain the mechanism for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.” (Tyler 3/8/1992) In 2007, author Craig Unger will write that deterring “potential competitors” from aspiring to a larger role means “punishing them before they can act.” (Unger 2007, pp. 116)
US Not Interested in Long-Term Alliances - The document, which says the US cannot act as the world’s policeman, sees alliances among European nations such as Germany and France (see May 22, 1992) as a potential threat to US supremacy, and says that any future military alliances will be “ad hoc” affairs that will not last “beyond the crisis being confronted, and in many cases carrying only general agreement over the objectives to be accomplished.… [T]he sense that the world order is ultimately backed by the US will be an important stabilizing factor.” (Tyler 5/23/1992) Conspicuously absent is any reference to the United Nations, what is most important is “the sense that the world order is ultimately backed by the US… the United States should be postured to act independently when collective action cannot be orchestrated” or in a crisis that demands quick response. (Tyler 3/8/1992) Unger will write of Wolfowitz’s “ad hoc assemblies:” “Translation: in the future, the United States, if it liked, would go it alone.” (Unger 2007, pp. 116)
Preventing the Rise of Any Global Power - “[W]e endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power. These regions include Western Europe, East Asia, the territory of the former Soviet Union and Southwest Asia.” The document advocates “a unilateral US defense guarantee” to Eastern Europe, “preferably in cooperation with other NATO states,” and foresees use of American military power to preempt or punish use of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, “even in conflicts that otherwise do not directly engage US interests.” (Gellman 3/11/1992)
Containing Post-Soviet Threats - The document says that the US’s primary goal is “to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union.” It adds, “This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to general global power.” In the Middle East and Southwest Asia, “our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in the region and preserve US and Western access to the region’s oil.” The document also asserts that the US will act to restrain what it calls India’s “hegemonic aspirations” in South Asia (Tyler 5/23/1992) , and warns of potential conflicts, perhaps requiring military intervention, arising in Cuba and China. “The US may be faced with the question of whether to take military steps to prevent the development or use of weapons of mass destruction,” it states, and notes that these steps may include pre-empting an impending attack with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, “or punishing the attackers or threatening punishment of aggressors through a variety of means,” including attacks on the plants that manufacture such weapons. It advocates the construction of a new missile defense system to counter future threats from nuclear-armed nations. (Tyler 3/8/1992)
Reflective of Cheney, Wolfowitz's Views - Senior Pentagon officials say that while the draft has not yet been approved by either Dick Cheney or Wolfowitz, both played substantial roles in its creation and endorse its views. “This is not the piano player in the whorehouse,” one official says.
Democrats Condemn Policy Proposal - Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), an advocate of a reduction in military spending, calls the document “myopic, shallow and disappointing,” adding: “The basic thrust of the document seems to be this: We love being the sole remaining superpower in the world.” Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) attacks what he sees as the document’s emphasis on unilateral military action, and ridicules it as “literally a Pax Americana.” Pentagon officials will dispute characterizations that the policy flatly rejects any idea of multilateral military alliances. One defense official says, “What is just dead wrong is this notion of a sole superpower dominating the rest of the world.” (Tyler 3/8/1992; Gellman 3/11/1992)
Abandoned, Later Resurrected - Wolfowitz’s draft will be heavily revised and much of its language dropped in a later revision (see May 22, 1992) after being leaked to the media (see March 8, 1992). Cheney and Wolfowitz’s proposals will receive much more favorable treatment from the administration of George W. Bush (see August 21, 2001).
Germany and France announce the formation of a pan-European military force, and invite other European nations to join. The new alliance will work with NATO in individual crises when NATO’s 16 members declare an interest, but will also work independently of NATO when that organization’s interests are not involved. A new US proposal for post-Cold War foreign policy (see May 22, 1992) does not oppose such alliances, though it emphasizes the role of NATO, which is dominated by US interests and policies. (Tyler 5/23/1992)
Pressure from the Clinton administration for NATO air strikes in Bosnia leads to a crisis within the NATO alliance. Ivo H. Daalder, who is responsible for coordinating Bosnia policy on the National Security Council, later writes: “By Thanksgiving 1994, the differences within the NATO that had simmered for months below the surface had come to a full boil, creating the worst crisis within the Atlantic alliance since 1956… Faced with the possibility that NATO might be torn asunder by the rift over Bosnia policy, the administration decided to put NATO unity first and abandon any effort to convince the allies or the United Nations that air strikes remained necessary to turn the military tide in Bosnia.” (Daalder 2000, pp. 33)
A peace agreement between the Bosnians, Croats, and Serbs fighting in Bosnia is signed in Paris. Known as the Dayton Accords, the agreement was hammered out in Dayton, Ohio, the month before (see November 1-22, 1995). As part of the agreement, thousands of NATO troops begin arriving in Bosnia immediately to help keep the peace. UN peacekeepers turn their job over to NATO forces on December 20. The peace does hold in the Bosnia and Croatia regions, thus ending a war that began in 1992 (see April 6, 1992). It claimed more than 200,000 lives and made six million people homeless. (Time 12/31/1995) Fifty-one percent of Bosnia goes to an alliance of Muslims and Croats and 49 percent goes to a Serbian republic. (Binder 10/20/2003) As part of the deal, all foreign fighters are required to leave Bosnia within 30 days. In practical terms, this means the mujaheddin who have been fighting for the Bosnian Muslims (see January 14, 1996). (Smith 3/11/2000)
Ptech is a Boston computer company connected to a number of individuals suspected of ties to officially designated terrorist organizations (see 1994). These alleged ties will be of particular concern because of Ptech’s potential access to classified government secrets. Ptech specializes in what is called enterprise architecture. It is the design and layout for an organization’s computer networks. John Zachman, considered the father of enterprise architecture, later will say that Ptech could collect crucial information from the organizations and agencies with which it works. “You would know where the access points are, you’d know how to get in, you would know where the weaknesses are, you’d know how to destroy it.” Another computer expert will say, “The software they put on your system could be collecting every key stroke that you type while you are on the computer. It could be establishing a connection to the outside terrorist organization through all of your security measures.” (WBZ 4 (Boston) 12/9/2002) In late 1996, an article notes that Ptech is doing work for DARPA, a Defense Department agency responsible for developing new military technology. (Corbin 9/1/1996) In 1997, Ptech gains government approval to market its services to “all legislative, judicial, and executive branches of the federal government.” Beginning that year, Ptech will begin working for many government agencies, eventually including the White House, Congress, Army, Navy, Air Force, NATO, FAA, FBI, US Postal Service, Secret Service, the Naval Air Systems Command, IRS, and the nuclear-weapons program of the Department of Energy. For instance, Ptech will help build “the Military Information Architecture Framework, a software tool used by the Department of Defense to link data networks from various military computer systems and databases.” Ptech will be raided by US investigators in December 2002 (see December 5, 2002), but not shut down. (Guidera and Simpson 12/6/2002; CNN 12/6/2002; Hosenball 12/6/2002; Ranalli 12/7/2002) A former director of intelligence at the Department of Energy later will say he would not be surprised if an al-Qaeda front company managed to infiltrate the department’s nuclear programs. (Verton 12/9/2002) Ptech will continue to work with many of these agencies even after 9/11. After a Customs Department raid of Ptech’s offices in late 2002, their software will be declared safe of malicious code. But one article will note, “What no one knows at this point is how much sensitive government information Ptech gained access to while it worked in several government agencies.” (WBZ 4 (Boston) 12/9/2002)
A courthouse in Gostivar, Macedonia is attacked, and the National Liberation Army apparently says it is responsible, marking its first public appearance. Two more Macedonian courthouses will be attacked in January 1998. For years the Macedonian government and NATO will consider the NLA part of the KLA, and Macedonia will demand that the guerrillas go back to Kosova and that NATO secure the border. It will later be revealed that, while many in the NLA are veterans of the war in Kosova, most of its leaders and soldiers are from Macedonia. Macedonia believes the NLA wants to create a Greater Albania, including western Macedonia. (Kola 2003, pp. 376-378)
NATO launches a bombing campaign on Serbia in an attempt to force Serbian troops to withdraw from Kosovo. Kosovo is part of Serbia, but 90% ethnically Albanian and agitating for autonomy or independence. The air campaign begins just days after the collapse of peace talks (see March 19, 1999). (Priest 9/19/1999) US General Wesley Clark leads the bombing campaign. (BBC 12/25/2003)
The US-led NATO alliance begins bombing Serbia in March, pressuring it to withdraw from Kosovo, which is part of Serbia but ethnically dominated by Albanians (see March 24, 1999). During the war, the US publicly denies working with the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the dominant political group in Kosovo. However, it will later be revealed that the CIA works closely with the KLA, starting at least from late April 1999. At that time, the CIA and US Special Forces troops begin working with the KLA to defeat the Serbians. The KLA passes on useful information about Serbian positions, allowing NATO forces to bomb them. But since the KLA has a reputation for drug running, civilian atrocities, and links to al-Qaeda, the US military generally uses the Albanian army as an intermediary. KLA representatives meet daily with Albanian military officers in Albania, but CIA and US Army officers are usually present as well. In addition, there is a secret NATO operations center in the town of Kukes, Albania, near the border with Kosovo. Most of the KLA liaison work takes place there. US officials begin considering using the KLA as a light-infantry force if NATO needs to invade Kosovo with ground troops. But the war ends in June 1999 before that becomes necessary (see June 9, 1999). (Priest 9/19/1999) The same month that the CIA begins working closely with the KLA, a European intelligence report indicates the KLA is being funded by al-Qaeda and drugs from Afghanistan (see April 1999).
