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U.S./NATO War in Afghanistan: Articles

28 Jul

I decided to post some articles about the U.S.’s war in Afghanistan.

“US eyes private guards for bases in Afghanistan” by Richard Lardner (The Associated Press, July 26, 2009). An AP news article about the U.S. considering the use of private military contractors at dozens of bases and to protect vehicle convoys in Afghanistan.

“Everything That Happens in Afghanistan Is Based on Lies or Illusions: A Film That Captures Some Edgy, Fearful Truths” by Ann Jones (TomDispatch.com, July 16, 2009). Ann Jones of Christian Parenti’s film “Fixer”, a documentary about the war in Afghanistan. Parenti manages to get information that most reporters cannot get with the help of a fixer, “a local guy who knows the language, the local politics, the protocols of custom — and how to arrange a meeting like this in the middle of nowhere with men who might kill you.” Hence, the title of the film. This is definitely a film I would like to see.

“In Afghanistan surge, soldiers negotiate a complex web of local loyalties” by Anand Gopal (The Christian Science Monitor, July 7, 2009; Part 1 in a 2-part series). Anand Gopal reports on the difficulty of American soldiers to win the trust of the local Afghans.

“U.S. troops in Afghanistan face tough battle: Making ‘clear, hold, and build’ work” by Anand Gopal. (The Christian Science Monitor, July 8, 2009; Part 2 in a 2-part series). This article expounds on the previous one – the difficulty of American troops occupying Afghanistan and winning the hearts and minds of the locals.

[NOTE: Anand Gopal has a website called http://anandgopal.com/ that has all of his articles and blogs. I definitely recommend reading his pieces to learn more about the situation in Afghanistan.]

“Armageddon at the Top of the World: Not!: A Century of Frenzy over the North-West Frontier” by Juan Cole (TomDispatch.com, July 27, 2009). Juan Cole provides a great historical comparison between the British paranoia over the threat of the Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the United States’ similar paranoia. Definitely worth the long read. Here are some good passages that are at the end:

“Both in the era between the two world wars and again in the early twenty-first century, the Pashtun peoples have been objects of anxiety in world capitals out of all proportion to the security challenge they actually pose. As it turned out, the real threat to the British Isles in the twentieth century emanated from one of what Churchill called their ‘civilized’ European neighbors. Nothing the British tried in the North-West Frontier and its hinterland actually worked. By the 1940s the British hold on the tribal agencies and frontier regions was shakier than ever before, and the tribes more assertive. After the British were forced out of the subcontinent in 1947, London’s anxieties about the Pashtuns and their world-changing potential abruptly evaporated.

Today, we are again hearing that the Waziris and the Mahsuds are dire threats to Western civilization. The tribal struggle for control of obscure villages in the foothills of the Himalayas is being depicted as a life-and-death matter for the North Atlantic world. Again, there is aerial surveillance, bombing, artillery fire, and — this time — displacement of civilians on a scale no British viceroy ever contemplated.

In 1921, vague threats to the British Empire from a small, weak principality of Afghanistan and a nascent, if still supine, Soviet Union underpinned a paranoid view of the Pashtuns. Today, the supposed entanglement with al-Qaeda of those Pashtuns termed ‘Taliban’ by U.S. and NATO officials — or even with Iran or Russia — has focused Washington’s and Brussels’s military and intelligence efforts on the highland villagers once again.

Few of the Pashtuns in question, even the rebellious ones, are really Taliban in the sense of militant seminary students; few so-called Taliban are entwined with what little is left of al-Qaeda in the region; and Iran and Russia are not, of course, actually supporting the latter. There may be plausible reasons for which the U.S. and NATO wish to spend blood and treasure in an attempt to forcibly shape the politics of the 38 million Pashtuns on either side of the Durand Line in the twenty-first century. That they form a dire menace to the security of the North Atlantic world is not one of them.”

“War Without Purpose” by Chris Hedges (Truthdig.com, July 20, 2009). Chris Hedges essentially argues that the war in Afghanistan is without purpose. His last paragraph is good:

“The only way to defeat terrorist groups is to isolate them within their own societies. This requires wooing the population away from radicals. It is a political, economic and cultural war. The terrible algebra of military occupation and violence is always counterproductive to this kind of battle. It always creates more insurgents than it kills. It always legitimizes terrorism. And while we squander resources and lives, the real enemy, al-Qaida, has moved on to build networks in Indonesia, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and Morocco and depressed Muslim communities such as those in France’s Lyon and London’s Brixton area. There is no shortage of backwaters and broken patches of the Earth where al-Qaida can hide and operate. It does not need Afghanistan, and neither do we.”

