AFGHANISTAN: THE BACKLASH BEGINS
-DELEGATION ATTACKED…Militants attacked an Afghan government delegation visiting one of the sites in southern Afghanistan where a U.S. soldier is suspected of killing 16 civilians. The attackers opened fire at the delegation from several sides. An ABC News freelance cameraman was with the delegation and witnessed the attack – you can hear the snap of gunfire on his tape. The delegation included two of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s brothers and several senior security officials – at least one of whim died in the attack.
-STUDENTS PROTEST…Hundreds of students in eastern Afghanistan shouted “Death to America!” and “Death to the soldier who killed our civilians!” Tuesday – some carried a banner that called for a public trial of the soldier. Other protesters burned an effigy of President Barack Obama.”The reason we are protesting is because of the killing of innocent children and other civilians by this tyrant U.S. soldier,” said Sardar Wali, a university student. “We want the United Nations and the Afghan government to publicly try this guy.”
-FALLOUT ON THE GROUND: AFGHANS SCARED…From Nick SCHIFRIN in Kabul: Increasingly, Afghans no longer feel safe. Security is decreasing in many areas, and many Afghans want to leave the country; the number of Afghans applying for asylum is at an all time high. The Quran burning and this weekend’s massacre are making more Afghans ask whether it’s time to develop backup plans – many fear that it might all be going wrong. We met a man last summer who ran a US-funded program that taught girls how to sew and use computers. He was a perfect example of what the US needs here: Afghans who take risks to help defeat the Taliban. He even volunteered for the CIA at one point. But now he says his security has deteriorated to the point where he had to give up his work, and he’s in hiding.
-NEW TALIBAN THREAT…The Afghan Taliban threatened Tuesday to behead U.S. troops in revenge for the massacre. In an e-mailed statement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said “the Islamic Emirate once again warns the American animals that the mujahideen will avenge them, and with the help of Allah will kill and behead your sadistic murderous soldiers.”
-PANETTA: “WAR IS HELL”…Were these the right words, at this moment? Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, en route to the region: “War is hell, these kinds of events and incidents are going to take place, they’ve taken place in any war, they’re terrible events. This is not the first of those events, and they probably won’t be the last.” Martha RADDATZ notes: As we have pointed out, this is the worst crime that has taken place in this decade of war in either Iraq or Afghanistan. It is unprecedented in the generation of warriors. A soldier allegedly killing babies and dragging young boys by the hair and shooting them in the mouth would hardly be placed in the “these kind of events and incidents are going to take place.”
-THE SOLDIER…More from RADDATZ: U.S. officials have identified the soldier as a staff sergeant – a married, 38-year-old father of two who was trained as a sniper and had suffered a head injury in Iraq. The soldier, belongs to a conventional unit that supports Green Berets who are training local security forces. His family has been moved to his base in Washington state – reportedly for their protection.
-MISSION DEBATE: “DIMINISHING RETURNS”?…The NYTimes reports the Obama administration is discussing whether to reduce American forces in Afghanistan by at least 20,000 more troops by 2013, reflecting a growing belief within the White House that the mission there has now reached the point of diminishing returns. Accelerating the withdrawal of United States forces has been under consideration for weeks by senior White House officials, but those discussions are now taking place in the context of two major setbacks to American efforts in Afghanistan. In an interview President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to the Afghan mission, warning against “a rush for the exits”.
-MINING THE BORDERS?…Human Rights Watch writes about what we’ve been hearing from Syrians on both borders – that regime forces have planted landmines near the borders with Turkey and Lebanon along routes used by refugees . HRW says its report, released on Tuesday, is based on accounts from witnesses and Syrian de-miners. It cites witnesses saying the landmines have already caused civilian casualties. The group said it had been told by a 28-year-old former Syrian Army deminer that he and a group of friends removed around 300 mines from the Hasanieih area in early March, along routes used by refugees to reach Turkey. Also today, a U.N. official says more than 8,000 people have been killed in the uprising that started a year ago on Thursday; noted Syria analyst Josh Landis looks at the latest defection rumors and passes on a letter from Lattakia; and UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan met with Syrian opposition leaders in Ankara, Turkey Tuesday morning. His earlier meetings with Syrian government officials have yet to yield any clear results.
