Monday, December 22, 2008

Canadian Anti-War Protests Amid Escalation in US Troops Deployment in Afghanistan

Anti-war protesters target U.S. consulate in symbolic shoe-toss.

December 20, 2008 - 16:15

MONTREAL - Anti-war protesters held a symbolic shoe toss in front of the U.S. consulate in Montreal on Saturday in support of jailed Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi.

About 40 protesters braved the cold to throw shoes at an image of U.S. President George W. Bush.

About 40 people turned out to a similar protest in Toronto Saturday.

"Today is an act of humour in a sense but it's also a profound situation and context," said journalist and activist Stephan Christoff.
"We're talking about a situation where hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives in Iraq. It is George Bush who holds a direct responsibility for the devastating, horrific situation of occupation and imperialism in Iraq."

Demonstrators pelted the presidential photograph with boots, shoes and slippers and denounced the U.S. war in Iraq and the NATO-led war in Afghanistan before marching to a downtown Canadian Forces recruiting station.

Iraqi-born Amar Sabih is an adjunct-professor at McGill University in Montreal and a long-time opponent to the Iraq war.

"Most Iraqis would have liked to be in (Al-Zeidi's) shoes," he said. "He's a symbol for all Iraqis."

Sabih said his family, who live in Baghdad, also support al-Zeidi's actions.

"They liked it, they enjoyed it," he said.

Amir Khadir, who was elected to the legislature in this month's provincial election under the banner of the leftist party Quebec Solidaire, was one of the first to throw a shoe. He said al-Zeidi's actions were simply an expression of rage at the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the war.

"I represent the deep sentiment of thousands of members of assemblies all over the world," he said.

"Bush has denied democracy and lied to millions of people. He deserves no respect."

Al-Zeidi hurled his shoes at Bush during a press conference last week and yelled an angry farewell in which he blamed the president for the bloodshed in his country that's left behind countless widows and orphans.

He has been detained and is expected to face charges of insulting a foreign leader, which could result in a two-year prison sentence.

Since the incident, a surge of games and websites have sprung up immortalizing the shoe-throwing and the journalist has become a sort of global folk hero.

According to Bloomberg News, the Turkish shoemaker who made al-Zeidi's shoes has been flooded with over 300,000 orders for the same model.

They're considering renaming it the 'Bye-bye Bush.'

Sunday, December 21, 2008
10:22 Mecca time, 07:22 GMT

US to bolster force in Afghanistan

Mullen hopes the extra troops can be deployed in Afghanistan by the middle of next year

The US is planning to send between 20,000 and 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan by next summer, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, has said.

The planned deployment follows a request of the US commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, for more than 20,000 extra US soldiers.

US troops are battling rising violence in Afghanistan, seven years after they first invaded the country to oust the Taliban from power.

"The troops that were asked for in joint discussions with General McKiernan is what we're going to need for the foreseeable future. So I don't see an increase any higher at this point than 20 to 30,000," Mullen said.

Mullen said he hoped the extra troops - including four combat brigades, an aviation brigade and other support forces - could all be deployed by mid-2009.

"We're looking to get them here in the spring, but certainly by the beginning of summer at the latest," he said.

The build-up could nearly double the US military presence in Afghanistan, which currently stands at 31,000 soldiers.

Cautionary note

Mullen said he could not give the "exact number" of troops that would be sent, but said 20,000-30,000 represented "the window of the overall increase where we are right now".

But he cautioned against thinking that a massive influx of US forces would automatically bring peace to Afghanistan.

"It isn't going to make a difference after those troops get here, if we haven't made progress on the development side and on the government side," Mullen said.

Some 70,000 foreign troops are already in Afghanistan, fighting the Taliban with little success.

Colonel Jerry O'Hara, a US military spokesman in Afghanistan, said some troops could deploy in January.

"They will be intent on improving security, maintain what we have attained and to open doors for other developments and improvements to Afghan well-being," he said.

"When you have a security force that moves into an area and clears the insurgent force, you have to hold on to that area, in order to allow improvements to take place."

Zeina Khodr, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Kabul, said reports had emerged that 3,000 US forces will be sent in the January deployment.

"A US military spokesman told us that some of those forces will be deployed at the gates of Kabul, a reference to provinces surrounding the capital, Logar and Wardak," she said.

"There is a realisation that those provinces are vulnerable - it is the route that Taliban fighters use to get into the capital."

Bloodiest year

This year has been the bloodiest for international forces in Afghanistan since the Taliban fell, with nearly 290 soldiers killed.

