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Archive for October, 2010

Posted by on October 21st, 2010

From our partners at

By Derrick Crowe

The New York Times just published a story under the headline, “Coalition Forces Routing Taliban in Key Afghan Region” that could not include more Pentagon talking points if it were written by General David Petraeus himself. In both the broad outline of the story and in the particulars, the Times conveys a deceptive picture of the state of the conflict and obscures the continued deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan. The available facts simply do not support the assertion that U.S. and coalition forces are “making ‘deliberate progress’ and have seized the initiative from the insurgents.”

The gist of Carlotta Gall’s article is that U.S. operations in Kandahar are shattering the Taliban as the U.S. strategy there begins to bear fruit. Though the article is heavy on talking points from NATO spokespeople and anecdotes from troops, we are given only one concrete measure of “progress” in this article:

“Lt. Col. Rodger Lemons, commanding Task Force 1-66 in Arghandab, said he had seen insurgent attacks drop from 50 a week in August to 15 a week two months later. That may be because of the onset of colder weather, when fighting tends to drop off, but Colonel Lemons said he felt the Taliban was losing heart.”

But here’s the problem: According to the Afghan NGO Safety Office (.pdf), armed opposition group attacks all across Afghanistan increased between August and late September.

ANSO AOG Initiated Attacks, Q3 2010

And, in Kandahar City, the insurgent attack rate continues to follow a general upward trend:

Screen shot 2010-10-21 at 1.37.24 PM

“The daily attack rate [in Kandahar] has grown from 0.1 in Week one to 2.8 per day by Week 35 suggesting that the elements of OP HAMKARI undertaken so far are not degrading the AOG ability to conduct attacks. Field reports suggest that the Taliban retain up to 4,000 fighters inside the city and continue a wide- spread campaign of intimidation, targeted assassination and the widespread deployment of IEDs against Police and Military targets.”

Further, the area continues to become more hostile for civilians. The International Committee of the Red Cross says that the number of war-related injuries being treated at local hospitals is spiking.

Someone please explain the progress to me again. I can’t find it.

This gem from Gall’s article is particularly rich, emphasis mine:

Unlike the Marja operation, they say, the one in Kandahar is a comprehensive civil and military effort that is changing the public mood as well as improving security.

That sounds vaguely familiar, doesn’t it? Why, it’s almost like this is exactly how U.S. officials described the Marja operation at the time. Here’s one General David Petraeus, interviewed back in February:

“But Petraeus sought to put the [Marjah] offensive in a larger context, saying that it’s “just the initial operation of what will be a 12- to 18-month campaign.”

“We’ve spent the last year getting the inputs right in Afghanistan, getting the structures and organizations necessary for a comprehensive civil-military campaign,” he said.

You can find this language about Marjah from Petraeus, General McChrystal, and others in countless other places, including this transcript of Petraeus’ remarks from April and again in the Senate Democratic Policy Committee talking points, “Progress Toward Turning the Tide in Afghanistan.” Yet, somehow, Gall and the rest of the media seem to just give the Pentagon a free pass to keep dredging up the same tired talking points without questioning their reemergence. She relays to the reader that Kandahar will be different than Marjah because it will be a “comprehensive civil and military effort,” without providing the reader context that this is exactly the same language that the military was using to sell the Marjah operation.

Throughout the article, Gall practically drools over a “new” rocket system employed in Kandahar, the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), and uncritically passes along General Nick Carter’s praise for this weapon:

“Yet residents say that the Taliban have been stunned by fast-paced raids on their leaders and bases. In particular they talk with awe of a powerful new rocket that has been fired from the Kandahar air base into Panjwai and other areas for the last two or three weeks, hitting Taliban compounds with remarkable accuracy.

“In an interview, General Carter said the weapon the Afghans saw was most likely the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or Himars, a relatively new multiple rocket system. “They are extraordinarily precise; they are accurate to a meter,” he said.”

The article lacks any mention of the last time the HIMARS made the news, back in February, when U.S. forces in Marjah killed a slew of civilians with it, after which the HIMARS was briefly suspended from use in the country . From ISAF’s own statement on the incident:

“Two rockets from a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launched at insurgents firing upon Afghan and ISAF forces impacted approximately 300 meters off their intended target, killing 12 civilians in Nad Ali district, Helmand Province today.”

Let’s just ignore the fact that these “new rockets” with “remarkable accuracy” have been in the field for years and were the munitions involved in highly publicized civilian casualty events…those rockets are just bad ass, aren’t they? I mean, it “curls and turns in the air as it zooms in on its target”! AMAZING! The war is over!

This is the problem with the obsession with “precision” weapons: they are frequently imprecise, and they are only as good as the judgment of the wielder. That’s why the first 50 “precision” strikes of the Iraq War all failed to hit their intended targets. So pardon the pun, but it’s particularly galling that the Times would pass along this bit of merchandising for the war industry without doing so much as a Wikipedia search to just see if maybe General Carter is blowing smoke in your face.

This latest burst of war propaganda is depressingly transparent, and it insults the intelligence of the American people, most of whom see past the smoke screen and oppose the war. We know that the war in Afghanistan isn’t making us safer, and it’s not worth the cost. It’s imperative that we end this conflict now, before it corrodes our national interest further. Doing so would be much, much easier if the media in this country would do their job and question authority, rather than uncritically passing along easily disproved spin from their handlers in Afghanistan.

If you’re tired of the Pentagon spin and ready to see this brutal, futile war end, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on October 21st, 2010

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

This week, the British government announced plans to cut its military personnel by 10 percent, scrap 40 percent of the army’s artillery and tanks, and withdraw all of its troops from Germany within 10 years, the New York Times reports. The plan will involve a cut of about 8 percent in real terms in Britain’s annual defense budget, significantly less than the 10 to 20 percent cuts that were under discussion. The Times attributes the reduced military cuts, in part, to US government pressure.

The reduced cuts in military spending are expected to lead to increased cuts in domestic spending:


The more modest scale of the military cutbacks placed extra strain on the government’s overall effort to save more than $130 billion through spending cutbacks by 2015, a commitment that will require other government departments to make cutbacks averaging 25 percent. [my emphasis]

This what we have to look forward to with a Republican Congress: demands for budget cuts from which military spending is largely spared and which therefore will fall on domestic spending, like Social Security.

read more

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on October 21st, 2010

This story originally appeared at

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

As we know from a single April 19, 2003 New York Times piece, the Pentagon arrived in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq preparing for a long stay.  They already had at least four mega-military bases on the drawing boards as they entered the country (all subsequently built).  “Enduring camps” they decided to call them, rather than the dicier “permanent bases.”  In the end, hundreds of bases were constructed in Iraq, from the tiniest combat outposts to monster installations, to the tune of untold billions of dollars.  In the end, hundreds are now being left behind to be stripped, looted, or occupied by the Iraqi military. 

From Baghdad, the British Guardian’s correspondent Martin Chulov recently reported that part of the price Nouri al-Maliki seems to have negotiated (in Tehran, not Washington) to retain his prime ministership may involve not letting the Pentagon keep even a single monster base in Iraq after 2011.  This was evidently demanded by former U.S. nemesis, rebel cleric, and now “kingmaker” Muqtada al-Sadr, whose movement controls more than 10% of the votes in Iraq’s new parliament.  That can’t make the Pentagon, or the U.S. high command, happy – and the Obama administration is already kicking

However this ends for Washington, barely based or baseless in Iraq, surely this was not the way it was supposed to happen, not when it was still “mission accomplished” time and it seemed so self-evident that American military power, obviously unchallengeable, would be deeply entrenched on either side of Iran until “regime change” occurred there. 

