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Archive for July, 2010

Posted by DownWithTyranny on July 27th, 2010

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

So today’s the day we get a straight up-or-down vote on continuing the brutal, dysfunctional occupation of Afghanistan and the disastrous, pointless war there. The Senate stripped away the sweeteners– keeping the economy afloat– that gave reluctant Democrats cover to go along with it– and gave some Republicans cover to oppose it! The money the Senate removed for state governments to pay teachers and the money that would have gone to small family farms, many of them impoverished black farmers will make it all the harder to round up enough non-Blue Dogs to help Republicans pass this Frankenstein’s monster of a war funding bill. As we pointed out Sunday, the giant wikileak is making it harder for Obama to put enough lipstick on this pig for most Democrats to want to bed down with.

It comes up today on the suspension calendar, which means it needs a two-thirds majority to pass. That’s not going to happen. There’s no way the House leadership is going to round up 130 Democrats to declare openly that they are nothing but corrupt, filthy shills for the Military Industrial Complex. As David Swanson from, “here’s where the hypocrisy hits the highway. On July 1st, 162 congress members voted to require a withdrawal plan and end date for the occupation of Afghanistan, and 100 voted to fund only withdrawal, no continuation of war, while 25 voted to simply stop dumping any money into this war. Now all of them must vote yes or no, probably on Tuesday, on whether to fund a major escalation of the war in Afghanistan. You won’t hear anyone mention it, but this $33 billion is to add 30,000 troops plus contractors to the war.”

Most of the debate this morning consisted of Republicans and sold-out conservative Democrats angry at the world babbling about not spending any money on anything but wars– just the worst kinds of crap representatives a democracy can vomit out– from Buck McKeon (R-CA), Jerry Lewis (R-CA) and Harold Rogers (R-KY) to Norm Dicks (D-WA) and Ike Skelton (D-MO). A couple of breaths of fresh air came from Jim McGovern (D-MA) who flat out called the war “a disaster,” something most of these imbeciles refuse to admit, even the ones who know it. He pointed out that we’re allowing our soldiers to die while borrowing money, putting the country in hock to prop up a corrupt, barely legitimate government in Kabul. He railed against presidents getting blank checks from Congress. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH):

Wake Up America. WikiLeaks’ release of secret war documents gave us 92,000 reasons to end the wars. Pick one. Wake Up America. Main Street is falling apart. Businesses have closed. Bankruptcies abound. People are losing their jobs, losing their homes, losing their retirement security. The middle class is falling apart. Workers’ rights are not being protected. The government is out of money. There is not even money for childhood nutrition. “Wake up America. There is unlimited money for war. Money for a corrupt government in Afghanistan. When U.S. money is not going to the Karzai mob’s personal use, it goes to help the Taliban kill our troops. There is money for a corrupt government in Pakistan which helps the Taliban in Afghanistan kill our troops. Meanwhile, our troops are committing suicide in record numbers. Wake Up America. How can we solve the world’s problems if we can’t solve our own problems here at home?

Barbara Lee, who was the only member of Congress to oppose attacking Afghanistan in the first place, followed Kucinich. She spoke about ending the war by defunding it and reiterated what every Democrat should be saying– that no money should be spent on anything to with Afghanistan other than bringing our troops home safely. The chair then asked for a voice vote and claimed it passed with two-thirds, at which time Dave Obey called their bullshit and demanded a recorded vote. The leadership postponed that to see if they could actually find enough Democrats do vote with GOP warmongers.

At that point, staunch anti-war progressives Raul Grijalva, Barbara Lee Dennis Kucinich, Alan Grayson and others released this statement:

Once again, war is being paid for with a credit card while investments in our children’s future are tossed aside. These investments– $10 billion for teacher jobs, $1 billion for summer youth employment, $5 billion for Pell grants, $701 million for border security– were cut from the war funding bill coming to the House floor despite being fully paid for and not adding to the budget deficit. They have been jettisoned in favor of further borrowed war spending. Today’s bill doesn’t include anything to maintain first responder, police or firefighter positions despite the dramatic need for those jobs in every community in America. We believe this is fiscal insanity and a moral tragedy.

Consider the following: Despite widespread shortfalls in education funding around the country, the $10 billion that would have saved 140,000 teacher jobs across the nation– all of it offset– has been cut. The $37.12 billion in war funding, on the other hand, is not paid for. Every single penny adds directly to the national debt. This is not good for national security. This is continuing a failed policy at the exact wrong time.

The bill before the House denies our children the right to an education and takes away their future earning power. It also adds to the economic burden they will eventually have to bear. This is a moral outrage. We find it unacceptable that this Congress places a greater priority on foreign wars than urgent domestic needs. We have compounded our moral short-sightedness with utter fiscal irresponsibility.

After the dramatic revelations of this week, it is clearer than ever just how daunting a task our troops face in Afghanistan. We are trying to build a modern, democratic state in an area divided by tribal and ethnic identities that has successfully resisted foreign powers for centuries. We are fighting for one side in a civil war, killing civilians, building resentment toward the United States, and making it nearly impossible to gain the popular support that could make success possible.

As multiple reports have shown, pervasive corruption in Iraq and Afghanistan siphons resources so that even worthwhile projects are doomed to fail. This is not how we want to spend borrowed money. Our people at home are facing a difficult job market, lower funding for education, and a shattered Gulf economy that needs significant attention. We need to prioritize and make the right choices, not continue as before out of inertia or a lack of urgency. We urge the president to consider how this spending really improves the lives of Americans and how it can be spent in more productive ways.

So how could any Democrat vote to continue funding this mess?

Chellie Pingree (D-ME), who signed on to the letter above (as did Jared Polis, John Conyers, Donna Edwards and several other progressives), was on Hardball last night talking about the wikileaks and the pointless war in Afghanistan with Tweety. She did a great job:

UPDATE: What You Expected

Jim Holbert is a progressive Democrat running for Congress in Kentucky’s 5th congressional district. Unfortunately his opponent longtime warmonger Hal Rogers got to vote today instead. And Rogers voted for more war, more billions of much needed taxpayer dollars down the Central Asian sewer. Holbert’s comment: “De-fund it, bring the troops home, and there’s the end of it. This is going to happen sooner or later, the only questions are how many more lives will be lost and how much more debt we’ll run up.” Rogers voted against Kucinich’s War Powers resolution in regard to Pakistan– so did almost everyone else. It failed 38-372, 6 Republicans and 32 Democrats voting YES, with 4 abstentions. And then the supplemental a few minutes later. 102 Democrats and 12 Republicans voted against it. So it passed– more unjustifiable war in our names– 308-114. Let me take a quick look and see if any good Democrats voted for it. Hold on a sec… Yep, joining the Borens, Boyds, Barrows, Beans, Brights, Harmen and Shulers, we find a scattering of progressives, whose names we should keep in mind when they ask for campaign contributions: Bruce Braley (IA), Susan Davis (CA), Diana DeGette (CO), Martin Heinrich (NM), Tom Perriello (VA), Lucille Royball-Allard (CA), Chris Van Hollen (MD)… ugghhhh, too many to name. All the real good guys voted no though, people like Donna Edwards, Tammy Baldwin, Carol Shea-Porter, Jared Polis, Lloyd Doggett, Steve Filner… you know.

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Posted by The Agonist on July 27th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Anne Gearan | Washington | July 27

AP – A Pentagon spokesman says the Army is leading the Pentagon’s inquiry into the source of leaked classified intelligence logs from the Afghanistan war.

Col. Dave Lapan (luh-PAN’) says the criminal probe launched Tuesday is aimed at finding the source of secret documents published Sunday by the online site WikiLeaks.

The Army’s criminal investigative division led the investigation into Bradley Manning, an Army intelligence specialist charged with leaking other material to WikiLeaks.

