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!
Disclaimer: In accordance with title 17 u.s.c. section 107, this material is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes.
The Sir! No Sir! Blog has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is the Sir! No Sir! Blog endorsed or sponsored by the originator. Links are provided to allow for verification of authenticity.
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 C. J. Chivers, was posted to e-Ariana, June 8, 2009
The Afghan foot patrol descended a mountain and slipped through a canyon. Then things went wrong. One Afghan soldier insulted another. And there, exposed on dangerous ground, a scuffle erupted.
The soldiers turned on each other with shoves, punches and kicks. One swung an ammunition can in a slow-motion haymaker. The patrol had already been hapless: a display of errant marksmanship, dud ammunition and lackluster technique.
“For months I’ve been telling everyone how proud I am of you,” seethed an American captain, yanking the Afghans apart. “Today you embarrassed me.”
The Obama administration has put a priority on expanding the size and abilities of Afghanistan’s security forces, first to help fight an expanding war and eventually to allow the Pentagon to draw down its troops. The task was inherited from the Bush administration, and the United States has helped to field roughly 170,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers in units created from scratch. In plans now under review, these numbers could double.
Many Afghan units, especially in the army, have shown signs of competence at basic missions and skills. But this joint patrol late last year in Nuristan Province, and dozens of others from 2007 to this spring, along with interviews with trainers and the senior officers who supervise them, showed problems on the Afghan and American sides alike.
American training units have been short-staffed and overstretched. Essential equipment has at times proved to be in poor condition or mismatched. Accountability for weapons and munitions has been broadly criticized.
Among the Afghans, mass illiteracy, equipment loss, crime and corruption, which is prevalent in the police, have blunted readiness. Immaturity and ill discipline bedevil many units. Illicit drug use persists, and some American officers worry about loyalty and intelligence leaks.
The Americans started rebuilding Afghanistan even before a similar effort in Iraq, where the Pentagon badly underestimated the difficulties — and initially overstated its success. Iraqi forces now operate broadly in their country.
American trainers in Afghanistan attend courses taught by veterans of the Iraq experience, and the lessons learned from Iraq are distilled into plans for Afghanistan, the training command says.
Those plans are ambitious. In Afghanistan, the Pentagon wants to make Afghanistan’s military able to direct artillery and airstrikes, and to develop an air corps with attack aircraft. And Western trainers are emphasizing supervisory skills required for a professional force: personnel and payroll management, logistics and maintenance.
Simultaneously, the Afghan government plans to require police officers to undergo drug testing and senior police officials to disclose personal assets. The United States is also entering Afghan soldiers and officers into a biometrics database, to verify identities and scrub payrolls of members who do not exist.
“We’re making a lot of progress,” said Maj. Gen. Richard P. Formica, who leads the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, the unit coordinating the training.
The United States has spent more than $15 billion fielding Afghan forces, by the command’s tally. Officers throughout the ranks say Afghan security self-sufficiency is years off, even in the Afghan National Army, or A.N.A.
“I think if you come back in a couple of years, you should see advances,” said Brig. Gen. Anthony R. Ierardi, the command’s deputy commander. “I wouldn’t tell you that the A.N.A. is going to be ready across the board in a couple of years. I don’t think that’s a true statement.” Rebooting the Police
American officers training the Afghan forces describe two different views. By one view, the security forces, especially the army, represent one of the most promising institutions the Afghan government has yet offered: a large group of men who rejected the Taliban and staked their lives on the faith that the government would prevail.
Seasoned by fighting and shaped by Western trainers, a corps of Afghan officers and noncommissioned officers has begun to emerge. The units they lead have allowed the Afghan government to provide security in Kabul and extend the government’s presence to areas once beyond reach.
The forces’ casualty figures point to the loyalty and resolve of many Afghans in uniform. Nearly 1,700 police officers and 600 Afghan soldiers were killed on duty from January 2007 through April. Western forces suffered 586 deaths in that time.
By another view, the same forces, though most pointedly the police, are minimally skilled, unreliable, prone to crime and little match for an insurgency that has grown since 2006. Problems are widespread enough that many Western soldiers openly regard the Afghan police with suspicion.
