Afghanistan: "Prospects for Success Are Dim"

Calls for Change of Strategy in Afghanistan Grow Louder

by Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - Amid continued high levels of violence and a steady stream of reports of high-level government corruption in Kabul, a growing number of foreign policy specialists are urging President Barack Obama to reconsider his counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy in Afghanistan.

In a new report released here Wednesday, a bipartisan group of some three dozen former senior officials, academics, and policy analysts argued that the administration's ambitious "nation-building" efforts in Afghanistan are costing too much in U.S. blood and treasure and that, in any event, "(p)rospects for success are dim."

Calling for an accelerated timetable for reducing the U.S. military presence there, the "Afghanistan Study Group", which also urged intensified efforts to reach a negotiated solution with the Pashtun-based Taliban, echoed many of the points made in the latest strategic survey which was released by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London Tuesday.

"(A)s the military surge reaches its peak and begins to wind down, it is necessary and advisable for outside powers to move to a containment and deterrence policy to deal with the international terrorist threat from the Afghan/Pakistan border regions," said IISS's director-general, John Chipman, in introducing this year's report.

"At present the COIN strategy is too ambitious, too removed from the core security goals that need to be met, and too sapping of diplomatic and military energies needed both in the region and elsewhere," he noted. "(F)or Western states to be pinned down militarily and psychologically in Afghanistan will not be in the service of their wider political and security interests."

The two reports come amid growing public skepticism both in the United States and its European and NATO partners - two of which, Canada and the Netherlands, have just withdrawn all of their troops - about the course of the war, which will soon mark its ninth anniversary. Currently costing U.S. taxpayers 100 billion dollars a year, the Afghan war became the longest in U.S. history earlier this summer, when it exceeded the Vietnam conflict.

Despite the appointment in June of Gen. David Petraeus, the author of the U.S. COIN strategy in Iraq, to head U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, two out of three respondents in a recent CNN poll said they believed Washington was "not winning" the war. Half said the war could not be won.

Sixty-eight percent of respondents in a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll taken last month said they were "less confident" that the war will be brought to a "successful conclusion" - a striking increase from the 58 percent who took that view last December. Only 23 percent said they were "more confident".

The increasingly sour mood is no doubt due in part to the preoccupation with the economy and growing political support in both parties for cutting the yawning government deficit, of which the 100 billion dollars spent on Afghanistan is not an insignificant part.

But the persistent high casualty rates - this year's total U.S. military death toll, 331, already exceeds 2009's record high of 317 - has also contributed to the growing popular conviction that the war is simply not worth the cost.

Meanwhile, the virtually daily reports of high-level corruption in the government of President Hamid Karzai - this past week, major stories have featured the run on the politically well-connected Bank of Kabul - have persuaded a growing number of people, including members of the foreign policy elite and even a number of normally hawkish Republicans, that Washington simply lacks the kind of local partner that any true COIN campaign requires in order to prevail.

Released as Congress returns to Washington after the long August recess, the Afghanistan Study Group's report, entitled "A New Way Forward: Rethinking U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan", appears designed to provoke debate about U.S. policy during the mid-term election campaign and in the run- up to a formal review in December by the Obama administration itself of how its COIN strategy is faring.

On the advice of Petraeus and the Pentagon, Obama has increased the number of U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan from some 35,000 when he took office to around 100,000 today. He has vowed to begin withdrawing troops in July 2011, although the pace at which they will be withdrawn has not yet been determined and remains a source of considerable contention within the administration.

The administration has indeed been split for some time. The so-called COINistas have argued for a major "nation- building" effort combined with a military campaign directed against the Taliban which they depict as inseparable from al Qaeda. Others within the administration, reportedly led by Vice President Joseph Biden, have argued for a less ambitious counterterrorism campaign (CT) aimed more narrowly against al Qaeda on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border.

In that respect, the Study Group, whose membership spanned the political spectrum from the Democratic left to the libertarian right but was weighted most heavily towards "realists" who, until George W. Bush generally dominated the post-World War II foreign policy elite, is aligned more closely with the CT advocates.

Quoting arch-realist Henry Kissinger, the report noted that "Afghanistan has never been pacified by foreign forces," and that "(w)aging a lengthy counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan may well do more to aid Taliban recruiting than to dismantle the group, help spread conflict further into Pakistan, unify radical groups that might otherwise be quarreling amongst themselves, threaten the long-term health of the U.S. economy, and prevent the U.S. government from turning its full attention to other pressing problems."

"We've been creating enemies faster than friends," noted Paul Pillar, who served as the CIA's National Intelligence Officer for the Middle East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, at the report's release at the New America Foundation (NAF). Complaining of a "disconnect" between the conduct of the war and U.S. aim of destroying and disabling al Qaeda, he described the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan as "a nine-year-long mission creep".

The report called instead for a five-pronged strategy that would "fast-track a peace process designed to decentralize power within Afghanistan and encourage a power-sharing balance among the principal parties"; intensify diplomatic efforts with Afghanistan's neighbors and others "to guarantee Afghan neutrality and foster regional stability"; and lead an international effort to develop the country's economy.

Obama, it said, should "firmly stick to his pledge to begin withdrawing U.S. forces in the summer of 2011 - and earlier if possible. U.S. force levels should decline to the minimum level needed to help train Afghan security forces, prevent massive human rights atrocities, resist an expansion of Taliban control beyond the Pashtun south, and engage in robust counter-terrorism operations as needed."

In particular, U.S. forces should maintain their capabilities "to seek out known Al Qaeda cells in the region and be ready to go after them should they attempt to relocate elsewhere or build new training facilities," the report said. "Al Qaeda is no longer a significant presence in Afghanistan, and there are only some 400 hard-core Al Qaeda members remaining in the entire Af/Pak theater, most of them hiding in Pakistan's northwest provinces."

Besides Pillar, other signers of the report included Gordon Adams, a top White House budget official for national security under the Clinton administration who is currently with the Stimson Center; Steve Clemons, the head of NAF's American Security program; Patrick Cronin, a senior adviser at the Center for a New American Security; W. Patrick Lang, who served as the top Middle East/South Asia officer in the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency during the 1990s; Selig Harrison, an Afghan specialist at the Center for International Policy; and Stephen Walt, a Harvard University scholar considered a leader of the "realist" school of international relations.

Jim Lobe's blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at http://www.lobelog.com.

Why Peaceniks Should Care About the Afghanistan Study Report

by Robert Naiman

There is a tradition among some peace activists of striking a pose of annoyed indifference to the question of how to get out of an unpopular war. "There are three ways to get out," goes one waggish response. "Air, land, and sea."

This is funny and emotionally satisfying, and also represents a truth for peace activists: ending the war is a first principle, not something contingent on whether a particular means of doing so satisfies someone else's notion of what is practical.

On the other hand, peace activists can't be satisfied with being right; they also are morally compelled to try to be effective. And part of being effective is giving consideration to, and seeking to publicize, arguments are likely to end the war sooner rather than later. It's not likely, for example, that discussing ways in which the war might be useful for the long-term maintenance of the "capitalist world system" will turn the Washington debate against war in the short run. If, on the other hand, central to the official story is a claim that the war is a war against Al Qaeda, but senior U.S. officials publicly concede that there is no significant Al Qaeda presence today in Afghanistan, that is certainly a fact worth knowing and spreading.

This is why it is important for as many people as possible to read and digest the short and accessible report of the "Afghanistan Study Group" which has been publicly unveiled this week. The assumptions and conclusions of the ASG report should be the subject of a thousand debates. But there are a few things about it that one can say without fear of reasonable contradiction. The authors of the report oppose the war and want to end it. The principal authors of the report are Washington insiders with a strong claim to expertise about what sort of arguments are likely to move Washington debate. The authors of the report have a strategy for trying to move Washington debate so that at the next fork in the road, the choice made is to de-escalate the war and move towards its conclusion, rather than to escalate it further. Therefore, the arguments made deserve careful consideration. They may not be particularly useful for making posters for a demonstration. But for lobbying Congressional staff, writing a letter to the editor, or making any other presentation to people who are not already on our side, the arguments of the Afghanistan Study Group are likely to be useful.

Many of the authors and signers of the report are known to peace activists who follow policy debates. Former Marine Corps captain Matthew Hoh, director of the ASG, made waves last October when became the first U.S. official known to resign in protest over the Afghan war. Stephen Walt, with his co-author John Mearsheimer, helped break open mainstream debate about U.S. policy towards Israel and the Palestinians with their book "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy." Juan Cole, author of the blog Informed Comment, is the author of "Engaging the Muslim World." Robert Pape, author of "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism," has documented how U.S. military escalation in Afghanistan has produced more terrorism. Former CIA official Paul Pillar attacked the central justification of the current military escalation in an op-ed in the Washington Post last September, arguing that there was little reason to believe that a "safe haven" for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan would have any significant bearing on the terrorist threat to the United States. Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation, author of the blog Washington Note, originally convened the ASG.

Of course, these impeccable "establishment dissident" credentials do not put the assumptions or conclusions of the report beyond criticism. But they do make a strong case for consideration of the report.

Furthermore, the Afghanistan Study Group does break new ground politically, in the direction of ending the war.

By far the most important contribution, in my view, is the report's call for expedited and more vigorous efforts to resolve Afghanistan's civil war through political negotiations leading to decentralization of power in Afghanistan and a power-sharing agreement between the government and the insurgency. This call should be a commonplace, but the opposite is currently true: people in Washington, even critics of the war, are afraid to say out loud the most important fact about ending the war: there needs to be a political deal in Afghanistan with the Afghan Taliban insurgency. One of the most important potential accomplishments of an experts' study group is to try to put into play key facts which experts know but politicians are afraid to say. It's the "Murder on the Orient Express" strategy: if there's something important that no-one wants to say, have a bunch of people say it together. If the Afghanistan Study Group makes it easier for people to say out loud, "There needs to be a political deal with the Afghan Taliban," it will have made a major contribution to ending the war.

The second important contribution is to focus attention on the urgent need to engage "regional stakeholders," especially Pakistan, India, and Iran, in a political resolution of the armed conflict. In particular, current U.S. policy has appeared to be predicated on the bizarre belief that the U.S. can cajole Pakistani decision-makers into abandoning what they perceive to be their core national security interests in Afghanistan, rather than on the far more realistic approach of engaging with Pakistan so that its national security concerns are met in an Afghan political settlement. The approach of trying to "wall out" antagonistic regional actors has failed spectacularly in Afghanistan and produced much needless death and human suffering, as it failed before in Iraq and Lebanon. If the Obama Administration would implement the course correction in Afghanistan which the Bush Administration implemented in Iraq and Lebanon after 2006 - accepting that antagonistic regional actors could not be walled out, and that the U.S. is better off trying to manage their influence rather than trying to exclude it - it would be a major step to ending the war.

