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Afghanistan War Weekly: October 17, 2010
Official war information now needs to be evaluated in light of the US political timetable and the crises of legitimacy beginning to threaten NATO governments. The most important milestones for the United States are, of course, the congressional elections, the December “review” of the progress of the war, and the July 2011 marker for the beginning of a limited “draw down” of US forces. Additionally, in November NATO’s military leaders will give a progress report for the NATO assembly in Lisbon, and European leaders will be pressured to up their commitment to the war.
The heightened politicization of war news is particularly important in the United States. The military “surge” in the Kandahar region and the alleged attention being paid by military commanders to “negotiations” with the armed opposition are enmeshed in these milestones. Below, for example, I suggest that the publicity given to NATO’s assistance to the Taliban in furthering negotiations is simply a PR ploy for home consumption. In Europe, conservative governments pursuing pre-Keynesian economic policies are beginning to reap the whirlwind, and have to defend their budget cuts against US demands for more military spending, and as well as against their own citizens who oppose the war and military spending. They too would welcome the appearance of negotiations leading to light at the end of the tunnel.
There will be a high-level meeting in Washington next Thursday and Friday between the US and Pakistan war managers. There is obviously a lot for them to talk about, and I have linked some useful articles about the Pakistan puzzle below.
In addition to the Featured Essays linked below, I especially encourage a look at three in-depth articles. The first, linked just below, is about the complex local/tribal background in the area where the British aid worker Linda Norgrove was kidnapped and eventually killed, and the nearly successful local efforts that were made to rescue her. The second article, by the Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock, takes a long look at the background of the brigade in which the soldiers who are now charged with being an assassination squad were located. Finally, I have been puzzled by the relative scarcity of actually fighting news from Afghanistan recently. Now from an article by the (Canadian) Global Post’s Ben Gilbert, we learn that reporters were barred from accompanying the US military during the sweep through the Arghandab Valley just north of Kandahar. Nevertheless, he has written an interesting investigative article about what happened during these two weeks of 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. This “issue” and some previous editions of the Afghanistan War Weekly are posted on the websites 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)
Aid worker Linda Norgrove was close to freedom, Afghan tribal elders claim
By Ben Farmer, The Telegraph [UK] [October 16, 2010]
---- Afghan tribal leaders spent 12 days negotiating for the release of Linda Norgrove, covering 150 miles on foot as they criss-crossed the mountains of Kunar seeking to intercede with her captors. Abduction of a woman is strictly taboo in the conservative Pashtun culture of Kunar Province where Miss Norgrove was kidnapped, and the elders had threatened to exile the family of the kidnappers and burn down their homes unless Miss Norgrove was released. They believe the threat was effective and are convinced that they were close to gaining her release when the botched raid was ordered. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/8068421/Aid-w...
See also: Praveen Swami, “Linda Norgrove: US forces hunting down kidnap group,” The Telegraph [October 13, 2010] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/8061282/Linda...
For Midterm Voters, War Is Off the Radar
By Dalia Sussman and Megan Thee-Brenan, New York Times [October 16, 2010]
---- It has been going on there for nine years and counting. Nearly 100,000 American troops are currently deployed there. More than 1,300 American service members have lost their lives there. The United States has spent over $300 billion on the effort so far. Yet polling suggests that the war in Afghanistan is barely a blip on voters’ radars as the midterm elections approach. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/16/us/politics/16poll.html?_r=1&hp
'Obama's Wars' Reveals the US Is Living 'On Borrowed Time'
Tom Hayden, The Nation [October 11, 2010]
---- Bob Woodward’s book Obama’s Wars should scare the hell out of you. It is essential reading—between the lines—for anyone seeking a map out of Afghanistan and Pakistan. … The reader is left with the impression that another massive and traumatic assault is to be expected in the US in the near future. We are living “on borrowed time,” according to one adviser. …The good news in Woodward’s book is that Obama—along with Biden and his domestic advisers—insists repeatedly on an exit strategy from Afghanistan despite the opposition of his military advisors and Hillary Clinton. He fears that his presidency and domestic program will be capsized by the forever wars. The president is quoted as recognizing that he “can’t lose the whole Democratic Party” and that opposition to Afghanistan will keep increasing on Capitol Hill as the next presidential election nears. http://www.thenation.com/article/155314/obamas-wars-reveals-us-living-bo...
Also recommended: Nick Turse, “Publish or Perish: Getting a Read on American War,” TomDispatch [October 14, 2010] http://original.antiwar.com/engelhardt/2010/10/14/publish-or-perish/; and Giles Dorronsoro, “Think Again: The Afghan Surge,” Foreign Policy [October 7, 2010] http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/10/07/think_again_the_afghan_...
THE WAR IN WASHINGTON
UN extends Afghan force amid terrorist concerns
By Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press [October 13, 2010]
---- The Security Council voted unanimously Wednesday to extend U.N. authorization for the NATO-led force in Afghanistan for a year, expressing "strong concern" at the increase in terrorist activities by the Taliban, al-Qaida and other armed groups. But saying the situation in Afghanistan "still constitutes a threat to international peace and security," the council extended authorization of ISAF — made up of 95,000 U.S. troops and 48,000 allied forces — until Oct. 13, 2011.
In Afghanistan, the Handwriting Is on the Wall
By John Prados, National Security Archive [October 11, 2010]
Every indication is that the generals are already laying the groundwork to demand that deteriorating security necessitates that the Afghan withdrawal set for 2011 be cancelled or postponed. The Bush administration was happy to start the Afghan war, then sat complacently as the commitment soured. President Obama trapped himself on this dangerous path. To the recklessness of starting the Afghan war, we are in danger of adding the stupidity of not ending it. This conflict has reached the point where the failure modes are many and obvious, and the path to success obscure, under conditions where Americans are at risk. The handwriting is on the wall. To proceed further under these circumstances is to march into folly. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-prados/afghanistan-handwriting-o_b_75...
US-Pakistan Meeting in Washington, October 21
Pakistan’s top foreign policy and military leaders will be in Washington on October 21-22 to talk abouto the war. Among the issues on the table will presumably be Pakistan’s problem with drones and cross-border attacks, more money for flood relief, and a request for assistance with their nuclear program. The United States will be asking for greater Pakistan effort re: the Taliban and Al Qaeda people in the Frontier Areas, assurances about the safety of the NATO supply routes through Pakistan, and coordinating strategies on “negotiating with the Taliban.” As the article below indicates, all this comes as the US is considering expanding the war into Baluchistan.
Some officials urge military action on Pakistani soil
By David S. Cloud, Los Angeles Times [October 11, 2010]
---- U.S. military officials racing to make progress in Afghanistan are pressing new tactics to choke off the flow of Taliban fighters and bomb-making materials from Pakistan into key battlefields of the south, with some even advocating cross-border attacks, according to several U.S. civilian and military officials. … U.S. military officials say that lasting stability in southern Afghanistan is impossible as long as the Taliban can operate with relative freedom in Baluchistan. Some U.S. officials say Islamabad has long refused to take decisive action against the Taliban leadership. For that reason, they argue, unilateral U.S. operations in Baluchistan should be considered, including airstrikes or secret raids by special operations forces. http://articles.latimes.com/2010/oct/11/world/la-fg-afghan-assess-20101012
See also: Tom Wright, “Pakistan to Push for Nuclear Deal With U.S,” Wall Street Journal [October 15, 2010] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405274870416400457554810370174383...
USEFUL FACTS ABOUT THE WAR
---- For a useful two-page fact sheet on the human and economic cost of both wars, go to: http://tomhayden.com/downloads/The%20Costs%20of%20Iraq%20and%20Afghanist...
---- 32 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan this month, bringing the number of US soldiers killed in 2010 to 395. Additionally, 15 soldiers from other Coalition countries have been killed so far in October. This brings the total number of US deaths in Afghanistan to 1,342, and the total number of Coalition deaths is 2,163. The number of US soldiers wounded in July 2010 (the latest figures available) was 576, the highest monthly total so far. This brings the total US wounded since the war began to 7,266. To learn more go to www.icasualties.org.
---- 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 the Afghanistan Ministry of the Interior, during the past six months 1,119 civilians were killed and 2,473 were wounded, while 959 police were killed and 2,473 were wounded. The Ministry claimed 4,012 insurgent attacks during the six-month period. Also, 3,098 insurgents were killed, 2,800 were arrested, and 632 were wounded. [FB - The “killed” to “wounded” insurgent ratio raises some questions.] http://www.juancole.com/2010/09/afghan-villagers-demonstrate-against-us-...
---- According to an on-going study by the New America Foundation, the United States has launched 78 drone strikes in northwest Pakistan this year, bringing the total number of such strikes since 2004 to 174. The study states that between 1,166 and 1,790 people have been killed, according to “reliable press accounts.” Of these, the study estimates that two-thirds of the deaths have been “militants” and about one-third were “civilians.” 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 website www.costofwar.com, expenditures on the Afghanistan war have reached $356 billion, and the total for both wars is $1.094 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
---- Nearly six in 10 Americans continue to oppose the war in Afghanistan amid a growing pessimism about the situation the United States faces in that country, according to a new national poll. A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday indicates that 44 percent of the public believes things are going well for the United States in Afghanistan, down from 55 percent in March.
According to the poll, 58 percent of Americans oppose the war in Afghanistan. [September 29, 2010] http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/09/29/afghanistan.poll/
---- American support for the war in Afghanistan has never been lower, according to the latest CNN polling. Only 37% of all Americans favor the war, 52% say the war in Afghanistan has turned into a Vietnam. In a September poll by CNN and Opinion Research, only 9% of respondents thought the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were the most important problem facing the country, 49% thought the economy mattered most. http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2010/10/15/what-the-numbers-say-abo...
DAMAGED SOLDIERS, BROKEN ARMY
Despite Army Efforts, Soldier Suicides Continue
By James C. McKinley, Jr., New York Times [October 10, 2010]
---- Specialist Aguilar was one of 20 soldiers connected to Fort Hood who are believed to have committed suicide this year. The Army has confirmed 14 of those, and is completing the official investigations of six other soldiers who appear to have taken their own lives — four of them in one week in September. The deaths have made this the worst year at the sprawling fort since the military began keeping track in 2003.
The spate of suicides in Texas reflects a chilling reality: nearly 20 months after the Army began strengthening its suicide prevention program and working to remove the stigma attached to seeking psychological counseling, the suicide rate among active service members remains high and shows little sign of improvement. Through August, at least 125 active members of the Army had ended their own lives, exceeding the morbid pace of last year, when there were a record 162 suicides. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/11/us/11suicides.html?_r=1&ref=us
See also: Howard Altman, “Military suicide rates surge,” Tampa Tribune [October 10, 2010] http://www2.tbo.com/content/2010/oct/10/na-military-suicide-rates-surge/
Brigade linked to Afghan civilian deaths had aggressive, divergent war strategy
By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post [October 14, 2010]
---- When the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade arrived in Afghanistan, its leader, Col. Harry D. Tunnell IV, openly sneered at the U.S. military's counterinsurgency strategy. Instead, he said, his soldiers would simply hunt and kill as many Taliban fighters as possible, as dictated by the brigade's motto, "Strike and Destroy." What resulted was a year of tough fighting in territory fiercely defended by the Taliban and a casualty rate so high that it triggered alarms at the Pentagon. By the time the 3,800-member brigade returned in July to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma, Wash., it had paid a steep price: 35 soldiers were killed in combat, six were dead from accidents and other causes, and 239 were wounded. The brigade also carried home a dark legacy that threatens to overshadow its hard-won victories and sacrifices on the battlefield. In some of the gravest war-crime charges to arise from the Afghan conflict, five soldiers have been accused of killing unarmed Afghan men, apparently for sport, and desecrating their corpses. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/13/AR201010...
See also: Spencer Ackerman, “Did Disdain for Counterinsurgency Breed the ‘Kill Team’?” Wired [October 14, 2010] http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/10/did-disdain-for-counterinsurgenc... and Drew Griffin and Kathleen Johnston, “Soldier silenced for testimony in Afghan killings probe,” CNN [October 14, 2010] http://www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/10/14/griffin.afghan.murder.soldiers.inves.... For a very interesting, pre-murder-scandal article on the same combat brigade: Sean D. Naylor, “Stryker soldiers say commanders failed them,” Army Times [Saturday January 2, 2010] http://www.armytimes.com/news/2009/12/army_afghanistan_mixed_signals_122...
THE WAR IN KABUL
Report alleges abuse of Afghan detainees at secret US detention center
By Heidi Vogt, Associated Press [October 14, 2010]
---- A new report from a U.S. foundation details allegations of detainee abuse as recently as this year from Afghans who say they were held at a secret jail inside the main American military base in Afghanistan. The U.S. military has long operated a facility to detain those captured in Afghan operations, first inside Bagram Air Field and now right next-door. But some former detainees have alleged for years they were held at a smaller, more isolated location at the base, dubbed the "Black Jail." http://wire.antiwar.com/2010/10/14/report-afghans-allege-abuse-at-secret...
NATO allies ask Karzai to allow private security for aid programs
By Joshua Partlow, Washington Post [October 13, 2010]
---- The United States and its NATO allies, worried about how the Afghan government's ban on private security companies might affect their operations, have asked President Hamid Karzai to sign a letter allowing such companies to continue protecting the foreign aid community, according to Western officials in Kabul. Karzai was given the letter by Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander here, while they flew to Kandahar on Saturday, and he had been expected to sign it Monday, according to minutes of a U.S. Embassy meeting on the topic obtained by The Washington Post. But he has not yet done so, and U.S. officials have warned that the issue could escalate quickly. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/13/AR201010...
Varieties of Corruption
Karzai's brother might be indicted for evading U.S. taxes
By Andrew Higgins and Jerry Markon, Washington Post [October 14, 2010]
---- In a move that could further strain Washington's already fraught relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, federal prosecutors are considering an indictment against his brother for tax evasion.
The Obama administration, worried that such public spats undermine the war effort, has stepped back from outspoken criticism of alleged wrongdoing by members of Karzai's government and family. U.S. officials in Kabul said they were planning for a potential backlash from the Afghan president if his brother is indicted. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/14/AR201010...
Afghan Election Disaster: Evidence of Fraud Rises, Leaving Results in Doubt
By Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com [October 10, 2010]
---- Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission today issued a series of alarming statistics regarding the level of fraud in last month’s parliamentary election, pointing to a number of credible, high profile complaints that leave even last year’s presidential election seeming responsible by comparison.
Officials say 4,169 complaints were issued, centered around 175 candidates. Of these, 25 of the candidates are current members of parliament. Of the complaints, more than half were serious enough to have individually altered the outcome of a vote. Though Western officials praised the election as a “success” the data has shown a far lower than expected turnout, higher than expected violence and absurd levels of fraud. http://news.antiwar.com/2010/10/10/afghan-election-disaster-evidence-of-...
For an update, see: “Afghan ECC adjudicates over 4,500 electoral complaints for preliminary results,” Xinhua [China] [October 16, 2010] http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/world/2010-10/16/c_13560731.htm
Afghan firms said to pay off Taliban with foreign cash
By Hamid Shalizi, Reuters [October 13, 2010]
KABUL---- Cash from the U.S. military and international donors destined for construction and welfare projects in restive parts of Afghanistan is ending up in the hands of insurgents, a contractor and village elders said. http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE69C1GZ20101013
NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE ARMED OPPOSITION
Has the United States reversed course and moved vigorously to aid negotiations with the Taliban leadership? Or are we witnessing the war-enhancing media ploy, the “search for peace,” that was used ad nauseam during Vietnam to prepare the way for military escalation? The big story seems to be that the US military has assisted the Taliban (giving them a ride?) to meet with Karzai and his assistants. Yet a close examination shows that there seems to be only one source for this, an anonymous US military spokesperson in Afghanistan, and that subsequent reporting is just an “echo chamber,” where the original source is “confirmed” by statements from Petraeus, Karzai, etc. The Taliban has denied that high-level negotiations are taking place, claiming that this is a US/NATO disinformation effort to weaken the armed resistance. A perspective taking into account US and European domestic politics would include the usefulness of claims that negotiations are going on to the forthcoming NATO conference in Lisbon in November, where European nations will need to be reassured about the state of the war. Similarly, the prospect of negotiations would assist the Obama team in its relations with Congress (and to a lesser extent, the voters in November) in suggesting light at the end of the Afghanistan tunnel. The news articles linked below, very contrary to the views above, are a sample of last week’s reporting and opinion. Also interesting is the Asia Times “scoop” on Pakistan’s release of the Taliban commander regarded before his capture as the leader of the Taliban’s negotiations faction. Pakistan immediately denied that this had happened. More mystery.
The foreplay of an Afghan settlement
By M K Bhadrakumar, Asia Times [October 14, 2010]
---- Highly tendentious themes have appeared in rapid succession over the past week: Afghan President Hamid Karzai is in talks with the Taliban's Quette shura (council) about a "comprehensive" Afghan settlement, with the latter participating in government; Karzai is also talking with the Haqqani network thanks to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). This follows the ISI setting up a meeting "on the Afghan-Pakistan border in the spring" between Karzai and Sirajuddin Haqqani, and the ISI escorting Sirajuddin's brother and uncle to Kabul. The Haqqanis realize that the time has come to "make the transition from the IRA to Sinn Fein" and that "This is the end of the road for al-Qaeda in Waziristan", as diplomatic sources have been reported as saying. … We are witnessing the foreplay of an Afghan peace settlement. No doubt about it. As a perceptive Guardian commentator put it, the issue is no longer about peace talks but as to when the fighting will stop. And Pakistan is reiterating its claim to be the key arbiter of any peace talks and has asserted its seamless capacity to be a "spoiler" if it is spurned.
