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History > 2016 > USA > International (I)

 

 

 

Students in Karachi, Pakistan,

prayed Thursday for the victims of the Taliban attack

at Bacha Khan University in Charsadda.

 

Photograph:

Shahzaib Akber/European Pressphoto Agency

 

Taliban Attack Shows Limits of Pakistan’s Military Crackdown        NYT        JAN. 21, 2016

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/22/
world/asia/taliban-attack-shows-limits-of-pakistans-military-crackdown.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Afghan War Quagmire

 

SEPT. 17, 2016

The New York Times

SundayReview | Editorial

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD

 

Eight years ago, President Obama pledged to wind down the war in Iraq and redouble efforts to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan. “As president, I will make the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban the top priority that it should be,” he said during a campaign speech. “This is a war that we have to win.”

Lasting peace, Mr. Obama said, would depend on not only defeating the Taliban but helping “Afghans grow their economy from the bottom up.” He added, “We cannot lose Afghanistan to a future of narco-terrorism.”

Now, at the twilight of his presidency, these goals are receding further into the distance as America’s longest war deteriorates into a slow, messy slog. Yet despite this grim reality, there has been no substantive debate about Afghanistan policy on the campaign trail this year. Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton has outlined a vision to turn around, or withdraw from, a flailing military campaign.

The war in Afghanistan has cost American taxpayers in excess of $800 billion — including $115 billion for a reconstruction effort, more than the inflation-adjusted amount the United States spent on the Marshall Plan. The Afghan government remains weak, corrupt and roiled by internal rivalries. The casualty rate for Afghan troops is unsustainable. The economy is in shambles. Resurgent Taliban forces are gaining ground in rural areas and are carrying out barbaric attacks in the heart of Kabul, the capital. Despite an international investment of several billion dollars in counternarcotics initiatives, the opium trade remains a pillar of the economy and a key source of revenue for the insurgency.

“It does not appear that the Afghan forces in the near future will be able to defeat the Taliban,” said a senior administration official who spoke about the White House’s appraisal of the campaign on the condition of anonymity. “Nor is it clear that the Taliban will make any significant strategic gains or be able to take and hold on to strategic terrain. It’s a very ugly, very costly stalemate.”

The administration’s current strategy commits the United States to keeping roughly 8,400 troops in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future and spending several billion dollars each year subsidizing the Afghan security forces. The goal has been to coax the Taliban to the negotiating table by beating them on the battlefield, a prospect that now seems remote.

The next American president may be tempted to adopt the Obama policy and hope for the best. That would be a mistake. At the very least, the next administration needs to carry out a top-to-bottom review of the war, one that unflinchingly addresses fundamental questions.

One such question is whether the Afghan Taliban — an insurgency that has never had aspirations to operate outside the region — is an enemy Washington should continue to fight. American forces started battling the Taliban in 2001 because the group had provided safe haven for Al Qaeda, which was based there when it planned the Sept. 11 attacks. While Al Qaeda has largely been defeated, the Taliban has proved to be extraordinarily resilient.

Another question is what it would take to bring the conflict to an end — either by enabling Afghan forces to defeat the Taliban or by bringing them into the political fold — and whether that is something the United States is realistically capable of achieving.

This will not be an easy discussion. A precipitous drawdown from Afghanistan may well have calamitous consequences in the short run, exacerbating the exodus of refugees and expanding the area of ungoverned territory in which extremist groups could once again subject Afghans to despotism and plot attacks on the West.

But American taxpayers and Afghans, who have endured decades of war, need a plan better than the current policy, which offers good intentions, wishful thinking and ever-worsening results.

 

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A version of this editorial appears in print on September 18, 2016, on page SR10 of the New York edition with the headline: The Afghan War Quagmire.

The Afghan War Quagmire,
NYT,
Sept. 17, 2016,
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/18/
opinion/sunday/the-afghan-war-quagmire.html

 

 

 

 

 

A Complicated Alliance With Turkey

 

AUG. 25, 2016

The Opinion Pages

Editorial

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD

 

The Turkish military incursion into Syria that started Wednesday with American air support is about as good an illustration as there is of the exasperating complexity of Washington’s foreign affairs.

The stated purpose of the offensive is to clear Islamic State militants from one of their last remaining strongholds and supply lines on the Syrian-Turkish border. That goal, and getting Turkey more involved in the fight against the Islamic State, is obviously in America’s interest. But it also adds more complications.

A major Turkish priority through much of the Syrian conflict has been to keep Syrian Kurds away from its borders for fear that they will bolster Kurdish insurgents in Turkey. So in addition to pushing the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, back from its borders, Turkey’s drive to clear the militants from the border town of Jarabulus is intended to prevent Syrian Kurds, who are America’s most reliable allies in Syria, from moving into the town.

The competing goals in Syria are only one source of tension that has driven Turkish-American relations to a new low. The growing authoritarianism of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has aroused considerable unease in Washington and other Western capitals, as has his far-reaching crackdown on political foes after the failed coup last month. Washington’s slow response to Turkey’s demand for the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric, who now lives in Pennsylvania and is regarded by Ankara as the mastermind of the plot, has only heightened anti-American feelings in Turkey.

In this welter of conflicting interests, the Obama administration is right to focus on combating ISIS and on trying to keep relations with Turkey from deteriorating further. Turkey is home to the Incirlik Air Base, which is critical to American air operations in Syria. Moreover, Turkey, along with Russia and Iran, has to be part of any solution to the Syrian civil war.

Vice President Joseph Biden Jr.’s visit to Turkey on Wednesday, coinciding with the start of the ground operation, was intended to smooth the troubled relationship. He struck a conciliatory tone by apologizing to Mr. Erdogan for not visiting after the failed coup attempt, saying nothing in public about the government’s crackdown, maintaining that the United States took seriously Turkey’s demand for the extradition of Mr. Gulen and endorsing Turkey’s insistence that the Kurds stay east of the Euphrates River.

There are those who may have preferred that Mr. Biden say what most American officials really think: that Mr. Erdogan’s roundup of coup plotters looks like an attempt to silence any opposition, that Turkey has behaved outrageously in failing to stop conspiracy theories depicting the United States as a co-conspirator in the coup attempt, that Turkey has produced little evidence to warrant Mr. Gulen’s extradition and that Mr. Erdogan’s autocratic behavior is making him an unreliable ally.

The Obama administration is right to make efforts to keep relations with Turkey from worsening. Turkey is an important NATO ally in one of the most volatile corners of the world, and a repository for allied nuclear weapons. Washington has made clear how highly it regards its alliance with Turkey. But that should not give Mr. Erdogan carte blanche to violate human rights or suppress his political foes.

 

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTOpinion), and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

A version of this editorial appears in print on August 26, 2016, on page A18 of the New York edition with the headline:
A Complicated Alliance With Turkey.

A Complicated Alliance With Turkey,
NYT, AUG. 25, 2016,
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/26/
opinion/a-complicated-alliance-with-turkey.html

 

 

 

 

Explosion and Gunfire Erupt

at American University in Kabul

 

AUG. 24, 2016

The New York Times

By MUJIB MASHAL

and ZAHRA NADER



KABUL, Afghanistan — The American University of Afghanistan in Kabul came under attack by bomb and gunfire on Wednesday night, in a siege that lasted for hours as pockets of people trapped on campus tried to escape.

The Afghan Health Ministry said that a security guard was killed in the attack and that at least 26 people had been wounded.

Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said early Thursday that police operations at the university were completed about 10 hours after the attack began, though officers remained on campus.

“Two terrorists who attacked the university are killed; the operation ended almost after 10 hours as there were hundreds of students and all of them were evacuated,” Mr. Sediqqi said.

He said that the police could not yet provide casualty figures. Later on Thursday, Fraidoon Obaidi, chief of the Kabul police Criminal Investigation Department, told Reuters that 12 people had been killed, including seven students, three police officers and two security guards, and another 44 people were wounded.

Afghan security forces massed around the campus, a guarded compound in the western part of the capital, after initial reports of an explosion and gunfire. From within, trapped people began taking to social media to ask for help and report what was going on around them.

 

#AUAF under attack. I along with my friends escaped and several other of of my friends and professors trapped inside.
— Ahmad Mukhtar (@AhMukhtar) Aug. 24, 2016

 

The university opened for enrollment in 2006 to both men and women, and quickly became a prestigious education choice for some of Afghanistan’s elites, offering undergraduate and graduate degrees taught in English.

It was praised by senior American officials as a sign of Afghanistan’s bright future, and as such was an obvious symbol of Western ambitions for the country — and exactly the kind of symbol the Taliban and other militants have come to pursue as targets.

One after another, such places — high-end hotels, restaurants frequented by foreigners, even cultural centers where young Afghans performed arts — have come under attack, limiting the movement of expatriates in Kabul and keeping the local population in constant fear of unpredictable violence.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which was the second directed at the university this month. On Aug. 7, two professors — an American and an Australian, both men — were abducted from a vehicle near the campus. Officials said they were investigating the case, but there was no public word on who was behind the kidnapping or the condition of the two professors. Officials say that most kidnappings in Kabul are conducted by criminal gangs.

As the assault on Wednesday unfolded, several people who were able to escape, along with other witnesses, gave accounts of people being wounded by gunfire or being injured while trying to flee.

One man who managed to escape the compound, a 24-year-old who would give only his first name, Fahim, said that the sound of gunfire sent many students running for emergency exits. Almost immediately, they heard a loud explosion.

Fahim said two of his friends were hospitalized after getting free: One had broken a leg as he jumped from a second-floor window, and the other had been shot in the back.

With electricity cut off by the security forces to restrict the movement of the attackers, dozens of family members anxiously awaited news of their loved ones outside the security cordon.

Qudratullah Waziri said his brother, a student, was still unaccounted for. The last Mr. Waziri heard from him was a phone call in which he said he was surrounded by wounded people.

“I saw the police just rescue 12 female students in the back of their truck,” Mr. Waziri said.

An operator at the Kabul police emergency line said calls had come in from panicking people inside the university who said attackers had infiltrated after an initial explosion.

But at checkpoints outside the campus, security officials insisted that the attackers had not infiltrated the perimeter of the university.

Ahmad Jawad, a police officer at the site of the attack, said a car bomb had exploded in front of a school for the blind that is next to the American University. He said that the attackers had entered that school, and were firing at the university from there.

