Archive for July, 2009

The Washington Post today reports that Gen. McChrystal is likely about to request more troops for the stated rationale of protecting the civilian population in Afghanistan. President Obama should deny this request because no past increase in U.S. troops in Afghanistan prevented a subsequent yearly increase in a) civilian casualties generally or b) civilian casualties specifically caused by pro-Afghan-government forces (that’s us, folks).

From a new report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA):

Operations carried out by PGF [pro-government forces] have resulted in a growing number of civilian casualties since 2007. Whereas the overall proportion of civilian deaths attributed to the PGF has declined in recent years, mainly due to concerted mitigation efforts, the actual number of civilian deaths continues to increase.

UNAMA’s report shows that troop increases in Afghanistan for the purpose of reducing civilian deaths are all repeats of a failed tactic. Note this chart from BBC:

Source: BBC News

Source: BBC News

U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan have increased every year since 2001.

The data clearly show that escalation as a tactic to reduce civilian casualties does not work. Systematic collection of civilian fatality data only began in 2007,” but if we begin our analysis in that year, we find:

  • No escalation has been followed by a subsequent overall decrease in civilian casualties in the following year. To the contrary: each year following an increase in U.S. troops since we started systematic collection of civilian casualty data has seen an increase in civilian casualties over the previous year.
  • In 2007, the Afghan NGO Safety Office estimated that “1,980 civilians were killed”.
  • In 2008, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) recorded “2,118 civilian casualties.”
  • According to the UNAMA report, “In the first six months of 2009, UNAMA recorded 1013 civilian deaths, compared with 818 for the same period in 2008, and 684 in 2007…This represents an increase of 24% of civilian casualties in the first six months of 2009 as compared to the same period in 2008.”

    Further, escalation as a tactic to reduce civilian casualties caused by pro-Afghan-government forces also fails:

    • In every year since systematic civilian casualty data collection started, civilian casualties caused by pro-government forces (PGFs) per year have increased.
    • In 2007, PGFs caused 539 civilian casualties, according to the Afghan NGO Safety Office.
    • In 2008, UNAMA reported 826 PGF-caused civilian casualties.
    • From January-June 2009, UNAMA reports 310 PGF-caused civilian casualties, compared with 276 for the same period last year.

    All of these facts, taken together, show that troop increases do not prevent increases in a) civilian deaths generally or b) civilian deaths caused specifically by pro-government forces (that’s us).

    McChrystal is expected to couch a request for troop increases in the context of a larger new strategy. At least one piece of the new strategy is worth applauding:

    “…McChrystal has indicated that he is considering moving troops out of remote mountain valleys where Taliban fighters have traditionally sought sanctuary and concentrating more forces around key population centers.”

    This move tracks with recommendations by Giles Dorronsoro at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as part of a strategy to sharply reduce military conflict in Afghanistan, which he suggests should become the overriding goal of near-term U.S. policy in Afghanistan. But, Dorronsoro suggests moving troops out of the remote contested areas in Afghanistan to population centers as the first step in a strategy that withdraws U.S. troops from Afghanistan. So, despite this apparent area of agreement, McChrystal’s reported overall strategy is headed in exactly the wrong direction, digging us deeper into Afghanistan.

    When you add to that McChrystal’s planned escalation of drone strikes inside Afghanistan against the Taliban, it’s hard to see how his “new” strategy will reduce civilian casualties. After all, experience in Pakistan shows that drones strikes kill 10-15 times as many civilians as they do suspected militants. And if we withdraw troops on the ground from remote areas and replace them with drones, doesn’t that contradict the last rationale we were given for putting boots on the ground–to reduce reliance on airstrikes that kill so many civilians?

    McChrystal’s new strategy is headed in the wrong direction. We should decrease, not increase, the number of troops in Afghanistan. Troop increases do not reduce civilian deaths.

    For more on civilian casualties in Afghanistan, check out Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistan, and in particular their segment on civilian casualties.

    The United States should pursue strategies in Afghanistan that focus on reducing civilian deaths and enhancing stability.  However, a report today by Julian Barnes at the LA Times shows that the U.S. is shifting drones from hunting al-Qaida to attacking suspected Taliban in Afghanistan, a shift likely to cause more civilian deaths and further destabilization.

    This actual policy of escalating drone strikes runs exactly counter to the “official policy” of reducing airstrikes and civilian casualties in Afghanistan under McChrystal’s much ballyhooed new orders. We know from experience in Pakistan that drone strikes kill far, far more civilians than they do suspected militants, and that drone operators in other branches of the U.S. government are firing their weapons even when they lack intelligence to back them up. Ratcheting up their use in Afghanistan will mean more dead civilians, and a higher ratio of civilian-to-militant death.

