Thursday, March 31, 2011

Before You Enlist

Looking at the root causes of violence.

Our government spends $2.1 million every minute of every day on the military. We are deeply concerned by the recruitment of young people into that structure of violence. Before You Enlist has straight talk by veterans and their families – filling in the gaps – on what is missing from the sales pitch presented by recruiters and the military marketing machine.

It's a great resource for reaching out to young people being targeted by the government to join the military. It’s peace work.

One group that helps veterans deal with what they have seen and done after joining is the Warrior Writers Project. Tina Garnanez has one of the many stories about the decisions people make. She was a medic. It’s a multimedia look at the need to end these wars and how she got there.

Additional Resource: The Recruiter (HBO Documentary Films)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Student Art from the Ashes of War

Last June, while teaching in Kabul, Professor Zaher Wahab asked Afghan High School students – boys and girls – to draw pictures of their experience with war. These powerful images have been incorporated into the traveling mural exhibit Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan.

In this interview, Wahab discusses why Americans need a visual reminder of the war in Afghanistan, now the longest war in U.S. history.

What kinds of experiences and emotions are the Afghan high school students expressing in these drawings?

I could see the expressions on their faces as they drew. They experience or witness war and violence all the time—it’s very normal—and the drawing gave them the opportunity to reflect on their condition. The drawings show details of their reality that most children here would not express: the airplanes are all bombers instead of passenger jets; there are a lot of amputees—Afghanistan has the most amputees of any country in the world. There are many Kalashnikovs, knives, and whips. You see a prevalence of pain, suffering, and anguish that comes from death, dying, and destruction.

When I asked the students to draw the pictures, I had no idea their drawings would end up in a nationwide exhibit in the United States—the students thought they were drawing for fun and self-expression. I didn’t give them any cues or leads. I just asked them to draw their thoughts and feelings about Afghanistan. The images they created are all about violence, war, and survival. There’s nothing there about play or kids having fun.

It’s very clear from many studies from Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and the Afghan Ministry of Public Health and others that the vast majority of Afghan people suffer from some kind of mental illness because of the 34-year war, non-stop occupation, and violence. It’s a nation that is deeply traumatized. Most of the men, women, and children have had direct experience with violence from shootings, bombings, and/or roadside IEDs [improvised explosive devices]. It’s part of people’s thinking, and you can see it in the way people talk to each other. They worry about staying alive, staying healthy, having food, water, shelter, and other basic necessities. Children are robbed of their childhoods; adults are mangled. Only half of children go to school because of insecurity, lack of schools, or the need to work to support their families.

What kind of reaction is the exhibit receiving from American audiences?

People are stunned. Most are uninformed, misinformed, and propagandized. You can’t imagine the suffering that the murals and drawings portray. Some don’t see, and can’t see, beyond the drawing. Some people want to donate money. Students ask how they can organize for change, justice, and peace. The exhibit may also bring up the psychological and ideological baggage people carry with them like Islamophobia and xenophobia, which has developed because of the way Afghans are represented by mainstream media and spokespersons for the military-industrial-political complex.

How does this exhibit challenge Americans to accept their identity as a nation at war?
You would hope it would confront people. Art can be very eloquent and powerful. I’m hoping this whole exhibit will prick the conscience of the American people, confront them, make them uncomfortable, and induce them to pause and think about the country’s arrogance, violence, and indifference to human suffering. I hope they will begin to ask, “Is this moral? Productive? Should we end this? What is my role and responsibility as a citizen, a member of the human family?”

To voice your opposition to the war, you’ve offered public testimony, published op-eds, and blogged about conditions in Afghanistan. What inspired you to get involved in this visual art project, and how do you think this medium makes a different impact than others?

This society is so video-ized, so visual, so isolated from others. Imagination seems impaired. We are not a reading nation. Empathy and sympathy seem to have atrophied amongst many in this society, so it’s hard for people to relate to the severity of the human suffering in Afghanistan, 13,000 miles away. The Afghans had nothing to do with 9/11, and yet that point is forgotten. And they have nothing against this country. So, you just hope to educate people to relate to other people’s interests, needs, pain, and suffering.

I am hopeful that someday sanity will prevail. And we have to do the right thing regardless. I was raised and educated to do the best I can and make life better for others and change the world. It’s part of my constitution. Who knows how many people will see these exhibits—in seven cities in the country—and be informed and inspired by them.

