Earlier this week the NY Times had this story on the expansion of CIA paramilitary teams in Afghanistan. This is my response, in interviews with KPFK and KPFA, and published in CounterPunch and AntiWar.com.
“These CIA teams in Afghanistan are not just reminiscent of the Operation Phoenix program in Vietnam, the death squads of Central America and the Shia torture and murder militias of Baghdad, they are the direct descendants of them. The CIA is continuing a long tradition of utilizing savage violence by indigenous government forces, in this case along sectarian/ethnic lines, in an attempt to demoralize and ultimately defeat local populations.
The results will assuredly be the same: war crimes, mass murder, torture and the terrorization of entire communities of men, women and children in their own homes. This will lead to more support for the Taliban and a deepening of the war in Afghanistan. The CIA should ask itself, where has this worked before?
This escalation by the CIA in Afghanistan fits into the broader war campaign of the United States in the Muslim world as the United States, despite its protestations of wanting negotiations and ultimately peace, turns areas not under the control of its proxy government into large swathes of free fire zones as it punishes and attempts to subjugate populations not under its control.
Iraq’s campaign in the Euphrates and Tigris River valleys, the Kurdish campaign in western Syria and the Saudi and UAE campaign against the Houtis in Yemen have been devastating and vicious assaults on populations, critical infrastructure and housing, that coupled with nighttime commando raids that terrorize entire villages and neighborhoods, look not to bring a political settlement, reconciliation or peace, but rather subjugate, along ethnic and sectarian lines, entire population groups to achieve American political desires in the Muslim world.
This CIA program of using Afghan militias to conduct commando raids, the vast majority of which will be used against civilians despite what the CIA states, falls in line with American plans to escalate the use of air and artillery strikes against the Afghan people in Taliban-held areas, almost all of whom are Pashtuns.
Again, the purpose of this campaign is not to achieve a political settlement or reconciliation, but to brutally subjugate and punish the people, mostly rural Pashtuns, who support the Taliban and will not give in to the corrupt American run government in Kabul.”
This was published in Common Dreams last week.
Bowe Bergdahl: Traitor to American Exceptionalism and White Supremacy
“There is no forgiveness in this loudly and righteously proclaimed Christian nation, only the scapegoating of a young man and his family for the failures of immoral and unwinnable wars.”
Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s guilty plea begins the end of this phase of an embarrassing, sad and morally absurd saga of American history. Sergeant Bergdahl, who was dismissed from the Coast Guard because of mental illness, recruited into the Army in spite of such issues, and then sent to the frontlines of Afghanistan where he walked away from his base and was captured, kept as a prisoner, and tortured by the Taliban for nearly five years, has been offered almost no compassion, sympathy or forgiveness by large swaths of the American public, political classes, veterans and the media.
The shameful blood-crazed calls for vengeance against Sergeant Bergdahl, screamed across Fox News, talk radio and Twitter, by millions of Right Wing Americans have begun again today with Sergeant Bergdahl’s guilty plea. Despite an army investigation finding no Americans were killed by Sergeant Bergdahl’s departure of his unit; despite the Pentagon admitting it was known that Sergeant Bergdahl was in Pakistan within a few days of his capture, thus negating the validity of the Right Wing talking points of continuous search missions for Sergeant Bergdahl that jeopardized American lives; despite the general who led the investigation of Sergeant Bergdahl’s disappearance stating Sergeant Bergdahl should not be punished and the colonel who led the Army’s version of a grand jury trial recommending the same; despite the United States military’s top prisoner of war expert testifying that Sergeant Bergdahl endured more torture at the hands of the Taliban than any American prisoner of war has endured since the Vietnam War, undoubtedly due to his multiple escape attempts and unwillingness to cooperate with his kidnappers; and despite repeated calls made by President Trump for Sergeant Bergdahl to be executed, as well as calls for retaliation against the military if Sergeant Bergdahl is not sent to jail by Senator John McCain, clear and blatant forms of wrongful and illegal command influence prohibited by military law against a defendant, Sergeant Bergdahl finds himself today having entered a guilty plea and putting himself at the mercy of a US Army judge.
