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Posted by DownWithTyranny on November 6th, 2015

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

I’m not in the least bit mechanically inclined. I came to terms with it before I even went to high school. Not too many years after high school, though, I was driving a brand new VW van down the Hippie Trail from Istanbul to Katmandu. A few days ago I mentioned how when my friends checked into the Kabul InterContinental just outside town– I slept in the van nearby– they were among the very first guests at the largely empty, just-completed, first luxury hotel in Afghanistan. Before we got there, though, there was, basically, the whole country to cross. There are no railroads in Afghanistan, with the exception of about 10 miles built in the early 1980s, connecting Mazar-i-Sharif to the small Uzbek city of Termez, last heard from when it was conquered by Alexander the Great in 329 BC. Before the Russians built a 2 lane paved highway from Kabul to Mazar to Herat (the northern part of the “ring road”) and the U.S. built a 2 lane paved highway from Herat to Kandahar to Kabul (the southern part of the “ring road”), the only way people went to Afghanistan was on horseback, usually as part of an army. I was driving me niceness VW van along that just-built highway.

I had befriended a U.S. consul in Tehran– a relatively lonely outpost– and he gave me all kinds of useful tips about the trip east to Afghanistan, the two most important being that all water had it be boiled twice if one hopes to survive and that under no circumstances could a motor vehicle be on the road at night if one hopes to survive. The water thing is probably clear enough; the night-driving had to do with bandits, a quaint term that would be called “terrorists” in modern parlance. The gas stations in Afghanistan at the time were few and far between– how far? Basically they were spaced so that you were just about to run out of gas as you pulled into one. Long story short, I didn’t run out of gas between the station in Herat and the station in Kandahar… but my van broke down. I’m the mechanically dis-inclined American, but none the European or Canadian passengers knew any more about fixing a car than I did. An hour went by and no other vehicle passed. I could tell it would be dark soon. Dark = bandits = car-stripping murderers. So I taught myself how to fix the car, at least fix it enough to get to the next gas station as we were running out of gas. (The 1969 VW engine was incredibly simple and trial and error worked incredibly well in this instance.)

Eventually the decades of war destroyed the roads and they were rebuilt a few times, the most recent by the U.S…. or the U.S. taxpayers to be more precise. And that includes gas stations, one of which has come to the attention of the public as a huge waste of money. Short version: this gas station in Sheberghan, hometown of Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum and capital of Jowzjan province way up north in the Russian sphere of influence, west of Mazar-i-Sharif and Balkh, cost $43 million to build. NBC reported that the The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) is flipping out because the Department of Defense can’t or won’t explain why it cost that much.

“Even considering security costs associated with construction and operation in Afghanistan, this level of expenditure appears gratuitous and extreme,” SIGAR said in a report issued Monday.

The agency’s top official went further.

“It’s an outrageous waste of money that raises suspicions that there is something more there than just stupidity,” John Sopko, the special inspector general, told NBC News. “There may be fraud. There may be corruption. But I cannot currently find out more about this because of the lack of cooperation.”

…[A] contract for just under $3 million was awarded to a company called Central Asian Engineering in 2011. According to SIGAR, an economic impact assessment found the task force spent well beyond that– $42,718,730– between 2011 and 2014 to fund the station’s construction and supervise its initial operation.

A CNG filling station “would have cost no more than $500,000 in neighboring Pakistan,” the report noted, calculating the “exorbitant cost to U.S. taxpayers” at 140 times higher than it should have been.

Sopko told NBC News it appeared that “nobody was minding the store.”

“This is one of the worst examples of poor planning and just sheer stupidity,” Sopko told NBC News. “It’s outrageous.”

He called the cost “indicative of a real serious mismanagement” but said perhaps the “more serious” issue was how the Department of Defense had failed to offer documentation or records on the project.

“I’m suspicious when I see something that cost 140 times more than it did and I find people trying to withhold or not cooperate with me,” Sopko said. “It raises my suspicions.”

Although Barbara Lee was the only Member of Congress wise enough to see tat the time, there was never any chance that the U.S. would “win” in Afghanistan. The invasion and occupation has been an unmitigated–and inevitable– disaster. Thank God someone is suspicious of this particular gas station boondoggle. This is certainly part of the so-called “fog of war” and it may be inevitable, another reason to pull all U.S. forces out of that hellhole and to completely oppose expanding the U.S. Middle East wars into Syria. I asked Alan Grayson what he thought about it a few days ago and he replied that he never knew Shelley meant that those “vast and trunkless legs of stone” were actually a gas station. Are you a Breaking Bad fan at all?

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on October 19th, 2015

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

Credit: Finbarr O’Reilly, file photo, Reuters (source; click to enlarge)

by Gaius Publius

We have yet to write much about Clinton’s foreign policy, partly because so much of it is inferencial, and partly because so much has been held in reserve. But recently Clinton came out strongly opposed to the actions of Edward Snowden, taking a position very close to Obama’s tough stance on the matter.

And now she has come out in support of continued war in Afghanistan. I’ll have more later on a Clinton foreign policy — a discussion the “left” is not yet having — but I want to open the door to that discussion, as Clinton has done, with this news, from a recent interview with Jake Tapper.

Clinton Endorses Continued War in Afghanistan

Lauren McCauley at Common Dreams (note that her framing may not be yours; my emphasis):

Clinton Backs Plan for Endless War in Afghanistan

Democratic frontrunner says she “supports the president’s decision” to keep troops there until at least 2017

Presidential contender Hillary Clinton on Friday [October 16] declared her full support for President Obama’s plan to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan until at least 2017, saying the move reflects a knowledge of “what’s going on in the real world.”

In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, the former Secretary of State reiterated Obama’s position, saying that while the U.S. government doesn’t want troops engaged in on-the ground content, “we want them to help support and train the Afghan army.”

“So I can’t predict where things will be in January of 2017,” Clinton said. “But I support the president’s decision.”

