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Archive for July, 2012

Posted by The Agonist on July 30th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

The new SIGAR quarterly report on Afghanistan (PDF) is out and it makes anything but encouraging reading. The report notes that “If Congress approves the President’s current request for new reconstruction funding, the United States will have provided nearly $100 billion to rebuilding Afghanistan since 2002…The United States has never provided so much funding over a similar period of time to rebuild another country: for example, U.S. reconstruction aid to Germany after World War II (1946–1952) amounted to less than $35 billion in 2011 dollars.” It then goes on to state that ANSF numbers are down, not up, with no clear reason why that should be so; that corruption, bribery and graft are rife among not just Afghans but Americans involved in reconstruction efforts too; and that “a decade of struggle and bloodshed…has not cleared the landscape of serious problems.”

It’s been just less than a year since the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan report said at least one in six dollars was being wasted in Afghanistan and things don’t seem to have gotten better. If anything, they’re worse. Among the SIGAR report’s findings:

- That three years after inception, none of USAID’s Afghanistan Stabilization Initiative-East projects have “have advanced from the ‘hold’ to the ‘build’ phase of that strategy, and an exit strategy remains to be developed,” and the projects involved “more than $590,000 in questionable program costs”.

- Five of seven Afghanistan Infrastructure Fund projects are 6 to 15 months behind schedule and “most projects will not achieve desired COIN benefits for several years.” Indeed, some projects “may even result in adverse COIN effects because they create an expectations-versus-reality gap in the affected population or because they lack citizen support.”

- Four police bases built for the ANSF at U.S. cost, an investment of $19 million, were “either unoccupied or not used for their intended purposes” because of deficient construction. “These problems included the lack of a viable water supply, a poorly constructed septic system, and inadequate sewage. Other deficiencies included leaking fuel lines, unconnected drain pipes, poorly built guard towers, and improperly installed heating and ventilation systems.” The problems have gone uncorrected “because neither the contractor nor USACE has effective quality assurance processes in place.”

Deja vu of the infamously corrupt and poorly overseen process of papering over the cracks in Iraq? You betcha. As the friend who sent the report along to me writes: the report “details a now familiar theme of US occupation and the putative efforts at ‘reconstruction,’ which appears now, and has appeared for years, as nothing but a taxpayer money funnel to private contractors with no expectation of any substantive result. In effect, DoD contracting in foreign occupied lands functions a nothing more than a gift to contractors, a profitable and unaccountable transfer of wealth from the public purse to the privateer.”

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Posted by Peace Action West on July 23rd, 2012

From our partners at Peace Action West

Last week, the House of Representatives took a small but important step toward reining in Pentagon spending. Thank you to all of you who responded to our call to tell your representative to support amendments to cut the military budget and end the war in Afghanistan.

Our victory last week came with the vote on the bipartisan amendment offered by Reps. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) and Barney Frank (D-MA). The amendment cuts $1.1 billion from the 2013 Pentagon budget, effectively freezing the military budget at this year’s levels. While we would rather see much bigger cuts, it’s a huge success to get bipartisan support for reining in Pentagon spending, especially in the face of an onslaught of pressure from congressional hawks and weapons lobbyists.  As our friends at the Project on Government Oversight said in a press release highlighting a letter we signed supporting the amendment, “The message from the right, left and all points in between was clear: It’s time to end runaway Pentagon spending.” Click here to see how your representative voted.

Here are some other high(and low)lights from the votes last week:

Overall military spending

  • There were attempts to take bigger chunks out of the Pentagon budget. Reps. Adam Smith (D-WA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) offered an amendment to cut the base budget by $7.6 billion. This would have brought the budget in line with the caps that Congress passed in the Budget Control Act last year. Rejected, 171-243.
  • Rep. Barbara Lee offered another amendment to cut $19.2 billion, bringing the base budget down to a round (and still huge) $500 billion. Rejected, 87-326.
  • Rep. Mike Coffman’s (R-CO) amendment would have prohibited funding for deployment of two permanent brigades in Europe, part of an effort to reduce our overly large military presence there. A similar amendment passed with the National Defense Authorization Act. Rejected, 123-292.

Ending the war in Afghanistan

  • President Obama has said repeatedly that he will continue withdrawing troops from Afghanistan at a “steady pace” after the withdrawal of surge troops this fall. Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) offered an amendment to bring the budget in line with those plans, cutting $12.6 billion from the war budget to reflect a continued drawdown. Rejected, 137-278.
  • Rep. Barbara Lee offered another version of her amendment to limit funding to a safe and responsible military withdrawal. The amendment would have cut $21 billion from the war budget. Rejected, 107-312.

Nuclear weapons

  • The Cold War nuclear fanatics were out in full force in the debate on the military budget. Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), leader of the pack, offered an amendment to prohibit funding to reduce the US nuclear arsenal in conjunction with the Obama administration’s nuclear policy review. Approved, 235-178.
  • Rep. Rick Berg (R-ND) brought up an amendment prohibiting funding to prohibit use of funds to reduce the number of a variety of delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons. Approved, 238-162.
  • Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) brought up an amendment to prohibit the use of funding for sharing classified information about missile defense systems with Russia. This stems from the right wing paranoia about President Obama’s “hot mic moment” with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Approved by voice vote.
  • Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), a leading advocate for ending our outdated nuclear weapons policies, put forward an amendment to cut $75 million for ground-based missile defense, bringing the amount back down to the president’s request. Rejected, 150-268.
  • Rep. Markey offered another amendment to limit the fleet of deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles to 300 (down from the current 450). Rejected, 126-283.

While we got an important bipartisan victory this time around, we also saw far too much bipartisan fealty to the Pentagon and defense companies. A new poll shows that Americans overwhelmingly support bigger cuts to the military budget. We will keep pushing, and the debate over looming cuts to the Pentagon budget will provide us another opportunity to get that message across.

 

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Posted by The Agonist on July 23rd, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

The big news of the day from the New York Times is a report on a supressed 800-page human rights report concerning Afghanistan’s civil war in the 90s, which reveals that many of the most senior members of the Afghan government are, not to put too fine a point on it, as much mass-murdering fuckheads as any Taliban leader.

The list of names is a sort of who’s who of power players in Afghanistan: former and current warlords or officials, some now in very prominent positions in the national government, as well as in insurgent factions fighting it. Many of the named men were principals in the civil war era after the Soviet Union withdrew, and they are also frequently mentioned when talk here turns to fears of violence after the end of the NATO combat mission in 2014. Already, there is growing concern about a scramble for power and resources along ethnic and tribal lines.

…Among them are First Vice President Fahim, a Tajik from the Jamiat Islami Party, and Second Vice President Karim Khalili, a Hazara leader from the Wahdat Party; Gen. Atta Mohammed Noor, a Tajik from the Jamiat Islami Party and now the governor of the important northern province of Balkh, of which Mazar-i-Sharif is capital; and Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former Uzbek warlord from the Jumbush Party who holds the honorary title of chief of staff to the supreme commander of the Afghan Armed Forces, among many others.

Those same leaders, and Karzai, have tried hard to ensure the report never officially sees the light of day, with first vice president Marshall Fahim reportedly telling the assembled Afghan cabinet “we should just shoot 30 holes in his face” when speaking about the head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission which wrote the report. Their U.S. sponsors aren’t keen on seeing the report released either.

The American Embassy here has been another source of objection to the mass-graves report. American officials say releasing the report would be a bad idea, at least until after Afghanistan’s 2014 presidential election — which is also when the NATO combat withdrawal should be complete. “I have to tell you frankly on the mapping thing, when I first learned about it, it scared me,” said a senior American official, speaking on condition of anonymity as a matter of embassy policy. “There will be a time for it, but I’m not persuaded this is the time.”

That’s as clear an admission that the U.S. has been wallpapering over the cracks to report rosy “momentum” in Afghanistan all along as we are likely to see. It has always been the case that these callous, mass-murdering men were sponsored and shielded from scrutiny by the occupiers and many have continued their corruption, criminal activities and, yes, even commiting atrocities while under the West’s protecting wing. Building even an “Afghanistan-good-enough” with such men was always impossible – all are interested only in carving their own fiefdoms by any means, not in being even Assad-style strongmen capable of compelling a nation into being let alone in working by a democratic method. Yet the futility and duplicitousness of pretending otherwise is apparently not one of the lessons even the brightest among America’s analysts is explicitly saying we should learn. The West’s leaders are complicit and its “serious” experts, often for political or careerist reasons, have their heads stuck in the sand.

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Posted by The Agonist on July 23rd, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

July 22

BBC – An Afghan policeman has shot dead three foreign staff at a training centre in western Herat province, Afghan officials say.

The gunman also injured their Afghan translator, the security and intelligence officials told the BBC.

The attacker, who is said to have worked for the regional police command, was subsequently killed by members of the US-led international force Isaf.

An Isaf spokesman told the BBC the contractors were civilian employees.

Maj Adam Wojack said the attacker had been wearing an Afghan army uniform.

He did not give the nationality of the three contractors killed in Sunday’s incident. One report said they were American but this has not been confirmed.

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Posted by The Agonist on July 20th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Saeed Shah | Islamabad | July 20

The GuardianAfghanistan faces further crisis as world’s biggest cluster of refugees faces expulsion

Pakistan plans to cancel refugee status for all Afghans living in the country at the end of this year, leaving some 3 million displaced people – the world’s biggest cluster of refugees – facing possible expulsion to a country that many barely know.

