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Archive for January, 2010

Posted by Tom Engelhardt on January 24th, 2010

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

There’s something viral about the wondrous new weaponry an industrial war system churns out.  In World War I, for instance, when that system was first gearing up to plan and produce new weapons by the generation, such creations — poison gas, the early airplane, the tank — barely hit the battlefield before the enemy had developed countermeasures and was cranking up his own production line to create something similar.  And this process has never stopped.

The wonder weapon of our present moment is the missile-armed unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, now doing our dirty work, an endless series of targeted assassinations, in the Afghan-Pakistani borderlands.  Such weapons always come with wondrous claims.  Here’s a typical one from a recent Wall Street Journal editorial:Never before in the history of air warfare have we been able to distinguish as well between combatants and civilians as we can with drones.”  When it comes to war, beware of any sentence that begins “never before,” and the claims of future breakthroughs or victories that go with them.

It’s easy, of course, for the editorial writers of the Journal to pen such confident sentiments thousands of miles from the war zone.  They would undoubtedly feel quite differently if their hometowns and neighborhoods were the targets of such “precise” weaponry, which has nonetheless managed to kill hundreds of civilians.

Drones, of course, do just what they were meant to do, as surely as did poison gas, the airplane, and the tank early in the last century: they kill.  That’s indisputable, but the promised “breakthroughs,” whether aimed at destroying enemy fortifications, enemy networks, or the enemy’s will, seldom follow so reliably.  And yet once the wonder fades and the overwrought claims with it, the wonder weapons remain in our world — and (here’s the viral part) they begin to spread.

There is no evidence that the drones are breaking the back of either the Taliban (Afghan or Pakistani) or al-Qaeda in our distant wars, but plenty of evidence that they are helping to destabilize Pakistan and create intense anti-American feelings there.  Now, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates indicated on arriving in Pakistan last week, we are thinking of giving the Pakistanis their own unarmed surveillance drones, while from Iran to China, Israel to Russia, powers everywhere are rushing to enter the age of 24/7 robotic assassination along with, or just behind, us.  You might think that this would give the Pentagon pause, but a prospective arms race just gets the blood there boiling, and when it comes to Terminator-style war, as Nick Turse indicates below, the U.S. Air Force has plans.  Boy, does it ever!  Tom

The Drone Surge
Today, Tomorrow, and 2047
By Nick Turse

One moment there was the hum of a motor in the sky above.  The next, on a recent morning in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, a missile blasted a home, killing 13 people.  Days later, the same increasingly familiar mechanical whine preceded a two-missile salvo that slammed into a compound in Degan village in the tribal North Waziristan district of Pakistan, killing three.

What were once unacknowledged, relatively infrequent targeted killings of suspected militants or terrorists in the Bush years have become commonplace under the Obama administration.  And since a devastating December 30th suicide attack by a Jordanian double agent on a CIA forward operating base in Afghanistan, unmanned aerial drones have been hunting humans in the Af-Pak war zone at a record pace.  In Pakistan, an “unprecedented number” of strikes — which have killed armed guerrillas and civilians alike — have led to more fear, anger, and outrage in the tribal areas, as the CIA, with help from the U.S. Air Force, wages the most public “secret” war of modern times.

In neighboring Afghanistan, unmanned aircraft, for years in short supply and tasked primarily with surveillance missions, have increasingly been used toassassinate suspected militants as part of an aerial surge that has significantly outpaced the highly publicized “surge” of ground forces now underway.  And yet, unprecedented as it may be in size and scope, the present ramping up of the drone war is only the opening salvo in a planned 40-year Pentagon surge to create fleets of ultra-advanced, heavily-armed, increasingly autonomous, all-seeing, hypersonic unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

Today’s Surge

Drones are the hot weapons of the moment and the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review — a soon-to-be-released four-year outline of Department of Defense strategies, capabilities, and priorities to fight current wars and counter future threats — is already known to reflect this focus.  As the Washington Postrecently reported, “The pilotless drones used for surveillance and attack missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan are a priority, with the goals of speeding up the purchase of new Reaper drones and expanding Predator and Reaper drone flights through 2013.”

The MQ-1 Predator — first used in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s — and its newer, larger, and more deadly cousin, the MQ-9 Reaper, are now firing missiles and dropping bombs at an unprecedented pace.  In 2008, there werereportedly between 27 and 36 U.S. drone attacks as part of the CIA’s covert war in Pakistan.  In 2009, there were 45 to 53 such strikes.  In the first 18 days of January 2010, there had already been 11 of them.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the U.S. Air Force has instituted a much publicized decrease in piloted air strikes to cut down on civilian casualties as part of Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy.  At the same time, however, UAS attacks have increased to record levels.

The Air Force has created an interconnected global command-and-control system to carry out its robot war in Afghanistan (and as Noah Shachtman ofWired’s Danger Room blog has reported, to assist the CIA in its drone strikes in Pakistan as well).  Evidence of this can be found at high-tech U.S. bases around the world where drone pilots and other personnel control the planes themselves and the data streaming back from them.  These sites include a converted medical warehouse at Al-Udeid Air Base, a billion-dollar facility in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar where the Air Force secretly oversees its on-going drone wars; Kandahar and Jalalabad Air Fields in Afghanistan, where the drones are physically based; the global operations center at Nevada’sCreech Air Base, where the Air Force’s “pilots” fly drones by remote control from thousands of miles away; and — perhaps most importantly — at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, a 12-square-mile facility in Dayton, Ohio, named after the two local brothers who invented powered flight in 1903.  This is where the bills for the current drone surge — as well as limited numbers of strikes in Yemen and Somalia — come due and are, quite literally, paid.

In the waning days of December 2009, in fact, the Pentagon cut two sizeable checks to ensure that unmanned operations involving the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper will continue full-speed ahead in 2010.  The 703rd Aeronautical Systems Squadron based at Wright-Patterson signed a $38 million contract with defense giant Raytheon for logistics support for the targeting systems of both drones.  At the same time, the squadron inked a deal worth $266 million with mega-defense contractor General Atomics, which makes the Predator and Reaper drones, to provide management services, logistics support, repairs, software maintenance, and other functions for both drone programs.  Both deals essentially ensure that, in the years ahead, the stunning increase in drone operations will continue.

These contracts, however, only initial down payments on an enduring drone surge designed to carry U.S. unmanned aerial operations forward, ultimately for decades.

Drone Surge:  The Longer View

Back in 2004, the Air Force could put a total of only five drone combat air patrols (CAPs) — each consisting of four air vehicles — in the skies over American war zones at any one time.  By 2009, that number was 38, a 660% increase according to the Air Force.  Similarly, between 2001 and 2008, hours of surveillance coverage for U.S. Central Command, encompassing both the Iraqi and Afghan war zones, as well as Pakistan and Yemen, showed a massive spike of 1,431%.

In the meantime, flight hours have gone through the roof.  In 2004, for example, Reapers, just beginning to soar, flew 71 hours in total, according to Air Force documents; in 2006, that number had risen to 3,123 hours; and last year, 25,391 hours.  This year, the Air Force projects that the combined flight hours of all its drones — Predators, Reapers, and unarmed RQ-4 Global Hawks — will exceed 250,000 hours, about the total number of hours flown by all Air Force drones from 1995-2007.  In 2011, the 300,000 hour-a-year barrier is expected to be crossed for the first time, and after that the sky’s the limit.

More flight time will, undoubtedly, mean more killing.  According to Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann of the Washington-based think tank the New America Foundation, in the Bush years, from 2006 into 2009, there were 41 drone strikes in Pakistan which killed 454 militants and civilians.  Last year, under the Obama administration, there were 42 strikes that left 453 people dead.  A recent report by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, an Islamabad-based independent research organization that tracks security issues, claimed an even larger number, 667 people — most of them civilians — killed by U.S. drone strikes last year.

While assisting the CIA’s drone operations in the Pakistani tribal borderlands, the Air Force has been increasing its own unmanned aerial hunter-killer missions.  In 2007 and 2008, for example, Air Force Predators and Reapers fired missiles during 244 missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In fact, while all the U.S. armed services have pursued unmanned aerial warfare, the Air Force has outpaced each of them.

From 2001, when armed drone operations began, until the spring of 2009, the Air Force fired 703 Hellfire missiles and dropped 132 GBU-12s (500-pound laser-guided bombs) in combat operations.  The Army, by comparison, launched just two Hellfire missiles and two smaller GBU-44 Viper Strike munitions in the same time period.  The disparity should only grow, since the Army’s drones remain predominantly small surveillance aircraft, while in 2009 the Air Force shifted all outstanding orders for the medium-sized Predator to the even more formidable Reaper, which is not only twice as fast but has 600% more payload capacity, meaning more space for bombs and missiles.

