Archive for the ‘civilian’ Category

Afghans’ Toll Shakes Generals: Soviet Lesson Was Civilian Deaths Can Destroy Strategy

October 19, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan — A generation ago, when the Soviets were in Afghanistan, they lost the battle for hearts and minds quickly by showing scant concern for human rights. Estimates run as high as 1.5 million dead and 10,000 villages destroyed. Now, Americans labor in the shadow of that history, and that helps to explain why alarm bells are ringing in the NATO headquarters here over the latest accounts of air raids that went wrong, causing dozens of civilian casualties.
When such things happen, within an Afghan population deeply traumatized by the Soviet years, there is a quick resort to comparisons of the past occupier with the present one, even though the scale of casualties caused by Western forces — even taking the worst figures compiled by human rights groups — are but a fraction of the abuses committed by the Russians.

For Gen. David D. McKiernan, the American who commands 65,000 foreign troops from 39 nations in Afghanistan, concern over civilian casualties, especially from aircraft-launched bombs and missiles, has become the issue of the moment. Only if it is tackled effectively, senior officers here are now saying, can the hearts and minds of 30 million Afghans — many of them increasingly skeptical about the Western military presence, and angry about the civilian death toll — be won.

The NATO command has been intently focused on the issue since an attack in western Afghanistan on Aug. 22, when an AC-130 gunship mounted a nighttime raid on what the United States intelligence has identified as a meeting of about 30 Taliban fighters with a “high value” Taliban commander. Lethal cannon fire from the aircraft devastated several buildings in the mud-brick village of Azizabad, leaving more civilians dead than Taliban.

A similar pattern, according to Afghan officials and townspeople, was seen Thursday in the Nadali district of Helmand Province, where a coalition airstrike hit three houses sheltering families who had fled a Taliban assault. According to the Afghan accounts, the strike killed between 25 and 30 civilians, most of them women and children. The NATO command acknowledged that an airstrike had taken place and announced there would be an investigation, but said it could not confirm that there had been civilian casualties.

The timing of the airstrike and the ensuing accusations could scarcely have been worse for the NATO command. At the very moment when the Nadali incident was taking place, senior American and British officers were briefing Western aid representatives and reporters in Kabul on a new, more-thorough system for reducing civilian casualties.

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US to send nuclear mission to India

October 16, 2008

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States has said it would send a mission to India in December to explore business opportunities following a landmark pact to open up sales of civilian nuclear technology to the country.
Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee (left) shakes hands ... 
Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee (left) shakes hands with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice after signing the US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement in Washington, DC on October 10. The United States has said it would send a mission to India in December to explore business opportunities following a landmark pact to open up sales of civilian nuclear technology to the country.(AFP/File/Kris Connor)

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee signed the agreement last week that lifted a three-decade ban on US-Indian civilian nuclear trade imposed after India’s first nuclear test in 1974.

“I’m pleased to announce that the Commerce Department has certified the US-India Business Council for a civil nuclear trade mission to India this coming December,” US Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrrez said Wednesday.

Council President Ron Somers has projected 150 billion dollars worth of business between US and Indian companies over the next 30 years following the deal, which offers India access to US technology and cheap atomic energy in return for allowing UN inspections of some of its civilian nuclear facilities.

US-India bilateral trade in 2007 was nearly 42 billion dollars, up 55 percent from 2005, Gutierrez said at a council meeting Wednesday aimed at tapping business opportunities in India‘s “clean energy” market.

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SecDef Gates sees division in Chinese actions

December 22, 2007

By Bill Gertz
The Washington Times
December 22, 2007

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday that recent military incidents involving the U.S. and China indicate troubling signs of division between Beijing’s military and the nation’s communist political leaders.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, left, accompanied by Joint Chiefs ...

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, left, accompanied by Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Gen. James Cartwright, takes part in a news conference at the Pentagon, Friday, Dec. 21, 2007. (AP Photo/Heesoon Yim)

China’s refusal to permit U.S. Navy ship visits to Hong Kong last month and a provocative anti-satellite weapon test in January are prompting U.S. intelligence agencies to worry that the Chinese military is not under the control of the civilian government in Beijing, according to other defense officials.

