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Posted by Derrick Crowe on March 4th, 2011

Fresh from the reported killing of more than 60 civilians, U.S. forces in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, killed nine boys gathering firewood on a mountainside. General Petraeus says he’s sorry.

“We are deeply sorry for this tragedy and apologize to the members of the Afghan government, the people of Afghanistan and, most importantly, the surviving family members of those killed by our actions,” Gen. Petraeus said in a statement. “These deaths should have never happened.”

Too little, too late, general. Nine boys now lie among thousands of others who had a right to life independent of U.S. goals in Afghanistan, and “sorry” doesn’t cut it, especially from the general who’s tripling the air war over Afghanistan. Air strikes are the leading tactic involved when U.S. and coalition forces kill civilians. We know this. We use them anyway. These boys’ deaths, or at least the idea of these boys’ deaths, were factored in to a calculation and deemed insufficient to deter the use of air power long before they died, and their deaths don’t seem to have changed Petraeus’ or ISAF’s calculus. Sorry doesn’t cut it.

But at least Petraeus didn’t try to blame the boys’ families for blowing them up to frame him this time.

Sorry certainly doesn’t cut it for the brother of one of the dead:

“I don’t care about the apology,” Mohammed Bismil, the 20-year-old brother of two boys killed in the strike, said in a telephone interview. “The only option I have is to pick up a Kalashnikov, RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] or a suicide vest to fight.”

President Obama says he’s sorry, too:

President Obama expressed his deep regret for the tragic accident in Kunar Province in which nine Afghans were killed. The President conveyed his condolences to the Afghan people and stressed that he and General Petraeus take such incidents very seriously. President Obama and President Karzai agreed that such incidents undermine our shared efforts in fighting terrorism.

Oh, good, he takes such incidents “very seriously.” Here’s a fun thought experiment: can you imagine President Obama (or any high-ranking visiting U.S. dignitary, for that matter) scheduling a visit to the graveside of any civilian victim of U.S.-fired munitions on his next trip to Afghanistan? Give me a call when the images from that photo-op make the front pages, would you?

I don’t doubt for a second that President Obama and much of Washington officialdom think that they take these deaths very seriously. Yet, they continue to rubber-stamp funds and to approve a strategy and various supporting tactics that are guaranteed to cause future incidents like these. Because that’s the case, they’re conscripting tax money that we send to D.C. every year for the purpose of building our nation together into policies that we don’t support and which kill people for whom we feel no malice. In fact, the strategies and tactics are so ill-conceived that they’re putting our money into the hands of insurgents who kill U.S. troops.

From Talking Points Memo:

After nearly a decade of mismanagement, theft and fraud, the U.S. military still hasn’t found a way to staunch the flow of what is likely hundreds of millions — if not billions — of dollars in lost fuel in Afghanistan, some of which is sold on the black market and winds up in Taliban hands, a TPM investigation has found.

…When TPM asked Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), a longtime member of the defense spending panel, about the fuel losses on Wednesday, Moran was well-versed on the topic, noting that he and other members of the committee had received private briefings by defense officials about the thorny security, logistics and corruption issues posed by the fuel theft.

Over the years, the transport of the fuel into the country at times has involved agreements to siphon a portion to outside parties in order to guarantee safe passage of the trucks, Moran said, and some of that fuel has ended up in enemy hands.

This same news story also included mention of a report from last year that showed that U.S. taxpayer funds funneled through protection rackets was one of the insurgents’ most significant sources of funding:

…A House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee investigation last year revealed that the companies under the host-nation contract often paid private security contractors to ensure safe passage through Afghanistan. The security contractors, in turn, made protection payment to local warlords in exchange for their agreement to prevent attacks.

“In many cases, the investigation discovered, these protection payments made their way into the hands of warlords and, directly or indirectly, the very insurgents that U.S. forces were fighting,” Rep. John Tierney (D-MA), the ranking member of the national security oversight subcommittee, wrote in a January letter to Issa highlighting the problems with the trucking contract.

Even completed big-ticket completed projects intended to win hearts and minds for the coalition have resulted in new funding streams for insurgents. From Yahoo! News:

WASHINGTON – By pumping more than $100 million into a hydropower plant, the United States sought to improve the lives of Afghans and win the hearts and minds of tribesmen and farmers who might otherwise turn to the Taliban insurgency. Instead, a prominent outside Pentagon adviser argues, the bungled boondoggle ended up funding the insurgents while doing little to help the United States end the war and bring troops home.

