Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

Exclusive, on-the-ground interviews obtained by Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistan project confirm what NATO forces repeatedly denied: U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan killed dozens of people in the Sangin District of Helmand Province on July 23.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s office first acknowledged the incident when they condemned the killings on July 26. At that time, the Afghan National Directorate of Security claimed that the American-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) killed “52 civilians…including women and children” in a “rocket attack.” (The Kabul government later revised that tally to 39.) By Sunday, August 1, there were protests in the streets of Kabul.

ISAF immediately attacked the credibility of the Afghan government’s report, complaining bitterly of Karzai’s decision to condemn the incident without conferring with U.S. and allied forces.

Working with our team in Afghanistan led by Anita Sreedhar, Brave New Foundation‘s Rethink Afghanistan campaign sent an intrepid local blogger into Sangin–one of Afghanistan’s most volatile areas–to get the truth. The video interviews he obtained are incredible and horrifying. We made the full interview transcripts available online at, and we encourage you to read them. Here’s the short version: Every survivor our interviewer talked to confirmed that a massive civilian casualty event occurred, and that NATO was responsible.

NATO vs. the Kabul Government

ISAF began their push-back against press accounts of the Sangin incident with a simple press release on July 24: “We have no operational reporting that correlates to this alleged incident.” No further press release available on the ISAF website expands or updates this statement. However, ISAF personnel soon ratcheted up their attacks on the Afghan government’s narrative and, in the process, circulated alternative (and often contradictory) official responses, tallies and accounts of the event.

Quoted in a July 27 New York Times article, Rear Adm. Gregory Smith (whom you might remember from that embarrassing and horrific event in Gardez earlier this year) escalated ISAF’s push-back by claiming Karzai’s office’s account was premature and speculative.

“Any speculation at this point of an alleged civilian casualty in Rigi village is completely unfounded…We are conducting a thorough joint investigation with our Afghan partners and will report any and all findings when known.”

On August 5, ISAF spokespeople still claimed to lack information on the outcome of this promised “joint investigation.” However, that didn’t stop other ISAF officials from offering “speculations” of their own. Brigadier General Josef Blotz, for example, claimed that Afghan and coalition forces examined images of the scene and interviewed witnesses but found “no substance in terms of proof or evidence” to support Karzai’s claim. He did, however, concede that "one to three civilians may have been inadvertently killed.”

Later, again on August 5, while ISAF provided quotes from named sources for attribution that denied knowledge of the outcome of the investigation, an unnamed “senior intelligence official” told The New York Times that six civilians died with eight Taliban fighters when a troop fired a Javelin rocket into a structure from which U.S. Marines took fire.

When asked to explain the discrepancy between his tally and that of the Afghan government, the unnamed official cited “political challenges,” as if “political challenges” account for a 33-person difference in the death tallies. This explanation reminds one of the Gardez massacre earlier this year, when ISAF tried to pass off its blatant lie about an American special forces team finding women “bound, gagged and executed” as a “cultural misunderstanding,” when in fact they’d killed the women themselves and tried to dig the bullets out while one of them was still alive, screaming in pain. In effect, this unnamed source accused Afghan locals and officials of lying about civilian deaths because of hard feelings between them and the coalition.

What is going on here? One explanation might be that ISAF engaged in the same type of damage control campaign utilized in other horrifying incidents like the Farah airstrike and the Gardez massacre. In both cases, ISAF initially denied wrongdoing, aggressively attacked the credibility of alternative accounts that disputed the official story, and claimed that the evidence was either neutral or exculpatory. Only when new information made it impossible to deny responsibility did ISAF admit its guilt in both cases. Perhaps we’re seeing a repeat of that behavior here.

Regardless of the source and possible motivation for all this contradicting information and blatant disinformation, what is clear, based on interviews obtained by our team on the ground in Sangin, is that ISAF troops killed dozens of civilians on July 23.

What We Found

52 people were killed! We don’t know how many children or women! …The rest of my family is scattered and lost I don’t know where they are. …My mind doesn’t work okay. … My daughter’s in laws were sitting in our house with their other children when the bombing started I saw them get killed with my own eyes!

–Mahmoud Jan Kaka

I saw a child on the floor was injured. I thought he was the only injured one so I took him to the clinic. When I came back my nephew told me that there were more injured people. I tried to pull my daughter from the rubble but I couldn’t. I heard her calling for help but I couldn’t reach her.

–Abdul Zahar

In all of my experiences not the Russians or the Taliban ever did what they (N.A.T.O.) did. …I wanted to go to the government post and tell them to kill the rest of us too as we have nothing to live for anymore!

