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Archive for May, 2010

Posted by Peace Action West on May 20th, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

A congressional staffer told me months ago that she feared that the war funding bill would get loaded up with “Haiti relief and jobs and puppies and sunshine,” making it difficult for some antiwar representatives to vote no. She wasn’t that far off.

The $33 billion bill to pay for the escalation in Afghanistan is now a massive $59 billion bill that puts real needs on the line, so progressives feel forced to support the bill.  It includes everything from Haiti relief to oil spill cleanup to compensation for veterans exposed to Agent Orange. Sen. Tom Harkin is planning to offer an amendment to add another $23 billion to prevent layoffs of teachers. Funding for this misguided war should pass or fail on its own merits. Tell your senators and representative to vote no on war funding and support setting a timeline for withdrawal of US troops.

Earlier this week, the 1,000th US soldier died serving in Afghanistan. Afghan casualties caused by NATO forces are up 76% this year and Afghans are protesting in the streets. Civilians are fleeing Marja because the US can’t protect them after the supposedly successful offensive there. What is our tax money buying?

Republicans are threatening to vote against this massive funding package, which means the heat will be on antiwar Democrats to give the leadership the deciding votes to pass this bill. If Congress is to support real needs like stopping teacher layoffs in our school systems, they can do it without dressing up funding for an ugly war. We need to show that opposition to this war is growing in Congress and will only get stronger. Click here to tell your senators and representative that enough is enough.

I have heard from congressional offices that they are just not hearing from voters about Afghanistan. With your help, we are changing that. So far this year, we have already generated more than 15,000 messages and phone calls to Congress calling for a better approach. If we want Congress to act, we must build a movement to make them act. Take action today.

Thank you for being a part of that movement.

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Posted by Josh Mull on May 20th, 2010

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

One of my biggest pet peeves about war coverage is the constant flow of quasi-racist stereotypes about Afghans. You know, Afghanistan is the “Graveyard of Empires,” they’re all xenophobic murderers, they’re “tribal” and backwards and illiterate and can’t handle modernity and on and on it goes. These slurs can work for either side. It’s the Graveyard of Empires, so we should pull out. Or they’re tribal, so we need to kill the bad ones and arm the good ones (great idea!). Obviously, the stereotypes are not true. After all, why is Afghanistan the Graveyard of Empires and not, y’know, the United States? Lots of great imperial powers have gotten their butts kicked there by kooky, backward white people and their slave-holding, witch-burning tribal law. They even have a violent global jihad against anyone who doesn’t willfully submit to their 18th century system of governance. But that’s a hateful and insulting perspective, perverted to the point of dangerous inaccuracy, so we reserve it exclusively for the Afghans (even Iraqis held on to the “Cradle of Civilization”). Here’s a piece, though, that I think might help cut through that, and show us just how much we have in common with Afghans.

However, more personal matters also contributed to [Hezb-e Islami MP Ataullah Ludin's] decision to step down from parliament. “People do not fully realize what our responsibilities as members of parliament are. They are actually three: the legislative function, the monitoring and opposition to government decrees that we do not accept, and the representation of our electorate, so that people’s desires and opinions can be assessed in parliament. [emphasis added]

Sound familiar? You’ve heard it before:

Bayh cited the lack of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill as his main reason for leaving, adding to skepticism that the fractiousness in Washington can be repaired and undermining President Obama’s efforts to build bridges.

“There is too much partisanship and not enough progress — too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving,” Bayh said in a statement. “Even at a time of enormous challenge, the people’s business is not being done.” [emphasis added]

The government is broken, in Afghanistan and the United States, and the body count from this break down continues to skyrocket. Ending the war will require not only rethinking the way we look at Afghans, but also the way we look at ourselves. Both Afghans and Americans die for our failures. If we don’t use government the way it’s supposed to function, if we continue to play media games with our politics, the death toll will only get worse.

(more…)

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on May 19th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Derrick Crowe

Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment,
Little souls who thirst for fight,
These men were born to drill and die.
The unexplained glory flies above them,
Great is the Battle-God, great, and his Kingdom -
A field where a thousand corpses lie.

–Stephen Crane, Do not weep, maiden for war is kind.

