Congress to investigate Benghazi ‘talking points’

Updated 20 November 2012
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Congress to investigate Benghazi ‘talking points’

WASHINGTON: Lawmakers want to know who had a hand in creating the Obama administration’s now-discredited “talking points” about the Sept. 11 attack on a US diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, and why a final draft omitted the CIA’s early conclusion that terrorists were involved.
The answers could explain why President Barack Obama and top aides, including UN Ambassador Susan Rice, described the attack for days afterward as a protest against an anti-Islam video that spontaneously turned violent and why they played down any potential link to Al-Qaeda, despite evidence to the contrary.
Administration officials have defended the portrayal of the attack as relying on the best information available at the time that didn’t compromise classified intelligence. Democrats say CIA and other intelligence officials signed off on the final talking points.
Republicans have alleged a Watergate-like cover up, accusing White House aides of hiding the terrorism link in the run-up to the Nov. 6 presidential election so voters wouldn’t question Obama’s claim that Al-Qaeda’s power had diminished.
“I know the narrative was wrong and the intelligence was right. ... We’re going to get to the bottom of how that happened,” Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she doesn’t believe the White House altered the document for political reasons. But she said she has lingering concerns about how the talking points were created when it was clear early on that the military-style assault wasn’t a simple protest gone awry. She said Congress has asked the administration to provide a detailed explanation.
“We gave the direction yesterday that this whole process is going to be checked out,” Feinstein, a Democrat, said on “Meet the Press.” ‘’We’re going to find out who made changes in the original statement. Until, we do I really think it’s unwarranted to make accusations.”
The inquiry comes on the heels of closed testimony to the committees last week by former CIA Director David Petraeus. According to lawmakers who attended the meetings, Petraeus said the reference to Al-Qaida was removed from the final version of talking points, although he wasn’t sure who or which federal agency deleted it.
A senior US official familiar with the document, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the process publicly, said the Al-Qaida reference was deleted because the information came from classified sources and the links were tenuous. The administration also did not want to prejudice a criminal investigation in its early stages, that official said.
Feinstein confirmed that intelligence officials told her in closed briefings that they were reluctant to name any particular terrorist group without being certain. But, she added, it was clear very soon after the attack that the violence didn’t stem from a political demonstration.
Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters traveling with the president to Asia that any substantive edits to the talking points would have come from intelligence agencies themselves. The only change the White House made, he said, was to correct a reference to the facility in Benghazi as a “diplomatic facility,” instead of a “consulate.”
“Other than that we were guided by the points that were provided by the intelligence community. So I can’t speak to any other edits that may have been made,” he said.
FROM: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS


Drought adds to Afghanistan woes

Afghan children fill canisters with water from a water pump outside their temporary homes on the outskirts of Jalalabad. Files/AFP
Updated 56 min 11 sec ago
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Drought adds to Afghanistan woes

  • Intensified conflict in many parts of the country is worsening the effects of the drought
  • More than $115 million was required for a six-month response in the 20 provinces

KABUL: Rain and snow are as important as peace for Afghanistan. But the landlocked and mountainous country this year had its lowest rainfall for years, causing widespread drought and leaving 2 million people facing food shortages.
Livestock in many areas have died, and some farmers have been forced to send their herds for pasture to neighboring Turkmenistan.
Thousands of people have left their homes already due to water shortages, with fears that the situation will worsen in autumn, Afghan and UN officials say.
Twenty of the country’s 34 provinces, including the northern region — Afghanistan’s food basket — have been badly affected, they said.
The aid-reliant Afghan government has begun delivering aid to affected areas. But assistance will be needed for months to come. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said rapid action was needed to enable delivery of food and water. More than $115 million was required for a six-month response in the 20 provinces, it said.
“Drought is gripping large parts of Afghanistan, with more than 2 million people expected to become severely food insecure and in need of humanitarian assistance for survival,” OCHA said.
“A quick, comprehensive response will enable the delivery of food and water to the rural villages and help to avoid the migration of families to cities where they risk losing all of their few possessions, and where they lack shelter and access to health facilities and schools for their children,” it said.
Water points and fountains across the country have dried up, and the lack of rain and snow melt has made rivers run low or dry up, the organization said.
About 1.5 million goats and sheep in northeast regions are struggling to find food and more than half of the 1,000 villages in the province are suffering from lack of water.
Intensified conflict in many parts of the country is worsening the effects of the drought, limiting communities’ access to markets.
In Helmand, village elders reportedly need to obtain special approval from the armed groups to access markets in areas under government control.
In Uruzgan province, people often cannot access the main market in Tirinkot due to fighting and insecurity on the roads to the provincial capital. Following a temporary closure of the road to neighboring Kandahar province in April due to fighting, wheat prices went up by 50 percent in the city, and the price for fresh produce quadrupled within days.
Engineer Mohammed Sediq Hassani, chief of planning in the government’s Disaster Management Department, said the drought has directly and indirectly taken the lives of dozens of people.

“The impact of drought in terms of taking lives is intangible and slow. An indirect impact can be the recent floods, which claimed the lives of 73 people. Floods happen when there is a drought because of the change of the climate,” he told Arab News.