Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Runaway General

Read this article (PDF).

Michael Hastings, writing for Rolling Stone magazine, has set off a firestorm with this in-depth and surprisingly candid profile of General McChrystal, commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Put on-line this afternoon, the article has lived up to its pre-published hype.

The General has already been called to Washington and there is rampant speculation about whether or not he will be fired as a result of his comments critical of the President and his team.

Advisors to McChrystal speak freely – and profanely - in the article adding color with their disdain for the political process and the individuals in government who must sell this war to an increasingly skeptical and hostile US audience. It is very revealing.

The issued raised in the article are dramatic and comes down to this. Be careful what you ask for.

Only removing General McChrystal addresses the symptom and not the disease. What needs to happen is a serious examination of a foreign policy that gives the military a blank check. Unaccountable for aggressive tactics and civilian casualties, allowed to control development efforts through the Provisional Reconstruction Teams, and asked to help fight corruption.

If the new administration is serious about engaging the world with diplomacy it needs to reverse its budget priorities. Currently the military gets over $700 billion annually, the State Department – the agency that is supposed to engage with the world gets $50 billion. That must change.

In the coming week wikileaks is also scheduled to release documents and later video of a deadly US airstrike against civilians last year. It will certainly add to the debate.

Monday, June 21, 2010

World Refugee Day – Dangerous Trends

Yesterday was World Refugee Day. To put the crisis in context the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee released their annual report Global Trends last week.

The humanitarian impact of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are clear. Afghan and Iraqi refugees account for almost half of all refugees worldwide under UNHCR’s responsibility. The three countries hosting the largest number of refugees in order are Pakistan, Iran and Syria. The first two are almost exclusively Afghans, the last Iraqis (see figure 2).

While the number of refugee figures remained similar to 2008, the number of Internally Displaced People (IDP’s) reached an unprecedented 15.6 million. The increase was largely from tragic conflicts in Congo, Pakistan and Somalia.

Some of the figures they provide.

There were 43.3 million forcibly displaced people worldwide at the end of 2009, the highest number since the mid-1990s. Of these, 15.2 million were refugees; 10.4 million who fell under UNHCR’s responsibility and 4.8 million Palestinian refugees under UNRWA’s mandate. The figure also includes 983,000 asylum seekers and 27.1 million internally


Afghanistan has been the leading country of origin of refugees for the past three decades with up to 6.4 million of its citizens having sought international protection during peak years. As of the end of 2009, close to 2.9 million Afghan were still refugees. One out of four refugees in the world is from Afghanistan. Even though Afghan refugees could be found in 71 asylum countries worldwide in 2009, 96 per cent of them were located in Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran alone. Iraqis were the second largest group, with an estimated 1.8 million having sought refuge, mainly in neighboring countries. Afghan and Iraqi refugees account for almost half (45%) of all refugees under UNHCR’s responsibility worldwide.


Pakistan was host to the largest number of refugees worldwide (1.7 million), followed by the Islamic Republic of Iran (1.1 million) and the Syrian Arab Republic (1.05 million; Government estimate). Pakistan also hosted the largest number of refugees in relation to its economic capacity with 745 refugees per 1 USD GDP (PPP) per capita, followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (592) and Zimbabwe (245).


Afghan and Iraqi refugees accounted for almost half of all refugees under UNHCR’s responsibility worldwide; one out of four refugees in the world was from Afghanistan (2.9 million). Afghans were located in 71 different asylum countries. Iraqis were the second largest refugee group, with 1.8 million having sought refuge primarily in neighboring countries.


Some 251,500 refugees repatriated voluntarily during 2009, the lowest figure since 1990. In contrast, more than 2.2 million IDPs were able to return, the highest in at least a decade.

Additional Resource:

The Frame - World Refugee Day Photo Blog

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Challenges of Reintegration

Matt Waldman has an in-depth study on the challenges facing reintegration. Noting that reintegration is one step in reducing violence but that it only "addresses the symptoms of the disease, not the disease itself."

While economic pressure is a factor – the infamous $10 Taliban - there are often more immediate and fundamental reasons that drive people to fight. These include resistance to foreign occupation, civilian casualties, government impunity, tribal conflict and exclusion. These fundamental issues or ‘root cause’ highlight the need for substantial political reconciliation.

At its core, reintegration must offer something of value to all Afghans.

