NEWS ROUNDUP: December 21

Ambush raises unsettling questions in Afghanistan

It was one of the most humiliating attacks the Afghan security forces had ever suffered. On Nov. 27, Taliban insurgents ambushed a supply convoy in the northwest province of Badghis, killing nine Afghan soldiers and five police officers, wounding 27 men, capturing 20 others, destroying at least 19 vehicles and stealing five, Afghan officials said.

The Afghan authorities quickly learned that the man suspected of having orchestrated the attack, Maulavi Ghulam Dastagir, had only weeks before been in police custody on charges of aiding the Taliban.

Mr. Dastagir had been personally released by President Hamid Karzai after assurances from a delegation of tribal elders that he would live a peaceful life, officials said this month.

The ambush, and the presidential pardon that allowed the insurgent to go free, have become the subject of a governmental inquest and the source of profound embarrassment for the Afghan government.

The case has also underscored the vulnerabilities of the Afghan security forces as the Taliban have multiplied their presence around the country and, in only the past few years, have gained strength in regions that were once relatively peaceful, like the northwest. [continued…]

US opens fire on Brown’s ‘war fatigue’

As the United States prepares for a troop surge in Afghanistan in the new year, Robert Gates, the defence secretary, and senior commanders are concerned that the British government lacks the “political will” for the fight.

General John Craddock, the Nato commander, said last week that Britain must put more troops into Helmand province to defeat the Taliban insurgency.

In an interview with The Sunday Times at Nato’s supreme headquarters in Mons, Belgium, he said Gordon Brown’s announcement last Monday that more troops would bolster Britain’s 8,100-strong force in Afghanistan by March was not enough. Although planning is under way to send up to 3,000 extra troops to Afghanistan next summer if required, Brown committed only 300 in his Commons statement.

“I don’t think 300 more, if you are talking about Helmand province, will do the trick. We’ve got to hold down there until we’ve got some Afghan street forces who can take over,” Craddock said. [continued…]

‘Baghdad Clogger’ suffered brutal beating after arrest

The Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at President George Bush was viciously beaten after being taken into custody, according to a police officer who accompanied him to prison.

Wrestled to the ground and then buried under a frantic mound of security officers, Muntazer al-Zaidi was last seen being dragged into detention. Controversy has since raged over what treatment was meted out to the man hailed a hero in many parts of the Arab and Muslim world for his protest against the invasion of Iraq. Yesterday there were further demonstrations in the Middle East calling for his immediate release.

Witnesses to his arrest and imprisonment have told the Observer Zaidi was badly beaten, during and after his arrest last Sunday, and that he risks losing the sight in one of his eyes as a result. [continued…]

Bush attacker ‘incensed by bullet-riddled Koran’

The young Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at President George W Bush had been incensed by a story he covered about an American soldier who used a copy of the Koran for target practice, according to his family.

Muntathar al-Zaydi, 28, who became an overnight hero in the Arab world, worked as a reporter for the popular al-Baghdadiya satellite TV station.

In May he was sent to report on an incident in Radwaniyah, west of Baghdad, in which Islam’s holy book was found riddled with bullets from an American sniper.

“He talked incessantly about the subject,” recalled his elder brother Uday. It was one of a number of assignments that appear to have radicalised Zaydi during his brief journalistic career. [continued…]

Somalia crisis talks in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is hosting a series of talks on the deepening crisis in its neighbour, Somalia.

Foreign ministers from east Africa are meeting in the capital, Addis Ababa, to be followed by talks by the African Union’s peace and security council.

The emergency meetings come after Ethiopia decided to withdraw its troops from Somalia by the end of December. [continued…]

White House philosophy stoked mortgage bonfire

Eight years after arriving in Washington vowing to spread the dream of homeownership, Mr. Bush is leaving office, as he himself said recently, “faced with the prospect of a global meltdown” with roots in the housing sector he so ardently championed.

There are plenty of culprits, like lenders who peddled easy credit, consumers who took on mortgages they could not afford and Wall Street chieftains who loaded up on mortgage-backed securities without regard to the risk.

But the story of how we got here is partly one of Mr. Bush’s own making, according to a review of his tenure that included interviews with dozens of current and former administration officials.

From his earliest days in office, Mr. Bush paired his belief that Americans do best when they own their own home with his conviction that markets do best when let alone.

He pushed hard to expand homeownership, especially among minorities, an initiative that dovetailed with his ambition to expand the Republican tent — and with the business interests of some of his biggest donors. But his housing policies and hands-off approach to regulation encouraged lax lending standards. [continued…]

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