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Posts tagged ‘Afghanistan’

Harvard’s Niall Ferguson: US in Global Retreat.


The United States’ “geopolitical taper” is having long-lasting, significant effects on the country’s national security strategy, as world powers stop taking President Barack Obama’s warnings seriously, says Niall Ferguson, Harvard history professor and Stanford University Hoover Institution senior fellow.

“The world remembers the red line that Mr. Obama once drew over the use of chemical weapons in Syria…and then ignored once the line had been crossed,” Ferguson writes in an op-ed piece for The Wall Street Journal.

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Ferguson’s use of the phrase “geopolitical taper” is a play off Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s use of taper” last June, when he announced modest reductions in the Fed’s large-scale asset-purchase program, creating repercussions worldwide..

But Obama’s tapering, or promising consequences only when other nations step “over the line” is far more significant, said Ferguson.

On Wednesday, when the president commented that “there will be consequences if people step over the line”  in the raging battles between Ukrainian protesters in Kiev and government forces, nobody took the warning seriously, Ferguson said.

“Ukrainian government snipers kept on killing people in Independence Square regardless,” he commented. “The compromise deal reached on Friday in Ukraine calling for early elections and a coalition government may or may not spell the end of the crisis. In any case, the negotiations were conducted without concern for Mr. Obama.”

The geopolitical taper can be traced to Obama’s first term, when he wanted troops out of Iraq and to have a minimum of U.S. overseas commitments, said Ferguson.

“Less easy to understand was his policy in Afghanistan,” said Ferguson, and the result was a compromise and a surge of additional troops, followed by a commitment to begin withdrawing.

Ferguson said Obama passively watched as the Iranian people arose against their rulers starting in 2009 and was caught off balance by the Arab Spring.

Obama’s other policies have been confused as well, said Ferguson.

“Mr. Obama backed the government led by Mohammed Morsi, after the Muslim Brotherhood won the 2012 elections. Then the president backed the military coup against Mr. Morsi last year,” said Ferguson.

“On Libya, Mr. Obama took a back seat in an international effort to oust Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, but was apparently not in the vehicle at all when the American mission at Benghazi came under fatal attack in 2012.”

And Ferguson said, “Syria has been one of the great fiascos of post-World War II American foreign policy” because of Obama’s “ineffectual” intervention.

The inaction has resulted in disaster, Ferguson said, with at least 130,000 Syrian civilians being killed and another 9 million driven from their homes. Further, the civil war has escalated into a proxy war between Sunni and Shiite Muslims that involves jihadist groups.

“Obama’s supporters like nothing better than to portray him as the peacemaker to [former president] George W. Bush’s warmonger,” said Ferguson. “But it is now almost certain that more people have died violent deaths in the Greater Middle East during this presidency than during the last one.”

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Sandy Fitzgerald

Graham: Karzai ‘Empowers’ Taliban By Freeing Afghan Thugs.


Sen. Lindsey Graham has accused Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai of “empowering” Taliban terrorists by releasing 65 dangerous Afghan “thugs” from jail.

The South Carolina Republican, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, condemned Karzai for freeing the prisoners who pose an immediate threat to U.S., Afghan, and allied forces in the war-torn country, McClatchy reports.

“Karzai is doing a lot of damage to his country and to the relationship between us and Afghanistan,” said Graham, who once traded jokes with Karzai over dinners at his presidential palace in Kabul.

“He’s undercutting a relationship (with the U.S.) that most Afghans want and empowering the Taliban…

“The Taliban look at something like this (the release of prisoners), and they’ve got to be encouraged. I’ve been to that prison dozens of times, and it makes my blood boil to see these thugs walk out of there.”

Graham said he’s been unable to confirm reports that Karzai has held secret talks with the Taliban, Muslim fanatics who ruled the country and imposed strict Islamic laws there until the U.S. invasion in October 2001.

Although the Taliban have recently launched a new offensive in the region, Graham said, “(Karzai) doesn’t treat the Taliban as an insurgency. He calls them ‘wayward brothers’ rather than thugs that are killing people.”

“I’ve known Karzai for 10 years, but he’s getting completely irrational. He’s totally detached from the reality about what’s going on in his own country.”

