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Archive for August, 2010

Posted by DownWithTyranny on August 20th, 2010

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!


by Ken

Thanks, Tom. Somebody’s gotta get, you know, serious about, you know, stuff. And I’m afraid just now it’s not me. Most of the things I might want to write about today bring me smack up against the epidemic of ignorance, dishonesty, and hatred that has overtaken the country — all shaded from the sun, of course, by an umbrella of plutocratic opportunism.

What is there to say when we have Princess Sarah whining to media folk who transcribe her every blithering utterance, joining Dr. Laura in whining about lost First Amendment rights, as if either of them has a clue what’s in the First Amendment. Or doody-brained Chuckie “Upchuck” Krauthammer blithering about the “moral myopia” of the “liberal intelligentsia” regarding “Ground Zero” — this from a creature who knows as much about morality as he does about fact-based reality, which is to say nothing at all. This is a man who debases the notion of human decency every times he slithers into print.

Of course the point is that for slithery creatures like this, Ground Zero isn’t an issue, and neither is the First Amendment, it’s just a peg to hang more lies on, aimed at further hornswoggling the sad people out there who don’t know there being fed nothing but lies, delusions, and general vileness.

I thought Noah made this point splendidly in his post yesterday, “The Real Rainmen” (and Howie did again in his post earlier today, “Roy Blunt Would Like To Change The Subject From Economics to Mosques“). I’ve written about the Islamic cultural-center issue a couple of times, but realized most of the important stuff was left unsaid, because that’s not what this “issue” is about.

I’d just like to call attention to this mammoth paragraph from Noah’s post, boldface emphasis added:

Republicans seem to have an almost idiot savant talent for focusing obsessively on certain specific minutia to the exclusion of any other pertinent information that might provide a more complete picture or a clear view of reality. That’s easy to do when you are fighting mightily to see the world only as you want to see it. It’s the key to how they do their messaging so well. If something just doesn’t fit the world as they want it to be, they toss it and throw a fit just like a petulant child would when confronted by a parent or sibling doing something that didn’t fit the child’s plan for the day. This is more than just childish behavior, though, because it is perpetrated by adults who have learned just enough to be able to manipulate those who don’t have the time, inclination, or experience to gain or process enough information that would give them a bigger picture. If you want to see something a certain way, it’s easy as long as you can exclude chunks of reality. You start with a preconceived notion that enables your hate, and you ditch any contradictory evidence. You can even ignore all of the American Muslims that died in the towers as though they didn’t exist or, more likely to Republicans, they didn’t matter. It doesn’t even phase these people that, after 9/11 happened, one of the first things George W. Bush did was urge Americans, even Republican ones, to not blame ALL Muslims for 9/11, reaching out to Imam Rauf for help with communication with the American Islamic community. That’s just an inconvenient truth to be tossed away like so many others. This is not to say that the Bush White House wasn’t guilty of the same thing when they went and leveled Iraq. Remember when the Bush White House used to tell us that they weren’t in the reality-based community; that they would create their reality and tell us what that reality is? Case in point: Iraq is full of WMDs with our names on them. Iraqi mushroom clouds, as Condaliza Rice said. To them, it was “real.” Damn the tons of evidence to the contrary. They were arrogant and delusional enough to actually believe it. How’d that work out?

Sigh.

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Posted by The Agonist on August 20th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

I’ve found in life that when I am wrong the best thing to do is just come right out and admit it.

Here goes: I was wrong. Wikileaks, based on the evidence that the DoD has presented, did its level best to work with the DoD to redact any names that might harm innocent Afghans. The Pentagon not only lied about it, but has even refused to cooperate going forward:

The blood, if there is to be any, is on the Pentagon’s hands. It’s that simple.

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Posted by Josh Mull on August 20th, 2010

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

General Petraeus began his rogue propaganda tour earlier this week, and it’s caused quite a stir among policy wonks about the crisis in civilian-military relations. Bernard Finel and Jason Fritz, in particular, have had a fascinating discussion on the origins of the civ-mil crisis. I admit the crisis is deeply troubling, certainly for a President struggling against a reputation for weakness. But I took a slightly more stubborn line to the renegade Petraeus:

We’ve heard this propaganda from Petraeus before, it’s nothing new. They’ve been shoveling this garbage on us for years. Now the majority of Americans are pushing for an exit, and no matter what any rogue general says, we’re ending the war in Afghanistan.

In other words, bring it on. Well, Petraeus did bring it, and now we have our first public poll conducted (partially) after his campaigning began. As expected, he’s failing.

A majority of Americans see no end in sight in Afghanistan, and nearly six in 10 oppose the nine-year-old war as President Barack Obama sends tens of thousands more troops to the fight, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

With just over 10 weeks before nationwide elections that could define the remainder of Obama’s first term, only 38 percent say they support his expanded war effort in Afghanistan – a drop from 46 percent in March. Just 19 percent expect the situation to improve during the next year, while 29 percent think it will get worse. Some 49 percent think it will remain the same.

Even a heavy media push by Petraeus can’t deter the movement to end the war. When they sell us war, we push back. We’re done listening to this nonsense about “oil spots” or progress or breaking Taliban momentum or whatever it is they’re hocking this week. We’re ending the war, period. (more…)

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on August 20th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Derick Crowe

With General Petraeus’ stop on CBS Evening News with Katie Couric now halfway over, it’s worth taking a moment to unpack the unchallenged, false assertions and implications he’s piled up thus far on his media tour. We decided to look into the claims he made about “oil spots” of “progress” during his interview with NBC’s David Gregory. Both claims were absolute fantasies, and the remaining journalists on Petraeus’ tour owe their viewers more rigorous skepticism than what we saw on Meet the Press.

Despite Petraeus’ use of the term more than a dozen times in his MTP interview, virtually no data that shows strategically significant security “progress” in Afghanistan since the start of the latest escalation. According to the Afghan NGO Safety Office (ANSO), emphasis mine:

…[T]he number of provinces having more than three attacks per day has grown from 1 to 4 while the number of provinces seeing the lowest rate (<1 per 2 days) has dropped from 22 to 19. Overall ANSO assess that, in terms of daily attack rates, 23 provinces have remained stable, 1 has improved and nine provinces have deteriorated being Nangahar, Paktya, Kandahar, Paktika, Uruzgan, Helmand, Ghazni, Farah, Kunduz.

AOG are presenting a formidable geographic presence and are escalating attacks, in areas well outside of IMF main focus, at their own direction and tempo.

Needless to say, if insurgents are initiating many more attacks “at their own direction and tempo,” International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has not “regained the initiative.”

But let’s talk specifically about General Petraeus’ “oil spots.”

GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, the oil, the oil spot, if you will, is a, is a term in counterinsurgency literature that connotes a peaceful area, secure area. So what you’re trying to do is to always extend that, to push that out. …[D]own in Helmand Province what we sought to do was to build an oil spot that would encompass the six central districts of Helmand Province, including Marjah and then others, and then to just keep pushing that out, ultimately to connect it over with the oil spot that is being developed around Kandahar City…

The general’s visit to Wardak Province today was in part to underline the …importance of that security bubble being extended from outside Kabul to the southwest here to Wardak Province.

The general, quite frankly, is out of his mind if he wants us to apply a term that means “a peaceful area, secure area” to Helmand (which includes Marjah), Kandahar, or Wardak. None of those provinces are secure. None. In fact, compared to this time last year, they are less peaceful and less secure.

Helmand/Kandahar Region

According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), southern Afghanistan is in the grip of an ever-escalating insurgent assassination campaign. UNAMA’s latest report conveys the local Afghans’ perception that the insurgents can strike anywhere, anytime, and that U.S. and allied forces can’t protect them. From the report:

The Taliban’s use of assassinations increased from an average 3.6 per week and 15.6 per month in the first part of 2009 to on average 7.0 per week and 30.5 per month in the first four months 2010. In May and June, the number of assassinations skyrocketed to on average 18.0 per week according to the UN Department of Safety and Security- Afghanistan.

Helmand (including Marjah)

According to ANSO, the number of insurgent attacks in Helmand province during the second quarter of 2010 spiked to 820, compared to 257 attacks during the same period last year. According to UNAMA, the has effectively prevented provincial authorities from delivering the promised “government in a box” in Marjah, while Operation Moshtarak “has not resulted in increased protection for the civilian population.”

UNAMA also slapped ISAF for decreasing civilian security by locating their bases in or near residential areas. ISAF justifies this placement by appealing to counterinsurgency admonitions to “live in and among the population,” but UNAMA’s report retorts that, because of the locations of the bases,

Afghan civilians face not only the risk of often disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks by AGEs, but also death and injury from mortar and rocket attacks fired by IM Forces that mistakenly fall short of their target and hit residential compounds.

The failure of ISAF to establish security for the residents of Helmand and the ever-growing insurgent assasination campaign combine to make Helmand “the most violent province in the country,” according to ANSO.

Kandahar

When Karzai, McChrystal and other representatives of ISAF and the Afghan government held their shuras in Kandahar to win local support, they were told in no uncertain terms that the locals didn’t want a military operation brought to their home because they feared it would just drag violence into their neighborhoods. They complained bitterly about ISAF’s dismissal of their concerns to UNAMA:

Elders also reported that…these meetings were “photo opportunities” at which the elders’ concerns and suggestions were not taken seriously. As one elder from Panjwayi district told UNAMA HR, “.. there are far too many ‘meetings in name.’ ISAF and the Government ignore what we say, because we are from the districts..[T]his is not true, and it is insulting…[t]here are too often photographers and television cameras at these meetings. In Pakistan, of course, the Taliban can watch television, see me sitting with the governor and decide to kill me. So, when there is a ‘meeting in name,’ first I risk my life, and then I am insulted.”

As ISAF’s so-called “rising tide of security” began to materialize, the elders’ contended to UNAMA that “ISAF‘s publication of its plans to launch the military operation caused the Taliban to plant more IEDs and intensify their campaign of intimidation against pro- Government figures.” ANSO and UNAMA figures bear out their assertion: Armed opposition groups initiated 559 attacks in the second quarter of 2010, up from 399 during the same period last year, with “more civilians were killed in the region in the first six months of 2010 than in any other region.”

Wardak

As for Wardak, ANSO’s figures show that, again, attacks were up in the second quarter of 2010 (183 attacks) compared to the same period in 2009 (139). The province is a hotbed for abductions, particularly along Highway 1. In fact, according to UNAMA, “On 15 June, the acting District Governor of Sayadabad district in Wardak province was abducted reportedly by AGEs and later beheaded.” Also according to UNAMA:

“[E]lders in Logar and Wardak provinces…said their priority was to end the culture of impunity for civilian deaths and injury from military operations and for those who committed abuses to be held accountable.”

And, for the bonus round, rocket fire interrupted Petraeus’ shura while Gregory accompanied him for his puff-piece interview. Sounds like a place safe enough for a middle-school field trip, doesn’t it?

You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me

All this brings us back to Petreaus’ definition of an “oil spot.”

“Well, the oil, the oil spot, if you will, is a, is a term in counterinsurgency literature that connotes a peaceful area, secure area.”

Nobody in their right mind or wearing pants that aren’t on fire can honestly look at the information above and derive from that anything remotely approaching an “oil spot,” as Petraeus defines it. Helmand, Kandahar, and Wardak aren’t examples of peace or security. I honestly have no idea why Petraeus would hold any of these places up as his “progress” examples. Wardak is certainly not stabilized, and Helmand and Kandahar are glaring examples of the failure of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan.

So here’s a takeaway for all you reporters out there rounding out Petraeus’ media tour: General Petraeus’ job is not to tell you the truth. Petraeus’ job is to win the war handed him by President Obama. He sees public opposition crystallizing, while at the same time coming to the realization that his mission will not be accomplished by the deadline to start withdrawals. Rather than questioning the basic assumption that COIN was the right strategy to pursue in Afghanistan (it wasn’t), he wants what generals always want: more troops, more time. Thus, he sees it as his job to sell the messages that need to be sold to get the things he think will help him accomplish his mission.

His job isn’t to tell you the truth. It’s to sell you his war. Buyer beware.

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on August 19th, 2010

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

"Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them" was former non-Senator Al Franken’s 2003 examination of the lies and distortions of right-wing pundits and politicians.

Such a book, if it were written today, should certainly include a fair and balanced look at some of the lying liars still running our foreign policy: in particular, at Mr. David Petraeus. (Mr. Franken might not be the best candidate for writing such a book today, given that he voted recently against Senator Feingold’s amendment requiring the President to establish a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan, even as Democratic leaders like Senator Durbin supported Feingold’s amendment.)

Harsh words about Mr. Petraeus? Yes. Justified? Absolutely.

