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Budget Cuts? 1,000 Additional Marines to be Sent to Afghanistan

There are 20,000 Marines in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. Apparently, that's not enough as the U.S. is about to send another 1,000.

Overall, there are 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. What about the Pentagon budget cuts announced today?

Cutting up to 47,000 troops from the Army and Marine Corps forces — roughly 6 percent — would be made easier by the withdrawal under way from Iraq, and the reductions would not begin until 2015, just as Afghan forces are to take over the security mission there.

One way the Pentagon plans to recoup some money: charging vets more for health insurance:

To make ends meet, Mr. Gates also announced that he would seek to recoup billions of dollars by increasing fees paid by retired veterans under 65 for Defense Department health insurance, even though Congress has rejected such proposals in the past.

And what won't be affected by the cuts:

The president’s budget for the 2012 fiscal year, which is due by mid-February, would freeze discretionary spending, but that would not apply to military, veterans and Homeland Security programs.

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Reports Paint Bleak Picture for Afghanistan

President Obama is expected to release a review of the Administration's Afghanistan policy tomorrow. Today, there are two new reports that paint a bleak picture of Afghanistan.

In a rare public assessment of the humanitarian conditions in Afghanistan, the International Committee for the Red Cross said growing civilian casualties, internal displacement and poor medical care have created a dire humanitarian situation and are likely to persist into next year.

...Separately, in assessments reported by the New York Times, US intelligence officials said Pakistan's unwillingness to crack down on militant groups operating in the lawless borderlands had created a major obstacle to progress in Afghanistan.

The LA Times reports that NATO claims the Taliban is forcing farmers to grow poppy instead of saffron. The Taliban denies the charge.

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President Obama In Afghanistan, Meeting With Karzai

President Obmama went to Afghanistan today where he is meeting with President Hamid Karzai and will visit the troops.

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Karzai's Drug Pardons: Yesterday's News and a Bigger Issue

The latest Wikileaks document release has a state department cable from August, 2009 on Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's pardoning of convicted drug traffickers (many of whom were cops.)

This was reported in depth at the time, and I don't see that the cable adds much. But perhaps it will put the spotlight on a bigger issue.

While searching around trying to determine if Ismal Safed ever got his pardon (and why it was considered a big deal since it involved only one sale of three kilos to an undercover agent), I came across this March, 2010 GAO report on the DEA's performance in Afghanistan. It says the DEA seized 4,083 metric tons of heroin in Afghanistan in 2008. (One metric ton equals 1,000 kilograms.) Three kilos out of 4,083,000 kilograms (and considering the opiate/heroin trade in Afghanistan amounts to $3 billion a year)is like a grain of sand. It also notes the pervasive problem of corruption, and interestingly, the high number of Afghan police who use heroin. [More...]

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"Thrill Kill" in Afghanistan

CNN has obtained interrogation tapes of the soldiers charged with murdering Afghan civilians. It was done for sport. Not only that:

The charging papers from the U.S. military paint a picture of a band of rogue soldiers, smoking hash, bored and plotting and carrying out murders of Afghan civilians for sport.

Authorities allege Gibbs kept finger bones, leg bones and a tooth from Afghan corpses. Another soldier allegedly kept a skull from a corpse, according to charging documents.... A soldier who tried to blow the whistle was beaten and threatened, some soldiers said....

One soldier is charged with stabbing a corpse. [More...]

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McChyrstal: Afghanistan in "Post-Apocalyptic Nightmare"

Via Real Aspen, Gen. Stanley McChrystal was in Aspen this weekend, for a private Forstmann Little & Company conference. He was interviewed for over an hour by Charlie Rose.

The two were seated on a small stage in an open-air tent in front of a rich and powerful crowd that included Martha Stewart, Peter Ueberroth, Monica Seles, David Stern, Karl Rove, George Lucas, Daniel Snyder, Julian Robertson, Michael Ovitz, Alan Greenspan, Andrea Mitchell, Chris Mathews, Michael Eisner, Padma Lakshmi and Ted Forstmann, the Forstmann Little co-founder and IMG CEO who hosted the event.

Among his comments about Afghannistan:

“Right now, it doesn't exist,” said McChrystal, noting the perpetual state of civil war that has embroiled the country ever since the late 1970s. “Afghanistan is in some kind of post-apocalyptic nightmare.”


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Two Killed in Afghan Protest of Quran Burning

Afghan soldiers have killed two protesters during a protest of the Terry Jones' planned Quran burning.

The protesters in Logar chanted "Death to America" and burned tires, attacked several shops and set election campaign posters on fire, Amin said.

...In a country where most people have limited access to newspapers, television and the Internet, many Afghans seemed unaware of Jones' decision to call off the Quran burning.

More here.

