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Archive for May, 2009

Posted by Steve Hynd on May 13th, 2009

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A report by Afghan officials has concluded that 93 children, 25 women and only 22 adult men were killed during fighting and airstrikes in Bala Boluk.

The list, obtained by Reuters, bears the endorsement of seven senior provincial and central government officials, including an Afghan two-star general who headed a task force dispatched by the government to investigate the incident.

Titled “list of the martyrs of the bombardment of Bala Boluk district of Farah Province“, it includes the name, age and father’s name of each alleged victim.

The youngest was listed as 8-day-old baby Sayed Musa, son of Sayed Adam. Fifty-three victims were girls under the age of 18, and 40 were boys. Only 22 were men 18 or older.

…The Afghan government has endorsed the list, and Karzai went on U.S. television to call for an end to all U.S. air strikes, only to be rebuffed by Washington. Afghan officials say the issue helps insurgents by turning the public against foreign forces.

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on May 13th, 2009

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(Cross-posted from TomDispatch.com)

Back in March, Pepe Escobar, that itchy, edgy global reporter for one of my favorite on-line publications, Asia Times, began laying out the great, ongoing energy struggle across Eurasia, or what he likes to call Pipelinestan for its web of oil and natural gas pipelines. In his first report, he dealt with the embattled energy corridor (and a key pipeline) that runs from the Caspian Sea to Europe through Georgia and Turkey — and the Great Game of business, diplomacy, and proxy war between Russia and the U.S. that has gone with it.

Now, in the second of what will be periodic “postcards” from the energy heartlands of the planet, he plunges eastward into tumultuous Central and South Asia and the great devolving battleground that, in Washington, now goes by the neologism of Af-Pak (for the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater of operations). There, the skies are filled with planes and unmanned aerial drones, and civilians as well as combatants die every day in increasing numbers as ever more frequent attacks and expanding conflicts make daily headlines, while, in Afghanistan, Washington continues to build new military bases and ready itself to send in reinforcements.

Those are, of course, the front-page stories. Energy, especially in the form of oil and natural gas, fuels everything from civilization to its various discontents and means of destruction, and yet it remains largely on the business pages of our papers. Even in a time of relatively depressed oil and gas prices, energy runs like an undercurrent just beneath global headlines. Under the carnage of war, that is, courses what Escobar likes to call the Liquid War, and just how the energy flows and through which territories controlled by whom does turn out to make — quite literally — a world of difference, even if that isn’t what captures our attention most of the time.

Today, let Escobar, whose latest book is Obama Does Globalistan, take you deep into the “New Great Game” that will determine the shape of our future planet. Tom

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Posted by robert dreyfuss on May 12th, 2009

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The war in Afghanistan has been overshadowed in recent weeks by the crisis next door in Pakistan, but no more. Secretary of Defense Gates has fired the US commander there, General David McKiernan, and replaced him with a counterinsurgency specialist with a spotty track record, General Stanley McChrystal. It’s the first time a wartime commander was fired since Harry Truman got rid of General Douglas MacArthur in the Korean War.

Don’t expect any quick improvement on the battlefront.

A smart commentary on the dual crises in Afghanistan and Pakistan came from Selig Harrison, a longtime expert on Asia at the Center for International Policy, in yesterday’s Washington Post. He raises the critical issue of ethnic Pashtun support for the Taliban. Pashtuns make up about half of Afghanistan’s population and dominate the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan. Even though most Pashtuns don’t support the Taliban or their extremist ideas, the Taliban are nearly entirely Pashtun in both countries. The US war effort, including air strikes in Afghanistan and drone attacks in Pakistan that kill civilians, are inflaming Pashtun sentiments, and driving Pashtuns and Taliban together.

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Posted by tomhayden on May 12th, 2009

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Congressional leaders are cooperating with the Obama administration in quashing any serious criticism of growing military escalation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Indications are that there will be no benchmarks or conditions set on the more than $85 billion supplemental appropriation before Congress beginning this week. The administration, which once promised no more rushed supplemental appropriation, is rolling funds for war and swine flu into one package, while not yet disclosing how much is earmarked specifically for Afghanistan.

Rep. David Obey says he wants to give the Obama administration a one-year deadline for results, which likely means making it more difficult to withdraw from a deepening quagmire.

The only current congressional vehicle for dissent is a proposed amendment by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass) that requires the Secretary of Defense to report on an exit strategy from Afghanistan by this December, six months after Congress has appropriated funds for escalating the war. Even that modest measure, with fifty co-sponsors at present, has met with administration resistance to an exit strategy with benchmarks.

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Posted by Siun on May 11th, 2009

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The news about the US bombings of two villages in Farah, Afghanistan keeps getting worse.

Yesterday, new questions about the bombing were raised by physicians treating victims from the attacks. The doctors report that 14 of the wounded have “unusual burns:”

Dr Mohammad Aref Jalali, the head of an internationally funded burns hospital in Herat, said villagers taken to hospital after the incident had “highly unusual burns” on their hands and feet that he had not seen before. “We cannot be 100% sure what type of chemical it was and we do not have the equipment here to find out. One of the women who came here told us that 22 members of her family were totally burned. She said a bomb distributed white pow[d]er that caught fire and then set people’s clothes alight.”

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Posted by Steve Hynd on May 11th, 2009

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“Mission creep” is when you keep inventing new reasons for the mission continuing long after the original objective has been accomplished. Fox News reported General David Petraeus’ statement that the original UN-mandated mission for coalition forces in Afghanistan has been accomplished .

