We occupied Afghanistan for years (& all we got was nothing)

For those who have followed the situation even somewhat more closely than the average media outlet — which ignored the war in Afghanistan almost entirely after 2002 — there is (sadly) no surprise whenever another pillar of moral justification for the lengthy war and occupation effort collapses or becomes too tenuously thin to make the case anymore.

The twins of propaganda and profligate budget fraud have been skipping hand in hand for years around the U.S. effort in Afghanistan. We have not made the country better and most “evidence” that we did has been fabricated, exaggerated, or erased immediately by local forces we can’t control (including our own political allies).

We don’t want to talk about that because then we would have to admit that thousands of troops died and three-quarters of a trillion dollars were spent over the course of more than a decade…for nothing. Literally nothing. It was a giant, heartbreaking waste.

Now read the details from BuzzFeed News, which sent journalist Azmat Khan and others all over Afghanistan to check just the $1 billion worth of USAID and DOD funded schools alone. And weep.

Here’s a quick summary of the massive report:

The United States trumpets education as one of its shining successes of the war in Afghanistan. But a BuzzFeed News investigation reveals U.S. claims were often outright lies, as the government peddled numbers it knew to be false and touted schools that have never seen a single student.
[…]
a BuzzFeed News investigation — the first comprehensive journalistic reckoning, based on visits to schools across the country, internal U.S. and Afghan databases and documents, and more than 150 interviews — has found those claims to be massively exaggerated, riddled with ghost schools, teachers, and students that exist only on paper. The American effort to educate Afghanistan’s children was hollowed out by corruption and by short-term political and military goals that, time and again, took precedence over building a viable school system. And the U.S. government has known for years that it has been peddling hype.

BuzzFeed News exclusively acquired the GPS coordinates and contractor information for every school that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) claims to have refurbished or built since 2002, as well as Department of Defense records of school constructions funded by the U.S. military.

BuzzFeed News spot-checked more than 50 American-funded schools across seven Afghan provinces, most of which were battlefield provinces — the places that mattered most to the U.S. effort to win hearts and minds, and into which America poured immense sums of aid money.
[…]
Over the last decade, report after report has chronicled the corruption and waste that squandered taxpayer dollars across many U.S. programs in Afghanistan. But American education efforts — long seen as a shining success — have gone mostly unexamined, a truth acknowledged even by one of the U.S. officials who has investigated corruption in Afghanistan.

 

U.S. Marines in Afghanistan in November 2001. (US Marine Corps Photo)

U.S. Marines in Afghanistan in November 2001. (US Marine Corps Photo)

US suspends big security aid programs in Burundi

Due to elections violence and continued risk of coup during the 2015 Burundian Constitutional Crisis, State Department and DOD pull the plug on Burundi for military and non-military security aid. The huge US peacekeeping training program is halted:

In response to the abuses committed by members of the police during political protests, we are suspending all International Law Enforcement Academy and Anti-Terrorism Assistance training that we provide to Burundian law enforcement agencies.

Recognizing that Burundi’s National Defense Force has generally acted professionally in protecting civilians during protests, the United States continues to value our partnership with the Burundian military and urges them to maintain professionalism and respect for the rule of law.

However, due to the instability caused by the Burundian Government’s disregard for the Arusha Agreement and its decision to proceed with flawed parliamentary elections, the United States is unable to conduct peacekeeping and other training in Burundi. As a result, the United States has suspended upcoming training for the Burundian military under the Department of Defense’s Section 1206 Train and Equip program, as well as training and assistance under the Africa Military Education Program.

We remain deeply concerned that the current crisis will further hamper our ability to support the important contribution of the Burundian military to international peacekeeping.

 
To get a sense of scale for this news, as previously noted on AFD, via The Wall Street Journal:

After Nigeria — a country 18 times more populous — the U.S. trained more soldiers in Burundi than any other sub-Saharan African country between 2007 and 2014, according to publicly available data from the U.S. State Department. In the first nine months of 2014, 6,298 soldiers from the tiny country went through courses including advanced special operations, language classes and counterterrorism studies.

 

Flag of Burundi

Flag of Burundi

Notes for a better American foreign policy doctrine

American foreign policy would be significantly improved by adopting the medical ethics principle of “First, Do No Harm.”