If you want a measure of how far the U.S. has “fallen” in Iraq, it now has only 21 “burn pits” there — places at U.S. bases where waste of all sorts is incinerated, regularly spewing smoke filled with toxic emissions into the air to the detriment of American soldiers (and undoubtedly local Iraqis as well).  On the other hand, according to a Government Accountability Office report, there are now 221 such pits in Afghanistan and “more coming.”  Put another way, even as America’s baseworld in Iraq dwindles, there seems to be no learning curve in Washington.  As Nick Turse suggests in his most recent TomDispatch report, in Afghanistan we seem to be heading down the Iraq path on bases with a special ardor.  More than nine years after our “successful” invasion, billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are still flowing into constructing and upgrading the massive base structure in that country — and yet, there are never enough of them.  

In a recent Wall Street Journal piece on an unexpected surge of Taliban successes in northern Afghanistan, Army Colonel Bill Burleson, commander of the 10th Mountain Division, among the relatively modest U.S. forces in the northern part of that country, is quoted as saying somewhat desperately of Taliban gains in the region: “In order to deny that terrain to the enemy you’d have to have people all over Afghanistan in combat outposts.”  Good point, Colonel.  Why stop now?  Tom 

Digging in for the Long Haul in Afghanistan 
How Permanent Are America’s Afghan Bases? 
By Nick Turse

Some go by names steeped in military tradition like Leatherneck and Geronimo.  Many sound fake-tough, like RamrodLightning, Cobra, and Wolverine.  Some display a local flavor, like Orgun-E, Howz-e-Madad, and Kunduz.  All, however, have one thing in common: they are U.S. and allied forward operating bases, also known as FOBs.  They are part of a base-building surge that has left the countryside of Afghanistan dotted with military posts, themselves expanding all the time, despite the drawdown of forces promised by President Obama beginning in July 2011. 

The U.S. military does not count the exact number of FOBs it has built in Afghanistan, but forward operating bases and other facilities of similar or smaller size make up the bulk of U.S. outposts there.  Of the hundreds of U.S. bases in the country, according to Gary Younger, a U.S. public affairs officer with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), 77% house units of battalion size (approximately 500 to 1,000 troops) or smaller; 20% are occupied by units smaller than a Brigade Combat Team (about 3,000 troops); and 3% are huge bases, occupied by units larger than a Brigade Combat Team, that generally boast large-scale military command-and-control capabilities and all the amenities of Anytown, USA. Younger tells TomDispatch that ISAF does not centrally track its base construction and up-grading work, nor the money spent on such projects.

However, Major General Kenneth S. Dowd — the Director of Logistics for U.S. Central Command for three years before leaving the post in June — offered this partial account of the ongoing Afghan base build-up in the September/October issue of Army Sustainment, the official logistics journal of the Army:

“Military construction projects scheduled for com­pletion over the next 12 months will deliver 4 new runways, ramp space for 8 C−17 transports, and parking for 50 helicopters and 24 close air support and 26 intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft. This represents roughly one-third of the air­field paving projects currently funded in the Afghanistan theater of operations. Additional minor construction plans called for the construction of over 12 new FOBs and expansion of 18 existing FOBs.”

If Dowd offered the barest sketch of some of the projects planned or underway, a TomDispatch analysis of little-noticed U.S. government records and publications, including U.S. Army and Army Corps of Engineers contracting documents and construction-bid solicitations issued over the last five months, fills in the picture.  The documents reveal plans for large-scale, expensive Afghan base expansions of every sort and a military that is expecting to pursue its building boom without letup well into the future.  These facts-on-the-ground indicate that, whatever timelines for phased withdrawal may be issued in Washington, the U.S. military is focused on building up, not drawing down, in Afghanistan.

Jobs on FOBs

A typical forward operating base set to undergo expansion is FOB Salerno, a post located near the Afghan city of Khost, not far from the Pakistani border.  According to documents from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, plans are in the works for an expansion of that base’s fuel facilities. Estimated to cost $10 million to $25 million, these upgrades will increase fuel storage capacity to one million gallons to enhance land and air operations, and may not be completed for a year and a half; that is, until well into 2012.

In June, work was completed on a new, nearly $12 million runway at Forward Operating Base Shank, near the city of Puli Alam in Logar Province, south of Kabul.  The base was formerly accessible only by road and helicopter, but its new 1.4-mile-long airstrip can now accommodate large Lockheed C-130 Hercules and Boeing C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft, enabling ever larger numbers of personnel to be deployed to the site.

Not surprisingly, government documents released in August show that FOB Shank is also set for a major boost in troop housing.  Already home to approximately 4,500 military personnel, it will be adding a new two-story barracks, constructed of containerized housing units known as “relocatable buildings” or RLBs, to accommodate 1,100 more troops.  Support facilities, access roads, parking areas, new utilities, and other infrastructure required to sustain the housing complex will also be installed for an estimated $5 million to $10 million. In addition, the Army Corps of Engineers just began seeking contractors to add 452,000 square feet of airfield parking space at the base.  It’s meant for Special Operations Forces’ helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.  New aircraft maintenance facilities and 80,000 square feet more of taxiways will also be built at the cost of another $10 million to $25 million.

Documents reveal that this sort of expansion is now going on at a remarkably rapid pace all over the country.  For instance, major expansions of infrastructure to support helicopter operations, including increased apron space, taxiways, and tarmac for parking, servicing, loading, and unloading are planned for facilities like FOB Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan Province, FOB Dwyer, a Marine base in Helmand Province, and FOB Sharana, a Paktika Province base near the Pakistani border, where the Army also announced plans for the construction of an ammunition supply facility, with storage space for one million pounds of munitions, and related infrastructure.

In late August, Walter Pincus of the Washington Post reported that construction was slated to begin on at least three $100 million base projects, including FOB Dwyer, that were not “expected to be completed until the latter half of 2011.”  In addition to enhancing helicopter operations infrastructure, plans were also announced for the construction of a new, large-scale wastewater treatment facility at Dwyer, a project estimated to cost another $10 million to $25 million and, like so much of what is now being built by the U.S. military in the backlands of Afghanistan, it is not expected to be completed and put fully into use until well into the second half of 2011, if not later — that is, after President Obama’s theoretical due date for beginning to lessen the mission in that country.

And whenever you stumble upon a document indicating that work of a certain sort is taking place at one FOB, you can be sure that, sooner or later, you will find similar work at other FOBs.  In this case, for example, FOB Frontenac in Kandahar Province and Tarin Kowt, north of Kandahar, are, like Dwyer, slated to receive new wastewater plants.

Much of this work may sound mundane, but the scale of it isn’t.  Typical is another of the bases identified by Pincus, FOB Shindand in western Afghanistan, which is to receive, among other things, new security fencing, new guard towers, and new underground electrical lines.  And that’s just to begin the list of enhancements at Shindand, including earthen berms for four 200,000-gallon “expeditionary fuel bladders and a concrete pad suitable for parking and operating fourteen R-11 refueling vehicles” — tanker trucks with a 6,000-gallon capacity — as well as new passenger processing and cargo handling facilities (an $18 million contract) and an expansion of helicopter facilities (another $25 million to $50 million).

Multiply this, FOB by FOB, the length and breadth of Afghanistan, and you have a building program fit for a long war.

Permanent Bases?

This building boom has hardly been confined to FOBs.  Construction and expansion work at bases far larger than FOBs, including the mega-bases at Bagram and Kandahar, is ongoing, often at a startling pace.  The Army, for example, has indicated it plans to build a 24,000 square-foot, $10-million command-and-control facility as well as a “Joint Defense Operations Center” with supporting amenities — from water storage tanks to outdoor landscaping — at Bagram Air Base.  At bustling Kandahar Air Field, the military has offered contracts for a variety of upgrades, including a $28.5 million deal for the construction of an outdoor shelter for fighter aircraft, as well as new operations and maintenance facilities and more apron space, among a host of other improvements.

