The Wall Street Journal reports: The Taliban claimed responsibility for a bombing outside a Kabul government building that Afghan officials said killed at least 28 people and wounded more than 300 others, the deadliest attack in the capital in months.
The Islamist militant group said it had detonated a truck laden with explosives, though the report couldn’t be immediately confirmed by Afghan officials. It announced the start of its annual spring offensive last week and has since intensified attacks across the country.
Tuesday’s bombing targeted a compound used by Afghanistan’s Secret Service, flattening part of its perimeter wall. Taliban gunmen disguised in military uniform stormed it shortly after the explosion and continued to battle Afghan security forces for a few hours. The fighting ended in the early afternoon when Afghan government officials said two gunmen had been shot dead. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: With nearly 2,000 civilians killed or wounded and more than 80,000 people displaced this year already, the Afghan conflict continues to affect lives in record numbers, the United Nations said on Sunday.
The report came as fighting raged across several provinces. For a third day, government forces repelled Taliban attacks across several districts of Kunduz and were trying to prevent the insurgents from taking the provincial capital, as they did in the fall.
The United Nations mission in Afghanistan documented 600 civilian deaths and 1,343 wounded in the first three months of 2016, which by most accounts is expected to be a bloody year as the Taliban rejected the latest efforts to bring them to peace talks. While the death toll fell 13 percent from the same period last year, the number of wounded increased 11 percent, the report said, with a high rise among children. [Continue reading…]
Dominic Tierney writes: In Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, Washington toppled regimes and then failed to plan for a new government or construct effective local forces — with the net result being over 7,000 dead U.S. soldiers, tens of thousands of injured troops, trillions of dollars expended, untold thousands of civilian fatalities, and three Islamic countries in various states of disorder. We might be able to explain a one-off failure in terms of allies screwing up. But three times in a decade suggests a deeper pattern in the American way of war.
In the American mind, there are good wars: campaigns to overthrow a despot, with the model being World War II. And there are bad wars: nation-building missions to stabilize a foreign country, including peacekeeping and counterinsurgency. For example, the U.S. military has traditionally seen its core mission as fighting conventional wars against foreign dictators, and dismissed stabilization missions as “military operations other than war,” or Mootwa. Back in the 1990s, the chairman of the joint chiefs reportedly said, “Real men don’t do Mootwa.” At the public level, wars against foreign dictators are consistently far more popular than nation-building operations.
The American way of war encourages officials to fixate on removing the bad guys and neglect the post-war stabilization phase. When I researched my book How We Fight, I found that Americans embraced wars for regime change but hated dealing with the messy consequences going back as far as the Civil War and southern reconstruction. [Continue reading…]
CNN reports: Sometimes you know a war’s going badly when your enemy is right in front of you.
About 3 miles outside the southern city of Lashkar Gah, Afghan soldiers can see a white flag. It’s not one of surrender — quite the opposite.
The flag belongs to the Taliban, and shows exactly how close the militant group is to the capital of Helmand province.
Despite Afghan government assurances that the army can hold and retake ground, the strategic province that hundreds of NATO troops — who have been in the country for the last 15 years — died fighting for is closer than ever to falling to the Taliban.
Those inside Lashkar Gah are understandably nervous.
A Helmand police official, who did not want to be named for his own safety, told CNN on Sunday that the army had not made any recent advances, and at least five full districts in the province were already under full Taliban control. [Continue reading…]
The third time around, the Pentagon evidently wants to do it right — truly right — this time. What other explanation could there be for dispatching 12 generals to Iraq (one for every 416 American troops estimated to be on the ground in that country, according to Nancy Youssef of the Daily Beast). And keep in mind that those 12 don’t include the generals and admirals overseeing the air war, naval support, or other aspects of the campaign against the Islamic State from elsewhere in the Middle East or back in the U.S., nor do they include generals from allied forces like those of Australia and Great Britain also in Iraq. Youssef offers a “conservative” count of 21 “flag officers,” including allies, now in that country to oversee the war there. Among other things, they are undoubtedly responsible for ensuring the success of the major goal proclaimed by both Washington and Baghdad for 2016: an offensive to retake the country’s second largest city, Mosul. Only weeks ago, it got off to a rousing start when the Iraqi army recaptured a few obscure villages on the road to that city. Soon after, however, the offensive reportedly ground to a dispiriting halt when parts of the American-retrained and rearmed Iraqi Army (which had collapsed in June 2014 in the face of far smaller numbers of far more determined Islamic State militants) began to crumble again, amid mass desertions.
