Wednesday 30 March 2011

Lahore police arrest Sri Lanka cricket team attackers

Police in Lahore, Pakistan, have announced that another six members of the gang that attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team in March 2009 have been arrested following a tip-off. They also recovered a suicide jacket, four AK47 assault rifles, eight hand grenades and hundreds of bullets. The men were living in a rented house at Gujjar Colony, near the Tomb of Jehangir.
At least six security personnel were killed in the attack at Liberty Square and two members of the Sri Lankan team were injured -including batsman Thilan Samaraweera who suffered a bullet wound to the leg.
The arrested men told police that they had wanted to capture the Sri Lankan cricketers and exchange them for imprisoned jihadists. They failed due to the bravery of the coach driver, who managed to manoeuvre the team coach away from the assailants.
The police in Lahore described the men as members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), although this seems unlikely. One comes from Karachi, while the other five all come from towns in the Punjab - hundreds of miles from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas where the TTP is entrenched. Much more likely is that the arrested men were members of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, who sometimes like to masquerade as members of the Punjabi Taliban. Video footage shot on the day shows killers dressed and operating in almost exactly the same way as the team sent to Mumbai a few months before in November 2008.
They are also suspected of being from Lashkar-e-Toiba.
* Police in Jakarta, Indonesia also announced on Wednesday that one of the masterminds behind the October 2002 Bali bombings had been arrested in Pakistan. They said that Umar Patek was arrested the previous day, although the Pakistan authorities have yet to confirm the arrest or exactly where it took place. 
Patek has been on the run for years and has a $1 million bounty on his head under the US Rewards for Justice programme. He was the alleged field coordinator for the bombings of nightclubs in the resort island, which killed 202 people, many of them Australians. He is suspected of being a member of Jemaah Islamiyah and was thought to have been hiding in the Philippines.

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Billions wasted on trying to counter IEDs

Pete Cary and Nancy Youssef from the Center for Public Integrity and McClatchy Newspapers have done a great job in exposing the waste and stupidity surrounding the $17 billion scandal that is the American military's Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organisation.
Their article, JIEDDO: The Manhattan Project that bombed,  traces the history of an organisation that grew in just five years from a 12-person Army anti-homemade bomb task force into a 1,900-person behemoth aiming to find a way of stopping IEDs. Yet despite spending billions, the rate of which soldiers are able to find IEDs before they explode has remained static at roughly 50 per cent since JIEDDO was formed. 
Todd Bowers a marine who had served in Afghanistan in 2009, told the investigators the only IED detectors supplied to his unit were hand-held devices similar to those used by beachcombers: "I remember thinking, 'Here I am sitting in this quarter-million dollar armed vehicle and we're still out there searching for pennies on the beach," said Bowers, who is now deputy staff director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Other soldiers told the investigators that sniffer dogs supplied to troops were not trained to react to ammonium nitrate, the main component of IEDs in southern Afghanistan.
According to the report: "JIEDDO investigated 857 new technologies for countering actual IED devices in 2006, started work on 282 of them, eventually fielding 52. To attack bomb-making networks, it looked at 182 new technologies and fielded 21; it considered 42 new training technologies and fielded 9 of them. By the end of 2010, JIEDDO says, it had invested in approximately 1,000 counter-IED initiatives, of which 219 had been approved to be taken over by the military services or commands."
One of the CIF comments left by a reader below the article by a Mr Ronald Allen, says it all: "My associates and I have been trying for two years to get a common sense IED detector dog program funded through JIEDDO without a final UP or DOWN decision yet! No wonder nothing gets accomplished." Except a lot of big defence corporations got a lot of money for old rope.

Monday 28 March 2011

US troops already peaked in Afghanistan?

New figures on US troop deployment to Afghanistan for the last three years up to and including December 2010 show that the total number of deployed troops may already have reached its highest figure and that numbers are now slowly declining.
The datasets, released to Science magazine by ISAF in January this year, show that the number of US troops deployed had almost tripled from 55,668 in January 2008 to 149,257 in October 2010. However, since then numbers had fallen to 146,106 in November and 142,104 in December. It seems unlikely that troop numbers will surpass the October figure, as the troop drawdown is expected to begin in a couple of months.
Science has also published some other fascinating datasets from Afghanistan, including civilian casualty stats from ISAF, from UNAMA and from the Afghanistan Rights Monitor. The comparison shows that ISAF stats differ radically from both UNAMA and ARM. For 2010, for example, ISAF records 202 civilian deaths in the whole of Afghanistan. UNAMA gives a figure of 2,777 for the same period, whilst ARM records 1,074 civilian deaths in the first six months of 2010.
The Science magazine website also includes datasets for ISAF troop deployments by month and maps shows the location and changing national leadership of the regional commands, as well as nationality of ISAF troops. There are also additional civilian casualty data.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Essential reading on Pashtun culture

Cannot be recommended highly enough. Doing Pashto: Pashtunwali as the ideal of honourable behaviour and tribal life among the Pashtuns  by Lutz Rzehak and published by Afghanistan Analysts Network. Get it and read it.

Spiegel publishes photos from US Army 'kill team'

German magazine Spiegel has published photos of members of a US Army so-called 'kill team' posing with dead bodies of Afghans they appear to have killed for entertainment. The story has been known about for some time, but only on Monday were the photos published for the first time. I have decided not to publish the photos on this blog, but you can find them via the link above.
In a statement released yesterday the US Army's Colonel Thomas Collins apologized for the suffering the photos have caused. The actions depicted in the photos, the statement read, are "repugnant to us as human beings and contrary to the standards and values of the United States." A court martial is currently being prepared against 12 members of a group of US soldiers accused of several killings. The photos, the army statement said, stand "in stark contrast to the discipline, professionalism and respect that have characterized our soldiers' performance during nearly 10 years of sustained operations."
The piece in Spiegel includes three previously unknown photographs. One shows two of the suspected killers posing next to a corpse. The victim in the image is Gul Mudin, an Afghan man killed on 15 Jan 2010 in the village of La Mohammed Kalay. Spiegel says it has obtained a large number of photos and film from the group of soldiers, who are accused of having killed civilians for no reason and then of trying to make it look as though they were killed in self-defence.
According to Spiegel: "In one incident, which has been reconstructed based on documents from the investigation, the soldiers themselves detonate a hand grenade in order to make it look like they were the subjects of an attack before killing a man. One of those who allegedly participated, Adam Winfield, 21, described the incident to his father in a chat on social networking site Facebook". "They made it look like the guy threw a grenade at them and mowed him down," Spiegel quotes Winfield as having written in the chat.
Spiegel continues: "In a second incident on Feb. 22, 2010, one of the members of the "kill team" who had been carrying an old Russian Kalashnikov, fired it before pulling out another gun and shooting 22-year-old Afghan Marach Agha. In a third incident on May 2, 2010, it appears that a hand grenade attack was again staged before the shooting and killing of Mullah Allah Dad."
The 12 men, from a 2nd Infantry Division brigade, accused are also facing further charges of desecration of corpses, illegal possession of photos of corpses, drug abuse and acts of bodily injury against comrades.

Friday 18 March 2011

Evidence of sockpuppetry?

The article I wrote about Operation Earnest Voice for The Guardian (published this morning) has proved to be very popular, with around 600 comments left on the paper's website by readers. Some of the comments make fascinating reading, but should I be worried by what reader 'pretzelberg' has found? S/he noticed the following five comments:

'Nothing new here, the Israelis have been doing it for years'

'nothing new here - israel have been at this for years'

'Nothing new here. The Israelis have also been doing this for ages.'

'Israel has been at it for years'

'As do the Israeli's who have been doing it for a couple of years'

Is someone trying to take the piss?

