Archive for the ‘afghanistan’ tag
If you haven’t heard about Operation Medical Libraries, visit this website to learn how volunteers and health care professionals in the United States and elsewhere are helping rebuild medical and science libraries in developing countries. Originally known as Books Without Borders, the organization has delivered more than 13 tons of textbooks to Afghanistan and Iraq as of August 2008.
According to the organization’s website:
OML exists to shrink the educational gap in all areas of the health sciences in developing countries, which globally face the same problem: doctors and nurses go without the latest professional information they need to provide proper health care to their patients. In response to this urgent demand for life saving knowledge, OML has built a powerful collaboration between publishers, authors, universities, and hospitals to provide formal medical references and continuing education materials for health sciences students and professionals living in the developing world. In recognition of OML’s valuable contribution to medical health worldwide, several U.S. Government agencies have also joined in the effort.
Current textbooks in the health sciences fields of dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacology, and physical therapy are desired, as well as anatomy and basic science books.
One acute problem for medical professionals attempting to treat people and teach health care in these countries is religious extremism and the belief that showing certain parts of the human anatomy, in medical classrooms, for instance, is blasphemous. A story from The New York Times put it thusly:
Imagine cutting out a diseased appendix without ever having seen a Gray’s Anatomy diagram, or calculating drug doses without a Physicians’ Desk Reference, and you’ll have an idea what it’s like to practice medicine in Afghanistan.
Nearly three decades of war and religious extremism have devastated medical libraries and crippled the educational system for doctors, nurses and other health professionals. Factions of the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, singled out medical texts for destruction, military medical personnel say, because anatomical depictions of the human body were considered blasphemous.
“They not only burned the books, but they sent monitors into the classroom to make sure there were no drawings of the human body on the blackboard,” said Valerie Walker, director of the Medical Alumni Association of the University of California, Los Angeles.
“It’s hard to imagine working in an environment where you don’t have access to medical literature or the Internet,” said one donor, Dr. Lawrence Maldonado, director of the medical intensive care unit at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “I have unbelievable resources where I work — libraries, lecture series, online — and I know that everything I read or learn helps me make better decisions and take better care of patients.”
Walker is also the founder of Books Without Borders. For more information on how to help, here’s the contact e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In light of President Obama’s announcement tonight that, at last, combat operations in Iraq are over, it will be interesting going forward to see what, if any, insurgent uprisings or attacks will occur against Iraqi security forces now that the U.S. presence inside the nation have been severely pared back. Some have already occurred after the much ballyhooed drawback from a couple weeks ago.
Here’s a snippet from Obama’s speech tonight:
Ending this war is not only in Iraq’s interest – it is in our own. The United States has paid a huge price to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its people. We have sent our young men and women to make enormous sacrifices in Iraq, and spent vast resources abroad at a time of tight budgets at home. We have persevered because of a belief we share with the Iraqi people – a belief that out of the ashes of war, a new beginning could be born in this cradle of civilization. Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibility. Now, it is time to turn the page.
A New York Times editorial tonight framed the moment thusly:
Mr. Obama graciously said it was time to put disagreements over Iraq behind us, but it is important not to forget how much damage Mr. Bush caused by misleading Americans about exotic weapons, about American troops being greeted with open arms, about creating a model democracy in Baghdad.
That is why it was so important that Mr. Obama candidly said the United States is not free of this conflict; American troops will see more bloodshed. We hope he follows through on his vow to work with Iraq’s government after the withdrawal of combat troops.
There was no victory to declare last night, and Mr. Obama was right not to try. If victory was ever possible in this war, it has not been won, and America still faces the daunting challenges of the other war, in Afghanistan.
Any declaration of victory was fleeting because terms for what that might look like were never established. In some respects, I am with Christopher Hitchens in believing that we had the right to invade because of Saddam Hussein’s gross negligence for human life and solidarity. He was a monster; we can’t escape that point. But I think the false pretext (the presence of WMDs) under which we were led to believe that the war was a valuable endeavor is the gravest point on this issue. And however bat-crazy insane a national leader may be, I don’t believe it’s America’s job to police and/or jettison every one of them. For, there are many. Thankfully, less than in prior generations, but still many.
We can still count this as a historic day. Any time we can break free of one less entanglement as a nation is a good day in my view. Now, I would hope focus continues to hone sharply onto where it should have lied all along. That is, on Afghanistan or Pakistan or wherever bin Laden may be hidin’.
[Caption: Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press; Steve Baskis, 24, who lost his sight as a United States Army specialist serving in Iraq, listened to Mr. Obama's address at his home in Glen Ellyn, Ill.]
Afghan War Diary
Here is a snippet from the introductory text of the recently released documents, followed by a table, which I created showing the type of reports released and the number of each type of report. The documents are the most extensive release of its kind while the related war is still taking place. The following text and table should be quite revealing. More to come.
The Afghan War Diary is the most significant archive about the reality of war to have ever been released during the course of a war. The deaths of tens of thousands is normally only a statistic but the archive reveals the locations and the key events behind each most of these deaths. We hope its release will lead to a comprehensive understanding of the war in Afghanistan and provide the raw ingredients necessary to change its course.
The material shows that cover-ups start on the ground. When reporting their own activities US Units are inclined to classify civilian kills as insurgent kills, downplay the number of people killed or otherwise make excuses for themselves. The reports, when made about other US Military units are more likely to be truthful, but still down play criticism. Conversely, when reporting on the actions of non-US ISAF forces the reports tend to be frank or critical and when reporting on the Taliban or other rebel groups, bad behavior is described in comprehensive detail. The behavior of the Afghan Army and Afghan authorities are also frequently described.
The reports come from US Army with the exception most Special Forces activities. The reports do not generally cover top-secret operations or European and other ISAF Forces operations. However when a combined operation involving regular Army units occurs, details of Army partners are often revealed. For example a number of bloody operations carried out by Task Force 373, a secret US Special Forces assassination unit, are exposed in the Diary — including a raid that lead to the death of seven children.
Here is the table showing how the reports break down by report type:
Afghan War Diary by type
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So far, counterinsurgency has succeeded only in creating a never-ending demand for the primary product supplied by the military: perpetual war. There is a reason that President Obama studiously avoids using the word “victory” when he talks about Afghanistan. Winning, it would seem, is not really possible. Not even with Stanley McChrystal in charge. — “The Runaway General,” Michael Hastings, Rolling Stone, June 25 edition
And now, before the above prophetic story even hits newsstands, McChrystal is no longer the man in charge. But it’s not clear that under the once-again leadership of Gen. David Patraeus, the war in Afghanistan is any more winnable.
Much has been made of McChrystal’s remarks in the above story about top senior leadership in Washington, none greater than that of the Obama administration, which today relieved the former general of his duties. Thus, the above article, while an informative and, for most part, well-reported vignette of the man once leading the United States’ counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan is irrelevant, at least as it relates to McChrystal. And again, before it even hits newsstands.
Despite all the hullabaloo about the story this week, the most interesting and meaningful portions of it aren’t about McChrystal at all but about the increasingly stalled, some would say, failed, efforts in that war-torn nation. No one knows where Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind 9/11, is hiding. Probably in a hole somewhere safe and sound in the hills of Pakistan. He is almost certainly not in Afghanistan. So, why are we?
Quite simply, as everyone surely remembers, he and his hysteric followers were there once. Just not anymore. Now, and here’s one similarity to Iraq, we are there in a nasty stew with nary an exit in sight.
“Into the breach,” as The New York Times phrased a headline today, comes Patraeus, to help reverse deteriorating circumstances once again. The key difference?
In Iraq, General Petraeus was called in to reverse a failed strategy put in place by previous commanders. In Afghanistan, General Petraeus was instrumental in developing and executing the strategy in partnership with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who carried it out on the ground. Now General Petraeus will be directly responsible for its success or failure, risking the reputation he built in Iraq.
Not very heartening. The referenced strategy is a carry-a-stick-lightly counterinsurgency that mostly prohibits using firepower in order to ensure increased protection of civilians, this, much to the chagrin of soldiers, making them almost analogous to powerless cops.
According to Hastings’ article:
One soldier shows me the list of new regulations the platoon was given. “Patrol only in areas that you are reasonably certain that you will not have to defend yourselves with lethal force,” the laminated card reads. For a soldier who has traveled halfway around the world to fight, that’s like telling a cop he should only patrol in areas where he knows he won’t have to make arrests. “Does that make any fucking sense?” asks Pfc. Jared Pautsch. “We should just drop a fucking bomb on this place. You sit and ask yourself: What are we doing here?”
