Obama’s Extends Forever War in Afghanistan before MSF Report Comes Out

President Obama, as you’ve likely heard, just announced an extension of the Afghan mission. He insists combat operations in Afghanistan are over. He insists the role of the “train, advise, assist” advisors on the ground won’t change. Our troops just need to stick around in Afghanistan until the training begins to take hold.

I’m most interested in the timing of this announcement. It comes 12 days after Americans — working at the behest of the Afghans we’re “train, advise, assisting” — destroyed a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz. Afghan commander General John Campbell, on a pre-planned trip to testify about how we need to extend our deployment, also answered questions about the attack and promised an investigation; he even suggested a preliminary investigation should be done within a month (so within the next 20 days).

Lucky for Obama, American reporters have short memories, otherwise some might ask him about the combat role these TAA advisors played two weeks ago today, returning fire against Taliban forces, just before the US destroyed a hospital. Because then we might be focusing on how Kunduz underscored that Americans will still be drawn into fighting.

But it’s the MSF bombing that would really undercut Obama’s decision to have us stay. Probably, the DOD investigation is going to show that the Afghans made unjustified claims about the Taliban operating from the hospital, most charitably because of confusion, but possibly because they didn’t like that the hospital treated Taliban members (and likely was treating some from fighting earlier in the week). It will also show Special Operations process on vetting totally violated protocol, which will raise more questions about precisely what role SOF is playing on the ground (and how our counterterrorism operations, such as this was, threaten to drag us back in).

So Obama rolled out his decision in that sweet spot, where most of the big reporting on the MSF attack has passed, but before the report will renew attention on precisely what we’re doing in Afghanistan.

One other point about Obama’s decision. In his announcement today — and in Campbell’s testimony last week — both men raved about what a great partner Ashraf Ghani is (both also made overly optimistic claims about how well power sharing is working). That should make it clear — if this analysis wasn’t already enough — that the shut-down of NSA’s full take on Afghanistan cell phone content that happened after WaPo and Intercept described the MYSTIC/SOMALGET programs has since been reversed. It’s clear Ghani has agreed to do what we have asked in order to get us to stay, and we surely asked for turn the full take back on, for troop protection if not to better spy on the Taliban. Which, of course, would indicate Clapper was lying again.

Finally, MSF has not backed off its demand for an independent investigation. It just launched a Change.org petition calling on President Obama to consent to an independent investigation.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

21 replies
  1. wayoutwest says:

    This decision to remain in Afghanistan seems to be mostly about Obama’s legacy, he doesn’t want to be remembered and blamed for losing the Good War. What happens after Trump is elected will be his problem and legacy, Obama will be off on speaking tours and library fundraisers explaining how hard he tried and nearly succeeded against overwhelming odds, blaming the Afghans.

    Medicins Sans Frontal-lobes should take their blood money and shut up because no one who really matters is listening to their demands.

    • bevin says:

      “Medicins Sans Frontal-lobes should take their blood money and shut up because no one who really matters is listening to their demands.”

      Is something wrong with ,my sense of humour?

      Am I missing something?

      Or is this post as obscene, and redolent of precisely the diabolical attitudes which lie behind the attacks on this hospital, as I think it is?

      • P J Evans says:

        Is something wrong with my sense of humour?
        Am I missing something?

        I don’t think so. That bit was way out of line.

        • wayoutwest says:

          At least you didn’t pose as judge, jury and executioner in responding to my admittedly harsh judgment of MSF.

          You have to doubt the sanity of any group, elite Europeans or not, who demand protection from the host government, military and its allies in Afghanistan and then proudly and very publicly announce that they are offering their services to the designated enemy of that government and that they will hold the enemies weapons safely so that after treatment they can return to the battle. The response was cruel and deadly but waving that red flag in front of a stressed Afghan military is an invitation for a reprisal attack. It’s not nice, it’s not moral and it’s not legal, it’s War. It might have been wiser to not advertise the fact that they were treating the Taliban wounded.

          Another aspect, that stinks, about the responses to this incident is that the US, France, the Coalition, Assad and now Russia are almost daily bombing medical facilities, medical workers and doctors in Syria but they are just Muslim Arabs who’s deaths don’t seem to register, only when elite Europeans are killed is protecting the Healers an international issue.

  2. RUKidding says:

    “So Obama rolled out his decision in that sweet spot, where most of the big reporting on the MSF attack has passed, but before the report will renew attention on precisely what we’re doing in Afghanistan.”
    *
    Duly noted, and yet another day ending in “y” in Exceptional ‘Murka with such an exceptional CiC who supervises such exceptional Generals ‘n such.
    *
    Some people posit that MSF is merely a front for BigSpy, Inc. If so: oopsie.

