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Afghanistan War Weekly: October 25, 2010
Although the WikiLeaks files released this week are from the US Army in Iraq, they have implications for the war in Afghanistan and the antiwar movement. And there is more to come, including a release of 15,000 documents on Afghanistan withheld from last summer’s release. I’ve written a few preliminary thoughts below, along with links to good analyses of the documents themselves. Especially important in this regard is Aljazeera, which has been running reports on the documents several times a day, and has two very good half-hour specials on their YouTube page.
The United States in now engaged in a two-prong military and PR offensive in Afghanistan. The first three phases of military action against the Taliban in the Kandahar region have now been completed. The military says it has been successful, but informed analysis is becoming more skeptical, noting that the Taliban has simply faded away from battle. The so-called “peace negotiations” in Kabul are still murkey, but again, some analysts are interpreting events as less-than-meets-the eye, with inconsequential “contacts” being hyped as progress in settling the war. For both the military and the diplomatic offensives, news originating from the US/NATO has to be read against important milestones, including the November NATO meeting in Lisbon and the December review by the Obama team of the progress of the war. An independent effort by the military (i.e., not orchestrated by the White House) to stress light at the end of the tunnel would be consistent with last year’s media campaign by McChrystal and Petraeus to pressure Obama into giving them the additional trooops that they wanted. The next goal of the military will be to get more time to win the war, beyond the July 2011 draw-down milestone.
Finally, from what has been publicly released about the high-level meeting in Washington with the Pakistan millitary and political leaders, it seems that the White House has offered the Pakistan military billions more in military aid, while demanding that Pakistan become more aggressive in fighting the Taliban and its allies. Washington has also been presssuring Pakistan to allow more CIA (and perhaps other troops) inside Pakistan, and has restated its interest in using US military personnel against the armed opposition in Pakistan’s province of Baluchistan, the home of the “Quetta Shura,” the leadership circle of Mullah Omar et al.
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)
The shaming of America [On the WikiLeaks documents]
By Robert Fisk, The Independent [October 24, 2010]
---- As usual, the Arabs knew. They knew all about the mass torture, the promiscuous shooting of civilians, the outrageous use of air power against family homes, the vicious American and British mercenaries, the cemeteries of the innocent dead. All of Iraq knew. Because they were the victims. Only we could pretend we did not know. Only we in the West could counter every claim, every allegation against the Americans or British. Find a man who'd been tortured and you'd be told it was terrorist propaganda; discover a house full of children killed by an American air strike and that, too, would be terrorist propaganda, or "collateral damage", or a simple phrase: "We have nothing on that." Of course, we all knew they always did have something. And yesterday's ocean of military memos proves it yet again. http://license.icopyright.net/user/viewFreeUse.act?fuid=MTA0OTM2Njk%3D
"War Does This to Your Mind"
By Kathy Kelly, Counterpunch [October 22, 2010]
---- Khamad Jan, age 22, remembers that, as a youngster, he was a good student who enjoyed studying. “Now, I can’t seem to think,” he said sadly, looking at the ground. There was a long pause. “War does this to your mind.” …During the Taliban attacks, Khamad Jan’s father was captured and killed. As the eldest, Khamad Jan bore responsibility to help provide for his mother, two brothers and two sisters. But he struggled with debilitating depression, so much so that villagers, anxious to help, talked of exorcism. One day, he said he felt ready to give up on life. Fortunately, community members and his friends in a local youth group, the "Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers," have helped him come to terms with the pain he feels, assuring him that he can find a meaningful future. http://counterpunch.org/kelly10222010.html
Digging in for the Long Haul in Afghanistan: How Permanent Are America’s Afghan Bases?
By Nick Turse, TomDispatch [October 21, 2010]
---- Some go by names steeped in military tradition like Leatherneck and Geronimo. Many sound fake-tough, like Ramrod, Lightning, Cobra, and Wolverine. Some display a local flavor, like Orgun-E, Howz-e-Madad, and Kunduz. All, however, have one thing in common: they are U.S. and allied forward operating bases, also known as FOBs. They are part of a base-building surge that has left the countryside of Afghanistan dotted with military posts, themselves expanding all the time, despite the drawdown of forces promised by President Obama beginning in July 2011. http://original.antiwar.com/engelhardt/2010/10/21/how-permanent-are-amer...