In fact, this seems like a really obvious core principle to include:
1. It’s realistic, but not cynically “realist.”
2. It’s values-positive, while remaining within the country’s means and without overstretching capacity.
3. It’s not isolationist or irresponsibly disengaged, even if it’s not enthusiastically internationalist.

If we can’t be everywhere making everything better (and we can’t), we should at least not make things worse.

On the implementation side: I’d start by halting arms sales to governments that will use them destructively, and by generally rethinking many of our “strategic” alliances that don’t get us much but do give us a black eye or harm local populations.

And if we ourselves intervene militarily in places, we should be prepared to see it through fully, including meaningful reconstruction and with a full awareness for the risks of insurgency. If we don’t intervene directly, we should employ diplomatic channels to try to resolve the situation by other means, and we should ensure that whatever active policy is applied (such as relations with opposition groups or indirect paramilitary activities and support) remains in sync with our nominal values and overall strategic aims.

While I appreciate the need to take each situation as unique to some extent — to avoid sweeping generalizations and misapplication of past lessons — we should also try to be somewhat uniform in how we approach crises, rather than creating ad hoc responses that do not fit into any bigger picture and have no cross-situational logic to them. That’s expensive, confusing, and damaging.

If we can’t fix all the things in the world that are broken, let’s not break them further, and let’s try to have a clear set of rules and benchmarks for when we do step in. First, do no harm. Everything else, after.

US weapons flood risks destabilizing Iraqi Kurdistan

A new report in Foreign Affairs argues that the uncontrolled flood of weapons from U.S. government sources to Iraqi Kurdish officers in the field and official weapons grants routed through Baghdad (all for the purpose of fighting ISIS quickly, of course) is undermining years of careful work to professionalize the Kurdish peshmerga forces and bring them under civilian authority and a unified military chain of command regardless of Kurdish political parties. This U.S. policy could destabilize the region — which has previously been a fairly steady oasis in the country — and trigger the final exit of Iraqi Kurdistan from Iraq as a whole.

The military aid is uncoordinated, unbalanced, unconditional, and unmonitored. Because of the lack of oversight on weapons’ allocation, and because the weapons come with no strings attached, officials can direct them to their own affiliated peshmerga forces, empowering loyalist officers and entangling the rest of the officer corps in petty rivalries. All this distracts the peshmerga from the real task at hand: assessing, preparing for, and countering terrorist threats. To fix the problem, the U.S.-led coalition should place any assistance under a single command, under civilian control and away from political rivalries.
[…]
The West has failed to consider both the evolution of the peshmerga and Kurdish politics in general. It has conditioned weapons deliveries to the KRG on the approval of Baghdad, a policy designed to keep the Iraqi capital sovereign and to discourage total Kurdish independence. But the policy is outdated. Today, the PUK is ascendant in Baghdad, so channeling weapons to the Iraqi government has only further alienated the KDP from the central government. In turn, KDP officials have made increasingly provocative calls for independence and solicited direct arming to cut out Baghdad, which it views as being dominated by Iran. Western policymakers might shrug, believing that such divisions will at least prevent the parties from successfully joining together to press for an independent Iraqi Kurdistan; in reality, these divisions prevent Kurdish parties from effectively participating in the Iraqi state.

 
This doesn’t automatically mean the United States and its allies should not be supplying weapons to Iraqi Kurdistan’s peshmerga forces, but it does signal that the policy should be reorganized.

Flag-of-Iraqi-Kurdistan

June 17, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy 131

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

AFD-logo-470

Topics: Voter registration reform and mandatory voting; China and India in a Multipolar World; 21st century Colbertism and political cliches. People: Bill and Nate. Produced: June 15th, 2015.

Discussion Points:

– Voting Reform: Should voter registration be automatic? Should voting be mandatory?
– Multipolarism: What does the military rise of China, India, and other “poles” mean for the United States?
– Cultural Austerity: Why is it now commonplace to assert there’s less money to go around, when it’s really just more concentrated than before?