In time, Sergeant Bergdahl may become just a footnote to America’s wars in the Muslim world, wars that have killed well over a million people since 2001, but his individual story relays the fundamental truths of these American wars against Sunnis and Shias, and Arabs, Africans and Pashtuns, (nearly all the people we have killed, maimed and made homeless have been Muslim and dark skinned) that there is no logic to our violence, only the unending and insatiable requirement for more war and more destruction, and there is no forgiveness in this loudly and righteously proclaimed Christian nation, only the scapegoating of a young man and his family for the failures of immoral and unwinnable wars on the murderous altar of the twin godheads of American Exceptionalism and White Supremacy. Sergeant Berghdal’s story does not just inform us of the madness of our wars overseas, but highlights our wars here at home; for our wars abroad come from the same root causes as our wars at home.
It was Sergeant Bergdahl’s parents standing outside the White House with President Obama that began the rage against him and his family. This was the treason that so angered and upset the white conservative audiences of Megyn Kelly and Rush Limbaugh. Sergeant Bergdahl’s white parents standing at the White House with that black president and thanking him for freeing their son began the scorn, the vitriol and the outrage against Sergeant Bergdahl, his mother and his father. The audacity of Jani and Bob Bergdahl, released themselves from the captivity of the unimaginable nightmare of the imprisonment and torture of their son for five years by the Taliban, to stand with Barack Hussein Obama and to give him thanks was a betrayal to the usurped, rightful and white structures that underlie so many white Americans understanding of United States history and society.
The grand mythology of American militarism, a key pillar of both American Exceptionalism and White Supremacy, does not allow for figures such as Sergeant Bergdahl. The greatest military in the history of the world is a required statement of faith for all American politicians and public persons, even though the American military has not achieved victory in war in over seventy years, so an explanation of collusion and cooperation with anti-American and anti-white forces is necessary to provide the causation of such an undermining. Of course, once Bob and Jani Bergdahl stood with President Obama, the racially fueled reactionary political anger appeared in Facebook posts and twitter rants and the lies needed to sustain that anger and turn it into a useful political tool arrived: Sergeant Bergdahl attempted to join the Taliban, Sergeant Bergdahl gave information to the enemy, Sergeant Bergdahl got Americans killed, Sergeant Bergdahl had anti-American beliefs, Sergeant Bergdahl’s father is a Muslim…all claims that were untrue and disproved over time, but such a straightening of facts is almost always inconsequential to those whose identity is an abominable mix of race, right wing politics and nationalism. People of such a type as those who believe Jesus is ok with them carrying handguns into church, demand that Santa Claus can only be white, and that the Confederate flag is a symbol of a proud heritage, have little time or consideration for the particulars of anything that triggers the base tribalism that dominates and informs their lives.
The fundamental aspects of Sergeant Bergdahl’s disappearance were well known and documented years prior to that White House announcement of his release. Veterans organizations called for his rescue and return at rallies and Republican senators enacted legislation to help release him . “Bring Him Home” and “No Man Left Behind” were echoed repeatedly by Republican politicians and pundits, and even Ronald Reagan’s most famed acolyte and Fox News hero, Oliver North, wore a Bowe Bergdahl POW bracelet. However, to be white and to stand tearfully and gratefully alongside that black president is unconscionable and unforgivable to many “true Americans” and so the parents’ sins became the son’s and Sergeant Bergdahl’s treason was a dog whistle to those who believe anti-whiteness and anti-Americanism are inseparable.
For the man who used race so overtly and effectively to become President of the United States, calling during his campaign for a traitor like Sergeant Bergdahl to face the firing squad, or be thrown out of a plane without a parachute, was a rudimentary requirement in order to Make America Great Again. Even General James Mattis, who hung outside his office a horseshoe that had belonged to Sergeant Bergdahl and had been given to the general by the sergeant’s father, understands the political importance of Bergdahl’s treason. General Mattis who previously had supported the soldier and given great comfort to the family, now, as Secretary of Defense, is silent. I believe Secretary Mattis to have higher ambitions than simply running the Pentagon and keeping that white base of support in his favor is not anything such a savvy and cunning careerist, such as James Mattis, would imperil.
We will soon know what, if any punishment Sergeant Bergdahl is to receive. Hopefully, he and his family will be spared further pain and they can begin rebuilding lives that were shattered by the unending war in Afghanistan and then shattered again by the race-fueled partisan politics of the unending war against people of color in the United States. For Bowe Bergdahl, a young man who never should have been inducted into the Army to begin with, his suffering is testament to the viciousness, callousness and hate that dominates American actions both at home and abroad. We deserve no forgiveness for what has been done, and may still be done, to him and his family.
