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Archive for November, 2010

Posted by alexthurston on November 16th, 2010

This story originally appeared at

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Last year, it was Kuwait, Qatar, and Iraq.  This year, it’s Germany, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.  Next year, it could easily be Afghanistan, Pakistan, Diego Garcia, Bahrain, and Turkey.  Or of course they could choose to play in Japan (with a special stop in Okinawa), South Korea, Colombia, and for a little sun and surf, the Bahamas.  And while they’re at it, the same way bands used to love playing the Palladium, they could make a triumphal return to Guantanamo Bay to bring a little cheer back into American lives, just as they did in 2005.  Or they could break out their new camouflage-colored b-ball (which on recent tours sometimes replaces their iconic red, white, and blue one), and as they’ve done in the past, slam dunk their way onto U.S. aircraft carriers on duty in places like the Persian Gulf. 

Oh, come on! You haven’t guessed by now?  We’re talking about the Harlem Globetrotters on their never-ending basketball tour and dropping in no less eternally at the “front lines” of the American war on whatever.  In recent years, to entertain the troops, they’ve visited more than 25 U.S. military bases in all of the countries above, not to speak of Djibouti, Portugal, and others.  (And yes, Virginia, aircraft carriers, with the populations of American small towns, aregiant, floating military bases.)  But here’s the strange thing: let them tour those global bases year after year, let them play a baseball schedule of 162 games (and throw in the playoffs and the World Series, too), and they’ll still barely scratch the surface of America’s baseworld.  After all, the more than 25 bases they’ve visited since 2005 make up only about 15% of the approximately 400 American bases in Afghanistan alone, as Nick Turse has reported for TomDispatch.  Who even knows the total number of U.S. military bases globally? 

Only one thing is certain: there are enough of them to keep the Globetrotters touring nonstop until hell freezes over.  One great mystery of American journalism is that those bases, key to our imperial status on this planet, remain of next to no interest to reporters (unless the Pentagon threatens to close one in the U.S.).  The strangest aspect of America’s global garrisons is that, while millions of Americans — soldiers, spies, private contractors, Defense Department civilians, and civilian officials of every sort — cycle through them each year, most Americans know next to nothing about them and could care less.  By the way, surprising numbers of American journalists pass through them, too, and yet, looking for a little “kinetic action” out in our war zones, they almost never bother to focus on and report on these colossi of our imperial world.  

Yet, if you don’t pay attention to them, you know remarkably little about what our country actually means in, and to, the world.  TomDispatch considers them an essential beat, and Associate Editor Nick Turse, who has only recently produced the single (must-read!) book available on how to actually get out of our war in Afghanistan – The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan – has been covering them for years at this site and it looks as if he, like the Globetrotters, has years to go.  In journalistic terms, they are — or should be — the gift that just keeps giving.  Tom

Twenty-First Century Blowback? 
As Prospects Dim in Iraq, the Pentagon Digs in Deeper Around the Middle East
By Nick Turse

The construction projects are sprouting like mushrooms: walled complexes, high-strength weapons vaults, and underground bunkers with command and control capacities — and they’re being planned and funded by a military force intent on embedding itself ever more deeply in the Middle East.  

If Iran were building these facilities, it would be front-page news and American hawks would be talking war, but that country’s Revolutionary Guards aren’t behind this building boom, nor are the Syrians, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, or some set of al-Qaeda affiliates.  It’s the U.S. military that’s digging in, hardening, improving, and expanding its garrisons in and around the Persian Gulf at the very moment when it is officially in a draw-down phase in Iraq.

On August 31st, President Obama took to the airwaves to announce “the end of our combat mission in Iraq.”  This may, however, prove yet another “mission accomplished” moment.  After all, from the lack of a real Iraqi air force (other than the U.S. Air Force) to the fact that there are more American troops in that country today than were projected to be there in September 2003, many signs point in another direction.

In fact, within days of the president’s announcement it was reported that the U.S. military was pouring money into improving bases in Iraq and that advance elements of a combat-hardened armored cavalry regiment were being sent there in what was politely dubbed an “advise and assist” (rather than combat) role.  On September 13th, the New York Times described the type of operations that U.S. forces were actually involved in:

“During two days of combat in Diyala Province, American troops were armed with mortars, machine guns, and sniper rifles. Apache and Kiowa helicopters attacked insurgents with cannon and machine-gun fire, and F-16’s dropped 500-pound bombs.”

According to the report, U.S. troops were within range of enemy hand grenades and one American soldier was wounded in the battle.

Adhering to an agreement inked during George W. Bush’s final year in office, the Obama administration has pledged to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.  U.S. military commanders have, however, repeatedly spoken of the possibility of extending the U.S. military’s stay well into the future.  Just recently, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates let the Iraqi government know that the U.S. was open to such a prospect.  “We’re ready to have that discussion if and when they want to raise it with us,” he said.  As the British Guardian’s Martin Chulov wrote last month, “[T]he U.S. is widely believed to be hoping to retain at least one military base in Iraq that it could use as a strategic asset in the region.”

Recent events, however, have cast U.S. basing plans into turmoil.  Notably unnerving for the Obama administration was a deal reportedly brokered by Iran in which Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr — whose forces had repeatedly clashed with U.S. troops only a few short years ago — threw his support behind Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, currently vying for a second term in office.  This was allegedly part of a regional agreement involving Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah that could leave the U.S. military out in the cold.  A source informed the Guardian that “Maliki told [his new regional partners that] he will never extend, or renew [any bases] or give any facilities to the Americans or British after the end of next year.”

Even if the U.S. was forced to withdraw all its troops from Iraq, however, its military “footprint” in the Middle East would still be substantial enough to rankle opponents of an armed American presence in the region and be a drain on U.S. taxpayers who continue to fund America’s “empire of bases.”  As has been true in recent years, the latest U.S. military documents indicate that base expansion and upgrades are the order of the day for America’s little-mentioned garrisons in the nations around Iraq. 

One thing is, by now, clear: whatever transpires in Iraq, the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf and surrounding environs will be formidable well into the future.

Middle Eastern Mega-Bases

As the “last” U.S. combat troops withdrew from Iraq under the glare of TV lights in the dead of night and rolled toward Kuwait, there was plenty of commentary about where they had been, but almost none about where they were going.

In the Gulf War of 1991, the U.S. military helped push Saddam Hussein’s invading Iraqi army out of Kuwait only to find that the country’s leader, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah, refused to return home “until crystal chandeliers and gold-plated bathroom fixtures could be reinstalled in Kuwait City’s Bayan Palace.”  Today, the U.S. military’s Camp Arifjan, which grew exponentially as the Iraq War ramped up, sits 30 miles south of the refurbished royal complex and houses about 15,000 U.S. troops.  They have access to all the amenities of strip-mall America, including Pizza Hut, Pizza Inn, Taco Bell, Starbucks, Hardees, Subway, and Burger King.  The military talks little about its presence at Arifjan, but Army contracting documents offer clues about its intentions there.  A recent bid solicitation, for example, indicated that, in the near future, construction would begin there on additional high strength armory vaults to house “weapons and sensitive items.”

In addition to Camp Arifjan, U.S. military facilities in Kuwait include Camps Buehring and Virginia, Kuwait Naval Base, Ali Al Salem Air Base, and Udairi Range, a training facility near the Iraqi border.  The U.S. military’s work is also supported by a Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) distribution center in Kuwait, located not on a U.S. base but in the Mina Abdulla industrial zone about 30 miles south of Kuwait City. 

Unlike other DLA hubs, which supply U.S. garrisons around the world, the Kuwaiti facility is contractor owned and operated.  Made up of a walled compound spanning 104 acres, the complex contains eight climate-controlled warehouses, each covering about four acres, one 250,000-square-foot covered area for cargo, and six uncovered plots of similar size for storage and processing needs.

