Monthly Archives: July 2010

Leaked Archive Fuels Doubts on Afghan War

Leaked United States military reports from Afghanistan appear to contain “evidence of war crimes,” the man who published them said Monday.

WikiLeaks.org – a whistleblower website – published what it says are about 75,000 United States military and diplomatic reports about Afghanistan filed between 2004 and January of this year. It has another 15,000 documents which it plans to publish after editing out names to protect people, according to Julian Assange, the founder of the website. The first-hand accounts are the military’s own raw data on the war, including numbers of those killed, casualties, threat reports and the like, he said. “The material does not leave anyone smelling like roses, especially the Taliban,” he said, also implying that some U.S. troops had behaved improperly.

The leaked documents comprise “the total history of the Afghan war from 2004 to 2010, with some important exceptions – U.S. Special Forces, CIA activity, and most of the activity of other non-U.S. groups,” Assange said. (CNN) He claims the documents reveal the “squalor” of the war, uncovering how many relatively small incidents have added up to huge numbers of dead civilians. The significance lies in “all these people being killed in the small events that we haven’t heard about that numerically eclipse the big casualty events. It’s the boy killed by a shell that missed a target,” he told CNN before the reports were published. “What we haven’t seen previously is all those individual deaths,” he said. “We’ve seen just the number and, like Stalin said, ‘One man’s death is a tragedy, a million dead is a statistic.’ So we’ve seen the statistic.” (CNN)

CNN has not independently confirmed the authenticity of the documents. The United States “strongly condemned” their release. Pakistani officials dismissed the contents as lies, and the Afghan government expressed amazement. “The Afghan government is shocked with the report that has opened the reality of the Afghan war,” said Siamak Herawi, a government spokesman. (CNN)

The New York Times reported Sunday that military field documents on WikiLeaks suggest that Pakistan, an ally of the United States in the war against terror, has been running something of a “double game.” Pakistan has been allowing “representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in the secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders,” said the newspaper, which had access to the documents in advance.

Herawi focused on the allegation that Pakistan was secretly supporting al-Qaeda, and charged that Washington needed to deal with Pakistani intelligence, known as the ISI. “There should be serious action taken against the ISI, who has a direct connection with the terrorists,” he said. “These reports show that the U.S. was already aware of the ISI connection with the al-Qaeda terrorist network. The United States is overdue on the ISI issue and now the United States should answer.” (CNN)

But Gen. Hamid Gul, the former head of Pakistan’s intelligence service who is mentioned numerous times in the WikiLeaks reports, called the accusations lies. “These reports are absolutely and utterly false,” Gul said Monday. “I think they [United States] are failing and they’re looking for scapegoats.” (CNN)

Senator Jeff Sessions, a conservative Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said suggestions that even rogue elements of the ISI were seeking to confound the U.S. war effort were troubling. “That would be very disturbing if they were participating in strategies to fight U.S. soldiers. It would be unacceptable,” Sessions told reporters. (Reuters)

Qamar Zaman Kaira, Pakistan’s federal information minister, said allegations against the ISI are “baseless. If someone has any evidence, it should be brought to us and we will take action,” he said. “The Pakistani military, especially the ISI, has sacrificed more than any other forces in the war on terrorism.” (CNN)

Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit dismissed the reports as “far-fetched and skewed… If anything these betray the lack of understanding of the complexities involved,” Basit said. “Pakistan’s constructive and positive role in Afghanistan cannot be blighted by such self-serving and baseless reports.” (Reuters)

A spokesman for Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Farahnaz Ispahani, said the “unsubstantiated leaks” based on uncorroborated “one-sided reports… will not deter the Pakistani government’s commitment to the eradication of terrorism, peace with our neighbors and stability in the region.” (CNN)

Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States on Monday downplayed the documents’ release, saying many of the reports are based on conjecture and rumour. “Some of these have already been proved wrong in the past, and some are just hearsay or statements by individuals,” Husain Haqqani said. “The fact of the matter is, this is routine and I don’t think as big a deal as it’s being made out to be.” (CBC)

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon slammed the documents’ release, saying it could endanger the lives of Canadian Forces serving in Afghanistan. In a statement, U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones said the release “could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security… These irresponsible leaks will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan; to defeat our common enemies; and to support the aspirations of the Afghan and Pakistani people.” (CBC)

WikiLeaks has previously made headlines for posting controversial videos of combat in Iraq. The site gained international attention in April when it posted a 2007 video said to show a U.S. helicopter attack in Iraq killing a dozen civilians, including two unarmed Reuters journalists.

At the time, Maj. Shawn Turner, a U.S. military spokesman, said that “all evidence available supported the conclusion by those forces that they were engaging armed insurgents and not civilians.” (CNN)

Pfc. Bradley Manning, 22, suspected of leaking a classified 2007 video, has been charged by the U.S. military with eight violations of the U.S. Criminal Code for transferring classified data, according to a charge sheet released by the military earlier this month. Attempts to reach Manning’s military defence attorney, Capt. Paul Bouchard, were unsuccessful Sunday. However, U.S. Army spokesman Col. Tom Collins has said Bouchard would not speak to the media about the charges.

