Spare Us the Propaganda on Afghanistan
Posted 10 June 2011 - 12:58 PM
The White House account of President Barack Obama’s meeting with his Afghanistan team was insultingly vague for anyone wanting to know when—or if—the Afghanistan war will end.
After Monday’s session, which followed Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ much-publicized trip to Afghanistan, this was all that was available on the White House web (propaganda) site:
“The President led his monthly meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan with his national security team this morning. During this session, the President received briefings on progress in implementing our strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan following the death of Osama bin Laden.”
The rest of the very short “readout” (70 more words, plus a list of attendees) was equally vague. Nowhere was there a hint of an answer to a question a soldier asked Gates during his Afghanistan tour, as reported by The Los Angeles Times. The question was, “Sir, since the death of Osama bin Laden, has the military strategy changed at all?” His answer, versions of which were given at other bases Gates visited, was, “We’ve made a lot of headway, but we have a ways to go.”
Just how far to go in this purposeless war is the subject of the current internal debate in Washington, one that is so heavy in muddy language that it is impossible for outsiders to follow. But the truth is, it’s probably already settled. We’re stuck in Afghanistan as long as Obama follows his present policy.
On one side of the charade of a debate, according to The New York Times, are Gates and others in the Pentagon who favor a small beginning to the troop withdrawal that Obama promised to begin next month. On the other side, the Times reported, is Vice President Joe Biden and others who want a faster withdrawal, presumably something substantial that Obama can take to the voters in the 2012 presidential election.
Nobody in this White House debate seems to be raising the central question: Why we are there? Judging from information leaked from the White House discussions, nobody is pointing out, as the soldier did, that bin Laden’s death may have changed things. This is especially true since al-Qaida is entrenched in places other than Afghanistan, including in the territories of our so-called allies Pakistan and Yemen, the latter now in turmoil with dictator-President Ali Abdullah Saleh recovering in Saudi Arabia from severe wounds sustained in a rebel attack on his compound.
The Obama administration is proceeding on the theory that the Taliban and al-Qaida are linked. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated the administration policy last February in a speech to the Asia Society. “The Taliban and al-Qaida are distinct groups with distinct aims, but they are both our adversaries and part of a syndicate of terror that must be broken,” she said. President Obama’s policy, she said, is “to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida and prevent it from threatening America and our allies in the future. Al-Qaida cannot be allowed to maintain its safe haven, protected by the Taliban, and to continue plotting attacks while destabilizing nations that have known far too much war. ...”
The administration’s goal, she said, is to weaken the Taliban, split it from al-Qaida and reconcile with Taliban elements “who will renounce violence and accept the Afghan constitution.”
Bin Laden’s death did not change the policy. The day after he was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs, Clinton said the “battle to stop al-Qaida and its syndicate of terror will not end with the death of bin Laden. Indeed, we must take this opportunity to renew our resolve and redouble our efforts. In Afghanistan, we will continue taking the fight to al-Qaida and their Taliban allies. …”
So, the deadly slog through Afghanistan continues. What could have been a chance to change policy is becoming a footnote.
This should not come as a surprise. From the earliest days of the 2008 presidential campaign, it was clear that neither Obama nor Clinton would pull us out of Iraq or Afghanistan with any great speed. Obama, in fact, seized on the idea of expanding the war in Afghanistan as a way of defending himself from Republicans’ and candidate Clinton’s attacks for his criticism of the Iraq War. And no matter how much he criticized the Iraq misadventure, he always advocated the amorphous idea of keeping a small residual force there. When Obama chose Clinton as secretary of state, he picked someone who was like-minded.
That is why the current Afghanistan review taking place in the White House doesn’t mean much. Judging from Clinton’s words, the United States will continue to battle the Taliban until it agrees to what amounts to unconditional surrender to this nation and Hamid Karzai’s government. This indicates that next month’s troop reductions will be small.
In the short run, the administration may get away with this fake debate because the war continues to be a low-visibility event in the news media. And because no strong anti-war movement has developed. But this could change. An ABC News/Washington Post poll taken at the beginning of June showed that just 43 percent of those surveyed felt the war was worth fighting, and 73 percent said a substantial number of troops should be withdrawn this summer. Another sign of expanding opposition was the narrow defeat of a House resolution calling for accelerated withdrawal, introduced by Republican Walter B. Jones of North Carolina and Democrat Jim McGovern of Massachusetts.
An increasing number of people want to know how long we’ll be in Afghanistan, not to mention why we are there. Hopefully, their ranks will grow, and Obama, worried about re-election, will listen.
Posted 10 June 2011 - 01:19 PM
Posted 13 June 2011 - 02:55 PM
Ninety Percent of Petraeus' "Taliban" Captures Were Civilians
Monday 13 June 2011
by: Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service
Washington - During his intensive initial round of media interviews as commander in Afghanistan in August 2010, Gen. David Petraeus released figures to the news media that claimed spectacular success for raids by Special Operations Forces: in a 90-day period from May through July, SOF units had captured 1,355 rank and file Taliban, killed another 1,031, and killed or captured 365 middle or high-ranking Taliban.
The claims of huge numbers of Taliban captured and killed continued through the rest of 2010. In December, Petraeus's command said a total of 4,100 Taliban rank and file had been captured in the previous six months and 2,000 had been killed.
Those figures were critical to creating a new media narrative hailing the success of SOF operations as reversing what had been a losing U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.
But it turns out that more than 80 percent of those called captured Taliban fighters were released within days of having been picked up, because they were found to have been innocent civilians, according to official U.S. military data.
Even more were later released from the main U.S. detention facility at Bagram airbase called the Detention Facility in Parwan after having their files reviewed by a panel of military officers.
The timing of Petraeus's claim of Taliban fighters captured or killed, moreover, indicates that he knew that four out of five of those he was claiming as "captured Taliban rank and file" were not Taliban fighters at all.
Checking on the claims of the number of Taliban commanders and rank and file killed is impossible, but the claims of Taliban captured could be checked against official data on admission of detainees added to Parwan.
An Afghan detained by U.S. or NATO forces can only be held in a Forward Operating Base for a maximum of 14 days before a decision must be made about whether to release the individual or send him to Parwan for longer-term detention.
IPS has now obtained an unclassified graph by Task Force 435, the military command responsible for detainee affairs, on Parwan's monthly intake and release totals for 2010, which shows that only 270 detainees were admitted to that facility during the 90-day period from May through July 2010.
That figure also includes alleged Taliban commanders who were sent to Parwan and whom Petraeus counted separately from the rank and file figure. Thus more than four out of every five Afghans said to have been Taliban fighters captured during that period had been released within two weeks as innocent civilians.
When Petraeus decided in mid-August to release the figure of 1,355 Taliban rank and file allegedly captured during the 90-day period, he already knew that 80 percent or more of that total had already been released.
Major Sunset R. Belinsky, the ISAF press officer for SOF operations, conceded to IPS last September that the 1,355 figure applied only to "initial detentions".
Task Force 435 commander Adm. Robert Harward confirmed in a press briefing for Journalists Nov. 30, 2010 that 80 percent of the Afghans detained by the U.S. military during the entire year to that point had been released within two weeks.
"This year, in this battlespace, approximately 5,500 individuals have been detained," Harward said, adding the crucial fact that "about 1,100 have come to the detention facility in Parwan."
Harward did not explain the discrepancy between the two figures, however, and no journalist attending the Pentagon briefing asked for such an explanation.
Petraeus continued to exploit media ignorance of the discrepancy between the number of Taliban rank and file said to have been "captured" and the number actually sent to the FDIP.
In early December, ISAF gave Bill Roggio, a blogger for "The Long War Journal" website, the figure of more than 4,100 "enemy fighters" captured from Jun. 1 through Nov. 30, along with 2,000 rank and file Taliban killed.
But during those six months, only 690 individuals were sent to Parwan, according to the Task Force 435 data – 17 percent of the 4,100 Taliban rank and file claimed captured as "Taliban".
The total of 690 detainees also includes an unknown number of commanders counted separately by Petraeus and a large number of detainees who were later released from Parwan. Considering those two factors, the actual proportion of those claimed as captured Taliban who were found not to be part of the Taliban organisation rises to 90 percent or even higher.
