Afghan leader Karzai faults conduct of war on terror

Hamid-karzaiKABUL, Afghanistan -- On the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday expressed sorrow over the “pain and suffering of the American people” but offered a pointed critique of how the subsequent war on terror had been waged.

“The war declared on terrorism was not conducted and pursued as it should have been,” said the Afghan leader, who has lately been publicly sparring with his U.S. patrons. He said training and support for terrorist groups outside his country had been “ignored and unaddressed” by the West as Afghanistan took the brunt of the conflict.

“As a consequence ... Afghan villages and homes were once again turned into a battlefield of a ruthless war, inflicting irrecoverable losses ... both human and material,” Karzai said in a statement.

Karzai did not mention the U.S. raid into Pakistan last year to kill Osama bin Laden or the frequent American drone attacks against militants in Pakistan and Yemen.

In recent weeks, the Afghan president has been more strident in asserting Afghan sovereignty, sometimes clashing openly with the NATO force and the American administration. Earlier this week, he denounced the U.S. decision to not hand over several dozen insurgent suspects to Afghan control when the main American military detention facility was formally handed over to the Afghan government.

The 9/11 anniversary was marked in Afghanistan by solemn commemorations held at the U.S. Embassy and at American military installations.


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Photo: Afghan President Hamid Karzai, shown during a ceremony late last month at the presidential palace in Kabul, on Tuesday criticized the conduct of the war on terror. Credit: Ahmad Massoud / Xinhua, pool / Associated Press.

Yemen Al Qaeda's No. 2, Said Shihri, is reportedly killed

ShihriYemeni defense officials said Monday that the second in command of an Al Qaeda offshoot based in their country was killed along with six other alleged terrorists.

Said Shihri was killed in an operation carried out by the Yemeni military in the Hadramout valley, the Defense Ministry said in a statement on its website. The ministry identified Shihri as a Saudi national and stated that his death was “a painful blow” to the militant group.

Though the statement said Yemeni forces had carried out the operation, defense officials told the Associated Press that Shihri and his companions had been killed when a missile fired by a U.S.-operated drone struck their car.

American officials had yet to comment publicly on the claims early Monday. Yemeni officials have erroneously announced the killing of Shihri in the past.

Shihri was once imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay and later transferred to Saudi custody, where he was put into a rehabilitation program. After his release, however, he reappeared in extremist networks in Yemen, issuing recorded messages to followers. The U.S. has accused him of being involved in a deadly attack on the American Embassy in Sana.

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Canada breaks relations with Iran over Syria, support for terror

The Canadian government announced that it has closed its embassy in Tehran and ordered Iranian diplomats to leave Canada
The Canadian government announced Friday that it has closed its embassy in Tehran and ordered Iranian diplomats to leave Canada, formally severing diplomatic ties and accusing the Islamic Republic of sponsoring terrorism.

"Canada views the government of Iran as the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today," Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in a statement posted on the ministry's website.

Iranian diplomats in Canada were declared personae non gratae and given five days to leave the country, Baird said.

The decision to sever relations was based on a multitude of concerns, including Iran's support for the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which is engaged in a bloody crackdown on opponents, Baird noted. His statement was issued in Ottawa after he announced the diplomatic action while attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vladivostok, Russia.

"The Iranian regime is providing increasing military assistance to the Assad regime; it refuses to comply with U.N. resolutions pertaining to its nuclear program; it routinely threatens the existence of Israel and engages in racist anti-Semitic rhetoric and incitement to genocide; it is among the world's worst violators of human rights; and it shelters and materially supports terrorist groups," the statement said.

Ottawa's relations with Iran had been strained throughout the three decades since the Islamic Revolution. Canada's then-ambassador to Tehran, Ken Taylor, helped rescue six Americans during the hostage crisis in 1980. Canada recalled its ambassador from Tehran nine years ago after a Canadian-Iranian photographer died in custody after being arrested for taking pictures outside a prison.

