An update on the plane crash in the French Alps. Saudi Arabia launches air strikes against Yemen rebel bases. And President Barack Obama slows U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
The U.S. soldier suspected of killing 16 Afghan villagers during a shooting rampage Sunday was taken to a American detention facility in Kuwait while the investigation continues; Syria marked the one-year anniversary of its popular uprising, which has claimed the lives of more than 8,000 people; and cross-border fighting between Israel and Gaza militants reached the highest level in more than a year. Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers, James Kitfield of National Journal and Karen DeYoung of The Washington Post join Diane for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Karen DeYoung senior diplomatic correspondent, The Washington Post.
- Nancy Youssef Pentagon correspondent, McClatchy newspapers.
- James Kitfield senior correspondent, National Journal.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The uprising in Syria is now a year old. There is no sign of an end to the bloody crackdown by government forces. Defense secretary Panetta made a high-profile trip to Afghanistan after a U.S. soldier's alleged shooting rampage. Afghan President Karzai demands a pullback of U.S. troops from villages. Israel and Gaza engaged in their worst fighting in more than a year, and Britain's Prime Minister meets with President Obama in Washington.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio for the week's top international stories on the Friday News Roundup, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers, James Kitfield of National Journal, and Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post. I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850, your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, join on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
REHMJames Kitfield, with Leon Panetta going to Afghanistan this week, after this horrendous alleged shooting by a U.S. soldier, you had so much going at the same time. You have Leon Panetta getting off the plane when a truck goes out on the airfield. You have this sergeant who allegedly killed these people being sent we thought to Kuwait, and Kuwait said we don't want him, so he's on his way home. What in the world is happening?
MR. JAMES KITFIELDYou know, I wrote this week that, you know, I think that what's happening is this is what happens when you stay in a war too long where it's lost of it coherence. People don't understand at home while you're there. The people there are tired of presence of foreign troops, and it signals that the end game that the Obama administration has sketched out is gonna be potentially very chaotic, full of recriminations and not very satisfying.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDYou know, you had this horrible situation where the inadvertent Koran burnings caused riots across the country where more than two dozen Afghans are killed. Now we learned today that a seventh U.S. service member was killed by an Afghan security force in sort of retribution for this. So you have the people who -- and then you have this horrible killing by a U.S. soldier apparently of 16 Afghan civilians. So, you know, the American public is trying to make sense of our soldiers, you know, going over there and desecrating what they were sent to protect, being killed by the people they were trying to mentor.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDIn the background, these talks with the Taliban that are going nowhere while our ally in Pakistan seems to be supporting our enemies. I mean, it's gotten so incoherent, it's gone on so long that, you know, you're gonna have weeks like this, and it was a very, very bad week.
REHMIt was a bad week, and Afghan President Karzai is now demanding that the U.S. and NATO withdraw troops by next year. What's the U.S. gonna do here?
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFWell, it surprised the United States. Leon Panetta had traveled there on a pre-scheduled visit, and he goes to meet with Karzai, and Karzai tells him we want the U.S. troops to be essentially confined to their bases, to stop one of the two pillars of the U.S. exit strategy which is securing the country and training the Afghan security forces. The U.S. was caught by surprise by this announcement, in part because Karzai suggesting this at the beginning of fighting season that he would remove the best security force available to him before the fighting season starts, which is pretty extraordinary.
MS. NANCY YOUSSEFNow that said, Karzi didn't say that the troops needed to stop today or tomorrow, but he was certainly signaling, or at least suggesting that perhaps the U.S. presence there overall is doing more harm than good, and I think it was shocking for the United States to hear him say this when he did, Panetta's staff was caught off guard by it. Whether it'll mean that the U.S. does pull back, probably not. President Obama suggested that the U.S. strategy would continue, but there is gonna have to some negotiation that goes on about what the U.S. mission and they'll have to -- the suggestion this week was that there's gonna be some adjustments going to have to be made. At least Karzai's demanding that.
REHMI'm sure there are a lot of people in this country, Karen, who say if they want us to leave, let's get out.
MS. KAREN DEYOUNGWell, I think is one of the big problems now of a war that, as James said, has gone on for a very long time. This week you had President Obama and British Prime Minister, Cameron press conference in the Rose Garden talking about this very measured strategy that they have. They've laid out a series of meetings, they're about to decide on the pace of withdrawal. It's all very organized, and yet it's bearing increasing little resemblance to what's actually happening on the ground.
DEYOUNGThese things, you know, there have been lots of ups and downs in this. You've had Karzai make various demands which have either been ignored or just kind of brushed to the side and they've gone away. You've had the negotiations with the Taliban's up and down and up and down and now they're saying they're going to suspend talks. Nobody seems to take that very seriously, but the talks were pretty much suspended anyway. So the question is whether this -- as I say, this sort of measured, paced, orderly strategy that's laid out that they're gonna discuss again at the NATO summit in May in Chicago, is actually what's gonna happen on the ground because things are happening on the ground.
REHMJames Kitfield, what do we know about the American soldier who allegedly killed 16 Afghan villagers?
KITFIELDThirty-eight year old Army Sergeant, he's on his fourth combat tour, wounded twice in Iraq, suffered a traumatic brain injury so they're almost certainly gonna say that there was a post-traumatic stress issue to this, because it's very closely tied to traumatic brain injury. In fact, some -- I've talked to people at Walter Reed and elsewhere where those two ailments are very interlinked in a lot of cases. So, you know, a horrible situation, you know, everyone's pointing to, and rightly so how we have, you know, ridden this all-volunteer force hard and put it up wet.
KITFIELDIt is showing lots of cracks. Four combat deployments in the space of less than a decade is really phenomenally difficult. Each time you go back to a combat deployment, the chances that you will suffer PTSD goes up exponentially. You just wear out. You mentally wear out from this things, and...
KITFIELD...that's not to say -- I want to say that's not to excuse it. There are, you know, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops who have been on their fourth deployment, or their third deployment and have acted honorably and shown restraint in the most difficult situations, so this is not to excuse it, but to explain it.
REHMHis attorney in Seattle has spoken out saying that he was told after the third deployment to Iraq that he would not be going out again. He was sent out again with a foot injury, a head injury, after a truck rolled over on him. It just seems so hard to listen to, and I wonder if we are getting the full story from the military, Nancy.
YOUSSEFWell, it's been hard to get the story this week. Information has been tricking out in a way that's almost unusual for the building we've -- one of the reasons we've had to keep reporting this story in terms of what's happened is we're just getting little bits every day, and I can tell you, having been at the Pentagon this week, it's been nearly impossible to get basic facts, even the fact that his name hasn't been released. They say pending charges, but for example, the man who shot the troops in Fort Hood, his name was released right away because he was being held. So it's been difficult.
YOUSSEFI just want to kind of go briefly through what happened, because I think it's been hard for listeners to even follow what happened. He joined the military at age 28, which is relatively late, in November 2001, after 9/11, in an effort to support his country. He, as you mentioned, had deployed three times to Iraq, had come back and was immediately sent back in December of last year to Afghanistan. He's at an outpost where there are no more than 50 U.S. troops there, and his lawyer said he saw his friend lose his leg the day before.
YOUSSEFThere has been allegations within the building that alcohol somehow played a factor. In the middle of the night, he walks off base. An Afghan soldier sees him walk of base, reports it to the chain of command, they realize that he's gone, and as they're looking for him, Afghans are bringing the casualties to the base seeking medical care, one right after another, and they're saying a soldier has come into our house and shot us.
YOUSSEFThey spot him from the air from some sort of blimp or some sort of air support. He ducks in a way to sort of try to avert the eyes in the sky. He comes back to base, he's apprehended, and immediately sort of confesses, but then won't talk anymore. He's taken from Kandahar to Kuwait, and now he'll be coming to the United States. So the U.S. is befuddled really about what happened, because as James mentioned post-traumatic stress you would think would be a factor, and yet his medical records show no sign of it. No sign of any post-traumatic stress.
YOUSSEFNow, that doesn't necessarily mean he didn't have it, because the system that they have, you know, a lot of soldiers fear coming forward and saying that they have post-traumatic stress for the effect that it might have on their career. So you fill out a questionnaire when you get back before you go to deployment that's intended to catch these things, but there are ways to avoid it.
KITFIELDOn the broader strategic question of what this last week has meant, I mean, Karzai says weird things, and off-the-cuff things all the time and has to walk them back. It's his style. He's a brinksmanship kind of guy. But the two things that happened that were I think of strategic import, one of which was basically the Taliban cutting these talks off, you know. That's very possible that the hardliners in the coalition of Taliban groups will say, you know, they can see us eyeing the exits, they can see how unpopular this has become, and they're saying why should we talk with western forces that are leaving anyway?
