Australian soldiers in southern Afghanistan shot dead two children tending cattle, local officials said on Saturday as the international coalition launched an inquiry into the incident.
Civilian casualties caused by NATO-led troops have been one of the most contentious issues in the campaign against Taliban insurgents, fuelling public anger and often triggering criticism from President Hamid Karzai, AFP reported.
The two children, aged seven and eight, were killed on Thursday morning as Australian soldiers fought back after a Taliban attack in southern Uruzgan province, said provincial governor Amir Mohammad Akhundzada.
“The children were killed by Australian troops, it was a mistaken incident, not a deliberate one,” Akhundzada told AFP, adding that insurgents had first shot at a helicopter carrying Australian soldiers.
A spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul said he was unable to confirm details. “We are aware of the reports and we take all such reports very seriously,” he said. “An incident assessment team in Uruzgan is now there looking into it.”
In a recent case of civilian deaths, on 13 February, 10 Afghan civilians, including five children, were killed by a NATO airstrike in Kunar province.
Following the attack, Karzai barred Afghan forces from seeking air support from foreign troops in a bid to curb civilian casualties.
Security responsibility for Uruzgan, a restive province where the Taliban insurgents have been holding sway, is being handed over to Afghan forces.
Russians Rally Against Foreign Adoptions
Russia on Saturday said it was concerned by a US ruling that the death of an adopted Russian boy in Texas was an accident, fuelling a diplomatic row as thousands marched in Moscow demanding an end to all foreign adoptions.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it had learned of the US coroner’s findings, which clear the boy’s parents of wrongdoing, “with concern” and called on US officials to provide Moscow with the necessary documents, including the death certificate of three-year-old Max Shatto (born Maxim Kuzmin), to help shed light on the case.
“Only an examination of these documents will enable meaningful conclusions to be reached about the circumstances surrounding the Russian child’s death and determine our possible future steps,” the ministry’s rights representative Konstantin Dolgov said in a statement.
According to the autopsy results, the boy died from a lacerated artery in his bowel due to blunt force trauma in his abdomen. The coroner’s report also noted that the child had a mental disorder that caused him to hurt himself.
Officials in the US cleared the boy’s adoptive parents Laura and Allen Shatto of homicide but the couple could still face negligence charges for leaving the boy alone in their backyard, where he was found unconscious in January.
According to official estimates, US families have adopted more than 60,000 Russian children over the past two decades, 21 of whom have died.
Thousands of Congolese Flee Violence
Thousands of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo have fled to neighboring Uganda to escape renewed violence in eastern Congo, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said.
UNHCR spokeswoman Lucy Beck said on Friday that over 4,000 refugees crossed into Uganda on Thursday night to escape clashes between armed factions of the March 23 movement (M23), one of them led by a renegade general wanted on war-crimes charges.
She added that the agency is bracing itself for a greater influx in coming weeks.
The fighting broke out on Thursday after M23 military chief Sultani Makenga sacked the group’s political leader, Jean-Marie Runiga, for his alleged links with renegade Bosco Ntaganda, prompting fighters to turn their weapons on each other.
Ntaganda, known by the nom de guerre “Terminator” due to his brutal methods, has been wanted by the International Criminal Court since 2006 on charges of committing the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of fifteen and using them to participate actively in hostilities.
The refugees are “currently camped in a temporary refugee camp. Most (of them) think the fighting won’t last long, but of course if the instability continues we can take these people to permanent resettlement areas,” said Moses Watasa, the spokesman for the Ugandan prime minister’s office.
The M23 rebels defected from the Congolese army in April 2012 in protest over alleged mistreatment in the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC). They had previously been integrated into the Congolese army under a peace deal signed in 2009.
Since early May 2012, nearly 3 million people have fled their homes in the eastern Congo. About 2.5 million have resettled in Congo, but more than 460,000 have crossed into neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.
Congo has faced numerous problems over the past few decades, such as grinding poverty, crumbling infrastructure, and a war in the east of the country that has dragged on since 1998 and left over 5.5 million people dead. - See more at:
Protest Against NATO Missiles as Kerry Visits Turkey
From Page 1
Describing why protesters launched paper planes at the Dutch consulate, Ergin added: “We threw paper planes into the consulate to show that those patriot missiles are little more than paper weapons.”
Turkey is a key NATO ally and Erdogan’s government requested NATO assistance to defend itself from possible attacks from Syria.
The patriot missiles deployed come from the US, Germany and the Netherlands.
Kerry, who is making his first overseas trip as secretary of state, arrived in Ankara earlier in the day on the fifth leg of his tour of nine European and Middle Eastern countries to rally support for the militants fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
In a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Friday, the US secretary of state hailed Ankara’s leading role in backing the armed insurgency against the Syrian government, saying that Washington and Ankara will continue “to try to create a political transition” in Syria.
Before arriving in Turkey, Kerry visited Britain, Germany, France, and Italy.
In Rome on Thursday, he pledged an additional $60 million in assistance for the foreign-backed opposition in Syria--the so-called Syrian National Coalition.
Kerry is also scheduled to visit Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar before returning to the United States.
Meanwhile, female members of Turkey’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), held a conference in the southern city of Iskenderun to denounce the deployment of Patriot surface-to-air (SAM) missiles along the country’s border with Syria.
All of the Patriot systems, which are deployed by the US, Germany, and the Netherlands, became operational in the southern cities of Gaziantep, Kahramanmaras, and Adana last month.
In November 2012, NATO announced a plan to deploy six batteries to “protect Turkey” from potential Syrian missile strikes.
Damascus has censured the deployment of the Patriot missiles along the Syrian border, calling it another act of provocation by the Turkish government.
The Syria crisis began in March 2011, and many people, including large numbers of army and security personnel, have been killed.
Damascus says the chaos is being orchestrated from outside the country, and there are reports that a very large number of the militants are foreign nationals.
The Syrian government says the West and its regional allies, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, are supporting the armed groups.
In an interview recently broadcast on German television, the Syrian president said that the government did not start the conflict and the militant groups were the ones killing Syrian citizens and destroying the country’s infrastructure.
Who’s Turning Syria’s War Into Jihad?
By Philip Giraldi
The tale of what is going on in Syria reads something like this: an insurgency active since March 2011 has been funded and armed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar and allowed to operate out of Turkey with the sometimes active, but more often passive, connivance of a number of Western powers, including Britain, France, Germany, and the United States.
The largely ad hoc political organization that was the counterpart to the Free Syrian Army ultimately evolved into the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (Syrian National Coalition) in November 2012, somewhat reminiscent of Ahmad Chalabi and the ill-starred Iraqi National Congress. As in the lead-up to regime change in Iraq, the exiles successfully exploited anti-Syrian sentiment among leading politicians in Washington and Europe while skillfully manipulating the media narrative to suggest that the al-Assad regime was engaging in widespread atrocities and threatening to destabilize its neighbors, most notably Lebanon. As in the case of Iraq, Syria’s possession of weapons of mass destruction was introduced into the indictment of Assad and cited as a regional threat.
There will be plenty of finger-pointing in Washington and in the European chanceries over what went wrong, but one issue that will probably not be confronted directly is the competing objectives of the various supporters of the insurgents, which should have been visible right from the beginning. The US and the Europeans clearly envisioned some kind of humanitarian intervention which would lead to a new, more representative government, but that was not the goal of Turkey, which sought a pliable replacement regime that would clamp down on the activities of groups like the separatist Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), Ankara’s primary geopolitical security concern.
Perhaps even more important, people in Washington should have also been asking why Saudi Arabia and Qatar wanted to overthrow Al-Assad and what kind of government they had in mind to replace him. Saudi Arabia’s rival as regional hegemon, Iran, is viewed in Riyadh as ascendant due to the rise to power of a friendly Shiite regime in Iraq as a result of the American invasion and regime change. This has permitted the development of a geographically contiguous Arab bloc closely tied to Tehran and its regional interests, running through Iraq, across Syria, and connecting with Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
To break up that de facto coalition, the Saudis, who see Syria as the weak link in the chain, have sought to replace Assad’s Alawite-led government with a Sunni regime. But there is also a second agenda. Because the ruling minority Alawites are considered to be heretics similar to Shiites, a change in religious orientation would be necessary, with the Saudis serving as protectors of the Sunni majority. The Riyadh-backed Sunni regime would of course be expected to conform with the particularly Saudi view of proper religious deportment—the extremely conservative Wahhabism that prevails in the Kingdom, which is closer to the views of the more radical insurgents while hostile to the secularists. It would also make the country’s significant numbers of Christians, Alawites, Shiites, and Kurds potential victims of the arrangement.
All of which means that the Saudis and their allies Qatar believe in change in Syria, but on their own terms, and they actually oppose enabling a populist or democratic evolution. In fact, Riyadh has been actively engaged regionally in doing what it can to contain the unrest resulting from the Arab Spring so that the populism does not become untidy and spill over into Saudi Arabia itself. This has meant that from the beginning Saudi and Qatari objectives in Syria have differed from the goals of either Turkey or the Western powers, which should have been seen as a recipe for disaster.
And it gets even more complicated. In spite of their tendency to support religious groups rather than secular ones, Saudi Arabia and its ally Qatar view the Muslim Brotherhood’s “political Islam” as one of the divisive elements that has destabilized countries like Egypt, unleashing forces that could ultimately threaten the Saudis and Qataris themselves. As a result, working through their surrogates in Lebanon and in Turkey as well as in Jordan, they have systematically and deliberately starved most of the Free Syrian Army of money and weapons, instead diverting their assistance to the militant Jabhat Al-Nusra, a Salafist group alleged to have links to Al-Qaeda.
Al-Nusra is generally regarded as the most effective insurgent group when it comes to fighting, but it advocates a strict Sunni religious state as part of a worldwide Caliphate under Sharia law when the fighting is concluded. It has also become a magnet for the foreign jihadis who have been drawn into the rebellion, an issue that has raised concerns in Washington because of the likelihood that any successor regime to Assad could easily be dominated by a well-armed and disciplined Salafist minority.
What it means for the other players in the tragedy is that Syria is de facto in a bloody civil war that is approaching stalemate, while the United States and Europeans have no good options and the Turks are increasingly playing damage control.
Syria is in danger of ceasing to exist as a nation-state. Its collapse could inspire a new global jihad and provoke violence throughout the Middle East, while its chemical weapons could easily fall into dangerous hands. Well-armed bands of the most radical of the insurgents taking the lead in the conflict without any political direction or control cannot be what anyone envisioned two years ago, but that is what has emerged, with the United States again looking on like a helpless giant.
Thailand Bomb Blast
Insurgents detonated a motorcycle bomb in southern Thailand, killing two military rangers and wounding 11 people, the second serious attack in as many days after one of the rebel groups operating in the area agreed to hold peace talks.