The American Bear

Sunshine/Lollipops

Nato commander apologises after troops shoot dead Afghan children | guardian.co.uk

NATO said on Saturday its forces had accidentally shot dead two Afghan boys, in the latest of a series of reports of civilian deaths at the hands of international troops.

The shooting, in the southern province of Uruzgan, could further strain the relationship between the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) and Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who has demanded US special forces leave another province over allegations of torture. The two boys were shot dead when they were mistaken for insurgents during an operation in northwest Uruzgan on 28 February, Isaf commander US General Joseph Dunford said in a statement.

"I offer my personal apology and condolences to the family of the boys who were killed," Dunford said. "The boys were killed when Coalition forces fired at what they thought were insurgent forces." Dunford added that a team of Afghan and Isaf investigators visited the village on Saturday and met local leaders.

The area, Lowar-e-Dowahom, was often patrolled by international troops, a spokesman for provincial governor Amir Mohammad Akhundzada said. “They saw two young children who were apparently listening to a radio and they shot them – it is not yet clear why,” the spokesman said.

Syria crisis: European countries expected to start arming rebels | The Guardian

Some European countries are expected to break with Washington and start supplying the Syrian rebels with weapons in the next few months, the representative of the Syrian opposition in Britain has told the Guardian.

The National Coalition’s London representative, Walid Saffour, predicted that by the next meeting of the western and Arab Friends of Syria group in Turkey, due in late spring or early summer, “there will be a breakthrough that will end the restrictions of the European countries”.

NATO Weighs Financing Larger Afghan Security Force | NYT

NATO defense ministers are seriously considering a new proposal to sustain Afghanistan’s security forces at 352,000 troops through 2018, senior alliance officials said Thursday. The expensive effort is viewed as a way to help guarantee the country’s stability — and, just as much, to illustrate continued foreign support after the NATO allies end their combat mission in Afghanistan next year.

The fiscal package that NATO leaders endorsed last spring would have reduced the Afghan National Security Forces to fewer than 240,000 troops after December 2014, when the NATO mission expires. That reduction was based on planning work indicating that the larger current force level was too expensive for Afghanistan and the allies to keep up, and might not be required. Some specialists even argued that the foreign money pouring into Afghanistan to support so large a force was helping fuel rampant official corruption.

Recruiting, training, equipping and operating Afghanistan’s army and national police forces at their present level will cost about $6.5 billion for the current American fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Afghanistan pays $500 million of that total, its international partners add $300 million, and the United States provides the remaining $5.7 billion.

Senior NATO officials said Thursday that the allies were examining a new assistance package to Afghanistan that would last at least five years and keep the security forces at the higher troop level.

The alliance is “strongly considering” the proposal, said one senior NATO official, although many of its provisions are not yet settled, including how the cost would be shared. That official and others who described the closed-door deliberations did so on standard diplomatic rules of anonymity.

And the excuse this time is:

… NATO officials acknowledged that the Taliban and other insurgent groups in Afghanistan were pointing to the approaching end of the coalition combat mission as proof that the United States and its allies were abandoning Afghanistan, repeating a cycle of intervention and withdrawal. Alliance officials worry that ordinary Afghan citizens and even some Afghan leaders could adopt the same view. So NATO is discussing expanded financial aid and the continued presence of a small contingent of American and allied troops after 2014 as concrete proof of continued foreign support for Afghanistan, officials said. [++]

NATO to help implement Karzai air strike decree: NATO commander | Reuters

NATO will work with the country’s defence leadership to implement a ban by President Hamid Karzai on Afghan forces using NATO air strikes in residential areas, the new NATO commander in Afghanistan, U.S. General Joseph Dunford, said on Sunday.

Karzai announced on Saturday that he would issue a decree banning Afghan security forces from requesting NATO air strikes on “Afghan homes or villages”, following the deaths of 10 civilians in the eastern province of Kunar last Wednesday.

The NATO air strike had been requested by Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, Karzai said on Saturday.

In his first meeting with reporters since assuming command of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) a week ago, General Dunford said he would work out the details of how to implement Karzai’s order.

“We got the broad guidance from the President, and we will work out the details in the coming days,” he said at the heavily guarded ISAF headquarters, several hundred meters from Karzai’s palace.

Karzai’s decree was expected to be issued on Sunday and paralleled a “tactical directive” issued by ISAF in June last year, which forbade international troops from using air strikes against insurgents “within civilian dwellings”, Dunford said.

That directive was issued days after 18 civilians were killed during a NATO air strike in eastern Logar province.

UN group says US attacks, air strikes kill hundreds of Afghan children in recent years | The Washington Post

NEW YORK — Attacks by U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, including air strikes, have reportedly killed hundreds of children over the last four years, according to the U.N. body monitoring the rights of children.

