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Afghanistan: the pace of withdrawals accelerates; House letter supporting that action

By John Isaacs, Livable World

On February 1, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that the United States will end its combat missions in Afghanistan by “mid- to the latter part of 2013.”

This announcement – whether intended by the Obama Administration at this time is not clear – marks a welcome and accelerated withdrawal timetable. Previously, combat operations were supposed to end in 2014.

The New York Times called the pronouncement “a major milestone toward ending a decade of war in Afghanistan.”

The sooner American military forces exit from Afghanistan – after spending so many lives and treasure – the better.

This step was pressed for in amendments offered last year in the Senate by Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and in the House by Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC).

Many questions still remain.  While Sec. Panetta has indicated a shift towards an "training, advice and assist" role, there has been too little clarity on what this means, including whether there will be what Panetta calls “an enduring presence” in Afghanistan that could continue for years and what will be the actual timetable for the withdrawal.

In support of the Administration’s decision, a bipartisan group of six House members is circulated for signatures a letter to go to President Obama.

The 20 signers thus far as of 2/8 are (and this list will be updated daily):

Justin Amash (MI)
Bruce Braley (IA)
Lois Capps (CA)
Judy Chu (CA)
John Conyers, Jr. (MI)
Jimmy Duncan, Jr. (TN)
Sam Farr (CA)
John Garamendi (CA)
Raul Grijalva (AZ)
Janice Hahn (CA)
Martin Heinrich (NM)
Jesse Jackson, Jr. (IL)
Walter Jones (NC)
Barbara Lee (CA)
John Lewis (GA)
Ben Ray Luján (NM)
Jim McGovern (MA)
Gary Peters (MI)
Henry Waxman (CA)
Lynn Woolsey (CA)

(Republicans bolded)

The letter follows:

The Honorable Barack Obama
President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President,

           We write to express our support for the Administration’s announcement on February 1st that the United States will complete combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of next year.

           From information reported in the media, the U.S. intends to transition from major combat operations in Afghanistan to a “training, advice and assist role” by the middle-to-latter part of 2013.  We applaud this announcement by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to accelerate the transition away from combat operations, and it provides assurance that the timeframe outlined in your 2009 speech at West Point will be carried out.  As you know, many of us support an even more rapid withdrawal of all our troops from Afghanistan.

           The majority of Americans want a safe and orderly military withdrawal from Afghanistan as quickly as possible, as recent public opinion polls indicate. The desire by the American people for an accelerated transition in Afghanistan was reflected in votes taken in Congress last year, in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate during their respective debates on amendments offered by Representatives McGovern and Jones and by Senator Merkley to the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act.  These votes show there is strong bipartisan political support to take bold steps regarding U.S. policy in Afghanistan.

           The past 10 years have cost America dearly in the blood and sacrifice of our military servicemen and women and their families, and in our nation’s fiscal health and security. The United States intervened in Afghanistan to destroy al Qaeda’s safe haven, remove th Taliban government that sheltered al Qaeda, and pursue those who planned the September 11th attacks on the United States; those objectives have largely been met and no longer require a large presence of combat troops in Afghanistan.  While questions remain about the details of the announced transition – when and how quickly U.S. troops will be coming home, the number and purpose of troops that might remain in Afghanistan and for how long a period, the costs and the savings of accelerating the completion of combat operations – the February 1st announcement clearly signals that now is the moment to initiate the transition, end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home.

Sincerely,
Members of Congress

US Iran Policy in 'Lockstep' with Israel?: President Obama Risks Becoming a Major-League War Criminal

 

By Dave Lindorff

 

It’s a relief to know that President Obama’s “preferred” solution to dealing with disagreements with Iran is diplomacy, as he said yesterday in an interview on NBC TV, but at the same time, it’s profoundly disturbing that he is simultaneously saying that, as an AP report on the interview put it: he would “not take options off the table to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons.”

