[  ]
Restore the Wetlands. Reinforce the Levees.

Posts Tagged ‘Afghan War’

Obama’s Troop Drawdown Is Little, Late, But a Start

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

In Announcing 15-month, 1/3 Troop Reduction, Is President Ignoring or Responding to Public Opinion and Bipartisan Congressional Trend Against War?

The announcement of a 33,000-troop drawdown is more than we would have gotten from the previous president; bu though we’re disappointed at the glacial pace, peace activists must keep pressing for a quicker end to the Afghan War.

When President Obama took office in Jan. 2009 there were 34,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. In his first year he doubled that number to about 65,000, and then in Dec. 2009 he announced a “surge” of 30,000 more. Since August 2010 U.S. forces in Afghanistan have numbered 100,000. In announcing a drawdown of 33,000 troops by next summer, the president now in effect acknowledges that the counter-insurgency strategy favored by General David Petraeus is not working, or has reached its limits; American troops now will pursue a counter-terrorism strategy. Last night in a 13-minute address Obama announced:

. . . starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point. After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security. [transcript of remarks here]

But this will only bring us back to the roughly 65,000 troops that were stationed in Afghanistan when Obama announced the surge. And when our mission changes in 2014 “from combat to support,” how many American troops will still be in Afghanistan? Our mission in Iraq, too, has changed from combat to support, yet we still have 85,000 active duty military personnel stationed in Iraq at a monthly cost of about $4 billion. (For that matter, U.S. military personnel number some 50,000 in Germany, 35,000 in Japan, and 25,000 in South Korea. How long does the government intend to keep this going?)


Who in America Remembers Afghanistan?

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

How will we ever see the end of a war that everyone seems to have forgotten—everyone except the families and friends of the wounded and the dead?

“We are not dealing with a conventional war. We cannot respond in a conventional manner. I do not want to see this spiral out of control. . . . If we rush to launch a counterattack, we run too great a risk that women, children and other non-combatants will be caught in the crossfire. . . . Finally, we must be careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target. We cannot repeat past mistakes.” —Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), the lone vote against the war in Afghanistan, Sept. 15, 2001 (video)

Guardian columnist Gary Younge, who writes on American politics and society, penned a sensitive and saddening piece last week titled “Forgotten War Is Everyone’s Orphan” (print edition). The subtitle reads, “Admiration for soldiers may be widespread and deep in America, but interest in what they are doing is shallow and fleeting.” Younge opens with the funeral of a 23-year-old soldier in Bordentown, New Jersey, then comments:

There is a reverence for the military in the US on a scale rarely seen anywhere else in the west that transcends political affiliation and pervades popular culture. On aeroplanes the flight attendant will announce if there are soldiers on board to great applause. When I attended a recording of The Daily Show, John [sic] Stewart made a special point before the show of thanking the servicemen in the audience.

But while the admiration for those who serve and die may be deep and widespread, interest in what they are doing and why they are doing it is shallow and fleeting. During November’s midterm elections it barely came up. In September just 3% thought Afghanistan was one of the most important problems facing the country. When Pew surveyed public interest in the war over an 18-week period last year, fewer than one in 10 said it was the top news story they were following in any given week, including the week Stanley McChrystal—the four-star general commanding troops in Afghanistan, was fired. The country, it seems has moved on. The trouble is the troops are still there.

100,000+ U.S. troops in Afghanistan
Since 2001, 2,255 coalition deaths (1,402 Americans)

Although the Afghan War is unpopular—a poll in December 2010 found 63% opposed, 56% thinking it’s going badly (very badly say 21%), and 60% believing it’s not worth fighting—it was bipartisan, almost unanimous: “a war of necessity,” as the phrase went after the 9/11 attacks, and so it has not been a partisan electoral issue the way the Iraq War was. Younge notes that the war in Afghanistan was “supported by Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali and Susan Sontag.” In the U.S. Congress, only Barbara Lee of California, quoted above, voted against authorizing force. Perhaps she foresaw complications we are only belatedly recognizing. (She also received death threats.)

. . . as the principal retaliatory response to the terror attacks of 9/11, [the Afghan War] has failed. It hasn’t brought liberty, democracy or stability. It has killed untold thousands of civilians: untold because they are regarded as expendable. And not only has it not captured the perpetrators of the terror attack, there are far more acts of terrorism globally today than there were in 2001, in no small part because of the chaos wrought by the war on terror.

To really engage with what has gone wrong with the war in Afghanistan, Younge says,

would demand a sharp reckoning with why so many thought it would was right to begin with. The country would have to interrogate its militaristic reflexes and proclivities, and face the fact that while there were few good or certain options after 9/11 (ranging from the diplomatic to containment) this was one of the worst—and the others were never seriously considered.