…In the morning we see bodies with heads, blood and guts everywhere, arms here and legs there. All of my loved ones who were still alive were soaked in blood. We tried to go and identify the bodies; everyone was looking for there missing relatives. There was so much sorrow and pain from those people who were lost in shock.

–Unnamed Sangin Resident 1

See the full transcripts.

The most important takeaway from these interviews, aside from the universal attribution of blame to NATO, is that there is absolutely no way that the civilian death toll is in the single digits. One person described losing eight family members; another said he lost nine loved ones; still another lost 11. One of the men, Abdul Barg, insisted that, “the number of martyred were no less than 35 up to 50.” He also related that “every family in the village was placing at least a couple of their loved ones in a bag.”

These video interviews prove what NATO wants to deny. As you watch the footage of these Afghan men and hear their voices crack, it becomes sickeningly clear. U.S. and allied forces killed dozens of Afghan civilians in Sangin.

This incident is more than a moral outrage: it shows why the Afghanistan War undermines our safety. Thanks to the work of the National Bureau of Economic Research, we know that, statistically speaking, every time an incident like this happens, we can expect an additional six attacks on coalition forces. But we don’t have to generalize from this incident to see the threat when the specifics spell it out so clearly:

More than 200 people demonstrated over the July 23 incident in the Sangin district of Helmand province… The protesters shouted "Death to America" and carried banners calling for justice and pictures of children they say were killed in the strike…

This is what our elected officials need to understand: when we debate the war in Afghanistan, it’s not an academic exercise. It’s a string of specific incidents like Sangin, concrete moral outrages that pay us back with increased strategic risk.

Our reaction to Sangin and the other similar catastrophes defines us. That’s why when I go into a voting booth this November, or I get a solicitation for a political donation or a request to volunteer for a federal candidate, I’m going ask, “How did this person respond when he or she heard that we slaughtered the heart of a village? Did this person explain it away? Did they continue to support a policy that ensured more Sangins all across Afghanistan? Or did they finally catch themselves, finally realize that this war ensures the slow death of more children under rubble while parents claw at the pile?” These are the questions I’ll ask myself before I punch the touch-screen at the local library, and if the opinion polls are any indication, I’ll be far, far from alone.

I encourage all of you to visit to send a note to your elected officials and let them know you’ll be watching what they do in response to this disaster, and that you’ll remember it when you vote in November.


Let me tell you something, progressives: the President is calling your bluff, and if you stand there and take it, you can kiss your “Hope” goodbye:

The Obama team – both political and economic wings – seems to feel that their base has nowhere else to go, and all they need to do is drift towards the right in a moderately confused fashion to assure re-election for the president.

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New FoundationThe Seminal. You can say no to escalation in Afghanistan by signing our CREDO petition at For each signature, CREDO will donate a dollar to support Crowe’s work.

I loathe the use of my tax dollars for any violence, but you know what I loathe even more? The use of debt taken out in my name to fund violence.

The latter includes the anti-Christian choice of using violence in conflict and it adds extreme, immoral irresponsibility to the original sin. Not only did the deficit-fueled war spending of the Bush years lead to massive human suffering, but it also contributed mightily to the economic crisis. Here’s Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes writing in The Three Trillion Dollar War just before the economic crisis fully materialized (p. 115, 125-126):

The question is not whether the economy has been weakened by the [Iraq] war. The question is only by how much. Where you can put a figure on them, the costs are immense. In our realistic-moderate scenario…they total moe than a trillion dollars.

The Federal Reserve sought…to offset the adverse effects of the war, including those discussed earlier in this chapter. It kept interest rates lower than they otherwise might have been and looked the other way as lending standards were lowered–thereby encouraging households to borrow more–and spend more. Even as interest rates were reaching record lows, Alan Greenspan, then chairman of the Federal Reserve, in effect invited households to pile on the risk as he encouraged them to take on variable rate mortgages. The low initial interest rates allowed households to borrow more against their houses, enabling America to consume well beyond its means.

Household savings rates soon went negative for the first time since the Great Depression. But it was only a matter of time before interest rates rose. When they did so, hundreds of thousands of Americans who had taken on variable interest mortgages saw their mortgage payments rise–beyond their ability to pay–and they lost their homes. This was all predictable–and predicted: after all, interest rates could not stay at these historically unprecidented low rates forever. As this book goes to press, the full ramifications of the “subprime” mortgage crisis are still unfolding. Growth is slowing, and the economy is again performing markedly below its potential.

