Afghans are freedom fighters fighting for their country and fighting for their faith


Afghanistan Sitrep

By William R. Polk

On June 24, the International Herald Tribune published an editorial from its parent, The New York Times, entitled “Obama’s Decision.” Both the attribution – printing in the two newspapers which ensures that the editorial will reach both directly and through subsidiary reprinting almost every “decision maker” in the world – and the date – just before the appointment of David Petraeus to succeed Stanley McChrystal – are significant. They could have suggested a momentary lull in which basic questions on the Afghan war might have been reconsidered.

That did not happen. The President made clear his belief that the strategy of the war was sound and his commitment to continue it even if the general responsible for it had to be changed.

The editorial sounded a different note arising from the events surrounding the fall of General McChrystal: Mr. Obama, said The Times, “must order all of his top advisers to stop their sniping and maneuvering” and come up with a coherent political and military plan for driving back the Taliban and building a minimally effective Afghan government.”

In short, Mr. Obama must get his team together and evolve a plan.

Unfortunately, the task he faces is not that simple.

First, consider the “team.” It has two major components, the military officers whom McChrystal gathered in Kabul. As they made clear in the Rolling Stone interview, they think of themselves as “Team America” and hold in contempt everyone else. Those who don’t fully subscribe to their approach to the war are unpatriotic, stupid or cowardly. Those officers are not alone. Agreeing with them is apparently now a large part of the professional military establishment. They are the junior officers whom David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal have selected, promoted and with whom they take their stand..

The other “component” is not a group but many groups with different agendas and constituencies. The most crucial for my purposes here are the advisers to the President; they were dismissed out of hand as “the wimps in the White House.” Most, but not all, were civilians. Other senior military officers, now retired, who are not part of “Team America” and its adherents were also disparaged. Famously, General Jim Jones, the director of the National Security Council staff, was called a “clown.”

These were the comments that forced Mr. Obama’s hand and were what the press latched upon to explain the events. But many missed the point that McChrystal had just a few days before his dismissal written a devastating report on his mission. Confidential copies of it were obtained by the London newspaper, The Independent on Sunday, which published it today, but of course the President had seen it earlier. Essentially, its message boiled down to failure.

McChrystal pointed out that he faced a “resilient and growing insurgency,” with too few troops and expected no progress in the coming six months. Despite expenditures of at least $7 billion a month, his politico-military strategy wasn’t working. Within weeks of the “victory” over the Taliban in the agricultural district of Marja, the Taliban were back and the box full of government he had announced proved to be nearly empty. As the expression went in the days of the Vietnam war, whatever happened during the day, the guerrillas “owned the night.” As he described it, Marja was the “bleeding ulcer” of the American campaign.

Behind McChrystal’s words, the figures were even more devastating: Marja, despite the descriptions in the press is not a town, much less a city; it is a hundred or so square miles of farm land with dispersed hamlets in which about 35,000 people live and work. Into that small and lightly populated area, McChrystal poured some 15,000 troops, and they failed to secure it.

To appreciate what those figures mean, consider them in context of Petraeus’s counterinsurgency theory, on which McChrystal was basing his strategy. As he had explained it, Marja should be taken, secured and held. Then an administration – McChrystal’s “government in a box” — should be imposed upon it. Despite all the hoopla about the brilliant new strategy, it was hardly new. In fact it was a replay of the strategy the French General Lyautey called the tache d’huile (the oil spot) and applied in Indochina over a century ago. We also tried it in Vietnam, renaming it the “ink spot.” The hope was that the “spot,” once fixed on the Marja, would smudge into adjoining areas and so eventually spread across the country. Clear and simple, but unfortunately, like so much in counterinsurgency theory, it never seemed to work.

Petraeus’s counterinsurgency theory also illuminated how to create the “spot.” What was required was a commitment of forces in proportion to native population size. Various numbers have been put forth but a common number is about one soldier for each 50 inhabitants. Marja was the area chosen for the “spot.” The people living there, after all, were farmers, wedded to the land, and so should be more tractable than the wild warriors along the tribal frontier. Moreover, it was the place where the first significant American aid program, the Helmand Valley Authority, had been undertaken in the late 1950s. So, if an area were to be favorable to Americans, it ought to be Marja. But, to take no chances, General McChrystal decided to employ overwhelming force. So, what is particularly stunning about the failure in Marja is that the force applied was not the counterinsurgency model of 1 soldier for each 50 inhabitants but nearly 1 soldier for each 2 inhabitants.