Graham, who has made several trips to Afghanistan as a senator and as an Air Force Reserve colonel, even met with Karzai in Kabul last month, along with Sen. John McCain of Arizona, and pleaded with him to keep the “thugs” behind bars, McClatchy reported.

But Karzai dismissed them, saying that the national detention center in Parwan that housed the inmates and was built with U.S. funds was “a black hole.” Although the jail is guarded by U.S. troops, the Karzai government has authority over the handling of prisoners and claims the 65 detainees were being held without cause.

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, commander of U.S troops in Afghanistan, attacked Karzai’s decision because he believes that some of the freed prisoners will join forces with the Taliban insurgency.

“They have killed Afghan men, women and children,” Dunford said, noting that two dozen inmates were tied to roadside bombs, the number one killer of Afghan citizens. “We believe some of the individuals previously released have already returned to the fight.”

Now a furious Graham is fighting back by demanding that Congress cuts off U.S. reconstruction aid to Afghanistan, and he’s enlisted the support of House Speaker John Boehner.

“After years of fighting alongside our Afghan partners — who have sustained serious casualties themselves from common enemies — this decision is especially egregious,” said Boehner.

The tense relations between Afghanistan and the U.S. have sunk to an all-time low, with U.S. officials claiming that Karzai has gone back on a bilateral agreement to keep a small military contingent in the country after the remaining 34,000 U.S. troops pull out by the end of the year.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the White House may now wait until Karzai leaves office in April before attempting to sign a new pact with the next government to keep peace-keeping troops on the ground there.

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
By Drew MacKenzie

Hagel Calls for Urgent Crackdown on Military Scandals.


Concerned that ethical problems inside the military might run deeper than he realized, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered service leaders Wednesday to add urgency to their drive to ensure “moral character and moral courage” in a force emerging from more than a decade of war.

Almost a year into his tenure as Pentagon chief, Hagel had been worried by a string of ethics scandals that produced a wave of unwelcome publicity for the military. But in light of new disclosures this week, including the announcement of alleged cheating among senior sailors in the nuclear Navy, Hagel decided to push for a fuller accounting.

Last month the Air Force revealed it was investigating widespread cheating on proficiency tests among nuclear missile launch officers in Montana, and numerous senior officers in all branches of the armed forces have been caught in embarrassing episodes of personal misbehavior, inside and outside the nuclear force. The Air Force also is pursuing a drug use investigation.

At the same time, hundreds of soldiers and others are under criminal investigation in what the Army describes as a widespread scheme to take fraudulent payments and kickbacks from a National Guard recruiting program.

The steady drumbeat of one military ethics scandal after another has caused many to conclude that the misbehavior reflects more than routine lapses.

“He definitely sees this as a growing problem,” Hagel’s chief spokesman, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, told a Pentagon news conference Wednesday after Hagel met privately with the top uniformed and civilian officials of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.

“And he’s concerned about the depth of it,” Kirby said. “I don’t think he could stand here and tell you that he has — that anybody has — the full grasp here, and what worries (Hagel) is that maybe he doesn’t have the full grasp of the depth of the issue, and he wants to better understand it.”

Hagel’s predecessor, Leon Panetta, had launched an effort to crack down on ethics failures more than a year ago, and the matter has been a top priority for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, for even longer.

Kirby said Hagel has come to realize that he needs to investigate as well.

“We don’t fully know right now what we’re grappling with here and how deep and serious it is,” Kirby said. “And I think, you know, for a leader at his level with the responsibilities that he carries every day, not knowing something like that is something to be concerned about. And he wants to know more.”

Hagel believes that the vast majority of military members are “brave, upright and honest,” and he is encouraged by efforts already under way to curb misconduct, including sexual assaults, Kirby said.

But Hagel told the service leaders Wednesday that he “also believes there must be more urgency behind these efforts” and that all Pentagon leaders must “put renewed emphasis on developing moral character and moral courage in our force.”

Kirby was asked whether Hagel believes ethics lapses are a symptom of over-use of the military for the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“He believes that that is a factor that should be looked at,” the spokesman said.

A significant portion of the concern about military misbehavior is aimed at two segments of the nuclear force: the Air Force’s land-based nuclear missile corps, and the Navy’s training program for operators of nuclear reactors used as propulsion systems for submarines and aircraft carriers. Neither of those fields was directly involved in significant ways in either of the wars since 2001.