According to The New York Times, 1,000 U.S. troops have now died in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Here is this wide altar, Afghanistan, on which our empire leaves its tribute to the true god of all empires. One thousand of the young, blown apart by rough-made bombs buried on roads to nowhere, shot by snipers, or worse, by their own. One thousand sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, neighbors, mentors, students, friends, husbands, wives, lovers. A thousand goats led into the wild to appease the spirit of the wilderness, the maker of weapons, sent to the desert for our impurities.

Often we elevate troops who die far up on a pedestal in our national mythology. I think this is a mistake. It obscures why people join the military, it obscures what we've lost, and it prevents us from thinking critically about the choices we make that lead to their deaths. When a thousand of our people go into the dark, we should ask what led them there, what they hoped to gain and what we hoped to gain from sending them.

In 2006, the Pentagon found that when asked their main motivation for enlisting, 61.9 percent cited a reason other than "service to country," a figure that the RAND Corporation's Beth Asch cautioned could actually be higher since new recruits often cast their decision in idealistic terms. While "service to country" was the main reason for the plurality of recruits, skills acquisition, adventure, money for education, benefits, travel and pay were the other top reasons, listed in descending order. We also know that when the economy is in the tank, military recruitment increases. (I note, though, that the reason for enlistment may not remain their motivation to continue in military service, and that membership in a community in danger and under pressure tends to radically alter one's orientation toward the group. So, someone who joins for economic reasons may not remain in the service for that reason alone, or at all.)

To say that troops join the military for economic reasons is not to degrade them. Supporting a family is not a selfish cause. But that little detail – that Private Smith died in a dangerous job that she took to support a family – is fraught with human connection and tragedy, and we lose that if we over-idealize what led them to the battlefield. The same is true if they just joined the service to escape a mind-numbing routine, or to overcome a criminal record, or to cut ties with a past.

All this is to say that portraying our troops as selfless warrior monks of virtue fails to honor the truth about the lives that ended in Afghanistan. These men and women were generally not burning with a desire to suppress their hopes and dreams so that the rest of us could have our hopes and dreams. They had their own plans, their own purposes, their own desired futures for themselves toward which military service was a step, and very few of them included dying on a battlefield. Their lives had their own meaning independent of the lives and "freedom" of the survivors. Obscuring their desires in an over-bright halo also obscures the futures that we lost with them.

We did not lose sacrificial lambs, born to die on our behalf. We lost the doctors, the lawyers, teachers, pilots, writers, mechanics, all of the potential for achievement which many of them hoped to unlock through the skills and opportunities they hoped to gain from their time in the military. We lost fathers, mothers, bedtime stories and a comforting, rock-solid presence in the bleachers at their kid's sporting events. We lost them spoiling their grandkids. We lost the entire life of the person they would have become and all the gifts they would have given the human race.

Putting these troops so high on the pedestal that they "died for you and me," high enough where their sacrifice is just shy of a crucifixion, also conveniently obscures our role in killing them. We all know the rhetoric we can expect to hear as we whistle past this marker: "It's up to us to make sure they didn't die in vain." Empty-headed exhortations to "support the troops." Support, as in, "do not gainsay the purpose for which power-holders are willing to see them die." Don't say anything that would upset these troops on the way to the killing floor.

I'm reminded of the dialogue in Monster's Ball, where Billy Bob Thornton harangues Heath Ledger for vomiting while escorting a prisoner to the gas chamber: "You f***ed up that man's last walk! How would you like it if someone f***ed up your last walk?!" The condemned deserve a placid walk; don't let on what's really happening here.

Similarly, the support we'll be urged to give today will be the kind that doesn't disturb the walk of the 1,001st troop. But let's be honest, here – those who will spout this kind of rhetoric are at least as concerned with our disturbing the consciences of those who set the policies for which the soldiers died (or those of their constituents). Any bets on whether these exhortations and these policies come from the same people? How convenient is the demand: silence for the sake of the victims protects those who sent them to die.

Now is not the time for silence. One thousand Americans are dead in Afghanistan in a war that's not making us safer. One thousand people are dead, and many others are wounded and deranged, because we continue to choose military action as the solution to a political problem. Al-Qaida is long gone from the country. The arterial wealth of our nation is gushing out in trillion dollar spurts. All this is obscured behind the glow of the sacralized dead, a glow that, we are told, will vanish if we question the purpose of the ritual and the plans of those who ordered the sacrifice.

