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Archive for December, 2011

Posted by The Agonist on December 31st, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Dec 31

AFP – Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday welcomed US Vice President Joe Biden’s remarks that the Taliban “per se is not our enemy”.

Biden’s comments to Newsweek magazine last week caused uproar in the US, which has been fighting a 10-year war against the Taliban-led insurgency, but reflected an increasing focus on finding a political settlement.

“We are very happy that America has announced that Taliban are not their enemy. This will bring peace and stability to the people of Afghanistan,” Karzai said during a ceremony in Kabul.

Karzai has agreed that if the United States wants to set up a Taliban liaison office in Qatar to enable peace talks he will not stand in the way, as long as Afghanistan is involved in the process.

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Posted by on December 29th, 2011

From our partners at

Commentary By Ron Beasley

Is US blood and treasure making Afghanistan safe for Chinese exploitation?  It certainly looks like it.

In December, 2007, China's state-owned China Metallurgical Group Corp. (MCC) signed a $2.9 billion agreement with the Kabul government to extract copper from the Aynak deposit, one of the world's largest unexploited copper deposits with an estimated 240 million tons of ore.

And now we have this:

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Afghanistan's government signed a deal Wednesday with China's state-owned National Petroleum Corporation, allowing it to become the first foreign company to exploit the country's oil and natural gas reserves.

The contract, which covers the northeastern provinces of Sari Pul and Faryab, is the first of several such blocks to be put on the market in coming months, Afghan Minister of Mines Wahidullah Shahrani said during the signing ceremony.

Bring the troops home now.  Start rebuilding the US not Afghanistan.  Let the Chinese make the country safe for exploitation.


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Posted by The Agonist on December 27th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Kabul | Dec 26

AFP – Afghanistan has agreed to sign a deal with China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) for oil exploration and extraction, the president’s office said in a statement Monday.

The state-owned Chinese oil giant will develop three oil fields, along with Afghan company Watan Group, located in the Amu river zone in Sar-e Pol and Faryab provinces in northern Afghanistan, the statement said.

“This is the first big contract for exploration and extraction of oil in Afghanistan,” the statement said.

“There are 87 million barrels of oil in the area.”

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on December 21st, 2011

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

Paul Ryan was in Afghanistan 3 times. I was only there twice. He was there for a matter of hours each time. I spent about 6 months there all told. I rode all around the country– first in a VW van and later on horseback. He was a pampered guest of the occupying army command and traveled in a military bubble. I lived with people in their homes and learned Farsi and Pashtun. He knows K Street lobbyists for arms manufacturers who funnel large sums of money into his political career ($77,200 so far).

A few days ago Ryan’s name appeared under an op-ed in the Racine Journal-Times, Prospects for Progress If We Stay the Course. That’s the GOP talking point that’s emerged since Obama extricated us from Bush’s war against Iraq. It comes just after the Senate adopted Jeff Merkley’s amendment calling on Obama to speed up withdrawal. Among the co-sponsors of Merkely’s amendment were extreme right-wing senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Joe Manchin (D-WV). The only opponent willing to stand up and shout into the void was the Senate’s most determined warmonger, John McCain (R-AZ), a man with no constituency inside or outside the Senate. Buck McKeon (R-CA) in the House goes along with McCain, as do Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman in the Senate. Other than that, it’s just Romney and Gingrich gambling that it’s a position that will help win the Republican primary. Apparently Ryan’s still way over in right field as well.

He claims we’re “helping the Afghan people deny safe haven to Islamist extremists, who have in the past made terrorism Afghanistan’s number one export.” Pure propaganda and unrelated to anything actually going on in Afghanistan– like virtually every word of his bullshit op-ed, which he later reprinted as a mailer to his constituents.

In the nearly 10 years since my first visit, the progress Afghanistan has made is inspiring: Women walk unveiled and without fear. Crowded markets and traffic jams indicate slow but real progress. Child mortality has dropped by 25% in the last decade, and there are now 8 million students in school nationwide- – including 2.9 million girls.

To be sure, these gains have come with heavy sacrifices– thousands of Americans have given their lives, and many more have been injured. One way we can honor these sacrifices is by finishing what these brave service members have started.

Make no mistake: The justification for our post-9/11 intervention in Afghanistan remains valid today. If the Taliban and its allies, al Qaeda and the Haqqani Network, regain control of Afghanistan, they would again be able to focus on attacking America instead of fighting for their own survival.

President Obama has announced a U.S. force reduction in Afghanistan, but the timing of this withdrawal seems to be driven more by the 2012 election than by facts on the ground. Today, we have about 96,000 troops in Afghanistan, a number scheduled to decrease to 68,000 by September 2012. As one battalion commander in Helmand Province told me, we’re at the peak of security today, at current troop levels. Any decision on troop levels should be based on security needs– not a campaign-inspired race for the exits.

Furthermore, the September 2012 deadline means that we’ll be conducting a withdrawal in the heart of the fighting season in Afghanistan– right when our remaining forces will need the most support. I heard from troops up and down the chain of command who were hopeful that they would see force levels remain stable through the next fighting season, rather than seeing their combat strength steadily sapped over the course of next year.

Afghanistan will eventually need to be able to defend itself without a U.S. military presence. We can help through the Afghan Local Police program and through Village Stabilization Operations. These programs draw on the unique abilities of our special forces to live in Afghan villages and help communities maintain day-to-day security. By living with the people, these forces build the confidence of the populace and provide a critical link back to invaluable U.S capabilities such as combat air support and medical evacuation. Programs like these hold the promise of an Afghanistan that can one day provide for its own security.

A transition plan is in place for Afghan forces to take control of the country’s security in 2014. Even as we work toward that point, it is important to remember that our nation’s commitment to Afghanistan isn’t likely to end there. Our nation’s troops and resources will continue to support the Afghan people for years to come– not to engage in nation-building, but to mitigate the risk posed by the region’s extremists to our own national security.

I remain confident that we can achieve our goal in Afghanistan if we have the political will and strategic patience to finish the job. Anything less would be a betrayal of those who have lost their lives in the cause of Afghanistan’s freedom, not to mention the safety and security of the American people.

