Secret U.S. Program Releases High-Level Insurgents for Pledges of Peace

For several years now the US government has secretly been releasing high-level detainees from a military prison in Afghanistan as part of negotiations with insurgent groups.

While the Obama administration has, unsuccessfully, been pursuing a peace deal with the Taliban, the “strategic release” program serves as a means for officials to use prisoners as bargaining chips for pledges of peace.

U.S. officials warn the prisoners before they are released that if they are caught attacking American troops, they will be detained once again.

“Everyone agrees they are guilty of what they have done and should remain in detention. Everyone agrees that these are bad guys. But the benefits outweigh the risks,” said one U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Releasing prisoners from the Parwan detention center, the only American military prison in Afghanistan, does not require congressional approval like at Guantanamo.

U.S. officials would not say how many detainees have been released under the program, or exactly when it was established.

The process starts with talks between U.S. military officials and insurgent commanders or local elders. Promises of decreased violence are made if certain insurgents are released from Parwan. The value of the tradeoff and the sincerity of the guarantee is determined by senior military officials in Kabul, officials said.

“The Afghans have come to us with information that might strengthen the reconciliation process,” U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker said. “Many times we do act on it.”

The insurgents released through the secret program are the only detainees at Parwan who are able to circumvent the prison’s judicial review board. Their release is instead approved directly by the United States’ top commander and top military lawyer in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said. One official described the process as being “outside of our normal protocol.”

As opposed to the formal NATO-sponsored reintegration program, which forces militants to sever ties with the insurgency, the strategic release program does not require detainees to formally disavow their relationship to the Taliban, Hezb-i-Islami or other insurgent groups.


Taliban Leaders to be Released from Gitmo as Part of Peace Deal

According to sources familiar with talks in the US and in Afghanistan, a handful of high ranking Taliban figures including Mullah Khair Khowa, a former interior minister, and Noorullah Noori, a former governor in northern Afghanistan will be released from Guantanamo Bay as a part of a peace deal. Another part of the deal will have the Afghan insurgent group opening a political office for peace negotiations in Qatar.

The Taliban are also reportedly demanding the release of the former army commander Mullah Fazl Akhund. The Obama administration is considering formally handing him over to the custody of another country, possibly Qatar.

The Taliban are holding one American soldier, Bowe Bergdahl, a 25-year-old sergeant captured in June 2009, but it is not clear whether his release is part of the negotiations.

“To take this step, the [Obama] administration have to have sufficient confidence that the Taliban are going to reciprocate,” said Vali Nasr, who was an Obama administration adviser on the Afghan peace process until last year. “It is going to be really risky. Guantanamo is a very sensitive issue politically.”

“If it had not happened then the idea of reconciliation would have been completely finished. The Qatar office is akin to the Taliban forming a Sinn Féin, a political wing to conduct negotiations,” Nasr said, but added: “The next phase will need concessions on both sides. This doesn’t mean we are now on autopilot to peace.”

Negotiations over the opening of a Taliban political office and the release of prisoners have been underway for more than a year in secret contacts in Germany and in the Gulf between US and Taliban officials, but have been continually held up by political obstacles.

It is not clear when the office will open, and there is also likely to be disagreement on the role of the Kabul government. A senior Afghan government official said the Karzai administration had accepted the creation of a Taliban office in Qatar only after demanding assurances from foreign powers that any peace process must be kept under the firm control of the Afghan government.

“If it is not led and owned by the Afghan government, it will fail,” the official said.

However, Tuesday’s Taliban statement said the group was only interested in talking to the “United States of America and their foreign allies,” Mujahid said.

Western diplomats hope the opening of an office in Qatar will also lessen Pakistan’s control of the Taliban. Pakistan plays host to most of the Taliban leadership, which it sees as an important bargaining counter in negotiations over the future of the region.



9/11 verdict against Iran is ‘US propaganda for waging war’

Director of the Center for Research on Globalization, Michel Chossudovsky, told RT in an interview that finding Iran’s officials guilty of helping the 9/11 attackers is nothing but “a ploy.”

Families of victims of the 9/11 attacks won a default judgment against Iran, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and Lebanon-based Hezbollah. According to the lawsuit, people in Iran, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, provided support to the terrorists who carried out the terror strikes on US soil. Mr. Chossudovsky says it’s nothing but a cover-up, with Iran as a convenient fall guy.

“There is absolutely no evidence that Iran aided the 9/11 attacks. There is ample evidence after collection that there was conspiracy and the complicity of the US government…There is absolutely no evidence that Al Qaeda or the Taliban were involved in the 9/11 attacks. In fact, if there is anyone behind Al Qaeda, it was the Central Intelligence Agency, going back to the Soviet Afghan war”, Chossudovsky said.

This latest court ruling is part of the plan, according to Chossudovsky.

“We are dealing with fabrications whereby a war agenda, which has been on the Pentagon’s drawing board for many years, is now seeking justification to go live – and we’ve seen the drone attacks, we’ve seen the sanctions.”

The reasoning behind such a plot is rather simple in Chossudovsky eyes, oil.

“Because Iran has 10 per cent of the world’s oil reserves – four or five times the amount of the United States; it’s in a crucial region, it doesn’t accept US hegemony and it’s an ally of Russia and China.”  said Chossudovsky.

Chossudovsky also said he believes the consequences of a conflict with Iran could be disastrous. “It could unleash a war which extends from the eastern Mediterranean right through to Central Asia to the Chinese border – and then we are in a World War III scenario.”

Jamal Abdi from the National Iranian American Council says there is a campaign going on “to ratchet up pressure for yet another US attack on a Middle Eastern country.”

What we are seeing now is this strange self-fulfilling prophecy process. This is exactly what we saw with Iraq. This is a campaign to go to war,” he told RT.

Abdi says he does not see any evidence that is particularly compelling that Iran had a direct role in 9/11.

Immediately afterwards Iran condemned the attacks. There were candlelit vigils on the streets of Tehran in solidarity with the Americans who lost their lives,” he explained.

You saw Iran cooperating with the United States in helping to topple the Taliban, the enemy of Iran.”

The verdict might be a part of a plan to invade Iran, believes Sabah Al-Mukhtar, the president of the Arab Lawyers Association. However, he doubts that the US has enough resources to do that at the moment.

“I don’t think [the US] has the force to do that or the economy to do that,” Al-Mukhtar said. “I think the USA is trying to extricate itself from Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t think it is in a position to go into another country, and Iran is three times as big as Iraq.”

California State University professor Paul Sheldon Foote told RT that the verdict is actually part of a campaign to demonize Iran. “This is what we call a kangaroo court here in America. This is outrageous. Iran has no involvement in this whatsoever ”, Foote said.

U.S. drone strike kills Marine and Navy medic..

Marine Staff Sgt. Jeremy Smith, 26, and Navy medic Benjamin D. Rast, 23, were killed by a missile strike when Marine commanders in Afghanistan mistook them for Taliban, even though the analysts watching the Predator’s video feed were unable to confirm that the men were actually enemy fighters.

A 381-page Pentagon report concludes that the Marine officers on the scene and the Air Force crew in Terre Haute, Indiana whom were controlling the drone were unaware that analysts watching the firefight via live video at a third location were not sure about the targets’ identity.

It is unclear which Marine officer ordered the airstrike because the names in the report are redacted. A senior Marine officer familiar with the investigation said commanders at the battalion level would have the ultimate authority, not the lieutenant who led the platoon during the battle.

The missile attack occurred in April at 8:51 a.m. in Helmand province after Smith and his platoon came under enemy fire. The platoon had split up while trying to clear a road near the crossroads town of Sangin, an area in which Marines were engaged in nearly daily combat with insurgents.

Smith, Rast and another Marine had separated from the others and had taken cover behind a hedgerow, where they were firing on insurgents in a cluster of nearby buildings. The Predator drone’s infrared cameras picked up the heat signatures of the three men and detected muzzle flashes from their weapons as the fired at insurgents.

Air Force analysts watching the live video noted that the gunfire appeared aimed away from the other Marines, who were behind the three. The analysts reported that gunshots were “oriented to the west, away from friendly forces,” the Pentagon report says. The Predator pilot in Nevada and the Marine commanders on the ground “were never made aware” of the analysts’ assessment.

Pentagon officials told Smith’s father that the combat veteran, on his fourth deployment, knew the airstrike was coming, but assumed the missile was aimed at a suspected Taliban position in a building 200 yards away. Smith declined to take cover in a canal with other Marines because he wanted to make sure the Predator hit the insurgent target.

The report blames the attack on a fatal mix of poor communications, faulty assumptions and “a lack of overall common situational awareness.” It recommends that a Marine lieutenant and two sergeants in Smith’s platoon be “formally counseled” and suggests detailed reviews of battlefield procedures, but it said no one involved in the attack was “culpably negligent or derelict in their duties.”

“The chain of events … was initiated by the on-scene ground force commander’s lack of overall situational awareness and inability to accurately communicate his friendly force disposition in relation to the enemy,” the report said.

In early 2009 a predator drone strike killed least 15 Afghan civilians after they were mistaken for a group of Taliban preparing to attack a U.S. special forces unit. Analysts located at an Air Force Special Operations Command in Florida who were watching live battlefield video from the aircraft’s high-altitude cameras warned that there were children present, but were disregarded by the drone operator and by an Army captain, who authorized the airstrike.

The U.S. has lost at least $31 billion, as much as $60 billion, to waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan

From the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. has lost billions of dollars to waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan and stands to repeat that in future wars without big changes in how the government awards and manages contracts for battlefield support, independent investigators said Wednesday.

The Wartime Contracting Commission urged Congress to quickly put in place dozens of its recommendations to overhaul the contracting process. The commission even suggested that joint House-Senate debt reduction committee take a close look at the proposals.

“What you’re asking for is more of the same,” said Dov Zakheim, a commission member and a former Pentagon comptroller. “More waste. More fraud. More abuse.”

The commission, created by Congress in 2008, estimated that at least $31 billion and as much as $60 billion in U.S. money has been lost in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade due to lax oversight of contractors, poor planning and corruption.

Yet new legislation incorporating the reforms remains a challenge for lawmakers deeply divided on the best way to reduce the deficit.

“If these recommendations are not implemented, there ought to be a Hall of Shame,” said Michael Thibault, co-chairman of the commission. “There’s an opportunity at hand.”

The commission’s 15 recommendations include creating an inspector general to monitor contracting, appointing a senior government official to improve planning and coordination, and reducing the use of private security contractors.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who co-sponsored legislation to establish the commission, said she plans to prepare legislation based upon the commission’s recommendations.

The commission’s report said contracting waste in Afghanistan and Iraq could grow as U.S. support for reconstruction projects and programs wanes. That would leave the countries to bear the long-term costs of sustaining the schools, medical clinics, barracks, roads and power plants already built with American money.

Overall, the commission said spending on contracts and grants to support U.S. operations is expected to exceed $206 billion by the end of the 2011 budget year. Based on its investigation, the commission said contracting waste in Afghanistan ranged from 10 percent to 20 percent of the $206 billion total. Fraud during the same period ran between 5 percent and 9 percent of the total, the report said.

Styled after the Truman Committee, which examined World War II spending six decades ago, the commission had broad authority to examine military support contracts, reconstruction projects and private security companies.

But the law creating the commission set this September as the end of its work, even as contractors continue their heavy support of U.S. operations in the war zones.

Security, transportation, food preparation and delivery, and much more are now handled by the private sector. At the same time, the officials responsible for monitoring contractor performance have been overwhelmed by increasing reliance on private companies.

“We are far more reliant on contractors than we ever were,” said commission member Charles Tiefer, a professor of government contracting at the University of Baltimore Law School. “We always bought munitions from them. But we didn’t used to buy much in the way of services from them.”

The commission cited numerous examples of waste, including a $360 million U.S.-financed agricultural development program in Afghanistan. The effort began as a $60 million project in 2009 to distribute vouchers for wheat seed and fertilizer in drought-stricken areas of northern Afghanistan. The program expanded into the south and east. Soon the U.S. was spending a $1 million a day on the program, creating an environment ripe for waste and abuse, the commission said.

“Paying villagers for what they used to do voluntarily destroyed local initiatives and diverted project goods into Pakistan for resale,” the commission said.

The Afghan insurgency’s second largest funding source after the illegal drug trade is the diversion of money from U.S.-backed construction projects and transportation contracts, according to the commission. But the report does not say how much money has been funneled to the insurgency. The money typically is lost when insurgents and warlords threaten Afghan subcontractors with violence unless they pay for protection, according to the report.

The Associated Press reported this month that U.S. military authorities in Kabul believe $360 million has ended up in the hands of the Taliban, criminals and power brokers with ties to both.

The military said only a small percentage of the $360 million has been garnered by the Taliban and insurgent groups. Most of the money was lost to profiteering, bribery and extortion by criminals and power brokers.

Obama administration pushing for extension of troop presence in Afghanistan until 2024

Afghan and American officials are hoping to sign an agreement before the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan in December that would see U.S troops remain in Afghanistan until 2024. Barack Obama and Hamid Karzai agreed last week to escalate the negotiations and their national security advisers will meet in Washington in September.

Rangin Dadfar Spanta, President Karzai’s top security adviser, told The Daily Telegraph that “remarkable progress” had been made. US officials have said they would be disappointed if a deal could not be reached by December and that the majority of small print has been agreed upon.

Dr Spanta said a longer-term presence is crucial to build Afghan forces and to fight terrorism.

“If [the Americans] provide us weapons and equipment, they need facilities to bring that equipment,” he said. “If they train our police and soldiers, then those trainers will not be 10 or 20, they will be thousands.

“We know we will be confronted with international terrorists. 2014, is not the end of international terrorist networks and we have a common commitment to fight them. For this purpose also, the US needs facilities.”

Afghan forces would still need support from US fighter aircraft and helicopters, he predicted. In the past, Washington officials have estimated a total of 25,000 troops may be needed.

Dr Spanta added: “In the Afghan proposal we are talking about 10 years from 2014, but this is under discussion.” America would not be granted its own bases, and would be a guest on Afghan bases, he said.

The agreement would allow not only military trainers to stay to build up the Afghan army and police, but also American special forces soldiers and air power.

The impending deal has already been met with anger among Afghanistan’s neighbors including Iran and Pakistan and risks being rejected by the Taliban, derailing any attempts at negotiations, according to one senior member of Hamid Karzai’s peace council.

A withdrawal of American troops has already begun following an agreement to hand over security for the country to Kabul by the end of 2014, but some Afghans are wary of being abandoned and would like America to remain after the deadline. Many analysts also believe the American military would like to retain a presence close to Pakistan, Iran and China.

Andrey Avetisyan, Russian ambassador to Kabul, said: “Afghanistan needs many other things apart from the permanent military presence of some countries. It needs economic help and it needs peace. Military bases are not a tool for peace.

“I don’t understand why such bases are needed. If the job is done, if terrorism is defeated and peace and stability is brought back, then why would you need bases?

“If the job is not done, then several thousand troops, even special forces, will not be able to do the job that 150,000 troops couldn’t do. It is not possible.”

A complete withdrawal of foreign troops has been a precondition for any Taliban negotiations with Karzai’s government and the deal would wreck the currently distant prospect of a negotiated peace, Mr Avetisyan said.

Abdul Hakim Mujahid, deputy leader of the peace council set up by Mr Karzai to seek a settlement, said he suspected the Taliban had intensified their insurgency in response to the prospect of the pact. “They want to put pressure on the world community and Afghan government,” he said.

U.S. “Kill Team” an Afghan nightmare…

Winning the hearts and minds this is not, this is in fact the exact opposite. The “Kill Team” might as well go and recruit for al qaeda, because their actions in Afghanistan are of the kind that turn civilians into terrorists. You may not have heard about a rogue group of soldiers from the 5th Stryker Brigade killing and brutalizing innocent Afghan civilians, you know, the ones our armed forces are supposed to be rescuing from the evil clutches of Taliban rule. If you haven’t heard about Jeremy Morlock, a member of the 5th Stryker Brigade,  admitting to the murders of three Afghan civilians in 2009 and 2010, I wouldn’t be surprised seeing as how the majority of the mainstream media has turned a blind eye to this. Liberal bias? Sure, this is exactly the sort of story bleeding heart pacifist liberals would ignore. In case it’s hard to tell that was a lame attempt at sarcasm. Morlock’s plea deal involves him testifying against fellow soldiers in his unit who are also being accused of crimes. Morlock has been sentenced to 24 years in prison, with the opportunity for parole in 7, an incredibly light sentence. In all, 12 soldiers are said to have participated in crimes against the Afghan people such as killing innocent unarmed civilians, collecting fingers from corpses as trophies and using narcotics. You can head over to Rolling Stone for an in-depth article featuring pictures and videos of these heinous crimes.