Wednesday, May 20, 2009

U.S. Approves of Pakistan Fight Against Taliban, Pentagon Spokesman Says

The United States fully supports Pakistani operations against the Taliban and other terror groups, a senior Defense Department spokesman said yesterday.

At a news conference today, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell also discussed U.S. efforts to avoid inflicting civilian casualties in Afghanistan while fighting an enemy that intentionally places civilians in peril.

The United States has been pressing Pakistan for months to act as Taliban fighters increased their control over portions of the federally administered tribal areas and in the Swat Valley, Buner and Dir areas of Pakistan.

Morrell called the operations in the area the largest counterinsurgency fight in Pakistan's history. "They have shown a persistence in waging it, and we want to be nothing but encouraging of them continuing to do so," he said during a Pentagon news conference.

Pakistani officials estimate that between 800,000 and 900,000 people in the region have become refugees. "The end is to protect innocent civilians caught in the crossfire," Morrell said. "So people are encouraged to leave war zones, so that they do not become unwitting victims of the Pakistani military's efforts to go after terrorists who have shown complete and utter disregard for the safety and well-being of their neighbors and other innocent civilians in their midst."

Pakistan is setting up refugee camps to handle those fleeing the fighting, and the United States and other nations are prepared to send aid.

In Afghanistan, civilian casualties in Farah remain in the news. Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry visited an area where close-air support was used against Taliban terrorists when U.S. aircraft dropped ordnance in support of an Afghan security forces operation.

"The initial indication from things looks as though the close-air support was very measured, and that there was a great deal of care to ensure that ... it was proportional to the threat faced by the forces on the ground," Morrell said.

Morrell called the attacks – and possible civilian casualties – the sad reality of war against the Taliban.

"We face an opponent that shows complete and utter disregard for human life; that's willing to behead innocent civilians; that's willing to put other innocents in harm's way so that they can advance a propaganda campaign and paint us as ... the aggressor, as the one who does not care for the well-being of the Afghan people," he said. "That couldn't be further from the truth."

The United States regrets the loss of any innocent lives in Farah or other battles, Morrell said. No other military takes the measures to minimize civilian losses that the U.S. military does, he said.

"And our opponent, perhaps more than almost any enemy that we've faced in modern times, shows complete and utter disregard" for civilian lives.

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Peru Declares State of Emergency, Deploys Special Forces to Break Up Indigenous Protests

/PRNewswire / -- In Peru, indigenous protests against recent government decrees affecting their land and resource rights continue to spread throughout the country. Amazon Watch has received several alarming reports of violent crackdowns against peaceful demonstrators by Special Forces after President Alan Garcia declared a state of emergency in the Cusco, Ucayali, Loreto and Amazonas regions over the weekend.

For the past month, indigenous peoples have blockaded roads and rivers throughout the Amazon to protest new decrees which make it easier to transfer indigenous peoples' land and resource rights to oil, mining, logging and agricultural companies to the detriment of local inhabitants. The decrees have also set the stage for the privatization of water resources.

In the town of Bagua in the Amazonas region near the border with Ecuador, there have been reports that on Sunday armed forces cracked down on peaceful Awajun and Huambis demonstrators on the Corral Quemado Bridge resulting in several serious injuries. Two people are reported missing.

Elsewhere, several thousand Shawi and Cocama Cocamillas have blockaded the road between Yurimaguas and Tarapoto, a major transport route.

Yesterday in Lima, Peru's Prime Minister, Yehude Simon met with leaders of AIDESEP, Peru's leading indigenous rights organization.

Last Friday 42 indigenous leaders staged a hunger strike in the Peruvian Congress to demand that the full legislature debate the repeal of the decrees and eight Peruvian Catholic bishops issued a statement saying the decrees were a "twisted concept of development" that "threaten to increase regional poverty" in the Amazon.

The Peruvian government has auctioned off huge swaths of indigenous lands to mining and energy concessions. During the month-long protest, the Garcia administration has signed contracts for another 15 oil concessions - the majority of them in the Amazon.

"The government has not defended us against the oil, mining and logging companies that continue to pollute our communities after they illegally entered our lands," said Alberto Pizango, the president of AIDESEP. "The government is not abiding by international treaties signed by Peru as well as our own Constitution."

"We urge the Garcia administration to refrain from using force and instead enter into meaningful talks with indigenous peoples to resolve their legitimate concerns," said Atossa Soltani, Executive Director of Amazon Watch.

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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Security Remains Improved, Progress Continues, Odierno Says

From an overall perspective, security in Iraq remains improved, the Multinational Force Iraq commander said during a Pentagon briefing Friday.

"We continue to see overall levels of violence at or near the lowest level since the summer of 2003 inside of Iraq," Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said.

In addition, Odierno said, the capacity and capability of the Iraqi security forces is much improved and the Iraqi people understand and continue to reject attempts by al-Qaida and other elements to create a new cycle of sectarian violence.

The general acknowledged that while violence is low, it hasn't been eradicated, as terrorists are intent on conducting high-profile suicide attacks designed to garner attention and spark sectarian discord. April was the deadliest month this year for both American and Iraqi forces.

"I would emphasize that this is not 2006 or 2007," he said. "We have yet to see sectarian retribution, [and] all the political parties and government officials are appropriately disavowing the recent attacks. We continue to see indications that the Iraqis want to move forward, whether it's in the form of voting for their elected leaders, improving economic conditions or normalizing relations with their regional partners."

As the Iraqi government takes greater control of its country's security, U.S. forces are stepping further into the background, Odierno said. Implementation of the status-of-forces agreement between the United States and Iraq is moving along as well, he added.

"We've closed more than 50 installations in Iraq," he said. "We've returned security of the Green Zone to the government of Iraq, and we've turned over the Republican Palace, which served as a U.S. embassy, among other examples."

The general noted that President Barack Obama announced that U.S. forces will end combat operations in Iraq at the end of August 2010, changing over to an advisory and training mission.

"We will maintain a force [of about 35,000 to 50,000] to ensure that we can achieve our new missions while providing sufficient force protection and still be able to conduct counter-terrorism missions," he said.

The Iraqi government also has assumed complete responsibility for paying the "Sons of Iraq" civilian security groups – "a clear sign of resolve" to continue the important program, Odierno said. In fact, the Iraqi government has budgeted more than $300 million to ensure full payment of members for 2009.

"Perhaps even more important, the leadership has shown its determination to move the [Sons of Iraq] members into the Iraqi security forces and other ministries," he said.

Iraq's Council of Ministers approved the integration of 80 percent of the Sons of Iraq into nonsecurity ministries, and 20 percent into the security ministries.

"We are fully aware that the challenges are still in front of us as Iraq continues to evolve," Odierno said. "And as it continues to improve, the problem set actually becomes more complex as we move forward."

Odierno cited evidence of Iran's continued funding, training and equipping of surrogates who continue to conduct disruptive operations in Iraq.

While Iranian interference has lessened, he said, this behavior is not what Iraq should expect from a neighbor. Iran has an opportunity to form a positive relationship with Iraq based on respect for Iraq's sovereignty, he said. Syria also could improve its relations with Iraq, he added, if it demonstrated a commitment not to allow foreign fighters intent on causing trouble in Iraq to stage from within its borders.

The impact of the global economic crisis has not been lost on Iraq either, Odierno said. With much of its economy tied to the price of oil, and with oil prices slipping, the Iraqi economy has taken some blows.

"[The Iraqi government] will have to make some very difficult decisions between Iraqi security force modernization, service improvement and infrastructure investment over the next couple years," he said.

At the end of 2011, when all U.S. forces are out of Iraq, it doesn't mean the U.S. relationship with the country will end, the general said, noting a second agreement between the two nations.

"The second was the strategic framework agreement, which is designed to ensure cooperation in many areas between the United States and the government of Iraq," Odierno said. "[This includes] areas such as medical, cultural, scientific, economic and other endeavors that will strengthen the country and help our two countries enjoy a long and enduring friendship based on mutual respect as sovereign nations."

He said he hopes Iraq can achieve long-term stability and develop a common vision for the way ahead.

"An Iraq that is at peace with its neighbors is able to defend and protect its people against internal and external threats and is a respectful participant in the community of nations is achievable, but much work is still ahead," Odierno said.

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
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Friday, May 8, 2009

Better-equipped National Guard Still Faces Critical Shortages

Equipment critical to both domestic and warfighting missions and aircraft essential to guarding the nation's air sovereignty remain areas of concern for the National Guard.

That was the message Air Force Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, director of the Air National Guard, and Army Maj. Gen. Raymond W. Carpenter, acting deputy director of the Army National Guard, gave members of the House Armed Services Committee's air and land forces subcommittee May 5.

"The Army has made great progress toward improving equipping levels within the Army National Guard," Carpenter said. "In recent years, the Army has made an unprecedented level of investment in Army National Guard equipment."

But both Carpenter and Wyatt said more needs to be done – and the Air Guard director sounded a warning about aging F-16 Fighting Falcon jet fighter aircraft.

"Our primary concern is that 80 percent of the F-16s, the backbone of our air-sovereignty alert force, will begin reaching the end of their service life in eight years," Wyatt said. "We need solutions for what we in the Air National Guard refer to as the 'mid-term gap,' and for long-term recapitalization. Neither of these can be sacrificed.

"If we sacrifice the mid-term, we risk uncovering a critical line of defense. If we sacrifice the long term, or fifth generation, we risk what can best be referred to as our children and grandchildren's critical edge. Everything has to be on the table. This infrastructure of equipment is not just fighters; it includes tankers, air traffic control, command and control, security and communications – the entire system supporting and protecting our nation's last line of defense."

Critical dual-use items needed for both domestic and overseas missions are a top priority for the Army National Guard and the National Guard Bureau, Carpenter told committee members.

"It is ... important to note that a significant quantity of critical dual-use equipment, while it may have been issued to [Army National Guard] units, is chronically unavailable to governors ... due to continuing rotational deployments," Carpenter said.

Modernizing the truck fleet, procuring more battle command equipment and expanding stocks of water purification systems, generators, material-handling equipment, field feeding systems, tactical ambulances and aviation ground equipment are key concerns for the Army National Guard.

"We appreciate ... the strong interest of the Congress and the Department of Defense in closing the gap between our domestic requirements and the available equipment in our armories and motor pools," Carpenter said.

"Shortfalls in equipment will impact the Air National Guard's ability to support the National Guard's response to disasters and terrorist incidents in the homeland," Wyatt warned. "Improved equipping strengthens readiness for both overseas and homeland missions and improves our capability to train on mission-essential equipment."

The 1950s technology used by air traffic controllers and the 40 percent of the Air National Guard's vehicles that are at or beyond their life expectancy also are areas of concern for the Air Guard, he added.

The hearing was intended to get a straightforward assessment of the National Guard's equipment levels in light of the Commission of the National Guard and Reserves recommendation that the Guard be equipped and resourced as an operational reserve rather than the Cold War model of a strategic reserve, said U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, the committee chairman.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is expected to provide Congress with a detailed budget in the coming weeks, and the directors said they could provide more information once that budget is released.

By Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
Special to American Forces Press Service
Army Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill serves at the National Guard Bureau
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Friday, May 1, 2009

U.S. Praises Morocco's 'Comprehensive Counterterrorism Approach' and 'International Cooperation' to Combat Rising al-Qaeda Threat in Sahara

/PRNewswire / -- The following is being released by the Moroccan American Center for Policy:

Yesterday, the U.S. State Department praised the Kingdom of Morocco's "comprehensive counterterrorism approach" as it works with the U.S. and its regional and international partners to combat the growing transnational threat from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other terrorist groups.

"The Government of Morocco, and frequently the King himself, regularly and strongly condemned terrorist acts, wherever they occurred," said the annual report to Congress submitted by the State Dept.'s Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism. "The Moroccan government pursued a comprehensive counterterrorism approach that, building on popular rejection of terrorism, emphasizes neutralizing existing terrorist cells through traditional law enforcement and preemptive security measures, and prevented terrorist recruitment through comprehensive counter-radicalization policies."

The report detailed the success Morocco has seen from its multi-faceted strategy and social reforms to combat terrorism, which goes far beyond "traditional security measures." Specifically, the report highlighted Morocco's $1.2 billion National Human Development Initiative "aimed at ameliorating the socio-economic factors that terrorists exploit" as well as the official sanction of mourchidates, or female spiritual guides, whose role is to promote moderation and religious tolerance in mosques across the Kingdom and in Moroccan immigrant communities abroad.

The report also stressed that a key to Morocco's counterterrorism efforts has been "its emphasis on international cooperation" which has helped Moroccan authorities "disrupt plots to attack Moroccan, U.S. and other Western-affiliated targets, and aggressively investigat[e] numerous individuals associated with international terrorist groups."

"For more than 220 years, Morocco and the United States have continuously worked together to combat security threats to both countries - from piracy on the high seas in the late 1700's to today's increasing terrorist challenge in the Sahara and elsewhere," said Robert M. Holley, executive director of the Moroccan American Center for Policy. "The U.S. and Morocco must work even more closely with its international partners on these critical issues to protect and advance the lives of millions in North Africa, as well as the broader international community."

Yesterday's State Department report underscores many of the same concerns raised in recent weeks by 233 Members of Congress in a letter to President Barack Obama, which states that "[v]ital U.S. interests in North Africa are increasingly challenged by growing regional instability." The Members - representing a bipartisan majority of the House of Representatives as well as the highest ranking members of the Democratic and Republican leadership - called on President Obama to strengthen U.S. support for Morocco's compromise autonomy proposal to peacefully resolve the Western Sahara conflict, which they consider to be the "single greatest obstacle impeding the security cooperation necessary to combat this transnational threat."

In March, a special report, "Why the Maghreb Matters," released by the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies and the Conflict Management Program at Johns Hopkins University, presented the recommendations of a distinguished panel including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Ret. General Wesley Clark and former Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat. The panel noted the 400% spike in terrorist attacks in the region since 9/11 and advocated increased U.S. engagement with Morocco and other North Africa nations to protect American security interests and to thwart a growing peril from al-Qaeda terrorists in the Sahara.

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