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Archive for October, 2009

Posted by Derrick Crowe on October 20th, 2009

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit

According to the New York Times and CNN, Senator John Kerry and U.S. Ambassador Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry have prevailed upon Afghan President Hamid Karzai to concede that he did not win 50 percent in the initial presidential vote, which would pave the way for a runoff. (In fact, about a quarter of the votes counted in the initial balloting were fraudulent, and a third of Karzai’s were bogus.)

But that’s where things get tricky: the law (you know, the law that remains after Karzai stayed in the presidency long after the Afghan constitution required him to vacate) requires the runoff be held within two weeks of the certification of the election results. However, the reason Karzai purportedly had to stay in office beyond his constitutional term in the first place was the inability of Afghan officials to set up an election process within the security situation in the time allotted, and it’s not exactly gotten easier to do so in the interim. It will be extremely difficult to set up a runoff in two weeks, and many have indicated that they would not participate in a runoff after risking their lives defying the Taliban the first time. And, the longer this drags out, the closer we get to winter, which would shut down any possibility of a nationwide election. (more…)

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on October 19th, 2009

Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit

The Obama White House is starting to get hip to the internally contradictory suggestions from the John Nagls of the world. From USA TODAY:

As Afghan officials wrangle over their nation’s disputed election, the White House chief of staff said Sunday that President Obama won’t make a decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan until that country has a credible government.

Obama won’t order more U.S. troops to Afghanistan until it forms a legitimate government, Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said on CNN’s State of the Union.

Emanuel said that it would be “reckless to make a decision on U.S. troop levels” without a thorough analysis of Afghanistan’s ability to govern itself.

John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Afghanistan must prove to be a legitimate partner in the war against Taliban insurgents before the U.S. sends more troops. “It would be entirely irresponsible for the president of the United States to commit more troops to this country when we don’t even have an election finished and know who the president is and what kind of government we’re working with,” Kerry, D-Mass., told the CNN program during a visit to Kabul. (more…)

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on October 19th, 2009

Lessons from the Long War and a Blowback World

By Tom Engelhardt

Is it too early — or already too late — to begin drawing lessons from “the Long War”? That phrase, coined in 2002 and, by 2005, being championed by Centcom Commander General John Abizaid, was meant to be a catchier name for George W. Bush’s “Global War on Terror.” That was back in the days when inside-the-Beltway types were still dreaming about a global Pax Americana and its domestic partner, a Pax Republicana, and imagining that both, once firmly established, might last forever.

“The Long War” merely exchanged the shock-’n'-awe geographical breadth of the President Bush’s chosen moniker (“global”) for a shock-’n'-awe time span. Our all-out, no-holds-barred struggle against evil-doers would be nothing short of generational as well as planetary. From Abizaid’s point of view, perhaps a little in-office surgical operation on the nomenclature of Bush’s war was, in any case, in order at a time when the Iraq War was going disastrously badly and the Afghan one was starting to look more than a little peaked as well. It was like saying: Forget that “mission accomplished” sprint to victory in 2003 and keep your eyes on the prize. We’re in it for the long slog. (more…)

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on October 18th, 2009

Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is showing his Bush Administration credentials by tossing around any and all justifications for continued U.S. military action in Afghanistan to see what sticks. Lately, he’s been pushing the goofy idea that we have to maintain or expand our military presence in Afghanistan so that extremists can never brag to their friends.

From Danger Room’s Adam Rawnsley:

There have been plenty of reasons given for keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan: denying Al Qaeda and their allies a sanctuary, saving the locals from some rather ruthless theocrats, preventing another 9/11. To that Defense Secretary added a different rationale Monday night. He wants to keep Osama’s legions from scoring a propaganda win.

…Defining al-Qaeda as both an ideology and an organization, Gates said their ability to successfully “challenge not only the United States, but NATO — 42 nations and so on” on such a symbolically important battlefield would represent “a hugely empowering message” for an organization whose narrative has suffered much in the eight years since 9/11.


