Archive for category Afghanistan

‘Called upon to fight, they fled’

Andrew Bacevich: On Building Armies (and Watching Them Fail)

First came Fallujah, then Mosul, and later Ramadi in Iraq. Now, there is Kunduz, a provincial capital in northern Afghanistan. In all four places, the same story has played out: in cities that newspaper reporters like to call “strategically important,” security forces trained and equipped by the U.S. military at great expense simply folded, abandoning their posts (and much of their U.S.-supplied weaponry) without even mounting serious resistance. Called upon to fight, they fled. In each case, the defending forces gave way before substantially outnumbered attackers, making the outcomes all the more ignominious.

“Vietnamization,” the U.S policy that ended in abject failure with the fall of Saigon in 1975, proved that training, weapons, and equipment can never make up for a deficit of will. Also, a weak state with dubious legitimacy can’t be propped up for very long by military force. Jump to the conclusion:

What are the policy implications of giving up the illusion that the Pentagon knows how to build foreign armies? The largest is this: subletting war no longer figures as a plausible alternative to waging it directly. So where U.S. interests require that fighting be done, like it or not, we’re going to have to do that fighting ourselves. By extension, in circumstances where U.S. forces are demonstrably incapable of winning or where Americans balk at any further expenditure of American blood — today in the Greater Middle East both of these conditions apply — then perhaps we shouldn’t be there.

Bacevich doesn’t address the fiasco of the so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels, armed and trained by the U.S., who promptly surrendered and turned over all their equipment to al-Qaeda. The Pentagon recently announced the end of that misbegotten military aid effort (which was probably undertaken solely to make Senator John McCain happy, as if).

More info:
Taliban Withdraw From Kunduz After Days of Fighting
Not Again! US Trained Syrian “Moderates” Surrender To Jihadists – Hand Over Heavy Weapons


USA Accused of War Crime in Afghanistan

MSF hospital bombing

The U.S. government has been accused of bombing a large hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, early in the morning of October 3rd. After an initial statement that the aerial bombardment was “collateral damage” from a nearby strike, new information has emerged that suggests the hospital was the intended target. At least 23 people died, including 13 staff members and 10 patients, three of whom were children.

Hospitals are generally immune from attack under the Geneva Conventions and the Law of Land Warfare. Doctors Without Borders, referred to internationally in French as Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF), stressed that it had “communicated the precise locations of its facilities to all parties on multiple occasions over the past months” and yet, despite this, the NATO bombing of the hospital continued for over 30 minutes, even after MSF “frantically phoned” Washington.

The MSF accusations appear to have been confirmed in a Washington Post article that quoted Hamdullah Danishi, the acting governor of Kunduz Province, and Fawzia Koofi, an Afghan member of parliament. Both men suggested that the hospital was deliberately targeted because of the alleged presence of Taliban fighters. MSF denies that the Taliban were ever on the hospital grounds.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John F. Campbell, says that an AC-130 gunship fired on the hospital by mistake.

“To be clear, the decision to provide (airstrikes) was a U.S. decision, made within the U.S. chain of command,” Campbell said. “The hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility.”

Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Campbell said he could not provide more details about what happened, including who may have failed to follow procedures for avoiding attacks on hospitals. He said he must await the outcome of multiple investigations.

More info:
We Have Committed a War Crime: ‘Patients Were Burning in Their Beds’

An exclusive first look at the horrific aftermath of the U.S. attack in northern Afghanistan.


Afghanistan Update: Taliban Take Kunduz


Re-taking Kunduz, a former Taliban stronghold in northeastern Afghanistan, has been a strategic objective of the insurgents for a long time. The fall of the city counts as the biggest Taliban victory since 2001.

Via CNN:

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) — Afghan security forces started retaking parts of Kunduz from the Taliban, officials said, one day after the key city had largely fallen in a major victory for the insurgents.

“A big military operation to clear all Kunduz city is about to start,” Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said Tuesday.

U.S. forces joined in the military action, launching an airstrike in Kunduz on Tuesday, said Brian Tribus, spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

The Kunduz prison, a police compound and the neighborhood of Zir Dawra are among the areas Afghan forces have secured, Sediqqi said.

A day earlier, Sediqqi said Kunduz had largely fallen into “the hand of enemies.” Kunduz is the largest city to be overrun by the Taliban since 2001.

Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, a spokesman for the Kunduz police chief, said Taliban insurgents seized the main roundabout in the city and made it to the prison, where they freed more than 500 inmates.

More info:
Battleground Kunduz: The city the Taliban seized
Afghan forces fight to retake Kunduz from Taliban

Coalition Forces Engage Insurgents In Combat Near Kunduz
U.S. Airstrikes Back Afghan Security Forces’ Efforts To Retake City From Taliban
Taliban emir seeks to reassure residents of Kunduz
Taliban Withdraws From Kunduz As Clashes Intensify


IG Report: Afghan National Army Logistics is Failing

“Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics.”
Gen. Robert H. Barrow, USMC (Commandant of the Marine Corps) noted in 1980

After the U.S. Armed Forces left Iraq, the Iraqis had virtually no logistical capability. Iraqi Army units had been supported by the Americans, not by Baghdad. Iraqi soldiers even had to buy their own food. The inability of the Iraqi military to keep its front-line units supplied was a factor in the rapid ISIS takeover of much of northern Iraq. In at least one instance last September, surrounded government troops ran out of ammo, food and water.

Apparently there has been a effort in Afghanistan to stand up an American-style military logistics operation that can function independently of American help. So far, according to an Inspector General (IG) report, it’s not working well due to corruption, inefficiency, and a lack of trained personnel.

[T]he $57 billion U.S. investment in Afghanistan’s security forces is at risk because the Afghans cannot supply, or resupply their troops, can’t prevent their weapons and vehicles from breaking down and can’t fix them when they do.

…Much of the failure lies …with the Pentagon and its coalition partners in Afghanistan, who poured billions into buying fancy stuff for the Afghans “without building the entire end-to-end logistics system down to operational and tactical levels.” That’s the sorry admission contained in the Defense Department’s most recent report (PDF) on the state of the 13-year war in Afghanistan.

As the U.S. led NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan, the fighting has intensified.

Kabul no longer releases total Afghan casualty statistics in order, officials say, to safeguard morale. But Afghan officials said casualty levels for the police and army have climbed since last year, making 2013 the bloodiest for Afghan forces since the U.S.-led coalition arrived in 2001.

…As coalition forces pull back from combat ahead of next year’s withdrawal, some coalition commanders warned that the Afghan forces can’t be sustained over the long run at the current rate of attrition.

As we return the ongoing Afghan civil war to the Afghans, we’ll need to make a plan of what to do if the Kabul government loses the war.

Taliban claims NATO ‘defeat’ as 13-year Afghan war draws to a close
Obama Welcomes End Of The Longest War In American History

Headline writers don’t seem to know the Afghan war is still going strong.

Media Claims Afghanistan War Ends, War Continues

Whether the gross misreporting about the war in Afghanistan “ending” was a result of incompetence or malevolence is hard to know given both are in such abundance in the US mainstream media.


Fourth Generation Wars Don’t End Unilaterally

ISIS Abrams
Iraqi Army M-1 Abrams tank captured by ISIS

Here’s a military and foreign policy lesson that is being driven home by recent events in Iraq. In fourth-generation warfare (4GW), it’s not over when the USA says it’s over. Remember that whole populations are involved, and unlike foreign expeditionary forces from halfway around the world the local populace isn’t going anywhere. There is no nation state to be defeated, and no peace treaty will ever be signed.

The American military is nevertheless engaged in 4GW in Iraq and Afghanistan, and this means we are faced with the decision to (1) stay committed to an open-ended conflict without any hope of a decisive result, or (2) let the war we started (or got into while in progress) go on without us, possibly with results counter to our foreign policy goals.

There was a third option, (3) spend tens of billions of dollars to train and equip friendly(?) local government(?) forces to take over for U.S. soldiers. That was tried in Iraq and Afghanistan, and failed (most spectacularly in Iraq). Somebody please tell the Obama administration, because they are planning to try this again.

