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Afghanistan War Weekly: February 1, 2011

The revolutionary upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt have crowded out much of this week’s news about the Afghanistan war. Though 3,000 miles from Afghanistan, the events in North Africa may/should force some serious rethinking by the United States about its imperial strategies. Yet its options are limited by the commitment of so much of its money and military to trying to prevent collapse in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The King of Jordan’s dismissal of his government after a few peaceful demonstrations illustrates the fear in the region that the spirit of revolution will be contagious. Some links to news sources and good/useful essays on these topics are pasted in way below.

President Obama’s failure in his State of the Union to utter more than a few platitudes about the war in Afghanistan signals the wish of the Administration to downgrade this war to the lowest possible profile. Congress – both parties – seems eager to do this as well. Barring significant events in Afghanistan itself, it will be a challenge to the antiwar movement even to keep Afghanistan on our nation’s agenda. The essays by Andrew Bacevich on US military spending and by Gareth Porter on Washington’s “failed Middle East strategy” illustrate the obstacles to any real “change of course.”

This week’s events in the Afghanistan war – all with links to good/useful reading below – include the convening of the Afghanistan assembly over Karzai’s objections; significant developments in the investigation of Afghanistan’s banking scandal; reports showing the growth of IED injuries by US soldiers and another spike in civilian casualties; damning reports about US base construction and other expenditures in Afghanistan; and news that Pakistan has doubled the number of its nuclear weapons in recent years. There are also links to several good articles on the physical and mental toll that the war is taking/has taken on US service personnel.

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)

Why Military Spending is Untouchable

By Andrew Bacevich, Counterpunch [January 27, 2011]

---- The defense budget -- a misnomer since for Pentagon, Inc. defense per se figures as an afterthought -- remains a sacred cow. Why is that? The answer lies first in understanding the defenses arrayed around that cow to ensure that it remains untouched and untouchable. Exemplifying what the military likes to call a "defense in depth," that protective shield consists of four distinct but mutually supporting layers. Like concentric security barriers arrayed around the Pentagon, these four factors -- institutional self-interest, strategic inertia, cultural dissonance, and misremembered history -- insulate the military budget from serious scrutiny. For advocates of a militarized approach to policy, they provide invaluable assets, to be defended at all costs.

Why Washington Clings to a Failed Middle East Strategy

By Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service [February 1, 2011]

---- The death throes of the Mubarak regime in Egypt signal a new level of crisis for a U.S. Middle East strategy that has shown itself over and over again in recent years to be based on nothing more than the illusion of power. The incipient loss of the U.S. client regime in Egypt is an obvious moment for a fundamental adjustment in that strategy. But those moments have been coming with increasing regularity in recent years, and the U.S. national security bureaucracy has shown itself to be remarkably resistant to giving it up. The troubled history of that strategy suggests that it is an expression of some powerful political forces at work in this society. One looks in vain for a political force in this country that is free to press for fundamental change in Middle East strategy. And without a push for such a change from outside, we face the distinct possibility of a national security bureaucracy and White House continuing to deny the strategy’s utter failure and disastrous consequences.

SOTU: President Obama Rehashes Dubious Claims About Wars

By Jason Ditz, January 25, 2011

See also: Alissa J. Rubin, “U.S. Is Gaining in Afghanistan, General Writes,” New York Times [January 25, 2011]

Did Congress Approve America's Longest War?

By Bruce Ackerman and Oona Hathaway, The Guardian [UK] [January 28, 2011]

---- President Obama's state of the union was quickly followed by a second one in Afghanistan. President Karzai … had been resisting American pressure to open parliament for months, preferring to rule by presidential decree. His capitulation marks a big success for the Obama administration. Yet the administration's enthusiasm for checks-and-balances stops at the Afghan border. When President Obama dropped a word about Afghanistan in his own address, he spoke as if Congress were merely a passive bystander.

US wants to clip Karzai's wings
By M K Bhadrakumar, Asia Times [January 25, 2011]
---- The United States' proxy war against Afghan President Hamid Karzai has taken a vicious turn, undermining the tenuous political equations in the country. Washington is displeased with Karzai's moves to accelerate reconciliation with the Taliban, while his pitch for a regional initiative and his agenda of a multi-vector foreign policy challenge US regional strategies…. Plainly put, the US is using the ethnic card to "entrap" Karzai and bring the Afghan leader to his knees. Washington finds Karzai increasingly acting as an Afghan nationalist rather than as a US surrogate. What is at issue is how to secure a long-term US military presence in Afghanistan.

US ‘Bought’ Jordan Escalation in Afghanistan

By Jason Ditz, [January 31, 2011]

---- Amongst the major escalations in the war in Afghanistan came the Jordanian government, which committed a growing amount of troops to the nation in 2010. The contribution, however, did not come for free. Rather, the Obama Administration came at the cost of increased aid to the Jordanian government, in effect meaning the government was renting out its troops to the US as mercenaries to play a ro le in the ongoing Afghan occupation.

Corruption, Bad Planning, Whatever…
Watchdog faults Obama's Afghan security strategy

Marisa Taylor, McClatchy Newspapers [January 26, 2011]

---- The Obama administration's $11.4 billion plan to bolster Afghanistan's security forces is "at risk" because of poor planning, a government watchdog agency concluded in a report released Wednesday. Auditors with the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said the U.S. government "could not provide the plans or justifications" for building nearly 900 police stations and garrisons and other facilities for Afghanistan's national security forces. The report confirms earlier findings in a series late last year by McClatchy that found the ambitious strategy, like much of the wider Afghan reconstruction effort, is faltering.

See also: Walter Pincus, “Millions in Afghan base construction funding at risk,” Washington Post [January 24, 2011] and Jason Ditz, “Major US Plan for Afghan Bases Falling Far Behind Schedule,” [January 24, 2011]

Afghan troop proposal may cost $2 billion more: U.S. aide

By Missy Ryan, Reuters [January 28, 2011]

---- A proposal to quickly build up Afghanistan's military, key to a planned drawdown of U.S. troops, would cost the United States as much as an extra $2 billion a year, a U.S. congressional aide said. Washington and its allies are struggling to balance mounting budget pressures at home with the need to stand up a capable local fighting force in Afghanistan that can take over more security responsibilities as foreign forces withdraw. The plan, under consideration by Afghan, U.S. and NATO officials, would boost troop levels in the Afghan national forces to 378,000 by October 2012 -- from this year's goal of 305,000 -- a U.S. Senate aide who works on Afghanistan issues told Reuters in an interview this week.

Federal inquiry under way of no-bid contract in Afghanistan

By Marisa Taylor, McClatchy Newspapers [January 24, 2011]

---- The government watchdog of U.S. contracting in Afghanistan is scrutinizing a sole-source contract that was awarded to a firm even though it was widely criticized for its construction of a power plant project in Kabul. The USAID exempted the company from competing for the work, claiming that such a process would "have an adverse effect on programs."

US Casualties

---- 711 Coalition soldiers were killed in 2010, including 499 US soldiers. 24 US soldiers were killed in January. In total, 2,314 Coalition soldiers have been killed since the beginning of the war, including 1,471 soldiers from the United States. 273 US soldiers were wounded in January; the total US wounded during 2010 was 5,178, and the number wounded since the war began is 10,226. To learn more go to and to On US wounded soldiers, see the important article by C.J.Chivers, “In Wider War in Afghanistan, Survival Rate of Wounded Rises,” New York Times

Afghanistan Casualties

---- “Afghan civilian toll up 20 percent-U.N. report,” by Jonathon Burch, Reuters [December 21, 2010] states that “Civilian casualties in Afghanistan rose by 20 percent in the first 10 months of this year compared with 2009, the United Nations said, with more than three-quarters killed or wounded as a result of insurgent attacks. In a quarterly report on Afghanistan this month, the United Nations said there were 6,215 civilian casualties from conflict-related incidents, including 2,412 deaths and 3,803 injuries, between January and the end of October this year.” For an extensive listing of casualty estimates since the war began, go to:

The Cost of the War

---- According to the website, expenditures on the Afghanistan war have reached $374 billion and the total for both the Afghanistan and the Iraq wars is $1.146 trillion. For a useful resource on the costs of war, go to “Bring Our War $$ Home” at

Public opinion about the war in Afghanistan

---- According to the Afghanistan Study Group, two-thirds of self-identified conservative voters and Tea Party supporters call for either a reduction of U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan (the 39% plurality) or a complete withdrawal "as soon as possible" (27%). 24% think that the current levels of troops should be maintained. The majority 71% of conservative voters, including over two-thirds of Tea Party supporters, are worried that the war's cost to American taxpayers - $120 billion spent on the war in 2010 - will make it more difficult to reduce the U.S. deficit next year and balance the U.S. federal budget in the next decade.

---- “63 Percent of Americans Oppose War In Afghanistan.” Opposition to the war in Afghanistan is at an all-time high, with 63 percent of the public now opposed to U.S. involvement there, according to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey. Just 35 percent of survey respondents say they still support U.S. involvement. The increase in opposition to U.S. involvement comes as pessimism about how the war is going is rising. According to a poll done Dec. 17-19, 56 percent of the public believes that "things are going badly for the U.S. in Afghanistan."

---- “ABC News/Washington Post Poll: Record Six in 10 Say it's 'Not Worth Fighting' “ - A record 60 percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting, a grim assessment -- and a politically hazardous one -- in advance of the Obama administration's one-year review of its revised strategy. Public dissatisfaction with the war, now the nation's longest, has spiked by 7 points just since July. Given its costs vs. its benefits, only 34 percent in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll [December 16, 2010] say the war's been worth fighting, down by 9 points to a new low, by a sizable margin.

---- “[Dutch] Poll shows dissent on Afghanistan mission.” -- The new training mission to Afghanistan advocated by the government has the support of just 34% of the Dutch population. 58% are opposed. The poll shows the majority of Christian Democrat voters are for the mission, while Labour, Socialist Party, GroenLinks, Liberal VVD and PVV voters are against. – January 6, 2011.

For earlier polls:

Report: 35% of Warrior-unit Soldiers Face Addiction

By Gregg Zoroya, USA Today [January 25, 2011]

----Medical officials estimate that 25% to 35% of about 10,000 ailing soldiers assigned to special wounded-care companies or battalions are addicted or dependent on drugs — particularly prescription narcotic pain relievers, according to an Army inspector general's report made public Tuesday. The report also found that these formations known as Warrior Transition Units — created after the Walter Reed Army Hospital scandal in 2007 as a means of improving care for wounded troops — have become costly way stations where ill, injured or wounded soldiers wait more than a year to receive a medical discharge.

Separation Brings Sorrow In Army Wives' Stories

By Heller McAlpin, National Public Radio [January 22, 2011]

---- Siobhan Fallon's husband, an Army major, has been away for half of the six years they've been married — deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. The experience has not been wasted on her. She gives us a rare insider's view of the domestic face of war in her powerful, eye-opening debut collection of eight loosely linked short stories, You Know When the Men Are Gone. Fallon's stories, set in "the Great Place" — Fort Hood, Texas, the largest Army post in the United States — focus on the terrible strain of long separations. She vividly captures the loneliness and anxiety of months of waiting, and the anticipation, nervousness and unbroachable chasms surrounding soldiers' returns, with both husbands and wives unable to speak of what they've endured.