    While the rationale offered for increasing drone attacks against the Taliban is to “prevent the country from slipping deeper into anarchy,” their use could very likely have the opposite effect. Again, as we’ve seen in Pakistan, rampant drone attacks were used against targets under the rationale of preventing the country from ‘falling into anarchy.’ However, their use helped contribute to one of the largest human migrations in recent history, actually pushing the country closer to anarchy. Drones will not help stabilize Afghanistan.

    If the U.S. wants to reduce civilian casualties and enhance stability in Afghanistan, we should decrease, not increase, the number of drone-based airstrikes.

    I just sent this email to my friends and family. We’re working to get a new nonprofit off the ground in Texas to provide nonviolence trainings to people and groups around the state. Please donate if you can:

    monarchlogo_webAs some of you may already know, Laurie (my wife) and I, together with a co-worker, have incorporated a new non-profit in the state of Texas called Texas Nonviolence Resource. One of the primary purposes of this new organization is to help raise money and provide trainers for local groups hosting nonviolence trainings. We’re sending you this email to offer you the chance to support our work with a financial contribution so we can get started.

    Please donate online: http://bit.ly/11zKbs

    We’ve got our first nonviolence training scheduled in November in Austin, Texas, at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church. The training will consist of 20 hours of Creating a Culture of Peace education, involving two trained facilitators (myself included) and 20-30 participants. The trainees will not only get in-depth popular education about violence, nonviolence, social action and group decision-making; they’ll also plan concrete projects to improve their local communities.

    So, not only will your contribution help train these folks, but you will also be partially responsible for these projects’ positive impact. And, these trainings are the prerequisite for folks who want to become trainers themselves, so there’s the possibility that your donation will have additional impact with dozens of other trainees down the road.

    Would you be willing to help fund this training and others like it through your financial contribution? We appreciate any donation amount. When you’re considering how much to give, please keep in mind that each training costs roughly $2,000 to host (which, if you’re familiar at all with any kind of conference or training program for this number of people and training hours, that really is a bargain). Also, please keep in mind that because we’re just starting out, we lack a large fundraising list, so we’re really counting on the support of like-minded friends and family to get started.

    Here’s an estimate of what your donations can provide:

    * $25 – printed handouts and certificates for the entire training.
    * $50 – training fees for one attendee.
    * $100 – training and food costs for one attendee for the full four days of the training.
    * $500 – travel and housing for a facilitator.
    * $1,000 – reduces by half the sign-up fees for 20-30 participants.
    * $2,000 – funds an entire 20-hour training for 20-30 people.

    Of course, we welcome any donation amount.

    Please donate online: http://bit.ly/11zKbs

    (If you have any trouble with this link, please feel free to email or call me and I’ll walk you through it.)

    Thanks for any donation you can make. We know times are tough, and we would not be asking anyone to part with any of their hard-earned, hard-to-come-by money if we didn’t believe in this work with all our hearts.

    If you’d prefer to mail us a donation, you can send it to:

    Texas Nonviolence Resource
    c/o Derrick and Laurie Crowe
    9009 Great Hills Trail #2613
    Austin, Texas 78759

    Please make out any checks to “Texas Nonviolence Resource.”

    The sooner we get the donations rounded up, the sooner the second facilitator for the training can buy her travel tickets–which means your prompt donation could help participants save on training fees.

    If you want to learn more about the kind of training we’ll provide, feel free to visit http://www.creatingacultureofpeace.org.

    If you want to stay updated on this new project, you can visit http://texasnonviolenceresource.org. (It’s just a logo right now, but stay tuned…I’m working furiously on the site on my lunch breaks.)

    Sincerely,

    Derrick Crowe
    derrick.crowe@hotmail.com
    http://texasnonviolenceresource.org
    202.669.9852 cell

    P.S. You may be wondering about the tax status of your donation. We are currently in the process of applying for a tax exemption from the IRS. If we get a favorable determination from them, the tax deductible status applies all the way back to March of this year. So, while you probably shouldn’t deduct your donation yet, once we get our exemption we’ll email all of you and let you know so you can make sure to count it on your federal returns. Please donate if you can! http://bit.ly/11zKbs

    I was baffled by the cavalier attitude displayed yesterday by Richard Holbrooke about violence in Afghanistan. Sounding positively Dick-Cheney-ish, Dick Holbrooke waved away concerns about the potential of widespread violence to damage the legitimacy of the upcoming elections. Here he is during an NPR interview, emphasis mine:

    Q: Wouldn’t the people, though, who can’t vote think maybe it wasn’t fair because their voices can’t be heard?

    HOLBROOKE: Does that invalidate the election? If that’s true, the 2004 election in the United States should be questioned. Because a lot of the voters in Ohio stood in lines and the polls closed and they were left out there not voting. And that was in the world’s greatest and oldest democracy.

    Elections are rarely perfect. This election, in unprecedented wartime conditions, is certainly not going to be without its rough spots. It’s the integrity of the voting process in the middle of a brutal war. How many countries would have had the courage to hold an election under these circumstances? But Afghanistan is, and they should be given credit for it.