She added that the move reflects that of “a leader who has strong convictions about what he would like to see happen but also pays attention to what’s going on in the real world.”

The interview followed the President’s announcement Thursday that as many as 5,500 soldiers will remain in the country for at least another year, reversing previous pledges to end the United States’ war in Afghanistan.

Two takeaways: One, this puts Ms. Clinton on the warrior side of the ledger. Do progressives want another warrior president? Some might, I realize, and some might not. This at least starts that debate.

Second, when Clinton talks about “support[ing] the Afghan army” — this is the kind of trouble our support gets us into:

The Doctors Without Borders Bombing Is Looking More and More Like a War Crime

On NBC Nightly News on Thursday, Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski reported that, based on the accounts of Defense Department sources, cockpit recordings from the AC-130 gunship involved in the incident “reveal that the crew actually questioned whether the airstrike was legal.” He also quoted a U.S. defense official suggesting that the attack “may in fact amount to a war crime.” The video and audio cockpit recordings of the incident, which feature conversations between the plane’s crew and U.S. troops on the ground, are at the center of the military’s investigation into the incident, as the Daily Beast’s Nancy Youssef reported last week.* The recordings have not been released publicly or even to the members of Congress who received a classified briefing on the incident. …

The U.S. explanation for how the incident took place has shifted several times and the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Campbell, reportedly believes that U.S. troops did not follow proper procedure. MSF, which has alleged that a war crime took place, is calling on the U.S. and Afghan governments to consent to an independent investigation, a request that has so far been rebuffeds.

One of those shifting U.S. explanations for the air strike was that Afghan forces called it in — the form of support called “air support.”

Sanders on Afghanistan

This is Bernie Sanders’ statement about the Afghan War, from his Issues page at

Sen. Sanders called on both Presidents Bush and Obama to withdraw U.S. troops as soon as possible and for the people of Afghanistan to take full responsibility for their own security. After visiting Afghanistan, Sen. Sanders spoke-out against the rampant corruption he saw, particularly in regards to elections, security and the banking system.

If he holds by this and draws a clear distinction with Ms. Clinton, it’s possible the 2016 Democratic primary will also be a proxy vote on the future of the Afghan War. 


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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on October 19th, 2015

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

The October 3 US military bombing of a Doctors Without Borders [MSF] hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan killed twelve humanitarians and ten patients, including three children.

The Pentagon claims the bombing was a mistake, but the Associated Press reported US special operations analysts had been investigating the hospital prior to the attack. If the gunship was aware of this or if commanding officers intentionally withheld the information from the gunship, the incident could qualify as a “war crime.”

As MSF has said, “it is impossible to expect parties involved in the conflict to carry out independent and impartial investigations of military actions in which they are themselves implicated.”

Reps. Ellison, McGovern, Barbara Lee, and Grijalva are circulating a letter to their colleagues backing calls for a civilian-led, independent investigation of this atrocity. Your Representative should join them in supporting an independent investigation.

Call your Representative NOW at (202) 224-3121 and say,

“I urge you to sign the Ellison-McGovern-Lee-Grijalva letter calling for an independent investigation of the Doctors Without Borders hospital bombing.”

When you’re done, please report your call below.

And if you haven’t signed our petition asking members of Congress to sign the letter, you can do that here:


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Posted by DownWithTyranny on October 9th, 2015

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

by Gaius Publius

There’s new reporting on the U.S. bombing of the Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. As you may know, Doctors Without Borders wants the incident, in which 22 people were killed, including patients who burned to death in their beds, investigated as a war crime. (You’ll see their reasons lower in this piece.)

Now, thanks to excellent reporting by Ryan Grim at Huffington Post, we have more information. The bombing was apparently done at the request of the Afghan military, who had also attacked the hospital with Special Forces less than three months before the U.S. bombing. 

The implications of the bombing are horrific. The implications of this new story are worse. Let’s say it is a war crime. Did we do it because the Afghans said to? Who’s taking orders from whom in that war? And do U.S. commanders even care whom they’re bombing, if they’re blindly bombing targets chosen by others?

If so, in the game of Genius and Bully, we’re just the bully. From Ryan Grim’s report:

Kunduz Hospital Was Raided By Afghan Special Forces Just Three Months Before U.S. Bombing

The raid hints at a motive for the strike.

Afghan special forces raided the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz less than three months before a U.S. bombing killed 22 staff members and patients.

The raid took place on the afternoon of July 1, according to a statement from the hospital at the time. U.S. authorities have since said that Afghan forces called in Saturday’s bombing, which lasted for more than an hour, and that the U.S. was unaware it was striking a hospital.

The previous raid suggests that Afghan authorities were aware the facility was a hospital and had a hostile relationship with its staff prior to calling in the U.S. bombing.

According to a statement posted online in July, “heavily armed men from Afghan Special Forces entered the [Médecins Sans Frontières] hospital compound, cordoned off the facility and began shooting in the air.”

“The armed men physically assaulted three MSF staff members and entered the hospital with weapons,” the statement continued. “They then proceeded to arrest three patients. Hospital staff tried their best to ensure continued medical care for the three patients, and in the process, one MSF staff member was threatened at gunpoint by two armed men. After approximately one hour, the armed men released the three patients and left the hospital compound.”

While the motive of the raid is unclear, Afghan forces have long protested the practice of providing medical treatment to insurgents. But international law says that as soon as a fighter is in need of treatment, he is no longer a combatant. [...]

Note this: “U.S. authorities have since said that Afghan forces called in Saturday’s bombing…” Do Afghan forces direct American bombing? Again, the implications of just that sentence are pretty bad.

Is This a War Crime?

We’ve come a long way since World War II, when Nazi atrocities were prosecuted as war crimes, while incidents like the fire-bombing of Dresden and Tokyo, not to mention the destruction of Hiroshima, were not even brought up. Now we have ways to sometimes bring even the powerful to justice. The request of Doctors Without Borders? An independent international investigation.