The third important contribution is the call for the U.S. to reduce and eventually end its military operations in southern Afghanistan. Southern Afghanistan, the historic heartland of the Taliban insurgency, is the focal point of the current U.S. military escalation; the current U.S. military escalation in southern Afghanistan is the main cause of the fact that U.S. troops are dying in record numbers.

The fourth major contribution of the report is to attack the central justification of the war: the claim that it will reduce the threat of terrorism against Americans. The report argues:

First, the decision to escalate the U.S. effort in Afghanistan rests on the mistaken belief that victory there will have a major impact on Al Qaeda's ability to attack the United States. Al Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan today is very small, and even a decisive victory there would do little to undermine its capabilities elsewhere. Victory would not even prevent small Al Qaeda cells from relocating in Afghanistan, just as they have in a wide array of countries (including European countries).

Second, a U.S. drawdown would not make Al Qaeda substantially more lethal. In order for events in Afghanistan to enhance Al Qaeda's ability to threaten the U.S. homeland, three separate steps must occur: 1) the Taliban must seize control of a substantial portion of the country, 2) Al Qaeda must relocate there in strength, and 3) it must build facilities in this new "safe haven" that will allow it to plan and train more effectively than it can today.

Each of these three steps is unlikely, however, and the chances of all three together are very remote. [...] Most importantly, no matter what happens in Afghanistan in the future, Al Qaeda will not be able to build large training camps of the sort it employed prior to the 9/11 attacks. Simply put, the U.S. would remain vigilant and could use air power to eliminate any Al Qaeda facility that the group might attempt to establish. Bin Laden and his associates will likely have to remain in hiding for the rest of their lives, which means Al Qaeda will have to rely on clandestine cells instead of large encampments. Covert cells can be located virtually anywhere, which is why the outcome in Afghanistan is not critical to addressing the threat from Al Qaeda.

In short, a complete (and unlikely) victory in Afghanistan and the dismantling of the Taliban would not make Al Qaeda disappear; indeed, it would probably have no appreciable effect on Al Qaeda. At the same time, dramatically scaling back U.S. military engagement will not significantly increase the threat from Al Qaeda.

From the point of view of official Washington, this speaks to the core of the argument against the war. Continuing the war is not promoting the national security interests of the United States, and in fact is counterproductive to those interests.

This is also the part of the argument that is most likely to stick in the craw of many peace activists, in part because they have a well-grounded allergy to efforts to promote the purported "national security interests of the United States," and in part because the report, if implemented, still envisions a potential role for U.S. military force in the region.

However, a bit of realism about prospects in the near-term future is in order. If you look around the world, the U.S. is currently deploying military force in a lot of places. In the places where the U.S. is deploying military force without the presence of a significant number of U.S. ground troops, this activity goes on without occasioning significant public debate in the U.S. There is essentially zero public debate over what the U.S. is doing in the Philippines, almost zero about what the U.S. is doing in Somalia, very little about what the U.S. is doing in Yemen, not very much about what the U.S. is doing in Pakistan. Following the blip occasioned by President Obama's announcement of the so-called "end of combat mission" in Iraq, it is likely that public debate about what the U.S. is doing in Iraq will fall back towards Pakistan levels.

That these things are true, of course, does not make them just. However, as I wrote at the outset, it is not enough to be right; one has the moral obligation to also try to be effective. And part of being effective is understanding where the adversary is vulnerable, and where the adversary is not, at present, very vulnerable. The permanent war apparatus is currently politically vulnerable over the war in Afghanistan primarily because U.S. troops are currently dying there in significant numbers for no apparent reason, so it makes sense for this to be a central point of attack.

The choices before Washington in Afghanistan, in the short run, are not "counterterrorism" or "counterinsurgency." Washington is already pursuing counterterrorism in Afghanistan, as it is in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, and almost certainly it will continue to do so in some way in the near future, under any conceivable U.S. policy likely to be implemented. The choices before Washington in Afghanistan in the short run are "counterterrorism" and "counterinsurgency" or "counterterrorism" alone. "Counterterrorism" in Afghanistan and elsewhere is killing innocent people, and that must be opposed. But "counterinsurgency" in Afghanistan is killing far more people, and it is much more politically vulnerable.

The fact that you cannot, at present, see your way clear to quitting drinking, is not a good reason not to quit smoking. The recommendations of the Afghanistan Study Group, if implemented, will significantly reduce the harm currently caused by U.S. policy in Afghanistan, both to Americans and to Afghans. That is why its conclusions should be urgently pressed on Members of Congress and officials of the Obama Administration, and should be pushed into the mainstream media and public debate.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy

Bad Wars Aren't Possible Unless Good People Back Them

I know we've been "free" of the Iraq War for two weeks now and our minds have turned to the new football season and Fashion Week in New York. And how exciting that the new fall TV season is just days away!

But before we get too far away from something we would all just like to forget, will you please allow me to just say something plain and blunt and necessary:

We invaded Iraq because most Americans -- including good liberals like Al Franken, Nicholas Kristof & Bill Keller of the New York Times, David Remnick of the New Yorker, the editors of the Atlantic and the New Republic, Harvey Weinstein, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer and John Kerry -- wanted to.

Of course the actual blame for the war goes to Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz because they ordered the "precision" bombing, the invasion, the occupation, and the theft of our national treasury. I have no doubt that history will record that they committed the undisputed Crime of the (young) Century.

But how did they get away with it, considering they'd lost the presidential election by 543,895 votes? They also knew that the majority of the country probably wouldn't back them in such a war (a Newsweek poll in October 2002 showed 61% thought it was "very important" for Bush to get formal approval from the United Nations for war -- but that never happened). So how did they pull it off?

They did it by getting liberal voices to support their war. They did it by creating the look of bipartisanship. And they convinced other countries' leaders like Tony Blair to get on board and make it look like it wasn't just our intelligence agencies cooking the evidence.

But most importantly, they made this war (and its public support) happen because Bush & Co. had brilliantly conned the New York Times into running a bunch of phony front-page stories about how Saddam Hussein had all these "weapons of mass destruction." The administration gleefully fed this false information not to Fox News or the Washington Times. They gave it to America's leading liberal newspaper. They must have had a laugh riot each morning when they'd pick up the New York Times and read the nearly word-for-word scenarios and talking points that they had concocted in the Vice President's office.

I blame the New York Times more for this war than Bush. I expected Bush and Cheney to try and get away with what they did. But the Times -- and the rest of the press -- was supposed to STOP them by doing their job: Be a relentless watchdog of government and business -- and then inform the public so we can take action.

Instead, the New York Times gave the Bush administration the cover they needed. They could -- and did -- say, 'Hey, look, even the Times says Saddam has WMD!'

With this groundwork laid, the Bush crowd ended up convincing a whopping 70% of the public to support the war -- a public that had given him less than 48% of its vote in 2000.

Early liberal support for this war was the key ingredient in selling it to a majority of the public. I realize this is something that no one in the media -- nor most of us -- really wants to discuss. Who among us wants to feel the pain of having to remember that liberals, by joining with Bush, made this war happen?

Please, before our collective memory fades, I just want us to be honest with ourselves and present an unsanitized version of how they pulled off this war. I can guarantee you the revisionists will make sure the real truth will not enter the history books.

Children born when the war began started second grade this month.

Kids who were eleven in 2003 are now old enough to join up and get killed in Iraq in a "non-combat capacity."

They'll never understand how we got here if we don't.

So let me state this clearly: This war was aided and abetted by a) liberals who were afraid to stick their necks out and thus remained silent; and b) liberals who actually said they believed Colin Powell's cartoon presentation at the U.N. and then went against their better judgment by publicly offering their support for the invasion of Iraq.

First, there were those 29 (turncoat) Democratic senators who voted for the war. Then there was the embarrassing display of reporters who couldn't wait to be "embedded" and go for a joy ride on a Bradley tank.

But my real despair lies with the people I counted on for strong opposition to this madness -- but who left the rest of us alone, out on a limb, as we tried to stop the war.

In March of 2003, to be a public figure speaking out against the war was considered instant career suicide. Take the Dixie Chicks as Exhibit A. Their lead singer, Natalie Maines, uttered just one sentence of criticism -- and their career was effectively dead and buried at that moment. Bruce Springsteen spoke out in their defense, and a Colorado DJ was fired for refusing to not play their songs. That was about it. Crickets everywhere else.

Then MSNBC fired the only nightly critic of the war -- the television legend, Phil Donahue. No one at the network -- or any network -- spoke up on his behalf. There would never again be a Phil Donahue show. (Little did GE know that, when they soon filled that 8pm hour with a sports guy by the name of Keith Olbermann, they would end up with the war's most brilliant and fiercest critic, night after night after night.) There were a few others -- Bill Maher, Janeane Garofalo, Tim Robbins and Seymour Hersh -- who weren't afraid to speak the truth. But where was everyone else? Where were all those supposed liberal voices in the media?

Instead, this is what we were treated to back in 2003 and 2004:

** Al Franken, who said he "reluctantly" was "a supporter of the war against Saddam." And six months into the war Al was still saying, "There were reasons to go to war against Iraq ... I was very ambivalent about it but I still don't know if it was necessarily wrong (to go to war)."

** Nicholas Kristof, columnist for the New York Times, who attacked me and wrote a column comparing me to the nutty right-wingers who claimed Hillary had Vince Foster killed. He said people like me were "polarizing the political cesspool," and he chastised anyone who dared call Bush's reasons for going to war in Iraq "lies."

** Howell Raines, editor-in-chief of the "liberal" New York Times, who was, according to former Times editor Doug Frantz, "eager to have articles that supported the war-mongering out of Washington ... He discouraged pieces that were at odds with the administration's position on Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction and alleged links of al-Qaeda." The book "Hard News" reported that "according to half a dozen sources within the Times, Raines wanted to prove once and for all that he wasn't editing the paper in a way that betrayed his liberal beliefs..."

** Bill Keller, at the time a New York Times columnist, who wrote: "We reluctant hawks may disagree among ourselves about the most compelling logic for war -- protecting America, relieving oppressed Iraqis or reforming the Middle East -- but we generally agree that the logic for standing pat does not hold. ... we are hard pressed to see an alternative that is not built on wishful thinking."

(The New York Times is so left-wing that when Raines retired, they replaced him with... Keller.)

** The New Yorker, the magazine for really smart liberals, found its editor-in-chief, David Remnick, supporting the war on its pages: "History will not easily excuse us if, by deciding not to decide, we defer a reckoning with an aggressive totalitarian leader who intends not only to develop weapons of mass destruction but also to use them. ... a return to a hollow pursuit of containment will be the most dangerous option of all." (To cover its ass, the New Yorker had another editor, Rick Hertzberg, write an anti-war editorial as a rebuttal.)

Some of the above have recanted their early support of the war. The Times fired its WMD correspondent and apologized to its readers. Al Franken has been a great Senator. Kristof now writes nice columns (check out last Sunday's).

