Posts Tagged ‘US and NATO’

Time to Quit Afghanistan

March 16, 2009

by Eric Margolis | Toronto Sun (Canada), March 15, 2009

It’s taken far too long for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to finally admit the war in Afghanistan cannot be won. Better late than never. Kudos to Harper for facing facts and telling Canadians the truth.

If the war can’t be won, why risk lives of Canadian troops for nothing? Why stay in harm’s way a day longer when the writing is on the wall in Afghanistan? President Barack Obama, who is sending more troops to Afghanistan, ought to be asking himself the same questions.

We must think hard about waging an increasingly bloody war against lightly-armed mountain tribesmen who face the 24/7 lethal fury of the U.S. air force’s heavy bombers, strike aircraft, helicopter and AC-130 Spectre gunships, killer drones and heavy artillery. Do we really want a test of wills against men who have the courage to endure cluster bombs with thousands of sharp fragments, white phosphorus that burns through flesh to the bone, fuel/air explosives that burst the lungs and tear apart bodies? Will Canada’s use of Soviet helicopters and Israeli drones win Afghan hearts and minds?

Our propaganda brands these Pashtun tribesmen as “Taliban terrorists.” They call themselves warriors fighting occupation by the western powers and their local Communist, Tajik and Uzbek allies.

Al-Qaida’s few hundred members long ago vanished.

Fatuous claims we occupy Afghanistan to protect women are belied by the continued plight of Afghan females under western rule. A British report just concluded 100,000 Indian women are burned alive each year for their dowries. Will we now send troops to India?

Only the first step

Admitting the U.S. and NATO cannot bludgeon the Afghan resistance into submission is only the first step. If the war can’t be won, then Canadian soldiers should remain in their bases, stop aggressive patrolling and cease attacks on Taliban supporters and civilians. Other NATO members are doing so.

The next step is to understand that wars are waged for political objectives, not simply to kill your enemies.

The U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan have no coherent political objectives. The U.S.-installed Karzai regime in Kabul has no political legitimacy and commands no respect or loyalty. It is engulfed by corruption and massive drug dealing. The Obama administration is casting about for a new puppet, but so far can’t find one who could do any better than poor Karzai. You can’t make a puppet into a real national leader.

Worse, as Kabul flounders and the Taliban and its allies are on the offensive, events in neighbouring Pakistan are going from awful to calamitous. The West cannot wage war in Afghanistan without the support of Pakistan’s army, air bases, intelligence service and logistical infrastructure. That means keeping a government in power in Islamabad responsive to U.S. demands and that will continue renting its army to Washington.

But Pakistan is in political chaos. After easing former discredited dictator Pervez Musharraf out of power, Washington eased into power Pakistan People’s Party leader, Asif Ali Zardari, widower of Benazir Bhutto. His popularity ratings are rock bottom.

Zardari recently got his stooges on the corrupt Supreme Court to ban Pakistan’s most popular democratic opposition leader, Pakistan Muslim League chief Nawaz Sharif, from running for office. Nawaz’s brother, Shabaz, also was judicially deposed as minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s largest state.

Violent demonstrations against Zardari’s dictatorial ploy are shaking Pakistan. It would be surprising if the unpopular Zardari, who is dogged by grave corruption charges, manages to cling to power. But Nawaz also has plenty of skeletons in his closets. The army — Pakistan’s other government — is watching the nation’s descent into bankruptcy and political chaos with mounting concern.

The military fortunes of the U.S. and NATO in South Asia thus rest on political quicksand in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Plans by the U.S. to arm tribes on Pakistan’s North-West Frontier are sure to bring even more violence and chaos.

NATO, which has no strategic interest in the region, would be wise to get its troops out of this boiling mess.

What are U.S. goals in Afghanistan?

March 14, 2009

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is making a big mistake in escalating U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan where he already has acknowledged he doesn’t believe victory is possible.

We should ask: What are we doing there seven years after the 9/11 attacks by the al-Qaida network? Historically, the country has lacked a strong central government and has been governed by locally strong tribal leaders and warlords.

Al-Qaida was able to take advantage of this loose structure and turn Afghanistan into the plotting ground for the terrorists who struck the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in New York.

But what are our goals there in 2009?

While the U.S. is supposed to wind down its presence in Iraq in 19 months (rather than the 16 months promised by Obama on the campaign trail), the president has ordered a military buildup in Afghanistan to more than 50,000 troops, both from the U.S. and other NATO members.

He would leave 50,000 Americans in Iraq to cope with the resistance there. Such was the folly of President George W. Bush, who invaded Iraq after his hawkish neoconservative advisers told him we would triumph in a few weeks.

To this day none of Bush’s reasons for attacking Iraq have held up to examination. There were no weapons of mass destruction, no Iraqi ties to al-Qaida and no threat to the United States.

There have been no apologies from Bush or his cohorts.

When Obama visited Afghanistan last summer as a presidential candidate, he joined several other senators in a get-tough statement that said: “We need a great sense of urgency because the threat from the Taliban and al-Qaida is growing and we must act. We need determination because it will take time to prevail. But with the right strategy and the resources to back it up, we will get the job done.”

What exactly is the job that he says needs to get done? What is the U.S. exit strategy? Does anyone in power remember the lessons we were supposed to have learned from Vietnam?

Afghanistan is known as the “graveyard of empires” because of the repeated failure of invaders over the centuries to achieve their goals in that rugged country.

U.S. prowling around in Afghanistan hasn’t aroused anti-war protests as did the March 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. I am puzzled about this. It seems to me we are leaping out of the frying pan into the fire!

American public aversion to our military adventures in Afghanistan has been fueled by our shock at the toll that U.S. planes and aerial drones have inflicted on Afghan civilians.

There have been indications that Obama may start diplomatic overtures to the Taliban at a time when the human and financial costs of the two wars are wearing down the U.S. as it struggles with an economic depression that has no end in sight.

According to White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, the president is evaluating the situation in Afghanistan.

Obama would do well to study the trajectory that took us into the Vietnam War and the terrible price we paid there. We lost the war and fled by helicopters from Saigon.

Both Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon thought that they could win in Vietnam, but they were brought down as much by the American people — who rebelled against the war — as they were by the North Vietnamese.

Obama could go deeper in history and check out President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s career for a lesson on how to end a war.

When running for the White House in 1952, when the American public was growing frustrated about the long U.S. involvement in the Korean War, Eisenhower told voters: “I shall go to Korea.”

And he did. The Korean War ended in a standoff in 1953 — much to the relief of the American people.

Despite some ensuing skirmishes in the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas, a truce has endured ever since.

During the 2008 campaign, Obama indicated that he was willing to speak to all parties in the military or diplomatic disputes we were involved in. He was criticized for his plan for outreach to the militants in Afghanistan.

But there is no alternative.

Sooner or later American presidents should learn that people will always fight for their country against a foreign invader. And peace should be the only goal.

Helen Thomas is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers. E-mail: helent@hearstdc.com. Copyright 2009 Hearst Newspapers.

Gorbachev: Russia Never Wanted a War

August 20, 2008
Published: August 19, 2008
Moscow

THE acute phase of the crisis provoked by the Georgian forces’ assault on Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, is now behind us. But how can one erase from memory the horrifying scenes of the nighttime rocket attack on a peaceful town, the razing of entire city blocks, the deaths of people taking cover in basements, the destruction of ancient monuments and ancestral graves?

Russia did not want this crisis. The Russian leadership is in a strong enough position domestically; it did not need a little victorious war. Russia was dragged into the fray by the recklessness of the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili. He would not have dared to attack without outside support. Once he did, Russia could not afford inaction.

The decision by the Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev, to now cease hostilities was the right move by a responsible leader. The Russian president acted calmly, confidently and firmly. Anyone who expected confusion in Moscow was disappointed.

The planners of this campaign clearly wanted to make sure that, whatever the outcome, Russia would be blamed for worsening the situation. The West then mounted a propaganda attack against Russia, with the American news media leading the way.

The news coverage has been far from fair and balanced, especially during the first days of the crisis. Tskhinvali was in smoking ruins and thousands of people were fleeing — before any Russian troops arrived. Yet Russia was already being accused of aggression; news reports were often an embarrassing recitation of the Georgian leader’s deceptive statements.

It is still not quite clear whether the West was aware of Mr. Saakashvili’s plans to invade South Ossetia, and this is a serious matter. What is clear is that Western assistance in training Georgian troops and shipping large supplies of arms had been pushing the region toward war rather than peace.

If this military misadventure was a surprise for the Georgian leader’s foreign patrons, so much the worse. It looks like a classic wag-the-dog story.

Mr. Saakashvili had been lavished with praise for being a staunch American ally and a real democrat — and for helping out in Iraq. Now America’s friend has wrought disorder, and all of us — the Europeans and, most important, the region’s innocent civilians — must pick up the pieces.

Those who rush to judgment on what’s happening in the Caucasus, or those who seek influence there, should first have at least some idea of this region’s complexities. The Ossetians live both in Georgia and in Russia. The region is a patchwork of ethnic groups living in close proximity. Therefore, all talk of “this is our land,” “we are liberating our land,” is meaningless. We must think about the people who live on the land.

The problems of the Caucasus region cannot be solved by force. That has been tried more than once in the past two decades, and it has always boomeranged.

What is needed is a legally binding agreement not to use force. Mr. Saakashvili has repeatedly refused to sign such an agreement, for reasons that have now become abundantly clear.

The West would be wise to help achieve such an agreement now. If, instead, it chooses to blame Russia and re-arm Georgia, as American officials are suggesting, a new crisis will be inevitable. In that case, expect the worst.

In recent days, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Bush have been promising to isolate Russia. Some American politicians have threatened to expel it from the Group of 8 industrialized nations, to abolish the NATO-Russia Council and to keep Russia out of the World Trade Organization.

These are empty threats. For some time now, Russians have been wondering: If our opinion counts for nothing in those institutions, do we really need them? Just to sit at the nicely set dinner table and listen to lectures?

Indeed, Russia has long been told to simply accept the facts. Here’s the independence of Kosovo for you. Here’s the abrogation of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty, and the American decision to place missile defenses in neighboring countries. Here’s the unending expansion of NATO. All of these moves have been set against the backdrop of sweet talk about partnership. Why would anyone put up with such a charade?

There is much talk now in the United States about rethinking relations with Russia. One thing that should definitely be rethought: the habit of talking to Russia in a condescending way, without regard for its positions and interests.

Our two countries could develop a serious agenda for genuine, rather than token, cooperation. Many Americans, as well as Russians, understand the need for this. But is the same true of the political leaders?

A bipartisan commission led by Senator Chuck Hagel and former Senator Gary Hart has recently been established at Harvard to report on American-Russian relations to Congress and the next president. It includes serious people, and, judging by the commission’s early statements, its members understand the importance of Russia and the importance of constructive bilateral relations.

But the members of this commission should be careful. Their mandate is to present “policy recommendations for a new administration to advance America’s national interests in relations with Russia.” If that alone is the goal, then I doubt that much good will come out of it. If, however, the commission is ready to also consider the interests of the other side and of common security, it may actually help rebuild trust between Russia and the United States and allow them to start doing useful work together.

Mikhail Gorbachev is the former president of the Soviet Union. This article was translated by Pavel Palazhchenko from the Russian.

Mikhail Gorbachev: We had no choice

August 13, 2008

Leaders in the Caucasus must stop flexing military muscle and develop the grounds for lasting peace

The past week’s events in South Ossetia are bound to shock and pain anyone. Already, thousands of people have died, tens of thousands have been turned into refugees, and towns and villages lie in ruins. Nothing can justify this loss of life and destruction. It is a warning to all.

The roots of this tragedy lie in the decision of Georgia’s separatist leaders in 1991 to abolish South Ossetian autonomy. Each time successive Georgian leaders tried to impose their will by force – both in South Ossetia and in Abkhazia, where the issues of autonomy are similar – it only made the situation worse.

Nevertheless, it was still possible to find a political solution. Clearly, the only way to solve the South Ossetian problem on that basis is through peaceful means. The Georgian leadership flouted this key principle.

What happened on the night of August 7 is beyond comprehension. The Georgian military attacked the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali with multiple rocket launchers designed to devastate large areas. Russia had to respond. To accuse it of aggression against “small, defenceless Georgia” is not just hypocritical but shows a lack of humanity.

The Georgian leadership could do this only with the perceived support and encouragement of a much more powerful force. Georgian armed forces were trained by hundreds of US instructors, and its sophisticated military equipment was bought in a number of countries. This, coupled with the promise of Nato membership, emboldened Georgian leaders.

Now that the military assault has been routed, both the Georgian government and its supporters should rethink their position. When the problems of South Ossetia and Abkhazia first flared up, I proposed that they be settled through a federation that would grant broad autonomy to the two republics. This idea was dismissed, particularly by the Georgians. Attitudes gradually shifted, but after last week it will be much more difficult to strike a deal even on such a basis.