 

Mohamad Fahim Abed contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on August 25, 2016,
on page A4 of the New York edition with the headline: American University in Afghanistan Is Attacked.

Explosion and Gunfire Erupt at American University in Kabul,
NYT, AUG. 24, 2016,
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/25/world/asia/
american-university-attack-kabul-afghanistan.html

 

 

 

 

 

America’s Retreat

and the Agony of Aleppo

 

AUG. 25, 2016

The New York Times

The Opinion Pages

Op-Ed Columnist

Roger Cohen

 

Sarajevo and Aleppo, two cities once part of the Ottoman Empire, two cities whose diverse populations have included Muslims and Christians and Jews, two cities rich in culture that have been besieged and split in two and ravaged by violence, two cities where children have been victims — 20 years apart.

What a difference two decades make! Sarajevo was headline news through much of its 44-month encirclement. NATO planes patrolled the skies to prevent, at least, aerial bombardment of the population. Blue-helmeted United Nations forces were deployed in a flawed relief effort. President Bill Clinton, after long hesitation, authorized the NATO airstrikes that led to the lifting of the Serbian siege and an imperfect peace in Bosnia. Belated American intervention worked.

Aleppo lacks such urgency. It’s bombarded: What else is new? How often does the word “Aleppo” fall from President Obama’s lips (or indeed the lesson-freighted word “Sarajevo”)? At which dinner parties in London, Paris, Berlin or Washington is it discussed? Which Western journalists are able to be there to chronicle day after day their outrage at a city’s dismemberment? Who recalls that just six years ago Aleppo was being talked about in Europe as the new Marrakesh, a place to buy a vacation home?

Aleppo is alone, alone beneath the bombs of Russian and Syrian jets, alone to face the violent whims of President Vladimir Putin and President Bashar al-Assad.

Oh, yes, I know, when the photograph of a child like Omran Daqneesh is seen, as it was this month, covered in blood after being dug from the rubble of Aleppo, the image may go viral just long enough for people to lament the Syrian debacle. Lament and forget. There’s Donald Trump to think about. Forget the more than 400,000 dead, the more than 4.8 million refugees, and the destruction of a city like Aleppo that is an expression of millennia of civilization.

Daqneesh, whose brother Ali was killed, is this year’s Alan Kurdi, the dead Syrian child washed up on a Turkish beach who prompted another ephemeral spasm of outrage last September.

Today, as then, Aleppo is divided between a beleaguered eastern sector controlled by opposition groups and a larger western sector controlled by Assad’s brutal regime. The “cessation of hostilities” of last February has predictably collapsed. Russia, which moved into Syria last year when it realized that — come what may — Obama would sit this war out, leads the United States in a grotesque diplomatic pas de deux going nowhere.

American power has lost credibility in the past two decades. From Ukraine to Syria, Russia dictates events with impunity. The optimism, perhaps naïve, about a perfectible world that led to the endorsement by all United Nations member states in 2005 of the Responsibility to Protect — a commitment to prevent genocide, war crimes and ethnic cleansing — has died. R2P (its acronym) seems quaint, a wasted effort in a bygone world. ISIS and jihadi terrorism have curtailed Western journalists. Attention spans have shrunk as connectivity has accelerated.

These are some of the changes on the road from Sarajevo to Aleppo. They have produced a more dangerous, pessimistic world.

Obama has said the Libyan intervention was his worst mistake. He has said he is “very proud of this moment” in 2013 when he decided to resist “immediate pressures” and not uphold with military force his own “red line” against the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

No, Syria has been Obama’s worst mistake, a disaster that cannot provoke any trace of pride; and within that overall blunder the worst error was the last-minute “red line” wobble that undermined America’s word, emboldened Putin and empowered Assad.

As Obama said on Aug. 31, 2013, in announcing his decision to delay military action and seek authorization for the use of force from Congress: “What is the point of the international system” if the chemical weapons ban can be flouted? He also said, “What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?”

The answer is now clear: The dictator Assad will slaughter many more children. The international system undergirding global peace will become weaker.

Obama did not in fact say in the Rose Garden three years ago that he had rejected force; he urged Congress to get behind it. With time these events have blurred to make him “very proud of this moment.”

No outcome in Syria could be worse than the current one. Assad’s bomb-spewing jets and his airfields should have been taken out early in the war, before ISIS. The red line should have stood. The consequences for the European allies of Obama’s let-Syria-fester policy have been overwhelming.

Watch the shattering video by Britain’s Channel 4 about the florist of Aleppo, the brave man who kept the city’s last flower store open, and weep. Understand that desperate people still beautify streets with flowers to assert life over death. The flower-seller is dead, his son’s terrible anguish that of a whole city.

Aleppo, symbol of failure, symbol of indifference, symbol of American retreat, should not have been left to bleed.

 

You can follow me on Twitter or join me on Facebook.

Roger Cohen will be moderating a panel on migration at the Athens Democracy Forum in September.

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and Twitter, and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on August 26, 2016,
in The International New York Times

America’s Retreat and the Agony of Aleppo,
NYT, AUG. 25, 2016,
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/26/
opinion/from-sarajevo-to-aleppo.html

 

 

 

 

 

Support for Saudi Arabia

Gives U.S. Direct Role

in Yemen Conflict

 

AUG. 24, 2016

The New York Times

By MARK MAZZETTI

and SHUAIB ALMOSAWA

 

WASHINGTON — It was a frenetic Monday afternoon at Abs Hospital in northern Yemen, with doctors and nurses busily shuttling among the patients and a maternity ward filled with 25 women expecting to give birth.

The bomb from the Saudi jet dropped into the middle of the hospital compound, a facility run by Doctors Without Borders, landing between the emergency room and a triage area for new patients. Nineteen people were killed, dozens were injured, and a humanitarian group that for decades has braved war zones across the globe decided it had had enough.

Doctors Without Borders announced in the days after the Aug. 15 strike that it was pulling out of six medical facilities in northern Yemen, the latest turn in a war that has further devastated one of the Arab world’s poorest countries and has bogged down a Saudi military ill-prepared for the conflict.

For the Obama administration, it was another public reminder of the spiraling violence of a war in which it has played a direct role. American officials have publicly condemned the hospital bombing — and the bombing of a school two days earlier — but the Pentagon has given steady support to the coalition led by Saudi Arabia, with targeting intelligence and fuel for the Saudi planes involved in the air campaign.

Anger over the Saudi-led campaign and the United States role in the war is growing in Congress. On Wednesday, it prompted a group of lawmakers to circulate a letter that asks President Obama to withdraw his request for Congressional approval for a $1.15 billion sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, until Congress can have a broader debate about American military support for the Saudis.

The past three weeks have seen an escalation in the conflict in Yemen — and in reports of civilian casualties — after peace talks among the warring sides broke down and Saudi Arabia resumed a blistering air assault in areas surrounding Yemen’s capital, Sana. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday with the aim of brokering a new peace deal, although there is little optimism about a lasting cease-fire in the near future.

It is now 17 months into a military campaign that began after Shiite rebels, known as the Houthis, overran the Yemeni capital, forced the government into exile and began positioning missile batteries close to Saudi Arabia’s southern border. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies have portrayed the Houthis as puppets of Iran, a charge that American officials view with deep skepticism, even though they say Tehran has provided the militia with some arms and money.

The Abs Hospital was the fourth health facility supported by Doctors Without Border to be hit during the war. Teresa Sancristóval, the group’s emergency program coordinator, said that Doctors Without Borders had given the GPS coordinates of its facilities to the Saudi military, and that its representatives had traveled to the Saudi kingdom twice to protest. But the botched airstrikes continue.

“Words are not enough when 19 people are killed,” Ms. Sancristóval said, adding that the group can no longer accept assurances from the government in Riyadh that their airstrikes will become more precise.

“If you don’t know what you’re hitting, then don’t try to hit it,” she said.

Ms. Sancristóval said Doctors Without Borders had pulled approximately 550 personnel from its facilities in northern Yemen, although the group would continue to provide medical supplies and funding to the hospitals.

When the group announced its withdrawal last week, the Saudi coalition issued a statement saying it was in “urgent discussions” to broker the medical organization’s return to Yemen. Ms. Sancristóval said she was unaware of any substantive discussions.

This month, a Saudi-led investigation into eight separate episodes in Yemen that had killed hundreds of civilians — including previous strikes that hit Doctors Without Borders facilities — largely absolved the coalition of the deaths.

The investigation concluded that faulty intelligence was to blame in only one of the eight episodes, and said that aid groups, such as Doctors Without Borders, should not station medical facilities near Houthi encampments.

But a spokesman for the investigation, Mansour bin Ahmed Mansour, said in an interview that investigators did not travel to Yemen and had no personnel on the ground there to collect evidence. “The circumstances do not allow the team to go on the ground,” he said.

Speaking of an episode late last year, when a coalition airstrike bombed a Doctors Without Borders clinic near the Yemeni city of Taiz, Mr. Mansour said that the coalition had hit a “legitimate military target,” and that the aid group “should keep these tents away from the locations where there are militias.”

According to United States Central Command, American military tankers have flown nearly 1,200 sorties since the war began and refueled more than 5,600 coalition aircraft — support that is drawing increasing protest from Congress.

Senator Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut, a Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the Obama administration’s support for the campaign in Yemen had caused anger to be directed at the United States from inside the war-racked country.

“We try to maintain some distance from this, but that doesn’t sell inside Yemen,” he said. “I’m petrified about the long-term prospects of a Yemeni population that is radicalized against the United States.”

The Saudi-led bombing campaign resumed this month after a monthslong pause for the unsuccessful attempt to draft a peace agreement. On Aug. 7, more than a dozen civilians were killed in an airstrike that hit a small marketplace near the village of Al Madeed, approximately 35 miles northeast of Sana.

Sada al-Othari, a witness who owns a drugstore in the village, said that two of his customers were killed in the bombing and that there was no military target in the area.

He gave a graphic account of victims burned beyond recognition and panicked locals who were reluctant to provide help, fearing a second airstrike would hit the rescuers — a tactic that the coalition has used during the campaign.

On Aug. 13 an airstrike in Hayden District hit a religious school, killing 10 students and wounding dozens. A representative of Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund, in Yemen decried the bombing. Wounded children were brought to another medical facility run by Doctors Without Borders.

