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Archive for November, 2010

Posted by Peace Action West on November 20th, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

In Lisbon for the NATO summit, President Obama is proposing a plan that would keep foreign military troops in Afghanistan until at least the end of 2014. Even this end date is vague, discussed as an “inflection point” and the possible end of the “combat mission.” We have learned to be skeptical of such rhetoric—our combat mission is also over in Iraq, and there are still 50,000 Americans troops on the ground.

The idea of extending a failing war that is already the longest in US history is not surprisingly setting off alarm bells. Many members of Congress have been quick to respond that backing off from the July 2011 withdrawal start date is unwise and unacceptable. Sixty-one representatives sent a letter to President Obama today:

Mr. President, such an extension of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is contrary to American public opinion and to the future of America. We believe that this Congress will not support efforts to extend our military operations in Afghanistan into 2014 and we call on you to reaffirm your commitment to begin a safe and rapid redeployment beginning in July 2011. Any delay or deceleration in the pace of redeployment is unacceptable.

Yet another group sent a letter to the president about the upcoming Afghanistan strategy review, which the administration has been downplaying. The group encouraged the president to take a serious look at whether the war in Afghanistan is worth the cost.

We write to you, Mr. President, because we have grave concerns that the current course in Afghanistan is compromising our national security interests and is unsustainable even in the short term. Currently, you are carrying out a review and assessment of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, which is due to be released this Friday at the NATO meeting in Lisbon, according to media reports. We strongly support a comprehensive reassessment as we have serious concerns about this strategy.  We urge you to avoid making this a review limited to assessing the military tactics within Afghanistan and instead address the fundamental question: Is the war in Afghanistan and the price our nation is paying for this war truly in the national security interest of the United States?

 

Rep. Barbara Lee also took to The Huffington Post to express opposition to delaying a withdrawal.

Not only does this commitment push back the goal posts for concluding a decade of open-ended war, it delays the tough decisions that will need to be made upon acknowledging the true reality in Afghanistan — our military-first strategy simply isn’t working.

The President’s 2014 proposal does offer a few certainties, however, notably more coalition and civilian casualties, the construction and maintenance of more military bases and facilities, and added profits for the more than 74,000 private contractors currently operating in Afghanistan.

This congressional opposition is only likely to grow as the idea of staying in Afghanistan for four more years sinks in with politicians and the public. The war in Afghanistan is already very unpopular with voters, and especially with Democrats. All of this could spell political trouble for the president as he needs those voters energized and engaged for the 2012 presidential election. The members who have responded so quickly to this backtracking on Afghanistan should be commended, and we must mobilize the grassroots to get more of them creating a drumbeat and pressuring the Obama administration to change course.

 

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Posted by The Agonist on November 20th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Greg Miller | Islamabad | Nov 19

WaPo – The United States has renewed pressure on Pakistan to expand the areas where CIA drones can operate inside the country, reflecting concern that the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan is being undermined by insurgents’ continued ability to take sanctuary across the border, U.S. and Pakistani officials said.

The U.S. appeal has focused on the area surrounding the Pakistani city of Quetta, where the Afghan Taliban leadership is thought to be based. But the request also seeks to expand the boundaries for drone strikes in the tribal areas, which have been targeted in 101 attacks this year, the officials said.

Pakistan has rejected the request, officials said. Instead, the country has agreed to more modest measures, including an expanded CIA presence in Quetta, where the agency and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate have established teams seeking to locate and capture senior members of the Taliban.

The disagreement over the scope of the drone program underscores broader tensions between the United States and Pakistan, wary allies that are increasingly pointing fingers at one another over the rising levels of insurgent violence on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Senior Pakistani officials expressed resentment over what they described as misplaced U.S. pressure to do more, saying the United States has not controlled the Afghan side of the border, is preoccupied by arbitrary military deadlines and has little regard for Pakistan’s internal security problems.

“You expect us to open the skies for anything that you can fly,” said a high-ranking Pakistani intelligence official, who described the Quetta request as an affront to Pakistani sovereignty. “In which country can you do that?”
.
Pakistani officials ruled out a sweep anytime soon, saying the country’s military is still consolidating its hold on territory in Swat and South Waziristan, where tens of thousands of residents were displaced during operations to oust militants last year.

The senior Pakistani military official said U.S. expectations have little to do with Islamabad’s own national security calculations.

