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 M K Bhadrakumar, was published in the Asia Times, November 9, 2009
Afghans do not like Britain's tutorial - not only on good governance but on any topic under the sun.
For a fleeting hour or two, a question hung in the rapidly chilling autumn air in the Hindu Kush: did British Prime Minister Gordon Brown speak last weekend at the behest of United States President Barack Obama or did he speak out of turn, as even experienced politicians are wont to? Then it went away. It really does not matter either way.
The damage has been done. Brown's speech on Afghanistan at the Royal College of Defense Studies in London on Friday was appalling in its content, timing and context. Perhaps, the indiscretion was deliberate. Politicians all over need to ventilate frustrations once in a while. Whenever cornered, they instinctively look for a scapegoat.
Things are not going well for the British troops deployed in Afghanistan. Ninety-three men have been killed this year - and, as Brown poignantly said, "That 93 is not just a number. Ninety-three families whose lives will never be the same again; 93 families without a dad, or a husband, a brother or son; 93 families this Christmas with a place at their table no one else will ever be able to fill."
A truly tragic situation, indeed. This tragedy was brought down on the British people by Brown's predecessor, Tony Blair, who should not have so enthusiastically volunteered for the war in 2001 when the George W Bush administration was contemplating the invasion of Afghanistan as one of the options to mitigate the anguish and anger the American people felt after the September 11 attacks. Of all countries in Europe, Britain knows Afghanistan best, after all. It is not the Falklands.
The British government is under pressure to explain the meaning of this war to a baffled public opinion. At the same time, paradoxically, the British establishment is keeping its fingers crossed and hoping against hope that Obama doesn't waffle.
Hanging onto the American coat-tails and keeping an open-ended presence in the heart of Asia bordering Iran, Central Asia, Xinjiang and Kashmir is critically important for Britain strategically to sustain its residual standing as a "global power" at the present transformational period in the world order, when the US is increasingly turning its attention to the East.
However, all this play still does not justify Brown's speech. Simply put, Afghans do not like Britain's tutorial - not only on good governance but on any topic under the sun. There is a long history behind contemporary Anglo-Afghan relations, which Afghans haven't forgotten. Two, Brown could have avoided the use of undiplomatic language - "Cronies and warlords should have no place in the future of a democratic Afghanistan." That's old-fashioned imperial language.
Three, Brown went far too "personal" - finger-pointing at President Hamid Karzai repeatedly by name. You don't finger-point at the president of a sovereign country. Four, Brown butted into a "no-go" zone - Karzai's appointments of cabinet ministers and provincial governors in his new government, having been re-elected for a second five-year term.
These appointments are central to the political contract in Kabul and it is extremely doubtful if Karzai is in a position to oblige Britain or any foreign power. At any rate, it is a bad idea for outside powers to arbitrate between Afghan groups and personalities during a cabinet formation.
The efficiency bar is never applied to power brokers in this part of the world. Look at India, Bangladesh or Pakistan, the three biggest "democracies" in South Asia. Few technocrats or professionals hold ministerial posts in the governments in Delhi, Dhaka or Islamabad. There is a cultural context that cannot be overlooked. Ministerial positions are considered as sinecure positions in these countries. Often there is a need to ensure equilibrium between different interest groups by accommodating them in cabinet positions.
In this part of the world, no one asks uncomfortable questions as to whether the politicians holding ministerial posts are indeed worthy of their exalted status - whether they have had formal education or are intellectually endowed and can think through problems and issues or are professionally competent. It is simply assumed that they are where they are because of what they are as politicians.
Besides, according to the Afghan constitution, Karzai has to go to parliament and seek endorsements for his cabinet appointments - a criteria that is lacking in India or Bangladesh or Pakistan. There is a power calculus at work in Kabul, one that cannot be micromanaged by Karzai.
Therefore, what Karzai can be expected to do is to appoint efficient civil servants to assist the political figures - "cronies and warlords" - who sit in his cabinet. On the contrary, what Western countries are trying to do is to impose on Karzai an English-speaking cabinet. Such an approach can only have one outcome, that is, a government that pulls in a dozen or more directions with no one in charge. That will be a sure recipe for greater inefficiency and corruption.
Therefore, Britain seems to be needlessly muddying the waters in the Afghan leader's difficult equations with the West, and this right on the eve of Obama's announcement of his new war strategy. What the calculation behind this could be is hard to tell. If any North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member country is singularly responsible for the deterioration of Karzai's equations with the West, it is Britain. And it all began as a scuffle over the appointment of provincial governors in Helmand and over the creation of the post of a viceroy for Lord Paddy Ashdown to browbeat Karzai, and it progressively widened into a rift that inveigled third parties.
The Afghan Foreign Ministry didn't even take a full day to rebuff the British leader's "instructions on the composition of Afghan governmental organs and the political policy of Afghanistan".
Now, what does London do? Is the British contingent in Helmand going to be withdrawn, which was precisely what Brown threatened he would do? Clearly, Karzai should be allowed to have a team of his choice in Kabul. He is entitled to it, just as is any occupant of No 10 Downing Street in London.
For argument's sake, what are Britain's choices today? If Karzai chooses his ways and policies and doesn't follow London's guidelines, will Britain remove him from power? Even assuming that Britain had such profound influence or clout, who would replace him? The three Afghan leaders in the succession chain would be Karzai's first and second vice presidents and the speaker of parliament. From the current lineup, Britain will have to settle for Mohammed Fahim, Karim Khalili or Younus Qanooni.
Thereby hangs a tale. It is yet to sink in that Karzai's victory signifies a turning point in Afghan politics. He rubbished the shenanigans in the Western political armory. Karzai's appearance on the victory rostrum in front of the Western media, flanked by Fahim and Khalili, said it all. If the West has not grasped the meaning of it, then it has lost its way completely.