KITFIELDSo I think those talks held out a significant amount of hope for a smooth transition here. And I also think that and Karzai, you know, he was in very intense negotiations for our follow-on strategic agreement that would allow for a presence beyond 2014. He's driving a hard bargain to stop these night raids that we think are essential to our counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency policy. He's gonna be driving a very hard bargain on that. Obama wanted to finish those discussions before the NATO summit in May, and Congress is saying if we reach that deal with Karzai, we could just cut off all support for Afghanistan.
REHMJames Kitfield, senior correspondent for National Journal. When we come back, we'll hear more about what's been happening abroad this week, and takes your calls. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. Just before the break, we were talking about the American who is the alleged killer of 16 Afghans who is apparently on his way to the United States, with Nancy Yousseff of McClatchy Newspapers who herself is going to move to Egypt for a year. We'll be talking with her by ISDN. James Kitfield of National Journal, Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post. And, Karen, I know you wanted to add something about the Taliban walking away from these talks.
DEYOUNGYeah, I think we have to -- you know, you start from the premise that there's no reason to believe that there's been any great success so far in these talks that have gone on now for more than a year between the Taliban and the United States. But I'm not sure that what happened this week makes the situation any worse. What the Taliban said was that they were suspending talks, although there haven't been any talks since early January. They accuse the Americans of breaking promises to them.
DEYOUNGAnd what they specifically were talking about was an agreement that was negotiated late last year about a exchange of prisoners in which five Taliban people from Guantanamo would be sent to house arrest in Qatar. And the Taliban would release a western person that they have, which the administration has asked no one to mention the name of or to describe in any way.
DEYOUNGThey would also open a negotiating office in Qatar. All of this sort of fell apart when Karzai in December said, no way. I haven't been part of these talks. And the idea of opening the office in Qatar would be that the Afghans would come into the talks. The statement that the Taliban issued this week also said repeated, we don't want to talk to Karzai. We only talk to the Americans. And this is a major problem for what the Americans believe is ultimately the way they're going to end this war.
REHMI want to go back to Secretary Panetta's arrival on the airfield in Afghanistan and the truck that drove out onto that airfield. What do we know about what happened there, James?
KITFIELDWell, it's a sign of how volatile things have become. This was apparently an Afghan national who was a civilian interpreter under contract in NATO, so he's on the base legally, he has, you know, access to the base, carjacks this truck. And the VIPs were on the tarmac waiting for Panetta's plane. He drives the truck towards them and tries to run them over, apparently tries to ignite the truck. Now, it's unclear to me how he got canisters of gas in there to ignite but in the process burns himself. He dies before anyone can interview him.
KITFIELDSo it's not clear if he knew that that was Panetta's plane, knew there was a plane of a big VIP and one of the -- kills some VIPs on the tarmac. Apparently some senior marine officers had to, you know, kind of run, scatter for their lives. But a very disconcerting breach of security when you get that close to Secretary of Defense.
REHMWas he in danger at all, Nancy?
YOUSSEFThe Pentagon said he was not in danger, that the plane hadn't landed and that there was no imminent danger to him. That said, when they initially released this, they didn't tell journalists on the plane about it for hours after this had happened. And it was only because it was leaked out of British media that we learned about this. So if he wasn't in danger, there was certainly an effort to not show the fact, as James pointed out, how volatile the security situation was and how close someone was able to come to the Secretary of Defense's plane minutes before it was scheduled to land.
REHMAll right. And one person emails, "Why are we calling the incident an alleged shooting? It was cold blooded murder. Americans should own up to what happened and show the world they're capable of doing the right thing by prosecuting the soldier for murder." Well, we must all remember that until proven guilty someone is, in the minds of the law -- in the eyes of the law, still very much alleged.
REHMLet's turn to Syria. Yesterday on the one-year anniversary of the uprising there, there was a pro-regime rally in Damascus, Nancy. It was huge.
YOUSSEFThat's right. Thousands came out on what was supposed to be the teacher's day, a day off and allegedly in support of the Assad Regime, although we're not sure how many people were forced to come out versus how many voluntarily did. And it was a somber anniversary really because I think a lot of people didn't think that this uprising would go as long as it did. It comes at a time when there's real question about the ability of the resistance -- or excuse me, the rebel groups to coalesce and come up with a message, to come up with a military force that could resist the 13th largest army in the world, the Syrian army.
YOUSSEFAnd so we saw thousands come out and I think it was a reminder that we may be entering some form of a civil war in Syria because as much as there's question about how many of those supporters were there for him, there are people within Syria who support the regime. And in the past few months, Bashar al-Assad, the president, has regained the cities like Homs and (word?) and has been able to sort of squelch the uprising.
YOUSSEFThe other thing we saw this week which gave some concern were some members of the Syrian National Council resigned again raising questions about how these desperate groups are going to come together and lead to the end of the regime as they want.
KITFIELDYou know, a year into this it looks increasingly like the high water mark for the Arab Spring is going to be written in blood by the Syrians and Assad because we're at a stalemate now. He is clearly not about to topple. We are clearly not, as the International Community, about to do anything decisive to make that happen. And so we're basically stuck.
KITFIELDIt has turned into an armed rebellion a year after it was a peaceful protest. It looked very much like the rest of the Arab Spring movements. It's very disheartening to see this but, you know, if you look closely at the cauldron of sectarian conflict that exists inside Syria, everyone who thinks about dipping their toe in that pulls back and goes, you know, we could make things easily worse here if we arm the rebellion.
KITFIELDMany of whom are of uncertain allegiance may have Al-Qaida connections. Does that just lead to a more intense civil war? If we, you know, move in militarily, will we lock our heads with Russia who might do something rash themselves? Iran is supporting Assad. So it's just a cauldron of all the worst elements of the Middle East.
DEYOUNGYou have the International Community trying to come together having failed to get a Security Council resolution because the Russians and the Chinese vetoed it. They've been trying to find a way around that to have some kind of mandate to do something, although they're far from agreement on it. They met several weeks ago in Tunis, the Friends of Syria group. They've now scheduled another meeting in Istanbul for the end of next week.
DEYOUNGI think they have moved to a certain extent. I think that one of the arguments from those who do want to intervene in some way, whether that's arming the opposition all the way to some kind of military intervention, which I don't think anyone really advocates at this point. The argument, as James said, was that the opposition is not unified. You don't know who to arm. You don't know who would take over.
DEYOUNGAnd the sense increasingly is, well, it's kind of like Field of Dreams, build it then they'll come. If you say, here are the arms, here's the help to get organized. Come and sign up and that that needs to come first and that that's a way to unify the opposition. That at least is the argument. Some people think that won't work. There are a lot of members even of the Arab League, which has been in the forefront of trying to build support to get rid of Assad, a lot of members who don't want to intervene who think that this sets a really bad precedent.
DEYOUNGAnd so there isn't a lot of agreement. They're hoping that by the end of next week they'll have come to some kind of...
YOUSSEFI just wanted to bring two points up alongside that, which is Qatar and the Saudis are going to try to arm their Sunni brother in this uprising. And so I think when we think about who's going to arm, it might not be the Western world but we have to be prepared for the Saudi's and the Qatars to do that.
YOUSSEFThe other thing I've been thinking about in the last few weeks is, Karen mentioned the UN vote which didn't pass. And yet I think there's an argument to be made that that failure, in a way, sort of emboldened Bashar Assad because he saw the best of what we could offer, which wasn't much. And I think it's interesting that we started to see a more aggressive campaign by Bashar Assad and his army since then.
YOUSSEFSo it's an interesting point when we talk about intervention. There's not only risk of not intervening but sort of showing that you can't interfere in Syria. And I think that you could argue the turning point actually came with that UN vote.
DEYOUNGJust to say, I mean, Nancy's correct that the Saudis and Qatar are preparing to send arms. The problem is how do you get them there. Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, nobody's standing up and saying, use us as the transit point. And Turkey, which is the logical place, is very, very concerned about having some kind of international agreement, some kind of legitimacy...
REHMBecause they're going to take in a lot...
DEYOUNG...because they're going to take the refugees.
DEYOUNGIf a civil war starts, they're going to be the ones that are involved. They have a big Kurdish population, which is also in Syria. So they're very nervous about it.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He was summoned before the country's parliament this week. He was given kind of a grilling. What can we read into this, Nancy?
YOUSSEFHe was the first president in the country's 33-year history to be called forth. And ten questions were put to him about how he's handled the nation's economy, his relationship with the Ayatollah, some key cabinet decisions that he had made. And he was frankly, at times, defiant, at times rude to the parliament as he answered their questions or didn't answer their questions, as it were. By the end he told them he felt he'd done quite well on this quiz, which was his word, and that he deserved a perfect score for his performance.
YOUSSEFAnd it was a performance, not only for the Iranians because it was on live television, but for the International Community. What was conspicuous was that there weren't any questions about his nuclear program and his relationship with the International Community. Now technically this means that the parliament will either say, you should be impeached or they'll be satisfied with his answers. There isn't an expectation that he'll be impeached at this point but it appeared to be an effort to weaken him, to weaken his coalition in a public way and to show that his effect long term would not be that strong.
REHMHow much is this competition between Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollah?
KITFIELDWell, it's been intense in the last year. I actually read this as saying -- as seeming to indicate that that competition has calmed down, that they are -- they're relationship is in a better place. Because he was very mocking of the parliament, let's be honest. I mean, the guy was cracking jokes. He's absolutely a master in that. You know, I've been at the UN when him and a group of reporters, you know, really pepper him about the unthinkable. And he just deflects this stuff with mockery.
KITFIELDAnd the fact that he felt free to do that in front of Parliament suggests to me that he's not worried about the supreme leader who has all the power undercutting him.
REHMJames Kitfield of National Journal and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Goffstown, N.H. Good morning, David, you're on the air.
DAVIDHi. Yes, earlier you were talking about the soldier who had killed the people in Afghanistan. And somebody had made the comment, will we ever know about his condition medically through the military? And I don't think you'll ever know anything, as far as his medical condition via the military. The way our military treats their soldiers is absolutely disgusting.
DAVIDMy nephew, long story short, had a hernia that was located up underneath his ribcage. And he fought with the military while he was over in Iraq going out on patrols carrying these heavy backpacks and everything. And he ended up having to spend his own money when he got back to Germany to get a public regular doctor to investigate as to what was wrong with him. He said you have a hernia. The military kept insisting he didn't have a hernia.
DAVIDAnd finally, after a lot of runaround, the military finally conceded, all right, we're gonna do some -- you can go ahead and have this guy do your hernia operation. He was supposed to stay -- no heavy lifting for six months. Six weeks after surgery, they made him start carrying his heavy backpack around again. He went back out on patrol and re-ruptured the same hernia.
DAVIDAnd then, after all that, his commanding officer -- he was like six months from coming back home, his commanding officer says, you leak one word of this, you say one word to anybody and you won't be going home. I'm going to keep you for your full (unintelligible) .
DEYOUNGI actually think that this case probably will break open some more information, certainly on PTSD. First of all, I think we need to say that almost all that we know of this so far is what the alleged person's attorney has said. But it must be said that the soldier comes from Fort Lewis. There has been an ongoing scandal at Fort Lewis in Washington about PTSD in particular. Allegations that diagnoses have been changed in order to minimize them, send people back in...
REHMBecause they need so many people.
DEYOUNG...reduce their benefits -- right, to reduce their benefits. And some people have lost their jobs. I think that as a result of this, it's more likely that, you know, I mean, reporters are going to be on this like crazy. Congress is going to be making demands.
KITFIELDYou know, I read about this recently. I think it should be said that, you know, another consequence of assigning a very small all-volunteer force to fight a decade war, which was never planned to do, as I said earlier, you really have ridden these people very hard. And the medical's apparatus, both the military and the Veteran's Affairs Administration, have been struggling to catch up ever since. They just never anticipated this long conflict and all these very, very complex injuries involving, you know, psychological, mental, brain, physical.
KITFIELDAnd when you combine all that, they've just had a very hard time staying on top of this. They have made some very valiant efforts to try, but you have literally millions or more than a million American service members have served in these wars now. And a lot of them have very, very complex -- as many as 300,000 may have PTSD, as many as 300,000 may have traumatic brain injury. And there's connections between the two that are not really that well understood. So, you know, this is a consequence of sending a very small force to fight a very long war.
REHMSomeone said on this program this week that two years into any extended war, you should have had a draft. That continuing this with, as you said, an all-voluntary force, you just couldn't do it. James Kitfield, Nancy Youssef, Karen DeYoung. They're here to answer your questions when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We'll go right back to the phones to Colesville, Md. Good morning, Clair. Thanks for joining us. Clair, are you there?
CLAIRYes, I was on a second phone. Thank you for taking my call. I have three comments, one of which is a question. The most recent issues about the 38-year-old sergeant who ran amuck and my comment on that is early in the game we heard Leon Panetta say that the death penalty was not out of the question. I would say that the death penalty, if imposed, should not be imposed on that sergeant, but should be imposed on whoever sent him back into combat after three tours of duty and with a brain injury. So that's two groups of people who deserve the death penalty, but not the sergeant.
CLAIRThe second thing is a definition. When you're in the Army you are on a post base. The Marines and the Air Force have bases, but those of us who are in the Army, we're on posts. And the third thing is halfway a question. And that is if Newt Gingrich is lying and some other people that I've read about on the web or those Korans were already defaced. And according to the law of Islam, if your Holy books and Korans are defaced they must be burned. If that is true I do not understand why any Islamic patriots or Muslims of any kind should be disturbed.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Nancy?
YOUSSEFIt's interesting, this question about whether the sergeant will face the death penalty. He hasn't been charged yet. And it is suggested he'll be charged with premeditated murder. But he's now been taken out of country. And we hear he'll be headed towards Fort Leavenworth, Kan. where they have a facility to hold him. You'll remember in the case of Haditha in which more than two dozen Iraqis were killed. One of the problems they had during trial was that there were no witnesses.
YOUSSEFAnd this will be another complicating factor in this case because by bringing him out of country and trying him in the United States there won't be witnesses. In addition, while they sent out investigators to the three houses he allegedly entered, within hours a lot of the dead had been buried already. So they didn't have a chance to investigate, to do autopsies and to look at cause of death and the way that they were shot. And so that'll be another complicating factor when they go to bring this man on trial.
YOUSSEFSo it'll get at how do you hold trials of U.S. service members who act out against local residents. This will be a reminder of one of the challenges of that.
REHMBut one of the angers that the Afghans have is that he is being brought out of country.
KITFIELDOf course they're angry about that, but of course, he was brought out of the country. That is the deal of which we are in 165 countries around the world. We never put U.S. service members at the sort of mercy of local jurisdictions that might be abused as a way to do a show trial for -- I mean, you know, there's all kinds of reasons why we don't -- if we're gonna put our soldiers in foreign places, we maintain agreements that say that they are under our military criminal jurisdiction.
REHMWhat do we know about those Korans, Karen?
DEYOUNGI think we know that these were being used by detainees. That they had apparently written in them, taken notes in the margins; that when the detainees were transferred they were gathered up with other trash.
REHMBut is taking notes in the margin equivalent to defacing?
DEYOUNGI'm gonna defer to Nancy.
YOUSSEFWell, technically, it is. I mean, technically, you know, the way the Koran is treated is a very big deal in Islam. It's, you know, you can't slam the book down. It's considered offensive. So technically, writing in it, Clair, the caller, was right, is a violation of law. So she's right to point that out. But for Muslims, you know, the Afghans see the burning of their books an attack on faith by foreigners. And it's not fair, but it's one thing for a Muslim to mark in a book; it's another for an outside force, by the Afghans' view, an occupying force, to burn copies of their book. They see that as an attack.
REHMWould they burn copies of their own?
YOUSSEFAbsolutely not. Absolutely not.
REHMNever? Even if they had...
REHMSo you're saying Clair is wrong on that point?
YOUSSEFI mean, it's inconceivable to me that someone would do that.
KITFIELDAnd I think we should remember that this comes in the aftermath of this preacher down in some small church in Florida who burned the Korans and led to riots. That was played up very big in Afghanistan and in the Muslim world and Pakistan, led to deaths. So they've been sort of spun up on this idea of infidels burning their Holy book and this kind of fed into that narrative.
REHMAll right. To Palm Coast, Fla. Good morning, Rita.
RITAThank you for taking my call.
RITAThe recent attack on the Afghanistan civilians was a deliberate act, but the issue is not new. I remember about four or five years ago, Ahmad Karzai told President Bush that he wanted our troops out of Afghanistan because of the high-civilian casualty rate 'cause of the drones and of what some would consider over-zealous military operations. Of course Bush refused the request, but I believe the handwriting was on the wall then. And Karzai was right in wanting us out. As far as the Senate and McCain saying that we have to stay in Afghanistan because that's where al-Qaida plotted 9-11, I believe it was in Germany that basic plans were carried out.
RITAI could never picture a bunch of al-Qaida playing combat and doing calisthenics in the mountains of Afghanistan that could have handled the 9-11 attack. Just seems ludicrous.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Karen?
DEYOUNGI think that what Karzai has said over the years is to consistently complain about civilian casualties. And initially this was mostly about air attacks, which was a major part of U.S. strategy and being fairly indiscriminate in unpopulated areas. And there were a number of incidents where either mistakes or a lot of collateral damage. That has lessened now and attention has shifted to these night raids, where you have groups of Special Operations soldiers trying to capture mid-level Taliban commanders, trying to get them at home at night, go into villages.
DEYOUNGThe Americans have transferred a leadership role in these to Afghan soldiers. And so they go as teams now. Karzai's saying that's not enough. You cannot have troops going into these areas. On the training, I mean, I think the allegation always was that certainly the people who carried out the attacks or some of them, the people, the kind of intellectual authors of the tactical ways of doing it were in Germany, but bin Laden and the leadership and the sort of intellectual authors of the plan were certainly in Afghanistan, not in the mountains, but on a relatively flat part of the south.
KITFIELDThat's the point I was gonna make. Let's not rewrite history here. You know, al-Qaida ran and Osama bin Laden ran a global terrorist network from Afghanistan. The mastermind of 9-11 was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who was eventually captured next door in Pakistan. And, you know, trained them. They did find some very westernized Arabs to carry out 9-11, but some of them visited bin Laden in Afghanistan. It was the base. It's no longer the base. They fled across the mountains into Pakistan, mostly in 2001 when we forced them out. But we shouldn't forget that that was a base of a global terror network.
REHMAll right. To Fort Knox, Ky. Hi there, James.
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
JAMESYeah, I just wanna say, you know, I'm in a Wounded Warrior unit here at Fort Knox. And we do suffer a lot more injuries and a lot more, you know, difficult deployments and things than we used to. And when once we get in one of these Wounded Warrior units, they really treat us, you know, like we're in prison. And then, if you're lucky enough to get back out and get back in the force, then, of course, you just go right back into combat. And I think that definitely contributed to this situation. And I just wanna know what more we can do to bring these kinds of situations to light, you know, so that we can at least make an effort to fix the system that I think is really broken.
KITFIELDCan we ask him a question (unintelligible) …
REHM...all want to thank you for your service. Surely.
KITFIELDIf you're in a Wounded Warrior unit, do you think that that unit serves some useful function? I think they put those in place to help the transition for the wounded so they weren't just sort of thrown into civilian life while they're dealing with all this, you know, their wounds, as well as being expelled from the military. Do you think that there is some good that comes from those units?
JAMESIn the Wounded Warrior units, at least the one that I’m in, we're treated with less dignity and respect than we are in our regular units. We're scrutinized under a fine microscope, so to speak, by the leadership, who are not medical personnel, who are mostly infantry and armor soldiers. And I mean, if you get out of the Wounded Warrior unit and go back to the regular force, all you can do is, you know, go back into a regular unit and go back to combat. If you stay in the Wounded Warrior unit, eventually you'll be transitioned out of the Army, hopefully with a plan, but from my experience mostly not, just with your medical care, you know, fairly reasonably seen to, but not necessarily.
KITFIELDSo I mean this is a perfect example of the complexity of these wounds have overwhelmed the system. These Wounded Warrior units were created specifically because initially wounded were basically, you know, outed from the military and put into the Veteran Affairs medical system. The problem was they felt like they, you know, that a lot of these kids had come of age in the military. So while they're dealing with these horrible wounds they were thrust into a new culture and out of the culture that they knew.
KITFIELDSo these were supposed to be sort of an incubator for that transition. Some of them who wanted to stay in the service could have their wounds treated there and come back. These Wounded Warrior units have a military commander and a medical commander, but there is tension between those two, which your caller points out. So, you know, there are no easy answers to these problems.
REHMSo much news this week. Fighting between Israel and Hamas on the Gaza Strip is the worst in the three years. What are seeing, Karen?