In addition, the more heavily-armed Reapers, which can now loiter over an area for 10 to 14 hours without refueling, will be able to spot and track ever more targets via an increasingly sophisticated video monitoring system.  According to Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance, the first three “Gorgon Stare pods” — new wide-area sensors that provide surveillance capabilities over large swathes of territory — will be installed on Reapers operating in Afghanistan this spring.

A technology not available for the older Predator, Gorgon Stare will allow 10 operators to view 10 video feeds from a single drone at the same time.  Back at a distant base, a “pilot” will stare at a tiled screen with a composite picture of the streaming battlefield video, even as field commanders analyze a portion of the digital picture, panning, zooming, and tilting the image to meet their needs.

A more advanced set of “pods,” scheduled to be deployed for the first time this fall, will allow 30 operators to view 30 video images simultaneously.  In other words, via video feeds from a single Reaper drone, operators could theoretically track 30 different people heading in 30 directions from a single Afghan compound.  The generation of sensors expected to come online in late 2011 promises 65 such feeds, according to Air Force documents, a more than 6,000% increase in effectiveness over the Predator’s video system.  The Air Force is, however, already overwhelmed just by drone video currently being sent back from the war zones and, in the years ahead, risks “drowning in data,”according to Deptula.

The 40-Year Plan

When it comes to the drone surge, the years 2011-2013 are just the near horizon.  While, like the Army, the Navy is working on its own future drone warfare capacity — in the air as well as on and even under the water — the Air Force is involved in striking levels of futuristic planning for robotic war.  It envisions a future previously imagined only in sci-fi movies like theTerminator series.

As a start, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA, the Pentagon’s blue skies research outfit, is already looking into radically improving on Gorgon Stare with an “Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance-Infrared (ARGUS-IR) System.”  In the obtuse language of military research and development, it will, according to DARPA, provide a “real-time, high-resolution, wide area video persistent surveillance capability that allows joint forces to keep critical areas of interest under constant surveillance with a high degree of target location accuracy” via as many as “130 ‘Predator-like’ steerable video streams to enable real-time tracking and monitoring and enhanced situational awareness during evening hours.”

In translation, that means the Air Force will quite literally be flooded with video information from future battlefields; and every “advance” of this sort means bulking up the global network of facilities, systems, and personnel capable of receiving, monitoring, and interpreting the data streaming in from distant digital eyes.  All of it, of course, is specifically geared toward “target location,” that is, pin-pointing people on one side of the world so that Americans on the other side can watch, track, and in many cases, kill them.

In addition to enhanced sensors and systems like ARGUS-IR, the Air Force has a long-term vision for drone warfare that is barely beginning to be realized.  Predators and Reapers have already been joined in Afghanistan by a newer, formerly secret drone, a “low observable unmanned aircraft system” first spotted in 2007 and dubbed the “Beast of Kandahar” before observers were sure what it actually was.  It is now known to be a Lockheed Martin-manufactured unmanned aerial vehicle, the RQ-170 — a drone which the Air Force blandly notes was designed to “directly support combatant commander needs for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to locate targets.”  According to military sources, the sleek, stealthy surveillance craft has been designated to replace the antique Lockheed U-2 spy plane, which has been in use since the 1950s.

In the coming years, the RQ-170 is slated to be joined in the skies of America’s “next wars” by a fleet of drones with ever newer, more sophisticated capabilities and destructive powers.  Looking into the post-2011 future, Deptula sees the most essential need, according to an Aviation Week report, as “long-range [reconnaissance and] precision strike” — that is, more eyes in far off skies and more lethality.  He added, “We cannot move into a future without a platform that allows [us] to project power long distances and to meet advanced threats in a fashion that gives us an advantage that no other nation has.”

This means bigger, badder, faster drones — armed to the teeth — with sensor systems to monitor wide swathes of territory and the ability to loiter overhead for days on end waiting for human targets to appear and, in due course, be vaporized by high-powered munitions.  It’s a future built upon advanced technologies designed to make targeted killings — remote-controlled assassinations — ever more effortless.

Over the horizon and deep into what was, until recently, only a silver-screen fantasy, the Air Force envisions a wide array of unmanned aircraft, from tiny insect-like robots to enormous “tanker size” pilotless planes.  Each will be slated to take over specific war-making functions (or so Air Force dreamers imagine).  Those nano-sized drones, for instance, are set to specialize in indoor reconnaissance — they’re small enough to fly through windows or down ventilation shafts — and carry out lethal attacks, undertake computer-disabling cyber-attacks, and swarm, as would a group of angry bees, of their own volition.  Slightly larger micro-sized Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems (STUAS) are supposed to act as “transformers” — altering their form to allow for flying, crawling and non-visual sensing capabilities.  They might fill sentry, counter-drone, surveillance, and lethal attack roles.

Additionally, the Air Force envisions small and medium “fighter sized” drones with lethal combat capabilities that would put the current UAS air fleet to shame.  Today’s medium-sized Reapers are set to be replaced by next generation MQ-Ma drones that will be “networked, capable of partial autonomy, all-weather and modular with capabilities supporting electronic warfare (EW), CAS [close air support], strike and multi-INT [multiple intelligence] ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] missions’ platform.”

The language may not be elegant, much less comprehensible, but if these future fighter aircraft actually come online they will not only send today’s remaining Top Gun pilots to the showers, but may even sideline tomorrow’s drone human operators, who, if all goes as planned, will have ever fewer duties.  Unlike today’s drones which must take off and land with human guidance, the MQ-Ma’s will be automated and drone operators will simply be there to monitor the aircraft.

Next up will be the MQ-Mb, theoretically capable of taking over even more roles once assigned to traditional fighter-bombers and spy planes, including the suppression of enemy air defenses, bombing and strafing of ground targets, and surveillance missions.  These will also be designed to fly more autonomously and be better linked-in to other drone “platforms” for cooperative missions involving many aircraft under the command of a single “pilot.”  Imagine, for instance, one operator overseeing a single command drone that holds sway over a small squadron of autonomous drones carrying out a coordinated air attack on clusters of people in some far off land, incinerating them in small groups across a village, town or city.

Finally, perhaps 30 to 40 years from now, the MQ-Mc drone would incorporate all of the advances of the MQ-M line, while being capable of everything from dog-fighting to missile defense. With such new technology will, of course, come new policies and new doctrines.  In the years ahead, the Air Force intends to make drone-related policy decisions on everything from treaty obligations to automatic target engagement — robotic killing without a human in the loop.  The latter extremely controversial development is already envisioned as a possible post-2025 reality.

2047: What’s Old is New Again

The year 2047 is the target date for the Air Force’s Holy Grail, the capstone for its long-term plan to turn the skies over to war-fighting drones.  In 2047, the Air Force intends to rule the skies with MQ-Mc drones and “special” super-fast, hypersonic drones for which neither viable technology nor any enemies with any comparable programs or capabilities yet exist.  Despite this, the Air Force is intent on making these super-fast hunter-killer systems a reality by 2047.  “Propulsion technology and materials that can withstand the extreme heat will likely take 20 years to develop. This technology will be the next generation air game-changer. Therefore the prioritization of the funding for the specific technology development should not wait until the emergence of a critical COCOM [combatant command] need,” says the Air Force’s 2009-2047 UAS “Flight Plan.”

If anything close to the Air Force’s dreams comes to fruition, the “game” will indeed be radically changed.  By 2047, there’s no telling how many drones will be circling over how many heads in how many places across the planet.  There’s no telling how many millions or billions of flight hours will have been flown, or how many people, in how many countries will have been killed by remote-controlled, bomb-dropping, missile-firing, judge-jury-and-executioner drone systems.

There’s only one given.  If the U.S. still exists in its present form, is still solvent, and still has a functioning Pentagon of the present sort, a new plan will already be well underway to create the war-making technologies of 2087.  By then, in ever more places, people will be living with the sort of drone war that now worries only those in places like Degan village.  Ever more people will know that unmanned aerial systems packed with missiles and bombs are loitering in their skies.  By then, there undoubtedly won’t even be that lawnmower-engine sound indicating that a missile may soon plow into your neighbor’s home.

For the Air Force, such a prospect is the stuff of dreams, a bright future for unmanned, hypersonic lethality; for the rest of the planet, it’s a potential nightmare from which there may be no waking.

Nick Turse is the associate editor of and the winner of a 2009 Ridenhour Prize for Reportorial Distinction as well as a James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, In These Times, and regularly at TomDispatch. Turse is currently a fellow at New York University’s Center for the United States and the Cold War. He is the author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (Metropolitan Books). His website

Copyright 2010 Nick Turse

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Posted by Steve Hynd on January 24th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war.

According to a leaked document handed to the UK’s Financial Times, the first item on the agenda for the London summit on Afghanistan is a rapid handover of responsibility for security to Afghan forces.

The six-page draft envisages Afghan forces starting a phased process to take over responsibility for security at provincial level from the 110,000-strong Nato-led force later this year. Afghan security forces may assume primary responsibility for securing a number of the country’s 34 provinces by early 2011, the draft says.

A Western diplomat said the agenda had won wide endorsement from European countries including the UK, which with some 9,000 troops has the second biggest contingent in the 110,000-strong foreign force currently in Afghanistan after the US.

…Mark Sedwill, the UK’s ambassador to Afghanistan, said in London this week that the conference will seek to come up with conditions and an indicative timetable for handing over to Afghan forces. There was no mention of a timeline in the draft seen by the FT.

According to the document, the Afghan government will commit to providing sufficient police and troops to support the planned transition from the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf). In return, Afghanistan’s allies will commit to accelerating efforts to boost the government’s security forces to “meet the conditions for a transfer as quickly and effectively as possible”.

In spite of the draft’s emphasis on speed, foreign troops are likely to remain in Afghanistan for a lengthy period as the government struggles to accelerate the deployment of army and police needed to contain the Taliban.

Sedwill is being touted as a favorite for the new post of Nato’s special civilian representative in Afghanistan, with powers to co-ordinate Nato’s reconstruction efforts – so if he says there will be a timetable of some kind there’s a good chance he knows what he is talking about. But the real question is whether this rapid handover is designed to make a lengthy occupation – albeit with reduced forces – more palatable to Western voters who have lost confidence in the Afghan adventure, or whether this is a preliminary designed to paper over the factional cracks and head for a military exit.

Some indication of which of those two future courses is the intention of Coalition leaders may be given by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ current schizophrenia on the Afghan Taliban. As the Washington Post notes, he can’t seem to make up his mind recently whether they are a “cancer” or an “essential part” of the Afghan political fabric. Back to the Financial Times’ leaked document:

The draft agenda also calls for Afghanistan’s government to reiterate its commitment to establishing a programme to try to lure fighters from the Taliban with offers of jobs or training programmes.

It also urges the government to hold dialogue with insurgent leaders who are prepared to accept Afghanistan’s constitution and who have no ties to terror networks such as al-Qaeda. In return, Afghanistan’s allies will provide funds to support the initiative.

The document makes no explicit reference to power-sharing negotiations with the Taliban’s leaders, although there is a growing recognition in Washington that some form of deal between insurgents and the government may be the most viable hope of ending the conflict.

That suggests an ad hoc set of initiatives that will pair security handover with reconcilliation and enable the West’s exit. The deep divisions in Afghan society will be papered over, just as in Iraq, and when the cracks finally widen again and Afghan society explodes into a new cycle of violence it will be the pesky Afghan peoples’ fault for disregarding the opportunities given by the West invading and upsetting the apple cart.

(It should be noted in passing that the best time for such a cynical exit strategy was probably around 2004, when the Taliban were at their lowest ebb. But Bush was hyper-focussed on Iraq and didn’t notice the ongoing dynamics that would make it progressively messier and more difficult. Still, what’s done is done.)

A lot of people who care deeply about Afghanistan and its people will be deeply upset if this is what occurs. Many experts on the country feel that the West could stay and do better than it has done, do things smarter and more sensitively. Yet a decade of occupation surely sends the message that there’s fat chance of the West ever climbing such a steep learning curve. Advocating staying to inevitably mess up more, despite however many good intentions and any number of glad-talking strategy papers that will never make the translation to reality-on-the-ground, isn’t really in the interests of Afghanistan and is actually advocating more national torture at the West’s hands. If Afghanistan must go to hell in a handbasket, let it be Afghans who take it there.

Experts on Afghanistan also have a tendency to miss the geopolitical forest for the local Afghan trees. The wider picture is well set out by right-leaning realist Arnaud de Borchgrave in a must-read oped for the New Atlanticist entitled “America’s Global Fatigue“.

There is a growing chorus of geopolitical deep thinkers and intellectuals who favor a strategic retreat from the imperial posture of the Cold War, where we are now fighting terrorist cells on a planetary scale, and a reassessment of priorities. One of the Democratic Party’s champion fundraisers, speaking privately, said, “At times I feel that we’re exhausted, sitting on the sidewalk, applauding the inevitable as Team China marches by.”

…China is only too happy to hold America’s coat as it sinks deeper into expensive geopolitical commitments while Chinese leaders win friends and influence people in Asia, Africa, Latin America and a large part of North America (Mexico and Canada). China is also building an ultramodern infrastructure of roads, railroads and airports that is in sharp contrast to America’s long-neglected public services, water supplies, power grid, road and rail networks, and air traffic control.

As de Borchgrave also notes, “Fighting two trillion-dollar wars abroad while millions are jobless at home doesn’t make much sense to well over half the American people.” Geopolitical considerations and domestic ones are in alignment: it’s become nonsensical to continue draining America’s treasury and energy on occupations ostensibly designed to keep the lid on a few hundred terrorists who in any case have largely moved to other,safer climes in Pakistan, Yemen and other nations.

And those geopolitical strictures and emptying reserves mean that papering over the cracks in order to head for the exits is the only viable course.

In Afghanistan, a Chinese company is investing $3 billion in Logar province near Kabul to mine 240 million tons of copper ore, worth $88 billion. One must assume they are not worried by the Taliban. The insurgents confide in their Pakistani friends they will need the income when they get back in the saddle.

…These are the insurgents originally trained by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency to take over Afghanistan in the mid-1990s. Off the record, knowledgeable Pakistanis can see them back in power, posing as moderates, after NATO and U.S. governments tire of fighting an invisible enemy.

In the Gulf, the big winners from US-led meddling were Iran and France. On the sub-continent, the big winners seem set to be China and Pakistan, which is closer to China’s orbit than America’s anyway. That should be a cautionary couple of tales for any future contemplation of invasions to “protect America from terrorists” numbering in the hundreds.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on January 23rd, 2010

Once again, military officials are trying to move the goalposts on the Afghanistan war.

In his December 1, 2009 speech at West Point, President Obama was crystal clear: American troops would begin to withdraw from Afghanistan in July 2011:

But taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.

Yet, at a January 21, 2010 event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, General Petraeus tried to move the goalposts, asserting that in August 2011 U.S. forces would begin to transfer tasks to Afghan forces, a clear rollback of the President’s statement that U.S. troops would begin to withdraw by July 2011.

You can see this sort of fudging in the Defense Department’s article on the CSIS event:

The training and fielding of increased numbers of capable Afghan soldiers and police also plays a big role in McChrystal’s counterinsurgency plan, as U.S. forces are slated to begin transferring security responsibilities to Afghan security forces in July 2011, dependent upon conditions on the ground.

“Transferring security responsibilities” is not the same as “transferring our troops out of Afghanistan.” This subtle attempt to reset public expectations is something that must be stamped out. The president was clear that our forces would begin coming home in July 2011. Only the pace was open for discussion based on his West Point remarks.

To meet the President’s stated policy of withdrawing troops in July 2011, such a transfer of tasks must begin before July 2011. Without a concrete exit plan, policymakers and military leaders will continue to move the goalposts on the Afghanistan war. Sign Rethink Afghanistan’s petition asking the President to provide a concrete exit plan in his State of the Union address.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on January 23rd, 2010

Brave New Foundation talked today with U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson about the huge increase in the number of war industry contractors in Afghanistan during the first year of the Obama presidency. Grayson explained that the high price of war contractors drives up the cost of the Afghanistan war. He’s introduced legislation to de-fund private firms who behave as Blackwater/Xe has in Afghanistan.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on January 23rd, 2010

The Supreme Court’s recent decision to open the floodgates and allow corporate funds to be used in federal elections will further strengthen the influence of the military-industrial complex. We talked to U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson (FL-08) about his efforts to push back against the influence of war contractors and other corporations in our elections.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on January 22nd, 2010

Next Wednesday, President Obama will give his first State of the Union address. It’s a safe bet he’ll discuss the Afghanistan war. You probably recall that the President recently committed to start drawing down troops in Afghanistan in July 2011.

Setting a target date for the start of a withdrawal is a good step, but if we are going to make the president’s commitment into a reality, we need a concrete exit strategy.

Please take a moment to sign our petition to tell the President that you want him to describe a real exit strategy for Afghanistan during his State of the Union speech. Here’s the text:

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.

A concrete exit plan will lay the groundwork that will help make President Obama’s commitment to a draw-down a reality. Our country cannot afford to keep spending billions of dollars on a war that’s not making us safer. Staunching the flow of American blood and treasure into the Afghanistan war will be essential to the success of the Obama presidency and to getting our economy back on track. We need more than a date. We need a plan.

Please sign the petition today. If we get 10,000 signatures, we’ll deliver them to the White House on Monday. Your signature will help put us on a defined path to the end of the war in Afghanistan.

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Posted by Steve Hynd on January 21st, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war.

The US’ Ambassador to Kabul, Gen. Karl Eikenberry, is witholding funding for the US military’s program to create “Awakening” style militias in Afghanistan, according to the WaPo today, because he shares Afghan official fears that the program will just create new warlords or brigand groups outside government control.

Eikenberry’s unease about the program as it was structured by the military also reflects a broader difference of opinion at the highest levels of the U.S. military and diplomatic headquarters in Kabul about new approaches to combating the Taliban insurgency. While military commanders are eager to experiment quickly with decentralized grass-roots initiatives that work around the ponderous Afghan bureaucracy in Kabul, civilian officials think it is more important to wait until they have the support of the central government, something they regard as essential to sustaining the programs.

U.S. Embassy and Afghan officials are working to modify the program, called Local Defense Initiatives, to ensure that the Afghan government plays a more central role in how it is run. “We are committed to doing this right, and that means taking the time for the Afghan government and people to decide on whether and how to move ahead,” said Philip Kosnett, the U.S. Embassy’s political-military counselor in Kabul.

Afghan officials and Eikenberry have also expressed concern that unless there is a detailed plan to connect these village security forces to Ministry of Interior oversight, they could fuel the rise of warlords and undermine the already fragile government in Kabul. Another worry is that the local tribal leaders could manipulate U.S. officers who do not understand politics and tribal grievances in a particular area, said U.S. officials.

“Our level of intelligence is so lacking,” said an adviser to the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. “We could be supporting people whose interests are not what we think they are.” Eikenberry has argued that without Afghan government support, the program could be quickly disbanded if one of the village security forces is turned by the Taliban or gets into a dispute with government security forces.

Eikenberry’s concerns seem well placed to me – and even if he didn’t share them, the fact that the Afghan government urges caution instead of plunging ahead should be the final argument in favor of that caution. After all, it’s meant to be a sovereign nation that the U.S. is there to aid, and the central government should have a monopoly on force, or at least be able to exert command and control.

McChrystal’s command obviously feels differently.

The military is moving forward with the initiative on a smaller scale, using money that the embassy does not currently control.

That obviously speaks volumes about the relationship between Eikenberry’s people and U.S. military command. But on this one the military are plain wrong, even by their own lights. They’re so gung-ho to plant the COIN trees they can’t see the forest. It’s like the folk with stars on their shoulders think counter-insurgency doctrine shouldn’t apply to them, just the grunts at the front.

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Posted by Steve Hynd on January 21st, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war.

Yesterday, Josh Rogin told us that Ambassador Holbrooke’s favorite self-coined neologism, “AfPak”, had been quietly dropped from the administration’s lexicon because Pakistan’s leaders and populace hated it. Josh quotes:

“The Af-Pak terminology is disliked and has received strong criticism across Pakistan,” the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs wrote in a recent report on Pakistan. “The Pakistani intelligentsia is not pleased with a de-hyphenation of the Indo-Pak equation and the hyphenation of the Pak-Afghan calculus. The issue is not only one of national pride; there is a genuine concern among the strategic enclave that the permanence of the threat from India has not eroded. … There is objectively no interest for Pakistan to be fully involved in what is happening outside its borders, namely in Afghanistan.”

All true except for the last sentence. The Pakistani military has a deep interest in Afghanistan, as a possible position of strategic depth in the event of a war with India, and doesn’t see the threat of such a war ever going away. Using Afghan territory in such a way is simply not possible as long as there are US and allied troops in Afghanistan and so the Pakistani military sees its long-term interests best served by those troops leaving. Whether that is best accomplished by US or Taliban “success” appears to be one of the great internal debates within Pakistan’s elite, with much of the ISI and military coming down on the side of the militants they have backed for three decades.

None of which is helped by Pakistani fears that the Obama administration has quietly decided to favor India while publicly proclaiming impartiality. When Holbrooks goes to India and says that India is “a tremendously important participant in the search for peace” in the region or Gates goes there and says that India has been restrained in its response to terror attacks launched from Pakistan and wouldn’t be likely to show such restraint again, Pakistan’s military leadership hears tacit favoritism. When Gates suggests an Indo-Afghan-Pakistan council, Pakistan’s military hears an open invite to India to outflank.That has two immediate effects: it pushes Pakistan into recalcitrance in dealing with the Afghan Taliban and other imperfectly-controlled proxy assets and it pushes Pakistan further into China’s orbit in a dynamic that sets a US/India axis against a Sino-Pakistani one for regional domination.

And while Pakistan is by no means a democracy at present – with a feudal elite entrenched in power and military chief Kayani the de facto kingmaker and deciderer-in-chief behind the curtain – other issues such as US drone attacks on Pakistani soil and US strings attached to Pakistani aid have meant that there is popular antipathy to Pakistan’s fighting what is seen as America’s war for it. Given the geopolitical dynamic and Pakistani views of military reality, it could be expected to foot-drag on any action against its proxies anyway - as it always has done since Bush’s Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told Pakistan that it would be “bombed back to the Stone Age” if it didn’t play ball - but that popular anger gives plenty of political cover for more obvious recalcitrance.

Thus we have two news stories today.

In the first, an official army spokesman has told the BBC that the “overstretched” military has no plans for any fresh anti-militant operations over the next 12 months, stating publicly that it has no intention of doing what Gates is there to ask for privately.

The BBC’s Syed Shoaib Hasan in Islamabad says the comments are a clear brush-off to top US officials.

Our correspondent adds they are embarrassing for Pakistan’s shaky coalition government, and likely to further destabilise already-low ties with its US ally.He says it also threatens to render ineffective an expanded coalition troop deployment in Afghanistan, as the Taliban over the border would be relieved of any pressure from the Pakistan army.

Before arriving in Islamabad, Mr Gates told reporters travelling with him from India: “You can’t ignore one part of this cancer and pretend that it won’t have some impact closer to home.”

His visit comes amidst a slight cooling in relations between the two allies. In an article published in a Pakistani newspaper on Thursday, Mr Gates referred to a “trust deficit”.

In the second, Pakistan is now repeating a call for a nuclear deal it gave to Bush in 2007, following Bush’s deal with India.

RAWALPINDI, Jan 21 (APP): Pakistan has asked the United State of America to enter into Civilian-Nuclear Energy Cooperation with Pakistan and also to recognize it as Nuclear state. This was conveyed to the visiting US Defence Secretary, Robert M Gates, by Federal Minister for Defence, Ch. Ahmad Mukhtar, at a meeting held here on Thursday.

That’s just so not going to happen, given Pakistan’s problems with proliferation. But the last time it was turned down, China stepped in with an offer of nuclear assistance and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that’s  what Pakistan is angling for this time too.

(Interestingly, Mukhtar also told Gates that Pakistan wanted the job of training the Afghan National Army – a bank shot hoping for the US to aquiesce greatfully in trying circumstances and allow Pakistan both to edge out India in that nation and to ensure the Afghan military’s eventual loyalty should push with India come to shove. That’s not going to happen either, is my bet.)

And so we’ve come to a fairly obvious divorce between US interests in the region and Pakistani national interest – although both parties will continue to pretend they’re happily living together as “just friends”. As in every divorce, both parties are partly guilty of unrealistic expectations from their relationship, but in this case the US must take the lion’s share of the blame. Although America is probably correct that it’s more recent affair with India is a better relationship in the long-term, that affair has short term consequences for its own interests. And that America imposed its own good on Pakistan by bullying was never a good basis for a partnership, especially when Pakistan’s own natural interests were so diametrically opposed.

America would probably be better off in the long term by admitting that Pakistan is not a natural partner or even a “just friend”. Unfortunately, that would mean admitting deep mistakes over decades and isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Pakistan, on the other hand, has a lot to gain by allowing the possibility of reconcilliation while milking its partner for everything it can. And so the soap opera saga will continue.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on January 20th, 2010

Iraq war vet Wendy Barranco helps us deconstruct this military ad aimed towards Latina women. Got a better one we can hack? Post your favorite one and if we hack yours next, you’ll WIN a ‘Rethink Afghanistan’ DVD!

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on January 19th, 2010

Corruption is flowering in the shadow of the Afghanistan war. A new report published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reveals that bribery consumes an amount equal to 23 percent of the GDP of Afghanistan. Afghans are forced by corrupt government culture to pay more than a third of their income in bribes. Earlier this month, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction reported that 3/4 of all their active corruption investigations involved at least one Westerner.

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