On June 9, 1999, NATO has been bombing Serbia for 78 days (see March 24, 1999). Serbian ruler Slobodan Milosevic capitulates, agreeing to withdraw Serbian forces from Kosovo. Kosovo technically remains part of Serbia (which is still called Yugoslavia) but it is essentially taken over by NATO. Within months, nearly 50,000 NATO peacekeeping troops occupy Kosovo, and the United Nations takes over its administration. (Priest 9/19/1999)
The June 9, 1999 Military Technical Agreement between the International Security Force (KFOR), Yugoslavia, and Serbia, ending NATO’s bombing campaign, creates a ground safety zone (GSZ), which is closed to the Yugoslav army and heavy weapons, and is five kilometers wide along the Serbia-Kosova border. The majorities in the nearby Serbian counties of Presheva, Bujanovic, and Medvegja are Albanian historically, though Albanians will not be the majority in Medvegja a few years later. The Liberation Army of Presheva, Medvegja, and Bujanovic, known by its Albanian acronym, the UCPMB (Ushtria Clirimtare e Presheves, Medvegjes dhe Bujanovcit), organizes to join the region with Kosova and uses the GSZ as a refuge. British journalist John Phillips will later suggest that the UCPMB was a provocation to help Slobodan Milosevic regain power or provoke a coup by the Yugoslav military. Others say that the UCPMB was created by the CIA or US State Department to destabilize Yugoslavia prior to the overthrow of Milosevic on October 6, 1999, but it is now out of control. According to a paper presented to the Conflict Studies Research Center at Sandhurst, England, the guerrillas show signs of American training: their method of marching, what they sing on the march, and their tactics—tactics that did not develop over the three years fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Albanian scholar Paulin Kola will later quote an unnamed UCPMB officer who says, “If [the US military] ask us to fire three rounds tomorrow, that’s what we do.” The UCPMB also says it can get in touch with NATO. The guerillas are strong and publish their newspaper in US-occupied Gjilan, Kosova. At one point US forces will lose track of an alleged Albanian CIA operative originally arrested by the British and charged with bombing a bus. Nonetheless, Kola will say the UCPMB acts out of local Albanians’ historical desire to be included in Kosova and fear of Yugoslav vengeance. The UCPMB will emerge officially in January 2000. (Kola 2003, pp. 372-375; Phillips 2004, pp. 1-3, 10)
NATO, which had previously refused to enter the Ground Safety Zone to stop the UCPMB, now works with Yugoslavia to end the insurgency. NATO Secretary General George Robertson says NATO “condemns and deplores the attacks made and violence caused by a minority of extremists near the Presevo Valley, and calls on the perpetrators to cease their illegal activity forthwith.” NATO offers to patrol with Yugoslav forces, and negotiates between the Yugoslav government and Albanians in southern Serbia. Within a few months the GSZ will be removed and the UCPMB will simultaneously disperse. In all, the fighting creates 20,000 refugees. (Kola 2003, pp. 373, 375-376)
NATO persuades the UCPMB to agree to surrender its weapons and dissolve within 10 days. Three days later, on May 24, the GSZ is scheduled to be removed, though it had been greatly reduced in area by April. Most of the guerrillas enter Kosova to surrender. (Kola 2003, pp. 376)
The first summit meeting between US President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin goes well, with the two apparently forming a warm working relationship. Both say they have found the basis for a relationship of mutual respect. Bush describes Putin as straightforward and trustworthy, and says: “I looked the man in the eye.… I was able to get a sense of his soul.” No real progress is made on the issues that divide the two nations—particularly US plans to enlarge NATO and expand its defense capabilities—but Bush says the two sides are resolved to put aside Cold War-era attitudes and differences, and to move away from the concept of “mutually assured destruction” and towards “mutually earned respect.” (BBC 7/16/2001)
The Macedonian government and Macedonian Albanian political leaders, along with EU envoy Francois Leotard and American envoy James Pardew, conduct talks for weeks in Ohrid and come to an agreement on August 8. The Framework Agreement is signed at a tense ceremony in Skopje on August 13. Under the agreement, Macedonia’s constitution will be changed to call it a state of “Macedonian citizens,” not the “Macedonian nation”; Albanian will become an official language where 20 percent or more of the people are speakers; limits are taken off national symbols and religion; and Albanians and other groups are given a veto over legislation about “culture, use of language, education, personal documentation, and use of symbols,” and can call for elected commissions to monitor human rights. The parties agree to reform the Macedonian police force to reflect Macedonia’s ethnic makeup by 2004 (only six percent of the force is Albanian at this time), the Law on Local Self-Government and Local Finance is amended to increase local autonomy, local boundaries are to be moved to reflect ethnic composition after an upcoming census, and the Laws on the Civil Service and Public Administration are changed so ethnic groups will have equal representation.
The Peace Deal between NATO and the NLA - NATO representative Pieter Feith and Ali Ahmeti, leader of the National Liberation Army, negotiate a separate peace settlement. On August 14 the NLA will say it supports the Framework Agreement and signs a technical agreement with NATO. NATO will disarm the NLA and the guerillas will receive amnesty. About 3,500 NATO soldiers will enter Macedonia, beginning on August 12 with the entry of British and French units.
Results of the Agreements - There are Macedonian and Albanian groups that oppose the Framework Agreement, including the Albanian National Army, a militant group about as old as the NLA, and the Real NLA. Some accuse NATO or the USA of being behind the NLA and ANA. Political changes will be made in Macedonia, but the Framework Agreement will not be implemented fully. By September 27, the NLA will dissolve. Six months of civil war kill 150 to 250 people (including 95 Macedonian police and soldiers), wound 650 or more, and displace 140,000 people. At its peak, the NLA controls about 20 percent of Macedonia. (Kola 2003, pp. 379-382; Phillips 2004, pp. 134-136, 161, 204)
Retired General Wesley Clark, the former supreme commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), warns on CNN that the Bush administration might “think it’s time for regime change” in Iraq. (Unger 2007, pp. 217)
Ali Ahmeti, the leader of the National Liberation Army (NLA), announces that the NLA has been dissolved. Despite this, there will be continued fighting around Tetova throughout 2002 and half way through 2003. It is widely believed that the 9/11 attacks dealt a serious blow to Albanian militancy, because the USA and NATO are preoccupied elsewhere and are more concerned about terrorism. The Bush administration is also considered less pro-Albanian than the Clinton administration was. (Kola 2003, pp. 381; Phillips 2004, pp. 177)
A secret arrangement is made in Brussels, Belgium, by all members of NATO. Lord George Robertson, British defense secretary and later NATO’s secretary general, will later explain NATO members agree to provide “blanket overflight clearances for the United States and other allies’ aircraft for military flights related to operations against terrorism.” (Grey 11/25/2007) Over 700 prisoners will fly over NATO countries on their way to the US-controlled Guantanamo prison in Cuba beginning in 2002 (see January 14, 2002-2005).
Conditions of Transfer - According to a 2007 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC—see March 15, 2009), detainees flown on CIA rendition flights would be:
Photographed both clothed and naked;
Subjected to body cavity (rectal) searches, with some detainees later alleging that they were administered suppositories of some sort;
Dressed in a diaper and a tracksuit, with earphones placed over the ears (through which shatteringly loud music would sometimes be played), a blindfold, black goggles, and sometimes cotton wool placed over the eyes;
Shackled by hands and feet, and thus carried onto an airplane, where they would remain, without toilet privileges, from one to 30 hours.
The prisoners would usually be allowed to sit upright, but the ICRC will later find that on “some occasions detainees were transported lying flat on the floor of the plane… with their hands cuffed behind their backs,” causing them “severe pain and discomfort,” as they were moved from one location to another. (Danner 3/15/2009)
In 2006, British and NATO forces take over from US forces in the southern regions of Afghanistan where Taliban resistance is the strongest. The British discover that between 2002 and 2005, the US had not monitored Taliban activity in the southern provinces or across the border in Quetta, Pakistan, where most of the Taliban leadership resides. NATO officers describe the intelligence about the Taliban in these regions as “appalling.” Most Predators were withdrawn from Afghanistan around April 2002 (see April 2002) and satellites and others communications interception equipment was moved to Iraq around the same time (see May 2002). One US general based in Afghanistan privately admits to a reporter that NATO will pay the price for the lack of surveillance in those regions. This general says the Iraq war has taken up resources and the US concentrated what resources they had left in the region on areas where they thought al-Qaeda leaders were, giving little attention to regions only occupied by the Taliban. As a result, at the end of 2005, NATO intelligence estimates that the Taliban have only 2,000 fighters. But Taliban offensives in 2006 show this number to be a dramatic underestimate. (Rashid 2008, pp. 359)
At a NATO security conference in Munich, Germany, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) publicly argues that the US should invade Iraq. He says: “A terrorist resides in Baghdad.… A day of reckoning is approaching.” He argues that attacking Iraq in addition to Afghanistan would force other state sponsors of terrorism to stop supporting terrorists, “accomplishing by example what we would otherwise have to pursue through force of arms.” According to a later account by the New York Times, McCain “[urges] the Europeans to join what he portrayed as an all but certain assault on Saddam Hussein.” McCain concludes: “Just as Sept. 11 revolutionized our resolve to defeat our enemies, so has it brought into focus the opportunities we now have to secure and expand our freedom.… A better world is already emerging from the rubble.” (Kirkpatrick 8/16/2008)
Retired General Wesley Clark writes a piece in the Washington Monthly, titled, “An Army of One: In the war on terrorism, alliances are not an obstacle to victory. They’re the key to it,” in which he argues that it is a “fundamental misjudgment” to continue the war on terrorism in the absence of NATO support. He refers to NATO’s war in Kosovo repeatedly in his essay using it as an example of how he thinks a just and effective war should be fought. He also says that cooperation with its European allies is crucial if the Bush administration wants to prevent future attacks, noting that most of the planning and preparations for the 9-11 attacks took place in cells in Europe. (Clark 9/2002)
NATO denies a request from the Bush administration for military aid because many countries feel that neither the weapons inspections nor other means of diplomacy have yet been given an adequate test. The Bush administration wants permission to use NATO AWACS radar planes and Patriot air-defense batteries to protect Turkey, NATO ships in the eastern Mediterranean, as well as NATO personnel for protecting American bases in Europe and possibly the Gulf. (Knowlton 1/23/2003)
NATO takes control of security in Kabul, Afghanistan. This is NATO’s first-ever operational commitment outside Europe. (BBC 5/15/2007) NATO will eventually take control of military operations for all of Afghanistan in 2006 (see July-October 2006).