Typical of base upgrades in Kuwait — some massive, some modest — now on the drawing boards, recent contracting documents reveal that the Army Corps of Engineers intends to upgrade equipment at Kuwait Naval Base for the maintenance and repair of ships. In fact, the Department of Defense has already issued more than $18 million in construction contracts for Kuwait in 2010. 

The U.S. military also operates and utilizes bases and other facilities in the nearby Persian Gulf nations of Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman. 

During the 1930s, the British Royal Air Force operated an airfield on Oman’s Masirah Island. Today, the U.S. Air Force and members of other service branches have settled in there, operating from the island as well as other facilities by special agreement with the sultanate.  The Air Force is also supported in Oman by “War Reserve Materiel” storage and maintenance facilities, operated by defense contractor Dyncorp, in Seeb, Thumrait, and Salalah Port. 

From 2001 to 2010, the U.S. military spent about $32 million on construction projects in Oman.  In September, the Army upped the ante by awarding an $8.6 million contract to refurbish the Royal Air Force of Oman’s air field at Thumrait Air Base.

U.S. efforts in Bahrain are on a grander scale.  This year, the U.S. Navy broke ground on a mega-construction project to develop 70 acres of waterfront at the port at Mina Salman.  Scheduled for completion in 2015, the complex is slated to include new port facilities, barracks for troops, administrative buildings, a dining facility, and a recreation center, among other amenities, with a price tag of $580 million.

There are similar expenditures in neighboring Qatar.  In 1996, lacking an air force of its own, Qatar still built Al Udeid Air Base at a cost of more than $1 billion with the goal of attracting the U.S. military.  It succeeded.  In September 2001, U.S. aircraft began to operate out of the facility. By 2002, the U.S. had tanks, armored vehicles, dozens of warehouses, communications and computing equipment, and thousands of troops at and around Al Udeid.  In 2003, the U.S. moved its major regional combat air operations center out of Saudi Arabia and into neighboring Qatar where the government was ready to spend almost $400 million on that high-tech command complex.

From then on, Al Udeid Air Base has served as a major command and logistics hub for U.S. regional operations including its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Last year, the Pentagon awarded a $52 million contract to further upgrade its airfield capabilities, a $44 million deal to upgrade other facilities there, and a $6 million contract for expanded warehousing capacity.  Nor does the building boom there show any signs of abating.  A report by the Congressional Research Service issued earlier this year noted:

“The Obama administration requested $60 million in FY2010 military construction funds for further upgrades to U.S. military facilities in Qatar as part of an ongoing expansion and modernization program that has been underway since 2003 at a cost of over $200 million. The administration’s FY2011 military construction request for Qatar is $64.3 million.”

Jordan’s Bunker Mentality

The Pentagon has also invested heavily in Jordanian military infrastructure. One major beneficiary of these projects has been the international construction firm Archirodon which, between 2006-2008, worked on the construction of the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center (KASOTC).  It is a state-of-the-art military and counterterrorism training facility owned and operated by the Jordanian government, but built in part under a $70 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contract.

In 2009, when that 1,235-acre $200 million Jordanian training center was unveiled, King Abdullah II gave the inaugural address, praising the facility as a world-class hub for special forces training. General David Petraeus, then-head of the U.S. Central Command overseeing the Greater Middle East, was also on hand to laud the facility as “a center of excellence not only for doctrinal development and refinement of TTPs [technology, tactics and procedures], but for strengthening the regional security network emerging in this area.”

Between 2001 and 2009, the Army awarded $89 million in contracts for Jordanian construction projects.  This year, it inked deals for another $3.3 million (much of it for improvements to KASOTC).  Recently, the Army also issued a call for bids for the construction of subterranean complexes at three locations in Jordan, the largest of them approximately 13,000 square feet.  Each of these underground bunkers will reportedly boast a command-and-control operations center, offices, sleeping quarters, cafeterias, and storage facilities.  The project is set to cost up to $25 million.

1,001 Arabian Contracts

According to a 2009 Congressional Research Service report, from 1950 to 2006 Saudi Arabia purchased almost $63 billion in weapons, military equipment, and related services through the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.  Just last month, the U.S. announced that it would conclude new arms deals with the Saudis which would equal that sum — not in another half century but in the next 15 to 20 years.  Labeled a move to counter Iranian power in the region, the deal for advanced tactical fighter aircraft and state-of-the-art helicopters garnered headlines.  What didn’t were the longstanding, ongoing U.S. military construction efforts in that country.

Between 1950 and 2006, Saudi Arabia experienced $17.1 billion in construction activity courtesy of the Pentagon.  In the years since, according to government data, the Department of Defense has issued more than $400 million in construction contracts for the kingdom, including $33 million in 2010 for projects ranging from a dining hall ($6 million) to weapons storage warehouses and ammunition supply facilities (nearly $1 million).

Bases and “the Base”

In his 1996 “Declaration of War Against the Americans Who Occupy the Land of the Two Holy Mosques,” Osama bin Laden wrote:

“The presence of the USA Crusader military forces on land, sea and air of the states of the Islamic Gulf is the greatest danger threatening the largest oil reserve in the world. The existence of these forces in the area will provoke the people of the country and induces aggression on their religion, feelings, and prides and pushes them to take up armed struggle against the invaders occupying the land.”

Since then, the U.S. and bin Laden’s rag-tag guerrilla force, al Qaeda (“the Base”), have been locked in a struggle that has led to further massive U.S. base expansions in the greater Middle East and South Asia.  At the height of its occupation, the U.S. had hundreds of bases throughout Iraq.  Today, hundreds more have been built in Afghanistan where, in the 1980s, bin Laden and other jihadists, backed and financed by the CIA, the Saudis, and the Pakistanis, fought to expel the Soviet occupiers of that country. 

As early as 2005, the U.S. military was floating the possibility of retaining some of its Afghan bases permanently.  In Iraq, plans for similar permanent garrisons have recently been thrown into doubt by the very government the U.S. helped install in power.  Whatever happens in either war zone, however, one thing is clear: the U.S. military will still be deeply dug into the Middle East.

While American infrastructure crumbles at home, new construction continues in oil-rich kingdoms, sultanates, and emirates there, courtesy of the Pentagon.  It’s a building program guaranteed to further inflame anti-American sentiment in the region.  History may not repeat itself, but ominously — just as in 1996 when bin Laden issued his declaration — most Americans have not the slightest idea what their military is doing with their tax dollars in the Persian Gulf and beyond, or what twenty-first century blowback might result from such activities.

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 gone into its second printing.  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 Josh Mull on November 15th, 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.

Finish The Job™

One of the most obnoxious arguments for continuing the occupation of Afghanistan is what I like to think of as the “Charlie Wilson excuse”, referring to the film Charlie Wilson’s War. In one of the closing scenes, just after the character Wilson is told that his Afghan funding will be cut, he stares off warily toward a dark horizon while the viewer’s subconscious is treated to the sound of jet airliners, a nod to 9/11. The message is simple: We abandoned Afghanistan once before and the US was attacked for it. Now that we’ve gone back in, we have to stay and finish the job.

Never mind the fact that 9/11 was carried out by Saudis operating in the United Arab Emirates, Germany, and let’s not forget, US flight schools. No Afghans, no Pakistanis, and nothing at all to do with the Taliban. Ignore that stuff, we have to finish the job in Afghanistan or else we’ll get hit with another 9/11.

