The President Visits A Lost War

(4 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

It’s good that President Obama has gone to Afghanistan. There is much to see. And people have been speculating that Afghan “President” Hamid Karzai was informed only at the last minute because the White House doesn’t trust him. The White House has reason not to trust him. Which isn’t the only bad news out of Afghanistan. Despite some attempts to spin it otherwise, the war in Afghanistan is going the way wars in Afghanistan always go. Badly.

The Associated Press has some stark facts:

The number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan has roughly doubled in the first three months of 2010 compared to the same period last year as Washington has added tens of thousands of additional soldiers to reverse the Taliban’s momentum.

Those deaths have been accompanied by a dramatic spike in the number of wounded, with injuries more than tripling in the first two months of the year and trending in the same direction based on the latest available data for March.

U.S. officials have warned that casualties are likely to rise even further as the Pentagon completes its deployment of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and sets its sights on the Taliban’s home base of Kandahar province, where a major operation is expected in the coming months.

Of course, this followed the big offensive in Marja. Which some tried to claim was some great military triumph. Was it?

Remember Matthew Hoh? He’s the former Marine, former combat troop in Iraq, former uniformed Pentagon official, former civilian official in Iraq and at the State Department, who then became the senior civilian U.S. official in Taliban hotbed, Zabul province. In other words, he is someone who knows of what he speaks. And in October, he resigned his post, in protest of the continuing war in Afghanistan. Well, he has news, as reported by the Huffington Post:

Matthew Hoh, the former senior U.S. civilian representative in Zabul province, Afghanistan, says that civilian deaths in Marjah caused by Operation Moshtarak were unnecessary and that the operation isn’t accomplishing anything. Hoh points to the installation of an outsider ex-con as the head official in Marjah as evidence that despite U.S. rhetoric to the contrary, Operation Moshtarak is not empowering local people.

Blunt. To the point. How not empowering the people was the Marjah offensive? A third of the area’s civilian population ended up registering as refugees. 24,000 human beings. Who had to flee their homes. And those are just the ones that actually registered. The Los Angeles Times, last month:

Since the start this month of a massive assault by U.S. Marines and British and Afghan troops on the southern Afghan town, nearly 4,000 families have sought shelter in nearby Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province. By the calculation generally used by aid agencies — six people per family, though many are far larger — that would add up to at least 24,000 people, nearly one-third of the town’s population.

The figure takes into account only those who have officially registered as displaced; thousands of others are thought to be undocumented. Many fled with only scant possessions, hoping the fighting that erupted Feb. 13 would end quickly.

And let’s just say that the strategy seems to be at cross purposes. From the New York Times:

The effort to win over Afghans on former Taliban turf in Marja has put American and NATO commanders in the unusual position of arguing against opium eradication, pitting them against some Afghan officials who are pushing to destroy the harvest.

From Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal on down, the military’s position is clear: “U.S. forces no longer eradicate,” as one NATO official put it. Opium is the main livelihood of 60 to 70 percent of the farmers in Marja, which was seized from Taliban rebels in a major offensive last month. American Marines occupying the area are under orders to leave the farmers’ fields alone.

“Marja is a special case right now,” said Cmdr. Jeffrey Eggers, a member of the general’s Strategic Advisory Group, his top advisory body. “We don’t trample the livelihood of those we’re trying to win over.”

And the Afghan military, which is supposed to step up, so that our troops can move out? Not happening, and not likely to happen, any time soon. Certainly not happening in Marjah. McClatchy:

If the U.S. Marines at Combat Outpost Turbett have any problems with their Afghan colleagues, they’re with the Afghan soldiers who followed them into battle against Taliban fighters, not with the elite police officers who’ve stepped in to help fill the security vacuum.

While the Marines praise the Afghan National Civil Order Police force, they can barely conceal their contempt for the Afghan soldiers who live alongside the Americans in this one-time drug den in Marjah.

The greatest concern is that the shortcomings of the Afghan soldiers could undermine U.S.-led efforts to present ANCOP as the new, more respectable face of the Afghan government.

Not winning, militarily. Causing a third of the population to flee. No longer even eradicating the opium trade. The Afghan military not doing its job. And this is success?

