The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports: Despite its very public withdrawal from Shamsi airfield at the weekend, the United States continues to have access to a number of military airfields inside Pakistan – including at least one from which armed drones are able to operate, the Bureau understands.
The first concrete indications have also emerged that the US has now effectively suspended its drone strikes in Pakistan. The Bureau’s own data registers no CIA strikes since November 17.
Islamabad is furious in the wake of a NATO attack which recently killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on its Afghan borders. As well as suspending NATO supply convoys through Pakistan, anti-aircraft missiles have also reportedly been moved to the border with Afghanistan. Pakistan also demanded that the US withdraw from Shamsi, a major airfield in Balochistan controlled and run by the Americans since late 2001.
US Predator and Reaper drones have operated from the isolated airbase for many years. Technically the base is leased to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, which allowed Pakistan to deny a US presence for many years. Now the US has quit Shamsi, with large US transporter planes stripping military hardware from the base.
But the US will continue to have access to at least five other Pakistani military facilities, according to a Pakistani source with extensive knowledge of US-Pakistani military and intelligence co-operation.
Al Jazeera reports: The US has vacated the Shamsi air base in Pakistan’s Balochistan province after a 15-day ultimatum given by Islamabad, prompted by the deaths of at least 24 of its soldiers in a NATO air raid last month.
Sunday’s withdrawal was completed when the final flight carrying US personnel and equiptment flew out.
Nine planes carrying personnel and 20 carrying equiptment – including drone aircraft and weapons – left for neighbouring Afghanistan, officials said.
Shamsi was believed to be the staging post for US drones operating in northwest Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, a senior Pakistani military official told a US television network on Sunday that his country “will shoot down any US drone that enters its territory”.
Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder, reporting from Islamabad, said that Pakistani parliamentarians had “asked their air chief whether they had the capability to shoot down the drones if they were to violate their frontiers”.
“The air chief told them point blank that the decision to shoot down the drones was a political one and if they were ordered to do so they would comply,” he said.
Reuters reports: NATO helicopters and fighter jets attacked two military outposts in northwest Pakistan on Saturday, killing as many as 28 troops and plunging U.S.-Pakistan relations, already deeply frayed, further into crisis.
Pakistan retaliated by shutting down vital NATO supply routes into Afghanistan, used for sending in almost half of the alliance’s non-lethal materiel.
The attack is the worst single incident of its kind since Pakistan uneasily allied itself with Washington in the days immediately following the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. targets.
Relations between the United States and Pakistan, its ally in the war on militancy, have been strained following the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces in a raid on the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad in May, which Pakistan called a flagrant violation of sovereignty.
The Pakistani government and military brimmed with fury.
“This is an attack on Pakistan’s sovereignty,” said Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. “We will not let any harm come to Pakistan’s sovereignty and solidarity.”
Helena Cobban asks: From Afghanistan, to Iraq, to Pakistan, to Somalia, to Yemen– and now, to Libya… What has the U.S. military brought in its wake?? The collapse of communities, of whole economies, of institutions, and families… Tragedies, wherever you look.
This is not to indict individual members of the military, which as a group of people probably contains as great a proportion of decent, competent people as any group of that size. What has happened has not been the fault of the individual people in the military, but in the fact that it was the military that was used at all in response to all these problems. For each and every one of those “problems”, there were non-military policies that were available and could have been pursued– most likely with, at the end of the day, a lot more success from the American people’s point of view than we ended up winning. But the rush, the urge, the unseemly push to use military force proved overwhelming. Especially to those three presidents– Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama– who had never themselves experienced the horrors of war.
Almost none of this destruction need have happened– if only these men and their advisers had kept fast to the older, more principled visions of America as a country that upholds and strengthen the rule of international law and all the institutions built up around it… If only these men had not been so easily tempted by the ‘flash-bang’ wizardry and testosterone-driven arrogance of war.
But here we are. And at the other end of the Mediterranean this week, there have been two notably different kind of gatherings. At one of them, on Monday, world leaders gave a strong vote to Palestine’s application to become a member of the UN’s Educational, Scientific, and Cultural organization (UNESCO). In that vote, 107 nations (including several substantial European allies of Washington) defied vigorous American arm-twisting to support the Palestinian request.
The U.S. State Department announced almost immediately that it would stop providing the funding it has been giving to UNESCO. Far-reaching legislation passed over recent years by the strongly Israeli-controlled U.S. Congress means that the administration may have to extend its funding cut-off to other agencies, too.
How very, very far the United States has come from those idealistic days, 60 years ago, when it was a victorious America, standing unchallenged astride the the whole world, that exercised wisdom and restraint by setting up the United Nations as a set of institutions based on the key principles of human equality, respect for the rule of law, and the need to stress nonviolent, negotiated ways to resolved conflicts whenever possible.
On September 14, 2001, when President Bush shouted through a bullhorn to rescue workers at the ruins of the World Trade Center, he said: “I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people — and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”
In response the workers shouted: “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! ”
But suppose Bush had added this: “And for every innocent life lost here, we will kill a hundred more innocent people. And we will get our vengeance — even if it means driving the country into economic ruin.”
Would the crowd have then fallen silent? Would Americans, still in shock, have realized that their government was seeking support for what amounted to a collective act of insanity?
The “Costs of War” report from the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University says:
The President of the United States has told the American people and the rest of the world that even as the U.S. withdraws some troops from Afghanistan and continues to withdraw from Iraq, the wars will continue for some years. The debate over why each war was begun and whether either or both should have been fought continues.
What we do know, without debate, is that the wars begun ten years ago have been tremendously painful for millions of people in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, and the United States, and economically costly as well. Each additional month and year of war will add to that toll. To date, however, there has been no comprehensive accounting of the costs of the United States’ wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. The goal of the Costs of War project has been to outline a broad understanding of the domestic and international costs and consequences of those wars. The Eisenhower Research Project based at Brown University assembled a team that includes economists, anthropologists, political scientists, legal experts, and a physician to do this analysis.
- What have been the wars’ costs in human and economic terms?
- How have these wars changed the social and political landscape of the United States and the countries where the wars have been waged?
- What will be the long term legacy of these conflicts for veterans?
- What is the long term economic effect of these wars likely to be?
- Were and are there alternative less costly and more effective ways to prevent further terror attacks?
Some of the project’s findings:
- While we know how many US soldiers have died in the wars (just over 6000), what is startling is what we don’t know about the levels of injury and illness in those who have returned from the wars. New disability claims continue to pour into the VA, with 550,000 just through last fall. Many deaths and injuries among US contractors have not been identified.
- At least 137,000 civilians have died and more will die in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as a result of the fighting at the hands of all parties to the conflict.
- The armed conflict in Pakistan, which the U.S. helps the Pakistani military fight by funding, equipping and training them, has taken as many lives as the conflict in neighboring Afghanistan.
- Putting together the conservative numbers of war dead, in uniform and out, brings the total to 225,000.
- Millions of people have been displaced indefinitely and are living in grossly inadequate conditions. The current number of war refugees and displaced persons — 7,800,000 — is equivalent to all of the people of Connecticut and Kentucky fleeing their homes.
- The wars have been accompanied by erosions in civil liberties at home and human rights violations abroad.
- The human and economic costs of these wars will continue for decades, some costs not peaking until mid-century. Many of the wars’ costs are invisible to Americans, buried in a variety of budgets, and so have not been counted or assessed. For example, while most people think the Pentagon war appropriations are equivalent to the wars’ budgetary costs, the true numbers are twice that, and the full economic cost of the wars much larger yet. Conservatively estimated, the war bills already paid and obligated to be paid are $3.2 trillion in constant dollars. A more reasonable estimate puts the number at nearly $4 trillion.
- As with former US wars, the costs of paying for veterans’ care into the future will be a sizable portion of the full costs of the war.
- The ripple effects on the U.S. economy have also been significant, including job loss and interest rate increases, and those effects have been underappreciated.
- While it was promised that the US invasions would bring democracy to both countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, both continue to rank low in global rankings of political freedom, with warlords continuing to hold power in Afghanistan with US support, and Iraqi communities more segregated today than before by gender and ethnicity as a result of the war.
- Serious and compelling alternatives to war were scarcely considered in the aftermath of 9/11 or in the discussion about war against Iraq. Some of those alternatives are still available to the U.S.
There are many costs of these wars that we have not yet been able to quantify and assess. With our limited resources, we focused on U.S. spending, U.S. and allied deaths, and the human toll in the major war zones, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. There is still much more to know and understand about how all those affected by the wars have had their health, economies, and communities altered by the decade of war, and what solutions exist for the problems they face as a result of the wars’ destruction.
The Hill reports:
An overwhelming number of voters believe the United States is involved in too many foreign conflicts and should pull back its troops, according to a new poll conducted for The Hill.
Seventy-two percent of those polled said the United States is fighting in too many places, with only 16 percent saying the current level of engagement represented an appropriate level. Twelve percent said they weren’t sure.
Voters also do not think having U.S. soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq has made the country safer, according to the poll.
Thirty-seven percent said the continued presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan makes no impact on national security, while another 17 percent said it makes the United States less safe. By contrast, 36 percent said the United States is safer because forces are in Afghanistan.
Prominent journalist Saleem Shahzad murdered after exposing ties between Pakistan’s navy and al Qaeda
Declan Walsh reports:
A prominent Pakistani journalist who investigated links between the military and al-Qaida has been found dead, triggering angry accusations against the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency.
Saleem Shahzad, Pakistan correspondent for a news service based in Hong Kong, disappeared on his way to a television interview in Islamabad on Sunday evening. On Tuesday, police said they found his body on a canal bank in Mandi Bahauddin, 80 miles south-east of the capital.
Shahzad’s abandoned car was found 25 miles away. Television images of his body showed heavy bruising to his face. Media reports said he had a serious trauma wound to the stomach.
Human Rights Watch had already raised the alarm over the disappearance of the 40-year-old father of three, citing a “reliable interlocutor” who said he had been abducted by ISI.
“This killing bears all the hallmarks of previous killings perpetrated by Pakistani intelligence agencies,” said a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch in south Asia, Ali Dayan Hasan. He called for a “transparent investigation and court proceedings”.
Other journalists reacted angrily, directly accusing ISI of responsibility on television and social media. “Any journalist here who doesn’t believe that it’s our intelligence agencies?” tweeted Mohammed Hanif, a bestselling author.
In his last published report, Shahzad wrote:
Al-Qaeda carried out the brazen attack on PNS Mehran naval air station in Karachi on May 22 after talks failed between the navy and al-Qaeda over the release of naval officials arrested on suspicion of al-Qaeda links, an Asia Times Online investigation reveals.
Pakistani security forces battled for 15 hours to clear the naval base after it had been stormed by a handful of well-armed militants.
At least 10 people were killed and two United States-made P3-C Orion surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft worth US$36 million each were destroyed before some of the attackers escaped through a cordon of thousands of armed forces.
An official statement placed the number of militants at six, with four killed and two escaping. Unofficial sources, though, claim there were 10 militants with six getting free. Asia Times Online contacts confirm that the attackers were from Ilyas Kashmiri’s 313 Brigade, the operational arm of al-Qaeda.
Three attacks on navy buses in which at least nine people were killed last month were warning shots for navy officials to accept al-Qaeda’s demands over the detained suspects.
