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In Afghanistan, the Dam Breaks

6:31 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

Co-authored by Derrick Crowe

The news just keeps getting worse in Afghanistan for the United States. Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistan project has warned for years that the premises of a counterinsurgency there were unrealistic and unworkable, and the ability of a handful of bad actors to completely seize control of the narrative with atrocious actions validates our warnings. The “hearts and minds” effort has completely melted down over the past few weeks, illustrating once again that this war isn’t making us safer and it’s not worth the costs.

Yesterday, the Taliban suspended talks with the U.S. in Qatar due to the U.S.’s failure to follow through on releasing five Taliban leaders from Guantanamo Bay. They also balked at the U.S.’s demand that the Taliban engage with the Karzai government, calling such a move “pointless.” Karzai, for his part, is now demanding that U.S. troops get out — now — of Afghan rural areas and stay on their bases, likely in response to the butchering of 16 civilians by a U.S. military member in Kandahar.

This isn’t your run-of-the-mill bad news, either:

“I’m really shocked, these are two pieces of very bad news,” said one senior western diplomat in Kabul. “It’s probably the bleakest day of my time here in Afghanistan.”

What you are seeing is the latest of any number of indicators over the last few months that the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan is in total collapse.

Two years into the escalated war effort, the rate of attacks initiated by insurgents continues to grow, up 14 percent in 2011 over 2010. And, when you consider that the prior year had already seen a 65 percent increase, it’s clear that the promises of increased security and reduced civilian and military casualties fed to the American people by the Pentagon were just so much garbage propaganda. Lest we forget, Adm. Mike Mullen, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress in December 2009, prior to the latest escalation, that the new strategy “must — and will — improve security for the Afghan people and limit both future civilian and military casualties.”

Since then, almost 1,000 additional U.S. troops have been killed, 10,680 have been wounded, and countless Afghans have been killed, maimed or driven from their homes by the conflict. Our government has charged us $2 billion a week for this fiasco, right in the middle of an absolutely vicious jobs crisis. Mission accomplished? Hardly. Despite the continued lies from the Pentagon, the war effort is continuing to fail to bring security to Afghanistan or stop the march of the Taliban.

This context makes the most recent litany of disasters that much more alarming:

  • January 2012: a video of U.S. Marines urinating on dead insurgents–a clear violation of U.S. military and international law–sparks widespread outrage.
  • February 20: U.S. forces burn copies of the Koran near a detention center in Parwan.
  • Massive protests break out across Afghanistan resulting in several deaths, including the execution-style killing of two American servicemembers inside a heavily guarded Afghan ministry building, likely by one of their Afghan colleagues.
  • March 11: A U.S. soldier goes on a rampage in Kandahar, killing 16 civilians before surrendering at his base.
  • Today, Karzai demanded the immediate removal of U.S. troops from rural areas as the Taliban cut off talks with the U.S.

The Associated Press analyzed Karzai’s demand to remove U.S. troops from rural Afghanistan thus:

“…It would essentially mean the end of the strategy of trying to win hearts and minds by working with and protecting the local populations.”

Come off it, people. We haven’t even won over the hearts and minds of the security forces we’re paying and training, much less the Afghan street, and the events of the last months make even saying the phrase, “hearts and minds” into a cynical joke. Protecting the population, by the way, requires you to actually reduce the total number of civilians being killed, maimed and displaced by the conflict. It’s not happening.

And by the way, Karzai’s not the only one who wants U.S. troops out of rural Afghanistan ASAP. A majority of Americans say they want U.S. troops out ASAP, and 60 percent say the war hasn’t been worth fighting.

The war for hearts and minds is over. It’s lost in Afghanistan, and it’s lost at home. The president and Congress should do us all a favor and stop letting people get killed for it, and get our people out of there.

Brave New Foundation’s War Costs campaign is continuing the work of our Rethink Afghanistan campaign. Please join us to stay updated on the latest news in the fight to end this war.

Follow Robert Greenwald and Derrick Crowe on Twitter.

The Carnage Continues In Afghanistan

6:37 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

By Robert Greenwald and Derrick Crowe

A quiet city in the north of Afghanistan ignited today after yet another NATO night raid reportedly tore another family apart. Thousands of people took to the streets, again chanting, “Death to America!” as they pelted Karzai’s billboards with mud and stones. They attacked police. They attacked the local NATO outpost. At least a dozen people were killed in the clash, which showed local rage directed at every level of the U.S.-led counterinsurgency strategy, from the local security forces, to our corrupt and feckless local “partners” in the Karzai government, to the U.S. itself.

