Posts Tagged ‘deaths’

NATO’s Role in the Afghanistan Escalation

January 29, 2010

Tom Haydon, The Nation, January27, 2010

NATO countries are poised to add 7,000 soldiers to the 30,000-troop US escalation in Afghanistan, providing a cover of multilateralism for the Obama administration and the NATO commander, US General Stanley McChrystal. The NATO decision is expected to be ratified January 28 at a conference called by the United Kingdom, Germany, France, the Karzai administration and the United Nations Afghan Mission (UNAM).

Continues >>

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IRAN: Victims’ Families Share Stories, Defying Pressure

July 29, 2009

By Tesa Sabet | Inter Press Service News

TEHRAN, Jul 28 (IPS) – It has become common these days to hear about the killing of young Iranians at the hands of Iran’s security forces and Basij militia. So many families have come forward with heart-wrenching tales about the deaths of their children in prison or during peaceful protests, it is difficult to keep count.

While each story is unique, all speak of serious human rights violations, extreme violence, and an unaccountable court, prison and security system that gives families the runaround. Another common thread is the pressures that families face when trying to claim the bodies of their children or to hold funeral and memorial services.

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Blackwater Seeks Gag Order

July 25, 2009

by Jeremy Scahill | The Nation, July 23, 2009

It became common practice during the Iraq occupation for the US State Department to work with private security companies like Blackwater to help facilitate giving what amounted to hush money to the families of Iraqis shot dead by private security contractors. In fact, Blackwater’s owner, Erik Prince, discussed this practice when he testified in front of Congress in October 2007 and admitted to paying $20,000 to a Blackwater victim’s family and $5,000 to another.

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Obama Escalates Afghanistan Quagmire

July 23, 2009

Patrick Krey, New American, July 23, 2009

It could be argued that the single biggest contributor to President Barack Obama’s election victory was voter dissatisfaction with former President Bush’s neoconservative warmongering foreign policy (which was embraced by Republican presidential candidate John McCain). Ironically, since taking office, Obama has turned out to be eerily similar in the warmongering department.

One of Obama’s first foreign policy decisions as the commander-in-chief was to copy Bush’s Iraq troop “surge” with a surge of his own in Afghanistan. The U.S. troop presence has drastically increased from 32,000 at the start of 2009 to about 57,000 presently with an anticipated cap around the 68,000 mark (which would more than double the U.S. commitment to the region). Like the salesman on a late-night infomercial typically proclaims, “But wait — there’s more!” Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that the number of boots on the ground could climb even beyond the 68,000 number. In a question and answer session at Fort Drum, Gates said that what U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, who was recently appointed as the new commander of NATO, reports back to him could influence the decision to send even more troops to war. McChrystal is preparing a classified report for the Defense Secretary on Afghanistan according to CNN.

McChrystal is expected to complete a classified report for Gates by the end of this month, assessing where the war stands, and what needs to be done. He will tell Gates whether he needs more U.S. troops to fight the escalating conflict, according to a senior U.S. military official.… The review is also expected to recommend that the number of Afghan troops be increased beyond the goal of 134,000, other military sources said.

McChrystal is already seeking to increase troop levels there by pleading with the British to send more troops. McChrystal also stated that the conflict shows no sign of coming to a near halt. “It will go on until we achieve the progress we want to achieve…. It won’t be short.” The British casualties in Afghanistan recently just climbed above the number of those who died in the Iraq conflict. Things continue to deteriorate in the region where attacks are up 70 percent over last year. Unlike in America where the marital woes of the stars of Jon & Kate Plus Eight dominate the headlines, in the U.K., the rising death toll and grim analysis of prospects for success have generated controversy and debate over British participation in the war. Such a dialogue has alarmed the Obama administration, which fears the same might happen in the United States, according to the Financial Times.

Britain’s increasingly heated debate about its role in Afghanistan has sparked concern in Washington about the sustainability of the military strategy and the US public’s own willingness to commit troops for the long term, senior officials and analysts say.… A senior US official told the Financial Times that there was “some level of anxiety” within Barack Obama’s administration about the UK debate. “It’s hard to see our most capable partner struggling in this debate…. If we are going to have to backfill European countries that decide to leave, could we sustain that with US public opinion? That’s an open question.”

Unfortunately for our brave men and women in the U.S. armed forces, the current administration seems more concerned with public opinion polls than preventing U.S. casualties in an unnecessary and unconstitutional nation building project. The Associated Press reports that Obama’s surge is already proving very deadly.

July is shaping up as the deadliest month of the Afghan war for U.S.-led international forces, with the number killed already matching the highest full-month toll of the nearly eight-year conflict…. As of Wednesday, at least 46 international troops, including 24 Americans, had been killed in Afghanistan this month…. That matches the tolls for the two previous deadliest months — June and August of 2008. The rate of deaths in July — about three a day — is approaching some of the highest levels of the Iraq war. [Emphasis added.]

One has to wonder how long it will take the American public to wake up from their mainstream media-induced slumber to recognize that the man sold to them as a peace candidate is turning out to be just as bad of a warmonger, if not worse, than his much-maligned predecessor.

Bagram is Now Obama’s Guantanamo

June 25, 2009
By William Fisher | The Public Record, June 25, 2009

While millions know that the administration of George W. Bush has left Barack Obama with the job of closing the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, relatively few are aware that the new president will also face a similar but far larger dilemma 7,000 miles away.

That dilemma is what to do with the what has become known as “the other GITMO” – the U.S.-controlled military prison at Bagram Air Base near Kabul in Afghanistan – and the estimated 600-700 detainees now held there.

The “other GITMO” was set up by the U.S. military as a temporary screening site after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan overthrew the Taliban. It currently houses more than three times as many prisoners as are still held at Guantanamo.

In 2005, following well-documented accounts of detainee deaths, torture and “disappeared” prisoners, the U.S. undertook efforts to turn the facility over to the Afghan government. But due to a series of legal, bureaucratic and administrative missteps, the prison is still under American military control. And a recent confidential report from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has reportedly complained about the continued mistreatment of prisoners.

The ICRC report is said to cite massive overcrowding, “harsh” conditions, lack of clarity about the legal basis for detention, prisoners held “incommunicado” in “a previously undisclosed warren of isolation cells” and “sometimes subjected to cruel treatment in violation of the Geneva Conventions”. Some prisoners have been held without charges or lawyers for more than five years. The Red Cross said that dozens of prisoners have been held incommunicado for weeks or even months, hidden from prison inspectors.

“When prisoners are in American custody and under American control, no matter the location, our values and commitment to the rule of law are at stake,” said Jonathan Hafetz, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union National Security Project in response to a new report published by the BBC documenting the torture of more than two-dozen former detainees. “Torture and abuse at Bagram is further evidence that prisoner abuse in U.S. custody was systemic, not aberrational, and originated at the highest levels of government. We must learn the truth about what went wrong, hold the proper people accountable and make sure these failed policies are not continued or repeated.”

In April, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records pertaining to the detention and treatment of prisoners held at Bagram, including the number of people currently detained, their names, citizenship, place of capture and length of detention. The ACLU is also seeking records pertaining to the process afforded those prisoners to challenge their detention and designation as “enemy combatants.”

“The U.S. government’s detention of hundreds of prisoners at Bagram has been shrouded in complete secrecy,” said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. “The American people have a right to know what’s happening at Bagram and whether prisoners have been tortured there.”

In a related case, the ACLU is representing former Bagram prisoner Mohammed Jawad in a habeas corpus challenge to his indefinite detention at Guantánamo Bay. The Afghan government recently sent a letter to the U.S. government suggesting Jawad was as young as 12 when he was captured in Afghanistan and taken to Bagram, where he was tortured. Despite the fact that the primary evidence against Jawad was thrown out in his military commission case at Guantánamo because it was derived through torture, the U.S. government continues to rely on such evidence – including evidence obtained during interrogations at Bagram – in Jawad’s current habeas case to justify holding him indefinitely.

According to Hina Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “Bagram appears to be just as bad as, if not worse than, Guantanamo. When a prisoner is in American custody and under American control, our values are at stake and our commitment to the rule of law is tested”.

She told us, “The abuses cited by the Red Cross give us cause for concern that we may be failing the test. The Bush administration is not content to limit its regime of illegal detention to Guantanamo, and has tried to foist it on Afghanistan.”

She added: “Both Congress and the executive branch need to investigate what’s happening at Bagram if we are to avoid a tragic repetition of history.”

But most observers believe the solution is more likely to come in the courts and to be inextricably linked to recent judicial decisions affecting prisoners at Guantanamo.

Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that foreign nationals held as terrorism suspects by the U.S. military at Guantanamo have a constitutional right to challenge their captivity in U.S. courts in Washington. Last week, a federal judge began exploring whether this landmark decision also applies to Bagram.

Like Guantanamo, Bagram was set up as a facility where battlefield captives could be held for the duration of the “war on terrorism” under full military control in an overseas site beyond the reach of U.S. courts.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly thwarted the campaign to insulate Guantanamo from the courts’ review.  But the Justice argument is that none of those rulings has any application to Bagram, and that the federal judge should dismiss the legal challenges by Bagram detainees by finding that U.S. courts have no jurisdiction over them.

But lawyers for four Bagram prisoners who have been held in detention since at least 2003 contend that recent Supreme Court Guantanamo decisions also apply to Afghanistan. They are also arguing that another Supreme Court decision — Munaf v. Geren — extended habeas rights to a U.S. military facility in Baghdad.

Barbara Olshansky of the Stanford Law School represents three of the four men who brought the court action. She said “there is no more complete analogy or mirror to Guantanamo than this (case).”

While U.S. District Judge John D. Bates has not ruled on the government’s motion to dismiss the four Bagram cases, he said during the court hearing, “These individuals are no different than those detained at Guantanamo except where they’re housed.”

In its motion to dismiss the cases, the Justice Department argued that Bagram is so much a part of ongoing military operations that there simply is no role for U.S. courts to play. “To provide alien enemy combatants detained in a theater of war the privilege of access to our civil courts is unthinkable both legally and practically,” the government’s brief claimed.

The government claims the U.S. does not have nearly the control over the Bagram Airfield as it does over Guantanamo Bay, and thus the reasoning of the Supreme Court in extending habeas rights to Guantanamo should not apply to Bagram.

It also noted that Bagram is in the midst of a war zone; Guantanamo is not.  It asserted that civilian court review of Bagram detentions would actually compromise the military mission in Afghanistan.

The Munaf decision also has no application to Bagram, the government’s motion contended, because that involved U.S. citizens, not foreign nationals.

Lawyers for the Bagram detainees noted that some of them have been held for more than six years, so any argument the Justice Department might have made against habeas rights abroad has now lost its force “after so much time has passed.”

They say the issue “is whether the Executive can create a modern-day Star Chamber, where it can label an individual an ‘enemy combatant’ or ‘unlawful enemy combatant,’ deny him any meaningful ability to challenge that label, and on that basis, detain him indefinitely, virtually incommunicado, subject to interrogation and torture, without any right of redress.”

The lawyers note that the Supreme Court has rejected such efforts at Guantanamo on three occasions.  But it added that the government is now seeking “to revive their effort to create a prison beyond judicial scrutiny by arguing that habeas does not extend to Bagram because they have deliberately located their Star Chamber in an airfield they contend is outside their ‘realm,’ for the express purpose of avoiding compliance with domestic civil, criminal, military, and international law.”

Bagram, their brief contended, “is not a temporary holding camp, intended to house enemy soldiers apprehended on the battlefield, for the duration of a declared war, finite in time and space.”  It said the “war on terror” as conceived by the government is “unlimited in duration and global in scope.”

