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.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Richard Lee, was posted to The Rag Blog, November 11, 2009
To Barack Obama:
Let’s have a military buildup! You can show those crazy-ass generals at the Pentagon that you aren’t just a chicken-shit weenie from Harvard.
You gotta do it right, however. Stop waffling about a measly 40,000 or 44,000 troops and do it like you mean it! I know you have never fought for or against anything. (That squabble with the Court Clerk to get your papers filed doesn’t count.) But you can do it! Don’t forget to keep that HOPE and CHANGE thingy going, so we won’t see what is really happening behind the curtain.
Since you don’t have a clue how to go about it, you should go back and dust off the template that the power-drunk cowboy used way back when. Turn to the record of his build-up, covering March 8, 1965, through, say, the end of January, 1966. Yep, that’s right I’m talking about Vietnam (they told me you were smart); don’t let that slow you down, a buildup is a buildup and you can do it in Afghanistan just like Lyndon and Waste-more-land did it back then.
You’ve already got 68,000 troops and an untold number of mercenaries... uh, contractors there so maybe you can forgo the photo op of the Marines stomping ashore like at Da Nang, or maybe you can arrange something like that, it was a good photo. No one will call you on it; the ignorance of the American people knows no limits. Don’t forget to include the Afghani ARVN; they’ll do you a lot of good.
That done, throw caution to the wind, fire anyone who counsels caution, and begin a real buildup!
Expect casualties. Lyndon was told to expect civilian casualties of 25,000 dead, about 68 men, women and children a day, mostly from “friendly fire” and 50,000 wounded. That was an estimate for the one year the generals said it would take to bring the Vietnamese “to their knees” and initiate their surrender; one year, or maybe 18 months at the most. That number was good enough for Lyndon, so don’t let anybody’s numbers scare you. In 1968 there were 85,000 civilians wounded.
Next, establish free fire zones. Once you get all those troops there, they will need some place to fire off all their ordnance. Go to an inhabited area, drop leaflets or have USAID workers visit and tell the population to get on the road and become refugees. Those who are too old or too infirm to go, or who come up with the excuse that Afghanistan is their country and they ain’t going; well, those are Viet Cong... I mean, Tally Band.
What good is a free fire zone if it doesn’t have any targets to shoot at anyway? While you are busy changing “Viet Cong” to “Taliban," change the name “free fire zones” to Specified Strike Zones; those pesky Congressional liberals will feel better about it. It worked when Lyndon did it.
Get an air war going. Crank up the SAC B-52’s, they don’t have anything to do now that the Russians opted out of the Cold War. One B-52 at 30,000 feet can drop a payload that will take out everything in a box five eighths of a mile wide and two miles long. You can still call it “Operation Arc Light”; no one will remember that’s been used before.
Don’t forget to let the other planes in on the fun! Fighter bombers can deliver ordnance too. Lyndon, in that first 10 months, got it up to 400 sorties a day, add in the B-52’s and they were able to drop 825 tons of bombs a day. Some even hit their targets.
Drop more than bombs. I hate to suggest a return to Agent Orange. Military science must have come up with better stuff in the last 50 years. If not, then use the leftover Agent Orange, the residual effect is worth it. Not only will those enemy Afghanis (or friendly ones, for that matter) not be able to plant food crops in target areas for decades, but “Taliban fighters” will keep dying from it for years after we’re gone.
During the 10-month Vietnam build-up, specially equipped C-123’s covered 850,000 acres, in 1966 they topped that, “defoliating” 1.5 million acres. By war’s end they’d dropped 18 million gallons of Agent Orange, in addition to millions of gallons of less notorious but still deadly poisons code-named for other colors -- Purple, White, Pink, and more -- over 20% of the south of Vietnam.
To help keep the buildup affordable, take no costly precautions with our own troops; it’s hot in Afghanistan, so let them take off their shirts while spraying. The afflicted Vietnam vets sued the government over it, they won! My brother Tommy was one of them. What did they win? Well, when they die, they get $300.00 from the government. You can forget about the vets anyway when the war is over, that’s S.O.P.
Now, a buildup ain’t all in the air. Howitzers, Long Tom Cannons and mortars expended enough high explosive and shrapnel in Southeast Asia to equal the tonnage dropped from the air.
And it’s not just troop strength that you’ll need to build up. Your friends The Masters of War have probably already told you that. A build-up is troops and MATERIAL. See how Waste-more-land did it, and more or less copy that. Brown and Root are still in business; have a sit down with them; they can help you sort it out.
Build airfields. With hundreds of thousands more troops you will need lots of airfields. Jet airfields are best for business. Lyndon had three in Vietnam before he started, he quickly built five more. So, discount what you have and get cracking! A 10,000 foot runway to start, and then add parallel taxiways, high speed turnoffs, and tens of thousands of square yards of aprons for maneuvering and parking. Use aluminum matting at first; you can replace it with concrete later. You gotta build hangers, repair shops, offices and operations buildings, barracks, mess halls, and other buildings. Don’t stint on the air conditioning!
Build deep water ports. What? Don’t have an ocean? Kee-rist, what kind of a country are we liberating anyway? Well, you still gotta build ports! Guess you can build them in Kuwait and other countries and truck all the shit through Iraq, they will be pacified by then and welcoming us with open arms and goofy little dances. Pakistan might like one or two, it would be good for business and we can just pay them to be our friend like we do now... only more.
Ports were dredged to 28 feet back then, but the newer boats draw 40 feet. It may be only mud to you, but its gold to the contractors. Half a dozen new ports should get you started.
But wait, there’s more. Four or five central supply and maintenance depots and hundreds of satellite facilities, build them along the lines of the prison gulag you are building in the U.S.
Build thirty more permanent base camps for the new combat and support troops you are sending. Another fifty or so tactical airfields long enough to hold C-130’s. Build two dozen or more hospitals that have a total of nine to ten thousand beds. Be sure there are new plush headquarters buildings for the brass and about four or five thousand staff. Everything has to be connected by secure electronic data systems, secure telephones, two or three hundred communications facilities around the country. Tens of thousands of new circuits will be needed to accommodate the built-up war machine.
You are a smart guy, Mr. President, so I won’t belabor an explanation of each thing. But here is a quick list of bare necessities: Warehouses, ammunitions stowage areas, tank farms for all the petroleum, oil and lubricants, new hard top roads, well ventilated and air conditioned barracks with hot water and flushing toilets (think 6-10,000 septic tanks). Food, not just MRE’s, but for all those REMF’s who will need fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and dairy products. Thousands of cold lockers to store this, and you need to build a milk reconstitution plant, maybe two or three, and ice cream plants.
All this is going to take a lot of electricity, so you will need thousands of permanent and mobile gas-driven generators (better add another tank farm). PX’s, not just for cigarettes and shaving cream, but all the things that the consumer army you will be sending is used to having: video game consoles, blackberries, microwave ovens, computers, slacks and sport shirts (to wear on R&R -- could omit that by having no R&R), soft drinks (better build a bottling plant), beer, whiskey, ice cubes (more generators?). Hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, steaks.
Be sure to stock candy, lingerie, and cosmetics to improve the standard of living of the local women. They will also need to buy electric fans, toasters, percolators, TV’s, CD and DVD players, room air conditioners, and small refrigerators.
Movie theaters, service clubs, bowling alleys... will the list ever end? No!
Well, that will get your buildup started. I haven’t even addressed the more and more and more troops the generals will want, that is way too heavy for me!
In re-creating Johnson’s buildup, it will be better to skip over the second week in November, 1965, and all that stuff about the Drang River Valley, that’s just for historians. Close the book when you get to the end of January, 1966. Don’t read through April, with all those dreary reports from Khe Sanh. Don’t read about Tet 1968. Just remember it was the press and the Congress and the people who lost their will that lost that war, and not the stupid blundering generals or the presidents who didn’t give a shit how many they killed on either side.
One last thing: get your architects busy designing the Bush/Obama wall to put opposite ours on the Mall. Maybe you can even have your vets pay for it themselves like we had to.
I go there whenever I am in that stinking city. I sit on the edge of the grass just before sundown and sometimes I talk to the wall. The wall stands silent then; they are still waiting for an answer to the question of why we went to Vietnam. When it gets dark, sometimes the wall talks back. They say a lot of things, but they never say, “God bless my Commander-in-Chief.”
Richard Lee, Vet (Veterans Day, 2009)
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.
