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Afghanistan War Weekly: December 5, 2010
This week’s news from Afghanistan – and from most of the rest of the world – lives in the shadow of the WikiLeaks’ dump of 250,000 State Department documents. Is the Dump good or bad for the antiwar movement? While “sophisticates” might say that there is little new here, I expect that citizens of our European allies will be interested in the contempt that US State Department officials have toward their elected leaders and their military contributions to the war. I think this is especially true in the United Kingdom, whose citizens are already strongly against the war, and where there is a lot of unhappiness about the many British lives lost in Helmand Province, a military sacrifice now dissed in the documents by both the US and President Karzai. Also, official appraisals of Karzai and his government as totally corrupt – combined with the recent fraudulent elections – may make it more difficult for conservative NATO governments to continue to support the war at a time of financial and political crisis at home.
President Obama’s visit to Afghanistan this week can be seen as a reaffirmation of the political course set out at the Lisbon conference, as well as a message to the troops that the US is winning the war, and thanks a lot. In the course of the trip, a national security official told reporters that the long-awaited December Review will be nothing special. "This is a process which is diagnostic in nature. This is not a policy review similar to the one that was undertaken last year. We have a strategy in place," he said. Petraeus’ recent report to Congress, his policy directives to NATO’s Lisbon conference, and now the December “review” – there is no doubt that the US is committed to a more-or-less-forever war in Afghanistan.
To try to provide a useful guide to the WikiLeaks drama, I’ve included some sources and general interpretations, as well as links to especially useful/interesting Leaks relating to Afghanistan and Pakistan. I’ve also added a short off-topic section on the New York Times’ coverage of the WikiLeaks cables on Iran, a real scandal but useful and revealing about how media bias works in the Newspaper of Record.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. This “issue” and some previous editions of the Afghanistan War Weekly are posted on the web sites of United for Peace and Justice (http://www.unitedforpeace.org/article.php?id=4111) and War is a Crime (www.afterdowningstreet.org/aww).
----Frank Brodhead, Concerned Families of Westchester (NY)
THE WIKILEAKS LEAK
Sources for Cables and Commentary
---- Given the US cyber attacks on WikiLeaks and its threats against all who help WikiLeaks to continue, sources and sites for documents are pretty fluid. As of Sunday, December 5, WikiLeaks has a new home at www.wikileaks.ch, courtesy of the Swiss Pirate Party. The embassy cables can be searched (e.g., for “Afghanistan” or “corruption”) at http://cablesearch.org/.
Several media outlets have archives devoted to WikiLeaks. The best ones are at The Guardian [UK] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/the-us-embassy-cables and Aljazeera http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/spotlight/usembassyfiles/. The New York Times site is inferior, but it is important because the newspaper is so influential. The site also provides a case study in media bias, which can be seen when comparing the Times’ site to the others (see below). The Times’ site is at http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/world/statessecrets.html?hp. At the daily publication www.antiwar.com, 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 - http://www.thenation.com/authors/greg-mitchell.
Some Comments and Analysis
(Video) “U.S. Facing Diplomatic Crisis Following WikiLeaks Release of Secret Diplomatic Cables”
From Democracy Now [November 29, 2010]
“Julian Assange: Wanted by the Empire, Dead or Alive”
By Alexander Cockburn, Counterpunch [December 3, 2010]
(Video) “Wikileaks Shows No "New Mind-Set" in US Foreign Policy”
By Phyllis Bennis [November 30, 2010] – 8 minutes
“Wikileaks and the New McCarthyism: Maybe We Just Need a More Open Government”
By Juan Cole, Informed Comment [December 5, 2010]
“The moral standards of WikiLeaks critics”
By Glenn Greenwald, Salon.com [December 1, 2010]
---- The New York Times’ bias in presenting the WikiLeaks material is especially noticeable in its handling of the documents relating to Iran. This is illustrated by three good/interesting sources: Gareth Porter, “Wikileaks Exposes Complicity of the Press,” Counterpunch [December 1, 2010]. http://counterpunch.org/porter12012010.html; Peter Hart, “NYT Oversells WikiLeaks/Iranian Missiles Story,” FAIR [November 29, 2010] http://www.fair.org/blog/2010/11/29/nyt-oversells-wikileaksiranian-missi... and (Video) Ray McGovern, “New York Times Beats Drums for War,” Real News - 14 minutes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mfsjxkcu2pI&feature=player_embedded#
THE WAR IN WASHINGTON
(Video) Riz Khan - US milestone in Afghanistan
From AlJazeeraEnglish [December 1, 2010] – 23 minutes
---- The US has now spent more time in Afghanistan than the Soviet Union, but are Afghans any better off? [Among the commentators is Caroline Wadhams of the Center for American Progress, lead author of a recent policy review on the war; linked in last week’s AWW.] http://www.youtube.com/user/aljazeeraenglish?blend=3&ob=4#p/u/31/W5LmerA...
