Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
As U.S.-Taliban-Afghan government talks were about to open last week in Doha, Qatar, Karzai objected to the Taliban's decorations of their political office with their flag and other markings of their so-called Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
While it may seem like a small thing, the significance of the flag, etc., was huge. The Taliban, in essence, was declaring that the office was an embassy of their country and their "government."
By extension the talks, they were implying, were and are taking place on their territory and on their terms, and with an illegitimate entity -- Karzai's government.
By sitting down with the Taliban in such a circumstance, Karzai knew that it was tantamount to conceding a Taliban victory in Afghanistan.
For all practical purposes, the Taliban is right. They've won the war in Afghanistan.
As I wrote in Above the Din of War, the Taliban controls at least 75 percent of the country and has for the past several years. The Karzai government, such as it is, controls only the major urban areas, due mostly to the presence of U.S., British, and other international forces.
While international forces and Afghan forces patrol the countryside, they do so at the risk of serious Taliban attacks and the high likelihood of devastating roadside bombs.
The relentless and deadly suicide bombings in Kabul and other urban areas, which grow each day in intensity and frequency, show that the grip of the Afghan forces is tenuous.
Once the international pull-out is complete, the Taliban will quite easily cement their control throughout most of the country. Within six months of the pull out, we can expect to see a map of Afghanistan that resembles that of 2000, when the Northern Alliance held just parts of northern Afghanistan and the Taliban controlled the rest.
The Taliban has nothing to lose and much to gain by engaging these so-called peace talks. They do so from a position of strength because the United States and its NATO allies are headed for the exists.
As the Taliban is wont to say about the U.S. and NATO: "They have the watches. We have the time."
With the American withdrawal set for the end of next year, just 18 months away, the U.S. is desperate for some sort of a negotiated, political settlement.
The fact is that the Taliban has no reason to make concessions or to sign anything that might diminish their command and control over vast swaths of Afghanistan.
Yet, when and if talks with the Taliban actually begin, the Taliban will earn bonus public relations points by simply sitting down and portraying themselves as willing to talk about peace, regardless of the truth of the matter.
Each and every day such talks continue, the U.S. will reveal its desperate desire to walk away from Afghanistan and declare, "job done," regardless of the reality on the ground.
Even if an agreement can be reached with the Taliban, there is little or no way that provisions of it could be enforced, should they be violated by the Taliban.
The absurdity that surrounds these would-be peace talks is difficult to fathom.
I would have thought that someone with the experience of Secretary of State John Kerry would have rejected the notion of Taliban talks without major concessions on their part.
Ironically, it seems that Karzai is one of the few who gets it.
Monday, June 3, 2013
The report, http://www.enoughproject.org/files/KonysIvory.pdf, reveals how Kony and his cutthroats have contributed the destruction of elephant population in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
According to the report, the elephant population has dwindled from about 20,000 (other reports set the figure at only 7,000) to just 1,500 in the past decade due to poaching, much of it by the LRA.
As anyone who has been following this issue knows, Kony and company set up camp in the Garamba park in late 2005 and early 2006, using it as a base while peace talks were conducted in Juba, South Sudan, with the Ugandan government.
Even then, reports were rife that Kony's men were killing the Garamba wildlife, mostly for the meat.
I visited the periphery of the park twice, both times in connection with research for First Kill Your Family: Child Soldiers of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army.
The first time was in 2006 on the northern edge of the park where it borders South Sudan.
The second was on the western edge of the park in 2008 in the town of Dungu, which had been attacked and raided by the LRA, despite the presence of United Nations forces.
In Dungu, I met with wildlife officers who talked about the dangers faced by the park rangers, who had basically withdrawn from much of the park because of the LRA, but also told me of extensive poaching.
It is good that Enough has documented this on-going tragedy, but it may be too little, too late.
The report provides no details on who is buying the ivory, how and why, or where it goes once it leaves the park. The only details we get are from one former LRA captive who says that people arrived in helicopters to buy it. Really? From where?
If the buyers used helicopters, it means some fairly well-heeled smugglers are involved, most likely based in Nairobi, Kenya, or Khartoum, Sudan. Or, more likely, that corrupt military commanders from either country (imagine that!) are in the middle of the illegal trade.
Just last month the Reuters wrote a story about the wider problem of elephant poaching across central Africa, based on a United Nations report, singling out the LRA as an example of the problem: http://news.yahoo.com/libya-war-weapons-may-killing-central-africa-elephants-062616139.html?.tsrc=lgwnaww.
As early as 2004, a year before the LRA entered Garamba Park, the slaughter of white rhinos was being reported as a major concern for wildlife biologists, as noted in the British newspaper, the Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/democraticrepublicofcongo/1462372/Poachers-killing-last-of-the-rare-white-rhinos.html.
Closer to home, the National Geographic Society was also involved, reporting in 2004 about the problem on it's website: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/05/0507_040507_whiterhino.html
The common thread here is that various armed groups across Africa kill the elephants and rhinos for their tusks and horns, since they can get several thousand dollars per pound for ivory. The sale of the ivory buys weapons and supplies for armed groups.
One report mentioned that the rhino horns went to Yemen where they were carved into handles for highly prized daggers for wealthy sheiks. Likewise, the rhino horns are valued for their supposed medicinal qualities and the ivory for its rarity by Asians.
Despite the on-going human tragedy and the destruction of the last wild herds of elephants and rhinos in Africa -- a problem that has been highly publicized for more than a decade -- nothing is being done to stop it.
This is all too reminiscent of what is being done, or more precisely NOT being done, about Kony and the LRA. The Ugandan army, which had been chasing Kony in the Central African Republic for the past five or so years, gave up the hunt by using the recent military coup in the CAR as an excuse to quit.
The U.S. Special Forces mission, sent by President Obama in 2011 to help in the search for Kony, also decided to stand down.
As wildlife activists have been saying for years, the slaughter of African wildlife must be attacked on many fronts.
First, enforcement. The poachers certainly must be stopped. This will require a trained and pervasive force which will require commitment and funding.
Second, the traders must be found, stopped, prosecuted and jailed.
Thirdly, the demand must be curtailed. This will require working with the Chinese and Southeast Asian nations to gain their support and cooperation.
While the Enough Project report may help rekindle interest in the poaching problem, it does little more than note a problem that people have known about for decades.
If there is to be any hope of actually solving the problem, Enough and the other groups involved in the report need to much more than plow what is already heavily plowed ground.
Sunday, April 28, 2013
It should come as no surprise that reports this past week from Resolve Uganda claim that Sudan has been harboring international fugitive from justice, Joseph Kony, and his Lord's Resistance Army.
Sudan, of course, denies the charge.
"Eyewitnesses testify that elements from Sudan's military actively provided Kony and other LRA leaders with periodic safe haven in Sudanese-controlled territory from 2009 until at least February 2013," according to the Resolve report.
While the report raises the necessary red flags about Kony's whereabouts and lines of support, it reflects a host of past behavior patterns on the part of ALL parties concerned.
For much of the 20 years that Kony fought his bloody war in northern Uganda, he and his army of child soldiers found refuge in South Sudan during Uganda's dry season, where Kony was able to establish semi-permanent camps and grow food.
In First Kill Your Family, I write about my interviews with Kony's former top commanders who described being hosted by the Sudanese, who controlled South Sudan then, including one LRA commander who was flown to a hospital in Khartoum where he was treated for a severe wound that resulted in a leg amputation.
Sudan's support for Kony was due to Kony's guerilla war against Uganda, following the principle that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was an ardent supporter of the late John Garang, who led South Sudan in its war for independence from Sudan.
The situation is no different today than it was back then. While Kony has directed his attacks in the past couple of years against the innocent people of eastern Central African Republic, the fact that he remains camped out in South Sudan is a warning.
Thursday, October 4, 2012
USA Today, the nation's colorful, vapid newspaper, got a jump on the coming Oprah Winfrey interview of Jason Russell, founder of Invisible Children and maker of the now infamous Kony 2012 viral video.
In the advanced excerpt, undoubtedly leaked to boost viewers for Oprah's less-then-successful network, Russell claims he had an out-of-body experience this past March.
If you saw the video, it was hard to forget, of course.
It showed a butt-naked Russell on a busy street corner in San Diego ranting and raving at traffic, snapping his fingers, shouting incoherently, and slapping his hands on the pavement.
(The article wrongly states that Russell was pounding his fists on the pavement, which makes me wonder if the reporter bothered to see it before writing about it.)
Russell clearly flipped out. The true reasons are probably known only to Russell and his psychiatrist, but the man clearly has some deeply rooted issues he needs to confront. I doubt that his meltdown was because of the fact that the video was viewed by 100 million people.
He's trying to make a comeback, and why not? His Invisible Children organization raises millions of dollars each year from gullible college students for his anti-Joseph Kony crusade. Without Invisible Children, Russell and the others at the organization stand to lose their fame, fortune and So-Cal life style.
My criticism of the Kony 2012, which some have said was too harsh, still stands. Russell used his child to generate a superficial emotional response on the part of millions of naive viewers to a very serious and complex problem.
He not only used his child, but he drew on historical film footage to create a host of misleading impressions, the worst of which is that Kony is still terrorizing children in northern Uganda. He then concluded the video by asking for money.
Only in passing does Kony 2012 mention that Kony left northern Uganda in 2006, and has been roaming a remote region of central Africa ever since.
What bothers me the most is that Russell has the personnel and the resources to do much, much more, and to have a serious impact on the on-going push by the African Union soldiers to find and capture Kony and ultimately put him on trial.
