History > 2009 > USA > War > Afghanistan (I)
The Las Vegas Review Journal, Nevada
25 February 2009
U.S. Sets Fight in the Poppies
to Halt Taliban Cash Flow
April 29, 2009
The New York Times
By DEXTER FILKINS
ZANGABAD, Afghanistan — American commanders are planning to cut off the
Taliban’s main source of money, the country’s multimillion-dollar opium crop, by
pouring thousands of troops into the three provinces that bankroll much of the
The plan to send 20,000 Marines and soldiers into Helmand, Kandahar and Zabul
Provinces this summer promises weeks and perhaps months of heavy fighting, since
American officers expect the Taliban to vigorously defend what makes up the
economic engine for the insurgency. The additional troops, the centerpiece of
President Obama’s effort to reverse the course of the seven-year war, will
roughly double the number already in southern Afghanistan. The troops already
fighting there are universally seen as overwhelmed. In many cases, the Americans
will be pushing into areas where few or no troops have been before.
Through extortion and taxation, the Taliban are believed to reap as much as $300
million a year from Afghanistan’s opium trade, which now makes up 90 percent of
the world’s total. That is enough, the Americans say, to sustain all of the
Taliban’s military operations in southern Afghanistan for an entire year.
“Opium is their financial engine,” said Brig. Gen. John Nicholson, the deputy
commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan. “That is why we think he will
fight for these areas.”
The Americans say that their main goal this summer will be to provide security
for the Afghan population, and thereby isolate the insurgents.
But because the opium is tilled in heavily populated areas, and because the
Taliban are spread among the people, the Americans say they will have to break
the group’s hold on poppy cultivation to be successful.
No one here thinks that is going to be easy.
Only 10 minutes inside the tiny village of Zangabad, 20 miles southwest of
Kandahar, a platoon of American soldiers stepped into a poppy field in full
bloom on Monday. Taliban fighters opened fire from three sides.
“From the north!” one of the soldiers yelled, spinning and firing.
“West!” another screamed, turning and firing, too.
An hour passed and a thousand bullets whipped through the air. Ammunition was
running low. The Taliban were circling.
Then the gunships arrived, swooping in, their bullet casings showering the
ground beneath them, their rockets streaking and destroying. Behind a barrage of
artillery, the soldiers shot their way out of Zangabad and moved into the cover
of the vineyards.
“When are you going drop the bomb?” Capt. Chris Brawley said into his radio over
the clatter of machine-gun fire. “I’m in a grape field.”
The bomb came, and after a time the shooting stopped.
The firefight offered a preview of the Americans’ summer in southern
Afghanistan. By all accounts, it is going to be bloody.
Like the guerrillas they are, Taliban fighters often fade away when confronted
by a conventional army. But in Afghanistan, as they did in Zangabad, the Taliban
will probably stand and fight.
Among the ways the Taliban are believed to make money from the opium trade is by
charging farmers for protection; if the Americans and British attack, the
Taliban will be expected to make good on their side of that bargain.
Indeed, Taliban fighters have begun to fight any efforts by the Americans or the
British to move into areas where poppy grows and opium is produced. Last month,
a force of British marines moved into a district called Nad Ali in Helmand
Province, the center of the country’s poppy cultivation. The Taliban were
waiting. In a five-day battle, the British killed 120 Taliban fighters and
wounded 150. Only one British soldier was wounded.
Many of the new American soldiers will fan out along southern Afghanistan’s
largely unguarded 550-mile-long border with Pakistan. Among them will be
soldiers deployed in the Stryker, a relatively quick, nimble armored vehicle
that can roam across the vast areas that span the frontier.
All of the new troops are supposed to be in place by Aug. 20, in order to
provide security for Afghanistan’s presidential election.
The presence of poppy and opium here has injected a huge measure of uncertainly
into the war. Under NATO rules of engagement, American or other forces are
prohibited from attacking targets or people related only to narcotics
production. Those people are not considered combatants.
But American and other forces are allowed to attack drug smugglers or facilities
that are assisting the Taliban. In an interview, General Nicholson said that
opium production and the Taliban are so often intertwined that the rules do not
usually inhibit American operations.
“We often come across a compound that has opium and I.E.D. materials side by
side, and opium and explosive materials and weapons,” General Nicholson said,
referring to improvised explosive devices. “It’s very common — more common than
But the prospect of heavy fighting in populated areas could further alienate the
Afghan population. In the firefight in Zangabad, the Americans covered their
exit with a barrage of 20 155 millimeter high-explosive artillery shells —
necessary to shield them from the Taliban, but also enough to inflict serious
damage on people and property. A local Afghan interviewed by telephone after the
firefight said that four homes had been damaged by the artillery strikes.
Then there is the problem of weaning poppy farmers from poppy farming — a task
that has proved intractable in many countries, like Colombia, where the American
government has tried to curtail poppy production. It is by far the most
lucrative crop an Afghan can farm. The opium trade now makes up nearly 60
percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product, American officials say. The
country’s opium traffickers typically offer incentives that no Afghan government
official can: they can guarantee a farmer a minimum price for the crop as well
as taking it to market, despite the horrendous condition of most of
“The people don’t like to cultivate poppy, but they are desperate,” Mohammed
Ashraf Naseri, the governor of Zabul Province, told a group of visitors this
To offer an alternative to poppy farming, the American military is setting aside
$250 million for agriculture projects like irrigation improvements and wheat
cultivation. General Nicholson said that a $200 million plan for infrastructure
improvements, much of it for roads to help get crops to market, was also being
prepared. The vision, General Nicholson said, is to try to restore the
agricultural economy that flourished in Afghanistan in the 1970s. That, more
than military force, will defeat the Taliban, he said.
“There is a significant portion of the enemy that we believe we can peel off
with incentives,” the general said. “We can hire away many of these young men.”
Even if the Americans are able to cut production, shortages could drive up
prices and not make a significant dent in the Taliban’s profits.
The foray into Zangabad suggested the difficulties that lie ahead. The terrain
is a guerrilla’s dream. In addition to acres of shoulder-high poppy plants, rows
and rows of hard-packed mud walls, used to stand up grape vines, offer ideal
places for ambushes and defense.
But the trickiest thing will be winning over the Afghans themselves. The Taliban
are entrenched in the villages and river valleys of southern Afghanistan. The
locals, caught between the foes, seem, at best, to be waiting to see who
On their way to Zangabad, the soldiers stopped in a wheat field to talk to a
local farmer. His name was Ahmetullah. The Americans spoke through a Pashto
“I’m very happy to see you,” the farmer told the Americans.
“Really?” one of the soldiers asked.
“Yes,” the farmer said.
The interpreter sighed, and spoke in English.
“He’s a liar.”
U.S. Sets Fight in the
Poppies to Halt Taliban Cash Flow, NYT, 29.4.2009,
The Remembered War
March 28, 2009
The New York Times
With his new comprehensive plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan, President Obama
has asserted leadership over the war that matters most to America’s security —
the one against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
We do not underestimate the difficulty of succeeding against these deadly
adversaries. But it was greatly encouraging simply to see the president actually
focusing on this war and placing it in the broader regional framework that has
been missing from American policy. That is a good first step toward fixing the
dangerous situation that former President George W. Bush created when he
abandoned the necessary war in Afghanistan for the ill-conceived war of choice
Mr. Obama has come back to first principles. Instead of Mr. Bush’s vague talk of
representative democracy in Afghanistan, he defined a more specific mission. “We
are not in Afghanistan to control that country or dictate its future,” Mr. Obama
said, but “to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and
The United States removed the Taliban from power in Afghanistan in 2001 as it
sought to stamp out the Al Qaeda militants behind the 9/11 attacks. More than
seven years later, the Taliban and Al Qaeda are stronger than ever. Militants
have crossed the border into Pakistan, where they plot attacks against the
United States, its allies and Pakistan.
To rebuild popular support for a mission that once was a global priority, Mr.
Obama and other leaders have to keep repeating this message: If Afghanistan
falls, if Pakistan falls, extremists will unleash even more fury. That is a
threat to us all. Mr. Obama’s plan breaks welcome new ground by treating
Afghanistan and Pakistan as a single coherent theater of operation. It finally
sets benchmarks for measuring progress by Kabul and Islamabad. It seeks to bring
other regional players into the discussion, including Iran and Russia.
The new plan also recognizes there is no military-only solution. We are
encouraged by Mr. Obama’s plans to send hundreds of civilians to help develop
new jobs in Afghanistan and an economy not tied to poppy production. Like him,
we strongly endorse a bipartisan Congressional proposal to invest $1.5 billion
annually in Pakistan’s people with the building of schools, hospitals and roads.
America cannot hope to defeat the insurgents if Afghans and Pakistanis don’t see
their lives improve.
Mr. Obama confronts many challenges. He must persuade the Pakistani intelligence
service to stop underwriting the Taliban and the Afghan government to eradicate
corruption. He also must persuade NATO to contribute more to the war effort — if
not combat troops in Afghanistan, then trainers or development aid.
His plans to urge so-called moderate Taliban to abandon their hard-line leaders
is worth trying. But that will require dealing with one of the most disturbing
bits of news of the last week. Seven years into the fight, the leader of the
American intelligence community acknowledged that it knows shockingly little
about the Taliban command
The Remembered War, NYT, 28.3.2009,
Obama Unveils Afghan Plan
to Add Troops and Set Goals
March 26, 2009
The New York Times
By PETER BAKER
and THOM SHANKER
WASHINGTON — President Obama said on Friday that he plans to further bolster
American forces in Afghanistan, increase aid to Pakistan, and for the first time
set benchmarks for progress in fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban in both chaotic
In strikingly ominous tones, Mr. Obama warned — just as President George W. Bush
did repeatedly over the years — of intelligence estimates that al Qaeda “is
actively planning attacks on the U.S. homeland from its safe haven in Pakistan.”
“The situation is increasingly perilous,” he told government officials, top
military officers and diplomats in remarks at the White House.
He added, “We have a clear and focused goal to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al
Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country
in the future.”
But President Obama promised neither to write a “blank check” nor to “blindly
stay the course” if his risky new strategy does not achieve its ambitious goals.
In imposing conditions on the Afghans and Pakistanis, Mr. Obama is replicating
an approach used in Iraq two years ago both to justify a deeper American
commitment and prod shaky governments in the region to take more responsibility
for fighting insurgents and building lasting political institutions. The new
strategy, officials said, will send 4,000 more troops to train Afghan security
forces on top of the 17,000 extra combat troops that he already ordered to
Afghanistan shortly after taking office.
For now, Mr. Obama has decided not to send additional combat forces, they said,
although military commanders at one point had requested a total of 30,000 more
American troops. Even so, the strategy he endorsed on Friday effectively gives
Mr. Obama full ownership of the war just as its violence is spilling back and
forth across the border with Pakistan.
He called on Congress to approve legislation authorizing $1.5 billion in aid to
Pakistan every year over the next five years for strengthening its democratic
institutions and for basic infrastructure improvements like building roads and
Prominent Democrats in Congress expressed support for the president’s approach.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said the president’s plan “is wisely
centered on dismantling al Qaeda and denying safe havens in both Afghanistan and
Pakistan to those who would attack the United States.”
Reaction was favorable on the other side of the Capitol as well.
“We’ve said for some time that we must refocus our resources on threats like Al
Qaeda and the Taliban in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region,” Senator Harry
Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said in a statement. “I strongly support
the president’s decision to do just that.”
Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, issued a statement calling the president’s approach
“realistic and bold in a critical region where our policy needs rescuing.” Mr.
Kerry and the committee’s ranking Republican, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, will
introduce the legislation authorizing the $1.5 billion in aid to Pakistan.
Senator Russell D. Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat who sits on the Foreign
Relations Committee, said he, too, was encouraged, particularly by Mr. Obama’s
focus on Pakistan. But Mr. Feingold said he was concerned that the new strategy
“may still be overly Afghan-centric when it needs to be even more regional.”
He said the bombing in Pakistan on Friday made it clear that “we need to fully
address the inextricable links between the crisis in Afghanistan and the
instability and terrorist threats in Pakistan.”
A Republican, Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, also praised the president’s
“Today, the president presented Congress and the American people with an honest
assessment of our strategic position in Afghanistan and underscored that
America’s core mission must be redefined,” she said.
But Ms. Snowe said increased American aid must be “carefully targeted,” that the
Pakistan and Afghanistan must be pressured to do their part.
On Thursday, Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan and the chairman of the
Armed Services Committee, emerged from a briefing with Defense Secretary Robert
M. Gates to declare that in his judgment the administration’s review “was right
Although the administration is still developing the specific benchmarks for
Afghanistan and Pakistan, officials said they would be the most explicit demands
ever presented to the governments in Kabul and Islamabad. In effect, Mr. Obama
would be insisting that two fractured countries plagued by ancient tribal
rivalries and modern geopolitical hostility find ways to work together and
transform their societies.
