Sunday, September 20, 2009


Longer than World I and II combined?

"Numbers ebb and flow. Bands of fighters appear and vanish."

Yes, and so do American soldiers.

What are we doing?

The old adage is, "The only thing worse is if we leave."

No, the only thing worse...


Leave Afghanistan!

First it was Iraq.

I mean, first it was Afghanistan, and now, it's still Afghanistan!

Before that Vietnam.

When will we ever learn?

But I forget:


America is (or was) in a recession.


"Onward, Christian soldiers..."

If a better life is won by staying and fighting in Afghanistan, then stay and fight. But this is not occurring. More and more civilians are being killed. It's getting worse, not better in Afghanistan. And where is the rest of the world? Why are America and only a few allies staying in Afghanistan?
Below is a piece in the New York Times by David Brooks.
The situation in Afghanistan is growing complex and confusing.
The Afghan Imperative

Published: September 24, 2009
The New York Times

Always there is the illusion of the easy path. Always there is the illusion, which gripped Donald Rumsfeld and now grips many Democrats, that you can fight a counterinsurgency war with a light footprint, with cruise missiles, with special forces operations and unmanned drones. Always there is the illusion, deep in the bones of the Pentagon’s Old Guard, that you can fight a force like the Taliban by keeping your troops mostly in bases, and then sending them out in well-armored convoys to kill bad guys.

There is simply no historical record to support these illusions. The historical evidence suggests that these middling strategies just create a situation in which you have enough forces to assume responsibility for a conflict, but not enough to prevail.

The record suggests what Gen. Stanley McChrystal clearly understands — that only the full counterinsurgency doctrine offers a chance of success. This is a doctrine, as General McChrystal wrote in his remarkable report, that puts population protection at the center of the Afghanistan mission, that acknowledges that insurgencies can only be defeated when local communities and military forces work together.

To put it concretely, this is a doctrine in which small groups of American men and women are outside the wire in dangerous places in remote valleys, providing security, gathering intelligence, helping to establish courts and building schools and roads.

These are the realistic choices for America’s Afghanistan policy — all out or all in, surrender the place to the Taliban or do armed nation-building. And we might as well acknowledge that it’s not an easy call. The costs and rewards are tightly balanced. But in the end, President Obama was right: “You don’t muddle through the central front on terror. ... You don’t muddle through stamping out the Taliban.”

Since 1979, we have been involved in a long, complex conflict against Islamic extremism. We’ve fought this ideology in many ways in many places, and we shouldn’t pretend we understand how this conflict will evolve. But we should understand that the conflict is unavoidable and that when extremism pushes, it’s in our long-term interests to push back — and that eventually, if we do so, extremism will wither.

Afghanistan is central to this effort partly because it could again become a safe haven to terrorists, but mostly because of its effects on the stability of Pakistan. As Stephen Biddle noted in a recent essay in The American Interest, the Taliban is a transnational Pashtun movement active in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is part of a complex insurgency trying to topple the Pakistani regime.

Pakistan has a fragile government with an estimated 50 or more nuclear weapons. A Taliban conquest in Afghanistan would endanger the Pakistani regime at best, create a regional crisis for certain and lead to a nuclear-armed Al Qaeda at worst.

A Taliban reconquest would also, it should be said, be a moral atrocity from which American self-respect would not soon recover.

Proponents of withdrawal often acknowledge the costs of defeat but argue that the cause is hopeless anyway. On this, let me note a certain pattern. When you interview people who know little about Afghanistan, they describe an anarchic place that is the graveyard of empires. When you interview people who live there or are experts, they think those stereotypes are rubbish. They usually take a hardened but guardedly optimistic view. Read Clare Lockhart’s Sept. 17 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to get a sense of the way many knowledgeable people view the situation.

Amidst all the problems, the NATO coalition has a few things going for it. First, American forces have become quite good at counterinsurgency. They have a battle-tested strategy, experienced troops and a superb new leadership team. According to the political scientists Andrew J. Enterline and Joseph Magagnoli, since World War II, counterinsurgency efforts that put population protection at their core have succeeded nearly 70 percent of the time.

