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Archive for June, 2011

Posted by Peace Action West on June 23rd, 2011

From our partners at Peace Action West

Last night, President Obama announced a plan for Afghanistan that will leave nearly 70,000 troops on the ground at the end of his first term. That’s still almost double the number of troops President Bush had in Afghanistan.

Call the White House now at 1-202-456-1111 and tell them you’re disappointed in President Obama’s plan and want to see the war end sooner. Here’s a sample message:

I am disappointed that President Obama’s plan leaves more troops in Afghanistan than the Bush administration had. I want a swift, responsible end to the war with a clear end date.

Then, click here to tell me how your call went.

While the press is portraying this plan as a large withdrawal from Afghanistan, the fact is that the administration is still investing billions of dollars and risking thousands of lives for a failed strategy. And we still don’t know when those 70,000 soldiers will come home to their families, because this plan keeps the longest war in American history going indefinitely. (Read my in-depth analysis about why the president’s plan isn’t strong enough here.)

We need to show President Obama that we’re not satisfied with half measures. Call the White House comment line now at 1-202-456-1111.  Then let me know how it went.

I’m disappointed in President Obama right now, but frankly, I don’t think we’d even be talking about a withdrawal if it were not for the commitment of people like you. And that’s exactly why we can’t stop now.

Just a couple of years ago, Afghanistan was still seen as the “right” war. But thousands like you have added their voices to the demand for peace, and now we’re not debating whether to end the war, but when to end the war. But if we are ever to get a real answer to that question, and get a definite end date for bringing the troops home, we must keep the pressure on. Start now by calling the White House comment line and giving them an earful.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on June 23rd, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Newshoggers contributor Gareth Porter notices something in Obama's speech about troop withdrawals in Afghanistan – there's no actual end date there.

Petraeus's preferred option was to delay the withdrawal of the bulk of the remaining surge troops until the end of 2012, but he got most of the second fighting season with troop levels that were well within his recommendations, according to a briefing for reporters by senior officials.

Although the speech says "we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer…," an official stated clearly at the press briefing that the withdrawal of the surge troops would be carried out by September 2012.

Obama also left the door open in the speech to leaving a significant proportion of the combat troops to remain in Afghanistan after the 2012 withdrawal for an indefinite period beyond the 2014 "transition" to Afghan responsibility for security.

"After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan Security Forces move into the lead," Obama said. "Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014 this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security."

That language parallels the language used in regard to U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. In fact, a senior U.S. official who briefed reporters Wednesday afternoon drew attention to the parallel between the two withdrawal processes, saying the administration would "pursue the same type of responsible effort to wind down the war that we've undertaken in Iraq the last two years."

One of the key features of the Iraq model is Obama's retention of U.S. brigade combat teams in Iraq under the label of "non-combat troops" until the present, despite his pledge in February 2009 that they would be withdrawn.

U.S. troops continue to carry out unilateral combat patrols in Iraq, and Gates has continued to push Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for a request to keep U.S. combat troops there beyond the deadline for withdrawal under the November 2008 agreement.

The language of the speech thus laid the groundwork for the retention of combat troops in Afghanistan even after declaring that all combat troops have been withdrawn.

Read Gareth's whole analysis, which is rather more clear-eyed than the stenography being offered by the main news outlets today. General Petraeus once asked of Iraq: "tell me how this ends". A better demand to make of the Obama administration on Afghanistan would be "tell me when this ends."

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Posted by Peace Action West on June 23rd, 2011

From our partners at Peace Action West

Graph courtesy of Think Progress

In his speech to the nation this evening, President Obama closed the loop on a promise he made in December of 2009 to begin the process of ending the war in Afghanistan in July of 2011. That pledge was a recognition of impatience with the war effort, linking the escalation of the war with a promise to begin winding it down this year. Unfortunately, the president’s plan allows the war to last indefinitely and leaves in place almost twice as many troops as when he came in office.  The  American and Afghan people will pay the price for prolonging this disastrous policy.

Some of the media coverage portrays the plan as far more ambitious than what the military leadership was pushing for behind the scenes, but that greatly overstates the aggressiveness of the plan. Early leaks in the Wall Street Journal indicated that the Pentagon was comfortable with 5-10,000 troops withdrawing in 2011 (and we still don’t know how many of those will be support personnel rather than troops regularly engaged in combat). The New York Times called the plan a victory for Vice President Joe Biden, who has advocated a more focused counterterrorism strategy. That claim doesn’t hold up, however, given that the administration plans to plow ahead with a counterinsurgency strategy and still leaves a much higher number of troops in Afghanistan than necessary for targeted counterterrorism.

While the political pressure generated by the public and Congress surely contributed to the president’s decision not to opt for the kind of bare minimum withdrawal supported by people like Sen. John McCain, it still keeps the US on a dangerous and expensive path without justification. Some of the most important reasons the withdrawal plan is inadequate:

Rather than shifting to a more effective strategy, this plan leaves nearly 70,000 troops on the ground by the end of President Obama’s first term. The war in Afghanistan is already the longest war in American history. By withdrawing 10,000 troops this year and the rest of the forces from what the administration calls the “West Point surge” by September of 2012, President Obama will end his first term with nearly twice as many troops on the ground in Afghanistan as when he came into office, in a war that will by then be more than 11 years old.

President Obama and the military leadership claim that this level of military presence is necessary to maintain “fragile and reversible” progress. However, the facts on the ground belie the military’s claims that the strategy is working. Violence against US and NATO troops and Afghan civilians has increased. The Karzai government is still unstable, and the relationship with the US is fraught, as exemplified by Karzai’s unheeded warnings that NATO must stop air strikes that kill civilians.

Former DIA analyst Joshua Foust meticulously catalogued the many times over the years that the Pentagon has promised that we are at a “turning point” in Afghanistan—promises that haven’t brought about results.  An active duty colonel told Time’s Battleland blog, “The mendacity is getting so egregious that I am fast losing the ability to remain quiet; these yarns of ‘significant progress’ are being covered up by the blood and limbs of hundreds – HUNDREDS – of American uniformed service members each and every month, and you know that the rest of this summer is going to see the peak of that bloodshed.”

When does this war end? President Obama’s plan still lacks clarity about the complete withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. The 2014 date for ”transition” guarantees there will be a significant military presence in Afghanistan for at least another three and a half years. President Obama said that our commitment is not “open-ended,” but his language about 2014 was (deliberately) ambiguous. He did not say all troops would be out by the end of 2014. He only noted that the “process of transition will be complete,”as our “mission change[s] from combat to support.” “Combat troops” left Iraq last year, but there are still 50,000 soldiers on the ground there, so the 2014 date does not signify a complete withdrawal. There are reports of negotiations by the Pentagon that would leave a US presence in Afghanistan for “decades.”

There are better strategies. We don’t need 70,000 troops in Afghanistan to keep Americans safe. The raid that killed Osama bin Laden hammers home the point that we’ve been making for years—military response is not the most effective response to terrorism. Osama bin Laden was found through smart intelligence work and international cooperation. The administration acknowledges that there has been no significant threat from Al Qaeda in Afghanistan in years; by its own estimates, there are 50-100 Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. Terrorist groups like Al Qaeda are not bound by national borders, and a massive military presence is unnecessary to protect Americans from terrorist attacks.

The US could save thousands of lives and billions of dollars by shifting to a more effective counterterrorism strategy based on policing and intelligence. That can be paired with regional diplomacy, internal political negotiations, and development and humanitarian aid. A recent report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee shows that we can be far more effective by switching from a military-dominated aid approach to small, Afghan-led programs that make real differences in people’s lives. There are many credible plans that the administration could draw from that propose more significant troops withdrawals.

The financial and human costs are unjustifiable. Given the absence of real benefits of the current strategy to the American and Afghan people, the enormous financial and human cost of the wars is untenable. American taxpayers have already spent more than $400 billion on the war. At the cost of roughly $1 million per year per soldier, the president’s plan signs up the American people to shell out tens of billions of dollars a year into the foreseeable future. President Obama’s 2012 budget request already contains painful cuts to programs like Pell Grants for college and low-income home heating assistance—cuts that would be unnecessary if the US got its priorities straight.

