Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 23, 2015

The assassination of Matiullah Khan

Filed under: Afghanistan — louisproyect @ 10:09 pm

By an eerie coincidence, the very day I was writing my review of Anand Gopal’s “No Good Men Among the Living”, the N.Y. Times reported on the assassination of a warlord who figured prominently in his book. The Times might be good at reporting the facts but they tend to be disjointed. The article below quotes Anand on why Matiullah was killed but fails to place him into the broader context of Afghan politics. The passage from “No Good Men Among the Living” that follows the NY Times article will give you a better idea of how people “succeed” in Afghanistan, which is the same way that Tony Soprano succeeded but with the added complication of overlapping with some progressive steps forward, including his support for Heela’s candidacy as the first female senator in Afghanistan. If you’ve read my CounterPunch review of “No Good Men Among the Living”, you’ll recall that she was a courageous woman who defied paternalistic oppression—thus antagonizing both the Taliban and the miserable warlords like Matiullah Khan who they sought to overthrow.

Matiullah Khan in 2010. He was killed in Kabul on Wednesday after a person approached him and detonated a suicide vest. CreditAdam Ferguson for The New York Times
 KABUL, Afghanistan — Matiullah Khan, whose rise from local militia commander to powerful regional police chief left him one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in southern Afghanistan, was killed on Wednesday in a targeted suicide bombing in Kabul, officials said on Thursday.

From his beginnings as an illiterate highway patrol commander in Oruzgan Province, Mr. Khan started a militia operation that made millions of dollars securing military coalition supply convoys through a decade of war and turmoil. He obtained so much influence during his years as a private commander that even before 2011, when he was anointed police chief of Oruzgan by President Hamid Karzai, who hailed from his Popalzai tribe, he could freely appoint government officials in the province.

The Afghan government remained silent about Mr. Khan’s death on Wednesday night and through much of Thursday, referring all questions to the spokesman for the Interior Ministry, who did not respond to requests for comment. Accounts of Mr. Khan’s killing obtained from members of Parliament and other officials varied, though Mr. Khan was said to be in Kabul on official business, staying at a downtown hotel, the Safi Landmark.

Around 8 p.m., he was walking in the streets of Kabul’s Police District 6 when a person wearing a burqa approached and detonated a suicide vest, according to a senior Afghan security official in Kabul, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a continuing investigation. Officials who saw Mr. Khan’s body said his chest had been wounded by shrapnel.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack on Thursday afternoon, a seeming insurgent success after trying to kill Mr. Khan at least six other times. Still, while the attack bore all the hallmarks of an insurgent hit job, some warned that Mr. Khan had numerous rivals within the government.

An outpouring of condolences followed news of Mr. Khan’s death, even from people who in the past might have criticized his heavy-handed influence.

Dost Mohammad Nayab, the spokesman for the governor of Oruzgan, said it “will take 14 years to fill the gap he leaves behind.” Hajji Mohammad Essa, an elder in Tirin Kot, said, “He was like a mountain for us.”

For years, Mr. Khan enjoyed unparalleled influence in Oruzgan, where he gained a reputation as a fierce enemy of the Taliban. Villagers and elders came to ask his assistance or seek his guidance.

He became a classic symbol of the American-backed strongman turned government official, a hallmark of the long war in Afghanistan.

Like his counterpart in Kandahar Province, Lt. Gen. Abdul Raziq, who is widely accused of human rights abuses and running illicit businesses, Mr. Khan enjoyed the support of coalition military officials, who found him an indispensable ally in their fight against the Taliban.

“He was representative of a new breed of warlords,” said Anand Gopal, the author of the book “No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes.” “These are people entirely created by the international presence.”

read full article

Anand Gopal, “No Good Men Among the Living”, pp. 252-257:

In rural Afghanistan, people discuss roads the way we discuss the weather—before they head out for work or at the mosque or in the market. On any given day, highways are prone to sudden tempests of violence between the warring sides. They can be rendered impassable by roadside bombs, or impromptu insurgent checkpoints, or trigger-happy American convoys. (“We’ve shot an amazing number of people,” US war commander General Stanley McChrystal commented in 2010, “and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat.”) Next week’s travel can be as unpredictable as next week’s skies.

