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The Forever War We Need to Keep Waging

The Forever War We Need to Keep Waging

There’s little that Democrats and Republican Trumpers agree on to be sure, but on one issue at least they may be united: the need to end America’s forever wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in each of which we’ve been involved for almost two decades. 

Trump has threatened to abandon both places. He’s already betrayed the Kurds in Syria who fought so well and loyally essentially as our infantry against Daesh, and he seeks to do the same by withdrawing all American forces from the country in which the plan for 9/11 was hatched.. But Trump is an idiot and his desire to withdraw from Afghanistan has less to do with strategy or a hardheaded reassessment of our commitments abroad than winning brownie points with his base before a tough re-election campaign. But such a withdrawal from Afghanistan would be a serious strategic and moral mistake and I really hope a Biden administration, if there is one, will agree, even if it means the commitment of a modest force indefinitely.

Of course the case for staying isn’t helped by the fact that its strongest advocates are some of the same nincompoops whose enthusiast cheer led us into the 2003 Iraq invasion ordered by George W Bush, such as Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institute and retired army general Jack Keane joined by a guy I’d hoped never to see or hear from again, Joe Lieberman and we all know how that went (although as an ardent opponent of that war it would be churlish indeed not to acknowledge that the United States plucked a solid military victory from the jaws of defeat thanks to the 2006 surge of forces under a more capable general and the fortunate timing of an alliance with the Arab Sunni Awakening; but at a bitter cost to both Iraqis and Coalition forces). We still live with the unpleasant reality that the principal beneficiary geopolitically has been Iran who lost a formidable enemy and found a new best friend in the now Shia-dominated Iraqi government.  

But just because they were wrong about Iraq doesn’t mean they’re wrong now and O’Hanlon in particular makes a compelling case for retaining the current residual force of between 5-10,000 American and NATO forces.  And whilst both O’Hanlon and Keane emphasize the critical counter-terrorism role of such a force, and rightly so given the ongoing threat of Daesh (ISIS-K) and the ever present possibility of a rejuvenated al-Qaida, I would argue that we should also help to thwart a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. We can do this by continuing to provide training, logistics and even air support to Afghan forces. And let’s not forget the all-important moral support our presence provides. 

Why should we do this? Because of the effort and sacrifice our Allies and ourselves have made to the cause; and because Afghanis, especially women and young girls, have come too far to be sent back to the 15th century by the fundamentalist rigidity of another Taliban regime. And make no mistake, that is the alternative if we fail to continue helping the Afghans.

Fulfilling our obligations and commitments is not a partisan issue, it’s an American issue. And betrayal doesn’t sit well with us, nor should it.

Finally a New Reason to Fight in Afghanistan

Finally a New Reason to Fight in Afghanistan

The U.S. Military invaded Afghanistan 9-1/2 years ago to topple the Taliban and capture Osama bin Laden.  Our number one reason for being there vacated the caves of Tora Bora just months after we arrived and, since then, the mission has been one of keeping the Taliban at bay and instituting some form of modern democracy in a country populated by people that aren’t to keen about change. 

Obama’s strategy has been to stabilize the country, get the Afghan military trained well enough to do the job themselves, and then get out. 

But today we learned that there’s gold in them there hills!  Well not so much gold, but a lot of other minerals that we need to keep our high-tech, battery powered economy going.  Today’s NYT reports:

The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

The vast scale of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was discovered by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists. The Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai were recently briefed, American officials said.

So far, the biggest mineral deposits discovered are of iron and copper, and the quantities are large enough to make Afghanistan a major world producer of both, United States officials said. Other finds include large deposits of niobium, a soft metal used in producing superconducting steel, rare earth elements and large gold deposits in Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan.

Just this month, American geologists working with the Pentagon team have been conducting ground surveys on dry salt lakes in western Afghanistan where they believe there are large deposits of lithium. Pentagon officials said that their initial analysis at one location in Ghazni Province showed the potential for lithium deposits as large of those of Bolivia, which now has the world’s largest known lithium reserves.

Finally a reason to get greedy extraction-industry corporations interested enough in this war to wanna fight harder.   Maybe they’ll even be willing to help pay for it.

Mr. Fish delivers the news perfectly with this comic about the importance of what we’ve discovered that “was hidden beneath the feet of the worthless population” of Afghanistan.

Eric Cartman Obtains AK-47’s for Blackwater

Eric Cartman Obtains AK-47’s for Blackwater

Story from The Washington Independent:

Employees of the CIA-connected private security corporation Blackwater diverted hundreds of weapons, including more than 500 AK-47 assault rifles, from a U.S. weapons bunker in Afghanistan intended to equip Afghan policemen, according to an investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee.  On at least one occasion, an individual claiming to work for the company evidently signed for a weapons shipment using the name of a “South Park” cartoon character.  And Blackwater has yet to return hundreds of the guns to the military.

According to the committee, at the behest of the company’s Afghanistan country manager, Ricky Chambers, Blackwater on at least two occasions acquired hundreds of rifles and pistols from a U.S. military facility near Kabul called 22 Bunkers by the military and Pol-e Charki by the Afghans.  Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of all U.S. military forces in the Middle East and South Asia, wrote to the committee to explain that “there is no current or past written policy, order, directive, or instruction that allows U.S. Military contractors or subcontractors in Afghanistan to use weapons stored at 22 Bunkers.”

On one of those occasions, in September 2008, Chief Warrant Officer Greg Sailer, who worked at 22 Bunkers and is a friend of a Blackwater officer working in Afghanistan, signed over more than 200 AK-47s to an individual identified as “Eric Cartman” or possibly “Carjman” from Blackwater’s Counter Narcotics Training Unit.  A Blackwater lawyer told committee staff that no one by those names has ever been employed by the company.  Eric Cartman is the name of an obnoxious character from Comedy Central’s popular “South Park” cartoon.

Blackwater personnel invoked their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

via Attackerman.

Obama’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

Obama’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

I was not able to watch the speech today, but one of our infrequent contributors who goes by the name of “offspeed” emailed the speech to me just as I was sitting down to lunch.  He prefaced the speech with this review:

OK, I thought he was a great orator but this speech shows situational awareness, incisive understanding of history, of his place in history, the duality of war and peace and what our role is in the world.

Absolutely brilliant.

So I read it, and it is brilliant.  Here’s just one of the many passages that I liked:

Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe that the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America’s commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not just when it is easy, but when it is hard.

You can watch and or read the speech here.

Our Troops in Afghanistan Need Mountain Warfare Training

Our Troops in Afghanistan Need Mountain Warfare Training

President Obama has made our commitment to Afghanistan a central plank of his foreign policy.  Everyone agrees that the reinvigorated Taliban, helped by al-Qaida in  Pakistan, represent a formidable foe in their mountainous home.  And whilst it is widely recognized that building a stable Afghanistan will require much more than the application of military force, it is equally clear that we cannot make substantive progress whilst the Taliban controls large swaths of the countryside.  

Yet there is not a single brigade-sized or larger unit in either the United States Army or Marine Corps that is specifically trained for the sort of mountain warfare that would help prepare them for combat in rugged Afghanistan. The Army’s 10th  Mountain Division, unlike its illustrious World War II predecessor, is a mountain division in name only.  It lacks any particular training or expertise in mountain warfare.

To be sure both services have mountain warfare schools but these primarily are for individual rather than unit training. No major US ground force unit is based at or regularly trains at a high elevation camp or post. This in contrast to the WWII era 10th Mountain Division which was based and trained at Camps Carson and Hale in the Colorado Rockies. 

Specialized unit training of troops for mountain warfare is both expensive and resource intensive.  It requires them to be able to become acclimated to high elevation movement and maneuver; to be equipped for the bitter cold and very possibly with new weapons, such as artillery, that are specially designed for being packed in to otherwise inaccessible terrain. Yet the rewards of training our conventional troops well enough  to go toe-to-toe with the fleet-footed Taliban warriors even in their most inaccessible redoubts and sanctuaries could be enormous.

It’s no secret that the Marines are keen to be redeployed from Iraq to the campaign in Afghanistan, where they believe their talents will better utilized..  To date, Secretary of Defence Gates has resisted the idea of having the Marines take the lead force there although a small number has already been deployed.  In fact having the Marines as the principal conventional force in Afghanistan is an excellent idea.  To win their point the Marines should immediately expand the USMC Mountain Warfare Training Center in California and ensure that every battalion slated for deployment in Afghanistan is given lengthy and sustained mountain warfare training and altitude acclimation before shipping out. 

If the Army continues to have the principal role in Afghanistan, why not make the 10th Mountain Division a mountain warfare specialist in more than just name?

We are likely to be battling the Taliban for years to come in the mountains they know so well. It is long past time we treated the challenge with the seriousness it deserves by adequately preparing our troops for what will be a long and arduous struggle.

John McCain is making me feel embarrassed

John McCain is making me feel embarrassed

I’m still glad the republicans finally came to their senses and nominated someone outside of the evangelical pandering, legislated morality spectrum, but when I announced internally that this was going to be a well fought, ethical, and thought provoking election cycle, I was projecting a misguided and gullible sense of who I really wanted McCain to be, right in lock-step with media accounts, into a void left in the spot in my brain I had reserved for the information I desperately lack regarding John McCain’s qualifications to be the next president of the United States.

So here, for the future of all that is good for children and families and cute little puppies…ENDANGERED puppies, I give you John McCain:

This is creepy. But only slightly creepier than the actual planned appearance it’s based on, made by McCain in a controlled setting and in front of a chosen audience.

Now let’s play a game. Each of these two is not like the other!

1. This is what appeared all day monday on all major networks. Different hosts, different sets, same weird, creepy persona and robotic talking points:

2. And then here’s Barrack Obama:

One of these two seems presidential. One of them seems senile and ridiculous. Seriously, what’s wrong with John McCain? Did he ingest Tetrodotoxin? If so, where did he get it? Did someone introduce it surreptitiously or was it a conscious choice on the part of the McCain campaign? These questions may never be answered.