The other big story has been the decapitation of the Taliban, via the capture of some of its top leaders, in Pakistan. But someone forgot to tell the Taliban. Newsweek:

Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, who remains in hiding and has not been seen publicly for nine years, has appointed two of his top Taliban militia commanders from the south to replace his former deputy and longtime comrade-in-arms Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar who was arrested by Pakistani forces in Karachi last month.

Abu Zabihullah, a senior Taliban operative whose has supplied accurate information to NEWSWEEK in the past, says that the one-eyed Taliban leaders has confirmed Abdul Qayum Zakir, a former Guantánamo inmate, and Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, a portly and personable rear-echelon leader, as his deputies, replacing Baradar. Their appointments, Zabihullah says, are meant “to convey a good message that, despite our leader’s arrest, the Taliban is back to business-as-usual operations without a problem.”


The choice of Zakir, who was released from Guantánamo in late 2007, and who returned to join the Taliban in the field about one year later after being freed by Afghan authorities, is popular with Taliban commanders. Several Taliban commanders have told NEWSWEEK that they wrote letters to Mullah Omar in support of Zakir as the logical replacement for Baradar soon after his deputy’s arrest. The commanders favor Zakir because, unlike Baradar-who never set foot in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s collapse in late 2001-he frequently visits insurgent units in the field, giving them advice and listening to their complaints. For more than a year, Zakir, who is in his mid-30s, has largely been in charge of insurgent operations in the south of Afghanistan.

And that American Taliban leader, whose capture created a bit of a buzz among those cheering the war? Well, it wasn’t that American Taliban leader, after all.

But back to that Afghan “President”… As I recently wrote:

Well, Afghan “President” Hamid Karzai, fresh off stealing an election, is now taking full control of a key elections body. Which might not be so worrisome, if he hadn’t just stolen an election. And while our troops serve, suffer, and die to protect this fraudulent and highly corrupt regime, Karzai is busy preparing for a state visit from Iranian “President” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Just a little irony? Iran’s president president joins him for a carefully arranged state meeting, but ours rightfully doesn’t trust him enough to tell him until the last minute that a meeting will be happening.

Things are not going well. Things don’t go well in unwinnable wars. It doesn’t matter if we have new leaders with better intentions and better ideas. Unwinnable wars are unwinnable. Six more civilians dead, in a roadside bombing, in the south. Five more civilians killed, in roadside bombings in the west. Another American troop killed. Another British soldier killed, in a suicide bombing. Hundreds of protestors, in the north, where a NATO airstrike accidentally killed seven policemen. Oops. We’re just not doing so well with that old hearts and minds thing.

The White House says it will begin withdrawing troops in 2011. Afghan “President” Karzai says his military will need our troops until at least 2024. Who are we to argue?


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  1. The lack of any news other then wall to wall crazies and  electoral politics, has buried any real news like this under a revolting redo of the election and our ‘culture wars’. It leaves the real damage being done unnoticed and unheeded. Glad you posted here. I will be back to read again more carefully after I do some more gardening. Maybe sooner as my lower back wants me to stop this madness and slouch and blog!  

    • TMC on March 28, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    That he can make a bigger mess of Afghanistan than Bush? This so-called surge has accomplished nothing but more death and destruction and garnered the Taliban more support. It is really laughable that because security is so bad there and there is such a lack of trust with Karzai that the POTUS has to sneak into the country, unannounced even to the Afghan government.

    Thanks for reminding us that there are still two wars going on unnoticed amidst all the “celebrating” passing a Republican/lobbyist authored health care bill.

    • Edger on March 28, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    surely they’ll begin to realize the futility of fighting back, and start to love America.


    We’ve now been at war with, or in, Iraq for almost 20 years, and intermittently at war in Afghanistan for 30 years.  Think of it as nearly half a century of experience, all bad.  And what is it that Washington seems to have concluded?  In Afghanistan, where one disaster after another has occurred, that we Americans can finally do more of the same, somewhat differently calibrated, and so much better.  In Iraq, where we had, it seemed, decided that enough was enough and we should simply depart, the calls from a familiar crew for us to stay are growing louder by the week.    

    The Iraqis, so the argument goes, need us.  After all, who would leave them alone, trusting them not to do what they’ve done best in recent years: cut one another’s throats?    

    Modesty in Washington?  Humility?  The ability to draw new lessons from long-term experience?  None of the above is evidently appropriate for “the indispensable nation,” as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once called the United States, and to whose leaders she attributed the ability to “see further into the future.”  None of the above is part of the American arsenal, not when Washington’s weapon of choice, repeatedly consigned to the scrapheap of history and repeatedly rescued, remains a deep conviction that nothing is going to go anything but truly, deeply, madly badly without us, even if, as in Iraq, things have for years gone truly, deeply, madly badly with us.

    Tom Engelhardt, March 13, 2010

  2. ….  the number of American troops being withdrawn from Iraq coincides with the number of troops being sent to “surge” in Afghanistan if you allow that some will not be redeployed immediately but rotated to stateside, so the overall reduction in forces in the mid eastern theatre is small-  and we still do not know what is really going on in western Pakistan, other than there are boots on the ground somewhere, besides the drones flying in.

    there is no way the Afghans are going to be motivated to emulate the forces of any modern military (which requires so much hardward, support services, and cost) when the same thing can be done to drive out occupiers the way they’ve done it for centuries-  with “soldier warriors” that blend into the civilian population, use bombs and snipers, and use the wide spaced harsh terrain and tribal alliances to their advantages.

    General Petraeus has been on a month long tour speaking to different groups in places like the more conservative North Carolina (which has a huge military base) telling his audiences that this current conflict is going to take 12 to 18 months, that it is going to be a “hard year” and there will be many more casualties.  That would put us at November of 2011 and at the beginning of the next campaign cycle of 2012, where once again we will probably be told by the military and the DOD contractors that we really need to either stay somewhere or expand our forces into yet another country because of the threat of “terrorism.”

    Well, terrorism is quite real.  If you make enough refugees (and orphans and widows)  by the thousands until they number in the millions, eventually they get quite sick of being tossed from one country to another because of the need for our military to feel like they’re doing something at the behest of the oil interests in these countries.  You can’t kill enough people to destroy “terrorism.”

  3. …. seen it.  If you love photos of natural landscapes as they relate to history and archaeology, you are in for a treat.


    He’s also been posting here:

    • dkmich on March 29, 2010 at 12:01 am

    to add insult to injury, we even have to pay for it.

    I am glad you are here,too.  I will check out your travel blog.  Your pictures, right?   From the peak I took, they look like postcards.  I just don’t have an artistic eye.  Wish I did.  

  4. From Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal on down, the military’s position is clear: “U.S. forces no longer eradicate,” as one NATO official put it. Opium is the main livelihood of 60 to 70 percent of the farmers in Marja, which was seized from Taliban rebels in a major offensive last month. American Marines occupying the area are under orders to leave the farmers’ fields alone.

    Which is polite way of saying American Marines are now protecting the Afghan heroin trade.  And considering that Marja area is an essential objective of McChrystal’s shape take hold and build strategy, we should probably expect our young men and women in khaki to be continuing this ignoble mission for quite some time.

    Not that we should tearing up the poor Afghan farmers’ fields (again), but you really have to wonder what in the Wicked Witch of the West we are doing in Afghanistan that any alleged victory is dependent on running an opium protection racket.

    But hey, I’m sure General McCrystal and his staff won’t shakedown the farmers for nearly the $100 million that the Taliban used to demand for exactly the same service.

    Hearts and Minds, you know.

  5. at full tilt for something extra special.  

    • banger on March 29, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    You’ve got dozens of factions operating there from around the world: militaries, intel groups (state and non-state), organized crime, and mercenaries or all types. I believe it has a momentum of its own that the U.S. government is in no position to change even if it wanted to. I believe there is no there there. What I mean that the U.S. government is practically leaderless–from my perspective.

  6. will we see or hear about it? I haven’t been blogging as much but I heard somewhere that there was a peace march in DC a big one, maybe I just dreamed it. Kind of like the tree falling when no ones around question do we hear it? It’s amazing that the Democratic left has abandoned all pretext of the reality that they fought so hard to change. The media propaganda machine is going full tilt emanating fear. The only change seems to be R to D with the same sponsors and the only enemy they talk of is the whacko’s on the right. Meanwhile the carnage both on others in far away lands and on our own populace continues, they have done nothing but nail down the necon, neoliberal agenda. Now it’s center left and walking on two legs.      

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