American officials have repeatedly said that Afghanistan has to make more
progress in fighting corruption, curbing the drug trade and sharing power with
the regions, while they have insisted that Pakistan do more to cut ties between
parts of its government and the Taliban. Mr. Obama telephoned President Hamid
Karzai of Afghanistan and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan on Thursday to
share the main elements of the strategic review.
Setting benchmarks for Pakistan could be particularly difficult. For years, the
United States has simply paid bills submitted by the Pakistani government for
counterterrorism operations, even during truces when its military was not
involved in counterterrorism. Pakistan has resisted linking its aid to specific
performance criteria and officials acknowledged that developing those criteria
could be problematic.
The key elements of Mr. Obama’s plan, with its more robust combat force, its
emphasis on training, and its far-reaching goals, foreshadow an ambitious but
risky and costly attempt to unify and stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mr.
Obama is unveiling his approach at a time when the conflict is worsening, the
lives of the people are not visibly improving, and the intervention by
American-led foreign powers is increasingly resented.
He said that “an uncompromising core of the Taliban,” the fundamentalist party
that America and its allies ousted seven years ago, must be defeated militarily,
but that other opposition forces “who have taken up arms because of coercion, or
simply for a price,” must be drawn back into the fold.
The goals that Mr. Obama has settled on may be elusive and, according to some
critics, even naïve. Among other things, officials said he planned to recast the
Afghan war as a regional issue involving not only Pakistan but also India,
Russia, China, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the Central Asian
His plan envisions persuading Pakistan to stop focusing military resources on
its longstanding enemy, India, so it can concentrate more on battling insurgents
in its lawless tribal regions. That goal may be especially hard to achieve given
more than a half century of enmity — including a nuclear arms race — between
Pakistan and India.
All told, the 21,000 additional American troops that Mr. Obama will have
authorized almost precisely matches the original number of additional troops
that President George W. Bush sent to Iraq two years ago, bringing the overall
American deployment in Afghanistan to about 60,000. But Mr. Obama avoids calling
it a “surge” and resisted sending the full reinforcements initially sought by
Instead, Mr. Obama chose to re-evaluate troop levels at a series of specific
moments over the next year, officials said. Approaching the issue in increments
may be easier to explain to members of Mr. Obama’s own party who fear he is
getting the country as entangled in Afghanistan as Mr. Bush did in Iraq.
Mr. Obama is framing the American commitment as a counterterrorism mission aimed
at denying havens for Al Qaeda, with three main goals — training Afghan security
forces, supporting the weak central government in Kabul and securing the
population. While the new strategy calls for expanding Afghan security forces
more rapidly, it does not explicitly endorse the request from American
commanders to increase the national police and army to 400,000.
At the same time, Mr. Obama would need more than the $50 billion in his budget
plan for military operations and development efforts. Asked on Thursday by
lawmakers whom he briefed on the plan about the prospect of reconciliation with
moderate members of the Taliban, officials said Mr. Obama replied that he wanted
to sift out hard-core radicals from those who were fighting simply to earn
Senator Levin, who was part of a bipartisan group that pressed Mr. Bush to set
benchmarks for Iraq two years ago, embraced the idea of doing the same again for
Afghanistan. “There is a determination to set some benchmarks for Afghanistan,
and that will be incredibly important,” Mr. Levin said. “We haven’t had them in
Dennis C. Blair, the administration’s director of national intelligence, said on
Thursday that the United States still lacked intelligence about the power
structures inside the country and other basic information necessary for a
counterinsurgency campaign. “We know a heck of a lot more about Iraq on a
granular level than we know about Afghanistan,” he said.
Speaking with reporters, Mr. Blair estimated that up to three quarters of the
Taliban’s rank and file in Afghanistan could be peeled away from the Taliban’s
leadership, most of whom are hiding in sanctuaries across the border in
David E. Sanger and Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting.
Obama Unveils Afghan
Plan to Add Troops and Set Goals, NYT, 26.3.2009,
The Winnable War
March 27, 2009
The New York Times
By DAVID BROOKS
Khyber Pass, Afghanistan
I came to Afghanistan skeptical of American efforts to transform this country.
Afghanistan is one of the poorest, least-educated and most-corrupt nations on
earth. It is an infinitely complex and fractured society. It has powerful
enemies in Pakistan, Iran and the drug networks working hard to foment chaos.
The ground is littered with the ruins of great powers that tried to change this
Moreover, we simply do not know how to modernize nations. Western aid workers
seem to spend most of their time drawing up flow charts for each other. They’re
so worried about their inspectors general that they can’t really immerse
themselves in the messy world of local reality. They insist on making most of
the spending decisions themselves so the “recipients” of their largess end up
passive, dependent and resentful.
Every element of my skepticism was reinforced during a six-day tour of the
country. Yet the people who work here make an overwhelming case that Afghanistan
can become a functional, terror-fighting society and that it is worth sending
our sons and daughters into danger to achieve this.
In the first place, the Afghan people want what we want. They are, as Lord Byron
put it, one of the few people in the region without an inferiority complex. They
think they did us a big favor by destroying the Soviet Union and we repaid them
with abandonment. They think we owe them all this.
That makes relations between Afghans and foreigners relatively straightforward.
Most military leaders here prefer working with the Afghans to the Iraqis. The
Afghans are warm and welcoming. They detest the insurgents and root for American
success. “The Afghans have treated you as friends, allies and liberators from
the very beginning,” says Afghanistan’s defense minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak.
Second, we’re already well through the screwing-up phase of our operation. At
first, the Western nations underestimated the insurgency. They tried to
centralize power in Kabul. They tried to fight a hodgepodge, multilateral war.
Those and other errors have been exposed, and coalition forces are learning.
When you interview impressive leaders here, like Brig. Gen. John Nicholson of
Regional Command South, Col. John Agoglia of the Counterinsurgency Training
Center and Chris Alexander of the U.N., you see how relentless they are at
criticizing their own operations. Thanks to people like that, the coalition will
stumble toward success, having tried the alternatives.
Third, we’ve got our priorities right. Armies love killing bad guys. Aid
agencies love building schools. But the most important part of any aid effort is
governance and law and order. It’s reforming the police, improving the courts,
training local civil servants and building prisons.
In Afghanistan, every Western agency is finally focused on this issue, from a
Canadian reconstruction camp in Kandahar to the top U.S. general, David
Fourth, the quality of Afghan leadership is improving. This is a relative thing.
President Hamid Karzai is detested by much of the U.S. military. Some provincial
governors are drug dealers on the side. But as the U.N.’s Kai Eide told the
Security Council, “The Afghan government is today better and more competent than
ever before.” Reformers now lead the most important ministries and competent
governors run key provinces.
Fifth, the U.S. is finally taking this war seriously. Up until now, insurgents
have had free rein in vast areas of southern Afghanistan. The infusion of 17,000
more U.S. troops will change that. The Obama administration also promises a
civilian surge to balance the military push.
Sixth, Pakistan is finally on the agenda. For the past few years, the U.S. has
let Pakistan get away with murder. The insurgents train, organize and get
support from there. “It’s very hard to deal with a cross-border insurgency on
only one side of the border,” says Mr. Alexander of the U.N. The Obama strategic
review recognizes this.
Finally, it is simply wrong to say that Afghanistan is a hopeless 14th-century
basket case. This country had decent institutions before the Communist takeover.
It hasn’t fallen into chaos, the way Iraq did, because it has a culture of
communal discussion and a respect for village elders. The Afghans have embraced
the democratic process with enthusiasm.
I finish this trip still skeptical but also infected by the optimism of the
truly impressive people who are working here. And one other thing:
After the trauma in Iraq, it would have been easy for the U.S. to withdraw into
exhaustion and realism. Instead, President Obama is doubling down on the very
principles that some dismiss as neocon fantasy: the idea that this nation has
the capacity to use military and civilian power to promote democracy, nurture
civil society and rebuild failed states.
Foreign policy experts can promote one doctrine or another, but this energetic
and ambitious response — amid economic crisis and war weariness — says something
profound about America’s DNA.
The Winnable War, NYT,
U.S. Plans Expanded Afghan Security Force
March 19, 2009
The New York Times
By THOM SHANKER and ERIC SCHMITT
WASHINGTON — President Obama and his advisers have decided to significantly
expand Afghanistan’s security forces in the hope that a much larger professional
army and national police force could fill a void left by the central government
and do more to promote stability in the country, according to senior
administration and Pentagon officials.
A plan awaiting final approval by the president would set a goal of about
400,000 troops and national police officers, more than twice the forces’ current
size, and more than three times the size that American officials believed would
be adequate for Afghanistan in 2002, when the Taliban and Al Qaeda appeared to
have been routed.
The officials said Mr. Obama was expected to approve a version of the plan in
coming days as part of a broader Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy. But even members
of Mr. Obama’s national security team appeared taken aback by the cost
projections of the program, which range from $10 billion to $20 billion over the
next six or seven years.
By comparison, the annual budget for the entire Afghan government, which is
largely provided by the United States and other international donors, is about
$1.1 billion, which means the annual price of the program would be about twice
the cost of operating the government of President Hamid Karzai.
Those figures include only the cost of training and establishing the forces, and
officials are still trying to determine what the cost would be to sustain the
security forces over the long term.
Administration officials also express concerns that an expanded Afghan Army
could rival the corruption-plagued presidency of Mr. Karzai. The American
commanders who have recommended the increase argued that any risk of creating a
more powerful Afghan Army was outweighed by the greater risks posed by insurgent
violence that could threaten the central government if left unchecked.
At present, the army fields more than 90,000 troops, and the Afghan National
Police numbers about 80,000 officers. The relatively small size of the security
forces has frustrated Afghan officials and American commanders who wanted to
turn security over to legitimate Afghan security forces, and not local warlords,
at a faster pace.
After resisting the idea for several years, the Bush administration last summer
approved an increase that authorized the army to grow to 134,000 over the next
three years, in a program that would cost about $12 billion.
The resistance had been a holdover from the early months after the rout of
Taliban and Qaeda fighters in 2001, when it appeared that there was little
domestic or external threat that required a larger security force.
The new proposal would authorize a doubling of the army, after the increase
approved last summer, to about 260,000 soldiers. In addition, it would increase
the number of police officers, commandos and border guards to bring the total
size of the security forces to about 400,000. The officials who described the
proposal spoke on condition of anonymity because they had not been authorized to
discuss it publicly in advance of final approval by Mr. Obama.
Some European countries have proposed the creation of an Afghan National Army
Trust Fund, which would seek donations from oil kingdoms along the Persian Gulf
and other countries to pay for Afghanistan’s security forces.
Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, the chairman of the Armed Services
Committee, which would have to approve new American spending, endorsed the goal
of expanding Afghan security forces, and urged commanders to place Afghans on
the front lines to block the border with Pakistan to insurgents and terrorists.
“The cost is relatively small compared to the cost of not doing it — of having
Afghanistan either disintegrate, or fall into the hands of the Taliban, or look
as though we are dominating it,” Mr. Levin said in an interview late on Tuesday.
Administration officials and military experts cited recent public opinion polls
in Afghanistan showing that the Afghan Army had eclipsed the respect given the
central government, which has had difficulty exerting legitimacy or control much
beyond the capital.
“In the estimation of almost all outside observers, the Ministry of Defense and
the Afghan National Army are two of the most highly functional and capable
institutions in the country,” said Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, who is retired and
commanded American and coalition forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005.
General Barno, currently the director of Near East and South Asian security
studies at National Defense University, dismissed concerns that the army or the
Ministry of Defense would challenge the authority of elected officials in Kabul.
“They are respectful of civil governance,” he said. “If the government of
Afghanistan is going to effectively extend security and the rule of law, it has
to have more army boots on the ground and police shoes on the ground.”
Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign
Relations, said the Obama administration now appeared “willing to accept risks
and accept downsides it might not otherwise” have considered had the security
situation not deteriorated.
Military analysts cite other models in the Islamic world, like Pakistan, Egypt
and Turkey, where the United States supports democratically elected civilian
governments but raises no objection to the heavy influence wielded by military
forces that remain at least as powerful as those governments.
Martin Strmecki, a member of the Defense Science Board and a former top Pentagon
adviser on Afghanistan, told a Senate committee last month that the Afghan Army
should increase to 250,000 soldiers and the national police force should add
more than 100,000 officers. Mr. Strmecki said that only when Afghan security
forces reached those numbers would they achieve “the level necessary for success
Military officers also see an added benefit to expanding Afghanistan’s security
forces, if its growing rosters can offer jobs to unemployed young men who now
take up arms for the insurgency for money, and not ideology.
“We can try and outbid the Taliban for ‘day workers’ who are laying I.E.D.’s and
do not care about politics,” Mr. Biddle said, referring to improvised explosive
devices. “But if we don’t control that area, the Taliban can come in and cut off
the hands of anybody who is taking money from us.”
C.I.A. Chief in Overseas Trip
The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon E. Panetta, is traveling
to India and Pakistan this week to discuss the investigation into the Mumbai
terrorist attacks, improved information-sharing to combat violent extremists and
other intelligence issues, an American official said Wednesday.
