An independent U.N. human rights researcher this morning announced the opening of an investigation into the use of drone attacks and other targeted assassinations by the United States and other governments.
Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, told reporters in London this morning that the "exponential" rise in American drones strikes posed a "real challenge to the framework of international law," according to a statement issued by his office. Emmerson said there was a need to develop a legal framework to regulate the use of drones, and ensure "accountability" for their misuse.
"The plain fact is that this technology is here to stay," he said. "It is therefore imperative that appropriate legal and operational structures are urgently put in place to regulate its use in a manner that complies with the requirement of international law.
The decision to open a drone investigation drew praise from critics of America's drone policies. "We welcome this investigation in the hopes that global pressure will bring the U.S. back into line with international law requirements that strictly limit the use of lethal force," said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project. "To date, there has been an abysmal lack of transparency and no accountability for the U.S. government's ever-expanding targeted killing program."
The Obama administration has defended its use of drones as a more humane alternative to military combat. John Brennan, the White House advisor on counterterrorism and the president's new nominee to lead the CIA, defended the U.S. program as "ethical and just," saying that the targeted nature of the strikes was more humane than traditional military strikes, lessening the prospects that civilians are killed.
Emmerson challenged what he characterized as Brennan's contention that the United States and its allies are engaged in a global war against a stateless enemy which requires the prosecution of war across international borders. Emmerson said that "central objective" of his inquiry is to "look at evidence that drone strikes and other forms of remote targeted killings have caused disproportionate civilian casualties in some instances, and to make recommendations concerning the duty of states to conduct throughout independent and impartial investigations into such allegations, with a view to securing accountability..."
Emmerson said that he has assembled a team of international lawyers and experts, including British lawyer Sir Geoffrey Nice and New York University professor Sarah Knuckey, to help identify cases in which targeted killings may have resulted in civilian casualties. He said they would focus on 25 case studies in Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, to see whether there is a case worthy of prosecution. He said he would present his findings in October.
Emmerson is an independent U.N. rights expert, and his investigation is not sanctioned by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon or the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay. But his association with the United Nations is likely to carry greater political weight than those of independent administration critics.
Emmerson first announced plans to look into the American drone program in October, on the eve of U.S. presidential elections, citing frustration with both candidates' positions on drones."The Obama administration continues to formally adopt the position that it will neither confirm nor deny the existence of the drone program," he said at the time. "In reality, the administration is holding its finger in the dam of public accountability," he said according to a prepared copy of the speech.
Emmerson said today that the investigation emerged as the result of a request last June from China, Pakistan, and Russia, to investigate the use of drones in counterterrorism operations.
"The inquiry that I am launching today is a direct response to the requests made to me by states at the human rights council last June, as well as to the increasing international concern surrounding the issue of remote targeted killing through the use of UAV's [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles]," he said. "The exponential rise in the use of drone technology in a variety of military and non-military contexts represents a real challenge to the framework of established international law."
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NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and 28 members of the NATO council today made an unannounced visit to Kabul to underscore the military alliance's commitment to supporting Afghanistan after its fighting forces complete their withdrawal in 2014.
"Our visit today is a clear demonstration of our commitment," Rasmussen said at a joint press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai that was held to detail NATO plans to maintain a "non-combat" role beyond 2014. "All fifty nations that are part of our coalition remain committed to Afghanistan, now and for the long term."
The high profile tour comes just weeks after the U.N. Security Council cancelled an Afghanistan visit -- planned for next week -- because it was considered too dangerous.
The risk to foreign powers in Afghanistan is undeniable. On Wednesday, a suicide bombed rammed a truck filled with explosives into a joint NATO-Afghan army outpost in eastern Afghanistan, injuring at least 10 Afghan and coalition troops, according to an Associated Press report. And allied forces have come under increasing attack from troops within the Afghan security agencies.
But today's visit raised the question: Why is it safe enough for NATO ambassadors, including U.S. Ambassador Ivo Daalder, to travel there and not for the U.N. Security Council, which planned to travel with a far smaller delegation with nearly half the number of senior ambassadors?
Earlier this month, I reported that the U.N. Security Council had indefinitely postponed its plans to pay a visit to Afghanistan over October 21-25, as well as a side trip to Yemen.
The decision followed an October 2 closed-door briefing to the U.N. Security Council by Gregory Starr -- a former U.S. State Department security chief who currently oversees security matters for the Unite d Nations -- who claimed he had received specific threats, but that maybe the trip could be rescheduled for mid November.
The briefing caught U.N. envoys by surprise, as Starr had informed them just the day before that the trip to Afghanistan was "doable." The U.N. Special Representative Jan Kubis, meanwhile, is said to have agreed, and had hoped the council's visit would underscore the international community's commitment to Afghanistan after the withdrawal of NATO combat forces.
"He said there was new intelligence that wasn't available the day before," according to a U.N.-based diplomat.
The cancellation of the visit, which was being organized by Germany, has infuriated some delegations, particularly Berlin, which privately complained that the Security Council was squandering an opportunity to underscore U.N. support for the mission, according to council diplomats. Diplomats said that the United States, which had expressed concern about security conditions, was behind the decision to postpone the trip, at least until November.
"These are crucial times for Afghanistan: not only are preparations for transition in full swing -- but there are also elections coming up. Both need a strong and active UN presence on the ground with the full backing of the U.N. Security Council," said a U.N. based diplomat. "So if NATO can send this much-needed message, why not the U.N.?
"The very fact that the secretary general of NATO and 28 ambassadors of NATO countries deemed security sufficient for their mission sends an important message of confidence in the Afghani people," the diplomat said.
The United States declined to comment on the dispute.
But a Security Council diplomat defended the decision to postpone the trip, saying that while the U.S. and other council members were prepared to go to Afghanistan, there had been broad agreement in the council to put off the trip following Starr's security warning. "It's unfortunate that some members [of the Security Council] have misrepresented the facts given the broad consensus in the council to postpone the trip," the diplomat said.
This morning, the United Nations defended its decision to hold off the trip. "All we really have to say about it is that we made a recommendation based on the best information available," said Farhan Haq, the spokesman for the United Nations secretary general. "We stand by that recommendation, but will not comment further."
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U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson urged Afghanistan's Western donors to remain committed to funding the country's education, health, and development programs after the United States and its military allies withdraw their military forces from the country at the end of 2014.
"These enormous resources that have been spent on the military presence should in some form be transferred into civilian programs," Eliasson said in an interview in his U.N. office overlooking the East River. "We hope that this date of 2014 and the withdrawal does not mean that we are not committed to help Afghanistan."
