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Push for Afghanistan troop increase continues on deadly day

Laura King, Julian E. Barnes and Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times
On a day when 14 U.S. servicemen and drug agents were killed in helicopter crashes in Afghanistan, the largest such toll in more than four years, momentum continued to build to send more troops to the war zone.

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a Washington address that he would support a decision by President Obama to “send some additional troops” provided improvements are made in Afghan troop training and government, and civilian aid efforts are increased.

Obama, speaking to service members in Jacksonville, Fla., promised his full support for all troops he sends into battle, as he continues to review his Afghanistan strategy.

“I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm’s way. I won’t risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary,” Obama said. “And if it is necessary, we will back you up to the hilt.”…
(27 Oct 2009)

Success elusive for U.S. policy in Afghanistan

Li Kaisheng, upiasia
In the nine months in which the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has been in office, its foreign policy focus on Afghanistan has become more tough and complicated. The Taliban remain strong, while the Afghan government is weak as domestic opposition has risen against it.
U.S. society has been discussing whether or not to send in more troops. Obama has not yet made a decision, saying he wants to observe developments in Afghanistan, particularly with regard to the dispute over the presidential election.

One-third of the ballots in the first election round were declared void, lowering the total for current President Hamid Karzai to less than 50 percent and raising those of his challenger, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, to nearly 31 percent. The second round of voting will now be held on Nov. 7.

However, whatever the outcome of the second round of voting, Obama is not likely to get what he has been waiting for – a united, powerful Afghan government. The next government, whether under the leadership of Karzai, Abdullah, or a power-sharing arrangement between the two, will remain plagued by corruption, factionalism and low efficiency. Also unchanged will be the government’s expectation of and dependence on support from the West, especially the United States…
(26 Oct 2009)

Former Marine captain resigns in protest of Afghanistan war

Glenn Greenwald, Salon
Matthew Hoh, a former Marine captain with combat experience in Iraq, resigned last month from his position with the Foreign Service, where he was the the senior U.S. civilian in the Taliban-dominated Southern Afghanistan province of Zabul, because he became convinced that our war in that country will not only inevitably fail, but is fueling the very insurgency we are trying to defeat. Hoh’s resignation is remarkable because it entails the sort of career sacrifice in the name of principle that has been so rare over the last decade, but even more so because of the extraordinary four-page letter (.pdf) he wrote explaining his reasoning.

Hoh’s letter should be read in its entirety, but I want to highlight one part. He begins by noting that “next fall, the United States’ occupation will equal in length the Soviet Union’s own physical involvement in Afghanistan,” and contends that our unwanted occupation combined with our support for a deeply corrupt government “reminds [him] horribly of our involvement in South Vietnam.” He then explains that most of the people we are fighting are not loyal to the Taliban or driven by any other nefarious aim, but instead are driven principally by resistance to the presence of foreign troops in their provinces and villages…

How long are we going to continue to do this? We invade and occupy a country, and then label as “insurgents” or even “terrorists” the people in that country who fight against our invasion and occupation. With the most circular logic imaginable, we then insist that we must remain in order to defeat the “insurgents” and “terrorists” — largely composed of people whose only cause for fighting is our presence in their country. All the while, we clearly exacerbate the very problem we are allegedly attempting to address — Terrorism — by predictably and inevitably increasing anti-American anger and hatred through our occupation, which, no matter the strategy, inevitably entails our killing innocent civilians. Indeed, does Hoh’s description of what drives the insurgency — anger “against the presence of foreign soldiers” — permit the conclusion that that’s all going to be placated with a shift to a kind and gentle counter-insurgency strategy?…
(27 Oct 2009)

The great gamble

Geoffrey Robinson, New Statesman
On 24 September I attended the funeral service for Fusilier Shaun Bush, a young man born and bred in Coventry, the city I represent as an MP. He was killed in Operation Panther’s Claw in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He died going to the rescue of two comrades, fellow fusiliers blown up by an explosive device. Another fusilier was at the funeral, gruesomely injured, in a wheelchair, yet immaculately turned out in full uniform to pay tribute to Shaun.

It was a moving experience. Many among the congregation at Coventry Cathedral were in tears. Yet something was lacking. You couldn’t put your finger on it. But as I looked up at Graham Sutherland’s majestic tapestry of Christ, the Lord’s countenance seemed to ask: was it really worth it? What was the purpose of it all?

Much about the war in Afghanistan may have to await the judgement of history. But one thing is clear already: any claim that Operation Panther’s Claw provided a secure environment in Helmand for the presidential election is a hollow and cruel pretence. Although there are no official figures available for voter turnout in the province as a whole, the report that in and around Babaji – the area cleared by British troops in the campaign – only 150 people of a possible 80,000 voted, at the cost of ten British soldiers’ lives, has not been contradicted.

The stark futility of the operation in these human terms is compounded by the massive fraud, which was both predicted and predictable. The sheer scale of the fraud, and the defiant sense of impunity with which Karzai and his supporters conducted it, sends an unmistakable message: I am president, intend to remain president, and have the means to remain president, and don’t care for or have need for legitimacy. There seems little point in rerunning the election. No one would believe the result if Karzai won; no one believes that Karzai could or would run an honest election even with tighter supervision by the Electoral Complaints Commission…
(22 Oct 2009)

A Crash Course in Democracy

J. Scott Carpenter, Foreign Policy
The decision by both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his main rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, to accept a runoff election is a welcome development that provides the Afghan government with an opportunity to restore its damaged credibility. The runoff election now faces two main challenges: making the process more credible and ensuring the election actually contributes to security. Setting Nov. 7 as the date for the election makes both impossible.

Nationwide elections in any country are logistically difficult. In Afghanistan, they’re a nightmare. Funds need to be mobilized (the last elections cost more than $500 million), new poll workers need to be hired (or fired), observers have to be recruited, voters reassured, and security forces redeployed. Because ballots are often transported by donkey, it could take weeks to distribute them to Afghanistan’s remotest areas. A mad rush will be the only way to get all of this done, and such haste will not contribute to a credible process.

first step in ensuring a credible election, therefore, is to postpone the date for the runoff. Only by allowing sufficient time to organize it properly can Afghans be assured that their government’s interest in holding the runoff goes beyond theatrics. Given the threats the Taliban are likely to make, this point is critical. The international community cannot expect Afghans to risk their lives to participate in a sham election.

Whenever the runoff takes place, improved election-day monitoring will prove decisive to avoiding the debacle which occurred in the first round. Three elements are paramount: expanded local monitoring, a parallel vote tabulation, and international observation. Of the three, local monitoring is the most important…
(21 Oct 2009)