…Half the electricity from the project in the volatile Helmand province goes to Taliban territory, enabling America’s enemies to issue power bills and grow the poppies that finance their insurgency, he says.

With our money fueling the insurgency and our killing of civilians driving more people to join the Taliban’s side every week, it’s little wonder that the insurgency continues to grow in size and sophistication. But that brings us back to that calculation, the one that put those nine dead boys in the column titled “Acceptable Losses.” With official promises that more troops would lead to more security for ordinary Afghans having collapsed so badly that they read like a bad joke, what could possibly justify this continued bonfire of lives and resources in Afghanistan? The war’s not making us safer and it’s not worth the cost. Dragging this out until 2014 won’t change that one bit.

This week U.S. forces burned children along with the firewood they were gathering. If we allow this brutal, futile war to continue, you can bet that more children and more of our resources will be kindling to a fire that’s not keeping anybody warm. The American people want our troops brought home, and it’s time President Obama and Congress took that “very seriously.”

If you’re fed up with this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost, join a Rethink Afghanistan Meetup near you and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on March 2nd, 2011

The movement to end the Afghanistan War is gaining momentum, and on March 12, it will gain some more. In a little less than two weeks, supporters of Rethink Afghanistan (“Rethinkers”) will get together with their neighbors in hundreds of communities to talk about what can be done locally to stop the war. We’re going to swap stories, share a coffee or a beer, and make the personal connections with other Rethinkers in our neighborhood that will carry us through to our goal of bringing our troops home. Join us in your hometown for Rethink the Cost, a worldwide Meetup for people who want to end the Afghanistan War.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on February 27th, 2011

Rethink Afghanistan is organizing a worldwide Meetup Day in two weeks! Here are the details:

March 12, 2011: Rethink the Cost, a worldwide Meetup day organized by Rethink Afghanistan. Get together with other people in your area who are fed up with the huge cost of the Afghanistan War and who want to do something about it. Help jumpstart the fight to end the war in your community by organizing or attending a local Meetup on Saturday, March 12. Use the hashtag #RethinktheCost on Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.

Sign up now to join your local Meetup!

Bookmark this blog post, as we’ll be adding resources on the cost of war for local Meetups to use in their communities.

Meet Rethinkers Near You

Meeting other people in your community who support the Rethink Afghanistan campaign is a great way to tap into the power of the movement to end the war. All over the world, people are gathering in local groups over a coffee or a beer and figuring out how to act locally to bring our troops home. Rethink the Afghanistan War Meetups give you a place to find others in your community ready to start local projects, or even just find and meet like-minded people in your hometown. Find one (or start one!) near you today.

Meeting up is easy. You just need to take three simple steps.

1) Find your town.

Take a look and see if there’s a Rethink the Afghanistan War Meetup happening soon in your area.

If there are already others in your area interested, you’ll see their communities on the list. Click on the link for your city and then click on the “Count me in” button. You’ll be able to log in by either creating a new Meetup account or by just using your Facebook profile.

If there’s not an event scheduled in your town, just create your own. Type in your suggestion for a Meetup into the field at the top. You just put in a date, place, and a little information, and you’re set. For a Meetup to happen, someone needs to volunteer as the organizer. It’s really easy to be an organizer: all you have to do is pick a place to meet. (Editing any of the information on the page for your event makes you an organizer, by the way.) Let Derrick know you’ve got an event coming up, and we’ll help you promote it.

2) Join the conversation.

Once you’ve told your neighbors, “I’m in,” you’ll be able to share comments on the page for your local Meetup. You and your neighbors can figure out together what you want to do during the Meetup, where and when you want to meet, etc.

3) Spread the word.

Use your social media profiles to spread the word! Use the #RethinkAfghanistan hastag in your tweets, Flickr photos and YouTube videos, and make sure to share your event with your Facebook friends!

UPDATE: We’ve just added two new one-pagers that groups can use to educate people in their hometowns. If your Meetup group is looking for a quick and easy way to push back against the Afghanistan War in your neighborhood, consider using these one-pagers to leaflet!

*Special thanks to Ali Selvi, a Rethink Afghanistan Facebook fan, for suggesting the name for the Meetup and designing an awesome graphic for event materials!

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on February 25th, 2011

By Robert Greenwald and Derrick Crowe

The latest general to find himself excoriated in the pages of Rolling Stone, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, should resign immediately for using psychological operations, commonly known as “psy-ops” against U.S. lawmakers visiting Afghanistan. If he will not resign immediately, President Obama should fire him.

Sign our petition calling for Lt. General William Caldwell to be removed from his post in Afghanistan.