One thousand American troops are dead in Afghanistan.

Look past the false sacred glow with which the power-holders will try to cover the dead, and by association, their policies.

See the field where a thousand corpses lie.

Remember the real people who lie there, and remember the real people on their way to join them.

Defend them from the Battle-God.

End this war.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on May 19th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Derrick Crowe

Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment,
Little souls who thirst for fight,
These men were born to drill and die.
The unexplained glory flies above them,
Great is the Battle-God, great, and his Kingdom -
A field where a thousand corpses lie.

–Stephen Crane, Do not weep, maiden for war is kind.

According to The New York Times, 1,000 U.S. troops have now died in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Here is this wide altar, Afghanistan, on which our empire leaves its tribute to the true god of all empires. One thousand of the young, blown apart by rough-made bombs buried on roads to nowhere, shot by snipers, or worse, by their own. One thousand sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, neighbors, mentors, students, friends, husbands, wives, lovers. A thousand goats led into the wild to appease the spirit of the wilderness, the maker of weapons, sent to the desert for our impurities.

Often we elevate troops who die far up on a pedestal in our national mythology. I think this is a mistake. It obscures why people join the military, it obscures what we've lost, and it prevents us from thinking critically about the choices we make that lead to their deaths. When a thousand of our people go into the dark, we should ask what led them there, what they hoped to gain and what we hoped to gain from sending them.

In 2006, the Pentagon found that when asked their main motivation for enlisting, 61.9 percent cited a reason other than "service to country," a figure that the RAND Corporation's Beth Asch cautioned could actually be higher since new recruits often cast their decision in idealistic terms. While "service to country" was the main reason for the plurality of recruits, skills acquisition, adventure, money for education, benefits, travel and pay were the other top reasons, listed in descending order. We also know that when the economy is in the tank, military recruitment increases. (I note, though, that the reason for enlistment may not remain their motivation to continue in military service, and that membership in a community in danger and under pressure tends to radically alter one's orientation toward the group. So, someone who joins for economic reasons may not remain in the service for that reason alone, or at all.)

To say that troops join the military for economic reasons is not to degrade them. Supporting a family is not a selfish cause. But that little detail – that Private Smith died in a dangerous job that she took to support a family – is fraught with human connection and tragedy, and we lose that if we over-idealize what led them to the battlefield. The same is true if they just joined the service to escape a mind-numbing routine, or to overcome a criminal record, or to cut ties with a past.

All this is to say that portraying our troops as selfless warrior monks of virtue fails to honor the truth about the lives that ended in Afghanistan. These men and women were generally not burning with a desire to suppress their hopes and dreams so that the rest of us could have our hopes and dreams. They had their own plans, their own purposes, their own desired futures for themselves toward which military service was a step, and very few of them included dying on a battlefield. Their lives had their own meaning independent of the lives and "freedom" of the survivors. Obscuring their desires in an over-bright halo also obscures the futures that we lost with them.

We did not lose sacrificial lambs, born to die on our behalf. We lost the doctors, the lawyers, teachers, pilots, writers, mechanics, all of the potential for achievement which many of them hoped to unlock through the skills and opportunities they hoped to gain from their time in the military. We lost fathers, mothers, bedtime stories and a comforting, rock-solid presence in the bleachers at their kid's sporting events. We lost them spoiling their grandkids. We lost the entire life of the person they would have become and all the gifts they would have given the human race.

Putting these troops so high on the pedestal that they "died for you and me," high enough where their sacrifice is just shy of a crucifixion, also conveniently obscures our role in killing them. We all know the rhetoric we can expect to hear as we whistle past this marker: "It's up to us to make sure they didn't die in vain." Empty-headed exhortations to "support the troops." Support, as in, "do not gainsay the purpose for which power-holders are willing to see them die." Don't say anything that would upset these troops on the way to the killing floor.

I'm reminded of the dialogue in Monster's Ball, where Billy Bob Thornton harangues Heath Ledger for vomiting while escorting a prisoner to the gas chamber: "You f***ed up that man's last walk! How would you like it if someone f***ed up your last walk?!" The condemned deserve a placid walk; don't let on what's really happening here.

