Category Archives: afghanistan

why we lost

A 3-Star General Explains ‘Why We Lost’ In Iraq, Afghanistan

November 09, 2014 5:22 PM ET
Why We Lost:  A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars
by Daniel Bolger

“I am a United States Army General, and I lost the Global War on Terrorism.”

Those are the frank opening words of a new book by retired Army Lt. Gen. Daniel Bolger, Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account Of The Iraq And Afghanistan Wars. Bolger continues:

“It’s like Alcoholics Anonymous. Step one is admitting you have a problem. Well, I have a problem. So do my peers. And thanks to our problem, now all of America has a problem. To wit: two lost campaigns and a war gone awry.”

In over 500 pages, the retired three-star general describes the conflicting agendas that haunted both campaigns, as well as the difficulty of identifying the enemy and the looming specter of Vietnam.

“The bravery and sacrifice of the people that I was privileged to serve with should be saluted,” he tells NPR’s Karen Grigsby Bates. “And the mistakes, the errors made by guys like me have to be accounted for and explained so we can learn and do better in the event we have to do something like this again.”

It’s a timely work, scheduled to be released on Veteran’s Day — a few days after Friday’s announcement that the president has authorized the deployment of 1500 additional troops to Iraq.

Bolger tells Grigsby Bates about the worrying signs he noticed at the very start of the campaigns, and why the conflicts were so challenging for the U.S. military.

Interview Highlights

On his earliest hints that the operations might not be successful

What I saw almost immediately was trouble figuring out who the enemy was. We knew within a day or two of the 9/11 attacks that it was al-Qaida, a terrorist network that had a headquarters element, if you would call it that, or a chairman of the board in Osama Bin Laden. And they were operating out of Afghanistan.

But that’s not who we ended up fighting most of the time. Sure, we went after al-Qaida at times. But we ended up fighting the Taliban, which were Pashtun people in Afghanistan who were trying to run that country. We evicted them in 2001. And we ended up fighting Sunni Arab insurgents in Iraq, who again — although they might make common cause with al-Qaida — those weren’t the guys who attacked us on 9/11.

On the lack of advance information about enemies on the ground

One of the things that we often say in the military is you have to fight for information, or fight for intelligence. So as we developed this picture and it became obvious that we were fighting an insurgent enemy mixed into a civil population that was suspicious of us anyway as outsiders (and that was true in both Afghanistan and Iraq), it really brought up the second point, which is what is the U.S. Military trained to do? And the U.S. Military is trained to carry out short and decisive conventional operations against a uniformed [enemy in formations].

So if you want us to go in and do something along the lines of 1991 Desert Storm, where we go against armored divisions and air force squadrons of the Iraqi forces and destroy them and capture the remainder, that’s what we’re trained to do. It’s very, very difficult to take even the great troops that we have and send them into a village to try and sort out which of the males there … might be insurgents, [or] who might be just people living in the area, [or] who might potentially be government supporters, when you don’t speak the language and you really don’t understand what’s going on in that village very well.

On what gave him confidence during the operations that they might still be successful

We really had two ways we could prosecute this war. The first was essentially to do what we did in Desert Storm. And both Afghanistan and Iraq started with a very short, successful, decisive U.S. initial invasion. And at that point, we had the option — we could have backed out and left it to the local people to sort it out. It might have been sort of ugly and it might have been sort of unsatisfying. But in both cases, we didn’t do that. We decided to stay.

“ We could have backed out and left it to the local people to sort it out. It might have been sort of ugly and it might have been sort of unsatisfying. But in both cases, we didn’t do that. We decided to stay.
– Lt. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger

The only way you can win that is the local people have to take the lead, and they have to have the sure knowledge that they’ve got a long term U.S. commitment to help them in the things they have trouble with.

And when I made that statement at Veterans’ Day [in 2012, expressing confidence in the mission], I was hopeful that the United States would make a long-term commitment to both countries.

It seems like in Iraq, we’re gonna have a degree of commitment more than we probably thought we would in the fall of 2011 [when the U.S. Army withdrew from the country], based on their fight against ISIS and what we’re trying to do to help them now.

Afghanistan, though, I keep hearing the same noises about [how] we’re gonna draw down to just an embassy and a few hundred people there within a year or so.

On what he would have done

Given what I knew then, I would have recommended to do like we did in 1991 and turn it over to the local folks. You know, give them some backing, but not much beyond the embassy or maybe a couple hundred advisers or something. Certainly not hundreds of thousands of troops on the ground for ten years.

building rome….

Top Defense Contractors Spent $27 Million Lobbying At Time Of Afghan Surge Announcement

With Reporting By Julian Hattem from the Huffington Post

The ten largest defense contractors in the nation spent more than $27 million lobbying the federal government in the last quarter of 2009, according to a review of recently-filed lobbying records.

The massive amount of money used to influence the legislative process came as the White House announced it would ramp up military activity in Afghanistan and Congress considered appropriations bills to pay for that buildup. All told, these ten companies, the largest revenue earners in the industry, spent roughly $7.2 million more lobbying in the fourth quarter of 2009 (October through December) than in the three months prior.

Such an increase in lobbying expenditures is partly a reflection of just how profitable the business of waging war can be. Each of these companies earned billions of dollars in defense contracts this past year. As the U.S. ramps up its military activities overseas, and the army is stretched thin by other ventures, it stands to reason that the contracts won’t dry up any time soon.