DSWright on FDL comments on the Pentagon’s latest plans:

A multiyear campaign that requires more assistance – in other words, the US is back in the nation building business in Iraq. Of course we just saw the results of a multiyear campaign to provide military assistance – total capitulation. So why not do it again? It’s only the age of austerity for domestic spending.

…The American people gave Barack Obama the presidency largely based on his promise to get out of Iraq – the more we learn how worthless our actions are in Iraq the clearer it is that that’s a promise worth keeping.

Apparently the Washington politicians of both major parties are up for another round of war in the Middle East, only this time we’re fighting in Syria too. Does anybody think this is a good idea?

More info:
Too much money spent in Iraq for too few results
Veterans not surprised Iraq’s Army collapsed
Economic Costs Summary: $4.4 Trillion and Counting
Everyone in America Could Go to College for Free for the Amount of Money Spent on Mideast Wars


U.S.: Ground Offensive Against Islamic State Still Months Away

“Until the Abadi government can get on its feet and kind of deliver some small successes, I don’t think, I don’t think we’re in a position to make any promises on behalf of that government,” the official said.

1 Comment

the UN, NATO, and the trip-wire

I’m so sorry to write this missive as a lead article (for 15 minutes) but I don’t remember how to find the comments and respond to them. The lonely little side-bar response to my article I’ve not seen, except for half a sentence. It seemed to be saying that the old days are gone now, and so we need NATO and the JN. I agree. With NATO, it is the trip-wire provision that we go to war, automatically if any NATO nation is attacked, regardless of who the attacker is. This takes not only the United States Congress, but the president, as Commander in Chief, from the decision to go to war. I support both the UN and, if handled correctly, NATO. But President J. Reuben Clark and I oppose the automatic going to war. Just like the fools, the ancient general staffs of all sides in WW I. No one wanted that war. There was no Adolph Hitler in that war that destroyed the entire 20th century. Better to have shot the general staffs, who came to deserve exactly that. What President Clark called for, and I, are what the United States has always done, before NATO. That is, to have treaties of peace and friendship with our allies and then, should hostilities commence, such treaties would call for all parties to go to war, or not, as their constitutions provide. In this way, we don’t declare war against a nation, and surely all the people, have not yet been born. How, pray tell, do we justify going to war against, and for, people not, or no longer, live on earth. With a few caveats, ditto for the UN. No provision of law allows the UN to overreach Congress in the decision for war or peace. For anyone interested, read my book with the late Francis Wormuth, To Cain the Dog of War. It is by odds the best book ever written on the way we go to war. Every single war we’ve ever fought, including our wars against the Indian tribes, is there analyzed. Francis did not live to see this book in print. I worked two years after his death to finish it. And I updated it 4 or 5 times, alone. I still put my dear friend’s name first, because I am honored to be linked, now, forever. Something like Mormon marriage through time and eternity. ed firmage xoxo


Veterans Hospitals..the Truth

The yammerings of the Republicans, and even some Democrats, about VA hospitals, show no trace, not even a trickle of a trace, of institutional and personal memory, let alone history. This is always true, for most people and all institutions. None have historical perspective beyond that of a Snail Darter. Remember, dear friends, that George Bush the Less, and Dick Cheney, the Dark Lord; and Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz, started two wars of choice that will fill up to overflowing for at least fifty and likely a hundred years, all our hospitals. The impact of wars, so easy for stupid, venal, misinformed people to start and , in a sense, impossible, ever, to stop , is obvious. World War One is still very much alive, after destroying the twentieth Century, the Century of Total War. And the Bush administration severely cut the funding for our VA hospitals. All hospitals are effected by this avoidable tragedy, the greatest of our time. Our jails, our mental homes, our suicide prevention systems; our broken families and children without mothers and fathers, shooting crime statistics up into the stratosphere, ripple on forever.

The entire world, out into and through the cosmos, suffer from this violation of all that is decent and good, not to mention the laws of war. If the Nuremberg principle were applied to us and not just Nazi Germany, this dark band of brothers would all be in jail, or executed for the hundreds of thousands of murders that they accomplished. George W. Bush placed us squack in the middle of a civil war in Islam, which has been going on time out of mind.(we had our civil wars of religion that followed 400 years of Crusades from the 10th to the 14th centuries, the Renaissance and Reformation and the Enlightenment which gave us a rule of law community not shared by any state in the Middle East, except Israel; and no secular state in the Middle East except Turkey, thanks to Ataturk. The Treaties of Westphalia and Utrecht ended religious-based states in Europe and North America, and in their place we have had, with never a backward step, secular states, thank God (and I’m not being ironic), territorial nation states without any church in charge. (Utah is another matter.) Islamic civil war is not our business. It took us many centuries to build these rule of law communities throughout Europe and North America. Do you really think that Afghanistan will somehow, willy nilly, become democratic? Really? or Iraq?

Now, a huge portion of the Middle East, very understandably, see us as their premiere enemy. And much of Africa. And most other Islamic nations. Add to that what the Dulles brothers did in Iran, in deposing an popularly appointed tradition, conservative ruler, Mohammed Mossadeq, to put the Shah back on his throne and his bloodthirsty killers over the military and the police (the CIA’s war; just like Laos; just as we now do in Pakistan, way way before the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Pakistan is the most dangerous nation in the world, because it is the Islamic nuclear missile state and George Bush’s wars threaten always to bring any reasonable government down. I’ll bet World War Three starts there); and what we did in murdering an African head of state (both CIA assassins); and one Latin American democratically elected president assassinated under Nixon’s orders,why not see America as the Great Satan? There is blood on the hands of this dark band of brothers, and Karma, dark amoral Karma, that has nothing to do with God.

Of course we should do more for our veterans. But these tragic events play out, literally, forever. Remember: the Great Depression of our time began under Bush the Less. It had been building ever since Ronald Reagan created street people by refusing to fund mental homes and hospitals and put these people in jails and on the streets, so he could raise the military budget three and a half times over. He ran deficits like no Democrats before him. Then came the crash that remains very much with us still. So many millions of unemployed we don’t even count, because they’ve given up, and have taken themselves out of the workforce. How can the Republicans do this with a straight face? Well, they now are consummate liars, after decades of practice. Some in the Democratic Party do this too. Neither party has a monopoly on lying. BUT this is not to say there is equivalence. With the Tea Party, now absorbed within the Republican Party, truly inexperienced and terribly undereducated people rule the day. I believe the Republicans will gain seats in the House and narrowly take the Senate. All because most people and all institutions lack any trace of historical memory. ed firmage xoxo


Leaked US-Afghan Agreement Offers Open-Ended American Troop Commitment

Endless war?

NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel has obtained a leaked draft of the “Security and Defense Cooperation Agreement Between the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.” This agreement, as yet unsigned, provides for an endless war despite President Obama’s repeated assurances that U.S. forces are leaving Afghanistan next year.

Afghan officials tell NBC NEWS the agreement is critical to Afghanistan’s future stability. Without ongoing military assistance, training and funding, those officials say the government could collapse and Afghanistan would enter a civil war. If the agreement passes, the draft says Washington would commit to a long -term, indefinite military involvement in this land-locked Asian nation.

This morning on MSNBC, Chuck Todd asked Richard Engel (who is still in Kabul) if the Afghan officials he has spoken to have any idea how unpopular the Afghanistan War is in America. Engel responded that they do not. Probably they are talking to the wrong Americans. More than two-thirds of us say this war was not not worth fighting.

The average annual cost to keep one American soldier deployed in Afghanistan is now $2.1 million. Total cost to taxpayers for our country’s longest war in history is estimated at $1.6 trillion (not counting interest). The human toll (including US soldiers and contractors, allied soldiers, and Afghan security forces, insurgents and militants, and civilians) is estimated to be at least 145,000 deaths by direct war violence since 2001 in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

More info:
Leaked Draft Points To Endless War In Afghanistan
America’s Future in Afghanistan Hinges On One Key Question: Can Soldiers Operate With Impunity?