Thursday 17 March 2011

More on Operation Earnest Voice...

More on Operation Earnest Voice, the US CENTCOM programme to develop 'sockpuppet' fake personas to infiltrate pro-jihadi websites. I've co-written an article for The Guardian, which you can find here.

Davis blood money official documents released

Fifteen of the official documents related to the payment of $2.34 million of blood money (diyat) for the freedom of Raymond Davis in Pakistan can be viewed here. Anyone who can help with translation would be much appreciated. The Pakistani press has reported that the families of the men shot by Davis were taken away a couple of days before the deal was settled and have not been seen since, except in the court hearing. Even their lawyers were forcibly detained for several hours.

Friday 11 March 2011

Smelly stories about Iranian missiles

Was it a coincidence that the story about Iranian guided missiles in the hands of the Taliban that appeared everywhere yesterday happened to come while Iran's interior minister, Mustafa Mohammad Najjar, was in Kabul to emphasise his country's opposition to permanent foreign bases in Afghanistan?
Personally, I am sceptical of the claims of the Iranians supplying the Taliban with missiles. Why would the Taliban trust the Iranians? And why would the Iranians supply weapons that can so easily be traced back to them? The evidence that the 48 rockets were Iranian apparently comes down to the fact that they had green fuses. Where are the pics? And isn't it convenient that everyone involved in transporting them in three lorries in the remote south-west Nimruz region of the country was killed by special forces?
This is not the first time it has been reported that the Iranians are supplying weapons to the Taliban. In May 2007, reports appeared saying that Iran's Revolutionary Guards were supplying SA7 anti-aircraft missiles to the Taliban: "There is reporting that lead us to believe a number of agencies, that possibly include Iranian organisations, are significantly supporting the Taliban," a military intelligence source told The Daily Telegraph. Hardly a strong statement, but enough for media organisations to run lurid headlines.
Again the story resurfaced in March 2009 in the Sunday Times, when Michael Smith reported this time that the Iranians were supplying SA-14 Gremlin missiles. The evidence was "parts from two of them" discovered by special forces in western Afghanistan. The UK Ministry of Defence at the time said it was not aware of any threat from SA-14 missiles.
This is a story with a long and unflattering history. In July last year a leaked US cable claimed that Hezbe Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and an al-Qaeda leader called Dr Amin (oooh, scary) had flown from Iran to North Korea in 2005 to buy ground to air missiles. Iran, North Korea, al-Qaeda and a hated insurgent leader all in one story. How convenient! Not surprisingly, the story was later discredited and put down to a rogue source.
Another leaked cable that surfaced last summer was a 'threat report' - that's gossip to you or me - dating from 1 April 2007, that referred to reports that in 2006 Iran had bought seven anti-aircraft missiles from Algeria and that these had been transported across the Iranian border into Afghanistan. It mentioned previous reports that Iran had supplied the Taliban with MANPADs - hand-held anti-aircraft missiles - although the report added: "Despite the reporting, we have yet to see any of these alleged MANPADS actually being used."
Another leaked document did actually refer to a Chinook being fired at with a missile, but there is no evidence about where that missile came from or even if it was a missile. It could just have easily been one of those left over from the anti-Soviet jihad or one of the heavy machine guns favoured by the Taliban.
Another report appeared in October last year in the Washington Examiner claiming that Iran was training Taliban fighter to fire missiles. Yet again, there was no evidence beyond claims by an unnamed intelligence official.
There have been other stories suggesting that Iran has supplied new batteries for Stinger missiles in Afghanistan. However, despite a great deal of hot air there is little, if any, proof. Something stinks here.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Operation Earnest Voice Part III