Pushing the refugees into Afghanistan would be likely to create a new crisis for that country, already struggling with an insurgency and an economy almost entirely dependent on the western presence and the illicit drug trade.

The west is pressing Pakistan to reconsider its policy, which puts it at odds with the United Nations and other international partners. The international community and the Afghan government have no strategy prepared to deal with any such influx of people.

However, Pakistan’s top administrator in charge of the Afghan refugee issue, Habibullah Khan, secretary of the ministry of states and frontier regions, told the Guardian that Islamabad would not relent. “The international community desires us to review this policy but we are clear on this point. The refugees have become a threat to law and order, security, demography, economy and local culture. Enough is enough,” he said.

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Posted by The Agonist on July 19th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Emma Graham-Harrison | Kabul | July 19

The GuardianConcerns growing over violence in central highland province after two bombs killed nine police officers earlier this month

The central highland province of Bamiyan has long been an island of security in the rising tide of Afghanistan’s insurgency, largely insulated from the blasts and gunfire that have become commonplace across the rest of the country by its geography and a fierce strain of anti-Taliban sentiment.

But concerns are growing over the government’s ability to hold off insurgents in the region after two massive roadside bombs, just five days apart, killed nine police officers earlier this month.

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Posted by The Agonist on July 18th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

July 18

BBC – A bomb planted by the Taliban in northern Afghanistan has destroyed 22 Nato fuel tankers carrying supplies to coalition forces, local officials say.

The vehicles were hit by a pre-dawn explosion which triggered a huge fire that engulfed them in flames, they say.

At the time, the trucks were parked overnight in Samangan province, as they headed from Uzbekistan towards Nato forces in the south.

Police told the BBC that the fire caused by the bomb is still burning.

An intelligence official said the device was attached under one of the trucks, which were parked close together.

“Since it was early in the morning, there were not a lot of people around. Otherwise, it could have caused a lot more casualties,” the official told the BBC.

In a statement, the Taliban said they carried out the attack, which officials say is the first of its kind in northern Afghanistan.

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Posted by The Agonist on July 18th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Washington | July 18

AFP – US President Barack Obama on Tuesday named veteran diplomats to be the next ambassadors to Afghanistan and Pakistan, two highly sensitive positions vacated when envoys recently resigned.

Obama named Richard Olson, a former ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, to serve in Pakistan and James Cunningham, the number two at the US embassy in Kabul, to be the ambassador, a White House statement said.

The two men will need confirmation by the Senate. They would serve as the United States prepares to withdraw combat forces from Afghanistan in 2014, a transition that profoundly impacts rocky relations with Pakistan.

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Posted by Peace Action West on July 17th, 2012

From our partners at Peace Action West

Lockheed Martin and their defense industry pals are knocking on every door on Capitol Hill claiming to represent the best interests of Americans.

With a major vote happening in the House this week, we can’t let weapons lobbyists speak for us. Call your representative at (202) 224-3121 to vote for amendments to end the war in Afghanistan and cut wasteful military spending. 

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

Companies that profit from wasteful military spending are using dishonest tactics and political stunts to bully Congress.  They have been threatening to give out thousands of pink slips right before the election if Congress doesn’t undo pending cuts to the military budget.

New polling shows that the American people aren’t buying it.  Voters in both red and blue districts support much larger cuts to military spending than the US government has been willing to put on the table. Even people whose districts benefit from military spending want cuts.

But those poll numbers only matter so much if we remain a silent majority. Speak up today by calling your representative at (202) 224-3121 and urging a yes vote on amendments to end the war in Afghanistan and cut wasteful spending.

Put this sample message in your own words, and be sure to tell them where you live so they know you’re a constituent:

“My name is [first name] and I’m calling to tell [your representative] to vote for amendments to the defense appropriations bill to end the war in Afghanistan and cut wasteful military spending.

Click here to report on your call.

Thank you for taking action.

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Posted by The Agonist on July 17th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Michael Doyle | Washington | July 16

McClatchy – Prisoners held without trial for years at an American air base in Afghanistan shouldn’t be able to challenge their indefinite detention with the help of the U.S. Constitution, Obama administration attorneys argued Monday.

Reinforcing a hard-line view that’s prevailed in past court battles, the administration said again that the foreign-born detainees at Bagram Air Field lacked the habeas corpus rights that the U.S. Supreme Court has extended to those held at the American naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“We want to prevent enemy fighters from returning to the battlefield,” Justice Department attorney Jean Lin told a federal judge, while adding that “the United States does not intend to hold anyone longer than necessary.”

About 3,200 prisoners reportedly are being held at Bagram, including about 50 who aren’t natives of Afghanistan. The latter prisoners are the ones whose legal rights are now on the line.

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