All U.S. Troops Home Now
President Barack Obama recently announced plans to send at least 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, and, though not announced, a similar increase in Pentagon mercenaries (war contractors). The total number of U.S. and NATO occupation troops will be about 140,000, the same as those the Soviet Union had when it occupied — and was defeated in — Afghanistan. When the mercenaries of Blackwater (now Xe) and similar companies are included, the occupation force is far more. All this in order to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies.”
The only result of more war will be more death and de struction. It is a plan destined to failure as it goes against the just drive of the peoples to be free of occupation and determine their own affairs. And as eight years of war have already shown, it is U.S. aggression and terrorism against the peoples that is standing in the way of peace. It is the main source for insecurity and terrorism worldwide. By ending this terrorism, as demanded by the peoples of the region, the U.S. and all the world, the security and interests of the peoples can be increased. What is needed is a plan that actually puts into practice Obama’s words of relations of “mutual respect,” and that the U.S. has “no interest in occupying” Afghanistan. The first step then is to end the existing occupation, end the war and bring U.S. troops and mercenaries home now. The next would be to pay reparations. Another would be to bring to trial in a recognized international court all those guilty of war crimes and crimes of terrorism, beginning with U.S. officials. Eight years of war, and the experience of Korea, Vietnam and Iraq all make clear that it is the peoples fighting against occupation that have justice on their side and who emerge victorious. They also show that increased security comes from eliminating aggression and use of force against the peoples.
People across the U.S. in more than 100 cities immediately demonstrated against Obama’s war against the people of Afghanistan. They represented the demand of the majority, here and worldwide, to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now. They opposed the dictate of the executive, where the option of withdrawal and respect for sovereignty was not even on the table. Many also took action before his announcement, with petitions, letters and call-in days to Congress and the President, and demonstrations. Major demonstrations demanding the wars end now are also planned for December 12 and March 13-22. It is this will of the people against aggressive war that should be the decider, not Obama and his war council. It is organizing to make the people the decider that is increasingly on the agenda of all those determined to end the criminal U.S. wars and occupations.
In making his announcement, Obama attempted to use the September 11 terrorist attacks as justification. This is a very old attempt to justify the criminal aggression against the people of Afghanistan, one long-since worn out by former President George W. Bush. Let no one forget that the government of Afghanistan at the time of September 11, in accordance with international law, offered to turn Osama bin Laden over to a recognized international court for trial. The U.S. refused such action and instead launched the aggressive war against Afghanistan. And now uses the continued existence of al Qaeda to justify extending the war to Pakistan. And, as Obama brought out, to “Somalia or Yemen or elsewhere,” that the U.S. decides.
Collective punishment of an entire country for the crimes of a few individuals is itself a war crime. Charging and trying individuals in open court for crimes of terrorism is legitimate and in accordance with U.S. and international law. Indeed, Obama’s plan to now try several individuals for the September 11 attacks in federal court in New York City is positive. The action, as a step toward justice that can be recognized in the U.S. and worldwide, is being undermined by U.S. wars of aggression. Invading, bombing and occupying countries that are not responsible for the actions of a few September 11 is not legitimate and is illegal.
The peoples’ struggles and sacrifice to defeat fascism and aggressive wars in World War II gave rise to important principles of international law. These include respect for sovereignty of all countries big and small, outlawing aggression and making it a crime against the peace to do propaganda for war. Obama’s speech emphasized that the U.S., far from upholding these principles, will intensify and spread its aggression, interference, and crimes against the peace. More drone attacks against Pakistan are already underway. They are notorious for the mass killing of civilians. The attack on sovereignty is such that Obama called Afghanistan’s President Harmid Karzai and told him what would be happening in his country. He also made clear the U.S. no longer even recognizes the authority of the central government. Doing so would mean first gaining its approval for actions and that aid going to Afghanistan would go through the central government which would decide how it is spent. Instead, Obama now plans to begin bribing provincial governors and local officials whose “performance” meets with U.S. demands. This is being done in the name of opposing corruption. Yet certainly bribery itself is a mechanism of corruption, with the U.S. now the biggest corruptor. Indeed corruption is a part of the very nature of the war, which is further evident in the widespread and known corruption by the various mercenary forces.
The need to use bribery is a sign of weakness, a sign that reasoned argument and the legitimacy of the actions themselves cannot be used as the basis for mobilizing support. More troops, more mercenaries and more bribery will not end this corruption.
The peoples of Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan are rejecting U.S. interference, occupation and all the crimes being committed against them, all in the name of opposing terrorism. It is the terrorism of the U.S. that is wrecking havoc in these countries and destroying international law and norms outlawing aggression. It is the struggle of the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan that is defending peace and sovereignty. Americans stand with this fight to end wars and advance the cause of peace by demanding all troops and mercenaries home now, not tomorrow!
No War Funding!
Within days of the decision by President Barack Obama to send more than 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan, a broad variety of forces, including antiwar and community organizers, religious forces, veterans, youth and students, together went into action to demand End U.S. Wars Now! All Troops Home Now! People nationwide rejected the justification given by Obama, that the people of Afghanistan pose a threat to U.S. interests, and instead rallied to defend the rights of the peoples in Afghanistan and Iraq to oppose U.S. occupation and defend their sovereignty. Increasingly the various protests bring to the fore a united stand with the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan and now Pakistan. As banners often bring out, the demand of the people is Not One More Mothers Child. Protestors demanded an end to the drone attacks being used against civilians in Pakistan — while Obama has now authorized an increase in these drone attacks.
The effort to convince Americans that aggressive war against Afghanistan can be justified in the name of those who died September 11 is falling flat in cities coast to coast. Instead the demand, from Bangor, Maine to Corvallis, Oregon, from Laramie, Wyoming to Boca Rotan Florida, from Birmingham, Alabama to Bozeman Montana, from Greensboro, North Carolina, to Honolulu, Hawai’i is firm: End the War in Afghanistan Now! It is ending the wars and ending war funding that contributes to peace and security. That is the stand here and worldwide.
While Obama was speaking to cadets at West Point, about 250 people protested outside the gate. Demonstrators first rallied at Veterans Park, then marched about a half-mile to West Point’s Thayer Gate. Six protesters blocked the road there and were arrested for their civil disobedience. About 15 organizations joined in promoting and participating in the action. Among the banners were The Audacity of War Crimes and We Need Healthcare not Warfare.
In addition, numerous actions were taken before Obama’s announcement, demanding that he listen to the majority and their demand to withdraw all troops now as the first step to increasing security for the people, abroad and at home. Petitions with thousands of signatures have been sent to the president, all demanding that the U.S. End the Wars Now! Letter campaigns and call-in days were organized, directed at the president and congress, demanding an end to the wars and all war funding. Many are angered that Congress already authorized $130 billion for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in October and the largest Pentagon budget ever of more than $680 billion. And now another $30 billion for more troops to Afghanistan is being requested. It is estimated that the wars are gobbling up $2.5 billion daily. Activists call on all to consider the security directing such funding to eliminating hunger worldwide could bring, or to paying reparations for U.S. crimes. Fund Rights, Not War is the demand taking hold.
Organizing work for national demonstrations is also underway. An Emergency Rally to End the Wars Now took place December 12 in Lafayette Square across from the White House. Speakers included former candidates for senate and president and organizers are considering running antiwar candidates in 2010 and a presidential candidate in 2012.
More actions are being prepared for March, the anniversary of the Iraq invasion. These include mass civil disobedience beginning March 13, and a march and rally March 20, all in Washington, DC. Across the country organizers are working to strengthen and unify the fighting forces, gaining experience in the course of the many actions. What stands out is the undaunted spirit that the peoples can and must advance their fight to become decision-makers so that their will to end the wars is implemented.
War and “Partnerships” for U.S. Empire
On December 1, President Barack Obama spoke about the war in Afghanistan and his plans for the region. He announced that he would send another 30,000 more troops to wage war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The total number of U.S. and NATO occupation troops will be about 140,000, plus there are a similar number of mercenaries contracted by the Pentagon. Obama addressed the aim of the war, his justifications for the war and actions to accomplish the stated aim. The plans involve using both military force and a “civilian surge” based on “partnerships” with local Afghan forces, provincial governors and ministers of Obama’s choosing whose performance meets U.S. demands.
Obama said the aim of the war was “narrowly defined as disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al Qaeda and its extremist allies.” The increase of troops is to serve this same purpose and to “better coordinate our military and civilian efforts.” The president said that while the initial U.S. invasion meant “al Qaeda was scattered” and “high-ranking al Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed, and we’ve stepped up pressure on al Qaeda worldwide,” overall “the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated.” This has occurred despite Obama sending about 20,000 more troops just after taking office. He emphasized, “Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years has moved backward.”
The basis for saying Afghanistan has moved backward is not a presentation of conditions in Afghanistan for the people of Afghanistan. It is not an assessment of levels of poverty, or destruction of civilian infrastructure, or infant mortality rates or any of the indices commonly used to assess conditions in a given country. Obama did not speak to the numbers of civilians massacred in both Afghanistan and Pakistan as a result of U.S. actions, nor give an assessment as to whether this contributed to his conclusions. Nor is there an assessment of what the people of Afghanistan have decided about U.S. occupation nor what the people of the U.S. have decided, with both peoples decidedly anti-war. Instead, the public is to look at Afghanistan through the eyes of the president as Commander in Chief of a military engaged in aggressive wars. “Afghanistan is not lost,” takes as a starting point that the U.S. can lay claim to whole countries as its own property and “win” or “lose” them from the point of view of “winning” the territory and resources both human and natural for the benefit of U.S. monopolies and their competition for world empire. A modern conception of relations between nations and peoples, fit for this century, would take guaranteeing the rights of al as its starting point.