“Some believe its principal, legitimate role is to reduce violence, enhance community cohesion, and support a credible process of reconciliation. For General McChrystal, however, it is ‘a normal component of counterinsurgency warfare’ in other words, its central utility is as an instrument to weaken and potentially divide the enemy. Indeed, the US Military’s joint doctrine on Counterinsurgency Operations states that ‘offering amnesty or a seemingly generous compromise can also cause divisions within an insurgency and present opportunities to split or weaken it.”


Reintegration is more complex and difficult to accomplish than is commonly appreciated. There are significant obstacles, including lack of trust, insurgent cohesion, and revenge attacks on participants. There is also a dissonance between the economic incentives offered by reintegration and some of the powerful social, political, ideological, and personal factors that cause people to fight.

A well-executed reintegration scheme could have positive social, economic, and stabilisation benefits – and thus reduce the force of the insurgency – but if mishandled, it could do the reverse. Without intelligent design, effective delivery, and political resolve it has the potential to exacerbate local security conditions, undermine high-level talks, and even increase insurgent recruitment. It could also distract policy-makers from action to tackle the root causes of the conflict. Reintegration addresses the symptoms of the disease, and not the disease itself.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Military convoys put civilians "at risk"

One month after a deadly car bombing in Kabul the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs offers some insight into the levels of violence in the country by interviewing one of the wounded. It is not often that we have an opportunity to look behind the headline.

KABUL, 16 June 2010 (IRIN) - Only seconds after a convoy of armoured military vehicles passed Fawad Tokhi, 35, at about 8.20am in the south of Kabul city on 18 May, he was wounded in a suicide attack.

“I was bleeding. The only thing I could do was to call my brother and tell him that I was wounded,” Tokhi told IRIN at his home in Kabul. He was seriously hit in the chest and abdomen.

Officials said the blast killed six foreign soldiers and at least 12 civilians; another 47 civilians were injured.

I first blame foreign forces for unnecessary patrolling on city streets in busy hours of the day. Secondly, I blame the government for its inability to stop foreign forces from rambling on the city streets in their armoured cars. Thirdly, I blame the Taliban for their attacks which often kill and injure innocent people,” said Tokhi.

“I don’t understand what ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] achieves on busy streets in Kabul except creating traffic congestions and causing risks to people,” said Ahmad Wali, 19, who was injured in the same attack.

To illustrate what a magnet for violence that foreign forces have become in Afghanistan consider this.

“Foreign forces came to our village and said they want to asphalt the road but we said no,” said Shir Ahmad, a resident of Dara-e-Pachaye in Kabul’s Paghman District. “We know the road is good but we also know that an asphalted road brings ISAF patrols and with them comes suicide and roadside attacks.”

Two weeks after the attack, the New York Times reported that 30 Afghan’s had been shot to death and 80 wounded from passing convoys and at military checkpoints in the last six months.

We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat,” said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who became the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan last year. His comments came during a recent videoconference to answer questions from troops in the field about civilian casualties.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Unpacking $1 Trillion

A video message from the Quaker youth program in Old Chatham, New York.

Directed by Sergio Rico, Trillion is a powerful film about a very large number.

Additional Resource:

What's Your Trillion Dollar Plan?
Clever interactive game from Rethink Afghanistan.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Troop levels in Afghanistan and Iraq

For the first time since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 there are now more U.S. troops in Afghanistan (94,000) than Iraq (92,000). The graph is from the Congressional Research Service document 'Boots on the Ground Reports to Congress'. Since the beginning of the Obama Administration in January 2009, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has increased three-fold.

Last month I was part of a phone conference call with Afghan youth working in Bamiyan province to overcome violence in their community. I was not surprised they said it was lonely and difficult work. But I was surprised by the questions they asked, and how similar they were to the questions Iraqis have asked over the years. Why do Christians (Americans) hate us? How come nobody talks about the deaths of Afghan’s? How could Bible verses appear on bombs that were dropped in Afghanistan?

They said they were afraid that what happened in Iraq will happen to them.

Additional Resources

Don’t Extend U.S. troop withdrawal deadline
Raed Jarrar | The Progressive | 25 May 2010

Internal Peacebuilding to Build True Security
AFSC | Alternatives to War Series | Summer 2009

Take Action

Memorial Day and Milestones

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Memorial Day and Milestones

On Sunday morning at 10:06 AM, the Memorial Day weekend will be punctuated with the passing of a stunning milestone. At that moment, U.S. taxpayers will have spent $1 trillion on operational expenses for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Read our op-ed in Huffington Post on what a trillion dollars means to all of us.

Click here to finish reading the newsletter.

Other Resources:

$1 Trillion Action Toolkit

Cost of War Counter

Kabul Wedding by Art Hazelwood and Juan Fuentes, part of the AFSC Afghan Memorial Mural project.

Friday, May 21, 2010

From Prayers to Paralysis

Writing from Pakistan, Josuah Brollier tells the story, and shares the insights of a young Afghan severely wounded by a US missile strike. Drawing attention to the little considered way institutions in Pakistan are helping to heal the wounds of war.

Islamabad — Through the Soviet invasion and occupation, the Afghan civil war and now the United States war and occupation, a young man named Zainullah, around 25 years of age, has seen war his whole life. But you’d never know it by his engaging smile and his relaxed countenance. Zainullah currently lives at a paraplegic center in Hayatabad, Pakistan, a suburb of Peshawar, the capital city of the North-West Frontier Province. He is originally from the Helmand province of Afghanistan, which has been one of the most intense battlegrounds during the “war on terror” launched by the United States in 2001.

To continue reading.

Additional Resources

Voices for Creative Nonviolence

Special Report: How the White House learned to love the drone

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Death Squads, Collateral Murder, Cover-Ups

Dr. Zaher Wahab offers a view from Afghanistan on the impact of the war. The parallels to Iraq are striking. He has been in Kabul teaching for the last three months, and writes to the blog Dispatches from Afghanistan.

The US occupation of Afghanistan, which will enter its tenth year this fall, shows no signs of abating. In fact, both the brutal occupation and the resistance to it are intensifying. The human, financial, psychic and political costs to both countries have been enormous. More than 1,000 Americans have been killed, more than 4,000 injured, thousands suffering from various degrees of PTSD, and tens of thousands suffering from the militarization of their feelings. The war has cost the US about $270 billion so far, and is now costing the US taxpayers more than one billion dollars per week. On the Afghan side, unknown thousands of combatants and civilians have been killed, maimed, and/or are dying slow deaths. The society is impoverished, factionalized, sectarianized, brutalized, criminalized, gangsterized, traumatized, and militarized; it ranks at or near the bottom of every human development index. The country has been transformed into a hellhole with unimaginable poverty, disease, pain, and suffering.

Click here to read more.

Other Resources:

The Wounded Platoon
Frontline | 18 May 2010

U.S. launches criminal probe on soldiers in Afghanistan
Reuters | 20 May 2010

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Afghan Civilian Memorial Mural Project

We are starting to receive work from the artists participating in our national mural project to remember Afghan civilian deaths. This compelling panel is from Janet Braun-Reinitz of Brooklyn, NY.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Peace Jirga

On May 20 president Karzai is going to host a Peace Jirga focused on designing steps for national reconciliation. The agenda for the gathering is not finalized, but the goal is to end the war, speed up the removal of foreign troops and start a process of reconciliation.

Traditionally a jirga has been used as a means to resolve problems that face a community. The present peace jirga seeks to invite Afghan leaders, women, civil society and warlords.

There will be a second Jirga hosted in Pakistan over the summer that will also reach out to Taliban supporters in Pakistan.

"People are desperate for peace," says Masoom Stanekzai, Karzai's national security adviser, who has a key role in the planning. "We've had a positive response from people living under the insurgency or under the government." To learn more about the Peace Jirga read the article on Philadelphia Inquirer.

Thirty years of war has left a grim legacy for the people of Afghanistan and the region. There is not just one conflict, but a web of conflict; including on the local, regional, national, and international levels. Because of this, there is not one single soultion that will bring secrity. In order to create the conditions for peace, there must be dialog with everybody effected by war. Including elders from provincial districts, members of Parliament, women, journalists and representatives of civil society. It should also include the Taliban.

Additional Resources

Afghanistan Conflict Assessment Report

Internal Peacebuilding to Build True Security

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Happy Tax Day everyone!
Take a look at our op-ed in the Huffington Post this morning and then don't forget to to join us tonight
for a strategy call with Jo Comerford, executive director of the National Priorities Project and an expert in military spending and the federal budget. The presentation will focus on where your tax dollars are going, what it means for your community, and how you can help to end the wars.

Send us questions you want Jo to answer during the call: questions@afsc.org

Call in details:

Where Do Your Tax Dollars Go?
Jo Comerford, Executive Director of the National Priorities Project

Thursday April 15, 8 - 9 p.m. Eastern

To join the call: dial 1-866-740-1260 (toll-free)
Conference Access Code 2414586#

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Where Do Your Tax Dollars Go?

