Get Rethink Afghanistan Updates
Join us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Twitter Get E-Mail Updates
You can help

Archive for February, 2010

Posted by DownWithTyranny on February 13th, 2010

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

It was less than a week ago that we first mentioned PDA organizing Brown Bag lunch vigils at the district offices of congressmembers all over the country for February 17. I’ve been re-reading the part of Rick Perlstein’s book, Nixonland that deals with the events around the Vietnam Moratorium Committee, arguably the greatest anti-war movement in U.S. history.

It was the idea of a Boston envelope manufacturer, the kind of figure Richard Nixon was used to approaching for political contributions: a one-day nationwide general strike against the war. Most antiwar leaders were skeptical. One who wasn’t, who knew something about quixotic successes, was Sam Brown, the organizer of the McCarthy “Children’s Crusade” in 1968. The usual spots where dissidents gathered, he realized– New York, San Francisco, Washington– were foreign territory to most Americans. This action would be determinedly local. Get pictures on the AP wire of antiwar butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers in Schenectady, Cincinnati, and Bakersfield, and a new antiwar narrative might emerge. Since “strike” sounded like something bomb-throwers did, they adopted, instead, a Nixon word: moratorium. A moratorium from everyday life, smack dab in the middle of the week.

The first press release went out: “On October 15, 1969, this nation will cease ‘business as usual’ to protest the war in Vietnam and for the Nixon administration to bring the troops home.” (Nixon issued a dictate to John Ehrlichman on June 24, using a favorite football metaphor: come up with an anti-Moratorium game plan by July. What was significant about that order was that the protest was not announced publicly for another week.) The Vietnam Moratorium Committee organized on a scale never attempted before. The core was the 253 student government officers and student newspaper editors who had signed an anti-draft pledge in spring. The spring clashes on campuses actually worked to their advantage. People wanted desperately to talk to these clean-cut kids knocking on their doors– to grasp the baffling events just past. That was the conversation starter, the opening to points like: “Isn’t 25,000 a rather token amount of troops for Nixon to withdraw, given that there were over 500,000 American boys in Vietnam? Didn’t that rate of withdrawal mean we would still be in Vietnam in nine years?”

John Ehrlichman named as the anti-Moratorium game plan’s quarterback Nixon’s favorite football coach, Bud Wilkinson, late of the University of Oklahoma. What Wilkinson proposed, since “no one likes to be used,” was that he jawbone the kids into realizing the Moratorium as “an attempt to exploit students for the organizers’ own purposes.” “It’s easy to manipulate kids,” Haldeman agreed, “because they love to get excited. You can foment them up for a panty raid, or in the old days, gold-fish swallowing.” But six weeks after Bud Wilkinson started meeting with student leaders to shame them into the realization that they were cats’ paws, he apologetically reported back: kids were laughing in his face. “The problem of dealing with the Vietnam Moratorium Committee,” Wilkinson noted, with understatement, “is difficult.”

Some Establishment leaders surveying the anti-war disruptions began concluding that the best way to end the anti-war was to end the war. Notre Dame’s Father Hesburgh earned an Oval Office audience for his get-tough policies against student protesters and took the opportunity to beg the president to reform the draft and end the war “as soon as possible.” The president of the most violence-wracked campus in the country, the University of Michigan, practically thundered against the war in the opening convocation. Word came down from the President: “not to be included in any White House conferences.”

Simultaneously, the White House launched an anti-Moratorium Plan B: leaking word that they were responding to demonstrations. The New York Times printed the testimony of an anonymous “critic” within the administration that there would soon be “a temporary suspension of the draft for an unspecified time” and that when conscription resumed men would only be eligible for a year after their 19th birthday instead of the present six, and only professional soldiers and draftees who volunteered would be sent to Vietnam.

Nixon started making mistakes. On September 26 he held his first press conference since June. Aides urged him not to sneer at something so obviously broad-based as the new antiwar surge. Asked first about the proposal of Charles Goodell, the Republican senator Nelson Rockefeller had appointed to fill out the late Bobby Kennedy’s term, to cut off funding for the war after December 1, 1970, he responded like something out of 1984: “that inevitably leads to perpetuating and continuing the war.” The third question was a softball: “What is your view, sir, concerning the student moratorium and other campus demonstrations being planned for this fall against the Vietnam War?” He replied, with monarchical bluntness, “under no circumstances will I be affected whatever by it.”


The remark was the next day’s lead story. VMC leaders put on a press conference timed for the Sunday papers. Dozens of reporters showed up instead of the usual five or six. They had done what Nixon had done in 1948 with Truman, and 1966 with Johnson: massively inflated their stature by making themselves debating partners of a president. They also played skillfully into the emerging media narrative: that the stresses of the job were getting to Nixon. They said what distressed them about his statement “is the degree of isolation which it reflects. It is the kind of rigid stance which contributed so much to the bitterness of debate during the last days of the Johnson administration.”

They were speaking the Establishment’s language, and the Establishment suddenly started showing respect. Newsweek reported: “Originally, October 15 was to have been a campus-oriented protest. But it has quickly spread beyond the campus. And, if everything goes according to the evolving plans, the combination of scheduled events could well turn into the broadest and most spectacular antiwar protest in American history.”

Everything was going better than planned. As Weathermen tore up Chicago, the New York Times reported on a letter from six of the top Vietnam experts from the Rand Corporation, the top defense think tank. America should withdraw, they said, unilaterally and immediately– not “conditioned upon agreement or performance by Hanoi or Saigon.” They went on: “Short of destroying the entire country and its people, we cannot eliminate the enemy force in Vietnam by military means.” Even further: if every enemy soldier or sympathizer was somehow magically eliminated the other side still would not make “the kinds of concessions currently demanded”– a divided Vietnam with the South overseen by a government that the people there thought fundamentally illegitimate. “‘Military victory’ is no longer the U.S. objective,” despite what the American government told the American people, and that wasn’t even the worst of the lies: “The importance to U.S. national interests of the future political complexion of South Vietnam has been greatly exaggerated, as has the negative impact of the unilateral U.S. withdrawal”– whose risks “will not be less after another year or more of American involvement.” The Times called them “men of considerable expertise who normally shun publicity”– and that one, “Daniel Ellsberg, spent two years working for the State Department in Saigon before joining Rand.” The New Yorker, in the issue that hit newsstands three days before the Moratorium, ran a report called “Casualties of War” about a five-man reconnaissance squad who kidnapped and gang-raped a South Vietnamese girl, then murdered her. The anti-antiwar side fought back with a national newspaper ad headlined “Everyone who wants peace in Vietnam should: TELL IT TO HANOI.” It listed in the left-hand column seven steps “the President of the United States has done to end the war in Vietnam.” The right-hand column named Hanoi’s contribution: “Nothing.” It printed a coupon to clip out and send to “Citizens for Peace with Security,” promising, “We’ll see to it that the evidence of your support for the President without dishonor for the United States is transmitted to the enemy in Hanoi. The time has come for the ’silent Americans’ to speak out.”

Two precisely incommensurate propositions: that either patience or impatience with the war was the road to national dishonor. On the 15th, the American people could vote on that referendum with their feet.

Richard Nixon lost. Life called it “the largest expression of public dissent ever seen in this country.” Two million Americans protested– most for the first time in their lives.

Everywhere, black armbands; everywhere, flags at half staff; church services, film showings, teach-ins, neighbor-to-neighbor canvasses. In North Newton, Kansas, a bell tolled every four seconds, each clang memorializing a fallen soldier; in Columbia, Maryland, an electronic sign counted the day’s war deaths. Milwaukee staged a downtown noontime funeral procession. Hastings College, an 850-student Presbyterian school in Nebraska, suspended operations. Madison, Ann Arbor, and New Haven were only a few of the college towns to draw out a quarter of their populations or more (New Haven’s Vietnam Moratorium Committee had called up every name in the city phone book). The nation’s biggest college town brought out 100,000 souls in Boston Common. A young Rhodes Scholar out of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, got up a demonstration of 1000 people in front of the U.S. embassy in London. Newsday publisher and former LBJ right-hand-man Bill Moyers, Paris peace talks chief negotiator Averell Harriman, the mayor of Detroit, even the Connecticut state chairman of Citizens for Nixon-Agnew participated in protests. The Washington Post drew a man-bites-dog conclusion: “Anti-Vietnam Views Unite Generations.”