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Taliban Flogs and Executes Pregnant Woman for Adultery

Yesterday, the Taliban publicly flogged and executed a pregnant woman for adultery. She received 200 lashes and was then shot in the head 3 times.

Bibi Sanubar, 35, was kept in captivity for three days before she was shot dead in a public trial on Sunday by a local Taliban commander in the Qadis district of the rural western province Badghis....The Taliban accused her of having an "illicit affair" that left her pregnant. She was first punished with 200 lashes in public before being shot, deputy provincial police chief Ghulam Mohammad Sayeedi said.

The man with whom Sanubar had the affair was not punished. The Taliban is denying its militia carried out the execution. But a local Taliban-controlled district confirms:

Head of Badghis provincial council Mohammad Nasir Nazaari confirmed the execution and said the Qadis district was entirely under Taliban control.

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Af/Pak: What Now?

The recent revelations by Wikileaks regarding the Afghanistan conflict raises many issues, but one, and in my view the most important, is not new - and it is the strength of jihadism in Pakistan. And at the highest levels. The NYTimes reported:

Americans fighting the war in Afghanistan have long harbored strong suspicions that Pakistanís military spy service has guided the Afghan insurgency with a hidden hand, even as Pakistan receives more than $1 billion a year from Washington for its help combating the militants, according to a trove of secret military field reports made public Sunday.

The documents, made available by an organization called WikiLeaks, suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.

That powerful forces in the Pakistani government are strongly tied to the Taliban should comes as no surprise to anyone. This has been at the heart of the issue. As a supporter of the President's policy in Afghanistan, I hope, and indeed, feel confident that this is understood. Now what to do about it? Let's discuss on the flip.

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Wikileaks: Biggest Leak Yet of Military Documents

Wikileaks has published a 200,000 pages of secret documents on the Afghan war.

The files, published online by The Guardian, the New York Times and Germany's Der Spiegel, include details of 144 incidents in which Coalition forces have killed civilians.

The Guardian says the leaks show that troops killed hundreds of civilians in previously unreported incidents.

The White House is livid.

US national security adviser James Jones says the publication of the documents puts the lives of soldiers and civilians at risk.

"The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organisations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk and threaten our national security," he said in a statement.


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Gen. McChrystal to Retire From Army

General Stanley McChrystal has informed the Army he is retiring from the military.

Hardly a surprise.

Gen. David Petraeus's confirmation hearing is tomorrow to replace McChrystal as the commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

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Obama Announcement: Live Thread

President Obama is speaking. VP Biden is right behind him.

He says relieving Gen McCrystal the right thing to do.

"War is bigger than any one man."

The Rolling Stone interview undermines the role of the military and erodes the trust that is necessary for our teams to work together.

There must be adherence to a strict code of conduct. There must be respect for the civilian command over the military.

He must do whatever is necessary to succeed in Afghanistan and defeat al Qaida. We cannot succeed without making this change.

Now is the time for all of us to come together.

We need to remember what this is all about. Our nation is at war. We face a tough task. We have a clear goal. We are going to break the Taliban's momentum. We will apply relentless pressure. That's a strategy we agreed to last fall and are carrying out in Afghanistan and Pakistan. [More...]

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U.S. Lets Afghan Farmers Have Their Poppy Fields

At last, a U.S. policy in Afghanistan that makes sense: Leave the poppy fields be.

From Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal on down, the military’s position is clear: “U.S. forces no longer eradicate,” as one NATO official put it. Opium is the main livelihood of 60 to 70 percent of the farmers in Marja, which was seized from Taliban rebels in a major offensive last month. American Marines occupying the area are under orders to leave the farmers’ fields alone.

The rationale:

"We don’t trample the livelihood of those we’re trying to win over.”

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Report on U.S. Secret Prisons in Afghanistan

"America's Secret Afghan Prisons", the result of a year long investigation from Afghanistan, by reporter Anand Gopal, conducted on behalf of The Nation, The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute and TomDispatch.com, has been released. The report appears today at Tom Dispatch, tomorrow at TheNation.com and will be on newsstands Friday in the next issue of The Nation.

The report examines counter-terror policies in Afghanistan. What it finds:

  • widespread and feared American "night raids" in Afghanistan
  • a network of secret prisons on U.S. military bases in Afghanistan where detainees from raids are held.
  • allegations of prisoner abuse, and in some cases disappearances.


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Obama to Ask Congress For $33 Billion More to Fight Wars

Apparently, $708 billion isn't enough for the Defense Department for the coming year. The AP reports that military commanders briefed on an upcoming report say President Obama will ask Congress to approve another $33 billion when it submits its budget request in February.

What for? Supposedly for beefing up the war in Afghanistan, but it sounds more like the global war on terror, even though Obama insists on not using that phrase.

The administration also plans to tell Congress next month that its central military objectives for the next four years will include winning the current wars while preventing new ones and that its core missions will include both counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations.


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