“You have timelines of November elections and July x’11 drawdowns – you’re looking for short-term gains,” the official said, referring to President Obama’s pledge to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July. “Your short-term gains should not be our long-term pain.”

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on November 19th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

The Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran has a piece today which is mostly about how wonderfully, swimmingly, well the occupation of Afghanistan is going now that General Petraeus is in charge – sourced almost entirely from Petraeus' own aides speaking anonymously and with no quotes from the many expert analysts of Afghan affairs that feel otherwise.

The report is headlined "U.S. deploying heavily armored battle tanks for first time in Afghan war". The Marines have been granted permission by Petraeus to use a handful of M-1 main battletanks in Helmand where the IED threat is greatest after seeing how Canada, Denmark and Germany used tanks in small numbers in their own operation - something COIN thinkers will no doubt debate the merits of. M-1 tanks were used in Iraq as mobile strongpoints, especially in urban settings, but had to be heavily modified to withstand the "EFP" class of improvised bombs used there. If they have a use in Afghanistan, the question has to be "why now, nine years in?" But can we at least stear clear of gushing "ooh, shiny toy!" talk like Chandrasekaran's ill-advised:

The 68-ton tanks are propelled by a jet engine and equipped with a 120mm main gun that can destroy a house more than a mile away.

It's not a jet engine, it's a turbine. And "destroy a house"? That'll be those places all those pesky Afghan civilians live in, right?

But overall I'm less worried about a single company of tanks than I am about this: a "civilian adviser to the NATO command in Kabul" explaining why Petraeus authorised a request to deploy tanks when none of his predecessors would.

"Because Petraeus is the author of the COIN [counterinsurgency] manual, he can do whatever he wants. He can manage the optics better than McChrystal could," the adviser said. "If he wants to turn it up to 11, he feels he has the moral authority to do it."

As former Army officer Jason Fritz says, "that's obnoxious". Petraeus wasn't the sole author of the COIN manual – he wrote the foreword but an entire team worked on the manual itself. He cannot do "whatever he wants" because he has a chain of command to answer to. And none of this confers any moral authority to turn it up to eleven, Spinal Tap style.

The level of arrogant hubris in that quote is on a par with the opinions expressed by General McChrystal's aides to the Rolling Stone's Micahel Hastings back in June. The opinions that got McChrystal shit-canned. We've no idea from the WaPo piece how senior this adviser is, nor if he is truly representing Petraeus' own opinion of his moral superiority. But we damn-sure should find out.

Petraeus must respond to this quotation, in no uncertain terms, and out the adviser concerned. If not, the quote and the arrogance it reveals will inevitably be hung around the Saintly General's own neck. After all, it's not as if this advisers words have dropped into a vaccuum – there's been plenty of talk about Petraeus being too arrogantly uncontrollable and about an ongoing civilian/military command crisis.

Update: Matt Ygglesias, reading the same WaPo report, has some smart thoughts:

It continually seems to me that the biggest problem with our strategy in Afganistan is that to much too great extent it’s really a problem about internal conflicts within the military whose real targets are in Washington DC. The counterinsurgency faction badly wants something called a “win” achieved through something called “counterinsurgency” and I think is losing sight of the real interests of the people in America and Afghanistan alike.

Yep.

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Posted by The Agonist on November 19th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Helmand Province, Afghanistan | November 19

The Guardian – The US is sending battle tanks to Afghanistan for the first time in the nine-year war against the Taliban, the Washington Post reported today.

Citing unnamed officers and defence officials, the paper said General David Petraeus, the commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, approved the move last month.

“The deployment of a company of M1 Abrams tanks, which will be fielded by the marines in the country’s south-west, will allow ground forces to target insurgents from a greater distance – and with more of a lethal punch – than is possible from any other US military vehicle,” the Post said.

The initial deployment called for 16 tanks to be used in parts of Helmand province, where marines and Taliban guerrillas were fighting, the paper said.

The 68-tonne tanks are propelled by a jet engine and equipped with a 120mm main gun that can destroy a house more than a mile away.

AFP: A US defence official told the Washington Post earlier that the development was “pretty significant” although conceded that by deploying tanks so late in the conflict could be seen as a sign of desperation.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on November 19th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Here's how well the NATO surge in Kandahar, Afghanistan, is going:

The number of people assassinated in the city in the past six weeks has jumped to 13, compared with six in a similar period in May and June before the big US operations began, according to data collated by a security company. The number killed in bomb and gun attacks has more than tripled to 33 in the same period.

…“They are not only killing the directors of departments, they are killing everyone,” said Ghulam Hamidi Haider, Kandahar’s mayor.

Mr Haider, who lost his deputy to an assassin’s bullet last month after another was murdered in April, said he was confident the influx of US troops would boost security in the coming year.

However, the killings are undermining US attempts to foster local government by making it difficult for city authorities and companies carrying out development projects to recruit.

The attacks present an ominous sign for a White House review seeking to assess the impact of Mr Obama’s troop increase.

…“The fact that the Taliban refused engagement is not good,” said Antonio Giustozzi, an expert on the Afghan insurgency at the London School of Economics. “They seem to have left behind cadres who can challenge Isaf’s control from under ground.”

Even the gold-standard for middle-of-the-road policy, the Council on Foreign Relations, thinks "a more significant drawdown to a narrower military mission would be warranted” if the Obama administration's December review concludes the current strategy is showing insufficient progress. Dr. Patrick Porter of the British Defence Academy's Joint Services Command and Staff College has called for a new strategy of containment:

It's time for restraint over activism, for power conservation over its expenditure, for doing no harm over doing good. It means combating terrorism with ordinary police work and intelligence sharing and calibrated disruption. We should focus our military most on what it does most effectively: secure our territory and sea lanes, deter other states and exist as a wise insurance policy for emergencies. Let's try that for the next 10 years, and see where it takes us.

It also means being restrained in how we think. The world may be chaotic. But we are part of that chaos. Except in atypical circumstances, the military is not a surgical tool of political engineering, but a bludgeon wielded by specialists in violence. We therefore don't have the power to alter the political condition of others at our own timetable. 

Despite Petraeus' staff's pronouncements about areas cleared and commanders captured, the Taliban continue to operate and the killed/captured numbers just don't add up. We've been given platitudes about "progress" felt in Petraeus' gut rather in actual statistics and we've been told the Taliban were about to cave and negotiate even when the story was bullshit. Almost everything we hear about Afghanistan from officila sources is being manipulated to put a "happy-talk" spin on the occupation there, but it's all just about manufacturing a perceived reality where everyone can at least claim not to have lost – and forget about the next civil war we'll be policing. The West's occupation is failing, not succeeding.

Remarkably few are being fooled any more. At least fifty percent of Americans and over 70 percent of Europeans think the course we are staying on is simply the wrong one. Yet we're now being told by the White House and military that the promised December review will change nothing, and that we can forget 2011 or even 2014 as a date-proper when we can look forward to the end of the West's occupation.

The White House doesn't even want Petraeus to testify as part of that review, because it will just draw attention to how bad the news is. One administration source told Politico, in a fit of Orwell-speak, that "There's no success reportable from Afghanistan of sufficient gravitas or importance to warrant making a big deal of this review." As Robert Naiman writes, any student who tried that – "Dad, there's no success reportable from college of sufficient gravitas or importance to warrant making a big deal of this report card" – would be on a hiding to nothing.

As my pal Josh Mull wrote recently, Obama is playing games with us:

What will change in 2014 that won’t change by July 2011? Will there be no more Taliban in 2014? No more Al-Qa’eda? Will Afghanistan be a stable democracy, and Pakistan won’t have nukes? Will there be no more imperial “Great Game” in Central Asia in 2014? There will be no more regional ethnic and sectarian conflicts by 2014? What is it? Exactly what is the value of staying?

Just like the domestic politics, these questions have already been answered, these arguments already won. We know Afghanistan and Pakistan will still have problems whether we leave in 2011 or 2050.  These countries do not pose a threat to our national security, and those terrorists that do target us are at best unaffected by the war (they simply relocate to Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere) and at worst strengthened and empowered by it (increased credibility, fundraising, and recruitment).

No more playing games. No more generals fudging the timelines, no more waiting for the opposition to help you out, no more trial balloons about 2014 and beyond. Our soldiers are not toys, they are real people who die as a result of our policy choices. We are killing innocent Afghan civilians, more and more every month the war goes on. Our economy is in shambles and we can’t afford the trillions it takes for these occupations. We can’t play games with this stuff, and we will destroy our military, our economy, and our country if we continue to treat them as toys in our political game.