Uphold Principles Outlawing Aggressive Wars
In trying to justify more war against Afghanistan, Pakistan and extending it to “Somalia or Yemen or elsewhere,” Obama resurrected September 11. He said, “It’s important to recall why America and our allies were compelled to fight a war in Afghanistan in the first place. We did not ask for this fight. On September 11, 2001, 19 men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people. They struck at our military and economic nerve centers.”
During most of his presidency, Obama has not used September 11, no doubt in part because former President George W. Bush so often misused these attacks to justify not only aggression but torture and attacks on rights inside the U.S. In calling, for example, to close Guantanamo and promising to end torture, he relied on international law and standards, like the Geneva Conventions. But for Afghanistan, Obama does not attempt to speak to the principles governing war, such as Principles of the Nuremberg Tribunal, established as part of the world effort to block fascism and aggressive war. Principle VI of the Nuremberg Tribunal, Crimes against Peace, is defined as “Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances.”
No reasoned argument is given as to why aggressive war should now be supported. Indeed, Obama clearly states 19 hijackers carried out September 11. The people of Afghanistan are not responsible, nor those of Pakistan, or Yemen or any other country. Collective punishment is a crime. Justice requires that the individuals responsible for September 11, 2001 be brought to justice in an internationally recognized court for trial. While not openly saying so, by justifying aggressive war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, “Somalia or Yemen or elsewhere,” Americans are being asked to follow the path of the Hitler fascists and support aggressive wars for empire.
For the U.S., opposing aggressive war is not a matter of principle, established by the peoples through rivers of blood to defeat fascism. Instead, aggression is the prerogative of the president to use however he sees fit. And unlike Bush, Obama is tasked with giving U.S. fascism and war a human face.
Obama stated, “I have read the letters from the parents and spouses of those who deployed. I visited our courageous wounded warriors at Walter Reed. I’ve traveled to Dover to meet the flag-draped caskets of 18 Americans returning home to their final resting place. I see firsthand the terrible wages of war. If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow… I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak.”
The principles against aggressive wars, like those against torture, and those affirming the right to sovereignty — for countries large and small to determine their own affairs — have been developed as part of providing for the security and well-being of each and of all. Brushing them aside in the name of U.S. security is an effort to impose the chauvinism of the U.S. rulers, which says the peoples of the world exist for the U.S. rulers and their empire. All must submit to the U.S.— its democracy, its military, the security of its empire. This is what is being “won” and “lost” in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The actions of Americans across the country, repeatedly, stand in opposition to this chauvinism and against aggressive wars as illegal and illegitimate. Their stand is clear — security lies in the fight against war and for the rights of all abroad and at home. The safety of the peoples lies in bringing all U.S. troops home now. And since Obama states he could “order every single one of our troops home tomorrow,” let him do so now! Using the massive war budget for reparations and defending rights abroad and at home is what is needed to begin providing security for the peoples.
In an effort to further justify aggression, and gain more troops from allies, Obama said “The stakes are even higher within a nuclear-armed Pakistan, because we know that al Qaeda and other extremists seek nuclear weapons, and we have every reason to believe that they would use them… Because this is an international effort, I’ve asked that our commitment be joined by contributions from our allies. Some have already provided additional troops, and we’re confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead. Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan. And now, we must come together to end this war successfully. For what’s at stake is not simply a test of NATO’s credibility – what’s at stake is the security of our allies, and the common security of the world.”
Again, the security of U.S. empire is equated with the “security of the world,” and everyone is to contribute troops and money to “end this war successfully.” And once again, “success” is not measured in fulfillment of the rights of the peoples and the upholding of principle and international law. It is whether U.S. empire secures the territories and human and natural resources it demands in the region so as to wage wars against Russia, China and “elsewhere” as decided by the president. Adding the supposed threat of extremists seeking nuclear weapons is yet another scare tactic in a situation where the U.S. is already using depleted uranium munitions and bunker busters and says it will use nuclear weapons as first-strike offensive weapons. It is an effort to say that wherever al Qaeda may be, and wherever nuclear materials may be, the U.S. is justified in attacking.
In addition, Obama’s National Security advisor Jim Jones said, “according to the maximum estimate, al Qaeda has fewer than 100 fighters operating in Afghanistan without any bases or ability to launch attacks on the West.” Government estimates for Taliban fighters in Afghanistan are in the neighborhood of 20,000. This is the fighting force supposedly threatening “the security of the world.” The actual concern is that the resistance in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan is threatening U.S. empire and resistance worldwide is calling into question the entire system of imperialist states that the U.S. heads. Increasingly, what is coming to the fore is recognition of the necessity for an alternative to this system – and this is a just threat to the U.S. imperialist empire.