Assange says WikiLeaks has attempted to put together a legal team to defend Manning, something it will do for any “alleged” whistleblower that runs into legal trouble because of WikiLeaks. Assange – a former teen hacker who launched the site in 2007 – denies that WikiLeaks has put troops in danger. “There certainly have been people who have lost elections as a result of material being on WikiLeaks,” he said. “There have been prosecutions because of material being on WikiLeaks. There have been legislative reforms because of material being on WikiLeaks,” he said. “What has not happened is anyone being physically harmed as a result.” But he said he hoped his website would be “very dangerous” to “people who conduct wars in an abusive ways.” (CNN) Assange said the organization gets material from whistleblowers in a variety of ways – including via postal mail – vets it, releases it to the public and then defends itself against “the regular political or legal attack.” (CNN) He said the organization rarely knows the identity of the source of the leak. “If we find out at some stage, we destroy that information as soon as possible,” he said. (CNN)

The latest documents cover the period from January 2004 to December 2009. The information is not new for anyone who’s been tracking the conflict, military analyst Mercedes Stephenson told CBC News. But Stephenson said some of the information contained in the documents, including times and dates of attacks, damage to vehicles and number of injured, could pose a risk to NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan. “There is a reason certain information is not released by coalition forces and it’s because it allows the Taliban to judge the success of… or to figure out coalition tactics,” Stephenson said. “And that jeopardizes soldiers’ lives.” (CBC)

The United States has repeatedly urged Pakistan to hunt down militant groups, including some believed to have been nurtured by the ISI as strategic assets in Afghanistan and against arch-rival India. Islamabad says it is doing all it can to fight the militancy, adding that it was a victim of terrorism itself. Last month was the deadliest for foreign troops since 2001, with more than 100 killed, and civilian deaths have risen as ordinary Afghans are increasingly caught in the cross-fire.


New Leak Causes More Problems for BP Oil Spill

A highly anticipated test designed to measure pressure within BP’s ruptured Gulf of Mexico oil well began Thursday after a delay caused by leaking equipment. The “well integrity test” will last at least six hours and could take up to 48 hours, the company said. BP suspended oil recovery operations during the testing process. “We have the ability to evaluate every six hours, and if we have reason to believe we should terminate the test, we can do that.” (CBC)

“Although it cannot be assured, it is expected that no oil will be released to the ocean during the test,” BP said in a news release. “Even if no oil is released during the test, this will not be an indication that oil and gas flow from the wellbore has been permanently stopped.” (CNN) The custom-made sealing cap, lowered in place earlier this week, has never been deployed at such depths or under such conditions and therefore, there were no guarantees on how well it would contain the oil, BP said.

Earlier Thursday, BP replaced what is known as a choke line after a leak was discovered the day before when the company first attempted the crucial pressure test, said Senior Vice President Kent Wells. BP plans to close off – one by one – the valves on the cap system through which oil can escape, said retired Adm. Thad Allen, the federal government’s disaster response manager. Scientists and engineers will monitor the pressure every six hours and evaluate the situation, Allen said. If at any time, the pressure is deemed too low – meaning that oil is escaping through another source in the breached well – the testing will stop, Allen said.

Allen compared low pressure in the well to a leaky garden hose that dribbles out water with your thumb pressed hard on the nozzle. If the pressure readings are sufficiently high, the valves on the stacking containment cap could remain closed and signal a beginning of the end to the catastrophe that began when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and triggering the relentless spill. Allen said the cap was not designed to permanently shut in the well – it was meant to move to a four-vessel containment system and assure redundancy in the event of a hurricane. “The intention of the capping stack was never to close the well per se,” Allen told reporters in New Orleans. “The best reason to be able to shut in the well right now… is it allows us to abandon the site if there is a hurricane.” (Reuters) But he said there could be a huge side benefit if the oil can be contained – a “twofer,” as he called it. Allen said the more permanent solution to the spewing oil remains the two relief wells BP is drilling and expects to have them finished in August.

BP pumped drilling mud into those relief wells to migrate risks during the pressure testing. The two wells intersect with the Macondo.

Oil recovery was stopped Wednesday ahead of the integrity test but resumed while BP was fixing the problem with the leaking choke line. It was stopped again with the testing under way. Wells said BP collected 537,600 gallons of oil Wednesday. Government scientists estimate between 1.5 million to 2.5 million gallons are flowing into the Gulf every day.

A key question over the pressure tests was whether shutting the well was worth the risk, or whether they might cause fresh damage to the blowout preventer.

Meanwhile, Allen said the prevailing winds are slowing the drift of oil to shore. “We’re getting a little break in the action as far as the oil closing [on] shore,” he said. “It’s given us a chance to kind of consolidate our forces and make sure we can redouble our efforts on onshore cleanup.” (CBC) Since the explosion on April 20, an estimated 689 million litres of oil has flowed into the Gulf.

U.S. lawmakers, under pressure from citizens angry at the impact the spill is having on their livelihood, are considering a range of new laws that could require tougher safety regulations in offshore drilling or even bar companies like BP from getting new offshore exploration leases. The U.S. government, which has vowed to make BP pay for the fixing of the ruptured well and all cleanup efforts, told the oil giant that it was responsible for paying all royalties on the oil it is collecting from the ruptured well.