NATO adopts an official policy document mandating “zero-tolerance” for the trafficking in human beings by NATO forces and staff. The document is a result of discussions that began at NATO in the fall of 2003. The document says that NATO will increase cooperation among countries in order to combat the problem of human trafficking. Specific strategies outlined in the document include reviewing current legislation of member countries, encouraging member countries to approve the UN Convention Against Organized Crime, providing support to local authorities in their efforts to combat trafficking in human beings, imposing penalties on contractors who engage in human trafficking, and evaluating the implementation of the efforts of those involved. (NATO 6/29/2004)
Beginning in July 2006, NATO troops begin taking control of the leadership of military operations against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. By October 2006, NATO assumes responsibility for security across all of Afghanistan, taking command from a US-led coalition force. Previously, NATO only controlled security around the capital of Kabul (see August 2003). (BBC 5/15/2007) There are about 37,000 NATO troops from 37 countries. Most of the fighting is done by troops from the US (17,000), Britain (7,000), Canada (2,500), and the Netherlands (2,000). Troops deployed to safer areas include those from Germany (3,000), Italy (2,000), Turkey, Poland, and France (1,000 each). In addition, the US-led coalition under the banner of “Operation Enduring Freedom” continues a counterterrorism mission involving an additional 8,000 soldiers, mainly Special Forces. (BBC 6/23/2007; BBC 7/10/2007)
In June 2006, the US, NATO, and Afghanistan’s intelligence agency compile a secret report on the Taliban. The report is discussed on July 9 at a private meeting of officials from Western countries and Afghanistan, chaired by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The report goes further than any previous report in describing the Pakistani government’s involvement in supporting the Taliban. It states, “ISI operatives reportedly pay a significant number of Taliban living/ operating in both Pakistan and Afghanistan to fight.… A large number of those fighting are doing so under duress as a result of pressure from the ISI. The insurgency cannot survive without its sanctuary in Pakistan, which provides freedom of movement, communications for command and control, and a secure environment for collaboration with foreign extremist groups. The sanctuary of Pakistan provides a seemingly endless supply of potential new recruits for the insurgency.” The report also states that at least four of the Taliban’s top leaders are living in Pakistan. But despite the US involvement in creating the report, US diplomacy generally remains in denial about Pakistan’s double dealing. President Bush not only fails to successfully pressure Pakistan on the issue, but even continues to praise Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. The report is not leaked to the press at the time. (Rashid 2008, pp. 367-368) In September 2006, when Pakistan announces a deal with militants in the tribal region of Waziristan, the heart of al-Qaeda’s safe haven, Bush publicly supports the deal (see September 5, 2006 and September 7, 2006).
Libertarian Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), contemplating a run for the 2008 presidential nomination, discusses the many federal programs, agencies, and bureaus he would eliminate if he had the power. He would do away with the CIA, the Federal Reserve, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the IRS, and the Department of Education, among others. He would eliminate Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. He would abolish the federal income tax (see April 28, 1999). He would zero out federal funding for public education, leaving that to local governments. Paul recently refused to vote for federal funds to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina, explaining that to do so would “rob” other Americans “in order to support the people on the coast.” He routinely votes against federal subsidies for farmers. He supports absolute gun rights, and absolutely opposes abortion, though he thinks regulations supporting or denying abortion should be left up to the states. He wants to repeal federal laws regulating drugs and allow prohibited drugs such as heroin to be sold legally. Paul says the US should withdraw from the United Nations and NATO, and wants the country to stop giving foreign aid to any country for any reason, calling such assistance “foreign welfare.” He even says President Lincoln should never have taken the nation to war to abolish slavery. Referring to the years before the income tax, Paul says: “We had a good run from 1776 to 1913. We didn’t have it; we did pretty well.” As for Social Security, “we didn’t have it until 1935,” Paul says. “I mean, do you read stories about how many people were laying in the streets and dying and didn’t have medical treatment?… Prices were low and the country was productive and families took care of themselves and churches built hospitals and there was no starvation.” Historian Michael Katz describes himself as aghast at Paul’s characterization of American life before Social Security. “Where to begin with this one?” he asks. “The stories just break your heart, the kind of suffering that people endured.… Stories of families that had literally no cash and had to kind of beg to get the most minimal forms of food, who lived in tiny, little rooms that were ill-heated and ill-ventilated, who were sick all the time, who had meager clothing.” Charles Kuffner of the Texas progressive blog Off the Kuff writes, “I can only presume that the Great Depression never occurred in whatever universe Paul inhabits.” (Copeland 7/9/2006; Charles Kuffner 7/10/2006)
Lord Paddy Ashdown, the former United Nations high representative and European Union special representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, says that international forces are unlikely to win the war in Afghanistan, risking to set off a regional conflict that could match the scale and magnitude of World Wars I and II. “I think we are losing in Afghanistan now, we have lost I think and success is now unlikely,” Ashdown says in an interview with Reuters. “Some people refer to the First and Second World Wars as European civil wars and I think a similar regional civil war could be initiated by this (failure) to match this magnitude,” he says. Ashdown warns that failure of international forces in Afghanistan would have wider repercussions than any loss in Iraq. “I believe losing in Afghanistan is worse than losing in Iraq. It will mean that Pakistan will fall and it will have serious implications internally for the security of our own countries and will instigate a wider Shiite, Sunni regional war on a grand scale.” Ashdown then ties impending catastrophe in Afghanistan with the lack of a powerful, high-level coordinator to lead the foreign mission there. “Unless somebody has the power genuinely to coordinate and unify the international approach, we will lose and I think that is happening,” he says. Ashdown, who currently heads the EU-Russia Centre think tank in Brussels, has been tipped and promoted for such a role by some US and UK officials, but says he has ruled himself out of the job. (Ennis 10/17/2007) Ashdown will later interview for the position of United Nations “super envoy” to Afghanistan. However, Afghan president Hamid Karzai will oppose Ashdown’s candidacy, forcing him to withdraw his name from consideration, something he will say he did “reluctantly.” (UN Elections.org 1/30/2008)
Nick Davies, author of a new book, Flat Earth News, claims that since the 9/11 attacks, the US has engaged in a systematic attempt to manipulate world opinion on Iraq and Islamist terrorism by creating fake letters and other documents, and then releasing them with great fanfare to a credulous and complicit media.
Al-Zarqawi Letter - Davies cites as one example a 2004 letter purporting to be from al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that became the basis of an alarming news report in the New York Times and was used by US generals to claim that al-Qaeda was preparing to launch a civil war in Iraq (see February 9, 2004). The letter is now acknowledged to have almost certainly been a fake, one of many doled out to the world’s news agencies by the US and its allies. Davies writes: “For the first time in human history, there is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist it and to expose it.” Davies says the propaganda is being generated by US and allied intelligence agencies working without effective oversight. It functions within a structure of so-called “strategic communications,” originally designed by the US Defense Department and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to use what Davies calls “subtle and non-violent tactics to deal with Islamist terrorism,” but now being used for propaganda purposes. Davies notes that al-Zarqawi was never interested in working with the larger al-Qaeda network, but instead wanted to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy and replace it with an Islamist theocracy. After the 9/11 attacks, when US intelligence was scouring the region for information on al-Qaeda, Jordan supplied the US with al-Zarqawi’s name, both to please the Americans and to counter their enemy. Shortly thereafter, the US intelligence community began placing al-Zarqawi’s name in press releases and news reports. He became front-page material after being cited in Colin Powell’s UN presentation about Iraqi WMDs and that nation’s connections with al-Qaeda (see February 5, 2003). The propaganda effort had an unforeseen side effect, Davies says: it glamorized al-Zarqawi so much that Osama bin Laden eventually set aside his differences with him and made him the de facto leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Davies cites other examples of false propaganda besides the Zarqawi letter:
Tales of bin Laden living in a lavish network of underground bases in Afghanistan, “complete with offices, dormitories, arms depots, electricity and ventilation systems”;
Taliban leader Mullah Omar “suffering brain seizures and sitting in stationary cars turning the wheel and making a noise like an engine”;
Iran’s ayatollahs “encouraging sex with animals and girls of only nine.”
Davies acknowledges that some of the stories were not concocted by US intelligence. An Iranian opposition group produced the story that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was jailing people for texting each other jokes about him. Iraqi exiles filled the American media “with a dirty stream of disinformation about Saddam Hussein.” But much of it did come from the US. Davies cites the Pentagon’s designation of “information operations” as its fifth “core competency,” along with land, air, sea, and special forces. Much of the Pentagon’s “information operations,” Davies says, is a “psyops” (psychological operations) campaign generating propaganda: it has officials in “brigade, division and corps in the US military… producing output for local media.” The psyops campaign is linked to the State Department’s campaign of “public diplomacy,” which Davies says includes funding radio stations and news Web sites. Britain’s Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations in the Ministry of Defense “works with specialists from 15 UK psyops, based at the Defense Intelligence and Security School at Chicksands in Bedfordshire.”
Some Fellow Journalists Skeptical - The Press Association’s Jonathan Grun criticizes Davies’s book for relying on anonymous sources, “something we strive to avoid.” Chris Blackhurst of the Evening Standard agrees. The editor of the New Statesman, John Kampfner, says that he agrees with Davies to a large extent, but he “uses too broad a brush.” (Davies 2/11/2008) Kamal Ahmad, editor of the Observer, is quite harsh in his criticism of Davies, accusing the author of engaging in “scurrilous journalism,” making “wild claims” and having “a prejudiced agenda.” (Davies singles out Ahmad for criticism in his book, accusing Ahmad of being a “conduit for government announcements” from Downing Street, particularly the so-called “dodgy dossier” (see February 3, 2003).) (Savage 2/11/2008) But journalist Francis Wheen says, “Davies is spot on.” (Davies 2/11/2008)
An extraordinary assembly of elected representatives in Pristina adopts the Kosovo Declaration of Independence, declaring Kosova “an independent and sovereign state,” taking up the responsibilities previously belonging to UNMIK (United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo) and the Republic of Serbia. The declaration specifically denies being “a precedent for any other situation.” It says independence is what the people of Kosova want and is consistent with UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari’s Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement. The government is envisioned as “a democratic, secular, and multi-ethnic republic, guided by the principles of non-discrimination and equal protection under the law.” The representatives accept the borders delineated in the Ahtisaari Plan. Kosova seeks reconciliation at home and friendly relations with neighboring states, “including the Republic of Serbia with whom we have deep historical, commercial, and social ties that we seek to develop further in the near future.” Earlier in the declaration, gratitude is expressed for the international intervention in 1999, “removing Belgrade’s influence over Kosovo” and putting Kosova under temporary UN jurisdiction. The declaration says “no mutually-acceptable status outcome was possible [after years of negotiation between Yugoslavia/Serbia and Kosova], in spite of the good faith engagement of leaders.” It invites an international civilian mission to oversee the Ahtisaari Plan, an EU legal mission, and continued NATO military involvement. The Kosovar government states its wish to join the EU. A year later, Kosova President Jakup Krasniqi, the KLA’s spokesperson during the war, will note in an anniversary speech that 54 countries have recognized the Republic of Kosova, including all of its neighbors, save Serbia. He says, “Serb community in Kosovo and Albanian community in Serbia should be a reason more for relationship and cooperation between two countries.” This is not the first time elected representatives have declared Kosova independent, but Kosova was occupied after it declared itself a republic during the dissolution of Yugoslavia. (Assembly of Kosova 5/15/2010)
A series of US airstrikes kills over 90 civilians, mostly women and children, in the western Afghani province of Herat, according to an Afghan government investigation. Most of the deaths take place in and around the village of Azizabad. Nematullah Shahrani, the Afghan Religious Affairs Minister, says the strikes, carried out by US, NATO, and Afghan forces, were planned to strike at a Taliban commander, but were not coordinated and did not kill any Taliban fighters. The US-led coalition claims 30 militants and no civilians died, a claim repudiated by Afghan officials and the United Nations. “We went to the area and found out that the bombardment was very heavy, lots of houses have been destroyed and more than 90 non-combatants including women, children, and elders have died,” says Shahrani. “Most are women and children.” President Hamid Karzai fires two senior Afghan army commanders in the area over the strikes, and sharply criticizes American and NATO military commanders for the errant air strikes. Shahrani says he intends to meet with US Special Forces commanders who were involved in the operation. “They have claimed that Taliban were there. They must prove it,” he says. “So far it is not clear for us why the coalition conducted the air strikes.” Local residents engage in angry, grief-stricken demonstrations outside the blast zones. Such incidents, Shahrani says, have a “very bad impact” on the local populace. “It causes the people to distance themselves from the government.” The UN special representative in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, agrees, saying that such operations undermine the “trust and confidence of the Afghan people.” Karzai has ordered Shahrani’s team to pay 100,000 afghanis ($2,000) for each person killed. (Agence France-Presse 8/24/2008; Boone 8/26/2008) Karzai later says that the raid did not kill “a single Taliban” but caused serious harm to US-Afghan relations. A government spokesman will say that the US acted on false information provided by a rival tribe. A UN investigation later finds that 92 civilians died in the strikes. (Straziuso 9/16/2008) Karzai says he will launch a “full review” of the agreements allowing US and NATO forces to operate in his country. “The government of Afghanistan has repeatedly discussed the issue of civilian casualties with the international forces and asked for all air raids on civilian targets, especially in Afghan villages, to be stopped,” the government says in a statement. “The issues of uncoordinated house searches and harassing civilians have also been of concern to the government of Afghanistan which has been shared with the commanders of international forces in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, to date, our demands have not been addressed, rather, more civilians, including women and children, are losing their lives as a result of air raids.” (Boone 8/26/2008)
Civilian deaths in Afghanistan from US and NATO air strikes almost tripled from 2006 to 2007, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW). A spate of recent airstrikes has exacerbated the problem and is fueling a public backlash, the report says. The report also condemns the Taliban’s use of “human shields,” a direct violation of the laws of war. The report is titled “‘Troops in Contact’: Airstrikes and Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan.” It analyzes the use of airstrikes by US and NATO forces and resulting civilian casualties, particularly when used to make up for the lack of ground troops and during emergency situations.
Different Types of Strikes - The vast majority of civilian deaths occur during unplanned, impromptu airstrikes, the report finds; planned airstrikes result in far fewer civilian casualties. “Rapid response airstrikes have meant higher civilian casualties, while every bomb dropped in populated areas amplifies the chance of a mistake,” says HRW official Brad Adams. “Mistakes by the US and NATO have dramatically decreased public support for the Afghan government and the presence of international forces providing security to Afghans.”
Deaths Escalate from 2006 to 2007 - In 2006, 116 Afghan civilians died during US/NATO airstrikes; in 2007, 321 died during US/NATO airstrikes. In both years, the number of civilians dying due to Taliban strikes far outnumbered those killed by US or NATO forces. All of these trends continue during the first seven months of 2008.
'Poor Response by US Officials' - HRW is highly critical of what it calls “the poor response by US officials when civilian deaths occur.” The report finds: “Prior to conducting investigations into airstrikes causing civilian loss, US officials often immediately deny responsibility for civilian deaths or place all blame on the Taliban. US investigations conducted have been unilateral, ponderous, and lacking in transparency, undercutting rather than improving relations with local populations and the Afghan government. A faulty condolence payment system has not provided timely and adequate compensation to assist civilians harmed by US actions.”
Demanding Solutions - Adams says that the US must work to curtail the unplanned airstrikes that kill so many Afghan civilians, and when civilians are killed, the US must take the proper responsibility and provide “timely compensation.” He adds: “While Taliban shielding is a factor in some civilian deaths, the US shouldn’t use this as an excuse when it could have taken better precautions. It is, after all, its bombs that are doing the killing.” HRW also notes that in many instances, civilian deaths are accompanied by destroyed villages, causing that entire village’s population to become refugees. Afghanistan has a large and ever-growing number of what HRW calls “internally displaced persons.” Adams says: “The recent airstrikes killing dozens of Afghans make clear that the system is still broken and that civilians continue to pay the ultimate price. Civilian deaths from airstrikes act as a recruiting tool for the Taliban and risk fatally undermining the international effort to provide basic security to the people of Afghanistan.” (Human Rights Watch 9/7/2008)
The United Nations reports that 1,445 Afghan civilians have died during fighting between Taliban insurgents and US and/or NATO forces in 2008. This is a 40 percent increase over 2007 (see September 7, 2008). Around 55 percent of those civilian deaths were caused by Taliban attacks or by al-Qaeda or local strikes, says the UN report. Around 40 percent of those deaths were due to US, NATO, and/or Afghan troop attacks. Of those deaths, 395 were from US or NATO airstrikes. The number and percentages of civilian deaths at the hands of US/NATO forces is up significantly from 2007. “This is the highest number of civilian deaths to occur in a single month since the end of major hostilities and the ousting of the Taliban regime at the end of 2001,” says UN human rights chief Navi Pillay. He calls for greater transparency in accountability procedures for US and NATO forces involved in civilian casualties. The UN does not provide information on how its figures were collected. Afghan officials say that a recent US-led operation in the western village of Azizabad killed 90 civilians, including 60 children, dramatically increasing the death toll and damaging US-Afghan relations (see August 22, 2008). US General David McKiernan, the commander of US-led forces in Afghanistan, says he is fighting the war with too few ground troops. As a result, he is forced to rely more on air power, and that costs civilian lives. With violence escalating, McKiernan says he is fighting the war with too few ground troops, and that the shortage compels him to rely more on air power, at the cost of higher civilian casualties. Some 65,000 coalition ground troops are in Afghanistan, 33,000 of those American. Still, the UN emphasizes, most civilians die at the hands of Taliban attacks. Militants routinely kill civilians in suicide bombings and random strikes, but are also targeting Afghans that they suspect are working with the government of President Hamid Karzai, or with US-led forces. “There is substantial evidence indicating that the Taliban are carrying out a systematic campaign of intimidation and violence aimed at Afghan civilians they believe to be supportive of the government, the international community, and military forces,” says Pillay. (Straziuso 9/16/2008)
Wahid Mujda, an Afghan political analyst and former Taliban official for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tells the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) network that the US is supplying arms to the Taliban to “jeopardize the security situation” as a justification to stay in Afghanistan. According to Iranian Press TV, Mujda says the US invaded Afghanistan on the pretext of fighting terrorism, but actually wanted to create a base to exercise pressure on rivals in the region. He also says that NATO-led forces are even encouraging cross border attacks by the Taliban from Pakistan. Alluding to meetings held in the United Arab Emirates, Mujda further suggests that the US has begun direct talks with the Taliban to secure results in the 2009 Afghanistan presidential election, implying the possibility of negotiations on an important role for the Taliban in the next Afghan government. (Press TV 9/28/2008)
Senior Bush administration officials meet in secret together with Afghanistan experts from NATO and the United Nations to brief advisers from the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Barack Obama on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. The meetings take place over two days and are held at an exclusive Washington club a few blocks from the White House. The briefing is part of an effort by the departing Bush administration to smooth the transition to the next team, according to a New York Times report. At the meetings, Bush administration officials reportedly press the need for the incoming president to have a plan for Afghanistan ready before taking office. The sessions are unclassified, but the participants agree not to discuss the content of the briefings or discussions publicly. Some participants, however, will later disclose some meeting details to the Times. Among issues reportedly discussed are:
Negotiating with the Taliban; and
Expanding the war in Pakistan.
The meetings are organized by New York University professor Barnett Rubin, an expert on Afghanistan. Participants include John K. Wood, the senior Afghanistan director at the National Security Council; Lieutenant General Karl W. Eikenberry, a former American commander in Afghanistan who will later become the next US ambassador to Afghanistan (see April 29, 2009); and Kai Eide, the United Nations representative in Afghanistan. The Obama campaign sends Jonah Blank, a foreign policy specialist for Senator Joe Biden, and Craig Mullaney, an Afghanistan adviser to Obama. The McCain campaign is represented by Lisa Curtis and Kori Schake, two former State Department officials. The New York Times suggests that the briefing on Afghanistan and Pakistan appears to have been the most extensive that Bush administration officials have provided on any issue to both presidential campaigns. It further notes that both Obama and McCain have promised to increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan. (Mazzetti and Schmitt 10/30/2008)
The newly named US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, says that the Obama administration will reverse years of Bush administration policies and engage in “direct diplomacy” with Iran. Such direct diplomatic efforts have not been tried with Iran since before the 1979 Iranian revolution (see February-November 4, 1979), when Iranian radicals captured 52 Americans and held them hostage for well over a year (see November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981). (Associated Press 1/26/2009) Israel’s Arutz Shiva calls the announcement a “not-unexpected bombshell.” (Ratzlav-Katz 1/26/2009)
Iran Open to Engagement - Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki says Iran is “ready for new approaches by the United States.” Mottaki adds that Iran would consider the idea of allowing the US to open a diplomatic office in Tehran. The last US diplomatic office was closed in 1979.
US Still 'Deeply Concerned' about Iran's Nuclear Program - Rice says that Iran must meet UN Security Council demands to suspend uranium enrichment before the US will be willing to discuss its nuclear program. “The dialogue and diplomacy must go hand in hand with a very firm message from the United States and the international community that Iran needs to meet its obligations as defined by the Security Council,” Rice says. “And its continuing refusal to do so will only cause pressure to increase.” Rice says the US remains “deeply concerned about the threat that Iran’s nuclear program poses to the region, indeed to the United States and the entire international community.” She adds, “We look forward to engaging in vigorous diplomacy that includes direct diplomacy with Iran, as well as continued collaboration and partnership” with the other four permanent members of the Security Council—Britain, China, France and Russia—as well as Germany.
