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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.

Petraeus, McCain Continue Afghanistan War Spin, But No One Buys It (Nor Should They)

12:07 am in Afghanistan, Countries in Conflict by Derrick Crowe

General David Petraeus

General David Petraeus by TalkMediaNews, on Flickr

General David Petraeus is set to testify before Congress today, and he’s expected to again try to put a positive spin on a war effort that’s utterly failing to meet the goals set by its backers. While intelligence assessments show that tactical moves on the ground in Afghanistan have failed to fundamentally weaken the growing insurgency, Petraeus expected to offer “a mostly upbeat assessment today of military progress.” Petraeus’s Potemkin village tours of Afghanistan for visiting dignitaries may have “impressed” people like John McCain, but Defense Intelligence Agency head General Ronald Burgess rains all over the progress talk with the sobering news that the casualties inflicted on the Taliban have caused “no apparent degradation in their capacity to fight.”

As if to underline Burgess’ point, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a recruiting station for the Afghan Army, killing at least 35 people in northern Afghanistan on Monday.

Despite the assurances from the administration, the military and their think-tank allies, the massive troop escalations of 2009 and 2010 have failed to reverse the momentum of the insurgency or protect the Afghan population from insurgent intimidation and violence. From today’s L.A. Times:

A report March 2 by the British Parliament’s foreign affairs committee concluded that despite the “optimistic progress appraisals we heard from some military and official sources … the security situation across Afghanistan as a whole is deteriorating.”

Counterinsurgency efforts in the south and east have “allowed the Taliban to expand its presence and control in other previously relatively stable areas in Afghanistan.”

“The Taliban have the momentum, especially in the east and north,” analyst Gilles Dorronsoro of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told the committee. “There is no change in the overall balance of power, and the Taliban are still making problems.”

While the Taliban maintained momentum in 2010 and early 2011, the escalation strategy backed by Petraeus failed to protect Afghans from violence as promised, with 2010 being the deadliest year of the war so far for civilians.

One of the most hawkish of the Petraeus backers in the Senate, Senator McCain, is working hard to set the bounds for acceptable debate in Congress, but he, like the counterinsurgency campaign, is failing:

“I expect certainly some skepticism on both sides of the aisle,” McCain said. “I don’t see any kind of pressure to withdraw immediately.”

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Pentagon Assertions of “Progress” In Afghanistan Are a Bad Joke

11:28 am in Afghanistan, Countries in Conflict, Foreign Policy by Derrick Crowe

The Pentagon wants you to ignore some inconvenient facts about the failure of the escalation strategy in Afghanistan.

The latest Petraeus/Gates media tour is under way in preparation for the general’s testimony to Congress next week, and they’re trotting out the same, tired spin they’ve been using since McChrystal was replaced in disgrace last year. Despite the most violent year of the war so far, despite the highest civilian and military toll of the war so far, and despite the continued growth of the insurgency, they want you to believe that we’re “making progress.” While they spend this week fudging and shading and spinning, we’ll waste another $2 billion on this brutal, futile war, and we won’t be any closer to “victory” than we are today.

Let me make a couple of predictions about Petraeus’ testimony based on experience. He will attempt to narrow the conversation to a few showcase districts in Afghanistan, use a lot of aspirational language (“What we’re attempting to do,” instead of, “What we’ve done“) and assure the hand-wringers among the congressional hawks that he’ll be happy to suggest to the president that they stay longer in Afghanistan if that’s what he thinks is best. Most importantly, he will try to keep the conversation as far away from a high-level strategic assessment based on his own counterinsurgency doctrine as possible, because if Congress bothers to check his assertions of “progress” against what he wrote in the counterinsurgency manual, he’s in for a world of hurt.

Here’s what Petraeus’ own U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual says about the main goal of a COIN campaign:

“I-113. The primary objective of any COIN operation is to foster development of effective governance by a legitimate government.”

Not by any stretch of the imagination is the counterinsurgency campaign under Petraeus’ direction serving what his own field manual says is the primary goal of his campaign. If we were looking for a legitimate government in Afghanistan, it’s crystal clear that we backed the wrong horse. Hamid Karzai and his family are neck-deep in any number of corruption scandals, the most glaring of which involves the largest private bank in Afghanistan and a sweeping control fraud scheme that has already resulted in unrest across the country. (That scandal, by the way, is likely to result in a U.S.-taxpayer-funded bank bailout for Kabulbank, according to white-collar crime expert Bill Black.) The Karzai administration is an embarrassment of illegitimacy and cronyism, and the local tentacles of the Kabul cartel are as likely to inspire people to join the insurgency as they are to win over popular support.

Even if the Karzai regime where a glimmering example of the rule of law, the military campaign under Petraeus would be utterly failing to achieve what counterinsurgency doctrine holds up as the primary way in which a legitimate government wins over support from the people: securing the population. From the COIN manual:

“5-68. Progress in building support for the HN ["host nation"] government requires protecting the local populace. People who do not believe they are secure from insurgent intimidation, coercion, and reprisals will not risk overtly supporting COIN efforts.”

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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.

Rethink the Cost of War With Us on March 12

10:11 am in Afghanistan, Countries in Conflict, Foreign Policy, Military, Politics by Derrick Crowe

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

When Brave New Foundation first started the Rethink Afghanistan campaign to push back against the growing drumbeats for military escalation, we faced some strong headwinds. The election of a popular Democratic president who was pro-escalation co-opted and confused the coalitions that had pushed for the end of the Iraq War. We were warned that strong public statements in opposition to the Afghanistan Wars and the president’s repeated escalations of the conflict would cause us to lose funders and allies.

For a while, these critics were right. We did lose funders and allies. But in the process, the Rethink Afghanistan documentary and ongoing new media campaign staked out important intellectual and moral territory in opposition to the escalations. individual Rethinkers and our colleagues in the nonprofit world probably experienced the same isolation in their professional and personal lives. But together we’ve maintained our moral clarity, and now that clarity is paying off.

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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 →

Who’s the Huckster for This High-Interest War?

5:00 am in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

On college campuses, credit card companies entice naive undergrads into signing up for super-high-interest-rate credit cards by giving away “perceived high-value items” like t-shirts or coffee mugs. They’re called perceived high value items because they really aren’t worth as much as people assume. Their only purpose is to distract from the terrible terms in the fine print of the contract you’re signing.

Someone’s word on the Afghanistan escalation is a perceived high-value item, either Petraeus’ or President Obama’s, or both.

The president’s December 2009 decision to add 30,000 more troops on top of his prior troop increase was always the wrong decision, but in the course of making that decision, he made an explicit deal with the restless American voter:

“And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.  After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.”

General Petraeus explicitly agreed to this timeline before the December 2009 announcement of the latest troop increase:

“The only way we’ll consider this is if we get the troops in and out in a shorter time frame,” Obama said.

Obama was moving out of his probing mode and toward conclusions and eventually presidential orders. …[T]he Pentagon was to present a “targeted” plan for protecting population centers, training Afghan security forces, and beginning a real—not a token—withdrawal within 18 months of the escalation.

[The President said:] “If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?”

“Yes, sir, in agreement,” Petraeus said.

…The commanders couldn’t say they didn’t have enough time to make the escalation work because they had specifically said, under explicit questioning, that they did.

Now, with their strategy limping embarrassingly toward quagmire, the generals are putting on a full-court-press in the media, pushing for more time and resources, to redefine the President’s explicit promise to limit the troop increase to 18 months, and finally to have him break his word to the American people. Read the rest of this entry →

Media Failing to Ask Tough Questions on Afghanistan War…Again

9:32 am in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

Sign our act.ly petition to tell the next journalists on Petraeus’ media tour to ask tough questions and expose his effort to extend the Afghanistan War.

