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Afghan War

Tag Archives | Afghan War

Afghanistan’s Day of Truth

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Afghan women register to vote during a meeting in the Tarnek Wa Jaldek district in Zabul province, Afghanistan, Sept. 18, 2013

Thomas Paine once quipped that “The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.” In a similar vein, a nation once awakened politically cannot revert back to dormancy.

Afghan women register to vote during a meeting in the Tarnek Wa Jaldek district in Zabul province, Afghanistan, Sept. 18, 2013

Despite decades of war and ravage, Afghanistan, while still continuing to suffer from all sorts of injustices, afflictions, and violence, is on the march toward democratization. Yesterday – April 5, 2014 – the country convulsed with exhilaration and jubilance, as millions of Afghans sallied toward the polling stations to elect their new president.

The current situation cannot be disregarded: the country is still swelling with uncertainty, owing to the American troops’ exodus later this year. However, the enthusiasm, the excitement, and the alacrity of Afghans to show up at the polls in the face of personal dangers furnish me with hope for a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous Afghanistan. From all across the country, men and women, old and young came out to perform their civic duty and vote for their favorite candidate.

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Review of The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency

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‘The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency’ by Matthew Aid. 432 pp. Bloomsbury USA

Thanks in part to US fugitive, Edward J. Snowden, the National Security Agency (NSA) is again in the spotlight.

‘The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency’ by Matthew Aid. 432 pp. Bloomsbury USA

According to the former US intelligence contractor, not only is the NSA eavesdropping on foreign telecommunications, it is also monitoring the electronic communications of Americans. Like Jihadists, foreign leaders, international aid organizations, multi-national corporations and even ordinary citizens are allegedly monitored by America’s leading signals intelligence agency. Needless to say, Snowden has brought much unwanted attention on the secretive NSA. Besides complicating the spy agency’s work by revealing sensitive espionage methods, Snowden’s revelations also forced the Obama administration to introduce measures ending NSA surveillance of close US allies. This is of course not the first time the NSA found itself in the limelight.

The first time the NSA ever came under intense public scrutiny was in the mid-1970s when it was investigated by the Church Committee for alleged abuses. Thanks to that public hearing, many Americans came to learn for the first time that the country had a spy agency called the NSA. Then in 2005, the New York Times again called attention to the NSA by revealing that the spy agency was monitoring the electronic communications of hundreds of Americans as part of the US War on Terror. That exposé too created a firestorm not least because the NSA was engaged in warrantless domestic surveillance possibly in violation of US laws. Now almost a decade later, thanks to Snowden, the NSA is again in the spotlight for the wrong reasons.

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Marshal Fahim’s Death will not Affect Afghanistan’s Political Stability

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Marshal Fahim pictured with former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in Kabul

Afghanistan’s first Vice President Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim passed away a few days ago, March 9th, 2014 of natural causes. Reports say that he died of a heart attack.

Marshal Fahim pictured with former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in Kabul

Mr. Fahim was a complex political figure. A native of the Panjshir Valley, he joined the late Commander Ahmad Shah Masoud in the fight against the Soviet Union occupation of Afghanistan in the 1970s. Having established himself as a fierce fighter, he continued his struggle against the Taliban’s presence in Afghanistan in the 1990s as Commander Masoud’s top deputy. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, and with Commander Masoud having been assassinated by al-Qaeda on September 9, 2001, Fahim emerged as a crucial force in helping the United States remove the Taliban from Afghanistan in 2001.

His sudden death has prompted many Afghan leaders and prominent politicians to believe that with Fahim gone, Afghanistan’s instability will intensify. Those writing about the vice president’s passing are too kind to him. Society often looks very kindly upon the dead, regardless of their actions while they were alive. Fahim was a corrupt politician, lacking scruples and integrity.

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Iran and Pakistan – It’s complicated

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Photo of Iranian guards at a border crossing in southeastern Iran’s Milak region which borders both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Source: Press TV

The recent kidnapping of 5 Iranian soldiers serving along Iran’s border with Pakistan, and their subsequent alleged captivity in Pakistani territory has shed light on the complex relationship between the two states.

Photo of Iranian guards at a border crossing in southeastern Iran’s Milak region which borders both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Source: Press TV

With western media analysis firmly focused on continued negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme and Pakistan’s internal troubles, there is little written about the relations between the two neighbours who share a 900km border running through the heart of the Baluchi cultural region. This is a relationship that contains myriad complexities and the potential for conflict and cooperation, ranging from tackling Baluchi separatism and drug trafficking to pipeline politics, Afghanistan and the ever present spectre of US and Saudi interests in the Middle East and beyond.

Despite the complexities, relations have been good up until now, showing the pragmatism of both states and the importance both place on the relationship. However, the recent comments of Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, who has threatened unilateral action inside Pakistani territory as a means of maintaining Iran’s security and that of its soldiers serving along the border, demonstrate the potential for a rupture and the necessity for pragmatism to prevail.

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The Case for the U.S. Staying in Afghanistan beyond 2014

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A U.S. soldier speaks to a local in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan. Photo: Reuters

The war in Afghanistan has been expensive. Thousands of American lives have been lost, and hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are still being spent there on a daily basis.

A U.S. soldier speaks to a local in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan. Photo: Reuters

My hope is that this war – the longest in American history – will teach the next generation of foreign policy leaders a few lessons about conflicts and foreign interventions. However, this war was necessary. Those behind the terrorist attacks of September 11 had to be brought to justice, and they have been. Moreover, for Afghanistan to become a stable, democratic, and prosperous country, the United States must continue its involvement in the country because the consequences of a sudden withdrawal would be cataclysmic.

The Obama administration knows this well, of course. This is why Secretary of State John Kerry and other high-ranking officials have been visiting Kabul frequently in recent months. We do not have to wait to see what would happen in Afghanistan if the American troops were to leave; the fallout from the Iraq withdrawal provides a sufficient cautionary tale. To say that Iraq is unstable is to state what is overwhelmingly obvious. The sectarian tension between the Shia and Sunni insurgents in Iraq has intensified to such a degree that it is threatening the survival of the current democratic regime. Certainly, hope has not died in Iraq, and most likely, the nation’s ample resources and great potential for economic growth will eventually enable the country to recover from its present instability. However, it is abundantly clear that the withdrawal of U.S. troops has greatly compromised the country’s ability to weather political shocks.

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Demographic Difficulties Facing Post-ISAF Afghanistan

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Local Afghans in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan

With the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) presence in Afghanistan winding down attention is increasingly turning to what future lies ahead for the country once it is basically on its own.

Local Afghans in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan

Not surprisingly most attention and speculation is revolving around security and stability questions. Obviously the political/security landscape will be a key determinant of the country’s trajectory over the coming years. However, that will not be the whole story. Other factors will also pose major challenges. Among the most important of these will be demographic pressures. These frequently get lost in the focus on political/security issues, but will be critical. Indeed they will closely impact political/security outcomes.

Central will be the inevitable large population growth that will occur over the coming decades. The latest population projections (medium variant) produced by the United Nations see the current estimated population of 30-31 million people likely growing by around 9 million people over the next dozen years, and then a further 17 or so million by mid-century. In short, not far off a doubling of the population in less than 40 years.

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Review of Empire’s Ally: Canada and the War in Afghanistan by Klassen and Albo

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‘Empire's Ally: Canada and the War in Afghanistan’ by Jerome Klassen and Greg Albo. 432 pp. University of Toronto Press

“There is a growing consensus among international relations experts that the war in Afghanistan has reached an impasse or possibly a terminal point of crisis.” – Jerome Klassen

‘Empire’s Ally: Canada and the War in Afghanistan’ by Jerome Klassen and Greg Albo. 432 pp. University of Toronto Press

Americans tend to think of Canadians as politer and more sensible than their southern neighbors, thus the joke: “Why does the Canadian chicken cross the road? To get to the middle.” Oh, yes, bit of a muddle there in Afghanistan, but like Dudley Do Right, the Canadians were only trying to develop and tidy up the place. Not in the opinion of Jerome Klassen and a formidable stable of academics, researchers, journalists, and peace activists who see Canada’s role in Central Asia less as a series of policy blunders than a coldly calculated strategy of international capital. “Simply put,” writes Klassen, “the war in Afghanistan was always linked to the aspirations of empire on a much broader scale.”

Empire’s Ally asks the question, “Why did the Canadian government go to war in Afghanistan in 2001?” and then carefully dissects the popular rationales: fighting terrorism; coming to the aid of the United States; helping the Afghans to develop their country. Oh, and to free women. What the book’s autopsy of those arguments reveals is disturbing.

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Making Sense of the Recent Suicide Attack in Kabul

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U.S. soldier  provides security from Camp Oqab in Kabul, Afghanistan

Three decades of war and destruction have destroyed the fabric of Afghan society, but one quality that has characterized Afghans throughout their tumultuous history is their resilience, or ability to develop ongoing strategies for survival.

U.S. soldier provides security from Camp Oqab in Kabul, Afghanistan

I have previously painted a very bleak future about the security environment in Afghanistan and concluded that if the US discontinues its engagement with Afghanistan, the country could easily devolve into a brutal civil war. At present, there is an aura of unprecedented uncertainty and confusion pervading the country which is why so many groups and factions, inside and outside of Afghanistan, are gearing up for what is to come. The truth is that no one knows what will happen in an Afghanistan where there is no United States, no NATO troops, no international aid. I asked a friend of mine whose brother is President Karzai’s national security adviser about what his brother thought would happen after the exodus of American troops. His response was startling: “He is more flabbergasted about the future than the ordinary people.” This is a scary situation given that Afghanistan’s economy is in shambles and desperately needs all the help it can receive to develop in multiple spheres in the decades to come.

The recent suicide attack on the Lebanese restaurant in Kabul, which claimed the lives of 21 people, including the head of the International Monetary Fund in Afghanistan, illustrated how fragile the security climate is. However, this barbaric and tragic event has been misinterpreted, in particularly by Nemat Sadat, a former instructor at the American University in Kabul. Mr. Sadat argues in “Why the Taliban Attacked the Taverna du Liban in Kabul” that the Taliban targeted these individuals because they were “the leading figures calling for reform and ready to take measures to dismantle the institutionalized corruption and system of kleptocracy in Afghanistan.” He talks as if these four UN workers were the sine quo non for the elimination of corruption in Afghanistan. The truth is that like every other major malpractice in Afghanistan, corruption is well-established; its removal will take decades of effort and consistent oversight.

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Why the Taliban Attacked the Taverna du Liban in Kabul

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An officer with the Afghan National Police at a checkpoint in Kabul. Photo: Mauricio Lima

Last Friday’s Taliban attack in Kabul, Afghanistan was the deadliest attack (on foreigners) in the last twelve years inside Kabul’s highly guarded Ring-of-Steel. Last year, a number of attacks in Kabul left countless dead.

An officer with the Afghan National Police at a checkpoint in Kabul. Photo: Mauricio Lima

Behind the tragedy that claimed the lives of 21 people (including the IMF head and several UN officials), there is a deeper story everyone must know. I was a frequent visitor of Taverna du Liban during the time I lived in Afghanistan. These locales catering to affluent Afghans and expats have never been on the radar of the Taliban. Why? Because the owners of these establishments pay a monthly “bribe” to corrupt Afghan police who then indirectly purchase a security guarantee from the Taliban to remove these locations from targeted hit lists. (Recently the New York Times wrote about Afghan police who have not been paid since last November). In 2010, the western media reported on how USAID indirectly paid the Taliban billions not to attack incoming logistical convoys traveling from Pakistan to Afghanistan.

So what is happening now? According to Afghan officials, pro-Pakistani ISI Afghans have embedded themselves in the central government in Kabul. While the US and international forces are running for the exits, these Afghans are desperately trying to secure their future in a post-2014 Afghanistan. Pro-Pakistan Afghans appear on the surface to be pro-Western but they have robbed American taxpayers and Afghans while simultaneously working with Pakistan. Why? They are buying an insurance policy to make sure they remain in power if and when the Taliban retake Afghanistan. This is a deadly strategy. How ironic that last Friday’s Taliban attack was more precise than a surgical drone attack by the Americans. It wasn’t just a random coincidence. The identity and itinerary of the victims were relayed and the killings were well orchestrated with pinpoint precision.

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Afghanistan, the Sequel?

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Afghan villagers in Helmand province

The Loya Jirga confirmed through the Bilateral Security Agreement the Afghan intent to have a longer security relationship with the United States and has put into doubt any thoughts of a wholesale U.S. pullout in 2014.

Afghan villagers in Helmand province

It seems clear what the Afghans want although it is less clear why President Karzai is stalling before signing the agreement despite pressure from many U.S. officials. What should the response of the Obama administration be to Karzai’s dithering? President Karzai wants Afghanistan secured by the U.S. military before the deal is finalized. He is referring to the Taliban influence, which is quite substantial in many parts of the country.

Before considering any prolonged U.S. engagement our ultimate goals in Afghanistan and any options other than military should be explored. In a paper in March of 2011 I suggested three approaches to help the Afghans repair their country: enemy-centric, people-centric and leader-centric.

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From Missile Defense to Chavez’s Death, the 2013 “Are You Serious?” Awards

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Pictured: Edward Snowden, Hugo Chavez, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Francois Hollande

Every year it is important to recognize news stories and newsmakers that fall under the category of “Are you serious?” Here are the awards for 2013 as recognized by Dispatches From The Edge.

Pictured: Edward Snowden, Hugo Chavez, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Francois Hollande

Creative Solutions Award to the Third Battalion of the 41st U.S. Infantry Division for its innovative solution on how to halt sporadic attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan’s Zhare District: it blew up a hill that the insurgents used as cover. This tactic could potentially be a major job creator because there are lots of hills in Afghanistan. And after the U.S. Army blows them all up, it can take on those really big things: mountains.

Runner up in this category is Col. Thomas W. Collins, for his inventive solution on how to explain a sharp rise in Taliban attacks in 2013. The U.S. military published a detailed bar graph indicating insurgent attacks had declined by 7 percent, but, when the figure was challenged by the media, the Army switched to the mushroom strategy. “We’re just not giving out statistics anymore,” Col. Collins told the Associated Press. Independent sources indicate that attacks were up 40 percent over last year, with the battlegrounds shifting from the south of Afghanistan to the east and north.

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Fault-Lines in Afghanistan’s Political Settlement

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A member of the U.S. military conducts a patrol in Wardak province, Afghanistan

During 2013 the International Security Assistance Force will continue to reduce its footprint in Afghanistan as coalition partners rapidly withdraw troops ahead of the end of the NATO Afghan mandate in 2014.

A member of the U.S. military conducts a patrol in Wardak province, Afghanistan

However, 2014 will not be the end of the US or the International Community’s (IC) mission in Afghanistan. 2014 will mark the beginning of a new chapter for IC engagement in Afghanistan. To be successful NATO and the IC must immediately take several aggressive steps in order to prepare for the political transition. Significant efforts have been made both in Europe and the US to set the stage for negotiations with the Taliban. The hope is that such negotiations will ready Afghanistan for a more productive post-2014 political environment. Despite the international community’s presence in country for more then a decade, these discussions are premature because of the inability of the Afghans and the IC to push for a robust internal Afghan political settlement. If Afghans cannot get along with each other internally, they certainly cannot coherently negotiate with an external force.

Rather than focusing on settling disputes between competing factions within the Afghan government in order to create a coherent and effective Afghan government, the IC has left such discussions up to the Afghans, and in doing so has allowed for the continuation of the inept and corrupt Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA). In many respects this failure can be traced to the reason the IC remains in Afghanistan. Except for security, IC support in Afghanistan has failed to reform its political system, advance its economy significantly, or address systemic corruption in any substantive way. This failure is the result of competing internal political factions within the Afghan government.

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Chuck Hagel’s Confirmation Hearing: Neocons Search for Relevance

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President Barack Obama and former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009.  Image via WBUR

President Barack Obama and former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009

Chuck Hagel’s going over at the hands of Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee was more than an argument over political and policy differences; it was another spasm in the efforts of neoconservatives to define U.S. security policy in their own image.

Chuck Hagel, a Republican former two-term senator from Nebraska, had once been considered one of the neoconservatives’ own, at least for a while. After joining the Senate in 1997, he quickly became one of Republican Sen. John McCain’s more avid wingmen. He helped run the Arizonan’s 2000 campaign for the party’s presidential nomination. Hagel also voted for the 2002 resolution to authorize U.S. action against Iraq, the precursor to the March 2003 invasion.  But the Iraq war changed Hagel, but not McCain and the Republicans’ neocon core. Hagel distanced himself from many of the Bush administration’s failed war policies. When Bush sought to send 30,000 extra troops there in 2007, Hagel dissented, as did the man who nominated Hagel to be the next Defense Secretary, Barack Obama.

Now, as Obama’s nominee, Hagel finds himself in the middle of a more-than-40-year war over control of U.S. military and national security policy. The neoconservatives who fought against Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and now Obama recognize that Hagel’s confirmation would reverse the policies of “peace through strength” that dominated the George W. Bush and Reagan administrations.

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Afghanistan’s Long Road to Gender Equality

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An Afghan woman teaches a class of girls in the Rukhshana School on March 11, 2002

In all countries with troops still on the ground in Afghanistan there is steadily growing public feeling that the sooner their armed forces are out of the war there the better. And hopefully with minimal further injury and loss of life.

An Afghan woman teaches a class of girls in the Rukhshana School on March 11, 2002

While the various home governments will no doubt spin the line of how successful the deployment has been, we should have no doubt that post-International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Afghanistan will be a very difficult place. Not just in terms of the country’s obvious ongoing political fragility, but also with respect to its socio-cultural environment and in particular, the subordinate situation of women. Recent media reports of the murders of three young Afghan women – one by her husband for working outside the home, another by her in-laws for her refusal to go into prostitution, and the third in retaliation for the rejection of a marriage proposal – are stark reminders of this.

While we shouldn’t ignore the fact that every year women in ISAF countries are also killed by close family members and experience ongoing domestic violence from current or previous partners, the Afghan cases come out of a cultural environment where the majority of the adult population considers violence against women justified in certain circumstances. A picture of this mindset is revealed in the results of a survey recently carried out by the Afghanistan Central Statistics Organisation and UNICEF. The Afghanistan Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) is an international household study developed to monitor the situation of women and children around the world.

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Congressional Self-Assessment Board Necessary to Preserve National Security

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Defence Secretary Leon Panetta testifying on Capitol Hill

In recent years, political agendas have begun to trump the best interests of the nation. The United States Congress is in a constant state of gridlock and seems unable to put party politics aside to invest in a strategic vision to protect and advance U.S. interests.

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta testifying on Capitol Hill

In order to strengthen U.S. national security, Congress must be a fully functioning and cohesive entity. In the current state of U.S. politics, however, Congress is abdicating its responsibility to play this vital role. Reforming Congress should be a priority in the coming years, spearheaded by an intensive review conducted by its members. Without internal reform, Congressional paralysis will continue to directly threaten U.S. national security.

The divisions between Democrats and Republicans are felt throughout Congress. In a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Ranking Member John McCain criticized the newly released Department of Defense (DoD) Strategic Guidance Review, contending “unfortunately, this defense budget continues the Administration’s habit of putting short-term political considerations over our long-term national security interests.” Referring to the $487 billion of mandatory defense cuts over the next ten years, Senator McCain further insisted the review decisions were “budget driven” and not achieved through strategic observation and analysis.

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