Lapan says it’s not clear whether the latest material came from Manning or someone else. The Army will have the power to investigate members of other military branches.

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on July 27th, 2010

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote this afternoon on the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This morning, the Senate version of the Afghanistan war supplemental was brought up under "suspension" rules, which require a 2/3 majority to pass. This expedited procedure is generally used for measures considered "uncontroversial," which is odd, to say the least, since the war in Afghanistan is anything but uncontroversial, with the most recent evidence being the release by Wikileaks of secret documents on the war, which the New York Times reported "offers an unvarnished, ground-level picture of the war in Afghanistan that is in many respects more grim than the official portrayal."

House Appropriations Chair David Obey, who will vote no on the war supplemental, asked for a roll call, which is expected this afternoon, some time after 2pm Eastern.

On July 1, 162 Members of the House voted for the McGovern-Obey-Jones amendment that would have required President Obama to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, the position of 54% of Americans, according to a recent CBS poll. The measure being voted on this afternoon contains no provision concerning a timetable for withdrawal. Nor does it include the money to prevent the layoffs of teachers that the House attached to the war supplemental on July 1.

If 90% of the Members who voted for the McGovern-Obey-Jones amendment on July 1 vote no this afternoon on the war supplemental, the measure will fail.

read more

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Posted by Josh Mull on July 27th, 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.

Sign the Petition – “I vote and I demand my elected officials end this war”

By now, the full implications of the data contained in the 91,000 Wikileaks files are starting to sink in. Americans have been questioning the war for some time now, and they’re finally putting their foot down and demanding an end. Thousands of calls are pouring in to Congress from around the country, all demanding a NO vote on today’s war funding vote, and thousands more are signing our petition declaring “the Wikileaks ‘War Logs’ are further evidence of a brutal war that’s not worth the cost. I vote, and I demand my elected officials end this war by Dec. 2011.”

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. We should take this opportunity, then, to understand what exactly is happening with the anti-war movement.

If left to their own devices, the mainstream media will craft their own stupid and obnoxious narratives about “lefty insurgencies” or “anti-incumbent fever,” and this will poison the eventual policy outcome. If we understand the facts now, and see this as not only a US political dilemma, but as part of a global anti-war movement now finally winding up at President Obama’s doorstep, then we can begin to accelerate our withdrawal more responsibly than the standard media narratives might allow (Get out now! No, stay forever!).

It is not simply a reaction to a failed policy, it is an articulation of an independent vision of selfish foreign and domestic policy interests. Americans, our NATO allies, and even our progressive allies in Pakistan are all working to end the war. It is not for ideology or partisan gain, it is purely in their own selfish interest, in our interest, to end the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan. (more…)

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Posted by The Agonist on July 27th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

I’m not saying I agree with any, or all of it. Still, it’s useful to have the point of view from the Centrists.

From tonight’s Nelson Report on the ‘War Logs’:

The big leak over the weekend of some 9,000 classified US documents on the Afghanistan/Pakistan war situation has many folks thinking “another Pentagon Papers”…the iconic, policy-changing trauma inflicted on the Nixon Administration by Daniel Ellsburg during the Vietnam War.

A quick appraisal of the “Wikileak” leads us to say it’s not another Pentagon Papers for several reasons, most critically that (unlike Johnson/Nixon) the documents don’t show a pattern of deliberate, systematic lies and policy failures being swept under the rug by either the intelligence community or the Administration.

Yet they may have the same effect, as its hard to see how the current leak can do anything but further undermine US public support. In the aggregate, the documents confirm the military’s own concerns about why COIN isn’t working in an often impassable country still practicing Iron Age politics.

(We were here, back in 1970, and in the middle of the Congressional battle to protect Ellsburg, the Times and the Post, as a staffer for a Republican member of the Foreign Relations Committee.)

Discussion, below..and a long selection from today’s White House briefing which details Obama’s reaction to the substantive questions.

WIKILEAK…back in 1970, we were press secretary to Rep. Ogden Reid (R-NY) a ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, former US Amb. to Israel, and son of the owner of the then-still important New York Herald Tribune.

As a critic of the Vietnam War and a former newspaper man, “Brownie” was deeply involved in trying to protect the “leaker”, Daniel Ellsburg, and the two papers brave enough to take the lead in defying Nixon’s Justice Department and publish the story, the New York Times and The Washington Post.

So we had a front-row box seat to not just the Congressional deliberations, but also how the Pentagon Papers influenced the public debate.

Why do we say “brave enough” in what clearly was a very grave disclosure of the most sensitive national secrets? Because whatever you may think of Ellsburg’s motives, or the effect of the publication on the outcome of Vietnam, the papers gave the American people and the world a detailed look at the real situation in Vietnam…for the first time.

It showed us all that nearly every claim made by the Johnson and Nixon Administrations about the situation and the projected outcome was not simply not true…in too many cases it was a lie, and known to be such.

Facile comparisons to withholding “bad news” during WW2 while ultimate victory remained a feasible goal didn’t hold water then, and certainly don’t now.

The real picture was both heartbreaking and infuriating…enraging…as it detailed through DOD, CIA and other internal analyses that the war was being lost, and it showed the conclusion long before reached by Johnson Secretary of Defense MacNamara that the war could not be won by any definition acceptable to the US and the international community.

Yet the war at that point continued under Nixon/Kissinger at a frantic pace, with horrific Vietnamese, Laotion and Cambodian casualties in the hundreds of thousands, and a US death toll then still on the order of 100 a week…can you imagine that today?

It’s important to stress that the “Wikileak Papers” do not paint a picture of lies and wilful deception within the US military or civilian establishment under either Bush or Obama…that seems the immediate “verdict” of observers who did quick surveys in the past couple of days.

We’ve all known of the difficulties in Afghanistan/Pakistan, starting with last year’s “leak” of the Eikenberry memo, or from the implications of the infamous “McChrystal memo”, leaked to try and force Obama to increase US troops and recources, and most recently from the Rolling Stone article which brought down McChrystal, but which was really about the failure on the ground of COIN.

And the Times and other outlets long ago documented how Pakistani military and intel figures have played footsie with the Taliban, and worse.

But it does seem likely that if the summer doldrums don’t distract Congress and the American people, the Wikileak documents will fuel an increasingly pointed public and Congressional debate over Afghanistan and Pakistan….especially about goals and resources being poured into the war vs the outcomes being attained.

Congress utterly failed in those responsibilities during W. Bush’s Iraq War, and came late to Vietnam…so whether “Wikileak” accelerates a useful and objective Capitol Hill reckoning for Afghanistan is the thing to watch this Fall.

Among the difficult, fascinating and potentially destructive issues is how will the apparently “hawkish” Republicans want to play this, if they start to smell blood…Obama’s blood…in an Afghanistan failure?

Democrats have never been enthusiastic about the war, and the Dem’s rank and file voters thought they were voting against it in electing Obama…how we don’t know, given his Campaign.

But now, in the immortal words of RNC chairman Michael Steele, it’s “Obama’s War” and the Wikileak is a look into the details which should help us all assess the strategy and its outcomes.


“PERSPECTIVE”…the White House seems to agree with the thrust of our assessment of the content of the “Wikileak”, and also that the upcoming Congressional debate will prove critical…we pick up today’s Q&A’s in midstream:

Q Does the White House believe that the documents raise doubts about whether Pakistan is a reliable partner in fighting terrorism?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let’s understand a few things about the documents. Based on what we’ve seen, I don’t think that what is being reported hasn’t in many ways been publicly discussed either by you all or by representatives of the U.S. government for quite some time. We have certainly known about safe havens in Pakistan; we have been concerned about civilian casualties for quite some time — and on both of those aspects we’ve taken steps to make improvements.

I think just the last time General Petreaus testified in front of the Senate there was a fairly robust discussion about the historical relationships that have been had between the Taliban and Pakistan’s intelligence services.

