Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, October 6, 2009 8:21 pm

The world’s greatest republic …

Filed under: Quote Of The Day,We're so screwed — Lex @ 8:21 pm

… is somewhere else these days, dday says, and some days it’s hard to disagree:

Americans have subconsciously figured out how this all ends: it doesn’t. Because we cannot have a serious debate on anything in this country without it devolving into bitchy gossip and meta-critiques of how things “play” politically, tough decisions just don’t get made. And so 68%, in this poll, said America will not win or lose the war in Afghanistan; it will just go on without resolution.Tragically, people have actually gotten USED to this outcome.

And because we’re not worthy of the forebears who bequeathed us this country, we put up with it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009 8:26 pm

War without end

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 8:26 pm
Tags: ,

The minute I saw the headline on this story, I not only knew what it was going to say, I knew who had written it:

McChrystal: More Forces or ‘Mission Failure’

By Bob Woodward
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 21, 2009

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warns in an urgent, confidential assessment of the war that he needs more forces within the next year and bluntly states that without them, the eight-year conflict “will likely result in failure,” according to a copy of the 66-page document obtained by The Washington Post.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal says emphatically: “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.” …

McChrystal concludes the document’s five-page Commander’s Summary on a note of muted optimism: “While the situation is serious, success is still achievable.”

But he repeatedly warns that without more forces and the rapid implementation of a genuine counterinsurgency strategy, defeat is likely. McChrystal describes an Afghan government riddled with corruption and an international force undermined by tactics that alienate civilians.

This leak, no surprise, appears to have been a Pentagon response to Obama’s stated skepticism of the need for more troops in Afghanistan. And it’s also no surprise that Woodward’s the one who got it. Woodward is, of course, the go-to guy for Establishment figures wanting to get their story out with a minimum of critical pushback. It’s a heckuva way to run a career that broke big with Watergate, but Woodward got co-opted a long time ago.

More importantly, although I am no expert, I think there’s reason to believe that McChrystal might be wrong: that “victory,” recognizable as such, may no longer be possible in Afghanistan, if indeed it ever was to begin with.

The good news, such as it is, is that the administration appears to be doing what its predecessor either couldn’t or wouldn’t do: define its goals, THEN decide what resources would be required to achieve them and carry out a cost-benefit analysis:

The president, one adviser said, is “taking a very deliberate, rational approach, starting at the top” of what he called a “logic chain” that begins with setting objectives, followed by determining a methodology to achieve them. Only when the first two steps are completed, he said, can the third step — a determination of resources — be taken.

“Who’s to say we need more troops?” this official said. “McChrystal is not responsible for assessing how we’re doing against al-Qaeda.”

And there’s the rub: Is our goal defeating terrorists? Is it the larger goal of protecting the Afghani populace? If the latter, we’re going to need help from the Afghanis themselves. And that’s where we get what might be the worst news of all:

Training security forces is not cheap. So far, the estimated cost of training and mentoring the police since 2001 is at least $10 billion. Any reliable figure on the cost of training and mentoring the Afghan army since 2001 is as invisible as the army itself. But the U.S. currently spends some $4 billion a month on military operations in Afghanistan.

What is there to show for all this remarkably expensive training? Although in Washington they may talk about the 90,000 soldiers in the Afghan National Army, no one has reported actually seeing such an army anywhere in Afghanistan. When 4,000 U.S. Marines were sent into Helmand Province in July to take on the Taliban in what is considered one of its strongholds, accompanying them were only about 600 Afghan security forces, some of whom were police. Why, you might ask, didn’t the ANA, 90,000 strong after eight years of training and mentoring, handle Helmand on its own? No explanation has been offered. American and NATO officers often complain that Afghan army units are simply not ready to “operate independently,” but no one ever speaks to the simple question: Where are they?

My educated guess is that such an army simply does not exist. It may well be true that Afghan men have gone through some version of “Basic Warrior Training” 90,000 times or more. When I was teaching in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2006, I knew men who repeatedly went through ANA training to get the promised Kalashnikov and the pay. Then they went home for a while and often returned some weeks later to enlist again under a different name.

In a country where 40% of men are unemployed, joining the ANA for 10 weeks is the best game in town. It relieves the poverty of many families every time the man of the family goes back to basic training, but it’s a needlessly complicated way to unintentionally deliver such minimal humanitarian aid. Some of these circulating soldiers are aging former mujahidin — the Islamist fundamentalists the U.S. once paid to fight the Soviets — and many are undoubtedly Taliban.