More importantly, the human cost of the war is devastating. More American troops have died in Afghanistan since President Obama took office than in the previous seven years of the war. A new Defense Health Board report shows a sharp increase in the number of troops needing multiple amputations due to IED attacks. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental and physical wounds affect thousands of troops, and the suicide rate has been skyrocketing amongst active duty troops and veterans. Last year was the deadliest year on record for US troops, and 2011 is on pace to beat that tragic record.

Meanwhile, May was the deadliest month for Afghan civilians since the UN started tracking civilian casualties. Any illusions the military has of winning hearts and minds are blasted by angry Afghans protesting in the streets, often bringing bodies of villagers killed in NATO air strikes to show in graphic detail the havoc the military presence has caused.

Americans want this war to end. The impatience with the war that President Obama tacitly acknowledged in his 2009 speech has grown significantly in strength and intensity. A recent Pew poll has a record number of Americans wanting to see troops out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. With the US military involved in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, and Libya, 72% of Americans want to see US military engagement abroad scaled down.

The expression of this frustration at wasting lives and money on a war Americans don’t want or need has manifested in strong congressional pushback. Last month, a record number of House members, including nearly every Democrat and 26 Republicans, voted for an amendment requiring a plan for an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan. Twenty-seven senators followed with a letter to the president calling for a significant and sizable withdrawal. Many unusual suspects, from Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) to Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) have taken the floor of Congress and the airwaves to call for a faster withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The combination of lack of public support, unjustifiable cost, and failure of the military strategy makes President Obama’s modest plan to slow walk a withdrawal from Afghanistan glaringly inadequate.

What’s next? 

The work of supporters of a peaceful resolution in Afghanistan to mobilize voters and pressure politicians has had an enormous impact. We have laid the groundwork to continue to push back against the continuation of the war, and have a slew of new congressional allies to work with to keep the pressure on the administration.

With the 2012 election on the horizon, and several Republican candidates calling for a quicker military withdrawal from Afghanistan, we will have an opportunity to keep the Afghanistan war at the forefront of the debate and hold politicians who still support the war accountable. We must remain vigilant until every last troop comes home from Afghanistan.

 

 

 

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on June 22nd, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

"Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power. It pays for our military; it underwrites our diplomacy; it taps the potential of our people and allows investment in new industry; and it will allow us to compete in this century as successfully as we did in the last.

That's why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open- ended: because the nation that I'm most interested in building is our own."

President Obama announcing the Afghanistan "Surge", Dec. 1st, 2009.

Back in December 2009, Obama only promised that "After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home". The signs are that "begin" will be the operative word, with most news sources reporting that tonight he will announce a phased withdrawal which will see an initial withdrawal of only 5,000 troops and a paltry total of only 10,000 troops withdrawn by the end of the year. We'd have to wait until the end of 2012 to see all the "surge" forces back home and the end of 2014 to see all combat forces return. And if the military makes enough of a stink, that 2014 withdrawal date will facde into obscurity too, say reports. One of Bush's favorite officers, now the general in charge of training Afghan security forces, has already called for the US to stay in Afghanistan until 2017.

What all this means is that, at the end of the "surge", we'll have seen a massive escalation over the Obama presidency, with more U.S. troops in Afghanistan at the end of his term than at the beginning.

Afghanistan_withdrawal 

Despite Obama's words in December, the cost of the wars in iraq and Afghanistan has soared to over $1.3 trillion in total and the US spent $118.6 billion in Afghanistan in the last year alone.

“Do we really need to be spending $120 billion in a country with a G.D.P. that’s one-sixth that size?” asked Brian Katulis, a national security expert at the Center for American Progress, a policy group with close ties to the Obama administration. “Most Americans would be shocked to know that we’re spending that kind of money for jobs programs for former Taliban, and would wonder where are our jobs programs for Detroit and Cleveland?”

At this point prospective Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman seems to have the sense of America:

"I'm not a fortune teller here, but I can tell you that at some point, the hundred thousand troops on the ground will have to be taken out substantially. It's heavy, it's expensive, it's disproportionate in terms of where our spending ought to be."

A majority of Americans agree with him. Bring them home sooner.

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Posted by The Agonist on June 22nd, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

. . . telling graph at Thinkprogress on Obama’s so-called drawdown of troops from Afghanistan. Highly enlightening.

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Posted by Peace Action West on June 22nd, 2011

From our partners at Peace Action West

Did you hear the news? We just heard that President Obama will announce his July withdrawal plan tomorrow. I want to thank you for all you have done to help us influence his decision.

