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By Norman Solomon
Hours after President Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress, the New York Times printed the news that he plans to gradually withdraw “American combat forces” from Iraq during the next 18 months. The newspaper reported that the advantages of the pullout will include “relieving the strain on the armed forces and freeing up resources for Afghanistan.”
The president’s speech had little to say about the plans for escalation, but the few words will come back to haunt: “With our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat Al Qaida and combat extremism, because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens halfway around the world. We will not allow it.”
By RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr., NY Times
KABUL, Afghanistan — An airstrike by the United States-led military coalition killed 13 civilians and 3 militants last Tuesday in western Afghanistan, not “up to 15 militants” as was initially claimed by American forces, military officials here said Saturday.
The civilians killed included three children, six women and four men in the Gozara district of Herat Province, in addition to three people suspected of being Taliban fighters, according to an aide to the provincial governor.
American and NATO forces have come under increasing criticism from Afghans and political leaders in Kabul for the soaring number of civilians killed by airstrikes and fighting between Taliban and American-led forces.
By Globe and Mail/Canada
KABUL - The word "Guantanamo" serves as shorthand among some Afghans for all the reasons they hate foreign troops, but the impending closing of the notorious prison has gotten surprisingly little attention in this country.
Nothing changed with last month's U.S. presidential order to close Guantanamo, many people here say, because another prison inspires even greater fear: Bagram.
Even a man who could be expected to feel the most joy about Guantanamo closing, a former detainee who spent more than six years in the camp, quickly turns the conversation to the detention facility north of Kabul, inside the U.S. military base at Bagram.
"Everybody is happy because our friends will be released from Guantanamo, but there is a big question," said Omar al-Madani, 30, who now lives in Kabul. "What will they do about Bagram?"
The death of an American arms dealer in Iraq has led to one of the most intricate and far-reaching inquiries into corruption among US military officers in Iraq. Some suspect that he was killed because he was a whistleblower who knew too much.
When Dale Stoffel, 43, was gunned down on his way into Baghdad at the height of the insurgency in Iraq, his murder appeared all too predictable. He was an adventurer who seemed to have met his end at the hands of jihadists while engaged in one of the riskiest businesses on the planet.
We're looking only forward ... to detention, torture, murder, and war. NOW does anyone understand the need to prosecute the last guy and -- if we don't -- how hard it will be to prosecute this one?
Very Bad News: Afghanistan's Bagram Air Base Will Be Obama's Guantanamo
By Stephen Foley, Independent UK
Less than a month after signing an executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, President Barack Obama has quietly agreed to keep denying the right to trial to hundreds more terror suspects held at a makeshift camp in Afghanistan that human rights lawyers have dubbed "Obama's Guantanamo."
Afghanistan and the Soviet Withdrawal 1989 - 20 Years Later
Edited by Svetlana Savranskaya and Thomas Blanton | National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 272
Tribute to Alexander Lyakhovsky Includes Previously Secret Soviet Documents; 1985 Decision to Withdraw Delayed by Face-Saving and Stability Concerns
The documents suggest that the Soviet decision to withdraw occurred as early as 1985, but the process of implementing that decision was excruciatingly slow, in part because the Soviet-backed Afghan regime was never able to achieve the necessary domestic support and legitimacy – a key problem even today for the current U.S. and NATO-supported government in Kabul....The documents suggest that the Soviet decision to withdraw occurred as early as 1985, but the process of implementing that decision was excruciatingly slow, in part because the Soviet-backed Afghan regime was never able to achieve the necessary domestic support and legitimacy – a key problem even today for the current U.S. and NATO-supported government in Kabul....deputy CIA director Robert Gates famously bet a State Department diplomat on New Year’s Eve 1987 that Gorbachev would make no withdrawal announcement until after the end of the Reagan administration. Gates believed the Chinese saying about the Soviet appetite for territory: “What the bear has eaten, he never spits out” – and only in his memoirs did he admit he was making “an intelligence forecast based on fortune cookie wisdom.”
Remembrance ceremonies marking the 20th anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan have been held in Russia, amid warnings the US risks repeating the mistakes Moscow made during the conflict.
Events in Russia and other former Soviet states on Sunday were low-key, with wreaths laid at memorials and medals handed out to veterans.
The war, which began in 1979, left more than 13,000 Soviets dead and may have killed as many as one million Afghans.
"It's like fighting sand. No force in the world can get the better of the Afghans," Oleg Kubanov, a former officer, said at an anniversary concert in Moscow.
"It's their holy land, it doesn't matter to them if you're Russian, American. We're all soldiers to them."
The war contributed to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
...the executive director of The Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, "In recent weeks...Defense Secretary Robert Gates "turned the old way of doing things on its head." "Instead of immediately denying civilian deaths, which deeply angers Afghans and with good reason, he said the U.S. will instead immediately investigate, make apologies and provide amends where appropriate," she said. ...The report said U.S., NATO and Afghan forces killed 829 civilians, or 39 percent of the 2008 total. Of those, 552 deaths were blamed on airstrikes. Militants were blamed for 55 percent of the deaths, or 1,160.
By Joseph L. Galloway, McClatchy Newspapers
President Barack Obama this week announced that he was ordering an additional 17,000 American troops to Afghanistan, more than half the reinforcements that ground commanders have been seeking for months.
By providing that half a loaf, the new president hopes to buy some time to absorb and analyze new strategic studies of a protracted, long-neglected war that's been going south on us at an alarming pace.
America’s ground commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. David McKiernan, welcomed the news of the reinforcements that'll be on their way this spring and summer, but in a frank assessment of the situation, he said that we are "at best stalemated" in the war against a resilient, home-grown enemy that's proving to be very adaptable and dangerous.
By Gareth Porter, IPS
WASHINGTON, Feb 20 (IPS) - President Barack Obama decided to approve only 17,000 of the 30,000 troops requested by Gen. David McKiernan, the top commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, and Gen. David Petraeus, the CENTCOM commander, after McKiernan was unable to tell him how they would be used, according to White House sources.
But Obama is likely to be pressured by McKiernan and the Joint Chiefs to approve the remaining 13,000 troops requested after the completion of an Afghanistan-Pakistan policy review next month.
As the $787 billion stimulus bill snaked its way through the House and the Senate and finally landed under the pen of President Obama, my predominant thought has been holy cow -- that's a lot of money!
Sen. John Thune was even kind enough to explain to CSPAN viewers last week how a stack of hundred dollar bills totaling $787 billion, wrapped side by side, would encircle the Earth nearly 39 times. As unsettling as this new financial commitment may be, it is at least an attempt to help more Americans achieve some semblance of economic security.
The stimulus package was aggressively attacked by fiscal conservatives who have been outspoken about the "pet projects" in the bill, and the wasteful programs that will weigh down future generations with massive debt. Point taken.
By Bill Christofferson
This is not exactly a man-bites-dog story, but at least three members of Congress have expressed their support for a campaign to contact members of Congress and urge them to end the occupation of Iraq.
And a fourth has joined protesters at their regular vigil.
Representatives Barbara Lee, Lynn Woolsey, and George Miller -- all California Democrats -- have written the Raise Hell for Molly Ivins campaign to encourage it to continue raising hell. Meanwhile, Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, joined a vigil in Wyandotte, MI. (He's at left in photo)
The Ivins campaign has been urging people to use the Third Friday of every month -- Iraq Moratorium day -- to contact Congresspeople in their home offices and ask them to get US troops out of Iraq. Friday, Feb. 20, is Iraq Moratorium #18.
"Afghanistan needs troops--but it needs troops of doctors, troops of teachers, troops of Peace Corps volunteers, and troops of farmers to go and replant the fruit orchards."
