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Archive for July, 2010

Posted by Newshoggers.com on July 31st, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Christine Amanpour asked Nancy Pelosi the $60 billion question on Afghanistan:

"How does this figure into our protecting the American people? Is it worth it?" Pelosi asked rhetorically.

"Is it worth it?" Amanpour repeated pointedly. "Is it worth it?"

"That is the question," Pelosi replied.

"But that's my question to you," Amanpour pressed.

"Well we will, as I said, we will see the metrics as they unfold in the next few months," the Speaker said.

Spoken like a craven politician.

(P.S. Metrics, what metrics? )

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on July 31st, 2010

Tomorrow, TIME Magazine will treat newsstand customers everywhere to one of the most rank propaganda plays of the Afghanistan War. The cover features a woman, Aisha, whose face was mutilated by the Taliban, next to the headline, “What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan.” Far more people will see this image and have their emotions manipulated by it than will read the article within (which itself seems to be a journalistic travesty, if the web version is any indication), so TIME should be absolutely ashamed of themselves for such a dishonest snow job on their customers. Readers deserve better.

Let’s clarify something right off the top when it comes to this cover: Aisha, the poor woman depicted in the photograph, was attacked last year, with tens of thousands of U.S. troops tramping all over the country at the time. This isn’t the picture of some as-yet-unrealized nighmarish future for Afghan women. It’s the picture of the present.

Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) recently published report on this issue, The “Ten-Dollar Talib” and Women’s Rights, provides key context for the struggle for women’s political equality in Afghanistan:

Afghan women assert their rights in what is already a deeply hostile political environment. Any assessment of women’s rights, and indeed the prospects for long-term peace and reconciliation needs to be made in the context of the very traditional and often misogynistic male leadership that dominates Afghan politics. The Afghan government, often with the tacit approval of key foreign governments and inter-governmental bodies, has empowered current and former warlords, providing official positions to some and effective immunity from prosecution for serious crimes to the rest. Backroom deals with abusive commanders have created powerful factions in the government and Parliament that are opposed to many of the rights and freedoms that women now enjoy. As one activist told us, “We women don’t have guns and poppies and we are not warlords, therefore we are not in the decision-making processes.”

This is something that folks who put together TIME’s cover better understand right now: the fox is already in the hen-house. There is a very powerful set of anti-women’s-equality caucuses already nested within the Afghan government that the U.S. supports. These individuals and groups are working to reassert the official misogyny of the Taliban days already, independent of the reconciliation and reintegration process. Given the opportunity, these individuals and groups in the U.S.-backed government will manipulate the reconciliation and reintegration process and leverage armed-opposition-group participation in the process to push through policies they’d prefer already as compromises with their “opponents.” This is why the propaganda of TIME’s cover is so pernicious: the women of Afghanistan are caught in a vice already, stuck between their opponents in the insurgency and in the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. If one is concerned about the rights of women in Afghanistan, the question is, how do we give women the most leverage possible in this situation?

Further, TIME’s incendiary headline, “What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan,” is a total misrepresentation of the issue discussed in the article. Here’s Aisha in her own words:

“They [the Taliban] are the people that did this to me,” she says, touching her damaged face. “How can we reconcile with them?”

Here’s another quote from another woman that gets at the issue much better than TIME’s headline:

“Women’s rights must not be the sacrifice by which peace is achieved,” says parliamentarian Fawzia Koofi.

And another quote:

“When we talk about women’s rights,” Jamalzadah says, “we are talking about things that are important to men as well — men who want to see Afghanistan move forward. If you sacrifice women to make peace, you are also sacrificing the men who support them and abandoning the country to the fundamentalists that caused all the problems in the first place.”

If we are to believe the setup on the cover and in the article, the women of Afghanistan see two options: the U.S. can “stay” and ensure the rights of women, or we can “leave” by route of selling them out. But that’s neither what the women’s quotes say nor what Human Rights Watch found when they interviewed 90 “working women and women in public life living in areas that the insurgents effectively controlled or where they have a significant presence to illustrate the current nature of the insurgency.” While they found an intense anxiety over the consequences of the Taliban regaining a share of national power, they also found that:

“All of the women interviewed for this report supported a negotiated end to the conflict.”

The quotes of the women in TIME’s article express anxiety about the Kabul government negotiated away women’s rights to warlord war criminals, not us “staying” or “leaving.” See what TIME did there? They’ve taken these quotes from Afghan women and manipulated them to portray a false dilemma.

TIME Magazine throws out this useless bromide: “For Afghanistan’s women, an early withdrawal of international forces could be disastrous.” Early compared to what? How can a pull-out almost a decade into a conflict be remotely described as “early?” Even if we build a shining utopia for women while U.S. troops were there in large numbers, women’s rights would evaporate the day after we departed if U.S. troops were the force holding them in place. That’s what Afghan Women’s Network’s Orzala Ashraf meant when she told Rethink Afghanistan that,

“I don’t believe and I don’t expect any outside power to come and liberate me. If I cannot liberate myself, no one from outside can liberate me.”

The struggle is the liberation as Afghan women discover and use their power. Grassroots involvement in social struggle is what creates societies rooted in democratic values, not men with guns from other countries.

Although you wouldn’t know it from TIME’s editorializing within the article or from the horrendously misleading cover, the issue is not even remotely “if” we leave Afghanistan. We will. The questions are “When?” and “How?”

When

U.S. forces could stay for another twenty years in Afghanistan (would that still be “early?”), and even if they pound Kandahar into dust, no development in the war so far even remotely suggests the possibility of military force eliminating the Taliban as a significant political and armed force. Therefore, the war’s end would still involve some sort of political settlement that involves Taliban (unless, of course, the U.S. wants to guarantee the most ferocious civil conflict possible upon their exit by totally excluding them). At the end of that twenty years, we’d be faced with the same problems regarding the rights of women in Afghanistan, plus the effects of those years of war on the U.S. force and the Afghan population.

TIME’s depiction of the women’s rights issue is based on a faulty premise: that “staying” rather than “leaving” is having the effect of weakening an insurgency hostile to women’s rights. In fact, if we are to believe the official reports from the Pentagon to Congress, the opposite is true. As the first several months of President Obama’s escalation strategy played out, the military reports claim the insurgency gained in strategic and political power in the key areas of Afghanistan. As those trends continue, the political difficulties for women in the eventual reconciliation and reintegration processes increase. Prolonging the massive U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan makes it more likely that the regressive elements in the Kabul government will achieve their agenda through “compromise” with powerful insurgent elements during the reconciliation/reintegration processes.

Some sort of reconciliation process is going to take place. When it comes to securing the rights of women in Afghanistan, all other things being equal, sooner is better.

How?

American policymakers, if they are truly interested in the rights of women beyond their use in sloganeering, are going to have to start playing a higher-level game than they are at present. When President Obama took 35 minutes to explain his rationales for his escalation strategy, he didn’t mention women’s political equality once. If they hope to assist the women of Afghanistan struggling for political equality, they need to understand the game and to start playing catch-up ball, pronto.

The most important work is to prepare the field before the negotiations begin. That means two things: getting women in, and keeping the worst of the worst out.

Two bodies will undertake the lion’s share of work on the peace process in Afghanistan: the High Level Peace Council and the Joint Secretariat for Peace, Reconciliation and Reintegration Programs. According to HRW’s report, key assurances have not been given that women would have a meaningful seat at the table in decision-making capacities. At the time of the report’s publication, the High Level Peace Council had not been appointed, but the Joint Secretariat was effectively functioning and no women were included. The extent to which Afghan women can succeed at inserting themselves into the various levels of this process will be a major determinant in the amount of leverage they’ll have to help them defend their rights as the new Afghanistan takes shape. Afghan women’s advocates have shown some adeptness at this sort of agitation: during the Consultative Peace Jirga, women were promised only 10 percent representation. Through intense agitation, they obtained 20 percent. U.S. policymakers who want to help women in Afghanistan have to figure out how best to support the effort of women to get into these decision-making bodies and exert real influence. The U.S. is a prime funder of the Afghan government. It’s time to figure out how to use that leverage for this purpose. That’s why Human Rights Watch makes this key recommendation:

Make women’s meaningful participation in relevant decision-making bodies a precondition for funding reintegration programs, and ensure that reintegration funds benefit families and communities, including women, rather than individual ex-combatants.

That brings us to the touchy subject of keeping the worst of the worst out. This is a touchy subject because the obstacles to getting this done have come into being due to the active and tacit support of the United States.

Let’s talk about just a couple of these obstacles: Hajji Mohammed Mohaqiq and his Amnesty Law.

Mohaqiq was one of the leaders of the notorious Hezb-e Wahdat, which in late 2001-early 2002 targeted Pashtun civilians for violence because of their ethnic ties to the Taliban. According to Human Rights Watch, Hezb-e Wahdat was:

implicated in systematic and widespread looting and violence in almost every province under their…control, almost all of it directed at Pashtun villagers. …[T]here were several reports of rapes of girls and women. In Chimtal district near Mazar-e Sharif, and in Balkh province generally, both Hizb-i Wahdat [alternative English rendering of Hezb-e Wahdat] and Jamiat forces were particularly violent: in one village, Bargah-e Afghani, Hizb-i Wahdat troops killed thirty-seven civilians.

Mohaqiq’s militia also became widely feared and loathed for their practice of kidnapping young girls, “forcibly marrying” them (what a useless euphemism for rape), and ransoming them back to their parents. They seemed to especially enjoy snatching girls who were on their way to school, leading many parents to keep their girls home rather than risk their abduction and rape.

Following the overthrow of the Taliban, Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq managed to get himself appointed as a vice chair of the interim government and as Minister of Planning. During the 2002 loya jirga that set the basic shape of the new government, Hezb-e Wahdat was named by Human Rights Watch as one of the groups that used threats and intimidation against other delegates. Through their use of these thuggish tactics, Mohaqiq’s militia helped corrupt a process which many hoped would lead to greater civilian control relative to the warlords, but which led instead to the warlords’ solidifying their power. Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, of course, retained his positions of power.

But here’s the real kicker: once legitimized, Mohaqiq was one of the masterminds of the widely condemned 2007 legislation that granted warlords amnesty for their war crimes during the civil war. The UN sharply condemned the amnesty law, declaring “No one has the right to forgive those responsible for human rights violations other than the victims themselves.” Thanks to outcry from the United Nations and human rights advocates (but pointedly, not from the U.S., UK, or the EU, who did not speak out against the law), the law was tabled.

But then came the absolutely corrupted 2009 election: Karzai promised to carve out a new province for Mohaqiq in exchange for his support in the election. Karzai “won,” and President Obama declared the government “legitimate.” Then, in January 2010, Karzai quietly slipped the Amnesty Law into effect, immunizing Mohaqiq for his crimes against women. Mohaqiq has since publicly decried Karzai’s moves toward negotiations with the Taliban, but even though he doesn’t support it, his handiwork is a malignant shaper of the process with regards to the rights of women.

Here’s HRW’s summary of the law:

The Amnesty Law states that all those who were engaged in armed conflict before the formation of Afghanistan’s Interim Administration in December 2001 shall “enjoy all their legal rights and shall not be prosecuted.” It also says that those engaged in current hostilities will be granted immunity if they agree to reconciliation with the government, effectively providing amnesty for future crimes. The law thus provides immunity from prosecution for members of the Taliban and other insurgent groups, as well as pro-government warlords, who have committed war crimes.

All through this process, the U.S. was either silent or supportive of these developments, and now the Amnesty Law stands as one of the threats most identified by Afghan women’s advocates to the progress of their political agenda during the reconciliation process. Those most dangerous to the women of Afghanistan–powerful fundamentalist warlords with a history of serious war crimes against women and girls–may find their way into influential negotiating positions where they can link up with their anti-women brethren already inside the Kabul government. The solution posited by Human Rights Watch and by women parliamentarians is to repeal the Amnesty Law and institute strong vetting processes that exclude the worst war criminals from the ballot or from political appointment while still allowing participation of their home tribes or groups. This solution goes hand in hand with that discovered last year by UK’s DFID to be preferred by those in insurgency-prone areas: a new “black list” standard for what crimes disqualify one from election or appointment, applied to everyone, including Taliban, other insurgents, or pro-Kabul-government figures.

