Major Veterans Peace Groups Unite for March 19 Action
On March 19, 2011, a broad coalition of
Veterans will gather to support Bradley Manning, who should be venerated as a hero instead of being incarcerated under conditions amounting, literally (and legally) to torture. We call for an immediate end to the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of PFC Bradley Manning during his military confinement. As veterans, we well understand and cherish the obligation of military personnel to refuse illegal orders and beyond that to prevent and expose war crimes. We know there is no excuse for following, either actively or passively, illegal orders.
Forty-four years ago at
We understand the need for justice. Our demand is clear, straightforward, and undeniable. Bring to justice those who committed war crimes, not those who report them—who heroically refuse to be a part of state-inspired mayhem and murder.
Veterans and others will gather en masse at the White House as we did on December 16, 2010, and again refuse to move. We have three clear demands for the President. End these wars and occupations. Expose the Lies. Free Bradley Manning.
The rally will begin at non with the civil disobedience to start at 1
RSVP by March 16 to reserve a space on the bus.
Putting Afghan Plan Into Action Proves Difficult
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the
In and near places like this village in Ghazni Province, American units have pushed their counterinsurgency doctrine and rules for waging war into freshly contested areas of rural Afghanistan — even as their senior officers have decided to back out of other remote areas, like the Pech, Korangal and Nuristan valleys, once deemed priorities. In doing so, American infantry units have expanded a military footprint over lightly populated terrain from the Helmand and
Depending on point of view, this shift — which resulted from both the current military leadership’s reconsideration of past commanders’ decisions and the troop buildup ordered by President Obama — is either an operational achievement or grounds for exasperation, even confusion.
On a morning a few weeks ago, helicopters touched down before dawn on a hard, frozen field beside this village. American and Afghan soldiers ran out and clustered against mud walls, where they shivered until beginning their searches at sunrise.
For hours, the young men entered homes, separating local men from local women, seeking signs of those who plant bombs and ambush government patrols. They found little beyond a staple of Afghan counterguerrilla war
One ritualized exchange summarized the encounters. The soldiers questioned a man who had seemed to signal their movements by repeatedly honking a minivan horn. His right hand bore a tattoo of crossed swords.
Asked by the American platoon commander, First Lt. Philip Divinski, what the tattoo signified, the man said he didn’t know. “My mother put it there,” he said. He added, “When I was 2.”
The lieutenant gave a sigh.
Episodes like this, duplicated countless times on patrols in places where more American forces have fanned out, underscore an institutionalized frustration in a war in its second decade. They capture the latest change in how the Pentagon’s counterinsurgency campaign feels on the ground — in a new list of villages designated “key terrain,” the old search for Afghan needles in Afghan haystacks grinds on.
Officially, Mr. Obama’s Afghan buildup shows signs of success, demonstrating both American military capabilities and the revival of a campaign that had been neglected for years. But in the rank and file, there has been little triumphalism as the administration’s plan has crested.
With the spring thaw approaching, officers and enlisted troops alike say they anticipate another bloody year. And as so-called surge units complete their tours, to be replaced by fresh battalions, many soldiers, now seasoned with Afghan experience, express doubts about the prospects of the larger campaign.
The answers reveal uncertainty. “You can keep trying all different kinds of tactics,” said one American colonel outside of this province. “We know how to do that. But if the strategic level isn’t working, you do end up wondering
The strategic vision, roughly, is that American units are trying to diminish the Taliban’s sway over important areas while expanding and coaching Afghan government forces, to which these areas will be turned over in time.
But the colonel, a commander who asked that his name be withheld to protect him from retaliation, referred to “the great disconnect,” the gulf between the intense efforts of American small units at the tactical level and larger strategic trends.
The Taliban and the groups it collaborates with remain deeply rooted; the Afghan military and police remain lackluster and given to widespread drug use; the country’s borders remain porous; Kabul Bank, which processes government salaries, is wormy with fraud, and President Hamid Karzai’s government, by almost all accounts, remains weak, corrupt and erratically led.
And the Pakistani frontier remains a Taliban safe haven.
Even a successful military campaign, soldiers and Marines consistently say, is unlikely to untangle this knot of dysfunction, much less within the deadlines discussed in Washington. The Obama administration hopes to begin withdrawing forces within months and to complete a drawdown by 2014 (a plan reiterated by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in
“This is tough,” one company commander, Capt. Edward T. Peskie, said of the problems. “And it’s more complex than I think most people realize.”
And if the American presence is decreased, the troops often say, to whom is the country’s security to be entrusted?
An awareness of the disconnect should not be confused with pessimism, at least not outwardly expressed. A can-do pragmatism and a quick operational tempo are apparent in many infantry units, even if the work is overlaid with nagging questions.
Another commander, Lt. Col. Alan Streeter, leads a reinforced infantry battalion newly arrived in Ghazni Province for a one-year tour. “I think this place is far from secure,” he said of the Andar and Deh Yak districts, where his unit, Second Battalion, Second Infantry, is assigned. “But I think it is a hell of a lot better than it was.”
With cold weather lingering, he planned to have soldiers meet local Afghans while they can — before temperatures climb and vegetation rises, making conditions better for the Taliban to stage attacks. “I want to take this chance to get out, to talk to the people,” he said. “Because in the spring we may be too busy fighting.”
Such determination is evident in many conversations. But in some ways, the mission of Colonel Streeter’s battalion frames another difficulty with the Pentagon’s puzzle
Again, the generals have an answer. The Afghan military and police are growing, and in a few years could be roughly three times the size of the NATO forces, they say.
But the escalating numerical projections, which have grown each year as the United States has deepened its involvement in the war, have yet to undo these forces’ reputation for poor initiative, corruption, marginal skills and an enduring dependency on foreign supervision for everything from resupply and fire support to actions that should be routine, like standing post.
Many American officers, year in and year out, describe a persistent trait visible to anyone who visits almost any line unit for an extended time. Afghan units are supposed to be preparing to take over security. Yet they are often unwilling to set out on independent patrols, beyond trips back and forth between their own positions, or to the bazaar. They remain largely a tag-along force.
And so, firefight by firefight, bomb by bomb, many of the troops whose lives are at risk openly discuss how gains feel tentative, perhaps temporary.
Their generals have designated scores of rural areas “key terrain districts.” The soldiers are creating, at cost of money and blood, pockets of security.
But when Americans arrive in a new area, attacks and improvised bombs typically follow — making roads and trails more dangerous for the civilians whom, under current Pentagon counterinsurgency doctrine, the soldiers have arrived to protect.
And in some cases, the old priorities — like the fight for the
“We create little security bubbles,” said Sgt. First Class Paul Meacham, a platoon leader in Third Battalion, 187th Infantry, which swept Alam Khel, after one of his last patrols before rotating back to the States last month. “But they are little bubbles that are easy to attack and infiltrate.”
After a moment of reflection, he said
Asked how long, his answer was immediate. “These people,” he said, nodding toward the villages nearby, “think in decades.”
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs