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Archive for January, 2010

Posted by Derrick Crowe on January 12th, 2010

As you may know, I’ve been the Brave New Foundation / The Seminal Afghanistan blog fellow for the past several months. I’ve been absolutely thrilled to have a chance to get paid to write about this issue.  But like all good things, this fellowship has an end, and luckily the end of this fellowship has been triggered by a similarly exciting opportunity: I’ve just taken a position with Brave New Foundation as a political associate to work full-time on the Rethink Afghanistan campaign.

Before I say anything else, let me say thank you to thank the generous supporters of the fellowship, including Brave New Foundation, The Seminal at Firedoglake, CREDO Mobile and the folks over at Down with Tyranny! and Crooks and Liars. And, of course, you, my readers. Thank you.

The Afghanistan war, however, has not ended. It continues to drain the metaphorical blood of our economy, the very real blood of our young men and women in uniform. It’s killing more and more Afghans not party to the conflict, especially children. And despite what General McChrystal told ABC’s Diane Sawyer, the tide isn’t turning. In fact, it’s rolling in, with troop deaths, civilian deaths, costs and insurgent influence metastasizing in an ongoing human tragedy.

All this is to say that we still need an Afghanistan blog fellow. Interested?

We’ll be holding a contest to find the next blog fellow so we can keep the momentum building against this god-awful war. Later today, The Seminal’s Jason Rosembaum will announce the contest rules and application process. Keep an eye out for his post, and good luck!

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on January 11th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war.

The Shadow War

Making Sense of the New CIA Battlefield in Afghanistan

By Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse

This story originally appeared at

It was a Christmas and New Year’s from hell for American intelligence, that $75 billion labyrinth of at least 16 major agencies and a handful of minor ones.  As the old year was preparing to be rung out, so were our intelligence agencies, which managed not to connect every obvious clue to a (literally) seat-of-the-pants al-Qaeda operation.  It hardly mattered that the underwear bomber’s case — except for the placement of the bomb material — almost exactly, even outrageously, replicated the infamous, and equally inept, “shoe bomber” plot of eight years ago.

That would have been bad enough, but the New Year brought worse.  Army Major General Michael Flynn, U.S. and NATO forces deputy chief of staff for intelligence in Afghanistan, released a report in which he labeled military intelligence in the war zone — but by implication U.S. intelligence operatives generally — “clueless.”  They were, he wrote, “ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced… and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers… Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy.”

As if to prove the general’s point, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, a Jordanian doctor with a penchant for writing inspirational essays on jihadi websites and an “unproven asset” for the CIA, somehow entered a key Agency forward operating base in Afghanistan unsearched, supposedly with information on al-Qaeda’s leadership so crucial that a high-level CIA team was assembled to hear it and Washington was alerted.  He proved to be either a double or a triple agent and killed seven CIA operatives, one of whom was the base chief, by detonating a suicide vest bomb, while wounding yet more, including the Agency’s number-two operative in the country.  The first suicide bomber to penetrate a U.S. base in Afghanistan, he blew a hole in the CIA’s relatively small cadre of agents knowledgeable on al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

It was an intelligence disaster splayed all over the headlines: “Taliban bomber wrecks CIA’s shadowy war,”  “Killings Rock Afghan Strategy,”  “Suicide bomber who attacked CIA post was trusted informant from Jordan.”  It seemed to sum up the hapless nature of America’s intelligence operations as the CIA, with all the latest technology and every imaginable resource on hand, including the latest in Hellfire missile-armed drone aircraft, was out-thought and out-maneuvered by low-tech enemies.

No one could say that the deaths and the blow to the American war effort weren’t well covered.  There were major TV reports night after night and scores of news stories, many given front-page treatment.  And yet lurking behind those deaths and the man who caused them lay a bigger American war story that went largely untold.  It was a tale of a new-style battlefield that the American public knows remarkably little about, and that bears little relationship to the Afghan War as we imagine it or as our leaders generally discuss it.