This article, by Simon Tisdall, was originally published in The Guardian, September 7, 2009
Afghanistan's election debacle has increased the crushing weight of intractable problems besetting western policymakers
Hopes that a successful Afghan presidential election would assist western efforts to secure, stabilise and develop the country recede with every percentage point that is added to Hamid Karzai's tally. Karzai is said to have obtained 48.6% of the vote against 31.7% for his nearest rival with about 25% of ballots still to count. Only a small miracle or a massive counter-fraud can now stop him surpassing the 50% threshold required for re-election.
Karzai's looming "victory" is viewed with gloom in western capitals. It is believed, and not only by his opponents, to have been achieved via blatant, systematic, indefensible vote-rigging, bribery and intimidation. It was already tainted by pre-poll pacts between Karzai and notorious warlords and drug-traffickers. It was facilitated by the collusion of corrupt provincial officials afraid of losing their jobs. And it followed US and British failure to find a viable alternative candidate, or to install an Afghan "chief executive" or a western diplomatic satrap, to curb Karzai's powers.
The election debacle has thus increased, rather than eased, the crushing weight of intractable problems besetting western policymakers and soldiers struggling to make sense of Afghanistan. These difficulties are approaching critical mass as civilian deaths continue, western casualties mount and public support slides. Notwithstanding Gordon Brown's Afghan plan, enunciated last Friday, pressing decisions about what to do next, and how, will be made in the Oval Office, not Downing Street.
Barack Obama faces no shortage of advice, primarily from his top Afghan commander, General Stanley McChrystal, who has been reviewing strategy. McChrystal's broad conclusions – giving priority to protecting the Afghan people and enhancing government and civilian capacity – have already been leaked. Decisions on more specific proposals, such as raising US troop levels by 40-45,000 to well over 100,000 and pushing for more Nato troops, too, are now imminent.
Raising force levels again (he already sent an extra 21,000 earlier this year) represents an enormous political risk for Obama and one he is not in particularly good shape to take. His approval ratings have fallen faster than any first term president since Gerald Ford, he faces increasing resistance to his domestic agenda, notably healthcare reform, and the Afghan imbroglio is being recast by conservatives as Obama's "war of choice" rather than the "war of necessity" that he describes.
As in Britain, there is no consensus over war aims: is it self-defence, is it democracy promotion, is it nation-building, or is it about smashing the heroin trade? Few seem to agree. Among US allies there is diminishing appetite for the fight; it has become a divisive election issue in Germany while Japan's new government has pledged to end its involvement. On top of that, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs, and defence secretary Robert Gates freely admit time is running short to turn things around. Congressional Democrats, mindful of next year's mid-term polls, heartily agree.
Speaking last week, Mullen suggested the worsening security situation in Afghanistan must be reversed within the next 12 to 18 months or else the game would be up. "I think it is serious and it is deteriorating and I've said over the last couple of years that the Taliban insurgency has gotten better, more sophisticated," Mullen said. He spoke after a Washington Post-ABC News poll found most Americans felt the war was not worth fighting. Yet another international conference on Afghanistan, as proposed by Brown and Germany's Angela Merkel, is unlikely to change this dynamic.
Amid myriad solicited and unsolicited suggestions, Obama's choice boils down to two options: take full ownership of the war and dig in for the long haul, or lower one's sights and walk away as quick as is decent.
Opinions about which way he should jump vary hugely. George Will, honorary archdeacon of American conservative columnists, surprised his fans last week by advocating retreat. Washington should wash its hands of a country where travelling around is "like walking through the Old Testament", he said. "Forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively reviewed policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, air strikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500 mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters."
Will's offshore strategy ignored the fact that Afghanistan is landlocked – but it was clear what he meant.
Others urge Obama to roll his sleeves up and get stuck in. "Is winning in Afghanistan in the US vital national interest? I believe it is," said Thomas McClanahan in the Kansas City Star. "Pulling out would hand the jihadists a triumph and once again open up Afghanistan as a launching pad for terrorist strikes." Bruce Riedel, an Obama adviser, and Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution were at pains in the Wall Street Journal to emphasise western achievements, including economic growth and falling support for the Taliban, that they said should not be lightly squandered.
Just how high Afghanistan still stands in American consciousness, and why, was illustrated by a timely Chicago Tribune editorial. It complained Obama had not "spent enough time reminding Americans that an Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban and al-Qaida would regain its role as a terrorism hatchery". September would be crucial for the US debate on what to do, it added. "As that plays out, none of us should forget how that lawless country tolerated the development of one particularly heinous terror plot. It came to fruition eight years ago this week, on the 11th of the month."
This article, by Ryan Harvey and Sergio España, was posted to Courage to ResistAugust 26, 2009
As the government of Afghanistan, under the watchful eye of Washington, prepared for its second national election since the U.S. invasion of 2001, we sat down with Shazia, a Kabul resident and member of the powerful organization RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. We wanted to ask her about the current situation in her country, and the experiences of women under the regime of Hamid Karzai and his American backers.
RAWA was formed in 1977 during the initial phases of the Soviet invasion. Their mission is the true liberation of not just Afghan women, but Afghanistan as a whole, and they have maintained this work throughout the nine years of Soviet occupation, the subsequent civil war, and 20+ years of hard-line religious rule. They have suffered serious repression, most notably the 1987 assassination of RAWA founder and leader Mina by KHAN (Afghan KGB) agents.
From the beginning, RAWA has demanded the withdrawal of foreign armies from their country while also challenging oppressive threats within Afghanistan. When the Soviets withdrew in 1989, different factions within the Mujahideen, a loose-coalition of Muslim resistance groups largely based in Pakistan and allied against the Soviets, vied for power. The dominant groups that emerged in the ensuing civil war, due in large part to the disproportionate amount of secret U.S. aid given to these smaller, far-extremist factions during the occupation, were the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. RAWA maintained a general opposition to both of these groups, as their interests were not in support of the freedom of the women of Afghanistan, but in the interests of their own political and business ventures.
The United States joins the Soviet Union, the Northern Alliance, and the Taliban on this list, of unpopular military forces producing hardship for the Afghan people. From 1979 through the 1990’s, covert operations (like one involving Osama Bin Laden’s Makhtab al Khadimat, which after the war would become Al Qaida) resulted in the Taliban’s rise to power. Today, after 8 years, the NATO-led American occupation continues bringing hardship, death, and corruption to their war-torn and desperately poor country.
RAWA’s work continues at present through a conjunction of political and social activities including literacy classes for women, educational craft centers, refugee relief aid, orphanages, and medical services. Their political activism ranges from helping organize mass rallies to speaking engagements for small gatherings, often in secret, in an effort to reach out to those most oppressed. Internationally, RAWA's trips to share their experiences and understandings with allies all over the world have helped forge alliances where a media-wall often prevents the development of real knowledge and cooperation.
When the U.S. invaded, "people were hopeful" because people were fed up with the Taliban's harsh rule. But when the U.S. "brought Karzai as their puppet" they "shunned the trust and demands of the Afghan people", Shazia tells us. It quickly became obvious that the White House “relied on and shared power with those fundamentalist extremists who were in power before the Taliban”; with many of their key political and social stances sharing the same ideas.
Afghan PM Malalai Joya, who has survived three assassination attempts and was recently suspended from the Afghan parliament for speaking out publicly against other members of the government, states it directly: “Our country is being run by a mafia, and while it is in power there is no hope for freedom for the people of Afghanistan.”
“If democrats take power (in Afghanistan), then there's no need for the U.S. to be in Afghanistan” Shazia added. “That's why they never rely on democrats.”
Perhaps the occupation’s hypocrisy can be summed up best by the empty, rhetorical responses Western politicians offered in response to the Karzai administration’s passing of the Shi’a Personal Status Law. The law, introduced and supported by hard line Shi’a clerics and signed with no public announcement by Hamid Karzai earlier this month, allows Shi’a men to deprive their wives of food and basic necessities if they refuse to fulfill sexual demands. It goes on to require permission from one’s husband before applying for work, and effectively legalizes rape by requiring that “blood money” be paid to the victim’s family.
Though President Obama called the law “abhorrent”, he did nothing in his power to push Karzai to repeal it. France threatened to withdraw only its female troops, but nothing else has been done. Alone, as is so often the case, Afghan women took to the streets in protest, risking their lives to voice their opposition. “The government was not democratically elected, and it is now trying to use the country's Islamic law as a tool with which to limit women's rights”, Malalai Joya contends.
