Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by M K Bhadrakumar, was published in the Asia Times, November 9, 2009
Afghans do not like Britain's tutorial - not only on good governance but on any topic under the sun.
For a fleeting hour or two, a question hung in the rapidly chilling autumn air in the Hindu Kush: did British Prime Minister Gordon Brown speak last weekend at the behest of United States President Barack Obama or did he speak out of turn, as even experienced politicians are wont to? Then it went away. It really does not matter either way.
The damage has been done. Brown's speech on Afghanistan at the Royal College of Defense Studies in London on Friday was appalling in its content, timing and context. Perhaps, the indiscretion was deliberate. Politicians all over need to ventilate frustrations once in a while. Whenever cornered, they instinctively look for a scapegoat.
Things are not going well for the British troops deployed in Afghanistan. Ninety-three men have been killed this year - and, as Brown poignantly said, "That 93 is not just a number. Ninety-three families whose lives will never be the same again; 93 families without a dad, or a husband, a brother or son; 93 families this Christmas with a place at their table no one else will ever be able to fill."
A truly tragic situation, indeed. This tragedy was brought down on the British people by Brown's predecessor, Tony Blair, who should not have so enthusiastically volunteered for the war in 2001 when the George W Bush administration was contemplating the invasion of Afghanistan as one of the options to mitigate the anguish and anger the American people felt after the September 11 attacks. Of all countries in Europe, Britain knows Afghanistan best, after all. It is not the Falklands.
The British government is under pressure to explain the meaning of this war to a baffled public opinion. At the same time, paradoxically, the British establishment is keeping its fingers crossed and hoping against hope that Obama doesn't waffle.
Hanging onto the American coat-tails and keeping an open-ended presence in the heart of Asia bordering Iran, Central Asia, Xinjiang and Kashmir is critically important for Britain strategically to sustain its residual standing as a "global power" at the present transformational period in the world order, when the US is increasingly turning its attention to the East.
However, all this play still does not justify Brown's speech. Simply put, Afghans do not like Britain's tutorial - not only on good governance but on any topic under the sun. There is a long history behind contemporary Anglo-Afghan relations, which Afghans haven't forgotten. Two, Brown could have avoided the use of undiplomatic language - "Cronies and warlords should have no place in the future of a democratic Afghanistan." That's old-fashioned imperial language.
Three, Brown went far too "personal" - finger-pointing at President Hamid Karzai repeatedly by name. You don't finger-point at the president of a sovereign country. Four, Brown butted into a "no-go" zone - Karzai's appointments of cabinet ministers and provincial governors in his new government, having been re-elected for a second five-year term.
These appointments are central to the political contract in Kabul and it is extremely doubtful if Karzai is in a position to oblige Britain or any foreign power. At any rate, it is a bad idea for outside powers to arbitrate between Afghan groups and personalities during a cabinet formation.
The efficiency bar is never applied to power brokers in this part of the world. Look at India, Bangladesh or Pakistan, the three biggest "democracies" in South Asia. Few technocrats or professionals hold ministerial posts in the governments in Delhi, Dhaka or Islamabad. There is a cultural context that cannot be overlooked. Ministerial positions are considered as sinecure positions in these countries. Often there is a need to ensure equilibrium between different interest groups by accommodating them in cabinet positions.
In this part of the world, no one asks uncomfortable questions as to whether the politicians holding ministerial posts are indeed worthy of their exalted status - whether they have had formal education or are intellectually endowed and can think through problems and issues or are professionally competent. It is simply assumed that they are where they are because of what they are as politicians.
Besides, according to the Afghan constitution, Karzai has to go to parliament and seek endorsements for his cabinet appointments - a criteria that is lacking in India or Bangladesh or Pakistan. There is a power calculus at work in Kabul, one that cannot be micromanaged by Karzai.
Therefore, what Karzai can be expected to do is to appoint efficient civil servants to assist the political figures - "cronies and warlords" - who sit in his cabinet. On the contrary, what Western countries are trying to do is to impose on Karzai an English-speaking cabinet. Such an approach can only have one outcome, that is, a government that pulls in a dozen or more directions with no one in charge. That will be a sure recipe for greater inefficiency and corruption.
Therefore, Britain seems to be needlessly muddying the waters in the Afghan leader's difficult equations with the West, and this right on the eve of Obama's announcement of his new war strategy. What the calculation behind this could be is hard to tell. If any North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member country is singularly responsible for the deterioration of Karzai's equations with the West, it is Britain. And it all began as a scuffle over the appointment of provincial governors in Helmand and over the creation of the post of a viceroy for Lord Paddy Ashdown to browbeat Karzai, and it progressively widened into a rift that inveigled third parties.
The Afghan Foreign Ministry didn't even take a full day to rebuff the British leader's "instructions on the composition of Afghan governmental organs and the political policy of Afghanistan".
Now, what does London do? Is the British contingent in Helmand going to be withdrawn, which was precisely what Brown threatened he would do? Clearly, Karzai should be allowed to have a team of his choice in Kabul. He is entitled to it, just as is any occupant of No 10 Downing Street in London.
For argument's sake, what are Britain's choices today? If Karzai chooses his ways and policies and doesn't follow London's guidelines, will Britain remove him from power? Even assuming that Britain had such profound influence or clout, who would replace him? The three Afghan leaders in the succession chain would be Karzai's first and second vice presidents and the speaker of parliament. From the current lineup, Britain will have to settle for Mohammed Fahim, Karim Khalili or Younus Qanooni.
Thereby hangs a tale. It is yet to sink in that Karzai's victory signifies a turning point in Afghan politics. He rubbished the shenanigans in the Western political armory. Karzai's appearance on the victory rostrum in front of the Western media, flanked by Fahim and Khalili, said it all. If the West has not grasped the meaning of it, then it has lost its way completely.
Secondly, a splendid occasion is at hand to gracefully "legitimize" Karzai II, as French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner suggested last week in an interview with the New York Times. Kouchner pointed out that Western political experts who knew nothing about Afghanistan detected fraud by sampling ballots. "This is science. But politics is not science. It's the common touch," he said.
Kouchner obviously desires a good working relationship with Karzai's government. France has deployed a 3,000-strong contingent in Afghanistan. That is a sensible approach. Of all Western statesmen today who articulate on Afghanistan, Kouchner has a special claim to offer advice. He knows Afghanistan. He was a participant in the Afghan jihad in the 1980s, living and working inside Afghanistan as a young doctor assisting the mujahideen.
Equally, Kouchner underlined that NATO is in a virtual quagmire in Afghanistan. He asked with biting sarcasm, "What is the goal? What is the road? And in the name of what? Where are the Americans? It begins to be a problem. We [NATO] need to talk to one another as allies."
The West should propose to Karzai to seek help from all available quarters, especially from regional powers and other regional security bodies that are wiling to cooperate. At the present stage, as a reconciliation process with the Taliban is about to commence, the attempt should be to lend credence to Karzai's standing as far as possible, but at any rate not to discredit it for whatever reason. Karzai is not the enemy. He still prefers to be on the side of the Western alliance. Allow him to continue to the extent he can while navigating his way in a political arena of immense complexity.
It is not in the interests of Afghanistan's stabilization that a cabal of foreign countries - the US, Britain, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan - continues to hold the strings of conflict-resolution. Clearly, this is not the time for Britain's "great game" maneuverings in pursuit of its lost glory as a world power. The best bet for NATO is to get behind Karzai as quickly as possible.
Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.
This article, by Conn Hallinan, was posted to Foreign Policy in Focus, September 10, 2009
One of the oddest — indeed, surreal — encounters around the war in Afghanistan has to be a telephone call this past July 27. On one end of the line was historian Stanley Karnow, author of Vietnam: A History. On the other, State Department special envoy Richard Holbrooke and the U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal. The question: How can Washington avoid the kind of defeat it suffered in Southeast Asia 40 years ago?
Karnow did not divulge what he said to the two men, but he told Associated Press that the "lesson" of Vietnam "was that we shouldn't have been there," and that, while "Obama and everybody else seems to want to be in Afghanistan," he, Karnow, was opposed to the war.
It is hardly surprising that Washington should see parallels to the Vietnam debacle. The enemy is elusive enemy. The local population is neutral, if not hostile. And the governing regime is corrupt with virtually no support outside of the nation's capital.
But in many ways Afghanistan is worse than Vietnam. So, it is increasingly hard to fathom why a seemingly intelligent American administration seems determined to hitch itself to this disaster in the making. It is almost as if there is something about that hard-edged Central Asian country that deranges its occupiers. Delusion #1 In his address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Obama characterized Afghanistan as "a war of necessity" against international terrorism. But the reality is that the Taliban is a polyglot collection of conflicting political currents whose goals are local, not universal jihad.
"The insurgency is far from monolithic," says Anand Gopal, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor based in Afghanistan. "There are shadowy, kohl-eyed mullahs and head-bobbing religious students, of course, but there are also erudite university students, poor illiterate farmers, and veteran anti-Soviet commanders. The movement is a mélange of nationalists, Islamists, and bandits...made up of competing commanders and differing ideologies and strategies who nonetheless agree on one essential goal: kicking out the foreigners."
Taliban spokesman Yousef Ahmadi told Gopal, "We are fighting to free our country from foreign domination," adding, "Even the Americans once waged an insurgency to free their country."
Besides the Taliban, there are at least two other insurgent groups. Hizb-I-Islam is led by former U.S. ally Gulbuddin Hekmatyer. The Haqqani group, meanwhile, has close ties to al-Qaeda.
The White House's rationale of "international terrorism" parallels the Southeast Asian tragedy. The U.S. characterized Vietnam as part of an international Communist conspiracy, while the conflict was essentially a homegrown war of national liberation. Delusion #2
One casualty of Vietnam was the doctrine of counterinsurgency, the theory that an asymmetrical war against guerrillas can be won by capturing the "hearts and minds" of the people. Of course "hearts and minds" was a pipe dream, obliterated by massive civilian casualties, the widespread use of defoliants, and the creation of "strategic hamlets" that had more in common with concentration camps than villages.
In Vietnam's aftermath, "counterinsurgency" fell out of favor, to be replaced by the "Powell Doctrine" of relying on massive firepower to win wars. With that strategy the United States crushed the Iraqi army in the first Gulf War. Even though the doctrine was downsized for the invasion of Iraq a decade later, it was still at the heart of the attack.
However, within weeks of taking Baghdad, U.S. soldiers were besieged by an insurgency that wasn't in the lesson plan. Ambushes and roadside bombs took a steady toll on U.S. and British troops, and aggressive countermeasures predictably turned the population against the occupation.
After four years of getting hammered by insurgents, the Pentagon rediscovered counterinsurgency, and its prophet was General David Petraeus, now commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia. "Hearts and minds" was dusted off, and the watchwords became "clear, hold, and build." Troops were to hang out with the locals, dig wells, construct schools, and measure success not by body counts of the enemy, but by the "security" of the civilian population.
This theory impelled the Obama administration to "surge" 21,000 troops into Afghanistan, and to consider adding another 20,000 in the near future. The idea is that a surge will reduce the violence, as a similar surge of 30,000 troops had done in Iraq. Delusion #3 But as Patrick Cockburn of The Independent discovered, the surge didn't work in Iraq.
With the possible exception of Baghdad, it wasn't U.S. troops that reduced the violence in Iraq, but the decision by Sunni insurgents that they could no longer fight a two-front war against the Iraqi government and the United States. The ceasefire by Shi'ite cleric and Madhi Army leader Muqtada al-Sadr also helped calm things down. In any case, as recent events have demonstrated, the "peace" was largely illusory.
Not only is a similar "surge" in Afghanistan unlikely to be successful, the formula behind counterinsurgency doctrine predicts that the Obama administration is headed for a train wreck.