Second, the enemy is wildly hated. Only 6 percent of Afghans want a Taliban return, while NATO is viewed with surprising favor. This is not Vietnam or even Iraq.

Third, while many Afghan institutions are now dysfunctional, there is a base on which to build. The Afghan Army is a successful institution. Local villages have their own centuries-old civic institutions. The National Solidarity Program was able to build development councils in 23,000 villages precisely because the remnants of civil society still exist.

We have tried to fight the Afghan war the easy way, and it hasn’t worked. Switching now to the McChrystal strategy is a difficult choice, and President Obama is right to take his time. But Obama was also right a few months ago when he declared, “This will not be quick, nor easy. But we must never forget: This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. ... This is fundamental to the defense of our people.”


(Illustration: Troy Page / t r u t h o u t)

On September 7 the Swedish aid agency Swedish Committee for Afghanistan reported that the previous week US soldiers raided one of its hospitals. According to the director of the aid agency, Anders Fange, troops stormed through both the men's and women's wards, where they frantically searched for wounded Taliban fighters.

Soldiers demanded that hospital administrators inform the military of any incoming patients who might be insurgents, after which the military would then decide if said patients would be admitted or not. Fange called the incident "not only a clear violation of globally recognized humanitarian principles about the sanctity of health facilities and staff in areas of conflict, but also a clear breach of the civil-military agreement" between nongovernmental organizations and international forces.

Fange said that US troops broke down doors and tied up visitors and hospital staff.

Impeding operations at medical facilities in Afghanistan directly violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, which strictly forbids attacks on emergency vehicles and the obstruction of medical operations during wartime.

Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker, a public affairs officer for the US Navy, confirmed the raid, and told The Associated Press, "Complaints like this are rare."

Despite Sidenstricker's claim that "complaints like this" are rare in Afghanistan, they are, in fact, common. Just as they are in Iraq, the other occupation. A desperate conventional military, when losing a guerilla war, tends to toss international law out the window. Yet even more so when the entire occupation itself is a violation of international law.

Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild and also a Truthout contributor, is very clear about the overall illegality of the invasion and ongoing occupation of Afghanistan by the United States.

"The UN Charter is a treaty ratified by the United States and thus part of US law," Cohn, who is also a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and recently co-authored the book "Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent" said, "Under the charter, a country can use armed force against another country only in self-defense or when the Security Council approves. Neither of those conditions was met before the United States invaded Afghanistan. The Taliban did not attack us on 9/11. Nineteen men - 15 from Saudi Arabia - did, and there was no imminent threat that Afghanistan would attack the US or another UN member country. The council did not authorize the United States or any other country to use military force against Afghanistan. The US war in Afghanistan is illegal."

Thus, the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, along with the ongoing slaughter of Afghan civilians and raiding hospitals, are in violation of international law as well as the US Constitution.

And of course the same applies for Iraq.

Let us recall November 8, 2004, when the US military launched its siege of Fallujah. The first thing done by the US military was to invade and occupy Fallujah General Hospital. Then, too, like this recent incident in Afghanistan, doctors, patients and visitors alike had their hands tied and they were laid on the ground, oftentimes face down, and held at gunpoint.

During my first four trips to Iraq, I commonly encountered hospital staff who reported US military raids on their facilities. US soldiers regularly entered hospitals to search for wounded resistance fighters.

Doctors from Fallujah General Hospital, as well as others who worked in clinics throughout the city during both US sieges of Fallujah in 2004, reported that US Marines obstructed their services and that US snipers intentionally targeted their clinics and ambulances.

"The Marines have said they didn't close the hospital, but essentially they did," Dr. Abdulla, an orthopedic surgeon at Fallujah General Hospital who spoke on condition of using a different name, told Truthout in May 2004 of his experiences in the hospital. "They closed the bridge which connects us to the city [and] closed our road ... the area in front of our hospital was full of their soldiers and vehicles."

He added that this prevented countless patients who desperately needed medical care from receiving medical care. "Who knows how many of them died that we could have saved," said Dr. Abdulla. He also blamed the military for shooting at civilian ambulances, as well as shooting near the clinic at which he worked. "Some days we couldn't leave, or even go near the door because of the snipers," he said, "They were shooting at the front door of the clinic!"

Dr. Abdulla also said that US snipers shot and killed one of the ambulance drivers of the clinic where he worked during the fighting.

Dr. Ahmed, who also asked that only his first name be used because he feared US military reprisals, said, "The Americans shot out the lights in the front of our hospital. They prevented doctors from reaching the emergency unit at the hospital, and we quickly began to run out of supplies and much-needed medications." He also stated that several times Marines kept the physicians in the residence building, thereby intentionally prohibiting them from entering the hospital to treat patients.

"All the time they came in, searched rooms and wandered around," said Dr. Ahmed, while explaining how US troops often entered the hospital in order to search for resistance fighters. Both he and Dr. Abdulla said the US troops never offered any medicine or supplies to assist the hospital when they carried out their incursions. Describing a situation that has occurred in other hospitals, he added, "Most of our patients left the hospital because they were afraid."

Dr. Abdulla said that one of their ambulance drivers was shot and killed by US snipers while he was attempting to collect the wounded near another clinic inside the city.

"The major problem we found were the American snipers," said Dr. Rashid, who worked at another clinic in the Jumaria Quarter of Falluja. "We saw them on top of the buildings near the mayor's office."

Dr. Rashid told of another incident in which a US sniper shot an ambulance driver in the leg. The ambulance driver survived, but a man who came to his rescue was shot by a US sniper and died on the operating table after Dr. Rashid and others had worked to save him. "He was a volunteer working on the ambulance to help collect the wounded," Dr. Rashid said sadly.

During Truthout's visit to the hospital in May 2004, two ambulances in the parking lot sat with bullet holes in their windshields, while others had bullet holes in their back doors and sides.

"I remember once we sent an ambulance to evacuate a family that was bombed by an aircraft," said Dr. Abdulla while continuing to speak about the US snipers, "The ambulance was sniped - one of the family died, and three were injured by the firing."

Neither Dr. Abdulla nor Dr. Rashid said they knew of any medical aid being provided to their hospital or clinics by the US military. On this topic, Dr. Rashid said flatly, "They send only bombs, not medicine."

Chuwader General Hospital in Sadr City also reported similar findings to Truthout, as did other hospitals throughout Baghdad.

Dr. Abdul Ali, the ex-chief surgeon at Al-Noman Hospital, admitted that US soldiers had come to the hospital asking for information about resistance fighters. To this he said, "My policy is not to give my patients to the Americans. I deny information for the sake of the patient."

During an interview in April 2004, he admitted this intrusion occurred fairly regularly and interfered with patients receiving medical treatment. He noted, "Ten days ago this happened - this occurred after people began to come in from Fallujah, even though most of them were children, women and elderly."

A doctor at Al-Kerkh Hospital, speaking on condition of anonymity, shared a similar experience of the problem that appears to be rampant throughout much of the country: "We hear of Americans removing wounded Iraqis from hospitals. They are always coming here and asking us if we have injured fighters."

Speaking about the US military raid of the hospital in Afghanistan, UN spokesman Aleem Siddique said he was not aware of the details of the particular incident, but that international law requires the military to avoid operations in medical facilities.

"The rules are that medical facilities are not combat areas. It's unacceptable for a medical facility to become an area of active combat operations," he said. "The only exception to that under the Geneva Conventions is if a risk is being posed to people."

"There is the Hippocratic oath," Fange added, "If anyone is wounded, sick or in need of treatment ... if they are a human being, then they are received and treated as they should be by international law."

These are all indications of a US Empire in decline. Another recent sign of US desperation in Afghanistan was the bombing of two fuel tanker trucks that the Taliban had captured from NATO. US warplanes bombed the vehicles, from which impoverished local villagers were taking free gas, incinerating as many as 150 civilians, according to reports from villagers.

The United States Empire is following a long line of empires and conquerors that have met their end in Afghanistan. The Median and Persian Empires, Alexander the Great, the Seleucids, the Indo-Greeks, Turks, Mongols, British and Soviets all met the end of their ambitions in Afghanistan.

And today, the US Empire is on the fast track of its demise. A recent article by Tom Englehardt provides us more key indicators of this:

  • In 2002 there were 5,200 US soldiers in Afghanistan. By December of this year, there will be 68,000.
  • Compared to the same period in 2008, Taliban attacks on coalition forces using Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) has risen 114 percent.
  • Compared to the same period in 2008, coalition deaths from IED attacks have increased sixfold.
  • Overall Taliban attacks on coalition forces in the first five months of 2009, compared to the same period last year, have increased 59 percent.
  • Genghis Khan could not hold onto Afghanistan.

    Neither will the United States, particularly when in its desperation to continue its illegal occupation, it tosses aside international law, along with its own Constitution.

    Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist, is the author of "The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan," (Haymarket Books, 2009), and "Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq," (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from occupied Iraq for nine months as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last five years.


    The following was from MSNBC's "Morning Joe":

    [NOTE: Jamie Rubin is an adjunct professor at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University]

    MR. BARNICLE: Admiral Mullen said yesterday in a public forum, a Senate hearing, that one of the things we've done very badly, we've under- resourced very badly for four or five years our commitment to Afghanistan.

    That is basically throwing the prior Joint Chiefs and the top military command and an administration right under the bus.

    MR. RUBIN: Well, I think he has. He's thrown under the bus the effort that went into Afghanistan for six, seven years, is the point I was making. He's making the argument for resetting the clock.

    The Bush administration, the military, the Pentagon---including Secretary Gates, who's still there, are all focused on Iraq. They put the best troops, the best intelligence, the best resources, the daily commitment to Iraq. And yes, in 2008 we had a turnaround there.

    The fundamental question that the Congress is going to face, and I think administration officials are struggling with, is is Iraq a reasonable analogy now?

    Will the surge that worked in Iraq, is there an analogous situation in Afghanistan?

    If have top-level effort, if the president focuses on it, if we have additional surge of military forces, if we reset the objectives---

    Because we lowered the objectives in Iraq, where we began working with Sunni warlords that previously we weren't prepared to work with.

    So if we lower the objectives and increase the resources, I believe we can achieve this mission.

    But we're going to have to have a serious national debate over the next several months in order to do that, and I think we're going to need to hear a lot more from the administration about all of these issues.

    And we need to really, really put to bed the issue that I think is behind everybody here, which is that this is another Vietnam.

    And I think that Vietnam is a terribly debilitating analogy for our country. Every time something is difficult, we say, oh, it's Vietnam.

    Afghanistan and Vietnam have nothing to do with each other. The whole world is on our side in Afghanistan; the whole world was clearly not on our side in Vietnam.

    The people in Afghanistan prefer an outcome that's not the Taliban, while in Vietnam, as you know, the situation was different.

    So let's take that analogy, throw it out the window, and deal with the facts on the ground. It's going to be hard enough, with those facts, to win the argument."


    The following is by Professor Juan Cole



    I was one of the first analysts to warn that Afghanistan could turn into a Vietnam for President Obama, so of course I do not agree with Rubin. And his remarks frankly worry me because he is making an analogy from Iraq to Afghanistan, which just won't work.

    First of all, official Washington has never understood the real reason for which rates of civilian deaths fell dramatically in Iraq in late 2007 and through 2008, compared to the almost apocalyptic death rate in 2006-2007 during the Sunni-Shiite civil war kicked off by the Feb. 2006 bombing of the Askariya "Golden Domed" shrine in Samarra.