Similarly, the support we'll be urged to give today will be the kind that doesn't disturb the walk of the 1,001st troop. But let's be honest, here – those who will spout this kind of rhetoric are at least as concerned with our disturbing the consciences of those who set the policies for which the soldiers died (or those of their constituents). Any bets on whether these exhortations and these policies come from the same people? How convenient is the demand: silence for the sake of the victims protects those who sent them to die.

Now is not the time for silence. One thousand Americans are dead in Afghanistan in a war that's not making us safer. One thousand people are dead, and many others are wounded and deranged, because we continue to choose military action as the solution to a political problem. Al-Qaida is long gone from the country. The arterial wealth of our nation is gushing out in trillion dollar spurts. All this is obscured behind the glow of the sacralized dead, a glow that, we are told, will vanish if we question the purpose of the ritual and the plans of those who ordered the sacrifice.

One thousand American troops are dead in Afghanistan.

Look past the false sacred glow with which the power-holders will try to cover the dead, and by association, their policies.

See the field where a thousand corpses lie.

Remember the real people who lie there, and remember the real people on their way to join them.

Defend them from the Battle-God.

End this war.

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Posted by robertgreenwald on May 18th, 2010

Lay this flower at the White House wall.

I have some sad news to share with you: As of today, 1,000 American troops have been killed in Afghanistan.

This is a heartbreaking toll on American families. These were people’s sons and daughters, husbands and wives, moms and dads. Our hearts go out to all of their families.

The Afghanistan war is not making us more secure. To the contrary – terrorism has increased worldwide since the start of the war. Massive war spending–very soon to surpass $1 trillion–continues to cost us jobs and undermine economic recovery and prosperity at home. One thousand troops are dead, and our leaders have nothing to show for it but the prospect of another thousand dead.

Today, members of the Rethink Afghanistan community are marking this terrible milestone by posting this video at the White House Facebook page. We want the President and the American people to know that we abhor the awful cost of this war and want our troops to come home.

I hope you’ll join us. Commemorate these 1,000 lives lost by laying this virtual flower at the White House.

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Posted by Peace Action West on May 18th, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

Learn more about these soldiers here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/us/faces-of-the-dead.html

Today marks a heartbreaking milestone in the US’s misguided military engagement in Afghanistan. 1,000 American soldiers—fathers, mothers, daughters, sons—have perished in the war. It’s difficult to know exactly how many innocent civilians have died alongside them, but the United Nations has documented a steady yearly increase in civilian death. While we mourn this tragic loss of life, we must also organize for a better way.

Urge your representative and senators to issue a statement recognizing that this tragedy can’t be repeated, and making a pledge to support nonmilitary alternatives in Afghanistan.

As we go about our daily lives, we receive a sanitized view of the war in Afghanistan. Politicians who are putting our troops in harm’s way and approving attacks with robotic warplanes that kill innocent civilians do not often come face to face with the staggering human cost of war. The media spends hours interviewing generals who assure us that things are “turning around” in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Congress is preparing to vote on a massive $59 billion war funding bill, and retired General Barry McCaffrey estimates 300-500 soldiers will be wounded every month in Afghanistan once the surge is complete.

We can’t let members of Congress forget that their silence is costing innocent lives. Write your representative and senators to call for a new strategy for Afghanistan.

Thank you for marking this day with action. You can also join the conversation on our Facebook page.

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Posted by Josh Mull on May 18th, 2010

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

Oh my gosh, did you hear? There’s a revolution happening today! That’s right, you the governed citizens are literally overthrowing your government, and all it took was voting in the party primaries. Here’s Chris Matthews to explain:

Sounds like a revolution all right. Really, voting for Rand Paul is just like shouting “allahu akbar” at Khameini from a Tehran rooftop or getting crushed under the treads of a Soviet tank in Black January. Just like it. But wait, how come Specter is the evil establishment because he has the support of unions, but Halter is part of the “angry grassroots” because he…has the support of unions? Does the support of Daily Kos really qualify as fringey and outsider? Isn’t Markos Moulitsas like the Green Day of activists? Don’t get me wrong, my shelves are packed with his books, but I don’t think it really counts as punk rawk anymore. And how is Rand Paul an outsider? He’s the son of Texas politician Ron Paul, who’s really more of a brand name than a person at this point. There’s too many questions that don’t fit with our absurd narrative, so let’s skip it. Instead, let’s hear about the insurgency:

Next week, if Joe Sestak defeats Sen. Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania Dem primary, and Sen. Blanche Lincoln is forced into a runoff against challenger Bill Halter, lefty insurgents will have scored two major victories against the Democratic establishment in Washington.

Neato, you’re an insurgent! Phone banking for Halter is kind of like burying an IED on your family farm, and really, isn’t the fact that you disagree with Blanche Lincoln on financial regulation kind of like she’s storming your house at night and gunning down your pregnant wife and young children? I mean you’re not just unseating Specter, you’re setting his dead body on fire and hanging it from a bridge in Fallujah. You didn’t know American politics were this hardcore did you? Thanks a lot media, it’s fun to be an insurgent!

But let’s get real. This media narrative about insurgencies and revolution is just plain bullshit. Today’s elections have nothing to do with throwing out the bum incumbents, and everything to do with affirming the status quo. Not a single candidate who opposes the war in Afghanistan is expected to win today. It will take a lot more than partisan primaries to achieve the changes we want to see. (more…)

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on May 18th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

As Gareth Porter pointed out yesterday in his inaugural post as part of the Newshoggers team, there are compelling reasons to believe that the ground in Afghanistan is far like a quagmire than the Obama administration and the military want to admit.

The coin cost of what even the COINdinistas are complaining isn't real COIN in Afghanistan may now soar above the$1.2 trillion overall I predicted last March to as high as $2 trillion. But still, best of luck getting an estimate out of the White House – they just keep coming back for more money.

A recent survey by the ICOS group (PDF) showed that the Marjah offensive was abortive at best, with locals saying clearly that they don't like NATO/ISAF, and think the NATO/ISAF presence will increase Taliban recruitment in the area. What was meant to be an easy propaganda win on the domestic front has turned into an extremely offensive game of whack-a-mole (again) which is killing and alienating Afghan civilians (again). And McChrystal's "government in a box"? Well…

In Kandahar, the UK's Stephen Grey has done some first class reporting on NATO's growing reliance on militais accused of assassinations and civilian deaths. Grey also reports that US special forces are intimately connected to these rogue militias:

An Afghan prosecutor has issued an arrest warrant for an American special forces commander over allegations that a police chief was murdered by a US-trained militia.

Brigadier General Ghulam Ranjbar, the chief military prosecutor in Kabul, has accused the US of creating an outlaw militia which allegedly shot dead Matiullah Qateh, the chief of police in the city of Kandahar.

The militia, which Ranjbar claimed is armed and trained by US special forces, also allegedly killed Kandahar's head of criminal investigations and two other officers, when they attempted to free one of their members from a courthouse.

…He accused American officials of refusing to hand over evidence or to permit his investigators to interview the special forces commander, known to Afghans only as "John or Johnny", who he alleges sanctioned the raid.

The arrest warrant, which has been circulated to border posts and airports, is an embarrassment for the US military, which is facing growing criticism for links to militias controlled by warlords. In Kandahar, the militias have been accused of murder, rape and extortion.

Ranjbar said an investigation found that the force that killed Qateh operated from Camp Gecko, in the hills outside Kandahar, a base for both US special forces and the CIA.

The militia in question is supposedly funded by Petraeus' pal Ahmed Walid Karzai, the "proverbial 800lb gorilla and he’s in the middle of a lot of rooms" of Kandahar. There's absolutely no sign that Karzai intends to rein in his warlord brother, nor any leverage the US could apply to make him even were it inclined to do so. A.W. Karzai is the box, the "Nancy Pelosi of Kandahar".

Unsurprisingly, McChrystal's "gesture" – we can't call it an offensive – in Kandahar has now been put off to fall because of local opposition.

Key military operations have been delayed until the fall, efforts to improve local government are having little impact, and a Taliban assassination campaign has brought a sense of dread to Kandahar's dusty streets.

NATO officials once spoke of demonstrating major progress by mid-August, but U.S. commanders now say the turning point may not be reached until November, and perhaps later.

At the urging of Afghan leaders, U.S. officials have stopped describing the plan as a military operation. Instead, they've dubbed it "Cooperation for Kandahar," a moniker meant to focus attention on efforts to build up local governance while reducing fears of street battles.

A fall start date will put the Kandahar offensive, campaign, process, gesture outwith the original 12 month window that McChrystal claimed was crucial when he was bulldozering Obama for more troops. That window has now been pushed out, apparently, to 18 months or even 2 years, despite there being no progress to show good cause for extending McChrystal's timeline.

Even so, I see no signs that there'll be congressional hearings to discover whether McChrystal was simply incompetent in his original estimate, or whether he deliberately lied to the President. Nor, by the way, do I see any signs of McChrystal – who was granted authority over all special forces in Afghanistan by Petreaus not too long ago – being held accountable for the crazy goings-on of special forces backed militias.

And then, as Fred Kaplan reports today, there's the unclassified, 150-page Defense Department document called "Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan."

Here's how the report summarizes the situation in straight prose: "Some individual islands of security exist in the sea of instability or insecurity." The authors muster only two islands: the town of Mazur-i-Sharif in the north and "small contiguous areas" near the Ring Road in the south. The level of security, they add, is "significantly related to the presence of well-led and non-corrupt" units of Afghan soldiers or police.

The problem is that "well-led and non-corrupt" Afghan security forces are, as yet, rare commodities. The Afghan army and national police force are making "slow progress" toward its manpower targets because of "high attrition and low retention." Between 60 percent and 70 percent of uniformed police are "hired and deployed with no formal training." By this August, NATO troops will be mentoring Afghan police in 45 of the 80 most important districts. Yet the report notes that even well-trained police units "have regressed" after a mentoring team is reassigned elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the training of the Afghan security forces is going slowly as well. Of the 5,111 Western personnel authorized for NATO Training Mission Afghanistan, as the command is called, just 2,673—barely half—have been assigned to an Afghan security unit. The United States is contributing its share of trainers, but the NATO allies are falling short. And since some of those allies have announced they're pulling out of Afghanistan altogether, these "credibility gaps," (the report's words) in training will only widen. The U.S. armed forces have to fill the gap, and they're having a hard enough time meeting the schedule to deploy troops for combat.

By the way, the Afghan people aren't so thrilled with our armed forces, either. In a poll taken in March, 29 percent of Afghans said they have a "good" or "very good" impression of U.S. and NATO troops, while 38 percent have a "bad" or "very bad" impression—the worst score since polling began on this question in September 2008. (NATO is so sensitive on this matter—our strategy, after all, is to win over the hearts and minds of the Afghan people—that this survey is taken each quarter.)

The report's authors figure, reasonably, that the decline in popularity is due to the increased fighting—and, with it, the unavoidable rise in civilian casualties. They note that 80 percent of these casualties are still caused by the insurgents and that the number caused by U.S. and NATO troops has gone down "in relation to the size of the force and despite an increase in [operational tempo]." But nobody is likely to be assuaged by an argument that we're killing fewer civilians per Western soldier on the ground. That only suggests that as the ranks of these Westerners swells, civilian casualties will rise along with them.

And finally the big question: How's Karzai doing? As every U.S. military commander has emphasized, a counterinsurgency campaign can succeed only if the host government is regarded as legitimate. Outside military allies can kill insurgents and protect the civilian population, but the Afghan government has to follow through with basic services and good governance.

Basic services? Just 47 percent of Afghans polled are satisfied with the electricity in their area, 28 percent are satisfied with the level of clean water, and 27 percent are satisfied with the roads.

The report notes that U.S. forces achieved "some success" in clearing Helmand Province of insurgents. But, it adds, "progress in introducing governance and development" to that area "has been slow" because the "national infrastructure" is unable to "provide tangible benefits for the populace"—a weakness that "has been exploited by the insurgents."

For this reason, the report states, "The insurgents perceive 2009 as their most successful year."

As noted above, the reaction of the COIN crowd to all this has been to complain that what's going on in Afghanistan isn't real COIN, as if that creature can exist outwith think-tank fever dreams, but they've also shown willing to get their knives out for the Cassandar of McChrystal's surge, Karl Eikenberry. For it's part, the White House has brought the truthiness by talking up illusory progress while also encouraging stenographic reports of how Obama actually bamboozled the military, rather than the reverse.

So we have a military strategy that's going backwards and alienating the locals, a political strategy that's non-existant and would be too late if it were formulated now, and careerist infighting on the domestic front. 1,000 Americans and untold numbers of Afghans have died while the generals and politicians play silly buggers. The only thing that would make Afghanistan more of a Vietnam-style quagmire would be if people were calling for ignoring promises to begin withdrawal in 2011.

