Friday, October 30, 2009


Guantanamo Bay - Seven Years On


Guantanamo Bay: 10.28.2009

Guantanamo Bay: 10.28.2009

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Why are we still in Afghanistan?

Why are we still in Afghanistan?

The country poses no threat to the U.S., but the war costs lives, drains the treasury and makes enemies

One of the enduring oddities of the American foreign policy debate is that asking the most obvious questions is all but forbidden. For example, how does Afghanistan pose a threat to the United States?

Certainly not in any military sense. The impoverished, largely illiterate Afghans have no army apart from the one U.S. and NATO forces, with very limited success, are trying to train. No air force, no navy, no offensive military capacity whatsoever.

From the U.S. perspective, Afghanistan is the absolute end of the earth. Indeed, it's not a nation at all. The idea that well-intentioned Westerners can create an efficient central government on, say, the Swiss model, where none has ever existed, much less one acceptable to Afghanistan's many warring tribes, sects and ethnic factions, is almost certainly a delusion.

Here's the reality, as explained by a theater manager in somewhat Westernized Kabul to the New York Times: "The Afghan people are not mentally united ... An Uzbek will never vote for a Tajik. A Tajik will never vote for a Pashtun." The prevailing view, reporter Sabrina Tavernise found, appears to be that President Hamid Karzai's recent election victory was both fraudulent and inevitable.

Almost nobody believes a recount would solve anything. "Even if every Afghan casts their vote for (runner-up) (Abdullah) Abdullah, he won't be president because the foreigners don't want him to be," another man told her. "Nobody respected the people's vote."

Afghans see the Karzai government as organized thievery with a Pashtun accent. Period. Thus while veteran Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland is likely correct that President Obama's seeming indecision about sending 40,000 more American soldiers there is actually a squeeze play to pressure "Karzai into sharing power with more honest, competent Afghans," it's also apt to show more illusory than real results.

Granted, Obama's current dilemma is yet another fine mess bequeathed to him by the epic incompetence of George W. Bush. But it's a political rather than a military threat Obama faces. Terrorists can't defeat the United States; they can only cause American politicians to self-destruct in fear of taking blame for future atrocities.

Had the United States and its allies not diverted manpower and resources from Afghanistan to a futile, unnecessary war in Iraq, the counterinsurgency techniques proposed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal to persuade Taliban fighters to put down their weapons might have worked.

Eight bloody years on, however, what motivates the insurgency has been captured in an extraordinary series by David Rohde, the New York Times reporter rescued after seven months as a Taliban prisoner.

While his "captors harbored many delusions about Westerners," Rohde writes, U.S. antiterrorist policies had galvanized them. "They said large numbers of civilians had been killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories in aerial bombings. Muslim prisoners had been physically abused and sexually humiliated in Iraq. Scores of men had been detained in Cuba and Afghanistan for up to seven years without charges."

Rohde witnessed Taliban militants weeping over a NATO airstrike that killed scores of Afghan women and children. "To Americans," he writes "these episodes were aberrations. To my captors, they were proof that the United States was a hypocritical and duplicitous power that flouted international law.

"When I told them I was an innocent civilian who should be released, they responded that the United States had held and tortured Muslims in secret detention centers for years. Commanders said they themselves had been imprisoned, their families ignorant of their fate. Why, they asked, should they treat me differently?"

And yet they did. Because his kidnappers saw Rohde as a valuable commodity, he was housed comfortably, provided with toiletries, fresh food and water, newspapers and a short-wave radio. While often threatened, Rohde was never tortured; his captors even took him to a remote spot in the mountains to shoot a video making his plight appear worse than it was.

Although it infuriates some Americans to hear that "terrorists" have recognizable human motives, understanding them is also crucial to what Gen. McChrystal hopes to achieve there: separating ethnic Pashtun insurgents from al-Qaida fanatics by offering what his report calls "reasonable incentives to stop fighting and return to normalcy, possibly including the provision of employment and protection."