Caldwell is one of the most pivotal military officers in President Obama’s failing escalation strategy in Afghanistan and is charged with training the Afghan National Security Forces. According to Rolling Stone, he pressured reluctant psy-ops personnel into putting their talents to use to try to manipulate lawmakers into providing more funds and troops for a war that Americans don’t support.

First of all, it doesn’t matter whether anything Caldwell tried succeeded in changing legislators’ minds. The use of funds and resources dedicated to psychological/information operations to influence any American citizens, much less those who control the purse strings for your pet project, is illegal on its face. It doesn’t matter if they used the most advanced techniques available to influence behavior or simply working on beefing up PowerPoint slides and handouts. If Caldwell directed people paid and trained out of the propaganda purse to help influence U.S. citizens, he broke the law. And breaking that law intentionally, even defiantly (his spokespeople reportedly shouted “It’s not illegal if I say it’s not!” when challenged.), is alone worthy of his dismissal.

Beyond the simple matter of a pivotal ISAF official breaking a very clear law even when he and his staff were made aware of their behavior’s illegality, Caldwell’s actions convey a dangerous and disturbing attitude towards Members of Congress and Senators. The Rolling Stone article reports that Caldwell wanted “pressure points” on lawmakers that he could “leverage” to “get inside their heads.” His staff wanted to know how they could “secretly manipulate” legislators “without their knowledge.” This behavior and mentality goes way beyond advocating for one’s preferred projects and policies. Caldwell in his staff seem to view the civilian branch of the government as a kind of target.

The alarming disrespect and aggression in Caldwell’s and his staff’s reported behavior may not have provided as many sensational quotes as those given by McChrystal and his staff prior to his canning, but their posture toward civilian control of the military is far, far worse. That posture comes with a serious amount of resources that could do real harm to our democracy. According to a 2009 report by the Associated Press,

This year [2009] the Pentagon will employ 27,000 people just for recruitment, advertising and public relations — almost as many as the total 30,000-person work force in the State Department… [T]he Pentagon’s rapidly expanding media empire… is now bigger in size, money and power than many media companies.

$547 million goes into public affairs, which reaches American audiences. And about $489 million more goes into what is known as psychological operations, which targets foreign audiences.

Just for comparison, petroleum giant BP spent “only” $7.3 million on lobbying Congress last year. If behavior like Caldwell’s isn’t forcefully curtailed, the Pentagon could potentially spend well over 135 times that amount with a State-Department-sized specialized workforce to promote this ugly war that Americans don’t support, and our voices will be washed out of the democratic process.

Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistan campaign is calling for Caldwell’s immediate resignation (or firing, if he will not resign). If we can get 10,000 signatures, we’ll deliver the petition to Congress and the White House next week. With Congress out of session this week, it’s up to us to speak out on this before it gets swept off the front pages and under the rug. Please help us stand up to the misuse of our dollars on propaganda and sign our petition today.

If you’re fed up with this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter, and Meetup with others who want this war to end.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on February 22nd, 2011

General Petraeus and his public relations team reportedly engaged in a scummy attempt to deflect blame for an alleged civilian casualty event on Sunday, suggesting that Afghan parents caught in the crossfire of a coalition raid burned their own children to incriminate international forces. International forces led by the U.S. are accused of killing as many as 60 civilians during a several-day operation in Ghaziabad district in Kunar Province, Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the U.S.-led coalition has a long history of blaming the victims when they get caught in potentially explosive civilian casualty incidents, making this vile accusation particularly hard to believe.

To the shock of President Hamid Karzai’s aides, Gen. David H. Petraeus suggested Sunday at the presidential palace that Afghans caught up in a coalition attack in northeastern Afghanistan might have burned their own children to exaggerate claims of civilian casualties, according to two participants at the meeting.

[Unnamed sources in the room for the conversation] said Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, dismissed allegations by Karzai’s office and the provincial governor that civilians were killed and said residents had invented stories, or even injured their children, to pin the blame on U.S. forces and force an end to the operation.

Has Petraeus lost his mind? One better have some pretty solid evidence before accusing people who may have lost children or seen them badly injured of lying of hurting their own kids. From what I can tell, there’s no evidence of parental abuse being responsible for the reported injuries of children. Petraeus and his spin shop are trying to get ahead of the story, throwing multiple possible accounts of what happened into the mix to blunt the outrage that will surely result when a story about an awful set of civilian killings hits the news. But lacking hard evidence, Petraeus’ hypothetical seems ugly and vicious, relying on pervasive notions of Afghans as backward and barbaric to escape accountability.

