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Archive for September, 2012

Posted by The Agonist on September 24th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

The Hill reports that sen. Lindsay Graham and other Republican hawks are urging Mitt Romney to distinguish himself from Obama on Afghanistan policy – by saying he’d double down and stay longer.

Madness. If there’s one foreign policy move guaranteed to lose an incumbent this election, it would be exactly this. Over 75% of Americans think the US should get out of the Afghan quagmire sooner rather than later.

However, I don’t think even Romney’s that self-destructive. He’s more likely to be listening to just about every military commander and thinker agreeing with the UK’s Rory Stewart as he writes that “What we have seen is roughly what we will get“.

It is time to be honest about Afghanistan: we face a desperate situation and an intolerable choice.

If the US, Britain and their allies leave Afghanistan, there will be chaos and perhaps civil war. The economy will falter and the Afghan government will probably be unable to command the loyalty or support of its people. The Taliban could significantly strengthen their position in the south and east, and attack other areas. Powerful men, gorged on foreign money, extravagantly armed and connected to the deepest veins of corruption and gangsterism, will flex their muscles. For all these reasons departure will feel – rightly – like a betrayal of Afghans and of the soldiers who have died.

But keeping foreign troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 will not secure the country’s future either. Every year since 2004, generals and politicians have acknowledged a disastrous situation, produced a new strategy and demanded new resources. They have tried “ink-spots” and “development zones”; counterinsurgency and nation-building; partnering and mentoring; military surges, civilian surges and reconciliation. Generals and ministers called 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 “decisive” years in Afghanistan. None was. None will be.

That’s the reality, trying to act as if it isn’t would be tantamount to sending young men to suicide.

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Posted by The Agonist on September 20th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Spencer Ackerman points to the US military assiduously trying to rewrite history.

The Afghanistan troop surge is almost over. But before it ends on October 1, U.S. and NATO military officials are retroactively redefining its goals. Once it was about blunting the momentum of the Taliban. The new line is that it was about getting the Afghan military prepared to take over the country.

As he returned from a trip to Turkey on Tuesday, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the point of the surge was to “buy us some time to push back on some Taliban initiatives” and “to buy us some space to grow the Afghan security forces.”

Echoing the chairman, Australian Brig. Gen. Roger Noble, a top NATO planning officer in Afghanistan, told Pentagon reporters Wednesday that the surge “effectively covered and enabled the training and fielding of the Afghan national security force” — an “amazing outcome” — and “directly delivered the time and space for the ANSF to stand up and assume the lead for the security of Afghanistan.”

That was not the point of the surge when President Obama sold it to the American people. “We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government,” Obama said at West Point in December 2009 when he announced his decision to order an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.

Increased training for the Afghans was always part of Obama’s Afghanistan strategy. But it wasn’t a main focus of the surge. Most of the increased U.S. forces went to fight the Taliban, so much so that nearly a year later, NATO had a shortfall of troops dedicated to training the Afghans.

Gone are the glowing words about “momentum” and “pushing back the Taliban”. Attacks are only down a measly three percent on last year. Arif Rafiq writes:

Beyond al Qaeda, the U.S. president has achieved little of strategic importance in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is incorrect, if not disingenuous, when he says that the Taliban’s momentum has been “blunted.” The Taliban’s spear is sharp as ever. Last week, on Sept. 14, it cut through Camp Bastion, one of the most secure foreign bases in Afghanistan. There, in a complex attack that cost $10,000 or $20,000 at most, it destroyed six jets valued at up to $180 million. The ratio of cost to achievement of the $100 billion-a-year war in Afghanistan is indefensible

Our own JPD, in commenting on an earlier post, writes that “The American public actively doesn’t want to talk about Afghanistan. This is much more than they won’t notice – they’ll actively punish any candidate that talks about it too much.” That’s quite possibly true, although it’s truer of the many media pundits and Beltway insiders who cheerled this disasterous misadventure and now want it kept quiet long enough for them to disassociate themselves from it. Still, I’m an idealistic old duffer, enough of one to think that a true leader tells people the bad news no matter the effect it might have on his personal fortunes. I find myself wondering if Romney and Obama can go a whole foreign policy debate without mentioning Afghanistan even once. Surely they’re going to have to try to defend the indefensible then.

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Posted by The Agonist on September 20th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

If the wheels come of the US’ Afghanistan strategy, and both main candidates are too cowardly to talk about it, will the American public notice?

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Posted by Peace Action West on September 19th, 2012

From our partners at Peace Action West

It was surprising enough to hear this week that Republican C.W. Bill Young of Florida made a u-turn and called for an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan. But Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Republican foreign policy leader, former presidential candidate, and hawk extraordinaire takes the cake.

“I think all options ought to be considered, including whether we have to just withdraw early, rather than have a continued bloodletting that won’t succeed,” McCain said.

