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Archive for March, 2010

Posted by Peace Action West on March 26th, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

Every day, Peace Action West and our supporters pressure Congress to support smart foreign policies like eliminating the threat from nuclear weapons and solving conflicts through diplomacy. Every two years, we get the opportunity to not just change the policies, but change the people who make them. Peace Action West supporters have helped oust people who are getting in the way of positive foreign policy change and elect leaders who are taking action to make our vision a reality. I am proud to introduce you to the first candidates we are throwing our support behind for 2010. These aren’t the kind of politicians who are simply “less bad” than the alternative, people you hold your nose and vote for—they are bold, intelligent, leaders who are willing to go to bat for progressive values.

Marcy Winograd is running a grassroots primary campaign against hawkish Democrat Jane Harman in California’s 36th district. Jane Harman has faced anger from Democrats for her cheerleading for the war in Iraq and defending Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program, including urging the New York Times not to publish a story revealing the controversial program shortly before the 2004 presidential election. Jane Harman was out of step with Peace Action West supporters in her voting record last year on such votes as supporting funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with few restrictions and harsh, counterproductive sanctions on Iran.

I first met Marcy Winograd last year in Los Angeles when she and I were on the bill together at a speaking event. Winograd gave a speech about the need to move away from Bush era nuclear doctrine and work for the elimination of nuclear weapons. The passion and knowledge she displayed about nuclear weapons is a rarity amongst congressional candidates (and members of Congress). Marcy Winograd’s priorities are clear: her campaign slogan is “Jobs, not wars.” In response to new of our endorsement, Winograd said,

“I am honored to have the support of an organization working to promote diplomacy and the rule of law, rather than perpetual war and occupation. Historically, Peace Action has been at the forefront of the peace movement, working hard to stop nuclear proliferation and embrace global nuclear disarmament.”

In 2006, Winograd jumped into the primary race with just 3 months to run and took 38% of the vote. Her campaign will need our help this year to turn out the vote and send a message that voters want real progressive leadership in Congress.

California 44th district candidate Bill Hedrick took almost 49% of the vote in his race against incumbent Ken Calvert in 2008. Hedrick has spent 35 years as a teacher and served on the local school board for 22 years. He understands the strain that war places on American families, with a son and daughter-in-law currently serving their third deployments in Iraq and another son and daughter-in-law who have served in that war zone. On his website, he says of the war in Afghanistan, “We must develop a clear strategy for bringing our young men and women home, while continuing to support Afghanistan and its people through diplomatic and humanitarian support. We need to set a clear exit strategy, benchmarks, and timeline for drawdown of troops so we can take care of our own, and allow Afghanistan to do the same.” Hedrick is proud to have Peace Action West’s endorsement:

“As a father of five, I look forward to promoting policies that will build a safer, peaceful future for our children and grandchildren. I believe the safety of our nation is best secured by genuine steps taken to ensure the dignity of all peoples, to promote justice in resolving conflicts, to advance the cause of non-proliferation, and to press forward for mutual nuclear disarmament.

President Eisenhower said, ‘I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments.’ I am grateful for the confidence shown by Peace Action West and Peace Action in our campaign for Congress, and I look forward to waging a people-powered campaign to promote not only peace, but justice.”

Bill Hedrick is a proud progressive who is not afraid to stand up and say that war isn’t working, and in Congress he will fight to make sure our tax dollars are spent on policies that make us safer and improve access to jobs, healthcare and education.

You can contribute to Winograd and Hedrick here. Stay tuned for more information about how you can help these stellar candidates win this year.

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on March 26th, 2010

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

Thank you for calling your Representative urging them to support the Kucinich resolution for a withdrawal timetable from Afghanistan, H. Con Res. 248.

Let us know how your call went by submitting a comment below. Sharing your Representative’s name, whether you were successful in reaching their office, and any feedback you received from staffers would be especially helpful.

Commenting requires you to login or register for an account. Registering is easy — no email confirmation required.

If your comment does not show up right away, don’t worry. Your comments go through a moderation queue to keep out spam. But we will not edit the content of your comment. Unless you are a spammer, that is, in which case: shame on you.


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Posted by Derrick Crowe on March 26th, 2010

Q: Why would U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan go out of their way to smear a journalist?

A: Because he told the truth about a night raid that killed Afghan civilians, including pregnant women.

Last week, I spoke with Afghanistan-based journalist Jerome Starkey about his reporting on special forces raids that killed civilians and NATOs surprising–and disappointing–response. This video contains disturbing images, and an even more disturbing story of violence, and an attempt to silence a truth-teller. It shows why its absolutely essential that we keep pushing back against the Pentagon’s message machine.

Over the past few months, Starkey exposed two incidents where NATO initially claimed to have engaged and killed insurgents, when they’d in fact killed civilians, including school children and pregnant women. In both cases, when confronted with eye-witness accounts obtained by Starkey that clearly rebutted NATO’s initial claims, NATO resisted publicly recanting.

In the first case, NATO officials told him they no longer believed that the raid would have been justified if they’d known what they now know, but no official would consent to direct attribution for this admission.

In the second case, NATO’s initially made sensational claims that they’d discovered during the raid the bodies of pregnant women that had been bound, gagged and executed. Starkey’s reporting forcefully rebutted this claim. Instead of simply retracting their story, NATO went so far as to attempt to damage Starkey’s credibility by telling other Kabul-based journalists that they had proof he’d misquoted ISAF spokesman Rear Adm. Greg Smith. When Starkey demanded a copy of the recording, NATO initially ignored him and eventually admitted that no recording existed. NATO only admitted their story was false in a retraction buried several paragraphs deep in a press release that led with an attack on Starkey’s credibility.

Under Gen. Stanley McChrystal, NATO’s made a big show of apologizing early and often when civilians are killed in broad daylight. But Starkey’s reporting and ISAF’s reaction to it shows that their natural inclination to escape accountability remains strong and operative when they think they can get away with violent mistakes under the cover of darkness.

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Posted by Josh Mull on March 25th, 2010

On Monday, we discussed some of the recent negotiations happening in Afghanistan between President Karzai and representatives of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami militia. But these aren’t the only negotiations on the AfPak war taking place this week. In Washington, Pakistan and the US are meeting for a strategic dialogue. NPR reports:

Senior U.S. and Pakistani officials meet Thursday in Washington for the second round of a so-called strategic dialogue aimed at a better long-term relationship.

Few people expected any big breakthroughs in the first round of talks between the two sides Wednesday. The nations’ complicated relationship has been marked by a deep sense of mutual distrust for many years. Still, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is hosting the two-day event, said some headway was made — especially on security.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi is meeting with Secretary Clinton, but he’s not the one really leading the Pakistani delegation. Sue Pleming tells us who is:

Pakistan’s foreign minister heads his country’s delegation to Washington this week for high-level talks, but there was no mistaking who was the star at a reception at the Pakistani Embassy on Tuesday night: Army General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

Guests crowded around Kayani at the annual Pakistani National Day party at the embassy, posing for photos and jostling for the military leader’s ear. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, also drew those eager for photographic souvenirs of the occasion, but not such a feeding frenzy as that around Kayani.

U.S. senators and Obama administration officials lined up to speak to the slim and dapper general, who Pakistani media say rules the roost back home but is also central to U.S. relations with Islamabad.

Our elected representatives are swooning over the Chief of the Pakistani Army, who supposedly "rules the roost back home." Great, another US-backed military dictator in Pakistan. What about the civilian leaders though, didn’t Pakistan just have an election in 2008? Our last pet general in Islamabad, Pervez Musharraf, was forced to resign and the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (N) were swept into power by popular vote. The PPP and PML-N formed a coalition government, with Yosaf Gillani as Prime Minister and Asif Ali Zardari as President. What happened to those guys? (more…)

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on March 25th, 2010

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

I lived through the disastrous American invasion of Vietnam. I was a college student with a high enough draft number to not have to worry about going into the military until Vietcong soldiers had bases in Staten Island and were threatening to cross the Verrazano Narrows in dugout canoes from Camp Pouch– there was no bridge back then– into Bensonhurst. After college, having had enough sleepless nights wondering if tax dollars I spent were going towards the deaths of people in that unfortunate country, I moved abroad.

I returned almost seven years later, as Gerald Ford, someone who was never elected to anything other than to represent a rural, backwater congressional district in central Michigan, was muddling his way through a “presidency” historians would rather forget. But the My Lai incident– a less provocative way to refer to the My Lai Massacre, as it came to be called– was forever seared into my consciousness.

Of course, I have no way to know how old the readers of this blog are. I asked two of my twenty-something friends, Erik (an entrepreneur) and Irwing (a college student), if they’d ever heard of My Lai. Neither had.

So, in light of what’s starting to seep out from the Afghanistan War, I found a few relevant paragraphs from Rick Perlstein’s history of that era, Nixonland. At the end of 1969, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh was unable to get either the NY Times or the Washington Post to publish the first expose, “Lieutenant Accused Of Murdering 109 Civilians.” It appeared in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.

He reported that in the awful, bloody wake of the Tet Offensive, on March 17, 1968, the leader of a platoon that had suffered heavy casualties, one William L. “Rusty” Calley, twenty-six years old, received orders to retaliate at a hamlet called My Lai. “The orders were to shoot anything that moved,” Hersh reported. That would be Calley’s court-marshall defense: he was only following orders, that he was told the village was an enemy stronghold. “None of the men interviewed about the incident denied that women and children were shot… The area was a free fire zone from which all non-Viet Cong residents had been urged, by leaflet, to flee. Such zones are common throughout Vietnam.”

A second article recorded the recollections of an eyewitness who had refused to participate: “It was point-blank murder and I was standing there watching it…. I don’t remember seeing one military-age male in the entire place, dead or alive.” A second installment ran November 20. It noted death toll estimates from 170 to 700 and that 90 percent of the company had participated, and that the army only began investigating a year later after receiving a whistle-blowing letter from a former G.I. One paper, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, got hold of army photographs of the massacre, and ran them with that second article…

The next Hersh article, on November 25 [a week later], featured an interview with one of the participants, a twenty-two year-old coal miner’s son from Indiana named Paul David Meadlo: “There must have been about 40 or 45 civilians standing in one big circle in the middle of the village,” said Meadlo (who had his right foot blown off by a mine the day after the massacre). “So we stood about 10 or 15 feet away from them… Then he told me to start shooting them… they didn’t put up a fight or anything. The women huddled against their children and took it. They brought their kids close to their stomachs and hugged them, and put their bodies against their children and took it.” That night Meadlo told the same story in an interview on CBS News. Hersh started getting more and more phone calls from G.I.s describing atrocities they’d witnessed themselves, going back to 1965.”

No people, not anywhere, like a foreign army occupying their country. It always comes to this. Always. It’s what’s happening in Afghanistan– in our names– today.

Today’s war in Afghanistan also has its My Lai massacres. It has them almost weekly, as US warplanes bomb wedding parties or homes “suspected” of housing terrorists that turn out to house nothing but civilians. But these My Lais are all conveniently labeled accidents. They get filed away and forgotten as the inevitable “collateral damage” of war. There was, however, a massacre recently that was not a mistake– a massacre, which, while it only involved fewer than a dozen innocent people, bears the same stench as My Lai. It was the execution-style slaying of eight handcuffed students, aged 11-18, and a 12-year-old neighboring shepherd boy who had been visiting the others in Kunar Province on December 26.