    Yes, Dick, obviously those are analogous situations. We all remember the Taliban planting IEDs in Cleveland and the women immolating themselves in despair brought on by widespread rape by government officials in Columbus. The press was full of reports of Blackwater guards brandishing guns at passers-by. Remember when John Edwards almost got assassinated? I totally get your point!

    Or not:

    Hundreds of polling stations could be closed in Afghanistan’s most violent regions, raising concerns that many ethnic Pashtuns will be unable to vote in next month’s presidential elections. That could undermine the legitimacy of the election, cause turmoil and possibly deprive President Hamid Karzai of a first-round victory.

    Compare Holbrooke’s statement with this little gem from the other Dick (Cheney), coincidentally from 2004:

    “Twenty years ago we had a similar situation in El Salvador. We had hal[sic] guerrilla insurgency [that] controlled roughly a third of the country, 75,000 people dead, and we held free elections. I was there as an observer on behalf of the Congress. The human drive for freedom, the determination of these people to vote, was unbelievable. The terrorists would come in and shoot up polling places; as soon as they left, the voters would come back and get in line and would not be denied the right to vote.”

    Coincidence? Not on your life.

    The timing of Holbrooke’s comments defending the legitimacy of the election, coming before the election takes place, exposes the game plan for the weeks ahead. Holbrooke is seeking to preempt questions about election legitimacy before the election takes place because the administration plans to defend the legitimacy of the election no matter what. That’s because this is what occupiers do–what Edward Herman calls “ratification-of-conquest.”  The Obama administration needs to be able to point to a “legitimate” election so they can translate that legitimacy into a perception of legitimacy for their entire Afghanistan policy.

    For an example of how this works, see Dick Cheney, January 2006:

    And I think we’ve had a lot of good news out of Iraq over the course of the last year. It’s hard sometimes to see through that, given the continued level of violence, obviously.

    But when you look at the fact that they’ve made every political deadline that’s been set: January elections, wrote a constitution in the summer, ratified it in October, national elections in December. It’s been a — I think a remarkable success story so far.

    We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but I think the president has made the point repeatedly out there that the only way we lose is if we pack is it in and go home. And we’re clearly not going to do that.

    Or Dick Cheney, Feb. 23, 2007:

    When asked whether the Bush administration had a failed strategy in Iraq, Cheney pushed back hard, insisting there had been significant progress.

    “A failed strategy? Let’s see. We didn’t fail when we got rid of Saddam,” Cheney said. “We didn’t fail when we held elections. We didn’t fail when we got a constitution written. Those are all success stories.”

    But, most infamously, see Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, May/June, 2005, emphasis mine:

    On CNN’s ”Larry King Live” on Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney said of the violence in Iraq, ”I think they’re in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.”

    This is after May became the deadliest month for US forces since the January elections, with 76 US military casualties.

    At a press conference on Tuesday, President Bush was asked about the US casualties and the deaths of 760 Iraqis since the new Iraqi government was named April 28. A reporter asked Bush, ”Do you think that the insurgency is gaining strength and becoming more lethal?”

    Bush responded, ”I think the Iraqi people dealt the insurgents a serious blow when they, when we had the elections.”

    For the record, this month is already the deadliest month of the Afghanistan war so far.

    Purple fingers, anyone?

    Much has been made of the so-called “civilian surge” that’s supposed to accompany the military escalation in Afghanistan, but it comes with an ugly caveat: a civilian surge means an escalation in the presence of private military contractors like Xe, formerly known as Blackwater, acting as guards and bodyguards.

    Nancy Youssef’s McClatchy article last week details how the security firms are clamping down around civilian life in Kabul and beyond, driving resentment (emphasis mine).

    Huge intimidating convoys of armored SUVs now are common sights in the city’s growing traffic jams. …Nearly every day, there’s some incident involving security teams pointing guns out of windows at frightened commuters.

    “I have not faced an incident myself, but in front of me I saw foreigners shoot and kill two people in a small bus. We feel like we are condemned in our own country. They came from thousands of miles away, and my car can’t go in front of them. We are not happy about this situation,” said Mohammad Aziz Azizi, 45, the head of a cultural society.

    For anyone who’s visited Baghdad in recent years, the feeling is familiar: the tension of never knowing when violence might break out, when a wrong turn or a moment of inattention might bring one face-to-face with a security guard whose first priority is to protect the life of the person he’s assigned to.

    We’ve seen this movie before.

    These for-profit mercenaries managed to not only incense Iraqis, but U.S. troops as well with their gung-ho brandish-weapons-and-shoot-first mode of operation. A civilian surge of the type pushed by supporters of the military escalation in Afghanistan, though, has the effect of flooding Afghanistan with contractors working for Blackwater and its cousins. Spencer Ackerman:

    But what about the firms hired to protect the new State Department personnel on their way to Afghanistan? State Department security contractors like Blackwater Xe, Triple Canopy and DynCorp have been tied to more population-alienating abuses than the ones who work for the Defense Department.