It’s stupid, roughly the equivalent of baby talk in terms of having a substantive discussion about the history of terrorism and Central Asia, but that also means it’s really easy for the average war supporter to regurgitate. It’s no wonder it’s the favorite of every politician, especially the White House, whenever they need an excuse for extending the occupation. It’s not as effective anymore, mind you, the majority of the country has turned against the war, but that hasn’t stopped them from hammering this childish myth into our heads. Here’s the latest version from the US envoy to Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke:

Responding to a question, Holbrooke said the United States committed a mistake in abandoning Pakistan and Afghanistan after the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan and it would not repeat the same mistake.

He emphasized that US commitment to this part of the world is long and enduring and would encompass economic development as well.

It’s nice and simple, as long as you know absolutely nothing about history. Here’s the problem: Nobody has abandoned Afghanistan in decades. It’s like they can’t be left alone! The Soviet withdrawal is one of the few highlights Afghans have in their recent history. Everything else is one long, unbroken line of foreign interference.

Long and Enduring Commitments

Foreign powers are funding terrorists and the United States is working to address this problem, the special US point man for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke said here on Sunday.

Talking to journalists at Hotel Sarena where he participated in the Pakistan Development Forum, Holbrooke said: “This is a serious issue and we are working to address it.”

The US envoy however, did not name any countries.

Oh! I can name some!

Pakistan supports the Taliban and other extremists as part of it’s national security strategy, and India is also engaged in covert activity to combat Pakistan’s terrorism as well as for its own selfish national security goals. This conflict is as old as India and Pakistan’s partition, and it’s not going to end just because the US military – or the Soviet military – is stuck in the middle.

India and Pakistan are only the most obvious examples. China has long been interfering with Afghanistan, from the days of Maoist insurgent groups linking with Islamist elements (yep, weird) in order to cause problems (like Nepal) for India all the way up to their current aims of economic exploitation and access to a strategic foothold in Central Asia (the so-called “Great Game”).

Iran has long struggled against extremist Sunni elements in Afghanistan, coming close to all-out military invasion on several occasions. On the other side of that conflict is the Saudis and their proxies in the Gulf, who spread their radical brand of Islam abroad (like the Taliban or Al-Shabab in Somalia) as a hedge against Persian/Shia/Iranian expansion.

There’s the Cold War, with the CIA and KGB engaged in all manner of interference long before the Soviet army rolled across the border. And it certainly didn’t end with their withdrawal, as the US continued to back the Taliban right up until 9/11. Clinton administration officials fantasized that Afghanistan would be our new “Saudi Arabia”, meaning an extremist theocrat client state (AKA “Pipeline-istan”).

This is on top of the incomprehensible web of ethnic, sectarian, and political conflict that is Central Asia. Afghanistan has a lot more going on than Karzai and the Taliban, Hazara and Pashtun. Afghanistan has Turkmen and Tajiks, Democrats and Trotsky-ites, religious and secular battles, tribal and stateist struggles, almost anything and everything you can imagine. Everyone has their own vision of Afghanistan, and it usually has nothing to do with outsiders.

If they didn’t have any foreign interference at all, governing Afghanistan would still be a constant uphill battle. When we pile our war and everyone else’s wars on top it’s clear why the situation always seems so dire, so nightmarish.

And I just pulled those examples off the top of my head, the actual layers of foreign interference are far more numerous and complicated than I can explain here. So as bad as I’m making it sound, it’s actually way crazy worse.

We have a Choice

The United States has an important advantage here. Unlike most of the imperial meddlers in Afghanistan, we can actually leave. Pakistan, China, Iran, they’re stuck where they are, Afghanistan will always be there. But the United States? We can pile all of our junk back onto the trucks and ship it home, safe in the idea that the Taliban probably won’t advance the front to Niagra or El Paso any time soon.

And what about the next 9/11? Terrorism is fed by our occupation and interference into Muslim countries, from Afghanistan to Yemen to Somalia. If we want them to stop killing us, we have to stop killing them. It’s a no-brainer.

But we have another advantage. Unlike the Afghans, we do have a voice in our country’s affairs, and that includes our occupation of Afghanistan. Here’s what Holbrooke had to say:

In reply to another question, the US special envoy said the process of withdrawing combat troops from Afghanistan would begin in July 2011 and would be completed in phases over four years.

He clarified that the withdrawal process is not an exit strategy but rather a transition strategy.

Catch that? We won’t complete the “withdrawal process” until 2015, and even that is just a transition, presumably like the re-branding of Iraq. That is, replacing most combat troops (excluding special forces and supporting players) with a massive, unaccountable private army under the State Department.

Is that what Americans want to do with the next 5 years? Do we want to keep our troopers over there to die for another 5 years? Do we want to keep killing Afghan civilians and driving them into the hands of extremists and criminals for another 5 years? Billions more funneled into the pockets of insurgents, terrorists, mafia dons, and military dictators for another 5 years? According to the polls, the answer to these questions is a resounding NO!

It’s costing us a million dollars a year just to send one of our best and brightest over there to die from an IED, or a suicide bomber, or y’know, an electrified Halliburton shower, and that’s not counting the outrageous logistical costs like $400/gallon for gasoline. If we pulled out a brigade or two we could completely wipe out some of our state debt crises, a couple more would give us enough to insure every kid in America. Or we could get out completely and free up enough funds to do something ridiculous, like “pay for” the Bush tax cuts. Yes, the cost of more war is so astronomically huge that it makes gaping budget wounds like the Bush tax cuts seem totally manageable.

The math isn’t quite so simple, but these are the kinds of options we have. We could do a lot more with the next 5 years. We can and should choose to abandon Afghanistan.

We really need the money to be spent at home, our economy is in shambles. We really need to get our counter-terrorism policies in order, we’re to the point of taking naked pictures of children at airports and attacking…how many countries? Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia…who can keep up? And we really, really, really need to stop sending our soldiers over there to die. Even if they make it home, we still lose them to depression and suicide. In fact, we’ll ultimately lose more of our guys to suicide than we will to actual combat!

We can’t stop China, Pakistan, or any other “foreign power” from meddling in Afghanistan, but we can at least stop our foreign power from meddling. We’ve got our own business to take care of, and it’s of a lot higher importance than the political future of Hamid Karzai – or Mullah Omar. Get out of Afghanistan, leave them alone. It’s time to do some nation building at home.

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Posted by alexthurston on November 15th, 2010

This story originally appeared at

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The Stimulus Package in Kabul 
(I Was Delusional — I Thought One Monster “Embassy” Was the End of It) 

By Tom Engelhardt

You must have had a moment when you thought to yourself: It really isn’t going to end, is it?  Not ever.  Rationally, you know perfectly well that whatever your “it” might be will indeed end, because everything does, but your gut tells you something different.

I had that moment recently when it came to the American way of war.  In the past couple of weeks, it could have been triggered by an endless string of ill-attended news reports like theChristian Science Monitor piece headlined “U.S. involvement in Yemen edging toward ‘clandestine war.’”  Or by the millions of dollars in U.S. payments reportedly missing in Afghanistan, thanks to under-the-table or unrecorded handouts in unknown amounts to Afghan civilian government employees (as well as Afghan security forces, private-security contractors, and even the Taliban).  Or how about the news that the F-35 “Joint Strike Fighter,” the cost-overrun poster weapon of the century, already long overdue, will cost yet more money and be produced even less quickly?

Or what about word that our Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has officially declared the Obama administration “open” to keeping U.S. troops in Iraq after the announced 2011 deadline for their withdrawal?  Or how about the news from McClatchy’s reliable reporter Nancy Youssef that Washington is planning to start “publicly walking away from what it once touted as key deadlines in the war in Afghanistan in an effort to de-emphasize President Barack Obama’s pledge that he’d begin withdrawing U.S. forces in July 2011”?

