For those concerned the U.S. is becoming mired in a military quagmire in Afghanistan there was good news and bad news on the House floor this afternoon:
The good news is that a majority of House Democrats just voted (131-114) to support the McGovern amendment to the House Defense Authorization bill that requires the Pentagon to develop a military exit strategy from Afghanistan.
The bad news is that the overwhelming majority of House Republicans voted against the amendment (164-7), leading to its defeat.
For opponents of endless war in Afghanistan, it is a question of the glass being half empty or half full. Continue reading →
Since 2001, the US Air Force has dropped nearly 31 million pounds (14,049 metric tons) of bombs on Afghanistan. The UN estimates that US airstrikes alone accounted for 64 percent of the 828 Afghan civilians killed last year. Those numbers practically scream the need to abandon conventional warfare tactics in Afghanistan and dramatically shift US foreign policy to incorporate a more humanitarian approach. Instead, we’re seeing the horrific images from IDP camps: refugees who have lost loved ones; parents so desperate they would rather sell their children than watch them starve; children scarred both physically and psychologically. These are the survivors, forced to endure the bleak aftermath of airstrikes as the US escalates this war.
The front page story in the LA Times today examines the US military’s seemingly impossible task of reducing the number of civilian casualties in airstrikes like the one that killed up to 140 people in Farah province on May 4. The civilians casualties from that attack, we know from a preliminary investigative report, died because a series of military errors. Had the Afghan forces being trained by the US military not ignored warnings about entering a Farah village, they wouldn’t have been ambushed by insurgents, prompting the Marines to call for a strike. And had the pilot of an aircraft not lost site of his target, or had those commanders rethought the need to send in a B-1 bomber strike at a point when those Afghan forces weren’t under direct attack, the high number of civilian casualties could have been avoided. Yet as our highly skilled military revisits protocols for conducting airstrikes to minimize mistakes like these in the future, these casualties are the inevitable consequences of conventional warfare.
$100 billion more in wartime spending. That’s what Congress is hellbent on approving despite valiant efforts from a growing number of Progressives led by FireDogLake’s Jane Hamsher to derail this legislation’s passage in the House. $100 billion, and for what? To bring more troops to Afghanistan without an exit strategy? To further US foreign policy that fails to address the humanitarian needs of the world’s third poorest country? To escalate military operations that directly result in Afghan civilian casualties?
Recently, Anand Gopal, who has been covering the war in Afghanistan for The Christian Science Monitor, dispelled the myths about troop escalation at the America’s Future Now Conference in Washington, DC. The reality, Gopal grimly assessed, is that more troops will mean more incidents of violence. More troops will also mean the need for more airstikes, which, as you can see in the sobering trailer for part four of Rethink Afghanistan, will mean more civilian casualties.
Gopal’s logic follows that of the Carnegie Endowment’s Gilles Dorronsoro, who has said for months that the increased presence of US forces in Afghanistan is the single greatest reason for the Taliban insurgency. And the more they surge, the more Congress will fund more war. To see exactly how US foreign policy is perpetuating this cycle of violence, read Ralph Lopez’s recent blog post and watch the accompanying al Jazeera video. Taliban extremists are using US airstrikes as a recruiting tool, preying upon the survivors, particularly children, who have lost everything in these bombings and suddenly have a chance to act upon their hatred toward the United States.
Fortunately, there are ways to take immediate action and address Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis.
Members of congress are threatening to vote against the War Supplemental because of the cash for clunkers provision or the IMF line of credit. However, it is the issue at the core of the bill, funding the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, that really justifies its defeat.
What the Military Does
The United States Military is the finest fighting force that has ever existed. Service members are trained to defeat any enemy with lighting fast and overwhelming force. Theirs is not work of nuance and diplomacy. They are trained to hate the enemy. The enemy in this case is indistinguishable from a civilian.
We hear a lot about the need for the military to provide security in Afghanistan so that the government can function, institutions can take root, and the country can develop. When I think about the military providing security in an area, I assume they set up a perimeter and make sure anyone coming in and out goes through check points where they can be screened for weapons. Something like a more thorough version of what happens when we go through airport security.
There are checkpoints to be sure, but what ‘securing’ an area actually means is sending marines on door to door raids of an area, often in the dead of night. You don’t knock on doors, the vets told me, you kick them in, storm the building, drag people out of bed – often tying their hands and even hooding them until you are confident you know where every person in the building is. Then you look for weapons and explosives which usually aren’t there. If anyone resists, you beat and arrest them. Your orders are to detain, and sometimes to kill anyone who looks suspicious.
There is an assumption that security brings stability, but this kind of security only fans the flames of the insurgency.
Just who is Dr. Roshanak Wardak? She is a member of Afghanistan’s parliament--one of 68 women in the lower house–committed to women’s rights issues, as well as rebuilding schools and hospitals. Before turning to politics, Dr. Wardak was a gynecologist who practiced for 30 years, during which time she worked with Afghan women in refugee camps in Pakistan. She has witnessed the devastation this war has wrought upon innocent Afghan civilians; she has even experienced it firsthand. Six months ago, a Predator drone bomb landed 200 meters from her house.
As The Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim reported, “The blast, [Dr. Wardak] says, lifted her house off the ground and woke up the village. The curious went to see what happened. That’s when the second drone struck, killing roughly 15 civilians.”
We need to hear from experts like Dr. Wardak who understand the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, particularly as our country is sending more troops and more airstrikes, which, as we saw last month, result in rampant civilian deaths that fuel anti-American sentiment. That’s why Brave New Foundation brought her to Washington, DC this week for the America’s Future Now! conference and to meet with members of Congress.
On September 12, 2001, could we have predicted spending $1 trillion for wars allegedly fought in response to the tragedy gripping our nation? Could we have imagined the wars’ human and economic costs?
Today, U.S. forces are profoundly engaged in both Iraq and Afghanistan, with approximately 200,000 troops in the region and more than 21,000 additional troops requested for Afghanistan by the Obama Administration. U.S. soldier and Afghan and Iraqi civilian casualties increase daily as the economic cost-of-war counters roll on.
The financial implications are staggering. The House passed a supplemental bill May 14 totaling $96.7 billion in emergency war appropriations for the back half of FY2009. President Obama’s initial request was $83.4 billion. The National Priorities Project (NPP), a nonprofit organization that analyzes the federal budget, estimates that $77.1 billion of President Obama’s initial request was for war and ancillary operations. Of that, $52.7 billion was dedicated to the Iraq War and $24.4 billion for the expanding war in Afghanistan and related operations.
No matter how we slice the numbers, we must consider that each dollar spent to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is a dollar not spent to further some other endeavor. Massachusetts taxpayers could pay more than $2.2 billion for Thursday’s House supplemental vote alone. For the same amount of money, we could provide four years of healthcare for 95,000 people, or send 56,000 students to four years of college.
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.
This early period of Obama’s presidency is an opportunity to rebuild Afghanistan. It is a chance to become clearer than “out now,” while still using the same force in opposing the war. In addition to education on the specifics of the administration’s plan and the after-effects in Afghanistan, take these concrete steps to build infrastructure from the bottom up.
1. The immediate demands should be opposition to more troops, predator attacks, human rights abuses and escalating budget costs.
3. Demand of Congress and President the same accountability that was demanded of Bush and never won: verifiable casualty figures, transparent budgeting, oversight of contractors, compliance with human rights standards, including women’s rights–clear metrics to measure progress towards a defined exit strategy.
• assist in doubling their membership
• build a local e-mail list of at least 300 names
• build a coalition (at least a letterhead or leadership alliance) of clergy, academic, human rights, environmentalists, African-Americans and Latinos, labor and other progressive organizations.
5. Criticize Obama’s war from within the Obama structure and MoveOn.org. (Since neither of these structures have a focus on the war, contact them or start on a discussion on Afghanistan under another heading).
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.”
On October 2, 2002, Barack Obama, then an Illinois State Senator, gave a speech opposing going to war in Iraq. That speech, at that time, would prove crucial to his election, first as a US Senator two years later, and then as President, four years after that. Democrats who equivocated were a dime a dozen. Obama stood out, because he stood up when others did not, and said, “This is wrong.”
He did not oppose all wars. He cited the Civil War and World War II as specific examples of necessary ones. But, he said, “I’m opposed to dumb wars.” Yet, on January 23, his third full day as President, Obama ordered two separate air strikes in Pakistan, killing 14 civilians, along with four suspected terrorists. One strike killed six civilians along with four suspected terrorists staying in their home, the other simply hit the wrong target, the home of a pro-government tribal elder, Malik Deen Faraz in the Gangikhel area of South Waziristan, killing him, his three sons and a grandson, along with three others.
Now President Obama has made it official. In addition to another 17,000 troops promised early, he made an additional pledge of 4,000 more on Friday, March 27. It was reportedly a ‘carefully calibrated’ decision, these would be trainers not combat troops, we were told. But Ray McGovern, a 27-year CIA veteran, whose career included long stretches preparing security briefs for Presidents Reagan and Bush Sr., was not impressed with such fine distinctions.