    The use of these contractors accompanying a “civilian surge” has a corrosive effect on life in Kabul, and have become a serious political problem for the continued U.S. occupation. Again, from Youssef’s article:

    “In the mind of the Afghan people, democracy is tied to the arrival of the foreign forces,” said Wahed Mughzada, a political analyst. “They don’t like it.”

    That’s contributing to growing calls for a timetable for U.S. forces to withdraw, said Ashraf Ghani, a leading candidate in next month’s presidential elections. He’s suggesting that the U.S. withdraw in seven years.

    “The Afghans want the use of forces to be predictable. They feel they are not being heard,” Ghani said. “The pre-eminent issue is justice.”

    Further, as the U.S. counterinsurgency operation established forward operating bases, we will likely see even more private security firms hired and sent to Afghanistan to act as guards.

    So let’s recap. First, we find out that the supposed “civilian” surge in Afghanistan would be largely made up of military personnel. Now, we find that it requires widening the use of civilian contractors, including those from the very companies responsible for carnage and popular outrage in Iraq.

    This is all starting to feel so very familiar.

    We are moving into a new home this week, and I will be hard-pressed to find the time or the energy to blog. In the meantime, I’ll be posting links to stories on nonviolence, Christianity, and Afghanistan for your reading enjoyment while I’m otherwise occupied. Here’s the first:

    If you haven’t yet heard the excellent NPR story about the mass grave in Afghanistan and the massacre of thousands of prisoners by General Dostum, who was a CIA asset at the time, please listen. I wrote about this story several months ago, but that was before it was clear that the U.S. government participated in a cover-up of the incident. Kudos to Physicians for Human Rights. Well done. Here’s a link to the media stories that certainly came about only because of their efforts.

    If you were under any illusions about the nature of the regime we’re fighting for in Afghanistan, and if my post last week about how the Kabul regime treats women didn’t already convince you that the regime’s not worth another bullet or drop of blood on the part of the U.S., please do yourself a favor and listen to this story in full.

    A friend recently sent me a great article from The New Scientist called “Winning the Ultimate Battle,” which details the work of anthropologists and others showing that war is not inherent in human biology.

    …[A]nthropologists Carolyn and Melvin Ember from Yale University…argue that biology alone cannot explain documented patterns of warfare. They oversee the Human Relations Area Files, a database of information on some 360 cultures, past and present. More than nine-tenths of these societies have engaged in warfare, but some fight constantly, others rarely, and a few have never been observed fighting. “There is variation in the frequency of warfare when you look around the world at any given time,” says Melvin Ember. “That suggests to me that we are not dealing with genes or a biological propensity.”

    Anthropologist Douglas Fry of Åbo Akademi University in Turku, Finland, agrees. In his book, Beyond War, he identified 74 “non-warring cultures” that contradict the idea that war is universal. His list includes nomadic hunter-gatherers such as the !Kung of Africa, Australian Aborigines and Inuit. These examples are crucial, Fry says, because our ancestors are thought to have lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers from the emergence of the Homo lineage around 2 million years ago until the appearance of permanent settlements and agriculture less than 20,000 years ago. That time span constitutes more than 99 per cent of the evolutionary history of Homo.

    The article gives a good primer on the cultural changes that led to the development of warfare: the birth of agriculture, food stores, symbolic objects of value, etc. The author even contends that human culture has become less violent:

    Indeed, perhaps the best and most surprising news to emerge from research on warfare is that humanity as a whole is much less violent than it used to be (see our timeline of weapons technology). People in modern societies are far less likely to die in battle than those in traditional cultures. For example, the first and second world wars and all the other horrific conflicts of the 20th century resulted in the deaths of fewer than 3 per cent of the global population. According to Lawrence Keeley of the University of Illinois in Chicago, that is an order of magnitude less than the proportion of violent death for males in typical pre-state societies, whose weapons consist only of clubs, spears and arrows rather than machine guns and bombs.

    While excited about the rest of the article, I take this paragraph with a grain of salt. The marked decrease in violent death among males can be partially accounted for by:

    1. advances in medical science,
    2. technological advances that make it possible for one person to kill many more of one’s enemies, thus enabling societies to inflict lethal harm on enemy societies with fewer individuals from their society participating in the fighting; and
    3. specialization of labor, leading to the development of warrior classes who fight while others in a violent society do other specialized tasks.

    Is it one thing to say that fewer people in a society are participating in violent conflicts, and another thing to say that “people” or “societies” have become less violent across the board?  I’m not sure, and it’s certainly not a binary choice. I just would have preferred to see the author deal with these other factors as well.

    The research highlighted in the article reinforces the Seville Statement on Violence, made in 1986 by an interdisciplinary group of leading scientists. Here’s a summary of the five propositions made in the statement:

    IT IS SCIENTIFICALLY INCORRECT to say:

    • that we have inherited a tendency to make war from our animal ancestors.
    • that war or any other violent behaviour is genetically programmed into our human nature.
    • that in the course of human evolution there has been a selection for aggressive behaviour more than for other kinds of behaviour.
    • that humans have a ‘violent brain’.
    • that war is caused by ‘instinct’ or any single motivation.

    You can read the full statement and its complete list of signatories here.

    Considering the scientific community’s continued validation of the proposition that humans are not violent by nature, together with this and other assertions that humans are becoming less violent, I’m reminded of this passage from Revelation:

    7 And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, 8but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

    10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,
    ‘Now have come the salvation and the power
    and the kingdom of our God
    and the authority of his Messiah,*
    for the accuser of our comrades* has been thrown down,
    who accuses them day and night before our God.
    11But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony,
    for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.
    12Rejoice then, you heavens
    and those who dwell in them!
    But woe to the earth and the sea,
    for the devil has come down to you
    with great wrath,
    because he knows that his time is short!’

    To their credit, the folks over at the Brookings Institution have become one of the first mainstream think tanks to recognize the horrendously indiscriminate nature of drone attacks in Pakistan. Brookings Institute scholar Daniel Byman wrote last Monday:

    Critics correctly find many problems with this program, most of all the number of civilian casualties the strikes have incurred. Sourcing on civilian deaths is weak and the numbers are often exaggerated, but more than 600 civilians are likely to have died from the attacks. That number suggests that for every militant killed, 10 or so civilians also died.

    I’ve been citing numbers that show a worse civilian-combatant ratio (15-1), but the Brookings citation makes the same point: drones kill far more civilians than suspected militants. Good for Brookings for bringing this to folks’ attention.

    Unfortunately, though, Byman fails to really get into the details of what causes the high ratio, preferring instead to attribute them to the Evil Taliban:

    To reduce casualties, superb intelligence is necessary. Operators must know not only where the terrorists are, but also who is with them and who might be within the blast radius. This level of surveillance may often be lacking, and terrorists’ deliberate use of children and other civilians as shields make civilian deaths even more likely.

    The preceding paragraph demonstrates an amazing Fareed-Zakaria-like ability to take the vile and the shocking and transform it into a passive-voice bromide. Translation: “We need good intel to avoid killing noncombatants. We don’t have good intelligence. We don’t let details like that get in the way of firing the weapons, so we kill 10 civilians for every one suspected terrorist. Oh yeah the Taliban are bad.”

    Americans should be terrified and horrified that CIA operators use a weapons system whose ability to avoid killing innocent men, women and children depends on “superb intelligence” when such intel does not exist. Essentially, what the CIA is doing is analagous to a police sniper aiming into a bank crowded with hostages with a sniper rifle whose barrel lacks rifling, pointing at a suspected robber and pulling the trigger. When the bullet goes astray due to the lack of a key feature that makes the sniper rifle accurate–the rifling– and kills a hostage, the police officer shrugs. “The robber used human shields.” If the public found out that our hypothetical police sniper knew in advance that he had, oh, say, a 90-percent chance of killing a hostage rather than a robber and he pulled the trigger anyway, they’d be howling for his head on a platter. But this kind of vile nonsense is exactly what the administration asks the American people to accept through further escalations of the CIA’s undeclared war on the Pakistanis unlucky enough to be living near our national enemies.

    I repeat:

    The strikes have caused such carnage that leading British legal experts “said the aircraft could follow other weapons considered ’so cruel as to be beyond the pale of human tolerance’ in being consigned to the history books,” likening them to “cluster bombs and landmines.”

    Byman’s analysis of the problem, though, ultimately misses the point. It may be true that the high civilian death rate is bad because it undermines our counterinsurgency efforts to win hearts and minds. However, the real problem is not the political consequences of these deaths, but rather the deaths themselves. Even if the 10-1 civilian-combatant death rate had zero political consequences, it would still be immoral to continue the use of drones. As I said on July 14,

    “The worst effect of all this talk about counterinsurgency is that it has reduced the civilian populations of countries like Iraq and Afghanistan to mere means to the end of our strategy. They’re not. Drones may be awful in part because their use leads to more terrorism, but the worst effect of their use is the slaughter of people whose right to life exists independent from our goals for the region.”

    Get those drones on the ground, now.

    UPDATE: Despite its problems, the Brookings article shows that the CIA is lying to the American people about the drones.  Here’s Leon Panetta in a May 2009 speech:

    “[Drone] operations have been very effective because they have been very precise in terms of the targeting and it involved a minimum of collateral damage.”

    Very simply, Panetta lied.

    UPDATE II: The Long War Journal just published an analysis of drone strike activity in 2009 compared to 2008 [h/t/ Noah Schactman at Danger Room]. Their study shows that compared to last year, drone strikes have been more frequent and have killed more people, with the total number of deaths for 2009 already exceeding the 2008 total :

    …In 2009, the frequency of Predator strikes in Pakistan has continued to trend upwards. There have already been 31 Predator strikes in Pakistan this year (as of July 18) – nearly matching the total of 36 strikes for all of 2008.

    If airstrikes continue at the current rate, the number of strikes in 2009 could more than double the dramatic increase in Predator activity seen in 2008.

    Using low-end estimates of casualties (including Taliban, al Qaeda, and civilian) from US strikes inside Pakistan, we have determined that airstrikes resulted in 317 deaths during 2008. Already, the airstrikes in 2009 have surpassed that total, with 365 killed in 2009 as of July 18. [see Chart 2, Deaths]

    …Another indicator of the increasing lethality of US airstrikes inside Pakistan is the rising average number killed per attack. So far in 2009, the average casualty rate has been 11.77 killed per strike, compared to 8.81 in 2008. [see Chart 3, Lethality]

    So, to summarize:

    • CIA drone operators lack the “superb intel” needed to prevent civilian casualties, but are firing their weapons anyway, causing them to kill ten times as many civilians as suspected terrorists.
    • CIA Director Panetta, however, continues to lie and/or propagandize about the drones’ accuracy and “minimal collateral damage.”
    • Despite their indiscriminate and inhumane nature, the U.S. has doubled the rate of drone strikes and is killing more people per attack in 2009 compared to 2008, which has caused the death toll from these weapons so far in 2009 to exceed the death toll for all of 2008.

    History will not be kind to us if we continue to use these indiscriminate weapons that kill ten times as many civilians as suspected combatants.

    Yeah, I went there.

    I rooted for Howard Dean until the end in 2004. I remember watching the video feed as he let out his infamous “Dean Scream,” thinking to myself that this man is trying just a little to hard to keep his supporters’ enthusiasm going. Most people who were paying attention to the situation on the ground knew our team had serious and potentially insurmountable problems. Yet here was Dean, shrieking positive energy with all his might, insisting we were still headed for the Promised Land. When I stumbled [h/t Siun] across his recent cringe-inducing display of enthusiasm for the Afghanistan war, it took me right back to that Iowa stage:

    Here’s what’s at stake. It’s not just the Taliban. I think we could probably control the Taliban and the al-Qaeda in the Northwest territories by doing some of the things we’re already doing—drones and air power and so forth. Roughly 50 percent of the Afghan people are women. They will be condemned to conditions which are very much like slavery and serfdom in a twelfth century model of society where they have no rights whatsoever. So, I’m not saying we have to invade every country that doesn’t treat women as equal, but we’re there now. We have a responsibility. And if we leave, women will experience the most extraordinary depredations of any population on the face of the earth. I think we have some obligation to try and see if we can make this work, not just for America and our security interests, but for the sake of women in Afghanistan and all around the globe. Is this acceptable to treat women like this? I think not.

    “If we leave women will experience the most extraordinary depredations…” If we leave. Is Howard Dean under the impression that our counterinsurgency efforts are on behalf of a government friendly to women? His comments seem to indicate that the parties to the conflict include:

    1. the United States, fighting to prop up
    2. a pro-women’s rights Kabul government, threatened by
    3. woman-hating insurgents.

    This is a childish and willfully ignorant statement of the situation in Afghanistan, and it’s dangerous. The canard that U.S. military violence in Afghanistan helps women is false, no matter how many times intellectually shallow rhetoric makes the claim–but repetition can make it true in the mind of the public. To butcher Aaron Sorkin, if Howard Dean thinks the war in Afghanistan–or any war for that matter–helps women, then apparently he was campaigning in 2004 to be the Chief Executive of Fantasy Land.

    War’s Effects on Women

    Let’s stop and think for a minute about the effects of war on women, whether it’s in Afghanistan or Antarctica. From UNICEF.org:

    …”[G]ender-based inequity is usually exacerbated during situations of extreme violence such as armed conflict.” Women and girls in particular experience conflict and displacement in different ways from men because of the gender division of roles and responsibilities. The targeting of women and girls by armed forces further exacerbates the situation.Examples of such targeting and gender-based inequity leading to higher mortality and morbidity (illness) among females during armed conflict include:

    • violence against girls and women, including rape and sexual slavery;
    • hunger and exploitation in camps for refugees and internally displaced persons, when men take control of food distribution;
    • malnutrition, when food aid neglects women’s and children’s special nutritional requirements; and
    • culturally inappropriate and/or inadequate access to health services, including mental and reproductive health services.

    …Health services for women, girls and the children in their charge break down in wartime, just when they need them most…Often health services available in emergency situations are dominated by men, so many women and girls, for cultural or religious reasons, underutilize these services despite their need of them.

    The population movements and breakdown of social controls engendered by armed conflict encourage, in their turn, rape and prostitution as well as sexual slavery to serve combatants. Unwanted pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, particularly HIV/AIDS, are the collateral physical effects of this human degradation.

    So please, Dean et. al., spare us the tripe that bombs, drones, and strapping, chivalrous men with guns advance the cause of women. They don’t. Grow up.

    The Rule of the Rapists

    If Dean had bothered to just type in “rape” and “Afghanistan” as search terms in Google, he would have found a recent report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Silence is Violence, disclosing that rape is not even a crime in under the laws of the government for which American troops are killing and dying. However, a woman who reports a rape to the authorities will find that sex outside of marriage is a crime, and she will probably be convicted of that crime unless she can produce four male witnesses that corroborate her claim that the sexual intercourse was not consensual. If imprisoned, she may find herself at the mercy of detention facility officials who “are said to have forced female detainees into prostitution or to conduct sexual acts in exchange for food and other items.”

    If she manages to avoid punishment from the legal system, cultural mores (not Taliban decrees) dictate acceptable resolutions of the conflict between her family and that of her assailants, including:

    • killing both the victim and the rapist,
    • forcing the victim to marry the rapist, or
    • giving girl(s) from the rapist’s family to the victim’s family as compensation for lost honor.

    All this assumes, of course, that the rapist isn’t totally immune from accusation in the first place. For example, marital rape is considered a contradiction in terms. Readers might recall the international outcry in response to the passage of a law by the Afghan national government enshrining a husband’s legal right to demand sex from his wife four times a week–essentially, legalizing rape in some parts of the country. Under intense pressure, the law was changed:

    Though the section about submitting to sex every four days has been deleted, other articles remain that give a husband power to order sex, said Shinkai Kharokhel, a lawmaker from Kabul involved in efforts to reform the legislation…[A husband] can withhold [financial] support if [his wife] refuses to submit to his “reasonable sexual enjoyment,” according to a translation of the article supplied by Human Rights Watch…Such an exception is equivalent to saying a husband can starve his wife if she is refusing to have sex with him, Kharokhel said.

    Worse, powerful government officials and their cohorts frequently sexually assault women with impunity:

    In the northern region for example, 39 percent of the cases analyzed by UNAMA Human Rights, found that perpetrators were directly linked to power brokers who are, effectively, above the law and enjoy immunity from arrest as well as immunity from social condemnation.

    This toxic atmosphere for women’s sexual rights under the Kabul regime led local women’s rights groups to coin a new phrase for the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan: “The Rule of the Rapists.” Recounting the hollow victory for women brought about after the fall of the Taliban, one NGO worker said:

    “During the Taliban era, if a woman went to market and showed an inch of flesh she would have been flogged; now she’s raped.”

    Kabul’s (Lack of) Response to Threats Against Women

    Again, from Silence is Violence:

    …Female parliamentarians, provincial council members, civil servants, journalists, women working for international organizations (including the United Nations), as well as those considered to be engaged in “immoral” professions, have been targeted…in some instances by government authorities…Lack of adequate protection from the Government, as well as support from the international community, is a source of complaint and frustration for women in high-profile positions.

    Women cannot express themselves freely, particularly when their actions are deemed to conflict with traditional practices. Women in politics, for example, not only face threats and attacks from anti-government elements, but also from within the ranks of government. Chauvinist attitudes, conservative religious viewpoints and the domination of Parliament by MPs with a history of warlordism, means that women are silenced; they actually face attacks – both verbal and physical – if they speak their minds. In 2006, MP Malalai Joya had water bottles and abuse hurled at her by fellow MPs when she questioned the criminal records of some Mujahedeen; she had to be escorted out of parliament for her own safety.

    …Victims repeatedly complain that inadequate attention is given by authorities when they report a case of harassment, threat or attack. Women feel that the lack of action by Afghan authorities serves to reinforce the view that perpetrators of violence are immune from punishment.

    …Afghan women have repeatedly reported that they have lost faith in the law enforcement and judicial institutions that they consider ineffective, incompetent, dysfunctional and corrupt. Referring an incident to the police, the national directorate of security (i.e., the intelligence service) or a prosecutor is said to be of no avail; cases are usually not taken seriously, properly recorded or acted upon. Ultimately, authorities are not willing or are not in a position to provide women at risk with any form of protection to ensure their safety. For instance, the outspoken head of a district office of a department of women’s affairs told UNAMA that following threats from the Taliban over a period of several months in 2008, her request for security guards for her office was turned down, including by the provincial governor, who she reported had told her: “if you are under threat, just go home.”

    The UNAMA report relays a popular Afghan saying to convey the widespread attitude toward women:

    “Women are made for homes or graves.”

    Conclusion: Dean’s Scorn-Worthy Enthusiasm

    The U.S. military is not in Afghanistan on some vague mission to bring happiness, light and human rights to the Afghans. The President, his congressional allies and his generals have defined the effort in Afghanistan as counterinsurgency, meaning that our goal is to back the Kabul government with sufficient skill and vigor that it/we compel the local population’s consent to the rule of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and obtain their cooperation in driving out the Taliban. But make no mistake: counterinsurgency favors “peace over justice”–it says so right there on page xxxix in the manual. That means that, in pursuit of the defeat of the insurgency, we’ll look the other way as the host nation government violates rights of citizens as long as we share a common purpose.

    All of the above information about the plight of women under the rule of U.S. allies in Afghanistan is readily accessible by anyone with an Internet connection; only the willfully ignorant can pretend that our “team” in Kabul is the do-gooder, pro-women’s-rights faction, facing off against those who seek to repress women and wrap them in burqas. Repression of women in Afghanistan transcends the line between the Taliban and the Kabul government. The Taliban might enforce their draconian modesty laws through beatings, but where Kabul’s writ holds, modesty is enforced by sexual assault–meaning burqas have become something of a self-defense mechanism versus the regime our violence supports.

    Malalai Joya, the former MP mentioned above who was pelted with water bottles for speaking out against the corruption and violence in the Afghan national government said recently:

    Just like in Iraq, war has not brought liberation to Afghanistan. Neither war was really about democracy or justice or uprooting terrorist groups; rather they were and are about U.S. strategic interests in the region…A troop ‘surge’ in Afghanistan, and continued air strikes, will do nothing to help the liberation of Afghan women. The only thing it will do is increase the number of civilian casualties and increase the resistance to occupation.

    To really help Afghan women, citizens in the U.S. and elsewhere must tell their government to stop propping up and covering for a regime of warlords and extremists. If these thugs were finally brought to justice, Afghan women and men would prove quite capable of helping ourselves.

    Howard Dean needs to check his enthusiasm for war and listen to Joya. If the U.S. is truly interested in improving the lives of women in Afghanistan, we should end the war, now.

    Fair warning: rough language below.

    In her recent column in The Guardian, Nushin Arbabzadah said:

    “As local wisdom has it, there are three types of people in Afghanistan today: al-Qaida (the fighters), al-faida (the enriched) and al-gaida (the fucked). Most Afghans belong to the third category.”

    U.S. public communications in Afghanistan seems determined to reinforce Arbabzadah’s anectode, threatening to “target” two villages in Ghazni and Paktika in Afghanistan unless the Taliban releases a captive U.S. troop. The Taliban have threatened to kill the American unless the U.S. stops operations in the area. The soldier has been missing since July 2. The leaflet seems to warn that villagers will face home raids–which, incidentally, are one of the chief causes of popular support for the insurgency–if the Taliban don’t release the prisoner. In other words, in the fight between the U.S. and the Taliban, the people of Ghazni and Paktika are al-gaida.

    From CBS News:

    At least two Afghan villages have been blanketed with leaflets warning that if an American soldier kidnapped by the Taliban two weeks ago isn’t freed, “you will be targeted.”

    Villagers near the border of two volatile provinces, Ghazni and Paktika, tell CBS News’ Sami Yousafzai that aircraft dropped the leaflets during the past several days.

    Military spokeswoman Capt. Elizabeth Mathias confirmed that the leaflets were produced at Bagram Air Base, the primary U.S. installation in Afghanistan, and distributed in the region.

    CBS obtained these images of the leaflet:

    Translation from Pashto: If you do not free the American soldier, then…

    Source: CBS News. Front of leaflet. Translation from Pashto: "If you do not free the American soldier, then…"

    Source: CBS News. Translation from Pashto: …you will be targeted.

    Source: CBS News. Translation from Pashto: "…you will be targeted".

    On Thursday, the Taliban threatened to kill the soldier “unless the U.S. stops airstrikes in Ghazni province’s Giro district and Paktika province’s Khoshamand district.”

    What in the name of William Howard Taft’s claw-footed bathtub are the U.S. forces thinking? Say you’re the Taliban. You’ve captured a U.S. troop and have threatened to kill him–red meat for your xenophobic, extremist base. You know you’re going to execute him, because your demand–that the U.S. stop airstrikes against you–will not be met. Again, your extremist bases loves it. But you’re ostensibly using the captive as leverage to stop a tactic which actually does kill lots of civilians, which endears you to the local population somewhat. So, in this insurgency/counterinsurgency battle for the allegiance of the local population, why wouldn’t you be thrilled that your kidnapping has baited the U.S. into threatening to use the second tactic that leads to civilian outrage at the foreigners–home raids?

    Threats of force are always better than force itself, so I suppose I should concede that dropping leaflets threatening home raids is better than just raiding homes. But if the leaflets don’t work, I have no doubt the U.S. will make good on their threat. Simply put, if the airstrikes continue, and if the U.S. starts raiding homes in Ghazni and Paktika, the U.S. COIN effort is finished in that area, period.

    This is just the latest example of how COIN can blur the distinction between the enemy and the noncombatant population. Commanders and troops involved in home raids may think they’re just going after the bad guys and looking for their comrade, but they’re also humiliating people in a society that’s valued honor longer than they’ve honored the Prophet. If you want to generate terrorism, keep it up.