Small nations of the Caucasus do have a history of living together. It has been demonstrated that a lasting peace is possible, that tolerance and cooperation can create conditions for normal life and development. Nothing is more important. The region’s political leaders need to realise this. Instead of flexing military muscle, they should devote their efforts to building the groundwork for durable peace.

Over the past few days, some western nations have taken positions, particularly in the UN security council, that have been far from balanced. As a result, the security council was not able to act effectively from the very start of this conflict. By declaring the Caucasus, a region that is thousands of miles from the American continent, a sphere of its “national interest”, the US made a serious blunder. Of course, peace in the Caucasus is in everyone’s interest. But it is simply common sense to recognise that Russia is rooted there by common geography and centuries of history. Russia is not seeking territorial expansion, but it has legitimate interests in this region.

The international community’s long-term aim could be to create a sub-regional system of security and cooperation that would make any provocation, and the very possibility of crises such as this one, impossible. Building this type of system would be challenging and could only be accomplished with the cooperation of the region’s countries themselves. Nations outside the region could perhaps help, too – but only if they take a fair and objective stance. A lesson from recent events is that geopolitical games are dangerous anywhere, not just in the Caucasus.

· Mikhail Gorbachev was the last president of the Soviet Union; he was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1990

© Washington Post

War in the Caucasus: Towards a Broader Russia-US Military Confrontation?

August 11, 2008
Global Research, August 10, 2008

During the night of August 7, coinciding with the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, Georgia’s president Saakashvili ordered an all-out military attack on Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia.

The aerial bombardments and ground attacks were largely directed against civilian targets including residential areas, hospitals and the university. The provincial capital Tskhinvali was destroyed. The attacks resulted in some 1500 civilian deaths, according to both Russian and Western sources. “The air and artillery bombardment left the provincial capital without water, food, electricity and gas. Horrified civilians crawled out of the basements into the streets as fighting eased, looking for supplies.” (AP, August 9, 2008). According to reports, some 34,000 people from South Ossetia have fled to Russia. (Deseret Morning News, Salt Lake City, August 10, 2008)

The importance and timing of this military operation must be carefully analyzed. It has far-reaching implications.

Georgia is an outpost of US and NATO forces, on the immediate border of the Russian Federation and within proximity of the Middle East Central Asian war theater. South Ossetia is also at the crossroads of strategic oil and gas pipeline routes.

Georgia does not act militarily without the assent of Washington. The Georgian head of State is a US proxy and Georgia is a de facto US protectorate.

Who is behind this military agenda? What interests are being served? What is the purpose of the military operation.

There is evidence that the attacks were carefully coordinated by the US military and NATO.

Moscow has accused NATO of “encouraging Georgia”. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov underscored the destabilizing impacts of “foreign” military aid to Georgia: .

“It all confirms our numerous warnings addressed to the international community that it is necessary to pay attention to massive arms purchasing by Georgia during several years. Now we see how these arms and Georgian special troops who had been trained by foreign specialists are used,” he said.(Moscow accuses NATO of having “encouraged Georgia” to attack South Ossetia, Russia Today, August 9, 2008)

Moscow’s envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, sent an official note to the representatives of all NATO member countries:

“Russia has already begun consultations with the ambassadors of the NATO countries and consultations with NATO military representatives will be held tomorrow,” Rogozin said. “We will caution them against continuing to further support of Saakashvili.”

“It is an undisguised aggression accompanied by a mass propaganda war,” he said.

(See Moscow accuses NATO of having “encouraged Georgia” to attack South Ossetia, Russia Today, August 9, 2008)

According to Rogozin, Georgia had initially planned to:

“start military action against Abkhazia, however, ‘the Abkhaz fortified region turned out to be unassailable for Georgian armed formations, therefore a different tactic was chosen aimed against South Ossetia’, which is more accessible territorially. The envoy has no doubts that Mikheil Saakashvili had agreed his actions with “sponsors”, “those with whom he is negotiating Georgia’s accession to NATO “. (RIA Novosti, August 8, 2008)

Contrary to what was conveyed by Western media reports, the attacks were anticipated by Moscow. The attacks were timed to coincide with the opening of the Olympics, largely with a view to avoiding frontpage media coverage of the Georgian military operation.

On August 7, Russian forces were in an advanced state readiness. The counterattack was swiftly carried out.

Russian paratroopers were sent in from Russia’s Ivanovo, Moscow and Pskov airborne divisions. Tanks, armored vehicles and several thousand ground troops have been deployed. Russian air strikes have largely targeted military facilities inside Georgia including the Gori military base.

