Posts Tagged ‘American soldiers’

One November’s Dead: The American War Dead Disappear into the Darkness

December 8, 2010

by Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch.com, Dec 7, 2010

America’s heroes?  Not so much.  Not anymore.  Not when they’re dead, anyway.

Remember as the invasion of Iraq was about to begin, when the Bush administration decided to seriously enforce a Pentagon ban, in existence since the first Gulf War, on media coverage and images of the American dead arriving home at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware?  In fact, the Bush-era ban did more than that.  As the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote then, it “ended the public dissemination of such images by banning news coverage and photography of dead soldiers’ homecomings on all military bases.”

For those whose lives were formed in the crucible of the Vietnam years, including the civilian and military leadership of the Bush era, the dead, whether ours or the enemy’s, were seen as a potential minefield when it came to antiwar opposition or simply the loss of public support in the opinion polls.  Admittedly, many of the so-called lessons of the Vietnam War were often based on half-truths or pure mythology, but they were no less powerful or influential for that.

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US soldiers ‘killed Afghan civilians for sport and collected fingers as trophies’

September 9, 2010

Soldiers face charges over secret ‘kill team’ which allegedly murdered at random and collected fingers as trophies of war

Chris McGreal in Washington, The Guardian/UK,  Sep 9, 2010

Stryker soldiers who allegedly plotted to kill Afghan civilians.
Andrew Holmes, Michael Wagnon, Jeremy Morlock and Adam Winfield are four of the five Stryker soldiers who face murder charges. Photograph: Public Domain
Twelve American soldiers face charges over a secret “kill team” that allegedly blew up and shot Afghan civilians at random and collected their fingers as trophies.

Five of the soldiers are charged with murdering three Afghan men who were allegedly killed for sport in separate attacks this year. Seven others are accused of covering up the killings and assaulting a recruit who exposed the murders when he reported other abuses, including members of the unit smoking hashish stolen from civilians.

In one of the most serious accusations of war crimes to emerge from the Afghan conflict, the killings are alleged to have been carried out by members of a Stryker infantry brigade based in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan.

According to investigators and legal documents, discussion of killing Afghan civilians began after the arrival of Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs at forward operating base Ramrod last November. Other soldiers told the army’s criminal investigation command that Gibbs boasted of the things he got away with while serving in Iraq and said how easy it would be to “toss a grenade at someone and kill them”.

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School bombing exposes Obama’s secret war inside Pakistan

February 7, 2010

The Sunday Times/UK, February 7, 2010
A resident attempts to rescue female students from the rubble of a bombing which hit near a school in Timergara

Victims trapped in the rubble after a suicide bombing at the opening of a school for girls in the northwestern Pakistani town of Dir last week

Image :1 of 2

Christina Lamb
THE discovery of three American soldiers among the dead in a suicide bombing at the opening of a girls’ school in the northwestern Pakistan town of Dir last week reignited the fears of many Pakistanis that Washington was set on invading their country.

Barack Obama has banned the Bush-era term “war on terror” and dithered about sending extra troops to Afghanistan, but across the border in Pakistan, the US president has dramatically stepped up the covert war against Islamic extremists.

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A Lesson From Vietnam for Obama’s War in Afghanistan

July 19, 2009

by Joe Galloway, Antiwar.com, July 18, 2009

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It was half a century ago, on the night of July 8, 1959, that the first two American soldiers to die in the Vietnam War were slain when guerrillas surrounded and shot up a small mess hall where half a dozen advisers were watching a movie after dinner.

Master Sgt. Chester Ovnand of Copperas Cove, Texas, and Maj. Dale Buis of Imperial Beach, Calif., would become the first two names chiseled on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial — the first of 58,261 Americans who died in Vietnam during the next 16 years.

The deaths of Ovnand and Buis went largely unnoticed at the time, simply a small beginning of what would become a huge national tragedy.

Presidents from Harry Truman to Dwight Eisenhower to John F. Kennedy to Lyndon B. Johnson to Richard M. Nixon to Gerald R. Ford made decisions — some small and incremental, some large and disastrous — in building us so costly and tragic a war.

The national security handmaidens of those presidents, especially those who served Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford, were supposedly the best and brightest that Harvard and Yale and Princeton could contribute.

Presidents right up to today’s like to surround themselves with such self-assured and certain men, men whose eagerness to find war the answer to most problems often grows in direct proportion to their lack of experience in uniform or combat.

This small history lesson can be read as a cautionary tale to President Barack Obama’s team as they oversee an excruciating slow-motion end of one war, Iraq, and a pell-mell rush to wade ever deeper into another one in the mountains and deserts of remote and tribal Afghanistan.