Civilian Partnerships Serve Tyranny
In presenting his plans for Afghanistan, Obama presents three main fronts for U.S. occupation and extension of the war. “First, we will pursue a military strategy that will break the Taliban’s momentum and increase Afghanistan’s capacity over the next 18 months.” He adds, “Second, we will work with our partners, the United Nations, and the Afghan people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, so that the government can take advantage of improved security.
“This effort must be based on performance. The days of providing a blank check are over… Going forward, we will be clear about what we expect from those who receive our assistance. We’ll support Afghan ministries, governors, and local leaders that combat corruption and deliver for the people. We expect those who are ineffective or corrupt to be held accountable. And we will also focus our assistance in areas — such as agriculture — that can make an immediate impact in the lives of the Afghan people.”
In this manner, Obama is extending the attack on sovereignty. He plans to bypass the authority of the central government and establish relations directly between the president and “Afghan ministries, governors, and local leaders that combat corruption and deliver for the people.” It is also the president that will determine whether the “performance” merits payment. The president will have relations with individuals, who will be bribed to perform according to his demands. Those the president decides are “ineffective or corrupt” will be removed or jailed or otherwise “held accountable.” The relation is not between governments, but a personal one with the president. It serves to strengthen U.S. dictate while essentially removing the arrangement from the public sphere and making it instead between the president and the individuals involved. It serves as a mechanism to eliminate norms of relations between governments and authority of government, including the U.S. Congress and put in place an arrangement of tyranny — the unrestricted and arbitrary exercise of power by the U.S. executive.
Broadening War Against Pakistan
The third front is extending the war to Pakistan. Obama said, “We will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan. We’re in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan. That’s why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border.” A spreading cancer—what could be scarier than that? Who could possibly oppose stopping the spread?! Using such a threat and justification, the U.S. has already been using drones to kill civilians in Pakistan and send “black ops” in, creating conditions of broad insecurity. Use of this cancer metaphor, which positions the U.S. as healer and the peoples resisting as cancer to be eradicated at all costs, also is not new. It was used by the Nazis to justify their crimes, and by the Zionists to justify eradicating Palestine.
While Obama speaks of “A partnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutual interest, mutual respect, and mutual trust,” he immediately makes clear that it is yet more tyranny. The U.S. “cannot tolerate a safe haven for terrorists whose location is known,” and so gives itself the right to launch aggression against Pakistan. The U.S. also intervenes to “strengthen Pakistan’s capacity to target those groups that threaten our countries.” Thus the U.S. is to direct Pakistan’s military forces as well. Already the U.S. has demanded action by the Pakistan military that has meant hundreds of civilian deaths and many thousands of refugees. It is not the people of Pakistan nor even the government deciding — it is the president of the U.S.
Obama also emphasized that extending aggression will not stop with Pakistan. He said, “The struggle against violent extremism will not be finished quickly, and it extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will be an enduring test of our free society, and our leadership in the world. And unlike the great power conflicts and clear lines of division that defined the 20th century, our effort will involve disorderly regions, failed states, diffuse enemies.” The president is not only to determine which individuals inside other countries merit special treatment and bribes, but which countries are to be considered “stable,” or “disorderly” or “failed states,” requiring occupation.
Aggressive wars and occupations, a president empowered to impose tyranny worldwide, partnerships of bribery and use of force, these are not the arrangements for peace and security. And they are directly contrary to the demands of the broad majority of peoples in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, the U.S. and worldwide. Indeed they are arrangements designed to block the emergence of decision-making by the people themselves, and their drive to base security on guaranteeing the rights of all and put an end to criminal wars of aggression.
Aim Given for Aggressive War
“Throughout this period, our troop levels in Afghanistan remained a fraction of what they were in Iraq. When I took office, we had just over 32,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan, compared to 160,000 in Iraq at the peak of the war. Commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive. And that’s why, shortly after taking office, I approved a longstanding request for more troops. After consultations with our allies, I then announced a strategy recognizing the fundamental connection between our war effort in Afghanistan and the extremist safe havens in Pakistan. I set a goal that was narrowly defined as disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al Qaeda and its extremist allies, and pledged to better coordinate our military and civilian efforts.
“Since then, we’ve made progress on some important objectives. High-ranking al Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed, and we’ve stepped up the pressure on al Qaeda worldwide. In Pakistan, that nation’s army has gone on its largest offensive in years. In Afghanistan, we and our allies prevented the Taliban from stopping a presidential election, and – although it was marred by fraud – that election produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan’s laws and constitution.
“Yet huge challenges remain. Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years it has moved backwards. There’s no imminent threat of the government being overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum. Al Qaeda has not reemerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers as before 9/11, but they retain their safe havens along the border. And our forces lack the full support they need to effectively train and partner with Afghan security forces and better secure the population. Our new commander in Afghanistan – General McChrystal – has reported that the security situation is more serious than he anticipated. In short: The status quo is not sustainable.” […]
“Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future. These facts compel us to act along with our friends and allies. Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.”
“It’s important to recall why America and our allies were compelled to fight a war in Afghanistan in the first place. We did not ask for this fight. On September 11, 2001, 19 men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people. They struck at our military and economic nerve centers. They took the lives of innocent men, women, and children without regard to their faith or race or station. Were it not for the heroic actions of passengers onboard one of those flights, they could have also struck at one of the great symbols of our democracy in Washington, and killed many more.
“As we know, these men belonged to al Qaeda — a group of extremists who have distorted and defiled Islam, one of the world’s great religions, to justify the slaughter of innocents. Al Qaeda’s base of operations was in Afghanistan, where they were harbored by the Taliban — a ruthless, repressive and radical movement that seized control of that country after it was ravaged by years of Soviet occupation and civil war, and after the attention of America and our friends had turned elsewhere.
“Just days after 9/11, Congress authorized the use of force against al Qaeda and those who harbored them — an authorization that continues to this day… America, our allies and the world were acting as one to destroy al Qaeda’s terrorist network and to protect our common security.
“Under the banner of this domestic unity and international legitimacy — and only after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden — we sent our troops into Afghanistan.”
“As Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan.
“I do not make this decision lightly. I opposed the war in Iraq precisely because I believe that we must exercise restraint in the use of military force, and always consider the long-term consequences of our actions. We have been at war now for eight years, at enormous cost in lives and resources. Years of debate over Iraq and terrorism have left our unity on national security issues in tatters, and created a highly polarized and partisan backdrop for this effort. And having just experienced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the American people are understandably focused on rebuilding our economy and putting people to work here at home…
“If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow…I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak. This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat. In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. And this danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and al Qaeda can operate with impunity. We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region.”
“Of course, this burden is not ours alone to bear. This is not just America’s war. Since 9/11, al Qaeda’s safe havens have been the source of attacks against London and Amman and Bali. The people and governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan are endangered. And the stakes are even higher within a nuclear-armed Pakistan, because we know that al Qaeda and other extremists seek nuclear weapons, and we have every reason to believe that they would use them.”
Plans for “Partnerships”
“We will pursue the following objectives within Afghanistan. We must deny al Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces and government so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan’s future.
“We will meet these objectives in three ways. First, we will pursue a military strategy that will break the Taliban’s momentum and increase Afghanistan’s capacity over the next 18 months.
“The 30,000 additional troops that I’m announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 – the fastest possible pace – so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers. They’ll increase our ability to train competent Afghan security forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.
“Because this is an international effort, I’ve asked that our commitment be joined by contributions from our allies. Some have already provided additional troops, and we’re confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead. Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan. And now, we must come together to end this war successfully. For what’s at stake is not simply a test of NATO’s credibility – what’s at stake is the security of our allies, and the common security of the world.
“But taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground. We’ll continue to advise and assist Afghanistan’s security forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul. But it will be clear to the Afghan government – and, more importantly, to the Afghan people – that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country.
“Second, we will work with our partners, the United Nations, and the Afghan people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, so that the government can take advantage of improved security.
“This effort must be based on performance. The days of providing a blank check are over. President Karzai’s inauguration speech sent the right message about moving in a new direction. And going forward, we will be clear about what we expect from those who receive our assistance. We’ll support Afghan ministries, governors, and local leaders that combat corruption and deliver for the people. We expect those who are ineffective or corrupt to be held accountable. And we will also focus our assistance in areas – such as agriculture – that can make an immediate impact in the lives of the Afghan people.
“The people of Afghanistan have endured violence for decades. They’ve been confronted with occupation – by the Soviet Union, and then by foreign al Qaeda fighters who used Afghan land for their own purposes. So tonight, I want the Afghan people to understand – America seeks an end to this era of war and suffering. We have no interest in occupying your country. We will support efforts by the Afghan government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect the human rights of their fellow citizens. And we will seek a partnership with Afghanistan grounded in mutual respect – to isolate those who destroy; to strengthen those who build; to hasten the day when our troops will leave; and to forge a lasting friendship in which America is your partner, and never your patron.
“Third, we will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan.
“We’re in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan. That’s why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border…
“In the past, we too often defined our relationship with Pakistan narrowly...Those days are over. Moving forward, we are committed to a partnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutual interest, mutual respect, and mutual trust. We will strengthen Pakistan’s capacity to target those groups that threaten our countries, and have made it clear that we cannot tolerate a safe haven for terrorists whose location is known and whose intentions are clear. America is also providing substantial resources to support Pakistan’s democracy and development. We are the largest international supporter for those Pakistanis displaced by the fighting. And going forward, the Pakistan people must know America will remain a strong supporter of Pakistan’s security and prosperity long after the guns have fallen silent, so that the great potential of its people can be unleashed.”
“Guantanamo’s Lesser-Known Evil Twin”
A November 15 report by Al Jazeera entitled “U.S. Unveils Extended Bagram Prison” informs that journalists were allowed to inspect refurbished facilities at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, the largest U.S. military hub in the region and home to a controversial prison.