In an issue unrelated to the spill, but illustrating the pressure BP faces in the United States, the company confirmed on Thursday that it had lobbed the UK government over a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya in late 2007. In August 2009, Britain released a Libyan convicted of blowing up a U.S. plane, angering the United States. Many of the 270 dead in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing were American.

The Gulf spill has soiled hundreds of kilometres of shoreline, shut down about a third of Gulf fisheries and hurt tourism and fishing in all five Gulf states. It has also created problems for President Barack Obama as the government worked to respond to the crisis while area residents struggled financially.

U.S. shares were up slightly after BP announced it had repaired the leak and would go ahead with the test. They gained more ground on reports of the possible asset deal with Apache. “There’s still hope that this system they’re putting in place will actually work, there’s hope and there’s hype and there’s a high probability that it will work,” said Ted Parrish of Henssler Equity Fund in Kennesaw, Georgia.

“A buyer of assets today in BP’s situation is likely to get a very favorable deal, so Apache is probably working from strength, not weakness,” said Robert Lutts, chief investment officer at Cabot Money Management. “This may be a very good acquisition for them.” (Reuters)

BP shares have been ravaged since the well rupture, with $100 billion in market value being knocked off at one stage, before a three-week rally sparked by takeover talk, speculation about investment by a sovereign wealth fund and hopes that the well would be capped. Arbuthnot analyst Doug Youngson said: “There is quite a lot of nervousness about how effective this cap is going to be and whether it might, in fact, make matters worse. There is a very high degree of uncertainty over which way this is going to go. The language was very bullish at the start of the week but it’s quite quickly turned around.” (Toronto Star)

In Buras, Louisiana, crabber Larry Tew said he was hopeful about the cap tests. “I think it’s going to work… I mean, they don’t have any other choice,” he said. (Toronto Star)

Questions over BP’s role in lobbying the British government over the release of the Libyan Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, convicted in the Lockerbie bombing, also dogged the company. Some U.S. lawmakers called for an investigation. Asked if British Prime Minister David Cameron would speak to Obama about it, Cameron’s spokesman said, “There’s already been contact on the issue of BP and the prime minister and the president agreed that it wouldn’t be in anyone’s interest to see anything that would undermine the value of BP.” (Reuters)

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said no decision had been made about the request for an investigation into whether BP had a role in Megrahi’s release. “It’s not for BP to comment on the decision of the Scottish government,” the BP said in a statement. “BP was not involved in any decision with the U.K. government or the Scottish government about the release of Mr. al-Megrahi.” (New York Times) But the company’s critics have said that such a distinction was largely illusory, since Libya’s pressure for the prisoner transfer pact was primarily motivated, as Libyan officials said at the time, by their desire to bring Mr. Megrahi home.

Long before the Gulf of Mexico disaster, the British government’s role in the Megrahi release – and the involvement of British companies with interests in Libya, including BP – had caused deep strains between the Obama administration and the former Labour Party government in London, which was ousted in a general election in May and replaced by a coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Although senior figures in the Labour government insisted that the Megrahi decision was taken independently by the Scottish government, which has wide-ranging legal powers of its own, an official paper trail showed that officials in London had told Scottish officials, in the context of the prisoner transfer agreement, that letting Mr. Megrahi go would benefit British commercial interests. That led to widespread suspicions that the Labour government, eager to promote British commercial interests in Libya but reluctant to be seen taking a step – the release of Mr. Megrahi – that would anger Washington, chose to encourage instead an end-around solution that had the Scottish government making the decision.

British officials have noted privately that the last three American administrations have been keen for American oil companies to strike deals with Libya, and that BP has been joined in the contest for potentially lucrative deals by several American oil giants, including Exxon Mobil and Chevron. Still, the chain of events surrounding Mr. Megrahi fostered deep disillusionment in Washington, where politicians and senior officials criticized what they regarded as Britain’s duplicity in the affair. Their anger was based, in part, on assurances the United States said it had been given at the time of the Lockerbie trial, held before a special Scottish court sitting in the Hague, that anybody convicted in the case would serve the full term handed down by the court. Mr. Megrahi’s conviction was the only one achieved in the case, after a Libyan accused of being an accomplice, like Mr. Megrahi an agent of LIbya’s secret intelligence service, was found not guilty and freed.


Afghan Soldier Kills 3 British Troops

Investigators are searching for an Afghan National Army soldier who shot a rocket at British soldiers in Helmand province, killing three and injuring four others early Tuesday morning, an Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman said.

The men, from 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, were on duty on Tuesday morning in Nahr-e Saraj, Helmand province, when the Afghan opened fire. One of the dead is believed to be a Nepalese Gurkha and the other two were described as UK nationals. The BBC understands that one of the soldiers killed was shot. It is understood that the other two were killed by a rocket propelled grenade.

“In that patrol base, this will be a traumatic event,” Lt.-Gen. Nick Parker, deputy commander of ISAF and the senior British officer in Afghanistan, said in a statement. (Reuters)

The spokesman for Task Force Helmand, Lt. Col. James Carr-Smith, said: “We believe these were the actions of a lone individual who has betrayed his ISAF and Afghan comrades. His whereabouts are currently unknown but we are making strenuous efforts to find him. He should know that his actions will not deter us from our task and we will continue to work closely with our Afghan friends to bring security to Helmand. Three courages and dedicated soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice. They will be greatly missed and their actions will not be forgotten. We will remember them.” (BBC)

In a statement released Tuesday, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said the soldiers were killed at an army patrol base manned by NATO and Afghan troops. The statement said NATO and Afghan officials were investigating the incident.

“We have sacrificed together, and we must ensure that the trust between our forces remains solid in order to defeat our common enemies,” Gen. David Petraeus said in a statement. Petraeus, the top commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said working together was paramount. “This is a combined, joint mission, Afghan and Alliance troopers fighting shoulder-to-shoulder against the Taliban and other extremists,” he said. (CNN)

Afghan Army Chief of Staff Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi expressed sympathies to the families of the deceased soldiers, describing them as “coalition partners.” In a statement he said, “Our ongoing, partnered investigation will seek to determine how this event could have occurred and we will prosecute those responsible.” (CNN)

Col. Richard Kemp, a former commander of British troops in Afghanistan, told the BBC that it was important to remember that this was an isolated incident and “not a pattern of events.”

The British Ministry of Defence echoed the mourning, calling the shooting incident a “suspected premeditated attack.” “This is a despicable and cowardly act, and my thoughts go out to the family and friends of those who have lost their lives,” said British Defence Secretary Liam Fox. “This incident will be thoroughly investigated by ISAF and the Afghan security forces, and we will do everything we can to bring the individual responsible to justice… Training and developing the Afghan National Security Forces is vital to the international mission in Afghanistan and today’s events will not undermine the real progress we continue to make. British and ISAF forces are working shoulder to shoulder with Afghans and will continue to do so undeterred,” Fox said. (CNN) Security correspondent Frank Gardner said he was not surprised that the attack had happened because the vetting process to join the Afghan military is poor. It is not a popular career move, he said, because it is poorly paid and dangerous. “It is important to keep an open mind about what has motivated this person,” said our correspondent. This kind of thing often has rather more below the surface. There are often tribal feuds, there are family feuds; there are personal reasons. So it isn’t always down to the insurgency.” (BBC) The correspondent added that the tragedy was likely to intensify debate over the human costs of the mission in Afghanistan, but he said the West’s exit strategy relies on training the Afghan security forces.

A number of British military personnel killed on operations in Afghanistan since 2001 stands at 317. British soldiers in Afghanistan have trained 130,000 Afghan troops since 2005, and 5,000 British troops are currently partnering members of the ANA. Britain is the largest contributor to the NATO force after the United States.

Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the killings as “appalling” but insisted that the attack should not change the strategy of working alongside the Afghan army. “It is absolutely essential that we don’t let this terrible incident change our strategy. It is the right thing to do to build up the Afghan national army. We need to make sure that we build up that army because that, in the end, is the way that we are going to be able to bring our troops back home.” (BBC) Mr. Cameron said he spoke to President Karzai on Tuesday morning and both men agreed that an urgent investigation was required.

President Karzai’s spokesman, Waheed Omar, said the Afghanistan government was also investigating the killings. At a press conference in Kabul, Omar said that if the reports were true, the attack was “very regrettable.” “The president was upset to hear this,” he said. (New York Times) President Karzai expressed his condolences and apologies for the attack. His apology comes at a time of tension between NATO and the Afghan government, noted the CBC’s Cameron MacIntosh in a report from Kandahar. “Last week, the Afghan government sharply criticized NATO for killing five Afghan soldiers in a ‘friendly-fire’ accident,” he said. (CBC)


World Cup Celebrations in Uganda Marred by Bombs

A Somali Islamist militant movement on Monday claimed responsibility for a trio of bombings that killed at least 74 people Sunday at two venues in the Ugandan capital where crowds had gathered to watch the World Cup final.

“And the best of men have promised and they have delivered,” said an Arabic statement issued by Al-Shabaab’s press office and obtained by CNN. “Blessings and exalted among men – (taking) full responsibility. … We wage war against the 6,000 collaborators; they have received their response.” The 6,000 is an apparent reference to African Union peacekeepers in Somalia. Uganda contributes troops to the peacekeeping effort. “We are behind the attack because we are at war with them,” Al-Shabaab spokesman Ali Mahamoud Rage told reporters at a news conference in Mogadishu, Somalia. “We had given warning to the Ugandans to refrain from their involvement in our country. We spoke to the leaders and we spoke to the people and they never listened to us.” Rage said young suicide bombers carried out the attacks but did not specify their nationalities. “May Allah accept these martyrs who carried out the blessed operation and exploded themselves in the middle of the infields,” he said. (CNN) The bombings late Sunday are the first time the group has actually attacked outside Somalia’s borders. “We will carry out attacks against our enemy wherever they are,” said Rage. “No one will deter us from performing our Islamic duty.” (CBC)

However, Police Chief Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura told reporters arrests have been made in connection with the bombings. He would not say how many people have been arrested or provide details.

