Thursday, March 25, 2010

One More Push for What in Afghanistan? And at what cost in lives?


Photo - Parents and villagers with the bodies of eight boys between 12 and 17 years old killed in a night raid on the village of Ghazi Khan by US and Afghan government forces

With civilians and soldiers continuing to die in the war in Afghanistan 9 years after it began we have to ask whether the huge cost in money and lives is necessary or worth it.

The war is clearly failing to either defeat the Taliban or prevent Al Qa’ida training. NATO and the Karzai government have never come close to controlling the whole of Afghanistan. Even if they did Al Qa’ida could still train in the US or Europe – as they did in US flight schools for the 9-11 attacks. US intelligence reports that 90% of the people we’re fighting in Afghanistan are not Taliban suggest NATO and Afghan army offensives (often by Tajiks and Uzbeks from Northern Afghanistan into Pashtun areas in Southern Afghanistan) are turning Afghans against the Karzai government, despite the vast majority of them opposing the Taliban.

Despite the Obama administration promising a new strategy to end to high numbers of civilian deaths caused by NATO airstrikes in Afghanistan after the Azizabad airstrikes in August 2008 they have continued – and again after the Bala Bolook strikes in May 2009 – and again after Kunduz in September 2009 – and during the Operation Moshtarak offensive in Helmand and airstrikes elsewhere in Afghanistan this year.

On top of this the new ‘counter-insurgency’ strategy is leading to an unknown but increasing number of civilian deaths in night raids (at least 98 in 2009) by US led Afghan Special Forces and militias. The evidence suggests the brutal methods of crushing all dissent by proxy native death squads which was developed in Guatemala and El Salvador and reproduced with the ‘Police Commandoes’ in Iraq is being used in slightly altered form in Afghanistan. It provides plausible deniability – especially when the tactic of summary execution results in innocent people being killed – as it did in the village of Ghazi Khan in December 2009 when 8 boys aged from 12 to 17 and 2 adults, all unarmed, were killed by men with no uniforms but night vision goggles and flying in helicopters to and from US held airfields and bases in Afghanistan.

As with air strikes there has been a pledge from US commanders to end unnecessary civilian deaths after every serious incident, but as with air strikes the deaths continue - in March 2010 5 civilians including two pregnant women, a teenage girl, the local police chief and the local attorney were killed along with 3 Taliban in another night raid

Since the stated aims for the war are clearly not being achieved and make no sense in any case when Al Qa’ida can operate in any country in the world, war or no war, the only possible benefits are control of an oil and gas export pipeline for resources from former Soviet republics such as Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan on a route not controlled by Russia or Iran; profits for arms companies; and having airfields and military bases on both the Iraqi and Afghan borders with Iran – which has the third largest proven oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

If we want that oil and gas export route there’s a way to get it that’s cheaper in lives and cheaper in money – negotiate a peace deal of the kind UN envoys say they were close to before Pakistan’s intelligence services arrested Taliban leaders who were willing to negotiate – then pay the Afghan coalition government enough per barrel of oil or gas going through the pipelines to get a deal and fund reconstruction in Afghanistan. We could also help fund the construction of factories to use poppies to produce opiate based painkillers as an alternative and legal source of export income to the heroin that most poppy crops in Taliban and government held areas produce now.

The aim of building a pipeline may or may not be reconcilable with the aims of reducing poverty and promoting democracy and human rights, but the war is not an effective way to achieve either set of aims – one of the reasons being that it has increased poverty and hunger by making around 400, 000 Afghans homeless refugees in their own country.

The Germans were finally defeated in World War One because they thought one more really big offensive might win them the war – it lost them it, because in every offensive the attackers over-extended themselves and took massive casualties. The side that carries out the most attacks in Afghanistan will inevitably kill the most civilians and turn the most surviving relatives, friends and local tribes-people against people they see as invaders. The Taliban are already massively unpopular among Afghans. The best way to make the Taliban lose is to end all military offensives, all airstrikes and all drone strikes and focus on providing aid and jobs and education and reconstruction.

What are the Afghanistan war’s core aims? Is it achieving them? Are they achievable? Would it stop Al Qa’ida if they were?