The May 2 killing in Pakistan of Osama bin Laden spurred al-Qaeda groups into developing a consensus for the attack in Karachi, in part as revenge for the death of their leader and also to deal a blow to Pakistan’s surveillance capacity against the Indian navy.
The deeper underlying motive, though, was a reaction to massive internal crackdowns on al-Qaeda affiliates within the navy.
Several weeks ago, naval intelligence traced an al-Qaeda cell operating inside several navy bases in Karachi, the country’s largest city and key port.
“Islamic sentiments are common in the armed forces,” a senior navy official told Asia Times Online on the condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the media.
“We never felt threatened by that. All armed forces around the world, whether American, British or Indian, take some inspiration from religion to motivate their cadre against the enemy. Pakistan came into existence on the two-nation theory that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations and therefore no one can separate Islam and Islamic sentiment from the armed forces of Pakistan,” the official said.
“Nonetheless, we observed an uneasy grouping on different naval bases in Karachi. While nobody can obstruct armed forces personnel for rendering religious rituals or studying Islam, the grouping [we observed] was against the discipline of the armed forces. That was the beginning of an intelligence operation in the navy to check for unscrupulous activities.”
The official explained the grouping was against the leadership of the armed forces and opposed to its nexus with the United States against Islamic militancy. When some messages were intercepted hinting at attacks on visiting American officials, intelligence had good reason to take action and after careful evaluation at least 10 people – mostly from the lower cadre – were arrested in a series of operations.
“That was the beginning of huge trouble,” the official said. [Continue reading...]
In the aftermath of 9/11 we worked in tandem; he was in Karachi, I was in Islamabad/Peshawar. After the US ”victory” in Afghanistan I went to visit him at home. He plunged me into Karachi’s wild side – in this and other visits. During a night walk on the beach he confessed his dream; he wanted to be Pakistan bureau chief for Asia Times, which he regarded as the K2 of journalism. He got it.
And then, years before ”AfPak” was invented, he found his perfect beat – the intersection between the ISI, the myriad Taliban factions on both sides of AfPak, and all sorts of jihadi eruptions. That was his sterling beat; and no one could bring more hardcore news from the heart of hardcore than Saleem.
I had met some of his sources in Islamabad and Karachi – but over the years he kept excavating deeper and deeper into the shadows. Sometimes we seriously debated over e-mails – I feared some dodgy/devious ISI strands were playing him while he always vouched for his sources.
Cornered by the law of the jungle, no wonder most of my Pakistani friends, during the 2000s, became exiles in the United States or Canada. Saleem stayed – threats and all, the only concession relocating from Karachi to Islamabad.
Now they finally got him. Not an al-Qaeda or jihadi connection. Not a tribal or Taliban connection, be it Mullah Omar or Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. It had to be the ISI – as he knew, and told us, all along.
Shahzad had just published a book, Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11.
In an interview on the Real News Network recorded a few days before his murder, Shahzad described the transformation of al Qaeda over the last decade and that while the group itself has shrunk, its ideology has spread horizontally by incorporation inside and beyond the new Taliban.
First you have to understand this fact, that there are 17 Arab-Afghan groups which are operating inside Pakistani tribal areas and in Afghanistan, and most of these groups and most of the groups are aligned with al Qaeda but they are not part of al Qaeda — number one. And the strength of those 17 Arab-Afghan groups is over 1,000 approximately.
Second, those who are the members of al Qaeda are hardly 100, not more than 100.
The third thing is — and this is the most important thing — and that is the phenomenon of new Taliban — the new generation of those Afghan fighters, of the Pakistani fighters, or the fighters coming from the Pakistani tribal areas who previously pledged their allegiance to Mullah Omar and the Taliban, but now they — in the last ten years — they completely absorbed al Qaeda’s ideology inside-out, and they are more loyal to al Qaeda than to Mullah Omar or to the al Qaeda leaders, or to their jihadi commanders.
So this is the new group, this is al Qaeda horizontally, not only in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the tribal areas, but all across the globe, like in Yemen, in Somalia and other parts, even in Europe, even in America. So this is the new generation on which al Qaeda is heavily banking on. And not only those, but it also includes the new converts, white Caucasians which are living in North Waziristan and in South Waziristan. And many of them were sent back to their countries of origin in Europe, Canada and America, and different countries. So, this was a completely new phenomenon. Al Qaeda grew horizontally in different directions.
Watch Shahzad’s last interview (in two parts) with the Real News Network:
Al Jazeera reports:
The head of NATO has admitted that the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons is a matter of concern, the day after the worst assault on a Pakistani military base in two years.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen was speaking in Afghanistan on Tuesday, where he met Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, to discuss the transition of security from NATO-led troops to Afghan security forces, which is due to begin in July.
“Based on the information and intelligence we have, I feel confident that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is safe and well protected,” Rasmussen said. “But of course, it is a matter of concern and we follow the situation closely.”
Pakistani forces battled Taliban fighters for 17 hours before reclaiming control of a naval base in Karachi on Monday.
The attack, the worst on a base since the army headquarters was besieged in October 2009, piled further embarrassment on Pakistan three weeks after al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was found living in the city of Abbottabad, close to the country’s military academy.
The Los Angeles Times reports:
The team of Islamist militants knew exactly where the naval base’s weak spot was.
Dressed in black and armed with AK-47 rifles, grenades and rocket launchers, they crept up to the back wall of Mehran Naval Station in Karachi, keeping clear of security cameras. Then, with just a pair of ladders, they clambered over the wall, cutting through barbed wire at the top, to launch a 17-hour siege that would renew disturbing questions about the Pakistani military’s ability to defend sensitive installations, including its nuclear arsenal.
The team, believed to consist of four to six militants, destroyed two U.S.-supplied maritime surveillance aircraft and engaged security forces in hours of pitched firefights. It was not until late Monday afternoon that Pakistani forces regained full control of the facility.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik said 10 Pakistani security personnel were killed and 15 were injured. Four militants died and two were believed to have escaped, he said.
The Pakistani Taliban, the country’s homegrown insurgency with ties to Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack, which it said was meant to avenge the May 2 killing of Osama bin Laden in the military city of Abbottabad.
Declan Walsh writes:
If there was one telling moment in Pakistan in the 10 days since Osama bin Laden’s death, when a Hollywood-style American assault on a suburban house left the country reeling, torn between anger, shame and denial, it occurred late one evening on a prime-time television show hosted by Kamran Khan.
Chatshow hosts are the secular mullahs of modern Pakistan: fist-banging populists who preach to the nation over supper, often through a rightwing lens. Khan, a tubby 50-year-old journalist with neat glasses and a small chin, is the biggest of them. Every night on Geo, the largest channel, he rails against “corrupt” civilian politicians and America, and lionises the armed forces; some colleagues nickname him “the brigadier”. But as the country seethed over Bin Laden last week, Khan tore off his metaphorical stripes and stamped them into the ground.
The army had failed its people, he railed. To Pakistan’s shame US soldiers had invaded the country; their finding Bin Laden in Abbottabad, two hours north of Islamabad, was a disgrace. The country’s “two-faced” approach to extremism had disastrously backfired, he said, reeling off a list of atrocities – New York, Bali, London, Madrid – linked to Pakistan. “We have become the world’s biggest haven of terrorism,” he declared. “We need to change.” Viewers watched in astonishment. The unprecedented attack targeted not only the army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, but also the most sensitive policies of the military’s premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). Feared, reviled and admired in equal measure, the ISI is considered the embodiment of army power in Pakistan, the object of hushed deference. But now, as one US official told me, “the world has changed”. And the ISI finds itself in the line of fire.
The Bin Laden debacle has triggered a blizzard of uncomfortable questions, the sharpest come from Washington. How, President Barack Obama wondered aloud last Sunday, could Bin Laden shelter for years in a garrison town that is home to three regimental headquarters, the local version of Sandhurst, and thousands of soldiers? One retired US officer who has served in the region told me he had been mulling the same question. “All those times we drove up to Abbottabad, and we could have taken out our pistols and done the job ourselves,” he said. The CIA chief Leon Panetta, meanwhile, says he didn’t warn the ISI about the special forces raid because he feared word might leak to the al-Qaida leader. Behind the pointed statements lies an urgent question: was the ISI hiding Bin Laden?
The answer may lie inside the ISI’s headquarters in Abpara, on the edge of Islamabad. The entrance, beside a private hospital, is suitably discreet: no sign, just a plainclothes officer packing a pistol who direct visitors through a chicane of barriers, soldiers and sniffer dogs. But inside, past the smooth electric gates, lies a neatly tended cluster of adobe buildings separated by smooth lawns and tinkling fountains that resembles a well-funded private university. Cars purr up to the entrance of the central building, a modern structure with a round, echoing lobby. On the top floor sits the chief spy: the director general Ahmed Shuja Pasha, a grey-haired 59-year-old three-star general. One American counterpart describes him as “brilliant and extremely intelligent . . . Thoughtful, pensive and extremely well read; if he was in the US military he would be a very successful officer.”
Pasha and the ISI are the heart of Pakistan’s “establishment” – a nebulous web of generals, bureaucrats and hand-picked politicians (not always elected ones) who form the DNA of Pakistan’s defence and security policies. It has at least 10,000 employees (some say twice as many), mixing serving army officers, many on three-year rotations from other services, with thousands of civilian employees, from suited analysts to beefy street spies. In theory they answer to the prime minister; in reality they are a tool of the army chief, Kayani. To supporters, the ISI safeguards national security – monitoring phones, guarding the country’s nuclear weapons. But to its many critics, the ISI is the army’s dirty tricks department, accused of abduction and assassination, vote-rigging and torture, and running Islamist terrorist outfits. “The ISI,” said Minoo Bhandara, an outspoken Parsi businessman who ran a brewery across the road from army headquarters before he died in 2008, “is an institution full of intelligence but devoid of wisdom.”
Shaukat Qadir, a retired brigadier and former president of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute, explains how Pakistan ended up at war with itself dealing with a tribal rebellion.
If we hark back in time, in 2001, the Pakistani Pashtun and all Afghans were celebrating US intervention in Afghanistan. It would liberate them from Taliban oppression. Within a year, American arrogance, their suspicion of all Afghans, their utter disregard for local customs and culture, could result in only one thing: Another Afghan freedom struggle from an oppressive foreign force. The US called it a resurgence of the Taliban and al Qaeda! In time it did become that, because the US converted a legitimate struggle for freedom from an army of occupation into ‘Taliban linked to al Qaeda.’
To return to my question — as they did when Afghans sought their freedom from the Soviet occupation, the Pakistani Pashtuns bordering Afghanistan, girded their loins to assist their Afghan brethren. This time, Pakistan did not want them to. And in 2004, we decided to kill the most outspoken of those Pashtuns, a wazir called Nek Muhammad.
His murder was the watershed. We had a rebellion on our hands because we were preventing our tribal Pashtun from assisting their Afghan brethren in their freedom struggle against an army of occupation: The Americans, of course. So all Pakistan suddenly became American, kafirs, legitimate targets for religious fanatics to kill, and we are more vulnerable and accessible for them to target. So we are faced with an existentialist threat and we die. This was the first gift we got from the US.
Without tracing all the history, where do we stand today as far as the US is concerned? Anybody, who is anybody in the US, is baying for our blood. We are traitors to them and branded American-kafirs by our enemy within. Obama now tells us that when the Navy SEALs came to get Osama, they were “in sufficient numbers and prepared to retaliate to any response by the police or Pakistan’s security forces”.