Al Jazeera’s correspondent James Bays, who was among those who inspected the facilities, said Bagram, unlike its Guantanamo counterpart, was clearly not going to be shut down soon. “The new prison wing cost some $60 million to build ... and is meant to be part of a new era of openness and transparency,” Bays said. “But we were not shown the detainees. Human-rights lawyers say that, while the environment for the prisoners may be changing, their legal situation is not ... not having been charged. Nor has any civilian lawyer ever been allowed inside.”
Bays said the extended prison could hold up to 1,000 detainees, but was at present holding around 700 inmates, including 30 foreign prisoners.
General Mark Martins, who runs detention operations at the airbase, said the U.S. military was improving its treatment of detainees and had learnt many lessons since occupying the country in 2001.
“Detention, if not done properly, can actually harm the effort. We are a learning organization ... we believe transparency is certainly going to help the effort, and increase the credibility of the whole process,” Martins said.
However, Clara Gutteridge, an investigator of secret prisons and renditions from the human rights organization, Reprieve, said Bagram is seen as “Guantanamo’s lesser-known evil twin.”
“All this talk about transparency, and the U.S. government still won’t release a simple list of names of prisoners who are in Bagram,” she told Al Jazeera. “None of them have had access to a lawyer ... and that just seems very unfair. We at Reprieve see this as the next big fight after Guantanamo Bay.” She added, “One thing that the U.S. government is saying is that Afghan prisoners in Afghanistan have less rights than any other prisoner which just seems absurd.”
Bagram Air Field is the largest U.S. military hub in Afghanistan and is home to about 24,000 military personnel and civilian contractors.
Tens of millions of dollars continue to be spent on expanding and upgrading facilities – turning Bagram into a town spread over about 5,000 acres.
The airfield part of the complex is already handling 400 tons of cargo and 1,000 passengers daily, according to Air Force spokesman Captain David Faggard. It is continuing to grow to keep up with the requirements of an escalating war and troop increases.
Even before Obama’s recent announcement of 30,000 additional U.S. troops and thousands more NATO forces, Bagram already is bursting at the seams, the Al Jazeera correspondent reported. Plans are under way to build a new, $22 million passenger terminal and a cargo yard costing $9 million. To increase cargo capacity, a parking ramp supporting the world’s largest aircraft is to be completed in early 2010.
Bagram was previously a major Soviet base during Moscow’s 1979-89 occupation of Afghanistan, providing air support to Soviet and Afghan forces fighting the mujahidin.
Bagram lies in Parwan, a relatively quiet province. The Taliban is not believed to have a significant presence in the province. But the base is susceptible to rocket and mortar attacks. In 2009, the Taliban launched more than a dozen attacks on the base, killing four and wounding at least 12, according to U.S. military spokesman Colonel Mike Brady.
N otwithstanding the surge of 30,000 additional United States troops in Afghanistan, as outlined by U.S. President Barack Obama in his policy speech on Tuesday, the next phase of the war will primarily be aimed at fighting al-Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas, while all efforts in Afghanistan will focus on a peaceful settlement to pave the way for an American exit.
This is the view of one of the two principal intermediaries between the U.S. and the Afghan national resistance, Daoud Abedi (the other is Mullah Zaeef), whose role was first reported by Asia Times Online. (See “Holbrooke reaches out to Hekmatyar,” April 10, 2009.)
Washington initiated dialogue with the veteran mujahid, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA), through his longtime lieutenant, Abedi. Abedi is an Afghan-American based in Los Angeles, a prominent businessman and social worker as well as being a former representative of the HIA.
He believes that Obama’s surge is the start of an exit strategy to bring peace to Afghanistan by pushing the war into the Pakistani tribal areas against al-Qaeda. After all, the objective of the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was to topple the Taliban regime as it had allowed al-Qaeda to operate in the country. After eight years, the U.S.’s efforts have been reset around this objective, even if it means greater activity in Pakistan.
In his Tuesday speech, Obama urged Pakistan to fight the “cancer” of extremism and said the U.S. would not tolerate Pakistan allowing its territory to be a safe haven for militants. Testifying this week on Obama’s new war plan, his senior military and diplomatic advisers all stressed that Pakistan was a critical component of the strategy.
There are already pointers of the war moving more in Pakistan’s direction.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a close ally of the U.S., this week said that both al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, were still at large and questioned why Pakistani security forces had not done more to catch them. “If we are putting our strategy into place, Pakistan has to show that it can take on al-Qaeda,” he said.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani responded that his country had not received any credible intelligence on the whereabouts of the leaders. “I doubt the information which you are giving is correct because I don’t think Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan,” he said.