American trainers have taken careful note of the fact that, when ANA soldiers were given leave after basic training to return home with their pay, they generally didn’t come back. To foil paycheck scams and decrease soaring rates of desertion, they recently devised a money-transfer system that allows the soldiers to send pay home without ever leaving their base. That sounds like a good idea, but like many expensive American solutions to Afghan problems, it misses the point. It’s not just the money the soldier wants to transfer home, it’s himself as well.

Combined with training inappropriate for the nature of the battle, weaponry inappropriate for the dusty environment and the lack of a cause for which Afghanis truly want to fight, this whole thing is shaping up to be a national disaster for the U.S. and a national catastrophe for Afghanistan. And I don’t think a few tens of thousands more U.S. troops are going to fix that.

UPDATE: Which does NOT mean that the correct thing to do is up the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND. But supposedly that might be exactly what the military asks for.

And if they do, it’s time for Congress and Americans to Just Say No.

Friday, September 4, 2009 2:48 pm

Who’ll stop the rain?

Filed under: Say a prayer — Lex @ 2:48 pm
Tags: ,

You almost certainly have never heard of Bill Cahir.

You should:

On Saturday, millions watched as Ted Kennedy made his final trip to Arlington National Cemetery. With rather less attention, Arlington’s soil opened again Monday to accept the remains of one of Kennedy’s former aides, 40-year-old Bill Cahir.

The deceased, an Alexandria resident, was unknown to most Americans, but he did no less for his country than his old boss — and, gauged by the last full measure of devotion, he did even more. He went from his job working for Kennedy in the Senate to become, at various points, a Washington journalist and a failed congressional candidate. But it was the Sept. 11 attacks that inspired Cahir, at age 34, to get an age waiver from military recruiters in 2003 and enlist in the Marines.

That brave and fateful choice ultimately landed Sgt. Cahir on the horse-drawn caisson at Arlington on Monday, two weeks after he took a bullet to the neck while on patrol in Afghanistan. Cahir’s widow, pregnant with his twin daughters, accepted the folded flag from his casket.

The New York fire department, which suffered so horribly on 9/11, sent a delegation to the funeral.

(h/t: Jon)

Thursday, August 20, 2009 8:47 pm

And it’s 1, 2, 3, what’re we fightin’ for?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 8:47 pm
Tags: , , ,

With al-Qaeda now largely decamped from Afghanistan to Pakistan, the U.S. military there now facing a homegrown insurgency rather than an international terrorist movement and Americans dying in Afghanistan at some of the highest rates since 2001, dday at Hullabaloo observes, “Actually, we have morphed our goals in Afghanistan, from counter-terrorism to counter-insurgency, without anyone really challenging it.”

Except that, well, someone actually is challenging it:

A majority of Americans now see the war in Afghanistan as not worth fighting, and just a quarter say more U.S. troops should be sent to the country, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

I had no trouble seeing the point of having the U.S. military in Afghanistan to pursue al-Qaeda. That was about as clearly defined and rational a national-security interest involving combat as we’ve had since World War II. But why are we still there? What, exactly, are we attempting to achieve, are we going about it in the right way, and whether we are or not, what is the likelihood of success?

I ask because I honestly do not know.

Friday, July 31, 2009 8:19 pm

Like the job wasn’t tough enough already …

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 8:19 pm

… apparently there’s one more cultural obstacle in Afghanistan that we’re going to have to get past to win hearts and minds: pederasty.

I’m no expert, but at first glance this doesn’t strike me as the kind of problem our military is trained to solve.

Saturday, July 11, 2009 8:21 pm

Oh, please, oh, please …

I’ll grant right up front that the odds of this happening at all aren’t great and the odds of its happening to the extent that I would like it to are probably nil. But if you’re a law-and-order conservative, this bit of information about Attorney General Eric Holder should warm the cockles of your heart:

Four knowledgeable sources tell NEWSWEEK that he is now leaning toward appointing a prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration’s brutal interrogation practices, something the president has been reluctant to do. While no final decision has been made, an announcement could come in a matter of weeks, say these sources, who decline to be identified discussing a sensitive law-enforcement matter. Such a decision would roil the country, would likely plunge Washington into a new round of partisan warfare, and could even imperil Obama’s domestic priorities, including health care and energy reform. Holder knows all this, and he has been wrestling with the question for months. “I hope that whatever decision I make would not have a negative impact on the president’s agenda,” he says. “But that can’t be a part of my decision.”

Do it, Eric, do it. And that prosecutor needs to follow the trail wherever it leads, to Republicans and Democrats alike, to those who carried out torture and those who ordered it and those who could have intervened but instead stood by and let it happen. Document the crimes. Prosecute the criminals. Atone for this national sin.

One other thought, about the political ramifications: Obama’s biggest political problem so far hasn’t been Republicans, although they certainly have been a problem. It has been the disappointment of his own base, who have felt let down by Obama’s failure to embrace not just their own ambitious agenda but even some issues on which Obama himself campaigned (e.g., open government).

That’s even more the case for the Democratically-controlled Congress, whose low approval ratings are directly attributable to the disappointment of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. (Moving to the left isn’t going to make Congress any more unpopular with Republicans than it already is because that would be pretty much impossible.)

In any event, this isn’t about politics. It’s about basic human rights and the rule of law. It’s about ensuring that we haven’t walked, and will never walk, away from the honorable standards we set at Nuremberg.

It’s about doing the right thing. Politics be damned.

UPDATE: And while you’re at it, Mr. Attorney General …

After a mass killing of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Taliban prisoners of war by the forces of an American-backed warlord during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, Bush administration officials repeatedly discouraged efforts to investigate the episode, according to government officials and human rights organizations.

American officials had been reluctant to pursue an investigation — sought by officials from the F.B.I., the State Department, the Red Cross and human rights groups — because the warlord, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, was on the payroll of the C.I.A. and his militia worked closely with United States Special Forces in 2001, several officials said. They said the United States also worried about undermining the American-supported government of President Hamid Karzai, in which General Dostum had served as a defense official.

“At the White House, nobody said no to an investigation, but nobody ever said yes, either,” said Pierre Prosper, the former American ambassador for war crimes issues. “The first reaction of everybody there was, ‘Oh, this is a sensitive issue; this is a touchy issue politically.’ ”


UPDATE: Here‘s part of the reason why I don’t think much will come of this.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 10:02 pm

Heroin: the public sector

As opposed to, say, hunting a shark, I don’t know what you use to build a nation. But whatever it is, as long as we stay in Afghanistan, we’re gonna need a bigger one:

KABUL — In the shadow of the craggy mountains overlooking the road between Kabul and the eastern city of Jalalabad, a specially trained unit of police conducted a nearly perfect ambush of a drug dealer.

Officers surrounded Sayyed Jan’s vehicle so quickly that his two bodyguards never had a chance to fire their weapons, and he was caught moving at least 183 kilograms of pure heroin.

But the Counternarcotics Police of Afghanistan realized they had a problem when they discovered that Mr. Jan’s powerful friends included their own boss. The drug dealer was carrying a signed letter of protection from General Mohammed Daud Daud, the deputy minister of interior responsible for counternarcotics, widely considered Afghanistan’s most powerful anti-drug czar.

That document, along with other papers and interviews with well-placed sources, show that Gen. Daud has safeguarded shipments of illegal opiates even as he commands thousands of officers sworn to fight the trade. Some accuse the deputy minister of taking a major cut of dealers’ profits, ranking him among the biggest players in Afghanistan’s $3-billion (U.S.) drug industry.

I’ll ask again: Is there any reason why we’re not just, like, buying up the entire country’s opium crop so the natives can eat and not be inclined to shoot at us? Compared to what else we’re spending money on, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, $3 billion isn’t even real money.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008 8:09 pm

Holy [expletive]; or, is Afghanistan really the right front in the war on terror after all?

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 8:09 pm
Tags: , ,

This is almost unbelievable:

In one of the largest and most brazen attacks of its kind, suspected Taliban insurgents with heavy weapons attacked two truck stops in northwest Pakistan on Sunday, destroying more than 150 vehicles carrying supplies bound for U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan.

The predawn attack on the outskirts of the city of Peshawar left the grounds of the truck terminals littered with the burned-out shells of Humvees and other military vehicles being transported by private truckers. At least one guard was reported killed.

Early today, a second attack on Western supplies was reported in the same area. A security guard said 50 [cargo] containers had been burned and some vehicles destroyed by rocket fire. …

The bold assault underscored the vulnerability of supplies moving by road through Pakistan. About three-quarters of the supplies bound for U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops in Afghanistan — fuel, food and equipment — travel by road through perilous mountain passes after being shipped to the port of Karachi. Afghanistan has no sea access.

To paraphrase Chief Brody in “Jaws”: We’re gonna need a bigger front.

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