I’ll leave the commentary to Joey:

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Posted by The Agonist on September 18th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

There goes pretty much the last shred of flimsy narrative saying the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is in any way an honorable almost-victory or will leave the nation a better, safer, place.

The US military has suspended joint operations with Afghan forces because of a collapse in trust after a surge in the number of Americans and other Nato soldiers killed by the men they are fighting alongside or training.

…American commanders said that joint operations on the ground will be suspended “until further notice” in a dramatic admission that the strategy to shift responsibility for fighting the insurgents to local forces has been deeply compromised by Afghan government soldiers and policemen killing 51 Nato soldiers in 36 attacks this year. At least 12 attacks were carried out last month alone, leaving 15 dead.

…The US army said it is “not walking away” from Afghan military units and will continue to advise them. But Nato troops will patrol with them only when specific approval is given by a regional commander.

Forget the talk about “Afghanistan could never be Switzerland”, as if there’s some middle ground between that and utter disaster Afghanistan could occupy post-occupation. Right now, it’s shaping up to be Lebanon 1975-1990 and worse. To so many in the DC beltway set, invasion and nation-building looked like such a good idea at the time – as did doubling down with the McCrystal/Obama COIN surge – but it was always going to be this way.

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Posted by The Agonist on September 15th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Gee, nobody saw that coming.

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Posted by The Agonist on September 12th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

This Friday is not shaping up to be a good one. The BBC reports:

Nigeria placed its police force on red alert to guard against attacks related to the controversial film.

The US embassy in Algiers warned Americans in Algeria to avoid non-essential travel amid calls for protests on social media.

Tunisian police fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the air to disperse a protest by several hundred people near the US embassy in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, as they chanted slogans including “Obama, Obama, we are here for the triumph of Islam”, Reuters reports.

Demonstrations were reported outside the US embassy in the Sudanese capital Khartoum and the US consulate in Casablanca, Morocco, as well as outside the UN offices in the Gaza Strip.

The Afghan government ordered a block on Youtube until the offending film was removed but the site was still visible to internet users in Kabul.

People in Egypt are saying on twitter that there are cars with loudspeakers going around touting a “day of rage” after Friday prayers and Mark Goldberg at UNDispatch is extremely worried about what may happen in Afghanistan. It looks like this upheaval isn’t over yet and may be far worse than the rioting and violence that followed Terry Jones’ burning a Koran.

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Posted by The Agonist on September 11th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Richard Norton-Taylor | September 10

The GuardianAcademics who conducted private talks with Taliban say senior figures believe war in Afghanistan is not winnable

A belief that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable and fear of a future civil war has persuaded Taliban leaders of the merits of a ceasefire, power-sharing and a political deal, according to a group of experts and academics who conducted private talks with senior Taliban figures.

Two former Taliban ministers, a former mujahideen commander and an Afghan mediator with experience of negotiating with the Taliban spent between three and five hours in individual discussions with professors Anatol Lieven, Theo Farrell and Rudra Chaudhuri of King’s College London and Michael Semple of Harvard.

Separately, Matt Waldman, a former key UN official in Kabul involved in promoting dialogue and reconciliation in Afghanistan, has told the Guardian: “It would be a grave mistake to assume the Taliban would settle for nothing less than absolute power.”

At a press briefing on Monday on their report published by the Royal United Services Institute, Lieven and his colleagues painted a picture of a pragmatic Taliban leadership around Mullah Omar.


Why it’s time for talks with the Taliban

The Taliban may not be as inflexible as feared. But we won’t discover what they’d settle for until there is genuine dialogue

The Guardian Comment Is Free, By Mark Waldman, September 10

We should welcome the news that the Taliban are reportedly open to the idea of negotiating a general ceasefire and even a peace settlement. The peace process in Afghanistan is at risk from spoilers on all sides and fraught with challenges. But we owe it to the Afghan people, and to all those who have suffered in the conflict, to give it a try.

It would be a grave mistake to assume the Taliban would only settle for absolute power. Taliban leaders know they stand no chance of seizing power now or in the near future. They know that even coming close would reinvigorate and potentially augment the coalition of forces ranged against them. That could trigger a civil war, which they are anxious to avoid. Even if they could seize power, they would be pounded by drones, ostracised and dependent on Pakistan. The leadership craves the opposite: safety, recognition and independence.

[...]

Last month Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, said: “The Islamic emirate of Afghanistan wants good relations and mutual interactions with the world … [and] assures all the world that it will not allow anyone to use the soil of Afghanistan against any one.” Or simply, we won’t shelter al-Qaida again. We might not take his word for it, but it suggests there’s a basis for discussion.

The Taliban are not monolithic; its fighters have varied motivations. Many fight because they believe the US seeks to conquer Afghanistan and subvert its religion or culture. Some are driven by the predation and degeneracy of the Afghan government and its warlord allies. Still others fight for personal, local or tribal reasons.

There are undoubtedly extreme elements within the movement. The Haqqani group, responsible for some of the most gruesome attacks in Kabul, is due to be designated a foreign terrorist organisation by the US.

[...]

The new study by the Royal United Services Institute suggests the Taliban might even accept a ceasefire and the presence of US forces in a peacekeeping capacity. There are a range of interpretations of sharia within the movement. It may be that the Taliban’s position on issues such as the constitution or girls’ education is not as radical or inflexible as we fear.


Sections of Taliban ready to accept US presence in Afghanistan – report

Moderates say they can see no prospect of victory so are prepared to negotiate – but not with the Karzai government

The Guardian, By Julian Borger, September 9

Some senior Taliban figures are ready to negotiate a ceasefire and might be ready to accept a long-term US military presence in Afghanistan as part of a comprehensive peace deal, according to a report to be published on Monday based on interviews with Taliban officials and negotiators.

The report, published by the Royal United Services Institute, finds that the Taliban is determined to make a decisive break with al-Qaida as part of a settlement and is open to negotiation about education for girls, but is adamantly opposed to the constitution which it sees as a prop for President Hamid Karzai’s government.

The Taliban insurgents will not negotiate with the Karzai government largely because of its record of corruption. They do not trust Kabul to run fair elections, which suggests that, even if the moderates interviewed in the study prevailed within Taliban circles, serious obstacles to a peace deal would remain.

The institute’s report, entitled Taliban Perspectives on Reconciliation, is the product of interviews with four unnamed figures, two of whom were ministers in the former Taliban government and are still close to the inner circle of leadership. One is described as being “closely associated” with Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban leader. A third is portrayed as “a senior former mujahideen commander and lead negotiator for the Taliban”, although not part of the movement itself, and the fourth is said to be “an Afghan mediator with extensive experience negotiating with the Taliban”.

The report concludes: “The Taliban would be open to negotiating a ceasefire as part of a general settlement, and also as a bridge between confidence-building measures and the core issue of the distribution of political power in Afghanistan.

“A ceasefire would require strong Islamic justification, obscuring any hint of surrender,” it adds.

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Posted by The Agonist on September 10th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

After all when your dealing with Pentagon-level budgets in the hundreds of billions, what’s a measly half billion among friends?

The American and NATO training missions in Afghanistan have told United States government investigators that more than four years of financial records covering about $475 million worth of fuel purchases for the Afghan National Army may have been shredded, raising concerns about potential fraud. [Gee, ya thunk!? - SH]

Additionally, the agency also says that American and NATO forces have no proper system in place for estimating the Afghan Army’s future fuel requirements, a critical point now because control over the budget on fuel spending is about to be increased and handed over from United States and NATO authority to the Afghan government.

The findings come out of a report to be published Monday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the government agency charged with accounting for how billions of dollars in American reconstruction funds are being spent.

We will never know how much money was wasted in Afghnistan and Iraq, nor how much dropped into the pockets of corrupt officials – bot local and American. It’s amazing to me that generals like David Petraeus, who oversaw the haemorage of millions of dollars and over 140,000 weapons without trace from the training program in Iraq in 2004-05, and William Caldwell who oversaw a similiar loss in Afghanistan from 2009-11, got their extra star and more responsibility. So far, the US military seems to believe that criminal negilence and corruption stop at Lt. Colonel – and that even if it doesn’t it is OK to give generals just a slap on the wrist. Senior civilian officials get the same kind of pass for, at the very least, criminal incompetence in managing the nation’s resources.

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Posted by The Agonist on September 10th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Brian Brady & Jonathan Owen | Sept 9

The Independent – Afghanistan could be carved into eight separate “kingdoms” – with some of them potentially ruled by the Taliban – according to a controversial plan under discussion in London and Washington.

Code-named “Plan C”, the radical blueprint for the future of Afghanistan sets out reforms that would relegate President Hamid Karzai to a figurehead role.

Devised by the Conservative MP and Foreign Office aide Tobias Ellwood, it warns that the country faces a “bleak” future when it is left to fend for itself. Mr Ellwood claims that a “regionalised” state under a powerful new prime minister would tackle the weak government, tribal disputes and corruption which many fear could plunge Afghanistan into chaos when the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) withdraws at the end of 2014.

Senior government sources confirmed that Plan C – Finding a political solution to Afghanistan had been presented to the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and discussed with officials at the White House. Mr Ellwood, a former captain in the Royal Green Jackets, has also discussed the plan with Pakistani government officials in London.

But experts criticised the attempt to “impose” a democratic system on Afghanistan, and insisted that coalition leaders should be concentrating on a military exit strategy that would enable them to withdraw their forces by the 2014 deadline.

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