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AfPak: Congress Clears Its Throat

This week Congress continues its formal consideration of the Administration's request for "supplemental" money for the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with a decision expected Wednesday by the Rules Committee on what amendments will be allowed. Regardless of the outcome on the actual money - it's widely expected that the money will eventually go though - this is a key window for Congressional action. There's never a bad time for Members of Congress to try to exert more influence over foreign policy, but a particularly good time is when there is a request for funding pending - the Administration must perform concern about what Members of Congress think, there are opportunities for limiting amendments, and the media and public will be paying more attention to any debate. Likewise, there's never a bad time to call or write your Member of Congress expressing concern about U.S.

US accused of illegal white phosphorus attack in Afghanistan

By Stephen C. Webster, Raw Story

United States forces in Afghanistan are accused of illegally deploying white phosphorus against civilians following a firefight with Taliban militants, according to published reports.

White phosphorus is legal to use on a battlefield but illegal to deploy for any reason other than illumination. The chemical ignites on contact with the air. Human rights groups said using the substance in populated, civilian areas is a war crime, but the United States is not a signatory to any treaty which entirely bans its use.

1, 2, 3 What Are We Fighting For? The War Crimes Song-and-Dance Routine

By Dave Lindorff

We’re been here before, many times.

The US causes massive civilian deaths through its indiscriminate use of heavy air power, and then tries to claim it’s the enemy’s fault for “hiding” among the civilians and “using them as shields.”

In Vietnam, where the US was fighting against a local revolutionary movement that was seeking to overthrow the puppet regime backed by America, American planes routinely bombed and napalmed villages, claiming that the Viet Cong were hiding amongst the peasants. Women, old men and children would die in droves—several million of them by the time that war was over--and we’d be told it was all the fault of the Communists, who, we were told, had no regard for innocent life.

Desperation In Pakistani Hospitals, Refugee Camps

Desperation in Pakistani hospitals, refugee camps
By AP | Yahoo! News

Civilians cowered in hospital beds and trapped residents struggled to feed their children Saturday, as Pakistani warplanes pounded a Taliban-held valley in what the prime minister called a "war of the country's survival."

Warplanes and troops killed dozens of entrenched militants Saturday in the assault on northwestern Swat Valley, the army said.

The offensive has prompted the flight of hundreds of thousands of terrified residents, adding a humanitarian emergency to the nuclear-armed nation's security, economic and political problems.

Pakistan Urging Residents To Flee

Pakistan urging residents to flee | BBC

Pakistan's government is lifting a curfew in the Swat valley to allow residents to escape an intense battle between the army and Taleban militants.

Understanding the Long War

Understanding the Long War
By Tom Hayden | The Nation

The concept of the "Long War" is attributed to former CENTCOM Commander Gen. John Abizaid, speaking in 2004. Leading counterinsurgency theorist John Nagl, an Iraq combat veteran and now the head of the Center for a New American Security, writes that "there is a growing realization that the most likely conflicts of the next fifty years will be irregular warfare in an 'Arc of Instability' that encompasses much of the greater Middle East and parts of Africa and Central and South Asia." The Pentagon's official Quadrennial Defense Review (2005) commits the United States to a greater emphasis on fighting terrorism and insurgencies in this "arc of instability." The Center for American Progress repeats the formulation in arguing for a troop escalation and ten-year commitment in Afghanistan, saying that the "infrastructure of jihad" must be destroyed in "the center of an 'arc of instability' through South and Central Asia and the greater Middle East."

The implications of this doctrine are staggering. The very notion of a fifty-year war assumes the consent of the American people, who have yet to hear of the plan, for the next six national elections. The weight of a fifty-year burden will surprise and dismay many in the antiwar movement.

The Obama Administration is Becoming a Stand-Up Comedy Act

By Dave Lindorff

What a joke the Obama administration is becoming, as it keeps trying to prop up failing industry after failing industry.

First we had the president becoming First Car Salesman, offering federal guarantees for GM and Chrysler car warrantees so that potential car customers wouldn’t turn away from those two companies’ showrooms fearing that the manufacturers would go bust and leave them holding the bag. Then he started touting the cars themselves, saying they were “great products” and that people should go out and buy them.

A giant US military base emerges in Afghanistan

By AFP

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan (AFP) — In the forbidding Afghan desert, US engineers are carving out a sprawling military camp as part of a dramatic American troop build-up designed to confront Taliban insurgents.

