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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Barack Obama's plan for Afghanistan

Barack Obama, the US president, made a case for expanding the war in Afghanistan and called the situation there "increasingly perilous". On this Riz Khan show we discuss Obama's new plan for Afghanistan and ask: Can he deliver?

Obama discards Bush's 'war on terror'

Tue, 31 Mar 2009 12:44:34 GMT | PressTV

The US Secretary of State acknowledges that Bush's 'war on terror' phrase is "just not being used" in the Obama administration.

The new US administration of Barack Obama abandons the controversial term 'war on terror' popular with his predecessor George W. Bush.
The expression was made up -- and heard regularly afterwards -- following the terrorist attacks on the International Trade Center in New York city on September 9, 2001.

The event provided the Bush administration with the footing to adopt the phrase "war on terror" which in term justified Washington's 'preemptive strikes' against other nations under the pretext of tracing down terrorist cells.

Bush took a bold stance on his administration's military choice and formulated his black-and-white policy that others are either “with us or against us". Passing disputed legislations on secret intelligence operations and spying, the US joined by its European allies invaded Afghanistan in 2001 in a bid to allegedly destroy the Taliban and al-Qaeda, to capture Osama bin Laden and bring security to the volatile region.

The US-led coalition then invaded oil-rich Iraq in 2003 under the pretext of finding weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
In both cases, civilians paid a high price for the military interventions which were later drawn into serious challenge as the US army failed to either arrest Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders including Saudi millionaire Osama Bin Laden or discover the alleged weapons of mass destruction -- a claim that enticed many lawmakers in the US and British parliaments to agree with Iraq war.

Asked on the "war on terror" on the plane bringing her to The Hague on Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged Obama administration had no special interest in using the expression.
"As you said, the administration has stopped using the phrase, and I think that speaks for itself, obviously," she said.

Obama's secretary of state, who was to attend an international conference on Afghanistan in the Netherlands, added "I haven't heard it used. I haven't gotten any directive about using it or not using it. It's just not being used."

Somali opposition leader ends exile

Tue, 31 Mar 2009 18:01:57 GMT | PressTV

Aweys has has quit self-imposed exile in Eritrea for neighbouring Sudan.

Somalia's opposition leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys might soon return to Mogadishu after quitting self-imposed exile in Eritrea.

Local Somali media reported on Tuesday that Aweys was now in the Sudanese capital Khartoum and held talks with two senior Sudanese officials.

They added that he was expected to leave Khartoum for Mogadishu later to offer his support to President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed's new administration.

As a former chairman of the Islamic Courts Union, Aweys worked alongside with Ahmed and they later founded the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia.

Somali lawmakers convened in Djibouti in January and elected Ahmed as president to succeed embattled Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, who failed to end conflicts in the violence-ravaged nation.

Reuters quoted a close ally of Aweys in Mogadishu as saying that he was expected to arrive in the Somali capital within two weeks.

One senior Somali source in Sudan confirmed Aweys was in the country, and said it was possible Ahmed might travel to Khartoum to meet him there. He gave no other details.

Aweys is on the US list of foreign terrorists. However, he has categorically denied the US claims that he has links to al-Qaeda and is opposed to Ahmed's government.

President Obama: 30 days left to meet AI human rights challenge

31Mar 2009 | Amnesty International

In November 2008 we urged President-elect Barack Obama, in his first 100 days in office, to take concrete steps to counter terror with justice. With 30 days to go, the record is mixed – we need another push.

By signing executive orders to close Guantánamo, suspend military commission trials, and taking substantial steps towards ending the CIA’s use of secret detention and torture, President Obama has made important moves in the right direction.

Nevertheless, in the first two months of the new administration only one Guantánamo detainee was released, and none was charged for trial in federal court, although the one “enemy combatant” held on the US mainland was. At the same time, the new administration has claimed broad authority to continue to hold detainees in the context of what, like its predecessor, it appears to regard as a global “war”.

Also, despite mounting evidence that torture and enforced disappearance were authorized and carried out by the USA over the past seven years, the new administration has not yet moved to support the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry and no criminal investigations have been initiated.

We need more change, not more of the same. President Obama’s next steps should be to:

  • Ensure that every Guantánamo detainee is charged with recognisable criminal offenses or released immediately
  • Ensure that those detainees who are charged receive fair trials in existing US federal courts
  • Ensure that an independent commission of inquiry into US abuses in the context of counter-terrorism is set up

These are part of Amnesty International’s Counter Terror with Justice checklist for Obama’s first 100 days in office. Visit today to support our call to President Obama before 30 April. Please pass it on to your friends and ask them to sign the petition .

Time is of the essence.