A Pattern of Blaming the Victim

International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) press flak Rear Adm. Greg Smith claimed to have watched video of the attacks and said everything was just peachy:

During the next five hours, Smith said, surveillance drones tracked the fighters while the Apaches fired 30 mm Gatling guns, rockets and Hellfire missiles. “I have reviewed the footage and found no evidence women and children were among the fighters,” he said. “Again, no civilian structures were anywhere near where these engagements took place. It was at night and in very rugged terrain.”

And yet…

On Saturday, Wahidi, the provincial governor, sent a three-person fact-finding team up the valley to the village of Helgal. They returned with seven injured people, including a woman and a man, both 22 years old, and five boys and girls 16 or younger. Smith said they had burns and shrapnel wounds, none of them life-threatening.

Now, wait a second. Smith says there’s no evidence women and children were among the fighters, yet also says that civilians had shrapnel wounds? Then Smith does what he tends to do when there’s a potentially attention-getting civilian casualty incident: He blames the Afghan families:

The U.S. military “did have initial reports that the feet and hands of the children appeared to have been burned,” Smith said. “We have observed increased reporting of children being disciplined by having their hands and feet dipped into boiling water. No one is claiming this is the case in this instance, but it may well be.”

Recall that Smith did the same thing when U.S. special forces killed several Afghan civilians, including pregnant women, in Gardez, whom he said had been discovered “tied up, gagged and killed,” presumably by the families of the women.

“[Smith] added, however, “I don’t know that there are any forensics that show bullet penetrations of the women or blood from the women.” He said they showed signs of puncture and slashing wounds from a knife, and appeared to have died several hours before the arrival of the assault force. In respect for Afghan customs, autopsies are not carried out on civilian victims, he said.

In the Gardez case, Smith was either inventing or conveying bald-faced lies. The women did not die “several hours before the arrival of the assault force.” They died after special forces team members shot them, and one of them died while special forces troops dug bullets out of her to cover their tracks.

Video Evidence?

ISAF flaks have a bad habit of claiming to have incontrovertible video evidence that U.S. forces did nothing wrong which often doesn’t pan out. Remember the Farah massacre? Dozens of civilians died, and Col. Greg Julian swore that our forces weren’t responsible.

The footage shows insurgents streaming into homes that were later bombed, said Col. Greg Julian, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan. He said ground troops observed some 300 villagers flee in advance of the fighting, indicating that not many could have been inside the bombed compounds… Investigators later reviewed hours of cockpit video from the fighter jets as well as audio recordings of the air crew’s conversation with the ground commander. Julian said the military would release the footage and other evidence in the coming days.

Despite Julian swearing he watched hours of cockpit video vindicating the bombers, the U.S. military later admitted (.pdf) that the pilots did in fact kill those civilians after the pilots lost contact with their intended targets before firing.

Pardon me for not jumping to ISAF’s defense, after they lied about the use of grenades at the Farah massacre, or claimed the Afghans they shot up at Gardez were “dead when they got there” with bodies stashed near food preparation areas. And pardon me also for not trusting a thing that comes out of Rear Adm. Greg Smith’s mouth, the ISAF flak that tried to smear journalist Jerome Starkey for accurately reporting the facts about the Gardez killings. The job of an ISAF public affairs officer is not to tell you the truth, no matter how much that observation provokes their pique. The job of an ISAF PAO is to aid in the war effort by spinning events to the advantage of their side of the conflict. Smith is not a credible source (as proved by the Gardez/Starkey affair, if nothing else) and should be contextualized and held at arms length by any serious journalist.

Enough Spin Already

When asked about reports of his ugly attempt to blame the victims in Ghaziabad: “Petraeus, through a spokesman, declined to comment.”

I bet.

ISAF seems to be talking out of several sides of their mouth. Were there no civilians in the area, or did locals in the crossfire invent a story? Did the parents burn their own children, or was there shrapnel in them? And how would shrapnel get into the kids if there were no civilians nearby? This story is still developing, but it bears many of the hallmarks of ISAF’s past attempts to warp news coverage after attention-getting reports of mass civilian casualties surfaced.

Enough spin. If ISAF has video of the events in question, it should be made available to the public immediately. There should be an independent UN investigation into the killings and maimings in Ghaziabad, and, unless he has hard evidence, Petraeus should also publicly apologize for trying to deflect blame onto the families who lost loved ones or saw their children injured. Frankly, this kind of talk is tawdry and disgraceful.