The President must stick to the July 2011 deadline. Begin withdrawal in the summer and finish by the end of the year, give or take a month or two. That’s very, very generous, and he has no excuse to stay a moment longer.

…End the war, President Obama. Don’t make us beat you to it.

By "beat you to it", Josh means the threat of, or an actual, primary challenge to Obama for 2012. Those who are anti-occupation and anti- dumb-intervention aren't the only people thinking it, or saying it, either. Those pissed at Obama's corporatism, his poodling to Republicans, his hippie-punching, are muttering too. And remember the challenge doesn't have to win, it just has to shape the debate in directions the Obama administration currently don't want it to go.

Update: This petition "against four more years of war" might just be the first real shot across Obama's bows.

IF THE PRESIDENT SEEKS THE SUPPORT OF THE PEACE CONSTITUENCY WHICH CONTRIBUTED SO MUCH TO HIS 2008 VICTORY, HE SHOULD:

• Stop placating Republicans and Pentagon generals who seek unaffordable and elusive “victories:
• Heed and not disappoint the 75 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of Independents who want a timetable for withdrawal;
• Launch regional diplomacy towards power-sharing in Afghanistan with greater urgency as the current military escalation;
• Announce a substantial troop reduction from Afghanistan in 2011, and a complete phase-out in two years;
• Stop the foreign drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas and send massive medical aid and infrastructure assistance instead;
• Keep his pledge to withdraw all US troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.

TO THE NEW REPUBLICAN LEADERSHIP OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, WE DEMAND:

• That deficit hawks apply their budget philosophy to the trillion-dollar costs of these unfunded wars;
• That the Republican leadership permit hearings, full debate and roll call votes on war funding and related amendments;

As President Obama and Gen. Petraeus have said many times, there is no military solution in Afghanistan. We ask, how many more will die in pursuit of this impossible goal?

Tom Hayden, director, Peace and Justice Resource Center
Daniel Ellsberg
Ariel Dorfman, author, Duke University
Michael Ratner, President, Center for Constitutional Rights
William Quigley, legal director, Center for Constitutional Rights
Progressive Democrats of America [PDA]
Jean Stein, publisher
Rev. George Hunsinger, theologian, Princeton Theological Seminary
Carl Davidson, Progressive America Rising
Fatima Mojaddidy, Afghans for Peace, Oakland, CA
Afghans for Peace
Gar Smith, co-founder of Environmentalists Against War
John Gunther Dean, former U.S. Ambassador
to Cambodia, Denmark, Lebanon, Thailand and India
Jason Cross, Professor, Ann Arbor, MI
Matthew Evangelista, Chair, Department of Government, Cornell University
Dr. Cornel West, Princeton
Stephen Spitz, Falls Church, VA – Co-State, Coordinator, PDA Virginia
Tom Coffin, Atlanta, GA
Carolyn Eisenberg, Brooklyn, NY
Gordon Fellman, Brandeis
Shelagh Foreman, Peace Action, Massachusetts, MA
Andy Griggs, Los Angeles, CA
Linda L. Groetzinger
Norman J. Groetzinger, Chicago, IL
Dr. Judith Guskin, Hallandale Beach, FL
Russ Harrison, Hofstra Univeristy
Chris Lugo, Pacific Green Party, Oregon City, OR
Frances Fox Piven
Vernon H. Naffier, Ankeny, Iowa
José Pertierra, Attorney, Washington, DC
Barbara Reynolds, Chicago, IL
Richard W. Spisak Jr., Hobe Sound, FL
William A Wheaton, Altadena CA

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Posted by The Agonist on November 19th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

Tom Engelhardt | Nov 18

Asia Times – While Americans bemoan unemployment and argue over economic stimulus measures, in Afghanistan, Washington remains a profligate spender, lavishing many millions of dollars on a massive extension of the US Embassy. Barely describable as an “embassy” in the traditional sense, this vast, over-equipped complex is clearly an outpost for a long-term war.

