The Lies That Sold Obama’s Escalation in Afghanistan

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Gareth Porter

A few days after Barack Obama’s December 2009 announcement of 33,000 more troops being sent to Afghanistan, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Robert Gates advanced the official justification for escalation: the Afghan Taliban would not abandon its ties with al-Qaeda unless forced to do so by US military force and the realization that “they’re likely to lose.”

Gates claimed to see an “unholy alliance” of the Afghan Taliban, al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban emerging during 2009. Unless the United States succeeded in weakening the Taliban in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda would have safe haven in Afghanistan, just as they had before the 9/11 attacks, according to Gates.

Even in comparison with the usual lies that justify wars, this one was a whopper. Gates was deliberately ignoring the serious political split that had become apparent in 2008 between Mullah Omar, the spiritual and political leader of the Taliban, and the leadership of al-Qaeda over fundamental issues of strategy and ideology.

After the July 2007 Pakistani military assault on the militants occupying the Red Mosque in Islamabad, al-Qaeda had openly backed Pakistani militants in their declaration of war against the Pakistani military and the Pervez Musharraf regime. Omar, who needed Pakistani support against the US-NATO forces, began urging Pakistani militants to shun violence against the Pakistani security apparatus, but the newly established militant organization Tehrik-e-Taliban paid no attention to him, as recounted by the recently murdered Pakistani journalist Sayed Saleem Shahzad in a book published just days before his death.

Shahzad’s book reveals, In fact, that one of al-Qaeda’s aims in setting up the new organization was to try to draw Afghan Taliban away from Omar’s influence. Soon after that al-Qaeda move, he sent a trusted adviser, Tayyeb Agha, to a meeting in Saudi Arabia with a delegation of Afghan parliamentarians convened by Saudi King Abdullah in September 2008. That meeting alarmed al-Qaeda leaders, who did not want any move toward peace in Afghanistan, according to Shahzad’s account based on many interviews with al-Qaeda strategists over the past several years.

The ideological-strategic conflict between Omar and al-Qaeda was well known within US intelligence and counterterrorism circles. Two days after Gates made his argument about the Taliban and al-Qaeda, in an interview with me, Arturo Munoz, who had been supervising operations officer at the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center from 2001 to 2009 and had extensive experience in Afghanistan, referred to the differences between the Taliban and al-Qaeda over al-Qaeda’s war against the Pakistani military. “The Taliban is a homespun Pashtun locally-based revolutionary movement with a set of goals that are not necessarily those of al-Qaeda,” said Munoz.

In fact, Omar himself had issued a message on September 19, 2009, which had explicitly characterized the Taliban as a “nationalist movement” – an obvious rebuff to the al-Qaeda position that nationalism is the enemy of the global jihad, as jihadist scholar Vahid Brown pointed out  at the time.

Plumping Up the War Rationale

The Obama administration has relied heavily, of course, on the widespread impression that the Taliban regime was somehow mixed up with Osama bin Laden’s plotting the 9/11 attacks. But as opposition to the war has mounted, Bruce Riedel, the former CIA official and National Security Council staffer brought in by Obama to lead the administration’s policy review of Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2009, has sought to reinforce that message.

In his new book, “Deadly Embrace,” Riedel refers to “the remarkable alliance, even friendship,” between Omar and Bin Laden, which “seems to have remained intact to this day.” In a remarkable passage about the period from Bin Laden’s arrival in Afghanistan in 1996 to the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001, Riedel writes:

The Taliban promised Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to “control” their “guest,” but he continued to issue statements and no real effort was made to rein him in. Bin Laden moved to Kandahar to be close to Mullah Omar, proclaimed his loyalty to the “commander of the faithful” (Omar’s self-proclaimed title) and married one of Omar’s daughters to further cement their bond.

Riedel goes on to suggest that Omar became an enthusiastic convert to Bin Laden’s global jihadist cause. “Omar found in Osama and al-Qaeda,” he writes, “an ideology that transcended Afghanistan, played to his ego and validated his role as commander of the faithful.”

The problem with this dramatic portrayal of a close relationship between Omar and Bin Laden, however, is that every single assertion in it is demonstrably false. Riedel’s version of the relationship could not be any further from the actual record of interactions between the two men during Bin Laden’s stay in Afghanistan, available from multiple primary sources.

Brown, a research fellow at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, reported last year that the memoirs of one of Bin Laden’s close collaborators in Afghanistan, the Egyptian jihadist known as Abu’l-Walid al-Masri, had provided new insights into the relationship between Bin Laden and Omar. Al-Masri recalled that Omar had informed Bin Laden from the beginning of his stay that he was forbidden from issuing statements to the media without the prior consent of the Taliban regime and from doing anything to directly antagonize the United States.

Bin Laden repeatedly violated the injunction against speaking to news media in 1996 and 1997 and Omar reacted strongly to his defiance. In “The Looming Tower,”  Lawrence Wright recounts the story told by Bin Laden’s personal guard Khalid al-Hammadi of what happened after Bin Laden gave an interview to CNN in March 1997. Omar ordered Bin Laden brought by helicopter from Jalalabad to Kandahar airport for a meeting, according to the guard’s account. There, Omar told Bin Laden that he was being moved immediately to Kandahar, citing as the reason a plot by tribal mercenaries to kidnap him. The real reason for the move, of course, was to exercise tighter control over his guest. The order to move was accompanied by a sharp warning to Bin Laden: the contacts with the foreign press had to stop.

Nevertheless, Bin Laden defied Omar a second time. In late May 1998, he arranged to meet with Pakistani journalists and with another US television crew – this time from ABC – in Jalalabad. He declared in those interviews that his aim was to expel US forces and even “Jews and Christians” from the Arabian Peninsula.

An enraged Omar personally called Rahimullah Yusufzai, one of the Pakistani journalists who had reported on the meeting with Bin Laden in Jalalabad and said, “There is only one ruler. Is it me or Osama?” according to Yusufzai. Yusufzai, who has met and interviewed Omar on ten occasions over the years and also knew Bin Laden, says the relationship between the two men was “very tense” and “never cordial.”

