Friday, October 16, 2015

Kissinger poisoned the Middle East: America is living in a quagmire of his making

W made matters worse, but the region's radicalization can all be traced to our steady support of the Shah of Shahs
This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.
The only person Henry Kissinger flattered more than President Richard Nixon was Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. In the early 1970s, the Shah, sitting atop an enormous reserve of increasingly expensive oil and a key figure in Nixon and Kissinger’s move into the Middle East, wanted to be dealt with as a serious person. He expected his country to be treated with the same respect Washington showed other key Cold War allies like West Germany and Great Britain. As Nixon’s national security adviser and, after 1973, secretary of state, Kissinger’s job was to pump up the Shah, to make him feel like he truly was the “king of kings.”
Reading the diplomatic record, it’s hard not to imagine his weariness as he prepared for his sessions with the Shah, considering just what gestures and words would be needed to make it clear that his majesty truly mattered to Washington, that he was valued beyond compare. “Let’s see,” an aide who was helping Kissinger get ready for one such meeting said, “the Shah will want to talk about Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, the Kurds, and Brezhnev.”
During another prep, Kissinger was told that “the Shah wants to ride in an F-14.” Silence ensued. Then Kissinger began to think aloud about how to flatter the monarch into abandoning the idea. “We can say,” he began, “that if he has his heart set on it, okay, but the President would feel easier if he didn’t have that one worry in 10,000 [that the plane might crash]. The Shah will be flattered.” Once, Nixon asked Kissinger to book the entertainer Danny Kaye for a private performance for the Shah and his wife.
The 92-year-old Kissinger has a long history of involvement in Iran and his recent opposition to Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, while relatively subdued by present Washington standards, matters. In it lies a certain irony, given his own largely unexamined record in the region. Kissinger’s criticism has focused mostly on warning that the deal might provoke a regional nuclear arms race as Sunni states led by Saudi Arabia line up against Shia Iran. “We will live in a proliferated world,” he said in testimony before the Senate. In aWall Street Journal op-ed co-authored with another former secretary of state, George Shultz, Kissinger worried that, as the region “trends toward sectarian upheaval” and “state collapse,” the “disequilibrium of power” might likely tilt toward Tehran.
Of all people, Kissinger knows well how easily the best laid plans can go astray and careen toward disaster. The former diplomat is by no means solely responsible for the mess that is today’s Middle East. There is, of course, George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq (which Kissinger supported). But he does bear far more responsibility for our proliferated world’s disequilibrium of power than anyone usually recognizes.
Some of his Middle East policies are well known. In early 1974, for instance, his so-called shuttle diplomacy helped deescalate the tensions that had led to the previous year’s Arab-Israeli War. At the same time, however, it locked in Israel’s veto over U.S. foreign policy for decades to come. And in December 1975, wrongly believing that he had worked out a lasting pro-American balance of power between Iran and Iraq, Kissinger withdrew his previous support from the Kurds (whom he had been using as agents of destabilization against Baghdad’s Baathists). Iraq moved quickly to launch an assault on the Kurds that killed thousands and then implemented a program of ethnic cleansing, forcibly relocating Kurdish survivors and moving Arabs into their homes. “Even in the context of covert action ours was a cynical enterprise,”noted a Congressional investigation into his sacrifice of the Kurds.
Less well known is the way in which Kissinger’s policies toward Iran and Saudi Arabia accelerated the radicalization in the region, how step by catastrophic step he laid the groundwork for the region’s spiraling crises of the present moment.
Guardian of the Gulf
Most critical histories of U.S. involvement in Iran rightly began with the joint British-U.S. coup against democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953, which installed Pahlavi on the Peacock Throne. But it was Kissinger who, in 1972, greatly deepened the relationship between Washington and Tehran. He was the one who began a policy of unconditional support for the Shah as a way to steady American power in the Persian Gulf while the U.S. extracted itself from Southeast Asia. As James Schlesinger, who served as Nixon’s CIA director and secretary of defense, noted, if “we were going to make the Shah the Guardian of the Gulf, we’ve got to give him what he needs.” Which, Schlesinger added, really meant “giving him what he wants.”
What the Shah wanted most of all were weapons of every variety — and American military trainers, and a navy, and an air force. It was Kissinger who overrode State Department and Pentagon objections and gave the Shah what no other country had: the ability to buy anything he wanted from U.S. weapons makers.
“We are looking for a navy,” the Shah told Kissinger in 1973, “we have a large shopping list.” And so Kissinger let him buy a navy.
By 1976, Kissinger’s last full year in office, Iran had become the largest purchaser of American weaponry and housed the largest contingent of U.S. military advisors anywhere on the planet. By 1977, the historian Ervand Abrahamian notes, “the shah had the largest navy in the Persian Gulf, the largest air force in Western Asia, and the fifth-largest army in the whole world.” That meant, just to begin a list, thousands of modern tanks, hundreds of helicopters, F-4 and F-5 fighter jets, dozens of hovercraft, long-range artillery pieces, and Maverick missiles. The next year, the Shah bought another $12 billion worth of equipment.
After Kissinger left office, the special relationship he had worked so hard to establish blew up with the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the flight of the Shah, the coming to power of Ayatollah Khomeini, and the taking of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran (and its occupants as hostages) by student protesters. Washington’s political class is still trying to dig itself out of the rubble. A number of high-ranking Middle East policymakers and experts held Kissinger directly responsible for the disaster, especially career diplomat George Ball, who called Kissinger’s Iran policy an “act of folly.”
Kissinger is deft at deflecting attention from this history. After a speech at Annapolis in 2007, a cadet wanted to know why he had sold weapons to the Shah of Iran when “he knew the nature of his regime?”
“Every American government from the 1950s on cooperated with the Shah of Iran,” Kissinger answered. He continued: “Iran is a crucial piece of strategic real estate, and the fact that it is now in adversarial hands shows why we cooperated with the Shah of Iran. Why did we sell weapons to him? Because he was willing to defend himself and because his defense was in our interest. And again, I simply don’t understand why we have to apologize for defending the American national interest, which was also in the national interest of that region.”
This account carefully omits his role in greatly escalating the support provided to the Shah, including to his infamous SAVAK torturers — the agents of his murderous, U.S.-trained secret police-cum-death-squad — who upheld his regime. Each maimed body or disappeared family member was one more klick on the road to revolution. As George Ball’s biographer, James Bill, writes: considering the “manifest failure” of Kissinger’s Iran policy, “it is worthy of note that in his two massive volumes of political memoirs totalling twenty-eight-hundred pages, Kissinger devoted less than twenty pages to the Iranian revolution and U.S.-Iran relations.”
After the Shah fell, the ayatollahs were the beneficiaries of Kissinger’s arms largess, inheriting billions of dollars of warships, tanks, fighter jets, guns, and other materiel. It was also Kissinger who successfully urged the Carter administration to grant the Shah asylum in the United States, which hastened the deterioration of relations between Tehran and Washington, precipitating the embassy hostage crisis.