They also gifted us Raymond Davis, hundreds of him. When we agreed to give him back, it was on the condition that all other Raymonds also leave. The CIA has not forgiven us and recent drone attacks are again killing more civilians than militants. If the Raymonds can no longer stoke unrest in Pakistan, the drones can!
As far as the promised financial aid is concerned, we receive a mere trickle, each time with another threat of severance if we fail to obey our Lords and Masters in DC. Even the Coalition Support Fund (CSF), intended to compensate a small portion of the expense incurred by the military in this war that has been forced on us by the US and Musharaf’s capitulation, is long overdue by well over a billion dollars.
The US has its own litany of complaints but we have ours. Isn’t it time to file for divorce?
Glenn Greenwald writes: On Friday, government officials anonymously claimed that “a rushed examination” of the “trove” of documents and computer files taken from the bin Laden home prove — contrary to the widely held view that he “had been relegated to an inspirational figure with little role in current and future Qaeda operations” — that in fact “the chief of Al Qaeda played a direct role for years in plotting terror attacks.” Specifically, the Government possesses “a handwritten notebook from February 2010 that discusses tampering with tracks to derail a train on a bridge,” and that led “the Obama administration officials on Thursday to issue a warning that Al Qaeda last year had considered attacks on American railroads.” That, in turn, led to headlines around the country like this one, from The Chicago Sun-Times:
The reality, as The New York Times noted deep in its article, was that “the information was both dated and vague,” and the official called it merely “aspirational,” acknowledging that “there was no evidence the discussion of rail attacks had moved beyond the conceptual stage“ In other words, these documents contain little more than a vague expression on the part of Al Qaeda to target railroads in major American cities (“focused on striking Washington, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago,” said the Sun-Times): hardly a surprise and — despite the scary headlines — hardly constituting any sort of substantial, tangible threat.
But no matter. Even in death, bin Laden continues to serve the valuable role of justifying always-increasing curtailments of liberty and expansions of government power. (Salon)
David Axe writes: The early-morning raid that killed Osama bin Laden was, according to CIA Director Leon Panetta, “the culmination of intense and tireless efforts on the part of many dedicated agency officers.” Panetta also thanked the “strike team, whose great skill and courage brought our nation this historic triumph.”
But it’s unclear who was on the strike team — the 25 people aboard two specially modified Army helicopters. Most of the “trigger-pullers” were, apparently, Navy commandos from the famed SEAL Team Six.
At the “pointy end” — a Beltway euphemism for combat — the operation targeting bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, looked overwhelmingly military. But the months-long process of gathering intelligence and planning had a CIA flavor.
Indeed, President Barack Obama described it as agency-led. The intelligence community pinpointed bin Laden’s location. Panetta monitored the raid in real time from Langley. The assault team may have included CIA operatives. Senior administration officials called it a “team effort.”
But did the CIA have people on the ground in Abbottabad? It’s not an academic question. Exactly who was on the strike force that killed bin Laden has major policy implications.
CIA presence places the operation on one side of an increasingly fuzzy legal boundary between two distinct U.S. legal codes: one exclusive to the military and another that defines the terms of open warfare for the whole U.S. government.
The extent of the CIA’s involvement also has serious implications with regard to a chain of presidential executive orders that prohibit Americans from participating in the assassination of foreign leaders. (Politico)
White House has demanded that Pakistan hand over intelligence seized from Osama bin Laden’s compound as relations between the two allies hit a new crisis over the outing of America’s top spy in Islamabad.
Mark Carlton, the purported CIA station chief, was named by a Pakistani newspaper and a private television news network over the weekend, the second holder of that post in less than a year to have his cover blown by the media, presumed to have official consent.
The reports documented a meeting between Mr Carlton and the head of Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter- Services Intelligence, suggesting that the information came from them.
Washington has refused to comment on the development, which comes amid worsening relations between the US and Pakistan over how bin Laden came to be sheltering in a fortified compound in a garrison town.
Anger is mounting in Pakistan over how the US was able to carry out the raid in Abbottabad without detection, with calls for the Government to resign. (The Times)
The prime minister’s statements, along with the publication of the name of the C.I.A. station chief, signaled the depths of the recriminations and potential for retaliation on both sides as American officials demand greater transparency and cooperation from Pakistan, which has not been forthcoming.
The Pakistani spy agency, Inter Services Intelligence Directorate, gave the name of the station chief to The Nation, a conservative daily newspaper, American and Pakistani officials said.
The name appeared spelled incorrectly but in a close approximation to a phonetic spelling in Saturday’s editions of The Nation, a paper with a small circulation that is supportive of the ISI. The ISI commonly plants stories in the Pakistani media and is known to keep some journalists on its payroll.
Last December, American officials said the cover of the station chief at the time was deliberately revealed by the ISI. As a result, he was forced to leave the country. (New York Times)
President Obama’s national security adviser demanded Sunday that Pakistan let American investigators interview Osama bin Laden’s three widows, adding new pressure in a relationship now fraught over how Bin Laden could have been hiding near Islamabad for years before he was killed by commandos last week.
Both the adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, and Mr. Obama, in separate taped interviews, were careful not to accuse the top leadership of Pakistan of knowledge of Bin Laden’s whereabouts in Abbottabad, a military town 35 miles from the country’s capital. They argued that the United States still regards Pakistan, a fragile nuclear-weapons state, as an essential partner in the American-led war on Islamic terrorism.
But in repeatedly describing the trove of data that a Navy Seal team seized after killing Bin Laden as large enough to fill a small college library, Mr. Donilon seemed to be warning the Pakistanis that the United States might soon have documentary evidence that could illuminate who, inside or outside their government, might have helped harbor Bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda, who had been the world’s most wanted terrorist.
