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In a uncanny sort of way the slow motion failure of the US war effort in Afghanistan is a testament to the fiercely stubborn nature of our species. The US has total control of the air, real-time satellite imagery, and soldiers equipped with the best (and most expensive) military equipment known to our species. And yet, they continue to fail. The war in Afghanistan is almost two decades old now, and an favourable end for the West is unlikely.

The US, despite its world leadership, seems to learn little from it mistakes.  Vietnam remains a powerful lesson and reminder that ‘big guns, best tech’ military option is not a guarantee of victory.  The cost of resisting the US war machine is appalling, some two million(plus) dead, but Vietnam illustrated it is possible to resist.  Afghanistan is on a similar course.

This is what happens when a country decides to wage an unpopular war.  A disconnect grows between the citizens of the country and the political class that is waging the war.  A professional military bears the causalities with little coverage at home, so the war in question can fade out of the public consciousness.  Coupled with a lapdog media that should be exposing the tragedy of errors that is the Afghan war, little is said, and the boondoggle can continue.

Alfred McCoy reviews a small slice of the American failure in Afghanistan, focusing on the drug trade, that happens to fuel the Taliban and provide roughly 85% of the world’s heroin.  You’d think the biggest guns and the brightest minds could plot victory over a dirt poor nation and peasant farmers…

 

“Not only did this problematic drug war fail to curtail the traffic, but it also alienated the rural residents the government so desperately needed to win over. Worse yet, in the end it actually encouraged illicit opium production — a frequent outcome in Washington’s worldwide drug war that I once called “the stimulus of prohibition.”

Using sophisticated satellite imagery, Sopko’s team, for example, found a troubling disconnect between areas that received development aid from Washington or its allies and those that were subjected to opium eradication programs. In strategic Helmand and Nangarhar provinces, for instance, satellite photographs clearly reveal that the various drug eradication projects ripped through remote areas where “the population was highly dependent on opium poppy for its livelihoods,” rendering poor farmers destitute. The development aid was, however, lavished on more accessible, largely drug-free districts near major cities elsewhere in Afghanistan, leaving countless thousands of farmers in critical rural areas angry at the government and susceptible to Taliban recruitment.

Even liberal development alternatives to those rip-up-the-poppies programs, claims Sopko, only served to stimulate opium production in surprising ways. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), for instance, spent $36 million on irrigation for a showcase Food Zone project, meant to promote the growing of legal crops in southern Kandahar Province. As it happened, though, this important infrastructure program actually turned out to contribute “to rising levels of opium poppy cultivation” — an unintended outcome that could be seen in similar “irrigation projects in provinces like Nangarhar, Badakhshan, and Kunar.”

Next door to Kandahar in central Helmand Province, another Food Zone program initially helped reduce the opium crop by 60%. But as British agronomist David Mansfield reports, by the spring of 2017 an “unprecedented” proliferation of poppies covered up to 40% of the farmland targeted by that project; guerrillas were back in force; and farmers felt, as one put it, that “the Taliban is better than the government; they don’t ban poppy, they just ask for tax.” By now, of course, given all the years of bungled anti-drug programs, Mansfield concludes that the Kabul government has little hope of wresting “back control of central Helmand.”

USAID programs that emphasized increased wheat production proved similarly counterproductive. “With higher-yielding varieties and improved agricultural technologies,” writes Sopko, “households in the well-irrigated central valleys of rural Afghanistan would be able to meet their family wheat requirements with a smaller part of their land,” allowing “a larger area… to be allocated to [the] high-value… opium poppy.”

An Uncertain Future

Corroborating Sopko’s pessimism, a recent report by Mujib Mashal of the New York Times depicted the worsening Afghan drug situation as the product, in part, of Washington’s failed policies. Fueled by a booming opium harvest, the Taliban has recently expanded from poppy growing into large-scale heroin production with an estimated 500 labs refining the drug inside Afghanistan — part of a strategy aimed at capturing a greater share of the $60 billion generated globally by the country’s drug exports.

