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Archive for February, 2009

Posted by ZP Heller on February 5th, 2009

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There is no “end game” strategy for the war in Afghanistan. That is what a military official told President Obama last week, according to an NBC report cited by Think Progress’ Faiz Shakir yesterday. In other words, the ultimate outcome for our military presence in Afghanistan is unclear, not just to the activists and bloggers who have been wrestling with this war at Get Afghanistan Right, but to those inside the Pentagon as well. If we have any chance of avoiding further catastrophe in the region, we better make damn sure we Rethink Afghanistan.

That is exactly what Brave New Foundation is calling for in a new campaign launched today. They will hold a series of debates on the issues surrounding this war in the coming weeks, but currently they’re asking everyone to sign the petition urging Congressional oversight hearings like those held in 2007 regarding the Iraq war. Vice President Biden, who orchestrated the Iraq hearings as Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, said, “No foreign policy can be sustained in this country without the informed consent of the American people.” Isn’t informed public consent what we need now before committing more troops to Afghanistan?

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Posted by robert dreyfuss on February 5th, 2009

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Yesterday, at the US Institute of Peace in Washington, a bright-eyed young Pakistani man, dressed in a brown cap and brown robe, and sporting long stringy hair and a beard, pointed the way out of the Afghan-Pakistan quagmire.

If only Washington were listening.

The speaker was Faisal Ali Khan, founder of the Foundation for Integrated Development, who lives in Dera Ismail Khan, a province of Pakistan that borders on Waziristan. It’s Waziristan, north and south, that is generally considered to be the heartland of Taliban-inspired Islamic extremism, and a key base for as many as 14 separate Islamist groups that operate in Pakistan and whose activities often spill over into neighboring Afghanistan. The foundation, operating entirely independently, is trying to create and sustain development projects and social change programs in South Waziristan.

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Posted by Katrina vanden Heuvel on February 5th, 2009

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As the coalition I’m working with–Get Afghanistan Right–continues to make the case that the Obama administration would be wise to rethink its plan to escalate militarily in Afghanistan, I’ve tried to engage the arguments made by some feminists and human rights groups who believe that such an escalation is necessary to protect Afghani women and girls. I share their horror when I read stories like this one by New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins describing an acid attack against girls and women–students and their teachers–at the Mirwais School for Girls. But how will escalation or increased US troop presence improve their security or make their lives better?

I thought it would be important to speak with someone who has experience working on the ground with Afghan women’s organizations. Kavita Ramdas is President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women. For 15 years she has worked with groups like the Afghan Institute for Learning–which serves about 350,000 women and children in their schools, health care centers, and human rights programs.

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Posted by alexthurston on February 5th, 2009

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Brandon Friedman wrote a piece for VoteVets.org to about his support for the Afghanistan escalation. I commend him for engaging in this discussion. Our responsibility as citizens demands we have this discussion before sending more men and women into danger, and that’s why a broad coalition of writers, bloggers, and other activists have come together around the Get Afghanistan Right campaign against the escalation. Brandon took some time to dispel what he feels are “myths” creeping into the debate, and in the same spirit I’d like to address his concerns and offer corrections to his perception of the reasons we oppose escalation in Afghanistan.

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Posted by dcrowe on February 5th, 2009

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Today’s New York Times ran a story on its front page entitled “Aides Say Obama’s Afghan Aims Elevate War.”

WASHINGTON — President Obama intends to adopt a tougher line toward Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, as part of a new American approach to Afghanistan that will put more emphasis on waging war than on development, senior administration officials said Tuesday.

Mr. Karzai is now seen as a potential impediment to American goals in Afghanistan, the officials said, because corruption has become rampant in his government, contributing to a flourishing drug trade and the resurgence of the Taliban.

They said that the Obama administration would work with provincial leaders as an alternative to the central government, and that it would leave economic development and nation-building increasingly to European allies, so that American forces could focus on the fight against insurgents.