The head of U.S. Central Command said Sunday that Al Qaeda is no longer operating in Afghanistan, with its senior leadership having moved to the western region of Pakistan.

Gen. David Petraeus said affiliated groups have “enclaves and sanctuaries” in Afghanistan and that “tentacles of Al Qaeda” have touched countries throughout the Middle East and northern Africa. But he said the terrorist group has suffered” very significant losses” in recent months.

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Posted by ZP Heller on May 11th, 2009

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US airstrikes in Afghanistan like the one that killed over 100 civilians last week have reached all-time destructive highs. According to Air Forces Central, US warplanes dropped a record 438 bombs in Afghanistan during April. The number of dropped bombs has increased steadily over the past few months, and just yesterday, Gen. James Jones claimed the US will continue conducting airstrikes despite President Karzai’s admonishment that these bombings are counterproductive, turning Afghan civilians against the United States. Yet as the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan continues to deteriorate, Congress will decide this week whether to approve $94.2 billion in supplemental wartime spending.

Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan like retired Corporal Rick Reyes are meeting with members of Congress early this week, urging them not to approve this massive supplemental wartime funding bill until more critical questions are answered about the war. We still don’t know, for instance, how the Obama administration intends to prevent an increase in US airstrikes and military presence from becoming recruiting tools for Taliban extremists or al Qaeda terrorists. We still don’t know how the administration will be able to stop military escalation from further destabilizing a nuclear-armed Pakistan. Nor has the administration been forthright about benchmarks or an exit strategy, or whether funding more war will hamper US economic recovery.

What we do know is that right now, President Obama appears to be following the failed policies of his predecessor in Afghanistan. The Carnegie Endowment’s Gilles Dorronsoro recently wrote that while Obama’s strategy does promise more resources and the chance for a civilian surge, “when considered as a whole, this supposedly ‘new’ strategy amounts to little more than recycled policy from the late Bush years; it is a waiting strategy without any credible long-term objectives. Unfortunately, those who have so far a clear, well coordinated, and coherent strategy are the Taliban.” This grim assessment follows Dorronsoro’s earlier findings in Focus and Exit: An Alternative Strategy for the Afghan War, which concluded that the increased military presence in Afghanistan has directly contributed to the Taliban insurgency, and that withdrawing troops would allow us to focus on tracking down any remaining al Qaeda terrorists who have since fled across the border into Pakistan.

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on May 9th, 2009

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(Cross-posted from TomDispatch.com)

A front-page New York Times headline last week put the matter politely indeed: “In Pakistan, U.S. Courts Leader of Opposition.” And nobody thought it was strange at all.

In fact, it’s the sort of thing you can read just about any time when it comes to American policy in Pakistan or, for that matter, Afghanistan. It’s just the norm on a planet on which it’s assumed that American civilian and military leaders can issue pronunciamentos about what other countries must do; publicly demand various actions of ruling groups; opt for specific leaders, and then, when they disappoint, attempt to replace them; and use what was once called “foreign aid,” now taxpayer dollars largely funneled through the Pentagon, to bribe those who are hard to convince.

Last week as well, in a prime-time news conference, President Obama said of Pakistan: “We want to respect their sovereignty, but we also recognize that we have huge strategic interests, huge national security interests in making sure that Pakistan is stable and that you don’t end up having a nuclear-armed militant state.”

To the extent that this statement was commented on, it was praised here for its restraint and good sense. Yet, thought about a moment, what the president actually said went something like this: When it comes to U.S. respect for Pakistan’s sovereignty, this country has more important fish to fry. A look at the historical record indicates that Washington has, in fact, been frying those “fish” for at least the last four decades without particular regard for Pakistani sensibilities.

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Posted by Katrina vanden Heuvel on May 9th, 2009

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Inside the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill Tuesday, there were two distinctly different hearings on Pakistan. One featured the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, and it was packed with mainstream media–standing room only. At the conclusion of his testimony–just one floor up from that hearing–the Congressional Progressive Caucus held its fifth forum on Afghanistan, this one focusing on the administration’s Pakistan strategy and how it impacts both countries.

Holbrooke faced very few tough questions–not even on drone strikes. Rep. Lynn Woolsey did press Holbrooke on the fact that 90 percent of the administration’s war supplemental goes towards military expenses, while the counterinsurgency strategy calls for a ratio of 80 percent political and 20 percent military.

“Where is the place for smart power, investing in humanitarian needs and infrastructure, economy, food, so that we can shore up the people?” Woolsey asked.

Smart power,” Holbrooke said, “… is exactly what this bill is trying to do.”

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Posted by Jeremy Scahill on May 8th, 2009

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As President Barack Obama prepares to send some 21,000 more US troops into Afghanistan, anger is rising in the western province of Farah, the scene of a US bombing massacre that may have killed as many as 130 Afghans, including 13 members of one family. At least six houses were bombed and among the dead and wounded are women and children. As of this writing reports indicate some people remain buried in rubble. The US airstrikes happened on Monday and Tuesday. Just hours after Obama met with US-backed president Hamid Karzai Wednesday, hundreds of Afghans—perhaps as many as 2,000— poured into the streets of the provincial capital, chanting “Death to America.” The protesters demanded a US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

In Washington, Karzai said he and the US occupation forces should operate from a “higher platform of morality,” saying, “We must be conducting this war as better human beings,” and recognize that “force won’t buy you obedience.” And yet, his security forces opened fire on the demonstrators, reportedly wounding five people.

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