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Posted by Derrick Crowe on October 16th, 2009

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit

As the president and his war council meet to finalize the latest most updated new new new strategy review in Afghanistan, ex-CIA man Paul Pillar gave the House Armed Services Committee the right question to ask:

[I]s the difference between the terrorist threat Americans would face if we wage a counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, and the threat we would face if we do not wage it, sufficiently large—and in the right direction—to justify the costs and risks of the counterinsurgency itself?

The short answer is, “No.”


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Posted by Jake Diliberto on October 15th, 2009

The current strategy and tactics used by US military commanders in the open ended global war on terror is a profound blunder for Afghanistan now called Af-Pak. The art of COIN developed in Iraq by General Patreas and David Kilcullen was based upon US and local partnerships to create security in the region. The illicit “surge” in the Anbar province, particularly in Fallujah, provided a mild form of peace because of 3 major circumstances. Firstly, the culture of Iraq had a history of authoritarian governments that the people were used to. Secondly, Al-queda insurgents were disliked in the region specifically because they were not locals, they came from other locations including Syria, Iran, and northern regions. Thirdly, the geography of Iraq was reasonably easy to pacify due to its infrastructure. The roads and cities were conducive to allowing US military commanders to implement the COIN tactics, plus local US commanders paid off potential resisters to avoid combat with the US forces. US commanders used anything between US dollars, to Viagra as means of co-opting the locals to follow the US implemented laws. Military commanders implemented the COIN strategy while under the presupposition that the US had authority of the central government. There was no need to pacify anyone because Iraqi’s were already sympathetic to the previous authoritarian government.

This is a profound difference to Afghanistan. Afghanistan has never had a central government, thus the US now must be working to pacify this culture first, and then the COIN campaign can be implemented and might have a possibility to work. Previous empires have attempted to conduct such a military campaign, and even the soviets in the 1980’s could not accomplish this task with 600,000 or more troops. The likelihood that the US can pacify the Afghan population the same way we did in Iraq however seems to be reaching for a nightmare.

The reasons the US COIN strategy is a failure in AF-Pak should be obvious but often evade the mainstream media. First off, the region is highly rural and difficult to navigate. The mountains are some of the most difficult to negotiate in the world and have is had limited roads designed for massive military interventions. Secondly, the resources needed to do a COIN military operation in the area demands 250,000-600,000 troops according to General Patreas field manual of COIN. Consequently, the US does not have such a force in reserve. Our troops are exhausted in Iraq and consequently the men and women in uniform are suffering severe social costs as a result of their deployments. The divorce rates among first term-enlisted soldiers are in excess of 80% and suicide rates are at an all time high. The only solution provided by the US government is more money allocated to social welfare programs for troops. The massive failure of the this policy is, the US has failed to recognize the solution to these problems is ending the open ended global war on terror and bringing the men and women in uniform home. Money cannot fix PTSD, TBI, and emotional dysfunction as a result of deployments. Thirdly, the cost of sending our troops to Af-Pak according to Nobel Economist Joseph Stieglitz amounts to $780,000 US dollars for 1 soldier for 1 year. Currently, the US is spending appx. 4-6 billion dollars a week in Iraq and Afghanistan, and if the US continues to pursue this endeavor of military intervention, by the end of 2010 we will incur a war bill of 4 trillion dollars. Interesting enough this is a debt we are borrowing from China and will be paying interest on for decades to come. This massive spending crisis is easily enough to buy health care for every American and then some. It is time the US recognizes the massive illusion that the global war on terror in Af-pak is a wise decision.

