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Afghanistan War Weekly | June 20, 2010
Afghanistan War Weekly
By Frank Brodhead | June 20, 2010 | Click for prior issues
The focus of the war moved back to Washington this week, as Congress heard testimony from General Petraeus and other war managers about why things weren’t going very well in Afghanistan. At the same time, Congress got to put its own oar in by failing to pass Obama’s “supplemental” funding request, money that would pay for the troop “surge,” which is still not completed. Confronted with the question of whether he really, really believed that his mission could be accomplished by July 2011, General Petraeus fainted. Several essays linked below explore the strategic impasse confronting the United States in Afghanistan.
A front-page article in the New York Times last week revealed there was a bonanza of mineral wealth in Afghanistan. By week’s end, however, further investigation revealed that this was old news, thus raising the question of cui bono? – Who benefits by springing this news on a war-weary nation? More below.
Beyond another civilian slaughter from the air, there was relatively little actual fighting last week in Afghanistan. Several articles linked below, however, illustrate the difficulties of “preparing the battlefield” around Kandahar, lining up local collaborators and forming militias, protecting clients from assassination, etc. Also, several essays linked below illustrate how the war is spilling over into Pakistan, and back again, regionalizing the war. Please also NB: Tom Englehardt’s “featured essay” just below; Jeremy Scahill’s video and article on the latest news from Blackwater; and some background to the impending release of another WikiLeaks video, this one about the civilian massacre that took place during the Marja operation in March.
---- Frank Brodhead, Concerned Families of Westchester (NY)
Contents of this issue: War debates in Washington; Civilian contractors/Blackwater; Mineral bonanza “discovered” in Afghanistan; slow going for counterinsurgency tactics; battle strategies for Kandahar; UN report on civilian casualties; the WikiLeaks drama; and Pakistan insurgencies.
(Video) Tom Engelhardt on "The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s"
Democracy Now! [June 18, 2010]
---- We discuss the latest in the ongoing US war in Afghanistan, the longest-running war in American history, with Tom Engelhardt, creator and editor of the website TomDispatch and author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s. Engelhardt says the US war in Afghanistan has troubling parallels with the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan of the 1980s. http://www.democracynow.org/2010/6/18/afghan
THE WAR IN WASHINGTON
This week Congress addressed some important issues about the war. Testifying at congressional hearings, Gen. Petraeus and other military planners tried to square the circle created by a) President Obama’s pledge that US troops would start to withdraw from Afghanistan by July 2011, and b) the growing consensus that the military “surge” was not going very well. Lawmakers asked whether we were winning, whether July 2011 was really in stone, whether that was enough time to do the job, etc. No one expressed the view that the war was stupid and wrong and that the US should withdraw on that basis. At the same time, Democrat congressional leaders trying to pass Obama’s “supplemental” budget, packaged as it was in an omnibus bill including other spending items, ran into deficit-crazies who felt that the line had to be drawn against legislation that wasted another $25 per week on the unemployed (thus saving billions over the next decade, etc.). Combined with growing uncertainty in Congress about the course of opportunism and re-election re: the war, the congressional logjam gave antiwar advocates some space for advocacy on the Hill. Below are some links to perspectives on the debates in Congress.
When Are We Leaving Afghanistan?
Setbacks Cloud U.S. Plans to Get Out of Afghanistan
By Peter Baker and Mark Landler, New York Times [June 15, 2010]
---- Six months after President Obama decided to send more forces to Afghanistan, the halting progress in the war has crystallized longstanding tensions within the government over the viability of his plan to turn around the country and begin pulling out by July 2011. Within the administration, the troubles in clearing out the Taliban from a second-tier region and the elusive loyalties of the Afghan president have prompted anxious discussions about whether the policy can work on the timetable the president has set. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/15/world/asia/15military.html?partner=TOP...
See also: Robert Dreyfus, “Getting Out in 2011,” The Nation. http://www.thenation.com/blog/getting-out-2011; David Dayen, “Anxiety Reigns in Washington Over Afghanistan,” Firedog Lake. http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/06/15-2; Karen DeYoung, “Lawmakers hear different take on year-end review of Afghanistan war effort,” Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/16/AR201006... and Jonathan S. Landay and Nancy A. Youssef, “Experts: U.S. has no long-term political strategy for Afghanistan,” McClatchy Newspapers. http://www.kansascity.com/2010/06/16/2022868/experts-us-has-no-long-term...