In June, Noah Shachtman of’s Danger Room reported on the Army’s plans to expand its Special Operations headquarters at Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan and cited documents indicating that construction would include a “communications building, Tactical Operations Center, training facility, medical aid station, Vehicle Maintenance Facility… dining facility, laundry facility, and a kennel to support working dogs.”  A contract for that work, worth $30 million, was awarded at the end of September. 

Similarly, according to a recent article in the Marine Corps Times, Camp Leatherneck, which expanded in late 2009 from a 660-acre facility to 1,550 acres, or approximately 2.4 square miles, is slated to add three new gyms to the one already there, as well as a chapel complex with three separate buildings (one big enough to accommodate up to 200 people), a second mess hall (capable of serving 4,000 Marines at a time), a new PX housed in a big-top tent, with 10,000 square feet of sales space — the current base facility only has 3,000 square feet — and the installation of a $200 million runway that can accommodate C-5 cargo planes and 747 passenger jets.

Despite a pledge from the Obama administration to begin its troop drawdowns next July, this ongoing base-construction splurge, when put together with recent signals from the White House, civilians at the Pentagon, and top military commanders, including Afghan war chief General David Petraeus, suggests that the process may be drawn out over many years.  During a recent interview with ABC News Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz, for instance, Petraeus affirmed the president’s July 2011 timeline, but added a crucial caveat.  “It will be a pace that is determined by conditions,” he said.

Almost a decade into the Afghan War, he claimed, the U.S. military had “finally gotten the inputs right in Afghanistan.”  Raddatz then asked if the “counterinsurgency clock” had just restarted — if, that is, it could be another nine or ten years to achieve success.  “Yeah,” replied Petraeus, hastening to add that American soldiers killed there over the previous nine years had not simply died for nothing.  “But it is just at this point that we feel that we do have the organizations that we learned in Iraq and from history are necessary for the conduct that this kind of campaign.”

The building boom occurring on U.S. bases across Afghanistan and the contracts for future construction being awarded at the moment seem to confirm that, whatever the White House has in mind, the military is operating on something closer to the Petraeus timeline.  The new Special Operations base at Mazar-e-Sharif, to take but one of many examples, may not be completed and fully occupied for at least a year and a half.  Other construction contracts, not yet even awarded, are expected to take a year or more to complete.  And military timelines suggest that, if the Pentagon gets its way, American troop levels may not dip below the numbers present when Obama took office, approximately 36,000 troops, until 2016 or beyond.

At the moment, the American people are being offered one story about how the American war in Afghanistan is to proceed, while in Afghanistan their tax dollars are being invested in another trajectory entirely.  The question is: How permanent are U.S. bases in Afghanistan?  And if they are not meant to be used for a decade or more to come, why is the Pentagon still building as if they were?

Recently, the Army sought bids from contractors willing to supply power plants and supporting fuel systems at forward operating bases in Afghanistan for up to five years.  Power plants, fuel systems, and the bases on which they are being built are facts on the ground.  Such facts carry a weight of their own, and offer a window into U.S. designs in Afghanistan that may be at least as relevant as anything Barack Obama or his aides have been saying about draw-downs, deadlines, or future withdrawal plans. 

If you want to ask hard questions about America’s Afghan War, start with those bases.

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), which brings together leading analysts from across the political spectrum, has just been published.  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 Nick Turse

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Posted by on October 21st, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

The New York Time's Carlotta Gall has a report today, sourced mainly from U.S. military accounts, that echoes the military's tale of "gradual progress" near Kandahar in South Afghanistan.

NATO commanders are careful not to overstate their successes — they acknowledge they made that mistake earlier in the year when they undertook a high-profile operation against Marja that did not produce lasting gains. But they say they are making “deliberate progress” and have seized the initiative from the insurgents.

Western and Afghan civilian officials are more outspoken, saying that heavy losses for the Taliban have sapped the momentum the insurgency had in the area. Unlike the Marja operation, they say, the one in Kandahar is a comprehensive civil and military effort that is changing the public mood as well as improving security.

“We now have the initiative. We have created momentum,” said Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, the British commander of the NATO coalition forces in southern Afghanistan, who has overseen the Kandahar operation for the last year. “It is everything put together in terms of the effort that has gone in over the last 18 months and it is undoubtedly having an impact.”

That's certainly the narrative NATO officials – both civilian and military – want to push: success at last, after 9 years of trying. They know that domestic patience for a long war is exhausted along with Westen treasuries as well as that a deal of some kind between Karzai's government and the Taliban is growing closer. Factors other than military action will decide when the US and its allies leave Afghanistan, so the generals and politicos are assembling their face and career-saving fig leafs in preparation.

As someone who wants the West out of Afghanistan at the earliest opportunity, I wish them all success in papering over the cracks long enough to head for the exits. However, it would be remiss of me if I didn't point out a couple of possible flaws in the masterplan from the NYT report:

NATO forces have experienced setbacks in other parts of Afghanistan, and some military officials say the advances in Kandahar may not represent a turning point in the overall war effort. The Taliban, for example, have surprised the Americans by asserting control over some areas in the northern part of Afghanistan, from which they had once been almost entirely eliminated.

…A Taliban fighter reached by telephone, who spoke to a reporter only on condition that he not be named, confirmed that the insurgents had pulled back but would seek to reinfiltrate once the main push was over. “We are not there anymore, we are not preparing to fight a big battle, but we are waiting,” he said. “We are waiting until this force has been exhausted and has done all they are supposed to do, and later on our fighters will re-enter the area.”

That's what happened in Marjah – where McChrystal was supposed to roll out the "government in a box" we're now supposed to get in Kandahar. And it's a possibility echoed by the Independent's Julius Cavendish, who sourced his report mainly from local Afghans.

For Nato and the Afghan government, the real challenge will begin when the insurgents start reinfiltrating the area, as they have in Marjah, in neighbouring Helmand, which was the scene of a Nato offensive earlier this year. "This is the trick of the Taliban," one man from Zangabad said. "They flee the fighting. Then slowly, slowly they return."

Meanwhile, Cavendish relates how US forces are still missing the point of "hearts and minds":

Mahmoud Dawood, a 35-year-old farmer from the western tip of the Horn of Panjwaii, the area Afghan and Nato forces are trying to take, described how he was woken last Thursday night by explosions in a neighbouring village. Suddenly the blasts came closer, and the silhouette of an Afghan commando appeared in his open door. "There was a bright white light and a voice said in Pashto 'Stand up'," he said.

"They took me, my brother and our neighbours" to a prison they'd established in a hamlet called Saidan, he added. Dawood claimed to be one of 66 prisoners held there, a figure confirmed by a local elder. The district governor, Haji Baran, confirmed that he had intervened to help secure the release of many of the prisoners following the weekend assault on the peninsula. After being questioned and having biometric data taken, Dawood claimed he was taken home to fill sandbags as they turned his home into a firing point. "They made us walk in front," he said, "so if there was a mine we'd hit it."

Cavendish's report stresses that locals are finding themselves caught in the crossfire literally as well as by such stupidly heavy-handed actions. And we know that Afghans blame the coalition for civilian deaths even when insurgents cause those deaths – quite reasonably,  the coalition says it is there to protect them, after all.

Things are far from as "happy-talk" as US officials would like to present matters: as Derrick posted on Tuesday, an independent assessment by the Afghan NGO Safety Office (ANSO) describes the insurgency as:

increasingly mature, complex & effective. Country wide attacks have grown by 59% (p.10) while sophisticated recruitment techniques have helped activate networks of fighters in the North where European NATO contributors have failed to provide an adequate deterrent (p.11). Some provinces here are experiencing double the country average growth rate (p.12) and their districts are in danger of slipping beyond any control. Clumsy attempts to stem the developments, through the formation of local militia's and intelligence-poor operations, have served to polarize communities with the IEA capitalizing on the local grievances that result. In the South, despite more robust efforts from the US NATO contingents, counterinsurgency operations in Kandahar and Marjah have similarly failed to degrade the IEA's ability to fight, reduce the number of civilian combat fatalities (p.13) or deliver boxed Government.

As Joshua Foust writes:

To read the news dispatches from Afghan and Coalition officials, the Taliban in Kandahar are being routed. It’s a tricky thing to swallow: despite the presence of veteran Carlotta Gall, we have all the trappings of a normal puff-piece about the super-awesome military: reversed momentum, pinky-swears that this time, promise, it won’t be like Marjah, and declarations of victory following the established Taliban tactic of slinking away under the slightest military pressure.

… the military is persisting that everything is awesome and we’re winning, while every single empirical measure we know of says the opposite. What is really going on in Afghanistan? Until the press stops willingly playing along in the DOD’s “messaging” campaign against the American public, we will never know really know.

I believe the reality is that a fig-leaf is all the "surge" is amounting to – just as it is proving to be in Iraq. Afghanistan is going to be no more stable in four years time than it is now – thus "papering over the cracks". Just as in Iraq, even after the COINdinistas have announced the success of their surge and the neocons have talked up their victory, renewed violence will be causing large scale casualties and a carefully-constructed facade of progress will begin breaking down anew into another set of civil wars between factions.

Meanwhile, the West will have spent another $trillion or so and another 1,000 or more soldiers on what is essentially a face-saving exercise. We could pack up and leave right now and nothing essential would change in Afghanistan. We should.

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Posted by on October 20th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

Yesterday, at the Rome conference, Iran offered to help NATO stabilize Afghanistan in return for some quid pro quo from the US.

"Iran is convinced that a regional approach is needed to stabilise Afghanistan but clearly we need the support of the international community, including the United States," Mohammad Ali Qanezadeh was quoted as saying.

There are lots of good reasons why that's not an empty offer. Iran's influence in Afghanistan, particularly the area around Herat is stronger now than ever before. The "pearl of Afghanistan" was built with money and engineers from Iran, not NATO nations. Electricity is plentiful, violence is low, the streets are paved, there are several new medical facilities.

There's also a road link to Iran's big port at Chabar. There's to be a rail link completed soon too – built by Indian engineers, who are also improving the Chabar port for the Iranians.

"India has proposed expanding the capacity of the port, currently working at its full handling capacity of 2.5 million tonnes of cargo per year from two active berths, by five times and linking it to the Iranian town of Bam, on Afghan border, with a railway line. From there goods are proposed to be taken to Afganistan through the Zaranj-Delaram road, built by India, which in turn links up with the garland highway connecting all major Afghan cities."

Sanctions on Iran are consequently undermined by the US position in Afghanistan, since India *needs* Iran onside for its own national interests.

To see just how ignorant most Americans are of what's happening in and around America's longest foreign misadventure ever – there's a Fox News online poll running right now: "Should Iran Play Role in Afghanistan's Future?" 88% of the 11,400 Fox fans so far have voted "no", that Iran's involvement "would mean catastrophe for Afghanistan and the West." But how would they stop it? That's not mentioned. Only 8% get it right: "It's impossible to exclude Iran".

When the dust settles Iran will be one of the winners from the war in Afghanistan, just as it has been from the war in Iraq.

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Posted by on October 20th, 2010

From our partners at

By Derrick Crowe

The gap between General Petraeus’ rhetoric and the reality on the ground in Afghanistan grows every day.

On October 14, 2010, the Afghan NGO Safety Office (ANSO) released its quarterly report (.pdf) on the security situation in Afghanistan, which described the continued growth of the Afghan armed resistance and a deterioration of security in areas where ISAF made major military pushes. Yet on October 15, 2010, General Petraeus crowed in London about “progress” made in Afghanistan. Americans are wise to the game and don’t buy this sort of clap-trap anymore: most Americans believe the war in Afghanistan is a “situation like Vietnam (.pdf).” Yet Petraeus spins on, damaging his own credibility and fooling no one.

The ANSO report paints a grim picture of the reality on the ground in Afghanistan:

The [Taliban] counter-offensive is increasingly mature, complex & effective. Country wide attacks have grown by 59% (p.10) while sophisticated recruitment techniques have helped activate networks of fighters in the North where European NATO contributors have failed to provide an adequate deterrent (p.11). Some provinces here are experiencing double the country average growth rate (p.12) and their districts are in danger of slipping beyond any control. Clumsy attempts to stem the developments, through the formation of local militia’s and intelligence-poor operations, have served to polarize communities with the IEA capitalizing on the local grievances that result. In the South, despite more robust efforts from the US NATO contingents, counterinsurgency operations in Kandahar and Marjah have similarly failed to degrade the IEA’s ability to fight, reduce the number of civilian combat fatalities (p.13) or deliver boxed Government.

By contrast the [Taliban] are showing signs of transition to their own ‘hold & build’ phase. Already operating advanced administrations in the rural South & East, local ’shadow governance’ structures in the North are being buttressed by cadres of loyalists to reinforce the ideological and political cohesion of the movement. Field reports suggest that these efforts are drawing in more conservative recruits from the Uzbek, Turkmen and Tajik communities affording highly valuable opportunities for expansion. Internal factionalism is being addressed with junior opposition partners (domestic and foreign) being slowly subordinated to their command structure, sometimes violently. At the strategic level, leaders are outlining tentative foreign policy, reassuring neighbors of cooperation on narcotics, the environ- ment and commerce, while alluding to ‘the upcoming system of the country’. The sum of their activity presents the image of a movement anticipating authority and one which has already obtained a complex momentum that NATO will be incapable of reversing.

…This year has seen nine consecutive months of deterioration, with each month since May breaking a new record, and high levels of attacks extending well in to the traditional downturn season (Aug-Dec).

In other words, the counterinsurgency campaign is failing all over the dang place. ANSO very helpfully updated their chart showing the number of armed-opposition-group-initiated attacks over time, and the picture is worth a thousand words:

ANSO AOG Initiated Attacks, Q3 2010

…The data rises above day-to-day tactical assessments and presents a remarkably consistent five year pattern of intra-annual cycles, summer peaks and winter troughs driven by climatic conditions on the ground, paired with a very steady 45-55% growth in total attacks between years.

Each new year retains approximately 80% of the previous years growth suggesting that once ground, or capability to attack through manpower, technology or technique, is gained it is seldom relinquished. The pattern suggests careful and deliberate building on last years gains, expanding, consolidating and expanding again.

Lest you think the ANSO data is an outlier, remember that military assessments in both December 2009 and late March 2010 both said that the insurgency’s organizational capabilities are qualitatively and geographically expanding.

Now, in this context, with a clear and easily available body of data that includes U.S. military reports, no U.S. media outlet should be uncritically passing along any quote from any military official claiming “progress” in Afghanistan. The American adventure in Afghanistan is a 9-year-plus unequivocal failure with the indicating statistics showing a remarkable consistency.