Veteran Crisis: Newest War Vets Become Homeless at Alarming Rate

By Kelly McConkie Henriod, Deseret News [January 25, 2011]

---- Nationally, 110,000 former servicemen and women don't have permanent housing. While most served in Vietnam, a growing population (an estimated 9,000 former soldiers) are from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. This class of veterans faces a new set of problems unseen in previous wars. Due to roadside bombs, concussions and head trauma are more common than in previous wars, and often go unseen and unnoticed. Where veterans once came home with visible injuries such as missing limbs, many of today's soldiers, who often must endure multiple deployments, are coming home with invisible scars that can wreak severe psychological havoc.

At Fort Sill, High-Interest Lenders Circle The Gates

By Chris Kirkham, Huffington Post [January 25, 2011]
---- Most American military posts are encircled by an array of questionable lending operations that many consumer advocates describe as being predatory. The issue has received greater attention this month with the announcement that Holly Petraeus, wife of Army General and top Afghanistan commander David Petraeus, will lead a newly created division of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency aimed at curbing such practices directed toward military service members. … Predatory lending and high-interest financing targeting the military have been elusive problems for years.

Dispute With Parliament Leaves Afghan Leader Isolated

By Alissa J. Rubin, New York Times [January 26, 2011]

---- By the day’s end, Mr. Karzai had backed down, agreeing to inaugurate the newly elected lawmakers, which finally took place Wednesday after months of heated wrangling over the fairness of last fall’s elections. The turnabout and the string of political miscalculations that led to it have left Mr. Karzai a diminished and more isolated leader, members of Parliament, Western diplomats and analysts say. Whether Parliament’s new strength and Mr. Karzai’s isolation hurt or help the West or Afghanistan’s nascent democracy is a matter of debate, but a weakened Mr. Karzai may be one who increasingly uses organs of the state in ways that seem autocratic at best.

See also: Saeed Shah, “Karzai's pick for parliament speaker accused of atrocities,” McClatchy Newspapers [January 26, 2011] and Saeed Shah, “Karzai yields on opening parliament, but still fights for court,” McClatchy Newspapers [January 24, 2011]

Afghan Officials Probed Over Bank

By Matthew Rosenberg and Maria Abi-Habib, Wall Street Journal [February 1, 2011]

---- Investigators probing massive fraud that nearly brought down Afghanistan's largest bank have found the lender avoided scrutiny for years by giving clandestine loans, bribes and other payoffs to senior government officials, said Afghan and U.S. officials and former bank insiders. Afghan and Western officials say Mahmood Karzai and others are being pressed because the International Monetary Fund has delayed renewing its assistance program to Afghanistan in part because of problems with banking-sector regulation, Western and Afghan officials said. That could cost the cash-strapped Afghan government billions of dollars in annual assistance. Most of the donor nations Afghanistan relies on to finance more than half its annual budget and billions more in development programs could be forced to delay aid because their own rules require aid recipients to be in good standing with the IMF, officials said.

See also: Alissa J. Rubin and James Risen, “Losses at Afghan Bank Could Be $900 Million,” New York Times [January 30, 2011]; and Alissa J. Rubin, “Lender Disputes Kabul Bank’s Losses,” New York Times [January 31, 2011]

Afghan officials want to prolong detentions

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post [January 26, 2011]
---- Afghan justice and security officials want to adopt the U.S. practice of detaining suspected insurgents indefinitely without trial, according to senior U.S. and Afghan officials involved in efforts to have the government in Kabul take control of detention operations in the country. The Afghans' embrace of prolonged detention could provoke an angry reaction from human rights advocates who say that low-level insurgents and sympathizers have been swept into an opaque system that allows only limited opportunities for adjudication and redress.

Afghans Plan to Stop Recruiting Children as Police

By Rod Nordland, New York Times [January 29, 2011]

---- Afghanistan is expected to sign a formal agreement with the United Nations on Sunday to stop the recruitment of children into its police forces and ban the common practice of boys being used as sex slaves by military commanders, according to Afghan and United Nations officials. The effort by Afghanistan’s international backers to rapidly expand the country’s police and military forces has had the unintended consequence of drawing many under-age boys into service, the officials conceded.