Or that bottomless feeling could have been triggered by the recent request from the military man in charge of training Afghan security forces, Lieutenant General William Caldwell, for another 900 U.S. and NATO trainers in the coming months, lest the improbable “transition” date of 2014 for Afghan forces to “take the lead” in protecting their own country be pushed back yet again.  (“No trainers, no transition,” wrote the general in a “report card” on his mission.)

Or it could have been the accounts of how a trained Afghan soldier turned his gun on U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan, killing two of them, and then fled to the Taliban for protection (one of a string of similar incidents over the last year).  Or, speaking of things that could have set me off, consider this passage from the final paragraphs of an Elisabeth Bumiller article tucked away inside the New York Times on whether Afghan War commander General David Petraeus was (or was not) on the road to success: “’It is certainly true that Petraeus is attempting to shape public opinion ahead of the December [Obama administration] review [of Afghan war policy],’ said an administration official who is supportive of the general. ‘He is the most skilled public relations official in the business, and he’s trying to narrow the president’s options.’”

Or, in the same piece, what about this all-American analogy from Bruce Riedel, the former CIA official who chaired President Obama’s initial review of Afghan war policy in 2009, speaking of the hundreds of mid-level Taliban the U.S. military has reportedly wiped out in recent months: “The fundamental question is how deep is their bench.” (Well, yes, Bruce, if you imagine the Afghan War as the basketball nightmare on Elm Street in which the hometown team’s front five periodically get slaughtered.)

Or maybe it should have been the fact that only 7% of Americans had reports and incidents like these, or evidently anything else having to do with our wars, on their minds as they voted in the recent midterm elections.

The Largest “Embassy” on Planet Earth

Strange are the ways, though.  You just can’t predict what’s going to set you off.  For me, it was none of the above, nor even the flood of Republican war hawks heading for Washington eager to “cut” government spending by “boosting” the Pentagon budget.  Instead, it was a story that slipped out as the midterm election results were coming in and was treated as an event of no importance in the U.S.

The Associated Press covered U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry’s announcement that a $511 million contract had been awarded to Caddell Construction, one of America’s “largest construction and engineering groups,” for a massive expansion of the U.S. embassy in Kabul.  According to the ambassador, that embassy is already “the largest… in the world with more than 1,100 brave and dedicated civilians… from 16 agencies and working next to their military counterparts in 30 provinces,” and yet it seems it’s still not large enough.

A few other things in his announcement caught my eye.  Construction of the new “permanent offices and housing” for embassy personnel is not to be completed until sometime in 2014, approximately three years after President Obama’s July 2011 Afghan drawdown is set to begin, and that $511 million is part of a $790 million bill to U.S. taxpayers that will include expansion work on consular facilities in the Afghan cities of Mazar-i-Sharif and Herat.  And then, if the ambassador’s announcement was meant to fly below the media radar screen in the U.S., it was clearly meant to be noticed in Afghanistan.  After all, Eikenberry publicly insisted that the awarding of the contract should be considered “an indication… an action, a deed that you can take as a long-term commitment of the United States government to the government of Afghanistan.”

(Note to Tea Party types heading for Washington: this contract is part of a new stimulus package in one of the few places where President Obama can, by executive fiat, increase stimulus spending.  It has already resulted in the hiring of 500 Afghan workers and when construction ramps up, another 1,000 more will be added to the crew.) 

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 ten 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.”

Still, to understand just why, among a flood of similar war reports, this one got under my skin, you need a bit of backstory.

Singular Spawn or Forerunner Deluxe?

One night in May 2007, I was nattering on at the dinner table about reports of a monstrous new U.S. embassy being constructed in Baghdad, so big that it put former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s grandiose Disneyesque palaces to shame.  On 104 acres of land in the heart of the Iraqi capital (always referred to in news reports as almost the size of Vatican City), it was slated to cost $590 million. (Predictable cost overruns and delays — see F-35 above — would, in the end, bring that figure to at least $740 million, while the cost of running the place yearly is now estimated at $1.5 billion.)

Back then, more than half a billion dollars was impressive enough, even for a compound that was to have its own self-contained electricity-generation, water-purification, and sewage systems in a city lacking most of the above, not to speak of its own antimissile defense systems, and 20 all-new blast-resistant buildings including restaurants, a recreation center, and other amenities.  It was to be by far the largest, most heavily fortified embassy on the planet with a “diplomatic” staff of 1,000 (a number that has only grown since).

My wife listened to my description of this future colossus, which bore no relation to anything ever previously called an “embassy,” and then, out of the blue, said, “I wonder who the architect is?”  Strangely, I hadn’t even considered that such a mega-citadel might actually have an architect.

That tells you what I know about building anything.  So imagine my surprise to discover that there was indeed a Kansas architect, BDY (Berger Devine Yaeger), previously responsible for the Sprint Corporation’s world headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas; the Visitation Church in Kansas City, Missouri; and Harrah’s Hotel and Casino in North Kansas City, Missouri.  Better yet, BDY was so proud to have been taken on as architect to the wildest imperial dreamers and schemers of our era that it posted sketches at its website of what the future embassy, its “pool house,” its tennis court, PX, retail and shopping areas, and other highlights were going to look like. 

Somewhere between horrified and grimly amused, I wrote a piece at TomDispatch, entitled “The Mother Ship Lands in Baghdad” and, via a link to the BDY drawings, offered readers a little “blast-resistant spin” through Bush’s colossus.  From the beginning, I grasped that this wasn’t an embassy in any normal sense and I understood as well something of what it was.  Here’s the way I put it at the time:

“As an outpost, this vast compound reeks of one thing: imperial impunity. It was never meant to be an embassy from a democracy that had liberated an oppressed land. From the first thought, the first sketch, it was to be the sort of imperial control center suitable for the planet’s sole ‘hyperpower,’ dropped into the middle of the oil heartlands of the globe. It was to be Washington’s dream and Kansas City’s idea of a palace fit for an embattled American proconsul — or a khan.”

In other words, a U.S. “control center” at the heart of what Bush administration officials then liked to call “the Greater Middle East” or the “arc of instability.”  To my surprise, the piece began racing around the Internet and other sites — TomDispatch did not then have the capacity to post images — started putting up BDY’s crude drawings.  The next thing I knew, the State Department had panicked, declared this a “security breach,” and forced BDY to take down its site and remove the drawings.

I was amazed.  But (and here we come to the failure of my own imagination) I never doubted that BDY’s bizarre imperial “mother ship” being prepared for landing in Baghdad was the singular spawn of the Bush administration.  I saw it as essentially a vanity production sired by a particular set of fantasies about imposing a Pax Americana abroad and a Pax Republicana at home.  It never crossed my mind that there would be two such “embassies.”

So, on this, call me delusional.  By May 2009, with Barack Obama in the White House, I knew as much.  That was when two McClatchy reporters broke a story about a similar project for a new “embassy” in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, at the projected cost of $736 million (with a couple of hundred million more slated for upgrades of diplomatic facilities in Afghanistan).

Simulating Ghosts

Now, with the news in from Kabul, we know that there are going to be three mother ships.  All gigantic beyond belief.  All (after the usual cost overruns) undoubtedly in the three-quarters of a billion dollar range, or beyond.  All meant not to house modest numbers of diplomats acting as the face of the United States in a foreign land, but thousands of diplomats, spies, civilian personnel, military officials, agents, and operatives hunkering down long-term for war and skullduggery.

Connect two points and you have a straight line.  Connect three points and you have a pattern — in this case, simple and striking.  The visionaries and fundamentalists of the Bush years may be gone and visionless managers of the tattered American imperium are now directing the show.  Nonetheless, they and the U.S. military in the region remain remarkably devoted to the control of the Greater Middle East.  Even without a vision, there is still the war momentum and the money to support it.