Oh, and six more civilians were killed when one of ISAF’s missiles hit a mud-built home in Nangarhar.

If you’re fed up with this brutal, futile war that’s not making us safer, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on February 18th, 2011

Things have been busy this week at Rethink Afghanistan and in the anti-Afghanistan-War movement generally, so I thought it might be helpful to post a recap of the last few days.

On Sunday, February 13, the television ad we created from your “Because It’s Time” wall postings began airing on CNN in Washington, D.C. To our surprise, we discovered that this was the first-ever anti-Afghanistan-War ad aired on TV. Go team! The ad will run through this coming Sunday, February 20, thanks to your generous donations.

We spent several days working with Members of Congress and online writers to organize a “blog blitz,” were we flooded a number of high-traffic websites today with anti-Afghanistan-War blog posts, including The Huffington Post. Here’s a list of posts:

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-09)
A Responsible End to the War in Afghanistan

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (AZ-)
The Afghan Escalation Has Failed To Deliver

U.S. Rep. Michael Honda (CA-15)
One Year After Escalation, Afghanistan War Still Faltering

Matthew Hoh (Director, Afghanistan Study Group)
Memorials to Purposelessness

Steve Clemons (Director, American Strategy Program, New America Foundation)
It’s Time to Change Course in Afghanistan

Robert Greenwald (Director, Brave New Foundation)
Fed-Up Americans Run First Ever Anti-Afghanistan-War TV Ad

Derrick Crowe (Political Director, Brave New Foundation)
On Anniversary of Marjah Push, Escalation Strategy Still Failing

Digby (Blogger, Digby’s Hullabaloo)
“Happy” Anniversary

Steve Hynd (Editor,
One Year On, Where’s That Government-In-A-Box?

(A note about the participants: Reps. Lee, Honda and Grijalva got us their blog posts during a very, very hectic week on Capitol Hill, while also working on several amendments that aimed to constrain military spending during the debate on the continuing resolution appropriations bill. Several of the other writers were also traveling or grappling with very busy schedules. We appreciate their participation very much, especially during a week like this.)

Our ad buy and blog blitz coincided with a couple of important dates. February 13 marked the one-year point for the escalated military campaign, which began with the assault on Marjah in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. And today, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee reintroduced her bill that would force an orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops. This confluence of dates and events really helped us break through the noise and get Afghanistan back on the public radar after a long lull in coverage.

Keep an eye on this blog for next steps to build on this momentum. Thanks for your support, as always.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on February 13th, 2011

Exactly one year ago, on February 13, 2010, the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan launched the first major military operations enabled by President Obama’s 30,000 troop increase. President Obama and the high priests of counterinsurgency warfare, Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, made two major assertions about the escalation, that it would a) enable coalition forces to reverse the insurgents’ momentum and b) increase security for the Afghan people. After a year of fighting, neither of those things happened. The escalation is a failure, and it’s time to bring our troops home.

February 13, 2010: The Push into Marjah

Three hundred and sixty-five days ago, U.S. and other international forces began Operation Moshtarak, the invasion of Marja District in Helmand Province. Looking back, the hubris and hype surrounding this military operation boggle the mind. General McChrystal promised, “We’ve got a government in a box, ready to roll in,” meaning that good governance and the extension of Kabul’s writ would be implemented very rapidly. The operation was supposed to be a prototype for future campaigns in Afghanistan and a “confidence builder” for both U.S. forces and a restive political class in Washington, D.C., not all of whom were happy about the escalation or McChrystal’s brashness in pushing it.

To put it mildly, Moshtarak failed to live up to the hype:

“[I]n the weeks leading up to the imminent offensive to take the Helmand River Valley town of Marjah in southern Afghanistan, the Marines’ commander, Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, sat with dozens of Afghan tribal elders…offering reassurances that his top priority will be the safety of Afghan civilians.”Chicago Tribune, February 10, 2010.

Almost immediately, this hype about an operation purported to be proof-of-concept for the population-protecting counterinsurgency strategy fell apart in the face of U.S.-caused civilian deaths. Just prior to the operation, coalition forces dropped leaflets on the largely illiterate district warning people to stay in their homes. An Italian NGO, Emergeny, warned that military blockades were preventing civilians from fleeing the area. At the same time commanders bragged that the “evacuation” of the residents would allow the use of air strikes without the danger of civilian casualties. These contradictions soon bore deadly fruit: On the second day of the offensive, U.S. troops fired a HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) weapon on a house full of civilians, killing roughly a dozen people. By February 23, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission reported that ISAF forces were responsible for most civilian deaths so far in the incursion.

