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Archive for October, 2010

Posted by The Agonist on October 31st, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Telegraph (UK) – Russia, US conduct joint Afghan drug raid

Russia and the United States destroyed four drug laboratories in their first joint anti-drug operation in Afghanistan, Russia’s top drug control official has revealed.

Viktor Ivanov said the unprecedented joint operation hit four laboratories near the border with Pakistan, caused up to $1 billion in damage to the wider drug trade. Mr Ivanov says they seized up to 200 million doses of heroin.

Leaders of the Cold War enemies believe cooperation in Afghanistan can expand as both countries concentrate on terrorism and drug exports.
So far it has mostly been limited to Russia providing its territory for U.S. military transit.

The raid destroyed three heroin labs and one morphine lab, which were located about three miles from the Pakistan border at an important drug trafficking crossroads, Ivanov said.

Russia frequently slams what it describes as slack anti-drug policies of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, leading to an increased flow of drugs into Russia via Central Asian countries.

Mr Ivanov travelled to Washington last week to discuss co-operation in fighting drug trafficking and accused the United States of failing to destroy heroin laboratories and crack down on poppy-growing land owners.

Russian drug control authorities have estimated that 30,000 Russians died in 2009 as a result of using heroin from Afghanistan, and a million have died over the last decade.

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Posted by The Agonist on October 29th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Oct 29


Russian and US agents have taken part in a joint operation to destroy drug laboratories in Afghanistan, the head of Russia’s drug control agency says.

More than a tonne of heroin and opium was seized during the raids, which took place on Thursday close to the border with Pakistan, Viktor Ivanov announced.

Mr Ivanov said the haul had a street value of $250m (£157m) and was believed to have been destined for Central Asia.

Russian officials have in the past accused coalition forces in Afghanistan of doing “next to nothing” to tackle drug production, and thereby helping to sustain the estimated 2.5 million heroin addicts in Russia alone.

Much of the heroin enters the territory of the former Soviet Union through Afghanistan’s northern borders with Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

It then travels westwards across Kazakhstan, before entering the central and Ural regions of Russia, where there are large numbers of addicts.

Mr Ivanov said the operation involved about 70 personnel from both countries – including four Russian counter-narcotics agents – backed up by attack helicopters.

Afghanistan produces 90% of the world’s opium, the main ingredient in heroin
They were on the ground for several hours, destroying a “major hub” for the production of heroin, located in a mountainous area about 5km (three miles) from the Pakistani border near the eastern city of Jalalabad, he said.

Along with 932kg (2,055lb) of high-grade heroin and 156kg (345lb) of morphine, a large amount of technical equipment was destroyed.

Mr Ivanov said the raids were based on intelligence Russia had shared with the US, and that he wanted to increase co-operation in the fight against drug trafficking.

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Posted by The Agonist on October 28th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Tom A. Peter | Kabul | Oct 28

CSMFrance denies any connection between its decision to remove troops from Afghanistan in 2011 and Osama bin Laden’s pledge to attack French troops.

France is leaving Afghanistan. Though President Obama has committed to reducing America’s footprint in Afghanistan beginning July 2011, the withdrawal of another ally is likely to add an additional layer of challenge to maneuver that reduction. And the timing of the announcement has put France’s decision under some scrutiny.

France’s announcement came a day after the release of a tape with a message believed to be from Osama Bin Laden, who threatened to attack French citizens because of their presence in Afghanistan and treatment of Muslims. French officials were quick to insist that there is “absolutely no link” between the threat and their decision to begin withdrawing troops in 2011.

“There’s a fixed date for NATO in the framework of its new strategy, that’s the start of 2011, because in 2011 we’re going to transfer a whole series of districts to the Afghans,” said France’s Defense Minister Herve Morin in an article by Agence France-Presse. “At that moment, there could be the first movements or first withdrawals of Allied forces from Afghanistan. In any case, that’s the calendar set by Barack Obama, that in 2011 the first American troops could quit Afghanistan.”