“Supplemental” Funding for the War
Obey's Afghanistan: At Long Last, It's Guns vs. Butter
By Robert Naiman, CommonDreams [June 20, 2010]
---- One of the many destructive legacies of the Reagan Era was the effective Washington consensus that wars and other military spending exist on their own fiscal planet. …Ever since, the Democratic leadership and the big Democratic constituency groups have largely collaborated in maintaining the destructive fiction that we can shovel tax dollars to war and to corporate welfare called "defense spending" without having any impact on our ability to provide quality education, health care, effective enforcement of environmental, civil rights, and worker safety laws, and other basic services to our citizens that are taken for granted by the citizens of every other industrialized country. But maybe - maybe - that destructive connivance is coming to an end. http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/06/20-3
A State Democratic Party Tells Congress: Reject More War Spending
By John Nichols, The Nation [June 15, 2010]
---- Working with Progressive Democrats of America, anti-war delegates to the state convention of the Wisconsin Democratic Party passed a floor resolution urging Congress to block Obama's "emergency" proposal to spend an addition $33 billion to maintain the pay for the U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. So it is that, in one a state where grassroots Democrats in a state that provided earlier and enthusiastic support for Barack Obama's presidential run, members of the president's own party are saying "no" to Obama's plan to surge more troops and tax dollars into Afghanistan. http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/06/15-11
Civilian Contractors and the War
Obama Administration Keeping Blackwater Armed and Dangerous in Afghanistan
Jeremy Scahill, The Nation
---- On Friday, the US State Department awarded Blackwater another "diplomatic security" contract to protect US officials in Afghanistan. CBS News reports that the $120 million deal is for "protective services" at the US consulates in Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif. Blackwater has another security contract in Afghanistan worth $200 million and trains Afghan forces. The company also works for the CIA and the US military and provides bodyguards for US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry as well as US lawmakers and other officials who visit the country. The company has four forward operating bases in Afghanistan and Prince has boasted that Blackwater's counter-narcotics forces have called in NATO airstrikes.
See also: (Video) “Jeremy Scahill Talks Minerals, Wikileaks and Blackwater with Laura Flanders,”
MEDIA TUTORIAL - MINERALS DISCOVERED IN AFGHANISTAN!!
[FB – The blogosphere was red-hot following the publication last Monday of an article in the New York Times detailing the immense mineral wealth buried in Afghanistan. Some commentators said that now Afghanistan could look forward to self-sufficiency. Traditionalists were relieved that there was some coherent reason for US to be in Afghanistan, i.e. it’s mineral riches. But closer scrutiny pointed out that this “revelation” was old news, and not all that exciting, either. Below are links to the original Times article and two of many skeptical reviews. As several critics pointed out, the astute newspaper reader starts to get suspicious when almost all the “sources” are from the Pentagon, and the “discovery” of the minerals is the result of hard work by “a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists.”]
U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan
By James Risen, New York Times [June 13, 2010]
---- The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials. The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe. … The vast scale of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was discovered by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/14/opinion/14mon1.html?ref=opinion&pagewa...
See also: James Risen, “World’s Mining Companies Covet Afghan Riches,” New York Times [June 17, 2010] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/18/world/asia/18mines.html?ref=world
War for resources: From slander to clarion call
David Sirota, Salon.com [June 18, 2010]
---- Reading this week's New York Times headline — "U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan" — many probably wondered why this information was being presented as "news" in 2010. After all, humanity has long been aware of the country's vast natural resources. As Mother Jones magazine's James Ridgeway said after recalling previous public accounts of the ore deposits, "This 'discovery' in fact is ancient history tracing back to the times of Marco Polo." The intrigue in the Times' dispatch, then, is not Afghanistan's "huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals" that the paper quotes Pentagon officials gushing about — it is the gushing itself. Indeed, the real question is: What would prompt the government to portray well-known geology as some sort of blockbuster revelation? Importantly, this revised message relies on the new assumption that the public now sees resource conflicts not as detestable, but as worthy and even admirable. http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/feature/2010/06/18/war_for_resources_a...
See also: Jim Lobe, “Timing of Afghan Mineral Story Wealth Evokes Skepticism.” Antiwar.com [June 14, 2010] http://original.antiwar.com/lobe/2010/06/14/timing-of-afghan-mineral-wea... and Paul Jay, “U.S. Knew About Afghan Mineral Bonanza in 2007,” http://communities.canada.com/shareit/blogs/reality/archive/2010/06/14/u...
