Monday, November 30, 2009

A Little Rant Before the Big Speech



The theme of Karzai as an corrupt and ineffective leader promises to be highlighted in President Obama's address tomorrow. The line the White House is floating tonight is, "The era of the blank check for President Karzai is over." That is simply untrue, the first steps across a politically impossible tightrope. Tomorrow Obama will be making the case that this is a war of military necessity, with dire national security at stake. I disagree with him of course, but that's his pitch. He will then also try to warn Karzai that he needs to reform "or else." The real question, columnist David Corn asks, is "or else what?" If Obama is suggesting that he will withdraw troops, cut off funding for training Afghans or stop spending money on Afghan infrastructure, then the war can't possibly be as serious or necessary as he says it is, because Obama cannot stabilize Afghanistan while he does those things. That is why Obama is painting himself into such a dangerous corner.

Let's play this one out. It is December of 2011. Karzai has made little to no headway on the anti-corruption front. Every last member of Al-Qaeda is in the mountains of Pakistan. The Taliban have largely been routed by NATO troops, but in limited skirmishes the Afghan National Army seems unable to handle them without NATO support. Both supporters and opponents of the war can agree that this is a fairly plausible set of outcomes. Does that mean we can leave?

If we start drawing down, the Taliban will start fighting back. Maybe they'll take a few villages here and there, maybe mount an unsuccessful assault on a major city. Al-Qaeda hangs out on the Afghan-Pakistan border, depending on which side is being more aggressive. People still hate Karzai. His brother is still the biggest opium dealer in the country. A suicide bomb periodically blows up a Kabul market square. Do we keep drawing down? Do we re-surge? Do we keep troop levels the same? Where do we get these troops in the first place? Now it's 2012 and Republicans are running on the platform that Obama has lost Afghanistan.

You see, the situation in Afghanistan has always been fucked. It is a country where multiple generations have come of age knowing nothing but war and corruption. It is also a country with almost no infrastructure, limited roads, and a brutal winter that shuts large swaths of the country down for months. It is a country where we prop an anti-democratic corrupt figurehead surrounded by brutal warlords so that the country isn't overtaken by ruthless fundamentalist ruthless warlords. And we are in this country because it might potentially serve as a haven for a bunch of men in caves plotting terrorist strikes against the United States. I find it incredibly hard to believe that the leaders of Al Qaeda could not find another place in South Asia, the Middle East or Africa to sit on rugs and conjure up plots, if we were somehow able to make an impassible mountain range between Afghanistan and Pakistan more inhospitable for them than it is now (And while we're at it, let's please stop with the nonsense that Pakistan may become so destabilized by these fundamentalist hicks that they will lose control of their nuclear weapons, which will then be launched against the United States, or India, or Israel).

So what do I think we should do? I think we should get out, leaving behind some residual force in Kabul. We should keep funding local programs to develop Afghan infrastructure. We should continue intelligence operations and drone attacks against members of Al Qaeda in the mountains, however regretful due to the resulting civilian casualties. Instead of believing that any single political entity will ever control Afghanistan, we should cut deals with a series of regional governors and warlords rewarding them for cooperation against Al Qaeda. If the Taliban start to overrun the Karzai government, we should make it clear that any indication that they have allowed for Al Qaeda to reestablish themselves within Afghan borders will lead to a reprise of 2001's Operation Infinite Justice. Sure, it would be exhausting and expensive for us to pull that off, but having been driven from power once, do you think the Taliban will risk their power a second time to protect some Saudis and Egyptians who have brought them nothing but trouble this decade?

Of course, tomorrow night Obama will announce precisely the opposite of what I just suggested. He will use well worn cliches from the Bush administration, comforting Americans who don't want to think too deeply about this war. And to the 50% of Americans who oppose escalation, he will offer us the following, charming bit of reassurance:
"My fellow Americans, we will set certain benchmarks for 2011/2012, and then, having achieved them, we will withdraw."
The problem is, we won't meet them then, just like we've failed to meet almost every benchmark we've ever set in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then we'll be back here in two years, to hear President Obama once again call for patience, while Republicans gloat about what a failure he is, and what a better job they would have done sending more of our overburdened, exhausted, stressed out troops for a fifth and sixth deployments.

Scary times, folks. I'll be in Times Square at 6pm on Wednesday for the protest. See you there.

Holbrooke pushes for a SUPER envoy

It seems like October's explosive scandal, in which U.N Deputy Ambassador, American Peter Gailbraith essentially accused his boss, Kai Eide, of collusion with the corrupt Karzai government, has not fully played itself out yet. U.S Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke, who has no love lost for President Karzai himself, is pushing for the appointment of a high-level foreign official to serve as "super-envoy" alongside Karzai. Basically a glorified babysitter to make sure Karzai is keeping honest on his pledge to crack down on corruption. Holbrooke is advocating such a strategy both because of its success in Bosnia, where he was one of the top brokers, and because he "believes the UN mission is ineffectual and soft on the Afghan government's alarming record of corruption." This has caused a fissure among NATO allies, with Canada and some European seeing this as a slight against Kai Eide, and Holbrooke responding, 'Yeah, dude, exactly.'
Meanwhile, Karzai is likely terrified of an American or Brit actually observing his corrupt government in action, but hopeful deep down that he could spin any such appointment as imperialistic meddling.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

War Notes: November 29, 2009

Afghanistan's lack of infrastructure will slow the implementation of President Obama's surge, and troops will be phased in over 12-18 months. Following Obama's Tuesday speech at West Point, 9,000 Marines will deploy to Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, where most of the action is taking place. They will be followed by 1,000 U.S Army trainers that will work with the Afghan National Army and the Afghan police. The remaining 20-25,000 troops will deploy over the course of 2010 and early 2011.
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Any hope for Representative David Obey's "war surtax" seemed to be dashed by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) today.
"There should have been, as far as I'm concerned, tax increases for upper bracket folks who did so well during the Bush years - that's where the tax increases should have taken place. But that should have happened some time ago. But in the middle of this recession, I don't think you're going to be able successfully or fairly to add a tax burden to middle-income people. I think you could tax the upper brackets, $250,000 or more, but I don't think middle income America is in a position now where they could pay additional taxes because the economic stress is so great here."
Levin generally falls within the liberal half of the Democratic Party, so his reservations are not a good indicator of the bills likelihood. A surtax solely on the wealthy, while more politically feasible, would not cover the increased costs of the Obama troop surge. Raising taxes is an anathema to most politicians, especially in the Senate, where a number of Democrats will be facing competitive races in 2010.
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British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has laid out five benchmarks that NATO will ask the Karzai government to meet at an upcoming conference:

Within three months Kabul must identify additional troops to send to Helmand province for training.

Within six months there must be clear plans for police training.

Within nine months President Hamid Karzai must have appointed almost 400 provincial and district governors.

Within 12 months 5,000 additional Afghan troops will be trained by Britain in Helmand and thousands more in other parts of the country.

By the end of 2010 Afghan security forces must be taking the lead in five out of the country's 34 provinces. Control in one or two districts in Helmand will also be handed over.

While these benchmarks will probably not be met (I'd venture it won't even be close), it is worth documenting them. The ever-changing benchmarks and demands for patience are part of what made the war in Iraq under President Bush so infuriating.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

War Notes: November 28, 2009

Washington Post columnist Colbert King asks a perfectly reasonable question:
But what happens if, in the face of an U.S. escalation in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda moves its terrorist network to Pakistan or beyond? Will U.S. forces follow?

I suppose the short answer is that Blackwater is already there, and U.S intelligence is undoubtedly working with the Pakistani military. The question is whether our soon to be 100,000 troops will be fighting a single Al Qaeda operative six months from now. Some would call that a reason to claim victory and go home. If we get bogged down fighting the Taliban, along with related and completely unrelated insurgents, however, that war could last a lot longer.
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Quickly reviewing all major post World War II wars in the process, the New Yorker's Henrik Hertzberg also asks a series of tough questions he would like the president to answer on Tuesday:

Does it make sense, for example, to spend lives and treasure trying to eradicate “safe havens” in Afghanistan when Al Qaeda has so many other—well, options, from Sudan to Hamburg? Will a bigger, longer, and presumably bloodier occupation advance or retard the ultimate aim of discouraging Islamist terrorism? Will adding American troops—at a million dollars a year per soldier—encourage Afghans to fight for themselves or prompt them to leave the fighting to us? Can Afghanistan’s nominal government, with its President elected by fraud and its recent rating as the second most corrupt on earth, be finessed or somehow remade?

The sum we are already spending annually on Afghanistan is greater than its gross domestic product. Are there nonmilitary ways we could deploy that sum which would advance our goals as efficaciously? Would even forty thousand additional troops suffice for anything resembling the ambitious nation-building program that General Stanley McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan, has proposed? (Counterinsurgency theory suggests that it would take more than ten times that many; would forty—or ten, or twenty—thousand be only a first installment?) Any counterinsurgency campaign, we’re told, requires a very long commitment. Is the voluntary association of democracies called NATO, organized to deter war more than to wage it, capable of sustaining a twenty or thirty years’ war? For that matter, does the United States—a decentralized populist democracy struggling with economic decline and political gridlock—have that capacity? And what about Pakistan?

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A graphic from the National Post, a Canadian paper, highlights the geographic hotspots where NATO forces have suffered their casualties. The Helmand and Kandahar provinces in southwestern Afghanistan lead the way, with 342 and 210 fatalities respectively. The charts also provide some visually jarring data of the increase in NATO deaths and deaths from IEDs from the relatively tranquil days of 2005 to the present.
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Reuters runs a speculative article quoting administration sources that believe the U.S will begin drawing down troops from Afghanistan beginning in 2013. Their logic is that by then the U.S will have concluded its training of the Afghan National Army and the Afghan police, such that they can help themselves. Other officials scoffed at the notion, calling it unrealistic. One truth we can be assured of is vague 'future withdrawal' rhetoric from the Obama administration, whether from his lips or in the form of 'secret leaks' to the press. This will be done to damper down opposition to the war. Rank and file Democrats will say, "I don't approve of this war, but I guess it will be over soon." We all know how this will go down. And yet we watch...

Friday, November 27, 2009

War Notes: November 27, 2009


"No nation has ever benefited from a prolonged war."
- Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The political fallout in Germany continues following the revelation that the German military forces in Afghanistan covered up the death of civilians in an airstrike called by German generals on September 4th. The U.S air strikes ultimately killed over 140 people, at least 40 of whom were later found to be civilians. The German cover up went as far as up as the their top commander in Afghanistan, Colonel Georg Klein, and their Defense Minister, Franz Jung. Though this incident is likely to increase national opposition to the war, Chancellor Merkel is expected to continue Germany's commitment to the war. She is expected to 120 troop to the 4,300 already serving their, the third highest total behind the United States and Britain.

Canadians allowed the torture of captured Afghan insurgents, according to Canadian Senior Diplomat Richard Colvin, who was based in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2007. Colvin's testimony before the Canadian House of Commons that Canadian forces handed over captives to local Afghans knowing that they were going to be brutally tortured has led to a series of attacks on Colvin's character from government officials, rather than any proper investigation. Apparently the Canucks have learned well from their brothers to the south.

The Governor of Kandahar survived an assassination attempt yesterday when a bomb targeted his motorcade. Kandahar is the second largest city in Afghanistan after Kabul, and will be the destination for many of the Surgin' Americans. Shapoor Khan was not so lucky; the anti-Taliban leader victim to an assassination attempt this morning. Khan was a major tribal leader in northwest Pakistan who had been working with Pakistani authorities against the Taliban. His predecessor was killed by a suicide bomber last year. One hopes that an experienced Pakistani military will ultimately be able to prevail over the Taliban in their clashes along the border, but much of the Pakistani military training prepares soldiers for conventional war with India, rather than guerrilla warfare with insurgents.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

War Notes: Thanksgiving Edition


White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs has given all Americans something to be thankful for: An American military withdrawal from Afghanistan before 2017:
"We are in year nine of our efforts in Afghanistan. We are not going to be there another eight or nine years," Gibbs told reporters.
Gibbs added that the war was "very, very, very expensive", costing the U.S $6.7 billion in the month of June alone.

Family of suicide victims are seeking letters of condolences from the White House for their fallen children. While soldiers who commit suicide do receive the same death benefits as those who die in combat, it has been a policy since at least the Clinton administration not to send presidential letters of condolences. The families explain that the letters would be an important symbolic gesture from the president and the military that mental health problems are real, and need to be seriously addressed to prevent needless deaths.

McClatchy writer Steven Thomma points out that the Rep. Obey's war surtax is not without precedent. War surtaxes were levied by President Lincoln during the Civil War, President Roosevelt during World War II and President Johnson during the Vietnam War. The Obey tax would increase federal income tax by 1% on those making less than $150,000 and significantly more on those making over $150,000 a year.

This Thanksgiving, it is important to remember that 922 soldiers have died fighting in Afghanistan since Operation Enduring Freedom began in 2001. Operation Enduring Freedom was the second name, after the President Bush's first choice, Operation Infinite Justice, sounded too much like a throw back to the crusades.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

War Notes: November 25, 2009


President Obama will announce his latest greatest war plan at West Point on Tuesday night. The man who spoke of having the courage to tell auto makers to reform their ways in Detroit will make his troop escalation speech in front of a crowd professionally obligated to support the decision's of their Commander in Chief. Obama assured the press, "I feel very confident that when the American people hear a clear rationale for what we're doing there and how we intend to achieve our goals, that they will be supportive."
I wholeheartedly agree- if Obama can somehow explain these basic premises for the first time, I'll be sold too.

British PM Gordon Brown has promised that Obama will not being going it alone- pledging that NATO allies will add 5,000 troops, in addition to the 500 new British soldiers. Of course, Brown isn't sure where these troops will be coming from, though he posits there may be some troops from Slovakia, Georgia and maybe South Korea. Either way, NATO spokesman James Appathurai cautioned, "Nobody should expect that the day after President Obama makes his announcement that there will be a total troop figure added up ... by the other allies." Appathurai said a more realistic appraisal would be forthcoming after a January conference of NATO allies.