Consider: Mr. Petraeus has been leading a campaign of "domestic information operations" to browbeat Congress and the American people to accept limiting the size of, and possibly even a delay of, the drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan in July 2011that President Obama promised when he acceded to the military’s demand for a "surge" of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan last fall.

In a recent interview with NBC’s "Meet the Press," Petraeus implied that he might recommend against any withdrawal of US forces next summer, causing the White House to reaffirm its commitment to the July 2012 deadline in response, saying, "The date is not negotiable."

 

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Posted by alexthurston on August 19th, 2010

This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.

[Note for TomDispatch readersAtop the last post, I made an offer to TD readers and Chalmers Johnson enthusiasts -- a signed copy of Johnson's new book, Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope, in return for a $150 contribution to the site.  The response was little short of amazing and wonderful for our coffers.  Thank you so much.  Believe me, it will make a difference.  Those of you who have already contributed, be patient.  It will take a little while to get the books signed and off to you.  Those of you who haven’t, don’t miss the opportunity.  By the way, right now at the Dismantling the Empire “page” at Amazon.com, you can buy Johnson’s book, my new book, The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s, and Andrew Bacevich’s just published Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War as a threesome for a strikingly cut-rate price. And as long as you’ve visited Amazon via a TomDispatch link, this site will receive a small percentage of the proceeds!  (Keep your eye out late next week for a special Andrew Bacevich surprise post before I shut the site down until Labor Day.)  Tom]

The 9/11 killers were mass assassins who gave up their own lives to murder thousands.  It’s now clear that, in response, the U.S. went into the global assassination business.  The first of its “targeted killings” in the Global War on Terror launched by the Bush administration and expanded by the Obama administration seems to have taken place in Yemen in 2002.  That November, a Predator drone loosed a Hellfire missile at a car carrying six alleged al-Qaeda operatives.  Ever since, an American campaign of assassination from the air via drones operated by “pilots” thousands of miles from those being killed (and so, in a sense, the very opposite of the 9/11 attackers) has only escalated, especially in the Pakistani tribal borderlands.  There, the CIA is now running the planet’s first 24/7 Terminator war.

It’s increasingly clear that the ground-war version of the Global War on Terror has featured its own growing assassination wing.  Striking numbers of special operations forces have by now been assigned to what can only be termed assassination missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.  We don’t yet know the full scope of these activities, but it was no mistake that our last Afghan war commander, General Stanley McChrystal, emerged from a world of counterterrorism, not counterinsurgency.  He made his reputation in the shadows as a “manhunter,” overseeing the Pentagon’s super-secret Joint Special Operations Command which, among other things, ran what journalist Seymour Hersh has described as an “executive assassination wing” out of Vice President Dick Cheney’s office.

McChrystal received kudos in the U.S. media for the counterinsurgency strategy he implemented in Afghanistan and for restricting U.S. troops from calling in air and artillery support when civilians might be in the vicinity.  However, he surrounded himself with former special operations officers, surged in thousands of special operations troops, and cranked up the activities of special ops assassination teams.  Now, new war commander General David Petraeus, who has a reputation as the guru of counterinsurgency, is overseeing a further escalation of counter-terror operations in that country.

In other words, the U.S. military is now in the “man-hunting” business in a big way in Afghanistan and globally.  Thanks to the massive recent release of secret U.S. military documents by the website Wikileaks, we know far more about what was largely a secret set of activities in Afghanistan (though Anand Gopal did a riveting report on special ops “night raids” for TomDispatch in January), and in particular about a previously unknown manhunting unit called Task Force 373.  TomDispatch regular Pratap Chatterjee, author of Halliburton’s Army, who has spent much time reporting on the American war in Afghanistan, digs deep into what can now be known about this secretive task force, the doctrine it swears by, and the missions it carries out. Tom

The Secret Killers
Assassination in Afghanistan and Task Force 373
By Pratap Chatterjee

“Find, fix, finish, and follow-up” is the way the Pentagon describes the mission of secret military teams in Afghanistan which have been given a mandate to pursue alleged members of the Taliban or al-Qaeda wherever they may be found. Some call these “manhunting” operations and the units assigned to them “capture/kill” teams.

Whatever terminology you choose, the details of dozens of their specific operations — and how they regularly went badly wrong — have been revealed for the first time in the mass of secret U.S. military and intelligence documents published by the website Wikileaks in July to a storm of news coverage and official protest.  Representing a form of U.S. covert warfare now on the rise, these teams regularly make more enemies than friends and undermine any goodwill created by U.S. reconstruction projects.

When Danny Hall and Gordon Phillips, the civilian and military directors of the U.S. provincial reconstruction team in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, arrived for a meeting with Gul Agha Sherzai, the local governor, in mid-June 2007, they knew that they had a lot of apologizing to do. Philips had to explain why a covert U.S. military “capture/kill” team named Task Force 373, hunting for Qari Ur-Rahman, an alleged Taliban commander given the code-name “Carbon,” had called in an AC-130 Spectre gunship and inadvertently killed seven Afghan police officers in the middle of the night.

The incident vividly demonstrated the inherent clash between two doctrines in the U.S. war in Afghanistan — counterinsurgency (“protecting the people”) and counterterrorism (killing terrorists). Although the Obama administration has given lip service to the former, the latter has been, and continues to be, the driving force in its war in Afghanistan.

For Hall, a Foreign Service officer who was less than two months away from a plush assignment in London, working with the military had already proven more difficult than he expected. In an article for Foreign Service Journal published a couple of months before the meeting, he wrote, “I felt like I never really knew what was going on, where I was supposed to be, what my role was, or if I even had one. In particular, I didn’t speak either language that I needed: Pashtu or military.”

It had been no less awkward for Phillips. Just a month earlier, he had personally handed over “solatia” payments — condolence payments for civilian deaths wrongfully caused by U.S. forces — in Governor Sherzai’s presence, while condemning the act of a Taliban suicide bomber who had killed 19 civilians, setting off the incident in question. “We come here as your guests,” he told the relatives of those killed, “invited to aid in the reconstruction and improved security and governance of Nangarhar, to bring you a better life and a brighter future for you and your children.  Today, as I look upon the victims and their families, I join you in mourning for your loved ones.”

Hall and Phillips were in charge of a portfolio of 33 active U.S. reconstruction projects worth $11 million in Nangarhar, focused on road-building, school supplies, and an agricultural program aimed at exporting fruits and vegetables from the province.

