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Taliban, Al-Qaeda plotting from Afghan prisons: US general

US Senator urges skepticism of Afghan ramp-up
President Barack Obama should be skeptical of calls to send more US forces to Afghanistan and should set a flexible timetable for withdrawal, Democratic Senator Russell Feingold said Monday. Feingold, who first called for a pull-out plan in late August, said he was "encouraged" that Obama expressed skepticism Sunday about warnings that failing to send more soldiers could mean a US defeat in the eight-year-old conflict. "Our goal must be to do what is in the best interests of our national security and, as the president said, sending more troops doesn't automatically make Americans more safe," the lawmaker said in a statement. Feingold welcomed a classified assessment by the top US and NATO commander, General Stanley McChrystal, that warns that more US troops are needed in Afghanistan. But "spending billions more dollars and sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan may not significantly improve conditions on the ground and may actually prove counterproductive in stabilizing Pakistan and fighting Al-Qaeda in the region and around the world," said the senator. McChrystal's blunt assessment, in a classified report obtained and partially published by the Washington Post, adds an explosive element to a quickening debate over future war strategy. McChrystal cautioned that failing to gain the initiative against the Taliban insurgency within 12 months could make victory impossible. Feingold said Obama "should offer a flexible timetable for when our massive military operations in Afghanistan will end." "This will defuse the perception that we are occupying that country, which fuels militancy and instability in Afghanistan and nuclear-armed Pakistan," said the lawmaker.
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Sept 21, 2009
Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants are using crowded Afghan prisons as a "sanctuary" to recruit and plot attacks, the top US military commander in Afghanistan warned in a report to President Barack Obama.

"There are more insurgents per square foot in corrections facilities than anywhere else in Afghanistan," said the confidential report, obtained by the Washington Post and published on Monday.

In his stark assessment of the war, which included a plea for more US troops, General Stanley McChrystal proposes an overhaul of how the US military and the Kabul government detain insurgents.

He calls for separating extremists from more moderate inmates and creating a US government task force that would "work toward the long-term goal of getting the US out of the detention business," while helping Kabul improve its prisons.

Among the measures suggested in the report, McChrystal said a US team would seek to move the prison system "from retribution to rehabilitation" and help reintegrate inmates back into Afghan society.

The commander of US and NATO troops painted an alarming portrait of the country's prisons, in which Taliban and Al-Qaeda agents operate virtually unfettered.

"The US came to Afghanistan vowing to deny these same enemies safe haven in 2001," the general wrote.

"They have gone from inaccessible mountain hideouts to recruiting and indoctrinating (while) hiding in the open, in the ACS (Afghan Corrections System)," he wrote.

The report warns that "insurgents use the ACS as a sanctuary and base to conduct lethal operations" against the central government and coalition forces.

Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgents comprise more than 2,500 of the country's 14,500 inmates, and their leaders "patiently coordinate and plan, unconcerned with interference from prison personnel or the military," he said.

Several state prisons "are firmly under the control of the Taliban" and if inmates stage no violent attacks inside a prison, the Afghan authorities see it as a qualified success, according to the report.

"These detainees are currently radicalizing non-insurgent inmates and worsening an already over-crowded prison system," the general said.

"Hardened, committed Islamists are indiscriminately mixed with petty criminals and sex offenders, and they are using the opportunity to radicalize and indoctrinate them."

At the US-run prison at the Bagram air base north of Kabul, hundreds of detainees held without charges for years are also vulnerable to recruitment by committed extremists, the general said.

The legal uncertainty faced by the detainees "allows the enemy to radicalize them far beyond their pre-capture orientation."

The Bagram center has also sown resentment among Afghans, as they "see US detention operations as secretive and lacking in due process."

Obama administration officials have already announced plans to change the rules at Bagram to allow inmates to challenge their detention and to replace the prison with a more modern complex that is supposed to start receiving detainees by the end of the year.

Part of the new US approach is designed to ensure high ranking insurgents are not held with less ideological inmates, a defense official said.

"You don't want to put some hardcore Al-Qaeda next to someone who was only a hired gun, who is not necessarily a radical," the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.

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NATO struggles to find troops for Afghanistan
Brussels (AFP) Sept 21, 2009
NATO nations, wracked by budget shortages and engaged in an unpopular war with mounting casualties, will struggle to satisfy the demands of the top commander in Afghanistan for more troops. In a 66-page assessment of the fight against Taliban-led insurgents, General Stanley McChrystal urges NATO and its partners to boost their military presence and bridge a security gap over the next year ... read more

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