NATO: Iran Must Be Included in Decisions Regarding Afghanistan - NATO Secretary General Japp de Hoop Scheffer says that Iran must be part of the engagement process of escalating the war in Afghanistan. “We need a discussion that brings in all the relevant players: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, Russia—and yes, Iran,” he says. “We need a pragmatic approach to solve this very real challenge.” Bush officials have long sought to isolate Iran from having any influence over the events in Afghanistan, even though its ruling Shi’ite theocracy has long opposed Afghanistan’s Taliban. (Associated Press 1/26/2009; Ratzlav-Katz 1/26/2009)
Clinton: 'New, Perhaps Different Approach' - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says: “Obviously, the incoming administration views with great concern the role that Iran is playing in the world, its sponsorship of terrorism, its continuing interference with the functioning of other governments, and its pursuit of nuclear weapons. There is an ongoing policy review that the Obama administration has undertaken, but… our goal will be to do everything we can, pursue through diplomacy, through the use of sanctions, through creating better coalitions with countries that we believe also have a big stake in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon power, to try to prevent this from occurring. We are not taking any option off the table, at all. But we will pursue a new, perhaps different approach that will become a cornerstone of what the Obama administration believes is an attitude towards engagement that might bear fruit.” She says that the US continues to view an Iranian nuclear program as “unacceptable.” (Ratzlav-Katz 1/26/2009)
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemns a US attack that he says killed 16 civilians in eastern Afghanistan. Hundreds of Afghan villagers protested the raid, which the US military says killed 15 Taliban militants. Karzai says no Taliban were killed, but among the civilian dead were two women and three children. Karzai says killing innocent Afghans “is strengthening the terrorists” and requests that Afghanistan be given more oversight of US military operations in the country. Vice President Joseph Biden says that the situation in Afghanistan will not improve any time soon. “We’ve inherited a real mess,” Biden says. “We’re about to go in and try to essentially reclaim territory that’s been effectively lost. All of this means we’re going to be engaging the enemy more now.” (Kennedy 1/26/2009) In 2008, Human Rights Watch condemned the US and NATO for killing hundreds of Afghan civilians, mostly in impromptu “rapid response” airstrikes (see September 7, 2008). Casualties in 2008 were higher than ever, according to a UN report (see September 16, 2008).
A US military newspaper reports that continued resurgence of the Taliban has led residents in Kabul to surmise that the US is supporting the Taliban. US support for the Taliban is “virtually ubiquitous” in Kabul, according to Stars and Stripes. “Now we think America is supporting both the Taliban and the Afghan government. That’s what everyone says,” states Kabul shopkeeper Qand Mohmadi. “We don’t know for sure why they are doing it,” says real estate broker Daoud Zadran. “Politics is bigger than our thoughts. But maybe America wants to build up the Taliban so they have an excuse to remain in Afghanistan because of the Iranian issue.” Stars and Stripes also reports that many residents suspect that the US and Western companies are colluding with Afghan officials to pilfer the economy. (Gisick 2/15/2009)
National Opinion Survey Reveals Public Alarm, Plummeting Confidence - A public opinion survey conducted by ABC News, the BBC, and the German TV station ARD finds plummeting public confidence in and support for the Afghan government and its Western allies. Just 40 percent of those surveyed say they feel the country is heading in the right direction, down from 77 percent in 2005. Approval of overall US efforts in Afghanistan is only 32 percent, compared to 68 percent three years ago. The poll also shows falling support for the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In 2005, 80 percent of Afghans said they supported the Karzai regime, but just 49 percent say the same thing today. In addition to corruption and complaints about food, fuel, and the economy, the resurgence of the Taliban is a key element of the public’s alarm: 58 percent of Afghans see the Taliban as the biggest danger to the country. 43 percent say the Taliban have grown stronger in the past year in comparison to 24 percent who think the movement has weakened. (Langer 2/9/2009)
Police Chief Doubts Veracity of Public Suspicions - One district police chief in Kabul expresses frustration with American efforts, but finds it hard to believe that the US is supporting the Taliban. “People see that America is so strong and they wonder—why can’t it wipe out the Taliban?” says Col. Najeeb Ullah Samsour, adding that he does not personally think the US is supporting the insurgents. “People are saying that for six or seven years we have all these international troops, but everything is getting worse… security, the economy, everything. So they think America must be supporting the Taliban.”
Osama bin Laden - “This government is so corrupt that if Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar were crossing the street together right outside, no one would call the police because they know the police would just take a bribe to let them go,” says resident Habib Rahman. “A lot of people say that Osama is really from America,” according to Nasrallah Wazidi. “They say he’s just playing a role like a movie star.” (Gisick 2/15/2009)
The US Defense Department admits that it lacks a strategy for victory in Afghanistan even as it prepares to deploy 17,000 additional troops to that beleaguered country, but it has made some recommendations to change the US strategy there. Last week, during President Obama’s meeting with Defense Secretary Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Obama asked, “What is the end game” in the military’s strategy for Afghanistan? According to one military official present in the briefing, the response was, “Frankly, we don’t have one.” Senior military officials confirm that the Joint Chiefs have delivered a classified memo to Obama that recommends refocusing the military’s mission in Afghanistan to defeating al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and leaving the “hearts and minds” aspect of the war to other US agencies—particularly the State, Justice, and Agriculture Departments—and NATO. “This is a classic counnterinsurgency strategy, but the military cannot do it alone,” says one official. The officials admit that the Taliban “has definitely gained the upper hand” in some areas of Afghanistan, particularly the south, because there’s just too much territory and too few American forces to “clear and hold” an area. “The Taliban is no match” for US forces, the officials say, but once the Americans drive the Taliban from a region, then leave, the Taliban immediately filter back in and regain control. “In many remote areas, the Taliban have established ‘shadow governments’ and in some cases gained the confidence and support of the locals,” says an official. “We need a strategy that will convince the Afghan people [in the remote areas] that the Taliban’s extremism is no longer attractive as a government or a career,” the officials say. Such a strategy must increase Afghan security, then establish strong, fair local governments and create jobs and educational opportunities. “But that is not the military’s job,” one military official says. “We can build the schools, we can build the courthouses, but we cannot help them establish the good governance, justice and educations systems” that are needed. The new strategy also targets the Afghani drug trade, and loosens the previous rules of engagement that only allowed for eradication of poppy fields and confrontation with drug lords after it had been established that those activities were directly connected to the Taliban or al-Qaeda. The new rules assume any drug activities help the insurgency and are, therefore, “fair game.” (Miklaszewski and Kube 2/4/2009)
Pakistan agrees to a truce with Taliban fighters that would impose strict Islamic religious law—sharia—on the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan, a setback for the Obama administration’s hopes to mount a united front against Islamist militants there and in Afghanistan. The agreement gives the Taliban religious and social control of the Swat region, considered of critical strategic importance in battling insurgents in the wild border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. James Dobbins, a former Bush administration envoy to Afghanistan, says: “It is definitely a step backwards. The Pakistanis have to take a stronger line with extremists in the region.” Obama administration envoy Richard Holbrooke says, “We are very concerned about Pakistan and stability.” A Pentagon official calls it a “negative development,” but other officials are more circumspect. “What is, of course, important is that we are all working together to fight terrorism and particularly to fight the cross-border activities that some Taliban engage in,” says Pentagon spokesman Gordon Duguid. NATO officials take a tougher stance, with NATO spokesman James Appathurai calling the truce a “reason for concern.” He adds, “Without doubting the good faith of the Pakistani government, it is clear that the region is suffering very badly from extremists and we would not want it to get worse.” Amnesty International official Sam Zarifi says, “The government is reneging on its duty to protect the human rights of people from Swat Valley by handing them over to Taliban insurgents.” (Associated Press 2/18/2009)
For the first time in 30 years, an Iranian diplomat meets for informal discussions with officials from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Senior NATO negotiator Martin Erdmann will later confirm that he has met with Iran’s ambassador to the European Union, Ali-Asghar Khaji. “This is another good step in engaging Iran in the international community,” Erdmann will say. NATO will confirm the discussion, and will say the main focus of the talks is the situation in Afghanistan. Iran will confirm its planned participation in US-backed talks on Afghanistan to take place at The Hague. NATO spokesman James Appathurai will say of Iran’s participation in those talks, “The fact that Iran has decided to go is good news and constitutes a new step.” The US State Department will welcome Iran’s contacts with NATO. The Iranian contact follows a recent message sent by President Obama to the government and people of Iran (see March 19, 2009). (BBC 3/27/2009)
NATO wants to grow the Afghan National Army (ANA) from a force of 80,000 to 270,000 by 2016, an effort described as the heart of Afghan nation-building. “We’re building an army on an industrial scale,” British Brigadier Neil Baverstock tells The Atlantic correspondent Robert Kaplan. This target closely resembles Pentagon proposals for massively increased ANA numbers (see March 18, 2009), but has not been publicly mentioned or explicitly endorsed by the Obama Administration (see March 27, 2009) or NATO (see April 4, 2009). Kaplan reports that the American military is leading an effort to establish the Afghan equivalents of West Point and the National Defense University, in addition to basic training and advanced combat schools, a noncommissioned officer academy, an officer candidate school, and a counterinsurgency academy.
Brain Drain and the Threat of Future Coups - Kaplan writes that the budding Afghan military complex threatens to funnel Afghanistan’s educated elite away from civilian and government jobs, thus weakening the state’s capacity to maintain authority and control over the security forces. He suggests that this equation in Afghanistan increases the risk of the country facing African and Latin American-style coups in the future. When this possibility is raised with American generals, they tell Kaplan that the threat of a coup is a risk worth taking if it means more stability in the short term.
Afghan Public Protection Program - While the coalition builds an army from the top down, they also hope to improve security in the provinces and villages from the bottom up through the Afghan Public Protection Program (APPFP). American Brig. Gen. Mark Milley explains that the program recruits, trains, and arms locals across tribal and ethnic lines, making them answerable to provincial governors. A pilot APPFP is being developed in Wardak province, just south of Kabul. Kaplan notes that Wardak’s pro-American governor, Mohammed [Halim] Fidai, is one of a group of governors with whom the Americans are working, in effect, “to circumvent total reliance on Karzai.” (Kaplan 3/24/2009)
Air Force, Navy, and other coalition warplanes drop a record number of bombs in Afghanistan during this month. Warplanes release a record 438 bombs according to Air Forces Central (AFCent) figures, marking the fourth consecutive month of increasing bomb drops. The Navy Times reports that the munitions are released during 2,110 close-air support sorties, and that the total number of air strikes is even higher because the AFCent numbers do not include attacks by helicopters and special operations gun ships. The numbers also do not include strafing runs or small missile launches. (Rolfsen 5/4/2009)
A day before the NATO Summit on Afghanistan opens in Strasbourg, France, the New York Times reports that according to American military planners and NATO-nation diplomats, NATO has set a goal of producing an Afghan Army of up to 220,000 troops and an enlarged police force of 180,000. This echoes earlier reports (see March 18, 2009) and (see March 24, 2009) on planned Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) numbers. These reported targets remain, however, much greater than either the Obama administration (see March 27, 2009) or NATO (see April 4, 2009) has officially disclosed. In support of a central pillar of Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy focusing on security and an expansion of Afghan security forces, the US’s NATO allies are to focus on the training of the Afghan army and police by committing several thousand personnel, according to alliance military planners. (Shanker and Erlanger 4/2/2009)
A NATO summit declaration on Afghanistan is issued by the heads of states and governments that attended a North Atlantic Council meeting in Strasbourg. The declaration recognizes that although NATO has transferred the lead on security in Kabul to Afghan forces, and that “an ever more capable Afghan National Army now participates in over 80% of ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] operations, taking the lead in half of them,” it acknowledges that serious security and governance problems remain in Afghanistan. Regarding security, the declaration states that NATO agrees to the following measures:
To establish a NATO Training Mission—Afghanistan (NTM-A) within ISAF to oversee higher level training for the Afghan National Army, and to provide more trainers and mentors in support of the Afghan National Police;
To provide operational mentoring and liaison teams (OMLT) in support of the progressive enlargement of the Afghan National Army to its current target of 134,000;
To expand the role of the Afghan National Army Trust Fund to include “sustainment costs;”
To further develop the evolving long term relationship between NATO and Afghanistan, and to build a broader political and practical relationship between NATO and Pakistan. (NATO 4/4/2009)
President Obama receives approval from NATO leaders on his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan at a NATO summit in Strasbourg, France. Obama in turn heralds commitments from NATO allies, saying their agreement to send up to 5,000 more trainers and police to Afghanistan is “a strong down payment” toward securing the country. Obama is echoing a phrase delivered by counterinsurgency guru, retired Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, a week earlier (see March 31, 2009). At the NATO meeting, leaders pledge to send 3,000 more troops on short-term assignments to boost security for the scheduled elections in Afghanistan on August 20, and some 2,000 additional personnel to train growing Afghan security forces. They also promise to send 300 paramilitary police trainers and provide $600 million to finance the Afghan Army and civilian assistance, according to Obama. He adds that these figures should not be considered a ceiling, suggesting that more could be sought at some point in the future. “We’ll need more resources and a sustained effort to achieve our ultimate goals,” he states. (Brunnstrom 4/4/2009; Raujm 4/4/2009)
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says his administration is investigating numerous reports of “unknown” military helicopters carrying gunmen to the northern provinces of the country amid increasing militancy in the area. At a press conference, Karzai says that his government has received information over the last five months from local residents and officials indicating that unmarked helicopters have been ferrying militants to Baghlan, Kunduz, and Samangan provinces, and have been air-dropping them at night. “Even today we received reports that the furtive process is still ongoing,” he tells journalists, though he does not share any evidence, arguing that the issue is too sensitive. Karzai adds that authorities have received similar reports in the northwest as well, and that a comprehensive investigation is underway to determine which country the helicopters belonged to, why armed men are being snuck into the region, and whether increasing insecurity in the north is linked to this. “I hope in the near future we will find out who these helicopters belong to,” he says. (Ferghana Information Agency 10/12/2009; Press TV 10/12/2009; Daily Outlook Afghanistan 10/12/2009) Western officials will later deny there is any truth to the reports (see October 14 - 29, 2009). The Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) notes that helicopters are almost entirely the exclusive domain of foreign forces in Afghanistan; NATO forces control Afghanistan’s air space and have a monopoly on aircraft. IWPR reports that Afghans believe the insurgency is being deliberately moved north, with international troops transporting fighters in from the volatile south to create mayhem in new locations. (Kawoosh 10/29/2009) The International Council on Security and Development has reported a dramatic rise in Taliban presence and activity in the formerly peaceful north in recent months (see Between January and September 2009), coinciding with the helicopter reports. The Asia Times reports that the Taliban now have complete control over several districts in the northern province of Kunduz. (Niazmand 10/16/2009)
Who Are the Militants? - The majority of reports cite eyewitnesses who claim the militants are Taliban. In Kunduz province, northern Afghanistan, a soldier from the 209th Shahin Corps of the Afghan National Army tells of an incident in which helicopters intervened to rescue Taliban during a battle. “Just when the police and army managed to surround the Taliban in a village of Qala-e-Zaal district, we saw helicopters land with support teams,” he says. “They managed to rescue their friends from our encirclement, and even to inflict defeat on the Afghan National Army.” Residents in a district of Baghlan province also witness a battle in which they insist that two foreign helicopters offload Taliban fighters who then attack their district center. “I saw the helicopters with my own eyes,” says Sayed Rafiq of Baghlan-e-Markazi. “They landed near the foothills and offloaded dozens of Taliban with turbans, and wrapped in patus [a blanket-type shawl].” According to numerous media reports, the district police chief along with the head of counter-narcotics and a number of soldiers are killed in the attack. The governor of Baghlan-e-Markazi, Commander Amir Gul, insists that the Taliban fighters are delivered by helicopter. “I do not know to which country the helicopters belonged,” he tells the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. “But these are the same helicopters that are taking the Taliban from Helmand to Kandahar and from there to the north, especially to Baghlan.” According to Gul, the district department of the National Security Directorate has identified the choppers, but refuses to comment. Baghlan police chief, Mohammad Kabir Andarabi, says that his department has reported to Kabul that foreign helicopters are transporting the Taliban into Baghlan. Baghlan provincial governor, Mohammad Akbar Barikzai, tells a news conference that his intelligence and security services have discovered that unidentified helicopters have been landing at night in some parts of the province. “We are investigating,” he says. (Kawoosh 10/29/2009) Other officials say the militants are not only Taliban. The provincial governor of Kunduz claims the fighters being transported are members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Sanobar Shermatova, a Moscow-based Central Asia analyst, writes that the IMU likely comprises the bulk of Taliban-allied militants moving into northern Afghanistan. (Eurasianet 10/13/2009; Shermatova 11/6/2009) Afghan Lower House representative, Ms. Najia Aimaq, quotes Interior Ministry authorities who say that helicopters are transporting Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s men to the northern provinces to fight the Taliban. (Nukhost Daily via UNAMA 10/14/2009)
Who Is Providing the Air Transport? - Unconfirmed reports are circulating that the helicopters are American, according to Iran’s Press TV. (Press TV 10/12/2009) McClatchy suggests that although Karzai does not say which nations he suspects are providing the helicopters, his remarks stir speculation that the US is somehow involved. However, a Karzai campaign staffer will later clarify that Karzai does not mean to imply the helicopters are American (see October 14 - 29, 2009). “We believe what the American ambassador [Karl Eikenberry] has said, and that the helicopters don’t belong to America,” says Moen Marastyal, an Afghan parliament member who has worked on the Karzai re-election campaign. (Landay and Bernton 10/14/2009) Afghan political analyst Ghulam Haidar Haidar asserts that foreign forces led by the US are behind the increasing instability in Kunduz and that coalition forces are training and equipping the insurgents in order to spread insecurity to Central Asia. “The United States wants a base from which to threaten Russia,” he says. An unnamed resident from Chahr Dara district echoes Haidar’s analysis, insisting that the Taliban are being supported by the US. “I saw it with my own eyes,” he says. “I was bringing my cattle home in the evening, and I saw Taliban getting off American helicopters. They were also unloading motorcycles from these aircraft. Later, a local mullah whom I know very well went to talk to the Americans, and then the helicopter left.” (Niazmand 10/16/2009) Press TV will later cite unnamed diplomats who say the British army has been relocating Taliban insurgents from southern Afghanistan to the north via its Chinook helicopters. (Press TV 10/17/2009) According to Rahim Rahimi, a professor at Balkh University, both America and Britain are trying to undermine security in Afghanistan to justify the need for foreign forces. “They will try and destabilize the north any way they can,” he says. “It is a good excuse to expand their presence in the area, to get a grip on the gas and oil in Central Asia.” (Kawoosh 10/29/2009)
In a series of editorials and interviews, Afghan MP Malalai Joya declares that the upcoming presidential election polls in Afghanistan are illegitimate and have been determined in advance in favor of current Afghan President Hamid Karzai by the United States in cooperation with a group of powerful allied warlords and former Mujaheddin. “Under the shadow of warlordism, corruption, and occupation, this vote will have no legitimacy, and once again it seems the real choice will be made behind closed doors in the White House,” Joya writes in a Guardian editorial. (Joya 7/25/2009) She echoes this in a later interview in London with the Arab daily, Asharq Al-Awsat: “Even the upcoming presidential elections in Afghanistan will not change anything because the next president will be chosen behind the closed doors of the Pentagon.” (Bahnam 8/3/2009)
Karzai a 'Shameless Puppet' of Afghan Warlords, Coalition Occupiers - In an interview with Johann Hari in The Independent, Joya rails against the current government of Hamid Karzai, the US and NATO occupation, and the mafia-ridden warlordism that dominates Afghan social and political life. She asserts that Karzai keeps power only as “a shameless puppet” of both the Afghan warlords and the occupying powers, thus guaranteeing him victory in the August elections due to his fealty to these powers. “He hasn’t yet stopped working for his masters, the US and the warlords.… At this point in our history, the only people who get to serve as president are those selected by the US government and the mafia that holds power in our country,” she says. “Dust has been thrown into the eyes of the world by your governments. You have not been told the truth. The situation now is as catastrophic as it was under the Taliban for women. Your governments have replaced the fundamentalist rule of the Taliban with another fundamentalist regime of warlords. [That is] what your soldiers are dying for.” (Hari 7/28/2009) Joya also slams the recent western troop surge as a farce masquerading as support for democratic elections. In the progressive Internet magazine ZNet, she writes: “We are told that additional US and NATO troops are coming to Afghanistan to help secure the upcoming presidential election. But frankly the Afghan people have no hope in this election—we know that there can be no true democracy under the guns of warlords, the drug trafficking mafia, and occupation.” (Joya 5/16/2009)
Suspended from Assembly, in Hiding from Assassins - Joya was elected to the 249-seat National Assembly, or Wolesi Jirga, in September 2005 as a representative of Farah province, but was suspended from the parliament in 2007 for publicly denouncing fellow members as drug smugglers, warlords, and war criminals. Her suspension sparked international condemnation and is currently under appeal. Joya, a champion of women’s rights and democracy in Afghanistan, lives in hiding and has survived at least four assassination attempts. (Human Rights Watch 5/23/2007; Joya 6/19/2007)