The Associated Press's Kathy Gannon paints a bleak picture of life and death in Kandahar. At 800,000 residents, it is Afghanistan's second largest city, and fighting between NATO forces and the Taliban for the city is fierce, with the local population often caught in the cross fire. There is an expectation that some of Obama's new troops will be sent there.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Unlikely War Tax Attracting Attention

The media has surprisingly picked up on calls from Congressman David Obey (D-Wisconsin) to institute a "war surtax", particularly targeting the wealthy, in order to pay for the increased costs of the war in Afghanistan. Perhaps it is because as Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Obey has a chance of putting a real bill out there.

Similar sentiments have been echoed from other prominent House Democrats like Barney Frank, John Murtha and Charlie Rangel. Murtha, Rangel and Cong. John Larson have proposed the "Share the Sacrifice Act", which would levy 1% income tax inceases on the middle class and higher tax increases on the wealthy. That would be a non-starter for President Obama and Senator Reid.
Some may recall Congressman Rangel's proposal to reinstate the draft during the early years of the war in Iraq, which was voted down something like 430-5.

Politicians in this country don't really believe in shared sacrifice, they believe in kicking the can down the road and burdening the middle class with subtlety and misdirection. At lease you can't doubt Obey's sincerity:
I went through the Vietnam years when the cost of that damn war drained away the ability to do anything else. I chair the committee that has to say no to effort after effort to rebuild economy.

Unlike Rangel, who is more a showhorse on an issue like this, Obey may actually pursue a war tax. It'll be an interesting story to pursue, because if he can actually get it to a hard vote, then he will put Republican hypocrisy formally on the line. Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats cannot claim to stand for low taxes, an expensive war, and a balanced budget, and hopefully, Obey will make them choose, ending their intellectual dishonesty.

On December 1, Obama Will Announce 34,000 New Troops


Or so the media is reporting. Frankly, this is more like a parlor game. On November 9, we had ABC, among other news outlets, announcing a 34,000 troop increase, only to have the Obama administration deny it the next day. We then heard numbers ranging from 15,000 to 40,000, all a series of 'trial balloons' the administration floats into public opinion.

The McClatchy article claimed an amusing source:
The U.S. officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the issue publicly and because, one official said, the White House is incensed by leaks on its Afghanistan policy that didn't originate in the White House.

Well, I'm sure if he was already incensed, he's gonna be even more pissed off now. This leaked announcement is going to spoil a lot of people's Thanksgivings. The date of the announcement itself, December 1, is less of a secret, and anti-war activities are being planned for December 2.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Karzai Livid At Corruption Arrest


Looks like President Hamid Karzai's pledge to fight corruption hit a snag when Afghan intelligence arrested a police chief named "Commander S" smuggling four tons of pot. Wow. According to my very rough calculations, that's $30-35 million worth of marijuana. There was opium involved too, and that should have raised a flag, because it turns out the intelligence officers arrested a key cog in Ahmed Wali Karzai's drug operation, bringing down the wrath of the El Presidente.

President Karzai canceled the press conference announcing the arrest, and it is unclear if he will allow the Attorney General to bring charges. Karzai recently pardoned five convicted drug smugglers connected to his campaign manager. His brother Wali seemed to show little concern that any further investigation would come from the arrest:

“I am powerful because I am the President’s brother,” Ahmed Wali said last week. “This is a country ruled by kings. The king’s brothers, cousins, sons, are all powerful. This is Afghanistan. It will change, but it will not change overnight.”

Meanwhile, the rest of the anti-corruption operation is off to a similarly questionable start. Karzai has deposed his first minister, Sidiq Chakari, the acting Minister for Religious Affairs. The obscure minister was low on the American list, and it seems like his main offense may have been supporting the opposition party in the last election.

Today yielded another brutal article, this time in USA Today, documenting the omnipresence of bribery and corruption. Fact of the day: It costs $400 in bribes to register a vehicle in Afghanistan. That is equal to a year of annual wages for the average Afghan worker. Tough times. As is this story:

Ahmadi admits that "petty corruption is everywhere." He said he paid a bribe of about $400 to have electricity turned on in his home a year ago, right before he took his current job.At the time, he was a top Karzai adviser and warned the utility worker that he could have him disciplined for shaking down a customer. Ahmadi said the worker shrugged off the threat and demanded the money.

It will take more than a few sham arrests to change the culture of corruption in Kabul.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

War Notes: November 22, 2009

The Pakistani government is publicly pleading with the United States not to escalate. In direct opposition to the McChrystal report, Pakistan is urging NATO forces to focus on the Pakistani border, rather than cities, where McChrystal is withdrawing most forces too. There is no doubt Pakistan is motivated by self-interest, but their relationship with the Afghan Taliban is complex, as the Pakistani government sponsored them for many years.

Some Pakistani officials tout this relationship as a reason to step in and bring the U.S and the Taliban to the negotiating table, with one noting, "I'm not for a moment suggesting that it's an easy task, but otherwise you will be fighting these people for the next hundred years." Other officials concede, however, that the Taliban has little incentive to negotiate at the moment.
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In a related story, President Karzai is considering extending invitations to the third Loya Jirga to certain insurgents. The event is essentially a grand-scale community meeting, meant to foster peace and unity among the country's many factions. The first Jirga resulted in Karzai's appointment as interim leader, and the second ratified the Afghan constitution. The Taliban leadership has thus far categorically ruled out negotiating with a Karzai-led government. In addition to Pakistan (mentioned above), Saudi Arabia has been suggested as a possible peace broker. At least one political leader questioned the purpose of the Jirga now that the checkered presidential election is over, as he and others had pushed for the Jirga to displace the war-time election as the means for selecting Afghanistan's leader.
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The Newark-Star Ledger has a moving story on suicides in the military. Though this is hardly a story about numbers, it is worth grasping that 2,100 members of the military have taken their lives since the War on Terror began- almost triple the number of troops that have died in Afghanistan.
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The Minneapolis Star Tribune has come out strongly against the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, asking for a focus on Afghan training and follow the advice of Ambassador Eikenberry to focus on rebuilding the nation's civilian infrastructure. The Star Tribune, is of course, a small paper, but I've noticed over the past few months that every few days a different local paper comes out against the war. I don't have the time to go back and find each one, but from now one, as the editorials are published, I am posting them to the right hand corner of this page, under the anti-war articles by influential journalists. As far as I know, there is no central depository of all the editorials from newspapers that have come out against the war. Finally, just to clarify, this list will represent editorial board pieces, not editorials from individuals. Were that the case, the list would be too long to post.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

War Notes: November 21, 2009


Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan) has proposed that the increased cost of the troop increases be paid by the wealthy. Levin proposes an upper bracket tax for those making more than $250,000 to shoulder the bill, rather than plunging the country further into debt. I am with him- in fact, this whole war should be paid for by spending cuts or tax increases, rather than the black hole deficit spending that so often accompanies war. There is no reason to treat this tragically meandering war differently than our disastrous healthcare system, yet in the case of the latter, the crocodile tears for the federal deficit have already stripped healthcare reform measures of their teeth.

