Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
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This article, by Chris Hedges, was posted to Common Dreams.org, November 2, 2009
The warlords we champion in Afghanistan are as venal, as opposed to the rights of women and basic democratic freedoms, and as heavily involved in opium trafficking as the Taliban. The moral lines we draw between us and our adversaries are fictional. The uplifting narratives used to justify the war in Afghanistan are pathetic attempts to redeem acts of senseless brutality. War cannot be waged to instill any virtue, including democracy or the liberation of women. War always empowers those who have a penchant for violence and access to weapons. War turns the moral order upside down and abolishes all discussions of human rights. War banishes the just and the decent to the margins of society. And the weapons of war do not separate the innocent and the damned. An aerial drone is our version of an improvised explosive device. An iron fragmentation bomb is our answer to a suicide bomb. A burst from a belt-fed machine gun causes the same terror and bloodshed among civilians no matter who pulls the trigger.
"We need to tear the mask off of the fundamentalist warlords who after the tragedy of 9/11 replaced the Taliban," Malalai Joya, who was expelled from the Afghan parliament two years ago for denouncing government corruption and the Western occupation, told me during her visit to New York last week. "They used the mask of democracy to take power. They continue this deception. These warlords are mentally the same as the Taliban. The only change is physical. These warlords during the civil war in Afghanistan from 1992 to 1996 killed 65,000 innocent people. They have committed human rights violations, like the Taliban, against women and many others."
"In eight years less than 2,000 Talib have been killed and more than 8,000 innocent civilians has been killed," she went on. "We believe that this is not war on terror. This is war on innocent civilians. Look at the massacres carried out by NATO forces in Afghanistan. Look what they did in May in the Farah province, where more than 150 civilians were killed, most of them women and children. They used white phosphorus and cluster bombs. There were 200 civilians on 9th of September killed in the Kunduz province, again most of them women and children. You can see the Web site of professor Marc Herold, this democratic man, to know better the war crimes in Afghanistan imposed on our people. The United States and NATO eight years ago occupied my country under the banner of woman's rights and democracy. But they have only pushed us from the frying pan into the fire. They put into power men who are photocopies of the Taliban."
Afghanistan's boom in the trade in opium, used to produce heroin, over the past eight years of occupation has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to the Taliban, al-Qaida, local warlords, criminal gangs, kidnappers, private armies, drug traffickers and many of the senior figures in the government of Hamid Karzai. The New York Times reported that the brother of President Karzai, Ahmed Wali Karzai, has been collecting money from the CIA although he is a major player in the illegal opium business. Afghanistan produces 92 percent of the world's opium in a trade that is worth some $65 billion, the United Nations estimates. This opium feeds some 15 million addicts worldwide and kills around 100,000 people annually. These fatalities should be added to the rolls of war dead.
Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said that the drug trade has permitted the Taliban to thrive and expand despite the presence of 100,000 NATO troops.
"The Taliban's direct involvement in the opium trade allows them to fund a war machine that is becoming technologically more complex and increasingly widespread," said Costa.
The UNODC estimates the Taliban earned $90 million to $160 million a year from taxing the production and smuggling of opium and heroin between 2005 and 2009, as much as double the amount it earned annually while it was in power nearly a decade ago. And Costa described the Afghan-Pakistani border as "the world's largest free trade zone in anything and everything that is illicit," an area blighted by drugs, weapons and illegal immigration. The "perfect storm of drugs and terrorism" may be on the move along drug trafficking routes through Central Asia, he warned. Profits made from opium are being pumped into militant groups in Central Asia and "a big part of the region could be engulfed in large-scale terrorism, endangering its massive energy resources," Costa said.
"Afghanistan, after eight years of occupation, has become a world center for drugs," Joya told me. "The drug lords are the only ones with power. How can you expect these people to stop the planting of opium and halt the drug trade? How is it that the Taliban when they were in power destroyed the opium production and a superpower not only cannot destroy the opium production but allows it to increase? And while all this goes on, those who support the war talk to you about women's rights. We do not have human rights now in most provinces. It is as easy to kill a woman in my country as it is to kill a bird. In some big cities like Kabul some women have access to jobs and education, but in most of the country the situation for women is hell. Rape, kidnapping and domestic violence are increasing. These fundamentalists during the so-called free elections made a misogynist law against Shia women in Afghanistan. This law has even been signed by Hamid Karzai. All these crimes are happening under the name of democracy."
Thousands of Afghan civilians have died from insurgent and foreign military violence. And American and NATO forces are responsible for almost half the civilian deaths in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians have also died from displacement, starvation, disease, exposure, lack of medical treatment, crime and lawlessness resulting from the war.
Joya argues that Karzai and his rival Abdullah Abdullah, who has withdrawn from the Nov. 7 runoff election, will do nothing to halt the transformation of Afghanistan into a narco-state. She said that NATO, by choosing sides in a battle between two corrupt and brutal opponents, has lost all its legitimacy in the country.
The recent resignation of a high-level U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan, Matthew Hoh, was in part tied to the drug problem. Hoh wrote in his resignation letter that Karzi's government is filled with "glaring corruption and unabashed graft." Karzi, he wrote, is a president "whose confidants and chief advisers comprise drug lords and war crimes villains who mock our own rule of law and counter-narcotics effort."
Joya said, "Where do you think the $36 billion of money poured into country by the international community have gone? This money went into the pockets of the drug lords and the warlords. There are 18 million people in Afghanistan who live on less than $2 a day while these warlords get rich. The Taliban and warlords together contribute to this fascism while the occupation forces are bombing and killing innocent civilians. When we do not have security how can we even talk about human rights or women's rights?"
