Jim White

Thousands of Abdullah Supporters Rally in Kabul While Ghani Predicts Million Vote Victory

Khaama Press photo of June 27 Kabul protest in favor of Abdullah Abdullah.

Khaama Press photo of June 27 Kabul protest in favor of Abdullah Abdullah.

Last week, Abdullah Abdullah angrily withdrew his support of the runoff election process when he released audiotapes purported to be the voice of the head of the Independent Election Commission urging his staff to stuff ballot boxes. Although Afghanistan continues counting ballots and has announced that the July 2 scheduled date for releasing preliminary results will be met, Abdullah still has not rejoined the process. There is an argument between Abdullah and the Electoral Complaints Commission on whether he has actually submitted a formal complaint regarding the Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail audiotapes. Abdullah’s response is to say that since the ECC won’t act, he is now submitting the material directly to the Attorney General.

Yesterday, Abdullah released more evidence of ballot stuffing:

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah’s electoral campaign team released an audio tape of Maidan Wardak provincial governor on Thursday, in which the governor persuades an unknown “army officer” not to prevent ballot-stuffing in the June 14 runoff.

Governor Attaullah Khogyani of Maidan Wardak, a province at the south-west of Kabul, speaks on the phone with the officer who asks the governor whether his unit should prevent electoral fraud in a district, according to the tape released in a live press conference.

The governor tells the army officer that fraud prevention was not a task for the security forces and encourages him to speak to a Member of Parliament, Kalimzai Wardak, a supporter of Abdullah’s rival, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.

/snip/

The footage which was also released on Thursday shows men in a room in the eastern Paktika province, as Abdullah’s team said, stuffing the ballot boxes for Mr Ahmadzai. The stuffed boxes were confiscated by the security forces, said Mr Shilgari.

Today, thousands of supporters took to the streets of Kabul with Abdullah to protest ballot stuffing. From ToloNews, we learn that although Hamid Karzai is accused of being one of the leading perpetrators of fraud on behalf of Ghani, one of Karzai’s brothers, whom they list as one of Abdullah’s running mates, took part in the demonstration:

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Kabul City on Friday marching alongside Abdullah Abdullah in protest of frauds that took place in the presidential runoff elections.

Several roads in Kabul have been blocked as the demonstrators advance toward the Presidential Palace calling on the government to invalidate the rigged votes.

Protests have begun in several areas of Kabul City that are joined by Dr. Abdullah and his running mates, the High Peace Council Chair, Salhuddin Rabbani, Mahmoud Karzai—brother of President Hamid Karzai—and Amirullah Saleh, former Afghan intelligence chief.

Thus far, there have been no reports of security threats. The demonstration is continued peacefully.

We learn from Khaama Press that there were angry slogans about Hamid Karzai and that posters of him were destroyed.  But it is in the Wall Street Journal where we learn what those angry slogans were:

Demonstrators shouting “Death to Ashraf Ghani” and “Death to Karzai” marched past government buildings and the gate to the presidential palace. Mr. Abdullah, riding atop a truck, greeted supporters chanting their support.

I wonder how Mahmoud Karzai felt about those “Death to Karzai” chants.

Recall that in the first round of the election, Abdullah fell just short of the 50% threshold needed to win outright, getting 45% of the votes, while Ghani was significantly behind him at 31.6%. But from Reuters, we see that Ghani’s team is expressing confidence that Tuesday’s vote announcement will have him leading by well over a million votes:

A member of the Ghani team, former candidate Daud Sultanzoy, said on Friday that based on information from election observers it predicted a lead of about 1.2 to 1.3 million votes over Abdullah.

“We are not claiming anything as we respect the election commission and will wait for its official announcement of the winner,” he said. “However, we know we are comfortably ahead.”

This is indeed a fragile time for Afghanistan. The Abdullah-Ghani split is largely along ethnic lines, with Ghani supported by the Pashtun majority and Abdullah by the second largest group, the Tajiks. But the Reuters article points to another risk the standoff presents:

“We want the mujahideen back. We don’t want technocrats and slaves of Jews and Christians,” said Badam Gul, a former mujahid.

“We want justice at any cost. There’s fraud and that is unacceptable for us. We will fight for our right until the last drop of blood in our body.”

Wednesday is shaping up to be a very important day as Afghanistan faces a highly uncertain future.

Pakistan Military Offensive in North Waziristan Unleashed

Because I was away on an extended family trip ending last week, I was unable to comment on Pakistan launching a full-blown military operation in North Waziristan. Many had long held the view that such action would never be undertaken, but it would seem that terrorist attacks in several locations around Pakistan at a time when the government was attempting to hold peace talks with the Taliban finally provoked military action. Dawn provides this interactive map of major events so far. As you mouse over the map, blue circles are air strikes, green circles are ground attacks and red circles are drone strikes. Details should pop up at each circle:

The operation is named Zarb-e-Azb. In the Express Tribune’s summary of the actions, we get this translation of the name:

The meaning of Zarb-e-Azb is sharp and cutting. It’s reportedly the sword used by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the battle of Badar.

The same Express Tribune story carries the June 15 announcement of the offensive by ISPR (Inter-Services Public Relations):

ISPR press release announces launch of military operation.

“DG ISPR has said that on the directions of the Government, Armed forces of Pakistan have launched a comprehensive operation against foreign and local terrorists who are hiding in sanctuaries in North Waziristan Agency. The operation has been named Zarb-e-Azb,” said the press release.

The ISPR statement went on to add that terrorists in North Waziristan had waged a war against the state of Pakistan and had been disrupting life in all its dimensions, stunting our economic growth and causing enormous loss of life and property. “They had also paralysed life within the agency and had perpetually terrorised the entire peace loving and patriotic local population,” the statement added.

“Our valiant armed forces have been tasked to eliminate these terrorists regardless of hue and colour, along with their sanctuaries. With the support of the entire nation, and in coordination with other state institutions and Law Enforcement Agencies, these enemies of the state will be denied space anywhere across the country. As always, armed forces of Pakistan will not hesitate in rendering any sacrifice for the motherland,” said the statement.

The operation has included air strikes by Pakistan’s air force along with ground action. Notably, there also have been at least three US drone strikes apparently coordinated with the offensive.

Remarkably, Pakistan’s Foreign Office is warning diplomats in Karachi to be on guard and to restrict their movements. Although the warning does not appear to mention a link to the action in North Waziristan, it seems likely that the military action is seen as contributing to increased risk of terror attacks across the country.

As might be expected, the military action has precipitated a huge spike in internally displaced people. Since those displaced are coming from the region where radical groups have disrupted vaccination plans, there is concern that polio will be spreading as residents are displaced. However, officials are making the best of a bad situation and are using the movement of families as an opportunity to vaccinate children as they cross checkpoints:

On the one hand, the movement of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from North Waziristan Agency provides officials an opportunity to vaccinate children who were inaccessible to health workers since June 2012, on the other hand, there are concerns that the virus could spread with the movement of these children.

These fears are exacerbated by the fact that the movement is taking place during the summer season, a high transmission season for the poliovirus.

Speaking with The Express Tribune, Acting Country Head of World Health (WHO) in Pakistan Dr Nima Saeed Abid said all efforts are being made to vaccinate children from Waziristan at checkpoints set up for IDPs.

/snip/

So far a total of 221,253 children have been vaccinated against polio at check posts set up, according to the Prime Minister’s Polio Monitoring and Coordination Cell.

I will try to keep an eye on developments in this operation but will be traveling again next week.

Postscript: While this post was being written, Pakistan announced that the Haqqani Network is among the targets of the offensive but that the offensive is Pakistan’s alone rather than a joint US-Pakistan action. How can US drone strikes be part of a Pakistan-only offensive? It also should be noted that the military is providing death toll information for “terrorists” and soldiers but does not mention civilian deaths.

Iraq Crisis Puts US on Same Side With Assad, Iran Quds Force

As I pointed out two weeks ago, US foreign and military policy is now so muddled that the primary response to any ongoing crisis is to choose a side to arm without thought to the inevitable blowback that will come from trying to pick winners and losers in otherwise internal affairs of far-flung countries. As the meltdown of the US-trained Iraqi military accelerates, we now see a situation whose supreme irony would be hilarious if only so many lives were not senselessly caught in the crossfire. Two developments of that sort stand out today.

