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News from around the globe impacting our world.

Qaddafi Prepared to Consider Free Elections. Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul Ati al-Obeidi told The Guardian that Libya is prepared to considering holding free elections, supervised by the United Nations, within six months of the end of the current conflict. Abdul Ati al-Obeidi, who took over from Moussa Koussa defected last month, added that the regime was prepared to consider an interim national government before elections could be held.

Joint Chief Adm. Mike Mullen Visits Pakistan. The Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen arrive in Islamabad for a two day visit amidst a low in US-Pakistani relations. Dawn of Pakistan has more on the visit.

Gold Hits $1,500 An Ounce. In Hong Kong trading, the price of gold rose above $1,500 an ounce for the first time after concerns about global economic recovery lifted the metal's appeal as a safe haven.

End of an Era in Cuba. Fidel Castro was formally removed from the leadership of the Cuban Communist Party for the first time since its formation nearly 50 years ago with the senior post going to his younger brother, Raúl Castro, the current Cuban leader. Despite hopes that a younger generation might come to dominate the Politburo, the old guard remained firmly in charge. José Ramón Machado Ventura, 80, was named as Deputy Chairman. Machado is seen as a hard-liner. More from the Los Angeles Times.


In the End, All We Have Is the Truth

There are those who are arguing that today's publishing of over 91,000 ISAF and US military documents, the largest leak of military documents in history, sheds little new light on the Afghan War. I beg to differ. Not that I expect our government to tell us the whole truth particularly when it comes to sensitive war information but on the other hand I don't expect the government to willfully mislead us either and in at least one instance, the downing of a US military chinook helicopter by the Taliban using surface-to-air missiles, that is the case. And given that we just scratched the surface of a titanic data dump, we are likely to learn more in the upcoming days and weeks of other instances where Western governments have willfully misled the public on the situation in Afghanistan.

The searing and inescapable fact is that today more than half way through 2010, the Taliban is stronger than at any point since they were toppled from power in 2001. We can blame Pakistan for aiding and abetting the Taliban but that relationship is now a two decade long one and not exactly a state secret. That Pakistan's ISI has played a double game should not obscure another searing and inescapable fact: the Taliban's resurgence is primarily a factor of 'blue on white' incidents.

There is a lot of jargon in these reports but color coding military-speak is remarkably straightforward. There are color codes for each of the actors in the Afghan conflict in the leaked reports.

Blue=  friendlies, or International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) 
Green =  Afghan National Army or other Afghani forces such as the police
White = Civilians

Thus, in the next few weeks, when you hear of "blue on blue"  that would be friendly on friendly fire, or ISAF coalition forces accidentally shooting at each other. Green on green would be Afghanis accidentally or deliberately shooting at each other while blue on green signifies that ISAF troops accidentally hit the Afghan army or police. Blue on white would be ISAF or US forces shooting at Afghan civilians.

Say what you will about the now cashiered and retired General Stanley McChrystal's disrespect for members of the Obama Administration but one thing he got right was that every civilian death created ten new Taliban insurgents. He called it "Taliban math." His exact quote in the Rolling Stone article was "for every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies." Hence, the rules of engagement were tightened on his orders and that did lead to a drop in blue on white fatalities. To loosen the rules of engagement, as some are calling for now, would unnecessarily lead to more civilian deaths and in the end only hasten our inevitable defeat.

The logs released today reveal at least 144 blue on white incidents. From The Guardian:

Some of these casualties come from the controversial air strikes that have led to Afghan government protests, but a large number of previously unknown incidents also appear to be the result of troops shooting unarmed drivers or motorcyclists out of a determination to protect themselves from suicide bombers.

At least 195 civilians are admitted to have been killed and 174 wounded in total, but this is likely to be an underestimate as many disputed incidents are omitted from the daily snapshots reported by troops on the ground and then collated, sometimes erratically, by military intelligence analysts.

Bloody errors at civilians' expense, as recorded in the logs, include the day French troops strafed a bus full of children in 2008, wounding eight. A US patrol similarly machine-gunned a bus, wounding or killing 15 of its passengers, and in 2007 Polish troops mortared a village, killing a wedding party including a pregnant woman, in an apparent revenge attack.

Questionable shootings of civilians by UK troops also figure. The US compilers detail an unusual cluster of four British shootings in Kabul in the space of barely a month, in October/November 2007, culminating in the death of the son of an Afghan general. Of one shooting, they wrote: "Investigation controlled by the British. We are not able to get [sic] complete story."