Secondly, a splendid occasion is at hand to gracefully "legitimize" Karzai II, as French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner suggested last week in an interview with the New York Times. Kouchner pointed out that Western political experts who knew nothing about Afghanistan detected fraud by sampling ballots. "This is science. But politics is not science. It's the common touch," he said.
Kouchner obviously desires a good working relationship with Karzai's government. France has deployed a 3,000-strong contingent in Afghanistan. That is a sensible approach. Of all Western statesmen today who articulate on Afghanistan, Kouchner has a special claim to offer advice. He knows Afghanistan. He was a participant in the Afghan jihad in the 1980s, living and working inside Afghanistan as a young doctor assisting the mujahideen.
Equally, Kouchner underlined that NATO is in a virtual quagmire in Afghanistan. He asked with biting sarcasm, "What is the goal? What is the road? And in the name of what? Where are the Americans? It begins to be a problem. We [NATO] need to talk to one another as allies."
The West should propose to Karzai to seek help from all available quarters, especially from regional powers and other regional security bodies that are wiling to cooperate. At the present stage, as a reconciliation process with the Taliban is about to commence, the attempt should be to lend credence to Karzai's standing as far as possible, but at any rate not to discredit it for whatever reason. Karzai is not the enemy. He still prefers to be on the side of the Western alliance. Allow him to continue to the extent he can while navigating his way in a political arena of immense complexity.
It is not in the interests of Afghanistan's stabilization that a cabal of foreign countries - the US, Britain, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan - continues to hold the strings of conflict-resolution. Clearly, this is not the time for Britain's "great game" maneuverings in pursuit of its lost glory as a world power. The best bet for NATO is to get behind Karzai as quickly as possible.
Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.
This article, by Greg Grant, was posted to Military.com, October 26, 2009
It was all things Afghanistan and Pakistan at the House Armed Services Committee with lawmakers weighing the viability of a counterterrorism approach versus population centric counterinsurgency and Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s new strategy. An interesting aspect of this debate is the level of knowledge shown by some members of Congress on everything from the proper troop to civilian ratio called for in classic counterinsurgency doctrine to the intricacies of the Tajik versus Pashtun balance in Afghanistan.
The Obama administration has taken some serious heat in recent days for what former Vice President Dick Cheney called "dithering" over the decision to escalate in Afghanistan or not. The reliably hawkish Tom Donnelly of AEI, part of the escalate often and everywhere crowd, even provided an exhaustive timeline of the Obama administration’s "long road to indecision" that can be found here.
Two prominent retired generals Barry McCaffrey and David Barno, testifying before the HASC Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee on Thursday, both said it was important the administration take some time on this one. McCaffrey pointed to what he called one of the most "shameful" episodes in recent history when former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld claimed he was never asked for his viewpoint on invading Iraq before the war. It is important that the senior Obama administration officials take their time and think through the various options because once they decide, "they will own the decision."
While urging full deliberation, both generals were pretty clear how they want that decision to ultimately turn out. For his part, McCaffrey favors escalation and called the over-the-horizon counterterrorism approach a "silly option." He suggests sending 100,000 more troops, not just the 40,000 reportedly wanted by McChrystal. Promises have been made, he said, and not just at the national level when the Bush administration said the U.S. would lead an effort to rebuild Afghanistan. Young American troops on the ground in Afghanistan, waging a war for the will of the Afghan people, make promises every day that the U.S. will be there for them and protect them if they take sides against the Taliban.
McCaffrey said a tribal and ethnic war is underway for control of both Afghanistan and Pakistan and the security implications of Islamic extremists seizing power in either location are too serious not to escalate the U.S. military commitment to the region. Because of the inability of non-governmental and aid organizations to function in Afghanistan due to the security concerns, he recommended sending at least two engineering brigades and a slew of Army Corps of Engineer folks to work on large development projects.
If the military effort stumbles in Afghanistan and the U.S. were to seriously draw down there, it would likely spell the end of NATO as a military alliance, said Barno. To declare success and pull out now, would simply mean the U.S. military would be forced to re-invade the country at some future date when Islamic radicals take power in Kabul and re-establish a terrorist sanctuary there. Barno also favors an escalation of the troop commitment in Afghanistan along the lines of McChrystal’s rumored 40,000 troop request.
Many Afghans have been forced to choose a side in this war, and they have sided with the U.S. and NATO against the Taliban, said Beth Ellen Cole, of the United States Institute of Peace. A Taliban takeover could condemn many of them to a very bleak future, she said, "we have a lot of exposed people on the ground right now." She pointed to efforts at reconstruction and peacekeeping in both Rwanda and Sierra Leone as examples that the international community can in fact improve the lot of war torn countries.
This article, by Gareth Porter, was posted to ipsnews.net, October 15, 2009
WASHINGTON, Oct 15 (IPS) - A veteran Army officer who has served in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars warns in an analysis now circulating in Washington that the counterinsurgency strategy urged by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal is likely to strengthen the Afghan insurgency, and calls for withdrawal of the bulk of U.S. combat forces from the country over 18 months.
In a 63-page paper representing his personal views, but reflecting conversations with other officers who have served in Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis argues that it is already too late for U.S. forces to defeat the insurgency.
"Many experts in and from Afghanistan warn that our presence over the past eight years has already hardened a meaningful percentage of the population into viewing the United States as an army of occupation which should be opposed and resisted," writes Davis.
Providing the additional 40,000 troops that Gen. McChrystal has reportedly requested "is almost certain to further exacerbate" that problem, he warns.
Davis was a liaison officer between the Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan (CFC-A) and the Central Command in 2005, just as the Afghan insurgency was becoming a significant problem for the U.S. military. In that assignment he both consulted with the top U.S. officers and staff of the CFC-A and traveled widely throughout Afghanistan visiting U.S. and NATO combat units.
