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Afghanistan War Weekly: December 12, 2010

WikiLeaks dominated the war news again this week, but the focus has shifted from what the cables say to the likely legal battles ahead, Swedish condom law, etc. The US Congress may also get into the act this week, trying to fit the internet-era square peg into the round hole of the World War I Espionage Act. More than 1,300 State Department cables are now available on line. Below I’ve linked sites where the cables can be read and searched, as well as some recent commentaries of interest.

Also this week, Obama/Petraeus will go through the motions of reviewing the December Report on progress in Afghanistan. Having already decided to fight the war until victory, the Report’s only purpose – as with similar reports during the Vietnam War – will be public relations. Congress is unlikely to hold any hearing or public review of the war, now and perhaps for the remainder of Obama’s presidency. Previews of the report, as well as some conflicting military assessments, are linked below.

The “featured essays” today include very interesting work by Patrick Cockburn, John Pilger, Kathy Kelly, and others. Please also check out the several articles on the growing Afghanistan opposition to the US war, the war managers’ increasing reliance on air strikes and night raids, despite the resulting growth of civilian casualties; and links to several essays on Afghanistan’s unstoppable corruption.

Once again, if you find this newsletter useful, I would appreciate your help in expanding circulation. I would also appreciate suggestions about good articles to link here, and also comments (pro & con) that would help to make this newsweekly better. My email is This “issue” and some previous editions of the Afghanistan War Weekly are posted on the websites of United for Peace and Justice ( and War is a Crime (

----Frank Brodhead, Concerned Families of Westchester (NY)

Afghanistan: Land of the unvanquished

By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent [UK] [December 7, 2010]

---- The Soviet Union and the US both proved unable to break a military stalemate in which they occupied the cities and towns, but were unable to crush an Islamic and nationalist rebellion in the countryside, where three-quarters of Afghans still live. Geography has not changed. Today, as in the 1980s, the guerrillas cannot be conclusively defeated so long as they can move backwards and forwards across the 1,600-mile border with Pakistan and enjoy the support (open in the case of the Soviets; covert in the case of the Americans) of the Pakistani army.

Nawa turns into proving ground for U.S. strategy in Afghan war
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post [December 12, 2010]

---- To Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, what has occurred here validates his contention that a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy can reverse Taliban momentum and stabilize Afghanistan after years of downward drift. In presentations to senior members of President Obama's national security team who are participating in an evaluation of the war, he has displayed a PowerPoint slide titled, "Nawa: Proof of COIN [counterinsurgency] Concept." It is undeniable that Nawa has undergone a remarkable transformation since the Marines swept in, and it represents what is possible in Afghanistan when everything comes together correctly. But five visits by this reporter since July 2009 suggest that the changes in this district are fragile and that much of what has transpired here is unique rather than universal.

Excellent map – ethnicities in Afghanistan

Why Are Wars Not Being Reported Honestly?

By John Pilger, [December 11, 2010]

---- In the US Army manual on counterinsurgency, the American commander General David Petraeus describes Afghanistan as a "war of perception… conducted continuously using the news media." What really matters is not so much the day-to-day battles against the Taliban as the way the adventure is sold in America where "the media directly influence the attitude of key audiences." …Never has so much official energy been expended in ensuring journalists collude with the makers of rapacious wars which, say the media-friendly generals, are now "perpetual."

Hunger and Anger in Afghanistan

By Kathy Kelly, [December 11, 2010]

---- In Afghanistan, a nation where 850 children die every day, about a quarter of the population goes hungry. The UN says that 7.4 million Afghans live with hunger and fear of starvation, while millions more rely on food help, and one in five children die before the age of five. …If our hunger were for an end to the war, if our hunger even signaled a desire to rethink and repent our murderous policies, if we honestly sought forgiveness from Afghan civilians who’ve borne the brunt of our war of choice, then perhaps an uncontrollable and incandescent flash of fairness and peace could govern our future.

Jeremy Scahill Testifies Before Congress on America's Secret Wars

From The Nation [December 9, 2010]

---- As the war rages on in Afghanistan and--despite spin to the contrary--in Iraq as well, US Special Operations Forces and the Central Intelligence Agency are engaged in parallel, covert, shadow wars that are waged in near total darkness and largely away from effective or meaningful Congressional oversight or journalistic scrutiny. The actions and consequences of these wars is seldom discussed in public or investigated by the Congress. The current US strategy can be summed up as follows: We are trying to kill our way to peace.