In the meantime, in both Iraq and Syria, U.S. operations seem to be on an inexorable mission-creep upward, with ever more new troops and special ops types heading for those countries in a generally under-the-radar manner, assumedly with the objective of someday justifying the number of generals awaiting them there. Somewhere in a top-heavy Pentagon, there surely must be an office of déjà vu all over again, mustn’t there? (And talking about déjà vu, last week the U.S. launched yet another air strike in Somalia, supposedly knocking off yet another leader of al-Shabab, the indigenous terror movement. If you could win a war by repeatedly knocking off the leaders of such movements, the U.S. would by now be the greatest victor in the history of warfare.)
Meanwhile in Afghanistan… but do I really have to tell you about the ground taken by the resurgent Taliban in the last year, the arrival of ISIS in that country, the halting (yet again) of withdrawal plans for U.S. forces almost 15 years into the second American war there, or other tales from the crypt of this country’s never-ending wars? I think not. Even if you haven’t read the latest news, you can guess, can’t you?
And this, of course, is exactly the repetitive world of war (and failure) into which the young, especially in America’s poorest high schools, are being recruited, even if they don’t know it, via JROTC. It’s a Pentagon-funded program that promises to pave the way for your future college education, give meaning to your life, and send you to exotic lands, while ensuring that the country’s all-volunteer military never lacks for new troops to dispatch to old (verging on ancient) conflicts. As Ann Jones has written, “It should be no secret that the United States has the biggest, most efficiently organized, most effective system for recruiting child soldiers in the world. With uncharacteristic modesty, however, the Pentagon doesn’t call it that. Its term is ‘youth development program.’” So let’s offer thanks for small favors when someone — in this case, ex-Army Ranger and TomDispatch regular Rory Fanning (author of Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger’s Journey Out of the Military and Across America) — feels the urge to do something about that massive, militarized propaganda effort in our schools. In my book, Fanning is the equivalent of any 12 of our generals and we need more like him both in those schools and in our country. Tom Engelhardt
The wars in our schools
An ex-Army Ranger finds a new mission
By Rory Fanning
Early each New Year’s Day I head for Lake Michigan with a handful of friends. We look for a quiet stretch of what, only six months earlier, was warm Chicago beach. Then we trudge through knee-deep snow in bathing suits and boots, fighting wind gusts and hangovers. Sooner or later, we arrive where the snowpack meets the shore and boot through a thick crust of lake ice, yelling and swearing as we dive into near-freezing water.
It took me a while to begin to understand why I do this every year, or for that matter why for the last decade since I left the military I’ve continued to inflict other types of pain on myself with such unnerving regularity. Most days, for instance, I lift weights at the gym to the point of crippling exhaustion. On summer nights, I sometimes swim out alone as far as I can through mats of hairy algae into the black water of Lake Michigan in search of what I can only describe as a feeling of falling.
The Wall Street Journal reports: n Afghan spy agency is recruiting villagers for militias to hold back Islamic State fighters seeking to expand their foothold in this opium heartland in eastern Afghanistan.
The program, which one top official says the government hopes to roll out across the country and may later use against the Taliban, is President Ashraf Ghani ’s riskiest attempt to defend rural villages—and also a part of his much larger counterinsurgency strategy.
The government has closely guarded the program, and news of it essentially hasn’t been reported since its establishment in August 2015. Details of the program came from Afghan government officials, local village leaders and Western officials who have been monitoring its progress.
The militia groups that are part of the pilot project, known as the People’s Uprising Program, are being called on to hold territory the army has recaptured from Islamic State in three districts.
More than a thousand men, mostly village farmers who turned against the extremist group’s harsh rule in areas it seized in the past year, are on the payroll of the spy agency, the National Directorate of Security, which receives funding from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. So far, the militias in Kot, with the backing of the army and police, have repelled six Islamic State attacks. [Continue reading…]
Elizabeth Rubin writes: I recently received a phone call from Alabama. It was Samey Honaryar, an Afghan who had worked as an interpreter with the United States military and had fled Taliban persecution hoping to find asylum here. Samey is not accused of committing any crime. Yet for nearly a year, he’s been locked up in Etowah County Detention Center, among the worst and most remote of immigration detention centers, with little access to lawyers or medical attention.
“I cannot take it anymore,” said Samey, who was planning a hunger strike. “I served this country. I risked my life for this country, and this is how I’m repaid.”
I have reported from Afghanistan frequently since 2001, and I know that interpreters are an essential conduit into a culture easily misread by foreigners. Nearly every translator I’ve worked with has saved my life. But once they choose to work for the military, their job becomes a political act, making them marked men and women for the Taliban.
At a time when Europeans and Canadians are sheltering over a million asylum seekers, many from conflicts created by United States policies, Samey’s treatment demands attention. Documents and witnesses show that Samey risked his life for American soldiers. But he has been cast into immigration purgatory nonetheless, his troubles caused by a toxic mix of bureaucracy, fear, prejudice and, most poignantly, his naïve faith in American honor. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: In Douglas Laux’s final days as a C.I.A. officer, the futility of his mission prompted him to quote George Orwell to his boss.
Mr. Laux had spent months in 2012 working with various Middle Eastern nations that were trying to ship arms to Syria to help disparate rebel groups there. But it had become clear to him that the C.I.A had little ability to control the squabbling and backstabbing among the Saudis, Qataris and other Arabs.
He told a senior C.I.A. officer he felt like Winston Smith, the character in “1984” known for his fatalism, because he was carrying out his work without comprehending the politics and competing agendas thwarting progress in aiding the rebellion. “I understand the how,” Mr. Laux said, paraphrasing one of Smith’s famous lines. “I do not understand the why.”
It is a sentiment that might sum up much of Mr. Laux’s career at the C.I.A., an organization he served for eight years as an undercover case officer and soldier in the agency’s shadowy conflicts overseas. His career at the agency began with a tour at a remote firebase in southern Afghanistan and ended with a spot on the agency’s Syria Task Force — a life in war zones that is emblematic of the lives of a large cadre of American spies who joined the C.I.A. after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He left the agency three years ago, but is speaking publicly about his experiences there for the first time in conjunction with the release of a memoir. [Continue reading…]
The Wall Street Journal reports: China has offered the Afghanistan army expanded military aid to combat the Taliban, according to the Afghan Defense Ministry, a move that reflects Beijing’s readiness to deepen its engagement with the war-torn country.
The offer was made during a rare, high-level visit at the end of February by a Chinese military delegation headed by General Fang Fenghui, chief of the Joint Staff Department of the People’s Liberation Army, Afghan officials said.
China has been wary of publicly supporting the Afghan military against the Taliban, as it nurtures relations with the militant group in an effort to be seen as a neutral party in the conflict and help the peace process. However, deteriorating security and the emergence of Islamic State has prompted China to take a more active role in Afghanistan.
The timing of General Fang’s recent trip was seen as a strong show of support for the Afghan government at a time when it is losing control over parts of the country following the withdrawal of most foreign troops in 2014. The Taliban now control nearly a third of the country, according to U.S. and allied officials. [Continue reading…]
Kathryn Joyce writes: On the second-to-last day of 2013, when the glow of Christmas had passed and there was nothing to do but settle in for months of unbroken winter, a stranger arrived in Saranac Lake, a 5,400-person mountain town 70 miles shy of the Canadian border. Set amid the patchwork of forest preserves and villages that make up the largest publicly protected area in the Lower 48, Saranac Lake is the self-appointed “Capital of the Adirondacks,” a onetime best small town of New York, and the place where I’m from.