Pakistan’s army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, suggests that NATO weapons are crossing the border from Afghanistan and going to the Taliban in Pakistan. In an interview with CNN, General Abbas links Afghanistan to the battle between Pakistani armed forces and the Taliban in Pakistan’s Swat valley, saying that the Taliban are “very well equipped from the border area.” Abbas adds that the United States should “stop worrying about the nukes and start worrying about the weapons lost in Afghanistan.” He explains that Washington is neglecting this problem by focusing too much on the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. General Abbas further suggests, without elaborating, that the Taliban are also getting weapons and support from “foreign intelligence agencies.” (Rivers 5/29/2009)
Thousands of US Marines launch Operation Khanjar (“Strike of the Sword”) in a campaign to assert control in the lower Helmand River valley, a stronghold of the Taliban and other insurgent groups and center of the world’s largest opium poppy producing region. Nearly 4,000 Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) are deployed in the offensive, which is being called one of the biggest operations conducted by foreign troops in Afghanistan since the 1989 Soviet withdrawal. Approximately 650 Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police forces also participate in the mission. An adjacent operation called “Panther Claw” initiated by British-led Task Force Helmand has been under way in northern Helmand for a week. Operation Khanjar marks the beginning of a new effort by the US and its allies to assert control in Afghanistan since the arrival of commander General Stanley McChrystal, as well as the first major initiative under the Obama administration’s troop increase and counterinsurgency strategy, which it says is intended to secure and stabilize the country. US commanders say the operation is part of an effort to restore the authority of local government and security forces in Helmand and to secure the region for the presidential elections scheduled for August. “What makes Operation Khanjar different from those that have occurred before is the massive size of the force introduced, the speed at which it will insert, and the fact that where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build, and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces,” says Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commanding general of the MEB in Afghanistan. US Forces reportedly meet with very little direct resistance as insurgents blend into the local population and prepare for later attacks. (Graff 7/2/2009; Marines.mil 7/2/2009)
Villagers from towns in Helmand province accuse provincial Afghan police forces of perpetrating abuse against the local population recently and in the period before the Taliban re-gained control of the region. The reports include accusations of extortion and the rape of pre-teen boys. Villagers tell US and British troops who have arrived in the area for major operations (see Early Morning July 2, 2009) about the abuses, and say that the local police are a bigger problem than the Taliban. In fact, village elders say that they are willing to support the Taliban against coalition troops if these police forces are allowed to return. The accusations are acknowledged by some Western civilian and military officials, but their response is tepid. Adding to the problem of abuse and corruption is that the districts where the US-British military operation in Helmand is taking place are especially sensitive because they contain the main opium poppy fields in the province. Some of the police are linked to the private militia of a powerful warlord who has been implicated in drug trafficking. Former US ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald Neumann, says that the problem is not surprising and can be traced back to the creation of the national police after the overthrow of the Taliban regime in late 2001 (see November 13, 2001). Neumann recalls that the Afghan police were “constituted from the forces that were then fighting the Taliban.” (Porter 7/29/2009)
Child Rape, Extortion - “The police would stop people driving on motorcycles, beat them, and take their money,” says Mohammad Gul, an elder in the village of Pankela, which British troops have been operating for the past three days. Gul also points to two compounds where pre-teen boys have been abducted by police to be used for the local practice of “bachabazi,” or sex with pre-pubescent boys. “If the boys were out in the fields, the police would come and rape them,” he says. “You can go to any police base and you will see these boys. They hold them until they are finished with them and then let the child go.” The Interior Ministry in Kabul says it will address the reports only after contacting police commanders in the area. (Graff 7/12/2009) A villager in the village of Aynak, Ghulam Mohammad, says that villagers are happy with the Afghan army, but not the police. “We can’t complain to the police because they take money and abuse people,” he says. (Straziuso and Guttenfelder 7/13/2009)
Some Locals Prefer Taliban to Afghan Police - Mohammad Rasul, an elderly farmer, says that local people rejoiced when the Taliban arrived in the village 10 months ago and drove the police out. Even though his own son was killed by a Taliban roadside bomb five years ago, Rasul says the Taliban fighters earned their welcome in the village by treating people with respect. “We were happy [after the Taliban arrived]. The Taliban never bothered us,” he says. “If [the British] bring these people back, we can’t live here. If they come back, I am sure they will burn everything.” Another resident adds: “The people here trust the Taliban. If the police come back and behave the same way, we will support the Taliban to drive them out.” (Graff 7/12/2009) Similarly, within hours of the arrival of US troops in Aynak, villagers report the police abuse to US military officers and claim the local police force is “a bigger problem than the Taliban.” (Straziuso and Guttenfelder 7/13/2009)
Police Linked to Narco Warlord's Militia - Afghan police in the province are linked to corrupt local warlord Sher Mohammed Akhunzadeh. Akhunzadeh, a former Mujihideen commander and ally of President Hamid Karzai, has been implicated in heroin trafficking and the maintenance of a vengeful private militia from which many of the local police force were drawn under a Karzai plan to form an “Afghanistan National Auxiliary Police.” Akhundzada was the Karzai-appointed governor of Helmand for four years but was forced to step down after a British-trained counter narcotics team found nearly 10 tons of heroin in his basement. He remained powerful in the province, however, after Karzai appointed weak governors and/or allies in his place, allowing him to maintain control of the police, who were drawn in part from his own 500-man private army. Akhundzada’s predatory reign ended in 2008 when the Taliban regained control of the region. (Porter 7/29/2009)
Official US and UK Response Tepid - The spokesman for British-led Task Force Helmand, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, tells IPS that the task force is aware of the grievances voiced by village elders to British officers. He declines, however, to specify the grievances that are imparted to the British and says, “If there is any allegation, it will be dealt with by the appropriate authorities.” He specifies that this would mean “the chain of command of the Afghan national police.” The spokesman for the US 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB), Captain William Pelletier, is even less helpful. He tells IPS that he has no information about the allegations of misconduct by police as reported to British officers. IPS notes that the MEB’s headquarters in Helmand are right next to those of the British Task Force Helmand. Pelletier does not respond to another IPS query about the popular allegations made to US officers of police abuses in the US area of responsibility in Helmand. (Porter 7/29/2009)
Training for Afghan National Police - The Associated Press reports that after US troops arrive in the district, they send the old police force in Aynak to a US-sponsored training program called “focused district development.” The program, launched last spring, is geared toward police officers mainly from districts in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, and gives them eight weeks of intense training. Thousands of the nation’s 83,000-strong police force have already undergone training at regional training centers staffed by Western military personnel and police officers hired by US private security firm DynCorp, according to an NPR report. It is unclear whether the abusive police in Aynak had received US training under this program, but the head of the interim police force that replaced the abusive police, Colonel Ghulam, says that these officers had already had training. “They had training but not enough, and that’s why the people had problems with them,” he says. (Nelson 3/17/2008; Straziuso and Guttenfelder 7/13/2009)
Inter Press Service correspondent Gareth Porter reports that provincial police forces in Helmand province of Afghanistan accused of systemic abuses against the local population are likely returning to the opium-rich area behind US and British forces engaged in major military operations there (see Early Morning July 2, 2009). One stated goal of the coalition operations is to clear out the Taliban and secure the region in order to allow the Afghan National Army and police to take over control of the population. Porter reports that the strategy poses an acute problem because the Afghan police in the province are linked to corrupt local warlord Sher Mohammed Akhunzadeh and have systematically committed abuses against the population, including the abduction and rape of pre-teen boys. As a result, the local population has repeatedly expressed a preference for the Taliban over the local police force (see July 12-14, 2009). Akhunzadeh, an ally of President Hamid Karzai, has been implicated in heroin trafficking and the maintenance of a vengeful private militia from which many of the local police force were drawn under a Karzai plan to form an “Afghanistan National Auxiliary Police.” Porter writes that it is not clear whether US and British forces in Helmand will prevent the return of these abusive police. On the one hand, US troops in the town of Aynak have reportedly sent problematic police stationed in the local headquarters out of the province for several weeks of training, replacing them with a unit they had brought with them. Yet this implies the old police will return after training. Furthermore, the spokesman for the British Task Force Helmand, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, tells Porter that both the Afghan military and police, who had been ousted by the Taliban before the US-British offensive in Helmand, “are returning to the area bit by bit.” In fact, the Associated Press reports that US troops encountered a group of these police occupying the headquarters when they entered the village of Aynak, suggesting the police force had either returned or had never left. (Straziuso and Guttenfelder 7/13/2009; Porter 7/29/2009)
The July death toll for coalition troops fighting in Afghanistan reaches 47, surpassing full month highs set in August and June 2008. The record toll comes in the two weeks since the US and its allies launched a massive offensive dubbed “Operation Khanjar” in opium-ridden Helmand province as part of the Obama administration’s new escalation and counterinsurgency strategy (see Early Morning July 2, 2009). According to a CNN count based on government figures, the deaths in July so far include 23 Americans, 15 Britons, five Canadians, two Turks, an Italian, and a NATO soldier whose nationality has not been revealed. (CNN 6/16/2009)
Surge and Death Rate Mirror Iraq War - In the two weeks coinciding with the launch of US-led “Operation Khanjar,” international troops have died at an average rate of three a day, which is almost 20 times the rate in Afghanistan from 2001-04 and approaching the death rate of the deadliest days in Iraq. “It is something we did anticipate occurring as we extend our influence in the south,” says US Rear Admiral Greg Smith, spokesman for US and NATO forces, adding that the increased violence is likely to continue for several months at minimum. The Obama administration’s escalation strategy resembles some tactics of the “surge” of additional forces that then-President Bush ordered in Iraq in 2007, which saw months of increased American casualties before violence declined (see December 30, 2007). The US military does not use the term “surge” to refer to the increase in forces in Afghanistan because the escalation is considered indefinite as opposed to the time limit the Bush administration set in Iraq. (Graff 6/15/2009)
Richard Holbrooke, US special envoy to Afghanistan, and Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal, telephone Stanley Karnow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnam War historian to discuss the similarities between the two American wars and to seek guidance from the eminent scholar. Holbrooke will later confirm that the three men conferred on the two wars. “We discussed the two situations and what to do,” he will say during a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels. Karnow, an acknowledged critic of the war in Afghanistan, will also confirm that the discussion was held. “Holbrooke rang me from Kabul and passed the phone to the general,” says Karnow, who authored the 1983 book, Vietnam: A History. He does not, however, elaborate on the specifics of the conversation. The telephone call is made in the context of a reevaluation of American strategy in Afghanistan amidst an escalation in spending, troops, and casualties. President Obama has tasked General McChrystal to conduct a strategic review of the increasingly criticized and unpopular war.
