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Archive for January, 2010

Posted by The Agonist on January 28th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war.

From our partners at The Agonist

40 days that made illegal attack into legal war on Iraq

Lord Goldsmith, attorney general at the time of the Iraq war, acknowledged today that he changed his advice on the legality of the invasion twice in the five weeks leading up the start of the conflict.

In nearly six hours of testimony before the Chilcot inquiry, the most detailed and gruelling of the inquiry sessions so far, panel members interrogated Goldsmith on the motivation behind the switches in his position over six months in the runup to the war. While he rarely appeared flustered, he presented a picture of someone kept out of the loop of key decision-making, first struggling to get his voice heard and finally accepting what appeared to be politically inevitable.

** Islamic State of Iraq claims responsibility in bombings targeting Baghdad hotels
** Iraq signs oil contract with Chinese-led group
** Iraq captive Peter Moore says kidnappers subjected him to mock execution

A Reconciliation Plan in Afghanistan

The Afghan government is set to unveil an ambitious, far-reaching plan to persuade the Taliban’s foot soldiers to abandon their fight and to offer an opening for the movement’s leaders to return to politics in the country they once ruled.

The new program, which President Hamid Karzai will outline Thursday at a conference in London, seeks to avoid the problems that dogged earlier, more piecemeal approaches. This time it will be a comprehensive plan, operating at the district, provincial and national levels, according to his advisers, who describe it as “bottom-up and top-down.”

‘Inadequate partner’: what US really thinks of Karzai

Ambassador’s leaked cables to the White House reveal increasing exasperation with the President of Afghanistan


The new Afghan plan: buy off Taliban

** Australian Security Contractor Sentenced to Death in Afghanistan
** NATO finalizes Afghan transit deal with Kazakhstan
** UN chief names new envoy to Afghanistan
** Geopolitics: A Swiss Afghanistan and Russian NATO

Please check comments for related news and updates

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Posted by The Agonist on January 28th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war.

From our partners at The Agonist

Pakistan | Jan 23

Dawn – The 2,700 year old Pashtun link to Israel

A genetic study to investigate a connection between the lost tribes of Israel and the Pashtuns of Afghanistan and northern Pakistan will be funded by Israel, according to a report in The Observer.

Israeli anthropologists have claimed that the Pashtuns may be one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel in light of longstanding historical and anecdotal evidence. No scientific proof has ever been able to demonstrate a conclusive link.

However, an Indian researcher based at the National Institute of Immuno-haemotology in Mumbai will now spend time at a leading Israeli institute, Technion to study the findings of her research. Shahnaz Ali collected the blood-samples from members of the Pashtun Afridi tribe living near Lucknow, India. Previous research in a similar area failed to determine a link either way.

According to the report, 10 of the original 12 tribes of Israel were pushed into exile 2,730 years ago when the Assyrians conquered the kingdom of Israel. Modern-day Jews belong to the two remaining tribes of Benjamin and Judah, according to Jewish history. Ever since, speculation has centered on the exact whereabouts of the lost tribes. Claims of their traces in China, Burma, Nigeria and Central Asia have been offered in the past. It is believed that the tribes settled in areas around latter-day Northern Iraq and Afghanistan therefore making the Pashtun link the most compelling.

Navraas Aafreedi, an academic at Lucknow University said, “Pathans, or Pashtuns, are the only people in the world whose probable descent from the lost tribes of Israel finds mention in a number of texts from the 10th century to the present day, written by Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars alike, both religious as well as secularists.”

However, Ali still remainsl cautious. “The theory has been a matter of curiosity since long ago, and now I hope a scientific analysis will provide us with some answers about the Israelite origin of Afridi Pathans. We still don’t know what the truth is, but efforts will certainly give us a direction,” she told the Times of India last year.

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on January 28th, 2010
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With the dawn of the Obama era, there has been much discussion of counterinsurgency, or COIN.  Far less discussed, or reported on, has been the counterterror war in Afghanistan which is evidently ramping up.  The truth of counterinsurgency (though you’ll seldom see it said) is that, as a strategy, it has no chance unless its underpinning is a robust program of counterterror.

You don’t know what counterterror is?  Not so surprising.  The truth is, if you’re not a complete news jockey, you probably don’t know much about targeted assassinations, night raids, secret detention centers, disappearances, and other acts of counterterror (which is really terror in uniform or at least under state orders).  Of course, the Afghans know well enough.  For them, it’s not a secret war, particularly in the southern parts of the country, where the Taliban is strongest; it’s but one particularly frightening aspect of everyday life.

It’s just we Americans who are ignorant.  Our secret war is essentially kept secret from us.  Our Special Forces operatives, along with the CIA (and possibly private contractors), have long been involved in the “night raids” that Anand Gopal describes below.  And regularly enough, if you’re reading closely, you’ll see news bubbling to the surface about their results — like those eight students in grades 6-10, who were taken from their beds by “Americans” in a night raid in Kunar Province, handcuffed, and then evidently executed. (A statement from Afghan President Hamid Karzai says that they were “martyred” and the UN has confirmed that they were students.)  Or consider the recent night raid in Ghazni Province that killed at least four Afghan villagers, including an 11-year-old.  Both incidents led to angry protests; both resulted in denials by the U.S. military that the dead were anything but “insurgents” or “bomb-makers.”

In this country, the night raids and the secret U.S. military detention centers that go with them have received next to no coverage — until now.  I’m proud to say that Anand Gopal, who has been reporting for the Wall Street Journal from Kabul, produces here the single most extensive report so far on American night raids in Afghanistan and the military holding areas that are the“black sites” of this moment.  (His investigation, a shared project of TomDispatch.com and the Nation magazine, appears in print in the latest issue of the Nation.  To catch him in an audio interview with TomDispatch’s Timothy MacBain discussing how he got this story, click here.)

Even if inherited from the Bush administration, the Afghan night raids, the accompanying killings, disappearances, incarcerations, and abuses, as well as the secret military detention centers are now, after a full year in office, Obama’s.  Tom

Obama’s Secret Prisons
Night Raids, Hidden Detention Centers, the “Black Jail,” and the Dogs of War in Afghanistan
By Anand Gopal

[The research for this story was supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism.]