Worse, this isn’t the only civilian killing by NATO forces even just this week. On May 16, Reuters reported:

“Foreign troops killed an Afghan child and wounded four others when responding to insurgent fire in volatile eastern Kunar province, the provincial Governor said on Monday, the third accidental killing of young civilians in less than a week.”

These deaths were senseless enough before Bin Laden was killed and al Qaeda driven from the country. Now, they’re downright obscene. With the last rational-sounding excuse for continuing the war, bringing Bin Laden to “justice,” gone, continuing this counterinsurgency campaign makes no sense, and it’s making Americans and Afghans less safe while wasting precious national resources. If you agree, please join Rethink Afghanistan in calling for an end to the war in the wake of Bin Laden’s death.

The uprising in Taloqan triggered by NATO’s killing of civilians is a microcosm of a larger dynamic playing out across the country. When one honestly looks at the data, the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan has been, at best, a miserable failure in its stated goal of “protecting the population,” or worse, a key driver in an ever-increasing cycle of violence and instability that puts civilians at risk.

Rising Violence in the Shadow of Escalation

Despite an escalation launched under the pretext of “reversing Taliban momentum” and “protecting the population,” attacks launched by insurgents and civilian casualties continue to rise. U.S. military leaders expect those numbers to continue to worsen over this summer. This is a strategy, remember, that Admiral Mike Mullen said, “must — and will — improve security for the Afghan people and limit both future civilian and military casualties.”

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Pentagon to White House, American People on Afghanistan: Take a Hike

6:46 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

The Pentagon is working the press again, this time in support of a so-called withdrawal plan that would break a promise made to the American people by their president. According to The Wall Street Journal:

“U.S. military officers in Afghanistan have drawn up preliminary proposals to withdraw as many as 5,000 troops from the country in July and as many as 5,000 more by the year’s end…”

This joke of a “withdrawal” plan isn’t anything remotely approaching a real drawdown. It’s less than a 10 percent reduction in U.S. forces in Afghanistan over 6 months. It puts the Pentagon squarely at odds both with the stated desires of the White House and the very clearly articulated will of the American people. If you agree, sign Rethink Afghanistan’s petition to get the troops out of Afghanistan.

First, let’s remember what the White House said on this:

“After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home….[O]ur troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended — because the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.”–President Barack Obama, Dec. 1, 2009.

“I’m confident that the withdrawal will be significant. People will say this is a real process of transition; this is not just a token gesture.”–President Barack Obama, April 15, 2011.

“In July of 2011, you’re going to see a whole lot of people moving out, bet on it.”–Vice President Joe Biden, qtd. in Jonathan Alter’s The Promise.

The American people are and have been crystal-clear about their expectations for a drawdown for months now.

  • Rasmussen Reports’ latest polling (published on May 9, 2011) shows that 56 percent of likely voters want troops brought home within a year, and more than half of those want all troops withdrawn immediately. The number of likely voters who want troops home within a year has increased by four percentage points since the beginning of March.
  • A Pew Research poll taken May 5-8 shows that 49 percent of Americans want troops removed from Afghanistan “ASAP.”
  • An NBC News poll taken May 5-7 shows that 56 percent of Americans disapprove of leaving some troops in Afghanistan until 2014.

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Damning New Report Shows U.S. Strategy Blocking Chance for Peace in Afghanistan

12:32 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

The new report from NYU’s Center for International Cooperation is a damning description of the U.S. policies in Afghanistan since 2001, and a warning that the escalated military strategy blocks the road to peace while making the Taliban more dangerous.

Separating the Taliban from al-Qaeda: The Core of Success in Afghanistan (.pdf) is the latest in a continuous string of statements from Afghanistan experts that the U.S. war policies that were launched a year ago aren’t making us safer and aren’t worth the substantial costs: $1 million per U.S. troop in Afghanistan per year, for a total of more than $375.5 billion wasted so far. The report is written by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, Kandahar-based researchers who’ve spent more than four years researching the Taliban and the recent history of southern Afghanistan.

George W. Bush’s Leftovers: Mistaking Taliban for Al Qaeda

The main target of criticism in the report is the major conceit passed from the Bush Administration to the Obama Administration on Afghanistan: the conflation of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The authors warn that,

“The claim that the link between the Taliban and al-Qaeda is stronger than ever, or unbreakable, is potentially a major intelligence failure that hinders the United States and the international community from achieving their core objectives.” (p. 4)

Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn summarize a history of the Taliban/Al Qaeda relationship that is likely unfamiliar to most Westerners. As a movement, the Taliban rank-and-file grew out of a history almost totally isolated from the developments in political Islam that formed the experience of Al Qaeda’s leadership, and the core leadership of both groups had little interaction in their organizations’ early years. The Taliban’s ambitions were and are plainly local, while Al Qaeda’s are oriented toward the idea of an international jihad against “Zionists and crusaders.” While we in the Western world may find the Taliban’s program of social hyper-conservatism objectionable in its own right, they are not al-Qaeda.

We all know, however, that the mindset of George W. Bush and his administration lacked nuance. His “with us or against us” rhetoric conflated the Taliban with al Qaeda. That conflation effectively short-circuited early attempts to reintegrate Taliban elements willing to work with the new order in Afghanistan:

“The counterterrorism policies of the United States at that time threatened the security of Taliban who might have been willing to join the process, and Afghan officials with whom the Taliban communicated said they could not protect them from detention by the United States. The strong interests of neighboring countries such as Pakistan and Iran also helped steer Taliban leaders towards taking up arms once again. By 2003 they had regrouped and put command structures in place, connecting to local groups inside Afghanistan to begin an insurgency.”

In short, had the U.S. adopted a more nuanced approach in distinguishing Taliban from Al Qaeda, we might not be facing the insurgency that’s continuing its march across Afghanistan.

President Obama may have a more intellectual way of conflating the threat, “Al Qaeda and their extremist allies” who may provide “safe haven” if they retake Afghanistan, but the essential counterproductive flaw in the thinking remains. U.S. policy talks a big game about reconciling with the “small t taliban,” but our conflation of the Taliban and Al Qaeda blocks any serious attempt at a political settlement. Worse, U.S. military strategies are taking a group that’s distinct from Al Qaeda and making it more vulnerable to Al Qaeda influence.

We’re Making the Taliban More Al Qaeda-Like

Part of the new escalated military campaign in Afghanistan was a massive increase in the number of night raids and other killings of Taliban leadership. The problem is that when the older, more locally focused leaders are killed, they are replaced by a younger breed of commander who’s typically much more radical, and their slow takeover of the insurgency is making it much more dangerous to the interests of the United States.

According to the report,

“These newer generations are potentially a more serious threat. With little or no memory of Afghan society prior to the Soviet war in the 1980s, this new generation of commanders is more ideologically motivated and less nationalistic than previous generations, and therefore less pragmatic. It is not interested in negotiations or compromise with foreigners. They have never lived in an Afghanistan that was at peace. Members of the youngest generation, often raised solely in refugee camps and madrasas in Pakistan, have no experience of traditional communities, productive economic activity, or citizenship in any state; they are citizens of jihad. Al- Qaeda operatives have been known to seek out direct contact with such younger Taliban field commanders inside Afghanistan. “

In other words, the Taliban is not Al Qaeda, but the U.S. military campaign is having the unintended consequence of making it more Al Qaeda-like: decentralized, radicalized and predisposed towards jihad.

It’s Time to Change Course

The Obama Administration’s wrong-headed conflation of the Taliban with the Al Qaeda threat is an ugly relic of the “with us or against us” rhetoric from the Bush years, and it’s time we got over it. This view of the conflict is what got us into this 100,000+ troop counterinsurgency that was launched almost exactly a year ago and that’s brought us nothing but grief since. We’ve had record casualties, record civilian deaths, and record costs, all while the Taliban continued to spread across the country. Not only has the U.S. failed to reverse insurgent momentum, but we’ve managed to make the Taliban even more susceptible to Al Qaeda overtures. If that’s not a rank failure, we don’t know what is.

Bottom line: if we are serious about wanting to protect American security and about reaching a political settlement that gets our troops home, we have to talk to the Taliban. However, that requires a major shift in the Obama Administration’s view of the players in the conflict. Right now, the administration’s strategy is killing off the generation of leaders inside the Taliban that will be most willing to talk.

The president once talked about his opposition to “dumb wars.” Well, this policy in Afghanistan is making this war dumber by the minute. Strick van Linschoten and Kuehn paint a picture of an insurgency that didn’t have to happen and a policy that could lead to a deadlier insurgency with which it will be incredibly hard to reconcile. Our leaders should take a close look at this report, and then get serious about non-military solutions for the conflict. There is no reason for the war we’re fighting anymore.

If you’re tired of this war that’s not making us safer and not worth the costs, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

Obama’s War, One Year Later: 195 Million Say No to War

10:29 am in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

Next month will mark the one-year anniversary of the launch of President Obama’s escalated military campaign in Afghanistan. One year later, violence is still getting worse and costs are skyrocketing. After more than nine years, it’s time to end this war.

Take a strong public stand against the war by posting your picture and comment on Rethink Afghanistan’s new “Because It’s Time” feature.