In mid-December, Congress passed a defense appropriations bill that totaled more than $635 billion. Shortly thereafter, the firm Northrop Grumman moved its corporate office to the Washington D.C. region to be closer to the heart of legislative action. Among the issues on which these ten firms lobbied, “appropriations” was the most frequently cited in lobbying forms.

“We’ve built Rome,” one longtime good-government official said of the symbiosis between contractors and the government.

On a related note, the Congressional Research Service released a report on Thursday, which showed that the number of private security contractors has bulged in the wake of Obama’s Afghanistan-surge announcement. Currently, contractors in Afghanistan make up between 22 percent and 30 percent of armed U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Below is a breakdown of the military contractor, lobbying expenditures and the amount of money the company earned in contracts last year.

Company: Boeing
Lobbying In Fourth Quarter: $6.13 million
Lobbying In Third Quarter: $3.71 million
Federal Contracts in FY08 (according to fedspending.org): $23,547,610,878

Company: United Technologies
Lobbying In Fourth Quarter: $3.66 million
Lobbying In Third Quarter: $1.39 million
Federal Contracts in FY08: $8,973,091,375

Company: Lockheed Martin
Lobbying In Fourth Quarter: $3.16 million
Lobbying In Third Quarter: $3.1 million
Federal Contracts in FY08: $35,729,713,235

Company: Honeywell International
Lobbying In Fourth Quarter: $1.94 million
Lobbying In Third Quarter: $1.66 million
Federal Contracts in FY08: $2,439,634,130

Company: Northrop Grumman
Lobbying In Fourth Quarter: $5.43 million
Lobbying In Third Quarter: $3.62 million
Federal Contracts in FY08: $24,921,637,857

Company: General Dynamics
Lobbying In Fourth Quarter: $3,000,697
Lobbying In Third Quarter: $2,496,308
Federal Contracts in FY08: $14,244,546,441

Company: Raytheon
Lobbying In Fourth Quarter: $2.19 million
Lobbying In Third Quarter: $1.9 million
Federal Contracts in FY08: $14,276,349,843

Company: L3
Lobbying In Fourth Quarter: $1.05 million
Lobbying In Third Quarter: $990,000
Federal Contracts in FY08: $7,464,053,901

Company: Textron
Lobbying In Fourth Quarter: $460,000
Lobbying In Third Quarter: $890,000
Federal Contracts in FY08: $2,858,396,315

Company: Goodrich
Lobbying In Fourth Quarter: $447, 098
Lobbying In Third Quarter: $425,529
Federal Contracts in FY08: $490,224,761

afghanistan needs help NOW

General Wants Help in Afghanistan Now

AP

WASHINGTON (Oct. 1) – The top American military commander in Afghanistan said Wednesday that he needs more troops and other aid “as quickly as possible” in a counter-insurgency battle that could get worse before it gets better.

 

Gen. David McKiernan said it’s not just a question of troops — but more economic aid and more political aid as well.

 

Speaking to Pentagon reporters, the head of NATO forces in Afghanistan said there has been a significant increase in foreign fighters coming in from neighboring Pakistan this year — including Chechens, Uzbeks, Saudis and Europeans.

 

“The additional military capabilities that have been asked for are needed as quickly as possible,” he said.

 

He said he was encouraged by recent Pakistani military operations against insurgents waging cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, but also said that it is too soon to tell how effective they have been.

 

Officials have said that violence in Afghanistan is up about 30 percent this year compared with 2007. The Taliban and associated militant groups like the terrorist network al-Qaida have steadily stepped up attacks in the last several years and more U.S. soldiers have died in Afghanistan already this year than in any year since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

“We’re in a very tough fight,” McKiernan said. “The idea that it might get worse before it gets better is certainly a possibility.”

 

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week that he may be able to send thousands more combat troops to Afghanistan starting next spring.

 

McKiernan was scheduled to meet with President Bush at the White House late Wednesday.

republican ex-congressman arrested in al-Qaida fund-raising conspiracy

051017siljander3.jpg
Siljander with wife, Mrs. Rabin, and Arafat 

According to Lara Jakes Jordan, AP reporter:

Former congressman and delegate to the United Nations, Mark Siljander was indicted Wednesday on charges of working for an alleged terrorist fundraising ring that sent more than $130,000 to an al-Qaida supporter who has threatened U.S. and international troops in Afghanistan.

He was charged with money laundering, conspiracy and obstructing justice for allegedly lying about being hired to lobby senators on behalf of an Islamic charity that authorities said was secretly sending funds to terrorists.

He’s accused of lying about lobbying on behalf of an Islamic charity that was accused of sending funds to terrorists.

The 42-count indictment, unsealed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Mo., accuses the Islamic American Relief Agency of paying Siljander $50,000 for the lobbying — money that turned out to be stolen from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The charges paint “a troubling picture of an American charity organization that engaged in transactions for the benefit of terrorists and conspired with a former United States congressman to convert stolen federal funds into payments for his advocacy,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein (picture below) said.”

haraznghanbariwainstein.jpg 

Siljander, who served in the House from 1981-1987, was appointed by President Reagan to serve as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations for one year in 1987. Calls to Silander’s business in a Washington suburb went unanswered Wednesday.