A second cluster of similar shootings, all involving Royal Marine commandos in Helmand province, took place in a six-month period at the end of 2008, according to the log entries. Asked by the Guardian about these allegations, the Ministry of Defence said: "We have been unable to corroborate these claims in the short time available and it would be inappropriate to speculate on specific cases without further verification of the alleged actions."

Rachel Reid, who investigates civilian casualty incidents in Afghanistan for Human Rights Watch, said: "These files bring to light what's been a consistent trend by US and Nato forces: the concealment of civilian casualties. Despite numerous tactical directives ordering transparent investigations when civilians are killed, there have been incidents I've investigated in recent months where this is still not happening.

The war is likely already lost if the aim was to prevent the Taliban from controlling vast swaths of Afghanistan. Most of the Pashtun areas are now effectively under Taliban control but if we continue to show such a wanton disregard for Afghan civilians then our defeat will come that much sooner and be that much greater. 

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WikiLeaks Document Drop, The Pentagon Papers of the Afghan War

The website WikiLeaks, a multi-jurisdictional public service designed to protect whistleblowers, journalists and activists who have sensitive materials to communicate to the public, has published over 91,000 leaked ISAF and US military documents that paint a very different scenario from the picture portrayed by the Obama Administration in the Afghan War. In addition, WikiLeaks gave advance access to three news publications in the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany.

Here's how it's being reported by the three news outlets given advance access. In the New York Times, the US publication given advance access and the nation's paper of record, the focus is on the Pakistani double game in Afghanistan.

Americans fighting the war in Afghanistan have long harbored strong suspicions that Pakistan’s military spy service has guided the Afghan insurgency with a hidden hand, even as Pakistan receives more than $1 billion a year from Washington for its help combating the militants, according to a trove of secret military field reports made public Sunday.

The documents, made available by an organization called WikiLeaks, suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.

Taken together, the reports indicate that American soldiers on the ground are inundated with accounts of a network of Pakistani assets and collaborators that runs from the Pakistani tribal belt along the Afghan border, through southern Afghanistan, and all the way to the capital, Kabul.

Much of the information — raw intelligence and threat assessments gathered from the field in Afghanistan— cannot be verified and likely comes from sources aligned with Afghan intelligence, which considers Pakistan an enemy, and paid informants. Some describe plots for attacks that do not appear to have taken place.

But many of the reports rely on sources that the military rated as reliable.

While current and former American officials interviewed could not corroborate individual reports, they said that the portrait of the spy agency’s collaboration with the Afghan insurgency was broadly consistent with other classified intelligence.

Some of the reports describe Pakistani intelligence working alongside Al Qaeda to plan attacks. Experts cautioned that although Pakistan’s militant groups and Al Qaeda work together, directly linking the Pakistani spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, with Al Qaeda is difficult.

The records also contain firsthand accounts of American anger at Pakistan’s unwillingness to confront insurgents who launched attacks near Pakistani border posts, moved openly by the truckload across the frontier, and retreated to Pakistani territory for safety.

The White House response has been fast and furious. General James Jones, the White House National Security Adviser, issued a statement that begins: "The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security."

More on the White House reaction from Politico.

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The Prisoner of Karachi

The New York Times reports that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a "founding father" of the Afghani Taliban and the number two in command behind the blind cleric Mullah Mohammed Omar, the supreme leader of the Taliban, has been captured in a joint US-Pakistani operation in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city and commercial capital. According to US government officials, the capture of Mullah Barader occurred "several days" ago and remains in Pakistani custody, with both US and Pakistani intelligence officials taking part in interrogations.

In addition to running the Taliban’s military operations, Mullah Baradar runs the group’s leadership council, the Quetta Shura so called because the Taliban's leaders for years have been thought to be hiding in or near Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, the restive province in southwestern Pakistan. Here some more background on Mullah Adul Ghani Baradar from a Newsweek profile in July 2009:

In more than two dozen interviews for this profile, past and present members of the Afghan insurgency portrayed Baradar as no mere stand-in for the reclusive Omar. They say Baradar appoints and fires the Taliban's commanders and governors; presides over its top military council and central ruling Shura in Quetta, the city in southwestern Pakistan where most of the group's senior leaders are based; and issues the group's most important policy statements in his own name. It is key that he controls the Taliban's treasury—hundreds of millions of dollars in -narcotics protection money, ransom payments, highway tolls, and "charitable donations," largely from the Gulf. "He commands all military, political, religious, and financial power," says Mullah Shah Wali Akhund, a guerrilla subcommander from Helmand province who met Baradar this March in Quetta for the fourth time. "Baradar has the makings of a brilliant commander," says Prof. Thomas Johnson, a longtime expert on Afghanistan and an adviser to Coalition forces. "He's able, charismatic, and knows the land and the people so much better than we can hope to do. He could prove a formidable foe."