U.S. intelligence officers have told the Boston Globe that an estimated "Ninety percent (of Afghan fighters constitute) a tribal, localized insurgency ... Ten percent are hardcore ideologues fighting for the Taliban."

And what if a U.S. president recognized that destroying mud villages and killing children in distant Afghanistan isn't making America safer? That endless war creates endless enemies? What if he showed enough political courage to say that 100 percent security from terrorism isn't possible? That the mad, quixotic attempt to achieve it is sacrificing the lives of our best and bravest while it bankrupts the treasury?

Who in the world would be angry with him except the Washington war lobby and Osama bin Laden?

© 2009 Gene Lyons. Distributed by Newspaper Enterprise Association



Flying Choppers in Afghanistan More Deadly

Why Flying Helicopters in Afghanistan Is So Deadly

Reuters – U.S. military personnel watches as a U.S. helicopter flies over a military base in Ghazni province Ocotober …

The 14 Americans who died in Afghanistan on Monday were a reminder that U.S. troops who die in Afghanistan are twice as likely to be killed in helicopter crashes as are their counterparts in Iraq. And the reasons for that discrepancy are not to be found in the country's skies, but on the ground - the Taliban's growing footprint has forced the U.S. to be far more reliant on moving troops and supplies by air. And the rugged terrain often makes helicopters the only option, even as the altitudes involved greatly increase the risks.

Afghanistan's few roads are now increasingly monitored - and mined - by insurgents, meaning that many of the 180 U.S. outposts spread across the country can now only be reached by helicopters. "We don't have freedom of movement on the ground," a senior Army logistics officer says. "We're resupplying between 30% and 40% of our forward operating bases by air because we just can't get to them on the ground." (See pictures of a U.S. Marine offensive in Afghanistan.)

That forces the U.S. military to rely on helicopters, not only to reach remote outposts, but also to carry out dangerous combat missions that thinly spread troops couldn't do without the helicopter's ability to hopscotch hundreds of miles. It was precisely such an antidrug mission that a twin-rotor Army MH-47 Chinook was flying when it went down in western Afghanistan, killing 10 Americans including three civilians with the Drug Enforcement Administration. Earlier in the day, a Marine UH-1 Huey troop helicopter collided in midair with an A-1 Cobra helicopter gunship over southern Helmand province, killing four. U.S. officials said they don't believe hostile fire caused either crash. The death toll could rise because some of the 28 people left injured by the crashes are in critical condition.

"Helicopters are not shot down in battle very much in either place [Iraq or Afghanistan]," says Brookings Institution defense analyst Michael O'Hanlon. He and his colleagues are keeping running tallies of U.S. fatalities in both theaters. While 5% of U.S. deaths in Iraq have been caused by helicopter crashes - 216 out of 4,348 - the total is 12% in Afghanistan - 101 of 866 - even before Monday's losses. "The main issues [responsible for the higher rate of helicopter-crash casualties in Afghanistan] have to do with terrain, weather and of course frequency of use," O'Hanlon says. (See pictures of Afghanistan's dangerous Korengal Valley.)

The U.S. has over the past year doubled its number of helicopters based in Afghanistan to about 225, but troop numbers have risen even faster, making for a more acute chopper shortage. Helicopters are swift but delicate machines. The physics of flight make them inherently unstable, and therefore less reliable, than fixed-wing aircraft which generate their lift from stationary wings instead of egg-beater-like rotor blades. More critically, chopper pilots are commonly expected to fly in hot weather at high altitudes, where less-dense air offers them less control over their aircraft.

Air Force Captain Matthew Miller wrote about the challenges of flying in Afghanistan after returning from a four-month deployment there in 2007. His medevac unit, from Georgia's Moody Air Force Base, had lost three helicopters and seven crew members in the two wars. Enemy fire had been a factor in none of the Afghan crashes. "In Iraq, helicopter pilots face a greater prospect of being shot at by ground fire," Miller wrote. "In Afghanistan, the greatest threat is the terrain." He described flying in Afghanistan as "'graduate level' piloting more challenging than cruising over the flatlands of Iraq. "It didn't take long to feel the perils of mountainous flying in Afghanistan," he added. "Between Iraq and Afghanistan, most helicopter pilots I've spoken to consider Afghanistan the more dangerous place to fly."


Read "Moving Troops to Afghanistan Harder Than Getting Them."

See TIME's Pictures of the Week.

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Blood Platelets from Iraq to Afghanistan

Also Moving From Iraq to Afghanistan: Blood Platelets

A medevac crew cares for an injured soldier in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
A medevac crew cares for an injured soldier in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
Patrick Barth / Corbis

President Obama will meet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff Friday to debate the wisdom of sending up to 40,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. The meeting comes as the deadliest month for U.S. troops in eight years of war draws to a close — a spike in casualties that has already triggered a flow of precious reinforcements. The U.S. military has begun for the first time transferring from Iraq to Afghanistan pint-sized bags of platelets — the key blood component that encourages clotting and can prevent wounded soldiers from bleeding to death.

U.S. forces in Iraq needed the life-saving elixir far more than those in Afghanistan until fairly recently. Back in October 2006, 106 U.S. troops died there compared with 10 in Afghanistan. Three years later, those numbers have flipped: 56 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan so far this month, compared with six in Iraq. On Thursday, President Obama called his visit to Delaware's Dover Air Force Base in the wee hours to witness the return of 18 U.S. troops killed in the Afghan war "a sobering reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices that our young men and women in uniform are engaging in every single day." (See pictures of Afghanistan's dangerous Korengal Valley.)

But despite the grim tableau witnessed by Obama, it could have been worse. A 2008 Army book on combat surgery in Iraq and Afghanistan says the "recent (limited) theater availability of ... platelets" is a key reason for a significant reduction in fatal bleeding. Wounds that cause such hemorrhages are "the most preventable cause of death on the battlefield," it says, adding that pumping platelets into a wounded soldier is better than using whole blood. (See the top 10 medical breakthroughs.)

Platelets — the "body's own Band-Aid" — circulate along the smooth walls of blood vessels, seeking telltale signs of a leak. Once detected, the colorless, irregularly-shaped platelets stick to the rupture's edge and attract fellow platelets to join it in a clump and begin the process of sealing the wound. "We noticed an increase in the survival rate compared to when we were using whole blood," Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Jordan, who oversees platelet collection in Balad, Iraq, told a military interviewer in August. "They serve as the main factor in stopping bleeding and are used in any situation in which there is excessive blood loss."

Beginning in 2006, U.S. troops have been donating about 60 bags a week of platelets at the Air Force Theater Hospital in Balad, sitting back and watching a movie as an IV siphons the donor's blood through a centrifuge, where the platelets are separated out before the blood is returned to the donor. Soldiers can volunteer for the two-hour procedure twice a month. But platelets' life-saving properties don't last long — there is no way to preserve them, and the cloudy, yellow liquid containing them typically has to be discarded a week after it is drawn. Their short shelf-life outside the body means that the platelets have to be drawn close to the front lines.

As the Iraq war has wound down, a growing share of the platelet supply was going to waste, and on Oct. 14 the first batch was sent the more than 1,000 miles from Balad to a U.S. military hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Pentagon officials say it makes more sense to tap into the existing setup in Iraq for platelets than to try to establish a similar pipeline in Afghanistan.

See pictures of the surge in Iraq.



Deadly Afghanistan

deadly -afghanistan

Deadly days for US troops in Afghanistan

Shops burn following a deadly car bomb blast in Peshawar. A huge car bomb has ripped through a crowded market in Pakistan killing 92 people and underscoring the gravity of the extremist threat destabilising the nuclear-armed Muslim state.

(AFP/A Majeed


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