20 September 2017
Simon Jenkins in the Guardian, ‘An intriguingly frank debate on Afghanistan took place last week at the Royal United Services Institute in Whitehall. With commendable frankness, present and past soldiers, diplomats and politicians reviewed Theo Farrell’s Unwinnable, a devastating account of the Afghan saga, in which every British military failure down the ages has been compressed into the cesspit of expense, death and misery called Helmand. Apart from its sense of “lions led by donkeys”, the book shows what happens when soldiers and politicians dare not speak truth to Downing Street power. Seminar participants kept asking each other: “Who is to blame?” It was hard not to shout: “You lot!” British fiascos in Iraq and Afghanistan were due simply to Blair’s eagerness to backrub George Bush in his grotesque responses to 9/11.’ click here.
21 August 2017
Frustrated with “not winning” in Afghanistan, and a month past his initial deadline, President Donald Trump is set to unveil his new Afghanistan strategy in a televised speech in Fort Myer, Virginia, on Monday night. The key takeaway from Trump’s first major national security address is expected to be an increase of 3,000-5,000 additional U.S. troops to join the 8,400 currently stationed there. While military chiefs regard the extra deployment as a much-needed boost, security analysts say it probably won’t do much to change the deteriorating trajectory of America’s longest war, which claimed nearly 3,500 civilian lives in 2016 alone. click here.
9 August 2017
Guardian AP report, “A British company hired to help train Afghan intelligence officers billed the US government for more than $50m (£38.4m) in expenses that included luxury cars and salaries paid to the “significant others” of the company’s top executives, according to a Pentagon audit . . .Missouri senator Claire McCaskill summarised the audit’s major findings in a letter to the US defence secretary, Jim Mattis, which she released on Wednesday. . . . The report is published during a tense debate inside the Trump administration over its future in Afghanistan. Two of Trump’s most senior advisers, chief strategist Steve Bannon and son-in-law Jared Kushner, have been advocating a plan that would have military contractors fight the war there instead of American forces.” click here.
4 August 2017
Sune Engel Rasmussen in the Guardian, “Afghanistan is America’s longest war, but it is a war America cannot win. And nowhere is this more evident than in Helmand. Places where British and American troops fought their hardest battles are now firmly under Taliban control. Babaji, the scene of one of biggest British air assaults in modern times, fell to the Taliban shortly after the Guardian visited last year. Marjah – where in 2010 thousands of US, British and Afghan troops launched the largest joint offensive in the war – is firmly in the control of the insurgents. In Musa Qala, the Taliban run a veritable government . . .” click here.
10 July 2017
Mark Landler et al in the New York Times, “President Trump’s advisers recruited two businessmen who profited from military contracting to devise alternatives to the Pentagon’s plan to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, reflecting the Trump administration’s struggle to define its strategy for dealing with a war now 16 years old. Erik D. Prince, a founder of the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, and Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire financier who owns the giant military contractor DynCorp International, have developed proposals to rely on contractors instead of American troops in Afghanistan at the behest of Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, his senior adviser and son-in-law, according to people briefed on the conversations.” click here
29 June 2017
Imran Garda interviewing former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, ‘. . . They (Americans) came, they supported us, we welcomed them. A doctor comes to you and says I want to treat you, and then he gives you the wrong medicine. Do you continue with him? You don’t. He gives you the wrong treatment, or he hurts you further, you don’t. We are grateful to the American people for their taxpayers’ money. They’re a great people. They have helped Afghanistan in many ways. We are very very grateful. We commiserate with the American families who have lost their children – their young men and women – very much. They’re not to blame, they’ve sacrificed. It is the American government and their policy that I stand against. Not the American people. Not their help to Afghanistan where it has been effective – we’re grateful for that. It’s the US government and their policies in Afghanistan that are counter-productive. Democracy was our own doing, not the American doing – we told them the Afghan people wanted it. The US government interfered in our democracy – look at the mess we have today.’ click here.
31 May 2017
Emma-Graham Harrison reports in the Guardian, ‘For years the Afghan capital was an island of relative security in a country battered by a rising tide of violence. The devastating bombing this Wednesday morning [80 killed, 350 injured] was confirmation that it has now become one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan, and is another heavy blow to a weak and fractured government . . . Three years after David Cameron declared “mission accomplished” and Barack Obama said the American war in Afghanistan was over, carnage in the heart of Kabul makes it clear that for Afghans there has been no pause in the violence . . . Whatever the cause, the deaths are particularly disturbing for a country as impoverished and vulnerable as Afghanistan, which has endured 40 years of violence between factions that have often mutated but rarely laid down arms, and which now seems on the brink of all-out war once again . . .’ click here.
18 April 2017
BBC’s Afghanistan Correspondent reports, ‘. . . I took the road from Kabul to Helmand via Kandahar in mid-March – a precarious 10-hour bus journey. In recent months the main road leading to the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, has been in and out of government control . . .Amid the instability, locals are trying to move forward. But they are also aware their city could move from government to Taliban hands.Many of the pragmatic Helmandis have found a guarantor – “a Taliban cousin” – among the insurgents in case the city falls.’ click here.
15 April 2017
New York Times reports, ‘Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai accused his successor on Saturday of committing treason by allowing the U.S. military to drop the largest conventional bomb ever used in combat during an operation against Islamic State militants in Afghanistan. Karzai, who also vowed to “stand against America”, retains considerable influence within Afghanistan’s majority Pashtun ethnic group, to which President Ashraf Ghani also belongs. His strong words could signal a broader political backlash that may endanger the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan. Afghan defense officials have said the 21,600-pound (9,797-kg) GBU-43, dropped late on Thursday in the eastern province of Nangarhar, had killed nearly 100 suspected militants, though they acknowledged this was an estimate and not based on an actual body count.’ click here.
23 March 2017
voanews.com reports, ‘ The Taliban captured a key district in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province . . . The fall of Sangin district, once considered the deadliest battlefield for British and U.S. troops in Afghanistan, comes amid the insurgents’ year-long push to expand their footprint in the Taliban heartland of Helmand.’ click here.