In June 1998, Omar told Prince Turki al Faisal, the head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency, that he was willing to expel Bin Laden, but he wanted a joint committee of Islamic scholars to issue a fatwa that would absolve him of his responsibility to protect his Muslim guest, according to Turki’s account to journalist Steve Coll. A month later, a Taliban envoy was sent to Saudi Arabia to reaffirm the deal.

What appears to have turned Omar against the planned expulsion of Bin Laden was the US cruise missile strikes against Bin Laden’s training camps in Afghanistan in retaliation for the August 1998 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. When Prince Turki returned to see Omar less than a month after the US missile attack, Omar’s attitude had “changed 180 degrees.”

Omar gave the Saudi intelligence chief no explanation for his change of heart. But he was more forthcoming with the Director General of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), Ziauddin Butt, who met him a few weeks after the missile attacks. The Taliban leader complained that Bin Laden was “like a bone stuck in my throat. I can’t swallow it, nor can I get it out!” The problem, he explained, was that Bin Laden had become such a hero in the eyes of the Taliban rank and file – apparently because of the US missile strikes against his training camps – that “My people will lynch me if I hand him over.”

Although reluctant at first to get rid of the troublesome Bin Laden, Omar agreed to the Pakistani’s suggestion that Bin Laden be tried for the embassy bombings by judges from four Islamic countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, as the ISI chief later told historian Shuja Nawaz, author of “Crossed Swords.”

In 1999, the Taliban regime actually ordered the closure of several training camps being used by al-Qaeda’s Arab recruits, according to jihadist sources cited by Brown. And an email from two leading Arab jihadists in Afghanistan to Bin Laden in July 1999, found on a laptop that had once belonged to al-Qaeda and later purchased by a strange quirk of fate by a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, referred to “problems between you and the Leader of the Faithful” as a “crisis.” The email even suggested that the Taliban regime might go so far as to “kick them out” of Afghanistan.

Bin Laden’s Phony Pledge of Allegiance

The real story of Bin Laden’s pledge of loyalty to Omar, which Riedel touts as evidence of their chumminess, shows that it was exactly the opposite of that. According to Egyptian jihadist al-Masri’s account, reported in detail by Brown,  relations between Bin Laden and Omar became so tense after the Embassy bombings that some in Bin Laden’s entourage urged him to consider an oath of allegiance (bay’a) to Omar simply to avoid a complete rupture between the two.

But Bin Laden resisted the idea, according to al-Masri, initially arguing that such a pledge of allegiance could only be undertaken by Afghans. And after agreeing, on al-Masri’s urging, to give Omar such a pledge in person in late November 1998, Bin Laden failed to show up for the meeting. Al-Masri told Bin Laden that his no-show would confirm Omar’s impression of him as arrogant and full of himself. Nevertheless, in the end, Bin Laden refused to go to Omar himself to give his pledge, sending al-Masri instead, evidently because he wanted to be able to deny later on that he had personally sworn allegiance to Omar. Al-Masri concluded that the whole exercise was an “outright deception” by Bin Laden of a man with whom he was fundamentally at odds.

Riedel’s claim that Bin Laden married one of Omar’s daughters would certainly represent evidence of a bond between the two men, if true. Unfortunately for the point man for Obama’s policy review, it is another easily provable lie. A recent report on the wives who survived the killing of Bin Laden shows that three of Bin Laden’s five wives were Saudis, one was Syrian and one was Yemeni. None were of Afghan descent.

Riedel cites a 2005 book http://www.amazon.com/Revolution-Unending-Afghanistan-Comparative-Intern... by French specialist on Afghanistan Gilles Dorronsoro. But Dorronsoro told this writer he realized after the book was published that the story was not true and that it may have well been circulated deliberately by Omar’s enemies in the Northern Alliance to discredit him.

Riedel tops off his grotesquely distorted description of Omar’s relationship with Bin Laden by suggesting that the Taliban leader knew that an al-Qaeda attack on the US homeland was coming, citing Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf as the source. But Musharraf says nothing of the sort. He affirms in memoirs what al-Qaeda insider Fazul Abdullah Muhmmad has written in his own memoirs – that Bin Laden kept the plan secret even from his closest al-Qaeda collaborators, except for Mohammed and Abu Hafs al-Masri, until the end of August 2001. Musharraf merely passes on speculation by unnamed intelligence sources that Omar may have guessed that something big against the United States was in the works.

What Riedel fails to inform his readers is that the main planner of the 9/11 operation, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, told his interrogators that Bin Laden had complained to his intimates late that summer about Omar’s unwillingness to allow any attack on the United States – thus implying very clearly that he could not be brought into their confidence, according to the 9/11 Commission Report.

This writer sent an email to Riedel asking why he had ignored the sources cited in this article, which provide a very different view of the Omar-Bin Laden relationship from the one he describes in his book. “Because the facts were to the contrary,” he responded. “The Taliban did nothing to rein in AQ but they were eager to have their apologists paint a happy picture.”

When I asked him in a second email if he was saying that al-Masri, Bin Laden’s personal guard and all the other sources who have since provided a different picture were “apologists” for Omar, Riedel did not respond.

Riedel probably never bothered to consult these sources. Someone so deeply imbedded in the interests of powerful institutions has no incentive to look beyond the superficial and distorted reading of the evidence that clearly serves those interests. His disinterest in finding facts that would get in the way of the necessary official rationale for war provides a perfect illustration of the way lying to the public is inherent in the nature of national security policymaking.

The story of the lies that took the Obama administration into a bigger war in Afghanistan shows that those lies have structural, systemic roots. The political dynamics surrounding the making of war policies are so completely dominated by the vested interests of the heads of the Pentagon, the military, and other national security bureaucracies that the outcome of the process must be based on a systematic body of lies. Only by depriving those institutions of their power can Americans have a military policy based on the truth.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam”, was published in 2006.