“In 2007 more women killed themselves in Afghanistan than ever before”, she continued. Shazia told us of a terrifying increase of self-immolations, with hundreds of women setting themselves on fire in the last few years. Malalai, Shazia, and millions of other women in Afghanistan live amongst this nightmare, struggling to make sense of the horrors of war while dealing with their immediate safety. "We have a lot of different enemies in Afghanistan", Shazia explains. Tthe war continues\ While the West grapples to understand a fraction of what is happening in Afghanistan, its citizens are dying. Western media reports censor, mis-construe, or conceal facts, in large part due to the American media often reporting events after they have been carefully processed through a Pentagon filter, part of a Bush "War on Terror" program first developed in 2002 by the Office of Strategic Influence. The Pentagon’s efforts to undermine reality continue to this day, with reports on U.S. air raids and predator strikes always assuring us of ‘suspected militants’ or ‘Taliban fighters’ being killed, with the gross majority of civilian casualties hidden from view. Take a bombing incident in July, 2002 where after a U.S. plane bombed a wedding killing upwards of 40 civilians, U.S. Central Command released the following response: "Close air support from U.S. Air Force B-52 and AC-130 aircraft struck several ground targets, including anti-aircraft artillery sites that were engaging the aircraft."
Since then, funding for these ‘strategic’ communications programs has grown at a staggering rate, with the Washington Post last month finding funding for such programs growing from $9 million in 2005 to nearly $1 billion dollars for fiscal year 2010. Quite frankly, it is passed the point where the existence of such programs should be considered shocking.
Meanwhile, atrocities continue. Shazia described a U.S. bombing earlier this year in Farah province, where over 150 people were killed. "They massacred more than 150 Afghans. I personally saw the lists of the people who were killed. 12 people were killed from one family. I saw the name of a child of one year, of two years who were killed. This is a massacre. This is a mockery of freedom and democracy in Afghanistan."
After the invasion, the U.S. "almost removed the Taliban in one month”, she continues, “then they brought Karzai”. Since then, coalition deaths have increased every year except 2003, where they fell from 67 to 57, then back to 59 in 2004. Halfway through 2009, coalition deaths (overwhelmingly American and British) have almost surpassed last year's record of 294, with July being the bloodiest month on record.
All the while, Taliban forces have steadily grown more powerful. "It shows that they don't want to remove them from Afghanistan, because they need a justification to be in Afghanistan, to fulfill their demands and interests in Afghanistan” Shazia says. "Through Afghanistan they can easily control Pakistan, Iran and the Middle East countries." Furthermore, "more than 92 percent of the world's opium is cultivated in Afghanistan, and it's a big drug business for the Westerners to control that."
Last week, captured Afghan militants led British forces to a stash of "several tons" of raw opium on one of Ahmed Wali Karzai's farms (United Press International, August 13, 2009). Ahmed, head of the provincial council of Kandahar, is President Hamid Karzai's half-brother. Ahmed, of course, was not arrested. Shazia told us about Ahmed Wali Karzai’s drug activities right before this story broke.
Our conversation soon illuminates the America that Afghans know, the one so many here don't want to recognize. Under the Taliban, opium production was banned and the export of opium dropped dramatically. Under Karzai, business is booming. "They encouraged farmers to grow. If Karzai encourages, the U.S. encourages." Shazia also told us about the new Minister of Anti-Narcotics, General Khodaidad, "the biggest, biggest drug lord" in her country.
As we write this, thousands of U.S. Marines and British soldiers are knee-deep in an offensive in the opium-rich Helmand Province, supposedly to tackle this "Taliban stronghold" and fight the poppy industry. The role has seemed to shift lately towards more anti-narcotics operations, supposedly to take away the financial base of terrorists and Taliban militants. But one can’t help but wonder whose crops they will be destroying if they are following the lead of an anti-drug policy being written and directed by one of the countries largest drug-dealers. Thousands of villagers, as well as hundreds of U.S., British and Afghan soldiers and many Taliban-affiliated fighters have been killed in the Helmand in the last two months.
Aside from the opium-trade, this "surge" also came at a time when Hamid Karzai feared he would lose this election. Attempts to "weaken the Taliban" could well have been a tactic of scaring people into voting for the current government, or keeping Taliban-supporters scared of going to the polls. This form of political bullying grew even more explicit this week, with Karzai announcing a ban on reports of violence or "opposition" during the voting process, which has been quickly condemned by human rights groups and the UN. Perhaps Karzai took a tip from the Americans here, with Tom Ridge’s recent admission that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft pushed him to raise terror alert levels during the 2004 elections.
The U.S. and Karzai insist that low-voter turnout is the result of Taliban-led attempts to disrupt the elections, which they did through bombings, an attempted bank robbery and multiple instance of murder. However, it’s more likely that low-voter turnout is the result of a general feeling of mistrust amongst the Afghan population. “Like millions of Afghans, I have no hope in the results of this week’s election”, Malalai Joya said in a recent online post. “In a country ruled by warlords, occupation forces, Taliban insurgency, drug money and guns, no one can expect a legitimate or fair vote.”
Shazia adds; “I don't think that people will go to vote… Because these elections, these laws that are being passed, are just for show, to show to the world that the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and now Afghan women are free, and now they have democracy and they are living in peace, it's just a show to the world."
Last Thursday’s election has since been heralded as a beacon of democracy and freedom, despite low turn out reported in several, but not all, provinces (though hardly any turnout in the Helmand, Kandahar, and Logar provinces), and 26 Afghans dead, four of them children. Karzai sounded very obliged in the Washington Post, "We regret the loss of civilian lives, but we are grateful for the sacrifices people made. It went very, very well."
And though the White House’s public justification for the surge and ongoing occupation has received little criticism from its constituents, Shazia, along with a large portion of her country and an increasing number of U.S. service-members, does not agree with the common American rhetoric that troops need to stay to prevent a civil war. “Now there is a civil war”, she says. “If the troops leave Afghanistan, of course for a few years there will be wars… Years and years of struggle is needed. After World War Two, the European and Western countries all struggled. Women and men, they, together, struggled to better their own countries. We will also do that. We will give sacrifices. But we will do that ourselves. Because history has shown that no country can grant peace and security to another country as a gift. This is the responsibility of that country, that people, to gain those values.… by their resistance and by their struggle.”
This article, by Peter Beaumont, was published in the Guardian, August 20, 2009
Despite its recent attempt to rebrand itself as Xe Services, Blackwater, the private military empire of Erik Prince, has struggled under a growing weight of allegations surrounding its conduct in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now further questions have been raised by claims it was subcontracted by the CIA during the George Bush presidency to run an unrealised campaign of assassinations of al-Qaida leaders kept secret from Congress.
The claims come hard on the heels of the allegations made in sworn affidavits to a federal court in Virginia earlier this month by two former Blackwater employees that Prince may have had a role in the murder of individuals co-operating with a US government investigation into the company.
While the allegations of the two men cannot be verified independently, the combination of the two affairs – on top of Blackwater's already notorious reputation from Iraq – has added a Robert Ludlumesque aura of intrigue to a secretive company named after the US Navy Seals name for a "black op".
Prince has had to contend with widely reported allegations – contained in the sworn statements – that he "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe".
In addition, one of the two anonymous witnesses – who asked for protection because they said they were afraid of Blackwater – has also accused the company, which earned more than $1bn (£600m) in US government contracts, of smuggling weapons into Iraq and the destruction of incriminating evidence.
Although Xe has denied the allegations, the claims this month are only the latest controversies to have dogged Prince and his company, which has been accused of everything from deceiving the US state department to encouraging its operatives to kill Iraqi civilians.
Although the wealthy Prince founded the company in 1997, the name Blackwater only became imprinted on the public consciousness after the war in Iraq. It gained a reputation for being trigger-happy and ruthless, and soon gained the nickname "Ditchwater" from some British security guards.
The company was finally expelled by the Iraqi government, which refused to renew its licence, although some Xe employees still work there for the state department under the auspices of the so-called US Training Centre.
The company's rapid emergence as one of the world's biggest private military contractors benefited from Prince's Republican connections (he was a donor to Bush) and the revolving door recruitment policy for Pentagon and CIA officials. Prince himself is reported to have been close to top officials in the CIA's directorate of operations and was a regular visitor to its headquarters.
And it was his political connections that opened the doors.
