Tag Archives: afghanistan

Here’s the latest news from Afghanistan. It’s a fire fed by our dollars.

Summary: The presidential candidates posture and bicker while the war in Afghanistan burns in its 15th year, consuming billions of US dollars while our infrastructure rots. Our ignorance is a choice because the government and NGO’s report the sad details. Here is an update. Nothing will change unless we make it an issue, and more broadly unless we re-take the reins in America. {Second of two posts today.}

  • Cumulative funding for Afghanistan reconstruction: aprox $113.1 billion.
  • Cost of the Apollo Program (1959-1973): aprox $109 billion in 2010 dollars.

Afghanistan war

The projects to occupy, develop, and restructure Iraq and Afghanistan are among the largest projects the United States has ever attempted. The expedition to Afghanistan, now in its fifteenth year, has been a series of thoroughly-documented failure. Yet we learn nothing and the project runs on while Afghanistan deteriorates.

The presidential candidates seldom mention it and show no interest why we have burnt so much money there while America’s vital infrastructure rots. Historians probably will consider it one of the clearest examples of the inability to learn from experience that so damages US political affairs.

Here is the latest, a 230 page compendium of failure — with some small, mostly exaggerated, success. Like its predecessors, it will have the effect of a pebble thrown into the sea.

SIGAR logo

Excerpt from The Quarterly Report to Congress, January 2016

This quarterly report focuses on the Afghan economy, but as the essay in Section 1, “Growing an Economy in Stony Ground,” concludes, developing Afghanistan’s economy may depend more on improving security, the business climate, and the educational system than on implementing specific economic programs. However, in this reporting period, Afghanistan proved even more dangerous than it was a year ago. The Taliban now controls more territory than at any time since 2001.

Vicious and repeated attacks in Kabul this quarter shook confidence in the national-unity government. A year after the Coalition handed responsibility for Afghan security to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), American and British forces were compelled on several occasions to support ANDSF troops in combat against the Taliban.

The lack of security has made it almost impossible for many U.S. and even some Afghan officials to get out to manage and inspect U.S.-funded reconstruction projects. This quarter the dangers of absent oversight were exposed when a task force appointed by President Ashraf Ghani reportedly found that millions of dollars were being embezzled while Afghanistan pays for numerous nonexistent “ghost” schools, “ghost” teachers, and “ghost” students

… Another performance audit this quarter found that despite U.S. training efforts, the Afghan National Army’s National Engineer Brigade is incapable of operating independently.

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Let’s learn what happened in Afghanistan, so we can do better in phase 2 of our Long War

Summary: Today’s must-read is a retrospective on NATO’s expedition to Afghanistan, even more important today as we begin the second phase of our Long War. It opens with a shocker and gets even better. The reviewer has deep in experience in Afghanistan; the author has even deeper experience. The combination provides powerful insights while cutting through the accumulated lies of the past 14 years. Yet their clear sight of the need for action blinds them to the simple fact that foreign armies almost never defeat foreign insurgencies. How much blood must be spilled in vain before we see this?

Afghanistan war

Afghanistan: ‘A Shocking Indictment’” by Rory Stewart

 

Review of No Good Men Among the Living:
America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes
by Anand Gopal

Ashraf Ghani, who has just become the president of Afghanistan, once drafted a document for {his predecessor} Hamid Karzai that began:

There is a consensus in Afghan society: violence…must end. National reconciliation and respect for fundamental human rights will form the path to lasting peace and stability across the country. The people’s aspirations must be represented in an accountable, broad-based, gender-sensitive, multi-ethnic, representative government that delivers daily value.

That was 12 years ago. No one speaks like that now — not even the new president. The best case now is presented as political accommodation with the Taliban, the worst as civil war.

Western policymakers still argue, however, that something has been achieved: counterterrorist operations succeeded in destroying al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, there has been progress in health care and education, and even Afghan government has its strengths at the most local level. This is not much, given that the US-led coalition spent $1 trillion and deployed one million soldiers and civilians over 13 years. But it is better than nothing; and it is tempting to think that everything has now been said: after all, such conclusions are now reflected in thousands of studies by aid agencies, multilateral organizations, foreign ministries, intelligence agencies, universities, and departments of defense.

But Anand Gopal’s  shows that everything has not been said. His new and shocking indictment demonstrates that the failures of the intervention were worse than even the most cynical believed. Gopal, a Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor reporter, investigates, for example, a US counterterrorist operation in January 2002. US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, had identified two sites as likely “al-Qaeda compounds.” It sent in a Special Forces team by helicopter; the commander, Master Sergeant Anthony Pryor, was attacked by an unknown assailant, broke his neck as they fought and then killed him with his pistol; he used his weapon to shoot further adversaries, seized prisoners, and flew out again, like a Hollywood hero.

As Gopal explains, however, the American team did not attack al-Qaeda or even the Taliban. They attacked the offices of 2 district governors, both of whom were opponents of the Taliban. They shot the guards, handcuffed one district governor in his bed and executed him, scooped up twenty-six prisoners, sent in AC-130 gunships to blow up most of what remained, and left a calling card behind in the wreckage saying “Have a nice day. From Damage, Inc.”

Weeks later, having tortured the prisoners, they released them with apologies. It turned out in this case, as in hundreds of others, that an Afghan “ally” had falsely informed the US that his rivals were Taliban in order to have them eliminated. In Gopal’s words:

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Stark evidence from our past about our inability to learn today

Summary: Nothing shows our FAILure to learn more than how we’ve repeat so many of our mistakes of Vietnam in Afghanistan. No hegemon, no matter how powerful, can survive a rapidly changing world, filled with rivals and foes, if it doesn’t profit from its experience. Today is FAILure to learn day, with 3 lessons from the past that we have ignored, to great cost. If American’s leaders won’t learn, its citizens can.  {1st of 3 posts today.}

“Hegel says somewhere that all great historic facts and personages occur twice, so to speak. He forgot to add: ‘Once as tragedy, and again as farce.’”

— Opening line to Karl Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1869).

Vietnam: closer than you think.

Here is the final pages of David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest (1972), describing how Nixon took ownership of the Vietnam War from LBJ — much as Obama did from Bush. I was going to change the names to those from our war in Afghanistan. But why bother? The parallels are obvious.

Remember, because every day is a teachable moment.

Henry Kissinger

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About the same time Henry Kissinger, who had emerged as the top foreign policy adviser of the Administration (in part because he, like Nixon, was hard-line on Vietnam, whereas both William Rogers, the Secretary of State, and Mel Laird, the Secretary of Defense, had been ready to liquidate the war in the early months of the Administration), was asked by a group of visiting Asians if the Nixon Administration was going to repeat the mistakes of the Johnson Administration in Vietnam. “No,” answered Kissinger, who was noted in Washington for having the best sense of humor in the Administration, “we will not repeat their mistakes. We will not send 500,000 men.” He paused. “We will make our own mistakes and they will be completely our own.” There was appreciative laughter and much enjoyment of the movement.

One thing though — Kissinger was wrong. To an extraordinary degree the Nixon men repeated the mistakes and miscalculations of the Johnson Administration, which prompted Russell Baker to describe it all as “the reign of President Lyndon B. Nixonger.” For step by step, they repeated the mistakes of the past. They soon became believers in their policy, and thus began to listen only to others who were believers (they began to believe, in addition, that only they were privy to the truth in reports from Saigon, that the secret messages from the Saigon embassy, rather than being the words of committed, embattled men, were the words of cool, objective observers).

Doubters were soon filtered out; the Kissinger staff soon lost most of the talented Asian experts that had come in with him at the start of the Administration. Optimistic assessments of American goals, of what the incursion into Cambodia would do, of what the invasion of Laos would do — always speeding the timetable of withdrawal and victory — were passed on to the public, always to be mocked by ARVN failure and NVA resilience.

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Rambo & James Bond taught us about Afghanistan’s mujahideen

Summary: Films from 1987-1888 about the Afghanistan mujahideen reveal much about our inability to clearly see the world and learn from it. We can do better.

Accusing eyes of the women in the lands we've liberated.

Accusing eyes of the women in the lands we’ve liberated.

With childlike wonder each day I see with astonishment our willingness to believe what we’re told. We suffer from our lack of curiosity, our minds closed to alternative sources of information. We treat the information highway like a Fisher-Price toy.

A previous post reviewed the many outright lies told us by high government officials about enemies of America — and how we fail to learn, but believe the new lie. Today’s post looks at something more subtle but just as deceitful: the narratives spun in the news by government officials, their associates, their useful idiots, and journalists. There’s a pattern here that we refuse to see, a costly error. As with so many aspects of America, it’s clearly seen on the big screen.

Today we look at three films from 1987-1988, the end of the 1979-1989 Soviet-Afghanistan War — in which we played so large a part, with horrific results for Afghanistan and America. Here we see what we were told about that war, and the mujahideen “freedom fighters”, despite the ample information available showing this to be false.

Mujahadeen riding to the rescue in "The Living Daylights"

Mujahideen riding to the rescue in “The Living Daylights”

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Result of NATO’s expedition to Afghanistan: Worse than a Defeat

Summary: NATO’s expedition to Afghanistan returns, having accomplished nothing but adding another chapter to the destruction of that sad region. Now begins the next phase: to induce amnesia, so that we learn as little from it as we did from Vietnam. James Meek reviews four books about the insurgency at home, people fighting the government’s narrative to help us remember and so do better in the future. Much depends on this. No matter how powerful, a people who cannot learn from experience have no good future.

Afghanistan war

Excerpt from “Worse than a Defeat

Review by James Meek
London Review of Books, 18 December 2014
Posted with the permission of the author and the LRB.

Books Reviewed…

‘The British wrote cheques they could not cash.’
— American Special Forces officer

In the morning, I left the village where I’d spent the night, the village where, in the ninth century, a famous king had beaten the army of a northern warlord. I climbed a steep path to a high plateau and walked along dusty tracks. There was gunfire in the distance. In the early afternoon I rested on a hilltop, on the ramparts of ancient fortifications whose shape was outlined in soft bulges and shadings on the slopes. Down in the fertile flatlands, I could see rows of the armoured behemoths Britain bought to protect its troops in Afghanistan from roadside bombs, painted the colour of desert sand and crowded around the maintenance sheds of a military base. There was a roar from the road below and the squeak of tank tracks. A column of Warriors clanked up the hill. The Warrior is a strong fighting vehicle. It can protect a team of soldiers as it carries them into battle. Bullets bounce off it. A single inch-thick shell from its cannon can do terrible damage to anything unarmoured it hits. But these Warriors looked tired. They came into service in the late 1980s, just as the Cold War they’d been designed for was ending, and Afghanistan has a way of diminishing and humbling military technology.

I’d walked the same route last year, leaving Edington after breakfast, walking round the edge of the military exercise area on Salisbury Plain and pausing at the Iron Age fort on Battlesbury Hill, which looks out over the British army’s Wiltshire estate. Since then most of the army in Afghanistan had come back to Britain, and an item of furniture had been added to the Battlesbury ramparts, among the cow parsley and purple clover: a bench. I was glad to sit down, as my pack was heavy. But the bench is also a shrine. When I came across it – this was in July – candles had been placed on it and a sun-bleached cloth poppy fastened to the back rest. It’s a memorial to six British soldiers: Nigel Coupe of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, and Jake Hartley, Anthony Frampton, Christopher Kershaw, Daniel Wade and Daniel Wilford of the Yorkshire Regiment. All except Coupe, a sergeant and father of two children, were aged between 19 and 21. They died in Afghanistan in March 2012, out on patrol in Helmand province, when their Warrior triggered the pressure plate of a huge home-made mine. The explosion flipped the vehicle on its side, blew off the gun turret, ignited its ammunition and killed everyone inside.

The British army is back in Warminster and its other bases around the country. Its eight-year venture in southern Afghanistan is over. The extent of the military and political catastrophe it represents is hard to overstate. It was doomed to fail before it began, and fail it did, at a terrible cost in lives and money.

How bad was it? In a way it was worse than a defeat, because to be defeated, an army and its masters must understand the nature of the conflict they are fighting. Britain never did understand, and now we would rather not think about it. The troops are home from a campaign that lasted 13 years, including Iraq in the middle. They are coming home from their bases in Germany, too. The many car parks’ worth of mine-proof vehicles you can see from Battlesbury Hill, ordered tardily for Afghanistan at a million pounds apiece, will be painted European green and dispersed to other barracks.

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The truth emerges about Afghanistan, an indictment of our war. Now comes the hard part: learning from failure.

Summary: Today’s must read is a retrospective on our expedition to Afghanistan, now that the cloud of lies slowly dissipates. Since Vietnam we’ve masked our failures by myths, short-circuiting our ability to learn. A hegemonic power can substitute power for smarts. The coming multi-polar world will prove more challenging, so that weaknesses become terminal flaws.

Afghanistan war

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Opening from “Afghanistan: ‘A Shocking Indictment’
by Rory Stewart
New York Review of Books, 6 November 2014

.

Review of No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes
by Anand Gopal

.

Ashraf Ghani, who has just become the president of Afghanistan, once drafted a document for Hamid Karzai that began:

There is a consensus in Afghan society: violence…must end. National reconciliation and respect for fundamental human rights will form the path to lasting peace and stability across the country. The people’s aspirations must be represented in an accountable, broad-based, gender-sensitive, multi-ethnic, representative government that delivers daily value.

That was 12 years ago. No one speaks like that now — not even the new president. The best case now is presented as political accommodation with the Taliban, the worst as civil war.

Western policymakers still argue, however, that something has been achieved: counterterrorist operations succeeded in destroying al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, there has been progress in health care and education, and even Afghan government has its strengths at the most local level. This is not much, given that the US-led coalition spent $1 trillion and deployed one million soldiers and civilians over 13 years. But it is better than nothing; and it is tempting to think that everything has now been said: after all, such conclusions are now reflected in thousands of studies by aid agencies, multilateral organizations, foreign ministries, intelligence agencies, universities, and departments of defense.

But Anand Gopal’s  shows that everything has not been said. His new and shocking indictment demonstrates that the failures of the intervention were worse than even the most cynical believed. Gopal, a Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor reporter, investigates, for example, a US counterterrorist operation in January 2002. US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, had identified two sites as likely “al-Qaeda compounds.” It sent in a Special Forces team by helicopter; the commander, Master Sergeant Anthony Pryor, was attacked by an unknown assailant, broke his neck as they fought and then killed him with his pistol; he used his weapon to shoot further adversaries, seized prisoners, and flew out again, like a Hollywood hero.

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Before we start a new war with ISIS, let’s remember how we stumbled into the last two

Summary: As we gear up for new wars in Syria and Africa, and rejoining old wars in Iraq, let’s a pause to think. Success will depend on learning from our failures since 9-11. Our greatest failures have been our initial failures: seeing the situation incorrectly and beginning before we have accurate information about our foe. The combination creates almost insurmountable barriers to success, barriers that we construct. We can do better.

Learn from mistakes

Contents

  1. Familiar bad news about our new wars
  2. Reminders from the past
  3. We’re winning! Like always.
  4. Let’s remember the great advice we need the most
  5. For More Information

(1)  Familiar bad news about our new wars

It’s become the one of the two standard themes for the starts of our wars: US intelligence tells us that we know little about our enemies. As Eli Lake explains in “ISIS Baffling U.S. Intelligence Agencies“, The Daily Beast, 14 August 2014 — “It’s been two months since ISIS took over Iraq’s second-largest city. But U.S. analysts are still trying to figure out how big the group is and the real identities of its leaders.” Excerpt:

The U.S. intelligence community is still trying to answer basic questions about the jihadists who tried to wipe out Iraq’s remaining Yazidis and who now threaten to overrun the capital of the country’s Kurdish provinces.

In a briefing for reporters Thursday, U.S. intelligence officials said the government is re-evaluating an estimate from early this year that said the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) had only 10,000 members. These officials also said intelligence analysts were still trying to determine the real names of many of the group’s leaders …

While many U.S. officials have warned publicly in the last year about the dangers posed by ISIS, the fact that the U.S. intelligence community lacks a consensus estimate on its size and the true identities of the group’s leadership may explain why President Obama over the weekend said the U.S. was caught off-guard by the ISIS advance into Kurdish territory.

{the usual fear-mongering follows, presented as analysis}

The second theme which marks the start of our wars: errors and outright lies about the wars. The sinking of the USS Maine and the Spanish-American War, the Tonkin Gulf Incident, Saddam’s WMDs and alliance with al Qaeda, and Afghanistan’s key role in 9-11. Let’s hope that what we are told about our enemies in this new phase of the Long War is more accurate than what we’ve been told so far.

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