THE WAR IN KABUL
Crazy Like a Fox
BY Elizabeth Rubin, Foreign Policy [June 8, 2010]
---- The puzzling resignation on June 6 of President Hamid Karzai's two security chiefs -- Amrullah Saleh, the director of intelligence, and Hanif Atmar, the interior minister -- has left many Afghan hands wondering about what was behind their brusque departure. Many have accused Karzai of being mad or paranoid when he lashes out and threatens to join the Taliban or when he pulls his crazy face and loses his temper. But it is worth remembering that the mad act has its benefits. It gets him what he wants without him having to take full responsibility for his actions. And, with the U.S. talk of pulling out next summer, Karzai is planning for his future, a future that will inevitably depend on good relations with Pakistan and the Taliban. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/06/08/crazy_like_a_fox?print=...
NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE ARMED OPPOSITION
By War or Peace, No Easy Exit From Afghanistan
By Rod Nordland, New York Times [June 20, 2010]
---- Everyone talks about peace, but so far no one is actually talking peace. The obstacles to doing so are profound and in many ways as daunting as the prospect of a military solution. Outwardly, there seems to be movement on the peace front. The government held what it called a three-day peace jirga, or council, in early June, and it recommended forming a high peace council as a negotiating body, removing the Taliban leadership from a United Nations blacklist, and releasing insurgents held without trial. Acting with unusual speed, a Security Council delegation began reviewing the blacklist, and the Taliban even responded with some tentative peace feelers. The peace jirga, however, was a long way from a peace parley. Insurgents were not invited, and many Afghans complained that President Hamid Karzai had stuffed it with his own supporters. Removing the Taliban from the blacklist and releasing detainees are comparatively easy moves, ones discussed for a year or more. The Taliban noted as much in their official denunciation of the jirga, which was accompanied by a rocket attack. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/20/weekinreview/20nordland.html?ref=world
THE WAR ON THE GROUND: PREPARING THE BATTLEFIELD
The US/NATO military strategy in Afghanistan is guided by the counter-insurgency doctrines of General Petraeus. General McChrystal was selected for command in Afghanistan in part for his adherence to these doctrines. Basically this is warmed-over “hearts and minds” thinking from the Vietnam era, with the addition of supposed lessons from the “surge” in Iraq (such as “Awakening Councils,” etc.). In practice, doing counterinsurgency in Afghanistan means the activities described in the several articles linked below, clearly with mixed results.
U.S. Hopes Afghan Councils Will Weaken Taliban
By Caralotta Gall, New York Times [June 19, 2010]
---- More than 600 men, most of them farmers with weathered faces and rough hands, sat on the ground under an awning, waiting all day to deposit their ballots in plastic boxes. They had braved Taliban threats and road mines to come here to select a district council, part of a plan to strengthen local government in the most unstable parts of Afghanistan. The district encompasses Marja, a Taliban stronghold where United States Marines have been battling insurgents since February. Marja remains largely ungovernable, but the operation broke the hold of the Taliban in the rest of the district, making it stable enough to try to set up some local representation. The election here, an exercise in nation building from the ground up, is part of a pilot program to set up 100 district councils to provide representative government in places where government has largely been absent. But the councils, backed by the British and American governments, also represent a critical element of counterinsurgency strategy: if they succeed, the hope is they will convince people that there is a viable alternative to Taliban rule. Since the beginning of the year, 35 such councils have begun work in nine provinces, and the American and British governments have pledged financing to establish 100 by July 2011, officials said. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/20/world/asia/20nadali.html?ref=world
Anti-Taliban tribal militias come with baggage
Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times [June 19, 2010]
---- The morning raid caught members of the tribal militia by surprise. By the end of the attack on the camp on a patch of desert scrub in eastern Afghanistan, 12 fighters of a group that had dared to take on the Taliban were dead. But their attackers were not Taliban militants. They were fellow Shinwari tribesmen, incensed that the militia had commandeered a swath of their land. The incident this year highlights the pitfalls of establishing militias in Afghanistan, a country marked by tribal rivalries, age-old feuds and warlords. …Some experts and Afghan lawmakers believe a reliance on tribal militias to help combat an insurgency is the wrong approach, especially if governmental monitoring is scant or nonexistent. "These militias are becoming their own sources of insecurity in the country," said Ahmad Nader Nadery, deputy chairman of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. "They're not bound by any law and are not following any clear guidelines." http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jun/19/world/la-fg-afghanistan-militia-...
U.S. Bolsters Afghan Police to Secure Kandahar
By C. J. Chivers, New York Times [June 16, 2010]
---- The American paratroopers climbed down from armored vehicles and spread out along Highway 1, Afghanistan’s main road. An Army engineering team moved behind. This was a military patrol with an unusual touch. The paratroopers were not hunting the Taliban. The engineers were not looking for roadside bombs. They were taking measurements for a checkpoint to be built for the Afghan National Police. NATO’s long-awaited summer campaign to secure Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city, has begun. In its early stages, it looks little like what was anticipated months ago. What had been described by military officers last winter as an offensive has instead opened with an effort to expand an Afghan police and government presence. The daily missions for many patrols are oriented not toward fighting but toward trying to extend influence in an area where a sprawling insurgency first took root. The campaign to date, moving by increments, focuses on civil order. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/16/world/asia/16kandahar.html?hpw
THE OFFENSIVE IN KANDAHAR
In Visit to Kandahar, Karzai Outlines Anti-Taliban Plan
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times [June 14, 2010]
---- President Hamid Karzai flew to this restive city on Sunday and told a gathering of local leaders to prepare themselves for sustained operations to rid the area of Taliban insurgents — and for the pain those operations would exact. … The speech by Mr. Karzai was his most demonstrative effort to date to sell the people of Kandahar on the police and military operations planned for the area over the coming months. …Weary of fighting, many Kandahar leaders oppose military operations. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/14/world/asia/14afghan.html?ref=world&pag...
First Signs of Strain in Kandahar Offensive
By Ben Gilber, Global Post [June 20, 2010]
[FB – This is the most detailed description that I’ve seen of the actual US/NATO battle strategy for Kandahar.]
---- Thousands of American troops have arrived as part of a build up to secure Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city. It is the epicenter of the country’s Pashtun south and the Taliban’s spiritual home. The plan to secure Kandahar involves two complimentary rings, according to military briefings provided to reporters here. First, ISAF troops are being deployed in an attempt to saturate the three districts surrounding the city to the north and west, Zhari Arghandab and Panjaway, with troops. Each district is about the size of a midwestern American county and contains areas where the Taliban maintains control and can infiltrate into the city along the Arghandab River. The plan is to cut off the Taliban supply lines and to deny them territory from which to intimidate and terrify people in the city and its environs.
Wave of killings claims Afghan governor
By Matthew Green, Financial Times [ June 17 2010]
---- Haji Abdul Jabar knew he was a marked man. As leader of Arghandab district, north of Kandahar, he worked with US advisers to push the writ of the Afghan government into territory long coveted by the Taliban. A gruff ex-guerrilla, Mr Jabar was by no means a flawless partner, but American commanders had come to see him as something of a rough-cut diamond. Mr Jabar was killed on Tuesday evening when a remotely-detonated bomb struck his car minutes before he completed his daily drive back to his home in Kandahar city. One of his teenage sons, who rarely left his side, and a bodyguard also died. US officials deployed under the Obama administration’s “civilian surge” say the loss of Mr Jabar is a painful setback after months of sometimes fraught attempts to coax him into setting up a semblance of local administration virtually from scratch. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/796dce22-7a1d-11df-9871-00144feabdc0.html
Violence Up Sharply in Afghanistan
By Rod Nordland, New York Times [June 20, 2010]
---- With an average of an assassination a day and a suicide bombing every second or third day, insurgents have greatly increased the level of violence in Afghanistan, and have become by far the biggest killers of civilians here, the United Nations said in a report released publicly on Saturday. The report also confirms statistics from the NATO coalition, which claimed a continuing decrease in civilian deaths caused by the United States military and its allies. At the same time it blames stepped-up military operations for an overall increase in the violence. Without providing statistics, the report singled out “escalation of force” episodes for casualties inflicted by the coalition. These are episodes in which civilians are killed at military checkpoints or near military convoys, often because they fail to understand or to heed orders. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/20/world/asia/20afghan.html
Afghan Civilians Said to Be Killed in an Airstrike
By Rod Nordland, New York Times [June 19, 2010]
---- Ten civilians, including at least five women and children, were killed in NATO airstrikes in Khost Province, the provincial police chief said Saturday. Five other civilians were killed, as were two Afghan National Army soldiers and two police officials, in other violence around the country on Saturday. NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said in a statement that it had carried out precision airstrikes against a large number of armed insurgents from the Haqqani network, Taliban allies operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan. “Our mission is to protect the population and we will accept full responsibility if civilians were unintentionally harmed in the intense fight against the insurgents.” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/20/world/asia/20airstrike.html
From Juan Cole: The USG Open Source Center translated an article about the innocent civilians being mistakenly bombarded, which appeared in the Afghan Islamic Press in Pashto on Saturday June 19. It claims not 10 dead but 20, and note that it is getting these figures from officials of the Karzai government. [Lots of detail.] http://www.juancole.com/2010/06/us-strike-kills-civilians-in-khost-bombi...
