British soldier: ‘I realised the Afghan war was wrong’

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Lance Corporal Joe Glenton is 27 years old and has been in the army since 2004. For the last two years, after he was told that he would have to return to Afghanistan, Joe has been absent without leave and on the run. He spoke to Yuri Prasad about his experiences.

‘In 2006 my regiment was posted to Afghanistan for seven months. And if I had to describe my feelings about the tour in one word, I would say “confused”.

We were never really told what was going on, and the whole campaign seemed to be suffering from “mission creep” – the goals just seemed to be changing all the time.

Around the time that we arrived in Afghanistan the fighting with the Taliban revived and it got pretty rough. I was based at Kandahar airport and although we weren’t on the front line, the base was attacked frequently.

My regiment was there to support Three Para with all their logistical needs. We were told that the British army was there to keep the peace. But we actually ran out of artillery shells because they were calling it forwards to the front lines in such large quantities.

There was so much shelling there were periods when we would work solidly for 20 or 30 hours at a time.

There was an undercurrent of fear as well. I was fighting alongside people that ranged from just 18 years old to guys in the their mid-40s. We were hit by mortars and rockets.

Luckily, I never had to see one of my colleagues injured but the constant shelling does have an effect on people. A lot of guys, especially the younger ones, really struggled to cope.

Politicians

Afghan people were attacking us, even though our politicians said we were going in to help them. It came as a real shock. We kept asking ourselves, why are they doing this? That’s when I became aware that there was something seriously wrong with the war.

Initially we were told that we were in Afghanistan to put an end to the opium crop. Then we were told that it was to rebuild infrastructure. Then it was about bringing democracy – but none of this really seems to have happened.

Maybe there was an initial plan, but it kind of snowballed. By the end of my tour it was attrition and war fighting.

That had a massive impact on the Afghan civilian population who were put in a lot of danger. There’s no way you can fight a war without ordinary people getting caught up in it.

When I got back from my tour of Afghanistan I was quite shaken by the whole experience. But there’s a definite feeling running through the army that they just expect you to get on with it no matter what’s happened to you.

While I was still struggling to come to terms with my experiences in Afghanistan and adjusting to returning home, I was promoted and posted to another regiment. And from that point on things started to go very wrong.

I was singled out by a senior officer who started bullying me – and there is very little support for someone in the army who finds themselves in that position. I tried to go through the army’s formal procedure but it didn’t resolve the problem.

I realised at this point that I could no longer trust my chain of command. I felt like a victim of the “old boys’ club”.

Around the same time I was told that my regiment wanted to deploy me to Afghanistan again – even though this is against the harmony guidelines which stipulate a minimum time between tours of duty.

I’d only been back in Britain for about six or seven months.

At that point I decided that to protect myself my only course of action was to go absent. I was having some kind of a breakdown and I got away as far as I could to Asia, where I knew I could live cheaply for a couple of months.

My initial plan was to stay there for a while then come back to Britain and prepare to be courts martialed and kicked out of the army – but I just couldn’t deal with it.

So I pushed on to Australia, stayed there for two years on a working visa and met my now wife. Together we decided that I should come back and deal with things.

I’ve handed myself into the army, and I’m now on a fast track courts martial. As far as the army is concerned I’m guilty and it doesn’t matter what I’ve been through.

They’ve just upped the charge against me from absent without leave to desertion. In the worst case scenario I face two years in a civilian jail.

Meanwhile, the politicians who send us to Afghanistan don’t even seem prepared to spend the money that’s needed to keep us safe.

Looking at the way the war has developed, I don’t think Britain is doing any good there and I think our troops should come out.

All we’re doing now is stacking up casualties. The Afghan people will probably go with whoever is winning, and right now we’re not.’

11-31

Obama Must Call Off This Folly Before Afghanistan Becomes his Vietnam

July 2, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Senseless slaughter and anti-western hysteria are all America and Britain’s billions have paid for in a counterproductive war

By Simon Jenkins

If good intentions ever paved a road to hell, they are doing so in Afghanistan. History rarely declares when folly turns to disaster, but it does so now. Barack Obama and his amanuensis, Gordon Brown, are uncannily repeating the route taken by American leaders in Vietnam from 1963 to 1975. Galbraith once said that the best thing about the Great Depression was that it warned against another. Does the same apply to Vietnam?

Vietnam began with Kennedy’s noble 1963 intervention, to keep the communist menace at bay and thus make the world safe for democracy. That is what George Bush and Tony Blair said of terrorism and Afghanistan. Vietnam escalated as the Diem regime in Saigon failed to contain Vietcong aggression and was deposed with American collusion. By 1965, despite Congress scepticism, American advisers, then planes, then ground forces were deployed. Allies were begged to join but few agreed and not Britain.

The presence of Americans on Asian soil turned a local insurgency into a regional crusade. Foreign aid rallied to the Vietcong cause to resist what was seen as a neo-imperialist invasion. The hard-pressed Americans resorted to eve r more extensive bombing, deep inside neighbouring countries, despite evidence that it was ineffective and politically counterproductive.

No amount of superior firepower could quell a peasant army that came and went by night and could terrorise or merge into the local population. Tales of American atrocities rolled in each month. The army counted success not in territory held but in enemy dead. A desperate attempt to “train and equip” a new Vietnamese army made it as corrupt as it was unreliable. Billions of dollars were wasted. A treaty with the Vietcong in 1973 did little to hide the humiliation of eventual defeat.

Every one of these steps is being re-enacted in Afghanistan. Every sane observer, even serving generals and diplomats, admit that “we are not winning” and show no sign of doing so. The head of the British army, Sir Richard Dannatt, remarked recently on the “mistakes” of Iraq as metaphor for Afghanistan. He has been supported by warnings from his officers on the ground.

Last year’s denial of reinforcements to Helmand is an open secret. Ever since the then defence secretary, John Reid, issued his 2006 “London diktats”, described in a recent British Army Review as “casual, naive and a comprehensive failure”, intelligence warnings of Taliban strength have been ignored. The army proceeded with a policy of disrupting the opium trade, neglecting hearts and minds and using US air power against “blind” targets. All have proved potent weapons in the Taliban armory.

Generals are entitled to plead for more resources and yet claim that -victory is just round the corner, even when they know it is not. They must lead men into battle. A heavier guilt lies with liberal apologists for this war on both sides of the Atlantic who continue to invent excuses for its failure and offer glib preconditions for victory.

A classic is a long editorial in Monday’s New York Times, congratulating Barack Obama on “sending more troops to the fight” but claiming that there were still not enough. In addition there were too many corrupt politicians, too many drugs, too many weapons in the wrong hands, too small a local army, too few police and not enough “trainers”. The place was damnably unlike Connecticut.

Strategy, declared the sages of Manhattan, should be “to confront the Taliban head on”, as if this had not been tried before. Afghanistan needed “a functioning army and national police that can hold back the insurgents”. The way to achieve victory was for the Pentagon, already spending a stupefying $60bn in Afghanistan, to spend a further $20bn increasing the size of the Afghan army from 90,000 to 250,000. This was because ordinary Afghans “must begin to trust their own government”.

These lines might have been written in 1972 by General Westmoreland in his Saigon bunker. The New York Times has clearly never seen the Afghan army, or police, in action. Eight years of training costing $15bn have been near useless, when men simply decline to fight except to defend their homes. Any Afghan pundit will attest that training a Pashtun to fight a Pashtun is a waste of money, while training a Tajik to the same end is a waste of time. Since the Pentagon originally armed and trained the Taliban to fight the Soviets, this must be the first war where it has trained both sides.

Neither the Pentagon nor the British Ministry of Defence will win Afghanistan through firepower. The strategy of “hearts and minds plus” cannot be realistic, turning Afghanistan into a vast and indefinite barracks with hundreds of thousands of western soldiers sitting atop a colonial Babel of administrators and professionals. It will never be secure. It offers Afghanistan a promise only of relentless war, one that Afghans outside Kabul know that warlords, drug cartels and Taliban sympathizers are winning.

The 2001 policy of invading, capturing Osama bin Laden and ridding the region of terrorist bases has been tested to destruction and failed. Strategy is reduced to the senseless slaughter of hundreds of young western soldiers and thousands of Afghans. Troops are being sent out because Labour ministers lack the guts to admit that Blair’s bid to quell the Islamist menace by force of arms was crazy. They parrot the line that they are making “the streets of London safe”, but they know they are doing the opposite.

Vietnam destroyed two presidents, Johnson and Nixon, and destroyed the global confidence of a generation of young Americans. Afghanistan obscenely dubbed the “good war” could do the same. There will soon be 68,000 American troops in that country, making a mockery of Donald Rumsfeld’s 2001 tactic of hit and run, which at least had the virtue of coherence.

This is set fair to be a war of awful proportions, cockpit for the feared clash of civilisations. Each new foreign battalion taps more cash for the Taliban from the Gulf. Each new massacre from the air recruits more youths from the madrasas. The sheer counterproductivity of the war has been devastatingly analysed by David Kilcullen, adviser to Obama’s key general David Petraeus no less.

