Tag Archive 'Afghanistan'

Frank Miller’s Geostrategic Theory

Frank Lovece sat down with Frank Miller for Newsday to discuss his upcoming film The Spirit. Toward the end of it Lovece asked Miller about remarks he’d made in 2007 in support of the Iraq War, and offered him an opportunity to clarify/retract. Miller was unapologetic:

Miller: When the U.S. was attacked at Pearl Harbor, we didn’t just declare war on Japan, we declared war on Germany. It was an international fascist effort. And so when I said that the attack on Iraq made sense, it was the same way we had to attack not just Afghanistan. Instead we had to attack the center of Islamofascism.


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So Very LP

What’s this? Bob Barr wanted Ronpaul as his veep? Take your eyes off the Libertarian Party for a minute and you miss a lot of foolishness. Our old friend Steve Newton fills us in on the amusing drama that ensued (Ronpaul said no BTW).

Now, I had been under the impression that Barr already had a vice presidential candidate and it turns out I was right. Evidently Barr sought to dump Wayne Allyn Root for Ronpaul, or Root dumped himself in honor of Ronpaul. Apparently Root had been controversial within the party for his support of the very uncontroversial war effort in Afghanistan.

Sometimes the LP can look like a bloody civil war in Lilliput, fought over possession of a discarded matchstick.

Alas, it also seems some Ronpaulists are now accusing Barr of being a Republican double agent, sent to destroy the Libertarian Party. As if Libertarians ever needed any assistance in doing that. Where Ronpaulists go paranoia follows though, and a faction within the LP has begun an effort to get the Libertarian National Committee to un-endorse its candidates for being clandestine conservative operatives.

So very LP.

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A Clear Blue Sky

WTC attack from space

Today is the 11th. The unwelcome anniversary. Everyone remembers where they were when they heard. I was awoken by a phone call on the day. “The country’s under attack!” the phone said. You wake up rather fast when that’s yelled into your ear early in the morning.

Shortly after that I was glued to my television set with a client on the phone yammering about God knows what. It hadn’t sunk into her yet what was happening. It was 9:59EST when the South Tower collapsed and she started screaming. I guess I hung up.


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A Test for French Will in Afghanistan

In the wake of a horrific magazine spread depicting Taliban fighters showing off war trophies looted from the bodies of French soldiers, President Sarkozy has been predictably and commendably resolute. France isn’t going to run away for a change.

Unfortunately and just as predictably, that might not be the majority opinion in France. A recent poll found that 55% of the French public wants to pull out. For his own part, Eric de Lavarene, the journalist who published the pictures, grotesquely defended his actions as morally equivalent to reporting as a NATO embed. A statement as contemptible as arguing that a serial murderer is as entitled to his perspective on his crimes being broadcast, as the detectives pursuing him in the cause of self-evident justice.

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Bloody Day for Australia

In Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan, the Australian army suffers its worst casualties in a single engagement since the Vietnam war, after a Taliban ambush of an SAS patrol.

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Logistically Untenable?

Belmont Club
We could be forced to entirely revamp our strategy in Afghanistan if the situation in Pakistan continues to deteriorate and the Russians intend to be uncooperative.

There are in fact serious concerns that troops in Afghanistan can be cut off should a hostile regime emerge in Pakistan.

Historically, this area has been difficult to subdue and logistics has been a big part of the problem. Even with today’s technology, supporting a large force through hostile territory would be very difficult. An air bridge could be established but that would take considerable resources. Resources I’m not sure the AF has available. However, I am not an expert in this area.

The ripple effects of losing Musharraf and Russia’s muscle flexing could be severe.

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Rising Tide of Violence

An excellent visualization of the increase in attacks in Afghanistan’s individual provinces. Broadly, there’s been about a 50% increase in Taliban attacks from last year. An urgent situation, whatever Geoff Morrell thinks.

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We see this kind of thing in the press :

U.S. and Afghan troops have abandoned a remote outpost in eastern Afghanistan where militants killed nine American soldiers earlier this week, officials said Wednesday.

Compounding the military setback, insurgents quickly seized the village of Wanat in Nuristan province after driving out the handful of police left behind to defend government offices there, Afghan officials said.

