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Archive for September, 2010

Posted by The Agonist on September 16th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Sept 16

The GuardianRemaining workers will be subject to draconian security restrictions including a ban on movement around Kabul

The UN has evacuated about a third of its permanent international workforce from Afghanistan amid fears that this weekend’s parliamentary elections will be marred by violence and fraud.

The exodus of roughly 300 staff deemed non-essential to preparations for Saturday’s poll is ongoing, with most staff expected to remain out of the country for a week.

Those who stay behind will be under draconian security restrictions, including bans on movement around Kabul.

The decision highlights the risks to international organisations involved in the election, nearly all of whom have scaled back their efforts to monitor voting compared with their presence during the August 2009 presidential election, which was wrecked by electoral fraud.

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Posted by on September 16th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

Across the pond, public support for NATO’s out-of-area adventure is cratering:

The wide-ranging Transatlantic Trends study by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) also saw deep divisions between Europe and the United States on how to handle Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

While 51 percent of Americans said they were confident that Afghanistan could be stabilised in the coming years, down from 56 percent in 2009, Europeans were far less upbeat with only 23 percent sharing that view.

The European figure, down from 32 percent last year, was based on an average of opinion polls in 11 European Union member states.

A European country-by-country breakdown showed a wide range of opinions — all relatively gloomy — with only 34 percent of Britons positive about the outlook in Afghanistan, against 18 percent in France and just 10 percent in Germany.

“Only Americans remain optimistic about stabilising Afghanistan,” said GMF senior transatlantic fellow Constanze Stelzenmueller as she presented the annual study.

While 41 percent of Americans called for their troops to be withdrawn or reduced in Afghanistan, up from 30 percent last year, the European figure hit 64 percent, a rise from 57 percent.

This is why I’ve a sneaking suspicion U.S. based commentators like James Joyner are missing something when they write that recent European mutterings about not getting value for money spent out of NATO are just about bureaucratic top-heaviness. The words:

“The fat needs to be trimmed away, because we’re not in NATO as a job creation project. We are there to ensure that it delivers what we need in terms of our combined security.”

Coming from the UK’s neocon-leaning Defense Minister, Liam Fox, should send shudders through the pro-NATO foreign policy community on the Western side of the Atlantic.

At the upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon scheduled for November, the U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder intends setting out a vision of an expeditionary alliance:

“This used to be an organization that was ready to react to an event that might occur, an attack on its territory. Now, this is an organization that is engaged in military operations almost as a matter of course. We have been involved since 1995 in various operations, first in the Balkans, and in the last six years, in Afghanistan. So there is a tempo and an activity that has changed this organization from a reactive… organization to a pro-active organization, building security. What we now need to see is a greater degree of reform to make it even more agile, more flexible, more pro-active than it has been in the past. And more capable of operating over great distances.

The Dutch have already proven that a NATO Charter call under Article 5 is not for “the course” and can be unilaterally withdrawan from, putting a stake through the heart of NATO’s very raison-de-etre. Daalder had to do some fancy wordsmithing in his interview with VOA to try (and fail) to conceal the fact:

“NATO as an organization and the individual countries that are part of it… is fully and completely committed to this operation. The Dutch decision to withdraw was made something that was made more than two and one-half years ago, when the Dutch decided to stay for another two years.  It is not a decision that has anything to do with current events… The same is true for other countries that may have committed a long time ago to ending their particular operations.”

European popular antipathy to the Afghanistan occupation will further sour their leadership to any expansion of NATO’s remit as an “out-of-area” force. I don’t think the U.S. is going to be happy with European resistance to the idea of an expeditionary NATO which will essentially be an adjunct to U.S. interventionist foreign policies. Perhaps especially if Europeans thought that interventionism was to be aimed at Iran.

Views on Iran also differed sharply on the two sides of the Atlantic.

…Few respondents favoured a military strike against Tehran at this stage, but given an ultimatum between a nuclear-armed Iran and military action, those surveyed showed a wide spectrum of opinions.

A majority of Americans (64 percent) and a plurality of Europeans (43 percent) backed military action in such a case. Only Britons (57 percent) and Turks (54 percent) said they would accept Iran as a nuclear power over military action under these circumstances.

And, after all, although it has been languishing so far the Europeans have their own alternative security organisation waiting in the wings which could be brought forward again, the EDF, which would have a purely defensive remit more in keeping with their voters’ wishes.

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Posted by The Agonist on September 15th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Saeed Shah | Asheqeh, Afghanistan | September 15

McClatchy – U.S. forces launched a major operation in southern Afghanistan early Wednesday in the district that gave birth to the Taliban movement, in what could be one of the most important offensives of the war.

Thousands of U.S. and Afghan troops encircled and swooped into a belt of lush farm land in Zhari district, a sanctuary and staging post for the Taliban just west of Kandahar city known to foreign soldiers as “the heart of darkness.” Key insurgent-held villages such as Mukuan, Pashmul and Singesar are the target, areas essentially untouched by coalition forces since they entered Afghanistan in 2001.

The operation began at 4 a.m. local time Wednesday, approximately 7:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday.

The firepower for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Zhari is provided by three battalions of the 101st Airborne Division, bolstered by rangers and special forces teams, aiming to surprise the Taliban with a multi-day massive attack, including airborne assault. The nascent Afghan army, facing a major test of its battle-readiness, will be tasked to conduct house-to-house clearances.

