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Whistling Past the Afghan Graveyard: Where Empires Go to Die
By Tom Engelhardt | TomDispatch.com
It is now a commonplace -- as a lead article in the New York Times's Week in Review pointed out recently -- that Afghanistan is "the graveyard of empires." Given Barack Obama's call for a greater focus on the Afghan War ("we took our eye off the ball when we invaded Iraq..."), and given indications that a "surge" of U.S. troops is about to get underway there, Afghanistan's dangers have been much in the news lately. Some of the writing on this subject, including recent essays by Juan Cole at Salon.com, Robert Dreyfuss at the Nation, and John Robertson at the War in Context website, has been incisive on just how the new administration's policy initiatives might transform Afghanistan and the increasingly unhinged Pakistani tribal borderlands into "Obama's War."
Q: In the Christian Science Monitor recently, an article described a growing peace movement in Afghanistan, saying "The National Peace Jirga also organized a series of peace assemblies in recent months, drawing thousands of people. The meetings often feature fiery speakers who condemn international forces for killing civilians but who also criticize the Taliban." What are your feelings and thoughts about these peace jirga initiatives?
A: Afghans are absolutely tired of war and violence. We want to live and raise our families in peace. We also know we are pawns of the US policy against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's forces, and that our government is corrupt and only acting in its own self-interest. We are caught between the warlords, the drug lords, corrupt government officials, international armies, and the Taliban. None of these major players have an interest in peace.
The closest thing to good news about the future of U.S. engagement in Afghanistan is that while the Obama administration is committed to sending as many as 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan, several news stories have suggested that the purpose of doing so is to achieve a bit more stability to buy time to reevaluate the situation and develop a new strategy. If the administration is wise, that reevaluation will be thoroughgoing and lead to the sensible conclusion that the U.S. has no interest in what kind of government rules Afghanistan so long as it isn't harboring al-Qaeda bases, which should lead to a decision that this goal has been achieved and it's time to withdraw all U.S. forces and let the Afghans run Afghanistan.
US strikes Central Asia deal to supply troops in Afghanistan
The US has signed agreements allowing it to transport military supplies for Afghanistan through Central Asia following attacks by the Taliban on the Khyber Pass.
By Ben Farmer | Telegraph UK
General David Petraeus, the US commander in the region, said that deals with Russia and several other countries had been reached.
Coalition forces in Afghanistan have been forced to look at alternative routes into Afghanistan after fighting and attacks on convoys in Pakistan have exposed the vulnerability of the main supply route over the Khyber Pass.
Supplies intended for NATO forces in Afghanistan were suspended Tuesday after Taliban militants blew up a highway bridge in the Khyber Pass region, a lawless northwestern tribal area straddling the border with Afghanistan.
Hidayatullah Khan, a government official in the region, was quoted by Reuters as saying that the 30-yard-long iron bridge was located 15 miles northwest of Peshawar, the capital of the restive North-West Frontier Province.
Pakistani officials said they were assessing the damage and teams had been sent to repair the bridge. But it was not immediately clear how soon the trucks carrying crucial supplies for NATO forces would be able to travel through the Khyber Pass to Afghanistan.
When you stop to think about it, people measure how well their lives are going not by their absolute state of being but by their situation relative to their expectations. For example, a poor person in a developing country may be ecstatic about getting a pair of shoes for the first time; in contrast, a billionaire may commit suicide after he loses $100 million in a down market.
The same is true for nations. The American elite has enjoyed the United States’ dominant status in the world since World War II and became thoroughly drunk with U.S. superiority in the last two decades after the demise of the Soviet Union left the country as the only superpower. This elite is resistant to accepting the reality that a multipolar world will soon be at hand.
By Norman Solomon
The United States began its war in Afghanistan 88 months ago. “The war on terror” has no sunset clause. As a perpetual emotion machine, it offers to avenge what can never heal and to fix grief that is irreparable.
For the crimes against humanity committed on Sept. 11, 2001, countless others are to follow, with huge conceits about technological “sophistication” and moral superiority. But if we scrape away the concrete of media truisms, we may reach substrata where some poets have dug.
W.H. Auden: “Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return.”