Yet on Friday, October 15, General Petraeus laughably attempted to paint “a picture of Afghanistan in which the Taliban’s ability to mount attacks is being reduced…” The ABC News coverage of Petraeus’ remarks came under the headline, “General Petraeus Upbeat, Cites Signs of Progress in Afghanistan.” The subsequent story is little more than stenography, reporting Petraeus’ narrative without including information that would challenge the general’s false depiction of the situation on the ground. The story even claims–without substantiation–that the insurgency has been “knocked back.” That’s laughable, and easily disproved. See above.

Petraeus went on to describe plans to “link the growing Kandahar security bubble with the one in central Helmand.” That begs the question: what planet is Petraeus living on?

Marjah is a basketcase–an example of the failure of the McChrystal/Petraeus strategy. Here’s a brief description, courtesy of the Associated Press:

Eight months on, the Taliban are still here in force, waging a full-blown guerrilla insurgency that rages daily across a bomb-riddled landscape of agricultural fields and irrigation trenches.

As U.S. involvement in the war enters its 10th year, the failure to pacify this town raises questions about the effectiveness of America’s overall strategy. Similarly crucial operations are now under way in neighboring Kandahar province, the Taliban’s birthplace.

There are signs the situation in Marjah is beginning to improve, but “it’s still a very tough fight,” said Capt. Chuck Anklam, whose Marine company has lost three men since arriving in July. “We’re in firefights all over, every day.”

Also from the ANSO report:

“Data from Marjah, Helmand (below) paints a similar picture with high rates of attacks persisting 30 weeks after OP MOSHTARAK and an average of two residents per week being killed by AOG in acts of intimidation or collaterally in IED strikes. The closed nature of Marjah makes reliable reporting difficult but anecdotal reports suggest the fighting is much more intense than ANSO records show with possibly as many as 70-100 kinetic events per week. Both operational areas shows signs of the ‘dynamic occupation’ process typical of the region with AOG melting away ahead of IMF operations only to reappear intact in their wake.”

Kandahar is similarly a wreck. Security for the civilian population has rapidly deteriorated since the launch of the ISAF military push there, resulting in a doubling of the war-related injury rate for civilians, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. ANSO’s data confirms the dire security situation:

“The daily attack rate [in Kandahar] has grown from 0.1 in Week one to 2.8 per day by Week 35 suggesting that the ele- ments of OP HAMKARI un- dertaken so far are not de- grading the AOG ability to conduct attacks. Field reports suggest that the Taliban retain up to 4,000 fighters inside the city and continue a wide- spread campaign of intimidation, targeted assassination and the widespread deployment of IEDs against Police and Military targets.”

If those are security bubbles, the only thing Petraeus is going to succeed in linking is a discreet arc of deteriorating safety for civilians and rising insurgent attacks. Petraeus’s slippery aspirational language can’t hide the fact that he and his strategy are failing to produce promised results.

There are no “security bubbles” to link.

These aren’t signs of progress.

These are signs of failure.

With roughly 60 percent of the American people opposed to the war in Afghanistan, it’s clear that Petraeus is no longer fooling anyone. We know failure when we see it, and we see it in the counterinsurgency strategy pushed by Petraeus, McChrystal, and their think-tank allies.

Where Petraeus is succeeding, however, is in demonstrating conclusively just how disconnected the generals are from reality. But as long as President Obama suspends his disbelief and allows their warped version of reality to drive U.S. policy in Afghanistan, we’ll continue to waste lives and resources on a failed policy that corrodes the national interests of the United States. The president once declared he was against, “dumb war.” It’s past time he acted like it and acted aggressively to rein in the Proconsul of Fantasyland.

The Afghanistan War isn’t making us safer, and it’s not worth the cost. If you’re tired of this brutal, futile conflict, join us at

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Posted by The Agonist on October 20th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Mark Mazzetti | Oct 19

NYT – Three weeks before a Jordanian double agent set off a bomb at a remote Central Intelligence Agency base in eastern Afghanistan last December, a C.I.A. officer in Jordan received warnings that the man might be working for Al Qaeda, according to an investigation into the deadly attack.

But the C.I.A. officer did not tell his bosses of suspicions — brought to the Americans by a Jordanian intelligence officer — that the man might be planning to lure Americans into a trap, according to the recently completed investigation by the agency. Later that month the Qaeda operative, a Jordanian doctor, detonated a suicide vest as he stood among a group of C.I.A. officers at the base.

The internal investigation documents a litany of breakdowns leading to the Dec. 30 attack at the Khost base that killed seven C.I.A. employees, the deadliest day for the spy agency since the 1983 bombing of the American Embassy in Beirut. Besides the failure to pass on warnings about the bomber, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, the C.I.A. investigation chronicled major security lapses at the base in Afghanistan, a lack of war zone experience among the agency’s personnel at the base, insufficient vetting of the alleged defector, and a murky chain of command with different branches of the intelligence agency competing for control over the operation.

Some of these failures mirror other lapses that have bedeviled the sprawling intelligence and antiterrorism community in the past several years, despite numerous efforts at reform.

The report found that the breakdowns were partly the result of C.I.A. officers’ wanting to believe they had finally come across the thing that had eluded them for years: a golden source who could lead them to the terror network’s second highest figure, Ayman al-Zawahri.

As it turned out, the bomber who was spirited onto a base pretending to be a Qaeda operative willing to cooperate with the Americans was actually a double agent who detonated a suicide vest as he stood among a group of C.I.A. officers. “The mission itself may have clouded some of the judgments made here,” said the C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, who provided details of the investigation to reporters on Tuesday.

Mr. Panetta said that the report did not recommend holding a single person or group of individuals directly accountable for “systemic failures.”

“This is a war,” he said, adding that it is important for the C.I.A. to continue to take on risky missions.

The investigation, conducted by the agency’s counterintelligence division, does, however, make a series of recommendations to improve procedures to vet sources and require that C.I.A. field officers share more information with their superiors.

Mr. Panetta said that he also ordered that a team of counterintelligence experts join the C.I.A. counterterrorism center, and to thoroughly vet the agency’s most promising informants. It is unclear whether any action will be taken against the C.I.A. operative in Jordan who chose not to pass on the warning.

The agency is a closed society that makes precious little public about its operations. It is sometimes loath to investigate itself, and at times has resisted punishing people for failures.


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Posted by The Agonist on October 19th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Oct 19

NATO now says 3 service members killed in southern Afghanistan

Militant attacks killed three NATO service members in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday.

The international coalition did not give the nationality of the dead service members or provide exact locations of the attacks. One was killed in an insurgent attack and two others by roadside bombs.

Taliban Detainee Is Killed in Cell, Afghan Officials Say(by coalition forces)

An Afghan detainee found dead in his holding cell in southern Kandahar province Sunday appears to have been shot by one or more coalition soldiers, according to Afghan and allied officials.

** Afghan government orders audit of all private banks
** Afghan president orders probe into prisoner death (Roundup)
** Report Shows Drones Strikes Based on Scant Evidence
** Too many butchers spoil the cow
** Daily brief: Iran joins Afghanistan meeting
** US seeking larger Afghan village police force: report
** Rethink Afghanistan

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on October 18th, 2010

This story originally appeared at

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

The other day, at the invitation of economics professor Marty Melkonian, I took a rare jaunt out of my hometown to Hofstra University on Long Island and gave a talk in that college’s lecture series, The International Scene, to a group of lively young students.  It was filmed and will soon appear on CSPAN’s Book TV.  In the meantime, here it is in print.  I wrote it, as you’ll see, with 18-to-21-year-olds in mind.  Tom]

A World Made by War
How Old Will You Be When the American War State Goes Down?
By Tom Engelhardt

When you look at me, you can’t mistake the fact that I’m of a certain age.  But just for a moment, think of me as nine years old.  You could even say that I celebrated my ninth birthday last week, without cake, candles, presents, or certainly joy.

I’ve had two mobilized moments in my life.  The first was in the Vietnam War years; the second, the one that leaves me as a nine-year-old, began on the morning of September 11, 2001.  I turned on the TV while doing my morning exercises, saw a smoking hole in a World Trade Center tower, and thought that, as in 1945 when a B-25 slammed into the Empire State Building, a terrible accident had happened.

Later, after the drums of war had begun to beat, after the first headlines had screamed their World-War-II-style messages (“the Pearl Harbor of the 21st century”), I had another thought.  And for a reasonably politically sophisticated guy, my second response was not only as off-base as the first, but also remarkably dumb.  I thought that this horrific event taking place in my hometown might open Americans up to the pain of the world.  No such luck, of course.

If you had told me then that we would henceforth be in a state of eternal war as well as living in a permanent war state, that, to face a ragtag enemy of a few thousand stateless terrorists, the national security establishment in Washington would pump itself up to levels not faintly reached when facing the Soviet Union, a major power with thousands of nuclear weapons and an enormous military, that “homeland” — a distinctly un-American word — would land in our vocabulary never to leave, and that a second Defense Department dubbed the Department of Homeland Security would be set up not to be dismantled in my lifetime, that torture (excuse me, “enhanced interrogation techniques”) would become as American as apple pie and that some of those “techniques” would actually be demonstrated to leading Bush administration officials inside the White House, that we would pour money into the Pentagon at ever escalating levels even after the economy crashed in 2008, that we would be fighting two potentially trillion-dollar-plus wars without end in two distant lands, that we would spend untold billions constructing hundreds of military bases in those same lands, that the CIA would be conducting the first drone air war in history over a country we were officially not at war with, that most of us would live in a remarkable state of detachment from all of this, and finally — only, by the way, because I’m cutting this list arbitrarily short — that I would spend my time writing incessantly about “the American way of war” and produce a book with that title, I would have thought you were nuts.

But every bit of that happened, even if unpredicted by me because, like human beings everywhere, I have no special knack for peering into the future.  If it were otherwise, I would undoubtedly now be zipping through fabulous spired cities with a jetpack on my back (as I was assured would happen in my distant youth).  But if prediction isn’t our forte, then adaptability to changing circumstances may be — and it certainly helps account for my being here today.

I’m here because, in response to the bizarre spectacle of this nation going to war while living at peace, even if in a spasmodic state of collective national fear, I did something I hardly understood at the time.  I launched a nameless listserv of collected articles and my own expanding commentary that ran against the common wisdom of that October moment when the bombing runs for our second Afghan war began.  A little more than a year later, thanks to the Nation Institute, it became a website with the name, and because our leaders swore we were “a nation at war,” because we were indeed killing people in quantity in distant lands, because the power of the state at home was being strengthened in startling ways, while everything still open about our society seemed to be getting screwed shut, and the military was being pumped up to Schwarzeneggerian dimensions, I started writing about war.

At some level, I can’t tell you how ridiculous that was.  After all, I’m the most civilian and peaceable of guys.  I’ve never even been in the military.  I was, however, upset with the Bush administration, the connect-no-dots media coverage of that moment, and the repeated 9/11 rites which proclaimed us the planet’s greatest victim, survivor, and dominator, leaving only one role, greatest Evil Doer, open for the rest of the planet (and you know who auditioned for, and won, that part hands down)!

Things That Go Boom in the Night

I won’t say, however, that I had no expertise whatsoever with a permanent state of war and a permanent war state, only that the expertise I had was available to anyone who had lived through the post-World War II era.  I was reminded of this on a recent glorious Sunday when, from the foot of Manhattan, I set out, for the first time in more than half a century, on a brief ferry ride that proved, for me, as effective a time machine as anything H.G. Wells had ever imagined.  That ferry was not, of course, taking me to a future civilization at the edge of time, but to Governor’s Island, now a park and National Monument in the eddying waters of New York harbor and to the rubble of a gas station my father, a World War II vet, ran there in the early 1950s when that island was still a major U.S. Army base.

On many mornings in those years, I accompanied him on that short ride across the East River and found myself amid buzzing jeeps and drilling soldiers in a world of Army kids with, among other wonders, access to giant swimming pools and kiddy-matinee Westerns. As a dyed-in-the-wool city boy, it was my only real exposure to the burbs and it proved an edenic one that also caught something of the exotically militarized mood of that Korean War moment.

As on that island, so for most Americans then, the worlds of the warrior and of abundance were no more antithetical than they were to the corporate executives, university research scientists, and military officers who were using a rising military budget and the fear of communism to create a new national security economy.  An alliance between big industry, big science, and the military had been forged during World War II that blurred the boundaries between the military and the civilian by fusing together a double set of desires: for technological breakthroughs leading to ever more efficient weapons of destruction and to ever easier living.  The arms race — the race, that is, for future good wars — and the race for the good life were then, as on that island, being put on the same “war” footing.

In the 1950s, a military Keynesianism was already driving the U.S. economy toward a consumerism in which desire for the ever larger car and missile, electric range and tank, television console and submarine was wedded in single corporate entities.  The companies — General Electric, General Motors, and Westinghouse, among others — producing the large objects for the American home were also major contractors developing the big ticket weapons systems ushering the Pentagon into its own age of abundance.

More than half a century later, the Pentagon is still living a life of abundance — despite one less-than-victorious, less-then-good war after another — while we, increasingly, are not.  In the years in-between, the developing national security state of my childhood just kept growing, and in the process the country militarized in the strangest of ways.

Only once in that period did a sense of actual war seem to hover over the nation.  That was, of course, in the Vietnam years of the 1960s and early 1970s, when the draft brought a dirty war up close and personal, driving it into American homes and out into the streets, when a kind of intermittent warfare seemed to break out in this country’s cities and ghettos, and when impending defeat drove the military itself to the edge of revolt and collapse.

From the 1970s until 2001, as that military rebuilt itself as an all-volunteer force and finally went back to war in distant lands, the military itself seemed to disappear from everyday life.  There were no soldiers in sight, nothing we would consider commonplace today — from uniforms and guns in train stations to military flyovers at football games, or the repeated rites of praise for American troops that are now everyday fare in our world where, otherwise, we largely ignore American wars.

In 1989, for instance, I wrote in the Progressive magazine about a country that seemed to me to be undergoing further militarization, even if in a particularly strange way.  Ours was, I said, an “America that conforms to no notions we hold of militarism… Militarization is, of course, commonly associated with uniformed, usually exalted troops in evidence and a dictatorship, possibly military, in power.  The United States, by such standards, still has the look of a civilian society.  Our military is, if anything, less visible in our lives than it was a decade ago: No uniforms in the streets, seldom even for our traditional parades; a civilian elected government; weaponry out of sight… the draft and the idea of a civilian army a thing of the past.

“In the Reagan-Bush era, the military has gone undercover in the world that we see, though not in the world that sees us.  For if it is absent from our everyday culture, its influence is omnipresent in corporate America, that world beyond our politics and out of our control — the world which, nonetheless, plans our high-tech future of work and consumption.  There, the militarization of the economy and the corporatization of the military is a process so far gone that it seems reasonable to ask whether the United States can even be said to have a civilian economy.”

Of course, that was then, this is now.  Little did I know.  Today, it seems, our country is triumphant in producing only things that go boom in the night: we have a near monopoly on the global weapons market and on the global movie market, where in the dark we’re experts in explosions of every sort.  When I wrote in 1989 that the process was “so far gone,” I had no idea how far we still had to go.  I had no idea, for instance, how far a single administration could push us when it came to war.  Still, one thing that does remain reasonably constant about America’s now perpetual state of war is how little we — the 99% of us who don’t belong to the military or fight — actually see of it, even though it is, in a sense, all around us.


From a remarkable array of possibilities, here are just a few warscapes — think of them as like landscapes, only deadlier — that might help make more visible an American world of, and way of, war that we normally spend little time discussing, questioning, debating, or doing anything about.

As a start, let me try to conjure up a map of what “defense,” as imagined by the Pentagon and the U.S. military, actually looks like.  You can find such a map at Wikipedia, but for a second just imagine a world map laid flat before you.  Now divide it, the whole globe, like so many ill-shaped pieces of cobbler, into six servings — you can be as messy as you want, it’s not an exact science — and label them the U.S. European Command or EUCOM (for Europe and Russia), the U.S. Pacific Command or PACOM (Asia), CENTCOM (the Greater Middle East and a touch of North Africa), NORTHCOM (North America), SOUTHCOM (South America and most of the Caribbean), and AFRICOM (almost all of Africa).  Those are the “areas of responsibility” of six U.S. military commands.

In case you hadn’t noticed, on our map that takes care of just about every inch of the planet, but — I hasten to add — not every bit of imaginable space.  For that, if you were a clever cartographer, you would somehow need to include STRATCOM, the U.S. Strategic Command charged with, among other things, ensuring that we dominate the heavens, and the newest of all the “geographic” commands, CYBERCOM, expected to be fully operational later this fall with “1,000 elite military hackers and spies under one four-star general” prepared to engage in preemptive war in cyberspace.

Some of these commands have crept up on us over the years.  CENTCOM, which now oversees our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, was formed in 1983, a result of the Carter Doctrine — that is, of President Jimmy Carter’s decision to make the protection of Persian Gulf oil a military necessity, while both NORTHCOM (2002) and AFRICOM (2007) were creations of the Global War on Terror.

From a mapping perspective, however, the salient point is simple enough: at the moment, there is no imaginable space on or off the planet that is not an “area of responsibility” for the U.S. military.  That, not the protection of our shores and borders, is what is now meant by that word “defense” in the Department of Defense.  And if you were to stare at that map for a while, I can’t help but think it would come to strike you as abidingly strange.  No place at all of no military interest to us?  What does that say about our country — and ourselves?

In case you’re imagining that the map I’ve just described is simply a case of cartographic hyperbole, consider this: we now have what is, in essence, a secret military inside the U.S. military.  I’m talking about our Special Operations forces.  These elite and largely covert forces were rapidly expanded in the Bush years as part of the Global War on Terror, but also thanks to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s urge to bring covert activities that were once the province of the CIA under the Pentagon’s wing.  By the end of George W. Bush’s second term in office — think of that map again — Special Operations forces were fighting in, training in, or stationed in approximately 60 countries under the aegis of the Global War on Terror.  Less than two years later, according to the Washington Post, 13,000 Special Operations troops are deployed abroad in approximately 75 countries as part of an expanding Global War on Terror (even if the Obama administration has ditched that name); in other words, Special Ops troops alone are now operating in close to 40% of the 192 countries that make up the United Nations!

And talking about what the Pentagon has taken under its wing, I’m reminded of a low-budget sci-fi film of my childhood, The Blob. In it, a gelatinous alien grows ever more humongous by eating every living thing in its path, with the exception of Steve McQueen in his debut screen role.  By analogy, take what’s officially called the “IC” or U.S. Intelligence Community, that Rumsfeld was so eager to militarize.  It’s made up of 17 major agencies and outfits, including the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).  Created in 2004 in response to the intelligence dysfunction of 9/11, ODNI is already its own small bureaucracy with 1,500 employees and next to no power to do the only thing it was really ever meant to do, coordinate the generally dysfunctional labyrinth of the IC itself.

You might wonder what kind of “intelligence” a country could possibly get from 17 competing, bickering outfits — and that’s not even the half of it.  According to a Washington Post series, Top Secret America, by Dana Priest and William Arkin:

“In all, at least 263 organizations have been created or reorganized as a response to 9/11… Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States… In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings — about 17 million square feet of space.”

Oh, and keep in mind that more than two-thirds of the IC’s intelligence programs are controlled by the Pentagon, which also means control over a major chunk of the combined intelligence budget, announced at $75 billion (“2 1/2 times the size it was on Sept. 10, 2001,” according to Priest and Arkin), but undoubtedly far larger.

And when it comes to the Pentagon, that’s just a start. Massive expansion in all directions has been its m.o. since 9/11.  Its soaring budget hit about $700 billion for fiscal year 2010 (when you include a war-fighting supplemental bill of $33 billion) — an increase of only 4.7% in otherwise budget-slashing times — and is now projected to hit $726 billion in fiscal year 2011.  Some experts claim, however, that the real figure may come closer to the trillion-dollar mark when all aspects of national security are factored in.  Not surprisingly, it has taken over a spectrum of State Department-controlled civilian activities, ranging from humanitarian relief and development (aka “nation-building”) to actual diplomacy.  And don’t forget its growing roles as a domestic-disaster manager and a global arms dealer, or even as a Green Revolution energy innovator.  You could certainly think of the Pentagon as the Blob on the American horizon, and yet, looking around, you might hardly be aware of the ways your country continues to be militarized.

With that in mind, let’s consider another warscape, one particularly appropriate to a moment when numerous commentators are pointing out that the U.S. seems to be morphing from a can-do into a can’t-do nation, when the headlines are filled with exploding gas lines and grim reports on the country’s aging infrastructure, when a major commuter tunnel from New Jersey to Manhattan, the sort of project that once would have been tattoo-ably American, has just been canceled by New Jersey’s governor.

Still, don’t imagine that the old can-do American spirit I remember from my childhood is dead.  Quite the contrary, we still have our great building projects, our pyramid- and ziggurat-equivalents.  It’s just that these days they tend to get built nearer to the ruins of actual ziggurats and pyramids.  I’m talking about our military bases, especially those being constructed in our war zones.

I mean, no sooner had U.S. troops taken Baghdad in April 2003 than the Pentagon and the crony corporations it now can’t go to war without began to pour billions of taxpayer dollars into the construction of well fortified American towns in Iraq that included multiple bus routes, PXes, fast-food joints, massage parlors, Internet cafés, power plants, water-treatment plants, sewage plants, fire stations, you name it.  Hundreds of military bases, micro to mega, were built in Iraq alone, including the ill-named but ginormous Victory Base Complex at the edge of Baghdad International Airport, with at least nine significant sub-bases nestled inside it, and Balad Air Base, which — sooner than you could say “Saddam Hussein’s in captivity” — was handling air traffic on the scale of O’Hare International in Chicago, and bedding down 40,000 inhabitants including hire-a-gun African cops, civilian defense employees, Special Ops forces, the employees of private contractors, and of course tons of troops.

And all of this was nothing compared to the feat the Pentagon accomplished in Afghanistan where the U.S. military now claims to have built something like 400 bases of every sort from the smallest combat outposts to monster installations like Bagram Air Base in a country without normal resources, fuel, building materials, or much of anything else.  Just about all construction materials for those bases and the fuel to go with them had to be delivered over treacherous supply lines thousands of miles long, so treacherous and difficult in fact that, by the time a gallon of fuel reaches Afghanistan to keep those Humvees and MRAPs rolling along, it’s estimated to cost $400.

At some level, of course, all of this represents a remarkable can-do achievement and tells you a great deal about American priorities today, about where our national treasure and can-do efforts are focused.