    Beginning in a big way in summer of 2006 and continuing for at least a year, the Shiites of Baghdad and its environs determinedly and systematically ethnically cleansed the Sunnis from the capital. I figure that over a million people were likely displaced. Mixed neighborhoods such as Shaab became wholly Shiite. Baghdad went from being 50/50 Sunni-Shiite, more or less, in 2003 to being perhaps 85%-90% Shiite today. Much of the violence of the civil war period was the result of neighborhood fighting between adherents of the two branches of Islam, so when the Sunnis were expelled (many of them all the way to Amman and Damascus), the violence naturally declined substantially.

    Rubin thinks that the violence declined because the US government began being willing to enlist Sunni militiamen to fight radical fundamentalists and Baathists. But the Sunnis took the deal in part because they were losing so badly. And, the main effect of the Awakening Councils or Sons of Iraq was in al-Anbar Province, which only has a little over a million people out of Iraq's 27 million, not in Baghdad. In the capital they probably just stopped the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis.

    The reasons the Shiites won the civil war in Iraq include:

    1) Shiites were the majority, with 60% of the population;

    2) Shiites had militias such as the Badr Corps and the Mahdi Army to carry out the ethnic cleansing;

    3) Shiites had gained control of an oil state and had significant monetary resources;

    4) Next-door Shiite Iran offered enormous resources and facilities to the Iraqi Shiites, helping them avoid being strangled by the Sunni Arabs of the west and north. In essence, the US caught a big break insofar as its main regional enemy happened to have the same basic objectives in Iraq as did the US, reinforcing Washington's policies.

    5) Most Shiites and their Kurdish allies (altogether some 80% of the population) saw the al-Maliki government as legitimate, though most Sunni Arabs did not.

    6) Shiites had gained control of the newly trained army and security forces and could deploy them against Sunnis, since the new recruits were largely literate, increasingly well-trained, and motivated to stop Sunni violence against their relatives;

    7) US troops disarmed the Sunnis in the capital first, before turning to Shiite militias, leaving the Sunnis helpless before 2) and 3) above; and

    8) Most Sunni Arabs in Iraq were and are secular nationalists who resented the religious extremism of many of the guerrillas, and whose tribes began to have a feud with the Islamic State of Iraq because it bombed Sunni young men seeking recruitment into the national police.

    Afghanistan differs from Iraq in the following respects:

    1) The Pashtuns from whom the anti-government forces derive are some 44% of the population, not a 20% or less minority the way the Sunnis of Iraq are. While most Pashtuns still reject the guerrillas, so did most Sunni Arabs reject the extremist guerrillas; the latter still controlled significant swathes of Sunni Iraq. The Taliban and kindred groups are a significant presence everywhere there are large Pashtun populations.

    2) The Tajik and Hazara militias have largely been demobilized and are not available for deployment against the Taliban and other fundamentalist groups. The pro-Kabul Pashtuns typically do not have militias.

    3) The pro-Karzai Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazara Shiites and Uzbeks that form the ruling clique are not united, and the government they dominate is extremely weak and poverty-stricken (the GDP in international currency [not purchasing power parity] is only about $9 bn a year, and the government budget is a little over $1 bn.). Iraq has something close to $70 bn. in reserves from oil sales. The Afghan government controls only 30% of the country. The country is resource-poor and there is no prospect of it having a proper tax base for a competent bureaucracy and army any time soon.

    4) The Pashtun plurality is backed by the enormous Sunni country of Pakistan, whereas the pro-Kabul Pashtuns have no regional foreign patron to speak of; Iran generally supports the Tajiks and Hazaras, but it is hard to discern that they have pumped very significant resources into the country. In essence, Washington's regional ally, Pakistan, is ambivalent about the Tajik/Hazara/Uzbek takeover of Kabul and not close to Karzai's faction of Pashtuns.

    5) In the aftermath of the recent election, probably a majority of Afghans and of Pashtuns sees the Karzai government as corrupt and illegitimate.

    6) The Afghan army has faced extreme difficulties in training and expansion. Some 90% of the troops are illiterate, which limits how much they can be trained and even their ability to read street signs when they are sent into an unfamiliar city. (Iraq's literacy rate is 76%). Many Afghan troops lack discipline and some proportion regularly use recreational drugs during work hours. There is no evidence of any great esprit de corps or attachment to the Karzai government, in contrast to the Iraqi army's willingness to fight for PM Nuri al-Maliki and his ruling coalition.

    7) US troops have proven unable to disarm the Taliban, Hizb-i Islam, or the Haqqani group. The number of fighters attached to these guerrilla groups has grown from 3,000 a few years ago to 15,000- 20,000 today. They are local, know the terrain, and receive patronage and support from Pashtun tribes who resent the foreign troop presence.

    8) Pashtuns are not for the most part secularists, and a combination of religious and nationalist rhetoric such as is deployed by old-time guerrilla leader Gulbadin Hikmatyar and his "Islamic Party" has a great deal of appeal to them. Although the Taliban are only thought well of by 5% of Afghans in polls, that is probably 10% of Pashtuns. And many of the guerrilla groups opposing Karzai are not properly called Taliban (Pashtuns in Kunar Province are not thinking of Islamic Party when they denounce Taliban). Virtually no Pashtuns, who are a plurality of the country and the largest single ethnic group, want US or NATO troops in their country.

    So Afghanistan is not very much like Iraq (there are other differences, as in the organization of the tribes), and if Rubin advises H. Clinton and Obama to depend on a "surge" plus a "Sons of Afghanistan" artificial militia policy, I think that would be dangerous advice.

    Afghanistan is more like Vietnam than Obama and Rubin suggest. And, it is becoming more like it all the time.

    By the way, Mr. Rubin, we Americans don't call "anything that is hard" Vietnam. We don't call keeping up a space station "Vietnam" or getting universal health care "Vietnam." We invoke Vietnam against long, costly Asian land wars, the objectives of which are murky and the medium-term and long-term success of which is in significant doubt. And by these criteria, Afghanistan has "Vietnam" written all over it.


    September 3, 2009


    This article first appeared in Alternet.

    America now has more military personnel in Afghanistan than the Red Army had at the peak of the Soviet invasion and occupation of that country. According to a Congressional Research Service report, as of March of this year, the U.S. had 52,000 uniformed personnel and another 68,000 contractors in Afghanistan — a number that has likely grown given the blank check President Obama has written for what’s now being called “Obama’s War.”

    That makes 120,000 American military personnel fighting in Afghanistan, a figure higher than the Soviet peak troop figure of 115,000 during their catastrophic 9-year war. Just this week, General McChrystal, whom Obama appointed to command American forces in Afghanistan, is talking of sending tens of thousands more American troops. At the height of the Soviet occupation,Western intelligence experts estimated that the Soviets had 115,000 troops in Afghanistan — but like America, the more troops and the longer the Soviets stayed, the more doomed their military mission became.




    British aide quits over Afghanistan war

    Posted Fri Sep 4, 2009 6:29am AEST

    Updated Fri Sep 4, 2009 7:50am AEST

    British soldiers on patrol in Afghanistan

    "Britain fights; Germany pays, France calculates; Italy avoids": UK troops in Afghanistan (Reuters: Ahmad Masood)

    A key aide to Britain's defence secretary has resigned over the war in Afghanistan.

    Eric Joyce, the parliamentary private secretary to Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth, said there were "problems" over Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government's handling of the war "which need fixing with the greatest urgency".

    "I do not think the public will accept for much longer that our losses can be justified by simply referring to the risk of greater terrorism on our streets," he said in a resignation letter quoted by Channel Four television.

    "I think we must be much more direct about the reality that we do punch a long way above our weight, that many of our allies do far too little, and that leaving the field to the United States would mean the end of NATO as a meaningful proposition."

    Mr Joyce, a former army major and lawmaker, added there was a perception that "Britain fights; Germany pays, France calculates; Italy avoids" within NATO.

    Britain has about 9,000 troops in Afghanistan. A total of 211 British troops have died there since 2001 and the recent passing of the 200 milestone revived questions about the scope and purpose of Britain's mission there.

    The spike in deaths has also raised questions about troop numbers and whether they are adequately equipped.

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