The desolate plain in southern Helmand province that Afghans call the "desert of death" has turned into a hive of frenetic activity, underscoring President Barack Obama's decision to expand the US military commitment to the war.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates flew into Camp Leatherneck on Thursday to get a first-hand look as dozens of bulldozers kicked up clouds of dust and soldiers swung hammers in searing heat.

Some of the newly arrived soldiers at the camp told Gates they were still waiting for radios and other equipment to arrive.

Secretary Doomsday and the Empathy Gap: The Everyday Extremism of Washington

Secretary Doomsday and the Empathy Gap: The Everyday Extremism of Washington | TomDispatch.com
By Tom Engelhardt

A front-page New York Times headline last week put the matter politely indeed: "In Pakistan, U.S. Courts Leader of Opposition." And nobody thought it was strange at all.

In fact, it's the sort of thing you can read just about any time when it comes to American policy in Pakistan or, for that matter, Afghanistan. It's just the norm on a planet on which it's assumed that American civilian and military leaders can issue pronunciamentos about what other countries must do; publicly demand various actions of ruling groups; opt for specific leaders, and then, when they disappoint, attempt to replace them; and use what was once called "foreign aid," now taxpayer dollars largely funneled through the Pentagon, to bribe those who are hard to convince.

Last week as well, in a prime-time news conference, President Obama said of Pakistan: "We want to respect their sovereignty, but we also recognize that we have huge strategic interests, huge national security interests in making sure that Pakistan is stable and that you don't end up having a nuclear-armed militant state."

To the extent that this statement was commented on, it was praised here for its restraint and good sense. Yet, thought about a moment, what the president actually said went something like this: When it comes to U.S. respect for Pakistan's sovereignty, this country has more important fish to fry. A look at the historical record indicates that Washington has, in fact, been frying those "fish" for at least the last four decades without particular regard for Pakistani sensibilities.

THE HOUNDS OF HEAVEN

By Robert C. Koehler, Tribune Media Services

“The special forces guys — they hunt men, basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down. Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the kingdom.”

It’s worse than you think.

Torture, religion, democracy, God. They’re all part of the mixed-up, horrific business that George Bush unleashed in the Middle East and Central Asia, and that Barack Obama is struggling to control and rationalize. As the words above demonstrate, the 12th century is striving mightily to join hands with the 20th in the U.S. military: Unbridled religious arrogance is forging a link with high-tech weaponry and an unlimited defense budget.

Kucinich on Bombing in Afghanistan: “Heavy Military Hand Tragic”

Washington D.C. (May 6, 2009) – Speaking on the U.S. bombing that resulted in the death of possibly 100 individuals in the Farah Province of Afghanistan, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) today made the following statement:

“While the details of the events in the Farah Province remain unclear, what is known is that noncombatants were killed as a result of the continued fighting that occurs daily in Afghanistan. As we learn more about the bombing, we must take steps to ensure that mistakes of this magnitude are never repeated. Further, we must clarify our mission in Afghanistan. While we cannot ignore issues of national security nor the moral imperative to help the Afghani people, our ultimate mission must be withdrawal. The people of Afghanistan have historically taken poorly to imposed nation building, and events such as this bombing prove once again that a misguided military hand is not only counterproductive but tragic.”

Afghan officials say dozens dead in airstrikes

By RAHIM FAIEZ and JASON STRAZIUSO, Associated Press

KABUL – Bombing runs by U.S.-led coalition jets killed dozens of civilians taking shelter from a fierce ground battle between Taliban militants and Afghan and international forces, two Afghan officials said Tuesday. The U.S. confirmed fighting Monday in western Afghanistan and said reports of civilian deaths were under investigation.

One Afghan official said angry and mournful villagers transported an estimated 30 bodies to a provincial capital to show officials. Other officials estimated the civilian toll to be between 70 and 100.

Civilian deaths have caused increasing friction between the Afghan government and the U.S., and President Hamid Karzai has long pleaded with U.S. officials to reduce the number of civilian casualties in their operations. Karzai meets with President Barack Obama in Washington on Wednesday.

US Troops Urged To Share Faith in Afghanistan

US Troops Urged To Share Faith in Afghanistan | Submitted by Michael Munk | www.MichaelMunk.com

US army 'does not promote religion'

The US's highest ranking military officer has said it is not the US military's position to promote any specific religion, after Al Jazeera revealed footage of troops apparently preparing to convert Afghans to their Christian faith.

First Victim on Road to Abu Ghraib: Rumsfeld Was Behind Torture of John Walker Lindh

By Dave Lindorff

Should Congress or the US Department of Justice—or perhaps Spanish Investigating Magistrate Baltasar Garzón—ever decide to seriously prosecute those in the US who are responsible for the Bush/Cheney administration’s policy of torturing captives in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and the so-called “War” on Terror, they should go back and examine the case of imprisoned American John Walker Lindh, the young man who was captured with Taliban fighters back in the early days of the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Fighting A High-Tech War With A Low-Tech Mule

Fighting a high-tech war with a low-tech mule
US Marines and soldiers are training to fight in Afghanistan, where mules and donkeys can haul supplies and weapons to places where Humvees and helicopters can't easily go.
By Gordon Lubold | CSM

Tucked at the base of a small mountain in the eastern Sierras is a makeshift paddock where a handful of US Marine Corps instructors reach deep into the history of warfare to give their charges a critical skill when they deploy to Afghanistan: how to pack a mule.

It is a peculiar course to teach in a military that is widely considered the best-trained, most capable, and highest-tech in the world.

But as the US girds to deploy more than 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan this spring and summer, the military is having to prepare for a decidedly different kind of fight from the one in Iraq.

'Witness for Jesus' in Afghanistan

US soldiers have been encouraged to spread the message of their Christian faith among Afghanistan's predominantly Muslim population, video footage obtained by Al Jazeera appears to show.

Perhaps the goal is to make the Muslims Christian enough to support torture?

Kucinich on Budget: I Will not Vote for the Expansion of War

WASHINGTON - April 29 - Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) today issued the following statement after voting against H.Con.Res 13, setting forth the congressional budget for the United States Government for the fiscal year 2010:

"I am committed to doing everything I can to put our community and our nation on the path to economic stability. I led opposition to the bank bailout program TARP, I worked vigorously in favor of the stimulus package, and I have worked to save the automotive, steel and aerospace industries in America.

The Primacy of Healing: Politics and Combat Stress in America

The Primacy of Healing: Politics and Combat Stress in America
By Tyler E. Boudreau | Truthout

I am a veteran of the war in Iraq. Like many, I came home bearing an unexpected skepticism toward our operations there and a fresh perspective on America's use of military power. And also like many, I found myself emotionally and psychologically harried by my experiences on the battlefield. But unlike many, I landed after discharge in a community where criticism for the war was both socially acceptable and, in fact, quite common, leaving me free to process a distress which was directly connected to US foreign policy. I was, literally and figuratively, right at home. So, I couldn't help noticing how the political dissent of my community was facilitating my mental healing. That has given me reason to consider all the ways in which politics has corresponded with and influenced the understanding and acceptance of combat stress. And while combat stress survivors have, in some ways, benefited from this relationship; they have suffered from it as well.

Combat stress has a stigmatic heritage, well-recognized now, but that was not always so. World War I was an era in which distraught soldiers were often labeled "men of deficient character"; and yet, the unspeakable carnage of its battles seemed to have offered latitude enough in the aftermath for the painful expressions of its veterans. But after the infinitely more popular World War II, veterans became known more for reticence than effusion and for a stoical veneer beneath which (we know now) a growing tumult was quietly raging. With the country so steeped in enthusiasm, it is not surprising that their invisible wounds went largely unnoticed. After all, with whom, in such a climate, might a veteran have shared his horrible stories?

Progressive Caucus Meets With President Obama on Health Care Reform and Supplemental Funding for Iraq & Afghanistan Operations

Progressive Caucus Meets With President Obama on Health Care Reform and Supplemental Funding for Iraq & Afghanistan Operations | Press Release

The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) this afternoon met with President Obama in a wide ranging discussion at the White House. The meeting was largely focused on discussions regarding healthcare reform and the upcoming supplemental appropriations request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Earlier this month the CPC Co-Chairs wrote to Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid to urge inclusion of a robust public health insurance plan like Medicare, at a minimum, in any final health care reform bill.

Sen. Specter Joins Dems, Puts Party on the Spot

By Dave Lindorff

For almost a generation, the Democrats in Congress have been able to pretend to be the party of ordinary working people, the party of progressives, and the inheritor of the mantel of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, all the while doing little of substance and catering primarily to the interests of Wall Street and the nation’s corporate interests.

The Democrats managed this sleight of hand for so long by claiming that while they had the best of intentions, reality, in the form of their inability to pass legislation, even when they were in the majority in both houses of Congress, that could avoid being filibustered to death by a Republican minority.

That situation has continued to this day, with the party currently having 58 seats in the Senate.

Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, Whose Century Was That?

Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, Whose Century Was That? | TomDispatch.com

Imagine if, on the day in early April when Jiverly Voong walked into the American Civic Association Building in Binghamton, New York, and gunned down 13 people, you read this headline in the news: "Binghamton in shock as police investigate what some critics call 'mass murder.'" If American newspapers, as well as the TV and radio news were to adopt that as a form, we would, of course, find it absurd. Until proven guilty, a man with a gun may be called "a suspect," but we know mass murder when we see it. And yet, in one of the Bush administration's lingering linguistic triumphs, even as information on torture programs pours out, the word "torture" has generally suffered a similar fate.

The agents of that administration, for instance, used what, in the Middle Ages, used to be known bluntly as "the water torture" -- we call it "waterboarding" -- 183 times in a single month on a single prisoner and yet the other morning I woke up to this formulation on National Public Radio's Morning Edition: "...harsh interrogations that some consider torture." And here's how Gwen Ifill of the News Hour put it the other night: "A tough Senate report out today raised new questions about drastic interrogations of terror suspects in the Bush years." Or as USA Today typically had it: "Obama opened the door for possible investigation and prosecution of former Bush administration officials who authorized the 'enhanced interrogation techniques' that critics call torture." Or, for that matter, the New York Times: "...the Bush administration's use of waterboarding and other techniques that critiques say crossed the line into torture..."

Torture, as a word, except in documents or in the mouths of other people -- those "critics" -- has evidently lost its descriptive powers in our news world where almost any other formulation is preferred. Often these days the word of choice is "harsh," or even "brutal," both substitutes for the anodyne "enhanced" in the Bush administration's own description of the package of torture "techniques" it institutionalized and justified after the fact in those legal memos. The phrase was, of course, meant to be law-evading, since torture is a crime, not just in international law, but in this country. The fact is that, if you can't call something what it is, you're going to have a tough time facing what you've done, no less prosecuting crimes committed not quite in its name.

Never Give A Life, Or Take A Life, For A Lie


Never Give A Life, Or Take A Life, For A Lie
A Call to American Generals to Respect the Rights of our Troops
by Veterans For Peace and Asian Pacific Islanders Resist

Dear General:

There are many kinds of betrayal in human affairs. But in the affairs of state, there is no greater act of disloyalty than to send young men and women to their deaths on the basis of fraud. No soldier should ever give a life, or take a life, for a lie.<

All American ranking officers and commanders take an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. For self-serving generals, to be sure, the oath is a mere ritual, of no consequence to real behavior in war. But for generals of conscience and integrity (and here is our hope and reason for writing) their oath is a solemn obligation to the American people, especially to American troops, to abide by the law. Our men and women in uniform place great trust in their superiors. They risk their lives in the belief that they will not be used falsely, illegally, or for ill-gain.

Free John Walker Lindh, Bush's and Cheney's First Torture Victim!

By Dave Lindorff

Enough is enough. It’s time to free John Walker Lindh, poster boy for George Bush’s, Dick Cheney’s and John Ashcroft’s “War on Terror,” and quite likely first victim of these men’s secret campaign of torture.

John Walker Lindh "not being tortured" in US captivity in AfghanistanJohn Walker Lindh "not being tortured" in US captivity in Afghanistan

Lindh is in the seventh year of a 20-year sentence for “carrying a weapon” in Afghanistan and for “providing assistance” to an enemy of the United States. The first charge is ridiculously minor (after all, it’s what almost everyone in Texas does everyday). The second is actually a violation of a law intended for use against US companies that trade with proscribed countries on a government “no trade” list like Cuba or North Korea. Ordinarily, violation results in a fine for the executives involved.

Brave Afghan Vet Demands Answers From Congress

Share: Email | Post on Facebook | About Rick Reyes

Thanks to your efforts, we were able to bring Rick Reyes, a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, to Congress's attention. A former Corporal in the US Marines, Reyes was powerful and truthful as he told Senator John Kerry and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "I urge you on behalf of truth and patriotism to consider carefully and rethink Afghanistan. More troops, more occupation is not the answer."

Much more inside.

Tomgram: Questions to Ask in the Dead of Night

Tomgram: Questions to Ask in the Dead of Night

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: I'm proud to tell you that TomDispatch Associate Editor Nick Turse has just received a prestigious Ridenhour Prize -- named after the remarkable GI who first blew the whistle on the My Lai massacre -- for "reportorial distinction." It was for his powerful piece, "A My Lai a Month," on the mass killing of civilians during the Vietnam War, published by the Nation magazine. I was at the ceremonies, and it was an event to remember. You can check out this year's prizes by clicking here -- don't miss Bob Herbert's acceptance speech -- and you can watch Nick accept his award by clicking here. You might also check out Nick's TomDispatch piece on two Vietnamese peasants who lost their legs in that war. In its wake, U.S. Vietnam veterans and others put together a small fund that provided new prosthetic limbs for those two men, a small accomplishment that also leaves TomDispatch proud.

In addition, a recommendation: The filmmaker Robert Greenwald (Outfoxed, Iraq for Sale) is now producing a new film on the Af-Pak war and -- an innovative act -- releasing it, part by part, in "real time" on-line. It's called Rethink Afghanistan and it's a must watch. Part three, "The Cost of War," has just been posted. Check out the first three parts by clicking here and visit Greenwald's website Rethink Afghanistan, all part of a documentary campaign to raise public awareness about the war and affect Congressional oversight hearings. The work of both Turse and Greenwald is germane to the piece that follows. Tom]

Killing Civilians
How Safe Do You Actually Want to Be?
By Tom Engelhardt

Almost like clockwork, the reports float up to us from thousands of miles away, as if from another universe. Every couple of days they seem to arrive from Afghan villages that few Americans will ever see without weapon in hand. Every few days, they appear from a world almost beyond our imagining, and always they concern death -- so many lives snuffed out so regularly for more than seven years now. Unfortunately, those news stories are so unimportant in our world that they seldom make it onto, no less off of, the inside pages of our papers. They're so repetitive that, once you've started reading them, you could write them in your sleep from thousands of miles away.

Like obituaries, they follow a simple pattern. Often the news initially arrives buried in summary war reports based on U.S. military (or NATO) announcements of small triumphs -- so many "insurgents," or "terrorists," or "foreign militants," or "anti-Afghan forces" killed in an air strike or a raid on a house or a village. And these days, often remarkably quickly, even in the same piece, come the challenges. Some local official or provincial governor or police chief in the area hit insists that those dead "terrorists" or "militants" were actually so many women, children, old men, innocent civilians, members of a wedding party or a funeral.

Clinton Says Pakistan is Abdicating to the Taliban

Clinton says Pakistan is abdicating to the Taliban
By Arshad Mohammed | Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Pakistan's government has abdicated to the Taliban in agreeing to impose Islamic law in the Swat valley and the country now poses a "mortal threat" to the world, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday.

Surging violence across Pakistan and the spread of Taliban influence through its northwest are reviving concerns about the stability of the nuclear-armed country, an important U.S. ally vital to efforts to stabilize neighboring Afghanistan.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who on March 27 unveiled a new strategy that seeks to crush al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Afghanistan and those operating from across the border in Pakistan, meets the presidents of both countries May 6-7.

Reservists Might Be Used in Afghanistan To Fill Civilian Jobs

Reservists Might Be Used in Afghanistan To Fill Civilian Jobs
By Karen DeYoung | Washington Post

Military reservists may be asked to volunteer to fill many of the hundreds of additional U.S. civilian positions in Afghanistan called for in the Obama administration's strategy for that nation and neighboring Pakistan, officials said yesterday.

Although the State Department is still recruiting agronomists, engineers, accountants and other experts for Afghanistan, "pressure coming from the president for action is making us consider that some of the people might come from the reserves," one senior administration official said.

U.S. Lacks Capacity to Win Over Afghans

U.S. Lacks Capacity to Win Over Afghans
By Gareth Porter | IPS

President Barack Obama and other top officials in his administration have made it clear that there can be no military solution in Afghanistan, and that the non-military efforts to win over the Afghan population will be central to its chances of success.

The reality, however, is that U.S. military and civilian agencies lack the skills and training as well as the institutional framework necessary to carry out culturally and politically sensitive socio-economic programmes at the local level in Afghanistan, or even to avoid further alienation of the population.

Afghan IED Threat

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