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Archive for March, 2012

Posted by The Agonist on March 12th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

As of today, the Obama administration and it’s NATO allies are clear that, despite tons of speculation in Western media, this weekend’s atrocity in Afghanistan will not affect long-standing plans for a drawdown of troops to finish in 2014 with an expected 15-20,000 US soldiers staying in Afghanistan on five or six large permamnet bases for the forseeable future. It’s a plan to paper over the cracks and head for the exits that was set in stone at the London Summit in 2010 and nothing has or will be allowed to derail it – not even the domestic political (not military) necessity of a Surge(TM) or the paper peeling of those cracks in the walls wholesale.

The only way this plan won’t come to pass is if Karzai “does a Maliki” and decides he has more long-term chance of keeping his power and his head if he chucks the occupiers out and cuts some local deals than if he invites them to prop his government up for a decade. He’s recently inked a deal to take back control on paper of Bagram and other US-run prisons – although the US keeps a veto on releases. The final stumbling blocks are continued US night raids and the US’s insistence on local immunity for its servicemen. That last was what finally proved a deal-breaker for Iraq’s Maliki. This massacre in Kandahar will point up the worst of Afghan worries about both those sticking points in ways that Karzai may find it politically impossible to sidestep this time.

I say “this time” because it’s not as if Afghanistan has a shortage of atrocities committed by the occupiers to point at, most not even with a viable excuse of “a lone brain-damaged gunman”. And even so, public condemnation by the Karzai government hasn’t led to anything concrete in the way of denying abject co-operation with the US and its allies. If the murder of pregnant women and attempted cover-up by special forces in Gardez in 2010 wasn’t sufficient, if the killings of a dozen civilians by a convoy of trigger-happy Marines in Jalalabad in 2007 couldn’t give Karzai the cojones to stand up and say “non serviam“, then it may well be that the current spate of incidents culminating in the Kandahar murders will turn out to be ignorable in the longer term too.

The story of the Kandahar killer as it is shaping up lends itself well to a push to ignore it as an isolated incident too. We’re told he was a veteran of multiple tours in Iraq, with minor brain trauma and probably PTSD as well as troubles in his family life but was found fit for duty anyway in a manpower-strapped Army. It’s probable that he just snapped, that he flipped over into psychopathy, and that he therefore shouldn’t be seen as emblemmatic of the US military or US policy in Afghanistan. It’s a valid argument until you realize that about a third of the entire US Army and Marine Corps would fit the description of a multi-tour, PTSD suffering veteran with domestic troubles who really should be on rest instead of toting a gun in hostile territory. McChrystal’s vaunted Surge of 2010 was agreed to despite warnings that it would usher in a tipping point for the troops’ mental health. Moreover, there are questions remaining about the “lone-ness” of the gunman. Allowing a single soldier to walk off a secure base in hostile country at 3am carrying a weapon and night-vision goggles is certainly not standard operating procedure and suggests either complicity or incompetence from those in charge. It’s only when we don’t mention these problems that the narrative of a deniable mad killer hangs together.

The next move is Karzai’s, really. he’ll be under increased domestic pressure now not to sign a permanent status of forces agreement with the US and under foreign pressure to do exactly that.

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on March 12th, 2012

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

Yesterday we talked about how Congressmembers on the take from the armaments industry and from defense contractors– particularly Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) and Sen. John McKeon (R-AZ)– are advocating for extending the already catastrophic and pointless occupation of Afghanistan… and for expanding it into Iran and Syria. Absolutely insane! These are dangerous sociopaths and voters in their constituencies should take the responsibility for removing them. We also mentioned the senators who had signed a letter to President Obama calling on him to accelerate the withdrawal from that country. Unmentioned at the time was another southern California Republican congressman who sees things very differently than his neighbor, bribe-besotted Buck McKeon. Dana Rohrabacher may be a right-wing extremist, but he at least has had some real life experience in Afghanistan– he actually did pal around with the terrorists at one point!

Rep. Rohrabacher dressed up as a Talib on the extreme right

Nonetheless, as Karzai and his cronies scurry all over southern Europe building villas from the money they skimmed off the U.S. aide bonanza and from the drug trade, Rohrabacher us demanding we at least look into the warlord and druglord culture our tax dollars are bolstering in this forlorn country. Yesterday another tragedy took place, in the Pashtun heartland, sure to further inflame Afghans against the American occupiers and the government who many Afs now see as collaborators.

Western forces shot dead 16 civilians including nine children in southern Kandahar province on Sunday, Afghan officials said, in a rampage that witnesses said was carried out by American soldiers who were laughing and appeared drunk.

One Afghan father who said his children were killed in the shooting spree accused soldiers of later burning the bodies.

Witnesses told Reuters they saw a group of U.S. soldiers arrive at their village in Kandahar’s Panjwayi district at around 2 am, enter homes and open fire.

Rohrabacher’s demands, though, aren’t directly related to this particular event. Last week, he called for an official GAO investigation into Karzai “misappropriating foreign aid funding to benefit himself and his family.”

The request for an investigation coincides with consideration in Congress of President Barack Obama’s 2013 budget proposal that includes $2.5 billion for Afghanistan.

Rohrabacher’s March 7 letter to the comptroller general of the Government Accountability Office asked for a report to Congress on US foreign aid funds that “have been stolen, diverted or otherwise inappropriately gone to, or benefited Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his family.”

Rohrabacher is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on oversight and investigations.

“American taxpayer money must cease being diverted and abused by the leader of a country whose people America has tried so valiantly to help,” Rohrabacher’s letter said. “A report that thoroughly quantifies how much US foreign aid has gone to the Karzai family is urgently needed.”

He cited media reports and Wikileaks cables as sources for his allegations.

The New York Times reported March 7 that Karzai’s brother, Mahmoud Karzai, received interest-free loans to buy a stake in the Kabul Bank, where the allegations of financial corruption are centered.

They involve suspicions that bank and government officials skimmed foreign aid money intended to support US and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

The bank came close to insolvency but was bailed out by the Afghan government with funds partially subsidised by Western nations.

“It is time to know for sure, on the record, exactly how dishonest the government in Kabul has become and how much money we are wasting there,” Rohrabacher wrote.

Yesterday’s tragedy overshadows all the smaller tragedies that keep happening throughout Afghanistan and are inevitable when one country is occupied by another. Like the one from Friday the Times article glosses over:

In a separate incident, four Afghans were killed and three wounded on Friday when coalition helicopters apparently hunting Taliban insurgents fired instead on villagers in Kapisa province in eastern Afghanistan, according to Abdul Hakim Akhondzada, governor of Tagab district in Kapisa.

Yeah, time to come home… past time to come home. And most Americans agree

A majority of Americans– 55 percent– believe that most Afghans are opposed to what the United States is trying to accomplish in that country, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. About as many Americans– 54 percent– want the U.S. military to withdraw even before it can train the Afghan army to be self-sufficient, a pillar of President Obama’s war strategy.

While most Democrats and independents soured on the war a long time ago, the poll found that Republicans, for the first time, are evenly split on whether the ­decade-long war is worth fighting.

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on March 12th, 2012

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

As chairman of the House Armed Services Committee– and one of the country’s chief proponents, and best paid shills, for the armaments industry and for every kind of defense contractor willing to write a political PAC check– Buck McKeon seems determined to keep the American occupation of Afghanistan going for as long as he has a political breath left in his shriveled old body. His new Pentagon budget has provisos written by war industry lobbyists to extend the occupation into the foreseeable future. Yesterday we saw that McKeon now is not just facing the strongest Democratic challenger of his career in Lee Rogers, but also two well-known Republican primary opponents who, like many Republicans, are fed up with his outrageous corruption, warmongering and incompetence. And there’s a strong bipartisan coalition building in the Senate to derail McKeon’s scheme of extending the disastrous occupation of Afghanistan.

Last week 24 senators from both parties signed a letter to Obama that flew right in the face of McKeon’s plans. They’re asking for an accelerated troop withdrawal. It may have started as the brainchild of progressive Oregon senator Jeff Merkley but it was soon embraced by one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate, Max Baucus (D-MT) and then by two extreme right-wing Republicans, teabaggers Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT). On the Democratic side, accelerated withdrawal, has support from conservatives like Joe Manchin (WV) and liberals like Sheldon Whitehouse. So far this is the full list. Is your senator on it?

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD)
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN)
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA)
Sen. Herbert Kohl (D-WI)
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV)
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY)
Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)

This is a copy of the letter they sent to President Obama:

We write to express our support of a transition of U.S. forces in Afghanistan from a combat role to a training, advising and assistance role next year, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stated was his intention on February 1st, 2012. Although we would prefer a more rapid reduction of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the statement made by the Secretary is a positive step towards ending the decade long war.

It is time to bring our troops home from Afghanistan. The United States intervened in Afghanistan to destroy al Qaeda’s safe haven, remove the Taliban government that sheltered al Qaeda, and pursue those who planned the September 11th attacks on the United States. Thanks to the exceptional service and sacrifice made by the American Armed Forces and our allies, those objectives have largely been met. We should continue to confront America’s enemies wherever they are through targeted counterterrorism operations and end the large scale counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan.

We simply cannot afford more years of elevated troop levels in Afghanistan. We are spending roughly $10 billion in Afghanistan each month at a time when we’re making tough sacrifices at home. Your recent budget calls for $88 billion more for the war in Afghanistan in 2013. If this money is appropriated, we will have spent a total of $650 billion in Afghanistan. A majority of Americans worry that the costs of the war in Afghanistan will make it more difficult for the government to address the problems facing the United States at home. They’re right.

Our troops and their families have made unimaginable sacrifices during the past ten years of war in Afghanistan. Over 1,900 American troops have been killed and over 14,300 have been wounded. Thousands more return home with invisible wounds that will make it difficult to ever again enjoy life the way they did before the war.

There is strong bipartisan support in Congress to change course in Afghanistan. The majority of Americans want a safe and orderly drawdown of forces in Afghanistan. In May, the U.S. House of Representatives nearly passed an amendment to the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act requiring a plan to accelerate the drawdown of troops from Afghanistan. A similar amendment introduced by Senators Merkley, Lee, T. Udall, and Paul was passed by the U. S. Senate on November 30th.

We look forward to reviewing the report required by Section 1221 of the FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which will set benchmarks to evaluate progress toward the assumption by the Afghan government of lead responsibility for security in all areas of Afghanistan. In light of the comments made by Secretary Panetta on February 1st, we would also be interested in learning more about how quickly U.S. troops will be coming home, the number and purpose of troops that might remain in Afghanistan and for how long a period, and the costs and savings of accelerating the completion of combat operations. Nonetheless, we welcome his announcement and encourage you to take every possible step to end the large scale combat operations in Afghanistan and transition our effort to a targeted counterterrorism strategy.

Of the 10 biggest recipients of war industry bribes, only one, Maryland’s Barbara Mikulski, widely thought to be in her last term, signed the letter. The 10 biggest career-long bribe takers from the armaments makers, all of whom support their pro-war agenda:

Richard Shelby (R-AL)- $1,368,716
John McCain (R-AZ)- $1,214,034
Daniel Inouye (D-HI)- $756,700
Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)- $702,910
John Kerry (D-MA)- $665,239
Jeff Sessions (R-AL)- $662,077
Joe Lieberman (I-CT)- $648,984
Bill Nelson (D-FL)- $602,487
Miss McConnell (R-KY)- $517,899
Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)- $504,406

As we saw today, the occupation is absolutely toxic for everyone involved– our own young men and women and, of course for the people of Afghanistan. An American service member “walked out of a military base in a rural district of southern Afghanistan on Sunday and opened fire on three nearby houses, killing at least 16 civilians, including several children, local villagers and provincial officials said.”

The shooting risks further inciting anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan and troubling a relationship that had already been brought to a new low by the burning of Korans at an American military base last month. The American Embassy in Afghanistan quickly issued a statement on Sunday urging calm.

Too bad we can’t send McCain and McKeon over there to explain to those families why it’s important for U.S. troops to be occupying their homeland. McCain has already stepped up as leader of the opposition to any end to the occupation of Afghanistan. He is also now openly advocating wars against Syria and Iran. And, just by way of comparison, McKeon, who has been a veritable bribe vacuum since assuming the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, has taken in $1,148,150 from the war industries– and that doesn’t count the immense– and probably illegal– bribes being funneled into his household through his wife’s absurd campaign for the California Assembly, almost entirely financed by defense contractors eager to buy leverage with ole Buck.

[D]efense lobbyists are scrambling to mitigate looming defense budget cuts and appear to be donating to Patricia McKeon because of her husband’s powerful position overseeing  the Pentagon budget.

In her first few months of fundraising, Patricia McKeon collected at least $19,200 from defense contractors or their registered lobbyists. Her husband of 49 years is already the top recipient of military industry cash in Congress, so some of the contributions to his wife appear to be an attempt to get around federal campaign contribution limits.

Lockheed Martin, a company locked in a pitched battle to stave off cuts to the lucrative F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet, cut Patricia McKeon’s campaign a $3,000 check.

Rep. Buck McKeon has rigorously defended the jets, despite growing concerns that the planes will run almost $90 million over budget each.

The lobbying firm Beau Butler LLC gave to Patricia McKeon as well. Beau Butler lobbies for Proxy Aviations, a drone company. Although it’s not clear why a drone maker would rally to Patricia McKeon’s call to end plastic bag taxes, the industry is an important cause for Buck McKeon. He’s co-chairman of a caucus dedicated to promoting drones for both military and civilian purposes.