There are approximately 3,500 French troops in Afghanistan, stationed mostly to the east of Kabul. France has had soldiers in Afghanistan since 2001 and 50 of those soldiers have died over the course of the nine-year war. France has previously indicated that it would not send additional troops to Afghanistan.

French officials have yet to confirm the authenticity of the tape, in which the Al Qaeda leader threatens to kill and kidnap more French citizens as a result of their involvement in what Mr. bin Laden calls an unjust war.

“The equation is very clear and simple: as you kill, you will be killed; as you take others hostages, you will be taken hostages,” said bin Laden in a part of the tape given to Al Jazeera.

** Paris says bin Laden message is genuine
** U.S. Official Praises French Military, Political Support

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on October 28th, 2010

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

On Wednesday, the Washington Post carried a remarkable article reporting that according to U.S. government assessments, the U.S. military escalation in Afghanistan has failed.

The Post’s Greg Miller reported that


An intense military campaign aimed at crippling the Taliban has so far failed to inflict more than fleeting setbacks on the insurgency

Miller explains why this is so:


Escalated airstrikes and special operations raids have disrupted Taliban movements and damaged local cells. But officials said that insurgents have been adept at absorbing the blows and that they appear confident that they can outlast an American troop buildup set to subside beginning next July.

"The insurgency seems to be maintaining its resilience," said a senior Defense Department official involved in assessments of the war. Taliban elements have consistently shown an ability to "reestablish and rejuvenate," often within days of routed by U.S. forces, the official said, adding that if there is a sign that momentum has shifted, "I don’t see it."

So, since the policy of military escalation has failed, according to the U.S. government’s own assessments, we should expect that in December, when President Obama promised that the policy will be reviewed, we should see a fundamental change in policy. Right?

But, according to the same Washington Post report, "no major change in strategy is expected in December."

How could it be, that the policy has failed, according to official U.S. government assessments, and yet no change is expected when the promised review occurs?

read more

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Posted by on October 28th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

Let's try to remember that creating a situation where pots of cash are washing about with no accountability, no oversight and no record-keeping is always going to create a culture of corruption.

The US government has spent about $55bn on rebuilding in Afghanistan since 2001 but cannot easily show how the money was spent, a government watchdog says.

The special inspector general's office for Afghanistan reconstruction talked of a "confusing labyrinth" of spending.

It said some 7,000 contractors received $17.7bn from 2007-09 but data prior to 2007 was too poor to be analysed.

…The Pentagon, state department and USAID "are unable to readily report on how much money they spend on contracting for reconstruction activities in Afghanistan", said the report from the special inspector general's office, which was set up by Congress.

…Pentagon contracts worth $11.5bn for construction, supplies and logistics in Afghanistan went to more than 6,615 contractors between 2007 and 2009, the audit found. Half of that money went to just 41 contractors.

USAID spent $3.8bn during that time and the state department $2.4bn.

"The audit shows that navigating the confusing labyrinth of government contracting is difficult, at best," according to the watchdog.

It said there had been little co-ordination within and between US government agencies. The three agencies mentioned above, for example, do not separate their spending in Afghanistan from other US-funded projects around the world.

"If we don't even know who we're giving money to, it is nearly impossible to conduct systemwide oversight," the inspector general, Arnold Fields, said.

It was only during the Summer that a bi-partisan group of four Senators was calling loudly for the inspector general's head, alleging " a lack of competent senior leadership in this agency". The Senators seem to have a point, looking at their evidence, particularly when it comes to Fields' hiring of a former inspector already under a cloud for incompetence and misleading Congress as a contractor.

So we've a situation where the agencies spending your taxpayer dollars in Afghanistan have no idea where the money is going and the folk who are supposed to keep an eye on them are too incompetent to do so properly. Meanwhile, most of that money is dropping into the pockets of folk like DynCorp. Lovely.