According to investigative journalist Jordan Michael Smith, the "U.S/ Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual" — co-authored by Petraeus — recommends "a minimum of 20 counterinsurgents per 1,000 residents. In Afghanistan, with its population estimated at 33 million, that would mean at least 660,000 troops." And this requires not just any soldiers, but soldiers trained in counterinsurgency doctrine. The numbers don't add up. The United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies currently have about 64,000 troops in Afghanistan, and that figure would rise to almost 100,000 when the present surge is completed. Some 68,000 of those will be American. There is also a possibility that Obama will add another 20,000, bringing the total to 120,000, larger than the Soviet Army that occupied Afghanistan. That's still only a fifth of what the counterinsurgency manual recommends.
Meanwhile, the American public is increasingly disillusioned with the war. According to a recent CNN poll, 57% of Americans oppose the war, a jump of 9% since May. Among Obama supporters the opposition is overwhelming: Nearly two-thirds of "committed" Democrats feel "strongly" the war is not worth fighting. Delusion #4 Afghanistan isn't like Iraq because NATO is behind us. Way behind us.
The British — whose troops actually fight, as opposed to doing "reconstruction" like most of the other 16 NATO nations — have lost the home crowd. Polls show deep opposition to the war, a sentiment that is echoed all over Europe. Indeed, the German Defense Minister Franz-Joseph Jung has yet to use the word "war" in relation to Afghanistan.
That little piece of fiction went a-glimmering in June, when three Bundeswehr soldiers were killed near Kunduz in northern Afghanistan. Indeed, as U.S. Marines go on the offensive in the country's south, the Taliban are pulling up stakes and moving east and north to target the Germans. The tactic is as old as guerrilla warfare: "Where the enemy is strong, disperse. Where the enemy is weak, concentrate."
While Berlin's current ruling coalition of Social Democrats and conservatives quietly back the war, the Free Democrats — who are likely to join Chancellor Angela Merkel's government after the next election — are calling for bringing Germany's 4,500 troops home.
The opposition Left Party has long opposed the war, and that opposition gave it a boost in recent state elections.
The United States and NATO can't — or won't — supply the necessary troops, and the Afghan army is small, corrupt and incompetent. No matter how one adds up the numbers, the task is impossible. So why is the administration following an unsupportable course of action? Why We Fight There is that oil pipeline from the Caspian that no one wants to talk about. Strategic control of energy is certainly a major factor in Central Asia. Then, too, there is the fear that a defeat for NATO in its first "out of area" war might fatally damage the alliance.
But when all is said and done, there also seems to be is a certain studied derangement about the whole matter, a derangement that was on display July 12 when British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told parliament that the war was showing "signs of success."
British forces had just suffered 15 deaths in a little more than a week, eight of them in a 24-hour period. It has now lost more soldiers that it did in Iraq. This is Britain's fourth war in Afghanistan.
The Karzai government has stolen the election. The war has spilled over to help destabilize and impoverish nuclear-armed Pakistan. The American and European public is increasingly opposed to the war. July was the deadliest month ever for the United States, and the Obama administration is looking at a $9 trillion deficit.
What are these people thinking?
This editorial, by Clara Gutteridge, was published by The Guardian, September 11, 2009
The foreign secretary, David Miliband, today admitted that MI6 had referred "a case" to the attorney general, involving complicity in torture by one of its agents operating abroad. In a letter to the shadow foreign secretary, Miliband reveals little else, except that the torture happened in an undisclosed foreign country; and unlike the tranche of recent cases where MI5 agents have been accused of complicity in torture, the victim in this case was not a UK national, or a UK resident.
There are many instances of individuals known to have been held in US secret prisons where it would have been a grave dereliction of duty for the British intelligence services not to have been involved in questioning the prisoners.
One such example is Abu Zubayda, accused of being an al-Qaida facilitator, arranging travel for would-be jihadists from the UK, among other countries, to attend training camps in Afghanistan. We also know that Abu Zubaydah was tortured by the US – he was waterboarded 83 times – and that during his interrogation, he implicated people who have turned out to be innocent. He was saying what he thought his torturers wanted to hear. And herein lies the question: were UK agents involved in the interrogation of people such as Abu Zubaydah – in principle, they should have been – and if they were, what did they do about his torture?
My bet is that they were involved, and that they did nothing about the torture, and that information about their activities is starting to leak out as things start to open up in the US with the various inquiries into torture and abuse getting under way across the Atlantic. Just as the US military attempted to blame the systematic abuse at Abu Ghraib on a few "bad apples" acting beyond their orders, the British government appears to be trying to ringfence the rising tide of evidence of its complicity in torture abroad.
To refer an individual agent for investigation by the attorney general conveniently places the blame squarely on the shoulders of a subordinate, and keeps people higher up the chain, including government ministers, out of the picture.
If there is one thing we should have learned from the various official reports and documents that have been released since Obama took office, it is that the abuse that has taken place in the name of "counter-terror" in the past eight years was anything but the actions of a few rogue agents. Rather, in the US at least, the torture was institutionalised. We now know that techniques such as almost drowning people, slamming their heads against walls and staging mock executions were operational norms in US prisons abroad. We also know that the torture programme was systematic, ordered from the top, and that it involved professionals – doctors, psychologists and lawyers.
Against such a cultural backdrop – one that legitimised and bureaucratised torture – it is looking increasingly untenable that British government ministers were unaware of what was going on, or that UK agents colluding in this programme were acting beyond orders.
Thus, as the government has tried to do with the MI5 agent who was involved in interrogating Binyam Mohamed in Pakistan, this recent referral is likely just a last-ditch attempt by the those in command to avoid justice. It is about time the leaders of our country stopped attempting to scapegoat a few unfortunate field agents and started to answer some questions about exactly how the Britain became the sort of country that is involved in torture.
This article, by Simon Tisdall, was originally published in The Guardian, September 7, 2009
Afghanistan's election debacle has increased the crushing weight of intractable problems besetting western policymakers
Hopes that a successful Afghan presidential election would assist western efforts to secure, stabilise and develop the country recede with every percentage point that is added to Hamid Karzai's tally. Karzai is said to have obtained 48.6% of the vote against 31.7% for his nearest rival with about 25% of ballots still to count. Only a small miracle or a massive counter-fraud can now stop him surpassing the 50% threshold required for re-election.
Karzai's looming "victory" is viewed with gloom in western capitals. It is believed, and not only by his opponents, to have been achieved via blatant, systematic, indefensible vote-rigging, bribery and intimidation. It was already tainted by pre-poll pacts between Karzai and notorious warlords and drug-traffickers. It was facilitated by the collusion of corrupt provincial officials afraid of losing their jobs. And it followed US and British failure to find a viable alternative candidate, or to install an Afghan "chief executive" or a western diplomatic satrap, to curb Karzai's powers.
The election debacle has thus increased, rather than eased, the crushing weight of intractable problems besetting western policymakers and soldiers struggling to make sense of Afghanistan. These difficulties are approaching critical mass as civilian deaths continue, western casualties mount and public support slides. Notwithstanding Gordon Brown's Afghan plan, enunciated last Friday, pressing decisions about what to do next, and how, will be made in the Oval Office, not Downing Street.
Barack Obama faces no shortage of advice, primarily from his top Afghan commander, General Stanley McChrystal, who has been reviewing strategy. McChrystal's broad conclusions – giving priority to protecting the Afghan people and enhancing government and civilian capacity – have already been leaked. Decisions on more specific proposals, such as raising US troop levels by 40-45,000 to well over 100,000 and pushing for more Nato troops, too, are now imminent.
Raising force levels again (he already sent an extra 21,000 earlier this year) represents an enormous political risk for Obama and one he is not in particularly good shape to take. His approval ratings have fallen faster than any first term president since Gerald Ford, he faces increasing resistance to his domestic agenda, notably healthcare reform, and the Afghan imbroglio is being recast by conservatives as Obama's "war of choice" rather than the "war of necessity" that he describes.
As in Britain, there is no consensus over war aims: is it self-defence, is it democracy promotion, is it nation-building, or is it about smashing the heroin trade? Few seem to agree. Among US allies there is diminishing appetite for the fight; it has become a divisive election issue in Germany while Japan's new government has pledged to end its involvement. On top of that, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs, and defence secretary Robert Gates freely admit time is running short to turn things around. Congressional Democrats, mindful of next year's mid-term polls, heartily agree.
Speaking last week, Mullen suggested the worsening security situation in Afghanistan must be reversed within the next 12 to 18 months or else the game would be up. "I think it is serious and it is deteriorating and I've said over the last couple of years that the Taliban insurgency has gotten better, more sophisticated," Mullen said. He spoke after a Washington Post-ABC News poll found most Americans felt the war was not worth fighting. Yet another international conference on Afghanistan, as proposed by Brown and Germany's Angela Merkel, is unlikely to change this dynamic.
Amid myriad solicited and unsolicited suggestions, Obama's choice boils down to two options: take full ownership of the war and dig in for the long haul, or lower one's sights and walk away as quick as is decent.
Opinions about which way he should jump vary hugely. George Will, honorary archdeacon of American conservative columnists, surprised his fans last week by advocating retreat. Washington should wash its hands of a country where travelling around is "like walking through the Old Testament", he said. "Forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively reviewed policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, air strikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500 mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters."
Will's offshore strategy ignored the fact that Afghanistan is landlocked – but it was clear what he meant.
Others urge Obama to roll his sleeves up and get stuck in. "Is winning in Afghanistan in the US vital national interest? I believe it is," said Thomas McClanahan in the Kansas City Star. "Pulling out would hand the jihadists a triumph and once again open up Afghanistan as a launching pad for terrorist strikes." Bruce Riedel, an Obama adviser, and Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution were at pains in the Wall Street Journal to emphasise western achievements, including economic growth and falling support for the Taliban, that they said should not be lightly squandered.
Just how high Afghanistan still stands in American consciousness, and why, was illustrated by a timely Chicago Tribune editorial. It complained Obama had not "spent enough time reminding Americans that an Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban and al-Qaida would regain its role as a terrorism hatchery". September would be crucial for the US debate on what to do, it added. "As that plays out, none of us should forget how that lawless country tolerated the development of one particularly heinous terror plot. It came to fruition eight years ago this week, on the 11th of the month."
This article, by Kim Sengupta was published in The Independent, Augiust 31, 2009.
The commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan will ask for 20,000 more international troops as part of his new strategic plan for the alliance's war against a resurgent Taliban, The Independent has learned.
The demand from General Stanley McChrystal will almost certainly lead to more British soldiers being sent to the increasingly treacherous battlegrounds of Helmand, the Taliban heartland, despite growing opposition to the war.
General McChrystal, tasked with turning the tide in the battle against the insurgency on the ground, has given a presentation of his draft report to senior Afghan government figures in which he also proposes raising the size of the Afghan army and police force.
But the request for troop reinforcements will come at a time of intensifying public debate about the role of the Nato mission. Last month saw a record number of troop deaths and injuries in a conflict that has claimed more than 200 British soldiers since the start of the US-led invasion in 2001. British losses rose sharply last month with 22 deaths, making it the bloodiest month for UK forces since the Falklands war. August has been the deadliest month for American troops in the eight-year war. Most of the deaths have come from lethal roadside bombs that Western troops appear unable to combat effectively. For the first time, the American public now views the fight against the Taliban as unwinnable, according to the most recent opinion polls.
The conduct of the Afghan government has not helped the mood on either side of the Atlantic. While US, British and other foreign troops are dying in what is supposedly a mission to rid Afghanistan of al-Qa'ida militants and make the country safe for democracy, the incumbent President stands accused of forging alliances with brutal warlords and overseeing outright fraud in an attempt to "steal" the national elections, the results of which are still being counted.
Last week, General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, intervened against a backdrop of heightened debate about the UK's military role. He stressed that the objective of the war was "to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a sanctuary for al-Qa'ida and other extremists".
According to General McChrystal's draft plan, the number of Afghan troops would rise from 88,000 to 250,000, and the police force from 82,000 to 160,000 by 2012. These increases are higher than expected, with previous suggestions that the totals would be raised to 134,000 and 120,000 for the army and police respectively.
The US commander will, however, ask other Nato countries to send further reinforcements and will travel shortly to European capitals to discuss the issue. It is widely expected that the UK will send up to 1,500 more troops. At the same time, a force of 700 sent to help provide security for the Afghan elections last week on a temporary basis will become a permanent presence.
Following the withdrawal from Iraq, British military commanders, backed by the then Defence Secretary, John Hutton, had recommended in the spring that up to 2,500 extra troops could be sent to Afghanistan. However, following lobbying from the Treasury, Gordon Brown agreed to only the temporary deployment of 700. Criticism of the decision by senior officers has led, it is claimed, to Downing Street changing its stance.
General McChrystal, who replaced Gen David McKiernan as Nato chief in Afghanistan earlier this year, was originally due to produce his strategic report this month, but decided to wait until after the Afghan presidential election. According to Western and Afghan sources he is continuing to take soundings from various quarters and the finalised document is due out after it becomes clear whether or not a second round of voting is needed to decide the outcome of the poll.
As part of an initial troop surge overseen by General McChrystal, the US has already committed to boosting its forces from 31,000 to 68,000 this year. However Richard Holbrooke, President Obama's envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan was told by commanders in Afghanistan last week that those numbers would not be enough for what is being viewed as defining months of fighting to come.
In his meeting with Afghan officials, General McChrystal is reported to have stated that the extra troops would be needed to enforce a new policy of maintaining a presence in the areas captured from insurgents. This will provide security for residents and allow reconstruction and development.
Other Nato nations have the option of focusing on the training of Afghan security forces. However, say American officials, failure by Nato countries to "step up to the plate" would mean the shortfall would be covered by the US.
Diplomatic sources have also revealed that plans are being drawn up to sign a "compact" between Afghanistan and the US which will reiterate Washington's commitment to the security of Afghanistan while the Afghan government pledges to combat corruption and reinforce governance. Unlike previous international agreements over Afghanistan, the compact will be bilateral, without any other governments being involved. The timing of the agreement is due to coincide with a visit by Mr Karzai to New York, if, as expected, he emerges the election winner.
The following letter, from Joe Glkenton to Gordon Brown, was posted to the Stop the War Coalition website, July 30, 2009
Joe Glenton outside Downing Street
Dear Prime Minister,
I am writing to you as a serving soldier in the British army to express my views and concerns on the current conflict in Afghanistan.
It is my primary concern that the courage and tenacity of my fellow soldiers has become a tool of American foreign policy. I believe this unethical short-changing of such proud men and women has caused immeasurable suffering not only to families of British service personnel who have been killed and injured, but also to the noble people of Afghanistan.
I have seen qualities in the Afghan people which have also been for so long apparent and admired in the British soldier. Qualities of robustness, humour, utter determination and unwillingness to take a step backwards. However it is these qualities, on both sides, which I fear will continue to cause a state of attrition. These will only lead to more heartbreak within both our societies.
I am not a general nor am I a politician and I cannot claim any mastery of strategy. However, I am a soldier who has served in Afghanistan, which has given me some small insight.
I believe that when British military personnel submit themselves to the service of the nation and put their bodies into harms way, the government that sends them into battle is obliged to ensure that the cause is just and right, i.e. for the protection of life and liberty.
The war in Afghanistan is not reducing the terrorist risk, far from improving Afghan lives it is bringing death and devastation to their country. Britain has no business there.
I do not believe that our cause in Afghanistan is just or right. I implore you, Sir, to bring our soldiers home.
Joe Glenton Lance/Corporal, Royal Logistics Corps
This article, by Seumqs Milne, was originally published by the Associated Press, May 3, 2009
Politicians crave a whitewash – but Britain must hold a fully open public inquiry into the bloodbath it helped to create
It's hardly surprising that those responsible for the human and social catastrophe unleashed by the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, on both sides of the Atlantic, should be desperate to rewrite its history – or try to salvage the shattered reputation of those armies that carried it out. In Britain, as the bulk of its troops withdraw after a campaign that has already lasted longer than the second world war, that propaganda offensive has now reached fever pitch.
Gordon Brown claimed yesterday that the wreckage of blood-drenched Iraq was a "success story". The defence secretary John Hutton insisted Britain should be proud of its "legacy" in the devastated cities of the south. Hilary Benn, the environment secretary boasted of his support for the original aggression on BBC's Question Time yesterday, declaring that " we leave Iraq a better place" – a line repeated word for word by the Sun today and echoed across much of the media.
But the politicians' craving for a whitewash is no reason for anyone else to give house room to such an absurd travesty of the truth. The Iraq war has been a monstrous crime. Based on a false pretext, it has left hundreds of thousands dead, created more than four million refugees, unleashed an orgy of ethnic cleansing and laid waste to the broken infrastructure of a country already on its knees from 12 years of sanctions and a generation of war.
On the eve of the 2003 invasion, Tony Blair told parliament that while there would be civilian casualties, Saddam Hussein would be "responsible for many more deaths even in one year than we will be in any conflict". Amnesty International reckoned annual deaths in Iraq linked to repression at the time to be in the low hundreds. Civilian deaths alone in the six years since the US-British attack are now estimated anywhere between 150,000 (the Iraqi government's figure) and a million-plus.
But when paying tribute to the 179 British soldiers killed in Iraq, ministers could not bring themselves to honour the victims of the bloodbath they helped inflict – let alone to acknowledge the tens of thousands of prisoners held without trial, the massacres and rampant torture Britain shares responsibility for: the very crimes of the former regime used to justify the war.
Yet to this day only one Briton has been found guilty of a war crime in Iraq: Donald Payne, convicted of inhuman treatement of detainees in Basra. No wonder a majority in Iraq and Britain have long wanted all foreign troops withdrawn – or that Iraqis find claims of a "burgeoning democracy", Britain's "successful mission" and tales of "reconstruction" hard to take remotely seriously. From Basra to Baquba, basic services, power supplies, sewage treatment and clean water are in grimly short supply, while a corrupt sectarian carve-up by a tightly licensed political elite survives only with the protection of US firepower.
That's why the prominent Basra-based president of the Iraqi oil workers' federation Hassan Juma'a wrote this month that history would not look kindly on Britain for its role in Iraq and that its troops' retreat would be the occasion for a "festival".
Of course Britain's withdrawal is welcome in both countries. But the occupation continues. The British army is handing over control of Basra to the Americans, while 400 British troops are to stay on as "advisers" and "trainers" – a reprise of the role they had in Iraq before 1958. In an ominous marker for the future, Brown yesterday declared he was anxious for Britain to get involved in "protecting" Iraqi oil supplies – which of course lay behind the invasion in the first place.
The British refusal to let go reflects the continuing slippage on a much larger scale of Barack Obama's own staged withdrawal plans. Not only does it seem all US combat troops will not after all be pulling out of Iraqi cities by the end of June, but there are persistent US hints that "agreement" may be reached with the Iraqi government to stay on after the announced full withdrawal by the end of 2011. The aggressors are clearly not going to go quietly.
Meanwhile, all the extravagant claims about a post-surge transformation of Iraq's security are once again looking foolishly premature. The killing of three US soldiers in Anbar province on Thursday confirmed a rising trend of resistance attacks in April, combined with a string of horrific suicide bombings and increasing civilian deaths, now running at over 400 a month.
There can only be a durable stabilisation of Iraq once the occupation has ended and all representative political forces are brought into a negotiated settlement. In the meantime, a political accounting for what has been inflicted on Iraq – which must include a fully open public inquiry – has yet to begin in Britain. That is essential for Britain's own corroded political culture – but also because the same blunders and crimes are now being repeated in the escalation of another US-led war: in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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