Iran Election Guide

Donate to EAWV

Or, click to learn more


Entries in Taliban (10)


How US Handles Afghanistan's Civilian Deaths: Blame the Button-Pushers 

Please excuse a quick polemical comment before I post a report from The New York Times on the US military's handling of civilian deaths from drone attacks in Afghanistan.

If US commanders or, for that matter, President Obama really wanted to be up front and above board on this issue --- given our supposed campaign for “hearts and minds” in this conflict --- they would say: “Civilians die in war zones. They die from being caught up in the fight, even though they take no part in it. Civilians die from our tactics of unmanned planes firing missiles in this conflict. That is regrettable, but that is war.”

They would say that rather than pretending that these deaths --- which, let it be remembered, the US military denied at the time, just as they have initially denied on every occasion that they carry responsibility --- are the outcome of a one-off mistake by “rogue operators”.

Afghanistan Correction: US Military “Marjah NOT a Bleeding Ulcer”

The US military has posted a press release and a copy, with redactions, of its official report. This was Juan Cole's report, via EA, at the time. Meanwhile, the story from Dexter Filkins of The New York Times:

The American military on Saturday released a scathing report on the deaths of 23 Afghan civilians, saying that “inaccurate and unprofessional” reporting by Predator drone operators helped lead to an airstrike in February on a group of innocent men, women and children.

The report said that four American officers, including a brigade and battalion commander, had been reprimanded, and that two junior officers had also been disciplined. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who apologized to President Hamid Karzai after the attack, announced a series of training measures intended to reduce the chances of similar events.

The attack, in which three vehicles were destroyed, illustrated the extraordinary sensitivity to the inadvertent killing of noncombatants by NATO forces. Since taking command here last June, General McChrystal has made protection of civilians a high priority, and has sharply restricted airstrikes.

The overwhelming majority of civilian deaths in Afghanistan are caused by insurgents, but the growing intensity of the fighting this year has sent civilian casualties to their highest levels since 2001.

General McChrystal’s concern is that NATO forces, in their ninth year of operations in Afghanistan, are rapidly wearing out their welcome. Opinion polls here appear to reflect that.

“When we make a mistake, we must be forthright,” General McChrystal said in a statement. “And we must do everything in our power to correct that mistake.”

The civilian deaths highlighted the hazards in relying on remotely piloted aircraft to track people suspected of being insurgents. In this case, as in many others where drones are employed by the military, the people steering and spotting the targets sat at a console in Creech Air Force Base in Nevada.

The attack occurred on the morning of Feb. 21, near the village of Shahidi Hassas in Oruzgan Province, a Taliban-dominated area in southern Afghanistan. An American Special Operations team was tracking a group of insurgents when a pickup truck and two sport utility vehicles began heading their way.

The Predator operators reported seeing only military-age men in the truck, the report said. The ground commander concurred, the report said, and the Special Operations team asked for an airstrike. An OH-58D Kiowa helicopter fired Hellfire missiles and rockets, destroying the vehicles and killing 23 civilians. Twelve others were wounded.

The report, signed by Maj. Gen. Timothy P. McHale, found that the Predator operators in Nevada and “poorly functioning command posts” in the area failed to provide the ground commander with evidence that there were civilians in the trucks. Because of that, General McHale wrote, the commander wrongly believed that the vehicles, then seven miles away, contained insurgents who were moving to reinforce the fighters he and his men were tracking.

Read the rest of the article....

US Foreign Policy Video and Transcript: Obama Speech at West Point (22 May)

President Obama used a commencement address at the US Military Academy on Saturday to deliver a new "National Security Strategy":


THE PRESIDENT: It is wonderful to be back at the United States Military Academy -- the oldest continuously occupied military post in America -- as we commission the newest officers in the United States Army.

Thank you, General Hagenbeck, for your introduction, on a day that holds special meaning for you and the Dean, General Finnegan. Both of you first came to West Point in the Class of 1971 and went on to inspire soldiers under your command. You've led this Academy to a well-deserved recognition: best college in America. (Applause.) And today, you're both looking forward to a well-deserved retirement from the Army. General Hagenbeck and Judy, General Finnegan and Joan, we thank you for 39 years of remarkable service to the Army and to America. (Applause.)

To the Commandant, General Rapp, the Academy staff and faculty, most of whom are veterans, thank you for your service and for inspiring these cadets to become the "leaders of character" they are today. (Applause.) Let me also acknowledge the presence of General Shinseki, Secretary McHugh, the members of Congress who are with us here today, including two former soldiers this Academy knows well, Senator Jack Reed and Congressman Patrick Murphy. (Applause.)

To all the families here -- especially all the moms and dads -- this day is a tribute to you as well. The decision to come to West Point was made by your sons and daughters, but it was you who instilled in them a spirit of service that has led them to this hallowed place in a time of war. So on behalf of the American people, thank you for your example and thank you for your patriotism. (Applause.)

To the United States Corps of Cadets, and most of all, the Class of 2010 -- it is a singular honor to serve as your Commander-in-Chief. As your Superintendent indicated, under our constitutional system my power as President is wisely limited. But there are some areas where my power is absolute. And so, as your Commander-in-Chief, I hereby absolve all cadets who are on restriction for minor conduct offenses. (Applause.) I will leave the definition of "minor" -- (laughter) -- to those who know better. (Laughter.)

Class of 2010, today is your day -- a day to celebrate all that you've achieved, in the finest tradition of the soldier-scholar, and to look forward to the important service that lies ahead.