Rethink Afghanistan Because It's Time

On February 13, 2010, NATO troops launched Operation Moshtarak in the Marjah district of Helmand Province. It was the first major military action enabled by President Obama’s 30,000-troop escalation, and was supposed to be proof-of-concept for Generals McChrystal’s and Petraeus’ counterinsurgency doctrine. The military hype said Afghan forces would be in the lead as coalition forces invaded Taliban-controlled areas. They’d deliver “government in a box, ready to roll.” Over and over, military officials repeated their mantra that the new troops would enable them to “protect the population.”

What followed was a fiasco that still hasn’t ended.

In Marjah, “government in a box” turned out to be “government with a rap sheet,” as it turned out the U.S.-backed district governor was a convicted felon. (He did, however, fit in just fine in the corrupt Karzai regime.) A misfired munition from a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) killed a house full of civilians in the first few days of the offensive. Afghan troops trained by the Americans proved often unreliable and inept. All throughout 2010, Marjah remained a danger zone for U.S. troops as the Taliban forces who seemed to flee revealed themselves to be competent guerrillas, melting away before superior firepower only to slowly filter back in to plant roadside bombs and take potshots at troops. Eventually, military officials had to admit that they’d over-promised and under-delivered.

The pattern of hype and embarrassment repeated itself across Afghanistan all throughout 2010, as U.S. military officials repeatedly asserted that an influx of troops would bring security and protect the population, only to see those areas remain violent hot-spots where civilians were rarely safe. NATO similarly invaded Kandahar in force later in the year, and that area remains hotly contested and violent. In fact, violence in Kandahar and Helmand account for more than half of insurgent-initiated attacks for all of Afghanistan. Worse, areas that were previously relatively secure suddenly saw a spike in the number of insurgent attacks at the Taliban continued their relentless expansion across the country.

So. President Obama has had a full year now to prove that his new strategy is worth the costs. What are the results?

While we were wasting $100 billion on this war per year, Americans fought to stay above water in a horrible economy. Unemployment has now topped 9 percent for 20 months straight. Groups like the Salvation Army are reporting an alarming shortfall in resources to help the hungry. And state budgets all across the country are considering huge draconian cuts to their public structures and social safety nets that millions of people rely upon. Not only do most Americans oppose the war, but they rightly worry that it’s making it harder for us to fix these problems here at home.

After a year of escalated fighting across the country–after more than nine years of this war!–it’s absolutely clear that military solutions won’t work in Afghanistan, and they’re certainly not worth the cost. More than 195 million Americans want this war to end, yet their faces don’t seem to be reflected among elected officials to timid to take the morally courageous action of forcing this war to a close. So we’re giving people a chance to put their face and their opposition to the war in full public view.

Today, we’re launching “Because It’s Time” on Rethink Afghanistan to help Americans who oppose this war to make their voices heard. On this page, you can post your photo and a reason why it’s time to bring troops home.

Starting next Wednesday, you’ll have the chance to vote on your favorite comments. Those who get the most votes will get to star in an upcoming Rethink Afghanistan video.

As the one-year anniversary of “Obama’s War” approaches, please take a moment to call for our troops to come home–because it’s time.

To keep up with all the latest on Rethink Afghanistan, follow Robert Greenwald on Twitter. Click here!

Failure, Not Progress, in Afghanistan

12:22 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Greenwald

A mine clearing line charge detonates on Route 611 in Sangin district, Helmand province, Afghanistan as U.S. Marines clear road for travel. (photo: DVIDSHUB, Dec. 4, 2010)

written by Robert Greenwald and Derrick Crowe

On Thursday, December 16, 2010, the White House will use its December review to try to spin the disastrous Afghanistan War plan by citing “progress” in the military campaign, but the available facts paint a picture of a war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost.

Let’s take a look at just the very broad strokes of the information. After more than nine years and a full year of a massive escalation policy:

- the insurgency continues to gain in size and strength,
- more U.S. troops are dying than ever,
- more civilians are dying than ever,
- violence in the country continues to spike,
- Pakistan is playing a double game with the U.S. and
- the military strategy lacks credible prospects for a turnaround.

And yet, we are told we can expect a report touting security gains and “progress,” and that there’s virtually zero chance of any significant policy change from this review. It sort of begs the question: just what level of catastrophe in Afghanistan would signal that we need a change in direction?

Insurgency Growing and Getting Stronger

This cat is already out of the bag, no matter how hard the Pentagon tries to reel it back in. In the ironically named “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan,” published several weeks ago, the Pentagon told Congress that the insurgency’s organizational and geographic reach are qualitatively and geographically expanding. This growth is reflected in other statistics. According to USA TODAY, U.S. troops were hit with 7,000 more attacks this year compared to last year. About 3,800 troops were killed and injured by IEDs, about 1,000 more than last year. These statistics depict an insurgency with unbroken momentum, despite administration and military claims to the contrary.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →