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Archive for December, 2011

Posted by on December 4th, 2011

From our partners at

By BJ Bjornson

The question mark is deliberate as I have not yet seen any confirmation of this guest post by John Daly at Zero Hedge, but the risk of just such an action has been discussed before here and elsewhere for quite some time.

NATO recently literally shot itself in the foot, imperiling the resupply of International Assistance Forces (ISAF) in Afghanistan by shooting up two Pakistani border posts in a “hot pursuit’ raid.

Given that roughly 100 fuel tanker trucks along with 200 other trucks loaded with NATO supplies cross into Afghanistan each day from Pakistan, Pakistan’s closure of the border has ominous long-term consequences for the logistical resupply of ISAF forces, even as Pentagon officials downplay the issue and scramble for alternative resupply routes.

. . .

The major issue at stake here for ISAF and U.S. forces is fuel, all of which must be brought in from abroad at high cost. In October 2009 Pentagon officials testified before the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee that the "Fully Burdened Cost of Fuel" (FBCF) translates to about $400 per gallon by the time it arrives at a remote Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Afghanistan. Last year, the FBCF reached $800 in some FOBs following supply route bombings in Pakistan, while others have claimed the FBCF may be as high as $1,000 per gallon in some remote locations. For many remote locations, fuel supplies can only be provided by air – one of the most expensive ways being in helicopter fuel bladders.

The majority of U.S. tonnage transported into Afghanistan is fuel – 70 percent, according to Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Alan Haggerty. The Marines' calculate that 39 percent of their tonnage is fuel, and 90 percent is either fuel or water.

Lovely to see how your tax dollars are being spent, isn’t it? Do read the entire post as it provides an excellent summary of the logistical situation the US and ISAF face in Afghanistan, including a description of the main backup route, the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) starting at the Baltic Sea in Latvia and transiting through Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Temporary suspensions have happened before and this could be more of the same with louder rhetoric, but even a temporary disruption in the supply line can cause issues. Part of the reason for setting up the whole NDN network was to try and limit the US and NATO’s reliance on a single supply line which was already dangerous and suffering disruptions due to insurgent attacks, as well as worsening relations with Pakistan. Still, looking at a map will tell you that finding a way to resupply troops in Afghanistan without going through Pakistan is going to be a major headache and require friendly relations with even more nations that the US hasn’t always been on side with.

Think for a minute about how the US and NATO would have handled the Russian war with Georgia had they been even as dependent as they are now on Russia’s good graces to get supplies to their troops in Afghanistan in 2008? Not that they did much anyway, but I’m betting even the rhetoric would have been scaled back a fair bit.

In any case, I think the situation with Pakistan, and therefore with the American and supporting international presence in Afghanistan is getting more tenuous. Read this story covering the situation in Al Jazeera. The facts are no different than what we already know, but the tone of the article reads like the measured response to a great insult and a wounded pride. Such feeling aren’t papered over easily, and they’ve been growing for years thanks to the drone strikes and other US actions in the region.

Personal phone calls from the White House aren’t going to be enough. At some point, things are going to snap if the overall situation doesn’t change soon.

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Posted by The Agonist on December 4th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist


Furious At Latest U.S. Attack, Pakistan Shuts Down Resupply Routes To Afghanistan “Permanently”

NATO recently literally shot itself in the foot, imperiling the resupply of International Assistance Forces (ISAF) in Afghanistan by shooting up two Pakistani border posts in a “hot pursuit’ raid.

Given that roughly 100 fuel tanker trucks along with 200 other trucks loaded with NATO supplies cross into Afghanistan each day from Pakistan, Pakistan’s closure of the border has ominous long-term consequences for the logistical resupply of ISAF forces, even as Pentagon officials downplay the issue and scramble for alternative resupply routes.

(more at the link)

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Posted by Peace Action West on December 3rd, 2011

From our partners at Peace Action West

The Senate spent much of this week debating the 2012 Defense Authorization bill, plowing through a slew of amendments.  The debate had some low points and high points in moving our foreign policy in a more peaceful and productive direction.


