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Archive for February, 2010

Posted by on February 22nd, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war. From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

“No plan ever survives contact with the enemy.”

The rationale of Obama’s strategy, what there is of it, is that the Afghan Taliban are inextricably allied with Al Qaeda and are butchering thugs who are bad for Afghans – so we can’t just leave no matter how for Afghans’ own good, much Karzai might like to do a deal with Mullah Omar to end the fighting. The very heart of McChrystal’s counter-insurgency plan in Afghanistan is that, if the US and its allies can just oust Taliban fighters from key areas and install Kabul’s security forces and “government in a box” in their place, everything will be alright.

The Afghan Taliban seem to be busy deliberately undermining both those rationales. Firstly, they’re no longer as close to Al Qaeda as they used to be.

Richard Barrett, the chief of the United Nations al-Qaida-Taliban Monitoring Team, says that while ties between the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida are still quite strong, the relationship between the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida has withered.

“I think it is pretty weak between the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida.  I do not think that it has been strong for some time.  You do not see many al-Qaida people in Afghanistan at all now.  And really their base, their future, is all linked up with the Pakistan Taliban, I think looking much more to that side of the border than the Afghan side of the border.  And I think that Mullah Baradar and other Taliban leaders actually recognize that a close linkage with al-Qaida was not in their interest,” he said.

Mullah Baradar, also known as Abdul Ghani, was the Afghan Taliban’s top operational commander who was captured recently in a joint raid by U.S. and Pakistani forces in the city of Karachi.

Barrett and like-minded analysts say the Afghan Taliban is looking to some kind of political role in a future Afghanistan, even though it denies any interest in negotiations at this point, and that ties with al-Qaida will damage those prospects

Secondly, they’re apparently learning that honey catches more flies than vinegar.

Taliban militants ruling Marjah softened their brutal tactics over the last few years and seem less intent on tightly controlling every aspect of people’s lives, the U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan has concluded.

The Taliban’s change of tactics may reflect a practical recognition that Marjah residents wouldn’t put up with such a repressive rule, said Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a top coalition spokesman in Afghanistan.

… During their several years of controlling Marjah, the Taliban did not provide basic services to its residents. But it did institute a rule of law that was used for dispute resolution, such as quarrels over water rights or land. “People understood what the rules were,” Smith said.

Those types of land and water disputes are common in Afghanistan, where the livelihoods of most people are tied to the land and the government’s reach is limited.

The Taliban in Marjah, however, did not try to extend their control into the minutiae of people’s lives, such as dictating marriages, Smith said. They did keep tight control over education and attempted to cut off the population from the outside world by denying cell service and through other means, the coalition said.

Smith went on to say that in 25 shuras held before the US-led offensive, tribal elders still said they wanted the Taliban out – but it’s unlikely that those shuras were held actually in Marjah, anymore than US military polls of Afghan opinions were. In fact, accounts by some Marjah residents who have talked to Western reporters match Smith’s characterization of a kinder, gentler Taliban exactly.

“The Taliban didn’t create any problems for people. Every Thursday there was a court session, and if someone had a problem, he would go in front of the Taliban mullah who was the judge,” said Samad Khan, a 55-year-old poppy farmer in the village of Saipo on the outskirts of Marjah. The Islamist militant group levied a 10 percent yearly tax on his poppy crop, and let him be.

Now, Khan says, he’s worried that the assault, which began Saturday, is putting his family in danger.

“I’m afraid for my children, for my village, because the fighting is increasing,” he said.

…Sharecropper Mohammad Khan said the Taliban didn’t use draconian methods such as public executions and limb amputations to impose their reign in Marjah as they did in Kabul and other parts of the country when they ruled most of Afghanistan in the late 1990s.

“Honestly, they didn’t bother us. They mostly just came and went,” the rough-faced 55-year-old with a long beard said as Marines searched his neighborhood of northern Marjah.

“They weren’t very organized,” said Khan, who wore a white turban. Khan said most town matters were handled by a council of local elders, who worked to smooth relations between villagers and insurgents.

He said the Taliban’s rule over the town was “mostly peaceful.”

Those villagers are left wondering why they needed liberating at all – especially when they’re being killed by their liberators despite a multitude of promises.

A NATO airstrike killed at least 27 Afghan civilians, officials said Monday, in the third coalition strike this month to kill noncombatants and draw a sharp rebuke from Afghanistan’s government about endangering civilians.

And despite the publicity airstrikes get, it’s ground fire that does the real killing still.

All of which leaves McChrystal’s counterinsurgency plan in a tough place. Mullah Omar and the Taliban appear to have gotten successfully “inside his loop”. They’re providing successful but non-interfering government without going overboard in ways that previously alienated the population and have divorced themselves from their own “foreigners” while implicitly challenging Karzai to do likewise. Over at, “Dafydd” writes:

That is why the Mullah Omar offer of terms with President Karzai ‘when the foreigners have left’ can be seen as some sort of admission of a weak spot, The local Pashtuns seem not much more keen on Arabs/Punjabis (foreigners) than Westerners (other foreigners). Omar didn’t call (in this instance) Karzai a puppet, nor just announce that all infidels would be defeated by the hand of The Almighty. Instead he acquiesced in some sort of role for the current elected government in the future, thus showing some flexibility in not initially insisting on imposition of Islamism. That the vast majority of people inside and outside Afghanistan are sceptical of how genuine the offer is does not change the fact that Omar saw an advantage in making it.

If we cannot outlast the Talibs (and I don’t for a second think that is at all possible), rendering what is left of a Taliban insurgency so small as to be irrelevant on our departure is just about the only option. The constituency which Mullah Omar aimed his offer at must be the ‘floating voter’ in this campaign. I would like to think he made his offer in desperation, but I don’t. I expect he was being very politically clever.

And his co-blogger, the ever-excellent Josua Foust continues:

After spending a reasonable amount of time getting to know the Pashtuns and the issues that are of greatest concern to them, I have come to believe that until we crack down on corruption at all levels, REALLY crack down, then we are all wasting our time here.  The reporting about the head of Kabul Bank in the WaPo yesterday is only one strong example of the sorts of things that undermine all popular support for what is a kleptocratic government.

A tribal elder once told me, “we had security when the Taliban were in charge, but we had nothing else.  That is not enough, we need development, schools, clinics, and a functioning economy.  So their rule was a dead end for Afghanistan“. Reasoning along the same lines I would say that if we focus on security, but allow corruption to flourish, we lose.

Reasoning likewise, we could say that if the Afghan Taliban work out how to provide security and non-oppressive, uncorrupt government then they’ve won.

They seem to be getting there faster than McChrystal and Karzai. Today, news broke that the Afghan President has done an end-run around his parliament while it was in recess and appropriated to himself the power to appoint the entire membership of the panel which oversees elections. With America’s colaition shattered and looking for any plausible exit and Karzai determined to end the bloodshed even if he has to become the junior partner to Mullah Omar in a post-peace talks government, I see nothing to contradict the impression that the next six months are simply papering over the cracks enough that some kind of success can be claimed before heading for the exits. And I don’t see that end result as a bad thing, even if the six months of fighting that’s “needed” to give it political cover for domestic consumption (and saving a general’s career) is deplorable.

Rich Gibson []
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Posted by alexthurston on February 22nd, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war. This article originally appeared at

Explain Something to Me
Fixing What’s Wrong in Washington… in Afghanistan

By Tom Engelhardt

Explain something to me.

In recent months, unless you were insensate, you couldn’t help running across someone talking, writing, speaking, or pontificating about how busted government is in the United States.  State governments are increasingly broke and getting broker.  The federal government, while running up the red ink, is, as just about everyone declares, “paralyzed” and so incapable of acting intelligently on just about anything.

Only the other day, no less a personage than Vice President Biden assured the co-anchor of the CBS Early Show, “Washington, right now, is broken.” Indiana Senator Evan Bayh used the very same word, broken, when he announced recently that he would not run for reelection and, in response to his decision, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz typically commented, “The system has been largely dysfunctional for nearly two decades, and everybody knows it.” Voters seem to agree.  Two words, “polarization” and “gridlock” — or hyperbolic cousins like “paralyzing hyperpartisanship” — dominate the news when the media describes that dysfunctionalism.  Foreign observers have been similarly struck, hence a spate of pieces like the one in the British magazine the Economist headlined, “America’s Democracy, A Study in Paralysis.”

Washington’s incapacity to govern now evidently seems to ever more Americans at the root of many looming problems.  As the New York Times summed up one of them in a recent headline: “Party Gridlock in Washington Feeds Fear of a Debt Crisis.” When President Obama leaves the confines of Washington for the campaign trail, he promptly attacks congressional “gridlock” and the “slash and burn politics” that have left the nation’s capital tied in knots.

And he has an obvious point since, when he had a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate, congressional Democrats and the White House still couldn’t get their act together and pass health-care reform, not even after a year of discussion, debate, and favors trading, not even as the train wreck of the Massachusetts election barreled toward them. These days the Democrats may not even be a party, which means their staggering Senate majority has really been a majority of next to nothing.

The Republicans, who ran us into this ditch in the Bush years, are now perfectly happy to be the party of “no” — and the polls seem to show that it’s a fruitful strategy for the 2010 election.  Meanwhile, special interests rule Washington and lobbying is king.  As if to catch the spirit of this new reality, the president recently offered his vote of support to the sort of Wall Street CEOs who took Americans to the cleaners in the great economic meltdown of 2008 and are once again raking in the millions, while few have faith that change or improvement of any kind is in our future.  Good governance, in other words, no longer seems part of the American tool kit and way of life.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, to the tune of billions of taxpayer dollars, the U.S. military is promoting “good governance” with all its might.  In a major campaign in the modest-sized city of Marja (a place next to no one had heard of two weeks ago) in Taliban-controlled Helmand Province, Afghanistan, it’s placing a bet on its ability to “restore the credibility” of President Hamid Karzai’s government.  In the process, it plans to unfurl a functioning city administration where none existed.  According to its commanding general, Stanley McChrystal, as soon as the U.S. Army and the Marines, along with British troops and Afghan forces, have driven the Taliban out of town, he’s prepared to roll out an Afghan “government in a box,” including police, courts, and local services.

