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Turning In Circles In Afghanistan

3:41 pm in Afghanistan, Foreign Policy by Derrick Crowe

By Robert Greenwald and Derrick Crowe

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters late last week that he thinks we may turn the corner at the end of this year in Afghanistan. Again. Turning the corner, or the tide, or the momentum, or what have you, has become a semi-annual ritual in the failing U.S. war in Afghanistan. While all these turned corners make for great soundbites, the reality is that we’re just turning in circles in Afghanistan.

Here’s what Gates said:

“We have driven the Taliban out of areas they have controlled for years, including their heartland. They clearly intend to try and take that back. If we can prevent them this year from retaking the areas that we have taken away from them and we can continue to expand the security bubble, I think it’s possible that by the end of this year we will have turned a corner, just because of the Taliban being driven out and, more importantly, kept out.”

First of all, let’s not fail to notice that this is the latest a continual string of promises about “turning a corner.” Joshua Foust and Win Without War over the past months have compiled fairly extensive lists of the embarrassment of “turned corners” claimed by U.S. officials. Here’s Foust’s list, just to give you an idea: (continued…)

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Petraeus “Understands the Frustration” With Spending “Enormous Amounts of Money,” But He’ll Keep Spending It If You Let Him

10:19 am in Afghanistan, Countries in Conflict by Derrick Crowe

By Robert Greenwald and Derrick Crowe

When testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General David Petraeus told senators that he understood the frustration with the Afghanistan War, conceding that “we have spent an enormous amount of money.” The general has a gift for understatement.

We are spending $2 billion a week on this futile, brutal war that’s not making us safer, and even that “enormous” amount of money (to say nothing of the lives lost or broken) hasn’t hammered the square peg of a military solution into the round hold of the crisis in Afghanistan. News flash: if you can’t turn the war effort around with 30,000 more troops at a cost of $1 million per troop, per year, maybe the military solutions aren’t solutions after all.

To say the American people are “frustrated” is putting it very, very mildly. Despite the mainstream media’s best efforts to pretend there’s no war on (last year, Afghanistan coverage comprised about 4 percent of all news coverage), a large majority of Americans say they follow Afghanistan news closely. The vast majority of Americans now tell pollsters they want Congress to act to speed up troop withdrawals, and most likely voters want all troops out within a year. A record 64 percent now say that the war hasn’t been worth fighting, a 20-percent jump in opposition since President Obama announced his latest troop increase.

Millions of Americans are still burning in an economic hell while our leaders waste precious resources on Hellfire missiles. Just one statistic drives it home: the poverty rate for children in the U.S. may soon hit 25 percent. And while those kids are living in hotels or on the street, or wondering where their next meal will come from, Petraeus will keep right on “understanding” your frustration while he spends almost $10 billion a month that could be used right here at home, getting those kids and their families back on their feet. We can’t let that happen.

Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistan is fighting to get the truth out about this war while the mainstream media sleeps on it. If you’re fed up with this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter, and join a local Rethink Afghanistan Meetup. Together we can make sure Petraeus and politicians in Washington, D.C. really understand our frustration and bring our troops home.

Afghanistan War Not Worth the Burning of Children and Treasure

2:26 pm in Afghanistan, Foreign Policy, Military by Derrick Crowe

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Obama says he’s sorry, too:

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

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

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

From Talking Points Memo:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Afghanistan, Year Ten

10:31 am in Afghanistan, Countries in Conflict, Foreign Policy, Military by Derrick Crowe

Rethink Afghanistan Year Ten video graphic

Watch Rethink Afghanistan’s latest video at RethinkAfghanistan.com.

I spent several days last week giving guest lectures about the Afghanistan War to freshmen and seniors at Anderson High School in Austin, Texas. It’s no secret that I loathe this brutal, futile war that’s not making us safer. So, when I talk to kids about it, I state my biases up-front, and I do my best to represent my opponents’ views fairly. In the process of playing devil’s advocate during these talks, I usually ask people if they remember how they felt on 9/11. I do this because I think it’s a good way to get into the mindset of decision-makers who led us down this road back in 2001. But this year, something startling happened: When I asked the students this question, they laughed at me.

"Dude, that was a long time ago," they giggled. "We were, like, in 3rd grade or something." In other words, no, Mr. Old Guy, we don’t remember. We weren’t even 10 years old when that happened.

Year 10. That’s where we are, starting October 7, 2010. We are now in the Afghanistan War’s 10th year. Of course most of those kids don’t remember what they felt like when the towers fell. It was almost a decade ago, more than half of their lives ago.

It’s startling to be reminded how long ago 9/11 was because our public figures keep talking about the Afghanistan War like it started last year. General Petraeus let us know back in February in a Meet the Press interview that we were just then getting "the inputs about right," and were now "starting to see some of the outputs." Nine years into this war, and Petraeus lets us know they’re just getting warmed up. Good God.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

Security in Afghanistan Crumbles as Counterinsurgency Fails

9:11 pm in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

As President Obama’s strategy review for Afghanistan commences, let’s hope he’s balancing the information coming to him from his happy-talking generals with some independent news reading of his own.

  • While General David Petraeus serenades the major news media in the United States with the siren song of "progress," security in Afghanistan is rapidly deteriorating, and efforts in the south to win legitimacy for the Kabul government are failing.
  • Hamid Karzai seems dead set on proving just how corrupt he and his business connections are.
  • Efforts to transform the Afghan National Army from a carpetbagger army to a legitimate, representative force capable of keeping peace in the south are a flop.

All of these reports are clear indications that the massive influx of troops into Afghanistan under Obama failed to improve the situation in that country and very likely made it worse. The president should seize on any of the numerous signs of policy failure–from the massively corrupt Kabulbank fiasco to the collapse of security across the country–and use this strategy review to create a plan that begins immediate U.S. troop withdrawals.

Security Crumbles

Aid groups warn that security in Afghanistan is rapidly deteriorating, and they strongly dispute military assurances that things are "getting worse before they get better." According to The New York Times:

Even as more American troops flow into the country, Afghanistan is more dangerous than it has ever been during this war, with security deteriorating in recent months, according to international organizations and humanitarian groups.

…Last month, ISAF recorded 4,919 “kinetic events,” …a 7 percent increase over the previous month, and a 49 percent increase over August 2009, according to Maj. Sunset R. Belinsky, an ISAF spokeswoman. August 2009 was itself an unusually active month for the insurgency as it sought to disrupt the presidential elections then.

With one attack after another, the Taliban and their insurgent allies have degraded security in almost every part of the country (the one exception is Panjshir Province in the north, which has never succumbed to Taliban control).

While Petraeus has been on a media blitz claiming that the rise in violence can be attributed to the Taliban fighting back as NATO forces "take away areas that are important to the enemy," the Times’ story makes clear that his explanation fails to address rapidly deteriorating security in parts of the country where the NATO presence is light. In fact, compared to August 2009, insurgent attacks more than doubled last month.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

$547 Million Can’t Paper Over Failure of Afghanistan War

5:55 pm in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

The Pentagon’s public relations machine is working overtime these days trying to sell a theme of "progress" in Afghanistan to push back against calls to end the war. The message machine behind this push is gargantuan, costing $547 million and employing more than 27,000 people. But, as our latest Rethink Afghanistan video shows, all that wasted P.R. money can’t paper over the fact that the Afghanistan War isn’t making us safer, and it’s not worth the cost.

So far, we’ve seen General David Petraeus give headline interviews on NBC, CBS, BBC, FOX News, and schedule an upcoming headline interview on ABC. He’s given interviews to The New York Times and The Washington Post. He’s kicked the Pentagon’s P.R. apparatus, especially that of the U.S. 3rd Army and its paid contractors, into gear, churning out articles to push his narrative of "progress."

An investigation last year by the Associated Press uncovered the staggering reach of the Pentagon’s P.R. apparatus:  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

Petraeus’ Oily Spin about Progress in Afghanistan

5:00 am in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

With General Petraeus’ stop on CBS Evening News with Katie Couric now halfway over, it’s worth taking a moment to unpack the unchallenged, false assertions and implications he’s piled up thus far on his media tour. We decided to look into the claims he made about "oil spots" of "progress" during his interview with NBC’s David Gregory. Both claims were absolute fantasies, and the remaining journalists on Petraeus’ tour owe their viewers more rigorous skepticism than what we saw on Meet the Press.

