NATO

Afghanistan Confirms Eleven Children Killed in April 6 NATO Air Strike

Partial screen-grab of the Khaama Press article confirming eleven children were killed in the April 6 NATO air strike in Kunar province. Various reports of the strike include this image as well as other photos taken from slightly different angles of the same group of victims.

Partial screen-grab of the Khaama Press article confirming eleven children were killed in the April 6 NATO air strike in Kunar province. Various reports of the strike include this image as well as other photos taken from slightly different angles of the same group of victims.

Khaama Press reports today that a group of investigators appointed by the Afghan government has confirmed that eleven children were killed on Saturday in a NATO air strike in Kunar Province. Although several press reports indicate that NATO has said that it is investigating the strike, I can find no word on the Defense Department or ISAF websites mentioning this strike. The absence of any report from NATO is puzzling, since their site provides near-daily accounts of actions under the heading of “Joint Command Operational Update”.

Here is how Khaama Press relates the confirmation of the deaths:

Head of the Afghan delegation appointed by Afghan president Hamid Karzai to probe NATO airstrike in eastern Kunar province of Afghanistan confirmed at least 11 children and 4 women were killed during raid.

The delegation also added that at least 25 people had suffered casualties during the air raid in this province.

The airstrike was carried out during a joint military operation conducted by Afghan and coalition security forces in Shegal district of eastern Kunar province three days.

The delegation met with the families of the victims after being appointed by president Hamid Karzai.

Two very important details about the strike come in the final paragraph:

At least 7 Taliban militants were also killed during the airstrike, the delegation confirmed adding that 4 residential houses were damaged during the airstrike.

The details that Taliban militants were killed and that more than one house was damaged are important because of the other information that has come out regarding the incident.

The day after the strike, the Washington Post carried an AP article about it. Near the end of the article, AP relayed information that came from a local official:

Afghan officials said the airstrike occurred after a joint U.S.-Afghan force faced hours of heavy gunfire from militants. The joint force was conducting an operation targeting a senior Taliban leader that began around midnight Friday in the Shultan area of Kunar’s Shigal district, according to tribal elder Gul Pasha, who also is the chief of the local council.

The remote area is one of the main points of entry for Taliban and other insurgents trying to move across the mountainous border from neighboring Pakistan, where they enjoy refuge in the lawless northwestern area.

“In the morning after sunrise, planes appeared in the sky and airstrikes started,” Pasha said in a telephone interview, adding that the fighting didn’t end until the evening.

“I don’t think that they knew that all these children and women were in the house because they were under attack from the house and they were shooting at the house,” he said.

There were slightly differing accounts of the death toll.

Pasha said the main Taliban suspect was in the house that was hit and was killed along with a woman and the children, ages 1 to 12, who were members of the suspect’s family.

So Pasha is claiming that the children all belonged to the main Taliban suspect and were in the same house where he was located. That is very interesting considering that in an article published April 8 that also mentioned this attack, Khaama Press featured a government condemnation of the use of civilians as human shields: Continue reading

Yet Another Taliban Attack Using Afghan National Army Uniforms

At the height of the green on blue killing outbreak, one aspect that stood out was that the attackers often had access to Afghan military and police uniforms whether they were actual members of these groups or not. As the Taliban shift their targets this year to attacking the Afghan military and government, it appears that the tactic of attackers disguising themselves in official uniforms is continuing. Today, there was a major attack on a court complex (and a nearby bank office) where Taliban attackers were wearing Afghan National Army Uniforms.

From the New York Times:

A group of eight Taliban insurgents dressed in Afghan Army uniforms staged a complex assault on a provincial government compound in Western Afghanistan on Wednesday morning, killing at least six officials and civilians and seizing several hostages in one of the buildings, officials and witnesses said.

/snip/

Officials said that the violence in Farah began after insurgents detonated a Ford Ranger laden with explosives near the entrance of the government compound. Government officials said the Taliban seized the second floor of the provincial court building, which is near the offices of the mayor, prosecutor and the governor, among other officials.

In addition to the at least six people killed in the attack, roughly 75 others were wounded, including women and children, according to hospital officials. Shah Mohammad Noor, head of the regional Court for western Afghanistan, said four of the attackers had been killed so far.

“The firefight is still ongoing,” said Mohammad Akram Khpalwak, the governor of Farah province. “The terrorists are still resisting.”

We learn from Reuters that the timing of the attack was not random, as the court proceedings going on at the time were specifically targeted:

Five militants stormed a court in Afghanistan on Wednesday where Taliban insurgents were standing trial, killing seven people and wounding 75, officials said.

At least one of the attackers blew himself up and a gun battle between Afghan security forces and an insurgent holed up inside the court was going on in the capital of the western province of Farah, near the Iranian border, said provincial deputy governor Mohammad Younis Rasouli.

“They stormed the court as a trial was being held to convict 10 Taliban fighters,” he told Reuters, adding that four civilians and three members of the security forces were killed.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a text message to media, spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said, adding that the insurgents standing trial had been freed in the attack.

I suppose there could be a language or translation issue here, but the matter of fact statement that the “trial was being held to convict 10 Taliban fighters” kind of stands out here as not quite in line with the usual concept of a criminal court proceeding. The willingness of a Taliban spokesman to attach his name to a text claiming credit for the attack while it was still onging is also pretty stunning in its own right.

ToloNews adds that a bank was targeted along with the courthouse:

Several gunmen have launched a coordinated attack on a court building and a private bank branch in western Farah province, killing at least six people and wounding more than 70 others on Wednesday morning, officials said.

/snip/

Two gunmen, wearing Afghan National Army’s uniform, entered the primary court building and two others managed their way into the provincial branch of New Kabul Bank.

Extra forces have been deployed to gun-down the insurgents.

And AFP (via Dawn) informs us that the Taliban were so open in taking credit for the attack that they even posted it on their website:

Taliban militants fighting the US-backed central government immediately claimed they were behind the attack.

“Our fighters attacked several government buildings in Farah according to their planned tactic. They conducted the attack with small arms and grenades,” the group said on its website.

The battle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan public now appears to be between the Afghan government and the Taliban with the US (and NATO) in the process of becoming more spectators than participants.

Afghan Supply Route Problem Becomes Exit Route Problem

Back in July, Pakistan finally re-opened its highways to NATO supply trucks after the routes had been closed for several months in response to the US killing 24 Pakistani soldiers in an attack on a border post in November, 2011. A huge backlog of trucks and supplies had accumulated during that prolonged closure, and clearing it was complicated by the resumption of attacks on the supply convoys inside Pakistan.

On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal informed us that the US would test using the Pakistan overland route in reverse, as the long process of ending the NATO mission in Afghanistan by the end of 2014 begins its withdrawal of equipment:

The U.S. military’s efforts to ship out the mountains of equipment it accumulated over 11 years of Afghan war began in earnest this month, when a trial load of military hardware trucked through Pakistan set sail from the port of Karachi.

The shipment, which included more than 70 containers and 20 military vehicles, was a crucial test of a plan to bring home an estimated $22 billion in U.S. military gear from landlocked Afghanistan. Until now, the Pakistani route was used for supplies entering Afghanistan, rather than exiting.

U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Steven Shapiro, deputy commanding general of the 1st Theater Sustainment Command, said the successful delivery proved that the coalition’s transit route through Pakistan would enable the military to meet President Barack Obama‘s goal of cutting the size of the 66,000-strong American force in Afghanistan by half by next February.

“Pakistan certainly has a vested interest in getting it right too, because it’s a big deal for them,” Gen. Shapiro said. “So we feel very confident that the Pakistani military is going to help us move through Pakistan.”

Perhaps that first shipment of 20 trucks made it through, but today we have news that a convoy of five trucks on the exit route was attacked and destroyed. From AFP via the Express Tribune:

Five trucks carrying Nato equipment out of Afghanistan were set ablaze by gunmen near Quetta on Monday, as the international military alliance winds down its combat mission there, officials said.

Four masked gunmen on two motorbikes opened fire at the vehicles, forcing them to stop and then doused them in petrol to set them on fire in Balochistan.

“Five Nato trucks were carrying Nato equipment back. Gunmen first fired on the first vehicle and then sprinkled petrol on all of them,” Iftikhar Bugti, a senior government official told AFP by telephone.

