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Archive for May, 2009

Posted by dcrowe on May 21st, 2009

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We just killed eight more civilians.

“The ISAF troops, however, were not aware that the insurgents were once again using civilians as human shields. If this information had been known by ISAF troops, no ordnance would have been used.

“Tragically, it is believed that eight civilians were killed as a result of the air strike. This terrible incident again shows the insurgents’ blatant disregard for the lives of Afghan people.”

First of all, I have a hard time reading our team’s military spin claiming that if they knew there were firing on an area that might have civilians in it, “no ordnance would have been used.” A week ago we dropped two one-ton bombs and several 500-pound bombs on a single village where we knew civilians were, which resulted in around 100 casualties, U.S. military protests notwithstanding. When any government shells out X number of $2,000 reparations, you can bet they are pretty darn sure they believe X number of civilians were killed. (The military’s “rebuttal” astounds me: “See, we only killed thirty innocent people! See! We do care!“) Noah at Danger Room, hardly a peacenik hangout, said:

A pair of one-ton bombs in a single village — plus eight more runs of 500-pound bombs? That is a lot of firepower.

“[N]o ordinance would have been used.” At the latest end of a trend line ending in a record amount of ordinance being dropped on Afghanistan. Right.

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Posted by Peter Rothberg on May 20th, 2009

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In my view, there are many good reasons to support the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. But Afghanistan is not Iraq and public opinion still largely supports Obama’s escalation. (This is partly, I think, because there’s so little media coverage of what’s actually taking place in the country — recent estimates of coverage by major news outlets report that a scant 0.6 percent of reporting has been devoted to Afghanistan.)

So, the first step to effectively opposing the war in Afghanistan is shifting US public opinion. That’s why a coalition led by United for Peace and Justice has organized this Thursday’s National Media Day of Action. The idea is to focus attention on all the reasons the current strategy isn’t working and to highlight positive solutions for re-shifting our priorities.

Public pressure is especially critical at this moment with the White House’s selection of Gen. Stanley McChrystal as top commander in Pakistan and Afghanistan after his classified role in running Special Ops in Iraq for five years. McChrystal’s “rise can only mean an intensified campaign of secret–and dirty–warfare in the remote villages of Pakistan and Afghanistan,” as Tom Hayden wrote recently,

In other words, things could get real ugly real fast if Obama isn’t convinced to change course. So do all you can on Thursday!

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Posted by Steve Hynd on May 20th, 2009

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I’m not the only one to worry that that the gap between COIN theory and COIN practise will cost both lives and dollars. On paper, “people centric counter insurgency” looks great – so great that some interventionists see it as giving a whole new lease of life to the idea of successful colonialism. But the concept of winning hearts and minds keeps hitting up against an institutional aversion to U.S. combat deaths in the form of devastating airstrikes on civilians; the notion of targeting terrorists through better intelligence hits up against unchecked $5,000 bounty payments, indefinite detention and torture for the crime of “walking while Moslem”; and reconstruction efforts hit up against rampant corruption, bribery of even military officers and an institutional aversion to detailling soldiers as oversight beancounters. And the trouble with COIN is that it is “whole war” theory – if one bit doesn’t work, you as often as not might as well not have bothered.

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Posted by Jo Comerford on May 19th, 2009

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On September 12, 2001, could we have predicted spending $1 trillion for wars allegedly fought in response to the tragedy gripping our nation? Could we have imagined the wars’ human and economic costs?

Today, U.S. forces are profoundly engaged in both Iraq and Afghanistan, with approximately 200,000 troops in the region and more than 21,000 additional troops requested for Afghanistan by the Obama Administration. U.S. soldier and Afghan and Iraqi civilian casualties increase daily as the economic cost-of-war counters roll on.

The financial implications are staggering. The House passed a supplemental bill May 14 totaling $96.7 billion in emergency war appropriations for the back half of FY2009. President Obama’s initial request was $83.4 billion. The National Priorities Project (NPP), a nonprofit organization that analyzes the federal budget, estimates that $77.1 billion of President Obama’s initial request was for war and ancillary operations. Of that, $52.7 billion was dedicated to the Iraq War and $24.4 billion for the expanding war in Afghanistan and related operations.

No matter how we slice the numbers, we must consider that each dollar spent to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is a dollar not spent to further some other endeavor. Massachusetts taxpayers could pay more than $2.2 billion for Thursday’s House supplemental vote alone. For the same amount of money, we could provide four years of healthcare for 95,000 people, or send 56,000 students to four years of college.

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Posted by Rick Reyes on May 18th, 2009

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I was on liberty in Australia, dancing at a club I can’t remember sometime around midnight, when it happened. The music shut off and an announcement came on: “America is under attack. Head back to your ships.” This was the worst–the impossible. This was September 11, 2001.

Back at my ship, ambulance sirens blared. Hundreds of Marines stood on deck, anxiously awaiting word. Someone said the Pentagon had been attacked. My platoon sergeant stood up and delivered a fiery speech filled with “No one [expletive] with America!” and “We’re going to kick some ass!” Later that night, the same sergeant turned to me asked me if I was ready.

Without giving it a second thought, I replied, “This is what I joined for.”

Flash forward to a few weeks ago, as I recalled those words testifying before Senator John Kerry and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I sat where a young Kerry was once seated as he awoke the nation to the grim realities of war in Vietnam. I explained to the committee that I always desired to serve my country, ensure basic freedoms and fight for justice and the American way. This had been my dream since childhood, a way to honor my Mexican immigrant parents who worked tirelessly to give my family a better life, a way out of an East Los Angeles neighborhood plagued by gang violence. Yet what I witnessed and experienced during a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan followed by another in Iraq has forever shattered this once noble ambition.

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Posted by Ed Cutlip on May 18th, 2009

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The national anti-war group Peace Action has released a new briefing paper titled “Afghanistan and Pakistan: Myths and Facts” that looks at some of the commonly cited arguments in support of the Afghanistan War.

Unfortunately, after seven years of war, we’re still at the stage where a lot of educational work is needed on Afghanistan before there will likely be a successful push to curtail the war and end the U.S. occupation (after all, we’re still in Iraq and there was much more significant opposition to that war), to that end, we are reprinting Peace Action’s factsheet below:

1. MYTH: Expanded US military activity furthers national security and upholds our national values.

FACT: Widening the war will be counterproductive both to our national security objectives and to our national values. As is already evident, it will de-stabilize the region, including Pakistan. Americans will also be increasingly causing the deaths of many women, children, elderly and other innocent civilians and disrupting the efforts of thousands of Afghan villagers to flee their villages in order to escape the spreading violence.

2. MYTH: Winning the war in Afghanistan requires a military victory for US forces.

FACT: Secretary of Defense Gates, Secretary of State Clinton, National Security Advisor Jones, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mullen, and even President Obama, himself, each have acknowledged that the internal conflict in Afghanistan cannot finally be won by military means. They have publicly agreed that it will have to be won, if it can, by dramatic improvements in the economy, the political system, government services, and the courts.

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Posted by Steve Hynd on May 18th, 2009

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Noted COINdinistas David Kilcullen and Andrew Exum have an op-ed today in the NYT calling for the end of drone attacks in Pakistan on the grounds that they are entirely counter-productive. It’s an argument others outwith the COIN firmament of stars have been making for some time too, often against COINdinista pressure, although Kilcullen has been arguing this for some months.

Imagine, for example, that burglars move into a neighborhood. If the police were to start blowing up people’s houses from the air, would this convince homeowners to rise up against the burglars? Wouldn’t it be more likely to turn the whole population against the police? And if their neighbors wanted to turn the burglars in, how would they do that, exactly? Yet this is the same basic logic underlying the drone war.

The drone strategy is similar to French aerial bombardment in rural Algeria in the 1950s, and to the “air control” methods employed by the British in what are now the Pakistani tribal areas in the 1920s. The historical resonance of the British effort encourages people in the tribal areas to see the drone attacks as a continuation of colonial-era policies.