USEFUL FACTS ABOUT THE WAR
---- 53 US soldiers were killed in November, and three have been killed so far in December. This brings the number of US soldiers killed in 2010 to 464. Additionally, 5 soldiers from other Coalition countries were killed in November, and three have been killed so far in December. This brings the total number of US deaths in Afghanistan to 1,416, and the total number of Coalition deaths is 2,247. The number of US soldiers wounded in October 2010 was 578; 258 have been wounded through November 15. This brings the total US wounded during 2010 to 4.593, and the number wounded since the war began to 9,368. To learn more go to www.icasualties.org and to http://tomhayden.com/downloads/Wounded.pdf
---- 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] http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R41084.pdf, where the sources for the figures can be found.
---- According to an on-going study by the New America Foundation, the United States has launched 106 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 202. The study states that between 1,283 and 1,971 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 28 percent. In 2010, it is more like eight 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 http://counterterrorism.newamerica.net/drones. 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] http://www.brookings.edu/opinions/2009/0714_targeted_killings_byman.aspx...
The Cost of the War
---- According to the web site www.costofwar.com, expenditures on the Afghanistan war have reached $368 billion [last week’s number], and the total for both wars is $1.117 trillion. For a useful resource on the costs of war, go to “Bring Our War $$ Home” at www.bringourwardollarshome.org/index.html
Public opinion about the war in Afghanistan
---- Americans are divided over the war in Afghanistan with 47% supporting and 45% opposing, a statistical tie within the poll's 3.1% margin of error. Likewise, 37% of Americans think the war was a mistake, and 37% thought it was not. Half of Americans, 51%, say they do not know what the nine-year war is about, while 49% claim they do. Less than one-in-five, 19%, of Americans expect a clear military victory for the U.S.-led forces. The Angus Reid poll was conducted October 15-17, 2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_public_opinion_on_the_war_in_....
---- 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. http://wireupdate.com/wires/11864/poll-shows-only-12-percent-of-american...
---- 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. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_public_opinion_on_the_war_in_...
---- Also, polls taken in October show that a plurality of 47% of Swedes want their troops out, as do 60% of Britons and 55% of Canadians. Opposition to the war in the UK is the highest on record, while support the war in Canada is the lowest in the last two years. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_public_opinion_on_the_war_in_...
THE WAR IN KABUL
Karzai Orders Inquiry into NATO Killing of District Governor
By Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com [December 2, 2010]
---- Afghan President Hamid Karzai has promised to launch a probe into Monday’s overnight killing of a Helmand Province district governor, Haji Ebrahim, by NATO troops who raided his home. Ebrahim had been the governor of the Gireshk District since 2001, and NATO conceded raiding his home that night, and killing one “militant.” NATO’s use of night raids against civilian homes has been a source of growing friction with the Afghan government, and doubly so in this case as the governor appears to have been on comparatively good terms with both the Karzai government and the provincial government. http://news.antiwar.com/2010/12/02/karzai-orders-inquiry-into-nato-killi...
The Taliban Catch-and-Release Scheme
By Douglas A. Wissing, Huffington Post [December 3, 2010]
---- Reuters' recent report that Afghan security forces are systematically freeing captured high-level Taliban leaders in exchange for financial and political payoffs was familiar to me -- it's a story I started hearing over a year ago when I was reporting from Afghanistan. Emma Graham-Harrison's article discusses a "catch-and-release" system that is so well organized that the Taliban have a standing "Freedom" committee to handle the bribery negotiations with government officials. The officials authorizing and facilitating the releases include President Hamid Karzai and his half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, a Kandahar powerbroker with reported ties to the drug trade, the CIA and the Taliban. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/douglas-a-wissing/the-taliban-catchandrele...