Is it fair to called the legalistic money that Members of Congress get from the industries they’re charged with regulating “bribes?” Absolutely! But don’t just take my word for it. No one alive knows more about bribing Members of Congress than admitted briber Jack Abramoff. And in his book on the subject, Capitol Punishment, he is absolutely clear:

[C]ontributions from parties with an interest in legislation are really nothing but bribes. Sure, it’s legal for the most part. Sure, everyone in Washington does it. Sure it’s the way the system works. It’s one of Washington’s dirty little secrets– but it’s bribery just the same…

And NOT everyone does it, even if everyone in the primarily GOP circles Abramoff traveled in does. But McKeon doing it with the armaments industry is even more serious than most, because he’s jeopardizing national security and the lives of countless young men and women serving, what they think, are the best interests of the country– but are really just the best interests of the corporations bribing him. That’s not just bribery; it’s treason.

Tuesday at 11 AM Blue America will have a live blogging session at Crooks and Liars with Dr. Lee Rogers, the progressive Democrat poised to end McKeon’s disgraceful career. This morning Lee addressed McKeon’s shilling for the armaments industry head on:

McKeon has shown that his constituency is not the people of the 25th district of California, but the war industries. When given the opportunity to help his district, by preventing an unpopular mine or by helping the father of a Army medic killed in Afghanistan, he fails. But at every instance he stands up for the war industries. Before McKeon was chair of the House Armed Services Committee, he voted in agreement with defense industries 25%. In 2011, he became chair and subsequently voted 100% in agreement with them. He was richly rewarded with an increase of contributions by 450%, now taking in hundreds of thousands of dollars from defense industries. These contributions support his lifestyle. He has paid his wife over $550,000 to be his campaign treasurer in addition to paying other family members for services. It’s time to elect someone whose campaign and personal wealth isn’t tied to putting our troops into harms way.

Let me encourage you to help Blue America replace Buck McKeon with Lee Rogers– for the good of the whole country. You can do it here at our ActBlue page.

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Posted by The Agonist on March 11th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Terrible, horrific news from the NY Times and others this morning.

A United States service member walked out of a military base in a rural district of southern Afghanistan on Sunday and opened fire on three nearby houses, killing at least 16 civilians, including several children, local villagers and provincial officials said.

…In the statement, the United States military raced to head off Afghan outrage. “This is a deeply regrettable incident and we extend our thoughts and concerns to the families involved,” the statement said.

It went on to say that American forces, in cooperation with the Afghan authorities, would investigate the incident.

The killer walked back to his base and turned himself in. He is now in US custody, while both Afghan and Coalition officials are warning of another round of violent Afghan outrage at the continued abuse of their nation. Given the way in which casual killing of and pissing on the dead bodies of Afghans has been lightly treated by US military courts in the past, I won’t hold my breath that this murderer will be treated any differently. The US and its allies have become like a husband who says its all for her own good, while poor wife Afghanistan has all the bruises.

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on March 8th, 2012

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

How primitive the Afghans are! A New York Times account of faltering negotiations over a possible “strategic partnership” agreement to leave U.S. troops on bases in that country for years to come highlights just how far the Afghans have to go to become, like their U.S. mentor, a mature democracy. Take the dispute over prisons. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been insisting that the U.S. turn over its prison facility at Bagram Air Base to his government. (The recently burned Korans came from that prison’s library.) The Obama administration initially refused and now has suggested a six-month timetable for such a turnover, an option Karzai has, in turn, rejected. No one, by the way, seems yet to be negotiating about a second $36-million prison at Bagram that, TomDispatch recently reported, the U.S. is now in the process of building.

The Times’ Alissa Rubin suggests, however, that a major stumbling block remains to any such turnover. She writes: “The challenges to a transfer are enormous, presenting serious security risks both for the Afghan government and American troops. Many of the estimated 3,200 people being detained [in Bagram’s prison] cannot be tried under Afghan law because the evidence does not meet the legal standards required to be admitted in Afghan courts. Therefore, those people, including some suspected insurgents believed likely to return to the fight if released, would probably have to be released because Afghanistan has no law that allows for indefinite detention for national security reasons.”

Honestly, what kind of a backward country doesn’t have a provision for the indefinite detention, on suspicion alone, of prisoners without charges or hope of trial? As a mature democracy, we now stand proudly for global indefinite detention, not to speak of the democratic right to send robot assassins to take out those suspected of evil deeds anywhere on Earth. As in any mature democracy, the White House has now taken on many of the traits of a legal system — filling, that is, the roles of prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner.

Six months to learn all that (and how to burn Korans, too)? I don’t think so. Or how about a really mature plan that, according to an Associated Press report, top Pentagon officials are now mulling over: to put whatever U.S. elite special operations forces remain in Afghanistan after 2014 under CIA control. The reason? Once they are so lodged, even though their missions wouldn’t change, they would officially become “spies” and whoever’s running Washington then will be able to swear, with complete candor, that no U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan. Even better, the CIA is conveniently run by former Afghan War commander David Petraeus and the U.S. public would no longer have to be informed about “funding or operations” for those non-troops. Now, that’s how a mature democracy makes the trains run on time!

Had enough? Then try finding your inner khan with the indefatigable Ann Jones, TomDispatch regular and author of War Is Not Over When It’s Over, who knows more about Afghanistan than any of us. Tom

Green on Blue
Dead Americans, Dead Goats, and Half a Million Gunmen on the Loose
By Ann Jones

Recent weeks have brought yet another sad chance to watch badly laid plans in Afghanistan go haywire. In three separate incidents, allies, most from the Afghan National Army (ANA), allegedly murdered six Americans — two of them officers in the high-security sanctum of Kabul’s Interior Ministry. Marine General John R. Allen, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, even briefly withdrew NATO advisors and trainers from all government ministries for their own protection.

Until that moment, the Afghan National Army was the crown jewel of the Obama administration’s strategy for drawing down forces in Afghanistan (without really leaving). Trained in their hundreds of thousands over the past 11 years by a horde of dodgy private security contractors, as well as U.S. and NATO troops, the Afghan National Army is supposed to replace coalition forces any day now and defend its own country.

This policy has been the apex of Washington’s Plan A for some time now. There is no Plan B.

But what to make of the murders in the Ministry? An AP article headlined “Acts of Afghan Betrayal Are Poisoning U.S. War Plan” detected “a trend of Afghan treachery.” This “poisoning” is, however, nothing new. Military lingo has already long defined assaults on American and NATO soldiers by members of the Afghan National Security Force (a combination of the ANA and the Afghan National Police) as “green on blue incidents.” Since the military started recording them in May 2007, 76 NATO soldiers have been killed and an undisclosed number wounded in 46 recorded “deliberate attacks.”

These figures suggest more than a recent “trend of Afghan treachery” (though Afghans are increasingly blamed for everything that goes wrong in their country). Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who perversely called the latest green on blue incidents signs of Taliban “weakness,” told the press: “I’ve made clear and I will continue to make clear that, regardless of what the enemy tries to do to us, we are not going to alter our strategy in Afghanistan.”

This is, of course, the definition of paralysis in Afghanistan, so much easier in the short term than reexamining Plan A. In other words, as the American exercise in Afghanistan rolls ever closer to the full belly-up position, Plan A remains rigidly in place, and signals that, from Secretary Panetta and General Allen on down, Americans still don’t seem to get what’s going on.

Beware an Afghan Army

Many people who know Afghanistan well, however, have warned from the beginning against this plan to train up an armed force. I’m among the naysayers, and I’ll tell you why.

First, consider what the plan proposes. The number of Afghan soldiers and police to be trained varies widely from one report to the next, but the last estimate I received directly from the Kabul Military Training Center called for 240,000 soldiers and 160,000 police (who, incidentally, are also called “soldiers” and trained in a similar manner). That brings the total proposed Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) to approximately four times the number of current coalition troops in the country.

It costs the U.S. $12 billion annually to train the army alone and the estimated cost of maintaining it beyond 2014 is $4 billion per year, of which the Afghan government says it can pay no more than 12%. Clearly, Afghanistan does not need and cannot sustain such a security force. Instead, the United States will be stuck with the bill, hoping for help from NATO allies — until the force falls apart. How then did this security force become the centerpiece of the Obama plan? And given its obvious absurdity, why is it written in stone?

Second, take just a moment to do something Washington has long been adverse to — review a little basic Afghan history as it applies to Plan A. Start with the simplest of all facts: in the country’s modern history, no Afghan national army has ever saved a government, or even tried. More often, such an army has either sat on its hands during a coup d’état or actually helped to overthrow the incumbent ruler.

Go back nearly a century to the reign of King Amanullah (1919-1929), a modernizing ruler who wrote a constitution, established a national assembly, founded girls’ schools, taxed polygamous husbands, and banned conservative mullahs from the country because they might be “bad and evil persons” spreading treacherous foreign propaganda. In 1928, he returned to Afghanistan with his Queen Suraya, who wore European dresses and no veil, from a round of visits to European rulers, bringing guns for his army (though his soldiers would be billed for them) and announced a new agenda of revolutionary reforms. He got a revolution instead, and here’s the important point: his newly weaponized army lifted not a finger to save him.

Amanullah’s successor, an ex-bandit known as Bacha-i Saqqa, lasted only eight months in office before his successor, Nadir Shah, had him hanged, again without intervention from the Afghan army. Nadir Shah in turn reigned from 1929 to 1933, and although he, like Barack Obama, tried to build up the national army, that force of 40,000 men couldn’t help him when he was assassinated by a schoolboy at a high school graduation ceremony.

From 1933 to 1973, Nadir Shah’s son, Zahir Shah, presided over gradual social progress. He introduced a new constitution, free elections, a parliament, civil rights, women’s rights, and universal suffrage. During his long peaceful reign, his professional spit-and-polish army served him very well on ceremonial occasions. (This is the same popular king who, after the Taliban fell, offered to return and reunite the country; Bush turned him down.)

In 1973, when Zahir Shah went to Italy for medical care, his cousin Daoud Khan — a general, former Commander of the Central Forces, and Minister of Defense — abolished the monarchy and assumed power with the aid of young communists in a bloodless coup. The army was in his pocket, but five years later, in 1978, it fell apart and fought on both sides as the communists overthrew and murdered Daoud. The fractured army could not prevent the Soviet invasion, nor safeguard any of the presidents in power before they came or after they left.

It’s worth remembering, too, that every one of these shifts in power was followed by a purge of political enemies that sent thousands of Afghans loyal to the jettisoned ruler to prison, death, or another country in the prolonged exodus that has made the Afghan diaspora the largest in the world drawn from a single country. That diaspora continues today — 30,000 Afghans fled last year and applied for asylum elsewhere — and the next purge hasn’t even gotten underway yet.

In short, Afghan history is a sobering antidote to the relentless optimism of the American military. Modern Afghan history indicates that no Afghan National Army of any size or set of skills has ever warded off a single foreign enemy or done a lick of good for any Afghan ruler.

As for those Afghan guys who whipped the British three times and the Soviet’s Red Army, they were mostly freelancers, attached to the improvised militias of assorted warlords, fighting voluntarily against invaders who had occupied their country. The Taliban, like the mujahidin of the anti-Soviet struggle before them, seem to fight quite successfully without any significant training, armor, or heavy equipment to speak of, except what some Taliban snatch by signing up from time to time for basic training with the ANA (or buy from ANA soldiers).

The Afghan National Game

Another objection to spending billions on training an Afghan National Army is this: you never know whom they will shoot. The problem is not the odd rogue soldier or Talib infiltrator. The problem is that the Afghan moral code is different from ours, though still apparently invisible to our military and political leaders.

Many years ago, an American Foreign Service officer in Afghanistan fell in love with the place and went sort of rogue himself. Whitney Azoy resigned to become an anthropologist and in 1982 published an enchanting scholarly book about the Afghan sport of buzkashi, in which mounted horsemen vie for possession of a dead goat or calf.

His book became a bible for visiting journalists who soon made a cliché of the game, comparing the dead goat to the country of Afghanistan, torn apart throughout its history by competing foreign powers: England and Russia, the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the U.S. and Pakistan. Journalists compared the game to polo, apparently never having seen a game of polo. Take my word for it: it is not like polo. Anyway, that’s not the point.

What many missed is the bigger picture: that all the chapandazan (horsemen) ride for a sponsor, who may be the wealthy landowning host of the day’s competition, or perhaps another large landowner living some distance away. Chapandazan compete not for the calf, but for the favor of the sponsoring khan who will bestow upon the winners the turban cloths that mark their public stature and the money that will support their families. Here’s the point: if a sponsor fails in his obligations — if he loses the ability and wherewithal to honor, protect, and support his chapandazan — they will switch to the man who can.

In short, for their own safety and advancement, Afghans back a winner, and if he goes into decline, they ditch him for a rising star. To spot that winner is the mark of the intelligent survivor. To stick loyally to a losing cause, as any patriotic American would do, seems to an Afghan downright stupid.

Now, apply this to the ANA as American and NATO troops draw down in 2014. Any army intended to defend a nation must be loyal to the political leaders governing the country. Estimates among Afghan experts of how long the ANA would be loyal to Afghan President Hamid Karzai start at two weeks, and remember, 2014 is a presidential election year, with Karzai barred by the constitution from seeking another term. In other words, Obama’s Plan A calls for urgently building up a national army to defend a government that will not exist before our own combat troops leave the country.