The son of Edgar Prince, a wealthy Republican from Michigan who was one of the founders of the rightwing Family Research Council in the 1980s, Erik Prince had served as an intern to President George Bush Sr before joining the elite Navy Seals for four years, leaving the navy on the death of his father in 1996.
With his inheritance, Prince bought the land in North Carolina that would be transformed into Blackwater's training base, complete with sniper training facilities. This was made available for the training of CIA officers – an organisation with which Prince had high-level contacts – as well as for the training of his private army.
It was in 2002 that Prince and his company finally hit paydirt, securing contracts to protect US government personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, two-thirds of which were awarded on a no-bid basis.
And after the fall of Baghdad, Blackwater suddenly became the most visible private military contractor in Iraq, its bandana-wearing, muscular employees riding shotgun on the convoys they protected with no interest in keeping a low profile. Described once as "mercenaries", Prince countered they were "loyal Americans".
Despite growing uneasiness among many observers about Blackwater's methods, not least after a March 2004 ambush in which four Blackwater guards were killed and their bodies hung from one of the town's bridges, it was an incident in 2007 that sealed its notoriety.
Four of its empoyees shot dead 17 Iraqi civilians – 14 of whom the FBI concluded were killed "without cause". And it was not an isolated incident. In 2005 Blackwater guards accompanying a US diplomat fired scores of rounds into an Iraqi car, while in 2006 a drunken Blackwater employee killed an Iraqi security guard for the country's vice-president. The guard responsible was flown by the company out of Iraq.
A congressional subcommittee report in 2007 described the company as being staffed by reckless guards – not always sober – who would shoot first and not stop to see who they had shot. The same report alleged that Blackwater guards had been engaged in more than 200 shooting incidents in two years, largely from moving vehicles.
It was not only in Iraq that Blackwater had a controversial presence. In the immediate aftermath of hurricane Katrina, heavily armed Blackwater guards were controversially deployed in New Orleans by the department of homeland security to confront armed looters.
The revelation that the CIA had allegedly subcontracted Blackwater into an abortive programme to undertake killings of al-Qaida figures adds further weight to the evidence that the company's real ambition was to take over military and intelligence functions.
That ambition was allegedly alluded to by Cofer Black, director of the CIA's counter-terrorism centre until 2002, and later the department of state's co-ordinator for counter-terrorism, who joined Blackwater in 2005 as vice-chairman. At a conference in Amman in 2006, in comments Black has subsequently denied, he was alleged to have suggested that Blackwater was in a position to provide a brigade-sized group to support humanitarian missions.
Despite the controversies, Blackwater continues to benefit from US government contracts under Barack Obama's presidency. Under Obama the numbers of private military contractors have increased in Afghanistan by almost 30% – the company once known as Blackwater among them.
This article, by Jason Straziuso, was posted to Yahoo News, August 11, 2009
KABUL – U.S. and NATO deaths from roadside and suicide bomb blasts in Afghanistan soared six-fold in July compared with the same month last year, as militants detonated the highest number of bombs of the eight-year war, figures released Tuesday showed.
Three U.S. Marines and a Polish soldier died in the latest attacks, setting August on course to surpass the record 75 deaths U.S. and NATO troops suffered from all causes in July.
U.S. commanders have long predicted that 2009 would be the deadliest of the war, after President Barack Obama ordered an additional 21,000 troops here to try to quell the rising Taliban insurgency. A record 62,000 U.S. troops are now in Afghanistan.
U.S., NATO and Afghan troops are working to protect voting sites around the country so Afghans can take part in the country's second-ever direct presidential election Aug. 20. Taliban militants have vowed to disrupt the elections, and attacks are on the rise around Afghanistan, where roadside bombs are now the cause of the majority of U.S. and NATO deaths.
Last month 49 coalition troops died in bomb attacks, a more than six-fold increase from the eight killed in roadside and suicide bomb attacks in July 2008, according to figures from the U.S.-based Joint IED Defeat Organization.
The number of incidents from IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, soared to 828, the highest level of the war and more than twice as many as in July 2008. Of those 828 incidents, 410 bombs were found and neutralized and 310 were ineffective. But 108 bombs were effective, triple the 36 effective attacks a year ago, an increase that suggests militants are getting better at placing and detonating bombs.
"The major challenge today for us is roadside bombs and suicide attacks," said Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, spokesman for Afghanistan's Defense Ministry. Azimi said that Taliban militants have figured out that roadside bombs are an efficient and effective method of attack. "They stay safe while the other side suffers."
Though roadside bombs target U.S., NATO and Afghan troops, the blasts have killed a record number of civilians this year as well. Nine Afghans riding in a vehicle died in a bomb blast Tuesday in Kandahar province, said Daud Farhad, a doctor at Kandahar's Mirwais hospital.
"The enemy has moved to increase the use of indiscriminate IEDs against our forces as well as the Afghan people," said U.S. Lt. Col. Todd Vician, a spokesman for the NATO-led force. He said IED attacks are up in part because of increased operations by NATO troops.
Afghan soldier deaths from IEDs are also up sharply, Azimi said, but had no figures. A roadside bomb in Zabul killed two Afghan soldiers Tuesday, said Lt. Gen. Sher Mohammad Zazai.
At least 14 NATO troops, including at least seven Americans, have died in bomb blasts this month.
Some 4,000 U.S. Marines who stormed into southern Helmand province last month were confronted with dozens of bombs buried in Afghanistan's dirt roads. Militants have become more sophisticated at hiding the bombs, and insurgents have begun planting several in small areas, troops say.
British troops operating in Helmand have also suffered greatly from roadside bombs. A record number of British troops — 22 — died in Afghanistan last month, including 12 from explosions, raising an outcry in Britain about a lack of helicopters and other equipment.
More than 230 coalition troops were wounded in bomb attacks last month, more than triple the 67 wounded last July, U.S. figures show. Joint Task Force Paladin, the counter-IED unit at the main U.S. base at Bagram, predicted earlier this year that IED attacks would rise 50 percent in Afghanistan in 2009.
A recent U.N. report said at least 1,013 civilians were killed in the first six months of this year from insurgents bombs, compared with 818 for the same period in 2008 — an increase of 24 percent.
Even as bomb blasts spike in Afghanistan, such attacks have dropped precipitously in Iraq.
No coalition troops died in Iraq last month from bomb attacks, only the second month that's happened since the military began keeping statistics in June 2003. March 2009 was the other month. The number of IED incidents in Iraq fell from 557 in July 2008 to 166 last month. Only nine of those incidents were classified as effective attacks.
The NATO command in Afghanistan said Tuesday that three U.S. troops died in southern Afghanistan in separate "hostile fire incidents." It did not disclose the exact location of the attacks. The first died of wounds suffered in an incident that occurred Saturday, another died Sunday and the third died Monday, a NATO statement said.
At least 27 foreign troops, including 18 Americans, have died in August, a record pace, according to an Associated Press count. July, when 75 troops died, was the deadliest month in Afghanistan for U.S. and NATO forces since the 2001 U.S. invasion. Forty-four Americans died last month.
A Polish soldier and 22 Taliban insurgents also died in the latest violence.
Polish Capt. Daniel Ambrozinski, 32, disappeared Monday after his foot patrol of about 50 Afghan and Polish troops came under fire, Poland's Defense Ministry said. His body was found early Tuesday in Ajristan, in eastern Ghazni province.
Afghan officials said clashes and airstrikes in the south of the country killed nearly two dozen Taliban fighters. Twelve insurgents died in airstrikes and clashes with Afghan and Western forces on the border of Ghazni and Zabul provinces, said Wazir Khan, a local official. The militants were killed late Monday inside a compound, Khan said.
Ten Taliban were killed in Uruzgan Monday night in a fight with Afghan and foreign troops, Zazai said.
Elsewhere in the south, British troops seized a quarter ton of opium and killed seven militants in a major air assault involving 300 troops and 18 U.S., U.K. and Australian helicopters, officials said. The troops found 550 pounds (250 kilograms) of wet opium.
This article, by Dahr Jamail, was posted to zNet, July 16, 2009.
On May 1st at Fort Hood in central Texas, Specialist Victor Agosto wrote on a counseling statement, which is actually a punitive U.S. Army memo:
"There is no way I will deploy to Afghanistan. The occupation is immoral and unjust. It does not make the American people any safer. It has the opposite effect."