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Posted by ZP Heller on February 5th, 2009

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FOX continues to distort the realities of the war in Afghanistan. A couple of nights ago, Bill O’Reilly called Afghan President Karzai’s appeal for US forces to limit civilian casualties in Afghanistan “insulting.” He was referring specifically to a recent US military air strike that killed 15 Taliban fighters but also killed 16 civilians.

According to O’Reilly, “US and NATO forces in Afghanistan are risking their lives to protect the Afghan people from the Taliban and al-Qaeda.” That of course, is only partly true. Our soldiers are risking their lives to protect our own interests in what has become the central front in the war on terror. Remember, President Bush initially waged war in Afghanistan to smoke the evil-doers involved in the 9/11 attacks out of their holes, and not to defend the Afghan people from the Taliban or al-Qaeda. So protecting the Afghan people is more like a secondary or incidental reason for our military presence there.

But then, O’Reilly got condescending (big surprise!). He claimed Karzai obviously doesn’t understand that collateral damage is ever-present in war time, and that “without us, his head is on a stick.” Once again, O’Reilly has displayed his profound ignorance for a precarious situation in the Middle East. Thousands of innocent people are dying at our hands, and even Defense Secretary Robert Gates — who is calling for military escalation — has admitted publicly that civilian casualties are causing “enormous harm” to US interests in Afghanistan.

As Think Progress assessed, “Ignoring the increasing levels of “collateral damage” — as O’Reilly appears to recommend — is not only unethical, it would further empower the very forces that U.S. and NATO forces are attempting to defeat.”

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Posted by jasonrosenbaum on February 5th, 2009

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A brand new BBC/Harris poll indicates that only 1/3 of Americans are in favor of President Obama’s plan to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

As I wrote last week, when popular support for the war was at 50%:

I’m pretty certain that support is soft, too. Americans haven’t really had to think about whether the continued war in Afghanistan is making America safer or worth its cost in blood and treasure since 2001. If they are forced to think about it again, I think many people will revise their opinions.

It appears a large majority of Americans have already made up their mind that 30,000 more troops in Afghanistan is not the right way to move forward.

President Obama is going to have to tread very carefully here. His administration already admitted there isn’t much of a strategy for the new troops, and he’s starting to prepare the country for increased casualties. Lack of public support for an escalating war is a big reason why LBJ’s grand domestic plans were scuttled. If Obama expects to bring about the large change he and this country seek – economic recovery, health care reform, green energy, and the like – getting us deeper into the “graveyard of empires” with only 1/3 of the country behind him is not a smart strategy.

As ZP Heller said, let’s rethink the escalation in Afghanistan before it’s too late.

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Posted by ZP Heller on February 5th, 2009

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war.

Why is our government sending an additional 30,000 US soldiers to Afghanistan? So far, not even members of the Obama administration seem able to answer this question. Last week, The Nation’s Robert Dreyfuss had a chance to ask Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen why they’re pushing to double our troop presence in Afghanistan. Both Gates and Mullen said that while they’re thinking about the war in Afghanistan in terms of a 3-5 year time frame, their immediate goals are unclear. What’s more, a final decision has not been made yet to commit those additional brigades.

Like Dreyfuss says, the fact that a final decision hasn’t been made is key, because it opens the door slightly for a much-needed public debate about what 30,000 more soldiers can possibly achieve. Some of the big questions that must be addressed include whether those extra troops alone will be able to secure a lasting peace for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States? That seems highly unlikely, considering each military operation targeting insurgents–like the one yesterday that killed 15 militants and 16 innocent civilians (including two women and three children)–only fans the flame of Afghan fury toward the United States.

Just as important, we must ask how are we planning to pay for this escalation, considering our economic crisis at home and the fact that so much of this war has been paid with borrowed money. And is committing tens of thousands more troops really the best way to help a war-torn nation with 40 percent unemployment and some 5 million people living below the poverty line? Proponents of escalation like Karin von Hippel, an Afghanistan expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, suggest that 30,000 more troops will make a psychological impact. But wouldn’t a more profound psychological impact come from to sending humanitarian aid, creating jobs, and getting Afghanistan away from what Secretary of State Clinton recently called a “narco state?”

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