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 was posted to Press.TV, August 2, 2009
Following the bloodiest month for foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan, roadside bombs and ambushes have killed 9 more NATO troops in the war-ravaged country.
Three American troops were killed on Saturday when a roadside explosion ripped through an army convoy in the troubled southern Kandahar Province.
Meanwhile, two Canadian soldiers were also killed on Saturday in the same region where foreign troops have lost several grounds to the insurgents over the past months.
Also, a French soldier died after a deadly gun battle with militants north of the capital, Kabul.
Moreover, another three US soldiers died in an ambush in the volatile Wardak province on Sunday.
The US military confirmed the latest deaths, saying that the insurgents killed the troops with gunfire after attacking their military convoy.
July was the deadliest month for international forces since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Seventy-five foreign troops -- including 43 Americans -- were killed in militant attacks across Afghanistan particularly in the troubled southern and eastern provinces during the deadly month
This article, by Dahr Jamail, was posted toTruthOut, July 14, 2009.
US Army Specialist Victor Agosto served a 13-month deployment in Iraq with the 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion. "What I did there, I know I contributed to death and human suffering," Agosto told Truthout from Fort Hood, in Killeen, Texas, in May, "It's hard to quantify how much I caused, but I know I contributed to it."
His experience in Iraq, coupled with educating himself about US foreign policy and international law, has led Agosto to refuse to deploy to Afghanistan. "It's a matter of what I'm willing to live with," he said of his recent decision, "I'm not willing to participate in this occupation, knowing it is completely wrong."
Agosto's lawyer, James Branum, who is also the legal adviser to the GI Rights Hotline and co-chair of the Military Law Task Fore, told Truthout during a phone interview on July 10 that, contrary to mainstream opinion that believes Afghanistan to be a "justified" war, the invasion and ongoing occupation are actually in violation of the US Constitution and international law.
"Victor is approaching this from the standpoint of law and ethics," Branum explained, "It's his own personal ethics and principles of the Nuremburg Principles, that the war in Afghanistan does not meet the criteria for lawful war under the UN Charter, which says that member nations who joined the UN, as did the US, should give up war forever, aside from two exceptions: that the war is in self-defense, and that the use of force was authorized by the UN Security Council. The nation of Afghanistan did not attack the United States. The Taliban may have, but the nation and people of Afghanistan did not. And under US Law, the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution, any treaty enacted by the US is now the "supreme law of the land." So when the United States signed the UN Charter, we made that our law as well."
The Supremacy Clause is a clause in the United States Constitution, Article VI, Paragraph 2. The clause establishes the Constitution, Federal Statutes, and US treaties as "the supreme law of the land." The text establishes these as the highest form of law in the American legal system, mandating that state judges uphold them, even if state laws or constitutions conflict.
This was also the basis for the stand taken by Lt. Ehren Watada of the US Army, who in 2006 was the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse a combat deployment to Iraq.
In an article for Truthout published August 14, 2006, I posted the text of a speech given by Watada at a National Convention of Veterans for Peace in Seattle, Washington, where I was present.
Watada outlined the principled stand he took, which applies to that of Victor Agosto today:
"The oath we take swears allegiance not to one man but to a document of principles and laws designed to protect the people. Enlisting in the military does not relinquish one's right to seek the truth - neither does it excuse one from rational thought nor the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. "I was only following orders" is never an excuse.
"The Nuremburg Trials showed America and the World that citizenry as well as soldiers have the unrelinquishable obligation to refuse complicity in war crimes perpetrated by their government. Widespread torture and inhumane treatment of detainees is a war crime. A war of aggression born through an unofficial policy of prevention is a crime against the peace. An occupation violating the very essence of international humanitarian law and sovereignty is a crime against humanity. These crimes are funded by our tax dollars. Should citizens choose to remain silent through self-imposed ignorance or choice, it makes them as culpable as the Soldier in these crimes.
"Aside from the reality of indentured servitude, the American Soldier in theory is much nobler. Soldier or officer - when we swear our oath - it is first and foremost to the Constitution and its protectorate, the people. If soldiers realized this war is contrary to what the Constitution extols - if they stood up and threw their weapons down - no president could ever initiate a war of choice again. When we say, "... Against all enemies foreign and domestic" - what if elected leaders became the enemy? Whose orders do we follow? The answer is the conscience that lies in each soldier, each American, and each human being. Our duty to the Constitution is an obligation, not a choice."