 

They Hate Us for This Guy's Freedom

Charges dropped against U.S. soldier in Afghan murder

SEATTLE (Reuters) - The U.S. Army has dismissed all charges against the last of five soldiers to face a court-martial in the slaying of unarmed Afghan civilians, officials from their home base near Tacoma, Washington, said on Friday.

Army Specialist Michael Wagnon had been charged with premediated murder in the death of a villager in Afghanistan during a tour of duty in February 2010.

"As of right now, he's pretty much a free man," said Lieutenant Colonel Gary Dangerfield, a spokesman for Joint Base Lewis-McChord. "He is still in the Army but a free man."

Lt. Col. Returns from Afghanistan to Denounce Lies About Supposed Progress and Success

Truth, lies and Afghanistan:How military leaders have let us down
By LT. COL. DANIEL L. DAVIS, Armed Forces Journal

I spent last year in Afghanistan, visiting and talking with U.S. troops and their Afghan partners. My duties with the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force took me into every significant area where our soldiers engage the enemy. Over the course of 12 months, I covered more than 9,000 miles and talked, traveled and patrolled with troops in Kandahar, Kunar, Ghazni, Khost, Paktika, Kunduz, Balkh, Nangarhar and other provinces.

What I saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground.

Entering this deployment, I was sincerely hoping to learn that the claims were true: that conditions in Afghanistan were improving, that the local government and military were progressing toward self-sufficiency. I did not need to witness dramatic improvements to be reassured, but merely hoped to see evidence of positive trends, to see companies or battalions produce even minimal but sustainable progress.

Instead, I witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level.

My arrival in country in late 2010 marked the start of my fourth combat deployment, and my second in Afghanistan. A Regular Army officer in the Armor Branch, I served in Operation Desert Storm, in Afghanistan in 2005-06 and in Iraq in 2008-09. In the middle of my career, I spent eight years in the U.S. Army Reserve and held a number of civilian jobs — among them, legislative correspondent for defense and foreign affairs for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

As a representative for the Rapid Equipping Force, I set out to talk to our troops about their needs and their circumstances. Along the way, I conducted mounted and dismounted combat patrols, spending time with conventional and Special Forces troops. I interviewed or had conversations with more than 250 soldiers in the field, from the lowest-ranking 19-year-old private to division commanders and staff members at every echelon. I spoke at length with Afghan security officials, Afghan civilians and a few village elders.

I saw the incredible difficulties any military force would have to pacify even a single area of any of those provinces; I heard many stories of how insurgents controlled virtually every piece of land beyond eyeshot of a U.S. or International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) base.

I saw little to no evidence the local governments were able to provide for the basic needs of the people. Some of the Afghan civilians I talked with said the people didn’t want to be connected to a predatory or incapable local government.

From time to time, I observed Afghan Security forces collude with the insurgency.

READ THE REST AT Armed Forces Journal

Activist in Afghanistan Claims United States Using Depleted Uranium

From PressTV

An Afghan activist reveals the US is still using horrific depleted uranium weapons in Afghanistan, creating graveyards of people who die of cancer and other unusual diseases, Press TV reports.

"These weapons are still used. In fact, a US aircraft called A-10 warthog, normally, even if it doesn't use a uranium projectile in the machine gun, every third projectile is a uranium projectile and that's the working horse of the US army in Afghanistan. They use it left and right," Dr. Mohammad Daud Miraki said in an interview with Press TV.

"Apache helicopters and Bradley vehicles also utilize these projectiles in these weapons," he added.

The activist also noted that 62.7 percent of the population of Afghanistan has been targeted by the dangerous radioactive ammunitions.

Miraki explained that a group of researchers collected urine samples of people in Afghanistan and found uranium isotopes in the urine, which was about 300 percent to 2000 percent higher than normal level.

He further said that a lot of people in Afghanistan were identified with various bizarre diseases in different Pashtun-dominated villages.

The diseases were skin lesions, sudden deaths, spontaneous abortions among females, as well as deformities and multiple cancers.