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Posted by Peace Action West on September 15th, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

In less than two months, voters in California’s 44th district will decide between rubber stamp Republican Ken Calvert and progressive champion Bill Hedrick. Who do you want to see casting votes in Congress in January?

You can make a big difference. Please sign up to make calls on October 2nd or October 5th.  You can call from home, or join us in our Oakland office on Saturday the 2nd. Click here to volunteer.

You’ve heard the dire predictions about the November election. Conservatives claim that progressives are just not interested, and come Election Day, they’ll stay home. We’ve got to show them they are wrong, because a Republican takeover of Congress would mean serious consequences for US foreign policy, and the world.

I know that progress the last couple years has in many ways been frustratingly slow. But I can honestly say that Bill Hedrick is a candidate I am excited to support, and he will fight to end the war in Afghanistan if he wins a seat in the House. And that depends on you.

The campaign has a plan to win, and they know that it’s all about motivating Democratic voters to show up on Election Day and bringing over some Republicans and independents who are fed up with the status quo. We are making sure they can reach as many as possible by sponsoring a coordinated phone bank to make sure voters know what’s at stake.

Sign up now, because we’re making it easy for you to participate. All you need is a phone and quiet spot to make calls, and we’ll provide the rest.

Click here to give two hours of your time from home on October 2nd or October 5th to help turn out voters in this critical race. You can join us for some food, fun and camaraderie in our downtown Oakland office, or phone from the comfort of your home.

No one else is going to make this win happen. Bill Hedrick is running a true grassroots operation, and as progressives we are the ones who can make or break this race. Please sign up to help us turn out the vote.

Thank you for helping us show that real progressives can and should win elections.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on September 15th, 2010

The Afghanistan Study Group report is out, and the fight is on. A number of critiques have been leveled at the report, one of the most influential being Joshua Foust’s over at, chunks of which are percolating upward into larger outlets. Foust is a smart guy with whom I regularly debate, but there’s a particularly offensive landmine hiding at the end of Foust’s post that I want to highlight:

But in a real way, this is symptomatic of much of the anti-war movement in this country: it starts with a conclusion and works backward to develop justifications for it. That is an inversion of reasoned argument, as it relies on assumption and beliefs to shape reality, rather than using reality as a base for arguments and beliefs.

That’s pretty rich, especially considering the outrageous intellectual dishonesty on display over the past couple of weeks with regard to the pro-counterinsurgency decision-makers in this country, who spent the last few weeks furiously redefining not only reality but their own doctrine. I don’t mean to deflect from Foust’s substantive critiques of the ASG’s report, some of which I plan to return to in a latter post, and I should be clear that I also have some points of contention to raise with some of the particulars of the report, but this drive-by smear is too offensive to let go without a detailed response.

I read Joshua’s swipe as calling out the anti-war movement in the current debate as being the parties particularly guilty of this activity, and if that’s the case, let me go out on a limb here and say that such an assertion is flatly ridiculous on its face. This is particularly offensive given that in the last couple of weeks, our opponents have worked furiously to construct a dishonest narrative of “progress” while their strategy is clearly failing to arrest the deterioration of security in Afghanistan.

To get a sense of the pro-COIN crowd’s continuous intellectual dishonesty, let’s take the most glaring example: how they deal with the “north star” of counterinsurgency, “a legitimate host nation government.”

A writer might mean “legitimate” in a couple of different ways:

  • Winning tangible local support such that the population is either a) tangibly supporting government efforts to root out insurgents, b) refusing to tolerate insurgent operations in within their area or population, or c) all of the above.
  • Relatively non-corrupt. This aspect of legitimacy influences the prior aspect. It’s an especially important aspect of legitimacy in the current conflict because corruption was a major factor seized on by the Taliban in their last rise to power (hypocrisy notwithstanding).

Now, let’s talk about that “tangible local support” for a second. The dream of the counterinsurgent is that “living among the population” and “protecting them” from the insurgents (U.N. condemnation of this practice as one that endangers civilians notwithstanding) is supposed to give locals the “freedom” to side with the counterinsurgents and the local government. Two of the most important manifestations of that support are supposed to be:

  1. increased intelligence from the locals about insurgent activities, and
  2. a measurable increase in the number of locals willing to put their lives on the line by siding with the local government against the insurgents.

As Matthew Hoh points out in his response to Foust and others, the Afghan population only reported one percent of the improvised explosive devices found or detonated in June. That number has been in decline every year since NATO started adding troops in Pashtun areas in 2006:

In late 2005, the civilian population was informing U.S. and NATO troops of about 15 percent of of all IEDs planted. That proportion fell to just over nine percent in 2006, to less than seven percent in 2007 to about three percent in 2008, and again to 2.8 percent in 2009.

In the first six months of 2010, that ratio dropped to 2.6 percent, and in May and June it fell to 1.4 and one percent, respectively.

This is especially salient given that one of the other bloggers attacking the ASG report, Andrew Exum, previously identified this as a core metric for local support and security:

Conversely, a drop in the proportion of IEDs found and cleared indicates the population is not passing on information to security forces, and is standing by while they are attacked — a sign of deteriorating security.

Spontaneous tip-offs from the population, where local people volunteer information about the enemy (known as “walk ins” in the intelligence community), indicate confidence by the people in the government and security forces, and are another useful measurement of cooperation and progress.

And, as I pointed out earlier this week, efforts to recruit for the Afghan National Army out of the local populations that form core insurgent constituencies are failing abysmally, with the only 66 of the more than 3,000 recruits in August coming from the southern Pashtun population (Recall that in February, the deputy commander of the NATO Training Mission called the ethnic makeup of the ANA a “very sensitive issue.”).