General Petraeus is on a media tour to sell the idea that the U.S. military is “making progress” in Afghanistan, a well-worn message aimed at convincing elites to extend this brutal, futile war. So far, it looks like the mainstream media is buying it, hook, line, and sinker.

Petraeus kicked off his spin campaign this morning with an hour-long special on Meet the Press with David Gregory. The piece opened with a montage of Petraeus doing sit-ups, and later showed him jogging, with Gregory opining about him wearing out troops half his age. Gregory went out of his way to set up a "Petraeus saves the day" narrative, asking the general if the situation in Afghanistan reminds him of the "dark days" in Iraq just before Petraeus "succeeded" with the surge. Petraeus hammered home his one-word message relentlessly: progress. Gregory feigned tough skepticism, but betrayed his hero-worship with setups like, "Watch how savvy Petraeus is when he answers my tough question." Throughout, Gregory’s sheepish grin conveyed the sense that he wanted to hug Petraeus instead of critically probe his assertions.

As Petraeus battered viewers again and again with his "making progress" theme, Gregory failed to ask probing, skeptical questions. When Petraeus mentioned "oil spots," as if the stain spreading across Afghanistan were one of security, Gregory failed to press him on the huge increase in civilian deaths, the 87-percent spike in violence and the incredible explosion of IED attacks over the last several months. When he brought up the outrageous TIME Magazine cover showing a woman’s mutilated face, Gregory failed to mention the attack happened last year and that TIME Magazine’s cover grossly distorts the choices before the United States. When Petraeus denounced the Taliban’s recent killing of a pregnant woman, Gregory failed to press Petraeus on ISAF’s own killing of pregnant women earlier this year in which bullets were reportedly dug out of a screaming woman by special forces troops before she bled to death. Gregory didn’t do journalism today. He provided a platform for military spin. Read the rest of this entry →

Invitees to President Obama’s UT-Austin Speech: Get Out of Afghanistan, War’s Failing, Set a Timetable

9:30 pm in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

Today, President Obama came to my town to give an invite-only speech at the University of Texas. Lacking an invite, I wondered what people with invites had to say about the Afghanistan War. Here’s what I found:

All the people who had tickets to the event who consented to be interviewed and who gave an opinion for or against are in this video, and their views are fairly represented. Of course, that’s not a surprise, given the levels of public disgust with this war, the higher levels of opposition among Democrats and the likely makeup of the invitee crowd.

Most Americans — 54 percent — think the U.S. should set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Forty-one percent disagree.

There is a partisan divide on the issue: 73 percent of Democrats think the U.S. should set a timetable, while only 32 percent of Republicans say the U.S. should do so. Fifty-four percent of independents want a timetable.

What is surprising, though, is the "heads down, follow through" attitude on the part of our elected leaders.

Ever heard of a thing called an election?

NATO Forces in Afghanistan Can’t Deny They Killed Civilians in Sangin Anymore

9:00 am in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

Exclusive, on-the-ground interviews obtained by Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistan project confirm what NATO forces repeatedly denied: U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan killed dozens of people in the Sangin District of Helmand Province on July 23.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s office first acknowledged the incident when they condemned the killings on July 26. At that time, the Afghan National Directorate of Security claimed that the American-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) killed “52 civilians…including women and children” in a “rocket attack.” (The Kabul government later revised that tally to 39.) By Sunday, August 1, there were protests in the streets of Kabul.

ISAF immediately attacked the credibility of the Afghan government’s report, complaining bitterly of Karzai’s decision to condemn the incident without conferring with U.S. and allied forces.

Working with our team in Afghanistan, Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistan campaign sent an intrepid local blogger into Sangin–one of Afghanistan’s most volatile areas–to get the truth. The video interviews he obtained are incredible and horrifying. We made the full interview transcripts available online at http://rethinkafghanistan.com, and we encourage you to read them. Here’s the short version: Every survivor our interviewer talked to confirmed that a massive civilian casualty event occurred, and that NATO was responsible.

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