Daily brief: 9/11 defendants to plead not guilty
Not guilty The five men accused of plotting the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks plan to plead not guilty so they can have a platform to air their “negative” assessment of U.S. foreign policy, according to a lawyer for one of the accused (New York Times, AP). The news will add to complaints from critics ...
The five men accused of plotting the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks plan to plead not guilty so they can have a platform to air their “negative” assessment of U.S. foreign policy, according to a lawyer for one of the accused (New York Times, AP). The news will add to complaints from critics of Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to have the men tried in New York, who say it will give the accused terrorists a “propaganda platform,” though video cameras will not be allowed in the courtroom during proceedings (CFR).
After a Saturday night filled with rocket attacks on the heavily fortified Serena Hotel in Kabul, frequented by visiting diplomats, journalists, and international workers, four U.S. soldiers have been killed in unrelated attacks in Afghanistan in the last 24 hours, along with three Afghan troops (Pajhwok, AP, AFP, AP, BBC, New York Times). 2009 has been the deadliest year since 2001 for international troops, with October the worst month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The casualties come as U.S. President Barack Obama considers whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan after several months of deliberations, and Elisabeth Bumiller takes a look at security trade-offs of the three most-discussed options: 10-15,000, 20-35,000, and 40,000 soldiers (New York Times). U.S. officials reportedly told the Wall Street Journal that the 35,000 option — including combat and training forces — “has gained the most momentum,” and the Obama administration is purportedly in talks with NATO for a coordinated roll-out of the new strategy (Wall Street Journal). U.S. and European officials estimate that the alliance will contribute between 3,000 and 7,000 new troops to the Afghan mission, sending the signal that the U.S. is “not alone” in its plans to confront the Taliban.
European diplomats reportedly said they expect Obama to announce his troops decision ahead of the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels on December 3, though it is considered highly unlikely Obama will announce before Thanksgiving this week (Wall Street Journal). The U.S. is purportedly “on track” to triple the number of civilians in Afghanistan by early 2010, as well, and a town in southwestern Indiana has been serving as the site of role-playing exercises for Afghanistan-bound civilians to prepare for dealing with both the U.S. military and Afghans alike (Washington Post).
Crunching the numbers
Two cabinet ministers in Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government are under investigation for suspicion of embezzlement, as rumors are flying about whether the newly re-elected leader will include corrupt officials in his cabinet (Reuters). The corruption issue is a critical one for the United States; on Friday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi slammed Karzai as an “unworthy partner” who does not deserve more troops or funding from the U.S. (NPR, Reuters, AFP).
The United States, for its part, is closely examining contracts and projects in the country in an effort to reduce waste and corruption, according to U.S. Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, suggesting that the U.S. could withhold civilian aid if Karzai is unsuccessful in tackling the rampant corruption in Afghanistan (New York Times, AP, BBC, Reuters). And the Pentagon and the White House disagree over how much it would cost to send more troops to the Afghan theater, illustrating different priorities and methods: defense officials estimate it will cost $500,000 per soldier per year, while Obama budget experts claim twice as much, including the cost of troop housing and equipment (Los Angeles Times).
The powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, David Obey, told ABC News, “If they ask for an increased troop commitment in Afghanistan, I am going to ask them to pay for it,” commenting that, “There ain’t going to be no money for nothing if we pour it all into Afghanistan” (ABC). Obey also said he would demand a “war surtax” to pay for any more U.S. troops sent to Afghanistan.
Dexter Filkins has this weekend’s must-read with an update on the risky coalition plan to train and equip local Afghans to fight to protect their neighborhoods against Taliban militants, echoing the ‘Sunni Awakening’ in Iraq in late 2006 (New York Times). Risks include creating more Afghan warlords or arming Islamist militants who could later turn against each other or the government; but the first phase of the plan is to set up or expand militias in areas with around a million people and eventually train and provide communications equipment to the fighters.
The militia effort — dubbed the ‘Community Defense Initiative’ — is reportedly backed “enthusiastically” by top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and is already active in at least 14 areas of the country (Guardian). British troops in the insurgency-ridden southern province of Helmand will begin training some of the local militias at the new Helmand Police Training School, due to open early next month (Times of London). Officials hope the plan will pave the way for an eventual Western exit from the country (Los Angeles Times).
Another key component of a Western exit strategy is preparing Afghan security forces to assume control of the country, and on Saturday Afghan officials announced a plan to triple the size of the Afghan National Army to 240,000 soldiers, though the time frame is unclear (Al Jazeera). The 93,000-member Afghan National Police, meanwhile, are under-trained, under-equipped, and under-paid (AP). Police in Afghanistan are three times as likely to be killed than their Army counterparts.
Karzai may invite militants to participate in a loya jirga, or grand assembly, to seek peace and reconciliation with the Taliban, another important element of Western strategy in the region (Reuters). Pakistani officials advocate negotiating with some of the Taliban, as well (McClatchy).
In another interesting read, Matthieu Aikins describes his experiences with Afghanistan’s drug-trafficking border police in Spin Boldak, a town in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar (Harper’s–subscription required). And a roadside bomb in Spin Boldak killed five Afghan border security guards yesterday, amid reports that nearly a dozen militants suspected of ties with high-ranking Taliban commanders were detained in separate operations in Kandahar (AP).
War, opinion, and politics
As Pakistan’s Army announced yesterday that it killed some 40 militants in the latest round of anti-Taliban operations in northwestern Pakistan, concerns that extremists from South Waziristan are melting away into other tribal agencies on the Afghan border — in this case, Orakzai and Bajaur — are fueling speculation that this campaign will be much longer than anticipated (AP, Bloomberg, AFP, CNN, Dawn). The capital of the Northwest Frontier Province, Peshawar, has been hard hit by retaliatory militant attacks over the last two months, and there are conflicting reports about whether an explosion on Saturday at an NGO that offers treatment to the blind was a bombing or an accident involving a gas line (AFP, AP, Dawn, Geo TV).
New polling from the British Council reveals that young people in Pakistan are deeply disillusioned, with only one in ten having confidence in the government and one in four unable to read or write (New York Times, Guardian, Telegraph). Young people’s biggest concern — far above terrorism — is inflation, and 60 percent of those interviewed in the survey conducted in March and April of this year say that they trust Pakistan’s military. The full report is available here (British Council).
On Saturday, Pakistani officials released a list of some 8,000 people who are protected from old corruption charges by an amnesty clause called the National Reconciliation Ordinance that could expire next week, including Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, and Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. Hussain Haqqani (AFP, Dawn, The News, The News, New York Times). The list is another blow to the embattled Pakistani president, though it is far from clear that this is the last straw against him.
Iraqi terrorism rebounds
Al Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni insurgent group, has reportedly regained some strength in the last few months and has claimed responsibility for four powerful bombings targeting government buildings in Baghdad earlier this year, suggesting the group is launching a renewed effort to topple the Iraqi government as U.S. troops withdraw (Washington Post). And Alissa Rubin has a fascinating read “into the mind of a female suicide bomber” in Iraq (Guardian).
Almost a year later
As the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on Mumbai approaches, the financial capital of India remains vulnerable to assaults from Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group accused of being behind the attacks that left close to 170 dead (AP, AFP). While Mumbai’s large hotels and business centers have paid to improve their security, concerns about the rest of the city worry many analysts, though the police force has grown by 1,000 to a total of 43,000 officers this year. And Italian police arrested two Pakistanis on Saturday on suspicion of sending money to the Mumbai attackers before they carried out their plans, according to Italian media reports (AFP, BBC).
Arts and crafts
A day-long display yesterday of crafts from some 150 women in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province aimed to “encourage and promote handicrafts and enhance women’s role in family economy” (Pajhwok). The director of the Women’s Affairs Department emphasized that craftwork serves a dual purpose in keeping women occupied and benefiting them financially.
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