Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

March 27, 2009


Jeff Stein, CQ - I had to laugh when I heard our next ambassador to Afghanistan say, "every poll will show that 90 percent of the people firmly reject the Taliban." . . .

As Jere Van Dyke, a reporter who's spent enough time on the ground in Afghanistan -- including as a hostage -- to qualify as an expert, said in a radio interview the other day, the average villager can't tell the difference between NATO troops and the Russians, the last guys who tried to quell the jihadis. "We're in a very dangerous situation now," he said on all-news KCBS.

"They're not against the U.S., they're not against NATO, but if you go out into the villages, what they will tell you is that they really don't know the difference, in their minds, between the Soviets and the West -- they're infidels, they're invaders.'

We've already killed more civilians than the Taliban has, Van Dyke noted. Their 20,000 fighters have fought 50,000 air-supported NATO troops to a draw.

That's some hearts-and-minds program. . .

[Rufus] Phillips was a CIA man who spent more time in South Vietnam than Ho Chi Minh. Not draining cocktails in Saigon with well-pressed colonels, either -- in the villages.

Phillips ran something called the Hamlet Evaluation Survey, which crunched all sorts of numbers about how the war was going. . .

In 1963 he had the guts to tell the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, that his generals in Vietnam were cooking the books. The fancy stats showing the villagers on our side, served up by the Saigon command, were inflated -- made up, he told Kennedy.

Younger Army officers who told the truth were having their careers ruined. U.S. military advisors who complained about corrupt South Vietnamese officers were being sent home.

It was "a remarkable moment in the American bureaucracy, a moment of intellectual honesty," the late, great David Halberstam wrote in "The Best and the Brightest," his monumental account of White House advisors who turned a low level counterinsurgency into a big-unit war with almost 600,000 troops, only to see victory slip away.

Does the number sound familiar?

It's the figure Rep. John P. Murtha, D-Pa., who holds the Pentagon's purse strings, picked for winning in Afghanistan.

"That's what I estimate it would take in a country that size to get it under control," Murtha said just a few weeks ago in an interview with the Associated Press.

Yet on Thursday, he sounded just as certain that President Obama's plan for just 4,000 more troops - police advisors -- was just fine. That would bring the U.S. expedition to about 60,000 - not counting the kids joy-sticking Predators over Afghanistan from a trailer outside Las Vegas.

"They got realistic goals, I think," Murtha said, according to Bloomberg News. "Train the Afghans and then get the hell out of there. I couldn't have written it any better myself.". . .

When the end came in Saigon, two million soldiers, sailors and marines had served in Southeast Asia.

The parallels with Vietnam are really eerie: corrupt leader, untrustworthy police and army, provincial officials shipping heroin, villagers with their fingers to the wind, enemy forces striking from across the border. . .

The roof started to cave in Saigon, when Kennedy had only 16,000 advisors in-country.

USA Today - The Obama administration is planning billions in new assistance to Pakistan, yet the record of previous U.S. military and development aid to the strife-torn Muslim country has been marred by a lack of accountability and transparency, according to government reports. . . Karin von Hippel, a Pakistan expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the U.S. must ponder, "How do we make sure that that money gets spent properly and doesn't get stolen?"

The only two audits of U.S. development aid to Pakistan in recent years, by the U.S. Agency for International Development's inspector general, found significant problems. Record-keeping in an $83 million education reform program was so inadequate that auditors could not say whether any good was achieved. An effort to rebuild schools and health clinics in an area devastated by a 2005 earthquake was found to be years behind schedule.

A Congressional Research Service report published in November questioned whether the U.S. could effectively deliver aid in the border areas. "Corruption is endemic in the tribal region, and security circumstances are so poor that Western non-governmental contractors find it extremely difficult to operate there," the report said.

Obama said he will propose increasing the budgets for inspector generals in the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to ferret out "unaccountable spending, no-bid contracts and wasteful reconstruction.". . .

The U.S. suspended aid to Pakistan in 1993 over its nuclear weapons program, then resumed aid upon winning a pledge of cooperation after the 9/11 attacks. Since 2002, the United States has provided Pakistan with approximately $12.3 billion, $8.6 billion of it military, according to the Government Accountability Office.

In June, the GAO reported that $5.6 billion of that money was intended for counterterrorism, but poor oversight meant the Pentagon could not determine whether it was properly spent.

NY Times - After agreeing to bury their differences and unite forces, Taliban leaders based in Pakistan have closed ranks with their Afghan comrades to ready a new offensive in Afghanistan as the United States prepares to send 17,000 more troops there this year.

In interviews, several Taliban fighters based in the border region said preparations for the anticipated influx of American troops were already being made. A number of new, younger commanders have been preparing to step up a campaign of roadside bombings and suicide attacks to greet the Americans, the fighters said.

The refortified alliance was forged after the reclusive Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, sent emissaries to persuade Pakistani Taliban leaders to join forces and turn their attention to Afghanistan, Pakistani officials and Taliban members said.

The overture by Mullah Omar is an indication that with the prospect of an American buildup, the Taliban feel the need to strengthen their own forces in Afghanistan and to redirect their Pakistani allies toward blunting the new American push. . .

The new Taliban alliance has raised concern in Afghanistan, where NATO generals warn that the conflict will worsen this year. It has also generated anxiety in Pakistan, where officials fear that a united Taliban will be more dangerous, even if focused on Afghanistan, and draw more attacks inside Pakistan from United States drone aircraft.

Bill Gertz, Washington Times - According to two U.S. government sources close to the issue, senior policymakers were divided over how comprehensive to make the strategy, involving an initial boost of 17,000 U.S. troops. On the one side were Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg, who argued in closed-door meetings for a minimal strategy of stabilizing Afghanistan that one source described as a "lowest common denominator" approach.

The goal of these advocates was to limit civilian and other nonmilitary efforts in Afghanistan and focus on a main military objective of denying safe haven to the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists.

The other side of the debate was led by Richard C. Holbrooke, the special envoy for the region, who along with U.S. Central Command leader Gen. David H. Petraeus and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton fought for a major nation-building effort.

The Holbrooke-Petraeus-Clinton faction, according to the sources, prevailed. . . .


Blogger CJP said...

Afghanistan is now being called "Obama's War" -- and why not? Over the past 7 years, Bush sure didn't wage that war, even though this is where Al Quaida is based. Seven years ago, Bush pledged to get Bin Laden, "Dead or Alive". Today, Bin Laden is very alive and Bush is politically dead. This had better be "Obama's War". Bush sure didn't know how to fight it. Afghanistan was Bush's foreign policy Katrina -- even more ineptly handled by his administration than Iraq was. From now on, it's Obama's War and Obama's Economy. Thank Goodness. The whole country can breathe a sigh of relief.

Please visit my Blog: "Conservatives Are America's Real Terrorists"

March 28, 2009 4:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I won't be able to breathe a sigh of relief until both the US military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan are ended and US troops are returned home.

I feel the same way about Obama that I did about Clinton. This guy is a whole lot smarter then Bush, but he is just as morally bankrupt.

Obama is selling us down the river, just like every president has since Ronald Reagan.

March 30, 2009 12:02 PM  

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