McChrystal Preparing New Afghan War Strategy, Likely To Include More US Troops

FILE == In a June 2, 2009 file photo Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. McChrystal, the U.S. general in charge of turning around the war in Afghanistan, may recommend significant changes to U.S. and NATO operations in a report due in August. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta/file)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. general put in charge of turning around the war in Afghanistan is likely to recommend significant changes in the campaign and may include a request for more U.S. forces that the White House is expected to resist.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal's long-awaited reassessment of the war against Taliban insurgents aims for a transformation of the shaky relationship between U.S. forces and Afghan civilians as troops press a counterinsurgency strategy of clearing and holding populated areas, said officials apprised of the report's contents.

The biggest change urged in McChrystal's report is a "cultural shift" in how U.S. and foreign troops operate – ranging from how they live and travel among the Afghan population to where and how they fight, a senior military official in Kabul said Friday.

The latest draft of the assessment also urges speeding up the training of Afghan soldiers and police and nearly doubling their numbers to roughly 400,000, said a senior defense official in Washington, one of several uniformed and civilian officials who spoke on condition anonymity because the report has not been made public.

As McChrystal readies the assessment of the war, due in two weeks, numerous U.S. officials and outsiders aware of his thinking suggest that he will request in a companion report that more American troops, probably including marines, be added next year.

Several people familiar with the work being done cautioned that McChrystal could opt not to ask for an increase at all – a recognition that President Barack Obama and other White House advisers would not look favorably on adding new numbers to U.S. forces after already agreeing to boost their ranks by 21,000 troops earlier this year.

The main recommendations for change stem from the military's new counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, which is now designed to focus less on going after Taliban strongholds and more on protecting the local population.

The strategy is also aimed at helping develop an Afghan government that civilians will embrace rather than siding with the insurgents, two senior military officials said.
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To achieve that, one official said, the latest draft of McChrystal's assessment on the war includes the following recommendations:

_Using intelligence less to hunt insurgents and more to understand local, tribal and social power structures in the areas where they operate. McChrystal is considering concentrating troops around populated areas rather than going after sparsely populated mountain areas where Taliban hide.

_Getting troops more active in fighting corruption. U.S. forces will need to take care in their dealings with local Afghan leaders to ensure that they are not perceived by the Afghan population to be empowering corrupt officials.

In preparing his assessment of the Afghan command, McChrystal found an American military culture that showed a great concern for troops' protection – sometimes at the expense of their relations with Afghan civilians.

To change those relations, McChrystal wants American forces to think twice about basic conduct – for instance no longer pointing their guns at people when they pass in convoy or blocking narrow roads with their convoys, while relegating Afghans to the ditches.

To deal with the most contentious aspect of those shaky relations, McChrystal has already committed to try to reduce civilian casualties by issuing new orders that restrict when troops should call in bombing strikes.

The assessment was commissioned by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who hand-picked McChrystal to take the helm of a campaign against insurgents that top defense officials have conceded is stalemated.

Two of McChrystal's civilian advisers, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations, said this week they expect some expansion of troops. Neither adviser would quantify those numbers.

Biddle said Thursday he thinks the total number of troops in Afghanistan should number 300,000 to 600,000, including U.S., NATO and Afghan forces.

Current forces include 62,000 U.S. troops and 39,000 allied troops, plus about 175,000 Afghan Army and police. Some of the allies plan to pull their troops home in the next couple of years.

Afghan forces are already set to grow, but McChrystal urges an end target of some 400,000 police and army, a goal that would require more foreign forces for the training, a senior defense official said Friday.

Any request for additional U.S. forces would require touchy discussions with the White House and lawmakers. President Barack Obama approved a surprise addition of 4,000 U.S. trainers earlier in the spring, after his larger announcement of 17,000 combat troops, and administration and military officials had been signaling that further additions were unlikely for now.

The additions Obama has already approved will bring the U.S. presence to about 68,000 by the end of the year. That is roughly double the size of the U.S. force when Obama took office, and although Afghanistan is now considered the nation's top military priority, the White House is deeply reluctant to keep adding, or to fight a skeptical Congress over the increase.

McChrystal's predecessor left behind an unfilled request for an addition of approximately 10,000 U.S. forces, and Obama had been expected to review that request near the end of the year.

To prepare the report, McChrystal gathered about a dozen military and outside civilian analysts six weeks ago and sent them on an intensive reporting trip through Afghanistan. The group finished work last week.

One of the report's authors said the group identified some basic organizational problems with the way the fight is divided among U.S., NATO and Afghan forces.

Andrew Exum, a counterinsurgency specialist and blogger at the Center for a New American Security, said the "operational culture" of the war has to change, meaning a shift away from traditional military operation and procedures.

"Our efforts in this war will succeed or fail based upon relationships we're able to build with our Afghan partners at every level," Exum said.
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Israel seeks US help to build nuclear power plant!