The drone campaign is in fact part of a larger strategic error — our insistence on personalizing this conflict with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Devoting time and resources toward killing or capturing “high-value” targets — not to mention the bounties placed on their heads — distracts us from larger problems, while turning figures like Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban umbrella group, into Robin Hoods. Our experience in Iraq suggests that the capture or killing of high-value targets — Saddam Hussein or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — has only a slight and fleeting effect on levels of violence. Killing Mr. Zarqawi bought only 18 days of quiet before Al Qaeda returned to operations under new leadership.

But Kilcullen and Exum seem to be unable to think outside the “Awakening” box in thinking what to do instead.

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Posted by Brave New Foundation on May 15th, 2009

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If you’re in the Boston area, come see Director Robert Greenwald at the Making Media Now on June 5th. The theme of this year’s conference is “Surviving as a Filmmaker in Tough Times,” and Greenwald will discuss what it has taken to create Rethink Afghanistan and other documentaries.

Other special guests include Sandi Dubowski, award-winning filmmaker of Trembling Before G-d and A Jihad for Love, Doug Block, award-winning director of 51 Birch St., Jim Jermanok, producer, director & writer of Passionada and Em, Ruby Lerner from Creative Capital, Sheila Leddy from the Fledgling Fund, Alice Myatt from Grantmakers in Film and Electronic Media, Andy Carvin of NPR, and more.

The conference will take place at Bentley University in Waltham, MA, from 9 AM to 6 PM. This is one of the biggest and best annual gathering of filmmakers in the Boston area. Early registration rate expires May 21st, so register today.

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Posted by ZP Heller on May 14th, 2009

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U.S. airstrikes slaughtered 95 Afghan children in the Farah province last week, leaving a total of 140 civilians dead. And yet as Tom Hayden pointed out in The Nation this week, our Democrat-dominated Congress seems unwilling to criticize the Obama administration as it rushes to approve $94.2 billion in supplemental wartime funding. The Congressional Progressive Caucus, which has been holding hearings over the past few weeks with U.S., Afghan, and Pakistani military advisers, assessed that the supplemental only “exacerbates” failed strategies by allocating $84 billion to military escalation, leaving $10 billion for foreign aid.

At a time when we’re facing soaring unemployment and an economic crisis, it’s incredible to me that Congress is so quick to simply go along with Obama on this one, particularly when the run up to the war in Iraq is so fresh in our minds and when we’ve seen this pattern before from Democratic Presidents. And there are many who share this incredulity. Here’s a sample of the messages people left for members of the Senate Appropriations Committee:

1) Capturing bin laden will have no more effect than the capture of Saddam; 2) There is no military solution for Afghanistan/Pakistan; and 3) We can’t afford it.” — Bernie Feldman

“I don’t know what to do. I have written the President and my representatives on this subject, just as I did in the run up to the Iraq disaster. Not only does it seem to do no good, I don’t even get replies, even the general bullshit ones.” — Tom S.

“Funding the war in Afghanistan will bring the running tab for Iraq and and Afghanistan to nearly $1 trillion in upfront costs. It will create, as Tom Engelhardt wrote recently ‘a vast financial hemorrhage, an economic sinkhole.’ When my husband and I can’t pay our bills we make changes in our home economy. It is time for our nation to do the same in our defense economy.” — Sophi Z.

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Posted by tomhayden on May 13th, 2009

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All along there were two US wars in Iraq. There was the public war, in which the Pentagon tried to manipulate the mainstream media into being a “message amplifier,” while some intrepid reporters and bloggers fought back. Then there was the secret war carried out by the Special Operations forces, whose existence was denied even by the Pentagon.

Now the secret operations threaten to completely compromise what remains of the public war in Afghanistan and Pakistan with the ascension of Gen. Stanley McChrystal to top commander from his classified role in running Special Ops in Iraq for five years.

When questioned by the media or senators presiding at his confirmation hearing in a few weeks, Gen. McChrystal may have a simple answer to anything troubling: sorry, that is classified.

The mystique of secrecy may come to shroud all public inquiry about Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are questions to be answered, however.

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