The day after that attack, a Saudi military spokesman denied that the airstrike had hit a school, saying the target was a Houthi training camp. The spokesman, Gen. Ahmed Asiri, said in a statement to Agence France-Presse that the dead children were just evidence that the Houthis were recruiting children as guards and fighters.

“We would have hoped,” General Asiri said, that Doctors Without Borders “would take measures to stop the recruitment of children to fight in wars instead of crying over them in the media.”

 

Follow Mark Mazzetti on Twitter @MarkMazzettiNYT.

Mark Mazzetti reported from Washington, and Shuaib Almosawa from Sana, Yemen.

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and sign up for the First Draft politics newsletter.

A version of this article appears in print on August 25, 2016,
on page A7 of the New York edition with the headline: Deadly Hospital Bombing Highlights an Escalating Conflict in Yemen.

Support for Saudi Arabia Gives U.S. Direct Role in Yemen Conflict,
NYT, AUG. 24, 2016,
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/25/world/middleeast/yemen-saudi-arabia-
hospital-bombing.html

 

 

 

 

 

America Is Complicit

in the Carnage in Yemen

 

AUG. 17, 2016

The New York Times

The Opinion Pages | Editorial

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD

 

A hospital associated with Doctors Without Borders. A school. A potato chip factory. Under international law, those facilities in Yemen are not legitimate military targets. Yet all were bombed in recent days by warplanes belonging to a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, killing more than 40 civilians.

The United States is complicit in this carnage. It has enabled the coalition in many ways, including selling arms to the Saudis to mollify them after the nuclear deal with Iran. Congress should put the arms sales on hold and President Obama should quietly inform Riyadh that the United States will withdraw crucial assistance if the Saudis do not stop targeting civilians and agree to negotiate peace.

The airstrikes are further evidence that the Saudis have escalated their bombing campaign against Houthi militias, which control the capital, Sana, since peace talks were suspended on Aug. 6, ending a cease-fire that was declared more than four months ago. They also suggest one of two unpleasant possibilities. One is that the Saudis and their coalition of mostly Sunni Arab partners have yet to learn how to identify permissible military targets. The other is that they simply do not care about killing innocent civilians. The bombing of the hospital, which alone killed 15 people, was the fourth attack on a facility supported by Doctors Without Borders in the past year even though all parties to the conflict were told exactly where the hospitals were located.

In all, the war has killed more than 6,500 people, displaced more than 2.5 million others and pushed one of the world’s poorest countries from deprivation to devastation. A recent United Nations report blamed the coalition for 60 percent of the deaths and injuries to children last year. Human rights groups and the United Nations have suggested that war crimes may have been committed.

Saudi Arabia, which began the air war in March 2015, bears the heaviest responsibility for inflaming the conflict with the Houthis, an indigenous Shiite group with loose connections to Iran. The Saudis intervened in Yemen with the aim of defeating the Houthis and reinstalling President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, whom the rebels ousted from power. They consider Iran their main enemy and feared Tehran was gaining too much influence in the region.

Although many experts believe the threat to be overstated, Mr. Obama agreed to support the Yemen intervention — without formal authorization from Congress — and sell the Saudis even more weapons in part to appease Riyadh’s anger over the Iran nuclear deal. All told, since taking office, Mr. Obama has sold the Saudis $110 billion in arms, including Apache helicopters and missiles.

Mr. Obama has also supplied the coalition such indispensable assistance as intelligence, in-flight refueling of aircraft and help in identifying appropriate targets. Experts say the coalition would be grounded if Washington withheld its support. Instead, the State Department last week approved the potential sale of $1.15 billion more in tanks and other equipment to Saudi Arabia to replace items destroyed in the war. Congress has the power to block this sale; Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, says he is discussing that possibility with other lawmakers. But the chances are slim, in part because of the politics.

Given the civilian casualties, further American support for this war is indefensible. As Mr. Murphy told CNN on Tuesday: “There’s an American imprint on every civilian life lost in Yemen.”

 

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A version of this editorial appears in print on August 17, 2016, on page A18 of the New York edition with the headline: American Complicity in Yemen’s War.

America Is Complicit in the Carnage in Yemen,
NYT, AUG. 17, 2016,
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/17/
opinion/stop-saudi-arms-sales-until-carnage-in-yemen-ends.html

 

 

 

 

 

Military Success in Syria

Gives Putin Upper Hand

in U.S. Proxy War

 

AUG. 6, 2016

The New York Times

By MARK MAZZETTI,

ANNE BARNARD

and ERIC SCHMITT

 

WASHINGTON — The Syrian military was foundering last year, with thousands of rebel fighters pushing into areas of the country long considered to be government strongholds. The rebel offensive was aided by powerful tank-destroying missiles supplied by the Central Intelligence Agency and Saudi Arabia.

Intelligence assessments circulated in Washington that the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, was losing his grip on power.

But then the Russians arrived, bludgeoning C.I.A.-backed rebel forces with an air campaign that has sent them into retreat. And now rebel commanders, clinging to besieged neighborhoods in the divided city of Aleppo, say their shipments of C.I.A.-provided antitank missiles are drying up.

For the first time since Afghanistan in the 1980s, the Russian military for the past year has been in direct combat with rebel forces trained and supplied by the C.I.A. The American-supplied Afghan fighters prevailed during that Cold War conflict. But this time the outcome — thus far — has been different.

“Russia has won the proxy war, at least for now,” said Michael Kofman, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

Russia’s battlefield successes in Syria have given Moscow, isolated by the West after its annexation of Crimea and other incursions into Ukraine, new leverage in decisions about the future of the Middle East.

The Obama administration is now talking with President Vladimir V. Putin’s government about a plan to share intelligence and coordinate airstrikes against the Islamic State and other militant groups in Syria, and Mr. Putin has thus far met his goals in Syria without becoming caught in a quagmire that some — including President Obama — had predicted he would.

But even Mr. Obama has expressed wariness about an enduring deal with Moscow. “I’m not confident that we can trust the Russians or Vladimir Putin,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference on Thursday. “Whenever you are trying to broker any kind of deal with an individual like that or a country like that, you have got to go in there with some skepticism.”

At the same time, some military experts point out that Mr. Putin has saddled Russia with the burden of propping up a Syrian military that has had difficulty vanquishing the rebels on its own.

The Russian campaign began in September, after a monthslong offensive by C.I.A.-backed rebel groups won new territory in Idlib, Hama and Latakia Provinces in northern Syria. One problem for Washington: Those groups sometimes fought alongside soldiers of the Nusra Front, which until recently was officially affiliated with Al Qaeda.

The offensive took Syrian troops by surprise, prompting concerns in Moscow and Damascus that Mr. Assad’s government, long supported by the Russians, might be in trouble.

Some of the rebel groups boasted at the time that powerful TOW antitank missiles provided by American and Saudi intelligence operatives were a key to their success. For several years, the C.I.A. has joined with the spy services of several Arab nations to arm and train the rebels at bases in Jordan and Qatar, with the Saudis bankrolling much of the operation.

A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment about any American assistance to Syrian rebels.

But Lt. Col. Fares al-Bayyoush, a former aviation engineer who heads the rebel group Fursan al-Haq, said during an interview in May 2015 that his group would receive new shipments of the antitank weapons as soon as the missiles were used.

“We ask for ammunition and missiles, and we get more than we ask for,” he said.

Yet the advance also created problems for the fractious assortment of rebel groups, as it allowed the Nusra Front to gain control over more areas of northern Syria. The Obama administration has officially forbidden any Nusra fighters to receive weapons or training. But the group has at times shown greater prowess against the Syrian government forces than the C.I.A.’s proxies.

Moreover, they have shown that they can and will destroy or sideline C.I.A.-backed rebels who do not agree to battlefield alliances. Moscow cited the battlefield successes of the Nusra Front to justify its military incursion into Syria as a campaign to fight terrorism — even if its primary goal was to shore up Mr. Assad’s military against all insurgent groups, including the C.I.A.-backed rebels.

The Russians began a rapid military buildup in September, and launched an air campaign that targeted the Syrian rebel groups that posed the most direct threat to Mr. Assad’s government, including some of the C.I.A.-trained groups. By mid-October, Russia had escalated its airstrikes to nearly 90 on some days.

About 600 Russian marines landed in Syria with the mission of protecting the main air base in Latakia; that ground force has grown to about 4,000 throughout Syria, including several hundred special forces members.

It took some time for the Russian intervention to have a significant impact on the Syrian battlefield, prompting Mr. Obama to predict that Moscow might become bogged down in its own Middle East conflict.

“An attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire, and it won’t work,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference in October. “And they will be there for a while if they don’t take a different course.”

The C.I.A. moved to counter the Russian intervention, funneling several hundred additional TOW missiles to its proxies. One rebel commander, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of threats from more radical groups within the rebel coalition, said in October that his group could at that time get as many missiles as it wanted.

“It’s like a carte blanche,” he said. “Just fill in the numbers.”

But Russian firepower eventually overwhelmed the rebel groups in the north. By early this year, attacks by Russian long-range bombers, fighter jets, attack helicopters and cruise missiles allowed the Syrian Army to reverse many of the rebel gains — and seize areas near the Turkish border that many thought the government could never reclaim.

The flow of C.I.A. arms continued, but the weapons proved too little in the face of the Russian offensive.

Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer who now studies Syria at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the Russians had built a capable intelligence network in Syria, giving them a better understanding of the terrain and location of rebel forces. That has allowed Russian troops to call in precision airstrikes, making them more effective against the rebels.

The mismatch has been most acute in the last several months, with Syrian government forces, with Russian help, laying siege to the rebel-held parts of Aleppo. Losing their foothold in Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city, would be a big blow to the rebels.

Syrian and Russian jets have carried out an indiscriminate pounding of Aleppo, including attacks on six hospitals in and around the city over the past week, according to a statement by Physicians for Human Rights.

“Since June, we’ve seen increasing reports of attacks on civilians in Aleppo and strikes on the region’s remaining medical infrastructure,” said Widney Brown, the group’s director of programs. “Each of these assaults constitutes a war crime.”

Rebel groups in recent days have made surprising gains in a new offensive to try to break through Syrian military lines encircling Aleppo, but if it fails, rebels inside the city will face a choice between enduring the siege or surrendering.

In recent interviews, rebel commanders said the flow of foreign weapons needed to break the siege had slowed.

“We are using most of our weapons in the battle for Aleppo,” said Mustafa al-Hussein, a member of Suqour al-Jabal, one of the C.I.A.-backed groups. He said the flow of weapons to the group had diminished in the past three to four months.

“Now we fire them only when it is necessary and urgent,” he said.

Another commander, Maj. Mousa al-Khalad of Division 13, a C.I.A.-backed rebel group operating in Idlib and Aleppo, said his group had received no missiles for two weeks.

“We filed a request to get TOW missiles for the Aleppo front,” he said, but the reply was that there were none in the warehouses.

Rebel leaders and military experts say that perhaps the most pressing danger is that supply routes from Turkey, which are essential to the C.I.A.-backed rebels, could be severed.

“The U.S. is doing just enough to placate its allies and partners and says it is doing something, but does not seek to do what it takes to change conditions on the battlefield,” said Emile Hokayem, a Middle East analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and an Assad critic.

Mr. Putin has achieved many of his larger goals — to prop up Mr. Assad’s government, retain access to the longtime Russian naval base on the Mediterranean Sea and use Syria as a proving ground for the most advanced Russian military technology.

Some military experts remain surprised that Mr. Putin took the risky step of fighting American-trained and equipped forces head on, but they also assess that his Syria gamble appears to be paying off.

It is the type of Cold War-era battle that Mr. Obama, in October, insisted he did not want to enter.

“We’re not going to make Syria into a proxy war between the United States and Russia,” he said. “This is not some superpower chessboard contest.”

 

Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt reported from Washington,
and Anne Barnard from Beirut, Lebanon. Karam Shoumali contributed reporting from Istanbul, Maher Samaan from Beirut, and Steven Lee Myers from Washington.

A version of this article appears in print on August 7, 2016,
on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline:
Military Success in Syria Is Giving Putin Leverage.

Military Success in Syria Gives Putin Upper Hand in U.S. Proxy War,
NYT, AUG. 6, 2016,
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/07/world/middleeast/
military-syria-putin-us-proxy-war.html

 

 

 

 

 

The World Reaps What the Saudis Sow

 

MAY 27, 2016

The New York Times

The Opinion Pages | Editorial

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD

 

Saudi Arabia has frustrated American policy makers for years. Ostensibly a critical ally, sheltered from its enemies by American arms and aid, the kingdom has spent untold millions promoting Wahhabism, the radical form of Sunni Islam that inspired the 9/11 hijackers and that now inflames the Islamic State.

The latest chapter in this long, sorrowful history involves tiny Kosovo. With a population of only 1.8 million people, Kosovo has sent more of its young people per capita than any other country to fight and die in Iraq and Syria. Since 2012, some 314 Kosovars have joined the Islamic State, including two suicide bombers, 44 women and 28 children. Even Belgium, widely seen as a hotbed of extremism after the attacks on Paris and Brussels, lags behind it in the recruitment rankings.

As detailed by Carlotta Gall in a recent article in The Times, Kosovo is in this position largely because Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states have spent years developing and funding a network of imams, mosques and secretive associations there. And while there is no evidence that any group gave money directly and explicitly to persuade Kosovars to go to Syria, senior officials in Kosovo told Ms. Gall that extremist clerics and groups have spent heavily to promote radical Islamic thinking among young and vulnerable people. “The issue is they supported thinkers who promote violence and jihad in the name of protecting Islam,” Fatos Makolli, head of Kosovo’s counterterrorism police, told her.

The United States and NATO invested heavily in helping Kosovo gain independence from Serbia in 2008 and establish democracy. That Saudi Arabia should be using Kosovo as a breeding ground for extremists, or allowing it to be used as a breeding ground by any Saudi entity or citizen, is a cruel reminder of the contradictory and even duplicitous behavior of America’s partners in the Persian Gulf and helps to explain why its relationships with those countries have become increasingly troubled.

Kosovo, rescued from Serbian oppression after months of NATO bombing in 1999, has been known as a tolerant society. For centuries, the Muslim majority has followed the liberal Hanafi version of Islam, which is accepting of others. Since the war, that tradition has been threatened by Saudi-trained imams, their costs paid by Saudi-sponsored charities, preaching the primacy of Shariah law and fostering violent jihad and takfirism, which authorizes the killing of Muslims viewed as heretics.

Most Kosovars have resisted such proselytizing, and officials in Kosovo say that support for the United States and the West remains strong. Yet experts point to a number of reasons the country has been fertile ground for recruitment to radical ideology: a large population of young people living in rural poverty with little hope of jobs; corruption and an attendant lack of faith in government; and, according to a 2015 report by the Kosovar Center for Security Studies, an education system that does not encourage critical thinking.

It remains unclear why Kosovo’s government, as well as the United States and the United Nations officials who administered postwar Kosovo, did not act sooner. The Americans may have erred in assuming that Kosovo’s moderate religious community would prevent extremism from flourishing.

The 9/11 attacks quickly clarified the dangers. Several Saudi organizations in Kosovo were closed, and the Saudi government, which appears to have reduced its aid to Kosovo, now insists that it has imposed strict controls on charities, mosques and clerical teachings. Even so, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have increased funding for Islamic hard-liners in Kosovo.

The Sunni Arab states still do not seem to understand the extent to which extreme versions of Islam imperil them as well. Although the Saudi royal family relies on the Wahhabi clerics for their political legitimacy, the Islamic State accuses the monarchy of corrupting the faith to preserve its power. Since 2014, there have been 20 terrorist attacks in the kingdom, many staged by ISIS.

The Kosovo government, working with the United States, has acted to combat extremism by adopting new antiterror laws, cracking down on the money laundering that underwrites radical groups and stepping up police investigations. The flow of Kosovo’s citizens heading to fight with the Islamic State apparently has fallen to zero in the last seven months, while the number of Kosovars on the battlefield is down to 140.

Yet at least two radical imams continue to preach in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, and draw crowds of young men. Much work is still to be done to protect the independence and spirit of tolerance that Kosovo worked so hard to achieve.

 

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A version of this editorial appears in print on May 28, 2016, on page A16 of the New York edition with the headline: The World Reaps What the Saudis Sow.

The World Reaps What the Saudis Sow,
NYT, May 27, 2016,
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/28/
opinion/the-world-reaps-what-the-saudis-sow.html

 

 

 

 

 

What Happens After the Drone Strike?

 

MAY 25, 2016

The Opinion Pages

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD

 

The United States has for years held off targeting senior Taliban leaders while they were inside Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province, where Pakistan’s powerful army has long protected them. But President Obama crossed that line by authorizing the drone strike that killed the Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour on Saturday. Calling the killing “an important milestone,” Mr. Obama said he had acted because Mullah Mansour was preparing attacks on American targets in Afghanistan and had resisted peace talks.

The attack was a sign of American exasperation with Pakistan’s duplicitous game of working with Washington to combat terrorism while sheltering the Taliban and its even more hard-line partners in the Haqqani network. The Pakistanis have relied on the Taliban and the Haqqanis to protect their interests in Afghanistan and prevent India from increasing its influence there.

After Mullah Mansour replaced Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban leader who died in 2013, the Americans and Afghans expected that Pakistan’s security services would persuade him to help negotiate a political agreement with Afghanistan, which remains the only viable solution to the war. Mullah Mansour instead rejected peace talks and stepped up attacks on Afghan and American targets, enlarging the Taliban’s territorial control and further destabilizing Kabul’s dysfunctional government.

The fact that Mr. Obama has now ordered an attack in Baluchistan, rather than the border region where Pakistan has tolerated previous American operations, raises a big question: Does he intend to expand the American mission in Afghanistan, now focused on training and advising Afghan forces and ensuring that Al Qaeda cannot rebuild?

There are 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan, a number that is scheduled to drop to 5,500 by the end of the year. Military commanders appear likely to recommend against such a reduction. In Vietnam on Monday, Mr. Obama insisted that “we are not re-entering the day-to-day combat operations” that he declared an end to in 2014. But he is under pressure in Congress and elsewhere to significantly step up the fight. That would be a questionable choice for which he has not yet made a case.

Every weekday, get thought-provoking commentary from Op-Ed columnists, The Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the world.

Mullah Mansour’s taxi was obliterated from the sky as he returned to Pakistan from Iran. News reports said he went there for medical treatment, but one expert told The Times that Iran has been quietly helping the Taliban for several years, as a hedge in case the militants regain power in Kabul.

Pakistan complained Monday that the strike had violated its sovereignty. But much like the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011 in a Pakistani garrison town, the attack might not have been necessary had Pakistan cooperated in the first place and worked with the Americans to defeat the Taliban.

The killing is certain to worsen relations between Pakistan and America, which are already frayed. Other effects are less predictable. One hopeful possibility is that Taliban leaders will feel more threatened, making Mullah Mansour’s successor amenable to peacemaking. Conversely, the Taliban, which now suffers from internal divisions, could coalesce under a more ruthless leader. A third possibility is that it could lose fighters to the Islamic State. In any case, studies suggest that killing terrorist leaders usually does not mean an end to the violence.

The question to Mr. Obama is whether this killing is merely an end in itself or part of a strategy to drive Pakistan, America’s supposed ally, and Taliban leaders to the peace table.

 

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A version of this editorial appears in print on May 25, 2016,
on page A20 of the New York edition with the headline:
What Happens After the Drone Strike?.

What Happens After the Drone Strike?,
NYT, May 25, 2016,
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/25/
opinion/what-happens-after-the-drone-strike.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama-Netanyahu Rift

Impedes U.S. Offer

of Record Aid Deal for Israel

 

APRIL 28, 2016

The New York Times

By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS

 

WASHINGTON — President Obama has proposed granting Israel the largest package of military aid ever provided by the United States to another nation, but he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remain deeply at odds over a figure for the assistance despite months of negotiations.

American officials have balked as their Israeli counterparts insisted on more generous terms for a new 10-year military aid package that could top $40 billion. The divide, which could have broad national security implications for both the United States and Israel, is exacerbated by the pent-up animosity between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu, which has been stoked by their radically divergent views of the nuclear deal with Iran.

“There’s a unique place of pique for the Israelis in certain places in the administration, and I think that hovers around this negotiation,” said Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “It’s one of the reasons it’s taken so long to reach a decision.”

Powerful political forces are also at work. While Mr. Obama would like to burnish his legacy with an unprecedented military aid pact with Israel, some observers in the United States and Israel believe that Mr. Netanyahu is calculating that he can reach a more advantageous deal with a future president.

“At the end of the day, it’s a numbers question and a political bet about whether the Israelis can get something better from the next administration, which I think would not be a wise gamble,” said Ilan Goldenberg, the director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. “I do think the longer this drags on, the less likely they are to get a deal.”

Israeli officials strongly deny that they are holding out for a sweeter agreement under a new president. One Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly on the confidential talks, said the Israeli government hoped a deal could be reached soon with the Obama administration.

At the height of the split over the Iran agreement last year, Mr. Netanyahu refused to negotiate with Mr. Obama over the terms of a package to replace the roughly $3-billion-a-year military aid deal that expires in 2018. Now, both sides say they want a deal, even as the talks approach a fifth month.

“What the United States has committed to do is to ramp up the assistance that we provide to Israel in a way that would allow Israel to be the recipient of more national security aid than any other country has ever received from the United States,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said Wednesday.

“That is an indication of the depth of this country and this administration’s commitment to Israel’s security,” he added. “Working out the details, though, is complicated.”

Mr. Earnest said he could not put a time frame on a resolution.

It has long been United States policy to ensure that Israel preserves a “qualitative military edge” over neighboring countries, on the theory that because it is much smaller than its potential adversaries, it needs better technology and training to counter threats. Israel has been the largest cumulative recipient of American foreign aid since World War II.

Wary of an impasse in the talks, 81 Republicans and Democrats in the Senate signed a letter to Mr. Obama this week urging him to conclude “a robust new M.O.U.,” or memorandum of understanding, “that increases aid while retaining the current terms of our existing aid program.”

They cited “the likelihood that Iran will resume its quest for nuclear weapons.”

Aid to Israel “needs to be increased given the security challenges in the region,” said Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, who was a principal force behind the letter, along with Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina.

“It’s an important legacy item to leave the U.S.-Israel security relationship on a strong and robust footing,” Mr. Coons said in an interview. “It would provide stability, security and predictability for the Israeli people and for America’s allies in the region to conclude this sooner rather than later.”

Technical discussions about the agreement are being conducted in strict secrecy by military officials of both governments, and neither side would detail specific funding levels. But the disputes over money are grounded in more profound rifts over policy, politics and national security strategy.

While the president views the Iran agreement as having bolstered Israel’s security — along with that of the United States and the rest of the world — by restraining Tehran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon, the Israelis believe that the lifting of sanctions on Iran has only emboldened a government that directly threatens them.

“The administration doesn’t want to lose the Iran battle after they’ve already won it by rewarding Israel with an over-the-top increase in aid,” said Aaron David Miller, vice president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

At the same time, there are powerful incentives for both sides to seek a swift agreement. For Mr. Obama, the deal would cement his claim to have done more than any other president to support Israel’s security, while Mr. Netanyahu would come away with assurance that the countries’ relationship has survived an extraordinarily tumultuous and partisan period.

“The president and the White House would like to end his term putting the capstone on his persona as the most supportive of Israel’s security,” said Mr. Satloff, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The Israelis are very eager to complete this deal precisely because he is a progressive president, and having a progressive president endorse this is important for the bipartisan nature of the relationship.”

Some observers also believe that signing a generous military aid package would insulate Mr. Obama against accusations of being too tough on Israel should he decide later this year to pressure it to accept a peace deal with the Palestinians that embraces a two-state solution. The White House has debated whether Mr. Obama should do so, in an effort to preserve for a successor the possibility of a two-state solution.

If the administration takes that approach, Mr. Miller said, “they need to have laid the predicate that they’ve got Israel’s back on the security piece.”

 

A version of this article appears in print on April 29, 2016,
on page A9 of the New York edition with the headline:
Obama-Netanyahu Rift Impedes U.S. Offer of Record Aid Deal for Israel.

Obama-Netanyahu Rift Impedes U.S. Offer of Record Aid Deal for Israel,
NYT, April 28, 2016,
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/29/world/middleeast/
obama-netanyahu-rift-impedes-us-offer-of-record-aid-deal-for-israel.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama’s Last Chance

to End the ‘Forever War’

 

APRIL 27, 2016

The New York Times

The Opinion Pages

Op-Ed Contributor

By JENNIFER DASKAL

 

WASHINGTON — THE United States is fighting an unauthorized war. Over the past 19 months, American forces have launched more than 8,800 strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and hit the group’s affiliate in Libya. The United States continues aerial assaults against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, is going after militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and killed more than 150 suspected Shabab fighters in Somalia just last month.

This war isn’t limited to drone strikes or aerial bombings. It includes Special Operations forces in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan — and possibly elsewhere. This past weekend, President Obama announced that he would send an additional 250 such troops to Syria.

The primary legal authority for these strikes and deployments comes from the 60-word Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed almost a decade and a half ago. In the days after Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush asked for an open-ended authorization to fight all future acts of terrorism. Wisely, Congress rejected that request, though it did give the president authority to use force against those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, Al Qaeda, and those that harbored them, the Taliban.

Today, the Taliban no longer rules Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden has been killed and the other key participants in the Sept. 11 attacks are either locked up or dead. But the old authorization lives on.

The Obama administration has reinterpreted the 2001 authorization to fight not just those entities referred to in the law, but their “associated forces” and successor organizations as well. Put bluntly, the United States is relying on an authorization to fight those responsible for Sept. 11 to wage war against groups that had nothing to do with those attacks and, in some cases, didn’t even exist at the time. This expansive legal interpretation empowers future presidents in dangerous ways.

Mr. Obama, to his credit, recognizes the problem. In May 2013, he said he would “refine, and ultimately repeal” the 2001 mandate. Last February, he proposed a new authorization specifically aimed at the Islamic State. But his proposal was rightly critiqued by just about everyone. Among other problems, it left the 2001 authorization in place, meaning that the proposed authorization would merely add to, rather than replace, the existing authority. Members of Congress responded with a range of alternatives, but none made it into law.

With nine months left in office, the administration should now revive these discussions. Mr. Obama has long warned of the hazards of unbounded war, but the approach his administration is taking sets the precedent for just that. While the groups that the United States is attacking must have some nexus to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the limits are slippery. The Islamic State, a successor to Al Qaeda, is deemed covered by the 2001 authorization. What about the Islamic State’s successors? Their successors?

Such an expansive reading of the 2001 authorization has now been normalized, in large part endorsed by Congress and, to some extent, the courts.

Future administrations could use this authority as they saw fit. They might act in a circumscribed manner, precisely and carefully picking targets. Or they might seek to “carpet bomb” the enemy, as the Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz has said he would do. As it now stands, the next president could do so against an array of yet-unspecified groups.

This is worrisome. There is a good reason the founders gave Congress the authority to declare war and the president the authority to wage it. The decision to go to war — even when carried out remotely from the air with minimal risk to Americans — is simply too important to entrust to a single branch of government.

To be fair, Mr. Obama is not the only one to blame. Congress has abdicated its role, choosing to defer to the executive branch rather than take on a potentially controversial issue. And it would be naïve to think that a Congress that won’t even consider the president’s Supreme Court nominee is going to give him a “victory” by approving a war authorization.

But that doesn’t mean the president shouldn’t try. Even if he doesn’t succeed, he can lay the intellectual and political groundwork for a new authorization, making it that much easier for the next administration to push forward. He should propose an authorization to use force against the groups the United States is actually fighting and insist on a sunset provision so that Congress is forced to remain engaged.

A new war authorization isn’t likely to change the facts on the ground. Anything Mr. Obama proposes is going to allow him to use the kind of force he has already deemed necessary. But it still matters for reasons of good governance, protecting the balance of power between Congress and the executive branch, and ensuring that when the nation takes the extraordinary step of going to war it does so on behalf of and with the consent of the people. This is a legacy issue that Mr. Obama should now address.

 

Jennifer Daskal, an assistant professor at American University Washington College of Law, was counsel to the assistant attorney general for national security in the Justice Department from 2009 to 2011.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on April 27, 2016, on page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: Obama’s Last Chance to End the ‘Forever War’.

Obama’s Last Chance to End the ‘Forever War’,
NYT, April 27, 2016,
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/27/
opinion/obamas-last-chance-to-end-the-forever-war.html

 

 

 

 

 

A Risky American Expansion in Syria

 

APRIL 25, 2016

The New York Times

The Opinion Pages

Editorial

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD

 

On the face of it, President Obama’s decision to send 250 more members of the military to Syria to fight the Islamic State may seem like a small move. The number is a far cry from the 180,000 American troops who were fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan when he took office in 2009.

But there is good reason to be concerned about this expanding mission, which increases the United States’ involvement in Syria well beyond the 50 Special Operations personnel there now. In announcing his decision on Monday in Germany, Mr. Obama said he wanted to capitalize on the recent success the Americans and Syrians have had in driving the Islamic State out of key areas. The American troops will be engaged in training and assisting local forces and are “not going to be leading the fight on the ground,” he insisted.

While American forces will not be leading the ground war in Syria, they will be involved in military operations and working without proper authorization from Congress. Unlike the American troops in Iraq, which are fighting the Islamic State at the request of the Iraqi government, the troops in Syria will be operating in another sovereign nation with no clear legal right.

Mr. Obama says these new troops will help train local forces. Syrian Kurdish fighters have proved to be quite capable at reclaiming territory from both the Syrian government and the Islamic State, but the United States is still struggling to find a sufficient number of Arab opposition fighters who will be needed to recapture Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria.

It has long been obvious that the best way to defeat the Islamic State lies in ending the Syrian civil war between President Bashar al-Assad and opposition forces so that all sides can focus on the terrorists, which Mr. Obama told the Europeans is “the most urgent threat to our nations.” Unfortunately, a promising monthlong cease-fire between the Assad regime and opposition forces has begun to crumble, and with it, faint hopes of resuming negotiations on a political solution.

Russia, which supports the Assad regime, is America’s supposed partner in enforcing the cease-fire and pursuing a political solution. Yet it has moved heavy artillery into position outside of the key city of Aleppo, raising new doubts about Moscow’s intentions and its commitment to a durable peace.

Mr. Obama’s announcement of an expanded role for American forces came during a speech in Germany that dealt broadly with the need for European unity and contained an appeal for the Europeans and NATO to “do more” by joining the United States in carrying out airstrikes, contributing trainers and providing economic aid to Iraq.

Defeating the Islamic State requires multidimensional responses, including improved European intelligence sharing and security cooperation, as Mr. Obama emphasized. The United States has also opened up a new line of combat by mounting cyberattacks against the group’s online systems. But increasing the American military presence in Syria raises serious risks and many unanswered questions. Chief among them are these: What do more troops mean for American involvement in the future and how does this war end?

 

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and Twitter, and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

A version of this editorial appears in print on April 26, 2016,
on page A22 of the New York edition with the headline:
A Risky American Expansion in Syria.

A Risky American Expansion in Syria,
NYT, April 25, 2016,
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/26/
opinion/a-risky-american-expansion-in-syria.html

 

 

 

 

 

Cuba Eases

Decades-long Restriction

on Sea Travel

 

APRIL 22, 2016

The New York Times

By LIZETTE ALVAREZ

 

MIAMI — Cuba reversed a decades-old policy on Friday, lifting a restriction that prevented Cubans from entering or leaving the country by cruise ship or commercial vessel, according to a statement in the country’s national newspaper, Granma.

The decision, another softening of Cuba’s Cold War stance toward the United States, came after a furor in Miami prompted Carnival Cruise Line to announce that it would delay its inaugural May 1 cruise to Cuba unless the country changed the policy. Carnival said Friday that the cruise, the first by an American cruise ship to Cuba in 50 years, would depart as scheduled.

Cuba risked losing millions of dollars in the next year if the cruise line had been forced to cancel its trips on the Adonia, a 704-passenger luxury ship, according to an analysis by the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. The directive, which will take effect on Tuesday, also marked a rare turn of events: an American corporation persuading the Castro government to alter a policy.

Last month, Carnival became the first American cruise company to obtain Cuban approval to sail to the island. European and Canadian cruise lines have already been making the trip.

“We made history in March, and we are a part of making history again today,” said Arnold Donald, the president and chief executive of the Carnival Corporation, adding, “We were very positive there would be this outcome and were proceeding in that fashion.”

Mr. Donald said the company’s negotiators underscored to Cuban officials that Cuban passengers have long been permitted to fly in and out of Cuba and that the same policy should apply to sea travel. Cruises are crucial to Cuba’s tourism sector because they allow for more visitors without pressuring the country’s already strained hotel capacity.

Starting on Tuesday, the government will also allow Cubans aboard commercial vessels, including cargo ships, to enter or leave Cuba.

The mayor of Miami-Dade County, Carlos A. Gimenez, who at one point explored options for a lawsuit against Carnival, praised the resolution.

“This policy change was the right thing to do,” Mr. Gimenez, who is Cuban-born, said in a statement.

The Cuban government on Friday also hinted at its next move: the possibility of allowing Cuban-born people to travel to the island aboard recreational boats. That authorization, the government said, would come gradually and when circumstances are right.

Cuban-Americans in Miami who support engagement with Cuba have long envisioned the possibility of taking their own boats to the island, which is 90 miles away from Florida, to visit family.

Friday’s decision is significant because the Cuban government has long been wary of sea travel between the United States and Cuba. For decades, Cubans have fled the island by raft and rustic boats, something that continues today. The government also feared that allowing Cuban citizens to travel by sea would make it easier for hostile Cuban-Americans to enter the country and to undermine the government.

In 1980, after tensions in Cuba escalated as the economy plummeted, Fidel Castro allowed boats from the United States to pick up Cubans in the port of Mariel. More than 125,000 Cubans left the island by boat. Most of them were picked up by relatives, friends or recruits from Miami.

The Cuban government stressed that all passengers and crew members entering or leaving Cuba must have valid documents to do so. It also needled the United States, pointing out that American law continues to restrict American tourist travel to Cuba, although regulations have been eased.

The uproar, which Carnival did not anticipate, began this month when Cubans in Florida tried to buy tickets for the weeklong voyage. Carnival agents refused to book them on the cruise, saying that because they were Cuban-born, the Cuban government barred them from entering the country by sea.

In subsequent talks, the company and the Cuban government tried to find a resolution. This week, Carnival, which is based in a Miami suburb and is well-versed on local sensitivities about Cuba, faced a class-action lawsuit by Cuban-Americans and harsh words from political leaders who expressed outrage that an American company would discriminate against American citizens. Carnival initially delayed the trip, but remained optimistic.

“Carnival acted responsibly within the context of a horrific public relations environment,” said John Kavulich, the president of the trade council.

Pedro A. Freyre, whose law firm, Akerman, represents Carnival, and who was one of several lawyers to advise the company, said Carnival began working on getting the directive changed soon after its cruise was approved by the Cuban government.

Mr. Freyre, who is Cuban-born and supports closer ties to the island nation, said even he was surprised by the fervor in Miami over the cruise.

“I had been around my community long enough to know that emotions are very deep here,” he said. “At the beginning, I said, ‘What? Why are people so upset — 300,000 travel every year to Cuba.’ But this one tugged at the heart strings.”

Dr. Andy Gomez, a senior policy adviser for Poblete Tamargo, a law and public policy firm, said the face-off served as a reminder that Cuba’s thicket of laws and regulations remained far from business friendly.

But Mr. Freyre said the episode also shows that a more measured approach to Cuba works best.

“What the Cubans did today is reflect that it’s good to be engaged,” he said. “You can talk calmly about things instead of shouting at each other.”

 

A version of this article appears in print on April 23, 2016,
on page A10 of the New York edition with the headline:
Cuba Reverses Longtime Ban on Sea Travel.

Cuba Eases Decades-long Restriction on Sea Travel,
NYT, April 22, 2016,
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/23/us/cuba-
eases-decades-long-restriction-on-sea-travel.html

 

 

 

 

 

ISIS Suicide Bomber in Iraq

Kills Dozens at Soccer Game

 

MARCH 25, 2016

The New York Times

By OMAR AL-JAWOSHY

 

BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber detonated his explosive belt at a soccer game in a town south of Baghdad on Friday, killing at least 31 people, including the town’s mayor, provincial police officials said.

Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for the attack, in the town of Iskandariya in Babil Province, through the group’s affiliated news agency, Al Amaq. The Islamic State group controls large areas of territory in northern and western Iraq, as well as parts of Syria.

The attack, which also wounded at least 71 people, struck a large crowd gathered for a game between local teams sponsored by Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a powerful Shiite militia that has ties to Iran and has been at the forefront of fighting against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

The game had just ended and a trophy was being presented to the winning team when the bomber detonated the explosives while in the crowd, the police said.

Sheik Jawad, the head of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq office in Babil Province, said that at least five top members of the militia had been wounded. “The attack was carried out to destabilize the confidence between the people and Asaib, and to take revenge against us after our victories,” he said.

Raed al-Zaidi, a 36-year-old journalist, said his cousin was among those killed in the bombing. “My cousin was a soccer player, and he wanted to win the final match but his dream was uncompleted,” Mr. Zaidi said.

The Islamic State also claimed responsibility this month for a suicide bombing farther south in Hilla that killed at least 33 people and wounded 115. In a Twitter post at the time, the extremist group said, “The battle has just started and the coming will be worst.”

On Thursday, the Iraqi military said it had recaptured several villages in the northern province of Nineveh, backed by American airstrikes, as it gears up for a campaign to retake Mosul from ISIS militants.

 

An employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Hilla, Iraq.

A version of this article appears in print on March 26, 2016, on page A6 of the New York edition with the headline: ISIS Suicide Bomber in Iraq Kills at Least 31 at a Shiite Militia’s Soccer Game.

ISIS Suicide Bomber in Iraq Kills Dozens at Soccer Game,
NYT, March 25, 2016,
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/26/
world/middleeast/iraq-isis-bombing.html

 

 

 

 

 

Time to Rethink

U.S. Relationship With Egypt

 

MARCH 25, 2016

The New York Times

The Opinion Pages | Editorial

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD

 

Since the Egyptian military took power in a coup in the summer of 2013, the Obama administration’s policy toward Egypt has been moored in a series of faulty assumptions. The time has come to challenge them and to reassess whether an alliance that has long been considered a cornerstone of American national security policy is doing more harm than good.

When President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown, senior American officials dithered on whether there was any point in calling a coup a coup and expressed hope that this would be merely a bump on Cairo’s road toward becoming a democracy.

Later that year when Egypt’s human rights abuses became even harder to overlook, the White House suspended delivery of military hardware, signaling that it was willing to attach conditions to the $1.3 billion military aid package Egypt has treated as an entitlement for decades.

But for the most part, Egypt got gentle scoldings from time to time from senior administration officials, who were unduly deferential to Cairo.

A year ago, as the Obama administration focused on the fight against the Islamic State, it resumed delivery of military aid, arguing that the alliance with Egypt was too crucial to fail.

Since then, Egypt’s crackdown on peaceful Islamists, independent journalists and human rights activists has intensified. Egyptian authorities appear intent on putting two of the country’s top defenders of human rights out of business by freezing their bank accounts after charging them with illegally receiving foreign funds.

Outraged by the escalating repression, leading American Middle East experts — including two who served in the Obama administration — this week urged President Obama to confront President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

“If this crackdown is allowed to reach its conclusion, it will silence an indigenous human rights community that has survived more than 30 years of authoritarian rule, leaving few if any Egyptians free to investigate mounting abuses by the state,” they wrote in a letter to Mr. Obama. They decried the arbitrary imprisonment of tens of thousands of Egyptians and the use of torture and extrajudicial killings, including the recent murder of an Italian student, that are believed to have been carried out by state security agents.

Administration officials who have cautioned against a break with Egypt say its military and intelligence cooperation is indispensable. It’s time to challenge that premise. Egypt’s scorched-earth approach to fighting militants in the Sinai and its stifling repression may be creating more radicals than the government is neutralizing.

“We are long overdue for a strategic rethink on who are strong American partners and anchors of stability in the Middle East,” Tamara Cofman Wittes, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former senior State Department official, said in an interview. “Egypt is neither an anchor of stability nor a reliable partner.”

Mr. Obama and his advisers may conclude that there is little the United States can do to ease Egypt’s despotism during the remaining months of his presidency. That’s not the case. Mr. Obama should personally express to Mr. Sisi his concern about Egypt’s abuses and the country’s counterproductive approach to counterterrorism.

Mr. Obama has been willing to challenge longstanding assumptions and conventions about Washington’s relations with Middle East nations like Iran and Saudi Arabia. But he has been insufficiently critical of Egypt. Over the next few months, the president should start planning for the possibility of a break in the alliance with Egypt. That scenario appears increasingly necessary, barring a dramatic change of course by Mr. Sisi.

