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 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 Malou Innocent, was published by the Huffington Post, July 22, 2009
July has been the deadliest month yet for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. At least 27 troops have died so far this month, and an estimated 746 soldiers have died since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom.
To combat the growing Taliban insurgency, the United States recently dispatched 4,000 troops to Afghanistan's restive eastern and southern provinces. The influx of troops, known as Operation Strike of the Sword, will be aimed at clearing Taliban fighters from the lower Helmand River valley and closing the border with Pakistan.
But after nearly eight years of fighting in Afghanistan, the war's strategic rationale still remains tenuous. Given Afghanistan's numerous challenges, and the fact that a protracted guerrilla war will weaken the United States militarily and economically, the fundamental objective should be to get out of Afghanistan.
Eight years after the fall of the Taliban regime, the country still struggles to survive under the most brutal circumstances: corrupt and ineffective state institutions; thousands of miles of unguarded borders; pervasive illiteracy among a largely rural and decentralized population; a weak president; and a dysfunctional international alliance. As if that weren't enough, some of Afghanistan's neighbors have incentives to foment instability there. The elephant in the Pentagon
Recently, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who commanded special operations forces in Iraq and this month became the commander of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, said he wants to avoid more civilian deaths. Concern over civilian casualties makes sense in counterinsurgency, since the local population is the strategic center of gravity. I'll concede that the infusion of 21,000 more troops by the end of this year — which Obama approved within his first 100 days in office — may lead to a reduction in violence in the medium-term. But the elephant in the Pentagon is that the intractable cross-border insurgency will likely outlive the presence of international troops. Honestly, Afghanistan is not a winnable war by any stretch of the imagination.
Regardless, some analysts, like former national security advisor Henry Kissinger, argue that America must not withdraw from Afghanistan, because doing so would boost jihadism globally and make America look weak. But if leaving would make America look weak, trying to stay indefinitely while accomplishing little would appear even worse.
Take, for example, current operations to fight the Taliban, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Haqqani network, and other jihadist groups in Afghanistan. Despite the best efforts of the U.S. military to avoid harming innocents, the sheer magnitude of air strikes means that civilian casualties are inevitable. Thus, the argument that U.S. forces must remain in Afghanistan (apparently indefinitely) to protect America's reputation is dubious, because prolonging combat operations will kill even more civilians and reinforce the narrative that militants are fighting against foreign occupiers. Repeating the mistakes of Vietnam
Sadly, the longer we stay in Afghanistan and the more money we spend, the more we'll feel compelled to remain in the country to validate the investment. A similar self-imposed predicament plagued U.S. officials during the war in Vietnam. Oddly enough, when opinion leaders in Washington talk about "lessons learned" from Vietnam and other conflicts, they typically draw the wrong lesson: not that America should avoid intervening in someone else's domestic dispute, but that America should never give up after having intervened, no matter what the cost. Driven by that misguided analysis, the United States risks repeating the same mistake in Afghanistan.
Perhaps most troubling about the reflexive "stay the course" mentality of some Americans is the widespread insensitivity about the thousands of people — civilian and military, domestic and foreign — killed, maimed, and traumatized in war. But history shows that, sooner or later, disenchantment will manifest in public and congressional attitudes. After nearly a decade in Afghanistan, even the memory of 9/11 might not be sufficient to outweigh the sacrifice in blood and treasure.
Bureaucratic inertia and a misplaced conception of Washington's moral obligations (an argument that more often than not legitimizes America's military occupation of a foreign people) threaten to trap the United States in Afghanistan for decades. Overall, remaining in Afghanistan is more likely to tarnish America's reputation and undermine U.S. security than would withdrawal.
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.