Jo Comerford and the number-crunchers at the National Priorities Project have offered TomDispatch a hand in putting that $790 million outlay into an American context: “$790 million is more than 10 times the money the federal government allotted for the State Energy Program in FY2011. It’s nearly five times the total amount allocated for the National Endowment for the Arts (threatened to be completely eliminated by the incoming congress). If that sum were applied instead to job creation in the United States, in new hires it would yield more than 22,000 teachers, 15,000 healthcare workers, and employ more than 13,000 in the burgeoning clean energy industry.”

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Posted by Josh Mull on November 18th, 2010

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

Back in the summer of 2007, there was a debate in the Democratic presidential primaries over whether or not the United States ought to negotiate without preconditions with our enemies. Senator Obama said he would meet with Iranian president Ahmadinejad, among others, and Senator Clinton replied that this was naive, that it would be used for propaganda purposes, and so on.

Obama eventually won out, but the criticism of his position continued into the 2008 general election. The McCain campaign doubled down on the Bush policy of negotiations as a “reward”, and they relentlessly attacked Obama as weak on national defense, cozying up with dictators – you remember the commercials.

Despite all that, candidate Obama held firm in his position that the US should negotiate with its enemies. And not just dictators and foreign leaders, mind you, but even militant groups like the Taliban. Here Obama explains his rational to NBC’s Brian Williams:

So far, so good. He uses some really unhelpful language (what the heck is a “moderate Taliban”?) but he admits that the process will not be easy or quick.

Fast forward a year or so to late 2009, candidate Obama is now President Obama, and we’re hearing whispers out of Afghanistan that the Taliban and Hamid Karzai have begun very quiet, very preliminary discussions. Nothing really exciting, just an intermediary or two meeting secretly in Pakistan, the UAE, and elsewhere. President Obama orders a massive military escalation in order to “break Taliban momentum” (the same Taliban who were at the time negotiationg an end to hostilities), and General McChrystal (and now Petraeus) instituted his ultimately disastrous counter-insurgency campaign in the south and east of the country. AFPS reported at the time:

The 30,000 additional troops President Barack Obama is sending to Afghanistan will focus on reversing the Taliban’s momentum, a senior Defense Department official said last night during a “DoDLive” bloggers roundtable following the president’s announcement of his new strategy.

“What we are sending into Afghanistan by the end of next summer will be more troops, more quickly than any other proposal before the president,” said David S. Sedney, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia. “What we are doing here is we are putting in the hands of General McChrystal more troops sooner in order to have the impact on the momentum of the Taliban.” Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal commands U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan.

It wasn’t the smartest response to an offer of negotiations from the other side, but the generals insisted that the US had to inflict some kind of damage on the Taliban, “bleed them” a little, in order to properly position ourselves for the negotiation process. Pakistani and US intelligence agencies also began furiously arresting, assassinating, or coercing various high-ranking Taliban leaders, the capture of Mullah Baradar being the most high profile of these actions, all in an effort to rig the negotiations.

What role will the US play in negotiations? Will Pakistan have a seat at the table? Will the Taliban actually talk? The answers to these questions came, we’re told, from the escalation of both the overt and covert wars against Taliban militants. So Pakistan and the US killed, arrested, and bribed their way into a seat at the negotiating table with Karzai and the Taliban. It’s counter intuitive, if not insane, but nevertheless we’re still on the right track toward negotiations.

Obama said it wouldn’t be easy, and it wasn’t – a lot of American and Afghan blood was spilled in order to “break the momentum” and get a seat at the table. And it certainly wasn’t quick, these talks have been in the works for well over a year now. So, how did it go?

Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban, isn’t having any of it.

All hopes of a breakthrough between the Afghan Taliban and the Karzai administration came to an end when Mulla Umar refused 35,000 government jobs for his fighters. Top level US, Afghan, Saudi and Pakistani officials have claimed that all efforts to organise the first-ever direct talks between Taliban and the Karzai administration in Saudi Arabia after Haj have failed and the Taliban have refused to send any delegation to Jeddah.

President Hamid Karzai had established a 70-member peace council two months ago for negotiating with Taliban. This council had, at least, 12 people who were part of the Taliban government from 1996 to 2001. Taliban Supreme leader Mulla Umar refused to listen to his former associates, who offered 35,000 jobs to the Taliban fighters on behalf of Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai.

Damn, what’s the problem? Is it because Omar isn’t “moderate” enough? Is it because he wants to engage in “violent, anti-Western” activities that Obama warned about?