You have pushed yourself through the agony of Beast Barracks, the weeks of training in rain and mud, and, I'm told, more inspections and drills than perhaps any class before you. Along the way, I'm sure you faced a few moments when you asked yourself: "What am I doing here?" I have those moments sometimes. (Laughter.)

You've trained for the complexities of today's missions, knowing that success will be measured not merely by performance on the battlefield, but also by your understanding of the cultures and traditions and languages in the place where you serve.

You've reached out across borders, with more international experience than any class in Academy history. You've not only attended foreign academies to forge new friendships, you've welcomed into your ranks cadets from nearly a dozen countries.

You've challenged yourself intellectually in the sciences and the humanities, in history and technology. You've achieved a standard of academic excellence that is without question, tying the record for the most post-graduate scholarships of any class in West Point history. (Applause.)

This includes your number one overall cadet and your valedictorian -- Liz Betterbed and Alex Rosenberg. And by the way, this is the first time in Academy history where your two top awards have been earned by female candidates. (Applause.)

This underscores a fact that I've seen in the faces of our troops from Baghdad to Bagram -- in the 21st century, our women in uniform play an indispensable role in our national defense. And time and again, they have proven themselves to be role models for our daughters and our sons -- as students and as soldiers and as leaders in the United States armed forces.

And the faces in this stadium show a simple truth: America's Army represents the full breadth of America's experience. You come from every corner of our country -- from privilege and from poverty, from cities and small towns. You worship all of the great religions that enrich the life of our people. You include the vast diversity of race and ethnicity that is fundamental to our nation's strength.

There is, however, one thing that sets you apart. Here in these quiet hills, you've come together to prepare for the most difficult test of our time. You signed up knowing your service would send you into harm's way, and you did so long after the first drums of war were sounded. In you we see the commitment of our country, and timeless virtues that have served our nation well.

We see your sense of duty -- including those who have earned their right shoulder patch -- their right shoulder combat patches, like the soldier who suffered a grenade wound in Iraq, yet still helped his fellow soldiers to evacuate -- your First Captain of the Corps of Cadets, Tyler Gordy. (Applause.)

We see your sense of honor -- in your respect for tradition, knowing that you join a Long Grey Line that stretches through the centuries; and in your reverence for each other, as when the Corps stands in silence every time a former cadet makes the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. Indeed, today we honor the 78 graduates of this Academy who have given their lives for our freedom and our security in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And we see your love of country -- a devotion to America captured in the motto you chose as a class, a motto which will guide your lives of service: "Loyal 'Til the End."

Duty. Honor. Love of country. Everything you have learned here, all that you've achieved here, has prepared you for today -- when you raise your right hand; when you take that oath; when your loved one or mentor pins those gold bars on your shoulders; when you become, at long last, commissioned officers in the United States Army.

This is the ninth consecutive commencement that has taken place at West Point with our nation at war. This time of war began in Afghanistan -- a place that may seem as far away from this peaceful bend in the Hudson River as anywhere on Earth. The war began only because our own cities and civilians were attacked by violent extremists who plotted from a distant place, and it continues only because that plotting persists to this day.

For many years, our focus was on Iraq. And year after year, our troops faced a set of challenges there that were as daunting as they were complex. A lesser Army might have seen its spirit broken. But the American military is more resilient than that. Our troops adapted, they persisted, they partnered with coalition and Iraqi counterparts, and through their competence and creativity and courage, we are poised to end our combat mission in Iraq this summer. (Applause.)

Even as we transition to an Iraqi lead and bring our troops home, our commitment to the Iraqi people endures. We will continue to advise and assist Iraqi security forces, who are already responsible for security in most of the country. And a strong American civilian presence will help Iraqis forge political and economic progress. This will not be a simple task, but this is what success looks like: an Iraq that provides no haven to terrorists; a democratic Iraq that is sovereign and stable and self-reliant.

And as we end the war in Iraq, though, we are pressing forward in Afghanistan. Six months ago, I came to West Point to announce a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. And I stand here humbled by the knowledge that many of you will soon be serving in harm's way. I assure you, you will go with the full support of a proud and grateful nation.

We face a tough fight in Afghanistan. Any insurgency that is confronted with a direct challenge will turn to new tactics. And from Marja to Kandahar, that is what the Taliban has done through assassination and indiscriminate killing and intimidation. Moreover, any country that has known decades of war will be tested in finding political solutions to its problems, and providing governance that can sustain progress and serve the needs of its people.

So this war has changed over the last nine years, but it's no less important than it was in those days after 9/11. We toppled the Taliban regime -- now we must break the momentum of a Taliban insurgency and train Afghan security forces. We have supported the election of a sovereign government -- now we must strengthen its capacities. We've brought hope to the Afghan people -- now we must see that their country does not fall prey to our common enemies. Cadets, there will be difficult days ahead. We will adapt, we will persist, and I have no doubt that together with our Afghan and international partners, we will succeed in Afghanistan. (Applause.)

Now even as we fight the wars in front of us, we also have to see the horizon beyond these wars -- because unlike a terrorist whose goal is to destroy, our future will be defined by what we build. We have to see that horizon, and to get there we must pursue a strategy of national renewal and global leadership. We have to build the sources of America's strength and influence, and shape a world that's more peaceful and more prosperous.

Time and again, Americans have risen to meet and to shape moments of change. This is one of those moments -- an era of economic transformation and individual empowerment; of ancient hatreds and new dangers; of emerging powers and new global challenges. And we're going to need all of you to help meet these challenges. You've answered the call. You, and all who wear America's uniform, remain the cornerstone of our national defense, the anchor of global security. And through a period when too many of our institutions have acted irresponsibly, the American military has set a standard of service and sacrifice that is as great as any in this nation's history. (Applause.)

Now the rest of us -- the rest of us must do our part. And to do so, we must first recognize that our strength and influence abroad begins with steps we take at home. We must educate our children to compete in an age where knowledge is capital, and the marketplace is global. We must develop clean energy that can power new industry and unbound us from foreign oil and preserve our planet. We have to pursue science and research that unlocks wonders as unforeseen to us today as the microchip and the surface of the moon were a century ago.

Simply put, American innovation must be the foundation of American power -- because at no time in human history has a nation of diminished economic vitality maintained its military and political primacy. And so that means that the civilians among us, as parents and community leaders, elected officials, business leaders, we have a role to play. We cannot leave it to those in uniform to defend this country -- we have to make sure that America is building on its strengths. (Applause.)

As we build these economic sources of our strength, the second thing we must do is build and integrate the capabilities that can advance our interests, and the common interests of human beings around the world. America's armed forces are adapting to changing times, but your efforts have to be complemented. We will need the renewed engagement of our diplomats, from grand capitals to dangerous outposts. We need development experts who can support Afghan agriculture and help Africans build the capacity to feed themselves. We need intelligence agencies that work seamlessly with their counterparts to unravel plots that run from the mountains of Pakistan to the streets of our cities. We need law enforcement that can strengthen judicial systems abroad, and protect us here at home. And we need first responders who can act swiftly in the event of earthquakes and storms and disease.

The burdens of this century cannot fall on our soldiers alone. It also cannot fall on American shoulders alone. Our adversaries would like to see America sap its strength by overextending our power. And in the past, we've always had the foresight to avoid acting alone. We were part of the most powerful wartime coalition in human history through World War II. We stitched together a community of free nations and institutions to endure and ultimately prevail during a Cold War.

Yes, we are clear-eyed about the shortfalls of our international system. But America has not succeeded by stepping out of the currents of cooperation --- we have succeeded by steering those currents in the direction of liberty and justice, so nations thrive by meeting their responsibilities and face consequences when they don't.

So we have to shape an international order that can meet the challenges of our generation. We will be steadfast in strengthening those old alliances that have served us so well, including those who will serve by your side in Afghanistan and around the globe. As influence extends to more countries and capitals, we also have to build new partnerships, and shape stronger international standards and institutions.

This engagement is not an end in itself. The international order we seek is one that can resolve the challenges of our times --- countering violent extremism and insurgency; stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and securing nuclear materials; combating a changing climate and sustaining global growth; helping countries feed themselves and care for their sick; preventing conflict and healing wounds. If we are successful in these tasks, that will lessen conflicts around the world. It will be supportive of our efforts by our military to secure our country.

More than anything else, though, our success will be claimed by who we are as a country. This is more important than ever, given the nature of the challenges that we face. Our campaign to disrupt, dismantle, and to defeat al Qaeda is part of an international effort that is necessary and just.

But this is a different kind of war. There will be no simple moment of surrender to mark the journey's end --- no armistice, no banner headline. Though we have had more success in eliminating al Qaeda leaders in recent months than in recent years, they will continue to recruit, and plot, and exploit our open society. We see that in bombs that go off in Kabul and Karachi. We see it in attempts to blow up an airliner over Detroit or an SUV in Times Square, even as these failed attacks show that pressure on networks like al Qaeda is forcing them to rely on terrorists with less time and space to train. We see the potential duration of this struggle in al Qaeda's gross distortions of Islam, their disrespect for human life, and their attempt to prey upon fear and hatred and prejudice.

So the threat will not go away soon, but let's be clear: Al Qaeda and its affiliates are small men on the wrong side of history. They lead no nation. They lead no religion. We need not give in to fear every time a terrorist tries to scare us. We should not discard our freedoms because extremists try to exploit them. We cannot succumb to division because others try to drive us apart. We are the United States of America. (Applause.) We are the United States of America, and we have repaired our union, and faced down fascism, and outlasted communism. We've gone through turmoil, we've gone through Civil War, and we have come out stronger --- and we will do so once more. (Applause.)

And I know this to be true because I see the strength and resilience of the American people. Terrorists want to scare us. New Yorkers just go about their lives unafraid. (Applause.) Extremists want a war between America and Islam, but Muslims are part of our national life, including those who serve in our United States Army. (Applause.) Adversaries want to divide us, but we are united by our support for you -- soldiers who send a clear message that this country is both the land of the free and the home of the brave. (Applause.)

You know, in an age of instant access to information, a lot of cynicism in the news, it's easy to lose perspective in a flood of pictures and the swirl of political debate. Power and influence can seem to ebb and flow. Wars and grand plans can be deemed won or lost day to day, even hour to hour. As we experience the immediacy of the image of a suffering child or the boasts of a prideful dictator, it's easy to give in to the belief sometimes that human progress has stalled --- that events are beyond our control, that change is not possible.

But this nation was founded upon a different notion. We believe, "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." (Applause.) And that truth has bound us together, a nation populated by people from around the globe, enduring hardship and achieving greatness as one people. And that belief is as true today as it was 200 years ago. It is a belief that has been claimed by people of every race and religion in every region of the world. Can anybody doubt that this belief will be any less true --- any less powerful --- two years, two decades, or even two centuries from now?

And so a fundamental part of our strategy for our security has to be America's support for those universal rights that formed the creed of our founding. And we will promote these values above all by living them -- through our fidelity to the rule of law and our Constitution, even when it's hard; even when we're being attacked; even when we're in the midst of war.