As insurgents melted away (as all guerrillas do in the face of superior firepower–to bide time and return once counter-insurgents are dug in) the “government in a box” hype fell apart as well. The coalition’s hand-picked governor, Abdul Zahir, turned out to be an ex-convict who served part of a prison sentence for stabbing his own son. By July, he would be replaced as part of a “reform procedure.”

Sending Afghan National Police forces to establish rule of law proved to be a cruel joke on the local residents:

“In the weeks since they were sent to Helmand province as part of the U.S.-led offensive in Marjah, ANCOP members have set up checkpoints to shake down residents, been kicked out for using drugs and shunned in some areas as outsiders, according to U.S. officials briefed on a recent analysis by the RAND Corp. …More than a quarter of the officers in one ANCOP battalion in Helmand were dismissed for drug use, and the rest were sent off for urgent retraining. One Western official who attended the briefing termed ANCOP’s role in Marjah a disaster.”

As late as October 2010, residents of the town said the area was “more insecure than ever,” and Reuters classified the Taliban re-infiltration as a “full-blown insurgency.” And, although U.S. commanders want us to believe that the fighting in Marjah is “essentially over” as of December, the numbers tell a different story. According to the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, in Helmand Province, in which Marjah is located, the number of attacks by insurgents in spiked from 620 in 2009 to 1387 in 2010, a 124-percent increase (.pdf).
A Wider Pattern of Failure

This pattern of hype (“Protecting civilians! Reversing insurgents momentum!”) followed by a failure to deliver extended from Marjah to the whole of the escalation strategy across Afghanistan. Even after a month of fighting in Marjah in which U.S. and coalition forces were responsible for the majority of civilian deaths, Defense Secretary Robert Gates characterized the offensive in this way on March 8, 2010:

“Of course the operation in Marjah is only one of many battles to come in a much longer campaign focused on protecting the people of Afghanistan.”

As was the case in Marjah, that broader campaign has utterly failed to protect the people of Afghanistan in terms of the reach of the insurgency, the levels of war-related violence and the number of civilians killed or injured in the conflict.

Although President Obama, General Petraeus and others have repeatedly asserted in public remarks that the U.S. has reversed the insurgents’ momentum, reports from the Pentagon and from NGOs agree that the insurgency continued to grow in size and sophistication throughout 2010. By one measure, insurgent-initiated attacks this January are up almost 80 percent versus last January. Worse, a new report from Alex Strick von Linschoten and Felix Kuehn at the Center on International Cooperation warns that the U.S. targeted killings of senior Taliban leadership is not only failing to retard the growth of the insurgency, but it’s providing opportunities for much more radical junior leaders to take control of the operation, making the Taliban more susceptible to al-Qaeda influence and making the insurgents less willing to negotiate. In short, over the year in which the U.S. was pursuing its escalated military strategy, the insurgency got larger, smarter and more radical.

When testifying to Congress immediately following President Obama’s 2009 West Point speech, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen asserted the escalation would “improve security for the Afghan people.” The past year proved him wrong. According to the Afghan NGO Safety Office’s (ANSO) Q4 2010 report (.pdf),

“Consistent with the five year trend…attacks by armed opposition groups continue to rise. This year they were 64% higher than 2009, the highest inter‐annual growth rate we have recorded… If averaged, the total of 12,244 armed operations (mostly small arms ambushes, below right) represents roughly 33 attacks per day, every single day of the year. …[T]aking the national data as a whole we consider this indisputable evidence that conditions are deteriorating.”

General Petraeus has taken to speaking of “security bubbles” in Kandahar and Helmand Provinces, but violence is up in those provinces by 20 percent and 124 percent, respectively, according to ANSO. Security in Afghanistan for Afghan civilians sharply declined in the period following the launch of the escalated military campaign.

This heightened level of insurgent-initiated violence, combined with attacks initiated by U.S. and coalition forces, led to a predictable result: 2010 was the worst year of the war so far for war-related civilian deaths.

President Obama and numerous Pentagon officials asserted that the escalation strategy, which began one year ago with the invasion of Majah, would enable U.S. forces to reverse insurgent momentum and protect the population. They were wrong. Measured by the standards of its backers, the escalation strategy in Afghanistan is a miserable failure.

Because It’s Time

Let’s have some accountability here. In the leaked strategic assesment that’s largely responsible for getting us into this mess, General Stanley McChrystal used dire language to describe the “need” for escalation (.pdf):

“The long-term fight will require patience and commitment, but I believe the short-term fight will be decisive. Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”

McChrystal wrote those words in late August 2009, under Petraeus’ supervision. The insurgency’s momentum has not been reversed and security continues to deteriorate across Afghanistan. So let’s take the generals at their word when they say we had to reverse insurgent momentum by late August 2010 to have a chance at defeating the insurgency. Let’s also take the Pentagon at its word that insurgent “operation capability and geographic reach are qualitatively and geographically expanding.” That means that today, on the one-year anniversary of the launch of the escalated military campaign, we’re several months past the point of no return. And that’s if you bought the analysis of those who thought the escalation was a good idea in the first place.

The American people have been more than patient with Washington, D.C. when it comes to the Afghanistan War. In fact, we’ve been downright indulgent, having forked over more than $375 billion in tax dollars and debt and having given the Pentagon almost a decade now to play Risk with other people’s lives in other people’s country. Every deadline that’s been laid down has been fudged. Every justification that’s been given for just one more big push has fallen apart. Every guarantee of a positive outcome has been junked. We’ve had enough.

Rethink Afghanistan and our supporters are tired of politicans’ making excuses for their failure to rein in this debacle, so we’re doing a little escalating of our own. Starting on Sunday, February 13, Rethink Afghanistan will have a new ad on CNN in Washington, D.C., featuring the winners of our Because It’s Time contest, calling for an end to the Afghanistan War. They represent the voices of the 72 percent of Americans who support congressional action to speed up the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The ad buy also coincides with the upcoming reintroduction of U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee’s Responsible End to the War in Afghanistan Act in the House of Representatives. These actions send a strong message that we want decisive action from our elected officials to bring our troops home–because it’s time.

Today is the one-year anniversary of the launch of the escalated military strategy in Afghanistan. It’s clear from the last 12 months that the escalation strategy is a failure. It’s time to come home.

If you’re tired of this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on February 2nd, 2011

Last year was the worst year for civilian deaths in the war so far, and irregular armed groups backed by the U.S. and by the Afghan government are preying on the population while recruiting and abusing children. Go team.

I’m almost numb from continually relaying reports like this, but every time I get an email update or a news alert from ISAF or the U.S. government, it contains claims of “progress,” so I’m compelled to keep highlighting alternative reporting when it comes in. Frankly, I’m so disgusted by the “progress” talk that I’m having trouble holding anyone who spouts it in any regard other than the most utter contempt.

Here’s the latest assessment from the Afghanistan Rights Monitor (.PDF):

Almost everything related to the war surged in 2010: the combined numbers of Afghan and foreign forces surpassed 350,000; security incidents mounted to over 100 per week; more fighters from all warring side were killed; and the number of civilian people killed, wounded and displaced hit record levels.

…From 1 January to 31 December 2010, at least 2,421 civilian Afghans were killed and over 3,270 were injured in conflict-related security incidents across Afghanistan. This means everyday 6-7 noncombatants were killed and 8-9 were wounded in the war.

…In addition to civilian casualties, hundreds of thousands of people were affected in various ways by the intensified armed violence in Afghanistan in 2010. Tens of thousands of people were forced out of their homes or deprived of healthcare and education services and livelihood opportunities due to the continuation of war in their home areas.

Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) are widely considered as the most lethal tools which killed over 690 civilians in 2010. However, as you will read in this report, there is virtually no information about the use of cluster munitions by US/NATO forces. Despite Afghanistan’s accession to the international Anti-Cluster Bomb Treaty in 2008, the US military has allegedly maintained stockpiles of cluster munitions in Afghanistan.

A second key issue highlighted in this report is the emergence of the irregular armed groups in parts of Afghanistan which are backed by the Afghan Government and its foreign allies. These groups have been deplored as criminal and predatory by many Afghans and have already been accused of severe human rights violations such as child recruitment and sexual abuse.

Compare this with the weasel words in President Obama’s State of the Union address:

In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan security forces. Our purpose is clear: By preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al Qaeda the safe haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.

Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency. There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance. But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them. This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead. And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home. (Applause.)

This is just another version of General Petraeus’ empty “taking the fight to the enemy” rhetoric that tells you nothing about the outcomes of the strategy and tactics used by U.S. forces. The ARM data above makes it clear that the president would be more accurate if he said, “fewer Afghans were living outside the crossfire.” The fact is, one year after the new escalated military campaign began in Marjah, things are much worse for the people of Afghanistan. Blame the escalation for the continued increase, or be more generous and say that the escalation simply failed to prevent further deterioration. But please, spare us the lie that “progress” is being made.

