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 Saad Shalash and Waleed Ibrahim, was distributred by Reuters, October 25, 2009
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Two suicide bombs tore through Baghdad on Sunday, killing 132 people, wounding more than 500 and leaving mangled bodies and cars on the streets in one of Iraq's deadliest days this year.
The two blasts shredded buildings and smoke billowed from the area near the Tigris River. The first bomb targeted the Justice Ministry and the second, minutes later, was aimed at the nearby provincial government building, police said.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office said that the bombs were meant to sow chaos in Iraq similar to attacks on August 19 against the finance and foreign ministries, and were aimed at stopping an election in January.
"It is the same black hands who are covered in the blood of the Iraqi people," a statement from Maliki's office said. "They want to cause chaos in the nation, hinder the political process and prevent the parliamentary election."
U.S. President Barack Obama said the bombings were outrageous and the White House said he had called Maliki and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to pledge to "stand with the Iraqis."
"These bombings serve no purpose other than the murder of innocent men, women and children, and they only reveal the hateful and destructive agenda of those who would deny the Iraqi people the future that they deserve," Obama said in a statement.
Violence has fallen since U.S.-backed tribal sheikhs helped wrest control from al Qaeda and Washington sent extra troops.
But attacks are still common in a nation trying to rebuild from years of conflict and prepare for the election at the same time as U.S. forces start to withdraw.
Officials have blamed unnamed neighbours for not stopping the attacks -- a reference to Iraqi complaints that Syria provides a safe haven for former Baathists while citizens of other Sunni Muslim states help fund the insurgency in Iraq. Iran, meanwhile, has been accused of funding and arming Shi'ite militia.
"The neighboring and distant countries should immediately refrain, forever, from harboring, financing and facilitating forces that openly proclaim their hostility to the Iraqi state," Talabani said in a statement.
Attacks could rise in the run-up to the election -- the second national vote since U.S. troops invaded in 2003 -- as forces in and around Iraq jockey for influence over the world's third largest oil reserves.
Some lawmakers criticized the security forces for failing to stop the attack. Government officials blamed the bombings on al Qaeda or remnants of former leader Saddam Hussein's Baath party. "Big Failure"
The area near the provincial building was flooded and fire fighters pulled charred and torn corpses off the streets. Burned cars piled up nearby. Workers on cranes combed the broken facade of the Justice Ministry, pulling out bodies wrapped in blankets.
"I don't know how I'm still alive. The explosion destroyed everything. Nothing is still in its place," shop owner Hamid Saadi told Reuters by telephone from near the Justice Ministry.
U.S. forces provided forensics teams and bomb experts.
Police sources said the bombs were carried in vans driven by suicide bombers while others said a truck and car were used.
The al-Mansour hotel, which houses the Chinese embassy and several foreign media groups, was also damaged.
U.S. officials say the attacks are aimed at reigniting the sectarian conflict that gripped Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion that deposed Saddam, or at undermining confidence in Maliki before the parliamentary poll.
Maliki is widely expected to campaign on improved security. The attacks were launched as his government tries to sign multi-billion dollar crude deals, expected to turn Iraq into the world's third largest oil producer.
The bombings raise doubts about the Iraqi forces' ability to take over overall security from U.S. soldiers who pulled out of Iraqi city centers in June ahead of the complete withdrawal from the country by the end of 2011.
"This breach is a big failure of the security forces who are responsible, along with the security officials, for what happened," said Jalal al-Din al-Sagheer, who heads the parliamentary bloc of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, one of Maliki's main Shi'ite rivals in the coming election.
This articl;e, by Jane Arraf, was published by the Christian Science Monitor, October 14, 2009.
BAGHDAD - The crisis between two of the Middle East's most powerful countries deepened Wednesday as Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said talks with Syria over suicide truck bomb attacks had failed and the United Nations would appoint a special envoy to investigate the violence.
"After four meetings the government realized that these meetings are pointless and they have not produced any ... tangible results or any movement," said Mr. Zebari, speaking from a Foreign Ministry still being rebuilt after two tons of explosives were detonated outside the building on Aug. 19.
Zebari said Wednesday he had just been informed that several senior officials were being put forward as candidates within the UN to respond to Iraq's request for a formal investigation into the attacks on the Foreign and Finance ministries. Almost 100 people were killed and 800 wounded in the twin attacks – the first to strike at the heart of the Iraqi state.