I also want to give you a heads up to watch for my email and blog post on Thursday with our plan to respond to the president’s announcement.

But first, I want to take a moment and recognize all we’ve already accomplished. Thanks to your efforts, we have sent more than 8,000 of your personal messages to Congress, each tied to a toy soldier to remind them of the human cost of war. Click here to watch a slideshow of some of the most powerful messages we collected.

Over the past few months, we have asked you to step up and urge Congress to pressure the administration to end the war, and it’s working.  Because of your efforts, Congress is speaking out and the president is taking notice.

At the end of May, more than two hundred representatives voted to end the war in Afghanistan, a new record. That vote brought us within a razor thin margin of requiring a plan for an accelerated timeline to end the war, and sent an undeniable message to the White House. The Senate followed suit, with 27 senators across the political spectrum writing to Obama urging him to end the war, starting with a sizable withdrawal in July. [1]

This wouldn’t have happened without people like you who, behind the scenes, were writing and calling their representatives, and making the voice for peace impossible to ignore. Media outlets across the country are churning out stories about growing congressional pressure on Obama and how that will affect his withdrawal decision. [2]

Click here to watch a slideshow documenting the critical role you’ve played in this progress. Then, watch your inbox or the blog on Thursday morning for our analysis of President Obama’s plan and a call to action so he knows we are watching.

Whatever happens tomorrow, I am truly inspired and energized by the progress you have helped us make.

Thank you for your commitment to ending the war.

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Posted by The Agonist on June 21st, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

….certainly not to my readers, President Obama will announce troop cuts in Afghanistan.

Here’s the thing: 30,000 sounds impressive until you realize that basically brings us back to twice the number of troops stationed in Afghanistan on January 21, 2009. This “surge” was enabled because Obama drew these troops down from Iraq and shuffled them over a country or two.

In fairness to Obama, Afghanistan was the forgotten war in the Bush administration, and so was wildly underresourced. It really deserved more focus in the early years, and many opportunities were lost. Obama had no choice but to double down.

And that’s fine, for what it is. Strategic troop placements definitely have had an impact, but as the focus of attention turned from Iraq (the “wrong” war) to Afghanistan (the “right” one), it became clear that the situation in Afghanistan was untenable as status quo, even allowing for the surge. The goal of the mission, the defeat of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, was sort of successful, if you believe that Al Qaeda is crippled (it is) beyond repair (probably) and that the Taliban will behave themselves (probably not, but I’d be willing to be surprised.)

It was not by any means a rousing success, full stop. At best, we’re looking at between 60-80% of our objective achieved, at a great cost to both Afghanis and American troops.

And if you define the mission as the one Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others have envisioned, a transformation of Afghanistan into a firewall against Islammic extremism, then we’ve failed miserably if we allow the Taliban to come to the table and define a role for themselves in Afghanistan’s future. At the very most we could hope for in terms of that goal, we’ve established a point of attack should extremism rear its ugly head.

Indeed, the Arab Spring has made that goal somewhat moot and problematic: extremism has been rejected time and time again by nations who are actually behind that firewall, leaving basically Iran and Pakistan as the major players in shaping Islamism. Syria may shortly see itself an island amidst moderates who won’t accept noisy neighbors.

Or, As Richard Holbrooke said before he died last year:

“The weak point in America’s strategy has always been this endless debate about whether we were just there to protect ourselves or had a grander vision for Afghanistan.”

By drawing troops down now, instead of next summer, it’s clear that Obama is walking back the Clintonian doctrine. I expect Secretary Clinton to resign in the next few months, ahead of the election cycle next year.

The other aspect of this withdrawal is a rebuff of Hamid Karzai and the Afghani government. The President was fairly clear when he said the surge would last onoly so long as Afghanistan proved it was able to self-govern regions that would be secured by American troops.

Karzai has apparently been too busy miscounting votes and lining his pockets to notice that he’s failed to secure any region beyond Kabul. In the midst of all this, he then turns on the hand feeding him and complains about an occupation.

That’s rather rude, if perhaps true, but Karzai has always played this game of complaining while dipping his beak and this is what worries me about the Taliban negotiations.

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Posted by The Agonist on June 19th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Jun 19

The Guardian/Reuters – The US defence secretary, Robert Gates, has confirmed that America is in direct talks with the Taliban, but said it could be months before efforts to broker a peace deal in the country bear fruit.

Gates, who steps down at the end of the month, said there had been contacts between United States and the Taliban in recent weeks, headed by the State Department.

“There’s been outreach on the part of a number of countries, including the United States. I would say that these contacts are very preliminary at this point,” he told the CNN program “State of the Union”.

The comments from the outgoing U.S. defence chief were aired a day after Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced the United States was in contact with the Taliban, a striking public acknowledgment of a peace initiative that has been cloaked with secrecy.

Karzai said an Afghan push toward peace talks, after nearly a decade of war, had not yet reached a stage where the government and insurgents were meeting, but their representatives had been in touch.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on June 18th, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Robert Greenwald and Derrick Crowe

The Afghanistan War costs American taxpayers more than $2 billion a week at a time when communities are falling apart, and our mayors are fed up. On Monday, the United States Conference of Mayors is expected to pass a resolution calling for a speedy end of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars so we can use those funds here at home. The mayors are exactly right.

You can put the New York Times' summary of the crises these cities are facing next to the National Priorities Project's numbers and see how much these wars cost our hometowns.

  • Citizens of Lansing, Michigan, paid $114.2 million on the Afghanistan War so far, and New York City paid $15.4 billion; these cities are about to have to close fire stations.
  • Montgomery, Alabama paid $199.3 million and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania paid $1.7 billion; these cities are laying off teachers.
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota paid $692.3 million; now they can't fill potholes.

And here's the big picture: "Local governments shed 28,000 jobs last month, the Department of Labor reported, and have lost 446,000 jobs since employment peaked in September 2008."

These wars are killing our people, they're killing our economy and they're killing our communities. They're not worth the costs. They've got to end.

The Defense Department is working overtime to stop any real drawdown from either country. They're trying to fool us into thinking they've started a "drawdown" already by shuffling troops from Afghanistan to Kuwait (read: Iraq). They're pushing for a fig-leaf withdrawal of a few thousand troops. That's unacceptable.

Next week, President Obama is expected to make an announcement about his intentions for a troop drawdown from Afghanistan. He needs to do the right thing by our troops and by our communities and end these wars for good, starting with a major, swift and sustained withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Enough is enough.

If you're one of the millions of Americans who want to end the Afghanistan War, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

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Posted by Peace Action West on June 16th, 2011

From our partners at Peace Action West

With President Obama’s announcement on July withdrawal reportedly coming as soon as next week, a bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to the president urging a significant drawdown.

Nearly half the Senate Democratic Conference, including 10 committee chairmen, sent a letter to President Obama pressing him to shift his strategy in Afghanistan and begin a major drawdown of troops.

Those 24 senators were joined by one Independent and two members of the Senate Tea Party Caucus, all of them urging the president to make significant policy changes as Obama’s self-imposed July deadline for a troop drawdown approaches.

“We write to express our strong support for a shift in strategy and the beginning of a sizable and sustained reduction of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, beginning in July 2011,” the lawmakers wrote Wednesday.

This is the strongest message yet from the Senate. When they voted last year on the Feingold amendment to require a timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan, only 18 senators voted in favor, at a time when Democrats had a stronger majority in the Senate.

The letter adds to the pressure generated by the House vote on the McGovern/Jones amendment, which had the support of nearly every Democrat and 26 Republicans. It’s also notable because the Senate has had much less antiwar activity over the last couple of years compared to the flurry of bills proposed in the House.

Greg Sargent lays out the significance of the letter:

Any time nearly a third of the Senate speaks on anything, it’s a significant statement. And the range of signatories — it includes Dem leaders Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin, as well as a host of moderate Democrats and Republicans Mike Lee and Rand Paul, hinting at a right-left alliance against the war — clearly demonstrates that the mainstream position is for speedy withdrawal.

Read the full text of the letter and see the list of signers here.

Thank you to all of you who called your senators to urge them to sign. The drumbeat against the war in Afghanistan has grown enormously over the last two years thanks to your efforts, and we will continue to push in the remaining days before President Obama makes his announcement.

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