15 March 2017
Steven Morris in the Guardian, ‘. . . British marines who fought alongside Alexander Blackman were out of control and “gung-ho”, abusing Afghan citizens, treating local allies with contempt and showing little regard for the rules of engagement, a former senior officer has claimed. In an extraordinary attack on his former comrades, Oliver Lee, who was the youngest marine colonel since the second world war, said it was wrong to treat Blackman as a “single rotten apple”. He said some marines operating in Helmand in 2011 were guilty of dehumanising the enemy, a state of mind that in the past had led to atrocities such as the Mỹ Lai massacre in Vietnam, and had been too aggressive when they were supposed to be winning hearts and minds.
Lee, who was briefly Blackman’s commanding officer and resigned his commission over the case, said his seniors ignored him when he raised concerns. Later, when details of the Blackman killing emerged, Lee claimed, the marine top brass tried to suppress the truth.’ click here.
10 March 2017
Adre Vltchek in informationclearinghouse.com, ‘It is now winter in Kabul, end of February 2017. At night the temperature gets near zero. The mountains surrounding the city are covered by snow . . . Soon it will be 16 years since the US/UK invasion of the country, and 16 years since the Bonn Conference, during which Hamid Karzai was “selected” to head the Afghan Interim Administration. Almost everyone I spoke to in Afghanistan agrees that things are rapidly moving from bad to rock bottom . . . Afghanistan has been gradually overtaken by something absolutely foreign: by the Western-style security apparatus. Tens of thousands of highly paid North American and European ‘experts’ have been getting extremely busy, fulfilling their secret wet dream: fencing everything in sight, monitoring each and every movement in the capital city, building taller and taller barriers, while installing the latest hi-tech cameras at almost every intersection, and above each gate . . .
Positive talk about the ancient history and culture is generally encouraged, but to discuss dramatic changes in modern Afghan culture, those that occurred as a result of the US/UK invasion and the present on-going NATO occupation of the country, is almost entirely off-limits. In fact, even the word itself – ‘occupation’ – could hardly be heard. Instead, such jargons as ‘protection’, ‘defense’ and ‘international help’ have been implanted deeply and systematically into the psyche of most Afghan people. The culture that was known for long centuries for its passion for freedom and independence seems broken . . .
There are huge zeppelin-drones, vile-looking airborne surveillance stuff, hovering over the US air force base near Bagram. The same drones could be seen levitating over Kabul, but in the Bagram area, with the dramatic backdrop of the mountains, they look particularly dreadful. The air force base is huge. It appears even bigger than Incerlik near Adana in Turkey. It is an absolute masterpiece of military vulgarity, with watch towers everywhere, with barbed wire, several layers of concrete walls, surveillance cameras and powerful lights. If this is not an occupation, then what really is? ‘ click here.
20 February 2017
Rob Merrick in the Independent, ‘. . . Terrorist groups that British and US troops first went to root out from Afghanistan more than 15 years ago remain active in the country, Sir Michael said. Districts of northern and central Helmand province that Britain spent years trying to secure have since largely slipped out of Kabul’s control.
At the height of the Afghan campaign, Britain had more than 10,000 troops in the country, out of an international total of nearly 150,000. David Cameron declared an end to British combat operations in October 2014, at a time when the conflict had already raged for longer than the Second World War. Last week, in little-noticed comments, the Armed Forces minister Mike Penning also suggested that Britain expected to be asked to send more reinforcements to Afghanistan.’ click here.
12 January 2017
Mujib Mashal in the New York Times, ‘A United States military investigation into claims of civilian casualties during a joint operation by Afghan and American forces found that 33 civilians were killed and 27 others were wounded during a firefight and airstrikes in Kunduz Province last year, American military officials said on Thursday . . .Mr. Mohammed said the Taliban stronghold in the area was obvious, but it was far from the areas that had been bombed. “This was an act of oppression,” he said. “We are also humans. It should be investigated by an international court, and we need to be compensated for our loss.” Kunduz is also where a United States military gunship mistakenly targeted a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in October 2015, killing at least 42 people and destroying much of the hospital.’ click here.
3rd November 2016
Sune Rasmussen in the Guardian, ‘As many as 30 civilians were killed in an airstrike on Thursday morning called in to protect US and Afghan troops involved in heavy fighting with the Taliban near Kunduz . . . Early on Thursday, villagers who tried to transport the dead civilians to the city were reportedly stopped by security forces. Later in the day, residents staged a demonstration, protesting about the killings. Laghmani, a prominent elder in Kunduz, said local media and community leaders had tried to go to the village where the airstrike took place, but had been stopped by security forces.’ click here.
7th October 2016
Robert Fisk in the Independent, ‘. . . With what arrogance we began the whole wretched adventure 15 years ago. This time, we would not forget the brave Afghans (as we did after they drove the Russkies out of their country) and there would be freedom, aid, security and democracy. But as the years went by, the newly installed and “democratically elected” Afghan government became as wretched and corrupt as its communist predecessors . . . The NGOs arrived with millions to spend – all competing with each other and with the US military which offered even more millions in humanitarian aid in return for intelligence information. There were the usual massacres, an atrocity or two – Afghans loyal to General Abdul-Rashid Dostum suffocated Afghan Taliban prisoners in container trucks, US jets and armed Americans liquidating prison mutineers at only occasional cost to themselves – but Kabul was swiftly “liberated” by journalists and a clutch of tribesmen from the Panjhir Valley.
. . . Far more sinister were the trails of militia leaders who wound their way across this devastated land in convoys of brand new 4x4s, sustained by Western cash and a reflourishing drugs market, supposedly still fighting the Taliban – with whom some of them were commercially connected – while in fact staking out little kingdoms in a land which had grown used to such fiefdoms over thousands of years.
Which is why Afghanistan will not become Islamistan or even Talibanistan. It will, when the West finally packs up and leaves, become Mafiastan. Perhaps it already is. click here.