From the WikiLeaks Leak
Cables show U.S. officials' sense of futility in Afghanistan
By Karen DeYoung, Washington Post [December 3, 2010]
---- Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables covering recent years of Afghanistan policy portray an unremittingly bleak landscape in which U.S. officials have alternately cajoled and pressured an erratic Afghan president, been repeatedly exasperated by corruption and seemed destined to repeat the past. "What does it take to break out of the cycle of 'clear and clear again' to achieve sustained success in an area of persistent insurgency?" U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry lamented in a June 2009 cable to Washington about repeated coalition offensives followed by Taliban resurgence in an area north of Kabul. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/02/AR201012...
US scrambles to restore Afghan relations after WikiLeaks revelations
By Jon Boone and Declan Walsh, The Guardian [UK] [December 3, 2010]
---- Foreign diplomats in Kabul fear that the publication of secret cables that portray the president of Afghanistan and his government in a deeply unflattering light will lead to a further slump in US-Afghan relations. The US embassy, led by Karl Eikenberry, the ambassador who described Hamid Karzai in classified cables as "a weak individual unfamiliar with the basics of nation-building" has for the last week been engaged in pre-emptive damage limitation. Of even greater concern for the Americans is that the private but highly critical remarks about Karzai by some cabinet ministers could lead to some of the country's few competent administrators losing their jobs. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/03/us-scrambles-restore-afghan-...
See also: “Cable leaks 'hurt' US-Afghan ties,” from Aljazeera.net [December 2010]
WikiLeaks cables: Karzai pushed Nato to end Afghanistan night raids
By Jon Boone, The Guardian [UK] [December 3, 2010]
---- US diplomats in Afghanistan continually warned that night raids against insurgents by special forces had dramatically eroded public support for the Nato mission in key parts of Afghanistan. Night raids have recently become a major area of contention between Karzai and Nato. The Afghan president told the Washington Post last month that he wanted an end to the "kill or capture" missions. The cables show he has been privately asking the Americans to change their tactics for almost two years. In a memo of February 2009 Karzai asked the US under-secretary of defence policy Michele Flournoy for a limit on night raids. Since then the number of raids has increased fivefold. In several cables state department officials working in Afghanistan's provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) passed on reports from the field about the growing resentment towards night raids and warnings by locals that the US would inevitably come to be seen in the same light as the Soviet Union, which occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/03/wikileaks-cables-afghanistan...
WikiLeaks cables expose Afghan contempt for British military
By Jon Boone et al., The Guardian [December 2, 2010]
---- Britain's four-year military stewardship of the troubled Helmand province has been scorned by President Hamid Karzai, top Afghan officials and the US commander of Nato troops, according to secret US diplomatic cables. The dispatches expose a devastating contempt for the British failure to impose security and connect with ordinary Afghans. The criticism of the British operation in Helmand centres on its failure to establish security in Sangin – the town which has become totemic as the place that has claimed more British lives than any other in Afghanistan. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/dec/02/wikileaks-cables-afghan-british...
Demarche to Afghanistan on Cluster Munitions
[FB - The December 29, 2008 cable shows how the US planned to deal with the fact that Afghanistan had just signed the convention to outlaw cluster bombs, against US instructions. An Empire classic.]
See also, Scott Shane, et al., “Cables Depict Heavy Afghan Graft, Starting at the Top,” New York Times [December 3, 2010] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/03/world/asia/03wikileaks-corruption.html... Helene Cooper and Carlotta Gall, “Cables Offer Shifting Portrait of Karzai,” New York Times [December 2, 2010] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/03/world/asia/03wikileaks-karzai.html?ref... and “EU 'losing faith' in Afghanistan,” from The Telegraph [UK]
TRAINING THE AFGHAN ARMY AND POLICE
Afghan policeman kills six U.S. troops
By Joshua Partlow and Javed Hamdard, Washington Post [November 30, 2010]
---- An Afghan border police officer opened fire on U.S. troops during a training mission in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, killing six of them in one of the worst such attacks in the past year, according to Afghan and NATO officials. The shooting occurred along the border with Pakistan in the Pachir Wagam district of Nangahar province at a facility to train Afghan security forces.. A senior police official said the shooter had been recruited into the border police two years ago. The incident is the latest in a series of killings of NATO troops by Afghan security forces and demonstrates the risks involved in the intense effort to recruit and field tens of thousands of new Afghan soldiers and police. The killings have raised troubling questions about the degree to which insurgents have infiltrated the Afghan security forces and pose a threat to NATO forces that have made training one of the most important goals of the war. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/29/AR201011...