Then, in 1980, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded Iran, beginning a war that consumed hundreds of thousands of lives. The administration of Ronald Reagan “tilted” toward Baghdad, providing battlefield intelligence used to launch lethal sarin gas attacks on Iranian troops. At the same time, the White House illegally and infamously trafficked high-tech weaponry to revolutionary Iran as part of what became the Iran-Contra affair.
“It’s a pity they can’t both lose,” Kissinger is reported to have said of Iran and Iraq. Although that quotation is hard to confirm, Raymond Tanter, who served on the National Security Council, reports that, at a foreign-policy briefing for Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan in October 1980, Kissinger suggested “the continuation of fighting between Iran and Iraq was in the American interest.” Having bet (and lost) on the Shah, Kissinger now hoped to make the best of a bad war. The U.S., he counselled Reagan, “should capitalize on continuing hostilities.”
Saudi Arabia and the Petrodollar Fix
Kissinger’s other “guardian” of the Gulf, Sunni Saudi Arabia, however, didn’t fall and he did everything he could to turn that already close relationship into an ironclad alliance. In 1975, he signaled what was to come by working out an arms deal for the Saudi regime similar to the one he had green-lighted for Tehran, including a $750 million contract for the sale of 60 F-5E/F fighters to the sheiks. By this time, the U.S. already had more than a trillion dollars’ worth of military agreements with Riyadh. Only Iran had more.
Like Tehran, Riyadh paid for this flood of weaponry with the proceeds from rising oil prices. The word “petrodollar,” according to the Los Angeles Times, was coined in late 1973, and introduced into English by New York investment bankers who were courting the oil-producing countries of the Middle East. Soon enough, as that paper wrote, the petrodollar had become part of “the world’s macroeconomic interface” and crucial to Kissinger’s developing Middle Eastern policy.
By June 1974, Treasury Secretary George Shultz was already suggesting that rising oil prices could result in a “highly advantageous mutual bargain” between the U.S. and petroleum-producing countries in the Middle East. Such a “bargain,” as others then began to argue, might solve a number of problems, creating demand for the U.S. dollar, injecting needed money into a flagging defense industry hard hit by the Vietnam wind-down, and using petrodollars to cover mounting trade deficits.
As it happened, petrodollars would prove anything but a quick fix. High energy prices were a drag on the U.S. economy, with inflation and high interest rates remaining a problem for nearly a decade. Nor was petrodollar dependence part of any preconceived Kissingerian “plan.” As with far more of his moves than he or his admirers now care to admit, he more or less stumbled into it. This was why, in periodic frustration, he occasionally daydreamed about simply seizing the oil fields of the Arabian peninsula and doing away with all the developing economic troubles.
“Can’t we overthrow one of the sheikhs just to show that we can do it?” hewondered in November 1973, fantasizing about which gas-pump country he could knock off. “How about Abu Dhabi?” he later asked. (Imagine what the world would be like today had Kissinger, in the fall of 1973, moved to overthrow the Saudi regime rather than Chile’s democratically elected president, Salvador Allende.) “Let’s work out a plan for grabbing some Middle East oil if we want,” Kissinger said.
Such scimitar rattling was, however, pure posturing. Not only did Kissinger broker the various deals that got the U.S. hooked on recycled Saudi petrodollars, he also began to promote the idea of an “oil floor price” below which the cost per barrel wouldn’t fall. Among other things, this scheme was meant to protect the Saudis (and Iran, until 1979) from a sudden drop in demand and provide U.S. petroleum corporations with guaranteed profit margins.
Stephen Walt, a scholar of international relations, writes: “By the end of 1975, more than six thousand Americans were engaged in military-related activities in Saudi Arabia. Saudi arms purchased for the period 1974-1975 totaled over $3.8 billion, and a bewildering array of training missions and construction projects worth over $10 billion were now underway.”
Since the 1970s, one administration after another has found the iron-clad alliance Kissinger deepened between the House of Saud’s medieval “moderates” and Washington indispensable not only to keep the oil flowing but as a balance against Shia radicalism and secular nationalism of every sort. Recently, however, a series of world-historical events has shattered the context in which that alliance seemed to make sense. These include: the catastrophic war on and occupation of Iraq, the Arab Spring, the Syrian uprising and ensuing civil war, the rise of ISIS, Israel’s rightwing lurch, the conflict in Yemen, the falling price of petroleum, and, now, Obama’s Iran deal. But the arms spigot that Kissinger turned on still remains wide open.According to the New York Times, “Saudi Arabia spent more than $80 billion on weaponry last year — the most ever, and more than either France or Britain — and has become the world’s fourth-largest defense market.” Just as they did after the Vietnam drawdown, U.S. weapons manufacturing are compensating for limits on the defense budget at home by selling arms to Gulf states. The “proxy wars in the Middle East could last for years,” write Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper of the New York Times, “which will make countries in the region even more eager for the F-35 fighter jet, considered to be the jewel of America’s future arsenal of weapons. The plane, the world’s most expensive weapons project, has stealth capabilities and has been marketed heavily to European and Asian allies. It has not yet been peddled to Arab allies because of concerns about preserving Israel’s military edge.” If fortune is really shining on Lockheed and Boeing, Kissinger’s prediction that Obama’s de-escalation of tensions with Tehran will sooner or later prompt Saudi–Iranian hostilities will pan out. “With the balance of power in the Middle East in flux, several defense analysts said that could change. Russia is a major arms supplier to Iran, and a decision by President Vladimir Putin to sell an advanced air defense system to Iran could increase demand for the F-35, which is likely to have the ability to penetrate Russian-made defenses,” the Times reports. “This could be the precipitating event: the emerging Sunni-Shia civil war coupled with the sale of advanced Russian air defense systems to Iran,” said one defense analyst. “If anything is going to result in F-35 clearance to the gulf states, this is the combination of events.’”
Into Afghanistan
If all Henry Kissinger contributed to the Middle East were a regional arms race, petrodollar addiction, Iranian radicalization, and the Tehran-Riyadh conflict, it would be bad enough. His legacy, however, is far worse than that: he has to answer for his role in the rise of political Islam.
In July 1973, after a coup in Afghanistan brought to power a moderate, secular, but Soviet-leaning republican government, the Shah, then approaching the height of his influence with Kissinger, pressed his advantage. He asked for even more military assistance. Now, he said, he “must cover the East with fighter aircraft.” Kissinger complied.
Tehran also began to meddle in Afghan politics, offering Kabul billions of dollars for development and security, in exchange for loosening “its ties with the Soviet Union.” This might have seemed a reasonably peaceful way to increase U.S. influence via Iran over Kabul. It was, however, paired with an explosive initiative: via SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police, and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), extremist Islamic insurgents were to be slipped into Afghanistan to destabilize Kabul’s republican government.