And we will commit ourselves to forever pursuing a more perfect union. Together with our friends and allies, America will always seek a world that extends these rights so that when an individual is being silenced, we aim to be her voice. Where ideas are suppressed, we provide space for open debate. Where democratic institutions take hold, we add a wind at their back. When humanitarian disaster strikes, we extend a hand. Where human dignity is denied, America opposes poverty and is a source of opportunity. That is who we are. That is what we do.

We do so with no illusions. We understand change doesn't come quick. We understand that neither America nor any nation can dictate every outcome beyond its borders. We know that a world of mortal men and women will never be rid of oppression or evil. What we can do, what we must do, is work and reach and fight for the world that we seek -- all of us, those in uniform and those who are not.

And in preparing for today, I turned to the world --- to the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes. And reflecting on his Civil War experience, he said, and I quote, "To fight out a war you must believe in something and want something with all your might. So must you do to carry anything else to an end worth reaching." Holmes went on, "More than that, you must be willing to commit yourself to a course, perhaps a long and hard one, without being able to foresee exactly where you will come out."

America does not fight for the sake of fighting. We abhor war. As one who has never experienced the field of battle --- and I say that with humility, knowing, as General MacArthur said, "the soldier above all others prays for peace" --- we fight because we must. We fight to keep our families and communities safe. We fight for the security of our allies and partners, because America believes that we will be safer when our friends are safer; that we will be stronger when the world is more just.

So cadets, a long and hard road awaits you. You go abroad because your service is fundamental to our security back home. You go abroad as representatives of the values that this country was founded upon. And when you inevitably face setbacks --- when the fighting is fierce or a village elder is fearful; when the end that you are seeking seems uncertain --- think back to West Point.

Here, in this peaceful part of the world, you have drilled and you have studied and come of age in the footsteps of great men and women --- Americans who faced times of trial, and who even in victory could not have foreseen the America they helped to build, the world they helped to shape.

George Washington was able to free a band of patriots from the rule of an empire, but he could not have foreseen his country growing to include 50 states connecting two oceans.

[Ulysses S.] Grant was able to save a union and see the slaves freed, but he could not have foreseen just how much his country would extend full rights and opportunities to citizens of every color.

[Dwight] Eisenhower was able to see Germany surrender and a former enemy grow into an ally, but he could not have foreseen the Berlin Wall coming down without a shot being fired.

Today it is your generation that has borne a heavy burden --- soldiers, graduates of this Academy like John Meyer and Greg Ambrosia who have braved enemy fire, protected their units, carried out their missions, earned the commendation of this Army, and of a grateful nation.

From the birth of our existence, America has had a faith in the future -- a belief that where we're going is better than where we've been, even when the path ahead is uncertain. To fulfill that promise, generations of Americans have built upon the foundation of our forefathers -- finding opportunity, fighting injustice, forging a more perfect union. Our achievement would not be possible without the Long Grey Line that has sacrificed for duty, for honor, for country. (Applause.)

And years from now when you return here, when for you the shadows have grown longer, I have no doubt that you will have added your name to the book of history. I have no doubt that we will have prevailed in the struggles of our times. I have no doubt that your legacy will be an America that has emerged stronger, and a world that is more just, because we are Americans, and our destiny is never written for us, it is written by us, and we are ready to lead once more.

Thank you. May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.

Afghanistan & Pakistan Analysis: Obama on a Road to Ruin? (Englehardt)

Tom Englehardt writes for TomDispatch:

On stage, it would be farce.  In Afghanistan and Pakistan, it’s bound to play out as tragedy.

Less than two months ago, Barack Obama flew into Afghanistan for six hours -- essentially to read the riot act to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whom his ambassador had only months before termed “not an adequate strategic partner.”  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen followed within a day to deliver his own “stern message.”

Afghanistan-Pakistan Revealed: America’s Private Spies

While still on Air Force One, National Security Adviser James Jones offered reporters a version of the tough talk Obama was bringing with him.  Karzai would later see one of Jones’s comments and find it insulting.  Brought to his attention as well would be a newspaper article that quoted an anonymous senior U.S. military official as saying of his half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, a reputedly corrupt powerbroker in the southern city of Kandahar: “I'd like him out of there... But there's nothing that we can do unless we can link him to the insurgency, then we can put him on the [target list] and capture and kill him."  This was tough talk indeed.

At the time, the media repeatedly pointed out that President Obama, unlike his predecessor, had consciously developed a standoffish relationship with Karzai.  Meanwhile, both named and anonymous officials regularly castigated the Afghan president in the press for stealing an election and running a hopelessly corrupt, inefficient government that had little power outside Kabul, the capital.  A previously planned Karzai visit to Washington was soon put on hold to emphasize the toughness of the new approach.

The administration was clearly intent on fighting a better version of the Afghan war with a new commander, a new plan of action, and a well-tamed Afghan president, a client head of state who would finally accept his lesser place in the greater scheme of things.  A little blunt talk, some necessary threats, and the big stick of American power and money were sure to do the trick.

Meanwhile, across the border in Pakistan, the administration was in an all-carrots mood when it came to the local military and civilian leadership --- billions of dollars of carrots, in fact.  Our top military and civilian officials had all but taken up residence in Islamabad.  By March, for instance, Admiral Mullen had already visited the country 15 times and U.S. dollars (and promises of more) were flowing in.  Meanwhile, U.S. Special Operations Forces were arriving in the country’s wild borderlands to train the Pakistani Frontier Corps and the skies were filling with CIA-directed unmanned aerial vehicles pounding those same borderlands, where the Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other insurgent groups involved in the Afghan War were located.

In Pakistan, it was said, a crucial “strategic relationship” was being carefully cultivated.  As The New York Times reported, “In March, [the Obama administration] held a high-level strategic dialogue with Pakistan’s government, which officials said went a long way toward building up trust between the two sides.”  Trust indeed.

Skip ahead to mid-May and somehow, like so many stealthy insurgents, the carrots and sticks had crossed the poorly marked, porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan heading in opposite directions.  Last week, Karzai was in Washington being given “the red carpet treatment” as part of what was termed an Obama administration “charm offensive” and a “four-day love fest.”

The president set aside a rare stretch of hours to entertain Karzai and the planeload of ministers he brought with him.  At a joint news conference, Obama insisted that “perceived tensions” between the two men had been “overstated.”  Specific orders went out from the White House to curb public criticism of the Afghan president and give him “more public respect” as “the chief U.S. partner in the war effort.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assured Karzai of Washington’s long-term “commitment” to his country, as did Obama and Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal.  Praise was the order of the day.

John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, interrupted a financial reform debate to invite Karzai onto the Senate floor where he was mobbed by senators eager to shake his hand (an honor not bestowed on a head of state since 1967).  He was once again our man in Kabul.  It was a stunning turnaround: a president almost without power in his own country had somehow tamed the commander-in-chief of the globe’s lone superpower.

Meanwhile, Clinton, who had shepherded the Afghan president on a walk through a “private enclave” in Georgetown and hosted a “glittering reception” for him, appeared on CBS’s “60 Minutes” to flay Pakistan.  In the wake of an inept failed car bombing in Times Square, she had this stern message to send to the Pakistani leadership: "We want more, we expect more... We've made it very clear that if, heaven forbid, an attack like this that we can trace back to Pakistan were to have been successful, there would be very severe consequences."  Such consequences would evidently include a halt to the flow of U.S. aid to a country in economically disastrous shape.  She also accused at least some Pakistani officials of “practically harboring” Osama bin Laden.  So much for the carrots.

According to the Washington Post, General McChrystal delivered a “similar message” to the chief of staff of the Pakistani Army.  To back up Clinton’s public threats and McChrystal’s private ones, hordes of anonymous American military and civilian officials were ready to pepper reporters with leaks about the tough love that might now be in store for Pakistan.  The same Post story, for instance, spoke of “some officials...weighing in favor of a far more muscular and unilateral U.S. policy. It would include a geographically expanded use of drone missile attacks in Pakistan and pressure for a stronger U.S. military presence there.”

According to similar accounts, “more pointed” messages were heading for key Pakistanis and “new and stiff warnings” were being issued. Americans were said to be pushing for expanded Special Operations training programs in the Pakistani tribal areas and insisting that the Pakistani military launch a major campaign in North Waziristan, the heartland of various resistance groups including, possibly, al-Qaeda.  “The element of threat” was now in the air, according to Tariq Fatemi, a former Pakistani ambassador, while in press reports you could hear rumblings about an “internal debate” in Washington that might result in more American “boots on the ground.”

Helpless Escalation

In other words, in the space of two months the Obama administration had flip-flopped when it came to who exactly was to be pressured and who reassured.  A typically anonymous “former U.S. official who advises the administration on Afghan policy” caught the moment well in a comment to The Wall Street Journal.  “This whole bending over backwards to show Karzai the red carpet,” he told journalist Peter Spiegel, “is a result of not having had a concerted strategy for how to grapple with him."

On a larger scale, the flip-flop seemed to reflect tactical and strategic incoherence --- and not just in relation to Karzai.  To all appearances, when it comes to the administration's two South Asian wars, one open, one more hidden, Obama and his top officials are flailing around.  They are evidently trying whatever comes to mind in much the manner of the oil company BP as it repeatedly fails to cap a demolished oil well 5,000 feet under the waves in the Gulf of Mexico.  In a sense, when it comes to Washington’s ability to control the situation, Pakistan and Afghanistan might as well be 5,000 feet underwater.  Like BP, Obama’s officials, military and civilian, seem to be operating in the dark, using unmanned robotic vehicles.  And as in the Gulf, after each new failure, the destruction only spreads.

For all the policy reviews and shuttling officials, the surging troops, extra private contractors, and new bases, Obama’s wars are worsening.  Lacking is any coherent regional policy or semblance of real strategy -- counterinsurgency being only a method of fighting and a set of tactics for doing so.  In place of strategic coherence there is just one knee-jerk response: escalation.  As unexpected events grip the Obama administration by the throat, its officials increasingly act as if further escalation were their only choice, their fated choice.

This response is eerily familiar.  It permeated Washington’s mentality in the Vietnam War years.  In fact, one of the strangest aspects of that war was the way America’s leaders -- including President Lyndon Johnson -- felt increasingly helpless and hopeless even as they committed themselves to further steps up the ladder of escalation.

We don’t know what the main actors in Obama’s war are feeling.  We don’t have their private documents or their secret taped conversations.  Nonetheless, it should ring a bell when, as wars devolve, the only response Washington can imagine is further escalation.

Washington Boxed In

By just about every recent account, including new reports from the independent Government Accountability Office and the Pentagon, the U.S. mission in Afghanistan is going dreadfully, even as the Taliban insurgency gains potency and expands.  This spring, preparing for his first relatively minor U.S. offensive in Marja, a Taliban-controlled area of Helmand Province, General McChrystal confidently announced that, after the insurgents were dislodged, an Afghan “government in a box” would be rolled out. From a governing point of view, however, the offensive seems to have been a fiasco.  The Taliban is now reportedly re-infiltrating the area, while the governmental apparatus in that nation-building “box” has proven next to nonexistent, corrupt, and thoroughly incompetent.

Today, according to a report by the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS), the local population is far more hostile to the American effort.  According to the ICOS, “61% of Afghans interviewed feel more negative about NATO forces after Operation Moshtarak than they did before the February military offensive in Marja.”

As Alissa Rubin of The New York Times summed up the situation in Afghanistan more generally:
Even as American troops clear areas of militants, they find either no government to fill the vacuum, as in Marja, or entrenched power brokers, like President Karzai's brother in Kandahar, who monopolize NATO contracts and other development projects and are resented by large portions of the population. In still other places, government officials rarely show up at work and do little to help local people, and in most places the Afghan police are incapable of providing security. Corruption, big and small, remains an overwhelming complaint.

In other words, the U.S. really doesn’t have an “adequate partner”, and this is all the more striking since the Taliban is by no stretch of the imagination a particularly popular movement of national resistance.  As in Vietnam, a counterinsurgency war lacking a genuine governmental partner is an oxymoron, not to speak of a recipe for disaster.

Not surprisingly, doubts about General McChrystal’s war plan are reportedly spreading inside the Pentagon and in Washington, even before it’s been fully launched.  The major U.S. summer “operation” --- it’s no longer being labeled an “offensive” -- in the Kandahar region already shows signs of “faltering” and its unpopularity is rising among an increasingly resistant local population.  In addition, civilian deaths from U.S. and NATO actions are distinctly on the rise and widely unsettling to Afghans.  Meanwhile, military and police forces being trained in U.S./NATO mentoring programs considered crucial to Obama’s war plans are proving remarkably hapless.

McClatchy News, for example, recently reported that the new Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP), a specially trained elite force brought into the Marja area and “touted as the country's best and brightest” is, according to “U.S. military strategists[,] plagued by the same problems as Afghanistan's conventional police, who are widely considered corrupt, ineffective and inept.”  Drug use and desertions in ANCOP have been rife.

And yet, it seems as if all that American officials can come up with, in response to the failed Times Square car bombing and the “news” that the bomber was supposedly trained in Waziristan by the Pakistani Taliban, is the demand that Pakistan allow “more of a boots-on-the-ground strategy” and more American trainers into the country.  Such additional U.S. forces would serve only “as advisers and trainers, not as combat forces.”  So the mantra now goes reassuringly, but given the history of the Vietnam War, it’s a cringe-worthy demand.

In the meantime, the Obama administration has officially widened its targeting in the CIA drone war in the Pakistani borderlands to include low-level, no-name militants.  It is also ratcheting up such attacks, deeply unpopular in a country where 64% of the inhabitants, according to a recent poll, already view the United States as an "enemy" and only 9% as a “partner.”

Since the Times Square incident, the CIA has specifically been striking North Waziristan, where the Pakistani army has as yet refrained from launching operations.  The U.S., as the Nation’s Jeremy Scahill reports, has also increased its support for the Pakistani Air Force, which will only add to the wars in the skies of that country.

All of this represents escalation of the “covert” U.S. war in Pakistan.  None of it offers particular hope of success.  All of it stokes enmity and undoubtedly encourages more “lone wolf” jihadis to lash out at the U.S.  It’s a formula for blowback, but not for victory.

BP-Style Pragmatism Goes to War

One thing can be said about the Bush administration: it had a grand strategic vision to go with its wars.  Its top officials were convinced that the American military, a force they saw as unparalleled on planet Earth, would be capable of unilaterally shock-and-awing America’s enemies in what they liked to call “the arc of instability” or “the Greater Middle East” (that is, the oil heartlands of the planet).  Its two wars would bring not just Afghanistan and Iraq, but Iran and Syria to their knees, leaving Washington to impose a Pax Americana on the Middle East and Central Asia (in the process of which groups like Hamas and Hezbollah would be subdued and anti-American jihadism ended).

They couldn’t, of course, have been more wrong, something quite apparent to the Obama team.  Now, however, we have a crew in Washington who seem to have no vision, great or small, when it comes to American foreign or imperial policy, and who seem, in fact, to lack any sense of strategy at all.  What they have is a set of increasingly discredited tactics and an approach that might pass for good old American see-what-works “pragmatism,” but these days might more aptly be labeled “BP-style pragmatism.”

The vision may be long gone, but the wars live on with their own inexorable momentum.  Add into the mix American domestic politics, which could discourage any president from changing course and de-escalating a war, and you have what looks like a fatal --- and fatally expensive --- brew.

We’ve moved from Bush’s visionary disasters to Obama’s flailing wars, while the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq continue to pay the price.  If only we could close the curtain on this strange mix of farce and tragedy, but evidently we’re still stuck in act four of a five-act nightmare.

Even as our Afghan and Pakistani wars are being sucked dry of whatever meaning might remain, the momentum is in only one direction -- toward escalation.  A thousand repetitions of an al-Qaeda-must-be-destroyed mantra won’t change that one bit.  More escalation, unfortunately, is yet to come.

Afghanistan Analysis: Diplomatically Clinging to Guns and Counterinsurgency (Mull)

EA correspondent Josh Mull is the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can also read his work at Rethink Afghanistan:

There's been a lot of public debate lately about our counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy in Afghanistan. Derrick Crowe looked through the government's own reports and discovered the approach is a giant failure. Steve Hynd wonders if it isn't stratagem at all, but an ideology. I asked if we even had any idea what's going on with the strategy. Gareth Porter finds that Pentagon leaders don't like it, and Nancy Youssef piles on that the military is turning against COIN. And in Youssef's piece, one of the Grand Dragons of the COIN blogosphere, Andrew Exum (Abu Muqawama to the cool kids), appeared to distance himself from the strategy. "I can't imagine anyone would opt for this option," he said.

Exum later clarified his statement, sort of, but he had a good point:
If you continue to have a problem with the fact that we are now pursuing a counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, by the way, you should spend less time whining about the generals and think tank researchers and take the issue up with the president. As the secretary of state [Hillary Clinton] said today at USIP [US Institute for Peace], while holding forth on the strategy reviews that took place in the spring and fall, "the president reached a conclusion [after the reviews of 2009] that should be respected by Americans."

It's a bit of stretch for Exum to throw all the blame on the politicians, seeing as how he and a host of other COINdinistas built their Washington Beltway careers on an aggressive preaching of counterinsurgency religion to those same politicians. But our leaders are primarily responsible for the policy failure.

For instance, Afghan president Hamid Karzai visits Washington with a peace plan, and we just take it as normal that he has to "persuade a sceptical Barack Obama that it is time to negotiate with the Taliban." Skeptical about negotiating? Obama has a Nobel Peace Prize, and he's skeptical?

Exum's quote from Secretary Clinton is equally outrageous. We've so completely lost sight of our peaceful capabilities, so misunderstood the point of our civilian foreign policy agencies, that even our diplomats demand our military occupations be "respected". Our problem is not picking the right military strategy, but picking any military strategy at all.

Why is the Secretary of State out there championing the President's military strategy? Exum pointed out the President's stated objectives in Afghanistan and said he couldn't advocate "in good faith" any other strategy but counterinsurgency to meet those objectives. Fine, no mystery why he thinks that. I'll even accept that Obama is dense enough to reach only that conclusion. But our top civilian diplomat, she's fine with that? She saw those same reports, and she came to the conclusion that we needed more COIN? What is it exactly that we mean by diplomacy, and what is it we think our diplomats are supposed to be doing? Here's Exum again, this time in the Washington Post (h/t Derrick):
Exum, who sensibly proposed that Obama "settle upon one point person for dealing with the Afghan president," asked: "Is either the ambassador in Kabul or the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan an effective interlocutor with Afghan policymakers? Is the U.S. Embassy in Kabul fully supporting the counterinsurgency campaign?"

Is that what our diplomats are for? Supporting the military? Maybe that's why we don't have an "effective interlocutor" with either Afghanistan or Pakistan, because our diplomats are just tool bags for our violent and bloody counterinsurgency. What good is it for the Afghan government to complain about civilian casualties when the people they're complaining to work for the folks causing the civilian casualties to begin with? "Um, can you ask your boss to stop shooting us?" No wonder they feel like they don't have an effective partner over here. Here's more from that WaPo piece:
A pivotal player here is Karl Eikenberry, the retired general Obama appointed as ambassador. Eikenberry's relations with Karzai are bad; his relations with McChrystal may be even worse. Since January a steady stream of stories has documented their clashes over tactics, including Eikenberry's opposition to the formation of local militias and quick development projects in Kandahar. Now they are at odds over how to respond to an Afghan request for an upgraded strategic partnership, including a U.S. security guarantee. Here's another contrast with Iraq: There was no daylight between military commander David Petraeus and then-ambassador Ryan Crocker.

Yeah what contrast, because unlike Afghanistan, Iraq is awesome now.

Why is it bad that our diplomat is "clashing" with the military? Good for him that he's not just rubber stamping whatever the generals put in front of him. Those "quick development projects" are the perfect example of what Eikenberry is supposed to do.

The author portrays it as a disagreement over "tactics," like one wants to zig while the other one wants to zag, but remember, we talked about this before. Eikenberry's plan actually helped Afghans, a lot, by letting them develop energy solutions themselves, while the military's "quick development project" was just a gigantic fuel burden on the locals and a massive welfare commitment from the already retarded central government.

A lesson: our diplomats actually know what they're doing when it comes to development. The military on the other hand, is terrible at it. And more than being terrible at it, the military also harms other development work by experts:
NGOs however insist that the international military by definition cannot be seen as a neutral actor. Many NGOs have also refused to go into areas that have recently been 'cleared' through operations by international military forces. In a public campaign over the past year, Oxfam, Care, Save the Children UK and other international NGOs with long experience in Afghanistan have said the militarisation of aid is putting ordinary people on the frontlines of the conflict.

"Humanitarian aid has to be independent, neutral and impartial" says Hassan El Sayed of Solidarites. "Can you imagine how we would be perceived if we arrive after US tanks?" Most of the principled NGOs would not be able to go into these areas, he says.

But I thought our military was working on security, making it safer to operate?
Laurent Saillard, the Director of Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR), an umbrella body for Afghan NGOs [says,] "What gives the NGOs their capacity to work is the quality of their relationship with the community. What guarantees the security is not the military or their operations. This is a myth. It is complete propaganda. NGOs don't buy it and have never asked ISAF or the US army for their security."

So our military sucks at development aid, they're screwing up development aid that actually works, and the answer to that is? 30,000 more troops, expanding the drone strikes, and night raids, night raids, night raids! Huh? Is the President that ignorant? And more than him, is the military that blind? They suffer enormously for our policy failures, it's not like they pay any less of a price for this mess. Well, just look at what they're saying:
The only feature of McChrystal's strategy which the Pentagon report treats as having proven effective against the insurgents is its most controversial element: the programme of Special Operations Forces (SOF) night raids against suspected Taliban in their homes, which has stirred anger among Afghans everywhere the SOF have operated.