The incident happened in Bolan district, around 120 kilometres (75 miles) southeast of Quetta, the provincial capital.

“All five trucks have been almost completely destroyed,” Bugti said. One driver was slightly injured in the attack, he added.

The pace of exiting material is expected to pick up greatly, and the Wall Street Journal article informs us that the bulk of the material will be shipped through Pakistan:

When the exodus is in full swing—military commanders expect the logistics push to reach its peak this August—the U.S. will be sending about 1,500 military vehicles and 1,000 containers per month out of Afghanistan. The majority—around two-thirds of that cargo—will move through Pakistan, military officials say.

The most sensitive equipment, such as weapons and communications systems, must be flown out by air, the costliest option. U.S. officials have also negotiated an alternative overland route, dubbed the Northern Distribution Network, through Central Asia to Baltic and Black Sea ports. While more expensive than the route through Pakistan, the NDN isn’t exposed to attacks by Pakistani Taliban.

Perhaps the military will be content to allow a number of the convoys to be burned by militants in Pakistan. After all, when the military burns excess equipment, it now has to track the soldiers who were at the burn site for future health problems.

SIGAR: Widely Cited 352,000 ANSF Force Size Is Not Validated

The January 2013 Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction report has been out for some time now, but @SIGARHQ has still been tweeting about it regularly. One of their tweets yesterday brought my attention to the section of their report (pdf) where they discuss force size for Afghan National Security Forces. Since the interruption in training brought about by decreased interactions between US and Afghan forces during the  massive outbreak of green on blue attacks, I have maintained that the claim of 352,000 for ANSF force size was no longer credible. It appears that my skepticism is well-founded, as the pertinent section of the SIGAR report bears this heading:

ANSF NUMBERS NOT VALIDATED

The section begins:

Determining ANSF strength is fraught with challenges. U.S. and coalition forces rely on the Afghan forces to report their own personnel strength numbers. Moreover, the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A) noted that, in the case of the Afghan National Army, there is “no viable method of validating [their] personnel numbers.” SIGAR will continue to follow this issue to determine whether U.S. financial support to the ANSF is based on accurately reported personnel numbers.

There are several important bits to unpack in that paragraph. First, note that even though the US (well, officially, NATO) is training the Afghan forces, it is the Afghans themselves who report on their force size. It appears that our training of the Afghans, however, has not trained them on how to count personnel in a way that can be validated. But the end of the paragraph is the kicker, because it appears that our financial support of the Afghans is based on their own reporting of the force size. Since we are paying them for the force size they report, why wouldn’t they inflate the numbers to get paid as much as possible? The Afghans know that the bulk of US policy is built around the 352,000 force size myth, so they know that there will be absolutely no push-back (aside from an obscure SIGAR report that only DFH’s will read) for inflating the number to get the result the US desires. For further enticement, recall that NATO has proposed extending the time over which a force size of 352,000 will be supported, in a move that I saw as a blatant attempt to dangle an additional $22 billion ready for embezzling in front of Afghan administrators.

It comes as no small surprise, then, that SIGAR has found that the Afghan-reported numbers somehow manage to include over 11,000 civilians in the reports for security force size that is specifically meant to exclude civilian personnel.

A related area in which SIGAR has found a disgusting level of dishonesty is in how the US goes about evaluating Afghan forces in terms of readiness. Because it became clear to the trainers in 2010 that they had no hope of achieving the trained and independent force size numbers that NATO planners wanted (and because SIGAR found that the tool they were using at the time was useless), they decided that the only way to demonstrate sufficient progress was to redefine the criteria for evaluating progress. From the report: Continue reading

Once Again, US Pretends to Hand Over Control of Parwan Prison, Holds Back Some Prisoners

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. We have headlines at multiple news outlets trumpeting that the US has ceded control of Parwan Prison (newly re-named today as the Afghan National Detention Facility at Parwan!), but when we drill down just a bit, we see that the US can never truly let go of its love of indefinite detention without trial, and so they have held back a few prisoners from today’s deal. Rod Nordland and Alissa Rubin do the best job of cutting through the US reliance on deception and semantics with their article in today’s New York Times, where even the headline writer got into the spirit of seeing this “agreement” as it really is: “U.S. Cedes Control, Almost, on Afghan Prisoners“.