There are a lot of problems with the war on Afghanistan. The first is that the publicly declared motives for US and NATO troops being in Afghanistan make no sense, especially after their presence there for 9 years has failed to achieve the publicly declared aims – suggesting those aims are unachievable. The second is that it’s unlikely that military force can ever prevent terrorism, rather than cause more of it – it’s like trying to put out a fire with a flame-thrower. The third is that US intelligence suggests most of the people NATO troops are fighting in Afghanistan are local tribes continuing their custom of resisting foreign invaders. That suggests that keeping troops there may be creating enemies for the Karzai government rather than strengthening it. Then there are the problems of failure by NATO governments to provide the funding they’d promised for reconstruction and development in Afghanistan.

NATO forces have now been in Afghanistan for almost 9 long years in which their soldiers, Afghan civilians, Taliban and Afghan police and soldiers have died by the thousand. Arguing that the war is about preventing Al Qa’ida or similar groups training in Afghanistan is even less convincing than it was after September 11th. At no point have NATO forces or the Afghan government controlled even the majority of Afghanistan. Even if they did, anyone could still train for anything in the mountains. Al Qa’ida and similar groups have meanwhile gained recruits through being able to point to non-Muslims occupying a Muslim country and killing Muslims. US intelligence assessments show the vast majority of the people we’re fighting aren’t even Taliban. Clearly the aim can’t be to prevent Afghan being a ‘safe haven for terrorists’ – it’ll be that no matter how long our troops stay and most of the 9-11 hijackers trained at flight schools in the US and Germany. Of course one major aim is to get an oil and gas export pipeline for former Soviet republics’ oil and gas that avoids being controlled by Iran or by Russia or former soviet Republics it still dominates like Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Civilian and military deaths caused by both sides in the war – is it necessary or worth it?

While the total number of civilians killed each year increased in 2008 compared to 2007 and in 2009 compared to 2008 according went down according to UNAMA it rose according to the Brookings Institution’s figures (see page 4 of this pdf). So far in the first months of2010 it’s fallen compared to the first months of 2009 - and on UNAMA figures the proportion of civilians killed by NATO and Afghan government forces (as opposed to their enemies) has been falling throughout 2008 and 2009 - and the Brookings Institution’s figures show the same for 2007 , 2008 and 2009. While that’s positive, it’s not likely to impress the relatives and friends of the dead much, nor can it be justified if the war isn’t both necessary and saving more lives than it’s costing. The latest UNAMA figures(see page 13 paragraph 54) suggest 68% of recorded civilian deaths in the first 6 months of 2009 were due to Taliban and other anti-NATO and anti-Karzai government forces’ use of IEDs and suicide bombings, some of which definitely targeted civilians, though others targeted NATO or Afghan army or police forces, with civilians as “collateral damage” much as in NATO air strikes aiming to kill Taliban. While this again suggests NATO and Afghan government forces are now killing less civilians than their enemies are it doesn’t make those deaths, or the deaths of NATO troops, a price that has to be paid if the entire war is un-necessary.

Most Afghans do oppose the Taliban and see Karzai’s government as legitimate (see polls on page 39 on this link), but then most of them oppose the actions of foreign forces in Afghanistan in offensives and airstrikes that kill civilians too (Karzai has demanded an end to night raids and air strikes). The latest NATO and Afghan Army offensive – Operation Moshtarak or ‘Together’ in Helmand in Southern Afghanistan was publicised in advance to allow civilians to leave the area, but many Afghans have no cars and no way to transport their food supplies and belongings – and Taliban IEDs set on all the roads to target the NATO advance made many of them scared to leave their homes.

As in every past offensive the NATO offensive also killed civilians. In this case, as in most cases, the deaths seem to have been accidental, but the predictable result of the use of airstrikes and artillery strikes. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (which, despite it’s name, is actually appointed by the Afghan government, though fairly independent in its reports) said that 28 civilians, including 13 children were killed in the first twelve days of Operation Moshtarak and another 70 civilians wounded, 30 of them children. The AIHRC report added that:

“Witnesses suggested that the majority of the casualties were caused by PGF [pro-(Afghan) government forces] artillery and rocket fire.” though there were “numerous reports of Anti-Government Elements planting landmines in homes and residential areas, which pose a grave threat to civilians”.