For articles about the US involvement in peace negotiations, see: Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes, “Military Facilitates Meetings of Rebels, Kabul, in Sign of Support for Peace Deal,” Wall Street Journal [October 14, 2010] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405274870367360457555028219641122... Robert Dreyfuss, “NATO Backs Taliban Peace Talks,” The Nation [October 14, 2010] http://www.thenation.com/print/blog/155399/nato-backs-taliban-peace-talks; and Deb Riechmann, “Petraeus: NATO has facilitated movement of Taliban to meet for preliminary talks,” Associated Press [October 15, 2010] http://news.antiwar.com/2010/10/15/petraeus-terms-afghan-reconciliation-.... Also informative is an Aljazeera program, “Meeting the Taliban,” [October 16, 2010] – 23 minutes. http://www.youtube.com/aljazeeraenglish#p/u/6/Xui4r_kyFqk
Pakistan frees Taliban commander
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times [October 15, 2010]
---- Pakistan has freed the supreme commander of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, so that he can play a pivotal role in back channel talks through the Pakistani army with Washington, Asia Times Online has learned. The release of Baradar, who was arrested in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi in February, was confirmed by a senior Pakistani counter-terrorism official. He added that the United States was fully aware of the development although he gave no indication of the Americans' reaction. A senior Taliban leader, speaking to Asia Times Online on Thursday from the southern AfPak region, also confirmed that Baradar "had reached the safely of his people". http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/LJ16Df02.html
For Pakistan’s denial of this story, go to http://wire.antiwar.com/2010/10/15/petraeus-nato-has-facilitated-taliban...
THE WAR ON THE GROUND
Gen Petraeus turns up the heat on Pakistan, Afghanistan
By Sanjeev Miglani, Reuters [October 16, 2010]
---- It’s not just Pakistan where the United States has stepped up air raids against members of al Qaeda and the Taliban. Last month, U.S-led NATO planes in Afghanistan conducted 700 missions, more than twice the number for the same month the previous year. It was also one of the highest single-month totals of the nine-year Afghan War. September was also the month when missile strikes by unmanned U.S. drone planes in northwest Pakistan hit the highest level of 20 since America launched its secret war inside Pakistan, widely seen as the main battleground of the Afghan war because of the sanctuary provided to top al Qaeda and Taliban. And as if that was not enough, NATO helicopters from Afghanistan crossed the border on at least three occasions, triggering a firestorm of criticism in Pakistan that closed off the supply lines to the foreign troops in Afghanistan. Is there a pattern to this? Has America under new commander General David Petraeus turned up the heat on Pakistan and Afghanistan ahead of a strategy review in December and before next July’s planned beginning of a troop drawdown? http://blogs.reuters.com/afghanistan/2010/10/16/gen-petraeus-turns-up-th...
See also: Noah Shachtman, “Petraeus Launches Afghan Air Assault; Strikes Up 172 Percent,” Wired [October 12, 2010] http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/10/gloves-come-off-afghan-air-war-s...
The Offensive in the Kandahar Region
Latest Afghanistan Operation Called "Success," but No Press Witnessed It
By Ben Gilbert, GlobalPost [October 17, 2010]
---- A major military operation involving hundreds of American troops, U.S. Special Forces and heavy bombers dropping 2,000-pound bombs on Taliban command and control centers wrapped up last week, concluding a critical phase in the campaign to oust the Taliban from Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province. But no journalists were there to witness the operation. …The coalition official said the operation was “big army” in the classic sense. Artillery and other heavy weapons were employed, including bombers to drop thousands of pounds of explosives on bomb-making factories and other Taliban infrastructure. Long strings of explosives attached to rockets, called MICLICs, were used to clear mine-laden fields so troops could advance. Booby-trapped houses and compounds were also destroyed. http://www.truth-out.org/latest-afghanistan-operation-called-success-no-...
See also: Carlotta Gall, “Critical Assault by Allies Begins Near Kandahar,” New York Times [October 17, 2010]; http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/17/world/asia/17kandahar.html?ref=world and Carlotta Gall, “In Afghan South, U.S. Faces Frustrated Residents,” New York Times [October 17, 2010] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/17/world/asia/17afghan.html?ref=world&pag...
Fighting along the Afghan-Pakistan Border
Taliban border haven in U.S. sights
By David S. Cloud, Los Angeles Times [October 11, 2010]
---- U.S. military officials racing to make progress in Afghanistan are pressing new tactics to choke off the flow of Taliban fighters and bomb-making materials from Pakistan into key battlefields of the south, with some even advocating cross-border attacks, according to several U.S. civilian and military officials.
The focus on southern Afghanistan is a response to the difficulties the U.S. has encountered this year in Kandahar and neighboring Helmand province, to which the U.S. has sent tens of thousands of additional troops. Offensives in the region, the heartland of the Taliban movement, have struggled to clear guerrilla fighters who melt into the local population. U.S. and Afghan officials have in many areas not been able to establish stable government and improve services, priorities in the effort to win the support of Afghan civilians. … Pakistani sensitivities about Baluchistan are more acute than those about the tribal belt, and officials played down the possibility that Petraeus would approve cross-border attacks in the south — even as they acknowledged that some military officers are promoting the idea. http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-afghan-assess-201010...
For a good map of US/NATO force disposition along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, go to: http://www.understandingwar.org/files/EvalAfgh_EventMap.pdf
Civilian casualties doubled in north: UN
By Zabihullah Ehsas, Pajhwok [Afghanistan] [October 13, 2010]
---- Casualties inflicted on ordinary people in northern Afghanistan over the past six months this year has doubled compared to the same period last year, a United Nations official said on Wednesday. The casualties increased by 55 percent among children and a six percent among women, Georgette Gagnon, Director of Human Rights for United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), told a news conference in Mazar-i-Sharif, capital of northern Balkh province. He said civilians had been inflicted casualties in attacks and bomb explosions by anti-government elements and operations by NATO-led and Afghan troops. "ISAF and Afghan soldiers are also involved in civilian deaths as a result wrong intelligence," she said, adding the number of civilians suffered casualties across the country increased 31 percent. http://www.pajhwok.com/en/2010/10/13/civilian-casualties-doubled-north-un
Afghanistan: war casualties soar in Kandahar hospital
From The International Committee of the Red Cross [October 12, ,2010]
---- The number of war casualties taken to Mirwais Regional Hospital in Kandahar for treatment is hitting record highs. The hospital, which is supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), registered almost twice as many new patients with weapon-related injuries in August and September 2010 as during the same months last year – close to 1,000 compared with just over 500 during the same period in 2009. http://www.icrc.org/Web/Eng/siteeng0.nsf/htmlall/afghanistan-news-121010
See also: Jason Ditz, “NATO Lies About Civilian Death Toll, Claims ‘Sharp Decline,” Antiwar.com [October 12, 2010] http://news.antiwar.com/2010/10/12/nato-lies-about-civilian-death-toll-c... and Stephanie Nebehay, “War casualties soar in south Afghanistan-Red Cross,” Reuters [October 12, 2010] http://in.reuters.com/article/idINLDE69B0WZ20101012?rpc=401&feedType=RSS.... For film of a protest, “Afghans angry over civilian deaths,” AlJazeeraEnglish [October 12, 2010] - 3 minutes – go to. http://www.youtube.com/aljazeeraenglish#p/u/55/3Ekyp3l5hqk
PAKISTAN/INDIA AND THE AFGHANISTAN WAR
India's High Stakes Foreign Policy
By Deepak Tripathi, Counterpunch [October 12, 2010]
---- President Barack Obama’s forthcoming visit to India in November comes amid a noticeable increase in tensions in US-Pakistan relations and a favorable climate for Washington’s ties with India. As Obama approaches his preferred deadline of July 2011 for starting a “drawdown” of troops from Afghanistan, India is emerging as a willing ally for America’s strategy in the region, and an enthusiastic agent to counter China, indisputably the superior military and economic power. As Obama ponders ways of reducing direct military involvement in Afghanistan after Iraq, the administration needs to contract out its role to proxies, with India the principal contender. As India and Pakistan remain locked in a decades-long cold war, each country maneuvers to have the United States punish the other. And each of the two rivals seeks to demonstrate that it, not the other, is the true ally of America in the war on terrorism. http://counterpunch.org/tripathi10122010.html
Blunt US warnings to Pakistan prompted by terrorism fear
By David Alexander and Caren Bohan, Reuters [October 10, 2010]
---- Washington's push on Pakistan to get tough on militants on its territory is prompted by worries about an attack on U.S. soil, a concern the United States will press in talks with Islamabad later this month.
The latest tensions come just ahead of the U.S.-Pakistani Strategic Dialogue later this month. When the US drone attacks started several years ago, their priority was to get the al-Qaeda leadership, But a lot has changed since then, and it appears the Americans have expanded their targets to include foreign fighters, the Pakistani Taliban, and al-Qaeda and its affiliates. According to one senior Pakistanii military official, the accuracy of the drone raids has increased but that it still causing civilian casualties because of the nature of the way local houses are built. The large adobe-type mud structures are wall to wall and so, often adjoining structures collapse under the pressure of heavy explosions.
Clinton: Withhold Flood Aid Unless Pakistan Raises Taxes
By Jason Ditz, Antiwra.com [October 14, 2010]
---- Following up on last month’s demands that Pakistan agree to yet another massive tax increase on “wealthy landowners,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stepped the issue up even more, threatening to withdraw all humanitarian aid from the nation unless they comply. Today it was even worse, as Clinton pressured the European Union to do the same. Between them, the US and EU have contributed more than half of the $1.5 billion in humanitarian aid for this year’s disastrous floods. http://news.antiwar.com/2010/10/14/clinton-withhold-flood-aid-unless-pak...
See also: Nahal Toosi, ”Pakistan flood damage estimated at $9.5 billion,” MSNBC [October 2010]
Pakistan Reopens NATO Supply Route
From The Associated Press [October 9, 2010]
---- Pakistan said Saturday it will reopen a key border crossing and allow convoys to resume delivering supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan, ending a 10-day blockade during which trucks were stranded on their way to the border and almost 150 were destroyed by attackers. The U.S. and NATO at one point sent some 80 percent of their non-lethal supplies through Pakistan into Afghanistan, but have been steadily reducing that amount, instead using Central Asian routes to the north and other means. About 40 percent of supplies now come through Pakistan, 40 percent through the Central Asian routes, and 20 percent by air, according to the U.S. Embassy. Some 2,500 to 3,000 trucks bringing supplies to U.S. or other NATO troops are on Pakistan's roads at any given time.
The real question about Pakistan's border closure
By C. Christine Fair, Foreign Policy [October 8, 2010]
---- So, why haven't attacks on the supply line to Afghanistan been more common? The answer is simple: trucking mafias and organized criminal and insurgent networks are all making money off of this system. The system of payoffs is elaborate yet elegant. Pashtuns dominate the trucking mafia in Pakistan. The drivers and their companies must pay off Pakistani police and any other relevant government officials to secure "safe" passage. Insurgents and criminal organizations also get their courtesy payment in exchange for safe passage to Afghanistan. Ordinary smugglers and blackmarketeers get their pieces of the pie too. Overall, pilferage is low. This seems deliberately calibrated to ensure that such loss is an irritant to be tolerated rather than a problem to be fixed. http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/10/08/the_real_question_about_...
See also: Saeed Shah, “Risky Pakistan route imperils Afghanistan bound U.S. supplies
McClatchy Newspapers [October 15, 2010] http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/10/15/102129/risky-pakistan-route-imperi... and Sikander Shaheen, “Russia refuses route for NATO supplies,”
The Nation [Pakistan] [October 13, 2010] http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online//P...
For some satellite photos of the traffic jam in the Kyhber Pass, go to http://www.flickr.com/photos/digitalglobe-imagery/5062421979/
Militancy and Conflict in North Waziristan
By Anand Gopal, Mansur Khan Mahsud, and Brian Fishman, New America Foundation [April 19, 2010]
Taking Out the Terrorists by Remote Control
By Klaus Brinkbäumer and John Goetz, Der Spiegel [Germany] [October 12, 2010]
---- Obama has made drones the centerpiece of his strategy in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida. These terrifying weapons circle over Afghanistan and Pakistan, changing the war and making it colder and more anonymous than before. They pose a constant threat, can be operated with the push of a button and, according to the CIA, are precise -- at least most of the time. The drone war is being waged by the US Army, by the US Air Force and, most of all, by the CIA. It is taking place in a shadowy realm beyond the reach of war tribunals, public debate and the media. The only time it made headlines recently, and then only for a day, was when it resulted in the deaths of a number of German citizens. The men, who were killed in a drone attack on Oct. 4, were presumed terrorists who were passing through the town of Mir Ali in the Pakistani region of North Waziristan. According to sources in Islamabad, CIA drones killed some 700 civilians in 2009. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,722583,00.html
Confronting civilian casualties in Pakistan
By Chris Rogers, Foreign Policy [October 14, 2010]
---- For the past year, I've interviewed over 160 civilian victims of the conflict in Pakistan-civilians who were injured, or like Jan, lost family members as a result of the fighting. These interviews are the basis for the new report released yesterday from my organization, the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), Civilian Harm and Conflict in Northwest Pakistan. Having spoken to victims from South Waziristan to Swat, it is clear that Pakistani civilians suffer not only from the terrorist attacks that dominate the headlines but also from many types of conflict-related violence, from Pakistani military operations to U.S. drone strikes. We also found that the number of civilians killed in Pakistan in 2009 almost certainly exceeds those killed in Afghanistan. http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/10/14/confronting_civilian_cas...
See also: To read the report, “Civilian Harm and Conflict in Northwest Pakistan” [75 pages], go to http://www.civicworldwide.org/storage/civicdev/documents/civic%20pakista.... CIVIC [The Campaign for innocent Victims in Conflict] was founded by the American activist Marla Ruzicka, who was killed in Iraq by a suicide bomb in 2005.
NATO AND THE AFGHANISTAN WAR
Afghan war commander briefs NATO ahead of key ministerial meeting
Sloban Lekic, Associated Press [October 13, 2010]
---- Thursday's meeting of defense and foreign ministers in Brussels will consider changes in the alliance's mission statement, attempting to bridge a rift between the U.S., which favors a greater international role for the alliance, and European nations that want it to retain its traditional defensive focus. . Their recommendations will pave the way for a summit of the alliance's heads of state and government in Lisbon, Portugal, on Nov. 19-20, when Rasmussen will officially unveil NATO's new strategic concept. Washington now wants NATO to be prepared to contribute forces to missions outside its traditional theater of operations in Europe, such as in Afghanistan or the anti-piracy naval patrols in the Indian Ocean. But many European governments remain wary, arguing that the alliance should not be transformed into a global policeman. http://wire.antiwar.com/2010/10/13/afghan-war-commander-briefs-nato-2/
Italy to withdraw troops from Afghanistan
By Ben Farmer, The Telegraph [UK] [October 12, 2010]
---- Italy's foreign minister said its 3,400 troops will have left the country by 2014. The Italian decision follows the withdrawal of Dutch troops earlier this year and the Canadian decision to leave next year, as commanders struggle to sure up an alliance which is still short of troops. The Nato mission is still short of several hundred soldiers to train the Afghan forces supposed to replace them and Nato officials have been trying to persuade alliance members to stop announcing withdrawal dates. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/8059786/Italy-to-...
Australia: Troops 'overwhelmed and cannot defeat Taliban'
Tom Hyland, The Age [Australia] [October 17, 2010]
---- The Taliban have ''overwhelmed'' foreign troops and cannot be defeated by military means, one of Australia's top combat soldiers has warned. Brigadier Mark Smethurst says securing Afghanistan could take decades, but success is uncertain without a fundamental change in strategy. His critical assessment comes in a report that contrasts sharply with federal government claims of progress in Afghanistan. While successive governments have stated we are in Afghanistan to deny al-Qaeda terrorists a base, the brigadier says the key reason is to maintain the US alliance. http://www.theage.com.au/national/troops-overwhelmed-and-cannot-defeat-t...
See also: The report, “Creating Conditions for the Defeat of the Afghan Taliban: A Strategic Assessment,” [35 pages] can be read at http://www.defence.gov.au/jetwc/publications/shedden_10.html
Dutch open to Afghan return
By Stanley Pignal, Financial Times [October 14 2010]
---- The new prime minister of the Netherlands has opened the door to a return of Dutch military personnel to Afghanistan, saying his government would consider a Nato request to provide police training forces “as soon as possible”. Mark Rutte, of the Liberal VVD party, stressed on his first day in office that “the Netherlands has always shouldered its international responsibilities in the past and will continue to do so in the years ahead”. The last government collapsed in February when the Labour party, now in opposition, walked out of a coalition after insisting that a Nato request to keep Dutch combat troops in the restive province of Uruzgan be turned down. … Mr Rutte distanced himself from the rhetoric of Geert Wilders, the anti-Islamic politician whose Freedom party, the PVV, is providing parliamentary support to the ruling party’s minority coalition with the Christian Democrats.
CENTRAL ASIA AND THE AFGHANISTAN WAR
Nationalist Party Scores Surprise Win in Kyrgyz Vote
By Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com [October 11, 2010]
---- In a surprise result that underscores what remains an extremely divided electorate in Kyrgyzstan, the parliamentary vote has led to the victory of the nationalist Fatherland Party (Ata-Jurt) and a very unclear road to a coalition government. The vote was praised as the “fairest election ever” for a region where the norm is vote rigging and intimidation, but has given the largest plurality to a bloc whose leader openly calls for his return. A Fatherland dominated government might bode ill for the Obama Administration’s designs on keeping a military base in Kyrgyzstan, as the party has spoken out against extending the US lease on the base past 2011. http://news.antiwar.com/2010/10/11/nationalist-party-scores-surprise-win...
(Video) Kyrgyzstan's election
From AlJazeeraEnglish [October 11, 2010] - 24 minutes
---- Can democracy unite the country only four months after the worst bloodshed in its modern history? Will a new parliament be able to bridge political and ethnic rifts? http://www.youtube.com/aljazeeraenglish#p/u/77/nBWDOpvC6s4
Anteing up, betting, and bluffing in the new Great Game
By Pepe Escobar, TomDispatch [October 12, 2010]
---- Future historians may well agree that the 21st century Silk Road first opened for business on Dec. 14, 2009. That was the day a crucial stretch of pipeline officially went into operation linking the fabulously energy-rich state of Turkmenistan (via Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan) to Xinjiang province in China’s far west. The bottom line is that, by 2013, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong will be cruising to ever more dizzying economic heights courtesy of natural gas supplied by the 1,833-kilometer-long Central Asia Pipeline, then projected to be operating at full capacity. When the Bush administration’s armchair generals launched their Global War on Terror, this was not exactly what they had in mind. http://original.antiwar.com/engelhardt/2010/10/12/pipelineistans-new-sil...