The Navy announced on Tuesday that it had opened an investigation into cheating allegations against about 30 senior sailors representing about one-fifth of its instructors at a Charleston, S.C.,-based school for naval nuclear power reactor operators.

Unlike an Air Force cheating probe that has implicated nearly 100 officers responsible for land-based nuclear missiles that stand ready for short-notice launch, those implicated in the Navy investigation have no responsibility for nuclear weapons.

The Navy said its implicated sailors are accused of having cheated on written tests they must pass to be certified as instructors at the nuclear propulsion school. A number of them are alleged to have transmitted test information to other instructors from their home computers, which if verified would be a violation of restrictions on the use and transmission of classified information.

The matter is being probed by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

Separately, Kirby announced that the Pentagon has picked two retired officers to lead an independent review of personnel problems inside the Air Force and Navy nuclear forces. They are Larry Welsh, a former Air Force chief of staff, and John Harvey, a retired Navy admiral and nuclear-trained surface warfare officer.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: Newsmax.com

Ayotte: Why Was $29M Army Recruiting Fraud Not Spotted Earlier?.


Image: Ayotte: Why Was $29M Army Recruiting Fraud Not Spotted Earlier?

By Todd Beamon

Sen. Kelly Ayotte pressed Army officials on Tuesday on why a massive scheme involving a National Guard recruiting program that has been estimated to cost taxpayers at least $29 million was not spotted earlier.

“Where was the oversight of this?” the New Hampshire Republican asked at meeting of a Senate Homeland Security oversight subcommittee charged with investigating the scandal. “How were we … conducting oversight of these contractors?”

The top Army officials disclosed the massive fraud to legislators on Tuesday. Hundreds of soldiers and civilians are under criminal investigation in the scheme, which involved taking fraudulent payments and kickbacks from a National Guard recruiting program.

The fraud cost the U.S. at least $29 million and possibly tens of millions dollars more, the officials said.

The investigation involves as many as 200 officers, including two two-star generals and 18 colonels, who are suspected of participating in schemes to take advantage of the Army National Guard’s Recruiting Assistance Program, a referral program that paid out cash bonuses of $2,000 to $7,500 per recruit.

None of those top National Guard officers has been been imprisoned, lost benefits or resigned for fraud, said Maj. Gen. David Quantock, head of the Army’s Criminal Investigation and Corrections commands. So far, however, 16 people have been convicted and jailed in the scandal.

Overall, more than 1,200 people — including civilians with military ties and men and women in uniform — are being examined by at least 60 full-time investigators. The program began in 2005 to boost flagging enlistment during the Iraq War.

Only nine cases were investigated from 2007 to 2009, Quantock said. It wasn’t until 2010, when 10 cases indicated “that we have a major problem here,” USA Today reports.

“That’s a long time when you’ve got fraud going on,” Ayotte said.

Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, the subcommittee’s Democratic chairwoman, called the inquiry “one of the largest that the Army has ever conducted, both in terms of the sheer volume of fraud and the number of participants.”

“These are criminals that have dishonored the uniform we are all so proud of,” she said.

Lt. Gen. William Grisoli, director of Army Staff, told the panel of a “fundamental breakdown” in establishing and executing the program, which had relied on contractors.

Officials told legislators that the fraud was believed to be so widespread that they may not complete their inquiry until as late as 2016 because of the number of potential cases.

The Recruiting Assistance Program was created to increase enlistment when wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had left the military below recruitment goals, the officials told the subcommittee. The program offered cash bonuses to civilian recruiting assistants for referrals.

Uniformed recruiters were supposedly prohibited from receiving the cash payments. But investigators have since found recruiters worked around that prohibition by myriad means, and for several years did so virtually undetected.

In addition, some recruiting assistants eligible for the payments were coerced into splitting their bonuses with military recruiters. Other military recruiters did not inform civilian assistants about the bonuses but registered them for the program.

The military recruiters would then substitute their own bank information for that of the civilian assistants.

In one case alone, Quantock told legislators,  five people split about $1 million.  Investigators have clearly identified $29 million in fraudulent bonus payments and were investigating another $66 million in potential cases.

Officials said the program brought in more recruits, so much so, that they were furious when allegations of fraud threatened that success.

Auditors shut down the program in 2012 after watchdogs found evidence of widespread abuse.

In all, the Army National Guard paid upward of $300 million for roughly 130,000 enlistments, the officials said.

Besides Grisoli and Quantock, Ayotte also questioned Joseph Bentz, the Army’s chief auditor, as to why the fraud was not detected sooner.

“When the money starts going out the door a lot faster, how was it within the command structure that we didn’t pick up on that as a raw indicator, right there, that something wasn’t quite right — as oversight within the system?” she asked, according to a transcript provided by her office.

Bentz acknowledged that “oversight of the contract was insufficient.”

“The contracting officers’ representatives that were responsible for that oversight — they believed that the contractor was responsible for the oversight and control of the program,” he added.

“They thought the contractor [was responsible for oversight and] they didn’t realize that … we had to oversee the program?” Ayotte asked.

“Correct,” Bentz responded.

Grisoli, in his written remarks to the subcommittee, acknowledged that, “funds were lost due to systematic weaknesses, a general breakdown in sound business processes and wrongdoing.”

Ayotte then asked: “How can we have confidence that the Army doesn’t have similar problems in other programs when we’re talking about systematic problems?”

He noted that the Army was investigating whether similar problems existed in other programs.

“The way we prevent something like this happening in the future is we have what we call program management reviews,” Grisoli said. “We had our procurement executive do a program management review on the overall contracting system of the National Guard Bureau.

“We are working very closely with them to implement that now,” he added. “They’ve provided us a corrective action plan. We have accepted that plan and now they are implementing that plan.”

The senator then returned to questioning Quantock about the lax oversight.

“Why is it [that] … when the money started going out the door on a faster rate and that wasn’t flagged … , why wasn’t it that somebody before it got to you all asked the question, ‘Well, why is this money going out the door so much faster than we thought it would last us?’”

He acknowledged that the internal controls regarding the program “and properly providing that oversight to track that … that was another weak area.”

“So, someone just wasn’t tracking that … or was it not flagged?” Ayotte asked.

Quantock said that the Army’s contracting officer’s representative examined the “burn rates” — meaning how quickly the funds were being paid out — but that “they just did not call flags based on what they saw … on the burn rates.”

“That didn’t flag for them?” Ayotte asked.

“That didn’t flag,” Quantock responded.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Army Sees Sharp Drop in Suicides.


The U.S. Army is reported a notable decrease in the number of active-duty soldiers committing suicide last year, saying the number fell from 185 in 2012 to 150.

According to Start and Stripes, the reduction represented a 19 percent drop and reversed what had been referred to by former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as an epidemic of suicides. There were weeks and months when more soldiers killed themselves than were felled in combat, the newspaper that military affairs noted.

Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, chief of Army personnel, expressed cautious optimism over the numbers. “I’m not declaring any kind of victory here,” Bromberg said. But he added, “It’s looking more promising.”

The Army has invested millions in a comprehensive effort to develop ways to head-off suicides and bolster emotional resilience among soldiers. It has also been collaborating with the National Institutes of Health on suicide prevention. One experimental program involving 30 soldiers at Fort Carson in Colorado showed a 60 percent reduction in attempted suicides.

“I think we’ve hit the turning point where people are really, really talking about behavioral health and the fact that it’s OK to have problems,” Bromberg said.

Some attribute the decline in suicides to the end of the war in Iraq and the winding down of the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan.

“I get the sense when I work with military people now, they just don’t seem as burnt out as they used to be,” psychologist Craig Bryan at the University of Utah’s National Center for Veterans Studies told Stars and Stripes.

The Army suicides were included in a preliminary report of all presumed and actual suicides across all branches of the service in 2013. The figures show that suicide deaths were down from 351 across all military branches in 2012 to 284 overall last year.

But the preliminary data also shows that suicides among those who are no longer on active duty remained at record levels. The Army reported 151 suicides among members of the National Guard and reserves, an increase from 140 suicides in 2012.

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© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
By Elliot Jager

Hagel Voices Frustration with Afghan Foot-Dragging.


Expressing growing impatience, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday he doesn’t know what to believe about new assurances from Afghanistan that President Hamid Karzai is moving closer to signing a pact to keep American troops in his country next year as advisers.

“What is coming out of the presidential palace today, or what President Karzai says today, I don’t know,” Hagel told a news conference in Warsaw. “It changes constantly.”

Hagel pointedly noted that Karzai had “agreed — personally agreed — to the bilateral security agreement” negotiated between the two nations last year, yet continues to balk at signing it.

The deal would allow some U.S. service members to remain and keep training Afghan soldiers after most of the 39,000 troops now there withdraw. The 12-year-old U.S. combat mission is set to end in December.

The Obama administration has indicated it might be willing to keep as many as 10,000 military trainers in Afghanistan to advise forces fighting the Taliban insurgency.

Earlier, on his overnight flight from Washington to Warsaw, Hagel told reporters that Karzai’s foot-dragging puts at risk the planning necessary for a post-combat mission.

“You can’t just keep deferring and deferring,” he said, “because at some point, the realities of planning and budgeting — it collides.”

Since the new year, the Obama administration has repeatedly said it needs an agreement signed in weeks, not months, if it is to keep any troops in Afghanistan in 2015.

In Kabul on Thursday, Karzai’s national security adviser voiced optimism about the pact.

Rangin Dadfar Spanta said he has grown more hopeful that the Afghan leader will sign the agreement before leaving office this year. Karzai has repeatedly said he wants to wait to sign the document until after the country chooses his successor in April 5 elections.

At a news conference, Spanta said intense talks in the last few days have made him “more optimistic” that the stalemate can be broken.

“We are working very intensively together with the United States authorities to reach and sign this agreement soon,” Spanta said. “I cannot go today into detail, but I don’t know — since two, three, four days, I am more optimistic compared to last week. Let us wait a few days more.”

If the deal falls apart, Afghanistan could lose up to $15 billion a year in aid, effectively collapsing its fragile economy and making it unable to pay its 350,000-strong army and police.

Hagel, who was visiting Polish leaders to consult on Afghanistan and other security issues, sounded skeptical at his news conference in Warsaw when asked about Spanta’s remarks.

Saying that the Afghan president’s position keeps changing, Hagel noted that U.S. officials, including Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top US military commander in Afghanistan, have pressed Karzai and “talk with him constantly.” But they have limited ability to influence his decision, Hagel said.

He added that U.S. allies who are willing to help train and advise Afghan forces beyond 2014 also are eager to know if there will be a U.S.-Afghan security agreement soon.

Insurgents in Afghanistan have intensified attacks recently in a campaign to regain territory as foreign forces prepare to leave the country.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: Newsmax.com.

Karzai Said to Believe US Behind Attacks Claimed by Taliban.


Image: Karzai Said to Believe US Behind Attacks Claimed by Taliban

By Elliot Jager

Afghan President Hamid Karzai believes the United States has conducted a series of bombings and terror attacks in his country as part of a campaign to destabilize his regime and draw attention away from airstrikes that caused civilian casualties.

Citing unnamed senior Afghan officials, The Washington Post reported late Monday thatKarzai blames the U.S. for the Jan. 17 bombing of a popular Lebanese-style restaurant in Kabul that killed 21 people, among them three Americans, as well as assaults on the Justice Ministry in Kabul and a provincial courthouse that took 50 lives.

The Taliban has taken credit for the attacks, but Karzai still blames the U.S., pro-Karzai sources told the Post, because he believes the attack against the restaurant was “too sophisticated to be the handiwork of [the] Taliban.” The Post also noted that Karzai has acknowledged there is no evidence to back up his charges.

In response, the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, James Cunningham, told the Post, “It’s a deeply conspiratorial view that’s divorced from reality.”

He suggested Karzai’s claims could be part of an effort to “throw us off balance” because he has yet to sign a security agreement already negotiated that would leave a substantial U.S. military presence in the country beyond the scheduled withdrawal date at the end of this year.

“It flies in the face of logic and morality to think that we would aid the enemy we’re trying to defeat,” said Cunningham.

Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, also said that “any suggestion that the U.S. has been involved in any way in suicide attacks or deliberate attacks on Afghan civilians is ludicrous.

“We have spent 12 years trying to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan in the face of threats from terrorist and insurgent networks . . . To suggest otherwise does a grave disservice to those who have sacrificed for the people of Afghanistan.”

The latest claim from Karzai follows a charge he made last year alleging the U.S. had joined with the Taliban to conspire against him, The Christian Science Monitor reported at the time.

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