And if that election is riddled with fraud, as the last one was? Or inconclusive? Or violently contested? Has President Obama or Secretary of Defense Panetta or anyone else given any thought to that?

These days, as Afghan men, mostly in army and police uniforms, shoot and kill NATO soldiers on a remarkably regular basis, the American military still publicly writes off the deaths as “isolated incidents.”

But the isolation may be an American one. The connections among Afghans are evident to anyone who cares to look. When I was at a forward operating base with the U.S. Army in Kunar province in 2010, for instance, Afghan soldiers were relegated to an old base next door. Armed American soldiers guarded the gate in between, and ANA leaders were shadowed everywhere by an armed U.S. sergeant who tried unconvincingly to give the impression he was just out for a stroll. What struck me most was this: while the Americans on their base recoiled under daily Taliban shelling, the Afghan watchman at the nearby ANA post, perhaps privy to some additional information, slept peacefully on a cot on the roof of his office with his teakettle by his side. The military has long called this a “partnership.”

But now the numbers are adding up to something else entirely. While some commentators speak of Afghan treachery and others detect a Taliban plot to infiltrate the security forces, I suspect something quite different. Malcolm Gladwell might call it a tipping point. What we are watching unfold in Afghanistan is the desertion of chapandazan who have already found a new khans.

Security Force: An Oxymoron

All along, however, I’ve had a bigger objection to spending tens of billions of dollars training a vast Afghan National Security Force. And it couldn’t be more basic: armies and war are never good for women, children, or civilians in general.

To redeem the disastrous invasion of Afghanistan and improve the quality of life of its people, we should have invested early, under Afghan guidance, in electricity, clean water, and sanitation. After two decades of almost constant war and civil war, we should have demined the precious fields in this agricultural country and supported Afghan farmers and laborers as they tried to repair crucial bombed-out irrigation systems. These measures were never jobs for the U.S. military, but they might have won peace and saved soldiers’ lives in the bargain. After all, soldiers have actually died by falling into broken irrigation tunnels and wells, even more by treading on mines.

Note, too, that the expense of training and supporting soldiers to wage war is bad for both sides. The trillions spent on our own forces and weapons systems is money we might have spent to improve the quality of American lives. And keep in mind that the costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will not peak until mid-century, so expensive is the lifelong aftercare of our own ruined soldiers.

To keep the chapandazan, or the Afghan people and their problematic army, on your side, you have to offer the symbols and substance of normal life. But being Americans, we think that “national security” means armies and night vision goggles and drones and “strategic partnerships,” even with a reluctant, exhausted, angry, and grief-stricken people.

To the normal world — that is, the world not in thrall to American militarism — “national security” means something quite different. It means all those big and little things that enable people to feel relatively calm and cared for in their daily lives. That would be food, water, shelter, jobs, health care, schools for the kids, domestic police to keep the peace, and maybe even some firefighters — all those things we fail to attend to there, or increasingly here.

As things stand today, as International Women’s Day is celebrated around the world, women in Afghanistan contemplate the withdrawal of some American and NATO troops with both relief and fear. They fear the Taliban. They fear President Karzai’s endorsement of new, Taliban-like (and unconstitutional) “guidelines” for women that would confine them again. They fear the Afghan National Army, the heroes of Plan A, and the countless thousands of deserters who joined up to get a gun and went home.

Civilians live in dread of the legacy of the Obama strategy: the presence of half a million gunmen on the loose, in search of a sponsoring khan.

Ann Jones is the author most recently of Kabul in Winter (2006) and War Is Not Over When It’s Over (2010), both published by Metropolitan. A TomDispatch regular, she is working, with support from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, on a book about soldiers who bring the wars home.

Copyright 2012 Ann Jones

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Posted by The Agonist on March 5th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Emma Graham-Harrison | Kabul | Mar 6

The GuardianEdicts released by Hamid Karzai issue repressive rules for women who, they declare, are subordinate to men

Women are subordinate to men, should not mix in work or education and must always have a male guardian when they travel, according to new guidelines from Afghanistan’s top clerics which critics say are dangerously reminiscent of the Taliban era.

The edicts appeared in a statement that also encouraged insurgents to join peace talks, fuelling fears that efforts to negotiate an end to a decade of war, now gathering pace after years of false starts and dead ends, will come at a high cost to women.

“There is a link with what is happening all over the country with peace talks and the restrictions they want to put on women’s rights,” said Afghan MP Fawzia Koofi, who warned that the new rules were a “green light for Talibanisation”.

The points agreed at a regular meeting of the Ulema Council of top clerics are not legally binding. But the statement detailing them was published by the president’s office with no further comment, a move that has been taken as a tacit seal of approval.

“Ultimately, I don’t see a way you can read it as not coming from (Hamid) Karzai,” said Heather Barr, Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It’s probably not an extreme position for the Ulema Council, but it’s an extreme position for Karzai, and not compatible with the constitution, or Afghanistan’s obligations under international law.”

The clerics renounced the equality of men and women enshrined in the Afghan constitution, suggesting they consider the document that forms.

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Posted by The Agonist on March 5th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Eddie Walsh | Washington | Mar 4

Al JazeeraA handful of US congressmen support creating an independent Balochistan, carved out of mostly Pakistani land.

Over the last few months, a small faction of congressmen, minority Afghan groups, Baloch nationalists, and their supporters have laid out the framework for an alternative US policy approach for Southwest Asia.

This alternative policy centres on backing remnants of the Northern Alliance and Baloch insurgents, who seek to carve out semi-autonomous territories or independent states from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran.

While supporters of this new approach are motivated by a variety of interests, they appear unified in their rejection of what they see as three cornerstones of the Obama administration’s current regional policy approach: 1) Normalising relations with Pakistan’s government and military; 2) Incorporating the Taliban into the current Afghan political system; 3) Overly accommodating an emerging Iran.

In one broad stroke, this new approach would attempt to advance US national interests by redrawing the political borders of Southwest Asia – contrary to the the sovereignty and territorial integrity of three existing states.

While its advocates clearly do not yet have broad support for their initiative, the campaign for an alternative Southwest Asian policy approach is maturing and garnering increased attention in Congress and beyond, especially as a result of three recent high-profile events: a Balochistan National Front strategy session in Berlin, a US congressional hearing on Balochistan, and the introduction of a Baloch self-determination bill before the US Congress.

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree, it’s nevertheless critical to understand how this alternative policy approach framework has evolved over the past few months.

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Posted by The Agonist on March 3rd, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

AP reports that, in the event Karzai won’t agree to US troops and bases in his country after 2014, special forces troops will just take off their uniforms and go to work for their old boss, St. General David Petraeus, in his current role as head of the CIA.

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Posted by The Agonist on March 2nd, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Just as the did in Iraq, Obama administration officials are pleading with the Afghan government to sign a long-term agreement that will allow the US to keep troops and bases in the country after the agreed “withdrawal” date. And just as in Iraq, it’s beginning to look like there will be no such agreement despite dire warnings of what will happen after the US and its allies leave.

Washington and its allies want to have the US-Afghan strategic partnership agreed before May, when a Nato conference in Chicago is expected to pledge long-term help to Kabul with finances and military training.

But negotiations have dragged on for over a year and Karzai is adamant he will not give ground on his two main demands – for Afghan control of jails and an end to night-time raids on Afghan homes.

Western officials say the first is not practical and the second would compromise the military effort.

“If they don’t change their position there will be no strategic partnership before Chicago,” said a senior Afghan official familiar with the negotiations. “We are not willing to compromise when it comes to sovereignty.”

The obvious moral of this story is that usually people find too late that they would rather go to Hell in a handbasket of their own devising than one provided by foreign firepower. Libyans may yet find they regret their aftermath more than their pre-war situation. Syrians and Iranians too, if the West’s meddlers and warhawks get their way.

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Posted by The Agonist on March 2nd, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Jon Stephenson & Nancy A. Youssef | Kabul | Mar 1

McClatchy – Afghans killed two American soldiers and wounded at least two others before dawn Thursday at a joint base in Kandahar province, in the latest deadly shooting of international forces by their Afghan partners, U.S. officials said.

The Pentagon said that two Afghan soldiers and a civilian accomplice — a literacy teacher — fired on the American service members from a guard tower at the Sang-e-Sar outpost in southern Afghanistan. U.S. troops then killed one of the Afghan soldiers and the teacher, but it was unclear whether the third attacker, who survived, was wounded or detained, Pentagon spokesman George Little said.

A local police commander offered a different version of events, saying that an Afghan soldier and a civilian teacher first killed a fellow Afghan soldier at the Sang-e-Sar outpost before turning that soldier’s weapon on the Americans.

Masoom Khan, the police chief of Zhari district, where the shooting took place, said the attackers fled the scene and ran for five kilometers — roughly three miles — “but the Americans sent a helicopter after them and shot them to death.” That account couldn’t be confirmed immediately.

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