But the support of the war by these leading liberals and the majority of the Democrats in the Senate made it safe for the Right to let loose a vicious and unchecked tirade of hate and threats on anyone (including myself) who dared to step out of line. It was not uncommon to hear the media describe me as "un-American," "anti-American," "aiding the terrorists," and being a "traitor."

Here are just a couple of examples of what was said about me over the airwaves by two of the nation's leading conservative commentators:

"Let me just tell you what I'm thinking. I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out -- is this wrong? I stopped wearing my 'What Would Jesus Do' band, and I've lost all sense of right and wrong now. I used to be able to say, 'Yeah, I'd kill Michael Moore,' and then I'd see the little band: 'What Would Jesus Do?' And then I'd realize, 'Oh, you wouldn't kill Michael Moore. Or at least you wouldn't choke him to death.' And you know, well, I'm not sure." (Glenn Beck)

And:

"Well, I want to kill Michael Moore. Is that all right? All right. And I don't believe in capital punishment. That's just a joke on Moore." (Bill O'Reilly)

(Ironically, O'Reilly made his threat/joke the night after Janet Jackson's breast was bared at the Super Bowl -- which got CBS fined over half a million dollars because, you know, nipples are far more frightening than death threats.)

So that's how I'll personally remember the early war years: living with a real and present danger caused by the hate whipped up by right-wing radio and TV. (I've been advised not to recount certain specific incidents that happened to me, as it would only encourage other crazy people.)

So I dealt with it. And I'm still here. And I know many of you went through your own crap, standing up against the war at school, or work, or at Thanksgiving dinner, taking your own blows for simply saying what was the truth.

But how much easier it would have been for all of us if the liberal establishment had stood with us? We didn't own a daily newspaper, or a magazine with a circulation in the millions. We didn't have our own TV show or network. We weren't invited on shows like "Meet the Press," because they simply could not allow our voice to be heard.

The media watchdog group FAIR reported that in the three weeks after the war started, the CBS Evening News allowed only one anti-war voice on their show -- and that was on one night in one soundbite (and that was four seconds of me in a line from my Oscar speech) -- even though in March of 2003 our anti-war numbers were in the millions (remember the huge demonstrations in hundreds of cities?). We were around 30% of the country according to most polls (that's nearly 100 million Americans!) and yet we had no way to communicate with each other aside from through the Nation and a few websites like CommonDreams.org and Truth-Out.org.

But that was no way to build a huge mass movement of Middle Americans to oppose the war. Unless you had just lucked out and been handed an Oscar on live television in front of a gazillion people where you had 45 seconds to say something before they cut you off and booed you off the stage (hahahaha), you had no public platform. (Jeez, I sure did get booed a lot that year: simply walking through an airport, or eating dinner in a restaurant, or sitting at a Laker game where they suddenly put me up on the Jumbotron and the place went so angry-crazy that Larry David, who was sitting next to me, felt that maybe for his own safety he should perhaps slide a few seats down or go get us a couple of wieners. Instead, he stuck by my side -- and his skillful ninja moves got us out of there alive after the game.)

I know it's hard to remember, but when this war started, there was no YouTube, no Facebook, no Twitter, no way for you to bypass the media lords so you could have your own friggin' say.

Too bad for the bastards, those days are over.

The next time around, it won't be so easy to shut up a country girl band or try to silence someone while he accepts his little gold statue -- or completely ignore the millions of citizens in the streets.

So now we can hope that one of our wars is over. Too bad we lost. I hate to lose, don't you? But the fact is, we lost the very day we invaded a sovereign nation that posed absolutely no threat to us and had nothing to do with 9/11. We lost lives (over 4,400 of ours, hundreds of thousands of theirs), we lost limbs (a total of 35,000 troops came back with various wounds and disabilities and God knows how many more with mental problems). We lost the money our grandchildren were supposed to live on.

And we lost our soul, who we were, what we stood for as a once-great country -- lost it all. Can we now ask for redemption -- for forgiveness? Can we be... "America" again?

I guess we'll see. The vast majority of the country eventually came around to the Dixie Chicks' position. And we elected an anti-Iraq-war guy by the name of Barack Hussein Obama.

But, please, promise yourselves never to forget how our country went crazy 7 1/2 years ago -- even though, to many people at the time, it seemed completely normal. And I'm here to tell you, no matter how much better it's gotten, no matter how normal you may think things are now, we're still halfway nuts. Just listen to the new batch of "sensible pundits" as they start to beat the drums about what we should do to Iran. One war down, one (or two or three) to go.

C'mon, Mr. President, not one more kid needs to die overseas wearing a uniform with our flag on it. We can't win like this. Let's dig a few thousand wells in Afghanistan, build a few free mosques, leave behind some food and clothing, fix their electrical grid, issue an apology and set up a Facebook page so they can stay in touch with us -- and then let's get the hell out. Your own National Security Advisor and your CIA Director have told you there are less than 100 al-Qaeda fighters in the entire country. 100???

100,000 U.S. troops going after 100 al-Qaeda? Is this a Looney Tunes presentation? "A-ba-dee-a-ba-dee-a-ba-dee -- That's All Folks!" Let's get real. I'm glad one war is "over." But I know how we got there -- and I'm willing now to fight just as hard to stop these other wars if you won't, Mr. Obama.

Your call.

Yours,

Michael Moore
Mike@MichaelMoore.com
MichaelMoore.com

P.S. Just a thought, Mr. President. Can I ask that you go back and watch this movie I made -- "Fahrenheit 9/11." There might be some answers there. I give you my permission to download it for free by going to this site: TorrentHound.com. Don't tell the studio I said it was ok! They've only made a half a billion $$ on it so far.

P.P.S. To everyone on my list: Thanks to your thousands of generous donations, we've raised over $60,000 for the Muslim community center near Ground Zero. This has made news around the world, that there are Americans who believe in our stated American principles.

Doubling of SOF Night Raids Backfired in Kandahar

by Gareth Porter

WASHINGTON - During a round of media interviews last month, Gen. David Petraeus released totals for the alleged results of nearly 3,000 "night raids" by Special Operations Forces (SOF) units over the 90 days from May through July: 365 "insurgent leaders" killed or captured, 1,355 Taliban "rank and file" fighters captured, and 1,031 killed.

Those figures were widely reported as highlighting the "successes" of SOF raids in at least hurting the Taliban.

But a direct correlation between the stepped up night raids in Kandahar province and a sharp fall-off in the proportion of IEDs being turned in by the local population indicates that the raids backfired badly, bolstering the Taliban's hold on the population in Kandahar province.

Night raids, which are viewed as a violation of the sanctity of the home and generate large numbers of civilian casualties, are the single biggest factor in generating popular anger at U.S. and NATO forces, as Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal conceded in his directive on the issue last March.

Nevertheless, McChrystal had increased the level of SOF raids from the 100 to 125 a month during the command of his predecessor, Gen. David McKiernan, to 500 a month during 2009. And the figures released by Petraeus revealed that McChrystal had doubled the number of raids on homes again to 1,000 a month before he was relieved of duty in June.

The step up in night raids has been overwhelmingly concentrated on districts in and around Kandahar City. It began in April as a prelude to what was then being billed as the "make or break" campaign of the war.

The response of the civilian population in those districts can be discerned from data on the Taliban roadside bombs and the proportion turned in by the population. Increasing the ratio of total IEDs planted found as a result of tips from the population has been cited as a key indicator of winning the trust of the local population by Maj. Gen. Michael Oates, head of the Pentagon's Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO).

But JIEDDO's monthly statistics on IED's turned in by local residents as a percentage of total IEDs planted tell a very different story.

The percentage of Taliban roadside bombs turned in had been averaging 3.5 percent from November 2009 through March 2010, according to official statistics from JIEDDO. But as soon as the SOF raids began in Kandahar in April, the percentage of turn-ins fell precipitously to 1.5 percent, despite the fact that the number of IEDs remained about the same as the previous month.

The turn-in ratio continued to average 1.5 percent through July.

There is a similar correlation between a sudden increase in popular anger toward foreign troops in spring 2009 and a precipitous drop in the rate of turn-ins.

In the first four months of 2009, turn-ins had averaged 4.5 percent of IED incidents. But in early May 2009 a U.S. airstrike in Farah province killed between 97 and 147 civilians, according to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. As popular outrage over the biggest mass killing of civilians in the war spread across the country, the ratio of turn-ins fell to 2.1 percent of the total for the month, even though IEDs increased by less than 20 percent.

Then McChrystal took command and ordered a quadrupling of the number of night raids. The turn-in ratio continued to average just 2.2 percent for the next five months.

In Kandahar, as elsewhere in Afghanistan, popular anger at foreign troops was undoubtedly stoked by the inevitable killing and detention of the innocent people that accompanies SOF night raids.

According to the figures released by Petraeus, for every targeted individual killed or captured in the raids, three non-targeted individuals were killed and another four were detained.

Based on past cases of false reporting by SOF units, a large proportion of the 1,031 killed in the raids and identified as "insurgents" were simply neighbours who had come out of their homes with guns when they heard the raiders.

Gen. McChrystal referred to that chronic problem in a statement on his directive on night raids last March. "Instinctive responses" by an Afghan man to "defend his home and family are sometimes interpreted as insurgent acts, with tragic results," McChyrstal said.

SOF units have routinely reported those killed under such circumstances as insurgents rather than as innocent civilians.

When an SOF unit raided the home of a low-level commander in Laghman province on Jan. 26, 2009, 13 men came out of nearby homes. They were all killed and later included in the tally of Taliban reported killed in the raid.

The problem of false reporting was brought to light most dramatically after a botched SOF raid in Gardez Feb. 12, when two men who emerged from buildings in the compound targeted by an SOF unit were shot and killed. Within hours of the raid, ISAF issued a statement describing the two men as "insurgents".

That falsehood was later revealed only because the two men happened to be a police official and a government prosecutor. In the same incident, the SOF unit accidentally killed three women, two of whom were pregnant, but reported to headquarters that the women had been found tied up.

McChrystal defended the SOF unit against charges by eyewitnesses that its members had tried to cover up the killing, even after the head of the Afghan interior ministry investigation of the incident publicly declared that the testimony was credible.

The figure of 1,355 insurgents "captured" in the raids given out by the International Security Assistance Force is also highly misleading. In response to an IPS query about the figure, ISAF public affairs officer Maj. Sunset R. Belinsky confirmed that the figure "reflects insurgents or suspected insurgents captured during operations".

In fact, the vast majority were simply swept up because they happened to be present in a house or compound targeted in a raid.

An ISAF press release Sep. 8 illustrates how such a larger number was accumulated. In a raid on the compound of a suspected "insurgent commander" in Paktika province Sep. 7, the SOF unit ordered all occupants to leave the compound and detained "several suspected insurgents" after "initial questioning".

U.S. forces in Afghanistan have never released figures on what proportion of Afghans detained as suspected insurgents were eventually released because of lack of evidence. Maj. Gen. Douglas Stone, who reviewed U.S. detainee policies in early 2009, was reported by The Guardian Oct. 14, 2009 to have concluded that two-thirds of the detainees still being held by the U.S. military as Taliban insurgents were innocent.

The claim of 365 "insurgent leaders" killed or captured is also highly misleading.

At his confirmation hearing in June, Petraeus referred to the targets of SOF raids as "middle and upper level Taliban and other extremist element leaders".

That terminology was later abandoned, however. When questioned about the figure last month, an ISAF official, speaking on condition of anonymity, conceded that it was not clear what authority the targeted "leaders" had. There is no organisational diagram for the Taliban, the official told IPS, and Taliban fighters are not organised in military units.

The vast majority of those "leaders", it appears, were low level Taliban personnel who are easily replaced.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam", was published in 2006.

NATO is in No Shape to Make Progress in Afghanistan

by Patrick Cockburn

If Iraq was bad, Afghanistan is going to be worse. Nothing said or done at the Lisbon conference, which is largely an exercise in self-deception, is going to make this better and it may well make it worse.

It is not just that the war is going badly, but that NATO's need to show progress has produced a number of counter-productive quick fixes likely to deepen the violence. These dangerous initiatives include setting up local militias to fight the Taliban where government forces are weak. These are often guns-for-hire provided by local warlords who prey on ordinary Afghans.

The US military has been making much of its strategy of assassinating mid-level Taliban commanders, but one study on the ground showed that many of these are men highly regarded in their communities. It concluded that killing them infuriated local people and led to many of them being recruited by the Taliban.

The US commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, will tell NATO leaders today of his plan to start handing over responsibility for security in some areas to the Afghan government in 2011. This sounds like wishful thinking on the part of General Petraeus and his selection of target dates is primarily to avoid accusations that NATO has no idea when or how it will get out.

The Taliban currently controls or has influence in half of Afghanistan. While US reinforcements have been pouring into Helmand and Kandahar provinces, the Taliban have been expanding their enclaves in the north.

The whole idea of handing over security to the Afghan government is based on a rapid expansion of the Afghan army to 171,000 men and the police to 134,000. Not only are these new recruits likely to be poorly trained, but they will be drawn from the largely anti-Taliban Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara communities. The Pashtun, 42 per cent of Afghans and the community from which the Taliban is largely drawn, will feel ever more victimized.

The differences between the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan underline that the latter is more dangerous for foreign occupiers. In Iraq the anti-US guerrillas sprang from Sunni Arabs, a community to which less than one in five Iraqis belonged. The post-Saddam government in Baghdad was supported by the Kurds and the Shia, making up four-fifths of the population. Afghans are more xenophobic than Iraqis. "Suspicion of foreigners is part of every Afghan's DNA," said a Western diplomat in Kabul.

The NATO leaders in Lisbon may want to consider two other respects in which Afghanistan may prove a more dangerous country. The Afghan government is much feebler than its equivalent in Baghdad where there is a tradition of central control and $60bn in oil revenues. Militarily, what defeated the Soviet army in Afghanistan was not the warlike prowess of the Afghans but the 2,500km long border with Pakistan. So long as this remains open, and the insurgents have safe havens in Pakistan, NATO and the Afghan government are not going to win.

 

Middle East correspondent for the British newspaper The Independent, Patrick Cockburn was awarded the 2005 Martha Gellhorn prize for war reporting. His book on his years covering the war in Iraq, The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq (Verso) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for non-fiction.

The New War Congress: An Obama-Republican War Alliance?

by David Swanson

To understand just how bad the 112th Congress, elected on November 2nd and taking office on January 3rd, is likely to be for peace on Earth, one has to understand how incredibly awful the 110th and 111th Congresses have been during the past four years and then measure the ways in which things are likely to become even worse. 

Oddly enough, doing so brings some surprising silver linings into view.

The House and Senate have had Democratic majorities for the past four years.  In January, the House will be run by Republicans, while the Democratic majority in the Senate will shrink.  We still tend to call the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan "Bush's wars."  Republicans are often the most outspoken supporters of these wars, while many Democrats label themselves "critics" and "opponents."

Such wars, however, can't happen without funding, and the past four years of funding alone amount to a longer period of war-making than U.S. participation in either of the world wars.  We tend to think of those past four years as a winding down of "Bush's wars," even though in that period Congress actually appropriated funding to escalate the war in Iraq and then the war in Afghanistan, before the U.S. troop presence in Iraq was reduced.

But here's the curious thing: while the Democrats suffered a net loss of more than 60 seats in the House in the midterm elections just past, only three of the defeated Democrats had voted against funding an escalation in Afghanistan this past July 27th.  Three other anti-war Democrats (by which I mean those who have actually voted against war funding) retired this year, as did two anti-war Republicans.  Another anti-war Democrat, Carolyn Kilpatrick of Michigan, lost in a primary to Congressman-elect Hansen Clarke, who is also likely to vote against war funding.  And one more anti-war Democrat, Dan Maffei from western New York, is in a race that still hasn't been decided.  But among the 102 Democrats and 12 Republicans who voted "no" to funding the Afghan War escalation in July, at least 104 will be back in the 112th Congress.

That July vote proved a high point in several years of efforts by the peace movement, efforts not always on the media's radar, to persuade members of Congress to stop funding our wars.  Still a long way off from the 218-vote majority needed to succeed, there's no reason to believe that anti-war congress members won't see their numbers continue to climb above 114 -- especially with popular support for the Afghan War sinking fast -- if a bill to fund primarily war is brought to a vote in 2011.

Which President Will Obama Be in 2012?

The July funding vote also marked a transition to the coming Republican House in that more Republicans (160) voted "yes" than Democrats (148).  That gap is likely to widen.  The Democrats will have fewer than 100 House Members in January who haven't already turned against America's most recent wars.  The Republicans will have about 225.  Assuming a libertarian influence does not sweep through the Republican caucus, and assuming the Democrats don't regress in their path toward peace-making, we are likely to see wars that will be considered by Americans in the years to come as Republican-Obama (or Obama-Republican) in nature.

The notion of a war alliance between the Republicans and the president they love to hate may sound outlandish, but commentators like Jeff Cohen who have paid attention to the paths charted by Bill Clinton's presidency have been raising this possibility since Barack Obama entered the Oval Office.  That doesn't mean it won't be awkward.  The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), for example, is aimed at reducing the deployment and potential for proliferation of nuclear weapons.  Obama supports it.  Last week, we watched the spectacle of Republican senators who previously expressed support for the treaty turning against it, apparently placing opposition to the president ahead of their own views on national security.

That does not, however, mean that they are likely to place opposition to the President ahead of their support for wars that ultimately weaken national security.  In fact, it's quite possible that, in 2011, they will try to separate themselves from the president by proposing even more war funding than he asks for and daring him not to sign the bills, or by packaging into war bills measures Obama opposes but not enough to issue a veto.

For Obama's part, while he has always striven to work with the Republicans, a sharp break with the Democrats will not appeal to him.  If the polls were to show that liberals had begun identifying him as the leader of Republican wars, the pressure on him to scale back war-making, especially in Afghanistan, might rise. 

If the economy, as expected, does not improve significantly, and if people begin to associate the lack of money for jobs programs with the staggering sums put into the wars, the president might find himself with serious fears about his reelection -- or even about getting the Democratic Party's nomination a second time.  His fate is now regularly being compared to that of Bill Clinton, who was indeed reelected in 1996 following a Republican midterm trouncing. (In his successful campaign to return to the Oval Office, Clinton got an assist from Ross Perot, a third-party candidate who drew off Republican votes and whose role might be repeated in 2012 by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.)

History, however, has its own surprises; sometimes it's the chapters from the past you're not thinking about that get repeated.  Here, for instance, are three presidents who are not Bill Clinton and whose experiences might prove relevant: Lyndon Johnson's war-making in Vietnam led to his decision not to run for reelection in 1968; opposition to abuses of war powers was likely a factor in similar decisions by Harry Truman in 1952 in the midst of an unpopular war in Korea and James Polk in 1848 after a controversial war against Mexico.

The Unkindest Cut

Bills that fund wars along with the rest of the military and what we have, for the past 62 years, so misleadingly called the "Defense" Department, are harder to persuade Congress members to vote against than bills primarily funding wars.  "Defense" bills and the overall size of the military have been steadily growing every year, including 2010.  Oddly enough, even with a Republican Congress filled with warhawks, the possibility still exists that that trend could be reversed.

After all, right-wing forces in (and out of) Washington, D.C., have managed to turn the federal budget deficit into a Saddam-Hussein-style bogeyman.  While the goal of many of those promoting this vision of deficit terror may have been intent on getting Wall Street's fingers into our Social Security savings or defunding public schools, military waste could become collateral damage in the process.

The bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, known on television as "the deficit commission" and on progressive blogs as "the catfood commission" (in honor of what it could leave our senior citizens dining on), has not yet released its proposals for reducing the deficit, but the two chairmen, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, have published their own set of preliminary proposals that include reducing the military budget by $100 billion.  The proposal is, in part, vague but -- in a new twist for Washington's elite -- even includes a suggested reduction by one-third in spending on the vast empire of bases the U.S. controls globally.

Commission member and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) has proposed cutting only slightly more -- $110.7 billion -- from the military budget as part of a package of reforms that, unlike the chairmen's proposals, taxes the rich, invests in jobs, and strengthens Social Security.  Even if a similar proposal finally makes it out of the full commission, the new Republican House is unlikely to pass anything of the sort unless there is a genuine swell of public pressure.

Far more than $110.7 billion could, in fact, be cut out of the Pentagon budget to the benefit of national security, and even greater savings could, of course, be had by actually ending the Afghan and Iraq wars, a possibility not considered in these proposals.  If military cuts are packaged with major cuts to Social Security or just about anything else, progressives will be as likely as Republicans to oppose the package.

While the new Republican House will fund the wars at least as often and as fulsomely as the outgoing Democratic House, namely 100% of the time, the votes will undoubtedly look different.  The Democratic leadership has tended to allow progressive Democrats the opportunity to vote for antiwar measures as amendments to war-funding bills.  These measures have ranged from bans on all war funding to requests for non-binding exit strategies.  They have not passed, but have generated news coverage.  They may also, however, have made it easier for some Democrats to establish their antiwar credentials by voting "yes" on these amendments -- before turning around and voting for the war funding.  If the funding is the only war vote they are allowed, some of them may be more likely to vote "no."

On March 10, 2010, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) used a parliamentary maneuver (that will still be available to him as a member of the minority) to force a lengthy floor debate on a resolution to end the war in Afghanistan.  Kucinich has said that he will introduce a similar resolution in January 2011 that would require the war to end by December 31, 2012.  That will provide an initial opportunity for Congress watchers to assess the lay of the land in the 112th Congress.  It will likely also be the first time that war is powerfully labeled as the property of the president and the Republicans.