The Georgian military attack was repealed with a massive show of strength on the part of the Russian military.

In this image made from television, Russian military vehicles are seen moving towards the capital of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali, on Friday, Aug. 8, 2008. (AP / APTN)

Act of Provocation?

US-NATO military and intelligence planners invariably examine various “scenarios” of a proposed military operation– i.e. in this case, a limited Georgian attack largely directed against civilian targets, with a view to inflicting civilian casualties.

The examination of scenarios is a routine practice. With limited military capabilities, a Georgian victory and occupation of Tskhinvali, was an impossibility from the outset. And this was known and understood to US-NATO military planners.

A humanitarian disaster rather than a military victory was an integral part of the scenario. The objective was to destroy the provincial capital, while also inflicting a significant loss of human life.

If the objective were to restore Georgian political control over the provincial government, the operation would have been undertaken in a very different fashion, with Special Forces occupying key public buildings, communications networks and provincial institutions, rather than waging an all out bombing raid on residential areas, hospitals, not to mention Tskhinvali’s University.


Tskhinvali’s University before the bombing

The Russian response was entirely predictable.

Georgia was “encouraged” by NATO and the US. Both Washington and NATO headquarters in Brussels were acutely aware of what would happen in the case of a Russian counterattack.

The question is: was this a deliberate provocation intended to trigger a Russian military response and suck the Russians into a broader military confrontation with Georgia (and allied forces) which could potentially escalate into an all out war?

Georgia has the third largest contingent of coalition forces in Iraq after the US and the UK, with some 2000 troops. According to reports, Georgian troops in Iraq are now being repatriated in US military planes, to fight Russian forces. (See Debka.com, August 10, 2008)

This US decision to repatriate Georgian servicemen suggests that Washington is intent upon an escalation of the conflict, where Georgian troops are to be used as cannon fodder against a massive deployment of Russian forces.

US-NATO and Israel Involved in the Planning of the Attacks

In mid-July, Georgian and U.S. troops held a joint military exercise entitled “Immediate Response” involving respectively 1,200 US and 800 Georgian troops.

The announcement by the Georgian Ministry of Defense on July 12 stated that they US and Georgian troops were to “train for three weeks at the Vaziani military base” near the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. (AP, July 15, 2008). These exercises, which were completed barely a week before the August 7 attacks, were an obvious dress rehearsal of a military operation, which, in all likelihood, had been planned in close cooperation with the Pentagon.

The war on Southern Ossetia was not meant to be won, leading to the restoration of Georgian sovereignty over South Ossetia. It was intended to destabilize the region while also triggering a US-NATO confrontation with Russia.

On July 12, coinciding with the outset of the Georgia-US war games, the Russian Defense Ministry started its own military maneuvers in the North Caucasus region. The usual disclaimer by both Tblisi and Moscow: the military exercises have “nothing to do” with the situation in South Ossetia. (Ibid)

Let us be under no illusions. This is not a civil war. The attacks are an integral part of the broader Middle East Central Asian war, including US-NATO-Israeli war preparations in relation to Iran.

The Role of Israeli Military Advisers

While NATO and US military advisers did not partake in the military operation per se, they were actively involved in the planning and logistics of the attacks. According to Israeli sources (Debka.com, August 8, 2008), the ground assault on August 7-8, using tanks and artillery was “aided by Israeli military advisers”. Israel also supplied Georgia with Hermes-450 and Skylark unmanned aerial vehicles, which were used in the weeks leading up to the August 7 attacks.

Georgia has also acquired, according to a report in Rezonansi (August 6, in Georgian, BBC translation) “some powerful weapons through the upgrade of Su-25 planes and artillery systems in Israel”. According to Haaretz (August 10, 2008), Israelis are active in military manufacturing and security consulting in Georgia.

Russian forces are now directly fighting a NATO-US trained Georgian army integrated by US and Israeli advisers. And Russian warplanes have attacked the military jet factory on the outskirts of Tbilisi, which produces the upgraded Su-25 fighter jet, with technical support from Israel. (CTV.ca, August 10, 2008)

When viewed in the broader context of the Middle East war, the crisis in Southern Ossetia could lead to escalation, including a direct confrontation between Russian and NATO forces. If this were to occur, we would be facing the most serious crisis in US-Russian relations since the Cuban Missile crisis in October 1962.

Continued . . .


%d bloggers like this: