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Archive for August, 2012

Posted by The Agonist on August 31st, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Bill Kristol is more than a mite peeved.

In his speech accepting his party’s nomination to be commander in chief, Mitt Romney said not a word about the war in Afghanistan. Nor did he utter a word of appreciation to the troops fighting there, or to those who have fought there. Nor for that matter were there thanks for those who fought in Iraq, another conflict that went unmentioned…Has it ever happened that we’ve been at war and a presidential nominee has ignored, in this kind of major and formal speech, the war and our warriors?

Afghanistan has been more than a little absent from both campaigns so far, other than the inevitable “who killed bin Laden” spat – but then again so have Yemen, Somalia, the Philipines and various other places US forces are fighting. There’s a massive disconnect showing here, between the general public who are tired of American over-reach on the long slow slide down from the peak of power and folk like Kristol who still see the military as a universal answer to every foreign policy question. Romney knows Kristol and the like will vote for him anyways.

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Posted by The Agonist on August 31st, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

I missed this on Monday but definitely worth a read is this Newsweek piece reprinted at the Daily Beast in which an Afghan major tells the magazine:

“I too have been personally hurt by the way American forces behave towards my soldiers, our villagers, our religion and culture. Too many of them are racist, arrogant, and simply don’t respect us.”

…“One soldier told me, ‘In my heart I want to empty my bullets into their chests.’ He has not done anything yet, but we are watching him carefully.”

…“Burning Qurans, massacring defenseless women and children, urinating on dead bodies, and midnight raids are outrages for which the U.S. is now paying a heavy cost,” says Major Hasanzada. “These soldiers who are reacting against the U.S. are not Taliban, but these terrible incidents seem to have made them instant Taliban.”

And, even after ten years in which to train soldiers to know better, a daily grind of casual disregard or ignorance for local customs and social mores – the colonialist disease of treating the locals as inferiors, ruled by their American betters at gunpoint – is just as damaging as these headline atrocities. The Ugly American, not as tourist but as occupier.

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Posted by The Agonist on August 27th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Today we have horrific news from Afghanistan. The Taliban have beheaded 17 civilians in the Musa Qala region of Helmand Province, for taking part in a mixed-sex music event. It’s something they’ve done before for the same “crime” of unrelated members of the two sexes dancing and having fun together, back when they ruled Afghanistan, so that part isn’t surprising even if it is stomach-churning. To the lay American observer, however, what may be more surprising is that this atrocity took place in an area which everyone admits is firmly under Taliban control Whatever happened to the Afghan Surge of 2011, and “clear, hold and build”?

“This happened in a desert area, known as Roshanabad, which is not under the control of the government,” said the Kajaki district governor, Mullah Sharafuddin, who said he did not know the motive behind the bloody attack. “I am the governor but I don’t have full details because this land is under Taliban control.”

Taliban fighters followed up the killings with an attack on a police post in Helmand’s Washir district, killing ten – an attack in which it seems some of the Afghan police turned on their comrades and helped the Taliban. It seems obvious that even if “clear” ever actually happened in Helmand, “hold” didn’t – and now we’re back to “uncleared” across large swathes of territory.

Spencer Ackerman, writing last week, noted that the ISAF had declared last July that it had fundementally changed the reality on the ground in Helmand but that now six Helmand districts rank among the ten most violent districts in the country. Nor has violence dropped overall after the Surge.

[General] Allen, speaking to Pentagon reporters on Thursday, said the overall insurgent violence in the country has dipped three percent from this time last year — a figure he conceded “may not be statistically significant.” The previous year, ISAF said that insurgent attacks remained basically level with summer 2010 levels — when the full complement of surge troops arrived in Afghanistan. The purpose of the surge was to reverse the momentum of the Taliban in order to hand over a stable Afghanistan to the Afghan government. If measured by the rate of insurgent activity, the surge at most dented the Taliban’s momentum.

We’re not hearing the presidential candidates or their proxies talk about this, nor are we seeing any major discussion in the mainstream U.S. media. The surge failed, was a huge defeat; there was no “hold” and no permanent “clear”…“build” is right out. But the U.S. must not go down to defeat, at least in the public’s perception, so just like in Iraq we’re being treated to a great deal of slapping up nice-looking wallpaper while the walls themselves crack and crumble. That way, when Afghanistan can no longer be spun as even a little bit stable, it’ll be the Afghans’ fault, not ours.

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Posted by The Agonist on August 22nd, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

A face. A name. A story. Every last one of them (also, WaPo).

Now, howsabout the Grey Lady compile a similarly comprehensive tribute to dead Afghans?

(h/t Doug Mataconis)

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Posted by The Agonist on August 21st, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

News’s Atia Abawi | Aug 21

NBC – An aircraft used by U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Martin Dempsey was damaged by rocket-fire at an airbase outside Kabul, Afghanistan, NATO said on Tuesday. The general was not on board at the time and no one was injured.

At around 1 a.m. (4:30 p.m. ET) on Tuesday, insurgents fired rockets or mortars into the base airfield, a source in Bagram Air Field told NBC News. Two landed in the air field, with one of them hitting the plane used by Dempsey, the source added.

Meanwhile, NATO’s mission in Afghanistan confirmed that the plane had been damaged by incoming fire, saying it had been hit by “shrapnel from an indirect fire round.”

“The round was one of two that impacted Bagram last night. An ISAF helicopter was also damaged,” the ISAF statement added.

“(Dempsey) was nowhere near the aircraft. We think it was a lucky shot,” NATO senior spokesman Col. Thomas Collins told Reuters.

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on August 20th, 2012

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

One of the questions I pose to congressional candidates seeking Blue America’s endorsement is meant to elicit from them their strength of conviction of ending the occupation of and war in Afghanistan. I ask it something like this:

Imagine you’re in Congress early next year and Barbara Lee and Jerry Nadler bring up a resolution that defunds operations in Afghanistan other than bringing our troops safely back to America. Anti-war Republicans like Justin Amash (R-MI), Walter Jones (R-NC) and Johnny Duncan (R-TN) start getting more Republicans on board. And then you start getting various levels of pressure from the White House to not back it. They offer you a bridge for your district or a fundraising appearance with Biden for the 2014 campaign. You still say you want the troops out. Then you start getting threats. Eventually you get a call from the President himself appealing to give you “another year to finish up.”

Basically all of our candidates have been telling me that they’re not going to buckle under any of that pressure. Last year 91 Democrats and 7 Republicans voted for such an amendment. We need more Members of Congress with the spine to say enough is enough.

Wednesday Blue America is officially endorsing Dr. Syed Taj (MI-11) and he’ll be joining us for a question-and-answer session live at CrooksandLiars (2pm, ET). This morning he reiterated to me that it’s “time to accelerate bringing our troops home from Afghanistan. This,” he continued, “isn’t a liberal issue or a conservative issue. All Americans need to pull together and we need to get this done. It’s tragic and wasteful on so many levels when these young American men and women are dying over there for a unclear goals and a confused policy of nation building in a country we still don’t understand. I’ll tell you where we need new schools and new infrastructure and some good solid nation building– right here in Michigan and all through the Midwest where so many jobs have been sent overseas to pitifully cheap labor markets because of unfair so-called ‘free’ trade policies.”

So far this year there have been 31 attacks on NATO forces– resulting in 39 deaths– by Afghan military personnel, our supposed allies. 107 “green on blue” deaths since 2007. The latest attacks were on Friday– two of them, one in Kandahar and one in Farah province.

The two American service members who died were part of a Special Operations team working with the local police in Farah Province in the west of Afghanistan… In both cases, in Farah and Kandahar Provinces, the shootings were carried out by individual attackers, and both were shot and killed, Major Crighton said.

The shootings were the latest in a spate of attacks by Afghan forces on their coalition counterparts.

The assaults have intensified in recent years in Afghanistan, where the military has called them green-on-blue attacks. Recently, however, the military has begun referring to them as insider attacks, including violence by people who are working inside the security force system but who may not be active members themselves. With the two episodes on Friday morning, there have now been at least 31 such attacks in Afghanistan so far this year, including 21 that have resulted in fatalities.