"These names are being circulated and discussed so I am hopeful, I am optimistic that soon we would have an investigator or an international envoy to look at this," Zebari told reporters in his first press conference since he stood in the ruins of the bombed ministry the day after the attack. UN spokesman Farhan Haq said Wednesday morning that while no decision had been taken on a possible envoy, the secretary-general was "looking into how best to respond to the government's request in consultation with Iraq and other stakeholders." Investigation would focus on Syria The request for an investigation into foreign interference in Iraq would also include Iran and other neighbors but the Iraqi government has focused on the suicide truck bombs which Iraq has blamed on Baath Party extremists living in Syria. Forty-three Foreign Ministry employees, many of them young diplomats, were killed and 508 injured, more than 100 of them seriously, in the August attack.
Syria, which is on the US State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, has denied that it was involved in any way in the bombings or that it harbors the suspects Iraq has asked it to extradite. US officials have said that Damascus had curbed the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq over the past two years but has been unwilling to completely crack down on anti-Iraq extremists in an apparent attempt to maintain leverage over Iraq.
"We are asking to extradite two Iraqis whom we believe are responsible for the attacks of Aug. 19. They lived, worked, and operated in Syria and this is a fact," says Zebari, who heads the Iraqi commission investigating the attacks. He said after the press conference that Iraq was "every day uncovering more and more evidence" of Baathist extremist activity in Syria.
"They are unwilling to help or assist in that in any way.... I personally do not believe there will be a quick resolution. I hope there will be – this is my job, my work, to resolve crises not to galvanize crises. But the prospect so far does not look good for instant and immediate resolution." Debate about role of Baathists Iraq has not released evidence to back its claims of Syrian complicity, but US military commanders and intelligence officials in Iraq over the past year have pointed to Saddam Hussein loyalists as a top threat in Iraq and have said that Syria has a track record of refusing to hand over those suspects wanted for attacks in Iraq. The extent to which Al Qaeda operatives have formed an alliance with Baath Party extremists loyal to Mr. Hussein has been a subject of debate, but American and Iraqi officials describe it as a marriage of convenience – although the two have differing ideologies, Al Qaeda in Iraq is believed to have supplied the suicide bombers while the Baathist extremists provided the logistics and planning.
Some Iraqi politicians, particularly Sunni leaders, have cast doubt on the largely Shiite Iraqi government's effort to lay the blame on Baathists in Syria, with some saying they believe Al Qaeda in Iraq carried out the attacks on its own.
Zebari said that if the appointment of the special UN envoy did not move forward, Iraq was prepared to take the issue further by forcing a special meeting of the UN Security Council in which all the member states would have to make public statements about Iraq's claims. Fallout from the Aug. 19 bombings Iraq and Syria each recalled their ambassador after the bombing. Iraq is one of Syria's biggest export markets and Iraqi officials have not ruled out closing its borders to Syrian products. Such a move could have repercussions on an estimated 1 million Iraqi refugees still living in Syria.
In a tour for a small group of reporters, Zebari showed off floors of the foreign-designed ministry which are being entirely rebuilt by Iraqi engineers and laborers working around the clock. He stopped to greet a ministry worker on crutches who had just come back after being treated for her injuries.
Many of the diplomats and consular employees resumed work at the Foreign Ministry just days after the bombing on the few floors that had not been damaged by the bomb.
"This building was a piece of rubble," Zebari said, pointing to the rebuilt walls and new floors in a building where every piece of glass had been shattered. "But it will take time to be completely fixed."
This article, by Forrrest Wilder, was published by the Texas Observer, August 17 2009.
In March, Michael Kern, 22, returned to Fort Hood after a year and a day in Iraq.
Shaken by his experience and disgusted with the war, Kern, a native of Riverside, Calif., tried to readjust by getting as hammered as possible. “Put it this way: For the first month, I was drunk at work, I was drunk 24/7.”
In Iraq the violence had been fast and furious. “We were going through all sorts of bad shit: mortars, IEDs, indirect fire. Anything you can think of we experienced the first day.”
On his second mission, Kern drew the short straw to drive the lead vehicle—a “mine resistant ambush protected” vehicle—in a convoy looking for a weapons cache near Baghdad. An IED exploded next to his vehicle, damaging his door. The platoon pulled back to base. The next day, April 7, on an identical mission, insurgents came after his unit with AK-47s, machine guns and IEDs. During the nine-hour firefight, a sniper killed Kern’s buddy, Sgt. Richard A. Vaughn. Two others, including Kern’s lieutenant, were seriously injured.
Kern tells me his story over two days in July at Under the Hood Café, a new GI coffeehouse and soldier-outreach center that opened in February. Since mid-May, when a drunken Kern first dropped in, Under the Hood has become his second home. While awaiting a medical discharge for PTSD and traumatic brain injury, he’s here almost every day, working out what happened to him in Iraq, planning anti-war events and helping other soldiers come to terms with their combat experiences. The coffeehouse provides a support network, friends who’ve helped him quit drinking, people he can call on day or night, and provides what Kern appreciated most about the military: a sense of camaraderie.
“If it wasn’t for this place, it’s sad to say, I feel like I would be dead. I feel like I would have killed myself,” Kern says.
Under the Hood is a rifle shot from the east gates of Fort Hood in a grim commercial zone of tattoo parlors, pawnshops, car lots, payday lenders, bars, strip clubs, and a place advertising “gold grillz” for teeth—establishments eager to drain young soldiers of their earnings. In this garrison town, the café has become a gathering place for dissident GIs, peace activists, veterans and active-duty soldiers who need help.
Inside, the walls are decorated with peace propaganda, including a map of the world pinpointing U.S. military interventions and a poster that reads, “You Can’t Be All that You Can Be if You’re Dead.” A bookcase is stocked with anti-war literature. For entertainment, there’s a dartboard, a foosball table and a big-screen TV with PlayStation. No alcohol is allowed, but there’s no shortage of cigarette smoke.
I came here to suss out efforts to build an anti-war movement within the Army. Fort Hood, the largest military installation in the country, has produced a smattering of war resisters in recent years. I met some of them at the coffeehouse, including Victor Agosto, an Iraq War veteran who refuses to deploy to Afghanistan, and Casey Porter, a mechanic who did two tours in Iraq. Porter, preparing to attend film school in Florida, recorded local life in Iraq, posting interviews with military personnel, battle footage and unvarnished street scenes.
Over the past four years, I’ve come into contact with scores of military personnel through my involvement with the Austin GI Rights Hotline, a group of volunteers trained to counsel service members about their rights.
Once a week, I sit on my couch and talk on the phone to soldiers, Marines and airmen who call with a dizzying array of issues, from the mundane to the impossibly complex. Many are stationed at Fort Hood. We get AWOL cases, people with untreated PTSD, 18-year-old enlistees who’ve found out their recruiter lied to them, middle-aged soldiers who’ve been stop-lossed, moms and dads calling on behalf of their kids, gay officers who’ve been outed—you name it. Some have made poor decisions; others are victims of a sometimes capricious, even cruel military system.
I got into it through my girlfriend. Katherine was in the news some years ago for being the first female conscientious objector to emerge from the war in Afghanistan. The military refused to recognize her as a conscientious objector, and after a long and painful process she was court-martialed and sentenced to 120 days in the brig. She ate lunch every day with Lynndie England, the young West Virginia woman best known for holding the leash in the infamous Abu Ghraib photos.
Joeie Michaels, Michael Kern’s roommate and an Under the Hood regular, used to dance at Babes, a Killeen strip club popular with GIs. Performing there, she made sure the troops left with a flier for the coffeehouse.
Under the Hood’s signal event was a Memorial Day peace march in the streets of Killeen, the city’s first since Vietnam. The Killeen newspaper reported about 70 participants. Cindy Thomas, the military spouse who manages the coffeehouse and plays den mother to the young, often-raucous soldiers, estimates about 10 to 15 were locals, including veterans and active-duty soldiers.
“It’s like a mother with a child,” Thomas says. “It’s unconditional love, and we help them any way we can.”
The building housing Under the Hood’s local antecedent, the Killeen coffeehouse Oleo Strut, is a few blocks away; it now houses an office complex. The Oleo Strut had a four-year run from 1968 to 1972, according to a history on Under the Hood’s Web site. Run by civilians and veterans, the Oleo Strut plugged Fort Hood soldiers into the Vietnam anti-war movement and spread their ideas in the barracks. An underground newspaper circulated from the coffeehouse, and the crowd there organized demonstrations and teach-ins. Musicians passed through, purportedly including a young Stevie Ray Vaughan.
“The tinder was very dry,” says Tom Cleaver, an Oleo Strut alum, Vietnam veteran and Hollywood screenwriter who helped raise money to start Under the Hood. “They ended up in ’69 and ’70 having big demonstrations there, a thousand guys marching in Killeen against the war.”
Fort Hood at that time was a holding station for soldiers returning from Vietnam with less than six months left on their enlistments. Before being discharged, many were deployed to suppress domestic riots and protests, including those at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
“Here they come back to America, and what does the Army want them to do?” Cleaver asks. “Fight a war in America. That radicalized a lot of guys. They came back with bad feelings about the war, and now they were supposed to go defend the war.”
There’s no draft now, nor is there a broader social counterculture, to tap into. Given that, Thomas says, one of Under the Hood’s primary functions is giving soldiers a place to speak openly.
“The military, they don’t want you to think for yourself,” Thomas says. “They don’t want you to be informed; they don’t want you to know that you have support because they function by fear and intimidation over these soldiers. So when you have a space where you can talk freely and find out what your rights are, you have that support, you have that kindness. It is a threat to them.”
One coffeehouse regular, Spc. Ben Fugate, told me that after his commander spotted his name in a Killeen Daily Herald article about the Memorial Day peace march, his unit was lectured for two hours on the dangers of protesting.
Fugate, who describes himself as “very conservative,” had been quoted in the paper saying, “I lost three buddies in my platoon in Iraq, and for what? Why lose more when we don’t have to?”
Kern, seated on a couch in a cozy back room at Under the Hood, explains how he became a coffeehouse fixture. It’s a Thursday in July, and he’s wearing a T-shirt that asks, “Got Rights?” He’s pale and swallowing tranquilizers to suppress panic attacks.
“I’m fucked up,” he says. “I know it.” Later, he says, “You know how they say a teenage boy thinks about sex every eight seconds. Every eight seconds I think about Iraq.”
Kern, a tanker, says his unit averaged about two and a half missions per day.
At first, Kern says, he was gung ho: “I was an excellent soldier. I took joy out of killing people in Iraq. It was such an adrenaline rush. I craved it.”
Over time, bravado faded into depression, guilt and a strong feeling that the war was wrong. When Kern deployed to Iraq he took a small handheld digital video camera and a laptop with editing software. He fixed the camera to his vehicle’s turret and captured hours of patrol footage.
Some of that raw video has been distilled to a 10-minute film called Fire Mission that’s available online.
In the film’s last minutes, Spc. Steven Pesicka, a soldier in Kern’s unit, narrates what he calls a “mortar mission for shock and awe” near an Iraqi village. The first mortar lands near a house, and the forward observer calls for the next one to be targeted 200 meters farther from the village. The mortar team thought that was too far away, Pesicka says. The film shows the second mortar hitting the town. “Oh fuck,” the forward observer is heard to say. “They did not drop 200 [meters], over. They hit the town.”
Minutes after the explosion, the soldier describes dead bodies being loaded into the back of trucks.
Such experiences led Kern to a radical form of empathy.
“If you just take a step back and you think, I mean, I’d be doing the same thing if Iraqis were in the United States,” Kern, dressed in battle fatigues, says in Fire Mission. “I’d be the dude trying to plant a bomb under the road. I’d be trying to kill them. Oh, hell yeah, get the fuck out of my country.”
Beginning in May or June, Kern started having nightmares, sometimes while he was awake. On several occasions he hallucinated an Iraqi child with half his skull missing, as real to him as the desert heat. His psychiatrist says the child might represent guilt, but all Kern knows is that it scared the shit out of him. In January, on his birthday, while his unit was on patrol, he told a commander—in confidence—that he was going to see a mental health specialist. The doctor prescribed Zoloft and sent him on his way. Back with his platoon, Kern discovered that the commander had ratted him out to his platoon sergeant.
“I was called out in front of the entire platoon, was made an example of, saying why are you going to mental health. This isn’t a war. This isn’t bad.” The next day, on a mission, Kern talked openly of suicide. “Still to this day, my buddy doesn’t know he talked me down, but I really wanted to kill myself on that mission. I had three loaded weapons sitting right next to me. I could have done it real easy.”