Kissinger, who knew his British and his Russian imperial history, had long considered Pakistan of strategic importance. “The defense of Afghanistan,” he wrote in 1955, “depends on the strength of Pakistan.” But before he could put Pakistan into play against the Soviets in Afghanistan, he had to perfume away the stink of genocide. In 1971, that country had launched a bloodbath in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), with Nixon and Kissinger standing “stoutly behind Pakistan’s generals, supporting the murderous regime at many of the most crucial moments,” as Gary Bass has detailed. The president and his national security adviser, Bass writes, “vigorously supported the killers and tormentors of a generation of Bangladeshis.”
Because of that genocidal campaign, the State Department, acting against Kissinger’s wishes, had cut off military aid to the country in 1971, though Nixon and Kissinger kept it flowing covertly via Iran. In 1975, Kissinger vigorously pushed for its full, formal restoration, even as he was offering his tacit approval to Maoist China to back Pakistan whose leaders had their own reasons for wanting to destabilize Afghanistan, having to do with border disputes and the ongoing rivalry with India. Kissinger helped make that possible, in part by the key role he played in building up Pakistan as part of a regional strategy in which Iran and Saudi Arabia were similarly deputized to do his dirty work. When Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had backed the 1971 rampage in East Pakistan, visited Washington in 1975 to make the case for restoration of military aid, Kissinger assured President Gerald Ford that he “was great in ’71.” Ford agreed, and U.S. dollars soon started to flow directly to the Pakistani army and intelligence service.
As national security adviser and then secretary of state, Kissinger was directly involved in planning and executing covert actions in such diverse places as Cambodia, Angola, and Chile. No available information indicates that he ever directly encouraged Pakistan’s ISI or Iran’s SAVAK to destabilize Afghanistan. But we don’t need a smoking gun to appreciate the larger context and consequences of his many regional initiatives in what, in the twenty-first century, would come to be known in Washington as the “greater Middle East.” In their 1995 book, Out of Afghanistan, based on research in Soviet archives, foreign-policy analysts Diego Cordovez and Selig Harrison provide a wide-ranging sense of just how so many of the policies Kissinger put in place — the empowerment of Iran, the restoration of military relations with Pakistan, high oil prices, an embrace of Saudi Wahhabism, and weapon sales — came together to spark jihadism:
”It was in the early 1970s, with oil prices rising, that Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran embarked on his ambitious effort to roll back Soviet influence in neighboring countries and create a modern version of the ancient Persian empire… Beginning in 1974, the Shah launched a determined effort to draw Kabul into a Western-tilted, Tehran-centered regional economic and security sphere embracing India, Pakistan and the Persian Gulf states… The United States actively encouraged this roll-back policy as part of its broad partnership with the Shah… SAVAK and the CIA worked hand in hand, sometimes in loose collaboration with underground Afghani Islamic fundamentalist groups that shared their anti-Soviet objectives but had their own agendas as well… As oil profits sky-rocketed, emissaries from these newly affluent Arab fundamentalist groups arrived on the Afghan scene with bulging bankrolls.”
Harrison also wrote that “SAVAK, the CIA, and Pakistani agents” were involved in failed “fundamentalist coup attempts” in Afghanistan in 1973 and 1974, along with an attempted Islamic insurrection in the Panjshir Valley in 1975, laying the groundwork for the jihad of the 1980s (and beyond). Much has been made of Jimmy Carter’s decision, on the advice of National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, to authorize “nonlethal” aid to the Afghan mujahedeen in July 1979, six months before Moscow sent troops to support the Afghan government in its fight against a spreading Islamic insurgency. But lethal aid had already long been flowing to those jihadists via Washington’s ally Pakistan (and Iran until its revolution in 1979). This provision of support to radical Islamists, initiated in Kissinger’s tenure and continuing through the years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, had a number of unfortunate consequences known all too well today but seldom linked to the good doctor. It put unsustainable pressure on Afghanistan’s fragile secular government. It laid the early infrastructure for today’s transnational radical Islam. And, of course, it destabilized Afghanistan and so helped provoke the Soviet invasion. Some still celebrate the decisions of Carter and Reagan for their role in pulling Moscow into its own Vietnam-style quagmire and so hastening the demise of the Soviet Union. “What is most important to the history of the world?” Brzezinski infamously asked. “The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?” (The rivalry between the two Harvard immigrant diplomats, Kissinger and Brzezinski, is well known. But Brzezinski by 1979 was absolutely Kissingerian in his advice to Carter. In fact, a number of Kissinger’s allies who continued on in the Carter administration, including Walter Slocombe and David Newsom, influenced the decision to support the jihad.) Moscow’s occupation of Afghanistan would prove a disaster — and not just for the Soviet Union. When Soviet troops pulled out in 1989, they left behind a shattered country and a shadowy network of insurgent fundamentalists who, for years, had worked hand-in-glove with the CIA in the Agency’s longest covert operation, as well as the Saudis and the Pakistani ISI. It was a distinctly Kissingerian line-up of forces. Few serious scholars now believe that the Soviet Union would have proved any more durable had it not invaded Afghanistan. Nor did the allegiance of Afghanistan — whether it tilted toward Washington, Moscow, or Tehran — make any difference to the outcome of the Cold War, any more than did, say, that of Cuba, Iraq, Angola, or Vietnam.
For all of the celebration of him as a “grand strategist,” as someone who constantly advises presidents to think of the future, to base their actions today on where they want the country to be in five or 10 years’ time, Kissinger was absolutely blind to the fundamental feebleness and inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union. None of it was necessary; none of the lives Kissinger sacrificed in Cambodia, Laos, Angola, Mozambique, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, East Timor, and Bangladesh made one bit of difference in the outcome of the Cold War.
Similarly, each of Kissinger’s Middle East initiatives has been disastrous in the long run. Just think about them from the vantage point of 2015: banking on despots, inflating the Shah, providing massive amounts of aid to security forces that tortured and terrorized democrats, pumping up the U.S. defense industry with recycled petrodollars and so spurring a Middle East arms race financed by high gas prices, emboldening Pakistan’s intelligence service, nurturing Islamic fundamentalism, playing Iran and the Kurds off against Iraq, and then Iraq and Iran off against the Kurds, and committing Washington to defending Israel’s occupation of Arab lands. Combined, they’ve helped bind the modern Middle East into a knot that even Alexander’s sword couldn’t sever.
Bloody Inventions
Over the last decade, an avalanche of documents — transcripts of conversations and phone calls, declassified memos, and embassy cables — have implicated Henry Kissinger in crimes in Bangladesh, Cambodia, southern Africa, Laos, the Middle East, and Latin America. He’s tried to defend himself by arguing for context. “Just to take a sentence out of a telephone conversation when you have 50 other conversations, it’s just not the way to analyze it,” Kissinger said recently, after yet another damning tranche of documents was declassified. “I’ve been telling people to read a month’s worth of conversations, so you know what else went on.” But a month’s worth of conversations, or eight years for that matter, reads like one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest plays. Perhaps Macbeth, with its description of what we today call blowback: “That we but teach bloody instructions, which, being taught, return to plague the inventor.”
We are still reaping the bloody returns of Kissinger’s inventions.