The U.S. military is intent, according to the Wall Street Journal, on “delivering a new administration and millions of dollars in aid to a place where government employees didn’t dare set foot a week ago.” Slated to be the future “mayor” of Marja, Haji Zahir, a businessman who spent 15 years in Germany, is, according to press reports, living on a U.S. Marine base in the province until, one day soon, the American military can install him in an “abandoned government building” or simple “a clump of ruins” in that city.

He is, we’re told, to arrive with four U.S. civilian advisors, two from the State Department and two from the U.S. Agency for International Development, described (in the typically patronizing language of American press reports) as his “mentors.” They are to help him govern, and especially dole out the millions of dollars that the U.S. military has available to “reconstruct” Marja.  Road-building projects are to be launched, schools refurbished, and a new clinic built, all to win Pashtun “hearts and minds.”  As soon as the fighting abates, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has suggested, the post-military emphasis will be on “economic development,” with an influx of “military and civilian workers” who will “show a better way of life” to the town’s inhabitants. 


So explain something to me: Why does the military of a country convinced it’s becoming ungovernable think itself so capable of making another ungovernable country governable?  What’s the military’s skill set here?  What lore, what body of political knowledge, are they drawing on?  Who do they think they represent, the Philadelphia of 1776 or the Washington of 2010, and if the latter, why should Americans be considered the globe’s leading experts in good government anymore?  And while we’re at it, fill me in on one other thing: Just what has convinced American officials in Afghanistan and the nation’s capital that they have the special ability to teach, prod, wheedle, bribe, or force Afghans to embark on good governance in their country if we can’t do it in Washington or Sacramento?

Explain something else to me: Why are our military and civilian leaders so confident that, after nine years of occupying the world’s leading narco-state, nine years of reconstruction boondoggles and military failure, they suddenly have the key, the formula, to solve the Afghan mess?  Why do leading officials suddenly believe they can make Afghan President Hamid Karzai into “a Winston Churchill who can rally his people,” as one unnamed official told Matthew Rosenberg and Peter Spiegel of the Wall Street Journal — and all of this only months after Karzai, returned to office in a wildly fraudulent presidential election, overseeing a government riddled with corruption and drug money, and honeycombed with warlords sporting derelict reputations, was considered a discredited figure in Washington?  And why do they think they can turn a man known mockingly as the “mayor” or “president” of Kabul (because his government has so little influence outside the capital) into a political force in southern Afghanistan?

And someone tell me: Just who picked the name Operation Moshtarak for the campaign in Marja?  Why am I not convinced that it was an Afghan?  Though news accounts say that the word means “togetherness” in Dari, why do I think that a better translation might be “crushing embrace”?  What could “togetherness” really mean when, according to the Wall Street Journal, to make the final decision to launch the operation, already long announced, General McChrystal “stepped into his armored car for the short drive… to the presidential palace,” and reportedly roused President Karzai from a nap for “a novel moment.”  Karzai agreed, of course, supposedly adding, “No one has ever asked me to decide before.”

This is a black comedy of “governance.”  So is the fact that, from the highest administration officials and military men to those in the field, everyone speaks, evidently without the slightest self-consciousness, about putting an “Afghan face” on the Marja campaign.  The phrase is revelatory and oddly blunt. As an image, there’s really only one way to understand it (not that the Americans involved would ever stop to do so). After all, what does it mean to “put a face” on something that assumedly already has a face? In this case, it has to mean putting an Afghan mask over what we know to be the actual “face” of the Afghan War, which is American.

National Security Adviser James Jones, for instance, spoke of the Marja campaign having “’a much bigger Afghan face,’ with two Afghans for every one U.S. soldier involved.”  And this way of thinking is so common that news reports regularly use the phrase, as in a recent Associated Press story: “Military officials say they are learning from past mistakes. The offensive is designed with an ‘Afghan face.’”

And here’s something else I’d like explained to me: Why does the U.S. press, at present so fierce about the lack of both “togetherness” and decent governance in Washington, report this sort of thing without comment, even though it reflects the deepest American contempt for putative “allies”? Why, for instance, can those same Wall Street Journal reporters write without blinking:  “Western officials also are bringing Afghan cabinet members into strategy discussions, allowing them to select the officials who will run Marjah once it is cleared of Taliban, and pushing them before the cameras to emphasize the participation of Afghan troops in the offensive”?  Allow?  Push?  Is this what we mean by “togetherness”?

Try to imagine all this in reverse — an Afghan general motoring over to the White House to wake up the president and ask whether an operation, already announced and ready to roll, can leave the starting gate?  But why go on?

Just explain this to me: Why are the representatives of Washington, civilian and military, always so tone deaf when it comes to other peoples and other cultures?  Why is it so hard for them to imagine what it might be like to be in someone else’s shoes (or boots or sandals)?  Why do they always arrive not just convinced that they have identified the right problems and are asking the right questions, but that they, and only they, have the right answers, when at home they seem to have none at all?

Thinking about this, I wonder what kind of “face” should be put on global governance in Washington?

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s He is the author of The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), an alternative history of the mad Bush years.

[Note on further reading: The single best piece I’ve seen suggesting answers to some of the questions raised above is Andrew Bacevich’s “Government-in-a-box in Marja,” in last week’s Los Angeles Times.  As ever, I recommend that, on war and peace subjects across the Middle East, Central, and South Asia, you check out Juan Cole’s Informed Comment blog (never to be missed), (an invaluable daily resource), and the War in Context website, which I’ve always relied on and which now exists in a new, more focused iteration.  (It has been riveting lately as it follows the spreading scandal surrounding the assassination in Dubai of a senior Hamas military commander, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.)]

Copyright 2010 Tom Engelhardt

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on February 22nd, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war. From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

The teabagger movement was in full swing in Holland even before Obama’s election drove thousands of American racists over the brink into raging, raving insanity, a brink they were followed over by much of the combined audiences of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage and other Hate Talk sociopaths polluting the American airwaves. Having lived in Amsterdam for almost four years, I tend to follow the politics there a bit more closely than the politics in, say, Sweden or Austria. We started writing about the political career of far right extremist, Dutch neo-Nazi Geert Wilders a little over a year ago, even before a like-minded right-wing Republican in Arizona, Jon Kyl, embraced him and his sick, degenerate ideology of hatred and bigotry and invited him to Washington for last year’s CPAC Hate Fest.

Why bring up Wilders again? He didn’t come to CPAC this year, although his immigrant-bashing ideology is one of the dominant themes. (Probably too busy defending himself in court.) Yesterday clueless right-wing websites were predicting he would be the next prime minister of Holland as the national unity government there collapsed over disagreements about Afghanistan.

The Labor Party insisted that Holland pull all of its troops out of the war before the end of the year, which is in accord with current plans the conservative Prime Minister is trying to change. Holland has 1,800 soldiers stationed there and 21 have been killed.

The collapse of the government means that the withdrawal of Dutch troops from Afghanistan will now begin in August because caretaker ministers are not allowed to make controversial decisions.

The bold and decisive action by Deputy Prime Minister Wouter Bos is likely to give the Labor Party a big boost with the general public going into next month’s local elections. Holland’s political situation can best be summed up in the word “unstable.”

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Posted by on February 20th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war. From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

Here’s a fine state of affairs:

The Dutch government has ­collapsed over disagreements on whether or not to extend troop deployment in Afghanistan.

The prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, said the Labour party – the second-largest party in his coalition government – was quitting.

Balkenende has been weighing up a request from Nato for Dutch troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2010.

Just under 2,000 Dutch personnel have been serving in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan, where 21 Dutch soldiers have been killed.

Balkenende’s Christian Democratic Alliance wants to keep a trimmed-down military presence in the region, but the Labour party has demanded the Netherlands sticks to a scheduled withdrawal.

The troops should have returned home in 2008, but their stay was extended to August 2010 because no other Nato country offered replacements.

“A plan was agreed to when our soldiers went to Afghanistan,” said the Labour leader, Wouter Bos. “Our partners in the government didn’t want to stick to that plan, and on the basis of their refusal we have decided to resign from this government.”

The Dutch had to be strong armed into joining the Coalition in Afghanistan in the first place and now, when the papers say NATO it should be understood they mean the U.S. – which is leaning on all it’s European NATO allies to come up with 10,000 troops to complement McChrystal’s 30,000 surge. Back on 3rd December, Radio Netherlands’ press roundup noted that:

De Volkskrant writes that Washington has asked The Hague to “remain militarily-engaged in Afghanistan”. The paper says US Vice President Joe Biden rang Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende on Wednesday and expressed, “the hope that the Netherlands will remain engaged in Afghanistan after 2010″.

AD phrases it slightly differently: “US increases pressure: the Dutch must stay in Afghanistan”. The populist tabloid reports that The Hague “is under severe pressure to extend its Afghanistan mission past 2010,” adding, “the American Minister Joe Biden (AD obviously does not know that the US does not have ministers and Joe Biden is the vice president) personally rang Prime Minister Balkenende yesterday with the urgent request to keep Dutch soldiers in Afghanistan”.

The populist De Telegraaf sums up the mood in the Netherlands quite neatly with its headline, “let the US go motivate somebody else to go and fight in Afghanistan”.

As far as I’m aware, Biden doesn’t have a clear position in the NATO hierarchy.

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on February 19th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war. From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

On Thursday the New York Times made an astonishing editorial choice, for which its editors owe the public an explanation: it published an op-ed by an obscure and poorly identified author attacking General Stanley McChrystal for his directive last July that air strikes in Afghanistan be authorized only under “very limited and prescribed conditions.” The op-ed denounced an “overemphasis on civilian protection” and charged that “air support to American and Afghan forces has been all but grounded by concerns about civilian casualties.”

The author of the op-ed, Lara M. Dadkhah, is identified by the Times merely as “an intelligence analyst.” In the body of the op-ed, the author identifies herself as “employed by a defense consulting company,” without telling us which company, or what her relationship might be to actors who stand to lose financially if the recognition that killing civilians is bad for the United States were to affect expenditures by the United States military.

As Glenn Greenwald asks in Salon:

read more

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on February 18th, 2010

On February 14, U.S. forces violated rules of engagement in Afghanistan by bombing a building in Marjah, killing 12 civilians, including 5 children. The weapon used in the strike was a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), manufactured by Lockheed Martin.

Three days later, Maj. Gen. Robert Scales (Ret.) went on FOX News and called for the loosening of rules of engagement meant to protect civilians, which he called “overly restrictive.” Scales’ company, Colgen, lists Lockheed Martin as a client. Scales never disclosed his company’s work for Lockheed Martin in the interview, or, for that matter, that he’s even associated with a company that has defense industry and military clients.


The last thing we need in Afghanistan is a reduction in protections for civilians.

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Posted by on February 18th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war. From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

Yes, this is going to be yet another post about the detention of Taliban No.2 Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, because now we’ve news that two other Taliban leaders have been arrested in Pakistan.

Afghan officials said the Taliban’s “shadow governors” for two provinces in northern Afghanistan had been detained in Pakistan by officials there. Mullah Abdul Salam, the Taliban’s leader in Kunduz, was detained in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad, and Mullah Mir Mohammed of Baghlan Province was also captured in an undisclosed Pakistani city, they said.

The arrests come on the heels of the capture of Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s military commander and the deputy to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the movement’s founder. Mr. Baradar was arrested in a joint operation by the C.I.A. and the ISI, Pakistan’s military intelligence agency.

The possibility that Pakistan has finally, after all these years, come fully “onside” with America’s War On Terror(tm) has every national security, foreign policy and Pakistan writer wondering whether Pakistan’s military head, General Kayani, is really onside or whether he’s playing a deeper game. The implications are huge. Right now, this is the biggest foreign policy news in town.

First, it’s noteworthy that everyone’s wondering what Kayani is up to – not President Zardari or Prime Minsiter Gilani. That speaks volumes about who the real power in Pakistan resides with. OK, we’ve all known that all along, but now it’s very much out in the open.

Secondly, there’s very real puzzlement over what Kayani is thinking. The mainstream narrative, bolstered by puff pieces suggesting that America’s Admiral Mullen has a great working relationship with Kayani, is that the Pakistani military leader has “seen the light” and decided that the Taliban in all their forms are more hassle than asset. It seems many observers are skeptical of this interpretation; every time senior US military figures have met Kayani we’ve been given similiar pieces saying the very same thing which until now have turned out to be mostly wishful thinking. It seems the “quiet man” works some kind of Jedi mind trick on his opposite numbers and they then tell the US press that he’s a hardass but he’s workable with.

Yet if there’s one thing that’s certain about Kayani it’s that he looks after Kayani’s interests first, the Pakistani military’s interests second, and Pakistan’s third. America’s national interest comes somewhere down the list, probably after China’s. And all these puff pieces never mention that Kayani was head of the ISI at the time of the 2006 Mumbai bombings, which Indian intelligence was just as sure were an ISI-led operation as the later 2008 attacks launched while Kayani was head of Pakistan’s whole military. He’s very definitely capable of playing hardball with the best.

Eric Martin yesterday mentioned a theory entertained by Kevin Drum, among others – that Baradar, while moderate by Taliban standards, was too much of a loose cannon for Kayani’s taste, initiating negotiations with the Afghan government without the Pakistani military and ISI’s imprimatur. That’s looking more and more like the case. Via noted Afghanistan-based expert Alex Strick van Lins comes this:

Baradar’s arrest, first reported by The New York Times, also could jeopardize some of the peace overtures that are under way, the officials said.

U.N. officials told McClatchy that Baradar had facilitated an inconclusive meeting last month in Dubai between midlevel Taliban commanders and Kai Eide, the departing top U.N. official in Kabul.

It’s conceivable, however, that Pakistan could use Baradar’s capture to split the Taliban by offering a forum for him to negotiate with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

According to Vahid Mojdeh, a former Afghan official who worked under the Taliban, Baradar was instrumental in reining in insurgent violence, by banning sectarian killings and indiscriminate bombings.

“Baradar was an obstacle against al Qaida, who wanted to make an operation in Afghanistan like they did in Iraq,” Mojdeh said. “But Baradar would not allow them to kill Shias” — the minority Muslim sect — “or set off explosions in crowded places.”

Pakistani analysts said Baradar’s capture suggested either that Islamabad had abandoned its attempt to promote peace talks or the Taliban number two had fallen afoul of the Pakistani authorities. Analysts said Baradar was the most likely point of contact for any future talks.

“This is inexplicable. Pakistan has destroyed its own credentials as a mediator between Taliban and Americans. And the trust that might have existed between Taliban and Pakistan is shattered completely,” said Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former Pakistani ambassador to Kabul after the overthrow of the Taliban.

He added: “Mullah Baradar was talking peace. … For the time being, there are no prospects for talks. I think it’s now going to be a fight to the bitter end.”

However, Baradar’s replacement is widely expected to be Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir, a former Gitmo detainee released by the Bush administration who is widely seen as being a “moderate” in the same ways Baradar is.

As Seth Jones (from RAND) explains in his excellent profile, Mullah Zakir wasted little time rejoining his Taliban brothers in their fight against ISAF and ANSF forces, quickly assuming another high-level position within the organization as the Overall Emir for South Afghanistan (responsible for a huge area including the vital provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, the Taliban’s primary safe haven and command and control (C2) base as well as the logistical hub for Taliban supply, finance, and drug smuggling). Clearly, the fact that Mullah Zakir was appointed to such a prominent position almost immediately after his release speaks to his stature within the organization and helps to confirm reports of his close relationship with both Mullah Omar and Mullah Baradar. Mullah Zakir quickly developed a reputation as a charismatic and effective leader, helping to increase the level and severity of IED attacks across RC-South while simultaneously bolstering the Taliban shadow governance system and minimizing Taliban excesses that could cost them valuable popular support among locals.

In fact, multiple reports suggest that Mullah Zakir was one of the primary authors of the 2009 Taliban Code of Conduct (along with Mullah Baradar). This document (and the enforcement of its provisions) has been critical during the Taliban’s campaign to bolster their control and influence across the country, especially in RC-South – where ISAF leaders have chosen to focus the initial elements of the US “surge” beginning with Operation Moshtarak in Marjah. In addition to his prominent role as the overall emir of South Afghanistan, I also assess that Mullah Zakir plays an important role within the Taliban’s Shura (“council”), which oversees and plans all QST operations from Pakistan. He is likely the de-facto replacement for Mullah Dadullah Lang (EKIA in May 07) as the Chief of the Taliban Military Commission and is also assessed to run the important Accountability Commission (responsible for implementing the Taliban Code of Conduct and acting as the Taliban’s version of “internal affairs”). As the head of these two committees, Mullah Zakir essentially runs both the Taliban’s lethal and non-lethal operations across the entire country, making him an extremely influential leader within the organization.

Just as moderate, but more susceptible to Pakistani ISI control, perhaps?

We’ll know more when we find out who Mullah Zakir selects as the replacements for the provincial commanders in Kunduz and Baghlan. If both are more moderate but also less inclined to go off negotiating on their ownsomes then its Kayani for the win.

That would be perfectly in keeping with my own feeling that Afghanistan’s Karzai is ready to do any peace deal he can to save his nation more years of bloodshed, and isn’t especially caring about whether he;s negotiating from a position of strength. If, as I also believe, the Obama administration and its key Western allies have, post London conference, decided to go along with Karzai’s plan while spending the next six months creating a narrative of “success” for domestic consumption, then there will be a happy set of circumstances where Pakistan’s Kayani gets to have his cake and eat it too. Still, we’re all playing something which is close kin to ”Kremlinology” here.

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on February 18th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war. From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

I’ve been spending some time talking with Democratic congressmen understandably nervous about how to confront the Afghanistan problem. None of the ones I talk to are for the war, of course, but some are reluctant to oppose Obama, who, they all seem to have convinced themselves, really is trying to do the right thing and does have a plan to get out in an orderly and timely fashion. They  may have convinced themselves, but they haven’t convinced me.

The congressman I talked to yesterday doesn’t talk that way and doesn’t think that way– and it’s hard for me to think of him as “nervous” about anything. As I’ve heard him say before, he’s been shot at on more continents than most people have been to, and his doctors once gave him a couple months to live because of a lethal cancer. Today Eric Massa, a lifelong naval officer from a military family, is one of Congress’ leading lights opposing the occupation of and escalation in Afghanistan.

He was on the professional staff of the House Armed Services Committee, and when he was asked to prepare a white paper on the feasibility of invading Iraq, he started it with a statement claiming it would be the worst strategic blunder the United States had ever made. He told me today that he feels Obama is going down a similar road. I’ve been reading Seth Jones’ In the Graveyard of Empires, and Massa’s assessment didn’t take me by surprise… not even a little. Let me share a little of Jones’ background material on the catastrophic Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. The Russians’ experience in the ’80s sounds very much like what I was reading in the NY Times this morning. This is today:

In five days of fighting, the Taliban have shown a side not often seen in nearly a decade of American military action in Afghanistan: the use of snipers, both working alone and integrated into guerrilla-style ambushes.

…The Marine who was killed was struck in the chest as he ran, just above the bulletproof plate on his body armor, the Marines said. The others were struck in a hand or arm. (The names of the three wounded men have been withheld pending government notification of their families.) … Whoever was firing remained hidden, even from the Marines’ rifle scopes. “I was looking and I couldn’t see them,” said Staff Sgt. Jay C. Padilla, an intelligence specialist who made the crossing with First Platoon. “But they were shooting the dirt right next to us.”

This is a couple decades ago, when the U.S. was deliberately using the Afghans to destabilize the Soviet Union and give them their very own Vietnam experience:

The mujahideen, with ISI assistance, relied on two of the oldest tactics of warfare: the raid and the ambush. Soviet conscripts referred to the Afghan mujahideen as dukhi, or ghosts. Since the Soviets were vulnerable to guerilla warfare, the local troops slowly picked them apart in rural areas through a campaign of sabotage, assassinations, targeted raids and stand-off rocket attacks. As Mohammed Yousaf acknowledged, “Death by a thousand cuts– this is the time-honored tactics of the guerilla army against a large conventional force. In Afghanistan it was the only way to bring the Soviet bear to its knees; the only way to defeat a superpower of the battlefield with ill-trained, ill-disciplined and ill-equipped tribesmen, whose only asset was an unconquerable fighting spirit welded to a warrior tradition.”

In rural areas the situation worsened over time for the Soviets as mujahideen forces gained popular support and control. The Soviets never committed the forces needed for a purely military conquest of the mujahideen, and, according to one assessment, they would have needed more than 300,000 troops to attain even a small chance of controlling the mujahideen… The Soviet troops alienated local Afghans.

What fools! Imagine an occupying force alienating the locals! Who could ever do something so foolish? Thank God all that accidental killing of women, children and other noncombatants doesn’t count– nor do those pesky predator drones that seem to have shot up every Afghan wedding since around the time a drunken Dick Cheney blasted 78-year-old Harry Whittington in the face.

Initial Soviet assessments of the war were optimistic, but by 1985, Soviet leaders had become increasingly concerned. At a Politburo session on October 17, 1985, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev read letters from Soviet citizens expressing growing dissatisfaction with the war if Afghanistan. At the same time, Gorbachev also described his meeting with Babrak Karmal in which he said the Soviet Union would pull its troops from Afghanistan.

“Karmal was dumbfounded,” Gorbachev noted. “He had expected anything but this from us, he was sure we needed Afghanistan even more than he did, he’s been counting on us to stay there for a long time– if not forever.”

This is why Gorbachev believed it was essential to repeat his message. “By the summer of 1986, you’ll have to have figured out how to defend your cause on your own,” Gorbachev continued to Karmal, who was beside himself with shock. “We’ll help you, but with arms only, not troops. And if you want to survive you’ll have to broaden the base of the regime, forget socialism, make a deal with truly influential forces, including the Mujahideen commanders and leaders of now-hostile organizations.”

Gorbachev’s ultimatum was grounded in good intelligence, and Soviet military assessments were bleak. Sergei Akhromeyev, the Soviet deputy minister of defense, told the Politburo: “At the center there is authority; in the provinces there is not. We control Kabul and provincial centers, but on occupied territory we cannot establish authority. We have lost the battle for the Afghan people.”

So have we– and the sooner President Obama realizes that and deals with it, the sooner the killing and devastation will end. And who knows, maybe we’ll stop wasting the billions and billions of dollars that are going for nothing whatsoever, except to make war profiteers even richer.

This is the video of Eric Massa speaking on the floor of Congress which we have up on the Blue America page No Means No:

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on February 17th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war. From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

How the U.S. handles the Pakistani arrest of the top Afghan Taliban military commander, and the aftermath of the U.S. military assault in Marja, may have a decisive impact on whether we get to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan soon, or in the far-off future. Some analysts – like Gareth Porter – think the key motivation of the present U.S. military escalation is political in the bad sense: in order to negotiate with the Afghan Taliban, first the U.S. has to “show that nobody pushes us around,” just as President Bush had to escalate militarily in Iraq before he could cut deals with the Sunni Awakening and the Mahdi Army militia. It’s a grim world in which the most powerful country kills people to look tough; but right now, the way to minimize human suffering is for the U.S. to take advantage of recent “successes” to take a high road towards going home.

The arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar could cut two ways, the New York Times notes. While it’s obviously a psychological blow, at the least, against the Afghan Taliban, it could complicate efforts to reach a peace deal:

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Posted by on February 17th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war. From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

Gareth Porter tells the Real News Network that Operation Moshtarak is intended purely for domestic consumption and is meant to prepare Americans for negotiations with the Taliban.

And Joshua Foust is scathing about U.S. vague plans for a “government in a box” in Marjah.

The Guardian has been pretty quippy about McChrystal’s idea of “government in a box.” (“From the army that gave us meals ready to eat, comes a new product. It is called governments ready to govern. All you do is add water.”) But it gets at a fundamentally deeper problem we’ve covered here before: despite all the hifalutin’ talk about it, the military still has a pitiful understanding of what it takes to create, develop, and then support a government.

It’s part of the larger issues within the military of anti-civilian bias—something Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has made some halting motions toward reversing (such as his advocacy of increased funding and support for the Department of State), but which remains ascendant within the military community. The foreign policy community in DC, too, is dominated by military-centric thinkers; the number of think tankers and policy wonks who can speak knowledgeably about institution development and capacity building is pitifully small—which makes crafting realistic, achievable plans for civilian development all but impossible.

Which brings us back to the discussion about civilian casualties above. Considering how ISAF was embarrassingly unable to figure out why or how it was going to handle the civilians in Marjeh, right up to their inability to post believable or consistent population estimates, I’m left with the same thought I had two weeks ago, when ISAF signaled they were really serious about Marjeh this time: what’s the end game? Simply throwing an expatriate Helmandi who lived in Germany for 15 years into the mix—which is the current plan—doesn’t actually address the serious shortcomings the military-led governance issues have had.

Meanwhile, the civilians continue to bear the brunt of this offensive: the Coalition is destroying the barely functioning Taliban “shadow” government in the area, and so far their plan for a viable replacement haven’t moved beyond the vaguest of platitudes.

Joshua writes that Operation Moshtarak might have resulted in as many as 25,000 displaced persons and that “The operation might very well be a success, but it is coming at a steep price for the locals we are meant to protect.” Marjah is now a ghost town. Meanwhile, Amnesty International has complained that NATO is “ill-equpped” either to prevent or investigate civilian deaths, while also castigating the Taliban for war crimes by “knowingly endangering Afghan civilians”.

Michael Clarke, director of Britain’s Royal United Services Institute, is asking “what will success look like” in Marjah?

it would be a mistake to judge the military’s success in Operation Moshtarak only by military measures. Yes, the military will take the ground. Yes, they will hold on to it. ‘Where the troops go, they stay’ is the motto; and this time it will be true, at least in Helmand and Kandahar.

The true judgment will, instead, revolve around other questions. Afghan administrators and special police have been trained for just this mission, but how good will they be after six months or more in a part of Afghanistan they have not lived in for a long time – or ever in many cases? It will be a real test of local politics to channel development money effectively through a new group of Afghan administrators who will still have to work with the tribal and family structures that were there already.

How expensive will the operation turn out to be in civilian casualties? An incident a week will undermine all the gradual trust Coalition forces and their Afghan colleagues are trying to build up in territories formerly controlled by the Taliban. After laying out a strategy that puts Afghan civilians first, the McChrystal plan is acutely vulnerable to any aspect of the operation that seems not to live up to this expectation.

Another test will revolve around what the Taliban do next. If most have moved out of the area, where will they regroup? Will their commanders in Quetta try to stretch the Coalition forces in a new direction? Given the informal nature of the Taliban it is possible that they will simply disperse and mount ineffective attacks on the populated areas of Helmand and Kandahar. But though they are not a well coordinated military force, the Taliban are good at spotting new Coalition weaknesses and eventually bringing their fighters to bear on it. If they can, they will try to provoke and fool the Coalition into causing many more civilian deaths as they do so.

Not least, the operation has to appeal to people, in Kabul, Herat, Jalalabad, Kunduz, as much as it does to people in London, Washington, Paris, Berlin or Copenhagen.

Clarke wants Western political leaders to make a ‘prevail or fail’ choice and stop talking about timetables. It’s already too late for that and his own work helps illustrate why. The point with militaries is that they must have two inbuilt priorities: destruction and force protection. Whenever something else conflicts with those – like “population-centric COIN” – it’s always the something else that gives. That, in a nutshell, is why “population-centric” COIN keeps falling short of its hype and why COIN can do nothing else but temporarily paper over the cracks for a domestic audience. Joshua Foust writes:

Please, I am begging the readers here: if you know of some plan to leave something functioning in ISAF’s wake, something Afghan-led with a realistic chance of lasting once the 10,000 (or whatever) troops have to leave this tiny area, please let me know about it. Because right now it looks like they’re fighting with no end game in mind. And that’s pretty scary.

Not really. Exactly the same thing happened in Iraq and for exactly the same domestic political reasons – present enough of a narrative, carefully massaged, to claim some kind of military victory and then rapidly head for the exits.

Update: Many residents of Marjah are telling NATO troops and embedded reporters that they didn’t need liberating. “The Taliban didn’t create any problems for people,” and “Honestly, they didn’t bother us. They mostly just came and went,” said villagers.

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