The story grows out of a battle in the very beginning of the American takeover of the war in South Vietnam in the fall of 1965 when a defense secretary, Robert S. McNamara, counted the bodies and the beans and offered his president two directly opposing options.

In the wake of the Ia Drang Valley battles of November 1965 — the first major collision between an experimental airmobile division of the U.S. Army and regular soldiers in division strength from the People’s Army of North Vietnam — President Johnson ordered McNamara to rush to Vietnam and assess what had happened and what was going to happen.

Up till then, just more than 1,000 Americans, mostly advisers and pilots, had been killed in Vietnam since Ovnand and Buis. Then, in just five days 234 more Americans had been killed and hundreds wounded in the Ia Drang. There weren’t even enough military coffins in the country to handle the dead.

McNamara took briefings from Gen. William Westmoreland, the top U.S. commander in Vietnam, and from Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge and assorted spy chiefs and diplomats. Then he flew to An Khe in the Central Highlands and was briefed on the Ia Drang battles by then Lt. Col. Hal Moore, who had commanded on the ground in Landing Zone XRAY in the Ia Drang.

On the plane home to Washington, McNamara dictated a Top Secret/Eyes Only memo to President Johnson dated Nov. 30, 1965. In that report he stated that the enemy had not only met but had exceeded our escalation of the war and we had reached a decision point. In his view there were two options:

–Option One: We could arrange whatever diplomatic cover we could arrange and pull out of South Vietnam.

–Option Two: We could give Gen. Westmoreland the 200,000 more U.S. troops he was asking for, in which case by early 1967 we would have more than 500,000 Americans on the ground and they would be dying at the rate of 1,000 a month. (He was wrong; the death toll would reach more than 3,000 a month at the height of the war). “All we can possibly achieve (by this) is a military stalemate at a much higher level of violence,” McNamara wrote.

On Dec. 15, 1965, the president assembled what he called the “wise men” for a brainstorming session on Vietnam. He entered the Cabinet room holding McNamara’s memo. He shook it at McNamara and asked: “Bob, you mean to tell me no matter what I do I can’t win in Vietnam?” McNamara nodded yes; that was precisely what he meant.

The wise men sat in session for two days. Participants say there was no real discussion of McNamara’s Option One — it would have sent the wrong message to our Cold War allies — and at the end there was a unanimous vote in favor of Option Two — escalating and continuing a war that our leaders now knew we could not win.

Remember. This was 1965, 10 years before the last helicopter lifted off that roof in Saigon. It’s a hell of a lot easier to get sucked into a war or jump feet first into a war than it is to get out of a war.

There’s no question that President Obama inherited these two wars, Iraq and Afghanistan, from the Bush/Cheney administration. But the buildup in Afghanistan and the change in strategy belong to Obama and his version of the best and brightest.

The new administration has dictated an escalation from 30,000 U.S. troops to more than 60,000, and even before most of them have actually arrived commanders on the ground are already back asking for more, and why not? When you are a hammer everything around you looks like a nail.

Some smart veterans of both Iraq and Afghanistan, on the ground now or just back, say that at this rate we will inevitably lose the war in Afghanistan; that the situation on the ground now is far worse than Iraq was at its lowest point in 2006 and early 2007. They talk of a costly effort both in lives and national treasure that will stretch out past the Obama administration and maybe the two administrations after that.

President Obama needs to call in the “wise men and women” for a fish-or-cut-bait meeting on his two ongoing wars. Let’s hope that this time around, there’s an absence of the arrogance and certainty of previous generations of advisers.

Let’s hope that they choose to speed up the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq and get out before the Iraqi people and leaders order us to leave.

Let’s hope, too, that they weigh very carefully all the costs of another decade or two of war in Afghanistan.

Failing that, they should at the very least begin an immediate drive to increase the number of available beds in military and Veterans Administration hospitals, and expand Arlington National Cemetery and the national military cemeteries nationwide.

(C) 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

The Afghan Tragedy Continues

May 18, 2009
Why do Afghans have a life expectancy of only 44 years?

by Abdul Malik Mujahid | CommonDreams.org, May 17, 2009

According to the CIA World Factbook, an Afghan’s life expectancy is merely 44 years.

That’s 20 to 30 years less than neighboring Pakistan and all other surrounding countries. It is just one result of the ongoing devastation in that country.

The war in Afghanistan did not start in 2001 with the US invasion. It began 30 years ago in December 1979, when the former Soviet Union invaded the country. The human toll of the conflict is staggering: more than a million Afghans have been killed and 3 million maimed.

Five million (one third of the pre-war population) were forced to leave their country and became refugees. There are still 3.1 million Afghan refugees today, making up 27 per cent of the global refugee population. Most of them live in Pakistan. Another two million Afghans were displaced within the country. In the 1980s, one out of two refugees in the world was an Afghan.