The appeal comes as the United States and its Western allies have begun the work of dismantling their decade-long nation-building effort, raising concern that the phasing out of hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance programs will result in hardships for civilians in conflict zones that have received much of the money.
The United States and its military allies have channeled most of their reconstruction and relief efforts through a series of Provincial Reconstruction Teams that have served as the hearts and minds programs in support of the anti-Taliban military effort. The program, which built roads and hospitals and funded health and education programs, will largely be shuttered along with the military withdrawal.
About 90 percent of Afghanistan's budget is funded by foreign donors, and there are concerns that an abrupt withdrawal will plunge the country into dire economic straits.
In July, the United States and other international donors pledged more than $16 billion in assistance to fill the financial gap left behind by the military withdrawal. And the U.N.'s special representative in Afghanistan, Jan Kubis, provided an upbeat assessment of Afghanistan's future, saying he was confident that the international community would remain engaged in Afghanistan after the 2014 withdrawal, FP's David Bosco noted in his Multilateralist blog.
Eliasson said he hoped the large financial pledges would lead to "concrete assistance" in education, health care, and programs aimed at assisting girls and women. But he acknowledged that the international community faces daunting political, financial, and security challenges in Afghanistan.
The International Crisis Group, meanwhile, issued a paper Monday warning that the internationally backed government in Kabul is in danger of collapsing after the 2014 withdrawal of NATO forces if no steps are taken to ensure fair presidential elections in that same year.
"There are alarming signs Karzai hopes to stack the deck for a favored proxy. Demonstrating at least will to ensure clean elections could forge a degree of national consensus and boost popular confidence, but steps toward a stable transition must begin now to prevent a precipitous slide toward state collapse. Time is running out," according to the report. "As foreign aid and investment decline with the approach of the 2014 draw-down, so, too, will political cohesion in the capital."
The political forecast for Afghanistan has also been clouded by questions about the Taliban's willingness to accept an international role in the country. Early this week, Taliban militants in Pakistan attacked 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai, an outspoken advocate of education for girls. A spokesman for Pakistan's Taliban movement, Ehsanullah Ehsan, claimed responsibility for the killing, saying she was "promoting Western culture in Pashtun areas."
Eliasson said he hopes this "incredibly brutal act" doesn't signal a broader move by the Taliban movement, which has deep roots in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to reject foreign assistance as a tool of Western influence.
"If that school of though would prevail in Afghanistan, it would show even more how important it is that we continue to help the Afghan people and the Afghan government," he said. "I hope that even among the Taliban some would react to this extreme action."
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The U.N. Security Council has killed plans for a high-level visit to Afghanistan later this month amid concerns that conditions are too dangerous, according to Security Council diplomats familiar with the planned trip.
Germany -- which oversees Afghanistan issues in the Security Council -- had proposed leading a U.N. Security Council delegation to the country from October 20-24. But the U.N. warned that the trip -- which included a side stop in Yemen -- would run risks.
The decision to put off the trip followed a closed door Security Council briefing this afternoon by the U.N.'s top security official -- U.N. Undersecretary General Gregory Starr, who was updating the 15-nation council on security for the U.N.'s far flung missions.
Starr -- a former security chief for the U.S. State Department -- said it would be better to postpone the visit. But some diplomats said a visit would be unlikely later because the onset of winter would make travel far more difficult.
At the request of Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations -- who also favored postponing the trip -- attendance at today's meeting was restricted to the top Security Council ambassadors.
One council diplomat said that the official reason for the trip's cancellation is that no dates had ever been set and the consensus was that it would be better to postpone until the new year. But the "obvious reason," the official said, "is that you don't want to go to these dangerous places when there are threats."
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President Barack Obama began his presidency with a pledge to listen even to the most despised foreign despots.
But within weeks, the Obama administration made it clear it had heard enough of one foreign leader. Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, a key ally in the U.S.-led effort to bring peace to that nation, was to have his direct line to the American presidency severed.
Obama halted his predecessor's practice of conducting regular video conferencing sessions with his most important wartime client. The president's envoy, Richard Holbrooke, meanwhile, mounted a stealth campaign to drive Karzai from office, according to the newly published memoirs of the former U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, Norway's Kai Eide.
In a variety of other ways, Eide writes, top American civilians and military officials made it clear they had no intention of seriously consulting key U.N. or Afghan leaders on the international strategy in Afghanistan. Summing up the attitude towards the new administration in Kabul, one embittered senior Afghan minister text messaged Eide a one-word assessment of his first visit to Washington, D.C. "Neocolonialism."
Eide's book, Power Struggle Over Afghanistan: An Inside Look at What Went Wrong -- And What We Can Do To Repair The Damage, revisits his two year stint from February 2008 to March 2010 as the U.N. envoy to Afghanistan. It offers up a defense of Eide's own record, which was marred after his American deputy, Peter Galbraith, accused him of covering up electoral fraud by Karzai's followers in the 2009 presidential election. "The most bitter and dramatic I had experienced in my professional life," Eide writes.
Eide's Afghan assignment -- which came with a mandate from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to "build a close relationship with President Karzai as soon as you can" -- coincided with a period of dwindling American faith in Karzai's commitment to confront the rampant corruption that plagued his government and allegedly reached into the pockets of his wealthy half brother, then an Afghan power broker accused of involvement in the Afghan opium trade, a charge he denied. Eide presents a detailed set of prescriptions for addressing the current Afghan crisis, including a more vigorous effort to pursue peace with the Taliban, less reliance on a military accomplishments, demonstrating a greater understanding and respect for Afghan's religious and cultural sensitivities, as well as personal portrait of Afghanistan's erratic leader.
Eide shared America's doubts about Karzai's leadership -- at one point personally nudging him to consider stepping down at the end of his first term. But he provides a lengthy, sympathetic portrait of Karzai as a flawed, misunderstood, essentially patriotic leader -- whose views towards his Western backers were hardened by the humiliating treatment he had received at the hands of the Obama administration in its first months in office, and by the initial dismissal by top military brass of his concerns about the civilian casualties of NATO bombing campaigns.
"The most important reason for my bitterness [in Afghanistan] was my ever growing disagreement with Washington's strategy in Afghanistan," he writes. "It had become increasingly dominated by military strategies, forces and offensives.... The UN had never been really involved or consulted by Washington on critical-strategy-related questions, nor had even the closest NATO partners. More importantly, Afghan authorities had mostly been spectators to the formation of a strategy aimed at solving the conflict in their own country."