By far the most exciting outcome of the week was the Senate’s passage by voice vote of Sen. Jeff Merkley’s amendment requiring a plan for accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan. Sen. Merkley sums up the significance of the vote well:

It was an historic moment. Never before has the U.S. Senate urged the President to speed up the process of bringing our troops home. The last similar amendment, in 2010, garnered only 18 votes. This year in June, 27 Senators signed on to a letter asking the President to draw down troops. The tide is turning.

You all have been persistent and powerful in your pressure on Congress around this issue, and the momentum continues in our direction. Sen. Merkley recognized Peace Action West supporters and others who helped build support for the amendment, and highlighted the importance of your efforts: “Yesterday’s vote shows that a smart, engaged, fierce grassroots effort can make a difference.”

This is an exciting achievement and we thank Sen. Merkley for his leadership. We will continue to build on this victory to increase pressure on the administration to end the war.


Unfortunately, the Senate stuck with its usual penchant for being “tough on Iran” no matter the cost. They unanimously passed an amendment to sanction entities that conduct transactions with Iran’s Central Bank. The Obama administration expressed strong opposition to the sanctions, pointing out the dire consequences, but the Senate plowed through those objections.

As Jamal Abdi of the National Iranian American Council noted:

Sanctions, hostility with the west, outside threats, and isolation are the lifeblood of this regime.  If the Iranian people were able to be a part of the rest of the world, the Iranian government’s repression could not stand the test of time.  Unfortunately, the Senate voted today to further punish the Iranian people, to entrench the regime, to punish the U.S. and its allies, and to pave the pathway to war.

The House has teed up a bill that is even worse, with provisions that effectively outlaw diplomacy. Congress has a long way to go to find a productive way of dealing with concerns about Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.

Indefinite detention

One of the reasons the NDAA took so long to get to the floor was alarm over some dangerous provisions inserted in the Armed Services Committee that require military detention of suspected terrorists and allow for indefinite detention, including of American citizens.

Shamefully, multiple attempts to rein in this horrible policy were defeated. The debate on the provisions was rife with hyperbole and scare tactics (I think Sen. Lindsey Graham was trying to set a record for the number of times the word “Nazis” was used in a Senate debate). Sen. Mark Udall’s amendment to remove the provisions and require hearings and examination of the policy failed 38-60. Sen. Dianne Feinstein offered two more modest amendments, one that stipulated that they applied to people captured abroad, and the second stating that the provisions wouldn’t apply to American citizens. Each was defeated, 45-55.

The Senate ended up with a compromise amendment that leaves things open to interpretation. Adam Serwer at Mother Jones explains:

The reason the compromise amendment worked is that it leaves the question of domestic military detention open, leaving the matter for Supreme Court to resolve should a future president decide to assert the authority to detain a US citizen on American soil. Senators who defended the detention provisions can continue to say that current law allows Americans to be detained based on the 2004 Hamdi v Rumsfeld case in which an American captured fighting in Afghanistan was held in military detention. Opponents can continue to point out that the Hamdi case doesn’t resolve whether or not Americans can be detained indefinitely without charge if captured in their own country, far from any declared battlefield. They have the better of the argument.

The compromise amendment however, does nothing to address the Obama administration’s concerns about the bill. The Directors of the FBI and CIA, the secretary of defense, and the director of national intelligence have all said that the bill’s provision mandating military detention of non-citizen terror suspects apprehended on American soil would interfere with terrorism investigations and harm national security. That hasn’t changed. The question is whether or not the administration is willing to make good on its threat to veto the bill, or whether it was just bluffing.



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Posted by The Agonist on December 2nd, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Julian Borger | UK | December 2

Guardian – Nato commanders are planning a substantial offensive in eastern Afghanistan aimed at insurgent groups based in Pakistan, involving an escalation of aerial attacks on insurgent sanctuaries, and have not ruled out cross-border raids with ground troops.

The aim of the offensive over the next two years is to reduce the threat represented by Pakistan-based groups loyal to insurgent leaders like the Haqqani clan, Mullah Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur. Nato hopes to reduce the level of attacks in the eastern provinces clustered around Kabul to the point where they could be contained by Afghan security forces after transition in 2014.

The move is likely to add to the already tense atmosphere following the recent border post attack by Nato helicopters that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. On Thursday, Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, ordered his troops to return fire if they came under attack again by its ally.

While drawing down forces in Helmand and Kandahar, the US will step up its presence in eastern provinces bordering Pakistan, bringing the long-festering issue of insurgent sanctuaries in the Pakistani tribal areas to a head. The message being given to the Pakistani military is that if it cannot or will not eliminate the havens, US forces will attempt the job themselves.

Western officials had been encouraged by the fact that a blitz of drone strikes against commanders loyal to insurgent leaders Jalaluddin and his son Sirajuddin in Miran Shah, the capital of North Waziristan, and against forces loyal to Mullah Nazir in South Waziristan, had produced few civilian casualties and no reaction from the Pakistanis. Consequently, an increase in cross-border raids by special forces – and even the withdrawal of the Pakistani army to create a free-fire zone – have not been excluded.

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on December 1st, 2011

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

On Wednesday night, the Senate adopted by voice vote an amendment introduced by Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley calling on President Obama to speed up U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan. This was a watershed event towards ending the war. The previous high water mark of Senators calling for expedited withdrawal was 27; the previous high water mark on a vote was 18. The vote is a green light from the Senate to the White House for a faster military withdrawal that would save many American and Afghan lives and (at least) many tens of billions of taxpayer dollars.

Because it was a voice vote, there was no roll call. But, if you want to know who especially to thank, 21 Senators sponsored Merkley’s amendment:

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR); Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT); Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM); Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY); Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH); Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT); Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK); Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM); Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA); Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD); Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND); Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL); Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY); Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA); Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT); Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV); Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) ; Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV); Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT); Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY); Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

The Senate vote – which saw John McCain standing alone in vocal opposition – is more evidence that on key issues of war and military spending, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, John McCain, Lindsay Graham and Buck McKeon haven’t been speaking for Republicans generally.

read more

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Posted by alexthurston on December 1st, 2011

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.

He was 22, a corporal in the Marines from Preston, Iowa, a “city” incorporated in 1890 with a present population of 949. He died in a hospital in Germany of “wounds received from an explosive device while on patrol in Helmand province [Afghanistan].” Of him, his high school principal said, “He was a good kid.” He is survived by his parents.

He was 20, a private in the 10th Mountain Division from Boyne City, population 3,735 souls, which bills itself as “the fastest growing city in Northern Michigan.” He died of “wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with small-arms fire” and is survived by his parents.

These were the last two of the 10 Americans whose deaths in Afghanistan were announced by the Pentagon Thanksgiving week. The other eight came from Apache Junction, Arizona; Fayetteville, North Carolina; Greensboro, North Carolina; Navarre, Florida; Witchita, Kansas; San Jose, California; Moline, Illinois; and Danville, California. Six of them died from improvised explosive devices (roadside bombs), assumedly without ever seeing the Afghan enemies who killed them. One died of “indirect fire” and another “while conducting combat operations.” On such things, Defense Department press releases are relatively tight-lipped, as was the Army, for instance, when it released news that same week of 17 “potential suicides” among active-duty soldiers in October.

These days, the names of the dead dribble directly onto the inside pages of newspapers, or simply into the ether, in a war now opposed by 63% of Americans, according to the latest CNN/ORC opinion poll, but in truth barely remembered by anyone in this country. It’s a reality made easier by the fact that the dead of America’s All-Volunteer Army tend to come from forgettable places — small towns, obscure suburbs, third or fourth-rank cities — and a military that ever fewer Americans have any connection with.

Aside from those who love them, who pays much attention anymore to the deaths of American troops in distant lands? These deaths are, after all, largely dwarfed by local fatality counts like the 16 Americans who died in accidents on Ohio’s highways over the long Thanksgiving weekend of 2010 or the 32,788 Americans who died in road fatalities that same year?

So who, that same week, was going to pay the slightest attention to the fate of 50 year-old Mohammad Rahim, a farmer from Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan? Four of his children — two sons and two daughters, all between four and 12 years old — were killed in a “NATO” (undoubtedly American) airstrike, while working in their fields. In addition, an eight-year-old daughter of his was “badly wounded.” Whether Rahim himself was killed is unclear from the modest reports we have of the “incident.”

In all, seven civilians and possibly two fleeing insurgents died. Rahim’s uncle Abdul Samad, however, is quoted as saying, “There were no Taliban in the field; this is a baseless allegation that the Taliban were planting mines. I have been to the scene and haven’t found a single bit of evidence of bombs or any other weapons. The Americans did a serious crime against innocent children, they will never be forgiven.”

As in all such cases, NATO has opened an “investigation” into what happened. The results of such investigations seldom become known.

Similarly, on Thanksgiving weekend, 24 to 28 Pakistani soldiers, including two officers, were killed in a set of “NATO” helicopter and fighter-jet attacks on two outposts across the Afghan border in Pakistan. One post, according to Pakistani sources, was attacked twice. More soldiers were wounded. Outraged Pakistani officials promptly denounced the attack, closed key border crossings to U.S. vehicles supplying the war in Afghanistan, and demanded that the U.S. leave a key airbase used for the CIA’s drone war in the Pakistani tribal areas. In response, American officials, military and civilian, offered condolences and yet pleaded “self-defense,” while offering promises of a thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding the “friendly fire incident.”

Amid these relatively modest death counts, don’t forget one staggering figure that came to light that same Thanksgiving week: the estimate that, in Iraq, 900,000 wives have lost their husbands since the U.S. invasion in March 2003. Not surprisingly, many of these widows are in a state of desperation and reportedly getting next to no help from either the Iraqi or the American governments. Though their 900,000 husbands undoubtedly died in various ways, warlike, civil-war-like, and peaceable, the figure does offer a crude indicator of the levels of carnage the U.S. invasion loosed on that country over the last eight and a half years.

Creative Destruction in the Greater Middle East

Think of all this as just a partial one-week’s scorecard of American-style war. While you’re at it, remember Washington’s high hopes only a decade ago for what America’s “lite,” “shock and awe” military would do, for the way it would singlehandedly crush enemies, reorganize the Middle East, create a new order on Earth, set the oil flowing, privatize and rebuild whole nations, and usher in a global peace, especially in the Greater Middle East, on terms pleasing to the planet’s sole superpower.

That such sky-high “hopes” were then the coin of the realm in Washington is a measure of the way delusional thinking passed for the strategic variety and a reminder of how, for a time, pundits of every sort dealt with those hopes as if they represented reality itself. And yet, it should have come as no shock that a military-first “foreign policy” and a military force with staggering technological powers at its command would prove incapable of building anything. No one should have been surprised that such a force was good only for what it was built for: death and destruction.

A case might be made that the U.S. military’s version of “creative destruction,” driven directly into the oil heartlands of the planet, did prepare the way, however inadvertently, for the Arab Spring to come, in part by unifying the region in misery and visceral dislike. In the meantime, the “mistakes,” the “incidents,” the “collateral damage,” the slaughtered wedding parties and bombed funerals, the “mishaps,” and “miscommunications” continued to pile up — as did dead Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis, and Americans, so many from places you’ve never heard of if you weren’t born there.

None of this should have surprised anyone. Perhaps at least marginally more surprising was the inability of the U.S. military to wield its destructive power to win anything whatsoever. Since the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, there have been so many proclamations of “success,” of “mission accomplished,” of corners turned and tipping points reached, of “progress” made, and so very, very little to show.

Amid the destruction, destabilization, and disaster, the high hopes quietly evaporated. Now, of course, “shock and awe” is long gone. Those triumphant “surges” are history. Counterinsurgency, or COIN — for a while the hottest thing around — has been swept back into the dustbin of history from which General (now CIA Director) David Petraeus rescued it not so many years ago.

After a decade in Afghanistan in which the U.S. military has battled a minority insurgency, perhaps as unpopular as any “popular” movement could be, the war there is now almost universally considered “unwinnable” or a “stalemate.” Of course, what a stalemate means when the planet’s most powerful military takes on a bunch of backcountry guerrillas, some armed with weapons that deserve to be in museums, is at best an open question.

Meanwhile, after almost nine years of war and occupation, the U.S. military is shutting down its multi-billion-dollar mega-bases in Iraq and withdrawing its troops. Though it leaves behind a monster State Department mission guarded by a 5,000-man army of mercenaries, a militarized budget of $6.5 billion for 2012, and more than 700 mostly hire-a-gun trainers, Iraq is visibly a loss for Washington. In Pakistan, the American drone war combined with the latest “incident” on the Pakistani border, evidently involving U.S. special forces operatives, has further destabilized that country and the U.S. alliance there. A major Pakistani presidential candidate is already calling for the end of that alliance, while anti-Americanism grows by leaps and bounds.