The other place public discussion of the wars will occur is in committee hearings, and all of the House committees will now have Republican chairs, including Buck McKeon (R-CA) in Armed Services, and Darrell Issa (R-CA) in Oversight and Government Reform.  In recent decades, the oversight committee has only been vigorously used when the chairman has not belonged to the president's party.  This was the case in 2007-2008 when Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) investigated the Bush administration, even though he did allow high officials and government departments to simply refuse compliance with subpoenas the committee issued.  It will be interesting to see how Republican committee chairs respond to a similar defiance of subpoenas during the next two years.

A Hotbed of Military Expansionism

The Armed Services Committee is likely to be a hotbed of military expansionism.  Incoming Chairman McKeon wants Afghan War commander General David Petraeus to testify in December (even before he becomes chairman) on the Obama administration's upcoming review of Afghan war policy, while the Pentagon reportedly does not want him to because there is no good news to report.  While Chairman McKeon may insist on such newsworthy witnesses next year, his goal will be war expansion, pure and simple.

In fact, McKeon is eager to update the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) to grant the president the ongoing authority to make war on nations never involved in the 9/11 attacks.  This will continue to strip Congress of its war-making powers.  It will similarly continue to strip Americans of rights like the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures that President Obama has tended to justify more on the basis of the original AUMF than on the alleged inherent powers of the presidency that Bush's lawyers leaned on so heavily.

The president has been making it ever clearer in these post election weeks that he's in no hurry to end the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.  The scheduled end date for the occupation of Iraq, December 31, 2011, will now arrive while Republicans control a Congress that might conceivably, under Democrats, have been shamed into insisting on its right to finally end that war.  Republicans and their friends at the Washington Post are now arguing avidly for the continuation of existing wars in the way their side always argues, by pushing the envelope and demanding so much more -- such as a war on Iran -- that the existing level of madness comes to seem positively sane.

The most silvery of possible silver linings here may lie in the possibility of a reborn peace movement.  George W. Bush's new memoir actually reveals the surprising strength the peace movement had achieved by 2006.  In that year, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who was publicly denouncing any opposition to war, privately urged Bush to bring troops out of Iraq before the congressional elections.  But that was the last year in which the interests of the peace movement were aligned with those of groups and funders that take their lead from the Democratic Party.

In November 2008, the last of the major funders of the peace movement took their checkbooks and departed.  Were they at long last to take this moment to build the opposite of Fox News and the Tea Party, a machine independent of political parties pushing an agenda of peace and justice, anything would be possible.

David Swanson is the author of the just published book War Is A Lie and Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union. He blogs at Let’s Try Democracy and War Is a Crime.

TomDispatch.com

Taliban Leader in Secret Talks Was an Impostor

by Dexter Filkins and Carlotta Gall

KABUL, Afghanistan — For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise, if only because of the appearance of a certain insurgent leader at one end of the table: Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement.

But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all. In an episode that could have been lifted from a spy novel, United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little.

“It’s not him,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul intimately involved in the discussions. “And we gave him a lot of money.”

American officials confirmed Monday that they had given up hope that the Afghan was Mr. Mansour, or even a member of the Taliban leadership.

NATO and Afghan officials said they held three meetings with the man, who traveled from in Pakistan, where Taliban leaders have taken refuge.

The fake Taliban leader even met with President Hamid Karzai, having been flown to Kabul on a NATO aircraft and ushered into the presidential palace, officials said.

The episode underscores the uncertain and even bizarre nature of the atmosphere in which Afghan and American leaders search for ways to bring the nine-year-old American-led war to an end. The leaders of the Taliban are believed to be hiding in Pakistan, possibly with the assistance of the Pakistani government, which receives billions of dollars in American aid.

Many in the Taliban leadership, which is largely made up of barely literate clerics from the countryside, had not been seen in person by American, NATO or Afghan officials.

American officials say they were skeptical from the start about the identity of the man who claimed to be Mullah Mansour — who by some accounts is the second-ranking official in the Taliban, behind only the founder, Mullah Mohammed Omar. Serious doubts arose after the third meeting with Afghan officials, held in the southern city of Kandahar. A man who had known Mr. Mansour years ago told Afghan officials that the man at the table did not resemble him. “He said he didn’t recognize him,” said an Afghan leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The Western diplomat said the Afghan man was initially given a sizable sum of money to take part in the talks — and to help persuade him to return.

While the Afghan official said he still harbored hopes that the man would return for another round of talks, American and other Western officials said they had concluded that the man in question was not Mr. Mansour. Just how the Americans reached such a definitive conclusion — whether, for instance, they were able to positively establish his identity through fingerprints or some other means — is unknown.

As recently as last month, American and Afghan officials held high hopes for the talks. Senior American officials, including Gen. David H. Petraeus, said the talks indicated that Taliban leaders, whose rank-and-file fighters are under extraordinary pressure from the American-led offensive, were at least willing to discuss an end to the war.

The American officials said they and officials of other NATO governments were helping to facilitate the discussions, by providing air transport and securing roadways for Taliban leaders coming from Pakistan.

Last month, White House officials asked The New York Times to withhold Mr. Mansour’s name from an article about the peace talks, expressing concern that the talks would be jeopardized — and Mr. Mansour’s life put at risk — if his involvement were publicized. The Times agreed to withhold Mr. Mansour’s name, along with the names of two other Taliban leaders said to be involved in the discussions. The status of the other two Taliban leaders said to be involved is not clear.

Since the last round of discussions, which took place within the past few weeks, Afghan and American officials have been puzzling over who the man was. Some officials say the man may simply have been a freelance fraud, posing as a Taliban leader in order to enrich himself.

Others say the man may have been a Taliban agent. “The Taliban are cleverer than the Americans and our own intelligence service,” said a senior Afghan official who is familiar with the case. “They are playing games.”

Others suspect that the fake Taliban leader, whose identity is not known, may have been dispatched by the Pakistani intelligence service, known by its initials, the ISI. Elements within the ISI have long played a “double-game” in Afghanistan, reassuring United States officials that they are pursuing the Taliban while at the same time providing support for the insurgents.

Publicly, the Taliban leadership is sticking to the line that there are no talks at all. In a recent message to his followers, Mullah Omar denied that there were any talks unfolding at any level.

“The cunning enemy which has occupied our country, is trying, on the one hand, to expand its military operations on the basis of its double-standard policy and, on the other hand, wants to throw dust into the eyes of the people by spreading the rumors of negotiation,” his message said.

Despite such statements, some senior leaders of the Taliban did show a willingness to talk peace with representatives of the Afghan government as recently as January.

At that time, Abdul Ghani Baradar, then the deputy commander of the Taliban, was arrested in a joint C.I.A.-ISI raid in the Pakistani port city of Karachi. Although officials from both countries hailed the arrest as a hallmark of American-Pakistani cooperation, Pakistani officials have since indicated that they orchestrated Mr. Baradar’s arrest because he was engaging in peace discussions without the ISI’s permission.

Afghan leaders have confirmed this account.

Neither American nor Afghan leaders confronted the fake Mullah Mansour with their doubts. Indeed, some Afghan leaders are still holding out hopes that the man really is or at least represents Mr. Mansour — and that he will come back soon.

“Questions have been raised about him, but it’s still possible that it’s him,” said the Afghan leader who declined to be identified.

The Afghan leader said negotiators had urged the man claiming to be Mr. Mansour to return with colleagues, including other Taliban leaders whose identities they might also be able to verify.

The meetings were arranged by an Afghan with ties to both the Afghan government and the Taliban, officials said.

The Afghan leader said both the Americans and the Afghan leadership were initially cautious of the Afghan man’s identity and motives. But after the first meeting, both were reasonably satisfied that the man they were talking to was Mr. Mansour. Several steps were taken to establish the man’s real identity; after the first meeting, photos of him were shown to Taliban detainees who were believed to know Mr. Mansour. They signed off, the Afghan leader said.

Whatever the Afghan man’s identity, the talks that unfolded between the Americans and the man claiming to be Mr. Mansour seemed substantive, the Afghan leader said. The man claiming to be representing the Taliban laid down several surprisingly moderate conditions for a peace settlement: that the Taliban leadership be allowed to safely return to Afghanistan, that Taliban soldiers be offered jobs, and that prisoners be released.

The Afghan man did not demand, as the Taliban have in the past, a withdrawal of foreign forces or a Taliban share of the government.

Sayed Amir Muhammad Agha, a onetime Taliban commander who says he has left the Taliban but who acted as a go-between with the movement in the past, said in an interview that he did not know the tale of the impostor.

But he said the Taliban leadership had given no indications of a willingness to enter talks.

“Someone like me could come forward and say, ‘I am a Talib and a powerful person,’ ” he said. “But I can tell you, nothing is going on.”

“Whenever I talk to the Taliban, they never accept peace and they want to keep on fighting,” he said. “They are not tired.”

Ruhullah Khapalwak contributed reporting.

Copyright 2010 The New York Times

The Incredible Shrinking Withdrawal Date

How to schedule a war

by Tom Engelhardt

Going, going, gone!  You can almost hear the announcer's voice throbbing with excitement, only we're not talking about home runs here, but about the disappearing date on which, for the United States and its military, the Afghan War will officially end.

Practically speaking, the answer to when it will be over is: just this side of never.  If you take the word of our Afghan War commander, the secretary of defense, and top officials of the Obama administration and NATO, we're not leaving any time soon.  As with any clever time traveler, every date that's set always contains a verbal escape hatch into the future.

In my 1950s childhood, there was a cheesy (if thrilling) sci-fi flick, The Incredible Shrinking Man, about a fellow who passed through a radioactive cloud in the Pacific Ocean and soon noticed that his suits were too big for him.  Next thing you knew, he was living in a doll house, holding off his pet cat, and fighting an ordinary spider transformed into a monster.  Finally, he disappeared entirely leaving behind only a sonorous voice to tell us that he had entered a universe where "the unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet, like the closing of a gigantic circle."

In recent weeks, without a radioactive cloud in sight, the date for serious drawdowns of American troops in Afghanistan has followed a similar path toward the vanishing point and is now threatening to disappear "over the horizon" (a place where, we are regularly told, American troops will lurk once they have finally handed their duties over to the Afghan forces they are training).

If you remember, back in December 2009 President Obama spoke of July 2011 as a firm date to "begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan," the moment assumedly when the beginning of the end of the war would come into sight.  In July of this year, Afghan President Hamid Karzai spoke of 2014 as the date when Afghan security forces "will be responsible for all military and law enforcement operations throughout our country."

Administration officials, anxious about the effect that 2011 date was having on an American public grown weary of an unpopular war and on an enemy waiting for us to depart, grabbed Karzai's date and ran with it (leaving many of his caveats about the war the Americans were fighting, particularly his desire to reduce the American presence, in the dust).  Now, 2014 is hyped as the new 2011.