It is appropriate to be fearful of the radicalized Islamic group known as Al-queda. However, one should be aware this is not a well-organized threat like Nazi Germany. Al-queda is a 5-7,000 operative force worldwide that is indeed a criminal conspiracy. The US should us non-military interventionist means to find them and route them out. This would be a worldwide effort to join intelligence forces to conduct special police actions to find these criminals. This does not include military occupation of countries, and sending our troops on long-term deployments that is bankrupting our country.
Our heroes in uniform are suffering from the massive political blunder of the previous Bush administration. The much-touted “Change” of President Obama needs to be demanded by the American people.

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Posted by robertgreenwald on October 15th, 2009

This summer, Brave New Foundation supporters did something extraordinary: in response to one of our videos, you gave $15,000 to Afghan refugees in need of food and blankets.

Recently we received video footage of the provisions purchased with that money being distributed in an Afghan refugee camp. We thought it was worth sharing with you.

Your support showed Afghan civilians the best of the American spirit. It is through acts like these, not through bombing villages, that we can improve the conditions of life for the Afghan people. And by chiseling away at anti-American sentiment in the region, it is through acts like these that we can improve our own security.

America can do more for the Afghan people and for ourselves through generosity and compassion than through violence. We’ve made an impact on one group of refugees, but it will take a change of policy to help all of Afghan society. Congress needs to act, and it can start by holding hearings on civilian alternatives to the failed military approach to Afghanistan.

Sign our petition. When we reach 100,000 names, we will bring it to the Capitol and demand that hearings be held on alternatives to war.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on October 14th, 2009

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit

At least Michael Scheuer’s snarling, morally bankrupt piece (oddly promoted as the front-page story on Foreign Policy Magazine’s website) correctly diagnoses the problem in Afghanistan: the anti-government elements have put the U.S. and allied forces in a position where “winning” (defined as “defeating” the Taliban) would require actions so brutal and expensive that they are beyond the pale for our political leadership. But rather than salute the allied forces for their principles, Scheuer assails them, telling them to “Get Nasty or Go Home.” (more…)

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on October 12th, 2009

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit

Supporters of a deep investment of American blood and treasure in a long, costly and difficult counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign in Afghanistan have the obligation to clearly articulate how their proposals will lead to success. We deserve honest, well-explained justifications, not hand-waving past foundational considerations when such examinations would be inconvenient to COIN proponents. Instead, in today’s L.A. Times, John Nagl and Richard Fontaine hand-wave past such essential points as:

  • the failure of the Iraq surge;
  • the difficulties posed to COIN specifically by the corrupted elections and generally by the corrupt Kabul regime; and
  • the interplay between foreign troops supporting a corrupt government and the expansion of the insurgency. (more…)
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Posted by Derrick Crowe on October 11th, 2009

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit

The U.S. and allied forces now face insurrection all over Afghanistan. The insurgency nearly quadrupled in size since 2006, from 7,000 to 25,000 participants. Recently leaked intelligence assessments reportedly show that Al-Qaida and the jihadist Taliban groups account for only 10 percent of the insurgents.

WASHINGTON – Nearly all of the insurgents battling US and NATO troops in Afghanistan are not religiously motivated Taliban and Al Qaeda warriors, but a new generation of tribal fighters vying for control of territory, mineral wealth, and smuggling routes, according to summaries of new US intelligence reports.

“Ninety percent is a tribal, localized insurgency,’’ said one US intelligence official in Washington who helped draft the assessments. “Ten percent are hardcore ideologues fighting for the Taliban.’’

…But the mostly ethnic Pashtun fighters are often deeply connected by family and social ties to the valleys and mountains where they are fighting, and they see themselves as opposing the United States be cause it is an occupying power, the officials and analysts said.

The nonreligious motivations give American war planners some hope that they can reduce the power of these militias, and perhaps even co-opt their support with a new set of strategies and incentives.

Indeed, the intelligence reports say the Taliban movement that harbored the Al Qaeda terrorist network before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks is responsible for only a small share of the rising attacks – mostly in southern Afghanistan, according to the officials.