("The attitude changed dramatically," Eide notes, under the leadership of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and the rate of NATO-inflicted casualties declined precipitously, ultimately representing of a fraction of civilian deaths inflicted by the Taliban.)
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The U.N. Security Council on Friday will impose sanctions on the Pakistani Taliban, an extremist Islamic organization that American officials blame for masterminding the botched May 2010 Times Square bombing plot.
The group, which is formally named Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), will be added Friday to a U.N. blacklist of terrorist organizations linked to al Qaeda. It was already placed on the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization list last September, some four months after the United States accused the group of attempting to set off a car bomb in the packed New York City tourism center.
The United States proposed in recent weeks that the organization be added to the U.N. list, citing the widening reach of the organization's terrorism targets. Australia, Canada, Britain, France, and Pakistan co-sponsored the U.S. measure. Tomorrow's action reflects that the United States has now secured unanimous support from the 15-nation council, including from China and Russia, for imposing U.N. sanctions on the group.
The Obama administration claims that Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen who planted the Times Square car bomb, acknowledged that he was trained in Waziristan, a stronghold for al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.
The Pakistani Taliban, a relatively new militant group that was formally established in 2007 and is headed by Hakimullah Mehsud, who has engaged in increasingly audacious terrorist attacks against Pakistani and U.S. targets. The group launched a December 2009 attack against a U.S. military base in Afghanistan and carried out the April 2010 bombing of the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar, Pakistan.
The decision to target the Pakistani Taliban comes at a time when the United Nations is seeking to encourage the Afghan Taliban to pursue peace talks with the Afghan government, a necessary prelude to a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The U.N. anti-terrorism blacklist -- known officially as the 1267 list, a reference to the U.N. Security Council resolution that established the measures -- imposes a set of financial and travel bans that are aimed at restraining extremist capacity to strike.
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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon traveled to Hollywood last year to cajole filmmakers and movie stars into making pictures that portray the U.N.'s good works. The Whistleblower, a scathing full-length account of the U.N. peacekeeping effort in Bosnia during the late 1990s, is not what he had in mind.
The Samuel Goldwyn Films movie, which is due out in theaters in Los Angeles and New York on Aug. 5, stars British actress Rachel Weisz as a U.N. policewoman who stumbles into the sordid world of Balkan sex trafficking and finds her fellow U.N. peacekeepers implicated in the trade.
It constitutes perhaps the darkest cinematic portrayal of a U.N. operation ever on the big screen, finding particular fault with top U.N. brass, the U.S. State Department, and a major U.S. contractor that supplies American policemen for U.N. missions.
The subject matter is familiar territory for Turtle Bay. A decade ago, I wrote a series of stories on U.N. police misconduct in Bosnia for the Washington Post, including a detailed account of U.S. police abuses and this piece documenting U.N. efforts to quash an investigation by a former Philadelphia cop, David Lamb, into allegations that Romanian peacekeepers participated in sex trafficking.
I would later contact Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska cop (played by Weisz) who serves as the film's hero, and report on her lawsuit for wrongful dismissal against the subsidiary of an American contractor, DynCorp International, which hired her in Bosnia. (DynCorp countered that it had fired Bolkovac in part because she had falsified work documents, claiming hundreds of dollars in unwarranted per diem expenses.) Bolkovac's fictional employer in the film, Democra Services, appears to be based on DynCorp.
The actual abuses in Bosnia were so shocking that the film's director, Larysa Kondracki, told Turtle Bay that she had to tone it down to make it believable and to ensure that viewers didn't "tune it out." The movie, she said, in some ways resembles a "70s paranoid thriller" in which it can be hard to tell the difference between the heroes and the villains. Kondracki declined to name DynCorp as the model for the company portrayed in the movie, citing unspecified legal concerns.
A spokeswoman for DynCorp International, Ashley Burke, told Turtle Bay: "I haven't seen the movie so I can't comment on its content, but I can tell you that, when we contacted the film's distributor to learn more about the movie, we were informed that the film 'is a fictionalized dramatic presentation' that while inspired by Ms. Bolkovac's experiences, is not based on her book. There was no threatened legal action taken to ensure they did not use the company's name in the film."
The film opens with two Ukrainian 15-year-olds, Raya and Luba, partying in Kiev before heading off to the home of a devious in-law of one of the girls. He promises them high-paying jobs in a Swiss Hotel, but instead sells them off into sexual slavery in post-civil war Bosnia.
On the other side of the world, in Lincoln, Nebraska, Bolkovac has hit a dead end in her own police career when a friendly captain shows her a brochure from Democra Services. "They need good people to get the country up and running," he says. "Kathy, I think you'd be great at this."
Bolkovac jumps at the opportunity of a tax-free $100,000 salary, the prospect of adventure, and a rare chance to help a war-wracked, ethnically divided country return to the rule of law.
What she gradually discovers is a community of U.S. cops and other international peacekeepers corrupted by the moral compromises they make in Bosnia. What's worse, she learns, is that the U.N. diplomatic and peacekeeping corps are the brothels' primary customers, and in some cases they are actually trafficking Eastern European women into Bosnia.
Madeleine Rees (played by Vanessa Redgrave), a former U.N. human rights official who served in Bosnia, is the inspiration for one of the film's few heroic characters. As the U.N.'s top human rights officer in Bosnia, she recruits Bolkovac and encourages her to launch an investigation into sex trafficking. She puts her in touch with an internal affairs investigator, played by David Strathairn, who helps her navigate the U.N.'s treacherous bureaucracy.
Her investigation ultimately brings her into contact with Luba and Raya, whom she convinces to cooperate but whose lives she is ultimately unable to protect from their brutal Balkan pimps. The characters are essentially composites of the women who were enslaved in Bosnian brothels at the time. But Kondracki said that everything bad that happens in the film to the two girls -- one is tortured and the other murdered -- actually happened to women in Bosnia.
Indeed many of the most disturbing practices depicted in the film -- including the U.N. peacekeepers purchase of trafficked women -- have emerged in internal U.N. investigations. Some of the most disturbing practices by DynCorp employees came to light in court when Ben D. Johnston, an aircraft mechanic who worked for DynCorp in Bosnia in the late 1990s, sued the company in Fort Worth, Texas, charging he was punished for uncovering wrongdoing by DynCorp employees, including involvement in sexual slavery and the purchase of illegal weapons.
In the film, Bolkovac encounters violent resistance from Balkan organized-crimes elements as she tries to free the Ukrainian women and break up the sex-trafficking ring. But she also finds her efforts undermined by U.N. bureaucrats. Monica Bellucci, the cultured and stylish official from the International Migration Organization, callously returns the girls to the local police, who are on the payroll of their pimps, because they can't produce legal ID photos. The U.N. leadership, meanwhile, at the request of the U.S. State Department and Democra, has shut down her investigation and fires her.
The film's real-life heroes, Bolkovac and Rees, have long since left the United Nations. But DynCorp has prospered, securing billions of dollars in security contracts for the State Department in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has continued to be dogged by allegations of drug abuse and other misconduct problems.
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In July, Lakhdar Brahimi, the former Algerian foreign minister and U.N. trouble-shooter in Afghanistan and Iraq, returned for the first time in several years to Kabul, where nearly a decade earlier he had helped establish a government after the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban.
This time, Brahimi was part of a private, high-level delegation, which included Thomas Pickering, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Jean-Marie Guehenno, the French former chief of the U.N. peacekeeping department, that is preparing a weighty study for the Century Foundation on the end-game to the current conflict in Afghanistan. They also visited other key countries, including India and Pakistan.
Brahimi's return to the scene comes as the United States, Afghanistan and some factions of the Taliban have discussed commencing talks that might eventually strike a peace deal. The timing has fueled speculation that Brahimi, who lives in Paris, might be pulled from retirement to again become a U.N. envoy to Afghanistan to help mediate a political settlement between Karzai's government and the Taliban, a pact that would set the stage for a U.S. military withdrawal from the country.
One U.N.-based official said that Brahimi had been approached by the Americans and asked whether he might consider a U.N. role in Afghanistan. He responded that he would only entertain the prospect of a mediation role if he was confident he had the full backing of the U.S. government -- something he apparently doesn't have, the official said.
In fact, U.S officials have never really stopped seeking Brahimi's counsel on Afghanistan. Bob Woodward, in his book Obama's Wars, wrote that top U.S. officials were mulling the possible need for a prominent foreigner -- a "philosopher king," in Woodward's words -- to help mediate a political deal. "One possible candidate was Lakhdar Brahimi, the elderly United Nations diplomat who had helped engineer Karzai's rise to power after the U.S. invasion in 2001," Woodward wrote. "Could he deliver this? Brahimi was 76, perhaps too old for the monumental diplomatic mission."
But some seemed to take the prospect very seriously. Staffan di Mistura, the Italian-Swedish diplomat who currently heads up the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, traveled to New York during the U.N. General Assembly debate in September to kill off any idea of appointing an independent envoy to Afghanistan to lead the U.N. mediation efforts, according to three sources familiar with the visit.
Di Mistura said that he didn't oppose the appointment of a U.N. mediator, the three sources said, but he wanted it to be someone who served under his own instructions.
"Staffan is naturally concerned about a unified line of command as long as he is SRSG [the Secretary General's special representative]," according to a U.N. official. He also raised concerns that the Taliban would not accept Brahimi as an interlocutor, according to one of the U.N.-based sources.
Sources close to Brahimi said that the aging diplomat has no ambitions to return to Afghanistan, but that he might serve if he felt his services were needed, and he felt confident about the prospects of a deal. They said that his work on behalf of the Century Foundation is not aimed at positioning him to play a role in Afghanistan.
For the time being, Di Mistura seems to have prevailed -- in part because Richard C. Holbrooke, President Obama's envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Gen. David Petraeus, who has worked closely with Di Mistura in both Iraq and Afghanistan, are not keen on relinquishing control of political talks to Brahimi, according to U.N. officials.
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A prominent U.S. contractor in Afghanistan may have inadvertently funneled millions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer dollars to Taliban insurgents in the form of bribes and protection money, according to a review by the inspector general of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
The suspected payments were allegedly made by Afghan subcontractors of Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI), a company based in Bethesda, Maryland that carries out USAID reconstruction projects in some of Afghanistan's most remote and risky war zones. Afghan representatives of the company in Jalalabad are also under investigation for charging kickbacks to Afghan companies in exchange for USAID contracts, according to the report.
A spokesman for the company said that it has fired 17 Afghan employees who operated at or near the company's Jalalabad office, and restored greater international auditing and oversight over the operations.
"We're doing outstanding, mission-critical development work right at the tip of the spear, and we're proud of it," said DAI President and CEO James Boomgard. "And DAI is leading the way in addressing those problems. Without giving up on our commitment to support U.S. Government efforts even in the most unstable regions of Afghanistan, we have, when necessary, closed down projects entirely, stopped working in problem areas, fired employees -- and done so in a very public, very accountable way, not through the back door -- and continually tightened monitoring and accounting procedures."
The review began with an examination of the costs of a British security company, Edinburgh International, on three USAID projects operated by Development Alternatives. The report found "no indication that Edinburgh International had misused funds to pay the Taliban or others in exchange for protection," noting that it had "employed a strong system of controls over cash transactions."
However, U.S. and DAI officials "expressed concerns that insurgents may have extorted protection payments" amounting to as much $5.2 million in 2009 from Afghan representatives carrying out projects in remote areas under the USAID-funded Local Governance and Community Development program.
The program is designed to show residents in contested regions of Afghanistan that the U.S.-backed government is capable of providing basic services. An indication of the dangers of working in the region, DAI officials said, came Sunday, when a female British employee of the company, together with three Afghan nationals, were abducted between Jalalabad and Kunar province.
While the report does not assert that DAI's international officials paid any money to the Taliban, it cites lax oversight, noting that many projects are subjected to virtually no monitoring. "Neither USAID nor DAI could provide reasonable assurance of preventing USAID funds from going to the Taliban or others in exchange for protection while trying to implement community development projects in a war zone and in insurgency stronghold areas where little or no monitoring can be conducted," the report stated.
In response to the report, USAID's Afghanistan director, Earl W. Gast, said the U.S. agency has instructed DAI to tighten up its financial controls, but he vowed to continue the program in contested areas, noting that it is "designed to turn communities away from the insurgency and towards the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan."
"The core operational aspects of the program include working in unstable areas that pose risk," he added. "USAID is accountable for deploying its stabilization programs and field staff as far forward as possible in partnership with our U.S. civil military partners on the ground, to contribute to ultimate victory over the insurgency."
Gastquestioned the strength of some of the evidence the Inspector General has presented to demonstrate that the practices are endemic in USAID programs, and he said the Inspector General did not provide supporting documentation for its allegations that fraud occurred in Jalalabad."This report riddled with ‘may haves', ‘likelies' and ‘mights'," said Steven O'Connor, a spokesman for DAI. "It's all very speculative." The Inspector General's report countered that it does not release evidence that could compromise ongoing fraud investigations.
The Inspector General's probe was triggered after a series of online and newspaper articles -- including this piece in Global Post -- documented the diversion of millions of dollars in U.S. aid money to the Taliban. But DAI insisted that it took the initiative in bringing the corruption case in Jalalabad to the attention of the investigators. "Where there are problems or suspected problems," said Boomgard, "it is DAI that has brought them to USAID's and the Inspector General's attention -- showing collaboration that has been, in their words, ‘superb.'"
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The U.N. Security Council has removed five former Taliban members, including two dead men and the Islamic movement's former ambassadors to Pakistan and the United Nations, from a U.N. terrorist blacklist, a move aimed at signaling to Taliban insurgents that they will be rewarded for putting down their weapons.
The action represents a modest diplomatic achievement for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has pressed the international community to lift sanctions on 137 members of the former Taliban government in an effort to prod the insurgents into peace talks with the government. It also reflects willingness by Russia, which opposes any role for the Taliban in a future government, to lift travel and financial sanctions on former Taliban leaders who have put down their arms.
It was more than a decade ago that the U.N. Security Council first imposed sanctions on members of the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan at the time, for refusing to surrender Osama bin Laden to U.S. authorities in connection with al Qaeda's role in the August 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa. In January 2001, more than 100 Taliban leaders were added to the list. The list was expanded after the September 11, 2001, attacks, to include al Qaeda members and their supporters. The measures include a travel ban, an arms embargo, and a prohibition on the direct or indirect provision of funds or economic resources.
The move follows a major U.N. review of the sanctions list, which after today's action includes 489 individuals and entities, including 257 al Qaeda members and backers. It also comes weeks after Richard Holbrooke, President Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, traveled to New York to meet with diplomats from Russia and Austria, which oversees the Security Council committee responsible for delisting Taliban members. Holbrooke urged them to make progress on the delisting process in order to help boost peace prospects in Afghanistan.
The Security Council lifted an asset freeze and travel ban on Abdul Hakim Mujahid Muhammad Awrang, who served as the Taliban's ambassador before the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, and Abdul Salam Zaeef, the public voice of the Taliban in the months leading up to the U.S. invasion. Zaeef, who was serving as the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan, was handed over to American authorities and transferred to Guantánamo Bay detention facility, where he stayed until 2005.
In his memoir, My Life with the Taliban, Zaeef, a 42-year-old founding member of the Taliban, recounts a life of militancy dating back to the Soviet resistance in 1980s. He claims that he was sold by Pakistani intelligence officials to U.S. operatives in 2002. He was released in 2005 without being charged with a crime. He has since lived in Kabul under government protection.
Mujahid Muhammad Awrang , the Taliban's former U.N. representative, served as the movement's main contact with the United States and other western governments. Operating out of an office in Queens, Mujahid met frequently with the Clinton administration's under secretary of state for South Asian affairs, Rick Inderfurth.
Three remaining former Taliban taken off the list include Abdul Satar Paktin, and two dead men, Abdul Samad Khaksar and Muhammad Islam Mohammadi. The presence of dead people on the list has long been a source of embarrassment to the council. In December, the council passed a resolution that encourages states to report on the newly dead and encourages the U.N. committee responsible for overseeing the sanctions "to remove listings of deceased individuals where credible information regarding death is available."
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Former Taliban militants hoping to have their names removed from the U.N. Security Council terror blacklist should not underestimate the challenges. The 15-nation council rarely lets even the dead off the hook.
Twenty-five deceased militants, including seven Taliban, remain on the U.N. terror list, which imposes a travel ban and asset freeze on targeted individuals. Another twenty-eight, including eight Taliban, are suspected of having perished.
U.N. officials say that it has been difficult to remove the deceased because they need reliable death certificates, something that is often hard to come by in Taliban-controlled regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the United States has killed some of the targeted individuals in drone attacks. Some council members have expressed concern that the financial assets controlled by the individuals may still be used for terrorist purposes.
The debate comes as President Hamid Karzai is making a renewed push to persuade the U.N. to remove the Taliban form the list, a move aimed at rewarding former militants who have joined the government and persuading combatants to put down their arms and pursue peace talks. On Monday, the U.N. representative in Afghanistan Staffan de Mistura said that Afghanistan is planning to present the names of ten former Taliban to the council for possible delisting. The ten are part of a larger group of more than 30 to 50 individuals Afghanistan would like to be de-listed. Britain also has compiled a similar list of 30 dead or former Taliban it thinks should be removed from the blacklist.
The presence of dead people on the list has long been a source of embarrassment to the council. In December, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution that encourages states to report on the newly dead and encourages the U.N. committee responsible for overseeing the sanctions "to remove listing of deceased individuals where credible information regarding death is available."
The U.N. Taliban and Al Qaeda sanctions committee is expected to complete a major review of the more than 494 individuals and entities currently on the list, including 137 Taliban and 257 al Qaeda members and backers, by the end of the month. Officials said they were confident a substantial number of the dead people will likely be removed from the list. But the resolution also includes some hurdles to delisting the dead, including the requirement that assurances be given to ensure their assets are not used to serve the militants aims.
More than a decade ago, the U.N. Security Council first imposed sanctions on members of the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan at the time, for refusing to surrender Osama bin Laden to U.S. authorities in connection with al-Qaeda's role in the August 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa. In January 2001, more than 100 Taliban leaders were added to the list. The list was expanded after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, to include al-Qaeda members and their supporters. The measures include a travel ban, and arms embargo and a prohibition on the direct or indirect provision of funds or economic resources.
Among those believed dead are Mohammad Azam, a former deputy minister of mines and industry under the Taliban government; Ahmadullah, a Taliban intelligence minister; Adbul Samad, a deputy minister from the Taliban interior ministry. But the case of another former Taliban official, Jalahuddin Haqqani, underscores the risks of premature removal from the list. Haqqani was reported dead in June, 2007, only to resurface. "Still alive as of May, 2008," according to the U.N. list.
Richard C. Holbrooke, the White House's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, will travel to New York on Tuesday to help Afghanistan negotiate the removal of select Taliban members from a U.N. anti-terror blacklist, according to senior U.N.-based officials.