Earlier Monday, Sheikh Abu Al Zubeir, identified as “the Emir of Al-Shabaab in Somalia,” said an Arabic website posting, “My manage to the Ugandan and Burundian nations is that you will be the target for our retribution to the massacres perpetrated against the Somali men, women and children in Mogadishu by your forces.” (CNN) The statement was posted on an al-Qaeda affiliated website that previously had carried statements and videos from Al-Shabaab. The website set up a page Monday to “receive congratulations” on Al-Shabaab’s behalf for the “blessed operations” in Uganda.

Suspicion had centered on Somali Islamist group shortly after the explosions in Kampala, Uganda. Islamic militants battling Somalia’s U.N.-backed transitional government had two days ago threatened attacks on Uganda and Burundi, which also contributes troops to the peacekeeping effort in Somalia.

President Yoweri Museveni declared a week of national mourning for victims of the bombings, beginning Tuesday, according to a government statement. All flags on public buildings will be lowered to half-staff during the mourning period, the statement said. Meanwhile, a journalist in Mogadishu reported that shelling was under way in the city as of Monday night.

Eighty-five people were injured in the Ugandan blasts, Kayihura told reporters. Of those, three are Americans, he said. They were transferred from the national hospital to a privately owned hospital in Kampala, he said. “This incident shows that it was terrorism,” he said. (CNN) Kayihura said he could not confirm that Al-Shabaab was responsible, but said the nature of the explosives used were consistent with the group. Police are using forensics to analyze the explosives, he said, and will deliver a report in a day or two. The 74 fatalities included 28 Ugandans, one Irish citizen, one Indian, one American and 11 people who are either Ethiopian or Eritrean, according to the Ugandan government.

“If you want to fight, why don’t you attack soldiers or military installations instead of fighting innocent people watching football?” said Museveni, who on Monday visited a rugby sports center where two of the blasts occurred Sunday. (CNN)

Ugandan army spokesman Felix Kulayigye said it was too early to speculate about any military response to the attacks.

The blasts hit in the capital, Kampala, within 50 minutes of each other. The first one struck an Ethiopian restaurant in a neighbourhood dotted with bars and popular among expatriates; two others exploded at the rugby center. A senior government official confirmed there were three bombs. The second one at the rugby club was the most severe, said the official.

The U.S. Embassy confirmed the death of one American. An organization that works with children in Uganda identified him as Nate Henn. In a post on its website, the organization – Invisible Children – said Henn was in the country working with Ugandan students. CNN could not independently verify the information. “Nate was not a glory-seeker and never sought the spotlight. He asked not to be made a hero of,” the post said. “But the life he lived inspires reflection and imitation.” (CNN) Julie Cozzie, a neighbour in Raleigh, N.C., described Mr. Henn as a “kind, gentle, nice young man” who cared deeply for Uganda. (New York Times)

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said the U.S. was prepared to provide any necessary assistance to the Ugandan government. Mike Hammer, a spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council, said President Barack Obama is “deeply saddened by the loss of life resulting from these deplorable and cowardly attacks.”(CNN) Obama called Museveni on Monday morning and offered to provide support and assistance, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. “I’m told the FBI will assist in the investigation of the bombings.” The bombings, he said, show “criminality and terrorism has always been hovering over us.” (CNN)

Stone Atwine was watching the game at the rugby center when the blast occurred. “It happened toward the 90th minute of the game… this loud explosion,” he said. “We didn’t know what was happening, we were running around, scampering for safety. I saw dead guys still seated in their chairs with blood.” Atwine said a second explosion struck the venue seconds later, knocking out power. “At that point, we ran off. My friends and I ran into the car and drove off.” (CNN) Relatives flocked the hospitals and mortuaries to looked for loved ones Monday.

“I was watching the game with my brother at the rugby center,” said Ian Luke, who was among a group gathered at a city hospital. “The blast left him unconscious. I don’t know how he is.” (CNN)

“We were enjoying ourselves when a very noisy blast took place,” said Andrew Oketa, one of the hospitalized survivors. “I fell down and became unconscious. When I regained, I realized that I was in a hospital bed with a deep wound on my head.” (CBC)

Florence Naiga, 32, a mother of three children, said her husband had gone to watch the final at the rugby club. “He did not come back. I learnt about the bomb blasts in the morning. When I went to police, they told me he was among the dead,” she said. (CBC)

“You can never stop attacks in the world,” said FIFA president Sepp Blatter. “During the World Cup, the world should have been touched by the emotions of football. I’m very sad and I was very touched. Can you link this to the World Cup? I don’t know,” Blatter said. “It was when the World Cup was on TV, but it’s not for us to investigate a link. But being linked or not to football, we as human beings condemn the attacks. … I deplore what has happened and look forward to the good that football can bring to our world.” (CNN)

Some of the injured at the restaurant included six members of an American church mission working with a local congregation, according to the Rev. Kathleen Kind, pastor of Christ Community United Methodist Church in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. All the church members were accounted for and families had been contacted, Kind said. Their injuries ranged from broken bones and flesh wounds to temporary blindness and hearing problems, she said.