Truthout

The Lies That Sold Obama’s Escalation in Afghanistan

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Gareth Porter

A few days after Barack Obama’s December 2009 announcement of 33,000 more troops being sent to Afghanistan, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Robert Gates advanced the official justification for escalation: the Afghan Taliban would not abandon its ties with al-Qaeda unless forced to do so by US military force and the realization that “they’re likely to lose.”

Gates claimed to see an “unholy alliance” of the Afghan Taliban, al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban emerging during 2009. Unless the United States succeeded in weakening the Taliban in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda would have safe haven in Afghanistan, just as they had before the 9/11 attacks, according to Gates.

Even in comparison with the usual lies that justify wars, this one was a whopper. Gates was deliberately ignoring the serious political split that had become apparent in 2008 between Mullah Omar, the spiritual and political leader of the Taliban, and the leadership of al-Qaeda over fundamental issues of strategy and ideology.

After the July 2007 Pakistani military assault on the militants occupying the Red Mosque in Islamabad, al-Qaeda had openly backed Pakistani militants in their declaration of war against the Pakistani military and the Pervez Musharraf regime. Omar, who needed Pakistani support against the US-NATO forces, began urging Pakistani militants to shun violence against the Pakistani security apparatus, but the newly established militant organization Tehrik-e-Taliban paid no attention to him, as recounted by the recently murdered Pakistani journalist Sayed Saleem Shahzad in a book published just days before his death.

Shahzad’s book reveals, In fact, that one of al-Qaeda’s aims in setting up the new organization was to try to draw Afghan Taliban away from Omar’s influence. Soon after that al-Qaeda move, he sent a trusted adviser, Tayyeb Agha, to a meeting in Saudi Arabia with a delegation of Afghan parliamentarians convened by Saudi King Abdullah in September 2008. That meeting alarmed al-Qaeda leaders, who did not want any move toward peace in Afghanistan, according to Shahzad’s account based on many interviews with al-Qaeda strategists over the past several years.

The ideological-strategic conflict between Omar and al-Qaeda was well known within US intelligence and counterterrorism circles. Two days after Gates made his argument about the Taliban and al-Qaeda, in an interview with me, Arturo Munoz, who had been supervising operations officer at the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center from 2001 to 2009 and had extensive experience in Afghanistan, referred to the differences between the Taliban and al-Qaeda over al-Qaeda’s war against the Pakistani military. “The Taliban is a homespun Pashtun locally-based revolutionary movement with a set of goals that are not necessarily those of al-Qaeda,” said Munoz.

In fact, Omar himself had issued a message on September 19, 2009, which had explicitly characterized the Taliban as a “nationalist movement” – an obvious rebuff to the al-Qaeda position that nationalism is the enemy of the global jihad, as jihadist scholar Vahid Brown pointed out  at the time.

Plumping Up the War Rationale

The Obama administration has relied heavily, of course, on the widespread impression that the Taliban regime was somehow mixed up with Osama bin Laden’s plotting the 9/11 attacks. But as opposition to the war has mounted, Bruce Riedel, the former CIA official and National Security Council staffer brought in by Obama to lead the administration’s policy review of Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2009, has sought to reinforce that message.

In his new book, “Deadly Embrace,” Riedel refers to “the remarkable alliance, even friendship,” between Omar and Bin Laden, which “seems to have remained intact to this day.” In a remarkable passage about the period from Bin Laden’s arrival in Afghanistan in 1996 to the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001, Riedel writes:

The Taliban promised Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to “control” their “guest,” but he continued to issue statements and no real effort was made to rein him in. Bin Laden moved to Kandahar to be close to Mullah Omar, proclaimed his loyalty to the “commander of the faithful” (Omar’s self-proclaimed title) and married one of Omar’s daughters to further cement their bond.

Riedel goes on to suggest that Omar became an enthusiastic convert to Bin Laden’s global jihadist cause. “Omar found in Osama and al-Qaeda,” he writes, “an ideology that transcended Afghanistan, played to his ego and validated his role as commander of the faithful.”

The problem with this dramatic portrayal of a close relationship between Omar and Bin Laden, however, is that every single assertion in it is demonstrably false. Riedel’s version of the relationship could not be any further from the actual record of interactions between the two men during Bin Laden’s stay in Afghanistan, available from multiple primary sources.

Brown, a research fellow at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, reported last year that the memoirs of one of Bin Laden’s close collaborators in Afghanistan, the Egyptian jihadist known as Abu’l-Walid al-Masri, had provided new insights into the relationship between Bin Laden and Omar. Al-Masri recalled that Omar had informed Bin Laden from the beginning of his stay that he was forbidden from issuing statements to the media without the prior consent of the Taliban regime and from doing anything to directly antagonize the United States.

Bin Laden repeatedly violated the injunction against speaking to news media in 1996 and 1997 and Omar reacted strongly to his defiance. In “The Looming Tower,”  Lawrence Wright recounts the story told by Bin Laden’s personal guard Khalid al-Hammadi of what happened after Bin Laden gave an interview to CNN in March 1997. Omar ordered Bin Laden brought by helicopter from Jalalabad to Kandahar airport for a meeting, according to the guard’s account. There, Omar told Bin Laden that he was being moved immediately to Kandahar, citing as the reason a plot by tribal mercenaries to kidnap him. The real reason for the move, of course, was to exercise tighter control over his guest. The order to move was accompanied by a sharp warning to Bin Laden: the contacts with the foreign press had to stop.

Nevertheless, Bin Laden defied Omar a second time. In late May 1998, he arranged to meet with Pakistani journalists and with another US television crew – this time from ABC – in Jalalabad. He declared in those interviews that his aim was to expel US forces and even “Jews and Christians” from the Arabian Peninsula.

An enraged Omar personally called Rahimullah Yusufzai, one of the Pakistani journalists who had reported on the meeting with Bin Laden in Jalalabad and said, “There is only one ruler. Is it me or Osama?” according to Yusufzai. Yusufzai, who has met and interviewed Omar on ten occasions over the years and also knew Bin Laden, says the relationship between the two men was “very tense” and “never cordial.”

In June 1998, Omar told Prince Turki al Faisal, the head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency, that he was willing to expel Bin Laden, but he wanted a joint committee of Islamic scholars to issue a fatwa that would absolve him of his responsibility to protect his Muslim guest, according to Turki’s account to journalist Steve Coll. A month later, a Taliban envoy was sent to Saudi Arabia to reaffirm the deal.

What appears to have turned Omar against the planned expulsion of Bin Laden was the US cruise missile strikes against Bin Laden’s training camps in Afghanistan in retaliation for the August 1998 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. When Prince Turki returned to see Omar less than a month after the US missile attack, Omar’s attitude had “changed 180 degrees.”

Omar gave the Saudi intelligence chief no explanation for his change of heart. But he was more forthcoming with the Director General of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), Ziauddin Butt, who met him a few weeks after the missile attacks. The Taliban leader complained that Bin Laden was “like a bone stuck in my throat. I can’t swallow it, nor can I get it out!” The problem, he explained, was that Bin Laden had become such a hero in the eyes of the Taliban rank and file – apparently because of the US missile strikes against his training camps – that “My people will lynch me if I hand him over.”

Although reluctant at first to get rid of the troublesome Bin Laden, Omar agreed to the Pakistani’s suggestion that Bin Laden be tried for the embassy bombings by judges from four Islamic countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, as the ISI chief later told historian Shuja Nawaz, author of “Crossed Swords.”

In 1999, the Taliban regime actually ordered the closure of several training camps being used by al-Qaeda’s Arab recruits, according to jihadist sources cited by Brown. And an email from two leading Arab jihadists in Afghanistan to Bin Laden in July 1999, found on a laptop that had once belonged to al-Qaeda and later purchased by a strange quirk of fate by a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, referred to “problems between you and the Leader of the Faithful” as a “crisis.” The email even suggested that the Taliban regime might go so far as to “kick them out” of Afghanistan.

Bin Laden’s Phony Pledge of Allegiance

The real story of Bin Laden’s pledge of loyalty to Omar, which Riedel touts as evidence of their chumminess, shows that it was exactly the opposite of that. According to Egyptian jihadist al-Masri’s account, reported in detail by Brown,  relations between Bin Laden and Omar became so tense after the Embassy bombings that some in Bin Laden’s entourage urged him to consider an oath of allegiance (bay’a) to Omar simply to avoid a complete rupture between the two.

But Bin Laden resisted the idea, according to al-Masri, initially arguing that such a pledge of allegiance could only be undertaken by Afghans. And after agreeing, on al-Masri’s urging, to give Omar such a pledge in person in late November 1998, Bin Laden failed to show up for the meeting. Al-Masri told Bin Laden that his no-show would confirm Omar’s impression of him as arrogant and full of himself. Nevertheless, in the end, Bin Laden refused to go to Omar himself to give his pledge, sending al-Masri instead, evidently because he wanted to be able to deny later on that he had personally sworn allegiance to Omar. Al-Masri concluded that the whole exercise was an “outright deception” by Bin Laden of a man with whom he was fundamentally at odds.

Riedel’s claim that Bin Laden married one of Omar’s daughters would certainly represent evidence of a bond between the two men, if true. Unfortunately for the point man for Obama’s policy review, it is another easily provable lie. A recent report on the wives who survived the killing of Bin Laden shows that three of Bin Laden’s five wives were Saudis, one was Syrian and one was Yemeni. None were of Afghan descent.

Riedel cites a 2005 book http://www.amazon.com/Revolution-Unending-Afghanistan-Comparative-Intern... by French specialist on Afghanistan Gilles Dorronsoro. But Dorronsoro told this writer he realized after the book was published that the story was not true and that it may have well been circulated deliberately by Omar’s enemies in the Northern Alliance to discredit him.

Riedel tops off his grotesquely distorted description of Omar’s relationship with Bin Laden by suggesting that the Taliban leader knew that an al-Qaeda attack on the US homeland was coming, citing Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf as the source. But Musharraf says nothing of the sort. He affirms in memoirs what al-Qaeda insider Fazul Abdullah Muhmmad has written in his own memoirs – that Bin Laden kept the plan secret even from his closest al-Qaeda collaborators, except for Mohammed and Abu Hafs al-Masri, until the end of August 2001. Musharraf merely passes on speculation by unnamed intelligence sources that Omar may have guessed that something big against the United States was in the works.

What Riedel fails to inform his readers is that the main planner of the 9/11 operation, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, told his interrogators that Bin Laden had complained to his intimates late that summer about Omar’s unwillingness to allow any attack on the United States – thus implying very clearly that he could not be brought into their confidence, according to the 9/11 Commission Report.

This writer sent an email to Riedel asking why he had ignored the sources cited in this article, which provide a very different view of the Omar-Bin Laden relationship from the one he describes in his book. “Because the facts were to the contrary,” he responded. “The Taliban did nothing to rein in AQ but they were eager to have their apologists paint a happy picture.”

When I asked him in a second email if he was saying that al-Masri, Bin Laden’s personal guard and all the other sources who have since provided a different picture were “apologists” for Omar, Riedel did not respond.

Riedel probably never bothered to consult these sources. Someone so deeply imbedded in the interests of powerful institutions has no incentive to look beyond the superficial and distorted reading of the evidence that clearly serves those interests. His disinterest in finding facts that would get in the way of the necessary official rationale for war provides a perfect illustration of the way lying to the public is inherent in the nature of national security policymaking.

The story of the lies that took the Obama administration into a bigger war in Afghanistan shows that those lies have structural, systemic roots. The political dynamics surrounding the making of war policies are so completely dominated by the vested interests of the heads of the Pentagon, the military, and other national security bureaucracies that the outcome of the process must be based on a systematic body of lies. Only by depriving those institutions of their power can Americans have a military policy based on the truth.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam”, was published in 2006.