About 11 percent of the “insider attacks” are because of Taliban infiltration into the Afghan security forces, Pentagon officials said on Friday, citing a new analysis by the international military coalition in Afghanistan. The majority of the attacks, they said, are for other reasons, including grudges and conflicts between NATO and Afghan forces.

Ironically, the Pentagon and the Taliban want to claim the attacks are the work of the Taliban, each for their own reasons, the Taliban wanting the glory and the Pentagon hoping to deflect criticism from its own failed policies. The attacks on Friday were not carried out by the Taliban but by members of the Afghan national security forces. Usually these things happen because of cultural differences that neither the American soldiers nor the Afghan soldiers can understand outside of their own context.

Here in L.A. one of our local congressmen is an architect of American Afghan policy, Buck McKeon, chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee, and McKeon is an exemplar of cultural confusion and bad decision-making. Last week we talked about his wrong-headed policies regarding the way the military handles rape cases. Right now, it is more likely a female soldier in Afghanistan will be raped by a fellow soldier than killed in action. And McKeon refuses to hold an open hearing about the rapes occurring in the military even after the atrocious acts were discovered at Lackland Air Force base. Maybe he’s been hanging out too long with his deranged pal from Missouri, Todd Akin, who serves with McKeon on the House Armed Services Committee and who told KTVI-TV that “from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare… If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” I don’t think Akin has been consulting Dr. Syed Taj or Dr. Lee Rogers. I think he’s talking to Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Evil, Dr. Jekyll, Dr. Doom, Dr. Tom Coburn and Dr. Pepper.

McKeon’s own district has two families grieving over had 2 green-on-blue related deaths. In April of 2011, Army Spc Rudy Acosta from Canyon Country was killed by an Afghani who was contracted to protect him. The idiocy of a paid Afghani contractor protecting US bases aside, why are we arming Afghan civilians and placing them next to our troops? It’s money! McKeon has noted that it is cheaper than using US troops to protect our bases. Acosta’s father, Dante, has been actively lobbying McKeon and Congress to stop this practice. How helpful has McKeon been? He wouldn’t even meet with Acosta. That angered Acosta and people in McKeon’s district. The newspapers blasted him over it. This eventually caused Acosta to enter the Republican primary against McKeon. As soon as McKeon heard that Acosta would challenge him, he drafted legislation to stop the practice of paid mercenaries protecting US troops. It was too late; Acosta entered the race on the filing date and in only 3 months, he won several GOP straw polls and took 18% of the total vote. The second green-on-blue attack is more recent, Andrew Britton-Mihalo from Simi Valley, CA. McKeon hasn’t commented on Britton-Mihalo’s death or his service to our country. I contacted Lee Rogers, the pro-peace Blue America-endorsed candidate running for the seat McKeon holds.

Congressman McKeon calls himself pro-defense, but he’s not in it for our servicemen and women. He’s in it for the campaign contributions from the war industry. He’s betraying our troops by not moving his bill through Congress to stop armed Afghani’s from being in close quarters to them. While McKeon delays, American service members are dying. Anyone concerned with troop safety would consider the management of this issue a dire emergency. One more American lost in a green-on-blue attack is one too many.

 
This morning the Santa Clarita Valley Signal ran a powerful OpEd by Dr. Rogers about about the brewing scandal of McKeon (and Todd Akin) covering up military rapes from their perchs on the House Armed Services Committee.

When volunteers sign up to defend our country, they don’t expect to be victims of sexual assault.

An epidemic of sexual assaults was recently uncovered at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.

Lackland AFB is where our young Air Force recruits go to be indoctrinated in the military system.

For some women, part of that indoctrination was a rape by an instructor. More than 30 instructors have been removed at Lackland, and more than 70 members of Congress have co-signed a letter calling for an open congressional investigation.

Rape in the military is not only a problem at Lackland AFB. In 2010, an estimated 19,000 sexual assaults took place in the military and a great majority went unreported.

Women are the most frequent victims, but men are also targets.

Today, a female soldier in Afghanistan is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier, than killed in action.