The United States government is demanding to know whether, and to what extent, Pakistani government, intelligence or military officials were complicit in hiding Bin Laden. His widows could be critical to that line of inquiry because they might have information about the comings and goings of people who were aiding him. (New York Times)
* * *
It is the unknown frontline in Libya’s civil war, a rebel town besieged by Gaddafi’s forces but almost ignored by the outside world.
Rockets and Scud missiles pour down. Water is running short. Tens of thousands are desperately trying to flee.
But transfixed by the horrors of Misurata, the international community – and the Nato military alliance – have all but overlooked the closely parallel drama in the mountain towns of Zintan and Yafran, little more than an hour’s drive from the capital.
“We have been under fire for about an hour and a half now,” said one Zintan resident, Mustafa Haider, by telephone from the town on Friday afternoon.
“From the south, from the north, from the east, from everywhere. They fire with Grad missiles, Scud missiles, anything. They have tried to enter Zintan many times but they couldn’t.” Homes, schools, and the town’s main hospital had been hit, causing panic, he said. (Daily Telegraph)
Libya: end indiscriminate attacks in western mountain towns
Human Rights Watch says: Libyan government forces have launched what appear to be repeated indiscriminate attacks on mountain towns in western Libya, Human Rights Watch said today.
Accounts from refugees who fled the conflict say the attacks are killing and injuring civilians and damaging civilian objects, including homes, mosques, and a school. Human Rights Watch called on Libyan forces to cease their indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas.
Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 50 refugees from Libya’s western Nafusa mountains in Tunisia from April 26 to May 1, 2011, as well as doctors and aid workers assisting those in need. The refugees gave consistent and credible accounts of indiscriminate shelling and possible rocket attacks in residential areas of the rebel-controlled towns of Nalut, Takut, and Zintan. Human Rights Watch could not confirm the refugees’ accounts due to government restrictions on travel in western Libya but, taken together, they describe a pattern of attacks that would violate the laws of war.
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Amnesty International says: At least 48 people have been killed in Syria by the security forces in the last four days, local and international human rights activists have told Amnesty International, as the crackdown on the coastal city of Banias intensified.
More than 350 people – including 48 women and a 10-year-old child – are also said to have been arrested in the Banias area over the past three days with scores being detained at a local football pitch. Among those rounded up were at least three doctors and 11 injured people taken from a hospital.
“Killings of protesters are spiralling out of control in Syria – President Bashar al-Assad must order his security forces to stop the carnage immediately,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Amnesty International has compiled the names of 28 people who were apparently shot dead by security forces on Friday and those of 12 others killed over the last three days.
The organization now has the names of 580 protesters and others killed since mid-March, when protests against the government of President Bashar al-Assad began.
The Syrian government is continuing its weeks-long crackdown on anti-government demonstrations, arresting opponents and deploying troops in protest hubs.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said security forces were carrying out house-to-house raids targeting demonstration organisers and participants.
He said Monday’s raids were focused in the central city of Homs, the coastal city of Baniyas, some suburbs of the capital, Damascus, and villages around the southern flashpoint city of Deraa.
Live Blog Syria
Another activist said gunfire was heard in the town of Moadamiya, just west of the capital, Damascus, as troops carried out arrests. (Al Jazeera)
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Ten years ago, as the main thrust of Egyptian society and the legal sphere was moving towards amending the constitution to make it more democratic and just, the collective brain of the regime’s inner circle was working in the opposite direction: twisting laws to fit the interests of the inner few — the oligarchs who had both wealth and political influence.
Steel magnate Ahmed Ezz, who is facing trial Today, Saturday, on charges of illegal profiteering and misuse of public funds, along with dozens of businessmen and officials considered to be close to the ousted regime, perfectly represents the marriage of wealth, party politics and undue power. Ezz became one of the first symbols that the Egyptian people decided to bring down after the January 25 Revolution.
On the night of 28 January, the headquarters of Ezz Steel in the Mohandeseen district was destroyed, along with other government headquarters and police stations, symbolising the downfall of the old regime.
“At the time he came to buy Alexandria National Iron and Steel Company (now Al-Ezz Al-Dekheila Steel Company) we had never heard of Ahmed Ezz,” said Ali Helmy, former chairman of the National Iron and Steel Company.
“The first time I met Ezz was in 1999 when Atef Ebeid, minister of the public enterprise sector at that time, invited managers of steel companies for a business dinner at a small factory in Sadat City producing galvanised iron,” recounted Helmy. “We were introduced to Ezz, a young engineer and owner of the factory.”
A few months later, continues Helmy, Ezz has already bought three million shares, accounting for LE456 million ($76.7 mln), of the Alexandria National Iron and Steel Company, and after a few months, he was appointed chairman of the company: first base for what would later become a great empire.
Ezz was born in 1959 to a family that was wealthy but not overly rich. After having graduated from the Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University in the mid-1980s, he worked as a percussionist in one of the most famous music bands at that time, Moudy and Hussein. At the time, Ezz had shown no interest in business until in 1995 his father, a steel trader, bought him a small plot of land in Sadat City and helped him build a steel factory.
His friendship with Gamal Hosni Mubarak, son of Egypt’s then president, helped to make his fortune, culminating in the buying of a huge amount of shares in Gamal’s 1998 Future Generation Foundation (FGF), a non-profit organisation that provided courses for young people to prepare them for entry to the workforce.
Several leading figures in Egypt‘s private sector, including Ahmed El-Maghrabi, former minister of tourism, and Rachid Mohamed Rachid, former minister of trade and industry were involved, and both now face trial.
From that point on, Ezz accompanied Gamal to all meetings and despite being a newcomer to politics, gradually became a familiar political face.