In other words, on points 1 and 2, U.S. and our allies are failing to see the signs of increased legitimacy among local populations that are essential for counterinsurgency. Yet, war supporters drone on and on about how public opinion polls–that don’t mean squat without #1 and #2 above–show “popular support” for the Afghan government and opposition to the Taliban.

And corruption. Oh, corruption. Over the last few months, we’ve seen a string of statements from U.S. and NATO officials, including Petraeus, that corruption is, “an enemy,” “counter to our strategy,” that addressing it is “an operational imperative.” Petraeus’ most recent counterinsurgency guidance (.doc) calls corruption one of the “recruiters for the Taliban.” He tells his forces:

Act with your Afghan partners to confront, isolate, pressure, and defund malign actors – and, where appropriate, to refer malign actors for prosecution.

President Obama said last Friday that tackling corruption was essential to “helping President Karzai stand up a broadly accepted, legitimate government.”

Let’s not leave out the admonitions from Andrew Exum from last year, either:

In the next 12 months, however, the priority of civilian-led efforts should be neither small-scale development projects, nor ambiguous “capacity building.” Instead, the civilian surge should have one overriding objective: visibly decreasing corruption inside the Afghan government in order to increase the confidence of Afghans in their own government.

And yet, the moment the full extent of the corruption of our “partner” in Afghanistan breaks into full view with a financial fraud and political corruption scandal that implicates virtually the whole top echelon of the Kabul administration, we get headlines like these:

Exum also abruptly “admitted” he “was wrong,” saying “I am not sure that we should focus to heavily on corruption as an issue unless we plan on retaining a very strong presence in Afghanistan well past June 2011.” Admitting when you’re wrong is laudable. However, it’s one thing to say you’re wrong and another thing to admit just how far into your position’s premises such an admission eats. As recently as September 1, Exum wrote:

Corruption is not something to be opposed merely on the grounds of principle or morality…There are many other reasons, but perhaps the most damaging in the current climate is the effect it has of alienating the disenfranchised and propelling them to turn to non-state actors to provide security, legal redress or relief.  It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that ending corruption is a recurrent theme with extremists.

I don’t understand at all–nor does Exum’s explanation illuminate–how one can support a policy that views “Karzai as our man in Kabul” while holding the above (correct) view. If one is intellectually honest, admitting that highly caustic corruption is so endemic to your local partner that you can’t address it without the whole enterprise coming apart is tantamount to admitting you shouldn’t be doing counterinsurgency with that partner. After all, as Exum points out, Pillar #1 of counterinsurgency doctrine is supposedly “protect the people,” to which all other COIN directives must be subservient. Yet we’ve seen that the people we have to protect the people from apparently includes the Karzai administration and the private business cronies around it. How exactly does building a nice, shiny security force that answers to corrupt human rights abusers “protect the people?”  I wait with bated breath for a real explanation.

Petraeus is trying to put lipstick on the pig by saying things like, “So, there’s actually been quite a bit of activity in the realm of anti-corruption,” pointing to the arrest of a police official as his evidence. Well, yes, general, they did arrest a “very important provincial police chief,” but that’s a little myopic while government workers and security force employees are being literally beaten away from trying to get their salaries out of the president’s brother’s corrupt bank, isn’t it? (This, by the way, is emblematic of Petraeus’ spin campaign: use tiny bites of “progress” to try to paint a narrative while the broader strategic picture is rapidly deteriorating. If the reporter had pressed him a bit on this, you would have seen his other standard response, “Yes, absolutely, more needs to be done, but we’re making progress.”) This is intellectual dishonesty in the extreme and a blatant case of starting with a conclusion (“progress”) and working backwards to find facts that fit the frame.

Foust is a frequent critic of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. He thinks “the fight in the south is a waste of resources” and says so, so I don’t want to try to try to lay the burden of defending all the outrageous contradictions listed above on him. But in the context of the above, it really takes some gall to try to portray the anti-war movement as the faction starting with a conclusion and working backwards to develop justifications and frame reality.

Every movement has elements that frame facts to fit their interpretation to win arguments, on both sides, and it’s fair to call those folks out when it happens. If one wants to assert that a particular person is being dishonest in their interpretation of facts, just make your case and be done with it. This kind of swipe is an evolution of the old smear that those with anti-war views are irrational and “don’t live in the real world,” and it betrays more bias in those that use it than in those it targets. Here’s a little bit of that bias peeking through in Foust’s over-the-top criticism of ASG’s report, emphasis mine:

“[T]he Afghanistan Study Group blames our problems on Afghanistan—the civil war, the al Qaeda safe havens, and so on. It’s the equivalent of complaining, “math is hard” when you do poorly on a math quiz. …To be clear: the real problem in Afghanistan isn’t Afghanistan itself…So [ASG's report is] misdiagnosing the problem, and perpetuating the likelihood that a similarly mishandling of policies and expectations will happen next time.That is a incredibly dangerous thing to do, and, ultimately, cowardly.”

But I don’t recall him calling Exum “cowardly” when Exum showed a similar tendency last year while he was helping with McChrystal’s strategy review, emphasis mine:

I was and am still haunted by one of the last paragraphs in David B. Edwards’ majesterial Heroes of the Age: “Afghanistan’s central problem [is] Afghanistan itself, specifically certain profound moral contradictions that have inhibited this country from forging a coherent civil society. These contradictions are deeply rooted in Afghan culture, but they have come to the fore in the last one hundred years, since the advent of the nation-state, the laying down of permanent borders, and the attempt to establish an extensive state bureaucracy and to invest that bureaucracy with novel forms of authority and control.” Ooph. With that paragraph in mind I set about examining ISAF operations and strategy…

To try to indict the anti-war movement as being particularly guilty of framing facts to fit untrue realities after the last nine years is intellectually dishonest and, may I say, total garbage. I would, however, be happy to hear a clarification from Foust that I’m reading his comment incorrectly, and I’ll be happy to correct this post if it turns out he took Exum to task for his “cowardly” frame of mind during McChrystal’s strategy review. (I don’t think any of this is necessarily intentional. Mostly I think Foust got carried away by requests he received for him to “destroy” the ASG report.) But I’d be even happier to hear counterinsurgency pushers either stick to their doctrine and announce that we have no business doing COIN in Afghanistan if Karzai is our “partner,” or admit that the stuff they’ve been shoveling for the last 9 years on Afghanistan originates from the back end of a bull.

If you’re fed up with this brutal war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost, join us at Rethink Afghanistan:

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Posted by on September 14th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

Perhaps the most disturbing part of ABC's exclusive interview with General David Petraeus is his "cowboys driving the cattle home" metaphor.

He pointed to a Frederick Remington print on the wall of his office in Kabul, called "The Stampede".

"If you look at that print, you'll see that there's a cowboy and he's trying to keep up with this herd that is flat out for glory across very rocky soil."

"There's a lightning bolt coming in from the sky. That might be an enemy attack, a tasker from higher headquarters, who knows what? It's raining sideways. The stormy — sky and clouds and so forth. And — you know, the brim of his hat is back, he's galloping so rapidly. And I said, 'This is our experience. We're all outriders. There's a few of us that are trail bosses. The cattle, if you will, are sort of the tasks. Getting the cattle to the destination means that you've accomplished various missions along the way. I note that some of the cattle who get out ahead of us, and that's okay, we'll catch up with them."

"Some will fall behind, we'll go back and get them. There will be casualties along the way. There are bad guys out there trying to kill us and to kill the cattle and so forth. And again, it's a metaphorical image– that I have used to describe again that I am reasonably comfortable with a somewhat chaotic situation, at times. And I think that helps, certainly, in a job like this one."

Didn't we get enough of this cowboy bullshit (pun intended) from George W. Bush? And "flat out for glory"? You have to be kidding, General. In the same interview, Petraeus conceded that a war that has lasted nine years already could easily last nine or ten years more.

And that's if – big if – the "cattle" do what Petraeus and the other "cowboy outriders" tell them to. Despite Petraeus' claims that the Karzai government are just as interested in fighting corruption as he is:

To recall that in — recent years, indeed even in recent months — various elements of — of President Karzai's government have — taken a number of actions against corruption. The chief justice has hired hundreds of judicial workers put a number of judges in jail. The Minister of Finance has fired literally in recent weeks, actually, just dozens of customs officials, as he's gone out after receiving the news that that kind of corrupt activity that you've just described.

The commander of the western border police is a brigadier general is now in jail. And was recently convicted a few weeks ago. A very important provincial chief — police chief just put in jail. Another one fired, a governor fired and so forth. So, there's actually been quite a bit of activity — in the realm of anti-corruption. Having said that, President Karzai is the first — to state publicly that more needs to be done. He gave quite an — impassioned — discussion of this. In — his Kabul Conference remarks.

The New York Times today reports that:

New corruption prosecutions have ground to a halt here as the result of a protracted dispute within the government over the limits of American-backed investigators who have pursued high-ranking Afghans, according to American and Afghan officials.

The last arrest by corruption investigators was seven weeks ago, of a top official in President Karzai’s government, which by the Afghan president’s own account led him to intervene and win the suspect’s release from detention.

And yesterday the Washington Post reported that a rift with Karzai was prompting the Obama administration to step back from fighting Afghan corruption.

To borrow from the Real Estate world, there are three essential factors in any COIN success: the local government needs legitimacy, legitimacy and legitimacy. Without that, Petraeus will be chasing strays until the cows come home.

Update: The Afghan Central Bank has stepped in and taken over Kabul Bank in a rescue bid, which was going broke after a run on the bank began when reports about the incredible corruption of its officials hit prime-time. The officials include one of Karzai's brothers. Git along, lil' doggie!

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Posted by The Agonist on September 14th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Sept 14

BBC – Afghanistan’s central bank has stepped in to take control of the troubled Kabul Bank.

Central bank chief Abdul Qadir Fitrat said investigations had also been started into the dealings of the bank’s top two directors and shareholders.

Customers have been withdrawing money from the bank amid fears it may collapse following allegations of corruption and mismanagement.

Earlier this month, Mr Fitrat said Kabul Bank was “safe and sound”.

At the time, he also denied the central bank had stepped in, saying “the media exaggerated the matter”.

President Karzai’s brother Mahmoud Karzai is one of the bank’s largest shareholders.

A senior official close to the president said the action was being taken to safeguard the nation’s financial system.

“Every single penny of Kabul Bank belongs to the nation and every single penny will be accounted for,” he said.

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Posted by alexthurston on September 14th, 2010

This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.