If these numbers were projected to the planned offensive in the much larger city of Kandahar, which has a population of nearly 500,000, they become impossibly large. Such an attack would require at least four times as many US and NATO as in Marja. That is virtually the entire fighting force and what little control over Marja and most other areas, perhaps even the capital, Kabul, that now exists would have to be given up or else large numbers of additional American troops would have to be engaged. Moreover, in response to such an attack, it would be possible for the insurgents also to redeploy so the numbers would again increase.

The more fundamental question, which needs to be addressed, is why didn’t this relatively massive introduction of troops with awesome and overwhelming fire power succeed. Just a few days before he was fired, as I have mentioned, General McChrystal posed, but could not answer, that question. I hope President Obama is also pondering it.

For those who read history, the answer is evident. But, as I have quoted in my book Understanding Iraq, the great German philosopher, Georg Willhelm Friedrich Hegel, despaired that “Peoples and governments never have learned anything from history or acted on principles deduced from it” and, therefore, as the American philosopher George Santayana warned us, not having learned from history, we are doomed to repeat it. Indeed, it seems that each generation of Americans has to start all over again to find the answers. Who among our leaders and certainly among college students now really remembers Vietnam? So, consider these simple facts:

The first fact, whether we like it or not, is that nearly everyone in the world has a deep aversion to foreigners on his land. As far as we know, this feeling goes back to the very beginning of our species because we are territorial animals. Dedication to the protection of homeland permeates history. And the sentiment has never died out. Today we call it nationalism. Nationalism in various guises is the most powerful political idea of our times. Protecting land, culture, religion and people from foreigners is the central issue in insurgency. The former head of the Pakistani intelligence service, who has had unparallelled experience with the Taliban over many years, advised us that we should open our eyes to seeing the Afghan insurgents as they see themselves: “They are freedom fighters fighting for their country and fighting for their faith.” We agreed when they were fighting the Russians; now, when many of the same people are fighting us, we see them only as terrorists. That label does not help us understand why they are fighting. Read more of this post

General McChrystal – The Conscientious Objector

By General Mirza Aslam Beg

A soldier has the right to disagree with the higher civil and military command, but there is a method in doing so, and the way General McChrystal expressed his dissent, was no doubt, ‘unbecoming of an officer’. Perhaps, he lost his sense of discretion, under influences, beyond his control, as one of his close associates remarked: “he worked in a very right inner circle, doing every thing together including getting drunk.” However, there are some important aspects, connected with this incident, which need to be analyzed.

President Obama, as we all know had promised, while campaigning for the presidential elections that he will pull out troops from Afghanistan, engaged in a purposeless war and also made a firm commitment to address the Kashmir issue, but on assuming the office of the president, he reneged on both the issues. He caved-into pressure by ‘the military high command and the defense industries lobby’ for a military solution and a troop surge, although it was easy for him to say: “President Bush has accomplished the mission in Afghanistan, and therefore, I have decided to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan.” The Americans and the NATO allies would have hailed this decision. On Kashmir, the Indian lobby forced him to restrict Holbrook’s responsibility to Afghanistan and Pakistan only. Now, Obama is in a stronger position, to carve-out a realistic exit-strategy.

McChrystal, no doubt, was frustrated at his failure to achieve military success, whereas, General Petreaus was able to achieve a degree of success in Iraq. General Petreaus exploited the ethnic divide in Iraq and mounted a successful strategy to divide the Shia-Sunni population, through a process of ethnic cleansing, ethnic riots and target killings, using Black water security agency. On the contrary there is no such ethnic divide in Afghanistan. The Pakhtuns are fighting the invaders, while the Northern Alliance, consisting of the minorities mainly supported the invaders and rode the American tanks to occupy Afghanistan in 2001. Together with the occupation forces, they also stand defeated.

The Afghans have won, and therefore peace conditions are to be established, on this ground reality. David Miliband rightly suggests: “The legitimate tribal and ethnic groups must be given real stake in the political process, a peace settlement in which we include the vanquished, as well as the victors.” Obama, therefore has to initiate the political process, for the peaceful settlement of the eight year long, purposeless and brutal war, and the step that, he has to take, must be well-considered and appropriate. As the first step he must engage and enter into dialogue with the Taliban, under Mullah Umar and remove the trust deficit and reach agreement on the basic issues, such as: Time frame of withdrawal of the occupation forces; declare ceasefire; remove the ban on Taliban freedom movement; release all Taliban prisoners, and negotiate a political settlement, with full realization that, trying to establish a democratic authority on a country with a tradition of decentralized governance, would prove counter productive.

The Karzai government at best can act as the facilitator, for the negotiations with the Taliban who may be willing to call a Loe Jirga to decide the formation of a national government, and the new constitution of the future political setup. Other important issues such as these must also be considered and consensus arrived at:

  • The status of US-Afghan relations, in the post independence period.
  • Guarantees for no-use of Afghan territory for militants activities against other countries.
  • Firm commitments from the UNO, USA. NATO and Russia to pay for the war damages and a Marshal Plan to rebuild Afghanistan.
  • Complete independence and freedom for the future Afghan government, to establish diplomatic, economic and socio-cultural relations with all countries of the world.

Pakistan has had the best of relations with Afghanistan, during the 80’s, but distrust, doubts and apprehensions were created in Afghans’ mind, when Pakistan’s ISI, which had supported and conducted the war against Soviet occupation, was pulled-out of Afghanistan during the 1990 under the American pressure. In the second phase, ISI was purged of all such operators, who had good contact with the Mujahideen, but the greatest damage to Pakistan’s security was caused in 2003, when Musharraf, pulled-out the ISI and other intelligence agencies from our own tribal areas of Swat, FATA and Balochistan, and the space so created was handed over to CIA, to be joined by the Indian spy network established in Afghanistan, with the result that, our entire border region was infested with foreign spies, agents and saboteurs, who fomented trouble in our tribal belt, threatening Islamabad and Peshawar and an out right rebellion in Balochistan, thus creating a very serious security lapse for Pakistan. The new government formed in 2008, therefore, decided to restore the writ of the government, in these areas and ordered steam-roller military actions in Swat, Dir, Bajaur and South Waziristan. Read more of this post

US/NATO death squads killing indiscriminately in Afghanistan

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Burnt children after a NATO bomb attack. Their disfigured faces are the real face of war (by Maso Notarianni)

More photos and details

By James Cogan

The New York Times reported this week that the overall commander of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan is seeking to impose tighter control over the activities of special forces units, after recent operations led to more civilian deaths. General Stanley McChrystal’s concern is not the deaths, however, but the manner in which they are fuelling Afghan hatred for the US-led occupation and their occasional exposure in the international media.

On March 5, McChrystal publicly released a portion of a directive he had issued—reportedly in late January or early February—which had placed conditions on the night raids that occupation troops regularly conduct on Afghan civilian homes.

McChrystal noted in his release: “Despite their effectiveness and operational value, night raids come at a steep cost in terms of the perceptions of the Afghan people. The myths, distortions and propaganda arising out of night raids often have little to do with the reality—few Afghans have been directly affected by night raids, but nearly every Afghan I talk to mentions them as the single greatest irritant. Night raids must be conducted with even greater care, additional constraints, and standardisation throughout Afghanistan.”

McChrystal’s directive stipulated new conditions, including the involvement of Afghan government forces in the raids; treating people with dignity; and informing victims as to how to get compensation for seized or damaged property. The cosmetic character of the order, along with that of an earlier directive calling for caution before launching air strikes, can be judged by the following incidents since early February:

* The London Times reported on March 13 that American special forces, accompanied by Afghan police, entered a housing compound near Gardez, in Paktia province on February 12. They killed a local police commander named Daoud, his brother and three women, two of whom were pregnant. His 15-year-old son was also shot.

According to an unpublished UN report obtained by the Times, the occupation forces broke in at 3.30 a.m. while Daoud’s extended family was celebrating the naming of a baby. The man who noticed them cried “Taliban”. Daoud and his son were gunned down as they ran into the courtyard to investigate. His brother, who recognised the assailants as Americans, was shot dead as he yelled in English “don’t fire, we work for the government”. The three women were killed by either a blast of gunfire that entered the house or, according to witnesses cited in a New York Times article, were gunned down as they attempted to help the men.

The UN report stated that the remaining people in the compound were “assaulted by the US and Afghan forces, restrained and forced to stand barefoot for several hours outside in the cold”. Daoud and his 18-year-old niece allegedly died of their wounds due to lack of medical treatment. Eight men were taken away and interrogated for four days before being released.

An initial press release by the US/NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) claimed that the three women had been “tied up, gagged and killed” before the special forces’ attack. ISAF later admitted the allegation was false and also that Daoud was not Taliban.

* On February 21, special forces in Uruzgan province called in a helicopter gunship strike on three trucks they were monitoring, killing 27 people. The occupants were all unarmed and all civilians. An anonymous NATO official told the New York Times: “What I saw on that video would not have led me to pull the trigger. It was one of the worst things I’ve seen in a while.” The nationality of the troops has not identified but the Australian Special Air Service (SAS) is the most active special forces unit in Uruzgan province. It has been blamed for a number of atrocities against civilians.

* According to the London Times, American and Afghan troops in February raided the home of Rahmatullah Sediqi, a 61-year-old shopkeeper in Ghazni province who had provided shelter to Taliban fighters the night before, reportedly under threat. The Taliban were gone. The occupation forces shot dead his wife and son.

* This month, a helicopter gunship fired a missile into the guest room of a housing compound in Karakhil village in Wardak province, killing three alleged Taliban insurgents. Locals claim that a landing party of occupation troops then entered the home and shot dead its owner, 32-year-old engineer Hamidullah, his wife and his son. Another child was seriously wounded.

The publicity given to McChrystal’s directive by the New York Times has all the hallmarks of a public relations exercise, intended to give the appearance that he is “reining in” special forces’ operations to protect civilian lives.
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McC-hrystal’s much-vaunted new strategy in Afghanistan is running into the throes of a crisis

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By I. M. Mohsin:

The payback for the atrocious policies pursued by the neocons appears to be on. General Stanley McC-hrystal’s much-vaunted new strategy in Afghanistan is running into the throes of a crisis. Starting with a massive attack on Marjah in Helmand, which put up traditional resistance, the tactical retreat of the ‘enemy’ occasioned rather optimistic reactions from the US high command. Perhaps playing to the gallery, the general announced that the whole of the southern part would be taken over by the US forces to “hold and build.”

Furthermore, Marjah itself is reported to be having an uneasy calm which is manipulated by the ‘cash flow’ being made to the local people to ingratiate them. No wonder all has been quiet on this front for about a fortnight, while some attacks against the foreign troops including the Bagram Bastion have taken place in other provinces. In the meantime, either as propaganda or strategy, it was indicated that the next push would be against Kandahar. Accordingly, several reports projected a massive mobilisation of the forces.

Consequently, last Saturday the Taliban launched awful attacks in Kandahar. As per the BBC, quoting AP, one local Muhammad Anwar termed it “like Doomsday for all of Kandahar people.” It killed atleast 35 people including some policemen, besides injuring double that number. Referring to McChrystal’s statement pledging to “trample the Taliban” in the area, AFP quoted Yousuf Ahmadi, a spokesman for the ‘enemy’, as emphasising: “This was an answer to General McChrystal…this was to sabotage the operation and to show we can strike anywhere, any time we want.” Nevertheless, the situation in Kandahar is pretty grim and well reflects the ground realities. Although such statements from the general maybe meant to boost the morale of their forces deployed in the operation, as well as the American electorate, but apparently these are counterproductive.

The American policy in Afghanistan appears as an anomaly. On the one hand, it is pursuing – through their acolyte Karzai – to negotiate with the Taliban that would be mediated by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia’s. No wonder President Karzai has been running around to comply with the agenda set in Washington DC. On the other hand, military operations are being undertaken in the south to ‘wipe out the Taliban’. Unfortunately, the killings of civilians, as a result of such moves, get billed against the US.

It should be remembered that America’s massive military presence in the area is supposed to provide security to the local people. However, when that gets breached due to its actions or the enemy’s reaction, the Afghans are resentful. As a corollary, the recent spate of bombing in Pakistan has killed about 100 people with many injured. The people here have little faith in governance but they believe such depredations to be the outcome of our support for the US war; so while Lahore saw a deadly spectacle like Kandahar last week, the point-scoring among politicians was an affront to the nation.

As such the US is losing considerable goodwill also in Pakistan. Some Pakistanis see the current set-up as being a proxy of the US which fans the extremism further. Still others, while appreciating the grit of our army and police are upset by US failure to provide the Pakistani forces with the latest equipments necessary for waging a successful campaign.

As if Afghanistan was not enough of a teaser, the trauma caused by the Israeli land grabbing in East Jerusalem and the rebuff given by Benjamin Netan-yahu to Joe Biden on the subject lately is the “most unkindess cut of all.” Biden, like Hillary Clinton, has been an effusive supporter of the Jewish lobby. Since the Obama Administration took-over, it has been trying to act goody-goody about all the violations of human rights committed by Israel against occupied Palestine. Despite the diplomatic overtures by Oba-ma’s special representative for Middle East, George Mitchell, the Israeli government has found it convenient to insult the US president by their defiance.
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NATO air strike kills 33 Afghans

Kabul—A NATO air strike killed at least 33 civilians, the Afghan government said on Monday, in the third such mistaken bombing raid in Afghanistan in a week and forcing another apology from a top US commander.

Four women and a child were among the civilians killed on Sunday when they were attacked after being mistaken for Taliban militants who are waging an eight-year insurgency to evict Western troops.

The top ground commander, US General Stanley McChrystal, apologised for the incident to President Hamid Karzai, who has repeatedly warned foreign and Afghan forces to take all measures possible to avoid harming civilians.

The air strike came days after NATO forces pressing a major offensive in the south killed at least nine Afghan civilians when a rocket slammed into a house—for which McChrystal also apologised.

A statement from the decision-making council of ministers, which is chaired by Karzai, condemned the latest incident as “unjustifiable”.