"This election under the shade of Afghan war-lordism, drug-lordism, corruption and occupation forces has no legitimacy at all," she said. "The result will be like the same donkey but with new saddles. It is not important who is voting. It is important who is counting. And this is our problem. Many of those who go with the Taliban do not support the Taliban, but they are fed up with these warlords and this injustice and they go with the Taliban to take revenge. I do not agree with them, but I understand them. Most of my people are against the Taliban and the warlords, which is why millions did not take part in this tragic drama of an election."
"The U.S. wastes taxpayers' money and the blood of their soldiers by supporting such a mafia corrupt system of Hamid Karzai," said Joya, who changes houses in Kabul frequently because of the numerous death threats made against her. "Eight years is long enough to learn about Karzai and Abdullah. They chained my country to the center of drugs. If Obama was really honest he would support the democratic-minded people of my country. We have a lot [of those people]. But he does not support the democratic-minded people of my country. He is going to start war in Pakistan by attacking in the border area of Pakistan. More civilians have been killed in the Obama period than even during the criminal Bush."
"My people are sandwiched between two powerful enemies," she lamented. "The occupation forces from the sky bomb and kill innocent civilians. On the ground, Taliban and these warlords deliver fascism. As NATO kills more civilians the resistance to the foreign troops increases. If the U.S. government and NATO do not leave voluntarily my people will give to them the same lesson they gave to Russia and to the English who three times tried to occupy Afghanistan. It is easier for us to fight against one enemy rather than two."
Time to replace the Pentagon with the Peace Corps. It accomplishes far more with far less.
This article, by Greg Grant, was posted to Military.com, October 26, 2009
It was all things Afghanistan and Pakistan at the House Armed Services Committee with lawmakers weighing the viability of a counterterrorism approach versus population centric counterinsurgency and Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s new strategy. An interesting aspect of this debate is the level of knowledge shown by some members of Congress on everything from the proper troop to civilian ratio called for in classic counterinsurgency doctrine to the intricacies of the Tajik versus Pashtun balance in Afghanistan.
The Obama administration has taken some serious heat in recent days for what former Vice President Dick Cheney called "dithering" over the decision to escalate in Afghanistan or not. The reliably hawkish Tom Donnelly of AEI, part of the escalate often and everywhere crowd, even provided an exhaustive timeline of the Obama administration’s "long road to indecision" that can be found here.
Two prominent retired generals Barry McCaffrey and David Barno, testifying before the HASC Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee on Thursday, both said it was important the administration take some time on this one. McCaffrey pointed to what he called one of the most "shameful" episodes in recent history when former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld claimed he was never asked for his viewpoint on invading Iraq before the war. It is important that the senior Obama administration officials take their time and think through the various options because once they decide, "they will own the decision."
While urging full deliberation, both generals were pretty clear how they want that decision to ultimately turn out. For his part, McCaffrey favors escalation and called the over-the-horizon counterterrorism approach a "silly option." He suggests sending 100,000 more troops, not just the 40,000 reportedly wanted by McChrystal. Promises have been made, he said, and not just at the national level when the Bush administration said the U.S. would lead an effort to rebuild Afghanistan. Young American troops on the ground in Afghanistan, waging a war for the will of the Afghan people, make promises every day that the U.S. will be there for them and protect them if they take sides against the Taliban.
McCaffrey said a tribal and ethnic war is underway for control of both Afghanistan and Pakistan and the security implications of Islamic extremists seizing power in either location are too serious not to escalate the U.S. military commitment to the region. Because of the inability of non-governmental and aid organizations to function in Afghanistan due to the security concerns, he recommended sending at least two engineering brigades and a slew of Army Corps of Engineer folks to work on large development projects.
If the military effort stumbles in Afghanistan and the U.S. were to seriously draw down there, it would likely spell the end of NATO as a military alliance, said Barno. To declare success and pull out now, would simply mean the U.S. military would be forced to re-invade the country at some future date when Islamic radicals take power in Kabul and re-establish a terrorist sanctuary there. Barno also favors an escalation of the troop commitment in Afghanistan along the lines of McChrystal’s rumored 40,000 troop request.
Many Afghans have been forced to choose a side in this war, and they have sided with the U.S. and NATO against the Taliban, said Beth Ellen Cole, of the United States Institute of Peace. A Taliban takeover could condemn many of them to a very bleak future, she said, "we have a lot of exposed people on the ground right now." She pointed to efforts at reconstruction and peacekeeping in both Rwanda and Sierra Leone as examples that the international community can in fact improve the lot of war torn countries.
This article, by Gareth Porter, was posted to ipsnews.net, October 15, 2009
WASHINGTON, Oct 15 (IPS) - A veteran Army officer who has served in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars warns in an analysis now circulating in Washington that the counterinsurgency strategy urged by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal is likely to strengthen the Afghan insurgency, and calls for withdrawal of the bulk of U.S. combat forces from the country over 18 months.
In a 63-page paper representing his personal views, but reflecting conversations with other officers who have served in Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis argues that it is already too late for U.S. forces to defeat the insurgency.
"Many experts in and from Afghanistan warn that our presence over the past eight years has already hardened a meaningful percentage of the population into viewing the United States as an army of occupation which should be opposed and resisted," writes Davis.
Providing the additional 40,000 troops that Gen. McChrystal has reportedly requested "is almost certain to further exacerbate" that problem, he warns.
Davis was a liaison officer between the Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan (CFC-A) and the Central Command in 2005, just as the Afghan insurgency was becoming a significant problem for the U.S. military. In that assignment he both consulted with the top U.S. officers and staff of the CFC-A and traveled widely throughout Afghanistan visiting U.S. and NATO combat units.
He also commanded a U.S. military transition team on the Iraqi border with Iran in 2008-09.
