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 interview, with National Security Adviser General James Jones, was published by Spiegel Online International, November 9, 2009
US National Security Adviser James L. Jones talks to SPIEGEL about his skepticism regarding calls for more US troops to be sent to Afghanistan, the chances of Pakistan's nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands and President Barack Obama's leadership style. SPIEGEL: General Jones, it's now 20 years since the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union imploded. Has the world become a safer place? James L. Jones: Tremendous accomplishments were made over a number of years to bring freedom and democracy to that portion of Europe that was left out of the drive. The events that took place 20 years ago meant for the whole of Europe much more peace and much more opportunity for the citizens that had lived on both sides of the wall. SPIEGEL: But it was not yet the "end of history," as the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama and many others predicted. What is the gravest threat to the American homeland today? Jones: I worry most about proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in such a way that they could be acquired by non-governmental organizations, like terrorist groups, especially the radical groups that we know are trying to get these weapons. We're convinced that if they were to get them, they would use them. When a nation state has a nuclear weapon, it's a little bit easier to control the use of it, but for non-governmental groups it's much more difficult. We are obviously worried about North Korea and Iran, but the threat that's hardest to control is the non nation states, groups of individuals who could acquire such a weapon and what they would do. SPIEGEL: Do you assume that some terrorist groups are close to that goal? Jones: We're doing a good job nationally and internationally to make sure that we safeguard that eventuality from happening. SPIEGEL: Is Pakistan the most dangerous place in the world, given that the Taliban and al-Qaida are increasing their sphere of influence? Jones: Pakistan is certainly a point of strategic interest for us, for the alliance, and for much of the watching world because of the fact that they are nuclear -- they do have nuclear weapons, and they do have an ongoing insurgency. SPIEGEL: Is it possible that the civilian government and the armed forces could lose control over these nuclear weapons? Jones: It is something that we work on with the Pakistanis regularly. I've been assured that they're doing everything they can to make sure that these weapons are very tightly controlled and secured. SPIEGEL: And you think the generals are assessing the situation realistically? Jones: We are cooperating very closely. We hope that they are successful in combating their insurgencies because since 2006 this has become a real cancer on the border regions. SPIEGEL: The Obama administration is reviewing the strategy for Afghanistan. General Stanley McChrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan, is asking for additional troops. Jones: Generals always ask for more troops. Take it from me. SPIEGEL: You would know. You're also a general and you were in Afghanistan from 2003 to almost 2007 ... Jones: ... and of course when I was there I asked for more troops. When we started in 2003, we had to develop a plan. So by definition, you have to ask for people. SPIEGEL: And now you support General McChrystal's demand for 40,000 additional troops? Jones: We are in the middle of a process with the president and all of his advisers in assessing the overall situation in Afghanistan. I believe we will not solve the problem with troops alone. The minimum number is important, of course. But there is no maximum number, however. And what's really important in Afghanistan is that with this new administration we insist on good governance, that it be coordinated with economic development and security, and that we have much, much better success at handing over responsibility for these three things to the Afghans. SPIEGEL: To President Hamid Karzai, who has just been reelected after a controversial election? Jones: To the Afghans. And we will put much more emphasis on battling corruption and putting competent and honest people in positions of authority. We will be working with our friends and allies to do that. SPIEGEL: When do you expect a final decision on McChrystal's request? Jones: It will be a decision made by all NATO members, not just the US president. As part of NATO we are one of 28 nations, and we are going to closely follow NATO's discussions of the McChrystal request. It's a NATO request of which the US will do a portion of it, but we think other countries will do their share as well. SPIEGEL: What do you expect from the Germans? Jones: I think that will be for Germany to decide. Germany is the third largest troop contributing nation and it has been at the forefront of developing the Afghan National Police, which is something that Germany can do better than us, because they have the training base and the culture for that kind of police training. In the end NATO will decide as a whole who will be responsible for particular contributions. SPIEGEL: What is the goal in Afghanistan right now -- to win the war? Jones: Our definition of the goal has been to defeat, disrupt, and dismantle the al-Qaida network, which is the one that is the most significant threat to our homeland and to the European homeland. These are people that will stop at nothing. So we pay a lot of attention to where they are and what they're doing. We want those three D's, if you will, to make sure that they cannot come back to Afghanistan and reestablish a platform from which they can organize and equip themselves to do what they did several years ago. On that score, we're pretty successful in Afghanistan. SPIEGEL: But al-Qaida has not been destroyed. The terrorists are now operating from Pakistan. Jones: Unfortunately, there are some safe havens in Pakistan and it looks like the Pakistan army is seriously going after them. There are operations in Swat Valley and now in South Waziristan and we hope that they will continue. We intend to be of whatever help we can to ensure that they try to rid themselves of that cancer that exists between the two countries. SPIEGEL: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently expressed her disappointment in how the Pakistani government is fighting al-Qaida. Do you share her view? Jones: Well, if you had been here in March and asked me the question whether I'm more worried about Afghanistan or Pakistan, I would have said Pakistan because they had this policy of appeasement, which was flawed. I think they recognized it as well. Since March, they have done reasonably well in what they set out to do. We hope they have long-term objectives to go after all insurgents, not just theirs, but after the Afghan Taliban, al-Qaida, and other groups. This is really going to continue to eat at the fabric of their country if they don't. SPIEGEL: In Afghanistan, you were not amused by the Karzai government. Now he's going to be the next president. How unhappy are you with having to deal with Karzai? Jones: I don't think it's a question of happiness. It's a question of legitimacy. We recognize the election was by far not perfect, but in the end, it's extremely important that the Afghans think they have a legitimate president. If the legitimacy is questioned, then that makes it difficult for allies to continue. SPIEGEL: What do you expect President Karzai to do? Jones: We hope from this election will emerge a partner that will do much better in the second five years in the areas of governance, rule of law, economic development and development with the Afghan Security Forces. But we also need a better plan with the allies to gradually turn over responsibility for the country to Afghan institutions and organizations in as short a time as possible. SPIEGEL: When will the US troops be withdrawn? Jones: I don't know when that will be. But I do know that our president and other leaders are very insistent on doing everything that we can to make sure that it happens sooner rather than later. That we can in fact, begin to turn over responsibility to the Afghans. We can't want this more than the Afghans. So, if they want the promise of a democratic society and peace and stability, better opportunities for their children, then this government and all of the governors have to do a much better job than they've done so far. SPIEGEL: Are the United States right now in some kind of negotiations with the Taliban? Jones: No. We've let this electoral process play itself out, and now we will reengage with the government once it's formed. And then we will seriously consider all issues to bring security and stability to Afghanistan, as well as reconciliation and reintegration. SPIEGEL: Afghanistan is famously referred to as the "graveyard of empires." Jones: I know and that's why I say we cannot solve the problems with only military forces. You can keep on putting troops in, and you could have 200,000 troops there and the country will swallow them up as it has done in the past. There are many empires who tried to make Afghanistan a stable and different country, and there have always been neighbors which were not interested in a stable and centralized government. That's why I think it's not a US or European reconstruction program exclusively. We should encourage all of the neighbors to participate. SPIEGEL: Is it difficult to advise the president, Barack Obama? Jones: No, simply because he's a very good student of geopolitics. He understands strategy. He has a very inquisitive mind, and he prepares himself extremely well for all the meetings that he attends. You cannot come to his meetings without being prepared to say something because if you don't say anything, he will call on you. SPIEGEL: How does Obama react if somebody contradicts him? Jones: He actually encourages debate. He wants people to defend their positions. He is willing to listen. SPIEGEL: How do you define your job? Jones: The president can't do everything. So the role of the National Security Council is to identify the strategic issues that the president has to consider. You have to triage the issue, so that he tackles the really hard ones. Then you have to make sure that there's proper preparation of the issues before it gets to him. It starts with working groups, then the deputies of the inter-agency meet, and then the principals -- secretary of defense, secretary of state, secretary of treasury. I chair that group. And then when it's ready for the president, we have a full National Security Council meeting. And then people give their opinions around the table and then it gets to the point where eventually there's a decision. SPIEGEL: How has being in the White House changed your way of thinking? Are your ideas less like those of a general and more like those of a civilian now? Jones: As a matter of fact, the four years in NATO helped me do that quite a bit because NATO Secure is a political and military job as well. So for me it's not terribly difficult to leave the uniform behind and graduate over to this level, to this different way of looking at things. SPIEGEL: Being a military man, don't you miss having to make tough decisions quickly? Jones: It's more important to make good decisions. We have to ensure that the president is well served by the right process and that we stay at the strategic level. Where other White Houses have gotten in trouble sometimes is when the president gets down to the tactical level. For instance, I started my career in Vietnam when I was 23 years old, and even as a young lieutenant, I could see the influence of the White House in terms of what we were doing on the ground. If you let the president do that, then he's not staying at the level where he should. SPIEGEL: President Obama was elected one year ago. During the last year he has given many great speeches and delivered idealistic messages. Is he about to enter a new phase? Is it now time for delivery? Jones: I think that's right. The first year is your introductory year where you make your speeches, you present yourself, you present an image that you hope the country will embrace and achieve globally. Now the ideas are out there. The tasks are clear. The challenges are visible, and now you have to implement the ideas. SPIEGEL: General Jones, thank you very much for this interview.