About 1,000 Afghan troops and police, as well as more than 2,000 civilians, have also been killed in 2008.

George Bush, the outgoing US president, who made a surprise farewell visit to Afghanistan on Monday, acknowledged the difficulty of restoring peace to the country, warning that it would take time.

"This is going to be a long struggle. Ideological struggles take time," he said in Kabul.

But while the US prepares to send more troops to Afghanistan, some Afghans say that efforts should be directed towards boosting native security forces.

"Many Afghan commanders have said that the answer lies not in strengthening US forces but in strengthening the Afghan army and the national police," Khodr said.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Canada ‘not onboard' with U.S. plan to arm Afghan militias

The Canadian Press
December 21, 2008 at 6:17 PM EST

OTTAWA — Washington's plan to arm local tribes to take on the Taliban in untamed districts of Afghanistan is possibly “counter-productive” and not something Canada supports, says Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

The proposal, which the U.S. military will experiment with as up to 30,000 additional American troops surge into the country next year, has been routinely discussed by NATO defence ministers, most recently at meeting in Cornwallis, N.S.

“The tribal militia idea that has been around for some time now is controversial; we are not onboard with that,” Mr. MacKay said in a recent year-end interview with The Canadian Press.

“Our preference is to continue with this more formal training process that leads to a more reliable, more professional soldier and Afghan national security force.”

Hands-on, in-the-field training of Afghan soldiers and police to handle the fragile country's security is the cornerstone of Ottawa's strategy to withdraw Canadian troops from Kandahar by 2011.

Although the matter of arming tribal militia was debated at a Nov. 19 meeting of countries leading the fight in south Afghanistan, Mr. MacKay said there was “no agreement around the table.”

U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates did not push NATO allies to fall in line behind the plan, he added.

The Americans will proceed with a pilot program in eastern Afghanistan, where NATO troops have faced increasing resistance, early in the New Year.

A strategy of surging troops and enlisting local Sunni tribes to fight along with coalition forces has been seen as a winning formula in Iraq.

The architect of the plan, U.S. General David Petraeus, is now in charge of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

His Afghan militia proposal involves arming local tribes under the direction of district governors, but with the supervision of the fledgling Afghan Army.

It's a plan that many consider fraught with danger due to the complex rivalries of Afghanistan's ethnic and tribal politics.

Mr. MacKay is one of the skeptics.

“Not all of the tactics and not all of the decisions made in Iraq are applicable in Afghanistan,” he said. “It could turn out to be counter-productive, and that's why we're using the preferred option of the training process.”

A shift in American strategy could nevertheless have a profound effect on allies, regardless of whether other countries approve.

The U.S., with 32,000 troops already in the ravaged country and more on the way, forms the backbone of both NATO's operations and the continuing war on terror.

Military units from the 36 other countries — including some outside the North Atlantic alliance — fight alongside and in some cases are meshed with U.S. forces.

A fundamental reshaping of the Afghan mission is under way in the U.S. capital, where president-elect Barrack Obama has declared the battle against the Taliban and al-Qaida to be his country's most important overseas fight.

The American general in charge of training Afghan forces was quoted recently as saying the first militia units would be deployed along the treacherous Kabul-to-Kandahar highway, a frequent target for both insurgents and bandits.

But Canada's commander on the ground, Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson, said last week he doesn't believe tribal militias will be given any additional power in southern Afghanistan beyond the limited role two of them play in providing local security north of Kandahar.

The general in charge of Canada's overseas missions said there are still large ungoverned swaths of southern and eastern Afghanistan, seven years after the U.S. swept the Taliban from power.

Lt-.Gen. Michel Gauthier said there aren't enough allied troops — even with the surge — to secure all regions, and the Afghan National Police remains a work in progress.

He suggested that while Canada may not like it, arming local militias might be the only way to bring stability in the short term.

“I've criticized the notion from time to time (but) in the absence of sufficient ANP or ANA, what's the solution?” Gauthier asked. “I don't know what the solution is.”

Afghans themselves are having a hard time agreeing whether local militias are a good idea.

The country's Tribal Commission drew up its own plan, which immediately won the support of President Hamid Karzai, but members of the country's Parliament rejected it in November, warning the scheme would come back to haunt the government.

Some Afghan MPs said warlords left over from the days of the country's civil war would feel empowered once again, and it would ultimately be impossible to control the armed tribes once the Taliban are defeated.

15:53ET 21-12-08 (Via Satellite Feed)

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