Obama is trapped by past policy mistakes as were Kennedy and Johnson, cheered by an offstage chorus crying, “if only” and “not enough” and “just one more surge”. He and Petraeus have to find a means and a language to disengage from Afghanistan, to allow the anti-western hysteria of the Muslim world which the west has done so much to foster now to cool. It is hard to imagine a greater tragedy than for the most exciting American president in a generation to be led by a senseless intervention into a repeat of America’s greatest postwar debacle.

As for British politicians, they seek a proxy for their negligence in Afghanistan by staging a show trial of their negligence in Iraq. Why do they fiddle while Helmand burns? Might they at least ask how they can spend £40bn a year on defence yet watch a mere 8,000 troops on their one active front having to be rescued by Americans?

11-28

Pakistan Preps Attack

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Pakistan prepares offensive on Taliban stronghold

By Rohan Sullivan, AP

2009-06-13T204536Z_01_AAL110_RTRMDNP_3_PAKISTAN-VIOLENCE

A policeman stands atop Punjab University, keeping guard over a crowd of thousands attending funeral prayers for Muslim cleric Sarfraz Naeemi in Lahore June 13, 2009. Naeemi was attacked by a suicide bomber in his mosque complex after leading Friday prayers a day earlier. Pakistani warplanes struck a stronghold of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud on Saturday in retaliation for the killing of the anti-Taliban cleric, the military said.   

REUTERS/Adrees Latif

ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s army launched airstrikes and ferried in tanks and artillery as it confirmed Tuesday that it was preparing a major offensive against insurgents in al-Qaida and the Taliban’s safest haven along the Afghan border.

The highly anticipated military operation in South Waziristan is seen as a potential turning point in the yearslong and sometimes half-hearted fight against militancy in Pakistan. It could also help curb Taliban attacks on Western forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
But the offensive in the lawless tribal region will also be the toughest yet for Pakistan’s military, testing both its fighting capability and the government’s will to see it through, analysts said.
Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said the military had received executive orders from the government to begin operations against Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, whose base is in South Waziristan.

“The necessary measures and steps which are part of a preliminary phase of the operation, the preparatory phase of the operation, that has commenced,” Abbas told a news conference.

But Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira stressed that the operation “has not been officially started.”

They declined to give more details, citing operational secrecy.

Convoys of military trucks carrying tanks and artillery were seen Tuesday in the towns of Dera Ismail Khan and Tank, near South Waziristan. Intelligence officials said they were part of the buildup for the operation against Mehsud.

In recent days, the military has shelled and launched airstrikes in both South Waziristan and neighboring Bannu, although so far there has not been large-scale fighting with the militants.

On Tuesday, the army shelled suspected militant hideouts in three villages in South Waziristan in response to attacks on two military checkpoints, and helicopter gunships targeted Mehsud hide-outs in the region, intelligence officials told The Associated Press.

One official called the attacks “surgical strikes” ahead of the main operation.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose information to the media.

The military buildup comes as the army says it is entering the final stages of a major operation against the Taliban in the northwestern Swat Valley, which has triggered a wave of retaliatory attacks by militants across Pakistan that have been blamed on Mehsud.

More than 100 people have died since late May in suicide bombings on targets including police and security buildings, mosques and a hotel catering to foreigners. The attacks have fueled anti-Taliban sentiment in Pakistan that in turn has emboldened the politically weak government of President Asif Ali Zardari.

A military assault in South Waziristan would likely trigger an escalation in the attacks — something the government is bracing for.

“The risk of lives is there — we have to give sacrifices, we have to pay this price and the nation is ready to give this price to get rid of this menace,” Kaira said.

The slow start to the offensive may indicate the government is talking it up before launching it to allow civilians time to flee. The Swat offensive displaced more than 2 million people.

Thousands of residents have already fled Waziristan, local officials and refugees say, and are most are staying with extended family. Aid agencies have warned that the humanitarian crisis in Pakistan’s northwest could worsen if fighting spreads in the tribal belt.

The armed forces may also need more time to mobilize for a full-scale battle in Waziristan, a hard-scrabble, mountainous area where well-armed tribes hold sway and the government’s influence is minimal.

Many Taliban and al-Qaida militants fled to the region after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban regime in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. It remains a base for cross-border attacks on Western and Afghan forces and a training center for militants operating in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. South Waziristan is also a possible hiding place of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri.

Militants have had years to dig in and store arms and ammunition in bolt-holes that include concrete bunkers and tunnel networks, said Asad Munir, a retired brigadier and former intelligence chief for the tribal region.

Battle-hardened fighters from Afghanistan, Swat and elsewhere will rally to join the fight, he predicted.

“This is going to be their final battlefield because the prominent leaders of al-Qaida, the Afghan Taliban, the local Taliban and our own terrorist jihadi organizations, they are all here,” Munir said. “They will defend this place, which has acted as a sanctuary for them.”

U.S. missiles fired from unmanned drones have repeatedly struck South Waziristan, most recently on Sunday, and militants would become far more vulnerable to airborne attacks if they are forced out of their strongholds by Pakistan’s offensive. The military has launched repeated operations in the past, only to later back off as the government has pursued failed peace deals instead.

Abbas said Tuesday there were unconfirmed reports that al-Qaida-linked Uzbek militant leader Tahir Yuldash was injured in a Pakistani air force strike Sunday in South Waziristan. He gave no further details.

Yuldash leads the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and has survived numerous Pakistan military operations to trap him in the tribal regions.

___
Associated Press writers Ishtiaq Masud in Dera Ismail Khan, and Munir Ahmad and Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.

11-26

A Doomed Presidency

September 18, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

A doomed presidency: With the army poised for a coup and the Taliban winning hearts, Zardari doesn’t stand a chance

Courtesy Peter Preston, The Guardian

2008-09-09T133835Z_01_ISL506R_RTRMDNP_3_PAKISTAN-PRESIDENT
 

Forget labels. In reality, two giant parties struggle perennially for power in Pakistan. One is the politicians’ party, whose candidate, Asif Ali Zardari, has just been elected president. The other is the army party, which prefers bazookas to ballot boxes. Democracy in this pivotal country is a frail blossom. And Zardari is as frail as they come.

The crude apology for a party system in Pakistan is 60 years old and shows scant sign of changing. First, the politicians have an election and govern for a while. When they falter, the generals take over. Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia ul-Haq, Pervez Musharraf – they come and go, punctuated briefly by elected prime ministers (mostly called Bhutto). It’s a malign sort of game, growing perilously close to an endgame now. Indeed, President Zardari’s inevitably brief tenure may well be the end of it all as a third party – young, idealistic, fervent and brave – begins to tip the board over. You may not have heard the Taliban so described before, but that doesn’t mean that brute force isn’t with them.

In the wake of Benazir Bhutto’s murder by hands unknown last December, the Pakistan People’s party had a triumphant election. It possessed just enough numbers in the national and provincial parliaments to deliver the presidency, but you’d be hard pressed to invent a more hopeless, doomed prospectus.

This president isn’t a politician. He’s a businessmen who’s been haplessly entangled in too much monkey business over the years. Nine years in prison for corruption on trumped-up charges? Perhaps they have never been fully, fairly investigated, but to too many Pakistanis he is Mr Ten Per Cent. He vows to fight against the Taliban and defend US interests, even when they include US special forces staging bloody raids inside Pakistan’s borders. He promises to put right a broken, increasingly beleaguered economy, and to spend another $15bn of American aid wisely and well. But what comes next will be failure, unpopularity and a new tide of sleaze allegations.

A year or two down the line, the men in braid will sense a familiar opportunity and mount another coup. Washington, glad to have the military back at the top, will find another $15bn. The army will buy more guns, and feed more of its private bank accounts. The looting of Pakistan’s hope and Pakistan’s future will proceed on schedule.

The twin supposed champions of democracy – Zardari and Nawaz Sharif – couldn’t have made a lousier fist of the past eight months: any sense of national interest was lost immediately in an orgy of squabbling. The governing party couldn’t have chosen a worse candidate for commander in chief (retaining most of Musharraf’s powers). And Nato’s American leadership, insisting increasingly shrilly that feebleness in Islamabad will give Waziristan’s cross-border invaders free rein in Afghanistan, couldn’t be hastening the demise of democracy more idiotically.

Zardari announced his arrival – to the Washington Post – as a warrior from Sind bent on destroying the ‘Lahore-Islamabad oligarchy’. The oligarchs scheduled for destruction are Sharif and a military top brass trapped between a new leadership they despise and a religious insurrection that is beginning to dismember the nation.

Yet the Taliban, whom the generals must defeat to get America’s billions, are much more than a gang of terrorist thugs. They are also a madcap reform movement of young men disgusted by corruption and the godless wheeler-dealers they think have drained the purity out of Jinnah’s ‘pure state’, and the success they’re experiencing in the borderlands and beyond shows that many ordinary Pakistanis agree with them. It’s a battle for hearts and minds and, on his record, Asif Ali Zardari is the predestined loser of last resort.

10-39

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