The United States has never seriously examined why the nation was attacked by al Qaeda. The grievances of Osama bin Laden have been blocked from view—for example, by the direct intervention with network news outlets by former national security advisor Condoleezza Rice in 2001. We have been told that the atrocities of September 11 were launched because “they hate our freedoms,” among other simplistic explanations and warnings that helped set the groundwork for a follow-on invasion of Iraq.

Among other things, bin Laden was outraged by the presence of U.S. military forces in Saudi Arabia, his native land but more importantly the site of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina; by U.S. support of Israel and indifference to the suffering of the Palestinians; and by the West’s (mainly America’s) getting for cheap the oil wealth of the Muslim lands—again, mainly from Saudi Arabia. (Bin Laden’s aims are explained in some detail in Through Our Enemies’ Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America [2002] by Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit.) To be sure, the royal family of Saudi Arabia benefits from the arrangements as well (though most U.S. troops have been removed), but these are among bin Laden’s objectives that get little airing in the American media. We obviously do not condone the hyper-violent means that al Qaeda (“the base”) has taken to avenge these conditions, but what bin Laden has articulated are legitimate political grievances. Ignoring the widespread sense of injustice in the Arab and Muslim world only increases the likelihood of further radicalization and retribution. Especially after the revolution in Egypt, you can believe the Saudi royal family is nervous. “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”


Rev. King and Gun Violence: “Study War No More”

Monday, January 17th, 2011


“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam,” April 4, 1967

Following the shootings of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others in Tucson last weekend, we have been thinking about how the national addiction to guns is indistinguishable from America’s seemingly insatiable appetite (or tolerance) for war. What explains the sense of power, omnipotence, and what’s the source of the fear and insecurity that underlie the impulse to have and to hold firearms? (Some clues might be found in Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine; Eugene Jarecki’s book The American Way of War and his film Why We Fight; Tom Engelhardt’s The American Way of War; and Robert J. Spitzer’s The Politics of Gun Control.)

This past week the Pentagon asserted that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would support the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Jeh C. Johnson, the Defense Department’s general counsel and a graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta, said on Jan. 13:

“I believe that if Dr. King were alive today, he would recognize that we live in a complicated world, and that our nation’s military should not and cannot lay down its arms and leave the American people vulnerable to terrorist attack.”

We don’t read King’s “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam” in quite the same way Mr. Johnson seems to do. We invite you to read it yourself, and click on the video link below, and see how understanding of this 10-year war you think the Nobel Peace Prize–winning Reverend King would be.

Click here for a link to a detailed and revealing interview with Dr. King (a polite grilling, actually) about his antiwar views on The Mike Douglas Show in 1967. Toward the end King is asked whether he is a communist; his reply puts the question firmly to rest.


On this day of national commemoration of the life and work of a man of peace who was slain by gunfire, and only two months after the anniversary of the assassination by gunfire of a peace-seeking president, we feel a strengthened commitment to speak out and work against the too-easy access to guns in our troubled nation, just as we are dedicated to working toward peace abroad and at home. “National security begins at home.”

Please phone members of Congress and urge them to support new common-sense gun control legislation being prepared by New York congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy and by New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg. Rep. McCarthy’s (D-NY) bill would reinstate the ban on large-capacity clips for automatic weapons that expired in 2004. (The Republican-controlled Congress opted to let the ban lapse.) Ms. McCarthy’s husband was one of five passengers killed and her son was critically injured by a man carrying an automatic weapon on the Long Island Rail Road in 1993.) This bill is a reasonable start, but even common-sense measures are routinely resisted by the gun rights lobby (NRA).



•  Click here and here for previous tributes to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

•  See our posting “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” (July 7, 2010) about Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s signing of a “guns-in-church” bill that authorizes individuals who qualify to carry concealed weapons in “any church, synagogue, or mosque, or other similar place of worship.”

•  See also “‘Kill the Bill’ vs. ‘Stop the War’: A Tale of Two Protests

10th Year of Afghan War Begins

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

America Slogs On, “Dead or Alive”

Briefly, sadly noted: Today, October 7, 2010, begins the tenth year of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. How’s that hunt for Osama bin Laden going? How’s that expansion into Pakistan going? How much taxpayer-supplied money has the U.S. spent on the war in Afghanistan? That we can answer: more than $352 billion (thanks to the National Priorities Project). How many dead? 1,321 U.S., 339 U.K., 472 other: total = 2,132 (per iCasualties.org). These are not statistics, but individual human lives lost forever.