Now, I hear there is some debate in the intelligence community about this picture of the Taliban. (For example, note how the Reuters interpretation describes an insurgency “dominated” by the “hard-core Taliban loyalists”.) And, like all leaks, there’s likely an attempt to influence and constrain policy choices behind the leak to the Globe’s Bryan Bender. But the real question is not whether the leaker had a motivation for leaking (they always do), but rather whether the leaker allowed their motivation to distort the truth. And it looks like the picture painted by Bender’s anonymous source fits very well with the picture painted of the Taliban in the recent DFID study on radicalization in Afghanistan. From the summary:

1. Religious motivation is only one of several reason for joining or supporting the Taliban or Hizb-i Islami. A religious message does resonate with the majority but this is mainly because it is couched in terms of two keenly felt pragmatic grievances: the corruption of government and the presence of foreign forces.

4. As noted by the SCA and other studies, this research confirmed that young men join the Taliban or Hizb-i Islami for a number of personal reasons in addition to broader structural grievances regarding the government and foreign forces. These include:

  • for cash due to unemployment – or underemployment (some were with the Taliban on a call-up only basis, i.e. not full-time);
  • for status reasons – to have a weapon and a cause;
  • because of genuine religious belief (this was the most respected reason for joining as it was felt not to be about individual aggrandisement);
  • for self protection – they had little choice but to take sides;
  • to leverage armed support for an ongoing dispute, usually over land or water, with another family or lineage member. Inevitably such action did not settle the issue; it raised the stakes.

5. Most radicalisation appears to happen after young men join a Taliban group. The evidence from the field study is that young men become Taliban combatants for a mix of reasons (religious sentiment may be one) but their peers then ‘radicalise’ them into presenting their cause only in terms of jihad and only with reference to Islam. In other words the real process of radicalisation appears to happen after they have become combatants.

The intelligence summarized in Bender’s article is the latest report to describe a rapidly growing, specifically Afghan insurgent movement, driven by local economic and social concerns and animus against foreign forces. The image of “The Taliban” however, remains a much-contested issue, not least because the image we settle on will go a long way towards dictating the credible policy choices in Afghanistan. Counterinsurgency is so resource-intensive that it needs a cosmic justification. The threat must not only be mortal, but moral. Basic principles and values must be at stake. The battle must be between two Manichean ideals: capitalism vs. communism, Western enlightenment vs. jihadist terror. Thus, the total foreign policy paradigm question is hidden inside the Taliban question. As Bacevich explains:

The question of the moment, framed by the prowar camp, goes like this: Will the president approve the Afghanistan strategy proposed by his handpicked commander General Stanley McChrystal? Or will he reject that plan and accept defeat, thereby inviting the recurrence of 9/11 on an even larger scale? Yet within this camp the appeal of the McChrystal plan lies less in its intrinsic merits, which are exceedingly dubious, than in its implications.

If the president approves the McChrystal plan he will implicitly:

  • Anoint counterinsurgency – protracted campaigns of armed nation-building – as the new American way of war.
  • Embrace George W. Bush’s concept of open-ended war as the essential response to violent jihadism (even if the Obama White House has jettisoned the label “global war on terror’’).
  • Affirm that military might will remain the principal instrument for exercising American global leadership, as has been the case for decades.

Implementing the McChrystal plan will perpetuate the longstanding fundamentals of US national security policy: maintaining a global military presence, configuring US forces for global power projection, and employing those forces to intervene on a global basis. …at its core, the McChrystal plan aims to avert change.

This is one of the primary reasons folks will fight back hard against the picture of the Taliban painted in the Globe / DFID reports: If the presence of foreign forces in support of a corrupt government and other social and economic factors, rather than a global jihadist bent, drive the recent massive growth of the insurgency, the utility of huge COIN-related troop deployments is in serious question. And, if COIN is in question along with the appropriateness of a military response to terrorism, then an entire way of being the world as a nation is under threat.

Thank goodness.

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