Q So no doubts about Pakistan’s trustworthiness or reliability?

MR. GIBBS: No, no, look, I think the President was clear back in March of 2009 that there was no blank check for Pakistan, that Pakistan had to change the way it dealt with us, it had to make progress on safe havens. Look, it’s in the interest of the Pakistanis because we certainly saw last year those extremists that enjoy the safe haven there turning their eye on innocent Pakistanis. That’s why you’ve seen Pakistan make progress in moving against extremists in Swat and in South Waziristan.

But at the same time, even as they make progress, we understand that the status quo is not acceptable and that we have to continue moving this relationship in the right direction.

Q One more quickly on this. What do you think this says about the ability of the government to protect confidential information if a breach like this can occur?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there is no doubt that this is a concerning development in operational security. And as we said earlier, it is — it poses a very real and potential threat to those that are working hard every day to keep us safe.


Q — how can that — but do these documents then suggest that this war is too far gone –


Q — to turn around with one policy change?

MR. GIBBS: No, I don’t in any way suggest the documents suggest that and I haven’t seen anybody to suggest that — except to say this, Ed, we agree that the direction — this administration spent a large part of 2007 and 2008 campaigning to be this administration and saying that the way that the war had been prosecuted, the resources that hadn’t been devoted to it threatened our national security.

Remember, we had a fairly grand debate about whether or not the central front in this war was Iraq or Afghanistan. We weighed in pretty heavily on Afghanistan because for years and years and years, more troops were needed — more troops actually had been requested by the commanding general, but no troops were forthcoming. That’s why the President increased our number of troops, heading into an important election period, and why we took steps through a, again, painstaking and comprehensive review, to come up with a new strategy.

Q But even after that painstaking review, these documents are suggesting that the Pakistani government has representatives of its spy agency essentially meeting representatives of the Taliban, plotting to attack American soldiers and Afghan officials.

MR. GIBBS: Let me just make sure –

Q How can that suggest the war is going well?

MR. GIBBS: No, no — you’re conflating about seven issues into one question. But let’s be clear, Ed. I don’t think — let me finish, let me finish –

Q If Pakistani officials are working with the Taliban, how can the war be going well? That’s one question.

MR. GIBBS: Again, Ed, I’m saying that the war — the direction of our relationship with Pakistan, based on steps that we’ve asked them to take, has improved that relationship — right?

Q Okay, because last week Secretary Clinton said that the U.S. and Pakistan are “partners joined in common cause.”


Q Despite these documents, the U.S. and Pakistan are joined in common cause?

MR. GIBBS: Yes, in fighting, as I just mentioned a few moments ago, in fighting extremists that are within that border. Again, go back to last year, Ed. Remember last year?

Q Sure.

MR. GIBBS: When those extremists decided that they were going to march on the capital in Pakistan? That became a threat to Pakistan. For the first time ever, you saw Pakistan fighting back against violent extremists that had otherwise enjoyed safe havens. When General Jones refers to in his statement the actions that they took in Swat and South Waziristan, that’s exactly what we’re talking about.

The point I’d make on the premise of your question, understand that the documents go through December of 2009. I don’t know if you meant to conflate actions — let’s just say that the documents –

Q Well, have the actions stopped? Do we know for sure that the Pakistani intelligence is no longer working –

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, these documents –

Q — with the Taliban?

MR. GIBBS: I think they’re making progress, and again, I’d refer to you –

Q Making progress but it has not ended even after December 2009?

MR. GIBBS: No, again, I would you point you to the hearing that was conducted just a month ago, less than a month ago, with General Petraeus where this was talked about.

Ed, nobody is here to declare “mission accomplished.” You’ve not heard that phrase uttered or emitted by us as a way of saying that everything is going well. Understand this, that we got involved in this region of the world after September 11th, and then for years and years and years and years, this area was neglected, it was under-resourced, it was underfunded. That’s what led the President to say that what we needed to do was focus on what was going on in Afghanistan. That’s why we’re here.


Q What would you as spokesman for the White House advise the public who may be running through these things and taking them in, in some degree of interest –

MR. GIBBS: Well, look –

Q — what is your overall assessment of how much is true? What’s not true? Mostly true, mostly untrue? How should they weigh this?

MR. GIBBS: I think these are — I think I’m, Major, not going to play that broad a role except to say that I think obviously this is on-the-ground reporting. What is unclear, certainly, if you read through the stories, is whether some of the events that they think might happen happened.

But, again, I think the — I would sum this up the way I summed it up a little bit ago, and that is that what — the concerns that are in these documents — and they’re important concerns; they’re concerns that we’ve certainly dealt with since the time we’ve been here and certainly as it related to Afghanistan and Pakistan, what precipitated the administration from doing a comprehensive review about our policy in both areas. That is — our goal is to get this right. Our goal is to keep America safe and to ensure that — and ensure the safety of those that are conducting these operations.

Q Let me take it from a different point of view. There are some — and this was part of the subtext or one of the subtexts of the Washington Post’s lengthy series last week — that maybe too many things are kept secret. Some might look at these documents and say do these all need to be top secret? Is all this information really that vital, really that sensitive to American national security that these should all be top secret? Do you have any evaluation of that?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think that is — those are made on a document-by-document basis. I’m not an expert in the classification process. Look, obviously if you — I think the President would always lean on the American people knowing as much as they possibly can. Look, I think if you –

Q — not this time.

MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no. Hold on, let’s be clear. Go back to the 12 or so meetings held in the Situation Room. We announced every one. We had readouts from every one. Lord knows, you had readouts beyond the readouts from each and every one. There were photos from each. We didn’t exactly have a cloistered evaluation of our policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That’s not the way we’ve operated.

And, again, I think it’s — let’s be clear, and I want to make sure that I’m clear on this — based on the fact that there’s nothing — there’s no broad new revelations in this, our concern isn’t that people might know that we’re concerned about safe havens in Pakistan, or that we’re concerned, as we are, about civilian casualties. Lord, all you need is a laptop and a mouse to figure that out, or 50 cents or $1.50, depending on which newspaper you buy. I don’t think that is, in a sense, top secret. But what generally governs the classification of these documents are names, operations, personnel, people that are cooperating — all of which if it’s compromised has a compromising effect on our security.

Q And can you explain the precipitating factor for the al-Megrahi letter?

MR. GIBBS: I just have a copy of it. I don’t know — I assume — look, at this point — and this is some conjecture on my part — at this point, this is a fairly public process. I don’t know what exactly lead to this letter. I know the letter speaks quite clearly to our preference, strong preference, as communicated both in this letter and in conversations that we had directly with the government there, that Megrahi should not be released.

Q Robert, take your premise that there is nothing really new in these documents that broadly says something different than what we already knew. There are many examples in Washington where the same thing can be said and that a precipitating event like this causes political shockwaves that change the dynamic.

MR. GIBBS: I think you’re talking about the media culture, aren’t you?

Q Well, perhaps. But we know there’s some interaction there. So I guess the question is — and it sort of goes back to Jonathan’s, which I don’t think you answered, which is are you all doing anything –

MR. GIBBS: No, I answered Jonathan’s question.

Q You answered the first part, but not the second part, which was have you done anything since the documents — since the documents were released this morning to try to assess whether or not these documents provide any ammunition to your critics, any political –

MR. GIBBS: Critics like who?

Q Well, there are critics of the Afghanistan war, increasingly people who are uncomfortable with it even in the Republican Party.

MR. GIBBS: I don’t know if — I don’t know every call that’s been made out of here. What I was trying to do was decouple the fact that we notified Congress that 90,000 documents are about to be put on a website that were, up until the moment that they go live, were classified documents is part of what is generally assumed to be our notification process. Look, I don’t know of — I certainly have not heard of a broad effort relating to what you’re talking about.


