Friday, December 19, 2014

New Afghanistan pact means America’s longest war will last until at least 2024

Source: Guardian News and Media Limited

The longest war in American history will last at least another decade, according to the terms of a garrisoning deal for US forces signed by the new Afghanistan government on Tuesday.

Long awaited and much desired by an anxious US military, the deal guarantees that US and Nato troops will not have to withdraw by year’s end, and permits their stay “until the end of 2024 and beyond.”

Mohmmad Hanif Atmar, Maurits Jochems, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Abdullah AbdullahThe entry into force of the deal ensures that Barack Obama, elected president in 2008 on a wave of anti-war sentiment, will pass off both the Afghanistan war and his new war in Iraq and Syria to his successor. In 2010, his vice-president, Joe Biden, publicly vowed the US would be “totally out” of Afghanistan “come hell or high water, by 2014.”

Obama called Tuesday “a historic day” for the US and Afghanistan, as the security pact, which puts US troops beyond the reach of Afghan law, “will help advance our shared interests and the long-term security of Afghanistan.”

The primary explicit purpose of the deal, known as the Bilateral Security Agreement, is to permit the US to continue training Afghanistan’s roughly 350,000 security forces, which the US and Nato have built from scratch.

But with domestic US political acrimony swirling over the rise of the Islamic State (Isis) after the 2011 US withdrawal from Iraq, the accord is also a hedge against the resurgence of the Taliban and a recognition that 13 years of bloody, expensive war have failed to vanquish the insurgency.

Any earlier termination of the deal must occur by mutual consent, ensuring a US veto in the event of an about-face by newly inaugurated President Ghani or his successor. Ghani’s predecessor, Hamid Karzai, incensed the Obama administration by refusing to sign the basing deal, rebuking the country that installed him as Afghanistan’s leader after the US drove the Taliban from Kabul in 2001.

Ghani also agreed to a garrisoning accord with Nato forces, known as a Status of Forces Agreement. Nato has agreed to fund Afghanistan’s soldiers and police through 2017.

Under the Bilateral Security Agreement’s annexes, the US military will have access to nine major land and airbases, to include the massive airfields at Bagram, Jalalabad and Kandahar, staging areas not only for air operations in Afghanistan but the US drone strikes that continue across the border in tribal Pakistan.

The additional bases – in Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, Helmand, Gardez and Shindand – ensure the reach of the US military throughout Afghanistan.

US defense leaders greeted the signing of the accord with enthusiasm.

“These agreements will enable American and coalition troops to continue to help strengthen Afghan forces, counter terrorist threats, and advance regional security,” said Defense secretary Chuck Hagel.

“Our partnership is an important one, and as we prepare to transition to a traditional security cooperation mission in the coming years, we remain committed to providing the necessary support to our Afghan partners and, in particular, to their national security forces,” said General Lloyd Austin, commander of US forces in the Middle East and South Asia.

In May, Obama pledged to reduce the US troop presence to 9,800through most of 2015, ahead of what he called a “normal embassy presence” by the end of his presidency. Yet he hedged by saying the US will continue to conduct counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan, a less visible mission than the training of Afghan forces.

Nothing in the bilateral deal prevents a US president from ramping troop levels back up. The accord’s terms “acknowledge that US military operations to defeat al-Qaida and its affiliates may be appropriate in the common fight against terrorism.”

The “intention” of future counter-terrorism missions in Afghanistan is to partner US and Afghan forces together, with the goal of placing the Afghans in the lead, similar to the broader training mission. In 2013, Rolling Stone released a video showing Afghan forces that the US relies upon for counter-terrorism torturing a detainee.

In a September 25 letter to Ghani, Human Rights Watch urged the new president to end the “widespread impunity for members of the security forces responsible for serious violations of human rights in Afghanistan.”

Mikhail Kalashnikov, Creator of AK-47, Dies at 94

By C. J. CHIVERS
Source: The New York Times

Lt. Gen. Mikhail T. Kalashnikov, the arms designer credited by the Soviet Union with creating the AK-47, the first in a series of rifles and machine guns that would indelibly associate his name with modern war and become the most abundant firearms ever made, died on Monday in Izhevsk, the capital of the Russian republic of Udmurtia, where he lived. He was 94.

Viktor Chulkov, a spokesman for the republic’s president, confirmed the death, the Itar-Tass news agency reported.

Born a peasant on the southern Siberian steppe, General Kalashnikov had little formal education and claimed to be a self-taught tinkerer who combined innate mechanical skills with the study of weapons to conceive of a rifle that achieved battlefield ubiquity.

His role in the rifle’s creation, and the attention showered on him by the Kremlin’s propaganda machine, carried him from conscription in the Red Army to senior positions in the Soviet arms-manufacturing bureaucracy and ultimately to six terms on the Supreme Soviet, the Soviet Union’s legislative body.

Tens of millions of Kalashnikov rifles have been manufactured. Their short barrels, steep front-sight posts and curved magazines made them a marker of conflict that has endured for decades. The weapons also became both Soviet and revolutionary symbols and widespread instruments of terrorism, child-soldiering and crime.

The general, who sometimes lamented the weapons’ unchecked distribution but took pride in having invented them and in their reputation for reliability, weathered the collapse of the Soviet Union to assume a public role as a folk hero and unequivocal Russian patriot.

A Soviet nostalgist, he also served as the unofficial arms ambassador of the revived Russian state. He used public appearances to try to cast the AK-47’s checkered legacy in a positive way and to complain that knockoffs were being manufactured illegally by former Soviet allies and cutting into Russian sales.

The weapon, he said, was designed to protect his motherland, not to be used by terrorists or thugs. “This is a weapon of defense,” he said. “It is not a weapon for offense.”

General Kalashnikov’s public life resulted from a secret competition to develop the Soviet infantry rifle for the Cold War. The result was the AK-47 — an abbreviation for “the automatic by Kalashnikov” followed by the year the competition ended.

General Kalashnikov, a senior sergeant at the time who had been injured in battle against German tanks, was credited with leading the design bureau that produced the AK-47 prototype. The Soviet Union began issuing a mass-produced version in 1949.

The true AK-47 was short-lived. It was followed in the 1950s by a modernized version, the A.K.M., which retained its predecessor’s underlying design while reducing its weight and manufacturing time.

 

Shorter than traditional infantry rifles and firing a cartridge midway between the power of a pistol and the standard rifle cartridges of the day, the Kalashnikov line was initially dismissed by American ordnance experts as a weapon of small consequence. It was not particularly accurate or well made, they said, and it lacked range and stopping power.

It cemented its place in martial history in the 1960s in Vietnam. There, a new American rifle, the M-16, experienced problems with corrosion and jamming in the jungles, while Kalashnikovs, carried by Vietcong guerrillas and North Vietnamese soldiers, worked almost flawlessly.

By this time, in an effort to standardize infantry weapons among potential allies, the Soviet Union had exported the rifle’s specifications and its manufacturing technology to China, Egypt, North Korea and Warsaw Pact nations. Communist engineers would eventually share the manufacturing technology with other countries, including Iraq.

The design was incorporated into arms manufactured in Finland, Israel, South Africa and other nations. The result was a long line of derivatives and copies.

Because Kalashnikov rifles were principally made by secretive governments and often changed hands in nontransparent transfers, it is not known how many have been manufactured. Common estimates put production at 70 million to 100 million; either number would dwarf the production of any other gun.

The rifles eventually filled armories throughout Eastern Europe and Asia and spread from war to war, passing to Soviet allies and proxies, and to terrorists and criminals, aided by intelligence agencies and gray- and black-market sales. The United States became an active purchaser, arming anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan in the 1980s and indigenous Afghan and Iraqi forces in recent years.

General Kalashnikov’s bureau also used the A.K.M. design to develop machine guns for infantry squads, helicopter crews and vehicles. By the 1970s, the rifle’s design had become the basis for a new Soviet rifle, known as the AK-74, that fired a smaller and faster cartridge similar to that of the M-16. That rifle remains the standard weapon of the Russian Army.

The general often claimed that he never realized any profit from his work. But in his last years he urged interviewers not to portray him as poor, noting that he had a sizable apartment, a good car and a comfortable dacha on a lake near the factory where he had worked for decades.

Work and loyalty to country, he often suggested, were their own rewards. “I am told sometimes, ‘If you had lived in the West you would have been a multimillionaire long ago,’ ” he said. “There are other values.”

 

How essential the general was to creation of the Kalashnikov line has been subject to dispute. A post-Soviet account in the newspaper Pravda challenged his central role, asserting that two supervisors modified his weapon during field trials.

An amiable personality with a biography ideal for proletarian fable, he was given credit for their work, the newspaper claimed. The general disputed suggestions that the design was guided by others, but also said the rifle was the result of the collective that labored beside him.

The Kremlin embraced his version, although a careful reading of the official histories and General Kalashnikov’s many statements and memoirs shows that his accounts of his life, combat service and work repeatedly changed, raising questions about the veracity of the conventional accounts.

Mikhail Timofeyovich Kalashnikov was born in Kurya on Nov. 10, 1919. He was married twice, the second time to Ekaterina Kalashnikova, a technician in his design bureau. He is survived by a son from his first marriage, Viktor Kalashnikov, who is also an arms designer; a daughter from his second marriage, Elena Krasnovskaya; a stepdaughter, Nelya; and several grandchildren.

Later in life, he disapproved of anyone who he thought had hastened the Soviet Union’s downfall, or who had been unable to control the political and economic turbulence that followed. In memoirs and interviews, he was harshly critical of Mikhail S. Gorbachev and Boris N. Yeltsin.

To the end he was loyal to what he called Socialist ideals and the leaders who gave them shape, and seemed untroubled by the hardships endured by his family during the early years of Soviet rule. His family’s land and home had been seized during collectivization, and when he was a child the family was deported into the Siberian wilderness. His father died during their first Siberian winter, and one of his brothers labored for seven years as a prisoner digging the White Sea canal.

Still, General Kalashnikov spoke of his great respect for Lenin and Stalin alike. “I never knew him personally,” he said of Stalin, “and I regret this.”

 

 

 

Statement by Bureau of Committee on Exercise of Inalienable Rights of Palestinian People on Situation in Gaza Strip

The Bureau of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People issued the following statement today, 16 November:

 

The Bureau of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People condemns, in the strongest possible terms, the deadly military attacks perpetrated by Israel in the Gaza Strip that have reportedly killed at least 21 Palestinians, many of them civilians, including a pregnant woman and seven children, and wounded more than 250 other Palestinians.

 

The Bureau of the Committee also strongly condemns the killing of three Israeli civilians and the wounding of others as a result of rocket fire into Israel, which intensified after Israel’s assassination of a Hamas leader on 14 November 2012.  The Committee has consistently denounced rocket firing by Palestinian militants indiscriminately targeting Israeli civilians and called for its cessation.

 

The Bureau of the Committee demands that Israel, the occupying Power, end, immediately and unconditionally, its military campaign in the Gaza Strip.  It considers that the policy and practice of extrajudicial killings are inadmissible under international law.  Nothing can justify this deadly military operation that Israel is carrying out, gravely endangering the Palestinian civilian population and spreading fear and trauma among the population.  The occupying Power should be held accountable for the killing and wounding of the innocent civilians in Gaza.  All these actions are not only in flagrant violation of norms of international law but also are bound to spur further violence, casualties and mistrust.

 

The Bureau of the Committee emphasizes that the Fourth Geneva Convention obligates an occupying Power to protect the civilian population under its occupation, including through the provision of basic services, such as food and medicines.  The applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, has been repeatedly affirmed by its High Contracting Parties, as well as by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council.  We call on the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to take urgent and decisive action to uphold their obligation, under article 1, to “respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances”.

 

The Bureau of the Committee also considers that it is incumbent upon the Security Council to exercise its responsibilities under the United Nations Charter and engage itself fully with a view to defusing the crisis and saving civilian lives.  The Council should take immediate and concrete steps to demand that the bloodshed is brought to an end, that Israel stop its military attacks against the Gaza Strip and that the civilian population is protected.  The Council must also insist that Israel lift its blockade of Gaza, in accordance with its resolution 1860 (2009) and allow for Gaza’s long-overdue recovery, reconstruction and long-term economic growth.

http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs//2012/gapal1247.doc.htm