22nd September 2016
Robert Mendick, Ben Farmer and Tom Morgan in the Daily Telegraph, ‘. . . new figures obtained by the Telegraph show that more than 550 historic allegations of war crimes in Afghanistan are now under investigation by a special police unit set up by ministers. It means investigators are now examining claims of abuse in more than 2,200 cases in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The Afghanistan inquiry was initially staffed by 60 Royal Military Police officers but the number deployed by the MoD to the investigation has more than doubled to 124 in recent months. A new headquarters has been established to house the unit – code-named Operation Northmoor – on an airbase in Cornwall and the Government gave the inquiry an additional £7.5 million in funding earlier this year.’ click here.
28th December 2015
Robert Fisk in the Independent, ‘The news from Afghanistan is very bad. No one says that, of course. President Ghani has a “national unity government” that “supports a strong partnership with the United States”, according to Barack Obama two months ago. Sure, Kunduz was captured by the Taliban – but then the Afghans got it back (though minus one American-bombed hospital, along with most of its patients and doctors). Sure, Sangin was captured by the Taliban – but now the Afghan army is fighting to get it back. But didn’t more than a hundred British soldiers die to hold Sangin? Sure, but American troops in Iraq died to hold and keep Mosul – and Mosul is now the home of the Isis leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. And US troops in Iraq died to capture Fallujah, then lost it, and died all over again to recapture it – and Fallujah is now in the hands of Isis. We don’t do “bad news” from Afghanistan or Iraq… As our very own ex-chief of the general staff, General Dannatt, said last week, he was “not surprised” by the fall of Sangin. Not at all. After all, “we always knew that the situation once we left Sangin would be difficult. We left Afghanistan in a situation where the Afghans were in control and the future was in their hands. It is not a great surprise that the Taliban have continued to push in southern Afghanistan, it’s their heartland.” click here.
23rd December 2015
Michael White in the Guardian, ‘Labour’s John Reid sent the troops in hoping a shot would not be fired. Strategy was never clear, a still grieving Helmand mother said on air today. David Cameron and his arrogant, inexperienced civilian team at No 10 have been no better. They tightened the mission’s terms of engagement to prevent soldiers straying far from main roads to places where they might get hurt. Along with a shortage of men (half the necessary number were sent?) it made it harder to impose order: soldiers have to patrol in depth against a Taliban enemy. Tory MPs with limited military experience who “know everything” bend the PM’s ear, says my worldly friend. Senior officers, both in Whitehall and in the field, also let down the men. That’s part of the Mail’s effort to support Blackman [Royal Marine who was found guilty of murder by court martial for shooting dead a Taliban prisoner on 15 September 2011], highlighting those on his side and those keener to cover up their own shortcomings. It’s another reason why there has been no Chilcot inquiry into the lessons of Afghanistan, also why Chilcot has taken so long: it’s not all about Tony Blair, it’s about buck passing by senior civil servants and officers most of us haven’t heard of.’ click here.
22nd December 2015
Sune Engel Rasmussen and Ewen MacAskill report in the Guardian, ‘The Afghan government has suffered a serious setback after a Taliban offensive succeeded in taking control of much of Sangin, the Helmand town that became totemic for British forces, accounting for a third of their casualties … UK operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have left the British public sceptical about the value of military interventions, according to polls. The issue of the Afghanistan operation remains raw, with questions raised about British troops being sent under-equipped and under-resourced into a Taliban stronghold. But former major general Jonathan Shaw, of the Parachute Regiment, said the problem British forces faced in Helmand was deeper than just equipment or resources. “I think it shows the limitations of military intervention,” Shaw said. He said it was part of the bigger question about deposing dictators without necessarily knowing who was going to replace them.’ click here.
27th October 2015
Medialens.org reporting statements by a former RAF pilot on the Kunduz hospital bombing:
‘It has been my firm opinion from the very beginning that Kunduz hospital was indeed deliberately targeted. … The fact that the hospital was targeted on five separate occasions with unerring accuracy simply underlines how deliberate this attack was. The Gunship itself is a revered weapon on the battlefield, manned by elite crews who are very highly trained … I do not accept that the target could have been mistakenly targeted. The crew and command centre would have been fully aware they were attacking a hospital. … I am struggling to comprehend in what circumstance I would blindly follow an order to attack a fully manned civilian hospital. If the description provided by MSF’s director-general is accurate I can say without hesitancy that I would have refused such an order for it is an obvious war crime. click here.
Then and now – what the experts said at the outset of this disastrous venture that has led to such loss of blood and treasure:
– that Afghanistan met the ‘just war’ criteria! General Guthrie
– ‘Orientals’ preferred treachery and deceit as the best ways to overcome an enemy! Sir John Keegan, military historian
– that a limited and carefully conducted war to bring about a change of regime in Afghanistan was morally obligatory! Veteran Catholic economist donning Neo-Con plummage, Michael Novak
– ‘the military plan [Afghanistan] remains coherent and achievable’. Professor Michael Clarke of RUSI in 2010; and in October 2014: ‘[British forces’s efforts] not a strategic campaign’!
15th October 2015
‘British Special Forces are to return to southern Afghanistan in a desperate bid to defeat Taliban insurgents bent on capturing Camp Bastion’. click here.
5th October 2015
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has said it is “disgusted” by Afghan government statements justifying an air strike on its hospital in Kunduz, calling it an “admission of a war crime”. The charity blames US-led Nato forces for Saturday’s attack which killed at least 22 people, including MSF staff. The US is investigating the incident.Afghan government forces have regained control of much of Kunduz from Taliban fighters who overran the strategic northern city last week.BBC Report, click here.
22nd September 2015
BBC reports, ‘The senior Nato commander in Afghanistan has denied reports that the Pentagon ordered US troops to overlook the sexual abuse of young boys by Afghan police and militias. Gen John Campbell said in a statement that he had served multiple tours in Afghanistan and no such policy existed. The allegations emerged in the New York Times on Sunday.The paper based its report on accounts from numerous soldiers and the father of a marine who was killed in 2012.click here.