Q WikiLeaks one more time. To follow on Michael’s question about the inflection points in public opinion in history, what do you make of the comparisons between these leaks and the Pentagon Papers?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, the Pentagon Papers are different in the sense that you’re talking about policy documents. These are sort of on-the-ground reporting of different events. I don’t see how in any way they’re really comparable, again, given the fact that — go back and look at — again, just in the past month I know we’ve talked about in here, we’ve talked about the concern about civilian casualties. It’s not something that has been — not something that we previously hadn’t touched on that all of a sudden burst out into the public arena. Certainly, as I said earlier, the historic relationships that have been had between the Taliban and the Pakistani intelligence services — the headline in The New York Times story says — basically attributes the headline of that connection to U.S. aid.

So, again, it’s not — I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of those concerns. They are serious. That’s why we’ve taken steps to try to improve that relationship, for the Pakistanis to take certain steps, so that we can build in Pakistan and in Afghanistan a situation that improves our security.

Q You probably could have said a lot of those things about the Pentagon Papers, too, a lot of those same concerns were raised before. I guess my question is about the public opinion climate –

MR. GIBBS: What I’m trying to — what I’m trying to –

Q — does it change it?

MR. GIBBS: I don’t think the material that’s in the Pentagon — again, the Pentagon Papers is a fairly exhaustive policy review by the Pentagon. I think as Major said earlier, these are a series of one-off documents about an operation here or an instance there, or a — they’re not a broad sort of — this isn’t a broad review of aspects of civilian — progress that we have or haven’t made on civilian casualties. It’s just on-the-ground reporting on that. I think that’s –

Q But don’t they kind of paint sort of a portrait, Robert? I mean it’s — the aggregation of these documents — don’t they sort of collectively paint a portrait?

MR. GIBBS: But again, Glenn, you don’t — because there’s only a certain time period and you don’t know what was and what wasn’t either leaked or posted, I think to say that you know everything is probably not the case.


Q Would you compare it to Abu Ghraib or at least the repercussions from the impact –

MR. GIBBS: I’m always — I will say this. I’m always loath to look back and compare one event to something else when I just don’t always — I think we have a tendency to always want to compare it to something else rather than simply reporting out what — but, again, Ann, I want to stress again that the notion that — again, if you wrote down all of what our concerns in our relationship with Pakistan, if you wrote down what they were about our relationship and the challenges that we face in Afghanistan, I do not know that you would list one thing differently today as a result of what we’ve read in these documents that you wouldn’t have already listed a week ago.

I just don’t — and I think that’s partly your answer to that, Mark, that you don’t have some revelation that there’s a systematic change of the course of events, that we have stepped up operations at a certain part in the war in Southeast Asia, that we’ve escalated — that’s just not — that’s not what these documents are.

Q Let me follow on WikiLeaks — let me just follow on WikiLeaks for a second. Even if there is nothing substantially new in these documents — you’re in the communications business — are you concerned that the public and, therefore, perhaps members of Congress will think that there’s something new here, and that perception will drive reality and it will have an impact on your policy?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think inherently the last phrase of your question that you didn’t necessarily enumerate was about the politics of all this. The President made a decision to put almost 50,000 more troops in Afghanistan not based on the politics but based on what was right; based on what he believed was — gave us the best chance at succeeding in Afghanistan, and in making the decisions that gave us the best opportunity to improve our relationship with Pakistan and create, as Ed pointed out, a partnership to go after those in Pakistan that sought to do Pakistanis harm or those in Pakistan and Afghanistan that sought to do Americans harm. That’s the filter by which the President went through the meetings. That’s the filter by which the President made that decision.

The politics of all of this stuff will settle out regardless. The question the President asked himself and the question that the team asked themselves in making this decision is, what’s the right policy for this country? What’s the right policy that keeps us safe, and what’s the right policy that prevents safe havens from being recreated in Afghanistan, where planning can happen again, unfettered, to attack this country, as happened on September 11th? That’s what we’re focused on.

Q May I follow on that, please? Is it unanimous among all the administration that this is the right policy, that it is keeping America safer? And what is the U.S. policy towards the Taliban right now? Are there U.S. troops protecting the Taliban’s crops?

MR. GIBBS: I would point you to DOD on that. I would say this, that there was a very, very large, very, very extensive, with multiple inputs, review of where we were and what we needed to do going forward. We’re in the process of implementing going — we’re in the process of implementing that new strategy, evaluating that new strategy and moving forward.

Q But is America really safer?

MR. GIBBS: I believe America is safer, because if we were not to be in this area, if we were to — if the Taliban were to come and overthrow a government and create a safe haven that allowed al Qaeda and its extremist allies to not have to plot in a cave but sit in the open and plot the next September 11th, our country would be much, much more dangerous, a much greater target. And I think that’s why the President has made the decisions that he’s made.


Q Well, the message that this — that most of this information predates the President’s new strategy doesn’t seem to have gotten through to people like Senator Kerry, who said today that this information raises serious questions. Are you all trying to tamp that down and make sure that there’s a real –

MR. GIBBS: No, no, let me first be clear about — I think it would be hard to identify anybody that has done as much as Senator Kerry has. He was obviously intimately involved in, met several times with President Karzai around the election and the aftermath on that. He has been — he’s traveled to both countries and I think has been an important leader in ensuring that our policy is the right one.

Q Well, then he should know more than anybody that these aren’t new concerns, but he’s still saying it raises serious questions.

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, it — again, I’m not minimizing that this information is out there. What I’m simply saying, Sam, is I think if you asked this of Senator Kerry, I think if you asked this of most on Capitol Hill — and this doesn’t have to do with whether this stuff predates it. I will say that, again, our concern about the direction of the war, the funding and the resources that were being given to it — and, look, that is your strategy. If you’re not going to fund your strategy or if you’re going — if your strategy is going to be predicated on 25,000 troops rather than 100,000 troops, that limits your ability to impact that strategy.

But, look, I think Senator Kerry has been a leading voice on this and I think our responsibility and his responsibility as the leader of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is to do all that we can to get this right.

Sam, we have weekly — the President hears weekly from commanders on the ground in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and we have monthly meetings — as I said, that will happen just this Thursday in the Situation Room — to evaluate where we are and to make adjustments. Nobody is writing — nobody wrote anything in stone and is then just hoping that it all happens. We will continually evaluate where we are, what needs to happen, how do we build Afghan capacity, how do we train up the Afghan national police and the Afghan national army as part of a comprehensive national security force that gives us the ability, once areas are cleared, to be able to transfer, again, both from a governance and a military perspective. I think all of that is important, and all of that will be continually evaluated.


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Posted by on July 26th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

One of the main stories out of the Wikileaks War Logs is the apparent complicity of Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency in funding, supplying and directing extremist groups fighting US and Coalition troops in Afghanistan. Leslie Gelb of CFR writes:

To put the issue somewhat melodramatically: The United States is giving “moderate” Pakistanis and the Pakistani military billions of dollars yearly in military and economic aid, which allows  Pakistani military intelligence to “secretly” help the Taliban kill Americans in Afghanistan, which will drive America out of Afghanistan and undermine U.S. help for Pakistan.

And, faced with such a stark conclusion, the White House has been forced to respond.

The Obama administration, which gives $1bn a year in military aid to Pakistan, did not challenge the veracity of the files, but said that while Islamabad was making progress against extremism, "the status quo is not acceptable".

"The safe havens for violent extremist groups within Pakistan continue to pose an intolerable threat to the United States, to Afghanistan, and to the Pakistani people," a spokesman said in response to questions about the ISI files.

He urged Pakistan's military and intelligence services to "continue their strategic shift against violent extremists groups within their borders, and stay on the offensive against them".

But as that response shows, the official line in the West is that there has never been a "smoking gun" pointing to deliberate, high-level direction of the ISI's actions in Afghanistan. Over the years, those actions have usually been described as "alleged" and ascribed to "rogue elements" or to "ex-ISI" officers. That's certainly the U.S. official line and has been since Bush invaded Afghanistan, but as one retired US officer told The Guardian, "People wouldn't be making up these stories if there wasn't something to it. There's always a nugget of truth to every conspiracy theory."

Although Pakistan's involvement in the early establishment and build-up to power of the Taliban and other extreists has been well documented, 9/11 and Richard Armstrong's threat to Musharraf that the US would "bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age" if it didn't play ball were meant to have been a game changer. But if there's never been a smoking gun that the U.S. would accept as one, there's certainly been enough smoke over the years since to indicate an entire forest fire. Just a brief look through Newshoggers' Pakistan archives produces the following:

In 2002, the leader of the Balawaristan National Front in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir alleged that the ISI was using Kashmir criminal syndicates to smuggle drugs to America and Europe as well as working closely with the Jamaat-e-Islami to recruit youths for training at terrorist training camps in Gilgit-Baltistan region and Mansehra district.

During congressional testimony in 2003, Wendy Chamberlin – then Assistant Administrator at the Bureau for Asia and the Near East, USAID and previously Ambassador to Pakistan - admitted that the ISI's involvement in the opium business on the Afghan-Pakistan border was "substantial". But she had to be asked five times before making that admission.

The BBC reported in 2006 that Afghanistan had arrested Sayed Akbar, a Pakistani national, who had confessed to being the ISI's contact with Al Qaeda. "Some evidence and documents have been seized with him proving his destructive activities in Afghanistan," an Afghan spokeman told the press.

– In October 2006, the founder of two terror groups, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaat-ud-Dawa, was freed from house arrest by Pakistani authorities.

– At one point in 2006, Western intelligence had narrowed down Taliban leader Mullah Omar's whereabouts to one section of the Pakistani city of Quetta but Pakistan refused to go look. As far as anyone is aware, he's still there.

–In 2006, the Daily Telegraph reported that "Nato's report on Operation Medusa, an intense battle that lasted from September 4-17 in the Panjwai district, demonstrates the extent of the Taliban's military capability and states clearly that Pakistan's Interservices Intelligence (ISI) is involved in supplying it…Nato captured 160 Taliban, many of them Pakistanis who described in detail the ISI's support to the Taliban."

–At the same time, Jane's Intelligence Digest had this to say:

Shifting its policy of half-heartedly cracking down on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, implemented in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US, Islamabad appears to have made a sombre decision to create the necessary conditions for regaining its strategic depth in Afghanistan by resuming its political and military support for the Taliban.

Ever since the Taliban regime was overthrown in 2001, Afghan officials and coalition commanders have criticised Islamabad for not doing enough to crack down on the Taliban operating from Pakistani territory and have often accused the Pakistani intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), for actively supporting them.

The evidence from NATO's two-week long Operation Medusa in Kandahar province in mid-September, in which hundreds of Taliban were killed, further confirm Pakistan's involvement in the Taliban resurgence. Several independent intelligence estimates from the region also indicate that in recent months the ISI-sponsored training camps and jihadist madrassahs have swelled along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

– Also in 2006, the UK's Independent reported that "Nato forces are following up reports that the Taliban had received vital component parts for shoulder-fired Stinger missiles from Pakistani officials… new battery packs allegedly provided by the Pakistani intelligence service." This report may have new significance now that the Wikileaks dump has revealed that there were at least 10 missile attacks on Coalition aircraft and that the US covered up at least one missile strike on a helicopter in 2007 which killed seven.

– And finally in 2006, bomb attacks in Mumbai were laid at the doors of two extremist groups which India said had clear ties to the ISI. In the U.S., lawmakers and policymakers turned the other way. The ISI would later be accused of complicity in the 2008 attacks in Mumbai too. Importantly for talk of "rogue elements", the current chief of the Pakistani Army, General Kayani, was ISI head at the time of the 2006 attack and his hand-picked choice General Pasha was ISI chief by the time of the 2008 one.

– A 2007 paper by the Carnegie Endowment's Frederic Grare says baldly that "Pakistan’s military is complicit in the worsening security situation in Afghanistan—including the resurgence of the Taliban, terrorism in Kashmir, and the growth of jihadi extremism and capabilities."

– A report in 2007 by Swiss weekly SonntagsBlick said that Taliban defense minister Mullah Obaidullah Akhund was freed by his Pakistani captors two days afterwards. SonntagsBlick wrote. "The world press reported: top-Taliban imprisoned. At the same time he was sitting with a SonntagsBlick reporter having coffee."

– In 2007, the journalist who first uncovered the A.Q. Khan nuclear smuggling network said that the network was still operating, that Pakistan's government was actively protecting Khan himself from scrutiny and that the Pakistani government was making active use of Khan's network.

2007. Rick Barton of the Center for Strategic and International Studies reported that Pakistan had spent billions of US aid dollars, supposed to help defray the costs of Pakistan's war on terror, on buying equipment for a future confrontation with India. That hasn't changed a bit since.

A leaked 2008 Spanish intelligence report said that the ISI helped the Taliban procure IED roadside bombs – the major killer of Coalition forces and Afghan civilians – "and may even have provided training and intelligence to the Taliban in camps set up on Pakistani soil." The report also said that the ISI planned to have the Taliban use the explosives "to assassinate high-ranking officials" in Afghanistan.

– In 2009, the New York Times reported: "The Taliban’s widening campaign in southern Afghanistan is made possible in part by direct support from operatives in Pakistan’s military intelligence agency…The support consists of money, military supplies and strategic planning guidance to Taliban commanders."

– And just this April, the Washington Post reported on yet more catch-and-release of Taliban bigwigs:

U.S. officials now believe that even as Pakistan's security forces worked with their American counterparts to detain Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and other insurgents, the country's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, or ISI, quietly freed at least two senior Afghan Taliban figures it had captured on its own.

U.S. military and intelligence officials said the releases, detected by American spy agencies but not publicly disclosed, are evidence that parts of Pakistan's security establishment continue to support the Afghan Taliban.

I could go on and on with other examples, but this post is getting long enough already. That's an awful amount of smoke.

"So?" I'm sure Pakistan wonks will say. "We all knew all that already". But if so, then as Michael Cohen points out today the Obama administration has consistently followed the Bush administration in being coy (at the very least) about it.

Hmm, for something that everyone seemed to know was true, it's funny how President Obama didn't seem fit to mention it in his public remarks explaining why he was sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. And I'm genuinely curious if any of the various supporters of escalation felt urged to mention at the time that the American people were receiving a rather incomplete picture of the war their country was fighting in Afghanistan – and the role of Pakistan in prosecuting that conflict. 

Just as President Obama inaccurately conflated the Pakistan Taliban and the Afghan Taliban in his West Point speech (the former is a target of the Pakistani military; the latter is protected by it), the White House continues to confuse this point, “The Pakistani government — and Pakistan’s military and intelligence services — must continue their strategic shift against violent extremist groups within their borders,” noted White House spokesman Ben Rhodes.

Which violent extremist group? Praising the Taliban for going after enemies of the Pakistani state doesn't really deal with the larger issue of Pakistani support for the Afghan Taliban, not to mention the continued protection of top al Qaeda leaders. This is not a semantic point; it speaks to the very duplicity practiced daily by the Pakistani government and its military.

Pakistan is not now and never will be a natural ally of the United States. It is already a satellite state of China's, with deep economic and military ties that bind it to its larger neighbour as well as a mutual enemy in India. Pakistan has clearly stated that it wishes "strategic depth" in Afghanistan – which translated means a place to retreat to if a conflict with India starts. An American military presence in Afghanistan would hardly allow that so whatever they say publicly the Pakistani military do not want a long-term American military presence across their Western border. These simple truths means that anything Pakistan may offer the U.S. will be short-lived and probably more about style than substance.

India sees Pakistan as China's close military ally (the two share a lot of stuff, including naval basing rights, exercises, R&D) and China is the big kid on the block – big enough for even the US to be wary of. India sees China as the main long-term threat nowadays but sees Pakistan as an adjunct to that threat and a shorter-term lesser threat in its own right. As long as that is true, India really is the biggest military threat to Pakistan because India believes it needs to be.

The various extremist groups are potential allies and proxies against that threat, especially in Afghanistan. Karzai and other US-picked Afghan leaders were educated or lived in India, every province has an Indian consulate, rumors of the Indian R.A.W. intelligence agency funding the anti-Pakistan government Taliban are just as rife as those of the ISI funding anti-Indian groups and Pakistani generals see ever closer co-operation between the U.S. and India both in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Fears of being strategically encircled by India are seemingly justified. In a very real geopolitical way, the Pakistani generals are right.

Expecting Pakistan to do anything more than play a double game, as it has done since the Bush administration threatened to "bomb it back to the stone age" if it didn't co-operate over basing and supply lines, is expecting too much. It'd be nice if the mainstream of national security journalism hadn't carried quite so much stenographic water for the Pentagon and White House in claiming the opposite over the past near decade.

Josh Mull has the right idea.

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on July 26th, 2010

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

There’s a short version to this post: war is hell and our occupying forces in Afghanistan are causing Afghans to hate us and look for revenge. End the war now. Nick Davies and David Leigh posted an eye-popping, and for Obama, inconvenient, account of what’s been going on in Afghanistan based on a huge cache of once secret military files, 90,000 records of incidents and intelligence reports that have been leaked to the media. It provides, in their words, “a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, Taliban attacks have soared and Nato commanders fear neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are fueling the insurgency… Their publication comes amid mounting concern that Barack Obama’s ’surge’ strategy is failing and as coalition troops hunt for two US navy sailors captured by the Taliban south of Kabul on Friday.” Among the details:

• How a secret “black” unit of special forces hunts down Taliban leaders for “kill or capture” without trial.

• How the US covered up evidence that the Taliban have acquired deadly surface-to-air missiles.

• How the coalition is increasingly using deadly Reaper drones to hunt and kill Taliban targets by remote control from a base in Nevada.

• How the Taliban have caused growing carnage with a massive escalation of its roadside bombing campaign, which has killed more than 2,000 civilians to date.

Most of the information pertains to the Bush years– the logs date from 2004-2009. Bush was president when this happened, for example, but Obama is implicit in covering it up. And the Obama Administration is condemning the leakers, of course. It’s very inconvenient. Especially this week with the another 33 billion dollar war supplemental coming up for a vote in the House.

Remember, the Senate rejected the House’s version– with all the sweeteners to save the American economy the GOP wants to see collapse for their own partisan reasons– and passed a bill just for war. So the ball is back in House Democrats’ court. Will they go along– or, should I say, how many will go along with a weird coalition of war-monger Republicans, Blue Dogs and Obama to keep the war churning along disastrously? Do we have to continue shoveling billions of tax dollars into sewers like Pakistan so they can finance our enemies in Afghanistan? This is really sick. My guess– enough for the bill to pass. Watch Kucinich talking about congressional responsibilities for wars in Pakistan and Afghanistan and how to end those wars.

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Posted by The Agonist on July 26th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Anyone who thinks the publication of the ‘War Logs’ by Wikileaks, NYT, The Guardian and Der Spiegel, is an unalloyed good needs to think again. By and large what was leaked and subsequently posted was a public good. It’s a public good in that we now have a fuller picture of what’s really happening in AfPak and it’s aggregated in one place.

However, there are some very real issues of OpSec. Wikileaks did not redact the names of many people in the reports it published. Why is that problematic? Well, just read this series of tweets by Joshua Foust (someone whom I trust when it comes to all things AfPak):

I hope Engineer Kareem has a safe place to hide in Ghazni, because Wikileaks has put his life in danger.

Or this:

Bakwa Mafia, a local contractor working in Farah, is no longer safe because of Wikileaks.

Or this:

Single data point: John Reynolds cannot travel to Pakistan again, ever, because of Wikileaks.

That’s just a sample of what he found in a short time. It is simply unconscionable that these names were not redacted. There is no excuse for it. I’m appalled, actually. These people are very, very much at risk of death now. (And before someone chimes in with their “who cares, they are the military, after all,” well, what about the Afghan contractor who’s now been exposed working for the US? Or the local Afghan engineer? Dude’s just trying to feed his family. Do you want his blood on his hands so you can feel righteous?) What Wikileaks has done here is not only irresponsible, but immoral.

Look, on balance, I like what Assange is doing, but let’s not fool ourselves in thinking that everything Wikileaks, or Assange does is an unadulterated public good. It’s not. And it’s a shame that we have to rely on a brazen self-promoter like Assange to fill the vacuum the Versailles media has created.

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Posted by alexthurston on July 26th, 2010

This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.

[Note for TomDispatch readers: Don’t miss the review Dan Froomkin, the Huffington Post’s senior Washington correspondent, wrote about my new book, The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s, under the title “The Essential, Undistractable Engelhardt” for his Neiman Watchdog website (cross-posted at the Huffington Post).  Here are a few excerpts: “The mainstream media have always been easily distracted and beguiled... This makes us particularly fortunate to have a few relentless souls like Tom Engelhardt around, using the Internet not to chase the latest chatter but to tenaciously chronicle, explore, and illuminate the unspoken realities that shape our political discourse... Engelhardt, a longtime book editor, is the creator and editor of the website… He is the finder and cultivator of important progressive voices… But at the heart of is Engelhardt's own work and his... thesis that America is a modern empire that has become addicted to the wars that are hastening its decline... His new book is a seamlessly edited collection of his writings... and establishes him as one of the grand chroniclers of the post-9/11 era.”  And keep in mind that if you buy my book, or anything else, after arriving at via a book link at this site, TD gets a small percentage of your purchase at no cost to you.  If you’re an Amazon shopper, get in the habit.  It’s an easy way to support TomDispatch and is greatly appreciated!  Keep an eye out for the next TD post Thursday on our more relaxed summer schedule, a new piece by Andrew Bacevich.  Tom]

The Opposites Game
All the Strangeness of Our American World in One Article

By Tom Engelhardt

Have you ever thought about just how strange this country’s version of normal truly is?  Let me make my point with a single, hardly noticed Washington Post news story that’s been on my mind for a while.  It represents the sort of reporting that, in our world, zips by with next to no reaction, despite the true weirdness buried in it.

The piece by Craig Whitlock appeared on June 19th and was headlined, “U.S. military criticized for purchase of Russian copters for Afghan air corps.”  Maybe that’s strange enough for you right there.  Russian copters?  Of course, we all know, at least vaguely, that by year’s end U.S. spending on its protracted Afghan war and nation-building project will be heading for $350 billion dollars.  And, of course, those dollars do have to go somewhere.

Admittedly, these days in parts of the U.S., state and city governments are having a hard time finding the money just to pay teachers or the police. The Pentagon, on the other hand, hasn’t hesitated to use at least $25-27 billion to “train” and “mentor” the Afghan military and police — and after each round of training failed to produce the expected results, to ask for even more money, and train them again.  That includes the Afghan National Army Air Corps which, in the Soviet era of the 1980s, had nearly 500 aircraft and a raft of trained pilots.  The last of that air force — little used in the Taliban era — was destroyed in the U.S. air assault and invasion of 2001.  As a result, the “Afghan air force” (with about 50 helicopters and transport planes) is now something of a misnomer, since it is, in fact, the U.S. Air Force.

Still, there are a few Afghan pilots, mostly in their forties, trained long ago on Russian Mi-17 transport helicopters, and it’s on a refurbished version of these copters, Whitlock tells us, that the Pentagon has already spent $648 million.  The Mi-17 was specially built for Afghanistan’s difficult flying environment back when various Islamic jihadists, some of whom we’re now fighting under the rubric of “the Taliban,” were allied with us against the Russians.

Here’s the first paragraph of Whitlock’s article: “The U.S. government is snapping up Russian-made helicopters to form the core of Afghanistan’s fledgling air force, a strategy that is drawing flak from members of Congress who want to force the Afghans to fly American choppers instead.”

So, various congressional representatives are upset over the lack of a buy-American plan when it comes to the Afghan air force.  That’s the story Whitlock sets out to tell, because the Pentagon has been planning to purchase dozens more of the Mi-17s over the next decade, and that, it seems, is what’s worth being upset about when perfectly good American arms manufacturers aren’t getting the contracts.

But let’s consider three aspects of Whitlock’s article that no one is likely to spend an extra moment on, even if they do capture the surpassing strangeness of the American way of war in distant lands — and in Washington.

1. The Little Training Program That Couldn’t: There are at present an impressive 450 U.S. personnel in Afghanistan training the Afghan air force.  Unfortunately, there’s a problem.  There may be no “buy American” program for that air force, but there is a “speak American” one.  To be an Afghan air force pilot, you must know English — “the official language of the cockpit,” Whitlock assures us (even if to fly Russian helicopters).  As he points out, however, the trainees, mostly illiterate, take two to five years simply to learn the language.  (Imagine a U.S. Air Force in which, just to take off, every pilot needed to know Dari!)

Thanks to this language barrier, the U.S. can train endlessly and next to nothing is guaranteed to happen. “So far,” reports Whitlock, “only one Afghan pilot has graduated from flight school in the United States, although dozens are in the pipeline. That has forced the air corps to rely on pilots who learned to fly Mi-17s during the days of Soviet and Taliban rule.”  In other words, despite the impressive Soviet performance in the 1980s, the training of the Afghan Air Force has been re-imagined by Americans as a Sisyphean undertaking.

And this offers but a hint of how bizarre U.S. training programs for the Afghan military and police have proven to be. In fact, sometimes it seems as if exactly the same scathing report, detailing the same training problems and setbacks, has been recycled yearly without anyone who mattered finding it particularly odd — or being surprised that the response to each successive piece of bad news is to decide to pour yet more money and trainers into the project.

For example, in 2005, at a time when Washington had already spent $3.3 billion training and mentoring the Afghan army and police, the U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report indicating that “efforts to fully equip the increasing number of [Afghan] combat troops have fallen behind, and efforts to establish sustaining institutions, such as a logistics command, needed to support these troops have not kept pace.”  Worse yet, the report fretted, it might take “up to $7.2 billion to complete [the training project] and about $600 million annually to sustain [it].”

In 2006, according to the New York Times, “a joint report by the Pentagon and the State Department… found that the American-trained police force in Afghanistan is largely incapable of carrying out routine law enforcement work, and that managers of the $1.1 billion training program cannot say how many officers are actually on duty or where thousands of trucks and other equipment issued to police units have gone.”  At best, stated the report, fewer than half of the officially announced number of police were “trained and equipped to carry out their police functions.”

In 2008, by which time $16.5 billion had been spent on Army and police training programs, the GAO chimed in again, indicating that only two of 105 army units were “assessed as being fully capable of conducting their primary mission,” while “no police unit is fully capable.”  In 2009, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction reported that “only 24 of 559 Afghan police units are considered ready to operate without international help.”  Such reports, as well as repeated (and repetitive) news investigations and stories on the subject, invariably are accompanied by a litany of complaints about corruption, indiscipline, illiteracy, drug taking, staggering desertion rates, Taliban infiltration, ghost soldiers, and a host of other problems.  In 2009, however, the solution remained as expectable as the problems: “The report called for more U.S. trainers and more money.”

This June, a U.S. government audit, again from the Special Inspector General, contradicted the latest upbeat American and NATO training assessments, reporting that “the standards used to appraise the Afghan forces since 2005 were woefully inadequate, inflating their abilities.”  The usual litany of training woes followed.  Yet, according to Reuters, President Obama wants another $14.2 billion for the training project “for this year and next.” And just last week, the Wall Street Journal’s Julian Barnes reported that new Afghan war commander General David Petraeus is planning to “retool” U.S. strategy to include “a greater focus on how Afghanistan’s security forces are being trained.”

When it comes to U.S. training programs then, you might conclude that Afghanistan has proved to be Catch-22-ville, the land where time stood still — and so, evidently, has the Washington national security establishment’s collective brain.  For Washington, there seems to be no learning curve in Afghanistan, not when it comes to “training” Afghans anyway.

And here is the oddest thing of all, though no one even bothers to mention it in this context: the Taliban haven’t had tens of billions of dollars in foreign training funds; they haven’t had years of advice from the best U.S. and NATO advisors that money can buy; they haven’t had private contractors like DynCorp teaching them how to fight and police, and strangely enough, they seem to have no problem fighting.  They are not undermanned, infiltrated by followers of Hamid Karzai, or particularly corrupt.  They may be illiterate and may not be fluent in English, but they are ready, in up-to platoon-sized units, to attack heavily fortified U.S. military bases, Afghan prisons, a police headquarters, and the like with hardly a foreign mentor in sight.

Consider it, then, a modern miracle in reverse that the U.S. has proven incapable of training a competent Afghan force in a country where arms are the norm, fighting has for decades seldom stopped, and the locals are known for their war-fighting traditions.  Similarly, it’s abidingly curious that the U.S. has so far failed to train a modest-sized air force, even flying refurbished Italian light transport planes from the 1980s and those Russian helicopters, when the Soviet Union, the last imperial power to try this, proved up to creating an Afghan force able to pilot aircraft ranging from helicopters to fighter planes.

2. Non-Exit strategies: Now, let’s wade a little deeper into the strangeness of what Whitlock reported by taking up the question of when we’re actually planning to leave Afghanistan.  Consider this passage from the Whitlock piece: “U.S. military officials have estimated that the Afghan air force won’t be able to operate independently until 2016, five years after President Obama has said he intends to start withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan. But [U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Michael R.] Boera said that date could slip by at least two years if Congress forces the Afghans to fly U.S. choppers.”

In other words, while Americans argue over what the president’s July 2011 drawdown date really means, and while Afghan President Hamid Karzai suggests that Afghan forces will take over the country’s security duties by 2014, Whitlock’s anonymous “U.S. military officials” are clearly operating on a different clock, on, in fact, Pentagon time, and so are planning for a 2016-2018 target date for that force simply to “operate independently” (which by no means indicates “without U.S. support.”)

If you were of a conspiratorial mind, you might almost think that the Pentagon preferred not to create an effective Afghan air force and instead — as has also been the case in Iraq, a country that once had the world’s sixth largest air force and now, after years of U.S. mentoring, has next to nothing — remain the substitute Afghan air force forever and a day.

3. Who Are the Russians Now?: Okay, let’s move even deeper into American strangeness with a passage that makes up most of the 20th and 21st paragraphs of Whitlock’s 25-paragraph piece:  “In addition,” he reports, “the U.S. Special Operations Command would like to buy a few Mi-17s of its own, so that special forces carrying out clandestine missions could cloak the fact that they are American. ‘We would like to have some to blend in and do things,’ said a senior U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the clandestine program.”

No explanation follows on just how — or where — those Russian helicopters will help “cloak” American Special Operations missions, or what they are to “blend” into, or the “things” they are to do.  There’s no further discussion of the subject at all.

In other words, the special op urge to Russianize its air transport has officially been reported, and a month later, as far as I know, not a single congressional representative has made a fuss over it; no mainstream pundit has written a curious, questioning, or angry editorial questioning its appropriateness; and no reporter has, as yet, followed up.