That crude Hiroshima/nuke reference notwithstanding, we can only hope that Patraeus’ other characteristics will win the day. Here, The Times attempts to lay the path:
By helping to pull Iraq back from the edge, General Petraeus won a reputation as a resourceful, unorthodox commander and has since been mentioned as a candidate for president.
But Afghanistan is a very different war in a very different country. Where Iraq is an urban, oil-rich country with an educated middle class, Afghanistan is a shattered state whose social fabric and physical infrastructure has been ruined by three decades of war. In Iraq, the insurgency was in the cities; here, it is spread across the mountains and deserts of the country’s forbidding countryside.
Indeed, to prevail in Afghanistan, General Petraeus will need all of his skills — and a dose of good fortune at least as big as the one he received in Iraq. At the moment, every aspect of the war in Afghanistan is going badly: the military’s campaign in the strategic city of Kandahar has met with widespread resistance from the Afghan public; President Hamid Karzai is proving erratic and unpredictable; and the Taliban are resisting more tenaciously than ever.
To turn the tide, General Petraeus will almost certainly continue the counterinsurgency strategy he devised with General McChrystal: protecting Afghan civilians, separating them from insurgents and winning public support. But he will also have to convince his own troops, who are increasingly angry about the restrictions on using firepower imposed to protect civilians.
And General Petraeus will probably also try to employ some of the same novel tactics that worked so well in Iraq. Most notably, he will continue to coax Taliban fighters away from the insurgency with promises of jobs and security. And he may even try to strike deals with senior leaders of the Taliban as well as with the military and intelligence services in Pakistan.
A former aide to General Petraeus in Iraq who is now in Afghanistan put it this way: “The policy is to make everyone feel safer, reconcile with those who are willing and kill the people you need to.”
This excellent Newsweek article tells the story of a president actually acting as commander in chief and head of the Pentagon, rather than as a lackey to it, in the weeks and months leading up to the White House’s decision to send some 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
Obama’s novel approach to the Pentagon — I say, “novel” because no president in the last 50 years or so has commandeered such a firm stance with the military — included not allowing military officials to get us committed to an lengthy, or worse, amaranthine, occupation in Afghanistan.
The first of 10 “AFPAK” meetings came on Sept. 13, when the president gathered 16 advisers in the Situation Room in the basement of the White House. This was to be the most methodical national-security decision in a generation. Deputy national-security adviser Tom Donilon had commissioned research that backed up an astonishing historical truth: neither the Vietnam War nor the Iraq War featured any key meetings where all the issues and assumptions were discussed by policymakers. In both cases the United States was sucked into war inch by inch.
The Obama administration was determined to change that. “For the past eight years, whatever the military asked for, they got,” Obama explained later. “My job was to slow things down.” The president had something precious in modern crisis management: time. “I had to put up with the ‘dithering’ arguments from Dick Cheney or others,” Obama said. “But as long as I wasn’t shaken by the political chatter, I had the time to work through all these issues and ask a bunch of tough questions and force people to sharpen their pencils until we arrived at the best possible solution.”
One participant in these meetings described Obama as “clear-eyed, hardheaded, and demanding,” and this is what I have always respected about the man. He’s calculating, not a cowboy. He’s leading, and not in Bush’s phony, and flatly wrong, “I’m the decider,” way (For, we know how tragically uncritical Bush was of his own military officials).
… Obama was perfectly aware of the box he was now in. He could defer entirely to his generals, as President Bush had done, which he considered an abdication of responsibility. Or he could overrule them, which would weaken their effectiveness, with negative consequences for soldiers in the field, relations with allies, and the president’s own political position. There had to be a third way, he figured.
In the meantime it was important to remind the brass who was in charge. Inside the National Security Council, advisers considered what happened next historic, a presidential dressing-down unlike any in the United States in more than half a century. In the first week of October, Gates and Mullen were summoned to the Oval Office, where the president told them that he was “exceedingly unhappy” with the Pentagon’s conduct (Regarding the McChrystal leaks). He said the leaks and positioning in advance of a decision were “disrespectful of the process” and “damaging to the men and women in uniform and to the country.” In a cold fury Obama said he wanted to know “here and now” if the Pentagon would be on board with any presidential decision and could faithfully implement it.
And at the conclusion of the article:
On Sunday, Nov. 29, having made his decision, the president decided to hold a final Oval Office meeting with the Pentagon brass and commanders in the region who would carry out his orders. He wanted to put it directly to the military: Gates, Mullen, Cartwright, Petraeus, and national-security adviser Jim Jones, without any of the others. Obama asked Biden to come back early from Thanksgiving in Nantucket to join him for the meeting.
As they walked along the portico toward the Oval Office, Biden asked if the new policy of beginning a significant withdrawal in 2011 was a direct presidential order that couldn’t be countermanded by the military. Obama said yes. The president didn’t need the reminder. Obama had already learned something about leaving no room for ambiguity with the military. He would often summarize his own meetings in a purposeful, clear style by saying, “Let me tell you where I am,” before enumerating points (“One, two, three”) and finishing with, “And that’s my order.”
Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, “David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?”
“Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame,” Petraeus replied.
“Good. No problem,” the president said. “If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?”
“Yes, sir, in agreement,” Petraeus said.
“Yes, sir,” Mullen said.
The president was crisp but informal. “Bob, you have any problems?” he asked Gates, who said he was fine with it.
The president then encapsulated the new policy: in quickly, out quickly, focus on Al Qaeda, and build the Afghan Army. “I’m not asking you to change what you believe, but if you don’t agree with me that we can execute this, say so now,” he said. No one said anything.
“Tell me now,” Obama repeated.
“Fully support, sir,” Mullen said.
“Ditto,” Petraeus said.
The real money is in copper. At least China seems to think so. As reported in The New York Times and elsewhere, Chinese workers are getting set to begin extracting some of the estimated $88 billion in copper deposits from Afghanistan on the site where al Qaeda operatives trained for the 9/11 attacks, the event which triggered the United States’ longterm presence in the region to begin with. The excavations are being prepared by the state-owned China Metallurgical Group Corporation (the official site) in the Aynak valley district just south of Kabul.
As it turns out, Afghanistan isn’t the only region in which China is bolstering its own economy, while in turn, apparently creating jobs and opportunity for destitute regions of the Middle East. It’s investing in Iraqi, gas from Iran and its also putting money into Pakistan and parts of Africa, according to the article. In the Aynak valley,
M.C.C. will dig a new coal mine to feed the plant’s generators. It will build a smelter to refine copper ore, and a railroad to carry coal to the power plant and copper back to China. If the terms of its contract are to be believed, M.C.C. will also build schools, roads, even mosques for the Afghans. — The New York Times, Dec. 29, 2009
Further, though the Chinese are obviously a world leader economically, they also apparently turn the idiom of a bull in a china shop on its head, and wear a plain, common man demeanor and dress when dealing with the local Afghans, which flies in stark contrast to the Yahoo-nature of many an American on foreign soil.
“The Chinese are much wiser,” said Nurzaman Stanikzai, a former mujahedeen and currently a contractor for the MCC. “When we went to talk to the local people, they wore civilian clothing, and they were very friendly. The Americans — not as good. When they come there, they have their uniforms, their rifles and such, and they are not as friendly.”
With the U.S. rightly focusing much of its attention on ousting the Taliban in the hills of Afghanistan and along the Pakistani border and, with Afghanistan’s rich trove of resources,
All the ingredients are there to build a modern society.
said Stephen Peters, with the U.S. Geological Survey, in an report from The Times of London. The Chinese, indeed, may be onto something in helping developing countries take new steps toward modernism. As Ibrahim Adel, China’s Minister of Mines, tersely said in the London Times article:
This is one way to control extremism.
See this story for another discussion of this topic.
Note: For literary types, here’s a side project. Go back and study Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, comparing the Yahoos (possibly a predated picture of how some would come to view Americans in the modern world) with the Houyhnhnms (how many view Asian cultures, with their attention to detail, logic, cool-headed approach to life). I’m by no means implying that the analogies are rock solid — Swift was writing three centuries ago, after all — but it’s interesting to think about.
And yes, I’m aware that it’s been more than a week since I wrote anything. Hampered by a bout of bronchitis, I was down for the 10-count for a few days, mostly staring at the walls, pushing the dog away and eating chicken noodle soup. Then came the holidays and a much-needed respite from work and a return to frag-laden play in Counter Strike: Source. But I’m back and gnawing on multiple ideas for future topics.
I write things. And sometimes they make sense. If you got this far, I’ll send you a candy cane via parcel post. – js.
After dancing until after midnight with wife, Michelle during an inaugural ball, Barack Obama arrived for work at 8:35 a.m. Wednesday and undertook these actions:
- Read a customary good luck note from former President George W. Bush, which was introduced thusly: For #44 to #43;
- Attended a prayer service
- Had aides circulate a note calling for the closing of Gitmo within a year. In the meantime, stop all war crime trials;
- Held a meeting with Vice President Joe Biden and military officials on the latest from Afghanistan and Iraq. According to The Associated Press, “Obama asked the Pentagon to do whatever additional planning necessary to ‘execute a responsible military drawdown from Iraq;’”
- Made calls to leaders in the Middle East, including Israeli, Palestinian, Jordian and Egyptian leaders;
- Imposed a pay freeze to aides who make $100,000 or more;
- Within hours of being sworn in, his administration, “… froze last-minute Bush administration regulations before they could take effect. Among them was an Interior Department proposal to remove gray wolves from Endangered Species protections in much of the northern Rocky Mountains, and a Labor Department recommendation that would allow companies that manage employee retirement plans to market investment products to plan participants; and
- “Obama and his wife also played host and hostess for a select 200 at an open house.”Enjoy yourself, roam around,” a smiling Obama told one guest.
“Don’t break anything.” — The Associated Press
What is the war on terror?
What defines it and at what point might we be able to declare “victory?”
One could suggest these questions might have been more relevant six or seven years ago when this debacle began after 9/11, but as we are still in a two-front war, still being affected globally by terrorism (See: Mumbai) and still hobbled under George W. Bush’s all-encompassing declaration of war on enemies both seen (mostly unseen), it’s still relevant today.
Frankly, I still don’t know what the war on terror means. I understand it’s an active roundup of people who seek to do harm on an international scale to innocents (For the record, the “Allied” forces have killed an estimated 90,000-97,000 civilian Iraqis since 2003.) and to catch those regimes who seek to intimidate and bully governments with which they don’t agree, but terrorism has existed since the Earth cooled (Possibly, but only possibly, is this an overstatement).
A few of many examples include:
- The Crusades
- The slaughter/scattering of the Native Americans
- John Brown, the Sons of Liberty, the Ku Klux Klan, the Irish Republican Army and numerous examples from the Cold War
Thus, terrorism is not a new thing. It wasn’t created on 9/11. And most importantly, it’s not a thing we can wrap our minds, our hands or our guns around. It’s a ubiquitous thing. Like the war on drugs, it’s so ubiquitous that we can’t even imagine it’s eventual victory. Acts of terror have pervaded for centuries. The fact that we are just now in the 21st century declaring a “war” on it precludes nothing from its history.
What does “victory” look like? What would that mean?
One supposes that it means eradicating those in the world who seek to do us (Us, meaning not only Americans, but innocents around the world) harm. But how does one carry this out to its end? To declare war presupposes that said war predicates an enemy and the possibility of victory over that enemy.
But we don’t have a clearly defined enemy. We have a group of erratic, ever-shifting, ever-evolving group of networks. They have no defined “nation” and no defined “allegiance.” Unless that allegiance is said to be to Allah. And if that’s the case, we are waging a war, ultimately, against a mythical god. One can see, then, how the war on terror, taken to its extreme, can appear wholly absurd, and not only ubiquitous, but otherworldly. For, if the god supposedly served by radical Islamic terrorists orders its subjects to kill infidels (or to kill anyone) in its holy text is not worthy to be served, praised or even acknowledged.
Moreover, the War on Terror is like a giant, never-ending escape clause, excusing us from the guilt of all kinds of atrocities that otherwise would not be put up with. When will this mythical war end? What defines its victory? What does victory even mean? It’s not a war against Iraq or a war against Afghanistan. It’s a war against an ideal, an intangible. At this point, we can not predict its end. And if we somehow knew what victory would mean, we shudder at its far-reaching, centuries-long consequences.