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 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 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 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 Kimberly Kagan, was posted to the Af-Pak Channel, August 10, 2009
The war in Afghanistan has not been going well, and it is no surprise that Americans are frustrated. Many observers can rightly point to signs of progress: the functionality of specific Afghan government ministries and programs, the slow growth of the Afghan National Army, the building of major infrastructure such as roads and dams, and agricultural improvements. These accomplishments, however, have not created the conditions that the United States has aimed to achieve: an Afghan state with a competent government considered legitimate by its people and capable of defending them, such that Afghanistan can no longer function as a safe haven for Islamist terrorist groups. Indeed, as Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of coalition forces, recently suggested, the situation shows signs of deteriorating: Afghan enemy groups remain highly capable, have gained momentum, and have expanded their areas of operations. Violence against coalition forces is rising. So the question is: Why haven't we been winning in Afghanistan?
Although I served on McChrystal's assessment team, I do not know how he would answer this question, nor could I speculate about his recommendations for the strategy going forward. But after much research, as well as two visits to Afghanistan this year, I personally think that the military operations themselves are failing because there has been no coherent theaterwide counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. Despite U.S. President Barack Obama's newly announced "Af-Pak" strategy, the U.S. and coalition campaign this summer is a continuation of the poorly designed operations from 2008. And the sheer inertia of military operations means that it will be hard to turn this supertanker around for the better part of this year. But turn it around we must, starting with correcting the following flaws in the strategy that McChrystal and his team inherited from their predecessors. 1. Fighting in the wrong places NATO forces are widely dispersed throughout Afghanistan, even in the Pashtun areas in the south and east, rather than concentrated on one or two priorities. A possible exception is Helmand, the only province in which two brigades are deployed -- the British force and the recently arrived U.S. Marine expeditionary brigade. In contrast, during the surge in Iraq, the United States concentrated about half of its forces in Baghdad and its suburbs. Baghdad was the center of gravity of the fight. If we controlled it, we'd win; if the enemy controlled it, we'd lose. So five brigade combat teams -- roughly 25,000 troops with their enablers -- protected the city of 8 million people. Four more teams protected Baghdad's southern approaches, and at least one, sometimes two, additional teams protected the city's northern suburbs.
There is no simple equivalent to Baghdad in Afghanistan. Instead, most of the population -- and the insurgency -- is dispersed in rural areas. Nevertheless, some areas, such as Kandahar city and the districts around it, are more important -- to the enemy, to the Afghan government, and to us -- than others. And yet, there are almost no counterinsurgents whatsoever in all but two of the districts around Kandahar, and none in the city itself, just a scant footprint from the Afghanistan national security forces. Worse still, the ratio of counterinsurgents to the population in those two districts is approximately 1 to 44, close to the minimum requirement. A good evaluation of our priorities in Afghanistan would yield a significantly different, and more effective, distribution of coalition forces. This is undoubtedly why McChrystal recently told reporters that he will be concentrating forces around Kandahar city. 2. Fighting in the wrong ways Another problem is that NATO forces have briefed counterinsurgency doctrine better than they have practiced it. Almost all NATO units in Pashtun areas claim that they are protecting the population by engaging in a sequence of military operations known as "shape-clear-hold-build." But these forces move through the sequence too rapidly. Based on recent experiences in Iraq, shaping an area requires 30 to 45 days, clearing it requires three to six months, and holding it takes longer than that. With very few exceptions, NATO forces in Afghanistan have never operated on such timelines. They condense shaping and clearing operations into a few weeks, and then they transition prematurely into what they perceive as a hold phase. As a result, NATO forces rarely gain permanent control over areas -- or if they do, those areas are so small as to have little effect on the insurgency or the population. The enemy simply dissipates and then returns.
What's more, coalition and Afghan forces are excessively focused on securing supply lines and reducing the threat of improvised explosive devices through tactical efforts rather than by countering the insurgency. Consequently, many forces -- especially Afghan forces -- are distributed along the ring road, the main corridor that circles the country. Static positions such as these waste troops. Of course, our forces must be able to maneuver along strategic corridors, but the best way to do that is by securing populated areas and maneuvering off the ring road to defeat the enemy in its sanctuaries and support zones.
In other areas, combat forces are trying to do the right things but, again, in the wrong places. As the Iraq experience demonstrated, successful counterinsurgency often entails distributing forces from larger to smaller bases in order to live among the population. But in some remote areas of Afghanistan's eastern theater, such as Nuristan, where the enemy has little operational or strategic effect, combat forces have overextended themselves. They have moved off large forward operating bases, pushed into strategically insignificant areas, and established small combat outposts that can barely sustain themselves: The units there are too tiny to do anything but protect their outpost. A better approach is to concentrate forces for counterinsurgency operations and run greater risks in places of lesser importance. 3. Fighting with the wrong assumptions
What too often determines where coalition forces conduct their shape-clear-hold-build operations is the prospect for conducting development projects -- not population security. This tends to favor the important over the urgent, the possible over the necessary. For example, major combat operations in the British area of Helmand have been conducted in order to permit development. The Kajaki dam and the agricultural development zone near Lashkar Gah have driven the concentration of forces within the province and, indeed, within the southern region generally. In eastern Afghanistan, U.S. forces have conducted operations to build roads, such as the Khost-Gardez Pass road. These projects are important for long-term development, but they are only sometimes important for achieving our military objectives and should not be allowed to dictate the disposition of scarce military resources.
Moreover, military and civilian efforts in Afghanistan make the wrong assumptions about development. Too often they emphasize the value of a development project as a model -- as a demonstration of Afghan government competence and Western goodwill. Completing a specific dam, for example, shows the population that the Afghan government can provide services in general; clearing a specific village shows that the Afghan national security forces can secure the population in principle. But if the model is not replicated widely and rapidly, it's simply a demonstration of what might be accomplished. Demonstration effects will not defeat the insurgency. Either a venue is secure and has an operating government, or it does not. A good counterinsurgency plan succeeds by generating synergies among good, localized projects -- not by identifying a thousand points of light and hoping that they constitute an electrical grid. 4. Fighting successfully -- or failing? Metrics are important in any war, and based on recent reports, the Obama administration is preparing a new set of indicators to measure whether the fight in Afghanistan is succeeding. As important as identifying good metrics is rejecting bad ones. Violence against coalition forces, for example, is an unreliable indicator of success or failure. For one thing, as we saw in Iraq, violence against friendly forces can increase at the start of a counteroffensive to regain control of areas that the enemy holds. No violence, in turn, might mean that an area is completely controlled by the enemy. The metrics of success are not simply statistics, and they cannot be determined independently of a campaign plan, which sets out a hierarchy of tasks and objectives. 5. Can we win?
Some answer simply and sharply in the negative: They claim that Afghanistan has never been centrally ruled (which is wrong) and that it has been the "graveyard of empires" (which is true in only a specific handful of cases). Failure is not at all inevitable. The war in Afghanistan has suffered almost from the start from a lack of resources, especially the time and attention of senior policymakers. The United States prioritized the war in Iraq from 2007 until 2009, for strategically sound reasons. Some of this parsimony also comes from flawed theories of counterinsurgency: U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, for example, misreads the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, which has consistently led him to argue incorrectly against expanding the size of the force there, claiming that it increases the risks of failure.
We can win in Afghanistan, but only if we restructure the campaign and resource it properly. Adding more resources to the military effort as it has been conducted over the past few years, without fundamentally changing its conception, design, and execution, would achieve little. This was also the case in Iraq before the surge, and the change in strategy and campaign plan that followed was as important to success as the additional resources. This explains why McChrystal might adopt a different campaign design -- perhaps requiring additional military resources -- when he submits his formal assessment to the U.S. secretary of defense and NATO secretary-general sometime after the Afghan elections.
The fact that we have not been doing the right things for the past few years in Afghanistan is actually good news at this moment. A sound, properly resourced counterinsurgency has not failed in Afghanistan; it has never even been tried. So there is good reason to think that such a new strategy can succeed now. But we have to hurry, for as is often the case in these kinds of war, if you aren't winning, you're losing.
This article was posted to RAWA News, May 11, 2009.
Women in Afghanistan are routinely denied basic human rights, including education, healthcare, freedom from violence, and freedom of movement. Afghan women who fight to change this reality are attacked and even assassinated by ultra-conservatives.
Meanwhile, US airstrikes that kill civilians further endanger Afghan women and their families. They also increase the power of the Taliban and other reactionary forces as more Afghans turn to them for protection from the United States.
Each woman who is targeted and killed is meant to serve as a warning to any woman who would dare to stand up for her rights. Yet Afghan women continue to do just that. MADRE is supporting their courageous struggle through our Afghan Women's Survival Fund.
Below, we profile a few of the women who have been killed or threatened for daring to demand their rights.
Sitara Achakzai spent the years of Taliban rule in Germany and returned to Afghanistan in 2004 to join women working to promote their human rights and struggling to secure peace. She became a member of Kandahar's provincial council, using that position to advocate for women's rights.
For International Women's Day on March 8, 2009, she played a major role in organizing a national sit-in of more than 11,000 women in seven Afghan provinces. They were joined in this effort by women across the globe, who wore blue scarves in solidarity with the call for peace with justice.
On April 12, 2009, Sitara was gunned down in broad daylight in front of her home. As she stepped out of her car, four men on motorcycles drove by and opened fire. A Taliban spokesperson soon claimed responsibility. Just two weeks before, she had survived a suicide bomb attack on the provincial council building that left 13 people dead.
Safia Amajan fought for women's rights in Afghanistan for decades and served as the head of the women's department in Kandahar's city government. She began her career as a teacher at girls' schools. Her popularity as a teacher led people to refer to her as "Amajan" or "dear aunt," a name that stuck to her.
She opened six schools in Kandahar, training over 1,000 women. Her fight to ensure the right of girls to attend school made her a target of the Taliban.
On September 25, 2006, Safia was gunned down while leaving her home by two men on motorcycles. A Taliban spokesperson later announced that she had been "executed." Malalai Kakar, a woman who would later lose her life in much the same way, investigated her murder and said, "She was this wonderful person we heard about growing up in Kandahar. I made a point of meeting her and I took guidance from her."
Malalai Kakar was Afghanistan's most prominent policewoman, serving as the head of Kandahar's department for crimes against women. She was the first woman to attend and graduate from the Kandahar Police Academy.
She had joined the police force in 1982, following her father and brothers. Malalai knew that her high profile made her a target. She survived multiple assassination attempts, once emerging from a shoot-out with three assassins. In reference to threatening letters regularly pinned to her front door at night, she said, "The notes say things like 'Quit the force, or else.' Of course, I won't."
On September 28, 2008, as Malalai left her home for work, she was shot in her car and died instantly. Her teenaged son was injured in the attack. After her death, a Taliban spokesperson announced, "We killed Malalai Kakar. She was our target, and we successfully eliminated our target."
Shaima Rezayee became a pop culture icon for Afghan youth, as the host of "Hop," a music show on a private television network. Her appearances on the show, often wearing make-up and without a burqa, drew the condemnation of conservatives.
When questioned by a journalist, Shaima warned, "Things are not getting better. We made some gains, but there are a lot of people who want to take it all back. They are not even the Taliban, they are here in Kabul. … The bad days are coming back, we'll have to go into exile again."
On May 18, 2005, Shaima was shot and killed in her home.
Zarghuna Kakar (no relation to Malalai Kakar), a member of the provincial council in Kandahar, has repeatedly requested additional security from the government, knowing that being a woman politician puts her life at risk. She turned to Afghan President Karzai's brother for support, and she reports that he dismissed her saying that she "should have thought about what may happen before [she] stood for election." Zarghuna was with her family in a market when they were attacked, and her husband was killed. She has now fled her home and is in hiding.
Suraya Pakzad founded the Voice of Women Organization in 1988, secretly teaching Afghan women to read and providing shelter from domestic violence. The organization emerged from the underground with the end of the Taliban regime, but today she warns of the resurgence of those forces.
Her own life has been threatened because of her work, and she worries for her safety everyday. In an interview, Suraya said, "I change routes to go to the office. I cannot share my schedule even with my friends, with my staff and even sometimes I'm not secure using the phone."
Jamilla Mujahid Barzai, a member of the police force in Kandahar, was a colleague of Malalai Kakar. She decided to remain in Kandahar to continue her assassinated boss's work. She remembers having witnessed a woman summarily executed by the Taliban in a soccer stadium, and these attacks on women have stiffened her resolve. She explains, "It is most important that now women try to get to positions of power to stop things like that happening again. It is dangerous. But we cannot go back to those days again.
This article was posted to e-Arianna, May 20, 2009
KABUL — Deteriorating security is harming children in Afghanistan, where an explosion of deadly attacks have targeted schools and impeded access to vital health care, the UN children's agency said Wednesday.
In the first four months of this year, UNICEF recorded 73 incidents involving schools, including burnings, explosions, threats and attacks, which left 27 people dead.
This compared to 53 incidents for the same period in 2008 that resulted in three deaths, and 65 cases the previous year with 10 dead.
These attacks and incidents like mysterious gas poisonings that sickened scores of girls near Kabul recently, create fear and stop parents sending their children to school, UNICEF South Asia director Dan Toole said.
"We can't lose the progress we have made on education, such a huge improvement, such a difference for the future of Afghanistan," he told AFP.
"We have had attacks on villages, on schools by both anti-government elements as well as by coalition forces and international troops that have hit civilians," Toole said.
Hundreds of schools have closed in the south -- the main battlefield between the Taliban and Western-backed Afghan troops -- and most of the country's polio cases are in the same region where lack of security hampers vaccination drives.
Fighting linked to the growing Taliban-led insurgency has put much of the area out of bounds to international aid agencies, with UNICEF having offices in only two provinces in the dangerous south.
There have nonetheless been "huge improvements" in the conditions facing Afghan children since the fall of the Islamist Taliban regime in late 2001 following the US-led invasion, Toole said during a visit to Kabul.
"Many fewer children die now than they did in 2001, millions of children are in school now who weren't in 2001," he said.
"Gigantic efforts" are still required to cut Afghanistan's low rate of child survival and the high rate of women dying in child birth -- both among the most extreme in the world, he said.
Afghanistan has the world's third-highest mortality rate for children, with 257 of 1,000 dying before they turn five, according to UNICEF figures.
It also has the world's second-highest maternal mortality rate with around one in eight women dying because of childbirth with most cases preventable, according to UN figures.
This article, by Marie Cocco, was posted to Alternet, April 2, 2009
Afghanistan's women are no longer in vogue.
It was only a few years ago that Laura Bush, who normally shied from causes that could be considered controversial, took up their banner. "The brutal oppression of women is a central goal of the terrorists," the first lady said in a radio address shortly after President Bush launched the U.S-led invasion to overthrow the Taliban following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "The plight of women and children in Afghanistan is a matter of deliberate human cruelty, carried out by those who seek to intimidate and control."
That was then. This is now: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has just signed a law that forces women to obey their husbands' sexual demands, keeps women from leaving the house -- even for work or school -- without a husband's permission, automatically grants child custody rights to fathers and grandfathers before mothers, and favors men in inheritance disputes and other legal matters. In short, the law again consigns Afghan women to lives of brutal repression.
"This is really, really dangerous for everybody in Afghanistan," Soraya Sobhrang of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission said in a telephone interview from Kabul. Noting that violence against women already is rampant, Sobhrang said the new law effectively "legalizes all violence against women in Afghanistan."
The legislation zoomed through Afghanistan's parliament. Karzai, who faces elections in August, signed it in an apparent effort to placate conservative religious forces that are said to hold the balance of power in his re-election bid. The United Nations Development Fund for Women is still analyzing a final version of the legislation but says it is "seriously concerned." The law appears to contradict both the Afghan constitution, which guarantees equal rights for men and women, and international conventions on human rights.