Back home, Kern avoided his demons, drowning them in drink. Thomas and Michaels encouraged Kern to open up.
“They’d be like, ‘How was Iraq?’ I’d say ‘Oh, it was just Iraq.’ I kept brushing it aside and stuff. They kept telling me, ‘You’re gonna break, you’re gonna break. You need to get help.’ ” Kern relented.
Michaels found a psychiatrist in Austin whom Kern has been seeing twice a week for free. In May he visited Fort Hood’s mental health services office, but was told he’d have to wait six weeks to see a doctor.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi child had followed Kern back to Texas. On the first of June, Kern was in the bathroom at Under the Hood when the child made an appearance. Afterward, Thomas and Michaels found Kern sitting outside under a tree. “The look on his face was just empty. His eyes were hollow,” Thomas says. Kern entered the 12-bed psychiatric ward at Fort Hood’s military hospital. He spent the next week there, emerging with a diagnosis of PTSD and traumatic brain injury. Doctors put him on five medications, including tranquilizers, antidepressants and antipsychotics, which he carries in a small orange pillbox.
A week after being released, Kern started a blog, “Expendable Soldier.” In his first post he wrote, “I still hate myself and everything I do. No matter what I am doing any day of the week I some how am still reminded of the things I did while I was in Iraq, and sometimes it gets so bad that I believe I am still in Iraq. ... Sometimes I wish I never came back.”
Still, Kern reports for duty at the coffeehouse every day. He’s working on restarting an Iraq Veterans Against the War chapter in Killeen and talking to other soldiers about the coffeehouse. Does he feel like he’s become part of an anti-war movement? “I am part of an anti-war movement,” he says. “There’s no ‘feeling’ about it.”
This article, by Patrick Cockburn, was originally published in The Independent, May 9, 2009
One of the four soldiers killed on a day that will go down as among the bloodiest for the British in Helmand was described last night as "the bravest of warriors and a selfless hero".
Corporal Sean Binnie, 22, was shot as he went to the aid of the Afghan National Army soldiers he was mentoring, said his commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Cartwright, adding: "With no thought for his own safety, he went forward to engage the enemy and get his comrades out of danger."
Cpl Binnie, of The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, was killed on Thursday during a battle with the Taliban near Musa Qaleh. He died on the same day as three more soldiers from other regiments were killed in incidents across the southern Afghan province.
Last night his wife Amanda said: "My husband, my hero – you have been so strong and brave. Our married life has been a short six months and I'm speaking for both of us in saying it was the best six months ever. I know you have died a happy married man in doing what you loved. We're so proud of you. God bless you babe." While his mother Janette said the family were proud but devastated, Cpl Binnie's friends spoke of an enthusiastic, determined man for whom "second best just wasn't good enough".
Since joining the Army as a teenager, the "excellent junior non-commissioned officer" had already served in Iraq – where The Black Watch endured some of the harshest fighting of the British forces' time in the country when deployed north to support the Americans in 2004.
Remembering his love of chess and chocolate, his friends said that his selfless courage on the day he died was typical of the man.
"He was not just a soldier but a hero to the end. I am proud to say I knew him; a comrade, a friend fearless in battle, and a true leader of men. The bravest of warriors, our fallen brother," said Lance Corporal Charles Brady.
Three separate attacks on Thursday brought the total British death toll in Afghanistan to 157.
Two of the dead – one from the1st Battalion, The Royal Gurkha Rifles and one from the 3rd Regiment, the Royal Military Police – were killed when their patrol was attacked by a suicide bomber in the town of Gereshk on the main Herat to Kandahar road.
The bomber detonated his explosives close to a military vehicle in the bazaar in Gereshk and killed 21 Afghan civilians as well as the British soldiers.
The Taliban are increasingly using suicide bombers and one of their spokesmen said early this week that in some provinces they already had enough volunteers to carry out bombings for three or four months. Gereshk, one of the most heavily-populated parts of Helmand, lies on flat well-watered land north of the provincial capital Lashkar Gah. It is not considered a Taliban stronghold by Afghans from the area. Most of its people are farmers who grow opium poppies as well as wheat and corn.
The fourth British soldier to die was from the 2nd Battalion, The Rifles and was killed by a mine in the road or and improvised explosive device near Sangin. The Taliban is now in the habit of utilising mines, detonated by a command wire or electronically, to attack military patrols.
Meanwhile the US military has strenuously denied that its aircraft killed 147 Afghan civilians on Monday in three villages in Farah province, saying that the number was "extremely over-exaggerated". Abdul Basir Khan, a member of the provincial council, says he collected the names of 147 dead villagers from relatives. Local officials all cite the number of villagers killed as being well over 100.
The American explanation has been that the Taliban killed many villagers with grenades. This is denied by local people and photographs of the ruins of the villages show large craters and shattered mud brick walls, which look as if they had been destroyed by the blasts of large bombs. Many of the bodies have been buried in mass graves, but those pictured before burial show that many had been blown apart by the explosions. There are no signs of bullet holes in the walls of the villages or any spent cartridges on the ground, which suggests that bombs alone inflicted the damage.
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 article, by Tom Vanden Brook, was originally published by USA Today, January 26, 2009
WASHINGTON — Roadside bomb attacks against coalition forces in Afghanistan hit an all-time high last year, killing more troops than ever and highlighting an "emboldened" insurgency there, according to figures released by the Pentagon.
Last year, 3,276 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) detonated or were detected before blowing up in Afghanistan, a 45% increase compared with 2007. The number of troops in the U.S.-led coalition killed by bombs more than doubled in 2008 from 75 to 161. The Pentagon data did not break down the casualties by nationality.
Roadside bombs in Afghanistan wounded an additional 722 coalition troops last year, setting another record.
In Afghanistan, "an emboldened, increasingly aggressive enemy has increased the use of IEDs," Irene Smith, a spokeswoman for the Joint IED Defeat Organization, the Pentagon's lead agency for combating roadside bombs, said in an e-mail.
"The trajectory of trends in 2008 has been in the wrong direction," Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution, said Sunday of the IED records. "We're losing the war. This shows a greater capacity on the part of the Taliban and other insurgents to cause more death, destruction and challenges to the legitimacy of the Afghan government."
Army Gen. David McKiernan, the top commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, said in an interview last month that Taliban and other militants use roadside bombs to kill troops, terrorize civilians and sow disorder.
"It's part of a change in tactics by the insurgency to go into more complex, smaller-scale, more asymmetric ambushes that attack softer targets," McKiernan told USA TODAY. "IEDs don't discriminate between civilian and military so it's the single biggest killer in Afghanistan — civilian and security forces."
President Obama has pledged to devote more resources to Afghanistan. McKiernan has asked to nearly double the size of the U.S. forces — the largest group in the international coalition — to 60,000 troops. Combat engineers who clear roads and defuse bombs are among the forces that U.S. and NATO commanders need, McKiernan says.
Vice President Biden warned Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation that fighting in Afghanistan will intensify and that "there will be an uptick" in casualties.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon plans to rush as many as 10,000 new armored vehicles to Afghanistan to counter roadside bombs. Commanders there have issued an urgent request for a lighter, more maneuverable version of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, known as MRAPs. Few paved roads and rugged mountain terrain prevent the use of MRAPs in parts of Afghanistan.
Devices useful in Iraq to counter roadside bombs may have to be "ruggedized" to work in parts of Afghanistan, Navy Capt. Vincent Martinez, deputy commander of Task Force Paladin, said in an interview at Bagram Air Base last month. The task force combats IEDs in Afghanistan.
"We've got a fight on our hands," he said. "This is not just affecting the future of Afghanistan. It's for the future of the entire region. We cannot allow terrorists to have safe havens."
O'Hanlon, who says he supports McKiernan's goal of providing better security for the Afghan people, said reversing the trend in roadside bomb attacks is critical to success there.
"People in Afghanistan need a reason to join the army and not the Taliban," O'Hanlon said. "They need some sense of hope."
In Iraq, where roadside bomb attacks are far more prevalent, the number of IED attacks continues to fall. There were 8,999 such attacks in 2008. The all-time high was 24,302 in 2006.
Better security in Iraq has prompted civilians there to provide coalition forces with more tips on where bombs are planted and who is making them, Smith said.
Since the two wars began, 570 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan and 4,220 in Iraq.