The Lost-Cause War in Afghanistan

Alexander Cockburn   March 12, 2012   creators.com

Americans have been expressing bafflement that there has not been more outrage in Afghanistan about the lethal rampage of a U.S. Sergeant who killed 16 Afghans, including nine children, in the early hours of March 11. As with the burning of the Qurans last month, the Pentagon has been groveling in contrition. The acting commander of the U.S.-led coalition, Lt. Gen. Adrian Bradshaw, expressed “deep regret and sorrow at this appalling incident. ‘I cannot explain the motivation behind such callous acts, but they were in no way part of authorized … military activity.'”

Afghans could be forgiven for suffering “massacre fatigue,” precisely because “authorized military activity” by U.S. troops and Special Forces in Afghanistan has long since degenerated into a lethal culture of assassination, “revenge” sorties, desecration of bodies, and the harvesting of trophies such as severed fingers, ears and the like. In the recent past, Afghans have also been able to study photographs of laughing American soldiers pissing on the bodies of dead Afghans.

Back in April of 2010, after furiously denying responsibility for the deaths of three Afghan women in a messed-up Special Forces night-time raid, the U.S. commander in Kabul admitted U.S. forces had indeed killed the women after first killing two civilians — a district prosecutor and local police chief. The self-styled American “kill team” shot two men to death as they emerged from their homes armed with Kalashnikov rifles, to investigate as the raid began.

A bit later, the same unit killed three women, from the same house. With equal vehemence, the U.S. military denied charges by Afghans of evidence tampering, but a Sunday Times of London report asserted that the Afghan investigators had concluded that American forces not only killed the women but had also “dug bullets out of their victims’ bodies in the bloody aftermath” and then “washed the wounds with alcohol, before lying to their superiors about what happened.”

Late last year, four soldiers from a Stryker brigade at the base were convicted of deliberately murdering Afghan civilians in a series of killing sprees and of collecting their body parts as trophies in the Maiwand district. They were sentenced to prison terms ranging between three years and life, though the ringleader, Calvin Gibbs will be eligible for parole in 10 years.

A year ago, NATO helicopter gunships killed nine young boys who were collecting firewood near their home in the northeastern province of Kunar. The boys were all between the ages of 9 and 15. The dead included two sets of brothers.

The one survivor of the attack was an 11-year-old boy named Hemad. He told The New York Times, “The helicopters hovered over us, scanned us and we saw a green flash from the helicopters. Then they flew back high up, and in a second round they hovered over us and started shooting.” The boy went on to say the helicopter gunships “shot the boys one after another.”

This came on the heels of accusations by an Afghan government team of investigators that NATO forces were killing large numbers of civilians in air strikes, one involving some 65 people, including 40 children.

For public consumption, U.S. strategy in Afghanistan has been “population-centric counterinsurgency,” or COIN, “winning hearts and minds,” slowly building up trust among suspicious Afghans, all part of the great project of nation building.

 The actual strategy was well described on March 3, 2011, on the Amy Goodman Show by journalist Rick Rowley who had spent months in the field in Afghanistan:

After the surge was bogged down and COIN was failing in both Marjah and Kandahar, the U.S. has turned to a firepower-intensive kind of combat. They’re resorting to air strikes. Night raids have risen to an astronomical level where there’s a thousand raids a month happening, up from 30 raids a month in 2008. Decades after Vietnam, one decade into this war, we’ve gone back to body counts as our only way of measuring any kind of progress in the war.” According to Rowley, “the covert, dark war has eclipsed completely the conventional war right now, that Special Forces is now killing and capturing, in completely covert, untransparent operations, more Taliban and Afghans than the entire conventional NATO force.

Throw into this mix obvious major deficiencies in leadership abilities by junior U.S. officers and you have the recipe for a constant diet of atrocities. As yet we are nowhere near the truth of what happened last Sunday. Was the unidentified killer actually acting alone or in concert with others in his unit? Some Afghan witnesses say there was more than one American soldier involved in the killing of the 16.

Throw into this mix the soaring death toll from drone strikes, both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s border region.

“There’s been real blowback from the burning of the Quran, but there has also been real blowback from the killings from continued drone strikes,” says Ann Wright, a former State Department diplomat and retired Army colonel who stood trial last month for protesting U.S. drone attacks.

Absurdly, the CIA claims that since May 2010, drones have killed more than 600 carefully selected human targets and not a single non-combatant. Recently, the British-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism concluded, after a long investigation, that this is nonsense. According to the Bureau, at least 45 civilians were killed in 10 drone strikes on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border region during this past year alone. Between 282 and 535 civilians, including 60 minors, have been credibly reported as killed as a result of drone strikes since U.S. President Barack Obama took office. At least 50 civilians have been killed in second-wave drone strikes — shot down as they were helping the wounded. More than 20 other civilians were killed in strikes on funerals.

The U.S. war in Afghanistan was lost a long time ago. Today, a U.S. soldier is unwise to turn his back for long on the Afghan he is supposedly assisting to nationhood. We can brace ourselves for more horror stories like the one that came to light last Sunday until NATO’s beaten armies clamber onto the planes and head for home.

Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book “Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils,” available through www.counterpunch.com. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2012 CREATORS.COM

Chomsky: Are We About to Get Embroiled in a Nightmare War With Iran?

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As tensions escalate, there are eerie echoes of the run-up to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Noam Chomsky   March 13, 2012   AlterNet 

The January/February issue of Foreign Affairs featured the article “Time to Attack Iran: Why a Strike Is the Least Bad Option,” by Matthew Kroenig, along with commentary about other ways to contain the Iranian threat.