He also commanded a U.S. military transition team on the Iraqi border with Iran in 2008-09.
In the paper, Davis suggests what he calls a "Go Deep" strategy as an alternative to the recommendation from McChrystal for a larger counterinsurgency effort, which he calls "Go Big".
The "Go Deep" strategy proposed by Davis would establish an 18-month time frame during which the bulk of U.S. and NATO combat forces would be withdrawn from the country. It would leave U.S. Special Forces and their supporting units, and enough conventional forces in Kabul to train Afghan troops and police and provide protection for U.S. personnel.
The forces that continue to operate in insurgent-dominated areas would wage "an aggressive counterterrorism effort" aimed in part at identifying Taliban and al Qaeda operatives. The strategy would also provide support for improved Afghan governance and training for security forces.
Davis argues that a large and growing U.S. military presence would make it more difficult to achieve this counterterrorism objective. By withdrawing conventional forces from the countryside, he suggests, U.S. strategy would deprive the insurgents of "easily identifiable and lucrative targets against which to launch attacks".
Typically insurgents attack U.S. positions not for any tactical military objective, Davis writes, but to gain a propaganda victory.
The "Go Deep" strategy outlined in the paper appears to parallel the shift in strategy from counterinsurgency to counterterrorism being proposed by some officials in discussions in the White House in recent weeks.
After reading Davis's paper, Col. Patrick Lang, formerly the defence intelligence officer for the Middle East, told IPS he regards the "Go Deep" strategy as "a fair representation of the alternative to the one option in General McChrystal's assessment".
Lang said he doubts that those advising Obama to shift to a counterterrorism strategy are calling specifically for the withdrawal of most combat troops, but he believes such a withdrawal "is certainly implicit in the argument".
Davis told IPS he was surprised to hear from one official in a high position in Washington whose reaction to his paper was that what he is proposing in place of the "Go Big" option is still "too big".
Davis said his views on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan have been shaped both by his personal experiences traveling throughout Afghanistan during his 2005 tour of duty and by conversations with U.S. military officers who have recently returned from Afghanistan.
"Mostly it was guys who've been out there in the field," said Davis. "They have a different view from those who work in the headquarters."
"I think there's a whole lot of folks out there who agree with this," he said.
He was flown out of Iraq for medical treatment in early June after suffering a partial loss of vision, and has been temporarily reassigned to the Defence Intelligence Agency. However, Davis said he was not assigned to work on Afghanistan and did the work on his Afghanistan strategy paper entirely on his own.
Davis said he had received permission from his immediate supervisor at DIA to circulate his personal analysis and recommendations on Afghanistan on the condition that he used only unclassified, open source information.
In the paper, Davis argues that the counterinsurgency strategy recommended by McChrystal would actually require a far larger U.S. force than is now being proposed. Citing figures given by Marine Corps Col. Julian Dale Alford at a conference last month, Davis writes that training 400,000 Afghan army and police alone would take 18 brigades of U.S. troops – as many as 100,000 U.S. troops when the necessary support troops are added.
The objective of expanding the Afghan security forces to 400,000, as declared in McChrystal's "initial assessment", poses other major problems as well, according to Davis.
He observes that the costs of such an expansion have been estimated at three to four times more than Afghanistan's entire Gross Domestic Product. Davis asks what would happen if the economies of the states which have pledged to support those Afghan personnel come under severe pressures and do not continue the support indefinitely.
"It would be irresponsible to increase the size of the military to that level," he writes, "convincing hundreds of thousands of additional Afghan men to join, giving them field training and weapons, and then at some point suddenly cease funding, throwing tens of thousands out of work."
The result, he suggests, would be similar to what followed the U.S. failure to reassemble the Iraqi Army after the invasion of March 2003.
Davis also cites "growing anecdotal evidence" that popular anger at the abuses of power by the Afghan National Police has increased support for the insurgency.
He calls for scaling back the increase in Afghan security forces to the original targets of 134,000 Army troops and 80,000 national police. The crucial factor in determining the future of the country, he argues, is not the numbers of security personnel but whether they continue to abuse the population.
If that pattern of behaviour were to change dramatically, Davis says, "the number of Taliban fighters will dwindle to manageable numbers as those presently filling their ranks will no longer be motivated to fight".
Davis challenges two arguments now being made in support of the counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan based on the Iraq experience: that a troop surge would help establish security and that the U.S. military can reduce insurgency by replicating the "Sons of Iraq" programme of bringing insurgents into militias that oppose their former allies.
The "surge" in Iraq was successful for a variety of reasons peculiar to Iraq and not duplicated in Afghanistan, Davis argues. And the "Sons of Iraq" was primarily the result of the alienation of the Sunni population by al Qaeda, which trumped Sunni opposition to the U.S. presence.
"[T]here is little to suggest," he writes in reference to the areas where the Taliban has gained power, "that the population as a whole has reached a tipping point whereby they are ready to support the coalition against the Taliban."
Challenging the argument of supporters of a larger war effort that it is necessary to avoid an increased risk of new terrorist attacks, Davis argues that being "myopically focused" on Afghanistan "at the expense of the rest of the world" increases the likelihood of an attack.
The present level of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, he writes, will "make it more likely that terrorist organizations will take advantage of the opportunity to plan and train elsewhere for the next big attack."
This article, by Harvey Wassereman, was published by the Rag Blog, October 24, 2009
Some military coups are still done the old-fashioned way. Tanks surround the capital, generals grab the radio station, the slaughter begins.
Here, the Declaration of Independence scorned King George III for elevating his army over our colonial legislatures. The founders opposed a standing army. Our first Commander George Washington warned against military entanglements. So did Dwight Eisenhower nearly two centuries later. These "quaint" monuments to civilian rule form the core of our constitutional culture.
So when the Pentagon wants to trash inconvenient opposition and escalate yet another war, it seeks subtler means. For example: the "virtual coup" now being staged in league with the New York Times, aimed at plunging us catastrophically deeper into Afghanistan.
It's how they drove us into the abyss in Vietnam and Iraq. It demands we decide who will rule -- the Pentagon, or the public.
It was the military's manipulative misreporting in Vietnam that fueled Lyndon Johnson's 1965 disastrous escalation. With the much-medalled William Westmoreland front and center, the Pentagon concocted a non-existent attack in the Gulf of Tonkin, warned that a communist victory would bring on the Apocalypse, told LBJ he could win, and ran its occupation army up to 550,000 troops.
When its last advisors fled in shame off that Saigon rooftop, the Pentagon blamed those who had opposed the war from the start. It assaulted the heroic independent reporters who exposed the war's true horrors. It even attacked the corporate media that had been its willing partner in the war's creation.
To its credit, the Times broke from its early support, making welcome history by publishing the Pentagon Papers, among much else. As today, it published opposing views all the way through.
But its big guns enlisted again in Iraq. The Bush Administration needed no convincing, but the American public did. Led by warhawk cheerleaders Thomas Friedman and Judith Miller, the Journal of Record sold a war based on Weapons of Mass Destruction and Dick Cheney's "grateful" Iraqi citizenry, both of which were non-existent.
Today central casting has brought us Stanley McChrystal to rerun the role of Westmoreland/Cheney. Now the hero of an endless stream of hauntingly familiar puff pieces, the General's carefully leaked "secret" demand for "a bare minimum" of 40,000 more troops to avoid "mission failure" has become the ultimate blackmail note, the core of a virtual coup in the making.
It comes as the Times concocts a report on "frustrations and anxiety [that] are on the rise within the military." Among “active duty and retired senior officers” there is "concern that the president is moving too slowly, is revisiting a war strategy he announced in March and is unduly influenced by political advisers in the Situation Room."
"Unduly influenced by political advisers?" Does this mean that for the Commander in Chief, elected by the people of the United States, advice is duly acceptable only from hawks in uniform?
Joining Tom Friedman (again!) is the Times's Roger Cohen, who says Obama needs "endurance" because if we lose in "Afghanistan, Pakistan and Pashtunistan" there "would be a disaster for Western security."
Sub in "Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos" and you can be reminded that our military is again backing a cabal of world-class heroin dealers.
And would the "loss" of AfPak, whatever that means, be a greater "disaster for Western security" than another trillion dollars diverted from education, health care, the environment, and domestic employment in a nation in deep financial chaos?
McChrystal is certainly entitled to his First Amendment rights. But so far, the American public is not buying. Polls show the country deeply divided, with slight majorities opposed to McChrystal's demand for more troops. That means, there is nothing like the public consensus that should be required for any military excursion.
The key may be the money. In the booming sixties, we could "afford" to blow $100 billion or more on a futile, senseless war merely by bankrupting our health care system, blowing college tuitions through the roof, sacking our infrastructure, failing to upgrade our grid and power systems, debasing our currency, falling from an exporting powerhouse to an import addict, and much more.
The Pentagon's gratuitous squander of another trillion in Iraq has helped squeeze the last of that "fat" out of our economy. A U.S. far beyond the brink of bankruptcy is being told to "stay the course" in the Graveyard of Great Powers, a country the size of Texas, a deathtrap to every invader for the past 2,300 years, including the Soviet Union. Pakistan is about twice the size of California. AfPak together have more than 200,000,000 people, more than 2/3 the population of the U.S.
Official military reports say there are about 100 members of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Despite the global nature of terrorism we are allegedly there to stamp out, no other nation seems compelled to join us there in any meaningful way.
Obama was elected in large part because the American public has sensed that -- unlike his predecessor or opponent -- he is intelligent enough to grasp all this. He ran promising a full commitment in Afghanistan. Now he has dared to take his time making a final decision. But will he have the courage to stand against the brass at crunch time?
Robert Gates, the Bush holdover at Defense, who won't set a timetable for withdrawal, has gone public with his demand for more troops. As Yale's David Bromwich puts it, the brass at The Times wants "a large escalation in Afghanistan. The paper has been made nervous by signs that the president may not make the big push for a bigger war; and they are showing what the rest of his time in office will be like if he does not cooperate."
In other words, the virtual tanks have again surrounded the White House.
We cannot let them win. Another bloody, trillion-dollar Lone Ranger fiasco will definitively end any hope for health care, employment, education, the environment, a decent life for our children.
As usual, the Pentagon will be enriched and empowered. We will be impoverished and disenfranchised. Isn't that what coups are all about?
So when the military and its minions demand we defer to their "experts," we might recall the Cuban Missile Crisis. At its most terrifying peak, President John Kennedy -- himself genuine war hero -- polled the Joint Chiefs on how to respond to Soviet warheads in the western hemisphere. The generals unanimously demanded a nuclear attack. Thankfully, the president and his brother, the Attorney General, stood their ground.
Obama must now do the same. There are nuances in all global conflicts. But in an electronic age, when perception means virtually everything, the question is not just what happens in Afghanistan.
It is who rules here at home -- the Pentagon, or the public.
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 Gareth Porter, was distributed by the Inter-Press Service, September 22, 2009
WASHINGTON, Sep 22 (IPS) - The leak of the "initial assessment" of the war in Afghanistan by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top commander in the war, with its blunt warning that "[f]ailure to provide adequate resources" is likely to result in "mission failure", was part of an obvious effort to force the hand of a reluctant President Barack Obama to agree to a significant increase in U.S. troops.
The version of the classified McChrystal assessment published on the Washington Post website Monday has many redactions, indicating that it had been prepared especially for the purpose of leaking it the press.
What may be even more important about McChrystal's assessment, however, is that it presents a highly discouraging picture of the situation in Afghanistan – and that the Integrated Civilian-Military Campaign Plan for Afghanistan to which he had agreed just three weeks earlier was even more pessimistic than his "initial assessment".
The integrated campaign plan, signed by McChrystal and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry on Aug. 10, said that popular rejection of the Afghan government in the Pashtun region of the country is already so pronounced that "key groups" are supporting the Taliban as the only available alternative to a government they regard as abusive.
The integrated campaign plan is marked "Sensitive but Unclassified", and has not been released to the public, but a copy has been obtained by IPS.
Both documents acknowledge fundamental socio-political realities that raise serious questions about the feasibility of the counterinsurgency programme that McChrystal outlines in his assessment, but McChrystal's assessment altered or softened some central conclusions of the integrated campaign plan.
The most important difference between the two documents is their conclusion about how much popular support the insurgents have already gained. The McChrystal assessment suggests that the insurgents have been unable to obtain uncoerced popular support.
"Major insurgent groups use violence, coercion and intimidation against civilians to control the population," the assessment says. It concludes that "popular enthusiasm" for the Taliban and other insurgent groups "appears limited, as does their ability to spread beyond the Pashtun areas".
Pashtuns are by far the largest ethnic group in the country, with 40 to 45 percent of the population, and predominate across most of Afghanistan's territory, from the far west across the entire south to the east.
While denying popular support for the insurgency, however, McChrystal admits that some factors, such as "a natural aversion to foreign intervention" and tribal and ethnic identities that are reinforced by "historical grievances" have resulted in "elements of the population tolerating the insurgency and calling to push out foreigners".
The integrated campaign plan goes further, suggesting that the Taliban have gotten support because they are seen as the only feasible alternative to an abusive government. It notes that most Afghans reject the "Taliban ideology", but concludes, "Key groups have become nostalgic for the security and justice Taliban rule provided."
The two documents use different terms to describe the political failure of the Afghan government and its consequences. The McChrystal assessment refers to a popular "crisis of confidence" in the government. But the integrated campaign plan calls it a "crisis of legitimacy" and says the insurgents have "derived some legitimacy by appealing to ideological affinities and fears of 'foreign occupation' as well as in quick provision of local justice."
The two documents also differ on what progress can be expected in carrying out an ambitious agenda for change outlined in the integrated campaign plan.
McChrystal's assessment simply presents the broad strategy and the objectives that must be achieved in regard to providing security, increasing Afghan government security forces and reform of governance. It does not consider the risks or likelihood of failure in regard to any these objective.
The integrated campaign plan, however, does consider risks and the possibility of failure. It makes the identification of corrupt local officials and punishing them or changing their behaviour a priority objective, for example.
But it also warns that the Afghan government and its warlord allies in the provinces, who have no real interest in changing the status quo, may well be able to frustrate such efforts at reform. The plan even suggests Karzai might "replace several effective government officials with ineffective or corrupt individuals".
It raises the possibility that "dashed hopes" about reducing Afghan government corruption could create a "backlash" against the ISAF.
Another risk anticipated by the plan is that the Afghan elections of Aug. 20 would be "widely viewed as unfair" and would lead to "a political crisis and/or increased perception of GIRoA [Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan] illegitimacy". Reporting during the month since the election suggests that such an expectation was quite realistic.
Although it clearly pulls its punches on some key issues, the McChrystal assessment nevertheless contains some remarkably candid language for an official document – let alone one clearly intended to justify the escalation of the war.
McChrystal acknowledges the problem of warlords – referring to them as "local and regional power brokers" – who have autonomy from the government and in some cases hold positions in the Afghan National Security Forces, particularly the Afghan National Police.
He also refers to the fact that ISAF has "relationships" with the warlords, these "individuals", meaning that foreign military contingents have many contracts with them to provide security services and rely heavily on them for intelligence.
Those relationships, McChyrstal observes, "can be problematic". For one thing, he observes, the Afghan public perceives the ISAF as "complicit" in official Afghan abuses of power.
This degree of realism about the fundamental socio-political conditions bearing on the success or failure of a counterinsurgency war found in both the McChrystal assessment and the integrated campaign plan is highly unusual, if not unparalleled, in U.S. military policymaking. In this case, it apparently helped precipitate a crisis in U.S. Afghan policy.
Along with the blatantly fraudulent election run by President Hamid Karzai's regime and the sharp downturn in domestic U.S. political support for the war in Afghanistan, the fundamental obstacles to success discussed candidly in the two documents were part of the context of Obama's scepticism about McChrystal's troop request.
Thus they contributed to his decision to engage in what one senior administration official has called "a very, very serious review of all options", according to the report by Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Karen DeYoung in the Washington Post Monday.
This article, by Conn Hallinan, was posted to Foreign Policy in Focus, September 10, 2009
One of the oddest — indeed, surreal — encounters around the war in Afghanistan has to be a telephone call this past July 27. On one end of the line was historian Stanley Karnow, author of Vietnam: A History. On the other, State Department special envoy Richard Holbrooke and the U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal. The question: How can Washington avoid the kind of defeat it suffered in Southeast Asia 40 years ago?
Karnow did not divulge what he said to the two men, but he told Associated Press that the "lesson" of Vietnam "was that we shouldn't have been there," and that, while "Obama and everybody else seems to want to be in Afghanistan," he, Karnow, was opposed to the war.
It is hardly surprising that Washington should see parallels to the Vietnam debacle. The enemy is elusive enemy. The local population is neutral, if not hostile. And the governing regime is corrupt with virtually no support outside of the nation's capital.
But in many ways Afghanistan is worse than Vietnam. So, it is increasingly hard to fathom why a seemingly intelligent American administration seems determined to hitch itself to this disaster in the making. It is almost as if there is something about that hard-edged Central Asian country that deranges its occupiers. Delusion #1 In his address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Obama characterized Afghanistan as "a war of necessity" against international terrorism. But the reality is that the Taliban is a polyglot collection of conflicting political currents whose goals are local, not universal jihad.
