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Tolstoy On Iraq

One of the great pleasures of travel is long uninterrupted stretches of time for reading. I’m on the road for a long trip, including a visit to Russia, and took a copy of War and Peace with me. It’s really long, and therefore perfect for this kind of travel, and I was able to read it in a month amid the sightseeing and wandering that are the other great things about travel. On a visit to St. Petersburg last year, I saw the Military Gallery at the Hermitage, a long barrel-vaulted room with 332 portraits of the generals who took part in the Patriotic War of 1812, Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and the destruction of his Grande Armée by the Russian people and their army under the leadership of M. I. Kutusov. Wikipedia has a nice entry on this part of the museum, including pictures of several of the people who appear in Tolstoy’s book including one who is kin to the author..

Tolstoy was a drinker, a rake and a gambler as a young man, but that changed about the time he joined the army for a war between Russia and Turkey in 1851 and he began to write. His military experience gives the crackle of reality to the descriptions of the battles in War and Peace, and on the lengthy discussions of strategy and tactics. His explanation of the Russians crushing the French is fascinating, as is his lack of respect for the historians before him whose explanations he rejects abusively. I was particularly taken by the discussion in Chapter 1 of Book 14. This is from the translation of Louise Maude and Alymer Maude published in 1942. There are more recent and arguably better translations, but this one was easier to read in the Kindle edition.

All historians agree that the external activity of states and nations in their conflicts with one another is expressed in wars, and that as a direct result of greater or less success in war the political strength of states and nations increases or decreases.

Strange as may be the historical account of how some king or emperor, having quarreled with another, collects an army, fights his enemy’s army, gains a victory by killing three, five, or ten thousand men and subjugates a kingdom and an entire nation of several millions, all the facts of history (as far as we know it) confirm the truth of the statement that the greater or lesser success of one army against another is the cause, or at least an essential indication, of an increase or decrease in the strength of the nation – even though it is unintelligible why the defeat of an army – a hundredth part of a nation – should oblige that whole nation to submit. A army gains a victory, and at once the rights of the conquering nation have increased to the detriment of the defeated. An army has suffered defeat, and at once a people loses its rights in proportion to the severity of the reverse, and if its army suffers a complete defeat the nation is quite subjugated.

So according to history it has been found from the most ancient times, and so it is to our own day. All Napoleon’s wars serve to confirm this rule. In proportion to the defeat of the Austrian army Austria loses its rights, and the rights and the strength of France increase. The victories of the French at Jena and Auerstadt destroy the independent existence of Prussia.

But then, in 1812, the French gain a victory near Moscow. Moscow is taken and after that with no further battles, it is not Russia that ceases to exist, but the French army of six hundred thousand, and then Napoleonic France itself. To strain the facts to fit the rules of history; to say that the field of battle at Borodino remained in the hands of the Russians, or that after Moscow there were other battles that destroyed Napoleon’s army, is impossible.

The difference is this. After the defeats of Austria nnd Prussia, the residents of Vienna and Berlin stayed home, surrendered, and more or accepted the rule of Napoleon. This is perfectly natural. What difference does it make in the private lives of the people which monarch rules? For the rich and the prosperous, the French seemed charming and cultivated, and if that charm and culture were somewhat different from that of their prior rulers, it was not a great difference and was one with which they were already familiar. As to the craftsmen and artisans, they continued to live as before, carrying out their trades for the new and old aristocracies, and the poor at least were free from conscription and misery in the army.

But that didn’t happen in Russia. As Napoleon advanced towards Moscow, almost everyone left town. There is a funny scene where Napoleon plans his speech to the expected deputation from the city, at which he will explain his good intentions and his demands. It reads as if he were thinking the people of Moscow would welcome him and his enlightened rule with open arms and shower him with flowers. No deputation arrives, and the French generals argue about which of them is going to have to tell the Emperor the bad news.

As most people left, those who remained, peasants, convicts and lunatics, began looting and squatting in the emptied homes. The loot left town a bit later. When the French moved in, they found a nearly empty city, and they themselves began to loot and camp out in the vacant palaces and nicer homes. Then Moscow caught fire, in Tolstoy’s explanation not by arson, but by carelessness and the lack of a fire department, and vast sections were reduced to rubble. Napoleon practically begged peasants to bring their hay and other provender to the city, offering extraordinary prices (which according to Tolstoy he planned to pay for with counterfeit rubles), but the peasants burned their produce rather than sell it to the invaders. Meanwhile the Russian Army is watching for an opportunity to attack. Suddenly the French Army breaks and runs. The Russians under M. I. Kutusov follow as the French run at a breakneck pace towards the border. Kutusov sends detachments of guerillas to harass the baggage trains and cannon, and to capture stragglers. Few of the French troops get away.

As Tolstoy explains it, the French thought they were in a ritual duel with rapiers between two honorable combatants. Suddenly the Russian side realizes its danger, picks up a cudgel and beats its rival senseless. Tolstoy says that Napoleon complained to the Russian Emperor Alexander I and General Kutusov that the war is carried on “…contrary to all the rules – as if there were any rules for killing people.”

The publisher of my version explains that a new edition was warranted especially by Hitler’s invasion of Russia. We might see it as a good time to understand a lesson ourselves. The US Army and its allies destroyed the Iraqi Army, but the people were not defeated. The US Army won many battles with the army of North Viet Nam and conflicts with guerrillas in Viet Nam, but the people were not defeated. And the debacle in Afghanistan is even harder to understand in light of that country’s history. Tolstoy makes this lesson clear:

The fencer who demanded a contest according to the rules of fencing was the French army; his opponent who threw away the rapier and snatched up the cudgel was the Russion people …,

Or, you know, the Iraqis, the Vietnamese or the Afghans.

Notre Dame undergrad (math); JD, Indiana University at Bloomington; 1st Lieutenant, US Army.; private practice in corporate and securities law; Assistant AG in Tennessee for consumer protection and securities; Blue Sky Securities Commissioner, Tennessee; private practice, bankruptcy and corporate law.

I have had a lifelong interest in economics. For most of my career, that interest was practical, focused on the problems in front of me. Lately I have been more interested in economics as a theory, especially its impact on the lives of people like those I met in my bankruptcy practice, and on the politics of money in the US. I also enjoy reading philosophers, starting in college and steadily expanding my reading ever since. I wrote at FireDogLake for a number of years.

Generally, I think the problem facing the US is the dominance of neoliberal discourse. I think it clouds the vision, and limits the kinds of problems that can be identified and solved. For example, the existence and danger of climate change can easily be identified in a scientific discussion. However, the problem does not fit the neoliberal discourse because science insists that the pursuit of individual and corporate self-interest will lead to devastation. In neoliberal discourse, the pursuit of self-interest always leads to Eden.

The neoliberal project has two prongs. One is the police function of crushing dissent and alternative views. The police function is provided by government agencies and private and institutional actors. The counterpart is the economic system , which is operated by government and by private and institutional actors. Some of these actors operate in both spheres. I focus on the second prong.

Afghanistan Quagmire Update: Now With Even More Failure

Just before the election this fall, the US war in Afghanistan will pass its fifteenth birthday, making it old enough to obtain a driving learner’s permit in most states. Despite the fact that the Taliban government fell after only eight days of the war, the US has inexplicably stayed in the country, ostensibly maintaining peace, eliminating a small force of al Qaeda and “training” Afghan defense forces to take over. During that time the US has expended an ungodly amount of money, lost thousands of US troops and been present for much larger losses of life throughout a country that also has seen unacceptable numbers of internally displaced people. All of this has taken place while Afghanistan has continuously been found at or near the top of the list of the most corrupt nations on the globe.

Now, nearly fifteen years into the misadventure, we see that conditions in Afghanistan are deteriorating at an ever increasing rate. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction today issued its 30th in its series of quarterly reports to Congress (pdf). Nothing in the report provides any hope that Afghanistan will emerge from the US war nightmare as a functional country any time soon.

Violence levels in Afghanistan are at an all-time high. SIGAR relied on UN data to provide this illustration of violence levels over time:

UN data on Afghanistan security events as presented in the SIGAR quarterly report, January 2016.

UN data on Afghanistan security events as presented in the SIGAR quarterly report, January 2016.

Although sources and methods of reporting on violence levels in Afghanistan have changed over the years, consultation with posts here and here shows that since the days when troops were diverted from the misadventure in Afghanistan to the even bigger misadventure in Iraq, violence has trended only upward.

Another key feature of the US “activities” in Afghanistan has been the “training” of Afghan forces to step up and take over primary responsibility for defense of the the country. The US has disbursed over $56 billion in this training and equipping effort. After years of SIGAR reports carefully documenting the numbers of Afghan troops trained and the capabilities of those forces, we suddenly encountered a wall of classification of Afghan troop capabilities last year as the US effort in Afghanistan was “ending”.

Today’s report states that Afghanistan reports a fighting force of 322,638 out of a target size of 360,004. However, SIGAR notes that AP has seen through the ruse that Afghanistan uses in its self-reporting of troop numbers:

However, a January Associated Press report alleged that the actual number of ANDSF security forces is far less because the rolls are filled with nonexistent “ghost” soldiers and police officers. In that report, a provincial council member estimated 40% of the security forces in Helmand do not exist, while a former provincial deputy police chief said the actual number was “nowhere near” the 31,000 police on the registers, and an Afghan official estimated the total ANDSF number at around 120,000—less than half the reported 322,638. The success of military operations is at risk, because as one Afghan soldier in Helmand said, they do not have enough men to protect themselves. Additionally, an Afghan lawmaker claimed the government is not responding to the crisis because a number of allegedly corrupt parliamentarians are benefiting from the “ghost” security forces salaries.

SIGAR points out that they have long questioned the reliability of ANSF size and capability reporting, so the AP report should be of no surprise to anyone. Given these issues of the real fighting force size for Afghanistan, it also should come as no surprise that the Pentagon has cut back on how much information it releases. In today’s report, that is marked by this statement:

This quarter, details of ANDSF force strength at corps level and below remained classified. SIGAR will report on them in a classified annex to this report.

A key aspect of what remains classified is most of the information on Afghan troop capabilities. However, the abject failure of these troops can be seen in the assessment of how much of the country has fallen back into Taliban hands:

USFOR-A reports that approximately 71.7% of the country’s districts are under Afghan government control or influence as of November 27, 2015. Of the 407 districts within the 34 provinces, 292 districts are under government control or influence, 27 districts (6.6%) within 11 provinces are under insurgent control or influence, and 88 districts (21.6%) are at risk. In a report issued in December, DOD stated that the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated. There are more effective insurgent attacks and more ANDSF and Taliban causalities.

And yet, the mass delusion within the Pentagon persists, as that bleak paragraph above ends with this unbelievable sentence:

However, DOD remains optimistic that the ANDSF continues to improve its overall capability as the capabilities of the insurgent elements remain static.

This completely unfounded and contrary to all available data assessment by DOD of the situation in Afghanistan says everything we need to know about how these geniuses have failed at every step of the way in a mission that has mired the US in a quagmire that anyone could have predicted before the first bomb fell.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

So There Was ONE Cultural Difference the Military Recognized in Afghanistan

Joseph Goldstein broke a devastating story this afternoon in the New York Times:

In his last phone call home, Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr. told his father what was troubling him: From his bunk in southern Afghanistan, he could hear Afghan police officers sexually abusing boys they had brought to the base.

“At night we can hear them screaming, but we’re not allowed to do anything about it,” the Marine’s father, Gregory Buckley Sr., recalled his son telling him before he was shot to death at the base in 2012. He urged his son to tell his superiors. “My son said that his officers told him to look the other way because it’s their culture.”

Goldstein goes on to reveal that Gregory Buckley, Jr’s killer was in fact one of those boys whose screams he heard. The killer, Ainuddin Khudairaham, was one of many “tea boys” being held by the police commander on the base, Sarwar Jan. But Jan came to the base with a history. Again from Goldstein:

Lance Corporal Buckley and two other Marines were killed in 2012 by one of a large entourage of boys living at their base with an Afghan police commander named Sarwar Jan.

Mr. Jan had long had a bad reputation; in 2010, two Marine officers managed to persuade the Afghan authorities to arrest him following a litany of abuses, including corruption, support for the Taliban and child abduction. But just two years later, the police commander was back with a different unit, working at Lance Corporal Buckley’s post, Forward Operating Base Delhi, in Helmand Province.

Lance Corporal Buckley had noticed that a large entourage of “tea boys” — domestic servants who are sometimes pressed into sexual slavery — had arrived with Mr. Jan and moved into the same barracks, one floor below the Marines. He told his father about it during his final call home.

As if that’s not enough, Goldstein goes on to note that the only person punished over the killings by the tea boy was one of the officers who had gotten Jan arrested previously and contacted the new base where Jan was assigned to warn them of his pedophilia.

Goldstein’s report blows the lid off a disgusting practice by the military to allow Afghan officers to engage in what they refer to as “bacha bazi”, or “boy play” and to ascribe it to cultural differences rather than calling out criminal behavior. This practice of looking the other way has gone on for a very long time. An article Goldstein linked had this to say:

With the agreement on an action plan to combat the problem, the government will for the first time officially acknowledge the problem of child sex slaves. As part of the Afghan tradition of bacha bazi, literally “boy play,” boys as young as 9 are dressed as girls and trained to dance for male audiences, then prostituted in an auction to the highest bidder. Many powerful men, particularly commanders in the military and the police, keep such boys, often dressed in uniforms, as constant companions for sexual purposes.

/snip/

Asked about the military’s policy regarding commanders who abuse children, a spokesman for the NATO-led military alliance, Lt. Col. John L. Dorrian, said that if any members of the military encountered such abuse they would be obliged to report it. But in the past year, he said, he was not aware of any such reports.

When we go back to the reports on the trial where Ainuddin Khudairaham was convicted for the killings, we have the military scrambling to cover up the pedophilia that may well have prompted Ainuddin to act, as they provided a list of different accusations against Jan:

The investigation into what happened at FOB Delhi has been dogged by allegations that the police chief, Sarwar Jan, the shooter was working for was closely aligned with the Taliban. He previously had been removed as the police chief in another district in Helmand province in 2010 after Marines suspected he was providing supplies to the Taliban.

Nevertheless, Sarwar Jan was installed by the Afghan government as the police chief in Garmsir district in the months ahead of the shooting. A Marine officer who worked with him in 2009 and 2010, Maj. Jason Brezler, sent a warning to deployed Marines in 2012 about the police chief, but he kept his position. To do so, Brezler sent classified information over an unclassified network, and reported himself.

Yes, Brezler is the person mentioned above as the one person to be punished over the killings. And in the Washington Post piece (from July, 2014) quoted above, we see that the real meat of Brezler’s warning about Jan and his entourage of young boys is completely left out. And that seems to be as a product of the policy that Goldstein revealed today where the US military actively avoids calling out or punishing the abuse of young boys. But why would the military avoid calling it out? One hint comes from the the 2011 piece Goldstein linked and I quoted earlier: Read more

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

New York Times Finally Admits US Lied About Ending Afghan War

I will go ahead and say it this time. I told you so. Back in December, the Obama Administration tried its best to create the fiction that the war in Afghanistan was coming to an end. I called bullshit then. Finally, four months later, the New York Times has come to the same realization as well:

Months after President Obama formally declared that the United States’ long war against the Taliban was over in Afghanistan, the American military is regularly conducting airstrikes against low-level insurgent forces and sending Special Operations troops directly into harm’s way under the guise of “training and advising.”

In justifying the continued presence of the American forces in Afghanistan, administration officials have insisted that the troops’ role is relegated to counterterrorism, defined as tracking down the remnants of Al Qaeda and other global terrorist groups, and training and advising the Afghan security forces who have assumed the bulk of the fight.

But the US military thinks nothing of gaming the system to bring action where they want it:

Rather than ending the American war in Afghanistan, the military is using its wide latitude to instead transform it into a continuing campaign of airstrikes — mostly drone missions — and Special Operations raids that have in practice stretched or broken the parameters publicly described by the White House.

/snip/

“They are putting guys on the ground in places to justify the airstrikes,” one of the officials said. “It’s not force protection when they are going on the offensive.”

And it’s not just field-level commanders making these decisions to circumvent the conditions laid out by the White House for fighting:

Commenting on the continuing military operations against the Taliban, the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John F. Campbell, vehemently denied accusations that he was putting troops into harm’s way just to enable more airstrikes.

He has insisted that it is within his purview to target Taliban insurgents who pose a threat not just to American or NATO troops but to any Afghan security forces. And his options on the ground were clear, he said in an interview, even if Washington’s public description of them was not.

“Washington is going to have to say what they say politically for many different audiences, and I have no issue with that,” General Campbell said. “I understand my authorities and what I have to do with Afghanistan’s forces and my forces. And if that doesn’t sell good for a media piece then, again, I can’t worry about it.”

Honey badger John Campbell don’t care about selling a media piece when there are brown people to be droned.

But even this expanded role for US troops over what they are supposed to be doing isn’t helping, as our “trained” Afghan troops continue to lose the war. Buried deep in the article is a leak of classified information that Afghan troop losses this year are running 54% higher than last year’s disastrous level of losses. This will not be sustainable for very long at all. It seems likely to me that sometime this summer (or at the very least no later than next summer), the Afghan military will simply melt away in the face of Taliban wins on multiple fronts.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

In War That Didn’t End, UN Finds Afghan Civilian Deaths Up 25% Over Previous Year

Washington has tried its very best to sweep the war in Afghanistan under the rug. Most of the press dutifully went along with the fiction of declaring the war to have ended in December. The military joined in, trying to classify virtually all information coming out of Afghanistan. That classification move has been backtracked somewhat, but we still haven’t seen a revised quarterly report from SIGAR with the newly released data.

For those who care about the truth of what is really taking place in Afghanistan as a result of the misguided US action, it is a good thing that Washington cannot stifle information flowing out of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. UNAMA has been tracking civilian casualties in Afghanistan since 2009, and their latest report was released today (press release is here and full report in pdf form is here). The news is not good at all. Deaths jumped by 25% from 2013, going from 2969 to 3699. Injuries also showed a sharp increase, from 5668 to 6849. These numbers simply do not comport with the rosy statements coming out of the Pentagon on what our troops in Afghanistan “accomplished”, how the Taliban are being defeated and how the ANSF are now “hugely capable”. Civilian casualties in Afghanistan have shown a relentless rise since the UN started collecting data:

UNAMA Civilian casualties 2014

It is harder to find data for the years leading up to 2009, but here is one report (pdf) in tabular form from Costs of War:

costs of war afghanistan 2001-2010

The figures from this report include only a subset of the types of death tracked by UN, accounting for the slight discrepancy in the years of overlapping data.

US military operations and continued presence in Afghanistan has been a disaster for civilians there. The insurgency which has arisen in response to the US presence is responsible for most of the casualties, but it is hard to see how these numbers would be as high if the US had simply left after deposing the Taliban in the first few weeks of the operation.

In addition to tracking casualties, the UN collects information on war crimes. Units of the Afghan Local Police are notorious in this regard (ALP most often are comprised of private militias that have been given a brief bit of training by US death squad trainers from JSOC and/or CIA). From the report:

For example, on 11 July, an ALP member shot and killed a local shopkeeper after an argument over ice. On 7 July, an ALP commander and four of his men assaulted (and injured) four civilians in Jorum district, Badakhshan province, during a wedding party. The reason for the beating was reportedly that the family had failed to provide food to the ALP as demanded.

UNAMA documented multiple examples of ALP intimidating and ordering the displacement of families from their communities. For example, on 12 October, ALP forcibly displaced 150-200 families from Khak-e-Safed district, Farah province. The ALP had warned the local population not to allow the Taliban to launch attacks from the village. The Taliban had also threatened the local population not to cooperate with the ALP. After Taliban fighters established positions in the area, the ALP ordered the 150-200 families to leave the area, resulting in displacement of an entire village, mainly to Farah city.

I would imagine that someone in Washington is busy today trying to find a way to prevent UNAMA from releasing its next report.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

Military Just Can’t Kick Its Afghanistan Habit, Picks Up Pace of Night Raids

The US military’s addiction to war in Afghanistan is now in its fourteenth year. Such a long addiction can’t just be ended in a weekend of going cold turkey. Much of the effort to end the war has been cosmetic and semantic. Although troop levels are now down dramatically from the peak of Obama’s surge, Obama’s tactic at the end of 2014 was to declare the war “over” while at the same time signing a secret order allowing for expanded activities by those troops remaining in the country.

The military has joined in Obama’s gamesmanship, taking as much of the war effort behind curtains of secrecy as it possibly can. In October, it suddenly classified information on Afghan troop capabilities and then in January it tried to expand that classification to nearly all information coming out of the war. While the military seems to have relented on at least some of that move, I haven’t yet seen SIGAR report on the information grudgingly given up after the classification was strongly criticized in Washington.

Two reports in the current news cycle highlight the military’s desperation in hanging onto as much combat activity in Afghanistan as it can. Yesterday, John Campbell, commander of US troops in Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the current schedule for drawdown of troops from Afghanistan must be slowed:

The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan confirmed Thursday that he supports a slowing of the troop drawdown and slated pullback from bases in the country by the end of the year, as the White House reconsiders its plans.

Gen. John Campbell told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he has made those recommendations and they are now being considered by the joint staff and secretary of defense’s office.

It is hard to see this move as anything but an attempt to delay the inevitable total collapse of Afghan forces, just as Iraqi forces collapsed without US support. Consider how Campbell framed his testimony:

“This is their first fighting season on their own,” Campbell said, speaking of the Afghan forces the United States hopes will be able to secure the country against Taliban, Islamic extremists linked to the Islamic State, and drug lords.

Just like a junkie needing that next fix, Campbell tries to claim that just one more year of training will have those Afghan troops working perfectly:

A slower withdrawal time line could allow the forces to continue the train-advise — and-assist and the counterterror operations at more of the 21 bases it and coalition forces now use throughout the country.

This desperate plea for a slower US troop withdrawal and more time for training Afghan forces puts a much colder light on the sudden classification of Afghan troop capability. Even John McCain realizes that we are headed down the same path in Afghanistan as we saw in Iraq (but of course he used that make a dig at Obama while overlooking his own cheerleading of the ongoing clusterfuck):

“We are worried about it being done ‘just as we’ve done in Iraq,’” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., mocking a statement by President Barack Obama last year that touted the proposed Afghanistan drawdown.

But the classification of Afghan troop capability is not the only front on which actions in Afghanistan have gone secret. We learn today from the New York Times (h/t The Biased Reporter) that the US is relying on new authority for night raids as part of its counterterror activities authorized under the Bilateral Security Agreement put into place once Ashraf Ghani assumed the presidency. Unlike the days of the Karzai presidency, the John Kerry-invented National Unity Government of Ghani and Abdullah not only doesn’t protest US night raids, it actively works with the US to hide all news of them:

The spike in raids is at odds with policy declarations in Washington, where the Obama administration has deemed the American role in the war essentially over. But the increase reflects the reality in Afghanistan, where fierce fighting in the past year killed record numbers of Afghan soldiers, police officers and civilians.

American and Afghan officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing operations that are largely classified, said that American forces were playing direct combat roles in many of the raids and were not simply going along as advisers.

“We’ve been clear that counterterrorism operations remain a part of our mission in Afghanistan,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said on Thursday. “We’ve also been clear that we will conduct these operations in partnership with the Afghans to eliminate threats to our forces, our partners and our interests.”

The raids appear to have targeted a broad cross section of Islamist militants. They have hit both Qaeda and Taliban operatives, going beyond the narrow counterterrorism mission that Obama administration officials had said would continue after the formal end of American-led combat operations last December.

The gist of the Times article is that this uptick in raids is driven mostly by intelligence contained on a laptop magically captured by Afghan forces, but it is clear that US forces would have used any excuse they could find to justify this increase in death squad activity now that the Afghan government allows their return.

Postscript: Somehow, even though the laptop is supposed to have been from an al Qaeda operative, it is even claimed to have had information that helped target drones to kill Abdul Rauf Khadim. I’m pretty sure that by now getting his al Qaeda space checked off, Rauf has completed his terror bingo card showing sides on which he has played, even if posthumously.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

Rauf Exploited One Last Time, Now Latest Drone Victim

On January 30, I noted how the varied history of Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim had seen him on many different sides of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. His history depends on whoever is describing it, but it is clear he spent time at Guantanamo, where leaked documents said that he was “substantially exploited“. He was released from Guantanamo and held for at least some time in Afghanistan’s notorious Pul-e-Charkhi prison. Many reports put him serving on the Quetta Shura of the Afghan Taliban at a later point and getting quite close to Mullah Omar. Most recently, he was said to be an active recruiter for the Islamic State and perhaps even serving as the IS governor of the region.

Multiple reports today state that Rauf has been killed by a US drone strike in Afghanistan. From the Reuters report:

A missile-firing drone killed six people in Afghanistan on Monday including a veteran militant believed to have defected to Islamic State (IS) from the Taliban, Afghan officials said.

The senior militant, former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mullah Abdul Rauf, was killed in the violence-plagued southern province of Helmand, officials there said.

Police chief Nabi Jan Mullahkhel said Rauf was travelling in a car when the drone attacked. The other casualties included his brother-in-law and four Pakistanis, Mullahkhel said.

More details from the area:

Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), said in a statement Rauf was in charge of IS in southwestern Afghanistan and he was killed just after mid-day in “a successful military operation”.

Helmand’s deputy governor, Mohammad Jan Rasulyar, said Rauf’s membership of IS could not be confirmed but his associates were dressed in black outfits often worn by IS members.

“It is too early to confirm that he was Daish but his people were wearing the same clothes and mask,” Rasulyar said, referring to IS.

It is hardly surprising that the CNN account of his death would open with the recidivist angle:

He was a Taliban commander captured by the United States and held at Guantanamo Bay. But he was let go and returned to Afghanistan. Mullah Abdul Rauf went on to become a recruiter for ISIS in Afghanistan.

He was killed in a drone strike Monday, two officials told CNN.

And, as with seemingly all stories of this type at the early stages, the possibility that Rauf escaped has been presented. Khaama Press relays the same reports of Rauf’s death, but adds this to their story:

However, Pacha Gul Bakhtyar, Security Officer of Helmand Province had told Khaama Press earlier in the afternoon that Mullah Abdul Rawouf Khadim sustained serious injuries while four of his fighters were killed in the attack.

He said that Mullah Abdul Rawouf Khadim was traveling along with a group of his people in a Saracha vehicle when their vehicle was targeted, leaving Khadim seriously wounded and four of his people killed.

He said that Mullah Abdul Rawouf has escaped in wounded conditions.

So, while Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security states outright that Rauf was in charge of IS recruiting for the region, the Ministry of the Interior was insisting as recently as Sunday that the presence of IS fighters in Afghanistan was nothing more than a publicity stunt:

Rejecting the infiltration of the Islamic State (IS) fighters to Afghanistan, the Ministry of Interior (MoI) has said the rumors about the sightings of theses fighters were nothing more than publicity.

MoI spokesman Sediq Sediqqi at a press conference on Sunday in Kabul said that the security agencies were aware of the movements of all enemies of the country.

He warned the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) would suppress all rebel groups whether they were operating under the name of IS or other brands.

As a final note, the case of Rauf and his constantly changing sides should be seen as the rule for areas where the US military has engaged in its misadventures rather than an exeception. Other stories in today’s news note disputes over Afghan police with ties to the Taliban and Iraqi militias operated by a member of Parliament attacking Iraqi citizens at the same time they pursue ISIS.

So, of course, the US should promptly arm troops in Ukraine, as well, so that we can have another region where US arms raise the stakes the rapid changing of sides in a conflict.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

Where IS Abdul Rauf Khadim and Whose Side IS He On?

All of the ladies attending the ball
Are requested to gaze in the faces
Found on the dance cards

Please then remember
And don’t get too close to one special one
He will take your defenses and run

So we change partners
Time to change partners
You must change partners
Again

Lyrics by Stephen Stills

When last we left Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, only two short weeks ago, he had suddenly appeared on the scene in Afghanistan as a recruiter for ISIS. That was after he had spent time on the Taliban’s Quetta Shura as one of Mullah Omar’s top advisors. That was after he escaped from Afghanistan’s Pul-e-Charkhi prison. That was after he had been transferred to Pul-e-Charkhi from Guantanamo, where he was “substantially exploited“.

Today, Pakistan’s Express Tribune is reporting that the Mullah Omar of ISIS, none other than Abu Bakr Baghdadi himself, has named Rauf the head of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, which, in ISIS-speak, is now known as the Khorasan Province of the Islamic State. Khorasan also includes Pakistan and selected other surroundings according to ISIS.

That is a very interesting development, especially since earlier this week, there was a report that Rauf had been arrested by the Taliban. Here is Adam Weinstein, writing at Gawker:

The Taliban, bane of America’s post-9/11 Afghanistan operations, said Wednesday that they captured Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, a renegade insurgent and ex-Guantanamo detainee who was in Afghanistan recruiting for the Islamic State, the latest parry in a messy internecine conflict between violent Islamist regimes.

The independent Pajhwok news agency of Afghanistan reports that Khadim—who had previously been identified in the media as an ex-Taliban footsoldier who sought revenge against the U.S. after his detention in Gitmo—was arrested, along with 45 armed followers, after attempting to turn local militants against the Taliban and win their allegiance for ISIS’s attempts to build a global caliphate.

However, not everyone was convinced of that report. From Thomas Joscelyn, writing at Long War Journal, also on Wednesday, we have this:

Still, Khadim has been an effective commander and the Khorasan province is already active in southern Afghanistan. There have been skirmishes between Baghdadi’s followers and their rivals in the Taliban, which is clearly gunning for Khadim. One report says that the Taliban has captured Khadim and dozens of his followers, but that has not been confirmed.

Today’s announcement of Rauf as governor of Khorasan marked a rather rapid promotion for him, as a report by Joscelyn on Monday noted that Rauf had been named deputy governor.

Oh, and while you’re trying to sort out just whose side Rauf is on, or whose prison he is in this week, you can get even more confused about funding for ISIS and where it is coming from. Iran seems to be enjoying that particular tidbit.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

Did Obama Order Total Information Shutdown on Afghanistan?

In a stunning and blatantly obvious move to try to hide its failed efforts in Afghanistan, the military suddenly decided back in October that they would classify any and all information on the capabilities of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) despite data having been provided to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) for the 24 quarterly reports that preceded the one dated October 30, 2014 (pdf). Initial digging on that classification decision appeared to put the classification decision in the hands of ISAF Joint Command. The head of ISAF Joint Command then broke his own classification of ANSF capability a few days later when he proclaimed that ANSF is a “hugely capable fighting force” in a news briefing.

The timing for this classification couldn’t have been worse. US forces were in the final stages of the handoff of Afghan security to ANSF and Barack Obama eventually relied on butchered semantics to proudly proclaim that the war was over, despite a residual fighting force to which he had secretly given expanded combat powers.

Today, though, the classification of ANSF capability last quarter looks less like an arbitrary move by the Commander of ISAF Joint Command and more like a total information shutdown on Afghanistan. Perhaps Lt. Gen. Anderson just got the call for a shutdown before everyone else. In the SIGAR quarterly report released today (pdf), we learn that the military now has classified “nearly every piece of data used by the inspector general to assess the Afghan security forces.” In an appendix to the report, SIGAR lists the more than 140 questions that the military previously responded to openly but now says the answers are classified. Here is a sampling that SIGAR provided in the email sent out releasing the report:

–The over 140 SIGAR questions that received classified or otherwise restricted responses are listed starting on page 211. Sample of questions:
–Please provide a broad definition of the terms “unavailable” and “present for duty.” (page 211)
–Total amount of funding that the United States has expended on Afghan National Army food from Afghan Security Forces Fund (ASFF) for the current year. (page 211)
–How has the $25 million authorized by Congress for women in the Afghan army been used? (page 212)
–Total amount of funding that the United States has expended on Afghan National Police salaries from ASFF for the current year. (page 212)
–Please provide details of DOD/NATO-funded contracts to provide literacy training to the ANSF, including: a. the cost of the contract(s) and estimated cost(s) to complete (page 213)
–Please confirm that the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force-Afghanistan (CJIATF-A) is dissolved. (page 215)
–Please offer an assessment of the anticorruption initiatives of Afghan Ministry of Defense and Afghan Ministry of Interior (page 215)

As the New York Times article linked above points out, the military also initially tried to classify the number of US forces present in Afghanistan and only relented on that point when it was pointed out that the number had already been released by the Obama Administration.

The “explanation” offered by the Commander of US troops in Afghanistan, General John F. Campbell, is far from satisfactory. Here is an excerpt from his letter to SIGAR explaining the sudden expansion of classification:

Campbell

Campbell then had the temerity to add later in his letter that he is “committed to maximum transparency in our operations”. Just wow. That sounds like Obama declaring himself the most transparent President ever, and then going on to rely on expanded classification coupled with unprecedented levels of prosecution of whistleblowers.

But instead of just looking like a move Obama would make, perhaps it did come at his behest. Not only is the military clamming up on virtually all information out of Afghanistan, it appears that the State Department is as well. From page 147 of SIGAR’s report:

Despite the requirement of Public Law 110-181 that federal agencies provide requested information or assistance to SIGAR, the State Department did not answer any of SIGAR’s questions on economic and social-development this quarter, and failed to respond to SIGAR’s attempts to follow up.

Had only one Federal agency, the Defense Department, suddenly shut down the flow of information, it would have been easy to believe that they were ones trying to hide their own failures. But now that a second agency, the State Department, has shut down information flow at the same time, and won’t even provide an explanation for their move, it seems clear to me that the order to shut down information flow had to come from above. With both the Defense Department and State Department going silent, could such an order have come down from anyone other than Obama himself? The failure that is our Afghanistan war has entered its fourteenth year, has spanned two presidents and is now being summarily swept under the rug by the Most Transparent Administration Ever®.

Postscript: For more evidence on just how failed the Afghanistan effort has been, recall that John Kerry’s brokered extra-constitutional National Unity Government was over three months late in finally announcing a full slate of 19 cabinet nominees. Sadly, the slate included poorly screened candidates and the Afghan Parliament yesterday rejected 10 of those nominees while voting to confirm only 9.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

Afghan Cabinet: Nominate First, Screen Later

Just under two weeks ago, it appeared that one of the final hurdles in getting the Afghan government functioning after the disputed election may have been cleared, as a full slate for the cabinet was announced. Sadly, even though Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah took over three months to come up with the list of nominees to run their “Unity Government”, it is clear that no screening of these candidates took place, as many are now falling by the wayside. One turns out to have an Interpol red notice, as many as eleven may have dual citizenship (a direct violation of the Afghan constitution) and one may not meet the minimum age requirement.

Rod Nordland describes some of the problems that have been encountered:

Choosing the Afghan cabinet is to government what the national sport of buzkashi is to polo: a wild and woolly version with uniquely local characteristics and notably more carnage.

President Ashraf Ghani’s presentation of new cabinet nominees to Parliament on Tuesday was a case in point. One proposed nominee had just pulled out after revelations of an Interpol warrant for his arrest. Another dropped out, complaining that he did not have enough money and jobs to bribe Parliament into approving him. A third was subject to a social media smear campaign alleging that she had just gotten a new identity card so she could add a few years to her age to qualify for the job.

Several other would-be ministers were reportedly headed to the exits before Parliament got a chance to vote on them, as revelations tumbled out about dual citizenships, frowned on by the Afghan Constitution, or even, in one case, allegedly not being fluent in any national language.

It’s impossible to make this stuff up. Nordland continues:

“The candidate for rural development studied urban development, and the candidate for urban development studied rural development,” said Ramazan Bashardost, an anticorruption crusader and member of Parliament, famous for his outspokenness.

Corruption is running rampant in the confirmation process:

A more prominent nominee, Jilani Popal, a well-regarded former government official, withdrew his name from nomination as finance minister. While he is believed to have dual United States and Afghan citizenship, Mr. Popal told friends that he had pulled out when members of Parliament asked him for a total of 400 jobs in exchange for their votes, most of them in the lucrative customs service, leaving him with no slots for unstained candidates.

We get more on bribes from ToloNews:

However, a number of MPs have told TOLOnews that presidential advisor Mohammad Akram Akhpalwak has made promises of gifts to lawmakers if they vote in favor of the nominees. MPs said they had been promised IPHONE 6 mobile sets and 5-10,000 USD. Mr. Akhpalwak has meanwhile rejected the allegations.

That same ToloNews article informs us that seven of the nominees believed to have dual citizenship have been rejected by the Foreign Affairs Commission of Parliament. But over at Khaama Press, we learn that the rejection was quite the event:

The Lower House of the Parliament – Wolesi Jirga on Thursday witnessed brawl among the lawmakers over the issue of cabinet nominees holding dual citizenship.

/snip/

In the meantime, a number of the lawmakers insisted that the nominees holding dual citizenship should also be called in the session so that they can present their plans.

The lawmakers said the cabinet nominees have signed documents to surrender their second citizenship and the decision to reject the nominees with dual citizenship was not taken by the house of representatives.

Brawl among the Afghan lawmakers started after MP Shukria Barekzai critized the recent decision by joint parliamentary commission to reject the nominees insisting that the Parliament House is not authorized to deprive the rights of an Afghan national from election and voting.

The article goes on to describe a pathway through which the nominees might be brought back into eligibility. Given the slow, argument-filled route that has brought the Afghan “government” to its present state, I wouldn’t expect these questions about potential cabinet ministers to be resolved any time soon.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.