Obama’s AfPak War: “It’s the Mission, Creep”

November 1, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Steve Weissman, Truthout

Dick Cheney and his neoconservative fringe are showing true gall and no grit in accusing President Obama of “dithering” and “waffling” on Afghanistan. They are, after all, the deep thinkers who rushed the Bush administration into Iraq, which diverted troops and other resources from their earlier mission to defeat the Afghan Taliban and catch or kill Osama bin Laden. Still, the shameless critics raise an intriguing question. Why has the president taken so much time to announce how many more troops he will send?

No doubt, Obama wanted to get his Afghanistan policy right, as White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told Mr. Cheney, who had gotten it so very wrong. Time also let the president hear from all sides on the issue, making everyone more inclined to fall in line behind whatever decision he finally made.

When Gen. Stanley McChrystal went public with his troop demands for as many as 80,000 more soldiers, Obama used the delay to make clear to the brass that he would not let them sandbag him. Keeping the American military under civilian control or field testing the Pentagon’s latest counterinsurgency doctrine against the Afghan Taliban – which do you think makes more difference to our country’s future?

After election observers revealed the extent of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s vote fraud, Obama used further delay to help force Karzai to accept a run-off and possibly a coalition government with his runner-up and former foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.

But, as we shall soon see, Obama’s deliberations did not do the one thing that many of us who supported him most wanted him to do. He did not find a way to justify his Nobel Peace Prize by bringing American troops home from “the graveyard of empires.”

How can we know before Obama announces his decision? The tea leaves are all too clear – and all too terrifying.

If Obama intended to pare down his commitment to military force in Afghanistan, trial balloons would have flown by now and presidential surrogates would have filled air waves and newsprint with arguments for putting our limited military resources where America’s vital interests were more at stake.

Instead, the White House stressed early in the deliberations that “leaving Afghanistan isn’t an option” while Defense Secretary Robert Gates has pointedly redefined the U.S. mission in a greatly expanded AfPak War.

“We’re not leaving Afghanistan,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “There should be no uncertainty in terms of our determination to remain in Afghanistan and to continue to build a relationship of partnership and trust with the Pakistanis. That’s long term. That’s a strategic objective of the United States.”

“The clear path forward is for us to underscore to the Pakistanis that we’re not going to turn our back on them as we did before.”

As for our previous mission against al-Qaeda, Gates added a new twist. A Taliban victory in Afghanistan would give Islamist radicals “added space.” But more important, it would give them their second victory against a superpower, which would greatly boost their morale and ability to recruit.

Gates is no fool and his arguments make superficial sense, which is why the neocons have rushed to embrace them. But, on closer scrutiny, the new mission looks far more dangerous than the old one that Dick Cheney botched so badly.

While the Pakistanis need reassuring, Washington cannot stop them from supporting Taliban and other Islamist groups in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. They use the militants against their primary rival, India, especially in disputed Kashmir. Team Obama can help cool down the rivalry, but they cannot make it go away.

Worse, an American escalation in Afghanistan will almost certainly send Pashtun insurgents flooding into Pakistan, as Senator Russ Feingold has warned. This would move the Pakistanis even further into a destabilizing civil war.

And worse still, an escalation will turn a local Pashtun insurgency into an ideological conflict that will attract Islamist fighters from all over the world, just as did the American-backed jihad against the Soviet Union.

So, for President Obama, it comes down to balancing relative horrors. Which will prove a stronger recruiting tool for al-Qaeda – claiming a victory over the United States or offering the chance to fight in a real war against the Western Crusaders?

As I’m afraid we’re about to learn, Obama will move us closer to an AfPak War, which could well rejuvenate an otherwise declining Islamist radicalism.

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UN: Make Israel War Crime Trial

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem

Report also censures Hamas but accuses Israelis of punishing entire population of the Palestinian Strip

Israel targeted “the people of Gaza as a whole” in the three-week military operation which is estimated to have killed more than 1,300 Palestinians at the beginning of this year, according to a UN-commissioned report published yesterday.

A UN fact-finding mission led by the South African judge Richard Goldstone said Israel should face prosecution by the International Criminal Court unless it opened independent investigations of what the report said were repeated violations of international law, “possible war crimes and crimes against humanity” during the operation.

Using by far the strongest language of any of the numerous reports criticizing Operation Cast Lead, the UN mission, which interviewed victims, witnesses and others in Gaza and Geneva this summer, says that, while Israel had portrayed the war as self-defense in response to Hamas rocket attacks, it “considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: the people of Gaza as a whole.

“In this respect the operations were in furtherance of an overall policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population for its resilience and for its apparent support for Hamas, and possibly with the intent of forcing a change in such support,” the report said.

The 575-page document presented to yesterday’s session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva was swiftly denounced by Israel. The foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the UN mission had “dealt a huge blow to governments seeking to defend their citizens from terror”, and that its conclusions were “so disconnected with realities on the ground that one cannot but wonder on which planet was the Gaza Strip they visited”.

The Gaza war began on 27 December 2008 and ended on 18 January 2009.

The UN report found that the statements of military and political leaders in Israel before and during the operation indicated that they intended the use of “disproportionate force”, aimed not only at the enemy but also at the “supporting infrastructure”. The mission adds: “In practice this appears to have meant the civilian population.”

The mission also had harsh conclusions about Hamas and other armed groups, acknowledging that rocket and mortar attacks have caused terror in southern Israel, and saying that, where such attacks were launched into civilians areas, they would “constitute war crimes” and “may amount to crimes against humanity”.

It also condemned the extrajudicial killings, detention and ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees by the Hamas regime in Gaza – as well as by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank – and called for the release on humanitarian grounds of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli corporal abducted by Gaza militants in June 2006.

While the Israeli government refused to co-operate with the inquiry – or allow the UN team into Israel – on the ground that the team would be”one-sided”, Corporal Shalit’s father, Noam, was among those Israeli citizens who flew to Geneva to give evidence.

That said, the greater part of the report – and its strongest language – is reserved for Israel’s conduct during the operation. Apart from the unprecedented death toll, the report says that “the destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a systematic policy by the Israeli armed forces”. The purpose was not to avert a military threat, but “to make the daily process of living and dignified living more difficult for the civilian population”.

The report also says that vandalism of houses by some soldiers and “the graffiti on the walls, the obscenities and often racist slogans constituted an overall image of humiliation and dehumanization of the Palestinian population”.

Amid a detailed examination of most of the major incidents of the war – albeit one carried out five months after it took place – it says that:

* The first bombing attack on Day One of the operation, when children were going home from school, “appears to have been calculated to cause the greatest disruption and widespread panic”.

* The firing of white phosphorus shells at the UN Relief and Works Agency compound was “compounded by reckless regard of the consequences”, and the use of high explosive artillery at the al-Quds hospitals were violations of Articles 18 and 19 of the Geneva Convention. It says that warnings issued by Israel to the civilian population “cannot be considered as sufficiently effective” under the convention.

* On the attack in the vicinity of the al-Fakhoura school where at least 35 Palestinians were killed, Israeli forces launched an attack where a “reasonable commander” would have considered military advantage was outweighed by the risk to civilian life. Under Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the civilians had their right to life forfeited. And while some of the 99 policemen killed in incidents surveyed by the team may have been members of armed groups, others who were not also had their right to life violated.

* The inquiry team also says that a number of Palestinians were used as human shields – itself a violation of the ICCPR – including Majdi Abed Rabbo, whose complaints about being so used were first aired in The Independent. The report asserts that the use of human shields constitutes a “war crime under the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court”.

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Afghan War Could Last ‘For Decades’:

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

We underestimated the Taliban, says Minister

By Kirsty Walker

The Taliban were underestimated by the nations fighting them in Afghanistan, the Defense Minister admitted yesterday.

Bill Rammell said the ‘challenge from insurgents in Helmand province is greater than we anticipated’.

His comments came after Britain’s most senior diplomat warned UK troops could be stuck fighting in Afghanistan for ‘decades’.

Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the ambassador to Washington, warned Britain faced a ‘long-term commitment’ in the country.

Sir Nigel’s bleak assessment came after the bloodiest month of fighting, during which 22 British troops were killed.

His warning that the campaign could drag on for ‘decades’ is the longest timetable ever given by a senior British figure.

In an interview with The Boston Globe, Sir Nigel said: ‘We’re going to have a very long-term commitment to Afghanistan’s future. This is not just one year.

‘This is going to be for decades. We’re going to help them get to a state which can they can ward off the return of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.’

Sir Nigel’s comments came amid mounting speculation that Britain is going to be asked to send an extra 2,000 troops. U.S. General Stanley

McChrystal, who is conducting a review mission there, is reported to want the Afghan army and police increased from 150,000 to around 400,000  -  which would require an extra 12,000 military trainers.

But a hard-hitting report by MPs yesterday warned that troops in Afghanistan are suffering from ‘mission creep’.

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee said the armed forces had been burdened with an ever-growing list of responsibilities since 2001.

It warned soldiers should be concentrating on protecting security rather than tackling drugs or bolstering human rights and state-building.

The MPs said bad planning by the Government and a lack of direction meant the mission – which has cost 191 British lives – has been undermined.

Mr Rammell dismissed the criticism. The Defense Minister said: ‘We are focused on security and I think, with respect, the Foreign Affairs Committee is a bit behind the game.’

However, he added: ‘I will acknowledge that the scale of the challenge from insurgents in Helmand province is greater than we anticipated. We are responding to that.’

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