US capital next target: Baitullah Mehsud

Islamabad, Apr 1 : Claiming responsibility for the terror attack on a police academy in Lahore, Pakistan's most wanted by man Baitullah Mehsud threatened to launch an "amazing" strike on Washington in retaliation for a series of attacks by US drones in tribal areas.

Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban chief and on whom the US has announced a bounty of USD 5 million, also warned of further strikes in the country unless Islamabad withdraws troops from tribal areas and press America to cease drone attacks in the troubled North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

The Taliban chief, who is wanted in connection with the 2007 assassination of former Pakistan Premier Benazir Bhutto, told foreign news agencies "soon we will launch an attack in Washington that will amaze everyone in the world." Mehsud, who operates from the lawless tribal region in Waziristan, said yesterday's attack that killed nine people was in retaliation for US drone attacks in the unruly tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

"We will keep on taking revenge if the US drone attacks continue. And finally a major attack will prove to be an arrow (aimed at) the government," he warned.

His remarks came as authorities in Lahore carried out widespread raids on suspected militant hideouts rounding up more than 50 people on suspicion of helping the attackers.

"I will deal with the US. It will take some time but I will teach a lesson to the US. By the grace of Allah, we will take revenge inside the US," Mehsud said, echoing the views of Al-qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden. Pakistani authorities continued their interrogation of the captured attacker for the second day today which led them to arrest three other persons for facilitating the terrorists who carried out the brazen attack.

Gul Khan alias Ishrat Khan, who was captured by the police, told them that his group had been sent by Mehsud to carry out the mission.

Khan and his accomplices had rented a house in Manawan, where the training centre is located, a couple of weeks ago to prepare for the attack, police said.

Along with Mehsud, another little-known group called Fedayeen al-Islam also claimed responsibility for the attack on the police academy.

Its spokesman Umar Farooq also claimed to the media that his group had carried out similar style attack against the Sri Lankan cricket team earlier this month.

The elusive Mehsud, who has been targeted by the US drones, said: "...For now it is time to take revenge from Pakistan," and claimed that he had "increased his activities" instead of restricting his movements after the US announced a reward for him.

He did not divulge any details about the attacks he was planning but said they "would be a test for the government's security agencies".
READ MORE - US capital next target: Baitullah Mehsud

Indian PM to Discuss Taliban with Obama



31 March 2009

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to tell President Barack Obama there is no difference between good and bad Taliban when they meet this week on the G20 sidelines.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaks at a international nuclear disarmament conference, 09 Jun 2008
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (file)
India's prime minister will meet U.S. President Barack Obama for the first time at the Group of 20 meeting Thursday in London.

While the global economic crisis is to dominate the official agenda, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the U.S. President will also discuss South Asian security.

Speaking to reporters in Guwahati in northeast India, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said Mr. Singh is eager to discuss the insurgencies along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

Mukherjee is expressing unease with proposals to allow so-called "good" Taliban in a future power-sharing arrangement in Afghanistan to fight al Qaida and other terrorists.

"I am afraid our perception is you cannot make a distinction between good Talibans and bad Talibans," Mukherjee said. "There cannot be any good terrorists or bad terrorists."

The Taliban, who are primarily ethnic Pashtuns, are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A U.S.-led military operation in 2001 ousted the Taliban from power in Afghanistan.

The Indian minister added Afghanistan's problems cannot be solved without simultaneously taking care of the challenges faced by it neighbor, Pakistan. Mukherjee pointed to territories under Pakistan's administrative control as the epicenter of global terrorism.

The initial face-to-face meeting between the Indian and U.S. leaders in London this week is viewed as crucial for maintaining the warming ties between New Delhi and Washington.

The Indo-American relationship blossomed during the presidency of George W. Bush. Traditionally the United States maintained a closer relationship with Pakistan than India.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence in 1947. During the Cold War era, India was officially a non-aligned state, but had a deep level of cooperation with the Soviet Union. Russia remains the top supplier of weaponry, aircraft and other equipment to India's military. 
READ MORE - Indian PM to Discuss Taliban with Obama

Centre-stage in the 'war on terror'

By Syed Shoaib Hasan


Pakistan Taleban leader Baitullah Mehsud
We will continue our attacks until the Pakistan government stops supporting the Americans
Pakistan Taleban chief Baitullah Mehsud

The admission by the chief of the Pakistani Taleban, Baitullah Mehsud, that his group was behind Monday's attack on a police academy in Lahore comes as little surprise.
Analysts and officials said in the immediate aftermath of the attack that the most likely connection was with Mr Mehsud's Tehrik-e-Taleban (TeT) organisation.
What has caught many off guard is how quickly and openly Mr Mehsud accepted responsibility.
Previously he and his organisation would either refrain from accepting responsibility for major attacks, or wait several months before acknowledging their role.
'Not surprised'
It is another indication of how much the power of the Taleban has grown and how secure they feel in their safe havens along the border with Afghanistan.
In particular, the Waziristan tribal region - part of which is controlled by Mr Mehsud - stands out as the place which currently harbours some of the most wanted men in the world.
For Pakistani security forces and the US, it has increasingly become centre stage in what was once called "the war on terror".

Site of a drone strike in north-west Pakistan
Drone strikes are not thought to have killed any high-profile targets
Everybody from Osama bin Laden to the trans-Atlantic bombing suspect, Rashid Rauf, has at one time or another said to have been based in this territory.
Having visited Waziristan several times during the past two years, I am not surprised it has this reputation.
If there is a place in the world which can continue to provide shelter for al-Qaeda, this is it.
It is a land of steep mountains and narrow valleys populated by tribesmen proud of their long history of "dying gloriously" in battle.
Vanguard
On my first trip to the area, one of the first landmarks pointed out to me was the site of an ambush over half a century earlier when Mehsud tribesmen surrounded and annihilated a 300-member British force in the last days of the Raj.

map
During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Waziristan remained the vanguard of the struggle.
The first of the Afghan cities to be lost by the Soviets was to a commander from this region, when Khost fell to the now legendary Jalaluddin Haqqani.
It is his son Sirajuddin who now heads the Afghan Taleban's command in this region and the adjoining provinces of Afghanistan.
He was recently declared wanted by the US with a reward of $5m for his capture.
But the most famous and notorious of the Taleban warlords remains Baitullah Mehsud.
He and his TeT organisation are responsible for much of the spread of Taleban ideology across Pakistan.
Intelligence officials confirm that it was the help and training of TeT which enabled the Swat Taleban to demand and achieve a separate legal system in that Pakistani district.
They also say that his support was crucial to the Taleban in nearby Bajaur, enabling them to reach a peace deal with the army despite the military having much of the upper hand.
The TeT is also said to maintain networks as far afield as the southern port city of Karachi. Increasingly, it has grown as a clear and present danger to the state of Pakistan.
Anti-American sentiments
But while the country's security forces have been able to thwart Mr Mehsud's plans outside the tribal areas, it has been almost impossible to curtail his activities - and those of other Taleban leaders - in Waziristan.
In a series of tactical campaigns, starting in 2004, the Taleban have all but pushed the security forces out of Waziristan. The few that remain are confined to their forts.
Over the last year, the only thing that has penetrated the Waziristan tribal region are suspected US drones. These have killed hundreds of people, many of them militants, but also many civilians.