    • phred says:

      I’m shocked, shocked!!! ; )
      .
      After all, if it really was a mistake there would be no reason not to accede to MSF’s demands for an external impartial investigation, would there?
      .
      Obama is a war criminal, just like his predecessor. But it would be so awkward to have investigations and prosecutions… I know! How about ISDS for everyone??? That way, Bush and Obama can sue the countries they’ve laid waste too, for damaging their expectations of future profits. That’s fair, right?

  3. bloopie2 says:

    Tough news day for The Intercept to come out with its big drone stories. I guess they didn’t have a leaker who could advise them not to release today.

    • emptywheel says:

      At least one person I’ve spoken with doesn’t buy that (though I’m agnostic). Thinks it more likely some captain on the ground bought off on Afgh claims.

    • JohnT says:

      .
      There’s something wrong with your link
      .
      But, let’s say what you wrote is correct (leaving aside that it’s a mild ad hominem), how does that make the story any less true?

  4. Don Bacon says:

    Forever War — I like it.
    Afghanistan is like diamonds — forever.
    .
    I remember arguing against Operation Enduring Freedom ten years or so ago on the old TPM coffee house blog, and that I was treated as a heretic by some. Talk against Afghanistan? The very idea.
    .
    Afghanistan was “the right war” even before Obama inferred it was a good war. And now? It’s not even mentioned in any depth in public fora, except on some blogs where pointy-headed bloggers like me describe its faults in detail.
    .
    There were 32,000 US troops in Afghanistan in January 2009 when Obama entered office, then a peak of 100,000+ in 2011, and according to the latest report there will be 5,500 when he leaves office. Currently the Taliban, with Pakistan support, is retaking the country district by district and a meager force of 5,500 aliens in a land of 30 million people won’t affect that situation. Based on an analysis by The Long War Journal, 27 of Afghanistan’s 398 districts are under Taliban control, and another 36 districts are contested.
    .
    The US has promoted Indian interests in Afghanistan, and Pakistan won’t stand for it. Nor should they, considering their own security interests. Pakistan doesn’t want to be in an Indian sandwich. Who can blame them? So they support Taliban.
    .
    But hey, a lot of money has been made. The troops? Not so fortunate — 1,832 KIA, 20,030 WIA.

  5. Don Bacon says:

    “But it’s the MSF bombing that would really undercut Obama’s decision to have us stay. ”
    I don’t buy that.
    Nobody cares, in the first place.
    .
    If this was an unusual occurrence, then there’s no reason to expect another one. Oh, we goofed, and we paid damages. People have been reprimanded and retrained. Justice is served.
    If this was a usual occurrence, which it was, it would never be revealed by any singular narrowly-based investigation.

  6. GKJames says:

    (1) Is there news on the threshold question of whether the US continued to fire on the hospital even after being informed by MSF that that’s what the US was doing? (2) Is there even anyone left who believes White House chatter about the military’s “advisory” role? With so many teachers on the scene, one would have expected the Afghan army to be competent by now. (3) How likely is it that the decision to keep troops in-country was in fact driven by the Pentagon? (4) Is there the slightest indication that someone on the US side is considering negotiating with the Taliban?

  7. Don Bacon says:

    The investigators have arrived.
    .
    KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A medical charity whose hospital in northern Afghanistan was bombed by the U.S. military said on Thursday that a U.S. tank forced its way through the closed gates of the compound, contravening an agreement that they would be informed.
    .
    Doctors Without Borders, also known as MSF, said they were informed after the “intrusion” that it was by a delegation from a joint U.S.-NATO-Afghan team investigating the Oct. 3 bombing of the hospital.
    .
    The incident violated an agreement with investigators that MSF “would be given notice before each step of the procedure involving the organization’s personnel and assets.”
    .
    “Their unannounced and forced entry damaged property, destroyed potential evidence and caused stress and fear,” it said in a statement, adding that an MSF team had arrived at the hospital earlier in the day.

  8. Don Bacon says:

    Meanwhile, the Taliban now controls 35 of Afghanistan’s 398 districts and contests another 35, according to information compiled by The Long War Journal. Subject to confirmation, I believe this includes part of Ghazni which would mean that Route 1 between Kabul and Kandahar, the two major cities, are cut off.
    .
    So forget Obama’s pronouncements about troop level in 2017. It’s irrelevant.

  9. Don Bacon says:

    I go with WOW on this one, because (as I’ve said before) the concept of “law of war” sucks. War is hell. It’s “we” against “them.” We want to live so we kill them, and that includes civilians and hospitals, anybody that gets in the way of “we.” That’s just the way it is.
    .
    In Korea it meant leveling every city and town in North Korea. There were two partial buildings left standing in Pyongyang. In Vietnam it was destroying villages with napalm bombs. In Iraq and Afghanistan it was dropping tons and tons of bombs on towns and villages. Prior to those, it was Germany and Japan that were indiscriminately bombed. That’s just the way it is.

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