“Initial reports indicate that NATO fired Sunday on a convoy of three vehicles in Gujran district of the province of Daykundi, killing at least 33 civilians including four women and one child and injuring 12 others while they were on their way to Kandahar,” the statement said.

Sunday’s incident was the third mistaken NATO air strike in Afghanistan reported by Afghan officials in a week.

Last Thursday, a NATO bombing raid in the northern province of Kunduz killed seven Afghan policemen, according to hospital and government officials.

On February 15, NATO acknowledged that five civilians were killed accidentally and two others wounded in an air strike in southern Afghanistan. Read more of this post

End the war in Afghanistan: Just get out!

Ron  Jacobs

Perhaps, there was once a time when most westerners could pretend that the US-led onslaught against the Afghan people was a good thing.  Perhaps they convinced themselves that because the government of that country had allowed Osama Bin Laden to live in the mountains there that there was reason enough to attack his neighbors and destroy what remained of their nation.  Perhaps, too, westerners (especially US citizens) believed that the true purpose of the US-led military mission in Afghanistan was to capture Bin Laden and destroy his terror network.

Yes, perhaps there was a time when the facade of justice and righteous revenge provided enough of a moral veneer to the US war in Afghanistan that even intelligent westerners could live with the death and destruction occurring in their name.  However, that time is long past.  The war has gone on for more than eight years without any sign of cessation.  Indeed, since Barack Obama took up residence in the White House, the casualties in that war have spiked.  There are at least 40,000 more US troops in the country since that date last January and another thirty or forty thousand more getting ready to go there.  In addition, the number of mercenaries has similarly increased. The reasons provided for this escalation range from going after terrorists to creating a civil society.  As I write, another offensive against Afghans is being prepared.  It primary purpose is to install a governor appointed by the US-created government in Kabul.  No matter what the reason, it is painfully clear that those of us expecting a truthful explanation for Washington’s presence in Afghanistan will not receive it from those who continue to send troops and weaponry over there.  Nor will they receive it from those in Congress that continue to fund this lethal endeavor.

Yet, the antiwar movement–which should know better–remains virtually silent.  A day of bi coastal demonstrations is planned for March 20, 2010, but otherwise there is not even a whisper of protest.  Students go to classes while their generational cohorts in uniform face the prospect of death and killing.  Antiwar organizations send out the occasional email or call for action, but there is no action.  Congressmen and women ignore the letters and faxes constituents send them asking that they refuse to vote for the next war-funding legislation.  Furthermore, these legislators refuse to make the connection between the destruction of the US economy and the trillion dollars spent to kill Afghans and Iraqis the past eight years.  The media rarely covers the war except to promote the glory of the men and women sent to do America’s dirty work.  There is no critical debate in the mainstream media.  Opponents of Washington’s imperial program–rarely acknowledged in the mainstream media at any time–are now completely ignored. Read more of this post

Americans are fighting the war of yesteryears

Khalid Iqbal

Much fanfare preceded the launch of a military operation in Helmand province. It is being proclaimed as the biggest offensive since the occupation of Afghanistan by the US-led coalition forces. Hence, the expectations regarding its outcome have skyrocketed, though unrealistically. Overall, the ongoing operation Mushtarak (combined) is a tactical level operation, and thus battle for Helmand is not synonym for the battle for Afghanistan. Even a brilliant success in this venture would not have any significant or lasting impact on the overall layout of the chess board of Afghanistan. The opportune time for a military solution is over, since long.

Operational ingredients and strategy constituents of Helmand manoeuvre are carrying forth most of the usual errors or say the operational psyche, which has been the hallmark of American failures in previous such endeavours over the last about nine years. At the end of the day, some peaks and valleys could have been ‘conquered’; praises would be showered on brave soldiers for not engaging the resistance elements and letting the extremist fighters flee the area, to create trouble elsewhere. The final solution to Afghan fiasco would however remain as elusive.

Unfortunately, the Americans are fighting for some tactical glories at the cost of losing at operational and strategic levels. They appear destined to lose the war, even if they succeed in Operation Mushtarak.

Imperial hubris did not let the Americans learn from the recent success stories of the Pakistani military operations in Malakand and South Waziristan areas. Despite public acclaim about these operations, pertinent operational and tactical level cues and lessons thrown up by these manoeuvres have been thrown out of the window.

It seems that General Kayani’s relevant urging at Brussels and subsequently during the operational level interactions with American field commanders, in a run up to Operation Mushtarak, appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

Pakistan’s advise to establish an adequate number of check posts on the Afghan borders in order to block the exodus of extremists into Pakistan have been totally ignored. On the contrary, disturbing news indicate that even a major chunk of previously manned check posts by ISAF/NATO were abandoned prior to commencing the operation. One wonders if this surge supported operation ever had one of its military objectives to eliminate or capture the extremists.

Hence the abandonment of check posts bordering Pakistan by ISAF/NATO has opened the flood gates for extremists’ influx into our country. This could set into motion another cycle of instability in the tribal belt of Pakistan arising out of knock-on effects. As a damage reduction measure, the Pakistan army has speedily set up some check posts on the Pakistani side to restrict the immigration. Read more of this post

Destabilizing Pakistan – Operation Breakfast Redux

By Tom Engelhardt and Pratap Chatterjee

Almost every day, reports come back from the CIA’s “secret” battlefield in the Pakistani tribal borderlands. Unmanned aerial vehicles – that is, pilotless drones – shoot missiles (18 of them in a single attack on a tiny village last week) or drop bombs and then the news comes in: a certain number of al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders or suspected Arab or Uzbek or Afghan “militants” have died. The numbers are oftenremarkably precise. Sometimes they are attributed to U.S. sources, sometimes to the Pakistanis; sometimes, it’s hard to tell where the information comes from. In the Pakistani press, on the other hand, the numbers that come back are usually of civilian dead. They, too, tend to be precise.

Don’t let that precision fool you. Here’s the reality: There are no reporters on the ground and none of these figures can be taken as accurate. Let’s just consider the CIA side of things. Any information that comes from American sources (i.e., the CIA) has to be looked at with great wariness. As a start, the CIA’s history is one of deception. There’s no reason to take anything its sources say at face value. They will report just what they think it’s in their interest to report – and the ongoing “success” of their drone strikes is distinctly in their interest.

Then, there’s history. In the present drone wars, as in the CIA’s bloody Phoenix Program in the Vietnam era, the Agency’s operatives, working in distinctly alien terrain, must rely on local sources (or possibly official Pakistani ones) for targeting intelligence. In Vietnam in the 1960s, the Agency’s Phoenix Program – reportedly responsible for the assassination of 20,000 Vietnamese – became, according to historian Marilyn Young, “an extortionist’s paradise, with payoffs as available for denunciation as for protection.” Once again, the CIA is reportedly passing out bags of money and anyone on the ground with a grudge, or the desire to eliminate an enemy, or simply the desire to make some of that money can undoubtedly feed information into the system, watch the drones do their damnedest, and then report back that more “terrorists” are dead. Just assume that at least some of those “militants” dying in Pakistan, and possibly many of them, aren’t who the CIA hopes they are.

Think of it as a foolproof situation, with an emphasis on the “fool.” And then keep in mind that, in December, the CIA’s local brain trust, undoubtedly the same people who were leaking precise news of “successes” in Pakistan, mistook a jihadist double agentfrom Jordan for an agent of theirs, gathered at an Agency base in Khost, Afghanistan, and let him wipe them out with a suicide bomb. Seven CIA operatives died, including the base chief. This should give us a grim clue as to the accuracy of the CIA’s insights into what’s happening on the ground in Pakistan, or into the real effects of their 24/7 robotic assassination program.

But there’s a deeper, more dangerous level of deception in Washington’s widening warin the region: self-deception. The CIA drone program, which the Agency’s Director Leon Panetta has called “the only game in town” when it comes to dismantling al-Qaeda, is just symptomatic of such self-deception. While the CIA and the U.S. military have been expending enormous effort studying the Afghan and Pakistani situations and consulting experts, and while the White House has conducted an extensive series of seminars-cum-policy-debates on both countries, you can count on one thing: none of them have spent significant time studying or thinking about us.

As a result, the seeming cleanliness and effectiveness of the drone-war solution undoubtedly only reinforces a sense in Washington that the world’s last great military power can still control this war – that it can organize, order, prod, wheedle, and bribe both the Afghans and Pakistanis into doing what’s best, and if that doesn’t work, simply continue raining down the missiles and bombs. Beware Washington’s deep-seated belief that it controls events; that it is, however precariously, in the saddle; that, as Afghan War commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal recently put it, there is a “corner” to “turn” out there, even if we haven’t quite turned it yet.

In fact, Washington is not in the saddle and that corner, if there, if turned, will have its own unpleasant surprises. Washington is, in this sense, as oblivious as those CIA operatives were as they waited for “their” Jordanian agent to give them supposedly vital information on the al-Qaeda leadership in the Pakistani tribal areas. Like their drones, the Americans in charge of this war are desperately far from the ground, and they don’t even seem to know it. It’s this that makes the analogy drawn by TomDispatch regular and author of Halliburton’s Army Pratap Chatterjee so unnerving. It’s time for Washington to examine not what we know about them, but what we don’t know about ourselves. Tom


Operation Breakfast Redux

Could Pakistan 2010 go the way of Cambodia 1969?
by Pratap Chatterjee

Sitting in air-conditioned comfort, cans of Coke and 7-Up within reach as they watched their screens, the ground controllers gave the order to strike under the cover of darkness. There had been no declaration of war. No advance warning, nothing, in fact, that would have alerted the “enemy” to the sudden, unprecedented bombing raids. The secret computer-guided strikes were authorized by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, just weeks after a new American president entered the Oval Office. They represented an effort to wipe out the enemy’s central headquarters whose location intelligence experts claimed to have pinpointed just across the border from the war-torn land where tens of thousands of American troops were fighting daily.

In remote villages where no reporters dared to go, far from the battlefields where Americans were dying, who knew whether the bombs that rained from the night sky had killed high-level insurgents or innocent civilians? For 14 months the raids continued and, after each one was completed, the commander of the bombing crews was instructed to relay a one-sentence message: “The ball game is over.”

The campaign was called “Operation Breakfast,” and, while it may sound like the CIA’s present air campaign over Pakistan, it wasn’t. You need to turn the clock back to another American war, four decades earlier, to March 18, 1969, to be exact. The target was an area of Cambodia known as the Fish Hook that jutted into South Vietnam, and Operation Breakfast would be but the first of dozens of top secret bombing raids. Later ones were named “Lunch,” “Snack,” and “Supper,” and they went under the collective label “Menu.” They were authorized by President Richard Nixon and were meant to destroy a (nonexistent) “Bamboo Pentagon,” a central headquarters in the Cambodian borderlands where North Vietnamese communists were supposedly orchestrating raids deep into South Vietnam.

Like President Obama today, Nixon had come to power promising stability in an age of unrest and with a vague plan to bringing peace to a nation at war. On the day he was sworn in, he read from the Biblical book of Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” He also spoke of transforming Washington’s bitter partisan politics into a new age of unity: “We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another, until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.”

Return to the Killing Fields

In recent years, many commentators and pundits have resorted to “the Vietnam analogy,” comparing first the American war in Iraq and now in Afghanistan to the Vietnam War. Despite a number of similarities, the analogy disintegrates quickly enough if you consider that U.S. military campaigns in post-invasion Afghanistan and Iraq against small forces of lightly-armed insurgents bear little resemblance to the large-scale war that Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon waged against both southern revolutionary guerrillas and the military of North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, who commanded a real army, with the backing of, and supplies from, the Soviet Union and China.

A more provocative – and perhaps more ominous – analogy today might be between the CIA’s escalating drone war in the contemporary Pakistani tribal borderlands and Richard Nixon’s secret bombing campaign against the Cambodian equivalent. To briefly recapitulate that ancient history: In the late 1960s, Cambodia was ruled by a “neutralist” king, Norodom Sihanouk, leading a weak government that had little relevance to its poor and barely educated citizens. In its borderlands, largely beyond its control, the North Vietnamese and Vietcong found “sanctuaries.”

Of the 60 cross-border predator strikes carried out by the Afghanistan-based American drones in Pakistan between January 14, 2006 and April 8, 2009, only 10 were able to hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, besides perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians. The success percentage of the US predator strikes thus comes to not more than six per cent. And countless civilian deaths in the 1st two months of 2010........

Sihanouk, helpless to do anything, looked the other way. In the meantime, sheltered by local villagers in distant areas of rural Cambodia was a small insurgent group, little-known communist fundamentalists who called themselves the Khmer Rouge. (Think of them as the 1970s equivalent of the Pakistani Taliban who have settled into the wild borderlands of that country largely beyond the control of the Pakistani government.) They were then weak and incapable of challenging Sihanouk – until, that is, those secret bombing raids by American B-52s began. As these intensified in the summer of 1969, areas of the country began to destabilize (helped on in 1970 by a U.S.-encouraged military coup in the capital Phnom Penh), and the Khmer Rouge began to gain strength.

You know the grim end of that old story.

Forty years, almost to the day, after Operation Breakfast began, I traveled to the town of Snuol, close to where the American bombs once fell. It is a quiet town, no longer remote, as modern roads and Chinese-led timber companies have systematically cut down the jungle that once sheltered anti-government rebels. I went in search of anyone who remembered the bombing raids, only to discover that few there were old enough to have been alive at the time, largely because the Khmer Rouge executed as much as a quarter of the total Cambodian population after they took power in 1975.

Eventually, a 15-minute ride out of town, I found an old soldier living by himself in a simple one-room house adorned with pictures of the old king, Sihanouk. His name was Kong Kan and he had first moved to the nearby town of Memot in 1960. A little further away, I ran into three more old men, Choenung Klou, Keo Long, and Hoe Huy, who had gathered at a newly built temple to chat.

All of them remembered the massive 1969 B-52 raids vividly and the arrival of U.S. troops the following year. “We thought the Americans had come to help us,” said Choenung Klou. “But then they left and the [South] Vietnamese soldiers who came with them destroyed the villages and raped the women.”

He had no love for the North Vietnamese communists either. “They would stay at people’s houses, take our hammocks and food. We didn’t like them and we were afraid of them.”

Caught between two Vietnamese armies and with American planes carpet-bombing the countryside, increasing numbers of Cambodians soon came to believe that the Khmer Rouge, who were their countrymen, might help them. Like the Taliban of today, many of the Khmer Rouge were, in fact, teenage villagers who had responded, under the pressure of war and disruption, to the distant call of an inspirational ideology and joined the resistance in the jungles.

“If you ask me why I joined the Khmer Rouge, the main reason is because of the American invasion,” Hun Sen, the current prime minister of Cambodia, has said. “If there was no invasion, by now, I would be a pilot or a professor.”

Six years after the bombings of Cambodia began, shortly after the last helicopter lifted off the U.S. embassy in Saigon and the flow of military aid to the crumbling government of Cambodia stopped, a reign of terror took hold in the capital, Phnom Penh.

The Khmer Rouge left the jungles and entered the capital where they began a systemicgenocide against city dwellers and anyone who was educated. They vowed to restart history at Year Zero, a new era in which much of the past became irrelevant. Some two million people are believed to have died from executions, starvation, and forced labor in the camps established by the Angkar leadership of the Khmer Rouge commanded by Pol Pot.

Unraveling Pakistan

Could the same thing happen in Pakistan today? A new American president was ordering escalating drone attacks, in a country where no war has been declared, at the moment when I flew from Cambodia across South Asia to Afghanistan, so this question loomed large in my mind. Both there and just across the border, Operation Breakfast seems to be repeating itself.

In the Afghan capital, Kabul, I met earnest aid workers who drank late into the night in places like L’Atmosphere, a foreigner-only bar that could easily have doubled as a movie set for Saigon in the 1960s. Like modern-day equivalents of Graham Greene’s “quiet American,” these “consultants” describe a Third Way that is neither Western nor fundamentalist Islam.

At the very same time, CIA analysts in distant Virginia are using pilot-less drones and satellite technology to order strikes against supposed terrorist headquarters across the border in Pakistan. They are not so unlike the military men who watched radar screens in South Vietnam in the 1960s as the Cambodian air raids went on. Read more of this post

US asked to remain on Afghan side: – Gen. Kayani’s message loud, clear

Tanvir Siddiqi

Rawalpindi—Ahead of the massive US military offensive in Afghan province of Helmand, Pakistan’s top military leadership made it clear that all US actions should remain on the Afghan side of the border and intelligence information should be shared with Pakistani security forces.

According to sources, the Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said this while talking to US National Security Advisor James Jones and ISAF Commander in Kabul General Stanley A. McChrystal who called on him separately at GHQ here on Friday.

General Kayani said sacrifices rendered by Pakistani security forces are much higher than what the coalition forces suffered in Afghanistan.

Kayani briefed the defence officials about progress in the South Waziristan operation and asked for an increase in check posts on other side of the border for strict vigilance on the movement of militants.

Both top defence officials lauded role of Pakistani security forces in the fight against terrorism.

Commander International Security Assistance Forces Afghanistan General Stanley A. McChrystal on Friday visited General Headquarters and called on Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

The visiting dignitary during the meeting with the COAS discussed matters of professional interest, security situation at Pak-Afghan border and issues pertaining to the war against terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Earlier, U.S. National Security Advisor General (Retired) James L. Jones also visited General Headquarters and called on Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. The visiting dignitary remained with General Kayani discussed matters of professional interest, new US strategy for Afghanistan, US military aid to Pakistan and enhancing military partnership between the two countries.

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The Unabated Freedom Fight Goes On

The Afghan resistance against the oppressors is actually a freedom struggle. A retaliation against the US “terrorists” who consider it their birth right to go and occupy a weak nation and crush them for the fruition of their sinister goals. But they never learn from history and they never realize that its not always that their evil designs will work and if they gear up to oppress, suppress and torture other nations just for their ugly purposes, then they are bound to fall over their faces. That’s what happened to them in Vietnam and that is what is happening to them in Afghanistan. Taliban, the freedom fighters are getting stronger by the day and the terrorists from the US and NATO are facing defeat everyday. The Taliban Mujahideen tore apart a superpower previously and they can do it again. This won’t stop until they give up, throw their weapons and leave Afghanistan disgracefully. (PKKH)

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