MAJOR PAKISTAN ATTACKS
27 March 2009: Suicide bomber demolishes crowded mosque near the north-western town of Jamrud, killing dozens
3 March 2009: Six policemen and a driver killed, and several cricketers injured, in ambush on the Sri Lanka cricket team in Lahore
20 Sept 2008: 54 die in attack on the Marriott hotel in Islamabad
6 Sept 2008: Suicide car bombing kills 35 and wounds 80 at a police checkpoint in Peshawar
Aug 2008: Twin suicide bombings at gates of a weapons factory in town of Wah kill 67
March 2008: Suicide bombs hit police headquarters and suburban house in Lahore, killing 24
That has angered ordinary Pakistanis and raised anti-American sentiments to an all-time high. Pakistan's security forces say the drone strikes also prevent them from acting more strongly against the militants.
But the army's record in Waziristan's suggest their inaction is mostly because of the activities of the militants rather than the pressure of public opinion.
In addition, the drone strikes are only successful to a limited extent. Being highly dependent on ground-based intelligence, they are not believed to have destroyed many "high value" targets.
Given the fact that the Taleban behead at least a couple of people for spying everyday, the continuing limited availability of spies is understandable.
In fact, other than killing a lot of junior and mid-level al-Qaeda and Taleban personnel, the attacks have united all Taleban factions in Pakistan.
In a recent declaration, Pakistan's other two Taleban factions - led by Maulvi Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur - said they had formed an alliance with Mr Mehsud.
The two belong to the Ahmedzai Wazir tribe, the Mehsud's traditional enemy.
The Ahmedzai Wazir is the larger tribe and exists on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. They are believed to harbour most of the senior al-Qaeda leadership, including Osama Bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The harsh realities on the ground have made some analysts adamant that Pakistani and US authorities have little choice except direct military action in Waziristan.
"This would mean bloody and entrenched fighting with serious losses against a battle-hardened enemy," says an ex-army official familiar with the region.
Whether both sides are willing to take this on, in the face of declining public support for the conflict and its casualties, remains one of the great unanswered questions in this increasingly bloody war.
READ MORE - Centre-stage in the 'war on terror'

Iran Offers Help for Afghanistan

Bas Czerwinski/Associated Press
President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan speaking with the Iranian delegation in The Hague.
THE HAGUE — Iran pledged on Tuesday to help Afghanistan with reconstruction and to cooperate in regional efforts to crack down on the booming Afghan drug trade, which has spilled over the border.
Iran’s statements at a conference on Afghanistan here suggest that Tehran is willing to coordinate its policies more closely with its neighbors and other countries — something that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she hoped would come out of the gathering.
But the Iranian government also said sending more foreign troops to Afghanistan would be ineffective, arguing that the “the presence of foreign forces has not improved things in the country.”
Iran’s statement came after Mrs. Clinton explained the Obama administration’s decision to deploy 17,000 additional soldiers and 4,000 more military trainers to help build up Afghan security forces.
The United States and Iranian delegations sat across a horseshoe-shaped table at the conference here that grouped more than 80 countries and international organizations to discuss policy toward Afghanistan.
Noting that Afghanistan’s opium poppy production far outpaced efforts to crack down on drug trafficking, the Iranian representative, Mohammed Mehdi Akhondzadeh, said “carrying out coordinated measures” will be “effective steps in line with blocking smugglers’ access to consumer markets.”
Iran’s participation in the conference has been closely watched, in part because of the long border it shares with Afghanistan, and in part because of the possibility that the meeting could provide the first face-to-face encounter between officials from Iran and the Obama administration.
By midday, there were no reports of a meeting between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Akhondzadeh, who is the deputy foreign minister. On Monday, she said she had no plans for a meeting, but did not rule out a chance encounter.
Presenting the results of the administration’s strategic policy review, Mrs. Clinton called for a new start in the country, emphasizing more effective development and better regional coordination.
“Our collective inability to implement a clear and sustained strategy has allowed violent extremists to regain a foothold in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and make the area a nerve center for efforts to spread violence from London to Mumbai,” Mrs. Clinton said in her statement.
She also said the United States supported efforts to peel away those who joined Al Qaeda or the Taliban less out of ideology than desperation. “This is, in fact, the case for a majority of those fighting with the Taliban,” she said.
READ MORE - Iran Offers Help for Afghanistan

Terrorists consider themselves truer Muslims: Pakistani editorial

terror3With Pakistanis killing Pakistanis and Muslims killing Muslims, terrorists consider themselves truer Muslims than those who oppose them, an editorial in a leading English daily said Tuesday, a day after the brazen assault on a Lahore police academy that left 18 dead.

Another editorial maintained that in the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai carnage, the authorities should have been prepared for such an event, “whether carried out as an act of retaliation or by ‘copycat’ terrorists raised and trained at home”.

“It doesn’t matter who the paymasters might be. What we have now are Pakistanis killing Pakistanis, Muslims killing Muslims,” Dawn said in an editorial headlined “Pakistan under attack.

“And while we are at it, let us discard once and for all the absurd notion that the people who carry out such dastardly acts cannot possibly be Muslims. They are Muslims.

“In fact, these terrorists and militants consider themselves to be far truer Muslims than those who oppose them,” the editorial maintained.

Heavily-armed terrorists stormed into the Manawan police academy on Lahore’s outskirts and just 12 km from the Indian border and held some 800 trainees hostage for more than eight hours before Pakistani security forces recaptured the complex.

Eight terrorists were killed and three were captured alive. Eight trainees and two civilians also died in the assault.

Holding that “it should be clear by now that we are at war with ourselves as the enemy within grows more audacious by the day”, Dawn said the militants involved in Monday’s siege may have been overcome “but it is time to hammer out a political and social consensus on this issue.

“It is time to show the kind of fervour the obscurantists demonstrate in abundance but the well-meaning couch in carefully chosen words,” it added.

Stating that the fight against terrorism “cannot be won without throwing punches”, the editorial noted that the country’s mainstream political parties “need to draw a line in the sand and show the people, with no room for ambiguity, where they stand in this battle for the soul of Pakistan”.

Urging the religio-political parties to “make their positions clear”, Dawn noted that US President Barack Obama had said US ground forces will not enter Pakistan in the war against terror along the Afghan border.
“We would be well advised to not give them the chance. If we can’t do the job ourselves, others might do it for us. And that way lies disaster,” the editorial contended.

The News wrote much in the same vein.

“Surely, since the events in Mumbai last November we should have been prepared for such an event - whether carried out as an act of retaliation or by ‘copycat’ terrorists raised and trained at home,” its leader, headlined “Another outrage”, said.

The March 3 attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers, “executed by experts with immaculate training, should have strengthened our resolve to tackle terrorists. This has not happened”, it lamented.

In this context, it noted that the police “remain ill-equipped to deal with the urban guerrilla warfare that is being fought in our cities. This lack of preparedness has already cost us hundreds of lives. Who knows how many more will die”, The News added.

Calling for a “drastic change” in Pakistan’s approach to terrorism and militancy, the editorial said: “Our entire security strategy needs to change. We need, too, to assess the status of our intelligence apparatus. Our allies must assist in this.”
READ MORE - Terrorists consider themselves truer Muslims: Pakistani editorial

Rampage in Pakistan Shows Reach of Militants

Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press
Police officers who had been taken hostage were freed at a police training school on the outskirts of Lahore, Pakistan, on Monday. 
Pakistani paramilitary soldiers arresting one of the gunmen.

MANAWAN, Pakistan — The attackers hopped over a crumbling brick wall, wearing backpacks and belts with dangling grenades. They were young and wore beards, and by 7:30 a.m. on Monday, they were firing automatic weapons into an unarmed crowd of young police recruits.
Pakistan’s most populous province, Punjab, came under attack for the second time this month. This time, militants hit several hundred police cadets caught off guard during a morning drill at their academy in this village near Lahore, Punjab’s capital.
The attackers issued no demands but went on a rampage, killing at least eight recruits and instructors. One attacker was killed in the siege that followed and, in a gory finale, three detonated suicide belts, killing themselves. More than 100 people were wounded.
“They were barbaric,” a senior trainer at the center said. “They had no demands. We didn’t understand what they wanted. They just kept killing.”
The strike was aimed at killing and terrorizing future law enforcers and demonstrated once again the militants’ ability to reach deep into the Pakistani heartland.
Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state, has been mired in political wrangling since an election last year, with leaders fighting each other instead of joining efforts against the insurgency, which is slowly strangling the country. The government’s impotence will greatly complicate the Obama administration’s efforts to bring order to Afghanistan, whose militants slip through Pakistan’s porous borders.
Rehman Malik, a senior adviser in Pakistan’s Interior Ministry, said there were seven assailants. Three were arrested, he said, and four died in the siege. They rented an apartment in Lahore but came from Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas in the west, he said.
The chief of Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, said on Tuesday his group had carried out the attack, Reuters reported. “Yes, we have carried out this attack. I will give details later,” Mr. Mehsud, an Al Qaeda-linked leader based in the Waziristan region, told Reuters by telephone.
It is the same region used by the Taliban to stage attacks on American forces in Afghanistan. This time, however, Mr. Malik said that Pakistan was the victim.
“In our country, at our different borders, arms are coming in, Stinger missiles are coming in, rocket launchers are coming in, heavy equipment is coming; it should be stopped,” Mr. Malik said. “Whoever the antistate elements are, they are destabilizing the country.”
It seemed just as likely that the attacks had been perpetrated by Punjabi militant groups, like Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was blamed for the attacks last year in Mumbai, India, or Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a sectarian group that recruits in southern Punjab but in recent years moved to the tribal areas to train alongside Al Qaeda.
Mushtaq Sukhera, the deputy inspector general of investigations with the Punjab police, said that it was impossible to tell the identities of the attackers, and that they could be from a Punjab-based group.
Lashkar-e-Taiba was suspected in a similar attack this month, on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. About a dozen attackers escaped, humiliating Pakistani authorities who seemed powerless to stop an assault on Pakistan’s most cherished pastime.
This time, elite police commandos struck back quickly, surrounding the police academy and fiercely attacking the militants. “We encircled them,” said Shahid Iqbal, deputy inspector general of operations for the Lahore Police Department, as a crowd of police officers in the background cheered “God is great” and “Long live Punjab police.”
Mr. Iqbal said, “We engaged them in the stairwells.”
The elite forces recaptured the academy by 4 p.m., after an eight-hour siege. President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani praised the security forces for what amounted to a relative success.
Some at the police academy believed that the attackers had come from Afghanistan, or at least were Pashtun, an ethnicity indigenous to tribal areas in western Pakistan.
“Afghans,” Mr. Iqbal said, flicking his wrist in a gesture of distaste. When asked what his forces found at the end of the siege, he replied: “Three bodies. Two heads.”

But many young recruits saw the attackers — who burst upon them during a recess from the drill, firing indiscriminately into a crowd of more than 700 men — and not everybody agreed they were Afghan.

Tajamul Hussein, a recruit who was part of the drill, said the attackers spoke Saraiki, a dialect of Punjabi, the local language here. He said one attacker had a very long beard.

He said they were shouting, “Oh, Red Mosque attackers, we have come,” a reference to the 2007 takeover by Pakistani authorities of a militant mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital.
Monday’s siege was much shorter, but terrifying for the recruits inside, most of them no older than 20, and from small provincial towns with few job options. For them the Manawan center, one of six basic training centers in the province, is a path to social advancement, despite its decay, and lack of running water.
Adnan Ali woke with a start when bullets pierced the glass in a window near his bed. When a grenade was lobbed through a different pane, he backed away, seeing a scene of panic through the dirty glass in the parade yard just outside.
“They were lying on the ground and crawling,” he said. “They were shouting, ‘Run, run!’ “
Muhammad Shafik, a cadet, said he was paralyzed by fear. “They started hitting people,” he said, standing in a warehouselike room that served as sleeping quarters, with hundreds of thin mattresses spread in rumpled lines on a concrete floor. “When their magazine was finished, they loaded another one and kept firing.” He added, “My mind was moving slower than my body.”
The police brought out the wounded in blue-and-gray armored personnel carriers, which the militants tried to hit with grenades from a third-floor balcony. Elite police officers returned ferocious fire each time, making a frightening din that punctuated the afternoon.
Signs of struggle were everywhere. Bullet holes had punctured green screens in upstairs windows. Broken glass crunched underfoot on stairways. A pool of blood, thickening, traced the shape of a human body on a speckled stone floor.
The police who came to the rescue were led by an elite contingent of Punjab police officers set up in 1997 as the rough equivalent of police SWAT teams in the United States, said the former inspector general of the Punjab police, Shaukat Javed. Now there are about 5,500 members, with units of 50 to 60 members based in each district of the province.
Mr. Javed said the police academy that was attacked was the least guarded of three training centers in the Lahore area. One of the facility’s trainers said that out of about 30 security guards at the complex — retired military officers with old rifles and little ammunition — just 7 were on duty.
One, named Mustafa, fought very bravely, several instructors said. The instructors on stage in front of the parade were armed only with sticks.
“What can you do with sticks?” Mr. Shafik asked, his face set in bewilderment and pain from the loss of a favorite teacher, Gulam Mohiuddin.
The attackers had more sophisticated weaponry than in past attacks, said Mr. Sukhera, the police official. A factory-made antipersonnel explosive that bore the markings Claymore Mark 5 was found near one of the dead attackers in a plastic box, said Zulifkar Hameed, an elite force member who was among the first inside.
The elite forces ultimately prevailed. But the attackers, in some respects, got their way.
“I’m not joining the police,” said an angry young recruit, Khalil Zaman. “I love my life. No one wants to be here anymore. We’re taking off our uniforms and going home.”
READ MORE - Rampage in Pakistan Shows Reach of Militants

Ten Reasons to Talk to Taliban Hardliners

Editor’s Note: Engaging with the Taliban could be part of the Afghanistan policy of the Obama Administration. But who in the Taliban should the United States be talking to? NAM Contributing Writer Craig Naumann, Ph.D., thinks Washington should talk not just to the moderates, but also to the hardliners.

As fighting in the Afghan South is expected to intensify with the arrival of spring the Obama Administration is finalizing its strategic policies for the region. This heightened sense of urgency to stem the resurgent Taliban is reflected in a flurry of international conferences on the Afghan crisis: the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s special conference on reconstruction and fighting terrorism in Afghanistan held in Moscow on March 27 (with the United States as an observer), followed by a U.N. special conference in the Netherlands. At center stage during these talks is how to frame and coordinate military strategy and humanitarian efforts. Options being reviewed are a military surge emulating Iraq’s example, and a complementary humanitarian surge for Afghanistan.

Over the past years, the United States and its allies unsuccessfully tried to “pacify” Afghanistan’s volatile south via a mix of military muscle and aid efforts. As an added element in the “pacification strategy” another seemingly novel concept is the idea to negotiate with the so-called moderate elements among the Taliban. This avenue is usually framed as a tag-along option but never seriously discussed as a stand-alone strategy.

Here are 10 good reasons why negotiations with all the Taliban, and especially its hardliners, should be at the very center of a development strategy for Afghanistan.

1. The West should show an interest in the Afghan government engaging in peace talks with the insurgents. That senior Taliban leaders such as Mullah Omar and others have purportedly said that they are not interested in a deal with the Afghan government should not be taken at face value. In the Oriental bazaar, when haggling over a precious item, one does not reveal one’s real intentions until the very end of the bargaining process. Likewise political and ideological rhetoric does not automatically translate into actual politics or policy. Unless a serious offer is extended, respecting the Taliban as an equal partner to talks, with all participating sides being ready to make concessions, we won’t know if they will be receptive, or which factions are amenable to negotiating.

2. It makes no sense to argue that all the reconcilable elements of the Taliban have already defected and there are only intransigent hardliners left. Any individual, faction or movement might come to the table if offered a fair deal. An amnesty is simply not good enough for the senior ranks of the Taliban. What might have sounded attractive in 2001/2 has lost much of its luster, given the military stalemate. Unless things on the military front dramatically improve for the Karzai government and its Western allies, power sharing must be part of the discussion. The mid-term goal should be to allow the factions of the Taliban and other Afghan insurgency movements to transform themselves into civilian political parties who fight for their respective agenda through the democratic process by way of the ballot.

3. According to Pashtun customary law, peace negotiations require that both parties agree on the agenda, the venue and the body of referees. Dictating the agenda or offering amnesty would immediately backfire. One should not rule out the strong possibility that the Taliban considers the United States and any other given foreign power as not entitled to having a say in peace talks. The United States might want to seriously consider not insisting on directly participating in the negotiations. Any notion of the U.S. administration engaging in direct talks with the Taliban leadership, if accepted by the Taliban, could only be a precursor to the much more detailed peace making process between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

4. Through the Bush administration’s very unfortunate gaffes in diplomacy, the Taliban leadership was prevented from ridding itself of Osama bin Laden by handing him over to foreign powers. In Pashtun customs, any guest asking for protection has to be defended as if he were direct kin, regardless of any evil deeds he might have committed. Practically all Taliban are ethnic Pashtuns. Hence, the U.S. ultimatum to hand over bin Laden was perceived as a slap in the face. To tribal Pashtuns, whose worldview is governed by an ancient code of honor, death is preferred over appearing as dishonorable or losing one’s reputation. The U.S. ultimatum meant war from the outset, with virtually no room for negotiation.

5. While there are certain theological parallels between Al Qaeda’s brand of Islamism and the Taliban’s ideology, the Taliban are essentially nationalists, concerned only about Afghanistan. Al Qaeda is not interested in Afghanistan per se but rather pursuing a global faith-based revolution. In order to drive a wedge between Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the latter have to be offered a way out from their maze of violence. Before 9/11 there were very tangible tensions between the camps of the Taliban and bin Laden’s Al Qaeda fighters. If not for the outside pressure with the unintended effect of pushing them together against a common enemy, bin Laden quite possibly would have been handed over to a third party on a platter by Mullah Omar.

6. The Taliban’s most recent ideological proximity to Al Qaeda is a direct effect of them fighting the same enemy, the United States. All tribal forces including the Taliban have to be brought behind a common goal: that of Afghanistan’s reconstruction. Only then might it become possible to oust Al Qaeda from the region. But the United States, by teaming up with tribal militias to defeat the Taliban insurrection, will almost certainly spark equal resistance from others among the fiercely egalitarian Pashtun tribes.

7. Wedged between Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Punjab and Sindh provinces, the so-called “terrorist safe havens” stretch all the way from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) to Baluchistan. A “Marshall Plan” should not only involve Afghanistan (with a focus on the insurgency-ridden south). Ideally, it would be a comprehensive package deal for the entire region from Kashmir in the East (bordering India and China) to Baluchistan and Sistan in the West (bordering Iran[CN1] ). Afghanistan could again become a regional hub for commerce, tourism, even the international service industry. But reinventing the Silk Route in a 21st century setting requires all the nations of the Great Game to creatively transcend the nation state zero-sum mindset so typical of the 19th and 20th centuries. All these border areas are already illicit free trade zones fuelled by the drug economy which over the past years has become inextricably linked to the insurgency. So let’s transform them into licit economy free trade zones through a sustained international effort based on large-scale education and employment initiatives transcending national borders. This would have nothing to do with bribery but represent the respect and repairs of the former anti-Soviet alliance (including the US, Western Europe, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the U.A.E., Pakistan, PR China and possibly even the post-soviet satellite states and, though less likely under the current regime, Russia itself) to three generations of Afghans suffering through a decade-long proxy war during cold war times or were caught up in the unresolved effects of its aftermath which are lasting until today.

8. The Taliban leadership, which consists of hardliners, seems inclined to stall the dynamics of negotiation in part because they think they are making military gains. This is why it is of the utmost importance to stabilize the government’s territory and positions and contain the areas currently controlled by the Taliban As long as this perception prevails, those wanting to negotiate won’t hold sway. If the military strength shifts in favor of the government, then those among the Taliban in favor of peace talks, will gain respectability and stand a better chance of being heeded inside the ranks of the movement.

9. Building a unified Afghan nation will only succeed if all the forces that took part in the war of national liberation are invited to participate in the nation building project. The 2001 conference in Bonn-Petersberg, after the ouster of the Taliban regime, yielded an unsustainable result. It excluded powerful senior leaders such as Haqqani and Hekmatyar and Taliban leaders like Mullah Omar from the nation building effort, arguably leaving them no better option than continued fighting.

10. The longer the fighting carries on, the more tribal Pashtuns will flock to the cause of fighting off what has unfortunately come to be perceived by the mostly illiterate locals as a hostile occupation. The United States should show an interest in the Afghan government engaging in peace talks with all of the insurgents. Not at any price, but a price tag there will be. What will hurt the West more than writing paychecks for a humanitarian surge will be the concessions to (ultra-)conservatives provided the local population is okay with these concessions. But a humanitarian surge will always be far less expensive than protracted Western military presence in large numbers.