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Posted by alexthurston on October 28th, 2010

This story originally appeared at

To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

The other day, on the front page of my hometown newspaper was a shocking tale of Iranian perfidy in Afghanistan headlined “Iran Is Said to Give Top Karzai Aide Cash by the Bagful.”  The mounds of euros reportedly being passed to Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s chief of staff Umar Daudzai were a familiar form of influence peddling — intended, as the New York Times piece put it, “to buy the loyalty of Mr. Daudzai and promote Iran’s interests in the presidential palace, according to Afghan and Western officials here. Iran uses its influence to help drive a wedge between the Afghans and their American and NATO benefactors, they say.”

The Times even had a vivid account of a “large plastic bag bulging with packets of euro bills” being passed to Daudzai on a plane departing Iran.  Strange, though, how few seem to remember the way American “benefactors” launched this latest disatrous chapter in Afghanistan’s three-decade-old catastrophe by proudly delivering their own bag-equivalents stuffed with cash.  Back in 2001, with planning for a U.S. invasion ramping up, CIA agents reportedly appeared in Taliban-free northern Afghanistan with devastatingly convincing arguments for supporting Washington: metal “suitcases” — okay, when it comes to bribery, call us a little classier than our rivals — stuffed with millions of dollars in non-sequentially numbered hundred-dollar bills.  Back then, it was called “preparing the ground” for invasion and, at the time, was considered not perfidious corruption but brilliant spycraft.  Of course, in one form or another, as Karzai — who, as Juan Cole recently commented, “appears not to understand the word ‘corruption’” – noted in a news conference this week, American money has never stopped flowing in staggering amounts. 

Or what about this for bribery, even if here it’s called “a classic carrot-and-stick approach”? The Obama administration recently offered the Pakistani military another $2 billion in weaponry, equipment, and training.  However, the size, scope, and perhaps even existence of the aid package will reportedly be dependent on that military’s launching an operation Washington desperately wants against Taliban-allied forces in North Waziristan.  In a less-noted story, the Wall Street Journal reports that the administration has been pushing Pakistan’s government hard to let many more CIA agents into the country.  If that request is finally granted, who knows what they might be bringing in their suitcases.  After all, the CIA has quite an Iranian-style history of successfully bribing politicians, including in Italy and Japan after World War II.  Of course, there the suitcases of cash went to “our” politicians and for perfectly righteous reasons.

Meanwhile at home, in a midterm election season not exactly lighting up the skies with democratic possibilities, cash is raining down, and unnamed corporate entities are seizing the democratic day.  What in our media is called “fundraising” — if the Iranians were doing it, we’d have another name for it — is heading for the $2 billion mark for House and Senate races (or, on average, about $4 million for every congressional seat up for grabs in 2010), and that doesn’t even include the approximately $400 million being raised by what our media usually politely term “outside interest groups.”

As Ann Jones, TomDispatch regular and author of a remarkable new book, War Is Not Over When It’s Over: Women Speak Out from the Ruins of War (on which more in a future post) suggests, perhaps it’s time to be a little less surprised when the “democracy” we installed in Afghanistan turns out to be a democracy of cash-filled bags and suitcases.  Tom

Big Men, Big Money, Big Voting Scam
The American Midterm Election — in Afghanistan 
By Ann Jones

Afghanistan still awaits final results from the nationwide election held last month to fill the 249 seats of the lower house of parliament. Deciding which of the more than 2,500 candidates won takes time because the Electoral Complaints Commission that investigates voting irregularities, made up of five men handpicked by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, was swamped by more than 4,200 complaints.

Last year, when Karzai himself ran for reelection, he busied himself with backroom deals, while his supporters were caught red-handed stuffing ballot boxes and having a good laugh.  Every Afghan knew that the president who had been foisted on them by foreigners in 2001 was stealing the election.  Yet the international community, led by the United States, proclaimed the process if not exactly “free and fair,” at least “credible” — which is to say: Hey, what’s a little fraud among friends?

