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Archive for November, 2009

Posted by Derrick Crowe on November 18th, 2009

I’m convinced that when we look back on the key events on the road out of Afghanistan, we’ll mark Matthew Hoh’s resignation as one of the milestones. Hoh’s resignation letter is a devastating four-page indictment of the misguided U.S. policy in that country, and his experience in Anbar, Iraq gave his views heft in the debate about whether an Iraq-style “surge” provided a template for “success” in Afghanistan. Do yourself a favor: if you haven’t yet read the letter, do so.

Matthew Hoh recently sat down with Daniel Ellsberg for a Brave New Conversation, the trailer for which you can see above. I’ll interview Hoh later this week to get his thoughts on the way forward in Afghanistan and the reaction to his resignation. For now, though, enjoy the conversation.

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal.

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Posted by Emily Taylor on November 17th, 2009

As the debate in the White House about Afghanistan heats up, the activists of the United States have stepped up too! Thousands of screenings have taken place from Hawaii to South Carolina, to Alaska to Arkansas. These activists have collected thousands of signatures and debated the issue for months with experts, local veterans, and grassroots fervor. I’d like to highlight a recent screening hosted by Betty Cooper of Jefferson City, MO.

“The showing of Rethink Afghanistan, November 11, 2009, Jefferson City, MO created a sense of unity and oneness within the group of eighteen participants. After our speaker, Mark Haim, director of Mid-MO Peace Works, provided additional ideas about this problematic situation, the questions and discussion became “lively” and invigorating creating a stage for activism. The petitions to “end the war” were eagerly signed and many decided to call the White House the next day and speak for “ending the war not escalating the troop level.” One person decided to continue showing the DVD to others. This was a “rethinking process” that will continue to be on-going. We want to thank Robert Greenwald, the participants, the film and the entire staff at Brave New Foundation.”


Thanks for your tireless efforts and kind words, Betty! Keep up the great work!

If you want to host a screening for your community, feel free to write me or visit our screenings page for more information!

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on November 17th, 2009

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

The Progressive Caucus just sent a letter to President Obama asking for a meeting to discuss “a comprehensive rethinking of our military mission, a complete redesign of our reconstruction and stabilization strategy and a courageous reconciliation strategy for Afghanistan.”

Signed by Congresswomen Lee and Woosley and Congressmen Grijalva, Honda and McGovern, the letter lists several concerns about the ongoing mission in Afghanistan, including:

  • the prospect of additional troop commitments without a clear mission and without criteria with which to evaluate success;
  • the failure of foreign aid to rebuild Afghan “institutions, infrastructure, and individual capacity”;
  • the lack of legitimacy of the Afghan government, demonstrated and worsened by the stolen election, corruption in aid distribution and “foreign intelligence and security alliances.”

The letter comes as the president prepares to announce his decision regarding the future of U.S. policy in Afghanistan. This is the latest of several high-profile attempts by current and former U.S. officials to push back against calls for another troop increase in Afghanistan:

There’s political space for the president to refuse to increase troops, and growing public support for bringing them home. If the president put his considerable public charisma behind a policy of de-escalation, he could relieve his presidency of a burden that threatens to sink it.

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on November 17th, 2009

From TomDispatch today, a rare, carefully reported, follow-the-money piece from Afghanistan that reveals the corruption and nepotism at the highest levels of the Afghan government — Pratap Chatterjee, “Paying Off the Warlords, Anatomy of an Afghan Culture of Corruption”

There is much discussion in the media today about “corruption” in Hamid Karzai’s Afghanistan, but remarkably little actual reporting about it. Just back from Kabul, TomDispatch regular Pratap Chatterjee, author of Halliburton’s Army, helps to rectify that deficit. He offers a rare, news-making, eye-opening inside look at how that country’s system of nepotism and corruption — involving its old “warlords” from the days of the post-Soviet civil war and its new corporate “reconstruction” raiders — actually works. His piece is an anatomy of the way the brother of the country’s new vice president (and long-time warlord), Mohammed Fahim, is raking in tens of millions of dollars in diesel fuel contracts for an American-built power plant — even though far cheaper methods of bringing electricity to the Afghan capital now exist.

“Every morning,” Chatterjee begins, “dozens of trucks laden with diesel from Turkmenistan lumber out of the northern Afghan border town of Hairaton on a two-day trek across the Hindu Kush down to Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. Among the dozens of businesses dispatching these trucks are two extremely well connected companies — Ghazanfar and Zahid Walid — that helped to swell the election coffers of President Hamid Karzai as well as the family business of his running mate, the country’s new vice president, warlord Mohammed Qasim Fahim.”

He then follows the history of corruption and the path of the money — both Afghan and American — as he traces the business dealings of the Afghan elite, including figures connected to Afghan president Hamid Karzai, and well-connected western “reconstruction” companies.

He concludes: “This week, Mohammed Qasim Fahim will be sworn in as the next vice-president of the new government of Afghanistan. Under an agreement with USAID, this new government is required to spend Afghan money to buy yet more diesel for the [U.S.-built] Tarakhil power plant, which in turn will put money exclusively and directly into the vice president’s brother’s pocket.”

This is a devastating look at how Afghaniscam actually works.

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Posted by robertgreenwald on November 17th, 2009

Watch Robert Baer, a former CIA field operative for the Middle East, answer questions on three important questions related to Karzai, an Afghan National Army and the impact of the war on the region.

Question: Will troop escalation make the Karzai government more dependent on the U.S.?


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Posted by Derrick Crowe on November 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

"Think anyone will notice that the Afghan government are the actual criminals around here?"

If you only read the first paragraph of this Jim Michaels’ USA TODAY story, you might walk away with a nice feeling about civic life in Afghanistan:

KABUL — U.S. and Afghan officials have agreed on a new nationwide strategy that will funnel millions of dollars in foreign aid to villages that organize “neighborhood watch”-like programs to help with security.
Oh hey, a Neighborhood Watch program! That sounds like a great idea, right? Get those local citizens out in the streets, have ‘em keep an eye out for criminality and report it to local law enforcement, do community service projects, that sort of thing. Good idea, U.S. and Afghan officials!

The plan will provide an incentive for Afghan tribal leaders to form their own militias and guard against Taliban insurgents, says Mohammad Arif Noorzai, an adviser to President Hamid Karzai on security and tribal issues.

Wait, what? That doesn’t sound like calling in graffiti artists or phoning in a tip about a shady-looking person at the convenient store. Let’s ask Nathan Hodge for more details:

In Afghanistan’s Wardak Province, the U.S. military has overseen a modest experiment in giving Kalashnikovs, cash, and power to local militias to keep insurgents out of rural communities.

Now the Afghan government and the U.S. military are set to try the experiment on a much larger scale. Reporting from Kabul, Jim Michaels of USA Today describes the Community Defense Initiative, a program to create “neighborhood watch”-style militias in more villages throughout Afghanistan.

What the hell is the matter with you people?! Who looks at Afghanistan and says, “I know what this place needs! More Kalashnikovs!”

Just your standard Neighborhood Watch membership incentive…

And what is wrong with Jim Michaels?! Why would you think that a program to arm roving bands of local heavies with automatic rifles should be described as a “neighborhood watch”-like program? Only about halfway through the article do we find out that he borrows this little euphemism for a cash-and-bullets payoff scheme came from a NATO characterization. Jim! Do you get paid to do stenography for NATO? I thought you were a journalist. I only ask because it took me about 2 minutes to confirm my suspicion that the actual Neighborhood Watch program does not in fact hand out Kalashnikov rifles and bullets to local Joe Blows.

El Guapo
El Guapo: Not the best strategy for stabilizing Afghanistan…

The last thing Afghanistan needs is another shipment of weapons into the unstable areas. We already know that lots of our weapons end up in the hands of anti-government forces, who then use them to kill Americans and other Afghans. We would be much, much better off (to say nothing of the Afghans) enabling the local people to undertake civilian-based defense. But first things first: let’s get it through our heads that accepting benign euphemisms for violent, short-sighted policies only serves to obscure reality and cloud the policy choices before the United States.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on November 15th, 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

This past week’s news included the story of Specialist Alexis Hutchinson’s 11-month-old boy taken by the Army and given to Child Protective Services so she could be sent to Afghanistan.

On November 3rd, we heard about an Afghan named Guldubbin who killed five British soldiers. Guldubbin was claimed by the Taliban as one of their own, but as Christina Lamb explained in her Times UK piece [h/t Patrick Cockburn]:

Senior sources say local intelligence shows the [Taliban] claim is false, however. In addition, witnesses contacted by The Sunday Times say other factors lay behind the massacre.

According to two Afghans who knew him, Gulbuddin had complained of being brutally beaten, sodomised and sexually abused by a senior Afghan officer. A policeman named Ajmal, a friend of the gunman, said Gulbuddin had been constantly tortured. “He was being used for sexual purposes,” said Ajmal.

When Gulbuddin opened fire with a machine gun, his target was his alleged abuser. According to the Afghan sources, the five British soldiers were killed simply because they were present and considered to be the man’s protectors.

In sexually repressed Pashtun society, it is common for those in dominant positions to take young men as sexual partners — known as bacha bazi — even though the penalty for anyone caught engaging in a homosexual act is brutal.

Patrick Cockburn explains that many “Afghan villagers prefer to deal with the Taliban rather than the government security forces is that the latter have a habit of seizing their sons at checkpoints and sodomizing them.” What’s worse, coalition officials have been covering it up:

Western military officials eager to show success in training the Afghan army and police have reportedly suppressed for years accounts from Canadian troops that the newly trained security forces are raping young boys.

Specialist Hutchison’s child was placed with CPS, then, so she could go help shore up a regime heavily populated with predators that would love to get their hands on her little boy.

Supposedly, we’re in Afghanistan to protect women. What garbage. We’re not even in Afghanistan to protect little boys, much less the hapless women of that country. In fact, we’re there to protect the political power of what women’s rights groups call “The Rule of the Rapists.” And these are equal opportunity rapists, let me tell you: men, women, little girls and boys. With the budget of the government of Afghanistan totaling a pittance, and with 75 percent of that pittance being devoured by graft, these predators will stride around, leering at their next victims wearing clean, pressed new uniforms and shiny new sidearms paid for by the taxpayers of the United States.

In our fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida, our desired ends are justifying the most repulsive of means. We’re in bed with the rapists.

I have a question for the people of faith making policy for the U.S. government: If you died tomorrow, do you imagine that any of your complicated rationalizations for sending guns and young people and money to this horror show will suffice to explain yourself to your God?

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on November 12th, 2009

Veterans for Rethinking Afghanistan is gathering signatures for a simple message they plan to deliver to the White House: Don’t escalate.

Here’s the text of the petition, which you can sign at the Rethink Afghanistan website:

Dear President Obama,

News reports indicate that you plan to send between 34,000 and 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

We urge you to reconsider this decision.

Expanding the war in Afghanistan will make Americans less safe, not more so.

Less than 100 members of Al Qaeda remain in Afghanistan. The Karzai government we once supported is controlled by warlords and is riddled with corruption. Pakistan’s stability will be gravely imperiled by an expansion of the war. Hundreds if not thousands of troops will be killed, along with countless civilians. Anti-American sentiment throughout the Muslim world will be inflamed by civilian bloodshed, facilitating recruitment by terrorist organizations.

The war will cost billions of dollars when we can least afford it, and will stymie your domestic agenda.

The cost of sustaining a military force in Afghanistan is $1 million per soldier per year – that’s close to $100 billion dollars annually with the troop increase. With the economy in shambles, the deficits generated by these enormous costs will compromise your domestic legislative agenda both fiscally and politically.

The United States has no vital interest in Afghanistan. If you choose to further escalate troop levels in Afghanistan, you will be making the biggest mistake of your presidency.

Please reject General McChrystal’s troop requests and begin the process of exiting U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

I’ve signed it. Have you?

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on November 11th, 2009

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

Two very hopeful stories broke this evening that show that the non-escalation factions in the Obama Administration can play the leaking game, too.

First, we have this Washington Post piece that describes Ambassador Eikenberry’s strong warnings to the president about adding more troops in Afghanistan before Karzai cleans up his act (ha ha ha ho ho hee hee hee hum):

The U.S. ambassador in Kabul sent two classified cables to Washington in the past week expressing deep concerns about sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan until President Hamid Karzai’s government demonstrates that it is willing to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that has fueled the Taliban’s rise, senior U.S. officials said.

…Eikenberry has expressed deep reservations about Karzai’s erratic behavior and corruption within his government, said U.S. officials familiar with the cables. Since Karzai was officially declared reelected last week, U.S. diplomats have seen little sign that the Afghan president plans to address the problems they have raised repeatedly with him.

U.S. officials were particularly irritated by a interview this week in which a defiant Karzai said that the West has little interest in Afghanistan and that its troops are there only for self-serving reasons.

…Eikenberry also has expressed frustration with the relative paucity of funds set aside for spending on development and reconstruction this year in Afghanistan, a country wrecked by three decades of war. …The ambassador also has worried that sending tens of thousands of additional American troops would increase the Afghan government’s dependence on U.S. support at a time when its own security forces should be taking on more responsibility for fighting.

BBC’s reports that Eikenberry said more troops was “not a good idea.”

Eikenberry’s no peacenik. He was a lieutenant-general in charge of training the Afghan army before Obama tapped him to be the U.S. ambassador. Technically a U.S. ambassador is the head honcho for the United States in a given country. If the ex-military ambassador says we should think twice about sending more troops into his country of responsibility, you better take it seriously.

Next, we have this hopeful AP article that asserts that the president is choosing, “none of the above,” as his option in the multiple choices presented to him by the Pentagon:

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama does not plan to accept any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national security team, pushing instead for revisions to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

I wonder if this strange feeling in my gut is this “hope” thing I keep hearing so much about.

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on November 10th, 2009

From TomDispatch this afternoon: Armed drone aircraft in Afghanistan and Pakistan are only the latest wonder weapon to promise us the world; here’s why, even if they don’t perform as advertised abroad, they’ll be a military-industrial success at home — Tom Engelhardt, “Drone Race to a Known Future, Why Military Dreams Fail — and Why It Doesn’t Matter”

An audio interview with me about wonder weapons accompanies the piece and can be checked out here:

Drones are just so hot in Washington today! The vice president is a drone-atic. Critics hail them as the de-escalatory option in the Afghan War. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, they seem to be the only thing that “works.” They are this moment’s wonder weapon, hailed as a panacea for America’s war-fighters, while robot war is increasingly considered the royal road to future success in our conflicts abroad.

They are, however, by no means the first wonder weapon or wonder technology so hailed. In my latest post, I consider a range of such weapons, including the atomic bomb, Vietnam’s electronic battlefield, Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (which was to put an “impermeable” anti-missile shield over the country), the “smart bombs” of the Gulf War, and Donald Rumsfeld’s “netcentric warfare.” All failed to deliver as advertised in their moment, just as the drones will in ours — and, in a sense, it made no difference. After all, they all “succeeded” at home; they all embedded themselves deeply in our American world.

As I write: “Rarely do wonder weapons or wonder technologies disappoint enough to disappear. Each of these is, in fact, now surrounded by its own mini-version of the military-industrial complex, with its own set of corporate players, special lobbyists in Washington, specific interests, and congressional boosters. Each has installed a typical revolving door that the relevant Pentagon officials and officers can spin through once their military careers are in order. This is no less true for that wonder weapon of our moment, the robot drone. In fact, you can already see the military-industrial-drone-robotics complex in formation.”

Consider this post a new way to explain just why drone warfare will prove a disaster. It, of course, puts the American nation into the 24/7 assassination trade — “The drones put wings on the original Bush-era Guantanamo principle — that Americans have the inalienable right to act as global judge, jury, and executioner, and in doing so are beyond the reach of any court or law.” — but it is also paving a longer, even darker road to hell.

Don’t miss this one.

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