In the paper, Davis suggests what he calls a "Go Deep" strategy as an alternative to the recommendation from McChrystal for a larger counterinsurgency effort, which he calls "Go Big".
The "Go Deep" strategy proposed by Davis would establish an 18-month time frame during which the bulk of U.S. and NATO combat forces would be withdrawn from the country. It would leave U.S. Special Forces and their supporting units, and enough conventional forces in Kabul to train Afghan troops and police and provide protection for U.S. personnel.
The forces that continue to operate in insurgent-dominated areas would wage "an aggressive counterterrorism effort" aimed in part at identifying Taliban and al Qaeda operatives. The strategy would also provide support for improved Afghan governance and training for security forces.
Davis argues that a large and growing U.S. military presence would make it more difficult to achieve this counterterrorism objective. By withdrawing conventional forces from the countryside, he suggests, U.S. strategy would deprive the insurgents of "easily identifiable and lucrative targets against which to launch attacks".
Typically insurgents attack U.S. positions not for any tactical military objective, Davis writes, but to gain a propaganda victory.
The "Go Deep" strategy outlined in the paper appears to parallel the shift in strategy from counterinsurgency to counterterrorism being proposed by some officials in discussions in the White House in recent weeks.
After reading Davis's paper, Col. Patrick Lang, formerly the defence intelligence officer for the Middle East, told IPS he regards the "Go Deep" strategy as "a fair representation of the alternative to the one option in General McChrystal's assessment".
Lang said he doubts that those advising Obama to shift to a counterterrorism strategy are calling specifically for the withdrawal of most combat troops, but he believes such a withdrawal "is certainly implicit in the argument".
Davis told IPS he was surprised to hear from one official in a high position in Washington whose reaction to his paper was that what he is proposing in place of the "Go Big" option is still "too big".
Davis said his views on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan have been shaped both by his personal experiences traveling throughout Afghanistan during his 2005 tour of duty and by conversations with U.S. military officers who have recently returned from Afghanistan.
"Mostly it was guys who've been out there in the field," said Davis. "They have a different view from those who work in the headquarters."
"I think there's a whole lot of folks out there who agree with this," he said.
He was flown out of Iraq for medical treatment in early June after suffering a partial loss of vision, and has been temporarily reassigned to the Defence Intelligence Agency. However, Davis said he was not assigned to work on Afghanistan and did the work on his Afghanistan strategy paper entirely on his own.
Davis said he had received permission from his immediate supervisor at DIA to circulate his personal analysis and recommendations on Afghanistan on the condition that he used only unclassified, open source information.
In the paper, Davis argues that the counterinsurgency strategy recommended by McChrystal would actually require a far larger U.S. force than is now being proposed. Citing figures given by Marine Corps Col. Julian Dale Alford at a conference last month, Davis writes that training 400,000 Afghan army and police alone would take 18 brigades of U.S. troops – as many as 100,000 U.S. troops when the necessary support troops are added.
The objective of expanding the Afghan security forces to 400,000, as declared in McChrystal's "initial assessment", poses other major problems as well, according to Davis.
He observes that the costs of such an expansion have been estimated at three to four times more than Afghanistan's entire Gross Domestic Product. Davis asks what would happen if the economies of the states which have pledged to support those Afghan personnel come under severe pressures and do not continue the support indefinitely.
"It would be irresponsible to increase the size of the military to that level," he writes, "convincing hundreds of thousands of additional Afghan men to join, giving them field training and weapons, and then at some point suddenly cease funding, throwing tens of thousands out of work."
The result, he suggests, would be similar to what followed the U.S. failure to reassemble the Iraqi Army after the invasion of March 2003.
Davis also cites "growing anecdotal evidence" that popular anger at the abuses of power by the Afghan National Police has increased support for the insurgency.
He calls for scaling back the increase in Afghan security forces to the original targets of 134,000 Army troops and 80,000 national police. The crucial factor in determining the future of the country, he argues, is not the numbers of security personnel but whether they continue to abuse the population.
If that pattern of behaviour were to change dramatically, Davis says, "the number of Taliban fighters will dwindle to manageable numbers as those presently filling their ranks will no longer be motivated to fight".
Davis challenges two arguments now being made in support of the counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan based on the Iraq experience: that a troop surge would help establish security and that the U.S. military can reduce insurgency by replicating the "Sons of Iraq" programme of bringing insurgents into militias that oppose their former allies.
The "surge" in Iraq was successful for a variety of reasons peculiar to Iraq and not duplicated in Afghanistan, Davis argues. And the "Sons of Iraq" was primarily the result of the alienation of the Sunni population by al Qaeda, which trumped Sunni opposition to the U.S. presence.
"[T]here is little to suggest," he writes in reference to the areas where the Taliban has gained power, "that the population as a whole has reached a tipping point whereby they are ready to support the coalition against the Taliban."
Challenging the argument of supporters of a larger war effort that it is necessary to avoid an increased risk of new terrorist attacks, Davis argues that being "myopically focused" on Afghanistan "at the expense of the rest of the world" increases the likelihood of an attack.
The present level of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, he writes, will "make it more likely that terrorist organizations will take advantage of the opportunity to plan and train elsewhere for the next big attack."
This article, by Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt, was published in The New York Times, October 7, 2009
WASHINGTON — President Obama’s national security team is moving to reframe its war strategy by emphasizing the campaign against Al Qaeda in Pakistan while arguing that the Taliban in Afghanistan do not pose a direct threat to the United States, officials said Wednesday.
As Mr. Obama met with advisers for three hours to discuss Pakistan, the White House said he had not decided whether to approve a proposed troop buildup in Afghanistan. But the shift in thinking, outlined by senior administration officials on Wednesday, suggests that the president has been presented with an approach that would not require all of the additional troops that his commanding general in the region has requested.
