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Afghanistan War Weekly: March 27, 2011

From what we know of US decision-making in the run-up to the UN/US/NATO intervention in Libya, it is clear that the disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan have limited or shaped US options. Opinion polls showing Democrats opposing the US actions in Afghanistan by 75-25 were one likely speed bump. Another may have been the anticipated cost of even a “small” war, already nearing the $1 billion mark. The fact that the United States was already at war in two Moslem countries played a strong role in its Libya-war public diplomacy, pushing the Organization of Arab States to the foreground and finding the Obama people frantically looking for an exit from a public “leadership” role. In other words, it seems to me that the US over-extension in its military operations made a strong contribution to the apparently chaotic decision-making process among the former colonial powers that are doing the actual bombing.

Prior to the UN resolution authorizing a “No-Fly Zone” and “all other necessary measures,” public opinion in the United States was strongly against US involvement in Libya []. But, as usual, once it was bombs-away, public opinion turned on a dime. What effect this may have on congressional discussions about Afghanistan is an unknown, but it may be significant that a recent poll found respondents saying that the Afghanistan war was going “very well” or “well” at the highest level in several years [see below].

As for the Afghanistan war itself, little fighting was reported last week, whether the result of inattention or not I do not know. Inattention may be a blessing in the case of the pictures of US soldiers posing with their dead Afghan “trophies,” which were published in the German magazine Der Spiegel. Seymour Hersh has an interesting essay, linked below, on the military culture connecting these pictures to Abu Ghraib and back even to Mai Lai. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan had serious civilian-casualty incidents last week; in Pakistan the United States, probably chastened by the diplomatic damage of the Raymond Davis affair, paid token sums to relatives of the deceased in compensation. Also below are links to good/useful essays about the status of women in Afghanistan (bad); the Taliban’s campaign to assassinate local government officials; and another centrist report (from the Century Foundation) on the need to end the Afghanistan war.

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)


The “Kill Team” Photographs

By Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker [March 22, 2011]

---- It’s the smile. In photographs released by the German weekly Der Spiegel, an American soldier is looking directly at the camera with a wide grin. His hand is on the body of an Afghan whom he and his fellow soldiers appear to have just killed, allegedly for sport. In a sense, we’ve seen that smile before: on the faces of the American men and women who piled naked Iraqi prisoners on top of each other, eight years ago, and posed for photographs and videos at the Abu Ghraib prison outside of Baghdad. Why photograph atrocities? And why pass them around to buddies back home or fellow soldiers in other units? How could the soldiers’ sense of what is unacceptable be so lost? No outsider can have a complete answer to such a question. As someone who has been writing about war crimes since My Lai, though, I have come to have a personal belief: these soldiers had come to accept the killing of civilians—recklessly, as payback, or just at random—as a facet of modern unconventional warfare. In other words, killing itself, whether in a firefight with the Taliban or in sport with innocent bystanders in a strange land with a strange language and strange customs, has become ordinary.

In Jamaica Plain, visiting Afghan activist denounces US-led war

By David Abel, Boston Globe [March 27, 2011]

---- Afghan activist Malalai Joya, after initially being denied a visa to the United States for a three-week speaking tour, appeared in Boston yesterday and denounced the US-led war in Afghanistan, contending that the Obama administration’s surge of forces has led to only “more massacres, more tragedy, more violence.’’ She said she believes US officials banned her because “I exposed what the US government was doing in my country, and how most of the money goes into the pockets of the warlords. I think this is something the people in the White House and the warlords don’t want to hear.’’ She added: “I will not be silent for a moment, and they can never block my voice.’’

Beginning of the End in Afghanistan

Robert Dreyfuss, The Diplomat [March 24, 2011]

---- For the first time since the start of the war in Afghanistan, the United States is starting to think concretely about its exit strategy. And none too soon: according to recent polling, public support for the war has fallen off a cliff since last year, with two-thirds of Americans now saying that the war is no longer worth fighting. Nearly three-quarters, meanwhile, say that they want President Barack Obama to withdraw substantial numbers of forces in July, when the president has promised to begin a drawdown. In Washington, on both the left and the right, there’s growing discontent about the war.

Transition to nowhere: The limits of "Afghanization"

By Thomas Johnson and Matthew DuPee, Foreign Policy [March 22, 2011]

---- The strategy of having the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) take over the security burden from the U.S and NATO forces is now a centerpiece of President Obama's Afghanistan policy. But as decision makers continue to push hard for a speedy "Afghanization" of the conflict, serious thought should be given to the current policy paradox of trying to rapidly expand an already unmanageable indigenous military force structure while aggressively pursuing informal security organs, namely static militias and various community defense forces. And with the Afghan government's total annual revenue hovering around $1 billion and the Obama administration's budget request for fiscal year 2012 of $12.8 billion to train and equip Afghanistan's expanding army and national police force, it will be extremely difficult for Afghanistan to manage and sustain a force of that size.

US Casualties

---- 711 Coalition soldiers were killed in 2010, including 499 US soldiers. 20 US soldiers were killed in February, and 22 have been killed in March. In total, 2,381 Coalition soldiers have been killed since the beginning of the war, including 1,513 soldiers from the United States. 274 US soldiers were wounded in January, and 187 were wounded in February. The total US wounded through February 2011 was 5,226, and the number wounded since the war began was 10,468. 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 [January 8, 2011]

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 investigation of how the UN undercounts Afghanistan civilian casualties, see Gareth Porter and Shah Noori, “UN Reported Fraction of Afghan Civilian Deaths in US Raids,” [March 18, 2011] 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 $390 billion and the total for both the Afghanistan and the Iraq wars is $1.172 trillion. For a useful resource on the costs of war, go to “Bring Our War $$ Home” at

Public opinion about the war in Afghanistan
---- While support for/opposition to the war remained about the same (37%/54%), a CBS News poll of March 18-21 showed a sharp increase in the number of respondents who said that the war was going “very well” or “moderately well” – with the combined figure at its highest level in years (44%).

---- Nearly two-thirds of Americans now say the war in Afghanistan is no longer worth fighting, the highest proportion yet opposed to the conflict, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. The finding signals a growing challenge for President Obama as he decides how quickly to pull U.S. forces from the country beginning this summer. “Poll: Nearly two-thirds of Americans say Afghan war isn’t worth fighting,”

Washington Post [March 15, 2011]

---- A majority of voters, for the first time, support an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan or the creation of a timetable to bring them all home within a year. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 31% of Likely U.S. Voters now say all troops should be brought home from Afghanistan immediately, while another 21% say a firm timetable should be established to bring all troops home within a year’s time. The combined total of 52% who want the troops home within a year is a nine-point jump from 43% last September. Just 37% felt that way in September 2009. [March 7, 2011]

For earlier polls:

Karzai names first areas where Afghans will take over security duties

By Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times [March 22, 2011]

---- Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday detailed the first cities and provinces that will undergo a handover of security from coalition troops to Afghan forces, a crucial test for a country where corruption and low retention rates continue to plague efforts to ramp up the training of local soldiers and police. Karzai touted the handover — slated for Bamiyan and Panjshir provinces, most of Kabul province and four provincial capitals — as a significant step in the transition to a time when Afghan forces take the lead in securing their own country, which Karzai and the West envision occurring in 2014.

Afghan women are still at risk

By Ivan Simonovic, The Guardian [UK] [March 27, 2011]

---- Ten years since the Taliban fled Kabul, while new laws, policies, and development aid have brought some benefits to Afghan women, deep-rooted challenges remain. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recently issued a report on harmful traditional practices against women and girls in Afghanistan. About half of women get married before the age of 15. It is estimated that 70-80% of marriages are forced. Selling girls or giving them away in settlement of a conflict is common practice. The literacy rate of Afghan girls of 15 or more is just 12%. Unsurprisingly, violence and abusive behaviour against them is widespread.

Afghan officials agree to dissolve Kabul Bank, under pressure from U.S. and IMF

By Ernesto Londono, Washington Post [March 26, 2011]

---- Under heavy pressure from the United States and the International Monetary Fund, officials at Afghanistan’s Central Bank agreed this month to start dissolving the embattled Kabul Bank, Afghan officials confirmed Saturday. The institution, the largest private bank in the country, became a symbol of the country’s entrenched culture of corruption and cronyism this fall after the disclosure of a series of loans that bank executives and shareholders had been taking out to invest in risky ventures. These included seafront mansions in Dubai, one of which was made available at no cost to Mahmoud Karzai, a Kabul Bank shareholder and a brother of President Hamid Karzai.

Taliban assassination campaign impedes governance

By Solomon Moore, Associated Press [March 22, 2011]

---- While the U.S.-led coalition has repeatedly cited the recruitment and training of Afghanistan's civil society and security forces as a key requirement for the withdrawal of international troops, the Taliban is thwarting those efforts with a sweeping assassination campaign that has killed scores of local government officials. At least 140 government officials were killed in 2010, according to the U.N. Dr. Sima Samar, chair of the Afghan human rights commission which co-authored the report, said 462 civilians, most of them perceived government supporters, were assassinated in 2010, more than double the number the previous year. Afghan security forces are also under dire threat. Since March 2009, at least 1,345 police officers and 726 Afghan soldiers have been killed, according to Afghan government officials. The Ministry of Interior said it did not have last year's figures, but the Afghan military said the current number of military fatalities represented a 13 percent increase.

Report: Time is now for talks to end Afghan war

By Deb Riechmann, Associated Press [March 23, 2011]

---- The war in Afghanistan has reached a stalemate and the best time to jump-start a political settlement with the Taliban is now, according to a report released Wednesday by a U.S. think-tank. The report, issued by the Century Foundation, said the U.S. and Afghanistan's neighbors, especially Pakistan, must play key roles in any negotiations. Demands that the Taliban sever ties with al-Qaida or that foreign troops exit the nation, for example, should be considered goals, not preconditions of talks, the 126-page report said. The group also proposed that a neutral party, perhaps the United Nations, be named to facilitate the process.

See also: For an op-ed summary of the report, Lakhdar Brahimi and Thomas R. Pickering, “Settling the Afghan War,” New York Times [March 22, 2011]; for the report itself, “Afghanistan Negotiating Peace,” go to

The Endgame in Afghanistan

By James Dao, New York Times [March 26, 2011]

---- The general arrived late, but in style, bursting into a meeting with American commanders dressed in leather bomber jacket, riding boots and creased corduroys. To his critics, he was a warlord in uniform. But on this February day, he radiated the sly charisma of a congressman on the stump. This was my introduction to Gen. Abdul Rahman Saidkhail, the police chief of Kunduz Province. When he first came to Kunduz last summer, replacing a more cautious commander, the province seemed to be slipping into chaos. By February, districts that had been off limits except to heavily armed American units were being patrolled by Afghan police officers. And then, in early March, the general was dead, killed by a suicide bomber outside the office where I had met him weeks before.

Pentagon unit created to fight IEDs has spent billions, but casualties remain high

By Peter Cary and Nancy Youssef, Center for Public Integrity [March 27, 2011]

---- The launch of The Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO eventually turned what had been a 12-person Army anti-homemade bomb task force into a 1,900-person behemoth with nearly $21 billion to spend. Yet after five years of work, hundreds of projects, and a blizzard of cash paid to some of America’s biggest defense contractors, JIEDDO has not found a high-tech way to detect or defeat these so-called Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) from a safe distance. In fact, the rate at which soldiers are able to find IEDs before they explode has remained mostly steady, at roughly 50 percent, since JIEDDO was formed.

Killing Civilians in Afghanistan is Terrorism

By Patrick Kennelly, Common Dreams [March 24, 2011]

---- In Kabul, on the same day that Der Spiegel released photos documenting American soldiers posing with the bodies of civilians they murdered, the Transitional Justice Coordinating Group (TJCG), the umbrella organization for NGO’s in Afghanistan that are pursuing transitional justice, gathered Afghan, Australian, American, and German peacemakers to discuss methods to bring peace and security to Afghanistan. The photos present the grim reality that this conflict is characterized by civilian killing and violence.

NATO Airstrike in Afghanistan Kills 7 Civilians, Including 3 Children

By Ray Rivera, New York Times [March 26, 2011]

---- A NATO airstrike targeting Taliban fighters Friday accidentally killed seven civilians, including three children, in the southern province of Helmand, one of the most insecure regions in the country, Afghan officials said. NATO officials are investigating the episode. It occurred in the Now Zad district when the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force called in an airstrike on two vehicles believed to be carrying a Taliban leader and his associates. A NATO team assessing the damage discovered the civilians after the airstrike. Afghan officials in Helmand said the dead included two men, two women and three children. Three more children and two adults were wounded, the Helmand governor’s office said in a statement late Saturday.

Pakistan to Compensate Victims of Deadly US Strike

From the Associated Press [March 26, 2011]

---- The Pakistani government will compensate the families of 39 people killed in a recent American missile attack close to the Afghan border, an official said Saturday, one of first times authorities have announced such a move. The March 17 strike in North Waziristan district was condemned by Pakistan's army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who said the victims were innocent civilians, something denied by a U.S. official. Kayani's statement represented a rare public criticism by the Pakistani military of the United States over one of the attacks. The missile targeted a meeting taking place in a house in the area. The strike came a day after an American CIA contractor who shot dead two Pakistanis was released from prison, unleashing a storm of anti-U.S. sentiment in the media and on the street.

See also: Jason Ditz, “US Mum as Pakistan Continues to Press Over Civilian Killings,” [March 22, 2011] and Mazhar Tufail, “Taliban Vow to Avenge Drone Attacks,” The News [Pakistan] [March 22, 2011]

Germany to increase role in Afghanistan, stay out of Libya

By Marcus Kloeckner and Nancy Montgomery, Stars and Stripes [March 25, 2011]

---- The German parliament voted Friday to send 300 additional soldiers to Afghanistan to man AWACS surveillance planes, and by doing so, free up other NATO crews to help the mission over Libya.

The vote was 407-113 with 32 abstentions. The decision is a compromise of sorts; Germany declined to join the mission to impose a no-fly zone over Libya as authorized by U.N. Resolution 1973.

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