Stop the Killing! Stop Saudi Arabia’s campaign of violence!

Today a young boy, Ali Mohammad al-Nimr emaciates alone in solitary confinement, Al-Harra prison in Saudi Arabia, awaiting a death sentence. Al-Harrah is one of Saudi Arabia notorious high security prisons, where inmates are routinely tortured. For Ali, his fate is more grim. The Saudi regime plans on executing him to death by crucifixion and beheading. One of Ali’s capital offenses include :using a phone to promote disloyalty to the King.

Ali Mohammad al-Nimr’s nightmare began on February 14, 2012, when age only 16. Saudi Security Forces arrested him, as he rode his bike near his family home, by rear ending him with a Jeep.
Ali was born December 25, 1995 in Qatif, Saudi Arabia. He is the nephew of prominent Shia cleric and political activist Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. In December, 2011, Ali accompanied his uncle to a meeting, where Shiekh Nimr called for the peaceful  respect human dignity for all citizens. For this crime, on October, 15  2014, Sheikh al-Nimr was sentenced to death by the Specialized Criminal Court, where charges included  “seeking ‘foreign meddling’,  ‘disobeying’ its rulers and taking up arms against the security forces.”  His brother, Mohammad al-Nimr (Ali’s father), was arrested on the same day for tweeting information about the death sentence.
In the terrible  day in February, without his parents ever being informed, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was taken to a juvenile prison – there he was tortured for months and asked to confess to crimes he never committed: all of it to implications Shiekh Nimr.  For the next four month Ali Mohammad al-Nimr was held incommunicado, without any access to legal counsel or contact with the outside.
For he attended a peaceful rally in the Shia majority  Qatif (eastern province of Saudi Arabia), Ali Mohammad al-Nimr was abducted and incarcerated. Because his family represents outspoken beacon of hope for Saudi Arabia’s Shia community, Ali Mohammad has been brutalized by the regime.
In June 2012, Ali’s mother was finally allowed to visit her son in prison. There, she witnessed  the horrors her son was put through – the beating, the torture, the abuses and psychological duress he had to endure day after day, week after week, month after month.
In December 2012, Ali Mohammad al-Nimr, then age 17, was charged with thirteen ludicris charges including Hariba (treason against God and the King of Saudi Arabia) – a blanket accusation the Saudi regime has often times used to silence its prisoners of conscience.
Ali Mohammad was never allowed access to a lawyer, he was never offered the opportunity to defend himself, or even allowed to challenge the charges which were brought against him.
After being found guilty of all the charges against the King, Ali Mohammad al-Nimr was sentenced to death by beheading and crucifixion.
In May 2014, following a lengthy and difficult appeal, Ali Mohammad’s case was reviewed before a panel of judges. Judges in Saudi Arabia, fall under the direct authority of the king, and their allegiance is not to the rule of law but the throne. Ali Mohammad al-Nimr never stood a chance at any fair trial.
Again, the final appeal was handed out secretly in July of 2015, where 13 judges sentenced him to death with no chance of further appeal.Since May 2014, Ali Mohammad, this young boy from Qatif has sat in prison, awaiting for his accusers to steal his last breath. His crime? Being a Shia Muslim in Saudi Arabia.
Ali’s predicament is not an isolated incident – Saudi Arabia’s prisons hold many minors within their walls; and too many,  like Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, have been sentenced to death, in clear violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
It needs to be noted that in 1996, Saudi Arabia agreed to be a state party to the CRC, when the Saudi Human Rights Commission signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
And yet, Saudi Arabia has systematically violated Ali Mohammed al-Nimr’s rights.
Not only has the UN failed to fulfill its mandate by challenging those in infractions of international law, it rewarded the kingdom.
In June of 2015 Faisal Trad, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Geneva, was elected Chair of the UN Human Rights Council panel that appoints independent experts.
Today we wish to break the silence and denounce those crimes the international community should have acted against long ago!
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) states:
“Article 37 States Parties shall ensure that:(a) No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age;
(b) No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time;
(c) Every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age. In particular, every child deprived of liberty shall be separated from adults unless it is considered in the child’s best interest not to do so and shall have the right to maintain contact with his or her family through correspondence and visits, save in exceptional circumstances;
 (d) Every child deprived of his or her liberty shall have the right to prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance, as well as the right to challenge the legality of the deprivation of his or her liberty before a court or other competent, independent and impartial authority, and to a prompt decision on any such action.”
Moreover, under article 15 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), peaceful assembly is a protected right. It reads:
“Article 15: 1. States Parties recognize the rights of the child to freedom of association and to freedom of peaceful assembly.
2. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of these rights other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
Active petitions calling for the unconditional and immediate release of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr:
– Change.org
For all press queries and details please contact Al Nimr PR representatives at Veritas Consulting:
Catherine Shakdam in the UK at
Marwa Osman in Lebanon at