In 1999, the Alexandria National Iron and Steel Company faced a financial crisis due to dumped steel imports from Ukraine and other Eastern European countries coming into Egypt. Ezz quickly offered to buy shares in the troubled joint stock company. “For some reason, the biggest figures in the government helped Ezz finalise this deal,” said Helmy.
According to a 2007 report on Strategic Economic Trends by Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, In 1999, Ezz bought some 540,000 shares in less than a month. Ezz had seized more than three million shares of the company, accounting for 27.9 per cent of total shares.
By the late 1990s, Ezz started his acquisition move in the steel market, through a strategy of taking loans from the biggest banks to buy shares in steel companies.
In 1999, Ezz was appointed chairman of the National Iron and Steel Company, despite the fact that he hadn’t paid back the loans he had taken from Egypt’s major banks, according to the same report.
“The National Bank of Egypt and Bank of Cairo (Egypt’s largest public banks) favoured Ezz because of his relationship with Gamal Mubarak and helped him get the loans, while denying credit to viable businesspeople who lacked the right political pedigree; they had for instance refused to issue loans for the same company bought by Ezz (Alexandria National Iron and Steel Company) a few months earlier to help it get out of its devastating financial crisis,” said Helmy.
“Ezz’s strategy from that time on was to take loans from Egyptians banks, buy shares and take a greater role in the steel market, but the thing is, he never gave a loan back. He would pay older loans by getting new loans,” elaborates Helmy. (Ahram Online)
Ali Abunimah writes: By deciding to join the US-backed Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas risks turning its back on its role as a resistance movement, without gaining any additional leverage that could help Palestinians free themselves from Israeli occupation and colonial rule.
Indeed, knowingly or not, Hamas may be embarking down the same well-trodden path as Abbas’ Fatah faction: committing itself to joining a US-controlled “peace process”, over which Palestinians have no say – and have no prospect of emerging with their rights intact. In exchange, Hamas may hope to earn a role alongside Abbas in ruling over the fraction of the Palestinians living under permanent Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Whether Hamas realises it or not, it has effectively entered into a coalition with Israel and Abbas to manage the Occupied Territories, in which Hamas will have much responsibility, but little power. (Al Jazeera)
Saeed Kamali Dehghan writes: No Iranian president has ever dared to challenge the supremacy of Ali Khamenei’s two-decade-long leadership as publicly as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did recently in an extraordinary power struggle between him and the ayatollah.
The unprecedented confrontation at the top of the Iranian regime began only a month ago when Khamenei, the supreme leader, intervened in a cabinet appointment by reinstating a minister who had initially resigned “under pressure from Ahmadinejad”.
In reaction to the reinstatement of Heydar Moslehi, the intelligence minister at the centre of the row, Ahmadinejad apparently staged an 11-day walkout from the presidential palace and refused to chair cabinet meetings.
At first glance, Ahmadinejad’s feud with the ayatollah seemed like a conventional disagreement between two leaders of one country but in Iran, where Khamenei is described as “God’s representative on Earth”, Ahmadinejad’s opposition was extremely serious. (The Guardian)
“As crowds gathered outside the White House, there was little question that Mr. Obama’s presidency had forever been changed.” That’s the caption the New York Times put under the photo below.
David Axelrod might have preferred this event to have occurred closer to the end of Obama’s reelection campaign, though accusations that the news was being timed to serve partisan political interests would have been even harder to refute than they are now.
“Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the most devastating attack on American soil in modern times and the most hunted man in the world, was killed in a firefight with United States forces in Pakistan, President Obama announced on Sunday night,” is the lead in the New York Times main report.
US forces on a mission to kill or capture (not capture or kill) bin Laden, killed him “in a firefight” in Pakistan. At least that’s what the Times reports. Only further into the report does it reiterate what Obama actually said: “After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.”
The White House chooses its words carefully. If bin Laden was killed during the firefight then it’s reasonable to assume that this is exactly what Obama would have said. To say that the al Qaeda leader was killed after a firefight seems to suggest he was executed.
The exact manner in which the death occurred may explain why, at least thus far, no photographic evidence has been released. If bin Laden was indeed executed it was most likely for political reasons.
Bin Laden’s capture could surely have provided an intelligence bonanza of inestimable value. His subsequent trial would indeed have been a compelling demonstration of what it should mean to deliver justice. But it would also have opened a can of worms.
If bin Laden had been tried in front of a military tribunal then yet again this government would be undermining the strength of the criminal justice system. If on the other hand he was tried in a civilian court, it would be hard for the administration to justify its continued use of military tribunals for any terrorism-related cases.
During a trial, there would be no predicting what kind of strategically damaging information might have been revealed that could have affected US relations with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or other Gulf nations.
And then there would be the headache of deciding where the trial could take place.
Just over a year ago, it was Attorney General Eric Holder who assured Congress that there was no risk of bin Laden ever being read his Miranda rights.
“The reality is that we will be reading Miranda rights to the corpse of Osama bin Laden. He will never appear in an American courtroom. That’s the reality. … He will be killed by us, or he will be killed by his own people so he’s not captured by us. We know that,” Holder said emphatically.
“Dead men don’t talk,” is a truth esteemed by those who value secrets, but the fact that bin Laden’s death leaves so many questions unanswered means that he will remain a potent force for those who want to promote conspiracy theories of every variety. The celebrations in this “victory” will likely be quite short-lived.
Lawrence Wright notes:
The fact that bin Laden was found in a compound in a wealthy retirement community populated in large part by former Pakistani military officers raises dire questions about the relationship of the Pakistani army and its intelligence community to radical Islamic terrorists. For the past decade, as America has poured billions into a country where about one in a hundred citizens pays income taxes, the Pakistani military/intelligence complex has gone into the looking-for-bin-Laden business. Now, they are out of business. If it is true that Pakistani intelligence was helpful in locating bin Laden, and kept that matter secret, then we can begin to sort out our fraught relationship with that troubled country on a more equitable, trusting basis. If that turns out not to be the case, then there will be a dreadful reckoning to come.
