MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan—Officials are painting the weekend killings at the United Nations mission in northern Afghanistan’s largest city—which sparked cascading violence across the nation—as the handiwork of a small band of insurgents that used a protest against a Quran-burning as cover for a murderous plot.WSJ’s Dion Nissenbaum reports on the Journal’s investigation into last week’s massacre in Kabul, Afghanistan that killed seven U.S. workers.
But a Wall Street Journal reconstruction of Friday’s assault, based on unreleased videos, interviews with demonstrators and the U.N.’s own recounting of events, shows a more complex picture and indicates that ordinary Afghan demonstrators played a critical role in the attack.
Stirred to action by a Quran-burning at a Florida church, thousands of people swarmed past hapless Afghan police officers, heading toward a lightly protected U.N. compound. There, members of the tight-knit staff had been paying little attention to the angry protest unfolding at the city’s central mosque.
Mazar-e-Sharif has long been considered one of the safest cities in Afghanistan. So the diverse U.N. staff—including a female Norwegian fighter pilot, a seasoned Russian diplomat and German woman who had been at the mission for only a week or so—took few precautions even when the mob converged on their compound, burned an American flag and threw stones at the blast walls.By sunset, seven U.N. workers were dead. In the ensuing days, demonstrations cascaded across Afghanistan, claiming more lives Saturday and Sunday in Kandahar, far to the south.
Based on interviews with survivors, Staffan de Mistura, head of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, concluded that a handful of insurgents—including Afghans with accents suggesting they came from other parts of the country—spearheaded Friday’s attack on a safe room in the compound.
The rioting, which the Taliban say erupted spontaneously, adds a disturbing new threat in a country that is fighting a mostly rural insurgency. Foreign and local military forces alike are ill-prepared for riot control. “Every security-force leader’s worst nightmare is being confronted by essentially a mob,” said Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of 150,000 U.S.-led coalition forces, in an interview Sunday, “especially [a mob] that can be influenced by individuals that want to incite violence, who want to try to hijack passions, in this case, perhaps understandable passions.”The Quran-burning, held March 20 at the Dove World Outreach Center by church leader Terry Jones in Gainesville, Fla., was “hateful, extremely disrespectful and enormously intolerant,” Gen. Petraeus said.
Mr. Jones called Gen. Petraeus’ remarks “unconstitutional” and disputed that his actions complicate U.S. efforts to fight the Taliban. “I do not necessarily think that our actions make his job more difficult,” he said in an interview Sunday. “The Taliban or radical Islam will use any excuse to incite more violence. If they don’t have one, they will make up an excuse.”
Friday, thousands of people gathered in Mazar-e-Sharif’s revered Blue Mosque. Speaker after speaker denounced the Quran-burning, which for Muslims is abhorrent because Islam teaches that the physical book is holy.
“Stand up against the enemies of the Quran with your pen,” one of the men shouted from the podium, videos show. “Stand up against them with your voices. Stand up against them with weapons. It is everyone’s right to stand up against them and make a jihad.”
The protesters then surprised police by pouring into the street and marching toward the U.N. office, more than a mile away. At one point, according to videos reviewed by the Journal, the badly outnumbered police tried to use a six-foot wood beam to hold back the crowd. The protesters easily surged past.
Only about 60 police were deployed, and they appeared uncertain how to respond. Initial attempts to disperse the crowd by firing warning shots appeared only to inflame the demonstrators. The besieged U.N. staffers headed to two safe rooms intended to shield against intruders and bombs.
They phoned for help from the nearby military bases of German and Swedish forces, according to a person briefed on the situation. The U.S.-led military said the situation “escalated rapidly” and that a swift-reaction team didn’t arrive until after rioters were gone.
Once demonstrators flooded the compound, a dozen Afghan police guards—the first line of defense—dropped their weapons, said Brig. Gen. Esmatullah Alizai, the provincial police chief. “They were surrounded and confused,” he said.
Inside the compound, a small contingent of Nepalese Gurkha guards working for the U.N. faced a conundrum: They were under U.N. orders not to open fire on demonstrators. The videos show one guard feebly trying to wave an elderly demonstrator out of the compound.
Nearby, videos show, demonstrators used bent metal rods to smash a row of white U.N. SUVs.