 

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A version of this editorial appears in print on March 26, 2016, on page A18 of the New York edition with the headline: Time to Rethink Relations With Egypt.

Time to Rethink U.S. Relationship With Egypt,
NYT, March 25, 2016,
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/26/
opinion/time-to-rethink-us-relationship-with-egypt.html

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Service Members

Punished for Strike on Hospital

in Afghanistan

 

MARCH 17, 2016

The New York Times

By MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT

and ERIC SCHMITT

 

WASHINGTON — The Defense Department has disciplined at least a dozen military personnel for their roles in an airstrike in October on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan that killed 42 people, senior military officials said, but they are not expected to face criminal charges.

The personnel, including officers and enlisted members, were given administrative punishments, the officials said. The Associated Press first reported the disciplinary actions Wednesday.

Among those disciplined are soldiers who were on the ground, personnel at the operations center that oversaw the strike, and airmen. Others involved may also be disciplined, the officials said.

Administrative punishments typically include letters of reprimand, which can significantly hurt the ability of a member of the military to get promoted.

The Pentagon is expected to release a report on the inquiry in the coming weeks, officials there said. Investigators have cited many factors, including breakdowns in communication between Afghan forces and American Special Operations forces.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing action that had not been officially announced by the Defense Department.

According to American military commanders, Afghan fighters who had been sent to Kunduz to stop a Taliban attack had asked the Special Operations forces for air support. The fighters are not believed to have had much familiarity with Kunduz, having been rushed to the city just days before the attack.

At the time of the strike, the Afghans were battling the Taliban in a densely populated part of the city, and commanders believe that a miscommunication led an American AC-130 gunship to fire on the wrong building.

A version of this article appears in print on March 18, 2016,
on page A10 of the New York edition with the headline:
U.S. Punishes 12 in Afghan Strike.

U.S. Service Members Punished for Strike on Hospital in Afghanistan,
NYT, March 17, 2016,
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/18/us/
politics/us-service-members-punished-for-strike-on-afghan-hospital.html

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Netanyahu’s Lost Opportunities

 

MARCH 14, 2016

The Opinion Pages | Editorial

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD


The dispute over a White House meeting is the latest evidence of the fraught relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. It prompted finger-pointing on both sides, but the basic facts are these: Mr. Netanyahu asked to meet with Mr. Obama during a visit to Washington for a conference later this week, the White House agreed and then Mr. Netanyahu canceled.

That Mr. Netanyahu’s government announced this decision in the media rather than to the White House is not a surprise, considering the disrespect the prime minister has shown Mr. Obama in the past. It’s hard to understand how that serves Israel’s interests.

It’s unfortunate that this strange squabble is overshadowing two pressing issues. One involves the new 10-year defense agreement the two governments are negotiating, an anchor of their alliance. The existing agreement, which expires in 2018, provides $3.1 billion a year to Israel, making it the top recipient of American aid. The even larger issue involves the slow but inexorable death of the two-state solution for peace with the Palestinians.

When Mr. Obama concluded the nuclear deal with Iran over Mr. Netanyahu’s vehement opposition last year, he promised to further strengthen the security relationship with Israel. That was understood to include even more aid and a renewed commitment to maintain Israel’s “qualitative edge” over other countries by providing it with more advanced weapons, like the F-35 stealth aircraft, as well as increased cooperation on missile defense and cybersecurity.

But the negotiations have run into problems. One reason Mr. Netanyahu reportedly canceled the meeting with Mr. Obama was that he did not want to visit the Oval Office without having first reached an agreement that he could boast about at home. He has reportedly asked for a big increase in American aid to more than $4 billion per year, which seems unreasonable. Mr. Netanyahu recently suggested that he may wait until next year to negotiate the package, presumably because he thinks he might strike a better deal with Mr. Obama’s successor.

Military aid alone will never guarantee Israel’s security. For that, there needs to be progress toward a Middle East peace deal. Mr. Netanyahu has never shown a serious willingness on that front, as is made clear by his expansion of Israeli settlements, which reduce the land available for a Palestinian state. His counterpart, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is a weak and aging leader who has given up on peace. In the meantime, vicious attacks by Palestinians on Israelis have surged, and the violence is costing lives on both sides.
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Despite his efforts to mediate a deal and the importance he assigned to that task at the start of his administration, President Obama may be presiding over the death of the two-state solution. In a last-ditch effort, administration officials are seeking ways to keep the vision alive.

There are several options, but the best may be a resolution that puts the United Nations Security Council on record supporting the basic principles of a deal covering borders, the future of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, security and land swaps, but not imposing anything on the two parties.

Before United States-mediated negotiations fell apart in 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry and his team brought the two sides closer on some issues. The details have been secret, but Mr. Obama needs to make that progress public; it could give future Israeli and Palestinian leaders something to build on.

With less than a year left in office and many other international crises to manage, it is unlikely that Mr. Obama will make another push for negotiations. But his successor must look for new ways help Israel and the Palestinians make peace happen.

 

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and Twitter, and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

Mr. Netanyahu’s Lost Opportunities,
NYT, March 14, 2016,
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/14/
opinion/mr-netanyahus-lost-opportunities.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama Criticizes the ‘Free Riders’

Among America’s Allies

 

MARCH 10, 2016

The New York Times

By MARK LANDLER

 

WASHINGTON — President Obama believes that Saudi Arabia, one of America’s most important allies in the Middle East, needs to learn how to “share” the region with its archenemy, Iran, and that both countries are guilty of fueling proxy wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

In a series of interviews with The Atlantic magazine published Thursday, Mr. Obama said a number of American allies in the Persian Gulf — as well as in Europe — were “free riders,” eager to drag the United States into grinding sectarian conflicts that sometimes had little to do with American interests. He showed little sympathy for the Saudis, who have been threatened by the nuclear deal Mr. Obama reached with Iran.

The Saudis, Mr. Obama told Jeffrey Goldberg, the magazine’s national correspondent, “need to find an effective way to share the neighborhood and institute some sort of cold peace.” Reflexively backing them against Iran, the president said, “would mean that we have to start coming in and using our military power to settle scores. And that would be in the interest neither of the United States nor of the Middle East.”

Mr. Obama’s frustration with much of the Arab world is not new, but rarely has he been so blunt about it. He placed his comments in the context of his broader struggle to extract the United States from the bloody morass of the Middle East so that the nation can focus on more promising, faster-growing parts of the world, like Asia and Latin America.

“If we’re not talking to them,” he said, referring to young people in those places, “because the only thing we’re doing is figuring out how to destroy or cordon off or control the malicious, nihilistic, violent parts of humanity, then we’re missing the boat.”

Mr. Obama also said his support of the NATO military intervention in Libya had been a “mistake,” driven in part by his erroneous belief that Britain and France would bear more of the burden of the operation. He stoutly defended his refusal not to enforce his own red line against Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, even though Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. argued internally, the magazine reported, that “big nations don’t bluff.”

The president disputed criticism that he should have done more to resist the aggression of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in Ukraine. As a neighbor of Russia, Mr. Obama said, Ukraine was always going to matter more to Mr. Putin than to the United States. This meant that in any military confrontation between Moscow and the West, Russia was going to maintain “escalatory dominance” over its former satellite state.

“The fact is that Ukraine, which is a non-NATO country, is going to be vulnerable to military domination by Russia no matter what we do,” he said. “This is an example of where we have to be very clear about what our core interests are and what we are willing to go to war for.”

Mr. Obama, who has spoken regularly to Mr. Goldberg about Israel and Iran, granted him extraordinary access. The portrait that emerges from the interviews is of a president openly contemptuous of Washington’s foreign-policy establishment, which he said was obsessed with preserving presidential credibility, even at the cost of blundering into ill-advised military adventures.

“There’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow,” Mr. Obama said. “And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses.” This consensus, the president continued, can lead to bad decisions. “In the midst of an international challenge like Syria,” he said, “you are judged harshly if you don’t follow the playbook, even if there are good reasons.”

Although Mr. Obama’s tone was introspective, he engaged in little second-guessing. He dismissed the argument that his failure to enforce the red line in Syria, or his broader reticence about using military force, had emboldened Russia. Mr. Putin, he noted, invaded Georgia in 2008 during the presidency of George W. Bush, even though the United States had more than 100,000 troops deployed in Iraq.

Similarly, the president pushed back on the suggestion that he had not been firm enough in challenging China’s aggression in the South China Sea, where it is building military installations on reefs and islands, some of which are claimed by the Philippines and other neighbors. “I’ve been very explicit in saying that we have more to fear from a weakened, threatened China than a successful, rising China,” Mr. Obama said.

The president refused to box himself in as a foreign-policy thinker. “I suppose you could call me a realist in believing we can’t, at any given moment, relieve all the world’s misery,” he said. But he went on to describe himself as an internationalist and an idealist. Above all, Mr. Obama appeared weary of the constant demands and expectations placed on the United States. “Free riders aggravate me,” he said.

He put France and Britain in that category, at least as far as the Libya operation was concerned. Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, he said, became distracted by other issues, while President Nicolas Sarkozy of France “wanted to trumpet the flights he was taking in the air campaign, despite the fact that we had wiped out all the air defenses.”

Only on the threat posed by the Islamic State did Mr. Obama express some misgivings. He likened ISIS to the Joker in “The Dark Knight,” the 2008 Batman movie. The Middle East, Mr. Obama said, was like Gotham, a corrupt metropolis controlled by a cartel of thugs. “Then the Joker comes in and lights the whole city on fire,” Mr. Obama said. “ISIL is the Joker,” he added, using the government’s preferred acronym for the Islamic State.

Still, Mr. Obama acknowledged that immediately after the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., he did not adequately reassure Americans that he understood the threat, and was confronting it.

“Every president has his strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “And there is no doubt that there are times where I have not been attentive enough to feelings and emotions and politics in communicating what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”

 

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A version of this article appears in print on March 10, 2016, on page A9 of the New York edition with the headline: Obama Criticizes the ‘Free Riders’ Among America’s Allies.

Obama Criticizes the ‘Free Riders’ Among America’s Allies,
NYT, MARCH 10, 2016,
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/10/world/middleeast/
obama-criticizes-the-free-riders-among-americas-allies.html

 

 

 

 

 

The Killing Field

 

The New York Times

FEB. 27, 2016

SundayReview | Op-Ed Columnist

Nicholas Kristof

 

LEER, South Sudan — THE killing field on the edge of town is marked by skulls and bones littering the ground, attracting vultures and hyenas.