Why our Afghanistan War Dead don’t Seem to be News

By Juan Cole, Informed Comment [December 8, 2010]

---- I wrack my brains for why the US public seems decidedly uninterested in the Afghanistan War, and why they would deliver the ultimate insult to our troops of just not caring if they hear about it when 6 US warriors are shot down in a single day. I am sad to report that I have concluded that the relative silence on our Afghanistan war dead has to do with the workings of our two-party system. …So here’s the reason the whole bloody Afghanistan war is off the radar: it isn’t a partisan issue.

What Wikileaks Tells Us About the War in Pakistan
A Flood of Drone Strikes

By Fatima Bhutto, Counterpunch [December 9, 2010]

---- With governments like Pakistan's current regime, who needs the strong arm of the CIA? According to Bob Woodward's latest bestseller Obama's Wars, when Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari, an obsequiously dangerous man, was notified that the CIA would be launching missile strikes from drones over his country's sovereign territory, he replied, "Kill the seniors. Collateral damage worries you Americans. It doesn't worry me."

Sources for Cables and Media Coverage

---- WikiLeaks has a new home at, courtesy of the Swiss Pirate Party. As of tonight, the number of cables released is 1359. They can be searched (e.g., for “Afghanistan” or “corruption”) at

Several media outlets have archives devoted to WikiLeaks. The best ones are at The Guardian [UK] and Aljazeera The New York Times’ site is at At the daily publication, Jason Ditz provides short commentaries on many of the documents as they become available. Of the several blogs about the cables and the controversy surrounding them, the best one imo is by Greg Mitchell at The Nation -

Some Comments and Analysis

(Video) “WikiLeaks: The Documentary” – from Swedish public television – 57 minutes,a1364145,1,f...

“WikiLeaks: U.S. having trouble tying Assange to Manning”

By Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers [December 12, 2010]

“Disappointing Poll: Americans Largely Supportive of Censoring WikiLeaks”

By Jason Ditz, [December 10, 2010]

“Assange Could Face Espionage Trial In US”

By Kim Sengupta, The Independent [UK] [December 8, 2010]

“This case must not obscure what WikiLeaks has told us”

By Johann Hari, The Independent [December 8, 2010]

Afghan War Review Said Likely to Show Progress

By Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times

---- A senior defense official said Tuesday that a year-end White House review of American strategy in Afghanistan was expected to declare progress in the nine-year-old war and conclude that a surge in United States forces had expanded security in the south and around the capital, Kabul. But the official said the review would also conclude that the fight was far from over, even though President Obama remained committed to beginning the withdrawal of some United States forces in July 2011.

Bleak Afghan and Pakistan intelligence reviews

From The Associated Press [December 10, 2010]

---- New U.S. intelligence reports paint a bleak picture of the security conditions in Afghanistan and say the war cannot be won unless Pakistan roots out militants on its side of the border, according to several U.S. officials who have been briefed on the findings. The reports, one on Afghanistan, the other on Pakistan, could complicate the Obama administration's plans to claim next week that the war is turning a corner. But U.S. military commanders have challenged the conclusions, saying they are based on outdated information that does not take into account progress made in the fall, says a senior U.S. official who is part of the review process.

Gates gets sobering war update on Afghan visit

By David S. Cloud, Los Angeles Times [December 8, 2010]

---- Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates received a sobering update on security in eastern Afghanistan during a visit Tuesday, reflecting the uneven nature of the Obama administration's claims to be making progress in suppressing the Taliban insurgency. Gates and other officials are in a difficult position, arguing that the troop increase is beginning to show signs of turning around the 9-year-old war but also conceding that stability in Afghanistan, and large-scale withdrawals of U.S. and European forces, may not be possible before 2014. Eastern Afghanistan is one of the places where insurgents remain potent.

Petraeus ‘Doubts’ 2014 Drawdown Date

By Jason Ditz, [December 6, 2010]

---- Following a number of other Pentagon officials making it a point to downplay NATO’s goal of ending the Afghan War by the end of 2014 (which will be over 13 years after it began), Gen. David Petraeus has chimed in, rejecting the date as unlikely. Noting that the Taliban remain “resilient” through repeated US escalations of the war, Petraeus told ABC News that he doubted the end of 2014 date and said no commander would ever express confidence in that date.

US Casualties

---- 53 US soldiers were killed in November, and 20 have been killed so far in December. This brings the number of US soldiers killed in 2010 to 486. Additionally, 5 soldiers from other Coalition countries were killed in November, and two have been killed so far in December. This brings the total number of US deaths in Afghanistan to 1,433, and the total number of Coalition deaths is 2,272. The number of US soldiers wounded in October 2010 was 578; 473 have been wounded through November 29. This brings the total US wounded during 2010 to 4.808, and the number wounded since the war began to 9,583. To learn more go to and to

Afghanistan Casualties

---- Between January 1 and June 30, 2010, 1,271 civilians were killed and 1,997 injured. This brings the total number of civilians killed since January 1, 2007 to 7,324. Between January 1 and June 30, 2010, 214 members of the Afghan National Army were killed, bringing the total killed since January 1, 2007 to 1,043. Between January 1 and June 30, 2010, 289 members of the Afghan National Police were killed, bringing the total killed since January 1, 2007 to 2,340. From Susan G. Chesser, “Afghanistan Casualties: Military Forces and Civilians,” Congressional Research Service [August 11, 2010], where the sources for the figures can be found.

Pakistan Casualties

---- According to an on-going study by the New America Foundation, the United States has launched 107 drone strikes in northwest Pakistan this year, compared to 53 during all of 2009. This brings the total number of such strikes since 2004 to 203. The study states that between 1,286 and 1,981 people have been killed by the strikes, of whom around 972 to 1,436 were described as militants in press accounts. “Thus, the true non-militant fatality rate since 2004 according to our analysis is approximately 25 percent. In 2010, it is more like six percent.” NB the “estimating” and labeling is usually done by local government and/or military personnel; local civilians often give much higher numbers for civilian deaths. The study can be read at For a different view on the extent of civilian casualties by drone attacks, see Daniel L. Byman, “Do Targeted Killings Work?” Foreign Policy [July 4, 2009]

The Cost of the War

---- According to the website, expenditures on the Afghanistan war have reached $368 billion [most recent number], and the total for both wars is $1.121 trillion. For a useful resource on the costs of war, go to “Bring Our War $$ Home” at

Public opinion about the war in Afghanistan

---- Americans continue to be divided over the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, with 45% supporting and 45% opposing it. The plurality 49% of Americans say the U.S. government has been providing them too little information about the war in Afghanistan, and more than half, 54%, say they do not know what their country's war in Afghanistan is all about. The plurality 38% of Americans expect the war to eventually come to a negotiated settlement that gives the Taliban a role in the Afghan government, while only 16% still expect a clear military victory by the U.S.-led foreign military forces. The Angus Reid poll was conducted December 3-5, 2010.

---- Only 12 percent of Americans are confident that U.S. policies in Afghanistan will be successful and 60 percent are not confident, according to the latest Harris Poll released on Tuesday. The poll, which surveyed 3,084 adults online between October 11 and October 18, also showed that the number of people who are not confident about U.S. policies in Afghanistan has continued to rise over the past few months. With 60 percent now saying they are not confident, this compares to 55 percent in June and 53 percent in January.

---- Sixty percent of Americans believe the US war in Afghanistan is a lost cause, up from 55% in July. Only 31 percent still think the US can win the war. From a Bloomberg National Poll conducted October 7-10, 2010.

U.S. General Sets Afghan War Goal

By Yaroslav Trofimov and Matthew Rosenberg, Wall Street Journal [December 6, 2010]

---- The measure of success in the Afghan war, the U.S.-led coalition's day-to-day commander said, will be whether Afghan civilians decide to join public service despite Taliban intimidation. Coalition forces have been able to seize several Taliban strongholds in south Afghanistan over the recent months, but an insurgent campaign to kill off government workers has hampered efforts to solidify these battlefield gains.

Sober Take in Afghanistan
By Adam Entous, Wall Street Journal [December 2010]

---- U.S. commanders offered visiting Defense Secretary Robert Gates sober assessments of the war effort in large swaths of eastern Afghanistan, sounding alarm about the influx of fighters as the White House completes a report expected to point to signs of progress in the country's south. The on-the-ground assessments from hard-hit forward operating bases in the east stood in contrast to more upbeat assertions by Pentagon and White House officials about security gains overall, as the U.S.-led coalition focuses resources on the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand.

Karzai’s Response to Cables Relieves U.S.

By Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times [December 8, 2010]

---- Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates called it “extraordinarily embarrassing,” which might also describe the sentiments beneath the decorous tableau on Wednesday night in the palace of President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan. A little more than a week after the disclosure of a cache of secret American diplomatic cables that quoted Karl W. Eikenberry, the United States ambassador to Afghanistan, describing Mr. Karzai’s “inability to grasp the most rudimentary principles of state-building,” among other criticisms, Mr. Karzai, Mr. Eikenberry and Mr. Gates shared their first public forum together since the cables were leaked.