Saudi Arabia: Fears grow that three young activists could soon be executed

There are rising fears about the impending executions of Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr and two other young Shi’a activists in Saudi Arabia who were arrested as juveniles after participating in anti-government rallies, Amnesty International said today after learning that they had been moved to solitary confinement.
The organization has been able to confirm that Ali al-Nimr, Dawood Hussein al-Marhoon and Abdullah Hasan al-Zaher were moved to solitary confinement in al-Ha’ir prison in Riyadh on 5 October. They were arrested at different times in 2012, when they were all under the age of 18, and sentenced to death in 2014. All three death sentences were upheld by Saudi Arabia’s appeal court and the Supreme Court earlier this year.
Pro-government media reports that Ali al-Nimr could face crucifixion after his beheading have sparked a global outcry. On 14 October, his mother appealed to US President Barack Obama to step in to save her son.
“The death penalty is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and there is no convincing evidence that it is a particular deterrent against crime. Its use to punish someone for a crime they allegedly committed when they were under 18 years old is a flagrant violation of international law,” said James Lynch, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.
The death penalty is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and ... its use to punish someone for a crime they allegedly committed when they were under 18 years old is a flagrant violation of international law.
James Lynch, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International
“The fact that all three state that they were tortured and denied access to a lawyer during their interrogations raises further grave concerns about the legal proceedings in their cases. It is abundantly clear that they have had nothing that resembles a fair trial.”
Ali al-Nimr was arrested in February 2012, when he was 17 years old, and held in a juvenile rehabilitation centre and then an adult prison. He was sentenced to death in May 2014 by the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) in Jeddah, a security and counter-terrorism court, for 12 offences that included taking part in anti-government protests, attacking security forces, possessing a machine-gun and carrying out an armed robbery. Ali al-Nimr has said that his “confessions” were extracted under torture but the court has refused to order an investigation into his allegations.
Dawood Hussein al-Marhoon and Abdullah Hasan al-Zaher were arrested on 22 May and 3 March 2012, when they were aged 17 and 16 respectively. They were sentenced to death by the SCC in Riyadh in October 2014 on similar charges, which included taking part in anti-government protests, carrying out an armed robbery, and “participating in killing of police officers by making and using Molotov cocktails to attack them.” They too claimed to have been tortured and forced to “confess”.
“Saudi Arabia’s record when it comes to sentencing people to death after deeply flawed legal proceedings is utterly shameful. The death penalty is often arbitrarily applied after blatantly unfair trials,” said James Lynch.
It is absolutely outrageous that the court dismissed all three activists’ allegations of torture to make them ‘confess’ and simply sentenced them to death.
James Lynch
“This is compounded in this case by imposing death sentences on juvenile offenders, which is an egregious violation of international law. It is absolutely outrageous that the court dismissed all three activists’ allegations of torture to make them ‘confess’ and simply sentenced them to death.”
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is legally binding on Saudi Arabia, makes clear that no death sentences may be imposed for offences committed by individuals under the age of 18.
Saudi Arabia is one of the most prolific executioners in the world. The kingdom has executed 137 people so far this year, compared to 90 in the whole of 2014. Death sentences are often imposed after unfair trials, with juvenile offenders and people with mental disabilities not spared, Amnesty International documented in a recent report.
Ali al-Nimr is the nephew of Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, a prominent Shi’a cleric from eastern Saudi Arabia who was sentenced to death in October 2014. Tensions between the Saudi Arabian authorities and the country’s Shi’a Muslim minority have increased since 2011 when, inspired in part by popular protests across the Middle East and North Africa, some citizens in the predominantly Shi’a Eastern Province stepped up calls for reforms.


Since 2012, the Saudi Arabian authorities have been persecuting human rights defenders and dissidents with complete impunity, using both the courts and extrajudicial means such as the imposition of arbitrary travel bans. 
In February 2014, the authorities put into force a new counter-terror law that has since then been used against human rights defenders and activists to sentence them to long prison terms and even to death. 

Most trials of these activists have taken place at the SCC, whose jurisdiction is vague and proceedings shrouded in secrecy.
In addition to the above Shi’a activists, the SCC had also sentenced human rights defender and lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair under the new counter-terror law. It also recently sentenced Abdulrahman al-Hamed, one of the founding members of the independent human rights organizations, the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), to nine years in prison on 13 October.

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Western Analyst: How the Syria Game Has Changed, and Why Russia Will Win It

As Russia’s anti-terror campaign continues in Syria, the West is gradually realizing that Moscow’s strategy is the right strategy.

The United States has criticized Moscow’s airstrikes in Syria ever since they began on September 30. But from the beginning, Russia has acted in accordance with international law, acting on the behest of the legitimate government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Plus, as Robbin Laird and Ed Timperlake point out in an op-ed for Breaking Defense, Washington is in no position to cast moral stones, in light of recent revelations. The bombing of the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan earlier this month, as well the Drone Papers leak published by the Intercept on Thursday have both harmed America’s reputation abroad.

"'US drone operations in Somalia, Yemen, and Afghanistan, including the mechanism of targeting suspects slated for assassination' have been highlighted as virtual crimes against humanity,"they write, quoting the Intercept, "which provides the Russian leader with more than enough apparent justification to operate in the Syrian airspace to deal with US drones operating in Syrian airspace."

But moral shortcomings aside, Washington’s strategy for dealing with the self-proclaimed Islamic State terrorist group has proven to be jumbled and ineffective.

"In the face of Russian strategy in Syria, the lack of clarity in US strategy and the use of the US military to support strategic incoherence is leaving it exposed," they write. "There are clear limits to relying on UAV technologies except in unique circumstances, namely air dominance and clear strategic purpose."

This incoherence is not limited to the Pentagon’s military strategy, but also manifests itself in the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

"…[Russia’s] Syrian actions are playing off of what Putin sees as the Obama strategy which includes a pro-Iranian stance, an alienation of Israel, a pro-Baghdad Iraq policy, and a very weak 'air campaign' burdened with more lawyers than airstrikes."