[Note for TomDispatch Readers:  Both Nick Turse and I have new books out which provide the inspiration for today’s post.  For the latest review of mine, The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s, by Mamoon Alabassi at Middle East online, click here. (“As editor of, Engelhardt has provided a pioneering platform to a number of illuminating articles... But excellent editors are not necessarily outstanding authors. The American Way of War shows that Engelhardt is among the exceptions.”)  For a host of other reviews, click here. Nick’s invaluable book, The Case for Withdrawal From Afghanistan, includes essays by a wonderful list of TomDispatch favorites and others, including Tariq Ali, Andrew Bacevich, Malalai Joya, Chalmers Johnson, Ann Jones, and Robert Dreyfuss.  Remarkably enough, it’s the only book around that, as its title indicates, advocates the eerily missing option in Washington’s Afghanistan War policy.  Just published, it’s a must for your bookshelf.  Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums, calls it "a pathbreaking synthesis... on the illusions of empire and the impossibility of 'victory' in Afghanistan.  As the contributors so eloquently emphasize, the only realistic and humane option can be spelled in three letters: O-U-T." And here’s a modest reminder: If you are already a regular visitor to, think about starting to make a habit of going to it via TomDispatch book links or book-cover links.  If you do so, no matter what you buy -- from books this site recommends to DVDs, cameras, Kindles, and computers -- we get a cut of your purchase (at no cost to you).  Many of you are already doing this and, believe me, it’s helping to keep us afloat!  Tom]

The American Way of War Quiz
This Was the War Month That Was (Believe It or Not)

By Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse

Yes, it would be funny if it weren’t so grim.  After all, when it comes to squandering money and resources in strange and distant places (or even here at home), you can count on the practitioners of American-style war to be wildly over the top.

Oh, those madcap Pentagon bureaucrats and the zany horde of generals and admirals who go with them!  Give them credit: no one on Earth knows how to throw a war like they do — and they never go home.

In fact, when it comes to linking “profligate” to “war,” with all the lies, manipulations, and cost overruns that give it that proverbial pizzazz, Americans should stand tall.  We are absolutely #1!

Hence, the very first TomDispatch American Way of War Quiz.  Admittedly, it covers only the last four weeks of war news you wouldn’t believe if it weren’t in the papers, but we could have done this for any month since October 2001.

Now’s your chance to pit your wits (and your ability to suspend disbelief) against the best the Pentagon has to offer — and we’re talking about all seventeen-and-a-half miles of corridors in that five-sided, five-story edifice that has triple the square footage of the Empire State Building.  To weigh your skills on the TomDispatch Scales of War™, take the 11-question pop quiz below, checking your answers against ours (with accompanying explanations), and see if you deserve to be a four-star general, a gun-totin’ mercenary, or a mere private.

1. With President Obama’s Afghan surge of 30,000 U.S. troops complete, an administration review of war policy due in December, and fears rising that new war commander General David Petraeus might then ask for more troops, what did the general do last week?

a. He informed the White House that he now had too many troops for reasonable operations in Afghanistan and proposed that a drawdown begin immediately.

b. He assured the White House that he was satisfied with the massive surge in troops (civilian employees, contractors, and CIA personnel) and would proceed as planned.

c. He asked for more troops now.

Correct answer: c.  General Petraeus has already reportedly requested an extra mini-surge of 2,000 more troops from NATO, and probably from U.S. reserves as well, including more trainers for the Afghan military.  In interviews as August ended, he was still insisting that he had “the structures, people, concepts, and resources required to carry out a comprehensive civil-military counterinsurgency campaign.” But that was the summer silly season.  This is September, a time for cooler heads and larger demands.

2. With President Obama’s announced July 2011 drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan in mind, the Pentagon has already:

a. Begun organizing an orderly early 2011 withdrawal of troops from combat outposts and forward operating bases to larger facilities to facilitate the president’s plan.

b. Launched a new U.S. base-building binge in Afghanistan, including contracts for three $100 million facilities not to be completed, no less completely occupied, until late 2011.

c. Announced plans to shut down Kandahar Air Base’s covered boardwalk, including a TGI Friday’s, a Kentucky Fried Chicken, and a Mamma Mia’s Pizzeria, and cancelled the opening of a Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs as part of its preparations for an American drawdown.

Correct answer: b.  According to Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, construction is slated to begin on at least three $100 million air base projects — “a $100 million area at Shindand Air Base for Special Operations helicopters and unmanned intelligence and surveillance aircraft”; another $100 million to expand the airfield at Camp Dwyer, a Marine base in Helmand Province, also to support Special Operations forces; and a final $100 million for expanded air facilities at Mazar-e Sharif in northern Afghanistan.  None of these projects are to be completed until well after July 2011. “[R]equests for $1.3 billion in additional fiscal 2011 funds for multiyear construction of military facilities in Afghanistan are pending before Congress.”   And fear not, there are no indications that the fast-food joints at Kandahar are going anywhere.

3. The U.S. military has more generals and admirals than:

a. Al-Qaeda members in Yemen.

b. Al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan.

c. Al-Qaeda members in Pakistan.

d. Al-Qaeda members in all three countries.

Correct answer: a, b, c, and d.  According to CIA Director Leon Panetta, there are 50 to 100 al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, possibly less.  Best estimates suggest that there are perhaps “several hundred” al-Qaeda members in poverty-stricken, desertifying, strife-torn Yemen.  There are also an estimated “several hundred” members and leaders of the original al-Qaeda in the Pakistani borderlands.  The high-end total for al-Qaeda members in the three countries, then, would be 800, though the actual figure could be significantly smaller. According to Ginger Thompson and Thom Shanker of the New York Times, the U.S. military has 963 generals and admirals, approximately 100 more than on September 11, 2001.  (The average salary for a general, by the way, is $180,000, which means that the cost of these “stars,” not including pensions, health-care plans, and perks, is approximately $170 million a year.)  The U.S. military has 40 four-star generals and admirals at the moment, which may represent more star-power than there are al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan.  Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has suggested that, as a belt-tightening measure, he might cut the top-heavy U.S. military by 50 positions — that is, by half the increase since 9/11.