Oh wait…

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on May 17th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Gareth Porter

In his press conference with President Karzai last week, President Obama suggested publicly for the first time that he will not negotiate with the Taliban until the U.S. military has demonstrated "effectiveness in breaking their momentum”.    Obama seemed to be embracing the shibboleth that you don’t negotiate with an adversary until you can do so from a “position of strength”.

That idea has also been pushed by a senior military official to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius and by talking heads in the national security elite. The trouble with invoking the superficially appealing notion of a “position of strength” in this context is that it doesn’t correspond to  reality.

When your “strength” is built on sand, as it is in Afghanistan, the notion that you must “negotiate from strength” is the worst kind of bunkum.

There is good reason to believe, in fact, that the unnamed “senior military official” and many others in Washington know very well that waiting for another year to begin negotiations will have no real impact on their  outcome.  As I reported last week there are already signs of serious worry that McChrystal’s strategy is not going to work.  First the Defense Department’s report on the war suggests that the Taliban have already achieved considerable success in frustrating the U.S. strategy.  Then senior military and civilian officials hinted at the limitations of that strategy to Ignatius.

What has apparently become much clearer to senior officials in recent weeks is that Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry identified a fatal flaw in the McChrystal strategy in his November 6 message to the State Department. The problem is not just Karzai, he observed.  The Afghan political elite that is dependent on U.S. support  has “little or no political will or capacity to carry out basic tasks of governance.”McChrystal’s strategy assumes that the Afghan government will be able to carry out “rebuilding” — meaning the delivery of governance reform and development –  soon after the U.S. clears an area.  But as Eikenberry pointed out, “That cadre of Afghan civilians does not now exist and would take years to build.”

Eikenberry’s analysis erred only in being too optimistic.  He did not question the capability of U.S. troops to “clear and hold” the areas they chose to occupy.  But in fact, as the senior military official who shared his doubts with  Ignatius pointed out, some of the areas supposedly cleared by foreign and Afghan troops in the central Helmand river valley in February are still controlled by the Taliban.  The idea that McChrystal’s forces will be more successful in clearing Kandahar than they were in clearing central Helmand is not likely to be taken seriously in the Pentagon.

What the DOD report reveals is that the Pentagon doesn’t believe the McChrystal plan to win the hearts and minds of Afghans will have any influence on the Taliban’s readiness to negotiate.  The report omitted any reference to that plan in identifying the factors it hopes might “help to set conditions for future reconciliation and reintegration”.  The two factors it does mention are the arrests of Taliban officials in Pakistan and what it calls “the operations against lower level commanders”.

The latter phrase refers, of course, to the vastly increased night raids by Special Operations Forces targeting suspected local Taliban leaders, which former Special Operations Commander McChrystal has ordered and continued to support.  But far from increasing leverage on the Taliban, those raids – which frequently kill groups of civilians — have created such widespread anger against American troops all across the Pashtun belt of southern Afghanistan that McChrystal himself was forced to admit that “nearly every Afghan I talk to mentions them as the single greatest irritant.”

Obama should understand by now that postponing negotiations to give McChrystal a free hand for his counterinsurgency war is likely to result in a worse outcome than initiating such negotiations now.  It is already clear that the Taliban will escalate their war effort dramatically in the coming months  in response to the U.S. troop surge and occupation of their heartland.

Obama isn’t the first president to put off peace talks ostensibly on the theory of “negotiations from strength”.  Lyndon Johnson decided against negotiations in 1965, believing U.S. military operations in both North and South Vietnam would strengthen his hand.  The result was no negotiated settlement for another eight years.  Meanwhile 58,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese had died.

As I argue in my own study of the U.S. path to war in Vietnam, had LBJ agreed to negotiate a settlement in 1965, the United States could at least have salvaged a neutralist regime in South Vietnam for some extended period of time.  What the United States got in the end by trying to preserve a "position of strength" was complete defeat.

Obama isn’t ruling out negotiations as early as next year, according to an administration official who parsed his press conference remarks.  I suspect that Obama’s decision to let McChrystal have a free hand in his Afghan counterinsurgency sand box for another year not because he believes the strategy will make the Taliban more amenable but because he believes it will help protect him from political attack by the political forces of the right.