…While American reporters, like the anonymous journalistic drones who wrote “CNN’s” December 29 report on the incident took the Pentagon’s initial cover story– that the dead were part of a secret bomb squad– at face value, Jerome Starkey, a dogged reporter in Afghanistan working for the Times of London and the Scotsman, talked to other sources – the dead boys’ headmaster, other townspeople and Afghan government officials – and found out the real truth about a gruesome war crime – the execution of handcuffed children. And while a few news outlets in the US like the New York Times did mention that there were some claims that the dead were children, not bomb makers, none, including CNN, which had bought and run the Pentagon’s lies unquestioningly, bothered to print the news update when, on February 24, the US military admitted that in fact the dead were innocent students. Nor has any US corporate news organization mentioned that the dead had been handcuffed when they were shot.

Congress doesn’t want to investigate this incident. Back when My Lai was breaking, Congress didn’t want to investigate that either. As Perlstein points out in Nixonland, ConservaDem Ernest Hollings (SC), a kind of straight Democratic version of Lindsey Graham, took to the well of the Senate to assure his colleagues that the G.I.s had committed a “mistake in judgment” in combat. He wanted to make certain they would never be tried “as common criminals, as murderers,” and he assured his easily reassured colleagues that Meadlo was “obviously sick” and insisted that none of this belonged in front of the public.

The next week the My Lai pictures ran in color in Life: a boy with a stump where his leg should be; a pile of adult and infant corpses lying on a dusty road like broken toys [yes, the picture up top]; a woman splayed in rape position– did she have a head? Time’s essay began with an epigram from the president’s speech, “North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that.” … Ronald Reagan and George Wallace were among the right-wingers who said the press was profiteering off the story, and that the photographs were “unverified.”

Man-on-the-street interviews began appearing. My Lai “was good,” an elevator operator in Boston said. “What do they give soldiers bullets for– to put in their pockets?” A Los Angeles salesman: “The story was planted by Vietcong sympathizers and people inside this country who are trying to get us out of Vietnam sooner.” A woman in Cleveland: “It sounds terrible to say we ought to kill kids, but many of our boys being killed over there are just kids, too.” Cleveland was where the photos had first run in a paper. The Plain-Dealer fielded calls like “Your paper is rotten and anti-American.” In a poll by the Minneapolis paper, half the respondents were certain the reports were faked.

Jerome Starkey is still in Afghanistan. I worry about what he writes for many reasons, but one is because I sit and talk with Democratic candidates running for Congress all day. Not all of them– not Marcy Winograd or Bill Hedrick or Regina Thomas or any of the ones endorsed by Blue America– but most of them tell me they opposed the war policies promulgated by the Pentagon and Bush, but that they support the war policies promulgated by the Pentagon and Obama. I just got off the phone with one just now– great on the environment, great on Choice and women’s issues, great on financial regulation, he was just a swell guy. But it doesn’t seem to have dawned on him that Obama could be all wrong on Afghanistan. I honestly don’t think it’s ever crossed his mind. I should send him Starkey’s latest report from Kabul (Monday):

“Tied up, gagged and killed” was how NATO described the “gruesome discovery” of three women’s bodies during a night raid in eastern Afghanistan in which several alleged militants were shot dead on Feb. 12.

Hours later they revised the number of women “bound and gagged” to two and announced an enquiry. For more than a month they said nothing more on the matter.

The implication was clear: The dead militants were probably also guilty of the cold-blooded slaughter of helpless women prisoners. NATO said their intelligence had “confirmed militant activity.” As if to reinforce the point, coalition spokesman Brigadier General Eric Tremblay, a Canadian, talked in that second press release of “criminals and terrorists who do not care about the life of civilians.”

Only that’s not what happened, at all.

The militants weren’t militants, they were loyal government officials. The women, according to dozens of interviews with witnesses at the scene, were killed by the raiders. Two of them were pregnant, one was engaged to be married.

The only way I found out NATO had lied– deliberately or otherwise– was because I went to the scene of the raid, in Paktia province, and spent three days interviewing the survivors. In Afghanistan that is quite unusual.

NATO is rarely called to account. Their version of events, usually originating from the soldiers involved, is rarely seriously challenged.

This particular raid, in the early hours of Feb 12, piqued my interest. I contacted some of the relatives by phone, established it was probably safe enough to visit, and I finally made it to the scene almost a month after unidentified gunmen stormed the remnants of an all-night family party.

It’s not the first time I’ve found NATO lying, but this is perhaps the most harrowing instance, and every time I go through the same gamut of emotions. I am shocked and appalled that brave men in uniform misrepresent events. Then I feel naïve.

There are a handful of truly fearless reporters in Afghanistan constantly trying to break the military’s monopoly on access to the front. But far too many of our colleagues accept the spin-laden press releases churned out of the Kabul headquarters. Suicide bombers are “cowards,” NATO attacks on civilians are “tragic accidents,” intelligence is foolproof and only militants get arrested.

President Obama made significant progress yesterday– as flawed and imperfect as the increasingly popular healthcare reform bill is– towards doing something that every progressive (and progressivish) president has tried doing in the last hundred years, bringing universal healthcare to this country. The achievement will withstand the laughable Republican lies now being put into a flood of petulant amendments to waste time in the Senate, the vandalism and threats of violence, and the predictable sore-loser court challenges. Oklahoma’s “Dr. No,” Sen. Tom Coburn, is filing away:

#3556 — To reduce the cost of providing federally funded prescription drugs by eliminating fraudulent payments and prohibiting coverage of Viagra for child molesters and rapists and for drugs intended to induce abortion.

#3557 — To require that each new bureaucrat added to any department or agency of the Federal Government for the purpose of implementing the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act be offset by a reduction of 1 existing bureaucrat at such department or agency.

#3558 — To revoke the powers given the Sec. of HHS under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

#3559 — To help the President keep his promise that Americans who like the health care coverage they have now can keep it.

#3566 — To require all Members of Congress to read a bill prior to casting on a vote on the bill.

But the political benefits of Obama’s great achievement can easily get swept away by his wrong-headed policies in Afghanistan. This video isn’t really about Iraq:

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Posted by alexthurston on March 23rd, 2010

This article originally appeared at

Police training has been a crucial part of American counterinsurgency warfare and global policy for a long, long time.  During the American occupation of Haiti, which began in 1915, the establishment and training of an American-led Gendarmerie d’Haiti would contribute to the sad, brutal modern history of that island; in the late 1950s and 1960s, U.S. police training helped shape South Vietnam into a quasi-police state ready to wield torture as a weapon of daily life; in Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s, U.S. police training under thuggish dictatorships led to torture and extrajudicial killings, a history painfully captured in journalist A.J. Langguth’s presciently titled book Hidden Terrors; in Central America in the 1980s, it led to a flowering of extrajudicial death squads.  The story of U.S. police training could, in many ways, act as a substitute history of human rights violations.

All in all, it’s not a pretty tale and it’s not a history that’s left this country untouched, as Alfred McCoy, an expert in police training and counterinsurgency as well as the author of Policing the Empire, wrote for TomDispatch last November.  What happens in our distant counterinsurgency wars, including the policing part of them, has a nasty habit of returning to these shores as ever more repressive surveillance and policing techniques in “the homeland.”

Still, when it comes to pure futility, not to speak of the generous enrichment of a few private corporate contractors, the various U.S. police-training programs in Afghanistan have surely taken the cake.  As a multi-billion dollar exercise in disaster, our significantly outsourced training programs for Afghanistan’s “insecurity” forces are hard to beat.  TomDispatch regular Ann Jones found this out in the summer of 2009 when she spent time with recruits being trained for an Afghan army that seemed barely to exist.  She couldn’t help wondering, then, what might have happened if those training billions had gone into agriculture, health care, or a civilian job corps (either in Afghanistan or the U.S.).

Now, Pratap Chatterjee, an expert on the rise of the Pentagon’s corps of private contractors (whose classic book on the major private military contractor of our era, Halliburton’s Army, has just been published in paperback), considers the full history of our woeful Afghan police-training program.  Eight years of bizarre efforts that add up to vanishingly little.  At a time when desperate state governments in the U.S. are slashing budgets for everything from local education to mass transit systems, it becomes all the more remarkable how many dollars the Pentagon has poured — and continues to pour — down the Afghan rabbit hole.

Chatterjee, a TomDispatch regular, who last reported here on how corruption rules Afghanistan, returns to — you might say — the scene of the crime and offers an unparalleled history of the folly that passes for bringing “security” to Afghanistan.  (If you have a moment, don’t forget to catch Timothy MacBain’s TomCast in which Chatterjee discusses the lives of contractor/trainers in Afghanistan by clicking here or, if you prefer to download it to your iPod, here.)  Tom

Policing Afghanistan
How Afghan Police Training Became a Train Wreck
By Pratap Chatterjee

The Pentagon faces a tough choice: Should it award a new contract to Xe (formerly Blackwater), a company made infamous when its employees killed 17 Iraqis in Baghdad in 2007, or to DynCorp, a company made infamous in Bosnia in 1999 when some of its employees were caught trafficking young girls for sex?

This billion-dollar contract will be the linchpin of a training program for the Afghan National Police, who are theoretically to be drilled in counterinsurgency tactics that will help defeat the Taliban and bring security to impoverished, war-torn Afghanistan. The program is also considered a crucial component of the Obama administration’s plan for turning the war around. Ironically, Xe was poised to win the contract until a successful appeal by DynCorp last week threw the field wide open.

Some people in the U.S. government (and many outside it) believe that this task should not be assigned to private contractors in the first place. Meanwhile, many police experts are certain that it hardly matters which company gets the contract.  Like so many before it, the latest training program is doomed from the outset, they believe, because its focus will be on defeating the Taliban rather than fostering community-oriented policing.

The Obama administration is in a fix: it believes that, if it can’t put at least 100,000 trained police officers on Afghan streets and into the scattered hamlets that make up the bulk of the country, it won’t be able to begin a drawdown of U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan by the middle of next year.

“The Obama administration’s strategy for the Afghan police is to increase numbers, enlarge the ‘train and equip’ program, and engage the police in the fight against the Taliban,” says Robert Perito, an expert on police training at the United States Institute of Peace and the author of a new book, The Police in War. “This approach has not worked in the past, and doing more of the same will not achieve success.”

When it comes to police training, the use of private contractors is not unusual — and neither is failure. North Carolina-based Xe has, in fact, been training the Afghan border police for more than two years, and Virginia-based DynCorp has been doing the same for the Afghan uniformed police for more than seven years now. Nonetheless, the mismanagement of the $7 billion spent on police training over the last eight years, partly attributed to lax U.S. State Department oversight, has left the country of 33 million people with a strikingly ineffective and remarkably corrupt police force.  Its terrible habits and reputation have led the inhabitants of many Afghan communities to turn to the Taliban for security.

Of the training programs run by the NATO Training Mission out of Camp Eggers in Kabul, the Afghan capital, only DynCorp’s component is even fully staffed. The company supplies 782 former American police officers to dozens of training centers and military bases scattered around the country to work with the U.S. military and with European Union police mentors. Altogether there are supposed to be 4,000 of these trainers, but NATO estimates that it has only half of the staffers it needs.

In a desperate attempt to offset this shortage of trainers, Afghan Interior Minister Hanif Atmar has proposed the dispatching of 3,000 police officers annually to Jordan and Turkey for nine months of instruction abroad.

Too-Fast-Track Training

In May 2009, I visited several training sites for the Afghan security forces in and around Kabul. Major Joey Schneider of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan escorted me around a recruitment center at the Kabul Central Police Command.  There, dozens of raw recruits from Afghan villages were being tested for ever-present drugs before induction into a fast-track program to double the 5,000 police officers in Kabul before the August elections.

“After three weeks in the Kabul Security Acceleration Program, these men will get a badge, uniform, and gun and be sent out to patrol,” Schneider explained. Asked if that was really sufficient, he assured me that the new police officers would be given an additional five weeks of intensive post-election training by DynCorp contractors and international military mentors.