4. With the U.S. military obliged, by agreement with the Iraqi government, to withdraw all U.S. military personnel from Iraq by the end of 2011, the Pentagon has:

a. Decided that, in the interests of Iraqi sovereignty and to save U.S. taxpayers money, all U.S. troops will depart ahead of schedule, leaving Iraq no later than next February.

b. Instituted austerity measures, halted renovations on remaining American bases, and handed over all base construction efforts to the Iraqi government.

c. Continued to sink hundreds of millions of dollars into military base improvements.

Correct answer: c.  Jackie Soohen recently toured Balad Air Base in Central Iraq for Democracy Now! That base, described in the past as an American town, has, she points out, “three large gyms, multiple shopping centers, recreation areas, and a movie theater,” not to speak of multiple bus routes and the usual range of fast-food parlors, PXs, and the like.  The base, she reports, is still expanding and “on bases like this one…, the military continues to invest hundred of millions in infrastructure improvements, and it is difficult to imagine them fully abandoning everything they are building here.”  They are, in fact, not likely to do so anytime soon.  There are still more than 5,800 U.S. Air Force personnel in Iraq.  Thanks to previous American policies, that country, which once had a large air force, today has only a rudimentary one.  The new Iraqi air force is now eager to purchase its first jet fighters, F-16s from Lockheed Martin, but no agreement has been signed or date set for delivery.  The Iraqis will still need further years of pilot training to fly those planes when they do arrive in 2013 or later.  In the meantime, the U.S. Air Force is almost guaranteed to be the Iraqi Air Force, and U.S. Air Force personnel will undoubtedly remain at Balad Air Base in significant numbers, “withdrawal” or no.

5. What did the Pentagon recently hand over to Iraq?

a. A check for one trillion dollars to reconstruct a country which the U.S. invasion and occupation plunged into a ruinous civil war that cost millions of Iraqis their homes, their jobs, their economic security, their peace of mind, or their lives.

b. An IOU for two trillion dollars to reconstruct a country which the U.S. invasion and occupation plunged into a ruinous civil war that cost millions of Iraqis their homes, their jobs, their economic security, their peace of mind, or their lives.

c. Some hot air.

Correct answer: c.  We’ll bet you didn’t know that, in 2003, the U.S. military occupied not only the land of Iraq, but its air, too.  Just recently, according to a Pentagon press-release-cum-news-story, “the U.S. Air Force handed over the Kirkuk sector of airspace, 15,000 feet and above, to the ICAA [Iraq Civil Aviation Authority] at Baghdad International Airport.”  In November, the U.S. plans to hand over even more hot air, this time in the south of the country — but not all of it.  Iraq will not control all of its air until some time in 2011.  Of course, once they have their air back, the Iraqi Air Force will only need planes and trained pilots to make use of it.  (See question 4.)

6. The 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, a “combat-capable brigade-sized unit,” has been deployed three times (according to the U.S. Army) “during Operation Iraqi Freedom — serving successfully in tough areas including Fallujah, Tall Afar, Ramadi, and Baghdad.”  Its lead elements were recently sent from Fort Hood, Texas, to where?

a. Afghanistan as the final installment of President Obama’s surge of U.S. troops into that country.

b. Camp Justice, the U.S. military base in Oman, as a warning to insurgents in neighboring Yemen.

c. Camp Darby in Livorno, Italy, because the war there didn’t end all that long ago and, besides, Switzerland sits threateningly to the north.

d. Juarez, Mexico, because Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently declared Mexico’s drug war an “insurgency,” and insurgencies are now an area of U.S. military expertise.

e. Iraq, the country that the “last U.S. combat troops” left less than a month ago.

Correct answer: e.  Of course, the “Brave Rifles,” as the unit is known, are not — we repeat not — combat troops.  They’re just, says the Army, “combat capable.”  Yes, they’re trained for combat.  But take our word for it, they’re NOT combat troops.  Yes they’re well armed.  But NOT for combat.  And yes, they’re an “Armored Cavalry” unit.  But it’s NOT about combat, OK?  They’re in Iraq strictly in an “advise and assist” capacity.  Did we mention that they aren’t a combat unit?

7. With the U.S. military occupation of Iraq due to end in 2011, the American mission there is officially being left to the State Department, representing the civilian side of U.S. foreign policy, which is planning to:

a. Spend about $1.5 billion dollars to set up and run two embassy branch offices and two or more “enduring presence posts” (they used to be called “consulates”), including hiring the necessary armed private contractors.

b. Employ 2,400 people in its (“largest in the world”) embassy, the size of the Vatican (but far better defended) in Baghdad’s Green Zone and at its other posts.

c. More than double its force of private civilian contractors to 6,000-7,000, arm them with cast-off Pentagon heavy weaponry and Apache helicopters, and form them into “quick reaction teams.”

d. Spend another $800 million on a program to train the Iraqi police.

e. Take on more than 1,200 specific tasks previously handled by the U.S. military.