If you’re tired of this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost, join us at Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on January 26th, 2011

Because It's Time vote promotion

We need your help to pick the best comments from our “Because It’s Time” wall to be used in the next Rethink Afghanistan video!

We’re approaching the one-year anniversary of the launch of President Obama’s escalated military campaign in Afghanistan, so we here at Brave New Foundation decided we’d mark the occasion with a new Rethink Afghanistan video that will convey the reasons why it’s time to end the war. We put out a call to our supporters to share their photo and the reasons why they think it’s time for the war to end on our “Because It’s Time” wall. Almost 1,000 people responded, and the community created a fantastic collage of images and personal statements to take a strong public stand for peace.

In the coming weeks, we’ll use the best comments left on the site to create a new video that sends a strong message to Washington, D.C. that it’s time to end the war.

This is where you come in. We’ve narrowed submissions to just 20 finalists, and we need you to vote on your favorite entries to help us cut this number down to the top three comments and participants. The winners of this vote will get the chance to star in our latest video declaring to policymakers that it’s time to end the war.

Please take a minute to vote on your top three favorite reasons to end the Afghanistan War, and stay tuned for future updates about the results of the vote!

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on January 7th, 2011

On Wednesday, January 5, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) delivered a “State of the State” address to warn New Yorkers that big cuts are coming to their public services. According to him, New York’s $9.2 billion budget deficit means policymakers have to slash things like health care and education spending. But it seems to me that before we go cutting kids off their field trips to the museum or their doctor’s visits, we should start by looking for big chunks of money leaving New York state for useless purposes.

And it turns out there’s a $9.6 billion stack of cash that’s going to be sucked out of New York this year–that’s how much New York taxpayers will be charged for Afghanistan War spending this year.

That $9.6 billion is more than enough to fill the budget hole this year. New York has plenty of money to keep kids in school and to make sure they can see a doctor when they’re sick or hurt. It’s just that too many of the state’s politicians just have broken priorities. Those broken priorities are reflected in the narrow majority of the state’s federal congresspeople voting in favor of the latest war funding bill (14 voting “Yea,” 13 voting “Nay”):

Voting “Yea” (in favor of the Afghanistan War spending)

  • Timothy H. Bishop (D)
  • Steve Israel (D)
  • Peter T. King (R)
  • Carolyn McCarthy (D)
  • Gary L. Ackerman (D)
  • Michael McMahon (D)
  • Eliot L. Engel (D)
  • Nita M. Lowey (D)
  • John Hall (D)
  • Scott Murphy (D)
  • William Owens (D)
  • Michael Arcuri (D)
  • Christopher J. Lee (R)
  • Brian Higgins (D)

Voting “Nay” (against the Afghanistan War spending)

  • Gregory W. Meeks (D)
  • Joseph Crowley (D)
  • Jerrold Nadler (D)
  • Anthony D. Weiner (D)
  • Edolphus Towns (D)
  • Nydia Velazquez (D)
  • Carolyn B. Maloney (D)
  • Charles B. Rangel (D)
  • Jose Serrano (D)
  • Paul Tonko (D)
  • Maurice D. Hinchey (D)
  • Dan Maffei (D)
  • Louise Slaughter (D)

Thanks in part to those who voted “Yea,” $9.6 billion will leave New York this year in the form of federal tax dollars to pay for the Afghanistan War. On top of the initial loss of the original $9.6 billion, the New York economy also takes a hit in the form of lost potential jobs and economic activity. An October 2007 study by the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) found that per $1 billion invested in the following fields, you create wildly different numbers of jobs:

  • Defense: 8,555 jobs
  • Construction for home weatherization/infrastructure: 12,804 jobs
  • Health care: 12,883 jobs
  • Education: 17,687 jobs
  • Mass transit: 19,795 jobs

In other words, thanks to policymakers spending New York taxpayer money on the Afghanistan War instead of things like mass transit this year, the state lost 107,904 potential jobs, along with all the economic activity (and state tax revenue!) those jobs would create.

Since defense spending is one of the least economically stimulating ways to spend money, New Yorkers might as well have set that $9.6 billion on fire to watch it burn for all the good it will do the state.

If Governor Cuomo wants to avoid cutting school kids off of their educational opportunities and cutting poor kids off their doctor’s visits, he might consider calling the congressional switchboard at 202.224.3121 and asking to have a word with the Members of Congress on the list of people above who voted “Yea” on funding for the Afghanistan War.

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