While Americans fight bitterly over whether the stimulus package for the domestic economy was too large or too small, few in the U.S. even notice that the American stimulus package in Kabul, Islamabad, Baghdad, and elsewhere in our embattled Raj is going great guns.  Embassies the size of pyramids are still being built; military bases to stagger the imagination continue to be constructed; and nowhere, not even in Iraq, is it clear that Washington is committed to packing up its tents, abandoning its billion-dollar monuments, and coming home.

In the U.S., it’s clearly going to be paralysis and stagnation all the way, but in Peshawar and Mazar-i-sharif, not to speak of the greater Persian Gulf region, we remain the spendthrifts of war, perfectly willing, for instance, to ship fuel across staggering distances and unimaginably long supply lines at $400 a gallon to Afghanistan to further crank up an energy-heavy conflict.   Here in the United States, police are being laid off.  In Afghanistan, we are paying to enroll thousands and thousands of them and train them in ever greater numbers.  In the U.S., roads crumble; in Afghanistan, support for road-building is still on the agenda.

At home, it’s peace all the way to the unemployment line, because peace, in our American world, increasingly seems to mean economic disaster.  In the Greater Middle East, it’s war to the horizon, all war all the time, and creeping escalation all the way around.  (And keep in mind that the escalatory stories cited above all occurred before the next round of Republican warhawks even hit Washington with the wind at their backs, ready to push for far more of the same.)

The folks who started us down this precipitous path and over an economic cliff are now in retirement and heading onto the memoir circuit: our former president is chatting it up with Matt Lauer and Oprah; his vice president is nursing his heart while assumedly writing about “his service in four presidential administrations”; his first secretary of defense is readying himself for the publication of his memoir in January; and his national security advisor, then secretary of state (for whom Chevron once named a double-hulled oil tanker), is already heading into her second and third memoir.  But while they scribble and yak, their policy ghosts haunt us, as does their greatest edifice, that embassy in Baghdad, now being cloned elsewhere.  Even without them or the neocons who pounded the drums for them, the U.S. military still pushes doggedly toward 2014 and beyond in Afghanistan, while officials “tweak” their drawdown non-schedules, narrow the president’s non-options, and step in to fund and build yet more command-and-control centers in the Greater Middle East.

It looks and feels like the never-ending story, and yet, of course, the imperium is visibly fraying, while the burden of distant wars grows ever heavier.  Those “embassies” are being built for the long haul, but a decade or two down the line, I wouldn’t want to put my money on what exactly they will represent, or what they could possibly hope to control.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s  His latest book is The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books). You can catch a Timothy MacBain TomDispatch video interview with me on our “stimulus” spending abroad by clicking here or download it to your iPod, here.

[Note:  For those still interested, some of the BDY sketches of the Baghdad embassy remain up at  Click here to see them.  And while I’m at it, let me make a heartfelt bow to, without which TomDispatch research would truly be hell and, in particular, Jason Ditz, whose daily updates are must-read fare for me.  Other crucial must-read sites for collecting war info include Juan Cole’s Informed Comment, Paul Woodward’s the War in Context, and Noah Shachtman’s Danger Room.]

Copyright 2010 Tom Engelhardt

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Posted by on November 14th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

There's something not quite right going on when Afghan President Hamid Karzai is heavily quoted by Joshua Partlow of the Washington Post calling for a reduction in NATO's military footprint that everyone paying attention has known was on the cards anyway since at least January. You have to wonder who his words are aimed at.

"The time has come to reduce military operations," Karzai said. "The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan . . . to reduce the intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life."

…"It's not desirable for the Afghan people either to have 100,000 or more foreign troops going around the country endlessly," he said.

"We'd like to have a long-term relationship with America, a substantial relationship with America, that's what the Afghan people want. But we'd like the Afghan countryside – villages, homes, towns – not to be so overwhelmed with the military presence. Life has to be seen [as] more normal," he added.

Partlow writes that such a position "placed him at odds with U.S. commander Gen. David H. Petraeus" and seem to be at odds with the Obama administration's new 2014 date for an end to combat operations. But that just isn't true and Partlow should know that.

Back in January, at the London Conference on Afghanistan, a strategy was agreed; "a phased process to take over responsibility for security at provincial level" which would begin in 2011 and take a few years to complete. That's exactly what Karzai is asking for – and is exactly what NATO's Lisbon conference next week is expected to endorse. Partlow's WaPo colleague Karen DeYoung writes:

The Obama administration and its NATO allies will declare late this week that the war in Afghanistan has made sufficient progress to begin turning security control over to its government by spring, months before the administration's July deadline to start withdrawing U.S. troops, according to U.S. and European officials.

Even as it announces the "transition" process, which will not immediately include troop withdrawals, NATO will also state its intention to keep combat troops in Afghanistan until 2014, a date originally set by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Your mileage on whether that strategy is a good one may vary wildly – from thinking the US should plan to stay the course right through to advocating immediate withdrawal – but there's no question but the plan was already to give Karzai what he's now asking for.

Ditto on Karzai's call, in Partlow's piece, for negotiations with the Taliban.

On the issue of negotiations with the Taliban, Karzai said that he met with Taliban leaders in "one or two" meetings about three months ago, but that the talks were in a nascent stage and amounted to little more than "the exchange of desires for peace."

He would not name the insurgents he has met but described them as "very high" level, and said that he believed that Taliban leader Mohammad Omar has been informed of the discussions.

"They feel the same way as we do here. That too many people are suffering for no reason. Their own families are suffering," he said, and it is this "national suffering they'd like to address with us.

The London Conference in January urged the Afghan government "to hold dialogue with insurgent leaders who are prepared to accept Afghanistan’s constitution and who have no ties to terror networks such as al-Qaeda. In return, Afghanistan’s allies will provide funds to support the initiative." There's been no indication that the Lisbon summit will do other than endorse that process and even call for "faster, please".

Even the Taliban recognise that everything's going according to the London plan.

Among the most important of recent political messages was one attributed to the Afghan Taliban's reclusive, one-eyed leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, in September.

It assures Afghans of good governance, a Taliban government run by a consultative body based on "talent and honesty" and spoke of unity and the rights of tribes and women.

During their austere five years in power, the Taliban denied women the right to work outside the home and made them wear the all-enveloping burqa, drawing wide international criticism.

Omar's message even spoke of the need to address pollution and to combat the trade in illegal drugs. Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the world's opium used to produce heroin, an illicit trade that helps fund the insurgency.

Much of this isn't about the actual reality on the ground – where 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. Instead, it's about manufacturing a perceived reality where everyone can at least claim not to have lost. The deep divisions in Afghan society will be papered over, just as in Iraq, and when the cracks finally widen again and Afghan society explodes into a new cycle of violence it will be the pesky Afghan peoples' fault for disregarding the opportunities given by the West invading and upsetting the apple cart.

Still, to claim Karzai is "at odds" with the Western plan is highly misleading. At worst, he's getting ready to claim some of the short-term political credit for a papering over the cracks that has been planned for the best part of a year.

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Posted by on November 14th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

Two news stories today show just how much "between a rock and a hard place" the U.S. and its allies are in Afghanistan. The first is from Canadian Press and reports that the "clear and hold" parts of COIN ops in Kandahar are failing.

A security cordon set up around Kandahar city has failed to keep out insurgents, who are filtering back in as coalition forces escalate operations in the province's rural areas.

The cordon was erected under the command of the Canadian military as part of the initial phase of the ongoing offensive to stabilize Kandahar, and consisted of a series of checkpoints around the city.

It passed to U.S. command in recent months, and American military officials now acknowledge it has not provided the desired level of security inside the city.

"We recognize it is not where we would like it to be in terms of the conditions setting," said Lt.-Col. Vic Garcia, deputy commander of the American task force responsible for Kandahar city. "We're taking measure to adjust."

Both American and Canadian military commanders have trumpeted recent success against the Taliban in many of Kandahar's rural areas. But violence in the city itself has failed to abate.

The Taliban have launched an assassination campaign against anyone associated with the Afghan government, sending a wave of terror through the city.

In the past two months, they have managed to kill — among others — two members of the religious council, a deputy mayor, an education official and a prison officer.

"The ring really hasn't shut closed in any way, shape, or form," said Peter Dimitroff, a security consultant for NGOs in southern Afghanistan.

According to figures calculated by Dimitroff, there were 18 IED strikes in Kandahar city during the last 12 days of October alone. The strikes, he said, were distributed across several city districts.

"There's been no area of Kandahar that's been shut down by a security cordon," he said. Insurgent groups "can still strike anywhere where they want to at any time."

That's not good news for Petraeus, especially when the third leg of the stool appears to have become "demolish", not "build". But everyone from Obama, Gates, Mullen and Petraeus on down has admitted that military force cannot defeat the Taliban and end the indigenous insurgency in Afghanistan. The strategy, since last January, has been to reconcile the Taliban – to get them to stop attacking the Afghan security forces and their foreign, occupying allies and instead to join Karzai's government.

That's not going to work either. As Kathy Gannon at AP writes, all it would accomplish if successful would be to swap one group of foreign-backed insurgents for others. The mujahedeen of the old Northern Alliance and Shiite Hazara tribesmen, many of whom see the terms Taliban and Pashtun as co-terminous, are dusting off their weaponry ready for a renewed civil war.

In the Panjshir Valley, heartland of the Northern Alliance, Mohammed Zaman says that when the U.N. came looking for weapons, "the mujahedeen gave one and hid the other 19."

"We have plenty of weapons, rocket launchers and small arms and we can get any kind of weapons we need from the gun mafias that exist in our neighboring countries," he said. "All the former mujahedeen from commander to soldier, they have made preparations if they (the Taliban) come into the government."

…The Hazara, a mainly Shiite ethnic group, are also worried.

"We have lots of weapons but they are not modern weapons. They are simple weapons," said Abbas Noian, a Hazara legislator.

"It is very bad, America announcing they will leave Afghanistan. It has given more power to the militants, more energy. Already we minorities are afraid. We want peace but we are afraid of a strong Taliban," he said.

…Fahim Dashti, a Tajik, was present when the bombers blew up Massoud. He survived with scarred hands and arms and now edits the English-language Kabul Weekly. Dashti says the minorities began rearming about 18 months ago.

"The reason is because we don't know who President Karzai is talking to and what he is saying, but we feel the agenda of the government is to Pashtun-ize the government, the re-Talibanization of the system," he said.

The West is, for want of a better description, screwed, blued and tattooed. There have been many reasons given why we should "stay the course" in Afghanistan and, at the end, none are especially convincing. Particularly the one that should be central: as Nir Rosen puts it:

The Taliban, with their pickup trucks and AK-47s are no threat to the US. Al-Qaeda is not in Afghanistan. They were defeated. They're in Pakistan. They're in Yemen. They're in internet cafes and slums around the world. The Taliban leadership is composed of Afghans. Al-Qaeda which is based now in Pakistan, to the extent that it exists as a real organization is led by Arabs and Pakistanis.

However, the real reason we're still in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban is the one that stays largely unsaid – neither the political nor "serious people" sets are willing to suffer the embarassment of saying the word "defeat".

If Afghanistan policy were a movie, it would be called "Desperately Seeking Every Which Way But Lose."

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Posted by The Agonist on November 13th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

James Fergusson | Nov 14

The Independent

James Fergusson returns after three years to Chak, just 40 miles from Kabul, to find the Taliban’s grip is far stronger than the West will admit

The sound of a propeller engine is audible the moment my fixer and I climb out of the car, causing us new arrivals from Kabul to glance sharply upwards. I have never heard a military drone in action before, and it is entirely invisible in the cold night sky, yet there is no doubt what it is. My first visit to the Taliban since 2007 has only just begun and I am already regretting it. What if the drone is the Hellfire-missile-carrying kind?

Three years ago, the Taliban’s control over this district, Chak, and the 112,000 Pashtun farmers who live here, was restricted to the hours of darkness – although the local commander, Abdullah, vowed to me that he would soon be in full control. As I am quickly to discover, this was no idle boast. In Chak, the Karzai government has in effect given up and handed over to the Taliban. Abdullah, still in charge, even collects taxes. His men issue receipts using stolen government stationery that is headed “Islamic Republic of Afghanistan”; with commendable parsimony they simply cross out the word “Republic” and insert “Emirate”, the emir in question being the Taliban’s spiritual leader, Mullah Omar.

The most astonishing thing about this rebel district – and for Nato leaders meeting in Lisbon this week, a deeply troubling one – is that Chak is not in war-torn Helmand or Kandahar but in Wardak province, a scant 40 miles south-west of Kabul. Nato commanders have repeatedly claimed that the Taliban are on the back foot following this year’s US troop surge. Mid-level insurgency commanders, they say, have been removed from the battlefield in “industrial” quantities since the 2010 campaign began. And yet Abdullah, operating within Katyusha rocket range of the capital – and with a $500,000 bounty on his head – has managed to evade coalition forces for almost four years. If Chak is in any way typical of developments in other rural districts – and Afghanistan has hundreds of isolated valley communities just like this one – then Nato’s military strategy could be in serious difficulty.

At the roadside, Abdullah himself materialises from the darkness. He seems hugely amused to see me again. The drone, thankfully, turns out to be a ringay – the local, onomatopoeic nickname for a small camera drone. Abdullah says it’s the armed versions, the larger-engined Predators and Reapers, known as buzbuzak, that we need to worry about – and this definitely isn’t one of those. I imagine some CIA analyst in Langley, Virginia, freeze-framing a close-up of my face and filing it under “Insurgent”. In this valley, no one but the Taliban moves about in vehicles after dark.

In the middle of the night, after supper on the floor of a village farmhouse, I am taken by half a dozen Talibs to inspect the local district centre, a mud-brick compound garrisoned by 80 soldiers of the Afghan National Army who, Abdullah says, are too scared ever to come out. “We attack them whenever we like,” he says, producing Russian-made night vision glasses and examining the ANA’s forward trench positions. “In fact, we can attack them now if you want. Would you like that?” I politely decline the offer.

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Posted by on November 12th, 2010

From our partners at

By Derrick Crowe

Today is Veterans Day, the tenth Veterans Day since the Afghanistan War began.

The burden of this brutal, futile war falls heaviest on a very small slice of the population: military members and their families. Many of them think that this war is immoral, and that makes fighting in it a weight they'll have to carry their whole lives. Our new video features the voices of some of these veterans, urging us to rethink the burden we're laying on troops.

There’s going to be, as always, a lot of talk today about supporting the troops, but if “support the troops” is to have any meaning beyond the bumper sticker or car magnet, it’s got to include support for the consciences of those troops. And right now, current military policy includes a healthy dose of disrespect for the deep moral convictions of many of its members. 

Many of us are familiar with the concept of conscientious objection–the refusal to participate in combat due to deep religious or ethical objections. But the right to assert a moral objection to service in war is severely limited. Under current law, the right to obtain conscientious objector status is restricted to those who consider all war immoral. In fact, the policy of the Defense Department is that,

“requests by personnel for qualification as a conscientious objector after entering military service will not be favorably considered when these requests are… [b]ased on objection to a certain war.”

But there’s a contradiction here. The policy goes on to state that:

"Relevant factors that should be considered in determining a person’s claim of conscientious objection include training in the home and church; general demeanor and pattern of conduct; participation in religious activities; whether ethical or moral convictions were gained through training, study, contemplation, or other activity comparable in rigor and dedication to the processes by which traditional religious convictions are formulated; credibility of persons supporting the claim….The personal convictions of each person will dominate so long as they derive from the person’s moral, ethical, or religious beliefs."

The problem is that most ethical and religious traditions–traditions that produce sincere personal convictions that should be relevant to the decision whether to grant a particular troop C.O. status–don’t deal with war the way the C.O. policy does. 

Most major religious and ethical schools are not pacifist. In the most prevalent of these schools of thought, wars are moral or immoral, just or unjust, solely on a case-by-case basis. Just war theory, both inside and outside its various formulations by religious institutions, philosophers and legal scholars, tends to raise objections to a war based precisely on its particulars. 

According to just war theory, to be regarded as just, a war must pass all the following criteria:

  • It must be defensive, the principle of just cause;
  • It must be declared by a competent authority;
  • It must have the right intention to serve justice and lead to peace;
  • It must have a chance to succeed in its intentions;
  • It must uphold non-combatant immunity by protecting civilians;
  • It must be a last resort after all other measures to resolve a conflict have been utilized; and
  • It must be proportional and result in more good than harm.

So what is a troop to do when, through careful, rigorous study, he or she determines that a particular war–say, the war in Afghanistan–fails to meet several of these criteria? There’s a very strong case to be made that the Afghanistan War does not have a chance to succeed in its intentions, is not a last resort, fails to protect civilians, and results in more harm than good. If a troop came to any of these conclusions, and they had been trained in just war theory, it’s probable that it would lead to a severe crisis of conscience. Current policy would just toss these objections aside. 

This blind spot in the consciences objector policy is particularly destructive because the military teaches its members about just war doctrine. According to the new report from the Truth Commission on Conscience in War:

“This…creates a major, irresolvable conflict. It denies freedom of religious practice and the exercise of moral conscience to those serving in the military who object to a particular war based on the moral criteria of just war, which the military itself teaches and upholds as important.

“What the military teaches, therefore, it also punishes.”

The commission’s report goes on to describe the effect of such a destructive conflict:

"When people in military service are forced to fight a war that violates their most deeply held moral beliefs, the aftermath can be severe. Indeed, new research is showing that war can bring long-lasting moral harm to veterans. VA clinical psychologists have identified a previously untreated and still rarely addressed hidden wound of war called “moral injury.” Moral injury comes from “perpetrating, failing to prevent, or bearing witness to acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.” The long-term impact can be “emotionally, psychologically, behaviorally, spiritually, and socially” devastating, sometimes lasting an entire lifetime. Or the impact of moral injury can foster internal conflict and self-condemnation so severe that their burdens become intolerable and lead to suicide.

Tolerating this destructive contradictory policy fails to support the troops, as does tolerating the continuation of an unjust war in Afghanistan.

As we speak, the Truth Commission on Conscience in War is pushing for the recognition of a right to selective conscientious objection to allow C.O. status for those whose deeply held convictions indict a particular war as unjust or immoral. You can learn more about this and the three days of Veterans Day-related events they’re hosting at

And, if you’re ready to join the tens of thousands of others fed up with this immoral war in Afghanistan, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

On the tenth Veterans Day of the Afghanistan War, it’s time to do more for our troops and veterans than put a sticker on a car or a magnet on the fridge. Let’s get moving.

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on November 12th, 2010

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

A few weeks ago New York offered a light feature that wasn’t about the midterms, Japan Now Ruled by Gentle Metrosexual ‘Herbivores’. Short version: after the war, Americans retrained the obedient warlike automatons to turn away from sneak attacks on Pearl Harbor and Shanghai and divert all that energy into a focused plan to colonize the world through non-warlike economic competition. The side effects were a kind of cultural pollution that has the old self-styled samurai class ready to commit mass seppuku. Apparently, they’re not keen on their progeny, who are “less optimistic, less ambitious and less willing to take risks. They are less likely to own a car, want a car, or drive fast if they get a car. They are less likely to pursue sex on the first date– or the third. They are, in general, less likely to spend money. They are more likely to spend money on cosmetics.” The birthrate is already down… and headed even lower.

To hear the analysts who study them tell it, Japanese men ages 20 to 34 are staging the most curious of rebellions, rejecting the 70-hour workweeks and purchase-for-status ethos that typified the 1980s economic boom. As the latest class of college graduates struggles to find jobs, a growing number of experts are detecting a problem even broader than unemployment: They see a generation of men who don’t know what they want.

Japan earned its fortune a generation ago through the power of office warriors, the so-called salarymen who devoted their careers to one company. They wore dark suits; they joined for rowdy after-hours booze fests with co-workers; they often saw little of their families. These are the fathers of Japan’s young men.

And no more willingness to sacrifice for the hive or the anthill or… the company. Imagine someone looking for a balanced life signing up as a kamikaze pilot. An inability, by whatever means, to mobilize the populace to action– either as warriors or automatons or as anything that doesn’t come naturally, presages a breakdown in the ability of small elites to dominate society at large. In our own country that day is far off. The elites seem to have everything down pat, as we saw last Tuesday.

They even manage to get people to sign up– one way or another– to go halfway around the world to kill and be killed. Here, take a quick look at what is expected to be Obama’s next choreographed step against Afghanistan and then we’ll take a look at how authority figures get people to do what they want– and how some people have what it takes to refuse. Yes, yes, the Milgram Experiment… but first Afghanistan:

A December review of the Afghanistan war is expected to say the U.S. strategy is working despite increased violence and record casualties, and that a July 2011 deadline to start withdrawing can be met.

But General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, will say that since the addition of 30,000 U.S. troops was just completed in late summer, it will take more time to get a complete picture of how the strategy is working, analysts said. That could affect the pace of the U.S. troop withdrawal.

“There will be progress but a lot of ambiguity about interpreting it because of the late start to a lot of these offensives and the seasonality of warfare in Afghanistan,” said Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who has advised Petraeus in the past.

Ahead of the review, U.S. officials have been offering more upbeat assessments of a war widely perceived as going badly for the United States and its NATO allies nine years after U.S.-led forces invaded to topple the Taliban for sheltering al Qaeda.

Petraeus has ordered stepped-up operations– making greater use of elite special forces– that have killed or captured hundreds of Taliban militants in recent weeks.

In late October, he said the Taliban’s momentum has “broadly been arrested.” But critics and security analysts say Petraeus is presenting an overly rosy picture.

“It is far from clear what impact these deaths, the rate of these deaths, and the prospect of more deaths are having on the calculus of the larger Taliban phenomenon and its senior decision-makers thinking,” said global intelligence company STRATFOR.

A NATO official in Brussels expressed concern that Taliban commanders were being quickly replaced and that killing current insurgent leaders could mean they would simply be replaced by “younger, less reasonable” radicals.

OK, Stanley Milgram’s experiment comes next. Watch it– and remember, a government can’t torture unless there are citizens willing to be torturers… for one reason or another. Where would you draw the line?

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Posted by Josh Mull on November 11th, 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.

We all know how 11 dimensional chess works: President Obama claims he supports something easily acceptable and mainstream, like removing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell or closing the illegal prison at Guantanamo Bay. His plan for doing so however, involves an ethereal, un-named bill making its way through both the House and Senate, which have almost no incentive, political or financial, to help the President out with anything, let alone an issue that would generate a huge popularity boost for Obama. It will make it through, mind you, because he believes in mythical creatures (moderates, not centaurs) who’ll reach across the aisle and work out some perfect, centrist, solution.

Anyone who dares question this strategy of wishes and high fantasy, specifically progressives, will be treated to a harsh reprisal. High-ranking government officials, including the Vice President, will be sent on cable television to fling insults and question their credibility. And wave after wave of partisan zealots shouting “firebagger!” will be deployed, plastic keys jangling around their necks, against those among Obama’s base who won’t go along with the plan. You know this story already, critics are the fringe far left, need to be drug tested, blah, blah, blah Jane Hamsher and Glenn Greenwald lost the election for Democrats. It’s exhausting, but old news at this point.

But now we’re seeing it increased in the debate over the war in Afghanistan (to the extent that there is a debate – a wide majority of Americans are against it). The President has declared that troop withdrawals will begin in July 2011. Only that’s just the start of the withdrawal, it won’t all be right away. Just how not-right-away? 2014. (more…)

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on November 11th, 2010

Afghanistan continues to become less secure, despite the best efforts of General Petraeus and his press team to spin the bad news coming out of that country. Recently he and his team have tried to claim that:

  • data showing worsening civilian casualties somehow show that the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is protecting civilians,
  • Helmand and Kandahar provinces comprise “bubbles” of security where “progress” is being made, even though most of the insurgent attacks in Afghanistan take place there, and
  • the larger percentage of attacks occurring in Helmand and Kandahar somehow show that ISAF is confining violence to smaller and smaller areas, even when that’s demonstrably not true.

ISAF’s spin reeks of desperation, and for good reason: the pushers of President Obama’s escalations of the war over-promised and under-delivered, and it’s not possible to hide the failure of the U.S.’s military strategy in Afghanistan.

Civilian Casualties On the Rise

As General Petraeus himself is fond of reminding us, the central premise of counterinsurgency doctrine is to bring “security the people, to protect the population, and, I would add, to be seen to be securing them.” Or, as he put it earlier this year in his counterinsurgency guidance to ISAF forces (.doc file):

“Secure and serve the population. The decisive terrain is the human terrain. The people are the center of gravity. Only by providing them security and earning their trust and confidence can the Afghan government and ISAF prevail.”

This doesn’t just mean, ‘not accidentally blow them up.’ It means preventing insurgents from killing, injuring, and intimidating the local population or preventing them from supporting the government supported by the counterinsurgent. That’s why Petraeus’ shop conveyed through CNN this desperate bit of spin on the recent civilian casualty data, emphasis mine:

The number of civilians wounded and killed last quarter (July-September) was 20 percent lower than the same period last year, despite the increase in fighting and increased numbers of coalition forces and Afghan forces. ISAF believes this means that even with rising attacks, it is reducing the ability of insurgents to harm the Afghan civilian population.

As convenient as it may be for ISAF to confine the comparison to just July-September 2010, that’s a highly myopic bit of cherry-picking, considering that, over the course of the year, civilian deaths have risen at least 11 percent:

U.S. and allied forces have failed to reduce the number of civilian fatalities caused by them in Afghanistan despite a two-year effort by American commanders, internal U.S. military statistics show.

Civilian deaths have risen 11% from 144 at this time last year to 160 in 2010. The increase has coincided with the rising number of incidents in which U.S. and NATO attack helicopters mistakenly fired on Afghans who turned out to be civilians, the previously unreleased statistics show.

Fantasy Security Bubbles

Petraeus has seized on a new metaphor when trying to claim “progress” in Afghanistan–the “security bubble.” He recently told the Royal United Services Institute:

In recent months, for example, there has been progress in a number of areas in Central Helmand Province, where, over the past year, we have steadily and methodically established security zones around the most populated areas. Marjah is one prominent example…

We have also embarked on a deliberate campaign to improve security in Kandahar Province, just to the east of Helmand. With our Afghan partners – who outnumber ISAF forces in this operation – we have taken away key safe havens in parts of Kandahar City, the Arghandab District northwest of the city, and the bulk of the two districts to the west of Kandahar City – although more work remains to be done in those districts. And we will continue these operations and over time link the growing Kandahar security bubble with the one in central Helmand. When that connection is made, we will have secured the major population centers in the south – the Taliban’s primary area of operations.

There’s just one problem with this “security bubble” metaphor: the data fed to CNN by Petraeus’ press shop show that, “In 2010, 50 percent of the violence occurred in just 10 districts, with Helmand and Kandahar provinces accounting for the majority of attacks. How can the two provinces in which the lion’s share of all violence in the country occur be “security bubbles?” That is simply idiotic.

Helmand and Kandahar are zones of intense insecurity, not “security bubbles.”

Insurgent Attacks on the Rise All Across Afghanistan

ISAF tried to spin the intensifying violence in Kandahar and Helmand, hoping we couldn’t do some simple math. Here’s the spin again conveyed by CNN:

“Violence has been centered in a small number of districts. In 2009, 50 percent of the violence was occurring in 14 districts. In 2010, 50 percent of the violence occurred in just 10 districts, with Helmand and Kandahar provinces accounting for the majority of attacks.”

Here, ISAF implies “progress” by trying to get you to believe that they were containing the violence in smaller and smaller areas. But this is also false: when you compare violence outside of Helmand and Kandahar in 2010 to 2009, you see that even outside of the zone of intense insecurity in Helmand and Kandahar (again, “security bubbles?”), you can see that violence in those regions is also increasing.

According to data provided by the Afghan NGO Safety Office (see this .PDF, page 12):

  • Attacks by insurgents committed through the third quarter of 2009, excluding Kandahar and Helmand: 5,137
  • Attacks by insurgents committed through the third quarter of 2010, excluding Kandahar and Helmand: 7,696

That’s an increase of 2,559, or a roughly 50 percent growth in the rate of insurgent attacks by the third quarter of the year in areas outside Kandahar and Helmand. The areas outside of Helmand and Kandahar are much more violent and insecure than they were at this time last year. Helmand and Kandahar just got so much worse so much faster that they comprise a larger percentage of the attacks nationwide.

Security is deteriorating all across Afghanistan, both inside the “security bubbles” in Kandahar and Helmand and across the rest of the country. That Petraeus and ISAF would push these two lines of propaganda at the same time–that Kandahar and Helmand comprise security bubbles and that we’re confining the bulk of the violence to Kandahar and Helmand–insults our intelligence.

A Bit of Context

Back when the generals were furiously working to box in the president on the latest troop escalation, the leaking of General Stanley McChrystal’s strategic guidance was a key move that confined President Obama’s political space in which to make a decision. That document raised high-volume alarm bells, warning of imminent catastrophe if his guidance were not accepted and massive numbers of additional troops sent to Afghanistan. Specifically, McChrystal wrote:

“…I believe the short-term fight will be decisive. Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”

McChrystal wrote those words in a document dated August 30, 2009. Well past the critical 12 month deadline for reversing the insurgency’s momentum described in that memo, intelligence assessments now agree that the insurgency “seems to be maintaining its resilience.” Speaking to the Washington Post, a senior Defense official familiar with the assessments said “that if there is a sign that momentum has shifted, ‘I don’t see it.’”

We are well beyond the critical moment described by the pushers of these latest escalations, and their promised results haven’t materialized. The influx of troops hasn’t reversed insurgent momentum, and the “new” strategy does not protect the population of Afghanistan. Petraeus and his ISAF press shop staff can spin as hard as they like, but deceptive use of statistics and selective interpretation of data can’t hide the fact that the war plan in Afghanistan isn’t working and it’s not worth the costs. President Obama should realize Petraeus and McChrystal took him out for a ride last year, and he should demand an exit strategy for a plan that hasn’t panned out in what they described as the decisive period.

We shouldn’t wait until July 2011. The escalation plan in Afghanistan failed. We all know it. It’s time to bring those troops home, starting now.

If you are fed up with this brutal, futile war that’s not worth the cost, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

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