Afghanistan Becomes Obama’s War

From MSNBC:

President Barack Obama approved adding some 17,000 U.S. troops for the flagging war in Afghanistan, his first significant move to change the course of a conflict that his closest military advisers have warned the United States is not winning.

“To meet urgent security needs, I approved a request from (Defense) Secretary Gates to deploy a Marine Expeditionary Brigade later this spring and an Army Stryker Brigade and the enabling forces necessary to support them later this summer,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House.

About 8,000 Marines are expected to go in first, followed by about 9,000 Army troops. Some 34,000 U.S. troops are already in Afghanistan.

“There is no more solemn duty as president than the decision to deploy our armed forces into harm’s way,” Obama added. “I do it today mindful that the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan demands urgent attention and swift action. The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and al Qaeda supports the insurgency and threatens America from its safe-haven along the Pakistani border.”

Of the 17,000 troops authorized, deployment orders have been issued for 12,000 and some of those are being reassigned from roles in Iraq. Where the remaining 5,000 troops will come from will be determined later.

I was holding on to the hope that Obama might be converted to sanity on this issue.  Sob.

Read the whole thing here

UPDATE:  From NYT

… the decision also carries political risk for a president who will be sending more troops to Afghanistan before he has begun to fulfill a promised rapid withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

Many experts worry that Afghanistan presents an even more formidable challenge for the United States than Iraq does, particularly with neighboring Pakistan providing sanctuary for insurgents of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. [more]

Tragic.  Error.

Also from NYT:

The number of civilians killed in Afghanistan leapt by nearly 40 percent last year, according to a survey released Tuesday by the United Nations, the latest measure of how the intensifying violence between the Taliban and American-led forces is ravaging that country.

The death toll — 2,118 civilians killed in 2008, compared with 1,523 in 2007 — is the highest since the Taliban government was ousted in November 2001, at the outset of a war with no quick end in sight.

Civilian deaths have become a political flash point in Afghanistan, eroding public support for the war and inflaming tensions with President Hamid Karzai, who has bitterly condemned the American-led coalition for the rising toll. President Obama’s decision to deploy more troops to Afghanistan raises the prospect of even more casualties.   [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.

A Time for War?

Norman Solomon at CommonDreams:

The United States began its war in Afghanistan 88 months ago. “The war on terror” has no sunset clause. As a perpetual emotion machine, it offers to avenge what can never heal and to fix grief that is irreparable.

For the crimes against humanity committed on Sept. 11, 2001, countless others are to follow, with huge conceits about technological “sophistication” and moral superiority. But if we scrape away the concrete of media truisms, we may reach substrata where some poets have dug.

W.H. Auden: “Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return.

Stanley Kunitz: “In a murderous time / the heart breaks and breaks / and lives by breaking.”

And from 1965, when another faraway war got its jolt of righteous escalation from Washington’s certainty, Richard Farina wrote: “And death will be our darling and fear will be our name.” Then as now came the lessons that taught with unfathomable violence once and for all that unauthorized violence must be crushed by superior violence.

The U.S. war effort in Afghanistan owes itself to the enduring “war on terrorism,” chasing a holy grail of victory that can never be.

Read the whole thing here

We need to  get out of Afghanistan.  Instead, Barack Obama’s going inwith his own version of a “surge”, also known as counterinsurgency.  So there’s an insurgency in Afghanistan – as always.  Afghanistan will be Obama’s war.

I don’t like to harp on the number of Canadian soldiers who have died for the US in Afghanistan.  After all, many more Afghans have died.  Still.  108.

greenfield_090131

Sean Greenfield

Age: 25 years

UPDATE:  From Jim Lobe at CommonDreams

In a new report released Tuesday by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Gilles Dorronsoro, a French expert on South Asia, argued that adding troops would actually be counter-productive because the mere presence of foreign soldiers in Pashtun areas has fueled the Taliban’s resurgence and that the best way to weaken it is to reduce military confrontations. In that respect, “the only meaningful way to halt the insurgency’s momentum is to start withdrawing troops.”
Indeed, Dorronsoro argues, as do other critics, that most effective way to ensure that Afghan territory is not used as a base to attack the U.S. is to “de-link” the Taliban from al Qaeda, “which is based mostly in Pakistan.”
“We will be in a much better position to fight al Qaeda if we don’t have to fight the Afghans,” he said. “We have to stop fighting the Taliban because it is the wrong enemy.”