No one among the Taliban—least of all Baradar himself—will say he's taken Omar's place. On the contrary, Baradar portrays himself as a loyal lieutenant carrying out the orders of his absent boss. "We are acting on [Omar's] instructions," he told NEWSWEEK via e-mail in a recent exclusive interview. He didn't reveal how or when he gets those instructions, saying only that "continuous contacts are not risk-free because of the situation."

Yet while Taliban fighters are reluctant to be seen criticizing Omar in any way, they clearly imply that his deputy has a more modern, efficient style of command. Baradar is consistently described as more open, more consultative, more consensus-oriented, and more patient than Omar. Taliban operatives say he's less mercurial and more willing to hear different views rather than act on hearsay, emotion, or strict ideology. "Baradar doesn't issue orders without understanding and investigating the problem," says a commander from Zabul province who met with him in March and asked not to be named so he could speak freely. "He is patient and listens to you until the end. He doesn't get angry or lose his temper."

That's raised another question: whether the Americans and the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai might ultimately be able to strike a deal with Baradar. His influence among the insurgents—and with Mullah Omar—is unmatched, and he's not as close-minded as many of the leaders in Quetta are. Back in 2004, according to Maulvi Arsala Rahmani, a former Taliban cabinet minister who now lives in Kabul, Baradar authorized a Taliban delegation that approached Karzai with a peace offer, even paying their travel expenses to Kabul. That outreach fizzled, but earlier this year another two senior Taliban operatives sent out separate peace feelers to Qayyum Karzai, the Afghan president's older brother, apparently with Baradar's approval, according to three ranking Taliban sources. They say the initiatives were quickly rescinded. Still, when NEWSWEEK spoke to the elder Karzai last week and asked him about the story, he did not deny that such contacts had taken place, saying only, "This is a very sensitive time, and a lot of things are going on." Publicly, Baradar, who belongs to the same Pashtun tribe as Karzai, has scoffed at peace efforts, denouncing them as a ploy to split the insurgency. But that may simply reflect his feeling that the insurgents currently have the momentum.

Baradar can take much of the credit for rebuilding the Taliban into an effective fighting force.

There are a number of takeaways to the capture of Mullah Baradar. First it took place in Karachi, a teeming city of over 14 million people, suggesting that much of the Taliban's leadership has migrated away from the border areas. Mullah Barader may have been forced to flee from the increasingly less secure hiding places alongside the Afghan-Pakistani frontier as a result of the increased number and ever more effective strikes by unmanned predator drones.

There's more...

A Harder Line on Pakistan

Many observers including myself have long suspected that much of the billions of dollars in military aid that the United States has sent Pakistan to battle militants has been diverted to projects more suited to fighting India or simply pocketed by Pakistani authorities. It is still stunning to learn that between 2002 and 2008 perhaps only $500 million of the $6.6 billion in American aid actually made it to the Pakistani military. That's $6.1 billion unaccounted for.

And yet lask week, Congress passed another $1.5 billion aid package to our beleaguered ally albeit this time with a number of stipulations. Among the stipulations in the aid package are a request that Pakistan cease supporting terrorist groups on its soil and that Pakstani authorities ensure that the Pakistani military  and intelligenc services do not interfere with civilian politics. Now the New York Times is reporting  on both the new harder line on Pakistan and the Pakistani resistance to the new toughen stance.

In a public statement, the American ambassador, Anne W. Patterson, suggested last week that Pakistan should eliminate the Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, a onetime ally of the Pakistanis who Washington says is now based in Baluchistan, the province on the Afghanistan border. If Pakistan did not get rid of Mullah Omar, the United States would, she suggested.

Reinforcing the ambassador, the national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, said Sunday that the United States regarded tackling Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan as "the next step" in the conflict in Afghanistan.

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