More on Operation Earnest Voice (OEV), the US Army's top secret psyops initiative aimed at the manipulation of social media through the use of fake online personas. This $200 million CENTCOM programme was first developed for use in Iraq and is now said to be targeted at countering Taliban propaganda in Afghanistan.
The theory behind the programme is that a single individual can control large numbers of online personas from a single computer screen, presumably to influence the activities of targeted individuals. It goes without saying that the use of this kind of software by the US army against US citizens would be illegal.
Speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee in March last year, General David H Petraeus said OEV "is the critical program of record that resources our efforts to synchronize our Information Operations activities, to counter extremist ideology and propaganda, and to ensure that credible voices in the region are heard.  OEV provides CENTCOM with direct communication capabilities to reach regional audiences through traditional media as well as via websites and regional public affairs blogging. In each of these efforts, we follow the admonition we practiced in Iraq, that of trying to be “first with the truth.”"  
One can imagine how easy it would be to influence events via Twitter, for example, where people tend to follow particular hashtags. Astute tweeting on a popular hashtag by a lot of personas acting in unison could easily be used to divert people away from what was really happening. The same applies to Facebook, chatrooms and other social media venues. Stephen C Webster at the Raw Story has done an excellent job of explaining the way in which contracts were let for Operation Earnest Voice and the people involved. 
Already I have mentioned that Neal Harper of Mission Communications claims to have developed the strategy behind OEV. Now another name has surfaced. Joseph Cook is a Japanese-American telecommunications specialist who since the beginning of this month works for the US government's Defense Information Systems Agency. For three years prior to that he worked at USCENTCOM where he helped to run 17 counter-terrorism and stability operations. He lists his notable achievements on LinkedIn  as managing development communication plans such as Operation Earnest Voice.
More information welcome.

Stinging critique of development aid to Afghanistan

Serge Michailof, until recently operational director of the French Development Agency AFD, and a former director and senior advisor at the World Bank, has written a stinging critique of international donors' mistakes in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2010.
The Challenge of reconstructing 'failed' states: What lessons can be learned from the mistakes made by the international aid community in Afghanistan? emphasises the lack of a coherent strategy and clear goals and says that the consequences are severe inconsistencies in resource allocation. He also outlines the dire consequences of development approaches governed by short-term goals, saying that they will end up establishing a parallel, donor-driven administration that weakens state institutions.
Michailof also criticises the donor community's insistence on a superficial, formal type of democracy at the expense of grassroots democracy. He notes that money is not the issue: from 2002 to 2009 the US spent around $230 billion on military operations in Afghanistan and is still spending around $200-300 million a day. In addition, from 2002 - 2007 the international community has mobilised around $50 billion, half to reconstruct local security forces and the other half for development aid. This is equivalent to about 10 years' worth of World Bank aid to the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. Another $20-30 billion has come from the Paris and Kabul donors' conferences. More than 2,000 NGOs have been working in Afghanistan during this period.
However, as Michailof points out, the gap between military spending and civilian development spending is huge: at the end of 2007, only $14.7 billion in development aid had actually been disbursed out of the $25 billion that had been promised. The ratio between military and development spending is around 9:1. In addition, much of the aid - particularly American - was tied to purchases in the donor country and was of poor quality.
Michailof makes many excellent points in his report, particularly about US failures to deal with security following the dissolution of the Taliban regime and the errors of the 'light footprint' approach promoted by both former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the United Nations.
Later, the excesses of the early years of the concerted Operation Enduring Freedom military campaign also had tragic consequences, not least in alienating most of Afghanistan's rural population. Michailof produces a convincing critique of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, exacerbated by amateurism and the rapid turnover of military units. Overall, an excellent report that should be required reading for all international staff working in Afghanistan.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Pak Army says US drone strikes accurate

In an unusual move, a senior Pakistani Army official has given details of the US drone missile attacks aimed at terrorists in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
Major General Ghayur Mehmood, commanding officer of the 7th Division, told Dawn newspaper that the drone attacks were very accurate and were mostly killing "hardcore elements, a sizeable number of them foreigners."
In figures that appear to differ sharply from those produced by other sources, Maj-Gen Mehmood said that between 2007 and 2011 there had been about 164 Predator strikes that had killed over 964 terrorists. Of those, 793 were locals and 171 were foreigners, including Arabs, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Chechens, Filipinos and Moroccans. He added that up until March this year 39 militants, including five foreigners, had been killed in drone strikes. He gave no figures at all for civilian deaths.
His comments come after a hiatus in the attacks between 22 January and the end of February, linked by some analysts to the arrest of CIA operative Raymond Davis.

Civilian deaths rise, most attributed to Taliban

AGE = Anti-government elements
PGF = Pro-government forces

Civilian deaths in Afghanistan, as recorded by the Afghanistan Human Rights Commission and UNAMA Human Rights rose by 15 per cent in 2010 to 2,777 killed, of which 2,080 (75 per cent) were attributed to insurgents. Their Annual Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflicts  shows that most of these deaths - 1,141 - were caused by IEDs. But a more worrying trend in 2010 was the massive increase in the number of civilians assassinated by insurgents. This figure reached 462 - up by more than 105 per cent since the previous year.
Half of all assassinations occurred in southern Afghanistan, with Helmand showing a 588 per cent increase in the number of civilians being assassinated and Kandahar an increase of 248 per cent.
The Afghan National Security Forces and international military forces were linked to 440 civilian deaths - about 16 per cent of the total. About 40 per cent of these deaths were due to aerial bombing attacks. The number of civilian killed by pro-government forces has fallen by 26 per cent since 2009.
All regions of the country, apart from the eastern region, saw major increases in the number of civilians killed, compared to 2009. And more women and children were killed and injured than in 2009. Women casualties rose by six per cent and child casualties rose by 21 per cent compared to 2009.
The number of civilians injured increased by 22 per cent in 2010 to a total of 4,343, 78 per cent of which were caused by insurgents.
Approximately 140 suicide attacks took place in 2010, about the same level as the previous year. The report notes that the Taliban's introduction of a code of conduct in May 2010, which includes provisions for reducing civilian casualties, appears to have had no impact at all on Taliban tactics: "The AIHRC and UNAMA Human Rights did not observe any concerted effort by the Taliban to implement these orders or to take action against those commanders or members who disobeyed them. UNAMA Human Rights and the AIHRC also documented numerous indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks in 2010 that resulted in civilian casualties for which the Taliban claimed responsibility."
The publication of this report coincides with the release of figures from ISAF saying that US-led military forces have captured or killed more than 900 Taliban leaders in the past 10 months, and that the insurgency is finding it difficult to replace them. These killings are mostly carried out by special operations units. Presumably many more insurgent foot soldiers have also been killed during the same period. There is presently little information about these killings and so it is difficult to know just how many Taliban fighters are being killed in these operations.

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Record number of security contractors in Afghanistan

As of December the number of private security contractors (PSCs) working in Afghanistan had reached 18,919 - the highest recorded number of PSCs used by the Department of Defense in any conflict in the history of the United States. Locals made up 95 per cent of all security personnel, with around 250 Americans and 731 from other nationalities, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service.
The Department of Defense’s Use of Private Security Contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq: Background, Analysis, and Options for Congress  says that from December 2008 to December 2010 the number of PSCs increased from 3,689 to 18,919, an increase of over 400%. The reason for this, says the DoD, is the increased operational tempo and efforts to stabilise and develop new and existing forward operating bases. During the same period troop levels increased by around 200%.
Despite totalling about 20% of the total number of troops, casualty rates for PSCs are higher than expected. From June 2009 to November 2010, 319 private security contractor personnel working for DOD were killed in action in Afghanistan, compared to 626 US troops killed in action over the same period. Adjusting for the difference in the number of PSC personnel compared to troops, a PSC employee working for DOD in Afghanistan is 2.75 times more likely to be killed in action than uniformed personnel.
The report examines the problem of contractors firing on civilians and also the practice of paying off the Taliban to secure safe passage of convoys and ends with suggestions for restricting the role that can be played by PSCs, none of which are likely ever to see the light of day.  

Monday 7 March 2011

Jihadi media outlets get a free run in Pakistan

Ali K Chishti of the Daily Times in Pakistan recently posted a couple of interesting articles about the growth of jihadi media in Pakistan. The first was published on 12 January and the second on 4 February. According to Chishti, there are 18 weeklies, 40 fortnightlies and 22 monthly publications being put out by jihadi organisations in Pakistan, despite laws that should prevent their publication.
He mentions, for example, Adeel, a young editor and a student of a major engineering university in Karachi, who publishes what he describes as an Islamic magazine named Bazu-e-Mujahid, which supports the idea of a caliphate in Pakistan. Adeel told Chishti that he has over 7,000 subscribers from Karachi to New York, who support his magazine.
Al-Qaeda's media house as-Sahab, run byAdam Yehiye Gadahn and one of the most influential jihadi media outlets in the world, is another organisation that appears to operate with impunity in Pakistan. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan runs two media companies in Pakistan, while others are run by the Afghan Taliban and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.
As Chishti comments: "While all sort of radical ideas and jihadi publications are going viral in Pakistan, the government seems more interested in banning BlackBerry services of foreign diplomats instead of shutting down the propaganda of jihadi organisations within the country."

Thursday 3 March 2011

The man behind Operation Earnest Voice

More on Operation Earnest Voice, the US Army's strategic communication and information operation, aimed at disrupting online jihadi activity. According to his entry on LinkedIn, Neal Harper of Mission Communications, based in Florida, is responsible for developing the strategy, which he says is a "$200 million+ program of record".
Harper is a US Navy Reserve officer who has been a consultant to CENTCOM for the last seven years, working with the J3 (0perations) Directorate. He calls himself a Strategic Effects Planner.
Between December 2008 and February 2010 he was commanding officer of NR NAVCENT MAST B, "an expeditionary communications detachment of NAVCENT." He studied at the University of Phoenix where he obtained an MBA in Global Management in 2006, although his first degree came from James Madison University back in 1982. From 2007-8 he studied at the Naval War College.

Operation Earnest Voice - online engagement

In written testimony to the US Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Gen. James N Mattis, commander of US Central Command, spoke about the unseen work of the military in countering radical Islamist propaganda. In particular he spoke about Operation Earnest Voice, for which the Pentagon requested $45 million last year, to go towards "products to counter radical ideology and influence key audiences across the region via internet or other mediums".
The programme is said to provide the capability to engage its target audiences in both Arabic and Urdu weblogs, chat rooms and social networks.
This is what Mattis wrote in his submission to the committee: "CENTCOM Activities in the Information Environment: Consistent with the guidance provided by Secretary Gates last December, we conduct Operation Earnest Voice (OEV), which synchronizes and oversees all of our Information Operations activities. OEV seeks to disrupt recruitment and training of suicide bombers; deny safe havens for our adversaries; and counter extremist ideology and propaganda. Full funding of OEV supports all activities associated with degrading the enemy narrative, including web engagement and web-based product distribution capabilities. The effective engagement of our enemies in cyberspace requires the ability for us to conduct a full-spectrum of traditional military activities against them in that domain, including all aspects of Information Operations and Strategic Communication. We coordinate with the Joint Staff, the Interagency, the Intelligence Community, and our coalition partners to examine the adversary’s use of cyberspace and identify techniques, tactics and procedures we can use to counter the adversary in the cyber domain."
Anyone have any more information on this programme?

Some information can be found on the website of the Association of Old Crows (AOC) - I kid you not! Based just outside Washington, this professional association claims over 13,500 members and 180 + member organisations engaged in the science and practice of Electronic Warfare, information operations and related disciplines. It produces the Journal of Electronic Defense for its members and holds regular conferences and debates.