"It's a sickness. Everybody is doing it." A local merchant thus described the corruption scene in Afghanistan. The LA Times has a great piece exploring how the culture of bribery affects people day to day. Did you know that the typical household has to spend about $100 on bribes just to get by? This goes to pay for things like business permits, police protection, and even passing high school exams. And $100 is no small chunk of change- more than half of Afghans survive on $1 a day or less. But I'm sure Karzai's "anti-corruption initiative" will fix all that.

The Associated Press takes on the corruption issue from a different angle. They tell the sad story of Khalid Khan, a road building entrepreneur kidnapped by Taliban-like criminals and held for a ransom sum that crippled his family. The story has a stinging depiction of the Chinese that Khan worked for, as well as the local government, and of course, the ruthless kidnappers, who may or may not be Taliban. A worthwhile read as well.

Friday, November 20, 2009

War Notes: November 20, 2009


(I know the cartoon is about Iraq, but man, it was too good to pass up)

The military has apparently lifted it's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. No, there has been no formal change, but when Bethany Smith, a lesbian soldier suffering from harassment over her sexuality ask for a discharge, she was sent to Afghanistan instead. The military's need for boots on the ground outweighed their treasured policy. Fearing for her safety after enduring threats from her fellow soldiers, Smith fled to Canada as a deserter. The Canadian court system is now determining whether or not to turn her over to the United States or accept her as a refugee. Smith said that she would fear for her life if she were returned to the military.

The Netherlands and Canada have scheduled their departures from Afghanistan. Netherlands will be peacing out next year, though Canada, with its relatively significant 2,800 troops, will stick around until 2011.

The friendly folks at the Associated Press, via the CIA World Handbook, thought fit to publish some statistics about Afghanistan today. It can't hurt to know:
Population: 28.4 million
Median Age: 17.6
Literacy: 28.1%
Life Expectancy: 44.6
Unemployment: 40%
Percentage living below poverty line: 53% (Not sure what this number means)
Ethnic composition: 42% Pashtun, 27% Tajik, 9% Hazara, 9% Uzbek, 13% other.
Religious compostion: 80% Sunni Muslim, 19% Shiite Muslim, 1% other.
Can you name the six countries that border Afghanistan? The answers are...
s Iran, Pakistan, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. If you knew all six, you are legit.

In the most depressing news of the day, the United Nations has ranked Afghanistan as the worst place on earth to be born. The report cites the endless war, the worst infant mortality rate in the world, the fact that only 30% of the country has access to clean drinking water and outbreaks of measles and polio as among the reasons for Afghanistan's ranking. For those who want to send more troops, just remember you are sending them to literally the worst place on earth. For those proud of all the good work we've done, just remember it's still the worst place on earth. For those who want to "rebuild" the country, the road ahead is long, when you are rebuilding the worst place on earth.

All of you have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

McChrystal's Plan Would Leave Troop Levels Cashed


Data from the U.S Army reveals that the U.S military is desperately short on available troops as it weighs whether or not to escalate in Afghanistan. The report shows that the U.S currently has 50,600 active military soldiers and 24,000 reservists who are not currently deployed abroad or at home on mandatory rest from their previous deployment. Should President Obama honor McChrystal's request to send 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, particularly for an extended stay, he would either drop the number of available active duty soldiers in the United States to the low thousands, or he would deplete the National Guard to the point that many states would not be ready to handle local emergencies.

The Washington Independent should get tremendous credit for this story. It is obvious to anyone following the war in Afghanistan that our troops are hopelessly stretched, with many serving their third, fourth and fifth tours of duty. No one in the media is asking where the Obama administration plans to get these troops from, though some speculate that the recession will swell the new recruit numbers. Additionally, the Obama administration has talked about using the withdrawal from Iraq to provide troops to Afghanistan. However, that withdrawal is going slowly, and many of the soldiers coming back from Iraq will need to rest in the U.S before redeployment.

As much as right-wingers love to clamor about "America's security", does it not seem absolutely reckless to leave the United States with such few soldiers on its home soil? One final solution that came to mind was closing military bases around the world to provide soldiers for Afghanistan. I have not seen this idea posited by the administration, but it would be a nice silver lining to a troop surge.

China, Copper and Corruption in Afghanistan

When the Afghan and Chinese government get together, you know something shady is probably going down. This morning, the Associated Press broke the news that Afghan Minister of Mines Muhammed Ibrahim Adel accepted $20 million in bribes from the Chinese government to award the lucrative Aynak Valley copper mining contract to China in 2007. The sources were American officials familiar with intelligence reports placing the transaction as going down in Dubai. The Chinese had beaten out fourteen international mining companies, including bids from the United States, Canada and India.

The China Metallurgical Group had spent $3 billion to acquire a 30-year lease to Aynak copper mines, which are said to hold 240 million tons of copper. The copper depository may be the second largest in the world, only to a mine in Peru that is also operated by the Chinese. The mines are said to hold over $40 billion worth of copper, with some projections as high as $88 billion. Nevertheless, the Afghan government was happy to sell low, even kickbacks aside. The mining is promising to create thousands of jobs for years to come, and we all know how great mining jobs are. China's notorious record of mineral development in Africa is a cause for concern, as a massive mining project will undoubtadly lead to environmental problems. The area is home to 90,000 people and Kabul's main water supply.

While corruption and environmental concerns are unlikely to hold up the project, security issues certainly could. Earlier this year, the U.S deployed 2,000 troops to protect a road into the Aynak Valley that China is paving. Afghanistan is also home a large supply of oil, natural gas, and assorted minerals, so this project could likely serve as a blueprint for future foreign investment, with the United States paying billions of dollars to protect the investment interests of China and Russia. At least in the good old imperialistic days, we would have been protecting our own Big Oil companies.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

War Notes: November 18, 2009


Transparency International, a German-based anti-corruption monitor, has declared Afghanistan the second most corrupt nation on Earth in its new rankings. The agency said major factors included rampant bribery for everything from basic services to high positions in government, along with Afghanistan's skyrocketing opium trade. The survey evaluated 180 countries, and placed Afghanistan 179th, just ahead of Somalia, down from 176th a year ago. Incidentally, the 176th place spot is now occupied by Iraq.

Despite widespread public opposition in both countries, Germany and the U.K will continue to provide military support to the war in Afghanistan. Chancellor Merkel will commit Germany's 4000 soldier force for at least another year. Notably, the leading German opposition party also supports keeping troops in Afghanistan to fulfill its international obligation, so this policy is unlikely to change soon. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Brown is defying 70% of of the British population, especially his Labor base, in not only committing Britain's 9000 troops for another year, but pledging the addition of 500 more soldiers. Easily the second most active NATO member in this war, Britain has paid the price with 97 deaths in Afghanistan in 2009 alone.