Laird and Timperlake also point out Western hypocrisy in reinterpreting ground rules set by the United Nations.

"Putin is backing a sitting government, that of Assad. One should remember that the bias in the UN Charter is to support sitting governments and that Russian claims that Western strikes in Syria are illegal under the UN Charter is not just hyperbole," they write.

"Russian actions in support of Assad also expose the incoherence of the 'other side' supporting the mishmash of opponents of Assad, ranging from ISIL, to the legitimate opponents of Assad."

Support of that legitimate government is key.

"With a well-defined military force on the ground, namely those of Assad, and in support of the legitimate government of Syria, Russian airpower can rely on those Syrian forces to help find and mark targets…

"This is about crafting a clear strategy within which military assets can be used."

If the Obama administration wants to maintain any influence in the conflict, it has to completely reassess its priorities.

"Simply opposing Putin will get the US nowhere. The Obama administration must recognize how the game has already changed and the approach to counter-insurgency which the US has followed for a decade…has been overtaken by events."

"Putin has clearly put his marker down to be a player and kingmaker in the region."

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AFGHANISTAN - Opinion: En route to becoming a Western protectorate

By Florian Weigand

US President Barack Obama's decision to extend the military presence in Afghanistan is the right move. However, it lacks a well thought out exit strategy, says DW's Florian Weigand.
Washington Ghani bei Obama
It should come as no surprise that Afghanistan is unable to shoulder the security burden on its own. Analysts, members of the military and Afghans themselves often warn that the gradual withdrawal of the Western forces is premature and the country might slide back into anarchy.

On the other hand, ever since the end of the ISAF mission in 2014, diplomats and politicians have stressed tirelessly that the Afghans are in the position to stabilize their own country. They've stated the country only needs some military advisers as part of NATO's follow-up mission to "resolutely support" where the country is headed.

It's easy to determine which of the two factions is right once you examine the facts. 2015 has been the bloodiest on record since the Taliban were ousted from power 14 years ago. Radical Islamists have been gaining control over more ground in the provinces - a development which has gone largely unnoticed by the rest of the world.

It took an emotional wake-up call for the West to take notice. For Berlin, that moment came when Kunduz - which was under Germany military control until last year- came under attack. For Europe, it was an influx of refugees from Afghanistan; for the US, it was the emergence of "Islamic State" (IS) - a spin-off of the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obama's decision to keep troops in Afghanistan past 2016 is, therefore, the right one. The West must do everything it can to ensure calm in the region - not only for the sake of the Afghan people, but also for its own security interests and for politics back home. But Obama's decision comes too late. Horror stories from Afghanistan were needed to pave the way for President Obama to sell his decision to the US public.
So what now? There seems to be no comprehensive strategy behind the US pledge to extend its military presence in Afghanistan. Let's remember that the ISAF mission was directly linked to efforts by the international community to reconstruct the country, establish a functioning democracy and train local security forces. All this was designed to help Afghans determine their own future and prevent terrorists from regaining a foothold in the country. But all of these attempts failed.
And the situation has now worsened. The recent US decision to keep troops on the ground beyond 2016 includes no similar mission statement. This leaves behind a Kabul government which depends on Western support for its survival while exercising symbolic democracy. These are no solid foundations for a country which threatens to slide back into colonialism and anachronism. The fact is that Afghanistan is turning into a Western protectorate.
In this context, it doesn't really matter whether the US wields the scepter alone, in cooperation with NATO or even with the United Nations' blessing. As long as there is no clear mission statement and no efforts are made to strength Afghanistan's state structures or to engage in a serious dialogue with neighboring Pakistan and Iran, there will be no lasting peace in the country. One thing is clear: Not even the most liberal of Afghans will want to live in a protectorate.

