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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
March 12, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: U.S. Sergeant Kills Afghan Civilians

A U.S. Army Sergeant allegedly killed at least sixteen Afghan civilians (NYT) deliberately in the Panjwai district of southern Kandahar Province on Sunday, prompting threats of retaliation by the Taliban. U.S. forces reportedly took the perpetrator into custody. The incident is likely to compound already strained U.S.-Afghan relations, which were pushed to new lows after it was revealed that NATO soldiers had burned Qurans at a U.S.-run air base north of Kabul. Both the U.S. and Afghan governments condemned yesterday's attack, while Western personnel in Afghanistan braced for a potentially violent backlash.


"Early signs suggest that the repeated killings of U.S. troops had become too much for one of their own, who apparently tried to exact his own perverse revenge, Pentagon officials theorize. Does it represent a turning point? It surely bruises, if not breaks, the trust necessary for the U.S. to continue its mission of training enough Afghan security forces to let the U.S. leave by 2015," writes TIME's Mark Thompson.

"The NATO command needs to determine what happened in Kandahar--quickly--and take remedial action to ensure it cannot happen again. Coming right after the unintentional desecration of Qurans and the deaths of several NATO soldiers from rogue Afghan soldiers, this latest tragedy will further inflame anti-foreign sentiment in Afghanistan," writes Bruce Riedel for the Daily Beast.

"If apologies are insulting to Afghan intelligence, the psychiatric argument is pathetic. Explaining the sergeant's shooting spree and the horrific killing of 16 civilians, including nine children, and badly injuring others isn't the culmination of mere mental distress," writes al-Jazeera's Marwan Bishara.



Japan Marks Year Since Earthquake and Tsunami

Japan marked Sunday the first anniversary of a devastating earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear crisis that left close to twenty thousand people dead or missing (JapanTimes). The disaster, for which recovery efforts are ongoing, triggered an international backlash against nuclear power.

One year after Japan's triple disasters, questions persist about the ability of the world's third-largest economy to rebound and how its struggling political system can mount serious reforms, writes CFR's Sheila Smith in this Expert Brief.

CHINA: The country reported a larger-than-expected trade deficit of $31.5 billion (WSJ) for February after nearly a decade of running large trade surpluses. The news came days after Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao reduced China's growth target to 7.5 percent for 2012.



Pakistan Reaches Out to Militant Groups

Pakistan invited the Taliban and other militant groups to engage in peace talks if they "abandoned extremism" (AFP), offering to remove them from a list of banned militant organizations that includes al-Qaeda, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Pakistan has emerged as a terrorist sanctuary for some of the world's most violent groups, including al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and homegrown militants, that threaten the stability of Pakistan as well as the region, explains this CFR Backgrounder.



Deadly Attacks on Civilians in Syria

Syrian security forces killed at least forty-five women and children (al-Jazeera) this morning in the Karm el-Zaytoun neighborhood of Homs, activists said, even as Syria's state news agency blamed the murders on "terrorist gangs." Syrian forces also launched a crackdown on in the northern Idlib province, activists reported.

PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES: Israeli airstrikes killed two Palestinian militants (BBC) in the Gaza Strip, bringing the total number of Palestinians killed to twenty-one since violence erupted on Friday. Israel said Palestinians have fired at least 180 rockets into Israel from Gaza, wounding at least two Israelis.



Suicide Bomber Targets Church in Nigeria

A suicide bomber blew himself up in his car outside a Catholic church in the city of Jos yesterday, killing at least ten people (AP) and triggering retaliatory violence. The militant Islamist group Boko Haram was suspected of causing the incident.

Widening violence by Nigeria's Islamist group Boko Haram has caused concerns about its possible links to international terrorist groups, explains this CFR Backgrounder.

MALI: Tuareg rebels took control (Reuters) of the northern garrison town of Tessalit, forcing government soldiers and civilians to retreat toward the Algerian border.



Merkel, Lagarde Divided Over Debt Crisis

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the de facto leader of the eurozone, and IMF chief Christine Lagarde are at odds over how to address the eurozone sovereign debt crisis in the wake of a second EU bailout for Greece (NYT). Merkel has called for continued austerity on the part of indebted eurozone states, while Lagarde has pushed for a larger EU rescue fund.

The eurozone, once seen as a crowning achievement in the decades-long path of European integration, is buffeted by a sovereign debt crisis of nations whose membership in the currency union has been poorly policed, explains this CFR Backgrounder.

SLOVAKIA: The left-leaning Smer-Social Democracy party won a parliamentary vote (WSJ) over the weekend amid mounting unrest over austerity measures, paving the way for party leader Robert Fico to form a new government.



Right Wing Party Set to Win in El Salvador

The conservative opposition ARENA party (BBC) is set to narrowly win a general election that includes all seats in the national legislature and mayoral posts throughout the country.

PERU: Three hundred nude cyclists rode through the capital (Telegraph) of Lima over the weekend to protest against inadequate road safety conditions. Around 2,830 people died in traffic accidents in Peru in 2011.


Campaign 2012

Gingrich Responds to Afghan Killings

Appearing on Face the Nation (CBS), GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich responded to news Sunday that sixteen Afghan civilians were allegedly killed by a U.S. soldier, saying it was time to make major policy changes in Afghanistan, including immediate withdrawal.

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum tied job creation and energy together on a Meet the Press (NBC) appearance, saying he would speed along economic recovery and create jobs by building the Keystone pipeline and approving drilling projects offshore and in Alaska.

Editor's Note: For more information on the presidential election and foreign policy, check out CFR's campaign blog, The Candidates and the World.



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