In anticipation of President Trump’s announcement this evening on Afghanistan I had the following essay published on Counterpunch:
“There has never been progress by the U.S. military in Afghanistan, unless you are asking the U.S. military contractors or the Afghan drug barons, of whom an extremely large share are our allies in the Afghan government, militias and security forces, there has only been suffering and destruction. American politicians, pundits and generals will speak about “progress” made by the 70,000 American troops put into Afghanistan by President Obama beginning in 2009, along with an additional 30,000 European troops and 100,000 private contractors, however the hard and awful true reality is that the war in Afghanistan has only escalated since 2009, never stabilizing or deescalating; the Taliban has increased in strength by tens of thousands, despite tens of thousands of casualties and prisoners; and American and Afghan casualties have continued to grow every year of the conflict, with U.S. casualties declining only when U.S. forces began to withdraw in mass numbers from parts of Afghanistan in 2011, while Afghan security forces and civilians have experienced record casualties every year since those numbers began to be kept by the UN.
Similarly, any progress in reconstructing or developing Afghanistan has been found to be near non-existent despite the more than $100 billion spent by the United States on such efforts by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR). $100 billion, by the way, is more money than was spent on the Marshall Plan when that post-WWII reconstruction plan is put into inflation adjusted dollars. Oft repeated claims, such as millions of Afghan school girls going to school, millions of Afghans having access to improved health care and Afghan life expectancy dramatically increasing, and the construction of an Afghan job building economy have been exposed as nothing more than public relations lies. Displayed as modern Potemkin Villages to visiting journalists and congressional delegations and utilized to justify continued budgets for the Pentagon and USAID, and, so, to allow for more killing, like America’s reconstruction program in Iraq, the reconstruction program in Afghanistan has proven to be a failure and its supposed achievements shown to be virtually non-existent, as documented by multiple investigations by SIGAR, as well as by investigators and researchers from organizations such as the UN, EU, IMF, World Bank, etc.
Tonight, the American people will hear again the great lie about the progress the American military once made in Afghanistan after “the Afghan Surge”, just as we often hear the lie about how the American military had “won” in Iraq. In Iraq it was a political compromise that brought about a cessation of hostilities for a few short years and it was the collapse of the political balance that had been struck that led to the return to the violence of the last several years. In Afghanistan there has never even been an attempt at such a political solution and all the Afghan people have seen in the last eight years, every year, has been a worsening of the violence.
Americans will also hear tonight how the U.S. military has done great things for the Afghan people. You would be hard pressed to find many Afghans outside of the incredibly corrupt and illegitimate government, a better definition of a kleptocracy you will not find, that the U.S. keeps in power with its soldiers and $35 billion a year, who would agree with the statements of the American politicians, the American generals and the pundits, the latter of which are mostly funded, directly or indirectly, by the military companies. It is important to remember that for three straight elections in Afghanistan the United States government has supported shockingly fraudulent elections, allowing American soldiers to kill and die while presidential and parliamentary elections were brazenly stolen. It is also important to remember that many members of the Afghan government are themselves warlords and drug barons, many of them guilty of some of the worst human rights abuses and war crimes, the same abuses of which the Taliban are guilty, while the current Ghani government, and the previous Karzai government, have allowed egregious crimes to continue against women, including laws that allow men to legally rape their wives.
Whatever President Trump announces tonight about Afghanistan, a decision he teased on Twitter, as if the announcement were a new retail product launch or television show episode, as opposed to the somber and painful reality of war, we can be assured the lies about American progress in Afghanistan will continue, the lies about America’s commitment to human rights and democratic values will continue, the profits of the military companies and drug barons will also continue, and of course the suffering of the Afghan people will surely continue.”
Recently, I’ve also done two interviews on Afghanistan:
Finally, at the very end of this post you will find my first contribution to Will Griffin’s The Peace Report. Will’s Peace Report now has nearly 90,000 followers on Facebook!
Last Friday, I was invited by Maggie Martin, the co-director of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), to head to Charlottesville, VA to link up with Maggie, other IVAW members, The Ruckus Society and local Charlottesville organizers and residents as they met up with students from Howard University. The students from Howard University, about fifty young men and women, nearly all African-Americans, traveled down from Washington, DC to pay their respects to the city of Charlottesville, and to Heather Heyer and the many people who were injured in the violence of the previous week. IVAW members and local Charlottesville residents, all of whom were white, were asked to walk in solidarity with the students, and to escort them, as the fear of the students being harassed or attacked was an honest and present reality. We were honored to do so, and together, as a group, I really do feel that we all waged a bit of Peace together last Friday in Charlottesville.
I took some video for Will and he put together a short film to highlight the students from Howard University as they visited Charlottesville, the site of the attack, and the renamed Heather Heyer Park.
Here’s a link to the video on Facebook and here it is on Youtube:
Just a short post with links to interviews I did on the war in Afghanistan with The Real News Network and on the occupation in Palestine with Scott Horton. The transcript for the interview with TRNN is included at the bottom of this post. Also, the trailer for the documentary feature on the Veterans For Peace delegation to the popular resistance in Palestine is pasted below, please give it a watch. Wage Peace!
5/3/17 – Matthew Hoh, a military veteran and diplomat who resigned his State Department post in protest of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, says the 16-year Afghan war won’t end until the U.S. drops its strategy of sporadic escalation and insistence on Taliban surrender, with Afghan civilians suffering the worst consequences – TRRN
Scott Horton interview:
Matthew Hoh, a Marine veteran and former State Department official, discusses his recent activism on Palestinian rights issues; the common myths recited to Americans to keep them from learning the truth about Israeli apartheid; the new generation of Palestinian and American non-violent activist leaders; and why Gaza is shaping up to be one of history’s greatest human catastrophes.
Finally, here is the trailer for the documentary film Chris Smiley is producing on the recent Veterans For Peace delegation to the Palestinian popular resistance to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank:
Transcript for TRNN interview on Afghanistan:
Aaron Maté: It’s “The Real News,” I’m Aaron Maté. The 16-year war in Afghanistan is deadlier than ever. A new US government report says, “Last year was the worst so far for Afghan civilians and soldiers. A recent Taliban attack killed more than 160 Afghan recruits and the violence could grow as the spring fighting season begins. In a recent visit, Defense Secretary, James Mattis, said he expects a tough year ahead.James Mattis: And I’d say that we’re under no illusions about the challenges associated with this mission. 2017’s going to be another tough year for the valiant Afghan security forces and the international troops who have stood and will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with Afghanistan against terrorism.Aaron Maté: The White House is now considering a request for more US troops. At a hearing earlier this year, the US commander in Afghanistan, said he needs several more thousand.John McCain: How many more do you need to get this stalemate reversed?General Nicholson: Mr. Chairman, I have adequate resourcing in my counter terrorism mission. In my train, advise and assist mission however, we have a shortfall of a few thousand.Aaron Maté: So with the potential of more US forces, what is next for this never-ending war? Well joining us is Matthew Hoh. He served as a Marine in the Iraq war and later resigned from the State Department in Afghanistan in protest of US policy there. He is now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. Matthew, welcome.
Matthew Hoh: Hello and thank you for having me on.
Aaron Maté: Thanks for joining us. So talk to us about what is now being considered. There’s about 9000 US forces on the ground in Afghanistan right now. The White House is considering adding what is said to be a few thousand more. What do you make right now of the current US strategy?
Matthew Hoh: The policy and the rhetoric for the Americans in Afghanistan have remained the same. Basically, since the Americans and NATO have started the military escalation of the war, which predates the Obama escalation. I mean, this goes back to the NATO escalation in Afghanistan, which begins about 2005, 2006, which if people remember, is when President Karzai was being criticized for being only the mayor of Kabul and for the humanitarian interventionists out there are the folks in the western part of the world who wanted to see democracy flourish, who felt that we had to prove that the Western way was the right way, that couldn’t be allowed.So what you had in 2005 was this escalation of the NATO presence in Afghanistan and that’s when you really start to see the insurgency start to re-flourish the Taliban, rather than reentering forcibly into Afghanistan in many cases being pulled back into Afghanistan. And so, much of what we’re seeing Aaron is the same rhetoric, the same policies, the same type of things we’ve seen over and over again on the American side, on the NATO side of, “We’re going to send in more troops, more money, we’re going to help the Afghans build, we’re going to help them stand up,” but the reality is, is that we’re just fueling the same type of corruption. We’re keeping the same warlords and drug lords in place and we’re seeing the conflict continue to grow because all we’re doing is continuing the bloodshed.
