The head of U.S. Central Command said Sunday that Al Qaeda is no longer operating in Afghanistan, with its senior leadership having moved to the western region of Pakistan.
Gen. David Petraeus said affiliated groups have “enclaves and sanctuaries” in Afghanistan and that “tentacles of Al Qaeda” have touched countries throughout the Middle East and northern Africa. But he said the terrorist group has suffered” very significant losses” in recent months.
US airstrikes in Afghanistan like the one that killed over 100 civilians last week have reached all-time destructive highs. According to Air Forces Central, US warplanes dropped a record 438 bombs in Afghanistan during April. The number of dropped bombs has increased steadily over the past few months, and just yesterday, Gen. James Jones claimed the US will continue conducting airstrikes despite President Karzai’s admonishment that these bombings are counterproductive, turning Afghan civilians against the United States. Yet as the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan continues to deteriorate, Congress will decide this week whether to approve $94.2 billion in supplemental wartime spending.
Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan like retired Corporal Rick Reyes are meeting with members of Congress early this week, urging them not to approve this massive supplemental wartime funding bill until more critical questions are answered about the war. We still don’t know, for instance, how the Obama administration intends to prevent increases in US airstrikes and military presence from becoming recruiting tools for Taliban extremists or al Qaeda terrorists. We still don’t know how the administration will be able to stop military escalation from further destabilizing a nuclear-armed Pakistan. Nor has the administration been forthright about benchmarks or an exit strategy, or whether funding more war will hamper US economic recovery.
What we do know is that right now, President Obama appears to be following the failed policies of his predecessor in Afghanistan. The Carnegie Endowment’s Gilles Dorronsoro recently wrote that while Obama’s strategy does promise more resources and the chance for a civilian surge, “when considered as a whole, this supposedly ‘new’ strategy amounts to little more than recycled policy from the late Bush years; it is a waiting strategy without any credible long-term objectives. Unfortunately, those who have so far a clear, well coordinated, and coherent strategy are the Taliban.” This grim assessment follows Dorronsoro’s earlier findings in Focus and Exit: An Alternative Strategy for the Afghan War, which concluded that the increased military presence in Afghanistan has directly contributed to the Taliban insurgency, and that withdrawing troops would allow us to focus on tracking down any remaining al Qaeda terrorists who have since fled across the border into Pakistan.
A few weeks ago, the United States adopted a new policy for public response to U.S.-caused civilian deaths: apologize quickly. The administration took this step after repeatedly being shamed into admitting culpability for high-civilian-casualty events following initial denials of responsibilities. One could see this new policy at work at the State Department over the past two days after reports surfaced of massive casualties at Bala Baluk. But, over the last 24 hours, we’ve seen a new tactic over at the Defense Department: claiming we’d been framed.
[U.S. Army General David] McKiernan, however, hinted that the American airstrikes might not have been responsible for the deaths in Farah. “We have some other information that leads us to distinctly different conclusions about the cause of these civilian casualties,” McKiernan said. He declined to provide more detailed information until the U.S.-Afghan team was able to investigate further.
A U.S. defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that “the Taliban went to a concerted effort to make it look like the U.S. airstrikes caused this.” The official did not offer evidence to support the claim, and could not say what had caused the deaths.
Almost like clockwork, the reports float up to us from thousands of miles away, as if from another universe. Every couple of days they seem to arrive from Afghan villages that few Americans will ever see without weapon in hand. Every few days, they appear from a world almost beyond our imagining, and always they concern death — so many lives snuffed out so regularly for more than seven years now. Unfortunately, those news stories are so unimportant in our world that they seldom make it onto, no less off of, the inside pages of our papers. They’re so repetitive that, once you’ve started reading them, you could write them in your sleep from thousands of miles away.
Like obituaries, they follow a simple pattern. Often the news initially arrives buried in summary war reports based on U.S. military (or NATO) announcements of small triumphs — so many “insurgents,” or “terrorists,” or “foreign militants,” or “anti-Afghan forces” killed in an air strike or a raid on a house or a village. And these days, often remarkably quickly, even in the same piece, come the challenges. Some local official or provincial governor or police chief in the area hit insists that those dead “terrorists” or “militants” were actually so many women, children, old men, innocent civilians, members of a wedding party or a funeral.
In response — no less part of this formula — have been the denials issued by American military officials or coalition spokespeople that those killed were anything but insurgents, and the assurances of the accuracy of the intelligence information on which the strike or raid was based. In these years, American spokespeople have generally retreated from their initial claims only step by begrudging step, while doggedly waiting for any hubbub over the killings to die down. If that didn’t happen, an “investigation” would be launched (the investigators being, of course, members of the same military that had done the killing) and then prolonged, clearly in hopes that the investigation would outlast coverage of the “incident” and both would be forgotten in a flood of other events.
Forgotten? It’s true that we forget these killings easily — often we don’t notice them in the first place — since they don’t seem to impinge on our lives. Perhaps that’s one of the benefits of fighting a war on the periphery of empire, halfway across the planet in the backlands of some impoverished country.
One problem, though: the forgetting doesn’t work so well in those backlands. When your child, wife or husband, mother or father is killed, you don’t forget.
What happened today in Washington was, as Senator Russ Feingold called it, “historic.” Thirty-eight years nearly to the day when a young John Kerry shocked the nation with his fiery anti-Vietnam war testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rick Reyes, a former US Marine Corporal, delivered an equally puissant testimony in which he expressed his disenchantment with the war in Afghanistan. How appropriate Kerry should be sitting directly across from Reyes as Committee Chairman, listening as Congress heard one of the first major voices of dissent on this war.
The son of Mexican immigrants who joined the Marines to escape a violent gang life in Los Angeles, Reyes served as an infantry rifleman in Afghanistan and Iraq. He upheld his duty to serve our country honorably, and immediately after 9/11, he was deployed to Afghanistan “with the conviction of fighting for justice and the American way.” All of that changed when Reyes realized US military forces faced the impossible task of fighting militant Taliban members who blended in with the local Afghan population, routinely resulting in the injuries or deaths of innocent civilians.
Everything we have all worked toward in our Rethink Afghanistan campaign — interviewing experts, airing debates, passing around parts of the documentary, and signing the petition for Congressional oversight hearings — is starting to pay off. Thanks to your efforts, we were able to bring Rick Reyes, a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, to Congress’s attention.
Reyes, a former Corporal in the US Marines of unquestionable military experience and patriotism, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Reyes was powerful and truthful as he expressed serious discontent with the current mission in Afghanistan, telling Congress, “Sending more troops will not make the US safer, it will only build more opposition against us.” It is fitting then, that Reyes sat across from committee Chairman Senator John Kerry, considering yesterday marked the 38th anniversary of when Kerry sat before the same committee, electrifying the nation with his account of the Vietnam War.
Reyes’s testimony raises critical concerns that Congress must address before approving a massive supplemental war funding bill in the next few weeks. Let’s work to halt this war funding bill by calling our Representatives, and urging them not to vote for it until all the questions raised in these hearings have been answered. If you’re not sure who represents you, find out here.
We couldn’t have brought Reyes to Congress’s attention without you. Help us by making a donation of $20, $30, $50, or even $100 to this campaign today, so we can continue making your voices heard in Congress. Your support is paramount to continue the work we’re doing; clearly it’s having an impact! As Reyes told Congress, “I urge you on behalf of truth and patriotism to consider carefully and rethink Afghanistan. More troops, more occupation is not the answer.”
For too long, U.S. and NATO efforts in Afghanistan have been under-resourced and poorly coordinated. As a result, the United States’ early gains in the country have been reversed, and the Taliban and al-Qaeda have grown stronger and more lethal. Violence in the country has reached levels not seen since the initial invasion in 2001. In 2003, U.S. troops experienced fewer than 50 casualties; last year, that number had risen to 150. Attacks on U.S. and coalition forces have also grown more sophisticated, even in areas of the country where the Taliban is not thought to be strong. And while the military has had some success in eliminating high-level members of the insurgency, al-Qaeda continues to operate in Afghanistan and Pakistan, posing a serious threat to U.S. national security.
President Obama’s decision to send 17,000 additional combat troops and 4,000 additional trainers for the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police, is a necessary first step to reversing the deteriorating security situation in the country. But while necessary, the troop increase proposed by President Obama is not sufficient to achieve sustainable security in Afghanistan.
The administration’s decision to increase the amount of civilian experts and diplomatic resources, and the adoption of a regional approach is also necessary to correct American policy in Afghanistan. In addition to increasing security in Afghanistan, new troop deployments will enable these other elements of US national power to be put to more effective use.
I’ve long said it’s time to give Joe Lieberman the boot, and his stance on torture makes me think we need to revive the Lieberman Must Go campaign. In an interview with Fox’s Greta Van Susteren yesterday, the hawkishly Independent Connecticut Senator said of President Obama’s decision to release the torture memos, “It wasn’t necessary. It just helps our enemies. It doesn’t really help us.”
Then, when Van Susteren asked whether waterboarding constitutes torture, Lieberman fell short of actually defining it as such and went on to suggest the President ought to be able to use methods like torture in the future. What’s more, Lieberman again claimed that waterboarding and other abhorrent interrogation techniques are successful in extracting information:
Well, I take a minority position on this. Most people think it’s definitely torture. The truth is, it has mostly a psychological impact on people. It’s a terrible thing to do. I’ve said in the past, and I’ll say it again to you — that I want the President of the United States, in a given circumstance where we believe somebody we’ve got in our control may have information that will help us stop an attack, an imminent attack on the United States like 9/11 or, God forbid, worse, we ought to be able to use something like waterboarding. But generally speaking it ought not to be on the table.
Incidentally, I believe General Hayden when he says that not just waterboarding, which he stopped, as I understand it, but a number of the other items on that list that has been published, really did work — did help to give us a lot of the information that we have about Al Qaeda.
First of all, why is Fox still asking the question of whether waterboarding constitutes torture? When Attorney General Eric Holder calls waterboarding torture, it’s no longer up for debate! Even John McCain, the object of Lieberman’s Senatorial bromance, thinks it’s torture. Is Fox actually trying to show us how foolish Lieberman looks? If so, Lieberman beat Fox to the punch by joking about waterboarding at a black-tie event last year.
As we mark Obama’s first 100 Days, there is much to celebrate–from repeal of the global gag rule to the passage of the stimulus and the Administration’s pledge to close Guantanamo. The budget, a smart blueprint to build a new economy, will demand that progressives mobilize to take on well-funded lobbies intent on obstructing real reform.
Yet, as I think about the most troubling aspects of these first 100 days, there are two areas which I fear could endanger the Obama Presidency: the bank bailouts and military escalation in Afghanistan.
Americans deserve a real national debate about the Administration’s plans in Afghanistan–its ends and means and exits–before undertaking such a major military commitment. That’s why Brave New Foundation’s work is so essential: with its new documentary Rethink Afghanistan and online debates such as the one CAP’s Lawrence Korb and I had last week, BNF is fostering the kind of discussion, debate and dissent that Obama has said he welcomes. BNF’s work–along with a network of bloggers, progressive leaders, magazines like The Nation, peace and justice groups–is launching much-needed Congressional hearings on vital areas such as the role and goals of the US military in Afghanistan, oversight of contractors, transparent budgeting and clear metrics to measure progress toward a defined exit strategy.
What’s key at this pivotal moment is increasing the pressure for constructive, smart, effective non-military solutions to stabilize Afghanistan–and strengthen Pakistan’s fragile democratic government. As I argued in the debate with Korb, I believe the more responsible and effective strategy moving forward is to take US-led military escalation off the table, begin to withdraw US troops and support a regional diplomatic solution, including common-sense counterterrorist and national security measures (extensive intelligence cooperation, expert police work, effective border control) and targeted development and reconstruction assistance.
We bring you Cost of War, part three of our Rethink Afghanistan documentary, which delves into the financial costs of this broadening war.
As we pay our tax bills, it seems an appropriate time to urge everyone to Rethink Afghanistan, a war that currently costs over $2 billion a month but hasn’t made us any safer. Everyone has a friend or relative who just lost a job. Do we really want to spend over $1 trillion on another war? Everyone knows someone who has lost their home. Do we really want spend our tax dollars on a war that could last a decade or more? The Obama administration has taken some smart steps to counter this economic crisis with its budget request. Do we really want to see that effort wasted by expanding military demands?
Watch Pulitzer Prize-winning authors and journalists, military and foreign policy experts, leading economists, and many more explain just how much the war in Afghanistan will cost us over how many years. View both the trailer and full segment of Cost of War, part three of the Rethink Afghanistan documentary.
Last week, we delivered a petition to Sen. John Kerry and Rep. Howard Berman, demanding oversight hearings. These hearings could raise the critical questions about costs and many other issues. Now, we want to know what questions you would ask in such hearings. Would you want to know how exactly the war is weakening the U.S. economy? What about whether more troops can solve Afghanistan’s problems or the escalating instability in Pakistan, subjects explored in parts one and two of this documentary?
Record your questions on your webcam and send them to us! Simple instructions for doing this can be found here. It’s easy!
Post your video to our Facebook page! Go to our Facebook page, click in the “Write something” box, and then click the video link.
We must urge Congress to raise key questions about this war at once. As FireDogLake blogger Siun recently wrote, “Once again we are planning a surge with no exit plan and a continued lack of concern for the most basic protection of the civilians in the land we claim to liberate.”