AFSC Open Conference Call Briefing on Tax Day, April 15th:

Jo Comerford, Executive Director of the National Priorities Project (NPP) will talk about where your tax dollars are going. NPP just released its yearly report on tax spending, noting that for each 2009 income tax dollar 26.5 cents went to military-related spending, 13.6 cents for military and non-military interest on the debt but only 2 cents for education (http://www.nationalpriorities.org/taxday2010).

This is a good time for us to reflect upon military spending and what it is really costing us as a society. Not only is it tax day, but yet another supplemental funding request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is about to work its way through Congress. We will also talk about the proposed FY2011 budget because even as everyone is finalizing their 2009 taxes, Congress is at work building the 2011 budget, which will take effect on October 1, 2010.

So, it's a perfect time to get involved in the federal spending conversation and Ms. Comerford will answer your questions about military spending and our budget priorities.

NPP and AFSC recently collaborated on “The Cost of War in Afghanistan,” a resource that documents the human and economic cost of the war. Jo Comerford and AFSC staff will share upcoming campaign and action ideas, including details on another collaboration between AFSC and NPP, the “If I Had a Trillion Youth Video Competition,” which will involve youth in marking the moment that the operational costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq reach 1 Trillion dollars.

Send your questions for Jo now to questions@afsc.org

Call in details:
April 15th at
8 - 9 p.m. Eastern
To join to the call: Dial 1-866-740-1260 (toll-free)
Conference Access Code 2414586#

Once you are connected you will be asked to state your name; please speak your name slowly and clearly.

Monday, April 5, 2010

War-Making and Peace-Building

The counter-insurgency strategy that now guides US policy in Afghanistan seeks to win hearts-and-minds through a comprehensive plan partly based on the image of the soldier-aid worker. Attaching a larger humanitarian purpose to war by melding strategic and development tasks so that war-fighters become peacemakers and vice-versa. It is one reason war funding is so quickly approved by congress.

Humanitarian and reconstruction activities must be Afghan-centered and civilian-lead. It is essential for humanitarian organizations to work in a spirit of neutrality and reach across lines that divide com­munities. When humanitarian work is co-opted into a military strategy it is no longer seen as impartial. The Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT’s) merge civilian with military personnel to conduct humani­tarian, and reconstruction work. This merger has caused humanitarian workers to be seen as agents of the military and puts even those who are not col­laborating with the military at risk of being seen as legitimate targets.

John Heathershaw tackles these issues from a British perspective in a provocative article, finding

…there is an alternative between peace-building-as-war-making and inaction in the face of human suffering in wartime. Independent aid agencies and missionaries have continued to work bravely without military assistance in many of the worst conflicts for decades. They were even in Afghanistan under Taliban and will remain there long after the coalition troops have left. They are independent, impartial and they do not use force. When they have been around for long enough, they garner far more local respect than any civilian-military provincial reconstruction team. They are unable to stop genocide but they are able to lessen the suffering generated by our ‘ordered’ world whilst questioning the bases of this order.

Addition Resources: End Reliance on Military Solutions
Action: Our letter to the editor

Understanding Afghanistan: A Resource Guide

This two-page list of staff recommendations covers film, books and web-pages. It is a good overview resource to hand out at events and share with your lists. For more detailed information go to the learn about Afghanistan page.

We invite recommendations on other resources to include in upcoming lists.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Civilian Casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been devastating. It is our responsibility to know what is happening, speak for the victims, and look at the root causes. Kathy Kelly gets you started by documenting the impact of war in Afghanistan.

If the U.S. public looked long and hard into a mirror reflecting the civilian atrocities that have occurred in Afghanistan, over the past ten months, we would see ourselves as people who have collaborated with and paid for war crimes committed against innocent civilians who meant us no harm.

Two reporters, Jerome Starkey (the Times UK), and David Lindorff, (Counterpunch), have persistently drawn attention to U.S. war crimes committed in Afghanistan. Makers of the film “Rethink Afghanistan” have steadily provided updates about the suffering endured by Afghan civilians. Here is a short list of atrocities that have occurred in the months since General McChrystal assumed his post in Afghanistan.

But there must also be legal remedy. Today the ACLU has strengthened that process with the release of documents that underscore flaws in compensating victim’s families. Excerpts below.

"With more U.S. forces being sent into civilian areas in Afghanistan, it is critical that the American public be informed about what is at stake," said Nasrina Bargzie, cooperating counsel with the ACLU and an attorney at Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP in Oakland, CA. "These newly released records illustrate that innocent civilian victims and their families are still not being appropriately compensated for their losses. Now that this problem has been brought to light, we hope the Obama administration will be compelled to reform the broken civilian compensation program."

The files made public today comprise over 800 claims for compensation or condolence payments submitted to the U.S. Foreign Claims Commissions and the Commander's Emergency Response Program by surviving family members of Afghan and Iraqi civilians said to have been killed or injured or to have suffered property damages due to actions by Coalition Forces. Many of the claims were denied under the so-called "combat exemption" to the Foreign Claims Act (FCA), which provides that harm inflicted on residents of foreign countries by U.S. soldiers during combat cannot be compensated under the FCA, even if the victims had no involvement whatsoever in the combat. The documents reveal that, due to the claim denials, many innocent civilians were not compensated for their harm or were referred to the Commander's Emergency Response Program for a discretionary condolence payment that is subject to an automatic $2,500 limit per death.

"These records will help the American people comprehend the impact of war on innocent civilians and will allow the public to participate meaningfully in the ongoing debate about these wars," said Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "An informed public is a critical part of any democracy. Releasing the civilian casualty records is a good step towards increasing government transparency. The Obama administration should continue releasing documents that could inform the public about the critical issues of war."

Additiona Resources:

The documents released today by the ACLU are available here.

No Shortcuts When America Moves a War

The headline in today's New York Times say’s it all. No Shortcuts When America Moves a War. In the context of the article, this phrase refers to the fact that the U.S. must move tones of material from Iraq around Iran to get to Afghanistan. It will be one of the largest movements of military equipment since World War II. In reality, the article is about the fact that no expense is spared to fight this war.

Here are some of the facts.

“The military says there are 3.1 million pieces of equipment in Iraq, from tanks to coffee makers, two-thirds of which are to leave the country. Of that, about half will go on to Afghanistan, where there are already severe strains on the system.”

“All lethal supplies — weapons, armored trucks, eight-wheeled Stryker troop carriers — come in by air to avoid attacks, but everything else goes by sea and land. The standard route from Iraq to Afghanistan is south from Baghdad and down through Kuwait, by ship through the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz to Karachi, Pakistan, then overland once again.”

“Nonlethal supplies flowing into Afghanistan include cement, lumber, blast barriers, septic tanks and rubberized matting, all to expand space at airfields and double, to 40, the number of forward operating bases in a country…”

“The Defense Logistics Agency, which provides meals for 415,000 troops, contractors and American civilians each day in both wars, shipped 1.1 million frozen hamburger patties to Afghanistan in March alone, compared with 663,000 burgers in March 2009. The agency also supplied 27 million gallons of fuel to forces in Afghanistan this month, compared with 15 million gallons a year ago.”

The most telling quote about U.S. priorities comes from General David Petraeus

Gen. David H. Petraeus of the United States Central Command, in another grand historical parallel, recently called the construction under way “the largest building boom in Afghanistan since Alexander built Kandahar,” a reference to the conqueror of Afghanistan in the fourth century B.C.

Additional Resources:

Human Rights Dimension of Poverty in Afghanistan

To see why Iran feels surrounded, here is the map from the paper.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Afghans say they've heard it all before

For Afghans, the definition of security means freedom from fear and freedom from want. It’s the standard they use to judge their own leaders, and it’s the standard they use to judge the actions of the international community. Right now 41 countries have a military presence under NATO or coalition forces.

Following Sunday’s visit to Afghanistan by President Obama Alan Gomez recorded the following observations from Afghan’s. The article was titled Afghans say they’ve heard it all before.

Over the course of his 60 years in Afghanistan, Ghulam Ghaus has heard promises from an Afghan king, Soviet commanders, mujahedin fighters and Taliban mullahs. Over the last decade, he's heard from two U.S. presidents and countless coalition officials.

So when Ghaus listened to President Obama's speech Sunday night, the Kabul-area farmer was left with a very familiar feeling.

"Many countries have come to help and they've built bridges, roads, schools and hospitals. Many presidents have come and given speeches," Ghaus said. "But what have they done for security?"

Ghaus echoed the sentiments of many Afghans in Kabul on Monday as they responded to Obama's first trip to the war-torn country as president.

Addition Resources:

Donor Financial Review by the Ministry of Finance, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

The international community has pledged $62 billion in grants and loans from 2001-2009. $36 billion has been delivered; the U.S. has been the single largest donor disbursing $23 billion.

