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Archive for November, 2010

Posted by The Agonist on November 30th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Dan Whitworth | Nov 30

BBC

A new gun the US military hopes will help take on the Taliban has been unveiled.

Called the XM-25 it has been described by the US Army as a ‘game changer’.

It uses a laser guidance system and specially developed 25mm high explosive rounds which can be programmed to detonate over a target.

Richard Audette helped develop it for the US Army and says it’s a big leap forward because it’s the first small arms weapon to use smart technology.

“The way a soldier operates this is basically find your target, then laze (laser) to it, which gives the range, then you get an adjusted aim point, adjust the fire and pull the trigger.

“Say you’ve lazed out to 543 metres… When you pull the trigger it arms the round and fires it 543 metres plus or minus one, two or three metres.”
A US soldier holds the XM-25 The XM-25 is already being used by US soldiers in Afghanistan

It means the weapon can be used to target insurgents hiding behind walls or in ditches without the need to call in air strikes.

“That makes it a full solution fire control weapon”.

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on November 30th, 2010

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

It’s widely reckoned in the Senate that Arkansas ConservaDem Mark Pryor is the dimmest bulb in that body. He as much as admitted it in an on-camera interview with Bill Maher for the film Religulous 2 years ago when he excused his pandering to superstitious rednecks back home by smirking that there’s no IQ test to be a Member of the Senate– as if we didn’t know. Watch:

Now as the lame duck session kicks in– and Pryor thinks about his reelection bid in 2012 in a state that just decimated elected Democrats– there is every reason in the world to believe that Pryor will be roosting on the other side of the aisle on the high-profile, divisive issues where Democrats can most use him. He’s likely to vote against the DREAM Act, as he did in 2007, and he’s telling the media that he’ll oppose repealing DADT as well, possibly being the very vote to kill the effort, something that is sure to cause him the same grief progressives just gave Blanche Lincoln. The man who cynically claims he believes in talking snakes also says being gay is a sin. He told the Democrat-Gazette that “he opposes repeal; that he thinks homosexuality is a sin and that he has reservations about housing gay troops with straight troops (as if this hasn’t occurred forever). He’s been fully indoctrinated by the Religious Right’s false arguments– that military chaplains won’t be able to continue to preach morally justifiable discrimination; that gays are just lying in wait to assault straight soldiers if only given the cover of open service.”

And Speaking About DADT…

The Senate got it’s third– after Lindsey Graham and Miss McConnell– notorious Republican closet queen today, as Illinois’ Mark Kirk was sworn in. ThinkProgress welcomed him by pointing out that, although he insists he never ran into any gays during his 21 years in the military, he did promise during the campaign that he might be open to repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. As when Kirk often says something, he was lying. It’s a trait most closet queens like Kirk have honed down to a science.

That’s especially sad because poll after poll has been showing most Americans think DADT should be repealed. A new one released today by PEW confirms all the rest of them. Opposition to gays serving in the military has steadily declined from 45% in 1994 to just 27% now. And support for equality for gays serving our country in the military has risen in that time period from 52% to 58%.

Large majorities of Democrats (70%) and independents (62%) favor allowing gays to serve openly. Republicans are divided (40% favor, 44% oppose). Among conservative Republicans, far more oppose than favor allowing gays to serve openly (52% to 28%).

Nearly half (48%) of white evangelical Protestants oppose letting gays serve openly in the military, while just 34% support this proposal. Majorities or pluralities across other religious groups favor allowing gays to serve openly.

The balance of opinion across age groups is in favor of letting gays serve openly. Those 65 and older are the only age group in which fewer than half (44%) favors this; still just 28% of seniors are opposed to gays and lesbians serving openly while an identical percentage offers no opinion.

Two-thirds of college graduates (67%) favor gays and lesbians serving openly, as do more than half of those with some college experience (55%) and those with no more than a high school education (54%).

And, predictably, Know Nothings, currently called Tea Partiers, are in complete opposition to gays serving in the military. I guess that’s part of smaller government or something… not the bigotry and hatred some people use to equate them to the Taliban.

Teabagger Congressmen Looking For Places To Sleep

Maybe they didn’t expect to ever win or maybe they expect to be defeated in 2012, but the Wall Street Journal estimates that around 15% of the freshmen are planning to sleep in their offices instead of getting apartments in Washington. In 2008 it was kind of funny when we wrote about this in regard to Utah kook Jason Chaffetz (above with his cot, looking for a Capitol Hill office).

“Since I’m here on a temporary basis, I don’t see any need to have a permanent kind of residence,” says Rep.-elect Joe Heck, a Nevada Republican, who was thinking roll-out cot when he looked at office space this month.