One quiet, wintry night last year in the eastern Afghan town of Khost, a young government employee named Ismatullah simply vanished.  He had last been seen in the town’s bazaar with a group of friends. Family members scoured Khost’s dust-doused streets for days. Village elders contacted Taliban commanders in the area who were wont to kidnap government workers, but they had never heard of the young man. Even the governor got involved, ordering his police to round up nettlesome criminal gangs that sometimes preyed on young bazaar-goers for ransom.

But the hunt turned up nothing. Spring and summer came and went with no sign of Ismatullah. Then one day, long after the police and village elders had abandoned their search, a courier delivered a neat, handwritten note on Red Cross stationary to the family.  In it, Ismatullah informed them that he was in Bagram, an American prison more than 200 miles away. U.S. forces had picked him up while he was on his way home from the bazaar, the terse letter stated, and he didn’t know when he would be freed.

Sometime in the last few years, Pashtun villagers in Afghanistan’s rugged heartland began to lose faith in the American project. Many of them can point to the precise moment of this transformation, and it usually took place in the dead of the night, when most of the country was fast asleep. In the secretive U.S. detentions process, suspects are usually nabbed in the darkness and then sent to one of a number of detention areas on military bases, often on the slightest suspicion and without the knowledge of their families.

This process has become even more feared and hated in Afghanistan than coalition airstrikes. The night raids and detentions, little known or understood outside of these Pashtun villages, are slowly turning Afghans against the very forces they greeted as liberators just a few years ago.

One Dark Night in November

It was the 19th of November 2009, at 3:15 am. A loud blast awoke the villagers of a leafy neighborhood outside Ghazni city, a town of ancient provenance in the country’s south. A team of U.S. soldiers burst through the front gate of the home of Majidullah Qarar, the spokesman for the Minister of Agriculture. Qarar was in Kabul at the time, but his relatives were home, four of whom were sleeping in the family’s one-room guesthouse. One of them, Hamidullah, who sold carrots at the local bazaar, ran towards the door of the guesthouse. He was immediately shot, but managed to crawl back inside, leaving a trail of blood behind him. Then Azim, a baker, darted towards his injured cousin.  He, too, was shot and crumpled to the floor. The fallen men cried out to the two relatives remaining in the room, but they — both children — refused to move, glued to their beds in silent horror.

The foreign soldiers, most of them tattooed and bearded, then went on to the main compound. They threw clothes on the floor, smashed dinner plates, and forced open closets. Finally, they found the man they were looking for: Habib-ur-Rahman, a computer programmer and government employee. Rahman was responsible for converting Microsoft Windows from English to the local Pashto language so that government offices could use the software. He had spent time in Kuwait, and the Afghan translator accompanying the soldiers said they were acting on a tip that Rahman was a member of al-Qaeda.

They took the barefoot Rahman and a cousin of his to a helicopter some distance away and transported them to a small American base in a neighboring province for interrogation. After two days, U.S. forces released Rahman’s cousin. But Rahman has not been seen or heard from since.

“We’ve called his phone, but it doesn’t answer,” says his cousin Qarar, the spokesman for the agriculture minister. Using his powerful connections, Qarar enlisted local police, parliamentarians, the governor, and even the agriculture minister himself in the search for his cousin, but they turned up nothing. Government officials who independently investigated the scene in the aftermath of the raid and corroborated the claims of the family also pressed for an answer as to why two of Qarar’s family members were killed. American forces issued a statement saying that the dead were “enemy militants [that] demonstrated hostile intent.”

Weeks after the raid, the family remains bitter. “Everyone in the area knew we were a family that worked for the government,” Qarar says. “Rahman couldn’t even leave the city because if the Taliban caught him in the countryside they would have killed him.”

Beyond the question of Rahman’s guilt or innocence, however, it’s how he was taken that has left such a residue of hate and anger among his family. “Did they have to kill my cousins? Did they have to destroy our house?” Qarar asks. “They knew where Rahman worked. Couldn’t they have at least tried to come with a warrant in the daytime? We would have forced Rahman to comply.”

“I used to go on TV and argue that people should support this government and the foreigners,” he adds. “But I was wrong. Why should anyone do so? I don’t care if I get fired for saying it, but that’s the truth.”

The Dogs of War

Night raids are only the first step in the American detention process in Afghanistan. Suspects are usually sent to one among a series of prisons on U.S. military bases around the country. There are officially nine such jails, called Field Detention Sites in military parlance. They are small holding areas, often just a clutch of cells divided by plywood, and are mainly used for prisoner interrogation.

In the early years of the war, these were but way stations for those en route to Bagram prison, a facility with a notorious reputation for abusive behavior. As a spotlight of international attention fell on Bagram in recent years, wardens there cleaned up their act and the mistreatment of prisoners began to shift to the little-noticed Field Detention Sites.

Of the 24 former detainees interviewed for this story, 17 claim to have been abused at or en route to these sites. Doctors, government officials, and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, a body tasked with investigating abuse claims, corroborate 12 of these claims.

One of these former detainees is Noor Agha Sher Khan, who used to be a police officer in Gardez, a mud-caked town in the eastern part of the country. According to Sher Khan, U.S. forces detained him in a night raid in 2003 and brought him to a Field Detention Site at a nearby U.S. base.  “They interrogated me the whole night,” he recalls, “but I had nothing to tell them.” Sher Khan worked for a police commander whom U.S. forces had detained on suspicion of having ties to the insurgency. He had occasionally acted as a driver for this commander, which made him suspicious in American eyes.

The interrogators blindfolded him, taped his mouth shut, and chained him to the ceiling, he alleges. Occasionally they unleashed a dog, which repeatedly bit him. At one point, they removed the blindfold and forced him to kneel on a long wooden bar. “They tied my hands to a pulley [above] and pushed me back and forth as the bar rolled across my shins. I screamed and screamed.”  They then pushed him to the ground and forced him to swallow 12 bottles worth of water. “Two people held my mouth open and they poured water down my throat until my stomach was full and I became unconscious. It was as if someone had inflated me.” he says. After he was roused from his torpor, he vomited the water uncontrollably.

This continued for a number of days; sometimes he was hung upside down from the ceiling, and other times blindfolded for extended periods. Eventually, he was sent on to Bagram where the torture ceased. Four months later, he was quietly released, with a letter of apology from U.S. authorities for wrongfully imprisoning him.

An investigation of Sher Khan’s case by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and an independent doctor found that he had wounds consistent with the abusive treatment he alleges. U.S. forces have declined to comment on the specifics of his case, but a spokesman said that some soldiers involved in detentions in this part of the country had been given unspecified “administrative punishments.” He added that “all detainees are treated humanely,” except for isolated cases.

The Disappeared

Some of those taken to the Field Detention Sites never make it to Bagram, but instead are simply released after authorities deem them to be innocuous. Even then, some allege abuse. Such was the case with Hajji Ehsanullah, snatched one winter night in 2008 from his home in the southern province of Zabul. He was taken to a detention site in Khost Province, some 200 miles away. He returned home 13 days later, his skin scarred by dog bites and with memory difficulties that, according to his doctor, resulted from a blow to the head. U.S. forces had dropped him off at a gas station in Khost after three days of interrogation.  It took him ten more days to find his way home.

Others taken to these sites never end up in Bagram for an entirely different reason. In the hardscrabble villages of the Pashtun south, where rumors grow more abundantly than the most bountiful crop, locals whisper tales of people who were captured and executed. Most have no evidence. But occasionally, a body turns up. Such was the case at a detention site on an American military base in Helmand province, where in 2003 a U.S. military coroner wrote in the autopsy report of a detainee who died in U.S. custody (later made available through the Freedom of Information Act): “Death caused by the multiple blunt force injuries to the lower torso and legs complicated by rhabdomyolysis (release of toxic byproducts into the system due to destruction of muscle). Manner of death is homicide.”

In the dust-swept province of Khost one day this past December, U.S. forces launched a night raid on the village of Motai, killing six people and capturing nine, according to nearly a dozen local government authorities and witnesses. Two days later, the bodies of two of those detained — plastic cuffs binding their hands — were found more than a mile from the largest U.S. base in the area. A U.S. military spokesman denies any involvement in the deaths and declines to comment on the details of the raid. Local Afghan officials and tribal elders, however, steadfastly maintain that the two were killed while in U.S. custody. American authorities released four other villagers in subsequent days. The fate of the three remaining captives is unknown.

The matter might be cleared up if the U.S. military were less secretive about its detention process. But secrecy has been the order of the day. The nine Field Detention Sites are enveloped in a blanket of official secrecy, but at least the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations are aware of them. There may, however, be others whose existences on the scores of military bases that dot the country have not been disclosed. One example, according to former detainees, is the detention facility at Rish Khor, an Afghan army base that sits atop a mountain overlooking the capital, Kabul.

One night last year, U.S. forces raided Zaiwalat, a tiny village that fits snugly into the mountains of Wardak Province, a few dozen miles west of Kabul, and netted nine locals. They brought the captives to Rish Khor and interrogated them for three days. “They kept us in a container,” recalls Rehmatullah Muhammad, one of the nine. “It was made of steel. We were handcuffed for three days continuously. We barely slept those days.” The plain-clothed interrogators accused Rehmatullah and the others of giving food and shelter to the Taliban. The suspects were then sent on to Bagram and released after four months.  (A number of former detainees said they were interrogated by plainclothed officials, but they did not know if these officials belonged to the military, the CIA, or private contractors.)

Afghan human rights campaigners worry that U.S. forces may be using secret detention sites like Rish Khor to carry out interrogations away from prying eyes. The U.S. military, however, denies even having knowledge of the facility.

The Black Jail

Much less secret is the final stop for most captives: the Bagram Internment Facility. These days ominously dubbed “Obama’s Guantanamo,” Bagram nonetheless offers the best conditions for captives during the entire detention process.

Its modern life as a prison began in 2002, when small numbers of detainees from throughout Asia were incarcerated there on the first leg of an odyssey that would eventually bring them to the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In the years since, however, it has become the main destination for those caught within Afghanistan as part of the growing war there.  By 2009, the inmate population had swelled to more than 700.  Housed in a windowless old Soviet hangar, the prison consists of two rows of serried cage-like cells bathed continuously in white light.  Guards walk along a platform that runs across the mesh-tops of the pens, an easy position from which to supervise the prisoners below.

Regular, even infamous, abuse in the style of Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison marked Bagram’s early years. Abdullah Mujahed, for example, was apprehended in the village of Kar Marchi in the eastern province of Paktia in 2003. Mujahed was a Tajik militia commander who had led an armed uprising against the Taliban in their waning days, but U.S. forces accused him of having ties to the insurgency.  “In Bagram, we were handcuffed, blindfolded, and had our feet chained for days,” he recalls. “They didn’t allow us to sleep at all for 13 days and nights.” A guard would strike his legs every time he dozed off.  Daily, he could hear the screams of tortured inmates and the unmistakable sound of shackles dragging across the floor.

Then, one day, a team of soldiers dragged him to an aircraft, but refused to tell him where he was going. Eventually he landed at another prison, where the air felt thick and wet. As he walked through the row of cages, inmates began to shout, “This is Guantanamo! You are in Guantanamo!” He would learn there that he was accused of leading the Pakistani Islamist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (which in reality was led by another person who had the same name and who died in 2006). The U.S. eventually released him and returned him to Afghanistan.

Former Bagram detainees allege that they were regularly beaten, subjected to blaring music 24 hours a day, prevented from sleeping, stripped naked, and forced to assume what interrogators term “stress positions.” The nadir came in late 2002 when interrogators beat two inmates to death.

The U.S. Special Forces also run a second, secret prison somewhere on Bagram Air Base that the Red Cross still does not have access to.  Used primarily for interrogations, it is so feared by prisoners that they have dubbed it the “Black Jail.”

One day two years ago, U.S. forces came to get Noor Muhammad, outside of the town of Kajaki in the southern province of Helmand. Muhammad, a physician, was running a clinic that served all comers — including the Taliban. The soldiers raided his clinic and his home, killing five people (including two patients) and detaining both his father and him. The next day, villagers found the handcuffed corpse of Muhammad’s father, apparently dead from a gunshot.

The soldiers took Muhammad to the Black Jail. “It was a tiny, narrow corridor, with lots of cells on both sides and a big steel gate and bright lights. We didn’t know when it was night and when it was day.” He was held in a concrete, windowless room, in complete solitary confinement. Soldiers regularly dragged him by his neck, and refused him food and water. They accused him of providing medical care to the insurgents, to which he replied, “I am a doctor.  It’s my duty to provide care to every human being who comes to my clinic, whether they are Taliban or from the government.”

Eventually, Muhammad was released, but he has since closed his clinic and left his home village. “I am scared of the Americans and the Taliban,” he says. “I’m happy my father is dead, so he doesn’t have to experience this hell.”

Afraid of the Dark

Unlike the Black Jail, U.S. officials have, in the last two years, moved to reform the main prison at Bagram. Torture there has stopped, and American prison officials now boast that the typical inmate gains 15 pounds while in custody. Sometime in the early months of this year, officials plan to open a dazzling new prison — that will eventually replace Bagram — with huge, airy cells, the latest medical equipment, and rooms for vocational training. The Bagram prison itself will be handed over to the Afghans in the coming year, although the rest of the detention process will remain in U.S. hands.

But human rights advocates say that concerns about the detention process still remain. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that inmates at Guantanamo cannot be stripped of their right to habeas corpus, but stopped short of making the same argument for Bagram.  (U.S. officials say that Bagram is in the midst of a war zone and therefore U.S. domestic civil rights legislation does not apply.) Unlike Guantanamo, inmates there do not have access to a lawyer. Most say they have no idea why they have been detained.  Inmates do now appear before a review panel every six months, which is intended to reassess their detention, but their ability to ask questions about their situation is limited. “I was only allowed to answer yes or no and not explain anything at my hearing,” says Rehmatullah Muhammad.

Nonetheless, the improvement in Bagram’s conditions begs the question: Can the U.S. fight a cleaner war? This is what Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal promised this summer: fewer civilian casualties, fewer of the feared house raids, and a more transparent detention process.

The American troops that operate under NATO command have begun to enforce stricter rules of engagement:  they may now officially hold detainees for only 96 hours before transferring them to the Afghan authorities or freeing them, and Afghan forces must take the lead in house searches. American soldiers, when questioned, bristle at these restrictions — and have ways of circumventing them. “Sometimes we detain people, then, when the 96 hours are up, we transfer them to the Afghans,” says one U.S. Marine, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “They rough them up a bit for us and then send them back to us for another 96 hours. This keeps going until we get what we want.”

A simpler way of dancing around the rules is to call in the U.S. Special Operations Forces — the Navy SEALS, Green Berets, and others — which are not under NATO command and so are not bound by the stricter rules of engagement.  These elite troops are behind most of the night raids and detentions in the search for “high-value suspects.” U.S. military officials say in interviews that the new restrictions have not affected the number of raids and detentions at all. The actual change, however, is more subtle: the detention process has shifted almost entirely to areas and actors that can best avoid public scrutiny: Special Operations Forces and small field prisons.

The shift signals a deeper reality of war, American soldiers say: you can’t fight guerrillas without invasive raids and detentions, any more than you could fight them without bullets. Through the eyes of a U.S. soldier, Afghanistan is a scary place. The men are bearded and turbaned. They pray incessantly. In most of the country, women are barred from leaving the house. Many Afghans own a Kalashnikov. “You can’t trust anyone,” says Rodrigo Arias, a Marine based in the northeastern province of Kunar. “I’ve nearly been killed in ambushes but the villagers don’t tell us anything. But they usually know something.”

An officer who has worked in the Field Detention Sites says that it takes dozens of raids to turn up a useful suspect. “Sometimes you’ve got to bust down doors. Sometimes you’ve got to twist arms. You have to cast a wide net, but when you get the right person it makes all the difference.”

For Arias, it’s a matter of survival. “I want to go home in one piece. If that means rounding people up, then round them up.” To question this, he says, is to question whether the war itself is worth fighting. “That’s not my job. The people in Washington can figure that out.”

If night raids and detentions are an unavoidable part of modern counterinsurgency warfare, then so is the resentment they breed.  “We were all happy when the Americans first came. We thought they would bring peace and stability,” says former detainee Rehmatullah. “But now most people in my village want them to leave.” A year after Rehmatullah was released, his nephew was taken. Two months later, some other villagers were grabbed.

It has become a predictable pattern: Taliban forces ambush American convoys as they pass through the village, and then retreat into the thick fruit orchards that cover the area. The Americans then return at night to pick up suspects. In the last two years, 16 people have been taken and 10 killed in night raids in this single village of about 300, according to villagers. In the same period, they say, the insurgents killed one local and did not take anyone hostage.

The people of this village therefore have begun to fear the night raids more than the Taliban. There are now nights when Rehmatullah’s children hear the distant thrum of a helicopter and rush into his room. He consoles them, but admits he needs solace himself. “I know I should be too old for it,” he says, “but this war has made me afraid of the dark.”

Anand Gopal has reported in Afghanistan for the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal.  His dispatches can be read at anandgopal.com. He is currently working on a book about the Afghan war.  This piece appears in print in the latest issue of the Nation magazine. To catch him in an audio interview with TomDispatch’s Timothy MacBain discussing how he got this story, click here.

Copyright 2010 Anand Gopal

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on January 27th, 2010

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The State of the Union talking points distributed by the White House this morning seem to indicate that the president will only briefly discuss Afghanistan tonight, but we are working hard to keep the spotlight on the Afghanistan war. Tonight, join us for a State of the Union watch party streamed live on Rethink Afghanistan’s Facebook page.

Rethink Afghanistan’s Facebook campaign around the State of the Union address is really heating up. We’ve already been the focus of two big write-ups on techPresident and Mashable. Here’s what techPresident had to say:

But chattering on Twitter, or live-blogging it, which more than 2000 sites and organizations are apparently promising to do!–is hardly the only or best way to use a live event for online organizing. See, for example, what “Rethink Afghanistan,” a project of the Brave New Foundation, is doing tonight around the State of the Union, via its staffer Derrick Crowe, writing on OpenLeft:

Note how Rethink Afghanistan is using multiple layers of engagement. Its strategists understand that people have many choices for watching SOTU–all equally good–but the opportunity to share the experience with other like-minded activists can add extra value to the experience. They’re also planning to add value to the speech video by adding a chyron with a running tally of the cost of the war throughout the speech, and with liveblogging by the group’s founder, Robert Greenwald. Finally, they’re hoping they can get their activists to generate some live feedback in a highly visible place, the White House’s Facebook page.