It remains unclear whether everyone in Mr. Obama’s war cabinet fully accepts this view. While Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has argued for months against increasing troops in Afghanistan because Pakistan was the greater priority, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates have both warned that the Taliban remain linked to Al Qaeda and would give their fighters havens again if the Taliban regained control of all or large parts of Afghanistan, making it a mistake to think of them as separate problems.
Moreover, Mr. Obama’s commander there, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, has argued that success demands a substantial expansion of the American presence, up to 40,000 more troops. Any decision that provides less will expose the president to criticism, especially from Republicans, that his policy is a prescription for failure.
The White House appears to be trying to prepare the ground to counter that by focusing attention on recent successes against Qaeda cells in Pakistan. The approach described by administration officials on Wednesday amounted to an alternative to the analysis presented by General McChrystal. If, as the White House has asserted in recent weeks, it has improved the ability of the United States to reduce the threat from Al Qaeda, then the war in Afghanistan is less central to American security.
In reviewing General McChrystal’s request, the White House is rethinking what was, just six months ago, a strategy that viewed Pakistan and Afghanistan as a single integrated problem. Now the discussions in the White House Situation Room, according to several administration officials and outsiders who have spoken with them, are focusing on related but separate strategies for fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
“Clearly, Al Qaeda is a threat not only to the U.S. homeland and American interests abroad, but it has a murderous agenda,” one senior administration official said in an interview initiated by the White House on Wednesday on the condition of anonymity because the strategy review has not been finished. “We want to destroy its leadership, its infrastructure and its capability.”
The official contrasted that with the Afghan Taliban, which the administration has begun to define as an indigenous group that aspires to reclaim territory and rule the country but does not express ambitions of attacking the United States. “When the two are aligned, it’s mainly on the tactical front,” the official said, noting that Al Qaeda has fewer than 100 fighters in Afghanistan.Another official, who also was authorized to speak but not to be identified, said the different views of Al Qaeda and the Taliban were driving the president’s review. “To the extent that Al Qaeda has been degraded, and it has, and to the extent you believe you need to focus on destroying it going forward, what is required going forward?” the official asked. “And to prevent it from having a safe haven?”
The officials argued that while Al Qaeda was a foreign body, the Taliban could not be wholly removed from Afghanistan because they were too ingrained in the country. Moreover, the forces often described as Taliban are actually an amalgamation of militants that includes local warlords like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Haqqani network or others driven by local grievances rather than jihadist ideology.
Mr. Obama has defined his mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan as trying “to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda and other extremist networks around the world.” But he made it clear during a visit to the National Counterterrorism Center on Tuesday that the larger goal behind the mission was to protect the United States. “That’s the principal threat to the American people,” he said.
Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said Wednesday that Mr. Obama’s “primary focus is on groups and their allies that can strike our homeland, strike our allies, or groups who would provide safe haven for those that wish to do that.”
The discussion about whether the Taliban pose a threat to the United States has been at the heart of the administration’s debate about what to do in Afghanistan. Some in the Biden camp say that the Taliban can be contained with current troop levels and eventually by Afghan forces trained by the United States.
Moreover, they suggest that the Taliban have no interest in letting Al Qaeda back into Afghanistan because that was what cost them power when they were toppled by American-backed Afghan rebels in 2001.
“The policy people and the intelligence people inside are having a big argument over this,” said Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations who has advised Mr. Biden. “Is the Taliban a loose collection of people we can split up? Can we split the Taliban from Al Qaeda? If the Taliban comes back to power in parts of Afghanistan, are they going to bring Al Qaeda back with them?”
Some analysts say that the Taliban and Al Qaeda have actually grown closer since the first American bombs fell on the Shomali Plain north of Kabul eight years ago Tuesday.
“The kind of separation that existed between the Taliban and Al Qaeda in 2001 really doesn’t exist anymore,” said Anthony H. Cordesman, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who has advised General McChrystal. “You have much more ideological elements in the Taliban. In the east, they’re really mixed in with Al Qaeda.”
Frances Fragos Townsend, who was President George W. Bush’s homeland security adviser, said the two groups remained linked.
“It’s a dangerous argument to assume that the Taliban won’t revert to where they were pre-9/11 and provide Al Qaeda sanctuary,” she said. Referring to General McChrystal, she added, “If you don’t give him the troops he asked for and continue with the Predator strikes, you can kill them one at a time, but you’re not going to drain the swamp.”
Officials said Wednesday that General McChrystal’s official request for additional forces was forwarded to Mr. Obama last week. Mr. Gates’s spokesman, Geoff Morrell, said Mr. Gates had given Mr. Obama “an informal copy” at the president’s request.
The meeting on Wednesday was Mr. Obama’s third with his full national security team. Another is scheduled for Friday to talk about Afghanistan and then a fifth is planned, possibly for next week. Mr. Gibbs said the president was still several weeks away from a decision.
This article, by Peter Rothenberg, was posted to Alternet, October 7, 2009
Within a matter of months a majority of Americans have shifted from supporting to opposing the Afghanistan war as we approach the eighth anniversary of the start of the conflict. According to recent polls, a solid 57 percent of Americans now object to the military effort.
At the same time, Gen. Stanley McChrystal's request for additional troops to prosecute the war is being studied by the White House, which will soon make a decision that could define the Obama presidency, as The Nation's editorial laying out the case against escalation, notes.
Meanwhile, just like the administration, antiwar activists are reallocating their attention from Iraq towards Afghanistan, determined to preempt McChrystal's proposed troop surge. A broad coalition of groups is co-ordinating protests and demonstrations for the coming weeks, hoping to emulate the successes of the Vietnam protests in ways that the anti-Iraq war movement never managed. There will be vigils, rallies, memorials, teach-ins, film festivals, demonstrations, direct action and marches. The activities will range from a few individuals to events where many thousands of people are expected to turn up.
