Friday, November 22, 2013

The Path Forward | Day two of the Jirga

The best way to acknowledge the millions and millions of war widows, orphans, and displaced is to end this war. Helping people meet basic needs should be seen as an obligation and a strategic priority, not an act of charity.

Instead, the US is making threats and ultimatums. Demanding a quick decision that endorses a militarized super-structure focusing more on US goals than Afghan needs by asking…

How many US troops will be in the country?
What will be their role as advisers and enablers to Afghan forces?
Will they be allowed to conduct night raids and detain people?
Will they have immunity from Afghan law?
What type of weapons systems should we provide?
Can they attack bordering countries from Afghanistan?
Will they be obliged to respond to attacks from bordering countries?

Photo from UNICEF – Afghanistan

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Jirga and the Bilateral Security Agreement

Yesterday it was announced that the Governments of Afghanistan and the United States reached an agreement to keep US troops - and massive military aid - in the country until 2024. The agreement must first be affirmed by a Loya Jirga and then the Afghan Parliament. Details from day one.

The challenges facing Afghan civil society to overcome militarism will be daunting. Over the past few years far-reaching partnerships, arrangements and designations have sought to use military aid, training, and equipment to build up government security forces in order to define the transition period (2014 – 2024). Far fewer resources are being invested in strategies that can begin to address root causes.

Instead of soldiers, armed contractors, and covert action what if we supported peace-building, reconciliation and healing?

An Afghan protester holds a banner reading "Signing Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the USA is a treason" at the loya jirga, a meeting of Afghan elders, in Kabul on November 21, 2013 (AFP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)

For Afghan alternatives look at the sites below.

Project 50 | Portraits – People – Lifestyle – Arts

Our man in Kabul

Afghanistan: Its people and daily life through pictures

Missing from the today’s commentary is the militarized super-structure that the US is funding. Afghans deserve better.

Afghanistan National Security Forces (30 September 2013)
176,818 - Afghan National Army
153,153 - Afghan National Police
6.616 - Afghan Air force
TOTAL 336,587

Afghan Special Forces
24,286 Afghan Local Police (Trained by US Special-Forces)
19,612 Afghan Public Protection (to replace private armed contractors)
TOTAL 43,898

US Military and Contractors
64,000 - Troops Deployed in Afghanistan (September 2013)
85,528 - DoD Contractors (October 2013)
14,056 - DoD Private (October 2013)
TOTAL 163,584

Total Forces: 544,069

Number of US Troops from SIGAR
Contractor numbers from CENTCOM Quarterly Contractor Census Report (DoD)
Afghan Security Forces from SIGAR

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Bilateral Security Agreement | Troop Levels | Immunity

Kate Clark has details on the recently completed framework for a Bilateral Security Agreement.

The agreement will guide the future of the US presence in Afghanistan, detailing the number of bases, night-raids, air assaults, detention of prisoners, provision of arms, aid and training.

The key unresolved issue for the U.S. is troop immunity from Afghan courts after 2014.

The critical decision is to be made by a convention of Afghan political and tribal factions next month.

Image by Reza Sepehri

The challenges facing Afghan civil society to overcome militarism will be daunting. Over the past few years far-reaching partnerships, arrangements and designations have sought to use military aid, training, and equipment to build up government security forces in order to define the transition period (2014 – 2024). Far fewer resources are being invested in strategies that can begin to address root causes.

Enduring Strategic Partnership (2 May 2012)
U.S. - Afghanistan

Declaration on Afghanistan (22 May 2012)
NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)

US Designates Afghanistan Major Non-NATO Ally (6 July 2012)

So, what is the current number of US and Afghan forces currently deployed and funded?

The answer may surprise you.

The office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released the most recent mandated quarterly report in July. With access to all official agencies involved with the war, it is one of the most authoritative reports available to the public.

The Special Inspector report is used to document the total number of US troops and Afghan National Security Forces. The figure for contractors comes from CENTCOM and the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense. (News reports indicate that since July 12,000 US troops have been removed from Afghanistan).

Here is the breakdown

Afghanistan National Security Forces

Afghan Army 178,826
Afghan Police 151,824
Afghan Air force 6,461
TOTAL 337,111

Afghan Special Forces
Afghan Local Police 23,551 (Trained by US Special-Forces)
Afghan Public Protection 18,821
TOTAL 42,372

US Military and Contractors

US Forces 70,100
DoD Contractors 101,855
DoD Private 16,218
TOTAL 188,173

Total Forces: 567,656

Number of US Troops from SIGAR
Contractor numbers from CENTCOM Quarterly Contractor Census Report (DoD)
Afghan Security Forces from SIGAR

The question and challenge for Afghans is this.