Holbrooke's decision to visit New York comes weeks after Afghan President Hamid Karzai appealed to the U.N. Security Council to drop Taliban from a list of individuals targeted with travel and financial sanctions, a first step in an effort to convince Taliban militants to end their insurgency and strike a peace deal with the government. The Afghan government's June 6 "peace jirga" on June 6 called for taking steps towards reconciliation with the Taliban, including the removal of former Taliban officials from the U.N. blacklist.
The Security Council is now reviewing the status of 15 former Taliban members on the watch list, including a former Taliban education minister, Mullah Arsala Rahmani, who is currently serving in the Afghan senate. According to council diplomats, President Karzai is expected to present the council's sanctions committee with a letter arguing that the 15 former Taliban have renounced terrorism and are no longer involved in the violent overthrow of his government.
The Afghan effort has been stalled by Russia, which has maintained that Karzai's government has provided insufficient evidence to remove the Afghans from the list. Russia made it clear that it takes a very hard line on the removal from the blacklist of Taliban who are still engaged in terrorist or military activities. On March 22, Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly I. Churkin, told the council "that dialogue is possible only with those who have laid down arms, recognized the government and constitution of Afghanistan, and broken their links with Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups."
But U.S. and Afghan officials hope that Russia, which agreed to delist a smaller group of five former Taliban officials in January, will be willing to at least let a limited number off the list, sending a signal to other Taliban fighters that it is possible to achieve relief from the U.N. measures. Council diplomats say the names under consideration do not include the Taliban's leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, or other combatants currently participating in the insurgency.
In advance of the talks, the United States made an important concession to Moscow. Last month, the State Department designated a Chechen separatist commander, Doku Umarov, a terrorist. Umarov and his followers have claimed responsibility for a number of violent actions, including a suicide bombing in Moscow's subway system. The decision, which was announced on the eve of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's White House summit with President Barack Obama, marked a shift in standard U.S. protocol. The U.S. usually places an individual on the U.S. terror list before pressing for his or her inclusion on the U.N. blacklist, but in this instance that was not the case. But U.N.-based officials said it was unclear whether the United States received assurances that Russia would respond by yielding ground on the Taliban sanctions.
The U.N. Security Council first imposed sanctions on the Taliban government in October 1999 for harboring Osama bin Laden, and refusing to surrender him to U.S. authorities for his alleged role in masterminding the August 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa. More than 100 Taliban leaders were added to the list in January 2001.
After the September 11 terror attacks, the United States ushered through resolutions that added al Qaeda members and their supporters to the sanctions list. The measures included a travel ban, an arms embargo, and a prohibition on the direct or indirect provision of funds or economic resources. To authorize the removal of someone from the list, the resolution requires evidence that Taliban members have renounced violence, expressed support for the Afghan government and its constitution, and severed their links to al Qaeda. But efforts to reward individuals who break ranks with the Taliban and rally behind Karzai's government have run up against resistance from Russia.
"The Russian position is perfectly reasonable," said Richard Barrett, who oversees a committee responsible for monitoring implementation of the sanctions against the Taliban and al Qaeda. "People should not come off the list just because there is a political process. Mullah Omar and others aren't prevented from participating in the political process even though they are on the list."
But Afghanistan has increased pressure on Russia and other council members to reverse course, arguing that the sanctions list is an impediment to prospects for a peace settlement with the Taliban. Karzai met with a visiting delegation of Security Council members last month and appealed to them to remove names from the list. Some officials indicated that Karzai and his advisors had requested that the entire list of 137 Taliban be eliminated. But others challenged that account, saying that Karzai only asked that some Taliban officials be delisted.
In January, Russian government lifted its objection to delisting Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil, a minister of foreign affairs in the former Taliban government, and Abdul Hakim Monib Muhammad Nazar, another former Taliban official who broke ranks with the movement and served as Karzai's governor in Uruzgan. Russia has also agreed to delist Fazl Muhammad Faizan Qamaruddin, Shams-us-Safa Aminzai, and Muhammad Musa Hotak Abdul Mehdi.
The Afghan leader is seeking to make progress on reconciling with the Taliban in advance of a major international conference in Kabul on July 20 aimed at supporting the stability of Afghanistan. Among the strongest advocates are Afghan politicians, like Mullah Rahmani, who stand to benefit directly from the delisting. Rahmani claims to have links to the Taliban and to have established indirect communications to Mullah Omar.
"The blacklist will be a start," he told the New York Times. "It is symbolically very important. Even if they only move 60 or 70 names, that would be enough. The next stop could be talks between government and Taliban representatives in some neutral country."
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A U.N. security officer from Miami, Louis Maxwell, was most likely shot to death outside a U.N. guesthouse last October by Afghan security forces that mistook him for a Taliban insurgent, U.N. officials briefed on a draft report of a confidential, high-level U.N. inquiry into the case told Turtle Bay.
The revelation comes as a U.N. board of inquiry is finalizing a probe into the deaths of Maxwell and four other U.N. staffers who were killed during a violent October 28, 2009, attack on their U.N. residence in Kabul, which housed about 20 U.N. election officials.
The deaths were initially blamed on the Taliban, which had claimed responsibility for launching the pre-dawn raid on the U.N. residence in order to disrupt the country's planned presidential runoff. The election was cancelled after President Hamid Karzai's political rival, Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew from the race, saying he did not believe an election would be free and fair.
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
The United Nations announced today that Afghan security forces may have killed a U.N. employee, Louis Maxwell, following an assault by heavily-armed insurgents on a U.N. guesthouse in October.
A preliminary internal investigation "raised the disturbing possibility" that Maxwell, a U.S. national, "may have died to due to "friendly fire" from Afghan security forces," U.N. chief spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters today. Nesirky said a high level U.N. board of inquiry is expected to conclude its investigation into the case in the coming days.
The announcement followed the publication of an account of Maxwell's death in the German magazine Stern. The magazine also broadcast a video, which it claimed was provided by the United Nations, purportedly showing Maxwell being shot by Afghan security forces.
Insurgents armed with automatic weapons, grenades and suicide vests launched an Oct. 28 attack on a private guesthouse where U.N. personnel were staying. The incident marked the most deadly attack yet against U.N. civilians in Afghanistan and forced the United Nations to evacuate hundreds of international staffers from the country. Five staffers "were tragically killed" in the incident, Nesirky said.
After the attack, the U.N. mission in Afghanistan conducted a preliminary probe into the attack, They uncovered evidence suggesting that Maxwell, a security official, escaped the residence only to be killed by Afghan forces responding to the attack, according to U.N. officials. Afghan authorities initially claimed that Maxwell had been killed by insurgents, possibly from an exploded suicide vest.
"His last words over the walkie-talkie he was holding were, `I am shot,'" Michele Montas, the former U.N. spokesman, told the Miami Herald after the incident. "Then there was an explosion as one of the suicide bombers apparently detonated the explosives he was carrying."
Secretary General Ban Ki moon praised Maxwell and another U.N. security guard, Laurance Mefful of Ghana, for holding off the attackers for about an hour. "They fought through the corridors of the building and from the rooftop," Ban told U.N. delegates ad the U.N. General Assembly. "They held off the attackers long enough for their colleagues to escape, armed only with pistols against assailants carrying automatic weapons and grenades and wearing suicide vests."
Following a preliminary inquiry, the United Nations called for additional investigative support from headquarters, establishing the board of inquiry in January. "Once the board of inquiry is finalized, we will share our findings with the Government of Afghanistan and if warranted we will ask for a thorough investigation surrounding the death of this U.N. employee and the circumstances of the deaths of the other U.N. employees," Nesirky said.
In addition, Nesirky said the United Nations is also cooperating with a separate investigation into the Afghan governments possible involvement in the killing by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. "The United Nations has briefed the Maxwell family on the progress of its initial inquiries and is determined to support the family."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai blamed the United Nations and other foreign entities for interfering in the country's presidential election last summer, saying they sought to rig the vote to thwart his reelection bid, Joshua Partlow reports today in the Washington Post.
Karzai allegations of U.N. meddling come at a time when his government is facing mounting criticism from the Obama administration. In a recent visit to Kabul, President Obama sought to convey to Karzai the importance of reigning in corruption within his government.
Karzai lashed out at foreign elements for seeking to undermine his government. He accused Peter Galbraith, the deputy chief of the U.N. mission before he was fired -- in a dispute over the U.N.'s role in the Aug. 20 elections, and Philippe Morrillon, a retired French military officer who headed an EU vote-monitoring mission -- of rigging the election, according to the Post.
"There was fraud in the presidential election and the provincial election; no doubt there was massive fraud," Karzai said. "That was not done by the Afghans. The foreigners did that. That fraud was done by Galbraith. That fraud was done by Morillon. And that fraud was done by the embassies here."
Karzai's comments escalated a political battle that began when he signed a presidential decree in February that revised Afghanistan's elections law to give him more power to appoint the members of what had been a U.N.-led commission that investigates voting fraud. On Wednesday, the lower house of the parliament rejected that decree in a significant rebuke to Karzai, which he called unconstitutional.
In a telephone interview with Turtle Bay, Galbraith said today, "This is so absurd as to be laughable. Karzai was the beneficiary of the fraud and people he appointed to the election committed the fraud. I got fired for trying to prevent it."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon fired Galbraith after he clashed with the mission's then special representative, Kai Eide, who stepped down early last month. Galbraith said he was let go for pressing Eide to confront massive fraud by Karzai's followers.
Eide and other top U.N. officials countered that Galbraith was let go for trying to annul the country's election process and install a candidate he favored. Senior U.N. officials said Galbraith proposed asking Karzai and his main competitor Abdullah Abdullah to step aside, and to set up a transitional government headed by the technocrat Ashraf Ghani. Galbraith, according to these officials, offered to seek support for the plan from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.
"Here's a man, a U.N. representative, advocating an unconstitutional change of government," Vijay Nambiar, Ban's chief of staff, said of Galbraith. "Of course he was recalled. What would you have expected us to do?"
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
United Nations staff that left Afghanistan because of
worsening security are set to begin returning to Kabul by March 8, according to
an internal U.N. memo obtained by Matthew Lee, the U.N. blogger at Inner City Press.
The U.N. evacuated several hundred staff out the country following an Oct. 28 Taliban attack on the Bakhtar Guest House, which housed U.N. staff. Five U.N. workers were killed in the attack, the worst in the U.N.'s history in Afghanistan, triggering a major review of U.N. security policy.
The memo says that 30 secure new housing units will be ready by the end of the month, and that an additional 50 will be prepared by April. The memo also states that the U.N. mission in Afghanistan is struggling to overcome a crisis of morale following the country's controversial elections and a slew of staff defections.
"At the beginning of the year with the 2010 budget coming into effect, UNAMA had a vacancy rate of 44%," the memo stated. "The situation had reached a point where the SRSG felt obliged to alert the Security Council that if the staffing back log were to continue, UNAMA would not be able to implement key elements of its mandate."
Most of the new housing will be situated in the main U.N. compound some 20 minutes from the center of Kabul. Although the new arrangement is designed to enhance security, the memo acknowledged that housing so many U.N. officials outside the center of Kabul would increase the risk of attack during their commute to town.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon introduced his new special envoy, Staffan di Mistura, today at the London conference on Afghanistan, and called for a redefinition of the international community's relation with the Afghans. (Read Ban's full remarks here.)
Ban's message to Hamid Karzai's government was essentially: Clean up your act. "We must see corruption for what it is: an assault on the integrity of the state and people's well-being," he said. "Afghans have suffered for far too long from a culture of impunity and the lack of rule of law."
The message to the Western powers: Stay the course, support the Afghans' capacity to govern themselves, and don't rely too heavily on military power to win the war. "The Afghan people," he said, "need to hear -- loud and clear -- the international community's long-term commitment to the Afghan government's reform agenda."
The Taliban had their own message for the U.S. backed military alliance: Pack up your drones and bombers and get out of Afghanistan. "The war-mongering rulers under the leadership of Obama and Brown want to deceive the people of the world by holding the London conference to show that people still support them," according to a statement from the leadership council of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. "The Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate are the sons of this land; they know every peak and gorge of this country and are ready for its defense. The final defeat and infamy will be fate of the invaders."
The Russian government has
agreed to permit the removal of the names of five former Taliban officials from
a U.N. list of suspected terrorists, sending a clear signal that it wants to
back U.N. and Afghan efforts to pursue peace talks with the Taliban, according
to Security Council diplomats.
The move marked a dramatic shift for the Russian government, which has opposed previous efforts by the U.S. and European governments to delist former Taliban who have renounced violence and backed the government of President Hamid Karzai.
On Monday, a Russian spokesman at the U.N. mission told Turtle Bay, "[W]e can say we are against the delisting of the Taliban." The spokesman, Ruslan Bakhtin, later said he didn't realize that his government had moved to delist former Taliban.
The Russian government has lifted its objection to delisting Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil, a minister of foreign affairs in the former Taliban government, and Abdul Hakim Monib Muhammad Nazar, another former Taliban official who broke ranks with the movement and served as Karzai's governor in Uruzgan. Russia has also agreed to delist Fazl Muhammad Faizan Qamaruddin, Shams-us-Safa Aminzai, and Muhammad Musa Hotak Abdul Mehdi.
A council diplomat told Turtle Bay that U.N. procedure allows for the five former Taliban leaders' names to be immediately lifted from the list, a move Russia's acquiescence makes more likely. [UPDATE: A U.N. Security Council sanctions committee announced Tuesday that it has lifted sanctions against the five former Taliban officials, bolstering Afghan and U.N. efforts to pursue peace talks with the Taliban, Security Council diplomats said.]
"The Russians aren't dead set
against delisting Taliban. They are dead set against doing so without good
reason," said Richard Barrett, a senior U.N. counterterrorism official who oversees
a panel responsible for enforcing sanctions against al Qaeda and the Taliban.
"They do not want the Taliban to emerge from purdah without clear assurances that they have changed."
"Russia wants a stable Afghanistan to contain the spread of extremism and political unrest in Central Asia," Barrett said. "It also wants to curb its growing domestic drug problem, which requires effective government in the south."
After having withdrawn from consideration for the U.N.'s top job in Afghanistan, veteran Swedish diplomat Staffan di Mistura called U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon over the weekend to say that he had changed his mind, according to U.N. diplomatic sources. Di Mistura had rejected the job after having learned that a family member was seriously ill. But sources said that the initial tests have proven less grave than initially feared. It remains unclear, however, whether di Mistura is simply seeking more time to consider his options, or whether he has decided to take the job.
A Russian official told Turtle Bay today that his government will
not remove Taliban militants from a U.N. list of individuals once suspected of
engaging in terrorist activities, thwarting U.S. and U.N. aims to entice
so-called moderate Taliban to make peace or switch sides in the Afghan war and
support the Western-backed government of Hamid
"Our position hasn't changed and we can say we are against the delisting of the Taliban," Ruslan Bakhtin, a spokesman for the Russian mission to the United Nations, said in a interview. "It continues to be a terrorist organization and it continues to carry out terrorist activities on Afghan soil." [UPDATE: Russia is now moving to delist five former Taliban officials.]
Afghanistan and the United Nations have been appealing to the U.N. Security Council in recent weeks to lift sanctions on a handful of Taliban officials who are committed to renouncing violence. The move, which is backed by the United States, is viewed by Kai Eide, the U.N.'s top envoy in Afghanistan, as a critical first step toward opening the door to political talks with the Taliban.
Earlier this month, Afghanistan's U.N. ambassador Zahir Tanin called directly on the 15-nation U.N. Security Council to delist Taliban combatants who are "willing to renounce violence and join the peace process."
For years, Moscow has opposed U.S. and European attempts to reward NATO-friendly former Taliban militants by easing sanctions on them. In 2007, Russian blocked an effort by the United States and the Dutch to delist Karzai's governor of Uruzgan, Abdul Hakim Monib, a former deputy minister of frontier affairs in the prior Taliban government who was said to be a critical asset in the U.S.- led war on terror.
As I reported at the time:
The U.N. Security Council first imposed sanctions on the Taliban in October 1999 for providing a safe haven to Osama bin Laden and for refusing to surrender him to face trial in New York for masterminding the August 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa. Monib and more than 100 other Taliban leaders were placed on a sanctions list in January 2001, a year before he broke ranks with the Islamic movement and joined forces with Hamid Karzai, the Washington-backed president of Afghanistan.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the United States ushered through resolutions that expanded the list of sanctioned people to suspected al-Qaeda members. The measures included a travel ban, an arms embargo and a prohibition on the direct or indirect provision of funds or economic resources to Monib and 489 other people and groups.
But the Security Council has been slow to adjust to the changing political realities in Afghanistan, where at least 19 former Taliban officials have reconciled with Karzai's government. It also cannot agree to remove other people from the list, even after they have died or have convinced the United States that they should not be considered enemies.
Afghan experts said that they were puzzled by Russia's position, saying that Moscow has been generally helpful to NATO by allowing overflight access over their territory. "I don't think it has to do with sticking it to us," said J. Alexander Thier, an expert on Afghanistan at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He said it may reflect Russia's traditional support for the Taliban's greatest Afghan rival, the Northern Alliance. But he said that "would be pure speculation."
For years, the U.N.'s top peacekeepers have been among the world's staunchest critics of private security contractors, often portraying them as unaccountable mercenaries.
Now they are clients.
As the U.N. prepares to expand its operations in Afghanistan, it is in talks with a British security firm to send in scores of additional Nepalese Gurkhas to the country to protect them.
The U.N.'s top security official, Gregory Starr, the former head of U.S. State Department Security, has also been advocating an increase in the use of private security firms in Pakistan, where U.N. relief workers have been the target of kidnappings and killings, according to U.N. officials.
The embrace of a private security contractor marks a shift for the United Nations, which has relied on governments to supply peacekeepers to protect U.N. staff. In Iraq, the U.N. used a contingent of Fijian peacekeepers for protection. But it has accelerated its move toward hired guns in Pakistan since the Taliban launched an October attack against a U.N. residence, killing five U.N. employees, including two Afghan security guards, and triggered the withdrawal of U.N. personnel from the country.
Those officials will return along with an additional 800 U.N. staff that have been budgeted for the Afghan mission. The latest drive has been led by Starr, who relied heavily on private security contractors to protect American diplomats in Iraq and Afghanistan. Starr who joined the U.N. last May, once defended the security company Xe Services, formerly known as Blackwater USA, following allegations that it killed Iraqi civilians. "Essentially, I think they do a very good job," he told Reuters in 2008.
Starr declined to discuss the U.N.'s policy. But a U.N. spokesman, Farhan Haq, responded on behalf of Starr. "He wanted you to know that our understanding of the current usage of the term ‘Private Security Contractors' typically refers to contractors doing close protection work for movement security, such as Blackwater/Xe, Triple Canopy, Dyncorps, Aegis, and many other companies providing this type of service. However, the U.N. doesn't avail itself of this type of service. We do use some private companies to provide static security guards at some sites in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but primarily rely on host countries to provide our security."
Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.