In March, President Obama told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that the United States must have an “exit strategy” in Afghanistan.
Ninety Members of Congress agree. They’re supporting H.R. 2404, a bill introduced by Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) whose text is one sentence long: “Not later than December 31, 2009, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to Congress a report outlining the United States exit strategy for United States military forces in Afghanistan participating in Operation Enduring Freedom.”
This week, Rep. McGovern is expected to try to attach this language to the 2010 military authorization bill. You can ask your Representative to support this effort here.
The Members of Congress are going a bit further than President Obama. They’re saying not only that the U.S. should have an exit strategy, but that Congress and the American people should be told what it is.
It’s Congress – and the American people – who have the power of the purse. This week, over the protests of progressive Democrats, Congress approved another war supplemental – paying for military escalation with no exit strategy – bringing the total spending for the war in Afghanistan to $223 billion since 2001, according to the Congressional Research Service.
An interview with a man with his children in an Internally Displaced Person (refugee) camp quickly devolves into a father desperately trying to sell his smallest child to the cameraman. “For God’s sake, I want to sell this child but nobody wants her. What can I do?… For God’s sake, I am poor, otherwise I wouldn’t give her for one million. I know nobody wants to sell their daughter, but I have to. She is innocent, but I am poor. I have nothing.”
An old woman with amputated feet sits in a small mud hut, surrounded by five doe-eyed, dirty grandchildren. She is wailing about how their parents, her children, were killed in the bombings and now she is tasked with feeding, clothing, and providing water and shelter for these orphans in this camp. “They’re hungry, they’re thirsty, and I don’t know what to do with them… I ask my God, kill me and put me under the dirt, or change our lives.”
This is the kind of footage we saw, over and over again, as we cut and shaped the Rethink Afghanistan: Civilian Casualties segment. The first time I saw it, I was shocked. As a taxpayer, I was filled shame that these Afghans have to choose between living in fear of U.S. airstrikes in the rural areas or dying of hunger and cold in urban refugee camps. As a person of faith, my heart broke for the men who constantly fingered their prayer beads as they recalled the loved ones they had lost, and the parents and grandparents who cried out to God on behalf of their children and grandchildren.
Well-reasoned foreign policy results in more housing and jobs, better health care and education. When that policy consists of applying a military solution to a political problem, however, it results in death, destruction, and suffering. I witnessed the latter during my recent trip to Afghanistan–the devastating consequences of U.S. airstrikes on thousands of innocent civilians.
The footage you are about to see is poignant, heart-wrenching, and often a direct result of U.S. foreign policy. It came from a combination of filmmakers: Nazir, a man who tracked me down through Facebook, met me at the Kabul airport, and showed me segments of his exclusive look inside Afghan refugee camps; a stringer we hired who was arrested by the Taliban in filming a bombing victim in Kandahar; and my own interviews while in Kabul. Together, we bring you Rethink Afghanistan: Civilian Casualties.
Clearly we must help the refugees whose lives have been shattered by U.S. foreign policy and military attacks. Here’s how you can take action:
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Provide aid through The Afghan Women’s Mission to the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), which is directly helping the refugees in these camps. We have partnered with these groups, and RAWA will go to the camps in this video to help those most in need. On their website, you can provide emergency relief to refugees, enable Afghans to visit the doctor, and help educate women and children to ensure women’s rights are respected.
Become a Peacemaker: Receive up-to-the-minute information through our new mobile alert system whenever there are Afghan civilian casualties from this war. Then take immediate action by calling our government and posting on social networking sites.
Here’s why it’s even more critical for you to take action now. Earlier this week, the House of Representatives narrowly approved $106 billion in wartime funding, despite an incredible progressive movement that inundated Congress with calls and helped move votes into the “No” column. This bill will escalate military operations in Afghanistan, which is all the more reason why we must help the civilians affected by U.S. airstrikes now, and help our government see the need for a more humanitarian foreign policy.
$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.
With Taliban looking on approvingly, these tearful children in Afghanistan swear that they will now be suicide bombers after losing people they love in the only thing that more war funding gets you: More war. Film-maker Robert Greenwald (“Iraq for Sale”) urges us to keep calling the swing Democrats in the War Supplemental up for a vote, as we are now just three short of sending it back to the drawing board, for an exit strategy and a renewed focus on civilian aide rather than bombs for Afghans.
No one deserves this, and yes the Taliban plays it to its advantage. That’s why they look so happy in this video. Greenwald points out, more bombs are not going to address 40% unemployment, and a rampant picking-through-garbage-for-food scale of poverty. U.S. Generals and command staff in Afghanistan are desperate for more jobs on the ground, to keep young men paid and tired and not fighting for the Taliban’s $8 a day, since they are the ones who have to ride out in helicopters and apologize for the bombs falling in the wrong place.
Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.
If we are keeping troops in Afghanistan and Pakistan until there are no violent extremists bent on killing Americans, then it is highly likely that we will be keeping a large military presence in the region during the entirety of President Obama’s administration. And probably beyond then, too.
For eight years, many Americans have justified the war in Afghanistan as a moral battle to “protect” Afghan women. But Afghan women tell another story: more U.S. war will bear them more suffering.
Three decades of foreign occupation — with little sign of ending — have led to the complete collapse of more than a century of progress in Afghanistan for women’s rights, which reached their peak in the 1970s. Occupation destroyed Afghan public services and created incredible poverty, a perfect void of power ready to be filled by the Taliban (encouraged by the U.S. to counter Soviet influence). Many Afghan women say the collapse poses a greater threat to women’s lives: 87 percent are illiterate, 1,600 out of every 100,000 mothers die while giving birth or of related complications, and 1 and 3 women experience psychological, emotional or physical abuse.
Since the 2001 invasion, despite rhetoric of “saving” Afghan women, U.S. policies put in place did not do so. Meanwhile, this week, Congress is debating a $84.2 billion war funding bill that designates only 10 percent of the funds for development assistance — the rest goes to military efforts. If the United States really cared about the women and children of Afghanistan, it would fund real needs-health care, education, food security- and minimize spending on weapons systems and combat troops. Gen. Petraeus himself outlined a counter-insurgency doctrine of 80 percent non-military and 20 percent military, and told the Associated Press earlier this year that “you don’t kill or capture your way out of an industrial-strength insurgency.”
Yes, Stanley McChrystal is the general from the dark side (and proud of it). So the recent sacking of Afghan commander General David McKiernan after less than a year in the field and McChrystal’s appointment as the man to run the Afghan War seems to signal that the Obama administration is going for broke. It’s heading straight into what, in the Vietnam era, was known as “the big muddy.”
General McChrystal comes from a world where killing by any means is the norm and a blanket of secrecy provides the necessary protection. For five years he commanded the Pentagon’s super-secret Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which, among other things, ran what Seymour Hersh has described as an “executive assassination wing” out of Vice President Cheney’s office. (Cheney just returned the favor by giving the newly appointed general a ringing endorsement: “I think you’d be hard put to find anyone better than Stan McChrystal.”)
McChrystal gained a certain renown when President Bush outed him as the man responsible for tracking down and eliminating al-Qaeda-in-Mesopotamia leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The secret force of “manhunters” he commanded had its own secret detention and interrogation center near Baghdad, Camp Nama, where bad things happened regularly, and the unit there, Task Force 6-26, had its own slogan: “If you don’t make them bleed, they can’t prosecute for it.” Since some of the task force’s men were, in the end, prosecuted, the bleeding evidently wasn’t avoided.
In the Bush years, McChrystal was reputedly extremely close to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The super-secret force he commanded was, in fact, part of Rumsfeld’s effort to seize control of, and Pentagonize, the covert, on-the-ground activities that were once the purview of the CIA.
According to reliable intelligence sources in Washington, General Stanley McChrystal, slated to become the top American commander in Afghanistan, directed an entity known as the Terrorist Screen Center (TSC) in Iraq in 2003, which held Iraqi suspects in secret facilities in violation of the Geneva Conventions requirement that the Red Cross have access to all detainees.
The TSC existed before the Abu Ghraib prison scandal exploded in 2004, during a period when the United States, as an occupying power, fell under the Geneva obligation to provide Red Cross access.
McChrystal’s appointment could be threatened if an investigation establishes his direction over the secret facilities. Under international law, delayed access for the Red Cross can be justified only due to a “military necessity,” such as extreme battlefield conditions, a far different scenario from detaining and interrogating prisoners in secret locations.
McChrystal has been reprimanded by the Pentagon before. A 2007 Pentagon investigation found McChrystal responsible for falsifying a claim that blamed the 2004 death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman on “devastating enemy fire.” Tillman died of friendly fire.
In addition, Bob Woodward’s 2008 book The War Within describes McChrystal as responsible for running a “top secret” 2006 program of extra-judicial killings of alleged Iraqi insurgents.
Nearly all of McChrystal’s five-year tenure in Iraq was spent in clandestine operations.