JERUSALEM - Israel has sought help from the US to build a nuclear power plant in the country, a media report said Friday.

Israel has already conveyed its request to the US, the Ynet news service reported.
Tel Aviv wants to build the nuclear power plant in southern Negev desert to meet the growing electricity demand in the country.
During a UN meeting in May, a US diplomat has said that the Obamaadministration expects Israel to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty(NPT).
Israel has never disclosed about its nuclear arsenals, although there is a widespread belief that the country does have such military capability.
The report said Tel Aviv is interested in adopting the “Indian model”, which would allow Israel to build an internationally monitored civilian reactor.
READ MORE - Israel seeks US help to build nuclear power plant!

U.S. Shifts Target of Drones From Al Qaeda to Taliban

In a major strategy shift, the U.S. military is moving away from hunting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan with Predator drones and has instead begun using the unmanned aircraft to battle the Taliban and other militants destabilizing the country, according to a published report.
The change comes after military leaders concluded their efforts were too focused on tracking down Al Qaeda targets, rather than strengthening Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. But officials said defeating the terror group still remains top priority, the Los Angeles Times reported on Thursday.
"We have been overly counter-terrorism-focused and not counter-insurgency-focused," the Times quoted a U.S. official as saying. "We might still be too focused on Bin Laden ... We should probably reassess our priorities," the person said.
Officials told the paper that a preliminary review of the use of drones has found that the Afghan command requires up to four times as many of the aircraft and has reassigned eight Predators previously used by special operations forces.
These reassigned drones will be used to focus on major terror strongholds, rather than searching through difficult mountainous terrain for suspected fighters. Officials believe several mid-level Al Qaeda leaders remain in the country after Bin Laden planned the Sept. 11 attacks there.
Additionally, U.S. military Central Command plans to send a dozen more drones to Afghanistan, including some currently used in Iraq, representing a 25% increase in the fleet.
The aircraft redeployment means Afghan insurgents that have launched deadly attacks against the U.S. will for the first time be hunted down by "dozens of drones capable of remaining over a target for hours undetected, identifying key individuals, and firing missiles within a matter of seconds," the Times reported.
READ MORE - U.S. Shifts Target of Drones From Al Qaeda to Taliban

China to restrict death penalty and cut executions

Country's highest court to minimise capital punishment in apparent relaxing of policy by world's most prolific executioner

China will reduce the number of people it executes and impose more suspended death sentences, a senior judicial official has said.

The country is believed to be the world's most prolific executioner, with at least 7,000 sentenced to death and 1,718 executed last year, according to Amnesty International.

Zhang Jun, vice-president of the supreme people's court, said it would tighten restrictions on the use of capital punishment. But he stressed that the country would not abandon the death penalty, saying it was "impossible" to do so under current conditions and that people had strongly supported it for a long time.
"It is an important effort to strictly control the application of the penalty by judicial organs," he said, according to the state newspaper China Daily.
"Judicial departments should use the least number of death sentences possible, and death penalties should not be given to those having a reason for not being executed."
Zhang said the highest court was extremely cautious in imposing the sentence on those who killed relatives or neighbours in disputes. People who pleaded guilty, compensated their victims' relatives, or were pardoned by the latter also tended to receive more lenient punishments.
He said the death penalty should be applied to "an extremely small number" of serious offenders, but offered no figures for current execution rates or reduction targets.
The actual number of executions is a state secret; Amnesty's figures are drawn from recorded cases alone. Several organisations have suggested the true toll runs into several thousand.
The death penalty applies to more than 60 offences in China, including many non-violent and economic crimes.
But "death penalty with reprieve" sentences are becoming more common and are usually commuted to life in prison. This can later be reduced to 20 years or less with good behaviour.
"If there is really a drop in the number of executions and the number of crimes to which the death penalty is applied, this is a move which Amnesty International will welcome," said Si-si Liu, a Hong Kong-based researcher for the human rights group.
"But right now it's really impossible for external observers to verify or double-check what officials have said about reductions in numbers, because the total is a state secret."
She added that Amnesty International was concerned by other remarks from Chinese officials, citing the statement by Li Zhi, Urumqi's Communist party secretary, that violent rioters in Xinjiang would be executed.
"We question how this kind of sentencing decision, which only courts should be eligible to make, can be made by people outside the judicial system," Liu said.
Last year the country's most senior judge said only "extremely vile criminals" were executed in 2007 as a result of "kill fewer, kill carefully" reforms that gave the supreme court the right to overturn capital sentences handed down by lower courts.
The China Daily said the supreme people's court overturned 15% of death sentences handed down in 2007 and 10 percent in 2008.
Independent analysts suggested the policy had caused a drop in executions of as much as 30% year-on-year.
READ MORE - China to restrict death penalty and cut executions

Nigeria death toll passes 300

TROOPS struggled to crush an Islamist sect in northern Nigeria today as the death toll from four days of clashes surged past 300 and thousands of people were forced from their homes.
Police sources said fighting was concentrated in Maiduguri city, the base of the self-styled Nigerian Taliban, following orders from President Umaru Yar'Adua for the armed forces to crush the movement "once and for all".
But fresh clashes were reported elsewhere, including Yobe state where police said 43 people were killed today, and fighting raged throughout Maiduguri.
"We are carrying out mortar shelling on the positions of these militants," Colonel Ben Ahnatu, the commander of the operation in Maiduguri, said. "It's time for action, not just talking."
Another police source said that fighting was centred around five neighbourhoods and was at its most intense in Bayan Quarters where the sect's leader Mohammed Yusuf was based.
Yusuf's home was shelled by forces yesterday, along with a mosque where many of his followers had gathered, but Yusuf appeared to have escaped.
"The house and the mosque have been pulverised and reduced to rubble," the police source said.
He said the offensive to rout the militants was likely to take longer than previously thought.
"To be honest with you I don't think the campaign will be finished within the next day or two," he said. "Part of the obstacle the troops are facing is that there are still civilians in some of these neighbourhoods. Therefore troops need to be cautious."
Residents said it appeared that troops were now closing in on the last of the militants while human rights activists counted at least 10 new bodies.
A brief phone conversation with one of the Taliban leaders, Aminu Tashen-Ilimi, was punctuated by the sounds of heavy shelling in the background and chants of Allah Akbar (God is Great).
"Don't you know we are being bombarded, how can I speak to you in this situation?" he said.
 Maiduguri, capital of Borno state, has seen the worst of the unrest in northern Nigeria since clashes first erupted on Monday in Bauchi state when militants launched an attack on a police station.
But fresh fighting was also reported today in Yobe state where troops are hunting down scores of militants believed to have fled into forests on the outskirts of Potiskum town.
A police source said at least 43 had been killed in today's gun battles there, adding 10 armoured tanks were guarding a nearby central prison which authorities suspect is the militants' target.
"The 43 corpses are on their way to the police headquarters in Damaturu (state capital) in two police vans," said the source who demanded anonymity.
Although four states have been caught up in the violence, most of the casualties appear to have been in Maiduguri where a police source said at least 206 people died on Tuesday alone.
A tally of the police figures from violence shows that at least 304 people are known to have died. The unrest is the deadliest in Nigeria since November last year when human rights groups say up to 700 were killed in the central city of Jos in direct clashes between Muslims and Christians.
Polices sources said at least 3000 residents were displaced although many later returned to their homes. Some sought temporary shelter at the police headquarters where around 20 bodies of slain fighters could be seen on the ground, some of them beginning to swell and decompose and attracting swarms of flies.
Food is also running out as shops and businesses have been shut since Tuesday.
"The food situation is terrible. All markets and shops are closed. We are eating garri (cassava flour porridge) and sugar," said a resident, Mohammed Awwan Mujahid.
The Nigerian extremists emerged in 2002 in Maiduguri before setting up a camp on the border with Niger, from where they launched a series of attacks against the police.
The leadership has previously said it intends to lead an armed insurrection and rid society of "immorality" and "infidelity".
Muslim clerics in Nigeria have slammed the violence as "criminal".
"It's unfortunate and an embarrassment to the Muslims," Abdulkarim Mohazu, secretary general of Nigeria's Jama'atul Nasril Islam, an umbrella body of Muslims in the country, said.
Northern Nigeria is mainly Muslim, although large Christian minorities have settled in the main towns, raising tensions between the two groups.
READ MORE - Nigeria death toll passes 300

Pushing South Asia Toward the Brink

zia mianThe contradictions and confusions in U.S. policy in South Asia were on full display during Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's recent visit to India. U.S. support for India, which centers on making money, selling weapons, and turning a blind eye to the country's nuclear weapons, is fatally at odds with U.S. policy and concerns about Pakistan.
By enabling an India-Pakistan arms race, rather than focusing on resolving the conflict and helping them make peace, the United States is driving Pakistan toward the very collapse it fears.