Kayihura said the bombings could have been avoided if the two venues had used security measures such as metal detectors and the placement of guards to frisk those entering.

Ethiopia, which fought two wars with Somalia, is a longtime enemy of Al-Shabaab and other Somali militants who accuse their neighbour of meddling in Somali affairs. Ethiopia had troops in Somalia between December 2006 and January 2009 to back Somalia’s fragile government against the Islamist insurgency. In addition to Uganda’s troops in Mogadishu, Uganda also hosts Somali soldiers trained in U.S. and European-backed programs. Uganda, a close ally of the United States, was the first country to commit peacekeeping troops for the African Union’s mission to protect Somalia’s transitional government from the Islamist insurgency.

There are also thousands of Somali refugees living in Uganda. Unlike Kenya, the nation provides Somalis relatively easy access to visas, which they can receive on arrival. “This terrorist attack would really put pressure on the Somali refugees living in Uganda, their businesses and movement as well,” said Ali Abdullahi Egal, chairman of the Fanole Human Rights and Development Organization. “It will also hinder the flow of refugees and asylum seekers who flee from their counry and arrive in Kampala.” (New York Times)

Officials said the Sunday attacks will not affect the African Union summit being held in Uganda from July 19-27. Many African leaders are expected to attend.


Blast in Pakistan Tribal Region Kills 56

A suicide car bomber killed at least 56 people and wounded more than 100 others Friday when his vehicle exploded in a market in Mohmand Agency in Pakistan’s tribal region of Yakaghund, the administrative center of Mohmand, officials said. Elders were gathered in Yakaghund over tea before a scheduled meeting with the assistant political agent. The bomber came on a motorbike and blew himself up near the gate of the local administrator’s office, witnesses said.

The blast blew a crater nearly five feet deep. More than 70 shops and five houses were damaged in the blast. The explosion also damaged the wall of a nearby prison, allowing some prisoners to escape.

Witnesses said a large number of people were waiting outside the administrator’s office when the explosion took off. “It appeared as though the bike lost its balance and was about to fall, and just then there was a huge explosion,” a soldier who was on duty at the office said. (BBC) Security forces have cordoned off the area and rescue teams are working at the site of the blast.

In the confusion following the attack, various officials provided conflicting death tolls. Amjad Ali Khan, chief of Mohmand Agency, said four policemen were among the dead. Maqsood Mahed Khan, a local government official, said three children and two women were killed. Authorities also believe more victims may be trapped under the rubble of damaged buildings. Rescuers are still searching for bodies in the rubble hours after the blast. Many of the injured were taken for treatment to Peshawar, the nearby capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkwa Province, formerly known as North-West Frontier Province.

The attack was aimed directly at the civilian authorities who are supposed to be helping ordinary people resist the Taliban. The Pakistani Army has been involved in a battle against the militants in Mohmand for nearly two years but has been unable to defeat them.

A distribution of humanitarian goods from the United States, including wheelbarrows and tools, had taken place at Yakaghund on Thursday, officials said. The distribution was organized by the Office of Transitional Initiatives, which works under the Agency for International Development, a United States government agency that is seeking to support the civilian government in Pakistan.

The strike demonstrated the resilience of the Taliban in the tribal region, even in an area like Mohmand that is adjacent to the bustling city of Peshawar. Mohmand is one of seven semiautonomous tribal agencies along the 1,500-mile porous border that Pakistan shares with Afghanistan. The strategic location of Mohmand, a mountainous, heavily forested area with easy escape routes to Afghanistan, makes it relatively easy for the Taliban to organize men and weapons.

The leader of the Taliban there, Abdul Wali, has survived the army’s operations and his group of fighters remains intact, local officials say. A Taliban spokesman, Ikramullah Mohmand, said the rebels claimed responsibility for the attack. The target was a meeting of local officials and anti-Taliban elders from the Anbar Utmankhel tribe, he said.

The top government administrator of Mohmand region, Amjad Ali, said the attack signified “increasing desperation” on part of the Taliban, whose “space is being restricted by security forces.” (BBC)

Earlier this week, the Pakistani government announced it would hold a bipartisan national conference to map out a strategy to combat terrorism, a move that was prompted by an outpouring of popular protest after the attack on a Sufi shrine in Lahore on July 1 that killed at least 37 people.

The military said in the last year that it has been largely able to restore its control over all the main towns and countryside in Mohmand. In September 2009, the commander of local forces in Mohmand said 80% of the area had been cleared of militants. But the military have apparently not been able to crush them conclusively, a BBC correspondent says. There have been frequent militant attacks on security check-points and military convoys in the area since September. Last month, militants launched a major assault on a border post in Mohmand, forcing many soldiers to flee to Afghanistan. Most of them were later handed over by Afghan authorities to Pakistan but nearly a dozen soldiers are still missing, believed to be captured by the Taliban. In subsequent weeks, military jets have carried out bombings of suspected militant hideouts in the region.