If the roads attracted so much violence, it was because without them there could be no resupplying of American bases, and therefore no American mission. And with no American mission, there would have been no Matiullah Khan, no meshr [leader]. But what exactly was he the leader of? By 2009, he had become the most powerful person in Uruzgan Province and one of Washington’s closest allies—all without holding a government position.

In the summer of 2011, I rented a car in Kandahar city and set out for Uruzgan to learn who exactly Matiullah was. I started on the city’s out-skirts, in a mud-sodden field filled with eighteen-wheelers, sixteen-wheelers, cabs with two trailers, Indian-made trucks festooned with ruby-colored mirrors and dangling metallic tassels—all of them bearing fuel or other crucial cargo for US troops, and all waiting to travel the eighty treacherous miles north to Tirin Kot. Just a few years earlier, the truckers told me, such a trip would have been a probable death sentence. The route was then under Taliban control, so trucks often ended up as charred heaps, dotting the roadside like signposts in some ravaged alien land. Drivers were losing their heads and the American base in Tirin Kot was being starved of supplies. “If you ask me what I worry about at night,” said American general Duncan J. McNabb, “it is the fact that our supply chain is always under attack.” As the insurgency grew stronger in 2006-7, and the Americans sent in more troops, requiring more supplies, the problem only multiplied. The Kandahar-Tirin Kot road became one of the most dangerous highways in the world. But everything changed in 2008, when an illiterate militiaman began organizing his cousins and friends to protect the trucks. His name was Matiullah.

He was a man of humble origins who, unlike Jan Muhammad and other Soviet-era mujahedeen warlords, made himself entirely in the shadow of twenty-first-century American power. In the 1990s, he was operating a taxi on the Kandahar-Tirin Kot highway, occasionally moonlighting as a driver for Taliban commanders. He may have been poor, unschooled, and seemingly without political ambition, but as a member of the Popalzai tribe and a nephew of JMK, a world of opportunities opened up for him in the wake of the US invasion. He joined Karzai’s 2001 campaign to capture Uruzgan, and by the following year ha had worked his way into his uncle’s militia, commanding an elite Taliban-hunting unit. With no actual Taliban around, however, this effectively meant life as a hit man knocking off JMK’s rivals. Soon he was providing security for the perimeter of the main US base in Tirin Kot and accompanying American special forces missions. In 2007, he was appointed to head a short-lived highway police force, and when it was disbanded a few months later, he appropriated its guns and trucks and continued to patrol the Kandahar-Tirin Kot highway on a fee-for-service basis. In no time, he was supplying heavily armed men—most of them relatives or fellow tribesmen—to protect trucks hauling American sup-plies into Tirin Kot. The Taliban proved no match.

It was noon at the truck depot when we spotted the seemingly unending stream of desert beige Ford pickups heading toward us, Afghan flags whipping in the wind. Some had Matiullah’s image pasted decal-style to their cab windows, but most were unmarked. The supply trucks fell into place behind them, and we were off. The convoy drove along a canal as wide as the highway itself, its waters shimmering a brilliant cerulean blue against the dull brown scrubland rolling away into the distance. An hour into the trip, we passed through the shadow of a massive concrete dam. It was here that Jason Amerine’s unit had called in the wrong coordinates almost ten years earlier, bombing themselves and nearly killing Karzai.

Farther north, the mud houses and rutted dirt paths by the roadside disappeared and we were in open country, with barren slopes and a naked, treeless horizon. Perched here and there on the slopes were small teams of Matiullah’s gunmen, part of a private army thousands strong financed through his contracting business. For every truck escorted, he charged the Americans $1,000 to $2,000. With hundreds of trucks heading for the US base in Tirin Kot weekly, he was pulling in millions of dollars a month—in a country where the average income is a few hundred dollars a year. You could not move a truck into Uruzgan without his permission. “No one leaves without paying,” said Rashid Popal, another trucking contractor. “Matiullah will kill anyone on this highway, Taliban or not.” When another private security company, the Australian firm Compass, once attempted to escort US supplies up the highway, they were met by a hundred or so of Matiullah’s heavily armed men, who demanded $2,000 to $3,000 per truck for “passing rights.” The exchange grew so heated that the US military was called in. Eventually a settlement was negotiated and the trucks were allowed to pass, but the message was clear enough: Matiullah Khan owned the highway.

