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The World’s 12 Most Peaceful Countries

June 23rd, 2010 - by admin

Institute for Economics and Peace & National Geographic News Blog & The Prague Post – 2010-06-23 18:16:05


The World’s Most Peaceful Countries

1 New Zealand
2 Iceland
3 Japan
4 Austria
5 Norway
6 Ireland
7 Denmark
8 Luxembourg
9 Finland
10 Sweden
11 Slovenia
12 Czech Republic

Source: 2010 study by the Institute for Economics and Peace
• For more information, a full list of rankings and to review the IEP’s “Peace, Wealth and Human Potential” study, visit www.visionofhumanity.org

New Zealand Remains Most Peaceful Country in Increasingly Troubled World
National Geographic News Watch

(June 8, 2010) — The world became less peaceful for the second consecutive year, according to the fourth annual Global Peace Index (GPI) published today.

“As the global economy continues to falter, this year’s data shows an intensification of conflicts and growing instability linked to the downturn that began in 2008, with several countries seeing sharp increases in homicides, violent demonstrations and fear of crime,” the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) said in a news statement.

“The increase in violence is depriving the global economy of assets when they are needed most. A 25 percent reduction in global violence would free up US $1.8 trillion annually — enough to pay off Greece’s debt, fund the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and meet the EU’s 20-20-20 climate and energy targets, IEP added.

The only study to quantify global peacefulness, the GPI was expanded in 2010 to rank 149 countries. “Composed of 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators, it combines internal and external factors ranging from military expenditure to relations with neighboring countries and levels of violent crime,” IEP explained.

“The research carried out by the IEP based on four years of GPI data provides a quantifiable demonstration that improving peace can transform the global economy and unleash the wealth needed to tackle debt, fund economic expansion and create a more sustainable environment,” said Steve Killelea, founder of the GPI.

Top-ranked New Zealand was one of only three countries in the top ten to improve in peacefulness in the 2010 Index, according to the analysis. Iceland moved into the No.2 spot as the country’s economy stabilized after falling to No.4 in last year’s ranking, the improvement demonstrating the resilience of peaceful nations, IEP said.

“The GPI continues its pioneering work in drawing the world’s attention to the massive resources we are squandering in violence and conflict,” said Jeff Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. “The lives and money wasted in wars, incarcerations, weapons systems, weapons trade, and more, could be directed to ending poverty, promoting education, and protecting the environment. The GPI will not only draw attention to these crucial issues, but help us understand them and to invest productively in a more peaceful world.”

Despite slipping three ranks compared to last year’s results, partially because of new countries added to the GPI, the United States (85) improved its 2010 GPI score, registering its biggest year-on-year improvement since the first Index was released in 2007, IEP’s statement said. “The improvement came as a result of a decrease in the number of deaths from external conflict and an increase in political stability.”

Western Europe continues to be the most peaceful region, with the majority of the countries ranking in the top 20, the list found. “All five Scandinavian nations rank in the top ten; however, Denmark dropped five spots to No.7 because of decrease in respect for human rights and continuing involvement in Afghanistan.”

Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan were the least peaceful countries for the second consecutive year. Syria, Georgia, the Philippines, Russia and Cyprus were this year’s biggest fallers.

“How peaceful a country is depends on the internal structures, institutions, and attitudes that sustain and promote peace as well as on external factors,” said Clyde McConaghy, board director of the IEP.

“This year’s top five countries, and more peaceful countries in general, have certain things in common: well functioning governments, stable business environments, respect for human rights, low levels of corruption, high rates of participation in education, and freedom of information.”

Highly peaceful societies also perform well in other ways, the 2010 Global Peace Index found. The most peaceful societies share the following social structures and attitudes:

• Well functioning government
• Sound business environment
• Respectful of human rights and tolerance
• Good relations with neighbouring states
• High levels of freedom of information
• Acceptance of others
• High participation rates in primary and secondary education
• Low levels of corruption
• Equitable sharing of resources.

With data now collected for the last four consecutive years, the Institute for Economics and Peace has also identified for the first time global, regional and national trends in peacefulness since 2007. “Key among those was a slight decrease in global peacefulness since 2007, with 62 percent of countries recording decreases in levels of peacefulness over that period of time,” IEP said.