Making his first overseas trip as C.I.A. director, Mr. Panetta was in India on
Wednesday and was expected to travel to Pakistan and possibly another country in
the following days, the official said.
David E. Sanger contributed reporting.
U.S. Plans Expanded
Afghan Security Force, NYT, 19.3.2009,
Less Body Armor
Might Be the Answer
March 10, 2009
Filed at 5:52 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Heavy layers of body armor, a proven lifesaver of U.S.
troops, also may be an impediment to winning the fight in Afghanistan, where
17,000 additional American forces are being sent to quell rising violence.
Weighing as much as 34 pounds each, the protective vests hinder American forces
hunting down more agile insurgents who use the country's rugged peaks and
valleys to their advantage, according to military officials.
The proper balance between troop safety and mobility will be examined this week
during a series of oversight hearings by the House Appropriations defense
subcommittee. Beginning Tuesday, senior Army and Marine Corps leaders are
scheduled to testify on a wide range of subjects, including force protection,
readiness levels and ergonomic injuries.
When body armor is added to the assault rifles, ammunition, water and other
essential gear troops are required to carry, they can be lugging as much as 80
pounds into combat. Besides moving more slowly, overburdened troops tire more
quickly and are prone to orthopedic injuries that can take them out of action,
the officials say.
But convincing a war-weary public of a less-is-more approach won't be easy, they
acknowledge. If a commander decides the gear shouldn't be used for a particular
mission and a service member is killed, there could be a backlash, said Jean
Malone, deputy director of experiment plans at the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab
in Quantico, Va.
''We've got to have the internal fortitude to come back and say: 'We have the
data. We made the right decision. We can't guarantee you that nobody will die in
this war,''' he said.
Paring down the amount of armor could actually make troops safer on the
battlefield, officials say. Speed and maneuverability give them the best chance
of killing or capturing the Taliban and other militants before they can set
roadside bombs or get in position for an ambush.
''Being able to maneuver and fight and chase down a fleeing enemy; that's
actually where your protection is (versus) armoring up and being more static,''
said Brig. Gen. Tim Hanifen, deputy commanding general of the Marine Corps
Combat Development Command at Quantico.
The loads carried by modern American troops are equivalent to those ''the
medieval knight wore into and out of battle back in the year 1000 until about
the 16th century,'' he said.
Bomb-resistant vehicles that are light and nimble enough to handle Afghanistan's
primitive roads are also needed, according to Hanifen. Trucks that worked well
in Iraq, which has a comparatively sophisticated transportation network, may be
less suitable in harsher terrains.
As troop levels are surging in Afghanistan, so are roadside bomb attacks,
according to the Pentagon's Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat
In January and February, 52 IED attacks in Afghanistan killed 32 coalition
troops and wounded 96 more, according to preliminary figures from the
organization. During the same two months in 2008, 21 IED attacks killed 10
troops and wounded 39.
Body armor has become a focus of Marine Corps efforts to lighten troop loads
because it weighs so much more than the other gear. The standard kit consists of
hardened composite plates inserted into a ballistic vest. The vest and plates
protect the upper body from armor-piercing bullets and shrapnel.
Personal armor made of substantially lighter composite materials that are more
effective than current models won't be available for several years. So the
Marine Corps is looking for near-term solutions.
The Marine Corps is buying 65,000 vests called ''scalable plate carriers'' that
weigh under 20 pounds. The carrier, which uses the same plates as the standard
vest, doesn't cover as much of the torso. About 14,000 of the plate carriers
have been fielded and the feedback has been positive, according to Marine Corps
Over the next two weeks, the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab is conducting an
experiment at Camp Pendleton, Calif., to assess the risks of using less armor.
The results of the trials will help guide battlefield commanders who make the
final call on what gear troops should use.
Less Body Armor Might Be
the Answer in Afghanistan, NYT, 10.3.2009,
U.S. Halted Some Afghan Raids
Over Concern on Deaths
March 10, 2009
The New York Times
By MARK MAZZETTI and ERIC SCHMITT
WASHINGTON — The commander of a secretive branch of America’s Special
Operations forces last month ordered a halt to most commando missions in
Afghanistan, reflecting a growing concern that civilian deaths caused by
American firepower are jeopardizing broader goals there.
The halt, which lasted about two weeks, came after a series of nighttime raids
by Special Operations troops in recent months killed women and children, and
after months of mounting outrage in Afghanistan about civilians killed in air
and ground strikes. The order covered all commando missions except those against
the highest-ranking leaders of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, military officials
American commanders in Afghanistan rely on the commando units to carry out some
of the most delicate operations against militant leaders, and the missions of
the Army’s Delta Force and classified Navy Seals units are never publicly
acknowledged. But the units sometimes carry out dozens of operations each week,
so any decision to halt their missions is a sign of just how worried military
officials are that the fallout from civilian casualties is putting in peril the
overall American mission in Afghanistan, including an effort to drain the
Taliban of popular support.
A United Nations report released last month specifically blamed clandestine
missions by commando units for contributing to a surge in civilian deaths in
Afghanistan in 2008. The report concluded that the number of civilian casualties
rose nearly 40 percent compared with 2007, although it found that suicide
bombings and other Taliban attacks were the primary cause.
Military officials said the halt was ordered in part to allow American
commanders time to impose new safeguards intended to reduce the risk of civilian
deaths. They said it was also intended to help the military release information
about civilian casualties more quickly, to pre-empt what some said have been
exaggerated accounts by Afghan officials.
According to senior military officials, the stand-down was ordered by Vice Adm.
William H. McRaven, the head of the military’s Joint Special Operations Command,
which oversees the secret commando units.
The rising civilian death toll in Afghanistan has soured relations between
American commanders and the Afghan government led by President Hamid Karzai, who
has vocally criticized the raids.
The stand-down began in mid-February, and the raids have since resumed. It is
unclear, though, whether the Special Operations missions are being carried out
with the same frequency as before the halt.
At least two Special Operations ground raids in December helped fuel the
tensions between the American military and Mr. Karzai. In one case, American
troops raided a compound in Khost Province in an attempt to capture a Qaeda
suspect. The suspect was taken into custody, but several civilians were killed
and a 4-year-old boy was bitten by an attack dog used in the operation.
During another December raid, American troops killed six Afghan police officers
and one civilian in Zabul Province in southern Afghanistan. An American military
spokesman called the killings a “tragic case of mistaken identity.”
Some top civilian and military officials in Afghanistan say they believe that
Mr. Karzai and some of his aides have at times exaggerated reports of civilian
casualties to fuel anti-American sentiment for domestic political purposes. Mr.
Karzai will run for re-election this year and is under political pressure to
speak out against Afghan deaths at the hands of American troops.
Still, there is little dispute that the increased intensity of American military
operations in Afghanistan last year has contributed to the rise in the civilian
death toll. As President Obama sends thousands more troops to the war-ravaged
country, some officials worry that each civilian death may only drive Afghans
toward the Taliban and other militant groups.
One senior official said that procedures had been set up to allow American
troops to report more quickly the number of enemy and civilian deaths after a
specific operation, and to quickly disseminate the information to Afghan
officials in Kabul, the capital, and at the local and provincial levels.
Officials also said the military had adopted new procedures aimed at reducing
civilian casualties, but they did not specify what those procedures were.
Col. Gregory S. Julian, a spokesman for Gen. David D. McKiernan, who commands
all American and NATO troops in Afghanistan, last week denied that there had
been any halt to Special Operations missions. On Monday, however, Colonel Julian
seemed to acknowledge that the stand-down had occurred, but he said his boss was
not behind the order.
“General McKiernan takes the issue of civilian casualties very seriously, but he
did not direct the pause in operations,” Colonel Julian said.
Gen. David H. Petraeus, who is in charge of American forces in the Middle East
and Central Asia, supported the decision to suspend the Special Operations
missions, according to a senior military official who spoke on condition of
anonymity because he was discussing classified military units. A White House
spokesman declined to comment.
General McKiernan had issued a broad order on Dec. 30 that underscored the
commitment of allied forces to reducing the risk of civilian casualties. He
ordered that Afghan security forces should lead “all searches and entries of
Afghan homes, mosques, religious sites or places of cultural significance,”
unless there was a “clear and identified danger” coming from a building.
General McKiernan’s two-page directive followed American military operations
last year that left dozens of civilians dead.
In perhaps the most notable case, American airstrikes on Aug. 22 in a village in
western Afghanistan killed far more civilians than American commanders initially
A military investigator’s report found that more than 30 civilians, not 5 to 7
as the military had long insisted, had died in the airstrikes against what was
believed to be a Taliban compound in Azizabad. The strikes were in support of
allied ground forces, including American Special Operations forces.
The Afghan government initially insisted that 90 civilians died in the raid, and
it never fully accepted the American military’s revised death toll.
An Official’s Grim Assessment
PARIS — As the United States prepares to commit 17,000 more troops to
Afghanistan, the commander of NATO and American forces there said Monday that
the coalition was “not winning” the war against the resurgent Taliban in parts
of the country.
The commander, Gen. David D. McKiernan, said there were areas in the north, east
and west where coalition and Afghan forces were winning the battle to curb the
“But there are other areas — large areas in the southern part of Afghanistan
especially, but in parts of the east — where we are not winning,” he said in an
interview with the BBC.
“More has to happen along multiple lines of operation in order for anybody by
any metric to say that the Afghans are winning or the efforts of the coalition
are winning,” he said.
President Obama also said recently that the United States was not winning the
U.S. Halted Some Afghan
Raids Over Concern on Deaths, NYT, 10.3.2009,
Wars, Endless Wars
March 3, 2009
The New York Times
By BOB HERBERT
The singer Edwin Starr, who died in 2003, had a big hit in 1970 called “War”
in which he asked again and again: “War, what is it good for?”
The U.S. economy is in free fall, the banking system is in a state of complete
collapse and Americans all across the country are downsizing their standards of
living. The nation as we’ve known it is fading before our very eyes, but we’re
still pouring billions of dollars into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with
missions we are still unable to define.
Even as the U.S. begins plans to reduce troop commitments in Iraq, it is sending
thousands of additional troops into Afghanistan. The strategic purpose of this
escalation, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged, is not at all clear.
In response to a question on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Mr. Gates said:
“We’re talking to the Europeans, to our allies; we’re bringing in an awful lot
of people to get different points of view as we go through this review of what
our strategy ought to be. And I often get asked, ‘Well, how long will those
17,000 [additional troops] be there? Will more go in?’ All that depends on the
outcome of this strategy review that I hope will be done in a few weeks.”
We invaded Afghanistan more than seven years ago. We have not broken the back of
Al Qaeda or the Taliban. We have not captured or killed Osama bin Laden. We
don’t even have an escalation strategy, much less an exit strategy. An honest
assessment of the situation, taking into account the woefully corrupt and
ineffective Afghan government led by the hapless Hamid Karzai, would lead
inexorably to such terms as fiasco and quagmire.
Instead of cutting our losses, we appear to be doubling down.
As for Iraq, President Obama announced last week that substantial troop
withdrawals will take place over the next year and a half and that U.S. combat
operations would cease by the end of August 2010. But, he said, a large
contingent of American troops, perhaps as many as 50,000, would still remain in
Iraq for a “period of transition.”
That’s a large number of troops, and the cost of keeping them there will be
huge. Moreover, I was struck by the following comment from the president: “There
will surely be difficult periods and tactical adjustments, but our enemies
should be left with no doubt. This plan gives our military the forces and
flexibility they need to support our Iraqi partners and to succeed.”
In short, we’re committed to these two conflicts for a good while yet, and there
is nothing like an etched-in-stone plan for concluding them. I can easily
imagine a scenario in which Afghanistan and Iraq both heat up and the U.S.,
caught in an extended economic disaster at home, undermines its fragile recovery
efforts in the same way that societies have undermined themselves since the dawn
of time — with endless warfare.
We’ve already paid a fearful price for these wars. In addition to the many
thousands of service members who have been killed or suffered obvious disabling
injuries, a study by the RAND Corporation found that some 300,000 are currently
suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, and that 320,000
have most likely experienced a traumatic brain injury.
Time magazine has reported that “for the first time in history, a sizable and
growing number of U.S. combat troops are taking daily doses of antidepressants
to calm nerves strained by repeated and lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Suicides among soldiers rose in 2008 for the fourth consecutive year, largely
because of the stress of combat deployments. It’s believed that 128 soldiers
took their own lives last year.
Much of the country can work itself up to a high pitch of outrage because a
banker or an automobile executive flies on a private jet. But we’ll send young
men and women by the thousands off to repeated excursions through the hell of
combat — three tours, four tours or more — without raising so much as a peep of
Lyndon Johnson, despite a booming economy, lost his Great Society to the Vietnam
War. He knew what he was risking. He would later tell Doris Kearns Goodwin, “If
I left the woman I really loved — the Great Society — in order to get involved
with that bitch of a war on the other side of the world, then I would lose
everything at home. All my programs... All my dreams...”
The United States is on its knees economically. As President Obama fights for
his myriad domestic programs and his dream of an economic recovery, he might
benefit from a look over his shoulder at the link between Vietnam and the
still-smoldering ruins of Johnson’s presidency.
Wars, Endless Wars, NYT,
Obama Widens Missile Strikes
February 21, 2009
The New York Times
By MARK MAZZETTI and DAVID E. SANGER
WASHINGTON — With two missile strikes over the past week, the Obama
administration has expanded the covert war run by the Central Intelligence
Agency inside Pakistan, attacking a militant network seeking to topple the
The missile strikes on training camps run by Baitullah Mehsud represent a
broadening of the American campaign inside Pakistan, which has been largely
carried out by drone aircraft. Under President Bush, the United States
frequently attacked militants from Al Qaeda and the Taliban involved in
cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, but had stopped short of raids aimed at
Mr. Mehsud and his followers, who have played less of a direct role in attacks
on American troops.
The strikes are another sign that President Obama is continuing, and in some
cases extending, Bush administration policy in using American spy agencies
against terrorism suspects in Pakistan, as he had promised to do during his
presidential campaign. At the same time, Mr. Obama has begun to scale back some
of the Bush policies on the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects,
which he has criticized as counterproductive.
Mr. Mehsud was identified early last year by both American and Pakistani
officials as the man who had orchestrated the assassination of Benazir Bhutto,
the former prime minister and the wife of Pakistan’s current president, Asif Ali
Zardari. Mr. Bush included Mr. Mehsud’s name in a classified list of militant
leaders whom the C.I.A. and American commandos were authorized to capture or
It is unclear why the Obama administration decided to carry out the attacks,
which American and Pakistani officials said occurred last Saturday and again on
Monday, hitting camps run by Mr. Mehsud’s network. The Saturday strike was aimed
specifically at Mr. Mehsud, but he was not killed, according to Pakistani and
The Monday strike, officials say, was aimed at a camp run by Hakeem Ullah
Mehsud, a top aide to the militant. By striking at the Mehsud network, the
United States may be seeking to demonstrate to Mr. Zardari that the new
administration is willing to go after the insurgents of greatest concern to the
But American officials may also be prompted by growing concern that the militant
attacks are increasingly putting the civilian government of Pakistan, a nation
with nuclear weapons, at risk.
For months, Pakistani military and intelligence officials have complained about
Washington’s refusal to strike at Baitullah Mehsud, even while C.I.A. drones
struck at Qaeda figures and leaders of the network run by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a
militant leader believed responsible for a campaign of violence against American
troops in Afghanistan.
According to one senior Pakistani official, Pakistan’s intelligence service on
two occasions in recent months gave the United States detailed intelligence
about Mr. Mehsud’s whereabouts, but said the United States had not acted on the
information. Bush administration officials had charged that it was the
Pakistanis who were reluctant to take on Mr. Mehsud and his network.
The strikes came after a visit to Islamabad last week by Richard C. Holbrooke,
the American envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In a telephone interview on Friday, Mr. Holbrooke declined to talk about the
attacks on Mr. Mehsud. The White House also declined to speak about Mr. Mehsud
or the decisions that led up to the new strikes. A C.I.A. spokesman also
declined to comment.
Senior Pakistani officials are scheduled to arrive in Washington next week at a
time of rising tension over a declared truce between the Pakistani government
and militants in the Swat region.
While the administration has not publicly criticized the Pakistanis, several
American officials said in interviews in recent days that they believe appeasing
the militants would only weaken Pakistan’s civilian government. Mr. Holbrooke
said in the interview that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and others
would make clear in private, and in detail, why they were so concerned about
what was happening in Swat, the need to send more Pakistani forces to the west,
and why the deteriorating situation in the tribal areas added to instability in
Afghanistan and threats to American forces.
Past efforts to cut deals with the insurgents failed, and many administration
officials believe that they ultimately weakened the Pakistani government.
But Obama administration officials face the same intractable problems that the
Bush administration did in trying to prod Pakistan toward a different course.
Pakistan still deploys the overwhelming majority of its troops along the Indian
border, not the border with Afghanistan, and its intelligence agencies maintain
shadowy links to the Taliban even as they take American funds to fight them.
Under standard policy for covert operations, the C.I.A. strikes inside Pakistan
have not been publicly acknowledged either by the Obama administration or the
Bush administration. Using Predators and the more heavily armed Reaper drones,
the C.I.A. has carried out more than 30 strikes since last September, according
to American and Pakistani officials.
The attacks have killed a number of senior Qaeda figures, including Abu Jihad
al-Masri and Usama al-Kini, who is believed to have helped plan the 1998
American Embassy bombings in East Africa and last year’s bombing of the Marriott
Hotel in Islamabad.
American Special Operations troops based in Afghanistan have also carried out a
number of operations into Pakistan’s tribal areas since early September, when a
commando raid that killed a number of militants was publicly condemned by
Pakistani officials. According to a senior American military official, the
commando missions since September have been primarily to gather intelligence.
The meetings hosted by the Obama administration next week will include senior
officials from both Pakistan and Afghanistan; Mrs. Clinton is to hold a rare
joint meeting on Thursday with foreign ministers from the two countries. Also,
Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief, will meet with Defense
Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff. Lt. Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan’s military spy
service, will accompany General Kayani.
Bomber Kills More Than 30
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The police on Friday blamed a suicide bomber for a
powerful explosion that killed more than 30 people and wounded at least 50 in
the Pakistani city of Dera Ismail Khan, according to residents and Pakistani
The bombing, aimed at the funeral of a Shiite man who had been shot, set off
chaos in the city of a million people on the edge of Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Mobs attacked security forces, ransacked shops and surrounded hospitals said the
mayor, Abdur Rauf.
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.
Obama Widens Missile
Strikes Inside Pakistan, NYT, 21.2.2009,
Putting Stamp on Afghan War,
Obama Will Send 17,000 Troops
February 18, 2009
The New York Times
By HELENE COOPER
WASHINGTON — President Obama said Tuesday that he would send an additional
17,000 American troops to Afghanistan this spring and summer, putting his stamp
firmly on a war that he has long complained is going in the wrong direction.
The order will add nearly 50 percent to the 36,000 American troops already
there. A further decision on sending more troops will come after the
administration completes a broader review of Afghanistan policy, White House
Mr. Obama said in a written statement that the increase was “necessary to
stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the
strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires.”
At least for now, Mr. Obama’s decision gives American commanders in Afghanistan
most but not all of the troops they had asked for. But the decision also carries
political risk for a president who will be sending more troops to Afghanistan
before he has begun to fulfill a promised rapid withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
Many experts worry that Afghanistan presents an even more formidable challenge
for the United States than Iraq does, particularly with neighboring Pakistan
providing sanctuary for insurgents of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
Under Mr. Obama’s plan, a unit of 8,000 marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C., will be
deployed in the next few weeks, aiming to be in Afghanistan by late spring,
administration officials said, while an Army brigade from Fort Lewis, Wash.,
composed of 4,000 soldiers, will be sent in the summer. An additional 5,000 Army
support troops will also be deployed in the summer.
Antiwar groups criticized Mr. Obama’s decision even before the White House
“The president is committing these troops before he’s determined what the
mission is,” said Tom Andrews, director of the coalition organization Win
Without War. “We need to avoid the slippery slope of military escalation.”
Mr. Obama said in his statement that “the fact that we are going to responsibly
draw down our forces in Iraq allows us the flexibility to increase our presence
American generals in Afghanistan had been pressing for additional forces to be
in place by late spring or early summer to help counter growing violence and
chaos in the country. Of the 30,000 additional troops that the commanders had
initially sought, some 6,000 arrived in January after being sent by President
The administration’s review of Afghanistan policy is supposed to be completed
before early April, when Mr. Obama heads to Europe for a NATO summit meeting at
which he is expected to press American allies for more troops and help in
In an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Tuesday, Mr. Obama
said he was “absolutely convinced that you cannot solve the problem of
Afghanistan, the Taliban, the spread of extremism in that region solely through
Putting Stamp on Afghan
War, Obama Will Send 17,000 Troops, NYT, 18.2.2009,
Afghan Civilian Deaths
Rose 40 Percent in 2008
February 18, 2009
The New York Times
By ALAN COWELL
PARIS — Civilian casualties in Afghanistan rose by 40 percent last year, the
highest level since the American-led invasion in late 2001 that dislodged the
Taliban government, a United Nations report said Tuesday.
More than half of the 2,118 casualties were caused by militants’ roadside bombs
and suicide attacks, but many were from airstrikes and other actions by NATO and
American forces battling the resurgent Taliban, the report said.
The findings deepened concern about civilians trapped between the combatants in
an intensifying war that looms as one of the main foreign policy challenges
facing the Obama administration. Richard C. Holbrooke, the special envoy for
Afghanistan and Pakistan, has just completed a tour of the region.
President Obama is already weighing whether to double the American troop
deployment in Afghanistan to about 60,000 troops. But Afghan officials,
including President Hamid Karzai, have expressed dismay about civilian
casualties, arguing that more troops could lead to more fatalities.
The United Nations report, compiled by a human rights unit, said the death toll
among civilians rose to 2,118 in 2008 from 1,523 in 2007, most in the south of
the country where fighting is intense.
The insurgents were blamed for 1,160, or 55 percent, of the deaths — an increase
of 65 percent over similar attacks in 2007, the report said.
The report said 828 deaths, or 39 percent, were caused by pro-government forces,
an increase of almost a third over the 2007 level.
The most glaring recent example of civilian casualties came last week, when five
children were killed in predawn fighting between Australian special operations
troops and Taliban guerrillas in south-central Afghanistan. Such episodes have
reduced support among the Afghans for foreign troops on their soil.
But civilians have more to fear from the insurgents, the United Nations report
said. A joint statement on Tuesday from the Afghan Interior Ministry and the
American Command in Kabul said a roadside bomb on Monday killed five civilians
near Kandahar; coalition forces who went to investigate came under small arms
The report said: “2008 saw a distinct pattern of attacks by the armed opposition
in crowded residential and other such areas with apparent disregard for the
extensive damage they can cause to civilians.”
The report also took issue with “an intimidation campaign that includes the
summary execution of individuals perceived to be associated with, or supportive
of the government and its allies.”
It said 130 deaths “could not be attributed to any of the conflicting parties
since, for example, some civilians died as a result of cross-fire or were killed
by unexploded ordinance.”
Afghan Civilian Deaths
Rose 40 Percent in 2008, NYT, 18.2.2009,
Storm Kabul Offices
February 12, 2009
The New York Times
By RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr.
and ABDUL WAHEED WAFA
KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban suicide bombers struck government buildings at
three sites in Kabul on Wednesday, killing at least 20 people and wounding 57 in
coordinated attacks that demonstrated the ease with which the insurgents can
penetrate even Afghanistan’s heavily fortified capital.
At the Justice Ministry, five Taliban guerrillas armed with explosives and
Kalashnikov rifles killed two guards, stormed the building, and took control of
several floors for about an hour. Frightened employees, including the justice
minister, barricaded themselves in their offices while the armed men stalked the
halls for victims. They shot to death 10 people before being killed.
Coming on the eve of a scheduled visit by Richard C. Holbrooke, President
Obama’s special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, the attacks underscored the
deteriorating security in the Afghanistan and the growing sense of siege in the
The Taliban, who already control much of the countryside, have steadily
encroached on the capital and its outlying provinces. Mr. Holbrooke’s visit is
part of a ground-up review of the war effort, as the Obama administration
prepares to send as many as 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan this year
in hopes of turning the war around. President Obama was scheduled to meet with
Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Wednesday afternoon to discuss Afghan troop
The attacks, the most audacious and deadly here since last summer, highlighted
how steep that challenge will be and the growing boldness of the Taliban. The
multiple strikes cloaked this city of four million in chaos and panic for the
entire day. Miles of Kabul’s principal thoroughfares were blocked off, as police
and soldiers rushed to reinforce scores of checkpoints.
Hours afterward, there were fears that other bombers were still roaming Kabul.
In addition to the eight suicide bombers who struck at the Justice Ministry, the
Education Ministry and the general directorate for prisons, eight others were
still “looking for a chance,” a Taliban spokesman said. Across the city, streets
were empty as residents were too spooked to go outside.
The attacks clearly shook Afghan government officials. “The enemy still has the
capability to bring this amount of weapons and explosives inside the city of
Kabul and find their way to government institutions,” said Hanif Atmar, the
minister of interior.
He promised new and strict security measures that would be “uncomfortable” for
residents, but necessary. Many parts of the capital are already sectioned off
for security, and foreign embassies sit behind layers of checkpoints and blast
The most confidence-shaking attack, at the Justice Ministry, began about 10
a.m., when five Taliban took over three of the building’s four floors. The
ministry is located in the heart of the capital, a few hundreds yards from the
grounds of the presidential palace.
“There’s chaos on all four floors,” Habib Mushakhas, a senior ministry official,
said after police rushed him out of the building. “I heard an explosion, then a
firefight. There was a lot of blood in the corridors. I saw one dead body.”
Another survivor, a ministry employee named Hafizullah, was trapped in his
office for two-and-a-half hours. “There was lots of shooting, and there was
blood everywhere,” he said.
Before the attackers began their rampage, they sent three messages to people in
Pakistan “calling for the blessing of their mastermind,” said Amrullah Saleh,
the head of the Afghan national intelligence service. He offered no other
details on the messages, but said the authorities would investigate.
As the first police rushed to the scene, a mob gathered outside and security
officers struggled to push them back. “Run away! They will shoot you!” one
plainclothes intelligence officer screamed.
After a little more than an hour, scores of police and Afghan soldiers rushed
into the building and scaled ladders onto upper floors. More than 20 shots were
fired. Soon after, ambulances began taking policemen and soldiers away, their
feet hanging off of stretchers poking out the open doors. It was not clear
whether they were injured or dead.
Eventually, the police and soldiers took back enough of the Justice Ministry
building to begin evacuating dozens of survivors. Then they rushed children out
from the kindergarten classroom inside the ministry. Shrieking parents rushed to
where the soldiers had corralled the children outside.
“Where’s my son! Where’s my son!” one woman shouted. Soldiers took her to the
children, but the woman said her son wasn’t there. The police also took several
civilian corpses out of the building.
Taimoor Shah contributed reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan, Sangar Rahimi
from Kabul and Alan Cowell from Paris.
Taliban Attackers Storm
Kabul Offices, NYT, 12.2.2009,
Finds Himself Hero No More
February 8, 2009
The New York Times
By DEXTER FILKINS
KABUL, Afghanistan — A foretaste of what would be in store for President
Hamid Karzai after the election of a new American administration came last
February, when Joseph R. Biden Jr., then a senator, sat down to a formal dinner
at the palace during a visit here.
Between platters of lamb and rice, Mr. Biden and two other American senators
questioned Mr. Karzai about corruption in his government, which, by many
estimates, is among the worst in the world. Mr. Karzai assured Mr. Biden and the
other senators that there was no corruption at all and that, in any case, it was
not his fault.
The senators gaped in astonishment. After 45 minutes, Mr. Biden threw down his
napkin and stood up.
“This dinner is over,” Mr. Biden announced, according to one of the people in
the room at the time. And the three senators walked out, long before the
Today, of course, Mr. Biden is the vice president.
The world has changed for Mr. Karzai, and for Afghanistan, too. A White House
favorite — a celebrity in flowing cape and dark gray fez — in each of the seven
years that he has led this country since the fall of the Taliban, Mr. Karzai now
finds himself not so favored at all. Not by Washington, and not by his own.
In the White House, President Obama said he regarded Mr. Karzai as unreliable
and ineffective. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said he presided over
a “narco-state.” The Americans making Afghan policy, worried that the war is
being lost, are vowing to bypass Mr. Karzai and deal directly with the governors
in the countryside.
At home, Mr. Karzai faces a widening insurgency and a population that blames him
for the manifest lack of economic progress and the corrupt officials that seem
to stand at every doorway of his government. His face, which once adorned the
walls of tea shops across the country, is today much less visible.
Now, perhaps crucially, an election looms. Mr. Karzai says he will ask the
voters to return him to the palace for another five-year term. The election is
set for Aug. 20, after what promises to be a violent and eventful summer. In a
poll commissioned by a group of private Afghans, 85 percent of those surveyed
said they intended to vote for someone other than Mr. Karzai.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration will have to decide what it wants from Mr.
Karzai as it tries to make good on its promise to reverse the course of the war.
Or whether it wants him at all.
With the insurgency rising, corruption soaring and opium blooming across the
land, it perhaps is not surprising that so many Afghans, and so many in
Washington, see President Karzai’s removal as a precondition for reversing the
country’s downward surge.
“Under President Karzai, we have gone from a better situation to a good
situation to a not-so-bad situation to a bad situation — and now are going to
worse,” said Abdullah, a former foreign minister in Mr. Karzai’s government who
may now challenge him for the presidency (and who, like many Afghans, has only
one name). “That is the trend.
“So let us say Karzai stays in power through the summer and that nothing serious
happens and then he wins re-election,” Dr. Abdullah said. “Then there will be
two scenarios, and only two scenarios — a rapid collapse or a slow unraveling.”
People close to Mr. Karzai say the man is exhausted, wary of his enemies and
worried for his physical safety. He feels embattled and underappreciated, they
say, but is utterly determined, in spite of it all, to run again and win. In
recent weeks, the growing American dissatisfaction with Mr. Karzai, coupled with
a simmering frustration among Afghans over what they regard as the reckless
killing of civilians by American forces, has prompted extraordinary reactions
from Mr. Karzai.
At a news conference on Tuesday at his marble-floored palace, Mr. Karzai
appeared side-by-side with Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general.
Mr. Karzai wore his signature outfit of fez and cape, but his visage was wan and
slack. Asked by an Afghan reporter about his relations with American leaders,
Mr. Karzai sprang to life, accusing unnamed people in the American government of
trying to “pressure” him to stay silent over the deaths of Afghan civilians in
attacks by Americans.
“Our demands are clear — to stop the civilian casualties, the searching of
Afghan homes and the arresting Afghans,” Mr. Karzai said of the Americans. “And
of course, the Americans pressured us to be quiet and to make us retreat from
our demands. But that is impossible. Afghanistan and its president are not going
to retreat from their demands.”
Mr. Karzai did not touch on larger frustrations, which Afghan and Western
officials here say he harbors, about the overall American effort, namely, the
relegation of Afghanistan to second-tier status after the invasion of Iraq. Many
Afghans and Western officials here believe that it was the Iraq war, more than
any other factor, that deprived Mr. Karzai of the resources he needed to help
the Afghan state stand on its own, and to prevent the resurgence of the Taliban
that Mr. Obama is now vowing to contain.
Yet for all the doubts about Mr. Karzai — and for all the strains he labors
under — he remains by far the strongest politician in the country. He commands
the resources of the Afghan state, including the army and the police, and
billions of dollars in American and other aid that flows into the treasury.
In his seven years in office, Mr. Karzai has successfully presided over the
transition of the Afghan state from the devastated, pre-modern institution it
was under the Taliban to the deeply troubled but largely democratic one it is
today. Perhaps most important for his future, Mr. Karzai has assembled a team of
senior administrators whose competence and experience would be difficult for any
challenger to match.
Perhaps for that reason, of the many prominent Afghans who have hinted that they
may run against him, including Dr. Abdullah and a former finance minister,
Ashraf Ghani, only a handful of Afghans have so far declared their intentions.
Some Afghan leaders say they will announce their candidacies soon, but it seems
just as likely that they are waiting to see if Mr. Karzai stumbles.
As for the members of Mr. Obama’s team, they may yet discover that Mr. Karzai is
the man they will be forced to deal with, whether they like him or not.
At the palace news conference, Mr. Karzai acknowledged his own unpopularity, and
then offered a vigorous defense of his record. He declined to be interviewed for
“Well, I have been in government for seven years. It’s natural that I would not
be as popular now as I was seven years ago,” Mr. Karzai said.
“The institutions of Afghanistan have worked very well,” he added. “The Afghan
people participated in the election for president. They participated in
elections for Parliament. The parliamentary system has been functioning a lot
better than some established parliaments in the world. They have been making
laws, approving laws. The government institutions are increasingly in progress —
the economy, the national army, the growth of education. We went from almost two
or three universities in 2002 to 17 universities, to the freedom of the press,
hundreds of newspapers and radios and all that. I and the Afghan people are
proud of our achievements.”
And, he might also have said, six million Afghan children attending school, a
quarter of whom are girls, whose education was prohibited by the Taliban.
One of the people with the most generous words for Mr. Karzai is William Wood,
the American ambassador. Under the ambassador’s former boss, President Bush, Mr.
Karzai enjoyed a favored personal status, even if his state did not. That
special relationship was symbolized by the videoconferences in which the two men
“The guy works very hard,” Mr. Wood said of Mr. Karzai. “He faces a problem set
every day that would daunt anyone. He’s got an insurgency based outside the
country, and a level of poverty and criminality inside the country that feeds
the insurgency. He’s got an army that had to be built from zero following the
ouster of the Taliban. He’s got a police force that had to be reformed.
Speaking in an interview at his office in Kabul, Mr. Wood added: “Yeah, I think
he’s tired. And I think frankly that everyone — the international community, the
United States, the United Nations, Western Europe, the international press —
were unrealistically optimistic about the problem of Afghanistan following the
ouster of the Taliban.”
Mr. Wood will soon be replaced by Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, a former
commander of American forces here.
In his last tour, which ended in 2007, General Eikenberry enjoyed good relations
with Mr. Karzai. Given Mr. Karzai’s mood these days, that is probably a good
At a ceremony last month for the first graduates of Afghanistan’s National
Military Academy, Mr. Karzai stood and addressed the assembled 84 cadets as well
as a group of diplomats, including Mr. Wood. Mr. Karzai turned the occasion into
a populist barnburner.
“I told America and the world to give us aircraft — otherwise we will get them
from the other place!” Mr. Karzai roared, prompting applause. “I told them to
give us the planes soon, that we have no more patience, and that we cannot get
along without military aircraft!
“Give us the aircraft sooner or we will get them from the others!” Mr. Karzai
roared again. “We told them to bring us tanks, too — otherwise we will get them
from other place!”
Mr. Karzai never said what the “other place” was.
Abdul Waheed Wafa contributed reporting from Kabul, and Peter Baker from
Afghan Leader Finds
Himself Hero No More, NYT, 8.2.2009,
UN: 2, 100 Civilians Killed
In Afghanistan In 2008
February 3, 2009
Filed at 12:29 p.m. ET
The New York Times
GENEVA (Reuters) - More than 2,100 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in
2008, a 40 percent rise from the previous year, the United Nations said Tuesday.
It also cited partial figures saying that the Taliban and local warlords were
responsible for 1,000 out of 1,800 civilian deaths up to the end of October,
mainly due to suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices.
Nearly 700 people were killed by international and Afghan forces in the same
period -- including 455 who died in air strikes -- while the cause of the
remaining 100 had yet to be determined, it said.
The civilian toll was established by U.N. human rights officers deployed in
Afghanistan whose full report was still being finalized, according to a U.N.
"According to U.N. figures, over 2,100 civilians were killed as a result of
armed conflict in 2008, which represents an increase of about 40 percent from
2007," U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said.
The U.N. said 1,523 people were killed in 2007.
Holmes was speaking to representatives of aid donor countries in Geneva while
launching an appeal for $604 million for Afghanistan for 2009.
Violence in Afghanistan has rebounded to the highest levels since the 2001
overthrow of the Taliban.
In the last year Islamist militants have regrouped and, despite the presence of
nearly 70,000 international troops, increased both the scope and scale of their
attacks. Air strikes which have killed civilians have provoked anger among
Afghans and resentment against the presence of foreign troops.
"DIFFICULT AND DANGEROUS"
"The armed conflict is increasingly characterized by the use of suicide
bombings, improvised explosive devices, kidnappings and air strikes, all of
which tend to increase civilian casualties," the U.N. appeal document said,
citing threats from the incursion of more foreign fighters and regional
"The indications are that ... the security situation countrywide will
deteriorate further and that the risk to both national and international aid
workers will increase."
Aid workers have also been victims of violence, with 36 killed and 92 abducted
in the first 10 months of last year, Holmes said. "It is a very difficult and
dangerous context in which to operate," he said.
Forty percent of the country was now off-limits to aid workers.
"The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is serious and it's getting worse
particularly because of the escalating armed conflict and also because of the
severe drought which has been raging there," Holmes said.
The U.N.'s last broad-based humanitarian appeal for Afghanistan was in 2002/03.
The new appeal, which would aim to help one-third of Afghanistan's 30 million
people, includes $354 million for food aid.
Afghanistan harvested only two-thirds of its annual food requirements last year
because of drought, according to the U.N. appeal. "High food prices have reduced
further the ability of people to buy food and have increased social tensions and
instability in several provinces," it said.
(Editing by Laura MacInnis and Myra MacDonald)
UN: 2, 100 Civilians
Killed In Afghanistan In 2008, NYT, 3.2.2009,
Obama’s Afghan Aims
January 28, 2009
The New York Times
By HELENE COOPER
and THOM SHANKER
WASHINGTON — President Obama intends to adopt a tougher line toward Hamid
Karzai, the Afghan president, as part of a new American approach to Afghanistan
that will put more emphasis on waging war than on development, senior
administration officials said Tuesday.
Mr. Karzai is now seen as a potential impediment to American goals in
Afghanistan, the officials said, because corruption has become rampant in his
government, contributing to a flourishing drug trade and the resurgence of the
Among those pressing for Mr. Karzai to do more, the officials said, are Vice
President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Richard C. Holbrooke, Mr. Obama’s special
envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The officials portrayed the approach as a departure from that of President Bush,
who held videoconferences with Mr. Karzai every two weeks and sought to
emphasize the American role in rebuilding Afghanistan and its civil
They said that the Obama administration would work with provincial leaders as an
alternative to the central government, and that it would leave economic
development and nation-building increasingly to European allies, so that
American forces could focus on the fight against insurgents.
“If we set ourselves the objective of creating some sort of Central Asian
Valhalla over there, we will lose,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who
served under Mr. Bush and is staying on under Mr. Obama, told Congress on
Tuesday. He said there was not enough “time, patience or money” to pursue overly
ambitious goals in Afghanistan, and he called the war there “our greatest
Mr. Gates said last week that previous American goals for Afghanistan had been
“too broad and too far into the future,” language that differed from Mr. Bush’s
NATO has not met its pledges for combat troops, transport helicopters, military
trainers and other support personnel in Afghanistan, and Mr. Gates has openly
criticized the United States’ NATO allies for not fulfilling their promises.
Mr. Holbrooke is preparing to travel to the region, and administration officials
said he would ask more of Mr. Karzai, particularly on fighting corruption, aides
said, as part of what they described as a “more for more” approach.
Mr. Karzai is facing re-election this year, and it is not clear whether Mr.
Obama and his aides intend to support his candidacy. The administration will be
watching, aides said, to see if Mr. Karzai responds to demands from the United
States and its NATO allies that he arrest associates, including his
half-brother, whom Western officials have accused of smuggling drugs in
Shortly before taking office as vice president last week, Mr. Biden traveled to
Afghanistan in his role as the departing chairman of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee. He met with Mr. Karzai and warned him that the Obama
administration would expect more of him than Mr. Bush did, administration
officials said. He told Mr. Karzai that Mr. Obama would be discontinuing the
video calls that Mr. Karzai enjoyed with Mr. Bush, said a senior official, who
added that Mr. Obama expected Mr. Karzai to do more to crack down on corruption.
After his return from Afghanistan, Mr. Biden, who has had a contentious
relationship with Mr. Karzai, described the situation there as “a real mess.”
An election is scheduled to be held no later than the fall, under Afghanistan’s
Constitution. Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-American who is a former United States
ambassador to the United Nations and is viewed as a possible challenger to Mr.
Karzai, warned that the Obama administration must tread carefully as it
recalibrated its Afghanistan policy.
“If it looks like we’re abandoning the central government and focusing just on
the local areas, we will run afoul of Afghan politics,” Mr. Khalilzad said.
“Some will regard it as an effort to break up the Afghan state, which would be
regarded as hostile policy.”
Mr. Obama is preparing to increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan
over the next two years, perhaps to more than 60,000 from about 34,000 now. But
Mr. Gates indicated Tuesday that the administration would move slowly, at least
for now. He outlined plans for an increase of about 12,000 troops by midsummer
but cautioned that any decision on more troops beyond that might have to wait
until late 2009, given the need for barracks and other infrastructure.
With the forces of the Taliban and Al Qaeda mounting more aggressive operations
in eastern and southern Afghanistan, administration officials said they saw
little option but to focus on the military campaign. They said Europeans would
be asked to pick up more of the work on reconstruction, police training and
cooperation with the Afghan government. They also said much of the international
effort might shift to helping local governments and institutions, and away from
the government in Kabul.
“It’s not about dumping reconstruction at all,” said a senior administration
official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic
delicacy of the subject. “What we’re trying to do is to focus on the Al Qaeda
problem. That has to be our first priority.”
Mr. Gates said Tuesday that under the redefined Afghan strategy, it would be
vital for NATO allies to “provide more civilian support.” In particular, he
said, the allies should be more responsible for building civil society
institutions in Afghanistan, a task that had been falling to American forces. He
also demanded that allies “step up to the plate” and defray costs of expanding
the Afghan Army, an emerging power center, whose leaders could emerge as rivals
to Mr. Karzai.
Mr. Gates added that the United States should focus on limited goals. “My own
personal view is that our primary goal is to prevent Afghanistan from being used
as a base for terrorists and extremists to attack the United States and our
allies, and whatever else we need to do flows from that objective,” he said.
Aides Say Obama’s Afghan
Aims Elevate War, NYT, 28.1.2009,
Afghans Rebut U.S. Account
January 26, 2009
The New York Times
By CARLOTTA GALL
MEHTARLAM, Afghanistan — The American military declared the nighttime raid
this month a success, saying it killed 32 people, all Taliban insurgents — the
fruit of an emphasis on intelligence-driven use of Special Operations forces.
But the two young men who lay wincing in a hospital ward here told a different
story a few days later, one backed up by the pro-American provincial governor
and a central government delegation.
They agreed that 13 civilians had been killed and 9 wounded when American
commandos broke down doors and unleashed dogs without warning on Jan. 7 in the
hunt for a known insurgent in Masamut, in Laghman Province in eastern
Afghanistan. The residents were so enraged that they threatened to march on the
American military base here.
The conflicting accounts underscore a dangerous rift that has grown between
Afghans and the United States forces trying to roll back widening Taliban
control of the countryside.
With every case of civilian casualties or mistaken killings, the anger that
Afghans feel toward the government and foreign forces deepens and makes
residents less likely to help American forces, Afghan officials warn. Meanwhile,
American forces are reluctant to share information about future military raids
with local officials, fearing that it will be passed on to the Taliban.
Added to all that is a complication for American forces here: many villagers are
armed, in the absence of an effective local police force.
Into that increasingly complex environment, the Obama administration is
preparing to send as many as 30,000 more troops this year. As the plan moves
forward, Afghan officials and some Western coalition partners are voicing
concern that the additional troops will only increase the levels of violence and
civilian casualties, after a year in which as many as 4,000 Afghan civilians
The outrage over civilian deaths swelled again over the weekend. Hundreds of
angry villagers demonstrated here in Mehtarlam, the capital of Laghman Province,
on Sunday after an American raid on a village in the province on Friday night.
The raid killed at least 16 villagers, including 2 women and 3 children,
according to a statement from President Hamid Karzai.
The president condemned the raid, saying it had not been coordinated with Afghan
officials, and called for such raids to stop. The United States military said
that 15 armed militants, including a woman, had been killed.
In a sign of how serious the episode was, an American military spokesman, Col.
Greg Julian, said the military would send an investigation team to the area, The
Associated Press reported.
Raids like the ones in Laghman Province by United States Special Operations
forces, on Jan. 7 and on Friday, have been a special focus of complaint for
Provincial governors say the tactics used, and the lack of coordination with
Afghan and other American and NATO forces, alienate villagers and cause unneeded
casualties among civilians. The raids are undoing much of the good work done by
other American and international troops and reconstruction teams, they say.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission warned that the lack of
accountability of those conducting such raids, and the lack of redress for
civilian victims, was stoking resentment. “The degree of backlash and community
outrage that they provoke suggests they may often not be an advisable tactic
within the Afghan context,” the commission concluded in a report in December.
Mr. Karzai said in an address at the opening of Parliament on Tuesday that he
had once more sent written requests to United States forces and to NATO to end
Afghans would never complain about casualties among their security forces, but
they would never accept the suffering of civilians, he said, to a great shout of
support from the chamber. The speaker of the Senate, Sebaghatullah Mojadeddi,
followed with a warning that if more care was not taken, the nation could rise
up against the foreign troop presence here.
A number of different American units, Special Forces and others, have been
conducting counterterrorism operations around the country for the past seven
years, operating out of the Bagram and Kandahar airfields, and several small
Special Forces bases. They do not operate under NATO command and usually do not
coordinate their operations with Afghan forces, since they argue that the
element of surprise is critical.
Military spokesmen often release results of raids but do not identify the forces
involved. Philip Alston, a United Nations special rapporteur, or investigator,
complained last year that despite high-level meetings with the military, he had
been unable to identify some of the groups conducting the raids or to establish
the chain of command under which they operated.
Afghan officials and others suspect some of the raids may also be carried out by
The raid in Masamut on the night of Jan. 7 was typical of many conducted in
Afghanistan. United States Special Operations forces entered the village under
cover of darkness looking for a known Taliban insurgent, Gul Pacha, who was
killed in the raid, along with a visitor to his home, another Taliban member,
According to several villagers, the nighttime raid stirred alarm and confusion
as people were roused from their sleep.
One of the first to be shot and killed was a man called Qasem, a member of the
Afghan Border Police who was at home on leave. His brother, Wazarat Khan, said
Qasem was killed as soon as he looked out his front door.
“We did not think they were Americans; we thought they were thieves,” he said.
“They killed my brother right in the doorway.”
One of the men in the hospital, Abdul Manan, 25, who had a bullet wound in the
shoulder, said he woke up when he heard a female neighbor calling for help and
heard three shots.
He said he came out of his house and saw soldiers wearing headlamps. “I thought
they were smoking cigarettes,” he said. “They said something in English that I
did not understand, and then they shot me.”
Another man, Darwaish Muhammad, 18, hospitalized with shrapnel wounds, said he
was awakened by the mother of a neighbor, Shahpur Khan, calling for help. He had
Mr. Muhammad said he and two others rushed to help carry the woman’s son on a
rope bed down a slope outside the village to get help. They were 10 minutes from
the village when a helicopter fired a rocket at them, killing the wounded man
and two of the bearers. He and the mother were badly wounded, he said.
A United States military spokesman, Col. Jerry O’Hara, confirmed that United
States air support forces had fired on a group of five carrying a wounded person
outside the village. He said all five had been killed and all were militants.
That some of the villagers survived may explain some of the discrepancy of the
Colonel O’Hara added that care had been taken not to use air power inside the
village, to avoid civilian casualties. He dismissed the villagers’ accounts that
they had mistaken the soldiers for thieves. “I am not buying that,” he said.
“These people were acting as sentries.”
In a statement, Colonel O’Hara said, “Coalition forces exercised great restraint
and prevented any civilian casualties at the same time the enemy placed the
whole village in harm’s way by operating the way they do.”
In an interview, he also expressed frustration that four years after his earlier
tour in Afghanistan, people still were not coming forward with information
against Taliban members. “Until there is active involvement amongst Afghan
civilians to turn in or give a tip on people with explosives, you are not going
to get on the road to peace,” he said.
Yet, after seven years of war, Afghans say that villagers are less and less
inclined to side with a foreign army that still conducts house searches and
The villagers of Masamut readily acknowledged that Mr. Pacha had been a member
of the Taliban. They had even nicknamed him “Al Qaeda.” But they criticized the
United States forces for killing his elderly father and two sons along with him,
and for the shooting of the other villagers.
“The government should have informed us not to come outside while they
surrounded the house of Gul Pacha,” said Mawla Dad, 35, whose brother, nephew
and cousin, an off-duty policeman, were all killed.
The governor of Laghman Province, Lutfullah Mashal, acknowledged that some of
the villagers were armed. But he explained that because there was no police
force to speak of in rural areas, villages kept security through a kind of
neighborhood watch. “Whoever came out with a weapon, he was shot because the
American forces have night-vision devices,” the governor said.
Villagers of Masamut, and local officials who visited the village afterward,
protested the tactics used in the raid to United States military officials. The
governor also complained that the raid had been conducted without coordination
with Afghan forces or even with other American forces based in the province.
The raid undermined the government, Mr. Mashal said, and the tactics violated
Afghan customs and whipped up a religious hatred, which was very damaging for
both the government and the international forces.
“The people are angry with us,” he said. “Unless the international community,
and especially military forces, coordinate with us, we are not going to win this
war, because to win the war is to win the hearts and minds of the people, and
then you can beat the enemy.”
From Hospital, Afghans
Rebut U.S. Account, NYT, 26.1.2009,
Fearing Another Quagmire
January 25, 2009
The New York Times
By HELENE COOPER
When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains
And the women come out to cut up what remains
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.
—Rudyard Kipling, “The Young British Soldier,” 1892
WASHINGTON — Can President Obama succeed in that long-lamented “graveyard of
empires” — a place that has crushed foreign occupiers for more than 2,000 years?
Ever since the Bush administration diverted its attention — and resources — to
the war in Iraq from the war in Afghanistan, military planners and foreign
policy experts have bemoaned the dearth of troops to keep that country from
sliding back into Taliban control. And in that time, the insurgency blossomed,
as Taliban militants took advantage of huge swaths of territory, particularly in
the south, that NATO troops weren’t able to fill.
Enter Mr. Obama. During the campaign he promised to send two additional brigades
— 7,000 troops — to Afghanistan. During the transition, military planners
started talking about adding as many as 30,000 troops. And within days of taking
office, Mr. Obama announced the appointment of Richard Holbrooke, architect of
the Balkan peace accords, to execute a new Afghanistan policy.
But even as Mr. Obama’s military planners prepare for the first wave of the new
Afghanistan “surge,” there is growing debate, including among those who agree
with the plan to send more troops, about whether — or how — the troops can
accomplish their mission, and just what the mission is.
Afghanistan has, after all, stymied would-be conquerors since Alexander the
Great. It’s always the same story; the invaders — British, Soviets — control the
cities, but not the countryside. And eventually, the invaders don’t even control
the cities, and are sent packing.
Think Iraq was hard? Afghanistan, former Secretary of State Colin Powell argues,
will be “much, much harder.”
“Iraq had a middle class,” Mr. Powell pointed out on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” a
couple of hours before Mr. Obama was sworn in last Tuesday. “It was a fairly
advanced country before Saddam Hussein drove it in the ground.” Afghanistan, on
the other hand, “is still basically a tribal society, a lot of corruption; drugs
are going to destroy that country if something isn’t done about it.”
For Mr. Obama, Afghanistan is the signal foreign policy crisis that he must
address quickly. Some 34,000 American troops are already fighting an insurgency
that grows stronger by the month, making this a dynamically deteriorating
situation in a region fraught with consequence for American security aims.
Coupled with nuclear-armed Pakistan, with which it shares a border zone that has
become a haven for Al Qaeda, Afghanistan could quickly come to define the Obama
Mr. Obama’s extra troops will largely be battling a Taliban insurgency fed by an
opium trade estimated at $300 million a year. And that insurgency is dispersed
among a largely rural population living in villages scattered across 78,000
square miles of southern Afghanistan.
One question for Mr. Obama is whether 30,000 more troops are enough. “I think
that this is more of a psychological surge than a practical surge,” said Karin
von Hippel, an Afghanistan expert at the Center for Strategic and International
Studies. She said she favored the troop increase, but only as a precursor to
getting the Europeans to contribute more, and to changing America’s policy so it
focuses more on the countryside, as opposed to the capital.
“In Afghanistan, the number of troops, if you combine NATO, American and Afghan
troops, is 200,000 forces versus 600,000 in Iraq,” Ms. von Hippel said. “Those
numbers are so low that an extra 30,000 isn’t going to get you to where you need
to be. It’s more of a stop-gap measure.”
“But something,” she said, “is better than nothing.”
That last assertion, however, is also open to debate. Some foreign policy
experts argue that Mr. Obama’s decision to send additional troops to Afghanistan
is simply an extension of Bush administration policy in the region, with the
difference being that Mr. Obama could be putting more American lives at risk to
pursue a failed policy.
While more American troops can help to stabilize southern Afghanistan, that
argument goes, they cannot turn the situation around in the country unless there
are major changes in overall policy. Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, the
darling of the Bush administration, has begun to lose his luster; American and
European officials now express private frustration over his refusal to arrest
drug lords who have been running the opium trade.
Mr. Karzai has also been widely criticized for not cracking down enough on
corruption. And diplomats say his distaste for venturing far beyond his
fortified presidential palace in Kabul reinforces the divide between
Afghanistan’s central government and its largely rural population, giving the
Taliban free rein in the countryside.
Before sending in more American troops, argues Andrew Bacevich, an international
relations professor at Boston University, Mr. Obama should figure out if he is
going to change an underlying American policy that has shrunk from putting
pressure on Mr. Karzai.
“It seems there’s a rush to send in more reinforcements absent the careful
analysis that’s most needed here,” said Mr. Bacevich, author of “The Limits of
Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.”
“There’s clearly a consensus that things are heading in the wrong direction,”
Mr. Bacevich said. “What’s not clear to me is why sending 30,000 more troops is
the essential step to changing that. My understanding of the larger objective of
the allied enterprise in Afghanistan is to bring into existence something that
looks like a modern cohesive Afghan state. Well, it could be that that’s an
unrealistic objective. It could be that sending 30,000 more troops is throwing
money and lives down a rat hole.”
Putting aside the question of whether a modern cohesive Afghan state is a
realistic objective, United States policy makers would like, at the very least,
to get to a point in Afghanistan where the country is no longer a launching pad
for terrorist attacks like what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. Beating back the
Taliban in southern Afghanistan, and rooting out Qaeda training camps on the
Pakistani border in eastern Afghanistan with the goal of finding Osama bin
Laden, are all central parts of American policy, even absent a modern cohesive
Can 30,000 more troops help with that objective?
J. Alexander Their, an Afghanistan expert at the United States Institute of
Peace, argues that additional troops can form a basis for stability, but that
their presence will be for naught unless there is also government reform. “The
Afghan population, particularly in the rural areas, have a strong degree of
ambivalence toward the government,” he said. “People expect very little from
government, or expect bad things. Yet we’ve ignored government reform and rule
of law as part of our strategy.”
The appointment of Mr. Holbrooke as special representative to Afghanistan and
Pakistan may signal the direction that the Obama administration will take there.
In the past, Mr. Holbrooke has written — as he did in a column in The Washington
Post last spring — that in Afghanistan, “massive, officially sanctioned
corruption and the drug trade are the most serious problems the country faces,
and they offer the Taliban its only exploitable opportunity to gain support.”
And during her confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called
Afghanistan a “narco-state” with a government “plagued by limited capacity and
widespread corruption.” So an Obama administration may, indeed, look for ways to
press Mr. Karzai to crack down on corruption and drug trafficking.
But Mr. Their, of the peace institute, says that for a troop increase to produce
anything but the limited securing of a few areas, Mr. Obama and NATO may have to
go further. “There has to be increasing recognition that what is most important
is some form of accountable government,” he said. “If they’re willing to
contemplate a world without Karzai, they’ll be more open to a fair process and
more open to the idea that there may be others out there.”
Fearing Another Quagmire
in Afghanistan, NYT, 25.1.2009,
Radio Spreads Taliban’s Terror
in Pakistani Region
January 25, 2009
The New York Times
By RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr. and PIR ZUBAIR SHAH
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Every night around 8 o’clock, the terrified residents of
Swat, a lush and picturesque valley a hundred miles from three of Pakistan’s
most important cities, crowd around their radios. They know that failure to
listen and learn might lead to a lashing — or a beheading.
Using a portable radio transmitter, a local Taliban leader, Shah Doran, on most
nights outlines newly proscribed “un-Islamic” activities in Swat, like selling
DVDs, watching cable television, singing and dancing, criticizing the Taliban,
shaving beards and allowing girls to attend school. He also reveals names of
people the Taliban have recently killed for violating their decrees — and those
they plan to kill.
“They control everything through the radio,” said one Swat resident, who
declined to give his name for fear the Taliban might kill him. “Everyone waits
for the broadcast.”
International attention remains fixed on the Taliban’s hold on Pakistan’s
semiautonomous tribal areas, from where they launch attacks on American forces
in Afghanistan. But for Pakistan, the loss of the Swat Valley could prove just
Unlike the fringe tribal areas, Swat, a Delaware-size chunk of territory with
1.3 million residents and a rich cultural history, is part of Pakistan proper,
within reach of Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Islamabad, the capital.
After more than a year of fighting, virtually all of it is now under Taliban
control, marking the militants’ farthest advance eastward into Pakistan’s
so-called settled areas, residents and government officials from the region say.
With the increasing consolidation of their power, the Taliban have taken a
sizable bite out of the nation. And they are enforcing a strict interpretation
of Islam with cruelty, bringing public beheadings, assassinations, social and
cultural repression and persecution of women to what was once an independent,
relatively secular region, dotted with ski resorts and fruit orchards and known
for its dancing girls.
Last year, 70 police officers were beheaded, shot or otherwise slain in Swat,
and 150 wounded, said Malik Naveed Khan, the police inspector general for the
North-West Frontier Province.
The police have become so afraid that many officers have put advertisements in
newspapers renouncing their jobs so the Taliban will not kill them.
One who stayed on the job was Farooq Khan, a midlevel officer in Mingora, the
valley’s largest city, where decapitated bodies of policemen and other victims
routinely surface. Last month, he was shopping there when two men on a
motorcycle sprayed him with gunfire, killing him in broad daylight.
“He always said, ‘I have to stay here and defend our home,’ ” recalled his
brother, Wajid Ali Khan, a Swat native and the province’s minister for
environment, as he passed around a cellphone with Farooq’s picture.
In the view of analysts, the growing nightmare in Swat is a capsule of the
country’s problems: an ineffectual and unresponsive civilian government, coupled
with military and security forces that, in the view of furious residents, have
willingly allowed the militants to spread terror deep into Pakistan.
The crisis has become a critical test for the government of the civilian
president, Asif Ali Zardari, and for a security apparatus whose loyalties, many
Pakistanis say, remain in question.
Seeking to deflect blame, Mr. Zardari’s government recently criticized “earlier
halfhearted attempts at rooting out extremists from the area” and vowed to fight
militants “who are ruthlessly murdering and maiming our citizens.”
But as pressure grows, he has also said in recent days that the government would
be willing to talk with militants who accept its authority. Such negotiations
would carry serious risks: security officials say a brief peace deal in Swat
last spring was a spectacular failure that allowed militants to tighten their
hold and take revenge on people who had supported the military.
Without more forceful and concerted action by the government, some warn, the
Taliban threat in Pakistan is bound to spread.
“The crux of the problem is the government appears divided about what to do,”
said Mahmood Shah, a retired Pakistani Army brigadier who until 2006 was in
charge of security in the western tribal areas. “This disconnect among the
political leadership has emboldened the militants.”
From 2,000 to 4,000 Taliban fighters now roam the Swat Valley, according to
interviews with a half-dozen senior Pakistani government, military and political
officials involved in the fight. By contrast, the Pakistani military has four
brigades with 12,000 to 15,000 men in Swat, officials say.
But the soldiers largely stay inside their camps, unwilling to patrol or exert
any large presence that might provoke — or discourage — the militants, Swat
residents and political leaders say. The military also has not raided a small
village that locals say is widely known as the Taliban’s headquarters in Swat.
Nor have troops destroyed mobile radio transmitters mounted on motorcycles or
pickup trucks that Shah Doran and the leader of the Taliban in Swat, Maulana
Fazlullah, have expertly used to terrify residents.
Being named in one of the nightly broadcasts often leaves just two options:
fleeing Swat, or turning up headless and dumped in a village square.
When the army does act, its near-total lack of preparedness to fight a
counterinsurgency reveals itself. Its usual tactic is to lob artillery shells
into a general area, and the results have seemed to hurt civilians more than the
militants, residents say.
In some parts of Pakistan, civilian militias have risen to fight the Taliban.
But in Swat, the Taliban’s gains amid a large army presence has convinced many
that the military must be conspiring with the Taliban.
“It’s very mysterious how they get so much weapons and support,” while nearby
districts are comparatively calm, said Muzaffar ul-Mulk Khan, a member of
Parliament from Swat, who said his home near Mingora was recently destroyed by
“We are bewildered by the military. They patrol only in Mingora. In the rest of
Swat they sit in their bases. And the militants can kill at will anywhere in
Mingora,” he said.
“Nothing is being done by the government," Mr. Khan added.
Accusations that the military lacks the will to fight in Swat are “very unfair
and unjustified,” said Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the chief military spokesman, who
said 180 army soldiers and officers had been killed in Swat in the past 14
“They do reach out, and they do patrol,” he said.
Military officials also say they are trying to step up activity in Swat. This
weekend, soldiers were deployed to protect a handful of educational buildings in
Mingora, amid a wave of school bombings.
General Abbas said the military did not have the means to block Taliban radio
transmissions across such a wide area, but he disputed the view that Mingora had
fallen to the militants.
“Just because they come out at night and throw down four or five bodies in the
square does not mean that militants control anything,” he said.
Few officials would dispute that one of the Pakistani military’s biggest
mistakes in Swat was its failure to protect Pir Samiullah, a local leader whose
500 followers fought the Taliban in the village of Mandal Dag. After the Taliban
killed him in a firefight last month, the militants demanded that his followers
reveal his gravesite — and then started beheading people until they got the
information, one Mandal Dag villager said.
“They dug him up and hung his body in the square,” the villager said, and then
they took the body to a secret location. The desecration was intended to show
what would happen to anyone who defied the Taliban’s rule, but it also made
painfully clear to Swat residents that the Pakistani government could not be
trusted to defend those who rose up against the militants.
“He should have been given more protection,” said one Pakistani security
official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the
subject. “He should have been made a symbol of resistance.”
Gruesome displays like the defilement of Pir Samiullah’s remains are an
effective tactic for the Taliban, who have shown cruel efficiency in following
through on their threats.
Recently, Shah Doran broadcast word that the Taliban intended to kill a police
officer who he said had killed three people.
“We have sent people, and tomorrow you will have good news,” he said on his
nightly broadcast, according to a resident of Matta, a Taliban stronghold. The
next day the decapitated body of the policeman was found in a nearby village.
Even in Mingora, a town grown hardened to violence, residents were shocked early
this month to find the bullet-ridden body of one of the city’s most famous
dancing girls splayed on the main square.
Known as Shabana, the woman was visited at night by a group of men who claimed
to want to hire her for a party. They shot her to death and dragged her body
more than a quarter-mile to the central square, leaving it as a warning for
anyone who would flout Taliban decrees.
The leader of the militants in Swat, Maulana Fazlullah, gained prominence from
making radio broadcasts and running an Islamic school, becoming popular among
otherwise isolated homemakers and inspiring them to sell their jewelry to
finance his operation. He also drew support from his marriage to the daughter of
Sufi Mohammed, a powerful religious leader in Swat until 2001 who later disowned
Even though Swat does not border Afghanistan or any of Pakistan’s seven lawless
federal tribal areas, Maulana Fazlullah eventually allied with Taliban militants
who dominate regions along the Afghan frontier.
His fighters now roam the valley with sniper rifles, Kalashnikovs,
rocket-propelled grenade launchers, mortar tubes and, according to some
officials, night-vision goggles and flak vests.
His latest tactic is a ban on girls’ attending school in Swat, which will be
tested in February when private schools are scheduled to reopen after winter
recess. The Taliban have already destroyed 169 girls’ schools in Swat,
government officials say, and they expect most private schools to stay closed
rather than risk retaliation.
“The local population is totally fed up, and if they had the chance they would
lynch each and every Talib,” said Mr. Naveed Khan, the police official. “But the
Taliban are so cruel and violent, no one will oppose them. If this is not
stopped, it will spill into other areas of Pakistan.”
Ismail Khan contributed reporting.
Radio Spreads Taliban’s
Terror in Pakistani Region, NYT, 25.1.2009,
Major Troop Decisions
for Afghan War Await Obama
January 17, 2009
Filed at 4:23 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Lingering decisions on how quickly the Pentagon can get
U.S. forces out of Iraq and into Afghanistan are being pushed off until after
the Obama administration takes over next week as military commanders continue to
wrangle over where the troops are needed most.
By the end of this month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expected to approve
sending more Marines to southern Afghanistan, effectively lowering their numbers
in Iraq's western Anbar province, and he may also endorse deploying an Army
brigade equipped with armored Stryker vehicles. Senior military officials say
there is general agreement to cut back on the 22,000 Marines in Iraq, but Army
officials have concerns about how to free up the Stryker unit.
As the Pentagon looks to double the existing force in Afghanistan, the overall
cast of the military's growing force in Afghanistan is becoming clearer:
Commanders want to beef up the expeditionary units and trainers in the south and
east with enough new troops to stem the violence without becoming an occupying
force that would alienate the Afghan population.
Their challenge, however, is to get troops out into the hundreds of tiny
villages in the volatile southern region, where the Taliban insurgency has been
centered. To do that, Gen. David McKiernan, the top U.S. commander in
Afghanistan, has asked for more mobile forces and believes the strykers will
allow soldiers to move more easily along the rugged trails to the widely
dispersed tribal enclaves.
Stryker brigades come outfitted with several hundred eight-wheeled, 19-ton
Stryker vehicles, which offer greater protection than a Humvee and are more
maneuverable than the heavily armored mine-resistant vehicles that are being
used across Iraq.
With generals heading the Iraq war reluctant to give up troops, and those in
Afghanistan demanding more help, Pentagon officials have been struggling to
stretch an already-strained force to meet both needs. But as President-elect
Barack Obama prepares to take office, there is already increasing pressure to
more rapidly reduce forces in Iraq, to meet Obama's stated intention to make
Afghanistan a higher priority.
A key unanswered question -- which will ultimately determine the size and makeup
of the force -- is what the Obama administration's goal in Afghanistan will be.
Will he continue President George W. Bush's emphasis on spreading freedom and
democracy? That would create the need for an extensive, lengthy and diverse
effort to stabilize and modernize the weak Afghan government, build
infrastructure and require a commitment for decades or more.
Or will he say the mission is simply to do enough military damage there to
ensure that Taliban, al-Qaida and other terror groups in Afghanistan and along
the Pakistan border are dismantled or defeated enough to prevent another attack
In an interview during his final days in office, Stephen Hadley, Bush's national
security adviser, told The Associated Press that he believes the fight for
democracy must go on, and that more special operations forces are needed in
''I think it's important for this new administration not to lose the emphasis on
the importance of freedom and democracy as an element of succeeding in Iraq and
Afghanistan, and succeeding in the war on terror,'' Hadley said.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters that Obama and his
national security team are still discussing their Afghanistan strategy and how
it will take shape.
Fundamentally, Morrell said, it will be a counterinsurgency fight and the next
president, advised by Gates and his military leaders, ''will ultimately come to
some understanding about where this president wants to lead the mission in
A second challenge, is how to meet the need for various support forces in both
Iraq and Afghanistan.
Under a U.S.-Iraq security agreement, American combat forces must be out of
Iraqi cities by June, and out of the country by 2011. But support forces --
ranging from intelligence and surveillance experts to engineers and logistics
personnel -- are specialists the Iraqis don't have and will continue to need.
At the same time, those are the same forces McKiernan needs in Afghanistan to
build the infrastructure for his growing force and to enhance surveillance,
particularly along the Pakistan border.
Pentagon officials have said they plan to send up to 30,000 additional troops to
the Afghan war, including four combat brigades and thousands of support forces.
Of those, Gates said three brigades and some of the support troops will go in by
summer. A brigade is roughly 3,500 troops.
Even as decisions on major units have been delayed, Gates this week approved the
deployment of about 2,000 new support troops to Afghanistan, including about 660
Navy sailors from a construction and engineering unit based in Gulfport, Miss.
The others include military police, medical personnel and other logistics
specialists, senior military officials said.
The sailors -- known as Seabees -- can deploy quickly for emergencies or
disasters to build roads, bridges and other facilities. A few hundred Seabees
serving in Kuwait have already been transferred to Afghanistan, according to the
There are currently 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, including 15,000 with the
NATO-led coalition and 18,000 fighting insurgents and training the Afghan army
and police. There are 142,000 U.S. troops in Iraq -- still more than the total
there before the force build-up which began in early 2007, and is credited in
part for the decline in violence.
Future troops levels also depend on the outcome of several military reviews of
the Afghanistan strategy that are under way or recently completed, including a
key administration study that Bush officials expect to deliver to the Obama
By the end of the month, Gates is expected to approve the deployment of the Camp
Lejeune, N.C.-based 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade to Afghanistan. But senior
officials say they are still working out the numbers. A MEB can vary in size and
makeup, and can swell to as many as 20,000 Marines, although a total that high
On the Net:
Major Troop Decisions
for Afghan War Await Obama, NYT, 17.1.2009,
Suicide Bomb Kills 3 Afghans in Kabul
January 17, 2009
Filed at 4:32 a.m. ET
The New York Times
(Corrects U.S. toll to say no U.S. troops killed after
U.S. military issued erroneous statement)
KABUL (Reuters) - No U.S. troops were killed in a suicide car bomb attack
outside a U.S. base and the German embassy in the Afghan capital Saturday, a
U.S. military spokesman said.
The U.S. military previously issued a statement which said two U.S. soldiers
were killed and 12 wounded in the blast, but a spokesman said that statement was
issued in error and six U.S. soldiers were wounded in the blast.
Suicide Bomb Kills 3
Afghans in Kabul, NYT, 17.1.2009,
Bomb Kills 2 Afghans,
Wounds 5 US Troops in Kabul
January 17, 2009
Filed at 4:15 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- A suicide car bomb attack Saturday on a heavily
guarded road between the German Embassy and a U.S. military base in the Afghan
capital killed two Afghan civilians and wounded five U.S. troops, officials
The Taliban claimed responsibility and said the bomber targeted German military
The U.S. military released a statement shortly after the 9:45 a.m. attack saying
two U.S. troops were killed and 12 wounded. But Col. Greg Julian, the top U.S.
spokesman in Afghanistan, later said the statement was based on bad information
and that five American forces had been wounded in the attack and none killed.
Firefighters and soldiers doused burning vehicles in the street near the base
with water. Afghan security personnel and U.S. soldiers carried a U.S. service
member out of a window near the blast. It was not clear whether soldier was dead
Two Afghan civilians died in the blast and 23 were wounded, said Gen. Mohammad
Zahir Azimi, the Defense Ministry spokesman.
The German Embassy shares a small, two-lane road with Camp Eggers, a U.S. base
that serves as the headquarters for soldiers training Afghan police and army
personnel. Dozens of armed Afghan security personnel guard the street, and blast
walls of concrete and sand-filled mesh-wire boxes line the road.
''It did not breach the wall (of the base),'' said Lt. Col. Chris Kubik, a U.S.
military spokesman. ''It was fairly close but I can't tell you if they were
targeting us or not.''
A spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin said ''some personnel''
were wounded in the blast, but he did not give numbers. He said they had no
reports of deaths.
Windows inside the German compound shattered in the explosion, but the wall
protecting the compound is still intact, he said. The spokesman refused to give
his name for publication, citing government policy.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said a Taliban suicide bomber named
Shumse Rehman carried out the attack in a Toyota Corolla. He said the bomber
targeted two vehicles believed to be carrying German military officers.
''The Germans have forces in the north of Afghanistan and they are involved in
the killing of innocent Afghans. The Taliban will target all those countries who
have forces in Afghanistan,'' he said.
Mujahid said the Taliban had been monitoring the movements of German vehicles
and planned the attack to target officers believed to be inside.
Germany has 3,200 troops in Afghanistan, mainly in the country's north. That
region is considerably more peaceful than the country's east or south, but
German troops still suffer from occasional bomb attacks.
The U.S. has some 32,000 troops in Afghanistan and plans to send up to 30,000
more this year.
Associated Press reporters Jason Straziuso, Heidi Vogt, Amir Shah contributed to
Bomb Kills 2 Afghans,
Wounds 5 US Troops in Kabul, NYT, 17.1.2009,
The Afghan Quagmire
January 6, 2009
The New York Times
By BOB HERBERT
The economy is obviously issue No. 1 as Barack Obama prepares to take over
the presidency. He’s charged with no less a task than pulling the country out of
a brutal recession. If the worst-case scenarios materialize, his job will be to
stave off a depression.
That’s enough to keep any president pretty well occupied. What Mr. Obama doesn’t
need, and what the U.S. cannot under any circumstances afford, is any more
unnecessary warfare. And yet, while we haven’t even figured out how to extricate
ourselves from the disaster in Iraq, Mr. Obama is planning to commit thousands
of additional American troops to the war in Afghanistan, which is already more
than seven years old and which long ago turned into a quagmire.
Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel who is now a professor of history and
international relations at Boston University, wrote an important piece for
Newsweek warning against the proposed buildup. “Afghanistan will be a sinkhole,”
he said, “consuming resources neither the U.S. military nor the U.S. government
can afford to waste.”
In an analysis in The Times last month, Michael Gordon noted that “Afghanistan
presents a unique set of problems: a rural-based insurgency, an enemy sanctuary
in neighboring Pakistan, the chronic weakness of the Afghan government, a
thriving narcotics trade, poorly developed infrastructure, and forbidding
The U.S. military is worn out from years of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. The
troops are stressed from multiple deployments. Equipment is in disrepair.
Budgets are beyond strained. Sending thousands of additional men and women (some
to die, some to be horribly wounded) on a fool’s errand in the rural,
mountainous guerrilla paradise of Afghanistan would be madness.
The time to go all out in Afghanistan was in the immediate aftermath of the 2001
terror attacks. That time has passed.
With no personal military background and a reputation as a liberal,
President-elect Obama may feel he has to demonstrate his toughness, and that
Afghanistan is the place to do it. What would really show toughness would be an
assertion by Mr. Obama as commander in chief that the era of mindless military
misadventures is over.
“I hate war,” said Dwight Eisenhower, “as only a soldier who has lived it can,
as only one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”
What’s the upside to the U.S., a nation in dire economic distress, of an
escalation in Afghanistan? If we send 20,000, or 30,000, or however many
thousand more troops in there, what will their mission be?
In his article for Newsweek, Mr. Bacevich said: “The chief effect of military
operations in Afghanistan so far has been to push radical Islamists across the
Pakistani border. As a result, efforts to stabilize Afghanistan are contributing
to the destabilization of Pakistan, with potentially devastating implications.
“No country poses a greater potential threat to U.S. national security — today
and for the foreseeable future — than Pakistan. To risk the stability of that
nuclear-armed state in the vain hope of salvaging Afghanistan would be a
Our interest in Afghanistan is to prevent it from becoming a haven for
terrorists bent on attacking us. That does not require the scale of military
operations that the incoming administration is contemplating. It does not
require a wholesale occupation. It does not require the endless funneling of
human treasure and countless billions of taxpayer dollars to the Afghan
government at the expense of rebuilding the United States, which is falling
apart before our very eyes.
The government we are supporting in Afghanistan is a fetid hothouse of
corruption, a government of gangsters and weasels whose customary salute is the
upturned palm. Listen to this devastating assessment by Dexter Filkins of The
“Kept afloat by billions of dollars in American and other foreign aid, the
government of Afghanistan is shot through with corruption and graft. From the
lowliest traffic policeman to the family of President Hamid Karzai himself, the
state built on the ruins of the Taliban government seven years ago now often
seems to exist for little more than the enrichment of those who run it.”
Think about putting your life on the line for that gang.
If Mr. Obama does send more troops to Afghanistan, he should go on television
and tell the American people, in the clearest possible language, what he is
trying to achieve. He should spell out the mission’s goals, and lay out an exit
He will owe that to the public because he will own the conflict at that point.
It will be Barack Obama’s war.
The Afghan Quagmire,