…At Columbia, Jimmy Breslin reported what the day’s starting pitcher, Tom Seaver, had told him: “If the Mets can get to the World Series, the U.S. can get out of Vietnam.”

And then there was Washington, D.C. On the evening of the 14th, twenty-three Congressmen began an intended all-night session Vietnam on the House floor. Gerald Ford managed to shut them down after four hours. It was the longest time Congress had ever talked Vietnam at a stretch. The next day, congressmen vigiled on the Capitol steps. At lunchtime bureaucrats at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare could chose from twelve different anti-war discussions. Or they could simply play hooky, joining the 50,000 who gathered at the base of the Washington Monument, listening to Coretta Scott King say that this was war “destroying the very fabric and fiber of our society.”

Then, in ranks of ten, they moved out to the White House.

There wasn’t a single Viet Cong flag in evidence. There were hardly any signs at all. There were candles, shimmering in an unbroken line all the way back to the Washington Monument. (Charleston, West Virginia’s police chief described his city’s pro-war counter-demonstration: “We won’t creep around in the dark with candles like those traitors do…. We’ll march at high noon on Monday and let free people fall right in line.”) An NSC staffer took a break from working on the President’s November 3 speech on Vietnam to witness the flickering encirclement of the White House. He looked up with a start: it included his wife and children. The President affected to have noticed nothing: “I haven’t seen a single demonstrator– and I’ve been out.”

…The conspiracy to sabotage it all had consumed the West Wing. One black op consisted of sending a letter sent to every Congressional office on simulated Moratorium letterhead, announcing that the vigil had been moved to Union Station. Yet more ads from the supposedly independent “Citizens for Peace with Security” — a White House front — enjoined Americans to blame Hanoi for the continued warfare. (The man listed in the ads as the group’s chairman, William J. Casey, was a former intelligence officer who had lost a 1968 campaign for Congress as a Nixon Republican, then cemented his Orthogonian bona fides by having his membership application rejected by the Council on Foreign Relations; in 1971 Nixon nominated him for Securities and Exchange Commission chairman.) Conservative congressmen were recruited to assail antiwar colleagues for advocating a “bug out” that would bring “the slaughter of untold millions to Vietnam.” And Americans who’d been held hostage by the Communists in Vietnam were wheeled out as political props. Two POWs had been released by the North Vietnamese in August. In September, the Pentagon sent them around the country to describe their “ordeal of horror.” And surely their confinement had been no picnic. But journalists noticed their stories became more extravagant and inconsistent as time went on. The Secretary of Defense announced of their captivity: “There is clear evidence that North Vietnam has violated even the most fundamental standards of human decency.” But two years later, when Seymour Hersh investigated, he discovered a letter from the Pentagon in which Laird reassured the prisoners’ families he was exaggerating: “We are certain that you will not become unduly concerned over the briefing if you keep in mind the purpose for which it was tailored.”

For the first time, the President sent out Spiro Agnew to do what Nixon used to do for Ike: call the administration’s critics traitors. On the eve of the protest North Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Dong broadcast an open letter on Radio Hanoi praising the Moratorium’s efforts “to save the honor of the United States and to avoid for their boys a useless death in Vietnam.” The Vice President demanded its leaders “repudiate the support of a totalitarian government which has on its hands the blood of 40,000 Americans,” and said pro-Moratorium congressmen were “chargeable with the knowledge of this letter.” The legalistic insinuation– “chargeable”– nicely recalled the master, in 1952, calling President Truman and Secretary Acheson “traitors to the high principles in which many of the nation’s Democrats believe.”

…On Moratorium Day, they recruited parachutists to touch down on the Mall and in Central Park, bearing American flags: perhaps the crowd would seize them, maybe burn them, and that would become the story. Instead, the crowds just laughed.

When is Obama going to realize that his administration will soon be replaying hideous scenarios just like this… as his standing sinks beneath the waves of universal revulsion for an unjust and unjustifiable war and occupation?

Yesterday there was a lot of speculation about why Mitch “Miss” McConnell broke down and wept like a 6 year old girl when he announced Kyle, his chief of staff, was departing. People speculated that it was a situation similar to David Dreier and his chief of “staff.” Take a look:

But there’s another theory. In the last 3 days PDA added these vigils to the February 17 schedule:

Travis Childers (Blue Dog-MS) in Hernando
Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) in L.A.
Chellie Pingree (D-ME) in Portland
Xavier Becerra (D-CA) in L.A.
Pete DeFazio (D-OR) in Eugene
Betsy Markey (Blue Dog-CO) in Ft Collins
Laura Richardson (D-CA) in Long Beach
Diane Watson (D-CA) in L.A.
Gene Taylor (Blue Dog-MS) in Gulfport
Mike Michaud (Blue Dog-ME) in Waterville
Doris Matsui (D-CA) in Sacramento
Miss McConnell (R-KY) in Paducah

Take my word for it; the tenor of the gathering at the offices of the 2 members from Maine or at Diane Watson’s district office on Wilshire Blvd., each of whom were among the 32 Democrats who voted against Obama’s war funding supplemental budget last June, is going to be substantially different from what is likely to take place in Paducah.

Share this:
Bookmark and Share
Posted by on February 13th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war.

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

I’ve had a head-cold for four days and last night it finally reached my chest and triggered an asthma attack. I’m exhausted and sleep-deprived to the extent where 140 characters at a time is all I’m capable of. So here’s a link-dump based on my tweets of the last few days. Normal blogging will resume, I promise.

– Hudson Insitute insta-hack Lee Smith pens a poison letter about the Flint-Leveretts, alleging they’re shills for Iran because an exiled Iranian medical professor thinks their Iranian University contact might also work for Iranian intelligence. The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg immediately repeats such thin gruel from Smith, who’s works of wisdom include “The Case for Standing By Musharaff”, “Walid Jumblatt is No Weather Vane” and “Obama the Underminer”. Either Goldberg is shameless or his contract with Mossad (that a hairdresser told me about) requires him to repeat such twaddle.

– Over at National Review, Lenny Ben-David has some more AIPAC/neocon rubbish – this time about J Street and *gasp!* George Soros being “unkosher” because they think Israel has handed Gaza the dirty end of the stick. Are we seeing a pattern yet?

Noble Laureate Shirin Ebadi calls for political sanctions on Iran – but not economic sanctions, which she rightly says punish the people, not Iran’s elite. I now await Jeffrey Goldberg’s repetition of a baseless charge that Shirrin is a pawn of Iranian intelligence.

– Top British journalist and Middle East expert writes that the current hysteria over Iran is dangerous because “The more Tehran is threatened, the more defiant it becomes, and the more remote the chance of an agreement”. Matt Duss agrees, and tells infamous neocon shill and neo-liberal interventionist “homie” Eli Lake so. Personally, I don’t like the Iranian regime. It’s odious. But bombing it is the dumbest course imaginable, especailly if over trumped-up Iraqish reasons to do with Iran’s alleged nuclear threat.

– Trillions to Burn? Here’s a quick guide to the Surge(TM) in Pentagon spending

– In Afghanistan, the U.S. military finally admits the poulation in Helmand Province are the enemy – “95% of the locals are Taliban or aid the militants“. As hundreds and thousands of civilians try to flee, after the U.S. military told them to stay in their homes to be caught in the crossfire, Robert Naiman writes what Newshoggers’ John Ballard has been saying – the U.S. is preparing to commit war crimes in Marjah.

Joshua Foust has a great post on the Marjah offensive. “When viewed as a whole, this entire operation is a confusing, contradictory, counterproductive mess, seemingly destroying the one thing the residents of Helmand had going for them: a semi-functioning government.”

– And it’s probably worth remembering that the tactic of wiping out the village to save it is a time-honored old-school COIN one, most recently seen in Sri Lanka. There, a UN official now says up to 40,000 civilians were killed. Only last May, Washington Times and National Review contributor James S. Robbins was extolling the virtues of Sri Lanka’s “shoot ‘em all” approach. He wrote that Sri Lanka’s strategy was “the right way to win against terrorists” and continued on to suggest that Sri Lanka’s experiences held “lessons for Afghanistan and Pakistan, if we are willing to learn them.” Today Josh Foust informed me that Robbins also teaches at the national Defense University. That’s beyond parody.