Thank you
The Counter Terror with Justice campaign team

Malaysian Opposition Leader Warns of More Repression

By Heda Bayron | VOA | Bangkok | 30 March 2009

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim warns of rising repression in the country as a new prime minister takes office this week.

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak is expected to take over Thursday as prime minister of Malaysia, when Abdullah Badawi steps down.

But Malaysian opposition-leader Anwar Ibrahim told reporters in Bangkok that recent developments suggest the Najib administration could usher in a further stifling of dissent and a return to the authoritarian style of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.

"We can only point out to the statements he has made, measures like banning newspapers, threatening tough measures the moment he took over the presidency [of his party, UMNO]," he said. "That is why the opposition People's Alliance views this with great consternation that Datuk Seri Najib represents the old order."

The government recently shut down two opposition newspapers for three months, preventing them from reporting on a series of high profile events, a hotly contested by-election in Perak state on April 7 and the verdict in a sensational murder case involving a close aide of Najib Razak two days later.

Najib Razak is seen as a protégé of Mahathir Mohamad. In an interview with the French news agency AFP, Mahathir said he expects Najib to govern more firmly than Mr. Abdullah, who was seen as a moderate.

Mr. Abdullah's exit came a year after the United Malays National Organization suffered its worst electoral defeat, losing more than a third of the seats in Parliament.

Opposition-leader Anwar was once UMNO's rising star, until he was fired by Mahathir Mohamad in 1998 and jailed on charges of corruption and sexual misconduct. He was released in 2004.

After the United Malays National Organization poor showing last year, the three-party opposition People's Alliance was close to taking control of parliament - which could have opened the way for Anwar Ibrahim to become prime minister.

The by-election in Perak state next week pits candidates from the Islamic party and the United Malays National Organization in what is seen as an early referendum on the Najib government.

But Anwar says with Najib Razak as prime minister, it would be a tougher battle to wrest control of Parliament.

"How do you enter elections where you do not even have one minute on television? I have been the leader of the opposition since August. Not one interview, not one minute on the Malaysian media," he noted.

Anwar Ibrahim is in Bangkok until Tuesday and will meet Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and other officials. Anwar and Mr. Abhisit are expected to discuss cooperation in addressing the Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand, which borders Malaysia. Anwar called for greater engagement, rather a purely military solution, to end the continued violence there.

Jordan's royal dog dies in Israel during Gaza War

Mon, 30 Mar 2009 23:38:41 GMT

Beit Dagan
veterinarian hospital
King Abdullah's dog that was taken to an Israeli hospital during the Gaza War had apparently died in the clinic, an Israeli daily reports.

The endeared regal dog of Jordan's King Abdullah II and Queen Rania died of an acute disease a few days after it was sent to the renowned Beit Dagan veterinary clinic in Tel Aviv during Israel's onslaught on the Gaza Strip that lasted for 22 days and left trails of death and destruction behind.

The Beit Dagan officials returned the body of the royal canine to Jordan's monarch, apologizing for their failure to rescue the king's dog, Israel's daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported.

Israel's war on the Gaza Strip killed 1350 people including hundreds of women and children and left more than two billion dollars worth of damage to the area's infrastructure.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Gadhafi feels insulted, quits AL summit

Mon, 30 Mar 2009 21:53:19 GMT | PressTV

Muammar al-Gadhafi
Libyan Leader Muammar al-Gadhafi stormed out of the Arab League summit in Doha following the disruption of his address to the Saudi monarch.

The former head of the Arab League walked out of the summit venue in the Qatari capital on Monday in protest to Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani's move to interrupt his address to the Saudi Arabian King, Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz.

Qatar's Emir switched off the Libyan president's microphone, allegedly to stop him from making anti-Saudi remarks, a Fars news reporter at the summit reported.

However, Gadhafi surprised Sheikh Hamad by asking the Saudi king to re-engage in peaceful negotiations with Libya.

He stated that a five-year row in diplomatic ties between the two countries should be brought to an end, apologizing to the Saudi King for past disagreements, while laying the blame on the US and the UK for breeding the ongoing differences between the two Arab nations.

The Qatari Emir, though, reportedly expressed regret for cutting the Libyan leader's speech.

Nonetheless, Gadhafi left the summit, saying that the Emir's move was offensive towards him.

Relations between the two states have been marred over a 2003 incident in which Saudi Arabia asked Libya's ambassador to leave the country due to an alleged plot to assassinate King Abdullah.

Libya has denied involvement in any such plot.

Pakistan: Taliban behind Lahore attack

Mon, 30 Mar 2009 21:16:44 GMT | PressTV

Pakistani police arrests a suspected militant (R) near the site of the training academy
Pakistan's interior ministry chief says Taliban militants have been responsible for besieging a police-training academy near the city of Lahore.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik told a press conference in Lahore that the attack was planned in the South Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

He added that militants loyal to Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud were suspected of carrying out the lethal attack. He emphasized that militants in tribal areas receive training from across the border in Afghanistan.

The incident took place early on Monday when gunmen in police uniform broke into the Manawan police training school outside Lahore and attacked recruits with hand grenades and random gunfire.

There is still conflicting reports on the casualties. Earlier reports have said at least 25 people were killed and 90 others injured when the masked gunmen attacked the police.

A high-level committee has been formed to probe the terror attack in Lahore, and will present its reports within three days.

The incident came less than a month after gunmen carried out a major assault on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, leaving eight Pakistani policemen dead and injuring seven players along with their coach.

Pakistan's nuclear-armed neighbor India has condemned the Lahore attack, saying it threatened security across the troubled region.

Thousands of Pakistanis have lost their lives in hundreds of suicide bombings by al-Qaeda and Taliban linked militants.

Hamas Detainees' Meeting on Shalit Deal Approved by Israel

30/03/2009 | reported in almanar

Senior Hamas members jailed in the Zionist entity held a meeting last week at the Ketziot Prison on negotiations for prisoner swap deal in exchange for captured Israeli occupation soldier Gilad Shalit.

The meeting was approved of in advance by the Israeli defense establishment, it emerged on Sunday, despite Israel's moves to toughen conditions for Hamas detainees in order to pressure the Islamic resistance group to relax its demands and free Shalit.

According to Palestinian sources, the meeting was arranged by two Israeli officials in coordination with a few of Hamas' jailed leaders. Details of the meeting have not yet been released.

The Israeli defense establishment apparently gave its approval with the hope that such lenience would encourage Hamas to show flexibility in the number of detainees it is demanding for Shalit, who has been in Palestinian captivity since he was captured in 2006.

Meanwhile, Hamas official Ayman Taha on Sunday warned that negotiations over a prisoner swap in exchange for Shalit "would not remain open forever."

"We can't promise that the Shalit case will stay open forever," he said in an interview aired on the Nazareth-based radio station Al-Shams.

"It's possible that we will announce the end of negotiations and the freezing of all contacts until further notice, and Shalit's fate will remain unknown," he added. "We have no intention of changing our demands."

Taha denied reports of progress in the negotiations for Shalit, saying such speculations of progress were unsubstantiated. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government has already completed its term, he said, adding that there was no chance for a deal to be secured before the next coalition took its place.

New Israeli Gov’t to Be Sworn in at 5 pm Tuesday

30/03/2009 Hanan Awarekeh reported in AlmanarTV

Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu has officially asked the Knesset hold a swearing in ceremony for his new government at 5 pm Tuesday.

Cabinet Secretary-designate Zvi Hauser has already been asked to see that a new government table, big enough to accommodate all of the ministers, would be installed.

Netanyahu will summon senior members of the Likud to his new Knesset chambers Monday and inform each of them which office they have been assigned.

Sources close to the PM-designate estimated that the Likud would head 12 government bureaus, and along with other members of the coalition - Yisrael Beiteinu, Labor, Shas and Habayit Hayehudi - making a total of 30 ministers.

Israel will usher in a new political era as soon as Knesset Member Reuven Rivlin's nomination for Knesset speaker is confirmed.

The Likud chairman is said to be keeping his "cards" close to his chest and even those closest to him are having trouble guessing which one of the Likud members have been shortlisted. "This is agonizing," a senior Likud member told Ynet. "This wait is just very uncomfortable."

For now, it seems that the only two nominations secured are those of Prof. Yaakov Ne'eman for the Justice Ministry and MK Gideon Sa'ar for the Education Ministry.

MK Yisrael Katz is rumored to be the leading candidate for the Transportation Ministry, MK Gilad Erdan is likely to be named to the Environmental Protection Ministry, MK Moshe Kahlon is in the lead for the Communications Ministry and MK Limor Livnat for the Science, Culture and Sport's Ministry.

Knesset Member Moshe Yaalon is rumored to head the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and MKs Benny Begin and Dan Meridor are to serve as ministers in the Prime Minister's Office.

One prestigious office which has yet to be tapped is the Treasury. It is still unclear whether Netanyahu will choose to head the ministry himself. Likud members said over the weekend that Meridor agreed to head the Finance Ministry, but MK Yuval Steinitz has also reportedly expressed his interest in the office.

Other positions still to be named are those of the vice premier, the prime minister's locum tenens, minister for development of the Negev and Galilee and the Knesset liaison.