The author also said the United States used depleted uranium weapons that is against international and US laws.

Meanwhile, Miraki criticized US officials and Afghan President Hamid Karzai for not investigating the crimes committed by the US administration.

Pressure to End War on Afghanistan Is Being Felt

They are feeling the pressure and need to feel a lot more of it.

From WaPo:

The United States and NATO will seek to end their combat mission in Afghanistan next year and shift to a role of providing support and training to Afghan security forces, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Wednesday.

U.S. military commanders had said in recent weeks they would begin a transition this year toward taking more of an advisory role as Afghanistan’s national army and police take greater responsibility for fighting the insurgency. But Panetta’s remarks were the first time the Obama administration has said it could foresee an end to regular U.S. and NATO combat operations by the second half of next year.

Washington State Builds Opposition to the War on Afghanistan

Senate Joint Memorial 8014, requesting a reduction in federal military spending and ending the war in Afghanistan, will be heard in the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Tribal Relations & Elections on Thursday, February 2, at 10:00 AM in the Senate Hearing Room #2,  Cherberg Building, 

US Media Iraq Reporting: See No Evil

 

By Dave Lindorff

 

The Iraq war may be over, at least for US troops, but the cover-up of the atrocities committed there by American forces goes on, even in retrospectives about the war. A prime example is reporting on the destroyed city of Fallujah, where some of the heaviest fighting of the war took place.

 

On March 31, 2004, four armed mercenaries working for the firm then known as Blackwater (now Xe), were captured in Fallujah, Iraq’s third largest city and a hotbed of insurgent strength located in Anbar Province about 40 miles west of Baghdad. Reportedly killed in their vehicle, which was then torched, their charred bodies were strung up on a bridge over the Euphrates River. 

 

Our Trainers Are Doing a Heck of a Job in Afghanistan

From the NYTimes:

American and other coalition forces here are being killed in increasing numbers by the very Afghan soldiers they fight alongside and train, in attacks motivated by deep-seated animosity between the supposedly allied forces, according to American and Afghan officers and a classified coalition report obtained by The New York Times.

France May Pull Its Troops Out of Our Ongoing Crime in Afghanistan

From the Christian Science Monitor:

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy attends a ceremony to present New Year wishes to the foreign diplomatic corps at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Friday. France is suspending its training operations in Afghanistan and threatening to withdraw its entire force from the country early, after an Afghan soldier shot and killed four French troops Friday and wounded several others.

Charles Platiau/AP

 

At least four French troops are dead and more injured after someone wearing an Afghan military uniform turned his weapon against NATO forces. It’s the latest in an increasing number of such incidents and could further strain relations between NATO and Afghan officials.

Following Friday’s shooting, one of the most deadly for French forces over the past decade in Afghanistan, French President Nicolas Sarkozy suspended his country’s combat operations and threatened to pull out early.

“The French army stands side by side with its allies but we can't accept that a single one of our soldiers be killed by our allies,” said Mr. Sarkozy according to Radio France Internationale.  “If the conditions for security are not clearly established, the question of an early withdrawal of the French army will arise.”

Unjust Wars Require Dehumanizing the "Enemy"

Sometimes an event breaks into the mainstream media that reveals the truly brutal, oppressive nature of the armed forces of the US and the wars they are fighting. At a moment when we are being told by the oh-so-rational and humane administration of Barack Obama and Co. that we must line up behind a new aggressive war against an oil-producing Central Asian country, the recently released video of US soldiers urinating on Afghan corpses has exposed the way "our" soldiers view the entire population of the region: as subhuman.

Now we must challenge Americans to not look away from these terrible images, but absorb what these incidents tell us about the essence of what is still happening in our names: unjust, illegitimate violence unleashed by the most powerful against some of the poorest people on the planet.

 

N.C. Human Rights Group Report on Torture Flights

Human rights group calls on state to probe alleged 'torture flights'

19 January 2012 - A North Carolina human rights group is calling on state officials to investigate and stop alleged CIA missions originating in Johnston County that involve illegal torture.