Tea in Kabul
By Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times [October16, 2010]
---- A few vignettes to explain why I believe America’s strategy in Afghanistan isn’t working: Scene 1: A home in Kabul where I’m having tea with a remarkable woman, Soora Stoda, who runs a logistics company serving the American military. Ms. Stoda despises the Taliban and shudders as she remembers her terror as a seventh grader when the Taliban stormed her secret school for girls. She said Taliban thugs beat the girls and murdered the teacher, who was Ms. Stoda’s aunt. Yet Ms. Stoda, like all contractors, has to pay off the Taliban directly or indirectly to work in insecure areas. She estimates that for every $1,000 her company is paid for work in such places, some $600 often ends up in the hands of the Taliban. “Sometimes, it’s even more,” she added. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/17/opinion/17kristof.html?_r=1&ref=nichol...
THE WIKILEAKS FILES AND AFGHANISTAN
The release of 400,000 US Army files about the Iraq war has important implications for the war in Afghanistan and the antiwar movement. WikiLeaks reminds us that these documents are classified only as “secret”; “top secret” and whatever comes next are still not available. Also, these are documents only from the US Army; the Air Force, CIA, DIA, etc. documents are not part of this mix. WikiLeaks also announced that it would soon release 15,000 more documents about Afghanistan, presumably those that were withheld from last summer’s release and thus presumably even more “sensitive.”
As for implications about Afghanistan, The Iraq documents also show that, contrary to their claims, the Pentagon was keeping records about Iraq civilian deaths; and presumably are also keeping similar records about Afghanistan. Also, the Iraqi files show that even the records of Iraq Body Count, let alone the Army itself, greatly understate the level of civilian casualties. And the Iraq documents show more than 1,300 cases where US military personnel knew that individuals had been/were being tortured by Iraqis, and that their orders were to “report” the abuse and do nothing about it. Until proven otherwise, we can assume that the same regulations apply to Bagram and elsewhere. The documents also describe the high civilian casualty rates caused by air strikes in Iraq; under the regime of General Petraeus, air strikes in Afghanistan have increased greatly. The documents also reveal at least 15 instances of murder of Iraqis by private security contractors (e.g. Blackwater), giving support to President Karzai’s claims that private security in Afghanistan should be removed because they kill too many people.
The US media has loyally played down the content and significance of the WikiLeaks documents. The New York Times had the Pentagon vet its documents before publication. The Times major story featured what the documents allegely showed about Iranian meddling in the Iraq war; British correspondents Jonathan Steele (The Guardian) and Patrick Cockburn (The Independent) describe the Iranian files as largely rumor driven and inaccurate. Yesterday’s Times main article by correspondent John Burns focused on the “controversy” surrounding WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange. And while the Times noted each of the categories of the documents’ revelations, little quantitative information was supplied (e.g. more than 600 “escalation of force” killings of civilians) that would allow the reader to grasp the significance of what they were reading.
The best collections of documents and analysis are by far those at The Guardian [UK] and Aljazeera. Also particularly useful are; Emily Dugan, et al., “Torture, killing, children shot – and how the US tried to keep it all quiet,” The Independent [UK] [October 24, 2010]
http://license.icopyright.net/user/viewFreeUse.act?fuid=MTA0OTM3MjE%3D; Patrick Cockburn, ”Echoes of El Salvador in tales of US-approved death squads,” The Independent [October 24, 2010] http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/patrick-cockburn-echoe... and Juan Cole, “Arab Press: War Logs will Damage US Reputation,” [October 23, 2010] http://www.juancole.com/2010/10/arab-press-iraq-wikileaks-will-damage-us.... The WikiLeaks documents and much else are on their website, www.wikileaks.org.
THE WAR IN WASHINGTON
U.S. military, civilian officials claim progress in Afghan war
By Joshua Partlow, Washington Post [October 16, 2010]
---- With a year-end report card coming due, top U.S. military and civilian officials in Afghanistan have begun to assert that they see concrete progress in the war against the Taliban, a sharp departure from earlier assessments that the insurgency had the momentum. Despite growing numbers of Taliban attacks and American casualties, U.S. officials are building their case for why they are on the right track, ahead of the December war review ordered by President Obama. … Yet even as U.S. officials here echo Gates's assessment, they have offered relatively little evidence to back up their claims of progress. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/16/AR201010...
The High-Level Meeting with Pakistan
Making effort toward peace with Taliban
By Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung, Washington Post [October 21, 2010]
---- The administration is holding a three-day "strategic dialogue" with top Pakistani officials in Washington this week, the third such session this year designed to bring Pakistan closer to U.S. policy aims. Discussions center on distribution of a $7.5 billion five-year economic and development assistance package, as well as more than $300 million in aid that the administration has contributed to disaster efforts after recent floods there. The administration plans to ask Congress to approve $2 billion in financing this year for Pakistani equipment purchases in this country. Spread over five years, that amount would provide an increase of about one-third to current annual financing of about $300 million. Overall military assistance to Pakistan in fiscal 2010 totaled about $1.9 billion. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/20/AR201010...
U.S. Warns Pakistan: Fight Taliban or Lose Funding
By Adam Entous, et al., Wasll Street Journal [October 22, 2010]
---- Obama administration officials have privately warned Pakistani leaders that continued inaction against Taliban and al Qaeda havens bordering Afghanistan could jeopardize some of the large U.S. cash payouts on which Islamabad depends. The warnings raise the stakes for talks this week in Washington between U.S. and Pakistani officials, after months of growing tensions in which the administration has delivered a steady drumbeat of criticism of Islamabad's perceived unwillingness to take stronger action against the Afghan Taliban and its allies. The U.S. is under pressure to show gains in the war in advance of the planned drawdown of U.S. troops, due to begin in July. It has ramped up military operations in Afghanistan's south and east, facilitated Afghan-led talks with the Taliban, and stepped up a campaign of drone strikes against militant groups that stage cross-border attacks from Pakistan. Those efforts have heightened the need for support from Pakistan, which says it has stepped up its own efforts but doesn't have the resources to go into the regions where the militants are based because of other needs. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405270230333950457556641057494141...
See also: Reuters, “U.S. - Pakistan Dialogue Faces Prickly Issues,” [October 20, 2010]
http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2010/10/20/world/international-us-usa-pak... Josh Rogin, “In surprise appearance, Obama delivers tough love message to visiting Pakistani officials,” Foreign Policy [October 20, 2010]
http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/10/20/in_surprise_appearanc... and Matthew Lee, “US ups Pakistani military aid by $2 billion,” Associated Press [October 22, 2010] http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101022/ap_on_go_ca_st_pe/us_us_pakistan_aid...
U.S. Seeks Wider CIA Role
By Julian E. Barnes and Adam Entous, Wall Street Journal [October 23, 2010]
---- The U.S. is pushing to expand a secret CIA effort to help Pakistan target militants in their havens near the Afghan border, according to senior officials, as the White House seeks new ways to prod Islamabad into more aggressive action against groups allied with al Qaeda. The push comes as relations between Washington and Islamabad have soured over U.S. impatience with the slow pace of Pakistani strikes against militants who routinely attack U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan. The U.S. asked Pakistan in recent weeks to allow additional Central Intelligence Agency officers and special operations military trainers to enter the country as part of Washington's efforts to intensify pressure on militants. The requests have so far been rebuffed by Islamabad, which remains extremely wary of allowing a larger U.S. ground presence in Pakistan, illustrating the precarious nature of relations between Washington and its wartime ally.
There are currently about 900 U.S. military personnel in Pakistan, 600 of which are providing flood relief and 150 of which are assigned to the training mission.
USEFUL FACTS ABOUT THE WAR
---- 42 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan this month, bringing the number of US soldiers killed in 2010 to 405. Additionally, 14 soldiers from other Coalition countries have been killed so far in October. This brings the total number of US deaths in Afghanistan to 1,352, and the total number of Coalition deaths is 2,172. 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. See also: Salah Hemeid, “Death and body bags,” Al-Ahram [October 20, 2010] http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2010/1020/re3.htm
---- 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 $359 billion, and the total for both wars is $1.098 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
---- Sixty percent of Americans believe the US war in Afghanistan is a lost cause, up from 55% in July. Only 31 percent still think the US can win the war. From a Bloomberg National Poll conducted October 7-10, 2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_public_opinion_on_the_war_in_...
---- 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
Far more troops survive IEDs in Afghanistan
By Tom Vanden Brook, USA Today [October 20, 2010]
---- Better battlefield treatment and faster medevac flights have helped to cut nearly in half the number of troops killed by roadside bombs in Afghanistan, military officials say. The Pentagon says 24 troops died from the 180 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that detonated in September. One year ago, 46 troops died from 131 IEDs in September. IEDs remain the top killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. IEDs wound two of three troops hurt in battle. Insurgents planted 1,321 bombs that were detected or blew up in September, the third-highest monthly total in the 9-year-old war, and 16% more than in September 2009.
(Video) War’s Hidden Death Toll: After Service, Veteran Deaths & Suicides Surge
From Democracy Now! [October 18, 2010] – 12 minutes
---- As of this month, over 5,700 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. That count does not include those veterans who commit suicide or die from war-related issues after returning home from military service. Well, a new investigation into California veterans and active service members reveals that three times as many veterans are dying soon after returning home than those being killed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. According to the report published in the Bay Citizen and the New York Times, more than 1,000 California veterans under 35 died between 2005 and 2008. http://www.democracynow.org/2010/10/18/wars_hidden_death_toll_after_service
THE WAR IN KABUL
Death threats, low salaries leave Kandahar government understaffed
By Bashir Ahmad Naadem, Pajhwok [Afghanistan] [October 17, 2010]
---- The rising number of assassinations in southern Kandahar province is scaring people away from taking jobs in the administration. There are at least 600 local government vacancies in Kandahar City, the provincial capital, and various districts and not one person has applied. Over the past nine years more than 600 tribal elders, government and foreign non-government workers have been killed in the province, according to government figures. http://www.pajhwok.com/en/2010/10/17/death-threats-low-salaries-leave-ka...
Afghan: Consult system on military ops not working
By Heidi Vogt and Amir Shah, Associated Press [October 17, 2010]
---- A system meant to ensure Afghan officials are consulted on sensitive international military operations has been "ineffective," the Afghan government said Friday. Officials from the Defense Ministry, Interior Ministry and the Afghan intelligence agency are stationed at Bagram Air Field — the main U.S. base in Afghanistan — as part of an effort to ensure the Afghan government is included in military decisions, particularly on issues such as night raids and house searches. http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101017/ap_on_re_as/as_afghanistan
Iran Is Said to Give Top Karzai Aide Cash by the Bagful
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times [October 23, 2010]
---- The [Iranian] ambassador, Feda Hussein Maliki…handed Mr. Daudzai [Karzai’s chief of staff] a large plastic bag bulging with packets of euro bills. … The bag of money is part of a secret, steady stream of Iranian cash intended to buy the loyalty of Mr. Daudzai and promote Iran’s interests in the presidential palace. Iran uses its influence to help drive a wedge between the Afghans and their American and NATO benefactors, they say. The Iranian payments are intended to secure the allegiance of Mr. Daudzai, a former ambassador to Iran who consistently advocates an anti-Western line to Mr. Karzai, the officials said. Mr. Daudzai briefs Mr. Karzai each morning. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/24/world/asia/24afghan.html?_r=1&emc=eta1
As anti-corruption measures lag in Afghanistan, U.S. looks to grass-roots effort
By Ernesto Londono Washington Post October 17, 2010;
---- Corruption and poor governance in many Afghan provinces are helping the Taliban and other insurgent groups gain ground across the country. U.S. officials here have come to see corruption as one of the chief obstacles to legitimizing and expanding the reach of the Afghan government. So far, however, U.S. anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan have led to more setbacks than successes, leading some Afghan and U.S. officials to argue that the United States should focus on a bottom-up approach instead of trying to reform from above.
The Parliamentary Elections
Pervasive Fraud: A Quarter of Afghan Votes to Be Thrown Out
By Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com [October 17, 2010]
---- The latest reports regarding the investigations into allegations of fraud in last month’s Afghanistan parliamentary election continue to turn up evidence beyond all reason, with the latest evidence showing conclusively that fraud was pervasive across the nation in the vote. Which is sort of old news, but the definition of “pervasive” continues to expand, and now officials familiar with the investigation say that roughly a quarter of the votes cast, or roughly one million votes, will be thrown out on the basis of fraud.The Afghan Presidential election last year saw heretofore-unprecedent levels of fraud in an ostensibly free election, and officials had expressed concern that very little had changed with regard to the oversight in the election. In the end this concern was vindicated, as both violence and complaints of overt fraud far exceeded even last year’s vote. http://news.antiwar.com/2010/10/17/pervasive-fraud-a-quarter-of-afghan-v...
New Candidates to Win Half of Afghan Parliament Seats Amid Fraud
By Eltaf Najafizada and James Rupert, Business Week [October 20, 2010]
---- Candidates have complained of the month-long delay in announcing preliminary results. The Independent Election Commission received more than 3,000 fraud complaints, originating from each of the country’s 34 provinces, Manawi said. That means all results will be audited by the complaints commission, which is headed by a Supreme Court justice, Sayed Murad Sharifi. The Washington-based National Democratic Institute, which sent observers to 730 polling stations in 30 out of 34 provinces, said in a Sept. 20 report that the conduct of the ballot showed “substantial improvement over past elections,” in part due to the removal of 6,000 officials suspected of fraud in the 2009 presidential poll and the introduction of unique serial numbers on voting slips. http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-10-20/new-candidates-to-win-half-o...
