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THE INDEX — September 18, 2009

The secretary-general of NATO called for greater defense cooperation between Russia and the Western alliance, including the possibility of integrating their missile defense systems. Just a day after U.S. President Barack Obama scrapped plans for the missile defense shield in Eastern Europe that Russia had strongly opposed, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen called for a "new beginning" in relations with Russia. "Both NATO and Russia have a wealth of experience in missile defense," Rasmussen said. "We should now work to combine this experience to our mutual benefit." Though he conceded he was not sure how such an integration would occur, Rasmussen emphasized that it was critical to "give the political signal" for cooperation. Neither Washington nor Moscow immediately reacted to the proposal, but Russian politicians broadly welcomed Obama's decision to abandon the planned shield. For more information: WATCH: Russian news network RT considers whether Brussels is really ready to strengthen cooperation with Moscow or is simply appeasing Russian concerns. READ: "Poland: Straddling the Nuclear Frontier" by Wojciech Lorenz in the Fall issue of World Policy Journal. A government airstrike in Yemen misfired, striking a refugee camp, killing nearly 90 civilians. The strike, which was meant to target Houthi Shiite rebels fighting near the site, is the deadliest episode in the increasingly violent conflict between government forces and Houthi rebels in northern Yemen. United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged the Yemeni government to launch an investigation into the incident and take appropriate action to ensure it isn't repeated. "This type of situation is particularly devastating," she said. "I urge both sides to make a greater effort to allow civilians to escape to safety, and ensure they receive proper assistance." Earlier this week, another senior U.N. official pleaded with the international community to bolster its support for the "neglected" humanitarian crisis in Yemen. For more on this, read "Yemen: Life on the Edge" (World Policy Journal, Fall 2009) by award-winning photojournalist Micah Albert, who chronicles the famine, drought, and civil war that threaten Yemen's beleaguered populace. After a renewed push for an Israeli halt in West Bank settlement activity, it appears American envoy George Mitchell is going home empty-handed. According to Palestinian officials, Mitchell’s latest round of shuttle diplomacy between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has ended without an agreement before a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly next week. The lack of consensus on halting settlement activity will mostly likely prevent the two sides from negotiating broader elements of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. Israel has hinted at a settlement freeze, with an Israeli official quoted as saying, “Israel will agree to extend the freeze beyond six months – possibly nine months, but less than a year.” However, an official agreement has not materialized. Netanyahu said while there is a slowdown in settlement construction, “there are 2,400 units being built, and their construction will continue.” The Sri Lankan president announced that he expects more than 250,000 Tamil refugees displaced by the recent war to be resettled by January. President Mahinda Rajapaksa said new de-mining equipment, which will clear Tamil villages of mines, will allow the ethnic Tamil civilians to return home safely. He also said arrangements were being made for the refugees to receive day passes from the government so they can leave the camps and go to work. According to U.N. statistics, nearly 265,000 people remain in the camps, and only about 15,000 have been able to leave so far. President Rajapaksa said 70 percent of the refugees would be out by late November. The Sri Lankan government is now beginning to feel pressure from the United Nations, where Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon sent Undersecretary General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe to the refugee camps to speed up resettlement. She said that the refugees are “impatient” to return to their homes. A U.N. human rights commissioner has called the number of civilians in camps “intolerable” and that they are “effectively detained under conditions of internment.” The Sri Lankan government has said Tamil Tiger fighters have infiltrated the camps, and it is worried about letting rebel fighters out. Six Italian soldiers were killed Thursday, and four others critically wounded, in a Taliban car bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan, which also killed ten Afghan civilians.  Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi responded with a pledge to withdraw 500 Italian soldiers who were deployed to provide security for the Afghan election on August 20. Italy’s contingent, based in the relatively stable western region, is responsible for training the Afghan National Police and for reinvigorating an Afghan judicial structure, with mixed results. (The soldiers are restricted by domestic “national caveats” from engaging in combat.) Prime minister Berlusconi acknowledged, “We cannot, after all we’ve done and all the human sacrifice, abandon this effort following traumatic events,” but called for more rapid progress in Afghanistan for a quicker military withdrawal, pledging to cooperate within NATO on any further force reductions. Some analysts, including U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, have expressed disappointment with NATO for its inadequate contribution to the mission in Afghanistan, reflecting poorly on NATO as a collective security compact. Italy has some 2,800 soldiers deployed to Afghanistan, and the six killed Thursday raises the Italian death toll to 20. Violence continues in Pakistan after a suicide car bombing killed dozens in a crowded Peshawar market while government drone attacks reportedly led to the death of two prominent al Qaeda militants. The suicide car bombing killed 33 and wounded 56 and destroyed shops in the area as residents celebrated the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Pakistani police suspect the bombing was in retribution for the drone strike that assassinated Baitullah Mehsud, the former leader of the Pakistani Taliban.  Meanwhile, The Nation (Pakistan) reports that U.S. CIA drone attacks in Pakistan killed two prominent militants affiliated with al Qaeda. One, Najmiddin Kamolitdinovich Jalolov, is an Uzbek native and leader of the Islamic Jihad Union; the other, Ilyas Kashmiri, was briefly detained as a suspect in a 2003 assassination attempt against then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. The two men are "solid midlevel commanders," said Bruce Hoffman, a Georgetown University professor who specializes in terrorism. Targeting middle-level officers is important, he said, because "when you do kill the senior commanders, there's no one to fill their shoes.” CIA drone attacks have increased since last year, with 38 reported so far this year. While the CIA does not acknowledge the strikes, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair asserted on Tuesday, "What has really made all the nations safer has been the accumulation of knowledge about al Qaeda and its affiliate groups, which enables us to be more aggressive in expanding that knowledge and stopping things before they happen.”

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