Yet the mission of their military-led “provincial reconstruction team” (made up of civilian experts, State department officials, and soldiers) appeared to be in direct conflict with those of the “capture/kill” team of special operations forces (Navy Seals, Army Rangers, and Green Berets, together with operatives from the Central Intelligence Agency’s Special Activities Division) whose mandate was to pursue Afghans alleged to be terrorists as well as insurgent leaders.  That team was leaving a trail of dead civilian bodies and recrimination in its wake.

Details of some of the missions of Task Force 373 first became public as a result of more than 76,000 incident reports leaked to the public by Wikileaks, a whistleblower website, together with analyses of those documents in Der Spiegel, the Guardian, and the New York Times. A full accounting of the depredations of the task force may be some time in coming, however, as the Obama administration refuses to comment on its ongoing assassination spree in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A short history of the unit can nonetheless be gleaned from a careful reading of the Wikileaks documents as well as related reports from Afghanistan and unclassified Special Forces reports.

The Wikileaks data suggests that as many as 2,058 people on a secret hit list called the “Joint Prioritized Effects List” (JPEL) were considered “capture/kill” targets in Afghanistan. A total of 757 prisoners — most likely from this list — were being held at the Bagram Theater Internment Facility (BTIF), a U.S.-run prison on Bagram Air Base as of the end of December 2009.

Capture/Kill Operations

The idea of “joint” teams from different branches of the military working collaboratively with the CIA was first conceived in 1980 after the disastrous Operation Eagle Claw, when personnel from the Air Force, Army, and Navy engaged in a disastrously botched, seat-of-the-pants attempt to rescue U.S. hostages in Iran with help from the Agency. Eight soldiers were killed when two helicopters collided in the Iranian desert. Afterwards, a high-level, six-member commission led by Admiral James L. Holloway, III recommended the creation of a Joint Special Forces command to ensure that different branches of the military and the CIA should do far more advance coordination planning in the future.

This process accelerated greatly after September 11, 2001.  That month, a CIA team called Jawbreaker headed for Afghanistan to plan a U.S.-led invasion of the country. Shortly thereafter, an Army Green Beret team set up Task Force Dagger to pursue the same mission. Despite an initial rivalry between the commanders of the two groups, they eventually teamed up.

The first covert “joint” team involving the CIA and various military special operations forces to work together in Afghanistan was Task Force 5, charged with the mission of capturing or killing “high value targets” like Osama bin Laden, senior leaders of al-Qaeda, and Mullah Mohammed Omar, the head of the Taliban. A sister organization set up in Iraq was called Task Force 20. The two were eventually combined into Task Force 121 by General John Abizaid, the head of the U.S. Central Command.

In a new book to be released this month, Operation Darkheart, Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer describes the work of Task Force 121 in 2003, when he was serving as part of a team dubbed the Jedi Knights.  Working under the alias of Major Christopher Stryker, he ran operations for the Defense Intelligence Agency (the military equivalent of the CIA) out of Bagram Air Base.

One October night, Shaffer was dropped into a village near Asadabad in Kunar province by an MH-47 Chinook helicopter to lead a “joint” team, including Army Rangers (a Special Forces division) and 10th Mountain Division troops.  They were on a mission to capture a lieutenant of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a notorious warlord allied with the Taliban, based on information provided by the CIA.

It wasn’t easy. “They succeeded in striking at the core of the Taliban and their safe havens across the border in Pakistan. For a moment Shaffer saw us winning the war,” reads the promotional material for the book. “Then the military brass got involved. The policies that top officials relied on were hopelessly flawed. Shaffer and his team were forced to sit and watch as the insurgency grew — just across the border in Pakistan.”

Almost a quarter century after Operation Eagle Claw, Shaffer, who was part of the Able Danger team that had pursued Al Qaeda in the 1990s, describes the bitter turf wars between the CIA and Special Forces teams over how the shadowy world of secret assassinations in Afghanistan and Pakistan should be run.

Task Force 373

Fast forward to 2007, the first time Task Force 373 is mentioned in the Wikileaks documents. We don’t know whether its number means anything, but coincidentally or not, chapter 373 of the U.S. Code 10, the act of Congress that sets out what the U.S. military is legally allowed to do, permits the Secretary of Defense to empower any “civilian employee” of the military “to execute warrants and make arrests without a warrant” in criminal matters. Whether or not this is indeed the basis for that “373” remains a classified matter — as indeed, until the Wikileaks document dump occurred, was the very existence of the group.

Analysts say that Task Force 373 complements Task Force 121 by using “white forces” like the Rangers and the Green Berets, as opposed to the more secretive Delta Force. Task Force 373 is supposedly run out of three military bases — in Kabul, the Afghan capital; Kandahar, the country’s second largest city; and Khost City near the Pakistani tribal lands.  It’s possible that some of its operations also come out of Camp Marmal, a German base in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Sources familiar with the program say that the task force has its own helicopters and aircraft, notably AC-130 Spectre gunships, dedicated only to its use.

Its commander appears to have been Brigadier General Raymond Palumbo, based out of the Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Palumbo, however, left Fort Bragg in mid-July, shortly after General Stanley McChrystal was relieved as Afghan war commander by President Obama. The name of the new commander of the task force is not known.

In more than 100 incident reports in the Wikileaks files, Task Force 373 is described as leading numerous “capture/kill” efforts, notably in Khost, Paktika, and Nangarhar provinces, all bordering the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of northern Pakistan. Some reportedly resulted in successful captures, while others led to the death of local police officers or even small children, causing angry villagers to protest and attack U.S.-led military forces.

In April 2007, David Adams, commander of the Khost provincial reconstruction team, was called to meet with elders from the village of Gurbuz in Khost province, who were angry about Task Force 373’s operations in their community. The incident report on Wikileaks does not indicate just what Task Force 373 did to upset Gurbuz’s elders, but the governor of Khost, Arsala Jamal, had been publicly complaining about Special Forces operations and civilian deaths in his province since December 2006, when five civilians were killed in a raid on Darnami village.

“This is our land,” he said then. “I’ve been asking with greater force: Let us sit together, we know our Afghan brothers, we know our culture better. With these operations we should not create more enemies. We are in a position to reduce mistakes.”

As Adams would later recall in an op-ed he co-authored for the Wall Street Journal, “The increasing number of raids on Afghan homes alienated many of Khost’s tribal elders.”

On June 12, 2007, Danny Hall and Gordon Philips, working in Nangarhar province just northeast of Khost, were called into that meeting with Governor Sherzai to explain how Task Force 373 had killed those seven local Afghan police officers.  Like Jamal, Sherzai made the point to Hall and Philips that “he strongly encourages better coordination… and he further emphasized that he does not want to see this happen again.”

Less than a week later, a Task Force 373 team fired five rockets at a compound in Nangar Khel in Paktika province to the south of Khost, in an attempt to kill Abu Laith al-Libi, an alleged al-Qaeda member from Libya. When the U.S. forces made it to the village, they found that Task Force 373 had destroyed a madrassa (or Islamic school), killing six children and grievously wounding a seventh who, despite the efforts of a U.S. medical team, would soon die. (In late January 2008, al-Libi was reported killed by a Hellfire missile from a Predator drone strike in a village near Mir Ali in North Waziristan in Pakistan.)

Paktika Governor Akram Khapalwak met with the U.S. military the day after the raid. Unlike his counterparts in Khost and Nangarhar, Khapalwak agreed to support the “talking points” developed for Task Force 373 to explain the incident to the media. According to the Wikileaks incident report, the governor then “echoed the tragedy of children being killed, but stressed this could’ve been prevented had the people exposed the presence of insurgents in the area.”

However, no military talking points, no matter in whose mouth, could stop the civilian deaths as long as Task Force 373’s raids continued.

On October 4, 2007, its members called in an air strike — 500 pound Paveway bombs — on a house in the village of Laswanday, just six miles from Nangar Khel in Paktika province (where those seven children had already died). This time, four men, one woman, and a girl — all civilians — as well as a donkey, a dog, and several chickens would be slaughtered. A dozen U.S. soldiers were injured, but the soldiers reported that not one “enemy” was detained or killed.

The Missing Afghan Story

Not all raids resulted in civilian deaths.  The U.S. military incident reports released by Wikileaks suggest that Task Force 373 had better luck in capturing “targets” alive and avoiding civilian deaths on December 14, 2007. The 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne) was asked that day to support Task Force 373 in a search in Paktika province for Bitonai and Nadr, two alleged al-Qaeda leaders listed on the JPEL. The operation took place just outside the town of Orgun, close to U.S. Forward Operating Base (FOB) Harriman. Located 7,000 feet above sea level and surrounded by mountains, it hosts about 300 soldiers as well as a small CIA compound, and is often visited by chattering military helicopters well as sleepy camel herds belonging to local Pashtuns.

An airborne assault team code-named “Operation Spartan” descended on the compounds where Bitonai and Nadr were supposed to be living, but failed to find them. When a local Afghan informant told the Special Forces soldiers that the suspects were at a location about two miles away, Task Force 373 seized both men as well as 33 others who were detained at FOB Harriman for questioning and possible transfer to the prison at Bagram.

But when Task Force 373 was on the prowl, civilians were, it seems, always at risk, and while the Wikileaks documents reveal what the U.S soldiers were willing to report, the Afghan side of the story was often left in a ditch.  For example, on a Monday night in mid-November 2009, Task Force 373 conducted an operation to capture or kill an alleged militant code-named “Ballentine” in Ghazni province. A terse incident report announced that one Afghan woman and four “insurgents” had been killed. The next morning, Task Force White Eagle, a Polish unit under the command of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, reported that some 80 people gathered to protest the killings. The window of an armored vehicle was damaged by the angry villagers, but the documents don’t offer us their version of the incident.

In an ironic twist, one of the last Task Force 373 incidents recorded in the Wikileaks documents was almost a reprise of the original Operation Eagle Claw disaster that led to the creation of the “joint” capture/kill teams. Just before sunrise on October 26, 2009, two U.S. helicopters, a UH-1 Huey and an AH-1 Cobra, collided near the town of Garmsir in the southern province of Helmand, killing four Marines.

Closely allied with Task Force 373 is a British unit, Task Force 42, composed of Special Air Service, Special Boat Service, and Special Reconnaissance Regiment commandos who operate in Helmand province and are mentioned in several Wikileaks incident reports.

Manhunting

“Capture/kill” is a key part of a new military “doctrine” developed by the Special Forces Command established after the failure of Operation Eagle Claw. Under the leadership of General Bryan D. Brown, who took over the Special Forces Command in September 2003, the doctrine came to be known as F4, which stood for “find, fix, finish, and follow-up” — a slightly euphemistic but not hard to understand message about how alleged terrorists and insurgents were to be dealt with.

Under Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in the Bush years, Brown began setting up “joint Special Forces” teams to conduct F4 missions outside war zones.  These were given the anodyne name “Military Liaison Elements.” At least one killing by such a team in Paraguay (of an armed robber not on any targeting list) was written up by New York Times reporters Scott Shane and Thom Shanker. The team, whose presence had not been made known to the U.S. ambassador there, was ordered to leave the country.

“The number-one requirement is to defend the homeland. And so sometimes that requires that you find and capture or kill terrorist targets around the world that are trying to do harm to this nation,” Brown told the House Committee on Armed Services in March 2006. “Our foreign partners… are willing but incapable nations that want help in building their own capability to defend their borders and eliminate terrorism in their countries or in their regions.” In April 2007, President Bush rewarded Brown’s planning by creating a special high-level office at the Pentagon for an assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low-intensity conflict and interdependent capabilities.

Michael G. Vickers, made famous in the book and film Charlie Wilson’s War as the architect of the covert arms-and-money supply chain to the mujaheedin in the CIA’s anti-Soviet Afghan campaign of the 1980s, was nominated to fill the position. Under his leadership, a new directive was issued in December 2008 to “develop capabilities for extending U.S. reach into denied areas and uncertain environments by operating with and through indigenous foreign forces or by conducting low visibility operations.”  In this way, the “capture/kill” program was institutionalized in Washington.

“The war on terror is fundamentally an indirect war… It’s a war of partners… but it also is a bit of the war in the shadows, either because of political sensitivity or the problem of finding terrorists,” Vickers told the Washington Post as 2007 ended. “That’s why the Central Intelligence Agency is so important… and our Special Operations forces play a large role.”

George W. Bush’s departure from the White House did not dampen the enthusiasm for F4.  Quite the contrary: even though the F4 formula has recently been tinkered with, in typical military fashion, and has now become “find, fix, finish, exploit, and analyze,” or F3EA, President Obama has, by all accounts, expanded military intelligence gathering and “capture/kill” programs globally in tandem with an escalation of drone-strike operations by the CIA.