Over $29 billion (77 percent of the total disbursed aid) was directly spent by donors with little or no Afghan government input; more than $15 of the $29 billion was disbursed directly by foreign military channels.

Over half of the funds (about $19 billion) have been spent on the security sector, particularly on the police and army.

The government of Afghanistan has received only 23 percent of foreign grants (about $8 billion).

Article: Afghanistan: Money Well Spent?

Human Rights Dimension of Poverty in Afghanistan

Today in Kabul the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report entitled the Human Rights Dimension of Poverty in Afghanistan.

Here is an excerpt from the press conference.

We are all aware that Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. One third of its population lives in absolute poverty. Afghanistan I think you also know has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world. This means that 25,000 women die each year because of complications associated with giving birth. This is the highest single cause of death in Afghanistan.

Only 23 per cent of Afghans has access to safe drinking water. Only 24 per cent of the population above the age of 15 can read and write, and of course with much lower literacy rates among women and nomadic populations. According to UNICEF, 30 per cent of primary school children are working and are often the sole source of income for their families.

Poverty kills. Poverty actually kills more Afghans than those who die as a direct result of the armed conflict. Poverty deprives two-thirds of the Afghan population from living a decent and dignified life – this includes the inability to enjoy their most basic and fundamental rights, such as getting an education or having access to health services.

But who are the poor in Afghanistan and why are they poor? Statistics tend to hide the root causes of poverty. Statistics also tend to focus our attention to the consequences rather than causes of widespread impoverishment.

As elsewhere in the world, poverty is multi-dimensional and can be traced to different sources and processes. Poverty is neither accidental, nor inevitable; it is both a cause and a consequence of a massive human rights deficit. The deficit includes widespread impunity and inadequate investment in, and attention to, human rights. Patronage, corruption, impunity and over-emphasis on short-term goals rather than targeted long-term development are exacerbating a situation of dire poverty that is the condition of an overwhelming majority of Afghans.

A human rights angle offers a complementary approach to existing poverty reduction strategies. The High Commissioner’s report concludes that sustainable poverty reduction is dependent on efforts that roll back abusive power structures. Vested interests in this country frequently shape the public agenda, whether in relation to the law, policy, or the allocation of resources. The High Commissioner’s report also argues that the poor must be at the centre of decision-making processes that affect their life. The poor need to be empowered to make free and informed choices about their future; they need to be involved, in a meaningful way, in efforts geared to overcoming poverty.

To see the full transcript of the press conference click here.

Additional Resources

The Cost of War: Afghan Experiences of Conflict 1978-2009

The past three decades of war and disorder have had a devastating impact on the Afghan people. Millions have been killed, millions more have been forced to flee their homes and the country’s infrastructure and forests have all but been destroyed. The social fabric of the country is fractured and state institutions are fragile and weak.

Much has been written about the wars in Afghanistan and the basic narrative of the conflict, in one form or another, has been repeated in countless books, academic articles and news reports. But the voices of ordinary Afghans are often absent from these accounts, and yet it is the Afghan people who are most affected by the violence.

To better understand how Afghans have experienced and understand the conflict, eight nongovernmental organizations operating in Afghanistan conducted research in 14 provinces across the country. This research focused on individual experiences of the past thirty years of conflict, perceptions of the current conflict and recommendations for alleviating the violence and addressing its root causes.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Filling in the Blanks/ Afghan Memorial Update

AFSC is working with mural artists all over the country to create a public, traveling exhibit in memory of Afghan civilian casualties of the war. To our knowledge the only existing memorial to Afghans exists online. In fact, not only are these deaths happening without much recognition by the US public, very little is known about how many Afghans have been killed as a result of the conflict.

Several reputable sources such as The World Health Organization , The British medical journal The Lancet , and the website iraqbodycount.org may have disagreed with each other about the number of Iraqi casualties, but at least they helped to establish a range of possibility from 100,000 to over 1,000,000 casualties and kept a record of names via media reports.

No comparable work has been done regarding Afghan casualties. In many ways the task might be impossible. We know someone has died as a result of the war when they have been hit by a drone, but what about the child who couldn’t get treatment for an illness because there is no hospital in his town any longer?

This is why we feel this project is so important. We want to fill in this blank spot in our collective understanding of this conflict, we need for us all to understand the human cost of the war in Afghanistan.

We now have over 50 artists from all over the US and France who will be participating by painting 6.5’x4’ panels, as pictured here. We will keep you updated as the work comes in and the project develops. In the meantime, if you think your community would be interested in hosting the exhibit at some point, contact Mary Zerkel (mzerkel@afsc.org) for more information.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tracking the Drones: Pakistan

On Tuesday evening a US drone fired missiles into a target in Pakistan’s tribal region bordering Afghanistan. Newswire reports simply say four militants killed.

Since 2008 targeted assassinations of suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Pakistan have increased dramatically through drone attacks. The New America Foundation is making an effort to track the numbers through a site called Year of the Drone. They are updating the site regularly. It is important to note that the Government of Pakistan and other agencies report a much higher number and percentage of civilian casualties.

For resources on the illegality on drones look at these articles.

The Predator War
Jane Mayer | The New Yorker | 26 October 2009

Killing "Bubba" from the skies
Mark Benjamin, Salon | February 2008

Last week the ACLU filled a lawsuit against the Defense Department, the State Department and the Justice Department over the use of drones.

ACLU Seeks Information on Legal Bases for Predator Drone Program

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit today demanding that the government disclose the legal basis for its use of unmanned drones to conduct targeted killings overseas. In particular, the lawsuit asks for information on when, where and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, the number and rate of civilian casualties and other basic information essential for assessing the wisdom and legality of using armed drones to conduct targeted killings.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Afghan President Meets With Insurgents

Yesterday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai meet for the first time with a high-level delegation from Hezb-i-Islami, one of the key groups fighting Afghan and Foreign forces. It is a process that will open wounds from Afghanistan's recent past and challenge the Government to pursue reconciliation while also addressing the legacy of past wars.

Writing in today’s NYT’s Alissa Rubin and Sangar Rahmi point to the larger strategy.

Mr. Karzai is planning a peace jirga, or assembly, for the end of April, and he is inviting a number of insurgent groups, as well as various factions in Parliament and representatives of Afghan civil society organizations.

While the peace jirga is nominally about ending the fighting between the government and antigovernment forces, which include a variety of insurgent groups, it is equally about how power would be shared. No one here expects that the insurgents will give up the fight unless they get a measure of political control.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, head of Hezb-i-Islami is one of the most controversial mujahedeen leaders. He was prime Minister of Afghanistan from 1993-1994 and again briefly in 1996.

For more details on Afghanistan’s recent history look at the executive summary of the conflict assessment prepared last year. The full report with index jumps that will carry you to the section you want is here.

Quick facts about Gulbuddin Helmatyar and Hezb-i-Islami

Founded in the mid 1970's by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Hezb-i-Islami -- "The Islamic Party" -- was one of the main mujahedeen groups fighting the Soviet invasion in the 1980s from its base in Pakistan. It received the lion's share of U.S. and Saudi arms and money channeled through the Pakistani intelligence service.

In 1979, Hekmatyar clashed with another leader inside the faction, Mawlawi Khalis, splitting Hezb-i-Islami into two groups. Hekmatyar's faction, the larger of the two, is now commonly referred to as Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG). There have also been other minor offshoots since then.

After the Soviet withdrawal Hekmatyar fought and made fleeting alliances with most other mujahedeen factions during the resulting civil war and is blamed for killing thousands in Kabul with indiscriminate rocket attacks on the capital.

In 1994, Pakistan dropped support for HIG in favor of Mullah Mohammad Omar's Taliban, and after losing to their forces when the Taliban took Kabul in 1996, Hekmatyar fled to Iran. Many of his fighters joined the Taliban ranks.

After the September 11 attacks Hekmatyar declared himself against the U.S. invasion, was expelled by Iran and returned to his homeland to take up the fight in alliance with the Taliban. Hezb-i-Islami is one of the three groups that NATO forces recognize as the main insurgent factions responsible for attacks against them and Afghan forces. Its fighters are most active in the east of the country and in pockets in the north.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Talking to the Taliban

For years public opinion polls in Afghanistan have shown that Afghan's believe it necessary to negotiate with the Taliban. In fact, the Government of Afghanistan, the Taliban and large UN agencies already cooperate through country-wide humanitarian efforts around Polio.

So, why does the US government resist?

December 2008: An ABC/BBC poll asked Afghans if the government in Kabul should negotiate a settlement with Afghan Taliban in which they are allowed to hold political offices if they agree to stop fighting? 64% said Yes, negotiate with the Taliban. 25 % said No, continue fighting and don't negotiate. When people were also asked who they blame for the violence in the country it was almost evenly split between Taliban 27%, Al Qaeda/Foreign Jihadis 22%, U.S./NATO Forces 21%.

December 2009: An afghan opinion survey finds 65% of Afghans interviewed believed the government in Kabul should negotiate a settlement with the Afghan Taliban in which they are allowed to hold political office if they agree to stop fighting.

In January, during a visit to Islamabad, Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged that the Taliban are a part of the political fabric of Afghanistan and need to play a critical role. For a detailed presentation of the impact of this decision, listen to Zia Mian’s recent conference call briefing.

Michael Semple, writing for the Financial Times in February, reflects on the role he played in facilitating dialogue with the Taliban and warns that the Government of Afghanistan and the international community must commit more than just money. (The article requires a free subscription put is very important)

Finally, today in the Washington Post, Ahmad Rashid argues – from a regional context – why the US needs to talk to the Taliban.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Call to Artists

An Exhibit of War and Resilience in Afghanistan

Artists have always provided the most powerful images of war. From around the world they inspire resistance to war and occupation from Japan to South Africa to Iraq. Whether it’s Pablo Picasso’s antiwar painting Guernica or the Pat Barker Regeneration Trilogy about WWI, painters and writers have conveyed the horrors of violence in ways that are timeless. Films like Kabul Transit and its depiction of city life highlighted by the lyrics of the iconic singer Ahmad Zahir help us learn more about life in Afghanistan.

AFSC is initiating an art project to memorialize the untold number of Afghan casualties. Help us circulate the call below or volunteer if you are a painter/muralist.

A Call to Artists:
An Exhibit of War and Resilience in Afghanistan

The American Friends Service Committee is creating a traveling exhibit that will call attention to the inconceivable loss of life in Afghanistan due to war. We need volunteer painters/muralists/grafitti artists who would be interested in creating unique panels for a traveling memorial to Afghan casualties of the war. The exhibit will contain 30-40 panels created by artists responding to the human cost of the war to Afghans.

Artists will be provided with a 6’x4’ lightweight nonwoven fabric panel to use for their design. Artists will also be provided with a bank of images to use for inspiration.

(Note: The fabric is similar to garment interfacing and is known as “Parachute Cloth” or PolyTab. Acrylic primer, paint and sealers must be used.) Specific instructions will be included with the fabric that is provided.

By participating in this project artists will allow AFSC to use the work in the original traveling exhibit, in digital replicas of the work and in informational brochures and on the web.

AFSC did a project with similar intentions to memorialize Iraqi casualties
Dreams and Nightmares: A Memorial to Life and Death in Iraq

While AFSC cannot pay artists for the work, we intend to have a brochure that identifies each panel by artist, title of panel, short description and your website if you so choose.

Deadline for participation: April 15
Deadline for completion of work: May 15th
Contact : Mary Zerkel mzerkel@afsc.org

Friday, March 12, 2010

Troops in Afghanistan - The House Votes

"Now is the time for those of us who believe in peace and not war to find a way to get in the way."

These are the words of civil rights leader John Lewis from Wednesday’s debate to remove US troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year. The bill, introduced by Dennis Kucinich, ended up losing 356 to 65. [roll call here]

Representative Lewis (D-GA) spoke against a war-fighting policy that can only mean more death and destruction with the arrival of an additional 30,000 U.S. troops. Unless the escalation is stopped, by the end of this year, 100,000 U.S. troops will be in Afghanistan.

I rise today to join my colleagues and speak out against the war in Afghanistan. How much death must we bear, how much pain must we suffer, how much blood must we spill to say enough is enough? Can we lay down the burden of war and lift up the power of peace? Now is time for the elected representatives of the people to give peace a chance. Now is the time for those of us who believe in peace and not war to find a way to get in the way.

… war is bloody, war is messy. It tends not just to hide the truth, but to sacrifice the truth, to bury the truth. It destroys the hopes, the dreams, and the aspirations of a people.

As one great general and President of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."

I urge you to heed the words of the spiritual: "I'm going to lay my burden down. Down by the riverside. I ain't gonna study war no more." We should follow the wisdom of that song.

This war has gone on long enough. Enough is enough. It is time to bring this war to an end. I urge all of my colleagues to vote for this resolution. Link

Welcome to Afghanistan 101

The idea behind this site is to highlight resources that can help you learn more about the war in Afghanistan and its people. We will of course tie this to advocacy and ways to end this war.

Stay tuned for resources, commentary on the news of the day, featured guest analysts and ways to participate in current advocacy campaigns and strategies.
Afghanistan 101 is a blog of the American Friends Service Committee
215-241-7000 · web@afsc.org