DEYOUNGWell, I think we're seeing that this wasn't necessarily Hamas. This was something that started about a week ago when the Israelis hit a top leader of a militia, not Hamas, in Gaza. And there was retaliation. Almost 200 rocket attacks into Israel. There were Palestinians killed in reprisal attacks. Egypt came in and tried to mediate a cease fire, which lasted, I believe, until yesterday when the rockets started again. So it's evident that it's not only Hamas, that there are groups, in fact, that object to Hamas' (word?) with the Palestinian authority.
DEYOUNGHamas, you know, has broken with Syria which was one of its patrons, a way to get aid from Iran. Iran still aids some of these other groups in the Gaza. So it's a very complicated situation. I think that probably would have gotten a lot more notice this week if there hadn’t been so many other things going on.
REHMKaren DeYoung of The Washington Post. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show". And now to Bristol, Tenn. Hi there, John.
JOHNHi, Diane. Thanks for taking my call. And I hope that your guests can give me a plausible explanation why the two main super powers in the world are fighting Afghanins (sic) and I just haven't heard a plausible explanation. Now, I'll give the terrorists theory, we're fighting the terrorists. Of course, bin Laden's gone, but we're still using that reason for being there, the terrorists. And if that's the case, what was Russia doing there for 10 years? Why are both super powers so taken with this place that they have to war with these people? I haven't heard -- well I've heard one, but I'll see if they mention it.
JOHNThanks a lot.
REHMThanks for calling. Nancy Youssef?
YOUSSEFJohn's calling from Bristol, Tenn., near Fort Campbell where a lot of the 101st have gone to Afghanistan. I guess the simplest answer would be in the case of both Afghanistan and the United States, they've faced outside intervention. And that is not just Afghanistan that they're fighting, but outside intervention, that Afghanistan's always been this crossroads of interests sort of third-parties. And that that sort of complicated the war effort there. So the simplest answer that we hear about why the United States is in Afghanistan now, is that if the United States were to leave Afghanistan now, that the country could not secure itself and that it would, again, become a feeding ground for other groups to get involved, a potentially civil war.
REHMBut can we secure Afghanistan?
YOUSSEFI don't know. I don't know. Look, it's been 10 years. According to General Scaparotti, who's the number two commander in Afghanistan, at this point, one percent of the forces that we have trained can operate on their own. Is that a success after 10 years? I don't know. Can the United States leave a force that can work its way up? Has it done so in Iraq? Does that suggest a precedent that it's able to or not? The question becomes, is it riskier to stay or is it riskier to go?
KITFIELDCan I take a crack at why both countries are there? I mean, the Soviet Union went into Afghanistan in 1979, very much as part of a Cold War move. They, like puppet regimes on their periphery, see Eastern Europe. And they installed a puppet regime in Afghanistan. We went in because of terrorists, but the connection is when we armed Islamic Holy warriors to fight the Soviets to get them out of there and that was successful, the problem was we then forgot about Afghanistan. And those very same Holy warriors determined to drag us in there and to, you know, topple the American empire.
KITFIELDSo there is a connection there, but the reasons we both went in there are different. Can we leave a secure Afghanistan? I mean, if we didn't think there was a possibility that we would leave a more secure Afghanistan that can cope with its own problems, we should have been out of there a very long time ago, but that is still the hope. It's the fundamental reason for the strategy. Very reasonable men can disagree whether it's workable, but that is the fundamental hope, is that when we pull that out it doesn't evolve into a very vicious civil war that could empower some people who are very unethical to our interests.
REHMAnd let us just say, 10 years after the International Criminal Court was set up it passed its first verdict this week. Talk about that very quickly.
YOUSSEFSure. This was a 51-year-old Congolese warlord who was convicted of bringing in child soldiers during the last years of the war there. Very simply, it's significant in the sense that they reached a verdict for the first time in 10 years, but it's still a baby step in a sense because the United States isn't part of this court. The prosecution had a number of problems. This is a man who is suspected of committing a lot of heinous crimes, including murder and they could only reach it on this verdict. So it's a baby step for this young court.
REHMNancy Youssef of McClatchy newspapers, James Kitfield of National Journal and Karen DeYoung of The Washington Post. And let us not forget the visit by British Prime Minister David Cameron, who was here for a very important visit. Thank you all so much. Thanks for listening all. Have a great weekend. I’m Diane Rehm.
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