--Kavita Ramdas, President and CEO of Global Fund for Women
From Code Pink:
We danced the "Yes We Can-Can" on Inauguration day as we applauded President Obama's promises to take our nation in a new direction. With his recent announcement of an additional 17,000 troops to be deployed to Afghanistan, we see change come to a screeching halt and a dangerous continuation of the same failed US policies of the Bush era blaze forward. Just as in Iraq, misplaced hope in military solutions is pushing peaceful strategies to the back seat. Take action and help President Obama do the right thing- we need an escalation in peaceful alternatives, not military force!
Call 202-456-1111 today! Tell the Administration that we want:
1) Reduction of troop levels in Afghanistan
Rogue forces operating outside any established chain of command, killing civilians and bowing to no outside authority: these are what the U.S. government would ordinarily define as "terrorists."...Mr. Mohammed said he was taken to a nearby base, interrogated for several hours and let go as sunrise neared. When he returned home, Mr. Mohammed said, he went next door to his son’s house, only to find that most of his family had been killed: the son, Nurallah, and his pregnant wife and two of his sons, Abdul Basit, age 1, and Mohammed, 2. Only Mr. Mohammed’s 4-year-old grandson, Zarqawi, survived. “The soldiers had a right to search our house,” Mr. Mohammed said. “But they didn’t have a right to do this.”
Yesterday, President Obama announced his decision to send 17,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, on the grounds that 'the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan demands urgent attention'.
United For Peace and Justice strongly opposes this decision. We urge you to immediately call on President Obama to choose diplomacy, not escalation. We must let him know that a military solution is not the answer in Afghanistan. Call 202-456-1111 today!
Tell the Administration that:
1) You oppose the president's decision to send 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan this week.
2) You want to see this administration take a new approach in Afghanistan, which includes:
o Reducing troop levels in Afghanistan and rejecting the idea that there is a military solution to the region's problems
o Rapidly withdrawing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan
o A commitment to diplomacy involving all major regional players, including major international peace-keeping bodies
Civilian casualties in Afghanistan's escalating conflict have increased by 39 per cent over the last year, hitting their worst-ever level, according to a United Nations report.
A total of 2,118 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in 2008, the deadliest year since US-ousted the Taliban in 2001, the world body said in a report released on Tuesday.
"This disquieting pattern demands that the parties to the conflict take all necessary measures to avoid the killing of civilians," the report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan human rights unit said.
US-led forces, Nato troops and other pro-government forces were responsible for 39 per cent of the civilian deaths, according to the report.
By: David S. Cloud
February 16, 2009 03:59 AM EST
President Barack Obama is refusing to be rushed into his first decision to send troops into combat, an early sign he may be more independent-minded than U.S. military leaders expected.
The new president's methodical decision-making offers an early insight into how the new commander in chief will approach the war in Afghanistan and has surprised some Pentagon officials, who had predicted repeatedly in the past two weeks that Obama would decide within days on additional forces, only to find the White House taking more time.
Rather than sign off quickly on all or part of a long-standing Pentagon request for three Army combat brigades and Marine units, totaling over 10,000 troops, Obama and his aides are questioning the timetable, the mission and even the composition of the new forces, officials familiar with the deliberations said.
'Pashtunistan' holds key to Obama mission
By Jason Burke, Yama Omid, Paul Harris, Saeed Shah, Gethin Chamberlain | Guardian UK
The mountainous borderlands where Afghanistan meets Pakistan have been described as a Grand Central Station for Islamic terrorists, a place where militants come and go and the Taliban trains its fighters. Now Barack Obama has made solving the 'Af-Pak' question a top priority. But could the battle to tame the Pashtun heartland become his Vietnam?
"The situation there grows more perilous every day," Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the American joint chiefs of staff, told journalists earlier this month. Holbrooke reaches for the ultimate comparison: "It's tougher than Iraq."...For Bashir, a Kabul taxi driver, the Americans would leave. "The Soviets couldn't stay in our country. How can the Americans stay?" he asked.
When: Sunday, February 15, 2009 Time: 2:00pm-4:00pm
Newly Released Documents Show That U.S. Prisoners Were Killed By Torture Within Two Days of Rumsfeld's Authorization
Read this. NOW can we stop the damn "waterboarding" debate and talk about the sorts of torture primarily engaged in by our taxpayer funded murderers?
Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered a review Tuesday of a Pentagon policy banning media from taking pictures of flag-draped coffins of military dead, signaling he was open to overturning the policy to better honor fallen soldiers.
At least two Democratic senators have called on President Barack Obama to let news photographers attend ceremonies at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and other military facilities when military remains are returned to the United States. Obama told reporters Monday he was reviewing the ban.
Tomorrow, February 12, the House Armed Services Committee is convening a hearing on 'U.S. Strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan: Balancing Interests and Resources'.
This is a large committee with 60 Representatives from many states around the country. United For Peace and Justice urges you to take a few minutes to help us put pressure on the House Armed Services Committee to use this hearing to raise the hard question, and put on the table the most critical issues about these two wars!
Here are the steps you need to take:
1) Click here for the full list of the members of the House Armed Services Committee.
2) Check that list to see if your Representative serves on the committee. If you find that person's name, click on that and it will take you to their website. From there, you will find the best phone number to use.
Excuse Me, Mr. President
By Dave Lindorff
I can’t count how many people have bombarded me with criticisms, usually laced with insults and often obscenities, when I have written articles calling for pressure on Democratic politicians to do the right thing, whether that is impeaching the last president and vice president for war crimes or in the case of our new president, standing and fighting for a people’s bailout, instead of a Wall Street bailout.
The common refrain I hear is that the Democrats and Republicans are the same, and that we need a third party. Another common refrain is that “all you suckers” who voted for Obama are to blame. We should have voted for Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader, they say.
Now I have nothing against McKinney and Nader. That ticket would make for a wonderful administration, I agree. But I also have to point out that there is zero chance of these two people being elected in my lifetime (I’m 59 and pretty healthy) or theirs.
Anti-war lawmakers worry over plan for Afghanistan
By Anne Flaherty | YahooNews!
David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency adviser to Condoleezza Rice when she was secretary of state, recently warned senators against widening U.S. involvement in the war."If you think about what we did in Vietnam, we escalated, we overthrew that leader, we took control of the problem, we tried to fix it and we couldn't fix it, couldn't afford it," said Kilcullen, a former Australian Army officer, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "And I just think we need to be extremely careful about signing ourselves up to escalating to the point where we can't pullback. ... Because once you own the problem, you own it," he said.
By Sarah Baxter and Michael Smith, Times of London
PRESIDENT Barack Obama has demanded that American defence chiefs review their strategy in Afghanistan before going ahead with a troop surge.
There is concern among senior Democrats that the military is preparing to send up to 30,000 extra troops without a coherent plan or exit strategy.
The Pentagon was set to announce the deployment of 17,000 extra soldiers and marines last week but Robert Gates, the defence secretary, postponed the decision after questions from Obama.
The president was concerned by a lack of strategy at his first meeting with Gates and the US joint chiefs of staff last month in “the tank”, the secure conference room in the Pentagon. He asked: “What’s the endgame?” and did not receive a convincing answer.
By Lisa Schirch, Common Ground News Service
Washington, DC - As policymakers in Washington assess the best way forward in Afghanistan, they should heed advice from thousands of Afghan civil society leaders working to improve their country. While divided in their support for a troop surge, Afghan civil society leaders are unanimous in wanting a shift in the US approach to their country. Afghanistan needs a "3D" strategy with a better balance and better divisions of labour between military defense, diplomacy and development.
Expensive, short-term solutions, such as the proposed additional 20,000 troops, might help quell violence in the short term. But without more promising policy options – such as a diplomatic and development surge – these civil society leaders say a troop surge won't build a foundation for Afghanistan's future.
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."