That's only in that particular offensive though and according to The Afghanistan Conflict Monitor of Simon Fraser University in Australia:

“Estimates of the number of civilians killed vary widely and must be treated with caution. Systematic collection of civilian fatality data only began in 2007. The United Nations is creating a civilian casualty database, but is not publicly accessible. Periodic updates can be found in Reports of the Secretary-General on peace and security in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) is also collecting data, but the efforts of both agencies are hampered by insecurity and a lack of resources. As a result, figures released by these agencies likely represent a substantial undercount.

So that's almost certainly an under-estimate even for that offensive on its own.

As in previous offensives most of the Taliban in the area were aware the offensive was beginning and left before it. They may return after NATO forces have moved on - just as happened with Coalition offensives in Iraq – though NATO plan to hand over to Afghan army and police units to prevent this – one problem being that, as Craig Murray reports 60% of the Afghan army are Tajiks, who may not be trusted by the Pashtun majority in Southern Afghanistan (most Taliban being Pashtun). The other problem is that if 90% of the people NATO are fighting are just local tribes resisting foreign invasion (which may in their eyes include both NATO and non-Pashtun Afghan army units) this plan may just create more enemies than it defeats.

At the same time as Operation Moshtarak in Helmand in a different part of the country a NATO air-strike on a column of three mini-buses full of civilians killed 21 civilians and wounded
wounded 16 others
, including women and children. There were no Taliban present in any of the vehicles. 

These and many smaller scale incidents killing civilians follow repeated pledges from the Obama administration that everything would change from now on. This pledge was first made after the Azizabad airstrikes in August 2008, in which NATO forces assumed civilians fleeing many kilometres from fighting between NATO and Taliban forces were Taliban – and bombed them for hours on end, killing over a hundred. It was made again after the airstrikes on Bala Boluk in Farah province, which killed dozens, in May 2009; and again after the Kunduz airstrike, which again killed dozens, in September 2009. 

On top of this under Obama the use of unmanned drones to target Taliban in Pakistan has increased massively, with around one in three of the dead being civilians. 

How can Obama believe that using air-strikes that kill civilians is counter-productive and should end, while continuing those air-strikes and expanding the use of equally counter-productive strikes by unmanned drones?

NATO has moved from denying their airstrikes killed civilians and making up colourful stories about Taliban killing people with grenades and moving bodies around to look like airstrike victims (Defence Secretary Robert Gates’ initial line on Azizabad, till he was forced to admit it wasn’t true) to apologising for civilian deaths, as General Stanley McChrystal did for the more recent strikes, but how much will these apologies mean to Afghans while the deaths continue?

Night Raids and the El Salvador Option moving from Iraq to Afghanistan

Air strikes aren’t the only way NATO forces are killing civilians either. An investigation by George Soros’ Open Society Foundation found NATO and Afghan army ‘counter-insurgency’ units’ night raids on suspected insurgents houses in 2009 killed at least 98 civilians – and probably more. In the worst case, in a night raid on the village of Ghazi Khan in December, US led special forces killed a 12 year old boy, seven teenage boys and two adults according to investigations by the Times newspaper and the Afghan government. 

NATO initially claimed that the “joint coalition and Afghan security force” and that as they “entered the village they came under fire from several buildings and in returning fire killed nine individuals,”. NATO claimed all the dead were members of a cell making IED bombs to target NATO and Afghan forces. An investigation by officials from the Afghan government, NATO’s allies, found that most of the victims were shot where they lay in their beds, but some of the boys were handcuffed, moved, then shot dead, along with two adults shot when they came to see what was happening.  

When they finally admitted the victims were civilians “US forces stationed near by denied any knowledge or involvement. Nato’s top legal adviser told The Times that US forces were present but not leading the operation. Senior officers in Kabul hinted that the “trigger-pullers” were Afghan. One official said that the force was “non-military”.”. Afghan government officials said the raiding force had arrived and left by helicopter – and Afghan officials confirmed the raiding force had flown to and from airports in Afghanistan controlled by NATO, it seems unlikely that NATO would not be leading it – they don’t have lots of spare helicopters to loan. 

This may just be an attempt to deny responsibility for the mistaken summary killing of innocent people – or the “trigger pullers” may genuinely have been “non-military” and “Afghan” (though US trained and led and effectively US military controlled) like the been Paramilitary ‘police commandoes’ of the type trained for torture and summary execution of opponents of the US-backed government in Iraq by US officers. Or they may be some of the Afghan militia put on the Pentagon pay-roll under McChrystal’s plan. 

The Guardian reported in November 2009 that : 

“US special forces are supporting anti-Taliban militias in at least 14 areas of Afghanistan as part of a secretive programme...The Community Defence Initiative (CDI) is enthusiastically backed by Stanley McChrystal, the US general commanding Nato forces in Afghanistan, but details about the programme have been held back from non-US alliance members ...[It] involves US special forces embedding themselves with armed groups and even disgruntled insurgents who are then given training and support....

Another controversial aspect of the programme is the involvement of Arif Noorzai, an Afghan politician from Helmand who is widely distrusted by many members of the international community.

The plan represents a significant change in tack from a scheme promoted just last year by General McChrystal's predecessor, David McKiernan. The Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF) was piloted in Wardak province and involved the rigorous vetting of recruits who were then given basic training, a uniform and came under the authority of the Afghan police.

"McChrystal was always quite dismissive about APPF," a senior Nato official in Kabul said. "It was too resource-intensive and so slow we would have lost long before it had been spread to the whole country."

He added: "He wanted to move to a much more informal model, which is far less visible and unaccountable, using Noorzai to find people through his own networks and then simply paying out cash for them to defend their areas."

That “informal model” is likely to be basically the same model used in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua – the ‘El Salvador Option’ that was also used in Iraq of paying and training native forces under US trainers and advisers who in reality bring them under US command but allow plausible deniability of responsibility for torture for deliberate and accidental killings of civilian and armed opponents of a US backed client government. This may be what McChrystal meant when he wrote that “we must conduct classic counter-insurgency operations”. 

In March 2010 another joint US/Afghan operation , once again claiming to target a cell making IEDs, killed 5 civilians in Paktia Province near Gardez, including two pregnant women, a teenage girl and two Afghan government officials, one being the head of the local police and loyal to Karzai. In another raid on the village of Karakhil in Wardak Province three civilians were killed along with three Taliban. In a raid on a village in Ghazni province in February both civilians and Taliban were also killed, but survivors pointed out that the villagers had had no option but to allow the Taliban to stay in their village if they didn’t want to be killed by them – and at least one villager whose wife and son were killed in the raid was so angry that they were considering joining the Taliban as a result. 

After initially claiming each operation had been a “joint” one between NATO and Afghan forces with all the dead being members of IED cells or Taliban, NATO officials subsequently admitted civilians had been killed and claimed that Afghan forces were responsible – though once again they arrived and left by helicopter and had night vision goggles. As helicopters are noisy and vulnerable to light weapons and missile launchers night raid forces like the one that raided Khazi Khan sometimes land 2 kilometres from their targets before proceeding on foot. As a result villagers and police had no idea who was raiding their villages - whether it was NATO, Afghan forces, Taliban or bandits - this may have been one of the causes of the civilian deaths in the Gardez raid, as the local police chief went out to confront the raiders armed with his gun.

Yet NATO officers had been telling journalists that the CIA or Special Forces who were “out of control” might be responsible. Then General Petraeus announced that as a result of the “botched operations” control of all US Special Forces units in Afghanistan “bar a handful” was being transferred to General McChrystal. If the units carrying out the “botched operations” really weren’t US led this would make no difference whatsoever. So obviously they were US led. 

As with air strikes a new pledge to ensure civilian deaths in night raids would end followed each major incident, but the deaths continue anyway.

As with US trained Iraqi government death squads in Iraq the attackers wore no uniforms or insignia – and this could well mean that many of the deaths classed by UNAMA and the Brookings Institution as being by ‘unknown’ forces are the victims of these militia and paramilitary ‘counter-terrorism’ units.

Prisons like Bagram air base, where it’s known detainees died under beatings, extreme cold, stress positions and sleep deprivation under Bush, have become the new Guantanamo Bay under Obama, with his administration’s lawyers arguing they can take people from anywhere in the world and hold them in US bases in Afghanistan indefinitely.

