afghanistan war

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Democracy Now! - October 5, 2015

Doctors Without Borders is demanding an independent international inquiry into a U.S. airstrike Saturday on an Afghan hospital in the city of Kunduz that killed 22 people, including 12 staff members and 10 patients, three of them children. At least three dozen people were injured. The attack continued for 30 minutes after the U.S. and Afghan militaries were informed by telephone that the hospital was being bombed. We speak with Dr. Gino Strada, co-founder of Emergency, an Italian NGO that provides free medical care to victims of war.

While many Americans believe that the war in Afghanistan is winding down, peace activists and medical aid workers tell a different story. "That really shows how mainstream media has failed to tell the truth to the world," says Dr. Hakim, a medical doctor who has provided humanitarian relief in Afghanistan for the last decade. "The war is going on. It is deteriorating. Both the International Red Cross and the United Nations have reported an increase in civilian deaths over the past few years. So it is getting worse. It is definitely not scaling down. And I think Americans need to know that their taxpayer money is going to a war that is worsening." Doctors Without Borders is calling for an independent investigation of a U.S. airstrike on a hospital in Kunduz that left 22 dead, including 12 staff members and 10 patients, three of them children. We speak with Dr. Hakim, as well as Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, who just returned from Kabul, Afghanistan, and Dr. Gino Strada, co-founder of Emergency, an Italian NGO that provides free medical care to victims of war.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is calling this weekend’s torrential rainfall that has triggered flooding and led to eight deaths in the Carolinas a once-in-a-millennium downpour. According to the National Weather Service, the storm had dumped more than 20 inches of rain in parts of central South Carolina since Friday. This month also marks the third anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, one of the most destructive storms in the nation’s history. Researchers say such extreme weather events are becoming more frequent with the effects of climate change, with 2015 on track to be the hottest year in recorded history. In Part Two of our conversation with Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis on their new film, "This Changes Everything," we talk about what we can learn from such extreme weather events.

Ahead of Canada’s October 19 elections, a coalition of Canadian labor, indigenous rights, climate justice, anti-poverty and migrant rights organizations have released The Leap Manifesto, a plan to transition away from fossil fuels to a 100 percent clean economy by the middle of this century. “A lot of the polling in Canada is showing that people don’t want just gradual, incremental change,” says Naomi Klein, author of “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.” “They’re ready for more dramatic change. And this is why we’re seeing more support for The Leap Manifesto. Stephen Harper is an incredibly unpopular prime minister, and because of that, there are a lot of people who are going to be voting strategically for whoever they believe has the best chance of beating Harper, because there’s a lot of concern about splitting the vote.” We speak with Klein and Avi Lewis, the duo behind the new climate change documentary, "This Changes Everything," about the effort, as well as Canadian politics and the move by Shell against drilling in the Arctic.

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Remembering Jacob George, Afghan War Vet Turned Peace Activist Who Took Own Life

Jacob George was an Afghanistan War veteran and peace activist who took his own life on September 17. He was 32 years old. George co-founded the Afghan Veterans Against the War Committee, part of Iraq Veterans Against the War. George was also a musician who biked around the country playing music for peace, a campaign he called "A Ride Till the End." In 2012, at the NATO summit in Chicago, he was among the veterans who hurled their military medals toward the summit gates in an act of protest against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. George spoke openly about his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and with getting Veterans Affairs counselors to understand what he saw as a "moral injury" from his time in Afghanistan. In a storybook that accompanied his musical album "Soldier’s Heart," George wrote: "A wise medicine woman from Arkansas once told me that grief is pain trying to leave the body. If you don’t allow yourself to grieve, it gets stuck. But once you grieve, the body can heal itself. I won’t lie, some of this stuff is heavy. But telling my story is a part of my healing process. And it’s not just veterans who need to heal: all of us need to heal from war and the roster of ailments produced by a nation at war." Hear George playing the banjo and singing his song, "Soldier’s Heart."