This interview is currently on the college home page.

Slideshow of Student Art from the Ashes of War

Afghanistan: What is Human Security?

Human security is a concept that focuses on the protection of individuals; challenging the traditional idea of national security that simply seeks to defend the physical and political integrity of a state. It's a big idea.

The greatest threats to human security is armed violence; destroying lives, opportunity and the hopes of millions for a better future. The current conditions in Afghanistan shows the devastating effect of thirty years of war. These wars have been fueled by invading armies as well as massive weapons transfers by the international community to various militia and resistance forces.

Trying to mitigate the impact of on-going wars does not work. The international community clearly has a responsibility to provide generous and transparent assistance to the people of Afghanistan. The repair and recovery will take place sooner with the removal of foreign military forces. The global humanitarian assistance website illustrates the challenges.

What you will find

One in four refugees in the world in 2009 was from Afghanistan
United Nations High Commissioner for Human rights

A child born in Afghanistan has the world’s highest probability of dying by age 5 World Health Organization(2008)- Ranked 195 of 195

Life expectancy is 42 years old
World Health Organization(2008)- Ranked 187 of 188

Adult literacy is 28%
UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (2007) - Ranked 189 of 190

Human Development Index: Ranked 155 of 169 (Human Development Report, 2010)

Global Peace Index: Ranked 147 of 149 (Institute for Economics & Peace, 2010)

Additional Resource: End Reliance on Military Solutions

The number of US Troops in Afghanistan: 100,000
Cost per year to deploy those troops: $100 Billion

Monday, March 28, 2011

If I Had A Trillion Dollars…

Last month five participants from the If I Had A Trillion Dollars Youth Video Contest went to Washington. Their videos - among almost 50 submitted - had received top honors from a panel of judges. We brought them to the nations capitol to meet with elected officials, policymakers, and the activist community to share their videos about how war spending could be better used on human needs. Their visit came days after the President submitted his budget for 2012.

Kyane Strother, Alia Holness, Anays Mercedes and Richardson Joseph from Boston and Briseida Montiel from the Bronx arrived in DC anxious, excited and nervous to be presenting their winning videos to Congress. After a lobby training at Friends Committee on National Legislation and a briefing on the federal budget from AFSC and NPP staff, they were ready to meet members of Congress and send their message of cutting the military budget.

After two congressional briefings at The Capitol and over 15 congressional office visits, the youth headed to the iconic Busboys and Poets coffeehouse in Washington DC. There, they met with DC-area youth and discussed the issues in their communities. Afterwards, the youth were honored and the winning videos were screened to an audience of nearly 100 people.

"I never expected to have my video shown to members of Congress and I never expected I would be in Washington DC," said 19-year old Briseida Montiel of Bronx, New York. Briseida found out about the video contest while participating in a young women's empowerment project at the Sadie Nash Leadership Project. Her video was the first this aspiring filmmaker had ever attempted to do. Now, Briseida is considering studying video production next year in college.

"We entered the video contest on a whim so it is amazing to have had this opportunity to share our video in DC," said Wesley Richardson, an adult mentor at Amplify Me, an after school media project in Boston.

"The most exciting part for me was getting offered an internship in Senator Kerry's office. It was amazing to be able to meet his staff in DC," said Alia Holness, a sophomore from Boston. Alia and the other youth from Boston had the opportunity to talk with staffers in their Senator's office as well as all their Congressman's office. Each staff member received a DVD of their winning video and information from AFSC and NPP on budget priorities.

To see the winning videos and find out more information on the "If I Had A Trillion Dollars" Youth Video Contest, click here.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

NATO Airstrike Kills Seven Civilians

A statement issued by the Helmand provincial governor's office said seven people — two men, two women and three children — were killed when coalition forces fired on the suspects. Those killed were in another vehicle traveling near the targeted ones.

The use of force could not stand in greater contrast to the video call by the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers who planted 55 trees - for peace - at a school in Kabul. The ceremony was to usher in the Afghan New Year, and call attention to their hopes for a new way of living, a non-violent way of rebuilding the country

Additional Resource:

“We believe that it is morally unacceptable to allow military tactics to lead our response to human crises. The current foreign military assault on Libya is a step in the wrong direction, one that may lead the country to further instability, human suffering, and protracted violent conflict.“

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Review: Inspiring Peace Work

The global day of listening last weekend commemorated the eighth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and Nowroz the Afghan new year. It started with a peace walk in Kabul, captured above. The Afghan led activities also featured a solidarity visit from international peace delegates organized by Voices for Creative Nonviolence. These young Afghans are pioneering nonviolent strategies to end the violence in their country.

A Woman Among Warlords
Malalai Joya US National Speaking Tour Begins

After being denied a visa that prevented her from attending the first venues of her tour, the decision was reversed on Wednesday. The strategies to reverse the decision was an amazing educational and outreach effort that called attention to the war and the need to hear Afghan voices. There was a letter from elected officials (three Senators and six Representatives) asking that she be allowed into the country, commentary from major media outlets, and petitions, including the argument of ideological exclusion organized by the ACLU and PEN America. Check here to see if the tour is coming to your community

AFSC Statement on Libya

“We believe that it is morally unacceptable to allow military tactics to lead our response to human crises. The current foreign military assault on Libya is a step in the wrong direction, one that may lead the country to further instability, human suffering, and protracted violent conflict.”

Windows and Mirrors
Reflections on the War in Afghanistan

The travelling mural exhibit opens this evening in North Carolina to begin a three-week run. Please alert any friends you have in the area to the many community events and activities.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Kabul Transit

I am often asked which films I like on Afghanistan. One I often recommend is Kabul Transit. It is a haunting film that stays with you. The singer in the clip above is Ahmad Zahir. The format - a kind of randomness - makes you feel a part of the city. You meet kite flyers, herbalists, money changers and young women studying at university as you pass through. You learn about the fabric of the city. Including the impact of the Soviet war as told through the ruins of the massive cultural center that was built in the 1980’s. Vintage film stock offers a rare glimpse back in time.

Take a moment to poke around their web page and look at the clips that have been put on YouTube. You will be rewarded.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Frontier Gandhi: A Torch for Peace

Twenty-one years in the making, The Frontier Gandhi: Badshah Khan, A Torch for Peace launches into orbit the epic story of a remarkable Muslim peacemaker born into Pashtun warrior society of the strategic North-West Frontier Province of the Indian subcontinent — now Pakistan’s frontier region Kyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Pronounced “a miracle” by Mahatma Gandhi, Badshah Khan (1890-1988) raised a 100,000 strong nonviolent army of men, women, and young people — the Khudai Khidmatgars, or servants of God — drawn from the multi-ethnic traditions of Afghanistan and India. This movement united diverse tribes for an astounding 17 years to end British colonial rule. They were Muslims, as well as Hindus, Christians, Parsees, Sikhs, and Buddhists came together in the cause of peace, social justice, religious tolerance, and human dignity for all.

“In our fight for freedom, women stood shoulder to shoulder with the men in the Khudai Khidmatgar movement. We tended to the wounded. And we did whatever else we could to support the cause of nonviolence.”
–Lady Husn Afroza, A Khudai Khidmatgar (servant of God, soldier of peace), Pakistan

Filmed in Afghanistan, Khyber Pass, Pakistan, India, United States, and Canada, the film includes rare historical footage, surprisingly candid interviews with world leaders, testimony from 63 of Badshah Khan’s nonviolent warriors — most beyond the age of 100 years — and a score by acclaimed world music pioneer David Amram. Legendary Indian actor, Om Puri, brings alive the thoughts and writings of Badshah Khan.

Nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize, Badshah Khan’s improbable life and legacy remain little known. He died in 1988 at the age of 98 having spent nearly 35 years in solitary confinement for his efforts to humanize humanity.

Additional Resources:

For a in-depth review of events in Afghanistan at the time of his death in 1988 look at this article from Eqbal Ahmad and Richard J. Barnet

Bloody Games (The New Yorker Magazine | April 1988)

To understand the legacy he left in Pakistan read Missing Badshan Khan

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Windows and Mirrors | North Carolina

Tell Your Friends

Friday 25 March – Friday 15 April

Guilford College Library
5800 W. Market St
Greensboro, NC 27410

Full schedule of events here,
Full description here.
Windows and Mirrors poster here.

Worship in the manner of Friends
Friday 25 March | 5:30 PM
Guilford College Library Atrium.
Sponsored by the Guilford College Quaker Leader Scholars Program.

Opening Reception
Friday 25 March | 7 PM
Guilford College Library Atrium.