Here’s a DWB statement (one of several) on the incident that plainly says there’s prima facie evidence of a war crime (my emphasis):

MSF is disgusted by the recent statements coming from some Afghanistan government authorities justifying the attack on its hospital in Kunduz. These statements imply that Afghan and US forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital with more than 180 staff and patients inside because they claim that members of the Taliban were present.

This amounts to an admission of a war crime. This utterly contradicts the initial attempts of the US government to minimize the attack as ‘collateral damage.’

There can be no justification for this abhorrent attack on our hospital that resulted in the deaths of MSF staff as they worked and patients as they lay in their beds. MSF reiterates its demand for a full transparent and independent international investigation.”

And now from a CREDO petition also calling for an investigation (emphasis and footnotes in the original):

Sign the petition: Justice for Doctors Without Borders

In the middle of the night on Saturday, a U.S. military plane “repeatedly and very precisely” bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital filled with doctors, nurses and wounded patients in Kunduz, Afghanistan.1

The airstrike killed twelve Doctors Without Borders staff members and ten patients, including three children, and injured scores more. Some patients literally burned alive in their hospital beds.2

So far, the Pentagon has only released incomplete and contradictory accounts of what happened and why.

On Sunday, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) stated that: “Under the clear presumption that a war crime has been committed, MSF demands that a full and transparent investigation into the event be conducted by an independent international body. Relying only on an internal investigation by a party to the conflict would be wholly insufficient.”3

The world needs to know how and why this grave violation of International Humanitarian Law was committed.4 Those responsible for what we presume to be an atrocious war crime must then face justice. Please join Doctors Without Borders in calling for an immediate and independent international investigation.

Tell President Obama and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter: We join Doctors Without Borders and demand an investigation by an independent international body into the U.S. airstrike on the Kunduz hospital.

The Pentagon initially claimed that the hospital was hit by accident after U.S. troops nearby came under fire and called in the airstrike, then later changed its story and said that no U.S. troops were in the area and that Afghan troops called in the strike.5

But the Pentagon’s story simply doesn’t add up. According to Doctors Without Borders: “Not a single member of our staff reported any fighting inside the MSF hospital compound prior to the U.S. airstrike on Saturday morning… We reiterate that the main hospital building, where medical personnel were caring for patients, was repeatedly and very precisely hit during each aerial raid, while the rest of the compound was left mostly untouched.”6

Further, “The bombing took place despite the fact that MSF had provided the GPS coordinates of the trauma hospital to Coalition and Afghan military and civilian officials as recently as Tuesday, September 29, [five days before the airstrike] to avoid that the hospital be hit.”7

Shockingly, the bombing continued for more than half an hour after Doctors Without Borders staff began making frantic calls to U.S. and Afghan military officials.

The Pentagon’s claim that the hospital was bombed by accident is also contradicted by statements by Afghan officials, who have tried to justify the attack by claiming that the hospital was used by the Taliban for military purposes. [...]

You can sign that petition here. If our military is innocent, what do they have to fear, right?

And if you consider that, after 15 years of war in Afghanistan, it’s time to get out, you might give these folks a little of your time and attention as well.


The Specials (lyrics here)

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on September 23rd, 2015

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

How do you go into a relatively primitive traditional culture and demand it change because it doesn’t meet our 21st-century standards? I can remember arguing with progressive congresswomen who wanted to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan to help liberate Afghan women. We’re talking about hundreds if not thousands of years of ingrained behavior tied to religion, culture and the most intimate of social relations. Soldiers aren’t going to make it happen; they’re just going to kill people and be killed. 

My times in Afghanistan, in 1969 and again in 1972, were awesome, and a total culture shock. I mean total. And I was reminded of them over the weekend when the NY Times ran a story about bacha bazi, traditional Pashtun pedophilia that was supposedly banned under the Taliban but is back in full swing now. And it upsets American soldiers there.

“At night we can hear them screaming, but we’re not allowed to do anything about it,” the Marine’s father, Gregory Buckley Sr., recalled his son telling him before he was shot to death at the base in 2012. He urged his son to tell his superiors. “My son said that his officers told him to look the other way because it’s their culture.”

Rampant sexual abuse of children has long been a problem in Afghanistan, particularly among armed commanders who dominate much of the rural landscape and can bully the population. The practice is called bacha bazi, literally “boy play,” and American soldiers and Marines have been instructed not to intervene– in some cases, not even when their Afghan allies have abused boys on military bases, according to interviews and court records.

The policy has endured as American forces have recruited and organized Afghan militias to help hold territory against the Taliban. But soldiers and Marines have been increasingly troubled that instead of weeding out pedophiles, the American military was arming them in some cases and placing them as the commanders of villages– and doing little when they began abusing children.

“The reason we were here is because we heard the terrible things the Taliban were doing to people, how they were taking away human rights,” said Dan Quinn, a former Special Forces captain who beat up an American-backed militia commander for keeping a boy chained to his bed as a sex slave. “But we were putting people into power who would do things that were worse than the Taliban did– that was something village elders voiced to me.”

The policy of instructing soldiers to ignore child sexual abuse by their Afghan allies is coming under new scrutiny, particularly as it emerges that service members like Captain Quinn have faced discipline, even career ruin, for disobeying it.

After the beating, the Army relieved Captain Quinn of his command and pulled him from Afghanistan. He has since left the military.

Four years later, the Army is also trying to forcibly retire Sgt. First Class Charles Martland, a Special Forces member who joined Captain Quinn in beating up the commander.

“The Army contends that Martland and others should have looked the other way (a contention that I believe is nonsense),” Representative Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who hopes to save Sergeant Martland’s career, wrote last week to the Pentagon’s inspector general.

In Sergeant Martland’s case, the Army said it could not comment because of the Privacy Act.

When asked about American military policy, the spokesman for the American command in Afghanistan, Col. Brian Tribus, wrote in an email: “Generally, allegations of child sexual abuse by Afghan military or police personnel would be a matter of domestic Afghan criminal law.” He added that “there would be no express requirement that U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan report it.” An exception, he said, is when rape is being used as a weapon of war.

The American policy of nonintervention is intended to maintain good relations with the Afghan police and militia units the United States has trained to fight the Taliban. It also reflects a reluctance to impose cultural values in a country where pederasty is rife, particularly among powerful men, for whom being surrounded by young teenagers can be a mark of social status.

Some soldiers believed that the policy made sense, even if they were personally distressed at the sexual predation they witnessed or heard about.

“The bigger picture was fighting the Taliban,” a former Marine lance corporal reflected. “It wasn’t to stop molestation.”

We looked at this five years ago on my travel blog when I wrote about my own experiences seeing it. When I first got to Afghanistan in 1969, having driven in my VW van from London, my strongest immediate thought, other than how unbelievably strong the hash was, was that no matter how far I had traveled in space, I had traveled much farther in time– straight backward. I was thousands of miles from my parents’ home in Brooklyn, and what felt like as many thousands of years back in time. I remember writing to a friend that I was feeling like I was living in the Bible (Old Testament).

Things have changed a little since then. I lived in a “village” (two family compounds off a barely demarcated dirt track) for a winter up in the Hindu Kush, where no one had ever heard of the United States, and no one had ever experienced electricity. Some four decades later I’m not sure if they’ve experienced electricity yet, but I’d bet you they’ve heard of the United States.

When you travel to, let’s say, “exotic” places like Afghanistan, you’re better off leaving your cultural judgments in check. There’s no way to reasonably compare our cultural standards to the ones that govern their lives. I got used to the concept, for example, of two good cleanings a year– one in the spring and one in the fall, something very different from the swim, jacuzzi, steam bath and shower I do in some combination every day here in L.A. Better to just roll with the punches. 

However, there was something I experienced a couple of times in Afghanistan which I just couldn’t swing with. It was pretty horrifying. They call it bacha bazi, and my experience of it came at two weddings, one in Ghazni, southwest of Kabul, which I believe was the fourth biggest town in the country, and one up in the Hindu Kush, the land time forgot. Bachas are young dancing boys. We’ll come back to this cultural artifact in a moment, but here you’ll find what Wikipedia says about it.

You don’t ever see the womenfolk in Afghanistan. My closest friend got married while I was there, and for several months I lived in his house and spent virtually all of my time with him. Everyone used to joke that we were brothers. I never saw the girl he married, not once. In the same house! Nor was she– or his mother or sisters– at the wedding. Well, that isn’t exactly accurate. They had their own party in the women’s part of the house. But it wasn’t exactly separate-but-equal, just separate.

Big steaming platters of rice with meat and vegetables were brought out by male servants– actually slaves, but no one called them that– and everyone dug in with their fingers, food rolling down everyone’s beards back onto the platters. Yum, yum. When the men were done eating, the leftovers were fed to the servants and dogs, although I don’t remember in what order, and then what was left from that was sent to the women. 

Meanwhile we had song and dance, from boys who looked like they were between 12 and 16, a troupe from somewhere who were hired to entertain at parties. They were wearing women’s dancing clothes, more or less; they all had big heavy farmer boots on. And they all had their eyes smeared with kohl and some kind of rouge substitute. While they danced– kind of alluringly, truth be told, everyone was hootin’ and hollerin’. No one was drunk, but everyone, every single person, was high on hash. 

At one point the groom’s grandfather suddenly jumped up, apparently unable to restrain himself for another second, grabbed the youngest, smallest bacha and dragged him behind a building and raped him. It was gruesome to hear, but it didn’t seem to put any kind of a damper on the party at all. The rest of the troupe kept dancing, and everyone else just ignored the commotion and enjoyed the festivities. It’s part of their culture. 

Ten minutes later Grandpa and the 12-year-old came back from around the building, straightening their clothes. The bacha seemed to feel his dignity was affronted, but he jumped right back into the line and danced away the rest of the evening as though nothing had happened. I’m not sure what happened afterward, but from what I heard, all the boys were raped (more or less).

And although these people definitely have heard of America now, they still enjoy a little bacha bazi as part of their cultural heritage, especially the wealthy men, although wealth is a relative thing. Whoever is exercising power gets himself a young bacha or two (or a half-dozen) to keep as sex slaves. Frontline did a special on the phenomenon by journalist Najibullah Qurasishi. You may find it difficult to watch, but it will certainly give you an idea about a not-uncommon aspect of Afghanistan, a country the U.S. military is occupying for no apparent purpose and with no apparent positive effect.

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on July 31st, 2015

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

We could have had, like, a little memorial service? Or maybe sent a nice floral arrangement? (A local florist would have known what’s in season over there.)

Milt Bearden, a former CIA operative in Pakistan and Afghanistan, said that “it is beyond puzzling” that Omar’s death could go unconfirmed for so long, especially given the intelligence and surveillance capabilities of the United States.

But “it’s another case of why intelligence collection in that part of the world is so difficult,” Bearden said. “The truth is layered, and there are multiple agendas, none of which we ever really understand.”

– from “Taliban leader Omar’s tale reflects clashing
,” by the
Washington Post’s Greg Miller

by Ken

It’s a relief to find that a certified secret-intelligence pro is “beyond puzzled” by that two-year gap in getting out news of the death of Mullah Omar. At the same time, you wouldn’t think that “alive” or “dead” would be a truth subject to such extensive layering.

Meanwhile, I’ll bet there are Taliban fighers all over Greater Talibania frantically searching their memories now trying to figure out just how long ago it was they got that inspiring yet terrifying order: “Please to dispatch 20 infidels by sundown also clean out your cave it’s disgusting. Kind regards Mullah O.” Because as we know now, if the message came less than two years ago, it appears most unlikely that it was from the One-Eyed One after all, and it’s now a much less interesting story to tell strangers passing through, not to mention the grandkids. (“You know, Mullah Omar and I were so close that . . . .”)

After all, it was just a couple of weeks ago that there was buzz about the sudden appearance of a message from Mullah Omar. Daily Outlook Afghanistan reported “Mullah Omar’s Dramatic Emergence; An Impetus to Talks.”


As breaking-newsbreaks go, it has to be that some luster is taken off the news of Mullah Omar’s death by the fact that the event apparently happened two years ago. I wonder what would happen if I tried telling my landlord or mobile-phone service provider that that payment they’re so hot to have is on its way when I what I really mean is “at some point in the next two years . . .”

It may also take some of the top off memorial services for Mullah O, the fact that the man hasn’t been with us for, you know, two years now. You know that sparkling grape juice you were planning to serve? (It surely wouldn’t do to celebrate the passing of a fundamentalist Muslim fighter with sparkling wine. I guess in view of the nature of this particular celebration, you’d want to open the bottles so the fizz goes flat.

One thing I don’t think we have to worry about is the late Mullah O feeling slighted by the delay in recognition of his passing. I’m guessing he’d be pleased as punch to have put another one over on the Western infidels. At the same time, if he felt slighted in life by all the attention focused on that upstart interloper in his country Osama bin-Laden, he might smart at public disclosure that his whereabouts and elimination were subjects of vastly less interest to the Western infidel security apparatus — that basically we infidels didn’t give all that big a whoop whether Omar was alive or dead.

As to reasons why the news may be so late in coming, near the end of Greg Miller’s Washington Post report we learn: “A former Pakistani official said parts of the government may have sought to keep Omar’s death secret out of fear that Taliban factions would splinter without him and damage Islamabad’s ability to influence peace talks with Afghanistan.”

The Western infidel security people certainly had inklings. Here’s the start of Greg Miller’s report:

In early 2011, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta confronted the president of Pakistan with a disturbing piece of intelligence. The spy agency had learned that ­Mohammad Omar, the Taliban leader who had become one of the world’s most wanted fugitives after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was being treated at a hospital in southern Pakistan.

The American spy chief even identified the facility — the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi — and said the CIA had “some raw intelligence on this” that would soon be shared with its Pakistani counterpart, according to diplomatic files that summarize the exchange.
U.S. intelligence officials now think that Omar probably died two years later, in 2013, and Afghan officials said this week that he succumbed while being treated for a serious illness in a Karachi hospital, just as those earlier intelligence reports had indicated.

Which suggests that if perhaps you were undergoing a medical procedure that you hoped might be kept under wraps — a little cosmetic work, say — that Karachi is a destination worth considering. As scary a place as we’re often told it is, especially for Westerners, it does appear that the hospitals there know a thing or two about patient confidentiality.

But I digress.

The belated disclosure this week of Omar’s death has added to the legend of the ghostlike Taliban chief, a figure so elusive that it appears to have taken U.S. spy agencies two years to determine that one of their top targets after 9/11 was no longer alive.

But the emerging details of Omar’s death may also help explain the extent to which his ability to remain both influential and invisible was a reflection of the competing and often hidden agendas in the counterterrorism partnership between the United States and Pakistan.

Current and former U.S. ­officials said that despite intermittent intelligence on Omar’s whereabouts, there was never a concerted push to find him that remotely approached the scale of the manhunt for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

At the same time, the one-eyed Taliban leader’s apparent ability to get medical treatment in the port city of Karachi has bolstered long-standing suspicions that Omar was being sheltered by Pakistan.

The Pakistanis, of course, don’t want to hear this.

A Pakistani official described claims that Omar died in Pakistan or that the government was even aware of his presence in the country as “unfounded speculation.”

A Pakistani official described claims that Omar died in Pakistan or that the government was even aware of his presence in the country as “unfounded speculation.”

Then again, for any number of reasons, including all those drones we keep sending their way, Pakistani intelligence officials haven’t been exactly Chatty Cathies with us in recent years. Robert Grenier, a former CIA station chief in Pakistan and former CIA counterterrorism chief tells Greg Miller of the relationship with Pakistan’s much-feared intelligence directorate, the ISI:

Pretty quickly you could see a pattern. Where the ISI was very effective working with us in tracking down ­al-Qaeda, anytime we had a lead on a senior member of the Taliban, the Pakistanis weren’t successful in following up.

But then, Grenier also notes, “We were overwhelmingly focused on al-Qaeda.” When U.S. forces stumbled across Taliban leaders, it seems to have been a surprise both to us and to the Pakistanis.

And Pakistani officials aren’t necessarily all that high on the ISI’s “need to know” list. A source described as “a former Pakistani official” — the same former Pakistani official we heard earlier speculating that the Pakistani government may have deliberately tried to keep Mullah Omar’s death secret for fear of post-Omar factionalizing of the Tabliban — says “the ISI told Pakistani leaders in March this year ‘that Mullah Omar is seriously ill and his condition is deteriorating.’ “

It seems he could only have wished to be “seriously ill” and “deteriorating” this past March. So it goes.

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on December 26th, 2014

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

I was in Afghanistan twice, both times for extended stays, the first being in 1969. Over the years, I’ve written a few disparate posts about it on my travel blog but 45 years later, I’m still processing the Afghan experience and trying to make some sense out of it. I always recall that my initial thought was that I wasn’t just driving my VW van across space– Europe, Turkey, Iran and into Afghanistan– but across time as well. There was always a distinct feeling that it wasn’t 1969; it was more like 969. And I was back again in 1971… although it still seemed like 969.

After Iran, the first stop on the Hippy Trail– originally laid out by Alexander the Great– is Herat, via a border crossing at Taybad (Iran side) and Islam Qala (Afghan side). It took less than 2 hours to drive from the border to Herat, a beautiful, alluring garden city. When the town elders saw my shiny new red VW they saw an opportunity immediately: selling high grade opiated hashish, lots of it. They immediately dragged me off to sample it. It was an amazing experience, smoking out of a water pipe with a dozen bedraggled Afs who were at theta of the local social food chain. And the has– the strongest I ever tried. I only remember having one toke and my high was still accelerating two hours later. It was like acid.

My stay in Afghanistan wasn’t really about drugs and I had no idea I would never do drugs again after my first trip there. But the whole society is high all the time– as Country Joe used to say– and… when in Rome. Everyone was stoned– and all the time. Everywhere. That’s Afghanistan. It used it drive me crazy that American policymakers didn’t take that into account and didn’t understand what it even meant. That seems too have changed– though, not always in a good way.

The U.S. shouldn’t be interfering in Afghanistan. Even the best of intentions– competing with the usually more dominant worst of intentions– are unwelcome by the Afghan people. They’re in their own universe (969) and it is not up to use to change it and them. That said, the dynamic duo of Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), each of whom is a somewhat doddering 81 years old, thinks the U.S. needs to fight the Afghan drug trade, an integral part of Afghan life that neither could ever come close to comprehending.

“The Afghan drug trade funds the Taliban, fuels corruption and creates major public health challenges,” Feinstein said Tuesday. “Afghanistan could become a narco-state without an effective, comprehensive and coordinated counternarcotics strategy, coupled with unprecedented levels of international cooperation.

“If we don’t act, Afghanistan’s drug trade could undermine hard won gains and U.S. investments and threaten the safety of the citizens of Afghanistan and neighboring countries.”

Grassley and Feinstein co-chair the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control and said their report is needed to help Congress coordinate with the administration.

“Our report outlines the critical need for the Obama administration to put plans in place now to support continuing counternarcotics efforts without the current level of security provided by the United States,” Grassley said. “The administration should provide Congress with a comprehensive, multi-agency, workable strategy before any more gains made over the past 13 years are lost.”

Their report also called on other countries to help Afghanistan transition to other, legal industries. Afghan farmers grow large amounts of poppy, which is used to produce opioids such as heroin.

The fear, of course, is that Afghanistan is at risk of becoming a fragmented criminal state, ruled by an illicit economy, which is how it was when Alexander the Great visited and is how it was when I visited and how it was when the Afs kicked the Russians out and how it will be when the Afs kick the Americans out. Afghanistan itself is a figment of western imaginations. When I was in Kandahar, the second biggest city, and I mentioned the king, a town elder spat and said the king was the king of Kabul, not the king of Kandahar and he denied that Afghanistan was even a country.

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on November 27th, 2014

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

In announcing Secretary Hagel’s departure Monday, President Obama said only good things about him, but people who work for the president had already made sure that the secretary looks like a bumbling, stumbling fool.

by Ken

Somebody, or I guess I should say somebodies, in the White House, the Pentagon, and the media went to a lot of trouble to portray now-lame-duck Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel as a bumbling nitwit, so out of his depth, if not stumblingly incompetent, that even President Obama, who doesn’t hardly fire anybody, had to give him the ax.

I got to watch a little of the president’s formal announcement of Secretary Hagel’s departure, and while the president said nothing but nice and appreciative things about the secretary’s service, the message was already out. And the poor guy was forced to stand there at his executioner’s side in front of the cameras for what felt like hours — and if it felt like that to me, merely watching, I can only imagine how it felt to him.

That somebody, or somebodies, should be ashamed. It’s only now, after the public humiliation, that we’re getting actual reportage, which tells us that in fact Secretary Hagel did the job he was hired to do, in spite of considerable and relentless interference from persons-still-unknown in or connected to the White House, but that the nature of the job changed dramatically even as the already-impossible complexity of the problems grew even more complex and more impossible.


(a) He did and was doing the job he was hired to do, and the some in terms of protecting the people in his charge from attacks from without (from Congress and elsewhere), but that that job is now obsolete, and –

(b) Nobody has a clue what the new job is, and this is being fought pretty aggressively by those unseen forces who have been making the secretary’s job (and life) impossible these last two years. The best guess is that some of the new marching orders are the direct opposite of what he has always been told. Really what the administration seems to be looking for is a wizard with a magic wand. (One who can win confirmation from a Republican-controlled Senate, of course.)

(c) A guy who came into the job convinced, in apparent agreement with the man who hired him, that what the DoD needed was a guy in charge who does not have a personal vision and agenda he’s determined to ram down everybody’s throat — that guy is now being berated and ridiculed for not being, say, Donald Rumsfeld.

(d) Throughout his brief tenure at DoD the secretary has been under siege from (unnamed) administration micromanagers who have been making it anywhere from difficult to impossible for him to do his job, whatever the hell that job is. This is, interestingly, interference that enraged his predecessor, Robert Gates, as we’ll see in a moment. I wonder whether his administration critics who are deriding him for his weakness mean that he should have screaming bloody murder at them?

At this point, let’s look at just a few excerpts from a report yesterday by the Washington Post’s Gref Jaffe and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, “White House seeks a stronger hand at Pentagon to manage crises.”

On Hagel’s job description:

President Obama tapped Chuck Hagel as defense secretary because he wanted someone who would quietly implement the administration’s policy, avoid controversy and promote no big, sweeping ideas.

Hagel was forced to resign Monday for being exactly that defense secretary.

Hagel didn’t make big mistakes. Nor had he lost the confidence of the uniformed military. But he often seemed lost or overly deferential to his generals in top-level White House strategy meetings, especially those focused on the battle against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, senior administration officials said.

“I could never tell what his opinion was on anything,” said a senior administration official involved in national security policy. “He’d never speak. . . . The key comment, the insightful approach — that never came out of him.”

Instead, Hagel worked behind the scenes to lessen the impact of budget cuts on the military’s ability to fight future wars and on the families of those in uniform. . . .

“He didn’t want to be a larger-than-life secretary”

In recent months, though, as the White House groped toward a policy to confront the Islamic State, Obama decided that he needed a defense secretary who was more at ease in the White House Situation Room than with grunts in the field.

“Hagel tried to play a behind-the-scenes role on tough issues — the [budget cuts], sexual assault, ending two wars,” said Vikram Singh, a former top Pentagon official and a vice president at the Center for American Progress. “He didn’t want to be a larger-than-life secretary.”

His departure isn’t likely to lead to big changes in Iraq and Syria, where the president recently doubled the number of U.S. military advisers, or in Afghanistan, where Obama seems committed to ending the war. Nor is it likely to lead to warmer relations with Congress, as happened when Donald H. Rumsfeld was fired as defense secretary by President George W. Bush in 2006 and replaced by Robert M. Gates, who was widely hailed as his polar opposite.

“No one is going to be hailed to be the anti-Hagel,” said Douglas Ollivant, a retired Army officer and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. “No one hates Hagel.”

On White House micromanagement:

“There is teeth-gnashing over micromanagement,” a senior defense official said. “Relations have not been great.”

Under Obama, the National Security Council has delved into the nitty-gritty of shaping war policy in the Middle East and Afghanistan, sometimes subjecting senior officials to hours of meetings to reach incremental decisions.

Earlier this year, the decision on how many U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan in 2015 was the subject of 14 meetings of NSC deputies, four gatherings involving Cabinet secretaries and other NSC “principals,” and two NSC sessions with the president, according to a former senior administration official.

The consequence of those meetings was to pare back the military’s request by just 700 troops — from 10,500 to 9,800. . . .

White House officials regularly call commanders in Afghanistan to gauge their thinking on the progress of the war and their future troop needs. Those calls were a particular source of irritation to Gates, who said he tried to squelch them during the first two years of Obama’s presidency. In a speech this month at the Ronald Reagan presidential library, he recalled being shocked to discover that a direct telephone line to the White House had been installed in the Afghanistan headquarters of the elite Joint Special Operations Command.

“I had them tear it out while I was standing there,” Gates said. “And I told the commanders, ‘You get a call from the White House, you tell them to go to hell and call me.’ ”


Yeah, right. The headline on that Post piece, “White House seeks a stronger hand at Pentagon to manage crises,” seems pretty ironic, since it seems pretty clear that to at least certain influential people in the administration, the last thing that’s wanted is “a stronger hand at the Pentagon,” except perhaps “a stronger hand” that will do exactly what they want exactly the way they want it. (As for handling uppity generals, the Obama White House sure has a great track record here, doesn’t it?)

Any potential SecDef nominee is going to know a whole lot more than you and I do about the recent history of the job, not to mention the ordeal to be faced in getting confirmation from a Senate controlled by crackpot Republicans, who know and understand less about our foreign-policy challenges than practically anybody on the planet.

The grim reality, at least as far as I can tell from people who really do seem to know something about the history and present of such intractable problem spots as Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan is that there are no good answers for the messes that have developed, and the answers we’ve tried so far have mostly made things worse, as people who know about those areas could have predicted, and often did.

And the White House is under siege from a horde of self-styled national-security experts whose answers are even worse than the Obama team’s.

To all the savagely cretinous Village National Insecurity “experts” perpetually lambasting the president for his incompetence and unconscionable failures, what he should really say is: “You fuckheads don’t have a fucking clue what you’re talking about. The one service you might possibly be able to render to your country, if in fact you give a damn about anything except your self-importance and your scummy careers, is to blow your diseased brains out.”

Then again, it isn’t at all clear that the president has anybody working for him who’s any better clued in. And the cackling chorus of National Insecurity “experts,” so distressingly inexpert in all matters save bullying and careerist self-aggrandizement, having tasted blood, and despite having only worse ideas than the administration’s, must feel themselves still further empowered. Great. Just great.


I haven’t even mentioned Elizabeth Drew’s take as of noon yesterday in a new post on the New York Review of Books blog, “The Firing of Chuck Hagel,” which takes an extremely interesting look at Chuck Hagel, his past and present relationship with President Obama, the difficult leap from Congress to any cabinet job (and especially the humongous managerial responsibilities of the DoD), and especially the politics of the present administration mess. It’s an invaluable read for anyone who’s been wondering what the hell lay behind Hagel’s firing. I’m going to quote just the final paragraph.

We’ve seen past administrations in big trouble throw overboard an inconvenient major figure. Whether it was the right one has always been a question. So was the matter of how much difference the move actually made in improving the fortunes of the said administration. Most of the time a White House staff hasn’t been as eager as this one to make it clear, right away, that the officer didn’t resign but was pushed out. This is not a good sign. All the talk coming out of the White House that Hagel’s confirmation performance is still a problem and other complaints are mainly padding on a ruthless if necessary decision—necessary in the eyes of the president and his very closest aides. But this won’t help them fix their terrible problems in Iraq and Syria and—as is increasingly clear—Afghanistan. The senior adviser said to me Monday evening: “If Hagel had agreed with the White House he wouldn’t have been fired.”

Here’s how it looks to me. God, do all of these people suck. And out of the whole bunch, in and out of government, the one who sucks least is probably Chuck Hagel.

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on June 24th, 2014

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

And these lies and imbecilities come from a scumbag who should be living out the rest of his wretched existence in prison for his war crimes and crimes against humanity.

by Ken

It can’t be easy to be Dick Cheney. Even now, at his advanced age, in his precarious state of health, there are so many lies left to tell — and so little time to tell them in. And when you have a record as catastrophically dismal and overweeningly earth-destructive as his to obfuscate and explain away and cover up, that just makes it harder.

Still, you have to wonder what sort of human being is capable of this kind of “thinking”:

Possibly, of course, it’s just projection. He’s well aware that there are people in public life in the U.S. today who are evil at their very core and whose purpose for drawing breath is to turn the earth into the miasma of destruction, torment, and hate that they live in in their toxic heads. Unfortunately, perhaps because of his profound mental disabilities, he is unable to make the fundamental connection: Look! There in the mirror! There’s one of the human-hating Satanites.

As you know perfectly well, President Obama never said or so much as hinted at the time of the capture of bin Laden that the problem of terrorism was solved. That’s just your compulsive need to make up lies. What was true at the time of the capture of bin Laden was that it was something that, through either incompetence or lack of will, you worthless scumbags of the Bush Earth-Destruction Regime didn’t or couldn’t do. You know it, but something inside you just makes you lie your putrid guts out. It’s who and what you are.

The nonsense you spew is so childishly predictable. The demon Obama withdrew us from Iraq and is withdrawing us from without leaving forces behind and thereby creating “a big vacuum in the Middle East.” Let’s forget for a moment, Big Dick (and I do mean the Biggest Dick of Them All), the way you morons and sociopaths of the Bush Earth-Destruction Regime actually did leave Afghanistan behind for bin Laden and the Taliban — presumably so you could proceed to turn to the heroic task of turning Iraq into the shithole of your psychotic “dreams.”

You rattle off the list of groups filling that vacuum as if you know something about them, but of course as always you know nothing. Most of these are forces that you toxic scumbags of the Bush Earth-Destruction Regime did so much to make major players in the Middle East, even though you were warned by people who actually knew something about the Middle East that that would be the all but certain result.

But then, on a scale of zero to a kajillion, Big Dick knows diddly squat about Iraq or Afghanistan or any other frigging place on the planet. So it’s pointless to point out that he has zero clue as to how any problems in the Middle East might have been averted or even ameliorated. Because his specialty is creating problems that no amount of competence or good will could solve. He did everything in his considerable power to set forces in motion in the Middle East that would wind up, well, very much where they have wound up.

Then, of course, with such singularly scumbaggish lack of grace, he blames it all on somebody else.

Big Dick and his kind are creatures of such psychotic arrogance that they are probably literally incapable of receiving actual information and trying to figure out how it might be dealt with. Remember how he haunted the CIA rooting out all actual intelligence coming in from and about Iraq and forcing the analysts instead to rubber-stampe his lies and delusions?

Haven’t you done enough to turn the planet into living hell, Big Dick? Rot in hell.


One that Big Dick might benefit from if he were actually interested in understanding what’s going on in the Middle East is “Military Effectiveness: ISIS, Taliban, Hezbollah,” which began:

I think it’s worth emphasizing that what we’ve seen over the past 30 years is a revolution in military affairs. New model militaries have arisen which are capable of fighting Western armies to a draw in irregular warfare, or even defeating them on the battlefield (Hezbollah v. Israel.) It’s not that guerrilla warfare wasn’t effective before (ask the Americans in Vietnam), it’s how stunningly cheap it has become and how brutally effective at area denial and attrition warfare.

As an example, Ian cited the transformative influence of IEDs.

With IEDs the cost for occupation soars, and entire areas of a country can be made no-go zones except for large groups of troops.

But just as bad is the cost-effectiveness. Western militaries are brutally costly. Islamic “militias” are cheap. The Taliban runs on blackmail and drugs, ISIS runs, to a large extent, on donations from rich Muslims along with some state support. These armies cost peanuts compared to the US or British or Israeli military. Nothing. And they are capable, at the least, of tying down Western militaries for years, bleeding them white and eventually winning. Hezbollah is capable of defeating, in battle, what was (before Hezbollah proved otherwise) widely considered one of the most effective militaries in the world.

“Americans keep thinking,” Ian wrote, “they can assassinate their way to victory. They can’t.”

In any actual effective organization, lower level people can fill the slot “above them, and the slot above that. A strong ideology, and strong doctrine means that leaders are replaceable. Western leaders don’t believe that because as a class they are narcissists, who think that leaders are something super-special. Almost no leaders are actually geniuses, for every Steve Jobs or Rommel, there are a hundred CEOS or Generals who are just effective drones. They don’t matter. Any reasonably bright person with a bit of experience could run their company or army corp just as well and almost certainly better. (Canadian troops were amongst the most effective in WWI in part because they weren’t professionals. So they did what worked.)

Western societies are hard to run precisely because we refuse to actually fix our problems. Temporizing, “managing” is hard. Fixing problems is a lot easier. I know, again, that most people don’t believe this, because they don’t remember ever living in a country that actually tried to fix problems, and have never worked for a company that wasn’t dysfunctional, but it is so true.

So the West uses assassination and highly expensive troops who don’t want to die and extensive surveillance. And the various Islamic militias, on budgets that aren’t even shoestring, survive and grow stronger. They are evolving: getting smarter all the time. They are Darwinian organizations: if you screw up, you die.

A military doctrine which is hundreds of times more expensive than its main competitor has problems. In general, in military affairs, effectiveness is more important than efficiency. But if your effectiveness doesn’t actually let you win, in the sense of making it so your enemies stop fighting, then efficiency will start to run against you.

The West is not unaware of this: drones are cheaper than planes, for example. Ground combat robots, which the army is working on hard, may be effectively cheaper than troops, as well as having the advantage of requiring fewer troops, meaning less danger to the elites and more likely to fire in the case of a revolution.

Finally, I note again, that I do not expect drones and the new ground combat robots (about 10 years out) to remain tools of the powerful for all that long. Competent technicians will be able to make home brew models fairly effectively and quickly.

Got that, Big Dick? Any of it? No, I didn’t think so.

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on June 6th, 2014

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

 If you want to understand why it’s the case that on the one hand the U.S. public and the majority of Congress turned against the war in Afghanistan a long time ago, and yet on the other hand, it’s been so hard to end the war, this week’s warmonger media storm against the diplomatic rescue of U.S. prisoner of war Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been very instructive.

It’s been known for years that a key step towards ending the war would be exchanging five Taliban prisoners of war at Guantanamo for the release of Sgt. Bergdahl.

There has never been any serious dispute of the case that this would be a key step towards ending the war. I challenge anyone to find a counter-example to my claim.

read more

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