“Despite the global slide, the Middle East and North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa have made the most gains since the research began in 2007. Reasons for the improvement vary, but include more political stability and a drop in military expenditure in the Middle East and North Africa and less access to weapons, a decrease in conflicts and better relations with neighboring countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“Conversely, South Asia saw the greatest decrease in peacefulness, as a result of increased involvement in conflicts, a rise in deaths from internal conflict and human rights abuses. The main countries experiencing decreases in peacefulness were India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Year-on-year, Latin America had the steepest fall in peacefulness because of more internal violence, homicides and increased levels of perceived criminality.”

Three BRIC countries — Russia (143), India (128) and China (80)– saw substantial declines in peacefulness, while Brazil’s score remained essentially stable (83) compared to the 2009 Index, IEP said.

“In fact, Russia saw one of the largest drops in peacefulness of any country this year due to its war with Georgia, ongoing acts of terror, and some protests across the country resulting from a deteriorating economic situation. China saw its score deteriorate because of worsening security in parts of the country, notably Xinjiang province, where violent conflict prompted rises in several measures of societal safety.”

“This research clearly indicates the strong positive relationship between peace and factors critical to successful business operations, including market size, cost structures and profits,” said Georg Kell, executive director, United Nations Global Compact. “Business leaders would be well advised to take this research into account when creating their strategic and operational plans and making investment decisions.”

The GPI was founded by Killelea, an Australian international technology entrepreneur and philanthropist. It forms part of the Institute for Economics and Peace, a global think tank dedicated to the research and education of the relationship between economics, business and peace. An international panel of experts in the study of peace advises on the identification and weighting of indicators in the GPI, which is compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Czech Republic among Most Peaceful Countries
Gabriella Hold / Prague Post

PRAGUE (June 16, 2010) — The Czech Republic has been ranked the 12th most peaceful country in the world, with New Zealand taking the top spot for the second year in a row, according to the 2010 Global Peace Index.

The Czech Republic also ranked second among Central and East European countries, narrowly beaten by Slovenia, but ahead of Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

The index, produced by the Sydney-based Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), ranks countries according to 23 measures of internal and external peacefulness including the level of domestic organized crime, the likelihood of violent demonstrations, military expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) and funding for UN peacekeeping missions.

It found that overall worldwide peacefulness declined for the year due to a 5 percent increase in homicides, more violent demonstrations and a greater fear of crime.

The Czech Republic scored highly on criteria such as the number of deaths from internally organized conflict, the number of homicides and the level of perceived criminality in society. It also benefited from improved political stability, low potential for terrorist acts, imports of major conventional weapons and respect for human rights.

“The Czech Republic scored pretty well,” IEP Chairman Steve Killelea told The Prague Post. “Interestingly, the three factors that caused the fall in peacefulness this year did not apply to the Czech Republic.”

But it was a poorer score than the 11th place ranking achieved in 2009 due to its ongoing participation in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and the increase in the jailed population.

The country also scored badly on related indicators in the index such as freedom of the press and perceptions of corruption. But Killelea downplayed the fall, noting top countries were very sensitive to small changes.

Overall, Iceland ranked second in the index, followed by Japan, Austria and Norway. New Zealand, Austria, Iceland and Japan were the only countries in the top 10 to improve their rank this year.

Meanwhile, Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan were the least peaceful countries for the second consecutive year. Syria, Georgia, the Philippines, Russia and Cyprus were this year’s biggest fallers.

The IEP says the 2010 data shows an intensification of conflicts and growing instability linked to the financial crisis, with several countries seeing sharp increases in homicides, violent demonstrations and fear of crime.

Moreover, the increased violence is depriving the global economy of assets, with a 25 percent reduction in global violence estimated to free up $1.8 trillion (37.5 trillion Kč) annually. This would be enough to pay off Greece’s debt, fund the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and meet the EU’s 20-20-20 climate and energy targets.

“The research carried out by the IEP based on four years of data provides a quantifiable demonstration that improving peace can transform the global economy and unleash the wealth needed to tackle debt, fund economic expansion and create a more sustainable environment,” Killelea said.

Western Europe continued to be the most peaceful region, with the majority of the countries ranking in the top 20. Conversely, South Asia was the least peaceful, as a result of increased involvement in conflicts, a rise in deaths from internal conflict and human rights abuses. Year on year, Latin America had the steepest fall in peacefulness due to more internal violence, homicides and increased levels of perceived criminality.

Gabriella Hold can be reached at
© The Prague Post 2010

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Seciton 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Murders at Guantanamo: The Cover-Up Continues

June 23rd, 2010 - by admin

Andy Worthington / Cage Prisoners – 2010-06-23 18:04:00


(June 11, 2010) — Sometimes the truth is so sickening that no one in a position of authority — senior government officials, lawmakers, the mainstream media — wants to go anywhere near it.

This appears to be the case with the deaths of three men at Guantánamo on June 9, 2006.

According to the official version of events, Salah Ahmed al-Salami (also identified as Ali Abdullah Ahmed), a 37-year old Yemeni, Mani Shaman al-Utaybi, a 30-year old Saudi, and Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, a Saudi who was just 17 when he was seized in Afghanistan, died by hanging themselves, in what Guantánamo’s then-Commander, Rear Adm. Harry Harris, described as an act of “asymmetric warfare.”

Adm. Harris was, appropriately, censured for describing as an act of warfare the deaths of three men, held for over four years without charge or trial, but although his comments — and those of Colleen Graffy, the deputy assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy, who described the men’s deaths as a “good PR move” — were despicable, it was true that all three men had been implacably opposed to the regime at Guantánamo, and that each had expressed their opposition to it — and their solidarity with their fellow prisoners — through resistance, by enduring painful months of force-feeding as three of the prison’s most persistent hunger strikers, and by raising their fellow prisoners’ spirits as accomplished singers of nasheeds (Islamic songs).

Former prisoners cast doubt on the suicide story
In a statement issued just after the announcement of the deaths in June 2006, nine British ex-prisoners recalled the men’s indefatigable spirit, and cast doubt on the US military’s claims that they had committed suicide:
The prisoners in Guantánamo knew Manei al-Otaibi [Mani al-Utaybi] as someone who recited the Qur’an and poetry with a beautiful voice. He was of high moral character and was loved and respected amongst the prisoners, as was Yasser. They both came from wealthy backgrounds and had everything to live for.

They were often involved in protests and hunger strikes, which meant that they were always given “level four” statuses. That means the only items they would be allowed in the cell were a mat, and a blanket (only at night). They didn’t have toilet paper, let alone bed sheets that could be easily constructed into a noose, or even a pen and paper with which to write a suicide note.

A more detailed analysis was provided by one of the nine British ex-prisoners, Tarek Dergoul, who wrote:
I knew them personally, so I can judge well their frame of mind. Their iman (belief in God) was very strong, there was high morale and it comes as a complete shock to my system when it is said to me that they could have committed suicide.

I was with them for a long period of time, and it never even came into our mind the thought of committing suicide. We were always far too busy constructing some form of hunger strike or non-cooperation strike, to even register the thought of suicide. It is quite simply ridiculous. When we were not in isolation for our continued protests we were in the regular blocks planning our next move.

Dergoul also provided further descriptions of two of the men and their state of mind, explaining that Yasser al-Zahrani and Manei al-Otaibi “would be the first amongst all others to stand up for our rights and the rights of others.”

He added that al-Zahrani was “a beautiful brother,” who had memorized the entire Qur’an, and “was softly spoken and had a very nice voice. He used to sing nasheeds for us and all the brothers loved him as he was always optimistic. He would sing morale-boosting nasheeds for the other detainees nearby to him. He was very well known to everyone in the camp.”

He also explained that al-Zahrani had “participated in all the hunger strikes and non-cooperation strikes,” which, he added, “include[d] not speaking in interrogation and also not standing for any immoral behavior (such as being sexually harassed or watching the Qur’an being desecrated).” Non-cooperation, he pointed out, “would result in punishment,” and al-Zahrani “ended up doing a lot of time in isolation simply due to the fact that he would never allow for an injustice to take place before him without being defiant for the sake of our rights,” but he “had so much determination, will-power and morale that it is ridiculous to think he could have taken his own life.”

