Daily brief: 9/11 “mastermind” to be tried in New York
Seeking justice The self-proclaimed “mastermind” and operational commander of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, will reportedly face trial in civilian federal court in the Southern District of New York, along with four other detainees from Guantanamo Bay accused of planning the 9/11 attacks (AP, BBC, Washington Post, Reuters, CNN). Attorney General ...
The self-proclaimed “mastermind” and operational commander of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, will reportedly face trial in civilian federal court in the Southern District of New York, along with four other detainees from Guantanamo Bay accused of planning the 9/11 attacks (AP, BBC, Washington Post, Reuters, CNN). Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to make the official announcement later today, and bringing detainees to the United States from Guantanamo Bay is a key step in closing the military prison in Cuba and a test of the Obama administration’s broader approach to terrorism
(Wall Street Journal)
The physical transfer of the five detainees — Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi Binalshibh, Waleed bin Attash, Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, and Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali — from Guantanamo to New York is not expected to happen for several more weeks because formal charges still need to be filed against them and because the executive branch must give Congress 45 days notice before transferring a Guantanamo detainee to U.S. soil (AP, Guardian, New York Times). Up until now, the five men were facing prosecution by military commission in Guantanamo Bay, and this may force civilian courts to tackle thorny issues like harsh interrogation techniques, which could render some evidence inadmissible. The Obama administration has reportedly decided to try the accused planner of the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in front of a military commission, however, along with several other detainees (New York Times).
The war within
A powerful truck bomb ripped through Peshawar early this morning, killing 10, wounding up to 60 and nearly collapsing the three-story local headquarters of Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI (AP, Reuters, New York Times, Dawn, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post). The driver of the truck reportedly approached the gate of the ISI building and killed a security guard, before driving at the building itself; Pakistani guards fired on the attacker, but not before he could detonate his explosives, setting off a blast reportedly heard throughout the city (Al Jazeera, Guardian). The attack is the fourth to strike in or around Peshawar in as many days, and hundreds have been killed in attacks across Pakistan in the past month. Elsewhere, a suicide bomber struck a police building in the town of Bakka Khel in Bannu District on the border between Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province and North Waziristan, killing up to six (Times of London, BBC, Wall Street Journal).
The dramatic attacks on Pakistan’s security services are seen as a response to Pakistan’s ongoing military campaign in the restive tribal region of South Waziristan, where 17 Pakistani soldiers were killed yesterday in the deadliest day Pakistani forces have had since the offensive began about four weeks ago (AFP). Fifteen Pakistani soldiers were killed in direct fighting with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) near Kanigurram, while two were reportedly killed by a suicide bomb near Sararogha to the east.
And while suspicion for the attacks falls naturally on the TTP or the Haqqani network, a major al Qaeda leader, Mustafa Abu Yazid, quickly released an audiotape blaming contractor Blackwater, now known as Xe, for the recent bombings in Peshawar (CNN). Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters in Islamabad that Blackwater does not operate in Pakistan, but that DynCorp, the security contract that protects U.S. diplomats in the country, has been granted a concession to carry arms (Dawn).
A blast near a base
A suicide car bomber struck a NATO convoy near Camp Phoenix, a major NATO and Afghan base near Kabul, wounding 24 people including four American soldiers as well as several contractors, civilians, and Afghan soldiers, on a road that has become a frequent target of militant attacks (Al Jazeera, AP, BBC, Times of London). And militants at the Bolan Pass south of Quetta attacked a convoy of fuel trucks intended to supply U.S. troops in Afghanistan, killing one driver and destroying five trucks (Dawn).
But all is not doom and gloom, and Sabrina Tavernise has a must-read article describing how small-scale aid has brought huge changes in the Jurm Valley of Badakhshan province, in Afghanistan’s northeast (New York Times). Instead of giving aid to the central government and then foreign contractors, officials in Jurm give aid to an elected council of elders, which then distributes the funding to projects approved by local residents.
The politics roundup
Amidst the violence in South Asia, the intensifying political battles inflamed by U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry’s objections to a potential troop surge risk further complicating U.S. President Barack Obama’s deliberations (Times of London, The Guardian, Christian Science Monitor). An advocate of increased Afghan participation in fighting the Taliban since his time commanding U.S. forces in the country, Eikenberry has reportedly grown increasingly frustrated with the endemic corruption and poor governance on the part of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, while also worrying about high deployment costs and the will of Pakistan to fight the Taliban on their soil (Washington Post).
The controversy over Eikenberry’s cables to Washington shines further light on the stark divide between Obama’s aides over the war; Obama’s views are still unknown, but he is thought to share Eikenberry’s concerns that a stronger troop presence might only promote increased Afghan dependence on U.S. forces (McClatchy, New York Times). Financial Times reporter Daniel Dombey quoted an unnamed senior NATO official as saying, “I think it’s safe to say that Ambassador Eikenberry and Stanley McChrystal will not be exchanging Christmas cards this year” (Financial Times). McChrystal, the top current U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, was reportedly fuming over Eikenberry’s cables.
Into the fray
Defense Secretary Robert Gates stepped forcefully into the debate Thursday, telling reporters that he was “appalled” at the number of leaks coming out about Obama’s war deliberations as well as the investigations into the shootings at Ft. Hood (New York Times, Department of Defense). Gates threatened to fire any Department of Defense employee caught leaking information to the press, and instead suggested that “everyone out there ought to just shut up.”
Gates also indicated that after Obama’s rejection of the four troop options presented to him (10,000, 20,000, 30,000 and 40,000 soldiers, respectively), the president was considering a “compromise” solution that blended the best elements of each proposal (Wall Street Journal, AFP, AP). This comes as White House Budget Director Peter Orszag said that sending 40,000 troops to Afghanistan would cost approximately $40 billion (Bloomberg).
The ongoing deliberations have also increased pressure on Hamid Karzai, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushed the Afghan leader to tackle corruption and improve governance in order to meet the needs of the Afghan population (Reuters, BBC). But the troop debate has put pressure on the Obama administration, as critics increasingly fret over the messages sent by Obama’s hesitation to deploy more troops without redefining U.S. strategy in Afghanistan (AP, Guardian).
The view from the continent
British Prime Minister
Gordon Brown has ordered top officials to lobby 10 European nations to contribute more troops to Afghanistan, in the hopes of mustering 5,000 more soldiers and easing the strain on U.S. forces and politicians (Daily Telegraph). NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said that several countries have privately pledged increased commitments to Afghanistan, but only Turkey and Britain have publicly promised additional forces to a war that is increasingly unpopular in Europe (AP).
And in a bleak landscape Dutch forces seem to be showing some success in securing Uruzgan Province, in Afghanistan’s troubled south; Dutch officials say security is spreading slowly, and Dutch troops have patrolled on bicycles in the town of Tarin Kowt to demonstrate their security advances (Los Angeles Times). And German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg said that Germany will send 100 additional soldiers to Afghanistan in January (
Wall Street Journal
Flesh of my flesh
Pakistan’s National Assembly passed a law yesterday that for the first time regulated human organ transplants in the country (Dawn). The law states that all transplants must be performed willingly, and from an immediate family member if possible. Anyone caught removing organs without proper consent and state approval faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of one million rupees, about $12,500.
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