Three months later, a report for the European Commission written by Scott Chilton and Tim Bremmers, two police experts, in collaboration with Eckart Schiewek, a senior United Nations official, concluded that this approach was a disaster-in-the-making.  It was, they claimed, causing an “absolute irresponsible downgrading” of the police force. “Our view is that the spiraling increase in police deaths and wounding will further increase with quick-fix recruiting, poor training, and equipping.”

Absurd as it may sound, this program is considered better conceived than many of the older training programs the Afghan government launched with U.S. funding. For example, a 2006 attempt to induct 11,000 villagers into a new organization dubbed the Afghan National Auxiliary Police — with only 10 days of training from DynCorp and international military mentors — was a complete and abysmal failure. One-third of the trainees in certain southern provinces, given a gun and a uniform, were never seen again. Two years later, in September 2008, the project was terminated.

A 2008 report by the well-respected International Crisis Group pointed out that such rapid-induction programs had the perverse effect of actually lowering the average literacy rate and effectiveness of the Afghan police force — and that’s without even considering the security problems created by those drop-outs with guns.

Eight Years of Failures

Until recently, Afghanistan has never really had a national police force, though before the Soviet invasion of 1979 there was a conscription system that produced rank-and-file cops working under a trained officer corps.  In 2002, in the wake of the Taliban’s defeat, the Germans set up a police academy in Kabul that offered a five-year training program aimed at bringing back the officer corps.  In 2003, the U.S. awarded a small contract to DynCorp to run a train-the-trainers program in Kabul, based on prior work it had done in Haiti and the former Yugoslavia.

Yet no one spent much time worrying about beat-cop training, least of all the Bush administration, which was already immersed in planning the invasion of Iraq and preferred to operate in Afghanistan with what it liked to call a “light footprint.”

By 2005, security in Kabul was deteriorating sharply. At the same time, the spectacular failure of the U.S. effort to create a brand new police force in Iraq had helped spark a bloody, devastating civil war in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital. Somewhere in this period, Bush administration officials started to wake up to the possibility that Afghanistan might be heading in the same direction. A series of new contracts were then issued to DynCorp by the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs — $1.6 billion in training work scheduled to be completed by the end of 2009. (The contracts have since been extended to June 2010.)

State Department planners seem to have taken an inordinately long time to wake up to the basic problems that Afghanistan faced in creating a viable police force. With salaries pegged at $16 a month for a beat cop in 2002, the police were particularly vulnerable to corruption in the form of extorted bribes, and to the Taliban who offered much higher wages to their fighters.  Making the situation worse, the force was remarkably top-heavy.  More than 20,000 officers and non-commissioned officers oversaw only 36,000 patrolmen. It was regularly alleged that they made their beat cops shake down citizens for bribes. In fact, a 2007 study by the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan that reviewed the records of 2,464 police officers found claims of drug trafficking, corruption, or assaults against more than one-third of them.

“There are some parts of Afghanistan where the last thing people want to see is the police showing up,” Brigadier General Gary O’Brien, former deputy commander of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, told the Canadian Press news agency in March 2007. “They are part of the problem. They do not provide security for the people — they are the robbers of the people.”

Salaries are not the only budget shortfall. Afghanistan simply has no money to pay for equipment like guns and police vehicles, or even to build police stations. Instead, for the last eight years the Afghan police have received hundreds of millions of dollars worth of donated weapons and other equipment, much of which turned out to be broken or incompatible with the equipment the force already had.  Typical was a batch of thousands of Czech VZ58 rifles that look like the AK-47s Afghan policemen traditionally carry but require completely different maintenance procedures.

In another glaring example of what a lack of resources has led to, Hazeb Emerging Business, an Afghan company hired to maintain the force’s weapons, used hammers and nails to “repair” grenade launchers, because they had no idea how to fix donated weapons. In perhaps the most widely reported mishap, AEY Inc., based in Florida, and described by the New York Times as “a fledgling company led by a 22-year-old man whose vice president was a licensed masseur,” dispatched to the Afghan security forces 100 million Chinese cartridges, some 40 years old and in “decomposing packaging,” under a $10 million Pentagon contract.

In a country where the official literacy rate is pegged at an optimistic 30% — some estimates put the rate among police recruits at closer to 5%, or even less — most of any Western-style training curriculum proves strikingly irrelevant. To make things worse, one in five volunteers for police training is a drug-abuser, a statistic that rises to 60% in southern provinces like Helmand, which produces a significant part of the opium crop for the world’s leading narco-state.

Not surprisingly, then, capability assessments of the Afghan police have been less than encouraging. At a June 2008 discussion at the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Congressman John Tierney summed up findings on the 433 Afghan National Police units of that moment this way: “Zero are fully capable, three percent are capable with coalition support, four percent are only partially capable, 77 percent are not capable at all, and 68 percent are not formed or not reporting.”

A new plan was drawn up under which dramatic changes were made, including the raising of police salaries to $180 a month in 2010 (and in high-risk areas up to $240).  In addition, increasing numbers of police salaries are now paid directly and electronically to bank accounts or cell phones, which means it’s harder for officers to dip into the meager pay of their underlings.

The officer corps has also been slashed dramatically, thanks to a new requirement that all high-level staff complete a difficult exam.  By 2010, the 340 generals had been reduced to 117, the 2,450 colonels to 301, and the 1,824 lieutenant colonels to 467.  (Afghan police ranks have military titles.)

Perhaps most significantly, a new, intensive training program called Focused District Development (FDD) was launched in late 2007 under which every police officer in specific districts would be removed en masse for eight weeks of training in another part of the country.  In the meantime, the country’s elite police unit, the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP), was to temporarily take over local policing duties. When the original force returned, a mentorship team of 14 internationals accompanied them to provide advice and — at least theoretically — to root out corruption.

By early 2009, FDD was claiming success.  Almost one in five police districts which completed the program was now considered “independently capable.”  (Before 2008, that number was zero.) Unfortunately, only one-quarter of the police districts in Afghanistan have completed the FDD program to date and only 5% of the country’s police units are considered capable of operating on their own. Even this may be an illusion as an estimated 25% of police recruits quit every year — and that’s not just among the bad performers. The drop-out rate for the 2,500 strong elite ANCOP is an astronomical 65%, making any training efforts a Sisyphean undertaking.

One year after Obama promised to revamp the Afghan police aid effort by sending in more trainers and civilian experts, no one is hailing the results as an outstanding success; few even consider them a half-decent start. “Operationally, the effort is broken. Assets are misdirected, poorly managed and misused,” wrote Robert A. Wehrle, a U.S. advisor to the Afghan Ministry of the Interior, in February 2010 after returning from a 15-month stint in Kabul. “Graft and corruption in the Afghan forces are endemic, and coalition forces unwittingly enable that corruption.”

Assigning Blame

Who, then, is responsible for this dismal state of affairs? Many have pointed fingers at the State Department. A joint report from the inspectors general of the Pentagon and the State Department claims that the DynCorp contract was particularly badly managed. “The current [contract does] not provide any specific information regarding what type of training is required or any measurement of acceptability… Additionally, the current contract does not include any measurement of contractor performance.”

Indeed, DynCorp’s police trainers, who tend to hail from small American towns, are often remarkably ignorant about life in a war zone. A DynCorp trainer from Texas, who asked not to be named, typically told this reporter about his first encounter with mortars in eastern Afghanistan: “I was mesmerized by what looked like a fireworks display.” Angry U.S. soldiers yelled at him to hit the ground.

Naturally, DynCorp disputes this. “[N]either our military nor European National police were formed or trained to teach basic law enforcement skills,” Don Ryder, the DynCorp program manager, told the Commission on Wartime Contracting, a congressionally mandated body established to offer an independent assessment of contracting practices in Iraq and Afghanistan. “At DynCorp International we do not build satellites. We do not design aircraft. We do training and mentoring. That is our core competency — and this competency is represented in the DNA of our 30,000 employees worldwide.”

Most experts disagree. “DynCorp and [the] State [Department] had too few people, too few resources, and too little experience building a police force in the midst of an insurgency,” Seth Jones, a political scientist with the RAND Corporation who spent most of 2009 traveling with Army Special Forces teams in Afghanistan, told the commission. “While it may be necessary to utilize [private] contractors to help execute some security programs — including helping U.S. military or other government officials conduct some police training — contractors should not be the lead entity, as they were from 2003 to 2005.”

Not the least of the problem with Dyncorp (or Xe, if it gets the new training contract) is the cost of hiring such contractors to train police. Each expatriate police officer makes a six-figure U.S. salary, at least 50 times more than an Afghan police officer and three times as much as military mentors.

Alternative Police Programs

Mentoring programs “are based on the assumption that international mentors are the more knowledgeable actors, whose job it is to impart their wisdom and expertise to their Afghan junior partners,” observed Andrew Wilder, the former director of the Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit in Kabul, in his 2007 report on the Afghan police, “Cops or Robbers?” “In reality, however, this is often not the case. The internationals may know much more about the technical aspects of policing in the West, but the Afghans know much more about the culture and politics of policing in Afghanistan.”

Wilder proposes a radical solution: to dramatically scale back the plans for an Afghan police force. He notes that the historical role of police in Afghanistan, especially in rural areas, was limited to protecting government buildings. “Most civil disputes and criminal matters, however, were not referred to the police or courts — which were perceived to be corrupt, costly, and slow to take decisions — but were resolved using customary law and institutions.”  Wilder believes any counterinsurgency efforts to fight terrorist attacks should be limited to the Afghan army and possibly a “separate paramilitary force, or gendarmerie.”

“A prevalent view, even among some international police, is that Afghanistan is unready for civilian policing and holds that the police must remain a military force while insecurity lasts,” writes Tonita Murray, a former director general of the Canadian Police College, who worked as an advisor to the Afghan Ministry of Interior in 2005. “If such a view were to prevail, only military solutions for security sector reform would be considered, and Afghanistan would be caught in a vicious circle of using force against force without employing other approaches to secure stability and peace.”

According to Robert Perito, who worked with the U.S. Department of Justice’s International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program training police in international peace operations from 1995 to 2001, the U.S. government should rethink its entire approach. It should, he says, pull back from using contractors to run its police-training program, turning instead to a strong U.S. federal workforce that is qualified to undertake police training abroad.

A New Direction?

Earlier this month, Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, head of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan, admitted that police training has been a train wreck since the toppling of the Taliban almost nine years ago. “We weren’t doing it right. The most important thing is to recruit and then train police [before deployment]. It is still beyond my comprehension that we weren’t doing that.”

The realization that giving illiterate, drug-prone young men a uniform, badge, and gun (as well as very little money and no training) was a recipe for corruption and disaster is certainly a first step. But how to withdraw the 95% of the Afghan police force that is still incapable of basic policing for months of desperately needed training in a country with no prior history of such things?  That turns out to be a conundrum, even for President Obama.

On March 12th, the president devoted much of the monthly video conference call between his Washington national security team and his senior commanders in Afghanistan to questions about how the problem should be tackled. “The President has gone through and looked at monthly recruitment and retention goals because… we’re not going to be there forever,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that day. “Not only are we going to need improved governance, but we’re going to need a police force that can keep the peace.”

If the Pentagon does not dramatically alter the current training scheme, it doesn’t look good for either governance or peace in Afghanistan. Yet the likelihood remains low indeed that Pentagon officials will take the advice of a chorus of police experts offering critical commentary on the mess that is the police training program there. Instead, it’s likely to be more of the same, which means more private contracting of police training and further disaster. Bizarrely enough, the Pentagon has given the Space and Missile Defense Command Contracting Office in Huntsville, Alabama, the task of deciding between DynCorp and Xe for that new billion-dollar training contract. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as the French say: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Pratap Chatterjee is a freelance journalist and senior editor at CorpWatch.  He has traveled extensively in the Middle East and Central Asia and is the author of two books about the war on terror, Iraq, Inc. and Halliburton’s Army (Nation Books, 2009), which has just been published in paperback. He can be contacted at To listen to a Timothy MacBain TomCast audio interview in which Chatterjee discusses the lives of contractor/trainers in Afghanistan, click here or, if you prefer to download it to your iPod, here.

Copyright 2010 Pratap Chatterjee

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Posted by Peace Action West on March 19th, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

Democrats are polling dismally right now, and they’re learning all the wrong lessons. Even after their military surge, even after delaying the closure of the Guantánamo Bay prison, even while considering the use of military commissions to try terror suspects, some Democrats are arguing that they are being too liberal. Incredible.

You’re contribution to Peace Action West’s Election Campaign today would be a bit fat reality check to those pro-war Democrats and Republicans. Can you click here to pitch in?

Thank goodness, there are a handful of true progressives running for Congress with their heads on straight. They realize we’d see a resurgence of the progressive excitement that took Congress and the White House in 2008 if they actually started delivering real change.

Take Marcy Winograd, who is putting up a strong peace challenge in the Democratic primary to a previously untouchable Rep. Jane Harman (CA-36) in Los Angeles. Winograd is making an issue of Rep. Harman’s record of staunch support for the war in Iraq, and forcing her to fight for her party’s nomination. For too long politicians like Jane Harman have coasted through elections, and have not had to answer for their reckless support for war. This year is a chance to change that, and with your help, we can make an issue out of war in the 2010 elections. Please click here to give what you can today.

We know how transformative this kind of work can be. In 2008, we helped Al Franken deliver a reality check to out of touch Republican Norm Coleman in the Senate. With your help, we replaced Coleman’s vote for aggression (for instance, he wanted to officially label a branch of Iran’s government a terrorist organization) with Franken’s vote for peace and justice. In his first year, Sen. Franken wrote and helped pass a bill that paves the way to holding military contractors like Blackwater accountable when their employees commit rape. Can you help us get to work today?

If we are to stop paying billions we don’t have for wars that don’t work, and shape a smarter American approach to solving global problems, then we have to elect representatives that will go the distance for peace.

That’s reality, and thank you for helping us make sure politicians know it.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on March 18th, 2010

Andrew J. Bacevich, professor of international relations at Boston University, pushes back against the idea that U.S. and allied forces can deliver “government in a box” in Marjah, Afghanistan. Bacevich says the choice of an ex-con, who’d been living in Germany, as the new civilian head of the Marjah region was “like a joke” symbolizing the bankruptcy of the U.S. and allied strategy. He warns that the U.S.’s failure to understand Afghans will have a decisive impact in the region.

Bacevich is the author of several books, including “The Limits of Power” and “The New American Militarism.” He attended West Point and retired from the Army with the rank of Colonel. He holds a Ph.D in American Diplomatic History from Princeton and previously taught at West Point and Johns Hopkins University.

Had enough? Become a fan of Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and help us end the Afghanistan war.

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Posted by Josh Mull on March 15th, 2010

I’ve been talking lately about different ways to debate Afghanistan, specifically outside the narrow boundaries of the “all-in-or-all-out” argument typified by H.Con.Res 248. Although I write about it as if it’s some revolutionary concept I’ve just thought of, there are lots of folks out there already talking about solutions to Afghanistan in very reasonable terms. One of them is director Michael Moore. Let’s look at his response to President Obama’s speech on December 2, 2009.

Watching that, there’s no way you can interpret him as anything but anti-war. But look closer at some of the arguments he made. He suggested that the US could in some way buy off the poppy growers or “outbid the heroin guys.” Drug trafficking we know is one of the key interests regionally, with Russia, Iran, and China all having a stake to lose when it comes to crime and drug addiction. Moore also supports both the idea for a “war tax” to help mitigate the cost as well as re-instituting the draft in order to rile domestic opposition. He even hints that he’d be comfortable with “special forces to capture the killers,” presumably in Pakistan, something even more violent and legally dubious that anything we’re going for.

Of course, you can agree or disagree with his points. I, for one, don’t support the idea of a draft, if only on the off chance that they go through with it and President Obama sends 500,000 conscripts to Afghanistan. But Moore’s interview was on the very night that President Obama announced his escalation, and even then we were willing to discuss compromises, if not alternatives to escalation. He’s one of the most high profile anti-war voices in the country, and even he’s willing to give and take. How did we get from there to 248 calling for complete and immediate withdrawal? How do we get back to the point where we can have a rational, bipartisan debate about Afghanistan without resorting to extremist all-in-or-all-out arguments?

Luckily, you can ask him. (more…)

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on March 15th, 2010

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

They’d get more coverage if they had placards of Obama that screamed “socialism!”

The media has spent an awful lot of time and energy on pumping up– some would say inventing– the bogus tea party “movement,” a rag tag collection of racists, xenophobes, and self-righteous malcontents. Meanwhile a real grassroots movement, one not being pushed by Dick Armey’s partisan, lobbyist-driven agenda, or by Glenn Beck’s psychosis or thirst for ratings, is being ignored by the media. People who depend of the mainstream media would have no way of knowing that the Brownbaggers even exist, let alone how rapidly they are growing.

When the brownbag vigils started in January, there were 22 vigils; last month there were 67 peaceful, energetic vigils at congressional district offices throughout the country. On Wednesday there will be… well 82 are solid but there will certainly be more that get organized between now and then.

As one of the organizers of the events, Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), points out, “On March 10th, 65 members of Congress voted to end the occupation of Afghanistan. Yet only 14 have publicly committed to voting No on funding the same war. A $33 billion supplemental spending bill for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is expected to be voted on in April or May.” And that’s at the crux of what the brownbaggers want of their representatives– a commitment to vote against funding the wars the Pentagon– regardless of which party controls the White House– is pushing.

Vigilers, who support a shift in resources from warfare to healthcare, are also asking their representatives to join the growing movement calling for “Medicare for All” by demanding passage of the Kucinich amendment facilitating state-level single-payer healthcare and by offering their support to single-payer efforts moving forward in state legislatures, including in California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Among those congressmembers whom brown bag vigilers have been pressuring and who voted to end the Afghan war on Wednesday is the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee David Obey (D-WI). Obey said last June that he would not support any more supplemental war bills, said last October that he was not inclined to fund an escalation in Afghanistan, and said last November that he would not fund wars unless a war tax were created to pay for them. Another vigil is planned
for Obey’s office on March 17th… Vigils have been planned in the following districts. These are almost all at noon on Wednesday, February 17th, but a few are at odd times or days, so check the details:

AZ-01 Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D)- Flagstaff (March 16)
AZ-05 Rep. Harry Mitchell (Blue Dog)- Scottsdale
AZ-06 Rep. Jeff Flake (R)- Mesa
AZ-08 Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (Blue Dog)- Sierra Vista
CA-01 Rep. Mike Thompson (Blue Dog)- Woodland
CA-02 Rep. Wally Herger (R)- Yreka, Redding
CA-04 Rep. Tom McClintock (R)- Granite Bay
CA-05 Rep. Doris Matsui (D)- Sacramento
CA-06 Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D)- Santa Rosa
CA-09 Rep. Barbara Lee (D)- Oakland
CA-10 Rep. John Garamendi (D)- Walnut Creek
CA-18 Rep. Dennis Cardoza (Blue Dog)- Modesto
CA-22 Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R)- Bakersfield (March 18)
CA-23 Rep. Lois Capps (D)- Santa Barbara
CA-28 Rep. Howard Berman (D)- Van Nuys (March 18)
CA-29 Rep. Adam Schiff (Blue Dog)- Pasadena
CA-30 Rep. Henry Waxman (D)- Los Angeles
CA-31 Rep. Xavier Becerra (D)- Los Angeles
CA-33 Rep. Diane Watson (D)- Los Angeles
CA-34 Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D)- Los Angeles
CA-37 Rep. Laura Richardson (D)- Long Beach
CA-40 Rep. Ed Royce (R)- Orange
CA-41 Rep. Jerry Lewis (R)- Redlands (March 15)
CA-42 Rep. Gary Miller (R)- Brea
CA-44 Rep. Ken Calvert (R)- Riverside
CA-45 Rep. Mary Bono-Mack (R)- Palm Springs
CA-46 Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R)- Huntington Beach
CA-48 Rep. John Campbell (R)- Newport Beach
CA-49 Rep. Darrell Issa (R)- Vista
CA-50 Rep. Brian Bilbray (R)- Solana Beach
CA-53 Rep. Susan Davis (D)- San Diego
CO-04 Rep. Betsy Markey (Blue Dog)- Ft Collins
CT-01- Rep. John Larson (D)- Hartford
FL-07 Rep. John Mica (R)- Maitland
FL-09 Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R)- Tampa
FL-10 Rep. Bill Young (R)- St Petersburg
FL-17 Rep. Kendrick Meek (D)- Miami Gardens
ID-01 Rep. Walt Minnick (Blue Dog)- Meridian
IL-07 Rep. Danny Davis (D)- Oak Park
IN-09 Rep. Baron Hill (Blue Dog)- Jeffersonville
KY- Sen. Mitch McConnell- Paducah
MA-01 Rep. John Olver (D)- Pittsfield
MA-02 Rep. Richard Neal (D)- Springfield
MA-03 Rep. Jim McGovern (D)- Worcester
MA-05 Rep. Niki Tsongas (D)- Lowell
MA- Sen. John Kerry (D)- Boston
MA-10 Rep. Bill Delahunt (D)- Hyannis
MD-04 Rep. Donna Edwards (D)- Silver Spring
MD-07 Rep. Elijah Cummings (D)- Baltimore
ME-01 Rep. Chellie Pingree (D)- Portland
MI-09 Rep. Gary Peters (D)- Troy
MS-01 Rep. Travis Childers (Blue Dog)- Hernando
MS-04 Rep. Gene Taylor (Blue Dog)- Gulfport
NJ-04 Rep. Chris Smith (R)- Whiting
NJ-06 Rep. Frank Pallone (D)- Long Branch & New Brunswick
NY-15 Rep. Charles Rangel (D)- NYC
NY-18 Rep. Nita Lowey (D)- White Plains
NY-20 Rep. Scott Murphy (Blue Dog)- Hudson
NY-28 Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D)- Rochester
NY- Senators Gillibrand and Schumer (D)- NYC
OH-06 Rep. Charlie Wilson (Blue Dog)- Bridgeport
OH-13 Rep. Betty Sutton (D)- Akron
OH-17 Rep. Tim Ryan (D)- Akron
OR-02 Rep. Greg Walden (R)- Bend
OR-04 Rep. Peter DeFazio (D)- Eugene
OR-05 Rep. Kurt Schrader (Blue Dog)- Salem
PA-01 Rep. Bob Brady (D)- Philadelphia
PA-02 Rep. Chaka Fattah (D)- Philadelphia
PA-07 Rep. Joe Sestak (D)- Media
PA-15 Rep. Charlie Dent (R)- Bethlehem
RI-01 Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D)- Pawtucket
RI-02 Rep. James Langevin (D)- Warwick
SC-01 Rep. Henry Brown (R)- North Charleston
SC- Sen. Lindsey Graham (R)- Greenville
TN-05 Rep. Jim Cooper (Blue Dog)- Nashville
TN- Sens. Alexander and Corker (R)- Nashville
UT-03 Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R)- Provo
WA-02 Rep. Rick Larsen (D)- Bellingham
WA-03 Rep Brian Baird (D)- Vancouver (March 18, 25)
WA-06 Rep. Norman Dicks (D)- Tacoma
WI-03 Rep. Ron Kind (D)- Eau Claire
WI-07 Rep. David Obey (D)- Superior

Some local media outlets, on the other hand, are covering the brownbagger vigils. The Bakserfield TV stations did a good job last month:

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