See also: “Handover to Afghanistan forces to start in the coming months,” The Telegraph [UK] [December 8, 2010] Thom Shanker, “Afghan War Officer-Training Program Lags, but Makes Progress,” New York Times [December 8, 2010] Andrew E. Kramer, “New Backing for Gas Line Through Asia,” New York Times [December 11, 2010]; and Alissa J. Rubin, “Afghanistan Softens Ban on Private Security Firms,” New York Times [December 6, 2010]

Afghanistan Civilians
Afghans Overwhelmingly Want US Troops Out - and Soon

By Jean MacKenzie, GlobalPost [December 9, 2010]

---- First the good news: U.S. forces are still more popular in Afghanistan than Osama bin Laden. Fully 6 percent of respondents in a new poll expressed a “very favorable” opinion of American troops, versus just 2 percent for the fugitive Al Qaeda leader. To be fair, the United States scored much higher in the more grudging “somewhat favorable” category, outstripping the world’s most wanted man by 36 percent to just 4. But more than half of all Afghans — 55 percent — want U.S. forces out of their country, and the sooner the better. Add it all up, and it is pretty bad news for the U.S. military as it examines its options ahead of next week’s Afghanistan strategy review.

Afghan women, girls suffer, laws not enforced - U.N.

By Michelle Nichols, Reuters [December 9, 2010]

---- Millions of Afghan women and girls suffer from traditional practices such as child marriage and "honour" killings, and authorities fail to enforce laws protecting them, the United Nations said on Thursday. A report by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) found that women's rights were being violated throughout Afghanistan, almost a decade after the strict Islamist Taliban regime was ousted.

Afghans Fume as Petraeus Ramps Up Air War

By Spencer Ackerman, Wired [December 6, 2010]

---- The air war over Afghanistan has reached a post-invasion high. Unfortunately for the U.S., Afghan anger over air strikes is soaring as well. No group of people is going to be enthusiastic about a foreign power dropping bombs on their countrymen, as the Pakistanis can attest. But a new poll from the Washington Post, ABC News and the BBC finds that 73 percent of Afghans say that U.S. air strikes are “unacceptable.” That’s an increase from the last survey, which found 66 percent opposition to the U.S. air war last December.

See also: Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Jon Cohen, “Afghan poll shows falling confidence in U.S. efforts to secure country,” Washington Post, [December 6, 2010]

Varieties of Corruption
Jailed Afghan Drug Lord Was Informer on U.S. Payroll

By James Risen, New York Times [December 12, 2010]

---- When Hajji Juma Khan was arrested and transported to New York to face charges under a new American narco-terrorism law in 2008, federal prosecutors described him as perhaps the biggest and most dangerous drug lord in Afghanistan, a shadowy figure who had helped keep the Taliban in business with a steady stream of money and weapons. But what the government did not say was that Mr. Juma Khan was also a longtime American informer, who provided information about the Taliban, Afghan corruption and other drug traffickers.

Afghanistan corruption investigations frozen

By Ben Farmer, The Telegraph [UK] [December 8, 2010]

---- Afghan investigators have collected corruption evidence reaching to ministerial level only to find the attorney general is refusing to grant warrants, officials said. Mohammed Ishaq Aloko, a Karzai-appointee close to the president, has also banned British and American legal mentors from working alongside Afghan prosecution lawyers. The five-month-long bottleneck of prosecutions dates from the president's anger at the July arrest of Mohammed Zia Salehi, head of administration at the national security council, for allegedly soliciting a bribe.

See also: Heidi Vogt, “US blacklists Afghan security firm tied to Karzai,” AP [December 9, 2010]

Afghan police crisis threatens British withdrawal as thousands quit force

By Rajeev Syal, The Observer [UK] [December 12, 2010]

---- Afghanistan's police force, whose success and stability is crucial to allowing the government to withdraw British troops, is losing nearly one in five recruits every year, new figures reveal. Foreign Office statistics show that more than 20,000 officers from the Afghan National Police (ANP), the country's main law enforcement agency, have left over the past year. The Foreign Office figures will cause concern in the armed forces, where the success of the police is seen as the basis for handing control to an Afghan government in 2014.

Defense Officials See a Shortage of NATO Specialists to Teach Afghan Forces

By Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes, Wall Street Journal [December 6, 2010]

---- The White House said at the end of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit last month that allied states had filled all of the specialized-trainer positions needed for Afghanistan's security forces, an administration priority in the allied war effort. Military officials say the U.S., however, remains 800 specialized trainers short of the 1,500 the U.S. says are needed from NATO allies to prepare the Afghan army and police to assume control of their nation's security.

Pentagon says winning battle for Afghan town Marjah

From Reuters [December 7, 2010]

---- The battle to secure the Afghan town of Marjah is "essentially over," a top U.S. commander said on Tuesday, almost a year after NATO forces promised a quick victory in the former Taliban stronghold.