Ten days later, he refused to obey a direct order from his company commander to prepare to deploy and was issued a second counseling statement. On that one he wrote, "I will not obey any orders I deem to be immoral or illegal." Shortly thereafter, he told a reporter, "I'm not willing to participate in this occupation, knowing it is completely wrong. It's a matter of what I'm willing to live with."
Agosto had already served in Iraq for 13 months with the 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion. Currently on active duty at Fort Hood, he admits, "It was in Iraq that I turned against the occupations. I started to feel very guilty. I watched contractors making obscene amounts of money. I found no evidence that the occupation was in any way helping the people of Iraq. I know I contributed to death and human suffering. It's hard to quantify how much I caused, but I know I contributed to it."
Even though he was approaching the end of his military service, Agosto was ordered to deploy to Afghanistan under the stop-loss program that the Department of Defense uses to retain soldiers beyond the term of their contracts. At least 185,000 troops have been stop-lossed since September 11, 2001.
Agosto betrays no ambivalence about his willingness to face the consequences of his actions:
"Yes, I'm fully prepared for this. I have concluded that the wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan] are not going to be ended by politicians or people at the top. They're not responsive to people, they're responsive to corporate America. The only way to make them responsive to the needs of the people is for soldiers to not fight their wars. If soldiers won't fight their wars, the wars won't happen. I hope I'm setting an example for other soldiers."
Today, Agosto's remains a relatively isolated act in an all-volunteer military built to avoid the dissent that, in the Vietnam era, came to be associated with an army of draftees. However, it's an example that may, soon enough, have far greater meaning for an increasingly overstretched military plunging into an expanding Afghan War seemingly without end, even as its war in Iraq continues. Avoiding Battle
Writing on his blog from Baquba, Iraq, in September 2004, Specialist Jeff Englehart commented: "Three soldiers in our unit have been hurt in the last four days and the true amount of army-wide casualties leaving Iraq are unknown. The figures are much higher than what is reported. We get awards and medals that are supposed to make us feel proud about our wicked assignment..."
Over the years, in response to such feelings, some American soldiers have come up with ingenious ways to express defiance or dissent on our distant battlegrounds. These have been little noted in the mainstream media, and when they do surface, officials in the Pentagon or in Washington just brush them aside as "bad apple" incidents (the same explanation they tend to use when a war crime is exposed).
But in the stories of men and women who served in the occupation of Iraq, they often play a different role. In October 2007, for instance, I interviewed Corporal Phil Aliff, an Iraq War veteran, then based at Fort Drum in upstate New York. He recalled:
"During my stints in Iraq between August 2005 and July 2006, we probably ran 300 patrols. Most of the men in my platoon were just in from combat tours in Afghanistan and morale was incredibly low. Recurring hits by roadside bombs had demoralized us and we realized the only way we could avoid being blown up was to stop driving around all the time. So every other day we would find an open field and park, and call our base every hour to tell them we were searching for weapon caches in the fields and everything was going fine. All our enlisted people had grown disenchanted with the chain of command."
Aliff referred to this tactic as engaging in "search and avoid" missions, a sardonic expression recycled from the Vietnam War when soldiers were sent out on official "search and destroy" missions.
Sergeant Eli Wright, who served as a medic with the 1st Infantry Division in Ramadi from September 2003 through September 2004, had a similar story to tell me. "Oh yeah, we did search and avoid missions all the time. It was common for us to go set camp atop a bridge and use it as an over-watch position. We would use our binoculars to observe rather than sweep, but call in radio checks every hour to report on our sweeps."
According to Private First Class Clifton Hicks, who served in Iraq with the First Cavalry from October 2003, only six months after Baghdad was occupied by American troops, until July 2004, search and avoid missions began early and always had the backing of a senior non-commissioned officer or a staff sergeant. "Our platoon sergeant was with us and he knew our patrols were bullshit, just riding around to get blown up," he explained. "We were at Camp Victory at Baghdad International Airport. A lot of the time we'd leave the main gate and come right back in another gate to the base where there's a big PX with a nice mess hall and a Burger King. We'd leave one guy at the Humvee to call in every hour, while the others stayed at the PX. We were just sick and tired of going out on these stupid patrols."
These understated acts of refusal were often survival strategies as well as gestures of dissent, as the troops were invariably undertrained and ill-equipped for the job of putting down an insurgency. Specialist Nathan Lewis, who was deployed to Iraq with the 214th Artillery Brigade from March 2002 through June 2003, experienced this firsthand. "We never received any training for much of what we were expected to do," he said when telling me of certain munitions catching fire while he and other soldiers were loading them onto trucks, "We were never trained on how to handle [them] the right way."
Sergeant Geoff Millard of the New York Army National Guard served at a Rear Operations Center with the 42nd Infantry Division from October 2004 through October 2005. Part of his duty entailed reporting "significant actions," or SIGACTS -- that is, attacks on U.S. forces. In an interview in 2007 he told me, "When I was there at least five companies never reported SIGACTS. I think 'search and avoids' have been going on for a long time. One of my buddies in Baghdad emails that nearly each day they pull into a parking lot, drink soda, and shoot at the cans." Millard told me of soldiers he still knows in Iraq who were still performing "search and avoid" missions in December 2008. Several other friends deploying or redeploying to Iraq soon assured him that they, too, planned to operate in search and avoid mode.
Corporal Bryan Casler was first deployed to Iraq with the Marines in 2003, at the time of the invasion. Posted to Afghanistan in 2004, he returned to Iraq for another tour of duty in 2005. He tells of other low-level versions of the tactic of avoidance: "There were times we would go to fix a radio that had been down for hours. It was purposeful so we did not have to deal with the bullshit from higher [ups]. In reality, we would go so we could just chill out, let the rest of the squad catch up on some rest as one stood guard. It's mutual and people start covering for each other. Everyone knows what the hell's going on."
Staff Sergeant Ronn Cantu, an infantryman who was deployed to Iraq from March 2004 to February 2005, and again from December 2006 to January 2008, said of some of the patrols he observed while there: "[They] wouldn't go up and down the streets like they were supposed to. They would just go to a friendly compound with the Iraqi police or the Kurdish Peshmerga [militia] and stay at their compound and drink tea until it was time to go back to the base."
As a Stryker armored combat vehicle commander in Iraq from September 2004 to September 2005, Sergeant Seth Manzel had figured out a way to fabricate on screen the movement of their patrol and so could run computerized versions of a search and avoid mission. As he explained: "Sometimes if they called us up to go and do something, we would swiftly send computer reports that we were headed in that direction. On the map we would manually place our icon to the target location and then move it back and forth to make it appear as though we were actually on the ground and patrolling. This was not an isolated case. Everyone did it. Everyone would go and hide somewhere from time to time."
Former Sergeant Josh Simpson, who served as a counter-intelligence agent in Iraq from October 2004 to October 2005, said he witnessed instances of faked movement. "I knew soldiers who learned to simulate vehicular movement on the computer screen, to create the impression of being on patrol," said Simpson. "There's no doubt that people did it." Saying "No" One at a Time "There was nothing to be done," Corporal Casler says of his time in Iraq, "no progress to be made there. Dissent starts as simple as saying this is bullshit. Why am I risking my life?"
Sometimes such feelings have permeated entire units and soldiers in them have refused to follow orders en masse. One of the more dramatic of these incidents occurred in July 2007. The 2nd Platoon of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, in Baghdad had lost many men in its 11 months of deployment. After a roadside bomb killed five more, its members held a meeting and agreed that it was no longer possible for them to function professionally. Concerned that their anger might actually touch off a massacre of Iraqi civilians, they staged a quiet revolt against their commanders instead.
Kelly Kennedy, a reporter with the Military Times embedded with Charlie Company prior to the revolt, described the shape the platoon members were in by that time: "[T]hey went right to mental health and they got sleeping medications, and they basically couldn't sleep and reacted poorly. And then, they were supposed to go out on patrol again that day. And they, as a platoon, the whole platoon -- it was about 40 people -- said, 'We're not going to do it. We can't. We're not mentally there right now.'"
In response, the military broke up the platoon. Each individual involved was also "flagged" so he would not get a promotion or receive any award due.
To this day, troops in Iraq continue to be plagued by equipment and manpower shortages, and work long hours in an extreme climate. In addition, their stress levels are regularly raised by news from home of veterans returning to separations and divorces, and of a Veteran's Administration often ill-equipped and unwilling to provide appropriate physical and psychological care to veterans.
