CIA in Afghanistan: Operation Phoenix Redux

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.

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With Sonali Kolhatkar. http://www.risingupwithsonali.com/trump-unleashes-cia-in-afghanistan/
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With Salima Hanirani. https://kpfa.org/program/up-front/

“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.”

The Arms Trade and Drug Lords – Going Underground

Update: Andrew Cockburn’s current article in Harper’s Magazine is an absolutely must read. I’ve not read a better summation of Saudi Arabian involvement, and the US government cover-up of the Saudi role in 9/11 than this: Crime and Punishment; Will the 9/11 Case Finally Go to Trial?

“…Owens was not impressed by what she found on Capitol Hill. Most of the senators and representatives she met didn’t seem to care who was behind 9/11. “They just didn’t want to be seen as voting against the 9/11 families. So they would vote yes for it, and then try to sabotage it behind the scenes. . . . Washington is an ugly place.”

For September 11th, I was a guest on RT UK’s show Going Underground. The host, Afshin Rattansi, is terrific. I’ve pasted below my appearance from the last time I was on his show, almost three years ago:

I’ve done a large number of tv and radio interviews the last few weeks about the American wars in the Middle East. I’ve been focusing a lot of my attention on the men who are behind these policies, Generals Mattis, Kelly and McMaster, as I believe understanding their world views, how they view themselves and their resulting intentions are crucial in understanding how American war policy evolved and, under Donald Trump, is different from the war policies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Forgive the apparent vanity in sharing so many videos of myself right now, but I think I touch on a different aspect of the wars, and for that matter American society, in each of the following videos.

Comments on Syria, the world view of White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly, and the lineage of American wars and use of airstrikes. From the National Press Club, August 2017, aired via CSPAN:

The full news conference, that included Christie Edwards, John Kiriakou, David Swanson and Norman Solomon can be found here.

From Democracy Now, the morning after President Trump’s Afghanistan and Pakistan policy announcement, August 2017. I focus predominantly on the connection between our wars abroad and our wars at home, and the influence Generals Mattis, Kelly and McMaster have on President Trump. A transcript can be found here.

In this Real News interview, I discuss the influence of money on the wars, particularly the circular motion of Congress appropriating money for war, the money going to defense companies, defense companies funding think tanks and lobbyists, and those think tanks and lobbyists than justifying further defense spending, and the wars, to Congress. This was taped the day of President Trump’s Afghanistan and Pakistan speech in August 2017.

If you have any doubt how much money an extra 4,000 troops sent to Afghanistan generates in additional war spending, understand that we spend roughly $4 million dollars per soldier per year in Afghanistan. We have 11,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, soon to be 15,000, and we spend $44 billion dollars, in direct costs only, on the war. This spending, as well as the roughly $30 billion we are spending on the wars in Syria and Iraq is independent from the base defense budget, which the US Senate is currently considering. [This year’s budget is $700 billion, which is about $40 billion MORE than Donald Trump proposed with his $54 billion increase in the defense budget last spring, which it is important to remember is only 3% greater than what President Obama proposed to spend; President Obama having spent more money on the military than any other president since FDR and World War Two, in inflation adjusted dollars.]

The United States also utilizes 2.5 contractors for each soldier in Afghanistan. So the amount of money to be made on even a small troop increase is phenomenal, as the troop increase comes alongside increased air and artillery strikes in Afghanistan and the requirement for more bases and facilities to be built. (Disregard what people like Anthony Cordesman, who works for a think tank heavily funded by the defense industry, when they say things like new troops will utilize existing infrastructure in Afghanistan and not that much more extra money will be spent on the war with a troop increase. The generals always want more bases, because they always do; contractors always want to build more bases and sell more services; and there has not been an instance of per troop costs diminishing over the time of the conflict, only expanding – God forbid the journalists point these things out or ask the “experts” who are funded by the interests about which they are speaking to justify their assertions)

It is very simple: 4,000 more American soldiers to Afghanistan means more than $15 billion in spending for the Pentagon and defense industry.

A transcript of the following interview can be found here.

In this interview with RT America, from August 31, 2017, I speak about the totality of American war policy, and there really is no other policy than the war policy, in the Middle East and Afghanistan and how the policies in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Somalia are linked and united under a common strategy that seeks military control or subjugation of the local population through collaborating and subservient allies and proxies. The brutal use of military force, particularly that which we have witnessed in Iraq and Yemen by the Iraqi and Saudi militaries, supported directly by American air forces and commandos, is the strategy that will be put in place in Afghanistan and is what the United States is utilizing with its three air bases in Kurdish controlled Syria and the Kurdish army. We have also seen an increase in this use of strategy and operations in Somalia, I expect Libya will see the same.

This strategy differs from the Bush II and Obama strategies as there is no consideration for a political end state or political control of the population. No such thing as elections, negotiations, economic development, no attempts at winning hearts and mind, only subjugation and punishment. Yes, the Bush II and Obama wars were immoral, un-winnable and counter-productive, but there was an attempt or desire to have a political end state. Under this administration, with the policy controlled by the three generals, Mattis, Kelly and McMaster, the end state is military control of areas not sympathetic to the government through massive fire power and the use of highly trained commandos as the focus of effort against the enemy and the local population. So, in effect, the  Pashtun areas of southern, eastern and northern Afghanistan will become free fire zones with nightly kill/capture raids by commandos into villages and homes with subjugation, military control and punishment as the objectives of this violence and killing.

Finally, I did this interview with my friend Cat Watters. It’s been awhile since I’ve spoken with her. A very free ranging and relaxed interview which I really enjoyed doing, because Cat gets the emotions and humanity that underlay all of what I am talking about. Thanks Cat!

Wage Peace.

Breaking this Cycle of Imperial Violence

I was grateful for the opportunity to author a guest post over at the Strategies and Tactics for the Anti-War Blog at the Veterans Reparations Project. The Veterans Reparations Project is a joint project between Veterans For Peace and the Islah Reparations Project and is something very meaningful to me, something with which I hope to become more and more involved. Please visit the Veterans Reparations Project’s webpage to see how you can be involved and how you can help with the grassroots reparations process.

Breaking this Cycle of Imperial Violence:

I’m in my local Starbucks—yeah I know corporate evils and all that, but at 5pm on a Sunday in Wake Forest, NC you take what you can get, and I can walk here. So you take all the good you can get with the bad. Here in Wake Forest we’re not far from Ft. Bragg, home to the US Army’s paratroopers and special operations forces. Thousands of them have been ordered to deploy to Kuwait, where they will be sent into Iraq and Syria to make their own contributions to a decades long folly that has brought death, mental and physical mutilation, and societal destruction to the peoples of Iraq and Syria, profits to American defense corporations, corporate board memberships and university professorships to retired generals, and thousands upon thousands of new recruits to foreign terrorist groups; if there is something else these wars have brought, please leave a reply below, because I certainly can’t think of anything.

There is a large, neon green sign, hand written, like you would see announcing the homecoming dance in the high school hallway or your neighbor’s kid’s lemonade stand on your intersection’s stop sign: “Our Troops Are Deploying, Help Us Thank Them With Coffee.”  A large cardboard box is about a 1/3 of the way full of bags of coffee and boxes of k-cups, hopefully no decaf for those young paratroopers.

I’m not lying to you when I tell you I’m wearing a t-shirt with a Howard Zinn quote on it that reads “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people” as I stand next to that box of coffee bound for the Persian Gulf. I linger for a bit hoping that maybe someone will read the shirt and the sign, that maybe something will register, someone will say something to me, something to medicate me, numb me, tell me that this cycle isn’t starting all over again for several thousand young men and women, barely more than an hour’s drive from me, about to travel halfway around the world to do irreparable harm to people they’ve never met and irredeemable harm to their own souls, hearts, and minds.

I’ve been involved in this war effort since before it even had a name, taking part in training exercises with Indonesian, Malaysian, Philippine, and Thai counterparts that actively engaged in fighting Muslim insurgents in their own countries prior to 9/11. Whether as a willing participant of the wars or as a vocal war opponent, as an occupier or now as someone who hopes to do more to support those who are occupied, I’ve seen very little explained as to how to right the wrongs done in war and even less done to repair, to rebuild, to resuscitate, or to resurrect. Surely, I have never walked into anyplace in America since we began killing more than 1 million people overseas in response to the attacks of 9/11 and seen a box asking for coffee for the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, or Yemen.

Now, of course, reparations may be the proverbial bridge too far at this point, as all the nations for which we have transgressed against are still receiving the blows of our aggressions, and those of others, from both internal and foreign belligerents and villains. However, I do recognize that waiting for our government to act in the future to administer some form of restorative justice to the people of the Greater Middle East may be as great a sin as the original acts of violence themselves, because we know that our government, the United States, will never do such a thing, and if our government ever does act the list for such reparations will be a long and worthy one.

So, I am extremely grateful for what the the Veterans Reparations Project is doing. Through grassroots reparations projects we can make a difference, we can begin to help rebuild and repair, and we can begin to fix some of what we destroyed.

Nothing we do will absolve us of what we have done in these wars, I am clear on that; the spot is on and always will be on our hands, to use one of my favorite allusions from high school English class. So be it and so it goes. However, we don’t have to go along with the killing any longer and we don’t have to go along with sitting idly by either and not helping to rebuild and repair. We can and we must do what we can to help those who we hurt. I do not believe we have any other choice.

Was the Afghan War Worth It?

And a quick interview I did with Chinese TV from last March where I briefly discuss how a military first US foreign policy has led to war, chaos and terrorism throughout the Muslim world.

Updated with transcript from RT:

As long as the Afghan government aligns itself with the US, which is keeping troops, planes, special operations and drones to bomb targets in Afghanistan or Pakistan, there will be no peace, says former US Marine Matthew Hoh.

RT: Peace talks between Afghan officials and Taliban representatives have ended with both sides agreeing to meet again after the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. After more than a decade of war the Afghan government and the Taliban are finally talking. Was it worth the thousands of lives lost, both military and civilian?

Matthew Hoh: No, it wasn’t and I think the proper way to look at the Afghan War, as you look at all wars or all conflicts, is not in an isolated vacuum or is because of one solitary event, in this case the last fourteen years of the war in Afghanistan as being caused by the Al-Qaeda attacks on 9/11. However, it should be viewed as this is a war that has been going on continuously since the 1970s.

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Congress of War

From the Huffington Post:

It is very bewildering, albeit horrifyingly fascinating, to watch American politicians jockey and posture for war with Iran. With the announcement last week that years of negotiations have yielded a framework agreement that will arrest any Iranian nuclear weapons program, not that one actually exists, while starting the much needed process of bringing Iran back into the world community, many members of Congress seem not just reluctant, but hostile, to the prospects of averting a war with Iran.

From continual presidential aspirant to the freshman senator from Arkansas, the Senate, which was once regarded as the greatest deliberative body amongst men and women, is a constant source, from the Right and the Left, of fist pounding threats to bomb and kill Iranians and sabotage peace. The House is no better, with scores of Democrats and Republicans, a veto proof majority actually, echoing the same threats to undo diplomacy and ensure war.* Now, that an agreement has been reached, will our Congress actually live up to their threats? Based on the modern history of Americans at war overseas, you would expect not, that members of Congress, as rational and thoughtful individuals, would be wise and attuned enough to reality to recognize war as a fool’s path. However, the behavior of our Congress, and their near continuous endorsement of U.S. military intervention, means there may be dangerous action behind their rhetoric.

We are still sending thousands of young men every year to the war in Afghanistan, along with tens of billions of our dollars annually, on top of the near trillion dollars we have already spent on that thirteen-year-long war. Thousands of U.S. troops are back in Iraq, the same Iraq U.S. presidents have been attacking for 24 years, while American war planes and unmanned drones have bombed, and continue to bomb, various American enemies, mostly killing civilians though, in Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. With the exception of Pakistan, whose political stability is continuously fragile, all six other nations that have received American military attacks, invasion and occupation over the last decade and one half, are in horrid civil wars, with death tolls throughout these nations numbering in the millions. The only organisms that have seemingly prospered and flourished, besides defense companies, have been terrorist groups, like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
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“US is arms factory for oppressive regimes, revolutionary movements”

My comments on the President’s authorization for war in Iraq and Syria:

From RT.com

The US provides weapons to organizations bent on continuing wars thus it’s not surprising that this leads to escalation of conflicts instead of resolving them, Matthew Hoh, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, told RT.

RT: President Obama now wants ground troops to fight ISIS. Is this a tacit acceptance that airstrikes weren’t effective?

Matthew Hoh: Yes, it’s the acknowledgement that airstrikes were not successful. I think this is something that most of us who were skeptical of the American reentry into the Iraqi civil war and American entry into the Syrian civil war knew. It was just a matter of time before the president would buckle under and commit to putting American troops back into Iraq and into Syria.

READ MORE: Obama asks for ‘3yrs, no territorial limits’ formal war authority to target ISIS

RT: Obama says authorization for use of military force in the fight against Islamic State is not a request for another ground war. What do you make of that?

MH: I don’t believe that or understand why anyone would believe that. If you look at American policy over the last 15 years, particularly since 9/11 you see one mischaracterization, one blunder after another, all mischaracterized as an attempt to install democracy, to promote stability and peace. And what has occurred throughout the Middle East as a result of American intervention has been more chaos, more bloodshed and more instability. This notion that somehow there is not going to be a ground war is belied by this authorization itself. In that authorization it says there will be no enduring ground troops meaning that there will be no permanent ground troops. And the president can put as many troops into Iraq, into Syria and into any other places where he deems Islamic State is operating with the caveat that they are temporary and not permanent. So really it’s just semantics to hide the fact that the United States is going to find itself again in the Middle Eastern civil wars.

RT: The US President also said he wants to be able to use limited ground troops in certain situations and for a limited time. What does that actually mean?

MH: It means whatever he wants it to mean. Just six months ago he was saying there would be no ground troops and slowly as this war has accelerated and escalated, as airstrikes have not worked, as Islamic State has just gained in strength because of the Americans getting involved in the conflict in basically endorsing the Islamic State’s propaganda, its purpose in being. You’ve seen the administration have to commit now to putting in ground troops. Go back to when the president authorized bombing Syria just 4-5 months ago and he utilized Yemen as a model of success that we were going to base our operations in Iraq and Syria on the Yemeni model which was successful. Of course since then the Yemeni government has been overthrown, the United States has had to evacuate its embassy from Yemen and overall the entire country is in chaos. So you saw how quickly that model fell apart and it never had any semblance of reality toward success.

RT: Islamic State is not only limited to Iraq and Syria – it also has active members in Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Can you imagine a situation where the US moves against them too?

MH: I don’t believe so. I don’t believe the US has the interest of putting ground troops, mass amounts of ground troops, certainly it will use drones and special operation forces in those countries. But I do think you’ll see the US limiting its ground troops, in the sense of conventional ground troops, battalions and brigades, soldiers, tanks, trucks, those kinds of things to Iraq and Syria.

RT: Well, talking about Yemen, the US has been sending arms to the country to fight terrorism. Now the reports say the equipment is in the hands of rebels. Is it surprising?

MH: It’s not surprising. The US is the largest arms merchant in the world. By some estimates it provides three quarters of the world’s arms. So we are a factory for other oppressive regimes or for these revolutionary movements. And of course when the regimes are overthrown or these movements fail or become scattered, or become more radical, a case in point is what happened in the 1990s in Afghanistan. You have the US providing munitions, weapons, arms to all sorts of organizations that are bent on continuing the wars. It’s not surprising that our weapons we provide to Yemen have ended up in the wrong hands or in hands that are choosing to escalate their conflict further.

RT: Can this policy help to bring peace eventually?

MH: No, it’s certainly not. This is adding kerosene to burning fires. This is a policy that is fraught with moral negligence as well as practical inconsideration. Where this policy has worked where the United States has sent mass amounts of weapons to an organization or to a government or to what we describe as rebel groups that the result has been peace and stability? Almost always it results in greater civil wars, longer escalations. And now we see the US is looking to send arms to Ukraine which will only serve to solidify the regime in Kiev but will do nothing to promote any type of peace or stability or long-term solutions in that conflict.

RT: Why do they keep on trying to resolve various crises around the world by sending arms to then?

MH: I think there are a number of reasons. One of course is the money. This provides billions of dollars every year to the American arms industry. That arms industry, which by some estimates is the second largest export the US has after agriculture, provides a lot of campaign donations for politicians. It provides a lot of support for academics, intellectuals, and people in think-tanks to come up with policies, to promote American intervention abroad which then requires more arms purchases for US military use or sold to other client states… If we are selling arms to one country that means that country is on our side. And for many in Washington DC who simply view the worldin an us-versus-them approach, it’s a way to keep the score of whether or not a certain country is on our side, is a client state, or is opposed to us. So there are a number of reasons for this, none of which serve to promote any form of stability or peace in the world.

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