Check out the Mashable piece for a full description of what we’ve been up to over the past few days on Facebook and how it ties in to tonight’s event. Here’s a rundown of the agenda for tonight:

  • Rethink Afghanistan’s fan page will have a live stream of a part of Rethink Afghanistan (The Cost of War) prior to the speech at 8:30 p.m. Eastern / 5:30 p.m. Pacific.
  • Then, we’ll carry a live stream of the State of the Union address.
  • Brave New Foundation’s Robert Greenwald will be there for the conversation, and I’ll provide commentary and links to Afghanistan-related information.
  • After the speech, our whole mob will head over to the White House’s Facebook page to share our thoughts on his Afghanistan comments.

Please join us tonight starting at 8:30 p.m. Eastern / 5:30 p.m. Pacific on Rethink Afghanistan’s Facebook fan page. Let’s keep the focus tonight on ending the war in Afghanistan. Hope to see you there.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on January 26th, 2010

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On Tuesday, the Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide attack targeting an international convoy at the gates of Camp Phoenix, a U.S. facility on the outskirts of Kabul. At least six people were injured. Suicide terrorism was virtually unknown in the country before the U.S. invaded at the start of the Afghanistan war. Most attacks target U.S. and allied forces.

Tomorrow’s L.A. Times provides a bit of background on Camp Phoenix, most notably that it’s a frequent target for such attacks:

Tuesday’s attack took place just outside an installation known as Camp Phoenix, used mainly by U.S. troops who are helping to train Afghan security forces. Building up the nation’s army and police force is considered a cornerstone of the West’s eventual exit strategy, though military officials acknowledge that it will be a difficult undertaking.

Camp Phoenix, on the main road leading out of Kabul toward the eastern city of Jalalabad, is a frequent target of insurgent attacks, in part because it is close to a main roadway, and suicide bombers often try to strike convoys that are arriving or leaving. Such an attack in mid-November injured about two dozen people, nine of them Western troops.

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Posted by Steve Hynd on January 26th, 2010

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The AP (sorry) has the news that mass murdering fuckhead General Dostum is back in Karzai’s government despite protestations from Western leaders.

Karzai this month restored Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum as chief of staff to the commander in chief of the Afghan army – a job he lost in 2008 after failing to cooperate in an investigation into the shooting of a rival.

…”Gen. Dostum joins a Karzai government which suffers deficiency of constitutional legitimacy, lacks vision and unity, and is mired in corruption and inefficiency,” the independent Afghanistan Rights Movement said this week. “With notorious warlords such as Gen. Dostum in power, Mr. Karzai can neither send a genuine message of peace to the armed opposition, nor can he convince Afghans that they live in a just society where their lives and rights are protected by the state.”

Noor Olhag Olomi, a member of parliament from Kandahar, called the Dostum appointment a “violation of human rights” of Afghans who had suffered abuse at the hands of Dostum and his forces.

Meanwhile Gareth Porter, who is in Afghanistan right now, confirms that the West has decided to cut its losses, paper over what cracks it can for a domestic audience and head for the exits – all while praising the Surge as the vehicle of “success”. Porter writes that the key is a deal with the Taliban, which means Dostum will soon have some more company in the blood-thirsty warlord club of Kabul.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s very cautiously-worded support for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban leadership in an interview published Monday is only the first public signal of a policy decision by the Barack Obama administration to support a political settlement between the Hamid Karzai regime and the Taliban, an official of McChrystal’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) command has revealed in an interview with IPS.

…The official said the objective of the troop surge and the ISAF strategy accompanying it is to support a negotiated political settlement. “The story of the next 18 months is the story of establishing the conditions under which reconciliation will take place,” said the official.

…The counterinsurgency strategy now being mounted in Afghanistan by ISAF “is aimed at providing time and space” for “reconciliation”, according to the official, as well as governance reforms and increasing the capacity of the national army and police force during that 18-month period.

The ISAF official said there has been a debate among U.S. officials about “the terms on which the Taliban will become part of the political fabric”. The debate is not on whether the Taliban movement will be participating in the Afghan political system, however, but on whether or not the administration could accept the participation of a specific individual — Mullah Omar, the leader of the organisation and former chief of state of the Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001 — in the political future of Afghanistan.

Gareth also confirms that notions of the Taliban inviting Al Qaeda back or of the Taliban having to be put on the back foot before negotiations appear to have been abandoned.

U.S. participation appears necessary to get the Taliban to agree to end its resistance and reach a political solution. The Taliban has insisted in published statements that it will not participate in peace talks that would not result in the withdrawal of foreign troops.

That demand raises the question of whether the administration would be willing to discuss the complete withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign troops from Afghanistan as part of a settlement.

The last time a demand for a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal was negotiated in an international agreement was the Iraqi security pact of 2008. The George W. Bush administration had insisted that the United States would only agree to a “condition-based” withdrawal plan, but in the end, it accepted a deadline for complete withdrawal.

The ISAF official said the decision on that issue would be made by the Obama administration and its NATO allies, but that the ISAF command would have “no problem” with the negotiation of a timetable in conjunction with a political settlement.

The official suggested that the argument used to justify the troop surge in Afghanistan – that the Taliban would allow al Qaeda to operate in Afghanistan if it were allowed to consolidate power in large areas – has now been abandoned.

“There are certainly divisions between Taliban and al Qaeda,” said the official. He cited statements by Taliban officials that “the state was hijacked by al Qaeda, and we’re not going to let that happen again.”

The argument that the Taliban leadership would be unwilling to negotiate unless persuaded by increasing U.S. military pressures over the next 18 months that they are “losing” also appears to have been abandoned by the administration and the ISAF command.

The official cited a “growing trend” in intelligence analysis concluding that the Taliban “is positioning itself for a settlement.”

Which is all pretty much what I’ve been writing recently.

And so it appears that, no matter what spin is put on matters for domestic consumption, it’ll be “warlords for the win!” That’s a great pity for the people of Afghanistan but isn’t, truthfully, a whole lot different from the period pre-Taliban government there, and may be a whole lot better if Taliban and ex- Northern Alliance are kept to a somewhat-peace by Western threats of future intervention. For the US and it’s Western allies, it serves their strategic aims. For Afghanistan’s neighbours, it leaves the place open and essentially unaligned again, and they can all go back to their proxy machinations for control.

Realistically, it’s the only exit strategy from the Afghan resource pit that’ll be obtainable in anything short of a couple of decades, and should be taken. As should the wider lesson.

By limiting our foreign policy interventions to only those instances of vital necessity and last resort, we can better assure that the domestic political will would exist to apply the resources necessary to succeed, we wouldn’t have to try to pull off the remarkable on the cheap, and we wouldn’t need to dedicate trillions of COIN dollars in the aftermath in order to fix the original bargain basement boondoggle.  While that sounds like a vague standard – it is – try this rule of thumb: the overwhelming presumption should be against committing U.S. military resources in an offensive capacity, especially if there are any alternatives that are even arguably viable.  Work back from there.

But the dishonesty that will accompany it will still rankle.

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on January 26th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war. This post was originally published at TomDispatch.com.


[Note for TomDispatch readersIn my younger days, I used to dream of running a book review section in some magazine or newspaper.  I was always struck that such sections only responded to the one question that deeply interested publishers: What’s new?  They never reviewed on the basis of questions a reader might ask.  I imagined a review section that, in its choices, might respond to some of those questions and so deal in older as well as newly published books.  With that in mind, let me recommend a book published four years ago.  The other night in the wee hours, in a fit of insomnia, I finished the 2006 novel of the young Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun. It's a remarkable re-imagining of the grim Nigerian civil war of the 1960s -- a tragic tale, but no less engrossing for that.  The characters are a wonder. The next morning, I woke up to find an essay of hers on the great Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart) at Salon.com, in which she conjures up a 1950s world in which a reasonable publishing question in England (or the U.S.) was “Would anyone possibly buy a novel by an African?” and her own first encounter with Achebe in the 1980s. (“I did not know in a concrete way until then that people like me could exist in literature.”)

If, in the wee hours, you, too, want to be swept into another world filled with surprises, which is the magic of the best of novels, think about picking up a copy of Yellow Sun.  And while you’re at it, consider this a small reminder that, if you are purchasing anything, book or otherwise, at Amazon and go to it via any book link at TomDispatch (or one of the linked covers in any TD piece), we get a small percentage of your purchase.  It’s the simplest way to contribute to TD without expending an extra cent.  Tom]

Pentagon Time
Tick…Tick…Tick…
By Tom Engelhardt

Back in 2007, when General David Petraeus was the surge commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, he had a penchant for clock imagery.  In an interview in April of that year, he typically said:  “I’m conscious of a couple of things. One is that the Washington clock is moving more rapidly than the Baghdad clock, so we’re obviously trying to speed up the Baghdad clock a bit and to produce some progress on the ground that can perhaps give hope to those in the coalition countries, in Washington, and perhaps put a little more time on the Washington clock.”  And he wasn’t alone.  Military spokespeople and others in the Bush administration right up to the president regularly seemed to hear one, two, or sometimes as many as three clocks ticking away ominously and out of sync.

Hearing some discordant ticking myself of late, I decided to retrieve Petraeus’s image from the dustbin of history.  So imagine three ticking clocks, all right here in the U.S., one set to Washington time, a second to American time, and the third to Pentagon time.

In Washington — with even the New York Times now agreeing that a “majority” of 100 is 60 (not 51) and that the Senate’s 41st vote settles everything — the clock seems to be ticking erratically, if at all.  On the other hand, that American clock, if we’re to believe the good citizens of Massachusetts, is ticking away like a bomb.  Americans are impatient, angry, and “in revolt” against Washington time. That’s what the media continue to tell us in the wake of last week’s Senate upset.

Depending on which account you read, they were outraged by a nearly trillion dollar health-care reform that was also a giveaway to insurance companies, and annoyed by Democratic candidate Martha Coakley calling Curt Schilling a “Yankees fan” as well as besmirching handshaking in the cold outside Fenway Park; they were anxious about an official Massachusetts unemployment rate of 9.4% (and a higher real one), an economy that has rebounded for bankers but not for regular people, soaring deficits, staggering foreclosure rates, mega-banking bonuses, the Obama administration’s bailout of those same bankers, and its coziness with Wall Street.  They were angry and impatient about a lot of things, blind angry you might say, since they were ready to vote back into office the party not in office, even if behind that party’s “new face” were ideas that would take us back to the origins of the present disaster.

A Blank Check for the Pentagon

It’s worth noting, however, that they’re not angry about everything — and that the Washington clock, barely moving on a wide range of issues, is still ticking away when it comes to one institution.  The good citizens of Massachusetts may be against free rides and bailouts for many types, but not for everybody.  I’m speaking, of course, about the Pentagon, for which Congress has just passed a record new budget of $708 billion (with an Afghan war-fighting supplemental request of $33 billion, essentially a bail-out payment, still pending but sure to pass).  This happened without real debate, much public notice, or even a touch of anger in Washington or Massachusetts.  And keep in mind that the Pentagon’s real budget is undoubtedly close to a trillion dollars, without even including the full panoply of our national security state.

The tea-party crews don’t rail against Pentagon giveaways, nor do Massachusetts voters grumble about them.  Unfettered Pentagon budgets pass in the tick-tock of a Washington clock and no one seems fazed when the Wall Street Journal reveals that military aides accompanying globe-hopping parties of congressional representatives regularly spend thousands of taxpayer dollars on snacks, drinks, and other “amenities” for them, even while, like some K Street lobbying outfit, promoting their newest weaponry.  Think of it, in financial terms, as Pentagon peanuts shelled out for actual peanuts, and no one gives a damn.

It’s hardly considered news — and certainly nothing to get angry about — when the Secretary of Defense meets privately with the nation’s top military-industrial contractors, calls for an even “closer partnership,” and pledges to further their mutual interests by working “with the White House to secure steady growth in the Pentagon’s budgets over time.” Nor does it cause a stir among the denizens of inside-the-Beltway Washington or the citizens of Massachusetts when the top ten defense contractors spend more than $27 million lobbying the federal government, as in the last quarter of 2009 (a significant increase over the previous quarter), just as plans for the president’s Afghan War surge were being prepared.

Nor is it just the angry citizens of Massachusetts, or those tea-party organizers, or Republicans stalwarts who hear no clock ticking when it comes to “national security” expenditures, who see no link between our military-industrial outlays, our perpetual wars, and our economic woes.  When, for instance, was the last time you saw a bona fide liberal economist/columnist like Paul Krugman include the Pentagon and our wars in the litany of things potentially bringing this country down?

Yes, striking percentages of Americans attend the church (temple, mosque) of their choice, but when it comes to American politics and the economy, the U.S. military is our church, “national security” our Bible, and nothing done in the name of either can be wrong.

Talk about a blank check.  It’s as if the military, already the most revered institution in the country, existed on the other side of a Star-Trekkian financial wormhole.