The activist upsurge is nicely detailed in an article in last week's UK Observer, which also argues that "...the Obama administration does not appear to have much fear of the doveish wing of the broad liberal coalition that put Obama into the White House."
That needs to change. Here are some ways you can help:
If you're a student, join the Campus Antiwar Network and hold teach-ins, debates, talks, demonstrations and walkouts on college campuses across the country.
Sponsor one of the more than 830 pairs of empty boots making up the Eyes Wide Open Exhibit, a memorial to American soldiers killed in the war, which is being organized by the American Friends Service Committee and Military Families Speak Out for this coming weekend in Washington, DC. You can also offer to volunteer either at the memorial in DC or with the preparation in Baltimore on Friday.
Watch Robert Greenwald's Rethink Afghanistan online for free, then get a copy of the DVD and host a screening, invite your elected reps and their staffers to watch the film, and post one of the six film's segments to your Facebook page.
Add your name to Code Pink's call for an exit strategy that includes NATO/US troop withdrawal, all party talks, regional diplomacy, and continued aid for reconstruction, medical care, education and development in Afghanistan.
Support the troops who refuse to fight -- like David Travis Bishop, currently serving a 12 month sentence for refusing deployment to Afghanistan -- by writing directly to the jailed resisters, donating to their defense funds and organizing petitions and letter writing campaigns.
This article, by Colin Halinan, was published by Foreign Policy in Focus, September 30, 2009
"We deeply regret" are words that almost always end with something terrible. They were uttered by German Defense Minister Franz Joseph Jung in the wake of a September 4 airstrike that left upwards of 100 Afghans dead. He followed it with a boilerplate phrase that invariably makes such apologies suspect: "We had reliable intelligence that our soldiers were in danger."
Jung had nothing of the sort. But the minister's deception had less to do with the military's standard instinct to lie than with the arithmetic of Germany's federal elections.
The Afghans, most of them farmers from a local village, were incinerated to make sure that German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDP) and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier's Social Democratic Party (SDP) did not overly suffer for their support of the war.
The tale is a chilling one. Bombing the Fuel Trucks
According to Der Spiegel, at 8 p.m. on the night of September 4 a German intelligence officer in the northern province of Kunduz took a call from Afghan security forces with information that the local Taliban had hijacked two fuel tankers. His commander, Col. Georg Klein, asked for air reconnaissance, and a U.S. B-1B long-range bomber spotted the trucks stuck in the sand of the Kunduz River. The B-1B sent pictures, but apparently they were grainy, dark, and hard to read.
At 10 p.m. a local Afghan informant told Klein there were no civilians around the vehicles, but lots of Taliban, including four leaders. At a little past 1 a.m., two F-15 fighters showed up.
Under the General Rules of Engagement and Standard Operations Procedures — the military loves to wrap mayhem in the language of maintenance manuals — the trucks could not be attacked. One, there were no NATO troops on the scene. Two, a single informant is not enough to initiate an attack. And three, it was not a "time sensitive" target; that is, one that was going somewhere. The trucks had been stuck for four hours.
But Klein called for an airstrike anyway, even after the F-15 pilots asked him to confirm that German forces were involved and that the tankers posed an "imminent threat." Assured on both points, the planes released two GBU-38 radar guided bombs, each with a 500-pound warhead. The target dissolved in an enormous fireball.
From all accounts, Bundeswehr Col. Klein is no gung-ho heir of the Wehrmacht. He drinks tea, goes to the opera, and worries about his men. When a local Afghan boy was shot at a roadblock, he personally apologized to the family.
So what made him launch an attack that violated every rule of engagement? Political Considerations
"Klein knew that in a past incident the insurgents had detonated a tanker truck in Kandahar, killing dozens of civilians," wrote Der Spiegel. "He had also received visits from a number of leading politicians, from Merkel and Steinmeier as well as Defense Minister Franz Joseph Jung (CDU) and his predecessor Peter Struck (SDP). Klein knows that they fear nothing more than an attack on German troops shortly before the upcoming parliamentary elections."
According to the German paper, Afghan informants told Klein back in August that the Taliban were planning an assault on the German camp using trucks. But Klein should have known that it was unlikely that such an attack would be tried with huge, slow-moving fuel tankers.
Indeed, Mullah Shamsuddin, the commander of the Taliban forces who seized the trucks, had no intention of using the trucks as suicide bombs. "Fuel tankers are far too impractical in terrain like this," he told Der Spiegel in a phone interview. "We simply planned to drive them to Chahar Dara and unload the fuel there. We can always use supplies."
Instead the trucks got bogged down, and the Taliban recruited local farmers — many at gunpoint — to try to pull them out of the sand. The locals also brought fuel cans to fill. "We knew the fuel was stolen, but we were forced to go there," says a young farmer, Mohammed Nur. When the bombs hit, he was badly wounded. His two brothers died.
When the story broke, the Germans went into full spin mode. Defense ministry flak Captain Christian Dienst told the media, "According to our knowledge at present, no civilians were present," and then scolded the press for speculating while sitting "in their warm chairs in Berlin." The ministry also leaked a false story that Klein had used reconnaissance drones and that there was a second intelligence source.
But as the evidence piled up, the ministry's denials began to unravel. Interviews by the group Afghan Rights Monitor found that the dead included 12 Taliban members and 79 villagers. Soon the defense ministry found itself under assault not just from its own media, but also from its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Almost before the fires went out on banks of the Kunduz River, out came the long knives. Allied Arguments
The United States struck first. U.S. commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal arrived at Kunduz with a Washington Post reporter. When the Germans objected, McChrystal said the journalist was just collecting background material for a book. But on September 6 the Post printed a story blaming the whole thing on the Germans and using quotes from the meeting.