Comparing Ngo Dinh Diem and Hamid Karzai - Among the issues voiced by scholars and analysts who draw their own analogies between the Vietnam War and the war in Afghanistan is the credibility of President Hamid Karzai’s government, which is widely seen as corrupt and ineffective. David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency specialist who the Associated Press reports will soon assume a role as a senior adviser to McChrystal, compares Karzai to former South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. “[Karzai] has a reasonably clean personal reputation but he’s seen as ineffective; his family are corrupt; he’s alienated a very substantial portion of the population,” Kilcullen says. “He seems paranoid and delusional and out of touch with reality,” he continues. “That’s all the sort of things that were said about President Diem in 1963.” Ngo Dinh Diem was killed in a US-backed coup in 1963 (see November 1963).
Comparing the 1967 Vietnam Ballot and the 2009 Afghanistan Ballot - The Associated Press quotes other analysts who draw parallels between Afghanistan’s presidential election schedule for August 20 and the failed US effort in Vietnam to legitimize a military regime lacking broad popular support through an imposed presidential election in 1967. James McAllister, a political science professor who has written extensively on Vietnam, recognizes why US policy chiefs are looking to the Vietnam War for parallels and lessons, especially with regard to the presidential elections. “That [1967 ballot] helped ensure that US efforts would continue to be compromised by its support for a corrupt, unpopular regime in Saigon,” McAllister says. Rufus Phillips, Holbrooke’s former boss in Vietnam and author of the book Why Vietnam Matters, echoes this warning. “The rigged election in South Vietnam proved [to be] the most destructive and destabilizing factor of all,” says Phillips, now in Kabul helping to monitor the upcoming election.
Karnow: Lessons We Learned from Vietnam and What to Expect in Afghanistan - “It now seems unthinkable that the US could lose [in Afghanistan], but that’s what experts… thought in Vietnam in 1967,” Karnow will say later, from his home in Maryland. “It could be that there will be no real conclusion and that it will go on for a long time until the American public grows tired of it.” When asked what lessons could be drawn from the Vietnam experience, Karnow will tell the Associated Press: “What did we learn from Vietnam? We learned that we shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Obama and everybody else seem to want to be in Afghanistan, but not I.” (Lekic 8/6/2009)
Britain’s ambassador to the United States, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, warns that Afghanistan will need “global support” for decades before being able to govern and protect itself. “We’re going to have a very long-term commitment to Afghanistan’s future,” he says. “This is not just one year; this is going to be for decades. We’re going to help them get to a state which they can ward off the return of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. That’s our strategic objective.” Sheinwald denies that public support for British involvement in Afghanistan is flagging, saying that opinion in Britain remains evenly divided on the war and will improve when results are seen “over the next year or so.” Sheinwald is accompanying British Foreign Secretary David Miliband who is on a two-day visit to the US to discuss war policy in Afghanistan with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, among others. (Smith 7/31/2009)
NATO will stay in Afghanistan “for as long as it takes,” according to the new NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. “We will support the Afghan people for as long as it takes—let me repeat that, for as long as it takes,” Rasmussen says in a press conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Opening his remarks with a moral argument, Rasmussen says, “Anyone who believes in basic human rights, including women’s rights, should support this mission.” He also states that NATO’s immediate goal is to ensure “credible elections,” which are scheduled for later in the month. Rasmussen, who has just replaced Jap de Hoop Scheffer as NATO chief, explains NATO’s longer-term goal in terms of handing over the lead in security to the Afghan National Security Forces, with NATO stepping back into a support role. “The longer-term goal must be to move forward, concretely and visibly, with transferring lead security responsibility for Afghanistan to the Afghans,” he says. (CNN 8/3/2009; NATO 8/3/2009)
The British general in line to become the UK’s next head of the Army states that British and international engagement in Afghanistan could last up to 30 or 40 years. “The Army’s role will evolve, but the whole process might take as long as 30 to 40 years,” General Sir David Richards says in an interview with the London Times. Richards, who was a former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, emphasizes that British troop involvement there should only be needed for the medium term, but insists that there is “absolutely no chance” of NATO pulling out. “I believe that the UK will be committed to Afghanistan in some manner—development, governance, security sector reform—for the next 30 to 40 years,” he says. Liam Fox, the shadow defense secretary, responds that 30 to 40 years in Afghanistan is untenable and unaffordable. “Any idea of maintaining military involvement for that length of time is not a runner. It would require a total rethink of our foreign and security policy,” he says. General Richards adds that Western forces need to focus on the expansion of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police as part of an exit strategy that should not be understood as an abandonment of the region. In fact, the general insists that Western forces will stay on to demonstrate their commitment to the region and to prove “opponents” wrong. “We need now to focus on the expansion of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. Just as in Iraq, it is our route out militarily, but the Afghan people and our opponents need to know that this does not mean our abandoning the region. We made this mistake once. Our opponents are banking on us doing it again, and we must prove them wrong,” he says. (Evans 8/8/2009) Richards will later seek to clarify his comments, stating that British military involvement “along current lines” would be needed for a much shorter period than broader international engagement in development, governance, and security sector reform. (Reuters 8/17/2009)
On the eve of the Afghan elections, Hezb-i-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar speaks out on the war in Afghanistan in statements to various media outlets. In a statement given to CNN, Hekmatyar says that he is willing to “help” the US and NATO forces if they announce a pullout timeline and prepare to leave Afghanistan. “We are ready to help with the United States and… other coalition forces if foreign troops announce the time frame for the pulling out their troops from Afghanistan,” he says in the statement. “I am sure Afghans will fight US forces and will continue Jihad against them like they fought against Russia before if they don’t leave the country,” he adds. Hekmatyar does not define what he means by “help,” nor is it clear if he would agree to join coalition forces against the Taliban and other insurgents. (CNN 8/17/2009) In an interview with Sky News on the same day, Hekmatyar elaborates. He emphasizes that he is open to negotiation and a political process, but says his forces would stop fighting only if negotiations for an end to the occupation are made in good faith: “We are not against [a] political solution.… We are ready to negotiate with friends and enemies, with Afghans and non-Afghans. We will not close the door to negotiations.” However, he reaffirms his demand for an end to foreign occupation and also rules out participation in any Afghan government formed under US and NATO occupation. “We never want to take part in a puppet government under foreign dictators and to end occupation and establishing an Islamic government in a free Afghanistan via a free election,” he says. Hekmatyar also says he is open to negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, but points out that there are some Taliban who refuse to cooperate with the Hezb-i-Islami to form a united Islamic front. The United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia, and the Afghan government have been engaged in negotiations with Hekmatyar representatives over the last year (see February 2009 and Early April 2009) to discuss possible arrangements in which Hekmatyar, who is wanted by the US government for terrorism, is granted immunity and a role in a future Afghan government. In the Sky News interview, Hekmatyar denies negotiations with Britain, but acknowledges having had contact with the Afghan government, which he describes as a “dirty swamp” of corruption under foreign control of which he wants no part. He indicates that Kabul is powerless and unwilling to implement the advice (and conditions) he sent it for “ending the war.” (Sky News 8/17/2009) Hekmatyar is considered to be among the most ruthless and extreme of the Afghan warlords and has had deep ties to Osama bin Laden, the CIA, the ISI, and the drug trade (see 1984, 1983, and March 13, 1994).
Days after Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that his administration is investigating reports of “unknown” military helicopters carrying gunmen to the increasingly unstable northern provinces of the country (see May-October 12, 2009), US, NATO, and Afghan officials reject the reports and insinuations that Western forces are aiding the Taliban or other militants. US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, denounces reports that the US is secretly helping Afghanistan’s enemies with weapons and helicopters as outrageous and baseless. “We would never aid the terrorists that attacked us on September 11, that are killing our soldiers, your soldiers, and innocent Afghan civilians every day,” he says. (Daily Outlook Afghanistan 10/15/2009) A Karzai campaign staffer says that Karzai did not mean to imply the helicopters were American. “We believe what the American ambassador [Karl Eikenberry] has said, and that the helicopters don’t belong to America,” says Moen Marastyal, an Afghan parliament member who has worked on the Karzai re-election campaign. (Landay and Bernton 10/14/2009) According to the Ariana Television Network, the German ambassador to Afghanistan, Werner Hans Lauk, professes ignorance when asked about Karzai’s claim that helicopters are carrying armed individuals to the northern provinces. Germany is assigned command responsibility for the north. (Ariana Television Network 10/14/2009) “This entire business with the helicopters is just a rumor,” says Brigadier General Juergen Setzer, who is the recently appointed commander for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the north, which has overall control of the air space in that region. “It has no basis in reality, according to our investigations.” Captain Tim Dark, of Britain’s Task Force Helmand, is also vehement in his denunciation. “The thought that British soldiers could be aiding and abetting the enemy is just rubbish,” he says. “We have had 85 casualties so far this year.” (Kawoosh 10/29/2009)
The death toll for the US military in Afghanistan reaches a record 59 total fatalities according to the independent website iCasualties.org. More US troops are killed this month than in any other since the war in Afghanistan began in October 2001. (iCasualties 11/1/2009) This number includes one period in which 24 Americans were killed within 48 hours. (CNN 10/28/2009) Seventy-four coalition troops are also killed this month. The Wall Street Journal notes that Afghan insurgents have killed at least 70 coalition soldiers in every month since June. The spike in coalition deaths comes as the coalition expands its war and increases troop levels. Likewise, the insurgency has been growing and militant attacks have increased in sophistication. (Trofimov and Gorman 10/28/2009; iCasualties 11/1/2009)
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