In an alternatingly tragic and enlightening poll, Afghans rated much of the last 20 years as significantly worse than the present. Of those polled, 38% named the Communist era as the worst in the nation's history, 33% cited the period of Taliban rule, 22% named the preceding civil war, and only 3% identified the present as the worst period of Afghan history. The numbers reveal what an awful history the Afghan people have endured, and reminds us that more than an entire generation has been born and raised in the backdrop of endless war. When asked why the present war was prolonging, 70% cited poverty and unemployment as a major factor. Indeed, the strength of the Taliban lies largely in their ability to deliver an $8 a day paycheck. A further 48% cited corruption as a major factor, while neither the Taliban (36%) nor NATO occupation (18%) were considered chiefly responsible for the continuation of the war. While we are pouring over poll numbers, a Quinnepiac poll shows only 48% of Americans feel continuing the war is the right thing to do, so anti-war protesters out there, know you are not alone.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cast of The Wire Reunited in Afghanistan


No, not actually. But it was with some amusement this morning that I read about President Karzai's "Saul of Tarsus" moment, when he discovered his opposition to corruption:

"President Hamid Karzai, after being re-elected for another five years, has dedicated his five years to fighting corruption," Interior Minister Hanif Atmar told a news conference.

Working under the country's Attorney General, there will be a new "Major Crimes Unit" that will tackle corruption and other major crimes among public officials. No matter how much money we pour into Afghanistan, there can be no better investment than bringing back the Major Crimes Unit from The Wire, perhaps the savviest police crew in modern memory. They would undoubtedly be reluctant at first, but as always, they could be persuaded by their stoic leader, Cedric Daniels (pictured center).

Walid Karzai and his warlords have had their way thus far, raking in drug money and spending it on guns to take out their rivals, but this is nothing our crew from Baltimore hasn't seen before. After all, these Afghans can't be tougher than the Barksdales and Marlo Stanfield. And the Justice Department, as we all know, will green-light just about any wiretap, even under new management.

You might argue that the Major Crimes Unit from Baltimore will lack effectiveness in Afghanistan, largely because they are fictional. I would counter, however, that a President Karzai-appointed Major Crimes Unit will be largely fictional anyway.

Plus, you know you've been dying for Season Six anyway.

Rejecting The "Training Afghans" Meme


One of the central tenets of the Obama administration strategy, whether or not they go forward with the surge, is to accelerate the training of Afghan soldiers and policemen, so that they can fight the war against the Taliban for themselves. It's like the "Vietnamization" of Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, Time reports, things might not be going as smoothly as administration numbers suggest. The administration has recently been claiming that 94,000 Afghans trained to fight in the Afghan National Army (ANA). That number is misleading for several reasons. First, only half are "combat ready" by the U.S's own definition. Second, even those who are "combat ready" are only ready to fight alongside NATO leadership. They have certainly not proven their ability to engage the Taliban in combat on their own. Finally, the ANA currently has a desertion rate of 20%. Sometimes the desertions are dramatic and tragic, such as last month, when Taliban infiltrators at the police department killed an American soldier, but a 20% drop-out rate is pretty demoralizing, considering Afghanistan's vast unemployment problems.

We have seen this movie before, of course, most recently in Iraq, where the number of trained Iraqi soldiers was constantly inflated. The difference here is that training the soldiers presents a far greater logistical challenge. The largely illiterate Afghan population is extremely difficult to train. The military can't hand out manuals, so the training has to be oral, and that through a translator. Accelerating training will require more capable translators, somehow finding more military recruits (despite the high existing desertion rate) and accepting the added security risk that comes with shoddier training and more entry points for Taliban infiltrators. Good luck with that plan.

Monday, November 16, 2009

California Leads The Way

The California Democratic Party overwhelming passed a resolution calling on President Obama to "End the U.S Occupation and Air War in Afghanistan." The resolution calls on the administration to:
1. Withdraw military personnel
2. End the use of military contractors
3. End the use of air strikes that cause heavy civilian casualties
4. Support multi-party talks in Afghanistan
5. Redirect funding to increase humanitarian and developmental aid

While the chances of the Obama administration adopting these demands in the near future hovers around zero, the California Democratic Party has taken a much needed step in organized opposition to the war. All state Democratic Parties should pass similar resolutions, even if they are more guardedly worded. The audience is two-fold. First, incumbent Democrats should get the message that their constituents oppose the reckless continuation of this war. Second, President Obama should get the message that if he wants to continue, let alone escalate this war, he is going to have to do so with Republican, not Democratic votes. And those Republican votes won't come cheap, I can promise you that.

Here is New York, most of our Congressional reps have been pretty strong on war and peace issues, particularly Brooklyn reps near my neighborhood (Clark and Townes). If the New York Democratic Party could join California, the idea could really gain steam as a national movement. This issue will be messy enough in the 2010 elections, as it will divide Democrats in the primaries, and make mobilizing behind certain incumbents difficult in the general. The key, however, is to get Barack Obama thinking clearly about this before 2012, because he does not want to head into his re-election with the base as pissed at him about this as they are not. I don't even want to think about how mad the base is going to get should he follow through on the 40,000 troop escalation.

The Mother Who Wouldn't Deploy

This story broke over the weekend: Alexis Hutchinson was arrested on criminal charges and lost custody of her 11-month old son, Kamani, for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan on November 15th. Hutchinson, who is 21 years old, had originally planned to leave her son with her mother during her deployment, but her mother, overwhelmed with taking care of other ailing family members, soon notified Hutchinson that she would not be able to take care of Kamani. Hutchinson was then unable to find a relative to leave her son with before her mandated deadline of November 15.

Rather than abandon her son, Hutchinson, a cook, refused to report for duty on that day. After being arrested, the military took her son and placed him in foster care. Thankfully, her mother flew from California to Georgia to rescue the child from foster care, for the time being. The military is holding Hutchinson in custody while they "investigate the case." While it appears conceivable that this was simply a miscommunication between Hutchinson and her commanders, the right thing to do would be to release her immediately, as the conduct the investigation. Hutchinson's son is an infant, and should be with her mother until the military figures out the best way to send his mother to a combat zone thousands of miles away.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

War Notes: November 16, 2009


Troop morale in Afghanistan has sunk to an all-time low, according to an Army study. Only 5.7% of soldiers polled described their units as having "high morale", down from 10.2% two years ago. The study reasonably attributed the decline in morale to soldiers suffering from the anxiety of their third, four and fifth tours of duty, and noted that the Fort Hood killing were likely to lead to more long-term morale problems.
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In 2010, the cost of the war in Afghanistan is expected to surpass the cost of the war in Iraq for the first time since the latter began. If the Obama administration is able to execute its partial withdrawal strategy in Iraq, the 2010 costs of that war would drop from $86,500,000,000 to $61,000,000,000, while the cost of the war in Afghanistan is expected to rise from $47,000,000,000 to $64,500,000,000. It is important to note that these numbers do not include a possible escalation in troops, which the administration has admitted may cost as much as $40,000,000,000 more. No surprise that many members of the Democratic Caucus are suggesting that they will vote against funding such an escalation.
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The people of ("Old") York rallied behind Corporal Joe Glenton of the British military, who is charged with disobeying orders after leading an anti-war march last month. Glenton made waves in Britain by going AWOL for over two years after declaring the war in Afghanistan immoral and illegal in 2007. He turned himself in earlier this year, and has been very active in the anti-war movement at home. The U.S military has seen similar stories of soldiers refusing to serve, including one tragic story I'll be writing about tomorrow, but no individual soldier refusing to serve as caused an equivalent stir to Glenton over here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

"But we have to do something..."