We don’t even have a language to describe it accurately.  Think of it as a battlefield filled with muscled-up, militarized intelligence operatives, hired-gun contractors doing military duty, and privatized “native” guard forces.  Add in robot assassins in the air 24/7 and kick-down-the-door-style night-time “intelligence” raids, “surges” you didn’t know were happening, strings of military bases you had no idea were out there, and secretive international collaborations you were unaware the U.S. was involved in.  In Afghanistan, the American military is only part of the story.  There’s also a polyglot “army” representing the U.S. that wears no uniforms and fights shape-shifting enemies to the death in a murderous war of multiple assassinations and civilian slaughter, all enveloped in a blanket of secrecy.


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Posted by Derrick Crowe on January 11th, 2010

When asked by ABC’s Diane Sawyer whether he had  “turned the tide” in the Afghanistan war, Gen. Stanley McChrystal said, “I believe we’re beginning to do that now.” General McChrystal’s optimism seems to contradict the information in Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn’s December 2009 report, State of the Insurgency [h/t Noah Shactman at Wired's Danger Room blog]. Flynn’s presentation says:

The Afghan insurgency can sustain itself indefinitely

The Taliban retains required partnerships to sustain support, fuel legitimacy and bolster capacity

Taliban influence expanding; contesting and controlling additional areas

Regional instability is rapidly increasing and getting worse

Kinetic events are up 300% since 2007 and an additional 60% since 2008.

Organizational capabilities and operational reach are qualitatively and geographically expanding

The Taliban now has “Shadow Governors” in 33 of 34 provinces (as of DEC 09)

Strength and ability of shadow governance increasing

Contrary to McChrystal’s statement, the information in Flynn’s presentation makes it clear that U.S. military policies were not and are not the answer.

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Posted by robertgreenwald on January 11th, 2010

Brave New Foundation just hired Derrick Crowe as a political associate to work on their Rethink Afghanistan campaign.

Derrick needs your help finding footage of your Member of Congress or Senator talking about past war supplemental funding bills so we can hold them accountable in future videos. Send your footage to

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on January 10th, 2010

More allegations of abuse have surfaced regarding U.S. forces in Bagram, Afghanistan. This time, the victims were teenage boys held at a secret, U.S.-Special-Operations-Forces-run facility.

The Washington Post reports that the two boys, “Issa Mohammad, then 17, and Abdul Rashid…younger than 16,” described being “punched and slapped in the face, photographed naked and deprived of sleep while being held in solitary confinement,” and being “forced…to look at pornography.”

In late 2009, Brave New Foundation interviewed two former prisoners of the main Bagram Air Base facility, brothers Noor and Abdul Raqeeb, who also described abusive treatment. The habeus corpus petition filed on Abdul Raqeeb’s behalf by the International Justice Network alleges he was subjected to “torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, and outrages upon his personal dignity.” No charges were ever filed against them, nor any explanation given for their imprisonment.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on January 8th, 2010

Two former Blackwater employees were arrested Thursday for the murder of two Afghan civilians last May.  As the President expands the Afghanistan War and the training of Afghan forces, “we are going to see more of these incidents with more of these trainers when they engage with Afghan civilians,” says Jeremy Scahill, author of ‘Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.’  Brave New Foundation interviewed Scahill for their video series, ‘Rethink Afghanistan’:

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on January 8th, 2010

Many of Afghanistan’s most notorious warlords are making a killing off of the Afghanistan war. Today via the Irish Times [h/t Steve Hynd] we learned that a “notorious violator of human rights,” Matiullah Khan, is being paid to let Dutch supply trucks pass through his territory. He’s been making $2,500 per truck.

This isn’t the first time Khan made the news for the fortune he’s making off of foreign forces. Gareth Porter reported on October 30, 2009 that he’d been making millions from the U.S. and Australians:

Col. Khan gets 340,000 dollars per month – nearly 4.1 million dollars annually – for getting two convoys from Kandahar to Tarin Kowt safely each month. Khan…evidently got his private army from his uncle Jan Mohammad Khan, a commander who helped defeat the Taliban in Kandahar in 2001 and was then rewarded by President Karzai by being named governor of Uruzgan in 2002.