His attorney in Kansas City, James R. Hobbs, said Siljander would plead not guilty to the charges against him. “Mark Siljander vehemently denies the allegations in the indictment,” Hobbs said in a statement. He described Siljander as “internationally recognized for his good faith attempts to bridge the gap between Christian and Muslim communities worldwide” and plugged the ex-congressman’s upcoming book on that topic.

The charges are part of a long-running case against the charity, which had been based in Columbia, Mo., before it was designated in 2004 by the Treasury Department as a suspected fundraiser for terrorists. The indictment alleges that IARA also employed a fundraising aide to Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks. IARA has long denied allegations that it has financed terrorists.

The group’s attorney, Shereef Akeel of Troy, Mich., rejected the charges outlined in Wednesday’s indictment. “For four years I have not seen a single piece of a document that shows anyone did anything wrong,” Akeel said. The government accuses IARA of sending approximately $130,000 to help Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whom the United States has designated a global terrorist. The money, sent to bank accounts in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 2003 and 2004, was masked as donations to an orphanage located in buildings that Hekmatyar owned.

Authorities described Hekmatyar as an Afghan mujahedeen leader who participated in and supported terrorist acts by al-Qaida and the Taliban. The Justice Department said Hekmatyar “has vowed to engage in a holy war against the United States and international troops in Afghanistan.”

Siljander was elected to Congress initially with the support of fundamentalist Christian groups, and said at the time he won because “God wanted me in.” In 1983, he claimed that “Arab terrorists” planned to kill him during a pro-Jewish rally; the FBI and Secret Service said they knew of no such plot. Siljander attended the rally wearing a bulletproof vest.

After leaving the government, he founded the Washington-area consulting group Global Strategies Inc. and, according to the indictment, was hired by IARA in March 2004 to lobby the Senate Finance Committee to remove the charity from the panel’s list of suspected terror fundraisers. It’s not clear whether Siljander ever engaged in the lobbying push, said John Wood, U.S. attorney in Kansas City.

Nevertheless, IARA paid Siljander with money that was part of U.S. government funding awarded to the charity years earlier for relief work it promised to perform in Africa, the indictment says. In interviews with the FBI in December 2005 and April 2007, Siljander denied doing any lobbying for IARA. The money, he told investigators, was merely a donation from IARA to help him write a book about Islam and Christianity, the indictment says.

In 2004, the FBI raided the IARA’s USA headquarters and the homes of people affiliated with the group nationwide. Since then, the 20-year-old charity has been unable to raise money and its assets have been frozen. The charity has argued that it is a separate organization from the Islamic African Relief Agency, a Sudanese group suspected of financing al-Qaida.

A federal appeals court in Washington ruled in February that the two groups were linked. In all, Siljander, IARA and five of its officers were charged with various counts of theft, money laundering, aiding terrorists and conspiracy. “By bringing this case in the middle of America, we seek to make it harder for terrorists to do business halfway around the globe,” Wood said.

According to a Times Magazine article in May 1981:

Mark Siljander, 29, a Fundamentalist Christian, remarked as follows:

“I’m part of the silent majority that was heard Nov. 4 when President Reagan was elected (and) my support comes from morally concerned citizens who are sick of the situation in this country.” Siljander pledged to battle the Equal Rights Amendment, pornography, abortion, school busing and “big spending.” He championed the neutron bomb, the MX missile and prayer in public schools.

A former prefabricated-house salesman and state legislator, Siljander made his mark by mixing politics and religion. He drew money and manpower from right-to-lifers and support from the Moral Majority and spoke on school prayer and “the Christian’s role in American government.”  His campaign literature was handed out in church bulletins. 

According to a University of Edinburgh news release in 2005:

Mark Siljander served for three terms as a Member of the United States Congress, where he served on the International Relations Middle East and Africa Subcommittees. He was the primary sponsor of the African Famine Relief Act and later appointed by President Reagan as a US Ambassador to the United Nations.

Ambassador Siljander is a student of several languages, including Arabic, Aramaic, Hebrew, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese, and has spent over ten years studying the Scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

These experiences have led him to develop what he describes as “a unique paradigm for the peaceful resolution of conflict that has been successfully applied in several challenging areas of the globe”.

In 1996 he received the 1996 Mohandas K. Gandhi International Peace Award, for “…recognition of his courageous statesmanship in international reconciliation.”

Maybe he has a mood disorder.  Eventually the truth will come out.  But it may be a while.

bolton on bhutto: right on but wrong

Although it comes a little late, Bolton’s analysis of the u.s. role in precipitating Bhutto’s death is accurate, in my view.   (See later posting on the subject)

I do not agree, however, that we should place our support so strongly behind Musharraf.

 
  Bolton: US ‘helped precipitate’ conditions for Bhutto’s assassination

Mike Aivaz and Nick Juliano
Published: Friday December 28, 2007
 

The US has seen its options for dealing with Pakistan crumble with Benazir Bhutto’s assassination Thursday, and a former diplomat says American foreign policy decisions helped “precipitate” the former prime minister’s death.

John Bolton, former US ambassador to the United Nations, said it was a mistake to collaborate with Bhutto’s “desire to get back into the game in Pakistan” and view her as an alternative to the country’s current leader, Pervez Musharraf.

“We in effect helped — helped — precipitate this dynamic that led to her tragic assassination,” Bolton said Thursday on Fox News’ Hannity & Colmes. “It’s hard to see how that was the road to success.”

Bolton said the primary concern of the US needs to be the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. With Bhutto’s death plunging the country into chaos, there is now a “very grave danger” the weapons will fall under control of radical Islamist militants within the Pakistani military.

“What we have now is a prescription for chaos,” Bolton said.

Another foreign policy expert told RAW STORY Thursday that the death of the opposition leader likely has caused the so-called atomic “Doomsday Clock” to tick closer to midnight.

Thursday night, Bolton told Fox viewers that Musharraf is “the person to put our money on” in hoping for an acceptable resolution to the crisis in Pakistan, although even he faces the threat of assassination.

As soon as Bhutto returned to Pakistan in October — part of a deal brokered by the US — she was targeted by assassins in another suicide bombing. US diplomats viewer her as the only hope for maintaining stability and promoting democracy, but Bolton argued perhaps the US acted to quickly in attempting to reform the country.

“You can’t say this wasn’t foreseeable, and it’s obviously led to her death,” Bolton said. “Hardly a successful strategy.”

pakistani military effort against al qaeda and taliban derailed

U.S. Officials See Waste in Billions Sent to Pakistan

Mohammad Iqbal/Associated Press

Pakistani troops taking up positions this month at a vantage point over the Swat Valley, where militants have fought the army.

Published: December 24, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — After the United States has spent more than $5 billion in a largely failed effort to bolster the Pakistani military effort against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, some American officials now acknowledge that there were too few controls over the money. The strategy to improve the Pakistani military, they said, needs to be completely revamped.

 

In interviews in Islamabad and Washington, Bush administration and military officials said they believed that much of the American money was not making its way to frontline Pakistani units. Money has been diverted to help finance weapons systems designed to counter India, not Al Qaeda or the Taliban, the officials said, adding that the United States has paid tens of millions of dollars in inflated Pakistani reimbursement claims for fuel, ammunition and other costs.

“I personally believe there is exaggeration and inflation,” said a senior American military official who has reviewed the program, referring to Pakistani requests for reimbursement. “Then, I point back to the United States and say we didn’t have to give them money this way.”

Pakistani officials say they are incensed at what they see as American ingratitude for Pakistani counterterrorism efforts that have left about 1,000 Pakistani soldiers and police officers dead. They deny that any overcharging has occurred.

The $5 billion was provided through a program known as Coalition Support Funds, which reimburses Pakistan for conducting military operations to fight terrorism. Under a separate program, Pakistan receives $300 million per year in traditional American military financing that pays for equipment and training.

Civilian opponents of President Pervez Musharraf say he used the reimbursements to prop up his government. One European diplomat in Islamabad said the United States should have been more cautious with its aid.

“I wonder if the Americans have not been taken for a ride,” said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Lawmakers in Washington voted Thursday to put restrictions on the $300 million in military financing, and withheld $50 million of that money until Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice certifies that Islamabad has been restoring democratic rights since Mr. Musharraf lifted a state of emergency on Dec. 16. The measure had little effect on the far larger Coalition Support Funds reimbursements.

While it was a modest first step, any new conditions in aid could have a major effect on relations between the United States and Pakistan. Pakistan’s military relies on Washington for roughly a quarter of its entire $4 billion budget.

In interviews, American and Pakistani officials acknowledged that they had never agreed on the strategic goals that should drive how the money was spent, or how the Pakistanis would prove that they were performing up to American expectations.

After Six Years, a Plan

Early last week, six years after President Bush first began pouring billions of dollars into Pakistan’s military after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Pentagon completed a review that produced a classified plan to help the Pakistani military build an effective counterinsurgency force.

The plan, which now goes to the United States Embassy in Islamabad to carry out, seeks to focus American military aid toward specific equipment and training for Pakistani forces operating in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas where Qaeda leaders and local militants hold sway.

For their part, Pakistani officials angrily accused the United States of refusing to sell Pakistan the advanced helicopters, reconnaissance aircraft, radios and night-vision equipment it needs.

“There have been many aspects of equipment that we’ve been keen on getting,” said Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad, the Pakistani military’s chief spokesman. “There have been many delays which have hampered this war against extremists.”

United States military officials said the American military was so overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan that it had no advanced helicopters to give to Pakistan. American law also restricts the export of sophisticated drones, night-vision goggles and other equipment for security reasons.

There is at least one area of agreement. Both sides say the reimbursements have failed substantially to increase the ability of Pakistani forces to mount comprehensive counterinsurgency operations.

David Rohde and Carlotta Gall reported from Islamabad, and Eric Schmitt and David E. Sanger from Washington.

nir rosen: iraq doesn’t exist anymore…

An Interview with Nir Rosen

Iraq Doesn’t Exist Anymore 

By MIKE WHITNEY

Nir Rosen, author of In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq, has spent more than two years in Iraq reporting on the American occupation, the relationship between Americans and Iraqis, the development of postwar Iraqi religious and political movements, interethnic and sectarian relations, and the Iraqi civil war. His reporting and research also focused on the origins and development of Islamist resistance, insurgency, and terrorist organizations. He has also reported from Somalia, where he investigated Islamist movements; Jordan, where he investigated the origins and future of the Zarqawi movement; and Pakistan, where he investigated the madrassas and pro-Taliban movements.

Is the “surge” working as Bush claims or is the sudden lull in the violence due to other factors like demographic changes in Baghdad?

Nir Rosen: I think that even calling it a surge is misleading. A surge is fast; this took months. It was more like an ooze. The US barely increased the troop numbers. It mostly just forced beleaguered American soldiers to stay longer. At the same time, the US doubled their enemies because, now, they’re not just fighting the Sunni militias but the Shiite Mahdi army also. No, I don’t think the surge worked. Objectively speaking, the violence is down in Baghdad, but that’s mainly due to the failure of the US to establish security. That’s not success.

Sure, less people are being killed but that’s because there are less people to kill.

The violence in Iraq was not senseless or crazy, it was logical and teleological. Shiite militias were trying to remove Sunnis from Baghdad and other parts of the country, while Sunni militias were trying to remove Shiites, Kurds and Christians from their areas. This has been a great success. So you have millions of refugees and millions more internally displaced, not to mention hundreds of thousands dead. There are just less people to kill.

Moreover, the militias have consolidated their control over some areas. The US http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0743277031/counterpunchmaganever thought that Muqtada al Sadr would order his Mahdi Army to halt operations (against Sunnis, rival Shiites and Americans) so that he could put his house in order and remove unruly militiamen. And, the US never expected that Sunnis would see that they were losing the civil war so they might as well work with the Americans to prepare for the next battle. More importantly, violence fluctuates during a civil war, so people try to maintain as much normalcy in their lives as possible. It’s the same in Sarajevo, Beirut or Baghdad-people marry, party, go to school when they Can-and hide at home or fight when they must.

The euphoria we see in the American media reminds me of the other so-called milestones that came and went while the overall trend in Iraq stayed the same. Now Iraq doesn’t exist anymore. That’s the most important thing to remember. There is no Iraq. There is no Iraqi government and none of the underlying causes for the violence have been addressed, such as the mutually exclusive aspirations of the rival factions and communities in Iraq.

Are we likely to see a “Phase 2” in the Iraq war? In other words, will we see the Shia eventually turn their guns on US occupation forces once they’re confident that the Ba’athist-led resistance has been defeated and has no chance of regaining power?

Shiite militias have been fighting the Americans on and off since 2004 but there’s been a steady increase in the past couple of years. That’s not just because the Americans saw the Mahdi army as one of the main obstacles to fulfilling their objectives in Iraq, but also because Iraq’s Shiites-especially the Mahdi army-are very skeptical of US motives. They view the Americans as the main obstacle to achieving their goals in Iraq. Ever since Zalmay Khalilzad took over as ambassador; Iraq’s Shiites have worried that the Americans would turn on them and throw their support behind the Sunnis. That’s easy to understand given that Khalilzad’s mandate was to get the Sunnis on board for the constitutional referendum. Khalilzad is also a Sunni himself.

But, yes, to answer your question; we could see a “Phase 2” if the Americans try to stay in Iraq longer or, of course, if the US attacks Iran. Then you’ll see more Shiite attacks on the Americans.

Hundreds of Iraqi scientists, professors, intellectuals and other professionals have been killed during the war. Also, there seems to have been a plan to target Iraq’s cultural icons—museums, monuments, mosques, palaces etc. Do you think that there was a deliberate effort to destroy the symbols of Iraqi identity-to wipe the slate clean-so that the society could be rebuilt according to a neoliberal, “free market” model?

The main reason that things have gone so horribly wrong in Iraq is there was no plan for anything; good or bad. The looting was not “deliberate” American policy. It was simply incompetence. The destruction of Iraq’s cultural icons was incompetence, also – as well as stupidity, ignorance and criminal neglect. I don’t believe that there was really any deliberate malice in the American policy; regardless of the malice with which it may have been implemented by the troops on the ground. The destruction of much of Iraq was the result of Islamic and sectarian militias-both Sunni and Shiite-seeking to wipe out hated symbols. The Americans didn’t know enough about Iraq to intentionally execute such a plan even if it did exist. And, I don’t think it did.

The media rarely mention the 4 million refugees created by the Iraq war. What do you think the long-term effects of this humanitarian crisis will be?

The smartest Iraqis-the best educated, the professionals, the middle and upper classes-have all left or been killed. So the society is destroyed. So there is no hope for a non-sectarian Iraq now. The refugees are getting poorer and more embittered. Their children cannot get an education and their resources are limited. Look at the Palestinian refugee crisis. In 1948 you had about 800,000 Palestinians expelled from their homes and driven into Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East. Over time, they were politicized, mobilized and militarized. The militias they formed to liberate their homeland were manipulated by the governments in the region and they became embroiled in regional conflicts, internal conflicts and, tragically, conflicts with each other. They were massacred in Lebanon and Jordan. And, contributed to instability in those countries.

Now you have camps in Lebanon producing jihadists who go to fight in Iraq or who fight the Lebanese Army. And this is all from a population of just 800,000 mostly rural, religiously-homogeneous (Sunni) refugees. Now, you have 2 million Iraqi refugees in Syria, a million in Jordan and many more in other parts of the Middle East. The Sunnis and Shiites already have ties to the militias. They are often better educated, urban, and have accumulated some material wealth. These refugees are increasingly sectarian and are presently living in countries with a delicate sectarian balance and very fragile regimes. Many of the refugees will probably link up with Islamic groups and threaten the regimes of Syria and Jordan. They’re also likely to exacerbate sectarian tensions in Lebanon. They’re also bound to face greater persecution as they “wear out their welcome” and put a strain on the country’s resources. They’ll probably form into militias and either try go home or attempt to overthrow the regimes in the region. Borders will change and governments will fall. A new generation of fighters will emerge and there’ll be more attacks on Americans.

You have compared Iraq to Mogadishu. Could you elaborate?

Somalia hasn’t had a government since 1991. I’ve been to Mogadishu twice. It’s ruled by warlords who control their own fiefdoms. Those who have money can live reasonably well. That’s what it’s like in Iraq now, a bunch of independent city-states ruled by various militias including the American militia and British militias. Of course, Somalia is not very important beyond the Horn of Africa. It’s bordered by the sea, Kenya and Ethiopia. There’s no chance of the fighting in Somalia spreading into a regional war. Iraq is much more dangerous in that respect.

Is the immediate withdrawal of all US troops really the best option for Iraq?

It really doesn’t matter whether the Americans stay or leave. There are no good options for Iraq; no solutions. The best we can hope for is that the conflict won’t spread. The best thing we can say about the American occupation is that it may soften the transition for the ultimate break up of Iraq into smaller fragments. A couple of years ago, I said that the Americans should leave to prevent a civil war and to allow the (Sunni) rejectionists to join the government once the occupation ended. Turns out, I was right; but, obviously, it’s too late now. The civil war has already been fought and won in many places, mainly by the Shiite militias. The Americans are still the occupying force, which means that they must continue to repress people that didn’t want them there in the first place. But, then, if you were to ask a Sunni in Baghdad today what would happen if the Americans picked up and left, he’d probably tell you that the remaining Sunnis would be massacred. So, there’s no “right answer” to your question about immediate withdrawal.

November is the 3rd anniversary of the US siege of Falluja. Could you explain what happened in Falluja and what it means to Iraqis and the people in the Middle East?

Falluja was a poor industrial town known only for its kabob which Iraqis stopped to get on the way to picnic at lake Habbaniya. There were no attacks on the Americans from Falluja during the combat-phase of the US invasion. When Saddam’s regime fell, the Fallujans began administering their own affairs until the Americans arrived. The US military leaders saw the Sunnis as the “bad guys”, so they treated them harshly. At first, the Fallujans ignored the rough treatment because the tribal leaders leaders wanted to give the Americans a chance.

Then there was a incident, in April 2003, where US troops fired on a peaceful demonstration and killed over a dozen unarmed civilians. This, more than anything else, radicalized the people and turned them against the Americans.
In the spring of 2004, four (Blackwater) American security contractors were killed in Falluja. Their bodies were burned and dismembered by an angry crowd. It was an insult to America’s pride. In retaliation, the military launched a massive attack which destroyed much of the city and killed hundreds of civilians. The US justified the siege by saying that it was an attack on foreign fighters that (they claimed) were hiding out in terrorist strongholds. In truth, the townspeople were just fighting to defend their homes, their city, their country and their religion against a foreign occupier. Some Shiite militiamen actually fought with the Sunnis as a sign of solidarity.

In late 2004, the Americans completely destroyed Falluja forcing tens of thousands of Sunnis to seek refuge in western Baghdad. This is when the sectarian clashes between the Sunnis and Shiites actually began. The hostilities between the two groups escalated into civil war. Falluja has now become a symbol throughout the Muslim world of the growing resistance to American oppression.

The political turmoil in Lebanon continues even though the war with Israel has been over for more than a year. Tensions are escalating because of the upcoming presidential elections which are being closely monitored by France, Israel and the United States. Do you see Hizballah’s role in the political process as basically constructive or destructive? Is Hizballah really a “terrorist organization” as the Bush administration claims or a legitimate resistance militia that is necessary for deterring future Israeli attacks?

Hizballah is not a terrorist organization. It is a widely popular and legitimate political and resistance movement. It has protected Lebanon’s sovereignty and resisted American and Israeli plans for a New Middle East. It’s also among the most democratic of Lebanon’s political movements and one of the few groups with a message of social justice and anti imperialism. The Bush Administration is telling its proxies in the Lebanese government not to compromise on the selection of the next president. This is pushing Lebanon towards another civil war, which appears to be the plan. The US also started civil wars in Iraq, Gaza and Somalia.

The humanitarian situation in Somalia is steadily worsening. The UN reports that nearly 500,000 Somalis have fled Mogadishu and are living in makeshift tent cities with little food or water. The resistance-backed by the former government-the Islamic Courts Union-is gaining strength and fighting has broken out in 70 per cent of the neighborhoods in Mogadishu. Why is the US backing the invading Ethiopian army? Is Somalia now facing another bloody decades-long war or is there hope that the warring parties can resolve their differences?

After a decade and a half without a government and the endless fighting of clan-based militias; clan leaders decided to establish the Islamic Courts (Somalis are moderate Shaafi Muslims) to police their own people and to prevent their men provoking new conflicts. Islam was the only force powerful enough to unite the Somalis; and it worked. There have only been a half-dozen or so Al Qaida suspects who have-at one time or another—entered or exited through Somalia. But the Islamic Courts is not an al Qaida organization. Still, US policy in the Muslim world is predicated on the “War on Terror”, so there’s an effort to undermine any successful Islamic model, whether it’s Hamas in Gaza, or Hizballah in Lebanon.

The US backed the brutal Somali warlords and created a counter-terrorism coalition which the Somalis saw as anti-Islamic. The Islamic Court militias organized a popular uprising that overthrew the warlords and restored peace and stability to much of Somalia for the first time in more than a decade. The streets were safe again, and exiled Somali businessmen returned home to help rebuild. I was there during this time. The Americans and Ethiopians would not tolerate the new arrangement. The Bush administration sees al Qaeda everywhere. So, they joined forces with the Ethiopians because Ethiopia’s proxies were overthrown in Mogadishu and because they feel threatened by Somali nationalism. With the help of the US, the Ethiopian army deposed the Islamic Courts and radicalized the population in the process. Now Somalia is more violent than ever and jihadi-type groups are beginning to emerge where none had previously existed.

The US-led war in Afghanistan is not going well. The countryside is controlled by the warlords, the drug trade is flourishing, and America’s man in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, has little power beyond the capital. The Taliban has regrouped and is methodically capturing city after city in the south. Their base of support, among disenchanted Pashtuns, continues to grow. How important is it for the US to succeed in Afghanistan? Would failure threaten the future of NATO or the Transatlantic Alliance?

Although the US has lost in Afghanistan; what really matters is Pakistan. That’s where the Taliban and al Qaeda are actually located. No, I’m NOT saying that the US should take the war into Pakistan. The US has already done enough damage. But as long as America oppresses and alienates Muslims, they will continue to fight back.

The Gaza Strip has been under Israeli sanctions for more than a year. Despite the harsh treatment—the lack of food, water and medical supplies (as well as the soaring unemployment and the random attacks in civilian areas)—there have been no retaliatory suicide attacks on Israeli civilians or IDF soldiers. Isn’t this proof that Hamas is serious about abandoning the armed struggle and joining the political process? Should Israel negotiate directly with the “democratically elected” Hamas or continue its present strategy of shoring up Mahmoud Abbas and the PA?

Hamas won democratic elections that were widely recognized as free and fair; that is, as free and as fair as you can expect when Israel and America are backing one side while trying to shackle the other. Israel and the US never accepted the election results. That’s because Hamas refuses to capitulate. Also, Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood which is active in Egypt and Jordan and both those countries fear an example of a Muslim brothers in government, and they fear an example of a movement successfully defying the Americans and Israelis, so they backed Fatah. Everyone fears that these Islamic groups will become a successful model of resistance to American imperialism and hegemony. The regional dictators are especially afraid of these groups, so they work with the Americans to keep the pressure on their political rivals. Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah collaborates with the US and Israel to undermine Hamas and force the government to collapse. Although they have failed so far; the US and Israel continue to support the same Fatah gangs that attempted the coup to oust Hamas. The plan backfired, and Hamas gunmen managed to drive Fatah out of Gaza after a number of violent skirmishes.

Israel should stop secretly supporting Fatah and adopt the “One State” solution. It should grant Palestinians and other non-Jews equal rights, abandon Zionism, allow Palestinian refugees to return, compensate them, and dismantle the settlements. If Israel doesn’t voluntarily adopt the One State solution and work for a peaceful transition, (like South Africa) then eventually it will be face expulsion by the non Jewish majority in Greater Palestine, just like the French colonists in Algeria.This is not a question of being “pro” or “anti” Israel; that’s irrelevant when predicting the future, and for any rational observer of the region it’s clear that Israel is not a viable state in the Middle East as long as it is Zionist.

The US military is seriously over-stretched. Still, many political analysts believe that Bush will order an aerial assault on Iran. Do you think the US will carry out a “Lebanon-type” attack on Iran; bombing roads, bridges, factories, government buildings, oil depots, Army bases, munitions dumps, airports and nuclear sites? Will Iran retaliate or simply lend their support to resistance fighters in Afghanistan and Iraq?

I think it’s quite likely that Bush will attack Iran; not because he has a good reason to, but because Jesus or God told him to and because Iran is part of the front-line resistance (along with Hizballah, Syria and Hamas) to American hegemony in the region. Bush believes nobody will have the guts to go after the Iranians after him. He believes that history will vindicate him and he’ll be looked up to as a hero, like Reagan. There is also a racist element in this. Bush thinks that Iran is a culture based on honor and shame. He believes that if you humiliate the Iranian regime, then the people will rise up and overthrow it. Of course, in reality, when you bomb a country the people end up hating you and rally around the regime. Just look at the reaction of the Serbs after the bombing by NATO, or the Americans after September 11.

Iran is more stable than Iraq and has a stronger military. Also, the US is very vulnerable in the region, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. America’s allies are even more vulnerable. An attack on Iran could ignite a regional war that would spiral out of control. Nothing good would come of it. The Bush administration needs to negotiate with Iran and pressure Israel to abandon its nuclear weapons.

Bush’s war on terror now extends from the southern border of Somalia to the northern tip of Afghanistan—from Africa, through the Middle East into Central Asia. The US has not yet proven—in any of these conflicts – that it can enforce its will through military means alone. In fact, in every case, the military appears to be losing ground.

And it’s not just the military that’s bogged down either. Back in the United States, the economy is rapidly deteriorating. The dollar is falling, the housing market is collapsing, consumer spending is shrinking, and the country’s largest investment banks are bogged down with over $200 billion in mortgage-backed debt.

Given the current state of the military and the economy, do you see any way that the Bush administration can prevail in the war on terror or is US power in a state of irreversible decline?

Terror is a tactic; so you can’t go to war with it in the first place. You can only go to war with people or nations. To many people it seems like the US is at war with Muslims. This is just radicalizing more people and eroding America’s power and influence in the world. But, then, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

meanwhile in afghanistan…

Taliban capture third western Afghan district 

By Sharifuddin Sharafiyar, Reuters, Monday, November 5, 2007; 4:59 AM 

HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Taliban insurgents have captured a third district in western Afghanistan, local officials said on Monday, defying Western assertions the rebels are unable to mount large military offensives.

The hardline Islamist Taliban relaunched their insurgency two years ago to topple the pro-Western Afghan government and eject the 50,000 foreign troops, expanding their operations further from the mainly Pashtun south where they are strongest.

Western forces say the Taliban’s greater reliance this year on suicide and roadside bombs is a result of heavy battlefield casualties they and Afghan troops have inflicted on the rebels and the insurgents’ inability to hold ground.

But in the last week, the Taliban have captured three districts in the western province of Farah, bordering Iran, forcing lightly armed Afghan police to flee and defying Afghan and foreign forces to retake the lost ground.

First, Taliban rebels captured the Farah district of Gulistan a week ago, then on Wednesday took nearby Bakwa. On Sunday, the insurgents seized Khak-e Sefid without a fight.

“Khake-e Sefid district fell into Taliban hands yesterday without any resistance from Afghan forces,” Qadir Daqiq, a Farah provincial council member told Reuters. A provincial official who declined to be named also confirmed the report.

Taliban forces had been building up around Khak-e Sefid for some days, a Western security analyst said. The rebels in Farah have been receiving arms through a Taliban leader based close to the Iranian border, he said on condition of anonymity.

“There are many Iranians and Pakistanis fighting among the Afghan Taliban,” Farah provincial police chief Abdulrahman Sarjang told Reuters.

POLICE MORALE LOW

Afghan and Western officials have often said the Taliban’s ranks are reinforced with foreign fighters, but have said they have no proof of any assistance at an official level.

Poor morale among Afghan police meant that up to 38 officers had defected to the Taliban in the last week in Farah, the security analyst said, and those that remained were unwilling or unable to put up much of a fight.

“As soon as the Taliban attacked in numbers they did their best to make a tactical withdrawal — they basically got out of there as quick as they could,” he said. “Their motivation is not there to fight.”

Local residents have complained that NATO-led troops, under Italian command in western Afghanistan, have not helped Afghan forces to retake the districts.

“The residents are complaining that foreign forces do not assist Afghan troops to retake the districts,” Maolavi Yahya, district chief of neighboring Delaram told Reuters. “They have been complaining for a week now.”

As fighting in Afghanistan drags on, frustration is growing among ordinary Afghans that their government and its Western backers have not provided security six years after Afghan and U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban in 2001 for not handing over al Qaeda leaders in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

NATO commanders admit they have a limited window in which to defeat the Taliban and provide much-needed development before the Afghan public turns against their presence and public opinion in the West, frustrated by growing casualties, calls for the troops to be withdrawn, handing victory to the insurgents.

(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Jon Hemming in Kabul)

Telegraph reports deal splitting tribal leaders off from the Taliban:

 ALIZAI TRIBE TO DEFECT FROM TALIBAN SUPPORT

“The Daily Telegraph has learned that the Afghan government hopes to seal the deal this week with Mullah Abdul Salaam and his Alizai tribe, which has been fighting alongside the Taliban in Helmand province.

“Diplomats confirmed yesterday that Mullah Salaam was expected to change sides within days. He is a former Taliban corps commander and governor of Herat province under the government that fell in 2001.

“Military sources said British forces in the province are ‘observing with interest’ the potential deal in north Helmand, which echoes the efforts of US commanders in Iraq’s western province to split Sunni tribal leaders from their al-Qa’eda allies…

“Nato forces in Helmand have been monitoring mounting tensions within the Taliban around the towns of Musa Qala and Kajaki…

“The Itzakzai tribe in particular have been key Taliban supporters, principally because they have felt excluded from both provincial power and the province’s lucrative drugs trade since 2001.

“Some sections of the Alizai, by contrast, have been dominant within both the drugs trade and provincial power structures.

“Sher Mohammad Akhundzada, the former provincial governor who was allegedly a kingpin in the local drugs trade, was an Alizai.

“However, within the Alizai are three sub-tribes and it is one of these, the Pirzai Alizai, that Mullah Salaam controls around Musa Qala.

“The town is a drug-growing area and has been a centre of Taliban power since the collapse of a British-backed truce between the local government and the Taliban in February.”