At the heart of the long-standing difficulty in handing over control of the Parwan facility has been the US insistence that some prisoners be maintained indefinitely without charge while Afghanistan has continued to point out that the rule of law should prevail and all prisoners deserve a trial to determine their guilt. Nordland and Rubin were fed a list of recidivist Taliban figures who have been released by Afghanistan only to return to battle, but they did not allow that information to cloud their reporting on the fact that the US has held back some prisoners in the handover:

The American military formally transferred all but “a small number” of the Afghan prisoners at the Bagram Prison to the Afghan government on Monday in a ceremony that almost, but not quite, marked the end of the American involvement in the long-term detention of insurgents here.

/snip/

Afghan officials said the review boards will no longer exist and all prisoners at Bagram, present and future, will go straight into normal judicial proceedings. American officials, however, said they expected the Afghans to maintain review boards, but without American participation. The difference may be a semantic one, as Afghans expect teams of prosecutors to review which prisoners are released and which are prosecuted in court.

An American military official in Kabul insisted that the military has confidence that those insurgents whom the United States views as enduring security threats would not be released easily or quickly. “These people pose a threat to Afghan soldiers and Afghan civilians, too,” the official said. “We’re confident they will have appropriate measures in place to ensure dangerous detainees don’t pose a threat to Afghan and coalition forces.”

The Americans have long argued for a nonjudicial review process and a way to hold insurgent prisoners in long-term administrative detention, because of the difficulty of building criminal cases under battlefield conditions. Americans have argued that without such a system, soldiers in the field may be tempted to kill rather than capture insurgents. Afghan officials objected that administrative detention was unconstitutional.

We get a bit more information on the prisoners held back in the AP story carried in the Washington Post:

The detention center houses about 3,000 prisoners and the majority are already under Afghan control. The United States had not handed over about 100, and some of those under American authority do not have the right to a trial because the U.S. considers them part of an ongoing conflict.

There are also about three dozen non-Afghan detainees, including Pakistanis and other nationals that will remain in American hands. The exact number and nationality of those detainees has never been made public.

“They are not the priority of the Afghan government so the Americans can keep them for the time being. Our priority are the Afghan detainees,” Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Zahir Azimi said.

The US sweetened the pot today with an extra $39 million in funding for the facility on top of the approximately $250 million it has already spent building and maintaining it.

Both Afghan news sources I follow, Khaama Press and TOLONews, run straight stories today reporting full handover without mentioning the prisoners that the US is holding back.

All coverage of today’s handover agreement that I have read does place it in the context of the next agreement that is required on whether US troops remaining behind after the NATO withdrawal at the end of 2014 will have criminal immunity. (I must have made too many SOFA jokes in post headlines, because now all US news sources refer to the need for a “bilateral security agreement” rather than a “status of forces agreement”.) The timing for getting today’s agreement in place is quite significant, as John Kerry has suddenly appeared in Afghanistan, presumably to do a bit of SOFA shopping. I’m guessing he will promise a very good purchase price.

Update: The New York Times article has mutated and no longer has the headline that was so revealing. New headline: “Amid Fears of Releases, U.S. Cedes Prison to Afghanistan”. Oh well, the clear explanation lasted for a while and even still lingers in the url of the article.

Agreement Announced on Special Operations Forces in Wardak Province, Explanations Vary Widely

NATO is claiming that there now is an agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai regarding the withdrawal of US Special Operations Forces from Maidan Wardak province in the wake of Karzai’s insistence last month that the troops leave immediately. Despite the presence of an agreement, however, there appear to be many different explanations for just what the agreement means for how long US SOF will be present in the province. Given the history of the US bargaining with Afghanistan in bad faith (see, for example, this post on the Parwan Prison handover and work backwards in time through the links and this post for a description of US reliance on semantics in making these sham agreements), it is not at all surprising to me that these initial reports on the agreement would cite a lack of specificity and that different news organizations would come up with widely differing descriptions of its expected effects.