It also noted that, unlike Guantanamo, Bagram is a permanent prison. Thousands of individuals from all over the world have been taken to the airfield prison, and nearly 700 remain there now, and it is being expanded with a new prison to hold more than 11,000. Moreover, they argued, Bagram detainees do not even have the minimal procedural guarantees to have their captivity reviewed that Guantanamo prisoners have in the so-called “Combatant Status Review Tribunals.” The military does not operate CSRTs as Bagram.

Lawyers for the four men — two Yemeni, one Tunisian and one Afghan – said none was captured while in battle or otherwise directly aiding terrorist groups.

The Justice Department argued that releasing alleged enemy combatants into the Afghan war zone, or even diverting U.S. personnel there to consider their legal cases, could threaten security.

“What evidence is there to believe they would return to the battlefield?” Judge Bates asked Deputy Assistant Attorney General John O’Quinn. “They were not on the battlefield to begin with.”

William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now writes on a wide-range of issues, from human rights to foreign affairs, for numerous newspapers and online journals. He blogs at The World According to Bill Fisher.

US interrogators may have killed dozens, human rights researcher and rights group say

May 7, 2009

By John Byrne | The Raw Story, May 6, 2009

United States interrogators killed nearly four dozen detainees during or after their interrogations, according a report published by a human rights researcher based on a Human Rights First report and followup investigations.

In all, 98 detainees have died while in US hands. Thirty-four homicides have been identified, with at least eight detainees — and as many as 12 — having been tortured to death, according to a 2006 Human Rights First report that underwrites the researcher’s posting. The causes of 48 more deaths remain uncertain.

The researcher, John Sifton, worked for five years for Human Rights Watch. In a posting Tuesday, he documents myriad cases of detainees who died at the hands of their US interrogators. Some of the instances he cites are graphic.

Most of those taken captive were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. They include at least one Afghani soldier, Jamal Naseer, who was mistakenly arrested in 2004. “Those arrested with Naseer later said that during interrogations U.S. personnel punched and kicked them, hung them upside down, and hit them with sticks or cables,” Sifton writes. “Some said they were doused with cold water and forced to lie in the snow. Nasser collapsed about two weeks after the arrest, complaining of stomach pain, probably an internal hemorrhage.”

Another Afghan killing occurred in 2002. Mohammad Sayari was killed by four U.S. servicemembers after being detained for allegedly “following their movements.” A Pentagon document obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2005 said that the Defense Department found a captain and three sergeants had “murdered” Sayari, but the section dealing with the department’s probe was redacted.

Perhaps the most macabre case occurred in Iraq, which was documented in a Human Rights First report in 2006.

“Nagem Sadoon Hatab… a 52-year-old Iraqi, was killed while in U.S. custody at a holding camp close to Nasiriyah,” the group wrote. “Although a U.S. Army medical examiner found that Hatab had died of strangulation, the evidence that would have been required to secure accountability for his death – Hatab’s body – was rendered unusable in court. Hatab’s internal organs were left exposed on an airport tarmac for hours; in the blistering Baghdad heat, the organs were destroyed; the throat bone that would have supported the Army medical examiner’s findings of strangulation was never found.”

In another graphic instance, a former Iraqi general was beaten by US forces and suffocated to death. The military officer charged in the death was given just 60 days house arrest.

“Abed Hamed Mowhoush [was] a former Iraqi general beaten over days by U.S. Army, CIA and other non-military forces, stuffed into a sleeping bag, wrapped with electrical cord, and suffocated to death,” Human Rights First writes. “In the recently concluded trial of a low-level military officer charged in Mowhoush’s death, the officer received a written reprimand, a fine, and 60 days with his movements limited to his work, home, and church.”

Another Iraqi man was killed in a US detention facility on Mosul in 2003.