In interviews over three years, American soldiers have complained that police officers and supervisors sell promotions and equipment, skim subordinates’ wages, shake down villagers, take bribes or participate in other schemes, including the opium trade.
Journalists for The New York Times have seen officers accused of selling fuel for their American-provided trucks, and of burglarizing a home they had been ordered to search. Officers at one southern post in 2007 were cultivating poppy plants inside their post’s walls.
Maj. Vincent G. Heintz, who supervised a police mentoring team last year, said that the district where he worked, Chahar Darreh in Kunduz Province, cycled through several Afghan commanders during the year, including one who was “wholly incompetent” but apparently politically connected.
The next commander, Major Heintz said, was “a professional criminal who brokered a détente with the local Taliban” and who showed up with 10 or 15 of his own bodyguards, fired the police and put his gang into police uniforms. They then set up roadblocks and shook down motorists, he said.
Afghan units have also not eradicated the presence of “chai” boys, who often are uncompensated teenagers who live closely with commanders. Afghans and American officers say some are apprentices, others valets, and some suffer sexual abuse, which a few commanders regard as a perquisite of power.
The training command said that if abuse of these teenagers was reported, it would be acted on. “It is totally unacceptable,” General Ierardi said, but added that he had not seen reports of it from the field.
American officers acknowledge that corruption has hampered efforts to make a viable police force, which now has about 82,000 members. They also say corruption should not define all the officers serving, and that burnishing the force’s skills and reputation is a focus.
Last fall, President Hamid Karzai appointed a new interior minister, Muhammad Hanif Atmar, a former education minister. Mr. Atmar, educated in Britain and largely viewed as uncorrupt, has pushed for changes that could foster credibility, including requiring senior officials to disclose private assets and testing the A.N.P, or Afghan National Police, for drugs.
Officers testing positive can be fired, said Brig. Gen. Anne Macdonald, who supervises police development.
The United States is also retraining uniformed police units in a process called Focused District Development. Under this program, police units in districts are mentored intensely through phases, including being replaced by an interim unit for several weeks while they undergo refresher training and have their equipment inventoried, examined and, as necessary, replaced.
The program implicitly acknowledges problems. General Ierardi said it was essential because it provided a chance to “refresh the screen.” To date, 65 of the country’s 365 districts and 12 companies have enrolled in the program. The Pentagon plans to expand the training.
The program has shown merits, officers said. Major Heintz, for instance, said that in his duties under the program, following up on the police in Chahar Darreh, he was able to get the crooked commander relieved less than a month after he showed up. The new commander “has done a good job with the force,” he said. Improving the Army
The situation is different in the army, for which the American effort is trying to build momentum, General Formica said. The Afghan Army has nearly 90,000 soldiers and is slated to grow to 134,000.
In units on the ground, some previous initiatives have shown results.
On patrols observed by The Times this year, many Afghan soldiers wore their equipment, remained alert, walked with weapons ready and moved by bounds across dangerous ground. These are not difficult tasks, but on patrols in past years Afghans often neglected them.
Sgt. Maj. Arthur L. Coleman Jr., the senior American enlisted soldier in the training command, said improved fundamentals reflected a significant development: the army has grown experienced sergeants, who enhance performance.
“We’re really starting to see discipline,” he said. “You’re starting to see accountability.” He added: “That’s going to pay big dividends down the road as we mature.”
Other indicators also suggest that military discipline, while behind Western standards, is improving. The army’s percentage of soldiers absent without leave has dropped to under 10 percent for more than a year, the command said. Not long ago, it exceeded 15 percent.
This year, an inaugural class of 84 lieutenants graduated from the National Military Academy of Afghanistan, a four-year school modeled after West Point. Next year the academy is scheduled to produce about 300 more lieutenants. The Pentagon hopes to build a more able military around these and other new officers and sergeants.
Enlisted soldiers with specialties are also appearing in the field. Of a squad of Afghan soldiers recently assigned in the Korangal Valley, for example, one had been trained as a trauma medic. The training command said 3,500 such medics had completed an eight-week course.
But poor officers remain. During an insurgent mortar attack late last year, an Afghan lieutenant did not require his soldiers to take cover or put on their protective gear. Instead, he proposed holding a formation in the open to ask which soldiers were collaborating with the Taliban.
Two American Marines present directed the lieutenant to order his soldiers to safety. Minutes later, an incoming round exploded yards from where the soldiers were to stand.
In a recent attack on Korangal Outpost, an Afghan captain ignored his duties. Incoming 30-millimeter rounds landed among his men. He spent the fight in a latrine, while Marines checked for injured Afghans and directed the return fire. Problems Beyond the Ranks
The Pentagon’s plans have been undercut at times by the American military’s own management, or by larger trends in Afghanistan’s educational and economic development.
Over the years, as American units have cycled through, they have often been forced to repeat the work of previous units.
Several years ago, for example, the Americans distributed 8,000 donated Czech assault rifles to Afghan units. The weapons fired the same ammunition as existing Afghan rifles, but were otherwise incompatible. The weapons had to be recalled last year, even as the military was trying to rush other weapons to the field.
Other equipment has disappeared in vast quantities, trainers in the field said, including sleeping bags and warm clothing required to operate much of the year, especially at night. The shortages were so acute in 2007 that units in the 82nd Airborne Division canceled overnight missions because Afghan soldiers could not participate.
A year later, the same shortages limited the work of Afghans in Nuristan Province.
One American officer said Afghan soldiers had been issued the gear, often two or three times. They had either sold it or given it to their families, he said.
This year, the American military said it issued storage containers to the army, and cold-weather gear had been locked up. It will be reissued in the fall, the military said.
Events on the patrol that became an intraplatoon brawl also underlined concerns about ammunition. Much of the Afghan government’s ammunition is old surplus donated by nations trimming arsenals or sold to the Pentagon by low-bidding contractors. For years, little was independently tested for reliability.
In Nuristan, the captain tried firing five rounds of 40-millimeter high-explosive ammunition at a cave. All five failed: three skipped off the cave’s face without exploding; two did not leave the barrel. The captain, Markus Trouerbach, was disgusted. “Dud!” he said. “Nice dud. Great.”
Later, he said that of 20 rounds fired during an exercise, 9 worked. An Afghan sergeant said he fired seven rounds at insurgents. Two did not explode.
The training command held its own test. Of 720 40-millimeter rounds fired, 22 did not work properly, according to two American officers; the command said it heard no other complaints.
The failure rate, 3 percent, was much less alarming than the troops’ experiences in Nuristan. But it exceeded by many times the acceptable failure rate of similar ammunition issued to American troops.
In interviews, three arms dealers and a manufacturer said the Pentagon paid less for the 40-millimeter ammunition than the ammunition typically costs to produce. They said Arcus, the Bulgarian firm manufacturer, provided substandard ammunition. (The vendors asked not to be identified out of fear of being blocked by the Pentagon from future bids.)
Arcus said the rounds had been made to exacting standards and passed company tests. Neither the Pentagon nor Arcus would discuss the ammunition deal in detail, including how the prices were arrived at, saying the information was proprietary.
This article, by James Risen, was originally published by the New York Times, March 5, 2009
KABUL — Eight years ago, Mahmoud Karzai was running a handful of modest restaurants in San Francisco, Boston and Baltimore. Today, Mr. Karzai, an immigrant waiter-turned-restaurant owner, is one of Afghanistan’s most prosperous businessmen.
The older brother of Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, Mahmoud Karzai has major interests in the country’s only cement factory, its dominant bank, its most ambitious real estate development, its only Toyota distributorship and four coal mines.
He and a business partner run Afghanistan’s national Chamber of Commerce — which has far more clout than its American counterpart — allowing him to broker deals and lure foreign investors. For executives with problems with the Afghan government, he is the man to see. One prominent Afghan critic describes him as a “minister maker” with sway in hiring and firing top officials.
An unabashed advocate for money-making in the country his brother runs, Mr. Karzai attributes his success to having big ambitions and taking on ventures that others saw as too risky. “I’m investing in projects that require real work,” he said in an interview. “I’m in love with the idea that Afghanistan can become a Singapore, a Hong Kong.”
Mr. Karzai, though, clearly has exploited his connections, both in Washington and Kabul, to build his business empire. He has collected millions in American government loans for real estate developments in Kandahar and Kabul, capitalized on a friendship with Jack Kemp, the former Republican congressman, for introductions to American officials and international business executives, and benefited from what his rivals charge were sweetheart deals with the Afghan government.
Mr. Karzai’s swift rise has stirred resentment and suspicion among many Afghans, who have grown disaffected with the Karzai government and its seeming tolerance for insider dealing, favor trading, bribe taking and other unsavory activities. Rampant corruption fuels the Taliban insurgency, experts warn, and threatens American support for President Karzai, who is seeking re-election this year.
While Mahmoud Karzai has not been accused of any criminal wrongdoing, he has become a political liability, with critics complaining that his ascent was unfairly eased.
“If his brother wasn’t the president, would he have generated this much wealth, and gotten into this many deals?” asked Daoud Sultanzoy, a member of Parliament who has pushed for investigations into the Karzai family’s business activities. “One of the reasons the people don’t trust the government is because people in power have abused their power for personal gain.”
Humayun Hamidzada, President Karzai’s spokesman, denied that the president had shown favoritism to his brother. “The president does not allow anyone to use his name to get contracts or deals through him,” he said.
Mahmoud Karzai similarly dismissed complaints that he had traded on his family ties. “There is a great amount of jealousy and misinformation about me,” he said in an interview. “All the criticism that I’m getting insider deals because of my brother is flat-out wrong and lies.”
President Karzai has privately complained that Mahmoud Karzai’s business dealings are politically embarrassing, people who know him say, but he has not tried to rein in Mahmoud or his other siblings.
One brother, Qayum Karzai, who owns an Afghan restaurant in Baltimore, served until recently in the Afghan Parliament, though other members groused that he almost never showed up. He said in an interview that he was now an informal intermediary among President Karzai, Saudi Arabia and the Taliban.
Another brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the head of the Kandahar provincial council, has been accused of narcotics trafficking by Afghan and American officials, who are frustrated that the president has not taken action against him.
“President Karzai was seen initially as an honest man, but we don’t have a history of allowing the brothers of a leader to accumulate so much wealth,” said Saad Mohseni, the owner of an independent television station in Kabul. “His brothers are not allowing the president to think objectively about what is best for Afghanistan.”
An Eye for Opportunities
Mahmoud Karzai, an American citizen, kept his Maryland home, but travels back and forth to Kabul from a multimillion-dollar retreat in Dubai owned by his business partner. Back in his homeland, Mr. Karzai, 54, talks easily in Pashto to Kandahari businessmen in native dress and in fluent English to Westerners in suits. Politicians and business figures trade rumors and share gossip about him. He says he is always looking for opportunities, while rivals fume that he has crowded them out or tries to get in on their deals.
“People in business would come to me and complain that Mahmoud always wanted a percentage of the new businesses,” recalled Zalmay Khalilzad, a former United States ambassador to Afghanistan. When he asked Mr. Karzai about such claims, he denied them, Mr. Khalilzad said in an interview.
Mr. Karzai said in the interview that he had chosen business projects that he said he believed would benefit Afghanistan. He insists that he has not gotten rich here because he has taken on so many liabilities. Though they provide no proof, many Afghan business and political figures describe him as one of their country’s wealthiest men.
To his critics, Mr. Karzai offers an unusual defense: Even if he wanted to, he could not use an insider’s advantage because his brother is ineffectual.
“He will never make a decision,” Mr. Karzai said of the president. “He will only talk politics. If you talk about the economy, he is not interested. He is not a problem solver.”
Mr. Karzai railed against government corruption and complained that his brother’s mismanagement of the economy made it difficult to make money. He said he had acted as a conduit for the business community because the bureaucracy was not responsive.
“People are looking for a channel of communications, so they say, ‘This guy is the president’s brother, he probably talks to his brother,’ ” Mr. Karzai said. “They get frustrated, and so they say, ‘Let’s go to the top.’ ”
Other business and political leaders scoff at his criticisms of the president, saying they are intended to disguise the tight ties between the brothers.
It is “100 percent an act,” said Gen. Hadi Khalid, who said he was fired from a top Interior Ministry post last year for opposing a deal involving Mahmoud Karzai’s business partner, Sher Khan Farnood.
Mr. Karzai moved quickly after the 2001 American-led invasion of Afghanistan to stake his claim in the postwar economy. In Maryland, he began brainstorming with other Afghan-American businessmen about how best to help restart the Afghan economy, just as the Bush administration was beginning to provide aid, business leaders said. He soon led a small group that set up a new Afghan Chamber of Commerce, winning $6 million from the United States Agency for International Development.
In an election last year, financed with more than $500,000 from the American aid agency, Mr. Karzai was chosen as the chamber’s vice chairman, and Mr. Farnood became chairman. Opponents charged that the voting was rigged to ensure that the two men came out on top, assertions that Mr. Karzai denies.
Mr. Karzai got other help from Washington, thanks to prominent friends. He made a point after the Sept. 11 attacks of getting to know conservative Republicans, including Mr. Kemp. In an interview, Mr. Kemp said he introduced Mr. Karzai to officials at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a federal agency that provides financing to American businesses abroad.
Mr. Kemp said he wanted to encourage investment in Afghanistan, adding that he had not benefited from Mr. Karzai’s deals. “I imagine he has dropped my name around Kabul and Kandahar, but I can assure you I have no equity or interest in his businesses,” he said.
According to OPIC officials, two companies tied to Mr. Karzai got loans of more than $5 million to finance his Kandahar real estate development and a large apartment complex in Kabul.
The Kandahar venture, an ambitious plan to build a residential community that Mr. Karzai named Aynomina (“a place to live”) — quickly stirred an outcry. The 10,000-acre property in the city of Kandahar was owned by the Afghan Army, but Kandahar officials turned it over to Mr. Karzai virtually free.
Mr. Karzai said the city officials wanted him to take the land so powerful warlords could not seize it. The Kandahar governor, he said, agreed that his government would be paid for each lot only when Mr. Karzai’s development firm sold a home built on it.
But no deal was worked out with the army. In 2005, Afghan troops stormed the construction site, shooting wildly. Brig. Gen. Shahtory Habibullah, who oversees properties for the Ministry of Defense, said Mr. Karzai’s company had never paid the army anything. The dispute still simmers.
“The land mafia has taken my land,” the general said in an interview. “When I go to the property, I cry for it.”
Mr. Karzai said he had built more than 200 homes, with 60 or so under construction, that had proved popular with the emerging Afghan middle class. “We have three-bedroom models selling for $20,000, “ he said. “That house — we cannot keep up with.”
A Big Cash Deal
Mr. Karzai took on his biggest venture when he and other investors assumed control of Afghanistan’s only cement factory. Operating rights for the plant were put up for auction by the Ministry of Mines, and Mr. Karzai and his partners won when they were the only bidders to show up with $25 million in cash. Mr. Karzai said the auction rules required that. But Mr. Sultanzoy, the member of Parliament, charges that the cash requirement was a last-minute provision devised to benefit Mr. Karzai.
“They brought the cash and put it on a table in front of the minister and then took it away,” Mr. Sultanzoy said.
The group did not have to make an up-front payment. Instead, it pays rent and shares royalties with the government, Mr. Karzai said.
He has had access to the financing required for his projects through the Kabul Bank, the largest commercial bank in Afghanistan, where he sits on the board. Mr. Farnood, the bank’s founder, helped Mr. Karzai become an investor by issuing him a loan to buy shares in the bank, Mr. Karzai said.
He is also the majority owner of the only Toyota distributorship for Afghanistan, thanks in part to Mr. Kemp, who has served on Toyota’s United States diversity advisory board and introduced Mr. Karzai to the automaker’s executives.
Mr. Khalilzad, who denied speculation that he planned to challenge President Karzai in the coming election, recalled that the president once confided that he was angry about the Toyota deal and wondered aloud whether he should try to block it. He said he believed that the president spoke to the Japanese ambassador on the issue, but to no avail.
Ashraf Ghani, a former Afghan finance minister who has been considering running for president this year, said that when President Karzai asked him to join his government, he was concerned about the potential for insider dealing by the Karzai family.
“Is this going to be a family enterprise?” Mr. Ghani recalled asking. “He said absolutely not. But that is what it has become.”
This article, by Sarah Baxter and Michael Smith, was published in the London Times, February 8, 2009
PRESIDENT Barack Obama has demanded that American defence chiefs review their strategy in Afghanistan before going ahead with a troop surge.
There is concern among senior Democrats that the military is preparing to send up to 30,000 extra troops without a coherent plan or exit strategy.
The Pentagon was set to announce the deployment of 17,000 extra soldiers and marines last week but Robert Gates, the defence secretary, postponed the decision after questions from Obama.
The president was concerned by a lack of strategy at his first meeting with Gates and the US joint chiefs of staff last month in “the tank”, the secure conference room in the Pentagon. He asked: “What’s the endgame?” and did not receive a convincing answer.
Larry Korb, a defence expert at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank, said: “Obama is exactly right. Before he agrees to send 30,000 troops, he wants to know what the mission and the endgame is.”
Obama promised an extra 7,000-10,000 troops during the election campaign but the military has inflated its demands. Leading Democrats fear Afghanistan could become Obama’s “Vietnam quagmire”.
If the surge goes ahead the military intend to limit the mission to fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and leave democracy building and reconstruction to Nato allies and civilians from the State Department and other agencies.
The United States has been pushing Britain to send several thousand more troops but there is just as much disagreement and confusion among British defence chiefs over the long-term aim. Gordon Brown is set to receive a full briefing this week.
General Sir Richard Dannatt, the army chief who will step down this summer, has insisted that troops need a rest and believes he can send only one battlegroup, senior defence sources said.
General Sir David Richards, his successor, believes that the two extra battlegroups the Americans have asked for is the minimum the UK should send, the sources said.
This analysis, by Juan Cole, was originally published to Informed Comment, February 8, 2009
While the attention of the US public and the news media here has been consumed (understandably enough) by the congressional debate over the economic stimulus plan, America's war in Afghanistan has nearly collapsed because of logistical problems.
First, the Taliban destroyed a crucial bridge west of Peshawar over which NATO trucks traveled to the Khyber Pass and into Afghanistan. 75% of US and NATO supplies for the war effort in Afghanistan are offloaded at the Pakistani port of Karachi and sent by truck through the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan. Then the Taliban burned 10 trucks carrying such materiel, to demonstrate their control over the supply route of their enemy. The Taliban can accomplish these breathtaking operations against NATO in Pakistan in large part because Pakistani police and military forces are unwilling to risk much to help distant foreign America beat up their cousins. That reluctance is unlikely to change with any rapidity.
Well, you might say, there are other ways to get supplies to Afghanistan. But remember it is a landlocked country. Its neighbors with borders on the state are Pakistan, China, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan; Kyrgyzstan is close enough to offer an air route. Pakistan is the most convenient route, and it may be at an end. China's short border is up in the Himalayas and not useful for transport. Tajikistan is more remote than Afghanistan. The US does not have the kind of good relations with Iran that would allow use of that route for military purposes. A Turkmenistan route would depend on an Iran route, so that is out, too.
So what is left? Uzbekistan and (by air) Kyrgyzstan, that's what.
More bad news. Kyrgyzstan has made a final decision to deny the US further use of the Manas military base, from which the US brought 500 tons of materiel into Afghanistan every month. It is charged that Russia used its new oil and gas wealth to bribe Kyrgyzstan to exclude the US, returning the area to its former status as a Russian sphere of influence. (Presumably this would also be payback for US and NATO expansion on Russia's European and Caucasian borders).
Then there was one. The US has opened negotiations with Uzbekistan, which had given Washington use of a base 2002-2005 but ended that deal after it massacred protesters at Andizhon in 2005. Some Uzbeks charged that the US had promoted an "Orange Revolution" style uprising similar to the one in the Ukraine against Uzbek stongman Islam Karimov. But even if the US could get a stable relationship with Karimov, the Uzbeks are not offering to be the transit route for military materiel, only for nonlethal food, medicine and other items.
In the light of these logistical problems (which are absolutely central to the prospects for success of the Afghanistan War), and given that no clear, attainable, finite mission in Afghanistan has ever been enunciated by US civil or military leaders, it is no wonder that President Barack Obama is reported to be putting the "Afghan surge" or the sending of 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan on hold until a clearer mission can be formulated. TheTimes of London writes:
'The president was concerned by a lack of strategy at his first meeting with Gates and the US joint chiefs of staff last month in “the tank”, the secure conference room in the Pentagon. He asked: “What’s the endgame?” and did not receive a convincing answer. '
and adds, 'Leading Democrats fear Afghanistan could become Obama’s “Vietnam quagmire”.'
There is little doubt that most Afghans are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Barack Obama on the scene. The young president’s charm and charisma, combined with his Islamic-sounding middle name, Hussein, have given people in this war-ravaged land hope that, finally, there will be an occupant in the White House who can understand them and their problems.
But there is one very prominent Afghan who does not appear to be enjoying the transition: President Hamed Karzai.
As Washington braces for the festivities and the world erupts in Obamania, Karzai has been heaping very public criticism on his erstwhile backers.
In his yearly address to parliament on Tuesday, January 20, Karzai reiterated his complaints about the US’s conduct of counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan. He railed about civilian casualties, and told the lawmakers that he had tried several times to rein in the US military, but to no avail.
Also, the president appears to have been stung by critical remarks made by Secretary of State designate Hillary Clinton, who told the Senate confirmation hearings that Afghanistan was a “narco-state plagued by limited capacity and widespread corruption”.
According to a local newspaper, Arman-e-Milli, Karzai addressed a cabinet meeting on Monday, January 19, in angry, bitter tones, saying he would “stand against the United States until the end”.
Obama himself has been openly critical of the Afghan president since the summer, when he told CNN that Karzai’s government “had not gotten out of the bunker and helped organise Afghanistan and [the] government, the judiciary, police forces, in ways that would give people confidence”.
In light of this, many Afghans are expecting that Karzai may be on his way out. With presidential elections looming later this year, there is talk that a new face may soon occupy the top post in Kabul.
“I think the first change that Afghanistan will see is a change in the president. Obama has some problems with Karzai, I think,” said Feraidoon, a civil servant in Herat.
He, like others, cited Obama’s July visit to Afghanistan, when he met with Nangahar governor Gul Agha Sherzai before he visited the Afghan president.
Sherzai has been widely praised for his stewardship of the eastern Afghan province, which has gone from a major producer of opium poppy to a certified poppy-free zone under his tenure. But the former warlord has a reputation for ruthlessness that makes some Afghans uneasy.
A rumour circulated widely in the Afghan capital earlier in the week claimed that Obama had snubbed Karzai by inviting Sherzai to his inauguration.
“It is a total lie that [Sherzai] has been invited to the inauguration,” said Siyamak Herawi, deputy spokesperson of the presidential administration, in what was obviously not his first interview on the subject.
“Actually, from the Afghan side, nobody has been invited to the inauguration ceremony. It is not the tradition to invite foreign officials to the inauguration; only the diplomats. It is probable that Sayed Tayeb Jawad (the Afghan ambassador to Washington) will attend.”
Karzai enjoyed strong support from Washington for most of the past seven years. It is no secret that he was hand-picked by Zalmay Khalilzad, who at the time was special envoy to Afghanistan, to be the interim president in 2002. But over the past six months, that support has seemed to waver. With the emergence of Barack Obama, it could collapse altogether.
While Afghanistan has a democratic system of presidential elections, many Afghans feel that the US will play more than a tangential role in the selection of their new chief executive.
Backing from Washington translates into money and power, in the minds of ordinary Afghans. If Washington abandons Karzai, the voters may very well follow suit.
Over the past seven years, Afghans have seen their security deteriorate, and the economy has failed to live up to expectations. Unemployment is high, and the insurgency is gaining ground.
On Saturday, January 17, a suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into a truck between the German embassy and a US military compound, killing five, including one American soldier. Over 20 people were injured. The Taleban have claimed responsibility, and have threatened more attacks.
The Taleban, in fact, seem to have jumped on Obama’s bandwagon as well; an open letter purported to be from the insurgents urges the new president to accept Islam.
“You are the first black in US history to establish control of the White House; you should make one more addition to the history books by becoming the first president to accept the truth and adopt the true faith of Islam,” the letter reads.
The authors also warn of retribution if Obama proceeds with his plan to send additional troops to Afghanistan.
“It is impossible that Afghanistan will be subdued by your decision to send more troops. Do not take wrong steps like [President George] Bush. Otherwise the results will be similar… the flames of this fire will blow up in Washington.”