Out of the whole opium eradication project, the National Interdiction Unit, an Afghan outfit trained by U.S. Special Forces, is more or less what’s left when it comes to hopes for reducing the traffic in drugs. Yet their nighttime helicopter interdiction raids on mobile, readily reconstructed heroin labs are proving futile and their chief, reports Mashal, was recently sacked for “probably leaking information to hostile forces.” U.S. military commanders now realize that local Taliban bosses, enriched by the heroin boom, have nothing to gain from further peace negotiations, which remain the only way of ending this endless war.

Meanwhile, the whole question of opium eradication has, according to Mashal, gotten surprisingly “little attention in the Trump administration’s new strategy for the Afghan war.” It seems that U.S. counter-narcotics officials have come to accept a new reality “with a sense of helplessness” — that the country now supplies 85% of the world’s heroin and there’s no end to this in sight.

So why has America’s ambitious $9 billion counter-narcotics program fallen into failure again and again? When such illegality corrupts a society as thoroughly as opium has Afghanistan, then drug trafficking comes to distort everything — giving even good programs bad outcomes and undoubtedly twisting Trump’s headstrong plans for victory into certain defeat.

Think of the never-ending war in Afghanistan as Washington’s drug of choice of these last 16 years.”

Most of you don’t know war.  I certainly do not know what war is.  Nick Turse reports on it, but like reporters, can leave and return to the relative safety of home.  But an Libyan citizen nails down what its like in just a few short sentences:  “I drive by myself. I don’t know where I’m going and don’t have any place to go. My life has stopped. This is the only way to keep moving, but I’m not going anywhere.”

Crushing.  Exhausting.  Existential dread and uncertainty in a decidedly untidy package – all part and parcel of what war is.

 

“One hundred and fifty years after Henry became the first civilian casualty of the Civil War, Libyans began dying in their own civil strife as revolutionaries, backed by U.S. and NATO airpower, ended the 42-year rule of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Before the year was out, that war had already cost an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 lives.  And the killing never ended as the country slid into permanent near-failed-state status. The current conflict, raging on Tripoli’s doorstep since April, has left more than 4,700 people dead or wounded, including at least 176 confirmed civilian casualties (which experts believe to be lower than the actual figure). All told, according to the United Nations, around 1.5 million people — roughly 24% of the country’s population — have been affected by the almost three-month-old conflict. 

“Heavy shelling and airstrikes have become all too common since early April,” said Danielle Hannon-Burt, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross’s office in Tripoli. “Fierce fighting in parts of Tripoli includes direct or indiscriminate attacks against civilians and their property. It also includes attacks against key electricity, water, and medical infrastructure essential for the survival of the civilian population, potentially putting hundreds of thousands of people at risk.”

In this century, it’s a story that has occurred repeatedly, each time with its own individual horrors, as the American war on terror spread from Afghanistan to Iraq and then on to other countries; as Russia fought in Georgia, Ukraine, and elsewhere; as bloodlettings have bloomed from the Democratic Republic of Congo to South Sudan, from Myanmar to Kashmir. War watchers like me and like those reporters atop the Caravelle decades ago are, of course, the lucky ones. We can sit on the rooftops of hotels and listen to the low rumble of homes being chewed up by artillery. We can make targeted runs into no-go zones to glimpse the destruction. We can visit schools transformed into shelters. We can speak to real estate agents who have morphed into war victims.  Some of us, like Hedrick Smith, Michael Herr, or me, will then write about it — often from a safe distance and with the knowledge that, unlike Salah Isaid and most other civilian victims of such wars, we can always find an even safer place.

War has an all-consuming quality to it, which is at least part of what can make it so addictive for those blessed with the ability to escape it and so devastating to those trapped in it. A month of war had clearly worn Isaid down. He was slowly being crushed by it. 

In the middle of our conversation, he pulled me aside and whispered so his boys couldn’t hear him, “When I go to bed at night, all I can think is ‘What is going on? What does war have to do with me?’” He shook his head disbelievingly. Some days, he told me, he gets into his car and weaves his way through the traffic on the side of the capital untouched by shelling but increasingly affected by the war. “I drive by myself. I don’t know where I’m going and don’t have any place to go. My life has stopped. This is the only way to keep moving, but I’m not going anywhere.”

I kept moving and left, of course. Isaid and his family remain in Tripoli — homeless, their lives upended, their futures uncertain — pinned under the heavy weight of war. “

Eugenedebs

From Wikipedia:

“Eugene VictorGeneDebs (November 5, 1855 – October 20, 1926) was an American union leader, one of the founding members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or the Wobblies), and five times the candidate of the Socialist Party of America for President of the United States.[1] Through his presidential candidacies, as well as his work with labor movements, Debs eventually became one of the best-known socialists living in the United States.

Early in his political career, Debs was a member of the Democratic Party. He was elected as a Democrat to the Indiana General Assembly in 1884. After working with several smaller unions, including the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, Debs was instrumental in the founding of the American Railway Union (ARU), one of the nation’s first industrial unions. After workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company organized a wildcat strike over pay cuts in the summer of 1894, Debs signed many into the ARU. He called a boycott of the ARU against handling trains with Pullman cars, in what became the nationwide Pullman Strike, affecting most lines west of Detroit, and more than 250,000 workers in 27 states. To keep the mail running, President Grover Cleveland used the United States Army to break the strike. As a leader of the ARU, Debs was convicted of federal charges for defying a court injunction against the strike and served six months in prison.

In jail, Debs read various works of socialist theory and emerged six months later as a committed adherent of the international socialist movement. Debs was a founding member of the Social Democracy of America (1897), the Social Democratic Party of America (1898), and the Socialist Party of America (1901).

Debs ran as a Socialist candidate for President of the United States five times, including 1900 (earning 0.63% of the popular vote), 1904 (2.98%), 1908 (2.83%), 1912 (5.99%), and 1920 (3.41%), the last time from a prison cell. He was also a candidate for United States Congress from his native Indiana in 1916.

Debs was noted for his oratory, and his speech denouncing American participation in World War I led to his second arrest in 1918. He was convicted under the Sedition Act of 1918 and sentenced to a term of 10 years. President Warren G. Harding commuted his sentence in December 1921. Debs died in 1926, not long after being admitted to a sanatorium due to cardiovascular problems that developed during his time in prison. He has since been cited as the inspiration for numerous politicians.”

A brief note.  I think that this essay should be required reading for all those who consider joining the armed forces and participating in the cycle of terrorism and destruction that currently dominates our foreign policy and geo-political goals here in the West.   Many thanks to Tom’s Dispatch for hosting the essay.

“Why The War on Terror Shouldn’t Be Your Battle.”

[…]

Let’s start that unpacking process with racism: That was the first and one of the last times I heard the word “enemy” in battalion. The usual word in my unit was “Hajji.”  Now, Hajji is a word of honor among Muslims, referring to someone who has successfully completed a pilgrimage to the Holy Site of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. In the U.S. military, however, it was a slur that implied something so much bigger.

The soldiers in my unit just assumed that the mission of the small band of people who took down the Twin Towers and put a hole in the Pentagon could be applied to any religious person among the more than 1.6 billion Muslims on this planet.  The platoon sergeant would soon help usher me into group-blame mode with that “enemy.”  I was to be taught instrumental aggression. The pain caused by 9/11 was to be tied to the everyday group dynamics of our unit. This is how they would get me to fight effectively. I was about to be cut off from my previous life and psychological manipulation of a radical sort would be involved.  This is something you should prepare yourself for.

When you start hearing the same type of language from your chain-of-command in its attempt to dehumanize the people you are off to fight, remember that 93% of all Muslims condemned the attacks on 9/11.  And those who sympathized claimed they feared a U.S. occupation and cited political not religious reasons for their support.

But, to be blunt, as George W. Bush said early on (and then never repeated), the war on terror was indeed imagined in the highest of places as a “crusade.” When I was in the Rangers, that was a given.  The formula was simple enough: al-Qaeda and the Taliban represented all of Islam, which was our enemy. Now, in that group-blame game, ISIS, with its mini-terror state in Iraq and Syria, has taken over the role. Be clear again that nearly all Muslims reject its tactics. Even Sunnis in the region where ISIS is operating are increasingly rejecting the group. And it is those Sunnis who may indeed take down ISIS when the time is right.

“If you want to be true to yourself, don’t be swept up in the racism of the moment. Your job should be to end war, not perpetuate it. Never forget that.

The second stop in that unpacking process should be poverty: After a few months, I was finally shipped off to Afghanistan.  We landed in the middle of the night.  As the doors on our C-5 opened, the smell of dust, clay, and old fruit rolled into the belly of that transport plane. I was expecting the bullets to start whizzing by me as I left it, but we were at Bagram Air Base, a largely secure place in 2002.

Jump ahead two weeks and a three-hour helicopter ride and we were at our forward operating base. The morning after we arrived I noticed an Afghan woman pounding at the hard yellow dirt with a shovel, trying to dig up a gaunt little shrub just outside the stone walls of the base. Through the eye-slit of her burqa I could just catch a hint of her aged face. My unit took off from that base, marching along a road, hoping (I suspect) to stir up a little trouble. We were presenting ourselves as bait, but there were no bites.

When we returned a few hours later, that woman was still digging and gathering firewood, undoubtedly to cook her family’s dinner that night. We had our grenade launchers, our M242 machine guns that fired 200 rounds a minute, our night-vision goggles, and plenty of food — all vacuum-sealed and all of it tasting the same.  We were so much better equipped to deal with the mountains of Afghanistan than that woman — or so it seemed to us then.  But it was, of course, her country, not ours, and its poverty, like that of so many places you may find yourself in, will, I assure you, be unlike anything you have ever seen. You will be part of the most technologically advanced military on Earth and you will be greeted by the poorest of the poor. Your weaponry in such an impoverished society will feel obscene on many levels. Personally, I felt like a bully much of my time in Afghanistan.

Now, it’s the moment to unpack “the enemy”: Most of my time in Afghanistan was quiet and calm.  Yes, rockets occasionally landed in our bases, but most of the Taliban had surrendered by the time I entered the country. I didn’t know it then, but as Anand Gopal has reported in his groundbreaking book, No Good Men Among the Living, our war on terror warriors weren’t satisfied with reports of the unconditional surrender of the Taliban.  So units like mine were sent out looking for “the enemy.”  Our job was to draw the Taliban — or anyone really — back into the fight.

Believe me, it was ugly. We were often enough targeting innocent people based on bad intelligence and in some cases even seizing Afghans who had actually pledged allegiance to the U.S. mission. For many former Taliban members, it became an obvious choice: fight or starve, take up arms again or be randomly seized and possibly killed anyway.  Eventually the Taliban did regroup and today they are resurgent.  I know now that if our country’s leadership had truly had peace on its mind, it could have all been over in Afghanistan in early 2002.

If you are shipped off to Iraq for our latest war there, remember that the Sunni population you will be targeting is reacting to a U.S.-backed Shia regime in Baghdad that’s done them dirty for years. ISIS exists to a significant degree because the largely secular members of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party were labeled the enemy as they tried to surrender after the U.S. invasion of 2003. Many of them had the urge to be reincorporated into a functioning society, but no such luck; and then, of course, the key official the Bush administration sent to Baghdad simply disbanded Saddam Hussein’s army and tossed its 400,000 troops out onto the streets at a time of mass unemployment.

It was a remarkable formula for creating resistance in another country where surrender wasn’t good enough. The Americans of that moment wanted to control Iraq (and its oil reserves).  To this end, in 2006, they backed the Shia autocrat Nouri al-Maliki for prime minister in a situation where Shia militias were increasingly intent on ethnically cleansing the Sunni population of the Iraqi capital.

Given the reign of terror that followed, it’s hardly surprising to find former Baathist army officers in key positions in ISIS and the Sunnis choosing that grim outfit as the lesser of the two evils in its world.  Again, the enemy you are being shipped off to fight is, at least in part, a product of your chain-of-command’s meddling in a sovereign country. And remember that, whatever its grim acts, this enemy presents no existential threat to American security, at least so says Vice President Joe Biden. Let that sink in for a while and then ask yourself whether you really can take your marching orders seriously.

Next, in that unpacking process, consider noncombatants: When unidentified Afghans would shoot at our tents with old Russian rocket launchers, we would guesstimate where the rockets had come from and then call in air strikes. You’re talking 500-pound bombs. And so civilians would die. Believe me, that’s really what’s at the heart of our ongoing war.  Any American like you heading into a war zone in any of these years was likely to witness what we call “collateral damage.” That’s dead civilians.

The number of non-combatants killed since 9/11 across the Greater Middle East in our ongoing war has been breathtaking and horrifying. Be prepared, when you fight, to take out more civilians than actual gun-toting or bomb-wielding “militants.” At the least, an estimated 174,000 civilians died violent deaths as a result of U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan between 2001 and April 2014. In Iraq, over 70% of those who died are estimated to have been civilians. So get ready to contend with needless deaths and think about all those who have lost friends and family members in these wars, and themselves are now scarred for life. A lot of people who once would never have thought about fighting any type of war or attacking Americans now entertain the idea. In other words, you will be perpetuating war, handing it off to the future.”

During World War One, 10% of all casualties were civilians.

During World War Two, the number of civilian deaths rose to 50%.

During the Vietnam War, 70% of all casualties were civilians.

In the war in Iraq, civilians account for up to 90% of all deaths.

                                                         — The War You Don’t See by John Pilger.
Iraq-pain

Vietnamrape    There are no just wars.  The death, the depravity, and destruction should never have pretense of being a noble endeavour.  War is like being dragged face first through fifteen kilometres of shit, nobility and honour be damned.

We’re going to look at a “bad” war, that is a war that we did all the things we usually do, but couldn’t manage to spin a victory or even a “Mission Accomplished” out of the briny wash.  Vietnam seems to cause soul-searching in the US. The Vietnam War should do that at the barest of minimums.  I wonder how much “soul-searching” the Vietnamese do considering it was their country that was systematically raped, poisoned and bombed into a moonscape.

War kills people, like you and like me.  Not the Enemy, not the “evildoers” but women, men and children.  Families, friends, acquaintances are all maliciously erased by the callous hand of war.   The article from Alter.net that excerpts a book by Nick Turse is about the humiliations, gang rapes and murders visited upon the women of Vietnam by the invading American troops.  Make no mistake, this happens in every war and is committed by almost every military.

“In 1971, Major Gordon Livingston, a West Point graduate who served as regimental surgeon with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, testified before members of Congress about the ease with which Americans killed Vietnamese. “Above 90 percent of the Americans with whom I had contact in Vietnam,” said Dr. Livingston, treated the Vietnamese as subhuman and with “nearly universal contempt.” To illustrate his point, Livingston told his listeners about a helicopter pilot who swooped down on two Vietnamese women riding bicycles and killed them with the helicopter skids. The pilot was temporarily grounded as the incident was being investigated, and Livingston spoke to him in his medical capacity. He found that the man felt no remorse about the killings and only regretted not receiving his pay during the investigation.”

War makes us forget who we are and what we value.  Once we strip the humanity from our enemies, anything becomes possible.

“General George S. Patton III. Son of the famed World War II general of the same name, the younger Patton was known for his bloodthirsty attitude and the macabre souvenirs that he kept, including a Vietnamese skull that sat on his desk. He even carried it around at his end-of- tour farewell party. Of course, Patton was just one of many Americans who collected and displayed Vietnamese body parts.”  [..]

Some soldiers hacked the heads off Vietnamese to keep, trade, or exchange for prizes offered by commanders. Many more cut off the ears of their victims, in the hopes that disfiguring the dead would frighten the enemy. Some of these trophies were presented to superiors as gifts or as proof to confirm a body count; others were retained by the “grunts” and worn on necklaces or otherwise displayed. While ears were the most common souvenirs of this type, scalps, penises, noses, breasts, teeth, and fingers were also favored.”

Ah yes, even this very day,  we boldly proclaim our civilization and our humanity to all of those who would listen.  Can you imagine the rage and indignation of those who have suffered at our hands?

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