Aaron Maté: Okay Matthew, so if the US wanted to seriously change course, what would some tangible options be? There have been some fitful attempts at something resembling a peace process, including negotiations with the Taliban, or indirect negotiations, but those never seem to pan out. And part of the conventional thinking on that is that the Taliban isn’t seriously interested in an accommodation because they are doing well.
Matthew Hoh: Well that’s been a complete and total lie on behalf of the American government and I think that’s very clear now in late … I mean that’s part of the reason why I resigned. I mean, my story is a minor story. I was a US State Department officer in Afghanistan, I was a mid-level one but part of my … When we were approached by Taliban surrogates my instructions from the embassy was, “Do not talk to them. Negotiation is not what we’re here for.” It is now certainly clear that what General Petraeus did in Iraq say, was not to negotiate peace in Iraq, was negotiate an exit for the Americans in Iraq, was to negotiate a retreat. A way to get President Bush right out of Iraq. The same thing is true for what he did for McChrystal, was going to do for President Obama in Afghanistan; escalate the war, make it look good enough for the Americans to withdraw and then blame it on the Afghans that they couldn’t handle it. Same with the Iraqis. In our case, was there was no interest in negotiations on the Americans’ part and this has been shown over and over again. If you look at various press from the Middle East from Western Central Asia, you can see that throughout 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, there were overtures. 2011 even. There were overtures by the insurgency to negotiate. The American media, unfortunately, never really picked up on this. Most importantly though, and there are other figures too who were commenting on this from the United Nations. Sherard Cowper-Coles, who was the UK and the NATO senior diplomat in Afghanistan has spoken about this, a complete absence, a complete lack of desire on the part of the Americans for anything resembling peace, only wanting victory, only wanting a military win in Afghanistan, only demanding surrender from the insurgency. But most importantly, most recently, at the end of 2016 the New York Times reported on the Norwegian attempts to negotiate a peaceful end to the war in Afghanistan. It lasted for three years, from 2007 up until 2011 when the United States put 100,000 more American troops into Afghanistan and escalated the war dramatically. Said, “We’re not going to negotiate. We’re going to beat you. We’re going to force you to surrender.” The Norwegians actually met with Mullah Omar. Up until last year there was no indication that no Western or no non-Muslim had ever met with Mullah Omar. Now we learn that Norwegians had actually met with him to discuss peace in the years up to the American escalation of the war and Americans had no interest. My government, your government, our government … had no interest in talking about peace in Afghanistan. We only wanted a military victory.
Aaron Maté: Is the current approach of relying so heavily on the Afghan forces to fight the Taliban, is that sustainable? Because already in the first six weeks of this year, according to that report that we talked about, more than 800 Afghan forces have been killed and every year about one third of the Afghan military and police desert their post, which is a dynamic very similar to what happened in Iraq before the time that Isis took over control of towns like Ramadi and Mosul. They would do so in part because the Iraqi military just fled.Matthew Hoh: I think it’s sustainable as long as the American Congress continue to spend three and a half, four billion dollars a year propping up the Afghan military, that’s what we’re doing right now. So as long as we continue to do that, it’s sustainable because the Afghan economy has nothing else. There is nothing else in the Afghan economy. Of course, with the exception of the Afghan drug trade, with the exception of the opium trade. So as long as that’s continuing, there will be people who are desperate enough to go into the military or into the police services or into the intelligence services but as you said Aaron, 1/3 of them are getting into it and realizing that, one, “I don’t want to die for this.” But there’s another part of why they’re also leaving. Part of it is, “I don’t want to die for this, it’s not worth it.” The other part is what they’re seeing. What they’re seeing is obscene.One of the reports that came out recently from the United Nations is the prevalence of torture that is used by the Afghan security forces across the board, whether it be the Afghan army, the Afghan intelligence or the Afghan police forces, torture is so widespread in use by the Afghan security forces. It is used by every branch of the Afghan security forces and it is used on a common and routine basis. Anywhere from 25 to 50% of detainees are reporting torture being used against them by various branches of the Afghan security forces. So many of these recruits, many of these Afghan recruits who are entering and then leaving the Afghan security forces, certainly are doing it because they say, “Hey, I don’t want to die for this corruption. I don’t want to die for these drug lords and warlords ultimately who I’m working for on behalf of the Afghan army.” But a lot of them are also leaving Aaron, I believe, because of what they’re seeing.