In an indirect expression of doubt about the impact of the McChrystal strategy, the report suggests that the willingness of Taliban insurgent leaders to negotiate will be influenced not by the offensives aimed at separating the population from the Taliban but by the "combined effects" of the high-level arrests of Taliban leaders in Pakistan and targeted raids by special operations forces against "lower level commanders".

They think the night raids are effective, and very helpful in our negotiations with the Taliban. But how? What exactly do we get from these arrests of Taliban leaders? What does it have to do with negotiations?
[Officials] said [Mullah Baradar] had provided American interrogators with a much more nuanced understanding of the strategy that the Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, is developing for negotiations with the government of President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, who is visiting Washington next week.

Mullah Baradar is describing in detail how members of the Afghan Taliban’s leadership council, or shura, based in Pakistan, interact, and how senior members fit into the organization’s broader leadership, officials said.

Oh. It's not the arrests that are so effective. It's talking to the Taliban.

We could skip the brutal special forces raids entirely, given thatAfghans are protesting and getting gunned down in the streets over all the sweet actionable intelligence we're getting. They're angry because we're killing them. There's nothing about a "night raid" that makes it effective, it's just the basic act of talking to the other side that's so successful at creating peace. And yet when the military looks at their own strategy, their only conclusion is that "separating the population from the Taliban," development work, is useless, but the guys bursting into homes guns blazing at 3 in the morning, well they're a big help! It's just baffling.

And our elected representatives, President Obama and Secretary Clinton, not to mention newcomers just running for office, they're getting the same information. They know the casualties they're causing, they know the trillions they're pissing away, yet they cling to these absurd ideas about counterinsurgency. Why? Is it because of people like Exum? Is it because COIN is a religion?

What is so attractive about occupation? It's not going to work. We'll never be able to accomplish any of our goals in Afghanistan so long as the war continues. We have the non-military capability to accomplish both the development and counter-terrorism work, not to mention the countless international agencies providing assistance. But first we have to bring our troops home.

Join us on Rethink Afghanistan’s Facebook page and collaborate with the tens of thousands of others around the country working to bring this war to an end.

Afghanistan: Obama & Karzai Split Over Talks with Taliban? (Porter)

Gareth Porter evaluates Hamid Karzai's visit to Washington for Inter Press Service:

U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai sought to portray a united front on the issue of a political settlement with the Taliban in their joint press conference Wednesday. But their comments underlined the deep rift that divides Karzai and the United States over the issue.

Karzai obtained Obama's approval for the peace jirga scheduled for later this month --- an event the Obama administration had earlier regarded with grave doubt because of Karzai's ostensible invitation to the Taliban to participate.

Afghanistan Analysis: Karzai 2, Obama 1 (Cole)

On the broader question of reconciliation, however, Obama was clearly warning Karzai not to pursue direct talks with the Taliban leadership, at least until well into 2011.

Karzai played down the Taliban role in a peace jirga, saying that it was the "thousands of Taliban who are not against Afghanistan, or against the Afghan people... who are not against America either..." who would be addressed at the conference.

But he also acknowledged that the jirga would discuss how to approach at least some in the Taliban leadership about peace talks.

Karzai said, "Those within the Taliban leadership structure who, again, are not part of al Qaeda or the terrorist networks, or ideologically against Afghanistan's progress and rights and constitution, democracy, the place of women in the Afghan society, the progress that they've made... are welcome."

The "peace consultative jirga", he said, would be "consulting the Afghan people, taking their advice on how and through which means and which speed should the Afghan government proceed in the quest for peace".

Karzai thus made it clear that he would be taking his cues on peace talks with the Taliban from popular sentiment rather than from Washington.

That could not have been a welcome message to the Obama administration, because of Karzai's well-known pattern of catering to views of the Pashtun population, which are overwhelmingly favourable to peace talks with the Taliban.

Obama endorsed the peace jirga, but he limited U.S. support to "reintegration of those [Taliban] individuals into Afghan society".

Obama pointedly referred to what had evidently been a contentious issue in their private meeting --- his insistence that moves toward reconciliation with the Taliban should not go forward until after the U.S. military has carried out Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's counterinsurgency plan for southern Afghanistan.

"One of the things I emphasised to President Karzai," said Obama, adding "however", to indicate that it was a matter of disagreement, "is that the incentives for the Taliban to lay down arms, or at least portions of the Taliban to lay down arms, and make peace with the Afghan government in part depends on our effectiveness in breaking their momentum militarily."

Obama asserted that "the timing" of the reconciliation process was linked to U.S. military success, because that success would determine when the Taliban "start making different calculations about what's in their interests".

Neither Obama nor Karzai gave any hint that the Afghan president had agreed with that point. Karzai openly sided with tribal elders in Kandahar who were vocally opposed to the U.S. military occupation of Kandahar City and surrounding districts at a large shura Apr. 4.

An administration official who is familiar with the Obama-Karzai meeting confirmed to IPS Thursday that the differences between the two over the issue of peace talks remained, but that the administration regards it as positive that Karzai was at least consulting with Obama on his thinking.

Before the Karzai-Obama meeting, the official said, "A lot of people were jumping to the conclusion that [Karzai and the Taliban] are talking about deals. Now he is talking to us before making any back room deals."

Read rest of article....