GLOBAL STOCKS RISE
World stock markets rose Tuesday as investors hoped for encouraging words about the U.S. economy when Federal Reserve policymakers conclude a meeting later in the day. Benchmark oil rose to near $107 per barrel while the dollar gained against the euro and the yen. Analysts don’t expect Fed chief Ben Bernanke to announce any changes to its key interest rate, which is already close to zero, but are waiting to see if the Fed expresses confidence in the economic outlook.
U.S.-CHINA: NEW TRADE CLASH?
The Obama administration is expected to lead an international offensive, filing a major trade case against China. The case would ask the World Trade Organization to force the Chinese to ease their stranglehold on so-called “rare-earth minerals” critical to high-tech manufacturing. China dominates both the mining of rare-earth materials (97 percent of the global figure) and the ability to process mined oxides into the metals that serve as key components of everything from smartphones to hybrid vehicles to military equipment. From the WSJournal: The announcement, which will be made by President Barack Obama, marks a new front in the administration’s election-year effort to turn up the heat on China, amid competition from the president’s potential Republican rivals on the matter.
Barack Obama and David Cameron have described the “unique and essential” relationship between the US and UK ahead of a visit by the prime minister to Washington. In a joint article for the Washington Post, the two leaders said “the world counts on our alliance”. During the three-day trip they will discuss what they call “the next phase of the transition” in Afghanistan. Tensions over Iran and the violence in Syria will also be on the agenda. They’ll also get a taste of “March Madness” on a visit to Dayton, Ohio.
Alex MARQUARDT reports: A ceasefire is in place between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza after four days of deadly clashes. There have been no new attacks since the Egyptian-mediated truce took effect. The recent violence “appears to be behind us,” said Israeli Cabinet Minister Matan Vilnai. At least 25 Palestinians have died in Israeli air strikes since Friday, reports say. Israel says 35 people were injured in Palestinian rocket attacks.
JAPAN: “SLOW-MOVING DISASTER”
Akiko FUJITA reports from Tokyo: A slow moving disaster is unraveling on the west coast of Japan, and nearly 100 people are in its path. Niigata (west of Fukushima) got record snowfall this winter. Now all that snow is starting to melt – and the moisture is triggering a slow-moving landslide. The 260-yard-wide area began to slide about a week ago. Since then it’s picked up the pace, shifting a neighborhood in Niigata’s Joetsu City at the rate of about 30 inches every hour. So far, it has destroyed 4 homes in its path, and forced the evacuation of 80 people.
KOREA SCUFFLE – KICKS AND ALL
South Korean lawmakers tangled with North Korean delegates in Switzerland at a U.N. meeting on the North’s human rights abuses. Footage from Yonhap news agency shot Monday showed several South Korean lawmakers trying to grab a North Korean diplomat leaving the U.N. meeting as they chanted slogans against China’s policy of repatriating North Korean defectors.
STROKE VICTIM + EUTHANASIA PLEA
The BBC and New York Times report: A British stroke victim paralyzed from the neck down and suffering from so-called locked-in syndrome has won the right to seek changes in a law that would enable a doctor to end what he has called “intolerable life” without risking murder charges.
An eruption at the Sakurajima volcano (located on Japan’s southern Kagoshima island) sent rocks spewing more than a mile from the crater, forcing city officials to shut down the area within a mile radius. The volcano is known to be among the most active in Japan, but this is the largest eruption since 2009.
“STUPID TEENS” – EVERYWHERE
FUJITA again: A sign of the times…and a sign that there are stupid teens no matter where you go in the world. A 15-year old boy has been arrested for threatening to hijack a Tokyo-bound bus…on Twitter. He sent out the tweet last October, saying “Plan to hijack Shinagawa (Tokyo) bus at 9:30am.” The ominous message forced the bus company to step up security for 2 days. The teenager was arrested on charges of obstructing business. When asked why he did it, he said “I just wanted more followers.” He also claims to have been under a lot of stress from studying…and wanted to relieve his stress by scaring others.