With that experience so fresh in memory, the current Electoral Complaints Commission went to work with unusual efficiency, resolving most complaints with unaccustomed speed. And last week the chairman of the Independent Election Commission, an oversight body also selected by President Karzai, announced that it would throw out as invalid almost a quarter of the 5.6 million votes cast.  Until that moment Afghans, who aspire to democracy, had hoped for a more honest election than the charade that returned Karzai to power in 2009.  No such luck.  The partial results of this one look just as bad as the presidential vote, with roughly the same percentage of ballots invalidated.

While dumping fraudulent votes may give the appearance of rigorous oversight, the numbers raise a new mystery: where did those votes come from?  In the two days following the election last month, the running total of votes cast rose from 3.6 million to 4.4 million.  Now, it has suddenly jumped again to 5.6 million — of which 1.3 million ballots have been discarded, leaving a total of 4.3 million valid votes. Election-watcher Martine van Bijlert of the Afghanistan Analysts Network described the attitude of the Independent Election Commission this way: “If you want to know where the additional votes came from: they were added fraudulently, now they have been removed, and that is really all you need to know.”

Perhaps noting that the fraud factor was holding steady, a spokesman for the Independent Election Commission declared that a level of fraud with more than one in five votes considered phony is “normal” in an election.

Thus do official bodies in Afghanistan’s widely advertised new democracy — the one for which our troops are fighting — smooth over all irregularities and make short work of making do, of overseeing elections as usual: not free, not fair, just good enough for Afghans.

But are they?

Without waiting for final results, what passes for “the international community” has already pronounced the elections a “success,” but an email from a parliamentary candidate, a woman I know named Mahbouba Seraj, tells a different story:

“I honestly don’t know from where to start. My frustration, disappointment, and anger are so great I am afraid they might get the better of me.  I was involved in the first presidential election of Afghanistan in 2004 and the first parliamentary election in 2005, but oh how different those elections were.  I won’t say they were better because they too were captured by the War Lords, Commanders, and criminals — just like this election — but the level of fraud and corruption was nothing compared to this.  Those men used force and got elected by their rifles and machine guns, but this election was… unbelievable.  I have no other word to use.”

Many “unbelievable” stories litter this election, but Seraj’s tale is especially instructive because, in the end, it is all too believable.  In fact, it’s a pretty simple story of courageous idealism confounded by big men with money.

On the Campaign Trail

When I last saw candidate Seraj in Kabul, the Afghan capital, in July, she was about to leave for Nuristan Province to campaign.  It was a brave undertaking.  Nuristan lies in the northeast of the country, sandwiched between Panshir Province and Pakistan, along the southern face of the Hindu Kush, a monumental sub-range of the Himalayas.  Its precipitous slopes and high valleys are so forbidding and remote that even Islam did not reach Nuristanis until the late nineteenth century, and they are to this day considered a unique people.

The Taliban move freely in Nuristan.  In 2008, they almost overran a U.S. base there, killing nine American soldiers. Then-Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal responded by withdrawing American troops from all four of their major bases in the province.  The U.S. military high command has given up on certain Afghan locales — in 2010, American troops notably left the deadly and unattainable Korengal Valley, not far from Nuristan — but never before to my knowledge had they given up on a whole province.

Nevertheless, Seraj, a woman of fierce energy, wanted to represent the people of the Duaba and Mondawel districts in western Nuristan, where her grandmother was born. She put it this way to me: “I believe in democracy so much. I want it so much for Afghanistan.  I tell my constituents, ‘I don’t believe in buying votes as so many candidates do.  Please give them to me willingly, because then you will have your representative in Parliament who will truly serve you.’”

Worried for her safety, I reminded her that, during the 2005 parliamentary campaign in her province, another female candidate, Hawa Nuristani, and several of her staff had been shot. 