The Geneva-based Committee on the Rights of the Child said the casualties were “due notably to reported lack of precautionary measures and indiscriminate use of force.” It was reviewing a range of U.S. policies affecting children for the first time since 2008 — the last year of the Bush administration and the year Barack Obama was first elected president.

And, as they’re apt to do: NATO rejects UN report on death of Afghan children

The Mali Blowback: More to Come? | Stephen Zunes

The French-led military offensive in its former colony of Mali has pushed back radical Islamists and allied militias from some of the country’s northern cities, freeing the local population from repressive Taliban-style totalitarian rule. The United States has backed the French military effort by transporting French troops and equipment and providing reconnaissance through its satellites and drones. However, despite these initial victories, it raises concerns as to what unforeseen consequences may lay down the road.

Indeed, it was such Western intervention—also ostensibly on humanitarian grounds—that was largely responsible for the Malian crisis in the first place.

The 2011 NATO military intervention in Libya effort went well beyond the UN Security Council mandate to protect civilian lives, as the French, British and U.S. air forces—along with ground support by the Saudi and Qatari dictatorships—essentially allied themselves with the rebel armies. The African Union—while highly-critical of Qaddafi’s repression—condemned the intervention, fearing that the resulting chaos would result in the Libya’s vast storehouse of arms might fueling local and regional conflicts elsewhere in Africa and destabilize the region.

This is exactly what happened. [continue]

Munich Security Conference endorses US call for expansion of neo-colonial wars | Christoph Dreier

This year’s Munich Security Conference, held over the weekend, took place against the background of the re-colonization of the Middle East and Africa by the US and its European allies. It was an unabashed affirmation of the type of naked imperialist domination of these regions that characterized the first half of the 20th century.

Even as the meeting was underway, French President François Hollande was making a celebratory visit to France’s former colony Mali while French troops and war planes continued to attack insurgent-held territory, and British Prime Minister David Cameron was holding talks with UK-backed leaders in Algeria and Libya.

For three days, leading political, military and defense industry representatives of the major powers, along with invited officials from other nations, met to discuss current and future military operations and geo-strategic issues. The conference demonstrated the consensus among the major imperialist powers, led by the United States, for an expanded political and military drive to install puppet governments and seize control of critical natural resources across the Middle East, Central Asia and the African continent.

The tone was set by US Vice President Joseph Biden, who delivered a bellicose speech singling out as targets of US and NATO aggression nations ranging from Syria, Iran and Yemen to Somalia, Mali and the rest of North Africa. [++]

The untold US invasion of Africa | John Pilger

A full-scale invasion of Africa is under way. The United States is deploying troops in 35 African countries, beginning with Libya, Sudan, Algeria and Niger. Reported by Associated Press on Christmas Day, this was missing from most Anglo-American media.

The invasion has almost nothing to do with “Islamism”, and almost everything to do with the acquisition of resources, notably minerals, and an accelerating rivalry with China. Unlike China, the US and its allies are prepared to use a degree of violence demonstrated in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Palestine.

As in the Cold War, a division of labour requires that Western journalism and popular culture provide the cover of a holy war against a “menacing arc” of Islamic extremism, no different from the bogus “red menace” of a worldwide communist conspiracy.

Reminiscent of the “scramble for Africa” in the late 19th century, the US African Command (Africom) has built a network of supplicants among collaborative African regimes eager for American bribes and armaments.

Last year, Africom staged Operation African Endeavor, with the armed forces of 34 African nations taking part, commanded by the US military. Africom’s “soldier to soldier” doctrine embeds US officers at every level of command from general to warrant officer. Only pith helmets are missing. [continue]

Meeting and Greeting the Crusaders in Africa | Glen Ford

These days the so-called scramble for Africa runs through Mali, and in two directions. As the British, the Italians, the Germans, the Spanish, the Dutch, the Belgians and the Danish follow the French into northwest Africa, the Africans rush up to meet them, as if these white people were old friends coming to visit, again. Cargo planes ferry French fighters and equipment into the Mali desert, where they search for jihadists – Muslim fighters that are politically indistinguishable from the ones the Europeans and the Americans backed in Libya, and are now arming, in Syria.

If the Mali operation takes much longer – which it certainly will – the United States will assume much of the airlift duties, since no other nation in the world has the capacity to resupply a long war on the African continent. Cracking northern Africa wide open is a job for a superpower – which is fine with the Americans. Don Yamamoto, the deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, was hanging around the African Union meeting in Ethiopia, where African officials were handing out orders and directives to other Africans, as if they were actually in charge of something. Yamamoto predicted that “it could take several years” for the Mali mission to completed. “This is only the first phase,” he said. So, what is that mission? Will it take the combined forces of the United States, France, much of the rest of NATO, and of soldiers from all over Africa to defeat, at most, a few thousand jihadists in a treeless desert? Do the Europeans and the Americans really have to stay so long?