Assertive Russia Weighs Afghan Perils, Past And Present

By Frud Bezhan
Russia has signaled its willingness to boost its involvement in Afghan security in a power play that could help President Vladimir Putin burnish perceptions of Moscow's global significance while dealing a fresh blow to Western influence.
The indications come with Russian military planes carrying out daily air strikes in Syria in a direct challenge to Western diplomatic and military effectiveness in the Middle East, and with Moscow seeking to reassert its global relevance despite international scorn over its invasion last year of Ukraine.
"A ramped-up presence in Afghanistan, where [the Soviet Union] suffered an embarrassing defeat a generation ago, would likely be another way to telegraph Moscow's continued relevance in the world," says Michael Kugelman, South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. "Russia worries about its global image, which has taken major hits since the conflict began in Ukraine."
Putin described the situation in Afghanistan as "genuinely close to critical" in an address to fellow Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) leaders at a summit in Kazakhstan on October 16. The Russian president warned of "terrorists of different stripes...gaining more influence and not hiding their plans for further expansion" and urged neighbors to "be ready to react in concert."
On October 13, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was closely following events in Afghanistan amid a "sharply deteriorated" military situation there and stood ready to "continue assisting" Kabul's "fighting capability" in the face of security threats.
That compounded recent Russian diplomatic grumblings that NATO's withdrawal from Afghanistan was "overly hasty" and that Taliban militants' takeover last month of a northern provincial capital, Kunduz, provided a "cold shower."
It is unclear whether Moscow's reinvigorated interest in Afghanistan has caught Washington off-guard, but U.S. President Barack Obama on October 15 announced that the United States would be keeping thousands more soldiers in Afghanistan longer than previously scheduled. 
Moscow has got the attention of Kabul, which is pleading for military assistance, including advanced weapons and warplanes, to battle a resurgent Taliban and the presence of Islamic State (IS) militants in Afghanistan.
It has also rekindled fears in the minds of Afghans of a return to the proxy conditions that fueled the Soviet-Afghan War, despite the fact that Washington and Moscow have loosely cooperated for much of the past decade on Afghanistan and there are no clear indications that increased Russian involvement would put Russia on a collision course with the United States.
Lavrov added in his remarks this week, however, that Moscow had not received any "official request" from Kabul for direct military support.
Moscow has pointed in Afghanistan to a similar threat to the one it is ostensibly (but not necessarily, according to U.S. officials) attacking in Syria: the IS militant group and other extremists. IS militants and Taliban fighters appear to have made advances in northern Afghanistan, near the border with the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. Moscow is also worried about the Afghan drug trade, which could worsen Russia's crippling heroin epidemic.
Russia has allowed nonlethal NATO equipment through its territory to Afghanistan in the 14 years since the U.S.-led coalition invaded in response to the 9/11 attacks that Washington said were plotted on Afghan soil. Moscow has also provided training to Afghan pilots and taken part in counternarcotics operations inside the country.
Wary Of Past Mistakes
With insurgent attacks in Afghanistan mounting and U.S. forces eyeing a path to the exit, Kabul's representatives are knocking with increasing urgency on doors in the Russian capital.
A deputy speaker of Afghanistan's lower house of parliament, Mohammad Nazair Ahmadzai, was scheduled to be in Moscow this week to press Russian lawmakers on the need for military assistance from the former foe to counter emerging security threats from Islamist radicals like IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
"We will say that ISIS is not a threat only for Afghanistan, but it's a threat to its neighbors as well," Ahmadzai told RFE/RL ahead of his trip. "But we will make it clear that our neighbors should not violate Afghanistan's sovereignty and we will not allow any military operation in Afghanistan."
A week earlier, Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former warlord and Afghan army general who commanded alongside Soviet troops trying to defeat U.S.-backed mujahedin in the 1980s, visited Russia torequest helicopter gunships and heavy weapons
"Russia is a powerful neighbor with a history of military cooperation with Afghanistan," Najib Mahmood, a professor of political science at Kabul University, says of Soviet-era backing for Afghan armed forces. "Many Afghan military leaders and experts studied in Moscow and have the know-how and experience with Russian technology."
Mahmood also suggests that Kabul has been keen to bolster ties with regional players like Russia to shore up security since the pullout of most NATO troops from Afghanistan in 2014.
But Moscow is sure to eye any increased role in Afghan affairs warily. The Soviet Union's calamitous 1979-89 military venture in Afghanistan killed or displaced millions of Afghans and sapped Moscow's precious political, military, and economic resources in the Soviet Union's dying decade.
Mindful of the 15,000 Soviet soldiers lost as a result of Leonid Brezhnev's ill-fated invasion, Russian officials have repeatedly said they will not send troops to Afghanistan.
"There will need to be a trade-off between stepped-up activities to secure its interests and appropriate caution, given its past history in Afghanistan," Kugelman says. "Russia, which is not known for exercising caution in global affairs, may not see it this way, but any form of increased presence in Afghanistan would need to be done very carefully."
Caught In The Middle Again?
While Soviet tanks retreated from Afghanistan a quarter of a century ago, the prospect of Russian security assistance has brought back memories of the Soviet-Afghan War in the minds of Afghans.
Some fear that their officials' pleas for military help from Moscow -- with U.S. troops still in the country and a seemingly rekindled rivalry between Washington and Moscow -- could leave Afghanistan vulnerable to a familiar hallmark of the Cold War: a proxy war.
The Afghan daily Sarnawesht on October 7 drew a direct line between events in Syria and "signs of new rivalries between America and Russia" in Afghanistan, citing a bomb attack near Moscow's embassy in Kabul, "insecurity in border areas of Central Asia, close to Russia," the "brief fall" to Taliban insurgents last month of the provincial capital Kunduz, and "the spread of violence to Central Asia."
"Today everyone can easily see the nature of the war," the editorial argued, "They know there is a foreign, proxy, and intelligence war in Afghanistan."
"A major game is under way between global rivals in Afghanistan," another editorial, in Hewad, a government-run newspaper, warned on October 12. It went on to argue that Russia and the United States had chosen Afghanistan as the venue for their renewed rivalry.
The term "proxy war" has already been invoked about the conflict in Syria from Washington to Beijing, by observers as diverse as Republican Senator John McCain and the Chinese ruling party's official newspaper
U.S. President Obama has dismissed that notion, vowing that "we're not going to make Syria into a proxy war between the United States and Russia." 
But that message might not convince average Afghans.
Siltanat, a teacher in Kabul, expresses fears to RFE/RL that "if Russia interferes in Afghanistan, it will pit Russia and America against each other. Afghanistan will be stuck in the middle and will be ruined."
A student at Kabul University, Hasib, tells RFE/RL: "Russia saying it wants to fight and get rid of ISIS in our country is another excuse to capture Afghanistan. They've always wanted to bring Afghanistan under their control. It won't have a good outcome."
Can Moscow Help?
Afghanistan's 350,000-strong army and police forces have complained of weapons and ammunition shortages. The United States purchased transport helicopters from a Russian supplier, but the nascent Afghan air force reportedly lacks warplanes, spare parts, and expertise.
"I think Russia will not get more involved in Afghanistan directly, but it is already increasing its role as supplier of military hardware," says Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent think tank in Kabul. "This will not only be welcomed by the Afghan government but also by Washington."
The Woodrow Wilson International Center's Kugelman says that while Washington may not like that its geostrategic rival is taking on a bigger role in Afghanistan, their interests are largely convergent there and a larger Russian involvement might prove helpful for Washington.
"The uncomfortable truth is that Moscow and Washington share very similar interests in Afghanistan," Kugelman says. "They both want more stability, they both support a peace process with the Taliban, and they both seek a credible and effective Afghan government. Moscow can end up helping Washington out in Afghanistan in a big way, even if indirectly."

Video Report - Taliban one step closer to joining ISIS amid US troops staying longer