There is little clothing, for the soldiers stripped the men and boys they seized. Spines have been sliced in half and clavicles shattered, suggesting that victims were clubbed to death or hacked apart with machetes. Some of the skulls might even belong to five staff members of Doctors Without Borders who were murdered here.

Atrocities happen all around the world, of course. But these were crimes against humanity committed by “our side” — by the government of South Sudan that the United States helped to install.

It’s impossible to calculate the death toll, but it seems to me plausible that as many civilians are dying in the war here in South Sudan as in Syria. One reason it’s hard to estimate is that many civilian deaths here come not from bullets or barrel bombs, but from starvation and disease arriving as a direct result of war and ethnic cleansing.

This is the world’s newest country, midwifed by the United States in 2011 after a brutal war of secession from Sudan. Yet now the applause has faded, the United States has mostly moved on and South Sudan has tumbled into a mire of civil war.

Fighters mostly don’t confront each other, for that would be dangerous. So they kill, rape, rob and torture unarmed villagers. Meanwhile, an international appeal for humanitarian aid for South Sudan is only 3 percent funded.

I’ve been traveling through some of the areas most affected by fighting, in both government- and rebel-controlled areas, and they are in ruins that remind me of Darfur. Villages have been burned, hospitals pillaged, schools closed, boys castrated and women kidnapped and raped. It is easier to find women and girls who have been gang-raped than who are literate; in one village, a traditional birth attendant told me that she had recently assisted with 10 pregnancies caused by soldiers.

Roads are dangerous and often impassable, and there are no real government services — except executions.

Leer, a market town, was attacked by government troops in May and pillaged again by government-backed forces in October. The troops looted a hospital operated by Doctors Without Borders and the compound of the International Committee of the Red Cross, leaving part of Leer a ghost town; at night, there is gunfire and the cackle of hyenas.

I met a 14-year-old boy, Gatluak Top, struggling to be brave after he lost much of his left leg in an explosion. He will probably lose his leg, perhaps his life.

What’s wrenching is both the scale of the suffering — more than two million South Sudanese have been displaced and about three million lack food — and the fact that much of the catastrophe was caused by a government we helped create. It’s not that the government is worse than the rebels (who in any case originally were a faction of the government), but I find it particularly offensive to see atrocities committed by those we backed.

I’ve known President Salva Kiir for years and rooted for him to succeed. But he and others in his government (some worse than he is), with help from the rebels, risk destroying their country.

Kiir is now also cracking down on aid groups at a time when humanitarian workers (mostly South Sudanese) are the only heroes here, struggling on even though 50 of them have been killed here since the latest civil war erupted just over two years ago. Kiir also has publicly threatened reporters with murder; sure enough, seven journalists have been killed in South Sudan over about the last year.

A peace agreement reached last August is the last, best hope, but it hasn’t been fully implemented. “In the six months since the signing of the peace agreement, a scorched-earth strategy has continued in which civilians were burned alive in their homes, their livestock raided and their means of livelihood destroyed,” Ivan Simonovic, a top human rights official at the United Nations, told the U.N. Security Council this month.
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It’s time for an international arms embargo on South Sudan, and sanctions aimed at the assets of top leaders on both sides, while greater support is given to humanitarian organizations and efforts to protect civilians. South Sudan is running out of money, and that, too, should be used as leverage to force implementation of the peace accord.

Senior American officials are frustrated and fatigued by South Sudan. But if a country that the U.S. supported so strongly collapses into genocide because we didn’t do all we could, that will be part of the Obama legacy. Bravo to the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, for visiting the country a few days ago, because we need an international push to make the peace agreement stick and create real consequences for committing atrocities.

South Sudan is running out of time.

 

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A version of this op-ed appears in print on February 28, 2016, on page SR9 of the New York edition with the headline: The Killing Field.

The Killing Field,
NYT, FEB. 27, 2016,
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/opinion/sunday/the-killing-field.html

 

 

 

 

 

Taliban Attack

Shows Limits

of Pakistan’s Military Crackdown

 

JAN. 21, 2016

The New York Times

By DECLAN WALSH

 

CAIRO — Only a few months ago, Pakistan’s military leaders openly boasted they had the Taliban on the run. A punishing, yearlong offensive had ousted the insurgents from their most prized tribal sanctuary. The movement’s various factions were riven by violent rivalries, and attacks on Pakistan’s towns and cities had largely ceased.

Then on Wednesday four Taliban gunmen mounted a deadly assault on a university in the northwestern town of Charsadda, killing 20 people. The attack echoed of a massacre just over a year ago — when the Taliban killed 150 at a school in Peshawar — that prompted the military crackdown in the first place. On Thursday, frustration and concern were welling up across the country.

“We must question how long we can continue to live like this,” said an editorial in The News, an English-language daily newspaper. “We have heard the rhetoric of a ‘fight back’ at all costs. But do we have a guarantee of eventual success?”

Part of the answer lies in the Taliban’s continued resilience even when divided and on the run — and, more broadly, in the difficulties posed by guerrilla insurgencies throughout the region.

The Pakistani military enjoys authority that would be unthinkable in many countries. It has upended hundreds of thousands of civilians in the tribal areas as it has hunted militants and created its own court system that allows the quick hanging of terrorism suspects, all to public acclaim over the past year. But all it takes to restart the cycle of fear is a determined commander, a few willing attackers and a list of accessible targets — all of which the disparate factions of the Pakistani Taliban retain, along with experience in mounting such attacks.

Another major factor hampering Pakistan’s chances against the Taliban is the same one that has bedeviled Afghan leaders for decades: the failure to negotiate a peaceful settlement between the two countries that would prevent militants from using their porous borders to destabilize each another.

“To think that we can have a destabilized Afghanistan and bring peace to Pakistan is just crazy,” said Michael Semple, an expert on militancy at the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s University Belfast.

Certainly, the Pakistani Taliban is no longer the tightly unified force that it once was, when the movement was commanded from the snowy heights of Waziristan in the tribal belt by swaggering, publicity-hungry commanders who could call on a seemingly limitless stream of suicide bombers to hit targets across Pakistan, including even the army headquarters in Rawalpindi.

The nominal leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Maulana Fazlullah, was a polarizing figure within the militant movement even from the start. But since the military began clearing his subcommanders and allies out of the North Waziristan tribal area, he appears to have even less authority over the Taliban’s factional leaders, many of them headstrong characters who alternate between cooperation and violent feuding.

Security officials believe that Mr. Fazlullah and other factional leaders have fled across the border into Afghanistan, where they have found sanctuary in remote corners of provinces such as Nangarhar and Kunar.

Less senior Taliban fighters have taken refuge in the region’s towns and cities, where some have sought protection from allied sectarian Sunni militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

The army’s anti-militant offensive also reached deep into the southern port city of Karachi, where paramilitary Rangers have killed several Taliban commanders who had been hiding in the city’s sprawling ethnic Pashtun slums.

In an interview on Thursday, Faiz ur-Rehman, a Pashtun trader in the city, spoke of his gratitude after a Taliban commander who used to extort $950 in protection money from him every month was killed in a security raid. “I breathed a sign of relief,” he said.

But the Taliban’s Afghan bases have also provided a new mode of operation for determined commanders such as Khalifa Omar Mansoor, the architect of both the Peshawar attack in 2014 and this week’s shootings at Bacha Khan University in Charsadda.

A senior Pakistani security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Mr. Mansoor, 37, was in many ways an archetypal Taliban commander. Schooled in a religious seminary, he worked for a time as a laborer in Karachi before signing up to the Taliban in the northwestern tribal belt. He struck out his own, forming his own group after the Pakistani military drove the Taliban from Darra Adam Khel, a tribal town known for its artisanal gunsmiths. Later, he fled to Afghanistan.

A photograph that Mr. Mansoor released of himself after the Charsadda attack showed a pudgy-faced man with a tangled beard and a woolen cap, seated between fighters cradling battle-worn Kalashnikovs. His nickname is “Slim,” and, according to reports, his favorite sport is volleyball.

Little is known about the strength of his forces, but Pakistani officials believe that he shares resources, including suicide bombers, with some of the other militant groups. But one Taliban commander, speaking by phone from Waziristan, said Mr. Mansoor’s high-profile attacks had riled other groups and caused him to be seen as a threat to the pre-eminence of the group’s overall leader, Mr. Fazlullah.

Those tensions appeared to surface this week when Mr. Mansoor’s claim of responsibility for the shootings at Bacha Khan University prompted a public rebuke from a spokesman for the Taliban’s central command, which criticized his actions and threatened to bring him before an Islamic court.

Pakistani security officials said they saw the dueling statements as little more than a cynical public relations ploy on the part of the Taliban. Speaking of their frustration at Mr. Mansoor’s sanctuary in Afghanistan, they said they had tried covertly to lure him across the border so that he could be detained or killed.

Afghan leaders have for years voiced similar frustrations about the freedom enjoyed by Afghan Taliban militants to organize attacks on Western and Afghan soldiers from their bases in Pakistan. Now, though, there is a new push to try to reach a resolution that involves better cooperation by the neighboring countries.

Last week, Chinese, American, Pakistan and Afghan officials met in Kabul, the Afghan capital, to discuss how to renew the stalled Afghan peace process. And at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Secretary of State John Kerry urged the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan to bridge their differences and work for peace.

“The Pakistani military recognize that they need to make peace, but they aren’t sure if they can persuade the Afghan Taliban to sit with the Kabul government,” said Hassan Askari Rizvi, a defense analyst in Lahore, Pakistan.

“But with the Chinese and Americans behind it, it might convince the leadership to get a group ready for talks.”

 

Ismail Khan contributed reporting from Peshawar, Pakistan; Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud from Islamabad, Pakistan; and Zia ur-Rehman from Karachi, Pakistan.

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A version of this news analysis appears in print on January 22, 2016, on page A8 of the New York edition with the headline: Taliban Attack Shows Limits of Pakistan’s Military Crackdown.

Taliban Attack Shows Limits of Pakistan’s Military Crackdown,
NYT, JAN. 21, 2016,
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/22/world/asia/
taliban-attack-shows-limits-of-pakistans-military-crackdown.html


 

 

 

 

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