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Archive for September, 2009

Posted by Derrick Crowe on September 7th, 2009

When the people of an occupied country want foreign troops out while the people of the occupying country want their troops to come home, and the troops remain, something is wrong. Both the American people and the Afghan people want a troop decrease in Afghanistan. Yet this weekend, the President is reviewing a strategic assessment prepared by General Stanley McChrystal widely portrayed as a prelude to a request for an escalation. Should the president approve such a request, he’d be saying, in effect, that to protect democracy in America and to build it in Afghanistan, we must trample it.

Source: Afghan public opinion poll, ABC News/BBC/ARD 1/09; U.S. public opinion poll, CBS News, 8/09


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Posted by Zaid on September 6th, 2009

What really strikes me about Will’s break from the right on this issue is that he’s being attacked in the same way many who opposed the Iraq war were — he’s being told he wants to “surrender,” that he wants to “appease” terrorists, that he has “lost his nerve.”

These sort of attacks were very commonplace during the Bush era, but part of me had felt that the national consensus was that the war against Iraq was a terrible disaster and had sort of cleansed us — at least for a while — of the element of the national debate that says those who disagree with US foreign policy are actually on the terrorists’ side, that they’re cowards, etc.

As Katrina vanden Heuvel says quite eloquently during the roundtable discussion, the neoconservatives have “no credibility, [and] they should be held accountable for the Iraq debacle” by simply not being taken seriously anymore. Will offers a very intelligent and measured critique of the Administration’s policies, and attacking him with such vitriol is completely out of line. We need a real national debate, not one where those who dissent are accused of appeasement and cowardice.

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Posted by Zaid on September 5th, 2009

In the latest edition of Senator Sanders Unfiltered, a Brave New Films series where Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) responds to viewer questions on the issues of the day, Sanders discusses our policies in Afghanistan and why we need a “real national discussion” on an exit strategy from Afghanistan:

At a time when polls say that most American are opposed to the war in Afghanistan, it would be a travesty to our democratic ideals for there to be a continued military escalation in that country with virtually no public debate. And if there’s something I’ve learned from working in politics, it’s that Bernie Sanders is usually on the right side of that debate.

To those of you who don’t know who I am, my name is Zaid Jilani and I’m a Reporter-Blogger at ThinkProgress. ThinkProgress is a part of the Center for American Progress, which is one of the main intellectual forces behind our current strategy in Afghanistan.. I know what you’re thinking, “Well that doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

While it’s true that I’m a Reporter-Blogger for ThinkProgress, I’m also a concerned citizen of this country. And as a citizen, I feel that our military occupation in Afghanistan is completely wrongheaded and has to be debated, instead of simply being allowed to go on with little discussion.

I have deep disagreements with my colleagues like Lawrence Korb, and I want to use this space to voice many of those disagreements. It’s time we, as Sanders recommends, have a real national debate about the war in Afghanistan and our greater national priorities. It’s in the spirit of a liberal democracy that I encourage you to reach out to your friends, co-workers, neighbors, and whoever else will listen, and ask them to rethink their views on what’s happening in Afghanistan. Encourage a lively debate — that’s the only way we’ll turn our disastrous course around.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on September 4th, 2009

From Reuters:

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan (Reuters) – NATO forces in Afghanistan were investigating on Friday whether civilians were among scores of people burned to death when they carried out an air strike against two hijacked fuel tankers.

…Kunduz province Governor Mohammad Omar said as many as 90 people were feared killed, burned alive in a giant fireball.

NATO demonstrates why I don’t by the “Counterinsurgency: Now Low in Civilian Casualties!” sales pitch:

Lieutenant-Commander Christine Sidenstricker, press officer for the U.S. and NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said Afghan authorities had reported two fuel trucks hijacked. NATO aircraft spotted them on a river bank.

“After observing that only insurgents were in the area, the local ISAF commander ordered air strikes which destroyed the fuel trucks and killed a large number of insurgents,” she said.

“My brother was burned when the aircraft bombed the fuel tankers. I don’t know whether he is dead or alive,” said weeping villager Ghulam Yahya, one of dozens of relatives gathered outside Kunduz Central Hospital in the provincial capital.

AP reports that as many as 40 of the dead were civilians.

As usual:

In other news:

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates signaled on Thursday that he would be open to sending additional troops, asserting the war was not “slipping through the administration’s fingers.”

(Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. You can learn more about civilian casualties caused by the war in Afghanistan by watching Rethink Afghanistan (Part Four): Civilian Casualties, or by visiting

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on September 4th, 2009

The poisonous tree of counterinsurgency continues to bear fruit in Afghanistan. Reports indicate that tensions are rising over the fraudulent election. The potential for violence is very real. President Karzai’s main opponent in the election, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, has ruled out participation in a unity government and flatly stated he will not accept an election result that returns Karzai to power. A doctrine that views the situation as “with the government or against it” is dangerous and will inflame the situation.

From The Washington Post:

…tension and suspicion have mounted as the vote count drags on amid widening charges of electoral fraud. Afghans are confused, jittery and bracing for street violence — or at least a protracted period of political polarization and drift.