As the reader can tell, the issue is far more complex than the farcical “stay or leave” choice framed up on TIME’s shameful propaganda cover art. The U.S.’s massive troop presence and the escalating instability is strengthening the hand of the political forces that want to roll back women’s political equality, so the longer we stay, the worse off women will be as they attempt to navigate the eventual political settlement of the conflict. Yet, U.S. inattention to (or outright malignant influence on) the factors shaping the field for that political struggle are affirmatively hurting the struggle for women’s political equality. We will leave the combat field, and we have to do it soon, and while we leave, we have to do our best to help shape a political field supportive of the Afghan women’s struggle to liberate themselves.

Pulling this off will require a deft hand, and it’s not clear whether the Kabul government or our own government, given the atrophied nature of the State Department, is up to the task. Given the vested interests who have a stake in the existence of the Amnesty Law, repealing it will be enormously difficult in Afghanistan’s political arena (and no one should let the U.S. off the hook for helping to shape this political environment through support for known warlords and war criminals). But what is clear is that using the rights of women as a justification for extending our massive U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan is a recipe for failure on this issue and for the betrayal and heartbreak of those who care about the fate of Afghan women.

Shorter version: TIME Magazine’ cover art is rank propaganda, and the current U.S. policy is failing women, badly.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on July 30th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

As Newt Gingrich calls for new wars and a clash of civilizations despite the manifest failure of force to accomplish anything much in Afghanistan and Iraq, it's worth asking: is war becoming obsolete as a viable instrument of statecraft? Andrew Bacevich says yes.

A lengthy excerpt from a must-read essay:

"If any overarching conclusion emerges from the Afghan and Iraq Wars (and from their Israeli equivalents), it’s this: victory is a chimera.  Counting on today’s enemy to yield in the face of superior force makes about as much sense as buying lottery tickets to pay the mortgage: you better be really lucky.

Meanwhile, as the U.S. economy went into a tailspin, Americans contemplated their equivalent of Israel’s “demographic bomb” — a “fiscal bomb.”  Ingrained habits of profligacy, both individual and collective, held out the prospect of long-term stagnation: no growth, no jobs, no fun.  Out-of-control spending on endless wars exacerbated that threat.

By 2007, the American officer corps itself gave up on victory, although without giving up on war.  First in Iraq, then in Afghanistan, priorities shifted.  High-ranking generals shelved their expectations of winning — at least as a Rabin or Schwarzkopf would have understood that term.  They sought instead to not lose.  In Washington as in U.S. military command posts, the avoidance of outright defeat emerged as the new gold standard of success.

As a consequence, U.S. troops today sally forth from their base camps not to defeat the enemy, but to “protect the people,” consistent with the latest doctrinal fashion.  Meanwhile, tea-sipping U.S. commanders cut deals with warlords and tribal chieftains in hopes of persuading guerrillas to lay down their arms.

A new conventional wisdom has taken hold, endorsed by everyone from new Afghan War commander General David Petraeus, the most celebrated soldier of this American age, to Barack Obama, commander-in-chief and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.  For the conflicts in which the United States finds itself enmeshed, “military solutions” do not exist.  As Petraeus himself has emphasized, “we can’t kill our way out of" the fix we’re in.  In this way, he also pronounced a eulogy on the Western conception of warfare of the last two centuries.

The Unasked Question

What then are the implications of arriving at the end of Western military history?

In his famous essay, Fukuyama cautioned against thinking that the end of ideological history heralded the arrival of global peace and harmony.  Peoples and nations, he predicted, would still find plenty to squabble about.

With the end of military history, a similar expectation applies.  Politically motivated violence will persist and may in specific instances even retain marginal utility.  Yet the prospect of Big Wars solving Big Problems is probably gone for good.  Certainly, no one in their right mind, Israeli or American, can believe that a continued resort to force will remedy whatever it is that fuels anti-Israeli or anti-American antagonism throughout much of the Islamic world.  To expect persistence to produce something different or better is moonshine.

It remains to be seen whether Israel and the United States can come to terms with the end of military history.  Other nations have long since done so, accommodating themselves to the changing rhythms of international politics.  That they do so is evidence not of virtue, but of shrewdness.  China, for example, shows little eagerness to disarm.  Yet as Beijing expands its reach and influence, it emphasizes trade, investment, and development assistance.  Meanwhile, the People’s Liberation Army stays home.  China has stolen a page from an old American playbook, having become today the preeminent practitioner of “dollar diplomacy.”

The collapse of the Western military tradition confronts Israel with limited choices, none of them attractive.  Given the history of Judaism and the history of Israel itself, a reluctance of Israeli Jews to entrust their safety and security to the good will of their neighbors or the warm regards of the international community is understandable.  In a mere six decades, the Zionist project has produced a vibrant, flourishing state.  Why put all that at risk?  Although the demographic bomb may be ticking, no one really knows how much time remains on the clock.  If Israelis are inclined to continue putting their trust in (American-supplied) Israeli arms while hoping for the best, who can blame them?

In theory, the United States, sharing none of Israel’s demographic or geographic constraints and, far more richly endowed, should enjoy far greater freedom of action.  Unfortunately, Washington has a vested interest in preserving the status quo, no matter how much it costs or where it leads.  For the military-industrial complex, there are contracts to win and buckets of money to be made.  For those who dwell in the bowels of the national security state, there are prerogatives to protect.  For elected officials, there are campaign contributors to satisfy.  For appointed officials, civilian and military, there are ambitions to be pursued.

And always there is a chattering claque of militarists, calling for jihad and insisting on ever greater exertions, while remaining alert to any hint of backsliding.  In Washington, members of this militarist camp, by no means coincidentally including many of the voices that most insistently defend Israeli bellicosity, tacitly collaborate in excluding or marginalizing views that they deem heretical.  As a consequence, what passes for debate on matters relating to national security is a sham.  Thus are we invited to believe, for example, that General Petraeus’s appointment as the umpteenth U.S. commander in Afghanistan constitutes a milestone on the way to ultimate success.

Nearly 20 years ago, a querulous Madeleine Albright demanded to know: “What's the point of having this superb military you're always talking about if we can't use it?”  Today, an altogether different question deserves our attention: What’s the point of constantly using our superb military if doing so doesn’t actually work? 

Washington’s refusal to pose that question provides a measure of the corruption and dishonesty permeating our politics."

That Bacevich is far, far smarter than Gingrich doesn't really need proof, but here it is anyway.

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Posted by Josh Mull on July 30th, 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.

I’m not perfect. I don’t get everything right, not by a long shot. For example, remember my optimistic response to Thomas Ruttig’s pessimistic report on the Kabul Peace Jirga? Turns out I was super wrong about that. I understand this blogosphere of ours is an open debate, and I’m willing to reassess how I may have misjudged whatever the situation is on any given day.

So when I see a headline in the New York Times like “In Midterm Elections, Afghan War Barely Surfaces“, something that directly contradicts my analysis, I’m more than happy to take a look and see what we have to learn. (more…)

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Posted by Peace Action West on July 30th, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

For anyone who is not planning to personally read all 92K classified Afghanistan war docs released this Sunday by Wikileaks — or doesn’t have time to read the reams of coverage to try and understand what it’s all about — here’s the Cliffs Notes version.

It’ll take some time for the extent of what’s in here to be fully understood – if the press has the attention-span to see it through. I’m sure I’ve missed plenty, so feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments.

Here’s the original source material. Wikileaks shared the docs a month ago with the NYTimes, Der Spiegel, and the Guardian to give them time to analyze them before going public.

Major revelations. Of course, it all depends on how you define “information we didn’t know,” and “major.” Much of what’s in the reports reveal the scale of problems already widely known, but the overall impact is jaw-dropping. For example, on the problem of police corruption, the New York Times’ opening piece illustrates the seriousness of the issue, detailing a number of instances where “the reports recount episodes of police brutality, corruption petty and large, extortion and kidnapping. Some police officers defect to the Taliban. Others are accused of collaborating with insurgents, arms smugglers and highway bandits. Afghan police officers defect with trucks or weapons, items captured during successful ambushes or raids.”

There are, however a number of findings that aren’t as widely understood (though they have been suspected), or weren’t in official reports, so do, I believe, qualify as a “major revelation”. Here’s a few of those:

  • Task Force 373: A secret unit of special forces meant to hunt down targets to capture or kill. In the midst of their hunt, they’ve killed civilians, children (in at least one instance, they were at school in a madrasa), and Afghan police, covering up their mistakes along the way. The reports also detail how TF 373′s activities undermine coalition attempts to gain the support of the people. The Guardian reports: “[These reports] raise fundamental questions about the legality of the killings and of the long-term imprisonment without trial, and also pragmatically about the impact of a tactic which is inherently likely to kill, injure and alienate the innocent bystanders whose support the coalition craves.”
  • CIA sponsored paramilitary ops: The NYTimes reports: “The Central Intelligence Agency has expanded paramilitary operations inside Afghanistan. The units launch ambushes, order airstrikes and conduct night raids. From 2001 to 2008, the C.I.A. paid the budget of Afghanistan’s spy agency and ran it as a virtual subsidiary.” The Guardian reports on an incident where paramilitary troops shot a mute and deaf man, running for his life, in the back.
  • A pattern of coverup: In total, the reports reveal 144 incidents in which coalition forces killed civilians over six years. Throughout the logs, accounts reveal cover up after cover up of incidents of civilian death, as well as a misrepresentation of facts to paint a rosier picture of progress. From the New York Times: “…in some cases the documents show that the American military made misleading public statements — attributing the downing of a helicopter to conventional weapons instead of heat-seeking missiles or giving Afghans credit for missions carried out by Special Operations commandos.” Coverups of civilian deaths are revealed throughout nearly all the coverage of the leaked documents, including here and here.

Max Fisher of the Atlantic put together his list of 5 big revelations, and I’ve included 4 of those below. My my notes are in italics.

  • Pakistani Intelligence Possibly Aiding Taliban. [The Guardian's coverage is more skeptical of intelligence reports that point to this. According to them, there is no "smoking gun", though apparently that's hard to come by. It's worth noting though that the NYTimes and the Guardian looked at the same evidence and came up w/ different analysis. US media appears to be uniform in its reporting that the leaks confirm this.] The New York Times reports, “Americans fighting the war in Afghanistan have long harbored strong suspicions that Pakistan’s military spy service has guided the Afghan insurgency with a hidden hand, even as Pakistan receives more than $1 billion a year from Washington for its help combating the militants, according to a trove of secret military field reports made public Sunday.” The Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is said to be involved in “a network of Pakistani assets and collaborators that runs from the Pakistani tribal belt along the Afghan border, through southern Afghanistan, and all the way to the capital, Kabul.” This network may be working “with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.” [Is Pakistan's spy service finally on our side?]
  • Drones Less Effective Than Claimed Der Spiegel reports, “the secret memos reveal the drawbacks of a weapon that has been lauded by the US military as a panacea, a view shared by the president. In his short time in office, Barack Obama has unleashed double the number of drone missions ordered by his seemingly trigger-happy predecessor, George W. Bush. … But they are not always reliable. According to official reports, 38 Predator and Reaper drones have crashed while on combat missions in both Afghanistan and Iraq. … each drone crash necessitates elaborate — and dangerous — salvage operations.” [Should spy drones be used against the oil spill?]
  • 30 Years Later, Taliban Still Have Stingers During the anti-Soviet Afghan War of the 1980s, the U.S. helped the Afghan insurgents secure stinger missiles. After the Soviet military withdrew and during the civil war of the 1990s, which is when the Taliban first emerged, the U.S. attempted to recover all of the missiles. But the New York Times reports, “The Taliban have used portable heat-seeking missiles against allied aircraft, a fact that has not been publicly disclosed by the military. This type of weapon helped the Afghan mujahedeen defeat the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.” [Why Pakistan blocked Facebook and Youtube.]
  • U.S. and Afghan Officials Covering Up Civilian Deaths The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder finds “at least 144 separate incidents” of civilian casualties “and subsequent cover-ups.” He writes, “The failed special forces attempt to kill Abu Layth Ali Libi, which resulted in the deaths of civilians, suggests the willingness of some provisional governors to collude with the official storyline. … There is a reference to a CIA paramilitary operative shooting at 30 yards a blind woman, something that was duly reported back to headquarters.”

Is this a “big deal?”

For much of the press, that’s the question. The Obama administration triangulated desperately, on the one hand downplaying that this is nothing new, while arguing that the leaks are dangerous. They also dismissed them by  arguing that this mostly covers events leading up to 2009, before Obama changed the strategy, and that these events were part of his thinking in changing the strategy. So I guess that makes this information a pretty big deal, right?

For an example of the “I knew all of this already, big whoop” argument from Slate.com, click here.

There are however some strong arguments that this is in fact, a big deal:

  • The White House is obviously worried about this, despite their claim that this information is nothing new. For instance, they went so far as to push for a quick vote on the war supplemental in order to minimize the impact of the leaks on the outcome.
  • No roundup would be complete without Jon Stewart’s take: “I’m not responding to the ‘newness’ of the reports – I’m responding to the ‘fucked-upedness’ of it!” Watch the video here.
  • Glenn Greenwald writes, “the broad strokes were already well-known, but the sheer magnitude of the disclosures may force more public attention on these matters than had occurred previously.”

One of the Times’s prime concerns was whether the files caught this or the previous Administration, or the American military, in any outright lies. While it did find “misleading statements” on matters such as the Taliban’s use of heat-seeking missiles, and much that had been “hidden from the public eye,” the Times decided that

“Over all, the documents do not contradict official accounts of the war.”

One should pause there. What does it mean to tell the truth about a war? Is it a lie, technically speaking, for the Administration to say that it has faith in Hamid Karzai’s government and regards him as a legitimate leader—or is it just absurd? Is it a lie to say that we have a plan for Afghanistan that makes any sense at all? If you put it that way, each of the WikiLeaks documents—from an account of an armed showdown between the Afghan police and the Afghan Army, to a few lines about a local interdiction official taking seventy-five-dollar bribes, to a sad exchange about an aid scam involving orphans—is a pixel in a picture that does, indeed, contradict official accounts of the war, and rather drastically so.

  • Mother Jones weighs in: “Know-it-all cynics can be dismissive and claim, Well, it isn’t big news to me that the war is not going as well as depicted by the Obama administration (and, prior to that, the Bush administration). Yet when 92,000 military reports emerge supporting this point, it ought to be significant—even for the jaded.”

Wikileaks impact on journalism

There is one key difference between Wikileaks and the outlets it partnered with for the release. For instance, the New York Times is an American publication, and on some level, answerable to US interests. Because Wikileaks is, as some say, the first truly “stateless” news agency, they have no national-interest, and would be far less concerned about giving away tactical advantage. Here is an excellent analysis on this piece: “In media history up to now, the press is free to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the laws of a given nation protect it. But Wikileaks is able to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the logic of the Internet permits it. This is new.”

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on July 29th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

There's a new video out from filmaker Sean Smith, courtesy of Guardian Films. They describe it thusly:

As the war in Afghanistan enters its final chapter, Sean Smith's brutal, uncompromising film from the Helmand frontline shows the horrific chaos of a stalemate that is taking its toll in blood.

Today, Joe Biden:

"We are in Afghanistan for one express purpose … the al Qaeda that exists in those mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan," he said in an interview with NBC's "Today" show.

"We are not there to nation-build. We are not out there deciding we are going to turn this into a Jeffersonian democracy and build that country. We made it clear, we are not there for 10 years," he said.

So if we're not nation building what the hell should we call it, Joe? There are over 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. We're paying for the Afghan army and police. We're meddling in corrupt Afghan politics. Oh, and we're wasting countless billions of dollars on "aid" projects which are neither what the Afghans themselves asked for nor all that effective! Maybe we should just call it what it is – colonialism.

And this colonialism is to continue for at least another five years, even if it won't be ten. For what, Joe? Al Qaeda are in a different bloody country, one we're making kissy-face with while it's intelligence agency arranges the deaths of our soldiers!

This movie shows the truth of the Endgame in Afghanistan – several more years of insanity, at a cost of lives and dollars, so that the Obama administration and its allies can save some face and prop up a client state which probably doesn't deserve propping up. Watch it.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on July 29th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

OK, so on a trip to the region he waited until he was safely out of Pakistan and in New Delhi – but at least he said it.

Cameron came close to endorsing Delhi's view when he said: "We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and is able to promote the export of terror, whether to India or Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world.

"That is why this relationship is important. But it should be a relationship based on a very clear message: that it is not right to have any relationship with groups that are promoting terror. Democratic states that want to be part of the developed world cannot do that. The message to Pakistan from the US and from the UK is very clear on that point."

Pakistan took the rare step of issuing a rebuttal. Abdul Basit, a spokesman for the Pakistani foreign ministry, told Radio 4's World at One: "There is no question of Pakistan looking the other way. I think the prime minister was referring to these reports, which are unverifiable and outdated. If we start drawing inferences from these self-serving reports, then obviously we are distracting ourselves."

…Asked on the Today programme whether Pakistan exports terrorism, Cameron said: "I choose my words very carefully. It is unacceptable for anything to happen within Pakistan that is about supporting terrorism elsewhere. It is well-documented that that has been the case in the past, and we have to make sure that the Pakistan authorities are not looking two ways. They must only look one way, and that is to a democratic and stable Pakistan."

Pakistan is pissed that Cameron was so forthright at all. A Pakistani foreign office spokesman hit back with this gem:

"terrorists have no religion, no humanity, no specific ethnicity or geography"

Which only makes it look more like denial is the river that flows through Islamabad.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on July 28th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

Commentary By Ron Beasley

This is about right-

Most presidents start wondering—or, more often, worrying—about their “legacy” well into their first term. Or, if they have a second term,
they worry even more feverishly about what posterity will think of
them. Obama need not wonder about his legacy, even this early. It is
already fixed, and in one word: Afghanistan. He took on what he made
America’s longest war and what may turn out to be its most disastrous one.

Think LBJ – for all the good he accomplished Lyndon Johnson legacy remains Vietnam.

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Posted by Peace Action West on July 28th, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

We just got word that the House has begun debate on the bill to send $34 billion more to fuel the war in Afghanistan. And it’s coming just after Wikileaks revealed the horrors of war via leaked documents this Sunday.

I’m keeping this brief because time is very short. Wikileaks is proving how wrong this war is, and the White House, fearing the leaks put its war agenda at risk, has pushed Congress for a quick vote on the funding. They know that the more representatives that vote “no” on the funding, the stronger the message we can send to President Obama.

Please call your member of Congress at 1-888-493-5443 in the next 2 hours to tell them to vote NO on $34 Billion more for war and occupation in Afghanistan. Then click here to tell us how your call went.

Thanks so much for helping us act quickly when it counts most.

UPDATE: The funding passed. I’m hearing the vote was 308 voted for the funds and 114 voted against, with 12 Repubs voted against. This is a huge increase in “no” votes since last year, when just 60 reps voted against the funding. Looks like the White House has reason to be worried. THANK YOU so much to everyone who made calls today — your involvement is what makes this kind of progress possible.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on July 27th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

I've been mildly astounded by how fast pro-war pundits have climbed aboard the "nothing new to see here, move along" bandwagon when discussing the Wikileaks document dump on Afghanistan. Like rats climbing aboard a sinking ship. Meanwhile, the rest of world is finding the leak as a new reason to focus on that quagmire.

Josh Mull:

Sure, war supporters gave it the old college try. The White House and other political leadership stressed that the leaks contained no new information, incidentally clearing up once and for all the confusion we had over whether they were ignorant or merely incompetent and negligent prosecutors of US foreign policy. Some even tried to deflect the argument on to Wikileaks operator Julian Assange, as if the leak coming from him – or Paris Hilton or Spider-Man – has anything to do with the information it contained.

But their arguments are for naught, the war is now simply indefensible. The facts are on our side, and these leaks do nothing else if not confirm and validate the criticism so far levied against the war in Afghanistan. The effect is to make the IPS headline, "Leaked Reports Make Afghan War Policy More Vulnerable," seem something like the understatement of the century. Gareth Porter writes:

Among the themes that are documented, sometimes dramatically but often through bland military reports, are the seemingly casual killing of civilians away from combat situations, night raids by special forces that are often based on bad intelligence, the absence of legal constraints on the abuses of Afghan police, and the deeply rooted character of corruption among Afghan officials.

The most politically salient issue highlighted by the new documents, however, is Pakistan’s political and material support for the Taliban insurgency, despite its ostensible support for U.S. policy in Afghanistan.

You could pick just one of those things Porter mentions and it could spell catastrophe for the war. Instead we have all of it. It does more than make the war policy more vulnerable, it puts any war supporting politician in Washington in serious electoral peril.

McClatchy's featured cartoon today explains why 102 House Democrats voted against the latest war supplemental:

07272010Siers_slideshow_main_prod_affiliate_91 Click for larger image.

Kevin Siers / The Charlotte Observer (July 27, 2010)

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