Friday, March 6, 2009

Just Foreign Policy Current News: Afghanistan, Israel & Much More

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U.S./Top News
1) Intelligence Failures Crippling Fight Against Insurgents in Afghanistan, says Report
Leaked analysis condemns US for lack of co-operation
Senior officers' criticisms also cover Iraq campaign
Peter Beaumont, The Guardian, Friday 6 March 2009

A highly critical analysis of the US-led coalition's counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan has raised serious questions about combat operations in both countries - and the intelligence underpinning them. The confidential document presents a bleak picture of a counterinsurgency effort undermined by intelligence failures that at times border on the absurd.

Based on scores of interviews with British, US, Canadian and Dutch military, intelligence and diplomatic officials - and marked for "official use only" - the book-length report is damning of a US military often unwilling to share intelligence among its military allies. It depicts commanders in the field being overwhelmed by information on hundreds of contradictory databases, and sometimes resistant to intelligence generated by its own agents in the CIA.

Counterinsurgency efforts are also shown as being at the mercy of local contacts peddling identical "junk" tips around various intelligence officials, with the effectiveness of the intelligence effort being quantified by some senior officers solely in terms of the amount of "tip money" disbursed to sources.

The report describes a rigid reliance on economic, military and political progress indicators regarded by the authors and interviewees as too often lacking in real meaning. Its sources complain of commanders who have slipped into relying on "the fallacy of body counts", discredited after the war in Vietnam as a measure of success.

The report, prepared by the RAND national defence research institute for US Joint Forces Command in November and leaked to the Wikileaks website, reveals the case of Dutch F-16 pilots in Afghanistan who were ordered by the US to bomb targets, only to be refused access to American "battle damage assessments" showing what they had hit, on the grounds that the Dutch were not "security cleared" to view them.
It calls for a substantial overhaul of how military intelligence is gathered, organised and acted on. Quoting senior officers, it questions many everyday operations - from weapons searches to the killing or arrest of wanted individuals - suggesting that they "alienate" the local population for little measurable gain.

2) Sen. Nelson Wants Benchmarks to Measure Afghan Progress
CQ Today, March 6, 2009

A leading moderate Senate Democrat is calling for clear benchmarks to measure progress in Afghanistan as the Obama administration reviews U.S. strategy there. "It is our responsibility to ensure that the American people are given a clear objective for the mission in Afghanistan, one which contemplates defense, diplomacy and development," Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, a member of the Armed Services Committee, wrote in a March 4 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates .

Nelson said he may try to add benchmarks to the upcoming war supplemental bill this spring or the fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill later this year.
Nelson was among the Senate moderates who pushed for the inclusion of 18 benchmarks for Iraq in the fiscal 2007 supplemental war funding bill. Those benchmarks called for concrete progress on a variety of issues, including the integrity of Iraqi security forces, the allocation of reconstruction funds, and the fair treatment of minority political parties.

3) Human rights groups object to Colombian warlord's extradition
Organisations claim further delay in extradition to US could lead to more cooperation on unsolved murders
Associated Press, Thursday 5 March 2009 19.27 GMT

A Colombian warlord who has cooperated closely with prosecutors was extradited to the United States today despite human rights groups' objections that sending him away could leave hundreds of murders unsolved.

Heberth Veloza, alias "HH," has admitted to personally killing more than 100 people and has acknowledged that fighters under his command killed hundreds more. He is the 17th Colombian paramilitary boss to be extradited to the US in less than a year to face drug-trafficking charges.
Veloza, 41, was a top lieutenant of the Castano brothers, who founded Colombia's far-right militias in the 1980s. Initially backed by drug traffickers and ranchers to counter kidnapping and extortion by leftist rebels, the private armies evolved into regional mafias.

Prosecutors say they committed well over 10,000 murders and stole millions of acres of land, often in collusion with local political and business leaders.

Captured in April 2007, Veloza is among jailed warlords who have cooperated most with prosecutors under a "Justice and Peace" law that offers reduced sentences as part of a demobilisation pact.

US officials have vowed to give Colombian prosecutors ample access to imprisoned warlords, but human rights groups complain that Veloza's extradition, though it was delayed by six months at their request, will allow many crimes committed under his command to go unpunished.

They say it also could prevent the recovery of hundreds of corpses still buried in unmarked graves. "There was no reason for an extradition with such urgency," said Ivan Cepeda, spokesman for the National Movement of Victims of Crimes of the State. "We didn't ask that he not be extradited, just that it be delayed until he could confess to everything."
Veloza's testimony has backed claims by human rights groups that Colombia's armed forces long cooperated with the illegal militias.

Among the military officers Veloza said helped right-wing death squads is retired army General Rito Alejo del Rio, who was jailed in September on murder charges. Del Rio was a brigade commander in the banana-growing region of Uraba in the mid-1990s when Veloza was the chief warlord there.

4) Spending Bill Stalls in Senate, 1 Vote Shy of Breaking Filibuster
Shailagh Murray, Washington Post, Friday, March 6, 2009; A03

The Senate stalled action on a $410 billion spending bill that would fund much of the federal government for the current fiscal year amid resistance over the legislation's huge price tag and more than 8,500 pet projects.

Last night, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) canceled a final procedural vote that would have cleared the way for final passage and announced that debate will continue at least through Monday. Meanwhile, Reid said the Senate will consider further amendments, while he scoured for at least one more vote to reach the 60 needed to break a Republican-led filibuster.
In addition to providing generous budget increases across departments, the measure would make a series of significant policy changes. In a break with Bush policy, it would permit U.S. citizens to visit relatives in Cuba once a year instead of once every three years, and it would loosen rules on food and medicine exports to the island. The Cuba language cost Reid at least one Democratic vote, that of Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.).

5) On Iran, an Apostle of Patience
David Ignatius, Washington Post, Thursday, February 26, 2009; A19

If you ask White House officials whom President Obama listens to about Iran, they mention an interesting name - Lee Hamilton, the former congressman from Indiana who co-chaired the 2006 Iraq Study Group that urged engagement with the Iranian regime.

So I called Hamilton this week at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, where he serves as president, to ask for his thoughts about strategic dialogue with Tehran. He gave some interesting answers that match (not coincidentally, I suspect) what you hear from senior Obama administration officials. Though Hamilton wouldn't discuss his two meetings with the president since the inauguration, his private advice probably tracks what he told me on the record.

Hamilton cautioned against expecting any quick breakthroughs. He recommended a patient process of engagement that would be analogous to long-term diplomacy with the Soviet Union. "Those of us who favor dialogue with the Iranians have to be clear that success will not come quickly," he said. "You'll have to have direct, sustained engagement over a long period of time."
The starting points for U.S.-Iran discussions, Hamilton said, would be to "state our respect for the Iranian people, renounce regime change as an instrument of U.S. policy, seek opportunities for a range of dialogue across a range of issues, and acknowledge Iran's security concerns and its right to civilian nuclear power." He said Obama has already signaled that he wants such a conversation, without preconditions.

Asked how contacts might begin, Hamilton said the first step might be back channel, "secret discussions by someone authorized by the president." These initial private talks could set the agenda and assure the Iranians that the United States wants to discuss an array of issues - and not just Afghanistan or Iraq or nuclear weapons.
A European who speaks regularly with the Iranian government said that Tehran, too, wants to take its time. He said Iran seeks a broad discussion, not just selected items. This official recommended a "preparatory, confidential meeting to say what are the modalities, agendas, procedures, confidence-building measures."
The administration official who oversees the Iran file is William Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs. Although Dennis Ross will take a broad strategic look at the region in his new post of State Department adviser, senior officials stress that Burns is the address for Iran policy.

6) U.K. embassy nixes move to offices of company behind West Bank construction
Barak Ravid, Haaretz, 04/03/2009

The British embassy in Tel Aviv has stopped negotiations to lease a floor in Africa-Israel's Kirya Tower because of the company's role in West Bank settlement construction.

The British embassy had been expected to move from its current Hayarkon Street location into the office tower on the corner of Kaplan and Begin. The lease would have cost $162,000 a year, the British press reported. Africa-Israel is owned by Lev Leviev, a tycoon who recently left Israel and settled in Britain.

After the planned move was publicized in the daily Globes about a year ago, British pro-Palestinian groups began protesting. The press ran several pieces detailing the activities of Africa-Israel and its subsidiary Danya Cebus, and its role in three West Bank construction projects: Matityahu East, Har Homa in Jerusalem, and in Ma'aleh Adumim.

The British press also published several petitions calling on the Foreign Office not to move its embassy to Africa-Israel's building. One such petition, which appeared in the Guardian several months ago, was signed by Palestinian Authority parliamentarians including Hanan Ashrawi and Mustafa Barghouti.

The petition said that moving the embassy into a building owned by a company that builds in the settlements would send a message contravening British policy, and would be tantamount to criminal complicity.

The petitioners also argued that choosing this location would enable Israel to continue violating Palestinian human rights in the West Bank.

Due to the public pressure, a special debate was held in the British parliament several months ago. Kim Howells, then minister of state at the Foreign Office charged with Middle East affairs, was asked to explain plans to move to the embassy into the building.

Ambassador Tom Phillips requested details from Africa-Israel about the nature of its activities in the settlements, and a week ago, the British embassy in Tel Aviv received the information. As a result, plans to move into the tower were frozen.

7) Mauritania expels Israeli ambassador
Barak Ravid, Haaretz, 18:06 06/03/2009

The Foreign Ministry said Friday it had closed its embassy after the government of this overwhelmingly Muslim West African nation asked the Israeli ambassador and his staff to leave.

The move came after Mauritania's military junta recalled its own ambassador from Israel last month. In January, Mauritania said it was suspending ties with Israel over its military offensive against Hamas in Gaza.
Mauritania is one of only three Arab League countries to have diplomatic ties with Israel, alongside Jordan and Egypt. Diplomatic relations between Mauritania and Israel were established in October 1999.

8) Crisis threatens Colombia's rights budget - U.N.
Luis Jaime Acosta, Reuters, Thu Mar 5, 2009 4:55pm EST

The global financial crisis could hit human rights budgets in Colombia, where civilians continue to be murdered by the army and passed off as rebels killed in combat, the United Nations said on Thursday. Extra-judicial killings by soldiers trying to inflate their successes in a four-decade guerrilla war remain a problem in the Andean nation despite the efforts of President Alvaro Uribe, according to an annual U.N. report on human rights.
The U.N. report expressed particular concern over the killing of civilians passed off as rebels who died in combat. Several such cases have surfaced in recent months, tarnishing Uribe's human rights record. "The number of complaints and victims registered shows policies adopted by the Defense Ministry and the army's high command to tackle this practice haven't had a significant impact in reducing these grave abuses," the document said.

9) US Representative Miller is enemy of Colombia: vice-President
Colombia Reports. Thursday, 05 March 2009 10:22

U.S. Representative George Miller (D-CA) is an enemy of Colombia, the country's vice-President Francisco Santos said Thursday.

Miller had said in a debate in the U.S. House of Representatives that the current situation in Colombia reminded him of the times General Augusto Pinochet ruled Chile and Roberto Dawisón [D'Aubuisson] was the leader of El Salvador.

"It seems to me this statement shows the lack of objectivity of mister Miller, of his radical politicization of the reality in Colombia. It makes him an enemy of Colombia, who only cares about his personal interests," the vice-President told RCN Radio.

10) Inter-American Human Rights Court Says Venezuela Did Not Violate TV Station's Free Speech
James Suggett,, March 5th 2009,

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