While no broad poll of troops has been conducted recently, a Zogby poll in February 2006 found that 72% of soldiers in Iraq felt the occupation should be ended within a year. My interviews with those recently back from Iraq indicate that levels of despair and disappointment are once again on the rise among troops who are beginning to realize, months after the Obama administration was ushered in, that hopes of an early withdrawal have evaporated.
With the Afghan War heating up and the Iraq War still far from over, even if fighting there is at far lower levels than at its sectarian heights in 2006 and 2007, with stress and strain on the military still on the rise, dissent and resistance are unlikely to abate. In addition to small numbers of outright public refusals to deploy or redeploy, troops are going absent without official leave (AWOL) between deployments, and actual desertions may once again be on the rise. Certainly, there's one strong indication that despair is indeed growing: the unprecedented numbers of soldiers who are committing suicide; the Army's official suicide count rose to 133 in 2008, up from 115 in 2007, itself a record since the Pentagon began keeping suicide statistics in 1980. At least 82 confirmed or suspected suicides have been reported thus far in 2009, a pace that indicates another grim record will be set; and suicide, though seldom thought of in that context, is also a form of refusal, an extreme, individual way of saying no, or simply no more.
According to Sergeant Simpson, here's how a feeling of discontent and opposition creeps up on you while you're on duty: The part of the war you're involved in, interrogating Iraqis in his case, "doesn't make any sense. You realize that the whole system is flawed and if that is flawed, then obviously the whole war is flawed. If the basic premise of the war is flawed, definitely the intelligence system that is supposed to lead us to victory is flawed. What that implies is that victory is not even a possibility."
After finishing his tour in Iraq, Simpson joined the Reserves because he believed it would grant him a two-year deferment from being called up, but he was called up anyway. In his own case, he says, "I thought to myself, I can't do this anymore. First of all, it's bad for me mentally because I'm doing something I loathe. Second, I'm participating in an organization that I wish to resist in every way I can.
"So," he says, "I just stopped showing up for drill, didn't call my unit, didn't give them any reason for it. I changed my telephone number and they did not have my address." Eventually, he reached the end date of his contract and managed to graduate from Evergreen State University in Washington. "I don't know if technically I'm still in the reserves," he told me. "I don't know what my situation is, but I don't really care either. If I go to jail, I go to jail. I'd rather go to jail than go to Iraq." Unready and Unwilling Reserves Sergeant Travis Bishop, who served 14 months in Baghdad with the 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion -- the same battalion as Agosto, who served north of the Iraqi capital -- recently went AWOL from his station at Fort Hood, Texas, when his unit deployed to Afghanistan. He insists that it would be unethical for him to deploy to support an occupation he opposes on moral grounds.
On his blog, he puts his position this way: "I love my country, but I believe that this particular war is unjust, unconstitutional and a total abuse of our nation's power and influence. And so, in the next few days, I will be speaking with my lawyer, and taking actions that will more than likely result in my discharge from the military, and possible jail time... and I am prepared to live with that.... My father said, 'Do only what you can live with, because every morning you have to look at your face in the mirror when you shave. Ten years from now, you'll still be shaving the same face.' If I had deployed to Afghanistan, I don't think I would have been able to look into another mirror again."
I spoke with him briefly after he turned himself in at his base in early June. He said he'd chosen to follow Specialist Agosto's example of refusal, which had inspired him, and wanted to be present at his post to accept the consequences of his actions. He, too, hoped others might follow his lead. (He and Agosto, now in similar situations, have become friends.)
Agosto, whose hope has been to set an example of resistance for other soldiers, sees Bishop's refusal to deploy to Afghanistan as a personal success and says, "I already feel vindicated for what I'm doing by his actions. It's nice to see some immediate results."
His actions, he's convinced, have affected the way his fellow soldiers are now looking at the war in Afghanistan. "The topic has come up a lot in conversation, with soldiers on base now asking, 'What are we doing in Afghanistan? Why are we there?' People feel compelled to bring this up when I'm around. Even the ones that disagree with me say it's great what I'm doing, and that I'm doing what a lot of them don't have the courage to do. If anything, the people I work with have now been treating me better than ever."
On May 27th, rejecting an Article 15 -- a nonjudicial punishment imposed by a commanding officer who believes a member of his command has committed an offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice -- Agosto demanded to be court-martialed.
According to Agosto, the Army has now begun the court martial process, but has not yet set a trial date. Bishop, too, awaits a possible court martial.
On June 1st, a day when four U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan, Agosto told me in a phone call from Fort Hood, "I haven't had to disobey any orders lately. A sergeant asked me if it'd be okay if I had to follow orders, and I said no, and they didn't force it."
Agosto and Bishop are hardly alone. In November 2007, the Pentagon revealed that between 2003 and 2007 there had been an 80% increase in overall desertion rates in the Army (desertion refers to soldiers who go AWOL and never intend to return to service), and Army AWOL rates from 2003 to 2006 were the highest since 1980. Between 2000 and 2006, more than 40,000 troops from all branches of the military deserted, more than half from the Army. Army desertion rates jumped by 42% from 2006 to 2007 alone.
U.S. Army Specialist André Shepherd joined the Army on January 27, 2004. He was trained in Apache helicopter repair and sent first to Germany, then was stationed in Iraq from November 2004 to February 2005, before being based again in Germany. Shepherd went AWOL in southern Germany in April 2007 and lived underground until applying for asylum there in November 2008, making him the first Iraq veteran to apply for refugee status in Europe.
He, too, has refused further military service because he feels morally opposed to the occupation of Iraq. While he awaits word from the German government and is still technically AWOL, Shepherd is being supported by Courage to Resist, a group based in Oakland, California, which actively assists soldiers who refuse to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan.
A counselor and administrative associate at that organization, Adam Szyper-Seibert, points out that "in recent months there has been a dramatic rise of nearly 200% in the number of soldiers that have contacted Courage to Resist." Szyper-Seibert suspects this may reflect the decision of the Obama administration to dramatically increase efforts, troop strength, and resources in Afghanistan. "We are actively supporting over 50 military resisters like Victor Agosto," Szyper-Seibert says. "They are all over the world, including André Shepherd in Germany and several people in Canada. We are getting five or six calls a week just about the IRR [Individual Ready Reserve] recall alone."
The IRR is composed of troops who have finished their active duty service but still have time remaining on their contracts. The typical military contract mandates four years of active duty followed by four years in the IRR, though variations on this pattern exist. Ready Reserve members live civilian lives and are not paid by the military, but they are required to show up for periodic musters. Many have moved on from military life and are enrolled in college, working civilian jobs, and building families.
At any point, however, a member of the Ready Reserve can be recalled to active duty. This policy has led to the involuntary reactivation of tens of thousands of troops to fight the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lieutenant General Jack C. Stultz, the Chief of the U.S. Army Reserve and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Reserve Command, told Congress on March 3rd that, since September 11, 2001, the Army has mobilized about 28,000 from the Reserves. There have been 3,724 Marines involuntarily recalled and mobilized during that same period, according to Major Steven O'Connor, a Marine Corps spokesman. (According to Major O'Connor, as of May 2009, the Marines are no longer recalling individuals from the IRR.)
Ironically, under a new commander-in-chief whom many voters believed to be anti-war, the Army is continuing its Individual Ready Reserve recalls. "The IRR recall has not seen any change since Obama became president," Sarah Lazare, the project coordinator for Courage to Resist, says. "It's difficult to predict what the Obama administration's policy will be in the future regarding the IRR, but definitely they haven't made any moves to stop this practice."
Needing boots on the ground, according to Lazare, the military continues to fall back on the Ready Reserve system to fill the gaps: "Since these are experienced troops, many of them have already served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan." Lazare adds, "When Obama announced his Afghanistan surge, we got a huge wave of calls from soldiers saying they didn't want to be reactivated and to please help them not go." The Future of Military Dissent
Right now, acts of dissent, refusal, and resistance in the all-volunteer military remain small-scale and scattered. Ranging from the extreme private act of suicide to avoidance of duty to actual refusal of duty, they continue to consist largely of individual acts. Present-day G.I. resistance to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan cannot begin to be compared with the extensive resistance movement that helped end the Vietnam War and brought an army of draftees to the point of near mutiny in the late 1960s. Nevertheless, the ongoing dissent that does exist in the U.S. military, however fragmented and overlooked at the moment, should not be discounted.
he Iraq War boils on at still dangerous levels of violence, while the war in Afghanistan (and across the border in Pakistan) only grows, as does the U.S. commitment to both. It's already clear that even an all-volunteer military isn't immune to dissent. If violence in either or both occupations escalates, if the Pentagon struggles to add more boots on the ground, if the stresses and strains on the military, involving endless redeployments to combat zones, increase rather than lessen, then the acts of Agosto, Bishop, and Shepherd may turn out to be pathbreaking ones in a world of dissent yet to be experienced and explored. Add in dissatisfaction and discontent at home if, in the coming years, American treasure continues to be poured into an Afghan quagmire, and real support for a G.I. resistance movement may surface. If so, then the early pioneers in methods of dissent within the military will have laid the groundwork for a movement.
"If we want soldiers to choose the right but difficult path, they must know beyond any shadow of a doubt that they will be supported by Americans." So said First Lieutenant Ehren Watada of the U.S. Army, the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse a combat deployment to Iraq. (He finally had the military charges against him dropped by the Justice Department.) The future of any such movement in the military is now unknowable, but keep your eyes open. History, even military history, holds its own surprises.
This article, by Morton Abramowitz, was posted to e-Ariana, June 8, 2009
Afghanistan: Who are we fighting? Who should do the fighting? What else is needed? When will it end?
Discussing these questions in Kabul feels like watching the film Rashoman. The perspectives of Afghans high and low, senior American and allied officials, aid workers, and NGO leaders are often significantly different. Sorting it all out is not easy.
Few, however, disagree that this will be a long war. There is little hope of a definite conclusion; the best is a trajectory of overall improvement while violence persists. Much depends both on how much and how long aid flows to the Taliban from Pakistan and on development and better governance in Afghanistan. Regardless of American involvement in Afghanistan, it is highly doubtful that the Taliban can reclaim Kabul, even with the continued support of Pashtun fighters from western Pakistan. Afghanistan does not face trained, regular forces as South Vietnam did in the North Vietnamese Army. All the same, significant American involvement will have to be sustained for many years, not only to accomplish security objectives, but also to aid development of the Afghan south and southeast. That raises the question of American domestic politics—will Americans continue to support massive amounts of aid for Kabul?
The shortcut of negotiations with elements of the Taliban and other extremists is often discussed in Washington. But the Afghans are apparently already exploring this option in various ways. Afghans do not have American sensitivities about who they talk to. Whether such talks go anywhere is another matter, as long as the regime’s survival is ensured. The Afghan government might surprise us.
The administration has declared that our principal objective in Afghanistan is to destroy al-Qaeda, which poses a threat to the homeland. That makes it appear that American involvement in Afghanistan is more limited and thus will make it easier to reassure a tired public and get necessary funding from a skeptical Congress. All indications, however, are that we are trying to build a more durable Afghan state. Interestingly enough, Afghans rarely speak of the threat from al-Qaeda. For them, this war is all about the Taliban, whom the Americans are mostly fighting along the border with Pakistan, with the Afghan casualties caused by American military action.
Viewed politically, Afghanistan is split in two: a belt of Pashtun provinces in the south and an assortment of regional ethnic interests in the north. President Hamid Karzai keeps this difficult array together with deals. It may not be democratic, but has become a major function of the presidency—maintaining a modicum of peace and cooperation among major ethnic blocs. The northern groups want increased influence, but in a united Afghanistan. All interests must be acknowledged, and, problematically, those of the Pashtuns were not sufficiently addressed when the state was created after the war. Karzai needs to build a better government, but we should be wary about being seen as trying to remove him, as was alleged three months ago. Any such effort would be viewed badly in the country, and finding another leader with the necessary political skills to serve as a unifying force in this fragmented country will be difficult.
Today the Americans do most of the fighting. The extent to which that facilitates Afghan unity is debatable. One very senior Afghan official, who did his own share of fighting over the years, says that American troops should function as trainers, but Afghans should do the fighting and the dying. Afghan forces are better equipped than the Taliban and have more legitimacy in the eyes of local populations than foreigners. The Taliban are hardly the Wehrmacht; battles are small and more like skirmishes anyway. Over time government forces will become more adept, although initial losses will be great. After all, he said, the Afghans fought each other this way for many years. Several senior American officials agree that such a strategy would be more appropriate, but were skeptical that the United States would go along or that the Afghan government would make such a request.
The United States also seeks to create projects to generate quick short-term developments in sectors where such results in war-torn countries are often hard to come by. In that way, the administration hopes to establish credability and limit donor fatigue, also a preoccupation of Afghan officials. The Obama administration has decreed civilian “surges” to quickly improve the situation. They are underway, with more Americans operating in Kabul, and also in the provinces under the supervision of Provincial Reconstruction Teams. That military emblem may help satisfy security concerns, but it is not appealing to Afghan villagers and can threaten aid workers. Hopefully the oft stated American commitment to Afghanization will be advanced by more immediate Americanization, but skepticism is in order.
More important, however, Afghanistan has huge systemic problems. So many—75 to 80 percent outside the major cities—cannot read or write. Although the position of women is improving in the cities, it hasn’t changed in rural areas. They continue to live in earlier centuries. And yet, gender mainstreaming is necessarily slow, as rushing the process would invite social instability. These kinds of development objectives are a generation’s work.
Prospects for greater stability and development in Afghanistan simultaneously engender optimism and pessimism. Despite increasing Taliban military efforts, in various parts of the country the violence is still mostly confined to Pashtun-majority areas. Kabul has been long under siege, but the bustling city gives an impression of resilience and recovery. Governance and rule of law remain deficient, but there is a sense of growing governmental capabilities.
Afghans say they have a good chance to make a state if the United States continues its support for a long time to come. And that brings us back to the short- and long-term. The positive factor is the greater dynamism and ability of the new American team. But there is no miracle to be found in today’s Afghanistan. It will be a long slog. In the end, it is better that Congress and the American people understand that. George Kennan’s famous admonition that “history does not forgive us our national mistakes” is very much in order.
This article, by C. J. Chivers, was posted to e-Ariana, June 8, 2009
The Afghan foot patrol descended a mountain and slipped through a canyon. Then things went wrong. One Afghan soldier insulted another. And there, exposed on dangerous ground, a scuffle erupted.
The soldiers turned on each other with shoves, punches and kicks. One swung an ammunition can in a slow-motion haymaker. The patrol had already been hapless: a display of errant marksmanship, dud ammunition and lackluster technique.
“For months I’ve been telling everyone how proud I am of you,” seethed an American captain, yanking the Afghans apart. “Today you embarrassed me.”
The Obama administration has put a priority on expanding the size and abilities of Afghanistan’s security forces, first to help fight an expanding war and eventually to allow the Pentagon to draw down its troops. The task was inherited from the Bush administration, and the United States has helped to field roughly 170,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers in units created from scratch. In plans now under review, these numbers could double.
Many Afghan units, especially in the army, have shown signs of competence at basic missions and skills. But this joint patrol late last year in Nuristan Province, and dozens of others from 2007 to this spring, along with interviews with trainers and the senior officers who supervise them, showed problems on the Afghan and American sides alike.
American training units have been short-staffed and overstretched. Essential equipment has at times proved to be in poor condition or mismatched. Accountability for weapons and munitions has been broadly criticized.
Among the Afghans, mass illiteracy, equipment loss, crime and corruption, which is prevalent in the police, have blunted readiness. Immaturity and ill discipline bedevil many units. Illicit drug use persists, and some American officers worry about loyalty and intelligence leaks.
The Americans started rebuilding Afghanistan even before a similar effort in Iraq, where the Pentagon badly underestimated the difficulties — and initially overstated its success. Iraqi forces now operate broadly in their country.
American trainers in Afghanistan attend courses taught by veterans of the Iraq experience, and the lessons learned from Iraq are distilled into plans for Afghanistan, the training command says.
Those plans are ambitious. In Afghanistan, the Pentagon wants to make Afghanistan’s military able to direct artillery and airstrikes, and to develop an air corps with attack aircraft. And Western trainers are emphasizing supervisory skills required for a professional force: personnel and payroll management, logistics and maintenance.
Simultaneously, the Afghan government plans to require police officers to undergo drug testing and senior police officials to disclose personal assets. The United States is also entering Afghan soldiers and officers into a biometrics database, to verify identities and scrub payrolls of members who do not exist.
“We’re making a lot of progress,” said Maj. Gen. Richard P. Formica, who leads the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, the unit coordinating the training.