The Age of Disruption: Impact on the Military Industrial Complex

Watching conservatives oppose military intervention in Syria has been entertaining to say the least.  We all know that if the occupants of the White Hosue were a Republican, they’d be cheerleading for the most ruinous attack possible, telling us that Assad is the moral equal of Pol Pot, Hitler, Mussolini and Jeffrey Dahmer all rolled into one.  Not so long ago, however, most of Washington DC would have joined in supporting an attack.  A few years ago, an attack on Syria would have been a foregone conclusion, there would have been sporadic opposition but it would have happened, and at least inside the “establishment” would have been regarded as necessary and possibly even good.  A great many Democrats supported action against Iraq in 2002 and 2003 (despite their doubts of its success) because the necessity of military action was accepted, common wisdom even if their instincts told them it was a disaster waiting to happen.

The disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan were/are simply to big to be ignored, even by hawkish political insiders.  When someone as reliably dim and possessed of the conventional wisdom as George Will doesn’t favor a military strike, you know something has shifted. Read the rest of this entry »

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Can the US Stop Being a Blundering Giant?

Perhaps the most painful part of the wildly ill-conceived response to 9/11 was the way in which the US behaved like a blundering giant, lashing out at the world, smashing things like Iraq that had nothing to do with the attacks.  The Bush administration’s policies – arrest, torture, secret prisons, drone attacks, two failed wars – were seductive and disastrous and arose from a worldview formed by the Cold  War that saw the world in stark, dualistic ways.

The Obama administration had been stymied by Congress in its efforts to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  They’ve managed to unwind our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and this week the President delivered the kind of speech that reminded me why I liked him in the first place – morally, ethically he seems to understand the issues, to speak them eloquently.  Too rarely, he’s matched his rhetoric and his action.  But at long last, it seems he wants to move our nation in the right direction, giving up the seductiveness of the imperial presidency and its vast powers.

In an article for the AP, from KSL, for example:

Some call it wishful thinking, but President Barack Obama has all but declared an end to the global war on terror.

Obama is not claiming final victory over extremists who still seek to kill Americans and other Westerners. Instead, he is refocusing the long struggle against terrorism that lies ahead, steering the United States away from what he calls an equally frightening threat – a country in a state of perpetual war. In doing so, Obama recasts the image of the terrorists themselves, from enemy warriors to cowardly thugs and resets the relationship between the U.S. and Islam.

The point is that the tools needed to successfully combat terrorists aren’t armies and drones.

Maureen Dowd, channeling her inner smart person, wrote about the President’s speech.

After four years of bending the Constitution, the constitutional law professor now in the White House is trying to unloose the Gordian knot of W.’s martial and moral overreaches after 9/11.

Safely re-elected, President Obama at long last spoke bluntly about the Faustian deals struck by his predecessor, some of them cravenly continued by his own administration.

The rest of her article describes her visit to Bush’s presidential library, with more than few choice phrases:

You could fill an entire other library with what’s not in W.’s.


Decision Points Theater — a whiny “Well, you try being the Decider” enterprise — lets you make the decisions after getting taped briefings on W.’s crises from actors playing experts. But it is rigged with so many false binary options that the visitors I voted with ended up agreeing with Bush’s patently wrong calls on Iraq and Katrina.

I’m reminded that throughout his Presidency, Barack Obama has been a maddeningly cautious and centrist leader.  The result has been a slow, but steady, progression in the right direction.  No whiplash policy changes for this president, instead a constantly calibrating and recalibrating movement away from the disastrous policies of the Bush administration.

The War On Terror was always a misnamed, mishandled, misconceived thing, a disaster from beginning to end.  It was a fatally misconceived adventure that did more damage than good.  If at long last the Obama administration is turning away from it, rejecting its tactic and premises, I’ll suffice to say better late than never.


Who Is Going To Federal Prison For The CIA’s Torture Program?

Last August, the Department of Justice ended a four-year criminal investigation by federal prosecutor John Durham into interrogation techniques used during the presidency of George W. Bush, including torture. At least two cases resulted in the deaths of detainees in CIA custody. This investigation began in 2008, after we learned about the CIA’s destruction of videotapes of interrogations of terror suspects. Attorney General Eric Holder decided not to initiate any prosecutions.