In a victory for Lieutenant Watada, the Justice Department decided in May to drop any further attempts to retry the officer for his refusal to deploy to Iraq.
Having served three years and nine months in the US Army, Agosto was to complete his contract and be discharged on August 3, but due to his excellent record of service and accrued leave, he was to be released at the end of June. Nevertheless, due to the stop-loss program (a program used to keep soldiers enlisted beyond the terms of their contracts which has affected over 185,000 soldiers since September 11, 2001) the Army decided to deploy him to Afghanistan anyway.
When Agosto refused, the Army issued him a Counseling Statement (a punitive US Army memo) on May 1, which outlined actions taken by the Army to discipline Agosto for his refusal to obey a direct order from his company commander, Michael J. Pederson. Agosto wrote on the form, "There is no way I will deploy to Afghanistan. The occupation is immoral and unjust. It does not make the American people any safer. It has the opposite effect," and posted it on his FaceBook page.
On another Counseling Statement dated May 18, Agosto wrote, "I will not obey any order I deem to be immoral or illegal."
On May 27, rejecting an Article 15 - a nonjudicial punishment imposed by a commanding officer who believes a member of his command has committed an offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice - Agosto demanded to be court-martialed instead.
In words prophetic of Agosto's ethical and lawful refusal to deploy to Afghanistan, Watada said:
"I have broken no law but the code of silence and unquestioning loyalty. If I am guilty of any crime, it is that I learned too much and cared too deeply for the meaningless loss of my fellow soldiers and my fellow human beings. If I am to be punished it should be for following the rule of law over the immoral orders of one man. If I am to be punished it should be for not acting sooner."
Agosto continues to show up for duty at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, where he is currently stationed, but refused to take part in any duties that supported either the occupations of Iraq or Afghanistan. He told Truthout during a recent telephone interview he was "cleaning the motor pool" and "pulling weeds," and that the Army was being careful not to order him to do anything that would cause him to refuse to comply.
Meanwhile, Branum was in negotiations with the Army in efforts to seek a lower-level court-martial so that Agosto would suffer the minimum penalties possible.
"We were working with the Army's Trial Defense Services (TDS), and Victor has a military lawyer on his side as well, which I recommended he have," Branum told Truthout during a July 10 phone interview.
"TDS had communicated to the prosecution for me that we were willing to accept an Article 15 and do a month of extra duty, then if he (Agosto) got a summary court-martial we'd take it - which would mean Victor would serve a maximum of 30 days in jail, and receive an Other Than Honorable discharge," Branum explained, "So TDS said they took this offer to the CG (Commanding General) who was to sign off on it, but they said he made a mistake and wrote "special" rather than "summary" on the court-martial and sent it back down."
Branum explained that "a summary court martial is little more than an Article 15. Supposedly there was an "honest" mistake made by them handing down this special court martial, but I think they are playing games with us."
Branum, angered by this recent turn of events, explained the difference between the types of court martial, "They (the Army) are not acting in good faith here. What this still means, is the cap went from 30 days (of possible jail time for Agosto with a summary court martial) to a year (with a special court martial), so a pretty big jump I would say, and a leap from an Other Than Honorable discharge (summary court martial) to a bad conduct discharge (special court martial), which means once he is convicted his pay would stop."
Due to the perceived breach of good faith by the Army during the negotiating process, Branum believes he has no choice now but to up the stakes in Agosto's upcoming court-martial.
"Now we're going to put the war on trial with their special court-martial," Branum said, "They had their chance to keep this quiet and move on, but now we're going to pull out all the stops and put the war on trial, and show how the whole thing is illegal."
The most significant factor in Agosto's case is that he has taken a principled stand against the occupation of Afghanistan long before the "point of crisis," according to Branum. The "point of crisis" to which he refers is generally an ethical crisis a soldier experiences when he or she is getting on the plane to deploy.
"He connected the dots long before that point of crisis," Branum explained, "To me, this is a very morally developed point of view. Most resisters don't reach that point until much later on."