Correct answer:  a, b, c, d, and e (and even they don’t cover the subject adequately).  Michael Gordon of the New York Times supplied most of the numbers above.  Who knows what those 1,200 previously military tasks may be, but, reports the Nation’s Jeremy Scahill, those five “enduring presence posts” are to be set up on what are now U.S. military bases, assumedly so that the Pentagon’s costly base-building won’t go completely to waste.  It all represents a unique arrangement, since the civilian State Department’s corps of mercenary warriors will then be used to “operate radar to warn of enemy fire, search for roadside bombs, and fly surveillance drones,” among other jobs.  Oh, and good news — if you happen to be a private contractor at least — that police-training program will be run by private contractors; and even better, just in case the private contractors don’t act on the up-and-up, there will be people specially assigned to provide oversight and they will be… private contractors, of course.  How can the new diplomats from the remodeled five-sided State Department go wrong, advancing as they are encased in the latest mine-resistant vehicles known as MRAPS and ever prepared to give peace a chance?

8. When private military contractor Blackwater (now known as Xe Services) found itself in hot water after some of its guards slaughtered 17 Iraqi civilians in a Baghdad square in 2007, the company responded by:

a. Admitting error, while begging forgiveness from, and rapidly paying generous compensation to, the families of the dead Iraqi civilians.

b. Vowing to avoid all armed work in the future and to transform the company into a community-services and elderly care operation.

c. Setting up at least 31 shell companies and subsidiaries through which it could still be awarded contracts by the State Department, the CIA, and the U.S. Army without embarrassment to anyone.

Correct answer: c.  So James Risen and Mark Mazzetti reported earlier this month in the New York Times. The company, which is “facing a string of legal problems, including the indictment in April of five former Blackwater officials on weapons and obstruction charges, and civil suits stemming from the 2007 shootings in Iraq,” hasn’t suffered in pocket-book terms. Just this year, it received contracts for $120 million to provide the State Department with security in Afghanistan, and another $100 million to protect the CIA in Afghanistan and elsewhere.  (The Agency has awarded Blackwater and its shell companies $600 million since 2001, according to Risen and Mazzetti.)

9. Recently, Iran unveiled a new armed drone, billed as a long-range unmanned aerial bomber and dubbed the “Ambassador of Death” by the country’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Afterwards, the Pentagon:

a. Cut out drone strikes in Pakistan to send Iran a message that conducting regular attacks on a country with which you are not officially at war is impermissible.

b. Announced plans to rethink the fast-and-loose rules of robotic assassination used in its Terminator wars for the better part of a decade so that Iran could not cite U.S. actions as precedent.

c. Stepped up drone strikes in the Pakistani tribal borderlands, sometimes carrying out more than one a day.

Correct answer: c.  In discussing Washington’s desire to export drone technology to allies, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has termed Iranian drones a “concern.”  The U.S. has, however, not only continued to pave the way for Iran (and every other nation and non-state actor) to conduct drone attacks with utter impunity, but accelerated the process.  For his part, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley recently echoed Gates, calling Iran’s drones a concern to us and concern to Iran’s neighbors.”  Of the new Iranian drone’s hyperbolic unofficial moniker, he said with a laugh, “It’s a curious name for a system.”  Perhaps he’s unaware that his own government has dubbed its two marquee armed drones — with a straight face, mind you — Predator and Reaper (as in “Grim…”) and that those aircraft launch “Hellfire” missiles.  The official name of the Iranian drone is actually the least inflammatory of the three: “Karrar” or “striker.”

10. Five hundred million dollars is approximately the amount:

a. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged in July to development projects for Pakistan to “build broader support for the war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban.”

b. Afghanistan’s troubled Kabul Bank had in cash just weeks ago before its panicked depositors bled it dry.

c. The amount of money the U.S. military will spend on its musical bands this year.

Correct answer: a, b, and c.  According to the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus, the U.S. military may now spend $500 million or more annually on its musical bands — the U.S. Army alone has more than 100 of them — the same amount used to sway a critically impoverished country of 166 million people in what’s been portrayed as a multigenerational war of paramount importance.  At least Kabul Bank now knows where to go for a loan, assuming that Afghans will accept trombones instead of cash.

Blast-from-the-Past Bonus Question

11. Who said, “I think for us to get American military personnel involved in a civil war inside Iraq would literally be a quagmire”?

a. Bob Dylan, mumbled during a live performance in April 2002.

b. Dick Cheney in 1991 when he was George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense.

c. George Steinbrenner in an interview with the New York Daily News after the Yankees won the 1998 World Series.

Correct answer: b.  If only Cheney had listened to himself when he became vice president.  “Several years after occupied Iraq had become the quagmire he once warned about,” writes historian John Dower in his striking new book Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9-11, Iraq, “Cheney was asked how to reconcile what he argued in 1991 and disregarded later.  ‘Well, I stand by what I said in ’91,’ he replied. ‘But look what’s happened since then — we had 9/11.’”  Sigh.

And believe it or not, folks, that’s it for the wild and wacky world of American war this month.  If you answered at least 10 of the American Way of War Quiz questions correctly, consider yourself a four-star general.  If you answered 5 to 9 correctly, you qualify as a gun totin’ mercenary (with all the usual Lord of the Flies perks).  If you did worse, you’re a buck private in a U.S. Army woodwind ensemble that’s just been dispatched to Camp Dwyer in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

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 war American-style and his book in a Timothy MacBain TomCast audio interview by clicking here or, to download it to your iPod, here.

Nick Turse is the associate editor of  An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. His latest book, The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Verso Books), has just been published.  He discusses why withdrawal hasn’t been on the American agenda in Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview, which can be accessed by clicking here or downloaded to your iPod here. Turse is currently a fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute.  You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, and on Facebook.  His website is

Copyright 2010 Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse

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Posted by The Agonist on September 14th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Often times blog posts that take apart official, or semi-official reports, as this one seems to have the imprimatur of a good deal of left leaning Washington, are terribly snarky or simply trying to be savvy in having the last word.

Not this one. Joshua delivers the good in an absolutely brutal intellectual takedown. I have a few disagreements with Josh, but evidence and argument is hard to refute. Read it here.

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Posted by on September 13th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

George Washington University has unveiled a series of previously unseen documents relating to the beginnings of the war in Afghanistan. War was always and entirely the only option on the table.

As current U.S. strategy increasingly pursues policies to reconcile or “flip” the Taliban, the document collection released today reveals Washington’s refusal to negotiate with Taliban leadership directly after 9/11. On September 13, 2001, U.S. Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin “bluntly” told Pakistani President Musharraf that there was “absolutely no inclination in Washington to enter into a dialogue with the Taliban. The time for dialog was finished as of September 11.”

Spencer Ackerman notes just how gung-ho the administration was:

The first document today is a State Department cable from September 13, 2001, recounting a conversation between Richard Armitage, then the deputy secretary of state, and the chief of Pakistan’s intelligence service, Mahmud Ahmed. It’s no secret that in the days after 9/11, Pakistan opted to side with the U.S. in the imminent war on al-Qaeda, with Armitage playing diplomatic go-between. But the details of how Pakistan reached its decision have never been disclosed.

Basically, Armitage very bluntly told Mahmud (as the cable calls him) how things were going to play out. Pakistan would end “all logistical support for bin Ladin.” (Alas, the cable does not expand on what “logistical support” Pakistan actually provided the terrorist network.) It would provide “blanket overflight and landing rights” for U.S. intelligence and military operations. Islamabad would even secure “as needed territorial access” for U.S. “military intelligence and all other personnel” (read: CIA). While the American people would hear much in the following decade about the need to keep U.S. boots off of Pakistani soil, Armitage’s demands show no great concern for Pakistani sovereignty. “Americans were responding to Tuesday’s attacks with unyielding anger,” the cable reads, and so Pakistan needed to make clear which side it was on.

That must have been about the time Armitage was telling the Pakistanis that they'd be bombed "back to the Stone Age" if they didn't co-operate.

Despite this, the Bush administration still got clear warnings from the Pakistani ISI that war would be a disaster. In a document dated 24th September 2001, Wendy Chamberlin, then US Ambassador to Pakistan, was told by ISI chief Mahmud Ahmed that he felt a breakthrough with the Taliban was near and that they might well hand over Osama bin Laden and others in return for not being invaded. He told Chamberlin that "a negotiated settlement would be preferable to military action" and:

Mahmud-Chamberlin 24Sept01

Remarkably prescient of the ISI head – imagine if we'd taken his advice - but then again as CNAS blogger and analyst Amil Khan a.k.a. Londonistani tweeted today, "I remember every Mideast specialist I knew thinking everyone had taken a reality-free holiday".

Certainly, the Bush administration hadn't realised one crucial fact, admitted by Chamberlin years later in 2008:

""One thing we never understood is that India has always been the major threat for Pakistan," said former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlain, now the president of the Middle East Institute."

Caught between a threat of nuclear annihilation and the strategic reality that India was their real boogeyman, Pakistan immediately began a double game, as Spencer also notes in his post linked above.

[Another] cable, from November 13, 2002, is a report from Richard Haass, the State Department’s policy-planning director, after meetings in Pakistan with undisclosed official sources, apparently within the Pakistani Army. Haass reported that there were “limits” to Pakistan’s “total support” in the fight against al-Qaeda, which had escaped into the Pakistani tribal areas. The Pakistani Army proclaimed that it was completely aligned with the U.S.’s counterterrorism aims and is now operating in the tribal areas that it previously avoided for political reasons.

But Haass’ source assured him that al-Qaeda could not constitute a safe haven in the Northwest Frontier Province or the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. “Al Qaeda presence in the area was limited to transit; it controlled no part of the FATA,” Haass was told. Tribal leaders in the area “could not shelter al-Qaeda for more than a day or two.” The diplomat replied that “We felt the scale of the challenge was far larger than [Name Redacted] believed.” Not to worry, said the Pakistanis: Only “minimal procedural differences” divided the U.S. and Pakistan on the question of crushing al-Qaeda.

… Nine years after 9/11, the U.S. has escalated a drone war into the Pakistani tribal areas to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” al-Qaeda in its reconstituted safe havens. It has escalated the Afghanistan war substantially, tripling troop levels since February 2009, in the name of preventing al-Qaeda and its allies from returning to power in Kabul. And it still does not have the unequivocal support of Pakistan for these efforts.

If the Bush administration hadn't been so gung-ho to reach for the "big stick", had realised that the threat posed by India was Pakistan's entire reason for wishing to preserve the Taliban in Afghanistan as a guarantor of Pakistan's "strategic space", and would turn back-flips to ensure the regional staus quo, we might have had Bin Laden and the rest in custody from 2001, without an invasion and without the current sorry state of both the Afghan occupation and the regional catfight re-inflamed by that occupation. They never even gave it a try.

Heckuvva job, George!

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