See Also: Alissa J. Rubin, “Widespread Fraud Is Seen in Afghan Elections” By New York Times [October 17, 2010] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/18/world/asia/18kabul.html?ref=world; Alissa J. Rubin, “Afghan Election Commission Is Praised for Its Fairness, in Spite of Tainted Voting,” New York Times [October 20, 2010] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/21/world/asia/21kabul.html?ref=world&page... and Joshua Partlow, “Officials: Nearly 1 in 4 Afghan ballots invalid due to fraud,” Washington Post [October 20, 2010] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/20/AR201010...
Ban on Private Contractors
US Construction Projects in Afghanistan Shutting Down Over Contractor Ban
By Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com [October 21, 2010]
---- This weekend Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that he was backing down on his blanket ban on private security contractors, allowing the NATO forces to continue to employ contractors in a number of cases on bases and in embassies. The ban will, however, continue in the broader sense. Indeed, a number of US-funded reconstruction projects are already being shut down because the sites can no longer be protected by private security, which is amounting to them having no security at all. Officials say that the ban is affecting $1.5 billion in US projects across the nation, all but bringing the “civilian surge” in Afghanistan to a complete halt nationwide. Roads have stopped being constructed, and some 20,000 Afghans are expected to be put out of work. http://news.antiwar.com/2010/10/21/us-construction-projects-in-afghanist...
NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE ARMED OPPOSITION
U.S. officials, experts: No high-level Afghan peace talks under way
Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel, McClatchy Newspapers [October 21, 2010]
---- Despite news reports of high-level talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, no significant peace negotiations are under way in Afghanistan, U.S. officials and Afghanistan experts said Thursday. These same experts said the reports, which appeared in a number of U.S. media outlets, could be part of a U.S. "information strategy" to divide and weaken the Taliban leadership. "This is a psychological operation, plain and simple," said a U.S. official with firsthand knowledge of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's outreach effort. "Exaggerating the significance of it (the contacts) is an effort to sow distrust within the insurgency, to make insurgents suspicious with each other and to send them on witch hunts looking for traitors who want to negotiate with the enemy," said the U.S. official. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/10/21/102428/us-officials-experts-no-hig...
Afghan-Taliban peace talks are nothing new and may be overstated, many contend
By Deb Riechmann and Kathy Gannon, Associated Press [October 20, 2010]
---- But some coalition officials, Afghans and people familiar with insurgent leaders say contacts with militants are nothing new and have been overstated — perhaps to split the ranks of fighters or create the impression in the West of progress in resolving the unpopular war. They also questioned how the U.S. could be serious about peace at a time when it is escalating its military commitment with punishing attacks in southern Afghanistan and drone strikes on militants across the border in Pakistan.Hakimullah Mujahed, former Taliban ambassador to the United Nations and a member of an Afghan government council tasked with exploring contacts, called the reports of ongoing discussions a "propaganda campaign." "If these people were sincere in taking part in negotiations, it would not be in the media, it would be secret and underground and through some friendly government," he said.
See also: Robert Dreyfuss, “Can Karzai Cut Pakistan Out of a Deal With the Taliban? No.” The Nation [October 20, 2010] http://www.thenation.com/blog/155479/can-karzai-cut-pakistan-out-deal-ta... and Dexter Filkins, “Taliban Elite, Aided by NATO, Join Talks for Afghan Peace,” New York Times [October 19, 2010] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/20/world/asia/20afghan.html?sq=filkinsafg...
TRAINING THE AFGHAN ARMY AND POLICE
Allies target lapsed Taliban as they set up own Afghan militia
By Kim Sengupta, The Independent [UK] [October 25, 2010]
---- A controversial programme by the US and Britain to enlist former Taliban fighters and other armed groups to combat the insurgency in Afghanistan is underway. Supporters of the "Sons of Shura" hold that they are brave men risking their lives to fight for their community. To others, though, they are a violent private army in the making who will only add to the strife in a violent land. The force is similar to one that was organised by General David Petraeus in Iraq and credited with turning the tide of the war in Iraq. However, as the Pentagon documents released at the weekend highlighted, those militias were also responsible for carrying out atrocities to which the Americans often turned a blind eye. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/allies-target-lapsed-taliba...
THE WAR ON THE GROUND
NATO squeezing Taliban militants, but fragile gains don't mean Afghan insurgency is dead
By Deb Riechmann, Associated Press [October 23, 2010]
[FB – A good overview of the this year’s war.]
---- Taliban commanders dead or captured. Insurgents routed from strongholds. Stopping short of claiming it has broken the back of the insurgency, NATO is touting progress ahead of Washington's year-end review of the war — and hoping that this time, the alliance has the force and experience to keep militants from regaining momentum. Besides the White House review, the top U.S.-NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, must convince allies at a NATO gathering next month that his war strategy is working and the campaign deserves continued support. The Taliban are being battered in the south in offensives by fortified NATO forces, but militants remain active in the east and have opened new fronts in the north. Insurgents have been beaten back in the past, only to quickly reclaim lost territory. http://wire.antiwar.com/2010/10/23/nato-squeezing-taliban-but-no-claims-...
Nato launches major offensive to clear Taliban heartland
By Kim Sengupta, The Independent [UK] [October 17, 2010]
---- The final and critical phase of the offensive to clear Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban, began yesterday with hundreds of troops carrying out an air assault on the main insurgent base in the region. The attack on the "Horn of Panjwaii" by American, Afghan and Canadian troops - along with British special forces - is part of a plan to drive militant fighters towards Nato and Afghan forces positioned to intercept them and towards a wide "tank trench" designed to force them away from the orchards and vineyards and on to the main roads. Retaking the Kandahar hinterland is a key part of the West's exit strategy from the war. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/nato-launches-major-offensi...
Nato surge on Taliban stronghold drives civilians into the line of fire
From The Independent [October 21, 2010]
---- The first eyewitness accounts of Nato's assault on the final Taliban sanctuary threatening Kandahar City have begun to emerge, painting a picture of sporadic fire fights, steady progress by Afghan and coalition forces, and flight by those inhabitants wealthy or lucky enough to escape the violence. In interviews with The Independent, tribal elders, government officials and civilians in Kandahar City provided vivid descriptions of special forces night raids and Nato's bombardment of the area in the preceding month - designed to damage the local Taliban leadership - and the tactics the insurgents used to cow inhabitants before fleeing in the face of coalition firepower. http://license.icopyright.net/user/viewFreeUse.act?fuid=MTA0NDM2NDI%3D
See also: Carlotta Gall, “Coalition Routs Taliban in Southern Afghanistan,” By New York Times [October 20, 2010] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/21/world/asia/21kandahar.html?ref=world; Joshua Paratlow, “Despite successful U.S. attacks on Taliban leaders in Afghanistan's northwest, insurgency remains in control,”’ Washington Post, [October 24, 2010] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/23/AR201010... Ben Farmer, “'Birthplace of the Taliban' improves after latest US offensive,” The Telegraph [October 24, 2010] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/8083915/Birth... and Spencer Ackerman, “Did a New Rocket Help Rout the Taliban? Depends What You Mean by ‘New’ and ‘Rout,’” Wired [October 21, 2010]
PAKISTAN AND THE AFGHANISTAN WAR
FATA: Inside Pakistans Tribal Regions
By the New America Foundation
A survey of opinion in 120 villages
A Glimpse into the Silicon Heart of the CIA's Drone Program
By Joanne Mariner, Counterpunch [October 21, 2010]
---- The Suffolk County courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts, is an unlikely place to learn about the CIA's drone program. The suit gives worrying indications that the CIA may have knowingly relied on untested and substandard software to operate its drones. The CIA is not a party to the Massachusetts case. But its unmanned aerial vehicle program, whose operations are very much at issue in the case, was responsible for at least 20 missile strikes that are believed to have killed more than 150 people last month in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan. http://counterpunch.org/mariner10212010.html
---- This year has been the busiest yet for the United States' covert drones program in northwest Pakistan: as of Oct. 15, the Obama administration has authorized at least 88 strikes, which reportedly have killed between 440 and 730 people, the majority of them reported militants. In the busiest year of the program, September was the busiest month, with 22 reported strikes targeting militants in North Waziristan, a viper's nest of Haqqani network insurgents, Pakistani Taliban fighters, members of al-Qaeda and other local militants. The flurry of attacks was reportedly aimed at interrupting a Pakistan- based plot, linked to al-Qaeda, involving plans to carry out "Mumbai-style" attacks in major European cities. http://pakistansurvey.org/about/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...