Among those attacking the U.N. vehicles was a young religious student from a small village not far from the city. The student said in an interview that he and one of his friends found a propane tank that they shoved under one vehicle and set off an explosion.
Nearby, the student said, two Afghan policemen were hiding with a foreigner behind a tanker. When one of the officers shot and injured a young demonstrator, the student said he saw a chance to disarm him.
“Grab his weapon,” the student said he shouted to his friend, who wrestled a Kalashnikov assault rifle and used it to shoot the unarmed foreigner.
Inside the building, other attackers targeted one of the safe rooms. The door proved little protection against the mob. As intruders penetrated the safe room, Pavel Ershov, a Russian diplomat who speaks fluent Dari sought to protect three staff members by distracting the assailants, the U.N.’s Mr. de Mistura said.
“Are you Muslim?” the assailants asked Mr. Ershov, according to one diplomat briefed on the attack. Mr. Ershov lied and said he was, the U.N. said. The assailants tested him by asking him to recite the traditional profession of belief in Islam, which begins, “There is no God but Allah.”
When he successfully completed the test, his life was spared. Still, he was dragged into the street and beaten badly, according to a local shopkeeper who said he participated in the assault.
The attackers searched the darkened bunker with a lamp and discovered Lt. Col. Siri Skare, a 53-year-old Norwegian military attaché—the former fighter pilot—seconded to the U.N., along with Joakim Dungel, a 33-year-old Swede who had been working in the human-rights office for less than two months, and Filaret Motco, a 43-year-old Romanian who headed the mission’s political section.
As Lt. Col. Skare attempted to flee the bunker, she was intercepted by the Afghan demonstrators who had set the car on fire. She was shot with the rifle commandeered from the police officer, one of the men said. Lt. Col. Skare died of her wounds. Messrs. Dungel and Motco were killed elsewhere.
Four Afghans—men also described as “insurgents” by Gen. Alizai, the police official—were also killed. Video footage of demonstrators leaving the U.N. compound shows two men carrying Kalashnikovs and one showing off a large, blood-spattered knife.
As the attackers focused on the four U.N. workers who had been hiding in the first safe room, diplomats said, three or four others, including the German newcomer, were sheltered in a safe room in another building. They survived.
—Yaroslav Trofimov, Zamir Saar, Michael Allen and Betsy McKay contributed to this article.
As readers of Big Government know, an impasse over a few billion dollars in proposed spending cuts threatens to shutdown the federal government. (And, by a few billion dollars I mean, rounding error.) As regular readers should also know, I’ve come to embrace a shutdown, rather than fear it.
As this recent Congressional Research Service report explains, if the government were to shutdown, an OMB Directive issued in the 1980s (along with a handful of legal opinions) guide what parts of government continue to function and what parts must close down. Short story, all of the important functions of government, i.e national security, the military, air traffic control, border security, Social Security payments, etc., will continue to function. The parts that have to shut down…well, lets just say they are candidates for permanent cuts. I mean, if the country functions for several weeks without a few hundred thousand ‘non-essential’ employees, couldn’t we probably function without them forever? I’m not saying every one of these jobs should necessarily be eliminated…but it isn’t a good place to start?
Sensing the potential PR nightmare from this, it seems the Obama Administration may have decided to raise the stakes on a shutdown. According to draft guidance from the Pentagon, the Obama Administration will require military personnel to report to work…but, will hold their paychecks until the impasse is resolved. As Government Executive explained in a March 15th article:
Military personnel and exempt Defense Department civilian employees are required to continue working without pay during a government shutdown, according to guidance from the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
In a memo prepared earlier this month, Defense officials noted that service members and some civilian workers, including those involved in national security and the protection of life and property, still must report for duty but will not be paid until Congress appropriates funds to reimburse them for that period of service. All other employees will be furloughed, the memo stated.
Military personnel are not subject to furlough.
This is new.
During the last government shutdown, in 1995, troops continued to receive their paychecks. According to Federal Times:
When the government was shut down in 1995, military personnel continued to report to work and were paid, but the planning guidance sent to the services and defense agencies says a shutdown this time will be different.
“All military personnel will continue in normal duty status regardless of their affiliation with exempt or non-exempt activities,” says the draft planning guidance that was prepared for the services and defense agencies. “Military personnel will serve without pay until such time as Congress makes appropriated funds available to compensate them for this period of service.”
During the 1995 shutdown, the Clinton Administration followed the OMB guidance issued during the Reagan Administration. The Obama Administration, it seems, is tacking a different direction.
Let me be clear, the guidelines proposing to hold military paychecks are, according to the news reports, draft guidelines. It is possible the Obama Administration has abandoned these punitive guidelines. And, even if they implemented these guidelines, military personnel would most likely eventually receive their pay, once a budget agreement is reached. But, why even change the policy and subject our military to partisan political battles. The policy is certainly a change, but it doesn’t provide much hope.
Hopefully, they will clear this up quickly.
DON’T LET THE DEMS HOLD OUR TROOPS HOSTAGE
By DICK MORRIS & EILEEN MCGANN
Published on DickMorris.com on April 7, 2011
If the government shuts down will our troops be paid? The House Republicans are voting to pay them regardless but the Senate and Obama are refusing. They want to use our soldiers’ paychecks as leverage to stop Republican budget cuts.
The Democrats are holding our troops hostage!
These men and women are fighting for our country. Their families are struggling to get by in their absence. Let’s not make their pay a political football. Guarantee their pay regardless of the political squabbles in Washington!
Call your Democratic Senator at 202-224-3121 and demand that the Senate pass the House bill guaranteeing military pay!
The much-maligned and long-stalled free trade deal with Colombia was approved again Wednesday. This time it came with the seal of approval of President Barack Obama’s administration, in hopes of averting another defeat at the hands of Democrats in Congress and the labor unions.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the plan, “significantly expands the protections of labor leaders and organizers. “It bolsters efforts to punish those who have perpetrated violence against union members and, we think, substantially strengthens their laws and enforcement.”
Kirk’s comments came in hopes that this time, a trade agreement with Colombia first approved under the George W. Bush administration, will not be torpedoed in Congress by the president’s own party.
According to The Hill, President Obama will meet Thursday with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at the White House to formally announce the deal.
Still its approval by Congress was less than certain. Many Republicans have approved a trade agreement that U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said “will help bring jobs and economic growth to South Florida and throughout the United States.”
Kirk told the media that the plan should quell concerns of U.S. unions over the effect on jobs and have a “positive effect on American jobs.”
But, according to The Hill, the AFL-CIO said it was disappointed with the deal, and some members of Congress close to labor also said more needed to be done.
House Ways and Means ranking member Sander Levin (D-Mich.) said that while the administration has received “important commitments to address serious issues regarding worker rights, violence and impunity,” more work needs to be done.
But Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) told The Hill that the agreement on labor could be enough to move the Colombia trade deal forward. He said it appears “to represent a solid basis on which to build on Colombia’s good work and ensure that Colombia takes additional steps to strengthen labor rights, reduce violence and increase prosecutions of those responsible for the violence.”
U.S. trade officials also said trade the agreement with Panama should be completed within the next several weeks. On Tuesday night, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli signed new labor laws into effect and is expected to push through a tax information exchange agreement or TIEA that deals with Panama’s history a tax haven within the next several weeks, officials said.
Ros-Lehtinen was quick to point out the advantages of a treaty that had been held up by Democrats under pressure from American labor unions.
“Colombia is already Miami’s second largest trading partner globally and this agreement will open the door for further opportunities to spur economic growth,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
“It is unfortunate that this job-creating agreement has been on hold for more than four years as the Obama Administration raised one obstacle after another due to politically-driven opposition by partisan special interest groups,” she added.
Kirk explained that under the new agreement announced Wednesday, Colombia will follow a roadmap to make changes in its labor laws this year. Those include providing greater protections for union leaders, such as shop stewards and bargaining committee members, workers trying to organize or join a union and former union activists who might be threatened because of their past union activities.
Most of the requirements should be wrapped up before Congress votes on the agreement, Kirk said.
According to The Hill, the International Trade Commission (ITC) has estimated that the agreement’s tariff reductions will expand exports of U.S. goods by more than $1.1 billion and increase gross domestic product by $2.5 billion.
Still, U.S. trade officials didn’t provide a timeline for ratification of the pending free trade deals, saying they would need to meet with congressional leaders to determine the path.