None of this should startle either. After all, what exactly could an obdurately military-first foreign policy bring with it but the whirlwind (and not just to foreign lands either)? As the Occupy Wall Street protests and their repression remind us, American police forces, too, were heavily militarized. Meanwhile, our wars and national security spending have drained the U.S. of trillions of dollars in national treasure, leaving behind a country in political gridlock, its economy in something close to a shock-and-awe state, its infrastructure crumbling, and vast majorities of its angry citizens convinced that their land is not only “on the wrong track,” but “in decline.”

Into the Whirlwind

A decade later, perhaps the only thing that should truly cause surprise is how little has been learned in Washington. The military-first policy of choice that rang in the century — there were, of course, other options available — has become the only option left in Washington’s impoverished arsenal. After all, the country’s economic power is in tatters (which is why the Europeans are looking to China for help in the Euro crisis), its “soft power” has gone down the tubes, and its diplomatic corps has either been militarized or was long ago relegated to the back of the bus of state.

What couldn’t be stranger, though, is that from the whirlwind of policy disaster, the Obama administration has drawn the least likely conclusion: that more of what has so visibly failed us is in order — from Pakistan to Uganda, Afghanistan to Somalia, the Persian Gulf to China. Yes, COIN is out and drones as well as special operations forces are in, but the essential policy remains the same.

The evidence of the last decade clearly indicates that nothing of significance is likely to be built from the rubble of such a global policy — most obviously in relations with China, America’s greatest creditor. However, there, too, as President Obama signaled (however feebly) with his recent announcement of a symbolic permanent deployment of U.S. Marines to Darwin, Australia, the military path remains the path of least resistance. As Michael Klare put it recently in the Nation magazine, “It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the White House has decided to counter China’s spectacular economic growth with a military riposte.”

As Barry Lando, former 60 Minutes producer, points out, China, not the U.S., is already “one of the largest oil beneficiaries of the Iraq War.” In fact, our military build-up throughout the Persian Gulf region is, in essence, guarding Chinese commerce. “Just as American troops and bases have spread along the Gulf,” Lando writes, “so have China’s businessmen, eager to exploit the vital resources that the U.S. military is thoughtfully protecting… A strange symbiosis: American bases and Chinese markets.”

In other words, the single most monstrous mistake of the Bush years — the confusion of military with economic power — has been set in stone. Washington continues to lead with its drones and ask questions or offer condolences or launch investigations later. This is, of course, a path guaranteed to bring destruction and blowback in its wake. None of it is likely to benefit us in the long run, least of all in relation to China.

When history, that most unpredictable of subjects, becomes predictable, watch out.

In what should be a think-outside-the-box moment, the sole lesson Washington seems capable of absorbing is that its failed policy is the only possible policy. Among other things, this means more “incidents,” more “mistakes,” more “accidents,” more dead, more embittered people vowing vengeance, more investigations, more pleas of self-defense, more condolences, more money draining out of the U.S. treasury, and more destabilization.

As it has been since September 12, 2001, Washington remains engaged in a fierce and costly losing battle with ghosts in which, unfortunately, perfectly real people die, and perfectly real women are widowed.

He was 22 years old…

She was 12…

Those are lines you will read again and again in our no-learning-curve world and no condolences will be enough.

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 His latest book, The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), has just been published.

Copyright 2011 Tom Engelhardt

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Posted by Peace Action West on December 1st, 2011

From our partners at Peace Action West

Earlier today, the US Senate passed Sen. Jeff Merkley’s amendment requiring a plan for an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan by a voice vote. No matter how loudly Sen. John McCain shouted “NO!” on the Senate floor, he couldn’t out-yell the growing opposition to the costly and unnecessary war in Afghanistan.

Thank you to all of you who called and emailed your senators urging them to support the amendment. Our power is growing, and we will continue to build on this opportunity to keep pushing to bring our troops and tax dollars home.

Update: Read Sen. Merkley’s press release here.

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