Afghanistan FAIL

From Peter Beaumont at the Guardian:

A highly critical analysis of the US-led coalition’s counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan has raised serious questions about combat operations in both countries – and the intelligence underpinning them.

The confidential document presents a bleak picture of a counterinsurgency effort undermined by intelligence failures that at times border on the absurd.

Based on scores of interviews with British, US, Canadian and Dutch military, intelligence and diplomatic officials – and marked for “official use only” – the book-length report is damning of a US military often unwilling to share intelligence among its military allies. It depicts commanders in the field being overwhelmed by information on hundreds of contradictory databases, and sometimes resistant to intelligence generated by its own agents in the CIA.

Counterinsurgency efforts are also shown as being at the mercy of local contacts peddling identical “junk” tips around various intelligence officials, with the effectiveness of the intelligence effort being quantified by some senior officers solely in terms of the amount of “tip money” disbursed to sources.

[…]

An anonymous source quoted in the report stated that “operational commanders” continued to “indulge in the fallacy of body counts, and a month in which more Taliban are killed than in the previous month” was seen as progress. He added: “This is actually more likely to reflect the fact that there are more enemy on the battlefield than there were before.”

Despite the huge emphasis on counterinsurgency tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last two years, the report’s authors, Russell Glenn and Jamie Gayton, find it necessary to remind military readers of the importance of the civilian population in their efforts, not least in protecting civilians “against attack by both the enemy and your own forces”.

“Those interviewed in support of this research,” they wrote, “noted with no little frustration that coalition forces themselves too frequently neglect to treat local community members properly.”

Well, you know, shit happens.

Read the whole thing here

InConvenient Questions!

On Friday, the US Justice Department, Barack Obama’s Justice Department, told a federal court that it shouldn’t consider the legal challenges of prisoners held at Bagram Prison near Kabul and under US control:

In a short legal filing, Justice Department lawyers said they planned to maintain the Bush administration’s claim that the roughly 600 prisoners held in Afghaninstan have no right to contest their detention in the courts. “The Government adheres to its previously articulated position,” the attorneys said.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that war-on-terror prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have the right to file court petitions because the U.S. has “de facto sovereignty” over the base, located on land leased from Cuba.

However, the Justice Department has argued that prisoners in Afghanistan, held at the Bagram Airbase outside Kabul, lack recourse to the courts because the U.S. does not have similar control over that region.

“Bagram is in a theater of war where the United States is engaged in active hostilities,” so extending those legal rights to the prisoners would be “impracticable,” Justice Department lawyers argued in a brief filed last November. They also argued that the habeas petitions are barred by the Military Commissions Act of 2006, a law Obama vocally opposed.   [more]

How large does the area of de facto sovereignty have to be?  Big as Bagram?  Bigger?

How big is a “theater of war” that isn’t a war on a nation but on an activity, i.e. terrorism?  Very, very big?

How difficult would it be, or should I say “impracticable”, for the US to set up a system for holding hearings in or around Bagram?

How long can the US hold prisoners in places like Bagram without hearings?  Till the war on terror is over?

NB:  The US is now handing over thousands of its prisoners to Iraq according to a security agreement that took effect on January 1st.  Do they remember or care that Iraq is known to torture and mistreat its prisoners?

Articles 10 and 12 of  The Geneva Convention govern the “transferrability” of prisoners of Afghanistan and Iraq.  Prisoners can only be transferrred between countries that are both signatories of the Convention.  The Republic of Afghanistan is not a signatory.  Prisoners cannot be transferred by an occupying authority into the hands of the country it occupies.  Iraq is occupied.

Back to Afghanistan.  When Canadian forces take prisoners, should they turn them over to the US when it’s widely known the Americans torture their prisoners?

I remember watching a movie that began with an trip into an Morrocan prison where infidels had languished for so long the bony hands of skeletons were clamped to the mouldering walls.

Please write to me if you have answers.

UPDATE:

The word “Guantanamo” serves as shorthand among some Afghans for all the reasons they hate foreign troops, but the impending closing of the notorious prison has gotten surprisingly little attention in this country.

Nothing changed with last month’s U.S. presidential order to close Guantanamo, many people here say, because another prison inspires even greater fear: Bagram.