Most Afghans alive today have seen nothing but war.

Daily life in Afghanistan is miserable. Only six percent have electricity in a country which gets as cold as Chicago in winter. Even in Kabul, the country’s capital, electricity comes for only a few hours a day. Traditional wood heating is difficult since not much wood is left in Afghanistan after 30 years of wars and forest devastation. Over 1,000 people died because of cold weather last year.

“About two million state school students do not have access to safe drinking water and about 75 percent of these schools in Afghanistan do not have safe sanitation facilities”, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

There is no law and order in most of Afghanistan. Government barely exists in Kabul. Former warlords are the leaders. That is demonstrated by the fact that, “Afghanistan is the world’s largest cultivator and supplier of opium (93 percent of the global opiates market). According to the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2008 by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.”  A British daily paper actually reported that “the four largest players in the heroin business are all senior members of the Afghan government.”

The Taliban, which has lost its legitimacy due to its brutality, are sometimes remembered by Afghans as those who brought peace to Afghanistan.  Women continue to be the number one victims of the country’s 30 years of warfare. According to Malalai Joya, an elected member of the Afghan Parliament and outspoken critic of warlords and war criminals in the government, “the propaganda to the world about liberating Afghanistan and women and fighting against terrorists are lies.” In her speech accepting a human rights award in London, she said:

Our nation is still living under the shadow of war, crimes and brutalities of the fundamentalists, and women are the primary and silent sacrifice of this situation. Justice doesn’t exist in Afghanistan. Every sector of life in Afghanistan today is a tragedy, from women’s rights to security, law and order and domination of a drug mafia.

Almost two generations of Afghan children have grown up seeing nothing but war, bombing, homelessness and hunger. They are an easy target for those who want to play Afghans against each other, through money, drugs and guns.Afghanistan was almost self-sufficient in food before the Soviet invasion in 1979. The leftist government had instituted many economic and social reforms. But the Soviets went in for the bait set up by the US to take revenge for the Vietnam War, as bragged about by Zbigniew Brzezinski, former US President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor.  That was the beginning of the Afghan tragedy 30 years ago. Since then, the country has not seen a day of peace except for the brief brutal peace of Taliban era.

America trained, financed and equipped Afghan refugees to become Mujahideen to kill the Communist Soviets. Along the way, we created a cadre of fighters, including Osama bin Laden. Then, we supported and financed the Taliban and now we are trying to kill them as well.

In seven years of US occupation of Afghanistan, the government of Hamid Karzai and American influence have remained limited to Kabul and a few other smaller areas. Now it is not just the Americans, NATO and Pakistan which are playing their cards, but India, Russia and Iran also have increased embassy staff and active participation in carving a realm of power in Afghanistan.

If the British Empire in the 19th century could not succeed in occupying Afghanistan despite close to a century of war on and off, and the Soviets failed to do the same during the twentieth century, we cannot win either. Isn’t it about time that we Americans in the 21st century rethink the “good war” in Afghanistan? After seven years of going nowhere, it is surely time for a new strategy.

Consider this: if the Soviets, with 120,000 troops at any given time (500,000 total) could not do it, how can we with only 60,000? An increase of 20,000 to 30,000 American soldiers is unlikely to achieve military defeat.

And the Soviet Union was just across the border from Afghanistan, not tens of thousands of miles away as America is.

In Iraq which is half of the size of Afghanistan, the U.S. had more than 150,000 troops plus 190,000 contractors, killing one million people and destroying the whole infrastructure of the country.

Afghanistan has 16 percent more people than Iraq. It has a far more challenging military environment because two-thirds of Afghanistan is mountainous terrain suitable for guerrilla warfare unlike the flat plains of Iraq.

Most Afghans have been raised accustomed to war and hardship during the last three decades, unlike the comparatively more urbanized Iraqis.

That is the reason the outgoing commander of NATO-ISAF, General Dan McNeill, publicly requested anywhere between 100,000 and 400,000 more troops for the fight in Afghanistan.

President Obama has been right to pursue diplomacy with countries like Iran and for extending a hand to the Muslim world. However, he is dangerously wrong for pursuing the military path in Afghanistan. It is one that will only exacerbate terrorism, as well as further destroy a nation crippled by thirty years of war. It will lead to the deaths of more American soldiers. And I have no doubt that it will further lower the life expectancy of Afghans, those who continue to suffer the most.

Abdul Malik Mujahid is a Pakistani-American. He is an Imam in Chicago, President of Sound Vision, and serves as the vice chair for a Council for a Parliament of World Religions.

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