Here's the article from USA Today:
Oprah Winfrey has scored another first.
She's talking to Kony 2012 campaign creator Jason Russell, who had a very public meltdown soon after the phenomenal success of the video that brought worldwide attention to Uganda rebel leader Joseph Kony. It all happened in March. And while many remember the initial Kony video, another video â?? of Russell â?? emerged, showing him on the streets of San Diego naked, yelling, disrupting traffic and pounding his fists on the pavement.
Russell was hospitalized with what his wife said at the time was "reactive psychosis."
He and his wife, Danica, will discuss with Winfrey on Sunday's Oprah's Next Chapter (9 p.m., OWN) what happened on that day and the impact the events have had on his career, his marriage and his continued fight against Kony.
Here's an excerpt:
OPRAH: "What do you remember, Jason?"
JASON: "I remember me flipping off cars."
OPRAH: "Flipping off cars? Like with your..."
JASON: "With both hands. I remember that just like 'doot,' just like a little memory. I remember running around our lemon tree. I remember ..."
OPRAH: "There were reports that you were breaking into cars?"
JASON: "There are reports. I mean I think I was stopping cars in the street. People said I was laying in the street â?? it's a busy street â?? I was laying in the street."
OPRAH: "How did you get your robe off? How do you go from running out with your robe on to your robe off?"
JASON: "Again, it's really hard to explain if people who have never had an out-of-body experience, but it really wasn't me. That wasn't me, that person on the street corner ranting and raving and naked is not me, that's not who I am."
Russell goes on to acknowledge that he was "walking around snapping my fingers up and down" and "slapping my hands on the ground as hard as I can. Just slapping them on the ground. Talking to myself. Ranting. Raving. Talking about good versus evil, God and the devil. I mean it was just very out of control." He shows that he dented his wedding ring because he was pounding the pavement, literally, so hard.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Human Rights Watch has released a scathing report on abuses being committed by the Rwandan-backed, ethnic Tutsi group M23, now wreaking havoc in eastern Congo.
HRW does the best work of any humanitarian/rights group in the region and their research is impeccable.
That M23, the successor group to the notorious ethnic Tutsi CNDP, is committing atrocities was predictable and I wrote as much in Consuming the Congo: War and Conflict Minerals in the World's Deadliest Place, back in 2010.
At the time, the CNDP (a French acronym for the National Congress for the Defense of the People), had been incorporated into the hapless Congolese army. It was a foolish gesture by the Congolese to appease the various ethnic militias fighting over the region's minerals.
As I wrote in Consuming the Congo, it was bad idea and doomed to failure. The CNDP would only play along as long as they and their leader, the notorious Bosco Ntaganda, wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, could continue to plunder the region's resources.
Even then, people in the region knew that the CNDP had stockpiled weapons for the day when the arrangement would collapse. It didn't take long.
The trigger came when the Congolese authorities made it known that Ntaganda was about to be arrested and taken to The Hague to face trial. Ntaganda would have none of that, of course, since he and his Rwandan backers were making too much money.
Ntaganda, it must be noted, was deeply involved in the $10 million gold scandal in 2010 that was thwarted by Congolese authorities who refused to let Ntaganda get away with that sale without getting a piece of the action. After the gold was siezed, its whereabout remain unknown.
So now the old CNDP, which has morphed in to M23, is back to killing, plundering and raping. Ntaganda remains free. Rwanda refuses to acknowledge any connection to the group, as always. Instead, Rwanda and President Paul Kagame collected praise and admiration from people such as former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
Clinton should know better and should not be dirtying his hands, since the truth of the situation in eastern Congo is in the HRW report, according to Reuters:
"The M23 rebels are committing a horrific trail of new atrocities in eastern Congo," Anneke van Woudenberg, HRW's senior Africa researcher, said.
One victim said that M23 fighters had burst into her home, beaten her son to death and repeatedly raped her before dousing her legs in petrol and setting her ablaze, the rights group said.
HRW also said that at least 600 men and boys have been forcibly or unlawfully recruited in neighboring Rwanda, with recruitment continuing after allegations of Rwandan complicity were published in an interim UN report in June.
"The United Nations Security Council should sanction M23 leaders, as well as Rwandan officials who are helping them, for serious rights abuses," van Woudenberg said.
Monday, September 10, 2012
I, for one, am looking forward to seeing this film. The president of the shipping company, the ship's captain, and the primary negotiator for the pirates are all in my book, Pirate State: Inside Somalia's Terrorism at Sea.
Toronto Film Fest: Somali Pirates
A taut psychological thriller written and directed by Tobias Lindholm, tells the high pressure story of a Danish freighter captured and held for ransom by Somali pirates. The drama follows the pressure cooker of weeks of high-stakes negotiations that recalls Paul Greengrass’s “United 93” or even the classic “Das Boot.”