Wednesday 2 March 2011

Farewell George - a real Pakistani

George Fulton, a great friend of Pakistan and a man with whom I had the pleasure of spending some time in Karachi, is leaving the country for good after nine years. He became a household name in Pakistan in 2005 after starring in the reality TV show George ka Pakistan, in which he was given three months to become a real Pakistani. Amazingly he did it and so impressed were viewers that they voted overwhelmingly that he should be given Pakistani citizenship. The government concurred and George became one of the very few goras to become a Pakistani citizen.
Now he is leaving. In a well-considered article he has written for the Express Tribune newspaper he explains why: "Pakistan, you are on a precipice. A wafer-thin sliver is all that stands between you and becoming a failed state. A state that was the culmination of a search for a ‘Muslim space’ by the wealthy Muslims of Northern India has ended up, as MJ Akbar recently pointed out, becoming “one of the most violent nations on earth, not because Hindus were killing Muslims but because Muslims were killings Muslims”.
A sad day for Pakistan. Let's hope that one day he feels he and his family can return in safety.

UK Select ctte calls for negotiations to end Afghan war

In a report that will not be welcomed in Downing Street, the UK Foreign Affairs Committee fourth report on Afghanistan, The UK's foreign policy approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan, says that despite the significant resources that have been invested in Afghanistan, the UK has not yet achieved its stated goals.
It adds that the core foreign policy justification for the UK's continued presence in Afghanistan -  namely that it is necessary in the interests of UK national security - may have been achieved some time ago, given the apparently limited strength of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. "Although the Government disputes this," says the report, "we are seriously concerned that this fundamentally important assessment appears to be based on intelligence that has not been subject to parliamentary scrutiny."
The report adds that "the security rationale behind the UK Government's decision to announce the 2015 deadline for the unconditional withdrawal of UK combat forces remains unclear and there are a number of potential risks inherent in such an approach."
It says that military pressure will not be sufficient to bring security and stability to Afghanistan and says that the US as the dominant power should support political reconciliation in Afghanistan: "Given that the pre-requisites for a successful military campaign are currently lacking, we conclude that the US should not delay its significant involvement in talks with the Taliban leadership because, without the US's support in this respect, there can be no longer-term peace in Afghanistan. As a key ally, the UK has an important role to play in encouraging the US to adopt a more pro-active approach in this respect."
A negotiated political solution will have to involve a power-sharing agreement. However, the committee concludes, at present the conditions for a political settlement do not exist, "not least because the international community's approach is incoherent, Afghan leadership is not sufficient, the US approach is overly focused on reintegration at the expense of reconciliation and, in the resulting political vacuum, regional powers and Pakistan in particular, are forging ahead with their own agendas on reconciliation, not necessarily in the interests of Afghanistan or the wider region."

Karzai in London for opening of Afghan exhibition

President Karzai turned up at the British Museum last night for the official opening of the Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World exhibition. Accompanied by the UK's Foreign Secretary, William Hague, he seemed relaxed as he addressed the 800 guests who had been given a preview of the remarkable exhibition. He even managed to shake my hand!
Over 200 amazing objects from the National Museum of Afghanistan are showcased, together with a small number of objects from the British Museum's own collection. These objects are amongst those that survived the ravages of the Taliban's iconoclastic regime, safely locked away in a German-built vault under the President's palace in the heart of Kabul.
They include stained ivory inlays that were originally panels on imported Indian furniture, exquisite Roman bronzes, tableware from Egypt and the Middle East and parts of the golden treasure hoard found at Tillya Tepe in the north of the country.
The objects on show dates from 2000 years BCE until about 0 BCE. Ironically, few if any of them can really be identified as of Afghan origin, even thought that is the place where they were found. They were almost all brought to Afghanistan by cultures from outside - the Greeks, the Kushans, steppe nomads - all of whom form part of the extraordinary mix of people that make up the Afghan identity. Few of these objects come from the Pashtun tradition. One day, perhaps, we will see an exhibition that celebrates their contribution to Afghan history and culture.