Stanley Kunitz: “In a murderous time / the heart breaks and breaks / and lives by breaking.”
By Susanne Koelbl, Spiegel
The approach to combatting the drug mafia in Afghanistan has spurred an open rift inside NATO. According to information obtained by SPIEGEL, top NATO commander John Craddock wants the alliance to kill opium dealers, without proof of connection to the insurgency. NATO commanders, however, do not want to follow the order.
A dispute has emerged among NATO High Command in Afghanistan regarding the conditions under which alliance troops can use deadly violence against those identified as insurgents. In a classified document, which SPIEGEL has obtained, NATO's top commander, US General John Craddock, has issued a "guidance" providing NATO troops with the authority "to attack directly drug producers and facilities throughout Afghanistan."
By Dave Lindorff
President Barack Obama and his economic team are being careful to couch all their talk about economic stimulus programs and bank bailout programs in warnings that the economic downturn is serious and that it will take considerable time to bounce back.
I’m reminded of an experience I had with Chinese medicine when I was living in Shanghai back in 1992. I had come down with a nasty case of the flu while teaching journalism at Fudan University on a Fulbright Scholar program.
By ANNE GEARAN, AP
WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday "we are lost" unless the United States can find a way not to kill so many civilians in the pursuit of militants in Afghanistan, and that flooding the chaotic country with U.S. troops would be a disaster.
Gates, the only Republican Cabinet member whom President Barack Obama asked to stay on, told a Senate panel that the Pentagon could send two more brigades to Afghanistan by late spring and a third brigade by late summer to try to salvage a war that has ground to a grim standoff with entrenched and resourceful militants.
But Gates said he is deeply skeptical about adding any more U.S. forces after that, in part because military dominion in Afghanistan has failed for every great power that tried it.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden is a famously garrulous guy. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he would talk endlessly about what went wrong in Iraq or how to engage Iran, offering tutorials on the modern histories of those countries, and winding around to a seven-point plans about what needs to happen next.
So it was pretty noticeable on Sunday, when Bob Schieffer of CBS asked Mr. Biden a seemingly straightforward question about whether the United States would notify Pakistan before sending forces on cross-border raids to capture or kill al Qaeda or insurgents from the country’s ungovernable tribal areas, that Mr. Biden shut up.
By David Leppard, Times
PRESIDENT Barack Obama has asked Britain to supply up to 4,000 extra frontline troops to help a planned American surge of forces in Afghanistan, defence sources say.
The request poses a dilemma for Gordon Brown because the Ministry of Defence (MoD) believes it can only spare 1,700 extra troops.
Obama has identified the Afghan conflict as an American priority and wants Britain to be a key partner. The new US strategy is likely to test the “special relationship” between the two allies, putting Brown under pressure to show commitment to the Afghan conflict by announcing an increase in troop numbers.
Patrick Mercer, the Tory MP for Newark and chairman of the Commons counter-terrorism subcommittee, said he understood defence planners had concluded that the army was too overstretched to provide a full brigade.
By Mohammad Rafiq, Reuters
MEHTAR LAM, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Thousands of Afghans protested against President Hamid Karzai and the United States on Sunday over reports of fresh civilian deaths caused by U.S.-led troops during a raid against Taliban militants.
The issue of civilian casualties is sensitive in Afghanistan and has eroded public support for Karzai's government and the foreign troops backing it.
It has also caused a rift between Karzai and his Western allies more than seven years after U.S.-led and Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban's government.
The operation causing the latest controversy happened this week in eastern Laghman province. The U.S. military said on Saturday that troops, backed by air support, had killed 15 militants in an overnight operation.
Assadullah Wafa, a Karzai adviser investigating the deaths, said on Sunday that "16 civilians, many of them children and women, were killed" in the operation.
By Norman Solomon
A few days after the inauguration, in a piece celebrating the arrival of the Obama administration, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert wrote that the new president has clearly signaled: “No more crazy wars.”
Last week -- and 44 years ago -- there were many reasons to celebrate the inauguration of a president after the defeat of a right-wing Republican opponent. But in the midst of numerous delightful fragrances in the air, a bad political odor is apt to be almost ineffable.
Right now, on the subject of the Afghan war, what dominates the discourse in Washington is narrowness of political vision -- while news outlets are reporting that the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan is expected to “as much as double this year to 60,000 troops.”
By Dave Lindorff
American foreign policy is moving from the absurd to the ludicrous.
Back in 2002, President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney managed to snooker the people of the United States, or at least a large number of us, into believing that Iraq, a pathetic Third World country ruled by a corrupt tin-pot dictator, was a grave danger to America, akin to Hitler and Nazi Germany in 1940. We learned how absurd that claim was when two hundred thousand American troops backed by the mightiest air force the world has ever seen, slammed into the country in March, 2003, and the Iraqi military simply folded up, and the Saddam regime along with it.
It was early in October 2001, and I had been invited to New York City on behalf of The History Channel for a show in which I was to discuss the situation in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. I was pitted against a seasoned American diplomat who had made his reputation negotiating peace accords in difficult corners of the world. I felt a little out of place, since my area of expertise was arms control and disarmament, and specifically how arms control was being implemented in Iraq. I had written a few scholarly articles about Afghan-Soviet relations, with a focus on the ethnic and tribal aspects of Afghan politics, and in the mid-1980s I had been an analyst with the Marine Corps component of the rapid deployment force, following very closely the Soviet war against the Afghan mujahedeen, so I wasn’t totally out of my element.
So let me suggest a truly audacious hope for your administration: How about a five-year time-out on war -- unless, of course, there is a genuine threat to the nation? During that interval, we could work with the U.N. World Food Program, plus the overseas arms of the churches, synagogues, mosques and other volunteer agencies to provide a nutritious lunch every day for every school-age child in Afghanistan and other poor countries.
As you settle into the Oval Office, Mr. President, may I offer a suggestion? Please do not try to put Afghanistan aright with the U.S. military. To send our troops out of Iraq and into Afghanistan would be a near-perfect example of going from the frying pan into the fire. There is reason to believe some of our top military commanders privately share this view. And so does a broad and growing swath of your party and your supporters.
A new start with the Muslim world, as pledged by President Obama in his inaugural speech, has a sine qua non: a Palestinian settlement, a quest that has eluded the last five U.S. presidents. Following Israel's invasion of Gaza and its 22-day campaign of airstrikes, tank and artillery bombardment that left 1,300 Palestinians killed for the loss of only 13 Israeli soldiers, a Palestinian state remains a diplomatic chimera.
Russia and neighboring Central Asian nations have agreed to let supplies pass through their territory to American soldiers in Afghanistan, lessening Washington's dependence on dangerous routes through Pakistan, a top U.S. commander said Tuesday.
Securing alternative routes to landlocked Afghanistan has taken on added urgency this year as the United States prepares to double troop numbers there to 60,000 to battle a resurgent Taliban eight years after the U.S.-led invasion.
By Saeed Shah in Islamabad, The Guardian
The US military is investigating claims that more than two dozen Afghan civilians were killed during an attack on militants. The issue has badly undermined support for the international coalition and President Hamid Karzai.
As Karzai seeks re-election later this year, he has used the issue of civilian deaths to try to distance himself from the west and has repeatedly called for more care to be taken by coalition troops.
A night-time raid on Monday killed 19 militants, some 30 miles north of Kabul, the US said. But, according to some reports, civilians died. Taliban fighters tend to use ordinary homes as cover, making it difficult for Afghan and international forces to avoid harming innocent bystanders.
U.S. General David Petraeus met Afghan President Hamid Karzai overnight, U.S. officials said on Wednesday, after the regional military chief said deals had been made on new transport routes into Afghanistan from Central Asia.
The U.S. military has had to look at new ways to help supply its troops in the landlocked country from the north after Taliban militants have attacked and torched dozens of trucks carrying supplies on the main route through Pakistan.
That need to supplement the Pakistan route is even more great now as the President Barack Obama is expected to soon approve plans to almost double the 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan as part of his pledge to make the war one of his top priorities.
By Gareth Porter
The front-page story in the Washington Post Tuesday reports the intention of Barack Obama to commit a stunningly irrational blunder: to escalate dramatically the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan even though he has no clear proposal from the Pentagon on what is to be accomplished with the new "surge" in troops.
The president-elect "intends to sign off on Pentagon plans to send up to 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan," according to the Post. But it adds that Obama's national security team sees the troop increase as doing nothing more than "help buy enough time for the new administration to reappraise the entire Afghanistan war effort and develop a comprehensive new strategy...."
By Dave Lindorff
Congress should do now what it should have done back in the fall: kill the Wall Street bailout program.
After wasting $350 billion on a program that was misrepresented from the outset, and investing hundreds of billions of dollars in failing financial institutions that it could have bought outright for less than it was investing in them (AIG was worth only a few billion dollars in total at the time that the government bailed the company out with an initial investment of $85 billion and Citicorp today is worth less than the $45 billion the government has invested in that failing firm), the Treasury Department, now acting at the direction not of the Bush administration and outgoing Treasurer Hank Paulson, but the Obama administration, is asking for the other half of the Troubled Assets Relief Fund (TARP).
With Afghanistan, it always seems to be more and worse. More American (and NATO) troops "surging" in, more Taliban control in the countryside, more insurgent attacks, more sophisticated roadside bombs, more deadly suicide bombings, more dead American and NATO troops, more problems with U.S. supply lines into Afghanistan, more civilian deaths from American and NATO military operations, more U.S. bases being built, more billions of U.S. dollars needed for military operations -- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently indicated that the build-up of U.S. forces alone in that country in the next fiscal year could cost an extra $5.5 billion -- and, of course, yet more reports and studies indicating that everything yet tried to "stabilize" Afghanistan has gone desperately wrong.
by Linda Milazzo
I don't believe in god. I never have. I don't believe in religions. I study them, but I don't practice them. I try to understand them to be sensitive to the beliefs and traditions of others, and to attempt to appreciate the motivations behind religious thought and deed. But they are irrelevant to living my life.
Long ago as a freshman at CUNY's Queens College I was introduced to Taoism. Taoism began in ancient China as a religion, then morphed into a dogma free/deity free philosophy. Since my late teens I've tried hard to apply MY understanding of my Tao to my life. I have the freedom to choose my own path and not judge the paths of others. But since I have freedom of opinion, I fall prey to judge. I try not to. But I do.
Through the Tao, I'm both a peacemaker and a warrior since Taoism couples with the art of self-defense. I understand my right to protect myself when needed, and to protect the defenseless when they need me. Since I'm by nature protective, it suits my sensibilities to aid the weak, where I fancy myself absurdly as inordinately strong.
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post
Earlier this month, standing at Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the United States is making a "sustained commitment" to that country, one that will last "some protracted period of time."
A series of new proposals coming out of the Pentagon make clear a significant aspect of that commitment: up to $300 million in construction projects at the base, in order to house more than 5,000 additional American forces. And the timeline of the proposals appears to indicate that these troops would arrive in Afghanistan much later in 2009 than U.S. officials have announced thus far.
by Linda Milazzo
For years since the United States invaded Iraq, I've witnessed countless photo and video images of innocent civilians - men, women, teens and children - being rudely and aggressively threatened by hired uniformed militants (mostly men), wielding guns. I've seen these images from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Haiti, Palestine, and more. Whether they be armed American military threatening Iraqis, armed Israeli soldiers threatening Palestinians, or armed Ethiopian troops threatening Somalis, the images have always disturbed me. There's an inherent injustice to such blatant imbalance of power. An injustice I suffered recently myself.
The oddity here is that unlike those less fortunate innocents in war zones who faced the guns of hired aggressors, I was not in a war zone when I faced mine. I wasn't even in a high crime zone. I was in a gentle middle class suburb, where my aggressor, an armed Brinks, Inc. security guard, was in full combat-mode performing his non war-zone duty. My aggressor more typified the machismo of a Blackwater guard than the demeanor of community-minded Brinks, when he flailed his loaded gun at me, as though he'd done it often before. My armed Brinks aggressor was not merely disrespectful. He was downright hostile and dangerous. He treated me as his enemy and freely showed me his force.
Here's how it happened: