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Archive for May, 2009

Posted by Siun on May 7th, 2009

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Yesterday, while Sec. of State Clinton was expressing “deep regret” over Monday’s civilian deaths in Bala Baluk, US military spokespeople were telling a different story. After similar incidents, one of the usual claims made is that the civilian casualties are inevitable since villagers are “used as human shields by the Taliban” but this time, DOD is spinning at a whole new level, claiming that the Taliban rounded up civilians and killed them with grenades – then loaded the bodies into trucks to use are an anti-American photo op. CNN quickly had Barbara Starr on air repeating the DOD version within hours of the Clinton apology.

Unfortunately for the DOD spinmeisters, the International Committee of the Red Cross has detailed information from the scene – and given the ICRC’s normal reticence and careful neutrality, their credibility certainly beats that of a source that once before attempted to pass off a report from Ollie North that no civilians were killed in a similar attack as a report from a legitimate embedded journalist.

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Posted by Siun on May 6th, 2009

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Remember all those promises from US commanders in Afghanistan, the promises made after each killing of large numbers of Afghan civilians, sometimes by air strikes, sometimes by ground forces during raids? After each incident – at least as far back as July 2007 – the commanders issue new pledges that US forces will change their rules of engagement, will take more care, will be more cautious to avoid more murders of Afghan civilians. In fact in April, Defense Secretary Gates said:

“General McKiernan has taken some significant steps in terms of changing the way we go about our operations in Afghanistan, including by the Special Forces, to try and take even further measures to avoid civilian casualties and to avoid antagonizing the local population. This is something I worry about a lot. If we lose the Afghan people, we have lost the war,” he said.

Of course, he made the same pledge back in September when he said that “While no military has ever done more to prevent civilian casualties, it is clear that we have to work even harder.”

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Posted by ZP Heller on May 6th, 2009

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Here’s something everyone in Congress needs to see as they consider President Obama’s $83.4 billion supplemental war funding bill. National Priorities Project (NPP) just released The Cost of War in Afghanistan, a report examining the exorbitant human and economic costs of this rapidly expanding war, which estimates the war has currently cost taxpayers over $172 billion. When you factor in the projected costs of long-term military occupation, interest, and veterans’ benefits, we’re talking about a war that will cost close to $1 trillion. “All told,” the report concludes, “this is more than the size of the recent bailout of Wall Street and rivals the historic economic stimulus bill just passed by Congress.”

NPP is tracking the costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq using an individual cost of war counter, calculating the state-level numbers and trade-offs of supplemental war spending. In my home state of Pennsylvania, for instance, taxpayers will have to pay $2.9 billion of the proposed $83.4 billion tab. Want to know what $2.9 billion could do instead of fund more war? NPP claims it could provide:

  • 725,689 People with Health Care for One Year OR
  • 3,533,713 Homes with Renewable Electricity for One Year OR
  • 29,863 Affordable Housing Units OR
  • 460,546 Head Start Places for Children for One Year OR
  • 46,575 Elementary School Teachers for One Year OR

The list goes on and on. The fact is not nearly enough members of Congress are seriously considering the cost and impact of more troops, both in the U.S. and Afghanistan. According to NPP Executive Director Jo Comerford, “The purpose of this resource is to help people across the United States reflect on the current Afghanistan war and its proposed expansion.”

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Posted by robert dreyfuss on May 6th, 2009

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Representative David Obey, who chairs the House appropriations committee, is comparing the Afghanistan-Pakistan war to Vietnam:

There were new signs of uneasiness on Capitol Hill about United States involvement in the region. The Democratic chairman of the House Appropriations Committee pronounced himself as “very doubtful” that Mr. Obama’s plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan could succeed. The chairman, Representative David Obey, of Wisconsin, said he would allow only one year for the White House to show concrete results, and repeatedly likened Mr. Obama’s approach to President Richard Nixon’s plans for Vietnam in 1969.

And Obey is planning to attach conditions to aid that President Obama wants:

Mr. Obey, whose committee oversees all federal discretionary spending, said Monday that in the supplemental war-funding bill the House Democrats plan to require the White House to report to Congress next year with measurements of progress from Afghanistan and Iraq in five specific areas: political consensus, government corruption, counterinsurgency efforts, intelligence cooperation and border security.

He added: “I am not going to be looking at those standards like I am the permanent president of the optimists’ club.” At stake is at least $1 billion in immediate funding for Pakistan’s war and for economic aid, along with — potentially — $1.5 billion a year in additional aid that Obama wants for the next five to ten years.

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Posted by ZP Heller on May 5th, 2009

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The situation in Pakistan is deteriorating by the hour. This nuclear-armed nation already plagued by political and economic turmoil now faces a massive humanitarian crisis, as 500,000 people flee the Swat valley in the face of armed conflict between Pakistani authorities and Taliban extremists who have taken control. As President Obama prepares to meet with Pakistani President Asif Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai tomorrow, the question becomes what the U.S. can do to prevent all-out war in Pakistan.

An article in The New York Times today presents three potential strategies for the Obama administration to pursue in the coming weeks: 1) hasten the long-term strategy of retraining the Pakistani army to fight the counterinsurgency while upping nation-building efforts; 2) rely on more Predator drone strikes and covert ground attacks; and 3) make sure Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is secure from the extremist threat. While the Obama administration may have its back against the wall, authorizing more Predator drone attacks is a disastrous option that must be avoided at all cost.

As David Kilcullen, the counterinsurgency expert who designed Gen. Petraeus’s Iraqi surge, recently told the House Armed Services Committee, “We need to call off the drones.” This covert plan, first approved by Bush (and continued by Obama) to skirt Pakistan’s refusal to allow U.S. troops into the country, uses unmanned aerial drones remotely controlled by the CIA to hunt down suspected terrorists and insurgents. But as Kilcullen claimed, it’s backfiring, prompting more Taliban extremists to take up arms against the U.S.-backed Pakistani government and driving them deeper into the country.

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Posted by Charles Lemos on May 5th, 2009

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According to Fox News, the commander of US Central Command, General David Petraeus has made some rather blunt comments to unnamed US officials offering a stark assessment of the situation in Pakistan. In General Petraeus’ view the next two weeks are critical to determining whether the Pakistani government will survive.

“The Pakistanis have run out of excuses” and are “finally getting serious” about combating the threat from Taliban and Al Qaeda extremists operating out of Northwest Pakistan, the general added.But Petraeus also said wearily that “we’ve heard it all before” from the Pakistanis and he is looking to see concrete action by the government to destroy the Taliban in the next two weeks before determining the United States’ next course of action, which is presently set on propping up the Pakistani government and military with counterinsurgency training and foreign aid.

Petraeus made these assessment in talks with lawmakers and Obama administration officials this week, according to individuals familiar with the discussions.

They said Petraeus and senior administration officials believe the Pakistani army, led by Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, is “superior” to the civilian government, led by President Ali Zardari, and could conceivably survive even if Zardari’s government falls to the Taliban.

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Posted by American News Project on May 4th, 2009

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In 1964, President Johnson said of Vietnam that I don’t think it’s worth fighting for, and I don’t think that we can get out. It’s just the biggest damn mess I ever saw.” Yet Johnson escalated the conflict and America became bogged down in Southeast Asia for more than a decade. Former Senator George McGovern recently sat down with ANP and said that President Obama runs the risk, like Johnson’s Great Society, of hobbling his ambitious domestic goals if he continues to send troops into Afghanistan.

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Posted by Steve Hynd on May 4th, 2009

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There will be people who see nothing wrong with the U.S. army becoming an army of evangelising Christian Soldiers. None of them should be allowed anywhere near a critical and supposedly “population-centric COIN” operation.

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Posted by Kim OConnor on May 4th, 2009

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I arrived in Kabul on on May 1st to work with the non-profit for which I volunteer and am president, Afghans4Tomorrow. It has taken me a couple of days to adjust to the 12 hour time difference (actually 11 1/2) and I am not sure I am quite there yet. But I feel good enough to start posting diaries to let everyone know what I am learning from Afghans about what they want from us and what their life is like here in Kabul. (I doubt I will be able to post pictures, but will post a big photo diary when I return. The internet here is dreadfully slow, and I failed in uploading pictures after several tries.)

For my first dispatch: Afghan Politics

Afghan politics are likely as strange as any, but the people here still believe in them (51%* believe they bring freedom, 34%* think democracy brings peace) while at the same time 79%* think the government does not care about people like them.

The presidential elections are coming up in August. So far they have many people who will likely run, as many as 60! The deadline to register is in two days.

I have been told they do something that I think is just wrong for any democracy. Once they register to run, they get PAID to do so! Not much I am told, but still, this is not good in my book. No wonder so many want to run despite having no chance of winning.

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Posted by tomhayden on May 2nd, 2009

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Editor’s Note: Peace activist Tom Hayden adds his ideas to Z.P. Heller’s April 8 piece, Ten Things You Can Do to Oppose the War in Afghanistan.

This early period of Obama’s presidency is an opportunity to rebuild Afghanistan. It is a chance to become clearer than “out now,” while still using the same force in opposing the war. In addition to education on the specifics of the administration’s plan and the after-effects in Afghanistan, take these concrete steps to build infrastructure from the bottom up.

1. The immediate demands should be opposition to more troops, predator attacks, human rights abuses and escalating budget costs.

2. Support a regional diplomatic solution (exit strategy), including withdrawal of US/NATO troops and bases. Read Tariq Ali’s book, The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power.

3. Demand of Congress and President the same accountability that was demanded of Bush and never won: verifiable casualty figures, transparent budgeting, oversight of contractors, compliance with human rights standards, including women’s rights–clear metrics to measure progress towards a defined exit strategy.

4.With these focuses in mind and using United for Peace and Justice as an organizational base:

• assist in doubling their membership
• build a local e-mail list of at least 300 names
• build a coalition (at least a letterhead or leadership alliance) of clergy, academic, human rights, environmentalists, African-Americans and Latinos, labor and other progressive organizations.

5. Criticize Obama’s war from within the Obama structure and MoveOn.org. (Since neither of these structures have a focus on the war, contact them or start on a discussion on Afghanistan under another heading).

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