What does sovereignty look like in a country where tens of thousands of foreign troops are on the ground, foreign governments pay for almost all the police and army, and 60 to 80 per cent of the government’s budget is dependent on foreign assistance?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Football | Afghanistan - Pakistan in Kabul

Today, Afghanistan hosted its first football international in 10 years, with its national team beating Pakistan 3-0 in front of a sellout crowd of 6,000 people in Kabul.

An Afghan player helps a cramped Pakistani player during the soccer match between Afghanistan and Pakistan at the Afghanistan Football Federation stadium in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

(AP Photo/Ahmad Jamshid)

(AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

(AP Photo/Ahmad Jamshid)

(AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

See more pictures here.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Update From Afghanistan | Zaher Wahab

Last week I received an update about life in Kabul from Zaher Wahab. Since retiring from teaching at Lewis and Clark College in Portland he has returned to Afghanistan to help build the education system.

He has designed two courses, 'Principles of Teaching and Learning' for teacher education faculty from the 17 four-year teacher training colleges throughout the country at Kabul Education University, and a graduate course on 'Strategic Leadership' at the Public Policy and Administration program at Kabul University to men and women working for the government, civil society and/or nongovernmental organizations.

He reports the students very capable, highly motivated, and extremely appreciative; though lacking academic preparation, from writing skills to the subjects they teach, to modern pedagogy.

That’s the inspiring news.

His comments on the broader impact of the on-going war are devastating and reveal a traumatized nation. As we read articles about the administration openness to a zero-option or complete withdrawal at the end of 2014, it is important to understand that for Afghan’s the war will not end with the removal of the last US soldier. The legacy will be long and painful with little hope of accountability from the U.S.

Here are some excerpts of what he has to say.

“At this point there are some 70,000 American and 40000 NATO troops, 110,000 contractors like Blackwater, now called academia and DynCorp, 500,000 Afghan security personnel-trained, equipped, paid for and supported by the US. all fighting some 20000 insurgents. Does this make sense?...

Washington still spends about $100 Billion/year in Afghanistan on the war. And it will spend $2 billion on destroying $7 billion worth of its military hardware here. Meanwhile, the Afghan government and army complain about lacking the necessary tools to fight with. All this when the Afghans, Congress, the American public, and the whole world wants the US/NATO out….

On the development front:

Half the population is hungry; half are un or underemployed; most are desperately poor; per capita income hovers around $450; a school teacher is paid 100-300$ a month, and professors from 300-800 per month. The cost of living in the cities is out of control. Meanwhile, the thousands of expats splurge $10-12 for a can of beer. 70% are illiterate; there are schools and universities with little to no education in them; the country imports 60% of the professionals; there really is no functioning government or economy, or even traffic lights in Kabul- a city of 5 million people and a million vehicles. Same roads I walked on as a child.

There is massive capital and human flight out of the country; Afghans constitute the largest refugee population and asylum seekers in the world; the government is ranked the most corrupt, and the country is the most unstable and dangerous in the world. At least five million school-age children are not in school, and half the schools have no buildings. Only 10% of the girls who start first grade, graduate from high school. At best, 20% of the teachers maybe qualified. Seven percent of the professors have doctorates, 35% MAs the rest just BA/BS. The country still has the highest child and maternal deaths in the world; it has the largest percentage of widows, orphans, street children and amputees in the world.

Only a third of the population has safe drinking water, and 20% electricity. The countries rivers flow out of the land, not a single damn has been built during the occupation, while USAID pays for electricity from Central Asia or generators. Violence, crime and corruption are out of control. There is no peace, safety or security anywhere for anyone, especially if you are a high government official, are part of the army-police-intelligence network, or a Westerner. The entire nation is traumatized. There are one and a half million drug addicts, including women and children, with little to no help. Drugs supply 90% of the world's heroin, constitute a third of the GDP, and are managed by individuals the US/NATO installed and protects.

There is massive pain and suffering throughout the country, while the ruling class is immersed in unbelievable privileges.