The WikiLeaks Civilan Massacre Video
WikiLeaks Founder to Release Massacre Video
By Philip Shenon, The Daily Beast Info[June 15, 2010]
---- After several days underground, the founder of the secretive website WikiLeaks has gone public to disclose that he is preparing to release a classified Pentagon video of a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan last year that left as many as 140 civilians dead, most of them children and teenagers. … Assange acknowledges in the email today that he is in custody of the May 2009 video that shows the airstrike on the Afghan village of Garani, believed to be the most lethal combat strike in Afghanistan—in terms of civilian deaths—since the United States invaded the country in 2001. http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-06-15/wikileaks-foun...
See also: (Video) “Obama Admin Escalates Crackdown on Whistleblowers,” Democracy Now [June 17, 2010] [40 minutes] We speak to Daniel Ellsberg, who’s leaking of the Pentagon Papers has made him perhaps the nation’s most famous whistleblower; Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a member of the Icelandic Parliament who has collaborated with Wikileaks and drafted a new Icelandic law protecting investigative journalists; and Glenn Greenwald, political and legal blogger for Salon.com. http://www.democracynow.org/2010/6/17/wikileaks_whistleblowers
PAKISTAN/INDIA AND THE AFGHANISTAN WAR
Unrest in Pakistan: Moving Beyond U.S. National Interest
By Josh Brollier and Kathy Kelly, CommonDreams [June 19, 2010]
---- "The military is the muscle that protects the ruling elite from the wrath of the people," says Pakistani political analyst Dr. Mubashir Hassan. "Right now, people are out on the street; blocking roads, attacking railway stations, etc. If you read the papers, it seems as though a general uprising has started all over Pakistan." Dr. Hassan says that sporadic outbursts of anger in Pakistan won't coalesce into a people's revolution anytime soon. The demonstrators are too disorganized. But, the sheer volume of daily protests shows that many sectors of Pakistani society have pressing needs and priorities that do not include enlistment as foot soldiers in a proxy force for the United States' War on Terror. http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/06/19
Pakistan, Afghanistan begin talks about dealing with insurgents
By Karin Brulliard and Karen DeYoung, Washington Post [June 19, 2010]
---- Afghanistan and Pakistan are talking about how to make peace with insurgents fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan, including one faction considered the coalition forces' most lethal foe, according to Pakistani and U.S. officials. The discussions reflect the beginnings of a thaw in relations between Kabul and Islamabad, which are increasingly focused on shaping the aftermath of what they fear could be a more abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops than is now anticipated. But one element of the effort -- outreach by Pakistan to the militia headed by the young commander Sirajuddin Haqqani -- faces opposition from U.S. officials, who consider the al-Qaeda-linked group too brutal to be tolerated.
Militant Group Expands Attacks in Afghanistan
By Alisa J. Rubin, New York Times [June 16, 2010]
---- A Pakistani-based militant group identified with attacks on Indian targets has expanded its operations in Afghanistan, inflicting casualties on Afghans and Indians alike, setting up training camps, and adding new volatility to relations between India and Pakistan. The group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, is believed to have planned or executed three major attacks against Indian government employees and private workers in Afghanistan in recent months, according to Afghan and international intelligence officers and diplomats here. It continues to track Indian development workers and others for possible attack, they said. Lashkar was behind the synchronized attacks on several civilian targets in Mumbai, India, in 2008, in which at least 163 people were killed. Its inroads in Afghanistan provide a fresh indication of its growing ambitions to confront India even beyond the disputed territory of Kashmir, for which Pakistan’s military and intelligence services created the group as a proxy force decades ago.
Pakistani militancy spreading from remote border areas to country's heartland
Asif Shahzc, AP News [Jun 16, 2010]
---- At least two dozen militants once supported by the government have split off to lead one of Pakistan's newest and deadliest terrorist groups, working with al-Qaida at remote camps near the Afghan border to carry out attacks in the center of this U.S.-allied country, police say. The emergence of the network known as the Punjabi Taliban risks destabilizing Pakistan's political and military heartland. The group, named for Pakistan's most populous and richest province, is closely allied with the Pakistani Taliban, which the U.S. blames for last month's failed Times Square bombing. http://wire.antiwar.com/2010/06/16/pakistani-militancy-spreads-to-countr...