Even a man who could be expected to feel the most joy about Guantanamo closing, a former detainee who spent more than six years in the camp, quickly turns the conversation to the detention facility north of Kabul, inside the U.S. military base at Bagram.  [more]

Swamp in the Desert

More reactions to Obama’s decision to send 17,000 US troops into Afghanistan:

… in a TV interview Tuesday, Obama said he was “absolutely convinced that you cannot solve the problem of Afghanistan, the Taliban (insurgency), the spread extremism in that region solely through military means.”

“If there is no military solution, why is the administration’s first set of decisions to continue drone attacks and increase ground troops?” Marilyn B. Young, a professor of history at New York University, told IPS.

She said the uncertainty around Afghan policy seems to be spreading even while the Obama administration announces an increase in troops.

“This is one of the ways events seem to echo U.S. escalation in the Vietnam War,” said Young, author of several publications, including ‘Iraq and the Lessons of Vietnam: Or, How Not to Learn From the Past’.

On Tuesday, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a report revealing that in 2008, there were 2,118 civilian casualties in Afghanistan, an increase of almost 40 percent over 2007.

Of these casualties, 55 percent of the overall death toll was attributed to anti-government forces, including the Taliban, and 39 percent to Afghan security and international military forces.

“This is of great concern to the United Nations,” the report said, pointing out that “this disquieting pattern demands that the parties to the conflict take all necessary measures to avoid the killing of innocent civilians.”

During his presidential campaign last year, Obama said the war in Iraq was a misguided war.

The United States, he said, needs to pull out of Iraq, and at the same time, bolster its troops in Afghanistan, primarily to prevent the militant Islamic fundamentalist Taliban from regaining power and also to eliminate safe havens for terrorists.

But most political analysts point out that Afghanistan may turn out to be a bigger military quagmire for U.S. forces than Iraq.

Solomon of the Institute for Public Accuracy said Obama’s moves on Afghanistan have “the quality of a moth toward a flame.”

In the short run, Obama is likely to be unharmed in domestic political terms. But the policy trajectory appears to be unsustainable in the medium-run, he added.

“Before the end of his first term, Obama is very likely to find himself in a vise, caught between a war in Afghanistan that cannot be won and a political quandary at home that significantly erodes the enthusiasm of his electoral base while fueling Republican momentum,” Solomon argued.

Dr. Christine Fair, a senior political scientist with the RAND Corporation and a former political officer with UNAMA in Kabul, told IPS she is doubtful that more troops will secure Afghanistan.

“Perhaps several years ago more troops would have been welcomed. My fear is that more troops means more civilian losses and further erosion of good will and support for the international presence,” Fair said.

Read the whole thing here

UPDATE:  Check out Ethel the Blog on this – here’s just a bit –

Now that we’ve discovered that the only difference between Obama and McCain vis a vis foreign policy is that the former doesn’t visibly drool when contemplating spilling more blood, we can better understand Obama’s plan to stimulate the economy by increasing the demand for body bags in Afghanistan.

Europe Not Into Afghanistan

NATO defense ministers are meeting this week in Poland.  The conversation should be interesting now that Obama has decided to send 17,000 US troops in.  If only Canada’s defense minister was inclined to make the fuss that Europe’s defense ministers are going to make.  Maybe they know something that we’re not yet prepared to admit.  From Speigel Online International:

It is no secret that the Obama administration would like to see NATO member states in Europe agree to send more troops. Both Gates and his spokesman Geoff Morrell have dropped plenty of hints that additional troop commitments would be most welcome. That, though, isn’t likely to happen. European capitals have for years shown a reluctance to send more soldiers, often hampered by a voting public that has long since lost enthusiasm for the war.  [Smart!]

[…]

The center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

“Afghanistan hasn’t yet become NATO’s Vietnam. But to avoid such a scenario, the alliance has to undertake a detailed examination of its engagement. First and foremost, NATO has to bid farewell to the idea that, as is often said internally, ‘the fate of NATO will be decided in Afghanistan.’ This sentence is nonsense. A defeat or even a withdrawal without real success would certainly plunge the alliance into turbulence. But stubbornly staying the course out of fear of this scenario, blindly hoping that the amount of troops and quality of weapons will one day prevail, isn’t a strategy. Such logic bears witness to a dangerous degree of helplessness.”