In a related development, the White House this week is reported to have approved an expansion of the Central Intelligence Agency’s drone program from the North Waziristan and South Waziristan tribal areas in Pakistan to southern Balochistan province. Top Taliban and al-Qaeda figures are believed to operate from Balochistan. Here, Pakistan already faces a low-level insurgency from Baloch rebels seeking provincial autonomy.
Unmanned drone attacks in the tribal areas over the past few years have killed a number of al-Qaeda members as well as Pakistani Taliban commanders. This year alone, nearly 50 strikes in the northwestern border regions have killed 415 people.
The Grand Plan
Abedi visited Pakistan and Afghanistan earlier this year and held talks with U.S. and British officials, including the U.S. envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke. In a personal capacity, Abedi, whose roots go back to Kandahar in Afghanistan, knows several top Taliban leaders and commanders. In an exclusive e-mail correspondence with Asia Times Online, Abedi said he was privy to information that Obama had been prepared to announce the withdrawal date of July 2011 — as he did on Tuesday — but without sending the extra troops. However, there were two main problems:
• The U.S. would not accept a Taliban government, to be known to the world as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, to be led by the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar. That is, under no circumstances would Mullah Omar be allowed to feature in any new setup.
• The U.S. wanted to be able to claim the defeat of al-Qaeda — at present, the U.S. believes it has only been 70% successful.
Abedi said, “If they [the U.S.] can be assured somehow that the Taliban are not going to overrun any transitional government, and are going to allow the so-called international community to leave behind a stable transitional government which could function for at least 18 months to two years based on Islamic and so-called international values, they might very much be willing to do what they are saying, which is to exit even faster than 18 months.”
Abedi suggested, “If the Obama administration somehow managed to come up with the [necessary] number of Afghan soldiers and police to hand over security to them, and then a [loya jirga] grand council was called by [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai after 18 months and political power was turned over to a number of people [transitional government] who were for the time being accepted by all sides of the conflict, this would give the occupiers a chance to leave ... Brother Hekmatyar and Mullah Omar Mujahid both have said that they won’t attack foreign forces on the way out if they pull out of the country immediately.
“The other side [Karzai government] would not be a concern for the U.S.; they can be slapped on the face and told to shut up and do what they are told ... just like [what happened after] the so-called [August presidential] elections when they told [rival runoff candidate Abdullah] Abdullah to back off and stay quiet, which he gladly did ...”
Abedi, who has had dialogue with senior U.S. officials in addition to Holbrooke on behalf of Hekmatyar, continued, “We know that July 2011 is a start date without an exact end date, and it may be argued at that time that the situation on the ground does not allow U.S. forces and NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] to leave the country ... What do you think the U.S. and its allies would do next? Would there be another surge? Atom bomb? Or something else?”
Abedi said that for the U.S., losing or winning the war in Afghanistan is immaterial — its real fight is against al-Qaeda, and therefore in the next phase of the war, the real fight, will be against al-Qaeda.
“I think the U.S. knows that they have lost the war in Afghanistan, but they have not finished the work in the tribal area near the Durand Line [that separates Pakistan and Afghanistan]. Don’t you think that the U.S. might use the 30,000 fresh soldiers as a wall to prevent al-Qaeda members from entering into Afghanistan while they [U.S.] and the Pakistani army attack from all sides to these above-mentioned areas for a final push to do the last and most damage to al-Qaeda, claim victory, and then start leaving gradually to save their face?
“Don’t you think that is the reason they are cornering [Pakistani President Asif Ali] Zardari to deal with the military directly so the military can implement enough pressure on the so-called Pakistani Taliban to let al-Qaeda go from their grip so they [U.S.] can hunt them down,” said Abedi.
Abedi said this was the most suitable way for the U.S. to direct the war only towards al-Qaeda so that deals could be set up with the Afghans. Abedi is convinced that the U.S. should not prolong the war as it is already lost. (Obama admitted in his speech on Tuesday that vast tracts of Afghanistan are under Taliban control). For Abedi, a 24-month package -- withdrawal after 18 month and six months to set up a transitional government -- is the best answer for Afghanistan as it offers opportunities for all of the parties involved.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online’s Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Reaching For Empire
Amy Goodman: I am joined now from Washington, D.C. by Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich. He opposes the troop buildup in Afghanistan. Welcome to Democracy Now! Congressmember Kucinich represents the Cleveland area. Your response to President Obama’s West Point address?
Rep. Dennis Kucinich: First I would like to respond to the voices of the Afghan people. It’s very clear they do not want to be saved by us. They want to be saved from us. And President Obama’s escalation of the war, sending an additional 30,000 troops, will bring — as you pointed out — the total strength to about 100,000.
That’s $100 billion a year and that doesn’t even include the private contractors we’ll be paying for, which adds up to about $160 billion dollars a year. It really begs the question about whether the nation-building that we seek to do in Afghanistan would be better directed to rebuilding America, to creating jobs here, to rebuilding bridges here instead of blowing them up in Afghanistan.