Earlier this month, freshman lawmakers drew lots and chose the three-room suites they and their aides will inhabit in one of three House office buildings.

For many of them, a key selling point was not proximity to the House chamber, where they’ll vote, but to the House gym, where they’ll shower.

Rep.-elect Tim Griffin, an Army reservist, stood near the gym in the Rayburn House Office Building and used some compass software on his phone to navigate the paths to potential offices.

“We want to get as close to Rayburn as possible,” Mr. Griffin, an Arkansas Republican, told an aide. “I’ve got to walk all the way down this hall in the morning.”

He settled on a suite in the Longworth building with plenty of space for the six-foot sofa he says will be his bed for the foreseeable future. “I don’t want to see you in your bathrobe,” Rep.-elect Cory Gardner (R., Colo.), a non-office sleeper, told Mr. Griffin as freshmen rushed about Capitol Hill looking at available offices.

…Nobody seems to know for certain how many lawmakers currently dwell in their offices; estimates range into the dozens. The practice appears to crest after Republican wave elections.

In the mid-1980s, then-Speaker Tip O’Neill (D., Mass.) rousted the office sleepers, including Texas Republican Dick Armey, who later became House majority leader and is now a booster of the anti-Washington tea-party rebellion. “The theory was the offices weren’t for sleeping,” says Stan Brand, who was House general counsel at the time. “They were for transacting business.”

Mr. Armey moved out briefly, then quietly started sleeping on his office couch again, according to a former aide.

After Republicans took the House in 1994, ending four decades of Democratic control, the number of office sleepers grew. The new speaker in 1995, Georgian Newt Gingrich, gave the practice his blessing.

…Freshman Todd Rokita (R., Ind.) was floored when shown a 600-square-foot, $2,000-a-month studio. He’ll sleep in his office instead. “I’m not doing this as a political stunt,” he says. “I’m doing this because I’m a cheap bastard.” Most House members earn $174,000 a year and maintain homes in their districts.

Professor Cornbread

I got every question right. See if you do too– and learn about why term limits should be on the table and up for discussion– especially if read with Frank Rich’s terrific NY Times column from yesterday in mind.

Two Execrable Choices For New House Appropriations Chair

The old guard wants career criminal Jerry Lewis (R-CA) and the right guard, lead by the hysterical Club For Growth is insisting on extremist Jack Kingston (R-GA). Lewis would have to get a waiver of GOP rules to grab the chair again and many of loathe to grant it since it is no secret Inside the Beltway that although Rove successfully defused the criminal investigations, Lewis was far more guilty of rank corruption than his less cautious sidekick Duke Cunningham, currently rotting in prison. In the end it will be, more or less, Boehner’s decision and he and Lewis have worked very closely in the past.

Each of the three candidates running for the post have downsides for GOP leaders, making their decision all the more difficult.

Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) is pitching himself as “battle-ready” and tested, but given his long record as a pork-barrel spender his selection could enrage tea party-backed freshmen. They might be more likely to support Kingston.

Kingston is marking himself as the outsider candidate since he sponsored anti-earmark legislation in 2007, though his record is not earmark-free. Taxpayers for Common Sense says Kingston obtained $66 million in earmarks in fiscal 2010 compared to Rogers’ $93 million and $97 million for Lewis.

But the fact that Kingston is more of an outsider could be a problem for leaders, since he could be more difficult to control.

An appropriations chairman can win loyalty for the leadership by pressuring agency officials to fund pet projects under threat of reduced funding for other projects. Some observers believe Kingston could balk at such requests from leaders.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) also has a long track record of bringing home the bacon and he therefore has similar liabilities and strengths as Lewis. But the Kentucky Republican helped himself by announcing his support for the GOP earmark ban. In letters to colleagues he has pledged to open up the appropriations process to the wider membership.

But some supporters of the other candidates say Rogers has not performed well in front of the media and that could be a liability given the importance of explaining GOP spending positions to the public. In response to the criticism, Rogers has promised to prioritize media outreach in letters to colleagues touting his candidacy.

Lewis’s track record as a fundraiser for GOP lawmakers is a mark in his favor. It was seem as the deciding factor when Lewis fended off a 2004 chairmanship challenge from Rogers.

Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch said that Lewis will be calling in his chits before the Nov. 30 meeting, reminding members of past favors.

The Senate broke a GOP filibuster on Tom Harkin’s FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S.510) today. Every Democrat plus 14 Republicans voted for cloture, which passed 69-26 in the face of mindless, ritual opposition from DeMint and his pack of hyenas. The bill gives the FDA the authority to proactively work on preventing foodborne illnesses instead of just reacting after an outbreak occurs.

“The statistics are that Americans are getting sick and they are dying because of food borne illnesses,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, a chief architect of the measure.

Food recalls are now voluntary, but the Senate-passed legislation would give the FDA the power to order food producers to recall their products, a step that could prevent tainted food from reaching consumers’ tables.

Food producers would have to increase safety requirements and record keeping to keep the food supply safer. The bill would also increase safety standards for imported foods.

Some Republicans, including Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., opposed the bill, saying it represented a government overreach that would create unnecessary burdens on food producers and increase food prices.

If The Afghan Police Are The Solution To Our Problem, We Might As Well Just End This Thing By The Weekend

Did you watch Peter Galbraith explaining the utter futility of trying to train an Afghan police force on 60 Minutes last night? He sounded like the only person in the report who wasn’t on powerful Mazar-i-Sharif opiated hash. If you missed it, you can watch the segment below. Get through all the silly feel-good prpoaganda and listen carefully to Galbraith. And then think about what happened there today.

A gunman in an Afghan police uniform has killed six US service members in eastern Afghanistan, officials say.

The man opened fire during a training mission in Pachir Wagam district, Nangarhar province, said Nato. He was also killed in the incident.

US officials later confirmed that all six were Americans, but declined to give further details.
The Taliban issued a statement saying it was responsible for the killings, AP news agency reported.

Spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the gunman had joined the border police in order to kill foreign soldiers.

“Today he found this opportunity and he killed six invaders,” he said.
Nato said the incident was being investigated.

“An individual in an Afghan border police uniform turned his weapon against International Security Assistance Forces (Isaf) during a training mission today, killing six service members in eastern Afghanistan,” Monday’s statement said.

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Posted by The Agonist on November 29th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Nov 29

BBC – A gunman in an Afghan police uniform has killed six US service members in eastern Afghanistan, officials say.

The man opened fire during a training mission in Pachir Wagam district, Nangarhar province, said Nato. He was also killed in the incident.

US officials later confirmed that all six were Americans, but declined to give further details.

The Taliban issued a statement saying it was responsible for the killings, AP news agency reported.

Spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the gunman had joined the border police in order to kill foreign soldiers.

“Today he found this opportunity and he killed six invaders,” he said.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on November 29th, 2010

When will the Obama administration stop damaging its credibility by denying the failure of the Afghanistan War? It seems every day we get another report showing that the Taliban’s momentum continues despite President Obama’s massive troop increase. But, somehow, the administration’s talking points seem to stay the same.

Some of us are hungry for some truth on the Afghanistan War. And, thanks to how much money we’re wasting on this war, millions of us are just hungry.

Let’s satisfy that hunger for truth first. The latest report from the International Crisis Group (ICG) says:

“While success is being measured in numbers of insurgents killed or captured, there is little proof that the operations have disrupted the insurgency’s momentum or increased stability. The [official] storyline does not match facts on the ground.

“…As violence has increased, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have proven a poor match for the Taliban. Casualties among Afghan and ISAF forces have spiked, as have civilian casualties. Afghanistan still lacks a cohesive national security strategy and the Afghan military and police remain dangerously fragmented and highly politicised. On the other side, despite heavy losses in the field, insurgent groups are finding new recruits in Pakistan’s borderlands, stretching from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) to Balochistan, and using the region to regroup, reorganise and rearm, with the support and active involvement of al-Qaeda, Pakistani jihadi groups and the Pakistan military. This strategic advantage has allowed the insurgency to proliferate in nearly every corner of the country. Contrary to U.S. rhetoric of the momentum shifting, dozens of districts are now firmly under Taliban control.

None of this, of course, affected the Obama administration’s willingness to blow smoke in our faces about “progress” and “momentum.” Here’s Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton on November 23, 2010:

“Broadly, I’d say in Afghanistan, we have been able to make a lot of security progress. We’ve broken the momentum of the Taliban…”

A few days prior to that, President Obama said essentially the same thing:

“With the additional resources that we’ve put in place we’re now achieving our objective of breaking the Taliban’s momentum…”

These assessments are laughable, and they’re contradicted even by the Pentagon’s own reporting to Congress delivered within the last week:

“…Organizationally, the insurgency’s capabilities and operational reach have been qualitatively and geographically expanding, as evidenced by a greater frequency and wider dispersion of insurgent-initiated attacks; however, that spread is being increasingly challenged by the ISAF surge forces conducting operations. Despite the increase in ANSF and ISAF capabilities to counter insurgent attacks, the insurgents’ tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) continue to evolve in sophistication.”

Yet, even after this report, and in the face of the International Crisis Group’s report, the administration continues the dishonest happy talk. Since that’s the case, why should we believe the administration when they tell us the results of their strategy review in December?

For whatever reason, the administration is not telling the truth about the Afghanistan War. They are either ignorant, deceived, or deceiving on this point. Take your pick.

Meanwhile, the president is putting taxpayers on the hook for another half-trillion dollars that will be wasted on extending the Afghanistan War all the way to 2014, rather than on getting us back on our feet at home.

That brings us back to the folks that are hungry.

In 1952, President Eisenhower said:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children….This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from an iron cross.”

Last year, 50.2 million people in the U.S. didn’t know where their next meal would come from, with a very disproportionately high percentage of them being Black or Hispanic. Those numbers are rising. If we ended the war today, we’d save enough money to roughly double the amount of money we spend on helping hungry Americans eat each year (.pdf). Eisenhower was right–war is stealing the food right out of our mouths.

Just something to think about the next time the administration lies to you about the money-sucking disaster in Afghanistan.

If you’re fed up with wasting hundreds of billions on a war that’s not making us safer, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on November 28th, 2010

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

Kenneth Branagh talks about his role as the dour Swedish detective Kurt Wallander in this preview of the (now already aired, even in the U.S.) second series of three episodes of Wallander.

“There are men who live by taking advantage of women. They use women for comfort, and excitement, and then they dump them. It may be a crime, but it’s not illegal.”

– from Alan Cumming’s introduction to the last of the second-
season episodes of Wallander, “The Fifth Woman”

by Ken

You know how sometimes when your mind locks on a subject, everything around you seems to feed into it? This is more or less the state I was in when I finally got around to watching this season’s DVR-stored episodes of Wallander, the adaptations of Swedish mystery writer Henning Mankell’s books about the dour detective played by Kenneth Branagh, and the state I was in when I stumbled across this:

At a shelter in Kabul for women who have escaped domestic abuse, I heard about a girl from one of the richest Pashtun families in a province bordering Pakistan. She fell in love with a boy from the wrong tribe. Her father killed the boy and four of his brothers, and when he discovered that his own mother had helped his daughter escape her father’s wrath, he killed his mother too. Now he is offering a $100,000 reward for his daughter’s dead body.

These are extreme actions by an extreme man. But many Pashtun men perceive that their manhood and very way of life are under assault—by a foreign military, foreign religious leaders, foreign television, international human rights groups—and they hold fast to traditions that for so long have defined what it means to be a Pashtun man.

– Elizabeth Rubin, from a Dec. 2010 National Geographic
essay,
Veiled Rebellion

As you may see in my music piece tomorrow, I’ve been thinking, spurred by an accidental immersion in Verdi’s Il Trovatore and Aida, about the whole question of who we as humans are and how we figure out who and what we ought to be — in terms, not so much of the rights and privileges but of the responsibilities and obligations. In 19th-century operas, not surprisingly, these roles tend to be defined by and for men, with women fitting in as best they can, but because women are so important to opera (without divas, you lose an overwhelming chunk of the repertory), it’s an especially good medium for this kind of exploration, and Verdi in particular had a jaundiced view of the standard assumptions about automatically assigned life-roles, which tend to be heavily gender-based. You know, like “traditions that for so long have defined what it means to be a Pashtun man.”

Immersed in this train of thought, I happened to be looking at the December National Geographic, which devotes 26 magazine pages to the condition of Afghan women. Most of it is a photo gallery by photojournalist Lynsey Addario — a series of photos taken in Afghanistan over eight weeks in 2009 and 2010 “focusing on the challenges that women face,” with comments that “tell the stories behind the images. In addition, nestled inside the photo gallery is the essay by New York Times Magazine contributing writer Elizabeth Rubin that includes the story I’ve already quoted.

Rubin poses the question:

Why do husbands, fathers, brothers-in-law, even mothers-in-law brutalize the women in their families? Are these violent acts the consequence of a traditional society suddenly, after years of isolation and so much war, being hurled into the 21st century? And which Afghans in this society are committing the violence? There are significant differences between the Hazaras, Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Pashtuns, the most populous and conservative group and the one that has dominated political life since the 1880s.

In the Pashtun crescent, from Farah Province in the west to Kunar in the northeast, life was—and in many ways still is—organized around the code known as Pashtunwali, the “way of the Pashtun.” The foundation of Pashtunwali is a man’s honor, judged by three possessions—zar (gold), zamin (land), and zan (women). The principles on which the honorable life is built are melmastia (hospitality), nanawati (shelter or asylum), and badal (justice or revenge).

The greater a Pashtun man’s hospitality, the more honor he accrues. If a stranger or an enemy turns up on his doorstep and asks for shelter, his honor depends on taking that person in. If any injury is done to a man’s land, women, or gold, it is a matter of honor for him to exact revenge. A man without honor is a man without a shadow, without assets, without dignity.