The United States has spent more than $15 billion fielding Afghan forces, by the command’s tally. Officers throughout the ranks say Afghan security self-sufficiency is years off, even in the Afghan National Army, or A.N.A.
“I think if you come back in a couple of years, you should see advances,” said Brig. Gen. Anthony R. Ierardi, the command’s deputy commander. “I wouldn’t tell you that the A.N.A. is going to be ready across the board in a couple of years. I don’t think that’s a true statement.” Rebooting the Police
American officers training the Afghan forces describe two different views. By one view, the security forces, especially the army, represent one of the most promising institutions the Afghan government has yet offered: a large group of men who rejected the Taliban and staked their lives on the faith that the government would prevail.
Seasoned by fighting and shaped by Western trainers, a corps of Afghan officers and noncommissioned officers has begun to emerge. The units they lead have allowed the Afghan government to provide security in Kabul and extend the government’s presence to areas once beyond reach.
The forces’ casualty figures point to the loyalty and resolve of many Afghans in uniform. Nearly 1,700 police officers and 600 Afghan soldiers were killed on duty from January 2007 through April. Western forces suffered 586 deaths in that time.
By another view, the same forces, though most pointedly the police, are minimally skilled, unreliable, prone to crime and little match for an insurgency that has grown since 2006. Problems are widespread enough that many Western soldiers openly regard the Afghan police with suspicion.
In interviews over three years, American soldiers have complained that police officers and supervisors sell promotions and equipment, skim subordinates’ wages, shake down villagers, take bribes or participate in other schemes, including the opium trade.
Journalists for The New York Times have seen officers accused of selling fuel for their American-provided trucks, and of burglarizing a home they had been ordered to search. Officers at one southern post in 2007 were cultivating poppy plants inside their post’s walls.
Maj. Vincent G. Heintz, who supervised a police mentoring team last year, said that the district where he worked, Chahar Darreh in Kunduz Province, cycled through several Afghan commanders during the year, including one who was “wholly incompetent” but apparently politically connected.
The next commander, Major Heintz said, was “a professional criminal who brokered a détente with the local Taliban” and who showed up with 10 or 15 of his own bodyguards, fired the police and put his gang into police uniforms. They then set up roadblocks and shook down motorists, he said.
Afghan units have also not eradicated the presence of “chai” boys, who often are uncompensated teenagers who live closely with commanders. Afghans and American officers say some are apprentices, others valets, and some suffer sexual abuse, which a few commanders regard as a perquisite of power.
The training command said that if abuse of these teenagers was reported, it would be acted on. “It is totally unacceptable,” General Ierardi said, but added that he had not seen reports of it from the field.
American officers acknowledge that corruption has hampered efforts to make a viable police force, which now has about 82,000 members. They also say corruption should not define all the officers serving, and that burnishing the force’s skills and reputation is a focus.
Last fall, President Hamid Karzai appointed a new interior minister, Muhammad Hanif Atmar, a former education minister. Mr. Atmar, educated in Britain and largely viewed as uncorrupt, has pushed for changes that could foster credibility, including requiring senior officials to disclose private assets and testing the A.N.P, or Afghan National Police, for drugs.
Officers testing positive can be fired, said Brig. Gen. Anne Macdonald, who supervises police development.
The United States is also retraining uniformed police units in a process called Focused District Development. Under this program, police units in districts are mentored intensely through phases, including being replaced by an interim unit for several weeks while they undergo refresher training and have their equipment inventoried, examined and, as necessary, replaced.
The program implicitly acknowledges problems. General Ierardi said it was essential because it provided a chance to “refresh the screen.” To date, 65 of the country’s 365 districts and 12 companies have enrolled in the program. The Pentagon plans to expand the training.
The program has shown merits, officers said. Major Heintz, for instance, said that in his duties under the program, following up on the police in Chahar Darreh, he was able to get the crooked commander relieved less than a month after he showed up. The new commander “has done a good job with the force,” he said. Improving the Army
The situation is different in the army, for which the American effort is trying to build momentum, General Formica said. The Afghan Army has nearly 90,000 soldiers and is slated to grow to 134,000.
In units on the ground, some previous initiatives have shown results.
On patrols observed by The Times this year, many Afghan soldiers wore their equipment, remained alert, walked with weapons ready and moved by bounds across dangerous ground. These are not difficult tasks, but on patrols in past years Afghans often neglected them.
Sgt. Maj. Arthur L. Coleman Jr., the senior American enlisted soldier in the training command, said improved fundamentals reflected a significant development: the army has grown experienced sergeants, who enhance performance.
“We’re really starting to see discipline,” he said. “You’re starting to see accountability.” He added: “That’s going to pay big dividends down the road as we mature.”
Other indicators also suggest that military discipline, while behind Western standards, is improving. The army’s percentage of soldiers absent without leave has dropped to under 10 percent for more than a year, the command said. Not long ago, it exceeded 15 percent.
This year, an inaugural class of 84 lieutenants graduated from the National Military Academy of Afghanistan, a four-year school modeled after West Point. Next year the academy is scheduled to produce about 300 more lieutenants. The Pentagon hopes to build a more able military around these and other new officers and sergeants.
Enlisted soldiers with specialties are also appearing in the field. Of a squad of Afghan soldiers recently assigned in the Korangal Valley, for example, one had been trained as a trauma medic. The training command said 3,500 such medics had completed an eight-week course.
But poor officers remain. During an insurgent mortar attack late last year, an Afghan lieutenant did not require his soldiers to take cover or put on their protective gear. Instead, he proposed holding a formation in the open to ask which soldiers were collaborating with the Taliban.
Two American Marines present directed the lieutenant to order his soldiers to safety. Minutes later, an incoming round exploded yards from where the soldiers were to stand.
In a recent attack on Korangal Outpost, an Afghan captain ignored his duties. Incoming 30-millimeter rounds landed among his men. He spent the fight in a latrine, while Marines checked for injured Afghans and directed the return fire. Problems Beyond the Ranks
The Pentagon’s plans have been undercut at times by the American military’s own management, or by larger trends in Afghanistan’s educational and economic development.
Over the years, as American units have cycled through, they have often been forced to repeat the work of previous units.
Several years ago, for example, the Americans distributed 8,000 donated Czech assault rifles to Afghan units. The weapons fired the same ammunition as existing Afghan rifles, but were otherwise incompatible. The weapons had to be recalled last year, even as the military was trying to rush other weapons to the field.
Other equipment has disappeared in vast quantities, trainers in the field said, including sleeping bags and warm clothing required to operate much of the year, especially at night. The shortages were so acute in 2007 that units in the 82nd Airborne Division canceled overnight missions because Afghan soldiers could not participate.
A year later, the same shortages limited the work of Afghans in Nuristan Province.
One American officer said Afghan soldiers had been issued the gear, often two or three times. They had either sold it or given it to their families, he said.
This year, the American military said it issued storage containers to the army, and cold-weather gear had been locked up. It will be reissued in the fall, the military said.
Events on the patrol that became an intraplatoon brawl also underlined concerns about ammunition. Much of the Afghan government’s ammunition is old surplus donated by nations trimming arsenals or sold to the Pentagon by low-bidding contractors. For years, little was independently tested for reliability.
In Nuristan, the captain tried firing five rounds of 40-millimeter high-explosive ammunition at a cave. All five failed: three skipped off the cave’s face without exploding; two did not leave the barrel. The captain, Markus Trouerbach, was disgusted. “Dud!” he said. “Nice dud. Great.”
Later, he said that of 20 rounds fired during an exercise, 9 worked. An Afghan sergeant said he fired seven rounds at insurgents. Two did not explode.
The training command held its own test. Of 720 40-millimeter rounds fired, 22 did not work properly, according to two American officers; the command said it heard no other complaints.
The failure rate, 3 percent, was much less alarming than the troops’ experiences in Nuristan. But it exceeded by many times the acceptable failure rate of similar ammunition issued to American troops.
In interviews, three arms dealers and a manufacturer said the Pentagon paid less for the 40-millimeter ammunition than the ammunition typically costs to produce. They said Arcus, the Bulgarian firm manufacturer, provided substandard ammunition. (The vendors asked not to be identified out of fear of being blocked by the Pentagon from future bids.)
Arcus said the rounds had been made to exacting standards and passed company tests. Neither the Pentagon nor Arcus would discuss the ammunition deal in detail, including how the prices were arrived at, saying the information was proprietary.