The buzz now is about 2014, and what the Americans, Pakistanis, Qataris and the Taliban are up to. Will the Karzai government really relinquish power by April 2014, as the Constitution says? Will civil/sectarian war start when the Americans/NATO leave/chased out? Will the country be partitioned amongst various groups? What about the common people? Who will provide the 97% government budget after 2014? How did the country become so dependent on foreigners? Why wasn't the country prepared for self-reliance, self-defense and self help? Those who know the answers are marginalized, silenced, or worse. People are very angry with some kind of demonstration/riot/protest weekly. The faculty and students shut Kabul University for three weeks recently. People have no faith or trust in and respect for the government or its foreign sponsors. And 70% of the people are under 25.

If I read things correctly, an 'Afghan Spring'- summer, or winter is just a matter of time. And I can hear people in the US wondering 'who lost Afghanistan?!”

Mural Art: What’s Left of Kabul
By: Guilford College Community and Hannah Swenson, Courtney Mandeville and Layth Awartani. Greensboro, NC
From : Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan

Monday, March 11, 2013

Legacies of War in Iraq | Background Paper & Timeline

Next week marks 10 years since the US invasion in 2003. It is a good time to look back on the past to better understand future challenges.

“This is a choice we know will have enormous and tragic consequences – many as yet unimagined – for the Iraqi people, for our nation and for the world. It is a choice we believe was unnecessary, immoral and unwise…” - Quaker Statement On Launch of War, March 2003

"Iraq since 2003 represents everything that we want to avoid in the Arab world – foreign invasions, simplistic American political engineering, sharp internal polarization, ethnic cleansing and warfare…” - Rami G. Khouri

"There is no victory and no victors in the 20-year war. Except for a few war profiteers, everyone has lost." - Raed Jarrar

“So many of Iraq's contracts were blocked that, from the time the program began operating in 1996 until March, 2003, a total of only $27 billion in humanitarian goods were actually delivered to Iraq. That amounted to about $204 per person, per year for all goods; this includes food, medicine, and the reconstruction of the infrastructure, since the program began operation -- or about one-half the per capita income of Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.” - Joy Gordon, regarding the Oil-for-Food Program

Click here for the AFSC background paper, and here for a timeline.

For 30 years the Iraqi people have endured three wars and for 20 years suffered under some of the most severe and comprehensive economic and political sanctions ever imposed against a nation and its people.

A war of choice starting in 2003 destroyed the infrastructure, left hundreds of thousands dead, opened the way to civil war/ethnic fighting, and created the largest movement of refugees and internally displaced in the region since the creation of Israel in 1948.

“In April of 2003, the country lay in ruin. The infrastructure had been decimated. As we drove from Baghdad to Mosul, we passed miles of high tension electric wires that were lying on the ground as the towers that held them were melted by stinger missiles. Bomb craters dotted the countryside with clear evidence of the use of cluster munitions littering agricultural fields. Ministry buildings and cultural centers like the national theater were bombed out shells. Ministries which had not been bombed were empty carcasses looted completely bare. Communication centers were rubble leaving much of the country without phone service. The streets were full of tanks and military vehicles but they were empty of people. Stores were closed, boarded up, burned out or looted. Schools were bombed or looted. Hospitals were overflowing with injured but depleted of medical supplies. Electricity was scarce or nonexistent.

The neighborhoods were no longer safe for women and children. With the first waves of lawlessness, the children who flew kites in front of our house were locked away in their homes. A child in our neighborhood was kidnapped and held for ransom. A family in the neighborhood was robbed at gunpoint in their home. Women stopped driving and going to the store. Barricades went up at the ends of our street to keep bandits out. The wife and children of our landlord and neighbor, fled to Amman among the first wave of refugees to flee the violence. There was no law and order as there was no government. As life became more insecure, people armed themselves and looked to groups that might protect them. Group identification, by tribe, religion or political affiliation, became increasingly important as a means to security. Armed militias were formed.” - Mary Trotochaud

"In 2004, following the hanging of 4 Blackwater contractors in the Sunni stronghold of Fallujah, the US commanding officer, who would lead the siege on Falujah stated: The enemy has got a name. He's called Satan. He's in Falluja and we are going to destroy him.