Mr. Gates voiced similar concerns yesterday when asked by a reporter whether China had explained why it barred the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk and accompanying warships from making a Thanksgiving Day port call in Hong Kong.

“What has been interesting to me this year is that I think we have had two situations in which there appears to have been a disconnect within the Chinese government,” Mr. Gates said.

After the Chinese military’s successful January test of a missile against a weather-satellite target, China’s Foreign Ministry “didn’t seem to understand or know what had happened” and indicated “confusion” over the test, he said.

“We seem to have had a little bit of the same thing with the Kitty Hawk, where the military may have made a decision that was not communicated to the political side of the government,” Mr. Gates said. “Now, I don’t know that for a fact, but there’s just some hint of that.”

A senior defense official said that Chinese President Hu Jintao was familiar with China’s secret anti-satellite weapon program but may not have known about the Jan. 11 test, which contradicted China’s public position against the development and deployment of space weapons.

A senior U.S. military officer said there also were signs earlier this year that senior Chinese air force generals were not aware of the existence of the anti-satellite weapons program, which is thought to be a top-secret effort directed by the Communist Party’s Central Military Commission. It is led by Mr. Hu as chairman and has two senior Chinese generals as vice chairmen.

Intelligence officials are said to disagree over the analysis of a Chinese leadership split, with pro-China analysts citing a split as explaining hostile Chinese behavior as the result of differences between hawks and doves. A similar analysis during the Cold War sought to explain Soviet behavior, though post-Cold War analysis showed the appearance to be deliberate disinformation.

Still, worries over suspected divisions in China’s leadership are prompting concerns about the control over China’s nuclear arsenal, which is currently expanding in both quantity and quality, defense officials said. China’s military is deploying three new types of advanced, long-range nuclear missiles and a new class of ballistic-missile submarines.

Chinese military leaders so far have not agreed to U.S. government requests for talks on strategic nuclear weapons, despite a promise made by Mr. Hu to President Bush last year to send the commander of China’s nuclear forces to visit the United States and the military’s U.S. Strategic Command. China’s military leaders are said to fear that talks on nuclear forces with the U.S. will lead to disclosures of information that could be used against China in a conflict.

U.S. intelligence agencies know very little about the forces and command-and-control arrangements for China’s nuclear weapons, which are estimated to include about 20 long-range nuclear missiles and several hundred shorter-range, nuclear-capable missiles.

Mr. Gates said that China is continuing its military buildup but that he does not consider China “an enemy.”

“I think there are opportunities for continued cooperation in a number of areas,” he said. “I still think it’s important for us to develop the strategic dialogue with China where we sit down and talk about how we see the threat, how each of us perceives the threat and the purpose behind our modernization programs and so on.”

Richard Fisher, a specialist on the Chinese military, said Mr. Gates’ comments on a possible split among Chinese leader is a cause for concern and should be clarified.

“If such a split is real, then he should also explain if there is a danger of a [military] coup against the party,” said Mr. Fisher, vice president of the International Assessment and Strategy Center. “Such a coup could lead to a PLA-led war against Taiwan for ‘national unity,’ a war that could easily escalate into a nuclear exchange.”

Mr. Fisher said he knows of disturbing reports of tensions between the ruling Communist Party and the military over efforts by Mr. Hu to crack down on corruption in the military.

Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who appeared with Mr. Gates, also said he wants to develop closer lines of communication with the Chinese military to avoid misunderstandings over issues like the Kitty Hawk, the anti-satellite test and Taiwan.

Asked about tensions between China and Taiwan over Taipei’s plan to hold a nationwide vote seeking United Nations membership under the name Taiwan, instead of the formal Republic of China, Mr. Gates said he is not worried “there will be a military reaction.”

Mr. Gates also called “specious” claims in the Chinese and U.S. press that the reason the Kitty Hawk was blocked from Hong Kong was Chinese anger that the defense secretary had not warned Chinese military leaders during his visit to China in October that the Pentagon was set to sell upgraded Patriot missile equipment to Taiwan.