Despite Petraeus’ use of the term more than a dozen times in his MTP interview, virtually no data that shows strategically significant security “progress” in Afghanistan since the start of the latest escalation. According to the Afghan NGO Safety Office (ANSO), emphasis mine:

…[T]he number of provinces having more than three attacks per day has grown from 1 to 4 while the number of provinces seeing the lowest rate (<1 per 2 days) has dropped from 22 to 19. Overall ANSO assess that, in terms of daily attack rates, 23 provinces have remained stable, 1 has improved and nine provinces have deteriorated being Nangahar, Paktya, Kandahar, Paktika, Uruzgan, Helmand, Ghazni, Farah, Kunduz.

AOG are presenting a formidable geographic presence and are escalating attacks, in areas well outside of IMF main focus, at their own direction and tempo.

Needless to say, if insurgents are initiating many more attacks “at their own direction and tempo,” International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has not “regained the initiative.”

But let’s talk specifically about General Petraeus’ "oil spots." . .

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Spike in Civilian Casualties Shows U.S. War Policy Is Failing Afghans and Americans

12:05 pm in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

The new United Nations report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan shows that the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is failing, even according to the military’s own doctrine.

The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan reports that the number of civilians killed in the first six months of 2010 spiked by 25 percent compared to the same period last year. According to counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine, the coalition’s inability to protect civilians from NATO- or insurgent-caused violence seriously undermines any political effort to win the support of the local population. From The U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual:

“Progress in building support for the [host nation] government requires protecting the local populace. People who do now believe they are secure from insurgent intimidation, coercion, and reprisals will not risk overtly supporting COIN efforts. (p. 179)”

“During any period of instability, people’s primary interest is physical security for themselves and their families. When [host nation] forces fail to provide security or threaten the security of civilians, the population is likely to seek security guarantees from insurgents, militias, or other armed groups. This situation can feed support for an insurgency. (p 98)”

Simply put, according to COIN theory, if you can’t prevent your own side from killing civilians, and you can’t offer credible assurances of security to the population, you lose. And, guess what? Judged by its own standards, the U.S. military is losing: . . .

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General Petraeus, Concern Troll

4:25 pm in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

Watch "Don’t Let General Petraeus Move the Goalposts on Afghanistan" in HD on Facebook.

Concern troll.

In an argument (usually a political debate), a concern troll is someone who is on one side of the discussion, but pretends to be a supporter of the other side with "concerns". The idea behind this is that your opponents will take your arguments more seriously if they think you’re an ally.

Urban Dictionary.

When asked about the July 2011 deadline to begin troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, General Petraeus says “I support the policy of the president.” This past week, though, in testimony before Congress in hastily arranged hearings, he made his position more clear. He supports the policy of the president,” but thinks “we have to be very careful with time-lines,” and he might even try to convince the president to renege on his promise to the American people as July 2011 comes closer.

He’s a concern troll. He’s kowtowing to the principle of civilian control of the military, but his function in the debate is to constantly hem and haw, sapping support for strong action in favor of a position with which he does not (and maybe never did) agree.

Now, Petraeus is a cool customer and an experienced hand at testifying before Congress. When faced with an adversarial questioner, he rarely shows his cards and tends to filibuster them out of time, sticking closely to the “I support the president” talking point. That’s what makes his performance this week slightly shocking. The masked slipped.

When asked by Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) whether his support for the July 2011 reflected his best, personal, professional judgment, he responded with a very interesting stare at the senator, an “um,” and a five-second-or-so pause before saying, “We have to be very careful with time-lines.” Asked whether that was a qualified yes, or qualified no, or a non-answer, he said, “qualified yes.”

In other words, “yes, but…”

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On Afghanistan, We Know a Distraction When We See It

4:55 pm in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

When it comes to Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke wants to get technical, but only when it suits him.

This morning, the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan went on NPR’s All Things Considered to take umbrage with reports, including Brave New Foundation’s latest Rethink Afghanistan video, that the Afghanistan War today supplanted Vietnam as the longest war in American history. He said, in part:

Just to be technical since I spent three and half years of my life in Vietnam, and we were taking casualties, and then I read the date that makes the longest war and I think to myself ‘Gee, that’s funny. I was in Vietnam a year and half before they started the war, according to these new journalistic reports.’

…They are dating the war from the Gulf of Tonkin incident. And that simply isn’t right.

I’m not surprised that a member of the executive branch would want us all to believe that a little thing like actual congressional authorization for the use of military force is a "technicality." But the simple fact remains that Afghanistan is the longest war in U.S. history if you measure from the moment that Congress authorized the use of force to the withdrawal of the last combat troop.

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