The Lt. Col was good to his word: all males between 15 and 45 were denied safe passage, while ¼ million people became refugees. Of the 50,000 who stayed 6,000 died, including those whose skin was melted from their bodies from the illegal use of phosphorus bombs. 3 of the city’s water plants were destroyed the fourth crippled. 70% of buildings were damaged or destroyed. Studies have traced the use of enriched uranium in US weapons systems. US forces believed they had to destroy Fallujah to save it, while the international relief community in Iraq tried to figure out how to get emergency medical supplies, food and water to the besieged people." - Rick McDowell

Rick McDowell and Mary Trotochaud were AFSC Iraq Country Representatives from 2004 – 2007. Upon returning to the US, they worked for the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington DC where they brought their war experience to bear on policy makers.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What to Make of the UN Report on Civilian Casualties?

Since 2007, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has sought to document the number of civilian casualties in the war.

The annual report for 2012 was released yesterday in Kabul and for the first time ever documents a decline in the total number of civilian deaths (12%).

The welcome news was conditioned, as UN officials and human rights groups expressed concern that it may not be sustainable, worried that the root causes of the violence were not being addressed. In fact, the report notes that civilian casualties in the second half of 2012 rose by 13% from the previous year.

The real challenge of the report is that it raises more questions than it answers. Presenting readers with the dilemma of how best to interpret this very thorough effort. For example, is this a useful way to quantify violence?

What is not covered by the report is the number of young men being killed – as police, army, foreign forces, Taliban or militia member. With the total impact of the violence left blank it is hard to know if Afghanistan is emerging from war or tragically moving into a new more hidden phase of the war.

Some disturbing trends for 2012

UNAMA is starting to track the re-emergence of independent armed groups.
Women and girls killed and injured increased 20%
(IEDs)by Anti-Government Elements were the greatest threat to civilians
Targeted killings by Anti-Government Elements increased by 108%
Killing and injury to civilian Government employees increased by 700%

Here are some additional links to analysts with something to say.

Kate Clark with the Afghanistan Analyst Network has this summary.
“UNAMA said the fall in civilian deaths happened during the first five months of 2012 and was due to, ‘unseasonably harsh winter which impeded insurgent movements and [the] effects of earlier military operations against Anti-Government Elements.’ From July onwards, however, it found a 13 per cent increase in civilian casualties compared with the same period in 2011 and noted a over-proportional 17 per cent increase in civilian casualties from IEDs placed in public and civilian locations and intensified conflict in some parts of the country. So, the falling pattern of casualties is not yet assured.”


“a new category of hostile actor, what it calls ‘armed groups’ - militias which are neither insurgents or within the formal, legal structure of the state (and often former ‘illegal armed groups’, to be dealt with by the DIAG program, but never disbanded). UNAMA has documented such groups in 40 districts in the north and north-east alone and finds they are particularly rife in Faryab and Kunduz;”

Shashank Bengali of the Los Angeles Times looks at the targeted killings.
“But the report said targeted killings -- attacks against government employees, tribal and religious leaders and Afghans involved in peace efforts -- resulted in more than twice as many deaths and injuries in 2012, in part because Taliban-led insurgents increased their use of homemade bombs that spread damage over a wider area.
U.N. officials said they were particularly disturbed by a seven-fold increase in casualties among government workers, including the murders of the two top officials in the women's affairs department in Laghman province, east of Kabul.”

Alissa J. Rubin of the NYT’s looks at structural changes and the removal of US heavy weapons.
“A factor that United Nations researchers found accounted for the drop in casualties was a reduction in ground engagements, which in some areas may be because of a declining number of Western forces. In other areas, there was an increase in engagements between the Taliban or other insurgents and the Afghan National Security Forces, but because the Afghan forces were less likely to have heavy weapons, the number of civilians killed appears to have dropped.”

Raffaela Wakeman writing at Lawfare looks at the improbable assertion that only .37% of US drone strikes resulted in civilian casualties.
"UNAMA counted five incidents out of 1,336 total “weapons releases from remote piloted aircraft” that resulted in a sum total of 16 civilian deaths and 3 injuries. That is to say that a whopping 0.37 percent of air strikes caused civilian casualties. The raw number is actually an increase. UNAMA only documented one such incident in 2011, although it’s unclear from the 2011 report how many civilian casualties resulted from the singular UAV strike. The report explains that “most” of these UAV civilian casualties were caused by weapons “aimed directly at insurgents,” but asterisks that by saying that other information indicates some of the casualties might have occurred as a result of targeting errors."
Afghanistan 101 is a blog of the American Friends Service Committee
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