Muslims in America and Islamophobia
Thursday 31 March | 7 PM
New Garden Friends Meeting, 805 New Garden Road.
Panel discussion:
Nihad Awad, Director, Council on American Islamic Relations
Local residents art by Todd Drake, "Muslim Self Portraits"
See the Muslims in America facebook group here.

Christianity and War
Tuesday 5 April | 7:30 PM
Guilford College Gallery (Founders Hall).
Panel discussion covering the spectrum of Christian responses to war.

The Economic Cost of War
Friday 15 April | 7 PM
Guilford College Library Atrium.
Peter Lems, American Friends Service Committee, Philadelphia, PA

Kill Teams in Afghanistan

The Afghanistan Rights Monitor a Kabul-based independent human rights organization has asked the United States government to investigate its military units in the wake of publication by German news magazine Der Spiegel of US soldiers posing with the corpses of Afghan civilians they allegedly killed.

"Details of the kill team's shocking crimes are unclear as the US military has kept everything in the dark apparently in order to protect its image and to avoid potential social unrest in Afghanistan,' Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM) said in a statement.

'The kill team's crimes are utterly unjustifiable and so are the efforts to conceal or camouflage them..."

The Afghans for Peace web page has more background to the story.

The soldiers involved belonged to a Stryker Brigade Combat Team dubbed 'kill team' for its disproportionate killings operated in the volatile southern province of Kandahar in Afghanistan in 2010.

A couple of wars ago I was on a panel organized by the First Person arts festival here in Philadelphia with Colby Buzzell. He was promoting his new book ‘My War: Killing Time in Iraq.” He was a part of a Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Iraq. Currently 12 members of a Stryker Brigade are now on trial for murder in Afghanistan.

What was clear from his book - and his comments - is that the broad open-fire orders and a mission "to locate, capture and kill all non compliant forces" created an environment where everybody was seen as the enemy.

Additional Resource: War in the Digital Age

Friday, March 18, 2011

Global Day of Listening

"live without wars"
March 19-21*, 2011

Make time this weekend to be a part of an extraordinary three-day global listening project. The schedule is designed to allow you to join for hours of just minutes. Don’t be intimidated. I have been on past calls and was transformed. The vision is to bring people together, hear and share testimonies, and strengthen our strategies for nonviolent social change.

Here is a link that has the schedule of activities and the call-in numbers to join this inspiring community.

Three full days of dialogue gives you a lot to choose from, here is a detailed schedule.

There will be reports from the international solidarity delegation in Afghanistan, updates from members of Our Journey to Smile, presentations from Afghans for Peace, and moments of silence to commemorate the beginning of the 2003 war in Iraq.

You will hear testimonies from Iraqis working with the Muslim Peacemaker Teams, and updates from peace activists from around the world seeking to end their government’s roles in the wars. These stories, these testimonies, and these lives are why we work to end the wars.

Make time this weekend to be inspired.

Here are some links to the incredible groups that will be featured.

Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers (blog)
Afghans for Peace
Iraqi & American Reconciliation Project
Voices for Creative Nonviolence

C.I.A. Drones Kill Civilians in Pakistan

ONE day after a CIA contractor (Raymond Davis) was absolved by a Pakistani court of a double murder charge, Pakistan and US relations were plunged into a new crisis over a CIA-directed drone missile strike that Pakistan said killed at least 36 civilians. Here is some background to the case involving the former special forces soldier.

Salman Masood reported from Islamabad, and Pir Zubair Shah from New York.

Several missiles fired from American drone aircraft on Thursday struck a meeting of local people in northwest Pakistan who had gathered with Taliban mediators to settle a dispute over a chromite mine. The attack, a Pakistani intelligence official said, killed 26 of 32 people present, some of them Taliban fighters, but the majority elders and local people not attached to the militants.

The Pakistani military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, issued an unusual and unusually strong condemnation of the attack. “It is highly regrettable that a jirga of peaceful citizens, including elders of the area, was carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard to human life,” the statement said.

About four missiles fired from one or more drones hit the meeting, known as a jirga, of two tribes and Taliban mediators who had gathered on open ground at a market in Datta Khel, in North Waziristan, according to two residents who live nearby in Miram Shah.

“The Taliban will never gather in such a large number in broad daylight to be targeted by the drones,” according to a resident who did not want to be identified for fear of running afoul of the militants. “It has been a big mistake to target the jirga, as it will have severe consequences.”

The drone strikes on Thursday were the second such barrage in two days in Datta Khel, and the sixth in the tribal areas in the past week, according to The Long War Journal, a Web site that monitors the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Resource: Emphasis Regional Diplomacy

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Windows and Mirrors

Windows and Mirrors is a travelling mural exhibit that makes a powerful statement on a nearly invisible reality. Take a moment to see if it is coming to your city.

The forty-five unique panels created by international artists and US students help us imagine the experience of Afghan civilians - from death and destruction to hopes for peace. Drawings by Afghan students in Kabul – collected in June 2010 – provide an up close look at life in a war zone.

At over 900 square feet, this mural is not a single painting, but an oversized statement on the human cost of war. It is not the voice of one person, but that of an engaged artistic community. Their collective voice comes through with power and volume, speaking to us on both intellectual and emotional levels.

The "windows" they have created to help us feel the impact on the Afghan people, become "mirrors" reflecting our own identity as citizens of a nation at war — and call us to act.


Warrior Writers is a project to create a community among those returning from war, addressing the alienation they experience. Through spoken word, poetry and visual arts these former soldiers attempt to make sense of what they have done, and what they have seen.

Jen Pacanowski read We Are Not Your Heroes and Chantelle Bateman read Pretty Lady at closing session of the Philadelphia Windows and Mirrors exhibit. Check out the recordings.

People Power vs Washington

Juan Cole writes on the impact of US policy in the Arab World. Highlighting the power of non-military (people centered) alternatives that can transform oppressive governments.

“The claim that George W. Bush’s war of aggression against Iraq somehow opened up the Middle East to reform is an affront to the brave crowds that have risked their lives to change the American-backed order in that part of the world. Bush’s invasion was followed by no significant reforms in the region, whereas the outbreak of people power today has scared autocratic regimes into making unheard-of concessions. Iraq itself is no shining beacon on a hill for the people of the Middle East, but rather is a target of protests and an object lesson among the protesters of what to avoid.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Wishful Thinking

General Petraeus is in Washington to testify to the wars. I have a prediction. The message will be one of progress - with conditions. After all, he will want more money, more troops and more weapons.

Sound familiar?

Josuha Foust looks into the annual declarations that we have reached a turning point. Mining a variety of sources going back to 2002 you see patterns of escalation always leading to the belief that the corner has been turned.

What each breakthrough has in common is the notion of crushing the enemy; at times Al-Qaeda at times Taliban. Collectively, this pattern exposes a myth. That military power can resolve a complex 30 year history of violence that has traumatized a people and damaged institutions of power.

“The sad fact of the matter is, the one year where there aren’t a bunch of stories about turning points in the war in Afghanistan is 2001, which is also the one year when there probably were a number of turning points in the war. That was the year the U.S. had the opportunity to corner the destroy al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, but it chose not to. That was the year the U.S. had swept aside the Taliban and could have chosen to begin an era of responsible Afghan rule, but it chose not to. That was the year everything happened.

This year probably does mark another turning point in the war. The July 2011 deadline looms largely, though in a mostly symbolic sense. This is the year troop strength will peak, and is probably the last year in which the U.S. can have a definitive, nation-wide effect on the ability of the Taliban to wage war. It’s all downhill from here, in other words. A real turning point.”

That sober reflection on what might have been a 'military victory' in 2001 fails to note that the real turning point was in the weeks before the invasion. It was then that the US could have chosen to strengthen international institutions of justice to hold those accountable. Imagine where we would be today if we had invested a fraction of the war resources (and energy) in developing strong institutions that would protect all people. Not just the powerful.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tip of the Iceberg

Every minute of every day the United States government spends $2.1 million on the military.

Over the weekend, the NYT’s featured a half page graphic on the back of the week in review section highlighting Pentagon weapons systems that are boondoggles...

“Unworkable or unnecessary systems [that] tend to have something in common: their costs are often uncontrollable. A 2009 Government Accountability Office study of 96 major defense acquisition programs found that almost two-thirds of them suffered major cost overruns — 40 percent above contract prices, over all — with average delays of nearly two years. Those overruns totaled close to $300 billion, about the amount of President Bill Clinton’s last full defense budget request a decade ago.“

The word mask's the real violence behind this weapons systems and the institution itself.

The author, John Arquilla is a professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School and author of “Worst Enemy: The Reluctant Transformation of the American Military”. He is making the point that the proposed (long-term) cuts announced by Secretary Gates were not enough. His figures reveal the parameters of cuts and restraint that have insider support. Think bookends on the low end. Neither author is going to challenge the tremendous increase of power and money the Pentagon has received in the post 9/11 era.

But the reality is that the US Government spends more than $1 trillion dollars a year on the military. People around the world are not safer and we are not more secure. Take a look at the real numbers on the updated One Minute for Peace page.

AFSC Resource: End Reliance on Military Solutions

Friday, March 11, 2011

Bagram Prison: A Profile

Martine van Bijlert is one of the bloggers with the Afghanistan Analysts Network. This lengthy profile documents the randomness of arrest sweeps and the terrible conditions of detention. This remarkable story (unique only because it is told) shows the insidious alliance between various American and Afghan special forces and the role of the US controlled detention center. The International Committee of the Red Crescent (ICRC) makes an appearance, but the delivery of letters falls short of the protections they propose to enforce. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission as an Afghan body to ensure the rights of Afghans is shown as powerless with the US center.

“There are so many stories of people who get caught up in the nightly operations by American and Afghan forces. In the search for 'kill & capture' targets the net is cast wide: once a door is kicked in all males in a household are usually taken for interrogation. And it is then anyone's guess when they will be released again.

One story - out of many - of how an unlucky sleep-over resulted in years of detention, and what those years were like.”

His release it telling.

I was released a few weeks ago. At my release an American colonel apologized to me. He said that they had concluded that I was innocent and that I had worked for the good of Afghanistan. He said that after 2.5 years! They gave me a bottle of perfume, but they did not return my possessions. When I was arrested I had $6000 on me, as an advance for the medicines, and also my mobile phone and some afghanis. They did not give them back yet. At the time I didn't say anything, I just wanted to leave. But they should give it back.”

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Obama’s War Revisited

In October 2009 Frontline broadcast the show Obama’s War.

It was an ambitious film that sought to understand the President's strategy one year after winning the election with a campaign pledge to focus on the war in Afghanistan. The film crew accompanies US troops being deployed to Helmand province as part of a now long-ago military surge.

We hear about the ambitions of nation-building. Instead, what is revealed is mistrust, violence, and frustration over language and culture misunderstandings. We see that the US military does not have the will or the expertise to build nations.

The opening scene sets the stage (1:35). A sergeants voice is recorded preparing his troops for deployment. This is what he says.

“Make no mistake. We’re experts in the application of violence. We are attacking to seize control of the populations from the Taliban. The people are our objective…”

This remains the foundation of our policy and continues to fuel violence and instability in the country.

Note: The film was produced before the announcement in December of 2010 that President Obama would send an additional 30,000 US troops.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Challenging the Notion of Progress

Today the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission released their 2010 Annual Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.

2010 has been – again – the deadliest year for Afghan civilians since the US-led military intervention against the Taliban regime commenced almost ten years ago. Since 2005 the violence against civilians has been increasing each year. Last year witnessed a 15% increase in civilian deaths from 2009.

For those of you not familiar with the language of UN agencies in Afghanistan the violence is divided into two broad categories; pro-government (this includes NATO and US forces) and anti-government (this includes the Taliban and many local and regional actors resisting the government). Many Afghans condemn all the violence from all the sides, US Troops, NATO, Afghan Forces, Taliban, and Warlords.

The report (85 pages) documents many levels of violence. From increased aerial assaults, to assassinations, suicide attacks and improvised explosive devices. It is heartbreaking.

The scale of the violence makes the US narrative on progress sound hollow and dishonest.

One-hundredth of 1 percent

That’s the percentage of the United States Institute for Peace budget as compared to the Pentagon.

As a government funded agency, the institute has a critical role to play in seeking to instill principles of conflict prevention and diplomacy into structures of decision making that to often depend on military aid and military action to resolve conflict.

Anthony C. Zinni, a retired Marine general and commander in chief of the United States Central Command from 1997 to 2000, offers an unexpected (to some) defense of the institute.

Petraeus Policy Primer

Next week General Petraeus will testify before Congress. As with the December review fragile gains will be stressed. The NYT’s cuts to the chase with its headline: Military Progress in Afghanistan.

What may not be revealed – as was the case with the classified December review - is the real impact of escalating military action. And the ways it prevents peacebuilding and reconciliation, critical priorities of Afghans as they struggle to repair the damage of war.