From the Times UK:

Hundreds of tribal elders and officials from southern Afghanistan gathered in Kabul yesterday to protest against alleged electoral fraud that robbed entire districts of their votes and allocated them to President Karzai.

In a string of searing testimonies, community leaders told of villages that had been too terrified to vote because of Taleban threats — yet had mysteriously produced full ballot boxes. They said that most of the phantom votes had been cast for Mr Karzai, often by his own men or tribal leaders loyal to him.

“How is it that in a district which a governor can only visit once every two years, where it’s too dangerous for the police to go, where even Nato can’t fly — how come there were 20,000 votes collected?” asked Hamidullah Tokhy, a tribal elder from Kandahar province.

Some of the gathered leaders went so far as to pledge armed resistance should the election commission (all Karzai appointees, led by an outspoken Karzai partisan) validate the corrupted election. Of particular worry is this pledge of violent resistance from a leader in Helmand, into which U.S. forces have pushed to attempt to challenge the Taliban:

Haji Abdul Manan, an elder from Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province, where British Forces have engaged in heavy fighting with the Taleban, said that most people had been too scared to venture out on election day. “In all the districts there was fraud. Nobody could vote, but the ballot boxes were full of votes for Hamid Karzai,” he said.

Earlier, speaking on the podium, Mr Manan called for a violent response to the fraud, a sign that disenchantment with the polls could further aggravate Afghanistan’s already bloody political landscape.

“I implore military resistance. I swear to God, if an Islamic government does not take office we’re against it,” he said. “The Americans are entering our houses. Our sons are being killed,” he added.

Lashkar Gah is a major Pashtun population center; an uprising there would be a nightmare. It should go without saying that if anti-government violence breaks out in Helmand and other Pashtun regions independent of the incitement of the Taliban, there would be absolutely no room to argue against the conclusion that counterinsurgency has failed (I already believe this to be the case; however a widespread uprising would confirm it beyond a shadow of a doubt.).

President Obama is now ensnared in a trap of counterinsurgency’s making. Should violence break out, motivated not by jihadist extremism or Taliban-inspired ultra-nationalism but by popular rejection of the legitimacy of the Karzai government, counterinsurgency doctrine will offer absolutely no useful guidance. Define “insurgency” in this situation against which we must be the “counterinsurgents.” How would a counterinsurgent distinguish between a man with an AK-47 attacking government buildings motivated by jihadism versus patriotism? You can see where this is going.

P.S. Considering the history of the last eight months, now is the exact wrong time to add more troops. Prior to the last escalation, much was written about the possibility of intensified U.S. pressure leading to the re-fusion of the various insurgent factions and al-Qaida. Those concerns turned out to be prescient. Should a popular violent outbreak occur, you should expect the same dynamic to play out between those rejecting the Karzai government and the Taliban insurgents.

P.S.S. Enjoy your weekend, Mr. President.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on September 3rd, 2009

The conversion of George Will et. al. on Afghanistan has the usual suspects in full panic mode. The Wall Street Journal and Bill Kristol stand out in particular. But even in their full “what will we do without a war fought by someone else’s kids?!” mode, they manage to pull it together to tell us exactly what they’d do if they were by-God in the military or if they ever considered service beyond giving your kids a good shove into the Big Muddy. Now, these are highly nuanced strategic prescriptions from titans of strategic thinking, regular 21st-century Carl Philipp Gottlieb von Clausewitzes. I better take them one at a time.


First, the Wall Street Journal.

From their April 7, 2003 editorial:

So much for Donald Rumsfeld’s flawed war plan. Just over two weeks into the conflict, U.S. forces are moving with impunity in Baghdad and the coalition controls most of Iraq.


From their March 12, 2003 editorial-by-intern:

Then there are civilian casualties. It’s hard to nail down exactly how many civilian deaths were predicted in Afghanistan — since most of those never materialized, the antiwar crowd understandably prefers to talk of other things these days.

…To repeat, in Afghanistan most of those casualties never materialized. But that hardly seems to matter. …Perhaps not surprisingly, given the movement’s general determination to be unhappy, Ms. German is curiously reticent when asked to comment…


Next, Bill Kristol.

We done?

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on September 2nd, 2009

Brave New Foundation’s Robert Greenwald was interviewed by Al-Jazeera’s Newshour on the crumbling public support for military action in Afghanistan. Take a look:

Personally, I thought his best point was related to the damage done by an ever-escalating military conflict to the morale and morals of a promising new administration. As Robert said, we need Obama focused on health reform and on rolling back the worst excesses of the Bush years, not on killing people.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on September 1st, 2009

Today’s New York Times article on General McChrystal’s spadework for the next escalation in Afghanistan illustrates the hole we’re in:

An expanded American footprint would also increase Mr. Obama’s entanglement with an Afghan government widely viewed as corrupt and illegitimate.