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 Larry Ray, was published by the Rag Blog, October 4, 2009
Forty three years ago as a young civilian correspondent and documentary filmmaker, I stepped off the plane in Saigon knowing nothing about the history of that country or its people, and little or nothing about why Americans were fighting and dying there. I had come to see the war of my time.
As a U.S. Navy veteran and young news anchor for a South Texas regional TV station it seemed a given that we were there to fight godless communism and that we were the good guys.
It was 1966 and WWII had been over for 21 years and hostilities in Korea had ceased in 1953. But Americans still saw our military and patriotism as Johnny marching home again to ticker tape parades. We had whipped the Nazis and the Japs, and fought the North Koreans and commie Chinese to a draw. Clearly American might was not to be messed with.
But by 1966 America's claim of winning an honorable peace in South Vietnam was being seriously challenged by seasoned journalists in both Saigon and Washington D.C.. About the time I arrived, Morley Safer filed his story showing our Marines using a zippo lighter to set fire to thatch roofed homes in a rural village on a "search and destroy" mission. His was perhaps the first story that Americans saw that suggested America was facing bleak prospects of victory. We damn sure were not winning hearts and minds.
After a few months of sitting through bogus U.S. military press briefings which we called the "five o'clock follies," and working with seasoned reporters from around the world, my Boy Scout naiveté disappeared. After a year of the outright lies and misrepresentations in Pentagon and White House press releases about things I had seen with my own eyes, my naiveté turned to a frustrated, simmering anger. An anger that was ultimately taken to the streets across America just a few years later.
Since the Vietnam War, accredited correspondents have no longer been allowed to freely move about and report on our wars. Reporters are now "embedded" within military units under their control and influence.
The parallels between America's disastrous involvement in Southeast Asia and our costly and ill-advised involvement in the Middle East have fired up that frustration and anger anew. This time opposition by the average American to requests for more troops in Afghanistan is getting louder before the new call for 40,000 more troops has even been approved.
Our involvement in Vietnam started in 1950. General Eisenhower's decision to send military advisers to help the South Vietnamese army was the start of a massive buildup of American troop strength which reached a high of 543,482 in 1969. In the early years in Vietnam the Pentagon was still using a set-piece, WWII battle mentality, and Communism was our new political devil. And this was a hot, sweaty jungle war with no front lines.
Very few Americans spoke or understood the sing-songy monosyllabic Vietnamese language. The history and dynamics of a very old country that had been at war in some form or another for more than a thousand years was lost on those tasked with guiding America's efforts there.
The fiercest battles were being secretly waged between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Department of State. The State Department's political and diplomatic findings were muzzled and marginalized. We bombed Hanoi while increasing numbers of young draftees and regular American troops were being slaughtered as they fought fiercely in unforgiving conditions for a cause they did not understand. Almost twice as many Vietnamese, insurgents as well as civilians, died from our bombs and bullets.
America's strong belief in the efficacy of power reasoned that if bombing our way to peace was not working, there was no need to consider diplomacy or a new approach. Clearly we only needed to drop more bombs, send in more troops and the enemy would finally give up. And that is just what we did. The generals called for increasing the enemy body count to achieve peace and allow us to return home with honor. And our politicians went right along with that reasoning.
We failed to appreciate that we were in the middle of a very old private fight between North and South. Intelligence showed early on that a majority in the South was ready for peace, even a communist style of peace, and most of all wanted the "long noses" who they saw as raining destruction down upon them to be driven out of their country. In Vietnam there ultimately was no victory and no honor for America. Today Vietnam is peaceful and prosperous and an important trading partner with the USA, just like our top trading partner, communist China.
The military might mentality was challenged early on by president John F. Kennedy, who in 1961 bucked extreme pressure from the Pentagon and within his own White House, and refused to order combat troops into Vietnam, limiting our presence there to military advisers. JFK listened not only to his top military brass, but also to his State Department, particularly undersecretary George Ball who predicted pretty much what eventually happened, except reality was worse than what he envisioned. After JFK's death his order halting combat troops was reversed by President Johnson, driven more by domestic politics than military necessity.
In Vietnam 58,000 American troops were killed, 155,192 were wounded or missing. The touted "domino effect" where all Southeast Asia would topple country after country to communism if we didn't win in Vietnam now is easy to see as so much expedient political hysteria.
The story is, of course, much more complex than this, but the bare bones are that politicians and military leaders refused to listen to the State Department and other foreign service experts who laid bare the corrupt leadership of South Vietnam, and pointed out that this was a long simmering internal war of insurgency with strong nationalistic roots. The actual communist Chinese or Soviet Russian interest in and backing of the war was extremely limited.
Our desire to strike back after the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001, combined the totally inept leadership of the George W. Bush administration with, once again, expedient political hysteria. First we launched an inadequately planned and then insufficiently supported attack upon al Qaeda strongholds in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda top officials escaped to protective sheltering by tribal supporters who had seen their country invaded by the British, the Soviet union, and now American and NATO troops.
Then, with political misinformation, outright lies, a cowed press and a Congress that asked few questions, our government launched an unprovoked invasion of Iraq, which had nothing whatsoever to do with the 9-11 attacks on the USA. This mad neo-conservative misadventure has had a massively destabilizing effect upon the Middle East and has bred more hatred for the USA and our military in the Arab world.
It has also unnecessarily stressed our military's ready troop strength and equipment readiness with 4,300 U.S. troops killed and more than 30,000 wounded and injured as of September 2009. Cost of the Iraq war is expected to surpass the $686 billion present day dollar value cost of the Vietnam war by year's end.
One of President Obama's first actions after taking office was to make good on his promise to get us out of Iraq, and that is now underway. Though the dynamics, politics, religion and leadership are totally different from Vietnam, Iraq, like Vietnam, will ultimately reach its own destiny without the forceful imposition of American ideas and politics upon its ancient culture. We eliminated its despotic leader, but its people still must sort through complex religious and ideological differences on its own and they may or may not decide to remain some sort of democracy.
Afghanistan is an even older and thornier problem. And one that cannot be bombed into submission. Afghanistan was first invaded by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. The tribal warlords have never been successfully subdued. No "surge" of military troops will somehow completely overpower the zealotry of religious belief. Imagine foreign troops invading America trying to subdue and forcibly control ultra-orthodox elements of the Southern Baptist Convention or the Catholic Church, because they saw them as bad for the American people.
Afghanistan has never had organized, cohesive governance and is today just a fragile step away from becoming a failed state like Somalia. That is why it was an ideal location for Bin Laden to train his al Qaeda fighters. The American figurehead Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, has become a real problem for the U.S. as well as NATO. We had hoped, with our backing, he could somehow unify the disparate tribes flung through the mountains and badlands into a proud democracy.
But such dreams have been jarred by the reality of a Karzai-rigged national election with rampant vote tampering and voter intimidation. Karzai is no better than the warlords we want him to pull together. Karzai has now distanced himself from his American minders and has lost legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghan people.
Now we want to send in a massive number of new troops and equipment to somehow again "win hearts and minds" and drive out the Taliban with brute force.
While the Taliban have no designs upon terror against America or any of the other NATO nations now with troops in the country, they operate as brutal criminals in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. An increased armed American presence there is a daily irritant to Afghans, as well as neighboring rogue areas of Pakistan caught between foreign troops who often cannot tell the difference between peaceful civilians and the Taliban.
Once more we are fighting a war where troops do not speak the language or understand the people and are tasked with fighting often in 130º heat. The goal of preventing Afghanistan from again becoming an al Qaeda terrorist training ground cannot be accomplished by bombing the country into submission. This is a complicated political, diplomatic and sociological challenge.
President Obama, in office less than a year, just like JFK, must soon make a decision regarding the politically charged prospect of approving or disapproving more troops being called for by a top military general. I hope he is aware of the assessment of others who have tried to subdue this ragged country:
“Afghanistan taught us an invaluable lesson . . . It has been and always will be impossible to solve political problems using force. We should have helped the people of Afghanistan in improving their life, but it was a gross mistake to send troops into the country.”– Retired Red Army General Boris Gromov
This article, by Tom Engelhardt, was posted to Alternet, September 26, 2009
Front and center in the debate over the Afghan War these days are General Stanley "Stan" McChrystal, Afghan war commander, whose "classified, pre-decisional" and devastating report -- almost eight years and at least $220 billion later, the war is a complete disaster -- was conveniently, not to say suspiciously, leaked to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post by we-know-not-who at a particularly embarrassing moment for Barack Obama; Admiral Michael "Mike" Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has been increasingly vocal about a "deteriorating" war and the need for more American boots on the ground; and the president himself, who blitzed every TV show in sight last Sunday and Monday for his health reform program, but spent significant time expressing doubts about sending more American troops to Afghanistan. ("I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan... or sending a message that America is here for the duration.")
On the other hand, here's someone you haven't seen front and center for a while: General David Petraeus. He was, of course, George W. Bush's pick to lead the president's last-ditch effort in Iraq. He was the poster boy for Bush's military policies in his last two years. He was the highly praised architect and symbol of "the surge." He appeared repeatedly, his chest a mass of medals and ribbons, for heavily publicized, widely televised congressional testimony, complete with charts and graphs, that was meant, at least in part, for the American public. He was the man who, to use an image from that period which has recently resurfaced, managed to synchronize the American and Baghdad "clocks," pacifying for a time both the home and war fronts.
He never met a journalist, as far as we can tell, he didn't want to woo. (And he clearly won over the influential Tom Ricks, then of the Washington Post, who wrote The Gamble, a bestselling paean to him and his sub-commanders.) From the look of it, he's the most political general to come down the pike since, in 1951 in the midst of the Korean War, General Douglas MacArthur said his goodbyes to Congress after being cashiered by President Truman for insubordination -- for, in effect, wanting to run his own war and the foreign policy that went with it. It was Petraeus who brought Vietnam-era counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) back from the crypt, overseeing the writing of a new Army counterinsurgency manual that would make it central to both the ongoing wars and what are already being referred to as the "next" ones.
Before he left office, Bush advanced his favorite general to the head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the former president's Global War on Terror across the energy heartlands of the planet from Egypt to Pakistan. The command is, of course, especially focused on Bush's two full-scale wars: the Iraq War, now being pursued under Petraeus's former subordinate, General Ray Odierno, and the Afghan War, for which Petraeus seems to have personally handpicked a new commanding general, Stan McChrystal. From the military's dark side world of special ops and targeted assassinations, McChrystal had operated in Iraq and was also part of an Army promotion board headed by Petraeus that advanced the careers of officers committed to counterinsurgency. To install McChrystal in May, Obama abruptly sacked the then-Afghan war commander, General David McKiernan, in what was then considered, with some exaggeration, a new MacArthur moment.
On taking over, McChrystal, who had previously been a counterterrorism guy (and isn't about to give that up, either), swore fealty to counterinsurgency doctrine (that is, to Petraeus) by proclaiming that the American goal in Afghanistan must not be primarily to hunt down and kill Taliban insurgents, but to "protect the population." He also turned to a "team" of civilian experts, largely gathered from Washington think-tanks, a number of whom had been involved in planning out Petraeus's Iraq surge of 2007, to make an assessment of the state of the war and what needed to be done. Think of them as the Surgettes.
As in many official reassessments, the cast of characters essentially guaranteed the results before a single meeting was held. Based on past history and opinions, this team could only provide one Petraeus-approved answer to the war: more -- more troops, up to 40,000-45,000 of them, and other resources for an American counterinsurgency operation without end.
Hence, even if McChrystal's name is on it, the report slipped to Bob Woodward which just sandbagged the president has a distinctly Petraeusian shape to it. In a piece linked to Woodward's bombshell in the Washington Post, Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Karen DeYoung wrote of unnamed officials in Washington who claimed "the military has been trying to push Obama into a corner." The language in the coverage elsewhere has been similar.
There is, wrote DeYoung a day later, now a "rupture" between the military "pushing for an early decision to send more troops" and civilian policymakers "increasingly doubtful of an escalating nation-building effort." Nancy Youssef of McClatchy News wrote about how "mixed signals" from Washington were causing "increasing ire from U.S. commanders in Afghanistan"; a group of McClatchy reporters talked of military advocates of escalation feeling "frustration" over "White House dithering." David Sanger of the New York Times described "a split between an American military that says it needs more troops now and an American president clearly reluctant to leap into that abyss." "Impatient" is about the calmest word you'll see for the attitude of the military top command right now.
Buyer's Remorse, the Afghan War, and the President
In the midst of all this, between Admiral Mullen and General McChrystal is, it seems, a missing man. The most photogenic general in our recent history, the man who created the doctrine and oversees the war, the man who is now shaping the U.S. Army (and its future plans and career patterns), is somehow, at this crucial moment, out of the Washington spotlight. This last week General Petraeus was, in fact, in England, giving a speech and writing an article for the (London) Times laying out his basic "protect the population" version of counterinsurgency and praising our British allies by quoting one of their great imperial plunderers. ("If Cecil Rhodes was correct in his wonderful observation that 'being an Englishman is the greatest prize in the lottery of life,' and I'm inclined to think that he was, then the second greatest prize in the lottery of life must be to be a friend of an Englishman, and based on that, the more than 230,000 men and women in uniform who work with your country's finest day by day are very lucky indeed, as am I.")
Only at mid-week, with Washington aboil, did he arrive in the capital for a counterinsurgency conference at the National Press Club and quietly "endorse" "General McChrystal's assessment." Whatever the look of things, however, it's unlikely that Petraeus is actually on the sidelines at this moment of heightened tension. He is undoubtedly still The Man.
So much is, of course, happening just beyond the sightlines of those of us who are mere citizens of this country, which is why inference and guesswork are, unfortunately, the order of the day. Read any account in a major newspaper right now and it's guaranteed to be chock-a-block full of senior officials and top military officers who are never "authorized to speak," but nonetheless yak away from behind a scrim of anonymity. Petraeus may or may not be one of them, but the odds are reasonable that this is still a Petraeus Moment.
If so, Obama has only himself to blame. He took up Afghanistan ("the right war") in the presidential campaign as proof that, despite wanting to end the war in Iraq, he was tough. (Why is it that a Democratic candidate needs a war or threat of war to trash-talk about in order to prove his "strength," when doing so is obviously a sign of weakness?)
Once in office, Obama compounded the damage by doubling down his bet on the war. In March, he introduced a "comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan" in his first significant public statement on the subject, which had expansion written all over it. He also agreed to send in 21,000 more troops (which, by the way, Petraeus reportedly convinced him to do). In August, in another sign of weakness masquerading as strength, before an unenthusiastic audience at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, he unnecessarily declared: "This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity." All of this he will now pay for at the hands of Petraeus, or if not him, then a coterie of military men behind the latest push for a new kind of Afghan War.
As it happens, this was never Obama's "war of necessity." It was always Petraeus's. And the new report from McChrystal and the Surgettes is undoubtedly Petraeus's progeny as well. It seems, in fact, cleverly put together to catch a cautious president, who wasn't cautious enough about his war of choice, in a potentially devastating trap. The military insistence on quick action on a troop decision sets up a devastating choice for the president: "Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure." Go against your chosen general and the failure that follows is yours alone. (Unnamed figures supposedly close to McChrystal are already launching test balloons, passed on by others, suggesting that the general might resign in protest if the president doesn't deliver -- a possibility he has denied even considering.) On the other hand, offer him somewhere between 15,000 and 45,000 more American troops as well as other resources, and the failure that follows will still be yours.
It's a basic lose-lose proposition and, as journalist Eric Schmitt wrote in a New York Times assessment of the situation, "it will be very hard to say no to General McChrystal." No wonder the president and some of his men are dragging their feet and looking elsewhere. As one typically anonymous "defense analyst" quoted in the Los Angeles Times said, the administration is suffering "buyer's remorse for this war... They never really thought about what was required, and now they have sticker shock."
Admittedly, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 51% of Americans are against sending in more troops. (Who knows how they would react to a president who went on TV to announce that he had genuinely reconsidered?) Official Washington is another matter. For General Petraeus, who claims to have no political ambitions but is periodically mentioned as the Eisenhower of 2012, how potentially peachy to launch your campaign against the president who lost you the war.
A Petraeus Moment?
In the present context, the media language being used to describe this military-civilian conflict of wills -- frustration, impatience, split, rupture, ire -- may fall short of capturing the import of a moment which has been brewing, institutionally speaking, for a long time. There have been increasing numbers of generals' "revolts" of various sorts in our recent past. Of course, George W. Bush was insistent on turning planning over to his generals (though only when he liked them), something Barack Obama criticized him for during the election campaign. ("The job of the commander in chief is to listen to the best counsel available and to listen even to people you don't agree with and then ultimately you make the final decision and you take responsibility for those actions.")
Now, it looks as if we are about to have a civilian-military encounter of the first order in which Obama will indeed need to take responsibility for difficult actions (or the lack thereof). If a genuine clash heats up, expect more discussion of "MacArthur moments," but this will not be Truman versus MacArthur redux, and not just because Petraeus seems to be a subtler political player than MacArthur ever was.
Over the nearly six decades that separate us from Truman's great moment, the Pentagon has become a far more overwhelming institution. In Afghanistan, as in Washington, it has swallowed up much of what once was intelligence, as it is swallowing up much of what once was diplomacy. It is linked to one of the two businesses, the Pentagon-subsidized weapons industry, which has proven an American success story even in the worst of economic times (the other remains Hollywood). It now holds a far different position in a society that seems to feed on war.
It's one thing for the leaders of a country to say that war should be left to the generals when suddenly embroiled in conflict, quite another when that country is eternally in a state of war. In such a case, if you turn crucial war decisions over to the military, you functionally turn foreign policy over to them as well. All of this is made more complicated, because the cast of "civilians" theoretically pitted against the military right now includes Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general who is the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Douglas Lute, a lieutenant general who is the president's special advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan (dubbed the "war czar" when he held the same position in the Bush administration), and James Jones, a retired Marine Corps general, who is national security advisor, not to speak of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The question is: will an already heavily militarized foreign policy geared to endless global war be surrendered to the generals? Depending on what Obama does, the answer to that question may not be fully, or even largely, clarified this time around. He may quietly give way, or they may, or compromises may be reached behind the scenes. After all, careers and political futures are at stake.
But consider us warned. This is a question that is not likely to go away and that may determine what this country becomes.
We know what a MacArthur moment was; we may find out soon enough what a Petraeus moment is.
This article, by Gareth Porter, was posted to Alternet, March 26, 2009
WASHINGTON, Mar 25 (IPS) -- Despite President Barack Obama’s statement at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina Feb. 27 that he had "chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next 18 months," a number of Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), which have been the basic U.S. Army combat unit in Iraq for six years, will remain in Iraq after that date under a new non-combat label.
A spokesman for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Lt. Col. Patrick S. Ryder, told IPS Tuesday that "several advisory and assistance brigades" would be part of a U.S. command in Iraq that will be "re-designated" as a "transition force headquarters" after August 2010.
But the "advisory and assistance brigades" to remain in Iraq after that date will in fact be the same as BCTs, except for the addition of a few dozen officers who would carry out the advice and assistance missions, according to military officials involved in the planning process.
Gates has hinted that the withdrawal of combat brigades will be accomplished through an administrative sleight of hand rather than by actually withdrawing all the combat brigade teams. Appearing on "Meet the Press" Mar. 1, Gates said the "transition force" would have "a very different kind of mission," and that the units remaining in Iraq "will be characterized differently."
"They will be called advisory and assistance brigades," said Gates. "They won't be called combat brigades."
Obama’s decision to go along with the military proposal for a "transition force" of 35,000 to 50,000 troops thus represents a complete abandonment of his own original policy of combat troop withdrawal and an acceptance of what the military wanted all along -- the continued presence of several combat brigades in Iraq well beyond mid-2010.
National Security Council officials declined to comment on the question of whether combat brigades were actually going to be left in Iraq beyond August 2010 under the policy announced by Obama Feb. 27.
The term that has been used internally within the Army to designate the units that will form a large part of the "transition force" is not "Advisory and Assistance Brigades" but "Brigades Enhanced for Stability Operations" (BESO).
Lt. Col. Gary Tallman, a spokesman for the Joint Staff, confirmed Monday that BESO will be the Army unit deployed to Iraq for the purpose of the transition force. Tallman said the decision-making process now underway involving CENTCOM and the Army is to determine "the exact composition of the BESO".
But the U.S. Army has already been developing the outlines of the BESO for the past few months. The only change to the existing BCT structure that is being planned is the addition of advisory and assistance skills rather than any reduction in its combat power. The BCT is organized around two or three battalions of motorized infantry but also includes all the support elements, including its own artillery support, needed to sustain the full spectrum of military operations.
Those are permanent features of all variants of the BCT, which will not be altered in the new version to be deployed under a "transition force," according to specialists on the BCT.
They say the only issue on which the Army is still engaged in discussions with field commanders is what standard augmentation a BCT will need for its new mission.
Maj. Larry Burns of the Army Combined Arms Centre at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, told IPS that Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey directed the Combined Arms Centre, which specialises in Army mission and doctrine, to work on giving the BCTs the capability to carry out a training and advisory assistance mission.
The essence of the BESO variant of the BCTs, according to Burns, is that the Military Transition Teams working directly with Iraqi military units will no longer operate independently but will be integrated into the BCTs.
That development would continue a trend already begun in Iraq in which the BCTs have gradually acquired operational control over the previously independent Military Transition Teams, according to Maj. Robert Thornton of the Joint Center for International and Security Force Assistance at Fort Leavenworth.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command, has issued Planning Guidance calling for further refinement of the BESO. After further work on the additional personnel requirements, Casey was briefed on the proposed enhancement of the BCT for the second time in a month at a conference of four-star generals on Feb. 18, according to Burns.
Other names for the new variant that were used in recent months but eventually dropped made it explicitly clear that it is simply a slightly augmented BCT. Those names, according to Burns, included "Brigade Combat Team-Security Force Assistance" and "Brigade Combat Team for Stability Operations."
The plan to deploy several augmented BCTs represents the culmination of the strategy of "relabeling" or "remissioning" of BCTs in Iraq that was developed by U.S. military leaders in the wake of the surge of candidate Barack Obama to near-certain victory in the presidential election last year.
Late last year, Gen. David Petraeus, the CENTCOM chief, and Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander in Iraq, were unhappy with Obama’s pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat brigades within 16 months. But military planners quickly hit on the relabeling scheme as a way of avoiding the complete withdrawal of BCTs in an Obama administration.
The New York Times revealed Dec. 4 that Pentagon planners were talking about "relabeling" of U.S. combat units as "training and support" units in a Dec. 4 story, but provided no details. Pentagon planners were projecting that as many as 70,000 U.S. troops would be maintained in Iraq "for a substantial time even beyond 2011".
That report suggested that the strategy envisioned keeping the bulk of the existing BCTs in Iraq as under a new label indicating an advisory and support mission.
Secretary Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen discussed a plan to re-designate U.S. combat troops as support troops at a meeting with Obama in Chicago on Dec. 15, according a report in the Times three days later.
Gates and Mullen reportedly speculated at the meeting on whether Iraqis would permit such "re-labeled" combat forces to remain in Iraqi cities and towns after next June, despite the fact that the U.S.-Iraq withdrawal agreement signed in November 2008 called for all U.S. combat forces to be withdrawn from populated areas by the end of June 2010.
That report suggests that Obama was well aware that giving the Petraeus and Odierno a free hand to determine the composition of a "transition force" of 35,000 to 50,000 troops meant that most combat brigades would remain in Iraq rather than being withdrawn, as he ostensibly promised the U.S. public on Feb. 27.
An Open Letter to the Peace/Anti-War Movement from Iraq Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, and Veterans For Peace
After six years of war and the historic election of a new President, we as veterans, military and Gold Star families felt an urgent need to reach out to the larger peace/anti-war movements to make our position on Iraq clear during this time of political and economic uncertainty. Iraq Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out and Veterans For Peace continue to stand together in our demand to Bring the Troops Home Now! We ask all those who have stood with us in the past to stay faithful to the cause.
President Obama has announced a plan to gradually reduce troop levels in Iraq. Many in the peace/anti-war movements are breathing a sigh of relief, and suggesting that it is time for us to scale back our efforts to bring an end to the occupation of Iraq. But for our troops on the ground, their families and the Iraqi people, the nightmare continues. They need all of us to stay in the struggle. IVAW, MFSO and VFP have been long united in our call for an immediate and complete end to the occupation of Iraq and will not shift our stance under any circumstances.
President Obama's plan will result in more casualties and suffering for U.S. troops, their families and Iraqis. To the American public facing hard times here at home, two and a half more years of occupation may not sound like that long -- but for our troops and their families it means two and a half more years of fear, pain, and separation in a war and occupation based on lies.
Hundreds of the troops deployed in the next two and a half years will not come home alive. Many more will return forever scarred by deep wounds to their bodies, minds, and spirits. Well over a million Iraqis have died as a result of this war -- many more will be killed as the occupation continues.
We cannot afford the cost of empire. Today we are in the midst of the worst economic crisis most of us have seen in our lifetimes. Yet our government continues to allow the occupation to drain $10 billion a month from our nation's coffers. Meanwhile, veterans and military families struggle to put food on the table and get decent housing and adequate medical care. Women and men who risked their lives for this country are often forced to fight tooth and nail to get health care from an underfunded and overburdened Veterans Administration. Hundreds of thousands of veterans are homeless.
The occupation of Iraq is the source of the violence not the solution. Living under occupation the people of Iraq are held back from taking control of their own lives to determine their destiny. The continued U.S. military presence there is a cause of the violence they face, not its solution. U.S. continued interference contradicts the principles of democracy and self-determination our country was founded on.
IVAW, MFSO and VFP will continue to keep pressure on Congress and the President to bring all our troops home from Iraq NOW, ensure that veterans receive the care they need and deserve, and that the U.S. provides resources to rebuild a country we destroyed. But we cannot do that alone. We need your help to reach out to the vast majority of the American people who are completely isolated from the realities of this war. Please don't abandon this struggle or shift your position before the occupation is over and our veterans and the Iraqi people are on the path to healing.
Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) was founded by Iraq war veterans in July 2004 at the annual convention of Veterans for Peace (VFP) in Boston to give a voice to the large number of active duty service people and veterans who are against this war, but are under various pressures to remain silent. From its inception, IVAW has called for: Immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces in Iraq; reparations for the human and structural damages Iraq has suffered, and stopping the corporate pillaging of Iraq so that their people can control their own lives and future; and dull benefits, adequate healthcare (including mental health), and other supports for returning servicemen and women. IVAW's membership includes recent veterans and active duty servicemen and women from all branches of military service, National Guard members, and reservists who have served in the United States military since September 11, 2001.
Military Families Speak Out is an organization of people opposed to the war in Iraq who have relatives or loved ones who are currently in the military or who have served in the military since the buildup to the Iraq war in the fall of 2002. Formed by two families in November of 2002, MFSO now has over 4,000 member families. MFSO's national chapter, Gold Star Families Speak Out includes families whose loved ones have died as a result of the war in Iraq.
Founded in 1985, Veterans for Peace is a national organization of men and women veterans of all eras and duty stations spanning the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), World War II, the Korean, Vietnam, Gulf and current Iraq wars as well as other conflicts cold or hot. It has chapters in nearly every state in the union and is headquartered in St. Louis, MO. Our collective experience tells us wars are easy to start and hard to stop and that those hurt are often the innocent. Thus, other means of problem solving are necessary. Veterans For Peace is an official Non- Governmental Organization (NGO) represented at the U.N.
This article, by James Cogan, was published on the Woprld Socialist Website, 11 March, 2009
The desperation at the heart of the Obama administration's plans for escalating the war in Afghanistan was laid bare in the president's interview with the New York Times last Friday.
Asked if the US-led forces were winning the war in Afghanistan, Obama bluntly stated "No". The answer was the only one that could have been given. The armed insurgency against the US and NATO occupation has vastly expanded over the past several years.
Large areas of the ethnic Pashtun-populated southern provinces of Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan are effectively controlled by the Islamist Taliban movement or other anti-occupation forces such as the Hezb-e-Islami movement of warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
The rate of occupation casualties has doubled this year compared with the same period in 2008, with 54 American and NATO dead so far. Attacks on the Afghan government security forces have tripled, according to the US Government Accountability Office. More than 50 Afghan police are being killed by insurgents per month. In many parts of southern Afghanistan, police do not leave their stations.
The resistance is being fuelled by the resentment and hostility of a poverty-stricken population that has already suffered more than seven years of repression and intimidation by US-led forces in Afghanistan and the US-backed Pakistani military over the border. Under conditions in which the Islamists are viewed as the only ones fighting against US attempts to dominate the region, they have continued to attract support.
Taliban-linked cells now appear to be active in all the major cities in Pakistan, raising the danger of a broader war. The US-NATO land supply route through that country is already unreliable, forcing Washington to seek alternatives through Russia and Uzbekistan. Concerns in US military circles over supply lines into Afghanistan have even led to suggestions that China and Iran be asked to assist. Significantly, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has invited Iran to take part in a summit on Afghanistan later this month.
The military reality in Afghanistan is that the occupation force has been unable to suppress an insurgency that has significant popular support. Even with the extra 17,000 US personnel being sent by Obama, there will still be less than 90,000 US and NATO troops and barely 80,000 Afghan government personnel. Given the size, geography and population of the country, military analysts estimate that a force of upward of 500,000 would be needed.
In the tribal region of Pakistan, operations involving over 100,000 Pakistani troops have failed to break the grip of Taliban, close down the safe havens used by Afghan insurgents or stem their cross-border movements.
Within this context, the strategy outlined by Obama hinges on the ability of the occupation forces to replicate what was called the "Awakening" in Iraq during late 2006 and 2007.
Coinciding with the "surge" of 30,000 additional troops that boosted US strength in Iraq to over 160,000, the US commander General David Petraeus was authorised to implement a policy of bribing insurgent leaders and their fighters to cease their attacks. The groups sought out were overwhelming made up of Sunni Arabs. Eventually, over 100,000 joined US-paid militias, especially in the suburbs of Baghdad and the western province of Anbar, and assisted the US military to crush a radical Islamist minority within the insurgency.
Obama told the Times: "If you talk to General Petraeus, I think he would argue that part of the success in Iraq involved reaching out to people that we would consider Islamic fundamentalists, but who were willing to work with us because they had been completely alienated by the tactics of Al Qaeda in Iraq." In Afghanistan and Pakistan, he said, "there may be comparable opportunities".
The prospect of an Afghan or Pakistani "Awakening," however, ignores the main factor behind its development in Iraq. While in Anbar province there was conflict between traditional Sunni tribal leaders and Al Qaeda-aligned factions, the Sunni insurgents in Baghdad changed sides because they had been defeated in a vicious sectarian civil war against the Shiite fundamentalist parties that dominated the US-backed government.
Thousands of Sunnis were fleeing the capital to escape daily indiscriminate killings. By ending their resistance, the Sunni insurgents were primarily seeking to win US military protection for their suburbs and communities from the Shiite death squads that operated with impunity within the Iraqi army and police forces.
Even now, the situation remains fragile. The US occupation has created a sectarian divide in Iraq, which primarily benefits the Shiite elite at the expense of the predominantly Sunni ruling stratum who dominated the regime of Saddam Hussein. In the long term, the bitterness and frustration among those who felt they had no choice but to sign up for the Awakening could trigger renewed fighting against US forces and the Shiite-dominated government.
In Afghanistan and the tribal regions of Pakistan, there is no obvious reason for the Taliban or Hezb-e-Islami to bow to the occupation or accept the US-backed government, as occurred in Iraq. While they have suffered large casualties at the hands of the far better equipped US and NATO forces, their strategic position is far stronger now than at any time.
Haroun Mir, a former advisor to anti-Taliban Tajik warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud, commented to the British Guardian: "Reconciliation was a great idea in 2003 or 2004, when the government had the upper hand, but now things are all going the Taliban's way. They are at the edge of Kabul and they have no incentive to join the government's side."
A particularly blunt characterisation of the situation in the key province of Helmand was made on March 6 by Sebastian Morley, a former major in the British special forces who resigned from the army in protest over the conduct of the war.
Morley told the Telegraph: "The operations that we are conducting are so worthless. We hold tiny areas of ground in Helmand and we are kidding ourselves if we think our influence goes beyond 500 metres of our security bases. It's just crazy to think we hold that ground or have any influence on what goes on beyond the bases. We go out on operations, have a punch-up with the Taliban and then go back to camp for tea. We are not holding the ground.
"The Taliban know where we are. They know full well when we have gone back into camp. I don't think we have even scratched the surface as far as this conflict goes. The level of attrition and casualties is only set to rise. This is the equivalent to the start of the Vietnam conflict. There is much more to come."
At this point, the political settlement suggested by Obama could only be realised by offering factions of the Taliban or Hezb-e-Islami control over majority Pashtun provinces or ministries in the Afghanistan government. This would mean, however, sidelining their Pashtun opponents who have collaborated with the occupation, in particular those around President Hamid Karzai.
Such a policy is clearly being considered. US recriminations against Karzai's administration, over its corruption and incompetence, have grown steadily as the military situation has deteriorated. Karzai's supporters are alleged to have amassed considerable fortunes by plundering state revenue and taking bribes and kickbacks from heroin traders. Most prominently, Karzai's brother, Ahmed Ali Karzai, has been publicly accused by US agencies of overseeing drug trafficking in the southern province of Kandahar.
The Obama administration has made clear that its priority is to prevent US imperialism being driven out of Afghanistan. It has declared it has a "realistic" assessment of the government needed in Kabul—that is, it has abandoned the Bush propaganda that the US occupation is seeking to transform the country into a "flourishing democracy".
Moves to weaken and remove Karzai are underway. His term of office ends on May 21. The country's constitution states that presidential elections must be held 30 to 60 days before the end of the president's term. However, the electoral commission, backed by the US and NATO powers, has called the poll for August 20, on the grounds that security for a credible poll in much of the country would not be ready before then.
Karzai has legitimately interpreted the decision as a hostile move. He faces demands to step aside for a "caretaker" government after May 21. His decree that the election be held according to the constitution was rejected by the electoral commission last week. He is now insisting that he remain president until the ballot but agitation is continuing for his term to end on schedule.
The most vocal opposition to Karzai is coming from the Northern Alliance—the ethnic Tajik, Uzbek and Hazari warlords that fought alongside US forces in 2001. These are same people that the Obama administration would have to involve in any power-sharing arrangement with the Taliban. Supporters of the Northern Alliance also dominate the officer corps of the Afghanistan army.
Implicitly, Obama's Afghanistan policy is based creating a new warlord regime to replace Karzai's. Providing that factions of the Taliban and other Pashtun powerbrokers accept an ongoing US presence in the country, Obama would sponsor the parcelling out of spheres of influence between them and the Northern Alliance strongmen.
This sordid real politik highlights the reactionary and neo-colonial character of the occupation of Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of Afghans and hundreds of foreign troops have lost their lives for no other purpose than securing a base of operations for US imperialism as it seeks to extend its domination over the resource-rich regions of Central Asia and the Middle East.
This analysis, by Amy Goodman, was posted to Alternet, March 4, 2009
President Barack Obama met recently with the prime ministers of Canada and Britain. This week's meeting with Britain's Gordon Brown, who was pitching a "global New Deal," created a minor flap when the White House downsized a full news conference to an Oval Office question-and-answer session, viewed by some in Britain as a snub. The change was attributed to the weather, with the Rose Garden covered with snow.
It might have actually related not to snow cover, but to a snow job, covering up the growing divide between Afghanistan policies.
U.S. policy in Afghanistan includes a troop surge, already under way, and continued bombing in Pakistan using unmanned drones. Escalating civilian deaths are a certainty. The United Nations estimates that more than 2,100 civilians died in 2008, a 40 percent jump over 2007.
The occupation of Afghanistan is in its eighth year, and public support in many NATO countries is eroding. Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the 2001 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, told me: "The move into Afghanistan is going to be very expensive. ... Our European NATO partners are getting disillusioned with the war. I talked to a lot of the people in Europe, and they really feel this is a quagmire."
Forty-one nations contribute to NATO's 56,000-troop presence in Afghanistan. More than half of the troops are from the U.S. The United Kingdom has 8,300 troops, Canada just under 3,000. Maintaining troops is costly, but the human toll is greater. Canada, with 108 deaths, has suffered the highest per capita death rate for foreign armies in Afghanistan, since its forces are based in the south around Kandahar, where the Taliban is strong.
Last Sunday on CNN, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, "We're not going to win this war just by staying ... we are not going to ever defeat the insurgency." U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine: "The United States cannot kill or capture its way to victory." Yet it's Canada that has set a deadline for troop withdrawal at the end of 2011. The U.S. is talking escalation.
Anand Gopal, Afghanistan correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, described the situation on the ground: "A lot of Afghans that I speak to in these southern areas where the fighting has been happening say that to bring more troops, that's going to mean more civilian casualties. It'll mean more of these night raids, which have been deeply unpopular amongst Afghans. ... Whenever American soldiers go into a village and then leave, the Taliban comes and attacks the village." Afghan Parliamentarian Shukria Barakzai, a woman, told Gopal: "Send us 30,000 scholars instead. Or 30,000 engineers. But don't send more troops-it will just bring more violence."
Women in Afghanistan play a key role in winning the peace. A photographer wrote me: "There will be various celebrations across Afghanistan to honor International Women's Day on Sunday, March 8. In Kandahar there will be an event with hundreds of women gathering to pray for peace, which is especially poignant in a part of Afghanistan that is so volatile." After returning from an international women's gathering in Moscow, feminist writer Gloria Steinem noted that the discussion centered around getting the media to hire peace correspondents to balance the war correspondents. Voices of civil society would be amplified, giving emphasis to those who wage peace. In the U.S. media, there is an equating of fighting the war with fighting terrorism. Yet on the ground, civilian casualties lead to tremendous hostility. Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, recently told me: "I've been saddened and shocked by virulent anti-American responses to those wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan]. They're seen as occupations. ... I think it's very important we learn from mistakes of sounding war drums." She added, "There's such a connection from the Middle East to Afghanistan to Pakistan which builds on strengths of working with neighbors."
Barack Obama was swept through the primaries and into the presidency on the basis of his anti-war message. Prime ministers like Brown and Harper are bending to growing public demand for an end to war. Yet in the U.S., there is scant debate about sending more troops to Afghanistan, and about the spillover of the war into Pakistan
This analysis, by Mohammed A. Salih, was originally distributed by IPS, March 3, 2009
COLUMBIA, Missouri, U.S., Mar 3 (IPS) - When U.S. President Barack Obama announced his plan last week to pull out all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by September 2010, the news did not generate much enthusiasm among Iraqi Kurds.
A simple math operation reveals the reasons behind the Kurds' anxiety - add the withdrawal plan to the recent staggering victory of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's supporters in the country's recent provincial elections.
Kurds are now counting on Obama's oft-repeated pledge for a "responsible" withdrawal, hoping their interests will be preserved. But a review of statements by Kurdish and U.S. officials reveals the two sides are mostly talking at cross purposes when they speak of "responsibility."
Recently, Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani gave his interpretation of the term "responsible."
"I restate that the role of the United States should be to help resolve the problems in Iraq such as Article 140, the oil law, and the law on the distribution of its oil wealth," Barzani told reporters in the northern city of Irbil, tallying the list of contentious issues between Kurds and Iraqi government.
Article 140 refers to a constitutional provision to settle the critical issue of disputed territories between Kurds and Iraqi Arabs, including the gold-prize contested city of Kirkuk which is afloat on some of the world’s largest oil reserves.
But for the U.S., "responsibility" appears to mean making sure Iraqi security forces can take over the task of protecting the country against rebellious forces once it leaves. To achieve that end, the U.S. is equipping and training Iraqi security forces. But this is hardly reassuring to Kurds, many of whom see a conflict with Baghdad forthcoming in some form in the future.
When asked whether the U.S. will act to resolve the problems between Iraqi Arabs and Kurds before leaving the country, U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood replied: "It's not really up to the United States to reassure anyone" and that Iraqis had to work out their differences through their "democracy."
But the balance of power in Baghdad is quickly tilting toward forces which Kurds do not perceive as amenable. Just shortly before Obama officially declared the U.S. withdrawal plan, the Kurds’ number one opponent in Baghdad, PM Maliki, found himself in a boosted position as his coalition of the State of Law scored a quite unexpected victory in nine of Iraq’s 18 provinces including Baghdad, the country’s most populous city of around six million. With Kurds and Baghdad at odds over several crucial issues, Obama’s withdrawal plan would only further strengthen Maliki’s position.
Disputes between the country’s Kurds and central government go back to the early days of the foundation of modern Iraq by British colonialism in 1920s. At the heart of contention are large chunks of territory marking the separation line between Kurdish and Arab Iraq.
Iraqi governments, most notably under Saddam Hussein, expelled tens of thousands of Kurds and Turkomans from those areas and replaced them with Arab settlers. While Kurds want to annex these areas to their autonomous region known as Kurdistan, the vast majority of the country’s Arab political parties vehemently oppose such plans. Kurdish attempts to expand their federal region have sparked fierce reactions in Baghdad.
Spearheading a growing trend in Iraqi politics to abort Kurdish efforts and stalling the establishment of new autonomous regions is Shia Prime Minister Maliki. He has called for further centralisation of power in Baghdad, accusing Kurds of going overboard with their demands.
Besides strengthening Maliki’s position, the provincial elections delivered a major blow to the Kurds’ only powerful ally in Arab Iraq that advocates federalism: the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, previously known to be the most powerful Shia Arab party in the country.
With their power in Baghdad thought to be in decline, Kurdish leaders are these days loudly beating their anti-Maliki drum to draw international attention to their problems with the rest of Iraq. PM Barzani told the Associated Press last month that he thinks Maliki is seeking a "confrontation" with the Kurds.
Kurdish officials have even reportedly called on Obama to appoint a special envoy to resolve their long-standing problems with Iraqi Arabs.
One Kurdish official took it even further, telling the Associated Press that al-Maliki was a "second Saddam." The alleged statement by Kamal Kirkuki, Kurdish parliament deputy speaker, was so ill-calculated that he had to issue a statement denying that he ever gave an interview to the AP.
As tensions appear to escalate, a consensus is taking shape among many analysts that things are moving toward a possible flare-up point.
"The threat (of conflict) is real," Kirmanj Gundi, head of the Kurdish National Congress (KNC) in North America, told IPS in a phone interview from Nashville, Tennessee, where the largest Kurdish community in North America resides.
"It’s unfortunate that the Kurdish leadership became more vocal about this only recently," Gundi said. KNC is a non-profit organisation lobbying for Kurdish interests in the U.S. and Canada.
But concerns about a possible outbreak of conflict between Kurds and the Iraqi government have gone far beyond Kurdish circles.
"It is critical for the U.S. to start thinking about this now because as we proceed with the disengagement, our influence will wane in Iraq," said Henry Barkey from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, of the need for the U.S. to address existing problems between Kurds and the Iraqi government before it leaves the war-torn country.
Barkey authored a report for the Washington-based think-tank on how to prevent conflict over Kurdistan. "Therefore, we need to hit the iron when it is hot. And so, it is very important to help and we haven't done this in the past, to help look at some of these issues," Barkey said on the sidelines of an event at Carnegie to discuss his report last month.
While Washington appears indifferent, at least in its official discourse, to calls for helping forge a common understanding between Iraqi Kurds and Arabs, tensions are continuing to build.
In an attempt to flex its muscles, the Iraqi government recently announced it will not recognise the visas stamped by Kurdish government on the passports of foreign visitors. It also tried to send an army division to take over security tasks in Kirkuk but had to halt the plan for the time being as it met stiff Kurdish opposition.
The coming two years - from now until the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq - will be decisive in determining how the Kurds’ relations with the central government and the country’s Arabs will turn out. But all signs are that Iraq is far from a long-term stability.
This article, by Saeed Shah, was originally published by the Guardian, March 3, 2009
Three rival Pakistani Taliban groups have agreed to form a united front against international forces in Afghanistan in a move likely to intensify the insurgency just as thousands of extra US soldiers begin pouring into the country as part of Barack Obama's surge plan.
The Guardian has learned that three of the most powerful warlords in the region have settled their differences and come together under a grouping calling itself Shura Ittihad-ul-Mujahideen, or Council of United Holy Warriors.
Nato officers fear that the new extremist partnership in Waziristan, Pakistan's tribal area, will significantly increase the cross-border influx of fighters and suicide bombers - a move that could undermine the US president's Afghanistan strategy before it is formulated.
The unity among the militants comes after a call by Mullah Omar, the cleric who leads the Afghan Taliban, telling Pakistani militants to stop fighting at home in order to join the battle to "liberate Afghanistan from the occupation forces".
The Pakistani Taliban movement was split between a powerful group led by the warlord Baitullah Mehsud and his bitter rivals, Maulvi Nazir and Gul Bahadur. While Mehsud has targeted Pakistan itself in a campaign of violence and is accused of being behind the assassination of the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, Nazir and Bahadur sent men to fight alongside other insurgents in Afghanistan.
The move potentially provides short-term relief in Pakistan but imperils Nato forces, especially those stationed in southern and eastern Afghanistan, including the British, close to the Pakistani border.
"It's of concern to us when we see a grouping like that," said a western security official in Pakistan. "This can't be ignored."
Fears of an increase in fighting come as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned yesterday that civilians would face the brunt of any increase in violence in Afghanistan. Ordinary Afghans were now more at risk from the fighting than at any time since the start of the war in 2001, said Pierre Kraehenbuehl, director of operations for the ICRC.
Violence in Afghanistan intensified last year with some 5,000 people killed, including more than 2,100 civilians, a 40% increase on the previous year, the UN reported last month.
Pakistan was already under intense western pressure to act against extremists based in its tribal area. A western military adviser, also based in Pakistan, said a Pakistani Taliban alliance would cement the grip of the militants over Waziristan. The region is also home to Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida, who use Waziristan and other parts of the tribal area as a haven to regroup and launch attacks against Afghan and Nato forces.
"No insurgency has ever been destroyed as long as the sanctuaries are still alive. If the sanctuaries are gaining more strength, that certainly worries Nato," said the military adviser.
The Obama administration in Washington has announced 17,000 extra troops for Afghanistan. American forces will concentrate on areas close to the Pakistani border, which are seen as the most troublesome. Obama is pressing European countries to also boost their troop numbers.
In an apparent response to the augmented US challenge, Mullah Omar has directed Pakistani militants in Waziristan to halt attacks on Pakistani forces.Baitullah Mehsud is feared in Pakistan, having led an assault on his own country since 2007, killing hundreds of soldiers, policemen and ordinary Pakistanis through suicide attacks and other bombings. But his tactics, influenced by al-Qaida, were controversial even within the Taliban.
"If anybody really wants to wage jihad, he must fight the occupation forces inside Afghanistan," Mullah Omar told Pakistani militants in a letter. "Attacks on the Pakistani security forces and killing of fellow Muslims by the militants in the tribal areas and elsewhere in Pakistan is bringing a bad name to mujahideen and harming the war against the US and Nato forces in Afghanistan."
The Pakistani Taliban recognise Mullah Omar, founder of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan, as their ultimate leader, although operationally they work independently.
"Baitullah Mehsud is now taking on the Americans," said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general turned analyst. Baitullah Mehsud has recently called off his fighters in two key battles inside Pakistan, with ceasefires declared in Swat valley, in the North West Frontier Province, and Bajaur, another tribal area. While Pakistani forces claim to have "won" in Bajaur, they show no appetite for taking the war to Waziristan.
Controversially, the Pakistani government has acceded to the militants' demand for Islamic law in Swat. Under two secret peace deals signed by Pakistani authorities with the militants last year, covering north and south Waziristan, a truce exists there.
While western countries want to see the Pakistani army take the fight to Waziristan, Pakistani forces have been repeatedly defeated there. Major General Athar Abbas, chief spokesman for the Pakistan army, said that there was "no plan" to start operations in Waziristan. "It's the government that decides these things," he added.