18th September 2015
Sam Greenhill, Richard Pendlebury And Andy Dolan in The Daily Mail, ‘Military chiefs tried to hide the blunders, refusing to publish the damning 50-page report and releasing only the executive summary with key sections blotted out by the censor’s black pen. But the Mail’s uncensored version reveals that top brass confessed that the Marines of 42 Commando were pushed to be ‘overly aggressive’, and blamed officers for failing to spot the mental strain and fatigue being suffered by their men.The MoD had censored the admission of command failings in Helmand. In public, it solely blamed Sgt Blackman for his actions on the day of the shooting….The insurgent was found dying in a field, and was shot by Blackman – who told the court he believed the man was already dead – in a ‘moment of madness’ blamed on the acute stresses of the tour.’ click here.
18th August 2015
Vanessa Gezari in the New York Times, ‘ […] a United States Army social-science program called the Human Terrain System […] expanded quickly as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan foundered and American policy makers cast about for novel approaches. The idea was to send teams of social scientists, including anthropologists, to gather ethnographic, sociocultural and economic information and advise front-line soldiers on a range of delicate topics, from the mechanics of forging tribal alliances to how to respond to local offers of hospitality.[…] By the time the Human Terrain System was shut down in September, the program had cost American taxpayers more than $700 million and was bereft of purpose; with the war in Iraq purportedly over and deployments to Afghanistan dwindling quickly, it had run out of soldiers to advise. The program isn’t entirely gone; a five-person remnant, including three anthropologists, continues at Fort Leavenworth. click here.
10th May 2015
George Arney in the Independent, reviewing Christana Lamb’s A Lament for Afghanistan:
…who could guess that John Reid, the Defence Secretary who sent British troops into Helmand in 2006, was unable, when asked, to locate Afghanistan on a map? Anyone visiting Kabul in recent years, as I have, quickly becomes aware of the huge disconnect between the international community and its aspirations for Afghanistan, and the Afghan people themselves. Lamb’s favourite instances of the resultant absurdities include $3m spent on patrol boats for a country with no coastline. She also tells the tale of a meeting of Afghan elders, addressed by a woman from the British development agency Dfid, who began by saying “we respect your culture”, and then started lecturing them on gender rights. The elders, whose own women were kept in purdah, “did not know where to look,” says Lamb.
…Lamb describes the West’s involvement in Afghanistan as a “defeat”, and believes that the world is far more dangerous than it was before 9/11, at least partly because of the US-led response. click here.
16th April 2015
Robert Fox in the Evening Standard: Just over a year ago the Camp Bastion airbase in the Helmand desert was the third- or fourth-busiest British airport in the world. Then, overnight on October 27 last year, the British packed up and went, in a huge air convoy, beating a retreat from 13 years of inconclusive warfare and nation-building. It had cost 453 British soldiers killed in action, huge public expenditure, including billions going directly or indirectly to corrupt politicians, warlords and even the Taliban….neither the British nor the Americans really seemed to know what kind of war, or wars, they were fighting, and to what achievable goal. The persistent message was that were making the Western world safe from al-Qaeda following the 9/11 attacks. Al-Qaeda was soon gone from Afghanistan, however. The Americans then became distracted by Iraq, always the main aim of the Bush neo-Cons, and the British followed.
In 2006 it changed again and the British got into the business of nation-building, bringing governance to the drug-producing province of Helmand and fighting the Taliban, even though none of this was part of the original plan. Towards the end of the book, one of the UK’s most experienced commanders, now head of the Army, General Nick Carter, is quoted as saying: “When we went into Helmand… we didn’t understand the politics on the ground, what was crime and insurgency, the tribal dynamics: we were too ambitious.” click here.
18 February 2015
General Nicholas Carter speaking at Chatham House, as reported by the Guardian: The “folly” of British decision-makers who committed the country to the conflict in Afghanistan was trying to change the world without understanding it, the head of the British army has said. The lesson from Afghanistan was that you have to have “insight and understanding before you arrive at a destination,” General Sir Nicholas Carter added, echoing previous remarks made by the chief of defence staff, General Sir Nick Houghton. Though Carter did not name names or any particular group or individuals, a growing number of mainly former senior military figures have criticised ministers in Tony Blair’s Labour government for ignoring the politics, economics, tribes and culture of Afghanistan, and the consequences of sending thousands of troops there from 2006, as well as the invasion of Iraq in 2003…click here
28 December 2014
Spiegel reportage: Combat operations in Afghanistan may be coming to an end, but a look at secret NATO documents reveals that the US and the UK were far less scrupulous in choosing targets for killing than previously believed. Drug dealers were also on the lists...Different rules apply in war than in fighting crime in times of peace. But for years the West tied its campaign in Afghanistan to the promise that it was fighting for different values there. A democracy that kills its enemies on the basis of nothing but suspicion squanders its claim to moral superiority, making itself complicit instead. click here
28 December 2014
Will Hutton in the Observer: ‘…It is part of Britain’s national self-image that we win wars. The army may be smaller than it was, but it remains the world’s best. Losing is impossible to conceive. Yet in Afghanistan, Britain has just suffered a humiliating defeat, the worst in more than half a century and, arguably, ranking with the worst in modern times…Frank Ledwidge in his passionate and revelatory book Investment in Blood …quotes former vice chief of staff of the US army General Jack Keane speaking at a conference at Sandhurst in late 2013 about the twin debacles of Basra and Helmand: “Gentleman, you let us down; you let us down badly.” ‘ click here
18 December 2014
James Meek in the London Review of Books: ‘…The British army is back in Warminster and its other bases around the country. Its eight-year venture in southern Afghanistan is over. The extent of the military and political catastrophe it represents is hard to overstate. It was doomed to fail before it began, and fail it did, at a terrible cost in lives and money. How bad was it? In a way it was worse than a defeat, because to be defeated, an army and its masters must understand the nature of the conflict they are fighting. Britain never did understand, and now we would rather not think about it….
The consequences of the Afghan war will linger. Neither the British in particular nor Nato in general kept count, but Ledwidge estimates British troops alone were responsible for the deaths of at least five hundred Afghan civilians and the injury of thousands more. Tens of thousands fled their homes. ‘Of all the thousands of civilians and combatants,’ Ledwidge writes, ‘not a single al-Qaida operative or “international terrorist’” who could conceivably have threatened the United Kingdom is recorded as having been killed by Nato forces in Helmand.’
Since 2001, 453 British forces personnel have been killed in Afghanistan and more than 2600 wounded; 247 British soldiers have had limbs amputated (the Ministry of Defence refuses to categorise the severity of these amputations on the grounds that releasing the information would help ‘the enemy’). Unknown numbers have psychological injuries. …Ledwidge estimates the cost of the British military’s bloodshed and psychological trauma – the amount spent on the ongoing treatment of damaged veterans, compensation under the recently introduced Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS), and an actuarial estimate of the financial value of human life – at £3.8 billion. click here.
20 November 2014
Joe Dyke for IRIN Asia: ‘Slowly but surely, NGOs and UN bodies are admitting it publicly – they are dealing with the Taliban again. While such deals have been developing in private for several years, NGOs have been hesitant to discuss their relations with the Afghan Islamist group because of political pressure and counter terrorism legislation.
Yet as foreign military forces prepare to complete their withdrawal from combat operations at the end of the year and as it becomes increasingly clear that large swathes of territory will remain under Taliban control, aid organizations have felt both compelled and empowered to talk to them. Mark Bowden, the UN Secretary-General’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan and the humanitarian coordinator for the country, told IRIN that in the past year negotiations with the Taliban have advanced significantly.’ click here.
28 October 2014
The Guardian editorial: …the evidence suggests that [British] army officers, in particular, were so keen to demonstrate their relevance and usefulness that they took on tasks they knew might prove beyond their capacity, casting aside their normal caution. They chose to do so, it may be hazarded, for a number of reasons…One was vanity, to which armies are far from immune…A second reason was the attitude of the armed forces to the Americans, which mingled an intense desire to be useful to them with a not very well concealed rivalry…Another factor was a romanticised view of history. The British army saw itself as an army with a memory. But just because British soldiers had many times before been in Afghanistan, or had battled the Turks at Kut in Iraq, did not mean that any of the supposed expertise of those days had magically been transferred down the generations to the officers and men of today. click here.
Michael Clarke of RUSI: …the British took responsibility for Helmand in 2006. It was a move dictated as much by our relations with the US as by our interest in south Asian security.
26 October 2014
“After more than a decade of warfare, the Taliban still control huge swaths of the countryside and have mounted deadly attacks in Kabul… One of the biggest failures for the UK is that it did not stem the cultivation of poppies for heroin production. The UK was given specific responsibility for the eradication – or at least reduction – of the poppy crops and failed spectacularly. The Taliban too have shown little sign of having been seriously damaged over the past 13 years. They have been mounting sustained attacks against the Afghan army in places in Helmand such as Sangin, where the British too sustained heavy casualties.” Ewan MacAskill in the Guardian.
23 October 2014
“In the summer of 2006, some British forces in Afghanistan found themselves effectively stranded in a number of outposts in the north of Helmand province. Overstretched, under constant fire and heavily dependent on helicopters, soldiers ran dangerously low on food, water and ammunition. The commander of the British forces in Helmand in 2006, Brig Ed Butler, said: ‘We were underprepared, we were under-resourced, and most importantly, we didn’t have a clear and achievable strategy to deliver success.’ BBC reportage.
22 October 2014
Rory Stewart MP reviewing No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes by by Anand Gopal in the New York Times: “Gopal’s book, however, should at least make us question this fashion of state-building under fire. What has actually been the result of Afghanistan’s $1 trillion attempt to create “security,” “economic development,” and “governance”? What did creating security mean in Khas Uruzgan where, Gopal explains, all the traditional leaders had been killed and where the only counterbalance to the Taliban was an illegal militia? …In truth, international statements about establishing “the rule of law, governance, and security” became simply ways of saying that Afghanistan was unjust, corrupt, and violent. “Transparent, predictable, and accountable financial practices” were not a solution to corruption; they were simply a description of what was lacking. But policymakers never realized how far from the mark they were. This is partly because most of them were unaware of even a fraction of the reality described in Gopal’s book.” November 2014
30th September 2014
The longest war in American history will last at least another decade, according to the terms of a garrisoning deal for US forces signed by the new Afghanistan government on Tuesday. Long awaited and much desired by an anxious US military, the deal guarantees that US and Nato troops will not have to withdraw by year’s end, and permits their stay “until the end of 2024 and beyond.” Spencer Ackerman in the Guardian
3rd June 2014
Sgt Bergdahl had joined the army when it was short of soldiers to send to Afghanistan as part of the “surge” in the number of combat brigades there. With too few men, it had started to issue “waivers” to recruits facing felony charges or drugs problems who previously would have been turned down for the army. For Sgt Bergdahl, a crack shot, well-educated and with a romantic vision of what professional soldiering involved, disillusionment set in fast…Sgt Bergdahl had taken seriously the counter-insurgency strategy supposedly aimed at winning the “hearts and minds” of Afghans. Instead, he found that US soldiers regarded Afghans with aggressive contempt: “I am sorry for everything here. These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live.” Patrick Cockburn in the Independent.
6th May 2014
Lindsey German, drawing lessons from Afghanistan to warn against other western interventions: “Women’s rights were a major justification for the Afghanistan war, launched in 2001, when Cherie Blair and Laura Bush supported their husbands’ war as a means of liberating Afghan women. Today, with millions displaced and tens of thousands dead, Afghanistan remains one of the worst countries on earth for women to live, with forced marriage, child marriage, rape and other atrocities still occurring widely.” The Guardian, 6 May 2014
29th April 2014
Anand Gopal: As I report in my new book, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes, the U.S. would prosecute that war even though there was no enemy to fight. To understand how America’s battle in Afghanistan went so wrong for so long, a (hidden) history lesson is in order. In those early years after 2001, driven by the idée fixe that the world was rigidly divided into terrorist and non-terrorist camps, Washington allied with Afghan warlords and strongmen. Their enemies became ours, and through faulty intelligence, their feuds became repackaged as “counterterrorism.” The story of Jalaluddin Haqqani, who turned from America’s potential ally into its greatest foe, is the paradigmatic case of how the war on terror created the very enemies it sought to eradicate. Tomgram
23rd April 2014: RUSI’s postmortem of Britain’s military operations since 1991: “…. At the time of writing, 782 British servicemen and women had died on these operations.Every unhappy era is unhappy in its own way…there has been a recent flowering of analysis on the use of British military power and its outcomes, particularly with a growing perception of defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan….the UK
failed strategically and operationally in two of the most important
interventions of the decade…” Wars in Peace
12th April 2014: “Rory Stewart argues that ‘the ability to recognise failure, and then to reform, is a defining mark of a serious country”. Over the past seven years, the UK has suffered two conspicuous military setbacks. The first came in Basra in 2007, where after four years of post-Saddam occupation our troops withdrew to the airbase and left the city in the hands of a sectarian militia, the Mehdi Army…Now, in Helmand, the ‘job’ is left undone in large part because no one defined the job in the first place. As for the casus belli, let’s shelve the al-Qa’ida argument (not a major threat there anyway) and the delusion that the Taliban had a single head to be struck off….Afghan civilian fatalities now probably exceed 15,000 since December 2001, when ISAF troops began operations under UN resolution 1386. In Helmand, Nato forces may have been responsible for more than 540, a number in excess of the deaths they have suffered. The British have paid compensation for 249. Those figures come not from some frothing peacenik but from the remarkable Frank Ledwidge – an intelligence officer with previous stints in Kosovo and Iraq, ‘justice adviser’ in Helmand, and the military analyst who has emerged as the dauntless Cassandra of this brace of ill-starred conflicts. He calculates that the Afghan adventure, which lasted for as long as two Great Wars, will cost Britain £40bn – enough to fund a working lifetime for 1,000 nurses. In the meantime, to those 448 grieving families in Britain we can add several hundred amputees, thousands more with life-changing injuries – and the immeasurable suffering of post-traumatic stress victims. The failure is in no way theirs.” Boyd Tonkin in the Independent, April 11 2014
16th March 2014: “Britain has now reached a major milestone in the drawdown from Afghanistan as it works towards withdrawing all combat troops by the end of the year.A total of 448 UK forces personnel have died in the country since the conflict began in 2001 – and more than 5,000 still remain there…Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: ‘The handover and closure of our bases across Helmand underlines the progress UK Forces have made to increase security and stability across the province but also to build up the capability of the Afghan forces who will carry that work forward. ‘Those service personnel who have served in Lashkar Gah and Lashkar Gah Durai and at MOB Price as part of successive UK brigades have made a huge contribution to the campaign which has safeguarded our national security at home. Daily Mail, 16 March 2014
Vali Nasr: “The US is leaving Afghanistan with neither victory not a political settlement….When America decided to leave the region, it didn’t need Pakistan. Afghanistan is fading from the headlines and securing South-Asia is not on the frontburner of US foreign policy as it was in 2009 unless Karzai creates a huge spectacle. Afghanistan is on page 15 of a newspaper. We are no longer attached with a live crisis that keeps the Secretary of State up at night.” Dawn.com, 21 Feb 2014
” …describing the Taliban as ‘brothers’ and America as ‘rivals’, Afghan leader Hamid Karzai said: ‘The mission, in terms of bringing security, has not been successful, particularly in Helmand.” 2 Feb 2014
Simon Jenkins in the Guardian, “Nato in Afghanistan, with Britain in a lead role, was a mercenary army dragooned by the US into helping avenge the security lapse of 9/11. It was a war of choice that has killed tens of thousands of people, while not increasing Britain’s security one jot. It was more a 19th-century gesture, fought for little other reason than to show the muscle of western military might when Nato had little else to do.” 17 Jan 2014
Patrick Cockburn in the Independent, “After 12 years, £390bn, and countless dead, we leave poverty, fraud – and the Taliban in Afghanistan…The Taliban has not been crushed, operates in all parts of the country and, in provinces like Helmand, is poised to take over as US and British troops depart. Even with the backing of foreign troops, Afghan government control often ends a couple of kilometres outside the district capital. The extra 30,000 US troops sent as part of the surge in US troop numbers in 2010-11, which brought their total to 101,000 at peak deployment, have had little long-term impact. 12 Jan 2014
Anatol Lieven in the New York Review of Books: “…after the initial debacle of the dreadfully-planned British intervention in Helmand starting in 2006, the US and British military effort there was not the exercise in “plowing the sea” that has sometimes been portrayed. To the contrary, during the first two years of the “surge,” the Taliban were in fact driven back a long way, their attacks greatly diminished, and the extent of their control even in their former heartlands significantly reduced. Losses to US and British forces were severe, but the campaign did achieve its immediate objectives….
And if you want to move from science fiction to Alice in Wonderland, ask yourself this: how has it been possible to bring all that stuff in by road through areas of Pakistan controlled largely by the Pakistani Taliban, allied to the Afghan Taliban—areas from which Pakistani Taliban have launched innumerable attacks on Pakistani forces? Why have there been so few attacks, and those few (to judge by circumstantial evidence) only when the Pakistani military wants to send a message to Washington? The answer appears to be that the Taliban tax these NATO convoys as they tax all other trade in the region: Obtaining tax revenues from mineral water, fruit juice, hamburgers, and other NATO necessities that do them no harm at all is, it turns out, far more advantageous than interrupting our supply routes. In other words, all these years NATO has actually been subsidizing the Taliban’s war effort. NYRB, 7 January 2014
John Hilary of War on Want, writing to the Guardian: “Defence secretary Philip Hammond’s claim that British drones have killed only four civilians to date is meaningless, since his government has repeatedly stated that it does not keep any count of civilian casualties in Afghanistan. His assertion that drone strikes against Taliban fighters are somehow designed to protect British civilians stretches credibility even further.”
Owen Bowcott in the Guardian, “There is a delay of up to 40 seconds between the moment an RAF pilot sitting in Lincolnshire presses the button to release a Reaper’s Hellfire missile and its impact on the ground in Helmand 4,500 miles away…RAF Waddington has been the focus of anti-drone protests. Six people, included two priests, were found guilty of causing criminal damage earlier this year after cutting the fence and breaking in.”
Afghanistan met General Guthrie‘s ‘just war’ criteria! Sir John Keegan, military historian, thought ‘orientals’ preferred treachery and deceit as the best ways to overcome an enemy! Veteran Catholic economist donning Neo-Con plumage, Michael Novak, rationalised “that a limited and carefully conducted war to bring about a change of regime in Afghanistan was morally obligatory.”
AlJazeera on Cameron’s ‘Mission Accomplished’ statement on Afghanistan (17 December): “Opposition Labour politician Paul Flynn, a prominent critic of the Afghan war, attacked Cameron, highlighting the number of British soldiers killed or injured and the financial costs.’Mission Accomplished’: 446 dead, 2,000 grievously injured, uncounted Afghan dead, 40 billion pounds UK cost, crook Karzai rules, drugs rampant,” he said on Twitter. Labour’s defence spokesman, Vernon Coaker MP, said it was too soon to suggest the Afghan mission was over when British soldiers were still fighting the Taliban.AlJazeera, 18 December 2013
Jon Boone in the Guardian: ….Although the amount of protection money that insurgents (Taliban) receive from security companies employed to guard Nato supply convoys has fallen as foreign forces close bases, the report says 2014 is expected to be a bumper year as the alliance ships huge amounts of equipment out of the country. [The Guardian, 18 December 2013]
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in the Independent: …
David Cameron didn’t get too excited about the execution but did vigorously defend the “incredible spirit, courage and history of the Royal Marines”. Not all our soldiers are “heroes”. That’s just cant and spin. On Friday, Marine A was found guilty of murdering a wounded prisoner, a verdict which shows there is still some honour left in the armed forces. The top brass knows such base acts are exploited by recruiters to terrorism. Lord Guthrie, former army Chief of Staff, wants Marine A severely punished. It’s a good call, but still propaganda. The truth is that Western armies and governments know they are not answerable to any overseer. They do what they damn well please….[Independent on Sunday, 10 Nov 2013]
24th October 2013
A Royal Marine sergeant was caught on camera ‘executing’ a severely injured Taliban prisoner before telling his comrades: ‘I’ve just broken the Geneva Convention,’ a court martial heard yesterday. As the insurgent lay stricken with horrendous wounds from a helicopter strike, the 37-year-old commando pointed his 9mm pistol at the man’s chest and pulled the trigger.Footage of the alleged cold-blooded killing in an Afghan cornfield was captured in graphic video inadvertently filmed by one of the Marines on a helmet-mounted camera. Ian Drury in the Daily Mail
8th October 2013
Karzai said: “The United States and Nato have not respected our sovereignty. Whenever they find it suitable to them, they have acted against it. This has been a serious point of contention between us and that is why we are taking issue of the BSA strenuously in the negotiations right now,” Karzai said.
“They commit their violations against our sovereignty and conduct raids against our people, air raids and other attacks in the name of the fight on terrorism and in the name of the resolutions of the United Nations. This is against our wishes and repeatedly against our wishes,” Karzai said, using some of his harshest language to date against the US-led military coalition. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/08/hamid-karzai-afghanistan
4th October 2013
The storming of Camp Bastion, the headquarters of British forces in Afghanistan, was, by any yardstick, a success and a great propaganda coup for the Taliban. Two US Marines were killed, adding to the large number of Western forces who had lost their lives, but more significantly for the auditing of the war, almost an entire squadron of the US Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier jets was destroyed at a cost of $200m – the largest single loss of aircraft in the current Afghan conflict. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/camp-bastion-attack-was-a-coup-for-the-taliban-that-need-not-have-happened-8859905.html
10th September 2013
Afghan authorities on Sunday accused NATO forces of killing 16 civilians, including four children, in a drone missile strike in the country’s Kunar province, which borders Pakistan.
10th July 2013
Richard Norton Taylor in the Guardian: ” “By arriving with insufficient force, aligning themselves with local corrupt power-holders, relying on firepower to keep insurgents at bay and targeting the poppy crop, the British made matters worse. Far from securing Helmand, British forces alienated the population, mobilised local armed resistance and drew in foreign fighters seeking jihad.”
They [Theo Farrell and Antonio Giustozzi] describe British troops as “blindly ignorant of the local politics underpinning [the insurgency]”.
4th July 2013
Sixteen people have been killed in north-west Pakistan in one of the most lethal CIA drone strikes for many months, according to a government official.
18th June 2013
Dan Roberts and Emma Graham-Harrison in the Guardian: “The US is to open direct talks with Taliban leaders within days, it was revealed on Tuesday, after Washington agreed to drop a series of preconditions that have previously held back negotiations over the future of Afghanistan.”
30th May 2013
Richard Norton-Taylor in the Guardian: “…Ledwidge, who has also been a civilian adviser to the British government in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, says Helmand is no more stable now than when thousands of British troops were deployed there in 2006. Opium production that fell under the Taliban, is increasing, fuelling corruption and the coffers of warlords.”
30th May 2013
Haroon Siddique, Andrew Sparrow and Emma Graham-Harrison in the Guardian: “…Philip Hammond said that around 90 prisoners had been held at Camp Bastion for up to a year because Britain was concerned that they might be mistreated in Afghan custody. …hil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers, who is acting for eight of the men, said the government had chosen not to train the Afghan authorities to treat people lawfully and humanely. “This is a secret facility that has been used to unlawfully detain or intern up to 85 Afghans that they have kept secret, that parliament doesn’t know about, that courts previously, when they have interrogated issues like detention and internment in Afghanistan, have never been told about – completely off the radar,” he told the BBC. “It is reminiscent of the public’s awakening that there was a Guantánamo Bay. And people will be wondering if these detainees are being treated humanely and in accordance with international law.”
29th May 2013
Seamus Milne in the Guardian: “..Given the bloodshed, torture, mass incarceration and destruction that US-British occupation has inflicted on Afghanistan and Iraq, and the civilian slaughter inflicted in the drone war from Pakistan to Yemen, the only surprise is that there haven’t been more terror attacks….”
3rd May 2013
Mark Steel in the Independent: …At the time of the initial invasion in 2001, Tony Blair insisted that one of the reasons for occupying Afghanistan was because “the Taliban are causing the deaths of young British people who buy their drugs on the streets”. But clearly some people misunderstood what Blair meant. They were saying that the Afghan heroin trade wasn’t fulfilling its potential, and with the right management they could treble it….
2nd May 2012
Con Cohglin in the Evening Standard: With the deaths of another three British soldiers in Afghanistan this week, it is perhaps worth reflecting on the conclusions the young Winston Churchill reached about the futility of waging war there. “Financially it is ruinous. Morally it is wicked. Militarily it is an open question, and politically it is a blunder.”…his summary of the British effort in the 19th century eerily echoes the sentiments many British soldiers must now feel as they seek to wind down operations in Afghanistan…
29th April 2013
John Quelly in CommonDreams.org: Confirming what many policy experts have known for some time, a New York Times headline in Monday’s print edition describes how the most corrupting influence within the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai is not innate cronyism or tribal favoritism, but rather the suitcases full of US cash delivered to the Presidential Palace over the last decade by the CIA.
27th April 2013
Fatima Manji, Channel 4: “The RAF has begun piloting drones used in Afghanistan from UK soil for the first time. This is by no means the UK’s first foray into the world of using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in warfare, but in the past the vehicles have been piloted offshore…Chris Nineham, vice-chairman of the Stop the War Coalition, claimed drones were being used to continue the ‘deeply unpopular war on terror’ with no public scrutiny.”
16th April 2013
Rob Evans in the Guardian: A British soldier is under investigation for murder after four Afghans aged 12 to 18 were shot dead at close range in the head and neck in a family home, it has emerged.
12th April 2013
Lucy Morgan Edwards in the Guardian: …The facts on the ground include the militias the west has set up in the countryside in a desperate attempt to shore up the barely legitimate Karzai regime. …Using the maxim “My enemy’s enemy is my friend”, the US military took sides in a continuing civil war and co-opted the strongmen of the Northern Alliance. In theory, this was to reduce the need for American “boots on the ground”.
They were unpopular, having committed war crimes during the civil war. But instead of sidelining them, the US and UK re-empowered them with cash and weapons and made them the allies’ sole reference points…”
11th April 2013
Richard Norton-Taylor and Sam Jones in the Guardian: “[Defence Secretary] Hammond told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the UK had intervened in Afghanistan to protect its national security and had never intended to stay for a protracted period.
‘Afghanistan is an incredibly complex society; a multiethnic society that was very fragmented before we started,’ he said. ‘Our ability to influence outcomes is very limited’…Former British ambassadors to Afghanistan told the Commons committee that Nato’s understanding of the Taliban was limited, that ‘corruption and abuse of power was intrinsic in Afghan society’ and that the country’s economy depended heavily on the drugs trade.”
7th April 2013
Sunday Telegraph, citing AP: A Nato air strike killed 11 children and a woman during heavy fighting in a mountainous part of eastern Afghanistan in an incident that has incensed local officials
4th April 2013
BBC: A Nato air strike in Afghanistan has killed four policemen and a civilian, officials say. The air strike took place in the eastern Ghazni province, where Nato planes had been called in for support. A spokesman for the provincial governor told the BBC the policemen were in civilian clothes and may have been mistaken for Taliban fighters.
2nd April 2013
Emma Graham-Harrrison & Julian Borger: “But as western generals and politicians who once dreamed of crushing the Taliban militarily have reconciled themselves to the idea of negotiating instead, the insurgents themselves have remained more elusive, attacking top government negotiators and refusing to publicly embrace talks.”
31st March 2013
Agencies report in the Guardian: “A Nato helicopter has reportedly killed two children during an attack on Taliban fighters.The helicopter opened fire as it supported Afghan soldiers near the town of Ghazni in south-east Afghanistan, despite president Hamid Karzai forbidding troops to call for foreign air support.”
25th March 2013
The Guardian reports: “he US secretary of state, John Kerry, has flown into Afghanistan on an unannounced visit to see Hamid Karzai amid concerns that the Afghan president may be jeopardising progress in the war against extremism with anti-American rhetoric.”
11th March 2013
AP in NYT: “Karzai ordered U.S. special operations forces to leave Wardak province, just outside the Afghan capital, because of allegations that Afghans working with the U.S. commandos were involved in abusive behaviour. Karzai gave them two weeks to leave, and the deadline expired Sunday. On Sunday, Karzai accused U.S. forces of working with the Taliban to stage two suicide bombings over the weekend during the visit of U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. In a speech, Karzai said the Americans want to scare Afghans into allowing them to stay.”
17th Feb 2013
“I will issue a decree [on Sunday] that no Afghan security forces, in any circumstances can ask for the foreigners’ planes for carrying out operations on our homes and villages,” Mr Karzai said in a speech at the Afghan National Military Academy in Kabul…Most of the 10 civilians killed in the 13 February air strike on Kunar were women and children.
16th Jan 2013
Michael Biesecker, AP: “A U.S. Marine has pleaded guilty to the bulk of the charges against him for urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters in Afghanistan and then posing for photos with the corpses.”
14th Jan 2013
Nick Hopkins in the Guardian: “Afghanistan now has two years to run and the political will for the campaign has clearly departed stage left. The issue for the military of course is legacy, residual footprint, getting out with good grace and not being seen to have cut and run, to have sacrificed such blood and treasure to no avail.”
13th Jan 2013
Simon Jenkins in the Guardian: “Since the drone war began in earnest in 2008, there has been no decline in Taliban or al-Qaida performance attributable to it. Any let-up in recruitment is merely awaiting Nato’s departure. The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has called the attacks ‘in no way justifiable’. The Pakistan government, at whose territory they are increasingly directed, has withdrawn all permission”.
2nd Jan 2013
Julian Borger in the Guardian: Afghan attempts to impose stricter vetting of recruits has had mixed results. Brigadier Stuart Skeates, the British deputy commander of the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Helmand, believes the problem and its solution may lie deeper.
“Part of the reason why we have had a number of insider attacks, as they’re called, is because the soldiers and policemen are susceptible to Taliban messaging; maybe not directly, but they hear stuff on the radio, on the TV,” he said. “They hear anecdotes from home. They are susceptible to local mullahs, both at home and here, and are in many cases very suggestible.”
Earlier parts of this dossier