Victims are often silenced by their superiors and the assaulter is usually a higher rank, making it difficult to seek justice.

Survivors of assault are often re-victimized by being blamed, charged with adultery or placed back in the close quarters with their perpetrator.

Some things in the military should remain secretive and stay behind closed doors, but not this issue.

The fact that it remains secretive leads to more sexual assaults because the perpetrators are not prosecuted or are only given minor punishments.

Those in the chain of command have shown that they are not capable of dealing with the situation appropriately.

Victims need a special military division, separate from the chain of command, to report rape and conduct investigations.

I would encourage anyone wanting to explore this issue further to see The Invisible War, a documentary about the mishandling of justice for female victims of rape in our armed services.

It comes from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Kirby Dick and just won at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. It is a moving documentary telling the stories of real women who were raped by fellow soldiers and then told to keep quiet.

Congressional oversight of the military starts in the House and Senate armed services committees.

A nonprofit group, Protect Our Defenders, is leading the charge calling for an open hearing on the assaults at Lackland AFB.

Protect Our Defenders delivered 10,000 signed petitions to Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, chair of the House committee, asking for an open investigation. McKeon has yet refused.

In a closed briefing, an Army general asked that the committee not “hobble” commanders in the sex assault cases.

Last year, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, introduced the H.R.3435, the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act, or STOP Act. The bill still awaits action by McKeon’s committee.

We can honor our troops by giving them the protections they deserve.

We don’t tolerate rape as civilians and we can’t condone it in our military.

This is not a partisan issue. Recruits who are raped are both Republicans and Democrats. They are our sons and daughters. They are Americans who volunteer to put their life on the line for our country.

Rape should not be an occupational hazard to serving in our military. Support Protect Our Defenders calling for an open hearing on the sexual assaults at Lackland AFB and let’s help to cast light on this troublesome issue and protect our troops.

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Posted by The Agonist on August 14th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Aug 14

BBC – Forty-eight people have been killed and more than 130 others wounded in a series of bombings in the south-west and north of Afghanistan.

Many of the victims were shopping for the weekend’s Eid celebrations at the end of the Muslim month of Ramadan.

Thirty-six people were killed in four suicide bombings in Zaranj near the Iranian border in the south west.

Shortly afterwards, police in the northern province of Kunduz said 12 people were killed in another blast.

More than 30 others were reported wounded.

I await the blame it on Iran contingent..

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Posted by The Agonist on August 13th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Dexter Filkins:

How’s this for a conspiracy of silence? With less than three months to go until Election Day, President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have successfully avoided saying almost anything about America’s war in Afghanistan. Remember that war? You will at some point, however little the two candidates talk about it.

You can make your own guesses about why the candidates have said so little about Afghanistan—their positions are virtually identical, the economy is more important, etc. My own guess: neither of them knows what to do about the place. In a mere twenty-eight months, the United States is scheduled to stop fighting, and every day brings new evidence that the Afghan state that is supposed to take over is a failing, decrepit enterprise.

…Why does all this matter to American voters? Look at this way: after eleven years, more than four-hundred billion dollars spent and two thousand Americans dead, this is what we’ve built: a deeply dysfunctional, predatory Afghan state that seems incapable of standing on its own—even when we’re there. What happens when we’re not? You can bet that, whoever the President is, he’ll be talking about it then.

Ryan has, if it were possible, even less foreign policy experience than Romney. I personally don’t much approve of Obama’s hawkish track record but it seems to play well with the majority of the US electorate, still it seems certain that the Rolls-Royce Ticket’s views would be significantly more hawkish – to the point of obvious absurdity and probable gaffes. I wonder if the Obama camp will now be considering entering foreign policy into the debate? If not, it’ll be the first campaign since 9/11 in which a US superpower at war in several nations didn’t at least show some public consideration of what it is doing, how it should go forward in future or even why it is doing what it does.

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Posted by The Agonist on August 10th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Reuters:

An Afghan police commander and several of his men killed three U.S. soldiers in the southern province of Helmand, turning guns on them after inviting them to a dinner to discuss security, Afghan officials said on Friday.

The men were all American special forces members and were killed on Thursday night while attending a meeting in the Sarwan Qala area, in what appeared to be a planned attack by rogue Afghan forces.

“During dinner, the police commander and his colleagues shot them and then fled. The commander was Afghan National Police in charge of local police in Sangin,” a senior Afghan official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. Sangin is a district.

“It looks like he had drawn up a plan to kill them previously,” the official said.

Worth noting – CNN and the NYT are reporting only a lone gunman.

That makes 7 US dead from these “green on blue” attacks this week alone, and 30 dead this year so far – 14% of all US military deaths in Afghanistan this year. That’s up from 20 in 2011 and only 4 in 2008.   [more]

Tom Engelhart over-eggs his point but this remains:

In fact, there is a striking pattern at work that should be front-page news here. Green-on-blue attacks have been countrywide, in areas of militant insurgency and not; they continue to escalate, and (as far as we can tell) are almost always committed by actual members of the Afghan military or police who have experienced the American project in their country in a particularly up-close and personal way.

…The number of these events is, after all, startling, given that an Afghan who turns his weapon on well-armed American or European allies is likely to die. A small number of shooters have escaped and a few have been captured alive (including one recently sentenced to death in an Afghan court), but most are shot down. In a situation where foreign advisors and troops are now distinctly on guard and on edge — and in some cases are shadowed by armed compatriots (“guardian angels”) whose job it is to protect them from such events — these are essentially suicidal acts.

So it’s reasonable to assume that, for every Afghan who acts on such a violent impulse, there must be a far larger pool of fellow members of the security forces the coalition is building who have similar feelings, but don’t act on them (or simply vote with their feet, like the 24,590 soldiers who deserted in the first six months of 2011 alone).

We continue to be given public statements that the drawdown and transition in Afghanistan are on course – but of course they aren’t.

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Posted by The Agonist on August 9th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

From the Guardian:

Britain’s role in supplying information to an American military “kill list” in Afghanistan is being subjected to legal challenge amid growing international concern over targeted strikes against suspected insurgents and drug traffickers.

An Afghan man who lost five relatives in a missile strike started proceedings against the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) and the Ministry of Defence demanding to know details of the UK’s participation “in the compilation, review and execution of the list and what form it takes”.

Legal letters sent to Soca and the MoD state the involvement of UK officials in these decisions “may give rise to criminal offences and thus be unlawful”. They say Britain’s contribution raises several concerns, particularly in cases where international humanitarian laws protecting civilians and non-combatants may have been broken.

…The legal challenge has been brought by an Afghan who believes his relatives were unlawfully killed in a case of mistaken identity during one “kill list” operation. A bank worker in Kabul, Habib Rahman lost two brothers, two uncles and his father-in-law in a US missile attack on their cars on 2 September 2010. They had been helping another member of the family who had been campaigning in Takhar province in northern Afghanistan in the runup to the country’s parliamentary elections. In total, 10 Afghans were killed and several others injured.

Rahman says most of those who died were election workers. But the attack was praised by Nato’s International Security and Assistance Force (Isaf) which said the target had been a man in the convoy called Zabet Amanullah. The US accused him of being a Taliban commander and member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and said the people who had been travelling with him had been insurgents.

A detailed study of the incident by the research group Afghanistan Analysts Network contradicted the official account, saying Isaf wrongly thought Amanullah was an alias for a Taliban commander called Muhammad Amin. The real Amin was tracked down after the incident and is still alive, said the study’s author, Kate Clark. “Even now, there does not seem to be any acknowledgment within the military that they may have got the wrong man,” she said. “It is really very bizarre. They think Amin and Amanullah are one and the same.”

The letters are a first step towards seeking a judicial review in the British courts which might well be expected to rule that the US “kill list” is in contravention of the Geneva Conventions, which say that persons taking no active part in hostilities are protected from “violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds”. I fully expect the UK government to refuse to co-operate with the courts by revealing intelligence co-operation with the U.S. however, even in a closed court. The last time such revelations became likely, Obama threatened to shut down all intelligence sharing between the two nations in order to strongarm the British government into defying it’s own judicial system.

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