“U.S. military personnel who examined Kenami when he first arrived at the facility determined that he had no preexisting medical conditions,” the rights group writes. “Once in custody, as a disciplinary measure for talking, Kenami was forced to perform extreme amounts of exercise—a technique used across Afghanistan and Iraq. Then his hands were bound behind his back with plastic handcuffs, he was hooded, and forced to lie in an overcrowded cell. Kenami was found dead the morning after his arrest, still bound and hooded. No autopsy was conducted; no official cause of death was determined. After the Abu Ghraib scandal, a review of Kenami’s death was launched, and Army reviewers criticized the initial criminal investigation for failing to conduct an autopsy; interview interrogators, medics, or detainees present at the scene of the death; and collect physical evidence. To date, however, the Army has taken no known action in the case.”

Death from interrogation is hard to separate from simple detainee death while in US custody. But one particular case stands out that seems to have fallen by the wayside — the murder of CIA “ghost” detainee named Manadel al-Jamadi, who was tortured to death by a CIA team at Abu Ghraib in 2003.

“Pictures of Abu Ghraib guards Charles Graner and Sabrina Harman posing with al-Jamadi’s dead body, the so-called Ice Man, were among the most notorious of the Abu Ghraib photographs published in April 2004,” Sifton notes. “A CIA officer named Mark Swanner and an interpreter led the team that interrogated al-Jamadi. Nine Navy personnel were also implicated. An autopsy conducted by the U.S. military five days after al-Jamadi’s death found that the cause: “blunt force injuries complicated by compromised respiration.”

“Reporting by The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer and NPR’s John McChesney revealed that al-Jamadi was strung up from handcuffs behind his back, a torture tactic sometimes called a ‘Palestinian hanging,’” he adds. “After an investigation, the CIA referred the case to the Department of Justice for possible criminal prosecution of the CIA personnel involved, but no charges were ever brought. Prosecutors accused 10 Navy personnel of the crime; nine were given nonjudicial punishments, such as rank reductions and letters of reprimand, and a 10th was acquitted.”

Additionally, Sifton notes the CIA may have had some close calls with detainees nearly dying during interrogations: the May 10, 2005, Bush Administration torture memo by Stephen Bradbury notes that doctors were nearby to perform a tracheotomy if during waterboarding the suspect is approaching death.

“Most seriously, for reasons of physical fatigue of psychological resignation, the subject may simply give up, allowing excessive filling of the airways and loss of consciousness,” Bradbury wrote. “An unresponsive subject should be righted immediately, and the integrator should deliver a sub-xyphoid thrust to expel the water. If this fails to restore normal breathing, aggressive medical intervention is required….’”

The memo says CIA doctors were on hand with necessary equipment to perform a tracheotomy if necessary during waterboarding sessions: “[W]e are informed that the necessary emergency medical equipment is always present—although not visible to the detainee—during any application of the waterboard.”

Silence on Sri Lanka

April 15, 2009

Morning Star Online,  April 14, 2009

The lack of news coverage on Sri Lanka has been absolutely extraordinary. The war has been going on since 1983. It has resulted in the deaths of thousands of people in the north and east of Sri Lanka, where Tamils have suffered at the hands of the army, and in attacks on the capital Colombo and elsewhere.

It has also damaged civil liberties in Sri Lanka, leading to the deaths of a number of politicians and the disappearance of journalists.

Last Saturday saw an enormous demonstration in London which, with the honourable exception of the Morning Star, many papers simply refused to cover at all – despite the fact that well over 200,000 people were present, overwhelmingly from the Tamil diaspora.

The protesters have also occupied Parliament Square and two of them have been on hunger strike in order to force the pace of British demands for a ceasefire.

The British government has appointed ex-defence secretary Des Browne as its peace envoy, but even his appointment has been rejected by the Sri Lankan government. Norway, which has played a positive role in the past and once negotiated a ceasefire, has been told that it can no longer speak to the Sri Lankan government.

The rally on Saturday demanded an immediate and unconditional ceasefire as a prelude to negotiations. The Sri Lankan government has announced a two-day new year ceasefire, but couched its announcement in terms of allowing civilians to leave the enclave at Varina rather than as part of a longer-term peace process.

The Sri Lankan government has pursued the war with incredible intensity and ferocity over the past few months, with ominous reports of civilian targets being bombed and the use of illegal weapons.