Truthout

Taliban to Execute US Soldier if Aafia Not Released

February 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mushtaq Yusufzai

PESHAWAR: The Afghan Taliban on Thursday demanded the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani scientist who has been convicted by the US court on charges of her alleged attempt to murder US soldiers in Afghanistan, and threatened to execute an American soldier they were holding currently. They claimed Aafia Siddiqui’s family had approached the Taliban network through a Jirga of notables, seeking their assistance to put pressure on the US to provide her justice.

“Being Muslims, it becomes our religious and moral obligation to help the distressed Pakistani woman convicted by the US court on false charges,” said a senior Afghan Taliban commander. The commander, whose militant network is holding the US soldier, Bowe Bergdahl, called The News from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan and threatened to execute the American trooper if their demand was not met. He claimed AafiaSiddiqui’s family had approached the Taliban network through a Jirga of notables, seeking their assistance to put pressure on the US to provide her justice.

“We tried our best to make the family understand that our role may create more troubles for the hapless woman, who was already in trouble. On their persistent requests, we have now decided to include Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s name in the list of our prisoners in US custody that we delivered to Americans in Afghanistan for swap of their soldier in our custody,” explained the militant commander.

He claimed family members of Dr Aafia told the Taliban leadership that they had lost all hopes in the Pakistan government and now Allah Almighty and the Taliban were their only hope. Later, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also called The News from somewhere in Afghanistan and owned a statement given by the Taliban commander.

The militant commander alleged that the US soldier, whom his fighters kidnapped from Afghanistan’s Paktika province near the border with Pakistan’s troubled South Waziristan in June 2009, had admitted his involvement in several raids in Afghanistan. “Since he has confessed to all charges against him, our Islamic court had announced death sentence for him,” the Taliban leader claimed.

The same Taliban faction released a video of the captive US soldier on Christmas Day. Taliban said they had been shifting the soldier all the time due to the search operations by the US and Afghan forces. He said the only way Americans could save life of their soldier was to release 21 Afghan prisoners and the “innocent” Pakistani lady.

Most of their prisoners, he claimed, were being held at the Guantanamo prison. “We believe that like the Israelis, the Americans would be ready soon to do any deal for taking possession of the remains of their soldier, but it would be late by then,” he stressed. Dr Aafia’s family could not be approached for comments on the Taliban claim.

12-7

Afghan Attack: Was it Taliban Revenge?

January 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Suicide bombing at CIA camp in Afghanistan likely revenge attack by Taliban warlord – a former ally

By James Gordon Meek, Daily News Washington

alg_haqqani
Jalaluddin Haqqani in 1998 file photo. Once ally of CIA, he now supports Osama Bin Laden.

WASHINGTON – The suicide-bomb slaughter at a tiny CIA Afghanistan border camp was likely vengeance from a local Taliban tribal warlord who was once the agency’s ally.

Forward Operation Base Chapman in Khowst, where seven CIA officers died Wednesday, is a few miles from the ruins of Al Qaeda camps obliterated by U.S. missiles in a failed 1998 attempt to kill Osama Bin Laden.

“This will be avenged through aggressive counterterror operations,” an official said Thursday as drones blew up Al Qaeda goons in warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani’s territory across the border in Pakistan. “People at Langley are galvanized.”

The CIA backed Haqqani in the 1980s war against Afghanistan’s Soviet occupiers.

Despite aligning with the CIA as a mujahedeen leader to fight the Soviets, Haqqani refused its overtures after 9/11 and sided with his old friend Bin Laden, whom he has sheltered on both sides of the Afganistan-Pakistan border.

My first visit to the classified outpost, also called Chapman Airfield, in late 2005, was in a chopper dropping off Special Forces soldiers wearing long beards.

The camp, a one-time Soviet airfield, is named for Green Beret Nathan Chapman, who was fighting alongside the CIA when he became the first U.S. soldier killed in the war eight years ago.

The next day, a one-eyed, one-armed man tried to set off his suicide vest at the gate but was stopped. It was one of the first suicide attacks tried in the Afghan war and gave everyone jitters.

Haqqani’s son Siraj, the Afghan Taliban’s top field commander, introduced suicide bombs as weapons in this war.

Chapman hosted a provincial reconstruction team and was home to “OGAs” – Other Government Agencies, a euphemism for spies.

The dangerous mission of these CIA paramilitaries, case officers and analysts was to hunt high-value targets from Al Qaeda and the local Haqqani Network.

It’s that work that set the camp’s fate for what has become a blood feud between the spy agency and the Haqqani family.

In the past year, CIA drones have killed Haqqani relatives in safehouses used by Al Qaeda leaders plotting strikes on U.S. interests globally.

“There is no doubt” Haqqani sees a motive for revenge, said Shir Khosti, an ex-Afghan official now living in Queens who often worked at Chapman with the CIA.
So does the CIA.

“If it wasn’t personal before, it sure as hell is now,” a furious counterterror official said Thursday.

jmeek@nydailynews.com

12-2

A War That Can’t be Won: Pakistan Creates Its Own Enemy

December 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Muhammad Idrees Ahmad

On the day I arrived in Peshawar a few weeks ago, the evening stillness was broken by nine loud explosions, each preceded by the sucking sound of a projectile as it arced into Hayatabad, the suburban sprawl west of the city. Their target was a Frontier Constabulary post guarding the fence that separates the city from the tribal region of Khyber.

When I lived here seven years ago, Hayatabad hosted many Afghan refugees; those with fewer resources lived in the slums of Kacha Garhi, along the Jamrud Road to the Khyber Pass. Many established businesses here, and dominated commerce and transport in parts of the city. Some temporarily migrated in summer to Afghanistan, where it was cooler. But Peshawar was a sanctuary, as Afghanistan was perpetually at war. Now, many Afghans are leaving because Afghanistan feels safer. There are checkpoints all over the city, many kidnappings, and in the past month, there have been at least three suicide bombings and four rocket attacks, most targeting Hayatabad.