Oh yes, said deputy secretary Yamamoto. He claims, “A lot of the rebel groups that are now fighting in the region were under Gaddafi’s troops.” Ah, so that’s how the U.S. will tell the story.

It’s true that many Tuareg nationalists seeking independence for their homeland in northern Mali worked with Gaddafi’s security forces, and emerged from Libya heavily armed. But, no sooner had the secular Tuareg rebellion begun than it was overwhelmed by Muslim fundamentalists – jihadists who were Gaddafi’s sworn enemies. The jihadists, many of them foreigners, could be run out of the cities of Mali and militarily contained with little effort. But, the Tuaregs live there, and always have. It is, therefore, necessary for the United States to claim that the entire Tuareg people – several million of them – are infested with jihadism, and that this will require a long-term Euro-American presence in Mali and the region. [++]

Zero Dark Mali | Pepe Escobar

… In this Folies de Pigalle in the desert, Washington will be “leading from behind.” Wise move; shadow wars bypass quagmires. It’s the French – with typical Gallic grandeur – who will remain infatuated with the illusion of soon ruling the Mali desert. In fact they won’t even rule algae in the Niger river, because this will be a protracted nomad war. The prospect of a succession of sandy Dien Bien Phus looms.

And the minute most of Mali’s impoverished population – for the moment in favor of getting rid of AQIM, MUJAO, Belmokhtar’s gang and Ansar ed-Dine – feels the slightest whiff of neocolonial occupation, the French are on their way to meet the American fate in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s enlightening to regard all this under the perspective of President Obama 2.0 administration’s foreign policy, as (vaguely) outlined in his inauguration. Obama promised to end US wars (shadow wars are much more cost-efficient). He promised multi-lateral cooperation with allies (while Washington effectively calls the shots), negotiation (as in our way or the highway) and no new war in the Middle East.

To take the president at his word, this translates into no US war against Syria (just the shadow variety); no Bomb, Bomb Iran (just murderous sanctions); and France gets the Mali prize. Or will it? Zero Dark pulp fiction starts now. [++]

War on terror forever | Pepe Escobar

And the winner of the Oscar for Best Sequel of 2013 goes to… The Global War on Terror (GWOT), a Pentagon production. Abandon all hope those who thought the whole thing was over with the cinematographic snuffing out of “Geronimo”, aka Osama bin Laden, further reduced to a fleeting cameo in the torture-enabling flick Zero Dark Thirty.

It’s now official - coming from the mouth of the lion, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, and duly posted at the AFRICOM site, the Pentagon’s weaponized African branch. Exit “historical” al-Qaeda, holed up somewhere in the Waziristans, in the Pakistani tribal areas; enter al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). In Dempsey’s words, AQIM “is a threat not only to the country of Mali, but the region, and if… left unaddressed, could in fact become a global threat.”

With Mali now elevated to the status of a “threat” to the whole world, GWOT is proven to be really open-ended. The Pentagon doesn’t do irony; when, in the early 2000s, armchair warriors coined the expression “The Long War”, they really meant it.

Even under President Obama 2.0’s “leading from behind” doctrine, the Pentagon is unmistakably gunning for war in Mali - and not only of the shadow variety. General Carter Ham, AFRICOM’s commander, already operates under the assumption Islamists in Mali will “attack American interests”.

Thus, the first 100 US military “advisers” are being sent to Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Togo and Ghana - the six member-nations of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) that will compose an African army tasked (by the United Nations) to reconquer (invade?) the parts of Mali under the Islamist sway of AQIM, its splinter group MUJAO and the Ansar ed-Dine militia. This African mini-army, of course, is paid for by the West.

Students of the Vietnam War will be the first to note that sending “advisers” was the first step of the subsequent quagmire. And on a definitely un-Pentagonese ironic aside, the US over these past few years did train Malian troops. A lot of them duly deserted. As for the lavishly, Fort Benning-trained Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, not only did he lead a military coup against an elected Mali government but also created the conditions for the rise of the Islamists.

Nobody, though, is paying attention. [must read]

No Military Solution Can Solve Crisis in Mali, says Emira Woods | FPIF

“There cannot be a military solution to this crisis in Mali,” said Emira Woods, co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, on PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. “The crisis has its roots in political and also economic processes, with people in the northern part of the country feeling completely marginalized from the rest of the country.”

“So clearly what you had was an opportunity because of the intervention, the NATO intervention in Libya, unleashing weapons, both from Qadaffi’s coffers as well as from the international community, weapons flowing from Libya, across borders of Algeria, into northern Mali, to be able to actually create a crisis, and further destabilize northern Mali,” said Woods. “So I think what you have is a situation where unilateral intervention could create complications down the road, both for civilians that could be targeted in these airstrikes, as well as for further complicating a political crisis that may not be resolved militarily.”