The UN security council found itself able to meet at a few hours notice after North Korea launched a rocket which was apparently a mechanism to put a satellite into orbit. The launch killed no-one, no-one was injured and no country was attacked.

But the continuous death toll in Sri Lanka has so far not yet warranted a special meeting of the security council, although one is now apparently to be scheduled.

Sri Lanka is well armed with weapons purchased from all over the world and its economy has been buoyed in recent years by huge tourist income, despite a raging war a few hundred miles away from the Europeans sunning themselves on the beaches.

The war in Sri Lanka is in effect a legacy of the British colonial period and while the Sri Lankan army clearly has succeeded in reducing the military capability of the Tamil Tigers, it has not solved the basic cause of the problem or put forward any strategy for doing so.

The very least that Britain can do is halt tourism and any strategic weapons supplies to Sri Lanka and assist in promoting talks and recognition of the Tamil people.

It’s tragic that the Tamil people should turn out in such huge numbers in London last week but very few others seem willing or able to show their support.

Civilian deaths mount in Gaza war

January 5, 2009
Al Jazera, January 5, 2008

Women and children are among the many
Palestinian casualties [AFP]

Palestinian civilians are continuing to suffer as the Israeli military pushes deeper into the Gaza Strip.

At least 540 people have been killed in the territory in the last 10 days, with more than 80 deaths reported since the Israeli ground offensive began on Saturday.

Among the dead on Monday was a family of seven from Shati refugee camp, who were killed by Israeli navy shelling.

Three siblings from one family, as well as a girl and her grandfather, also died in the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza during artillery shelling.

Emergency medical services have also come under attack with the al-Awda hospital in Jabaliya being hit by two Israeli shells, foreign human rights actvists said.

“Two consecutive shells just landed in the busy car park 15 metres from the entrance to the emergency room,” Alberto Arce of the International Solidarity Movement said in a statement.

“The entrance of the emergency room was damaged. At the time of the shelling ambulances were bringing in the wounded that keep pouring in.”

Medics killed

On Sunday, an Israeli raid killed at least four paramedics as they tried to reach wounded Palestinians. Ambulances have also been hit in the attacks, Palestinian sources said.

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Israeli government officials say they are not targeting civilians, but only seeking to halt rocket fire from the Palestinian Hamas movement governing Gaza.

There are also fears that the humanitarian situation will further deteriorate as the strip, home to 1.5 million people, is suffering from acute shortages of fuel, food and medical supplies.The UN has warned that there were “critical gaps” in aid reaching Gaza, despite claims from Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, that there was no crisis and that aid was getting through.

Christopher Gunness, the UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa) spokesman, said the idea that there was no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, was absurd.

“The organisation for which I work – Unrwa – has approximately 9,000 to 10,000 workers on the ground. They are speaking with the ordinary civilians in Gaza… People are suffering,” he said.

“A quarter of all those being killed now are civilians. So when I hear people say we’re doing our best to avoid civilian casualties that rings very hollow indeed.”

About 250,000 people in the northern part of Gaza are also reported to be without electricity. The main power plant has been shut down for lack of fuel due to Israel’s blockade.

Defiant Hamas

Despite the crisis in Gaza, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas official, said the group was heading for “victory” against the Israeli military.

Map


Israeli positions in Gaza

He said that Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz-e-din al-Qassam Brigades, had “given the most beautiful performances during its confrontation with the army that the world thought invincible”.

Palestinian factions have continued to launch rockets into southern Israel, despite more than a week of aerial bombardment by Israel and the ground offensive.

One Israeli soldier has been confirmed killed in the Gaza assault so far, with at least 49 others wounded. Four Israelis have also been killed by Palestinian rockets.

The International Red Cross and world leaders have appealed to both Israel and Hamas to stop targeting civilians and work to restore a ceasefire.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

The antiwar movement and the “good war”

August 26, 2008

Eric Ruder argues that the antiwar movement needs to respond clearly to the growing focus of U.S. military might on Afghanistan.

U.S. paratrooper on patrol in Afghanistan's Paktika province (SoldiersMedia)U.S. paratrooper on patrol in Afghanistan’s Paktika province (SoldiersMedia)

ON ONE day in mid-August, Taliban forces in Afghanistan carried out their most serious attack in six years, mounting an all-night strike on a U.S. military base in the eastern province of Khost and a fierce assault on French forces east of the capital.

The Khost offensive targeted one of the largest foreign military bases in the country and was eventually repulsed, but the attack on French forces by 100 Taliban insurgents killed 10 French soldiers and wounded 21 more. Together, the attacks are the latest expression of the growing confidence and competence of the Taliban and the growing ferocity of the fighting in America’s “other war.”

Since the beginning of July, 70 coalition troops have been killed in Afghanistan, compared to just 31 U.S. troops killed in Iraq during the same period. Already this year, 192 NATO troops have been killed in Afghanistan, compared to 232 killed in all of last year, which itself was the deadliest for NATO troops since the war began in 2001.

At the same time, other developments in and around the region–the resignation of Pakistan’s ex-president Gen. Pervez Musharraf and the Russian thrashing of Georgia’s U.S.-backed military–have illustrated starkly that a new balance of power is taking shape, dealing a setback to U.S. ambitions.

This makes the stakes for the U.S. in Afghanistan higher than ever–and simultaneously places new demands on the U.S. antiwar movement.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

SINCE 2003, the antiwar movement has anchored itself in opposition to the U.S. war on Iraq, which was generally understood as a “war of choice” undertaken by the Bush administration. But the movement has been at best muted in its criticism–and at worst actually supportive–of the U.S. war on Afghanistan as a “legitimate” targeting of al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden following the September 11, 2001, attacks.

But in fact, the U.S. didn’t invade Afghanistan to “bring the perpetrators of 9/11 to justice” or to “liberate Afghan women from the Taliban.”

In truth, the U.S. had long sought an accommodation with the Taliban. As one U.S. diplomat put it in 1997, “The Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis. There will be Aramco [the oil consortium], pipelines, an emir, no parliament and lots of Sharia law. We can live with that.”

From the time that it took office, the Bush administration had been negotiating with the Taliban to enlist it as a regime friendly to U.S. interests and able to provide a bulwark against Russian and Chinese influence. At one point in negotiations, U.S. representatives tired of the slow pace and threatened Taliban officials, saying “either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs,” according to a book by Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie.

When the 9/11 attacks happened, it became the perfect rationale for imperial aggression that the U.S. had already contemplated.

The material and geopolitical interests that underpinned the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan are the subject of increasingly blunt discussions within the foreign policy establishment.

As Richard Holbrooke, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 1999 to 2001, wrote in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs:

As the war enters its eighth year, Americans should be told the truth: it will last a long time–longer than the United States’ longest war to date, the 14-year conflict (1961-75) in Vietnam. Success will require new policies with regard to four major problem areas: the tribal areas in Pakistan, the drug lords who dominate the Afghan system, the national police, and the incompetence and corruption of the Afghan government.

An August 21 New York Times editorial makes the case even more plainly:

More American ground troops will have to be sent to Afghanistan. The Pentagon’s over-reliance on air strikes– which have led to high levels of civilian casualties–has dangerously antagonized the Afghan population. This may require an accelerated timetable for shifting American forces from Iraq, where the security situation has grown somewhat less desperate.

NATO also needs to step up its military effort. With Russia threatening to redraw the post-Soviet map of Europe, this is not time for NATO to forfeit its military credibility by losing a war. Europe does not have a lot of available ground troops either. But it needs to send its best ones to Afghanistan and let them fight.

Afghanistan’s war is not a sideshow…Washington, NATO and the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan must stop fighting it like a holding action and develop a strategy to win. Otherwise, we will all lose.

Presidential candidate Barack Obama is already promising to implement precisely this plan, calling himself a “strong supporter of the war in Afghanistan” and pledging to withdraw forces from Iraq in order to send at least two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan.

Continued . . .


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