Army ponders changes after insider attack in Afghanistan

Police and firemen work at the site of a deadly suicide attack in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. (File Photo: AP)
Updated 14 July 2018
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Army ponders changes after insider attack in Afghanistan

  • According to officials, the attacker fired on the soldiers at the airfield on the base at Tarin Kowt, in southern Uruzgan Province, a hotbed of Taliban activity
  • In a message to the media last Saturday, Taliban spokesman Qari Yosuf Ahmadi said the shooting was carried out by a member of the Afghan security forces who acted alone, but the militant group “appreciated” his attack

WASHINGTON: It’s too early to tell if training or other changes must be made in light of an insider attack in Afghanistan that killed one American soldier and wounded two others, because there’s some uncertainty about whether the assailant was a disgruntled Afghan soldier or an insurgent infiltrator, the Army’s top officer says.
Gen. Mark Milley, Army chief of staff, said Friday that the three soldiers who were shot last weekend were protecting members of the new US advisory brigade that deployed to Afghanistan for the first time just five months ago. He said the Army is moving ahead with plans to create more of the training brigades and use them primarily in Afghanistan, although other locations could be considered in the future.
According to officials, the attacker fired on the soldiers at the airfield on the base at Tarin Kowt, in southern Uruzgan Province, a hotbed of Taliban activity. He was taken into custody on the day of the attack, July 7.
It was the first death involving the advisory brigade, and the first insider attack in about a year. Cpl. Joseph Maciel of South Gate, California, was shot by small arms fire and killed. The other two soldiers are in stable condition.
In a message to the media last Saturday, Taliban spokesman Qari Yosuf Ahmadi said the shooting was carried out by a member of the Afghan security forces who acted alone, but the militant group “appreciated” his attack.
The military, said Milley, is still trying to determine if the shooter was from the Taliban or another insurgency or just an angry Afghan soldier. Either way, he said, it doesn’t change the mission of the new advisory teams, working closely with their Afghan partners. Those jobs carry risk.
“Those guys are out there, and they’re in exposed positons and it is a high-risk situation,” Milley said in an interview Friday with The Associated Press. “So casualties are going to occur.”
That’s a reminder of the challenges facing US forces in Afghanistan in the 17th year of America’s military involvement there. The Trump administration is trying to boost the capabilities of Afghan security forces and increase military pressure on the Taliban in the hope of forcing them to negotiate a peace.
During a surge in the US military presence in Afghanistan under the Obama administration, when American forces had a greater combat role, there were dozens of so-called insider attacks.
Despite additional precautionary steps since then, the threat has continued. Last June, there were two insider attacks — in which a soldier in an Afghan uniform turns his weapon on US or other coalition troops — within a two-week period, killing three US soldiers and wounding another seven.
Speaking to reporters last month, Col. Scott Jackson, commander of the new Security Force Assistance Brigade, acknowledged the possible threat of a friendly fire attack.
“I will tell you honestly, we have had our Afghan partners come to us with intelligence that pre-empted potential attacks, and they have been proactively taking care of their own problems,” Jackson said during a June 13 briefing.
Jackson said that when the assistance brigade arrived in Afghanistan, they began vetting the higher-level Afghan forces and steadily worked their way down to the smaller units. That vetting, said Jackson, goes on continually as soldiers rotate in and out of the units, and has not delayed operations.
Just six months ago, Jackson was at Fort Benning, Georgia, pulling together the new training brigade, working to make real the vision of senior Army leaders.
The idea was formed early last year, as officials recognized the need for permanent military training teams that could be deployed worldwide to help local forces learn how to fight better. The plan was a reflection of the new reality of America at war: Army soldiers advising and building indigenous security forces, not doing the fighting for them on foreign soil.
Under the plan, the Army will build six brigades over the next several years. And Milley said Friday that the second brigade is currently doing pre-mission training to replace Jackson’s unit when it’s time for them to come home.


Myanmar army should be removed from politics: UN probe

Updated 18 September 2018
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Myanmar army should be removed from politics: UN probe

  • The report says an estimated 10,000 people were killed in the crackdown and that was likely a conservative figure
  • Investigators said the Tatmadaw should be restructured and the process should begin by replacing the current leadership

YANGON: Myanmar’s powerful army should be removed from politics, UN investigators said Tuesday in the final version of a damning report reiterating calls for top generals to be prosecuted for genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority.
A brutal military crackdown last year forced more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee over the border to Bangladesh. Demands have mounted for those who waged the campaign to face justice.
The UN’s 444-page probe is the most meticulous breakdown of the violence to date. It says the military’s top leadership should be overhauled and have no further influence over the country’s governance.
Myanmar’s military dominates the Buddhist-majority nation, holding a quarter of seats in parliament and controlling three ministries, making their grip on power firm despite political reforms which began in 2011.
But the report said the country’s civilian leadership “should further pursue the removal of the Tatmadaw from Myanmar’s political life,” referring to the nation’s armed forces.
The UN’s analysis, based on 18 months’ work and more than 850 in-depth interviews, urges the international community to investigate the military top brass for genocide, including commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing.
Myanmar’s army has denied nearly all wrongdoing, insisting its campaign was justified to root out Rohingya insurgents who staged deadly raids on border posts in August 2017.
But the UN team said the military’s tactics had been “consistently and grossly disproportionate to actual security threats.”
The report says an estimated 10,000 people were killed in the crackdown and that was likely a conservative figure.
Investigators said the Tatmadaw should be restructured and the process should begin by replacing the current leadership.
Myanmar only recently emerged from almost a half century of military junta rule and Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically-elected government remains in a delicate power balance with the generals.
Their presence in parliament gives them an effective veto on constitutional changes, making any transition to full civilian control extremely difficult.
Three key ministries -– home affairs, border and defense –- are also in their hands, giving them carte blanche to conduct security operations with little oversight.
“It is impossible to remove the army out of political life without changing the constitution, and the military have a veto over constitutional changes,” Mark Farmaner, from Burma Campaign UK, told AFP.
The UN team said there were reasonable grounds to believe that the atrocities — including systematic murder, rape, torture and arson -– were committed with the intention of destroying the stateless Rohingya, warranting the charges of genocide.
The mission, created by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2017, did not focus its sights entirely on the army.
It directed specific criticism at Suu Kyi, whose global reputation has been shattered by her failure to speak up for the Rohingya against the military.
While acknowledging that the civilian authorities have little influence over military actions, the report said that their “acts and omissions” had “contributed to the commission of atrocity crimes.”
Pointing to “deeply entrenched” impunity in Myanmar, the investigators said the only chance to obtain accountability was through the international justice system.
They also pointed to failings of the UN’s office within Myanmar, alleging that “quiet diplomacy” was prioritized and that those who tried to push the UN’s Human Rights Up Front approach were “ignored, criticized, sidelined or blocked in these efforts.”
The independent UN team will present its findings to member states of the Human Rights Council in Geneva later on Tuesday, after which Myanmar will have a chance to respond to the allegations.
It also repeated suggestions that crimes against the Rohingya be referred to the International Criminal Court, which concluded in August that it had jurisdiction to investigate even though Myanmar is not a member of the treaty underpinning the tribunal.
Myanmar has dismissed the tribunal’s authority and analysts have pointed to the court’s lack of enforcement powers.
The investigators also recommended an arms embargo and “targeted individual sanctions against those who appear to be most responsible.”