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Democracy Now! 2013-11-07 Thursday

Shortly after the U.S. military was forced to vacate a base in Afghanistan’s Wardak province this spring, the bodies of 10 Afghan villagers were found nearby. All of the people had disappeared after being detained by U.S. Special Forces. The base was used by a unit known as "The A-Team," which has also been linked to eight other murders in Wardak. The mystery behind the deaths is the center of a shocking new exposé which reports the disappearances and killings could amount to some of the gravest war crimes perpetrated by U.S. forces since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. We are joined by Matthieu Aikins, an award-winning investigative journalist based in Kabul who spent five months investigating the killings for his Rolling Stone article, "The A-Team Killings."

A video just posted online by Rolling Stone shows a hogtied prisoner being whipped by Afghan security forces, as what appears to be two unidentified American military officers look on. According to investigative reporter Matthieu Aikins, the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command confirmed an ongoing investigation into the incident. Aikins says the video fits with a general pattern of recurring abuse of detainees in U.S. and Afghan custody.

A new report says medical professionals working under U.S. military orders have been complicit in the abuse of terrorism suspects. The Task Force on Preserving Medical Professionalism concluded that medical staff who worked with the CIA and Pentagon "designed and participated in cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and torture of detainees" at Guantánamo Bay and at secret prisons overseas. The two-year study cites doctors for breaching patient confidentiality and advising interrogators on how to exploit prisoners’ fears and crush their will to resist. The task force is calling for a full investigation of the medical profession’s role in U.S. torture and an overhaul to ensure doctors involved in interrogations follow ethical standards. Both the CIAand the Pentagon have rejected the report’s findings. We are joined by two guests: retired brigadier general Dr. Stephen Xenakis, a military psychiatrist who advised the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on military mental health issues; and by Leonard Rubenstein, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and co-author of the report, "Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the 'War on Terror.'"

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Until They All Come Home

For reasons beyond my personal control, I recently found myself snarling through the long and winding bowels of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport ...which, if you haven't had the pleasure and so are unaware, is quite possibly the most preposterous travel hub north of the equator. As I finally managed to stagger my way to the end of another endless hallway that led, allegedly, to the 'Exit' doors, I came upon an impromptu party.

There were maybe fifty people standing behind the security perimeter, some holding American flags, some holding "Welcome Home!" signs, some in uniform. All of them were looking down the hallway I had just emerged from. About ten strides behind me was an Army sergeant in camo carrying a duffel. I stopped to analyze this crowd, he walked past me, and the crowd erupted in cheers and applause. Ah, I thought. This is a welcome-home party for that sergeant ... but the sergeant only tipped the applauding crowd a wave before continuing on his way.

Another man in uniform emerged from the hallway, and the assembled crowd lit up again.

And then another. And another. And another.

Each person in uniform who passed that crowd received the same adulation, the same calls of "Thanks!" and "Welcome home!" I asked a person holding an American flag what the story was, and she told me she and the others came to the airport as often as they could to greet soldiers returning home. One small cluster within the group was actually waiting for a specific person. The rest were just there, to be there for every living thing in uniform that emerged from that hallway.

American history textbooks, along with American "news" media outlets, tend to focus on large martial events - World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm - as specific, defined moments in time. That they are is beyond question; that the spaces between them have been times of peace is, however, laughable. The United States has been in a state of permanent, global war since Pearl Harbor. Involved in conflicts large and small, known and unknown, a moment has not passed in the last 71 years that has not involved American military personnel killing and dying somewhere in the world.

That is fact.

This reality has accelerated to an extreme and lethal level over the last twelve years; we have been at war in Afghanistan since 2002, and at war in Iraq since 2003 (if you think we're not still at war in Iraq, I can introduce you to some military families who are still posting love-you-be-safe letters to that particular delivery code), and the operational tempo that has defined the last 4,000 days has taken a savage toll on the men and women tasked to carry the burden placed upon them by those who have been allegedly leading this country.

This is not a story about America's insanely bloated "defense" budget. It is not a story about the bent priorities this nation has come to accept; to wit: more than half of every dollar collected in taxes goes to warfare and spying, a multi-trillion dollar industry, while we reel through national "debates" about cutting health care benefits for old people and closing schools because "we can't afford it." 

This is a story about the people who have most recently endured what it means to serve in America's military, and what they are dealing with right now as a consequence of that service.

Those people waiting to welcome returning service members in the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta are very special in the current American experience, in that they are acutely aware of the fact that we are, in fact, at war. For most of the country, our ongoing wars are less than an afterthought, a reason to buy Bounty paper towels or Miller High Life beer because the packaging makes mention of "Supporting Our Nations Heroes & Their Families" (with an asterisk, because there's always an asterisk).

For men like Paul Sullivan - former Cavalry Scout for the Army's 1st Armored Division and veteran of the 1991 Gulf War - our ongoing wars and the plight of the veterans who have fought them is an abiding passion, and the focus of a singular mission. 

Between 1995 and 2000, Mr. Sullivan worked for the National Gulf War Resource Center in Washington, DC, where he led the national effort to pass the "Persian Gulf Veterans Act of 1998," a law significantly expanding health care, disability benefits, and scientific research for 250,000 ill Gulf War Veterans. From 2000 to 2006, Mr. Sullivan worked at the VA, where he produced reports about the health care use and disability benefit activity of Gulf War, Afghanistan War, and Iraq War veterans. From 2007 until 2012, Mr. Sullivan served as the Executive Director at Veterans for Common Sense. He regularly testifies before Congress and frequently appears in the media speaking about veterans' health care and disability benefits, especially Gulf War illness and post traumatic stress disorder. He works today for the law firm of Bergmann & Moore, whose website carries a bold banner that reads, "Aggressively Representing America's Veterans."

 I recently interviewed Mr. Sullivan about the current state of affairs for veterans in America.

WRP: Approximately how many veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will there be in America if/when these wars are wound down to a conclusion? 

PS: As of May 2012, the United States Department of Defense (DoD) deployed approximately 2.4 million individual active duty service members to the war zones in and around Iraq since September 2001.  Of those, more than 1.6 million were discharged from active duty and are now veterans.  As veterans, they are eligible for healthcare and disability benefits provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  Specifically, our recently deployed veterans receive five years of free VA medical care starting from the date of the veteran's discharge from active duty, a new benefit that began in 2009.  For comparison, the U.S. deployed 700,000 to the 1990 - 1991 Gulf War, 3.4 million to the Vietnam War, and 1.8 million to the Korean War, and there were few re-deployments for those three prior wars.

How many deployments have these veterans experienced? The current wisdom says the Afghanistan war won't be finished until the end of 2014, a full three years from now; how many more deployments will that involve? 

According to DoD, nearly one million troops, or more than 40 percent, deployed twice or more to the war zones in and around Iraq and Afghanistan since September 2001.  I don't have access to DoD's troop deployment plans for 2012 - 2014.  Based on history, a reasonable estimate is that a total of 2.5 million U.S. troops will have deployed to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars by the end of 2014.

Describe the average situation of a veteran of these multiple deployments for those who are home and finished with their service?  The experience of those who have been wounded? The experience of those who have not? 

The situation has improved significantly. The George W. Bush Administration had no plan to care for massive casualties.  For example, in August 2003, the Wall Street Journal exposed serious problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  However, that story was ignored (except for reporter Mark Benjamin) by the mainstream press.  However, the Washington Post suddenly "discovered" what was going on down the street from the U.S. Capitol in February 2007, causing widespread national coverage and condemnation of the poor treatment of our wounded, injured, and ill.  I was one of the first former government employee witnesses called to testify before Congress in March 2007 and describe in detail how VA and DoD knew all about the Walter Reed scandal, yet the government failed to act.  Without a doubt, the Walter Reed scandal was the watershed event that changed the paradigm and prompted VA and DoD to begin improving.  Frankly, we could write a book about that sordid affair.