Writing about Manei al-Otaibi, Dergoul described him as “another beautiful brother,” who was “extremely funny,” and explained that, like al-Zahrani, he “used to recite poetry — in fact this was the thing he was best known for — and he also used to sing nasheeds for us.” He added:

I stayed beside Manei for three weeks inside the regular blocks, and that is when he told me about his wealthy family and his previous life and how he used to get up to no good as people do when they are young. It was also during those three weeks that he taught me tajweed (the science of reciting the Qur’an correctly). By the end of that time we had shared with one another our inner most thoughts. I consider it an insult and I am sure that his family finds it equally offensive, to suggest that he would stoop to the level of taking his own life.

Admittedly, the men’s outlook on life could have changed in the two years following Tarek Dergoul’s release from Guantánamo, but Omar Deghayes, who was still in Guantánamo at the time of their deaths, recently backed up his analysis, describing them as poets with beautiful voices whose spirits were unbroken at the time of their deaths, although he did acknowledge that they had been subjected to severe mistreatment.

Seton Hall Law School demolishes the suicide story
If the profiles above suggest problems with the official suicide story, that is entirely appropriate, as development in the last two years — and particularly in the last six months — have demonstrated. The first of these was the publication, in August 2008, of the official report into the deaths, conducted by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. The report — actually, nothing more than a 934-word statement — was presumably intended to be buried under coverage of the Presidential election, and did nothing to address doubts about the official story, but over the next year a colossal archive of documents collected for the investigation was thoroughly analyzed by staff and students at the Seton Hall Law School in New Jersey.
On December 7, 2009, Seton Hall published a 136-page report, “Death in Camp Delta” (PDF), which comprehensively undermined the conclusion of the NCIS investigation. Some of the most important questions asked in the report were:

• “[H]ow each of the detainees, much less all three, could have done the following: braided a noose by tearing up his sheets and/or clothing, made a mannequin of himself so it would appear to the guards he was asleep in his cell, hung sheets to block vision into the cell — a violation of Standard Operating Procedures, tied his feet together, tied his hands together, hung the noose from the metal mesh of the cell wall and/or ceiling, climbed up onto the sink, put the noose around his neck and released his weight to result in death by strangulation, hanged until dead and hung for at least two hours completely unnoticed by guards.”
• “[H]ow three bodies could have hung in cells for at least two hours while the cells were under constant supervision, both by video camera and by guards continually walking the corridors guarding only 28 detainees.”
• Why the authorities did not report that, “when the detainees’ bodies arrived at the clinic, it was determined that each had a rag obstructing his throat.”
• Why the authorities did not report that the detainees “had been dead for more than two hours when they were discovered, nor that rigor mortis had set in by the time of discovery.”
• How the supposed suicides “could have been coordinated by the three detainees, who had been on the same cell block fewer than 72 hours with occupied and unoccupied cells between them and constant supervision.”
Moreover, the researchers also discovered so many omissions and contradictions in the reports of the various personnel who were present on the night of the men’s deaths that it was impossible to construct a coherent narrative. It was also impossible not to conclude that, with so many holes in the official account, the investigation was, as Professor Mark Denbeaux explained in a press release, “a cover up,” and, in addition, one that raised “more compelling questions”: “Who knew of the cover up? Who approved of the cover up, and why? The government’s investigation is slipshod, and its conclusion leaves the most important questions about this tragedy unanswered.”

In the Seton Hall report, the omissions and contradictions focus on the fact that the only guards who were asked to make statements on the night “were advised that they were suspected of making false statements or failing to obey direct orders” (the statements have never been publicly released); on asking why other guards were “ordered not to provide sworn statements about what happened that night”; on asking why the government “seemed to be unable to determine who was on duty that night in Alpha Block” (where the deaths supposedly occurred); on asking “why the guards who brought the bodies to the medics did not tell the medics what had happened to cause the deaths and why the medics never asked how the deaths had occurred”; on why there is “no indication that the medics observed anything unusual on the cell block at the time that the detainees wee hanging dead in their cells”; and, finally, on “why the guards on duty in the cell block were not systematically interviewed about the events of the night, why the medics who visited the cell block before the hangings were not interviewed, [and] why the tower guards, who had the responsibility and ability to observe all activity in the camp, were not interviewed.”

In addition, the report also noted the NCIS’s failure to review “audio and video recordings which are systematically maintained; ‘Pass-On’ books prepared by each shift to describe occurrences on the block for the next shift; the Detainee Information Management System, which contains records of all activity for that night as the events occur; and Serious Incident reports, which are the reports used when there are suicide attempts.”

The authors were also particularly concerned that a prominent claim in the NCIS statement — “that on the night in question, another detainee (who did not later commit suicide) had walked through the cell block telling people ‘tonight’s the night'” — was not explained. “There is no indication,” they wrote, “of how this could have happened given camp security rules or, if it had taken place, why security was not tighter as a result.”

Harper’s Magazine reports soldiers’ testimony, suggests prisoners died in torture sessions
Just six weeks after the Seton Hall report was published, answers to some of these questions were provided in the most extraordinary manner. In an article for Harper’s Magazine, law professor Scott Horton revealed the story of Army Staff Sgt. Joe Hickman, and a number of other soldiers — the tower guards mentioned in the Seton Hall report, who “had the responsibility and ability to observe all activity in the camp, [but] were not interviewed.”

Sgt. Hickman, who was on duty in a tower on the prison’s perimeter on the night the three men died, addressed some of the NCIS investigations’ omissions and contradictions by explaining that the reason that men had been dead for over two hours before their deaths were reported, that few reports were taken from the personnel on duty, and that rags were stuffed in the men’s throats was not because they had committed suicide, but because they had been taken from the cell block earlier that evening to a secret facility outside the main perimeter fence of Guantánamo — known to the soldiers as “Camp No” — where they had either been deliberately killed, or had a died as the result of particularly brutal torture sessions.

Sgt. Hickman, and several other witnesses under his supervision, told Scott Horton personally that they had not seen anyone moved to the clinic from Alpha Block, where the prisoners reportedly died, and when I spoke to Sgt. Hickman a few months ago, he confirmed that this was the case, telling me categorically that neither he, nor three men he was in charge of who were stationed no more than 40 feet away from the clinic, saw anyone moved from the block to the clinic. “They didn’t die in their cells,” he explained.

This was not all. Sgt. Hickman — and other witnesses — also explained that the false suicide story required a cover-up, and that this involved Col. Mike Bumgarner, the warden at Guantánamo, telling a meeting of between 40 and 60 men on the morning of June 10 that, although “‘you all know’ three prisoners in the Alpha Block at Camp 1 committed suicide during the night by swallowing rags, causing them to choke to death,” the media would report that the three men “had committed suicide by hanging themselves in their cells. It was important, he said, that servicemen make no comments or suggestions that in any way undermined the official report. He reminded the soldiers and sailors that their phone and email communications were being monitored.”

In no time at all, the deaths were reinvented as acts of “asymmetrical warfare,” and the whole sordid cover-up began in earnest.

Sgt. Hickman has no reason to lie. He joined the US military in 1983, at the age of 19, as a Marine, and spent time in military intelligence. Later, as a civilian, he worked as a private investigator, but after the 9/11 attacks, he re-enlisted in the Army National Guard and was deployed to Guantánamo in March 2006, where he “was selected as Guantánamo’s ‘NCO of the Quarter’ and was given a commendation medal.” When his tour of duty ended in March 2007 and he returned to the US, he was “promoted to staff sergeant and worked in Maryland as an Army recruiter.”

However, as he explained to Scott Horton, “he could not forget what he had seen at Guantánamo. When Barack Obama became president, [he] decided to act. ‘I thought that with a new administration and new ideas I could actually come forward,’ he said. ‘It was haunting me.'” And as he told me a few months ago, he felt “physically sick” after holding onto his story for three years.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned at the start of this article, some stories are so disturbing that no one in authority wants to go near them, and this is clearly the case with the deaths of Salah Ahmed al-Salami, Mani Shaman al-Utaybi and Yasser Talal al-Zahrani. Although the Harper’s article received widespread coverage around the world, it was almost entirely ignored by the mainstream media in the US, with the New York Times and the Washington Post content to run an Associated Press story, without following up on it, and only Keith Olbermann of MSNBC covering the story on TV.

Part of the problem is that, although a Justice Department investigation was launched after Sgt. Hickman approached Mark Denbeaux and his son Josh last February, and the Denbeauxs took the case to the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, an initial flurry of interest rapidly waned, and Teresa McHenry, the head of the Criminal Division’s Domestic Security Section, who took charge of the investigation, notified Mark Denbeaux on November 2, 2009 that the investigation was being closed. Scott Horton described Denbeaux’s reaction as follows:

“It was a strange conversation,” Denbeaux recalled. McHenry explained that “the gist of Sergeant Hickman’s information could not be confirmed.” But when Denbeaux asked what that “gist” actually was, McHenry declined to say. She just reiterated that Hickman’s conclusions “appeared” to be unsupported. Denbeaux asked what conclusions exactly were unsupported. McHenry refused to say.

As Horton also noted, McHenry “ha[d] firsthand knowledge of the Justice Department’s role in auditing such techniques, having served at the Justice Department under Bush and having participated in the preparation of” at least one of a number of memoranda “approving and setting the conditions for the use of torture techniques” — commonly known as the “torture memos” — which “CIA agents and others could use to defend themselves against any subsequent criminal prosecution.”

Today, as we pause to remember the three men who died at Guantánamo four years ago, we should also reflect that, as with the two other supposed suicides at Guantánamo — of Abdul Rahman al-Amri, a Saudi, on May 30, 2007, and of Mohammed al-Hanashi, a Yemeni, on June 1, 2009 — nothing resembling an adequate explanation has yet been provided for their deaths, and Sgt. Joe Hickman, the man who has done the most to try to expose the truth about the deaths in June 2006, has apparently put his career on the line for nothing, sidelined for doing what was right. “Under the Constitution I swore to defend, we don’t do this,” he told me when we spoke a few months ago.

Why an independent inquiry is needed –
and a call for Shaker Aamer to be released

Calls for a full investigation into all the deaths at Guantánamo may come to nothing, but they must be made, or we will demonstrate to those who hold the reins of accountability that the darker the allegations, the easier they are to hide.

In addition, the fallout from that horrendous night in Guantánamo is still affecting one other man, who was brutally tortured that same evening, but who, unlike Salah Ahmed al-Salami, Mani Shaman al-Utaybi and Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, did not die.

That man is Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who is still held, despite being cleared for release by a military review board in 2007. A passionate and fearless defender of the rights of the prisoners — also like the men who died — he may still be held because of what he knows.

Describing what happened to him — which involved choking, and the kind of violent punishment for dissent that Tarek Dergoul identified in the cases of Mani Shaman al-Utaybi and Yasser Talal al-Zahrani — Shaker Aamer provided a statement to one of his lawyers, which was later filed as an affidavit with the District Court in Washington D.C.:

On June 9th, 2006, [Shaker Aamer] was beaten for two and a half hours straight. Seven naval military police participated in his beating. Mr. Aamer stated he had refused to provide a retina scan and fingerprints. He reported to me that he was strapped to a chair, fully restrained at the head, arms and legs. The MPs inflicted so much pain, Mr. Aamer said he thought he was going to die.

The MPs pressed on pressure points all over his body: his temples, just under his jawline, in the hollow beneath his ears. They choked him. They bent his nose repeatedly so hard to the side he thought it would break. They pinched his thighs and feet constantly. They gouged his eyes. They held his eyes open and shined a mag-lite in them for minutes on end, generating intense heat. They bent his fingers until he screamed. When he screamed, they cut off his airway, then put a mask on him so he could not cry out.

• Note: To take action for Shaker Aamer, please feel free to cut and paste a letter to foreign secretary William Hague, available here, asking him to do all in his power to secure his return from Guantánamo to the UK, to be reunited with his family.

© 2010 Cage Prisoners

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

The Time Has Come for Some Realism

June 23rd, 2010 - by admin

The London Independent – 2010-06-23 18:00:55


LONDON (June 22, 2010) — Yesterday saw the 300th British fatality of the long Afghan war. It is, of course, an artificial milestone. As David Cameron pointed out, there is no reason why the 300th death of a British soldier in that conflict should be any more significant than the 299th or the 301st. But, rightly or wrongly, round numbers tend to capture the public’s attention. This is a milestone, artificial or not.

The Prime Minister has called on the country to “reflect on the incredible service and sacrifice that the armed forces give on our behalf”. And the public will certainly do so. But they will also, quite rightly, reflect on the nature of the mission itself.

Some truths about the UK’s involvement in Afghanistan are now abundantly clear. First, the idea that Britain is able to extend an open-ended commitment to the country is dead. There is no popular support for that scale of commitment; nor are there the resources.

The Army is already severely stretched on the ground. Troops lack body armour, helicopters and trained bomb disposal personnel. And with the defence budget facing a severe squeeze, things are most unlikely to improve. Second, the idea that we are masters of our own destiny in Afghanistan is a myth. The fig-leaf of the Nato command remains, but the reality is that this is a US-led operation.

It is a year since General Stanley McChrystal took command in the country. The results of his troop “surge” have been mixed. The Taliban have been driven from several southern strongholds by sheer volume of US and UK troops. But the operation to take the city of Kandahar, which has symbolic and strategic importance for the Taliban, has been delayed. And the Taliban’s capacity to hurt foreign troops through roadside bombs remains undiminished.

In fairness to General McChrystal, he appears to understand the limitations of what can be achieved by military force alone in Afghanistan. His goal is to stabilise the country and build up the national security forces, rather than deliver a Western-style democracy. And he accepts that some form of political settlement with the more pragmatic elements of the Taliban is inevitable, indeed desirable.

To this extent, his efforts merit continued support. But the danger comes in deciding when enough is enough. Generals on the ground will always push for more resources and more time in the belief that a breakthrough is within reach. President Barack Obama has set a deadline of July 2011 for the start of the withdrawal of US combat troops from Afghanistan.

But some Pentagon officials are already suggesting that longer might be needed. To break that deadline would be a mistake. In the end, political leaders must tell their generals when it is time to withdraw.

The great fear of any politician when it comes to disengaging from messy foreign interventions is the accusation that they asked soldiers to sacrifice their lives in vain. But the force of that charge depends on the goals politicians set and the rhetoric they use in justifying a conflict. The old argument that British and American troops in Helmand are protecting civilians in London and New York is not only incredible, it has made it much harder to pull troops out.

Mr Cameron and President Obama need to lower public expectations of what can be achieved in Afghanistan. They need to explain where in the region the true threat to the West’s interests lies and what is the most practical and effective way of safeguarding those interests.

These leaders are already being increasingly realistic in private on such matters. They need to share that same candour with their respective publics, rather then peddling the same old comforting fairy tales about the purpose of the Afghan mission. It is time, in short, for some realism.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Mortal Tide Calls Entire US Strategy into Question

June 23rd, 2010 - by admin

Kim Sengupta / The Independent – 2010-06-23 17:57:47


LONDON (June 22, 2010) — The patrol from No 1 Company, the Coldstream Guards, was pinned down in a field at Babaji in Helmand, an area supposedly “liberated” from the Taliban during Operation Panther’s Claw.

As we took shelter in a ditch an American B1 bomber, called in for air support, came in low, huge and menacing. It was there for a “show of force” to scare the Taliban, but not to bomb them, an example of “courageous restraint” stipulated by General Stanley McChrystal.

The Taliban did not get scared and continued firing.” How about some courageous bombing instead?” shouted an exasperated young soldier.

A year earlier, a unit of British troops in a similar situation south of Garmsir called down attacks from an RAF Harrier. Minutes later a B1 dropped two 500lb bombs with deafening noise. It seemed implausible anyone could survive, but the Taliban were heard on the radio reporting “they have dropped a big one on us.”

The military advantage through air strikes on that occasion in Garmsir was, thus, negligible. Any women and children killed or maimed would have added to the anger felt over foreign troops. Gen McChrystal is determined not to alienate “hearts and minds”, a key plank in his strategy since being sent by Barack Obama to turn the tide of a war which was looking increasingly un-winnable to the Western public and politicians.

The logic of Gen McChrystal’s approach appeared unarguable. Commanders say he rejuvenated a campaign which had lost its way.

Now, however, questions are being asked as to whether the McChrystal “surge” of troops to seize and hold ground from the insurgents, while doing the utmost to avoid civilian casualties, would actually work.

Yesterday brought the news that Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the UK representative to Afghanistan, has gone on “extended leave” after expressing his opposition to the military option. The “surge” is not working, he is said to believe – the only option is to talk to the Taliban.

It is true that the war is no longer confined to the south. The capital, Kabul, is regularly attacked, the number of roadside bombs have almost doubled in a year. But one of the main reasons for this rise in violence has been the presence of Western and Afghan troops in areas they have not been to before. The Taliban, backed by their supporters in the Pakistani secret police, the ISI, are fighting to hold their turf.

Despite the losses, one can see signs of civic society returning in some of the most violent parts of Helmand. However, establishing security takes time and that is what the commanders do not have. US officials repeatedly say that President Obama’s deadline of July next year to begin the pullout is “conditions based”, but with the President facing re-election, the faction led by Vice-President Joe Biden, strongly opposed to the “surge”, is gaining ground. The new British Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, and David Cameron have stated that the UK will “last the course” but there is little doubt both men would like the withdrawal to start as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the Afghan president Hamid Karzai is said to be so disillusioned with the US and Britain that he is willing to embrace the most extreme factions of the Taliban. The two government officials most trusted by the West, interior minister Hanif Atmar and Amrullah Saleh, the director of the intelligence service, have resigned in protest.

Gen McChrystal and the military commanders still believe their strategy will work in the field. But they now talk privately of the possibility of the politicians jeopardising all that is being achieved.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

‘Grim Milestone’ for UK in Afghanistan: 300 Soldiers Dead

June 23rd, 2010 - by admin

Kim Sengupta, Defence Correspondent / The Independent – 2010-06-23 17:51:18


Another Grim Milestone for Armed Forces as
Death Toll in Afghanistan Hits 300

Kim Sengupta, Defence Correspondent / The Independent

LONDON (June 22, 2010) — The sombre milestone of the 300th fatality among British forces in Afghanistan has been reached with the death of a Royal Marine from injuries received in Helmand. He had been injured in a blast in the Sangin district on 12 June.

The announcement of the death was accompanied by reports that the UK’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, has gone on “extended leave” after expressing scepticism over Western military strategy and calling for speeding up talks with the Taliban.

Sir Sherard’s tenure has become increasingly difficult after he clashed with US and Nato officials, and the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, was said to have been furious after hearing that the ambassador had allegedly called for his removal. He is being temporarily replaced by Karen Pierce, the Foreign Office’s South Asia director.

The departure of the veteran diplomat will strengthen opposition to the war, which has grown as the human and financial cost has increased. Yesterday demonstrators outside Downing Street demanded the immediate withdrawal of British forces.

The latest serviceman to die, from 40 Commando, was receiving treatment at Birmingham’s New Queen Elizabeth Hospital. The Prime Minister, who had warned the British people to expect more casualties this summer, which is likely to see some of the fiercest fighting since the start of the war, said: “It’s a moment for the whole country to reflect.”

David Cameron continued: “We are paying a high price for keeping our country safe, for making our world a safer place and we should keep asking why we are there and how long we must be there. We are there because the Afghans are not yet ready to keep their own country safe and to keep terrorists and terrorist training camps out of their country.”

Critics are questioning whether waiting for Afghanistan to become safe can remain a feasible aim as the scale of the violence escalates.

A Nato helicopter was brought down yesterday, the second in the last few weeks, leaving eight dead. Sixty Western soldiers have been killed this month, making June the deadliest month for Nato troops since the US-led invasion of 2001. British losses for the year stand at 76.

Major Renny Bulmer, of 40 Commando, said of the fallen Marine: “His courage and sacrifice will not be forgotten.” He added that the thoughts of his comrades were with his family, who had kept vigil at his bedside.

The 100th and 200th deaths in the conflict also led to concern about the war when they happened. Yesterday Paul Gamble, the father of Private Daniel Gamble, who died in 2008 and was the 100th casualty, told ITV News: “The fact that Daniel was killed, he was the 100th, but his death is no more or less significant than any of the others… Every number is too large isn’t it?

“The families are always going to be suffering but they’re out there to do a job and until that job is done then there are going to be casualties.”

A UN Security Council report issued at the weekend showed that roadside bombings had risen by 94 per cent in a year and, on average, there were three suicide bombings a week. Assassinations of Afghan government officials and local leaders who opposed the Taliban have risen by 45 per cent. Major-General Gordon Messenger, the British military’s spokesman on Afghanistan, said: “I think it is right that people are questioning why we are in Afghanistan. I would think it wrong if we were not, given the sacrifices that the UK and many other nations are making. We are clear about what we are trying to do there and we are making progress.”

He said roadside bombs had become a part of daily life for the troops. “The threat is getting more lethal in that the IEDs are widespread.”

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Seciton 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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