“NATO has to find the courage to rethink everything. Instead of, as will happen this week with alliance defense ministers gathered in Krakow, busying themselves with demands for more troops, the member states should take a realistic look at the situation in Afghanistan and then decide what can be achieved and, most importantly, how large a commitment the alliance is prepared to make. It is time to abandon the illusion — especially popular in Germany — that the Afghanistan mission is one primarily focused on redevelopment and on providing a safe place for the delicate flower of a halfway free society to flourish.”  [more]

Afghanistan’s Wars

On Afghanistan’s recent wars and their effects from Barnett R. Rubin at Boston Review:

Under the more open conditions that have prevailed since the fall of the Taliban, I have seen clearly more of what I had only sensed on visits in previous decades. The human effect of decades of war: how the collapse of even a relatively weak state authority forced people back to their kin, clan, or tribal groups; how violence, which could erupt at any moment, from any direction, quickly rekindled memories of earlier traumas. Over the years, with violence and its legacy a constant presence, the trust that institutional cooperation demands had been blown to bits as surely as the Buddhas of Bamiyan. Afghans returning from prolonged exile found a society they did not recognize; they often commented that there was no trust between people. Against that corrosive background, every effort to reconnect the scattered fragments of the former national elites—or to reconnect returning elites with those who had remained—could be undermined with a careless word, a careless dollar, or a careless bomb.

A brief and personal modern history of war in Afghanistan.  Read the whole thing here

Playing the “Aghan Trap”

From Amy Goodman at CommonDreams:

… the Associated Press recently cited a classified report drafted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommending a shift in strategy from democracy-building in Afghanistan to attacking alleged Taliban and al-Qaida strongholds along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

And the campaign has clearly begun. Days after his inauguration, Obama’s first (known) military actions were two missile strikes inside Pakistan’s frontier province, reportedly killing 22 people, including women and children.  [emphasis mine]

Cherif Bassiouni has spent years going back and forth to Afghanistan. He is a professor of law at DePaul University and the former United Nations human rights investigator in Afghanistan. In 2005, he was forced out of the United Nations under pressure from the Bush administration, days after he released a report accusing the U.S. military and private contractors of committing human rights abuses. I asked Bassiouni about Obama’s approach to Afghanistan. He told me: “There is no military solution in Afghanistan. There is an economic-development solution, but I don’t see that coming. … Right now, the population has nothing to gain by supporting the U.S. and NATO. It has everything to gain by being supportive of the Taliban.”

Bassiouni’s scathing 2005 U.N. report accused the U.S. military and private military contractors of “forced entry into homes, arrest and detention of nationals and foreigners without legal authority or judicial review, sometimes for extended periods of time, forced nudity, hooding and sensory deprivation, sleep and food deprivation, forced squatting and standing for long periods of time in stress positions, sexual abuse, beatings, torture, and use of force resulting in death.”

I also put the question of the military surge to former President Jimmy Carter. He responded: “I would disagree with Obama as far as a surge that would lead to a more intense bombing of Afghan villages and centers and a heavy dependence on military. I would like to see us reach out more, to be accommodating, and negotiate with all of the factions in Afghanistan.”

Carter should know. He helped create what his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, called “the Afghan trap,” set for the Soviets. This was done by supporting Islamic mujahedeen in the late 1970s against the Soviets in Afghanistan, thereby creating what evolved into the Taliban. Brzezinski told the French newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur in 1998: “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?” More than 14,000 Soviet troops were killed, and the Afghan toll exceeded 1 million. Osama bin Laden got his start with the help of the CIA-funded Afghan operation.  [emphasis mine]

Bassiouni suggests that a military solution is doomed to failure, noting that the Taliban “realized they could not defeat the American forces, so they went underground. They put their Kalashnikovs under the mattresses, and they waited. A year ago, they resurfaced again. They can do the same thing. They can go back in the mountains, push the Kalashnikovs under the mattress, wait out five years. They have been doing that since the 1800s with any foreign and every foreign invader.”

As Carter told me, “To offer a hand of friendship or accommodation, not only to the warlords but even to those radicals in the Taliban who are willing to negotiate, would be the best approach, than to rely exclusively on major military force.”

Have we learned nothing from Iraq?   [more]

Apparently not.  I hope someone changes Obama’s mind before it’s too late.  I hope it hard.

Obama & Afghanistan -Fail

From Jennifer Loven at the Globe & Mail:

Mr. Obama tried to brace the U.S. for tougher sacrifices ahead in Afghanistan, where he said the national government is limited and terrorists still find places to hide and hinder coalition efforts.

An estimated 33,000 U.S. troops currently are in Afghanistan, and the Pentagon is expected to almost double that presence. So just as Mr. Obama is planning to pull troops out of Iraq, he is sending more into Afghanistan.

“I do not have a timetable for how long that’s going to take,” he said. “What I know is I’m not going to allow al-Qaeda and (Osama) bin Laden to operate with impunity, planning attacks.”

It’s not as simple as that Mr. Obama.  You’re buying into the war that you voted against, George W. Bush’s war  – different country, same war.  I dread watching you find that out.

Very Scary Stuff

From Agence France Presse posted at CommonDreams:

MUNICH, Germany – The United States warned its allies Sunday that fighting the insurgency in Afghanistan could prove tougher than in Iraq and appealed, along with Britain, for more troops and equipment.

US ambassador Richard Holbrooke insisted that a new approach was required to turn the strife-torn country around, involving all of Afghanistan’s neighbours and in particular Pakistan.

“It is like no other problem we have confronted, and in my view it’s going to be much tougher than Iraq,” he said at an international security conference in Germany. “It is going to be a long, difficult struggle.”

Holbrooke, who is to embark on a regional tour soon, said that the administration of President Barack Obama was reviewing the best way to tackle the Taliban-led insurgency.

“What is required in my view is new ideas, better coordination within the US government, better coordination with our NATO allies and other concerned countries, and the time to get it right,” he said.

Countries bordering Afghanistan must also be drawn in as part of a solution, he said, including Iran but particularly Pakistan, where the Taliban and its backers in Al-Qaeda and criminal gangs have rear bases.

“All the neighbours … play a direct role and we’re going to look for more of a regional approach,” he said, noting that “Pakistan’s situation is dire.”

“It needs international assistance, international sympathy and international support,” said Holbrooke, the new envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he will start his tour that will also take in India.

The envoy also railed against would-be donors who have failed to live up to their pledges.

“People got up and pledged things, and nothing happened, and that is the story of Afghanistan,” he said. “I have never seen anything remotely resembling the mess we have inherited.”  [more]

Afghanistan has already proven more dangerous for Canadian troops than Iraq was for the US.  There’s very little doubt that an escalation of the war there be more dangerous again for all involved – note that the cost to Afghan civilians is never taken into account.

And what on earth is this business about the US inheriting a mess?  The US created the mess.  What’s he talking about?

My heart sinks when I think of what is to come in Afghanistan if Obama does what he says he’s going to do.  Canada should get the hell out, now.  And heaven bless any other members of NATO who manage to stay away.

Civilians & War

Robert Fisk at Truthdig:

… after the US withdrawal from Saigon, there was a sense that “we” didn’t do wars any more. Foreigners could commit atrocities en masse – Cambodia comes to mind – but we superior Westerners were exempt. We didn’t behave like that. Low-intensity warfare in Northern Ireland, perhaps. And the Israeli-Arab conflict would grind away. But there was a feeling that My Lai had been put behind us. Civilians were once again sacred in the West.

I’m not sure when the change came. Was it Israel’s disastrous invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the Sabra and Chatila massacre by Israel’s allies of 1,700 Palestinian civilians? (Gaza just missed that record.) Israel claimed (as usual) to be fighting “our” “war against terror” but the Israeli army is not what it’s cracked up to be and massacres (Qana comes to mind in 1996 and the children of Marwahine in 2006) seem to come attached to it. And of course, there’s the little matter of the Iran-Iraq war between 1980 and 1988 which we enthusiastically supported with weapons to both sides, and the Syrian slaughter of thousands of civilians at Hama and.  …

No, I rather think it was the 1991 Gulf War. Our television lads and lasses played it for all it was worth – it was the first war that had “theme” music to go with the pictures – and when US troops simply smothered alive thousands of Iraqi troops in their trenches, we learned about it later and didn’t care much, and even when the Americans ignored Red Cross rules to mark mass graves, they got away with it. There were women in some of these graves – I saw British soldiers burying them. And I remember driving up to Mutla ridge to show a Red Cross delegate where I had seen a mass grave dug by the Americans, and he looked at the plastic poppy an American had presumably left there and said: “Something has happened.”

He meant that something had happened to international law, to the rules of war. They had been flouted. Then came Kosovo – where our dear Lord Blair first exercised his talents for warmaking – and another ream of slaughter. Of course, Milosevic was the bad guy (even though most of the Kosovars were still in their homes when the war began – their return home after their brutal expulsion by the Serbs then became the war aim). But here again, we broke some extra rules and got away with it. Remember the passenger train we bombed on the Surdulica bridge – and the famous speeding up of the film by Jamie Shea to show that the bomber had no time to hold his fire? (Actually, the pilot came back for another bombing run on the train when it was already burning, but that was excluded from the film.) Then the attack on the Belgrade radio station. And the civilian roads. Then the attack on a large country hospital. “Military target,” said Jamie. And he was right. There were soldiers hiding in the hospital along with the patients. The soldiers all survived. The patients all died.

Then there was Afghanistan and all that “collateral damage” and whole villages wiped out and then there was Iraq in 2003 and the tens of thousands – or half a million or a million – Iraqi civilians killed. Once more, at the very start, we were back to our old tricks, bombing bridges and radio stations and at least one civilian estate in Baghdad where “we” believed Saddam was hiding. We knew it was packed with civilians (Christians, by chance) but the Americans called it a “high risk” operation – meaning that they risked not hitting Saddam – and 22 civilians were killed. I saw the last body, that of a baby, dug from the rubble.

And we don’t seem to care. We fight in Iraq and now we’re going back to fight in Afghanistan again and all the human rights and protections appear to have vanished once more. We will destroy villages and we will find that the Afghans hate us and we will form more criminal militias – as we did in Iraq – to fight for us. The Israelis organised a similar militia in their occupation zone in southern Lebanon, run by a crackpot Lebanese army major. But now their own troops “go wild”. …

The rest is here

Security for Women In Afghanistan?

From Katrina Vanden Heuvel at The Nation:

As the coalition I’m working with–Get Afghanistan Right–continues to make the case that the Obama administration would be wise to rethink its plan to escalate militarily in Afghanistan, I’ve tried to engage the arguments made by some feminists and human rights groups who believe that such an escalation is necessary to protect Afghani women and girls. I share their horror when I read stories like this one by New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins describing an acid attack against girls and women–students and their teachers–at the Mirwais School for Girls. But how will escalation or increased US troop presence improve their security or make their lives better?

I thought it would be important to speak with someone who has experience working on the ground with Afghan women’s organizations. Kavita Ramdas is President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women. For 15 years she has worked with groups like the Afghan Institute for Learning–which serves about 350,000 women and children in their schools, health care centers, and human rights programs.

This is what Kavita said:

 We’re hearing from groups we’ve worked with for over a 15 year period now, on the ground inside Afghanistan and with Afghan women’s groups and Pakistan as well.

 First, I think it’s remarkable that our approach to foreign policy –not just for the last eight years, but with regard to Afghanistan and Pakistan in general over the last thirty years–has been almost entirely military focused. There hasn’t been any willingness to take a cold hard look at how effective or ineffective that strategy has been in whether or not it has helped stabilize the country. And there has been much less attention paid to whether this militaristic approach has done anything positive for the women of Afghanistan. It’s doubtful whether America’s foreign policy has ever had the welfare of Afghan women at heart. As many Afghani women have said to us, ‘You know, you didn’t even think about us 25 years ago,’ and then all of a sudden post 9-11, we’re sending troops to Afghanistan and ostensibly we’re very concerned about women. But there’s very little willingness to really look at the implications of a military strategy on women’s security. It is very important to begin with the following question: If the strategies that we used up to this point have not succeeded in ensuring the safety and well being of women and girls, what makes us think that increased militarization with 30,000 additional US troops is somehow going to improve the situation and security of women in Afghanistan?

 The second question is, what has been the role of the existing troops in Afghanistan with regard to the situation and the security of women? In general, what happens when regions become highly militarized, and when there are “peace-keeping forces,” militias, as well as foreign troops–which is NATO and the United States, primarily? In most parts of the world, highly militarized societies in almost every instance lead to bad results for women. The security of women is not improved and in many instances it actually becomes worse.

Read the rest here

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