This war began in 2002 under intense US pressure, with piecemeal military action in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), a semi-autonomous region of seven agencies along Pakistan’s north-western border. The Afghan Taliban were using the region to regroup after their earlier rout: veteran anti-Soviet commander Jalaluddin Haqqani headquartered his network in North Waziristan; Gulbuddin Hikmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami had a presence in Bajaur. However, the military, reluctant to take on pro-Pakistan Afghans, whom the government sees as assets against growing Indian influence in Afghanistan, instead marched into South Waziristan to apprehend “foreigners” (mainly Uzbeks, Chechens and Arabs). Following the regional code of honor, the tribes refused to surrender the guests and were subjected to collective punishment that soon united them against the government. Disparate militant groups coalesced into the Pakistani Taliban, distinct from and less disciplined than its Afghan counterpart. Ineffectual tribal elders were marginalized or assassinated. The leadership shifted to individuals such as Nek Muhammad, 27, a charismatic veteran of the Afghan war, a sworn enemy of the US presence in Afghanistan.

Although FATA had been a transit base for rebels and weaponry during the anti-Soviet struggle, this did not undermine the tribal structures or the political administration. There were no insurgents, according to Rustam Shah Mohmand, an astute analyst of frontier politics, “because the policy of the government and the aspirations of the people converged”. He suggests three causes for the present impasse: President Pervaiz Musharraf’s decision in 2001 to join the US “war on terror”; the use of indiscriminate force to support what was seen as an American war; and the disappearances and rendition of suspects, many innocents among them, given into US custody for money.

These combined to create a gulf between public opinion and government policy, and in 2002 led to the protest vote that brought the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA, an alliance of religious parties opposed to the “war on terror”) to power in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The evisceration of established institutions, particularly the office of the Political Agent, which since the days of the Raj had served as the federal government’s liaison with the tribal maliks (chiefs), worsened the insecurity. Traditional tribal structures and the concept of regional responsibility also suffered.

In 2004, after two attempts on Musharraf’s life, the government ordered 5,000 troops supported by helicopter gunships into South Waziristan. The military suffered heavy losses and the government was forced to sign a peace treaty with Nek Mohammad that briefly ended hostilities. The ceasefire broke when, on 18 June 2004, the young amir was assassinated in a US drone strike for which, in the first of many such incidents, the Pakistani government claimed responsibility, rather than admit its sovereignty had been breached by the US. Two more peace deals followed, but both ended when in August 2007 Pakistani forces stormed a mosque in Islamabad held by militants sympathetic to the Taliban, an operation that killed many innocents.

A sustained terrorist campaign followed, and the blowback began to hit Pakistan’s major cities. In response, the military expanded its operations into other agencies including Bajaur, Mohmand and Khyber. The fighting was intense, and neither side gave quarter. Millions were displaced, and anger against the government grew.

Phantom enemy

On the bus to Peshawar I’d met a youth, studying English literature at the University of Punjab, who was returning home to evacuate his family from the Khyber Agency. I asked him who the Taliban were, and he replied dryly “we all are”. A taxi driver showed me the flood of refugees from Khyber’s Bara region, and said the Taliban were a “phantom enemy” invented by the Pakistani establishment to justify foreign aid. He warned the government’s actions were actually creating the enemy that it claims it is at war with.

Around the time of the mosque siege the war also spilled into the mainland. Tensions had simmered since 2007 in Malakand’s Swat valley and culminated in the Pakistan army’s incursion this year into the region. The operation followed the failure of a peace settlement, the Nizam-e-Adl, that the government had signed with the Tehreek Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM), a local movement committed to the restoration of the region’s old legal order. Until the early 1970s, the three districts of Malakand – Swat, Dir and Chitral — were independent princely states, each with its own legal system — in Swat, a variant of sharia. Following Swat’s accession to Pakistan, the old system was superseded by Pakistan’s legal framework; however, no legal infrastructure evolved to cope with the change. Cases languished in district courts and justice was often indefinitely postponed. From the late 1970s on, this led to calls for the restoration of the old order, and in 1989 Sufi Muhammad established TNSM to formally pursue this cause.

The movement twice took up arms in the 1990s, but the governments of Benazir Bhutto (1994) and Nawaz Sharif (1999) made concessions to defuse hostilities. However, by 2002 the TNSM had all but disappeared after Sufi Muhammad led a contingent of 10,000 men into Afghanistan to fight US forces, most of whom were killed or captured. Sufi Muhammad’s credibility suffered and on his return he was whisked off to a prison in Dera Ismail Khan.

In 2005 Muhammad’s son-in-law, Mullah Fazlullah, was able to revive TNSM, with a more radical edge. The group was further strengthened by the arrival of militants fleeing US drone attacks in FATA. After the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (Taliban Movement of Pakistan, TTP) was established in December 2007 with Baitullah Mehsud as its leader, Mullah Fazlullah changed his organization into a local chapter of the movement. With its populist rhetoric, its swift justice and opposition to the old feudal elite, it found favor with the underclass and attracted many disaffected youths. This, observed Asif Ezdi, a political analyst, was “because the state has failed [the youth], massively and comprehensively: the wellspring of Islamic militancy in Pakistan is to be found in the alienation of the mass of the population by a ruling elite that has used the state to protect and expand its own privileges, pushing the common man into deeper and deeper poverty and hopelessness”.

Rule of justice

With unemployment, easy access to weaponry and training, and rising political consciousness because of a vibrant private media, there was no shortage of angry young men to swell the Taliban ranks, especially when the war was also seen as a struggle against the entrenched elite. “In some areas at least, it has pitted landless tenants against wealthy landlords,” Ezdi notes. This, he says, was “in a country where ordinary people have little chance of overcoming status barriers, with the government, the political system and the elite all arrayed against them. It is this combination of revolutionary and religious zeal which makes the Taliban such a formidable force.”

However, as more power accrued to the TTP, petty criminals also joined. This not only granted them immunity from the Taliban’s brutal justice, but access to weapons and a powerful support network. They used these immediately, terrorizing rivals and ordinary people alike. Following their own narrow interpretation of Islam, they banned female education; more than a hundred schools were bombed. Whatever initial support the Swat Taliban had enjoyed evaporated quickly; even the TTP dissented when its spokesman Maulvi Omar urged Fazlullah to reconsider the decision to ban girls’ education.

Eager to check the growing power of the TTP, in 2008 the Pashtun nationalist government of NWFP released Sufi Muhammad, who had renounced violence, to negotiate peace with the militants. These efforts culminated in the Nizam-e-Adl (rule of justice) legislation of February 2009, which briefly ended hostilities after the government agreed to establish sharia courts and the militants agreed to disarm. After much delay, the legislation was ratified by the central government on April 14, 2009 and, although both sides failed fully to meet obligations, some normalcy briefly returned to the valley.

Western commentators and their local allies were quick to denounce the legislation as Pakistan’s “surrender to the Taliban”. The country, they said, was on the verge of collapse, its nuclear arsenal about to land into the hands of the Taliban, who were within 60 miles of the capital. Pressure mounted on the Pakistani government and in May, when a group of TTP militants rode motorbikes into the neighbouring Buner valley, the incident was presented by the media as a prelude to a march on the capital. The tanks rolled.

While the operation succeeded in dislodging the militants, nearly three million citizens were displaced, and of those who remained, many were killed in the bombing of civilian neighborhoods. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) declared it the worst refugee crisis since Rwanda, and the capacity of the international aid organizations was seriously stretched. More than 80 per cent of the refugees were absorbed by families, friends and well-wishers; the UNHCR conceded it was only able to provide 33 per cent of the relief assistance needed for the rest. The Pakistani government failed to provide assistance and much of the foreign aid money lined the pockets of corrupt officials. The unaffected eastern provinces of Sindh and Punjab restricted entry to the refugees; this highlighted the ethnic dimension of the conflict, since the Pashtuns see themselves as primary targets.

Yet, unlike the military operations in FATA, the operation enjoyed relatively high popular support among Pakistanis (41 per cent). It was hailed as a success by politicians, the military and the media. Everybody recognized that it was imperative to counter militancy and criminality in Malakand but not all agreed that force was the only way to do it. “I think [the war] was avoidable,” said Rahimullah Yusufzai, a veteran journalist and the most respected analyst of frontier politics, “but Pakistan is not a free and independent player. There was much pressure from the US and other countries, and for a variety of reasons the government couldn’t resist.”

Yusufzai dismisses the idea that the militants were a threat to the country or its nuclear assets. “The government itself is saying that there were no more than 5,000 Taliban; they were controlling Swat, they had entered Buner — how many men could they have spared to march on the capital?” Pakistan is a country of 173 million, with a million under arms and an advanced air force.

“The Taliban had neither the capacity nor the intention to invade the capital. They were only interested in the Malakand division, and even there their influence was limited to three of its seven districts.” The Nizam-e-Adl encompassed the same concessions that two previous, secular governments had made, and Sufi Muhammad’s influence could have defused hostilities and marginalized the radicals. Roedad Khan, a former federal secretary and political commentator, queries whether all political options had been exhausted.

“There never was a more unnecessary war… a war more difficult to justify and harder to win. No one can be bombed into moderation and, given the unconventional methods of the insurgents, force alone has a slim chance of success since the militant doesn’t have to win, he just has to keep fighting.
“Mohmand has questions. “If the aim of the operation was to confront the elements challenging the writ of the state, it should have targeted only them. Why did the government have to invade the whole territory? By using air power and indiscriminate bombardment the government ensured that common people would suffer.”

Although the government has declared victory in Swat, he argued, the success could prove pyrrhic if “the social, economic and political causes that led to the emergence of the Taliban are not addressed and comprehensive reconstruction doesn’t follow.”

Tribe against tribe

In yet another act of political myopia, Pakistan diminished its options when in September it invited members of the Taliban shura (advisory committee) for negotiations and then arrested them. The policy of arming militias to counter the Taliban (along the lines of the Iraqi “awakening councils”) is equally dangerous. In a region where blood feuds last for generations, Yusufzai points out, this means perpetual violence, pitting tribe against tribe. The government’s policy of home demolitions ignores the fact that in the frontier region a single house is shared by an extended family, and when a home is demolished for the sins of an errant son, the state creates more recruits for the insurgency.

An uneasy peace prevails in Swat today, and militant violence has declined. However, more than 200 suspected militants and sympathizers have been killed in extra-judicial executions by security forces and local vigilantes since the end of major combat operations. The population remains in a permanent state of fear: “If, earlier, people were terrorized by the Taliban, today they live in fear of the army,” says Yusufzai. “Anybody can be labelled a Talib”, he notes; some locals have chosen to settle scores by falsely accusing rivals of being Taliban sympathizers. “Your house is then demolished, you are taken into custody, and next day your body is found dumped in a field. People are very scared, they are afraid to talk, and the media” — which mostly cheered on the military — “is compromised.”
The Taliban attacks continued, accelerating in October in anticipation of the new military incursion in South Waziristan. Under the leadership of Hakimullah Mehsud, 28, a campaign of bombings began which, with calculated cruelty, hit targets in Hangu, Kohat, Shangla and Peshawar, killing mostly civilians. The attacks got more audacious as the government escalated the aerial bombing ahead of the ground invasion. Punjabi allies of the Taliban even managed a successful attack on military headquarters in Rawalpindi. Pakistan’s vulnerability became even clearer when a wave of attacks hit the heavily fortified capital.

Meanwhile the US drone attacks in the FATA region continue. Of 701 citizens killed in 60 strikes between January 29 , 2008 and April 8, 2009, only 14 were suspected militants according to one investigation; the brunt is borne by civilians. Public opinion is incensed: according to an August 2009 Gallup poll, 59 per cent of Pakistanis see the US as the biggest threat, compared with 18 per cent for traditional rival India. Only 11 per cent see the Taliban as the biggest threat (although that number is growing). While the poll also revealed 41 per cent support for the military operation in Swat, a higher number (43 per cent) favored a political resolution. The insecurities of the Pakistani defense establishment are worsened by US assistance to India, including the transfer of advanced military and nuclear technology.

With the inducement of aid dollars, Pakistan with its poorly equipped army is trying to achieve what the US and Nato have failed to accomplish in Afghanistan. But the longer the military operations continue the more regions are likely to slip from under its control as the numbers of the aggrieved multiply, the military stretches thin and vulnerabilities increase. Already the insurgency has spread to parts of Punjab. Yet a form of military metaphysics prevails among the Pakistani elite and western commentators, who continue to hope that militancy can be bombed out of existence. Anti-war voices are denounced as Taliban sympathizers.
The recent entry of 28,000 Pakistani troops into South Waziristan has precipitated yet another mass exodus; a third of the population has been displaced. Though the Pakistani Taliban have few supporters left, Associated Press (AP) found refugees venting their anger at the government with chants of “Long live the Taliban”. Instead of winning hearts and minds, the government is delivering them to the enemy. If the Pakistani Taliban are disliked, the government is disliked more. Despite the best efforts of the elite to take ownership of the war, the notion persists that Pakistan is fighting an American war, a view that will be harder to dispute following reports that the attack on Waziristan is being assisted by US drone surveillance.

According to the journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad, the military has again taken a gamble marching into South Waziristan “as it is highly unlikely to eliminate the militant threat. Indeed, the past seven or so years have shown that after any operation against militants, the militants have always gained from the situation”. Already the Taliban are regrouping in Swat, and “it is likely that by the time the snow chokes major supply routes, the Taliban will have seized all lost ground” . Yet the media and western commentators remain sanguine. The day the rockets hit Hayatabad the featured article on Foreign Policy magazine’s AfPak Channel was headlined “Everything’s coming up roses in Pakistan”. The attack was attributed to Mangal Bagh Afridi, leader of the banned Lashkar-e-Islam and a former ally of the government who not long ago was credited with driving out fugitives and petty criminals and providing protection to Nato convoys. Alliances remain transient, yet another reason to refrain from arming militias to fight proxy wars. The morning after the rockets I walked to the local market to buy tandoori bread. Once sold for Rs 2, it now sells for Rs 15. Wages have stagnated and inflation and unemployment are high. On the street there was no talk of the threat to lives. Everyone complained about the impossible cost of living.

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad is the co-founder of Pulsemedia.orgThis article appears in the current edition of Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at mondediplo.com. This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features one or two articles from LMD every month.

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Obama’s AfPak War: “It’s the Mission, Creep”

November 1, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Steve Weissman, Truthout

Dick Cheney and his neoconservative fringe are showing true gall and no grit in accusing President Obama of “dithering” and “waffling” on Afghanistan. They are, after all, the deep thinkers who rushed the Bush administration into Iraq, which diverted troops and other resources from their earlier mission to defeat the Afghan Taliban and catch or kill Osama bin Laden. Still, the shameless critics raise an intriguing question. Why has the president taken so much time to announce how many more troops he will send?

No doubt, Obama wanted to get his Afghanistan policy right, as White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told Mr. Cheney, who had gotten it so very wrong. Time also let the president hear from all sides on the issue, making everyone more inclined to fall in line behind whatever decision he finally made.

When Gen. Stanley McChrystal went public with his troop demands for as many as 80,000 more soldiers, Obama used the delay to make clear to the brass that he would not let them sandbag him. Keeping the American military under civilian control or field testing the Pentagon’s latest counterinsurgency doctrine against the Afghan Taliban – which do you think makes more difference to our country’s future?

After election observers revealed the extent of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s vote fraud, Obama used further delay to help force Karzai to accept a run-off and possibly a coalition government with his runner-up and former foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.

But, as we shall soon see, Obama’s deliberations did not do the one thing that many of us who supported him most wanted him to do. He did not find a way to justify his Nobel Peace Prize by bringing American troops home from “the graveyard of empires.”

How can we know before Obama announces his decision? The tea leaves are all too clear – and all too terrifying.

If Obama intended to pare down his commitment to military force in Afghanistan, trial balloons would have flown by now and presidential surrogates would have filled air waves and newsprint with arguments for putting our limited military resources where America’s vital interests were more at stake.

Instead, the White House stressed early in the deliberations that “leaving Afghanistan isn’t an option” while Defense Secretary Robert Gates has pointedly redefined the U.S. mission in a greatly expanded AfPak War.

“We’re not leaving Afghanistan,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “There should be no uncertainty in terms of our determination to remain in Afghanistan and to continue to build a relationship of partnership and trust with the Pakistanis. That’s long term. That’s a strategic objective of the United States.”

“The clear path forward is for us to underscore to the Pakistanis that we’re not going to turn our back on them as we did before.”

As for our previous mission against al-Qaeda, Gates added a new twist. A Taliban victory in Afghanistan would give Islamist radicals “added space.” But more important, it would give them their second victory against a superpower, which would greatly boost their morale and ability to recruit.

Gates is no fool and his arguments make superficial sense, which is why the neocons have rushed to embrace them. But, on closer scrutiny, the new mission looks far more dangerous than the old one that Dick Cheney botched so badly.

While the Pakistanis need reassuring, Washington cannot stop them from supporting Taliban and other Islamist groups in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. They use the militants against their primary rival, India, especially in disputed Kashmir. Team Obama can help cool down the rivalry, but they cannot make it go away.

Worse, an American escalation in Afghanistan will almost certainly send Pashtun insurgents flooding into Pakistan, as Senator Russ Feingold has warned. This would move the Pakistanis even further into a destabilizing civil war.

And worse still, an escalation will turn a local Pashtun insurgency into an ideological conflict that will attract Islamist fighters from all over the world, just as did the American-backed jihad against the Soviet Union.

So, for President Obama, it comes down to balancing relative horrors. Which will prove a stronger recruiting tool for al-Qaeda – claiming a victory over the United States or offering the chance to fight in a real war against the Western Crusaders?

As I’m afraid we’re about to learn, Obama will move us closer to an AfPak War, which could well rejuvenate an otherwise declining Islamist radicalism.

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