Update: BP Oil Spill

Introduction

A spokeswoman for BP told the BBC that it was “ahead of the original schedule of completion in August.” Asked about comments made by Bob Dudley, the man in charge, that finishing by July 27 was possible, she emphasized the caveats in what he said. Mr. Dudley said completely between July 20 and 27 was possible but only “in a perfect world with no interruptions.” (BBC) In his interview with the Wall Street Journal newspaper earlier this week, Mr. Dudley added that such a “perfect case” was threatened by the hurricane season in the region and was “unlikely”.

New Drilling Ban

The Obama administration said on Thursday it will immediately issue a revised ban on deepwater drilling if an appeals court bars it from reinstating the six-month moratorium it imposed in the wake of the BP oil spill. However, the administration will not impose a new drilling ban if the federal court in New Orleans supports its initial moratorium, an Interior Department official told Reuters. A hearing before a three-judge appeals panel is scheduled for 3 p.m. (4 p.m. EDT) on Thursday on the ban imposed during an investigation of the April 20 rig explosion that killed 11 men and triggered the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

Hurricane Warnings

The US National Hurricane Center issued a warning in the early hours of Wednesday about a tropical depression which has formed in the Gulf of Mexico. Tropical storms could disrupt efforts to contain oil which has been leaking from the site of the Deepwater Horizon rig since April. Although the depression is not predicted to become a major hurricane, tropical storm warnings were issued for the Texas and Mexico coastlines.

Cleanup Costs

BP is facing massive clean-up costs and compensation claims as a result of the Gulf of Mexico oil leak. Spokeswoman Sheila Williams said that as the drilling for the relief well got deeper and closer to the leaking pipe the operation would become “more delicate and technically more difficult.” (BBC) Estimates of the leak’s severity vary widely, to as high as 100,000 barrels per day. BP has committed to a $20 billion fund for clean-up and other costs stemming from the spill. Its costs to date have topped $3 billion.

Relief Drills

Since the oil started leaking BP has tried a number of different ways to plug the well, including a failed “top kill” procedure which tried to staunch the flow by pumping huge quantities of mud into the blowout preventer (BOP) that sits on the seabed. The company began drilling for the first of two relief wells on May 2, and for a second on May 16.

Critical U.S. Government

The U.S. government has been highly critical of BP’s handling of the oil leak. Congressmen have accused Chief Executive Tony Howard of not taking responsibility for the disaster, while questioning him about alleged cost-cutting measures that could have contributed to the explosion and leak. On Wednesday the U.S. government asked BP to tell it of any major asset sales or merger deals in advance, as it continues to keep a close eye on the oil giant. The letter includes a list of questions about BP’s efforts to cap the well and ordered the company to respond within 24 hours. The letter said the containment effort is entering a “critical stage” and demanded a detailed timeline for estimated completion of relief wells and contingency plans. The highly unusual request was made in a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice, dated June 23. BP told the BBC that it had yet to respond to the letter.

The BP oil spill has taken its place firmly at the top of President Barack Obama’s political agenda and complicated U.S. ties with close ally Britain. Obama’s handling of the crisis has been subject to severe criticism despite widespread public anger in the United States at BP.

Shares and New Investor Rumors

BP’s New York share price on Thursday was little changed after rising about 24 percent in the past eight training days on talk that company executives were seeking new investors and optimism the worst might be behind the company. In its most recent update, BP said the oil leak had now cost it $3.12 billion, though the total cost is forecast by analysts to be tens of billions of dollars. As a result, the company has said it will look at selling some assets and attracting new investment.

Mr. Hayward visited Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, with media reports speculating he was in the region to entice wealthy investors. BP said Mr. Hayward’s visit was routine.

Speculation has grown in recent days about potential investors in BP, including the Kuwaiti Investment Authority, China’s PetroChina and the US oil giant Exxon Mobil. These reports, as well as statements from BP saying the company had no plans to issue new shares, have helped the company’s share price to rally this week – including a 5% rise on Wednesday. But despite the bounce, BP’s shares have almost halved in value since the Deepwater Horizon explosion on April 20. The Philadelphia oil services sector index was also about flat and trading volume was low, as traders waited for result of the hearing.

Singapore State investor Temasek Holdings on Thursday dismissed talk it had talked to BP about a strategic stake. “It’s speculation,” Temasek Executive Director Simon Israel told reporters, which followed visits to Azerbaijan and Russia.

Recent News

A federal judge stopped the administration’s drilling ban last month, ruling in favor of companies like Hornbeck Offshore Services Inc. which argued the moratorium was too broad, would cost jobs and unfairly punished their industries. Justice Department lawyers will argue the ban is sufficiently narrow and necessary to avoid another disastrous spill. Whichever side loses on Thursday could appeal to the full appeals court, and the case ultimately could be taken to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Coastal Residents’ Response

Coastal residents – out of work from fishing bans and a slumping tourist industry, and contemplating the ecological damage posed by tar clumps as large as school buses – say what has been done so far is nowhere near enough. “We have been asking for more protection since the oil began spewing into the Gulf and we are so frustrated because it seems that BP wants the oil to come on shore,” said Tommy Longo, mayor of Waveland Mississippi, where high tides were washing sheets of the black crude onto the beaches. (Reuters)


NATO Airstrike Accidentally Kills Afghan Troops

Introduction

Five Afghan soldiers have been accidentally killed in a NATO airstrike, officials in Afghanistan have said. Two more Afghan soldiers were wounded. A spokesman for the Afghan defence ministry condemned the incident, saying it was not the first time Afghan soldiers had died in “friendly fire”. The incident comes as international forces try to improve co-ordination with their Afghan counterparts in order to eventually transfer more security operations to them. Spokesman Brig-Gen. Josef Blotz said a joint investigation had been launched.