Monday morning saw the party name Knesset Member Zeev Elkin its faction chairman. Elkin won 20 votes, while Knesset Member Danny Danon – who was also bidding for the position – won seven votes.

Meanwhile, Labor Chairman Ehud Barak completed naming his picks for ministers under the next coalition: Barak himself will be named defense minister, MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer was tapped for the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry; MK Shalom Simhon stands to continue in the Agriculture Ministry; Isaac Herzog will stay on as minister of social affairs; MK Avishay Braverman was tapped for minister of minority affairs and member of the socio-economic cabinet, MK Matan Vilnai is to remain deputy defense minister and MK Orit Noked will be named deputy industry, trade and labor minister.

Meanwhile, sources close to Netanyahu's Likud rival, MK Silvan Shalom Shalom said Sunday night that Shalom intends to reject an offer from Netanyahu on Monday to receive the honorary title of vice premier and responsibility for regional cooperation.

Netanyahu hoped the two roles, which were both held by Israeli President Shimon Peres in the past, would satisfy Shalom. But Shalom's associates said he would settle for nothing less than the Finance portfolio and the title of vice prime minister, which involves filling in as acting prime minister when the prime minister is abroad or incapacitated and allowed Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to succeed Ariel Sharon.

Supporters of Shalom in the Likud central committee threatened that if Netanyahu did not improve his offer to Shalom, they would "declare war" against him and use the party's institutions to try to bring him down. They said Shalom would also "join the opposition" to Netanyahu in the Knesset.

"Bibi will regret disrespecting Silvan," central committee member Meir Cohen of Ramle said Sunday night. "Silvan has been completely loyal to Netanyahu, but he is ungrateful to Shalom, who is responsible for more of the Likud's mandates than Bibi."

Shalom was not the only malcontent in the Likud faction Sunday night, as leaks emerged about whom Netanyahu would appoint as ministers.

Druse MK Ayoub Kara, who campaigned vigorously for a portfolio, was enraged to hear that he would not be a minister, and his associates accused Netanyahu of racism.

"Being loyal and honest in politics apparently doesn't get you anywhere in this country," a source close to Kara said. "He was more loyal to Netanyahu than anyone, and he is more experienced than most of the ministerial candidates. The only explanation is that Netanyahu doesn't want there to be a non-Jewish leader in the Likud."

Women's groups protested Netanyahu's intention to appoint only one female minister, MK Limor Livnat, who will join incoming Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver of Israel Beiteinu as the only women in the cabinet.

Netanyahu was up late considering and reconsidering his ministerial appointments. One of his biggest problems was finding roles for the three celebrities who joined or rejoined the Likud with much fanfare during the campaign: Moshe Ya'alon, Dan Meridor and Bennie Begin.

Ideas raised included appointing Ya'alon as a minister for higher education, reviving Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman's former Strategic Affairs Ministry and making Meridor a minister-without-portfolio in charge of intelligence services.

Kadima leader Tzipi Livni mocked Netanyahu for giving up too much to his coalition partners, in a meeting with her faction at her Tel Aviv home. She vowed to lead a "fighting opposition," and warned that Netanyahu's government would lead to "anarchy" because people were losing their faith in politics.

Afghanistan: US, NATO Wage World's Largest and Longest War

27/03/2009 | Published in Almanar (non almanar official stand)
source : Rick Rozoff - Global Research
| March 26, 2009


On October 7 it will enter its ninth calendar year and with the projected deployment of at least 30,000 more American and thousands of more fellow NATO nations' troops this year it promises to go on indefinitely.

It is the second longest war, both on the air and ground fronts, in United States' history, with only its protracted involvement in Indochina so far exceeding it in length.

The Afghan war is also the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's first armed conflict outside of Europe and its first ground war in the sixty years of its existence. It has been waged with the participation of armed units from all 26 NATO member states and twelve other European and Caucasus nations linked to NATO through the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, the Partnership for Peace and the Adriatic Charter with the first-ever invocation of the Alliance's Article 5 mutual military assistance provision.

The twelve European NATO partners who have sent troops in varying numbers to assist Washington and the Alliance include the continent's five former neutral nations: Austria, Finland, Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland.

The European NATO and partnership deployments count among their number troops from six former Soviet Republics - with Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine tapped for recent reinforcements and the three Baltic states represented disproportionately to their populations - although Western officials and media refrain from using words like invasion, empire and occupation that were tossed around so profligately in the 1980s.

The conflict marks the first time since the Vietnam War that US, Australian, New Zealand and South Korean troops have fought in the same campaign in the same theater. (Although all four also had troops in Iraq after March of 2003, only American forces were engaged in combat. In Afghanistan, however, over 1,000 Australian troops, including special forces, participate in counterinsurgency operations and ten of their soldiers have been killed.)