First is the news that Syrian aircraft have carried out a strike against ISIS targets inside Iraq. Because Iraq has been pleading with the US to carry out attacks of this sort, it appears that early reports first assumed that US drones had been involved:

Syrian government aircraft bombed Sunni militant targets inside Iraq on Tuesday, further broadening the Middle Eastern crisis a day after Israeli warplanes and rockets struck targets inside Syria.

Iraqi state media initially reported that the attacks near Iraq’s western border with Syria were carried out by U.S. drones, a claim that was quickly and forcefully denied by the Pentagon.

Think about that one for a minute. Last fall, the US was agonizing over how to find and arm only those groups fighting the Assad government in Syria that are “moderate” so that we didn’t arm the then fledgling ISIS group. But now, inside Iraq, state media is initially unable to distinguish an action taken by Assad from one taken by the US. That is, Assad, whom we are fighting inside Syria, is on our side inside Iraq.

The second development is a pairing of US interests with one we have been fighting for a much longer time. The New York Times brings us the latest on Iranian assistance to Iraq in its struggle against ISIS. The initial part of the report seems routine:

Iran is flying surveillance drones over Iraq from an airfield in Baghdad and is secretly supplying Iraq with tons of military equipment, supplies and other assistance, American officials said. Tehran has also deployed an intelligence unit there to intercept communications, the officials said.

The secret Iranian programs are part of a broader effort by Tehran to gather intelligence and help Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s government in its struggle against Sunni militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

But when the Times drills down to detail on how the assistance is being delivered, we get into more strange times:

Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the head of Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force, has visited Iraq at least twice to help Iraqi military advisers plot strategy. And Iran has deployed about a dozen other Quds Force officers to advise Iraqi commanders, and help mobilize more than 2,000 Shiite militiamen from southern Iraq, American officials said.

Wait. Iran’s IGRC, and especially its Quds Force, is supposed to be still absolutely opposed to the US and even drops comments trying to disrupt the P5+1 negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program now and then. And yet, here they are, sending their head to Iraq to prop up al-Maliki as well as sending “about a dozen other Quds Force officers to advise Iraqi commanders”. Hmm. Advisers. That sounds familiar. Returning to the Washington Post story cited above: Continue reading

The Petraeus Failure Legacy in Iraq Grows

There are of course many people to blame for the war crime of US invasion of Iraq, but David Petraeus’ role as the falsely constructed hero of Iraq who in reality was the author of some of its most profound failures stands out. Recall the heady days of the fall of 2007 when Washington was paralyzed by the Congressional hearings on Iraq. Washington had already forgotten Petraeus’ false claims of training prowess in his September, 2004 Washington Post op-ed that launched his career in a political direction and helped Bush get re-elected. Instead, Petraeus was granted a mulligan on troop training and was promoted to head US troops in Iraq to preside over the surge so that his vaunted “new” COIN strategy could be implemented. Petraeus then of course was given credit for that COIN strategy being behind the decline in violence, even though we learned from Lt. Col. Daniel Davis and others that the drop in violence was more likely due to Iraqi Sunnis turning to the US because of the excessive brutality of al Qaeda in Iraq.

Sadly, with all the Washington circus atmosphere surrounding the hearings and the Move-On Betrayus ad, a key document prepared by the GAO (pdf) was all but ignored during the hearings.  There were in fact 18 benchmarks for the Iraq war effort outlined in the legislation passed in January of 2007 authorizing the surge. The opening of the document provides the most telling one sentence summary of what the US hoped to achieve at the time:

The January 2007 U.S. strategy seeks to provide the Iraqi government with the time and space needed to help Iraqi society reconcile.

Although the vaunted Petreaus COIN strategy paid lip service to winning “hearts and minds”, the sad reality is that the US spent zero effort on achieving any sort of social reconciliation in Iraq. The huge Sunni-Shia schism remained intact and was even further fed by the US’ hand-picked Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. On the list of benchmarks from the legislation, unlucky number 13 held the key:

Reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security.

Needless to say, the GAO found that particular benchmark unmet in September, 2007 and it remains unmet today as Sunni extremist ISIS troops gain territory throughout Iraq while al-Maliki’s Shia forces melt away. A tremendous window opened for reconciliation when the Sunni militias abandoned al Qaeda in Iraq and joined with the US, but these groups were given no standing by al-Maliki, who even continued to send his Shia-dominated military into Sunni regions, laying groundwork for local support once ISIS came into the picture.

But it is Petraeus’ failure as the leading figure behind the training of Iraq’s forces that stands out today. From the New York Times:

Recent assessments by Western officials and military experts indicate that about a quarter of Iraq’s military forces are “combat ineffective,” its air force is minuscule, morale among troops is low and its leadership suffers from widespread corruption.

As other nations consider whether to support military action in Iraq, their decision will hinge on the quality of Iraqi forces, which have proved far more ragged than expected given years of American training.

The Washington Post piles on with more bad news:

After tens of thousands of desertions, the Iraqi military is reeling from what one U.S. official described as “psychological collapse” in the face of the offensive from militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The desperation has reached such a level that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is relying on volunteers, who are in some cases receiving as little as a week’s military training, to protect his ever-shrinking orbit of control.

“Over time, what’s occurred is that the Iraqi army has no ability to defend itself,” said Rick Brennan, a Rand Corp. analyst and former adviser to U.S. forces in Iraq. “If we’re unable to find ways to make a meaningful difference to the Iraqi army as they fight this, I think what we’re looking at is the beginning of the disintegration of the state of Iraq.”

In the end, all of the years and the billions of dollars spent on “training” Iraqi forces has given a force that is “combat ineffective’, “far more ragged than expected” and melts away at the first sign of resistance.  But wait. Any day now, we will see that those 300 “advisers” we are sending into Iraq will magically train a new force that will get it right this time. Who knows, maybe Petraeus will be given yet another chance to lead that training. What could go wrong?

US Foreign Policy in a NUTshell

This partial screen capture from the “World” section of today’s New York Times really needs no further explanation of the incompetence of US diplomats and military strategists:

What could go wrong.

There simply are no words to adequately describe the insanity at work here. Even as each misadventure winds down in disastrous fashion, the new ones follow the same perverted script.

Breaking Point: Media Finally Reporting on Violence Tied to Right Wing Extremism

In April of Barack Obama’s first year in office, right wing America had a collective meltdown when the Department of Homeland Security dared to write a report (pdf) on right wing extremism and the domestic terrorists that could be tied to the movement. Michelle Malkin went into a full mouth froth, declaring that the report was an Obama DHS hit job on conservatives. ABC was quick to join in, documenting more of the responses of “conservatives”. Sadly, Obama and the DHS backed down meekly and the concept was quickly scrubbed from public debate.

But attacks carried out by the very types of right wing radicals described in the report have continued. The toll from these attacks appears to have gotten high enough that the media finally has found its voice again and is willing to document the carnage while connecting the dots. After the deadly shootings at a Jewish center in the Kansas City area in April of this year, Peter Bergen and David Sterman penned an op-ed piece carried by CNN. They dared title the piece “U.S. right wing extremists more deadly than jihadists” and produced documentation to back up their damning headline:

In fact, since 9/11 extremists affiliated with a variety of far-right wing ideologies, including white supremacists, anti-abortion extremists and anti-government militants, have killed more people in the United States than have extremists motivated by al Qaeda’s ideology. According to a count by the New America Foundation, right wing extremists have killed 34 people in the United States for political reasons since 9/11. (The total includes the latest shootings in Kansas, which are being classified as a hate crime).

By contrast, terrorists motivated by al Qaeda’s ideology have killed 21 people in the United States since 9/11.

With Sunday’s killing of two policemen and a “good guy with a gun” in Las Vegas by another pair of right wing extremists, Paul Waldman was able to take to the blog pages of the Washington Post to tie these violent attacks to the venom-filled rhetoric of the right:

But what I am saying is this: there are some particular features of conservative political rhetoric today that help create an atmosphere in which violence and terrorism can germinate.

The most obvious component is the fetishization of firearms and the constant warnings that government will soon be coming to take your guns. But that’s only part of it. Just as meaningful is the conspiracy theorizing that became utterly mainstream once Barack Obama took office. If you tuned into one of many national television and radio programs on the right, you heard over and over that Obama was imposing a totalitarian state upon us. You might hear that FEMA was building secret concentration camps (Glenn Beck, the propagator of that theory, later recanted it, though he has a long history of violent rhetoric), or that Obama is seeding the government with agents of the Muslim Brotherhood. You grandfather probably got an email offering proof that Obama is literally the antichrist.

Writing over at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Charles Blair brings us the sobering math on the recent growth of these radical groups: Continue reading

NY Times, Reuters Whitewash US Drone Strike Killing of Mehsud From Taliban Reasons for Karachi Airport Attack

Karachi’s Airport has resumed operations today, but a deadly late night attack shut it down for many hours overnight. It appears that ten militants entered the airport Sunday night, most likely uniformed as airport security personnel, and killed up to 18 people before they were killed by airport security and rapidly responding military units. The TTP, Pakistan’s Taliban, has claimed responsibility for the attack. The New York Times and Reuters, however, chose to be very selective in how they reported the TTP’s claim of responsibility. Both news outlets left out the TTP’s prominent mention of the US drone strike in November that killed TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud in describing the TTP’s reasons for the attack. By contrast, AP and the Washington Post included the TTP’s reference to the drone strike.

Here is how the Post article opens:

Heavily armed gunmen disguised as security forces attacked Karachi’s international airport Sunday night, killing at least 18 people before government troops regained control early Monday. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault, which appeared to dash hopes for peace talks.

The government said all 10 of the attackers were killed in more than five hours of fighting at the airport, which would bring the total number of deaths to 28. A doctor at Karachi’s Jinnah Hospital said 18 bodies were brought to the morgue there and that 11 of the dead were airport security personnel, the Associated Press reported. The bodies of the attackers remained in police custody.

In a statement Monday, Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, said the attack was in response to recent Pakistani military airstrikes in northwestern Pakistan and to a U.S. drone strike in November that killed Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the radical Islamist group.

Shahid added the attack should be viewed as a sign that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s efforts to engage the group in peace talks had failed.

“The message to the Pakistani government is that we are still alive to react to the killings of innocent people in bomb attacks on their villages,” said Shahid, adding the attack followed months of intensive planning.

The AP article twice mentions the attack as in response to the drone killing of Mehsud, and although it mentions Pakistan’s airstrikes in the tribal regions after peace talks broke off, it doesn’t tie those air strikes to the TTP reasons for the attack. The Times and Reuters, in contrast, only tie the attack to the air strikes and not to the Mehsud drone strike. From the Times:

 The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility Monday for a ferocious overnight assault in Karachi that stretched into the morning in which gunmen infiltrated Pakistan’s largest international airport and waged an extended firefight against security forces that resulted in 29 deaths and shook the country’s already fragile sense of security.

The attack “was a response to the recent attacks by the government,” Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said by telephone. “We will continue carrying out such attacks.” He insisted, however, that the group was seeking to resuscitate peace talks with the government.

And from Reuters:

The Pakistani Taliban, an alliance of insurgent groups fighting to topple the government and set up a sharia state, said they carried out the attack in response to air strikes on their strongholds near the Afghan border and suggested their mission was to hijack a passenger plane.

“It is a message to the Pakistan government that we are still alive to react over the killings of innocent people in bomb attacks on their villages,” said Shahidullah Shahid, a Taliban spokesman.

“The main goal of this attack was to damage the government, including by hijacking planes and destroying state installations.”

Pakistan’s Dawn News gives the broader range of TTP explanations:

The TTP further said: “It’s just the beginning, we have taken revenge for one (Mehsud), we have to take revenge for hundreds.”

/snip/

Shahidullah Shahid moreover dismissed the Pakistani government’s peace talks methodology as a “tool of war”.

Shahidullah Shahid said the attack was planned much earlier but had been postponed due to the peace talks.

The TTP spokesman in a statement issued to the media said that the attack was also carried out to avenge the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone strike.

“We carried out this attack on the Karachi airport and it is a message to the Pakistani government that we are still alive to react over the killings of innocent people in bomb attacks on their villages,” TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said.

Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was revenge for the army’s air strikes in areas along the Afghan border where the insurgents are based.

By citing only Pakistan’s air strikes against the TTP, the New York Times and Reuters portray the Karachi airport attack as a problem that is solely due to politics internal to Pakistan. That is a gross misrepresentation of the situation, as the US drone strike on Hakimullah Mehsud came at an extremely critical time when the peace talks first began to look like a concrete possibility. That US strike was a huge external intervention by the US and clearly put Pakistan on a path to even more bloodshed. At least the Washington Post and AP allow their readers to see that blowback for US intervention played a significant role in this attack.

Dunford Declares Taliban’s Political Space “Significantly Reduced” on Day of Their Biggest Propaganda Win

I often note how the US military, throughout its nearly 13 year quagmire in Afghanistan, continues to spout “we’re winning” messages when it is clear that the entire effort has been an utter failure from the start. Juxtaposing a story in today’s Washington Post with another in today’s New York Times shows how the military’s rosy statements are devoid of all connection to reality on the ground.

The Post story centers on the military, with Joseph Dunford in the lead, filling in more details on projected troop staffing levels in Afghanistan beyond the end of this year. The article ends with this gem:

U.S. and NATO officials described a Taliban force that has been greatly debilitated since the beginning of this year and pointed to the successful first round of Afghanistan’s presidential election in April as a defeat for the militants. The top two vote-getters are competing in next week’s runoff to succeed President Hamid Karzai, who has refused to sign the bilateral security and status-of-forces agreements.

“In the wake of the election, for the first time . . . the Taliban are on the defensive in the information space,” the senior military official said. For 10 years, he said, the Taliban has had two messages — that the United States was occupying their country and ultimately would abandon it. In the wake of the turnover of combat operations to Afghan national forces over the past year, and Obama’s announcement for the future, those messages have less resonance, the official said. The coalition has made clear, the official said, that we “won’t fall off the cliff at the end of 2014.”

Dunford described “friction” within the Taliban and said that although the militants are still carrying out lethal attacks against Afghan forces, “if you compare the political space of the Taliban, it’s significantly reduced.”

Okay, then. The Taliban is “greatly debilitated”, are “on the defensive in the information space” and are “significantly reduced” in “the political space”. Yet, on the very day that Dunford and a “senior military officer” made such outrageous claims, the Taliban were happily scoring their biggest propaganda victory of the entire war in Afghanistan. From the Times:

The Taliban seem loose, almost offhand, on camera as they wait for the American Black Hawk to land. Two fighters walk their hostage, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, out to American troops, greeting their enemies eye to eye as they quickly shake hands. They wave as the Americans retreat back to the chopper.

In their viral video to the world on Wednesday, framing dramatic images of their transaction with the United States with music, commentary and context, the Taliban scored their biggest hit yet after years of effort to improve their publicity machine — one bent on portraying them as the legitimate government of Afghanistan in exile.

Within hours of the video’s release, the Taliban website where it was posted was overwhelmed with traffic and the page hosting it crashed, according to Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the insurgents. The video has since been uploaded in dozens of different versions on YouTube.

It is the product of a Taliban propaganda effort that has grown increasingly savvy.

It’s hard to imagine a better example of how the US has lost all credibility when it comes to describing conditions in Afghanistan. Granted, the statements in the Post stem initially from claims made around the election going “smoothly“, but the sweeping statements quoted clearly are meant to apply to the Taliban’s situation generally, not just regarding the election. But the Taliban even covered that:

And they suggested that they had purposefully held back on attacking civilians on election day in April, and that Afghans should trust the Taliban over a government being chosen by Western ways.

We can only wonder how Dunford and his associates will ever be able to top this one.

Will Successful Bergdahl Negotiations Get US-Taliban Peace Negotiations Going Again?

This weekend’s swap of Bowe Bergdahl for five Afghan Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo has triggered responses on a large number of fronts. For now, I will leave it to others to sort through whether Obama was required to inform Congress, whether the move provides incentive to the Taliban to capture more prisoners and whether Bergdahl was a deserter. Instead, I want to focus on the fact that this prisoner exchange stands as a significant accomplishment in negotiation among parties who have seen previous attempts at negotiation fail.

Recall that back in early 2012, we first learned that the Afghan Taliban was opening an office in Qatar:

The Taliban said in a surprise announcement last week they had reached a preliminary agreement to set up a political address in Qatar and asked for the release of prisoners held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay.

So the release of Afghan Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo was at the top of the list for setting up the office in Qatar and beginning negotiations. It is also important to note that the Haqqani Network, who held Bergdahl in Pakistan, was also to be included in the talks at the same time that the opening for negotiations was first noted and that Pakistan helped to move things along:

The US has taken Pakistan into confidence over the unprecedented development of allowing the Taliban a political office in Qatar to advance the Afghan reconciliation process, sources revealed.

A senior Pakistani official stated that the Obama administration not only sought Pakistan’s consent over the Taliban office but had also given a ‘green light’ to allow the deadliest Afghan insurgent group, the Haqqani network, to be a part of the reconciliation process.

The move by Washington was a clear deflection from its previous policy of keeping Islamabad at bay over its peace overtures with the Afghan Taliban.

“Yes, we were onboard,” said the senior Pakistani official referring to the latest push by Washington to seek a political settlement of the Afghan conflict.

The process suffered a major setback when the office was found to be flying the flag the Taliban used when they ruled Afghanistan and when the sign on the door seemed to suggest that the Taliban felt they were still the legitimate governing body. Hamid Karzai threw a huge fit over that development, and even though his government hadn’t been invited to the talks, he managed to stall the process. About a year and a half later, things settled down a bit and the provocative sign and flag were removed.

In today’s New York Times, we are warned not to infer that the prisoner swap means that additional talks look likely: Continue reading

Graphing the Afghanistan Surge Out of Existence

On Wednesday, Jason Leopold tweeted this image that had been released by the White House:

What surge?

What surge?

Marcy quickly responded, “Funny how you can graph surge out of existence.” 

So how did the White House make Obama’s surge of troops into Afghanistan disappear? Consider this graph of troop levels in Afghanistan, where we see the surge of US troops into Afghanistan standing out clearly:

Afghanistan troop levels.

Afghanistan troop levels.

This graph shows what we are used to seeing for Afghanistan, where troop levels were only around 35,000 when Obama took office in 2009 and surged to almost 100,000 in 2010, remaining at that level through most of 2011, as well. So how did the White House hide this surge in their feel-good “bringing home the troops” message? They did it by making the graph include both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here are the troop levels for Iraq:

Iraq troop levels.

Iraq troop levels.

There were around 150,000 US troops in Iraq when Obama took office and by the time his Afghanistan surge (remember, Obama campaigned about Afghanistan being the “good war”) reached its peak in late 2010, Iraq troop levels had dropped to around 50,000 (although Obama waved his hand and declared that these were no longer “combat troops”). So, with a net loss of 100,000 troops  in Iraq during the same time period, the White House was able to make it appear that the surge of about 65,000 troops into Afghanistan never happened.

Maybe next week the White House can graph that pesky inequality of capital distribution out of existence. I’m sure it will make us all feel richer.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel @matthewstoller Since when has a lack of unique technology been an impediment to a patent, or 7 of them? @csoghoian @shaneharris
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emptywheel @p2wy See, I'd be halfway to your house by now, deciding which sewer construction project to take in along the way.
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emptywheel @p2wy Bet I could walk to your house more quickly.
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emptywheel @nickmanes1 Yeah. I have a sort of open-air greenhouse effect so I think I'll get some okra. Ah well, at least they're beautiful plants.
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emptywheel @nickmanes1 I've planted okra 2X. Both times summers like this. But I'm getting (a few) pods anyway.
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emptywheel @nickmanes1 You appear to have missed my twitpothesis that as soon as I put okra seeds in MI ground we get chilly weather.
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emptywheel @nickmanes1 But I will only get 10 okra pods!
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emptywheel Or does Alexander's new approach to hackers depend on privatization he set in motion while still DIRNSA? http://t.co/z9MU3LFOfM
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emptywheel So Alexander was holding out on "new kind of technology for countering hackers" even while America was getting pwned? http://t.co/z9MU3LFOfM
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bmaz @JasonLeopold Well, I know it's early and all, but Merry Christmas! I have ordered a gift subscription for you!
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bmaz @Sherry_Reson @JayAckroyd Wait....birthday?
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