Late last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled German citizen Khaled el-Masri was tortured by CIA agents. He was seized in Macedonia in December 2003, tortured, and secretly flown to Afghanistan. Then he was released in April 2004. after the CIA admitted he was wrongly detained. El Masri’s lawsuit in U.S. court for illegal detention was dismissed in 2006 when the court accepted the government’s position that it could invoke the so-called “state secrets privilege” in order to avoid having to admit what the CIA did.

The US Senate’s select committee on intelligence conducted a three-year review of CIA treatment of detainees, producing a 6,000-page classified report that is believed to conclude that the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” adopted by the CIA during the Bush years did not produce any major breakthroughs in intelligence, contrary to previous claims. This report is likely to remain secret. Senator Dianne Feinstein, the intelligence committee chair, says the report contains “startling details” about waterboarding, stress positions, forced nudity, beatings and sleep and sensory deprivation.

Torture and conspiracy to commit torture is a federal crime punishable by up to 20 years in a federal penitentiary, or by the death penalty if it results in the victim’s death. So who is going to prison now that the CIA torture program has been thoroughly investigated?

1. Someone who conducted “enhanced interrogation” torture sessions.
2. Someone who destroyed evidence of torture.
3. Someone who wrote a legal memo justifying the use of torture.
4. Someone high up in the Bush administration who authorized torture.
5. Someone who opposed torture within the CIA and later blew the whistle on the terrible crimes committed in our name.

If you guessed #5, you’re correct.

Last Friday, ex-CIA officer John C. Kiriakou became the first person to be sentenced to prison for issues related to CIA torture. Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison after pleading guilty to one count of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act for revealing the name of a former operative involved the Bush era’s brutal interrogation of detainees at Guantanamo to a reporter.

Kiriakou worked as a CIA operative for more than two decades and led a March 2002 raid that captured high-ranking Al Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah. He was also a vocal torture opponent who revealed his knowledge of U.S. enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, in an ABC interview in 2007.

UPDATE: From Roots Action: Free John Kiriakou

On June 18, 2009, President Obama declared that no one in the CIA would be prosecuted for torture. But now a CIA officer is finally going to prison in connection with torture. However, this CIA officer didn’t torture anyone — he blew the whistle on torture.

In 2007, John Kiriakou was the first person to publicly acknowledge that the CIA was waterboarding people. The retribution for that act of whistleblowing began immediately.

The CIA began filing crime reports with the Department of Justice against Kiriakou. The IRS audited him in 2007 and has done so every year since. His wife was forced out of her job at the CIA. In 2010 an FBI agent pretending to be a foreign spy tried to entrap Kiriakou, who reported the incidents to the FBI. The same FBI follows him everywhere, including into his children’s school.

The DOJ tried unsuccessfully to prosecute Kiriakou under the Espionage Act as a supposed enemy of the state. He became unemployable and racked up a million dollars in lawyers’ bills.

Now Kiriakou is finally going to prison for 30 months for the act of telling an author the name of someone to interview, even though the name was already known and Kiriakou’s prosecution has made it better known.


Our Multidimensional Crisis: Institutional Breakdown

The signs are all around us – our crisis continues to deepen and to engulf us in its complexity.

Manuel Castells, in the introduction to The Power of Identity:

The Iraq invasion was the return of the state in it most traditional form of exercising its monopoly of violence, and it followed a major crisis of international governance institutions, starting with the United Nations, marginalized by the United States, and the apparent triumph of unilateralism in spite of an objectively multilateral world.  [snip]

Not only was the United States drawn into protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as al-Qaeda wanted, but its inability to build a global governance system led to a multidimensional, global crisis of which the financial collapse of 2008 was only its most damaging expression.[snip]

. . .. in the long term the trends that characterized the social structure ultimately imposed their logic, but in the short term the autonomy of the political agency could oppose such logic because of the interests and values of the actors occupying the commanding heights of agency.  When such is the case, as during the Bush-Cheney administration period, the discrepancy between structure and agency induces systemic chaos, and ultimately destructive processes that add to the difficulties of managing the adaptation of the nation-state to the global conditions of the network society.

Read the rest of this entry »


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