 

Has anyone noticed that the terms of US engagement in Afghanistan as endorsed by the UN specify fighting al Qaeda and not the Taliban?  The Taliban isn’t just “the wrong enemy”, it’s not the legal enemy.  The Taliban did not attack America.

… the Taliban appears to be evolving from a creation of the U.S., Saudi Arabian, and Pakistani intelligence agencies during Afghanistan’s war with the Soviet Union, to a polyglot collection of dedicated Islamists to nationalists. Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar told the Agence France Presse early this year, “We’re fighting to free our country. We are not a threat to the world.”

Those are words that should give Obama, The New York Times, and NATO pause.

The initial invasion in 2001 was easy because the Taliban had alienated itself from the vast majority of Afghans. But the weight of occupation, and the rising number of civilian deaths, is shifting the resistance toward a war of national liberation. 

No foreign power has ever won that battle in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan Plan?

Ann Jones at Tomdispatch on the “Afghanistan Boondoggle”:

The first of 20,000 to 30,000 additional U.S. troops are scheduled to arrive in Afghanistan next month to re-win the war George W. Bush neglected to finish in his eagerness to start another one. However, “winning” the military campaign against the Taliban is the lesser half of the story.

Going into Afghanistan, the Bush administration called for a political campaign to reconstruct the country and thereby establish the authority of a stable, democratic Afghan central government. It was understood that the two campaigns — military and political/economic — had to go forward together; the success of each depended on the other. But the vision of a reconstructed, peaceful, stable, democratically governed Afghanistan faded fast. Most Afghans now believe that it was nothing but a cover story for the Bush administration’s real goal — to set up permanent bases in Afghanistan and occupy the country forever.

Whatever the truth of the matter, in the long run, it’s not soldiers but services that count — electricity, water, food, health care, justice, and jobs. Had the U.S. delivered the promised services on time, while employing Afghans to rebuild their own country according to their own priorities and under the supervision of their own government — a mini-Marshall Plan — they would now be in charge of their own defense. The forces on the other side, which we loosely call the Taliban, would also have lost much of their grounds for complaint.

Instead, the Bush administration perpetrated a scam. It used the system it set up to dispense reconstruction aid to both the countries it “liberated,” Afghanistan and Iraq, to transfer American taxpayer dollars from the national treasury directly into the pockets of private war profiteers. Think of Halliburton, Bechtel, and Blackwater in Iraq; Louis Berger Group, Bearing Point, and DynCorp International in Afghanistan. They’re all in it together. So far, the Bush administration has bamboozled Americans about its shady aid program. Nobody talks about it. Yet the aid scam, which would be a scandal if it weren’t so profitable for so many, explains far more than does troop strength about why, today, we are on the verge of watching the whole Afghan enterprise go belly up.   [emphasis mine]

What’s worse, there’s no reason to expect that things will change significantly on Barack Obama’s watch. During the election campaign, he called repeatedly for more troops for “the right war” in Afghanistan (while pledging to draw-down U.S. forces in Iraq), but he has yet to say a significant word about the reconstruction mission. While many aid workers in that country remain full of good intentions, the delivery systems for and uses of U.S. aid have been so thoroughly corrupted that we can only expect more of the same — unless Obama cleans house fast. But given the monumental problems on his plate, how likely is that?    [more]

The deaths of Afghan civilians in this “boondoggle” break my heart.  The deaths of Canadian soldiers are rarely noted, outside this country.  That rather pisses me off.  The fact that all of them are dying to line the pockets of powerful American corporations outrages me.

“Who Is The Taliban?”

From  Anand Gopal  at The Nation:

When US-led forces toppled the Taliban government in November 2001, Afghans celebrated the downfall of a reviled and discredited regime. “We felt like dancing in the streets,” one Kabuli told me. As US-backed forces marched into Kabul, remnants of the old Taliban regime split into three groups. The first, including many Kabul-based bureaucrats and functionaries, simply surrendered to the Americans; some even joined the Karzai government. The second, comprising the movement’s senior leadership, including “Commander of the Faithful” Mullah Omar, fled across the border into Pakistan, where they remain to this day. The third and largest group–foot soldiers, local commanders and provincial officials–quietly melted into the landscape, returning to their villages to wait and see which way the wind would blow.