It has, in fact, been widely reported that Obama officials have been working in concert to "play down" the president's 2011 date, while refocusing attention on 2014. In recent weeks, top administration officials have been little short of voluble on the subject.  Secretary of Defense Robert Gates ("We're not getting out. We're talking about probably a years-long process."), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen, attending a security conference in Australia, all "cited 2014... as the key date for handing over the defense of Afghanistan to the Afghans themselves."  The New York Times headlined its report on the suddenly prominent change in timing this way: "U.S. Tweaks Message on Troops in Afghanistan."

Quite a tweak.  Added Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller: "The message shift is effectively a victory for the military, which has long said the July 2011 deadline undermined its mission by making Afghans reluctant to work with troops perceived to be leaving shortly." 

Inflection Points and Aspirational Goals

Barely had 2014 risen into the headlines, however, before that date, too, began to be chipped away.  As a start, it turned out that American planners weren't talking about just any old day in 2014, but its last one.  As Lieutenant General William Caldwell, head of the NATO training program for Afghan security forces, put it while holding a Q&A with a group of bloggers, "They're talking about December 31st, 2014.  It's the end of December in 2014... that [Afghan] President Karzai has said they want Afghan security forces in the lead."

Nor, officials rushed to say, was anyone talking about 2014 as a date for all American troops to head for the exits, just "combat troops" -- and maybe not even all of them.  Possibly tens of thousands of trainers and other so-called non-combat forces would stay on to help with the "transition process." This follows the Iraq pattern where 50,000 American troops remain after the departure of U.S. "combat" forces to great media fanfare.  Richard Holbrooke, Obama's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was typical in calling for "the substantial combat forces [to] be phased out at the end of 2014, four years from now."  (Note the usual verbal escape hatch, in this case "substantial," lurking in his statement.)

Last Saturday, behind "closed doors" at a NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal, Afghan War commander General David Petraeus presented European leaders with a "phased four-year plan" to "wind down American and allied fighting in Afghanistan." Not surprisingly, it had the end of 2014 in its sights and the president quickly confirmed that "transition" date, even while opening plenty of post-2014 wiggle room.  By then, as he described it, "our footprint" would only be "significantly reduced." (He also claimed that, post-2014, the U.S. would be maintaining a "counterterrorism capability" in Afghanistan -- and Iraq -- for which "platforms to... execute... counterterrorism operations," assumedly bases, would be needed.)

Meanwhile, unnamed "senior U.S. officials" in Lisbon were clearly buttonholing reporters to "cast doubt on whether the United States, the dominant power in the 28-nation alliance, would end its own combat mission before 2015."  As always, the usual qualifying phrases were profusely in evidence.

Throughout these weeks, the "tweaking" -- that is, the further chipping away at 2014 as a hard and fast date for anything -- only continued.  Mark Sedwill, NATO's civilian counterpart to U.S. commander General David Petraeus, insisted that 2014 was nothing more than "an inflection point" in an ever more drawn-out drawdown process.  That process, he insisted, would likely extend to "2015 and beyond," which, of course, put 2016 officially into play.  And keep in mind that this is only for combat troops, not those assigned to "train and support" or keep "a strategic over watch" on Afghan forces.

On the eve of NATO's Lisbon meeting, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, waxing near poetic, declared 2014 nothing more than an "aspirational goal," rather than an actual deadline.  As the conference began, NATO's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen insisted that the alliance would be committed in Afghanistan "as long as it takes."  And new British Chief of the Defense Staff General Sir David Richards suggested that, given the difficulty of ever defeating the Taliban (or al-Qaeda) militarily, NATO should be preparing plans to maintain a role for its troops for the next 30 to 40 years.

War Extender

Here, then, is a brief history of American time in Afghanistan.  After all, this isn't our first Afghan War, but our second.  The first, the CIA's anti-Soviet jihad (in which the Agency funded a number of the fundamentalist extremists we're now fighting in the second), lasted a decade, from 1980 until 1989 when the Soviets withdrew in defeat.

In October 2001, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration launched America's second Afghan War, taking Kabul that November as the Taliban dissolved.  The power of the American military to achieve quick and total victory seemed undeniable, even after Osama bin Laden slipped out of Tora Bora that December and escaped into Pakistan's tribal borderlands.

However, it evidently never crossed the minds of President Bush's top officials to simply declare victory and get out.  Instead, as the U.S. would do in Iraq after the invasion of 2003, the Pentagon started building a new infrastructure of military bases (in this case, on the ruins of the old Soviet base infrastructure).  At the same time, the former Cold Warriors in Washington let their dreams about pushing the former commies of the former Soviet Union out of the former soviet socialist republics of Central Asia, places where, everyone knew, you could just about swim in black gold and run geopolitically wild.

Then, when the invasion of Iraq was launched in March 2003, Afghanistan, still a "war" (if barely) was forgotten, while the Taliban returned to the field, built up their strength, and launched an insurgency that has only gained momentum to this moment.  In 2008, before leaving office, George W. Bush bumped his favorite general, Iraq surge commander Petraeus, upstairs to become the head of the Central Command which oversees America's war zones in the Greater Middle East, including Afghanistan.

Already the guru of counterinsurgency (known familiarly as COIN), Petraeus had, in 2006, overseen the production of the military's new war-fighting bible, a how-to manual dusted off from the Vietnam era's failed version of COIN and made new and magical again.  In June 2010, eight and a half years into our Second Afghan War, at President Obama's request, Petraeus took over as Afghan War commander.  It was clear then that time was short -- with an administration review of Afghan war strategy coming up at year's end and results needed quickly.  The American war was also in terrible shape.

In the new COIN-ish U.S. Army, however, it is a dogma of almost biblical faith that counterinsurgencies don't produce quick results; that, to be successful, they must be pursued for years on end.  As Petraeus put it back in 2007 when talking about Iraq, "[T]ypically, I think historically, counterinsurgency operations have gone at least nine or 10 years."  Recently, in an interview with Martha Raddatz of ABC News, he made a nod toward exactly the same timeframe for Afghanistan, one accepted as bedrock knowledge in the world of the COINistas.

What this meant was that, whether as CENTCOM commander or Afghan War commander, Petraeus was looking for two potentially contradictory results at the same time.  Somehow, he needed to wrest those nine to 10 years of war-fighting from a president looking for a tighter schedule and, in a war going terribly sour, he needed almost instant evidence of "progress" that would fit the president's coming December "review" of the war and might pacify unhappy publics in the U.S. and Europe.

Now let's do the math.  At the moment, depending on how you care to count, we are in the 10th year of our second Afghan War or the 20th year of war interruptus.  Since June 2009, Petraeus and various helpers have stretched the schedule to 2014 for (most) American combat troops and at least 2015 or 2016 for the rest.  If you were to start counting from the president's December surge address, that's potentially seven more years.  In other words, we're now talking about either a 15-year war or an on-and-off again quarter-century one.  All evidence shows that the Pentagon's war planners would like to extend those already vague dates even further into the future.

On Ticking Clocks in Washington and Kabul

Up to now, only one of General Petraeus's two campaigns has been under discussion here: the other one, fought out these last years not in Afghanistan, but in Washington and NATO capitals, over how to schedule a war.  Think of it as the war for a free hand in determining how long the Afghan War is to be fought.

It has been run from General Petraeus's headquarters in Kabul, the giant five-sided military headquarters on the Potomac presided over by Secretary of Defense Gates, and various think-tanks filled with America's militarized intelligentsia scattered around Washington -- and it has proven a classically successful "clear, hold, build" counterinsurgency operation.  Pacification in Washington and a number of European capitals has occurred with remarkably few casualties.  (Former Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal, axed by the president for insubordination, has been the exception, not the rule.)

Slowly but decisively, Petraeus and company constricted President Obama's war-planning choices to two options: more and yet more.  In late 2009, the president agreed to that second surge of troops (the first had been announced that March), not to speak of CIA agents, drones, private contractors, and State Department and other civilian government employees. In his December "surge" address at West Point (for the nation but visibly to the military), Obama had the temerity as commander-in-chief to name a specific, soon-to-arrive date -- July 2011 -- for beginning a serious troop drawdown.  It was then that the COIN campaign in Washington ramped up into high gear with the goal of driving the prospective end of the war back by years.

It took bare hours after the president's address for administration officials to begin leaking to media sources that his drawdown would be "conditions based" -- a phrase guaranteed to suck the meaning out of any deadline.  (The president had indeed acknowledged in his address that his administration would take into account "conditions on the ground.")  Soon, the Secretary of Defense and others took to the airwaves in a months-long campaign emphasizing that drawdown in Afghanistan didn't really mean drawdown, that leaving by no means meant leaving, and that the future was endlessly open to interpretation.

With the ratification in Lisbon of that 2014 date "and beyond," the political clocks -- an image General Petraeus loves -- in Washington, European capitals, and American Kabul are now ticking more or less in unison.

Two other "clocks" are, however, ticking more like bombs.  If counterinsurgency is a hearts and minds campaign, then the other target of General Petraeus's first COIN campaign has been the restive hearts and minds of the American and European publics.  Last year a Dutch government fell over popular opposition to Afghanistan and, even as NATO met last weekend, thousands of antiwar protestors marched in London and Lisbon.  Europeans generally want out and their governments know it, but (as has been true since 1945) the continent's leaders have no idea how to say "no" to Washington.  In the U.S., too, the Afghan war grows ever more unpopular, and while it was forgotten during the election season, no politician should count on that phenomenon lasting forever.

And then, of course, there's the literal ticking bomb, the actual war in Afghanistan.  In that campaign, despite a drumbeat of American/NATO publicity about "progress," the news has been grim indeed.  American and NATO casualties have been higher this year than at any other moment in the war; the Taliban seems if anything more entrenched in more parts of the country; the Afghan public, ever more puzzled and less happy with foreign troops and contractors traipsing across the land; and Hamid Karzai, the president of the country, sensing a situation gone truly sour, has been regularly challenging the way General Petraeus is fighting the war in his country. (The nerve!)

No less unsettling, General Petraeus himself has seemed unnerved.  He was declared "irked" by Karzai's comments and was said to have warned Afghan officials that their president's criticism might be making his "own position ‘untenable,'" which was taken as a resignation threat.  Meanwhile, the COIN-meister was in the process of imposing a new battle plan on Afghanistan that leaves counterinsurgency (at least as usually described) in a roadside ditch.  No more is the byword "protect the people," or "clear, hold, build"; now, it's smash, kill, destroy.  The war commander has loosed American firepower in a major way in the Taliban strongholds of southern Afghanistan.

Early this year, then-commander McChrystal had significantly cut back on U.S. air strikes as a COIN-ish measure meant to lessen civilian casualties.  No longer.  In a striking reversal, air power has been called in -- and in a big way.  In October, U.S. planes launched missiles or bombs on 1,000 separate Afghan missions, numbers seldom seen since the 2001 invasion.  The Army has similarly loosed its massively powerful High Mobility Artillery Rocket System in the area around the southern city of Kandahar.  Civilian deaths are rising rapidly.  Dreaded Special Operations night raids on Afghan homes by "capture/kill" teams have tripled with 1,572 such operations over the last three months.  (These are the tactics on which Karzai recently challenged Petraeus.)  With them, the body count has also arrived.  American officials are eagerly boasting to reporters about their numerical efficiency in taking out mid-level Taliban leaders ("...368 insurgent leaders killed or captured, and 968 lower-level insurgents killed and 2,477 captured, according to NATO statistics").

In the districts around Kandahar, a newly reported American tactic is simply to raze individual houses or even whole villages believed to be booby-trapped by the Taliban, as well as tree lines "where insurgents could hide."  American troops have also been "blow[ing] up outbuildings, flatten[ing] agricultural walls, and carv[ing] new ‘military roads,' because existing ones are so heavily mined... right through farms and compounds."  And now, reports Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post, the Marines are also sending the first contingent of M1 Abrams tanks (with a "main gun that can destroy a house more than a mile away") into the south. Such tanks, previously held back for fear of reminding Afghans of their Russian occupiers, are, according to an unnamed U.S. officer he quotes, bringing "awe, shock, and firepower" to the south.

None of this, of course, has anything to do with winning hearts and minds, just obliterating them.  Not surprisingly, such tactics also generate villagers fleeing embattled farmlands often for "squalid" refugee camps in overcrowded cities.

Flip of the COIN

Suddenly, this war for which General Petraeus has won his counterinsurgency warriors at least a four- to-six-year reprieve is being fought as if there were no tomorrow.  Here, for instance, is a brief description from a British Guardian reporter in Kandahar of what the night part of the war now feels like from a distance:

"After the sun sets, the air becomes noisy with US jets dropping bombs that bleach the dark out of the sky in their sudden eruptions; with the ripping sound of the mini-guns of the Kiowa helicopter gunships and A-10 Warthogs hunting in the nearby desert.  The night is also lit up by brilliant flares that fall as slow as floating snowflakes, a visible sign of the commando raids into the villages beyond. It is a conflict heard, but not often witnessed."

None of this qualifies as "counterinsurgency," at least as described by the general and his followers.  It does, however, resemble where counterinsurgencies have usually headed -- directly into the charnel house of history.

Chandrasekaran quotes a civilian adviser to the NATO command in Kabul this way: "Because Petraeus is the author of the COIN [counterinsurgency] manual, he can do whatever he wants.  He can manage the optics better than McChrystal could.  If he wants to turn it up to 11, he feels he has the moral authority to do it."

We have no access to the mind of David Petraeus.  We don't know just why he is bringing in the big guns or suddenly fighting his war as if there were no tomorrow.  We don't know whether he fears the loss of the backing of an American president or the American people or even the U.S. military itself, whether he despairs of President Karzai or the Taliban, or the whole mission, or whether he has launched his version of a blitz in the most hopeful of moods.  We don't know whether he sees the contradiction in any of this, though no one, the general included, should be surprised when, for all the talk of rational planning and strategy, the irrationality of war -- the mass killing of other human beings -- grabs us by the throat and shakes us for all we're worth.

Petraeus has flipped a COIN and taken a gamble.  However it turns out for him, one thing is certain: Afghans will once again pay with their homes, farms, livelihoods, and lives, while Americans, Europeans, and Canadians will pay with lives and treasure invested in a war that couldn't be more bizarre, a war with no end in sight.  If this goes on to 2014 "and beyond," heaven help us.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture: a History of the Cold War and Beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing. His most recent book is The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's (Haymarket Books).

Talking to the Taliban about Life after Occupation

Special report: In the last of his series from Afghanistan, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad asks Taliban leaders past and present what kind of regime they would run – and whether there is a chance of negotiated peace

by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

The administrator

In the south-eastern city of Khost, the everyday business of the Taliban administration carries on across the street from the fortified, government-run city court and police station.

The head of the Haqqani network's civilian administration and his assistant hold their council in the grand mosque, which is also known as the Haqqani mosque because it was built with Taliban and Arab money.

When I met them, the two men - a frail-looking 60-year-old and his younger sidekick - gave the impression of being haggard peasants seeking work in the city rather than members of one of the organisations most feared by Britain and America.

Worshippers at the mosque greeted the Haqqani representatives with a mix of reverence and anxiety, some walking in a long circle to avoid them while others came forward and shook hands, pledging contributions for the movement. The mosque leader begged them to be his guests for the night.

"The resistance is stronger and bolder today," the old man said. "A few years ago the Taliban could move only at night.

"Now that our land has been liberated - thanks be to God - we walk around in the middle of the day and we fight in front of the people. We control our lands and our villages while [the Americans] can only come in by air."

The administrator was laden with messages to deliver. Among his many roles as a senior member of the civilian administration, the most important is as a conduit to the higher Taliban authority of Sirajuddin Haqqani and his base in the border region between Khost and Pakistan.

The old man carries edicts from the leadership in one direction and petitions and complaints in the other.

When the Taliban ruled in Kabul in the 1990s they closed schools, stopped women working and exposed themselves to ridicule by banning trivial pursuits such as kite flying.

Yes, the Taliban had made mistakes in the past, he admitted, and they were still making them. "Our men still do things that annoy the people, and that is part of my job, to convey the complaints," he said.

"But the benefits of the Taliban outweigh the harm we do to the people. In our area there were thieves and bandits. It was chaos.

"People needed someone to monitor and rule and punish. They needed us to impose order.

"The government is besieged in its fortresses and can't come to the people, and corruption is paralysing it. One of the main reasons for our popularity is the failure of this government."

In a striking parallel with what the Americans have been advocating as part of their counterinsurgency initiative, the Haqqanis have set up local shura (consultation) councils made up of village elders and clerics to run the affairs of villagers in the "liberated" areas and create local security. The old man's job is to supervise these councils.

"I am a representative of the movement and I walk among the people and everyone knows me. I move between the people and the commanders, watching the commanders' behaviour. I listen to the people and convey the picture to the supreme leaders," he said.

Had the Taliban changed? A future administration would be based on Islamic rule, which was what the Afghan people wanted, but it would be different in detail from the Taliban regime that had ruled in Kabul before. "We will not rule based on theory. The people want us to be more pragmatic."

He quoted the Muslim poet Muhammad Iqbal. "When the painter works on the same old painting again, he will make it much better.

"The Taliban that will return will not be like the old Taliban. We have learned from the old mistakes. We will accept others. We are not and cannot be all of Afghanistan, but we are an important part of it."

The commander

From Khost I travelled to nearby Ghazni province to meet a commander of the Quetta Taliban I had met two years before.

Last time I saw Mawlawa Halimi he was scared and kept a watch at the doors and window of the small hotel where we had lunch. He had just been promoted to lead a small unit and he moved around incognito, fearing government agents and police checkpoints.

In the intervening years he had become one of the most senior commanders in the province. He was a few pounds chubbier, his hair was longer and he had an air of authority. I waited for him in the bazaar. He arrived on a motorbike with an armed guard riding pillion and no one in the bazaar gave him a second glance. He drove ahead, leading us to a mud-walled compound.

As we followed him, an American patrol passed along the main road a hundred metres distant, three huge armoured trucks wrapped with mesh fences to counter RPG attacks, each with two sets of armoured wheels in front to detect and detonate improvised explosive devices and landmines. The soldiers in their gun turrets trained their weapons left and right.

"Last time we met, the atmosphere in this area was tense. The villages and markets you passed through were targeted by the Americans," Halimi said.

"They used to come here a lot and life for people was difficult. Now, with Allah's grace, this is all ours.

"The war has changed. I used to fear the government wherever I went. Now we move everywhere and carry our guns with us. Two years ago we were just trying to defend our areas. Now we control this area and we go to the main street to attack."

He highlighted another major difference with the Taliban of two years ago. Then, the foot soldiers had all been trained in the madrasas. Now they were less ideological.

"It's a mistake to call all of the fighters Taliban. The Taliban are madrasa students and I am a mullah, but most of my fighters are peasants and farmers and students who come from the government schools.

"In winter we send them to Pakistan to get some religious training, but they are not Taliban," Halimi said.

"When we sit and watch the news on TV we hear that the Taliban attacked here and there and destroyed tanks and killed soldiers. Then in the next news item you hear that the Americans are calling for negotiations and of course you understand that these two news items are related. The second news item is the result of the first, and the Americans want to negotiate because they are losing.

"Why don't they just leave?" he said. "What are they waiting for?"

The ambassador

The fluffed-up sofas in the Kabul living room of Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, have seated many high-ranking dignitaries in recent months as officials from the UN, the EU and Nato have come visiting.

It is a dramatic change of affairs for a man who spent three years from 2002 in prison in Guantánamo and who, until July this year, was on the UN list of known terrorists.

Zaeef is now a prolific writer and speaks five languages fluently. According to many Taliban insiders, if there are any negotiations between the Taliban and the Americans they will go through him.

"The Americans came and sat here," he said, pointing at one of the big sofas. "They said they needed to talk to the Taliban but couldn't find them. They didn't know who the Taliban were. I said go and look, they are everywhere, the Taliban have shadow governors and administrators, why don't you go and talk to them?"

The real reason the Americans didn't talk, he said, was that they had no respect for the Taliban.

"I told the Americans to respect their enemy. You can't negotiate with the Taliban from a position of strength, so why would the Taliban come and talk to you? If you want talks you have to treat the Taliban as equals."

In any negotiation, the Taliban would assert that as long as their land was under occupation they would struggle to liberate it.

They would continue to fight until the foreigners left. Their argument was with the Americans, not the Afghan government. They did not want to bring down the government, they just wanted to renew it.

"The Taliban have no problem with the Afghan government. We have no problem with Karzai or the Afghans. The problem lies with the Americans," he said.

"Why would we negotiate with Karzai if he has no say in running his government? They are under occupation and all orders come from foreigners."

The Americans, he said, had not talked to any senior Taliban to his knowledge. However, "the government and the Taliban have been talking for two years on local matters, health-related issues, prisoner exchange, education.

"This is not a negotiation, this is a way to help and benefit our Afghan people and nation. Negotiations haven't started yet."

The Americans had a right to know that Afghanistan would not be used as a base for attacks against them, he said, but that was all.

"The Americans have one right only, and that is their right to be assured that Afghanistan will not be used against them and that is something the Taliban should give.

"Apart from that they have no rights, they have no right to tell us about democracy and human rights. That's an Afghan issue and it will be decided by the Afghans.

"The Americans behave with arrogance and if they don't want to be defeated in Afghanistan they should talk.