–And finally, single mother Alexis Hutchinson, who’s story broke first here at Newshoggers, has been “less than honorably” discharged from the Army for missing her deployment flight…to look after her 10 month old son. Hutchison has been busted to private and will lose all her military and V.A. benefits. I know who has been dishonorable here, and it isn’t Spct (now Pvt) Hutchinson.

Share this:
Comments Off
Bookmark and Share
Posted by Just Foreign Policy on February 11th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war.

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

The United States and NATO are poised to launch a major assault in the Marjah district in southern Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians are in imminent peril. Will President Obama and Congress act to protect civilians in Marjah, in compliance with the obligations of the United States under the laws of war?

Few civilians have managed to escape the Afghan town of Marjah ahead of a planned US/NATO assault, raising the risk of civilian casualties, McClatchy News reports. “If [NATO forces] don’t avoid large scale civilian casualties, given the rhetoric about protecting the population, then no matter how many Taliban are routed, the Marjah mission should be considered a failure,” said an analyst with the International Crisis Group.

Under the laws of war, the US and NATO – who have told civilians not to flee – bear an extra responsibility to control their fire and avoid tactics that endanger civilians, Human Rights Watch notes. “I suspect that they believe they have the ability to generally distinguish between combatants and civilians,” said Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch. “I would call that into question, given their long history of mistakes, particularly when using air power. Whatever they do, they have an obligation to protect civilians and make adequate provision to alleviate any crisis that arises,” he said. “It is very much their responsibility.”

read more

Share this:
Bookmark and Share
Posted by Derrick Crowe on February 10th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war.

Military officials say that civilian casualties in Marjah, Afghanistan are “inevitable” as U.S. and allied forces launch Operation Moshtarak, the largest military action since the U.S-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Thanks in part to conflicting messages from ISAF and in part due to some residents’ inability to flee, many civilians remain in Marjah, in the crossfire.

Statements from Brig. Gen. Nicholson, commander of the operation, indicate that he feels he has leeway to use airstrikes in the civilian area, and that he intends to use fast, furious attacks to try to overwhelm the Taliban. The problem: airstrikes in support of troops in contact are the leading cause of U.S.-caused civilian deaths.

In the L.A. Times article on the upcoming operation in Marja, the U.S. commander says all the right words when it comes to the issue of insulating the non-combatants from the carnage:

…[I]n the weeks leading up to the imminent offensive to take the Helmand River Valley town of Marja in southern Afghanistan, the Marines’ commander, Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, sat with dozens of Afghan tribal elders, drinking endless cups of sweet tea and offering reassurances that his top priority will be the safety of Afghan civilians.

“In counterinsurgency, the people are the prize,” Nicholson said

…except Nicholson is talking out of both sides of his mouth:

US Second Marine Expeditionary Force commander Larry Nicholson said that the evacuation of most civilians would give commanders leeway to use air-to-ground missiles, declaring that he was “not looking for a fair fight.”

ABC News quotes Nicholson explaining some truly worrisome logic:

Nicholson underscored the point saying a heavy handed approach will reduce the chance for civilian casualties.

“Our feeling is if you go big, strong and fast, you lessen the possibility of civilian casualties as opposed to a slow methodical rolling assault. You go in and you dominate. You overwhelm the enemy,” he said.

Okay, let’s put these two things together. Nicholson is telegraphing he’s letting the air strikes off the chain and that he intends to use rapid, furious attacks in Marja, and somehow that is supposed to lead to reduced civilian casualties. Well, that would be great if we didn’t already know that the single greatest cause of U.S.-caused civilian casualties was airstrikes in support of troops involved in intense firefights.

All of this is very, very bad news for civilians in Marjah. And it’s bad news for the troops in the fight as well.

Share this:
Bookmark and Share
Posted by Tom Engelhardt on February 10th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war.

This article originally appeared on

Once is an anomaly; twice is the beginning of a pattern. Right now, we’re seeing the same sequence of events for the second time in less than a decade, and it looks like the signature American way of war in our time is coming into focus.

In 2003, when the Bush administration invaded Iraq, the Pentagon already had on its drawing boards plans for building a series of permanent mega-bases in that country. (They were charmingly called “enduring camps.”) Once Baghdad fell and it turned out that, Saddam Hussein or no, the U.S. was going to have to fight rather than settle in and let the good times roll, hundreds of micro-bases were added to the mega ones — 106 of them by 2005, more than 300 in all. Then, in 2005, Washington decided to trade in its embassy in one of Saddam’s old palaces for something a little spiffier. In its place, on a 104-acre plot by the Tigris River in the middle of Baghdad, for at least three-quarters of a billion dollars after cost overruns, it built the largest, most expensive embassy on the planet. It was planned for a staff of 1,000 “diplomats” with all the accoutrements of the good life and plenty of hired help. (Even now, despite much discussion about “ending” the American role in Iraq, further plans are reportedly being made for the embassy’s staff to double.) This was clearly to be U.S. mission control for the Greater Middle East.

Building of this expansive kind is, of course, a staggering imperial undertaking. It implies a global power with resources beyond measure, for which waste means nothing. The mega-bases and the embassy were, in that sense, American wonders of the world, our own ziggurat-equivalents in Mesopotamia, right down to the multiple PXs, familiar fast food outlets, and miniature golf. No empire had ever launched a base-building program quite like it (if, that is, you leave out the precursor to this whole experience, the U.S. in Vietnam in the 1960s).

The Iraqi base-building project alone had already absorbed several billion taxpayer dollars in just the first half-year of construction in 2003. But it did look like a one-of-a-kind architectural adventure — until, that is, the “forgotten war,” the one in Afghanistan, came back into view. Starting in 2008, base building ramped up there, went into overdrive in 2009, and hasn’t come out of it yet. The result: according to Nick Turse, author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, an even more staggering base-construction splurge, and with it, the announcement last year that another monster embassy would go up, this time in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, for another cool near-billion. (The already large U.S. embassy in the Afghan capital, Kabul, would also be further expanded to the tune of $175-200 million). And keep in mind that none of this even includes the huge ring of supporting bases for America’s Afghan and Iraq operations in the Persian Gulf, South and Central Asia, and even on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

Does anyone see a pattern here? The American military must be the heaviest occupation force in history. According to reports, it now has 1.5 million pieces of equipment, micro to mega, to get out of Iraq as U.S. forces draw down. This is war and occupation of Guinness World Records proportions, a veritable Ripley’s Believe It Or Not of imperial military construction. The only thing that won’t make the record books, of course, is the results: in war-fighting terms, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the world’s mightiest military has been battled to at least a draw by rag-tag, lightly armed, minority insurgencies.

Who would believe any of this, if it weren’t happening? Given how our media reports on such things, who would even know about it if you didn’t read it first here at  – Tom

The 700 Military Bases of Afghanistan
Black Sites in the Empire of Bases

By Nick Turse

In the nineteenth century, it was a fort used by British forces. In the twentieth century, Soviet troops moved into the crumbling facilities. In December 2009, at this site in the Shinwar district of Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province, U.S. troops joined members of the Afghan National Army in preparing the way for the next round of foreign occupation. On its grounds, a new military base is expected to rise, one of hundreds of camps and outposts scattered across the country.

Nearly a decade after the Bush administration launched its invasion of Afghanistan, TomDispatch offers the first actual count of American, NATO, and other coalition bases there, as well as facilities used by the Afghan security forces. Such bases range from relatively small sites like Shinwar to mega-bases that resemble small American towns. Today, according to official sources, approximately 700 bases of every size dot the Afghan countryside, and more, like the one in Shinwar, are under construction or soon will be as part of a base-building boom that began last year.

Existing in the shadows, rarely reported on and little talked about, this base-building program is nonetheless staggering in size and scope, and heavily dependent on supplies imported from abroad, which means that it is also extraordinarily expensive. It has added significantly to the already long secret list of Pentagon property overseas and raises questions about just how long, after the planned beginning of a drawdown of American forces in 2011, the U.S. will still be garrisoning Afghanistan.

400 Foreign Bases in Afghanistan

Colonel Wayne Shanks, a spokesman for the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), tells TomDispatch that there are, at present, nearly 400 U.S. and coalition bases in Afghanistan, including camps, forward operating bases, and combat outposts. In addition, there are at least 300 Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) bases, most of them built, maintained, or supported by the U.S. A small number of the coalition sites are mega-bases like Kandahar Airfield, which boasts one of the busiest runways in the world, and Bagram Air Base, a former Soviet facility that received a makeover, complete with Burger King and Popeyes outlets, and now serves more than 20,000 U.S. troops, in addition to thousands of coalition forces and civilian contractors.