Nope. Turns out, it’s all that “momentum breaking” we’re doing

In a statement issued today on the group’s website, Voice of Jihad, Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban’s “leader of the faithful,” denied the existence of negotiations and implored Afghans to continue fighting. Omar, who is thought to be based in either Karachi or Quetta in Pakistan, also reiterated that the Taliban would not talk to the Karzai government until all foreign troops have left Afghanistan. [...]

“It is because of this pressure that the enemy has resorted to spreading the misleading rumors of peace talks,” Omar said. “Thus, they want to reduce the military pressure which is being exerted on them.” In addition, Omar claimed that the Taliban have blunted US-led assaults in and around Kandahar city and in Marjah in Helmand province.

It’s the occupation, stupid! The central Taliban leadership are not going to negotiate until foreign troops begin their withdrawal.

And this is not a case of Omar being inflexible, he has quieted his other preconditions. In times past, the Taliban demanded that the Karzai government be dissolved, the constitution be scrapped, and the full re-institution of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Clearly they’re at least willing to recognize the Karzai government now, indeed they’ll even negotiate in good faith with it. But not with the US occupation still in effect.

So if the Taliban can compromise, why can’t we? Technically it isn’t even much of a compromise. Obama has stated that he wants to begin drawing down troops in July 2011. If he sticks to his word, then we might see some hope for negotiating an end to the conflict.

It doesn’t even have to be all at once, we don’t have to leave overnight. Thomas Ruttig explains:

And then, there are still a few preconditions of the Taleban in the way: that they want the troops out first – although that can and might be dealt with through ‘preliminary’ contacts, for example by re-working this into a timetable for withdrawal of troops and eventually bases.

Some (lower, less powerful) Taliban leaders have even offered such a compromise.

Afghanistan’s second biggest insurgent group has told the BBC it will agree to a ceasefire if US-led coalition forces stay in their main bases. [..]

“We have prepared a formula, and discussed it with the parliament and the foreign powers,” said [Hizb-i-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's son, Habib-ur-Rahman].

All Afghan groups agree that war is not the solution. But the Americans are sending 30,000 more troops in.

“They say ‘we will suppress our opponents and then evolve a new strategy for Afghanistan’.”

That’s not a bad plan. If the US military, their “opponents”, withdraw to their main bases (just as we did in Iraq) and proceed with our planned pullout in late 2011, then we can begin to negotiate some sort of reconciliation with Taliban factions in Afghanistan. If we don’t withdraw, they’ll simply continue to fight.

Some might argue that this would be a capitulation to the Taliban and a danger to US national security. Just like the primary debates over negotiations, they’d be wrong. The US should not have the occupation of Afghanistan as a precondition to talks with the Taliban, because occupying Afghanistan is not in the interests of the United States. We invaded in order to fight Al-Qa’eda, and that’s where we should be focused.

So far the Taliban have refused to sever ties with Al-Qa’eda. This is unacceptable, and it’s here that the US should draw a line in the sand on negotiations. No compromise should allow the existence of Al-Qa’eda in Afghanistan, which is an easy concession for the Taliban to make considering that our intelligence agencies say only a few dozen (if that many) AQ members remain in the country. First though, we must compromise on withdrawal, as the Taliban have done with negotiations with the Karzai government, and then we can move forward on the issues most important to each of the players.

I make this sound easier than it actually will be. Withdrawing our troops only gets us as far as good faith negotiations between the Taliban and Karzai’s government, and that certainly won’t be the end of the story.

More Ruttig:

But does Karzai really want to share power with a movement as strong as the Taleban that, additionally, is known for its anti-corruption attitude, coupled with rude methods to implement it?

Those we spoke to, including some ‘close to the [High Peace Council]’, do not put much hope into it. ‘Too big’ and composed of people ‘who do not get along with each other’ are amongst the more moderate comments. ‘Muftkhoran’ is another, less polite attribute which was used; indeed, Western funding commitments surely line the horizon in with silver in the eyes of some members.

But the most important argument heard in our meetings was that the idea behind the HPC is seen as trying to make the Taleban to ‘surrender’, i.e. to recognize the constitution, lay down their arms and ‘join’ the current Afghan government. That, most of them agreed, will never happen.

What role will the Taliban play in governing Afghanistan post-occupation? This is a question exclusively for Afghans, and it appears the answer is almost impossible to predict at this juncture. But the US has no national interest in owning Afghanistan, Al-Qa’eda is our only legitimate concern. We have to leave in order for the Afghan deliberations to proceed, and we need them to proceed in order to deal with Al-Qa’eda.

Obama campaigned on diplomacy without preconditions and he was delivered a broad mandate from the American people. Critics called him weak, but he stuck to his word and won the argument. Now the majority of Americans want an end to the war in Afghanistan, and the majority of Afghans want a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. Critics will call Obama weak, but will he again stick to his word, negotiate with our enemies, and deliver the peace both countries so desperately want? That remains to be seen.

Obama must re-affirm his commitment to begin withdrawing troops in July 2011, and in the meantime, the US should pull back to its bases in Kabul, Kandahar, and elsewhere. Until that happens, there will be zero progress on Taliban reconciliation efforts, and zero progress toward peace and stability in Afghanistan.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on November 18th, 2010

Last week, Brave New Foundation’s Robert Greenwald wrote about the damage done to U.S. interests around the world by for-profit security contractors like Blackwater / Xe:

Drunken shootouts and debauchery, meaningless death and mayhem… Thanks in part to the rapacious greed injected into war-fighting by the liberal use of for-profit armed “security” companies, a brutal, unaccountable and unreliable swagger is increasingly the face of the U.S. in conflict zones around the world… The use of private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan makes a few people very, very rich, but it’s making the rest of us — Americans and local civilians alike — much less safe.

During this Congress, progressive congresspeople like U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky, John Conyers, Maurice Hinchey, James Moran and David Price focused on this issue and came up with some pretty common-sense ideas about private security contracting:

  • We need more and better oversight, especially when contractors discharge their weapons, kill civilians or damage property.
  • We need to make sure the rules that apply to contractors in places like Iraq and Afghanistan will also apply in other zones of conflict like Yemen.
  • Oh, and Blackwater/Xe shouldn’t be able to cheat the U.S. government out of tax money anymore through, shall we say, creative hiring practices.

These progressive legislators did good work this year and got these ideas included in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act.

Unfortunately, these gains may be erased over the next several days in negotiations with the Senate over the final language of the bill. While the House version of the bill includes important accountability provisions for private contractors, these provisions will simply disappear if congressional negotiators fail to include them in the final version of the bill.

Lack of Oversight

One of the most infuriating threads of the story of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (and there are many) is the lack of accountability for out-of-control private contractors like Blackwater/Xe. Every time employees of one of these companies kills a civilian, gets in a drunken shootout or pays off insurgents for safe passage, we all become less safe due to increased anti-American sentiment and seeming validation of al Qaeda propaganda. When our government then fails to hold these cowboys and war profiteers accountable — as it failed to hold accountable the ex-Blackwater employee who shot the bodyguard of the Iraqi vice president and the contractors who gunned down civilians in Nisour Square — we send the message that these modern-day Praetorians can get away with anything, including murder.

That’s why the House-passed version of the NDAA called for the Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) to provide Congress a report on contractor oversight and on contractor involvement in civilian killings. Under these provisions, SIGAR must also recommend improvements to contractor oversight and guidelines on how the U.S. can avoid doing business with companies that have records of waste, fraud, abuse and dangerous behavior. These reports will help Congress and the administration get a handle on the contracting process and institute stronger accountability measures.

Mission Creep

News reports indicate the U.S. is moving material to Yemen to attack the al Qaeda presence there and is debating whether to help the Yemeni government establish forward operating bases and/or execute many more drone strikes in remote regions. Whatever the final shape of the ramped-up U.S. activity, it seems clear that it will be a military-centric approach, and that probably means more private contractors working in the area. But, many of the existing oversight requirements for private military contractors are region-specific, i.e. there are currently more stringent rules for those working in Iraq and Afghanistan than would be the case in Yemen (and that’s already an unacceptably low bar).

Now, let me be clear: Ramping up military operations in Yemen is a bad idea, period. We’ve got quite enough on our plate without being backed into another decade-long counterinsurgency fiasco, thank you very much. But ramping up military operations in Yemen while failing to extend contractor oversight rules there is a really, really bad idea. But unless Congress retains the House-passed provisions of the NDAA, that’s exactly what will happen. The House-passed version of the NDAA extends the stricter operating rules for contractors found in Afghanistan and Iraq to Yemen and other areas.

They Cheat on Their Taxes, Too

To add insult to injury, private security firms like Blackwater/Xe also exploit tax loopholes to further pad their profits. Even though it gets 90 percent of its profits from the U.S. government, Blackwater hires Americans as independent contractors rather than as direct employees, thus avoiding a substantial amount of taxes they’d otherwise owe. So not only are they besmirching the honor of the U.S. around the world with their crimes and other antics, but they actively try to cheat their largest customer — us — out of as much money as possible.

The House-passed version of the NDAA will close this loophole by requiring security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan to hire U.S. citizen personnel as direct employees, rather than as independent contractors.

What You Can Do

With negotiators working to hammer out a final version of the National Defense Authorization Act, there’s a chance that we can get strong accountability provisions from the House version into the law. Doing this will extend the more stringent accountability regime contractors operate under in Iraq and Afghanistan to any possible future actions in Yemen and other regions; require the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction to report to Congress on how to improve contractor oversight, as well as contractor involvement in civilian deaths; and close the tax loophole Blackwater/Xe uses to cheat the U.S. taxpayer.

You can call your Member of Congress at 202.224.3121 to insist they sign the Schakowsky-Conyers-Hinchey-Moran-Price letter which tells Chairman Skelton and Ranking Member McKeon of the House Armed Services Committee to keep the strong security contractor accountability provisions included in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act. Tell them you want private contractors held accountable, and will hold them accountable for making it happen.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on November 17th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Just days after the Obama administration stopped talking about 2011 entirely and started touting 2014 as the end of the combat mission in Afghanistan, the NATO envoy in Kabul says we can forget that date too.

Mark Sedwill, the civilian counterpart to US commander General David Petraeus, also said that the target of handing over security responsibilities to the Afghan army and police by the end of 2014 might not be met.

The alliance's plan for the "transition" of responsibilities from Nato's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to the still embryonic Afghan army and police will be high on the agenda at this week's Nato summit in Lisbon.

Many European countries that contribute troops see the plan as their ticket out of an unpopular war, but Sedwill warned that success was not guaranteed and the 2014 date was merely an "inflection point" in a campaign that would continue for a long time. In some areas of the country transition could run "to 2015 and beyond" he said.

Although the alliance hopes that foreign-led counterinsurgency operations will come to an end, troops would still be required to train and support the Afghan security forces and maintain "a strategic over watch" position, he said.

He conceded that a "residual insurgency" was likely to continue in many parts of the country.

"There would still be a certain level of violence and probably levels of violence that by western standards will be pretty eye-watering," he said.

And Sedwill also trotted out a new buzz-phrase we're going to be hearing a lot of over the next five-plus years to justify endless occupation of a nation on the very ragged margins of US or NATO national security interests: "reinvest the transition". Which is the same old whack-a-mole by another name.

No wonder the new French defense minister, Alain Juppe, says that Afghanistan is "a trap for all the parties involved there". It's a trap mostly of our own making.

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on November 17th, 2010

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

Pop quiz on the news: who said this week, referring to the dispute between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. military commander David Petraeus over U.S. Special Forces "night raids" that break into Afghans’ homes in the middle of the night:

 

Many Afghans see the raids as a … humiliating symbol of American power.

Was it:

a) Afghan President Hamid Karzai b) Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich c) U.S. peace activist Kathy Kelly d) The New York Times

The correct answer is d, the New York Times. Here is the full quote:

 

Many Afghans see the raids as a flagrant, even humiliating symbol of American power, especially when women and children are rousted in the middle of the night. And protests have increased this year as the tempo has increased.

It is a striking symptom of the moral depravity of the US war in Afghanistan that the policy of night raids, which press reports have suggested is one of the most hated aspects of the U.S. military occupation among the Afghan population, has been the subject of almost no public debate in the United States. Newspaper columnists aren’t inveighing against the night raids. Members of Congress aren’t demanding that the night raids stop.

The only thing that has occasioned any public debate about them in the U.S. at all is that President Karzai denounced them in an interview with the Washington Post ahead of the NATO summit. And the response of U.S. officials is: wow, this guy Karzai is really an unreliable partner. Is he off his meds? He has some nerve complaining about something that Western press reports suggest is among the aspects of the U.S. military occupation most hated by Afghans.

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