Pentagon Time Horizons

Which brings us to Pentagon time.  Yes, that third clock is ticking, but at a very different tempo from those in Washington or Massachusetts.

Americans are evidently increasingly impatient for “change” of whatever sort, whether you can believe in it or not.  The Pentagon, on the other hand, is patient.  It’s opted for making counterinsurgency the central strategy of its war in Central and South Asia, the sort of strategy that, even if successful, experts claim could easily take a decade or two to pull off.  But no problem — not when the Pentagon’s clock is ticking on something like eternal time.

And here’s the thing: because the media are no less likely to give the Pentagon a blank check than the citizens of Massachusetts, it’s hard indeed to grasp the extent to which that institution, and the military services it represents, are planning and living by their own clock.  Though major papers have Pentagon “beats,” they generally tell us remarkably little, except inadvertently and in passing, about Pentagon time.

So, for the next few minutes, just keep that Pentagon clock ticking away in your head.  In the meantime, we’ll go looking for some hints about the Pentagon’s war-fighting time horizons buried in news reports on, and Pentagon contracts for, the Afghan War.

Take, as a start, a January 6th story from the inside pages of my hometown paper.  New York Times reporter Eric Schmitt began it this way: “The military’s effort to build a seasoned corps of expert officers for the Afghan war, one of the highest priorities of top commanders, is off to a slow start, with too few volunteers and a high-level warning to the armed services to steer better candidates into the program, according to some senior officers and participants.”  At stake was an initiative “championed” by Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal to create a “912-member corps of mostly officers and enlisted service members who will work on Afghanistan and Pakistan issues for up to five years.”

The news was that the program, in its infancy, was already faltering because it didn’t conform to one of the normal career paths followed in the U.S. military.  But what caught my eye was that phrase “up to five years.”  Imagine what it means for the war commander, backed by key figures in the Pentagon, to plan to put more than 900 soldiers, including top officers, on a career path that would leave them totally wedded, for five years, to war in the Af-Pak theater of operations.  (After all, if that war were to end, the State Department might well take charge.)  In other words, McChrystal was creating a potentially powerful interest group within the military whose careers would be wedded to an ongoing war with a time-line that extended into 2015 — and who would have something to lose if it ended too quickly.  What does it matter then that President Obama was proclaiming his desire to begin drawing down the war in July 2011?

Or consider the plan being proposed, according to Ann Scott Tyson, in a January 17th Washington Post piece, by Special Forces Major Jim Gant, and now getting a most respectful hearing inside the military.  Gant wants to establish small Special Forces teams that would “go native,” move into Afghan villages and partner up with local tribal leaders — “one tribe at a time,” as an influential paper he wrote on the subject was entitled.  “The U.S. military,” reported Tyson, “would have to grant the teams the leeway to grow beards and wear local garb, and enough autonomy in the chain of command to make rapid decisions. Most important, to build relationships, the military would have to commit one or two teams to working with the same tribe for three to five years, Gant said.”  She added that Gant has “won praise at the highest levels [of the U.S. military] for his effort to radically deepen the U.S. military’s involvement with Afghan tribes — and is being sent back to Afghanistan to do just that.”  Again, another “up to five year” commitment in Afghanistan and a career path to go with it on a clock that, in Gant’s case, has yet to start ticking.

Or just to run through a few more examples:

* In August 2009, the superb Walter Pincus of the Washington Post quoted Air Force Brigadier General Walter Givhan, in charge of training the Afghan National Army Air Corps, this way:  “Our goal is by 2016 to have an [Afghan] air corps that will be capable of doing those operations and the things that it needs to do to meet the security requirements of this country.”  Of course, that six-year timeline includes the American advisors training that air force.  (And note that Givhan’s 2016 date may actually represent slippage.  In January 2008, when Air Force Brig. Gen. Jay H. Lindell, who was then commander of the Combined Air Power Transition Force, discussed the subject, he spoke of an “eight-year campaign plan” through 2015 to build up the Afghan Air Corps.)

* In a January 13th piece on Pentagon budgeting plans, Anne Gearan and Anne Flaherty of the Associated Press reported:  “The Pentagon projects that war funding would drop sharply in 2012, to $50 billion” from the present at least $159 billion (mainly thanks to a projected massive draw-down of forces in Iraq), “and remain there through 2015.”  Whether the financial numbers are accurate or not, the date is striking: again a five-year window.

* Or take the “train and equip” program aimed at bulking up the Afghan military and police, which will be massively staffed with U.S. military advisors (and private security contractors) and is expected to cost at least $65 billion.  It’s officially slated to run from 2010-2014 by which time the combined Afghan security forces are projected to reach 400,000.

* Or consider a couple of the long-term contracts already being handed out for Afghan war work like the $158 million the Air Force has awarded to Evergreen Helicopters, Inc., for “indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract for rotary wing aircraft, personnel, equipment, tools, material, maintenance and supervision necessary to perform passenger and cargo air transportation services.  Work will be performed in Afghanistan and is expected to start Apr. 3, 2009, to be completed by Nov. 30, 2013.”  Or the Pentagon contract awarded to the private contractor SOS International primarily for translators, which has an estimated completion date of September 2014.

Ending the Pentagon’s Free Ride

Of course, this just scratches the surface of long-term Afghan War planning in the Pentagon and the military, which rolls right along, seemingly barely related to whatever war debates may be taking place in Washington.  Few in or out of that city find these timelines strange, and indeed they are just symptomatic of an organization already planning for “the next war” and the ones after that, not to speak of the next generation bomber of 2018, the integrated U.S. Army battlefield surveillance system of 2025, and the drones of 2047.

This, in short, is Pentagon time and it’s we who fund that clock which ticks toward eternity.  If the Pentagon gets in trouble, war-fighting or otherwise, we bail it out without serious debate or any of the anger we saw in the Massachusetts election.  No one marches in the streets, or demands that Pentagon bailouts end, or votes ‘em (or at least their supporters) out of office.

In this way, no institution is more deeply embedded in American life or less accountable for its acts; Pentagon time exists enswathed in an almost religious glow of praise and veneration — what might once have been known as “idolatry.” Until the Pentagon is forced into our financial universe, the angry, impatient one where most Americans now live, we’re in trouble. Until candidates begin losing because angry Americans reject our perpetual wars, and the perpetual war-planning that goes with them, this sort of thinking will simply continue, no matter who the “commander-in-chief” is or what he thinks he’s commanding.

It’s time for Americans to stop saluting and end the Pentagon’s free ride before America’s wars kill us.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the Cold War and beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing. He also edited The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), an alternative history of the mad Bush years.

Copyright 2010 Tom Engelhardt

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on January 26th, 2010

President Obama will give his first State of the Union address on Wednesday night at 9 p.m. Eastern. Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistan campaign wants to make sure this isn’t just a time to sit and watch, but a time to get together with our friends and push back against the expanding Afghanistan war. Join us for our live-stream watch party on Facebook.

20,000 and Counting

On Friday, we asked our supporters to sign a simple petition to President Obama:

In your State of the Union address on January 27, 2010, I want you to provide a concrete exit strategy for our troops in Afghanistan that begins no later than July 2011 and which completes a withdrawal of combat troops no later than July 1, 2012.

More than 20,000 people signed it. Instead of just handing it to someone at the White House, petition signers are getting their message and the list of signers to the White House by posting it on the White House Facebook fan page. If you haven’t signed the petition, please do so.

No Applause, Please

Our friends over at TrueMajority are pushing their Members of Congress to refrain from applauding when the president talks about Afghanistan. The media and people at home notice when an applause line falls flat during the State of the Union, and we want our representatives to represent us by refusing to cheer for more wasted spending on a deadly war that doesn’t make us safer.

Rethink the State of the Union

Why watch the speech alone on TV when you can hang out with more than 11,000 people like you who want the Afghanistan war to end? Join the other fans of Rethink Afghanistan and watch the speech on our Facebook fan page.

  • Rethink Afghanistan’s fan page will have a live stream of a part of Rethink Afghanistan (The Cost of War) prior to the speech at 8:30 p.m. Eastern / 5:30 p.m. Pacific.
  • Then, we’ll carry a live stream of the State of the Union address.
  • Brave New Foundation’s Robert Greenwald will be there for the conversation, and I’ll provide commentary and links to Afghanistan-related information.
  • After the speech, our whole mob will head over to the White House’s Facebook page to share our thoughts on his Afghanistan comments.

We hope you’ll join us tomorrow night starting at 8:30 p.m. Eastern / 5:30 p.m. Pacific as our community gathers to rethink the State of the Union.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on January 26th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war.

President Obama will give his first State of the Union speech tomorrow, January 27, 2009. We need him to use this opportunity to clarify his Afghanistan policy and provide a concrete exit plan for a withdrawal. That way, maybe even his advisers could agree on what it means.

Sign Rethink Afghanistan’s petition asking the President to provide a concrete exit strategy for our troops in Afghanistan that begins no later than July 2011 and which completes a withdrawal of combat troops no later than July 1, 2012.

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Posted by Steve Hynd on January 25th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war.

“Insurgencies of this nature typically conclude through military operations and political efforts driving some degree of reconcilliation with elements of the insurgency” Gen. Stanley McChrystal, “Initial Assessment“, August 2009.

It’s long been accepted wisdom in the US and UK that General McChrystal’s “surge” in Afghanistan was largely aimed at putting the Taliban on their back foot because only then would they come to the negotiating table; that they wouldn’t talk while they were winning and the allies had to “fight harder” to further Afghan reconcilliation. McChrystal, back in December, made the connection between the military surge and bringing the Taliban to the table explicit.

Shortly after Obama’s speech, McChrystal told reporters the 18-month timetable was enough time to build up Afghan forces and convince the people of this war-ravaged country that they can eventually take care of their own security.

He said the Afghan government and the coalition should also use that period “to convince the Taliban and the people from whom they recruit that they cannot win – that there is not a way for the insurgency to win militarily.”

At the same time, he said the U.S. should support the Afghan government in reintegrating militants.

“I think they should be faced with the option to come back if they are willing to come back under the constitution of Afghanistan – that they can come back with dignity,” he said. “If you look at the end of most civil wars and insurgencies, I think that everybody needs a chance to come back with dignity and respect and rejoin society. I think that will be important for us to look forward to.”

No-one seems to have bothered to tell Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai that military success was a key ingredient, however, because he is plunging on with plans to have Taliban leaders removed from the UN’s sanctions list and now has both Petraeus and McChrystal’s hearty backing for reconciliation attempts.

Most of the ordered surge troops have not arrived yet (nor will they until the last third of McChrystal’s 18 month critical timeframe) and we certainly don’t have anything even approaching military success at present, according to a briefing by McChrystal’s own intelligence chief.

The briefing, which warns that the “situation is serious,” was prepared by Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn last month. His assessment is that the Taliban’s “organizational capabilities and operational reach are qualitatively and geographically expanding” and the group is capable of much greater frequency of attacks and varied locations of attacks.

…The 23-page briefing predicts that “Security incidents [are] projected to be higher in 2010.” Those incidents are already up by 300 percent since 2007 and by 60 percent since 2008, according to the briefing.

One section of the briefing is based on findings from the interrogations of captured insurgents. Those insurgents said the Taliban saw 2009 as the most successful year of the war, because violence had expanded and because the Afghan presidential election on August 20 was marred by low turnout and fraud.

Maybe Karzai knows something the experts in D.C. and London don’t. Perhaps Karzai has come to the key realization that it doesn’t matter to reconcilliation per se which side has the military upper hand, it only matters for who gets the best side of any deal. And that any deal which stops the fighting is better for Afghans than no deal at all. It certainly seems as if Western leaders, weighing years of fighting in Afghanistan against their own domestic priorities, may have decided that any bargain would be better than none at all, that it’s time to paper over the cracks and head for the exits.

But one has to wonder where McChrystal is getting his belief that ”we are already seeing progress from what we have implemented in the last few months”, as he told the Financial Times in an interview published today. Or indeed his assessment on the Taliban that:

I think that if we are capable of showing that they are not effective, then I think in a year they could look desperate. They will still be here, they will still have significant capacity for violence, they will still be able to intimidate much of the population than we want. But I think they will look like an entity that will be struggling for its own legitimacy.

It sounds very much to me like McChrystal is preparing the ground to claim that the surge he demanded played a key background role in reconciliation negotiations – in what will actually end the war – when in fact it won’t. In this case, McChrystal’s career needs match with allied political leaders’ need for a narrative that doesn’t admit to “cutting and running” in any shape or form, so expect this to be the received wisdom.

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