Factually true, and oh so very misleading. For the real story of these nine men and the fantastic job they and their comrades did I suggest letting McQ enlighten you.

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Support Citizen’s Media: A Challenge Grant

Official friend-of-Registan.net Sean-Paul Kelley, of The Agonist fame, has set forth an offer I simply cannot refuse: He is willing to pitch in $1000, if I can raise the remainder of my costs for going to Afghanistan August 22. That would mean that, in order to buy my plane tickets without their cost rising into unaffordability, I would need to raise $3000 by August 7, or I won’t be able to go.

I have received some support from some pretty incredible people so far. The meter below is about $70 short of my actual total raised representative of what remains, so I need more help to be able to head off to the country I love and cover so much here.

This represents an extraordinary show of support on his part. So let’s call this pushing into official blegging territory: pass this link around to whomever you can think of, link from your blogs, email with gleeful abandon.

Help send me to Afghanistan! Help support citizen’s media!

UPDATE: Another friend-of-Registan.net, who wishes to remain anonymous, has pledged an additional $1000 to the cause of sending me to Afghanistan. In addition, I see in the last 12 hours several people have contributed significant sums of money as well. I am, in a word, stunned by your generosity. Thank you! And keep on spreading the word!

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The Khyber Pass: A History of Empire & Invasion, by Paddy Docherty

This book was written entirely in the passive voice. The passive voice was used to avoid assigning causation or personhood to various events. As a result, we learn that places were invaded, people were slaughtered, armies were founded, but no one can say by whom.

Good grief, that is exhausting. How is it a book almost exclusively in the passive voice got past the legion of editors and publishers to become a hardcover history? Seriously, how does that happen? It’s not that Docherty didn’t do his homework, nor is that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—the history here is stunning, and eye opening even for me (and I’ve read a lot of histories of the area). The subject is a good one; the research excellent. But the writing? Nearly unbearable!


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Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

Blogging can bring about some amazing opportunities. Through my involvement with Global Voices I’ve had the opportunity to meet some extraordinary people working very hard for the basic right to speak their minds—something I routinely take for granted. It is humbling. But speech isn’t everything. Every once in a while, you get the chance to follow through on what you write about. Because of a book I reviewed in this space, this past week I received a very generous invitation to spend two weeks touring northern Afghanistan at the end of August. More importantly, my employer even more generously gave me permission to take the time to do this.

Such an opportunity does, however, pose its challenges. For one, because of transit time I shall have to take unpaid leave from my job. For another, I have neither the benefit of corporate or government sponsorship for such a trip, nor do I have wealthy parents, which means I am out-of-pocket for a significant portion of the trip. And since I do not happen to be independently wealthy, I’m looking at a mountain of debt—about $3000—to go.

So here is my humble plea to you, my dear readers: in the great tradition of blogger-journalists across the web, help me go to Afghanistan. I will be posting dispatches from there as regularly as possible (some areas we will travel to are very remote and inaccessible), and trying to take as many pictures as I can. Individually, contributions can be as small as you want or can afford—$5, $10, it doesn’t matter terribly. The wonderful thing about the web is everyone can contribute small things and the result is spectacular. Whatever you feel is appropriate I will appreciate, given the trust I have hopefully built up here that I don’t carry anyone’s water or push anyone else’s agenda.

Here is a contributor’s box from PayPal. Giving is secure, and confidential (you can make it anonymous if you prefer). I’ll personally email you my thanks, and hopefully strike up a correspondence. That’s the other thing about blogging: I have met, and more importantly befriended, some of the most incredible people one can meet. So let’s add to the cause of citizen journalism, and see what we can accomplish!

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Boumediene — The Great Sandbagging

UPDATE: Welcome QandO readers. Please look around after you’ve finished with this post, but McQ says you have to go back over to QandO when you’re done … but I won’t tell if you won’t.

The recent Supreme Court case involving Guantanomo Bay (GITMO) detainees and writs of habeas corpus promises to be one of the most significant opinions for decades to come. Not because it grants foreign citizens the right to challenge their detention in U.S. civil courts (although that’s huge), nor because the decision will lead to possible terrorists being set free in the U.S. (which is almost inevitable), but because it sets a new standard for the power of the Supreme Court. However, no matter the angle from which one approaches the case, constitutional scholars will likely not tire of discussing its implications and applications for quite some time. This post will concentrate on just one of those angles (with others hopefully to follow). (more…)

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(Relatively) Measuring Success

This is the most recent of a series of posts on Registan.net where I explore some of the fundamentals of conflict within the tribal areas of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. At the end of this post is a link to the rest of them.

Nightwatch argues that May was the most violent month in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion:

NightWatch almost has completed its monthly assessments of combat for both April and May. In the data sample drawn from unclassified reporting sources that NightWatch uses, April featured 199 violent incidents in 86 districts, making it the most lethal April in the six year conflict. May featured 214 incidents of violence in over 100 districts, also a new six-year total for May and the highest single monthly total. Despite official efforts to spotlight improvement, the spring offensive thus far is worse than last year’s spring offensive. The security situation has deteriorated again.

At no prior time has the Taliban managed to stage attacks in over 100 of the 398 districts. The previous highs were 86 in April 2008 and 83 in May 2007. Fighting has been heavy in Garmser District in Helmand Province but it has been significantly higher in Zormat District in Paktia Province; Andar District in Ghazni Province and Asadabad District in Konar, all across from the tribal areas of northern and central Pakistan. If Taliban fighters are heading to Pakistan, they are going back to base to rest and to get more ammunition and supplies.

Now, it is notable that the worst fighting has actually not been in the south, but in Paktya, Ghazni, and Kunar, all of which are provinces operating under the new success metrics breathlessly regurgitated by our lazy propagandists. Kunar in particular was the site of David Kilcullen’s now-seminal piece on the magical IED-stopping power of roads; Asadabad in particular is the site of one of the PRTs making the most talked-about progress in terms of construction and violence reduction.

Are we being sold a bill of goods? Are the areas bordering the FATA in far worse shape than we were lead to believe, and is the South in comparative good health?

It is not as simple to answer as it may seem. There are three metrics to look at: actual numbers, comparative numbers, and perceived numbers. For our purposes—i.e. for the purpose of some sort of permanent defeat of the Taliban and associated militias—the real numbers don’t matter. The comparative numbers might, if there was an effective IO campaign in place—not selling roads as bomb shields, but selling the astonishing success of the brand new national telecommunications network, or the very real benefits of steadily improving developmental indicators. But since there is not, the comparative numbers could be interesting, but haven’t really gone anywhere.

What of the perception? Again, this is a difficult question to unravel: security is rarely at the top of a typical Afghan’s priority. Most want food, or an end to the pervasive and devastating impact of official corruption.


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Because Aren’t All Insurgencies the Same?

Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal is a frustrating columnist. In April he made the head scratching argument that Khost province in Afghanistan, which has, along with the rest of RC-East, experienced a 36% jump in insurgent attacks over last year, was really on the verge of victory and only John Kerry says otherwise.

Today he writes that FARC, the LTTE, and the Sadr militia are really the same because they were defeated militarily. He of course ignores the very salient fact that neither are alike at all and each required completely different tactics to weaken. The Sadrists have been quelled through concerted American-backed military action in a warzone; the Tamil Tigers were undermined by decades of systematic police and intelligence work before the latest of many military forays to the north of Sri Lanka, most of which had failed (according to some excellent research by RAND scholar C. Christine Fair). And FARC? FARC has been around for 30 years, wholly impervious to our best efforts to undermine it militarily. FARC is weakened now because of political and economic changes. Not the military.

But Stephens feels comfortable spending a week strutting around a few disparate FOBs in Afghanistan, then declaring victory. So I don’t really take what he has to say at face value… or any value at all. But his column is a textbook example of what happens when you really love your hammer—everything looks like a nail.

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A Retreating Periphery

Indian Frontiers
(photo: Mani Babbar)

After 9/11 widened Al Qaeda’s ambitious war against most of the world, Osama bin Laden described his own axis-o-evil as being composed of “Crusaders, Zionists and Hindus.” But at some point, without anyone much noticing, that seems to have changed for Hindus.


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Of “Battle Fatigue” and National Caveats

Posted first to Registan.net, your one-stop shop for all things Central Asia, this is a tangent to a really excellent theme I’ve been tracking the past few weeks—the flow of press releases masquerading as journalism from Afghanistan to our largest publications. Check it out if you like this.

It appears NATO is feeling “battle fatigue” after six years of combat. I feel for them, I really do—and it would be impossible for me to criticize the stance since I have never been in combat. But why, then, is the notion that Afghans just might be too exhausted to fight any more so alien to western thinking? That some may not be as actively battling off Taliban and associated militants with sleepless fervor as they could because they’re just too exhausted?

The most battle-hardened U.S. troops in Afghanistan will have been there for a total of perhaps five years (this is an educated guess; it could be either more or less). After so much time fearing for one’s life, feeling utterly fatigued is perfectly natural. And the political desire to end the expense of such a sustained conflict is also perfectly natural and understandable.

Most Afghans, however, cannot remember a time without warfare. With a median age of only 17.6 years, the vast majority of Afghans simply were not alive during a period without active warfare in their country—warfare that will, in about 19 months, reach its 30th anniversary.

I would say the Afghans are rather more resilient than we are. But NATO’s fecklessness certainly doesn’t help. The revelation that German special forces allowed the Baghlan bomber to escape because they were not authorized to use lethal force—they were only permitted to capture him, not kill him—drives this point further home. Many NATO countries are simply not acting as if they want to win. Only five of the 26 countries currently operating in Afghanistan—the U.S., the UK, Canada, Denmark, and Netherlands—can behave like a normal army. The rest have their operations crippled by restrictive caveats, some of which now can be shown to be actively aiding the insurgency.

The threat to the international relief workers and the ISAF soldiers stationed in the north may now be even greater than it was before. Warned of ISAF’s activities and intent on taking revenge, the man and his network are active once again. Over 2,500 Germans are stationed between Faryab and Badakhshan, along with Hungarian, Norwegian and Swedish troops.

The case has caused disquiet at the headquarters of the ISAF peacekeeping force in Kabul. The current strategy for fighting the enemy is to buy as many Taliban sympathizers as possible, to at least win them over for a while — and to “eliminate” the hardliners through targeted assassinations.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The German KSK is actually a highly respected, highly capable force. They were able to track the bomber down, observe him for weeks without him realizing it, and even close almost to capture before they were discovered. But they were just not permitted to behave like any other SOF or even police unit would: kill a dangerous man if he looks ready to escape.

And this strategy of purchasing Taliban sympathizers is the height of folly: it is precisely what the British tried during their disastrous invasion in 1838. When the money ran out some years later, those Afghans they had bribed didn’t walk home thankful to have received British gold, they rose up in murderous fury at the foreign invader who now didn’t even have money to placate their wounded pride. Refusing to fight while spreading Euros like Nutella on toast might work for a little bit. But, as Der Spiegel has documented, it will also fatally undermine what had been one of the great successes of the war.

I’m sure hanging out in Feyzabad and getting fat is really tiring, but honestly, bitte, stop undermining everyone else.

This Topic Continues:

  • Germany and Afghanistan
  • The Germans Have to Learn How to Kill
  • About the Baghlan Bombing
  • Disassembling the Baghlan Bombing
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The Danger of Funding Thugs

Sure it’s nice when you pay them to pretty please stop attacking us, but what of the consequences? This is the dark side of the CLC/Sons of Iraq/Awakening bandwagon we jumped on, and it’s one I’ve been mocked repeatedly for not letting go of.

But doing business with the gunmen, whom the U.S. military has dubbed Sons of Iraq, is like striking a deal with Tony Soprano, according to the soldiers who walk the battle-blighted streets, where sewage collects in malodorous pools.

“Most of them kind of operate like dons in their areas,” said 2nd Lt. Forrest Pierce, a platoon leader with the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment. They shake down local businessmen for protection money, seize rivals for links to the insurgency and are always angling for more men, more territory and more power.

For U.S. soldiers on the beat, it means navigating a complex world of shifting allegiances, half-truths and betrayals.

Or we can call them what we do in Afghanistan: warlords.

Here is something darker to think about. In 1838, during the first of what would be three disastrous invasions over the next century, the British Empire thought it a great idea to pay off the various tribal chiefs of Afghanistan to keep them from attacking British supply and communications lines. By 1842 the gold had run out, and by 1843, the British suffered one of their most humiliating defeats as the tribes united in fury and killed them all save one (William Brydon, look him up).

The exact dynamic is at play in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In Afghanistan, we hire Taliban sympathizers—more accurately called “those who are so poor they can be hired as fighters by Taliban and related militant groups”—to build roads at a rate just above the going day rate for a warrior. We offer them this carte blanche, just as we do in Iraq, and so long as they promise to work for us, we promise to give them an income.

This is the worst sort of dependency. It does nothing to address the long term stability issues in Iraq (or Afghanistan), just as it does nothing to ensure we can ever scale down our largess without fear of catastrophe. Welcome to our new strategic masterminds.

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Why the Taliban Cease Fire Won’t Matter

Published first at Registan.net, this is the culmination of some research I’ve been doing into the nature and history of Pashtun tribal militancy. It draws from a mixture of out-of-print ethnocgraphic and geographic surveys, as well as contemporary news accounts, and tries to make the case that much of the turbulence there is really not unique in an historical sense. As always, comments and discussion is welcome.


There is a great deal of western unease about the potential cease-fire between some Taliban and tribal militant groups in the NWFP and FATA of Pakistan and the new civilian government. Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of Tehrik-i Taliban and primary suspect in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and sworn enemy of this month’s U.S. friend-of-convenience Maulvi Nazir, has registered interest in a cease-fire in Waziristan.

This is a major step, and indicative of the approach valued by the new civilian government: reconciliation, not confrontation. The usual suspects, namely the U.S., are all a-jitter about the prospect of a peace deal with the militants there. But there really is no reason to feel such deep concern. These sorts of cease fire agreements have a long history in the FATA area, and there really is nothing fundamentally new about the situation. In other words, such deep concern is overblown, and stems more from historical naiveté than anything else.


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Roads, More Roads, and Still More Roads Indeed!

This is the latest post in a running commentary on a new meme to emerge from the PR folks in Afghanistan: the security benefits of building roads. The argument, advanced by a few American reporters and one David Kilcullen, is that building paved roads reduces the IED threat and contributes to the security necessary for economic development. I find this highly inplausible, and the lack of evidence—across multiple reports from multiple reporters—deepens this suspicion. If I can arrange it with a magazine, I’m going to try to compile all of these into a single essay addressing the issue of journalist knowledge and gullibility, ethics, and what security really means.

Naturally, this was posted first at Registan.net, which is where you should be going for updates on the Forgotten War in Afghanistan, as well as the latest machinations in the still-simmering Former Soviet Union.

Remember David Ignatius’ pathetic excuse for reporting on Afghanistan? After a whole week in a few provinces in RC-East, he was making pronouncements about how the country was faring. Barnett Rubin properly called him out on this crap, but it’s worth looking at his ludicrous column and seeing if it might tell us anything.

Aside from the many facile references to Rudyard Kipling and British colonial administrators, and a curious inability to look at a map (Naray, in Paktya, is about 100 miles southwest of Asadabad, in Kunar… over Pakistani territory), there is a quite fascinating section.

Alison Blosser, a young State Department officer, is using a similar approach to help guide the Provincial Reconstruction Team for Kunar province, based south of here in Asadabad. An Ohio State graduate, she speaks fluent Pashto, which she learned before taking up her previous assignment at the U.S. consulate in Peshawar, Pakistan. Dressed in a head scarf and body armor, she might be a modern version of Gertrude Bell, the celebrated British adventurer and colonial administrator of the 1920s.

Blosser and her colleagues have employed what they call a “roads strategy” to bring stability to Kunar. The biggest project so far was building a paved two-lane road from Jalalabad in the lush flatlands up the Kunar River valley to Asadabad. The road is a magnet for economic development in what had been an insurgent stronghold, and the PRT is planning new roads into what Blosser calls the “capillary valleys” where the insurgents have fled.

At least we now know who’s been pushing the Roads thing.

The tribal elders see the prosperity the new roads have brought and want the same for their villages. “We say, ‘Fine, but you have to guarantee security,’ ” Blosser says. That’s the essence of the counterinsurgency strategy U.S. forces are using in Afghanistan. As the military clears new areas, the PRTs follow quickly behind with roads, bridges and schools.

And by this, he directly contradicts what David Kilcullen was able to say with nary a critical peep from the professional counterinsurgency crowd. Whom to believe? I have no idea. Kilcullen says security follows roads. Ignatius says roads follow security, and then reinforce it. Ignatius’ version of causation makes more intuitive sense. But Afghanistan has a habit of defying intuition.

In either case, since Kilcullen is the supposedly serious thinker here, and Ignatius obviously is not, that places the burden of proof on Kilcullen (or anyone else who agrees with his version of causation) to build the case that roads equal security. Right now, there is precious little data and a great deal of pleasing talk in anecdotal generalities. Until there is an actual argument—involving evidence, which is noticeably lacking in Kilcullen’s writing on this subject—then no one can really say for sure.

And is Carlotta Gall the only reporter employed by an American paper to work off something other than official government press handlers?

This topic continues:
Of PR Campaigns and the Utility of Area Knowledge
War Is Peace, and Other Orwells at the Journal
A Practical Look at the Value of Roads
Learning from PRTs
The Strange Benefits of Paving Afghanistan

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Forgive the Self-Promotion

I honestly don’t have the time to reformat everything for several cross-posts, so this is a summary of posts at my other blog, Registan.net, where I’ve been discussing some interesting topics related to counterinsurgency and reconstruction in Afghanistan, as well as media and culture issues.

  • First up is a critical review of a new essay by Dave Kilcullen, on the security benefits of road construction. It was followed up by posting a disturbing video of an ambush against U.S. forces in the Korengal Valley to support my analysis.
  • Related to the above is a look at scholarship on the implementation and effectiveness of Provincial Reconstruction Teams, and where both scholarship and tweaked policy could yield enormous positive dividends on the ground and larger community.
  • I noted some not-so-buried racism shining brightly at the L.A. Times. Co-blogger Kayumars Turkestani noted this isn’t the first time.
  • I take a peek at the potential of Kazakhstan dominating the global uranium market, and if concerns over their security capabilities are legitimate or overblown.
  • And yet again, a look at how Afghanistan is not at all the same as Iraq, and why arguments that apply to one country do not necessarily apply to the other.
  • And finally, some lighter cultural stuff: a reporter traveled to Afghanistan several years ago and found out they deeply loved Johnny Cash. Yes, that is typed correctly. Go check out that video!
  • Oh and let’s all look at that movie about PMCs and Central Asia starring Hillary Duff as a slutty Central Asian pop star.
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Two Myths About Afghanistan

In the interest of sparking another weekend long 30 reply post, I present this Washington Post article by freelance writer Ann Marlowe who was embedded with the US forces twice in 2007.

To spoil the surprise,

The first is that Hamid Karzai is a good president who looks after American interests. The second is that the situation in Afghanistan is going from bad to worse. Both of these unchallenged “facts” are dangerous errors.

Read the whole thing for the authors full thoughts and reasoning. Is she right? I’m inclined to believe so, but I think Afghanistan could potentially be doing much much better, based on the many links and criticisms fellow blogger Josh has provided.

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McCain Speaks to Europe

John McCain
photo: Chris Dunn

Spiegel has a typically aggressive (and aggressively European) interview with John McCain today. In many ways it’s an interesting yet disappointing exercise, due to its focus on the perceived past sins of the Bush administration. While much ground is covered, a little too often Spiegel essentially asks “Bush did XYZ, which is bad. How will you differ?” That comes at the expense of examining many questions about the future Atlantic partnership.

However, the responses are interesting…particularly in tone. McCain gives Europe answers that in many ways will not conform to their desires in practical terms. But in a way, may be answers which seem more palatable to them. After all, the European adoration of international negotiation, consultative diplomacy and multilateral consent for its own sake, is on a certain popular level a superficial partiality for words and handshakes. One that by nature is always highly susceptible to the rephrasing of any given position to achieve acquiescence.

A few key responses from McCain:


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Air Mobility for Afghanistan

President Karzai presided over the opening of a new US funded $22 million hanger, for the Afghan military’s growing fleet of aircraft. Of primary focus in acquisitions have been transport helicopters to support army field operations. The plan is for Afghanistan to have 61 aircraft by 2011. But there’s still no word yet on when/how/if the country will be supplied with strike fighters, the ultimate signature of operational independence.

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