The U.S. State Department has had no comment.
Afghanistan's women are, apparently, the latest casualty of the Obama administration's tilt toward realpolitik: ignore human rights violations -- whether they're in China or Russia or in the quiet misery of an Afghan villager's home -- in pursuit of larger foreign policy goals.
This contradiction between political rhetoric and policy reality has often been the American way. But now we have Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state. When she was first lady, she championed the rights of women oppressed by the Taliban long before most Americans had ever heard of that radical regime. Clinton took the helm of the State Department vowing to elevate the cause of human and economic rights for women and girls -- a pledge she made again in The Hague this week at the end of a major conference on Afghanistan that was aimed at securing greater international cooperation on the desperate and disparate crises there.
"My message is very clear. Women's rights are a central part of American foreign policy in the Obama administration; they are not marginal, they are not an add-on or an afterthought," Clinton said in response to a general question about the situation confronting women in Afghan society. "You cannot expect a country to develop if half its population [is] underfed, undereducated, under-cared-for, oppressed, and left on the sidelines."
The secretary was not asked specifically about the new law. Among its other provisions, it guarantees that married men can have sex once every four nights and wives must submit. In effect, it legalizes marital rape. Sobhrang worries there may be worse to come. "They are talking about child marriage," she says.
Without pressure from the foreign powers that hold so much sway in Afghanistan, there was little that even the women in the country's parliament could do. Sobhrang faults those who were quiet in the face of the clear effort by a religious faction to reimpose medieval mores on a country that is in many ways a ward of the contemporary international community.
The ugly truth is that Afghanistan has long been sliding back into the violent chaos that is friendly political ground for the Taliban and other extremist groups. Women have, as usual, been among the chief victims.
There is indeed a lengthy and urgent to-do list for the Obama administration, which says it is determined to abandon a failing course. But that does not mean the United States should again fail Afghanistan's women.
To consign them to what Laura Bush correctly called "deliberate human cruelty" is cruelty itself.
I will warn to anyone reading this post that I'm currently operating in a white-hot frothing rage. I will also point out for new readers that as a domestic violence survivor and personal assault survivor, my biases are probably almost definitely in play.
That careful diplomatic statement said, allow me to say,
What happened to that whole "We're protecting women's rights in Afghanistan" thing?|
The Guardian has the story: "Worse than the Taliban? New Law Rolls Back Rights for Afghan Women" Marital rape legalized, unless you have a "good excuse, like being sick or something"?
You want to hear a good 'excuse'? It's called "I don't want to have sex with you". That's all the 'excuse' anyone should need. It's called consent. Marrying someone doesn't give it up. Nothing can give it up. That's the biggest violation I can possibly imagine. And yes, I have a personal stake in this, because that's what my command said to me the first time I went to them for help [Editor's note: not my current command], that you can't get abused like that by your husband.
This entire law is nothing but a careful veneer of civility on domestic violence. Like just because you marry someone ,they have a right to abuse you. They have a right to beat you. They have a right to take your money away. They have a right to force you not to leave the house. To /ask permission before you see the fucking doctor/, for god's sake. They have a right to rape you. If you didn't want it, you shouldn't have gotten married. Oh, and those kids? You can't get custody of them. Have fun waving goodbye to any human rights they'll have as you realize there is no escape.
And this is the Afghan government we support? The one we say is going to be the savior of human rights and women's rights? What the fuck have we accomplished? I understand not intervening in other governments and interrupting sovereignity, but this is OUR PUPPET GOVERNMENT! I mean, I don't support sock puppet governments, but if we're going to have one, if we're going to prop up Karzai on his tottering political legs, can we at least get some use out of his yes-man status to avoid crap like this? This is so vile, so utterly vile, I can't even comment on it civilly at the moment. Maybe later I'll work up something reasonable and rational for Military Pundits, I'm not going to rant quite this much at 1SG Grisham's "house". But can anyone view this without anger? Seriously?