The Ambush

The airstrike took place around 4 a.m. local time as the troops were preparing to ambush insurgents in Ghazni province’s Andar district, about 100 miles southwest of Kabul. Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said the soldiers had been launching a morning ambush on militants in the Sarda dam and Rahim Khail village area when a NATO aircraft opened fire on them without warning. He said two other soldiers were wounded in the attack. The Afghan soldiers “had made an ambush for the enemy” when they were attacked early Wednesday morning, said Gen. Azimi. (The New York Times) Gen. Azimi said the “air force” had “bombarded” the Afghan soldiers; a NATO official later said a helicopter had fired a single rocket into the formation of Afghan troops. “ISAF aircraft bombed and martyred five of our soldiers,” said Gen. Azimi. (Reuters) “We condemn this action. Unfortunately this is not the first time such an incident has happened, but we wish that at least this would be the last one,” Gen. Azimi said. (BBC) According to a NATO official, the helicopter attacked the Afghan soldiers after a patrol of NATO troops spotted the Afghans and, mistakenly beliving they were militants, fed the information to the attack helicopter that fired the rocket. It was also not clear what time the attack took place. Gen. Azimi said he believed it occurred about 4 a.m., but Mr. Ghani, the head of security in Ghazni Province, said that the attack was closer to midnight. Ghani also said that six soldiers were killed and one wounded.

NATO’S Response

NATO confirmed the airstrike had gone wrong and said it regretted the deaths. NATO spokesman Josef Blotz confirmed the botched airstrike. He said he regretted the Afghan National Army deaths, telling reporters at a news briefing that the strike is “perhaps a co-ordination issue. We are obviously not absolutely clear whether there were Afghan national security forces in the area,” he said. (CBC) Mr. Blotz did not identify which country’s aircraft attacked the Afghan troops. A statement released by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said that the inquiry would determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the deaths, which occurred when “an ISAF aircrew engaged the individuals with precision-guided munitions.” (BBC) “This loss of life is tragic, and we offer condolences to all those who lost loved ones,” said ISAF spokesperson Jane Campbell. “We work extremely hard to co-ordinate and synchronize our operations and we deeply regret the loss of lives from our Afghan partners.” (BBC) ISAF has also extended the personal condolences of U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, the new commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, to families of the victims.

Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, the commander of ISAF’s Joint Command in Afghanistan and the No. 2 U.S. military officer there, said a joint investigation by coalition forces and the Afghan government was under way. But he suggested the problem could be due to a simple lack of coordination. “I’m not sure what the investigation will show. But we do have a challenge coordinating the efforts of the Afghan police, the Afghan army and the coalition forces at night, sometimes,” Rodriguez told Pentagon reporters, speaking via videoconference from Kabul. (Reuters)

Civilian Casualties and “Friendly Fire” Incidents

Civilian casualties and “friendly fire” incidents involving Afghan troops have been a frequent source of friction between Western powers and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Casualties among NATO forces fighting in Afghanistan hit a record high in June and commanders have warned they expect violence to rise over the summer, raising questions about whether more should be done to shield troops. Former U.S. and NATO commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal made avoiding civilian casualties a priority in a policy known as “courageous restraint.” (BBC)

His successor, Gen. Petraeus, will not abandon the policy but, according to senior sources, he believes some units are interpreting its rules too cautiously. Gen. Petraeus is reviewing rules of engagement meant to avoid civilian casualties, which critics say are too restrictive and put coalition forces at risk. But Rodriguez, echoing previous comments by Petraeus ruled out any major changes to the rules of engagement and said that any modifications would still shield civilians as much as possible. “(Petraeus) wants to make sure that as we move forward with any adjustments, if there are any, that we continue to protect the Afghan civilians as much and as effective as we possibly can,” he said. (Reuters)

Elsewhere in Afghanistan

About 140,000 international troops are fighting alongside Afghan forces to quell a Taliban-led insurgency. The fiercest fighting is taking place in southern Afghanistan, which is the focus of a new US-led push to regain control of militant-held areas.

In other developments, NATO said three U.S. soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday. It did not give any further details.

Britain Troop Withdrawal

Britain announced on Wednesday that it would withdraw its troops from the Sangin valley in the southern Helmand province, handing over responsibility to U.S. forces. The Sanging valley has been one of the deadliest for British forces, accounting for 99 of the 312 soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2001. About 1,000 Royal Marines will be shifted out of the Sangin valley area by the end of 2010. Troops who had been in the area will be redeployed to central Helmand province, Britain’s Defence ministry said in a statement. Britain has 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, most based in Helmand.