North Carolina Stop Torture Now delivered a University of North Carolina School of Law report Wednesday to the governor, attorney general and others that claims the Central Intelligence Agency relies on Smithfield-based Aero Contractors Ltd. to provide planes and pilots to transport prisoners overseas from the Johnston County Airport for secret interrogation using torture techniques.

Piss on War

From Vermont Commons:

I know it's a horrible image. No, it is an UNBEARABLE image. But as the essay that follows makes so clear, this is what war is. This is what we are when we support war and the people and institutions that wage them. So look.

By Hamilton Nolan, reposted with permission from Gawker

A video emerges showing US Marines pissing on three Taliban corpses in Afghanistan. Theoutrage machine grinds into motion. The media bestirs itself from its slumber. Americans momentarily pay attention to the war in Afghanistan again. Politicians rush to add their names to the chorus of identical statements. All inflamed over the least bad thing that soldiers do in war.

Do you know what is worse than having your dead body urinated upon? Being killed. Being shot. Being bombed. Having your limbs blown off. Having your house incinerated by a drone-fired missile that you don't see until it explodes. Having your children blown up in their beds. Having your spouse killed. Having your hometown destroyed. Being displaced. Becoming a refugee. Having your entire life destroyed as a consequence of political forces far, far beyond your control.

Afghan Youth Travel to India to Study Nonviolent Resistance to Anglo-Imperialism

Ali, Faiz and Abdulai at the Gandhi Memorial in New Delhi, India


Indian, Afghan and human poverty

Faiz, Abdulai, Ali and I are travelling in India to learn from Gandhian practitioners ( in Ekta Parishad ). We wish to learn how to mobilize people from the villages to protest non-violently.

Immediately, we’re encountering our own poverty.

Our flexible travel  itinerary :

6th Jan to 9th Jan : New Delhi

10th to 15th Jan : Bhopal

15th to 21st Jan : Ahmedabad

23rd to 26th Jan : Aliabad?

27th Jan : Return to Kabul Afghanistan

6th Jan  : Firsts for Faiz, Abdulai, Ali

First time on plane

First time above clouds

First time having pineapples

First time on elevator, travelator

First time using standing urinal and automatic sink-tap

First time in a big city that’s green ( Delhi )

First feelings penned at Kabul International Airport :

Faiz – ‘excited’

Ali – ‘very happy’

Abdulai – ‘eager to learn’

Hakim – ‘opportunity’

Kathy Kelly – ‘relieved, open’

Maya Evans  ( UK peace activist ) – ‘discovery, adventure’

7th Jan : Other Firsts

First time up close to a Hindu temple

First time seeing so many women with uncovered heads

First time in underground Metro

First time being a foreigner

homeless in India

8th Jan : More Firsts

First time in multimedia memorial museum ( Gandhi Memorial )

First time seeing a lifelike statue ( of Gandhi and his wife )

First time presenting to an audience abroad ( about 100 students at Jawaharlal Nehru University ) – AYPVs spoke  about : ‘Upon awakening, do not live normally.’


 

9th Jan : Lodhi Garden and Gandhi Peace Foundation

Lodhi was a Pathan

– the garden had green lawns, old ruins, swans, squirrels, parrots and other birds, smooching lovers

Gandhi Peace Foundation

-meeting held to discuss a high court case of an Indian activist charged with visiting a political prisoner, sedition included as one of the charges

-short messages to Indian human rights activists, AYPVs spoke  about : ‘Dissolving the borders of peace’


The youth with peace activists Maya Evans ( UK ),

Kathy Kelly ( USA ) , Paul and Kathrin ( Canada )

at the World Peace Gong in Gandhi Memorial

10th Jan : Railway train to Bhopal

It was a comfortable 8-hour ride on the train from Delhi to Bhopal.

Fields, fields, fields, litter, litter, litter, cattle, cattle, cattle…

We shared a urgent feeling for human livelihoods to return to the fields.

White House and State Department are in No Position to Issue Credible Denials Regarding Spying Charges

 

By Dave Lindorff

 

I wouldn’t want to be Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, the 28-year-old former US Marine just recently sentenced to death by a court in Iran after being convicted of being an American spy.

 

Hekmati, who was born in Arizona to Iranian exile parents, and who grew up in Michigan, is being defended by President Obama, whose White House spokesman Tommy Vietor, declared, “Allegations that Mr. Hekmati either worked for, or was sent to Iran by the CIA are false.” The White House, not content with that denial, went on to trash the Iranian government and legal system, with Vietor adding, “The Iranian regime has a history of falsely accusing people of being spies, of eliciting forced confessions, and of holding innocent Americans for political reasons.”

 

Obama's Pentagon Strategy: A Leaner, More Efficient Empire

By Charles Davis and Medea Benjamin

In an age when U.S. power can be projected through private mercenary armies and unmanned Predator drones, the U.S. military need no longer rely on massive, conventional ground forces to pursue its imperial agenda, a fact President Barack Obama is now acknowledging. But make no mistake: while the tactics may be changing, the U.S. taxpayer – and poor foreigners abroad – will still be saddled with overblown military budgets and militaristic policies.

Speaking January 5 alongside his Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the president announced a shift in strategy for the American military, one that emphasizes aerial campaigns and proxy wars as opposed to “long-term nation-building with large military footprints.” This, to some pundits and politicians, is considered a tectonic shift.

Investigators expose Bagram jail

By Tom Mellen, Morning Star

Only one in 10 of the prisoners held at the US prison camp at Bagram airbase have been charged and many are being abused and tortured, Afghan investigators revealed on Saturday.

Gul Rahman Qazi of the government's constitution watchdog said that just 300 of the 3,000 detainees had legal cases against them and Nato forces don't have enough evidence against the rest.

Inmates say they are kept in dark, freezing cells and humiliated with body cavity searches.

Mr Qazi said one elderly man had been locked in a pitch-black room and lost a tooth when punched by a guard.

Fellow investigator Sayed Noorullah said: "If there is no evidence they have the right to be freed," and the Afghan government should take control of the prisoners "as soon as possible."

Much to Forgive: The Story of Bibi Sadia. By Kathy Kelly

Much to Forgive: The Story of Bibi Sadia. 

By Kathy Kelly

One Week After Obama Claims Power to Hold Bagram Prisoners For Ever and Ever, Karzai Demands They All Be Turned Over in One Month

Hmm. Somebody is standing up to Obama. Still sort of wish it were us.

From Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — President Hamid Karzai demanded Thursday that the U.S. detention center at Bagram Air Base be handed over to Afghan control within a month, along with all Afghan citizens held by the coalition troops across the nation.

Meanwhile, three NATO service members were killed in an explosion in the south of the country, the coalition said. It did not provide any other details about the incident.

A presidential statement said that keeping Afghan citizens imprisoned without trial violates the country's constitution, as well as international human rights conventions.

Killing Kids is So American

 

By Dave Lindorff

 

According to news reports, 15-year-old  eighth-grader Jaime Gonzalez, who was shot and killed yesterday by police in his middle school in Brownsville, TX, was hit three times: twice in the chest and once “from the back of the head.” 

 

Police say they were called by school authorities because Gonzalez was carrying a gun, which turned out to be a realistic-looking pellet gun, a weapon that uses compressed air to fire a metal pellet which, while perhaps a threat to the eye, does not pose a serious threat to life.

 

Militants agree to truce with Pakistan, unite against NATO

By Tom Hussain | McClatchy Newspapers

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistani Islamist militants on Sunday pledged to cease their four-year insurgency against Pakistani security forces, and join the Taliban's war against NATO troops in Afghanistan.

The agreement reunited four major Pakistan-based militant factions under the flag of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban chief, an announcement by the militants said.

Security experts in Islamabad said the agreement to end the insurgency with Pakistan was a dual-purpose tactical move by the Taliban.

It has lost hundreds of fighters during a two-year surge of U.S. forces in its southern Afghanistan strongholds.

The Pakistani militants, too, have been pummelled by security forces since 2009, and by late 2011 had splintered into dozens of factions without a unified command. The agreement coincided with discrete negotiations between the Pakistani militants and the government in Islamabad, held since October.

The pact would enable Mullah Omar to reinforce the Taliban ranks, while the pledged cessation of attacks against the Pakistani security forces would allow the militants greater freedom to launch cross-border attacks into Afghanistan.

READ THE REST.

Iran and Historical Forgetting

 

By John Grant

 

Ever since George W. Bush lost the popular vote by 500,000 souls and was selected President by a right-leaning Supreme Court, the United States has seemed to me devoted to a twisted fate of slow-motion Armageddon.

What seems to guarantee this is one of our most characteristic American traits: We don’t learn from the past; instead, we choose to officially forget embarrassing history so we can move on from our debacles without losing an ounce of glory. We all know how it goes: Sure, mistakes were made, but we need to keep our eye on the ball and move forward. The costs are paid in slow motion and out of sight.

Noam Chomsky on the US-Afghan Strategic Partnership: 'Part of a Global Program of World Militarization’

From Waging Nonviolence via Alternet:

Editor's note: This is a transcript of a conversation between members of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers and Noam Chomsky, which took place on September 21, 2011. Each question was asked in Dari and translated by Hakim.

Hakim: Thank you, Professor Chomsky, for speaking to us. We are speaking from the highlands of Bamiyan in central Afghanistan, and we wanted to start off by thanking you sincerely for the guidance and wisdom that you have consistently given through your teaching and speeches in many places. We want to start off with a question from Faiz.

Faiz: In an article by Ahmad Rashid in the New York Times recently, he said that “after 10 years, it should be clear that the war in this region cannot be won purely by military force….Pakistanis desperately need a new narrative…but where is the leadership to tell this story as it should be told? The military gets away with its antiquated thinking because nobody is offering an alternative, and without an alternative, nothing will improve for a long time.”

Do you think there is any leadership in the world today that can propose an alternative non-military solution for Afghanistan, and if not, where or from whom would this leadership come from?

Noam Chomsky: I think it is well understood among the military leadership and also the political leadership in the United States and its allies, that they cannot achieve a military solution of the kind that they want. This is putting aside the question of whether that goal was ever justified; now, put that aside. Just in their terms, they know perfectly well they cannot achieve a military solution.

Is there an alternative political force that could work toward some sort of political settlement? Well, you know, that actually the major force that would be effective in bringing about that aim is popular opinion. The public is already very strongly opposed to the war and has been for a long time, but that has not translated itself into an active, committed, dedicated popular movement that is seeking to change policy. And that’s what has to be done here.

My own feeling is that the most important consequence of the very significant peace efforts that are underway inside Afghanistan might well be to stimulate popular movements in the West through just people-to-people contact, which would help impose pressures on the United States, and particularly Britain, to end the military phase of this conflict and move toward what ought to be done: peaceful settlement and honest, realistic economic development.

Speak With Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers

GLOBAL DAY of LISTENING
December 31, 2011
and January 1, 2012

 
begins 7:30 am Afghanistan time (10 pm Eastern, 7 pm Pacific), and will continue for 6+ hours
Check the Global Day of Listening home page for details.

View the News & stay tuned for information about the Global Days of Listening. Write to GlobalDaysOfListening@gmail.com to request a time to talk.
 

It is that time again—another opportunity for you to participate in a Global Day of Listening!
 
Every month people around the world listen together to the ordinary people living in war-torn countries. It a way of letting them know that someone is listening; that someone is listening to whatever it is they want to share.
 
We began meeting these 'ordinary people' through the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, and then met others.


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