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Archive for October, 2011

Posted by The Agonist on October 30th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Hashmat Baktash & Mark Magnier | Kabul | Oct 30

LA Times – At least 13 Americans were killed Saturday when a suicide bomber struck an armored military bus in Kabul, in the single deadliest attack on U.S. citizens in the Afghan capital since the war began a decade ago.

The attack represents a propaganda coup for the Taliban, which claimed responsibility in text messages to news organizations, saying it packed a four-wheel-drive vehicle with at least 700 pounds of explosives.

The Kabul car bombing took place near the American University on Darulaman Road, among the capital’s busiest, which runs past parliament and the decaying Darulaman Palace -– or “abode of peace.”

A NATO spokesman said all 13 were traveling in a type of military bus known as a Rhino, named for its heavy armor. The identities of those killed in the attack were not disclosed in keeping with a coalition policy to first notify family members.

The Afghan Interior Ministry said the blast also killed at least three Afghan civilians and one policeman.

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Posted by The Agonist on October 24th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Ewen MacAskill/ Washington & Declan Walsh/Islamabad | Oct 23

The GuardianAfghan president accused of hypocrisy and ungratefulness over remarks made soon after Hillary Clinton’s visit to the region

The US reacted with dismay on Sunday after the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, said that he would side with Pakistan in the event of any war with America.

Karzai’s remarks will be greeted with outrage by an American public already thinking him ungrateful for US military and financial support.

In an interview on Geo Television, Pakistan’s largest satellite network, hours after a visit to the region by the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, Karzai said: “If there is war between Pakistan and America, we will stand by Pakistan.” He put his hand on his heart and described Pakistan as a “brother” country.

The remark, which went further than other Karzai outbursts critical of the US, was viewed negatively not only in the US but in Afghanistan where opponents accused him of hypocrisy given Kabul’s difficult relationship with Pakistan.

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Posted by The Agonist on October 21st, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Oct 21

BBC – The US has held a meeting with representatives of the Haqqani militant network, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has revealed.

She did not give any details about who was involved or where they met.

But one senior US official said the meeting took place over the summer, before several major attacks against US interests in Afghanistan.

Mrs Clinton has been in talks in Islamabad where she has urged Pakistan to clamp down on the Haqqanis.

She said the US held one preliminary meeting with the Haqqani network “to see if they would show up”.

“In fact, the Pakistani government officials helped to facilitate such a meeting,” Mrs Clinton told Pakistani journalists.

She added: “We have reached out to the Taliban, we have reached out to the Haqqani network to test their willingness and their sincerity, and we are now working among us – Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States – to try to put together a process that would sequence us toward an actual negotiation.”

Reports about such a meeting circulated over the summer but the US refused to confirm them at the time.

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on October 21st, 2011

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

Earlier today, President Obama announced that all US troops except for about 150 attached to the US embassy will leave Iraq by the previously agreed upon deadline of December 31.

This is welcome news. Until this month, the US was in negotiations with the Iraqi government to leave thousands of US troops in the country indefinitely. The snag in the plan was the non-negotiable (from the US perspective) stipulation that US soldiers who remained be granted legal immunity. Apparently, members of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s own coalition could not stomach the demand.

Now that he has been forced to accept an immediate withdrawal, Obama is spinning this as fulfillment of his campaign promise to end the war in Iraq. But Obama won’t be able to claim this particular achievement until he removes all contractors from the country. While the President did not address the issue of contractors in his speech, it is being reported that around 9,500 contractors–including 5,000 security contractors and 4,500 “general life support” contractors–will remain in Iraq after the remaining US troops depart.

So, while the roughly 39,000 US troops left in Iraq are coming home, over 9,000 contractors will remain.

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Posted by alexthurston on October 20th, 2011

This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.

Think of Iraq as the AIG of wars — the only difference being that the bailout there didn’t involve just three payouts. More than eight years after the Bush administration invaded that country, the bailout is, unbelievably enough, still going. Even as the U.S. military withdraws, the State Department is planning to spend billions more in taxpayer dollars to field an army of hired-gun contractors to replace it. Afghanistan? It could have been the Lehman Brothers of conflicts, but when Barack Obama entered the Oval Office he chose the Citigroup model instead, and surged troops in twice in 2009. In other words, he double-TARPed that war, and ever since, the bailout money has been flooding in.

Until now — as the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations make clear — “too big to fail” has meant only one set of institutions: the plundering financial outfits that played such a role in driving the U.S. economy off a cliff in 2008, looked like they might themselves collapse in a heap of bad deals and indebtedness, and were bailed out by Washington. Isn’t it finally time to expand the too-big-to-fail category to include the Pentagon, the U.S. Intelligence Community, and more generally the National Security Complex?

There is, of course, one major difference between those bailed-out financial institutions and the Complex: however powerful the banks may be, however much money financial outfits and Wall Street sink into K-Street lobbyists and the election campaigns of politicians, however much influence the U.S. Chamber of Commerce may wield, when too-big-to-fail financial institutions totter, they have to come to the federal government hat (and future bonuses) in hand.

For the Pentagon and the National Security Complex, it’s quite another matter. These days it’s only a slight exaggeration to claim that they are Washington and that their very size, influence, and power protects them from the consequences of failure.

In the last decade, as “the troops” became sacrosanct, the secular equivalent of religious icons, they also helped ensure that no Congress could afford not to pour money into the Pentagon. (Pay no attention to the much-touted $450 billion that institution is expected to trim over the next ten years. That sum will largely come from “cuts” in future projected growth and anything more will be strongly resisted.) In that same decade — thanks largely to two hijacked planes that damaged New York beyond al-Qaeda’s wildest dreams — “American safety” (narrowly defined as “from terrorists”) became the mantra of the moment. Soon enough, it was the explanation of choice for any expenditure: the latest drones, surveillance equipment, high-tech motion sensors, or peeping-Tom technology at airports.

“The troops” translated into a get-out-of-jail-free card for the Pentagon, and it worked like a charm. In the three years since the economy melted down, when so much that mattered to most Americans was being cut back or deep-sixed, that budget was still merrily expanding. In the meantime, there were those constant infusions of fear for “American safety,” helped along by terror plots generally too inept to do the slightest damage. All this ensured that an already massive crew of intelligence outfits would morph into a labyrinthine bureaucracy of stupefying proportions.

That same phrase fertilized the Department of Homeland Security, the homeland security state that went with it, and an immensely lucrative homeland-security-industrial complex that went with that — all growing at a remarkable clip.

An Insurance Policy for the National Security Complex

Imagine for a second that, at the height of the Cold War, someone had told you of a future in which the U.S. faced no armed great power (not one!) and at most a few thousand terrorists scattered across the planet, as well as modestly armed minority insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Imagine that person making this prediction as well: in budget and size, the National Security Complex of that moment would put its Cold War predecessor in the shade.

Without a doubt, you would have dismissed him as a madman. If someone had proposed such a future to those running the Cold War back then, they would have called it victory. And yet that’s exactly our reality today, while victory itself has become the rarest of vintages, no longer stocked anywhere in our American world.

The dimensions of the National Security Complex now beggar the imagination. In fact, everything about it should make it the global yardstick for “too big to fail.” The Pentagon budget is, for instance, about 50% higher today than the Cold War average and accounts for nearly half of all military expenditures globally. And yet it has kept right on growing; and if bailed-out bankers continue to take home their bonuses as thanks for practically sinking the country, top Pentagon types continue to take home their golden pensions with future revolving-door opportunities in the military-industrial complex always available.

If you really want to grasp the enormity of the National Security Complex, just consider this stat: today, 4.2 million federal workers and employees of private contractors have security clearances — about, that is, the population of New Zealand or Lebanon.

Whatever Washington turned over to the banks, the Complex has it so much easier. After all, its managers essentially pay themselves more or less what they desire in the name of supporting the troops and promoting American safety. Yes, our congressional representatives officially dole out the money, but they have little choice when it comes to offering less than what’s asked of them. And presidential election campaigns always lock candidates into yet more of the same.

So here’s a basic American reality in the second decade of the twenty-first century: the Complex has an insurance policy unavailable to other Americans, while a vast blanket of secrecy in the name of national security ensures that most Americans have no idea what’s being done with their money. The Complex’s funding is safe and its employees are above the law, no matter what acts they may commit. Notoriously, the Pentagon has never even passed an audit. By default, we guarantee the Complex that, whatever happens to other Americans, its institutions and employees will remain safe. That’s the real definition of American security — and doesn’t it sound something like the banks and bankers who just can’t fail?

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

In such circumstances, cost is no object. To pick a random example, one of the — count ‘em — 17 outfits that make up the U.S. Intelligence Community is the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Of course, like 99.9% of Americans, you’ve never heard of it, and yet it has 16,000 employees, a “black budget thought to be at least $5 billion per year,” and a new, nearly Pentagon-sized headquarters complex in Virginia that’s cost you, the taxpayer, a nifty $1.8 billion.

And what does it do? Protect you, of course. Ensure your safety, naturally. Beyond that, don’t ask how it uses your money. As writer Gregg Easterbrook explains, that’s highly classified information. The agency does claim to provide “timely, relevant, and accurate geospatial intelligence in support of national security.” Be satisfied.

And that’s no anomaly. Your taxes regularly bail out the Complex. You ensure its wellbeing, and no one even bothers to give you an explanation. In 2008, economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes did the numbers and offered a “conservative” estimate of the ultimate costs of the Iraq War: $3 trillion. Now that Washington increasingly looks like it’s giving up hope of keeping any significant number of troops stationed in Iraq, you might ask just what that phenomenal sum bought Americans. But no answer will be forthcoming. On Iraq, mum’s the word, nor will anyone in Washington be held accountable.

Oh, and don’t bother to ask, because no one who matters thinks you need to know. Meanwhile, talking about golden parachutes, the president who took us into Iraq and kept us there is overseeing the creation of a library named after him and by last accounting had already raked in $15 million on the lecture circuit at $100,000 to $150,000 a pop; the vice president, who was a key player in the decision to invade and the war that followed, took home more than $2 million for his bestselling memoir; the national security adviser, who offered her keenest advice to the president on the subject of Iraq, garnered a guaranteed $2.5 million on a three-book contract and now charges up to $150,000 an appearance for speaking engagements, while settling into posts at Stanford University and the Hoover Institute; and the secretary of state who went to the U.N. to infamously defend the coming invasion with a pack of lies has pulled in a similar $150,000 ($5,000 a minute) for his lectures — and those are just the first few names on a far longer list.

By the way, in case you think it’s over in Iraq, think again. Washington’s stimulus bill for that country is still in effect. Foreign Service Officer Peter Van Buren writes at the Huffington Post that the State Department is now asking Congress for $5 billion over five years to create jobs for police officers — Iraqi police officers, that is.

A recent report from Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies estimated that the ultimate cost of both the Afghan and Iraq wars could range up to $4.4 trillion (with another vast stimulus package going to the Afghan police and military for years to come). And keep in mind that those trillions don’t include the global war on terror or spending on the rest of the national security complex.

Chris Hellman of the National Priorities Project did the math for TomDispatch and found — again, a conservative estimate — that American taxpayers are shelling out at least $1.2 trillion a year for the vast military, intelligence, and homeland security combine that operates in their name.

All of this to keep you safe from the next underwear bomber. Of course, if you live in Topeka or El Paso or Sacramento or Juneau, you have about the same chance of being endangered by a terrorist as meeting an angel. Which means that whoever’s safety net that money is going to, it’s not yours. Those trillions don’t secure your home from going “underwater,” or your income from falling off a cliff, or your pension from evaporating, or your job from going down the drain or overseas, or the teachers in your community (not to speak of the police) from being given pink slips, or the library in your neighborhood from closing, or that “extra” firehouse in your vicinity from being shut down.

Too Safe to Fail?

When a country spends “more on defense than the next 17 top-spending countries combined” and can’t win a war, you should know that something’s wrong, and that “too big” and “fail” do stand in some relation to each other. Washington, however, doesn’t.

Right now, the United States is still involved in conflicts, declared or undeclared, overt or covert, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. Only last week, President Obama upped the ante, by announcing that he would send the (first) 100 Green Berets on an armed “advise and assist mission” to Uganda and three other African countries that most Americans couldn’t locate on a map.

They are to help ferret out the Lord’s Resistance Army, a grim, if small, guerrilla force that has been doing terrible things for years (but has in no way endangered the United States). This is, in part, payback for the way Ugandan troops have helped advance the American war on terror in Somalia. Whatever else it may be, it also threatens to be yet another small-scale conflict without end — and of course another potential payday for the National Security Complex.

The only problem: unless you’re inside that Complex or involved in making weapons or other equipment for it, it’s not your payday, just your payout. You, the taxpayer, bailed out AIG, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and a host of other tottering financial firms. You saved their skins and their bonuses (and got nothing in return). The only bright spot: those were one-time, two-time, or three-time deals.

The Complex is forever (at least as its managers see it). Despite modest rumblings in Washington about the Pentagon and intelligence budgets and the deficit, it’s not just considered too big to fail, but generally too big to question, and too deeply embedded to think much about.

No wonder TARPing war has become a Washington pastime.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), will be published in November.

Copyright 2011 Tom Engelhardt

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Posted by The Agonist on October 19th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Yochi Dreazen | Oct 19

The Atlantic – In the years since their capture in Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and Army Staff Sgt. Ahmed Altaie have been largely forgotten by both Washington and the American public. There have been no protests demanding the government make whatever concessions necessary to win their release. Most Americans don’t even know their names. The situation in Israel, one of America’s closest allies, could not be more different. The Jewish state held a national celebration on Tuesday following the safe return of Gilad Shalit, a young soldier freed in exchange for the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. Shalit had become a household name in Israel, where pop stars composed songs honoring Shalit and hundreds of thousands of Israelis regularly demonstrated to pressure the government to strike a deal with his captors.

Bergdahl, who was captured in Afghanistan 2009, and Altaie, missing in Iraq in 2006, are both thought to still be alive and in enemy captivity. The Haqqani Network, the militant group holding Bergdahl, regularly releases propaganda videos featuring the 25-year-old soldier, who looks increasingly haggard and frightened.

Yet the missing soldiers are largely invisible here at home. The White House and Pentagon rarely mention the two men and have made clear that they won’t consider paying ransoms or freeing prisoners in exchange for the men’s release, as Israel has done.

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Posted by The Agonist on October 19th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Dean Nelson & Javed Siddiq/Islamabad | Oct 18

The Telegraph – US forces are massing on the Pakistan border in eastern Afghanistan amid reports of an imminent drone missile offensive against fighters from the feared Haqqani Network, a Taliban faction which operates from safe havens in Pakistan’s North Waziristan Agency, Pakistan Army sources have confirmed.

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Posted by The Agonist on October 18th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Washington | Oct 18

AFP – A miniature “kamikaze” drone designed to quietly hover in the sky before dive-bombing and slamming into a human target will soon be part of the US Army’s arsenal, officials say.

Dubbed the “Switchblade,” the robotic aircraft represents the latest attempt by the United States to refine how it takes out suspected militants.

Weighing less than two kilos, the drone is small enough to fit into a soldier’s backpack and is launched from a tube, with wings quickly folding out as it soars into the air, according to manufacturer AeroVironment.

Powered by a small electric motor, the Switchblade transmits video in real time from overhead, allowing a soldier to identify an enemy, the company said in a press release last month.

“Upon confirming the target using the live video feed, the operator then sends a command to the air vehicle to arm it and lock its trajectory onto the target,” it said.

The drone then flies into the “target,” detonating a small explosive.

The California-based firm also said the drone can be called off at the last moment, even after a kill mission has been ordered. That feature provides troops with “a level of control not available in other weapon systems,” it said.

The United States currently uses larger Predator and Reaper drones to hunt down suspected militants in Pakistan and elsewhere.

The robotic planes fire powerful Hellfire missiles and drop heavy bombs that can cause civilian casualties and extensive damage, which has fueled popular anger with the United States in Pakistan.

In the war in Afghanistan, US and coalition troops fighting the the Taliban can call in artillery fire or air strikes from fighter jets and attack helicopters. But the heavy firepower has been blamed by Afghan leaders for claiming the lives of innocent civilians and strained US relations with Kabul.

The Switchblade, however, is touted as a way to avoid killing bystanders.

“Flying quietly at high speed the Switchblade delivers its onboard explosive payload with precision while minimizing collateral damage,” the company said.

The US Army in June approved a $4.9 million contract for AeroVironment to supply the new drones as soon as possible. Officials have not said how many Switchblade drones were ordered or when the robotic weapons would make into the hands of US forces.

Human rights groups have raised concerns that the use of drones by the CIA has allowed the conduct of a secret assassination campaign abroad without public scrutiny and little oversight by lawmakers in Congress.

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on October 18th, 2011

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

US Deaths in Afghanistan: Obama vs Bush. Click here to learn more.

This weekend marked a new milestone for the war in Afghanistan: the total number of US troops killed in the war has doubled since President Obama took office, according to icasualties.org and our US Troops in Afghanistan: Obama vs Bush web counter. That means that two-thirds of the total US troop deaths have occurred in the last two years and eight months, which accounts for roughly a third of the duration of the war to date.

1728 US troops have died in Afghanistan since October 7, 2001, with 1153 of those deaths having occurred since President Obama’s inauguration. 575 US troops died in Afghanistan during President Bush’s term in office.

We’ve all heard the argument before: Bush ignored Afghanistan, Obama did what he promised by escalating the war, and since more troops means more deaths, we shouldn’t be surprised by the increased death rate.

Back in June, when US deaths in Afghanistan under Obama reached 1000, I wrote a piece about this argument. I’m not going to address it further here, because there are more pressing issues of concern than looking to the past.

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on October 17th, 2011

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

US Deaths in Afghanistan: Obama vs Bush. Click here to learn more.

This weekend marked a new milestone for the war in Afghanistan: the total number of US troops killed in the war has doubled since President Obama took office, according to icasualties.org and our US Troops in Afghanistan: Obama vs Bush web counter. That means that two-thirds of the total US troop deaths have occurred in the last two years and eight months, which accounts for roughly a third of the duration of the war to date.

1728 US troops have died in Afghanistan since October 7, 2001, with 1153 of those deaths having occurred since President Obama’s inauguration. 575 US troops died in Afghanistan during President Bush’s term in office.

We’ve all heard the argument before: Bush ignored Afghanistan, Obama did what he promised by escalating the war, and since more troops means more deaths, we shouldn’t be surprised by the increased death rate.

Back in June, when US deaths in Afghanistan under Obama reached 1000, I wrote a piece about this argument. I’m not going to address it further here, because there are more pressing issues of concern than looking to the past.

read more

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