In fact, Kandahar, which housed 9,000 coalition troops as recently as 2007, is expected to have a population of as many as 35,000 troops by the time President Obama’s surge is complete, according to Colonel Kevin Wilson who oversees building efforts in the southern half of Afghanistan for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. On the other hand, the Shinwar site, according to Sgt. Tracy J. Smith of the U.S. 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, will be a small forward operating base (FOB) that will host both Afghan troops and foreign forces.

Last fall, it was reported that more than $200 million in construction projects — from barracks to cargo storage facilities — were planned for or in-progress at Bagram. Substantial construction funds have also been set aside by the U.S. Air Force to upgrade its air power capacity at Kandahar. For example, $65 million has been allocated to build additional apron space (where aircraft can be parked, serviced, and loaded or unloaded) to accommodate more close-air support for soldiers in the field and a greater intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability. Another $61 million has also been earmarked for the construction of a cargo helicopter apron and a tactical airlift apron there.

Kandahar is just one of many sites currently being upgraded. Exact figures on the number of facilities being enlarged, improved, or hardened are unavailable but, according a spokesman for ISAF, the military plans to expand several more bases to accommodate the increase of troops as part of Afghan War commander Stanley McChrystal’s surge strategy. In addition, at least 12 more bases are slated to be built to help handle the 30,000 extra American troops and thousands of NATO forces beginning to arrive in the country.

“Currently we have over $3 billion worth of work going on in Afghanistan,” says Colonel Wilson, “and probably by the summer, when the dust settles from all the uplift, we’ll have about $1.3 billion to $1.4 billion worth of that [in the South].” By comparison, between 2002 and 2008, the Army Corps of Engineers spent more than $4.5 billion on construction projects, most of it base-building, in Afghanistan.

At the site of the future FOB in Shinwar, more than 135 private construction contractors attended what was termed an “Afghan-Coalition contractors rodeo.” According to Lieutenant Fernando Roach, a contracting officer with the U.S. Army’s Task Force Mountain Warrior, the event was designed “to give potential contractors a walkthrough of the area so they’ll have a solid overview of the scope of work.” The construction firms then bid on three separate projects: the renovation of the more than 30-year old Soviet facilities, the building of new living quarters for Afghan and coalition forces, and the construction of a two-kilometer wall for the base.

In the weeks since the “rodeo,” the U.S. Army has announced additional plans to upgrade facilities at other forward operating bases. At FOB Airborne, located near Kane-Ezzat in Wardak Province, for instance, the Army intends to put in reinforced concrete bunkers and blast protection barriers as well as lay concrete foundations for Re-Locatable Buildings (prefabricated, trailer-like structures used for living and working quarters). Similar work is also scheduled for FOB Altimur, an Army camp in Logar Province.

The Afghan Base Boom

Recently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Afghanistan District-Kabul, announced that it would be seeking bids on “site assessments” for Afghan National Security Forces District Headquarters Facilities nationwide. The precise number of Afghan bases scattered throughout the country is unclear.

When asked by TomDispatch, Colonel Radmanish of the Afghan Ministry of Defense would state only that major bases were located in Kabul, Pakteya, Kandahar, Herat, and Mazar-e-Sharif, and that ANA units operate all across Afghanistan. Recent U.S. Army contracts for maintenance services provided to Afghan army and police bases, however, suggest that there are no fewer than 300 such facilities that are, according to an ISAF spokesman, not counted among the coalition base inventory.

As opposed to America’s fast-food-franchise-filled bases, Afghan ones are often decidedly more rustic affairs. The police headquarters in Khost Farang District, Baghlan Province, is a good example. According to a detailed site assessment conducted by a local contractor for the Army Corps of Engineers and the Afghan government, the district headquarters consists of mud and stone buildings surrounded by a mud wall. The site even lacks a deep well for water. A trench fed by a nearby spring is the only convenient water source.

The U.S. bases that most resemble austere Afghan facilities are combat outposts, also known as COPs. Environmental Specialist Michael Bell of the Army Corps of Engineers, Afghanistan Engineer District-South’s Real Estate Division, recently described the facilities and life on such a base as he and his co-worker, Realty Specialist Damian Salazar, saw it in late 2009:

“COP Sangar… is a compound surrounded by mud and straw walls. Tents with cots supplied the sleeping quarters… A medical, pharmacy and command post tent occupied the center of the COP, complete with a few computers with internet access and three primitive operating tables. Showers had just been installed with hot [water]… only available from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m…

“An MWR [Morale, Welfare and Recreation] tent was erected on Thanksgiving Day with an operating television; however, the tent was rarely used due to the cold. Most of the troops used a tent with gym equipment for recreation… A cook trailer provided a hot simple breakfast and supper. Lunch was MREs [meals ready to eat]. Nights were pitch black with no outside lighting from the base or the city.”

What Makes a Base?

According to an official site assessment, future construction at the Khost Farang District police headquarters will make use of sand, gravel, and stone, all available on the spot. Additionally, cement, steel, bricks, lime, and gypsum have been located for purchase in Pol-e Khomri City, about 85 miles away.

Constructing a base for American troops, however, is another matter. For the far less modest American needs of American troops, builders rely heavily on goods imported over extremely long, difficult to traverse, and sometimes embattled supply lines, all of which adds up to an extraordinarily costly affair. “Our business runs on materials,” Lieutenant General Robert Van Antwerp, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, told an audience at a town hall meeting in Afghanistan in December 2009. “You have to bring in the lumber, you have to bring in the steel, you have to bring in the containers and all that. Transport isn’t easy in this country — number one, the roads themselves, number two, coming through other countries to get here — there are just huge challenges in getting the materials here.”

To facilitate U.S. base construction projects, a new “virtual storefront” — an online shopping portal — has been launched by the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). The Maintenance, Repair and Operations Uzbekistan Virtual Storefront website and a defense contractor-owned and operated brick-and-mortar warehouse facility that supports it aim to provide regionally-produced construction materials to speed surge-accelerated building efforts.

From a facility located in Termez, Uzbekistan, cement, concrete, fencing, roofing, rope, sand, steel, gutters, pipe, and other construction material manufactured in countries like Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan can be rushed to nearby Afghanistan to accelerate base-building efforts. “Having the products closer to the fight will make it easier for warfighters by reducing logistics response and delivery time,” says Chet Evanitsky, the DLA’s construction and equipment supply chain division chief.

America’s Shadowy Base World

The Pentagon’s most recent inventory of bases lists a total of 716 overseas sites. These include facilities owned and leased all across the Middle East as well as a significant presence in Europe and Asia, especially Japan and South Korea. Perhaps even more notable than the Pentagon’s impressive public foreign property portfolio are the many sites left off the official inventory. While bases in the Persian Gulf countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates are all listed, one conspicuously absent site is Al-Udeid Air Base, a billion-dollar facility in nearby Qatar, where the U.S. Air Force secretly oversees its on-going unmanned drone wars.

The count also does not include any sites in Iraq where, as of August 2009, there were still nearly 300 American bases and outposts. Similarly, U.S. bases in Afghanistan — a significant percentage of the 400 foreign sites scattered across the country — are noticeably absent from the Pentagon inventory.

Counting the remaining bases in Iraq — as many as 50 are slated to be operating after President Barack Obama’s August 31, 2010, deadline to remove all U.S. “combat troops” from the country — and those in Afghanistan, as well as black sites like Al-Udeid, the total number of U.S. bases overseas now must significantly exceed 1,000. Just exactly how many U.S. military bases (and allied facilities used by U.S. forces) are scattered across the globe may never be publicly known. What we do know — from the experience of bases in Germany, Italy, Japan, and South Korea — is that, once built, they have a tendency toward permanency that a cessation of hostilities, or even outright peace, has a way of not altering.

After nearly a decade of war, close to 700 U.S., allied, and Afghan military bases dot Afghanistan. Until now, however, they have existed as black sites known to few Americans outside the Pentagon. It remains to be seen, a decade into the future, how many of these sites will still be occupied by U.S. and allied troops and whose flag will be planted on the ever-shifting British-Soviet-U.S./Afghan site at Shinwar.

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 is

Copyright 2010 Nick Turse

Share this:
Comments Off
Bookmark and Share
Posted by on February 9th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war.

From our partners at

By Dave Anderson:

The Afghan Army and the Afghan police are supposed to stand up so the US, NATO and ISAF can stand down.  It’s somewhat hard to stand up when you’re enjoying some high quality heroin or hash.

Reuters reports:

When British trainers administered random drugs tests to 25 Afghan police recruits at a base in southern Helmand province, most of them failed.
One recruit was kicked out of the force. The others were given warnings.

Heroin shouldn’t be tolerated, but there is no point kicking out the ones who smoke hashish: there would be too few left, their Afghan commander said.

Yes, the Afghan police just have to be better than the Pashtun tribal fighters, Taliban insurgents and AQ affiliated fighters; most of whom are also coming from a cultural-economic context of hash consumption, but this is the force that is supposed to hold and build as the Western troops ‘clear’ areas in the next twelve months. 

Share this:
Comments Off
Bookmark and Share
Posted by DownWithTyranny on February 9th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war.

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

I’m always nervous about boring DWT readers by recounting the adventures I had on my trips over forbidden seas to land on barbarous coasts, to paraphrase Herman Melville; that’s why I have a travel site. But sometimes I just feel that those adventures have a place here too, like last month when I wrote about my experience with Pashtunwali, the code by which the Pashtuns of Afghanistan and Pakistan live their lives. My own two lengthy stays in Afghanistan color everything I say and write about the war there.

Yesterday I was reading a post by David Wood at Politics Daily, Afghanistan: Who Are We Fighting For, Anyway?, in which he lays out the case that the rising antipathy for Karzai’s corrupt and incompetent government has doomed U.S. efforts in that country. Much of what he has to say I started writing about 8 years ago when Bush blundered into an occupation of that country– and I based it on what I had picked up in my very first couple of weeks there in 1969!

[A] rising chorus of mid-career U.S. military officers with years of combat experience in Afghanistan say the current war-fighting strategy– based on making tribal and clan leaders subservient to a central government– is doomed to fail. Far better, they say, to work with tribes and clans, in essence building trust and security from the ground up rather than the top down.

There is no sign that the military command or the White House is willing to consider abandoning what has been the central U.S. strategy through eight years of bloody war, and more recent demonstrations of widespread corruption in Karzai’s government. That idea remains central, according to administration officials: the United States holds to the singular goal of creating the first powerful central government in Afghan history, striving to prop it up and strengthen it to the point where American forces — now numbering some 74,000 — can go home.

The result seems to be a widening gulf between official U.S. strategy, and the field experience of officers with broad experience on the ground in Afghanistan. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, has acknowledged that Afghan society “is rooted in tribal structures and ethnic identities.” But he insists that “Afghans do have a sense of national identity.” And in his West Point speech, the president reiterated his intention to “strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces and government” with the 34,000 troop reinforcements now flowing into Afghanistan.

A rejoinder from the field came from Army Maj. Jim Gant, who led a Special Forces team in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004 (and subsequently won a Silver Star for combat valor in Iraq in 2006-2007). In a paper widely shared with journalists, Afghan experts and the military, Gant argued that Afghanistan’s tribes should be the focus of U.S. counterinsurgency actions.

“Afghan tribes always have and always will resist any type of foreign intervention in their affairs,” Jim Gant wrote. “This includes a central government in Kabul, which to them is a million miles away from their problems, a million miles away from their security.

“A strategy in which the central government is the centerpiece of our counterinsurgency plan is destined to fail,” Gant added. “It disenfranchises the very fabric of Afghan society. . . . By supporting and giving some power back to the tribes, we can make positive progress in the region once again.”

My business partner in Kabul was the equivalent of the Postmaster General. His father had been governor of Herat and was a close relative of the King. When I was arrested with 50 kilos of Mazar-i-Sharif hash, he had me out of jail in hours– I wouldn’t have lasted much longer– and he had my van and my hash back to me the next day. It took a lot for him to pull it off, because basically, as I learned, the King’s jurisdiction was pretty much confined to an area around Kabul and was dependent on the goodwill of tribal leaders in the rest of the country. I was lucky that the guys who caught me had plenty of goodwill, or the baksheesh it cost to get me out would have been in dollars and not afghanis. (I think it cost my friend something like $20 to free me and another $20 for the van and hash, although I was sternly warned that I couldn’t take the hash across the border.)

The “official” Afghan government in Kabul was recognized– and armed– by foreign powers. But in the valleys that make up Afghanistan, the King was just the damn King of Kabul who the damned foreigners were (unfairly) giving fancier weapons than the ones they had. And no, I wasn’t there with the British in 1878.

Where I start to differ with Jim Gant is when he talks about a winning strategy. There is only one winning strategy– short of completely annihilating the Afghan people– and that was very well-summed up by Alan Grayson when he said, “People just want to be left alone.” There is no place for the U.S. military in Afghanistan.
Yesterday I heard that counterterrorism experts think American shopping malls and airport counters and parking lots are going to be hit by suicide bombers to wreak havoc here in the U.S. If they do it, well, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what the results will be. But these people are sick of our drones killing their women and children. Wouldn’t you be? We just have to stop. Obama has to stop. He should listen to the advice defense experts from Rand gave Nixon almost 4 decades ago, about the tragic and ill-fated U.S. invasion of Vietnam:

America should withdraw, they said, unilaterally and immediately– not “conditioned upon agreement or performance by Hanoi or Saigon.” They went on, “Short of destroying the entire country and its people, we cannot eliminate the enemy force in Vietnam by military means.” Even further, if every enemy soldier or sympathizer was somehow magically eliminated, the other side would still not make “the kinds of concessions currently demanded”– a divided Vietnam with the South overseen by a government that the people there thought fundamentally illegitimate. “‘Military victory’ is no longer the U.S. objective,” despite what the American government told the American people, and that wasn’t even the worst of the lies: “The importance to U.S. national interests of the future political complexion of South Vietnam has been greatly exaggerated as has the negative impact of the unilateral U.S. withdrawal”– whose risks “will not be less after another year or more of American involvement.”

And that brings us to:

Brownbaggers Not Teabaggers

Since the media didn’t deem it as newsworthy as the 600 demented and unfocused angry teabaggers who gathered in Nashville last weekend, you probably don’t know that PDA organized “brownbag” lunch vigils against war funding at the district offices of 22 congressmembers on January 20th. What these “brownbaggers” want are commitments from congressmembers to vote against more money for war. Not as sexy as Sarah Palin’s handjob? Or frothing at the mouth teabaggers screaming racial and ethnic epithets on TV? Maybe that’s what the mainstream media thinks but most Americans want to see this war over… now.

Don’t worry about having missed one of the first 22 lunchtime vigils. PDA has another whole set– 37 so far– scheduled for February 17. That link will show you which ones are on the schedule and help you put one together if there’s none near you. So far they are planning them for the district offices of:

Tim Ryan (D-OH) in Akron
Dennis Cardoza (Blue Dog-CA) in Modesto
Walt Minnick (Blue Dog-ID) in Medidian
Louise Slaughter (D-NY) in Rochester
Rick Larsen (D-WA) in Bellingham
John Olver (D-MA) in Pittsfield
Charlie Dent (R-PA) in Bethlehem
Gary Miller (R-CA) in Brea
Ed Royce (R-CA) in Orange
Chaka Fattah (D-PA) in Philadelphia
Nita Lowey (D-NY) in White Plains
Norm Dicks (D-WA) in Tacoma
Dave Obey (D-WI) in Superior
John Campbell (R-CA) in Newport Beach
Ron Kind (D-WI) in Eau Claire
Lois Capps (D-CA) in Santa Barbara
Mary Bono-Mack (R-CA) in Palm Springs
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) in Huntington Beach
Richard Neal (D-MA) in Springfield
Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) in Santa Rosa
Baron Hill (Blue Dog-IN) in Jeffersonville
Brian Baird (D-WA) in Vancouver
Kendrick Meek (D-FL) in Miami Gardens
Gary Peters (D-MI) in Troy
Jim McGovern (D-MA) in Worcester
Brian Bilbray (R-CA) in Solana Beach
Susan Davis (D-CA) in San Diego
Joe Sestak (D-PA) in Media
Barbara Lee (D-CA) in Oakland
John Garamendi (D-CA) in Walnut Creek
Bill Young (R-FL) in St. Petersburg
Bilirakis the Younger (R-FL) in Tampa
Harry Mitchell (Blue Dog-AZ) in Scottsdale
Betty Sutton (D-OH) in Akron
John Kerry (D-MA) in Boston
Bill Delahunt (D-MA) in Hyannis
Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) in Bakersfield

Obviously some of these members are heroes of the anti-war movement, like Barbara Lee and Jim McGovern, and some are clueless warmongers, like Gary Miller, Charlie Dent and Baron Hill, so some of these events will be more like “thank you” demonstrations and some will be wake-up calls. And there are an awful lot of Democrats on the list above who talk the talk but who do not walk the walk. We need to help them change that. Remember, “brownbaggers” are asking members of Congress to publicly commit to voting “No!” on any bills that fund wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Yemen and to publicly urge their colleagues and the House leadership to make the same commitment. As lesser steps in the same direction, PDA is encouraging congressmembers to cosponsor HR 2454, calling for an exit strategy from Afghanistan, and HR 3699, prohibiting any increase in the number of U.S. Armed Forces in Afghanistan.

Share this:
Bookmark and Share
Posted by Just Foreign Policy on February 9th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war.

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

If Michael Moore would run for President in 2012, it could be a game-changer in American political life. For starters, it would likely shorten the war in Afghanistan by at least six months, and the American and Afghan lives that would be saved would alone justify the effort.

If Moore announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination now, and followed up that announcement with a vigorous campaign focused on the struggles of rank-and-file Democrats, it would re-mobilize rank-and-file Democratic activists. It’s possible that he might even win; but win or lose, the campaign could arrest and reverse the current rightward, pro-corporate trajectory of our national politics, which is the predictable consequence of the failure of Team Obama to deliver on its promises from 2008, which in turn was the predictable consequence of the doomed effort to try to serve two masters: Wall Street and Main Street.

Like few people with his political views, Michael Moore needs no introduction to the Democratic primary electorate. To most rank-and-file Democrats, the name Michael Moore stands for a set of progressive populist ideas: health care for all, workers’ rights, opposition to Wall Street’s stranglehold on Washington, closing down the wars of empire and bringing our troops home.

In 1984 and 1988, the Jesse Jackson campaigns showed what could be accomplished running a populist, issue-based, movement campaign in the Democratic primaries and caucuses. In 1984, Jackson got more than 3 million votes, a fifth of the total, and won 5 primaries and caucuses. In 1988, he got almost 7 million votes and won seven primaries and four caucuses; at one point, following his victory in the Michigan caucus, he was ahead in delegates.

read more

Share this:
Comments Off
Bookmark and Share
Posted by on February 8th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war.

From our partners at

Commentary By Ron Beasley

As I noted here it’s economics that bring an end to empires not military defeats.  In Wars Sending US into Ruin Eric Margolis supplies some details.

More empires have fallen because of reckless finances than invasion.
The latest example was the Soviet Union, which spent itself into ruin
by buying tanks.

Washington’s deficit (the difference between
spending and income from taxes) will reach a vertiginous $1.6 trillion
US this year. The huge sum will be borrowed, mostly from China and
Japan, to which the U.S. already owes $1.5 trillion. Debt service will
cost $250 billion.

To spend $1 trillion, one would have had to
start spending $1 million daily soon after Rome was founded and
continue for 2,738 years until today.

Margolis notes that the overt US military budget is $1 trillion – half of the worlds military spending.

Obama’s total military budget is nearly $1 trillion. This includes
Pentagon spending of $880 billion. Add secret black programs (about $70
billion); military aid to foreign nations like Egypt, Israel and
Pakistan; 225,000 military “contractors” (mercenaries and workers); and
veterans’ costs. Add $75 billion (nearly four times Canada’s total
defence budget) for 16 intelligence agencies with 200,000 employees.

Afghanistan and Iraq wars ($1 trillion so far), will cost $200-250
billion more this year, including hidden and indirect expenses. Obama’s
Afghan “surge” of 30,000 new troops will cost an additional $33 billion
- more than Germany’s total defence budget.

No wonder U.S. defence stocks rose after Peace Laureate Obama’s “austerity” budget.

and intelligence spending relentlessly increase as unemployment heads
over 10% and the economy bleeds red ink. America has become the Sick
Man of the Western Hemisphere, an economic cripple like the defunct
Ottoman Empire.

The Pentagon now accounts for half of total world
military spending. Add America’s rich NATO allies and Japan, and the
figure reaches 75%.

And here is the empire we can’t afford:

There are 750 U.S. military bases in 50 nations and 255,000 service
members stationed abroad, 116,000 in Europe, nearly 100,000 in Japan
and South Korea.

Military spending gobbles up 19% of federal
spending and at least 44% of tax revenues. During the Bush
administration, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – funded by borrowing -
cost each American family more than $25,000.

Budget Fraud:

Like Bush, Obama is paying for America’s wars through supplemental
authorizations ­- putting them on the nation’s already maxed-out credit
card. Future generations will be stuck with the bill.

This presidential and congressional jiggery-pokery is the height of public dishonesty.

America’s wars ought to be paid for through taxes, not bookkeeping fraud.

If U.S. taxpayers actually had to pay for the Afghan and Iraq wars, these conflicts would end in short order.

America needs a fair, honest war tax.

In site of Eisenhower’s warning in 1961 the military industrial complex is in charge.

It is increasingly clear the president is not in control of
America’s runaway military juggernaut. Sixty years ago, the great
President Dwight Eisenhower, whose portrait I keep by my desk, warned
Americans to beware of the military-industrial complex. Six decades
later, partisans of permanent war and world domination have joined Wall
Street’s money lenders to put America into thrall.

numbers of Americans are rightly outraged and fearful of runaway
deficits. Most do not understand their political leaders are also
spending their nation into ruin through unnecessary foreign wars and a
vainglorious attempt to control much of the globe – what neocons call
“full spectrum dominance.”

If Obama really were serious about
restoring America’s economic health, he would demand military spending
be slashed, quickly end the Iraq and Afghan wars and break up the
nation’s giant Frankenbanks.

Paul Krugman and others want to blame our current decline on the dysfunctional Senate.

Instead of fraying under the strain of imperial overstretch, we’re
paralyzed by procedure. Instead of re-enacting the decline and fall of
Rome, we’re re-enacting the dissolution of 18th-century Poland.

I fear that’s a simplification.  I see nothing that would lead me to believe that a Senate that actually did function would not be enslaved to the military industrial complex.

Share this:
Comments Off
Bookmark and Share
Posted by Tom Engelhardt on February 8th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war.

This article originally appeared at

Almost every day, reports come back from the CIA’s “secret” battlefield in the Pakistani tribal borderlands.  Unmanned Aerial Vehicles — that is, pilot-less drones — shoot missiles (18 of them in a single attack on a tiny village last week) or drop bombs and then the news comes in:  a certain number of al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders or suspected Arab or Uzbek or Afghan “militants” have died.  The numbers are often remarkably precise.  Sometimes they are attributed to U.S. sources, sometimes to the Pakistanis; sometimes, it’s hard to tell where the information comes from.  In the Pakistani press, on the other hand, the numbers that come back are usually of civilian dead.  They, too, tend to be precise.

Don’t let that precision fool you.  Here’s the reality:  There are no reporters on the ground and none of these figures can be taken as accurate.  Let’s just consider the CIA side of things.  Any information that comes from American sources (i.e. the CIA) has to be looked at with great wariness.  As a start, the CIA’s history is one of deception.  There’s no reason to take anything its sources say at face value.  They will report just what they think it’s in their interest to report — and the ongoing “success” of their drone strikes is distinctly in their interest.

Then, there’s history.  In the present drone wars, as in the CIA’s bloody Phoenix Program in the Vietnam era, the Agency’s operatives, working in distinctly alien terrain, must rely on local sources (or possibly official Pakistani ones) for targeting intelligence.  In Vietnam in the 1960s, the Agency’s Phoenix Program — reportedly responsible for the assassination of 20,000 Vietnamese — became, according to historian Marilyn Young, “an extortionist’s paradise, with payoffs as available for denunciation as for protection.”  Once again, the CIA is reportedly passing out bags of money and anyone on the ground with a grudge, or the desire to eliminate an enemy, or simply the desire to make some of that money can undoubtedly feed information into the system, watch the drones do their damnedest, and then report back that more “terrorists” are dead.  Just assume that at least some of those “militants” dying in Pakistan, and possibly many of them, aren’t who the CIA hopes they are.

Think of it as a foolproof situation, with an emphasis on the “fool.”  And then keep in mind that, in December, the CIA’s local brain trust, undoubtedly the same people who were leaking precise news of “successes” in Pakistan, mistook a jihadist double agent from Jordan for an agent of theirs, gathered at an Agency base in Khost, Afghanistan, and let him wipe them out with a suicide bomb.  Seven CIA operatives died, including the base chief. This should give us a grim clue as to the accuracy of the CIA’s insights into what’s happening on the ground in Pakistan, or into the real effects of their 24/7 robotic assassination program.

But there’s a deeper, more dangerous level of deception in Washington’s widening war in the region: self-deception.  The CIA drone program, which the Agency’s Director Leon Panetta has called “the only game in town” when it comes to dismantling al-Qaeda, is just symptomatic of such self-deception.  While the CIA and the U.S. military have been expending enormous effort studying the Afghan and Pakistani situations and consulting experts, and while the White House has conducted an extensive series of seminars-cum-policy-debates on both countries, you can count on one thing: none of them have spent significant time studying or thinking about us.

As a result, the seeming cleanliness and effectiveness of the drone-war solution undoubtedly only reinforces a sense in Washington that the world’s last great military power can still control this war — that it can organize, order, prod, wheedle, and bribe both the Afghans and Pakistanis into doing what’s best, and if that doesn’t work, simply continue raining down the missiles and bombs.  Beware Washington’s deep-seated belief that it controls events; that it is, however precariously, in the saddle; that, as Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal recently put it, there is a “corner” to “turn” out there, even if we haven’t quite turned it yet.

In fact, Washington is not in the saddle and that corner, if there, if turned, will have its own unpleasant surprises.  Washington is, in this sense, as oblivious as those CIA operatives were as they waited for “their” Jordanian agent to give them supposedly vital information on the al-Qaeda leadership in the Pakistani tribal areas.  Like their drones, the Americans in charge of this war are desperately far from the ground, and they don’t even seem to know it.  It’s this that makes the analogy drawn by TomDispatch regular and author of Halliburton’s Army, Pratap Chatterjee, so unnerving.  It’s time for Washington to examine not what we know about them, but what we don’t know about ourselves.  Tom

Operation Breakfast Redux
Could Pakistan 2010 Go the Way of Cambodia 1969?
By Pratap Chatterjee

Sitting in air-conditioned comfort, cans of Coke and 7-Up within reach as they watched their screens, the ground controllers gave the order to strike under the cover of darkness. There had been no declaration of war.  No advance warning, nothing, in fact, that would have alerted the “enemy” to the sudden, unprecedented bombing raids. The secret computer-guided strikes were authorized by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, just weeks after a new American president entered the Oval Office.  They represented an effort to wipe out the enemy’s central headquarters whose location intelligence experts claimed to have pinpointed just across the border from the war-torn land where tens of thousands of American troops were fighting daily.

In remote villages where no reporters dared to go, far from the battlefields where Americans were dying, who knew whether the bombs that rained from the night sky had killed high-level insurgents or innocent civilians? For 14 months the raids continued and, after each one was completed, the commander of the bombing crews was instructed to relay a one-sentence message: “The ball game is over.”

The campaign was called “Operation Breakfast,” and, while it may sound like the CIA’s present air campaign over Pakistan, it wasn’t. You need to turn the clock back to another American war, four decades earlier, to March 18, 1969, to be exact.  The target was an area of Cambodia known as the Fish Hook that jutted into South Vietnam, and Operation Breakfast would be but the first of dozens of top secret bombing raids.  Later ones were named “Lunch,” “Snack,” and “Supper,” and they went under the collective label “Menu.” They were authorized by President Richard Nixon and were meant to destroy a (non-existent) “Bamboo Pentagon,” a central headquarters in the Cambodian borderlands where North Vietnamese communists were supposedly orchestrating raids deep into South Vietnam.

Like President Obama today, Nixon had come to power promising stability in an age of unrest and with a vague plan to bringing peace to a nation at war. On the day he was sworn in, he read from the Biblical book of Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” He also spoke of transforming Washington’s bitter partisan politics into a new age of unity: “We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another, until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.”

Return to the Killing Fields

In recent years, many commentators and pundits have resorted to “the Vietnam analogy,” comparing first the American war in Iraq and now in Afghanistan to the Vietnam War. Despite a number of similarities, the analogy disintegrates quickly enough if you consider that U.S. military campaigns in post-invasion Afghanistan and Iraq against small forces of lightly-armed insurgents bear little resemblance to the large-scale war that Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon waged against both southern revolutionary guerrillas and the military of North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, who commanded a real army, with the backing of, and supplies from, the Soviet Union and China.

A more provocative — and perhaps more ominous — analogy today might be between the CIA’s escalating drone war in the contemporary Pakistani tribal borderlands and Richard Nixon’s secret bombing campaign against the Cambodian equivalent.  To briefly recapitulate that ancient history: In the late 1960s, Cambodia was ruled by a “neutralist” king, Norodom Sihanouk, leading a weak government that had little relevance to its poor and barely educated citizens. In its borderlands, largely beyond its control, the North Vietnamese and Vietcong found “sanctuaries.”

Sihanouk, helpless to do anything, looked the other way.  In the meantime, sheltered by local villagers in distant areas of rural Cambodia was a small insurgent group, little-known communist fundamentalists who called themselves the Khmer Rouge.  (Think of them as the 1970s equivalent of the Pakistani Taliban who have settled into the wild borderlands of that country largely beyond the control of the Pakistani government.)  They were then weak and incapable of challenging Sihanouk — until, that is, those secret bombing raids by American B-52s began.  As these intensified in the summer of 1969, areas of the country began to destabilize (helped on in 1970 by a U.S.-encouraged military coup in the capital Phnom Penh), and the Khmer Rouge began to gain strength.

You know the grim end of that old story.

Forty years, almost to the day, after Operation Breakfast began, I traveled to the town of Snuol, close to where the American bombs once fell. It is a quiet town, no longer remote, as modern roads and Chinese-led timber companies have systematically cut down the jungle that once sheltered anti-government rebels. I went in search of anyone who remembered the bombing raids, only to discover that few there were old enough to have been alive at the time, largely because the Khmer Rouge executed as much as a quarter of the total Cambodian population after they took power in 1975.

Eventually, a 15-minute ride out of town, I found an old soldier living by himself in a simple one-room house adorned with pictures of the old king, Sihanouk. His name was Kong Kan and he had first moved to the nearby town of Memot in 1960. A little further away, I ran into three more old men, Choenung Klou, Keo Long, and Hoe Huy, who had gathered at a newly built temple to chat.

All of them remembered the massive 1969 B-52 raids vividly and the arrival of U.S. troops the following year. “We thought the Americans had come to help us,” said Choenung Klou. “But then they left and the [South] Vietnamese soldiers who came with them destroyed the villages and raped the women.”

He had no love for the North Vietnamese communists either. “They would stay at people’s houses, take our hammocks and food. We didn’t like them and we were afraid of them.”

Caught between two Vietnamese armies and with American planes carpet-bombing the countryside, increasing numbers of Cambodians soon came to believe that the Khmer Rouge, who were their countrymen, might help them. Like the Taliban of today, many of the Khmer Rouge were, in fact, teenaged villagers who had responded, under the pressure of war and disruption, to the distant call of an inspirational ideology and joined the resistance in the jungles.

“If you ask me why I joined the Khmer Rouge, the main reason is because of the American invasion,” Hun Sen, the current prime minister of Cambodia, has said. “If there was no invasion, by now, I would be a pilot or a professor.”

Six years after the bombings of Cambodia began, shortly after the last helicopter lifted off the U.S. embassy in Saigon and the flow of military aid to the crumbling government of Cambodia stopped, a reign of terror took hold in the capital, Phnom Penh.

The Khmer Rouge left the jungles and entered the capital where they began a systemic genocide against city dwellers and anyone who was educated. They vowed to restart history at Year Zero, a new era in which much of the past became irrelevant. Some two million people are believed to have died from executions, starvation, and forced labor in the camps established by the Angkar leadership of the Khmer Rouge commanded by Pol Pot.

Unraveling Pakistan

Could the same thing happen in Pakistan today? A new American president was ordering escalating drone attacks, in a country where no war has been declared, at the moment when I flew from Cambodia across South Asia to Afghanistan, so this question loomed large in my mind.  Both there and just across the border, Operation Breakfast seems to be repeating itself.

In the Afghan capital, Kabul, I met earnest aid workers who drank late into the night in places like L’Atmosphere, a foreigner-only bar that could easily have doubled as a movie set for Saigon in the 1960s. Like modern-day equivalents of Graham Greene’s “quiet American,” these “consultants” describe a Third Way that is neither Western nor fundamentalist Islam.

At the very same time, CIA analysts in distant Virginia are using pilot-less drones and satellite technology to order strikes against supposed terrorist headquarters across the border in Pakistan.  They are not so unlike the military men who watched radar screens in South Vietnam in the 1960s as the Cambodian air raids went on.

In 2009, on the orders of President Obama, the U.S. unloaded more missiles and bombs on Pakistan than President Bush did in the years of his secret drone war, and the strikes have been accelerating in number and intensity.  By this January, there was a drone attack almost every other day. Even if, this time around, no one is using the code phrase, “the ball game is over,” Washington continually hails success after success, terrorist leader after terrorist leader killed, implying that something approaching victory could be somewhere just over the horizon.

As in the 1960s in Cambodia, these strikes are, in actuality, having a devastating, destabilizing effect in Pakistan, not just on the targeted communities, but on public consciousness throughout the region. An article in the January 23rd New York Times indicated that the fury over these attacks has even spread into Pakistan’s military establishment which, in a manner similar to Sihanouk in the 1960s, knows its limits in its tribal borderlands and is publicly uneasy about U.S. air strikes which undermine the country’s sovereignty. “Are you with us or against us?” the newspaper quoted a senior Pakistani military officer demanding of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates when he spoke last month at Pakistan’s National Defense University.

Even pro-American Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has spoken out publicly against drone strikes.  Of one such attack, he recently told reporters, “We strongly condemn this attack and the government will raise this issue at [the] diplomatic level.”

Despite the public displays of outrage, however, the American strikes have undoubtedly been tacitly approved at the highest levels of the Pakistani government because of that country’s inability to control militants in its tribal borderlands.  Similarly, Sihanouk finally looked the other way after the U.S. provided secret papers, code-named Vesuvius, as proof that the Vietnamese were operating from his country.

While most Democratic and Republican hawks have praised the growing drone war in the skies over Pakistan, some experts in the U.S. are starting to express worries about them (even if they don’t have the Cambodian analogy in mind). For example, John Arquilla, a professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School who frequently advises the military, says that an expansion of the drone strikes “might even spark a social revolution in Pakistan.”

Indeed, even General David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, wrote in a secret assessment on May 27, 2009: “Anti-U.S. sentiment has already been increasing in Pakistan… especially in regard to cross-border and reported drone strikes, which Pakistanis perceive to cause unacceptable civilian casualties.” Quoting local polls, he wrote: “35 percent [of Pakistanis] say they do not support U.S. strikes into Pakistan, even if they are coordinated with the GOP [government of Pakistan] and the Pakistan Military ahead of time.”

The Pakistani Army has, in fact, launched several significant operations against the Pakistani Taliban in Swat and in South Waziristan, just as Sihanouk initially ordered the Cambodian military to attack the Khmer Rouge and suppress peasant rebellions in Battambang Province. Again like Sihanouk in the late 1960s, however, the Pakistanis have balked at more comprehensive assaults on the Taliban, and especially on the Afghan Taliban using the border areas as “sanctuaries.”

The New Jihadists

What happens next is the $64 million question. Most Pakistani experts dismiss any suggestion that the Taliban has widespread support in their country, but it must be remembered that the Khmer Rouge was a fringe group with no more than 4,000 fighters at the time that Operation Breakfast began.

And if Cambodia’s history is any guide to the future, the drone strikes do not have to create a groundswell for revolution. They only have to begin to destabilize Pakistan as would, for instance, the threatened spread of such strikes into the already unsettled province of Baluchistan, or any future American ground incursions into the country. A few charismatic intellectuals like Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot always have the possibility of taking it from there, rallying angry and unemployed youth to create an infrastructure for disruptive change.

Despite often repeated claims by both the Bush and Obama administrations that the drone raids are smashing al-Qaeda’s intellectual leadership, more and more educated and disenchanted young men from around the world seem to be rallying to the fundamentalist cause.

Some have struck directly at American targets like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian who attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day 2009, and Dr. Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, the 32-year-old Jordanian double agent and suicide bomber who killed seven CIA operatives at a military base in Khost, southern Afghanistan, five days later.

Some have even been U.S.-born, like Anwar al-Awlaki, the 38-year-old Islamic preacher from New Mexico who has moved to Yemen; Adam Pearlman, a 32-year-old Southern Californian and al-Qaeda spokesman now known as “Azzam the American,” who reportedly lives somewhere in the Afghan-Pakistan border regions; and Omar Hammami, the 25-year-old Syrian-American from Alabama believed to be an al-Shabaab leader in Somalia.

Like the Khmer Rouge before them, these new jihadists display no remorse for killing innocent civilians. “One of the sad truths I have come to see is that for this kind of mass violence, you don’t need monsters,” says Craig Etcheson, author of After the Killing Fields and founder of the Documentation Center of Cambodia. “Ordinary people will do just fine. This thing lives in all of us.”

Even King Sihanouk, who had once ordered raids against the Khmer Rouge, eventually agreed to support them after he had been overthrown in a coup and was living in exile in China. Could the same thing happen to Pakistani politicians if they fall from grace and U.S. backing?

What threw Sihanouk’s fragile government into serious disarray — other than his own eccentricity and self-absorption — was the devastating spillover of Nixon’s war in Vietnam into Cambodia’s border regions. It finally brought the Khmer Rouge to power.

Pakistan 2010, with its enormous modern military and industrialized base, is hardly impoverished Cambodia 1969.  Nonetheless, in that now ancient history lies both a potential analogy and a cautionary tale.  Beware secret air wars that promise success and yet wreak havoc in lands that are not even enemy nations.

When his war plans were questioned, Nixon pressed ahead, despite a growing public distaste for his war. A similar dynamic seems to be underway today.  In 1970, after Operation Breakfast was revealed by the New York Times, Nixon told his top military and national security aides: “We cannot sit here and let the enemy believe that Cambodia is our last gasp.”

Had he refrained first from launching Operation Breakfast and then from supping on the whole “menu,” some historians like Etcheson believe a genocide would have been averted. It would be a sad day if the drone strikes, along with the endless war that the Obama administration has inherited and that is now spilling over ever more devastatingly into Pakistan, were to create a new class of fundamentalists who actually had the capacity to seize power.

Pratap Chatterjee is a freelance journalist and senior editor at CorpWatch who has traveled extensively in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has written two books about the war on terror, Iraq, Inc. (Seven Stories Press, 2004) and Halliburton’s Army (Nation Books, 2009). For more information on Nixon’s secret campaign, he recommends Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia by William Shawcross. (Simon and Schuster, 1979)

Copyright 2010 Pratap Chatterjee

Share this:
Comments Off
Bookmark and Share
Peacemakers take action to lead the charge to end the war. Join forces with the over 100,000 people who make a difference.


Subscribe via RSS
Become a Peacemaker

Bronze Telly Award
For general questions, email us here.
For technical issues regarding this site, contact us here.


For Press inquiries, please contact Kim at:

Director: Robert Greenwald - Executive Director: Jim Miller - Producer: Jason Zaro - Associate Producer: Dallas Dunn, Jonathan Kim, and Kim Huynh - Researcher: Greg Wishnev - Editor: Phillip Cruess - Political Director: Leighton Woodhouse - VP Marketing & Distribution: Laura Beatty - Production Assistant: Monique Hairston

Anyone is allowed to post content on this site, but Brave New Foundation 501(c)(3) is not responsible for that content. We will, however, remove anything unlawful, threatening, libelous, defamatory, obscene, racist, or that contains other material that would violate the law. By posting you agree to this.

Brave New Foundation | 10510 Culver Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232