German commanders angrily accused the United States of "deliberately leaking misinformation."
The French and the British piled on next. The bombing was "a big mistake," said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, and British Foreign Minister David Miliband called for an "urgent investigation."
Afghan President Harmid Karzai blasted the attack as a "major error," adding that McChrystal had apologized and said that he had not "given the order to attack."
The underlying resentment among the NATO allies is beginning to surface. When Labor MP Eric Joyce recently resigned his position as parliamentary aide to the British defense minister because he could no longer support the war, he leveled a broadside at other NATO countries. "For many, Britain fights, Germany pays, France calculates, Italy avoids."
Even some in the United States have begun to rail at what they see as a lack of commitment by NATO. While the "American people are supporting this [the war]," U.S. Rep. John Murtha, the powerful Democratic chair of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, told The Cable, "The Europeans are not doing a damn thing." As of September 17, the United States had lost 830 soldiers in Afghanistan, Britain 216, Canada 130, Germany 38, France 31, Denmark 27, Spain 25, Italy 21, and the Netherlands 21. The overall allied losses in the war are 1,403. Deaths among Afghan civilians, according the United Nations, have risen 24% over last year, one-third of them from airstrikes.
The allied gang-up was a shock to the Germans, who have long touted their expertise in Afghanistan and sharply criticized other NATO nations for being indifferent to civilian casualties. "German bashing" was suddenly in vogue. As one diplomat told Der Spiegel, it was "Schadenfreude against the eternal know-it-alls." War Comes Home
The massacre at Kunduz has suddenly brought the war home to the Germans. The parties that collaborated in sending the troops — the Green Party, the CDU, and the SDP — have long tried to keep Afghanistan off the radar screen. Jung won't use the word krieg (war), Merkel has yet to attend a soldier's funeral, and Steinmeier has suddenly embraced a "10 step program for Afghanistan," as if a solution in that war-torn country was akin to drying out at a health spa.
Following the attack, the Left Party, the only party that opposes the war, called for a major anti-war protest at the Brandenburg Gate. In the recent elections, the Left Party increased its share of the votes by 3.7% and the Greens by 2%, while the Social Democrats took a shellacking, dropping 11.1%. The only winner on the right was the Free Democratic Party that increased its vote total by 4.9%. Merkel's CDU went down 1.4%.
In the end, Kunduz may be the tipping point for NATO, the incident that shattered the myth that the Afghan campaign was about digging wells, building schools, and bringing peace.
"Simple villagers were killed. They were not Taliban," Dr. Saft Sidique of Kunduz Hospital said. "The German airstrike has changed everything. The sympathy for the Germans is gone. Would it be any different for you if your homeland was bombed?"
According to the old saying, there is no better recruiting sergeant than an airstrike. This was a truism on display at a meeting of the Kunduz provincial government shortly after the attack. A number of people there praised the airstrike. But at the end of the gathering Maulawi Ebadullah Ahadi of Chahar Dara, a town where the Taliban rule, raised his hand: "Brothers, each of those killed has a hundred relatives who will then fight against the government. Bombs sow the seeds of hate."
This article, by Tom Engelhardt, was posted to Alternet, September 26, 2009
Front and center in the debate over the Afghan War these days are General Stanley "Stan" McChrystal, Afghan war commander, whose "classified, pre-decisional" and devastating report -- almost eight years and at least $220 billion later, the war is a complete disaster -- was conveniently, not to say suspiciously, leaked to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post by we-know-not-who at a particularly embarrassing moment for Barack Obama; Admiral Michael "Mike" Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has been increasingly vocal about a "deteriorating" war and the need for more American boots on the ground; and the president himself, who blitzed every TV show in sight last Sunday and Monday for his health reform program, but spent significant time expressing doubts about sending more American troops to Afghanistan. ("I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan... or sending a message that America is here for the duration.")
On the other hand, here's someone you haven't seen front and center for a while: General David Petraeus. He was, of course, George W. Bush's pick to lead the president's last-ditch effort in Iraq. He was the poster boy for Bush's military policies in his last two years. He was the highly praised architect and symbol of "the surge." He appeared repeatedly, his chest a mass of medals and ribbons, for heavily publicized, widely televised congressional testimony, complete with charts and graphs, that was meant, at least in part, for the American public. He was the man who, to use an image from that period which has recently resurfaced, managed to synchronize the American and Baghdad "clocks," pacifying for a time both the home and war fronts.
He never met a journalist, as far as we can tell, he didn't want to woo. (And he clearly won over the influential Tom Ricks, then of the Washington Post, who wrote The Gamble, a bestselling paean to him and his sub-commanders.) From the look of it, he's the most political general to come down the pike since, in 1951 in the midst of the Korean War, General Douglas MacArthur said his goodbyes to Congress after being cashiered by President Truman for insubordination -- for, in effect, wanting to run his own war and the foreign policy that went with it. It was Petraeus who brought Vietnam-era counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) back from the crypt, overseeing the writing of a new Army counterinsurgency manual that would make it central to both the ongoing wars and what are already being referred to as the "next" ones.
Before he left office, Bush advanced his favorite general to the head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the former president's Global War on Terror across the energy heartlands of the planet from Egypt to Pakistan. The command is, of course, especially focused on Bush's two full-scale wars: the Iraq War, now being pursued under Petraeus's former subordinate, General Ray Odierno, and the Afghan War, for which Petraeus seems to have personally handpicked a new commanding general, Stan McChrystal. From the military's dark side world of special ops and targeted assassinations, McChrystal had operated in Iraq and was also part of an Army promotion board headed by Petraeus that advanced the careers of officers committed to counterinsurgency. To install McChrystal in May, Obama abruptly sacked the then-Afghan war commander, General David McKiernan, in what was then considered, with some exaggeration, a new MacArthur moment.
On taking over, McChrystal, who had previously been a counterterrorism guy (and isn't about to give that up, either), swore fealty to counterinsurgency doctrine (that is, to Petraeus) by proclaiming that the American goal in Afghanistan must not be primarily to hunt down and kill Taliban insurgents, but to "protect the population." He also turned to a "team" of civilian experts, largely gathered from Washington think-tanks, a number of whom had been involved in planning out Petraeus's Iraq surge of 2007, to make an assessment of the state of the war and what needed to be done. Think of them as the Surgettes.
As in many official reassessments, the cast of characters essentially guaranteed the results before a single meeting was held. Based on past history and opinions, this team could only provide one Petraeus-approved answer to the war: more -- more troops, up to 40,000-45,000 of them, and other resources for an American counterinsurgency operation without end.
Hence, even if McChrystal's name is on it, the report slipped to Bob Woodward which just sandbagged the president has a distinctly Petraeusian shape to it. In a piece linked to Woodward's bombshell in the Washington Post, Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Karen DeYoung wrote of unnamed officials in Washington who claimed "the military has been trying to push Obama into a corner." The language in the coverage elsewhere has been similar.
There is, wrote DeYoung a day later, now a "rupture" between the military "pushing for an early decision to send more troops" and civilian policymakers "increasingly doubtful of an escalating nation-building effort." Nancy Youssef of McClatchy News wrote about how "mixed signals" from Washington were causing "increasing ire from U.S. commanders in Afghanistan"; a group of McClatchy reporters talked of military advocates of escalation feeling "frustration" over "White House dithering." David Sanger of the New York Times described "a split between an American military that says it needs more troops now and an American president clearly reluctant to leap into that abyss." "Impatient" is about the calmest word you'll see for the attitude of the military top command right now.
Buyer's Remorse, the Afghan War, and the President
In the midst of all this, between Admiral Mullen and General McChrystal is, it seems, a missing man. The most photogenic general in our recent history, the man who created the doctrine and oversees the war, the man who is now shaping the U.S. Army (and its future plans and career patterns), is somehow, at this crucial moment, out of the Washington spotlight. This last week General Petraeus was, in fact, in England, giving a speech and writing an article for the (London) Times laying out his basic "protect the population" version of counterinsurgency and praising our British allies by quoting one of their great imperial plunderers. ("If Cecil Rhodes was correct in his wonderful observation that 'being an Englishman is the greatest prize in the lottery of life,' and I'm inclined to think that he was, then the second greatest prize in the lottery of life must be to be a friend of an Englishman, and based on that, the more than 230,000 men and women in uniform who work with your country's finest day by day are very lucky indeed, as am I.")
Only at mid-week, with Washington aboil, did he arrive in the capital for a counterinsurgency conference at the National Press Club and quietly "endorse" "General McChrystal's assessment." Whatever the look of things, however, it's unlikely that Petraeus is actually on the sidelines at this moment of heightened tension. He is undoubtedly still The Man.
So much is, of course, happening just beyond the sightlines of those of us who are mere citizens of this country, which is why inference and guesswork are, unfortunately, the order of the day. Read any account in a major newspaper right now and it's guaranteed to be chock-a-block full of senior officials and top military officers who are never "authorized to speak," but nonetheless yak away from behind a scrim of anonymity. Petraeus may or may not be one of them, but the odds are reasonable that this is still a Petraeus Moment.
If so, Obama has only himself to blame. He took up Afghanistan ("the right war") in the presidential campaign as proof that, despite wanting to end the war in Iraq, he was tough. (Why is it that a Democratic candidate needs a war or threat of war to trash-talk about in order to prove his "strength," when doing so is obviously a sign of weakness?)
Once in office, Obama compounded the damage by doubling down his bet on the war. In March, he introduced a "comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan" in his first significant public statement on the subject, which had expansion written all over it. He also agreed to send in 21,000 more troops (which, by the way, Petraeus reportedly convinced him to do). In August, in another sign of weakness masquerading as strength, before an unenthusiastic audience at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, he unnecessarily declared: "This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity." All of this he will now pay for at the hands of Petraeus, or if not him, then a coterie of military men behind the latest push for a new kind of Afghan War.
As it happens, this was never Obama's "war of necessity." It was always Petraeus's. And the new report from McChrystal and the Surgettes is undoubtedly Petraeus's progeny as well. It seems, in fact, cleverly put together to catch a cautious president, who wasn't cautious enough about his war of choice, in a potentially devastating trap. The military insistence on quick action on a troop decision sets up a devastating choice for the president: "Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure." Go against your chosen general and the failure that follows is yours alone. (Unnamed figures supposedly close to McChrystal are already launching test balloons, passed on by others, suggesting that the general might resign in protest if the president doesn't deliver -- a possibility he has denied even considering.) On the other hand, offer him somewhere between 15,000 and 45,000 more American troops as well as other resources, and the failure that follows will still be yours.
It's a basic lose-lose proposition and, as journalist Eric Schmitt wrote in a New York Times assessment of the situation, "it will be very hard to say no to General McChrystal." No wonder the president and some of his men are dragging their feet and looking elsewhere. As one typically anonymous "defense analyst" quoted in the Los Angeles Times said, the administration is suffering "buyer's remorse for this war... They never really thought about what was required, and now they have sticker shock."
Admittedly, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 51% of Americans are against sending in more troops. (Who knows how they would react to a president who went on TV to announce that he had genuinely reconsidered?) Official Washington is another matter. For General Petraeus, who claims to have no political ambitions but is periodically mentioned as the Eisenhower of 2012, how potentially peachy to launch your campaign against the president who lost you the war.
A Petraeus Moment?
In the present context, the media language being used to describe this military-civilian conflict of wills -- frustration, impatience, split, rupture, ire -- may fall short of capturing the import of a moment which has been brewing, institutionally speaking, for a long time. There have been increasing numbers of generals' "revolts" of various sorts in our recent past. Of course, George W. Bush was insistent on turning planning over to his generals (though only when he liked them), something Barack Obama criticized him for during the election campaign. ("The job of the commander in chief is to listen to the best counsel available and to listen even to people you don't agree with and then ultimately you make the final decision and you take responsibility for those actions.")
Now, it looks as if we are about to have a civilian-military encounter of the first order in which Obama will indeed need to take responsibility for difficult actions (or the lack thereof). If a genuine clash heats up, expect more discussion of "MacArthur moments," but this will not be Truman versus MacArthur redux, and not just because Petraeus seems to be a subtler political player than MacArthur ever was.
Over the nearly six decades that separate us from Truman's great moment, the Pentagon has become a far more overwhelming institution. In Afghanistan, as in Washington, it has swallowed up much of what once was intelligence, as it is swallowing up much of what once was diplomacy. It is linked to one of the two businesses, the Pentagon-subsidized weapons industry, which has proven an American success story even in the worst of economic times (the other remains Hollywood). It now holds a far different position in a society that seems to feed on war.
It's one thing for the leaders of a country to say that war should be left to the generals when suddenly embroiled in conflict, quite another when that country is eternally in a state of war. In such a case, if you turn crucial war decisions over to the military, you functionally turn foreign policy over to them as well. All of this is made more complicated, because the cast of "civilians" theoretically pitted against the military right now includes Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general who is the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Douglas Lute, a lieutenant general who is the president's special advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan (dubbed the "war czar" when he held the same position in the Bush administration), and James Jones, a retired Marine Corps general, who is national security advisor, not to speak of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The question is: will an already heavily militarized foreign policy geared to endless global war be surrendered to the generals? Depending on what Obama does, the answer to that question may not be fully, or even largely, clarified this time around. He may quietly give way, or they may, or compromises may be reached behind the scenes. After all, careers and political futures are at stake.
But consider us warned. This is a question that is not likely to go away and that may determine what this country becomes.
We know what a MacArthur moment was; we may find out soon enough what a Petraeus moment is.
This documentary was released in six parts, between February and August 2009, by Robert Greenwald. As the President considers his options, following a blatantly fraudulent Presidential election and an ever increasing US/NATO/Afghan death toll, the same group of chicken hawks (the Project for a New American Century and their Coterie of neo-conservative war-mongering fools and high ranking brass who were responsible for the Iraq war are now calling for a massive increase in US troops beyond the 17,000 mentioned in the film, the questions and issues raised in this film are brought into sharp focus.
Part One: Afghanistan + More Troops = Catastrophe
President Obama has committed 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan. This decision raises serious questions about troops, costs, overall mission, and exit strategy. Historically, it has been Congress' duty to ask questions in the form of oversight hearings that challenge policymakers, examine military spending, and educate the public. After witnessing the absence of oversight regarding the Iraq war, we must insist Congress hold hearings on Afghanistan.
Part Two: Pakistan: "The Most Dangerous Country"
The war in Afghanistan and its potentially catastrophic impact on Pakistan are complex and dangerous issues, which further make the case why our country needs a national debate on this now starting with congressional oversight hearings.
Part Three: "Cost of War"
As we pay our tax bills, it seems an appropriate time to urge everyone to Rethink Afghanistan, a war that currently costs over $2 billion a month but hasn't made us any safer. Everyone has a friend or relative who just lost a job. Do we really want to spend over $1 trillion on another war? Everyone knows someone who has lost their home. Do we really want spend our tax dollars on a war that could last a decade or more? The Obama administration has taken some smart steps to counter this economic crisis with its budget request. Do we really want to see that effort wasted by expanding military demands?
Part Four: "Civilian Casualties"
When foreign policy is well-reasoned, we see attention given to humanitarian issues like housing, jobs, health care and education. When that policy consists of applying a military solution to a political problem, however, we see death, destruction, and suffering. Director Robert Greenwald witnessed the latter during his recent trip to Afghanistan--the devastating consequences of U.S. airstrikes on thousands of innocent civilians.
The footage you are about to see is poignant, heart-wrenching, and often a direct result of U.S. foreign policy.
We must help the refugees whose lives have been shattered by U.S. foreign policy and military attacks. Support the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, an organization dedicated to helping women and children, human rights issues, and social justice. Then, become a Peacemaker. Receive up-to-the-minute information through our new mobile alert system whenever there are Afghan civilian casualties from this war, and take immediate action by calling Congress.
Part Five: "Women of Afghanistan"
Eight years have passed since Laura Bush declared that "because of our recent military gains, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes" in Afghanistan. For eight years, that claim has been a lie.
The truth is that American military escalation will not liberate the women of Afghanistan. Instead, the hardships of war take a disproportionate toll on women and their families. There are 1,000 displaced families in a Kabul refugee camp, and they're suffering for lack of food and blankets. A few weeks ago, you generously gave $6,000 to help and $9,000 more is needed to take care of all 1,000 families. Thats a donation of $15 per family to provide the relief necessary for their survival.
Here's what your money will buy:
Part Six: "How much security did $1 trillion buy?"
The war in Afghanistan is increasing the likelihood that American civilians will be killed in a future terrorist attack.
Part 6 of Rethink Afghanistan, Security, brings you three former high-ranking CIA agents to explain why.
There is no "victory" to be won in Afghanistan. It is the most important video about U.S. Security today.