America's New India

In an op-ed in The Times of India just before the start of her visit, Clinton laid out U.S. interests in India. The first item on Clinton's list was "the 300 million members of India's burgeoning middle class," that she identified as "a vast new market and opportunity."
The emerging Indian middle class is large — for comparison, the current total U.S. population is also about 300 million — and greedy for a more American lifestyle. But the focus on India as fundamentally a market for U.S. goods and services, and a source of cheap labor for U.S. corporations, marks a remarkable shift. The United States and other western countries have traditionally seen India as the home of the desperately poor, deserving charity and needing development. But no more. Clinton's article made no mention of India's poor, which the World Bank recently estimated as including over 450 million people living on less than $1.25 a day.
India is also seen as a new emerging power of the 21st century, one that can be an ally of the United States and help it balance and contain the rise of China. Under the Bush Administration, in 2004, the U.S. and India signed an agreement called the "Next Steps in Strategic Partnership." To make India a fitting strategic partner, a senior State Department official later explained the U.S."goal is to help India become a major world power in the 21st century," and left no doubt what this meant, saying "we understand fully the implications, including military implications, of that statement."
India is seeking both to modernize and expand its military forces. It has dramatically increased its military budget, up over 34% alone this year. India now has the 10th-highest military spending in the world. It's becoming a major market for U.S. arms sales. U.S. weapons makers Lockheed Martin and Boeing have already racked up deals worth billions of dollars. But the real bonanza is still to come. India is said to be planning to spend as much $55 billion on weapons over the next five years.
But the big news of the Clinton visit was the announcement of an India-U.S. Strategic Dialogue. This will include an annual formal meeting of key officials, co-chaired by the secretary of State and India's external affairs minister, and including on the U.S. side the secretaries of Agriculture, Trade, Energy, Education, Finance, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and others. But given the difference in the power and range of interests of the two states, this will be no dialogue of equals. The process is intended to align Indian interests and policies in a wide range of areas with those of the United States.

Nuclear India

In her press conference with India's minister of external affairs, Clinton said, "We discussed our common vision of a world without nuclear weapons and the practical steps that our countries can take to strengthen the goal of nonproliferation." But there was no mention here of India's nuclear buildup, or of the United States asking India to slow down or to end its program. In fact, one would never guess from Clinton's remarks that India even had a nuclear weapons program. She seemed interested only in the prospect of U.S. sales of nuclear reactors to India worth $10 billion or more.
India is one of perhaps only three countries still making material for new nuclear weapons. The others are Pakistan and Israel (with North Korea threatening to resume production). India is building a fast-breeder reactor that is expected to begin operation in 2010 and is outside International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. It could increase three- to five-fold India's current capacity to make plutonium for nuclear weapons.
India seeks to become a major nuclear power. On July 26, it launched its first nuclear–powered submarine. India plans to deploy several of these submarines. Last year, it carried out its first successful underwater launch of a 700 kilometer-range ballistic missile, Sagarika, intended for the submarine. India joins the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China in the club of those owning such nuclear-armed, nuclear-powered submarines. Israel is believed to have nuclear-armed cruise missiles on diesel powered submarines.     
India is also developing an array of land-based missiles. In May 2008, it tested the 3,500 kilometer-range Agni-III missile, which was subsequently reported to have been approved for deployment with the army, and is working on a missile with a range of over 5,000 kilometer. In November 2008, India also tested a 600 kilometer-range silo-based missile, Shourya. In 2009, India carried out several tests of its cruise missile, Brahmos, which the army and navy are inducting into service.

The U.S. silence on India's nuclear weapons and missile programs is all the more telling, given that it was the Clinton administration that proposed United Nations Security Council resolution 1172. In 1998, this unanimous Security Council resolution called on India and Pakistan to "immediately stop their nuclear weapon development programs, to refrain from the deployment of nuclear weapons, to cease development of ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, and any further production of fissile material for nuclear weapons." The Bush administration ignored it. It seems the Obama administration will too.

Pakistan v. India

Pakistan was noticeable for its near absence from Clinton's agenda in India. It came up only in the context of the need to fight terrorism. Forgotten was the brute fact that India and Pakistan are straining harder than ever in their nuclear and conventional arms race. A Pakistani diplomat responded to the Clinton visit to India by telling The Washington Post that "What Hillary is doing there is probably again going to start an arms race." This race drives Pakistan toward collapse, the very thing the United States fears.
Pakistan is buying U.S. weapons as fast as it can, some paid for with U.S. military aid, with arms sales agreements worth over $6 billion since 2001, including for new F-16 jet-fighters. China, an old ally, is also supplying the country with jet fighters and other weapons. Pakistan is also boosting its nuclear program. It's building two new reactors to make plutonium for nuclear weapons. It continues to test both ballistic missiles and cruise missiles to carry nuclear weapons.
The principal U.S. concern about Pakistan, aside from the country falling apart and its nuclear weapons falling into the hands of Islamists, is the war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and in the border areas of Pakistan. It has been telling Pakistan to focus its military forces and strategic concerns on this battle, which requires moving more soldiers away from the border with India. The generals who command Pakistan's army were bound to resist such a redeployment. They worry about the new U.S.-India strategic relationship, and what it may mean for them when the war on the Taliban is over and the United States no longer needs Pakistan.
The Pakistani army, which rules the country even when civilians are in office, will not easily shift its view of India. The army and those who lead it see the threat from India as their very reason for being. The army has grown in size, influence, and power, to the point where it dwarfs all other institutions in society and would lose much if there was peace with India. But there is a personal dimension as well. The partition of the subcontinent 62 years ago that created Pakistan is in the living memory of many who make decisions in Pakistan. General Pervez Musharraf, who was chief of army staff before he seized power in 1999 and ruled for nine years, was born in India before partition. General Musharraf, along with the current chief of army staff, General Kayani, and others in Pakistan's high command, fought as young officers in the 1971 war against India. The war ended with Pakistan itself partitioned, as East Pakistan became the independent state of Bangladesh, with India's help, and 90,000 Pakistani soldiers captured by India as prisoners of war.
As Graham Usher notes in the new issue of the Middle East Report, before becoming president, Barack Obama seemed to understand that resolving the conflict between India and Pakistan was critical to dealing with the problems in Afghanistan and with the Taliban. In 2007, Obama claimed "I will encourage dialogue between Pakistan and India to work toward resolving their dispute over Kashmir and between Afghanistan and Pakistan to resolve their historic differences and develop the Pashtun border region. If Pakistan can look toward the east with greater confidence, it will be less likely to believe that its interests are best advanced through cooperation with the Taliban." There is little evidence that this view has yet informed U.S. policy.  

The Reality of Pakistan

In their rush to make money and to preserve American power in the world by crafting an alliance with India, U.S. policymakers seem to have averted their eyes from the reality that stares them in the face in Pakistan. In March 2009, the Director of National Intelligence summed up the situation in Pakistan:
The government is losing authority in parts of the North-West Frontier Province and has less control of its semi-autonomous tribal areas: even in the more developed parts of the country, mounting economic hardships and frustration over poor governance have given rise to greater radicalization…Economic hardships are intense, and the country is now facing a major balance of payments challenge. Islamabad needs to make painful reforms to improve overall macroeconomic stability. Pakistan's law-and-order situation is dismal, affecting even Pakistani elites, and violence between various sectarian, ethnic, and political groups threatens to escalate. Pakistan's population is growing rapidly at a rate of about 2 percent a year, and roughly half of the country's 172 million residents are illiterate, under the age of 20, and live near or below the poverty line.
Things have worsened since then. The Taliban is now seeking to escape U.S. drone attacks and major assaults by the Pakistan army in the Tribal Areas by taking refuge in the cities. There are already no-go areas in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, where the Taliban controls the streets. Meanwhile electricity riots have exploded in cities across the country, with mobs attacking public buildings, blocking highways, and damaging trains and buses. Each day seems to bring news of some new failure of the state to provide basic social services.
The Obama administration believes that an increase in U.S. aid to Pakistan can help solve the problem. The Kerry-Lugar bill (the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act) approved by the Senate in June would triple economic aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year for five years. But as the Congressional Research Service noted in its recent report on Pakistan, the United States has given Pakistan about $16.5 billion in "direct, overt U.S. aid" up to 2007. More of the same offers little hope for change.
A basic reordering of U.S. priorities in South Asia is long overdue. The first principle of U.S. policy in the region should be to do no more harm. This means it has to stop feeding the fire between India and Pakistan. Only an end to the South Asian arms race can begin to undo the structures of fear, hostility, and violence that have sustained the conflict in the subcontinent for so long. The search for peace may then have at least a chance of success.
Zia Mian is a physicist with the Program on Science and Global Security at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus.
READ MORE - Pushing South Asia Toward the Brink

Israeli Warships in Suez Canal a Signal to Iran?

Two Israeli warships reportedly sailed through the Suez Canal on Tuesday, ten days after a submarine believed to be nuclear-armed made the crossing.

The deployment into the Red Sea, confirmed by Israeli officials to The Times of London, came ahead of long-range exercises by the Israeli air force with the U.S. later this month and the test of a missile defense shield at a U.S. missile range in the Pacific.
Israel has strengthened ties with Arab nations who also fear a nuclear-armed Iran. In particular, relations with Egypt have grown increasingly strong this year over the “shared mutual distrust of Iran”, according to one Israeli diplomat.
"This is preparation that should be taken seriously. Israel is investing time in preparing itself for the complexity of an attack on Iran. These maneuvers are a message to Iran that Israel will follow up on its threats," the Times of London quoted an Israeli defense official as saying.
If Israel were to launch an attack on Iran, Israeli naval vessels would likely pass through the Suez Canal, the official said.
It is believed that Israel’s missile-equipped submarines, and its fleet of advanced aircraft, could be used to strike in excess of a dozen nuclear-related targets more than 800 miles from Israel.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit told The Times that his government explicitly allowed passage of Israeli vessels, and an Israeli admiral said the drills were "run regularly with the full co-operation of the Egyptians."
Two Israeli Saar class missile boats and a Dolphin class submarine have passed through Suez. Israel has six Dolphin-class submarines, three of which may carry nuclear missiles.
READ MORE - Israeli Warships in Suez Canal a Signal to Iran?

Taliban releases video showing captured US soldier, DOD has not released name

AP sources: Taliban video shows captive US soldier

WASHINGTON — The American soldier who went missing June 30 from his base in eastern Afghanistan and was later confirmed to have been captured, appeared on a video posted Saturday to a Web site by the Taliban.

Two U.S. defense officials confirmed to The Associated Press that the man in the video is the captured soldier. The video provide the first glimpse the public has had of the missing soldier.

The soldier is shown in the 28-minute video with his head shaved and the start of a beard. He is sitting and dressed in a nondescript, gray outfit. Early in the video one of his captors holds the soldier’s dog tag up to the camera. His name and ID number are clearly visible. He is shown eating at one point and sitting cross-legged.
The soldier, whose identity has not yet been released by the Pentagon pending notification of members of Congress and the soldier’s family, says his name, age and hometown on the video, which was released Saturday on a Web site pointed out by the Taliban.

The soldier said the date is July 14. He says he was captured when he lagged behind on a patrol.

He is interviewed in English by his captors, and he is asked his views on the war, which he calls extremely hard, his desire to learn more about Islam and the morale of American soldiers, which he said was low.

Asked how he was doing, the soldier said on the video:

“Well I’m scared, scared I won’t be able to go home. It is very unnerving to be a prisoner.”

He begins to answer questions in a matter-of-fact and sober voice, occasionally facing the camera, looking down and sometimes looking to the questioner on his left.

He later chokes up when discussing his family and his hope to marry his girlfriend.

“I have my girlfriend, who is hoping to marry,” he said. “I have a very, very good family that I love back home in America. And I miss them every day when I’m gone. I miss them and I’m afraid that I might not ever see them again and that I’ll never be able to tell them that I love them again and I’ll never be able to hug them.”
He is also prompted his interrogators to give a message to the American people.

“To my fellow Americans who have loved ones over here, who know what it’s like to miss them, you have the power to make our government bring them home,” he said. “Please, please bring us home so that we can be back where we belong and not over here, wasting our time and our lives and our precious life that we could be using back in our own country. Please bring us home. It is America and American people who have that power.”

The video is not a continuous recording — it appears to stop and start during the questioning.

It is unclear from the video whether the July 14 date is authentic. The soldier says that he heard that a Chinook helicopter carrying 37 NATO troops had been shot down over Helmand. A helicopter was shot down in southern Afghanistan on July 14, but it was carrying civilians on a reported humanitarian mission for NATO forces. All six Ukrainian passengers died in the crash, and a child on the ground was killed.

On July 2, the U.S. military said an American soldier had disappeared after walking off his base in eastern Afghanistan with three Afghan counterparts and was believed to have been taken prisoner. A U.S. defense official said the soldier was noticed missing during a routine check of the unit on June 30 and was first listed as “duty status whereabouts unknown.”

Details of such incidents are routinely held very tightly by the military as it works to retrieve a missing or captured soldier without giving away any information to captors.

But Afghan Police Gen. Nabi Mullakheil said the soldier went missing in eastern Paktika province near the border with Pakistan from an American base. The region is known to be Taliban-infested.

The most important insurgent group operating in that area is known as Haqqani network and is led by warlord Siraj Haqqani, whom the U.S. has accused of masterminding beheadings and suicide bombings including the July 2008 attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul that killed some 60 people. The Haqqani group also was linked to an assassination attempt on Afghan president Hamid Karzai early last year.

On Saturday, a U.S. military official in Kabul, Col. Greg Julian, said the U.S. was “still doing everything we can to return him safely.”

Julian said U.S. troops had distributed two flyers in the area where the soldier disappeared. One of them asked for information on the missing soldier and offered a $25,000 reward for his return. The other said “please return our soldier safely” or “we will hunt you,” according to Julian.

Associated Press writers Robert H. Reid in Kabul and Christine Simmons in Washington contributed to this report.
READ MORE - Taliban releases video showing captured US soldier, DOD has not released name

Execution of 13 for terror attacks reveals Iran's next move: intimidation

Hanging of Baluch rebels sends stark message to opponents and reasserts regime's crumbling legitimacy, say analysts

Iranian police officers and others view the scene as five convicted criminals are hanged in public
Iranian police officers and other officials look on as five convicted criminals are hanged in public Photograph: AP
It's a long way from Tehran to Zahedan, in Iran's remote south-east, but the hanging of 13 convicted terrorists this week sent out a chilling message about the readiness of the Islamic Republic to act ruthlessly to defend its core interests.
On the face of it, there was no link between the mass execution and last month's disputed presidential election, in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a second term. But these and other recent judicial killings may be designed to intimidate at a time of unprecedented unrest and uncertainty about Iran's future.
The 13 men who mounted the gallows early on Tuesday morning were not supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, officially defeated by Ahmadinejad, but members of Jundullah (Soldiers of God), a small Sunni rebel group. The worst of its attacks was the suicide bombing of a Shia mosque in May, which killed 25 people in Zahedan, the capital of Sistan-Baluchestan province, which has a Sunni majority.
Jundullah claims to be fighting for the rights of Iran's Baluch minority but is often linked by the regime in Tehran to al-Qaida, and to the west. It has been blamed for drug smuggling, kidnapping and attacks on civilians and revolutionary guards and appears to be based across the border in Pakistani Baluchistan. Iranian media quoted one of the condemned men as "confessing" that the group was trained and financed by "the US and Zionists".
The hangings were to have beenin a public park but in the end took place inside a prison compound. A 14th man, the brother of the group's leader, Abdulmalik Rigi, was given a brief stay of execution - but only to allow him to undergo further questioning.
The charges, in the inimitably stark language of Iranian Islamic justice, included moharebeh - "enmity against God" as well as being "corrupt on earth, killing innocent people and taking hostages while carrying firearms."
Capital punishment is common in Iran. It is second only to China in the number of executions carried out each year (and leads the world in executing juveniles). Tehran regularly ignores calls by Amnesty International and other human rights groups to desist. Late last month, 20 drug traffickers were hanged en masse in Karaj, west of Tehran. In all, at least 177 people have been executed so far this year, compared to 246 in 2008.
Analysts believe this spate of executions is meant to assert the regime's authority amid the worst unrest Iran has seen since the 1979 revolution. Official figures say 20 people have been killed since polling day on 12 June, though unofficial estimates put it at between 60 and 100.
Still, forecasts of a Tiananmen-style crackdown have not materialised, with the authorities apparently understanding that mass bloodshed only fuels popular anger. But intimidation – the creation of a Saddam-style "republic of fear"– is a different matter.
It is a central theme of the regime's narrative that the post-election trouble has been fomented by foreigners, with Britain and the BBC (whose new Farsi TV service is especially disliked) singled out for blame. It is a measure of how bad things look from Tehran that Mohsen Rezaei, the former commander of the revolutionary guard - and, alongside Ahmadinejad, the other conservative presidential candidate - warned on Monday that the republic was in danger of collapse. "The US and Israel plotted this disintegration to weaken Iran and make it surrender through sanctions or attack," Rezaei said.
Iranian state media also routinely accuse western governments of backing terrorists. Usually the subject of such accusations is the banned Peoples Mojahedin, supported by Iraq during the Saddam Hussein years. Jundullah is presented as another example: "Clear confessions made by the defendants show that they and their commander are directly supported by the US and receive military, educational and financial aid from the USA," local TV reported.
The interior minister, Sadegh Mahsouli, – an Ahmadinejad trusty – had no hesitation in blaming "Americans and Israelis, not Sunnis or Shias" for the Zahedan mosque bombing.
Claims by American journalist Seymour Hersh and others about CIA support for Iranian Kurds, Arabs – and Baluchs – have made a far stronger impression in Tehran than repeated denials from Washington. In a country where only half the 70 million population are Persian, anything that is perceived to encourage ethnic unrest or separatism is deeply suspect. No wonder there was fury when Rigi, Jundullah's leader, was interviewed on the (government-run) Voice of America in 2007 and described as the leader of a "popular resistance movement".
Barack Obama, "reaching out" to Tehran at least before the election, has not repudiated a reported Bush administration covert programme to destabilise Iran, although as it was supposed to be secret it is possible he may have done so without announcing the change.
The incidents of recent weeks are reminiscent of a similar outbreak of violence before the last presidential poll in 2005. Then bombs hit Tehran and the south-western city of Ahvaz, capital of Khuzestan, which has a big Arab minority, killing eight and wounding dozens.
Against such a volatile backdrop, further angry claims of external meddling seem likely from Iran.
"A government with domestic legitimacy problems will always seek a foreign crisis," said Ali Ansari, an Iran expert at St Andrews University. "The ethnic element will be utilised more as the government plays the security card."
READ MORE - Execution of 13 for terror attacks reveals Iran's next move: intimidation

Pakistani displaced begin return

Pakistani displaced begin return

The BBC's David Loyn says nobody quite believes the Taliban has been eliminated from the Swat valley
The Pakistani government has started to return home some of the two million people displaced by the conflict in the Swat valley.
The first convoy of buses carrying people from temporary camps began its journey on Monday.
The army reopened roads into the troubled district after an offensive to drive out Taliban militants there.
Some of the displaced have already returned. Correspondents say they are likely to rely on aid for many months.
The government has said its priority is to return those living in temporary camps.

Some 200 families housed in camps in the Nowshera district are set to return in this first phase. On Tuesday, 800 families are due to be sent back to Swat, officials say.
Launched in April after militants took area 100km from Islamabad
Army says some 1,700 militants killed; but none of their leaders
One of biggest human migrations of recent times, with 2m displaced
Some witnesses in the area told the BBC that people were keen to return home because of the extreme heat they had to endure in the temporary camps.
But other residents have expressed concerns about their return.
"I'm going back home voluntarily and nobody forced me to leave," 50-year-old Shireenzada told the AFP news agency.
"But I'm really uncertain and don't know if peace has actually returned to my area."
The UN has stressed that the return of those displaced must be voluntary.
Fighting subsided
Once people have been moved from the camps, the army will begin returning people who have been living in schools and other places since they fled the fighting.
The first batch of returnees are from the Landakai-Barikot sector of the main road leading into the city of Mingora. This was one of the districts worst affected by fighting between the military and the Taliban.
Pakistani displaced family in a bus ready to return to their villages from Jalozai Internal Displaced camp near Peshawar, Pakistan, Monday, July 13, 2009
The first families have begun their journey home
Reports from that district say that there has been no fighting for nearly three weeks despite frequent curfews and house searches by the army.
The return is being overseen by the substantial military presence established in the Swat, Malakand and Buner regions after Taliban militants were dislodged.
The information minister for Pakistan's North West Frontier Province told the BBC's Urdu service that the displaced could carry their tents with them in case they returned home to find their homes damaged.
"The police and army contingents have been deployed on all important points along the way to provide security to convoys," Mian Iftikhar Hussain said.
General Nadeem Ahmad, who is coordinating the operation, said every family leaving the camps would receive cash support from the government.
He told the BBC that the operation to return the displaced was deemed feasible only once certain conditions had been fulfilled. These were that the area had been cleared of militants, explosive devices and that the region's administrative and commercial infrastructure was in place.
"The best thing is that the military is going to stay there till such a time the provincial government feels comfortable with the security environment, " he said.
Security uncertain
Gen Ahmad had a similar role following the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir.
Damaged building in Mingora, 9 July 2009
Unlike these shops, most buildings have survived largely unscathed
A computerised identity card system is being used again to help registered users access state aid.
However, much of the infrastructure in the Swat region was severely damaged in the months of fighting.
Power and water supplies have been shattered and the reconstruction is expected to take many months.
A resident of the town of Sultanwas, in Buner province, told the Associated Press that if the government failed to provide for people's needs, "no-one will stand against militant extremism in the future".
"In this war we lost and gave everything, saw our village destroyed," said Muhamed Shereen.
"So now the people of Sultanwas look to the government and the whole country and world to come forward and help us."
The BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan, who recently visited Swat's main town, Mingora, said the town was largely intact, with markets and residential areas still standing.
But the security situation remains uncertain and supplies are critically low, he says.


READ MORE - Pakistani displaced begin return

Detainees, Even if Acquitted, Might Not Go Free

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration said Tuesday it could continue to imprison non-U.S. citizens indefinitely even if they have been acquitted of terrorism charges by a U.S. military commission.
Jeh Johnson, the Defense Department's chief lawyer, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that releasing a detainee who has been tried and found not guilty was a policy decision that officials would make based on their estimate of whether the prisoner posed a future threat.
Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration argues that the legal basis for indefinite detention of aliens it considers dangerous is separate from war-crimes prosecutions. Officials say that the laws of war allow indefinite detention to prevent aliens from committing warlike acts in future, while prosecution by military commission aims to punish them for war crimes committed in the past.
Mr. Johnson said such prisoners held without trial would receive "some form of periodic review" that could lead to their release.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a leading Republican on detainee policy, approved. "Some of them will be able to get out of jail because they've rehabilitated themselves and some of them may in fact die in jail," Mr. Graham said. But "I don't want to put people in a dark hole forever" simply "because somebody like Dick Cheney, or you fill in the blank with a politician, said so."
Also at the hearing, Obama administration officials differed with the Navy's senior uniformed lawyer over whether coerced statements should be used to convict Guantanamo defendants.
David Kris, head of the Justice Department's National Security Division, warned that federal courts might reverse convictions in military commissions if they were based on coerced statements.
Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald, giving his independent opinion as the Navy's judge advocate general, testified that the standard should be whether a statement was "reliable," rather than whether it was coerced.
The question could be central to whether military-commission convictions stand up. Military prosecutors have said that involuntary statements make up the lion's share of evidence against detainees.
Congress is considering several proposals for trying Guantanamo detainees. The issue is one of several administration officials are struggling to resolve so they can meet President Barack Obama's commitment to close the Guantanamo prison by January.
While Mr. Obama wants to continue in modified form the commissions conceived under former President George W. Bush, officials said the administration favors an expiration date for the experiment unless reauthorized by Congress.
After some trials are held, "a fresh look" could be useful, Mr. Kris said.
The offshore prison holds about 229 detainees. The administration plans to release some prisoners, while others could be tried in federal court, by military commission or held indefinitely without trial.
Some House Democrats say the limited number of additional protections for defendants the administration has proposed don't go far enough.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D., N.Y.), who has scheduled a Wednesday hearing on military commissions before the House Judiciary subcommittee he heads, questioned the administration's plan to allot prisoners to federal courts, military commissions or indefinite detention.
"What bothers me is that they seem to be saying, 'Some people we have good enough evidence against, so we'll give them a fair trial. Some people the evidence is not so good, so we'll give them a less fair trial. We'll give them just enough due process to ensure a conviction because we know they're guilty. That's not a fair trial, that's a show trial," Mr. Nadler said.
READ MORE - Detainees, Even if Acquitted, Might Not Go Free


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