In all, 42 nations have military contingents ranging from a handful to thousands of troops serving under NATO in a war nearly as far removed from the North Atlantic as could have been imagined and embroiled in an endless engagement because of a 1949 commitment by the major Western powers to render each other military aid in the event of a conflict in Western Europe or North America.

Over a thousand US, NATO and NATO partner nations' soldiers have been killed in the war, including servicemen from all three Baltic States, Australia and South Korea.

From the beginning of the invasion of and war in Afghanistan in early October of 2001 under the aegis of so-called Operation Enduring Freedom, which commenced with US and British air and missile attacks, the model used seventeen months later in Iraq, the conflict has not been limited to Afghanistan itself but rather has exploited the nation's alleged and highly tenuous connections to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington to situate US and other NATO military forces in several neighboring and nearby nations, including airbases and troop and naval deployments in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and the Indian Ocean (where the Japanese navy has been assisting Operation Enduring Freedom).

The Russian press wire agency Itar-Tass reported last December that 120,000 US and NATO soldiers passed through the Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan in 2008.

2009 has brought the Pentagon and NATO the bad news that the government of Kyrgyzstan may close the base to warplanes used for the war in Afghanistan, a base that since 2001 has hosted military personnel from the United States, Australia, Denmark, Norway, New Zealand, Poland, Turkey, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, France and South Korea.

The Pentagon officially defines Operation Enduring Freedom's area of responsibility as encompassing fifteen nations: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Cuba (Guantanamo Bay Naval Base), Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, the Philippines, the Seychelles, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Yemen.

After the invasion of Afghanistan in October of 2001, the US and its NATO allies obtained from the United Nations of ever-obliging Secretary-General Kofi Annan (who in 1995 held the posts of Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations to the former Yugoslavia and special envoy to NATO and was installed as Secretary-General after the US deposed his predecessor Boutros Boutros-Ghali and browbeat the other 14 Security Council members in 1997 to accept him) a resolution authorizing the establishment of an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), initially to oversee Afghanistan's occupation, but later to wage a full-blown counterinsurgency campaign inside the country and across the border into Pakistan.

There was and is nothing international about ISAF. It is a NATO operation entirely.

From December of 2001 until August of 2003 command of ISAF was held in six month rotations by major NATO nations. At the end of that period it passed to NATO collectively. Initially its mission was limited to the capital of Kabul, but by 2003 its mandate was extended beyond the capital and by 2006 to all of Afghanistan's provinces.

To deploy combat forces to a nation that was bombed and invaded and to conduct aerial and ground assaults throughout its territory is as good a working definition of the words war and occupation as could be devised.

Afghanistan has become a permanent training ground and firing range for providing the US and its NATO allies and candidate members opportunities to test out new weapons systems, wage 21st Century counterinsurgency operations and integrate so-called niche deployment military units from over 42 nations to achieve weapons and warfighting interoperability.

Polish military officials among others have openly stated that in Afghanistan NATO has provided them with the conditions to modernize their armed forces, which had not been employed in war zone and combat operations since the beginning of World War II. Coupled with recent statements by Polish and Baltic officials that NATO should renew its focus on "defending" Europe, the Greater Afghan war theater is a laboratory for preparing Eastern European and South Caucasus nations for actions on Russia's eastern and southern borders.

Last month the US signed an agreement with Poland to train their special forces (comparable to what the Pentagon has already done with Georgia), citing Afghanistan as the immediate locale for its joint implementation.

The comparative size of each NATO nation's contribution is less important than the fact that several tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of NATO troops have been rotated through Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan over the past seven and a half years and in the process gained experience in serving under the command of major NATO powers.

Earlier this year the US's Central Command chief David Petraeus began focusing on the Caucasus nations of Georgia and Azerbaijan as military transit routes for the expanding war in Afghanistan and visited the former Soviet Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan and Tajikistan to also incorporate them into the ever-widening South Asian war vortex.

Late last year General Nikolai Makarov, chief of the General Staff of Russia's Armed Forces, warned that "American military bases are dotted throughout the world. The U.S. has opened bases in Romania and Bulgaria, and according to our information plans to establish them in Kazakhstan
and Uzbekistan."
Much is made in Western official circles and in the obedient media about the pretexts under which the US and NATO attacked and invaded Afghanistan, took over all its strategic Soviet era airbases (as was done most recently with the Shindand airbase in 2005 in Herat Province, near the Iranian border) and installed a compliant puppet government to rule over the nation and its people.