Overall, the veterans of our current wars are more likely to seek VA healthcare and file a disability benefit claim against VA than prior wars.  Veterans with multiple deployments, injuries, or illnesses use VA care and benefits at even higher rates.  Service members wounded in the war zone are far more likely to survive due to tremendous advances in science and medicine as well as the placement of additional experienced trauma professionals inside the war zone, where the most effective treatment can be provided quickly.  For comparison, during the Civil War, a wounded U.S. soldier was more likely to die than survive.  For the current Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, there are more than 6,600 deaths, yet 834,000 veteran patients treated at VA hospitals, a ratio of more than 125 to 1 when both physical and mental health conditions are counted.

On another issue, unemployment for returning veterans is now 10 percent, or two percentage points higher than the general population, according to the Department of Labor, as of early November 2012. 

For the most serious issue, there is one active duty suicide per day.  Among all veterans of all wars and peacetime, there are 18 suicides per day.  Nationwide, each year, three thousand veterans die while their VA disability claim languishes at VA.  

VA's beleaguered disability claims processing system remains mired in severe crisis.  As of November 2012, nearly 900,000 veterans were waiting an average of eight months for an initial decision from VA on a disability benefit claim.  An additional 250,000 veterans are waiting an average of four more years for an answer from VA on an appealed disability claim.  And in April 2012, VA's Office of the Inspector General reported VBA makes errors in 30 percent of the claims VA's OIG audited.  Even worse, the situation continues deteriorating.  The Bay Citizen reported in November 2012 that VBA's error rate fell further, to 38 percent, for VA OIG audits during the past year.  In January 2010, I appeared on "60 Minutes" and described the plight of our veterans. Too many veterans are waiting too long for VA health care and benefits, and that's a national disgrace. 

For our veterans with PTSD, the VA legal landscape improved substantially in favor of veterans.  Prior to 2010, veterans were required to provide evidence to VA of a current diagnosis of PTSD plus evidence of an "event" or "stressor" that caused the veteran to develop PTSD.  Finding documents about the "event" often was impossible or required lengthy searches and endless VA appeals.  Fortunately for our war veterans, based on a 1998 law and a 2008 Institute of Medicine review of scientific studies on PTSD, VA changed the regulation, effective as of July 2010.  Now a veteran must show the diagnosis of PTSD and deployment to a war zone.  

Veterans with concerns about the change should seek professional assistance about their VA disability claim.  Veterans for Common Sense filed the first petition to change VA's PTSD regulations in January 2009, shortly after President Barack Obama became President. I appeared live on CNN immediately after President Barack Obama made the announcement about the new VA regulations in July 2010.

After the Vietnam War, there were increases in veterans going to jail and veterans living on the street.  Those problems are being addressed forcefully today, a sharp improvement over prior failures.  One new development with only limited press exposure are new "Veteran Treatment Courts."  In October 2012, the news show "60 Minutes" broadcast describes how these specialty courts reduce incarceration, increase treatment, and reduce recidivism.  An additional VA program seeks to prevent homelessness among new veterans.  Again, in July 2011, "60 Minutes" aired a news segment describing VA's aggressive outreach efforts to both reduce and prevent homelessness.  Credit goes to advocates who pushed VA, Congress, and local governments to cooperate and address these major social issues. [Full disclosure, I provided background materials and statistics for both segments.]

A recent very un-heralded VA report pegged the number of veterans who are now dealing with PTSD at 30%. How many people is that, and what does that mean for them physically and mentally? 

According to an internal VA report, as of June 30, 2012, VA treated 834,000 veterans after deployment to the Iraq and/or Afghanistan wars, or more than half of the eligible veterans.  Among the 834,000 veteran patients, there are 445,000 diagnosed with at least one mental health condition, more than 50 percent of the patients.  Among the veterans treated by VA, 247,000 are diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or nearly 30 percent of the patients.  According to a Stanford University study, scientists expect a long-term PTSD rate as high as 35 percent.  

So what can we expect? If the rates of 30 percent to 35 percent are applied to all 2.5 million deployed veterans, VA can reasonably expect between 750,000 and 875,000 total veteran patients diagnosed with PTSD over the next few decades.  Please note this estimate excludes military retirees who often use military doctors (and not VA) after leaving the service.  This estimate also excludes veterans who use private doctors or non-Federal medical care.

VA now provides a reliable and easy-to-use set of resources for the public to learn about combat-related PTSD. While VA struggles to provide timely care at hospitals and clinics, VA did start a suicide prevention hotline after VCS sued VA.  Here are details about VA's "Crisis Line," including a recent White House announcement to increase funding for it.

What is the average experience for a soldier who seeks help from the VA? 

There is no average experience; the return home is a unique experience for each new war veteran.  In most cases, veterans are seen promptly by competent VA professionals.  However, VA's inconsistent ability to provide both timely access and quality care remain very serious problems for too many veterans.  Specifically, in April 2012, VA's Office of the Inspector General concluded VA has a nationwide systemic inability to meet demand for care.  VA "does not have a reliable and accurate method of determining whether [VA is] providing patients timely access to mental health care services. VHA did not provide first-time patients with timely mental health evaluations and existing patients often waited more than 14 days past their desired date of care for their treatment appointment.  ... [The VA OIG] analysis projected that VHA provided only 49 percent (approximately 184,000) of their evaluations [to veterans seeking mental healthcare] within 14 days. On average, for the remaining patients, it took VHA about 50 days to provide them with their full evaluations."

Someone once said, "A nation that does not care for its veterans has no business making new ones." How do you feel about that statement?

There are other more salient quotes regarding war and veterans.

In 1789, President George Washington, a retired Army General, said, "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their country."

In November 1863, President Abraham Lincoln dedicated the Gettysburg battlefield with these timeless and poignant words: "It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

At his second inaugural address in March 1865, Lincoln said, "...let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan-to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations."

More importantly, when dealing with VA, I firmly agree with retired Army General Omar Bradley's statement in 1947, after he was sent to clean up a scandal-ridden VA: "We are dealing with veterans, not procedures - with their problems, not ours."

Finally, there is retired Army General William T. Sherman, who said to young military prep students in June 1879, "I've been where you are now and I know just how you feel. It's entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that someday you can use the skill you have acquired here. Suppress it! You don't know the horrible aspects of war. I've been through two wars and I know. I've seen cities and homes in ashes. I've seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!"

What does "Until they all come home" mean to you?

Coming home means far more than bringing our troops home, ending the war with an official declaration, holding a parade, and promising care.  In my view, we must uphold President Lincoln's powerful words from March 1865.  For we as individuals, communities, and a nation have a solemn duty to make certain our veterans receive prompt and quality health care, disability benefits, and other VA transition assistance, including full due process legal rights to obtain care and benefits.

Copyright, Truthout. William Rivers Pitt is a Truthout editor and columnist.  He is also a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of three books: "War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know," "The Greatest Sedition Is Silence" and "House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation." He lives and works in Boston.

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Afghanistan, America's Longest War

The official U.S. military death toll in Afghanistan has just passed the 2,000 mark. On Monday, a suicide bomber wearing an Afghan army uniform killed 14 people, including three U.S. soldiers, in the eastern province of Khost. Amidst a spate of attacks by Afghan troops on NATO forces, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has revealed Western forces may withdraw from Afghanistan sooner than expected. In addition, the New York Times reports the United States has all but written off hopes of working out a peace deal with the Taliban.

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Tags: afghanistan war, afghanistan war end

Twin Afghan Bombings Kills 20 Civilians

A pair of suicide bombers struck outside NATO's biggest base in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing 20 civilians and wounding 50, officials said, in one of the bloodiest attacks in recent weeks.

And officials and villagers in Logar province, about 30 km south of Kabul, said a NATO air strike killed 18 civilians, including women and children, along with six Taliban insurgents.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said there was an air strike in the area during a raid on a Taliban commander, but there were no civilian deaths. It said two women received non life-threatening injuries and that a number of insurgents were killed.