Originally posted at The Seminal.

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Posted by The Agonist on May 17th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

In his press conference with President Karzai last week, President Obama suggested publicly for the first time that he will not negotiate with the Taliban until the U.S. military has demonstrated “effectiveness in breaking their momentum”. Obama seemed to be embracing the shibboleth that you don’t negotiate with an adversary until you can do so from a “position of strength”.

That idea has also been pushed by a senior military official to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius and by talking heads in the national security elite. The trouble with invoking the superficially appealing notion of a “position of strength” in this context is that it doesn’t correspond to reality.

More after the jump.

When your “strength” is built on sand, as it is in Afghanistan, the notion that you must “negotiate from strength” is the worst kind of bunkum.

There is good reason to believe, in fact, that the unnamed “senior military official” and many others in Washington know very well that waiting for another year to begin negotiations will have no real impact on their outcome. As I reported last week there are already signs of serious worry that McChrystal’s strategy is not going to work. First the Defense Department’s report on the war suggests that the Taliban have already achieved considerable success in frustrating the U.S. strategy. Then senior military and civilian officials hinted at the limitations of that strategy to Ignatius.

What has apparently become much clearer to senior officials in recent weeks is that Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry identified a fatal flaw in the McChrystal strategy in his November 6 message to the State Department. The problem is not just Karzai, he observed. The Afghan political elite that is dependent on U.S. support has “little or no political will or capacity to carry out basic tasks of governance.”McChrystal’s strategy assumes that the Afghan government will be able to carry out “rebuilding” — meaning the delivery of governance reform and development – soon after the U.S. clears an area. But as Eikenberry pointed out, “That cadre of Afghan civilians does not now exist and would take years to build.”

Eikenberry’s analysis erred only in being too optimistic. He did not question the capability of U.S. troops to “clear and hold” the areas they chose to occupy. But in fact, as the senior military official who shared his doubts with Ignatius pointed out, some of the areas supposedly cleared by foreign and Afghan troops in the central Helmand river valley in February are still controlled by the Taliban. The idea that McChrystal’s forces will be more successful in clearing Kandahar than they were in clearing central Helmand is not likely to be taken seriously in the Pentagon.

What the DOD report reveals is that the Pentagon doesn’t believe the McChrystal plan to win the hearts and minds of Afghans will have any influence on the Taliban’s readiness to negotiate. The report omitted any reference to that plan in identifying the factors it hopes might “help to set conditions for future reconciliation and reintegration”. The two factors it does mention are the arrests of Taliban officials in Pakistan and what it calls “the operations against lower level commanders”.

The latter phrase refers, of course, to the vastly increased night raids by Special Operations Forces targeting suspected local Taliban leaders, which former Special Operations Commander McChrystal has ordered and continued to support. But far from increasing leverage on the Taliban, those raids – which frequently kill groups of civilians — have created such widespread anger against American troops all across the Pashtun belt of southern Afghanistan that McChrystal himself was forced to admit that “nearly every Afghan I talk to mentions them as the single greatest irritant.”

Obama should understand by now that postponing negotiations to give McChrystal a free hand for his counterinsurgency war is likely to result in a worse outcome than initiating such negotiations now. It is already clear that the Taliban will escalate their war effort dramatically in the coming months in response to the U.S. troop surge and occupation of their heartland.

Obama isn’t the first president to put off peace talks ostensibly on the theory of “negotiations from strength”. Lyndon Johnson decided against negotiations in 1965, believing U.S. military operations in both North and South Vietnam would strengthen his hand. The result was no negotiated settlement for another eight years. Meanwhile 58,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese had died.

As I argue in my own study of the U.S. path to war in Vietnam, had LBJ agreed to negotiate a settlement in 1965, the United States could at least have salvaged a neutralist regime in South Vietnam for some extended period of time. What the United States got in the end by trying to preserve a “position of strength” was complete defeat.

Obama isn’t ruling out negotiations as early as next year, according to an administration official who parsed his press conference remarks. I suspect that Obama’s decided to let McChrystal have a free hand in his Afghan counterinsurgency sand box for another year not because he believes the strategy will make the Taliban more amenable but because he believes it will help protect him from political attack by the political forces of the right.

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