Meanwhile, the country was quickly being carved up by warlords and criminals. On the brand-new highway connecting Kabul to Kandahar and Herat, built with millions of Washington’s dollars, well-organized groups of bandits would regularly terrorize travelers. Last year “thirty, maybe fifty criminals, some in police uniforms, stopped our bus and shot [out] our windows,” Muhammadullah, the owner of a bus company that regularly uses the route, told me. “They searched our vehicle and stole everything from everyone.” Criminal syndicates, often with government connections, organized kidnapping sprees in urban centers. Often, those few who were caught would simply be released after the right palms were greased.

Into this landscape of violence and criminality rode the Taliban, promising law and order–just as they did when they first formed in the mid-1990s, when they were welcomed by many Afghans as relief from the rapacious post-Soviet warlords. Within two years after the 2001 invasion, the exiled leadership, based in Quetta, Pakistan, began reactivating networks of fighters who had blended into Afghan villages. They resurrected relationships with Pashtun tribes. (The insurgents, historically a predominantly Pashtun movement and mostly concentrated in the country’s south and east, still have very little influence among other minority ethnic groups like the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hezaras.) With funds from wealthy Arab donors and training from ISI, the Pakistani intelligence apparatus, they were able to bring weapons and expertise into Pashtun villages.

In one village after another, the Taliban drove out the remaining minority of government sympathizers through intimidation and assassination. Then they won over the majority with promises of security and efficiency. They implemented a harsh version of Sharia law, cutting off the hands of thieves and shooting adulterers. They were brutal, but they were also incorruptible. Justice no longer went to the highest bidder. “There’s no crime anymore, unlike before,” said Abdul Halim, who lives in a district under Taliban control.

The insurgents conscripted fighters from the villages they operated in, often paying $200 a month–more than double the typical police salary. They adjudicated disputes between tribes and between landowners. They protected poppy fields from the eradication attempts of the central government and foreign armies–a move that won the support of poor farmers whose only stable income came from poppy cultivation. The areas under insurgent control were consigned to having neither reconstruction nor social services, but for rural villagers who had seen much foreign intervention and little economic progress under the Karzai government, this was hardly new.

At the same time, the Taliban’s ideology began to transform. “We are fighting to free our country from foreign domination,” Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi told me over the phone. “The Indians fought for their independence against the British. Even the Americans once waged an insurgency to free their own country.” This emerging nationalistic streak appeals to Pashtun villagers, who have grown weary of the American and NATO presence.

Read the whole thing here

What of Afghanistan?

From Doug Saunders at the Globe & Mail:

… there is only one question that can decide whether this war has run its course: What is the possibility, today or in the near future, of any kind of international terrorist attack being launched from within Afghanistan?

I’m surprised at how infrequently this question gets asked. Earlier this year, I visited several regions of Afghanistan and asked military leaders in regions held by British, Canadian and U.S. forces how many al-Qaeda fighters they were seeing within the country’s borders. In all cases, the answer was “none.”

Ali Jalali, one of Afghanistan’s most astute politicians (he was astute enough to quit the government of Hamid Karzai), believes that al-Qaeda could not conceivably re-establish itself in Afghanistan because the folks who are overtaking the country do not sympathize with them.

“Only 20 per cent of insurgents who form the core of the Taliban are fighting the ideological war,” he told the Indian media recently. “The rest are aggrieved tribes who have been mistreated by some government official or drug trafficker or some foreign intelligence operators or by the transnational al-Qaeda terrorists. It also consists of unemployed youth and criminal groups. All these are alliances of convenience. They are fighting for different reasons.”

In the bloody, Taliban-infested provinces of Kandahar (Canadian-held) and Helmand (British-held), the insurgents are both physically and ideologically remote from al-Qaeda, which looks to them like another foreign invader.

[…]

… that leads to the next question: To the extent that al-Qaeda and its supporters remain active in Afghanistan, how much is that because of and not in spite of our military presence there?

Richard Barrett, the man who runs the UN agency that monitors al-Qaeda’s activities, warned recently that the presence of large numbers of foreign troops is mainly serving to bolster the terrorist group and provide it with a convenient, two-dimensional un-Islamic enemy to make its rhetoric sound plausible and build up its recruiting.

“You could say that the threat of foreign occupation is giving them oxygen in the region with tribal leaders, leaving aside local differences to unite against foreign forces,” Mr. Barrett said.

If so, we have a stark conclusion: Al-Qaeda is gone, and not likely to return. To the extent that it is still around, it’s because we’re attracting it.

If both those statements are true, then no matter how ugly it looks, the war’s over.

Read the whole thing here

Fear in Kandahar

From Robert Fisk:

There is a little girl in the Meir Wais hospital with livid scars and dead skin across her face, an obscene map of brown and pink tissue. Then there is another girl, a beautiful child, Khorea Horay, grimacing in pain, her leg amputated, her life destroyed after her foot was torn to pieces. In another ward, two girls lie on their backs, a tent above their limbs. One has lost an arm, another – a 16-year-old – a leg.

Then there is the grim young man with the beard, also in the darkest pain, who looks at me with suspicion and puzzlement. He has a bullet wound in the abdomen, a great incision sutured up after the doctors found it infected. Two other young men, also bearded, cowled in brown “patu” shawls, sit beside this suffering warrior. They, too, stare at me as if I am a visitor from Mars. Perhaps that’s what I am in Kandahar. Better to be a Martian than a Westerner in a city which in all but name has fallen to the Taliban.

The black turbans are everywhere. So are the blue burkhas which we Westerners confidently – stupidly – believed would vanish from Afghan society. But the Taliban insist they were not responsible for throwing acid in the face of the little girl in the second-floor ward at Meir Wais hospital. You know what she is thinking. You know what her parents are thinking. Who will marry this girl now, with her patchwork face of pain? Four men on a motorcycle threw acid at her and 13 of her friends on their way to school. Four were brought here, two dispatched immediately to the eye department. The Taliban deny any involvement. But they would, wouldn’t they?

Khorea Horay is a victim of that other tormentor of southern Afghanistan, the forces of Western “civilisation” who dispense “collateral damage” to the poor and the illiterate of Kandahar province in their determination to bring “freedom” and “democracy” to the land that defeated both Alexander the Great and Ghengis Khan. The Americans air-raided her village of Shahrwali Kut in their battle against “terrorism”; a Taliban on a nearby hilltop appears to have fired a missile at Nato troops before our Western technology arrived to crush Khorea’s village. “I looked downwards and my foot was in little pieces,” she said. “They came from the sky and from the ground. It started in the afternoon and went on into the night.” In all, 36 members of a wedding party were killed in Shahrwali Kut on 5 November. That’s why she is one of the lucky ones. But luck is relative. Nato forces in southern Afghanistan have promised an inquiry. Needless to say, not a single Western soldier has visited Khorea’s hospital ward to say sorry, even to offer a little compassion.

Read it here

The Future of Afghanistan

From Tom Englhardt:

One of the eerier reports on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan appeared recently in the New York Times. Journalist John Burns visited the Russian ambassador in Kabul, Zamir N. Kabulov, who, back in the 1980s, when the Russians were the Americans in Afghanistan, and the Americans were launching the jihad that would eventually wend its way to the 9/11 attacks… well, you get the idea…

In any case, Kabulov was, in the years of the Soviet occupation, a KGB agent in the same city and, in the 1990s, an adviser to a U.N. peacekeeping envoy during the Afghan civil war that followed. “They’ve already repeated all of our mistakes,” he told Burns, speaking of the American/NATO effort in the country. “Now,” he added, “they’re making mistakes of their own, ones for which we do not own the copyright.” His list of Soviet-style American mistakes included: underestimating “the resistance,” an over-reliance on air power, a failure to understand the Afghan “irritative allergy” to foreign occupation, “and thinking that because they swept into Kabul easily, the occupation would be untroubled.” Of present occupiers who have stopped by to catch his sorry tale, Kabulov concludes world-wearily, “They listen, but they do not hear.”

The question is: Does this experience really have to be repeated to the bitter end — in the case of the Soviets, a calamitous defeat and retreat from Afghanistan, followed by years of civil war in that wrecked country, and finally the rise of the Pakistani-backed Taliban? The answer is: perhaps. There is no question that the advisers President Obama will be listening to are already exploring more complex strategies in Afghanistan, including possible negotiations with “reconcilable elements” of the Taliban. But these all remain military-plus strategies at whose heart lies the kind of troop surge that candidate Obama called for so vehemently — and, given the fate of the previous 2007 U.S./NATO “surge” in Afghanistan, this, too, has failure written all over it.

If you want a glimmer of hope when it comes to the spreading Afghan War — American missile-armed drones have been attacking across the Pakistani border regularly in recent months — consider that Barack Obama has made ex-CIA official Bruce Reidel a key advisor on the deteriorating Pakistani situation. And Reidel recently reviewed startlingly favorably Tariq Ali’s must-read, hard-hitting new book on Pakistan (and so Afghanistan and so American policy), The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power for the Washington Post. (“My employers of the past three decades, the CIA and the Brookings Institution, get their share of blame,” Reidel wrote. “So do both of the current presidential candidates…”)

Ali believes that there could be a grand, brokered regional solution to the Afghan War, essentially a military-minus strategy. Let’s hope Reidel and others are willing to listen to that, too; otherwise it will certainly be “Obama’s war,” and — for anyone old enough to remember — haven’t we been through that before? Tom

Read Tariq Ali’s post, “Operation Enduring Disaster: Breaking with Afghan Policy

Oh Please!

The case for withdrawing US and NATO (that means CANADIAN!) troops from Afghanistan:

While Obama’s election may indicate a shift in U.S. foreign policy (and hopefully a rejection of the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war), Obama has prescribed more military operations in Afghanistan.

For more than a year, Obama has argued for redeploying U.S. troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. He has called Afghanistan the “central front in the War on Terror” and has even threatened to bomb Pakistan should there be evidence that Afghan warlords are hiding there and the Pakistani government isn’t “doing enough” about it. (On this last point, Bush has already bombed Pakistan several times over the last few months, prompting the Pakistani government to publicly rebuke the U.S. for violating its sovereignty.)

While Obama’s rhetoric in arguing for increased involvement in Afghanistan makes some sense – he claims that Bush has been so involved with Iraq that the al-Qaeda leaders who allegedly orchestrated the September 11 attacks are still at large – his proposed methodology doesn’t.

Instead of scaling up an already disastrous war, the United States could change course in a way that would ultimately do a lot more to ensure the world’s safety. Such measures should include:

  1. Withdrawing troops. International law is clear on this subject. No country may occupy another indefinitely and certainly not without the will of the people being occupied. If an Obama administration truly thinks that withdrawing U.S. and NATO troops would be a bad thing for Afghans, hold a referendum to see who would like the troops to remain.
  2. Working with the various Afghan factions to begin negotiations. Wars are rarely stopped on the battlefield, and those that are have a tendency to break out again after a few years. The recent history of Afghanistan illustrates this point. It’s better by far for enemies and friends, Pashtun, Tajik, and others to settle differences through negotiation based on mutual respect and the rule of law.
  3. Once stability and security are guaranteed in Afghanistan, beginning the attack on fundamentalism in earnest. Working to incorporate Afghanistan into the international human rights framework through enforcing UN measures which Afghanistan has already ratified, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women is one step that can be taken in this regard. Another is major investment in social infrastructure and particularly health and education measures which will ultimately help Afghanistan recover from being bombed “into the stone age.”

If the idea of immediately stopping all military operations in Afghanistan sounds radical, it shouldn’t. No less than President Hamid Karzai pleaded for an end to the bombings immediately after the U.S. election, as yet another wedding party fell victim to bombs from the sky.

For the sake of all us, Afghan and American, let’s hope President Barack Obama heeds his call.

It’s a good article and also gives some of the history of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the effects of the US/NATO presence since the US invasion.  Go read it here