At first as the memory of the attacks of September 11, 2001 were still freshly burned into America's and the world's imaginations, the rationale for Operation Enduring Freedom was to hunt down and "bring to justice" - or kill - Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar and several of their top associates in a lex talionis punishment for the deadly attacks on New York's financial center and the headquarters of the US Defense Department.

As the years proceeded and not only weren't bin Laden and Mullah Omar apprehended but their whereabouts couldn't even be determined, emphasis was shifted to the fight against Taliban for having hosted the above two.

That fallback position was belied by the fact that Washington in the person of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld right after 9/11 asserted that as many as sixty nations, almost a third of the world's, were harboring terrorists and as such were fair game for missile and other attacks, but conspicuously left off the hit list the only three nations that had recognized, funded and no doubt armed the Taliban: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Nor was the Taliban argument helped by US-installed President Hamid Karzai being quoted regularly on the US's Voice of Afghanistan (an offshoot of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) applauding "our Taliban" who "fought shoulder-to-shoulder with us in the jihad against the Soviets."

The US and NATO tact was then to adopt an ex post facto humanitarian guise to justify their fanning out into Afghanistan's provinces in 2003 (in addition to the original in Kabul, NATO launched North, South, East and West commands): Establishing so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs).

Invading armies with their bombers, cruise missiles, 15,000 pound Daisy Cutter bombs and long-range artillery are designed to destroy and not construct buildings and the PRTs would be better termed provincial pacification teams, with the model being the Strategic Hamlet Program in South Vietnam in the early 1960s.

More reasons would be devised to explain the West's continuing and growing presence and intensifying military operations in Afghanistan and its environs.

Four years of Taliban power had at least accomplished one objective; it had curbed opium cultivation.

However, after a few years of NATO occupation Afghanistan became the world's largest producer and exporter of opium and so last autumn the Alliance announced that it was planning to conduct armed raids against opium and "drug traffickers," however the West decided to define the second.

The ongoing and endless war in Afghanistan - and now Pakistan - has metamorphosed from a hunt for bin Laden, to a fight against Taliban to a drug war modeled after the US's murderous Plan Colombia initiated in 1999. There are reports that 300 Colombian troops are slated for deployment to Afghanistan to replicate that model.

Notwithstanding recent talk by US President Barrack Obama about an Afghan exit strategy, it's not apparent that Washington and its allies ever intend to leave the country and the broader South-Asia/Central Asia/Caspian Sea Basin/South Caucasus circumference whose center Afghanistan is.

Two weeks ago the Russia Novosti website featured this observation: "Central Asian states think the U.S. started the Afghan war to change the regional regimes into local analogues of Georgia's Saakashvili and Ukraine's Yushchenko, and that it began with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Iran, China and Russia think the war could be Washington's attempt to reduce their influence in Central Asia to zero."

Less than four months before the invasion of Afghanistan China, Russia and four of the five former Soviet Central Asia republics - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan - founded the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a mutual security grouping that would later include India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan as observers.

It's purpose is to provide regional security and to address the issues of trans-border crime, including narcotics smuggling, armed extremism and separatism.

Since its inception it has also increasingly focused on joint development projects in the spheres of energy, transportation, trade and infrastructure.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union, Central Asia was seen by the SCO's founding members and since by its observers as a mechanism for fostering mutually beneficial relations among the nations of Central Asia and Russia, China, Iran, India and even Turkey eventually.

Afghanistan has been hurled into interminable turmoil, with hundreds of thousands of its citizens displaced; almost daily bombing runs, drone missile attacks, middle-of-the-night commando raids, indiscriminate shooting of civilians at checkpoints; mass-scale drought and famine; an explosion of opium cultivation and trafficking; expansion of that destabilization by setting Pakistan aflame with the potential for its fragmentation and dismemberment and heightened tensions with its - fellow nuclear - neighbor India.

This is the current, grave situation seven and a half years after the invasion of Afghanistan.

With the deployment of another 30,000 US troops and thousands more from NATO's ranks (recently Italy, Poland, Georgia, Azerbaijan and other nations have announced increases) Western troop strength will soon approach 100,000.

This is pouring fuel on fire. Taliban has become as amorphous a term as al-Qaeda has been; anyone in Afghanistan, even in the non-Pushtun North and West of the nation, who takes issue with Western warplanes and combat troops dealing out death and destruction in their nation and their villages is now a Talib. An enemy.

The more US and NATO troops that arrive in Afghanistan, the more resentment, resistance and violence will ensue. Inevitably.

The US and NATO have arrogantly spurned offers by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the post-Soviet Collective Security Treaty Organization to assist in bringing a regional - and non-military - resolution of the myriad crises afflicting Afghanistan, its long-suffering people and the region.

NATO is not a nation-building, peacekeeping or humanitarian outfit - it is an aggressive military bloc. When it and its individual member states' military forces leave South and Central Asia then healing, reconstruction and lasting peace can begin.

US opens another prison for Iraqis

Mon, 30 Mar 2009 07:27:17 GMT | PressTV

The American military has inaugurated a 27-million-dollar prison in northern Iraq which is capable of holding 3,000 detainees.

According to an American military statement on Sunday, the jail was built by the US Corps of Engineers at Chamchamal in the autonomous Kurdish region, 70 kilometers south of Sulaimaniyah, in the space of two years.

The statement further said that the prison was built on the site of a federal jail that had existed under the regime of the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

The existing facility had to be redesigned "to make it a modern correctional facility that complies with both international and US Coalition requirements for the humane treatment of inmates," the statement added.

The new prison will have a staff of 1,200, including a large force of guards to house 2,000 medium security inmates and 1,000 high security prisoners.

Fort Suze, 20 kilometers northwest of Sulaimaniyah, is another federal prison which holds 1,500 detainees, among them 260 foreigners, most of whom are accused of "terrorism" and illegal entry to Iraq.

Independent sources in the media report as many as 30,000 Iraqi prisoners are in US military prisons inside oil-rich Iraq.

The US military has aroused intense condemnation from the international community over its mistreatment and abuse of Iraqi prisoners some of whom incarcerated without any charges.

In May 2004, leaked pictures of the notorious Abu-Ghraib prison scandal showed US military personnel in Baghdad subjecting Iraqi detainees to humiliating and degrading treatment, thus triggering an international outcry against the human rights violations.

Abu-Ghraib prison is located on the western outskirts of the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

US-backed Iraqi forces end 'Sahwa' clashes

Sun, 29 Mar 2009 20:10:31 GMT | PressTV

Iraqi soldiers during search operations in al-Fadel,
Iraqi forces, backed by US troops, take control of Baghdad's Fadel neighborhood, after two days of heavy clashes with Sunni fighters.

The clashes started after Iraqi forces arrested 'Awakening Council' leader, Adil al-Mashhadani, and at least one of his men, on terror-related charges in Baghdad's central district of al-Fadel.

Al-Sahwa or Awakening members are mostly former Sunni insurgents who fought US and Iraqi forces after the 2003 US-led invasion of the country, but helped curb violence since late 2006 when they sided with the Iraqi government to battle al-Qaeda following its harsh rhetoric and attacks against Iraqi civilians.

Witnesses said that Iraqi police and army forces asked inhabitants to hand over their weapons. They also said that most of the top council members fled the neighborhood as Iraqi troops conducted a house-to-house search.

Members of the Awakening council in Fadel said Sunday that they decided to give up the fight and hand over their weapons to spare the neighborhood.

Qassem Ata, spokesman for the Iraqi security forces in Baghdad said, "Al-Mashhadani is only a suspect. He will stand trial and he can present evidence of his innocence".

US officials have said a dangerous situation could arise should Maliki's government fail to bring about reconciliation with the former Sunni Arab fighters. However, they say that Iraq has the right to detain those accused of grave charges in the past, such as murder or terrorism.

At least four people were killed and 21 wounded in the two days of fighting between government troops and the Awakening Council fighters.

In recent months, Awakening Council members have been complaining they are disregarded and mistreated by the Iraqi leadership. The group has also blamed Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for failing to fulfill his promise to integrate 20 percent of the Awakening Councils into the Iraqi security forces.

Al-Mashhadani himself had recently warned fighters could turn against the Iraqi government.

Shin Bet: Tons of explosives arrive in Gaza

Sun, 29 Mar 2009 18:25:35 GMT | PressTV

Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin
Israel retracts from earlier remarks that it had stopped Gaza rearmament, saying that a huge amount of explosives is imported into the region.

Israel says huge amount of explosives have been imported into Gaza since the end of the recent war, withdrawing its earlier claims.

Yuval Diksin, Head of the Israeli security service (Shin Bet) said on Sunday that some 70 tons of explosives have been "smuggled" into the Gaza Strip since the army ended its Operation Cast Lead in January.

According to the Israeli official, 45 tons of raw materials for the production of weapons, 22 tons of standard explosives and dozens of rockets, mortar shells, and anti-aircraft missiles have been brought to Gaza since the end of the war.

He also admitted that the three-week military operation failed to weaken Palestinian factions saying that "Organizations other than Hamas are pursuing plans to kidnap [Israeli] soldiers and to carry out terror attacks from Sinai into Israel as well as in the West Bank," Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported.

With the aim of halting rocket-firings and disarming Palestinians fighters, Israel launched an all-out war against Gaza in December and killed more than 1,300 people mostly civilians. Tel Aviv claimed that it had succeeded in achieving its goals after it declared a ceasefire in June.

It was not the first time that an Israeli official admitted to the Operation Cast Lead's failure. Earlier the Israeli security service had announced that the arms transfer into the Gaza had begun even while the military operation against the territory was still underway.

Gates reveals schism in Obama White House

Sun, 29 Mar 2009 17:40:38 GMT | PressTV

Pentagon chief and Defense Secretary Robert Gates reveals a rift in the Obama White House over overtures to Iran.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has signaled a rift in the Obama administration by opposing the president's diplomatic overtures to Iran.

Appearing on "Fox News Sunday", Secretary Gates said he believed Iran was more likely to be persuaded by economic sanctions rather than diplomacy to halt its nuclear activities.

With enough pressure placed on Iran, diplomacy might provide "an open door" for the Iranian government to choose to change its nuclear plans, the Pentagon chief explained.

Iran says the only objective of its program is to make use of the civilian applications of nuclear technology. The US, however, accuses the country of having military intentions in its pursuit.

Gates' remarks come in contradiction with President Barack Obama's diplomatic overtures to Iran.

Acknowledging the strain in Tehran-Washington relations, Obama sent a "special message to the people and government of Iran" on the occasion of the Persian New Year and extended an olive branch.

"For nearly three decades relations between our nations have been strained. But at this holiday we are reminded of the common humanity that binds us together," President Obama said. "We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect."

In response to the move which was welcomed around the globe, Iran said the US must demonstrate its change in practice before any reconciliation can take place.

"Iran loathes the languages of threats and incentives. But we have no experience with the new president and the new US administration. Thus, we will reserve judgment and will base it on their actions," Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said in response to Obama.

"If you change your attitude, we will change our attitude," the Leader reaffirmed.

The United States and Iran severed diplomatic ties in the aftermath of the 1980 American embassy takeover in Tehran.

Defense Secretary Gates, meanwhile, told Fox News that the prospects of reconciliation through diplomacy alone were slim.

"I think frankly, from my perspective, the opportunity for success is probably more in economic sanctions in both places (Iran and North Korea) than it is in diplomacy," he said.

Gates, who was former President George W. Bush's last defense chief, added that Iran is nowhere close to obtaining a nuclear weapon - contrary to Israeli estimates on Iran's nuclear drive.

He said Tehran lacks the capability at this point to enrich enough uranium to the levels needed for a weapon, the Associated Press reported.

According to the latest International Atomic Energy Agency figures, Iran has produced nearly 1,010 kilograms of low enriched uranium (LEU) -- a level "less than 5 percent."

Uranium, the fuel for a nuclear power plant, can serve military purposes if enriched to high levels of above 90 percent.

Tehran is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and, according to the UN nuclear watchdog, has not opted to violate the treaty.

Israel to deny prisoners their rights

Sun, 29 Mar 2009 17:00:14 GMT | PressTV

Israel's Justice
Minister Daniel Friedmann
Israel has approved legislation to deny Palestinian prisoners their rights as a last ditch effort to free captured soldier Gilad Shalit.

The cabinet voted for proposals presented by Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann calling for cutting back on Palestinian prisoners' visitation rights, academic studies and means of communication, The Jerusalem Post reported Sunday.

In addition to sanctions on entertainment media, the prisoners will be subject to stricter guidelines regarding the transfer of money for use at the prison canteen.

The recommendations were made during the weekly cabinet meeting which was the final meeting of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government.

Friedmann briefed the cabinet on legislature that would have to be instituted in order to take further steps.

"It is true that we are the only democracy in the Middle East, but we can't let ourselves become the only suckers and we mustn't show weakness," he claimed.

The Prisons service announced that the recommendations will go into effect in the near future.

The move is expected to raise strong criticism among the human rights groups, which have been increasing mounting pressure on Tel Aviv over its disregard for human rights during the war on Gaza.

Israeli forces targeted numerous civilian buildings including homes, mosques, media centers and even UN schools, during three weeks of non-stop fire on the Gaza Strip.

There is also evidence proving that Tel Aviv has resorted to unconventional weapons - including depleted uranium and white phosphorus -- during the onslaught.

Following the war on Gaza Hamas and Israel engaged in negotiations but failed to reach a prisoner swap deal in Egypt earlier this month.

The two sides have been negotiating an agreement under which hundreds of Palestinian prisoners would be released in exchange for the release of Shalit -- captured in a cross border operation by Palestinian fighters in 2006.

Israel has been insisting that high profile prisoners must be expelled from Palestinian territories upon their release - a request strongly opposed to by Hamas.

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