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U.S. Drifting Towards Repression as its Afghan Strategy

“Bad puppets” surging as U.S. values decay
Matthew J. Nasuti (Former U.S. Air Force Captain)
Wednesday 27 October 2010

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Ethical U.S. officials in Afghanistan are losing their behind-the-scenes battles for the soul of Afghanistan. Those Americans who support a free and honest central government are being marginalized by those who support a return to power of the feudal warlords. The allure of the corrupt warlords is based on the fantasy that repression will provide a sufficient amount of temporary security so as to permit the United States to abandon Afghanistan with honor. As with the Shah of Iran in 1979, repression is usually the last gasp of an inept government that is unwilling to reform and adapt.

This story begins with a dispatch filed by Ben Sheppard of AFP on February 20, 2010. He interviewed U.S. Commander Russell McCormick of NATO’s Provincial Reconstruction Team in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan. McCormick defended the American decision to support former terrorist Mullah Sadiq (previously a member of Hisb-I-Islami) and his militia in Kamdesh district. Sadiq has a history of attacks against civilians and Coalition forces. The fear is, according to Ben Sheppard, that Sadiq may be simply using the Americans to eliminate his terrorist rivals. Commander McCormick, seemingly oblivious to the concept of warlord treachery, bizarrely describes Sadiq as:

“influential, intelligent, and he uses diplomacy and true Islam - rather than the barbaric form that the Taliban professes.”

Apparently the Pentagon’s test for “True Islam” is as follows:

If you are corrupt and kill civilians, but profess loyalty to the United States you are a “good Muslim.”

This is the same test the CIA used in the 1980’s when it backed warlords such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyr and it is the same test being used today by the CIA to fund warlords in other countries such as Somalia. This is all reminiscent of the American prisons in Iraq under Major General Douglas Stone where prisoners were reportedly taught a “moderate hadith” which included a course entitled “good Muslim, good citizen.” [see Slate.com article by Andrew K. Woods]

A second disturbing report was filed on August 29, 2010, from Kandahar by Dion Nissenbaum of McClatchy Newspapers. He interviewed Chris Harich, the U.S. Department of State’s representative in the Arghandab District of Kandahar. Harich told Nissenbaum that in the recent elections in Arghandab for District Governor, the United States was initially disappointed with the results because Haj Shan Mohammed Ahmadi was not the U.S. Embassy’s first choice. Harich’s off-handed comment should have been followed up on because the U.S. Embassy is not supposed to be supporting candidates and interfering in local Afghan elections.

Harich was then asked to evaluate the new District Governor. He responded that Mr. Ahmadi is “an outspoken and reliable U.S. ally.” The criterion for good government officials in Afghanistan seems to be that they profess loyalty to the United States. The criteria instead should be that he or she be honest, fair and competent. By all accounts, Mr. Ahmadi has performed in a lackluster manner as Governor, but he retains U.S. Embassy support because he remains a loyal puppet.

On October 4, 2010, the Washington Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran reported extensively on the internal struggles between American officials who support Spin Boldak District warlord Colonel Abdul Razziq and American officials who have been pressing for his ouster due to extensive evidence of corruption. The proponents of good government lost yet again with the U.S. now supporting Colonel Razziq. U.S. Colonel Jeffrey Martindale, a brigade commander in Kandarhar was quoted on October 25, 2010, by the Washington Post as saying of Razziq: “If you need a mad dog on a leash, he’s not a bad one to have.” Martindale went on to describe to the Post how he supported a Razziq campaign against a string of Taliban-controlled villages in Kandahar. Martindale apparently ordered air and artillery strikes on the Afghan villages. He told the Post:

“We obliterated those (Afghan) towns. They’re not there at all. These are just parking lots right now.”

Colonel Martindale should not be in Afghanistan. His presence violates the “prime directive” set out by General Edward Landsdale in his counterinsurgency report to President John F. Kennedy. Landsdale’s advice was that no American should be sent to South Vietnam who does not like Asians. That simple advice, applicable today in Afghanistan just as it was forty years ago in South-East Asia, remains the cornerstone of any successful counterinsurgency effort, yet it continues to be ignored by the Pentagon, State Department and CIA.

Within Afghanistan, American policy is a patchwork of inconsistent positions. In Kabul there has been some success by ethical American officials who support honest Afghan officials, while in the provinces more malevolent American officials generally prevail. The result is support for corrupt local warlords such as Colonel Abdul Razziq in Spin Boldak, Mullah Sadiq in Nuristan, Haji Toorjan in Kandahar and Matiullah Khan in Uruzgan, to name just a few. This fractured American decision-making exemplifies a dangerous drift in U.S. strategy.

The latest batch of WikiLeaks’-released Pentagon documents details the effects of the American drift towards repression in Iraq. They describe how some ethical American military field commanders did preliminarily investigate war crimes being committed by Iraqi government units, including the execution of a bound prisoner in Tel Afar (which was video recorded) and numerous allegations of torture. There was also an incident in February 2007, where an American attack helicopter crew was ordered by a military lawyer over the radio to kill two insurgents who had apparently raised their hands and were surrendering.

Reports of war crimes were repeatedly sent up the American military chain of command only to be suppressed at higher levels by U.S. officials who directed that no further investigations be conducted. On October 22, 2010, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, summarily announced that the WikiLeaks documents disclose nothing that could possibly be considered a war crime. “There is nothing in here which would indicate war crimes. If there were, we would have investigated it a long time ago.” Mr. Morrell should not be permitted to speak for the American people who should insist that Pentagon officials act with honor and speak with integrity.

On August 29, 2010, in a little noticed event, the Pentagon announced that it had removed Colonel Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D., U.S. Army Reserves, from his position at ISAF Headquarters in Kabul. Colonel Sellin is a veteran who previously served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He was removed from his position and sent back to the United States after he wrote an article for United Press International in which he described ISAF as being staffed with out-of-touch senior officers who spend most of their time in endless conferences with each other. Unlike other officials who took cheap parting shots at Afghan policy only as they were leaving Federal or military service, Colonel Sellin courageously made his disclosures knowing that it might cost him his job. His article paints a dismal picture of a military high command in decline.

President Obama has half of his officials attempting to strengthen the central government in Kabul, while the other half is working to weaken the central government by underwriting regional warlords and local militias (i.e. “bad puppets’). This reflects the fundamental inconsistency between a long-term counterinsurgency strategy based on the promotion of democracy, the rule of law and human rights, and a short term counter-terrorism policy which emphasizes arrests in the night, secret prisons and targeted assassinations of suspects in order to temporarily disrupt terrorist operations. President Obama should immediately address this fracture in his Afghanistan war plan.

In October, 2010, CNN reported on an independent evaluation of the war in Afghanistan:

“The insurgency in Afghanistan is gaining strength and new recruits in areas where the Taliban has not previously been prominent, according to a new report from the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO) in Kabul. In the third quarter of this year, it says, armed attacks by insurgents were 59 percent higher than in the same period of 2009. The gloomy assessment of the security situation says some districts in the Northern provinces are in danger of slipping beyond control, and it describes efforts to form local militias in opposition to the Taliban as ‘clumsy.’”

In a strategic assessment published on October 7, 2010, the Taliban now estimate that they control 75% of Afghanistan. This is akin to the degree of control in the countryside that the Viet Cong exercised in 1968. The New York Daily News, in an October 25, 2010, report by James Meek, confirmed that U.S. troops “hold little turf solidly” in Afghanistan. This was not disputed by ISAF spokeswomen Major Sunset Belinsky. This metric helps to explain the current desperation of some senior American officials in Afghanistan and their decision to embrace shady individuals pedaling “security” (as long as no questions are asked and as long as one does not examine the costs of that security too carefully).

America should not be combating Taliban repression with its own repression. President Obama cannot wait until December to review his Afghan strategy. He should act now to support those American officials on the ground in Afghanistan who, to-date, have fought a losing battle against the warlords and their U.S. supporters. The current drift in American policy in favor of repression and temporary security is pushing Afghanistan and America into the darkness.

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