"The insurgency is far from monolithic," says Anand Gopal, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor based in Afghanistan. "There are shadowy, kohl-eyed mullahs and head-bobbing religious students, of course, but there are also erudite university students, poor illiterate farmers, and veteran anti-Soviet commanders. The movement is a mélange of nationalists, Islamists, and bandits...made up of competing commanders and differing ideologies and strategies who nonetheless agree on one essential goal: kicking out the foreigners."
Taliban spokesman Yousef Ahmadi told Gopal, "We are fighting to free our country from foreign domination," adding, "Even the Americans once waged an insurgency to free their country."
Besides the Taliban, there are at least two other insurgent groups. Hizb-I-Islam is led by former U.S. ally Gulbuddin Hekmatyer. The Haqqani group, meanwhile, has close ties to al-Qaeda.
The White House's rationale of "international terrorism" parallels the Southeast Asian tragedy. The U.S. characterized Vietnam as part of an international Communist conspiracy, while the conflict was essentially a homegrown war of national liberation. Delusion #2
One casualty of Vietnam was the doctrine of counterinsurgency, the theory that an asymmetrical war against guerrillas can be won by capturing the "hearts and minds" of the people. Of course "hearts and minds" was a pipe dream, obliterated by massive civilian casualties, the widespread use of defoliants, and the creation of "strategic hamlets" that had more in common with concentration camps than villages.
In Vietnam's aftermath, "counterinsurgency" fell out of favor, to be replaced by the "Powell Doctrine" of relying on massive firepower to win wars. With that strategy the United States crushed the Iraqi army in the first Gulf War. Even though the doctrine was downsized for the invasion of Iraq a decade later, it was still at the heart of the attack.
However, within weeks of taking Baghdad, U.S. soldiers were besieged by an insurgency that wasn't in the lesson plan. Ambushes and roadside bombs took a steady toll on U.S. and British troops, and aggressive countermeasures predictably turned the population against the occupation.
After four years of getting hammered by insurgents, the Pentagon rediscovered counterinsurgency, and its prophet was General David Petraeus, now commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia. "Hearts and minds" was dusted off, and the watchwords became "clear, hold, and build." Troops were to hang out with the locals, dig wells, construct schools, and measure success not by body counts of the enemy, but by the "security" of the civilian population.
This theory impelled the Obama administration to "surge" 21,000 troops into Afghanistan, and to consider adding another 20,000 in the near future. The idea is that a surge will reduce the violence, as a similar surge of 30,000 troops had done in Iraq. Delusion #3 But as Patrick Cockburn of The Independent discovered, the surge didn't work in Iraq.
With the possible exception of Baghdad, it wasn't U.S. troops that reduced the violence in Iraq, but the decision by Sunni insurgents that they could no longer fight a two-front war against the Iraqi government and the United States. The ceasefire by Shi'ite cleric and Madhi Army leader Muqtada al-Sadr also helped calm things down. In any case, as recent events have demonstrated, the "peace" was largely illusory.
Not only is a similar "surge" in Afghanistan unlikely to be successful, the formula behind counterinsurgency doctrine predicts that the Obama administration is headed for a train wreck.
According to investigative journalist Jordan Michael Smith, the "U.S/ Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual" — co-authored by Petraeus — recommends "a minimum of 20 counterinsurgents per 1,000 residents. In Afghanistan, with its population estimated at 33 million, that would mean at least 660,000 troops." And this requires not just any soldiers, but soldiers trained in counterinsurgency doctrine. The numbers don't add up. The United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies currently have about 64,000 troops in Afghanistan, and that figure would rise to almost 100,000 when the present surge is completed. Some 68,000 of those will be American. There is also a possibility that Obama will add another 20,000, bringing the total to 120,000, larger than the Soviet Army that occupied Afghanistan. That's still only a fifth of what the counterinsurgency manual recommends.
Meanwhile, the American public is increasingly disillusioned with the war. According to a recent CNN poll, 57% of Americans oppose the war, a jump of 9% since May. Among Obama supporters the opposition is overwhelming: Nearly two-thirds of "committed" Democrats feel "strongly" the war is not worth fighting. Delusion #4 Afghanistan isn't like Iraq because NATO is behind us. Way behind us.
The British — whose troops actually fight, as opposed to doing "reconstruction" like most of the other 16 NATO nations — have lost the home crowd. Polls show deep opposition to the war, a sentiment that is echoed all over Europe. Indeed, the German Defense Minister Franz-Joseph Jung has yet to use the word "war" in relation to Afghanistan.
That little piece of fiction went a-glimmering in June, when three Bundeswehr soldiers were killed near Kunduz in northern Afghanistan. Indeed, as U.S. Marines go on the offensive in the country's south, the Taliban are pulling up stakes and moving east and north to target the Germans. The tactic is as old as guerrilla warfare: "Where the enemy is strong, disperse. Where the enemy is weak, concentrate."
While Berlin's current ruling coalition of Social Democrats and conservatives quietly back the war, the Free Democrats — who are likely to join Chancellor Angela Merkel's government after the next election — are calling for bringing Germany's 4,500 troops home.
The opposition Left Party has long opposed the war, and that opposition gave it a boost in recent state elections.
The United States and NATO can't — or won't — supply the necessary troops, and the Afghan army is small, corrupt and incompetent. No matter how one adds up the numbers, the task is impossible. So why is the administration following an unsupportable course of action? Why We Fight There is that oil pipeline from the Caspian that no one wants to talk about. Strategic control of energy is certainly a major factor in Central Asia. Then, too, there is the fear that a defeat for NATO in its first "out of area" war might fatally damage the alliance.
But when all is said and done, there also seems to be is a certain studied derangement about the whole matter, a derangement that was on display July 12 when British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told parliament that the war was showing "signs of success."
British forces had just suffered 15 deaths in a little more than a week, eight of them in a 24-hour period. It has now lost more soldiers that it did in Iraq. This is Britain's fourth war in Afghanistan.
The Karzai government has stolen the election. The war has spilled over to help destabilize and impoverish nuclear-armed Pakistan. The American and European public is increasingly opposed to the war. July was the deadliest month ever for the United States, and the Obama administration is looking at a $9 trillion deficit.
What are these people thinking?
This article, by M. Ashraf Haidari, was originally published in Journal of International Peace Operations, September 4, 2009
The study of the political landscape of a country used to involve looking for the existence of certain state and security institutions; it has changed in the recent decades to examining whether these institutions perform as they should. In the case of Afghanistan , however, the metric is slightly different. Here, human capital has remained underdeveloped, courtesy of the decades of war that preceded the current state-building efforts. As a result, the question here is not whether institutions exist, but how well institutions are run and how meritorious those running them are.
Capacity, or lack thereof, in the police, the judicial system, the bureaucracy, education and other fields is a thread that weaves through the successes and failures of our efforts to build a state essentially from ground up. In what follows, I will outline some of the key lessons learned over the past eight years. Indeed, whether or not we proactively work together to build upon these vital lessons learned will determine our collective success or failure in the few critical years following the 2009 presidential and 2010 parliamentary elections in Afghanistan .
Afghanistan’s battle against the Taliban and other extremist elements is unique in that it is the national police, not the army or the international forces, who constitute the first line of defense. Our sincere efforts to fight drug-trafficking and production, defeat the insurgency, and create an enabling environment for the civilian institutions also hinge on this key area.
However, law enforcement institutions have been neglected from the beginning in Afghanistan . The implementation of judicial and police reforms—reforms that should have been the foundation on which other state institutions were built--was shelved indefinitely due to a lack of resources. This paucity of resources has contributed to a significantly higher number of police casualties. Between 2007 and 2009 alone, more than 1500 Afghan National Police (ANP) officers were killed. Close to 600 Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers have lost their lives in the same period. The total International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) casualties since 2001 are at about 1300. Thus, given the substantially higher risk environment the ANP faces and the seminal role it plays in maintaining day-to-day law and order across Afghanistan , it is very important that long-term attention and resources be focused on police training and equipment. These enable them to counter threats from the Taliban and other militant elements, who are often better trained, paid, and equipped.
Another related and equally neglected institution has been the Afghan justice sector. Although the effectiveness of the justice sector determines the legitimacy of any government in public eyes, the reform of this critical sector in Afghanistan has unfortunately received the least amount of international attention and aid resources. Afghanistan has fewer than 1500 judges and 400 defense lawyers for a population of approximately 33 million. Most of these judges and attorneys lack modern legal training, as well as office resources and protection to execute their duties effectively. This is one of the main reasons why 62% of Afghans believe the government does not provide timely justice, and only half believe the government’s justice system is fair; compare this to 70% favorability for traditional methods, according to an Asia Foundation survey.
The popular sense of justice is still percipient—Afghans expect the government to provide them timely and effective justice. Indeed, failure to do so will undermine popular confidence in the government, as well as in the state-building efforts of the international community.
Work on the justice sector must be complemented by an increased emphasis on aid effectiveness. In the past, many donor-related contractors have undermined the Afghan government’s efforts by working parallel to it, instead of working with it or through it. Over the last eight years, this parallel method of operation has resulted in very little transfer of knowledge and skills to Afghans. Donor-related firms continue to receive highly profitable contracts, which they frequently subcontract to smaller companies for implementation. Indeed, each layer of subcontracting skims some 20% of the taxpayers’ aid monies, consequently robbing the beneficiaries of the “billions of dollars” in officially announced aid to Afghanistan .
Moreover, most of the contractors and their affiliated business partners neither have the necessary work experience in Afghanistan nor the right expertise to operate successfully in Afghanistan . Yet, so far, only about 10% of all aid money given to Afghanistan has been spent through the government; the rest has been channeled through private contractors and other means. And because of a lack of consultation and coordination with the Afghan government and people, these agencies have concentrated most of the aid activity in insecure areas, apparently hoping to help defeat the insurgency by winning the people over. Not only has this tactic not worked, but the absence of enough aid in the peaceful provinces has caused disillusionment among the masses and given insurgency a foothold there.
Coupled with aid effectiveness is aid coordination. So far, donor countries have failed to effectively coordinate their efforts in various sectors. This has hampered aid effectiveness and slowed down the process of state-building. Case in point is the education sector. In many instances, the building of a school is constructed by one country, the chairs and desks are provided by another, and other equipment is financed by a third donor—if donors notice the shortages in the school that was just “built.” The overall aid effort in the country is characterized by this same lack of coordination.
Common to each of the above lessons is the importance of human development and institutional capacity building in Afghanistan . Past experience is instructive in this regard, as the first point of contact between the Afghan people and the governing entity used to be the army, the police or other militia groups. These institutions mostly kept people in check rather than protecting them. As a result, Afghans are not used to—but have shown great demand for— a government whose main function is to protect them and maintain conditions for peaceful life.
Unlike established democracies, therefore, the source of legitimacy and support for the government in Afghanistan does not overwhelmingly come from electoral majority. It rather comes from the nature of people’s first experiences with the government, the bureaucracy, the police and the justice system. The more positive these experiences, the greater respect and legitimacy the government and the democratic system garner in the eyes of the Afghan people.
In order to ensure that these popular experiences are positive, building institutions that are staffed by qualified professionals is necessary. In case of Afghanistan , that has to happen from scratch. As stated earlier, with less than a third of the Afghan population being literate, the pool of competent people for professional careers and leadership capacities is already small. Unfortunately, decades of war have significantly hampered human development in Afghanistan , and the absence of effective state institutions in these periods—such as the police, the army and a civil bureaucracy—has certainly contributed to the deceleration of the development and transfer of knowledge and skills to successive generations.
Therefore, human development and institutional capacity building must top the agenda of international peace operations in Afghanistan . Without enough knowledge and skill, Afghans could hardly achieve self-sustainability to help drive the rebuilding and development of Afghanistan on their own. The road leading up to this level of competence is long and hard, but a serious emphasis on education and training is imperative.
Improving the infrastructure for, and quality of, both secondary and higher education coupled with ensuring greater inclusion of women in education are cornerstones of this policy. To complement that, helping Afghanistan establish a culture of meritocracy in all hiring and firing, and emphasizing accountability in all institutions of the government is critical to improving governance and curbing corruption.
Finally, it is important to note that international peace-building efforts so far enjoy tremendous popular support in Afghanistan . Some of the most recent public opinion polls indicate that more than two-thirds of the Afghan people believe our country is headed in the right direction. A July poll by Glevum Associates found that an overwhelming majority of the Afghan people—more than 80 percent—believe the August elections will be inclusive and representative. Such overwhelming popular trust in the democratic process is a signal to the international community that the Afghan people are still optimistic about the future, support human rights and the rule of law, denounce extremist elements, and demand a future with democracy rather than militant extremism.
But perhaps the most important lesson is that even after being neglected twice—first after the defeat of the Soviet Union and then after the ouster of the Taliban—the Afghan people still want to be part of the global community of nations. They are ready to give the international community another chance.
Indeed, international peace operations have hardly been cheap, and it takes time, patience, and commitment. However, the alternative— neglecting Afghanistan again—in a world where security has rapidly globalized, is far more costly, as we vividly remember from the tragedy of September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
To this extent, failure in Afghanistan is not an option, and peace can hardly take hold in Pakistan and the rest of the region without stability in Afghanistan . Nor can global security be ensured without a consolidation of Afghanistan 's democratic achievements of the past eight years.
All stakeholders—Afghans and non-Afghans alike—should understand the gravity of committing to success by building upon the above lessons learned until the Afghan people can stand on their own and secure the future of Afghanistan.
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 editorial, was originally published in the Washington Post, September 3, 2009
LAST MONTH we expected that Afghanistan's elections would mark a modest step forward for the country. Now it appears that they could be a major reverse. Though the election campaign was positive in many respects, Election Day itself is emerging as a disaster of relatively low turnout and massive irregularities -- including ballot-box-stuffing on behalf of both incumbent President Hamid Karzai and his leading opponent. Unless the fraud can be reversed or repaired through a U.N.-backed complaints commission or a runoff vote, Mr. Karzai may emerge as a crippled winner, his already weak and corruption-plagued administration facing further discredit or even violent protests.
This grim prospect is particularly worrisome because the United States and its allies were counting on the election to provide the Afghan government with a new lease on public support. They hoped the vote would be followed by a drive to reform both national and local administrations and extend their authority to areas where only the Taliban has been present. That construction of government capacity -- call it nation-building if you like -- is essential to the counterinsurgency strategy adopted by U.S. commanders during the last year and embraced by President Obama in March.
Unfortunately for the Obama administration, the bad election news has arrived at the same time as a report by the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, that portrays a "serious" military situation in which Taliban fighters are growing more capable and Afghan and international forces lack the military and civilian resources they need to regain the initiative. Gen. McChrystal is expected to ask Mr. Obama to dispatch more American troops next year -- perhaps tens of thousands of reinforcements to the 68,000 U.S. troops already deployed or on the way. The bad election and heavier U.S. casualties this summer, including more than 100 deaths, mean that Mr. Obama will probably come under considerable pressure to deny the additional troops and change course.
The Democratic left and some conservatives have begun to argue that the Afghan war is unwinnable and that U.S. interests can be secured by a much smaller military campaign directed at preventing al-Qaeda from regaining a foothold in the country. Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) has proposed a timetable for withdrawal -- the same demand the left rallied around when the war in Iraq was going badly. Its most cogent argument is a negative one: that the weakness of the Afghan government and the general backwardness of the country mean that the counterinsurgency strategy, with its emphasis on political and economic development, can't work.
That might prove true. But the problem with the critics' argument is that, while the strategy they oppose has yet to be tried, the alternatives they suggest already have been -- and they led to failure in both Afghanistan and Iraq. For years, U.S. commanders in both countries focused on killing insurgents and minimizing the numbers and exposure of U.S. troops rather than pacifying the country. The result was that violence in both countries steadily grew, until a counterinsurgency strategy was applied to Iraq in 2007. As for limiting U.S. intervention in Afghanistan to attacks by drones and Special Forces units, that was the strategy of the 1990s, which, as chronicled by the Sept. 11 commission, paved the way for al-Qaeda's attacks on New York and Washington. Given that the Taliban and al-Qaeda now also aim to overturn the government of nuclear-armed Pakistan, the risks of a U.S. withdrawal far exceed those of continuing to fight the war -- even were the result to be continued stalemate.
Yet if Mr. Obama provides adequate military and civilian resources, there's a reasonable chance the counterinsurgency approach will yield something better than stalemate, as it did in Iraq. The Taliban insurgency is not comparable to those that earlier fought the Soviets and the British in Afghanistan. Surveys show that support for its rule is tiny, even in its southern base. Not everything in Mr. Karzai's government is rotten: U.S. officials have reliable allies in some key ministries and provincial governorships, and the training of the Afghan army -- accelerated only recently -- is going relatively well. Stabilizing the country will require many years of patient effort and the pain of continued American casualties. Yet the consequences of any other option are likely to be far more dangerous for this country.