“Yes,” Seraj agreed, “but she survived, and she won.”

Mahbouba Seraj’s recent email about her election race was not meant for me alone. It was addressed this way: “To my beautiful and forgotten province and its lovely and amazing people.”  It was an English translation of an open letter she had written to her constituents explaining why, in this important election, they had not been able to vote at all.  Reading it made clear why she considered the election of 2010 even more outrageous than previous shameful Afghan escapades in electioneering and fraud.

In 2005, the men in power in Nuristan had tried to murder the candidate they opposed.  Since then they have learned that the internationals — read Americans — will accept any results as long as the election process looks reasonably good. In 2010, far more sophisticated, they murdered democracy simply by killing time.

As Seraj wrote:

“First of all, Nuristan had not been made ready for an election. They didn’t have Army and police personnel to provide security as promised.  Then the hard-working head of the election committee of Nuristan was fired two weeks before polling day because some powerful candidates complained about him to the Election Commission. The young man who replaced him seemed to have no idea what his job was, yet he made sure the ballot boxes didn’t get to Mondawel and Duaba districts, which very conveniently happened to be my constituencies.

“The most incredible part of the story is that this young man had the power to stop a plane that was ready to take off to deliver the ballot boxes.  He refused to hand over the ballot boxes for Mondawel district to the official in charge of the district and the staff of armed men designated to carry the ballots through the mountains to all the remote polling centers in Mondawel.  He created delays and made excuses for days until it was too late.”

Officials in Kabul were also well versed in the technique.  When Seraj tried to contact the head of the Independent Election Commission in Kabul, she reported:

“His very polite assistant would talk to me and tell me, ‘I will ask Mr. So-and-so to call you back,’ but he never did.  Finally, I had to leave Nuristan and come to Kabul to meet with him, but when I arrived for our appointment, he had left the city to take care of other problems, and somehow I had not been notified. 

“That day I tried to get in touch with anyone I could think of who might be able to help — the Minister of Defense, the Head of the United Nations in Kabul, Mr. de Mistura, and other officials at UNAMA [The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] — but everyone was engaged. By then I knew the level of fraud and corruption in Nuristan was going to hit the roof, and it did.  Ballots were stolen from polling stations and scattered on the mountainsides or taken to people’s houses and filled out.  To the last minute, people were offering to buy and sell voting cards and votes. What could we do?  My campaign manager and I filled out complaints to the Election Complaints Commissions in both Nuristan and Kabul.”

Those complaints must now be among the thousands filed by people all over the country with similar disappointed dreams of real Afghan democracy — the very complaints now being so efficiently dealt with in Kabul even as disgruntled voters take to the streets of Herat, Kunduz, Paktia, Ghor, and other cities to protest mass disqualifications that seem to fall inequitably on certain areas or ethnic groups. Yet angry voters and candidates are turned away from the Election Complaints Commission with useless, unregistered receipts. Recognizing election proceedings that look “eerily familiar,” analyst van Bijlert notes: “the processes that are aimed at cleaning up the vote and dismissing fraudulent ballots have become so murky that they themselves are now widely seen as simply the next phase of manipulation.”

Democratic Dreaming

Mahbouba Seraj acquired her dreams of democracy from her ancestors — and from America.  She is the granddaughter of Habibullah, who was the progressive amir or king of Afghanistan from 1901 to 1919, and the great granddaughter of Abdur Rahman, the amir of Afghanistan from 1880 to 1901.  He introduced Islam to Nuristanis, gave Afghanistan its present borders, and for the first time subdued its disparate tribes, bringing them under centralized rule.  She is also the niece of Amanullah, the modernizing amir who ruled from 1919 to 1929, pioneering in the fields of education and women’s rights, winning a war against the British, and gaining the country its independence.