Timing of negotiations is critical. Negotiations should be carried out while the government is in a position of strength. The Taliban’s attempts to gain additional terrain on the battlefield and hold territory will need to be held in check in the meanwhile. To strengthen the government’s position, should there be a possibility excluding causing “collateral damage”, they should be pushed back and be pressured to come to the negotiation table. Real negotiations could then start under the new president. It would then be up to the Afghan people to decide the future course of their country.

Either way, the U.S. government should take a back seat and let the Afghan government do what is has been trying to do for a number of years and has been unduly criticized for: namely, to bring peace to the insurgency-ridden areas by reaching out to its adversary.

Naumann is an international development consultant and independent researcher who worked in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2007 in various education-related assignments for the United Nations and USAID. He is the author of "Books, Bullets, and Burqas - Analysis of a Crisis - Educational Development, Society, and the State in Afghanistan" (April 2009, Xlibris).
READ MORE - Ten Reasons to Talk to Taliban Hardliners

Insurgent Threat Shifts in Pakistan

Assault on Police Academy Indicates Risk Has Moved Beyond Tribal Areas

Video
A group of gunmen attacked a police academy on Monday, throwing grenades, seizing hostages and killing at least eight police and three civilians before being overpowered by Pakistani security forces in armored vehicles and helicopters.


READ MORE - Insurgent Threat Shifts in Pakistan

Pentagon Plan to Regrow Limbs: Phase One, Complete

Fig3
The first phase of the Pentagon's plan to regrow soldiers' limbs is complete; scientists managed to turn human skin into the equivalent of a blastema — a mass of undifferentiated cells that can develop into new body parts. Now, researchers are on to phase two: turning that cellular glop into a square inch of honest-to-goodness muscle tissue.
Cellthera Inc. and the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) just got a one-year, $570,000 grant from Darpa, the Pentagon's blue-sky research arm, to grow the new tissues. "The goal is to genuinely replace a muscle that's lost," biotechnology professor Raymond Page tells Danger Room. "I appreciate that's a very aggressive goal."  And it's only one part in a larger, even more ambitious Darpa program, Restorative Injury Repair, that aims to "fully restore the function of complex tissue (muscle, nerves, skin, etc.) after traumatic injury on the battlefield."
Muscles are, of course, famous for their ability to regenerate; they're broken down and rebuilt with every gym workout. But when too much of a muscle is lost — either from injury or illness — "instead of the regenerative response, you get scarring," Page says. He's hoping to get a different result, by carefully growing fresh muscle, outside the body.
Step one will be trying to get those undifferentiated cells to turn into something like muscle cells. That means making sure the cells have myosin and actin — two proteins that are key to forming the cellular cytoskeleton, and to building muscle filaments. Then, Page and his team will try to get those cells to form around a scaffolding of tiny threads, made of biomaterial. Exactly what will be in thread, Page isn't quite sure — maybe collagens, maybe fibrinogens. It's one of many mysteries to unravel, as his team tries to grow body parts from scratch.
Photo: UCI Regeneration Lab
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Pakistan Attack Raises Fears of Spreading Terrorism

lahore attack police school
Troops of Pakistan's paramilitary force rush to a police training school on the outskirts of Lahore, Pakistan
K.M. Chaudary/AP

After eight hours of fierce gun battles, Pakistani security forces are claiming victory against yet unidentified gunmen who laid siege to a police training facility on the outskirts of Lahore — the country's second largest city and cultural hub — in a siege that Pakistani media is comparing to the Mumbai massacre in India last November. At least 13 police trainees were killed, and over 90 people were injured and taken to hospitals. The death toll is expected to rise, with bodies yet to be recovered from inside the building. More than 400 trainees are believed to have been present at the time of the attack. Authorities say that they have one of the attackers in custody, while four have been killed. Two others blew themselves up to evade capture.

Paramilitary troops and elite police commandos were called to the training facility on Monday morning after an estimated 15 gunmen stormed into the premises at 7 a.m., blasting their way in with the use of grenades and sophisticated weapons. In a brazen, military-style operation, the attackers — some of whom wore police uniforms, while others were masked and clothed in white — entered the grounds when the trainees were performing their morning drill on the parade ground.

Eyewitnesses told reporters that the attackers approached the premises from four directions, moving in threes or fours. The attackers began hurling grenades before shooting the police trainees on sight. Local television footage later showed bloodied bodies of uniformed trainees lying on the parade ground. Survivors of the initial assault were shown crawling to safety. The attackers then entered the three-story building, spraying bullets indiscriminately. "I jumped from the second floor," an injured policeman later told reporters. "There were dead bodies all over the place."

The police recruits were not trained to confront armed terrorists, Rehman Malik, the Interior Ministry chief, told reporters. They were shown fleeing the building in a panic as the rangers — a paramilitary force — and members of the Punjab police's elite commando unit arrived. As they mounted nearby buildings and worked their way into the besieged facility, fierce gun battles ensued as the security forces sought to push back the attackers. In scenes reminiscent of the three-day siege of Mumbai's luxury hotels, there was a relentless exchange of gunfire, with ammunition crackling loudly in the background. The local area, Manawan, near the Wagah border with India, was placed under curfew as local residents fled the area.

Several rounds of tear-gas were fired into the building in a bid to subdue the attackers. Outside, on the grounds, a bearded man who was among the attackers was caught as he attempted to throw a grenade at the security forces. A thick crowd gathered around him as he was beaten and dragged away into custody. At 3:30 p.m., security forces on the roof of the building began to celebrate, firing several rounds in the air, raising clenched fists, and dancing as they issued cries of "Alhamdulillah" — thanking God for their victory.
Moments later, Interior Minister Malik appeared on local media to hail the operation as a success. Some of the attackers have been captured alive, he said. "I can confirm one man, who was caught outside the building, when he tried to throw a grenade." The heavy tear-gassing had slowly pushed the gunmen up to the top floor, where they were holding some 35 police hostages. Malik added that the hostages had been released and four of the attackers were killed. Three of the men were killed by snipers, Rao Iftikhar, a government official said.
Precise details are still emerging. The fact that the attackers managed to sustain their assault for several hours is being seen as evidence of sophisticated training. Monday's siege comes less than a month after a dozen gunmen, carrying backpacks and wielding Kalashnikovs, attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team in the heart of Lahore. On that occasion, which was also widely compared to Mumbai, the gunmen managed to escape after killing half a dozen policemen. The gunmen were not captured, while the government was accused of a major security lapse and of floundering in its pursuit of the perpetrators.

By contrast, the capture of surviving suspects marks a rare breakthrough. A series of previous terrorist attacks have gone unpunished. It is still not known who carried out the attack on the Sri Lankan team, and there are confusing claims about the authors of the Marriott hotel bombing in Islamabad last September.
The U.S. has named al-Qaeda operative Usama al-Kini, who was killed in a drone attack on Jan 1, as being responsible for the Marriott attack, while the Interior Ministry blamed Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a militant group that has fought in Indian-administered Kashmir. LeJ, which has links with al-Qaeda and the Pakistan Taliban commander, was also widely suspected of mounting the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team. Other names floated included those of Lashkar-e-Toiba, a militant group blamed for the Mumbai massacre, and Jaish-e-Mohammed, another such group that has fought in Kashmir, and more recently in Pakistan's tribal areas. Given the chilling similarities in tactics deployed in the two attacks in Lahore, many analysts believe that the same group could have been involved. All these militant organizations have a strong presence in the country's richest province, Punjab.

The attack on the police cadets also underscores the growing threat that Islamist militancy poses to Pakistan on a widening geographic scale. It comes just days after a suicide bomber attacked a mosque on the edge of Pakistan's tribal areas, killing more than 70 in of the deadliest attacks the country has seen in recent months. The city of Lahore was long considered immune to such terror strikes but suffered its first suicide bombing in January 2008. With the second full frontal attack in less than a month, there are now fears that the militants have trained their sights on Pakistan's major cities. In the face of it all, the government seems ineffective. There has yet to be a successful prosecution of a terrorist suspect.
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A General's Personal Battle

The military is facing a sharp spike in suicides, and Maj. Gen. Mark Graham is leading the fight to reduce them. His mission is close to the heart: His own son, a young ROTC cadet, killed himself six years ago.

Fort Carson, Colo.
Maj. Gen. Mark Graham is on the frontlines of the Army's struggle to stop its soldiers from killing themselves. Through a series of novel experiments, the 32-year military veteran has turned his sprawling base here into a suicide-prevention laboratory.
[Suicide] Photo illustration by John Kuczala
One reason: Fort Carson has seen nine suicides in the past 15 months. Another: Six years ago, a 21-year-old ROTC cadet at the University of Kentucky killed himself in the apartment he shared with his brother and sister. He was Kevin Graham, Gen. Graham's youngest son.
After Kevin's suicide in 2003, Gen. Graham says he showed few outward signs of mourning and refused all invitations to speak about the death. It was a familiar response within a military still uncomfortable discussing suicide and its repercussions. It wasn't until another tragedy struck the family that Gen. Graham decided to tackle the issue head on.
"I will blame myself for the rest of my life for not doing more to help my son," Gen. Graham says quietly, sitting in his living room at Fort Carson, an array of family photographs on a table in front of him. "It never goes away."
Suicide is emerging as the military's newest conflict. For 2008, the Pentagon has confirmed that 140 soldiers killed themselves, the highest number in decades.
At a Senate hearing last week, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army's vice chief of staff, told lawmakers that 48 soldiers have already committed suicide in 2009. The figure puts the Army on pace for nearly double last year's figure. "I, and the other senior leaders of our Army, readily acknowledge that these current figures are unacceptable," Gen. Chiarelli said at the hearing.
Beyond Fort Carson, the Army has launched a broad push to reduce the incidence of suicide. Over the next four months, all soldiers in the Army will receive additional training on suicide prevention and broader mental health issues. The Marine Corps, which is also being hit hard by suicide, will give all Marines similar training this month. In February and March, the Army for the first time ever excused units from their normal duties so, one by one, they could learn new ways of trying to identify soldiers in need of help.

Collateral Damage

War has long placed a heavy burden on the families of soldiers. A look at the struggles of military families in history.
Juliet Chung
[Revolution] Bettmann/Corbis
American Revolution
The war uprooted thousands of families, as widows and wives looking for protection joined both the British and Continental armies, sometimes with their children and pets. The women acted as laundresses, cooks and nurses, and even were sent out amid fighting to scavenge munitions and boots, says Carol Berkin, a historian at Baruch College. Though George Washington complained that the presence of so many women could slow down the troops -- he once wrote that he was stymied in his effort to move the troops because several women were in labor -- he didn't want to send them away and spark desertions, she says.
[Civil] Corbis
Civil War
Union armies tried to provide transportation home for Confederate soldiers after the South's surrender, but demand overwhelmed supply. That left more than 100,000 weakened soldiers finding their own way home, sometimes taking months to journey back on foot as they foraged for food or helped their wounded friends. Not all of them made it back, with some dying along the way from infected wounds and lingering disease. As soldiers slowly trickled back to their homes, families who were still waiting "began to assume the worst," says T. Michael Parrish, a Civil War historian at Baylor -- exacting a heavy psychological toll.
[Vietnam] Corbis
Vietnam War
For several years immediately following the war, veterans and their families struggled to prove that Agent Orange, an herbicide used extensively during the war, had damaged soldiers' health. Families felt the Veterans Affairs department had sided with the chemical companies, says Vietnam War historian Robert K. Brigham, requiring what they thought was an unusual burden of proof that Agent Orange caused their medical problems. Seven chemical companies, including Dow Chemical and Monsanto, reached a $180 million settlement with veterans in a class-action lawsuit in 1984. Almost 300,000 veterans filed claims before the 1994 cutoff date.
Military officials, including Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attribute the increase to repeated deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Earlier this month, Adm. Mullen visited Kentucky's Fort Campbell, which has had eight suicides so far this year. Asked about the stresses of repeat deployments during a town-hall meeting with soldiers, he said, "I can't believe that is not a huge factor" in the number of suicides. Soldiers have been sent to war zones as many as four times, often with less than a year between deployments. That situation will likely worsen as the Obama administration boosts troop levels in Afghanistan.
"It's cumulative and the problems don't show up right away," says Anne League, the chief of psychiatry at Fort Carson. "Soldiers can seem fine at first, even if they're not."
The Army says that for the first time the rate of suicide in the military exceeded that of the general population last year -- 20.2 per 100,000 people in the military, compared with the civilian rate of 19.5 per 100,000. (The Centers for Disease Control say the overall civilian suicide rate was 11 per 100,000 for 2005 -- the most recent year available -- but the Army adjusts the figure to reflect the military's younger and much more heavily male demographics.) The Army's suicide rate was 12.7 per 100,000 in 2005, 15.3 in 2006 and 16.8 in 2007.
Military suicide rates tend to increase during wartime, according to military mental-health personnel like Dr. League, but the current numbers are the highest since the Army began tracking the issue in the 1980s. During the first Gulf War in 1991, for example, the Army's suicide rate was 14.4 per 100,000.
In the early 1980s, Ann Haas, now the director of prevention projects at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, studied a group of 100 Vietnam veterans at a Veterans Administration hospital in Montrose, N.Y. All of the veterans had experienced intense combat and been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Over the course of her research, three of the veterans killed themselves, a startlingly high percentage.
"What we now call PTSD has been part of the aftermath of combat as long as we've had wars," she said. "And there is higher incidence of suicide among people who have been diagnosed with PTSD, like returning veterans."
Teasing out the underlying causes is difficult, since it is impossible to fully understand just what prompts someone to commit suicide. Military officials point out that one-third of the soldiers who took their own lives last year had never been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, though they say that the soldiers might still have felt the stresses of constant training and pending overseas tours.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other senior Pentagon officials believe that the suicide rate is being pushed higher by the Army's rising divorce rate. Repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan are pushing Army relationships to the breaking point, and many military marriages are buckling under the strain.
Some Pentagon officials believe that military drug and alcohol use is also contributing to the increase in suicides. Growing numbers of soldiers take antianxiety medication like Prozac and Xanax after they return to the U.S., and some commanders worry that the combination of drugs and alcohol is upsetting many soldiers' emotional states.
The poor national economy also adds to the strains facing many soldiers and their loved ones. Foreclosures in towns with large military facilities are rising at several times the national average, and hundreds of military families have lost their homes in recent months. The civilian spouses in many families are also struggling to find work, adding to the financial pressures facing modestly paid military personnel.
Army officials acknowledge that many soldiers are reluctant to seek help because of the stigma around mental-health issues. A survey last year by the American Psychiatric Association found that 75% of military personnel felt that asking for assistance would reduce their chances for promotion. Others worried about appearing weak in the eyes of their peers.
In their sunny living room at Fort Carson, Gen. Graham's wife, Carol, smiles as she picks up a favorite photo. The picture shows Kevin Graham standing with his brother and sister on the Great Wall of China during a family vacation.
"I felt like the luckiest mother in the world to have such amazing children," she says. "At that moment our world was perfect."
Gen. Graham fell in love with Carol Shroat when they were both students at Murray State University in Kentucky. The couple married young. Neither came from a military family and Gen. Graham says he initially planned to spend only a few years in the Army.
Instead, he served in the first Gulf War and directed the military evacuation of New Orleans in 2005 after civilian authorities stumbled in their response to Hurricane Katrina. He won several military commendations for his work. He now commands Fort Carson, one of the largest Army bases in the world, and also oversees the training of reserve and National Guard soldiers in the Western U.S.
In 2003, then-Col. Graham was serving as the executive officer to the senior U.S. commander in South Korea. He and Mrs. Graham lived in Seoul, while their three children shared an apartment at the University of Kentucky. Kevin and his older brother were both ROTC cadets, hoping to follow their father into the military.
Matt Slaby for The Wall Street Journal
Carol and Mark Graham hold the flags that draped the caskets of their two sons. One committed suicide; the other died in Iraq.
Kevin was quiet and reserved. He wanted to be a military doctor. His older brother, Jeff, by contrast, was gregarious and outgoing and wanted to lead troops into combat.
At the University of Kentucky, Kevin was the only ROTC cadet chosen for elite airborne training. He had been tabbed to command the other cadets, and seemed destined for a successful military career, according to two officers who participated in the ROTC program alongside Kevin.
Gen. and Mrs. Graham say the program's rigorous workload and unrelenting pressure started getting to Kevin. He was diagnosed with depression, they say, and doctors in Kentucky put him on Prozac. Gen. Graham says he encouraged Kevin to take time off from the ROTC program and offered to pay back his scholarship. Kevin told his father he didn't want to be a quitter.
Jeff meanwhile graduated from the University of Kentucky in the summer of 2003 and was immediately commissioned as an Army lieutenant. After the ceremony, Kevin, beaming, posed for a picture with his brother and sister. It is the last photo that the Grahams have of their three children together.
On June 21, 2003, Kevin made plans to play a few rounds of golf with his brother, but he failed to show up. Jeff dispatched their sister to look for him. She found Kevin hanging from a ceiling fan in his bedroom.
Gen. Graham, like many military figures, preferred not to discuss his son's suicide at first. Mrs. Graham went to the other extreme, believing she had a duty to talk about the dangers of depression and mental illness, she says.
"We felt like the absolute worst parents in the world, like we had somehow not loved our child enough," she recalls.
A few months later, Second Lt. Jeff Graham deployed to Iraq. He left on Nov. 15, Kevin's birthday.
On Feb. 19, 2004, Jeff was leading a foot patrol in Khaldiyah, a volatile city near the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, according to the family and military records. He spotted something suspicious attached to the guardrail of a nearby bridge. He halted his soldiers and was about to radio back to the rest of the unit when the bomb detonated. The explosion killed Jeff, 24, and Spc. Roger Ling, 20.
That morning, Mrs. Graham woke up just after 5 a.m. in her home at Oklahoma's Fort Sill and read a news report online about two soldiers being killed in Khaldiyah. Worried for her son, she went to the base's small chapel to pray for his safety. When she got back to the house, Gen. Graham was sitting quietly with his boss. Mrs. Graham says that she immediately knew they had lost a second son.
Jeff had carried his brother's driver's license with him on every patrol in Iraq. The Army found the license on his body and returned it to the Grahams, who cherish it as a reminder of the bond between their two boys.
"I really believe that when the bomb went off, Kevin was right there to catch him," Mrs. Graham says, her voice catching. "They were together again."
Kevin and his brother were buried next to each other in a small cemetery in Frankfort, Ken., near where Mrs. Graham grew up. The tombstones are surrounded by American flags and a handwritten sign that reads: "Land of the free because of the brave." The Grahams say they don't know who put it there.
The twin losses left the family reeling. Gen. Graham planned to retire and their daughter transferred from the University of Kentucky to a different college in another state.
At the same time, the family began to notice how the two deaths were treated differently both by the military and by friends. Parents of children killed in combat receive a gold star, for example, and are often invited as a group to meet with the president or other dignitaries. There's no equivalent for suicides.
"When Jeff died...we were told how heroic our son was," Mrs. Graham says. "And I was thinking, 'No, I had two amazing sons, not just one.' "
In the summer of 2007, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a nonprofit dedicated to bereaved military families, invited Gen. Graham to Washington to address their annual conference. This time, he considered the request.
Gen. Graham assumed the group wanted to talk about Jeff's combat death. Instead, organizers told him they wanted to hear about Kevin. Bonnie Carroll, who founded TAPS after her husband was killed in a military plane crash in 1992, says she wanted the families of suicides to feel as welcomed as those who had lost family members in combat.
Jeff, Melanie and Kevin Graham at the Great Wall of China during a family vacation.
Gen. Graham told the gathering that he had lost Kevin "to a different kind of battle" than the one that had claimed Jeff.
"Our friends' children had birthdays, graduated, got married and had babies, which left us always wondering how the world could keep spinning without Kevin and Jeffrey in it," he told the crowd.
Today, the Grahams speak regularly about Kevin's suicide. In recent weeks, Gen. Graham appeared at a Pentagon suicide prevention conference in San Antonio, as well as at similar events in Phoenix and Denver. Mrs. Graham serves on the board of directors of the Suicide Prevention Action Network, which works to raise public awareness about suicide and mental illness.
Gen. Graham is turning Fort Carson into a testing ground for new ideas about suicide prevention. The most promising initiative involves "mobile behavioral health teams," groupings of more than a dozen mental-health professionals who work with individual brigades before, during and after their time in Iraq and Afghanistan. Currently, troops are screened by mental-health professionals only on their return to the U.S. and have limited access to help while overseas. The idea originated with the Behavioral Health department at Fort Carson's hospital. Last fall, officials from the department met with Gen. Graham to propose creating one team as a trial, and he immediately gave his approval. The first team was established in November.
"The thinking is that the teams will really get to know each of these soldiers so they can identify changes in their behavior and spot the ones who need more help," says Lt. Col. Nicholas Piantanida, a practicing doctor who runs Fort Carson's clinical services. If the teams are successful, Col. Piantanida hopes to see the system replicated across the Army.
Gen. Graham has also used his authority as the commander of Fort Carson to ensure that all soldiers from the base receive full military funerals and memorial services, regardless of whether they died in combat or by their own hand. At many bases, soldiers who kill themselves receive smaller "remembrance ceremonies."
Gen. Graham acknowledges that the idea wasn't popular at first, with some members of the Fort Carson community arguing that it was wrong to treat soldiers who killed themselves the same way as soldiers who fell in combat. As the base commander, Gen. Graham was able to push the change through. "If a soldier dies by suicide, some people think he wasn't killed by the enemy," says Gen. Graham. "But I always tell people that we can never know what they were going through or what kinds of things they were fighting."
In Fort Carson's most recent suicide, which took place on January 19th, Army Spc. Larry Applegate walked into his home here, pulled out an assault rifle and began shooting wildly, according to El Paso County sheriff's department. With a SWAT team outside preparing to storm the house, Spc. Applegate, a decorated Iraq War veteran, shot himself in the head.
Matt Slaby for The Wall Street Journal
Soldiers at Fort Carson wait for medical and psychological screens after returning from Iraq.
Emotional problems at the base have manifested themselves in other ways, too, which are concerning Army brass. In the past three years, nine soldiers at Fort Carson have been involved in 14 homicides. The Army has sent a task force to the base to scour the soldiers' medical and service records. Results of the investigation are expected this month.
The Grahams carry around constant reminders of their dead sons. Gen. Graham wears a silver bracelet engraved with their names and the dates they died. Each of the two silver stars he wears on his dress uniform has one of the boys' names engraved underneath. Mrs. Graham wears a pendant with the likeness of Kevin and Jeff carved into the silver.
At home, they sleep under a quilt made from bits of the two boys' T-shirts and uniforms. On the second floor of their house here, the Grahams have large framed photos of their sons in military uniform.
Gen. Graham wasn't a physically affectionate man before Kevin's suicide. Today, he makes a point of hugging every father he meets who has lost a lost a child to combat or suicide.
"Men grieve differently," he says. "But I still remember someone hugging me after Jeff's death and just whispering, 'Let me take a little bit of that pain off of you.' "
Write to Yochi J. Dreazen at yochi.dreazen@wsj.com
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Japan Prepares for North Korea Missile Launch

For First Time, Tokyo Says It Will Deploy Missile Interceptors Against Rocket or Debris From Pyongyang's Planned Launch

TOKYO -- Japan's move Friday to deploy missile interceptors is the boldest challenge North Korea faces so far to its plan to launch a rocket in the next few days.

Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said he ordered the deployment of missile interceptors to Japan's northern coast to prepare to shoot down the rocket and any debris that could fall on Japanese territory. It was the first such order Japan had issued, a ministry spokesman said.

North Korea said it will launch a rocket carrying a satellite between April 4 and April 8, and warned that fragments could fall into the Sea of Japan between the two countries as well as southeast of Japan in the Pacific Ocean.

Japan and its allies suspect the rocket is a new long-range missile, and have demanded that Pyongyang cancel the plan. A launch would violate United Nations Security Council sanctions imposed in 2006 after North Korea tested a long-range missile.

A military truck with parts of land-to-air missiles from Iruma Air Base, north of Tokyo, arrives at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo Friday. Japan mobilized against possible threats from North Korea's planned rocket launch.

A military truck with parts of land-to-air missiles from Iruma Air Base.
Any action Japan takes would be restricted to shooting at material that threatens to fall on Japanese land or sea. Nevertheless, the move is a bold one for Japan, which has a pacifist constitution that strictly restricts its military to measures of national defense.

Japan is particularly worried about North Korea because of its proximity to the rogue nation. After Pyongyang's launches in recent years, Tokyo imposed sanctions on North Korea and pushed the U.N. Security Council to enact further sanctions. At the time, Japan didn't have the missile-defense capabilities it has today.

Analysts say that by warning that it will intercept a rocket or debris, Japan is walking a fine diplomatic line between cautious preparation at home and tough talk to put North Korea on notice -- without antagonizing the country. Japanese defense officials say that while they don't expect debris or a rocket to fall on the nation, they will do everything possible beforehand to protect the nation by preparing for such an event.

Before the 2006 tests, North Korea didn't emphasize, as it has this time, that it will be launching a space rocket.

In recent years, Tokyo has expanded its military role. It has sent noncombat troops to Iraq and has a refueling mission in the Indian Ocean that supports U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

The U.S., which Japan relies on for its defense, has to proceed cautiously. U.S. diplomats are now dealing with North Korea's arrest of two U.S. journalists on the North Korea-China border on March 17.

The U.S. has been leaning against trying to shoot down the North's projectile and a senior U.S. official this week said the administration has ruled it out.

The Japanese government said two destroyers carrying sea-to-air missiles would also be deployed in nearby waters, joining U.S. and South Korean warships in the area.

—Evan Ramstad in Seoul contributed to this article.
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Taliban Denies Polio Vaccine To 300,000 Children

Taliban militants in Pakistan's northern Swat Valley region are preventing UN officials from administering the Polio vaccine to hundreds of thousands of children with the claim that it is an anti-Muslim sterilization plot, the Telegraph reports. Radical Taliban clerics have taken to the radio and are even using megaphones to spread awareness of the "US tool to cut the population of the Muslims."
The World Health Organization's (WHO) Polio Team was originally promised access to the area as part of an earlier peace agreement -- an agreement that has apparently been broken. The WHO is now declaring the situation -- which endangers up to 300,000 children -- a medical emergency. From the Telegraph:
Yesterday government officials convened another meeting in Swat [in] an attempt to break the impasse, according to Dr Abdul Jabbar, the WHO's polio team leader in North West Frontier Province (NWFP).
Swat had recorded 4 cases of polio last year of the total 53 recorded by NWFP and the tribal areas. Pakistan had 118 cases in 2009.
The WHO recorded 39 cases of polio in Pakistan in 2006, up from 28 in 2005. The disease is concentrated in NWFP where 60% of the refusals were attributed to "religious reasons".
Sharia law was imposed on the Swat Valley region last month as part of an agreement with the Pakistani government, much to the chagrin of many human rights and health organizations, who warn of the traditional Islamic legal structure's sometimes brutal and repressive practices. According to AsiaNews, part of the new system dictates that NGOs be expelled from the region and that many imprisoned hard-line Taliban be released, guaranteeing that the Polio vaccine will not reach the local inhabitants:
Since Sharia came into effect on 16 February lawyers have lost their job, NGOs have not been allowed to operate, polio vaccination has been banned, Taliban in custody have been released, and demands that Islamic law be implemented in the other districts of the province have made. The agreement signed by the government of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Tahrik-e-Nifaz Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM) movement in a bid to end years of war and violence is bearing fruit. Under Sharia civil liberties and personal freedoms are being curtailed and what was once a famous destination for national and international tourism is being progressively "talibanised".
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on Sunday also ordered all non-governmental organisations to immediately leave Swat. For the Islamist organisation "NGO is another name for 'vulgarity and obscenity'," because they hire women who work with men, in the field and in offices. "That is totally unislamic and unacceptable," TTP spokesman Muslim Khan said.
The timing of the NGO expulsion is especially inopportune for Polio vaccinations because it is in the first three months of the year that transmission is lowest. According to the WHO Polio Team's Dr. Nima Abid in a press release:
"Polio vaccination is effective in the first three months of the year when virus transmission is lowest and so there is no interference with the vaccine virus."
READ MORE - Taliban Denies Polio Vaccine To 300,000 Children
 
 
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