Three hundred forty-five detainees, or 20 percent of the 1,686 total number of those who were detained in Parwan from June through November, were released upon review of their cases, according to the same Feb. 5, 2011 Task Force document obtained by IPS. The vast majority of those released from the facility had been sent to Parwan in June or later.
Detainees are released from Parwan only when the evidence against them is so obviously weak or nonexistent that U.S officers cannot justify continuing to hold them, despite the fact that the detainees lack normal procedural rights in the "non-adversarial" hearing by the Task Force's Detainee Review.
The deliberate confusion sowed by Petraeus by referring to anyone picked up for interrogation as a captured rank and file Taliban was a key element of a carefully considered strategy for creating a more favourable image of the war.
As Associated Press reporter Kimberly Dozier wrote in a Sep. 3, 2010 news analysis after an interview with Petraeus, he was very conscious that "demonstrating progress is difficult in a war fought in hundreds of small, scattered engagements, where frontlines do not move and where cities do not fall."
SOF raids, however, could be turned into a dramatic story line. "The mystique of elite, highly trained commandos swooping down on an unsuspecting Taliban leader in the dead of night plays well back home," wrote Dozier, "especially at a time when much of the news from Afghanistan focuses on rising American deaths and frustration with the Afghan government."
Petraeus made sure the impact of the new SOF narrative would be maximised by presenting the total of Afghans swept up in SOF raids as actual Taliban fighters.
The deceptive nature of those statistics, as now revealed by U.S. military data, raises anew the question of whether the statistics released by Petraeus on killing of alleged Taliban were similarly skewed.
Posted 13 June 2011 - 04:22 PM
By Oleg Kiryanov
That is the opinion expressed by participants of the international conference.
Translated By Tatiana Sokolova
9 June 2011
Edited by Kate*rina Kobylka
Russia - Rossiyskaya Gazeta - Original Article (Russian)
Afghanistan needs a new government structure which will guarantee the involvement of all political forces and all people in order to avoid the concentration of political power in one person’s hands. In addition, more powers should be delegated from the central government to local branches. The well-known Afghan politician Ahmad Wali Massoud, brother of the dead “Lion of Panjshir,” the famous military leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, brought this concept for the settlement of long-term conflict in Afghanistan.
These, as well as a number of other issues, have been touched on by almost 90 diplomats, experts, businesspeople and journalists from Russia, Afghanistan, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. They assembled to participate in the international conference “Scenarios for Afghanistan and the Transformation of Regional Security,” which opened on June 9 in Almaty.
Specialists felt free to make quite audacious statements and predictions, which only stimulated further discussion. Oleg Sokolovsky, an expert from Tashkent put forward the idea that “it is essential to examine the question in northern Afghanistan on creation of the buffer zone, which would block the dissemination of the conflict potential to Central Asian republics of the former USSR.”
Konstantin Syroezhkin, a senior research officer for the Kazakhstan Institute of Strategic Studies, dwelled on the problem of drug trafficking from Afghanistan. “At the present moment, drug production and sales make up about 40% of Afghanistan’s GDP. This sector employs up to 15% of the population. You can argue about it as much as you like, but it is completely obvious that the well-organized system of drug trafficking was shaped and reinforced during the presence of the Western coalition in Afghanistan. There is evidence that representatives of national elites of the U.S., the West, Russia and Central Asian countries are engaged in this illegal business,” he pointed out, emphasizing that “if it desired, NATO could cut off the drug flow from Afghanistan to Europe, but it does not.”
Ahmad Wali Massoud, one of Afghanistan’s influential politicians, noted that the recent elimination of “Number One” terrorist Osama bin Laden “may be a victory for the U.S. government, but it isn’t for the countries of the region. This assassination does not solve the problem of terrorism, which is not exclusively an Afghan problem, but the world’s common one.”
Many speakers expressed the common opinion, which was dominant amongst experts, that the U.S. will not withdraw its troops from Afghanistan as it has officially declared. “I never believed and still do not, that the U.S will leave Afghanistan. They will use various pretexts in order to stay there for a very long time,” stressed Vladimir Nikitovich Plastun, a professor at the Department of Oriental Studies at Novosibirsk State University.
“Broadly, Afghanistan is a minor aim for the U.S. Their main goal is to strengthen their positions in Central Asia based on a plea of the counterterrorism fight. In this connection, it is na