Half a beard 0

General Petraeus has claimed counterinsurgency success in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. But if this Washington Post report provides a true picture of what success amounts to, it makes failure hard to define.

Helmand is the place with the highest concentration of American troops, and the site of the first major operation under the new military strategy, when U.S. Marines in February retook the Taliban-held town of Marja. Coalition commander Gen. David H. Petraeus now points to parts of Helmand, such as Nawa, as examples of counterinsurgency success.

But the Helmand refugees living in this squalid camp, known as Charahi Qambar, offer a bleaker assessment. They blame insecurity on the presence of U.S. and British troops, and despite official claims of emerging stability, these Afghans believe their villages are still too dangerous to risk returning.

“Where is security? The Americans are just making life worse and worse, and they’re destroying our country,” said Barigul, a 22-year-old opium farmer from the Musa Qala district of Helmand … “If they were building our country, why would I leave my home town and come here?” …

The camp has since grown to more than 1,000 families, making it the largest of some 30 informal settlements around Kabul. …

The residents say they are mostly farmers who brought their bundles by bus and taxi to live in these mud hovels or under scraps of tarp. It is a place of wailing children and dirt-caked faces, where husbands search for menial labor and wives burn heaps of trash to cook their daily gruel. …

Ahunzada, a 35-year-old mullah, gets by on meager donations from other refugees, given to him as payment for teaching Islamic classes and leading the daily prayers in a low-ceilinged makeshift mosque built from mud. Two years ago, he left his opium fields in Sangin, one of the most violent parts of Helmand, which British troops recently handed over to U.S. Marines after taking casualties for four years.

“Every day, fighting is going on there. The more infidels who come to our country, the more Afghans die, and the less safe we become,” he said.

Ahunzada has little affection for the Taliban. His father, Mohammad Gul Agha, and his brother, Abdul Zahir, both died when a fireball engulfed their car on the road to the provincial capital. The insurgents, he said, had planted the bomb to target a passing U.S. military convoy.

“We are not happy from either side, but I believe the British and American troops are more cruel than the Taliban,” he said. “I have seen it happen: The Taliban come on motorbikes, they open fire, then they leave. Then the Americans just come and kill us, they bomb us, they open fire on us, they kill the children and innocent people.”

He makes this claim although “U.S. commanders say they have made reducing civilian casualties a top priority, and they say their soldiers accept more risk in order to minimize collateral damage” – a deplorable fact we know to be true.

Barigul [the 22-year-old opium farmer mentioned above] and his family left Helmand last month. He said the decision was the culmination of long-running harassment from American troops and their insurgent enemies. He has been detained, he said, accused of planting bombs, searched at checkpoints, and slapped in the face by foreign troops. Outside the Musa Qala district center, where American troops are dominant, the Taliban patrol the villages, block children from attending school and kill Afghans accused of collaborating with foreigners.

“If we grew our beards, the Americans arrested us and put us in jail saying we were Taliban. If we shaved, the Taliban gave us a hard time,” he said. “What are we supposed to do, shave half of our beard?”

These camp residents – refugees though they are, who have sought protection in the camp from the Taliban – have decided that the Taliban is after all the lesser of two evils. They “clearly want foreign troops to depart”.

They blame the Americans for bombing them out of their homes:

“Who are the Taliban? They are our brothers, our cousins, our relatives. The problem is the Americans,” said Lala Jan, 25, also from Musa Qala. “If somebody attacks from one house, the Americans bomb the whole place. If the Taliban come inside, during the night the Americans come and raid the house. That’s the problem.”

As the number of foreign troops has risen – there are now about 140,000 U.S. and allied NATO soldiers on the ground – the population of those who have been displaced from their homes and have moved elsewhere in Afghanistan has also grown.

Mohammad, a 36-year-old imam, said that during the Marine operation in Marja, his family hid in a hole, covered by boards, for 12 days as the Taliban fought Americans from house to house. This spring his mother-in-law’s home in Marja was obliterated by an American bomb, he said, killing six of his relatives.

“It was impossible to stay,” he said. “The house had collapsed. “If I go back to Marja, I will have to pick a side,” he said. “If I support the foreign forces, the Taliban will behead me. If I join the Taliban, I will also get killed.”

For many, the lure to return remains strong. The rain seeps into Ahunzada’s hovel. … He lies on the floor at night and yearns to return to Helmand.

“I keep thinking I should go back to my village, either to cultivate opium or to stand alongside the Taliban. Then at least I will have money. I could send it to my wife and son,” he said. “I think about this every night.”

Yet he is not quite ready.

“When the infidels leave our province, on the next day I will go home.”

Where in this calamitous story does an Afghan army come in, well trained, effective, competently commanded, and seriously willing to take on the Taliban without foreign assistance?  Is it even remotely in prospect?

Without such a thing – and who at this stage can seriously believe in it? – whenever the infidel forces withdraw, whether in 2011 or in 2014 (dates that have been named) or in any unspecified year beyond that,  the Taliban will have won.

While Obama dithers 0

Obama’s effect as Commander-in-Chief is the profound – and ultimately incapacitating? –  demoralization of the troops in Afghanistan.

He doesn’t know what they’re fighting for, so neither do they.  Some (including General McChrystal) think that their mission is ‘to help Afghanistan’. But the people of Aghanistan didn’t ask for their help and don’t seem to want it.

From The Times (London):

American soldiers serving in Afghanistan are depressed and deeply disillusioned, according to the chaplains of two US battalions that have spent nine months on the front line in the war against the Taleban. Many feel that they are risking their lives — and that colleagues have died — for a futile mission and an Afghan population that does nothing to help them, the chaplains told The Times in their makeshift chapel on this fortress-like base in a dusty, brown valley southwest of Kabul.

“The many soldiers who come to see us have a sense of futility and anger about being here. They are really in a state of depression and despair and just want to get back to their families,” said Captain Jeff Masengale, of the 10th Mountain Division’s 2-87 Infantry Battalion. “They feel they are risking their lives for progress that’s hard to discern,” said Captain Sam Rico, of the Division’s 4-25 Field Artillery Battalion. “They are tired, strained, confused and just want to get through.” The chaplains said that they were speaking out because the men could not. …

Several men approached by The Times, however, readily admitted that their morale had slumped. “We’re lost — that’s how I feel. I’m not exactly sure why we’re here,” said Specialist Raquime Mercer, 20, whose closest friend was shot dead by a renegade Afghan policeman last Friday. “I need a clear-cut purpose if I’m going to get hurt out here or if I’m going to die.”

Sergeant Christopher Hughes, 37, from Detroit, has lost six colleagues and survived two roadside bombs. Asked if the mission was worthwhile, he replied: “If I knew exactly what the mission was, probably so, but I don’t.” The only soldiers who thought it was going well “work in an office, not on the ground”. In his opinion “the whole country is going to s***”.

The battalion’s 1,500 soldiers are nine months in to a year-long deployment that has proved extraordinarily tough. Their goal was to secure the mountainous Wardak province and then to win the people’s allegiance through development and good governance. They have, instead, found themselves locked in an increasingly vicious battle with the Taleban.

They have been targeted by at least 300 roadside bombs, about 180 of which have exploded. Nineteen men have been killed in action, with another committing suicide. About a hundred have been flown home with amputations, severe burns and other injuries likely to cause permanent disability, and many of those have not been replaced. More than two dozen mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs) have been knocked out of action. …

Most of the men are on their second, third or fourth tours of Afghanistan and Iraq, with barely a year between each. Staff Sergeant Erika Cheney, Airborne’s mental health specialist, expressed concern about their mental state — especially those in scattered outposts … “They’re tired, frustrated, scared. A lot of them are afraid to go out but will still go,” she said. …

The men are frustrated by the lack of obvious purpose or progress. “The soldiers’ biggest question is: what can we do to make this war stop. Catch one person? Assault one objective? Soldiers want definite answers, other than to stop the Taleban, because that almost seems impossible. It’s hard to catch someone you can’t see,” said Specialist Mercer.

It’s a very frustrating mission,” said Lieutenant Hjelmstad. “The average soldier sees a friend blown up and his instinct is to retaliate or believe it’s for something [worthwhile], but it’s not like other wars where your buddy died but they took the hill. There’s no tangible reward for the sacrifice. It’s hard to say Wardak is better than when we got here.”

Captain Masengale, a soldier for 12 years before he became a chaplain, said: “We want to believe in a cause but we don’t know what that cause is.”

The soldiers are angry that colleagues are losing their lives while trying to help a population that will not help them. “You give them all the humanitarian assistance that they want and they’re still going to lie to you. They’ll tell you there’s no Taleban anywhere in the area and as soon as you roll away, ten feet from their house, you get shot at again,” said Specialist Eric Petty, from Georgia.

Captain Rico told of the disgust of a medic who was asked to treat an insurgent shortly after pulling a colleague’s charred corpse from a bombed vehicle.

The soldiers complain that rules of engagement designed to minimise civilian casualties mean that they fight with one arm tied behind their backs. “They’re a joke,” said one. “You get shot at but can do nothing about it. You have to see the person with the weapon. It’s not enough to know which house the shooting’s coming from.”

The soldiers joke that their Isaf arm badges stand not for International Security Assistance Force but “I Suck At Fighting” or “I Support Afghan Farmers”.

To compound matters, soldiers are mainly being killed not in combat but on routine journeys, by roadside bombs planted by an invisible enemy. “That’s very demoralising,” said Captain Masengale. …

The chaplains said that many soldiers had lost their desire to help Afghanistan. …

Posted under Afghanistan, Commentary, Defense, Islam, jihad, Muslims, News, Terrorism, United States, War by Jillian Becker on Monday, October 26, 2009

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Endless war? 0

From American Thinker:

It must be recognized and acknowledged by Americans that all governments of Islamic countries, secular and sectarian, cannot divorce themselves from the religious Jihadist aspect ever-present in their societies. The yearly surveys showing large majorities in these countries favoring strict Shariah is but one piece of the evidentiary puzzle. Almost without exception, to a greater or lesser extent, the governments of Islamic nations, irrespective of their official ties to Islam, find themselves in a confrontation with a discontented Jihadist element in their respective populations. In order to preserve their iron grip on the national treasury and the security forces, these governments (examples: our “allies” Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia), either directly or through surrogates in the royal or landed aristocracy, direct and support the Jihadist hostility toward kafirs, unbelievers in Islam, that are most often represented as Israel and the US; although Britain and India are also frequent Islamic terrorist targets. Even Turkey, founded 86-years-ago as a secular state to free the Turks from their repressive Ottoman Muslim past, has recently come under increasing Shariah-Islamic influence. The unavoidable conclusion is that radical Islam (understood as Shariah-Islam), often manifesting itself in Islamic Jihad, is a fact of life in all of our dealings and endeavors in the Islamic world. This omnipresent jihad aspect of Islam is the element that must be added to the debate over our Afghan strategy to supply the much needed clarity.

So how does this reality factor into the military strategic equation? Primarily it means that no Islamic government can ever be truly counted on to affirmatively eradicate Jihadist violence against US interests. This in and of itself suggests at the very least that the objective of nation-building in Afghanistan is a fool’s errand simply or so remote as to make it foolish. It also … would mean that, while it may be to our tactical advantage to temporarily ally with Islamic governments, it would be blood and money wasted to invest in trying to change an Islamic society. Consequently and most importantly, it would mean that, while denying Afghanistan to al Qaeda as an operational base and assisting the Pak government in defeating the Taliban and al Qaeda within Pakistan are vital national priorities, the delusion that these Islamic societies can be “Westernized” must be re-thought…

The American illusion that we can ever fight “a war to end all wars” is just that, an illusion. Shariah-driven Islam has been waging Jihad against the West for 1300+ years, why would we expect it to stop because we manage to facilitate democratic elections that empower corrupt Islamic leaders like Nouri al-Maliki or Hamid Karzai? We are just going to have to “shoot the closest bear” one at a time and reconcile our thinking that Jihad will reappear periodically like Haley’s Comet.

We think it probable that one great shock, such as a devastating attack on Iran’s nuclear installations, could send a message that would keep the jihadists still and trembling for years to come.

We do not think it remotely likely that Obama will order such a strike.

The world must look to Israel to save it from a nuclear-armed Iran.

Posted under Afghanistan, Arab States, Commentary, Defense, Iran, Iraq, Islam, jihad, Muslims, Saudi Arabia, Terrorism, United States, War by Jillian Becker on Sunday, September 13, 2009

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