The stranger was a 31-year-old infantry captain in the Royal Australian Regiment who’d been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from Afghanistan two years before. He arrived at 6 p.m. on the one bus that comes through town each day: an Adirondack Trailways coach that chugs slowly uphill from Albany, stopping in what seems like every podunk town along the way.
To get to Albany, he’d taken a bus from New York City, and before that planes from San Francisco, Sydney, Canberra, and, ultimately, Adelaide, Australia, his own hometown, more than 10,500 miles away. He was male-model good-looking—wholesome and tidy, with intelligent eyes—though he’d recently grown shockingly thin and had cut his brown, widow’s-peaked hair so close it was nearly shaved.
He’d been a battle captain in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province, just north of Kandahar, working as part of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization coalition force. But his PTSD diagnosis had placed him on restricted status, and he’d since been re-assigned to a desk job in Canberra, Australia’s sterile government seat. He had a medical review coming up in January and, his family would later tell the police, he feared he might be discharged. The Australian Defence Force was withdrawing from Afghanistan at the end of 2014, and the military was downsizing; everyone who remained had to be fit to deploy. [Continue reading…]
Costas Lapavitsas writes: he current influx of refugees into Greece has major humanitarian implications but it also poses a direct threat to the European Union. Together with the neverending eurozone crisis and the Brexit referendum, it could throw the EU into an existential crisis in 2016. Visionary leadership is called for, which at present looks in short supply.
According to the UNHCR, in 2014 Syria was the main source of refugees in the world, and 95% of Syrian refugees were located in surrounding countries. Turkey held the largest number at roughly 1.6 million. It is worth noting that developing countries took 86% of the world’s refugees in 2014. The poor proved more compassionate and generous than the rich yet again.
In 2015 Greece became the main point of entry into the EU of refugees and migrants from Turkey; it is believed 850,000 people undertook the perilous crossing of the Aegean. In January and February more than 120,000 have arrived – far more than the same period last year. At this rate there will be millions of men, women and children who will risk their lives in shoddy rubber dinghies between Turkey and Greece in 2016. Up to 90% are likely to be from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
These are not economic migrants. There is absolutely no doubt that the wave of refugees and migrants into Europe is a direct result of the destruction of the three countries largely due to western intervention during the last three decades. [Continue reading…]
The Observer reports: n the early morning on 8 February, before setting off from the Turkish coast with his family, Firooz Mozafari was on the phone to his brother Farid in Kabul. They had spoken every day since Firooz left Afghanistan 48 days earlier, and Farid asked him to keep his phone on during this last stretch of the journey to Europe.
“I can’t, I’m running out of battery,” Firooz said, hung up, and climbed aboard a small speedboat with 11 relatives, including his wife and two children.
After two hours without word from his brother, Farid began to worry. The trip across the Aegean should take 40 minutes. A friend reassured him nothing was wrong. “It takes a couple of hours to get through immigration,” Farid remembered him saying. So he waited.
But later he received the terrible news: Firooz’s boat had sunk 15 minutes after leaving Izmir, with 24 people on board.
As a journalist Firooz had known the hazards of the journey but, weighing his options, he thought it worth spending his savings on plane tickets to Iran and smuggler fees to escape the never-ending war in his homeland.
Afghans make up a large proportion of the migrants and refugees who are arriving in Europe. Last year more than 210,000 Afghans arrived, 21% of the total, according to the UN. It is a staggering number, fully 15 years after the Taliban were driven out of Kabul. During that time, Afghanistan has received aid greater in value than the Marshall Plan, which rebuilt Europe after the second world war. [Continue reading…]
In October 2001, the U.S. launched its invasion of Afghanistan largely through proxy Afghan fighters with the help of Special Operations forces, American air power, and CIA dollars. The results were swift and stunning. The Taliban was whipped, a new government headed by Hamid Karzai soon installed in Kabul, and the country declared “liberated.”