THE WAR ON THE GROUND
US troops take hard line to tame rebels of Sangin
By Julius Cavendish, The Independent [UK] [December 3, 2010]
---- There was so much high explosive raining down it was hard to believe anyone could have survived beneath the two-hour salvo of guided artillery rounds, Hellfire missiles and strafing runs by F/A-18 warplanes and helicopter gunships. But somehow they did. After every strike Taliban insurgents would fire back defiantly, telling the US Marines they were still there; still alive. Bombardment of this intensity in Afghanistan would have been unthinkable just a few months ago, when harsh directives were in place governing Nato's use of air power and British troops practised a kind of counter-insurgency that traced its roots to neighbourhood policing in Northern Ireland. Troops were spread out at patrol bases and checkpoints, a move designed to embed them among the people they were supposed to protect. Critics of the US approach include civilians trapped in the middle. Haji Gul Mohammad, an elder from northern Sangin, demanded at a recent meeting of elders: "Why are they making mistakes and killing civilians by dropping bombs on their compounds?" Lieutenant Colonel Jason Morris, commander of 3/5, said almost every allegation of civilian casualties against his Marines was dreamed up by Taliban provocateurs. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/us-troops-take-hard-line-to...
Coalition ramps up air war over Afghanistan
By Deb Riechmann, Associated Press [November 30, 2010]
----Once sharply curtailed because of complaints over civilian casualties, U.S. and NATO forces have ramped up the air war in Afghanistan since this summer. Coalition aircraft dropped 1,000 bombs and missiles in October — one of the highest monthly totals of the 9-year-old war. Despite large increases in sorties and weapons fired, the number of civilians killed in air operations is slightly down this year — NATO officials say — because of coalition restrictions on engaging insurgents. http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101130/ap_on_re_as/as_afghanistan_air_power
Gen Petraeus hails Paras for precision attack
By Thomas Harding, The Telegraph [UK] [November 30, 2010]
---- Two Afghan civilians survived unscathed as bombs and bullets rained down on Taliban during a "precision strike" campaign being run by the 3rd Bn The Parachute Regiment. Gen Petraeus undertook an urgent fact-finding visit to the Paras and praised the attacks as "the most impressive way to do business". The American commander has adopted the mantra "ruthless prosecution of targets" since arriving in Afghanistan but has faced obstacles from subordinates worried over civilian casualties. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/defence/8170804/Gen-...
UN: 7.4 million Afghans are living with hunger and fear of starvation
By Michelle Nichols, Reuters [December 4, 2010]
---- The United Nations on Saturday launched a $678 million humanitarian appeal for Afghanistan, where despite inflows of millions of foreign aid dollars, the world body said about a quarter of the population goes hungry. U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Catherine Bragg said some 7.4 million Afghans were living with hunger and fear of starvation, millions more rely on food help and one in five children die before the age of five. Western nations supporting President Hamid Karzai are pouring vast amounts of aid into Afghanistan, but much of the cash is spent in areas with the worst insurgency problems to show locals that they can reap gains from rejecting the Taliban. A substantial portion also goes on security costs and the salaries of foreign experts. Afghanistan does not grow enough food for its people, and the war between NATO-led forces and the Taliban -- now in its 10th year -- has pushed up costs of imports. The conflict has also made swathes of the country inaccessible for aid groups. http://www.rawa.org/temp/runews/2010/12/04/un-7-4-million-afghans-are-li...
PAKISTAN/INDIA AND THE AFGHANISTAN WAR
Pakistan's flood aid 'unspent and mismanaged'
From Agence France Press [December 2010]
---- Mismanagement and misuse of cash are hampering relief efforts for flood victims with nearly $60 million in the prime minister’s fund still unspent, officials say. Foreign donors have stumped up just half of a UN appeal target of $1.93 billion, sparking fears for 6.8 million who need emergency shelter as winter sets in, while farmland could remain flooded for another six months. But officials say efforts to rebuild 1.6 million homes are being compromised by infighting between federal and provincial authorities, and express amazement that a $58.5 million prime minister’s fund remains entirely unspent. http://tribune.com.pk/story/84399/pakistans-flood-aid-unspent-and-misman...
From the WikiLeaks Leak
The (Not So) Secret (Anymore) US War in Pakistan
By Jeremy Scahill, The Nation [December 1, 2010]
---- Despite sustained denials by US officials spanning more than a year, US military Special Operations Forces have been conducting offensive operations inside Pakistan, helping direct US drone strikes and conducting joint operations with Pakistani forces against Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in north and south Waziristan and elsewhere in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, according to secret cables released as part of the Wikileaks document dump. http://www.thenation.com/blog/156765/not-so-secret-anymore-us-war-pakistan
See also: “(Video) Jeremy Scahill: WikiLeaks Cables Confirm Secret U.S. War Ops in Pakistan,” from Democracy Now [December 2, 2010] – 12 minutes
Nuclear Fuel Memos Expose Wary Dance With Pakistan
By Jane Perlez, et al., New York Times [November 30, 2010]
---- It may be the most unnerving evidence of the complex relationship — sometimes cooperative, often confrontational, always wary — between America and Pakistan nearly 10 years into the American-led war in Afghanistan. The cables, obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to a number of news organizations, make it clear that underneath public reassurances lie deep clashes over strategic goals on issues like Pakistan’s support for the Afghan Taliban and tolerance of Al Qaeda, and Washington’s warmer relations with India, Pakistan’s archenemy. Written from the American Embassy in Islamabad, the cables reveal American maneuvering as diplomats try to support an unpopular elected government that is more sympathetic to American aims than is the real power in Pakistan, the army and intelligence agency so crucial to the fight against militants. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/01/world/asia/01wikileaks-pakistan.html
The Conflict in Kashmir
The Future of Kashmir: Obama and the Vale of Tears
By Conn Hallinan, Counterpunch [December 1, 2010]
---- An autonomous or even independent Kashmir is not only in the interests of the 10 million or so people that inhabit one of the most beautiful—and tragic—areas of the world, it would help defuse terrorism in Pakistan and India. To sacrifice that for what can only be a temporary alliance against an emerging China is profoundly short sighted. Washington’s silence is no longer a viable option. “We are not asking the Americans to take a position against India and for Kashmir. We are just saying that there is a general recognition that India and Pakistan need to be pushed in terms of a dialogue,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the spiritual leader of Kashmir’s separatists, told the Financial Times. Others warn that Indian repression of the current non-violent movement might drive it to take up arms. “The status quo is not digestible for Kashmiris,” Sheikh Showkat Hussan, a Kashmir law professor, told the Financial Times. Today, Kashmir is a vale of tears, a place capable of sparking off a nuclear war that would affect everyone on the globe. It need not be so. http://counterpunch.org/hallinan12012010.html
They can file a charge posthumously against Jawaharlal Nehru too
By Arundhati Roy, The Hindu [November 30, 2010]
---- My reaction to today's court order directing the Delhi Police to file an FIR against me for waging war against the state: Perhaps they should posthumously file a charge against Jawaharlal Nehru too. Here is what he said about Kashmir: http://www.zcommunications.org/they-can-file-a-charge-posthumously-again...
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Drone attacks stepped up in Pakistan
From: AlJazeeraEnglish [December 1, 2010] – 3 minutes
---- The US has stepped up a campaign of alleged drone strikes in Pakistan, despite the Pakistani military refusing calls for an operation in the North Waziristan region. But the US Defense Department says Pakistan is not acting swiftly enough against armed groups in the region, and officials say it's hurting US efforts to reverse the Taliban's momentum in the Afghan War. http://www.youtube.com/user/aljazeeraenglish?blend=3&ob=4#p/u/23/n7MMxnN...
NATO AND THE AFGHANISTAN WAR
EU 'losing faith' in Afghanistan
From The Telegraph [UK]
---- The European Union no longer believes that US and Nato forces can succeed in Afghanistan, but continues to commit troops to the fight "out of deference to the United States", the EU president is quoted as saying in leaked US diplomatic cables. Herman Van Rompuy, who at the time was president-designate, was quoted as telling Howard Gutman, the US ambassador to Belgium, in December 2009 that 2010 would be the "last chance" for Afghanistan in European eyes. "Europe is doing it and will go along out of deference to the United States but not out of deference to Afghanistan," Van Rompuy is quoted as saying in the cable posted by the WikiLeaks whistleblowing website on Sunday. http://english.aljazeera.net/news/europe/2010/12/2010125125337676886.html