Ziggurats or Tunnels?

And I could go on.  The Pentagon and the military make going on easy.  After all, the list is unending, the militarization of our American world ongoing, and it’s all happening in your time, on your watch.  This is the world you are going to walk out into.  I may be nine years old in TomDispatch terms, but I’ve been around for 66 years and this won’t be my world for so long.

So let me ask you: Are you sure that you want the U.S. military to be concerned with every inch of the planet?  Are you sure that you want your tax dollars to go, above all, into building pyramid-equivalents in Iraq or Afghanistan instead of tunnels at home, or into fighting a multigenerational war on terror planet-wide, instead of into putting the unemployed to work here?  If you can’t imagine reducing the American military mission and “footprint” on this planet significantly, then, of course, it’s probably best to ignore this talk.  But rest assured: you won’t save our country that way, you’ll destroy it.

A decade ago, when I was born as, many of you were only ten or eleven years old, as were many of our soldiers now in Afghanistan and Iraq.  A decade from now, if the war in Afghanistan (and increasingly Pakistan) is still being fought, most of you will be entering your fourth decade on this planet and you may even have a 10 year-old of your own.  A decade from then, if — as some top Washington officials insist — the global war on terror is “multigenerational,” that child may be fighting in Pakistan or Yemen or Somalia or some other military “area of responsibility” somewhere on the planet.  A decade from then…

Of course, whatever skills we may lack when it comes to predicting the future, all things must end, including the American war state and our strange state of war.  The question is: Can our over-armed global mission be radically downsized before it downsizes us?  It will happen anyway and it won’t take forever either, not the way things are going, but it will happen in an easier and less harmful way, if you’re involved, in whatever fashion you choose, in making it so.  Had I had a birthday cake with candles on it for that ninth birthday of mine and blown them out, that, I think, would have been my wish.

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 recently been published. You can catch him discussing war American-style and his book in a Timothy MacBain TomCast video by clicking here.  This was originally a talk given to students attending Hofstra University’s lecture series, The International Scene.

[Note: If Marty and Margaret Melkonian hadn’t offered me a double invitation to speak at Hofstra College and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock, this talk would never have seen the light of day.  A bow of appreciation to both of them!  If it weren’t for Juan Cole’s Informed Comment website,, and Paul Woodward’s The War in Context, which jostle fiercely in my mind each morning as I try to decide where to stop first in my online travels, I would be so much poorer in good information and analysis.  So let me add a bow to them as well!  In a world made by war, Noah Shachtman’s Danger Zone blog also shouldn't be missed.  It contains all things warlike.  And Katherine Tiedemann’s AfPak Daily Brief is the best ongoing summary of mainstream coverage of our Afghan (and increasingly Pakistan) War.  For any of you interested in learning more about my childhood in Cold War America -- from G.I. Joe to Star Wars and beyond -- check out the updated edition of my book, The End of Victory Culture.]

Copyright 2010 Tom Engelhardt

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Posted by The Agonist on October 16th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Saeed Shah | Islamabad | Oct 15

McClatchy – The proportion of supplies for American troops in Afghanistan passing through Pakistan has dropped by half in the past two years, as attacks and bureaucratic delays have forced Pakistani transport companies and individual truck drivers to reconsider the job.

While investigations have found no high-level extremist involvement behind recent attacks on the supply convoys, U.S. officials said, the risks of the journey through Pakistan to landlocked Afghanistan remain high, with some 150 trucks burned and several drivers killed this month.

“Price and reward don’t seem to balance out any more. A lot of people are talking about getting out of the business,” said Nadeem Khan, the chief executive of Raaziq International, a Pakistani transportation company that sub-contracts to truckers for delivery into Afghanistan. “You reach a point where you wonder: Is it worth it?”

Friday saw another attack in Pakistan, when gunmen ambushed a truck that had just returned from Afghanistan, killing the driver and his assistant. The main border crossing at Torkham was closed at the end of September for 10 days in protest of the accidental death of two Pakistani soldiers guarding the border. They were killed by American helicopter fire.

The issue of military supplies passing through Pakistan goes to the heart of the current debate in Washington over the war in Afghanistan and the fight against global terrorism: Is Pakistan a reliable ally?

It’s unclear who was behind the attacks on the trucks and some suspect the involvement of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency or its proxies.

“It’s not very hard for militants to target the trucks and the Torkham closure created targets of opportunity for them,” said Kamran Bokhari, director for the Middle East and South Asia at Stratfor, a geopolitical consultancy. “There is a long-standing view in Washington that such attacks are done by the militant assets of the ISI. The (general) suspicion in Washington towards the Pakistan army and the ISI seems to be increasing.”

The Torkham crossing near Peshawar, the main Pakistani route, which delivers goods into western Afghanistan, reopened on Oct. 10 after a closure that had caused long lines of trucks at the border and a backup of thousands of trucks that had to park along the way and wait it out. The other route, through the city of Quetta, to the crossing at Chaman, which enters southern Afghanistan, remained open.

Khan estimated that carrying NATO supplies is worth $5 billion to the struggling Pakistani economy and employs 30,000 people, if all the dependent businesses are counted.

Remarkably, trucks traveling through Pakistan have no security: no armed guards and no escorts, with the vehicles looking like any other commercial traffic in the country.

The industry is a sensitive and secretive business in a country with rampant anti-Americanism. It’s a private business, but unlike other private enterprises, it seems that the Pakistani authorities don’t think they need provide it with any security.

Following the recent attacks, the police chief of the western city of Quetta, Malik Mohammad Iqbal, and the a senior Islamabad police officer, Mir Waiz Niaz, said they had no responsibility for protecting NATO supplies

A spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Islamabad said: “The U.S. has been involved in investigating who’s behind these attacks, and so far, there’s no evidence or proof that any actual militant group have been involved. However, there may be some lower level militants using these attacks on fuel trucks as a way to establish bona fides, but that does not establish a pattern of concentrated operational planning by Taliban on these resources.”

A U.S. military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that criminal elements and rival truckers are thought to be behind the attacks. He added that there’s no evidence of Pakistani state involvement.

The official said that 2,000 to 3,000 trucks with U.S. supplies are on the move through Pakistan on any given day, on a journey to the Afghan border that takes each truck one to two weeks. Less than 1 percent of the supplies are lost on their way through Pakistan, he said.

The alternative route to get supplies into Afghanistan, through central Asia, entering the country from the north, is rapidly developing but takes much longer and costs more. The goods come from Riga, Latvia, and traverse Russia, or through the Caucasus — Georgia and Azerbaijan — and across the Caspian Sea. These major routes thread Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, then on to Afghanistan.

Cynthia Bauer, a spokeswoman for U.S. Transportation Command, which is based at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., said that the dependence on Pakistan had been cut from roughly 80 percent to 40 percent over the last two years, with another 40 percent now going through central Asia and 20 percent by more expensive air routes.

However, Bauer said that given the surge in American troops — roughly 100,000 U.S. soldiers now deployed in Afghanistan — the total volume of supplies passing through Pakistan remain much the same.

U.S. supplies are contracted to a global logistics firm — the Danish giant Maersk has the largest chunk of the business — which then hires a Pakistani freight forwarding business. In turn, the freight forwarders hire local trucking companies for each load.

Asad Gill, chief executive of Cosmic Transportation, a Pakistani freight forwarding business, said that margins had collapsed in recent years as competition mushroomed. He said that it used to take six to seven days to deliver goods from Karachi to Kabul via Peshawar, but today it takes 15 to 20 days, as trucks are held up at multiple checkpoints.

“This business is in the national interest, but were losing out because of bureaucratic delays,” said Gill.

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