I think our priorities are misplaced. And I think that all those who really support this President, who really like him — and I like him — need to challenge him on this. Because we can’t just let this go by the boards because we may have some sympathetic feelings for the difficult task that he has undertaken as President of the United States.
Amy Goodman: Congressman Kucinich, can you talk about the level of opposition in Congress right now and explain what Congressman Obey has been talking about, the war tax?
Rep. Dennis Kucinich: First of all, it will remain to be seen what the level of opposition is in the Congress. And I want to point out why: On October 8, 2009, the Congress of the United States passed a bill that authorizes the expenditure of $130 billion dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The House actually preceded the President in making a statement about support for the war.
Unfortunately, that bill was supported by all but 15 members of my own party. So we’ll have to see whether or not Congress will take a stand against spending more money for this war, whether it’s in an appropriation bill or a supplemental bill.
Now with respect to Congressman Obey and the proposal for a war tax, we’re already paying a war tax. A substantial amount of the tax dollars that Americans pay today go for paying for wars. And we don’t need to pay more. We’re already spending more for a military buildup than any nation. As a matter of fact, more than all the nations of the world put together. We are in 130 countries.
You would think that we don’t have enough to do here at home. You would think that we don’t have 47 million Americans who go to bed hungry, 47 million Americans who don’t have any health care, 15 million Americans who are out of work, another 10 million Americans whose homes are threatened with foreclosure, people going bankrupt, business failures. All these things are happening in our country and we’re acting like a latter-day version of the Roman Empire, reaching for empire while inside we rot.
We have to challenge this because our future as a nation is at stake. If we continue to militarize, we lose our civil liberties, we lose our capacity to meet our needs here at home.
Amy Goodman: Here’s what the President said about the cost of war, Congressman Kucinich: “All told, by the time I took office, the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan approached $1 trillion dollars. Going forward, I’m committed to addressing these costs openly and honestly. Our new approach in Afghanistan is likely to cost us roughly $30 billion dollars for the military this year and I will work closely with Congress to address these costs as we work to bring down our deficit.”
Rep. Dennis Kucinich: We are borrowing money right now to be able to prosecute wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States is going deeper and deeper into debt. We borrowed money or printed money as the Fed may have it, to help finance $13 trillion dollars in bailouts for Wall Street.
You know, we have money for Wall Street and money for war, but we don’t have money for work. We have money for Wall Street and money for war, but we don’t have money for health care. We have to start asking ourselves, why is it that war is a priority, but the basic needs of the people of this country are not? And how are we getting the money to pay for the war?
We’re borrowing it. We’re going deeper into debt. We’re mortgaging our future. We’re creating conditions where we will become less democratic because we can’t meet the most essential needs of our people. This needs to be challenged. And it needs to be challenged in a forthright way. It can be challenged without making President Obama the issue. The issue is the war, the issue is America’s reach for empire. The issue is our inability to meet the needs of people here at home. […]
Anti-terrorism takes many different poses and one of them certainly is intelligence gathering, cooperation with other nations, police work. Those are all legitimate things to do.
However, what’s happening is that Al Qaeda and its global Jihadist agenda is being conflated with the Taliban, which is essentially a homegrown resistance that has been strengthened by the U.S. occupation. We need to be very careful that we don’t use counter-terrorism to justify counter-insurgency. They are two different things. As the Taliban is not the same thing as Al Qaeda. Sooner or later, we are going to have to deal with the Taliban, but the Taliban isn’t sponsoring global terrorism. And the suggestion of that is just not true.
And furthermore, I think it is somewhat disturbing that the President used some language that was very similar to the language President Bush used that took us into Iraq. We’ve got to be careful about getting on this slippery slope to justifying our position in other countries based on fears of terrorism.
We can meet the challenge of terrorism, but not if we spend all of the resources of our country in an adventure or continued adventure 10,000 miles away. […]
I also want to say, that every war has a kind of a headlong forward momentum. It is very difficult to stop a war once it starts. The forces of war don’t burn themselves out that quickly. War desires to be served and to be fed more bodies and more money, and we have to realize that it’s Congress that can put an end to the war, not the President. He’s not going to do that.
The president made his statement that he’s accelerating the war. You cannot be in and out at the same time. But Congress has the constitutional responsibility under Article I, Section 8, to either start or end a war with its funding power. We have to put the pressure on Congress here to say, “Vote against any more funding.”
Congress failed the test in October. They voted to authorize $130 billion dollars more. But there’ll be more requests for appropriations. There will be requests for supplemental spending. And we need to rally the American people to say, “Let’s look at our priorities.” Let’s get our priorities straight. Let’s create jobs. You can’t have guns and butter at the same time in this country. We cannot afford both anymore.
We have to start focusing on what’s the real security in America. It should be economic security, it should be the security of a job. Because joblessness is a weapon of mass destruction in case anyone has forgotten about it. So is poverty. And we have more Americans moving into poverty as a result of the misplaced priorities of our country.