The media resound with warnings about a likely Israeli attack on Iran while the U.S. hesitates, keeping open the option of aggression – thus again routinely violating the U.N. Charter, the foundation of international law.

As tensions escalate, eerie echoes of the run-up to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are in the air. Feverish U.S. primary campaign rhetoric adds to the drumbeat.

Concerns about “the imminent threat” of Iran are often attributed to the “international community” – code language for U.S. allies. The people of the world, however, tend to see matters rather differently.

The nonaligned countries, a movement with 120 member nations, has vigorously supported Iran’s right to enrich uranium – an opinion shared by the majority of Americans (as surveyed by WorldPublicOpinion.org) before the massive propaganda onslaught of the past two years.

China and Russia oppose U.S. policy on Iran, as does India, which announced that it would disregard U.S. sanctions and increase trade with Iran. Turkey has followed a similar course.

Europeans regard Israel as the greatest threat to world peace. In the Arab world, Iran is disliked but seen as a threat only by a very small minority. Rather, Israel and the U.S. are regarded as the pre-eminent threat. A majority think that the region would be more secure if Iran had nuclear weapons: In Egypt on the eve of the Arab Spring, 90 percent held this opinion, according to Brookings Institution/Zogby International polls.

Western commentary has made much of how the Arab dictators allegedly support the U.S. position on Iran, while ignoring the fact that the vast majority of the population opposes it – a stance too revealing to require comment.

Concerns about Israel’s nuclear arsenal have long been expressed by some observers in the United States as well. Gen. Lee Butler, former head of the U.S. Strategic Command, described Israel’s nuclear weapons as “dangerous in the extreme.” In a U.S. Army journal, Lt. Col. Warner Farr wrote that one “purpose of Israeli nuclear weapons, not often stated, but obvious, is their ‘use’ on the United States” – presumably to ensure consistent U.S. support for Israeli policies.

A prime concern right now is that Israel will seek to provoke some Iranian action that will incite a U.S. attack.

One of Israel’s leading strategic analysts, Zeev Maoz, in “Defending the Holy Land,” his comprehensive analysis of Israeli security and foreign policy, concludes that “the balance sheet of Israel’s nuclear policy is decidedly negative” – harmful to the state’s security. He urges instead that Israel should seek a regional agreement to ban weapons of mass destruction: a WMD-free zone, called for by a 1974 U.N. General Assembly resolution.

Meanwhile, the West’s sanctions on Iran are having their usual effect, causing shortages of basic food supplies – not for the ruling clerics but for the population. Small wonder that the sanctions are condemned by Iran’s courageous opposition.

The sanctions against Iran may have the same effect as their predecessors against Iraq, which were condemned as “genocidal” by the respected U.N. diplomats who administered them before finally resigning in protest.

The Iraq sanctions devastated the population and strengthened Saddam Hussein, probably saving him from the fate of a rogues’ gallery of other tyrants supported by the U.S.-U.K. – tyrants who prospered virtually to the day when various internal revolts overthrew them.

There is little credible discussion of just what constitutes the Iranian threat, though we do have an authoritative answer, provided by U.S. military and intelligence. Their presentations to Congress make it clear that Iran doesn’t pose a military threat.

Iran has very limited capacity to deploy force, and its strategic doctrine is defensive, designed to deter invasion long enough for diplomacy to take effect. If Iran is developing nuclear weapons (which is still undetermined), that would be part of its deterrent strategy.

The understanding of serious Israeli and U.S. analysts is expressed clearly by 30-year CIA veteran Bruce Riedel, who said in January, “If I was an Iranian national security planner, I would want nuclear weapons” as a deterrent.

An additional charge the West levels against Iran is that it is seeking to expand its influence in neighboring countries attacked and occupied by the U.S. and Britain, and is supporting resistance to the U.S.-backed Israeli aggression in Lebanon and illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. Like its deterrence of possible violence by Western countries, Iran’s actions are said to be intolerable threats to “global order.”

Global opinion agrees with Maoz. Support is overwhelming for a WMDFZ in the Middle East; this zone would include Iran, Israel and preferably the other two nuclear powers that have refused to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: India and Pakistan, who, along with Israel, developed their programs with U.S. aid.

Support for this policy at the NPT Review Conference in May 2010 was so strong that Washington was forced to agree formally, but with conditions: The zone could not take effect until a comprehensive peace settlement between Israel and its Arab neighbors was in place; Israel’s nuclear weapons programs must be exempted from international inspection; and no country (meaning the U.S.) must be obliged to provide information about “Israeli nuclear facilities and activities, including information pertaining to previous nuclear transfers to Israel.”

The 2010 conference called for a session in May 2012 to move toward establishing a WMDFZ in the Middle East.

With all the furor about Iran, however, there is scant attention to that option, which would be the most constructive way of dealing with the nuclear threats in the region: for the “international community,” the threat that Iran might gain nuclear capability; for most of the world, the threat posed by the only state in the region with nuclear weapons and a long record of aggression, and its superpower patron.

One can find no mention at all of the fact that the U.S. and Britain have a unique responsibility to dedicate their efforts to this goal. In seeking to provide a thin legal cover for their invasion of Iraq, they invoked U.N. Security Council Resolution 687 (1991), which they claimed Iraq was violating by developing WMD.

We may ignore the claim, but not the fact that the resolution explicitly commits signers to establishing a WMDFZ in the Middle East.

(Noam Chomsky’s new book is Making the Future: Occupations, Interventions, Empire and Resistance, a collection of his columns for The New York Times Syndicate. Chomsky is emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.)

© 2012 Noam Chomsky

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