Afghan forces lack two things – enough pay to ensure more of them fight for the Taliban than for the government and sufficient equipment. NATO could give them both those things by withdrawing our forces, handing over the equipment and using the money saved to subsidise higher pay for the Afghan army and police – but then Karzai’s government would no longer be quite as dependent on them for power. To be fair NATO has provided funds to double the pay of the Afghan army and increase that of police. The question is how long that pay increase will last and whether it matches the pay offered by the Taliban. After most US forces left Iraq the US government quickly ended all payments to fund Iraqi ‘awakening’ militias. The unemployed militia-men protested and sectarian violence and bombings have increased again.

Another Alternative would be to move from a focus on the military to the economic. If 90% of NATO’s enemies in Afghanistan are created by the presence of its troops – and of Afghan army troops in areas outside those of their own tribes – then it would make more sense to withdraw the troops and focus the money saved on rebuilding the Afghan economy  - the most viable option being to build factories to process poppy crops into opiate based painkillers for use in the country and to create an export industry and an alternative to income from heroin (the commonest product produced from poppy crops in all of Afghanistan).

Can a war for an oil and gas export pipeline be reconciled with promoting womens’ rights, democracy and reducing poverty?

Can the war achieve either set of aims?

I would like to believe that our troops are being sent to war in order to promote democracy, human rights and an end to brutality towards and the repression of women. The lack of all these things in US and EU backed dictatorships like Saudi Arabia suggest otherwise though. These may well be just the justifications used to get public support for the war, just as the fear-mongering about Iraq’s WMD (ignoring our own nuclear deterrents) was used rather than the real motive – oil – as a justification for war on Iraq, because otherwise the public, congress and parliament would never have approved the war. NATO countries have also given up on even aiming for democracy in Afghanistan, saying they would accept ‘stable, moderate’ (i.e pro-NATO) government instead.

Of course one thing has changed between the Cold War and now – the official enemy are Islamic extremists rather than Communists – that’s the one hope that the ‘war on terror’ might actually protect womens’ rights – but half the Afghan government are former Mujahedin fundamentalists who are completely opposed to womens’ rights and whose forces have brutalised women continuously. NATO governments may blame Karzai for having these people in his government but in fact the US for most of its time in Afghanistan has provided more funding and arms to these ‘warlords’ than it has to the Karzai government – no doubt to keep Afghans divided and so easier to control. It’s also worth remembering that the US and British governments in the 80s lauded the Mujahedin (who were just as brutal towards women as the Taliban) as ‘freedom fighters’ against Communist totalitarianism. The Soviets committed plenty of war crimes and killed many thousands of civilians, but they and their Afghan Communist allies allowed women an education.

There’s an argument that we do need oil and gas supplies not subject to the Russian government shutting off the supply in winter if we upset them, but equally there’s an argument that our governments lying to their public and soldiers, or at the least not telling them the whole truth, about why troops are being sent to kill and die in Afghanistan, is not justifiable. Nor is the idea that if we need resources or export routes it’s fine to just kill people or back puppet governments or dictators till they give us them cheaply. The Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid in his book ‘Taliban’ showed that the US firm UNOCAL was in negotiations with the Taliban for a pipeline through Afghanistan in the early to mid 1990s. The Taliban demanded too high a price and the civil war didn’t end, so UNOCAL dropped the plan. That doesn’t mean that Pentagon and US Department of Energy planners will have dropped it as a long term aim, nor that all oil firms will have.

In the past long-running wars and foreign invasions (like that by the Soviet Union in the 80s) have not led to greater moderation but to more extremist groups dominating the country’s politics. War also destroyed the education system and the economy – and lack of education combined with dire poverty and unemployment produce extreme politics too (just look at the rise in Islamic fundamentalism and sectarianism in Iraq under sanctions from 1991 on compared to secularism and high education levels in the 80s when most of the world was funding Saddam’s war on Iran under Khomeini; or the rise in BNP  support in Blackburn or Burnley after the textile mills closed and moved to the third world).

Afghans suffer some of the worst poverty and hunger in the world – with 45% not getting enough to eat in 2007 - and that hasn’t been changing much in the last few years for most of them. One of the reasons is the continuing war, which doubled the number of homeless Afghan refugees in Afghanistan (‘internally displaced persons’) from 150,000 in May 2008 to over 275,000 by October 2009 (and the Afghan government puts the figure higher – at 413,000).

If there’s to be a pipeline Afghans deserve a share of the profits. The right thing to do is to negotiate a peace deal, pull out and negotiate a deal on a pipeline route with the new coalition Afghan government. No doubt it will be corrupt – no more corrupt than Karzai’s government or most ‘developed’ world governments’ foreign policies though. No doubt it will be full of warlords who are Islamic fundamentalists, and/or have blood on their hands and are guilty of torture, murder, massacres and human rights abuses. So does Karzai’s government – so do most of the governments and militaries in Afghanistan.  However we can have as much influence through placing conditions on foreign aid and trade deals as we have through troops on the ground – and it would be a lot less counter-productive and lead to far fewer deaths. Arms firms and companies with army supply contracts will be upset at reduced sales. The Taliban and other warlords will lament losing protection money that they’re currently being paid not to attack NATO supply convoys of fuel, food , body armour, arms and ammunition  (most supplies having to come by road through mountain passes from Pakistan). The new government and aid agencies will require money from NATO governments to keep flowing to feed Afghans who don’t have enough food and help rebuild the country’s agriculture and economy, even if some of that money continues to go missing.

A lot less people will die though. Aid workers would be able to get back to work, no longer risking being targeted because they’re seen as part of an invading force (just as they were able to under Taliban rule in the 90s, despite the Taliban’s brutality towards Afghans).

One UN envoy to Afghanistan said he was making good progress acting as a mediator in negotiations between Karzai’s government and Taliban leaders – until Pakistan’s ISI military intelligence arrested several of them under pressure from the US to ‘do more’. NATO trumpeted the capture of Mullah Omar’s second in command, but sceptics pointed out that Omar’s second in command Baradar was actually prepared to negotiate peace with NATO and Karzai, while Omar is not; so why did they capture the man who was willing to negotiate, but not hand over Omar himself, who was less willing to?

Perhaps because the Pakistani military still see Afghanistan as a ‘strategic buffer zone’ in case of war with India – and still see the Taliban in Afghanistan as a proxy force for Pakistani influence there, even as they fight the Pakistani version of the Taliban at US insistence.

The Obama administration often talks of using “all the tools at our disposal”, suggesting that military force and intelligence work can work alongside reconstruction, aid and peace negotiations to fight terrorism and ‘extremism’. The reality is that military force and intelligence actions undermine reconstruction, aid and peace negotiations. You don’t encourage a lasting peace deal by one side killing the other’s people. You don’t rebuild an economy through expanding the wars that destroyed it in the first place.

You do though perhaps attempt to install a client regime so you can have military bases on both sides of Iran (Iraq and Afghanistan), which has the next largest proven oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia (US allied dictatorship) and Iraq (US occupied – bases will stay with ‘trainers’ after combat troops withdraw) if you want to control the world’s oil and gas reserves and export routes. You might also keep a government in Afghanistan that’s weak and divided, because then it’s dependent on it’s foreign backers, who could switch their support to someone other than Karzai as PM. Then that government could be put under pressure to give oil companies from NATO governments a contract to build a pipeline in future, keeping out the competition from the Russians and the Chinese – much as has happened with oil contracts in Iraq. So do we want peace and reconstruction or just control of oil reserves, export routes and contracts going to our countries’ companies rather than our rivals? That is the real question in Afghanistan.

The talk of democracy, human rights and women’s’ rights is inspiring, but sadly there aren’t many NATO governments who actually promote it rather than just talking about it. Saudi Arabia’s dictatorial monarchy repress women brutally and torture and execute people without fair trial – and its only elections were of local officials who say they don’t even have the power to get bins emptied, yet they get plenty of support from NATO governments.

There may be people with an optimistic enough view of governments’ current foreign policies to believe that Afghanistan may be an exception – a case where promoting oil companies’ and governments’ aims and promoting democracy and human rights aren’t in conflict, but either way, continuing the war will achieve neither set of aims. An imperfect peace will be better for Afghans than endless war. With reconstruction it could give them a chance to have jobs and incomes and education that would give them a chance of eventually overcoming the influence of religious fundamentalists and warlords.

Of course we can keep trying with one more big military offensive; one more big push; just as both sides did in World War One. The Germans finally lost World War One due to one more push – their own big offensive which lost them so many troops they had to sue for peace on any terms. In a war for hearts and minds big military offensives will inevitably kill civilians; even if NATO forces weren’t involved they’d still involve Tajiks and Uzbeks invading the towns and villages of the Pashtun majority in the South – and so turn more people against the Karzai government who would otherwise have opposed the Taliban. No-one needs one more military push in Afghanistan – they need a huge push to provide them with food, an education, jobs and income. Most Afghans already hate the Taliban. Every person killed by the Taliban will turn more Afghans against them. We only need to do the opposite of the Taliban rather than turning Afghans against us too.

Sources – by section

Sources for ‘What are the Afghanistan war’s core aims? Is it achieving them? Are they achievable? Would it stop Al Qa’ida if they were?’

Boston Globe 09 Oct 2009 ‘Taliban not main Afghan enemy’,

On Al Qa’ida training for 9-11 in the US see sources listed on this link

On the plans for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline see the sources on this link

Sources for ‘Civilian and Military Deaths Caused by Both Sides’

Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission 23 Feb 2010 ‘ Press Release : 63 Civilians killed in Afghanistan in the last two weeks’,

AP 22 Feb 2010 ‘Afghan Civilians Killed in NATO Airstrike’,

AIHRC Press Release 14 Mar 2010 ‘ Kandahar attacks are crimes against humanity’,

AIHRC Press Release 27 Feb 2010 ‘Attacks on civilians and civilian objects are against human rights and Islamic principles’,

Human Rights Watch 14 Jan 2009 ‘Letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on US Airstrikes in Azizabad, Afghanistan’

AIHRC Press Release 26 May 2009 ‘Balabolook Incident’,

BBC News 16 Dec 2009 ‘German ministers face Kunduz air strike inquiry’,

Guardian 24 Jan 2009 ‘President orders air strikes on villages in tribal area’,

Reuters 12 Oct 2009 ‘ANALYSIS-Under Obama, drone attacks on the rise in Pakistan’,

Observer 5 July 2009 ‘Taliban kill two US soldiers in attack on base’, (on Taliban withdrawing before NATO offensive in Helmand in July 2009)

New America Foundation 24 Feb 2010 ‘The Year of the Drone’, (from analysis of media reports of drone strikes in Pakistan the authors found around 32% of those killed were civilians)

Brookings Institution 22 Mar 2010 ‘Afghanistan Index’, polls on page 39,

Sources for ‘Night Raids , the El Salvador Option from Iraq to Afghanistan and Bagram as the new Guantanamo’

Observer 28 Feb 2010 ‘Nato draws up payout tariffs for Afghan civilian deaths’,

Open Society Institute ‘Strangers at the Door – Night raids by international forces lose hearts and minds in Afghanistan’,

Times 31 Dec 2009 ‘Western troops accused of executing 10 Afghan civilians, including children’,

AP 21 Jan 2010 ‘AP Exclusive: US to Tighten Rules on Afghan Raids’,

Times 25 Feb 2010 ‘Assault force killed family by mistake in raid, claims Afghan father’,

Times 26 Feb 2010 ‘Hunt down the spy behind deaths of our children, say Afghan night raid survivors’,

AP 05 Mar 2010 ‘NATO details Afghan night raid policy’,

Times 08 Mar 2010 ‘Karzai offers families ‘blood money’ for sons killed in raid’,

Times 13 Mar 2010 ‘Nato ‘covered up’ botched night raid in Afghanistan that killed five’,

Times 14 Mar 2010 ‘Afghan family killed as special forces defy night raid ban’,

Scotsman 17 Mar 2010 ‘Nato special forces 'reined in' after spate of civilian deaths’,

Guardian 22 Nov 2009 ‘US pours millions into anti-Taliban militias in Afghanistan’,

Times 22 Mar 2010 ‘Bagram prison in Afghanistan may become the new Guantánamo’,

Andrew Sullivan ‘Who Is Stanley McChrystal?’,

NYT 19 Mar 2006 ‘In Secret Unit's 'Black Room,' a Grim Portrait of U.S. Abuse’,

Human Rights Watch 22 July 2006 ‘"No Blood, No Foul" - Soldiers' Accounts of Detainee Abuse in Iraq’ – Section I – Task force 20/121/6-26/145 Camp Nama, Baghdad,

Rethink Afghanistan 02 Jun 2009 ‘Will the Senate Ask McChrystal About Torture Under His Command?’,

Sources for ‘Can the war achieve either set of aims?’

AIHRC Press Release 9 Dec 2009 ‘People are concerned about the continuity of their life and are suffering from extreme poverty’,

Brookings Institution 22 Mar 2010 ‘Afghanistan Index’, Page 33, Figure 3.12 Poverty levels,

Brookings Institution 22 Mar 2010 ‘Afghanistan Index’, page 21, Figure 1.37 ‘Estimated number of internally displaced persons’,

UNOCHA IRIN news 4 Jan 2010 ‘AFGHANISTAN: More IDPs than previously thought – government’,

Guardian 18 Mar 2010 ‘Pakistan arrests put stop to Taliban talks – UN envoy’,

Independent 17 Feb 2010 ‘'Second-in-command' to Mullah Omar captured’,


seamus macniel said...

Wonderfully, comprehesive article and deserving of more than the skimming and scanning that I could afford it this morning.
Nevertheless, it might be worth telling a little story to make a point. In 2000 I was giving training sessions at an engineering company in Munich. This company is active all over the world laying oil and gas pipelines. They had a visitor from America in the company that day, who was strolling around in a stetson; yes a stetson in Munich! Anyway, he walked into my room where we were doing a negotiating role play; the characters in the role play were executives of an oil company and members of the taliban government. The American asked me an a Texan drawl what we were doing and I told him that a pipeline was being built from Turkenistan to Pakistan but that we had the problem of Afghanistan in the middle. He simply replied, "we will soon have that problem sorted!" Did he know something I didn't. It is only speculation, of course, nevertheless this is not and never was about an organisation called 'Al Qaida'.
A point worth considering might have been the influence of the Pashtun in the Pakistani military, As one blogger points out; Pashtun representatin in the army is between 15-22% among offers and between 20-25% among rank-and-file. Of course, the taliban are predominantly Pashtun. That would bring us back not only to the role of the Pakistani ISI in facilitating the taliban's coming to power - although there were also very obvious real strategic reasons for this - but also to the role of the British in the area and the 1897 Durand Line.
Finally, quite simply, for the Afghanis this is also a civil war, for the Pakistanis there is not only a very real strategic interest in the area but also blood ties which straddle that artificial border created over a hundred years ago and for Washington and its psychophants it is all about oil and a reinvention of that "great game", which Sir Henry Mortimer Durand played so well.
Still, thank you for the massive and massively interesting post, which I will chew the cud over again later today.

calgacus said...

Hi James - interesting - your experience ties in with what Ahmed Rashid writes in his books, yet anyone who mentions the pipeline is generally dismissed as a 'conspiracy theorist'.

I didn't realise there was that high a proportion of Pashtuns in the new military.

Very true about the civil war element too.

My post is far too long and should probably have been much shorter or split into more than one post, but i did at least split it into sections with sub-headings.

calgacus said...

Also in the section on night raids i had confused different incidents at first and not realised Times articles were recounting four different raids. I've fixed that and put links in now.

seamus macniel said...

Steve Coll's book, 'Ghost Wars' is a worthwhile, even if somewhat "too big", read on the role of the Pakistani I-S-I, the C.I.A. and the Saudis roles in the taliban coming to power.
Lutz Keveman's,"not nearly so big",'The New Great Game'is a good expose of the geopolitics of the region.

TONY @oakroyd said...

Excellent analysis and worth the time over two days I took to plough through it. This link about McChrystal was sent to my own blog today and is astonishing (and pertinent to your own piece).

calgacus said...

Hi James - i've read both and i agree that Coll goes into too much detail at times, though it's interesting to read about the divisions within the CIA and the Pentagon and the various Presidential administrations.

The most eye-opening part of Kleveman's book for me was a US ambassador pretty much telling him the US had been backing the Chechen rebels in order to punish the Russians for hindering the AIOC pipeline route by maintaining their post-imperial influence in Azerbaijan and Georgia.

calgacus said...

Hi Tony - thanks - it was a bit longer than it should have been.

The quote from McChrystal is unusually blunt - and i see you've been posting about night raids in Afghanistan for about a year already - i'll follow your blog from now on,

TONY @oakroyd said...

Cheers, Dunc.I have subscribed to your blog which I linked to from Reality Zone which I recommend.


calgacus said...

Thanks Tony - i'll take a look.

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