But it is not generally acceptable for Pashtun women to extend hospitality or exact revenge. They are rarely agents. They’re assets to be traded and fought over — until they can stand it no longer.

I like to think that no one could fail to be violently outraged by Elizabeth Rubin’s tale of the Pashtun father exercising his Pashtun manhood eradicating his daughter’s unfortunate attraction. Of course this isn’t the case, and even in the Christian West we are apt to told we’re applying “moral relativism.” And unfortunatley, the people most likely to denounce “moral relativism” take it for granted when it’s their own relative morality at issue, as in the stranglehold of all sorts of sociopathic tenets of Crap Christianity which those very same people are likely to insist on imposing wherever they can as if it were a matter of absolute morality — as if those people have any sane idea of what’s moral. (For sample particulars, see Noah’s post this morning on confirmed Christian haters.)

After all, the Crap Christians by and large have no problem with the idea that women are nothing more than “assets to be traded and fought over.” It’s part of their value system too. (I’m sure the National Geographic editors are hearing expressions of psychotic outrage from lots of those people for involving itself in “politics.”)

I can’t help that the following from Elizabeth Rubin’s piece is trying to paint too optimistic a picture of what’s happening in Afghanistan, but I think it’s worth reading if only for the poignant observation of Afghan parliament member Sahera Sharif: “”Much of the violence and cruelty you see now is because people are crazy from all these wars.”

The Afghan Parliament recently drafted a law intended to eliminate violence against women, who are beginning to reject old cultural practices and assert themselves in public and in private. I went to the Kabul home of Sahera Sharif, a Pashtun and the first female member of parliament from Khost. “No one knew a woman could put up campaign photos and posters on the walls in Khost—men didn’t allow women to even have jobs in Khost,” she said.

As a girl, Sharif stood up to her father, a conservative mullah, locking herself in a closet until he allowed her to go to school. She lived through the civil war between competing mujahideen groups, who ravaged Kabul before the Taliban conquest in 1996. She witnessed unimaginable cruelty and many deaths. “Much of the violence and cruelty you see now,” Sharif said, “is because people are crazy from all these wars.”

After the Taliban fell in December 2001, Sharif started a radio station to educate women about hygiene and basic health. More radically, she volunteered to teach at the university in Khost (a first there). She took off her burka (another first) and stood before the male students teaching them psychology. They blushed. And so she began to reeducate them.

As we talked, I could see what an inspiration Sahera Sharif has been to her 15-year-old daughter, Shkola, who interrupted her mother to show me a photograph of a woman in a magazine. The woman was lying with her throat cut, murdered by her husband’s family. The woman’s mother, mad with grief, had begged the magazine to publish the photograph. “I became crazy from this picture,” Shkola said. “I saw it over and over like a film.”

Shkola is studying Islamic history and law. She intends to become a lawyer in order to help women defend themselves against violence and injustice. In the meantime, she is scouring books from Iran to find stories for children “like you have,” she said. “We have almost none here. So I’m translating them into Pashtu, and I’m also writing a novel.”

Sadly, there’s rarely much shortage of stuff to cause violence and cruelty. Violence and cruelty seem only too ready to pop out of us with the flimsiest excuse — or, when absolutely necessary, without any excuse.

#
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Posted by DownWithTyranny on November 27th, 2010

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!


If Russia’s Soviet Union-destroying war against Afghanistan started on Dec. 27, 1979 and ended, ignominiously, on Feb. 15, 1989, guess who’s been looking for the light at the end of the Salang Tunnel as long as the Russians? Earlier this week, in a NY Times OpEd, Worse Than Vietnam, Robert Wright pointed out that the U.S. War in Afghanistan, already the longest war in our nation’s history, passes another milestone today: we’re eclipsing the amount of time the Soviets were mired in that hellhole. Happy anniversary. It’s cost about $345 billion so far, not counting the billions of dollars it will cost to treat the soldiers whose physical and mental health is being destroyed on a daily basis. It will reach over a trillion dollars by the time we get out of Dodge– with nothing whatsoever to show for it but two shattered countries– theirs and ours. The Wall Street Journal reminds us that we just keep increasing what we spend in Afghanistan monthly:

Between 2009 and 2010, the average monthly cost of the Iraq war fell $1.8 billion to $5.4 billion, a 25% drop. But increased spending in Afghanistan ate up that savings– and a bit more. Monthly costs rose $2.2 billion to $5.7, billion, a 63% increase… In Afghanistan, where the military has built up additional infrastructure to accommodate the surge units, the average cost per service member is expected to rise to $694,000.

Wright’s main point, though, isn’t about the cost. It’s about the tragedy. “The Afghanistan war,” he writes, “is as bad as the Vietnam War except for the ways in which it’s worse.” He points out that although the Vietnam War killed far more people and was far more destructive in human terms, “strategically it was just a medium-sized blunder. It was a waste of resources, yes, but the war didn’t make America more vulnerable to enemy attack.”

The Afghanistan war does. Just as Al Qaeda planned, it empowers the narrative of terrorist recruiters– that America is at war with Islam. The would-be Times Square bomber said he was working to avenge the killing of Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And Major Nidal Hasan, who at Fort Hood perpetrated the biggest post-9/11 terrorist attack on American soil, was enraged by the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

And how many anti-American jihadists has the war created on the battlefield itself? There’s no telling, but recent headlines suggest this admittedly impressionistic conclusion: We’re creating them faster than we’re killing them. And some of these enemies, unlike the Vietcong, could wind up killing Americans after the war is over– in South Asia, in the Middle East, in Europe, in America.

Hawks sometimes try to turn this logic to their advantage: It’s precisely because our enemies could remain dangerous after the war that we have to deny them a “platform”– an Afghanistan that’s partly or wholly under Taliban control; Communists weren’t going to use Vietnam as a base from which to attack America, but we saw on 9/11 that Afghanistan can be used that way.

Actually, we didn’t. The staging ground for the 9/11 attacks was Germany– and some American flight schools– as much as Afghanistan. The distinctive challenge posed by terrorism is that the enemy doesn’t need to occupy much turf to harm us. (For a good deflating of the various catastrophe scenarios that would supposedly unfold after American withdrawal from Afghanistan, see this handy list of myths about the war, part of a highly sensible report published recently by the Afghanistan Study Group.)

Both the Vietnam and Afghanistan wars were fought in the name of a good cause. There was indeed a hostile force that had to be kept at bay– communism and terrorism, respectively. And in each case the mistake was overestimating the intrinsic power of that force.

In the case of communism, this mistake became vivid to me in 1990, when I walked into the finest department store in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), went to the home appliance section and saw no washing machines but only stacks and stacks of washboards. Our enemy had wed its fate to an economic system that was bound to drag it further and further behind us. All we really had to do was stay vigilant and wait for it to self-destruct.

So too with jihadism; Al Qaeda’s ideology offers nothing that many of the world’s Muslims actually want– except, perhaps, when they feel threatened by the West, a feeling that isn’t exactly dulled by the presence of American troops in Muslim countries.

There are, of course, people who say that it wouldn’t have been enough to let communism self-destruct. This view, which credits Ronald Reagan with turning up the heat on the Soviets in Latin America and Afghanistan, has a grain of truth: imposing costs on a crumbling economic system can hasten the crumbling.

But look at the price we paid for slightly accelerating the inevitable. In Afghanistan, we now realize, our proxy war against the Soviet Union– our support of the mujahedeen– helped create Al Qaeda. In retrospect, this was a kind of segue between the cold war and the war on terrorism, and it illuminates that crucial difference between the two: when you’re dealing with state-based communism, nonessential intervention is wasteful; when you’re dealing with non-state-based terrorism, such intervention can be actively counterproductive.

It doesn’t look like al Qaeda and their Taliban allies are interested in a negotiated settlement unless that settlement is for foreign forces to withdraw… period. That whole ruse with the impostor negotiator was about British wishful thinking, not diplomacy. Diplomacy, on the otherhand, has actually started the process of NATO bringing Russia back into the Afghanistan War! No, I swear I’m not joking:

It’s never worked before– and it’ll never work this time. Are our strategic planners ignorant or stupid? Or brimming over with hubris? Or do they have something entirely unrelated up their sleeves? I’m afraid that with Alan Grayson effectively targeted and removed, there’s no one in Congress with the will or the ambition to ever find out for us. Oh well…

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Posted by The Agonist on November 26th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

November 26

VOA – The United States has now been fighting in Afghanistan as long as the Soviet Union did before it withdrew in 1989. Friday marks nine years and 50 days that U.S. forces have been fighting in Afghanistan.

The U.S. says it will continue its presence in Afghanistan for at least four more years, with the goal of ending the campaign in 2014.

A Pentagon-led report released earlier this week described the progress made since the United States injected 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan earlier this year as fragile.

The study said there has been progress in establishing security in key parts of Afghanistan, but the Taliban is a resilient enemy that retains significant capabilities.


Pentagon report shows little progress, rampant corruption in Afghanistan

Raw Story, By Eric W. Dolan, November 26

Little progress has been made against Taliban fighters and the Afghan government remains weak and rife with corruption, according to the Pentagon’s semiannual report to Congress on the war in Afghanistan.

The report, titled “Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan [PDF],” was released this week and outlines the failures and successes of the United States’ mission in Afghanistan.

Although more aggressive security operations are expected to increase pressure on insurgents in Afghanistan, they have proven to be a resilient enemy.

“The insurgents will retain operational momentum in some areas as long as they have access to externally supported safe havens and support networks,” according to the report.


The US of A breaks the Soviet record

Salon.com, By Glenn Greenwald, November 26

[...]

It seems clear that a similar — or even grander — prize awaits us as the one with which the Soviets were rewarded. I hope nobody thinks that just because we can’t identify who the Taliban leaders are after almost a decade over there that this somehow calls into doubt our ability to magically re-make that nation. Even if it did, it’s vital that we stop the threat of Terrorism, and nothing helps to do that like spending a full decade — and counting — invading, occupying, and bombing Muslim countries.

The good news — beyond our shattering this record and thus showing that we can still kick those Soviets around even after they no longer exist — is that this decade of utter futility hasn’t at all diminished the Government’s appetite for endless war in the Muslim world. By all accounts, the administration its actively debating whether to accelerate its already escalated intervention in Yemen. We’ve dramatically increased our covert actions in countless countries across the Muslim world. And today, former Bush State Department legal adviser John Bellinger III (one of the “moderates” from that era) argues in The Washington Post for a re-writing of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) — not in order to rescind it after nine years of endless war-fighting, but rather to expand it, on the ground that it “provides insufficient authority for our military and intelligence personnel to conduct counterterrorism operations today” and outrageously fails to empower the President’s “wish to target or detain a terrorist who is not part of al-Qaeda” (for good measure, he also wants the new law to authorize the killing of American citizens and to allow detention without charges).


Afghanistan: a history of occupation

Afghanistan has been repeatedly invaded for more than 2,000 years, dating back to Alexander the Great

The Telegraph, November 26

330BC – Alexander the Great invades region including modern day Afghanistan and spends two years fighting and facing repeated rebellion.

667AD – Arab armies sweep into Afghan territory, but only partially subdue locals and face frequent revolts.

1220 – Genghis Khan’s Mongol armies sweep through Afghanistan.

1722 – Birth of Ahmad Shah Durrani, first Emir of Afghanistan.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on November 26th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Karl Eikenberry is the latest administration official to tell us that the thorough review of progress that Obama promised the nation a year ago when he ordered the Afghan surge will instead be just a rubberstamp of "staying the course" for another Friedman Unit.

I won't prejudge the December review that's ongoing right now. Again, my friend General [David] Petraeus has said many times that for the first time in Afghanistan we have the inputs right, we've got the forces on the ground, we've got the civilians on the ground, we've got the right programs, we've organized ourselves effectively, we've got some big ideas that we've now translated into the delivery of results. All of those inputs, so to speak, that President Obama then ordered up in his 1 December 2009 West Point speech, all of those inputs finally arrived in the spring, in the summer of just this year. So we've had about a five, a six-month period where all of these inputs now are being brought to bear. So to have an extensive review in December, where we've only had five or six months of the new strategy properly resourced and being brought forward, that would not make good sense.

At least Eikenberry has the balls to put his name to this broken promise. As Robert Dreyfuss notes, the rest of the officials signalling that "the much anticipated December 2010 presidential review of war policy is being reduced to a rubber-stamp approval of General David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency scheme" have hidden behind anonymity all too easily provided by the mainstream media. Likewise, a whole slew of officially unofficial administration and Pentagon folks have been backing this bait-and-switch with happy talk about how well the Afghan occupation is going.

The truth is far from pleasant. Alex Strick van Linschoten recently disassembled the happy talk which is replacing substantial discussion now that the December review isn't going to be the vehicle of good news everyone thought it would be. Peter Galbraith, the former number-two U.N. diplomat in Afghanistan says it will take "100 years" to field an honest, literate Afghan police force. After the recent fraud-ridden election, Pashtuns will be a minority in the Afghan parliament but a majority in the nation as a whole – and they're very unhappy about it.

Even the Pentagon itself can't find much official evidence of unofficial hyperbole about progress:

The Pentagon's semiannual report to Congress on the war in Afghanistan paints a picture of a country where corruption remains rampant, violence has increased, and a well-funded Taliban insurgency continues to make troubling gains.

…The number of Afghans rating their security situation as “bad” is “the highest since the nationwide survey began in September 2008,” the report’s authors write, noting that the “downward trend in security perception is likely due to the steady increase in total violence over the past nine months.”

…According to the report, the Taliban insurgency’s capabilities and operational reach “have been qualitatively and geographically expanding” with plentiful sources of funding.

And not only is the promise of a 2011 start to troop withdrawals a broken promise, the week-old promise of 2014 as an end-date for combat operations has already been walked back too.

Even as the Obama administration steps away from July 2011 as a departure date of any consequence for US troops, senior officials in the briefing this week were reluctant to discuss the 2014 date that was put forward by Afghan President Hamid Karzai as a new goal for US combat troops to leave the country.

When asked by a reporter about the US “exit strategy” for Afghanistan, the senior defense official took issue with the term. “We don’t have an exit strategy. We have a transition strategy. The US commitment to Afghanistan is continuing, enduring, and long-lasting.”

The reporter suggested a rephrasing: “How about the exit of combat troops?”

Countered a senior State Department official, “How about the transition to Afghan control?”

So, what we're about to be treated to as a "December Review" is a bit of national security theater that will prove only one thing – that America is better at staying in a hopeless quagmire than the Soviets! " On Saturday Nov. 27, the United States and its allies will reach a grim milestone: they will have been in Afghanistan a day longer than the Soviet Union had been when it completed its 1989 withdrawal."

U.S.A.! U.S.A.! 

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Posted by The Agonist on November 24th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Richard Norton-Taylor | November 24

Guardian – Across Afghanistan 19 Taliban leaders and 252 lower-level fighters killed or captured in one week

Four “key” insurgent commanders have been killed or captured recently in British-controlled areas of southern Afghanistan, the chief spokesman for the armed forces said today.

Major General John Lorimer said this was in the Nad-e-Ali and Nahr-e-Saraj districts of Helmand province, where most of the 10,000 British troops are deployed.

Across Afghanistan 19 Taliban leaders and 252 lower-level fighters were killed or captured between 15 and 21 November , he said quoting Nato figures, and 387 insurgent commanders were killed or captured in the three months before November 18.

Though in the past Nato has fought shy of offering figures of killed or captured Taliban commanders, General David Petraeus, commander of foreign troops in Afghanistan, has recently gone out of his way to emphasise them. General David Richards, the head of Britain’s armed forces, told MPs last week that the Taliban were being “hammered”.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on November 24th, 2010

Released on the eve of the December strategy review, the Pentagon’s latest “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan (.pdf)” shows that the insurgents’ momentum has not been broken, despite repeated claims by U.S. and NATO officials.

Here’s how the report describes the insurgency, emphasis mine:

Organizationally, the insurgency’s capabilities and operational reach have been qualitatively and geographically expanding, as evidenced by a greater frequency and wider dispersion of insurgent-initiated attacks; however, that spread is being increasingly challenged by the ISAF surge forces conducting operations. Despite the increase in ANSF and ISAF capabilities to counter insurgent attacks, the insurgents’ tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) continue to evolve in sophistication.

Despite the boilerplate language attached asserting that new troops are “challenging” the spread of the insurgency, note that the report discloses that the spread continues. This description is virtually identical to that provided in the last progress report from April (.pdf):

Organizational capabilities and operational reach are qualitatively and geographically expanding.…Insurgents’ tactics, techniques, and procedures for conducting complex attacks are increasing in sophistication and strategic effect. (p. 21)

… as well as a previous assessment of the insurgency from late 2009 (.ppt):

“Organizational capabilities and operational reach are qualitatively and geographically expanding.”

In other words, the huge number of new troops sent to Afghanistan by President Obama over the course of this year has not stopped the spread of the insurgency.

The report’s clever phrasing, that the troop increase is “challenging” the spread of the insurgency without stopping it, invites the reader to give the Pentagon a grade of “E” for “effort,” like your kindergarten teacher used to do when your coloring projects didn’t turn out quite right.

The truth is that the generals deserve an “F” for “failure” on this war:

  • The insurgency continues to grow and increase in sophistication.
  • War-related violence in Afghanistan is up 300 percent since 2007, and up an additional 70 percent since last year.
  • The number of civilian casualties is skyrocketing.
  • This year is already the deadliest year of the war for U.S. troops.

Given the failure of the escalation strategy to produce even marginally strategically significant success, it makes no sense whatsoever for President Obama to extend this failing war through 2014. Doing so will cost the American taxpayer, on the low end, close to half-a-trillion dollars. We need that half-trillion dollars at home to put people back to work, not wasted on a war that’s not making us safer. If Congress and the president keep spending our dollars this way, no one should believe for a second that they’re serious about getting our economy back on track.

When we’re talking about spending half-a-trillion dollars, an “E” for “effort” isn’t good enough. This farce has hurt enough people and destroyed enough prosperity. The president should start bringing troops home immediately and finish doing so before the end of next year. Then we can use the money we’re wasting on this dumb war to create some jobs, for crying out loud.

If you are fed up with your government wasting hundreds of billions on a failing war, help us end it. Join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

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