Seraj herself graduated from Kabul University before being thrown into prison with her family after the monarchy was overthrown in 1973.  The family fled the country in 1978 before the impending Soviet invasion, and took refuge in the United States where, Seraj says, “I lived, learned, worked, and in the end buried both my parents.”  Her life changed completely when she saw an Afghan video of the Taliban executing a woman, clad in a faded blue burqa, in Kabul Stadium where, as a girl, she had happily watched games of soccer and buzkashi — Afghan polo — and had once attended a concert given by Duke Ellington.

When the Taliban fell, she returned to Kabul and went to work as a volunteer. She trained young diplomats for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; she trained women parliamentary candidates in the arts of political campaigning and, after they were elected in 2005, in the arts of legislation.  She also created and hosted a national public-service radio program called “Our Beloved Afghanistan,” and taught aspiring Afghan businesswomen at the American University of Afghanistan.

Then, last summer she went to Nuristan to campaign. To her supporters back in Kabul she then wrote:

“I want to help the most underserved people in the whole of Afghanistan, the Nuristanis. If only the world knew how these magnificent people live in these great valleys of Nuristan, without roads, schools, hospitals, electricity, or any of the basic necessities of life. The women of Nuristan do all the difficult physical work.  They gather wood, they pick the fruit from the trees, they tend their animals and their children and their husbands, and they walk for miles, climbing steep mountains with huge loads on their backs and their kids in their arms.  I want to be a voice for Nuristan. I want to put it back on the map of Afghanistan.”

In her most recent message to her constituents, she wrote:

“Now, I have no idea how the Election Complaints Commission is going to decide who has won this election.  The ECC keeps saying, ‘We have criteria and will decide accordingly.’  But I wonder what criteria they will apply to candidates who have not received votes from their constituencies because some few people got paid to prevent the votes from being cast. Perhaps the government will abandon Nuristan, or perhaps it will pick its own winner and call this “A SUCCESSFUL AND JUST ELECTION SPECIALLY FOR NURISTAN PROVINCE, THE MOST BACKWARD, POOR, BEAUTIFUL, AND FORGOTTEN PROVINCE OF AFGHANISTAN.”

Such a conclusion might be good enough for many Afghans whose dreams of democracy faded even before last year’s presidential election when word first began to circulate nationwide that the fix was in for Karzai.  At least it would be no more than they have come to expect from repeated exercises in counterfeit democracy staged, it seems, more for the benefit of international audiences (and voters) than for the Afghan electorate.

Here’s a question for Americans: Would such a conclusion be good enough for us?  We are, after all, citizens of the democracy that installed the largely fundamentalist government of Afghanistan in the first place, labeled it “democratic,” and staged the first Afghan presidential election in 2004 with unseemly haste as George W. Bush eyed his own run for reelection.  Assuming command in Afghanistan in 2010, General David Petraeus was careful to set American expectations low: “We’re not trying to turn Afghanistan into Switzerland in five years or less,” he said. “What’s good enough, traditional organizing structures and so forth are certainly fine.”

International apologists for “good enough” who foot the bill and stage Afghan elections no longer even pretend to aim for standards like those of Switzerland — standards that nonetheless enter the democratic dreams of a great many Afghans.  They assume instead that Afghans naturally cheat.  As it happens, Mahbouba Seraj does not.  And while it may be unreasonable to expect perfection, the fact that Afghan elections grow ever more crooked as the years pass, and Afghan voters increasingly disillusioned, suggests that Afghans are learning to play (if they care to play at all) by what they take to be American rules.

Put yourself in the place of an Afghan for a moment.  When you see photographs of President Karzai’s men stuffing ballot boxes, and an American president not only telephones to congratulate him on his victory, while admitting that the election was “a little messy,” but also sends more troops to shore up his government, what are you to make of it?  What else could you make of it but that Americans are complicit in the whole corrupt and costly enterprise?  If you were a Nuristani, eager to cast a vote for a splendid woman candidate, and the ballots never came, what in the world would you make of that?

If you were Mahbouba Seraj, believing fervently in democracy, such things might break your heart.  If you are an American voter uneasy about the course of our democracy, well, maybe you ought to give some thought to this other Afghan democracy: the one we’ve set up, paid for, and sent our soldiers to fight for as an example to the world — a small but increasingly transparent replica of our own.

Ann Jones, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan and the just published War Is Not Over When It’s Over: Women Speak Out from the Ruins of War (Metropolitan 2010). Having returned temporarily from conflict zones, she is undergoing culture shock as a fellow of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.

Copyright 2010 Ann Jones

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Posted by The Agonist on October 27th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

In a recent post showing an incantation of the spirit of Eugene Debs vs. the War, Michael Collins asked, “Who would dare say this today?” Almost by mistake, I found the answer to his question in the following embedded link. I would highly recommend setting aside the time to watch this erudite and devastating critique of the liberal class–from the perspective of a liberal. The time spent would be far more productive than the equivalent surfing the internet or listening to pundits while washing the dishes. And it’s more persuasive than anything you’re likely to read or watch for the next week.

The takeaway quotes are as follows:

We have to remember that it is not our job to take power. That is not our job. Our job is to remain fast around moral imperatives that we do not compromise on.

It is our job to defend a dispossessed working class. It is our job to defend sick children. It is our job to defend those who are being tortured, abused, and killed, in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan because of our rapacious and out-of-control war economy.

And we have to be willing to get up and make personal sacrifices on behalf of these moral imperatives even if at first we become pariahs. That is the only hope left.

Anybody who is foolish enough that going to a ballot box at this point, and voting for a Democratic candidate is going to change anything, I think is living in a universe that is as non-reality based as the Christian right.

And if we can recover that ethic. If we can understand that rebellion or resistance is a way to safeguard our own integrity, our own individuality. If we can look down the long term, and say maybe not in our own lifetime. But we can carry this for the generations that come after.

Then I think we can speak about hope.

If we refuse to do this, if we remain passive and complacent, then I think both our Nation, and finally the ecosystem that sustains human life, is doomed.

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Posted by on October 27th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

The man who withdrew his nation's troops from Afghanistan, Mikhail Gorbachev, is pessimistic about America's adventure there, telling the BBC that a US victory "is impossible there". He added that the mess is, to a great extent, America's own fault.

"We had hoped America would abide by the agreement that we reached that Afghanistan should be a neutral, democratic country, that would have good relations with its neighbours and with both the US and the USSR.

"The Americans always said they supported this, but at the same time they were training militants – the same ones who today are terrorising Afghanistan and more and more of Pakistan," Mr Gorbachev said.

Because of this, it would be more difficult for the US to get out of the situation.

"But what's the alternative – another Vietnam? Sending in half-a-million troops? That wouldn't work."

The best that Nato could hope to achieve, he said, was to help the country get back on its feet and rebuild itself after the war.

That's not a nation-building exercize Gorby is advocating – it's simply paying for our breakages and getting the f*** out of the store. Analysts like Marvin Weinbaum at Georgetown and Caroline Wadhams at C.A.P. tell us that the warlords of the former Northern Alliance are now re-arming for the next stage of Afghanistan's civil war and that the Afghan security forces will likely fracture into partisan militias as soon as that next stage kicks off – which will depend on Pakistan, Karzai and the Taliban, not America's presence or lack of it. Getting out before we find ourselves refereeing that next war would be a damn good idea.

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Posted by The Agonist on October 26th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Washington | October 26

Dawn – A US court rule Monday that the Pentagon can withhold key information about hundreds of detainees held at a US military prison in Afghanistan, according the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the suit.

The ruling came in response to a suit filed by the ACLU against the US Defence Department and the Central Intelligence Agency seeking information about inmates detained at a US installation at Bagram Air Base.

The ACLU had been seeking access to records on the detention and treatment of prisoners at Bagram, which now is known as Parwan.

The Pentagon has released the names of the 645 prisoners detained there as of September 2009, but has kept secret other vital information including the detainees’ nationalities, how long they have been held, in what country they were detained and the circumstances surrounding their capture.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on October 26th, 2010

Last week I wrote about the fanciful “progress” talk about Afghanistan coming out of General Petraeus’ shop, showing that the security situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate even in areas held up by the military as positive examples. One of the facets of this drivel with which I took particular issue was the assertion of a “comprehensive civil and military effort” in Kandahar. A new report (.pdf) out today by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) further deflates that false narrative.

Recall that in Carlotta Gall’s NYT piece, she wrote:

“Unlike the Marja operation, [military and other administration officials] say, the one in Kandahar is a comprehensive civil and military effort that is changing the public mood as well as improving security.”

As I pointed out last week, military officials repeatedly described Marjah (yes, that Marjah) as a “comprehensive civil-military campaign,” so it’s laughable that we should buy that kind of description as an assurance that the push into Kandahar won’t a) fail spectacularly, or b) turn out like Marjah. But the association of the phrase “comprehensive civil and military effort” with Marjah isn’t the only reason we should be really, really worried.

SIGAR’s latest report audits the implementation of the “civilian surge” meant to accompany the military troop increase. The report raises several concerns about the civilian side of the “civil and military effort,” including:

  • the effectiveness and quality of training for field personnel;
  • the level of agency guidance for field work;
  • the application of models for civilian-military integration;
  • civilians’ ability to oversee implementing partners;
  • the civilian surge’s long-term sustainability; and
  • the Embassy’s lack of a formal and systematic mechanism for collecting and implementing best practices and lessons learned.

Reading between the lines of report, we can also see that the civil/military partnership is, shall we say, a bit rocky (emphasis mine):

“improvements were needed in such areas as agency-specific procedures, working within an interagency setting, field conditions, and civilian-military dynamics.”

“Both civilian and military personnel have stated that they would benefit from further training on the precise dynamics and best practices of the civilian-military relationship, as well as more integrated civilian-military training. For example, one official stated that training should include more exercises and scenarios requiring conflict resolution between civilian and military personnel.”

“…an IPA summary of conclusions reached from interviews with approximately 50 State, USAID, and USDA personnel stationed throughout Afghanistan concluded that civilian-military integration is occurring because of personal tenacity rather than institutional planning. The summary added that there are no clear lines of communication for civilians in the field on how to act with the military portion of their PRTs, or how to delineate “taskings” from their military partners.”

This audit is just the latest in a string of reports indicating real trouble not just with the relationship between the civilian and military personnel but with the entire civilian “uplift” itself.

Remember that the U.S.’s idea of a “comprehensive” civilian/military effort is a ratio slightly above one civilian for every 100 military personnel. SIGAR says that the January 2012 personnel target for this uplift is 1,500 personnel. That’s fewer people than live in my little hometown in Texas, and it’s expected to be a “comprehensive” partner for a 100,000+ military force in a country larger than California. Those 1,500 people will face a “lack of clarity from their agencies on various aspects of their work in the field,” unrealistic training for their partnership, and massive logistical challenges. And, as the SIGAR report makes clear, they will also face a lack of respect from military colleagues who deride them as unreliable and ineffective because the arrangement of the civilian presence leaves them out of the information loop even when it comes to civilian-led projects happening in their area of responsibility. This is not a recipe for success, and it certainly cannot be described as a “comprehensive civilian and military campaign.” It’s a military campaign with a civilian fig leaf.

“Comprehensive civilian and military effort” is the new “government in a box.”

We should replace these and other junk phrases with a new counterinsurgency motto: “Over-promise, under-deliver.”

The Afghanistan War isn’t making us safer, and it’s not worth the cost. If you’re tired of the spin, join the tens of thousands of others working to end the war at Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

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