Al Qaeda and its followers will be attempting to make a powerful statement in the next several weeks to demonstrate that they are still relevant following this mighty loss. Al Qaeda affiliates may speed up operations that were in the pipeline. The recent bombing in Marrakesh and the arrests in Germany demonstrate that Al Qaeda continues to have enthusiastic, entrepreneurial operatives that are eager to make their own mark on history.
The fact that bin Laden had found refuge close to Islamabad may or may not reveal a role played by individuals in Pakistan’s intelligence and military establishment, but perhaps more importantly it should serve as a reminder of what was already known in 2001: that al Qaeda never was an organization tied to a particular place.
Al Jazeera‘s political analyst, Marwan Bishara, writes:
[F]or the Muslim world, bin Laden has already been made irrelevant by the Arab Spring that underlined the meaning of peoples power through peaceful means.
It is also worth recalling that bin Laden’s al-Qaeda and its affiliates have killed far more Arabs and Muslims than they did Westerners.
And it was only after they failed to garner real support in the Arab world that they ran back to Afghanistan and began to target the West.
After long hijacking Arab and Muslim causes through its bloody attacks on Western targets, al-Qaeda has been discredited since 9/11 and its organisational capacity diminished by Western counter terror measures.
Al-Qaeda’s bin Laden has provided the Bush administration with the excuse to launch its disastrous and costly wars in the greater Middle East.
As expected, Washington’s wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan continued to provide al-Qaeda with fresh recruits and support in the Muslim world and perpetuate a cycle of violence that ripped through the region for the last decade.
However, it has been the more implicit and less costly US and Western intelligence services that succeeded to a large degree in curtailing al-Qaeda activities, limiting the movement of its leaders that eventually led to his killing.
So what will this mean for the US war in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Certainly Washington has less reason or justification to wage a war in Afghanistan now that bin Laden is no more.
It might also find more readiness among certain Taliban leaders in the absence of the thorniest issue of al-Qaeda, to make a deal that insures a power sharing arrangement in favour of the Taliban in return for curbing the use of Afghanistan by al-Qaeda to export “terrorism”.
Bin Laden will continue to be a distraction for the short term, and especially if some of al-Qaeda groups muster revenge attacks.
But in the long term, it is the historical transformations in the Arab and Muslim world that will eventually close the book on al-Qaeda.
Declan Walsh reports:
The bodies surface quietly, like corks bobbing up in the dark. They come in twos and threes, a few times a week, dumped on desolate mountains or empty city roads, bearing the scars of great cruelty. Arms and legs are snapped; faces are bruised and swollen. Flesh is sliced with knives or punctured with drills; genitals are singed with electric prods. In some cases the bodies are unrecognisable, sprinkled with lime or chewed by wild animals. All have a gunshot wound in the head.
This gruesome parade of corpses has been surfacing in Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province, since last July. Several human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have accounted for more than 100 bodies – lawyers, students, taxi drivers, farm workers. Most have been tortured. The last three were discovered on Sunday.
If you have not heard of this epic killing spree, though, don’t worry: neither have most Pakistanis. Newspaper reports from Balochistan are buried quietly on the inside pages, cloaked in euphemisms or, quite often, not published at all.
The forces of law and order also seem to be curiously indifferent to the plight of the dead men. Not a single person has been arrested or prosecuted; in fact, police investigators openly admit they are not even looking for anyone. The stunning lack of interest in Pakistan’s greatest murder mystery in decades becomes more understandable, however, when it emerges that the prime suspect is not some shady gang of sadistic serial killers, but the country’s powerful military and its unaccountable intelligence men.
This is Pakistan’s dirty little war. While foreign attention is focused on the Taliban, a deadly secondary conflict is bubbling in Balochistan, a sprawling, mineral-rich province along the western borders with Afghanistan and Iran. On one side is a scrappy coalition of guerrillas fighting for independence from Pakistan; on the other is a powerful army that seeks to quash their insurgency with maximum prejudice. The revolt, which has been rumbling for more than six years, is spiced by foreign interests and intrigues – US spy bases, Chinese business, vast underground reserves of copper, oil and gold.
Pakistan’s Express Tribune, which is affiliated with the New York Times, reports:
As American newspapers lifted a self-imposed gag on the CIA links of Raymond Davis, in place on the request of the US administration, The Express Tribune has now learnt that the alleged killer of two Pakistanis had close links with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
The New York Times reported on Monday that Davis “was part of a covert, CIA-led team of operatives conducting surveillance on militant groups deep inside the country, according to American government officials.”
This contradicts the US claim that Davis was a member of the ‘technical and administrative staff’ of its diplomatic mission in Pakistan.
Davis was arrested on January 27 after allegedly shooting dead two young motorcyclists at a crowded bus stop in Lahore. American officials say that the arrest came after a ‘botched robbery attempt’.
“The Lahore killings were a blessing in disguise for our security agencies who suspected that Davis was masterminding terrorist activities in Lahore and other parts of Punjab,” a senior official in the Punjab police claimed.
“His close ties with the TTP were revealed during the investigations,” he added. “Davis was instrumental in recruiting young people from Punjab for the Taliban to fuel the bloody insurgency.” Call records of the cellphones recovered from Davis have established his links with 33 Pakistanis, including 27 militants from the TTP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi sectarian outfit, sources said.
Davis was also said to be working on a plan to give credence to the American notion that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are not safe. For this purpose, he was setting up a group of the Taliban which would do his bidding.