As described by Vice Magazine’s Christoph Reuter, Khan is a poster child for the coalition’s support for some of the worst human rights abusers in Afghanistan:

His history under [Jan Mohammad Khan] is bloody. He led the hit squads that killed stubborn farmers who did not surrender their land, daughters, and livestock to the former governor. Dutch forces remain adamant that the mention of his name spreads fear and panic throughout the region.

“If we appoint Matiullah police chief, probably more than half of all people in the Baluchi valley would run over to the Taliban immediately,” one high-ranking Dutch officer explained. He did not want to give his name, because of the sensitive nature of the subject.

Here’s the kicker from the Vice article:

The Americans in particular like him a lot.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on January 7th, 2010

The Associated Press reports that roughly 5,000 Afghans today protested foreign forces on a road between Kabul and Jalalabad, shouting “Death to America!” and “Death to Obama!” after another group of children died in an explosion on Wednesday.

KABUL (AP) — Thousands of Afghans shouting ”Death to America!” protested the killings of children Thursday, the latest in a string of controversial cases in which international forces have been blamed for civilian deaths.

NATO troops were among those killed in Wednesday’s blast, which the Afghan Interior Ministry attributed to a detonated roadside mine. However, Afghans were already enraged by accusations of execution-style killing of children by foreign forces in late December, and the taint of that incident made the protesters more than willing to attribute blame to coalition forces:

On Wednesday, an explosion tore through a group of children gathered around foreign soldiers visiting a U.S.-funded road project in Nangarhar province, east of the capital of Kabul. Afghan officials said four children were killed. NATO said two died.

Minutes after the blast, local residents were accusing American forces of throwing a grenade into the crowd — even though several international troops were among the wounded. The Afghan Interior Ministry later released a statement saying the explosion occurred when a passing police vehicle hit a mine.

Still, an estimated 5,000 protesters demonstrated the deaths Thursday along a road between Kabul and Jalalabad in Nangarhar. They waved a banner condemning the attack, set fire to an effigy of President Barack Obama and chanted ”Long live Islam!” and ”Death to Obama!”

This is the latest in a series of protests against foreign troops that erupted across Afghanistan over the past several weeks. Protests erupted in late December in Kabul and Jalalabad over the killing of children by foreign forces in Ghazi Khan in late December. In early December, hundreds of Afghans protested in Mehtar Lam after an airstrike reportedly killed 12 civilians (NATO initially denied the deaths and then had to walk it back pending investigations, as usual).

According to a recent report by the Afghanistan Rights Monitor, an average of three children are killed per day by the Afghanistan war.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on January 7th, 2010

A new report from the Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARN) shows that the main victims of the Afghanistan war are children:

KABUL — Children are the biggest victims of the war in Afghanistan, with more than 1,050 people under 18 years old killed last year alone, according to an Afghan human rights watchdog.

Taliban-linked militants caused around 64 percent of all violent child deaths last year, the Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM) said in a report.

Children were also press-ganged, sexually exploited, deprived of health and education, and illegally detained by all sides in a war that is dragging into its ninth year since the US-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime.

According to the report, the war kills an average of three children per day.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on January 5th, 2010

The Washington Post today detailed Pakistani fears that the war in Afghanistan will destabilize their country:

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — As 30,000 U.S. troops begin to deploy to Afghanistan, fears are rising in Pakistan that a stepped-up war just over the border could worsen the increasingly bloody struggle with militancy here.

Residents in border areas such as the violence-plagued city of Peshawar worry that a tide of militants could flee Afghanistan to seek targets in Pakistan. Doubts linger among Pakistani security officials about the Americans’ ability to intensify the campaign against the Taliban without further destabilizing Pakistan’s vast southwestern border or the already volatile tribal areas in the northwest.

Rethink Afghanistan (Part Two): Pakistan deals extensively with the danger posed to Pakistan’s security by the U.S. policy in Afghanistan. Pushing more militants from Afghanistan across the border will only make matters worse in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

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