“Time to Rethink Afghan Strategy” by Patrick Seale (Agence Global, July 17, 2009). Patrick Seale argues that it’s time for the U.S. to rethink its strategy in Afghanistan since the war is not working in defeating al-Qaeda. Rather than making the world safer from terrorism, the war in Afghanistan has bred more terrorism.

“Afghanistan: US Should Act to End Bombing Tragedies” (Human Rights Watch, May 14, 2009). Human Rights Watch condemns US bombing attacks on Afghan civilians and urges reform in military tactics to reduce civilian casualties. Here are a few passages from the report but I recommend reading the entire thing:

“A preliminary investigation by Human Rights Watch found that on the morning of May 3,  a large Taliban force arrived in the village of Ganj Abad in Bala Baluk district. Large areas of Farah province, in unstable southwestern Afghanistan, are under insurgent control, including areas close to where the fighting took place.

Villagers told Human Rights Watch that the insurgents demanded a share of the villagers’ poppy income and took up ambush positions. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that a firefight lasting several hours ensued between the Taliban and Afghan and US forces. A small number of bombs are reported to have been dropped by US forces, after which the fighting ended, in late afternoon. As many as six civilians may have been killed during the firefight.

According to several villagers and government officials interviewed by Human Rights Watch, large groups of Taliban fighters were seen withdrawing from the area. At around 8:30 p.m., US aircraft began bombing the village of Garani, close to Ganj Abad. Villagers say that it was during these bombings that most of the civilians were killed. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations that between eight and 12 bombs were dropped. US officials have said that a total of 13 bombs were dropped during the entire day, in eight locations…

Under the laws of war, attacks may not be indiscriminate or cause disproportionate civilian loss. Indiscriminate attacks are attacks of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction. Disproportionate attacks are those expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life that would be excessive compared the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from the attack. In the conduct of military operations, constant care must be taken to spare the civilian population and civilian objects from the effects of hostilities.

Parties to a conflict are required to take precautionary measures with a view to minimizing loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, and damage to civilian objects. These precautions include doing everything feasible to verify that the objects to be attacked are military objectives and not civilians; and taking all feasible precautions in the choice of means and methods of warfare…

Human Rights Watch has long criticized the Taliban for using civilians as ‘human shields,’ and for deploying their forces in densely populated areas that placed civilians at unnecessary risk. However, unlawful actions by a defending force do not permit the attacker to ignore the civilian presence.

Human Rights Watch said that the new investigation should treat the bereaved with respect, place blame wherever it is deserved, and hold to account those responsible for acting improperly. The US has not yet completed its inquiry, but already has accused the Afghan government of exaggerating the number of civilian dead.”

Here are their recommendations:

Recommendations

Human Rights Watch urges the United States to:

  • Take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian loss of life and property. Airstrikes on populated villages should be avoided. Area-effect weapons such as howitzers and other heavy artillery also should not be used against targets in populated villages – their blast and fragmentation radius is so large that they have indiscriminate effects.
  • Refrain from using airstrikes in densely populated areas.
  • Make greater efforts to ensure that intelligence is highly reliable, and avoid reliance on single sources of human intelligence.
  • Avoid carrying out airstrikes without an adequate Collateral Damage Estimate (CDE).
  • Use precision-guided, low-collateral-damage munitions whenever possible, especially on targets in populated areas.
  • End use of area-effect weapons such as 105mm howitzers against targets in densely populated areas.
  • Reduce reliance on Special Forces operations in civilian areas that are likely to result in ‘troops in contact’ situations requiring close air support.
  • Reconsider the value of kill/capture operations against replaceable commanders when civilian loss is likely.
  • Provide accurate and timely information on civilian casualties in military operations in all cases.
  • Impartially, thoroughly, and transparently investigate all incidents of civilian casualties, take responsibility when warranted, and take appropriate disciplinary or criminal action.
  • Stop publicly claiming that Taliban use of ‘human shields’ was responsible for civilian casualties when untrue or unproven.”

Here are two articles, written by Dahr Jamail, about a brave soldier, Victor Agosto, who is refusing to fight in Afghanistan.

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