There are quite a few outspoken supporters of the “capture/kill” doctrine. Columbia University Professor Austin Long is one academic who has jumped on the F3EA bandwagon. Noting its similarity to the Phoenix assassination program, responsible for tens of thousands of deaths during the U.S. war in Vietnam (which he defends), he has called for a shrinking of the U.S. military “footprint” in Afghanistan to 13,000 Special Forces troops who would focus exclusively on counter-terrorism, particularly assassination operations. “Phoenix suggests that intelligence coordination and the integration of intelligence with an action arm can have a powerful effect on even extremely large and capable armed groups,” he and his co-author William Rosenau wrote in a July 2009 Rand Institute monograph entitled” “The Phoenix Program and Contemporary Counterinsurgency.”

Others are even more aggressively inclined. Lieutenant George Crawford, who retired from the position of “lead strategist” for the Special Forces Command to go work for Archimedes Global, Inc., a Washington consulting firm, has suggested that F3EA be replaced by one term: “Manhunting.” In a monograph published by the Joint Special Operations University in September 2009, Manhunting: Counter-Network Organization for Irregular Warfare,” Crawford spells out “how to best address the responsibility to develop manhunting as a capability for American national security.”

Killing the Wrong People

The strange evolution of these concepts, the creation of ever more global hunter-killer teams whose purpose in life is assassination 24/7, and the civilians these “joint Special Forces” teams regularly kill in their raids on supposed “targets” have unsettled even military experts.

For example, Christopher Lamb, the acting director of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, and Martin Cinnamond, a former U.N. official in Afghanistan, penned an article for the Spring 2010 issue of the Joint Forces Quarterly in which they wrote: “There is broad agreement… that the indirect approach to counterinsurgency should take precedence over kill/capture operations. However, the opposite has occurred.”

Other military types claim that the hunter-killer approach is short-sighted and counterproductive. “My take on Task Force 373 and other task forces, it has a purpose because it keeps the enemy off balance. But It does not understand the fundamental root cause of the conflict, of why people are supporting the Taliban,” says Matthew Hoh, a former Marine and State Department contractor who resigned from the government last September. Hoh, who often worked with Task Force 373 as well as other Special Forces “capture/kill” programs in Afghanistan and Iraq, adds: “We are killing the wrong people, the mid-level Taliban who are only fighting us because we are in their valleys. If we were not there, they would not be fighting the U.S.”

Task Force 373 may be a nightmare for Afghans.  For the rest of us — now that Wikileaks has flushed it into the open — it should be seen as a symptom of deeper policy disasters.  After all, it raises a basic question: Is this country really going to become known as a global Manhunters, Inc.?

Pratap Chatterjee is a freelance journalist, TomDispatch regular, and senior editor at CorpWatch who has worked extensively in the Middle East and Central Asia, including nine trips to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. He has written two books about the war on terror: Iraq, Inc. (Seven Stories Press, 2004) and Halliburton’s Army (Nation Books, 2009). He recommends using DiaryDig to better understand the WikiLeaks Afghan War Diary. A good glossary of military acronyms can be found by clicking here. You can contact him via email at pchatterjee@igc.org.

Copyright 2010 Pratap Chatterjee

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on August 19th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Dan Froomkin has the news in an exclusive for HuffPo: "An ad hoc group of disillusioned foreign policy experts is offering President Obama a serious, well thought-out alternative to his current failing strategy there." The group was led by Steve Clemons and included 40 other "scholars, former officials and activists" including Stephen Walt and Paul Pillar.

So what's their Plan B look like? It looks very much like counter-terrorism as has been advanced by lots of folks from Joe Biden to Rory Stewart over the past couple of years.

"Instead of trying to build a unified central state in Afghanistan — a task for which the United States and its allies are unqualified — the United States and its partners should reduce their military footprint, focus on devolving power to local leaders and institutions, and concentrate on economic development. Our combat and intelligence effort should focus on the small number of Al Qaeda members remaining in Afghanistan or northwest Pakistan."

Plan B has five major points:

1. Emphasize power-sharing and political inclusion. The U.S. should fast-track a peace process designed to decentralize power within Afghanistan and encourage a power-sharing balance among the principal parties.

2. Downsize and eventually end military operations in southern Afghanistan, and reduce the U.S. military footprint. The U.S. should draw down its military presence, which radicalizes many Pashtuns and is an important aid to Taliban recruitment.

3. Focus security efforts on Al Qaeda and Domestic Security. Special forces, intelligence assets, and other U.S. capabilities should continue to seek out and target known Al Qaeda cells in the region and be ready to go after them should they attempt to relocate elsewhere or build new training facilities. In addition, part of the savings from our drawdown should be reallocated to bolster U.S. domestic security efforts and to track nuclear weapons globally.

4. Encourage economic development. Because destitute states can become incubators for terrorism, drug and human trafficking, and other illicit activities, efforts at reconciliation should be paired with an internationally-led effort to develop Afghanistan's economy.

5. Engage regional and global stakeholders in a diplomatic effort designed to guarantee Afghan neutrality and foster regional stability. Despite their considerable differences, neighboring states such as India, Pakistan, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia share a common interest in preventing Afghanistan from being dominated by any single power or being a permanently failed state that exports instability to others.

Nothing surprising there, nor in the arguments to justify this position.

• Al Qaeda sympathizers are now present in many locations globally, and defeating the Taliban will have little effect on Al Qaeda's global reach. The ongoing threat from Al Qaeda is better met via specific counter-terrorism measures, a reduced U.S. military "footprint" in the Islamic world, and diplomatic efforts to improve America's overall image and undermine international support for militant extremism.

• Given our present economic circumstances, reducing the staggering costs of the Afghan war is an urgent priority. Maintaining the long-term health of the U.S. economy is just as important to American strength and security as protecting U.S. soil from enemy (including terrorist) attacks.

• The continuation of an ambitious U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan will likely work against U.S. interests. A large U.S. presence fosters local (especially Pashtun) resentment and aids Taliban recruiting. It also fosters dependence on the part of our Afghan partners and encourages loser cooperation among a disparate array of extremist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan alike.

So yes, this Plan B gets us a vastly reduced footprint in Afghanistan in short order, a drawdown. But what I don't see so far is any indication of how this answers the infamous "tell me how this ends" any more than the current strategy does.

COIN and nation building are a bust because of the second and third bullet points above. But a counter-terrorism (CT) strategy in Afghanistan isn't ever going to end any more than a COIN one is because of the first bullet point – where the safe havens that count from an Afghan CT or COIN point of view are in Pakistan.

Maybe the report itself, which is forthcoming, says more. But going by Froomkin's description what we have here is not an Exit Plan but simply a Plan B for a smaller but still continued occupation ad infinatum. Apparently, in D.C. even the "disillusioned" cannot think sufficiently outside the military/occupation box defined by Powell's version of the Pottery Barn Rule. "We broke it, we own it" still holds sway.

Yet if "defeating the Taliban will have little effect on Al Qaeda's global reach" and defeating AQ in Afghanistan will not significantly impact it's global reach then why be there at all? The real Pottery barn rule should apply – one that emphasizes self-determination for Afghanistan. The real rule is, and has always been: "You broke it, you pay for it and get the f**k out of our store." At that point, it's up to the store owners whether they rebuild, re-open as a different kind of shop or burn the whole edifice down around their own ears.

When does this end? When we hand the Afghans back the right to decide what to do with their own store for better or worse, along with a fat cheque for war reparations. The sooner the better.

How does this end? That should be up to the Afghans themselves, not us.

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Posted by The Agonist on August 18th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Aug 18 | Dan Froomkin | Huffington Post

There’s another way forward in Afghanistan.

Call it Plan B.

An ad hoc group of disillusioned foreign policy experts is offering President Obama a serious, well thought-out alternative to his current failing strategy there.

Their Plan B entails a dramatic reduction in the American troop presence, a mission focused on the minimal Al Qaeda threat rather than on trying to defeat the Taliban, and a peace process that leads to power-sharing.

“[T]he way forward acknowledges the manifold limitations of a military solution in a region where our interests lie in political stability,” says the forthcoming report from the Afghanistan Study Group. The group of 40 scholars, former officials and activists was assembled by Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation.

“The United States should by no means abandon Afghanistan, but it is time to abandon the current strategy that is not working,” the report concludes. “Trying to pacify Afghanistan by force of arms will not work, and a costly military campaign there is more likely to jeopardize America’s vital security interests than to protect them. The Study Group believes that the United States should pursue more modest goals that are both consistent with America’s true interests and far more likely to succeed.”

Patrick Cronin, a South Asian expert at the Center for a New American Security and a member of the study group, calls the report an antidote to mission creep.

“There’s no significant Al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan today, so the original purpose has largely dissipated,” Cronin told the Huffington Post. By contrast, he said, American interests do not require the military defeat of the Taliban. Worse than that, “this strategy is actually being counterproductive for our interests.” more

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Posted by Josh Mull on August 18th, 2010

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

The scale of Pakistan’s flooding disaster is beyond imagination:

More people have been affected by Pakistan’s catastrophic floods than any other natural disaster on record — over 20 million and counting. That’s more than were affected by the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and this year’s earthquake in Haiti combined.  As millions of dislocated Pakistanis search for shelter and food and as health conditions deteriorate and disease spreads, the need for an immediate, large-scale humanitarian response is urgent.  And this is just the beginning.  Once the floodwaters subside from Pakistan’s swollen rivers, the task of rebuilding will be staggering – with a price tag in the billions, and lasting for years to come.

From a humanitarian standpoint, the disaster should be a fierce call to action like nothing else in our lifetime. But that’s not the primary US concern in foreign policy, is it? Charity and human decency are great, but we care about terrorism, security, and American dominance:

The effectiveness of the response to these relief and rebuilding challenges will have serious implications for the wellbeing of the country’s citizens, for the peace and stability of Pakistan and the entire South Asian region, and for U.S. national security.

There’s no way around it, this is a national security issue for the United States. Galrahn explains over at Information Dissemination:

There is a long history of natural disaster playing a significant role in the global security condition, or influencing war, or having a significant and generational impact on nations. When considering the scope and geography of this disaster, it would be difficult to suggest that the monsoon floods of 2010 won’t have a huge impact on the security of Pakistan, or a significant impact in influencing the war in Afghanistan, or a huge generational impact on Pakistan. [...]

Pakistani people know the United States unmanned drone very well thanks to their newspapers and our actions in that country against Al Qaeda and affiliates. Here is a chance to put a positive visible symbol of US power over Pakistan at a time the need far exceeds local capacity – and we can’t do it why?

Actually, we know why we can’t do it. We’ve known for years. Remember 2006?

Stretched by frequent troop rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has become a “thin green line” that could snap unless relief comes soon, according to a study for the Pentagon.

Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer who wrote the report under a Pentagon contract, concluded that the Army cannot sustain the pace of troop deployments to Iraq long enough to break the back of the insurgency. He also suggested that the Pentagon’s decision, announced in December, to begin reducing the force in Iraq this year was driven in part by a realization that the Army was overextended.

Of course, the military didn’t “snap.” That’s not how it works, as Hilary Bok wrote on Obsidian Wings at the time:

It’s not as though one day we will hear a loud snap and find the Army broken in two. We will not get up one morning, flip a switch, and discover that the Army doesn’t work any more. We will not have to hire a tow truck to drag it off to war. Whatever goes wrong with the Army, it won’t be like that.

For one thing, there is no sharp, discontinuous transition between an “unbroken” Army and a “broken” one: the kind that happens when a plate shatters, a fuse blows, or a motor finally gives out. For another, a “broken” Army will still be able to function, more or less.[...]

What we are doing to the Army is less like breaking something, and more like slowly degrading its ability to perform its tasks to an unacceptable level. It’s a gradual process, one that does not provide us with clear points at which we can look at the Army and say: well, now it is well and truly broken.

To be clear, these reports were specific to the US Army, and Bok focused mostly on the recruitment and stability of the officer corps, but it isn’t hard to extrapolate out to the other military branches, or to US foreign service as a whole. Is the Air Force any less preoccupied with Afghanistan? The Marines? State? Hardly.

After all, on Pakistan’s independence day, as 20% of the country lay under water, this was the American priority:

The US carried out its first Predator airstrike inside Pakistan’s tribal areas in almost three weeks. Twelve “rebels” were reported killed in the airstrike in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.

The strike took place today in the village of Issori, just outside of Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan. One missile fired from either a Predator or the more more deadly Reaper struck a compound thought to be sheltering Taliban or al Qaeda operatives.

That’s not all the US did, to be sure. We have US marines on the ground in Pakistan, and we’re conducting rescue and relief operations by air. But that’s still not enough, and might as well be nothing at all compared to the enormous scale of the disaster. And that was Bok’s point about the Army breaking, that it isn’t a binary state, fixed or broken, but rather a process of degradation. We can send helicopters to Pakistan, but is it effective? Are we accomplishing anything close to what we’d like to?

I realize this analysis is a bit odd. Normally when the issue of an over-stretched and ineffective military is discussed, we think of it in terms of being defenseless against enemies. If we’re attacked, we’ll be defenseless because of our broken military. TIME magazine had this in 2003:

Deep inside the Pentagon, where young colonels arrive before dawn to revise once more the short list of available combat units ready to deploy overseas, a nightmare scenario hangs in the air, unmentioned but unmistakable. With 140,000 U.S. troops tied down stabilizing Iraq, 34,000 in Kuwait, 10,000 in Afghanistan and 5,000 in the Balkans, what good options would George W. Bush have if, say sometime next spring, North Korea’s Kim Jong Il decided to test the resilience of the relatively small “trip-wire” force of 37,000 American troops in South Korea? Where would the Pentagon turn if it had to rush additional combat troops to the 38th parallel? Might a lack of ready reinforcements force Washington to consider using nuclear weapons to save South Korea from defeat?

But that’s not really realistic, is it? North Korea isn’t about to roll across the 38th parallel any more than Putin is about to rear his head over Alaskan airspace. Those aren’t the kinds of national security threats we face in 2010 (or 2003 for what it’s worth). What we have to deal with now are natural disasters, collapsing states, massive displaced populations, terrorism and radical militancy, narcotics and organized crime, captured, corrupt, or oppressive governments – all of which converge in Pakistan.

Well, this is it folks. These are the consequences of a decade of military adventurism, occupying Iraq and Afghanistan. This is why no matter what it is that the US is sending to Pakistan, it will not be enough. We just don’t have enough to give.

It’s not only the military breaking, or the State department, or the White House, or Congress, or the media, or the apathy of the American public – it’s all of these things adding up to a slow, incompetent, ineffective response to the threats we face. The ability for the United States to project power abroad – to protect its national security interests – is broken.

The so-called battle for hearts and minds in Pakistan, the battle against anti-Americanism, radicalism, and militancy in the tribal regions, the battle for a secure and stable Central Asia – this is the war that America will lose because of our occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is what we are defenseless against, helpless to stop.

This is quite possibly more dangerous than any of the other tragic consequences of our wars. It has wreaked havoc on the American budget and deficit, sapped us of funds for basic social services, and dramatically raised the threat of terrorism both here and overseas. But we’ve let all this happen with at least the illusion that we were still the most powerful country, capable of defeating any threat. But it’s not true. We are so tied down in our wars that when a real threat appears – not Kim Jong-Il in North Korea, but floods in Pakistan – we’re defenseless.

We have to end our reckless, bloody and expensive occupation in Afghanistan. Not only because we can’t afford it domestically, but along with Iraq it has catastrophically weakened our ability to protect our country and our interests abroad. We don’t know yet what horrors will be unleashed, for generations to come, thanks to our failure in Pakistan, and this is only one disaster. How many more will there be while we’re wasting away in Afghanistan?

We must use the upcoming elections as our opportunity to take control of our foreign policy, our national security. Demand that your representative, your senator, your candidate stand up against the war. Our security is at stake. We can’t afford the disaster in Pakistan, and we certainly can’t afford any more. Quite frankly, if we don’t end the war in Afghanistan, it could be the end of us.

Plug in to the Movement to End the War

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on August 17th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

3383l

Over six million people are affected by the flooding in Pakistan, a humanitarian disaster bigger than Katrina, the Indonesian tsunami or Haitian earthquake. But foreign aid is lagging.

With hundreds of villages marooned and highways and bridges cut in half by swollen rivers, food rations and access to clean water have only been provided to around 500,000 million flood survivors, the UN said.

The United Nations has warned that up to 3.5 million children could be in danger of contracting deadly diseases carried through contaminated water and insects in a crisis that has disrupted the lives of at least a tenth of Pakistan's 170 million people.

"We have a country which has endemic watery diarrhoea, endemic cholera, endemic upper respiratory infections and we have the conditions for much expanded problems," Unicef Regional Director for South Asia Daniel Toole told a news conference.

"We cannot spend pledges. We cannot buy purification tablets, we cannot support Pakistan with pledges. I urge the international community to urgently change pledges into checks."

Up to 1,600 people have been killed and two million made homeless in Pakistan's worst floods in decades. The United Nations has reported the first case of cholera, but only a quarter of the $459 million aid needed for initial relief has arrived.

Donor fatigue after so many other disasters, economic hardship at home, or apathy for the plight of a nation which seems to shelter terrorists and has leaders who always seems to have their hands out a-begging for money? It doesn't really matter. Those six million people are just poor folks – poorer than you, I'll guarantee – who want to see their children live, not die of dysentry, cholera and starvation.

It's nice to see individual humanitarian givers doing their bit. Like George Soros, bete noir of the nutcase right, who has stepped up with $5m for his Open Society Foundation in Pakistan.

In the immediate future, the $5 million will support emergency provisions like food, clean water, tents and shelter, medicine and medical supplies to people in flood-hit areas. The foundation also hopes to support reconstruction projects like restoring roads and bridges, repairing the electricity infrastructure, and rebuilding homes.

George Soros, chairman of the Open Society Foundations, earlier this month gave an initial relief gift of $50,000 to BRAC Pakistan, an anti-poverty group, to provide emergency relief services to people in the flooded regions. Given the unrelenting severity of the disaster, Mr. Soros, on the request of Pakistan office, decided to follow up with additional support of $5 million.

(Hey, wingnuts, where's Scaife?)

But the rest of us with lesser resources can do – need to do – something too. After all, you wouldn't want to say "no" to Angelina Jolie, would you?

Angelina Jolie says it's vital that people help Pakistan's flood victims and not surrender to compassion fatigue.

The floods have displaced 20 million people, but donations are below those for catastrophes like the Haitian earthquake or the Asian tsunami.

Jolie said she understood that "it is getting hard for people — they see Haiti, they see these other events … and they get exhausted by the time another big one rolls around."

But she said Pakistanis face "mass death, mass displacement, and this situation is going to get worse."

You can donate via Red Cross.

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