Aaron Maté: Finally Matthew Hoh, Pakistan, Afghanistan’s neighbor. Can you talk about this strange dynamic we have where there are elements of the Pakistani government that support the Taliban inside Afghanistan but at the same time, Pakistani military getting huge amounts of support and aid from the US every single year. So can there be a solution to the Afghan war without a serious change in policy inside Pakistan?
Matthew Hoh: Well none of these wars. Whether they be in Asia or Africa or the Middle East or the Americas or wherever will stop until the Western world, in particular the United States, as well as Russia, stops exporting arms as well as stops funneling money into these conflicts. Pakistan, this is probably maybe one of the heights of absurdity and the heights of obscenity, because we do. We don’t have as many troops in Afghanistan as we once did and we’re certainly not taking a little [inaudible 00:10:38] as we once did, but we did for many years. We were having our young men and women being killed by the people who were being funded and trained by the military that we were giving billions of dollars in assistance and aid and intelligence and support and who are generals were going out for cocktails with them, Washington DC, with their generals and above the surface there was some cat-fighting going on and maybe when Admiral Mullen left office he said some nastiest things about the Pakistanis but for the most part, they got along. But yes, there is this very real and the word “obscene” keeps coming to mind because I’m not sure how to describe it, but that is what we’re dealing here with Aaron. We’re dealing with this conflagration, this unholy mixture of the arms industry, of these politicians, of these generals, who are willing to trade various interests in order to get their way, in order to see their career ambitions fulfilled, in order to see the maps on the board colored the way they want. And so if that means young men and women from Florida, Arkansas get killed in a country 9000 miles away by a bomb-maker who was trained by an intelligence operative who is funded by money appropriated by the U.S. Congress, but if that means that that country is then going to buy our F-16s, then so be it. Because they’re not going to buy, you know, MiG-31s from the Russian then. I mean this is the reality of what happens in Washington DC.
Aaron Maté: Matthew Hoh, former US Marine and State Department official, now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. Matthew, thanks.
Matthew Hoh: Thank you Aaron.
Aaron Maté: And thank you for joining us on “The Real News.”END
Following the news the US would be expanding airstrikes in Afghanistan I was interviewed by Charles Davis of Telesur. Charles’ article, which puts my comments into excellent context can be found here, while my full answers to Charles’ questions are below.
Are airstrikes likely to have a tangible impact?
-The renewed airstrikes against the Taliban in Afghanistan will have the same effect as the thousands and thousands of previous airstrikes we have conducted against the Afghan insurgency. American airstrikes will make for triumphant press releases from the US military in Kabul, and it will kill many Taliban fighters, and also many civilians, but, strategically and long term, the airstrikes will not significantly weaken the Taliban, and, very likely, may strengthen them by providing more public support due to the civilian casualties the air strikes will cause. Under General Petraeus, starting in 2010, the US initiated scores of airstrikes, as well as dozens of nighttime commando raids, daily against Afghan insurgent targets. Many of these strikes hit legitimate targets, but many more of them hit civilians. The surge in the increase of public support for the Taliban in the areas of the air and commando strikes is undeniable. Similarly, this surge in American attacks only saw an increase in Taliban attacks. Rather than weakening the Taliban, the Taliban’s ability to fight, judged by nearly all indicators (number of Americans killed and wounded, number of assassinations, number of IEDs, etc) increased, year by year. There should be no doubt as to the effectiveness of American air power against the Afghan insurgency in the achievement of strategic and political goals in Afghanistan: at best there is no evidence the air strikes had a positive strategic effect pursuant to American goals, except to provide political cover for the American withdrawal; and at worst the evidence is that the airstrikes were entirely counter-productive. In Afghanistan, during our nearly 15 year occupation, there has been no reliable, non-corrupt, non-predatory, local Afghan forces that have been able to hold ground against the Afghan insurgency, let alone claim the support of the Afghan population, primarily Pashtun, in the East and South of Afghanistan. Without a militarily capable and locally endorsed Afghan ground force, no amount of American air power will be successful.
In concert with local proxy forces they appear to be helping reduce ISIS’s hold on land in Iraq and Syria… does that mean they could work against the Taliban?
-In Iraq and Syria US airstrikes have had a role in pushing back the Islamic State and its allied Sunni fighters, but the overwhelming reason for this has been increased success by sectarian forces, Kurdish in Syria and Shia in Iraq, on the ground against the Sunni forces. It is very important to realize the sectarian nature of this conflict and to note that all sides are committing atrocities, as noted by the UN, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Those atrocities, in turn, motivate continued sectarian conflict and provide an existential reason for Sunnis, Kurds and Shia to support their respective sides. You’ll note that in the cities in Iraq from where the Islamic State has been forced to retreat from, Ramadi and Tikrit particularly, the cities have been massively destroyed, widely looted and are mostly empty of their previous Sunni residents due to the occupation of the Shia militias. The Shia militias are the primary reason for the success of the counter-offensive against the Islamic State, as the Iraqi Army is still very corrupt and ineffective. American air strikes in Iraq and Syria are a supporting mechanism only and on their own cannot push the Islamic State from the (Sunni) territory they hold.
Is this a slippery slope that will lead to US troops eventually returning to a combat role?
-In terms of US troops going into full scale ground conflict in either Iraq or Syria, I don’t believe it will occur for any military reason, but rather will occur for a political reason such as the American president making a “red line” statement or due to an atrocity, both of which were the reasons offered by the Obama Administration to enter into the Syrian civil war in 2013 (in a manner that would have placed American forces in a position where their objectives and goals were directly aligned with those of al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and other Sunni jihadist groups). Regardless of the rationale, the reasoning will be political and it will be because the US president feels she or he needs to strengthen their display of American resolve in the Middle East, which would be in line with President Johnson’s decision(s) to escalate the Vietnam War and President Obama’s decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan in 2009. By saying there is no military reason, I mean that no mid- or long-term outcome can come out of American troop involvement in the civil wars in Iraq and Syria other than American boys and girls once again patrolling hostile city and village streets in a country half a world away they do not understand while being under constant guerrilla war attack. I think the biggest impetus on US troop involvement would be in protection of the Kurdish oil and gas fields in northern Iraq, particularly if the planned attack on Mosul, by the Iraqi government, Shia militias and Kurdish forces, fails (if the attack ever happens), and the Kurds, and the large number of American and European energy firms resident in the Kurdish capital of Erbil, feel threatened as they did in 2014.
Does the US even have a strategy?
-The US does not have a strategy in any way that any person who has ever put together a plan of action or strategy for a business, construction project or even a kids’ soccer game would expect. Rather the US is simply reacting to events in Syria and Iraq that failed to meet the hopes and aspirations of politicians and politically inspired planners in Washington DC over the last decade and a half. This really has been and continues to be a foreign and military policy based upon allegiance to neoconservative ideology, whether carried out by a Democratic or Republican administration, and propelled by “hope” that things will fall in line with expectations due to an unwavering belief in American superiority and faith in the righteousness of American supremacy. The US has found its role in both Iraq and Syria by unleashing sectarian conflict in Iraq and Syria and then being disappointed when those sectarian forces have ignited civil wars that cannot be controlled. For example, since 2011, in Iraq the US hoped to use the Shia dominated government to control Sunni discontent and to keep the violence of the Islamic State in check, while in Syria, right across the border, the US hoped to utilize Sunni discontent and the Islamic State’s violence to overthrow the Syrian government.
What is apparent is an American strategy in the Middle East that is astonishingly detached from reality, let alone history, both this and last century’s. The success of such a policy as America’s would require the intervention of a determinist deity, such as Atlas, to hold together the badly fracturing Middle East that had previously been held together, in definition, by America’s massive arms and financial support to despotic monarchies, revolutionary groups, and unquestioned support of Israel. Such a house of cards could never stand.
From an interview I did in the summer of 2011 on Afghanistan with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. This may be the most complete summation of my views on the war in Afghanistan, on counter-insurgency, and on American political and military decision making. I do not believe anything I said in this interview differs from what I said in 2009 when I resigned from my State Department position in Afghanistan and I don’t believe I have said anything different in the past four years as I have worked against these policies. Sadly, I think the results of our military and political policies in Afghanistan delivered the consequences I feared so greatly.
I am also horrified, four years later, that my t-shirt was showing during this interview…
The program that aired in Australia can be found here:
The web page for the program also has other extended interviews with some of the other commentators on the program, including Major General Nicholson, whom I remember meeting and speaking with a number of times in Kandahar, I always liked him. Please give them a watch and let me know what you think. I am not looking to be told I was right, I am just looking to be told I am not crazy.