It is a similar point reached by Watada, who in the aforementioned speech precisely articulated this experience:
"Now it is not an easy task for the Soldier. For he or she must be aware that they are being used for ill-gain. They must hold themselves responsible for individual action. They must remember duty to the Constitution and the People supersedes the ideologies of their leadership. The Soldier must be willing to face ostracism by their peers, worry over the survival of their families, and of course the loss of personal freedom. They must know that resisting an authoritarian government at home is equally important to fighting a foreign aggressor on the battlefield. Finally, those wearing the uniform must know beyond any shadow of a doubt that by refusing immoral and illegal orders they will be supported by the people not with mere words but by action."
Agosto spoke with Truthout on July 8, immediately after receiving the news of his "special" court-martial. "I was escorted over to the headquarters of Fort Hood and was handed a folder with the paperwork that said he (Commanding General Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch) approved this kind of court-martial. We were in the middle of negotiating a deal where I would have taken a summary court-martial, where the maximum penalty is 30 days in prison and an Other Than Honorable discharge. But somehow during this process someone submitted the case over to the general's discretion, and that' s not something that is supposed to happen in this negotiation phase. I'm surprised, because I thought this deal was going to go down last week and it didn't. I was with my military lawyer, and we were talking about the case, and during that discussion she got the call from the prosecuting attorney that the case had been referred to the general, and then we knew it wasn't likely we would get the deal I'd sign ed off on. So yesterday I went to the III Corps building and got the news."
Agosto said he has "gotten the indication" that he will be leaving the company he is currently in to be moved to the Battalion's rear-detachment company "because that's the one that will stay here. I think they want to avoid a Jeff Paterson moment, I guess that's their thinking. They won't try to deploy me, they just want to punish me for my intentions and for what I've done so far."
Jeff Paterson was a US Marine during the US attack against Iraq in 1991. Paterson opted to apply for conscientious objector status. When that was denied, he refused to board the plane that was heading to Saudi Arabia during the build-up to the war by literally sitting down on the tarmac and refusing to move. Eventually his unit left without him. Paterson told his story to Truthout last summer in Oakland, California.
"Leaving without me is what I thought they were going to do. I was a sort of liability. Also I had been on a hunger strike the previous week, and had at that point become a medical issue for them. So they left me behind, and I was taken instead to the Pearl Harbor brig, where I did the next two months in pre-trial confinement. I was court-martialed for a number of offenses. Ultimately they chose to cut their losses and give me a quiet discharge even before the court-martial ended."
Agosto's stand has already inspired another member of his unit to refuse to deploy to Afghanistan as well. Sgt. Travis Bishop, who served 14 months in Baghdad with the 57th Expeditionary Signal Battalion - the same battalion as Agosto, who served north of the Iraqi capital - recently went AWOL from his station at Fort Hood, Texas, when his unit deployed to Afghanistan. He insists that it would be unethical for him to deploy to support an occupation he opposes on moral grounds.
On his blog, he writes about his position:
"I love my country, but I believe that this particular war is unjust, unconstitutional and a total abuse of our nation's power and influence. And so, in the next few days, I will be speaking with my lawyer, and taking actions that will more than likely result in my discharge from the military, and possible jail time ... and I am prepared to live with that."
Truthout spoke with him briefly after he turned himself in at his base in early June. He said he'd chosen to follow Specialist Agosto's example of refusal, which had inspired him, and wanted to be present at his post to accept the consequences of his actions. Like Agosto, he, too, hoped others might follow his lead.
Agosto and Bishop are not alone. In November 2007, the Pentagon revealed that between 2003 and 2007 there had been an 80 percent increase in overall desertion rates in the Army (desertion refers to soldiers who go AWOL and never intend to return to service), and Army AWOL rates from 2003 to 2006 were the highest since 1980. Between 2000 and 2006, more than 40,000 troops from all branches of the military deserted, more than half from the Army. Army desertion rates jumped by 42 percent from 2006 to 2007 alone.
Branum, who has defended over a dozen war resisters, told Truthout, "As far as I know, this is the first time since Vietnam that we've had two resisters in the same unit."
Adam Szyper-Seibert, a counselor and administrative associate at Courage to Resist, an organization that supports war resisters, recently told Truthout that "in recent months there has been a dramatic rise of nearly 200 percent in the number of soldiers that have contacted Courage to Resist." Szyper-Seibert suspects this may reflect the decision of the Obama administration to dramatically increase efforts, troop strength and resources in Afghanistan. "We are actively supporting over 50 military resisters like Victor Agosto," Szyper-Seibert says. "They are all over the world, including André Shepherd in Germany and several people in Canada. We are getting five or six calls a week just about the IRR [Individual Ready Reserve] recall alone."
The IRR is composed of troops who have finished their active duty service but still have time remaining on their contracts. The typical military contract mandates four years of active duty followed by four years in the IRR, though variations on this pattern exist. Ready Reserve members live civilian lives and are not paid by the military, but they are required to show up for periodic musters. Many have moved on from military life and are enrolled in college, working civilian jobs, and building families.
Agosto told Truthout he stands willing to face the consequences of his actions.
"Yes, I'm fully prepared for this. I have concluded that the wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan] are not going to be ended by politicians or people at the top. They're not responsive to people, they're responsive to corporate America. The only way to make them responsive to the needs of the people is for soldiers to not fight their wars. If soldiers won't fight their wars, the wars won't happen. I hope I'm setting an example for other soldiers."
"One who breaks an unjust law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law," Dr. Martin Luther King Junior said, words that concisely explain the ramifications of Agosto's position.
As evidenced by the stand being taken by Sergeant Bishop, Agosto's hope has already been realized. However, with 19,000 US soldiers recently added to the occupation of Afghanistan (bringing the total to 68,000) and violence continuing to escalate, there is an increasing likelihood for more to follow Agosto's lead.
This article, by Anthony Lane, was originally publishd in the Colorado Spprings Independent, April 13, 2009
Since ditching the Army and the Iraq war two years ago, Kim Rivera has seen some things go her way.
The former Fort Carson soldier and her family found a new home in Canada, along with supporters to help them plead their case. From Toronto, the mother of three watched as American anti-war sentiment helped launch Barack Obama to the presidency.
But even as sentiment and sympathy align, the Texas native faces possible deportation, and imprisonment back in the States. Borys Wrzesnewskyj (pronounced rez-NEV-skee), a member of Canada's Parliament, says efforts to stop his country's government from deporting Rivera and hundreds of other Army deserters seem to be going nowhere.
"The government is standing shoulder to shoulder with the former Bush administration," Wrzesnewskyj says.
Given that the Obama administration has shown no sign of easing up on deserters, Wrzesnewskyj says, his question for Canada's conservative government is simple: "Why would you send this mother to prison and separate her from her three small children for taking a principled stand against an unjust war?"
Canada's minority government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has deported at least four U.S. deserters since July over the objection of a majority in Parliament who have voted twice to let the them stay. Robin Long, another Fort Carson soldier, got wide publicity as the first to be deported, and he is now serving 15 months in a California military jail.
Rivera was preparing to be deported March 26 before a Canadian federal judge granted her an emergency stay of removal, based on the similarly harsh sentence she could get in the U.S. She is now waiting to find out if the courts will review her application for refugee status in Canada.
"It gives me another day to fight," Rivera said in a March 25 press conference.
Though Rivera could not be reached for this story, she told the Dallas Observer that she joined the Army mostly to provide a better living for her family than she could by working at Wal-Mart. She later found she objected to the war effort and missed her loved ones.
Her publicity could hurt her if she's deported. Lee Zaslofsky, national coordinator of the Toronto-based War Resisters Support Campaign, says Long's outspokenness against the war could explain his 15-month sentence, nearly twice what another Fort Carson deserter received and longer than those of some soldiers who have admitted to taking part in the murder of Iraqi civilians.
Strictly speaking, desertion is punishable by death during time of war, though the Army has not tried to go that far. The first year of the Iraq war, 2,610 soldiers deserted. That number climbed to 4,698 in the year between October 2007 and September 2008. Most deserters just try to lie low in the States; those who avoid speeding tickets or other law-enforcement contact run little risk of getting scooped up by the Army.
Though many Vietnam-era deserters and draft-dodgers were later forgiven, few expect that to happen for modern-day deserters, particularly while combat continues. And despite Obama's position that soldiers shouldn't have been sent to Iraq to begin with, Army spokesman Lt. Col. George Wright says he's unaware of any plans to change treatment of those soldiers who opted out on their own.
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 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.
This article was originally published by Agence France Presse, March 4, 2009
WASHINGTON — US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Tuesday it was far too early to set a date for the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan, where NATO faces a growing insurgency.
"We would all like to have a situation in which our mission in Afghanistan has been completed and we can bring our troops home. I do not see that happening anytime in the near future," Gates told a news conference with his French counterpart, Herve Morin.
"I think it's impossible to put a date on when you might firmly say all the troops are coming out," Gates said.
The defense chief said a review of US strategy underway was examining the goals of the Afghan mission and how progress could be measured.
"And I think we will have a much better idea of the way forward, at least as far as the United States is concerned, when that review is complete," Gates said.
President Barack Obama has approved the deployment of an additional 17,000 troops to bolster the 38,000-strong US force in Afghanistan battling Taliban insurgents and other militants.
Morin said that France, which has more than 3,000 troops in Afghanistan, shared the same view and that a strategy with clearly-defined objectives would demonstrate that NATO states do not intend to stay in the country permanently.
"We will stay as long as necessary," Morin said.
But he added: "As the president of the Republic (Nicolas Sarkozy) said and as we all say, here, we do not want to stay forever."
Gates and other US officials have spoken of setting out more realistic goals in Afghanistan, comments which have raised concerns in Kabul of a possible early US exit.
US officials had assured Afghan Defense Minister Mohammad Rahim Wardak that Washington remained committed to Afghanistan, Gates said.
"I think that the conversations that he had here in Washington last week provided considerable reassurance to him that nobody was talking about abandoning Afghanistan, but rather we were trying to come up with shorter term goals, where we could measure progress," he said.
Gates also said the United States favors holding elections in Afghanistan on August 20 as scheduled but hopes a way can be found to address constitutional concerns raised by President Hamid Karzai.
US and NATO efforts to improve security for crucial elections in August have been complicated by Karzai's bid to move up the polls to April, before his term expires on May 21.
"I think it's a legitimate concern on the part of President Karzai," he said.
Karzai has issued a decree to schedule the polls in April, saying holding the polls after his term ends would violate the country's constitution.
But the Afghan voting authority as well as the United Nations and NATO allies have insisted the vote should be held later to allow time to prepare due to winter weather and a violent insurgency.
Gates said the election authority and the United States "think it would be difficult to arrange a fair and free election, and a relatively secure election in Afghanistan before August."
"What is happening here is an effort to try and figure out what is the best way to bridge the period from May 22nd to an election in August," Gates said.
"I think the international community, as well as different elements in the Afghan government and parliament are trying to figure out the right way forward here."
But Gates said Afghanistan would avert a constitutional crisis that could call into question the legitimacy of the Kabul government.
"I believe that there will be a government in Afghanistan after May 22nd that has legitimacy and has support for that legitimacy from different elements of the country and government," he said.
Before his meeting with Gates, the French defense minister said on Monday that holding elections in April could prove "complicated."
Britain has also urged Karzai not to go ahead with early elections in April, saying the August date was better for security reasons.
This article, by Gareth Porter, was published by IPS, February 2, 2009
WASHINGTON, Feb 2 (IPS) - CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus, supported by Defence Secretary Robert Gates, tried to convince President Barack Obama that he had to back down from his campaign pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months at an Oval Office meeting Jan. 21.
But Obama informed Gates, Petraeus and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen that he wasn't convinced and that he wanted Gates and the military leaders to come back quickly with a detailed 16-month plan, according to two sources who have talked with participants in the meeting.
Obama's decision to override Petraeus's recommendation has not ended the conflict between the president and senior military officers over troop withdrawal, however. There are indications that Petraeus and his allies in the military and the Pentagon, including Gen. Ray Odierno, now the top commander in Iraq, have already begun to try to pressure Obama to change his withdrawal policy.
A network of senior military officers is also reported to be preparing to support Petraeus and Odierno by mobilising public opinion against Obama's decision.
Petraeus was visibly unhappy when he left the Oval Office, according to one of the sources. A White House staffer present at the meeting was quoted by the source as saying, "Petraeus made the mistake of thinking he was still dealing with George Bush instead of with Barack Obama."
Petraeus, Gates and Odierno had hoped to sell Obama on a plan that they formulated in the final months of the Bush administration that aimed at getting around a key provision of the U.S.-Iraqi withdrawal agreement signed envisioned re-categorising large numbers of combat troops as support troops. That subterfuge was by the United States last November while ostensibly allowing Obama to deliver on his campaign promise.
Gates and Mullen had discussed the relabeling scheme with Obama as part of the Petraeus-Odierno plan for withdrawal they had presented to him in mid-December, according to a Dec. 18 New York Times story.
Obama decided against making any public reference to his order to the military to draft a detailed 16-month combat troop withdrawal policy, apparently so that he can announce his decision only after consulting with his field commanders and the Pentagon.
The first clear indication of the intention of Petraeus, Odierno and their allies to try to get Obama to amend his decision came on Jan. 29 when the New York Times published an interview with Odierno, ostensibly based on the premise that Obama had indicated that he was "open to alternatives".
The Times reported that Odierno had "developed a plan that would move slower than Mr. Obama's campaign timetable" and had suggested in an interview "it might take the rest of the year to determine exactly when United States forces could be drawn down significantly".
The opening argument by the Petraeus-Odierno faction against Obama's withdrawal policy was revealed the evening of the Jan. 21 meeting when retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, one of the authors of the Bush troop surge policy and a close political ally and mentor of Gen. Petraeus, appeared on the Lehrer News Hour to comment on Obama's pledge on Iraq combat troop withdrawal.
Keane, who had certainly been briefed by Petraeus on the outcome of the Oval Office meeting, argued that implementing such a withdrawal of combat troops would "increase the risk rather dramatically over the 16 months". He asserted that it would jeopardise the "stable political situation in Iraq" and called that risk "not acceptable".
The assertion that Obama's withdrawal policy threatens the gains allegedly won by the Bush surge and Petraeus's strategy in Iraq will apparently be the theme of the campaign that military opponents are now planning.
Keane, the Army Vice-Chief of Staff from 1999 to 2003, has ties to a network of active and retired four-star Army generals, and since Obama's Jan. 21 order on the 16-month withdrawal plan, some of the retired four-star generals in that network have begun discussing a campaign to blame Obama's troop withdrawal from Iraq for the ultimate collapse of the political "stability" that they expect to follow U.S. withdrawal, according to a military source familiar with the network's plans.
The source says the network, which includes senior active duty officers in the Pentagon, will begin making the argument to journalists covering the Pentagon that Obama's withdrawal policy risks an eventual collapse in Iraq. That would raise the political cost to Obama of sticking to his withdrawal policy.
If Obama does not change the policy, according to the source, they hope to have planted the seeds of a future political narrative blaming his withdrawal policy for the "collapse" they expect in an Iraq without U.S. troops.
That line seems likely to appeal to reporters covering the Iraq troop withdrawal issue. Ever since Obama's inauguration, media coverage of the issue has treated Obama' s 16-month withdrawal proposal as a concession to anti-war sentiment which will have to be adjusted to the "realities" as defined by the advice to Obama from Gates, Petreaus and Odierno.
Ever since he began working on the troop surge, Keane has been the central figure manipulating policy in order to keep as many U.S. troops in Iraq as possible. It was Keane who got Vice President Dick Cheney to push for Petraeus as top commander in Iraq in late 2006 when the existing commander, Gen. George W. Casey, did not support the troop surge.
It was Keane who protected Petraeus's interests in ensuring the maximum number of troops in Iraq against the efforts by other military leaders to accelerate troop withdrawal in 2007 and 2008. As Bob Woodward reported in "The War Within", Keane persuaded President George W. Bush to override the concerns of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about the stress of prolonged U.S. occupation of Iraq on the U.S. Army and Marine Corps as well its impact on the worsening situation in Afghanistan.
Bush agreed in September 2007 to guarantee that Petraeus would have as many troops as he needed for as long as wanted, according to Woodward's account.
Keane had also prevailed on Gates in April 2008 to make Petraeus the new commander of CENTCOM. Keane argued that keeping Petraeus in the field was the best insurance against a Democratic administration reversing the Bush policy toward Iraq.
Keane had operated on the assumption that a Democratic president would probably not take the political risk of rejecting Petraeus's recommendation on the pace of troop withdrawal from Iraq. Woodward quotes Keane as telling Gates, "Let's assume we have a Democratic administration and they want to pull this thing out quickly, and now they have to deal with General Petraeus and General Odierno. There will be a price to be paid to override them."
Obama told Petraeus in Baghdad last July that, if elected, he would regard the overall health of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps and the situation in Afghanistan as more important than Petraeus's obvious interest in maximising U.S. troop strength in Iraq, according to Time magazine's Joe Klein.
