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Archive for March, 2009

Posted by dcrowe on March 26th, 2009

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(Cross-posted from Return Good for Evil and Daily Kos, where I blog about current events from a perspective of Christian nonviolence, hence the religious nature of this first post in the series.)

I’ve written quite a bit about the challenges inherent in counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. In this series of posts, I want to go further and argue that the U.S. should abandon the paradigm of counterinsurgency altogether with regard to its dealings with Afghanistan.

I oppose this paradigm on several levels, including a moral/religious level and a strategic level as well.

I object to counterinsurgency on religious grounds because counterinsurgency doctrine, like any other war doctrine, asks participants to abandon Christ’s methods and agenda for the methods and agenda of a violent state. The basic strategy in Afghanistan would look something like this:

  • The U.S. would send massive numbers of troops into localities to “provide security” and to deepen local relationships to facilitate better intelligence gathering. These troops would also serve to “hold” territory, i.e. prevent reinfiltration of the area by opponents.
  • Deployment of these troops would ideally be accompanied by an effort to provide basic services and rule of law in localities.
  • In addition to this “clear and hold” strategy, U.S. forces would attempt to create an effective “seal” along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border to prevent opponents from escaping U.S. firepower. (The “seal” is metaphorical…if past behavior indicates future strategy, this seal would materialize by strengthening the integrity of the border, using unmanned drones to kill opponents over the border, and by enticing Pakistan into closing their territory to the U.S.’s opponents.)
  • Victory comes when the local population within the sealed area consents to rule by the faction we support and expels the U.S.’s opponents from their midst. U.S. forces would then capture or kill as many of these opponents as necessary to force them to acquiese to a settlement on terms favorable to the U.S. agenda in the region.

(more…)

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Posted by robertgreenwald on March 25th, 2009

Rethink Afghanistan Director Robert Greenwald is currently in Kabul.  Here is his account of the intense security:

It’s hard to put into words many things about Kabul, where I’ve been interviewing members of the Afghan parliament, women’s advocacy groups, and former Taliban members who want to negotiate peace.

One of the most sobering things I’ve seen is how security takes over your daily life, and this footage of the front of the hotel tells it all. Guards with machine guns patrol everywhere–the face of a conflict brought home.

Keep spreading the word about our petition for congressional oversight hearings that nearly 40,000 people have signed, since these hearings will inform the public and rein in this war. And continue to follow my video blog updates and Twitter feed throughout my journey, as I bring you more experiences from Afghanistan.

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Posted by robert dreyfuss on March 25th, 2009

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It’s Afghanistan week, with President Obama’s Afghanistan review complete and the new strategy for the war set to be released any day now. In his 60 Minutes interview, Obama suggested that he’s leaning toward the “minimalist” theory that the war in Afghanistan has to focus on Al Qaeda and that the United States needs “an exit strategy.” From the transcript:

“What we can’t do is think that just a military approach in Afghanistan is gonna be able to solve our problems. So what we’re looking for is a comprehensive strategy. And there’s gotta be an exit strategy. There’s gotta be a sense that this is not perpetual drift.”

Asked what America’s mission in Afghanistan is, Obama replied:

“Making sure that Al Qaeda cannot attack the U.S. homeland and U.S. interests and our allies. That’s our number one priority. And in service of that priority there may be a whole host of things that we need to do. We may need to build up economic capacity in Afghanistan. We may need to improve our diplomatic efforts in Pakistan.”We may need to bring a more regional diplomatic approach to bear. We may need to coordinate more effectively with our allies. But we can’t lose sight of what our central mission is. The same mission that we had when we went in after 9/11. And that is these folks can project violence against the United States’ citizens. And that is something that we cannot tolerate.”

But Obama is sending 17,000 more US troops to the war that can’t be won militarily, and he’s talking about “building up economic capacity in Afghanistan,” which could take many years. Are we prepared to stay for years? Is Obama prepared to spend his entire presidency fighting the Afghan war? That’s the question asked by Jackson Diehl in a Washington Post op-ed today, in which Diehl answers in the affirmative. Citing General David McKiernan, who’s demanding a further buildup, Diehl writes:

McKiernan believes the Afghan army, now at 80,000 members, will have to grow to 240,000 before it can defend the country on its own — and that raising it to that level will take until 2016. Would Obama be willing, or politically able, to devote the entirety of his presidency to a war that has already lasted seven years? The thousands of American soldiers and civilians pouring into the country deserve that strategic patience; without it, the sacrifices we will soon hear of will be wasted.

That doesn’t sound like an exit strategy to me.

(more…)

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Posted by Brave New Foundation on March 24th, 2009

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The NY Times put out a great piece on our full-length documentary, Rethink Afghanistan, and what it’s like to release a documentary in real time that tries to stay on top of a rapidly-changing news cycle. From The NY Times:

The activist filmmaker Robert Greenwald has tried for years to speed up the production process for his documentaries. Now, he says, he is creating one he can release almost immediately, in stages.

Mr. Greenwald is showing “Rethink Afghanistan,” a skeptical view of America’s war strategies, in five parts on the Internet, with the implied hope that it will contribute to the foreign policy debate. With the first two parts of the film already online, he arrived in Afghanistan on Sunday to conduct more interviews for what he calls his first “real-time documentary.”

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Posted by ZP Heller on March 23rd, 2009

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For a short but sweet history lesson of exactly how the United States helped cause the current crisis in Afghanistan and Pakistan, read Stephen Kinzer’s recent piece in The Boston Globe. Kinzer writes:

During the 1980s, the CIA waged its most expensive and largest-scale campaign ever, pouring a staggering $6 billion into its anti-Soviet guerrilla force. Saudi Arabia, at Washington’s request, contributed another $4 billion. Finally, in 1989, the insurgency succeeded and the Red Army withdrew from Afghanistan in defeat. One million Afghans died in the decade-long war. Five million fled to refugee camps in neighboring countries. Many found food and shelter at religious schools sponsored by Saudi Arabia, where they were taught the radical Wahhabi brand of Islam. Those schools were the cradle of the Taliban.

In essence, the US backed Pakistan’s regime for a decade beginning in 1979 in order to build an anti-Soviet force in Afghanistan and fight a proxy war. Bent on winning the Cold War at all costs, the US made terrible concessions to Pakistan, including aid to Afghan warlords that was funneled through ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. The ISI brought in tens of thousands of Islamic militants, including Osama bin Laden, who were trained with US funds even though they were staunchly anti-American. Ten years later, the war that the CIA claimed as a victory over the Soviet empire actually empowered the Taliban and Islamic fundamentalists, a far more serious threat.

This historical perspective is precisely why the US must rethink its involvement in the current war, using congressional oversight hearings to allow experts like Kinzer to explain the crisis to the American public. Join over 35,000 people who have signed the petition for these much needed hearings.

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Posted by ZP Heller on March 22nd, 2009

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How did Senators John McCain and and Joe Lieberman spend the sixth anniversary of the Iraq war? Did they apologize for cheerleading the Bush administration’s pernicious lies that led our country into and have kept us mired in Iraq? Did they show remorse for a war that took the lives of over 4,000 US soldiers and up to 1 million Iraqi civilians, while costing us $3 trillion when all is said and done? No, instead these Senators brought us the sequel to their twisted buddy comedy, escalating the war in Afghanistan.

In a Washington Post Op-Ed yesterday, McCain and Lieberman urged the Obama administration to go all in after completing its policy review of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The “minimalist” or “reductionist” path would be, in their view, “dangerously and fundamentally wrong, and the president should unambiguously reject it.” As with the Iraq war, McCain and Lieberman believe it’s in our national interest to win in Afghanistan at all cost, which they even define as establishing “a stable, secure, self-governing Afghanistan that is not a terrorist sanctuary.”

How do McCain and his ideological Benedict Arnold of a sidekick propose achieving such a lofty goal? Well, that part they don’t get into. No need to be bogged down with the specifics; suffice it to say our country needs a broad counterinsurgency and we need it now! The maximalist approach, which is ironic, considering McCain and Lieberman criticize and fear-monger about those who use “loose rhetoric about a minimal commitment in Afghanistan.” The thing is though, and I never ever thought I’d write these words, McCain and Lieberman are absolutely right.

(more…)

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Posted by robertgreenwald on March 20th, 2009

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“Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world today.”

- Bruce Riedel, a foreign policy expert leading President Obama’s Afghanistan review

Recent protests in Pakistan reveal the country’s potential explosiveness. Pakistan has nuclear weapons and a government disconnected from the crippling poverty, rampant malnutrition, and lack of healthcare afflicting its people. Though Pakistan remains an ally of the United States, tensions continue to rise as the U.S. considers broadening military strikes within Pakistan’s borders. Part two of our Rethink Afghanistan documentary focuses on how the Afghanistan crisis affects Pakistan and all of us.

How exactly could the war in Afghanistan trigger regional chaos with Pakistan? Leading authorities like Steve Coll, Ahmed Rashid, Cathy Collins, Tariq Ali, Rory Stewart, Stephen Kinzer, and Andrew Bacevich weigh in on this perilous issue. Watch the trailer for part two of this documentary; the full-length version is available here.

The war in Afghanistan and its potentially catastrophic impact on Pakistan are complex and dangerous issues, which further make the case why our country needs a national debate on this now starting with congressional oversight hearings. Sign the petition to help make hearings a critical first step and then send the trailer to all of your friends and family (and be sure to Digg it). Imagine someone like Andrew Bacevich having the ear of Congress as he explains the perils of war. Now imagine a national dialogue filled with rational, thoughtful discussions on the issues surrounding Afghanistan. That is our goal.

Soon, I plan to travel to Afghanistan to interview some of the country’s elected leaders, experts, bloggers, people, and organizations who could help us provide a more complete Afghan perspective, and I would love to have your thoughts and questions to take with me. Please submit them on the Rethink Afghanistan website, and then sign up to follow my updates from this journey.

And you can help us continue this vital work and partake in the filmmaking process by making a contribution of $20 or more. We will list you as a Producer on Rethink Afghanistan. And if you know someone interested in the issues surrounding this war, let them know they can join over 1,000 Producers helping to make this film possible.

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Posted by ZP Heller on March 19th, 2009

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There’s no question Andrew Bacevich has been one of the staunchest critics of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In part one of Rethink Afghanistan, from which this clip is excerpted, Bacevich called the 17,000 additional troops President Obama has committed “a drop in the bucket.” And in a recent conversation with me, Bacevich said Obama put the cart before the horse by escalating the war before finishing his policy review. So I was surprised when Bacevich, a Boston University International Relations professor and author of The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, told me we wouldn’t see congressional oversight hearings anytime soon.

Bacevich’s pragmatic assessment stemmed from the fact that Afghanistan is deemed part of the global war on terror that Defense Secretary Gates has called “the Long War.” And Bacevich is certainly correct in the sense that we haven’t seen much of an institutionalized effort to challenge the policymakers, monitor the military agencies involved, or inform the public. That said, I remain entirely optimistic about bringing about congressional oversight hearings (and I’ll explain why in the extended post).

(more…)

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on March 18th, 2009

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(Cross-posted from www.tomdispatch.com)

The signals coming from the Obama administration as a “strategic review” of Afghan policy is nearing completion this week are, to say the least, confusing. While much new thinking on the Afghan War has been promised, early leaks about the review’s proposals for the next “three to five years” largely seem to promise more of the same: a heightened CIA-run drone war in the Pakistani borderlands, more U.S. military and economic aid for Pakistan (and more strong-arming of the Pakistanis to support U.S. policy in the region), more training of and an expansion of the Afghan army, and of course more U.S. forces — the president has already ordered 17,000 extra troops into the war.

The new policy elements, evidently involving modest invitations to (and threats toward) Iran, a belief that up to 70% of Taliban fighters might be won over via the right combination of money and “reconciliation,” and a “scaling back” of hopes for Afghan democracy, hardly seem to add up to a brilliant thought exercise in the face of a disaster of a war now into its eighth year. In the meantime, of course, Americans, Afghans, and Pakistanis continue to die.

(more…)

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Posted by Siun on March 16th, 2009

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If you’ve been reading along with us on Sunday nights, you’ll remember that over and over we’ve reported on Afghan civilians being killed by US forces – in air strikes and in night raids. Each report follows a very similar pattern – US forces report some number of militants killed, then a report from local authorities appears saying something like, “No, actually that was just a family in our village (or a wedding party, or a…), and we want answers.” Eventually, there’s a report that a US officer has visited the village, handed out a check… and expressed our deepest apologies – and then a commander in Kabul issues a very serious statement about how troubling the civilian casualties are, and how we are now going to change our approach and take all sorts of steps to protect civilians. The most recent of such statements included a promise to coordinate all raids with local Afghan forces.

During a recent visit to Afghanistan by Pierre Krähenbühl, Director of Operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross, who had worked in Kabul during the 1990s, called for more protection of Afghan civilians. In his report, he notes:

I cannot sufficiently stress the unbearable levels of individual and collective suffering that Afghan men, women and children have had to endure over three decades, and that they continue to endure at levels that defy belief.

And continues:

This brings me to the critical issue of civilians at risk in the current conflict. For the past three years the ICRC has repeatedly drawn attention to the increasingly severe impact of the conflict on the civilian population.

Never, however, has our concern been as acute as it is now. The conflict is intensifying and affecting wider parts of Afghanistan. Civilian casualties are significantly higher than a year ago…

This was a central issue during my visit. I raised the ICRC’s acute concerns about the protection of civilians with Generals McKiernan and Schloesser of the US armed forces and ISAF respectively. I emphasized in particular the constant obligation to make a distinction between those participating in hostilities and those who do not or, in the case of injured or captured fighters, who no longer directly participate in hostilities.

Mr. Krähenbühl also received assurances that the commanders shared his concern – but again, their assurances have not led to action.

(more…)

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