Claim: Afghans Heart G.I.s Who Flattened Their Village

By Spencer Ackerman, Wired [January 24, 2011]

---- The residents of Afghanistan’s Tarok Kolache are really quite fond of the American forces who demolished their village. The Taliban had turned the place into a minefield, after all, and now U.S. troops are helping rebuild the place. That’s the story, at least, according to Gen. David Petraeus’ biographer and former adviser. In October, the 1-320th pounded Tarok Kolache with 49,200 lbs of bombs and rockets after the Taliban kicked out its residents and turned it into a hotbed of homemade bombs, making it too dangerous for U.S. troops to clear.

Number of U.S. casualties from roadside bombs in Afghanistan skyrocketed from 2009 to 2010

By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post [January 25, 2011]

---- The number of U.S. troops killed by roadside bombs in Afghanistan soared by 60 percent last year, while the number of those wounded almost tripled, new U.S. military statistics show. All told, 268 U.S. troops were killed by the improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, in 2010, about as many as in the three previous years combined, according to the figures, obtained by The Washington Post. More than 3,360 troops were injured, an increase of 178 percent over the year before.

A Map of Security/Insecurity in Afghanistan’s Provinces.


2010 deadliest year for Afghan civilians: watchdog

From Agence France Press [February 1, 2011]

---- A human rights watchdog said Tuesday that 2010 was the deadliest year for ordinary Afghans since a US-led invasion nearly a decade ago, with more than 2,400 civilians killed. Taliban and other insurgents were responsible for more than 60 percent of the dead, the report by the Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM) said, blaming the US-led force for 21 percent of the casualties. "Almost everything related to the war surged in 2010," ARM, a Kabul-based rights watchdog said in its annual report on civilian deaths.

The rights body said Afghan and foreign force numbers surged to some 350,000, the number of security incidents rose to more than 100 per week and the death toll of combatants reached a wartime high.

The numbers of civilians killed and wounded also hit record levels.

See also: Nathan Hodge, “U.S. Finishing Afghan Casualty Review,” New York Times [January 26, 2011]

New estimates put Pakistan's nuclear arsenal at more than 100

By Karen DeYoung, Washington Post [January 31, 2011]
---- Pakistan's nuclear arsenal now totals more than 100 deployed weapons, a doubling of its stockpile over the past several years in one of the world's most unstable regions, according to estimates by nongovernment analysts. The Pakistanis have significantly accelerated production of uranium and plutonium for bombs and developed new weapons to deliver them. After years of approximate weapons parity, experts said, Pakistan has now edged ahead of India, its nuclear-armed rival. An escalation of the arms race in South Asia poses a dilemma for the Obama administration, which has worked to improve its economic, political and defense ties with India while seeking to deepen its relationship with Pakistan as a crucial component of its Afghanistan war strategy.

See also: David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt, “Pakistani Nuclear Arms Pose Challenge to U.S. Policy,” New York Times [January 31, 2011]

166,000 still displaced six months after Pakistan flood: UN

From Agence France Press [January 25, 2011]

---- About 166,000 people are still displaced six months after devastating floods swept away homes and drowned livestock in Pakistan, the UN refugees’ agency said Tuesday. Most of those who are still homeless are located in the southern province of Sindh, one of the hardest hit districts by the flood. About 20 million people were affected in the natural disaster and 1.7 million houses were damaged or destroyed, said the UNHCR. The flood also wiped out more than 2.2 million hectares of arable land, depriving rural communities of food and resources, said the Red Cross.


Air Force's new surveillance system for aerial drones not working as hoped

By Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post [January 24, 2011]
---- Air Force field testers concluded in a draft report that a new wide-area surveillance system for use with remotely piloted aircraft is "not operationally effective" and should not be fielded, but Air Force officials said Monday they expect the system will still be deployed by late winter in Afghanistan. A Dec. 30 report by the Air Force's 53rd Wing Group at Eglin Air Force Base said that the new system, dubbed Gorgon Stare, had "significant limitations," including an inability to track people on the ground in real time, and a delay in sending real-time images to the ground. Still, senior Air Force officials on Monday asserted that they have addressed field testers' concerns as outlined in a final report, which they declined to release.

Dutch government wins over Afghan doubters

By Mike Corder, Associated Press [January 27, 2011]

---- The Dutch government won the support early Friday of a narrow majority of lawmakers for its proposal to send troops and police to northern Afghanistan to train police recruits. The proposal for the 545-strong training mission is now likely to go ahead within weeks, in a victory for Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose two-party conservative coalition is in the minority in Parliament.

Afghanistan is the reason why EU ignores atrocities

By Craig Murray, The Independent [January 24, 2011]

---- The answer is a single word – Afghanistan. Twenty per cent of supplies to Nato forces in Afghanistan now transit Uzbekistan, and the figure has steadily been increasing as supplies through Pakistan are increasingly tenuous. Germany also has an airbase in Uzbekistan. What is in it for Karimov? Political backing for his dictatorship, and juicy Pentagon supply contracts routed through his daughter. It is a prime example of the way our disastrous Afghan policy is not just failing in Afghanistan, but poisoning an entire nexus of foreign policy issues.

See also: Stephen Castle, “Questions on European Welcome of Uzbek Leader,” New York Times [January 24, 2011]

Sources for Cables and Media Coverage

---- WikiLeaks’ new home is at, courtesy of the Swiss Pirate Party. As of today, 3,278 cables have been released. They can be searched (e.g., for “Afghanistan” or “corruption”) at Another useful site is WikiLeaks Central: “An unofficial WikiLeaks information resource”: The Wikipedia entry on WikiLeaks is comprehensive and up-to-date: The best WikiLeaks archives in the mainstream media are at The Guardian [UK] and Aljazeera The New York Times’ site is at Energy Intelligence, a publication specializing “information of geopolitical importance to the world of energy,” has set up a “WikiLeaks Watch” for energy-related cables posted on WikiLeaks: 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
Juan Cole, “US Case Against Wikileaks’ Julian Assange Collapses,” Informed Comment [January 25, 2011]

Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Assange and Posada in the Propaganda System,” Counterpunch [January 26, 2011]

The Bradley Manning Support Network “Military statements regarding Bradley Manning ‘patently false,’ “

[January 28, 2011]

David Lindorff, “The Persecution of Pvt. Bradley Manning,” Counterpunch [January 26, 2011]


Tunisia and Egypt have been among the most reliable US allies in North Africa. The best source for news (including videos) about the Tunisia revolution is Aljazeera. The websites of Juan Cole (, War in Context (, and have linked/published many good essays. Aljazeera has 24-hour news coverage of the events in Egypt; outstanding. Their English-language service can be accessed at Democracy Now! ( had good news stories and video throughout the past week. Here are some good/useful essays giving a broad overview of these exciting events:

Phyllis Bennis, “Tunisia's Spark & Egypt's Flame: The Middle East Is Rising.” Foreign Policy in Focus [February 1, 2011]

The Editors, “Dead-Enders on the Potomac,” Middle East Report [January 29, 2011]

Joel Beinin, “Egypt at the tipping point?” Foreign Policy [January 31, 2011]

Richard Falk, “Ben Ali Tunisia was model US client,” Aljazeera [January 25, 2011]

Juan Cole, “What the Tunisian Revolution and WikiLeaks Tell Us about American Support for Corrupt Dictatorships in the Muslim World,” Informed Comment [January 25, 2011]

Gary Sick, “The Worst of Both Worlds,” Foreign Policy [January 29, 2011]


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