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« on: July 26, 2010, 01:11:15 pm »

Taliban seize key district in Afghan east


July 25, 2010

KABUL (Reuters) – Taliban guerrillas have captured a strategic district from the Afghan government after days of clashes in eastern Nuristan province, officials said on Sunday.

Separately, the Afghan government said it was checking reports by locals saying some 40 Afghan civilians were killed in a raid by foreign forces in Sangin district of southern Helmand province on Friday.

In Nuristan's Barg-e Matal, dozens of Taliban fighters and up to six Afghan police were killed during days of clashes before the district fell to the Taliban overnight.

Barg-e Matal is important for the government and militants because of its location and has regularly changed hands.

Lying near the border with Pakistan, the rugged district has been used as a supply route for arms and fighters for the Taliban in three provinces, most importantly for Badakhshan where the Taliban have mounted a series of deadly attacks recently.

Afghan police forces withdrew from Barg-e Matal to avoid high casualties and in the face of sustained Taliban pressure after days of skirmishes, interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary told reporters.

"Right now the police forces in Nuristan are working to recapture it," he said.

The Taliban have yet to comment about the fall of the district and the reported losses in their ranks.

In Helmand province, where the Taliban insurgency is strongest, Bashary said provincial authorities were checking reports by residents that dozens of civilians were killed in a raid by foreign forces on Friday.

Further details were not immediately available.

(Reporting by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by Sugita Katyal)

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« Reply #1 on: July 26, 2010, 01:24:33 pm »

Nato probes reports raid killed 45 Afghan civilians

By David Loyn, BBC News

July 25, 2010

International forces in Afghanistan say they are urgently investigating reports as many as 45 civilians died in an air strike in Helmand province on Friday.

Nato's initial investigation found no evidence, but a BBC journalist visiting Regey village spoke to several people who said they had seen the incident.

At the time, dozens were sheltering in the village from nearby fighting.

A significant civilian loss of life would be rare this year as a new policy of restraint has reduced casualties.

'Lying asleep'

Witnesses said the attack had come in daylight as dozens sheltered from fighting in nearby Joshani.

Mohammed Khan, a boy aged about 16, said helicopters had circled over the village before the incident. He said that he had warned other children to take cover.

But his mother told him not to worry them. He went further away and was shielded by a wall that saved his life when the attack started.

"I heard the sound of the rocket land on our house. I rushed in screaming with my father and saw bodies lying in the dust… I found I was even standing on a dead body."

One of the bodies was his brother.

"He had been lying asleep in the afternoon when they were killed," Mohammed said.

After the attack relatives and neighbours came to assist in digging out the dead and taking the injured to hospital.

Sher Mohammed said that the owner of the house had been his cousin. He said it had taken until late into the night to dig out the bodies. Rescuers buried 39 and believed six were left under the rubble, he added.

The bodies were buried at daylight. Haji Rahim could not contain his tears. He said that after a sleepless night, he and other villagers had gone to talk to a Nato patrol.

Rescuers said they had buried 39 victims from the attack

He said: "They can see something as small as an insect just four inches on the ground, so how were they not able to see all of those women and children when they bombed them?"

For several months there has been a significant reduction in civilian casualties and very few air strikes under a new policy of restraint ordered by Gen Stanley McChrystal.

He was forced from his post recently after talking too frankly to journalists.

A spokesman for the international forces, Lt Col Chris Hughes, said: "A preliminary investigation by [Nato's] Isaf forces and the provincial governor, which included a meeting with local elders, gives no indication of a mass casualty incident caused by coalition forces in Sangin."

But he added: "We take allegations of civilian casualties very seriously. We go to great measures to avoid civilian casualties in the course of operations. The safety of the Afghan people is very important to the International Security Assistance Forces."

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« Reply #2 on: July 26, 2010, 02:24:41 pm »

Afghanistan casualty rate highest of war

By James Cogan

WSWS, July 26, 2010

Eight months after the Obama administration announced a "surge" of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to crush the Taliban-led insurgency, the rate of US and allied casualties has soared to the highest level of the nearly nine-year war and is beginning to match the bloodiest stages of the occupation of Iraq.

Five more American soldiers were killed on Saturday, four in a single roadside bomb blast in an unspecified area of southern Afghanistan. The fatalities were announced amidst a desperate aerial and ground search by American forces to locate two missing Navy personnel.

The pair, whose identity and unit have not been made public, allegedly drove out of a base in the Afghan capital Kabul on Friday evening and, according to Afghan government sources, was stopped at a checkpoint on the edge of the Charkh district in the neighbouring province of Logar. Like numerous areas of southern Afghanistan, Charkh is largely under the control of the Taliban.

On Sunday, Taliban representatives claimed that the pair had been ambushed in Charkh and one captured and one killed. No explanation has been provided for the actions of the sailors apart from that given by a Logar provincial government representative, who told the Washington Post that a security guard at the checkpoint said they were "drunk" and "not normal."

The body of the slain man has reportedly been recovered by US forces. The US military has not confirmed that the other sailor is being held by the Taliban. Private Bowe R. Bergdahl, an American soldier who allegedly walked out of his base in eastern Afghanistan in June 2009 and was captured, is still being held by the Taliban due to the US military’s refusal to agree to a prisoner exchange.

The six fatalities over the weekend have pushed the total July death toll to 77, of whom 56 have been US personnel. The occupation forces suffered their largest monthly loss of the entire war last month with 102 killed, 60 of whom were American.

2010 will almost certainly be the most costly year of the entire war for the US-led occupation. The death toll has already reached 399, compared with the last year’s toll of 521.

The number of deaths, however, is only one aspect of the mounting crisis facing the 100,000 American and 30,000 NATO and other allied troops in Afghanistan. The number of soldiers being wounded has increased exponentially.

Figures released in early July showed that four times as many American troops were wounded in the first six months of 2010 as in the same time period last year. As of June 30, some 1,922 had been injured compared with 2,139 in all of 2009. In other words, for every soldier killed, close to 10 are being wounded, many of whom will be disabled for life due to the horrific injuries inflicted by bomb blasts.

The 10,000-strong British contingent, much of which is operating in the southern province of Helmand and has been used in the offensives intended to break the grip of the Taliban over the area, is taking even higher casualties. This year alone, 50 British troops have been killed and some 650 British troops have been admitted to hospital, over 300 for battlefield wounds and the others for "non-battle" injuries or disease. The British death rate has essentially doubled over recent weeks to 14 deaths per 1,000 troops deployed. The US rate is currently 6.8 deaths per 1,000 personnel.

The rise in dead and wounded is the direct outcome of Obama’s surge and escalation of the war. Thousands of American and British troops have been sent into operations in areas of southern provinces such as Helmand and Kandahar that have effectively been under Taliban control since the initial October 2001 invasion. They are coming up against well-organised insurgents who clearly have the support of the civilian population in their struggle against a foreign military occupation and the corrupt puppet government it has installed in Kabul under President Hamid Karzai.

A July 21 Reuters profile on a 17-strong platoon of the 101st Airborne Division that was sent into the Arghandab district near the key southern city of Kandahar underscores the scope of resistance. Just three weeks after moving in the area, the unit had lost seven wounded. Three had lost one or both of their legs in bomb blasts. The platoon commander told Reuters: "As we’ve been taking casualties, we’ve not been able to push out, and they’ve been coming in closer. It’s been tough going for us."

The US-led occupation faces the same strategic quagmire as that experienced by the Soviet military during its failed attempt to subjugate the Afghan people from 1979 to 1988. Even with 130,000 troops, tens of thousands of mercenary private contractors and sophisticated weaponry—more forces than the Soviets deployed—it cannot control vast swathes of the country and has been unable to cut off the movement of insurgents between Afghanistan and safe havens in the tribal regions of North West Pakistan.

Over the weekend, the Taliban allegedly recaptured the Barg-e Matal area in Nuristan province, which borders Pakistan and is an important supply route for their fighters. Occupation forces had been pulled out in order to bolster troop strength around the country’s major urban centres. The Afghan government forces left to hold the territory reportedly suffered large casualties before fleeing and abandoning it to the insurgency.

The attempt to construct a functioning Afghan puppet army and police to relieve the pressure on the US-led forces has effectively failed. Every level of the local security forces is riddled with corruption and demoralisation. Several recent incidents in which Afghan soldiers or police have killed their US or British trainers point to the resentment of the occupation and the likely infiltration of the Kabul government security forces by Taliban sympathisers.

Hamid Karzai claimed at last week’s international conference in Kabul that his government would be able to take over the conduct of the counterinsurgency by 2014. Even if one assumes that this optimistic and barely credible scenario is realised, it means that US and allied forces face the prospect of between 2,000 to 4,000 more dead and as many as 40,000 wounded.

The Obama administration is nevertheless determined to realise the US imperialist objective of using Afghanistan as a base to exert dominance over the energy-rich Central Asian region. The removal of Gen. Stanley McChrystal as commander of the occupation forces has been followed by moves by the new commander, Gen. David Petraeus, to lift the few limitations McChrystal had imposed on the use of force against the Afghan civilian population.

At the same time, immense political pressure has been brought on the European and Australian governments taking part in the occupation to commit to keeping their troops in Afghanistan indefinitely, despite overwhelming domestic opposition to an ever more murderous neo-colonial war.

The chairman of the US Joints Chief of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, flew into Afghanistan on Sunday and bluntly told a press conference, "As we continue our force levels and our operations over the summer… we will likely see further tough casualties and levels of violence."

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« Reply #3 on: July 26, 2010, 03:13:12 pm »

It’s No Secret: Afghanistan Is a Quagmire
Posted on Jul 26, 2010

By Eugene Robinson

The tens of thousands of classified military documents posted on the Internet Sunday confirm what critics of the war in Afghanistan already knew or suspected: We are wading deeper into a long-running, morally ambiguous conflict that has virtually no chance of ending well.

The Obama administration, our NATO allies and the Afghan government responded to the documents—made public by a gadfly organization known as Wikileaks—by saying they tell us nothing new. Which is the problem.

We already had plenty of evidence that elements within Pakistan’s intelligence services were giving support and guidance to the Taliban insurgency inside Afghanistan, even though Pakistan is supposed to be our ally in the fight against the terrorists. The newly released documents don’t provide conclusive proof, but they do give a sense of how voluminous the evidence is. “American soldiers on the ground are inundated with accounts of a network of Pakistani assets and collaborators,” according to The New York Times, one of three news organizations—along with The Guardian and Der Spiegel—with which Wikileaks shared the documents in advance.

We already knew that U.S. and other coalition forces were inflicting civilian casualties that had the effect of enraging local villagers and often driving them into the enemy camp. The documents merely reveal episodes that were previously unpublicized—an October 2008 incident in which French troops opened fire on a bus near Kabul and wounded eight children, for example, and a tragedy two months later when a U.S. squad riddled another bus with gunfire, killing four passengers and wounding 11 others.

We knew that U.S. and allied special forces units were authorized to assassinate senior Taliban or al-Qaida figures. The leaked documents sketch the activities of the secret “kill or capture” unit named Task Force 373—and in the process, according to The Guardian, “raise fundamental questions about the legality of the killings ... and also pragmatically about the impact of a tactic which is inherently likely to kill, injure and alienate the innocent bystanders whose support the coalition craves.”

The Guardian highlights a 2007 incident in which Task Force 373, operating in a valley near Jalalabad, set out to apprehend or kill a Taliban commander named Qarl Ur-Rahman. As the commandos neared the target, someone pointed a flashlight at them; they called for air support, and an AC-130 gunship strafed the area. Later, they discovered that they had killed seven Afghan National Police officers and wounded four others.

A few days later, according to the documents, a Task Force 373 unit fired rockets into a village where they believed a foreign jihadist fighter from Libya was hiding. They killed six Taliban fighters—but also seven civilians, all of them children. One was alive when allied medics arrived. “The Med TM immediately cleared debris from the mouth and performed CPR,” the incident report states, but after 20 minutes the child died.

We knew that the Afghan government was spectacularly corrupt. The documents let us glimpse a bit of that corruption—how commonplace it is and how it destroys public trust.

The documents do tell us some things that we didn’t know—for example, that the Taliban apparently used a heat-seeking missile to shoot down a coalition helicopter in 2007, at a time when U.S. officials were pooh-poohing the threat to allied aircraft from insurgent forces. Underestimating the enemy is rarely a good idea.

And the “Afghan War Diary,” as Wikileaks calls the documents, brings into clear focus the Catch-22 absurdity of trying to wage counterinsurgency warfare in a nation with a 2,000-year tradition of implacable resistance to foreign invaders. As the White House was quick to point out, the documents cover the period before President Barack Obama ordered an escalation and a change of strategy. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Obama’s chosen commander, tried his best to limit civilian casualties—but soldiers complained, with some justification, that they were not being allowed to fully engage and pursue the enemy. Gen. David Petraeus, put in charge after McChrystal’s dismissal, is under pressure from the ranks to relax the rules of engagement—which would surely lead to more civilians killed, and more grieving relatives transformed into Taliban sympathizers.

Overall, though, the most shocking thing about the “War Diary” may be that it fails to shock. The documents illustrate how futile—and tragically wasteful—it is to send more young men and women to fight and die in Afghanistan.

But we knew this, didn’t we?

Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)
© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group
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« Reply #4 on: July 27, 2010, 06:07:27 am »

Published on Monday, July 26, 2010 by Al Jazeera English

'Scores Die in Afghan Village Raid'

by Al Jazeera English

A rocket attack on an Afghan village has killed at least 45 civilians, including women and children, a spokesman for Afghan president Hamid Karzai said.

A US soldier frisks an Afghan villager during a patrol in Dand district of Kandahar Province. A rocket attack on an Afghan village killed up to 45 civilians, a spokesman for President Hamid Karzai told AFP on Monday, as leaked documents laid bare the civilian toll of the US-led war.(AFP/Manpreet Romana)

An investigation is underway to determine who was responsible for the reported attack in Sangin district of southern province Helmand on Friday.

"Our understanding is yes, there was a rocket launched. Yes, it hit a civilian house where many people sought refuge and yes there were around 45 to 50 people killed," Waheed Omar said.

Asked if the attack was carried out by NATO forces, Omar said: "We will need to wait until we have a final report before we have the source as to what happened and who did it."

Karzai ordered the National Security Council to investigate the incident, Sediq Sediqqi, head of media relations at the presidency, said earlier.

Helicopter attack

Reports surfaced on Saturday that a helicopter gunship fired on villagers who had been told by insurgents to leave their homes as a firefight with troops from NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was imminent.

According to witness accounts, men, women and children fled to Regey village and were fired on from helicopter gunships as they took cover.

Abdul Ghafar, 45, told the French press agency, AFP, that he lost "two daughters and one son and two sisters" in the attack.

He and six other families fled to Regey, about 500 meters from their village of Ishaqzai, after being warned about the imminent battle, he said.

Men and women took shelter in separate compounds, he said, ahead of an expected firefight between Taliban and NATO troops.

"Helicopters started firing on the compound killing almost everyone inside," he said, speaking at the Mirwais hospital in Kandahar city.

"We rushed to the house and there were eight children wounded and around 40 to 50 others killed," he said.

He took three girls and four boys to the Kandahar hospital, he said, adding: "Three of the wounded are my nephews and one is my son.

"One of the wounded children is four years old and has lost both parents."

The BBC said it sent an Afghan reporter to Regey to interview residents, who described the attack and said they buried 39 people.

Civilian casualties are an incendiary topic in Afghanistan, though surveys have shown that most are caused by Taliban attacks.

ISAF spokesman Colonel Wayne Shanks said the location of the reported deaths was "several kilometers away from where we had engaged enemy fighters".

ISAF forces had fought a battle with insurgents, he said, but an investigation team dispatched after the casualty reports emerged "had accounted for all the rounds that were shot at the enemy", Shanks said.

"We found no evidence of civilian casualties," he said.


But leaked documents carried by the web whistleblower Wikileaks on Sunday pointed to under-reporting of civilian casualties, which Omar said were a cause of concern for the Afghan government.

The Pentagon files and field reports spanning the period from January 2004 to December 2009 detail hundreds of unreported civilian deaths caused by NATO and Taliban attacks.

"We have continuously stated that the Afghan government and Afghan people were upset about civilian casualties," he told reporters, adding that Karzai had found nothing new in the leaked documents.

The White House condemned the leaks, saying the information could endanger US lives but also pointed to the administration's long-held concerns about alleged links between Pakistani intelligence agents and Afghan insurgents.

 Source: Agencies
© 2010


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« Reply #5 on: July 27, 2010, 06:32:24 am »

South Asia
Jul 28, 2010 
Obama's Afghanistan strategy under siege

By Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - Monday's release by WikiLeaks of tens of thousands of classified documents detailing the travails of the United States military in Afghanistan and Pakistan's secret support for the Taliban from 2004 through 2009 comes amid a growing crisis of confidence here in the nearly nine-year-old war.

Coming on top of the steady increase in US and North Atlantic Treaty organization (NATO) casualties in Afghanistan - July may yet exceed June as the highest monthly death toll for US and NATO forces since the war began in late 2001 - the unprecedented leak can only add to the pessimism that has spread from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party to the heart of the foreign policy establishment, and even to a growing number of Republicans.

What hope was generated by President Barack Obama's appointment last month of General David Petraeus, whose counter-insurgency (COIN) tactics are widely credited with curbing Iraq's rapid descent into all-out civil war three years ago, to command US forces in Afghanistan has largely dissipated as a result of the steady flow of bad news - of which the WikiLeaks document dump and the weekend capture by the Taliban of two US seamen in a remote part of the country were only the latest examples.

Even before the latest events, key figures in the foreign policy elite were breaking with the prevailing consensus of just a few months ago: that Obama's strategy of combining classic COIN military tactics - notably, prioritizing the protection of the population - with building the capacity and extending the reach of the central government through a "civilian surge" could indeed reverse the Taliban's momentum and force them to sue for peace.

In one widely noted column published by Politico in mid-July, Robert Blackwill, a senior national security official in the administrations of both George H W and George W Bush, called for "partitioning" Afghanistan between the Taliban's stronghold of the mostly Pashtun south, and the multi-ethnic northern and western parts of the country where the US and like-minded nations would continue to base a sizeable force.

"Such a de facto partition would be a profoundly disappointing outcome to America's 10 years in Afghanistan," wrote Blackwill, who dismissed concerns that such a move risked creating a "Pashtunistan" that could threaten the territorial integrity of Pakistan, in another column in the Financial Times last week. "But, regrettably, it is now the best that can be realistically and responsibly achieved."

At the same time, Richard Haass - like Blackwill a key official in both Bush administrations and president of the influential Council on Foreign Relations for most of the past decade - offered a variation of that stratagem which he called "decentralization", in last week's Newsweek cover story, entitled "We're Not Winning. It's Not Worth It."

Under Haass' vision, Washington would reduce its efforts to build up the central government and the Afghan army and security forces. Instead, it would provide "arms and training to those local Afghan leaders throughout the country who reject al-Qaeda and who do not seek to undermine Pakistan", including Taliban leaders willing to accept those conditions, while maintaining sufficient US forces at the ready to enforce them.

While fighting would likely continue in Afghanistan for years, Washington could reduce its troop levels there significantly, according to Haass.

While Haass has for some time been skeptical of Obama's nation-building strategy in Afghanistan, other influential supporters of the effort are also calling for major adjustments in policy.

In the New Republic, Steve Coll, a veteran regional expert who also serves as president of the New America Foundation, implicitly took Haass and Blackwill to task, suggesting that their approach would essentially abandon the south to the Taliban and the rest of the country to local warlords.

Instead, he called for Washington to follow the strategy followed by the last communist ruler of Afghanistan, Mohammad Najibullah, after the Soviet collapse when he sought - albeit unsuccessfully - to forge the broadest possible alliance against the Islamist mujahideen insurgency.

Washington must now - hopefully, with President Hamid Karzai's cooperation - work to reinforce "a national consensus to prevent the Taliban or any other armed faction from seizing power as international troops gradually pull back from direct combat," according to Coll, who argued that, under current circumstances, "the Afghan body politic is in increasing danger of fissuring," very possibly into civil war as US and NATO forces withdraw.

While the urgency with which these alternative strategies are being floated reflects the foreign policy elite's disunity over what is to be done, recent polls suggest that public confidence in the current strategy is in steady decline.

Growing - although hardly overwhelming - majorities believe that the Afghan war, currently funded at about US$100 billion a year and which last month took the lives of 102 NATO soldiers, has not been worth the cost. Much larger majorities believe the war is either stalemated or being lost.

Public disillusionment is increasingly reflected in the US Congress where a $37 billion emergency war bill has been held up for nearly a month amid doubts about US strategy, doubts that even Petraeus appears unable to dispel.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, whose loyalty to Obama's foreign policy in general and Afghanistan strategy, in particular, has been much appreciated by the White House, has become increasingly uneasy in recent weeks.

He will hold hearings this week on the administration's policy toward possible negotiations between Karzai and the Taliban, one of the areas on which the administration - and its NATO allies - appear to be in considerable disarray.

That unease was evident Monday after the WikiLeaks release.

"However illegally these documents came to light, they raise serious questions about the reality of America's policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan," Kerry said in a prepared statement. "Those policies are at a critical stage and these documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right more urgent."

The committee's ranking Republican, Senator Richard Lugar, who supported Obama's decision last November to increase US troops levels to 100,000 by this autumn, has also expressed growing doubts about where the strategy is headed. He warned last week that Washington could continue "spending billions of dollars each year without ever reaching a satisfying conclusion".

And while most Republicans remain hawkish on Afghanistan, severely criticizing Obama's decision to set a July 2011 deadline for beginning the drawdown of US forces from Afghanistan, some in their rank and file, including several figures associated with the populist "Tea Party" movement, are calling for an earlier date.

Indeed, when the controversial Republican Party chairman Michael Steele argued that Afghanistan was Obama's "war of choice" and suggested that it was being waged in vain, calls for his resignation by party hawks were rejected by a number of right-wing activists.

"America is weary," Representative Jason Chaffetz told Newsweek. "We're fast approaching a decade [of war] and no end in sight."

Jim Lobe's blog on US foreign policy can be read at

(Inter Press Service) 
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« Reply #6 on: July 27, 2010, 06:50:02 am »

US Afghan war to persist after 2011

Tue, 27 Jul 2010 07:37:41 GMT

Admiral Mike Mullen says the US mission in Afghanistan will not end with a scheduled July 2011 withdrawal deadline.

US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has concluded his visit to Pakistan and Afghanistan, amid doubts over Washington's war strategy in the region.

Mullen said Monday that a mid 2011 deadline for the start of a withdrawal of US troops from the war-torn Afghanistan did not signal a retreat from the region.

"I want to be very clear about one thing … America's military mission there will not end in July of 2011… No one is looking for the door out of Afghanistan or this region," he told a news conference in the Pakistani capital Islamabad on Monday.

Mullen further added that the United States and its allies would, however, begin the process of transition of security responsibilities to the Afghan National Security Forces in July 2011.

"But whether that will happen, how much of it will happen, will be completely depended on conditions on the ground," the senior US military official stressed.

He also once again reiterated Washington's commitment to dismantling and defeating al-Qaeda and its extremist allies, as well as preventing Afghanistan from ever becoming a haven for them again.

Mullen's remarks come not long after the whistle-blower Website Wikileaks released thousands of secret US military documents on the Afghan war during the period from 2004 to 2009.

Many of the files detail how the US-led forces killed or wounded Afghan civilians in unreported attacks. Wikileaks says the reports contain information that could amount to war crimes in Afghanistan.

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« Reply #7 on: July 27, 2010, 09:39:52 am »

US forces hit target 'with no civilian deaths' – but Afghans tell different tale

Special forces ensured 'no innocent Afghans in area', but villagers say up to 300 civilians died in attack

by David Leigh

July 26, 2010

On 2 August 2007, a US special forces team mounted what they hoped would be an assassination spectacular in the Baghni valley, in the mountains of northern Helmand. They called it Operation Jang Baz.

Special operations troops, the war logs report, "tracked and fixed 2 senior Taliban commanders" to the remote spot. The files reveal their names were Mullah Ikhlas, and his deputy, known as Qalandari. Both were listed as "High Value Individuals tier 2", putting them near the top of the US "kill or capture" list. Ikhlas was believed to run the entire Taliban fighting machine in southern Afghanistan.

The special forces command claimed that Ikhlas was "conducting a major Shura" – a conference of top Taliban. After dropping six 2,000lb GBU-31 guided bombs on the meeting from a B1 jet, the coalition reported "effectively destroying the primary target location" and killing 50 "Taliban senior commanders, security and fighters". Lt Gen John Mulholland, of the special operations command, later claimed "over 150 Taliban fighters" had been killed.

It was later realised that despite "multiple forms of positive identification" Ikhlas had in fact probably never been there at all. The US was to claim to have killed him again in another air strike on 2 December 2007, and subsequently arrested a Mullah Ikhlas many months later, on 7 May 2008, in Garmsir, further south in Helmand.

A statement released from Bagram air base on the day of Operation Jang Baz said the bombs had been dropped "after ensuring there were no innocent Afghans in the surrounding area".

Within 24 hours, however, villagers were telling a very different story from the one presented in the war logs. Locals told Reuters that up to 300 civilians – as well as a number of Taliban – were killed in the air strike after they had been rounded up to watch a Taliban-organised public hanging of two suspected spies. No mention of such a "Taliban court" appears in the official war logs , where it might have flagged up the prospect of civilian deaths.

The local police chief was reported as claiming more than 20 wounded civilians were sent to a hospital in Lashkar Gar and others transferred to hospitals in Kandahar. A doctor at the Lashkar Gar hospital was quoted as saying he was treating at least 18 civilians, including an eight-year-old.

According to reports, the Taliban denied there were hangings taking place, or insurgents present, claiming that the air strikes killed only civilians gathering at a local shrine for a religious ceremony.

But the coalition dismissed claims of civilian deaths. "It is interesting there were no females," said Lieutenant-Colonel Charlie Mayo, a British spokesman. "We are very confident we hit a large meeting of Taliban, and they are very sore about it."

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« Reply #8 on: July 27, 2010, 09:45:41 am »

52 civilians killed by NATO rocket fire in S. Afghanistan: official


KABUL, July 26, 2010 (Xinhua) -- More than 50 non-combatants were killed by NATO troops in the troubled Helmand province in south Afghanistan on Friday, a spokesman to Presidential Palace said on Monday.

"Fifty-two civilians were killed in Sangin district on Friday as NATO forces fired a rocket," Siamak Heravi told Xinhua.

However, he did not give more details, saying a statement would be released in this regard.

Early on Saturday locals in Sangin district said that more than 50 civilians including women and children were killed as NATO's aircraft dropped bomb.

Abdul Ghafar, 60, who took four injured children of his family to Kandahar's Mir Wais hospital, told Xinhua on Saturday that the incident occurred during a battle between NATO-Afghan troops and Taliban insurgents.

He said members of six families gathered in a house in Regi village of Sangin district when the attacks from air and ground happened as a result between 50-60 people with majority of them civilians were killed.

President Hamid Karzai on Sunday ordered concerned authorities to investigate the case.

Spokesman for Helmand's provincial administration Daud Ahmadi said earlier that investigation team had been sent to the site of the incident and the exact figure of the casualties would be made public after completion of the investigation.

NATO forces on Saturday rejected the claim, saying no operation has been carried out in Sangin district.

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« Reply #9 on: July 27, 2010, 03:14:09 pm »

UK soldier: Jail better than Afghan war

Tue, 27 Jul 2010 15:35:02 GMT

Anti-war soldier Joe Glenton has spoken at several rallies about his refusal to go back to war in Afghanistan.

A former British soldier who was previously jailed for refusing to fight in Afghanistan has told an anti-war rally that every second he spent behind bars was worth his decision.

Lance Corporal Joe Glenton, 27, told a gathering of anti-war campaigners in Central London that public opinion is decisively against the war and that British soldiers must be brought home, a Press TV correspondent reported.

Earlier in 2009, Glenton wrote a letter to then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, explaining that the occupation of Afghanistan was immoral and illegal.

He went on to warn that the invasion was "antagonizing the entire Muslim world."

The former soldier was sentenced to nine months in prison in March after going absent without leave from the army in 2007 and refusing to fight in Afghanistan.

However, Glenton was released for good behavior after serving four months of his nine-month sentence.

His public appearance comes as the documents leaked by whistle-blower website Wikileaks revealed the detail of the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2009.

The files include many accounts of how US and British soldiers killed or wounded Afghan civilians in unreported attacks.

Britain has about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, mostly based in the south of the country. Since the start of the war in 2001, 325 British soldiers have lost their lives in the war-torn country.

The rising number of foreign casualties has sparked anger in the countries which are allied with the US in its war in Afghanistan.

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« Reply #10 on: July 28, 2010, 05:46:33 am »

House GOP helps Obama fund war

Democrats give up efforts to tie in more spending

HELP ON THE WAY: An Afghan soldier fighting alongside U.S. troops launches a grenade during a clash in Kandahar. President Obama will get a $59 billion emergency war-spending bill to sign to fund his U.S. troop surge. (Associated Press)

By Stephen Dinan
8:38 p.m., Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Republicans came to President Obama's rescue Tuesday, providing him the votes needed for quick passage of a $59 billion emergency war-spending bill to fund his 30,000 Afghanistan troop surge.

The bill cleared the House by a vote of 308-114, or well more than the two-thirds needed under expedited rules. It now heads to Mr. Obama for his signature after House Democratic leaders acceded to the administration's demand for action and gave up their hopes of tacking on billions of dollars in new stimulus spending.

Handing Mr. Obama another victory just before approving the war spending, the House overwhelmingly rejected a measure introduced by Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat, to remove any U.S. armed forces operating in Pakistan.

"Denying terrorists a safe haven in Iraq and Afghanistan is critical to the safety and security of our country. As our troops continue their fight, it is imperative that Congress continue to provide the resources they need and support their mission," said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

Lawmakers were not swayed by the recent publication of a trove of leaked documents depicting a tough slog in the war in Afghanistan.

But it took the strength of Republican votes to deliver the money — one of just a few times Mr. Obama has had to rely on his political opponents. Voting for the bill were 160 Republicans and 148 Democrats, while 102 Democrats and 12 Republicans opposed it.

Mr. Obama first requested the money in February, but for months the House, Senate and administration have been sparring over the size and shape of the package. On Tuesday, though, Democrats said they needed to "get this behind us" and move on to the rest of their agenda, including the regular spending bills to keep the government running in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Republicans said the bill could have been passed two months ago but for Democrats' desire to add more domestic stimulus spending to the measure.

"Our first job as members of Congress is to support our troops and the men and women who are in harm's way protecting our country," said Rep. Jerry Lewis of California, the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.

Ahead of the vote, Mr. Obama made his own plea, telling the House to follow the lead of the Senate, which passed the bill unanimously last week.

Still, the bill deeply split House Democrats. The chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, voted against it, saying he doesn't have confidence that the war is still the right solution. He pointed to a recent statement by the CIA director that fewer than 100 members of al Qaeda are still in Afghanistan as evidence that the war effort there is wasted.

"I cannot look my constituents in the eye and say this operation will hurt our enemies more than it hurts us," he said.

But one of his chief deputies, Rep. Norm Dicks, Washington Democrat and chairman of the defense spending subcommittee, said the administration needed the money, and urged his colleagues to support it.

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, also backed the spending, saying without it, the Defense Department could have to furlough employees and cut programs just to keep paying the troops.

The bill became a lightning rod for various fights, including war policy and stimulus spending. Emergency spending bills are considered must-pass legislation and are considered to be good vehicles to tack on other priorities.

Mr. Obey's initial version of the bill included tens of billions of dollars in stimulus spending, including money for states and localities to keep or hire teachers.

He proposed redirecting some of last year's $862 billion stimulus package to pay for the new spending, but that prompted a veto threat from the White House, which said the original Recovery Act should not be altered.

Mr. Obey's version also included hundreds of millions of dollars to fund Mr. Obama's pledge to send National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, and to pay for more technology to catch illegal immigrants. Congressional aides said that money might be passed as a stand-alone bill.

Democrats accused Republicans of blocking the extra funding.

"They need to understand that they are obstructing our economic recovery, as well," said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. "However, because it is so important to fund our troops before leaving for the August district work period, I am pleased that a majority of my colleagues chose to vote yes."

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« Reply #11 on: July 28, 2010, 06:00:30 am »

Afghanistan questions U.S. silence over Pakistan's role

KABUL | Wed Jul 28, 2010 6:06am EDT
By Sayed Salahuddin

A soldier with an injured ankle from the US Army's 1-320 Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division is assisted past his burning M-ATV armored vehicle after it struck an IED on a road near Combat Outpost Nolen in the Arghandab Valley, July 23, 2010. None of the four soldiers in the vehicle were seriously injured in the explosion. Credit: Reuters/Bob Strong

KABUL (Reuters) - The United States has pursued a contradictory policy with regard to the Afghan war by ignoring Pakistan's role in the insurgency, the Afghan government said on Tuesday, following the leak of U.S. military documents.

The classified documents released by the organization, WikiLeaks, show current and former members of Pakistan's spy agency were actively collaborating with the Taliban in plotting attacks in Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, in its first reaction to the leak, Afghanistan's National Security Council said the United States had failed to attack the patrons and supporters of the Taliban hiding in Pakistan throughout the nine-year conflict.

"With regret ... our allies did not show necessary attention about the external support for the international terrorists ... for the regional stability and global security," the council said in a statement.

Afghanistan has long blamed Pakistan for meddling in its affairs, accusing the neighbor of plotting attacks to destabilize it. Islamabad, which has had longstanding ties to the Taliban, denies involvement in the insurgency and says it is a victim of militancy itself.

The National Security Council did not name Pakistan, but said use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy was a dangerous **** and had to be stopped.

"Having a contradictory and vague policy against the forces who use terrorism as a tool for interference and sabotage against others, have had devastating results," it said.

At a news conference later on Tuesday, council head Rangeen Dadfar Spanta was more specific, questioning the billions of dollars in cash aid and military assistance Washington has given to Pakistan over the years.

"It is really not justifiable for the Afghan people that how come you give to one country $11 billion or more as help for reconstruction or strengthen its security or defensive forces, but from other side the very forces train terrorism," he said.

He warned that the war would not succeed unless there was a review of Afghan policy by Washington that focuses on Taliban sanctuaries and bases in Pakistan and their supporters.

Those supporting militants should be punished rather than be treated as an ally, said Spanta, who served for years as foreign minister in President Hamid Karzai's government until last year.

The White House has condemned the WikiLeaks disclosures, saying it could threaten national security. Pakistan said leaking unprocessed reports from the battlefield was irresponsible.

The documents numbering tens of thousands also said that coalition troops had killed hundreds of Afghan civilians in unreported incidents and often sought to cover up the mistakes that have shaken up confidence in the war effort among many in Afghanistan.

On Monday, the Afghan government said it had spoken in private and in public meetings with its Western allies about the need to stop civilian deaths.

"In the past nine years (since Taliban's fall) thousands of citizens of Afghanistan and from our ally countries have become victimised," it said.

(Editing by Sugita Katyal)
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« Reply #12 on: July 28, 2010, 06:08:54 am »

South Asia
Jul 29, 2010 
Plan B for Afghanistan

By Brian M Downing

It is becoming increasingly clear that US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) efforts to develop a stable political system and growing economy in Afghanistan are failing. The government of President Hamid Karzai has little support in or out of the country. The Taliban have recovered from their sudden ouster in late 2001 and now control or have a strong presence in much of the Pashtun regions of the south and east.

One option would be for the US and its allies to withdraw from the Pashtun regions and concentrate on political and economic development in the northern areas, where the insurgency is weak and anti-Taliban sentiment is strong. Retrenchment in the north would confer considerable flexibility and advantages.

Immediate prospects
At present, the Taliban are deeply embedded in many if not most parts of the Pashtun regions in the south and east. Through parley or threat, they have won local support and brought levies of local men into their forces.

Western forces are unable to garner intelligence from locals or get them to serve effectively in militias; they are being attrited by roadside bombs; and they are operating in smaller and smaller enclaves in the south and east. Seeking to reverse this state of affairs will be painstakingly slow and will take many years and many hundreds of US casualties per year.

The recent firing of General McChrystal as the top US commander in Afghanistan, though apparently unrelated to the conduct of the war, has emboldened insurgent groups. They see his departure as stemming from their successes over the years, especially in countering counter-insurgency (COIN) operations. Insurgents can look back on the past few years and feel justifiable confidence.

General David Petraeus has taken command and this has led to optimism that he can repeat his successes in Iraq where tribal parleys won over Sunni Arab insurgents. But too much adulation may have been heaped on the general by a public that knows little about Iraq or counter-insurgency, and perhaps too much is expected of him.

And a general does not go twice into the same insurgency. A principal reason for the Sunni Arab volte face lay in their hopeless strategic position - at once fighting qualitatively superior coalition forces and quantitatively superior Shi'ite militias. Sunni Arabs saved themselves by allying with the US and turning on al-Qaeda forces, which in any event had become arrogant nuisances.

Furthermore, foreign powers helped quell the insurgency. Saudi diplomats and intelligence personnel prevailed on the tribes of al-Anbar province (especially the Dulayim who straddle the Iraq-Saudi border) to ally with the US. Similarly, Iran used its considerable influence with the Shi'ite militias and political parties to end the fighting.

For similar help from abroad, Petraeus will have to contend with the Taliban's chief supporter - Pakistan. Earlier in 2010, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) arrested several important Taliban figures - a move thought to have been the result of US pressure on Pakistan to force the Taliban into negotiations. Though Pakistan's intentions remain unclear, the arrests of the Taliban figures, who were thought to be in talks with the Karzai government, might be an ISI effort to block Taliban negotiations with Karzai so as to ensure that Pakistani intelligence shapes any settlement.

The recent leaked classified US military documents point to Pakistan's ongoing involvement in Afghanistan. (See Pakistan has its own battle to fight Asia Times Online, July 28, 2010.)

Unlikelihood of a complete withdrawal
The war is seasonal. Many insurgent fighters return to their homes in the autumn to help with crops and herds, then return in the late spring. This leads to variations in casualties, which in turn affects support in the US public and that of NATO partners.

The return of part-time fighters to their insurgent bands and the initiation of US/NATO operations in the south will lead to higher casualties - and greater debate. Support is waning in European countries, where mythic notions of war perished amid two world wars and where more recently politicians and generals have become unhappy with unfolding of events. Several countries with sizeable commitments will likely begin to leave within a year, triggering more intense debate in the countries that remain.

Distractions abound in the US public, but higher casualties and the attention brought on by the US commander's awkward comments on his civilian authorities. Opposition to the war may become statistically stronger yet remain politically weak. Casualties are not borne by the public at large, rather chiefly by working-class and rural Americans with greater respect for the military and war service than found in the rest of America - large portions of which are silently thankful that family members have nothing to do with military service.

Republican opposition to the war is muted. It was a Republican president in George W Bush after all who opted to occupy Afghanistan, and President Barack Obama has followed military counsel in the last year. Still, in the event of withdrawal or defeat, Republicans are prepared to pounce on their political opponents for "losing Afghanistan". Democrats in the public, convinced they elected a non-warlike president, are increasingly restive.

Most of the public - as noted, untouched by the war - are given to oscillation and indecision. A Vietnam-era poll might be recalled here. In May of 1969, with opposition to the war over 60%, only 9% of the public favored withdrawal if it meant that South Vietnam would fall, as it surely would (and as it surely did). They wanted neither war nor defeat, neither casualties nor withdrawal without victory.

Formidable currents against withdrawal permeate American political culture. There is a belief that withdrawal or defeat in Afghanistan will lead to renewed al-Qaeda sanctuaries and another wave of terrorism in the US. This is unlikely, as an al-Qaeda return to Afghanistan would offer nothing it doesn't have in Pakistan and it is clear that al-Qaeda can never operate openly anywhere. Any major base or center, regardless of the host country's disposition, will be destroyed. If they build one, the drones will come.

Global presence is a basic part of America's self-image and will not be relinquished easily. A military presence in some 84 countries around the world came as a surprise to Americans born before World War II; it became a fundamental part of the national identity to those born after the intoxicating victory of 1945. The American identity of prosperity and virtue became infused with global power and mission. The September 11, 2001, attacks charged the nation with defending itself through campaigns across the world. Relinquishing this mission, and the national identity behind it, will be difficult, especially now that terrorism is returning to America.

Recently, the Department of Defense released a geological study that reported a wealth of mineralogical deposits throughout Afghanistan. Among these deposits are considerable amounts of rare earths, which are critical to many hi-tech instruments with military and civilian applications. They are also critical to many "green" technologies, such energy-producing windmills. There is also promising oil and gas wealth in Kunduz province in the north.

Withdrawal to the north
The war as it is being fought shows little promise. The Kabul government has no meaningful support. Support in the US and elsewhere is on the wane, yet no consensus on withdrawal is likely. Another way to fight the war is needed or the US faces a lengthy, inconclusive war lasting a decade or more with a likely disagreeable outcome.

An alternative lies in recognizing and seizing on the geographical realities of the insurgency and withdrawing from the south and east - large portions of which have been left to insurgents already - and consolidating in the north and west. A diagonal line - based on centuries-old ethnic distributions, not drawn by an arbitrary outsider - could provide the basis for a more promising outcome.

The Taliban insurgency is based almost exclusively around the Pashtun tribes in the south and east. Outside those areas, in the north and west, there are almost no Pashtuns - and almost no insurgency - save for a pocket of Pashtun in the north-central area near the border with Tajikistan.

The north and west are inhabited chiefly by Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and a miscellany of other peoples who compose 45% to 50% of the Afghan population. Having suffered under Taliban rule and in cases endured massacres at their hands, they vehemently oppose the Taliban. It will be remembered that it was the Tajiks and Uzbeks who composed the bulk of the Northern Alliance, which held onto their redoubt throughout the Taliban period (1996-2001) and which with US help drive the Taliban into Pakistan in 2001.

The northern peoples have maintained their own military formations which pose a serious deterrent to a Pashtun incursion into lands in which they have no indigenous support. These militaries are well-disciplined and well-armed - the legacies of Ahmad Shah Massoud's and Abdul Dostum's forces that fought the Russians in the 1980s and the Taliban. This is a welcome contrast to the Afghan National Army, which has demonstrated little fighting spirit.

The people of the north and west, though divided on many matters, have a common heritage in opposing foreign invaders and overreaching rulers in Kabul as well. They have fought the Taliban and remained suspicious of the inept efforts of Karzai to form a polity, though they are granted symbolic positions as vice presidents in his government. The Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara peoples could form a more viable and effective government than the one ensconced in Kabul today.

A "Northern Afghanistan" would enjoy a great deal of regional support in state-building, economic development, military training and generally in opposing the Taliban. Russia, Iran, India, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan all oppose Islamist militancy and are concerned by its growth in Afghanistan and spread into the Ferghana Valley that winds from eastern Afghanistan into Kyrgyzstan.

By contrast, the Taliban have only the dubious support of Pakistan, which is nearing dangerous instability by any measure, and Pakistan's distant geopolitical partner, China. Economic development would lag behind that of the north. Politically, the contrast would be between a consensual formula based on
Afghan tradition in the north and to the south, a zealous theocracy based on notions of Islam brought in from distant Deobandi and Wahabbi sects.

Further, though often called by a single name, the insurgency comprises numerous, disparate groups: the Taliban, Hezb-e-Islami, the network of Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani, and numerous clan-based militias. They are reasonably united today in the face of foreign occupation and corrupt administration, but with a Western withdrawal from the south and east the unity would collapse, large-scale desertions would ensue, and infighting would break out, all of which took place when the Soviet Union withdrew in the late 1980s.

Militarily, the Taliban are tenacious fighters who knew well the advantages of the terrain. They were effective in defeating the scores of warlords that cropped up after the Soviet Union left and the Mohammad Najibullah government failed. They were also effective in defeating the various rival movements that came and went in the early 1990s. But these successes were greatly helped by their enemies' internal divisiveness and lack of reliable foreign aid - neither of which obtains today.

Controlling the south and east would greatly alter the Taliban's political and military situation. No longer would it be the evasive guerrilla band that attacks police stations, sets up improvised explosive devices, and rallies support against corruption and foreign occupation before vanishing into the hills. It would have to maintain a presence and govern a large, disparate and war-shattered region populated by people who expect an age of renewal and growth to come their way. The Taliban would have to build popular support after the charges of corruption and occupation begin to ring hollow, or face eroding popular support and perhaps even an insurgency of its own.

Further, the Taliban would have to be able to defend the south. Events of 2001 attest to the feebleness of the Taliban's political support and military prowess against a disciplined enemy with a modicum of airpower.

A new US position
The US would have strategic options and benefits that it does not have as long as it fights the war as it currently does. Perhaps most importantly, it would allow the US to reduce its bloody, expensive, and counter-productive presence in Central Asia.

The US could hold out the carrot of economic aid to Taliban-controlled regions. There already is a great deal of US infrastructure there in the form of hydroelectric dams, irrigation systems and road networks. This could lead to moderation within the Taliban, a complete break with al-Qaeda (to include turning over its leadership), and perhaps someday even to reconciliation and reintegration of the two parts of the country, perhaps after an agreement hammered out by a loya jirga (grand council).

Alternately, the US could pursue a stick policy. The US could support insurgencies in the south based on numerous Pashtun tribes which have longstanding hostility toward the Taliban. Further, Taliban behavior could be moderated by the threat of small-scale airstrikes from drones and fighter aircraft.

In an even less accommodating form, the US could prevent the Taliban from ever occupying an administrative center and becoming a government. The Taliban would have to remain a ghost-like guerrilla movement, unable to govern, spouting slogans that no longer resonate in the hearts and minds of Pashtuns.

It is particularly relevant to political considerations in the West that any of these policies could be pursued with a greatly reduced US/NATO troop presence.

The US would realize other benefits from withdrawing to the north. Domestic support for the effort would firm as Americans saw themselves no longer backing an inept and corrupt government and as working with a credible coalition of northern leaders, perhaps led by Abdullah Abdullah, who finished second to Karzai in last year's fraud-ridden elections.

Americans would see more political and economic development - signs of progress frustratingly absent today. Leaving the core insurgent areas and retrenching in other areas would greatly reduce US casualties and Afghan civilian casualties. Indeed, the US could greatly cut its troop levels, perhaps even reducing them by half in two years.

Regional cooperation in North Afghanistan would have long-term positive influences on the geopolitics and economic development of the area and large parts of Central Asia as well. There would be a closer working relationship with Russia, which for all its wily moves along its expansive periphery has been helpful with US/NATO logistics into Afghanistan as it shares an opposition to Islamist terrorism.

Other cooperative arrangements will present themselves. Iran has built up western Afghanistan as a glacis against the Taliban, which slaughtered its officials and cruelly oppressed its Shi'ite co-religionists, the Hazaras. India, too, shares a concern with terrorism in the region and has embarked on significant aid programs in the north.

The US could rethink its uneasy and dubious partnership with Pakistan. Its assistance was critical in supplying the mujahideen bands during the Soviet war. It led to a Soviet exit but also to a hypertrophied military intelligence service that has become the hub of terrorist and insurgent groups in Afghanistan and India. Over the years, US policy has sought to detach Pakistan from such groups - to no avail. Pakistan is perhaps the strongest state sponsor of terrorism and yet enjoys generous aid packages and trade relations.

Recognition of the two states' differing interests in Afghanistan would make US supply lines through Pakistan even less reliable than they are now. Presently, the Pakistani Taliban attack convoys on the roads between Peshawar and the Khyber Pass and the large Pashtun population in Karachi is poised to endanger logistical depots there. The reduction of US troop levels allowed by withdrawal from the south would make Pakistan less important logistically and also reduce its leverage in Washington.

Russia has maneuvered about in Central Asia but has not sought to endanger Western supply lines into Afghanistan. It has used its influence along its periphery to facilitate supply lines from the Baltic to Kyrgyzstan and has recently authorized US polar flights to use Russian air space. Russia shares the US's concern with the Taliban and its support is more dependable than Pakistan's.

A reduced presence in Afghanistan would enable the US to wage the "war on terror" in a less expensive, more adroit and perhaps more successful manner. The heavy US footprint from Iraq to Afghanistan has provided a rallying cause for jihadis throughout the Islamic world. The US could establish partnerships with local intelligence services and respond not with large operations but with rapid insertions and extractions of special forces or with the use of small-scale airstrikes. This would certainly be the case with any return of al-Qaeda bases to Pashtun parts of Afghanistan or even south of the frontier.

Withdrawal from the Pashtun parts of Afghanistan would be seen by many as tantamount to defeat - "cutting and running" in American political discourse. Such claims would undoubtedly be made and would resonate strongly in the media and public, but they display little understanding of strategy or military history.

In 1942, Colonel Dwight Eisenhower and General George Marshall determined that reinforcing the Philippines would be a misallocation of men and materiel and chose instead to fall back on Australia. Nine years later, their fellow five-star general Douglas MacArthur withdrew from positions near the Yalu River in Korea and consolidated to the south. None of these generals was thought unwise, craven or unpatriotic - and neither war ended in defeat.

As noted, withdrawing from the south and east need not be a permanent state of affairs, diplomacy and unfolding events could bring the two parts of the country back together. But should the division stand, the line would better recognize the ethnic realities of the land far better than the one Mr Henry Durand drew between Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1893.

Brian M Downing is a political/military analyst and author of The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: War and Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam. He can be reached at

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« Reply #13 on: July 28, 2010, 06:12:53 am »

South Asia
Jul 29, 2010 
Thousands of reasons to leave

By George Friedman

On Sunday, The New York Times and two other newspapers published summaries and excerpts of tens of thousands of documents leaked to a website known as WikiLeaks. The documents comprise a vast array of material concerning the war in Afghanistan. They range from tactical reports from small unit operations to broader strategic analyses of politico-military relations between the United States and Pakistan. It appears to be an extraordinary collection.

Tactical intelligence on firefights is intermingled with reports on confrontations between senior US and Pakistani officials in which lists of Pakistani operatives in Afghanistan are handed over to the Pakistanis. Reports on the use of surface-to-air missiles by militants in Afghanistan are intermingled with reports on the activities of former Pakistani intelligence chief Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, who reportedly continues to liaise with the Afghan Taliban in an informal capacity.

The WikiLeaks
At first glance, it is difficult to imagine a single database in which such a diverse range of intelligence was stored, or the existence of a single individual cleared to see such diverse intelligence stored across multiple databases and able to collect, collate and transmit the intelligence without detection. Intriguingly, all of what has been released so far has been not-so-sensitive material rated secret or below.

The Times reports that Gul's name appears all over the documents, yet very few documents have been released in the current batch, and it is very hard to imagine intelligence on Gul and his organization, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, being classified as only secret. So, this was either low-grade material hyped by the media, or there is material reviewed by the selected newspapers but not yet made public. Still, what was released and what the Times discussed is consistent with what most thought was happening in Afghanistan.

The obvious comparison is to the Pentagon Papers, commissioned by the Defense Department to gather lessons from the Vietnam War and leaked by Daniel Ellsberg to the Times during the Richard Nixon administration. Many people worked on the Pentagon Papers, each of whom was focused on part of it and few of whom would have had access to all of it.

Ellsberg did not give the Times the supporting documentation; he gave it the finished product. By contrast, in the WikiLeaks case, someone managed to access a lot of information that would seem to have been contained in many different places. If this was an unauthorized leak, then it had to have involved a massive failure in security. Certainly, the culprit should be known by now and his arrest should have been announced. And certainly, the gathering of such diverse material in one place accessible to one or even a few people who could move it without detection is odd.

[US Army intelligence analyst Private First Clas Bradley E Manning, 22, who was charged in May with illegally downloading classified material in relation to leaked video of a deadly helicopter attack in Baghdad, is believed to have had access to the leaked Afghan reports that were posted on the WikiLeaks website this week, according to the Los Angeles Times and other reports. Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell described Manning as a "person of interest" in the most recent WikiLeaks disclosures, the LA Times reported.]

Like the Pentagon Papers, the WikiLeaks (as I will call them) elicited a great deal of feigned surprise, not real surprise. Apart from the charge that the Lyndon Johnson administration contrived the Gulf of Tonkin incident, much of what the Pentagon Papers contained was generally known. Most striking about the Pentagon Papers was not how much surprising material they contained, but how little. Certainly, they contradicted the official line on the war, but there were few, including supporters of the war, who were buying the official line anyway.

In the case of the WikiLeaks, what is revealed also is not far from what most people believed, although they provide enormous detail. Nor is it that far from what government and military officials are saying about the war. No one is saying the war is going well, though some say that given time it might go better.

The view of the Taliban as a capable fighting force is, of course, widespread. If they weren't a capable fighting force, then the United States would not be having so much trouble defeating them. The WikiLeaks seem to contain two strategically significant claims, however. The first is that the Taliban are a more sophisticated fighting force than has been generally believed.

An example is the claim that Taliban fighters have used man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) against US aircraft. This claim matters in a number of ways. First, it indicates that the Taliban are using technologies similar to those used against the Soviets. Second, it raises the question of where the Taliban are getting them - they certainly don't manufacture MANPADS themselves.

If they have obtained advanced technologies, this would have significance on the battlefield. For example, if reasonably modern MANPADS were to be deployed in numbers, the use of American airpower would either need to be further constrained or higher attrition rates accepted. Thus far, only first- and second-generation MANPADS without infrared counter-countermeasures (which are more dangerous) appear to have been encountered, and not with decisive or prohibitive effectiveness. But in any event, this doesn't change the fundamental character of the war.

Supply lines and sanctuaries
What it does raise is the question of supply lines and sanctuaries. The most important charge contained in the leaks is about Pakistan. The WikiLeaks contain documents that charge that the Pakistanis are providing both supplies and sanctuary to Taliban fighters while objecting to American forces entering Pakistan to clean out the sanctuaries and are unwilling or unable to carry out that operation by themselves (as they have continued to do in North Waziristan).

Just as important, the documents charge that the ISI has continued to maintain liaison and support for the Taliban in spite of claims by the Pakistani government that pro-Taliban officers had been cleaned out of the ISI years ago. The document charges that Gul, the director general of the ISI from 1987 to 1989, still operates in Pakistan, informally serving the ISI and helping give the ISI plausible deniability.

Though startling, the charge that Islamabad is protecting and sustaining forces fighting and killing Americans is not a new one. When the United States halted operations in Afghanistan after the defeat of the Soviets in 1989, US policy was to turn over operations in Afghanistan to Pakistan.

United States strategy was to use Islamist militants to fight the Soviets and to use Pakistani liaisons through the ISI to supply and coordinate with them. When the Soviets and Americans left Afghanistan, the ISI struggled to install a government composed of its allies until the Taliban took over Kabul in 1996.

The ISI's relationship with the Taliban - which in many ways are the heirs to the anti-Soviet mujahideen - is widely known. In my book, America's Secret War, I discussed both this issue and the role of Gul. These documents claim that this relationship remains intact. Apart from Pakistani denials, US officials and military officers frequently made this charge off the record, and on the record occasionally. The leaks on this score are interesting, but they will shock only those who didn't pay attention or who want to be shocked.

Let's step back and consider the conflict dispassionately. The United States forced the Taliban from power. It never defeated the Taliban nor did it make a serious effort to do so, as that would require massive resources the United States doesn't have. Afghanistan is a secondary issue for the United States, especially since al-Qaeda has established bases in a number of other countries, particularly Pakistan, making the occupation of Afghanistan irrelevant to fighting al-Qaeda.

For Pakistan, however, Afghanistan is an area of fundamental strategic interest. The region's main ethnic group, the Pashtun, stretch across the Afghan-Pakistani border. Moreover, were a hostile force present in Afghanistan, as one was during the Soviet occupation, Pakistan would face threats in the west as well as the challenge posed by India in the east. For Pakistan, an Afghanistan under Pakistani influence or at least a benign Afghanistan is a matter of overriding strategic importance.

It is therefore irrational to expect the Pakistanis to halt collaboration with the force that they expect to be a major part of the government of Afghanistan when the United States leaves. The Pakistanis never expected the United States to maintain a presence in Afghanistan permanently. They understood that Afghanistan was a means toward an end, and not an end in itself. They understood this under George W Bush. They understand it even more clearly under Barack Obama, who made withdrawal a policy goal.

Given that they don't expect the Taliban to be defeated, and given that they are not interested in chaos in Afghanistan, it follows that they will maintain close relations with and support for the Taliban. Given that the United States is powerful and is Pakistan's only lever against India, the Pakistanis will not make this their public policy, however. The United States has thus created a situation in which the only rational policy for Pakistan is two-tiered, consisting of overt opposition to the Taliban and covert support for the Taliban.

This is duplicitous only if you close your eyes to the Pakistani reality, which the Americans never did. There was ample evidence, as the WikiLeaks material shows, of covert ISI ties to the Taliban. The Americans knew they couldn't break those ties. They settled for what support Pakistan could give them while constantly pressing them harder and harder until genuine fears in Washington emerged that Pakistan could destabilize altogether.

Since a stable Pakistan is more important to the United States than a victory in Afghanistan - which it wasn't going to get anyway - the United States released pressure and increased aid. If Pakistan collapsed, then India would be the sole regional power, not something the United States wants.

The WikiLeaks seem to show that, like sausage-making, one should never look too closely at how wars are fought, particularly coalition warfare. Even the strongest alliances, such as that between the United States and the United Kingdom in World War II, are fraught with deceit and dissension. London was fighting to save its empire, an end Washington was hostile to; much intrigue ensued.

The US-Pakistani alliance is not nearly as trusting. The United States is fighting to deny al-Qaeda a base in Afghanistan while Pakistan is fighting to secure its western frontier and its internal stability. These are very different ends that have very different levels of urgency.

The WikiLeaks portray a war in which the United States has a vastly insufficient force on the ground that is fighting a capable and dedicated enemy who isn't going anywhere. The Taliban know that they win just by not being defeated, and they know that they won't be defeated. The Americans are leaving, meaning the Taliban need only wait and prepare.

The Pakistanis also know that the Americans are leaving and that the Taliban or a coalition including the Taliban will be in charge of Afghanistan when the Americans leave. They will make certain that they maintain good relations with the Taliban. They will deny that they are doing this because they want no impediments to a good relationship with the United States before or after it leaves Afghanistan.

They need a patron to secure their interests against India. Since the United States wants neither an India outside a balance of power nor China taking the role of Pakistan's patron, it follows that the risk the United States will bear grudges is small. And given that, the Pakistanis can live with Washington knowing that one Pakistani hand is helping the Americans while another helps the Taliban. Power, interest and reality define the relations between nations, and different factions inside nations frequently have different agendas and work against each other.

The WikiLeaks, from what we have seen so far, detail power, interest and reality as we have known it. They do not reveal a new reality. Much will be made about the shocking truth that has been shown, which, as mentioned above, shocks only those who wish to be shocked. The Afghan war is about an insufficient American and allied force fighting a capable enemy on its home ground and a Pakistan positioning itself for the inevitable outcome. The WikiLeaks contain all the details.

We are left with the mystery of who compiled all of these documents and who had access to them with enough time and facilities to transmit them to the outside world in a blatant and sustained breach of protocol.

The image we have is of an unidentified individual or small group working to get a "shocking truth" out to the public, only the truth is not shocking - it is what was known all along in excruciating detail. Who would want to detail a truth that is already known, with access to all this documentation and the ability to transmit it unimpeded? Whoever it proves to have been has just made the most powerful case yet for withdrawal from Afghanistan sooner rather than later.

(Published with permission from STRATFOR, a Texas-based geopolitical intelligence company. Copyright 2010 Stratfor.) 
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« Reply #14 on: July 28, 2010, 06:20:12 am »

South Asia
Jul 29, 2010 

The opposites game

By Tom Engelhardt

Have you ever thought about just how strange this country's version of normal truly is? Let me make my point with a single, hardly noticed Washington Post news story that's been on my mind for a while. It represents the sort of reporting that, in our world, zips by with next to no reaction, despite the true weirdness buried in it.

The piece by Craig Whitlock appeared on June 19 and was headlined, "US military criticized for purchase of Russian copters for Afghan air corps." Maybe that's strange enough for you right there. Russian copters? We all know, at least vaguely, that by year's end, US spending on its protracted Afghan war and nation-building project will be heading for US$350 billion. And those dollars do have to go somewhere.

Admittedly, these days in parts of the US, state and city governments are having a hard time finding the money just to pay teachers or the police. The Pentagon, on the other hand, hasn't hesitated to use at least $25-27 billion to "train" and "mentor" the Afghan military and police - and after each round of training failed to produce the expected results, to ask for even more money, and train them again.

That includes the Afghan National Army Air Corps which, in the Soviet era of the 1980s, had nearly 500 aircraft and a raft of trained pilots. The last of that air force - little used in the Taliban era - was destroyed in the US air assault and invasion of 2001. As a result, the "Afghan air force" (with about 50 helicopters and transport planes) is now something of a misnomer, since it is, in fact, the US Air Force.

Still, there are a few Afghan pilots, mostly in their forties, trained long ago on Russian Mi-17 transport helicopters, and it's on a refurbished version of these copters, Whitlock tells us, that the Pentagon has already spent $648 million. The Mi-17 was specially built for Afghanistan's difficult flying environment back when various Islamic jihadis, some of whom we're now fighting under the rubric of "the Taliban", were allied with us against the Russians.

Here's the first paragraph of Whitlock's article: "The US government is snapping up Russian-made helicopters to form the core of Afghanistan's fledgling air force, a strategy that is drawing flak from members of Congress who want to force the Afghans to fly American choppers instead."

So, various congressional representatives are upset over the lack of a buy-American plan when it comes to the Afghan air force. That's the story Whitlock sets out to tell, because the Pentagon has been planning to purchase dozens more of the Mi-17s over the next decade, and that, it seems, is what's worth being upset about when perfectly good American arms manufacturers aren't getting the contracts.

But let's consider three aspects of Whitlock's article that no one is likely to spend an extra moment on, even if they do capture the surpassing strangeness of the American way of war in distant lands - and in Washington.

1. The little training program that couldn't: There are at present an impressive 450 US personnel in Afghanistan training the Afghan air force. Unfortunately, there's a problem. There may be no "buy American" program for that air force, but there is a "speak American" one. To be an Afghan air force pilot, you must know English - "the official language of the cockpit", Whitlock assures us (even if to fly Russian helicopters). As he points out, however, the trainees, mostly illiterate, take two to five years simply to learn the language. (Imagine a US Air Force in which, just to take off, every pilot needed to know Dari!)

Thanks to this language barrier, the US can train endlessly and next to nothing is guaranteed to happen. "So far," reports Whitlock, "only one Afghan pilot has graduated from flight school in the United States, although dozens are in the pipeline. That has forced the air corps to rely on pilots who learned to fly Mi-17s during the days of Soviet and Taliban rule." In other words, despite the impressive Soviet performance in the 1980s, the training of the Afghan air force has been re-imagined by Americans as a Sisyphean undertaking.

And this offers but a hint of how bizarre US training programs for the Afghan military and police have proven to be. In fact, sometimes it seems as if exactly the same scathing report, detailing the same training problems and setbacks, has been recycled yearly without anyone who mattered finding it particularly odd - or being surprised that the response to each successive piece of bad news is to decide to pour yet more money and trainers into the project.

For example, in 2005, at a time when Washington had already spent $3.3 billion training and mentoring the Afghan army and police, the US Government Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report indicating that "efforts to fully equip the increasing number of [Afghan] combat troops have fallen behind, and efforts to establish sustaining institutions, such as a logistics command, needed to support these troops have not kept pace". Worse yet, the report fretted, it might take "up to $7.2 billion to complete [the training project] and about $600 million annually to sustain [it]".

In 2006, according to the New York Times, "a joint report by the Pentagon and the State Department ... found that the American-trained police force in Afghanistan is largely incapable of carrying out routine law enforcement work, and that managers of the $1.1 billion training program cannot say how many officers are actually on duty or where thousands of trucks and other equipment issued to police units have gone." At best, stated the report, fewer than half of the officially announced number of police were "trained and equipped to carry out their police functions".

In 2008, by which time $16.5 billion had been spent on army and police training programs, the GAO chimed in again, indicating that only two of 105 army units were "assessed as being fully capable of conducting their primary mission", while "no police unit is fully capable".

In 2009, the US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction reported that "only 24 of 559 Afghan police units are considered ready to operate without international help". Such reports, as well as repeated (and repetitive) news investigations and stories on the subject, invariably are accompanied by a litany of complaints about corruption, indiscipline, illiteracy, drug taking, staggering desertion rates, Taliban infiltration, ghost soldiers, and a host of other problems. In 2009, however, the solution remained as expectable as the problems: "The report called for more US trainers and more money."

This June, a US government audit, again from the Special Inspector General, contradicted the latest upbeat American and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) training assessments, reporting that "the standards used to appraise the Afghan forces since 2005 were woefully inadequate, inflating their abilities".

The usual litany of training woes followed. Yet, according to Reuters, President Barack Obama wants another $14.2 billion for the training project "for this year and next". And just last week, the Wall Street Journal's Julian Barnes reported that new Afghan war commander General David Petraeus is planning to "retool" US strategy to include "a greater focus on how Afghanistan's security forces are being trained".

When it comes to US training programs then, you might conclude that Afghanistan has proved to be Catch-22-ville, the land where time stood still - and so, evidently, has the Washington national security establishment's collective brain. For Washington, there seems to be no learning curve in Afghanistan, not when it comes to "training" Afghans anyway.

And here is the oddest thing of all, though no one even bothers to mention it in this context: the Taliban haven't had tens of billions of dollars in foreign training funds; they haven't had years of advice from the best US and NATO advisors that money can buy; they haven't had private contractors like DynCorp teaching them how to fight and police, and strangely enough, they seem to have no problem fighting.

They are not undermanned, infiltrated by followers of President Hamid Karzai, or particularly corrupt. They may be illiterate and may not be fluent in English, but they are ready, in up to platoon-sized units, to attack heavily fortified US military bases, Afghan prisons, a police headquarters and the like with hardly a foreign mentor in sight.
Consider it, then, a modern miracle in reverse that the US has proven incapable of training a competent Afghan force in a country where arms are the norm, fighting has for decades seldom stopped, and the locals are known for their war-fighting traditions. Similarly, it's abidingly curious that the US has so far failed to train a modest-sized air force, even flying refurbished Italian light transport planes from the 1980s and those Russian helicopters, when the Soviet Union, the last imperial power to try this, proved up to creating an Afghan force able to pilot aircraft ranging from helicopters to fighter planes.

2. Non-exit strategies: Now, let's wade a little deeper into the strangeness of what Whitlock reported by taking up the question of when we're actually planning to leave Afghanistan. Consider this passage from the Whitlock piece: "US military officials have estimated that the Afghan air force won't be able to operate independently until 2016, five years after President Obama has said he intends to start withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan. But [US Air Force Brigadier General Michael R] Boera said that date could slip by at least two years if Congress forces the Afghans to fly US choppers."

In other words, while Americans argue over what the president's July 2011 drawdown date really means, and while Karzai suggests that Afghan forces will take over the country's security duties by 2014, Whitlock's anonymous "US military officials" are clearly operating on a different clock, on, in fact, Pentagon time, and so are planning for a 2016-2018 target date for that force simply to "operate independently" (which by no means indicates "without US support".)

If you were of a conspiratorial mind, you might almost think that the Pentagon preferred not to create an effective Afghan air force and instead - as has also been the case in Iraq, a country that once had the world's sixth-largest air force and now, after years of US mentoring, has next to nothing - remain the substitute Afghan air force forever and a day.

3. Who are the Russians now?: Okay, let's move even deeper into American strangeness with a passage that makes up most of the 20th and 21st paragraphs of Whitlock's 25-paragraph piece: "In addition," he reports, "the US Special Operations Command would like to buy a few Mi-17s of its own, so that special forces carrying out clandestine missions could cloak the fact that they are American. 'We would like to have some to blend in and do things,' said a senior US military official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the clandestine program."

No explanation follows on just how - or where - those Russian helicopters will help "cloak" American special operations missions, or what they are to "blend" into, or the "things" they are to do. There's no further discussion of the subject at all.

In other words, the special op urge to Russianize its air transport has officially been reported, and a month later, as far as I know, not a single congressional representative has made a fuss over it; no mainstream pundit has written a curious, questioning, or angry editorial questioning its appropriateness; and no reporter has, as yet, followed up.

As just another little factoid of no great import buried deep in an article focused on other matters, undoubtedly no one has given it a thought. But it's worth stopping a moment and considering just how odd this tiny bit of news-that-won't-ever-rise-to-the-level-of-news actually is. One way to do this is to play the sort of opposites game that never quite works on this still one-way planet of ours. Just imagine a similar news item coming out of another country.

Hot off the wires from Tehran: Iranian special forces teams are scouring the planet for old American Chinook helicopters so they can be well "cloaked" in planned future forays into Afghanistan and Pakistan's Balochistan province.
The People's Daily reports: Chinese special forces operatives are buying relatively late model American helicopters so that ... Well, here's one problem in the opposites game, and a clue to the genuine strangeness of American activities globally: why would the Chinese need to do such a thing (and, in fact, why would we)? Where might they want to venture militarily without being mistaken for Chinese military personnel?

That might be a little hard to imagine right now, but I guarantee you one thing: had some foreign news source reported such a plan, or had Whitlock somehow uncovered it and included it in a piece - no matter how obscurely nestled - there would have been pandemonium in Washington. Congress would have held hearings. Pundits would have opined on the infamy of Iranian or Chinese operatives masking themselves in our choppers. The company or companies that sold the helicopters would have been investigated. And you can imagine what Fox News commentators would have had to say.

When we do such things, however, and a country like Pakistan reacts with what's usually described as "anti-Americanism", we wonder at the nationalistic hair-trigger they're on; we comment on their over-emotionalism; we highlight their touchy "sensibilities"; and our reporters and pundits then write empathetically about the difficulties American military and civilian officials have dealing with such edgy natives.

Just the other day, for instance, the Wall Street Journal's Barnes reported that US Special Operations Forces were expanding their role in the Pakistani tribal borderlands by more regularly "venturing out with Pakistani forces on aid projects, deepening the American role in the effort to defeat Islamist militants in Pakistani territory that has been off limits to US ground troops". The Pakistani government has not been eager to have American boots visibly on the ground in these areas, and so Barnes writes: "Because of Pakistan's sensitivities, the US role has developed slowly."

Imagine how sensitive they might prove to be if those same forces began to land Russian helicopters in Pakistan as a way to "cloak" their operations and blend in? Or imagine just what sort of hair-trigger the natives of Montana might be on if Pakistani special operations types were roaming Glacier National Park and landing old American helicopters outside Butte.

Then consider the sensitivities of Pakistanis on learning that the just-appointed head of the Central Intelligence Agency's National Clandestine Service turns out to be a man of "impeccable credentials" (so says CIA director Leon Panetta). Among those credentials are his stint as the CIA station chief in Pakistan until sometime in 2009, his involvement in the exceedingly unpopular drone war in that country's tribal borderlands, and the way, as the director put it a tad vaguely, he "guided complex operations under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable".

Here's the truth of the matter, as Whitlock's piece makes clear: we carry on in the most bizarre ways in far-off lands and think nothing of it. Historically, it has undoubtedly been the nature of imperial powers to consider every strange thing they do more or less the norm.

For a waning imperial power, however, such an attitude has its own dangers. If we can't imagine the surpassing strangeness of our arrangements for making war in lands thousands of kilometers from the US, then we can't begin to imagine how the world sees us, which means that we're blind to our own madness. Russian helicopters, that's nuthin' by comparison.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the Cold War and beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing. He also edited The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), an alternative history of the mad Bush years. His latest book is The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's (Haymarket Books),

(Used by permission Tomdispatch)

(Copyright 2010 Tom Engelhardt.) 
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« Reply #15 on: July 28, 2010, 06:40:31 am »

Associated Press

 - July 28, 2010

Packed bus hits roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan killing 25 people, 20 others wounded

   KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A packed bus hit a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday killing 25 people aboard, as NATO announced another U.S. service member died in a rapidly rising monthly death toll.

The passenger bus was traveling in Nimroz province on a main highway toward the capital, Kabul, when it struck the explosive about 7 a.m., said Nazir Ahmad, a provincial government spokesman. Another 20 people were wounded, he said.

The explosion occurred near Delaram — a volatile area close to the borders of Helmand and Farah provinces.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack. "The criminals who did this are the enemies of Muslims," he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, NATO forces said a U.S. troop was killed in an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday, without giving further details.

July is already one of the deadliest months for U.S. troops in the nearly nine-year Afghan war, with 59 service members killed so far. That's just shy of the 60 that died in June — the deadliest month for U.S. forces. Altogether, 80 NATO troops have died in July. In June, 103 NATO forces were killed.

The rising death toll comes as U.S. forces continue the search for a missing Navy sailor believed captured last week by Taliban forces when he and a colleague drove into an insurgent-held area of eastern Afghanistan. One of the sailors was killed in a firefight with militants, and the Taliban has said they seized the other.

NATO officials were unable to say what the two service members were doing in such a dangerous part of eastern Afghanistan.

The Navy identified the missing sailor as Petty Officer 3rd Class Jarod Newlove, a 25-year-old from the Seattle area. The Pentagon lists Newlove as "whereabouts unknown," and did not confirm he was captured.

The service member killed in the firefight was Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin McNeley — a 30-year-old father of two from Wheatridge, Colorado. NATO recovered his body Sunday.

The sailors were instructors at a counterinsurgency school for Afghan security forces, according to senior military officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case. The school was headquartered in Kabul and had classrooms outside the capital, but they were never assigned anywhere near where the body of the sailor was recovered, the officials said.

U.S. forces have pushed into southern Taliban strongholds in recent months and weeks in an attempt to squeeze insurgents out of the area where they have long functioned as a de-facto government. Along with the surge, attacks on military forces and Afghan supporters of the government have increased. Many civilians have also been killed or wounded in incidents such as Wednesday's bus bomb or caught up in the crossfire.

On Monday, the Afghan government said 52 civilians, including women and children, died when a NATO rocket struck a village in southern Afghanistan last week — a report the international coalition has disputed.

Karzai's office said an investigation by Afghan intelligence officers determined a NATO rocket slammed into Rigi village in Helmand province, one of the most violent areas of the country.

The U.S.-led command also said an investigation was under way but reports of mass civilian casualties in Rigi were unfounded.

NATO said investigators determined alliance and Afghan troops came under attack Friday about 6 miles (10 kilometers) south of the village and responded with helicopter-borne strikes. Coalition forces reported six insurgents killed, including a Taliban commander.

Gulam Farooq, deputy commander for the Afghan National Army in the south, said he too sent investigators to Rigi. Eyewitnesses said 14 civilians from three families were killed in the fighting.

Abdul Whab, who lost seven members of his family, told Afghan army investigators his mother, holding a copy of the Quran, pleaded with insurgents to leave the area so civilians wouldn't be hurt, Farooq said.

Whab told investigators coalition fire killed 60 militants suspected of being foreign fighters, because they didn't speak the local Afghan language of Pashtu, said Farooq.

In central Uruzgan province, meanwhile, three Afghan soldiers were killed when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb Wednesday, said Gulab Khan, deputy provincial police chief.

German Army Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz told reporters Wednesday in Kabul the Taliban's senior leadership ordered the assassination of multiple tribal elders in an area of Uruzgan.

"This follows the kidnapping and execution of two tribal elders for cooperating with the coalition," he said, alleging recent attacks can be traced to instructions issued by Taliban leader Mullah Omar in June to attack anyone who supports the Afghan government.

During the past 90 days, 350 Taliban figures have been captured or killed by coalition forces, Blotz said.


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« Reply #16 on: July 29, 2010, 06:38:43 am »

South Asia
Jul 30, 2010 
US accused of raising local Afghan militias

By IWPR-trained reporters

International forces in Afghanistan have rejected allegations that they have funded new militias in the western district of Shindand in Herat province. Instead, they say they have provided initial training to volunteer defense units, and dismiss claims by Afghan officials that they were not consulted beforehand.

United States Special Forces last year rolled out the Village Stability Program, a scheme that aims to train rural residents to provide their own security. But officials in Herat complain they were not involved in the decision to set up an armed group in Shindand district's Zerkoh Valley.

Lal Mohammad Omarzai, the local government chief in Shindand, said foreign forces did not consult him when they went ahead with establishing the village defense forces, which he said included men of suspect loyalties.

"Some of those who are active in this group previously fought on the Taliban side against Afghan and foreign forces," he said, adding that the force was unreliable, lacked leadership and was widely disliked by local people.

Nur Khan Nekzad, spokesman for the Afghan security command center for Herat province, said the armed groups had been deployed without coordination with local police.

"Herat security command has no militias or tribal units within its structure," he said, adding that the formation of armed groups had never been good for Afghanistan.

In a telephone interview, Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Zmarai Bashari said he was unaware of the existence of the village force in Shindand, and declined to comment further.

Amir Mohammad, 60, says he played an active part in setting up the Zerkoh force, which he said received a month's training in military tactics and search techniques from US Special Forces.

He said the force had been operating in a number of villages in the Zerkoh area for several months and now numbered around 100 young men. They patrol in civilian clothing, distinguished only by three red stripes on their shoulders, and are paid US$160 a month.

Bob Coble, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), denied that members of the Shindand force were being armed and paid by international troops.

"There is a Village Stability effort there, and coalition special operations forces work with the volunteers who have formed the self-defense organization," he said. "We do not supply weapons to the group; they use their own in defense of their village, and that effort is voluntary. We do not pay them to defend their homes."

Coble insisted that the creation of the militias had been done with full coordination with the regional government. "Local officials are aware of all programs we are involved with in Shindand," he said. "Special operations forces personnel are in regular, even routine, contact with local officials."

The spokesman said dedicated funds were being provided for rural development projects in Shindand as part of the same village stability initiative.

He pointed to one recent incident in which an insurgent weapons cache was discovered following a tip-off from residents in a village called Assis Abad, saying this was a sign of the success of the project and the growing local trust in the international forces.

Some residents of the Zerkoh valley have hailed the scheme as a great success. "Ever since the group started operating, security has been ensured in the area, the armed opposition fighters have left the area, and the robberies and abductions which had made people's lives difficult have been eliminated," Amir Mohammad said.

Ismail, a resident of the village of Bakhtabad, said that security had improved because of the defense units.

"Before the group was set up, there were robberies and abductions, and people were worried about Americans operations and bombardments," said. "Now they don't worry when they hear the sound of foreign jets or bombing, because the foreign forces are cooperating with armed units in the area."

Others fear that the emergence of any new armed force can only spell trouble, given Afghanistan's bitter history of conflict among rival militias.

The early 1990s saw the mujahideen groups that had fought the Soviets turn on one another in a civil war for control of the country. Units formerly loyal to the communist government, principally those commanded by General Abdul Rashid Dostum, also entered the fray. Kabul in particular suffered intense bombardment and atrocities.

Leaders of these factions still hold positions of power, and are accused of retaining links to the old militias despite efforts to disarm these units since 2001.

Shindand resident Solaiman, 40, said he had been unhappy to hear of the creation of militias, a move that reminded him of the years of internal conflict.

"Do you think someone who isn't part of the government framework, does not obey any laws, carries arms and is confident that he can do anything he wants, is going to work to ensure the people's safety, or to further his own interests?" he asked.

"Our government isn't aware of what the foreigners are up to; they don't recognize this government and they do whatever they want. Can we say we are a free country?"

Political analyst Ahmad Sayedi agreed that history had shown that militias had no interest in peace. "These groups know that when there is no war, bloodshed and uncertainty in the country, there will be no need for them to exist," he said. "Therefore, they try to create crises in order to make money, because they receive salaries and privileges through war, not by ensuring security."

Like many Afghans, Sayedi suspects international forces actually want instability to persist as a way of controlling Afghanistan.

The Taliban have warned that they will target anyone cooperating with foreign troops, and the village defense force in Shindand has already suffered casualties.

A number of its members were killed in May when they took on Taliban forces which were about to attack a US checkpoint. Hajji Amir, a commander of the defense force, said six of its men and 10 insurgents died in the clash.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yusuf Ahmadi told the Institute for War and Peace Reporting by phone that the insurgents would fight to the death with anyone who opposed them or who collaborated with international forces.

"To us, those who cooperate with the foreigners are no different from the foreigners themselves," he said. "People who fight against us alongside foreign forces lose twice over, first because they get killed, and secondly because they lose out on entering the next world, as they count as infidels."

President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly voiced objections to the Village Stability Program. When he met incoming ISAF commander General David Petraeus in early July, he raised the same concerns. An unnamed Afghan official quoted by The Washington Post said Karzai was worried by the prospect of "a force that will be viewed as a private militia".

However, by mid-July a deal had been struck under which the village defense units will be subsumed into a new Local Police Force, which will still consist of grassroots units but will be controlled by the Afghan Interior Ministry.

(This article originally appeared in Institute for War and Peace Reporting. Used with permission.) 
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« Reply #17 on: July 29, 2010, 06:45:25 am »

Eight killed in Afghanistan blasts

Thu, 29 Jul 2010 10:50:34 GMT   
Two powerful blats have killed at least eight Afghan security contractors in Afghanistan amid rising militant attacks against the foreign and government forces in the war-torn country.

The contractors were killed in two separate incidents in Ghazni province.

Initial reports say several others were injured in the fatal explosions.

Taliban have claimed the responsibility for the bomb attacks, saying that eleven security forces have lost their lives in the attacks.

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« Reply #18 on: July 29, 2010, 06:48:07 am »

Afghans angry over Quran desecration

Thu, 29 Jul 2010 06:38:05 GMT

Afghan police keep order after a protest in the country (file photo).

People in southern Afghanistan have protested against US-led NATO forces over desecration of the Muslim holy book of Quran.

The rally was held in Trinkut city of Oruzgan province on Thursday morning, a Press TV correspondent reported.

The protesters chanted slogans and called on the Afghan government to put those who desecrated the Quran to trial.

Afghan police opened fire to disperse the demonstrators. There have been no immediate reports of any casualties.

According to protesters, the US-led soldiers tore the holy book when Afghan women brought the book in front of them, asking the soldiers not to attack them.

The international troops have reportedly insulted Quran several times since the United States invaded the country in 2001.

Women and children have been the main victims of the war in Afghanistan, particularly in the country's troubled southern and eastern provinces.

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« Reply #19 on: July 29, 2010, 07:54:44 am »

Karzai orders Wikileaks investigation

Thu, 29 Jul 2010 06:59:05 GMT 

Afghan President Hamid Karzai

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered an investigation into revelations about the Afghanistan war made by the whistleblower website Wikileaks.

The Afghan president made the remarks at a press conference in the capital city of Kabul on Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

He was also asked about the Afghan informants who allegedly helped foreign troops in their operations against the Taliban.

Karzai described the release of the Afghans' names in the documents released by Wikileaks as shocking and irresponsible, saying the move has endangered their lives.

Karzai also noted that he was particularly interested in the papers that address civilian casualties and militant sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan.

The Whistleblower website has published some 90,000 files containing highly confidential information about the war in Afghanistan.

The files reportedly include the identity of Afghans, who are said to have provided US forces with intelligence.

After going over the report, Press TV was able to find the names of some of the locals, who have been identified by their names along with their places of residence and in some cases by their father's name.

In one case from 2007, a man named Amon Gull turned in weapons to US troops including eight Russian anti-aircraft rounds and six AP mines.

In another case from 2008, a man identified as Rokmat, son of Meermat, was arrested with a suicide vest at Park Hotel in the city of Khost.

It is feared that the Taliban would use the leaked information to identify and target those who cooperate with the US-led forces or their families.

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« Reply #20 on: July 29, 2010, 10:44:39 am »

Britain to launch Afghan war inquiry

Thu, 29 Jul 2010 13:11:42 GMT

A member of the House of Commons' defense committee said the inquiries would have nothing to do with the Wikileaks documents.

Britain will launch two new inquiries to investigate the country's role in the war in Afghanistan, the House of Commons has announced.

The House of Commons' defense committee announced the new inquiries Wednesday, after previously secret documents leaked to the media shed new light on the civilian casualties of the Afghan war.

Commons' defense committee said in a statement that the first inquiry would examine whether it was justifiable for Britain to remain involved in the nine-year-old unpopular war. It will also examine reports of civilian casualties and a timetable for withdrawal.

The statement said the second inquiry would consider ways to find a political settlement in Afghanistan.

The performance of the US-led foreign troops in the Afghan war was further undermined this week after whistleblower site Wikileaks published thousands of secret military documents unveiling that foreign armies fighting in Afghanistan indiscriminately killed civilians and tried to cover up civilian casualties.

The British parliament's defense committee is an influential panel whose inquiries are aimed at scrutinizing the government's performance.

A committee member said the inquiries would have nothing to do with the Wikileaks documents, adding that the discussions to conduct the probes had begun before the disclosure of the leaked documents.

A public inquiry into the war in Iraq is already underway in Britain.

In a testimony given on Wednesday, former head of the army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, told the so-called Chilcot Inquiry that former premier Tony Blair bounced military commanders into deploying large number of British troops to Afghanistan while they were facing a growing insurgency in Iraq.

Dannatt said he only heard of the UK's leading role in Helmand province when Blair announced it at a 2004 summit.


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« Reply #21 on: July 29, 2010, 11:18:30 am »

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« Reply #22 on: July 30, 2010, 10:37:02 am »

US embassy vehicles torched in Afghan capital

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, July 30th, 2010 -- 11:24 am

Rioting erupted in Kabul Friday when scores of Afghan men set fire to two US embassy vehicles after one collided with a civilian car killing a number of occupants, officials and witnesses said.

Television pictures showed the vehicles in flames and young Afghan men throwing stones at them.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said it had despatched a quick reaction force to the area, outside the American embassy and near US and Afghan army bases in the centre of the city.

An ISAF official said the vehicles involved belonged to the US embassy.

"We don't know yet how many people were killed in the accident," interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashery said.

Witnesses said four passengers of the civilian car died when it was hit by one of two armoured vehicles moving in convoy.

Police fired shots in the air to quell the violence, an AFP reporter witnessed.

Afghan security forces cordoned off the area, closing the road to Kabul's international airport, he said.

Local resident Saleh Ahmed said the accident happened when the civilian vehicle attempted to drive onto the main road from a side street and was hit by one of the two armoured vehicles.

"The civilian vehicle was trying to get into the main road when the two foreign vehicles hit it and killed all four occupants," he said. "People gathered around the crash site to see what had happened, got angry and started attacking the foreigners."

The AFP reporter on the scene said police helped the foreigners leave as the riot continued for about an hour before people started to disperse.

Young Afghan men threw stones and shouted "death to foreigners" and "death to Karzai," referring to President Hamid Karzai, he said.

A similar traffic incident led to massive riots that shook the capital in May 2006, leaving at least 14 people dead.

Deployments by the United States and NATO are nearing their peak of 150,000, concentrated in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, where a nearly nine-year Taliban insurgency is at its most intense.

A motorcycle bomb targeting a candidate in upcoming parliamentary elections killed a woman and a child in the southern city of Kandahar on Friday, police said.

The explosives-laden motorcycle was parked in a city centre alley used by the candidate, and detonated minutes after he passed by, provincial deputy police chief Fazel Ahmad Shairzad told AFP.

He blamed the attack on "enemies of Afghanistan," a term often used to refer to the Taliban.

The parliamentary election was originally scheduled for May but postponed until September 18.

Candidates appear to be the latest targets of the Taliban, who have stepped up a campaign of roadside bombs, suicide attacks and assassinations in recent months.

Candidate Sayedullah Sayed died after a mosque in the southeastern province of Khost was bombed last Friday as he was campaigning, injuring 20 people.

Also in the south of the country, NATO said that three foreign soldiers had been killed in two separate Taliban-style bomb attacks on Thursday. An ISAF spokeswoman confirmed all three were American.

A total of 408 foreign troops have died in the Afghan war so far this year, according to an AFP tally based on that kept by the website.

The toll for July is 86, compared with 102 in June, the worst month for foreign military casualties since the end of 2001.

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« Reply #23 on: August 02, 2010, 07:54:15 am »

'Modest goal' set for war

Obama targets terrorists, forgoes nation-building

ASSOCIATED PRESS LOSING HEARTS AND MINDS: During a protest in Kabul on Sunday, hundreds of Afghans carry posters of civilians said to have been killed by U.S. and NATO forces.

By Sean Lengell - The Washington Times
8:18 p.m., Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Obama administration and leading Democrats are dialing back expectations for the Afghanistan war, saying that their goal is to root out terrorists, not engage in a major nation-building project.

"Nobody thinks that Afghanistan is going to be a model Jeffersonian democracy," Mr. Obama said during an interview broadcast on CBS' "Sunday Morning" program.

"What we're looking to do is difficult, very difficult, but it's a fairly modest goal, which is, don't allow terrorists to operate from this region; don't allow them to create big training camps and to plan attacks against the U.S. homeland with impunity."

Mr. Obama said his goals for Afghanistan can be accomplished.

"We can stabilize Afghanistan sufficiently and we can get enough cooperation from Pakistan that we are not magnifying the threat against the homeland," he said. "If I didn't think that it was important for our national security to finish the job in Afghanistan, then I would pull them all out today."

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the U.S. is "not there to take on a nationwide reconstruction or construction project in Afghanistan."

Mr. Gates said in an appearance on ABC's "This Week" program that the U.S. instead must focus "on those civilian aspects and governance that help us accomplish our security objective."

"We are in Afghanistan because we were attacked from Afghanistan, not because we want to try and build a better society in Afghanistan," he said.

"But doing things to improve governance, to improve development in Afghanistan, to the degree it contributes to our security mission and to the effectiveness of the Afghan government in the security arena, that's what we're going to do."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, when asked on "This Week" what the U.S. would to do protect Afghan women from brutal attacks by the Taliban, responded that the central U.S. mission in the country is "our own national security - to stop terrorism, to increase global security."

The California Democrat said that she and Congress are concerned that Afghan women and children receive proper health care and education, but "that can't happen without security" and the end of political corruption in the country.

Yet on Capitol Hill last week, 102 House Democrats voted against a war-spending bill - 70 more than did so last year - suggesting that Democrats are growing weary of the war.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, acknowledged that public support for the war has waned.

"They have the impression that things are not going well now, at least the majority" of the public, he said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." "But I think the public does want us to succeed."

But Mr. Levin said that tangible progress is being made, particularly a strengthening Afghan army.

"It's a mixed picture. But the most important thing that is happening as far as I am concerned is that the Afghan army is well respected, is now going to be taking the lead," Mr. Levin said. "And these are very important words for the American public to understand."

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry said it would be wrong to force a modern, centralized form of government in Afghanistan.

"That would be a big mistake if that were the pattern we were trying to follow," the Massachusetts Democrat said Sunday on CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS" program. "And I don't believe that's what the administration is trying to do.

"I think the administration has a pretty good sense, darned good sense, as a matter of fact, of exactly how difficult it would be to create this centralized model. And they don't want that."

Mr. Kerry also said that it would be a mistake if only a "trivial" number of U.S. troops left Afghanistan leading up to July's deadline to start pulling out forces in Afghanistan, though he added that it would be "folly" for a mass exodus of troops next summer simply to meet an arbitrary deadline.

"The president is not going to suddenly pull the rug out from under the very efforts that we've all been engaged in over these years," he said.

Some U.S. allies aren't waiting. On Sunday, the Netherlands became the first NATO country to end its combat mission in Afghanistan, which had little domestic support there. Canada and Poland have announced planned withdrawal dates in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

While the loss of about 1,900 Dutch troops likely won't be militarily significant, it is a political bellwether as doubts about the Afghanistan war continue to grow in Western countries, though NATO forces are starting what might be the war's decisive campaign.

A surge of mostly U.S. forces recently has taken over responsibility for key areas in Helmand and Kandahar provinces from British and Canadian forces and begun a more aggressive campaign against the Taliban in recent months that has led to increased casualties among Western militaries and Afghan civilians, as well as the Taliban enemy.

The fighting has provoked discontent from Afghan civilians, and more than 200 participated in a Sunday march in Kabul to protest a NATO rocket attack that they blamed for the deaths of more than 50 civilians. NATO disputes that accusation, saying a preliminary investigation shows at most three civilian deaths.

According to the Associated Press, protesters carried photos of dead and wounded children and shouted, "Death to America! Death to NATO!"

"We should not tolerate such attacks. The Americans are invaders who have occupied our country in the name of fighting terrorism," said 22-year-old Ahmad Jawed, a university student who also blamed the Afghan government. "We don't have a strong enough government to protect the rights of the Afghan people."

Meanwhile on Sunday, Mr. Gates said that the website WikiLeaks is morally guilty for releasing classified U.S. documents on the Afghanistan war, saying that he was "mortified" by the leak and its potential to harm U.S. troops and their Afghan allies.

Mr. Gates said that while the government is investigating the legal ramifications of the leaks, WikiLeaks also faces "moral culpability," a charge that he and uniformed military officials also made last week.

"And that's where I think the verdict is guilty on WikiLeaks," he said on ABC's "This Week." "They have put this out without any regard whatsoever for the consequences."

Mr. Gates said the information puts "those in Afghanistan who have helped us at risk. It puts our soldiers at risk because our adversaries can learn a lot about our techniques, tactics and procedures from the body of these leaked documents."

The secretary added that "protecting your sources is sacrosanct" in a war theater.

The Taliban has said it will use the documents to hunt down people who have cooperated with U.S. forces.

WikiLeaks recently posted more than 75,000 secret U.S. military reports. Mr. Gates said the soldier accused of leaking the documents, who was working as an Army intelligence officer in Iraq, wouldn't have been able to do so if he weren't stationed in the field.

"Had whoever did this tried to do it at a rear headquarters overseas or pretty much anywhere in the U.S., we have controls in place that would've allowed us to detect it," he said.

Changes in intelligence gathering in recent years that have focused on putting "as much information in intelligence as far forward to the soldiers [in the field] as we possibly can" has created potential security-breach problems, Mr. Gates said.

But he said that while the Pentagon will review the policy, placing too many restrictions on access to classified intelligence could deny front-line troops critical information.

"My bias is against that," he said. "I want those kids out there to have all the information they can have."

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« Reply #24 on: August 03, 2010, 06:06:19 am »

South Asia
Aug 4, 2010 
Battle for upper hand in Marjah continues

By IWPR-trained reporters

Residents of Marjah, the focus of a major operation by North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led coalition forces earlier this year to rid the Helmand district of Taliban forces, have spoken of growing insecurity and fear the insurgents could re-establish themselves there.

Some 15,000 foreign and Afghan forces took part in "Operation Moshtarak" ("together") in January, battling 2,000 Taliban fighters for control of the area, a major drug production hub in Helmand. Though sporadic clashes with Taliban fighters continue, international troops say Marjah is now stable and point to significant improvements in the local economy and development.

But locals told the Institute for War and Peace Reporting that they feel too frightened to go to work and are concerned that reconstruction projects are failing.

Mir Wali, a shopkeeper in the Loya Chareh bazaar, complained that he had never seen Marjah so insecure and he believes the Taliban will take over the area if things don't improve.

"I saw with my own eyes sometime back that the Taliban attacked the governor and Americans on this intersection," he said, referring to a triple suicide bombing in the center of Marjah last month which targeted a visit by Richard Holbrooke, the special United States envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Insurgents also shot at his flight as it prepared to land, although they failed to injure his party, which included Helmand governor Gulab Mangal, US ambassador Karl Eikenberry and General Stanley McChrystal, then commander of US forces and the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF.

Other businessmen say they are too frightened to open their shops.

"I have not gone to my shop for 10 days," said shopkeeper Haji Abdul Samad. "There, bullets drop like rain from the sky. The cattle and sheep die like flies. I swear there is no humanitarianism or humanity."

Gul Ahmad, another Loya Chareh shopkeeper, said he had kept his premises shut for a long time due to Taliban threats.

"The Taliban number has increased and they have worsened the conditions for the people," he said. "They warn us to shut the shops. They are very cruel, and if I do not shut the shop, they will beat me to death."

However, a US army spokesman said that the vast majority of the shops in the town of Marjah were now open and functioning normally, a sign of what he described as improved security.

"Two weeks after we initially entered Marjah, there were few, if any, shops open in the bazaars," he said, adding that now more than 600 traders were active in the various markets around the town, accounting for over 80% of all businesses in the bazaars.

"The bazaars normally see several hundred locals shopping there daily, showing significant trust in the security situation within the bazaars," he said.

While there were still clashes with insurgents in Marjah, these were "not to the point where it [will] fall to the Taliban or that locals fear opening their shops - as seen in the numerous shops open daily".

The US army spokesman also emphasized that coalition forces had numerous projects underway within Marjah, including the construction of schools and roads.

"We also conduct daily Quick Impact Projects, where locals clean the bazaars, dredge canals, and numerous other small daily projects," he said.

Locals insist that development efforts have slowed down and that Taliban attacks have deterred people from taking part in reconstruction projects. Marjah resident Asadullah said he had been employed in a Cash for Work project but abandoned it due to the threat of violence.

"I worked in a project for one month," he said. "We were cleaning the streams and drains and they paid 250 afghanis [US$5] per day, but the number of Taliban fighters increased so much that every day they were conducting attacks. The attacks increased and I left the work.

"There are Taliban on every road and intersection, but few of them carry guns. Some are monitoring the situation, collecting intelligence and information about the movement of the American patrols. And some armed Taliban stay at home and prepare for attacks."

An employee of the development organization the International Relief and Development, IRD, said he had been working on the distribution of water pumps to 300 farmers in Marjah district for the past two months.

Declining to give his name, he said that it was proving difficult to give the equipment out. "The people are afraid," he said. "The Taliban burn the water pumps and if they find them, they kill the farmers."

IRD spokeswoman Melissa Price said irrigation pump distribution in the district, which began in May, had been "impeded by a persistent intimidation campaign from the Taliban and concerns from the district government that the distribution would not be adequately monitored due to security conditions".

However, the project had stepped up its efforts in July, and pumps would be now be distributed from three separate locations in the district "in an effort to alleviate farmers' security concerns during travel and pump transportation".

Helmand officials also accept that there are problems, but say the situation is not as grave as some Marjah residents claim.

"No doubt there are problems in Marjah, we face Taliban attacks, but people support us and there are improvements in Marjah," district chief Mohammad Zaher told IWPR in a telephone interview. "The situation is not so bad. [The negativity] is propaganda."

Dawood Ahmadi, spokesman for Governor Mangal, said the problems in Marjah were evident elsewhere in the region as the Taliban's Quetta shura, its Pakistan-based leadership council, had decided to focus its efforts on increasing insecurity in the whole of Helmand.

"This is not only the problem of Marjah," he said, but insisted that "soon everything will come under control".

After returning from a 10-day visit to Marjah where he consulted with local elders, Helmand deputy governor Sattar Marzakwal said he had decided to create a special police unit to combat Taliban intimidation of locals.

"The rapid response battalion consists of 200 national army, national police and American army officers," he said. "They will get to any location in a few minutes if people inform them of the presence of insurgents."

But Mohamad Aqa Takra, a former officer in the communist regime and now a military specialist, said this initiative would not bring security to Marjah.

"If the Quetta shura puts its main focus on Helmand, as officials claim, the Marjah district cannot be secured by 200 or 300 men - even 10,000 American and Afghan soldiers couldn't do it," he said.
Jabir, a police officer in Marjah, said that the district was extremely insecure, and feared the Taliban could soon be back in charge unless something was done.

"Everything has changed here," he said. "We are afraid of every farmer, and think that there might be a Taliban fighter behind every stone and every tree."

He said that the only way that Afghan police can patrol is with American soldiers. "The Taliban are very audacious and brave. They have very new machine guns and every day they conduct more than 10 attacks on us in Marjah. It is completely horrifying."

The Taliban claim that their success is due to the help and cooperation of local people.

Taliban spokesman Qari Usuf Ahmadi said the insurgents are very powerful in Marjah and will never concede defeat to the US and Afghan forces. "People help us, they give us food and support us and that is why our operations go so well," he said.

But Marjah district chief Zaher maintained that the area would never come under Taliban control again. "It is impossible to lose Marjah," he added. "Marjah will never fall."

(This article originally appeared in Institute for War and Peace Reporting. Used with permission.) 
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« Reply #25 on: August 03, 2010, 12:33:26 pm »

Taliban claims US base raid killing 150

Tue, 03 Aug 2010 15:52:22 GMT

Taliban claim some 150 US-led troops have been killed in the attack on Kandahar Airfield.

The Taliban have claimed responsibility for killing 150 US-led troops in an attack on the main US base in southern Afghanistan.

A gun battle erupted after the Taliban attacked the military base in Afghan province of Kandahar, a Press TV correspondent reported Tuesday.

Explosions had been reported in the vicinity of the air base before a fire-fight started between the militants and the US-led forces.

The fight lasted for more than two hours. NATO has confirmed the attack but offered no details on the possible casualties.

However, according to a statement by the provincial governor's office, only one foreign soldier was killed and several civilians were injured after two rockets struck inside the base.

Meanwhile, NATO-backed Afghan soldiers reported to have killed six militants that attacked the base.

A Taliban spokesman, however, insisted that the militants managed to infiltrate the largest US base in Kandahar and killing at least 150 foreign troops there.

If accurate, the latest casualties would bring to over 2,000 the number of US-led troops killed in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion of the war-ravaged country.

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« Reply #26 on: August 10, 2010, 05:49:32 am »

Published on Monday, August 9, 2010 by

U.S. Supersizes Afghan Mega-Base as Withdrawal Date Looms

by Spencer Ackerman

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - Anyone who thinks the United States is really going to withdraw from Afghanistan in July 2011 needs to come to this giant air base an hour away from Kabul. There's construction everywhere. It's exactly what you wouldn't expect from a transient presence.

Perhaps the most conspicuous change of all: fresh concrete T-walls fortifying the northern and southern faces of the base.

Step off a C-17 cargo plane, as I did very early Friday morning, and you see a flight line packed with planes. When I was last here two years ago, helicopters crowded the runways [1] and fixed-wing aircraft were -- well, if not rare, still a notable sight. Today you've got C-17s, Predators, F-16s, F-15s, MC-12 passenger planes ... I didn't see any of the C-130 cargo craft, but they're here somewhere.

More notable than the overstuffed runways is the over-driven road. Disney Drive, the main thoroughfare that rings the eight-square-mile base, used to feature pedestrians with reflective sashes over their PT uniforms carrying Styrofoam boxes of leftovers out of the mess halls. And those guys are still there.

But now the western part of Disney is a two-lane parking lot of Humvees, flamboyant cargo big-rigs from Pakistan known as jingle trucks, yellow DHL shipping vans, contractor vehicles and mud-caked flatbeds. If the Navy could figure out a way to bring a littoral-combat ship to a landlocked country, it would idle on Disney.

Expect to wait an eternity if you want to pull out onto the road. Cross the street at your own risk.

Then there are all the new facilities. West Disney has a fresh coat of cement -- something that's easy to come by, now that the Turkish firm Yukcel manufactures cement right inside Bagram's walls.

There on the flightline: the skeletons of new hangars. New towers with particleboard for terraces. A skyline of cranes. The omnipresent plastic banner on a girder-and-cement seedling advertising a new project built by cut-rate labor paid by Inglett and Stubbs International.

I haven't been able to learn yet how much it all cost, but Bagram is starting to feel like a dynamic exurb before the housing bubble burst. There was actually a traffic jam this afternoon on the southern side of the base, owing to construction-imposed bottlenecks, something I didn't think possible in late summer 2008.

Perhaps the most conspicuous change of all: fresh concrete T-walls fortifying the northern and southern faces of the base. Insurgents have launched a number of futile attacks on the base recently, mostly inaccurate small-arms fire and the odd rocket-propelled grenade. They've mostly irritated their targets instead of killing them.

But a definite legacy is the abundance of huge barriers at the most-obvious access points to Bagram. Much of the eastern wing remains surrounded by chicken fencing topped with barbed wire, but the more sensitive points of entry are now hardened.

So, apparently, are the sentiments of local Afghans nearby [2]. Troops here told me of shepherd boys scowling their way around Bagram's outskirts, slingshotting off the occasional rock in hopes of braining an American. Again, something else I wouldn't have believed two years ago.

By next year, the detention facility that's spirited away on a far corner of Bagram [3] is supposed to revert to Afghan control. And maybe someday the Afghan National Army will inherit the entire base.

But two years ago there were about 18,000 troops and contractors living here. Now that figure is north of 30,000, all for a logistics hub and command post that the United States didn't ever imagine possessing before 9/11.

In 2011, the U.S. military probably won't be thinking about turning over the keys to a new, huge base. It'll be thinking about how it can finish up the construction contracts it signed months ago -- if not some it's yet to ink.

© 2010 Wired


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« Reply #27 on: August 12, 2010, 06:17:30 am »

Published on Wednesday, August 11, 2010 by

Army Weak: Soldiers Expose Deployment of Unprepared Troops

by Clare Bayard

Army Reserve members facing imminent deployment to Afghanistan are publicly charging that their company is not properly trained or mentally fit for battle. Several members of the Indiana-based 656th Transportation Company, which is due to activate August 22nd, are requesting a Congressional inquiry into the unit's lack of readiness. Alejandro Villatoro, a sergeant in the company, is amongst those coming forward.

Sergeant Villatoro says, "The main reason I am doing this is that I want people to know the lack of training and education our soldiers been receiving, and the focus on the mission is just not adequate to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. All I am asking is more time to reevaluate the training and mental health of these soldiers before sending them into war."

At risk to themselves, these soldiers are going public with firsthand experiences of failures in military training, mental healthcare, and leadership, which many veterans charge are problems endemic to the military.  This comes as the Afghanistan War falls under increased scrutiny in the wake of the Wikileaked "War Logs" information.

Untrained and Unsupported

Three members of this company, Sgt. Villatoro and two reservists who wish to remain anonymous (referred to here as Private First Class A and Specialist B), have come forward to expose a crisis.

They tell of inadequate mental healthcare, scant and inappropriate training, and incompetent leadership distrusted by the rank and file.

Troops set to deploy to Afghanistan are given only a rudimentary briefing on Iraq--not Afghanistan. This transportation company has not even been trained on the vehicles and weapons their assignment depends upon, according to these servicemembers. Some mentally ill soldiers are able to keep their diagnoses secret from the military, which is not screening before deployment, while those with known mental illnesses are deployed regardless. 

The 656th has been assigned to convoy security operations in Afghanistan.  Yet, only 10% of its soldiers qualified on the .50 caliber guns that will be their primary weapon. Most have not learned to operate the  heavy Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAPs) vehicles they will be driving in Afghanistan, and Villatoro fears a repeat of his experience invading Iraq in 2003, with gun truck drivers who had never learned to drive a stick shift.

The company's mandatory trainings have been cut from the required 40 hours down to two-hour PowerPoint presentations. Officers told the soldiers that funding cuts were the reason that their recent two-week training at Indiana's Camp Atterbury, scheduled to be run by a privately contracted company, was reduced to some hastily improvised sessions with almost none of the equipment necessary for training.

"We're part-time soldiers, we only train once a month, and when we do actually have trainings that are supposed to last any significant amount of time, we don't do anything that seems useful." says  Private A, a 21 year-old reservist.

Training inadequacies go beyond the issue of equipment. "Most of the things we're being taught are being applied specifically from Iraq and from Iraq vets. Afghanistan is a whole different ballgame. The only thing that's the same is IEDs [improvised explosive devices]. The language, the landscape,  the situation... everything is different" says Private A.

While U.S. and European diplomats have recently admitted they are floundering in the immensely complex social and political landscape of Afghanistan, Private A describes the level of preparation his company was offered: a single cultural awareness class focused, again, on Iraq rather than Afghanistan. "Everything they mentioned pertained to Iraq, so people were asking, 'Well, in Afghanistan, what's this like?' And they'd say, well, we can't really tell you. Or just make up facts. It's not making me feel any more comfortable about my first time deploying."

"I Fear that My Chain of Command Will Fail Me"

The company has experienced numerous changes in leadership, including the transfer of their first sergeant after the disastrous Camp Atterbury training, where morale plummeted to a new low and one servicemember attempted suicide. Months of changing leadership have created insecurity and instability for members of the company, who have not had time to train together or build trust with the leadership they'll be serving under in Afghanistan.

Even some top military brass acknowledge that poor mental health in the ranks is compounded by failures of leadership. Suicide is at "crisis level" in the military, declared Navy Adm. Mike Mullen in an Aug. 2nd speech to the National Guard Family Program Volunteer Workshop in New Orleans. Mullen said, "A big part of the solution is tied to leadership and how we do the training."

"Without stable enlisted leadership, unit commanders are unable to properly assess the training, mental health, and personal needs of their troops or effectively implement their training plans. This leaves soldiers vulnerable to inadequate training and pre-deployment preparation which could lead to disastrous outcomes on the battlefield." wrote Iraq War veteran Aaron Hughes, in a July letter on behalf of the 656th  arguing to delay deployment.

Specialist B, a 20 year-old from Indiana, says "I would like to believe that I'm fully prepared to go to war, but that is just not the case. I don't know what my mission will be, I feel as if I have to defend my very close battle buddies and not my chain of command. I fear that my chain of command will fail me in the ultimate end and as a result my life will be on the line, or one of my buddies' lives will pay the price for the lack of leadership."

Willful Negligence?

Two weeks out from their activation date, Sgt Villatoro explains "It's just not possible to be sufficiently trained in this time frame, let alone broadly enough for not knowing what our mission will be."

"It just doesn't make sense. And it's dangerous. I just don't understand why they'd put us in that much danger, to the point where it doesn't make sense cause we're unprepared for anything." says Private A.

Clearly, the 656th cannot be prepared to successfully complete a mission it has not been trained for. But the question of inadequate training cannot be divorced from context. In every branch of the military, servicemembers continue to question the legitimacy of the mission, and whether they can in good conscience participate in these projects.

Sgt. Villatoro says, "That's the part I struggle with, that we don't have to do this. It's kind of hard to convince a soldier that they do have a choice. That the mission we were given, we believe it's not effective.

"Sit down and look at the effectiveness of trying to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. Sending 30,000 more soldiers with weapons doesn't make sense to me. We don't know anything about the culture, diplomacy; they train us on how to conduct traffic checkpoints."

These servicemembers also express concern about the effects on the Afghan people of deploying unprepared soldiers, untrained on their weaponry and equipment, and many in need of mental health support.

"What I'm afraid is that the rules of engagement might go out the window. That's what happened when I went [to Iraq], they told us that as soon as you feel threatened you're able to shoot. I'm afraid soldiers are going to forget the rules of engagement, go by their emotions, their anger and frustration, and take matters into their own hands."  says Sgt. Villatoro.

Unfit for Deployment

Lack of training on guns and vehicles makes soldiers a danger to themselves as well as others. The 656th will be operating top-heavy MRAP vehicles on Afghanistan's difficult terrain, without having practiced driving these rollover-prone trucks even on Indiana's flat roads.

"Whether we run off the road and kill somebody, or it's somebody who snaps... If you don't get mental help, that's what is probably going to happen. And when you don't have prepared soldiers, you're going to have accidents," says Private A.

Many soldiers diagnosed with a mental illness by a civilian doctor don't report their diagnosis to the Army. They fear that they will be either immediately discharged, or deployed without treatment and possibly barred from carrying weapons. Private A was diagnosed as bipolar 3 years ago and has kept this information secret.

"Mental health screening is a little embarrassing on the Army's part-- the fact that they haven't done it," says Private A. "There are several people here who I know of including myself with a diagnosed mental illness and the Army hasn't caught it or done anything about it."

During the Camp Atterbury training, a young servicemember slit his wrists with a number of others present. The military's minimal response didn't include mental health screening for the witnesses, the friends who intervened in the suicide attempt, or other company members shaken by the incident. Villatoro explains that the only mental health screening offered to this unit has been an anonymous online survey.

"The lack of screening could be a good thing to keep our numbers up as a unit," says Private A, who has learned to manage his stability without medication over the last two years, after losing health insurance. "But God forbid something happens to those people or for some reason they can't get medication over there. That could be the last time they see home. Any of those people could turn a gun on us or themselves."

The experiences of these servicemembers reflect the escalating mental health crisis in the military, with rising deployments and redeployments of soldiers suffering from trauma, mental illnesses, and physical wounds. A third of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan report mental problems, according to a study by the RAND corporation. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), military sexual assault (MST), depression and anxiety disorders have carved holes in the ranks.

Army suicide attempts peaked this past June. The Army reports that in the last year, 239 soldiers killed themselves, (including 160 on active duty) and 1,713 people attempted suicide. Studies that include veterans in their statistic show even more horrifying numbers, like a CBS News study of state-by-state data in 2007 that revealed about 120 veteran suicides a week. The military does not acknowledge responsibility for many post-service suicides by veterans, who are two to four times more likely to commit suicide than civilians of the same age.

"It's not enough for Obama to say that it's not weak to ask for help, " says Maggie Martin, an organizer with Iraq Veterans Against the War who works on issues of stopping deployment of soldiers with trauma and mental health needs. "We have to create a community where people know that. What the 656th is doing, in trying to delay the deployment and call attention to these issues-- that is really important in helping soldiers know that they have to stand up for themselves and let people know what's happening,"

Soldiers Fill the Leadership Gap

Alejandro Villatoro enlisted as a high school senior in 2000 for economic reasons. Six months ago, he told his command he was applying for conscientious objector status. He avoided thinking about his participation in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 until entering non-commissioned officer training three years later.

"As a leader, I wanted to take initiative and learn more about the war...It took me about two years to learn and decide what we were doing was ineffective and immoral."

When Sgt. Villatoro learned that his unit was slated to deploy to Afghanistan this fall, he decided to drop the conscientious objector application to go through deployment with his soldiers. "I wanted to be with them to educate them about the wars, what's worth fighting for, what it really is to be a soldier."

"They know my situation, that I wanted to get out and am only doing this for them" says Sgt. Villatoro. In conversations with soldiers in his unit, Villatoro found that many soldiers shared these concerns, and some felt ready to risk speaking out. Even more have indicated their agreement through informal surveys made by Villatoro, but stay quiet for fear of retribution.

Specialist B says "I have too many concerns with the 656th deploying to Afghanistan," echoing the basic sentiment of many others in the company. Private A says "If we can't even get little stuff like trainings scheduled, how are we supposed to nail down a complex mission in Afghanistan?"

Others appear comfortable or even enthusiastic about deployment. Villatoro says, "There's a lack of knowledge; the motivation is money or medals, coming back with ribbons and hoping to have war stories. It's not about the Afghan people, or thinking this will end the war. They don't think that's going to happen."

"You have a bunch of people who want to go just for the experience and for the money. I think that a lot of it is the money. That's the only thing that's keeping me from saying OK, thanks and goodbye; there's not a lot of jobs out there," says Private A, who is from a small farming town and enlisted at 17.

"The only thing that's making me go is that I need the money. When I get back, I want to start school again and didn't have money to do that before. That's essentially the only thing that's  keeping me there."

Sgt. Villatoro says he feels a sense of responsibility to help younger soldiers to recognize where they may need more experience to understand of their own lack of preparation.

"You can ask some of these soldiers if they're satisfied with the training so far, and they'll say yes. But you ask, Is it sufficient for you to conduct a mission in Afghanistan? That's where the confusion sets in."

After his own experiences in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Sgt. Villatoro names a key fear of sending out young, unprepared soldiers, many on their first deployment, without clarity about what they are expected to do and how they're going to survive.

"As a young soldier, there's a lot of insecurity," he says. "You're scared, you're not going to remember the rules of engagement or what you're supposed to do. You just want to get through the firefight."

Private A sums it up: "It just doesn't make sense to send an unprepared soldier into battle. It's like brushing your teeth without toothpaste."

Fending For Themselves

After his command denied him an audience (and declined to comment for this article), Sgt. Villatoro and an increasing number of servicemembers from the 656th are looking to elected officials for assistance. Villatoro visited the office of Chicago's Representative Luis Gutierrez to underline the need for soldiers to be properly trained and mentally fit before deploying; Gutierrez has acknowledged the severity of these concerns and is taking the matter under advisement. He was accompanied by allies including veterans of the Navy, Marines, Army and Illinois National Guard, representing service in Vietnam, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. Sgt Villatoro and several soldiers from his unit met last week to discuss the matter with Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), an advocate for mental healthcare for soldiers and veterans. Durbin's office offered to forward a letter from Sgt Villatoro to the military liason in Congress. Recently, Sgt. Villatoro filed an official request with his office to open a Congressional inquiry into the 656th's unfitness for deployment.

With only a couple weeks left before their activation date, these soldiers are taking multiple courses of action to address this situation. On why he decided to speak out, Private A says, "I just want future soldiers to realize you have to take this stuff into your own hands."

More and more soldiers are stepping up to join Sgt. Villatoro in speaking up about the concealed chaos of the 656th. Their perspectives, politics and hopes span a wide range; they unify behind lack of faith in their company's preparation and leadership, and a common belief that the Afghanistan war is only getting worse.

An Unwinnable Mission

"I ask soldiers: what do you hope, do you really think this last push will end this war? A lot of them say no, because they know they're not there to help the Afghan people." says Sgt. Villatoro.

Private A says "No, absolutely not. There's no reason we're even there. I'm going overseas to fight people where I have no idea that they did anything wrong. We're not even fighting al-Qaeda, we're just over there picking a fight, driving around and seeing who shoots at us, then shooting them. I don't even understand the reason we're over there."

"The mission as a whole in Afghanistan has lost its purpose," says Specialist B. "The government can say whatever and do whatever and get away with it, with very little justice to the American people."

Over 150 soldiers have publicly refused orders or deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. There is precedent for a unit to successfully delay its deployment, as another National Guard unit and family members managed to do in 2007. Servicemembers, families, allies, and groups like Iraq Veterans Against the War organize resistance both publicly and under the radar. The Under the Hood G.I. Coffeehouse in Killeen, TX held a march to publicize opposition to the deployment of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment (3rd ACR)  from Fort Hood, Texas, scheduled for August. Soldiers, military families and civilian organizers demanded an end to the occupations, cancellation of this deployment, and for an end to the 3rd ACR's policy of deploying traumatized soldiers.

"There is a strong history in this country of G.I.s taking a stand, confronting and exposing unjust and illegal military practices," says Sarah Lazare, an Illinois-based organizer with the Civilian-Soldier Alliance, a group of non-veterans supporting and collaborating with servicemembers and veterans who resist orders and wars they view as unjust and illegal. "By courageously speaking out about the problems with their unit, soldiers in the 656th are strengthening the movement of service members taking stands of conscience against military actions they oppose."

Despite his principled objection to the Afghanistan War, Sgt. Villatoro is prepared to deploy with the soldiers in his charge if they are unable to delay the 656th's activation. "I ask myself why I feel so responsible. I put a lot of blame on myself because of mistakes I made as a young naïve soldier, and I don't want to do it again or see other young soldiers make those mistakes."

Sgt. Villatoro says, "This war has never ended for me. I feel bad a lot about the soldiers, how they keep re-enlisting. My war, my fight will never end until every soldier is home."

Clare Bayard is an organizer with Catalyst Project ( [1]) for demilitarization and racial and economic justice. Clare builds support for war resisters, and has worked in solidarity with Gulf Coast Reconstruction movements since Katrina.


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« Reply #28 on: August 12, 2010, 07:19:36 am »

Afghanistan's serious questions

By Clayton Swisher in  Asia on August 11th, 2010

Picture from AFP

Are there any chances for success by the US-led coalition in Afghanistan?

Reflecting on my coverage of the latest UN report released on Tuesday showing a 31 per cent increase in overall Afghan civilians casualties, a couple of questions raised in my mind about the overall chances for success by the US-led coalition.

Number-crunchers from the UN’s Assistance Mission Afghanistan (UNAMA) now say the Taliban and other "Anti-government elements" are responsible for 76 per cent of civilian deaths logged in 2010.  The increased use of roadside bombs by insurgents has plenty to do with that. 

But so too does the increase in US forces President Obama has sent here since the "surge" strategy was announced last year.  More fighters equals more fighting.  And based on my last three embeds in the past year, there is no doubt in my mind the Taliban is winning by greeting the newly arrived troops and their first-world hardware with the easy-to-make, increasingly undetectable homemade bombs—the same form of asymmetrical warfare used with devastating effect in Iraq.

It's unconscionable the level of Afghan civilian deaths caused by these IED’s—including a 155 per cent increase in child IED deaths in 2010 from the same period in 2009.  So too are the Isaf strikes that killed 12 per cent of Afghans in the first half of this year, even though civilian casualties caused by coalition air strikes plummeted by 64 per cent.

But talking with some folks familiar with the Taliban thinking, it is even more distressing to ponder that maybe a large number of the population here just might accept the Afghan civilians killed by fellow Afghans in the name of expelling the foreign occupier. 

And it's not just foreign soldiers being gunned down, as we saw just a few days ago in the tragic case of the 10 NGO workers killed in Badakshan province (previously thought a "safer" area from insurgent attacks).   Foreigners are increasingly targets—whether aid workers, private security companies, diplomats, or even us journalists.

So what if, in spite of American military hardware and domestic political fears of losing this war, there is no realistic chance of defeating the Taliban?  No way of unscrambling the egg.  Not getting the toothpaste back in the toothpaste container.  Take your pick.

After 9 years of war, President Obama inherited a conflict that was poorly fought and under resourced.   Much of the goodwill Afghans showed around 2002 has since evaporated in the wake of Isaf civilian casualties. Coupled with a tired American military—many of whom served several exhausting tours in Iraq, understood Afghanistan to be only a sideshow in President Bush’s priorities, and arrived here in no mood to strike up friendly relations in yet another tribal society they hardly understood—its more than possible to see that for many the coalition has worn out its welcome.

Thanks to this video compiled by Huffington Post, it is also clear these were worries on the prescient  mind of then US Senator Barack Obama, whose rhetoric on Afghanistan and the American mission has shifted considerably since becoming Commander-in-Chief.

When asking coalition forces how they saw their mission ending, I got several different answers, almost none of which were establishing a lasting democracy here.   

Never once mentioned by American G.I.’s I talked with was the "removing Al Qaeda" mantra.  Even the CIA Director talked openly that Al Qaeda’s presence here might only be "50-100 fighters, maybe less"—hardly a figure that justifies over 100,000 forces.  One Special Forces soldier even told me that they were there to have a presence in the event of a confrontation with neighbouring Iran.  Indeed, especially long airstrips have been constructed in this country that just might allow for that contingent.

While Isaf changes leadership and muddles through problems with the many problems crippling the Karzai Government, concerns grow that this country could be heading toward civil war or splitting along ethnic lines.   

One senior US Army officer told me last month in Kandahar his "worst fear" of how that might happen.  He said that he and his fellow officers could imagine a scenario where the Taliban captures Kandahar, the country’s second largest city, which is dominated by ethnic Pashtuns. 

He said that all it would take for a "game over" scenario is for the Taliban to capture the Kandahar District Government Headquarters (which they’ve bombed and attacked in the past).  And once the Taliban raises their black flag, gathers journalists, and makes their appeal to the world and United Nations for temporary statehood recognition, that some in the international community, especially European countries, who are anyhow weary of how this war is being fought from Kabul, just might concede.

I don’t know how likely that possibility is—pretty hard, I would guess, given its heavy fortification and closeness to quick reaction forces at Kandahar Air Field.  But the UN also showed how assassinations of civilians and those daring to seek employment by the Afghan government increased by more than 95 per cent.  That's a statistic that can just as easily render a government building ineffective, as one that has few employees can hardly do work.  That certainly hit home in the Arghandab District of Kandahar area where I was last month, as its District Governor had just been killed by the Taliban, in addition to two other senior tribal elders working with the coalition.

All of this adds up to an outcome that no one seems to be seriously debating, which has me wondering if maybe, beneath the veneer of it all, Isaf is planning an exit based on mitigating its damages, trying to bloody the Taliban nose into negotiation, and waiting for the first opportunity to get out of Dodge.

After all, it is hard to see Isaf's strategy of "protecting the population" work, particularly if the population does not want it and is content with losing many more times Afghan civilians to drive the foreigners away.

So is the US and Isaf giving this the attention it deserves?  Sadly, the only ones apart from them who may know work for Wikileaks.


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« Reply #29 on: August 13, 2010, 06:32:13 am »

Published on Thursday, August 12, 2010 by FireDogLake

The Coming Military Offensive Against the July 2011 Timetable

by David Dayen

The military has put together a game plan, set up their strategy and deployed their troops into the field. They are ready to storm with full-spectrum pressure to achieve their objective.

American and Afghan soldiers on a joint patrol last week in Kandahar Province. Military officials say the counterinsurgency strategy needs time to work. (Yuri Cortez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

I’m not talking about winning the war in Afghanistan, whatever that means these days. I’m talking about winning the war on the end of the war in Afghanistan [1].

American military officials are building a case to minimize the planned withdrawal of some troops from Afghanistan starting next summer, in an effort to counter growing pressure on President Obama from inside his own party to begin winding the war down quickly.

With the administration unable yet to point to much tangible evidence of progress, Gen. David H. Petraeus, who assumed command in Afghanistan last month from Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, is taking several steps to emphasize hopeful signs on the ground that, he will argue, would make a rapid withdrawal unwise. Meanwhile, a rising generation of young officers, who have become expert over the past nine years in the art of counterinsurgency, have begun quietly telling administration officials that they need time to get their work done.

“Their argument,” said one senior administration official, who would not speak for attribution about the internal policy discussions, “is that while we’ve been in Afghanistan for 9 years, only in the past 12 months or so have we started doing this right, and we need to give it some time and think about what our long-term presence in Afghanistan should look like.”

No military commander in the history of armed conflict has asked for less battlefield resources. The drive from the military for a longer, stronger, deeper commitment should be baked into the cake of the Administration’s thinking on the July 2011 transition point.

But, the offensive appears to already be working. Both Joe Biden and Robert Gates have sought to minimize the importance of July 2011, saying that any withdrawals would be limited, perhaps as few as a few thousand troops. You can be sure General David Petraeus will join them in that assessment this Sunday, when he appears on Meet the Press.

Remember, this would be a total reversal of Petraeus’ own word. In Jonathan Alter’s book The Promise, he describes a meeting [2] between Obama, Petraeus and former Afghan commander Stanley McChrystal:

OBAMA: “I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?”

PETRAEUS: “Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame.”

OBAMA: “If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?”

PETRAEUS: “Yes, sir, in agreement.”

MULLEN: “Yes, sir.”

The July 2011 transition date was the necessary concession by the military commanders in exchange for getting a larger commitment of forces in December of last year. It wasn’t something to be thrown over because “we need to give the counter-insurgency some time.” In December 2009, David Petraeus said affirmatively that the military would be able to hand over operations to the Afghan National Army, and if they couldn’t, they should leave. That was the agreement. That was the deal.

Petraeus is already breaking it. And it’s because the war hasn’t gone well. Petraeus hopes to scrounge up whatever progress he can find to justify staying longer.

So far the White House is staying neutral in this debate, with a formal assessment to come in December. Their top officials have vacillated between affirming a continued commitment to the region and stressing that such a commitment would not be open-ended.

By the way, we have a new Friedman Unit:

At the core of the timetables, they say, is what White House officials call the “two-year rule.” During the review of Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy, Mr. Gates made the argument, according to one participant in the White House Situation Room discussions, that “in any particular location you should be able to clear, build, hold and transfer” to the Afghan forces within two years. Military officials said two years was roughly how it took to make headway in difficult places, once troops were in place.

“If it takes longer than that,” the official said, “there’s a problem, and you have the temptation to drift.”

Those two years are rapidly approaching. The counterinsurgency policy has actually been in place since March 2009, with more resources, from an initial escalation of 21,000, than during the Bush Administration. The White House starts the two-year clock in June 2009. But either way, nobody, not even Petraeus, can say that the time frame has been rushed.

© 2010 FireDogLake

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« Reply #30 on: August 13, 2010, 07:10:15 am »

Afghan offensive turns into a debacle

By ROD NORDLAND, New York Times

The operation was not coordinated with NATO, which came to the rescue.

August 12, 2010

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - An operation that Afghan officials had expected to be a sign of their growing military capacity instead turned into an embarrassment, with Taliban fighters battering an Afghan battalion in a remote eastern area until NATO sent in French and U.S. rescue teams.

The operation, east of Kabul, was extraordinary in that it was not coordinated in advance with NATO forces and did not at first include coalition forces or air support. The Afghans called for help after 10 of their soldiers were killed and perhaps twice as many captured at the opening of the operation nine days ago.

"There are a lot of lessons to be learned here," said a senior U.S. military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "How they started that and why they started that."

The Afghan National Army now has 134,000 soldiers, and on Wednesday, the new U.S. commander, Gen. David Petraeus, complimented the Afghans on reaching that target three months ahead of schedule. Still, the Afghan National Army runs relatively few operations on its own, particularly large-scale ones. They take a little more than half as many casualties as coalition military forces, who now have roughly the same number of troops in the country. (In 2009, according to NATO figures, 282 Afghan soldiers were killed, compared with 521 coalition soldiers.) U.S. advisers are included in most Afghan operations. It is not clear whether any were present in this one.

Plan was betrayed

The operation began when the Afghan Army sent a battalion of about 300 men into a village called Bad Pakh, in Laghman Province, which is adjacent to the troubled border province of Kunar. Their operation, which began on the night of Aug. 3, was to flush out the Taliban in a rugged area where they had long held sway. First, using the Afghan Army's own helicopters, a detachment was inserted behind Taliban lines, while the main part of the battalion attacked from the front.

But, according to an official of the Afghan Defense Ministry, the plan was betrayed. Taliban forces were waiting with an ambush against the main body of troops. Then the airborne detachment was cut off when bad weather grounded its helicopters, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

In the confusion, corps commanders lost contact with the battalion. The battalion's Third Company -- 100 men -- took particularly heavy casualties, the official said, although he did not have a number. He said many of the company were killed, captured or missing, and as of Wednesday at least, the status of the rest of the battalion remained unclear.

However, the senior U.S. military official said the battalion had not been lost. "We know exactly where that battalion is," he said, "although there are several soldiers unaccounted for and several killed." He estimated that "about 10" soldiers had been killed and that no more than a platoon were missing, meaning up to 20 soldiers.

An official of the Red Crescent in the area said that casualties were heavy on the government side and that the Taliban had destroyed 35 Ford Ranger trucks, the standard Afghan Army transport vehicle, which typically carry six or more soldiers each.

Both Afghan and U.S. officials said that many Taliban fighters were killed and that the insurgents continued to take casualties through Thursday.

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« Reply #31 on: August 13, 2010, 09:54:07 am »

'US kills civilians to intimidate people'

Thu, 12 Aug 2010 18:01:29 GMT

Writer and radio host Stephen Lendman

A US writer and radio host says that the country's killing of civilians in Afghanistan serves the purpose of public intimidation.

"There have been many, many thousands of Afghan civilians, men, women and children deliberately targeted, deliberately killed to intimidate the population," Stephen Lendman told Press TV on Thursday.

"Things go back, I believe, to World War II, to intimidate the opposition. We did it ruthlessly in Vietnam, and the most well-known Operation Phoenix, with the estimated number of civilians that we killed, numbered maybe 80,000. The number could have been doubled," he added.

He said the United States military presences in Iraq and Afghanistan is tantamount to war crime.

"There is no question of war crimes being committed … our presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan is a war crime; both wars are illegal. We violated international law. We violated US law. We violated the US Constitution by being there. These are war crimes. Every day by being there, we have committed war crimes, because we have committed crimes against humanity. We deliberately target civilians. There is nothing about random civilian killings," he added.

Lendman is a prolific writer on domestic and international issues with damning pieces of criticism on the American military interventions and Israeli acts of violence.


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« Reply #32 on: August 14, 2010, 09:50:15 am »

Bringing Freedom and Prosperity to Afghanistan

by James Bovard, Posted August 12, 2010

The Obama administration is seeking to rechristen the Afghan debacle it inherited from the Bush administration. Obama’s efforts to legitimize the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan simply ignore the previous record of American actions in that nation. But the past debacles ensure the failure of Obama’s ramped-up interventions.

Afghanistan was recently judged to be the second most corrupt nation on Earth. According to Transparency International, the only place in the world that is more corrupt is Somalia — a nation best known for its pirates. The Washington Post reported last November that one of Afghanistan’s top ministers took a $30 million bribe to give a special deal to a Chinese mining company. The New York Times reported, “Everything seems to be for sale: public offices, access to government services, even a person’s freedom.”

And yet, Americans are supposed to believe that sending in more troops will morally redeem the Karzai regime. Unfortunately, that is the message that the American media often trumpet — following the White House script, the way they have done since 2001.

U.S. government handouts have enabled the Afghan government to increase repression of the Afghan people. The U.S. government has poured billions of dollars into building up the Afghan army. But Afghan soldiers are often a pox on their countrymen. Human Rights Watch reported that government

troops and police in many parts of the [southeast] region, and parts of Kabul itself, are invading private homes, usually at night, and robbing and assaulting civilians. By force or by ruse, soldiers and police gain entry into homes and hold people hostage for hours, terrorizing them with weapons, stealing their valuables, and sometimes raping women and girls. On the roads and at proliferating official and unofficial checkpoints, local soldiers and police extort money from civilians under the threat of beating or arrest.

U.S. aid is supposedly going to generate the prosperity that leads to Afghan freedom. And yet, even within a couple years after the U.S. invasion, foreign aid was floundering in Afghanistan, just as it almost always does elsewhere.

On December 16, 2003, dignitaries from the U.S. government, the Afghan provisional government, the United Nations, and other organizations gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. President Bush issued a statement from Washington bragging that

the first phase of paving the Kabul-Kandahar leg of the highway is completed under budget and ahead of schedule. This new road reduces travel time between Kabul to Kandahar to five hours. It will promote political unity between Afghanistan’s provinces, facilitate commerce by making it easier to bring products to market, and provide the Afghan people with greater access to health care and educational opportunities.

Though the announcement and the ceremony were widely portrayed in the U.S. media as a triumph for the Bush administration, the reality was less cheery. The Los Angeles Times reported that “it took hundreds of U.S. and Afghan troops, backed by attack helicopters, antitank weapons, snipers and bomb-sniffing dogs, to make it safe for President Hamid Karzai to cut the ribbon on the Kabul-to-Kandahar highway.” Prior to the signing ceremony, “troops set up roadblocks to stop traffic in both directions for more than three hours. That was just long enough for dignitaries to arrive in heavily guarded convoys and on Chinook helicopters, celebrate a job well done and rush back to safer ground in Kabul, the capital, 25 miles northeast.”

The trip from Kabul to Kanda-har is faster now — unless a person gets killed or kidnapped along the way. Andrew Natsios, the director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, bragged, “We built this road right through a war zone.” But the road is doing nothing to end the war. Though the road itself is a vast improvement over the horribly potholed road first built by the United States in the 1960s, the Chicago Tribune noted that “all but about 40 miles of it are off-limits to the United Nations agencies and international aid workers” because of the high risk of attacks. The soaring crime rate can make the road too perilous even for Afghan taxi drivers.

Despite the dismal failure of U.S. foreign aid to Afghanistan during the Bush administration, the Obama administration’s promises of redemptive aid are usually taken at face value by most of the American media. Neither the media nor the White House has shown a learning curve.

The blessings of liberty?

Another defense of U.S. intervention in Afghanistan is that it will bring the blessings of freedom to the long-suffering Afghan people. But that is the same charade that the Bush administration used — very successfully for his 2004 reelection campaign.

In a February 5, 2004, speech in Charleston, South Carolina, Bush declared, “Thanks to the United States and our friends, thanks to the bravery of many of our fellow citizens ... Afghanistan is a free country.” Bush also asserted that the United States “liberated the ... Afghan people from oppression and fear.” But it takes more than the abolition of weekly public executions in the Kabul soccer stadium to make Afghans free. If freeing people were as simple as toppling a bad government, almost all of the people in the world would have long since been free.

Bush’s proclamation that Afghans were free provides more insight into his concept of freedom than it does into the daily sufferings of Afghans at the hands of their government. The U.S. State Department noted in 2004,

Arbitrary arrest and detention are serious problems.... Procedures for taking persons into custody and bringing them to justice followed no established code.... Limits on lengths of pretrial detention were not respected....

... There were credible reports that some detainees were tortured to elicit confessions while awaiting trial.

On the bright side, the State Department noted that “defendants ... were permitted attorneys in some instances.”

Unfortunately, the Afghans were receiving the same type of freedom that Bush was creating for Americans. The Afghan government created a National Security Court to try terrorist cases and other cases but did not disclose any details on how the court would actually function. The new court provided the appearance of a judiciary while permitting maximum political manipulation of charges and verdicts. The Karzai government also expanded the number of judges on the Afghan Supreme Court from 9 to 137. Even Franklin Roosevelt’s 1937 scheme to pack the U.S. Supreme Court was timid in comparison.

Freedom has been flattening for some Afghans unlucky enough to live near high-ranking government officials. The State Department reported, “Government forces demolished homes and forcibly removed populations from and around the homes of high government officials and other government facilities, without any judicial review. Police officers, led by Kabul Chief of Police Salangi, destroyed the homes of more than 30 families in Kabul.” The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission has “investigated and registered” hundreds of cases of “police arbitrarily destroying homes.”

Freedom of speech and freedom of press are sparse in many parts of Afghanistan. The government and political forces have a stranglehold on broadcast media and also dominate much of the print media. The State Department noted, “The State owned at least 35 publications and almost all of the electronic news media. All other newspapers were published only sporadically and for the most part were affiliated with different provincial authorities. Some government officials through political party ties maintained their own communications facilities.” Considering the high rate of illiteracy in Afghanistan, the government broadcast media monopoly ensures that few Afghans will hear a discouraging word — at least regarding their rulers.

The Bush administration followed the usual pattern of touting to the heavens meaningless reforms by its foreign lackeys. In 2004, Bush gushed about the provisional constitution recently approved by a meeting of Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga. Bush bragged that “the people of Afghanistan have written a constitution which guarantees free elections, freedom, full participation in government by women. Things are changing. Freedom is powerful.”

But the new Afghan constitution has thus far had about as much effect on the average Afghan as Stalin’s 1936 constitution, which generously proclaimed a panoply of freedoms, had on the typical Soviet citizen. The Afghan constitution is largely a list of positive-sounding aspirations — the type of public relations slogans that Washington lobbies emit all the time for their foreign clients. The new constitution did little more than provide an applause line for Bush’s speeches.

The Obama administration is following in Bush’s footsteps in its portrayal of the Karzai regime as a legitimate elected government. The election last summer in Afghanistan was one of the most corrupt in the world since the fall of the Soviet bloc. But after it became clear that Karzai was not going to budge from power, the Obama administration decided to treat him as if had won fair and square. That was the same folly that the Johnson administration fell into regarding its South Vietnamese lackeys in 1967. But in the same way that the Vietnamese people were not fooled, the Afghan people are increasingly bitter about both Karzai’s abuses and the fact that the United States is sanctioning their oppressor.

There will be no happy ending to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. By vesting himself in one of Bush’s greatest follies, Obama is destroying his credibility both with Americans and with the world. Who will be the last American soldier to die so that the U.S. president can continue denying his Afghan follies?

James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy [2006] as well as The Bush Betrayal [2004], Lost Rights [1994] and Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice and Peace to Rid the World of Evil (Palgrave-Macmillan, September 2003) and serves as a policy advisor for The Future of Freedom Foundation. Send him email.

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« Reply #33 on: August 16, 2010, 06:22:28 am »

Afghanistan's serious questions (part 2)

By Clayton Swisher in  Asia on August 15th, 2010

Photo by AFP

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This installment focuses on some problems fighting this war from within the senior US military leadership.

This installment focuses on some problems fighting this war from within the senior US military leadership.

Back in December 2009, I covered General McChrystal’s briefing on the Obama Afghan Surge inside a tent filled with senior US, Afghan, and ISAF officers at Kandahar Air Field.   

Since this week has been about reflection, a couple things stand out in my mind, starting with the awkwardly long moment of silence among the military’s top brass when McChrystal finished his presentation and asked the standing room only crowd if there were any questions on the future of the war (more on that in a moment).

A single McChrystal sound bite from that night has since proven memorable. “I believe that by next summer, the uplift of new forces will make a difference on the ground significantly,” McChrystal said. 

Too bad he’s not here anymore to see that what connotation “significant” turned out to mean. 

To make it clear: a 31 per cent spike in Afghan civilian casualties from January to June 2010, according to the UN.  More public animus against American and Coalition forces—now numbering over 130,000—regardless if they themselves did not commit the majority of those losses.  The deadliest year of coalition casualties since the war began 9 years ago—434 deaths according to the latest stats at

That’s a rate of one coalition soldier killed for every 5 Afghan civilians by the Taliban in 2010—is that significant enough?

I won’t impugn General McChrystal as some others have in recent weeks, including the mother of Pat Tillman [Army Specialist Pat Tillman was a former NFL football player-turned special forces Ranger who volunteered for service in Afghanistan only to be killed by his own men.  The Army’s shameful handling of the investigations (read: cover up) was under the direction of none other than Stanley McChrystal, commander of Joint Special Operations Command in 2004).

In that same package I had also interviewed Canadian Brigadier General Daniel Menard, who at the time was the Commander of ISAF forces for Kandahar City, which would see the brunt of America’s surge in the spring-summer 2010.   Kandahar is Afghanistan’s second largest city, the heart of the Pashtun majority in this country, a historical Taliban stronghold, and the most difficult beat in this war.

On the Afghan surge, General Menard confidently added “The intent is to ensure that around [Kandahar] City, and when I say around the city I mean right from Arghandab to Maiwand, we create a ring of stability. This ring of stability is essential to be created by May next year (2010) so we have a true buffer zone of people that believe in something else than the insurgency.” 

Having gone on an embed to the Arghandab District of Kandahar last month, I’d say that’s a premonition that was about as far off as one could get.  Menard should either have fired his magic 8 ball, or get fired himself (Whoops!  That’s right, he did get fired in May, for two other reasons, including allegedly not keeping his hands off a) a junior subordinate and b) the trigger of his automatic weapon).

The shakeup of General officers has had a detectable effect on senior officers here in Afghanistan, and not in a good way.  Us journalists call it “the McChrystal effect.”  That is, highly decorated grown men of rank are scared out of their wits to speak with journalists—the misguided lesson many took away from the whole McChrystal kerfuffle that led to his termination.

For the junior warfighters in Regional Command South (the area where fighting is heaviest, including Kandahar and Helmand), it has proven musical chairs of rank-heavy command leadership and differing philosophies, coupled with the coming and goings of normal troop rotations (ranging from 7 months to 1 year).   Any wonder there is lack of a steady vision?

We may soon learn the latest iterations in US-Afghan strategy changes when General Petraeus breaks his vows of silence in a media blitz—starting with the for-domestic-consumption only “Meet the Press.”  Many will be keenly watching to see what change in strategy ISAF’s new Commander might proclaim, including hints that the Obama timeline for withdrawal in 2011 is just too premature.

In the backdrop of these PR efforts, there is perhaps one important move made by the Obama Administration that will affect the officer-heavy US Armed Forces, but only in the long run.  That was Secretary Gates pledge this week to drastically cut the amount of senior officers and generals from the Pentagons payroll—a real shock and awe for the officer lobby and military-industrial complex, corporations owing their existence to the legions of retired Generals who flock there to trade inside access to secure billion dollar contracts. 

There is something about the breed of today’s top military brass that makes them come off more like politician/cheerleaders as opposed to the cigar chomping Generals George Patton and Chesty Puller who told the truth, regardless of who it offended.

How a generation that grew up—or in some cases, served—in the Vietnam conflict—with all its lies, manipulations, and cover-ups to continue a losing conflict—could today replay those sordid events upon assuming power and rank is beyond me.

But what is more chilling is the effect it has on some (but not all) in the US military’s junior officer corps. What’s the right thing to do? Whatever order/choice/outcome/assignment seems most popular, likely to please, and lead to self-promotion.

It's gotten so noticeable on embeds that, though officers often volunteer to speak, I almost always prefer to seek out the real story from enlisted soldiers and senior Non Commissioned Officers—troops who seem to value truth and being honest in the eyes of their peers above political correctness and looking good on TV.

One recent afternoon on patrol sticks out in my mind.  I was walking alongside a young officer who remarked of his Afghan Police counterparts “I don’t trust them worth a ****—nothing more than Taliban with a badge.” 

Naturally, I asked him to share that assessment with our 220 million viewers who want to understand how the “partnering up” aspect of the U.S. mission is going. He readily agreed, but what I instead got 2 minutes later—which I refused to use—was “Oh, the Afghan Police have a lot of potential, they’re getting better, there are challenges we’re working to overcome.” 

A little posturing is one thing, but come on.  No wonder the bite that did make our story was given by an enlisted Army Sergeant named Ryan Gloyer, replayed on Jon Stewart’s Comedy Central. Why? My guess is because he gave a credible, albeit amusing opinion (though he did not know, backed by this video footage) about his experiences witnessing the Afghan Police use drugs.

If only that candor could be replayed at the senior levels, when briefing the leadership and American public who are entitled to make informed choices about which direction to head in the Afghan war.

If the senior officers here in Afghanistan continually get it wrong, use this country as a petri dish for counterinsurgency (protect the population from themselves, Hoorah!), or muddle through each year hoping a deus ex machina from Washington will intervene, its time to consider replacing them too without waiting for the Pentagon’s reforms, which will anyhow take years.   

Even though for Democrats it harkens the humiliating experience President Bush had to undergo when the Iraq adventure turned upside down (“Iraq Study Group”), perhaps in this context Congressman Frank Wolf’s calls for an “Afghan Study Group” is not such a bad idea.

Rather than advise the president on what’s working—and clearly the Afghan surge has not, in spite of Pollyannaish predictions I mentioned earlier—the American brass will anyhow wait until Washington think tanks, Congress, the White House, and outside study groups give them guidance on how to best mitigate America’s damages.

So let’s skip a few steps and have the Congress promote the civilian brain trust of this war to General rank.  We could even turn the sacked officers into civilian military contractors—you know, to advise their replacements on how to wear a uniform, perform award ceremonies, salute, march, etc.

A sarcastic stretch, I know, but if so many from today’s officers corps are going to more resemble wannabe policy wonks and future Congressmen (presidents?) in uniform, why use a disguise? 

It would be funny if only so many people weren’t dying.

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« Reply #34 on: August 16, 2010, 07:04:17 am »

Low al Qaeda count stirs new debate on war

Afghans gather at the scene of an attack on a presidential adviser in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, on Aug. 2. CIA Director Leon Panetta said fewer than 100 al Qaeda operatives remain in Afghanistan, a number officials hope will restore American optimism in the ongoing war. (Associated Press)

By Rowan Scarborough
The Washington Times
7:53 p.m., Sunday, August 15, 2010

With the American public growing more pessimistic about Afghanistan, war proponents are renewing their case in the face of new estimates that say no more than 100 al Qaeda operatives remain in the country.

In one of his first statements to Congress after being picked in June to command war operations, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus explained why nearly 100,000 troops are in Afghanistan nine years after the conflict began.

"In short," Gen. Petraeus said, "we cannot allow al Qaeda or other transnational extremist elements to once again establish sanctuaries from which they can launch attacks on our homeland or on our allies."

CIA Director Leon E. Panetta fueled the debate this summer by disclosing that his agency can count only 100 al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. He said the number may be as low as 50.

Couple that with remarks by the former commander, retired Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who said, "I do not see indications of a large al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan now," and the question arises about why the U.S. is in Afghanistan, given it was al Qaeda that attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. Why aren't U.S. troops fighting in Pakistan, where the al Qaeda leadership, including Osama bin Laden, fled and regrouped?

James Jay Carafano, a military analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, said a U.S. exit from Afghanistan would bolster al Qaeda throughout South Asia.

"If you don't have an Afghan government that can stand by itself, the Taliban will be back," he said. "That means civil war and maybe genocide. Al Qaeda will be back and so will camps that could lead to the next 9/11, plus a resurgence of terrorism across South Asia and huge propaganda victory for al Qaeda."

An al Qaeda resurgence also could lead to increased violence in the Kashmir region, he said, "meaning nuclear-armed Pakistan and India come to blows."

"NATO fails and crumbles" and "U.S. prestige and credibility crumbles," Mr. Carafano added.

Some pro-war analysts dispute the estimates on al Qaeda.

Bill Roggio, an analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who edits the, said his sources, the enemy's martyrdom statements and a reading of command press releases indicate that many more al Qaeda operatives are in Afghanistan.

"I've been doing my own investigation on this, looking for al Qaeda cells in Afghanistan," Mr. Roggio said. "A thousand would be my estimate. A lot are low-level fighters. But they are members of al Qaeda."

A military intelligence source told The Washington Times that commanders think at least 600 al Qaeda members are fighting in Afghanistan.

For Mr. Roggio and other war supporters, the key issue is not just the numbers, but what would happen if the U.S. leaves now.

"The Taliban and al Qaeda already have safe havens inside Afghanistan, despite a U.S. presence," Mr. Roggio said. "If we walk away from Afghanistan, instead of keeping them occupied with fighting us, they are going to be free to do what they did prior to 9/11, which is plan attacks against the U.S.

"From a straight propaganda and recruiting standpoint, if we lose there, if we show them we are what bin Laden called the 'weak horse,' then their recruiting is going to go through the roof," he said. "If they can show they are successful there, that is an incredible propaganda boon.

"Also, al Qaeda's donors and supporters love a winner. If al Qaeda can show them they can win there, their coffers will fill up from their big donors," Mr. Roggio said.

Douglas Feith, who as the Pentagon's top policy official at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks was an architect of the war on terror, said leaving Kabul would hurt the counterterrorism campaign worldwide.

"There are many serious bad consequences of losing the war," Mr. Feith said. "The Taliban will gain in Afghanistan and may help terrorists against us again. The Taliban would gain Pakistan and may destabilize the government there, which has nuclear weapons.

"Jihadists worldwide and other U.S. enemies would be emboldened by our defeat," he said. "Afghans who cooperated with us would suffer. Others in the world would be reluctant to cooperate with us in the future."

Mr. Panetta said the war's mission is to prevent more attacks.

"Our purpose, our whole mission there is to make sure that al Qaeda never finds another safe haven from which to attack this country," he told ABC News. "That's the fundamental goal of why the United States is there."

Fewer Americans are buying that argument. A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey found that 41 percent of Americans support the war, down 9 percentage points from May 2009.

In August 2009, as President Obama was sending reinforcements to Afghanistan and Gen. McChrystal was asking for even more troops, a Washington Post poll detected growing disenchantment. Fifty-one percent said the war was no longer worth fighting, up 6 percentage points from previous month. Two months ago, the number grew to 53 percent.

A new NBC poll found that 70 percent of Americans do not think the U.S. will win in Afghanistan.

Three factors seem to drive the numbers: the war's length, now in its 10th year; the number of casualties, including the 125 Americans killed in June and July; and the cost of war-related spending for Afghanistan, which the Congressional Budget Office says will reach $300 billion this year.

The House this year delayed for months a vote on a war-funding bill as a growing number of Democrats voiced opposition. When a vote was taken on July 28, 102 Democrats, more than double the number of a year ago, voted no.

The number of congressional Democrats abandoning Mr. Obama on the war has not yet translated into a groundswell of opposition nationwide.

Still, grass-roots anti-war groups are active. One is Veterans for Peace, a 7,500-member group based in St. Louis that also criticizes Israel and is supporting Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, the intelligence analyst suspected of providing thousands of pages of classified State Department and military reports on Afghanistan to

"VFP is opposed to the war in Afghanistan for several reasons, but the primary one is that it is an illegal war of aggression which has killed thousands of innocent people," said Leah Boyer, the group's vice president and a retired Navy commander who is now is now a full-time peace activist.

"The people and the government of Afghanistan did not attack the United States," she said. "There can be no justification for killing innocent people, and the problems of Afghanistan cannot be solved militarily."

Regarding the "safe haven" argument, Ms. Boyer said, "al Qaeda is everywhere. It is absurd to think that we can attack any country in which there is an al Qaeda presence. Our weapons do not kill just the 'bad guys.' Let's imagine that we could kill every single member of al Qaeda. Would the problem be solved? We will never achieve peace through killing."

Gen. Petraeus views the stakes differently. One of his first chores after he landed in Afghanistan on July 2 was to pen a message to the troops:

"Together, we can ensure that Afghanistan will not once again be ruled by those who embrace indiscriminate violence and trans-national extremists, and we can ensure that Al Qaeda and other extremist elements cannot once again establish sanctuaries in Afghanistan from which they can launch attacks on our homelands and of the Afghan people."

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« Reply #35 on: August 16, 2010, 07:13:29 am »

5 Radical Ideas to Transcend Washington's War Mentality

Construction at Bagram Air Base tells the real, ugly story about the future of the Afghan war.

By Tom Engelhardt,
Posted on August 15, 2010, Printed on August 16, 2010

A helicopter lands at Kandahar airport in southern Afghanistan. NATO says four soldiers were killed in Afghanistan -- taking the number of foreign troops killed this year to 105 and more than double those killed in the first two months of 2009.Photo Credit: AFP/Pool/File - Rick Loomis

The other day I visited a website I check regularly for all things military, Noah Shachtman’s Danger Room blog at Wired magazine.  One of its correspondents, Spencer Ackerman, was just then at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, the sort of place that -- with its multiple bus routes, more than 30,000 inhabitants, PXes, Internet cafés, fast-food restaurants, barracks, and all the sinews of war -- we like to call military bases, but that are unique in the history of this planet.

Here’s how Ackerman began his report: "Anyone who thinks the United States is really going to withdraw from Afghanistan in July 2011 needs to come to this giant air base an hour away from Kabul. There’s construction everywhere. It’s exactly what you wouldn’t expect from a transient presence.”  The old Russian base, long a hub for U.S. military (and imprisonment) activities in that country is now, as he describes it, a giant construction site and its main drag, Disney Drive, a massive traffic pile-up.  ("If the Navy could figure out a way to bring a littoral-combat ship to a landlocked country, it would idle on Disney.”)  Its flight line is packed with planes -- "C-17s, Predators, F-16s, F-15s, MC-12 passenger planes” -- and Bagram, he concludes, "is starting to feel like a dynamic exurb before the housing bubble burst.”

I won’t lie.  As I read that post, my heart sank and I found myself imagining Spencer Ackerman writing this passage: "Anyone who thinks the United States is really going to stay in Afghanistan after July 2011 needs to come to this giant air base an hour away from Kabul where buildings are being dismantled, military equipment packed up, and everywhere you look you see evidence of a transient presence.”  To pen that, unfortunately, he would have to be a novelist or a fabulist.

For almost nine years, the U.S. military has been building up Bagram.  Now, the Obama administration’s response to the Afghan disaster on its hands is -- and who, at this late date, could be surprised? -- a further build-up.  In my childhood, I remember ads for... well, I’m not quite sure what... but they showed scenes of multiple error, including, if I remember rightly, five-legged cows floating through clouds.  They were always tagged with a question that went something like: What’s wrong with this picture?

As with so much that involves the American way of war, the U.S. national security state, and the vast military and intelligence bureaucracies that go with them, an outsider might well be tempted to ask just that question.  As much as Washington insiders may periodically decry or bemoan the results of our war policies and security-state procedures, however, they never ask what's wrong.  Not really.

In fact, basic alternatives to our present way of going about things are regularly dismissed out of hand, while ways to use force and massive preparations for the future use of more force are endlessly refined.

As a boy, I loved reading books of what-if history and science fiction, rare moments when what might have happened or what might someday happen outweighed what everyone was convinced must happen.  Only there did it seem possible to imagine the unimaginable and the alternatives that might go with it.  When it comes to novels, counterfactuality is still a winner.  What if the Nazis had won in Europe, as Robert Harris suggested in Fatherland, or a strip of the Alaskan panhandle had become a temporary homeland for Jewish refugees from the Holocaust, as Michael Chabon suggested in The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, or our machines could indeed think like us, as Philip Dick wondered in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Such novels allow our brain to venture down strange new pathways normally forbidden to us.

Here, then, are five possibilities, five pathways, that -- given our world -- verge on the fictional.  Consider them not "what-if history,” but "what if Washington...?”

1.  What if Washington declared a ceasefire in Afghanistan, expressed a desire to withdraw all its troops from the country in good order and at a reasonable pace, and then just left?  What would happen?  The answer is: as with the four questions below, we simply don’t -- and won’t -- know; in part because few of the 854,000 people with "top-secret” security clearances, and so perhaps capable of accessing Washington's war planning, are likely to think seriously about what this might mean.  (It would be hell on a career, and there’s no money in it anyway.)

On the other hand, after nine years of grim experimentation, we do know what has happened and is happening in the world’s second most corrupt, fifth poorest country.  If you’ve been following the Afghan War story, even in the most cursory manner, you could already write the next news report on Afghanistan’s hapless American-trained police and its no less hapless American-trained army, the next set of civilian casualties, the next poppy harvest, the fate of the next round of counterinsurgency plans, and so on.  These are, as our previous Secretary of Defense used to say, the "known knowns” of the situation and, unfortunately, the only subjects Washington is comfortable exploring further.  No matter that the known road, the well-worn one, is the assured road to nowhere.

No serious thought, money, or effort goes into imagining how to unbuild the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan or how to voluntarily leave that country.  In a terrible moment in the Vietnam War, Vermont Senator George Aiken suggested that the U.S. just declare victory and get out.  But that sort of thing was, and remains, beyond Washington’s normal imagination; and what Washington can’t imagine, it assumes no one else should.

The American peace movement, such as it is, shouldn’t wait for President Obama.  It should convene its own blue-ribbon commission and put some effort into planning how to get out of Afghanistan voluntarily -- and, having already done much harm, how to leave in the least harmful and quickest way possible.  It’s true that we don’t know what would happen afterwards: Would the Taliban (or its various groupings) take over part or all of the country, or would they leap for each others’ throats once a unifying opposition to foreign invaders disappeared (as happened in Afghanistan in the early 1990s)?  Or, for that matter, might something quite unexpected and unpredictable happen ?

The future is, by definition, an unknown unknown, and Washington, whatever its pretenses to control that future, has a terrible record when it comes to predicting it.  Who knows how long it would take the Afghan people to deal with the Taliban without us, given the woeful inability of such a crew -- second only to Afghan President Hamid Karzai's -- to govern the country effectively (or less than brutally).

2. What if a blue-ribbon commission appointed by the president surveyed the 17 intelligence agencies and organizations that make up the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC), the 263 intelligence task forces and other new intelligence groupings that have come into being since September 11, 2001, alone, the labyrinthine "community” that is drowning in 50,000 or more "intelligence” reports a year, and decided that we had 16 too many of them?  The last time such a commission met, after the 9/11 attacks, the result was that the seventeenth member of the IC was added to the roster, the office of the Director of National Intelligence, which, while proving remarkably ineffective by all accounts, has become a little bureaucracy of its own with about 1,500 employees.

What if such a panel were then to consider the obvious: that 17 competing intelligence agencies are a sign of madness when it comes to producing usable "intelligence”; that, while capable of being intrusive and oppressive, eating up more than $75 billion annually, contributing to a national atmosphere of fear, and throwing a penumbra of secrecy over the nation, they are incapable of doing their job.  What if it were to suggest that we need only one, or for competitive purposes, at most two such agencies, and that they should be geared to assessing the world and providing actual "intelligence” to the president and Congress, not to changing it by subverting foreign governments, assassinating foreign leaders or assorted terrorists, kidnapping citizens from the streets of global cities, and the like?  What if Congress agreed?  Would we be better off?  Is there really safety in a bloated intelligence bureaucracy and the dollars it eats, in all those satellites and all that surveillance, in a maturing culture of all-enveloping secrecy that is now a signature aspect of our way of life?

3. What if the president and Congress agreed to get rid of all secret armies, including the CIA, which Chalmers Johnson once dubbed the president’s "private army,” and the military’s secret military, its special operations forces, 13,000 of whom are now on duty in 75 countries?  What if, in addition, we were to demobilize the tens of thousands of armed private contractors and assorted rent-a-guns the Pentagon and the State Department have taken on to supplement their strength?

4. What if the president and Congress really went after the Pentagon budget, projected to top $700 billion next year, including war-fighting costs (and that’s without all the long-term costs of our military even added in)?  Right now, proposed Pentagon budget "cuts” fill the headlines and yet represent nothing more than a reshuffling of military money in the midst of ongoing increases in defense spending.  What if, instead, we actually cut that budget not by 25%, but in half or more, and used that money to promote our long-term safety through the creation of new jobs to work on the country’s aging infrastructure?  That would still leave us putting more money into our military than any other nation on Earth.

What if, in addition, we stopped pouring money into planning breakthrough generations of weapons for 2025 and beyond?  What if, while we’re at it, we decided to toss out the post-World War II definition of our mission as "national security,” a phrase which helped pave the way for the full-scale garrisoning of the globe and the repeated dispatching of U.S. forces to the far reaches of the planet, and went back to the idea of "national defense.”  What if, in the same spirit, the Pentagon once again became an actual department of defense?

5. What if the Department of Homeland Security were abolished (and along with it, that un-American post-9/11 word "homeland” were banished from the language)?  What if its pre-2002 constituent parts were reassigned to non-national security duties and the rest of it to the trashbin of history, ensuring that we no longer had two defense departments?

In Washington’s world, each of these what-ifs is, by definition, an absurdity, the sort of thing that only a utopian peacenik with his head in the sand could conjure up.  And however badly our world seems to go, however misplaced our priorities and our moneys seem to be, Washington looks like it has all the facts and those who might raise such questions none, because no one ever seriously explores such ideas, no less tests them out (even in more modest ways).

As a result, they exist not in the realm of policy, but in the realm of fiction, and comments on the strangeness of those five-legged cows floating through distant clouds near Hellfire-armed Predator drones are left to marginal characters like me.  What, after all, would we do without our national security wars, our ever-burgeoning intelligence bureaucracy, our secret armies, our advanced weaponry, a Pentagon the size of James’s giant peach, and a special department to protect our "homeland” security (accompanied by its own mini-homeland-security-industrial complex and attendant lobbyists)?  How would we know what was coming at us next?  How could we be safe?

Right now, as a nation, we find it remarkably difficult to imagine ourselves as anything but what we now believe ourselves to be -- and Washington counts on that.  We find it almost impossible to imagine ourselves as just another nation (even perhaps, a more modest and better one), making our way on this disturbed planet of ours as best we can.  We can’t imagine ourselves "safe” without being dominant, or being dominant without killing others in distant lands in significant numbers to ensure that safety; nor can we imagine ourselves dominant without that full panoply of secret armies, global garrisons, overlapping spy agencies, fear manias, and all the money that goes with them, despite the abundant evidence that this can’t be safety, either for us or for the planet.

We no longer know what a policy of cautious peace might look like, not having put a cent into envisioning such a project.  War and an aggressive global national security state (and the language that goes with it) are all Washington knows and all it cares to know.  It is completely invested in the world it now so shakily oversees, and cares for no other.

Worlds end, of course, and they regularly end so much uglier when no one plans for the unexpected.  Maybe one of these days, what-if fever will spread in this country and, miraculously, we’ll actually get change we can finally believe in.


Tom Engelhardt, editor of, is co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's.
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« Reply #36 on: August 16, 2010, 02:30:24 pm »

Monday, August 16, 2010
19:37 Mecca time, 16:37 GMT   
Karzai bans private security firms  

Karzai has repeatedly called for the banning of private security companies in Afghanistan [GALLO/GETTY]
Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, has given private security firms working in Afghanistan four months to end their operations.

Karzai has repeatedly called for banning private security companies, saying they undermine government security forces.

"Today the president is going to issue a four-month deadline for the dissolution of private security companies," Waheed Omer, Karzai's spokesman, said on Monday.

Omer gave notice last week that the president intended to act over private security firms, calling it "a serious programme that the government of Afghanistan will execute".

"It's not about regulating the activities of private security companies, it's about their presence, it's about the way they function in Afghanistan ... all the problems they have created," Omer said.

US support

Omer said more than 50 private security companies, roughly half of them Afghan and the other half international, employ 30,000 to 40,000 armed personnel in Afghanistan.

He said Karzai had spoken to his Western backers as well as leaders of the US and Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) who contract the companies, to safeguard many aspects of their work, including supply convoys.

"Since [Afghan security forces] are not quite at the stages of capability and capacity to provide all the security that is needed, private security companies are filling a gap", Margaret Boor, US army official
The US military responded on Monday saying it supported the plan and was tightening oversight of its own armed contractors in the meantime.

"Certainly we understand President Karzai's statements that he is determined to dissolve private security companies," Brigadier General Margaret Boor, head of a new task force to better regulate and oversee private security operations, said.

"We are committed to partnering with the government in meeting that intent," she said.

However, Boor declined to give a timeline, saying private security contractors can only be phased out as the security situation improves.

That could be a long time given worsening security in recent months in areas of northern and central Afghanistan that had previously been relatively safe.

Protecting convoys

About 26,000 armed security contractors work with the US government in Afghanistan, including 19,000 with the US military, Boor said.

The majority of military contractors protect convoys, though some also provide base
security, Major Joel Harper, a spokesman for Nato forces, said.

Karzai has said such responsibilities should fall to either enlisted military or police, though it is unclear how soon Afghan forces would be ready to take on additional jobs.

Boor said private contractors were needed right now to keep development projects and military operations running.

"Since the Afghan army and the Afghan police are not quite at the stages of capability and capacity to provide all the security that is needed, private security companies are filling a gap,'' Boor said.

'Behaviour questioned'

Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from Kabul, said the conduct of private security personnel had caused "a lot of uproar among the Afghan population".

"Their behaviour has always been questioned. Many of them were involved in accidents on highways where innocent Afghan civilians were killed," she said.

"[To ban those firms] is certainly a move that will be widely accepted by the Afghan people and it's certainly a move that comes at a very good time for the Afghan president.

"Parliamentary elections are expected to be held here next month and certainly a this is a move that could could garner some support for the president."

Contractors in Afghanistan have been in the spotlight on several occasions.

In February, US senate investigators said the contractor formerly known as Blackwater hired violent drug users to help train the Afghan army and declared "sidearms for everyone'', even though employees were not authorised to carry weapons.

The allegations came as part of an investigation into the 2009 shooting deaths of two Afghan civilians by employees of the company, now known as Xe.
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« Reply #37 on: August 17, 2010, 06:07:19 am »

South Asia
Aug 18, 2010 
Bizarre bedfellows rally to Afghanistan

By Brian M Downing

The war in Afghanistan, now almost nine years on, is reaching an important juncture. The conflict itself is plodding along as the insurgency spreads, but public support in Europe and the United States is waning. The Dutch have withdrawn. Canada will have most of its troops out at the end of 2011. The British, French and German publics are increasingly uneasy about the war and seem to be searching for a graceful exit that will not greatly alienate the US.

The American public is also restive. The Barack Obama administration is weighed down with economic problems and has not made a serious effort to rally support for the war. The president's address on the surge in Afghanistan last year was deliberate and analytic rather than emotional and hortatory. There is no meaningful anti-war movement, only the occasional grumblers and growlers just before a war-funding vote that wins by a wide margin. Nonetheless, a public debate has been underway for quite some time.

Disparate groups in the pro-war camp
Three disparate groups are making efforts to bolster support for the war - the military, neo-conservatives and human-rights groups, especially feminist organizations. Politics makes strange bedfellows; foreign policy makes bizarre ones.

Over its long history, the US military has built an institutional culture of confidence - finishing what it sets out to do, seeing things through. This culture was firmly established in the heady aftermath of World War II, gravely damaged during the Vietnam War, but painstakingly rebuilt in the decades that followed. Defeat and attendant weakened prestige make the military even more determined to succeed in Afghanistan.

Furthermore, the military seeks to consolidate a prominent position for itself in the post-Cold War world. Success in Afghanistan will obviously help achieve that. Abandoning Afghanistan will be seen as dishonorable, a concession to world terror, and a diminution of the military's prestige and role in US foreign policy. It is significant that it was the military that made public the geological survey results showing mineralogical wealth in many parts of Afghanistan. And General David Petraeus, the US's top man in Afghanistan, is reminding the public of this in interviews.

The generals will make their case for standing in Afghanistan in cool, professional presentations before the US Congress and on public affairs programs - as will many of their retired colleagues. They will have the appearance of straightforward presentations unsullied by partisan, institutional or corporate interests.

Neo-conservatives also support the war. They see American military power as a sign of national might and virtue and as an instrument of spreading US beliefs and ideals around the world. Afghanistan was not part of the neo-conservative plan to transform the Middle East into a free-market, democratic region on good terms with the US and its allies, but defeat in Afghanistan will be a setback to its agenda, discredited though it is in many quarters now.

Neo-conservative prominence in television, radio and print media affords them the opportunity to present their case repeatedly - daily, if need be. And should the effort in Afghanistan fail, the neo-conservative media will argue that failure stemmed from lack of resolve in the current administration and that a return to the neo-con agenda is needed.

Neo-conservatives and the military have a long working relationship. In the chaotic aftermath of Vietnam, neo-cons saw the nation imperiled by immorality at home and accommodation with the Soviet Union. A revitalized military was the answer to both problems: the military would once more become a respected bastion of moral vision inspiring the nation and standing up to communism and other evils around the world.

Human-rights groups have opposed muscular foreign policy in preference for aid programs and examples as instruments of world change. In Afghanistan, however, they find themselves in the same camp as long-standing opponents in the military. The brutality of the Taliban, while they were in power and as they wage the insurgency, has alarmed human-rights activists in the US and elsewhere in the world. The Taliban destroyed the statues of Buddha that had stood in Bamiyan province for 1,500 years, imposed a harsher understanding of Islamic law than most scholars call for, and killed thousands of Shi'ite Muslims.

Prominent in human-rights arguments is the Taliban's oppression of women and girls. They oppose the education of girls (a contested issue in Afghanistan since reforms in the 1970s) and attack schools built for that purpose. In recent weeks, the cover of Time featured a young woman whose face had been disfigured by the Taliban. Reports circulate of a pregnant woman executed for adultery. Emotional issues such as these are more powerful than dry analyses.

The anti-war camp

Opponents of the war are less organized and less passionate than most counterparts in the pro-war factions. Afghanistan is not like Iraq, which was widely considered a war initiated by a cabal of special interests. Few doubt that the invasion and initial occupation of Afghanistan stemmed from legitimate security concerns after the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

A protracted presence and a growing insurgency have made the public uneasy, but only parts of it are adamantly opposed to continued presence. There is no anti-war movement as seen a few years ago regarding Iraq, let alone what took place amid the Vietnam War. And thus far the casualties in Afghanistan are significantly lower than those incurred at the height of the insurgency in Iraq.

Political analysts and more than a few retired officers make the case, in print and over the airwaves, that there is no national security issue at stake in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda, they contend, has been driven out and can never operate there as it once did. The US presence only serves to inspire Islamist militancy in Afghanistan and throughout the Islamic world.

Emotional tacks are also in evidence in the anti-war camp. The war is causing the senseless deaths and injuries of hundreds of US and allied forces every month. Combat-related mental issues are prevalent and suicide rates are appallingly high. Even far more casualties have been inflicted on Afghan civilians.

Anti-war positions are prevalent in the public; as noted, polling data show 56% of the public oppose the war. But the intensity of that position is weakened by the lingering fear - however unfounded - that al-Qaeda could well return there and strike again on US soil. And there is the long-standing concern of almost all wars that the US cannot withdraw, as that would mean that many Americans would have died in vain.

The balance of power in the public mind
What are the merits and more importantly the effectiveness of each side's arguments? Clearly, a majority opposes the war, but at least thus far their intensity, organization and prevalence in the media lag behind their rivals. Accordingly, anti-war sentiment is unlikely to force change in the country's position in Afghanistan, especially since most people opposed to the war support the Democratic president on many other issues.

It is significant (perhaps even regrettable) that American casualties do not figure more highly in the discussion. When they do, it is usually in a transparently manipulative and off-putting manner. The war is being fought by working-class and lower-middle-class Americans, mainly from small towns and rural areas. In contrast to World War II and even Vietnam, few Americans know anyone in the military today, resulting in a "moral hazard" whereby the consequences of an action do not affect the public at large.

The neo-conservatives and human-rights activists who support the war are as unfamiliar with military service as they are with the topography of the Moon. The US officer corps is also supportive of the war - and they know military service and have dedicated their careers to it. Yet many in the American public, especially veterans of past wars, wonder if generals adequately consider the lives of young men and women in their war calculus any more than the public does.

Brian M Downing is a political/military analyst and the author of The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: War and Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam. He can be reached at

(Copyright 2010 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.) 
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« Reply #38 on: August 17, 2010, 06:12:05 am »

South Asia
Aug 18, 2010 
Petraeus marches out of step


General David Petraeus, the commander of United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces in Afghanistan, has cast doubt on US President Barack Obama's July 2011 deadline to start withdrawing troops from the country, saying it depends on conditions on the ground.

His comments threatened to create a rift with the Obama administration after Defense Secretary Robert Gates contradicted the general by insisting that the withdrawal date is definite.

In an interview on US television's Meet The Press on August 15, Petraeus said the battle against Taliban militants was an "up-and-down process" and it remains too early to determine how successful it will be.

Asked about the deadline for a phased US troop pullout, he said Obama had defined withdrawal as "a process, not an event" and emphasized that meeting the president's start date for withdrawal would be "conditions-based".

"This is a date [July 2011] when a process begins that is conditions-based," he said. "As the conditions permit, we transition tasks to our Afghan counterparts and the security forces and in various governmental institutions, and that enables a responsible drawdown of our forces."

'Pivotal moment'

Petraeus conveyed the same message in several other media interviews, telling The New York Times that he did not plan to preside over a "graceful exit" and declaring that the Taliban were wrong if they believed they simply had to wait for American forces to withdraw before prevailing.

"Clearly, the enemy is fighting back, sees this as a very pivotal moment, believes that all he has to do is outlast us through this fighting season," Petraeus said. "That is just not the case."

But Gates took a different tack in an interview with The Los Angeles Times, saying: "There is no question in anybody's mind that we are going to begin drawing down troops in July of 2011." Gates also told the magazine Foreign Policy that he intended to retire sometime in 2011.

Obama's mid-2011 deadline has been strongly criticized by some who believe it encourages the Taliban to fight on by sending the message that the United States is not in the fight for the long term.

Petraeus told Meet The Press that the American commitment to Afghanistan would be lasting, although he fell into line with administration policy by accepting the principle of a phased withdrawal.

"We will have an enduring commitment here in some fashion, the character of which may change over time as our Afghan partners can do more and we're more able to do less in certain areas," Petraeus said.

Petraeus, the former commander of American forces in Iraq, was giving his first media interviews since assuming charge of the 140,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan from General Stanley McChrystal, who was fired in June for making disparaging comments about senior administration figures in a magazine interview.

Copyright (c) 2010, RFE/RL Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC 20036

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« Reply #39 on: August 17, 2010, 06:31:28 am »

Living with the Taliban on the Afghan Frontline

By Alex Thomson

Channel 4 News has obtained rare film of Taliban fighters on the Afghanistan frontline, including footage of their attacks on US forces. Channel 4 News Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson looks at what the film tells us about the insurgents and their tactics.

Even if I did want to do it, I would not be allowed to by ITN. Nor would anybody here. But out there in the wide open world of the freelancer, Paul Refsdal did it. He did it brilliantly well.

If he hadn't slightly overplayed his hand at the last moment, he would have got away with it unscathed and pulled the whole thing off. But even as it is, he has emerged from Afghanistan with footage the like of which has not been seen I will bet, in nine years of war.

Because that's what it's like if you want to seek out the Taliban or other insurgent groups across Afghanistan and set up what the west would call an "embed" with them. It's a helluva risk.

Paul is at least alive to tell the tale and sell his story. Though not without a six day kidnapping under murky circumstances. The Norwegian cameraman insists that no ransom was paid.


Armed fighters
It all starts with the moment when you move beyond the point of return. When the RV finally takes place up some distant mountain track in the east of the country in this case, Kunar Province.

Unsmiling, heavily armed fighters suddenly materialise and then there you are, out there, on your own, with nothing but trust to keep you going. From behind their turban-masked faces they are smirking, saying quietly to each other, "He's really scared of us, isn't he?" And so it went on for the whole of the first day as they trekked back up to their command post.

Day two and things had calmed a little. Commander Dawran - who set the whole thing up - made it plain that Refsdal is a guest. And that is that. Under Afghan custom they will now pretty much lay down their arms to protect him. Rather, on this occasion, than shoot or behead him as a suspected spy.

And by the second day the faces are being revealed, they are laughing around and joking: "If I appear in this people are going to say 'Who's the country boy?’" His mate laughs and adds: "He's filming us all to say look here - these are the bad guys." And things begin to fall into something of a routine.

 The men have a heavy machine gun of fairly ancient origin placed to cover an ambush point on a road used almost daily by the US military. There is no problem filming them as they discuss ambush plans, set it up and execute it. There is much celebration when they claim to hit an American vehicle with a short burst from their primitive gun emplacement high above the snaking mountain road.

But, try as I do, I see no vehicle hit on the camera, at any rate. Commander Dawran lectures his men saying: "During the Russian invasion, someone asked me when the victory will come? The answer was, if the holy warriors are honest and fight only for the sake of God, then victory will come soon. If not, it will take more time."

He compares the motives for the insurgents fighting with those of the west, the Americans - for this is both a US dominated war and they are in a US area of operations: "We fight for our freedom, our religion and we fight for our holy land. We are fighting for these goals. What are their goals? For what are they fighting us? Are they oppressed? Have they been treated unfairly? Are they living in a dictatorship?"

With their trust in their God, their belief is absolute that their day will come against the Americans as it did against the Russians. History, they sense, is on their side. Time, they know, certainly is. But with shortages of weaponry and ammo there is plenty of time, up here in the hills of Kunar, for Commander Dawran to be with his wife and their three children.

Or to play their favourite pastime of rock throwing - see who can hurl the boulder the furthest. Commander Dawran of course, seems to win all the time, though not without loud allegations of cheating. With every day comes the ambush. It is almost routine. And ultimately that is their problem. You can obviously only ambush the Americans for so long until their Special Forces or air attack will seek you out.

So many Nato soldiers on the other side have been puzzled at the insurgents' habit of going for the same ambush points time after time after time. The dangers of this are obvious. And so it happened. One night they had to get out and run up the mountains immediately for cover. Special Forces duly attacked Assad - their second in command - the fighters said he, several soldiers and 13 family members were killed. The game was up. Their war in this area had ended.

Those same Special Forces would surely come calling at another of their houses that night, or the night after. They had to leave that day and Paul had to get out, back to Kabul. Just before he left, Omar, one of this group's up and coming fighters, gave Paul his mobile number and said to call in two weeks and he could come and film with him at another location.

It proved to be a trap. Omar would then kidnap Paul Refsdal, holding him for six days. As ever with these things, precisely what happened is murky and mysterious. Though Paul insists no ransom was paid after he converted to Islam.

As for Commander Dawran, his prediction was deadly accurate. The Americans did subsequently attack his house. He survived. Two of his three young children, did not.

Posted August 16, 2010

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