Afghan Plan to Expand Militia Raises Abuse Concerns

With the Afghan security forces gravely challenged by Taliban offensives, the government is moving to rapidly expand the troubled Afghan Local Police program by thousands of members, Afghan and Western officials say.
The move to expand the police militias, prompted by the disastrous loss of the northern city of Kunduz to the Taliban almost three weeks ago, is being described by officials speaking privately as an attempt to head off panic in Afghan cities threatened by the insurgents.
But the expansion also amounts to an open admission that the United States’ main legacy in Afghanistan — the creation of nationalized police and army forces numbering more than 350,000 members — is failing under pressure even before any final American military withdrawal. On Thursday, President Obama called off that pullout, originally due at year’s end, leaving 9,800 American troops in the country for at least another year.
Further, the plan would involve a sudden, and potentially poorly vetted, expansion of the Afghan Local Police, an American-created force that in many areas of the country has become synonymous with human rights abuses even when directly supervised by the American Special Forces. Some of the NATO countries involved in Afghanistan have already expressed concerns about the move.
Until recently, requests for funding an expansion of that police force, a collection of local militias with around 30,000 total members, were repeatedly turned down by the United States military. While the forces have performed well in some parts of the country, in other parts, like Kunduz, they are seen as a source of chaos and banditry rather than security.
“The Taliban have all of a sudden felt a rush after Kunduz — they are abandoning plans for districts and making runs on cities,” said a senior Afghan official, who like others interviewed about security spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid political risk.
The militia expansion plan is a reversal for President Ashraf Ghani, who had long talked about the importance of solidifying “the state monopoly over the use of force” in a country still deeply scarred by its civil war. Militia forces wielded by American-backed warlords were responsible for some of the worst atrocities in that decade-long conflict.
Afghan officials who described the new plan, however, bluntly called it a matter of survival: Given a choice between ceding territory to the Taliban and reinforcing areas with semiformal militias deemed abusive and predatory, the government is opting for the latter.
Officials said the plan called for the immediate recruitment of an additional 15,000 armed militiamen under the Afghan Local Police program, and according to some accounts that may rise to as many as 30,000. The measure is supposed to focus on beefing up defenses at the district level, potentially freeing up the badly overstretched army and the national police to concentrate their forces for more strategic strikes.
While the Americans had long told the Afghan government to respect the 30,000 cap for the force, at least two Afghan officials said that discussions were underway and that the American military had shown interest in finding a way to fund the program’s expansion, which is believed to cost more than the force’s current $120 million annual budget. Mr. Ghani has told his officials he will seek other sources if the American funding does not materialize.
Reached for comment, a United States military official said that Afghan police officials had not formally approached the American military command to discuss expanding the Afghan Local Police forces, which the official described as “important.”
But European members of the NATO coalition have expressed concern about the expansion, officials said. And Franz-Michael Mellbin, the European Union’s special representative to Afghanistan, said that even successful reform of the Afghan Local Police, or A.L.P., would not be enough to justify its expansion.
“There is nobody on the European side who want to invest in anything that even remotely resembles the A.L.P.,” Mr. Mellbin said in an interview. “The fear is still there that the A.L.P. becomes the arms of local strongmen. We do not think the A.L.P. has worked – especially in the north, where they have become the extension of local interest groups.”
Afghan officials describe the move as one born of necessity. Mohammed Hanif Atmar, Mr. Ghani’s national security adviser, said the government was faced with a big influx of Taliban from Pakistan, as well as of other foreign militants, just as the effects of the reduction in NATO forces and their close air support were taking a toll.
The insurgency has also changed tactics this fighting season, Mr. Atmar said, noting that the Taliban “no longer fight in small groups, they now fight in large formations,” with intentions of overrunning and holding major territory.
In the meantime, the Afghan security forces have faced a problem that Mr. Atmar called “chronic”: At the local level, a significant number of the forces are scattered, deployed at the service of local strongmen rather than the posts they are assigned to.
For example, a recent government assessment of the A.L.P. force, which is nominally under the Interior Ministry’s authority, found that more than 2,000 officers, about 7 percent of the entire force, was at the direct service of strongmen, according to security officials briefed on the assessment. That is particularly the case in northern areas like Kunduz, where they are widely seen as unaccountable armed groups that extort the local population and turn their guns against one another as much as on the Taliban.
Beyond that, the real numbers of police and military members stationed in some areas are often much lower than officially reported. Naqibullah Fayeq, a member of Parliament from Faryab Province, a vital northwestern region that has come under major Taliban assault recently, said that as much as a third of the security strength in the province is made up of the “ghost police” — empty spots officially reported as drawing a salary.
The widespread nature of the problem has prompted Mr. Ghani to order an immediate “personnel asset inventory,” official said. Mr. Atmar said the increase in recruitment of the A.L.P. was to “front-load” for other national forces, with the goal of eventually using the new recruits to fill the vacancies that exist in the army and the police. The Afghan Local Police were established by American commanders as a low-cost auxiliary force trained by the United States Special Forces. But even when units have been under direct American supervision, some have committed abuses. Several assessments, the most comprehensive of them by the International Crisis Group, have concluded that the A.L.P. “has not improved security in many places and even exacerbated the conflict in many districts.” The current expansion is happening without the mentorship of American forces, and under difficult circumstances. Thousands of men who had once been disarmed by government campaigns costing hundreds of millions of dollars are now being rearmed. The design is also being rolled out at a time when factional strongmen and elements of the former government in Kabul have mounted pressure on Mr. Ghani’s government, accusing him of exclusionary politics. In the wake of the Kunduz disaster, the strongmen, many of whom have pasts as northern warlords, have been pressing the government to use militias loyal to them in the fight against the Taliban. Some officials fear the militia expansion amounts to a political payoff to these strongmen, who have often used A.L.P. units for their personal business. The Kabul government’s political struggles have had a direct affect on the morale of the security forces, some officials say. Many of the army and police commanders who were in Kunduz maintain factional loyalties that at times have been at odds with the central government. In the confusion of the Taliban assault, some simply chose not to fight when the moment arrived, some officials claimed.
“The security challenges cannot be seen in isolation,” said Mr. Mellbin, the European Union representative. “The political space needs to be worked more effectively. If the elite had come together on Kunduz, the situation could have been managed before it became a national security threat.”
Mr. Atmar conceded that amid the intense fighting this year, extensive background checks and training might not be immediately realistic for the expanded forces, but he said better vetting could take hold later. He insisted, however, that the government had made it clear that any new force in the districts would have to serve under the local police chief, and the larger chain of command.
“Without the state’s permission, people used their guns against the enemy,” Mr. Atmar said. “We did not authorize that, but as a responsible government we know they have done the right thing to protect themselves because we were not enough in numbers. Now we go there and say, ‘Look, you did the right thing, but if you continue this’ – and this will continue — ‘you have to now be properly integrated into our forces.’ ”
As a sign of how difficult it is in practice to bring order to the militias, Gen. Baba Jan, who was the police chief of Badakhshan Province, recently posted his resignation. His province has been facing a major Taliban offensive, and in response the local strongmen had armed their militias, often in coordination with the government. But General Jan said he could not control the illegal armed men anymore, and he included the Afghan Local Police in that category.
“They are tied to powerful individuals,” the general said, “and one cannot expect to have authority and order over them.”