As an aside: Once I was derided for attacking the president’s willful disregard of the Sermon on the Mount’s unequivocal call for nonviolence because I was not also jumping up and down about deficits. Not only was that not true, but that jab assumed that the war in Afghanistan was not, in fact, a budget-busting mortgaging of the common good. Oops.

Some Democrats in Congress seem to understand this, at least:

Top Democrats have made it clear to Obama that he will not receive a friendly reception should he announce what is considered the leading option: sending 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. The legislators have indicated that a request for more money to finance a beefed-up war effort will be met with frustration and, perhaps, a demand to raise taxes.

If the president wants to spend $1 million per troop, per year, he should have to justify it to the people who will bear the brunt of the ensuing economic damage.

Good for you, Pelosi, Obey, Rangel, et. al. Keep it up.

Watch Rethink Afghanistan to learn more about the costs of war.

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. You can learn more about the dangers posed to U.S. national security by the war in Afghanistan by watching Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six): Security, or by visiting

The Pentagon expects to receive General McChrystal’s troop request by the end of the week (remember, you heard it here first). If we accept Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell’s remarks during today’s press briefing, Defense Secretary Gates will pocket the document until the Obama Administration completes its strategic review. But, Morrell is clearly working to prevent the document from becoming a “moment of truth” for the secretary and the president, and I would be very surprised if a strategy assessment took place without a cost/benefit analysis. After all, a discussion on strategy not constrained by resource considerations would produce strategies as useful as a retirement plan that included “win the lottery” as a necessary step.

Looking for evaluative tools for the upcoming troop request, I flipped through my copy of The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene and came across this passage:

…Rommel once made a distinction between a gamble and a risk. Both cases involve an action with only a chance of success, a chance that is heightened by acting with boldness. The difference is that with a risk, if you lose, you can recover: your reputation will suffer no long-term damage, your resources will not be depleted, and you can return to your original position with acceptable losses. With a gamble, on the other hand, defeat can lead to a slew of problems that are likely to spiral out of control. …[I]f you encounter difficulties in a gamble, it becomes harder to pull out–you realize that the stakes are too high; you cannot afford to lose. So you try harder to rescue the situation, often making it worse and sinking deeper in to the hole that you cannot get out of. People are drawn into gambles by their emotions…Taking risks is essential; gambling is foolhardy.

The worst way to end…a war…is slowly and painfully…Before entering any action, you must calculate in precise terms your exit strategy…If the answers…seem to vague and full of speculation, if success seems all too alluring and failure somewhat dangerous, you are more than likely taking a gamble. Your emotions are leading you into a situation that could end up a quagmire.

Before that happens, catch yourself. And if you do find you have made this mistake, you have only two rational solutions: either end the conflict as quickly as you can, with a strong, violent blow aimed to win, accepting the costs and knowing they are better than a slow and painful death, or cut your losses and quit without delay. Never let pride or concern for your reputation pull you farther into the morass; both will suffer far greater blows by your persistence. Short-term defeat is better than long-term disaster.

Greene writes these words interpreting the Soviet experience in Afghanistan. They apply equally well to the situation in which the United States finds itself in the same country.

Let’s review how we got here. (Finger-pointing, unless you were one of the brave few who were against a military response to 9/11, is useless. We got here together.) President Bush (backed by almost all of us) acted on our emotions following the attacks without planning all the way to the end. Then, he launched the Iraq war without adequately thinking through the consequences for the endeavor in Afghanistan. While President Obama correctly assailed him for the Iraq blunder (such a small, inadequate word for that crime), he and the Democrats managed a neat trick of being anti-Iraq-war hawks by promising a chest-thumping charge into Afghanistan to “finish the job.” Obama and his allies also failed to plan all the way to the end, to account for things like lost time, sputtering public enthusiasm for another presidential term lost in fever dreams of war and the awful human cost of the tough-guy promises to hit terrorists in Pakistan with drone strikes.

But, damning the torpedoes, we went full speed ahead, and in the period during which President Obama escalated drone strikes over Pakistan, ordered and escalation and then sent the new troops on a push into Helmand, the insurgent influence in Afghanistan went from this:

ICOS Map of Permanent and Significant Insurgent Presence in Afghanistan, Nov. 2008

ICOS Map of Permanent and Significant Insurgent Presence in Afghanistan, Nov. 2008

to this:

ICOS Map of Permanent and Significant Insurgent Presence in Afghanistan, Sept. 2009

ICOS Map of Permanent and Significant Insurgent Presence in Afghanistan, Sept. 2009

The number of insurgent attacks has also followed a steady upward trend since the U.S. invasion.

Insurgent Attacks in Afghanistan Jan 06 - Jun 09

Insurgent Attacks in Afghanistan Jan 06 - Jun 09

There’s little doubt that we’re in the morass against which Greene warns in the quote above.  It should be useful, then, to examine Greene’s “two rational solutions” to the problem: the violent, crushing blow that ends the conflict quickly, or the rapid exit to prevent a worse catastrophe.

The prospects for success of a quick, violent blow are dim.  The hardened core of the Taliban is the Quetta Shura Taliban. It’s called the Quetta Shura Taliban because it’s based in Quetta, capital of Balochistan in Pakistan. That’s where we suspect Mullah Omar and possibly Osama bin Laden hide from U.S. forces. It’s also a major city of 750,000+ people, almost all of them non-combatants. Thus, our ability to strike the “violent blow” that could end the al-Qaida/Taliban threat (assuming we’re not willing to drop 600,000+ troops into Afghanistan tomorrow to suddenly begin a textbook counterinsurgency) would depend on our willingness to repeat the carnage of Fallujah 2004 in a city roughly twice its size. This move would ignite Pakistan, to put it mildly, and it would put their nuclear arsenal on the game board in the scramble.

In other words, no sudden, violent blow, absent pristine intelligence revealing the precise, time-stamped location of Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, can end this conflict quickly without entailing costs we cannot bear.

That leaves us with option 2: cut your losses and quit without delay. So why do we remain?

First, the strategic complications of the situation boggle the mind. However, the strategic implications of the region have been on our radar for years, but cooler heads without the burden of the 9/11 trauma kept the U.S. out of a heavy military operation in Afghanistan even at the height of the Afghan civil war, and I can imagine that a desire to avoid precisely this predicament played a role in those decisions. But while I do not doubt that the strategic monstrosity of Iran/Afghanistan/Pakistan/Kashmir/India deeply concerns the president, I can also imagine that what really keeps him and his advisers up at night are fears of a possible crisis that would fall most heavily on the civilian population of Afghanistan following a U.S. withdrawal. The human, economic and political costs of our military operation are so high that, absent this humanitarian concern, I doubt we’d still be discussing whether to add or subtract troops. We’d be on our way home.

Regular readers of my blog know that I am a Christian whose understanding of Jesus’ teachings prevent me from supporting the use of violence in any circumstances. The far more (nominally) prevalent formulation among fellow Christians, obviously, is my faith’s adaptation of just war criteria. One of the main architects of Christian just war theory, Ambrose, Bishop of Milan and tutor to Augustine, articulated the viewpoint that helped drive just war criteria into Christian thought, and it’s exactly this sentiment that keeps well-meaning people of all faiths and of no faith tethered to the moral “necessity” of a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan:

He who does not keep harm off a friend, if he can, is as much in fault as he who causes it.

This is the sentiment that bridges the gap between the Sermon on the Mount and the Christian acceptance of war. And, as much as I disagree with it (note the deftness with which it queues noble sympathy for a friend while avoiding the truly revolutionary call of Jesus to love one’s enemies and to not violently resist an evil person), I understand it. However, the middle clause of the sentence is one of the most important pieces of guidance for the just war adherent: “if he can.” Courage is not the only issue, nor is sentiment: likelihood of success is crucial. That’s why the Catechism of the Catholic Church includes in its explanation of just war this explicit restriction on military actions with poor prospects for success:

1. the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

2. all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

3. there must be serious prospects of success;

4. the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition” [CCC 2309].

Desire to keep harm off a friend is insufficient to excuse your use of violence to save him. To be morally permissible, in this view, your violence must have a serious prospect of succeeding. Otherwise one simply adds to the level of violence and suffering already present.

The U.S. lacks a credible, legitimate partner in our attempt to use counterinsurgency strategy as a means of counterterrorism, and in COIN operations you live and die by the legitimacy of the host nation government. The COIN manual goes so far as to call host nation government legitimacy the “north star.” Steadily rising attacks and maps of spreading insurgency are all symptoms of our lack of this fundamental prerequisite for the success of our chosen strategy. In addition, every single troop increase has been followed in the next year by an increased civilian casualty rate and a persistently increasing level of insurgent violence. Insurgents now have a significant presence in more than 90 percent of the country. Finally, evidence shows that even our humanitarian aid funneled through the military fuels violence in Afghanistan. We lack “serious” prospects for success; it is stretching to even say we have “credible” prospects for success. As such, our use of violence in pursuit of even humanitarian objectives only adds to the butcher’s bill in Afghanistan, and we can no longer be excused by our good intentions.

And don’t think for a second that “fewer troops, more drones” is an answer in Afghanistan. Drones have an indiscriminate track record already in Pakistan, and their expansion in Afghanistan would violate any formulation of just war ethics, causing a massive increase in death and suffering caused by U.S. forces. If one accepts the proposition that our purpose in Afghanistan is primarily to reduce the threat of terrorism against the United States, one should carefully consider the following from P.W. Singer’s excellent book on military robotics, Wired for War:

[Mubashar Jawed “M.J.” Akbar concludes] that another unintentional effect must be watched out for. The greater use of unmanned systems, the more likely it will motivate terrorist strikes at America’s homeland. “It will be seen as a sign of American unwillingness to face death. Therefore, new ways to hit America will have to be devised…”(p. 312-313)

Singer also quotes Nir Rosen, who expects:

that the continuing trend will “encourage terrorism,” maybe especially among those not fighting that way now. As he explains…not every fighter is an al-Qaeda terrorist intent on attacking the United States. “the insurgents are defending their area and focusing on troops they see as occupiers. But if they can’t kill soldiers on the battlefield, they will have to do it somewhere else” He predicts that the more we take American soldiers off the battlefields [through robotics], the more it will “drive them to hit back home.” (p. 313)

None of the credible violent options in Afghanistan offer real chances for rolling back the insurgent reaction to our presence and to the corruption of the central government, nor do these options hold the potential for reducing terrorism against the United States. Because we lack a serious prospect for success via military force, we cannot justify its continued use. We should therefore make the only justifiable strategic and moral decision by grounding the drones and bringing our troops home, seeking instead humanitarian, political and diplomatic means to alleviate the inevitable suffering caused in part by our bad gamble in Afghanistan.


Embedded in General Stanley McChrystal’s classified assessment of the war in Afghanistan is his conclusion that a successful counterinsurgency strategy will require 500,000 troops over five years.

Any takers?

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. You can learn more about the dangers posed to U.S. national security by the war in Afghanistan by watching Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six): Security, or by visiting

General McChrystal’s “new strategy” has been leaked to press in what looks to me like a continued effort to box in the President on troop increases. Here’s the core of the document:

The New Strategy: Focus on the Population

…To accomplish the mission and defeat the insurgency we also require a properly resourced strategy built on four main pillars:

  1. Improve effectiveness through greater partnering with ANSF.  We will increase the size and accelerate the growth of the ANSF, with a radically improved partnership at every level, to improve effectiveness and prepare them to take the lead in security operations.
  2. Prioritize responsive and accountable governance. We must assist in improving governance at all levels through both formal and traditional mechanisms.
  3. Gain the initiative. Our first imperative, in a series of operational stages, is to gain the initiative and reverse the insurgency’s momentum.
  4. Focus resources. We will prioritize available resources to those critical areas where vulnerable populations are most threatened.

The first two pillars seem to have been written while someone was smoking hashish. Let’s take them one at a time. First:

1. Improve effectiveness through greater partnering with ANSF. We will increase the size and accelerate the growth of the ANSF, with a radically improved partnership at every level, to improve effectiveness and prepare them to take the lead in security operations.

While this pillar may look like it’s following the guidance of the COIN manual, when we consider the Afghans’ inability to sustain such a force, it clearly ignores many of the manual’s warnings.Here’s a sample:

Make only commitments that can be fulfilled in the foreseeable future. (p. 172) Establishing activities that the HN government is unable to sustain may be counterproductive. (p. 170)…[Host nation] security forces should…[b]e sustainable by the host nation after U.S. and multinational forces depart. (p. 208)

As has been pointed out many times, even the current ANSF force levels cannot be sustained by the Afghan economy. From a January 2009 CRS report (p. 71):

Senior Afghan and international officials estimate that it will cost approximately $3.5 billion per year to increase ANSF force structure, and then $2.2 billion per year to sustain it. …GIRoA, which contributed $320 million to the ANSF in 2008, is not a realistic source of ANSF funding in the near term.

In addition to the warnings about sustainability, the COIN manual also warns against trying to recreate the ANSF in our own image:

Avoid mirror-imaging (trying to make the host-nation forces look like the U.S. military). That solution fits few cultures or situations. (p. 168)

Once again, the counterinsurgency we have in Afghanistan throws out the doctrine’s manual.

If we left Afghanistan tomorrow, lock stock and barrel…the ANA and ANP would completely evaporate as functioning institutions in much of the country, probably in a matter of days if not hours. They are still very much artificial constructs that we’ve imposed on the country, and wholly dependent on our technology for their survival so long as they continue to use the tactics we’ve taught them….

We’ve taught them to fight the way we do. They’re not as good at it as we are, of course, in part because of issues like illiteracy. We’ve suppressed any way of fighting we cannot support and participate in fully, because to do so could, frankly, end up with more dead Afghan soldiers due to friendly fire and deconfliction problems than dead enemy. And so here we are. What wouldn’t seem to be a profitable strategy right now, in that light, is accelerating the expansion of the ANA even further, which some are advocating.

Ann Jones wrote a great article detailing our mirror-imaging over at TomDispatch:

Their American trainers spoke of “upper body strength deficiency” and prescribed pushups because their [ANSF] trainees buckle under the backpacks filled with 50 pounds of equipment and ammo they are expected to carry. All this material must seem absurd to men whose fathers and brothers, wearing only the old cotton shirts and baggy pants of everyday life and carrying battered Russian Kalashnikov rifles, defeated the Red Army two decades ago. American trainers marvel that, freed from heavy equipment and uniforms, Afghan soldiers can run through the mountains all day — as the Taliban guerrillas in fact do with great effect — but the U.S. military is determined to train them for another style of war.

In other words, we’re training them to be like us, COIN manual guidelines be damned.

Conformity to the COIN manual should not be conflated with good policy, but when a commander justifies the investment of blood and resources because of the supposed absolute necessity of implementing a given strategy, his failure to conform to the guidelines of that strategy should be a warning that we wander in the wilderness. We’re being asked to invest heavily for the foreseeable future in a program that will not deliver a self-sufficient, effective ANSF. Why should we be expected to do so when the official rationale–counterinsurgency doctrine–warns us against taking this path?


2. Prioritize responsive and accountable governance. We must assist in improving governance at all levels through both formal and traditional mechanisms.

On which planet is the good general living? I’ve never seen a person whose allegedly been in charge of assassination squads play Pollyanna. His own document does a pretty good job illustrating how unrealistic his second pillar is:

The second threat, of a very different kind, is the crisis of popular confidence that springs from the weakness of GIRoA institutions, the unpunished abuse of power by corrupt officials and power-brokers, a widespread sense of political disenfranchisement and a longstanding lack of economic opportunity.

…There are no clear lines separating insurgent groups, criminal networds (including the narcotics networks), and corrupt GIRoA officials. Malign actors within GIRoA support insurgent groups directly, support criminal networks that are linked to insurgents, and support corruption that helps feed the insurgency.

These GoIRA qualities are bad enough, but the above doesn’t even touch on the potentially explosive political dynamic set up by Karzai’s massive and transparent attempt to steal the election, nor the vows of Abdullah followers to take to the streets “with Kalashnikovs” (you know, the one’s they’ve apparently been stockpiling for a while now) should Karzai declare victory. Afghanistan ranks 176th out of 180 countries on the Corruption Perception Index. How exactly does McChrystal, as someone outside of the Afghan government and without authority to excise corrupt cadres from the GoIRA, expect to adequately take this off the table as a strategic factor within the 12-month window he’s established in which major progress must be made?

I could go on and on about the internal contradictions of this document (for example, how does Stan the Man plan to “decentralize” and “Improve Unity of Effort and Command?”), but the simple fact is that you don’t have to go past pillars 1 and 2 to realize that this isn’t a credible strategy. It’s a wish list of desired pre-existing conditions and a proposed action plan whose success is predicated on those desired pre-existing conditions. That makes it even more distasteful that the military would attempt to use this junk “strategy” to bully the president into sending more troops. For example:

But Obama’s deliberative pace — he has held only one meeting of his top national security advisers to discuss McChrystal’s report so far — is a source of growing consternation within the military. “Either accept the assessment or correct it, or let’s have a discussion,” one Pentagon official said. “Will you read it and tell us what you think?” Within the military, this official said, “there is a frustration. A significant frustration. A serious frustration.”

Add to that anonymous posturing, the leak of a conveniently redacted and declassified version of McChrystal’s memo and Mullen’s remarks to Congress, and you’ve got the rough outline of an information op being directed at the American people with the purpose of forcing the President’s hand.

If the president was looking for a signal that the situation had progressed to a stage in which the military could not offer a credible plan to deal with it, this is it.

During and after the 2008 campaign, President Obama repeatedly identified himself as a Christian for whom the Sermon on the Mount figured prominently in his faith. The Sermon on the Mount, as he has acknowledged, is a radical text of nonviolence, self-sacrifice, and enemy love.

Since taking office, President Obama has massively escalated the war in Afghanistan, resulting in increasing civilian deaths and massive human suffering on the part of Afghans and Americans sent to fight his war.

This video is offered not as an attack on the President’s personal faith. Instead, it’s intended to be an illustration of the way in which many Christians, including President Obama, seem willing to set aside the ethical content of the Sermon on the Mount when it conflicts with national goals.

Mr. President, for Christ’s sake, end this war.

This video uses clips from Rethink Afghanistan (, The Passion of the Christ, Gandhi, and various bits of footage from around the Internet. The music featured in the final montage is “Agnus Dei” by Psalters (

When the people of an occupied country want foreign troops out while the people of the occupying country want their troops to come home, and the troops remain, something is wrong. Both the American people and the Afghan people want a troop decrease in Afghanistan. Yet this weekend, the President is reviewing a strategic assessment prepared by General Stanley McChrystal widely portrayed as a prelude to a request for an escalation. Should the president approve such a request, he’d be saying, in effect, that to protect democracy in America and to build it in Afghanistan, we must trample it.

Source: Afghan public opinion poll, ABC News/BBC/ARD 1/09; U.S. public opinion poll, CBS News, 8/09

Source: Afghan public opinion poll, ABC News/BBC/ARD 1/09; U.S. public opinion poll, CBS News, 8/09

On September 4,  I went on al-Jazeera English to debate the future of U.S. foreign policy versus Abe Greenwald. When I insisted that we don’t have indications that the Pashtuns are flipping their support to the Afghan national government, Abe asserted that polling shows that American forces and the Afghan national government get higher marks than the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Based on the most recent polling I can find on Afghanistan public opinion, he is roughly correct. His assertion is also irrelevant.

I am assuming that Greenwald refers to a 1/12/09 ABC News/BBC/ARD poll, versus the more-recent IRI polling (If he wasn’t, then he should have, as it asks more relevant questions about Afghan desires on U.S. troop levels.). According to that poll, the Taliban presence is supported by only 8 percent of those surveyed. The Afghan government gets 49 percent job approval. The United States gets a 47 percent favorable rating. So yes, according to this poll, attitudes among all Afghans toward the United States compare favorably with the Afghan government and the Taliban. Again, this warm feeling is irrelevant.

The problem for Abe’s argument is that the 47 percent approval rating for the U.S. is accompanied by a 52 percent disapproval rating among Afghans, That unfavorable rating has spiked 20 points since the end of 2007. The pace with which the unfavorable rating grows is accelerating. The number of Afghans who say attacks on the U.S. and allies can be justified doubled since 2006. Only 32 percent say the U.S. has performed well in Afghanistan. Only 37 percent say that the local population supports Western forces. And–here’s the most important question regarding the decision before President Obama–when asked about coalition troop levels, only 18 percent of Afghans wanted troop levels increased. Twenty-nine percent wanted the same number of troops, and 44 percent wanted troops decreased.

This situation is even more dire when you consider Anthony Cordesman’s (an escalation supporter, mind you) statement that “all insurgency is local.” In the Kandahar region, 84 percent of Afghans surveyed held an unfavorable opinion of the U.S. and 55 percent of those surveyed said attacks against U.S./NATO forces were justified. In Nangarhar, 90 percent held an unfavorable view, and 63 percent justified attacks against U.S./NATO troops. This is the Pashtun “sea” for the Taliban-led insurgency; the dismal 5-10 percent turnout for the August election in the Pashtun areas and the numbers above show that U.S. counterinsurgency strategy has totally failed.

Keep in mind, this poll was taken in January 2009. The intervening eight months have been a public-relations disaster for the United States. A May 4, 2009 airstrike killed as many as 86 civilians, an outrage compounded by NATO’s inability to admit the error for more than a month. This past week, on September 4, at least 40 civilians died when a U.S. pilot dropped ordinance on two fuel tankers surrounded by non-combatants. In the first six months of this year, coalition forces caused more civilian deaths than the same period last year (310 vs 276, respectively), and they did so during an escalation initiated over the objections of Afghan public opinion. That last point is worth emphasizing, especially considering that the presence of foreign forces fighting a war in Afghanistan is the prime driver of the resurgence of the Taliban. Needless to say, these factors likely did not arrest the precipitous loss of support for our policies in Afghanistan.

U.S. public opinion very closely mirrors that of the Afghan people. A CBS News poll taken 8/27-31/09 found that 25 percent of Americans favor a troop increase; 23 want to maintain troop levels; and 41 percent want to reduce troop levels. Opposition to troop increases and support for troop withdrawals are especially intense among the President’s base, as shown in this graphic from The Washington Post:

Source: ABC News/WAPO

Source: ABC News/WAPO

These results also come before the latest catastrophe for U.S. counterinsurgency policy: the catastrophically corrupted August elections.Again, we find ourselves looking at polling data taken before events that are likely to drive down support for an already-unpopular policy of ever-deepening military involvement.

How is it possible that when the populations of both countries and the Commander-in-Chief’s political base agree on a policy direction we find ourselves moving in the opposite direction?

A partial answer might be that the president has surrounded himself with advisers who counsel escalation when they ought to know better. These advisers know full well all of the information described above. They’ve also engaged in severe intellectual dishonesty to avoid reckoning with the failure of strategies they helped construct.

Foremost among these advisers is Bruce Riedel, who chaired the last policy review that resulted in the prior escalation. Riedel co-wrote a recent article in which he claimed that the results of an Afghan public opinion poll conducted July 16-26, 2009, prior to the Afghan elections, indicated “a fresh burst of hopefulness among Afghans.” On that basis, Riedel claimed we had one last “fresh start” in Afghanistan, tied by the pollsters and by Riedel to the success of the vote.

Just a few days before the election, Riedel wrote an articled titled “Obama’s Afghan Test,” in which he said that “Thursday’s election in Afghanistan is a critical early test of America’s new strategy in the war,” and that “[t]he ‘metrics’ to measure Obama’s war—which many are calling for—will be in Thursday’s votes.”

The election was a disaster, marked by pervasive vote fraud, intimidation and violence. Thousands of fraud accusations surfaced, hundreds serious enough to flip the election results. Officials in the Shobarak district assert that some 23,900 votes were stuffed on President Hamid Karzai’s behalf. Up to 70,000 fraudulent votes may have been cast in a cluster of polling stations east of Kabul. Officials responsible for ensuring vote integrity sold voter cards for cash. Political alliances made to swing large voting blocs will likely increase the power of Afghanistan’s narcotics-fueled warlords. According to The Washington Post’s Pamela Constable, the elections left Afghans “confused, jittery and bracing for street violence — or at least a protracted period of political polarization and drift.”

So much for the fresh start.

Despite this failure of the test Riedel set up for the Afghanistan strategy and the obliteration of the hypothetical opening offered by a legitimate election, he continues to assert the existence of a new start. Five days after the election, when reports already indicated massive election fraud, he told a panel audience, “[T]his really is the last chance.”  Riedel now says we need another 12-18 months before we can assess the President’s new strategy. He has not acknowledged the failure of a strategy he helped to craft nor explained how the supposed “fresh start” persists after the collapse of the legitimacy of the election.

Sitting next to Riedel on that Brookings panel was Anthony Cordesman, who in April of this year gave a dire presentation in which he noted all of the above warning signs in Afghan public opinion. Yet Cordesman is among the most fire-breathing supporters for another escalation. In a recent Washington Post op-ed, Cordesman very helpfully hinted at the need for anywhere between 6,900 and 40,000 additional troops to bring the U.S. “victory” in Afghanistan, ignoring the massive Afghan public opposition on which he reported just a few month earlier and the potential for a further inflamed Pashtun population.

Cordesman also neglected to define “victory,” and that’s not surprising, given that the administration can’t get it’s story straight on what victory would look like. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry says we’re nation-building [h/t Steve Hynd], Secretary Gates says we’re not, and Ambassador Holbrooke just gives up and says he’ll know victory when he sees it. Lacking any clear endpoint, a possible range of recommended troop increases 33,100-wide, and thus lacking any solid measures against which to measure the costs and benefits, Cordesman’s “advice” recedes into chest-thumping nonsense, completely useless other than as an exhortation to President Obama to not be a wuss. And don’t forget–he’s only able to offer this drivel because he’s ignored the will/rage of the Afghan people on which he reported a few months earlier.

After more than 800 U.S. military casualties, tens of thousands of Afghan civilian deaths and $228 billion allocated so far, we have zero indications that Pashtuns in Afghanistan are any closer to giving their support to the Kabul government, the essential criteria for “victory” according to U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine. If that’s not enough to convince the president to abandon this bloody adventure, then let’s hope that, as the chief instrument of the people’s control over the executive branch, President Obama can be swayed by a basic respect for the strong desires of his people and the people whose land we’re occupying. The American and Afghan peoples want fewer, not more U.S. troops in Afghanistan. If, in the face of this pairing, the president decides to escalate again, he will confirm what many of us already fear: that this awful war has taken on a terrible independence from the will of the people.

(Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. You can learn more about the awful human costs of the war in Afghanistan by watching Rethink Afghanistan (Part Four): Civilian Casualties, or by visiting