Episode 131 (54 min):
AFD 131

Related Links

ThinkProgress: Congressman Asks, Why Aren’t People Automatically Registered To Vote?
Bill’s new op-ed: India’s Zero Dark Thirty Moment
Wikipedia: Colbertism

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Op-Ed | India’s Zero Dark Thirty Moment

The following op-ed originally appeared in The Globalist.

After the raid into Myanmar: Beware of boundless missions, India.

Indian Paratroopers on parade. (Credit: Wikimedia)

Indian Paratroopers on parade. (Credit: Wikimedia)

This week, India’s military staged a covert operation into neighboring Myanmar (Burma) to target two camps of ethnic separatist militants. The action was taken in order to eliminate the source of recent unprovoked attacks that killed 30 Indian troops near the border.

Assertive or jingoistic Indians are happy that the military action had shades of the U.S. Seal Team Six raid on Abbottabad, Pakistan to kill Bin Laden. The broadly enthusiastic public reaction in India seemed to be almost comparable.

In U.S. style, Indian Air Force drones monitored the operation, which lasted 13 hours and involved helicopters dropping in special forces commandos. To avoid detection, they crawled along the ground a significant distance toward two camps, which they destroyed along with dozens of combatants. India reportedly suffered no casualties.

India’s government elected not to notify Myanmar’s government until the operation was nearly complete. On paper, the two countries have a mutual security agreement. This is meant to allow for coordination on cross-border defensive operations precisely like this one.

Instead, Prime Minister Narendra Modi opted for a unilateral approach. It is in line with a more muscular and assertive approach, to differentiate his defense posture for India from what is generally seen, depending on one’s political leanings, as the more timid (or circumspect) mode of his predecessor in such matters.

India as a major military power

Myanmar aside, the Indian government – once again led by the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – has also escalated military responses to incidents in disputed Kashmir.

At first blush, this looks like a revival of the tit-for-tat antagonism that led India and Pakistan to war in 1999. And India has also worried about rebels in Myanmar for some time. But there is a difference: today, India has a much larger role on the global security stage than ever before.

India has become the world’s top-ranking purchaser of major arms by volume. India imported 15% of arms sold worldwide from 2010-2014 – the largest buyer by a wide margin.

Sushma Swaraj, India’s External Affairs Minister recently hailed rescue operations by India’s military in Ukraine, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. It’s an important point of prestige, as Ms. Swaraj explained: “India’s image has emerged out to be a strong nation in one year so much that even the developed nations like Germany, France and even US sought our assistance…”

The Myanmar operation suggests India is no longer solely focused on rivalries with Pakistan or China and envisions a broader role for itself. One minister announced: “This is a message to neighbors who harbor terrorists,” a category in which he included countries as far afield as Iraq and Yemen. The military echoed this warning to “perpetrators of terror wherever they are.”

US as a poor model for India

Countries like India have long been very opposed to a muscular, borderless and unilateral U.S. military path. Given these recent policy shifts and rhetoric from India’s current government, it would seem some Indian policymakers are actually now keen to emulate that model.

“Might makes right” is the mantra of those activists. However, in the long run, even the U.S. military elite has found these unending little operations exhausting.

And this approach ultimately does little to change realities on the ground. As the United States has found out to its great frustration, such strikes only have a very momentary effect – however politically popular they may be.

At best, they are much like the (futile) effort of decapitating a hydra: the more you chop it off, the more (and faster) other heads of the hydra grow in. At worst, over-reach becomes one’s own death by a thousand cuts.

It is one thing to have a powerful and professional military. It is another to use it wisely. Beware of boundless missions, India.

US military begins basic training for Ukraine troops

The New York Times reports on the new U.S. military instruction happening in western Ukraine:

After months on the front lines, Ukrainian National Guard members are being trained in basic skills as part of a $19 million American military effort.

 
I think this is hugely important. A lot of these troops have already had to learn the hard way — in battle — but now the ones who’ve survived this long and stuck it out will get some quality late-stage basic training for the field. Now they’ll be motivated, committed, experienced, and trained. Not just a couple of those things. This will help Ukraine’s continued resistance to foreign invasion and defense of their revolution.

Meanwhile, there’s advanced training happening for the people who do things like call in rocket and artillery strikes, which should help reduce some of the high civilian casualties caused by Ukraine’s military (both sides have been at fault).