"They don't belong here," he said. "They are foreigners, outsiders."

Army Officer's Leaked Report Rips Afghan War Success Story

by Gareth Porter

An analysis by Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, which the U.S. Army has not approved for public release but has leaked to Rolling Stone magazine, provides the most authoritative refutation thus far of the official military narrative of success in the Afghanistan War since the troop surge began in early 2010.

In the 84-page unclassified report, Davis, who returned last fall after his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, attacks the credibility of claims by senior military leaders that the U.S.-NATO war strategy has succeeded in weakening the Taliban insurgent forces and in building Afghan security forces capable of taking primary responsibility for security in the future.

The report, which Davis had submitted to the Army in January for clearance to make it public, was posted on the website of Rolling Stone magazine by journalist Michael Hastings Friday. In a blog for the magazine, Hastings reported that "officials familiar with the situation" had said the Pentagon was "refusing" to release the report, but that it had been making the rounds within the U.S. government, including the White House.

Hastings wrote that he had obtained it from a U.S. government official.

Contacted by IPS Friday, Davis would not comment on the publication of the report or its contents.

Writing that he is "no Wikileaks guy Part II", Davis reveals no classified information in the report. But he has given a classified version of the report, which cites and quotes from dozens of classified documents, to several members of the House and Senate, including both Democrats and Republicans.

"If the public had access to the classified reports," Davis writes, "they would see the dramatic gulf between what is often said in public by our senior leaders and what is true behind the scenes."

Davis is in a unique position to assess the real situation on the ground in Afghanistan. As a staff officer of the "Rapid Equipping Force", he traveled more than 9,000 miles to every area where U.S. troop presence was significant and had conversations with more than 250 U.S. soldiers, from privates to division commanders.

The report takes aim at the March 2011 Congressional testimony by Gen. David Petraeus, then the top commander in Afghanistan, and the Defence Department's April 2011 Report to Congress as either "misleading, significantly skewed or completely inaccurate".

Davis attacks the claim in both the Petraeus testimony and the DOD report that U.S. and NATO forces had "arrested the insurgents' momentum" and "reversed it in a number of important areas".

That claim is belied, Davis argues, by the fact that the number of insurgent attacks, the number of IEDs found and detonated and the number of U.S. troops killed and wounded have all continued to mount since 2009, the last year before the addition of 30,000 U.S. troops and 10,000 NATO troops.

Davis notes that Petraeus and other senior officials of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the U.S.-NATO command in Afghanistan, have boasted of having killed and captured thousands of insurgent leaders and rank and file soldiers, cut insurgent supply routes and found large numbers of weapons caches as well as depriving the insurgents of their main bases of operation since spring 2010.

If these claims were accurate measures of success, Davis writes, after the Taliban had been driven out of their strongholds, "there ought to have been a reduction in violence not a continual, unbroken string of increases."

In fact, Davis writes, Taliban attacks "continued to rise at almost the same rate it had risen since 2005 all the way through the summer of 2011" and remained "well above 2009 levels in the second half of 2011" even though it leveled off or dropped slightly in some places.

Davis notes that total attacks, total number of IEDs and total U.S. casualties in 2011 were 82 percent, 113 percent and 164 percent higher, respectively, than the figures for 2009, the last year before the surge of 30,000 troops. The annual number of U.S. dead and wounded increased from 1,764 in 2009 to 4,662 in 2011.

The veteran Army officer quotes Congressional testimony by Adm. Mike Mullen Dec. 2, 2009 as citing a lesser increase in Taliban attacks in 2009 of 60 percent over the 2008 level as a rationale for a significant increase in U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan, implying that the war was being lost.

Davis leaves no doubt about his overall assessment that the U.S. war effort has failed. "Even a cursory observation of key classified reports and metrics," Davis concludes, "leads overwhelmingly to the conclusion that over the past two years, despite the surge of 30,000 American Soldiers, the insurgent force has gained strength…."

Davis is also scathing in his assessment of the Afghan army and police who have been described as constantly improving and on their way to taking responsibility for fighting the insurgents.

"What I saw first-hand, in virtually every circumstance," writes Davis, "was a barely functioning organization – often cooperating with the insurgent enemy…."

Both in his longer report and in an article for Armed Forces Journal published online Feb. 5, Davis recounts his experience at an Afghan National Police station in Kunar province in January 2011. Arriving two hours after a Taliban attack on the station, Davis asked the police captain whether he had sent out patrols to find the insurgents.

After the question had been conveyed by the interpreter, Davis recalls, "The captain's head wheeled around, looking first at the interpreter and turning to me with an incredulous expression. Then he laughed."

"No! We don't go after them," he quotes the captain as saying. "That would be dangerous!"

According to Davis, U.S. troops who work with Afghan policemen in that province say they "rarely leave the cover of the checkpoints", allowing the Taliban to "literally run free".

Describing the overall situation, Davis writes, "(I)n a number of high profile mission opportunities over the past 11 months the ANA (Afghan National Army) and ANP (Afghan National Police) have numerous times run from the battle, run from rumors, or made secret deals with the Taliban."

The draft posted online notes after that statement that the classified version of the paper has been "redacted", indicating that Davis provides further details about those "secret deals" in the classified version.

The Army dissenter calls on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees to "conduct a bi-partisan investigation into the various charges of deception or dishonesty in this report…." He urges that such a hearing include testimony not only from senior military officials but from mid- and senior-level intelligence analysts from the Defense Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies.

Both Senate and House Armed Services Committees have exhibited little or no interest in probing behind the official claims of success in Afghanistan. That passive role reflects what many political observers, including some members of Congress, see as cozy relationships among most committee members,military leaders, Pentagon officials and major military contractors.

It remains to be seen whether Davis's success in raising the issue of misleading claims of success in a front-page New York Times story Feb. 6 and in subsequent television appearances will bring pressure on those committees from other members to hold hearings on whether senior military officials are telling the truth about the situation in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military leadership in Afghanistan is brushing off Davis's critique as having no importance. During a briefing in which he claimed continued steady progress in Afghanistan, Army Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, deputy commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, dismissed the Davis report as "one person's view of this".

Copyright © 2012 IPS-Inter Press Service
http://ipsnews.net/

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist on U.S. national security policy who has been independent since a brief period of university teaching in the 1980s. Dr. Porter is the author of four books, the latest of which is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam (University of California Press, 2005). He has written regularly for Inter Press Service on U.S. policy toward Iraq and Iran since 2005.

Limping Out of Afghanistan

by Immanuel Wallerstein

The two candidates for the U.S. presidency seem to be trying to outshout each other concerning Iran, Syria, and Israel/Palestine. Each is claiming he is doing more to support the same objectives. Isn't it therefore strange that no similar verbal contest is going on at the moment concerning Afghanistan?

Not so long ago, we were witness to the same Democratic-Republican game about Afghanistan. Which party was the more macho? Remember the concept that a "surge" in troops would win the war, a concept embraced by President Obama in his speech to the U.S. Military Academy in December 2009. Now all of a sudden, since March 2012, it seems to have become a subject no one wants to espouse too loudly.

There are some simple explanations. In the longest war that the United States has ever waged, the war in Afghanistan, the United States has precious little to show for it. The designated enemy, the Taliban, constitute an ever-resilient force, particularly of course in the Pashtun areas, which constitute the largest single ethnic zone in the country.

The United States more or less single-handedly imposed Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun but not a Taliban, as president of Afghanistan. Karzai was not, is not, appreciated by the leaders of the various other ethnic zones in the north and west of the country, who have tried over the years to oust him. These other groups find support in some external powers: Russia, Iran, and India, all of which are as determined as the United States to prevent the return to power of the Taliban. But the United States won't work with Iran, is doubtful about working with Russia, and doesn't seem to co-ordinate with India.

In February 2012, some Korans were burned by U.S. soldiers, which led to violent public protests in Afghanistan. Then 16 Afghan children, women, and men were massacred by a U.S. soldier. The United States apologized for both of these, but that hardly calmed the storm. On March 18, President Karzai denounced the Americans in Afghanistan as "demons" engaged in "Satanic acts." He said Afghanistan was beset by two demons - the Taliban and the Americans.

The New York Times cited an anonymous European diplomat as saying: "Never in history has any superpower spent so much money, sent so many troops to a country, and had so little influence over what its president says and does."

The United States, trying to salvage its position a little bit, started pulling back. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta had already said in February that the United States would step back from a combat role not in the end of 2014 as originally planned but by mid-2013. In early April, the United States went further. It announced that it was handing over control of special operations missions (for example, using drones and night raids) to Afghan forces. The U.S. troops would now play only a "supporting" role.

Afghanistan's Foreign Minister, Zalmai Rassoul, did not sound overly grateful. He announced that, once U.S. and NATO troops left in 2014, Afghanistan would not allow its territory to be a launching pad for drone attacks against Pakistan.

The Pakistanis then delivered a further jab at the United States. On April 12, the parliament approved "unanimously" a list of conditions for improving U.S.-Pakistan relations and reopening the NATO supply routes to Afghanistan. They included an end to drone attacks on Pakistani territory and an "unconditional apology" for killing 24 Pakistani troops in a NATO airstrike in November 2011. The United States is resisting these conditions. But given the now clear divergence of U.S. and Pakistani policy objectives in Afghanistan, it is not clear that the United States can prevail.

Then on April 4, Lawrence Korb, who had been Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration, published an article with the headline "Time to let Karzai kick us out." Korb argued that the United States since 1945 has been "much better at starting wars than ending them satisfactorily." He pointed to what he considered the unnecessary loss of lives in the last two years of the Korean and Vietnam wars.

The exception, he argued, was Iraq, where the United States has withdrawn because "Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki left us no choice." He cheered: "In Iraq, the U.S. government got lucky." His conclusion: "Just as al-Maliki forced us to do the right thing, we should allow Karzai to take control of his country as soon as he wants." Korb is a conservative Republican analyst, who sees maximum advantage to the United States in being forced out of Afghanistan as soon as possible.

Korb is not alone. The Washington Post/ABC News poll, released on April 12, shows that, only 30% of the population say that the war has been worth fighting, and even more remarkably, for the first time, a majority of Republicans agree that it has not been worth it. Two things are happening in terms of U.S. public opinion. First, the Afghans do not seem to be cheering U.S. efforts or military losses. Quite the opposite. Machismo is yielding place in the United States to withdrawal after rebuff. And, secondly, the costs of the war in Afghanistan are astronomical at a moment when the United States, and most particularly conservative Republicans, is seeking to reduce expenditures drastically.

My prediction: Quietly, but surely, President Obama is going to follow Lawrence Korb's advice.

© 2012 Immanuel Wallerstein
http://www.commondreams.org/author/immanuel-wallerstein

Immanuel Wallerstein, Senior Research Scholar at Yale University, is the author of The Decline of American Power: The US in a Chaotic World (New Press).

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