U.S. affairs with Iran have been handled through the Swiss Embassy in Tehran since relations were severed by Washington in 1980. Britain pulled the last of its diplomats out of Iran in November after an attack on its embassy.


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Photo: Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird speaks during an Aug. 11 visit to a refugee camp for displaced Syrians in Mafraq, Jordan. Credit: Jamal Nasrallah / EPA


Pentagon warns Navy SEAL author on Bin Laden book

Book coverWASHINGTON -- The Pentagon formally warned a former Navy SEAL who has written a first-person account of the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden that he has violated his signed agreement not to divulge classified information, and threatened him with legal action.

“In the judgment of the Department of Defense, you are in material breach and violation of the non-disclosure agreements you signed,” Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson said Thursday in a letter addressed to Mark Owen, the pen name of author Matt Bissonnette. 

The letter says the Pentagon is considering "all legal remedies available to us." Officials said they could include a lawsuit aimed at claiming profit from Bissonnette's book, "No Easy Day." Due to be released next week, it is already on bestseller lists.  

Bissonnette did not submit the book to the Pentagon to undergo a review for classified information, even though the requirement to do so was contained in a non-disclosure agreement he signed in 2007, Johnson said in the letter.

The account is the first by a member of SEAL Team Six, which carried out the stealthy nighttime assault on Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Johnson did not specify what information in the book constitutes improperly disclosed classified information. The book, a copy of which was provided to The Times by the publisher, offers a detailed account of the raid and of the killing of Bin Laden.

Many of the details have already been made public, including in accounts provided by senior White House officials.

In an author’s note in the book, Bissonnette said that “all of the material contained within this book is derived from unclassified publications and sources,” and a list of sources is printed at the end of the volume. 

He also says he hired a former Special Operations attorney to review the manuscript for classified information. But Bissonnette and his coauthor, Kevin Maurer, at times provide specific descriptions of tactics, planning and meetings that appear likely to involve classified information.


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Photo: A book cover image released by Dutton shows "No Easy Day" by Mark Owen with Kevin Maurer.

Confessed killer Breivik to be held in 'preventive detention'

LONDON -- Found criminally responsible Friday for the attacks that killed 77 people in Norway last year, Anders Behring Breivik now faces a lengthy confinement in the three secured rooms where he has already been held in isolation for months.

Breivik, 33, was sentenced to 21 years in prison, the maximum allowed under Norwegian law, although the sentence can be extended if he is determined to present a threat to society. A panel of judges ruled that he was sane and therefore guilty of the July 22, 2011, attacks in which he planted a car bomb in the Oslo city center and then gunned down 69 people, many of them teenagers, on nearby Utoya island.

Ila Prison had prepared itself to hold Breivik whether he was found sane or insane. With Friday's verdict, he is likely to stay under "preventive detention," Norway's strictest form of detention, which is imposed on dangerous offenders to prevent them from striking again.

Breivik will be confined to the same three rooms he has occupied throughout the trial, including one for exercise and one for reading. His letters are X-rayed, opened and read for signs of criminal activity.

Keeping him there will cost more than $1.2 million annually, more than seven times what Norway usually pays to house inmates in preventive detention, according to prison spokeswoman Ellen Bjercke.

Breivik is banned from meeting inmates in other wings, but depending on security assessments, “we may in due time ease up on the security arrangements and integrate him into the ordinary prison population,” Bjercke said.

Part of Ila Prison had already been rebuilt to allow for psychiatric care, provided by the Dikemark Psychiatric Hospital, in the event of an insanity verdict for Breivik. A new ward for inmates suffering mental health problems is slated to be finished by fall of next year, Bjercke said.

Some foreign observers have marveled at Norway's maximum sentence of 21 years and the seemingly luxurious conditions in which prisoners are held. But the Scandinavian nation prides itself on a liberal justice system that treats criminals humanely.

“The punishment is the restriction of liberty; no other rights have been removed by the sentencing court,” a fact sheet on the Norwegian correctional system states. “Therefore the sentenced offender has all the same rights as all others who live in Norway.”


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Norway mass killer Anders Behring Breivik is found guilty, declared sane

LONDON -– An Oslo court found Anders Behring Breivik criminally guilty Friday in the killings of 77 people last year in Norway, opting to send the right-wing militant to prison rather than declare him insane and commit him to psychiatric care.

Breivik, 33, faces at least 21 years in prison for the twin attacks he carried out in July 2011. That sentence can be repeatedly extended if authorities determine that he remains a danger to society.

Breivik smiled as a summary of the verdict was read Friday morning. He had freely confessed to planting a deadly car bomb in the center of Oslo and then methodically hunting down and killing 69 people, mostly teenagers, at a political youth camp on the island of Utoya. He said the attacks were an attempt to save Norway from multiculturalism and from a Muslim takeover.

The highly anticipated verdict came after two months of deliberation following a 10-week trial that gripped the world’s media. Throughout the trial, Breivik showed no remorse for his killing frenzy, shedding tears only when he watched a propaganda video that he had made to spread his anti-Islam

Two teams of court-ordered psychiatrists presented conflicting views on his sanity. One declared him delusional, a paranoid schizophrenic with a warped view of reality, but a second evaluation found him to be in his right mind.

The five judges who reached the verdict agreed with the latter view. Breivik himself wanted to be declared sane, fearing a verdict of insanity would mean that his views could be dismissed as the rantings of a madman.

Norwegians were stunned by the ferocity of the attacks and by the extremism of Breivik’s anti-immigrant views, which he posted in a lengthy, rambling manifesto on the Internet shortly before the massacre. In it, he urged “indigenous Europeans” to rise up and use violence to repel the Muslims he said were overrunning the continent. He deplored those who advocated multiculturalism as collaborators in “cultural suicide.”

That Breivik planted the car bomb in Oslo's government district and cold-bloodedly shot 69 people on Utoya was never in question during his trial. Breivik freely acknowledged the killings, but denied that they were a criminal act.


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Photo: Confessed mass killer Anders Behring Breivik arrives in court in Oslo on Friday morning. Credit: Odd Andersen / AFP/Getty Images

A deadly denouement for foreign troops in Afghanistan

U.S. soldier at remote Afghan base
The Netherlands pulled out of Afghanistan two years ago. Canada brought home its contingent last year. France, the fifth-largest contributor of troops to the International Security Assistance Force, will exit the war by the end of this year. New Zealand soldiers will be home by April.

GlobalFocusCommitment to the 130,000-strong force fighting to drive Taliban and Al Qaeda militants from their Afghan strongholds has been eroding since the U.S. announcement three years ago that defense and security will be handed over to Afghans by the end of 2014. Analysts say that proclamation of a mission deadline was premature and fired a starting gun for a haphazard exodus driven by domestic political pressures rather than meeting benchmarks for a mission accomplished.

The U.S.-led campaign to defeat insurgents has had its successes, and life for average Afghans has markedly improved since the U.S.-led invasion nearly 11 years ago, security experts say. But the ultimate goal of leaving a stable Afghanistan when the drawdown is finished is now imperiled by a deadly phenomenon many see as inspired by the signaled exits:  Afghans in the green uniforms of police and militia recruits have been turning their guns on their foreign trainers.

Of the 237 U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan this year, according to, at least 40 died at the hands of supposedly allied Afghans. Some of the turncoats are suspected Taliban infiltrators, while others appear to be acting on individual grievances and rising anti-American sentiment. 

"Green-on-blue killings are as devastating a tactic in Afghanistan as were IEDs [improvised explosive devices] in Iraq. This is the most dangerous tactical challenge that U.S. forces have faced in the war," Andrew Exum of the Center for a New American Security said of the rash of "insider" killings.

The betrayals throw into question a core U.S. conviction that Afghans are loyal partners eager to learn from foreign soldiers how to defend and protect their homeland, Exum said. They also wear down the willingness of ISAF's 40-plus contributing nations to send troops into a volatile and dangerous end game, he said.

"There's been a lot of patience from the United States and other troop-contributing nations to send soldiers to fight and sometimes die in the face of combat with the Taliban, but there's a lot less patience with sending soldiers to be shot in the back by their Afghan colleagues," Exum said.

Ahmad Majidyar, a senior research associate at the American Enterprise Institute who briefs U.S. troops ahead of deployment on the social complexities of his native Afghanistan, likewise sees the insider killings as a consequence of Afghans fearing that the foreigners are heading for the exits.

"With the announcement of a withdrawal timeline, you see a lot of people hedging their bets," he said of tribal leaders worried about Taliban fighters regaining sway over their territory. "It has emboldened the Taliban. Their strategy now is just to wait out the coalition forces."

Majidyar cites the impending departures of French and New Zealand troops as decisions driven by domestic political concerns "rather than a policy based on security realities on the ground." That sends a bad message, he added, to both friendly and enemy forces.

Security force trainees are ordinary young Afghan men, with friends and relatives who sympathize with the Taliban, notes Sarah Chayes, a senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She has spent most of the last decade in Afghanistan on development projects and has worked as an advisor to the U.S. military.

"It’s just demographics," she said of recruits who mingle with Taliban supporters when they visit their home villages or talk over tea. "Everyone is vulnerable to being recruited by extremists because, frankly, the propaganda is fairly convincing: The [Afghan] government is profoundly and abusively corrupt in a structured way that the international community hasn’t paid much attention to."

David Cortright of the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies sees the insider killings as a sign that the U.S. strategy to hand over security to allied regional militias is doomed, as was the Soviet effort in the 1980s to mold Afghanistan into an ideological ally.

"A political option needs to be pursued," he said, embracing a Rand Corp. blueprint for Afghan peace talks drafted last year. It proposes U.N. oversight of a forum including the government of President Hamid Karzai, rival political forces and the Taliban, with the United States and Afghanistan's neighbors conducting parallel talks.

Cortright acknowledges there is little appetite in the international community for any new Afghan initiative, especially one including the Taliban and in the throes of a U.S. presidential election. But he argues that the social gains achieved over the last decade are at risk if Afghanistan collapses into civil war when the foreign troops leave, and that the chances of the military mission delivering a lasting peace are "close to zero."


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Photo: A U.S. soldier rests at Forward Operating Base Joyce in Afghanistan's Kunar province. Credit:  Jose Cabezas/AFP/GettyImages

Norway killer could have been stopped sooner, report says

Norwegian police could have stopped Anders Behring Breivik sooner, cutting short his shooting rampage on Utoya Island, a government-appointed commission found in a report

Norwegian police could have stopped Anders Behring Breivik sooner, cutting short his shooting rampage on Utoya Island, a government-appointed commission found in a report released Monday.

The haunting report comes more than a year after 77 people lost their lives in twin attacks, some slain in the bombing of government headquarters in Oslo, most gunned down at a youth camp run by a leftist party. The bombing and massacre were described in the independent report as "one of the most shocking and incomprehensible acts ever experienced in Norway."

Breivik has admitted to the killings but argues that they were justified to defend Norwegian culture from being overrun by immigrants; his sentence is expected to center on whether he is insane.

"It is the perpetrator and no one else who is to blame for the loss of 77 precious human lives," the report stated. Nonetheless, it lamented that "there were failures in important areas," several of which it said had already been pointed out in earlier reports and not addressed.

Breivik first set off a car bomb on July 22, 2011, outside the government complex, killing eight, before heading to the island to carry out a shooting spree that lasted more than an hour.

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General warns of dramatic increase in cyber-attacks on U.S. firms

Cyber forum
ASPEN, Colo.  -- Computer  intrusions by hackers, criminals and nations against U.S. infrastructure increased seventeenfold from 2009 to 2011, the nation’s chief cyber defender says, and it’s only a matter of time before such an attack causes physical damage.

Gen. Keith Alexander, who heads  the National Security Agency and the U.S. Cyber Command, revealed the statistics in a rare public interview Thursday at the Aspen Security Forum, a gathering of national security officials. He called for passage of legislation being debated by the Senate that would set up a voluntary system for companies to shore up their computer defenses.

The NSA eavesdrops on communications around the world, and it also monitors cyber-attacks. U.S. Cyber Command is responsible for offensive cyber operations.

Alexander did not say how many attacks happen each year against critical infrastructure, such as electrical, water, chemical and nuclear plants. Such intrusions are typically designed  to probe defenses and lay the groundwork for a destructive attack.  Many plants and factories are run by networked industrial control systems, so an attacker who seizes control of such a system could wreak havoc.

Echoing remarks he has made before, Alexander said the U.S. lacks sufficient defenses against cyber-attacks. On a scale of 1 to 10, he said, American preparedness for a large-scale cyber-attack is “around a 3.”

He said he was particularly worried about attacks that could shut down parts of the electrical grid or compromise public water systems.

“Destructive cyber-attacks against critical infrastructure are coming,” Alexander said.

Alexander said the military had yet to work out rules of engagement for responding to cyber-attacks, and he pointed out that neither of his agencies have the authority to defend against a cyber-attack on a private company, even if that company owns crucial infrastructure.  The pending bill would fix that, he said.

Some business groups oppose the bill as intrusive, and some civil liberties groups say it compromises privacy.

Alexander pointedly refused to comment on Stuxnet, a cyber-attack on Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities that has been reported to have been the work of the U.S. and Israeli intelligence.  He also pushed back against the notion that the uptick in attacks on the U.S. is related to Stuxnet, which was first discovered in June 2010.

Alexander repeated his view that computer-based espionage against the industrialized world amounted to “the biggest transfer of wealth in history” because “adversaries have gone into our companies and taken intellectual property.”

He cited one estimate by the security firm McAfee that the losses from such spying add up to a trillion dollars. But, he said, "we don’t know. And which is more alarming:  that it’s really large, or we don’t even know how large it is? … What other countries are doing are stealing the next generation of [our] capabilities.”

Alexander didn’t name the countries, but China and Russia have  been cited by government officials as the biggest culprits, a charge they deny.


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Photo: NBC correspondent Pete Williams, left, interviews Gen. Keith Alexander  on  on cyber-security. Credit: Aspen Daily News 

Bulgaria suspects suicide bomber in bus attack that killed 5 Israelis

As Israeli victims of the Bulgarian bus bombing began arriving home, security officials said they now believe that the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber with a fake American passport
JERUSALEM -- As Israeli victims of the Bulgarian bus bombing began arriving home Thursday, security officials said they now believe that the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber with a fake American passport.

Israel began airlifting wounded tourists from the Black Sea city of Burgas to Tel Aviv following Wednesday's blast, which killed seven people and injured more than 30 others.

Officials believe that five of the dead are Israelis, one was the bus' Bulgarian driver and the seventh was the bomber.

Bulgarian officials released a video showing a Caucasian male with long hair, dressed in short pants, tennis shoes, a baseball cap and sunglasses. He is shown loitering around the airport with a large black backpack. His remains were found on the bus, officials said.

Officials say the man was carrying what appeared to be a U.S. passport and a Michigan driver's license, both of which are believed to be forged, according to Bulgaria's Sofia News Agency. Officials told reporters Thursday that the man had been in the country for more than four days.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Thursday that Israel has information linking Lebanon-based Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to the attack, but he did not elaborate or provide evidence of that assertion.

Iranian and Hezbollah officials have denied any role in the bombing.

Israel and Iran have been engaged in a shadow war for nearly two years. Israel blames Iran for orchestrating bomb attacks against Israeli missions in India, Georgia and Thailand. Iran says Israel is behind the assassination of several of its top scientists working on the country's nuclear program.

Israel has threatened to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities to prevent the Tehran regime from developing nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is for civilian purposes.


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Photo: Smoke can be seen over the airport in Burgas, Bulgaria, where a tour bus carrying Israeli vacationers exploded, killing at least seven people. Credit: AFP/Getty Images


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