Israel: More Progress on Missile Defense

December 21, 2007

by Leah Krauss
Haifa, Israel (UPI) Dec 20, 2007

The Israel Defense Forces this week announced progress in testing a new Patriot missile launching system in southern Israel. “(The system’s) updated design, developed by the Americans — primarily with the help of lessons learned from the war in Iraq — was installed and successfully tested with one of the Israeli Patriot missiles,” the IDF said in a statement from the spokesman.

“The ballistic threats (to Israel) are only increasing,” Lt. Col. Shabbatai Ben-Bohar — the first commander of the Patriot Battery Unit to try the new launching system — said via the IDF statement. “Our enemies understand that in air-to-air combat we have the upper hand, so they prefer to hide among the civilian population and launch ballistic missiles, knowing (they won’t be caught),” Ben-Bohar continued.

“As such, the new missile system has to address the reality Ben-Bohar describes,” the IDF said in the statement. “The new system represents another step in improving the interception of surface-to-surface missiles; now that it has passed the true test (of successful launches), it is expected to be installed for all Patriot missiles (in Israel).”

“In Tuesday’s experiment, the first of its kind in a very long period of time, a missile was launched at a target simulating an airplane carrying out an attack mission. The improved missile was able to successfully intercept the target,” according to a report on the test from the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz.

“Israel is improving the system’s radar and range as part of the implementation of lessons learned from the 34-day war with Hezbollah in the summer of 2006, during which the radical Lebanese movement fired nearly 4,000 Katyusha rockets at northern Israeli towns and communities,” the newspaper report continued.

This development, and the test itself, were carried out with the cooperation of Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., one of Israel’s largest defense firms. The company announced in August that the Iron Dome, a short-range, rocket-based missile interception system, would be operational within a year and a half. Later, in October, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak visited the United States to discuss, among other things, missile defense collaboration.

“We are giving high priority to the production of a system involving several projects, which, within a few years, will provide protection for Israel from about 90 percent of all attempts to fire rockets at us, from (Iranian) Shihab missiles to Qassams (from Gaza),” he said at the time. “In the longer range, we will have, for many reasons, to achieve a much higher interception level.”

Israel’s Patriot testing is just the latest development in a longstanding cooperation with the United States on missile defense. The Arrow Weapons System was jointly developed by the two countries and continues to be upgraded. In late July the U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved $26 million in federal funding for the Arrow System Improvement Program, according to the office of Rep. Steve Rothman, D-N.J., a member of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Defense.

At that time, Rothman said of the appropriation, “The Arrow program is one of the most advanced missile defense systems around and has been proven to work in tests against real and surrogate targets in California and Israel.

“It provides essential protection against ballistic missiles for Israel’s civilian population, as well as U.S. troops in the Middle East.

“In light of Iran’s open hostility toward the U.S. and Israel, I consider increasing the effectiveness of the Arrow system to be essential to our defense. This technology, along with diplomacy, can help us avert another deadly and costly war,” Rothman said.

State Department Security Chief Resigns Amid Blackwater Turmoil; Iraq Wants the Security Contractor Out

October 24, 2007

By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The State Department’s security chief resigned on Wednesday in the wake of last month’s deadly Blackwater USA shooting incident in Baghdad and growing questions about the use of private contractors to protect diplomats in Iraq.

Richard Griffin, the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, announced his decision to step down at a weekly staff meeting, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, adding that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accepted the resignation, which is effective Nov. 1.

“Secretary Rice is grateful to Ambassador Griffin for his record of long exemplary service to the nation,” McCormack said. “He has distinguished himself during a 36-year career with the U.S. government, serving in some of the most sensitive and demanding posts.”

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Iraq Still Determined to Expell Blackwater USA

By STEVEN R. HURST, Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD – The Iraqi government remains determined to expel the Blackwater USA security company and is searching for legal remedies to overturn an American-imposed decree that exempts all foreign bodyguards from prosecution under local laws, officials said Wednesday.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki‘s government accepted the findings of an Iraqi investigative committee that determined Blackwater guards, without provocation, killed 17 Iraqis last month in Nisoor Square in western Baghdad.

Iraqi investigators declared that Blackwater should be expelled and $8 million should be paid as compensation for each victim.

The officials said the Cabinet decided Tuesday to establish a committee to find ways to repeal a 2004 directive issued by L. Paul Bremer, chief of the former U.S. occupation government in Iraq. The order placed private security companies outside Iraqi law.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

The Iraqi probe into the Sept. 16 shooting found that Blackwater personnel guarding a State Department convoy opened fire on Iraqis without reason. Blackwater said its men came under fire first, although no witnesses have been found to corroborate the claim. The guards involved have been isolated and have not been available to comment.

The Iraqi officials said Cabinet ministers again demanded that the U.S. Embassy, Blackwater’s biggest client in Iraq, expel the company. U.S. officials have said any action must await completion of an American investigation.

In Washington, the State Department’s security chief, Richard Griffin, announced his resignation a day after a review panel created by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered a series of measures to boost government oversight of the private guards who protect American diplomats in Iraq.

Rice’s review panel found serious lapses in the department’s oversight of such guards, who are employed by Griffin’s bureau.

Neither Griffin nor spokesmen for the department’s Diplomatic Security Bureau could be reached for immediate comment.

In a Shiite district southeast of Baghdad, meanwhile, two bombs exploded seconds apart near a bus station Wednesday, killing at least nine people, police and hospital officials said.

The blasts, which occurred about 30 yards apart in Jisr Diyala, targeted government employees, construction workers and vendors waiting for minibuses to take them into the capital, officials said. Vendors were selling pastries, juice and tea to the workers.

Three policemen, women and children were among the nine killed and 23 wounded, officials said.

Mohammed Nuaman, a 36-year-old store owner who was wounded by shrapnel in the shoulder, said rescue efforts were complicated by a damaged bridge. The bridge, which spans the Diyala River to connect the area with Baghdad proper, was bombed in May and remains under repair.

“I heard a big explosion at the bus station area and another bomb went off about 30 seconds later, as I was heading to the area,” Nuamen said.

“Locals rushed to the area and carried some wounded by their cars to the nearby Zafaraniyah hospital before the ambulances and police arrived about 15 minutes later,” he said.

Hours later, mortar shells rained onto a neighborhood in Hibhib, 30 miles north of Baghdad, killing at least five civilians and wounding 17, police said.

Hibhib, a Sunni town in Diyala province, was the area where al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. airstrike last year.

A police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to release the information, said the mortar rounds were launched from the nearby district of Hidaid and were targeting Sunnis who had turned against al-Qaida.

Despite bombings in Baghdad and elsewhere, the Iraqi civilian death count is projected to decline for the second consecutive month. At the current pace, October would have a death count of fewer than 900, down from 1,023 in September and 1,956 in August, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press.

The AP tally is compiled from hospital, police and military officials, as well as accounts from reporters and photographers. Insurgent deaths are not included. Other counts differ and some have given higher civilian death tolls.

U.S. and Iraqi military commanders said a security crackdown had succeeded in sharply reducing the violence.

Lt. Gen. Abboud Qanbar, the Iraqi in charge of the operation, said overall terrorist acts in Baghdad had decreased by 59 percent and the number of Iraqi casualties by 77 percent since the crackdown began in February. He also said car bombs in the capital were down by 65 percent and the number of people killed in bombings was down by 81 percent.

“All sectors in Baghdad have witnessed a decrease in terrorist activities,” Qanbar said. “This has brought life to normal in many parts of Baghdad.”

The American military has reported 29 military deaths in October, down sharply from the month before. The latest fatality reported occurred Wednesday when a land mine exploded in Salahuddin province north of Baghdad, the U.S. military reported.

The U.S. second-in-command said attack levels in Baghdad were on a “steady downward trend” and were now at the lowest level since January 2006.

Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno said he expected the U.S. military to make steady progress over the next year in turning over large parts of Baghdad to Iraqi forces. “I think it’ll be somewhere between 40 and 50 percent by the end of the year,” he told reporters.


Armed Civilian Security Personnel In Iraq Held to Military Rules