Archive for the ‘Afghanistan’ Category

Wikileaks: don´t believe all the hype

July 27, 2010

The publication by Wikileaks of 91.000 ducuments on the Afghanwar has attracted a large amount of attention. Of course, the US national security establishment did’nt like the leaking and publishing of intelligence reports. On the other hand, some people consider the publication as verrrry, verrry important in exposing the horrors of this war that is endlessly and destructively dragging on. The first reaction can be understood, from their enemy perspective. The second reaction is a bit strange.

First, the official reaction. “The US government criticized the publication of the material and said it could threaten national security.” Well, of course! Governments do not like the publishing of their cherished state secrets. They prefer to plan and execute their criminal wars in secret. Otherwise, people might start asking questions and raising objections. The government’s fear is our hope: long live the leaking of state secrets!

And what about national security? The more secure ther national state, the less secure the people living under the mighty arms of that state, whether they be Afghan people or American people or anyone else. If state security is harmed by the leaking of documents, I am all in favor of that. The fact that military or intelligence personnel may be at risk by publication of intelligence reports is, well, bad luck. It is part of the professional risk of complicity in criminal wars. If Obama is truly concerned with the safety of these people, he should withdraw US military and intelligence forces from Afghanistan and stop the US war there.

But what of the docuements itself? From what I see in reports – a useful summary of which can be found in The Guardian – it basically says what anybody following this war already kne, only a bit more so. The war is not being won by the West, the Taliban gets stronger, Western forces killing civilians  and covering up the killing only adds to popular resentment and to Taliban support, Pakistan intelligence helps the Taliban,  unmanned drones kill people by the score. Things like that are hardly news. The Wikileak reports show that all this has been going on, somewhat more so than we already knew. Any qualitative news here? Not really. Chris Floyd makes that point in his usual excellent way on his blog Empire Burlesque, and I agree.

Floyd makes another point: some of the content of the leaked reports can be quite useful for the US military and national security establishent. That is especially true for reports blaming Iran for supporting the Taliban. The whole thing is, als Floyd sarcastically explains, not very logical. The Shia regime in Iran is not exactly good friends with the Sunni Taliban, whicht makes the idea of close cooperation somewhat weird. Then again, Taliban and Iran have an opponent in common: the US empire waging war in Afghanistan and pushiong for war against Iran. Some tactical cooperation betweet Taliban or related factions in Afghanistan and forces within the Iran regime cannnot be entirely excluded.

But there is another problem here that Floyd also points to. Journalists and others tend to treat the Wikileak reports as hard, factual evidence of what is happening there. It is not. Soldiers or intelligence officers reporting to superiors of colleagues, how reliable is that? Sometimes, such people will tell what they have seen. Sometimes they will tell what they think superiors want to hear. How can we know which is the case in this report, or that? Even less convincing are reports on conferences between functionaries. They may show what these functionaries think is going on, and what they would like to be done and so on. But there is, for the readers, no clear way of telling what is truth, what is deception, what is self-deception, and what is sheer illusion. We know how ‘intelligence’ reporting worked in the running-up to the Iraq war. Floyd’s suggestion that the leaks may have something to do with preparing a similar war of aggression against Iran should be taken seriously.

What of the Pakistan connection to the Taliban? That has not been exactly the biggest secret in recent months and years. But here, also, caution is in order. Juan Cole gives space on his weblog to Brian Cloughly, who thinks substantial Pakistani support to the Taliban unlikely. His reasoning goes like this: if the US supports Pakistan, which supports Taliban fighters killing US and Pakistan soldiers, this would amount to treason. Than t cannot be, so Pakistan does not support the Taliban in a substantioal way. This reasoning is not very convincing: sometimes these kind of ‘treasonous’ things do sometimes happen, however distasteful it may be in Cloughley’s eyes.

Be that as it may, the highlighting of the Pakistan-Taliban-link can also be useful for parts of the national security elite, the  war planners in Washington. Just as with the Iran link, it strenghens the idea that resistance to US occupation of Afghanistan is not homegrown, but mostly a product of outside agitators, foreignd meddling – against the biggest foreign meddler of all, the US itself. If only the outside interference would stop, the US could manage its Afghan troubles without too much trouble.

This is an illusion: resistance in Afghanistan has local roots and reasons. It is not, in essence, a product of Pakistan and Iran. It is most of all a reaction to what the US itself is doing there: occupying a country and oppressing its inhabitants. But it is a useful illusion for the powers-that-be desperately seeking a way to, wel not to winning the war, but at least not openly losing it. Arm-twisting Pakistan and intimidating, possibly attacking, Iran, just might do – so some folks in high places perobably hope – what 150.000 Western soldiers in Afghanistan are manifestly failing to do: crushing an Afghan insurgency growing stronger and stronger.

The Wikileaks documents may show something of the horrors of this endless war. But parts of its contents can also contribute in the preparation of even bigger wars. We should applaud the fact of the leaking: there can never be enough openness, there is no such thing as a legitimate state secret. But we should not take a single word in it at face value. There are lies, there are big lies – and then there is intelligence reporting.


Obama and the continuity of war crimes

June 26, 2010

Change you can belive in, yes indeed! We are at the end of a week in which continuity, not change, was the name of the Obama game. Continuity in war and in war crimes, that is.

Firsdt, we had the high-profile quarrel about general McChristal, ending in his dismissal as commander of the Western troops in Afghanistan. The general and his aides had made a number of unflattering remarks about president Obama and high civilian officials in his administration. Rolling Stone magazine published them in a profile of the general, written with his cooperation. This was – so the liberal commentarocracy commented – insubordination, contempt for civilian elected leadership, and so on and on. The general had to go.

Of course,  this is hardly cause for relief. There goes the general, but the war remains. And the president insisted:  there will not be a change in strategy. “This is a change in personnel, not in policy. We will not miss a beat because of the change of command in the Afghan theatre.” Thus spoke the President of Change. The new Afghan commander? General Petraeus, (in)famous for his presumed ‘successes’ in the Iraq ‘theatre’, ‘successes’ on which Juan Cole has some interesting observations. By the way, you see, war is played out in ‘theatres’, these days. There is no bloodier busines than this bloody show business. 

Yes, much more can be said about the fall of the general. It says something about relationship between civilian and military authorities, about the way power is working in high circles, and about the impasse in which America’s war inm Afghanistan has landed. But that is for another place and time. For now, I’ll just quote Arthur Silber, from one of his perceptive pieces on his weblog: “I don’t give a glimmer of a shadow of the faintest damn about the outcome of incidents of this kind, because the major participants are all war criminals.” The whole article, in which he explains why he is saying this, is well worth reading.

The poor general had barely left the scene when another  highly symbolic announcement attracted some attention. Guantanamo Bay wil stay, for much longer than Obama promised. Remember the promise? He would close that concentration camp, that symbol of the horrors of the so-calles War on Terror, that place with cages for human beings, from which stories of mistreatment and outright torture dripped like blood from the bodies of its prisoners.

Within a few mothns after becoming president, Obama let go of his own deadline, after resistance from Congress. And now, we read in the New York Times: “Stymied by political opposition and focused on other priorities, the Obama administration has sidelined efforts to close the Guantanamo prison, making it unlikely that President Obama will fulfill his promise to close it before his term ends in 2013.” THe NY Times bases this conclusion on what priminent senators, presumably with inside knowledge, are saying.

Changing priorities, resistance age against policies, that is the story. Let’s just say this. Committing new and continuing crimes seems to be a much higher priority for Obama than ending earlier, but still ongoing, crimes. Where’s the change in that?

Dutch government collapsed: a most welcome event

February 23, 2010

The Dutch government has collapsed, amongst acrimonious debates between members of the government coalition, and after a parliamentary debate  in which mmbers of both left wing and right wing opposition parties attacked the goverment forcefully.

The government tore itself apart in a conflict about the Dutch military mission in the Afghan province Uruzgan. The Netherlands has a military force of 1,906 troops in Uruzgan, it is the ‘leading country’, in NATO parlance, of the NATO mission in that province.

The coalition goverment consisted of three parties. CDA, Christian Democrats, led by prime Minister Balkenende, is one of the main right wing parties. CU, Christian Union, are another Chritstian party, much smaller, also basically right wing. The PvdA, Party of Labour, is a social democratic party. CDA and CU wanted to extend theUruzgan mission, in a somewhat smaller form. PvdA wanted to stop the mission in 2010.

Now, in 2007, the government promised that the Dutch troops would end the mission in 2010, after which they would be withdrawn. The PvdA position was: we should stick to that promise. CDA said; now, with a new US president, a new strategy, a new situation, we should be open for an extention of the Dutch military role in Uruzgan. They put pressure on the PvdA. 

That party, not at all a principled opponent of the NATO mission, sent contradictory signals. They stuck to the agreed end date of the mission. At the same time they took an attidude of we-can-talk-things-over. This opened space for the CDA, expecially Maxime Verhagen, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to keep on the pressure and work for extension of the mission.

in February, NATO sent a formal request in that direction. PvdA Vice-Prmier Bos said, basically: no way, I did’nt even know this letter was coming. CDA insisted that PvdA shuld at least be prepared to discuss it. Verhagen also said: Bos must have known that this NATO letter would come, and its outlines could’nt have been a surprise for him. Confusion all around.

It is highly unlikely that Bos indeed knew nothing. NATO only sends a formal request when  the government is more or less certain to agree, after consultation between government and NATO. Either Verhagen has not communicated the PvdA rejection very clarly. Or  else, Bos is only acting surprised, without really being surprised. Or both.

During the parliamentary debate, last Thursday, CDA and PvdA did’t even make a serious effort to hide their differences. On last Friday, the government met in an endless session lasting deep into the night. CDA demanded that PvdA drop its ‘NO’ against the NATO request. PvdA stuck to its position, insisting that they only said what was evident to everyone: there was no Parliamentary majority for an extented mission in Uruzgan, and besides, the mission was supposed to end in 2010, as was agreed in 2007. The break became final, the government fell apart.

This means that an extension of the mission in Uruzgan now is highly unlikely. Those 1.906 soldiers will probably come home in 2010. NATO is upset, it fears contagion of the Afghan withdrawal syndrome. This may hep the rather prominent coverage of the Dutch governmental crisis in international media. I have seen extensive articles on Aljazeera, on the BBC, in Le Monde (translated, found via MR Zine). As an opponent of the whole military intervention and NATO occupation in Afghanistan, I can only be pleased by this development. The more trouble for the NATO occupiers to find soldiers to send there, the better.

This does not mean that we should be especially supportive of the PVDA fo saying no to the mission. The party has supported the current mission. The  party is not against operations like these, it is  no anti-war party. Their rejection of  the extention of the mission was partly for electoral reasons; Ducth military operatons in Aghanistan have cost the lives of 21 Dutch sldiers, the mission is not popular. Also, the Dutch military is a bit overstretched by this mission, it neads a break, to fight another day. That may also have played a part in PvdA opinion.

The collapse of the government is, on the whole, postive. This was a governmnt preparing drastic  austerity measures, this was a government busy changing the retiremant age from 65 to 67. It was a colition between Right and  an teenyweeny bit Left – but the policies were right wing, only softened somewhat to ake the population swallow it. No tears should be shed for them.

However, the coming period will not be easy for workers and the left. Opinion polls show weakness  of the  left wing Socialist Party (SP). Opinion polls also show the strength of the radical  Right; the PVV, a party with fascist leanings, led by islaophobe demagogue Geert Wilders. And the workers’ movement in the Netherlands is not exactly in good shape. The fall of the government was most enjoyable, but the prospcts are not good.

NATO’s Afghan offensive: already failing

February 14, 2010

The big NATO offensive in the Afghnan province Helmand is “going very well”, according t U.S. Security advisor James Jones. A British general, on a Ministry of Defence briefing in London, says the opreation has “gone to plan”.

Well, indeed. The offensive is barele two days old. Already, three NATO soldiers have died. The 15.000 British, American and Afghan soldiers managed to kill  “(a)t least 27 fighters” , if indeed they are  fighters. Eleven Taliban fighters “have been detained”. If this is supposed to be ‘the plan’ which is ‘going well’ , the plan is not very ambitous, and does not include victory. A few more days like this, and the number of NATO deaths wil run into the dozens.

The Taliban will suffer more deaths, but they are on home ground, will find replacements, and will fight on. Besides, they will probably evade big battles and just disappear if NATO pressure becomes too strong. Then they will turn up somewhere alse with new attacks. In a few weeks, the whole offensive, whether or not NATO succeeds in taking the Afghan town Marjah, will run out of steam, wit not much to show for the serious losses NATO will by then have suffered. NATO is losing this war, and this offensive will not change that fact.

But in th meantime, it is not just NATO and Taliban that will suffer. Already today there were 12 civilians reported dead – victims of a NATO rocket landing in the wrong place. There have already been US apologies. But these kinds of errors are built into these kind of grand-scale offensieve operations. More rockets, more civilian deaths will undoubtedly follow during the offensive. And each of these deaths will fire the anger of Afghan people. Each death like this will help turn  Afghan attitudes more against the Western occupiers. Each death will be an argument for strengthened resistence.

This war should stop. NATO does nog have the right to decide who rules Afghanistan, in what fashion. Afghans should finally be allowed to decide their own fate – and British, American and other Western soldiers should no longer be sacrificed for the economic and political ambitions and interests of their rulers.

(edited within five minutes after publishing)