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How The US Funds the Taliban

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I want to draw attention to this article by legendary investigative journalist Aram Roston in last November’s The Nation, which gives some pretty compelling evidence that the US plans Afghanistan to be an endless war. The US taxpayer is apparently the Taliban’s single biggest donor.

Now, many would argue that we’re merely ending the war through monetary means, but you have to really think about what this implies. The Taliban may decide not to shoot at us for the time being, but this money being  given to them now can be used against us at any future date. The Taliban are evidently a cheap organization to run, and with millions of US dollars they can continue resisting forever.

This is simply not rational behavior for a country who’s avowed goal is to “defeat the Taliban”. It is rational for a country who wishes always to have a “Taliban” around to fight.

As one of the truck drivers on the route we pay the Taliban not to fire upon says:

Hanna explained that the prices charged are different, depending on the route: “We’re basically being extorted. Where you don’t pay, you’re going to get attacked. We just have our field guys go down there, and they pay off who they need to.” Sometimes, he says, the extortion fee is high, and sometimes it is low. “Moving ten trucks, it is probably $800 per truck to move through an area. It’s based on the number of trucks and what you’re carrying. If you have fuel trucks, they are going to charge you more. If you have dry trucks, they’re not going to charge you as much. If you are carrying MRAPs or Humvees, they are going to charge you more.”

We have been pursuing the same strategy as part of our “Surge” in Iraq with the so-called “Sunni Awakening”, and while every pundit to the right of an anarchist crows that “The Surge Worked”, we have not seen any political reconciliation there, no disarmament, and no end to suicide attacks (an average of 1.5 of which occurred every week in 2009).

I have no doubt that the “Afghan Surge” or whatever it is they’re calling it nowadays will be trumpeted from every news outlet within six months as the greatest victory since Julius Caesar. But, as in Iraq, I think we will find a full withdrawal to be still in the infinite future.

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Written by pavanvan

April 18, 2010 at 9:07 pm

A Confusing Afghan Offensive

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C.J. Chivers of The New York Times has generally provided solid reporting out of Afghanistan, if a bit overshadowed by his more accomplished colleague, Dexter Filkins. But today’s non-story on the front page, entitled “Snipers Imperil US Troops in Offensive in Afghanistan” is a rather perplexing.

First, I’m a bit unclear as to how this constitutes news, as such. Did we expect not to be “imperiled” as we forced our way into unfriendly territory? Was it the snipers that were unexpected? But that can’t be it, because the article mentions snipers in a matter-of-fact way – no quotes from generals saying something to the effect that “we just didn’t expect them to shoot at us!” or anything like that.

The story unfolds predictably – US and “Afghan” forces are in danger, they’ve had “close calls”, and then they retaliated with mortars, helicopters and airplanes. This, of course, is absurd in and of itself (countering small arms fire with massive gunships), but we’ve been hearing this for a while, so it fails to shock (or awe).

But then things get even more confusing, as Mr. Chivers attempts to have it both ways:

Over all, most Taliban small-arms fire has been haphazard and ineffective, an unimpressive display of ill discipline or poor skill. But this more familiar brand of Taliban shooting has been punctuated by the work of what would seem to be several well-trained marksmen.

So the Taliban is both “haphazard and ineffective” as well as “well-trained”. Later he mentions the Taliban executing a “complex ambush”. Which is it? Are they ill-disciplined or well-trained?

Then we get the dumbest quote in the whole article.

First the company fired its 60-millimeter mortars, but the Taliban kept firing. Company K escalated after the Third Platoon commander reported by radio that several insurgents had moved into a compound near the canal.

The forward air controller traveling with Company K, Capt. Akil R. Bacchus, arranged for an airstrike.

About a minute later, a 250-pound GPS-guided bomb whooshed past overhead and slammed into the compound with a thunderous explosion.

“Good hit!” said Capt. Joshua P. Biggers, the company commander. “Good hit.”

Yeah, that’s some great sharpshooting with that 250-pound bomb. I feel like I’m in a Kafka novel.

So finally, in the end, we learn that despite being isolated and “constantly challenged” by the Taliban, the K company was able to hold their position until reinforcements arrived yesterday. I guess I just don’t see how any of this is surprising, or warrants a 1,500 word article. And what was the ultimate point of the article? That the Taliban don’t like American soldiers in their country? That the Marja offensive isn’t going well? The first should be self-evident – and the second, if true, wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the article. All we found out is that the Army is encountering “difficulties”, and a few throwaway quotes from officers – quotes that tell us nothing about the situation or how they feel about it.

I mean, I get that we’re supposed to root for the ‘good guys’ here (the US troops) and invest our emotions in their eradication of those bad ol’ Taliban – but that’s why I watch movies. From a newspaper I want, y’know, news.

Written by pavanvan

February 18, 2010 at 7:30 am

Talkin’ Taliban

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Kai Eide is the UN “special representative” in Afghanistan, and his former student, Peter Galbraith, has repeatedly accused him of corrupt influence within the Karzai administration, including allegations of vote rigging in last year’s elections (which were widely seen as a fraud). Galbraith was later fired for his accusations.

Now the Times reports Mr. Eide has engaged in high-level talks with Taliban leaders.

Kai Eide, the United Nations’ special representative in Afghanistan, met with a group of Taliban leaders in the days leading to this week’s international conference in London, where President Hamid Karzai invited the Taliban to enter peace talks.

It’s unclear at this point what sort of game Mr. Eide is playing, especially since no details of the meeting (where/when it was held, who represented the Taliban, what was said, etc) are available. But I think it’s pretty clear that the UN – and by extension, the US – are rapidly shifting their strategy from “we don’t negotiate with Terrorists” to “Hey guys, let’s talk about this”.

The plan seems simple enough. To use the overwrought war-as-football metaphor, the US would seem to have “moved the goalposts”. It now appears that we are resigned to some portion of Afghanistan being ruled by the Taliban – perhaps even most of Afghanistan – but at the same time we are unwilling to let go of Hamid Karzai. If I could divine the strategy of our oh-so-wise policy planners, I would think they envision some form of power-sharing arrangement wherein the Karzai government controls Kabul and the heroin-producing regions of Afghanistan and the Taliban take the outlying desert. That way the US can extricate itself with some “credibility” left intact while leaving in place its “stooge” for whatever future plans they have for Afghanistan (permanent military bases, of course, but perhaps a natural-gas pipeline as well).

Eide’s role in all of this is still a bit mysterious. It is clear, from numerous previous statements, that Mr. Eide is very close to the Karzai regime and is willing to invest quite a lot to see it saved. That he fired his subordinate for leaking the Afghan election fraud is further evidence of this. It seems likely Mr. Eide is using his role as a UN envoy to prop up the Karzai regime and shield it from international criticism.

It’s still unclear whether the Taliban will be willing to negotiate a power-sharing agreement. This must be a very difficult decision for them. On one hand, the Americans are on the run and lack the resources to prosecute their effort for more than another year. Just holding out for a few more months can get them a better deal – and if (as our planners fear) the Taliban have the resources to resist indefinitely, control of Afghanistan is almost assured to them. On the other hand, if the Taliban find themselves running low on resources, morale or income, the smart thing to do would be to negotiate now. They might not get a better deal later.

But given the string of audacious attacks on Kabul, I think it safe to say the Taliban’s operations proceed unhindered. So I expect they will reject the offer of negotiation and press on.

The Karzai regime is immensely unpopular, and the only thing between him and an angry mob are American soldiers. Unless he can secure some sort of deal with the Taliban, it looks as though his days are numbered.

Written by pavanvan

January 30, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Still More Death in Pakistan

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Oh my God, not again! What kind of headline is this, New York Times? “Taliban Leader May Have Been Target of Drone Strike”. What does that mean, may have been? You really don’t even know who the target was supposed to be?

But nonetheless it killed “at least” 10 civilians.

Several Pakistani security officials said there was no word on the Taliban leader. “The important thing for us is whether Hakimullah is among those killed,” said a Pakistani official in South Waziristan. A Pakistani intelligence official added that he believed Mr. Mehsud was “definitely targeted” on Thursday.