What are they dying for? For how much longer? If “we’re fighting for freedom,” are we free to say “enough”? Free to withhold our taxes from the Pentagon? (Didn’t think so.)

Does “Operation Enduring Freedom” = War That Never Ends?

For the first year or so, we like most Americans agreed with the necessity of an invasion of Afghanistan because we trusted that the U.S. and allied forces actually intended to and would be able to capture bin Laden and crush al Qaeda (and not just drive them down to Pakistan). That was a long time ago. Readers can see our views on the whole damn thing in hard-hitting, award-winning posts like “Deeper into Afghanistan: 360 Degrees of Damnation” and “Afghanistan: More Insane Than a Quagmire.” Other Afghan War pieces can be found here.

Lastly, let us quote again the revealing remarks by former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski that suggest what the U.S. is in for (note the count of 10 years), and the sobering observation by Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit:

“. . . the reality, secretly guarded until now, is . . . [that] . . . it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. . . . That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap. . . . The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter. We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.”

Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter; interview with Le Nouvel Observateur (Paris), January 15–21, 1998

“Notwithstanding the damage al Qaeda and the Taliban have suffered . . . bin Laden’s forces now have the United States where they have wanted it, on the ground in Afghanistan where Islamist insurgents can seek to reprise their 1980s’ victory over the Red Army [of the Soviet Union]. Al Qaeda now has the chance to prove bin Laden’s thesis that the United States cannot maintain long-term, casualty-producing military engagements . . .”

Michael Scheuer, Through Our Enemies’ Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America (2002)



WikiLeaks’s Afghan War Diary:
A “Pentagon Papers” for Our Time

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

“In releasing the Pentagon Papers I acted in hope I still hold: that truths that changed me could help Americans free themselves and other victims from our longest war.” —Daniel Ellsberg, Papers on the War (1972)

There’s a kind of appropriate, ironic justice that the Internet, which was originally developed by the Defense Department (as ARPANET)—with taxpayer dollars, naturally—now serves as the delivery system for spilling to the world a trove of secret U.S. military reports on the war in Afghanistan (also funded by the American public): a “Pentagon Papers” for our time. WikiLeaks.org, which in April released a U.S. military video of an Apache helicopter gunship killing civilians and Reuters journalists in Baghdad, has posted on the Internet about 92,000 SIGACTS (significant activity reports) from the Afghan war written between 2004 and 2009. Before posting the secret field reports, WikiLeaks provided to the New York Times, the Guardian (U.K.), and the German magazine Der Spiegel an advance peek. (Click here for a video of a press conference with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, shown above.)

(We meant to write about this earlier, but we’ve been so busy reading all 92,000 documents. Hey, the New York Times had a two-week jump-start! And this leak comes just a week after we bought a first edition of Daniel Ellsberg’s Papers on the War (1972)—in Woodstock, no less. Coincidence? You decide.)

WikiLeaks’s Afghan War Diary was unloaded within days of Newsweek’s publication of a “Rethinking Afghanistan” cover story bluntly titled “We’re Not Winning. It’s Not Worth It” by national security veteran Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations (not a hotbed of radicalism), and just weeks after the Rolling Stone profile of “The Runaway General” Stanley McChrystal IED’d the war effort and cast doubt on the troops’ support of the whole counterinsurgency strategy that Washington hoped would turn the war around. (As the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson points out, Gen. McChrystal himself leaked a report last September when it suited him, an early instance of the insubordination that got him fired.)

“What Does It Mean to Tell the Truth About a War?”

Although much of the WikiLeaks material is dismissed as routine—the White House predictably says there’s “nothing new here”—the documents reveal facts that will be news to the general public, further depressing an already war-weary, crisis-strained nation. Among the reports’ key revelations or substantiations:

  • The double-dealing of our “partner” Pakistan, whose intelligence service, ISI, has colluded with the Taliban to fight against U.S. and Afghan and coalition forces
  • New documentation of close working relationship, including financial support, between Pakistan’s military elite and the Afghanistan Taliban
  • Pakistani ISI agents have coordinated with the Taliban to kill American soldiers and have plotted to assassinate Afghan leaders
  • The U.S. has covered up evidence that Taliban insurgents are using surface-to-air missiles to bring down U.S. helicopters
  • Civilian deaths from drone attacks and other operations are far higher than admitted by the U.S.
  • The Taliban have massively escalated their roadside bombings, killing more than 2,000 civilians
  • A secret U.S. Special Forces unit hunts down and kills Taliban leaders for “kill or capture” without trial
  • To destroy Taliban targets, the Coalition is using Reaper drones remote-controlled from a base in Nevada