This junk from the man who would take away long-term medical care from soldiers wounded and disabled fighting the wars that give him a woody. And for all the happy talk from Republicans and other conservatives, this occupation is going miserably for everyone concerned except the arms merchants.

Despite official assertions of progress in Afghanistan, American battle casualties remain stubbornly high, and the severity of the physical and psychological wounds suffered by young Americans is actually increasing.

So far this year, more than 5,000 American troops have been wounded — about one third of all those injured in Afghanistan since 2001.

… Despite a $22.4 billion Pentagon effort over the past six years, these improvised explosive devices remain the biggest single cause of American casualties, killing or wounding more than 34,000 in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, according to Defense Department data.

In Afghanistan this year, IED attacks are up 7 percent over last year, according to the U.S.-led command in Kabul.

The damage they cause is unrelenting. Among the 96,000 American troops fighting in Afghanistan, amputations are at an all-time high, as are the serious medical side effects of severe trauma.

The number of returning servicemen and women officially diagnosed with traumatic brain injury has leaped to an average of 647 new cases a month, up from a monthly average of 621 cases in 2010 and 482 a month in 2009, according to Defense Department data. Over the past decade, the Defense Department has diagnosed 229,106 service members with traumatic brain injury.

Military surgeons this year recorded a monthly average of 19.6 cases of amputations, up from 16.3 per month in 2010 and 7.3 per month in 2009.

These injuries are mostly caused by IED detonations, which have also resulted in a sharp rise in genital wounds. One out of five of the wounded evacuated from Afghanistan last year suffered from what the Army calls “genitourinary” injuries. Military medical officials say the numbers are increasing, but a spokeswoman for the U.S. military medical center in Landstuhl, Germany, which handles most evacuees, said she could not provide fresher numbers.

The U.S. military also tracks two other indicators of severe injury, and both have risen significantly this year. One is uncontrolled bone growth near the site of a wound, a painful condition called heterotopic ossification. Among deployed troops, cases of heterotopic ossification have reached 10.8 cases a month, compared to 7.3 in 2010 and 5.3 in 2009, the Defense Department reported.

The other post-trauma condition is deep vein thrombosis. These cases rose from 18.8 in 2009 to 20.4 in 2010, to 20.5 per month this year.

A U.S. Army study released last summer detailed the increasing severity of battle wounds suffered by troops in Afghanistan. The report said that the number and severity of these wounds, which include the traumatic amputation of two, three or all four limbs, exceeds anything experienced during the Iraq war.

Ryan’s mindless pap could have been written by any politician about any war he’s being paid off to support. There’s nothing honest or thoughtful in his whole prepackaged statement, and nothing in it that takes any kind of reality into account about how these wounded vets are going to live in the future. It’s tragic this this is all that’s expected from America’s political leaders. Isn’t Ryan still of age, so that the military would accept him?

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Posted by alexthurston on December 20th, 2011

This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.

It’s 10 pm. Do you know where your drone is?

Oh, the confusion of it all! The U.S. military now insists it was deeply befuddled when it claimed that a super-secret advanced RQ-170 Sentinel drone (aka “the beast of Kandahar”) which fell into Iranian hands on December 4th — evidently while surveying suspected nuclear sites — was lost patrolling the Afghan border. The military, said a spokesman, “did not have a good understanding of what was going on because it was a CIA mission.”

Whatever happened, that lost drone story hit the headlines in a way that allowed everyone their Warholian 15 minutes of fame. Dick Cheney went on the air to insist that President Obama should have sent Air Force planes into Iran to blow the grounded Sentinel to bits. (Who cares about sparking off hostilities or sending global oil prices skyrocketing?) President Obama formally asked for the plane’s return, but somehow didn’t have high hopes that the Iranians would comply. (Check out Gary Powers and the downing of his U-2 spy plane over Russia in 1960 for a precedent.) Defense Secretary Leon Panetta swore we would never stop our Afghan-based drone surveillance of Iran. Afghan President Hamid Karzai asked that his country be kept out of any “adversarial relations between Iran and the United States.” (Fat chance!) The Iranians, who displayed the plane, insisted proudly that they had hacked into it, “spoofed” its navigational controls, and brought it in for a relatively soft landing. And Kim Kardashian… oops, wrong story.

All in all, it was a little robotic circus. All three rings’ worth. Meanwhile, drones weren’t having such a good time of it elsewhere either, even if no one was paying much attention. The half-hidden drone story of the week wasn’t on the Iranian side of the Afghan border, but on the Pakistani side. There, in that country’s tribal borderlands, the CIA had for years been conducting an escalating drone air campaign, hundreds of strikes, often several a week, against suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban militants. In the wake of an “incident” in which U.S. air strikes killed 24 Pakistani troops at two border posts, however, the Pakistanis closed the border to U.S. supplies for the Afghan war (significantly increasing the cost of that conflict), kicked the U.S. out of Shamsi air base, the CIA’s main drone facility in the country, and threatened to shoot down any U.S. drones over its territory. In the process, they seem to have forced the Obama administration to shut down its covert drone air campaign. At this point, there have been no drone attacks for almost a month.

When he was still CIA Director, Leon Panetta termed the Agency’s drone campaign the “only game in town.” Now it’s “on hold.” (“There is concern that another hit [by the drones] will push US-Pakistan relations past the point of no return,” one official told The Long War Journal. “We don’t know how far we can push them [Pakistan], how much more they are willing to tolerate.”) After those hundreds of strikes and significant civilian casualties, which have helped turn the Pakistani public against the U.S. — according to a recent poll, a staggering 97% of Pakistanis oppose the attacks — it’s a stunning reversal, however temporary and little noted.

In other words, we’ve come a long way, baby, since the moment in 2001 when Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage reportedly stormed into the office of Pakistan’s intelligence director and told him to either ally with Washington in the fight against al-Qaeda or prepare to be bombed “back to the Stone Age.” As the U.S. leaves Iraq with its tail between its legs, the setback in Pakistan (as in Iran) should be considered a gauge of just how little Washington’s massive high-tech military edge, drones and otherwise, has been able to alter the shifting power equation on the planet.