But judging from Petraeus's shock at Obama's Jan. 21 decision, he had not taken Obama's previous rejection of his arguments seriously. That miscalculation suggests that Petraeus had begun to accept Keane's assertion that a newly-elected Democratic president would not dare to override his policy recommendation on troops in Iraq.
This essay, by Norman Soloman, was published in the Truthout, February 3, 2009
The United States began its war in Afghanistan 88 months ago. "The war on terror" has no sunset clause. As a perpetual emotion machine, it offers to avenge what can never heal and to fix grief that is irreparable.
For the crimes against humanity committed on September 11, 2001, countless others are to follow, with huge conceits about technological "sophistication" and moral superiority. But if we scrape away the concrete of media truisms, we may reach substrata where some poets have dug.
W.H. Auden: "Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return."
Stanley Kunitz: "In a murderous time / the heart breaks and breaks / and lives by breaking."
And from 1965, when another faraway war got its jolt of righteous escalation from Washington's certainty, Richard Farina wrote: "And death will be our darling and fear will be our name." Then as now came the lessons that taught with unfathomable violence once and for all that unauthorized violence must be crushed by superior violence.
The US war effort in Afghanistan owes itself to the enduring "war on terrorism," chasing a holy grail of victory that can never be.
Early into the second year of the Afghanistan war, in November 2002, a retired US Army general, William Odom, appeared on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" program and told viewers: "Terrorism is not an enemy. It cannot be defeated. It's a tactic. It's about as sensible to say we declare war on night attacks and expect we're going to win that war. We're not going to win the war on terrorism."
But the "war on terrorism" rubric - increasingly shortened to the even vaguer "war on terror" - kept holding enormous promise for a warfare state of mind. Early on, the writer Joan Didion saw the blotting of the horizon and said so: "We had seen, most importantly, the insistent use of Sept. 11 to justify the reconception of America's correct role in the world as one of initiating and waging virtually perpetual war."
There, in one sentence, an essayist and novelist had captured the essence of a historical moment that vast numbers of journalists had refused to recognize - or, at least, had refused to publicly acknowledge. Didion put to shame the array of self-important and widely lauded journalists at the likes of The New York Times, The Washington Post, PBS and National Public Radio.
The new US "war on terror" was rhetorically bent on dismissing the concept of peacetime as a fatuous mirage.
Now, in early 2009, we're entering what could be called Endless War 2.0, while the new president's escalation of warfare in Afghanistan makes the rounds of the media trade shows, preening the newest applications of technological might and domestic political acquiescence.
And now, although repression of open debate has greatly dissipated since the first months after 9/11, the narrow range of political discourse on Afghanistan is essential to the Obama administration's reported plan to double US troop deployments in that country within a year.
"This war, if it proliferates over the next decade, could prove worse in one respect than any conflict we have yet experienced," Norman Mailer wrote in his book "Why Are We at War?" six years ago. "It is that we will never know just what we are fighting for. It is not enough to say we are against terrorism. Of course we are. In America, who is not? But terrorism compared to more conventional kinds of war is formless, and it is hard to feel righteous when in combat with a void ..."
Anticipating futility and destruction that would be enormous and endless, Mailer told an interviewer in late 2002: "This war is so unbalanced in so many ways, so much power on one side, so much true hatred on the other, so much technology for us, so much potential terrorism on the other, that the damages cannot be estimated. It is bad to enter a war that offers no clear avenue to conclusion.... There will always be someone left to act as a terrorist."
And there will always be plenty of rationales for continuing to send out the patrols and launch the missiles and drop the bombs in Afghanistan, just as there have been in Iraq, just as there were in Vietnam and Laos. Those countries, with very different histories, had the misfortune to share a singular enemy, the most powerful military force on the planet.
It may be profoundly true that we are not red states and blue states, that we are the United States of America - but what that really means is still very much up for grabs. Even the greatest rhetoric is just that. And while the clock ticks, the deployment orders are going through channels.
For anyone who believes that the war in Afghanistan makes sense, I recommend the January 30 discussion on "Bill Moyers Journal" with historian Marilyn Young and former Pentagon official Pierre Sprey. A chilling antidote to illusions that fuel the war can be found in the transcript.
Now, on Capitol Hill and at the White House, convenience masquerades as realism about "the war on terror." Too big to fail. A beast too awesome and immortal not to feed.
And death will be our darling. And fear will be our name.
This article, by Susanne Koelbl, was first published in Der Spiegel online, January 28, 2009
The approach to combatting the drug mafia in Afghanistan has spurred an open rift inside NATO. According to information obtained by SPIEGEL, top NATO commander John Craddock wants the alliance to kill opium dealers, without proof of connection to the insurgency. NATO commanders, however, do not want to follow the order.
A dispute has emerged among NATO High Command in Afghanistan regarding the conditions under which alliance troops can use deadly violence against those identified as insurgents. In a classified document, which SPIEGEL has obtained, NATO's top commander, US General John Craddock, has issued a "guidance" providing NATO troops with the authority "to attack directly drug producers and facilities throughout Afghanistan."
According to the document, deadly force is to be used even in those cases where there is no proof that suspects are actively engaged in the armed resistance against the Afghanistan government or against Western troops. It is "no longer necessary to produce intelligence or other evidence that each particular drug trafficker or narcotics facility in Afghanistan meets the criteria of being a military objective," Craddock writes.
The NATO commander has long been frustrated by the reluctance of some NATO member states -- particularly Germany -- to take aggressive action against those involved in the drug trade. Craddock rationalizes his directive by writing that the alliance "has decided that (drug traffickers and narcotics facilities) are inextricably linked to the Opposing Military Forces, and thus may be attacked." In the document, Craddock writes that the directive is the result of an October 2008 meeting of NATO defense ministers in which it was agreed that NATO soldiers in Afghanistan may attack opium traffickers.
The directive was sent on Jan. 5 to Egon Ramms, the German leader at NATO Command in Brunssum, Netherlands, which is currently in charge of the NATO ISAF mission, as well as David McKiernan, the commander of the ISAF peacekeeping force in Afghanistan. Neither want to follow it. Both consider the order to be illegitimate and believe it violates both ISAF rules of engagement and international law, the "Law of Armed Conflict."
A classified letter issued by McKiernan's Kabul office in response claims that Craddock is trying to create a "new category" in the rules of engagement for dealing with opposing forces that would "seriously undermine the commitment ISAF has made to the Afghan people and the international community ... to restrain our use of force and avoid civilian casualties to the greatest degree predictable."
A value equivalent to 50 percent of Afghanistan's gross national product is generated through the production and trade of opium and the heroin that is derived from it. Of those earnings, at least $100 million flows each year to the Taliban and its allies, which is used to purchase weapons and pay fighters. That, at least, is the estimate given by Antonio Maria Costas, head of the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime.
But the chain of people profiting from the drug trade goes a lot further -- reaching day laborers in the fields, drug laboratory workers and going all the way up to police stations, provincial governments and high-level government circles that include some with close proximity to President Hamid Karzai. If Craddock's order were to go into effect, it would lead to the addition of thousands of Afghans to the description of so-called "legitimate military targets" and could also land them on so-called targeting lists.
The Taliban are still responsible for the majority of civilian victims in Afghanistan. According to a United Nations report, more than half of the approximately 2,000 citizens killed last year died as a result of suicide attacks, car bombs and fighting with extremists. Nevertheless, relations between the Americans and the local population are extremely tense due the rising number of US-led air strikes and the dramatic increase in the number of civilian casualties.
Afghan villagers complain of the increase in the deaths of relatives who were mistakenly killed during military operations carried out by the Americans and their allies, such as the one carried out recently in Masamut, a village in the eastern Afghan province of Laghman. The US army announced that it had "eliminated" 32 Taliban insurgents. However, survivors claim that 13 civilians had been killed during the search for a Taliban commander. In the eyes of many Afghans the former liberators have long become ruthless occupiers.
German NATO General Ramms made it perfectly clear in his answer to General Craddock that he was not prepared to deviate from the current rules of engagement for attacks, which reportedly deeply angered Craddock. The US general, who is considered a loyal Bush man and fears that he could be replaced by the new US president, has already made his intention known internally that he would like to relieve any commander who doesn't want to follow his instructions to go after the drug mafia of his duties. Back in December, Central Command in Florida, which is responsible for the US Armed Forces deployment in Afghanistan, yet again watered-down provisions in the rules of engagement for the Afghanistan deployment pertaining to the protection of civilians. According to the new rules, US forces can now bomb drug labs if they have previous analysis that the operation would not kill "more than 10 civilians."
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.