“Under General Petraeus, the tempo of operations has been stepped up enormously. American Special Operations forces and coalition commandos have mounted more than 1,600 missions in the 90 days before March 4 — an average of 18 a night — and the troops have captured and killed close to 3,000 insurgents, according to information provided by the general.”

“Other aspects of the war remain difficult, and progress is patchy and slow, General Petraeus conceded. There has been only modest momentum on efforts to persuade Taliban fighters to give up the fight and join a reintegration program, and a plan to train and install thousands of local police officers in rural communities to mobilize resistance to the Taliban has proved to be a painstaking business constrained by concerns that it will create militias loyal to warlords.”

Our friends at Rethink Afghanistan have a clever video juxtaposition from Monday’s press conference by Secretary Gates where he also articulates the ‘progress message’ in preparation for the congressional meetings. You should check it out.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

US Predators kill 5 in South Waziristan

Unmanned US Predators struck inside Pakistan's tribal areas for the first time in 11 days. The strike killed five "militants" in the tribal agency of South Waziristan.

The Predators or the more heavily armed Reapers fired two missiles at a compound in the village of Landidog about 12 miles west of Wana, the main town in South Waziristan. The compound is owned by "a local tribesman named as Fazal Karam, Dawn reported.

Click here for more analysis.

Getting Away With Murder?

Last year Spencer Ackerman writing in the blog Danger Room documented the escalation of air power (and bombings) under General Petraeus.

It is not a new tactic. In fact, it has been an on and off campaign over the years. The reason it is cyclical - and has been reduced at times - is Afghan anger over civilian deaths that accompany massive indiscriminate power. To revisit the policy says something about immunity and a disregard for Afghan lives.

“The air war over Afghanistan has reached a post-invasion high. Unfortunately for the U.S., Afghan anger over air strikes is soaring as well.

No group of people is going to be enthusiastic about a foreign power dropping bombs on their countrymen, as the Pakistanis can attest. But a new poll from the Washington Post, ABC News and the BBC finds that 73 percent of Afghans say that U.S. air strikes are “unacceptable.” That’s an increase from the last survey, which found 66 percent opposition to the U.S. air war last December.”

Two years ago Amnesty International also addressed the issue of immunity and civilian casualties in a report called Getting Away With Murder? The Impunity of International Forces in Afghanistan. Update 1: There are now more US troops in Afghanistan, and a greater reliance on armed drones, helicopter gunships, and warplanes. Update 2: There remains little accountability by foreign forces in Afghanistan. Here is what the report found in 2009.

“There is now a persistent perception among many Afghans that international forces in Afghanistan do not sufficiently consider the wellbeing of ordinary Afghans—a perception successfully reinforced by the propaganda effort of the Taliban and other anti-government forces."

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Friday Roundtable - Death in Afghanistan

Kathy Kelly looks at the human cost - in Afghanistan with lives lost and here with lost opportunity.

“Recent polls suggest that while a majority of U.S. people disapprove of the war in Afghanistan, many on grounds of its horrible economic cost, only 3% took the war into account when voting in the 2010 midterm elections. The issue of the economy weighed heavily on voters, but the war and its cost, though clear to them and clearly related to the economy in their thinking, was a far less pressing concern.

U.S. people, if they do read or hear of it, may be shocked at the apparent unconcern of the crews of two U.S. helicopter gunships, which attacked and killed nine children on a mountainside in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, shooting them “one after another” this past Tuesday March 1st.”

Stephen M Walt (Hearts Minds and Gunships: What are we really doing in Afghanistan?) notes that winning hearts and minds sounds good on paper and puts a ‘humanitarian’ veneer on our troop presence. But it is a policy that is not politically neutral.

“[Using the military to protect] a local population often requires interfering with their daily lives in sometimes onerous and bothersome ways, whether through the construction of massive concrete barriers (as in Baghdad), or "strategic hamlets" (as in Vietnam), or through intrusive search missions in local villages. Even when we are in fact improving the security of the local population, that may not be how the people we are supposedly protecting perceive it. In the Pech Valley, at least, the local population mostly wanted us to get out and leave them alone.”

Nowhere to Turn: The Failure to Protect Civilians in Afghanistan.

Oxfam International with 28 aid agencies working in Afghanistan released this report in November. The goal was to influence the NATO summit that was to take place in Lisbon. The paper argues that military solutions don’t work, and that the protection of Afghans is better achieved with a comprehensive and transparent political solution. The challenges are daunting.

"2010 is the deadliest year for Afghan civilians since 2001. According to UNAMA Human Rights, there were 1,271 civilian deaths in the first six months of 2010 - an increase of 21% on the same period last year."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Nine Afghan Boys Killed by Helicopter Gunships

Alissa Rubin writing in the New York Times gives graphic detail about the killing of nine Afghan boys by NATO helicopter gunships. It is a story about rockets and the use of overwhelming violence. It is a story about poverty and anger towards the United States and its NATO allies. It is a story about the impact of war.

Extensive drone surveillance and all of the other spying available to the U.S. military didn’t stop these bombers from killing nine children they believed to be enemies.

Earlier, the Washington Post reported that more than 200 Afghans were killed in a two week period of February - calling it the deadliest period for civilians since the war began.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What Does the US Spend on 'National Security'?

$1.2 Trillion/Year

Get the facts behind this number by reading this helpful tutorial. Chris Hellman of the National Priorities Project documents and reveals the many aspects of government spending (some open – others obscured) that are labeled as national security. The total is $1.2 trillion per year. It is a number nobody wants you to know.

Reference Guide:

What is the difference between a million, a billion and a trillion?

• A stack of hundred dollar bills that equals one MILLION dollars would be four inches high.

• A stack of hundred dollar bills that equals one BILLION dollars would be thirty feet taller than the Statue of Liberty.

• A stack of hundred dollar bills that equals one TRILLION dollars would be 63 miles high. In comparison, jet planes fly around 7 to 8 miles above the earth.

Put another way.

A country with a gross domestic product of $1.2 trillion would have the 15th largest economy in the world, ranking between Canada and Indonesia, and ahead of Australia, Taiwan, the Netherlands, and Saudi Arabia.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Hidden War

Sari Kouvo reviews steps being taken in Afghanistan to explore transitional justice and the healing process that can come about through truth and reconciliation.

"While most policymakers in the West and in Afghanistan have been talking this year about the prospect of negotiations with the Taliban, transitional justice, an important element of any comprehensive peace process, has received much less attention. Transitional justice -- the process of dealing with legacies of past war crimes and human rights violations -- has always been an awkward subject for the Afghan government and for some of its more powerful international partners, which are implicated in previous injustices. However, some Afghan and international organizations have carefully laid the groundwork for a transitional justice agenda."

A broader survey of this issue is in the current issue of the International Journal of Transitional Justice. When Truth Commissions Improve Human Rights.

Most studies of truth commissions assert their positive role in improving human rights. A first wave of research made these claims based on qualitative analysis of a single truth commission or a small number of cases. Thirty years of experience with truth commissions and dozens of examples allow cross-national statistical studies to assess these findings. Two recent studies undertake that project. Their findings, which are summarized in this article, challenge the prevailing view that truth commissions foster human rights, showing instead that commissions, when used alone, tend to have a negative impact on human rights. Truth commissions have a positive impact, however, when used in combination with trials and amnesties. This article extends the question of whether truth commissions improve human rights to how, when and why they succeed or fail in doing so.

I Wish To Live Without Wars

A powerful message of solidarity from young Afghans working with Our Journey to Smile.

The video pays homage to the struggles for freedom in Tunisia and Egypt and the hope it has inspired across the region. They also request our help, to draw attention to the People Day of Peace in Afghanistan - New Years Day.

I Wish To Live Without Wars
The Peoples Day of Peace
Afghan New Years Day
21 March 2011

Afghans for Peace

The growing use of "night raids" by NATO-led and Afghan forces to kill or capture insurgents is one of the most controversial strategies in the Afghan war.

Here are testimonials of survivors.

Don’t We Deserve Real War News?

Kelley Vlahos documents the exploding violence against Afghans in February.
"A suicide bomber killed more than 30 government employees on Monday in Kunduz Province – a northern city in Afghanistan which, until recently, had been relatively safe from Taliban influence and the raging war in the south.

Less than a week before, the district governor of the neighboring Chardara district was assassinated. Last Friday, a car bomb killed nine people at a checkpoint in the eastern province of Khost. On Sunday, Taliban fighters blew themselves up in a Kabul Bank branch in Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan, killing 38 and wounding scores more. The dead had been mostly soldiers and police officers, collecting their pay."
Afghanistan 101 is a blog of the American Friends Service Committee
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