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:

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 (

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

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.
Afghanistan 101 is a blog of the American Friends Service Committee
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