More than 14 years later, how’d it go? What’s “liberated” Afghanistan like and, if you were making a list, what would be the accomplishments of Washington all these years later? Hmm… at this very moment, according to the latest reports, the Taliban control more territory than at any moment since December 2001. Meanwhile, the Afghan security forces that the U.S. built up and funded to the tune of more than $65 billion are experiencing “unsustainable” casualties, their ranks evidently filled with “ghost” soldiers and policemen — up to 40% in some places — whose salaries, often paid by the U.S., are being pocketed by their commanders and other officials. In 2015, according to the U.N., Afghan civilian casualties were, for the seventh year in a row, at record levels. Add to all this the fact that American soldiers, their “combat mission” officially concluded in 2014, are now being sent by the hundreds back into the fray (along with the U.S. Air Force) to support hard-pressed Afghan troops in a situation which seems to be fast “deteriorating.”
Oh, and economically speaking, how did the “reconstruction” of the country work out, given that Washington pumped more money (in real dollars) into Afghanistan in these years than it did into the rebuilding of Western Europe after World War II? Leaving aside the pit of official corruption into which many of those dollars disappeared, the country is today hemorrhaging desperate young people who can’t find jobs or make a living and now constitute what may be the second largest contingent of refugees heading for Europe.
As for that list of Washington’s accomplishments, it might be accurate to say that only one thing was “liberated” in Afghanistan over the last 14-plus years and that was, as TomDispatch regular Alfred McCoy points out today, the opium poppy. It might also be said that, with the opium trade now fully embedded in both the operations of the Afghan government and of the Taliban, Washington’s single and singular accomplishment in all its years there has been to oversee the country’s transformation into the planet’s number one narco-state. McCoy, who began his career in the Vietnam War era by writing The Politics of Heroin, a now-classic book on the CIA and the heroin trade (that the Agency tried to suppress) and who has written on the subject of drugs and Afghanistan before for this site, now offers a truly monumental look at opium and the U.S. from the moment this country’s first Afghan War began in 1979 to late last night. Tom Engelhardt
How a pink flower defeated the world’s sole superpower
America’s opium war in Afghanistan
By Alfred W. McCoy
After fighting the longest war in its history, the United States stands at the brink of defeat in Afghanistan. How can this be possible? How could the world’s sole superpower have battled continuously for 15 years, deploying 100,000 of its finest troops, sacrificing the lives of 2,200 of those soldiers, spending more than a trillion dollars on its military operations, lavishing a record hundred billion more on “nation-building” and “reconstruction,” helping raise, fund, equip, and train an army of 350,000 Afghan allies, and still not be able to pacify one of the world’s most impoverished nations? So dismal is the prospect for stability in Afghanistan in 2016 that the Obama White House has recently cancelled a planned further withdrawal of its forces and will leave an estimated 10,000 troops in the country indefinitely.
Were you to cut through the Gordian knot of complexity that is the Afghan War, you would find that in the American failure there lies the greatest policy paradox of the century: Washington’s massive military juggernaut has been stopped dead in its steel tracks by a pink flower, the opium poppy.
Reuters reports: Civilian casualties of the war in Afghanistan rose to record levels for the seventh year in row in 2015, as violence spread across the country in the wake of the withdrawal of most international troops, the United Nations reported on Sunday.
At least 3,545 noncombatants died and another 7,457 were injured by fighting last year in a 4-percent increase over 2014, the international organization said in its annual report on civilian casualties.
“The harm done to civilians is totally unacceptable,” Nicholas Haysom, the head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said in a statement. [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: Afghan forces are struggling to man the front lines against a resurgent Taliban, in part because of untold numbers of “ghost” troops who are paid salaries but only exist on paper.
The nationwide problem has been particularly severe in the southern Helmand province, where the Taliban have seized vast tracts of territory in the 12 months since the U.S. and NATO formally ended their combat mission and switched to training and support.
“At checkpoints where 20 soldiers should be present, there are only eight or 10,” said Karim Atal, head of Helmand’s provincial council. “It’s because some people are getting paid a salary but not doing the job because they are related to someone important, like a local warlord.”
In some cases, the “ghost” designation is more literal — dead soldiers and police remain on the books, with senior police or army officials pocketing their salaries without replacing them, Atal said. [Continue reading…]