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Crossposted from Antemedius
Investigative historian and journalist Gareth Porter talks with Paul Jay about General Stanley McChrystal’s new job as the head of US operations in Afghanistan. Porter says McChrystal’s appointment will hardly change US policy in Afghanistan, but could intensify US commando raids and air strikes in the region.
He also comments on Obama’s plans for a civilian surge saying, “a civilian component to a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan is essentially empty talk, in the sense that they don’t really know how to do it.”.
“They don’t have the means to do it. They don’t have people that are trained in Pashtun, the language of southern Afghanistan, where the ethnic group that basically inhabits the area, where most of the Taliban gains have been made, is located.”
Real News Network – May 24, 2009
McChrystal and the Afghan military “solution”
Porter: A civilian component to a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan is essentially empty talk
I’d also highly recommend Tom Englehardt’s recent article Going for Broke: Six Ways the Af-Pak War Is Expanding as a very good related piece for a deeper understanding of McChrystal’s background, Obama’s possible intentions in the AfPak arena, and the meaning of McChrystal’s new appointment:
Yes, Stanley McChrystal is the general from the dark side (and proud of it). So the recent sacking of Afghan commander General David McKiernan after less than a year in the field and McChrystal’s appointment as the man to run the Afghan War seems to signal that the Obama administration is going for broke. It’s heading straight into what, in the Vietnam era, was known as “the big muddy.”
General McChrystal comes from a world where killing by any means is the norm and a blanket of secrecy provides the necessary protection. For five years he commanded the Pentagon’s super-secret Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which, among other things, ran what Seymour Hersh has described as an “executive assassination wing” out of Vice President Cheney’s office. (Cheney just returned the favor by giving the newly appointed general a ringing endorsement: “I think you’d be hard put to find anyone better than Stan McChrystal.”)
McChrystal gained a certain renown when President Bush outed him as the man responsible for tracking down and eliminating al-Qaeda-in-Mesopotamia leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The secret force of “manhunters” he commanded had its own secret detention and interrogation center near Baghdad, Camp Nama, where bad things happened regularly, and the unit there, Task Force 6-26, had its own slogan: “If you don’t make them bleed, they can’t prosecute for it.” Since some of the task force’s men were, in the end, prosecuted, the bleeding evidently wasn’t avoided.
In the Bush years, McChrystal was reputedly extremely close to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The super-secret force he commanded was, in fact, part of Rumsfeld’s effort to seize control of, and Pentagonize, the covert, on-the-ground activities that were once the purview of the CIA.
Behind McChrystal lies a string of targeted executions that may run into the hundreds, as well as accusations of torture and abuse by troops under his command (and a role in the cover-up of the circumstances surrounding the death of Army Ranger and former National Football League player Pat Tillman). The general has reportedly long thought of Afghanistan and Pakistan as a single battlefield, which means that he was a premature adherent to the idea of an Af-Pak — that is, expanded — war. While in Afghanistan in 2008, the New York Times reported, he was a “key advocate… of a plan, ultimately approved by President George W. Bush, to use American commandos to strike at Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan.” This end-of-term Bush program provoked such anger and blowback in Pakistan that it was reportedly halted after two cross-border raids, one of which killed civilians.
1. Expanding Troop Commitment: In February, President Obama ordered a “surge” of 17,000 extra troops into Afghanistan, increasing U.S. forces there by 50%. (Then-commander McKiernan had called for 30,000 new troops.) In March, another 4,000 American military advisors and trainers were promised. The first of the surge troops, reportedly ill-equipped, are already arriving. In March, it was announced that this troop surge would be accompanied by a “civilian surge” of diplomats, advisors, and the like; in April, it was reported that, because the requisite diplomats and advisors couldn’t be found, the civilian surge would actually be made up largely of military personnel.
In preparation for this influx, there has been massive base and outpost building in the southern parts of that country, including the construction of 443-acre Camp Leatherneck in that region’s “desert of death.” When finished, it will support up to 8,000 U.S. troops, and a raft of helicopters and planes. Its airfield, which is under construction, has been described as the “largest such project in the world in a combat setting.”
With McChrystal in charge in Afghanistan, for instance, it seems reasonable to assume that the urge to sanction new special forces raids into Pakistan will grow. After all, frustration in Washington is already building, for however much the Pakistani military may be taking on the Taliban in Swat or Buner, don’t expect its military or civilian leaders to be terribly interested in what happens near the Afghan border.