As just another little factoid of no great import buried deep in an article focused on other matters, undoubtedly no one has given it a thought.  But it’s worth stopping a moment and considering just how odd this tiny bit of news-that-won’t-ever-rise-to-the-level-of-news actually is.  One way to do this is to play the sort of opposites game that never quite works on this still one-way planet of ours.

Just imagine a similar news item coming out of another country.

*Hot off the wires from Tehran: Iranian special forces teams are scouring the planet for old American Chinook helicopters so they can be well “cloaked” in planned future forays into Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province.

*The People’s Daily reports: Chinese special forces operatives are buying relatively late model American helicopters so that… Well, here’s one problem in the opposites game, and a clue to the genuine strangeness of American activities globally: why would the Chinese need to do such a thing (and, in fact, why would we)?  Where might they want to venture militarily without being mistaken for Chinese military personnel?

That might be a little hard to imagine right now, but I guarantee you one thing: had some foreign news source reported such a plan, or had Craig Whitlock somehow uncovered it and included it in a piece — no matter how obscurely nestled — there would have been pandemonium in Washington.  Congress would have held hearings.  Pundits would have opined on the infamy of Iranian or Chinese operatives masking themselves in our choppers.  The company or companies that sold the helicopters would have been investigated.  And you can imagine what Fox News commentators would have had to say.

When we do such things, however, and a country like Pakistan reacts with what’s usually described as “anti-Americanism,” we wonder at the nationalistic hair-trigger they’re on; we comment on their over-emotionalism; we highlight their touchy “sensibilities”; and our reporters and pundits then write empathetically about the difficulties American military and civilian officials have dealing with such edgy natives.

Just the other day, for instance, the Wall Street Journal’s Barnes reported that U.S. Special Operations Forces are expanding their role in the Pakistani tribal borderlands by more regularly “venturing out with Pakistani forces on aid projects, deepening the American role in the effort to defeat Islamist militants in Pakistani territory that has been off limits to U.S. ground troops.”  The Pakistani government has not been eager to have American boots visibly on the ground in these areas, and so Barnes writes: “Because of Pakistan’s sensitivities, the U.S. role has developed slowly.”

Imagine how sensitive they might prove to be if those same forces began to land Russian helicopters in Pakistan as a way to “cloak” their operations and blend in?  Or imagine just what sort of hair-trigger the natives of Montana might be on if Pakistani special operations types were roaming Glacier National Park and landing old American helicopters outside Butte.

Then consider the sensitivities of Pakistanis on learning that the just appointed head of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service turns out to be a man of “impeccable credentials” (so says CIA Director Leon Panetta).  Among those credentials are his stint as the CIA station chief in Pakistan until sometime in 2009, his involvement in the exceedingly unpopular drone war in that country’s tribal borderlands, and the way, as the Director put it a tad vaguely, he “guided complex operations under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable.”

Here’s the truth of the matter, as Whitlock’s piece makes clear: we carry on in the most bizarre ways in far-off lands and think nothing of it.  Historically, it has undoubtedly been the nature of imperial powers to consider every strange thing they do more or less the norm.  For a waning imperial power, however, such an attitude has its own dangers.  If we can’t imagine the surpassing strangeness of our arrangements for making war in lands thousands of miles from the U.S., then we can’t begin to imagine how the world sees us, which means that we’re blind to our own madness. Russian helicopters, that’s nuthin’ by comparison.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s His latest book, The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books), has just been published. You can catch him discussing it on a TomCast video by clicking here.

[Note for readers: On the folly of American training programs for the Afghanistan Army, TomDispatch had an on-the-spot report that still shouldn’t be missed, Ann Jones’s September 20, 2009, piece “Meet the Afghan Army, Is It a Figment of Washington’s Imagination?”]

Copyright 2010 Tom Engelhardt

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Posted by on July 26th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

The Guardian, New York Times and Der Spiegel today simultaneously published reporting based upon the largest leak of Pentagon secret files ever, more than 92,000 documents from the war in Afghanistan made available to them by Wikileaks. Of the three, the Guardian's coverage is far and away the best and most in-depth.

The newspapers admit they kept some secrets too sensitive for publication buried and the details in the document dump seem to be of the kind well known already to wonks who have followed Afghanistan reporting over the years, but the manner and volume of the War Log's release will doubtless crystallize the opinions of many who were only casual readers of news from the West's occupation there. With public opinion against that occupation running at some 60% in the U.S. and over 70% in the UK and Germany, these leaks will put further pressure on Western governments to find an exit sooner rather than later.

Among the stories on which new light has been shed:

Pakistan and to a far lesser extent Iran have been offering funding and other direct aid to Taliban groups for years. Pakistan's ISI is reported to have been behind many Taliban targeting decisions, including on U.S. and coalition troops, despite it being an ostensible ally.

– The U.S. has been using an undisclosed "black" unit of special forces, Task Force 373, to hunt down targets for death or detention without trial. This team has been responsible for the deaths of Afghan policemen and civilians, including children but authorities seem to have been more concerned with keeping its operations secret than curtailing its zeal.

– There have been over 50 incidents of "Green on Green" fire – where Afghan police or soldiers opened fire on their fellow uniformed countrymen, many begun by drug use, corruption or indiscipline.

– There are reports of hundreds of border clashes between Pakistani troops and their Afghan or American opposite numbers – far more than previously reported.

– The 140 reports of incidents involving the shooting and blowing up of civilians by Coalition troops reveal a casual disregard for human life, including "nearly 100 occasions by jumpy troops at checkpoints, near bases or on convoys…'warning shots' often seem to cause death or injury, generally ascribed to ricochets."

The Guardian's editorial says:

"a very different landscape is revealed from the one with which we have become familiar. These war logs – written in the heat of engagement – show a conflict that is brutally messy, confused and immediate. It is in some contrast with the tidied-up and sanitised "public" war, as glimpsed through official communiques as well as the necessarily limited snapshots of embedded reporting.

… However you cut it, this is not an Afghanistan that either the US or Britain is about to hand over gift-wrapped with pink ribbons to a sovereign national government in Kabul. Quite the contrary. After nine years of warfare, the chaos threatens to overwhelm. A war fought ostensibly for the hearts and minds of Afghans cannot be won like this."

But if the war in Afghanistan cannot be won like this then it cannot be won at all. This is the nature of war before it is cleaned up for ISAF press release. As Carl Von Clausewitz wrote:

"The great uncertainty of all data in war is a peculiar difficulty, because all action must, to a certain extent, be planned in a mere twilight, which in addition not infrequently—like the effect of a fog or moonshine—gives to things exaggerated dimensions and unnatural appearance."

It is far better that we've been able to peer into that fog than that we were denied the chance.

The Obama administration's reaction?

In a statement, the White House said the chaotic picture painted by the logs was the result of "under-resourcing" under Obama's predecessor, saying: "It is important to note that the time period reflected in the documents is January 2004 to December 2009."

The White House also criticised the publication of the files by Wikileaks: "We strongly condemn the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organisations, which puts the lives of the US and partner service members at risk and threatens our national security. Wikileaks made no effort to contact the US government about these documents, which may contain information that endanger the lives of Americans, our partners, and local populations who co-operate with us."

This is plain CYA bullshit. Every paper involved said it consulted to prevent disclosure of secrets which could negatively impact the situation on the ground at present and all the coverage of the occupation since December 2009 reinforces that it has remained just as chaotic, just as F.U.B.A.R. Did the White House not notice the trend? The peak in monthly violent incidents so far in 2010 is twice as high as 2008.


Glenn Greenwald tweets.

Will be interesting to see how many Democrats follow WH's lead in condemning WikiLeaks for exposing truth about the war

Yes, it will. Those that do, not to put too fine a point on it, will be sharing moral space with the Bush administration circa 2006.

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