Right, that’s the “most important thing” – getting this one guy who may or may not have been the target of this recent strike. Well, according to this guy he was “definitely targeted”. But the state department has other ideas.

A United States intelligence official said he could not confirm that Mr. Mehsud had been killed.

Great! Anyway, we’ve been trying to kill this guy before, right NYT?

American officials have been trying to kill Mr. Mehsud with drone strikes, but there was no immediate confirmation from American authorities that he had been the target of this attack, which struck a compound in a remote region near the border of the South Waziristan and North Waziristan tribal areas about 7 a.m. on Thursday.

In April of last year he escaped unhurt when an American drone struck a militant training camp in northwest Pakistan.

So that’s our strategy? Just play whack-a-mole with these killer flybot drones and hope we nail this guy? What about, you know, the civilians in the area? I guess they don’t matter.

Written by pavanvan

January 14, 2010 at 9:44 pm

War of Attrition (against Terror)

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If, as we are led to believe, Osama Bin Laden truly perpetrated the 9/11 attacks, and is now alive and in hiding, I think we can be sure he regards this past decade as an unqualified success. His whole plan was to draw America into an expensive and pointless war with no clear end, and to be fair he said as much in his various audio and video statements, once going so far as to cackle: “All I must do is send a brother to the furthest mountain east and unfurl an Al Qaeda flag. The Americans will come running!” When one views the trillion-dollar deficits, the open-ended troop commitment (each soldier costs $1 million dollars) and the mass of cash printed to sustain these expenditures culminating in a financial crisis unthinkable in 2001, it seems Mr. Bin Laden could not have wished for better results. Keep in mind, of course, that he cares very little for the lives of his own countrymen (he demonstrated as much when he sacrificed the lives of those 11 WTC hijackers), and indeed, so far as one can tell from his cryptic and contradictory statements, his primary motivation was an outrage at the global power of the US and a desire to diminish that power by any and all means.

9/11 was a trap, and the US did exactly what was expected of it. We are now in our 9th year of war, and a significant portion of the Muslim world has hardened against us. What may once have been seen as a war against the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, is now increasingly seen as a war against Islam itself. How we came to be in this state of affairs, what we might have done differently and where to go now are the pressing questions of this decade.

It is always dangerous to anthropomorphize international relations, to expect whole countries to act as an individual would, but some useful parallels can still be drawn between the behavior of individuals and states. Let us say, for example, you are a member of the popular elite at your high school. On your climb to the top, you have often had to snub others and at times, even openly humiliate some people. It is all a part of governance, as it were – a part of staying on top. Now one of those people you snubbed – perhaps you gave him a scathing insult in the lunchroom, and the whole room stopped eating and laughed at him – he wants revenge. He knows there are others you have so treated, seeks them out, and devises a plan. Every so often, he, or one of his compatriots, will randomly walk up to you, punch you in the face, and run away. He knows how strong you are (in fact, that is a major reason your clique remains loyal), and that he cannot win in an open (“conventional”) battle, but by a series of a thousand pin-pricks he believes he can whittle away your resources.

The plan begins, and your adversary delivers the first sucker punch. Being bigger and stronger, you of course catch and beat him. But curiously, it does not end there; once every two weeks or so, someone runs up to you and hits you in the face. Sometimes it’s your main adversary, sometimes one of his few friends. It begins to tax you, constantly having to chase these hooligans down, and often you can’t; and this begins to fade the aura of dominance you  have concocted around yourself, what the US calls it’s “credibility”. You become paranoid, lashing out (pre-emptively) on those you suspect are plotting to punch you. After a while, the sucker punches stop, but their effect lingers on. You remain consumed with jealousy and anger for the injuries sustained, your security irrevocably damaged.

I do not wish to over-state the significance of this crude analogy, but I think it roughly describes the United States’ response. One particularly notices a strain of machismo in our propaganda, constant repetition of tough-guy statements like, “You cannot run; you cannot hide. We will defeat you.” – this from Barack! And lest we forget, President Bush once professed that his strategy was to “smoke ’em [the Iraqis] out”, whatever that means. And we have remained in these dual quagmires, Iraq and Afghanistan, for no discernible reason, pursuing an ill-defined and probably impossible goal (making us perpetually “safe”) in large part to save face. Mr. Bin Laden saw, with apparent clarity, that the US would not be able to shrug off his blow, and would instead spend untold resources in attempting to retaliate.

Going back to the schoolyard analogy, if you were both popular and wise, you would not have reacted violently to the first sucker punch, and would instead have asked an audience with your adversary and attempted to set things right. You might have said something like, “Look, I’m sorry if I mistreated you in the past. I don’t seek to excuse my actions, but I hope you can forgive me. This fighting won’t do either of us any good; instead, let’s talk about it, and maybe we can come away friends, or at least not bitter enemies.”

That the US leadership, corrupted by 60 years of total victory (plus one forgotten defeat), could not see such a clear and obvious trap speaks, I think, to the nature of their power and the cunning of Mr. Bin Laden. And their refusal, after nearly a decade of fiscal hemorrhage, to stop these misbegotten and absurd “military actions” speaks volumes of the shallow origins of their foreign policy.

Written by pavanvan

January 13, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Just Kidding!

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You may recall Obama’s war speech last week wherein he set a definite timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. Specifically, his words were:

And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.

Straight, direct, no real room for ambiguity there. “After 18 months our troops will (not “might”, not “could”) come home.”

How, then, to explain this article in today’s New York Times with the headline “No Firm Plans for a US Exit From Afghanistan”? Well, let’s see:

In a flurry of coordinated television interviews, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other top administration officials said that any troop pullout beginning in July 2011 would be slow and that the Americans would only then be starting to transfer security responsibilities to Afghan forces under Mr. Obama’s new plan.

Clever, clever Obama! The soldiers will begin coming home in July 2011, but he never specified how quickly! By this logic our presence in Afghanistan could still be unlimited. We only have to send one soldier home per year.

Here’s some justification from an important-sounding General:

“We have strategic interests in South Asia that should not be measured in terms of finite times,” said Gen. James L. Jones, the president’s national security adviser, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We’re going to be in the region for a long time.”

See, it’s okay! We’ve got “strategic interests” in South Asia, apparently so important that they must be measured in infinite terms. Just don’t bother trying to find out what those “interests” might be.

Mr. Gates said that under the plan, 100,000 American troops would be in Afghanistan in July 2011, and “some handful, or some small number, or whatever the conditions permit, will begin to withdraw at that time.”

When Obama thundered to West Point that US troops will begin coming home in 2011, he neglected to mention that “handful” bit. But who can blame him – the speech sounded so much better with the deception left in.

Well at least we might have a chance at catching Osama Bin Laden. Isn’t that right, Mr. Gates?

Mr. Gates said it had been “years” since the United States had had reliable intelligence about Mr. bin Laden, but he said it was still the assumption of American intelligence agencies that he was hiding in North Waziristan, in Pakistan.

Awesome.

Written by pavanvan

December 7, 2009 at 10:58 am

An Unspoken Surge

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Curiously missing from Obama’s speech last week, save for some vague references to our “success” in Afghanistan being “inextricably linked to Pakistan”, was the increase in “drone” attacks that shall be visited upon that unfortunate desert.

Obama thinks most of “Al Qaeda” (or perhaps “The Taliban”) is hiding out in Pakistan. But Obama cannot “go in and get ‘im” like his cowboy predecessor because of the small issue of Pakistan’s sovereignty. So instead he pummels them with flying death machines (euphemistically, “drones”), indiscriminately bombing villages and murdering, on average, 10 civilians per strike.  So long as he can claim that some “terror leaders” were killed (no need to specify whom – nobody’s checking anyway), the civilian deaths can conveiently fall under that humanitarian heading of “collateral damage”.

The Pakistani government officially speaks out against flying death machines attacking its citizens, but privately they have come to an agreement with the US military that so long as the dollars keep flowing, they won’t register any serious complaints. After all, the US just tripled aid to Pakistan, mainly to keep the Pakistani government quiet while the US butchers its citizens.

What a fantastic war.

Written by pavanvan

December 6, 2009 at 2:35 pm