In the latest piece in his new changing-face-of-empire series, TomDispatch Associate Editor Nick Turse explores why, despite its advocates’ claims, America’s newest wonder weapon will never prove a game changer. Tom

The Drone That Fell From the Sky
What a Busted Robot Airplane Tells Us About the American Empire in 2012 and Beyond
By Nick Turse

The drone had been in the air for close to five hours before its mission crew realized that something was wrong. The oil temperature in the plane’s turbocharger, they noticed, had risen into the “cautionary” range. An hour later, it was worse, and it just kept rising as the minutes wore on. While the crew desperately ran through its “engine overheat” checklist trying to figure out the problem, the engine oil temperature, too, began skyrocketing.

By now, they had a full-blown in-flight emergency on their hands. “We still have control of the engine, but engine failure is imminent,” the pilot announced over the radio.

Almost two hours after the first signs of distress, the engine indeed failed. Traveling at 712 feet per minute, the drone clipped a fence before crashing.

Land of the Lost Drones

The skies seem full of falling drones these days. The most publicized of them made headlines when Iran announced that its military had taken possession of an advanced American remotely piloted spy aircraft, thought to be an RQ-170 Sentinel.

Questions about how the Iranians came to possess one of the U.S. military’s most sophisticated pieces of equipment abound. Iran first claimed that its forces shot the drone down after it “briefly violated” the country’s eastern airspace near the Afghan border. Later, the Islamic Republic insisted that the unmanned aerial vehicle had penetrated 150 miles before being felled by a sophisticated cyber-attack. And just days ago, an Iranian engineer offered a more detailed, but as yet unsubstantiated, explanation of how a hack-attack hijacked the aircraft.

For its part, the United States initially claimed that its military had lost the drone while it was on a mission in western Afghanistan. Later, unnamed officials admitted that the CIA had, in fact, been conducting a covert spy operation over Iran.

The drone crash that led this piece did occur in Afghanistan — Kandahar, to be precise — in May of this year. It went unreported at the time and involved not a sleek, bat-winged RQ-170 Sentinel, but the older, clunkier, if more famous, MQ-1 Predator, a workhorse hunter/killer machine of the Afghan war and the CIA’s drone assassination campaign in the Pakistani tribal borderlands.

A document detailing a U.S. Air Force investigation of that Predator crash, examined by TomDispatch, sheds light on the lifecycle and flaws of drones — just what can go wrong in unmanned air operations — as well as the shadowy system of bases and units scattered across the globe that keep those drones constantly in the skies as the U.S. becomes ever more reliant on remote-controlled warfare.

That report and striking new statistics obtained from the military offer insights into underexamined flaws in drone technology. They are also a reminder of the failure of journalists to move beyond awe when it comes to high-tech warfare and America’s latest wonder weapons — their curious inability to examine the stark limitations of man and machine that can send even the most advanced military technology hurtling to Earth.

Numbers Game

According to statistics provided to TomDispatch by the Air Force, Predators have flown the lion’s share of hours in America’s drone wars. As of October 1st, MQ-1’s had spent more than 1 million hours in the air, 965,000 of those in “combat,” since being introduced into military service. The newer, more heavily armed MQ-9 Reaper, by comparison, has flown 215,000 hours, 180,000 of them in combat. (The Air Force refuses to release information about the workload of the RQ-170 Sentinel.) And these numbers continue to rise. This year alone, Predators have logged 228,000 flight hours compared to 190,000 in 2010.

An analysis of official Air Force data conducted by TomDispatch indicates that its drones crashed in spectacular fashion no less than 13 times in 2011, including that May 5th crash in Kandahar.

About half of those mishaps, all resulting in the loss of an aircraft or property damage of $2 million or more, occurred in Afghanistan or in the tiny African nation of Djibouti, which serves as a base for drones involved in the U.S. secret wars in Somalia and Yemen. All but two of the incidents involved the MQ-1 model, and four of them took place in May.

In 2010, there were seven major drone mishaps, all but one involving Predators; in 2009, there were 11. In other words, there have been 31 drone losses in three years, none apparently shot down, all diving into the planet of their own mechanical accord or thanks to human error.

Other publicized drone crashes, like a remotely-operated Navy helicopter that went down in Libya in June and an unmanned aerial vehicle whose camera was reportedly taken by Afghan insurgents after a crash in August, as well as the December 4th loss of the RQ-180 in Iran and an even more recent crash of a MQ-9 in the Seychelles, are not included in the Air Force’s major accident statistics for the year.

Group Effort

The United States currently runs its drone war from 60 or more bases scattered across the globe. They range from sites in the American southwest with lines of trailers where drone pilots “fly” such aircraft via computer to those far closer to the battlefield where other pilots — seated before a similar set up, including multiple computer monitors, keyboards, a joystick, a throttle, a rollerball, a mouse, and various switches — launch and land the drones. On other bases, aspiring drone pilots are trained on simulators and the planes themselves are tested before being sent to distant battlefields.

The May 5th Predator crash about a half-mile short of a runway at Kandahar Air Field drives home just how diffuse drone operations have become, with multiple units and multiple bases playing a role in a single mission.

That Predator drone, for example, was an asset of the 3rd Special Operations Squadron, which operates out of Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico, and ultimately is part of Air Force Special Operations Command, based at Hulbert Field in Florida. When it crashed, it was being flown by an in-country pilot from the 62nd Expeditionary Squadron at Kandahar Air Field, whose parent unit, the 18th Reconnaissance Squadron, makes its home at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, ground zero for the military’s drone operations. The crewman operating the sensors on the drone, on the other hand, was a member of the Texas Air National Guard based at Ellington Field in Texas.

The final leg of the doomed mission — in support of elite special operations forces — was being carried out by a pilot who had been operating Predators for about 10 months and had flown drones for approximately 51 hours over the previous 90 days. With less than 400 total hours under his belt, he was considered “inexperienced” by Air Force standards and, during his drone launch and recovery training, had failed two simulator sessions and one flying exercise. He had, however, excelled academically, passed his evaluations, and was considered a qualified MQ-1 pilot, cleared to fly without supervision.

His sensor operator had been qualified by the Air Force for the better part of two years, with average or above average ratings in performance evaluations. Having “flown” a total of 677 hours — close to 50 of them in the 90 days before the crash — he was considered “experienced.”

The fact that the duo were controlling a special operations drone highlights the increasingly strong and symbiotic relationship between America’s two recently ascendant forms of warfare: raids by small teams of elite forces and attacks by remote-controlled robots.

The Life and Death of American Drones

During the post-crash investigation, it was determined that the ground crew in Afghanistan had been regularly using an unauthorized method of draining engine coolant, though it was unclear whether this contributed to the crash. Investigation documents further indicate that the drone’s engine had 851 hours of flight time and so was nearing the end of the line. (The operational lifespan of a Predator drone engine is reportedly around 1,080 hours.)

Following the crash, the engine was shipped to a California test facility, where technicians from General Atomics, the maker of the Predator, carried out a forensic investigation. Significant overheating had, it was discovered, warped and deformed the machinery.

Eventually, the Air Force ruled that a cooling system malfunction had led to engine failure. An accident investigator also concluded that the pilot had not executed proper procedures after the engine failure, causing the craft to crash just short of the runway, slightly damaging the perimeter fence at Kandahar Air Field and destroying the drone.

The clear conclusion reached by accident investigators in this crash stands in stark contrast to the murkiness of what happened to the advanced drone now in Iranian hands. Whether the latter crashed thanks to a malfunction, was shot down, felled by a cyber-attack, or ended up on the ground for some other reason entirely, its loss and that of the special ops drone are reminders of just how reliant the U.S. military has become on high-tech robot planes whose major accidents now exceed those of much more expensive fixed-wing aircraft. (There were 10 major airborne mishaps involving such Air Force aircraft in 2011.)

Robot War: 2012 and Beyond

The failure to achieve victory in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with a perceived success in the Libyan war — significantly fought with airpower including drones — has convinced many in the military not to abandon foreign wars, but to change their approach. Long-term occupations involving tens of thousands of troops and the use of counterinsurgency tactics are to be traded in for drone and special forces operations.

Remotely piloted aircraft have regularly been touted, in the press and the military, as wonder weapons, the way, not so long ago, counterinsurgency tactics were being promoted as an elixir for military failure. Like the airplane, the tank, and nuclear weapons before it, the drone has been touted as a game-changer, destined to alter the very essence of warfare.

Instead, like the others, it has increasingly proven to be a non-game-changer of a weapon with ordinary vulnerabilities. Its technology is fallible and its efforts have often been counterproductive in these last years. For example, the inability of pilots watching computer monitors on the other side of the planet to discriminate between armed combatants and innocent civilians has proven a continuing problem for the military’s drone operations, while the CIA’s judge-jury-executioner assassination program is widely considered to have run afoul of international law — and, in the case of Pakistan, to be alienating an entire population. The drone increasingly looks less like a winning weapon than a machine for generating opposition and enemies.

In addition, as flight hours rise year after year, the vulnerabilities of remotely piloted missions are ever more regularly coming to light. These have included Iraqi insurgents hacking drone video feeds, a virulent computer virus infecting the Air Force’s unmanned fleet, large percentages of drone pilots suffering from “high operational stress,” increasing numbers of crashes, and the possibility of Iranian drone-hijacking.

While human and mechanical errors are inherent in the operation of any type of machinery, few commentators have focused significant attention on the full spectrum of drone flaws and limitations. For more than a decade, remotely piloted aircraft have been a mainstay of U.S. military operations and the tempo of drone operations continues to rise yearly, but relatively little has been written about drone defects or the limits and hazards of drone operations.

Perhaps the Air Force is beginning to worry about when this will change. After years of regularly ushering reporters through drone operations at Creech Air Force Base and getting a flood of glowing, even awestruck, publicity about the glories of drones and drone pilots, this year, without explanation, it shut down press access to the program, moving robotic warfare deeper into the shadows.

The recent losses of the Pentagon’s robot Sentinel in Iran, the Reaper in the Seychelles, and the Predator in Kandahar, however, offer a window into a future in which the global skies will be filled with drones that may prove far less wondrous than Americans have been led to believe. The United States could turn out to be relying on a fleet of robots with wings of clay.

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. This article is the fourth in his new series on the changing face of American empire, which is being underwritten by Lannan Foundation. You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, and on Facebook.

Copyright 2011 Nick Turse

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Posted by alexthurston on December 13th, 2011

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.

Of all American military training programs around the world, the most publicized in recent years has been the one building up a local security force to replace U.S. (and NATO) troops as they ever so slowly withdraw from Afghanistan. By 2014, that country is supposed to possess an army and police force of at least 350,000. At staggering expense, their recruitment and training has been a Washington priority for years. But here’s the twist: just about every year the training program has been operating, reports have appeared on its striking lack of success. These almost always mention the same problems: massive desertion rates (with “ghost soldiers” still being paid), heavy drug use, illiteracy, an unwillingness to fight, corruption, an inability of Afghan units to act independently of the U.S. military, and so on. Year after year, Washington’s response to such problems has been no less repetitive. It has decided to pour yet more money into the program (over $29 billion through 2010). Again repetitively, with each new infusion of money come claims of “progress” and “improvement” — until, of course, the next dismal report arrives.

In 2011, the U.S. will spend almost $12 billion on the further training and upgrading of those security forces, with approximately $11 billion more promised for 2012. So here’s a shock: the latest reports on the program are now appearing and the news is not exactly upbeat. A recent summary of them described the situation this way: “According to U.S. government sources, only one of the Afghan National Army’s 161 units is capable of operating independently; this represents a regression from the four units that were rated as independent in June. No units of the police are capable of functioning without direct coalition assistance, and no sections of the ministries of Interior and Defense (which will soon be charged with managing the security situation) are capable of autonomous action… One in seven soldiers and police desert each month, and for every 10 soldiers trained another 13 trainees drop out.”