War Notes: November 14, 2009

To the simplistic Washington creature, all victory in Afghanistan takes is a tougher president who will bomb harder and send more soldiers into battle. But those on the ground in Afghanistan have long advocated a more nuanced approach to victory, especially tempering expectations of what that victory might mean. In recent days, they finally are having their voices heard, in the guise of leaked memos and resignation letters.
Instead of a jingoistic approach to "winning" militarily, we should follow the lead of Ambassador Eikenberry and others in winning the trust of the Afghan people through non-military measures. Eikenberry should have his $2.5 billion request for non-mililtary infrastructure development granted. As the former commander of the U.S forces on the ground, his word should carry at least as much weight as McChrystal's.
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We learned last week that we are paying the Taliban not to shoot at us as we transport supplies through remote areas of Afghanistan. Instead, we should follow the advice of people on the ground and create a permanent security unit that will accompany military suppliers. Surely such a unit would be able to fend off insurgent attacks. If it cannot, then we should really consider the viability of any military victory. To continue to fund our enemies on a daily basis will lead us to ruin.
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The British government, according to leaked memos, is reevaluating which members of the Taliban are enemies. The memo suggests that Karzai target disillusioned young Taliban fighters and integrate them into the Afghan military. That would be followed by winning over select regional warlords affiliated with the Taliban. The article describing the memos provided scant suggestions on how this would actually work, but Prime Minister Gordon Brown is apparently quite certain that Karzai needs to begin some form of negotiating with some elements of the Taliban. Frankly, I don't know what either side brings to the table. At this point, the entire Afghan economy is centered around drugs and war. Maybe we should just offer young Taliban fighters $9 a day not to fight, a dollar more than their Taliban salary. Since there are only 25,000 or so insurgent fighters, we could buy off all the non-ideological insurgents for $200,000 a day, which is the approximate cost of paying one for one additional American soldier to serve for four months in Afganistan.
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Apparently concerned that their new Kabul-based beat reporter, Alyssa Rubin, is providing too real an account of conditions in Afghanistan, the New York Times commissioned a warm and fuzzy piece to run on Friday. The article covered a small village that has given up war for clean drinking water and schools, funding by microgrants that are handed directly to the village, rather than through the corrupt central government. I'm all for grants like this one. Even in praising the progress in the village, however, the article relays the teeth-pulling involved to get the village support for a girls school. Programs like this should be emulated, but since they explicitly circumvent the Karzai government, questions remain unanswered on what role we'd prefer the central government to play in Afghanistan.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How We Pay The Taliban Not To Shoot At Us


In a dark and twisted revelation straight out of Joseph Heller's Catch-22, we now learn that the U.S military is currently paying millions of dollars a year to the Taliban and local warlords so that they don't shoot at the convoys we are using to supply our soldiers so we can shoot at them.

It's all pretty simple, really. First, we contract out all of our supply deliveries and impose rules preventing the supply delivery companies from arming themselves. In turn, the supply companies need to hire security escorts as they travel through Afghanistan, which they subcontract out, driving up the overall price of contracting. They then subcontract to Afghan security companies, which are run by shady relatives of the Karzai administration, who do one of two things. They could actually provide security to the supply convoys, but that is really tough, since they are only allowed to carry AK-47s, which do little in the face of rocket-propelled grenades.

Thus, the security firms end up paying local warlords and Taliban fighters fees in exchange for safe passage. The fees themselves are not staggering compared to other war costs- one truck can usually buy passage through a warlord's zone for about $1,600 (the cost of transporting four gallons of gas). But that money goes a long way in funding the Taliban. In fact, conservative estimates suggest that at least 10% of security transport money goes directly into the hands of the Taliban or other insurgents.

For the Taliban, this is a golden pipeline. Literally as long as the war continues, they will have a source of revenue. Arom Roston's article for The Nation focuses primarily on the Afghan security companies themselves, which took in $2.2 billion dollars last year from the Pentagon. For perspective, that is about 10% of Afghanistan's GDP, and roughly equal to Ambassador Eikenberry's rejected requested for non-military reconstruction aid. One of the main security firms, Watan Risk Management, is run by a pair of Afghan brothers convicted of heroin smuggling in the United States in the 1990s.

This site has listed the many reasons why the war in Afghanistan is wrong, and several reasons why it is unwinnable. This may be the most damning piece of evidence I've come across yet. Only someone with a dark, fatalistic humor would order the continuation, let alone, escalation, of a war in which supplying our own soldiers financially enables our enemies.

That's how you buy eggs for 7 cents in Malta, sell them in the mess halls for 5 and still make a profit.

Americans Solid In Opposition


Here's a number you'd like to hear more in discussions about the war: 56% of Americans oppose the escalation of troops. Maybe that's because real Americans, unlike the Washington beltway crowd, actually deals with the reality of having people they know serve overseas (the exception, Vice President Biden, generally opposes escalation himself). The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll also showed that only 40% of Americans currently support the war. It's too bad only the "fringe left" in the political system can hear the clamor of the American people.

This "Hand-picked General" Opposes Escalation


While we hear a lot about Obama needing to heed to General McChrystal's wishes, since he is Obama's "hand-picked general", it turns out another important general has a different perspective. Retired four-star general Karl Eikenberry, currently serving as U.S Ambassador to Afghanistan, recently sent two private cables to the White House imploring them not to escalate the number of troops on the ground.

Eikenberry warned Obama of President Karzai's "erratic behavior", and questioned his ability to root corruption out of his government. The Ambassador also expressed frustration over the Obama administration's lack of non-military financial support. Eikenberry asked the administration to set aside $2.5 billion on non-military development in 2010, but his request has apparently not even been formally addressed yet. So whenever any of you tout the argument that we should be in Afghanistan, as long as we're focusing on building up the country, please remember, President Obama does not care about that. Whether or not we should be spending billions to build a country from scratch is a whole separate debate, but it's one that the Obama administration probably isn't even interested in having.

Finally, Eikenberry, who served as commander of U.S forces in Afghanistan from 06-07, and was in charge of the Afghan military training program prior to that, wrote in his cables that sending thousands of new U.S troops would "increase the Afghan government's dependence on U.S. support at a time when its own security forces should be taking on more responsibility for fighting." I hope the media really picks up on this guy, and puts him head to head with McChrystal. They are two different men with two different assignments, but they have equal credibility in this debate.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy Armistice Day

Canadian soldier George Lawrence Prince was killed in battle at 10:58am, 11/11/1918, when Allied forces waited until 11am to declare the end of the Great War. For some, peace cannot come a minute too soon.

Obama unsatisfied with McChrystal plan?


It's hard to know what to believe anymore. Two days after CBS News and other sources confirmed the Obama administration's internal decision to go forward with 40,000 troops, the New York Times reports that President Obama, Vice-President Biden and Chief of Staff Emanuel remain unconvinced. If the anti-war movement could pick any three people to be unconvinced, those three would probably go 1, 2 and 4 in the draft (we'd take Gates over Biden, but that's wishful thinking).

Apparently, Obama's main gripe is that he doesn't see how bringing in more soldiers will solve the problem of an incompetent, corrupt and uncooperative Afghan government. The bad news is that Obama is weighing four different strategies that at the minimum add 20,000 new troops, so it's not like he's allowing presentations by Rethink Afghanistan. We'll continue to update these rumors, even if they are just the product of skitish news rooms who want Obama to stop dithering so they can have something to write about.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Nevermind- 40 is the new 34!


So much for my speculative post from earlier today. CBS News has just reported that President Obama will probably deliver General McChrystal substantially all of the 40,000 troops that constitute his "medium-risk" assessment. As I wrote earlier today, these troops will probably not fully arrive until the end of 2010. A proud day for the Nobel Peace Prize winner.

34K is the new Magic Number


It amuses me that Republicans accuse Obama of "dithering" just because he and his cabinet have spent 2o hours (gasp!) in meetings evaluating war strategy. Anyone who has worked, well, anywhere, knows that 20 hours is about the number of hours you put into a hackneyed marketing campaign, let alone an escalating war across the globe.

Now the Obama administration has come up with 34,000 troops as the likely number of new troops sent to Afghanistan. This number represents a "medium-level risk" according to General McChrystal, who has comfortably positioned himself to take the credit for success if this plan works, but say "I told you so" if it fails.

The 34,000-figure seems to have the support of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, that wilely "swing voter" within the Obama team, which may be enough to convince Obama, according to the New York Times. Always good to know that after we all worked so hard to get President Obama and a Democratic Congress elected, the deciding vote on healthcare is held by Olympia Snowe and the deciding vote on the war is held by a Bush appointee.

A total of 23,000 soldiers from the Army and Marines will be sent bolster combat numbers, 7,000 will be sent to support a base in Kandahar, and 4,000 will be sent to train the Afghan military and police. One administration official explained why the decision, which seems to be a done deal internally, may take a while to roll out:

"Another reason for the president to hold off for a bit on ordering more troops to Afghanistan is that we can tell Karzai that if he doesn't act firmly now, there won't be any support for a troop increase. That has the added advantage of being true, and it's easier to hold off on sending more troops than it is to threaten to pull them out once they're there." Afghan officials have suggested that the Obama gave the Karzai administration a six-month deadline to start making serious reforms, but it is doubtful he will wait that long to start sending the new troops. Even if he signs off on the troop increase now, the 34,000 will probably not all be in place until the end of 2010.

Charting the political timeline- it seems that Obama will be able to brush off anti-war critics by claiming that we need to wait until all the troops arrive before we can really admit that the war in Afghanistan has failed. Meanwhile, Republicans will have difficulty critisizing Obama for not doing enough in Afghanistan in the lead up to the 2010 midterm elections, as by then he will have over 100,000 American boots on the ground. Then, if the war is still going really poorly, Obama can start drawing down before the 2012 election. So it goes.

The Other Costs of War


We'll start off with an excerpt from the late, great George Carlin:

I don't like words that hide the truth. I don't words that conceal reality. I don't like euphemisms, or euphemistic language. And American English is loaded with euphemisms. Cause Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent the kind of a soft language to protest themselves from it, and it gets worse with every generation. For some reason, it just keeps getting worse. I'll give you an example of that. There's a condition in combat. Most people know about it. It's when a fighting person's nervous system has been stressed to it's absolute peak and maximum. Can't take anymore input. The nervous system has either (click) snapped or is about to snap. In the first world war, that condition was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables, shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves. That was seventy years ago. Then a whole generation went by and the second world war came along and very same combat condition was called battle fatigue. Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn't seem to hurt as much. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock. Shell shock! Battle fatigue. Then we had the war in Korea, 1950. Madison avenue was riding high by that time, and the very same combat condition was called operational exhaustion. Hey, were up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It's totally sterile now. Operational exhaustion. Sounds like something that might happen to your car. Then of course, came the war in Viet Nam, which has only been over for about sixteen or seventeen years, and thanks to the lies and deceits surrounding that war, I guess it's no surprise that the very same condition was called post-traumatic stress disorder. Still eight syllables, but we've added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon. Post-traumatic stress disorder. I'll bet you if we'd of still been calling it shell shock, some of those Viet Nam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time. I'll betcha. I'll betcha.

And that's how the term PTSD was born. The New York Times Week In Review covers the issue with respect to the Fort Hood killer, Major Nidal Hasan, as well as veterans returning from our two current wars. Below I have included some statistics on shell-shock from an article in the Philadephia Mental Health Examiner:

1. The U.S Department of Veterans Affairs reports that 6-11% of Afghanistan war veterans and 12-20% of Iraq war veterans suffer from shell-shock.

2. These numbers increase upon redeployment. As we have seen in DailyKos tribute posts, many soldiers today serve anywhere from three to five tours of duty. For those serving three deployments, the rate of shell-shock is 12-27%.

3. Veterans suffering from shell-shock are four times more likely to report suicidal thoughts than veterans not suffering from the condition.

4. Since the War on Terror began, there have been almost 700 suicides among active military personnel, double the rate of previous decades.

5. Fort Hood, the site of the ghastly shooting spree, has lost over 75 soldiers to suicide since the War on Terror began, including ten this year (second to Fort Campbell, which has lost 16 soldiers to suicide in 2009).

War Notes: November 9, 2009

Richard Holbrooke On The Way Out?
Falling short of his life-long goal of becoming the U.S Secretary of State, special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke seems to have worn out his welcome. Holbrooke was criticized for his constant absence from Afghanistan in recent months, most notably when Senator Kerry had to be sent in to convince Hamid Karzai to participate in the run-off election, which, of course, did not happen. Holbrooke apparently has a very strained relationship with President Karzai, and their last conversation together ended in a shouting match. Insofar as Holbrooke's envoy position seems to have been a consolation prize, it will probably fade to black once Holbrooke resigns.

Name That Warlord!
Investigative reporter Gareth Porter sheds some light on who exactly the Obama and Brown administrations are referring to when they demand that President Karzai root out corruption. General McChrystal and others have specifically urged Karzai to crack down on his brother, drug-lord Ahmed Wali Karzai, former defence minister Muhammad Qasim Fahim and Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum. The odds of him cracking down on his own brother, especially when he's on the CIA payroll, is close to zero. The article also describes the disappointment of U.S officials over the "Compact on Afghanistan", a series of benchmarks for progress on human rights, anti-corruption measures and the rule of law that Karzai agreed to in 2006. Apparently Karzai has not only failed on most of his pledges, but his government is now achieving sub-2006 levels for many of these measurements.

Can Someone Define Impartiality?
In something of a bizarre rebuttal to demands from U.N envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, that the Karzai administration crack down on corruption, Afghanistan's Foreign Minister declared that Eide "exceeded his authority as a representative of an impartial international organization." Apparently, the Afghan government does not believe that an impartial organization has the right to critisize, because doing so would violate its impartiality. All of this is particularly ironic given the accusations that have been levied against Eide for weeks of his partiality for Hamid Karzai during the election process.

Not So Fast- Brits Not Leaving Any Time Soon
Despite bold words from Prime Minister Gordon Brown in recent weeks, including a warning that President Karzai will "forfeit the right to international support" if he doesn't crack down on corruption, his own Ministry of Defence isn't getting ready for withdrawal any time soon. An internal document revealed an "assumption of a rolling three-year military commitment to Afghanistan." Interestingly, the document describes the need for military success in order to "secure the reputation and long-term future of the armed forces." At least they have revealed the obvious, that at this point the war in Afghanistan is being conducted largely as a matter of pride and saving face rather than for strategically sound reasons.

Out of Commission


Folks, sorry for not posting over the last few days. I've been extremely unwell. But it's time to put the rally cap on, and hopefully Out of Afghanistan will be up and running again by the afternoon.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

War Notes: November 5, 2009


Major Jim Gant, a Green Beret decorated with a Silver Star for his service in Iraq, has published a 50-page manual, One Tribe at a Time. The radical, but perhaps brilliant hypothesis calls for U.S soldiers to embed themselves with Pashtun tribes that are hostile to both Karzai and the Taliban, and win them over. There are several obvious problems that come to mind, some of which Gant readily admits. First, embedding small units with remote tribes exposes them to danger, without hope of back-up. There will be casualties, some of them gruesome. Second, where does he expect to find soldiers who will live amongst these tribes for years at a time, as he proposes? I don't doubt that he would do so, but the assignment is about unenviable as it gets for a soldier on a government salary, away from his family. I will read the manual and give my analysis in a full post.

Apparently, the Pentagon is just not good at handling the funds. Reuters reports that despite the record-breaking $680 billion defense budget and the $130 billion supplement for Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon will need more money to fight the war in Afghanistan, and may ask Congress for an Emergency Supplement. The Pentagon is currently basing its need on a cost of $500,000 per soldier, which their spokesman called, "an extraordinarily rough guess." These people make your head spin. Stir the blood. No other agency or corporation would be permitted to blow a tenth of this money without serious repercussions.

Following the death of another British soldier, the 35% of all Brits now support an immediate withdrawal. A substantial majority have favored a gradual withdrawal for some time now, but the immediate withdrawal numbers are up 10% from just two weeks ago.

Quote Of The Day: Recent insurgent attacks in Afghanistan "probably show that Obama's policies are working well enough that caused the enemy to strike harder because they are losing."
Washington Think Tanker, Thomas Sanderson

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

War Notes: November 4, 2009



Abdullah Abdullah brought closure to the 2009 Afghan presidential campaign, saying that despite the fraudulent August 20th election, "The process has completed itself with that final, illegal decision." Abdullah questioned Karzai's ability to lead the country, but sounded as if he would fade into the background in the coming months. If things get worse, cue his "I told you so" entrance."

In its continuing efforts to sound tough, Reuters reports that the United States is looking for Karzai to "arrest and prosecute corrupt government officials." The article itself does not attribute such a quote to anyone- it rather appears as an editorial lede. Indeed, there is a difference between forming an anti-corruption commission, which will be a farce, and actually prosecuting people. Given the corruption of the Afghan judicial system itself, and the tenuous grip Karzai has on the country, anydog and pony corruption prosecution to please Americans would undoubtadly target someone of minimal importance.

Russia is joining the war effort- by selling helicoptors for a profit to NATO forces. The website Defence Talk reports, "During its operations in Afghanistan, the alliance has faced an acute shortage of helicoptors. In Afghanistan's extremely harsh conditions, helicoptors often break down and need replacements even in non-combat situations." Is it really too much to ask for our $680,000,000,000 Pentagon budget to produce helicoptors we can use in combat, let alone, non-combat situations? Now we have to buy them from the Russians, the very people NATO was formed to create a security alliance against. This article makes the interesting observation that despite its regional interest in the conflict, Russia has largely been sitting on the sidelines. Should the Taliban, or a generally non-western group come to power, Russia wants to be able to tell them, "Look, we were just trying to make a quick buck selling helicoptors. You can work with us..." Then of course, there is the final irony that we are buying Russian helicoptors for their effectiveness after spending the 80s supplying the future Taliban with the surface to air rockets capable of taking their helicoptors down. And the beat goes on...

War Notes: November 3, 2009


It has been hard to find news in recent days, as papers and news channels tout the obvious. I refuse to characterize Obama's request for Karzai to shape up as "news". If he wasn't asking Karzai to clean up before, there would be something seriously wrong. Here are a couple of today's "stories":

Pull The Plug On Afghanistan: KT McFarland declares that there is no logic to the war in Afghanistan. We drove Al Qaeda out of the country long ago, we now have no clear mission, Karzai is an unworkable partner, and we should be focusing on the mess in Pakistan. What makes this article interesting is that it is penned by a right-wing hack over at Fox News. Is Fox floating a trial balloon to see if its viewers are ready to abandon the war. No doubt their incentive is to bludgeon Obama, rather than any principle, but I suppose you take your allies where you can find them.

A Reformed Man: Blindsided by the non-election, the Obama administration is frantically generating a laundry list of ways Karzai can be less corrupt. They include forming an anti-corruption commission, which I'm sure will not be a corrupt collection of Karzai-appointees, merit-based appointments to administrative posts (ditto) and giving more authority to local leaders. Wait, what? Brutal local warlords seem to already have all the power they need and deserve. Karzai lording power of them doesn't seem to be the problem. Along those lines, the Obama administration wants to open up communication with the oxymoronic "moderate Taliban." Karzai has insisted on this before. I say go for it, what do we have to lose? These are probably loathsome people who we want nothing to do with, but if they can slow the bloodshed, we'll take it. The administration wants Karzai to promise to make these reforms on national tv, so he cannot renege on them. Because politicians never renege on promises they make on national tv (Hi universal healthcare!).

Afghans Exasperated By Five More Years of Karzai: You thought we were tired of this guy? As Reuters discovers in a thoroughly depressing news dispatch, people just hate this guy and the culture of corruption that has permeated all levels of Afghan culture. Government worker Ahmad Nazeer summed it up best: "Karzai and his team of warlords are not obviously the best choice, but we don't have an option at this time." The people of Afghanistan don't have much of a choice, but we do. Pull the hell out. Afghanistan is currently the 176th most corrupt nation in the world (out of 180). What do we really think we can accomplish there?

Monday, November 2, 2009

McChrystal Light

According to those good old anonymous "U.S officials," President Obama is considering sending McChrystal more troops to pursue his dubious aims, though not as many as McChrystal has asked for. While usually an AP report without numbers or attributed sources wouldn't be much of a news story, the piece also claims that Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a George Bush appointee, is the swing vote on the decision within the Obama team. You know, just like Republican Senator Olympia Snowe is the swing vote on healthcare in the Democratic Senate.

Gates apparently does not like the Biden plan, but he also doesn't support a long, open-ended occupation. Like Obama, Gates seems to view splitting the baby as the best policy prescription. As much as I support the withdrawal of American troops from most parts of Afghanistan, I would prefer a massive escalation to a small one, which will only drag out the military conflict in its stalemate form. I imagine my more hawkish friends would agree with me that it's all in or all out at this point. Instead, what we will probably end up with is something like an additional 15,000 troops, the gross nutra-sweet taste of McChrystal Light. Finally, some food for thought for those who accuse Obama of dithering: he has already sent 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan since taking office nine months ago. We don't have to ask if a surge will work, we already know it's not working.