The U.S. chose counterinsurgency (COIN) as our strategy for Afghanistan. COIN requires U.S. policymakers to pick a faction in a civil conflict and work to convince the population to accept as legitimate a government comprised of that faction. Specific to Afghanistan, one can state our objectives thus:

  • Al Qaeda must be denied safe haven in Afghanistan.
  • The Taliban gave them safe haven and (according to COIN-pushers) would likely do so again if they regained control of the country.
  • Therefore, we must support the Kabul government, comprised largely of enemies of the Taliban, and work to convince the population that they are a legitimate government. For the moment, we will do that by providing them security in the name of that government while assisting in the construction of an Afghan security apparatus.

The catch is, though, that following this strategy means that we too often lie down with dogs.

Meet Muhammed Karim Khalili

According to the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Muhammed Karim Khalili was sworn in as Second Vice President of Afghanistan on December 7, 2004. The embassy biography for Vice President Khalili is humble and quaint. You’d never know he was a war criminal and a warlord.

Hamid Karzai with notorious warlords Mohammed Qasim Fahim and Muhammed Karim Khalili, both of which now hold positions in Karzais government (photo from

Hamid Karzai with notorious warlords Mohammed Qasim Fahim and Muhammed Karim Khalili, both of which now hold positions in Karzai's government (photo from

When the Soviets left Afghanistan, the country descended into civil war. One of the prime factions at the time was an ethnic Shi’a Hazara militia called Hezb-e Wahdat-e Islami-yiAfghanistan, or Wahdat for short. Formed by Abdul Ali Mazari, Wahdat was a principle participant in the vicious battles for Kabul. Mazari’s lieutenant was a man named Karim Khalili.

Human Rights Watch reports that, under Mazari and Khalili, Wahdat was among several factions that “regularly and intentionally targeted civilians and civilian areas for attack, and recklesslessly and indiscriminately fired weapons into civilian areas.” Journalists reported seeing Wahdat forces intentionally firing rockets into occupied civilian homes. Wahdat was also among the factions cited for the use of imprecise weapons systems that killed civilians:

including Sakr rockets and UB-16 and UB-32 S-5 airborne rocket launchers clumsily refitted onto tank turrets.The aiming of these rocket systems are considered “dumb” or non-precision. Sakr rockets are “like bottle rockets,” according to one military analyst, and rocket systems generally as not designed for accuracy in close combat: they cannot be adequately aimed within urban settings or made to distinguish between military targets and civilian objects.The use of the makeshift S-5 system in particular, within Kabul city, demonstrated an utter disregard of the duty to use methods and means of attack that distinguish between civilian objects and military targets.

When fighting broke out in Kabul between Wahdat and Ittihad forces (which started, stupidly, over arguments about each faction tearing down each others’ posters), Wahdat forces began kidnapping and disappearing Pashtuns, Tajiks, and other non-Hazaras. Here’s one man’s account from the Human Rights Watch report:

“It was morning, I was going by Chelsatoon garden.I was with my 10-year-old son.We were stopped by Hezb-e Wahdat troops.Two men.They took us to Habibi high school.They didn’t give me any problems at first, they were just questioning me. . . .But I saw this containernearby, with prisoners.The two men were arguing.One was saying, ‘Leave him, he’s innocent.’ The other was saying, ‘No, we should arrest them because they’re Pashtuns.’ They had arrested some other Pashtuns, and I saw them putting them into a container there.

“…Their argument lasted a few minutes. Finally, they let me go and I was set free.”

The man said the troops sometime soon after apparently fired a missile or rocket-propelled grenade into the container:

“I was walking away with my son. We heard the explosion. The container had been closed after they put the prisoners in it. I heard the explosion and I looked, and then I took my son and started to move away, because we were in danger. . . .When I looked I saw that all these people were running away from where the container was. . . .I heard screams from the container and there was smoke coming out of the hole.The rocket had penetrated and exploded. . . .”

The report goes on and on like this, describing a Wahdat prison where prisoners were tortured and killed and their bodies incinerated in the compound’s brick-making furnaces. Later in the conflict, forces of other factions uncovered Wahdat prisoners tortured into insanity. Thousands of those arrested by Wahdat and other factions were never seen again. Widespread rape of women, girls and boys were also documented.

Wahdat was also guilty of more run-of-the-mill crimes, including murder, pillage and looting.

Khalili was not only granted amnesty for his past crimes and the crimes of men under his command by the warlord-ridden government in Kabul; as stated above, he’s now the second vice president. In exchange for his support in the 2009 election, Karzai promised to carve out new provinces for him and another warlord, Haji Mohammed Mohaqiq.

But hey–listen. Very Serious People say we have to work with Khalili and Co. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, right? But here’s the thing: when you lie down with dogs, you get fleas. Counterinsurgency on behalf of a government filled with thugs like Khalili protects their power and protects them from accountability for their war crimes and will provide them with a professionally trained and U.S.-financed apparatus of repression. (If you want to see the counterinsurgency crowd’s vision for the next few years in Afghanistan, look no further than El Salvador, cited by the COIN manual as a success story.) In other words, COIN on behalf of Karzai and Khalili means that our troops fight and die to protect the power of warlords and war criminals.

Khalili is just one more reason why American policymakers should stop sending our troops to prop up a warlord-ridden narco-state government in Afghanistan. Get our troops out of there, now.

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