Four provincial governors from the south were at a meeting at the sprawling NATO base in Kandahar when the twin suicide attacks took place, General Abdul Hameed, Afghan army commander for the southern region, told Reuters.

A bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up in a parking lot near the base packed with truck drivers and other civilians waiting to get into the facility.

A few minutes later, as people gathered at the site of the blast, another bomber on foot walked into the crowd and detonated his explosives, said Ahmad Faisal, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

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A Dumb, Unwanted War

In the airport in Atlanta yesterday, I happened to be standing next to some American soldiers, wearing camouflage, on their way to Afghanistan. They knew the name of the province that they were going to, but they were arguing over what part of the country that province is in. One said the east. One said the south. One said the west. One of them thought that their destination was near Kandahar, but then they started arguing over where Kandahar is located.

I hope that they get it all sorted out before the shooting starts.

If they don't know what part of the country that they're going to, then what are the chances that they speak the local language? (There are 48 different native languages in Afghanistan.) What are the chances that they know anything about Islam? (Which is practiced by more than 99 percent of all Afghans, language differences notwithstanding.)

To little fanfare, President Obama announced last week that he signed an agreement to extend the US military occupation of Afghanistan for twelve more years. No one noted the irony of this, since under our Constitution, President Obama can be president for no more than another 4 and a half years.

Also under our Constitution, a treaty requires the concurrence of two-thirds of the Senate. (Article II, Section 2, Clause 2). No one in the Obama administration even took a stab at explaining why this agreement with a foreign power was not being submitted to the Senate for concurrence. But the reason is obvious: the Senate would not concur.

Also under our Constitution, you will search in vain for any provision that authorizes a lengthy military occupation of a foreign country. In fact, the Constitution does not authorize a standing Army, much less an Army standing in Kabul. In the Bizarro world in which we live, we have 27 attorneys general challenging the constitutionality of 35 million Americans getting health coverage, but no one challenges the constitutionality of an undeclared war (see Article I, Section 8 on that) that has now entered its second decade.

Presidential candidates Obama and Clinton obviously were separated by race and gender, but one of the few things that separated them on policy was Clinton's vote in favor of the war in Iraq, contrasted with Obama's 2002 statement that the war in Iraq was "dumb." This is what State Sen. Barack Obama said, in October 2002, in the Federal Plaza in Chicago:

I don't oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.

What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income, to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression.

That's what I'm opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.

Obama was talking about the war in Iraq. But let's be honest. At this point, after 11 years of pointless, fruitless, endless war, doesn't all of that apply equally to the war in Afghanistan?


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Afghans Displeased with 'Inhuman' Photos

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a gathering in Kabul April 17, 2012. Karzai called photographs of U.S. soldiers posing with the bodies of Afghan suicide bombers "inhuman" and said a quick transition to Afghan security forces was necessary to ensure the incident was not repeated.

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Tags: afghanistan war, hamid karzai, taliban attacks

Karzai Challenges 'Brothers' Over Attacks

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a gathering in Kabul April 17, 2012.

Karzai called the Taliban "brothers" on Tuesday and reached out to them to do more for the good of the country after the insurgents carried out multiple attacks in Kabul and elsewhere at the weekend

The deadly strikes on parliament, Kabul's diplomatic quarter and three provinces, had only prolonged the foreign presence in Afghanistan reviled by the Taliban, and hurt economic and security confidence, Karzai said.

"You did nothing for Islam, you did not work for Afghanistan's independence and you did not work for its people, freedom and development," he said in a speech commemorating almost 150 years since the birth of an Afghan reformer, but aimed squarely at the insurgency.

"You worked to prolong a foreign presence, you gave foreigners an excuse to stay," Karzai said.

Clashes raged for 18 hours before Afghan security forces backed by NATO killed the insurgents in a dawn raid. Thirty-five insurgents were killed along with 11 members of the Afghan security forces and four civilians.

But in an effort to keep alive reconciliation with the Taliban and hopes of a peace deal before most foreign combat troops leave the country in 2014, Karzai said he would not stop calling the Talib "brothers".

"Some criticize me in the Afghan government and media for saying the Taliban are brothers, but I won't give up," he said to loud applause from officials and university students.

The Taliban in March said they were suspending peace talks with the United States and a plan to open an office in the Gulf state of Qatar to smooth negotiations, accusing Washington of double-dealing over confidence-building measures including the release of insurgents from a U.S. military prison in Cuba.

Karzai has laid most of the blame for the Taliban assault on NATO and his government's Western backers for the failure of intelligence agents to prevent it.

"Washington is calm and quiet and their people are safe. London is the same ... But Afghans were panicking and suffered religiously and economically," he said in veiled criticism of the West, whose continued presence many Afghans now blame for the country's ongoing troubles.

But NATO defended intelligence efforts and said it was not possible to block every insurgent attack in the conflict-wracked country, where the war has entered its 11th year. NATO is expected to complete its combat drawdown by the end of 2014.

"You will never be able to, in a counterinsurgency, stop every attempt of determined insurgents to infiltrate into a city of three million," Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson, spokesman for NATO forces in Afghanistan, told Reuters.


The assault also raised questions about Afghanistan's prospects just as foreign forces are making plans to leave.

Australia, the largest non-NATO troop contributor, said on Tuesday it would start withdrawing its soldiers this year and expected all international forces to be playing a supporting role for Afghan forces by mid-2013.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she would take her timetable to a NATO conference on Afghanistan in Chicago in late May, before which the U.S. government is aiming to sign a strategic agreement on a future presence in the country after NATO's 2014 combat force withdrawal.

Karzai challenged the United States to do more in the agreement to fund infrastructure and improvements that would be of benefit to all Afghans.

"We would like to help them save their money and give some of it back to us," Karzai said of the United States, adding he wanted at least $2 billion a year from Washington after 2014.

Comparing today to the time 90 years ago of celebrated reformer and Afghan journalism founder Mahmud Tarzi, Karzai said the country is struggling yet again to progress in education and develop socially.

Last week hopes for a peaceful settlement were boosted when the government appointed the son of slain statesman and northern Afghan leader Barhanuddin Rabbani to replace his father and lead the High Peace Council, charged with reaching out to insurgents.

However analysts on Tuesday raised doubts that Salahuddin Rabbani's appointment would move forward stalled efforts.

"Politicization of the peace process looks likely, and the president's desire to secure a young political ally in the North ahead of expected political conflicts will probably once again weaken an already dysfunctional High Peace Council," wrote Gran Hewad at the respected Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN).

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Tags: afghanistan war, night raids in Afghanistan

Deal Reached on Afghan Night Raids

Afghan policemen inspect a police post after a night raid by U.S. troops in Ghazni province November 19, 2011.

Afghanistan and the United States have reached an agreement to curb divisive night raids on Afghan homes, giving local authorities veto power over planned operations and more say in the treatment of detainees, Afghan officials said on Sunday.

The deal would be signed later on Sunday by Afghan Defense Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak and NATO's top commander in the country, U.S. Marine General John Allen, at the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the government said.

Night raids on suspected militants are hated by most Afghans, but backed by NATO commanders as a key anti-insurgent tactic. They are seen as the biggest hurdle in negotiations on a broader strategic pact to underpin a future U.S. troop presence after most Western combat troops withdraw in 2014.

Under the deal, Afghan authorities would have control over prisoners taken in night raids and would decide whether to allow U.S. interrogators access to detainees, a senior government official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

A warrant would be needed before operations were approved, with Afghan and supporting U.S. forces required to apply to an Afghan judge. Analysts have said such changes may delay operations and reduce their impact.

There is growing sensitivity in Afghanistan over the presence of foreign troops after a series on incidents, including the massacre of 17 Afghan villagers for which a U.S. soldier was charged, and the burning of copies of the Koran at a NATO base.

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