Marjah was once meant to showcase a revised U.S. counter-insurgency strategy, with NATO and Afghan forces sweeping into the city in February, followed by the much-touted rollout of a so-called "government in a box" meant to provide services that would win over the local population. Instead, critics say delays caused by a stiff Taliban resistance and inadequate Afghan government support turned the Marjah campaign into a cautionary tale.

Violence Flares Anew in Southern Afghanistan

By Rod Nordland, New York Times [December 11, 2010]

---- Violence has flared in southern Afghanistan, disrupting a long period of relative quiet since the arrival of large numbers of American troops. In the Sangin District of Helmand Province, United States Marines who took over from British troops are finding it hard going, with a heavier casualty rate in their first 90 days than the British suffered in more than three years there.

NATO says night raids to continue despite Afghan objections

From Monsters and Critics [December 6, 2010]

---- A NATO spokesman said Monday the alliance would continue night operations in the fight against Taliban insurgents, despite strong objections from Afghans including President Hamid Karzai. Such raids by US Special Operations troops have increased sharply to about 200 a month, a five fold rise since 2009. In the past three months, the troops have reportedly killed or captured 368 insurgent leaders. But night raids have also become a major area of contention between international forces and Karzai, who has long been publicly critical of the amount of civilian casualties.

Afghanistan war: why IEDs are taking a mounting toll

From Christian Science Monitor [December 7, 2010]

---- Between June 2009 and 2010, insurgents’ use of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, rose by 22 percent. More worrying, say senior US military officials, is that the rate of effective attacks – in other words, bombs that result in injuries to NATO troops or Afghan civilians – has increased 45 percent.

And paradoxically, Lt. Gen. Oates says, a lack of technological expertise among Afghans means the locally manufactured IEDs are of a simpler design than those deployed against US forces in Iraq, making them harder to detect by NATO troops and hence more effective.


Seven Afghans Killed in Paktia

From The New York Times December 12, 2010]

---- A night operation in Paktia Province in eastern Afghanistan ended with the deaths of seven Afghan men and conflicting accounts of whether they were insurgents or civilians. The Paktia police chief, Abdul Ghaafar Safi, said he believed the men were civilians, although he could not rule out that some had ties to the Haqqani militants, who are allied with the Taliban. Lt. Col. John Dorrian, a NATO spokesman, said that the soldiers involved in the shooting were on foot after completing a raid to capture a Haqqani agent. He said they used a bullhorn and a translator to ask in the local language that the men get out of their sport utility vehicle. Instead, one man emerged with an AK-47 and appeared ready to shoot, Colonel Dorrian said. After the soldiers shot the man, he said, the other Afghan men opened fire.


Thousands Hold Anti-US Protest in Pakistani Capital

By Jason Ditz, [December 5, 2010]

---- Several thousand Pakistanis rallied in the city of Islamabad today at the behest of the religious opposition party Jamaat-e Islami (JI). The rally, which took place near parliament, demanded the government several all ties with the US and put an end to American drone strikes in North Waziristan.

Drone attacks victims left helpless: CIVIC

From The News [Pakistan] [December 11, 2010]

---- At least 2100 civilians were killed and various others injured during 2009 in the ongoing war on terror, dronre attacks and activities against the terrorists, according to a report released by a US non-government organistation. The conflict in Pakistan has exacted an immense toll on civilians, but the US and Pakistani governments, aid agencies and even military officials pay little attention to their plight says a US pressure group which works for civilian victims caught in armed conflicts. The Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, a Washington-based NGO, notes that there were probably more civilian casualties – 2,100 deaths – in Pakistan in 2009 than in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Warlord ally 'plotting with Taliban'

By Tom Hyland, The Age [Australia] [December 12, 2010]

---- A warlord and key Australian ally in Afghanistan has been accused of conspiring with the Taliban to kill a tribal rival. The allegation, if true, exposes the risk in the army's alliance with warlord Matiullah Khan, whose militiamen have been trained in Australia and serve alongside Australian troops in Oruzgan province. Documents released by WikiLeaks show Australian officials despair of creating an effective Afghan police force, with one official describing the current force as a ''train wreck''. In this environment, as international forces battle to forge an exit strategy, Australian troops have adopted Matiullah's militia as partners.

Cameron eyes 2011 Afghan pullout

From Aljazeera [December 7, 2010]

---- The UK prime minister, visiting Afghanistan on an unannounced trip, has said British troops could start withdrawing from the country as early as next year. David Cameron said improving conditions made him optimistic about the withdrawal.. Cameron has earlier made clear he hopes all British troops will be out of Afghanistan by 2015.


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