Reuters puts its doubts about the meaning of the agreement right up front in its report:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and NATO-led forces have reached an agreement on the departure of foreign troops from a strategically key province near the capital, coalition forces said, but it was unclear if U.S. special forces would leave.

An Afghan defense ministry spokesman told reporters in Kabul that the elite American force would quit Wardak within a few days, despite earlier U.S. concerns that their departure would leave a security vacuum.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan said in a statement Afghan security forces would take over security from coalition forces in Wardak, but did specifically mention the withdrawal of U.S. special forces.

Note that Reuters knows that ISAF statements must be parsed carefully and they do a good job here of warning us that ISAF did not state outright that US SOF would leave the province.

Writing for AP, Kimberly Dozier provides less analysis of the statements received, and so her report provides conflicting information from ISAF and from an Afghan spokesman. The article opens:

The U.S. military and the Afghan government reached a deal Wednesday on a gradual pullout of American special forces and their Afghan counterparts from a contentious eastern province, officials said.

President Hamid Karzai has blamed the troops for egregious human rights abuses in Wardak province, allegations which U.S. military officials have steadfastly denied.

However, NATO forces said in a statement that commander Gen. Joseph Dunford agreed with Karzai to remove American troops first from Wardak’s Nerkh district and then later from other parts of the province.

But then the information from an Afghan spokesman presented next appears to conflict with the ISAF information:

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Zahir Azimi confirmed there has been a deal in a news conference in Kabul on Wednesday.

“The international forces are ready to withdraw the special forces from Nirkh district of Maidan Wardak province and Afghan army units are going to replace them in the coming days,” Azimi said, adding that there are no other U.S. commando units in the rest of the province.

A U.S. military official explained that a small, mostly U.S. army special operations team would withdraw from Nerkh, as would the Afghan local police force that works alongside the Americans.

Azimi states outright that the only US Special Operations Forces in Wardak are in the Nerkh district and that these will be withdrawn. Dozier misses the point that Reuters parsed out, namely, that it appears that ISAF speaks of US forces withdrawing from the province while being silent on whether SOF also would withdraw.

There is a larger problem with Dozier accepting Azimi’s statement at face value, though. In this post, I addressed what is known (unfortunately, September, 2012 is the latest information from this map) about Afghan Local Police presence in Wardak: Continue reading

NATO Wants US to Buy $22 Billion SOFA in Afghanistan

Both Reuters and the New York Times carry stories this morning reporting that NATO has floated the idea of extending the 352,000 Afghan National Security Force size for a number of years beyond the current plan that calls for it to fall significantly after the US completes its withdrawal. There are a number of problems with this idea. The first is that the 352,000 number bears little relation to reality at this point, since the ongoing high attrition rate for Afghan forces continued during the prolonged disruption in training due to green on blue attacks. Although ISAF continues to claim that recruiting and initial training goals to support the 352,000 level were met, the likelihood that this level of troops still exists and is integrated into ANSF is very low. (See this post for just one example of the deployment deficit at an Afghan National Border Police facility.) Second, the US bears the bulk of the budgetary load for maintaining ANSF, so extending the commitment to the increased troop level is asking for a large financial commitment from the US at a time when budget deficits are the panic du jour in Washington. Finally, because only one Afghan National Army unit now is reported to be able to function without any advisor input, a large number of US advisors is required to achieve the required ANSF force size and there is not yet a negotiated Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that grants immunity to US troops remaining in Afghanistan after the planned withdrawal at the end of 2014. The lack of such an agreement in Iraq resulted in our rapid withdrawal of advisors there.

Here is how the Times described the proposal:

NATO defense ministers are seriously considering a new proposal to sustain Afghanistan’s security forces at 352,000 troops through 2018, senior alliance officials said Thursday. The expensive effort is viewed as a way to help guarantee the country’s stability — and, just as much, to illustrate continued foreign support after the NATO allies end their combat mission in Afghanistan next year.

The fiscal package that NATO leaders endorsed last spring would have reduced the Afghan National Security Forces to fewer than 240,000 troops after December 2014, when the NATO mission expires. That reduction was based on planning work indicating that the larger current force level was too expensive for Afghanistan and the allies to keep up, and might not be required. Some specialists even argued that the foreign money pouring into Afghanistan to support so large a force was helping fuel rampant official corruption.

Recall that the Obama administration managed to quash the semi-annual report on “progress” in Afghanistan that was due in October until after the November elections, but once it finally came out, the New York Times reported:

As President Obama considers how quickly to withdraw the remaining 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan and turn over the war to Afghan security forces, a bleak new Pentagon report has found that only one of the Afghan National Army’s 23 brigades is able to operate independently without air or other military support from the United States and NATO partners.

So we see that there is a huge dependence on “advisors” (=US troops) who are required for there to be any semblance of function for the ANSF. And yet, as I discussed back in November, there is not yet a SOFA in place that provides full criminal immunity to US forces who are in Afghanistan posing as advisors after 2014. Is NATO floating the idea of extending the large force size myth as an enticement to Afghan officials to keep their corruption dollars coming in by approving US troop immunity in the new SOFA? Continue reading

Acknowledgement of Failure in Afghanistan Spreads Throughout US Government

Mostly abandoned $7.3 million Border Police facility in Kunduz Province, Click on photo for a larger view.

After staying out of the headlines while the military carried out its panty-sniffing investigation of his emails, General John Allen is back in today’s Washington Post in the first of what will be many valedictories of his time as commander of US forces in Afghanistan. He is the 11th commander there since 2001, so a year seems to be about all anyone can stomach. But Allen’s reappearance comes at an inauspicious time, as two different documents released yesterday show that despite the continued “we won” attitude from Allen and his minions, many of the rest of the branches of the US government (h/t to Marcy for pointing me toward both these documents) now openly admit that we have failed there.

McClatchy’s Jonathan Landay tweeted Monday afternoon: “State Dept #Afghanistan travel warning: Afghan govt has “limited ability to maintain order and ensure security.” Did White House read this?” Following up on his tweet, the travel warning paints a bleak picture of the security situation in Afghanistan:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against travel to Afghanistan. The security threat to all U.S. citizens in Afghanistan remains critical.

/snip/

No region in Afghanistan should be considered immune from violence, and the potential exists throughout the country for hostile acts, either targeted or random, against U.S. and other Western nationals at any time. Remnants of the former Taliban regime and the al-Qaida terrorist network, as well as other groups hostile to International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) military operations, remain active.

The next sentence, though, is the most devastating and is what Landay referenced:

Afghan authorities have a limited ability to maintain order and ensure the security of Afghan citizens and foreign visitors.

As Landay asks, has the White House read this? After a long string of no longer operational explanations for why we are still in Afghanistan, the current line is that we must stay long enough to train and support the 352,000-strong Afghan National Security Force so that it can take responsibility for security as we withdraw. Although the Post article does note that the future for Afghanistan does not look good, when Allen is quoted, victory language returns, and it is in stark contrast to the State Department view of conditions:

With 11 days left in his tour, Allen says he’s proud of the growth of the Afghan security forces and the success of NATO’s troop surge in places such as southern Helmand, where four years ago the Taliban operated freely.

The State Department would appear to dispute that claim that the Taliban no longer operates freely in Helmand.

As if the State Department’s travel warning isn’t devastating enough to the Afghan war situation, a report released yesterday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) (pdf) demonstrates that the claim that ANSF force size has achieved the 352,000 goal is a sham. The photos above depict a $7.3 million facility built by the US for Afghan Border Police in Kunduz Province. The findings of the report are devastating: Continue reading

Zero Option on Table as Karzai Comes to Washington

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is in Washington this week for a visit that culminates on Friday in a meeting with President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He also meets with outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday. As I described in November, the US and Afghanistan are negotiating a Status of Forces Agreement that lays out the ground rules for any US troops that remain in Afghanistan beyond the planned withdrawal of combat troops by the end of 2014. As was the case with the SOFA for Iraq, the key sticking point will be whether US troops are given full criminal immunity. When Iraq refused to grant immunity, the US abruptly withdrew the forces that had been meant to stay behind.

Both the Washington Post and New York Times have prominently placed articles this morning couching the options on the number of troops to remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014 in terms of strategy for achieving US “goals” there, but the options described now include the “zero option” of leaving no troops behind after 2014. Unlike the case in negotiating the SOFA with Iraq, it appears that at least some of the folks in Washington understand this time that the US is not likely to get full immunity for its troops with Afghanistan, and so there should be some planning for that outcome. Both articles openly discuss the real possibility of a zero option with no troops remaining in the country, although the Times actually suggests full withdrawal in the article’s title (“U.S. Is Open to Withdraw Afghan Force After 2014″) and the Post hangs onto hope of several thousand troops remaining with its title (“Some in administration push for only a few thousand U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014″).

After describing the possibility of a zero option, the Times article then suggests that it is merely a negotiating tool to be used on Karzai, failing to note anywhere in the article that the zero option would be driven by Afghanistan refusing to confer immunity:

While President Obama has made no secret of his desire to withdraw American troops as rapidly as possible, the plans for a postwar American presence in Afghanistan have generally envisioned a residual force of thousands of troops to carry out counterterrorism operations and to help train and equip Afghan soldiers.

In a conference call with reporters, the deputy national security adviser, Benjamin J. Rhodes, said that leaving no troops “would be an option that we would consider,” adding that “the president does not view these negotiations as having a goal of keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan.”

Military analysts have said it is difficult to conceive of how the United States might achieve even its limited post-2014 goals in Afghanistan without any kind of troop presence. That suggests the White House is staking out a negotiating position with both the Pentagon and with Mr. Karzai, as he and Mr. Obama begin to work out an agreement covering the post-2014 American role in Afghanistan.

That oblique reference to an “agreement covering the post-2014 American role in Afghanistan” is as close as the Times article gets to describing the SOFA as the true determinant of whether US troops remain past 2014. At least the Post understands this point and that it hinges on immunity: Continue reading

Military Slowly Gaining Perspective on Insider Attacks in Afghanistan

Citing a “former American official”, the New York Times today dubbed insider, or green on blue, attacks as “the signature violence of 2012″ as it provided information directly from an Afghan soldier who turned his gun on US troops on May 11 of this year in Kunar province, killing one US soldier and wounding two as the US soldiers were visiting the Afghan post where Mahmood, the attacker, was stationed.

The Times points out that despite the Taliban’s claims that they have many infiltrators within Afghan forces, in the case of Mahmood, he took the initiative in approaching the Taliban once he decided that he wished to carry out an attack. It appears that local opinions where he was stationed played a role in shaping his decision:

But until May, he worked and fought alongside foreigners without incident. The change came in the Ghaziabad District of Kunar, where he ended up after the start of 2012, he said.

The area is thick with Taliban, along with Islamists from Pakistan. Many residents sympathized with the insurgents and often complained to Afghan soldiers about the abuses committed by Americans and the failure of Afghan soldiers to control much of anything beyond the perimeter of their own outpost, Mr. Mahmood said. The Taliban, they glorified.

Listening to villagers, Mr. Mahmood became convinced that the foreigners had killed too many Afghans and insulted the Prophet Muhammad too many times. He wanted to be driving them out, not helping them stay. The villagers’ stories “strengthened my desire to kill Americans with my own fingers,” he said.

The article provides hope that the military is finally gaining a real perspective on the issues highlighted in the seminal report “A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility” (pdf), which the military first retroactively classified and then embraced as it raced to respond to the growing crisis of insider attacks by preparing “training materials” implementing (in a very crude way) some of the recommendations from the report. But it now appears that the military is stumbling its way toward a deeper understanding of how cultural flashpoints are symptomatic the larger problem that the US simply is not welcome in Afghanistan:

But behind it all, many senior coalition and Afghan officials are now concluding that after nearly 12 years of war, the view of foreigners held by many Afghans has come to mirror that of the Taliban. Hope has turned into hatred, and some will find a reason to act on those feelings. Continue reading

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emptywheel @Casual_Obs Most of what @onekade is riffing on is in this post. http://t.co/HBWMUN6eR9 I was riffing too.
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emptywheel @Casual_Obs No, I used that. It's the mid-point of estimates, but as @onekade notes, some estimates are 3X that.
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emptywheel @jilliancyork You had me worried! @EFF
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emptywheel @Kittfornow Well, sure. But faking accountability while protecting the powerful comes naturally to Bayh. Like breathing. @onekade
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