According to Steve Coll of the New Yorker magazine, the U.S. intelligence community is just completing a new national intelligence estimate on Afghanistan which reaches gloomy conclusions about the post-2014 fate of a force that impoverished country couldn’t possibly afford and that will cost the U.S. $10 billion or more a year to maintain into the distant future. It is, by the way, nothing short of remarkable that the U.S. military trainers have proven quite so unsuccessful in a country famed for its martial tradition where, over more than three decades, war has become a way of life and the Taliban seems to have little trouble motivating its fighters to operate independently, despite lacking billions of dollars and foreign trainers.

Of course, Afghanistan is just a single pitstop (quagmire?) for globe-spanning, if little noted, Pentagon programs in which the U.S. military performs training missions with scads of other militaries. As he has recently with U.S. special operations forces deployments and the locations of drone bases worldwide, TomDispatch Associate Editor Nick Turse turns his attention to an aspect of the U.S. military’s global operations that Americans know next to nothing about, this time highlighting previously shadowy Pentagon training exercises in the Greater Middle East. These pieces are part of a new “Changing Face of Empire” series he’s writing, which will be an ongoing focus for this website in 2012. Tom

Making Repression Our Business
The Pentagon’s Secret Training Missions in the Middle East
By Nick Turse

As the Arab Spring blossomed and President Obama hesitated about whether to speak out in favor of protesters seeking democratic change in the Greater Middle East, the Pentagon acted decisively. It forged ever deeper ties with some of the most repressive regimes in the region, building up military bases and brokering weapons sales and transfers to despots from Bahrain to Yemen.

As state security forces across the region cracked down on democratic dissent, the Pentagon also repeatedly dispatched American troops on training missions to allied militaries there. During more than 40 such operations with names like Eager Lion and Friendship Two that sometimes lasted for weeks or months at a time, they taught Middle Eastern security forces the finer points of counterinsurgency, small unit tactics, intelligence gathering, and information operations — skills crucial to defeating popular uprisings.

These recurrent joint-training exercises, seldom reported in the media and rarely mentioned outside the military, constitute the core of an elaborate, longstanding system that binds the Pentagon to the militaries of repressive regimes across the Middle East. Although the Pentagon shrouds these exercises in secrecy, refusing to answer basic questions about their scale, scope, or cost, an investigation by TomDispatch reveals the outlines of a region-wide training program whose ambitions are large and wholly at odds with Washington’s professed aims of supporting democratic reforms in the Greater Middle East.

Lions, Marines, and Moroccans — Oh My!

On May 19th, President Obama finally addressed the Arab Spring in earnest. He was unambiguous about standing with the protesters and against repressive governments, asserting that “America’s interests are not hostile to people’s hopes; they’re essential to them.”

Four days earlier, the very demonstrators the president sided with had marched in Temara, Morocco. They were heading for a facility suspected of housing a secret government interrogation facility to press for political reforms. It was then that the kingdom’s security forces attacked.

“I was in a group of about 11 protesters, pursued by police in their cars,” Oussama el-Khlifi, a 23-year-old protester from the capital, Rabat, told Human Rights Watch (HRW). “They forced me to say, ‘Long live the king,’ and they hit me on my shoulder. When I didn’t fall, they clubbed me on the head and I lost consciousness. When I regained consciousness, I found myself at the hospital, with a broken nose and an injured shoulder.”

About a five-hour drive south, another gathering was taking place under far more hospitable circumstances. In the seaside city of Agadir, a ceremony marking a transfer of military command was underway. “We’re here to support… bilateral engagement with one of our most important allies in the region,” said Colonel John Caldwell of the U.S. Marine Corps at a gathering to mark the beginning of the second phase of African Lion, an annual joint-training exercise with Morocco’s armed forces.

U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), the Pentagon’s regional military headquarters that oversees operations in Africa, has planned 13 such major joint-training exercises in 2011 alone from Uganda to South Africa, Senegal to Ghana, including African Lion. Most U.S. training missions in the Greater Middle East are, however, carried out by Central Command (CENTCOM), which oversees wars and other military activities in 20 countries in the Greater Middle East.

“Annually, USCENTCOM executes more than 40 exercises with a wide range of partner nations in the region,” a military spokesman told TomDispatch. “Due to host-nation sensitivities, USCENTCOM does not discuss the nature of many of our exercises outside our bilateral relationships.”

Of the dozens of joint-training exercises it sponsored these last years, CENTCOM would only acknowledge two by name: Leading Edge, a 30-nation exercise focused on counter-proliferation last held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in late 2010; and Eager Resolve, an annual exercise to simulate a coordinated response to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high yield explosive attack, involving the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

However, military documents, open-source reports, and other data analyzed by TomDispatch offer a window into the training relationships that CENTCOM refused to acknowledge. While details of these missions remain sparse at best, the results are clear: during 2011, U.S. troops regularly partnered with and trained the security forces of numerous regimes that were actively beating back democratic protests and stifling dissent within their borders.

Getting Friendly With the Kingdom

In January, for example, the government of Saudi Arabia curtailed what little freedom of expression existed in the kingdom by instituting severe new restrictions regarding online news and commentary by its citizens. That same month, Saudi authorities launched a crackdown on peaceful demonstrators. Shortly afterward, six Saudi men sought government recognition for the country’s first political party whose professed aims, according to Human Rights Watch, included “greater democracy and protection for human rights.” They were promptly arrested.

On February 19th, just three days after those arrests, U.S. and Saudi forces launched Friendship Two, a training exercise in Tabuk, Saudi Arabia. For the next 10 days, 4,100 American and Saudi troops practiced combat maneuvers and counterinsurgency tactics under an unrelenting desert sun. “This is a fantastic exercise and a fantastic venue, and we’re sending a real good message out to the people of the region,” insisted Major General Bob Livingston, a National Guard commander who took part in the mission. “The engagements that we have with the Saudi Arabian army affect their army, it affects our Army, but it also shows the people of the region our ability to cooperate with each other and our ability to be able to operate together.”

Eager Lights and Lions

As the Arab Spring brought down U.S.-allied autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt, the Kingdom of Jordan, where criticizing King Abdulluh or even peacefully protesting government policies is a crime, continued to stifle dissent. Last year, for instance, state security forces stormed the house of 24-year-old computer science student Imad al-Din al-Ash and arrested him. His crime? An online article in which he called the king “effeminate.”

In March, Jordanian security forces typically failed to take action, and some even joined in, when pro-government protesters attacked peaceful activists seeking political reforms. Then came allegations that state forces had tortured Islamist activists.

Meanwhile, in March, U.S. troops joined Jordanian forces in Eager Light 2011, a training exercise in Amman, the country’s capital, that focused on counterinsurgency training. Then, from June 11th to June 30th, thousands of Jordanian security forces and U.S. troops undertook Eager Lion, focusing on special operations missions and irregular warfare as well as counterinsurgency.

In November, Human Rights Watch’s Christoph Wilcke took Jordan to task for the trial of 150 protesters arrested in the spring on terrorism charges after a public brawl with pro-regime supporters. “Only members of the opposition face prosecution. The trial… is seriously flawed,” wrote Wilcke. “It singles out Islamists on charges of terrorism and casts doubts on the kingdom’s path towards genuine political reform, its commitment to the rule of law, and its stated desire to protect the rights of freedom of expression and assembly.”

At around the same time, U.S. troops were wrapping up Operation Flexible Saif. For about four months, American troops had engaged in basic mentoring of the Jordanian military, according to Americans who took part, focusing on subjects ranging from the fundamentals of soldiering to the essentials of intelligence gathering.

Who Are Kuwait’s Lucky Warriors?

Earlier this year, Kuwaiti security forces assaulted and arrested “Bidun” protesters, a minority population demanding citizenship rights after 50 years of stateless status in the oil-rich kingdom. “Kuwaiti authorities… should allow demonstrators to speak and assemble freely — as is their right,” wrote Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. More recently, Kuwait has been cracking down on online activists. In July, HRW’s Priyanka Motaparthy wrote in Foreign Policy magazine that 26-year-old Nasser Abul was led, blindfolded and shackled, into a Kuwaiti courtroom. His crime, according to Motaparthy, “a few tweets… criticizing the ruling families of Bahrain as well as Saudi Arabia.”

This spring, U.S. troops took part in Lucky Warrior, a four-day training exercise in Kuwait designed to hone U.S. war fighting skills particular to the region. The sparse material available from the military mentions no direct Kuwaiti involvement in Lucky Warrior, but documents examined by TomDispatch indicate that translators have been used in past versions of the exercise, suggesting the involvement of Kuwaiti and/or other Arab nations in the operation. Pentagon secrecy, however, makes it impossible to know the full extent of participation by the Pentagon’s regional partners.

TomDispatch has identified other regional training operations that CENTCOM failed to acknowledge, including Steppe Eagle, an annual multilateral exercise carried out in repressive Kazakhstan from July 31st to August 23rd which trained Kazakh troops in everything from convoy missions to conducting cordon and search operations. Then there was the Falcon Air Meet, an exercise focusing on close air-support tactics that even included a bombing contest, carried out in October by U.S., Jordanian, and Turkish air forces at Shaheed Mwaffaq Salti Air Base in Jordan.

The U.S. military also conducted a seminar on public affairs and information operations with members of the Lebanese armed forces including, according to an American in attendance, a discussion of “the use of propaganda in regards to military information support operations.” In addition, there was a biannual joint underwater demolitions exercise, Operation Eager Mace, carried out with Kuwaiti forces.

These training missions are only a fraction of the dozens carried out each year in secret, far from the prying eyes of the press or local populations. They are a key component of an outsized Pentagon support system that also shuttles aid and weaponry to a set of allied Middle Eastern kingdoms and autocracies. These joint missions ensure tight bonds between the U.S. military and the security forces of repressive governments throughout the region, offering Washington access and influence and the host nations of these exercises the latest military strategies, tactics, and tools of the trade at a moment when they are, or fear being, besieged by protesters seeking to tap into the democratic spirit sweeping the region.

Secrets and Lies

The U.S. military ignored TomDispatch’s requests for information about whether any joint operations were postponed, rescheduled, or canceled as a result of Arab Spring protests. In August, however, Agence France Presse reported that Bright Star, a biannual training exercise involving U.S. and Egyptian forces, had been canceled as a result of the popular revolt that overthrew president ally Hosni Mubarak, a Washington ally.

The number of U.S. training exercises across the region disrupted by pro-democracy protests, or even basic information about the total number of the Pentagon’s regional training missions, their locations, durations, and who takes part in them, remain largely unknown. CENTCOM regularly keeps such information secret from the American public, not to mention populations across the Greater Middle East.

The military also refused to comment on exercises scheduled for 2012. There is nonetheless good reason to believe that their number will rise as regional autocrats look to beat back the forces of change. “With the end of Operation New Dawn in Iraq and the reduction of surge forces in Afghanistan, USCENTCOM exercises will continue to focus on… mutual security concerns and build upon already strong, enduring relationships within the region,” a CENTCOM spokesman told TomDispatch by email.

Since pro-democracy protests and popular revolt are the “security concerns” of regimes from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to Jordan and Yemen, it is not hard to imagine just how the Pentagon’s advanced training methods, its schooling in counterinsurgency tactics, and its aid in intelligence gathering techniques might be used in the months ahead.

This spring, as Operation African Lion proceeded and battered Moroccan protesters nursed their wounds, President Obama asserted that the “United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region” and supports basic human rights for citizens throughout the Greater Middle East. “And these rights,” he added, “include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders — whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran.”

The question remains, does the United States believe the same is true for those who live in Amman, Kuwait City, Rabat, or Riyahd? And if so, why is the Pentagon strengthening the hands of repressive rulers in those capitals?

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. This article is the third in his new series on the changing face of American empire. You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, and on Facebook.

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Posted by Peace Action West on December 13th, 2011

From our partners at Peace Action West

In 2001, when Congress authorized an open-ended “war on terror,” there was only one member of Congress brave enough to stand up and say “no.” That’s why it’s crucial we do everything we can to push for more leaders who are willing to speak up for peace, even when it’s unpopular.

Norman Solomon is one of those leaders. Can you pitch in $5 to send a committed peace activist to Congress?

Author and activist Norman Solomon isn’t a newcomer to the movement for global peace and justice. In the 1980s, he was writing about the need for a comprehensive nuclear test ban and participating in nonviolent actions to block the transportation of nuclear warheads. He has visited both Iraq and Afghanistan to highlight the human cost of war there, and co-chairs a national “Healthcare Not Warfare” campaign. Now that Rep. Lynn Woolsey is retiring, we have an opportunity to send him to Congress in California’s new 2nd district.

Norman is running in a crowded field, and he is refusing money from any corporate PACs. Please help build his grassroots campaign by donating $5 today.

This is a rare chance to support a candidate with experience in the peace movement and knowledge of what it takes to get things done in Congress. Norman has been laying the groundwork for an effective people-powered campaign. He needs your early support to show he is a force to be reckoned with in this race. Please contribute today.


Paid for by the Peace Action West Voter Fund.


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Posted by The Agonist on December 11th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Subel Bhandari &Hares Kakar | Kabul | Dec 11

DPA – Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday in part blamed his western allies for spreading corruption in his government, by giving billions of US dollars in contracts to officials and relatives.

‘Our international partners not only had helped us in the law enforcement but they also became the hurdles in recent years,’ Karzai told a press conference in Kabul to mark International Anti-Corruption Day, to an audience including western diplomats.

‘If anyone is friends with a foreigner, he can do whatever he wants in his power. Huge contracts are being given,’ Karzai said.

‘One of the bright and clear ways to tackle is for our international partners not to give contracts to government (officials) and elders (directly),’ he told the gathering at the Amani High School, next to his palace.

Afghanistan ranks as second highest corrupt country in the world, Transparency International said last month, a global corruption watchdog.

Private security companies, mostly owned by foreigners, are also one of the biggest hurdles against anti-corruption measures, he said, not least the development of the interior ministry and police.

‘Immunity is a big problem that exists … Those who are powerful have immunity.

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Posted by alexthurston on December 8th, 2011

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.

This year, 155,754 recruits joined the active-duty U.S. military with the Army leading the way to the tune of more than 64,000 soldiers. Many more Americans, however, went to war.

Virtual war, that is. On a single day last month, to be exact, 3.3 million citizens responded to the call of duty or, more accurately, played Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 — simultaneously, together — via Microsoft Xbox LIVE. Millions more played that combat-packed, first-person shooter video game on the Xbox 360, Sony Playstation 3, or personal computers.

While relatively few young Americans smell cordite on the battlefield, increasing numbers of them experience war through ever more screens: televisions, computers, smart phones, and tablets. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is only the most successful of these digital draft calls, and if you’re wondering what success means, consider that this virtual portal into World War III “shattered theatrical box office, book, and video game sales records for five-day worldwide sell-through in dollars,” according to its producer, Activision Publishing, Inc. That is, over five days it generated $775 million in sales, beating the previous record, set by last year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops (which raked in a mere $650 million), and trouncing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (just $550 million in 2009).

Fighting their way through virtual world capitals — from New York to Paris, London to Berlin — Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 gamers are immersed in a virtual world of war. Then there are those mainlining combat through this year’s other popular first-person shooters like Battlefield 3 (which boasts that it provides “unrivaled destruction”) or forays into fantasy fighting like Resistance 3 (in which a human resistance movement battles alien invaders in the ruins of 1950s America).

With so much virtual war to worry about, who has time to keep up with other conflicts, like America’s real wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, or even the one just now winding down in Iraq? Who among us can spare a moment to ponder the fact that those wars, too, are increasingly being waged by men and women staring at screens, disconnected from the homes they turn into rubble, cars they turn into flaming heaps, and blood they spill thousands of miles from their climate-controlled trailers in the Las Vegas desert? Thankfully, TomDispatch regular Bill Astore has been thinking long and hard about the remote nature of America’s wars, while so many of the rest of us are racking up hours liberating Lower Manhattan from the Russians. (Yep, they’re the new Occupy Wall Street crowd in Call of Duty!) Nick Turse

Fighting 1% Wars
Why Our Wars of Choice May Prove Fatal
By William J. Astore

America’s wars are remote. They’re remote from us geographically, remote from us emotionally (unless you’re serving in the military or have a close relative or friend who serves), and remote from our major media outlets, which have given us no compelling narrative about them, except that they’re being fought by “America’s heroes” against foreign terrorists and evil-doers. They’re even being fought, in significant part, by remote control — by robotic drones “piloted” by ground-based operators from a secret network of bases located hundreds, if not thousands, of miles from the danger of the battlefield.

Their remoteness, which breeds detachment if not complacency at home, is no accident. Indeed, it’s a product of the fact that Afghanistan and Iraq were wars of choice, not wars of necessity. It’s a product of the fact that we’ve chosen to create a “warrior” or “war fighter” caste in this country, which we send with few concerns and fewer qualms to prosecute Washington’s foreign wars of choice.

The results have been predictable, as in predictably bad. The troops suffer. Iraqi and Afghan innocents suffer even more. And yet we don’t suffer, at least not in ways that are easily noticeable, because of that very remoteness. We’ve chosen — or let others do the choosing — to remove ourselves from all the pain and horror of the wars being waged in our name. And that’s a choice we’ve made at our peril, since a state of permanent remote war has weakened our military, drained our treasury, and eroded our rights and freedoms.

Wars of Necessity vs. Wars of Choice

World War II was a war of necessity. In such a war, all Americans had a stake. Adolf Hitler and Nazism had to be defeated; so too did Japanese militarism. Indeed, war goals were that clear, that simple, to state. For that war, we relied uncontroversially on an equitable draft of citizen-soldiers to share the burdens of defense.

Contrast this with our current 1% wars. In them, 99% of Americans have no stake. The 1% who do are largely ID-card-carrying members of what President Dwight D. Eisenhower so memorably called the “military-industrial complex” in 1961. In the half-century since, that web of crony corporations, lobbyists, politicians, and retired military types who have passed through Washington’s revolving door has grown ever more gargantuan and tangled, engorged by untold trillions devoted to a national security and intelligence complex that seemingly dominates Washington. They are the ones who, in turn, have dispatched another 1% — the lone percent of Americans in our All-Volunteer Military — to repetitive tours of duty fighting endless wars abroad.

Unlike previous wars of necessity, the mission behind our wars of choice is nebulous, confusing, and seems in constant flux. Is it a fight against terror (which, as so many have pointed out, is in any case a method, not an enemy)? A fight for oil and other strategic resources? A fight to spread freedom and democracy? A fight to build nations? A fight to show American resolve or make the world safe from al-Qaeda? Who really knows anymore, now that Washington seldom bothers to bring up the “why” question at all, preferring simply to fight on without surcease?

In wars of choice, of course, the mission is whatever our leaders choose it to be, which gives the citizenry (assuming we’re watching closely, which we’re not) no criteria with which to measure success, let alone determine an endpoint.

How do we know these are wars of choice? It’s simple: because we could elect to leave whenever we wanted or whenever the heat got too high, as is currently the case in Iraq (even if we are leaving behind a fortress embassy the size of the Vatican with a private army of 5,000 rent-a-guns to defend it), and as we are likely to do in Afghanistan sometime in the years after the 2012 presidential election. The choice is ours. The people without a choice are of course the Iraqis and Afghans whom we’ll leave to pick up the pieces.

Even our vaunted Global War on Terror is a war of choice. Think about it: Who has control over our own terror: us or our enemies? We can only be terrorized in the first place if we choose to give in to fear.

Think here of the “shoe bomber” in 2001 and the “underwear bomber” in 2009. Why did the criminally inept actions of these two losers garner so much attention (and fear-mongering) in the American media? As the self-confessed greatest and most powerful nation on Earth, shouldn’t we have shared a collective belly laugh at the absurdity and incompetence of those “attacks” and gone about our business?

Instead of laughing, of course, we allowed yet more American treasure to be poured into technology and screening systems that may never even have caught a terrorist. We consented to be surveilled ever more and consulted ever less. We chose to reaffirm our terrors every time we doffed our shoes or submitted supinely to being scoped or groped at our nation’s airports.

Our distant permanent wars, our 1% wars of choice, will remain remote from our emotions and our thinking, requiring few sacrifices except from our troops, who grow ever more remote from our polity. This is especially true of America’s young adults, between 18 and 29 years of age, who are the least likely to have family members in the military, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.

The result? An already emergent warrior-caste might grow ever more estranged from the 99%, creating tensions and encouraging grievances that quite possibly could be manipulated by that other 1%: the powerbrokers, money-makers, and string-pullers, already so eager to call out the police to bully and arrest occupy movements in numerous cities across this once-great land.

Our Military or Their Military?

As we fight wars of choice in distant lands for ever-shifting goals, what if “our troops” simply continue to grow ever more remote from us? What if they become “their” troops? Is this not the true terror we should be mobilizing as a nation to prevent? The terror of separating our military almost totally from our nation — and ourselves.

As Admiral Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, put it recently to Time: “Long term, if the military drifts away from its people in this country, that is a catastrophic outcome we as a country can’t tolerate.”

Behold a horrifying fate: a people that allows its wars of choice to compromise the very core of its self-image as a freedom-loving society, while letting itself be estranged from the young men and women who served in the frontlines of these wars.

Here’s an American fact: the 99% are far too remote from our wars of choice and those who fight them. To reclaim the latter, we must end the former. And that’s a war of necessity that has to be fought — and won.

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and TomDispatch regular. He welcomes reader comments at

Copyright 2011 William J. Astore

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Posted by on December 5th, 2011

From our partners at

By BJ Bjornson

Some recommended reading for everyone from McClatchy on an issue that usually doesn’t get much press coverage when it comes to paying for wars, the costs of treating the veterans after the war has ended.

Some choice quotes:

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may be winding down, but the long-term costs of caring for those wounded in battle is on path to rival the costs of the Vietnam War.

. . .

According to VA and Department of Defense information compiled by the advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense, 2.2 million service members have deployed to one of the wars since Sept. 11, 2001; 942,000 have deployed two or more times.

Of those, 6,300 service members have died, and 46,000 have suffered non-fatal wounds in action. But more than 600,000 veterans have filed for VA disability benefits, and more than 700,000 have been treated in the VA's medical system.

"Right now, VA is getting about 10,000 new Iraq and Afghanistan claims and patients per month," said Paul Sullivan, executive director of the National Organization of Veterans' Advocates, which helps veterans file their disability claims. "The numbers are devastating."

. . .

Veterans today are applying with greater frequency and greater urgency than in years past.

Part of that, Bilmes said, is the nature of these wars. In previous wars, a general seeing a brigade under stress might have pulled it back — putting the soldiers on kitchen duty for a while, she said. Now, those functions are being handled by contractors, eliminating that relief valve.

"The guys who are out in the field are relentlessly out in the field," she said.

Beyond that, far more soldiers in this all-volunteer military have been back for two, three, four or five tours, and the long-term impact on hearing and on traumatic brain injuries caused by improvised explosive devices will be felt for years.

That last point is one that speaks to me, as it has come up many times before, though I hadn’t made the distinction regarding the use of contractors for non-combat work interfering with the means to give troops some down time before this.

The U.S., and the other countries involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, have been fighting these wars with their armies still more or less at peacetime levels, so as to not inconvenience the voting public too much, or make the more direct costs of the war all that visible beyond the relatively small population of those serving and their families. The burdens of these wars are being felt disproportionately on a very small group, and their limited size is concentrating that stress and burden to a degree it never would otherwise.

This is part of the arguments used by those looking for a reinstatement of the draft, a means of sharing the sacrifice far more equally as well as making starting such wars a lot more politically difficult.

The main point, however, is that the U.S. will be feeling the effects of these wars at home, and paying for them, for a long, long time.

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