Our convoy passed through a defile that opened onto the earthen bowl where Mullah Manan’s forces had battled Jason Amerine’s Green Berets for control of Uruzgan. We arrived in Tirin Kot as dusk fell, with-out a shot fired en route, without encountering a single roadside bomb or illegal checkpoint. American officials believe that Matiullah’s success hinges in part on a protection racket, in which he pays off certain Tali-ban commanders not to disturb his convoys—meaning that the United States, by hiring Matiullah, is indirectly paying its enemies.

Under Matiullah Khan, Tirin Kot was a changed town. Using his windfall funds he gobbled up real estate, elbowing aside his exiled uncle as the major landowner in the area. He leased bases to the Americans and financed bazaar shops. Soon, just about every business transaction of note in the city required his imprimatur. “Nothing happens in Tirin Kot without him,” Hajji Shirin Dil, a wholesaler from Kabul, told me. “You can’t make a single dollar without his permission, without giving him a cut.”

With Jan Muhammad in Kabul, Matiullah quickly monopolized the political scene as well. Yet he was eager to distance himself from his uncle’s ruinous regime. JMK’s excesses had eventually turned the Dutch’ and other NATO allies against him, and Matiullah was keen to keep in the foreigners’ good graces. He built schools, established radio stations erected mosques, sent poor children to university in Kabul, settled Ian disputes, and protected widows like Heela. Through his militias and construction companies, he also provided jobs for thousands.

As with his uncle, however, governance was a sideline to Matiullah’ principal occupation: fighting “terror,” with no holds barred. When roadside bomb once went off near his convoy, killing one of his me Matiullah leapt out of his vehicle in a rage and grabbed a bystander—shopkeeper in the wrong place at the wrong time. Matiullah tied him the rear bumper of his pickup truck and drove around town. When t body was returned to the family, it was barely recognizable. In anoth village, Matiullah captured a suspected Talib (who, locals claim, was actually just a poor farmer) and took an already radical measure emasculation—chopping off his beard—a step farther: he smashed the man’s chin. And in yet another incident, Matiullah’s men attacked a madrassa suspected of being a center of Taliban influence. Dozens were taken hostage and executed, most of them young boys.


March 20, 2015

No Good Men Among the Living

Filed under: Afghanistan,Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 4:04 pm


Anand Gopal’s “No Good Men Among the Living”

Eyes Wide Open in Afghanistan


Combining first-rate investigative reporting and a mastery of New Journalism techniques, Anand Gopal’s “No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes” will help you understand the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan as well as introduce you to some of the people whose lives have been torn apart by American occupation. With the same kind of care that a gifted novelist devotes to character development, Gopal renders a Taliban fighter and a husband and wife victimized by Taliban violence in such finely grained detail and psychological depth that you feel as if you have walked in their shoes. This is the result of countless hours that he spent in Afghanistan interviewing his subjects at obvious risk to his life. So committed was Gopal to understanding the human drama in Afghanistan that he learned the Pashtun language before departing for an assignment that would last three years.

Unlike the average journalist who prefers being cocooned in a hotel room with other journalists or embedded with the state power’s military, Gopal has devoted himself to getting the story at the grass roots level, carrying out what might be described as “journalism from below”. I first encountered his reporting in an August 2012 Harper’s magazine article titled “Welcome to Free Syria” that described the flowering of democracy in a poor rural town called Taftanaz, where a farmer’s council had decided that “we have to give to each as he needs.” With all due respect to the Kurds in Rojova, many other Syrians had also been struggling for justice and equality until Baathist violence preempted such a possibility.

read full article

July 26, 2014

The Kill Team

Filed under: Afghanistan,Film — louisproyect @ 7:28 pm

Arguably, the only good things to come out of the war in Afghanistan are the more than 30 documentaries depicting the American role as nothing less than heinous. Joining “Restrepo” and “The Tillman Story” in the top ranks is “The Kill Team”, which opened yesterday at Lincoln Center (full schedule information, including a nationwide rollout is here: http://killteammovie.com/see-the-film).

Dan Krauss’s documentary has an eerie resemblance to the tale told by Oliver Stone in “The Platoon”. An idealistic young Floridian named Adam Winfield joins the army to “do some good”, which in his mind meant helping villagers build wells and roads while protecting them from the Taliban.

Calvin Gibbs, his sergeant, has other goals, which are best indicated by the skull and crossbones tattooed on his calf. After being assigned to his unit, Winfield learns that Sergeant Gibbs, who has served in Iraq where he obviously learned his tricks, is determined to add notches to his gun barrel whether or not his victims are Taliban or not. Winfield is horrified to witness Gibbs killing an Afghan in cold blood and then planting an AK-47 near his dead body, after the fashion of New York cops planting a pistol on someone they have just blown away. Afterwards he cuts off the man’s finger and adds to a necklace he has fashioned, reminiscent of how Indian scalps were collected in the Wild West.

When Winfield begins to tell other men in his unit that he can’t abide such killings, and even urges his ex-Marine father to contact military investigators, Gibbs gets wind of his subordinate’s intentions and warns him that he will be next if he doesn’t keep his mouth shut.

If you have seen “Platoon”, you will recognize the similarity to the conflict between the character played by Charlie Sheen and his murderous sergeant played by Tom Berenger. Unlike “Platoon”, the two men in Krauss’s films are nowhere near equal. Winfield was about 100 pounds when he was enlisted, so light that he drank a gallon of water just to make the minimum weight while his sergeant was over 200 pounds.

Pressure built on Winfield to the point that he finally relented and joined Gibbs’s death squad for one hit that was eventually discovered during an investigation about hashish smoking in his unit.

Most of the film consists of testimony by Winfield and the men in his unit (except for Gibbs) who while not being proud of their role in the killings argue that this is what the army is about. It was Winfield’s misfortune to be caught in an untenable situation, one in which he would be a loser whatever choice he made. If he succumbed to Gibbs’s pressure, he would become a killer himself. If he became a whistle-blower, he would be killed.

The main message of the film is that the real kill team was not the group under Gibbs’s command but the entire military. It is to director Dan Krauss’s credit that he has made a highly dramatic and necessary documentary. It will make you both sad and angry, just the way that the long, long war in Afghanistan does.

Highly recommended.

January 13, 2014

Lone Survivor

Filed under: Afghanistan,Film,militarism — louisproyect @ 7:12 pm

In recent trips to my local Cineplex to catch up with Hollywoodiana, I was genuinely surprised to see what amounted to a PSA on behalf of “Lone Survivor”, a film I saw about a month ago as a DVD screener sent from a publicist in conjunction with the NYFCO awards meeting. As a sign that my fellow critics have not been debased beyond all hope, this supremely stupid militarist movie did not get nominated for a single award. Unlike “Zero Dark Thirty”, it is the sort of film that used to star Chuck Norris or Sylvester Stallone even though some of our more “sophisticated” critics see it as a kind of “war is hell” story. Unlike the typical Norris saga, the film ends ignominiously for the American troops except the “lone survivor”. Too bad he didn’t get a bullet to the head as well. It is based on an incident that occurred during the “war on terror” in Afghanistan but is so bizarrely hyperbolic in the way it depicts Navy Seals that it defies its own claims to be truthful.

Sandwiched between the opening announcements about turning off your cell phone, etc. and the previews of coming attractions, you can see a “featurette” on “Lone Survivor” that is nearly four minutes long. It has snippets from the film as well as interviews with Peter Berg, the director, and Navy Seal veteran Marcus Luttrell, whose book the film is based on. Having seen at least a hundred films in my local Cineplex, an AMC theater, over the years, I have never seen such a “short subject” before, to use the term coined for featurettes in the 1950s. It is basically a bid to muster support for the troops of the kind seen at the Super Bowl and other quasi-Nuremberg rallies of an empire in decline.

The film opens with a typical day at a military base in Afghanistan as the troops engage in roughhousing pranks and haze a new recruit—but all in good fun. Later that day, four of them (Mark Wahlberg who stars as Marcus Luttrell—the lone survivor, the aptly named Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and Ben Foster) take a helicopter ride to a mountaintop overlooking a Taliban-controlled village to prepare for a larger assault that will kill a rebel leader as part of Operation Red Wing in 2005.

As the four Seals survey the village from afar, a group of goat-herders from the village accidentally stumble across their encampment. This forces them to make a decision whether to kill them or to spare their lives. If they are merciful, this will obviously risk them telling the Taliban about their whereabouts, which is what happens. Not long after the herdsman return to the village, a group of fifty Taliban can be seen above them on a nearby mountaintop armed to the gills with AK-47’s and RPG’s. For about an hour, you see the four Seals standing off the Taliban as if the enemy’s bullets both had eyes and were loyal to the stars and stripes. I have not seen a more ludicrous gun fight since “Kill Bill”. If Navy Seals were this invincible, the Taliban would have been defeated long ago.

It is not just the unrepentant Marxist who has noticed the implausible nature of the battle depicted in the film. Ed Darack, the author of a book on Operation Red Wing, offers these remarks:

The only surviving member of the four-man team, Marcus Luttrell, wrote a brief (2 1/2 page) after action report. In it, he stated that he estimated that the reconnaissance and surveillance team was ambushed by 20 to 35 ACM. Twenty was the number that was initially released by CJTF-76 Public Affairs, and that is why the earliest media reports used the number twenty (in the Time magazine article, they state “…probably 5 to 1” as related to the four-man team – meaning 20). Further analysis, the results of which never made it into the press (derived from analysis of signals intelligence gleaned during the ambush and human intelligence derived in Pakistan after the ambush, and videos of the actual ambush) stated the number to be between eight and ten.

But as time progressed, the number quickly inflated from twenty. Some sources state up to 200. I’ve seen figures even higher than this. Ever since a blunt education by Marines in Afghanistan on the subject, I’ve been ever-skeptical of stated enemy numbers. While I was in Afghanistan on my first embed, the Marines taught me about “Afghan Math” – “Just divide by about ten to get the real number ” is the governing directive of “Afghan Math”–when reading enemy numbers in press reports or when the enemy tries their brand of PsyOps over two-way radios (“we have fifty men waiting to ambush you” usually means, maybe, five). I experienced this during my first tag-along with Marines in combat in Afghanistan–listening to a “Taliban commander” talking to Marines over an Icom late one night (on a ridge across the Pech River Valley from Sawtalo Sar). I couldn’t figure out why everyone was laughing. I wasn’t laughing. Turns out “they” didn’t have even five, just the guy on his Icom two-way radio. Of course, he never attacked us, other than verbally.

Marcus Lutrell’s “Lone Survivor” was ghost-written by Patrick Robinson, a British author best known for fictional works featuring heroic American and British soldiers. Typical is “Ghost Force”, a novel about Navy Seals who foil a plot by Argentinians and Siberians (!) to retake the Malvinas as an anti-imperialist plot against Exxon-Mobil. Just the sort of writer who would bring Lutrell’s overactive imagination to fruition.

If Robinson was just the right ghost-writer, Peter Berg was a director whose ideological predispositions were ideally suited for the material as well. Berg can be proud of his work. Wikipedia reports: “Its opening weekend gross made it the second largest debut for any film released in January after the 2008 film Cloverfield’s opening weekend gross of $40.1 million.” That its success is measured against “Cloverfield” should give you some indication about the dire straits of Hollywood filmmaking. “Cloverfield” was an idiotic space invasion movie whose shaky camera effects were enough to induce an epilepsy attack even if you did not suffer from the illness.

Berg’s previous film was “Battleship”, another space invasion movie that was based on a video game and that was geared to the average 15-year-old boy. It opens with 911 type attacks on skyscrapers and climaxes with a WWII vintage battleship being dusted off and used to smite the filthy alien spaceships that bear a striking resemblance to the Transformers. This, of course, is the perfect preparation for a movie like “Lone Survivor”.

On IMDB, Berg describes why he made a film like “Lone Survivor”:

I’m a patriot. I admire our military, their character, code of honor, belief systems. I lived with the SEALs, their families, went to their funerals. I went to Iraq. Did you ever see anyone killed? I did.

“Lone Survivor” was made by Universal Studios, a subsidiary of NBCUniversal that is half-owned by Comcast and half by GE, one of America’s biggest arms manufacturers. Comcast is the world’s largest media and communications corporation by revenue and includes MSNBC as one of its wholly owned subsidiaries. As a cable provider, it is a bitter enemy of net neutrality. The CEO of Comcast is Brian Roberts, an American Jew who has made major contributions to the Obama campaigns.

Every time I run into a film like “Zero Dark Thirty” or “Lone Survivor”, I am reminded of the incestuous ties between the military, big business, and the film industry including the professional critics who praise such films. They are no different from the German journalists who lauded Leni Riefenstahl.

“Lone Survivors” got an astonishingly high rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with 73 percent “Fresh” ratings. It also received an 89 percent favorable rating from Rotten Tomato users, in other words people who registered to voice their opinions but can’t post articles.

NPR’s Ella Taylor opined:

When you don’t know the terrain and you don’t know who’s for or against you, heroics are either beside the point or they extend only as far as survival and solidarity. In this regard, Berg is relentlessly unsparing — in Lone Survivor, we discover what it is like to topple downhill from rock to rock, and what it is like to reach for your gun and find that your hand is missing — but never Tarantino-sadistic.

There’s courage aplenty in Lone Survivor — the day when grunts were made to stand in for American imperialism is long gone and rightly so.

I know Taylor from her days at the Village Voice, when she was a lot more “edgy”. That she can sanctify this glorified version of a Chuck Norris film for a radio station that was originally intended to be an alternative to commercial radio speaks volumes about the dying culture we live in. No, Ms. Taylor, the day when grunts were made to stand in for American imperialism is still very much with us.

April 6, 2011


Filed under: Afghanistan,Film — louisproyect @ 6:52 pm

Despite the fact that it covers basically the same terrain as “Restrepo”, I do recommend the Danish documentary “Armadillo” that arrives at the IFC Center in New York on April 8. Like “Restrepo”, it gives you a close-up view of soldiers operating in Taliban-dominated territory in Afghanistan, in this case the Helmand province.

Armadillo was the name of the base that 170 British and Danish troops occupied. Director Janus Metz focuses on a group of his fellow countrymen as they depart from Demark and serve a brief but horrific tour of duty. Like the men in “Restrepo”, they are addicted to violent video games, rough-housing, pornography and other macho pastimes mostly intended to relieve the boredom. This is not a war in which the combatants face off in large-scale set pieces like the Battle of Gettysburg. Mostly, the occupying forces go out on patrols that lead to no encounters with the Taliban who prefer to use IED’s to punish the invaders. In the course of the film, there are repeated injuries due to the devices.

Also, like in “Restrepo”, the villagers openly complain about the hardships they suffer due to the occupation. Mortar attacks directed at the Taliban often result in the loss of civilian life. The soldiers suspect the villagers of secretly backing the Taliban so it is no surprise that they are indifferent to collateral damage.

The big story with “Armadillo” is that a scene that takes place toward the end of the film has led to major soul-searching in Denmark. In the only serious firefight that takes place in the entire film, a Danish soldier throws a hand grenade into a ditch in which four Taliban fighters have taken cover. When the blast leaves them severely wounded but still alive, other soldiers empty their guns on them.

The Guardian reported on the film’s impact:

Guess which film knocked Prince of Persia off the top spot at the Danish box office this week. Sex and the City 2? Valhalla Rising 3? Wrong: it’s a new film called Armadillo, by young Danish director Janus Metz, that has provoked a furious debate in Denmark since its premiere in Cannes last week. The film, its director calculates, has already been the subject of 300 to 400 articles in the Danish press. The Danish minister of defence, Gitte Lillelund Bech, has seen it, as have many other politicians and senior members of the military, who have now commissioned an inquiry into events it shows. There has been such a clamour among the public to see it that the film has been rushed into cinemas this week, almost two months in advance of its original release date.

It is a sign that there are residues of civilization in Denmark that such behavior could have provoked outrage. Those of us who live in America have become inured to the notion that American soldiers are operating as total savages in Afghanistan. If the Danish got worked up about four Taliban wounded combatants being shot to death, what would they make of their soldiers killing Afghans basically for sport?

The current online Rolling Stone has a chilling article on the men of the 3rd Platoon of the 5th Stryker Brigade who operated in Kandahar Province. Frustrated by their inability to have direct combat with the Taliban who relied on IED’s just as they had in Helmand Province, they decided to start killing civilians because they were deemed guilty of harboring loyalties to the Taliban anyhow. Like New York City cops, they got into the habit of planting weapons on the bodies of the men they shot. Unlike NY cops, at least at this point, they took pictures of themselves standing over the dead bodies as if they were deer bagged during hunting season. They also chopped off fingers and kept them as trophies.

From the Rolling Stone article by Mark Boal

The article was written by Mark Boal, the author of the screenplay for “In the Valley of Elah”, a good movie about out-of-control veterans of the Iraq war, and the dreadful “Hurt Locker”. Boal writes:

Back at the wall, soldiers arriving on the scene found the body and the bloodstains on the ground. Morlock and Holmes were crouched by the wall, looking excited. When a staff sergeant asked them what had happened, Morlock said the boy had been about to attack them with a grenade. “We had to shoot the guy,” he said.

It was an unlikely story: a lone Taliban fighter, armed with only a grenade, attempting to ambush a platoon in broad daylight, let alone in an area that offered no cover or concealment. Even the top officer on the scene, Capt. Patrick Mitchell, thought there was something strange about Morlock’s story. “I just thought it was weird that someone would come up and throw a grenade at us,” Mitchell later told investigators.

But Mitchell did not order his men to render aid to Mudin, whom he believed might still be alive, and possibly a threat. Instead, he ordered Staff Sgt. Kris Sprague to “make sure” the boy was dead. Sprague raised his rifle and fired twice.

As the soldiers milled around the body, a local elder who had been working in the poppy field came forward and accused Morlock and Holmes of murder. Pointing to Morlock, he said that the soldier, not the boy, had thrown the grenade. Morlock and the other soldiers ignored him.

To identify the body, the soldiers fetched the village elder who had been speaking to the officers that morning. But by tragic coincidence, the elder turned out to be the father of the slain boy. His moment of grief-stricken recognition, when he saw his son lying in a pool of blood, was later recounted in the flat prose of an official Army report. “The father was very upset,” the report noted.

The father’s grief did nothing to interrupt the pumped-up mood that had broken out among the soldiers. Following the routine Army procedure required after every battlefield death, they cut off the dead boy’s clothes and stripped him naked to check for identifying tattoos. Next they scanned his iris and fingerprints, using a portable biometric scanner.

Then, in a break with protocol, the soldiers began taking photographs of themselves celebrating their kill. Holding a cigarette rakishly in one hand, Holmes posed for the camera with Mudin’s bloody and half-naked corpse, grabbing the boy’s head by the hair as if it were a trophy deer. Morlock made sure to get a similar memento.

Despite the fact that this kind of savagery has been going on since October 2001 and that a Democratic president elected on the basis of a return to civilized behavior has largely continued with the status quo, it is amazing that nothing seems to change. Like a nightmare that refuses to end, the war in Afghanistan continues along its bestial path. As a nation that was dedicated early on to building an empire, it is no surprise that the elected officials who swear by its founding values are incapable of changing course, especially since they cannot recognize the Original Sin of Empire.

We shall divert through our own Country a branch of commerce which the European States have thought worthy of the most important struggles and sacrifices, and in the event of peace [ending the American Revolution]…we shall form to the American union a barrier against the dangerous extension of the British Province of Canada and add to the Empire of liberty an extensive and fertile Country thereby converting dangerous Enemies into valuable friends.

–Thomas Jefferson letter to George Rogers Clark, 25 December 1780

March 18, 2011

ACTION ALERT: Four Things YOU Can Do About Malalai Joya’s Visa Denial

Filed under: Afghanistan — louisproyect @ 6:26 pm


March 18, 2011

The U.S. Embassy this week denied famed Afghan women’s rights activist Malalai Joya a visa to the United States for an extensive speaking tour that was to kick off on Saturday March 19th. Americans are being denied the right to hear from an on-the-ground activist how the war is affecting ordinary Afghans, especially women.

Read AWM’s press release about it here.


1. Have your elected representatives sign onto a letter urging the U.S. Embassy to reconsider their decision – DEADLINE: Friday March 18th 5 pm EST.

Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) has drafted and signed a letter urging the US Embassy to grant Malalai Joya the visa. A draft of the letter can be found here.

Ask your Senator or Representative to add their names to this letter NO LATER THAN 5 pm EST on Friday March 18th. Have the staff in your Senator or Representative’s office contact Jessica Lee at Jessica.lee@mail.house.gov. (Do not contact Ms. Lee yourself). The more elected representatives that sign onto the letter, the greater the chance of that the U.S. Embassy will reverse their visa denial.

2. Sign an online petition demanding Malalai Joya be granted a visa to the United States
Click here to sign the petition. Then, send it to all your friends and post it on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

3. Attend one of the many events organized for Malalai around the country
Whether she gets to the U.S. or not it is imperative that the events go on as scheduled. If she is unable to be physically present organizers will attempt to have her speak to the audience via live video chat. Transform the events into “free-speech” events, to affirm your right to hear from people like Malalai Joya.

Details of Malalai’s tour are here.

4. Demand media coverage of Malalai’s Visa Denial

Contact local and national media urging them to cover Malalai Joya’s visa exclusion. The denial of a visa to Afghanistan’s most intrepid and well known feminist should make headlines! Point them to our press release for details.

January 24, 2011

Silencing the Song: An Afghan Fallen Star

Filed under: Afghanistan,feminism — louisproyect @ 7:20 pm

In 2009 HBO aired the documentary “Afghan Star” that followed contestants from start to finish on Afghanistan’s version of “American Idol” or “Britain’s Got Talent”, including Setara Hussainzada, a young woman who scandalized the country by dancing—modestly–in her final performance and allowing her scarf to drop to her neck. This act was sufficient to cause her to be evicted from her apartment and to receive death threats.

On January 26th (8:00 to 8:45pm ET/PT) HBO will be presenting a follow-up documentary titled “Silencing the Song: An Afghan Fallen Star” that is a close-up study of what has happened to Setara since her ill-fated appearance.

As feisty as ever, Setara insists that she has done nothing sacrilegious. She now lives in Kabul, having left her native city of Herat where conservative Muslims continue to threaten her. Even in Kabul, there is constant harassment, even from the local authorities backed fully by the USA as a counterweight to the misogynist Taliban. During filming for the documentary, a squad of Afghan cops materializes at her apartment, supposedly to protect her. Setara views their intervention as nothing but a provocation and she berates them fearlessly.

One consolation is her marriage to a man who loves her and, just as importantly, defends her right to sing or dance without fear of reprisal. But he is forced to conceal his face from the camera in order to avoid being attacked by religious fanatics. They are expecting their first child as well, a prospect fraught with uncertainty.

I strongly urge you to rent “Afghan Star” from Netflix and to see this HBO follow-up on Wednesday. It is a reminder of the gender oppression that continues in Afghanistan despite efforts by the USA to associate abuses against women as solely the work of the Taliban.

These two fine movies directed by Havana Marking serve as companion pieces to Afghan legislator Malalai Joya’s “A Woman among Warlords”. She writes:

I am the youngest member of the Afghan Parliament, but I have been banished from my seat and threatened with death because I speak the truth about the warlords and criminals in the puppet government of Hamid Karzai. I have already survived at least five assassination attempts and uncounted plots against me. Because of this, I am forced to live like a fugitive within my own country. A trusted uncle heads my detail of bodyguards, and we move to different houses almost every night to stay a step ahead of my enemies.

To hide my identity, I must travel under the cover of the heavy cloth burqa, which to me is a symbol of women’s oppression, like a shroud for the living. Even during the dark days of the Taliban I could at least go outside under the burqa to teach girls in secret classes. But today I don’t feel safe under my burqa, even with armed guards to escort me. My visitors are searched for weapons, and even the flowers at my wedding had to be checked for bombs. I cannot tell you my family’s name, or the name of my husband, because it would place them in terrible danger. And for this reason, I have changed several other names in this book.

I call myself Joya — an alias I adopted during the time of the Taliban when I worked as an underground activist. The name Joya has great significance in my country. Sarwar Joya was an Afghan writer, poet, and constitutionalist who struggled against injustice during the early twentieth century. He spent nearly twenty-four years of his life in jails and was finally killed because he would not compromise his democratic principles.

Long live Setara! Long live Malalai Joya! Long live the struggle for freedom in Afghanistan!

November 20, 2010

The new Nixon?

Filed under: Afghanistan,Obama — louisproyect @ 3:36 pm

Anderson Cooper Compares Obama to Nixon, Spotlights Declining Approval Ratings


* * * *

Address to the Nation on the Situation in Southeast Asia
President Richard M. Nixon
April 30, 1970

Good evening my fellow Americans:

Ten days ago, in my report to the Nation on Vietnam, I announced a decision to withdraw an additional 150,000 Americans from Vietnam over the next year. I said then that I was making that decision despite our concern over increased enemy activity in Laos, in Cambodia, and in South Vietnam.

At that time, I warned that if I concluded that increased enemy activity in any of these areas endangered the lives of Americans remaining in Vietnam, I would not hesitate to take strong and effective measures to deal with that situation.

Despite that warning, North Vietnam has increased its military aggression in all these areas, and particularly in Cambodia.

After full consultation with the National Security Council, Ambassador Bunker, General Abrams, and my other advisers, I have concluded that the actions of the enemy in the last 10 days clearly endanger the lives of Americans who are in Vietnam now and would constitute an unacceptable risk to those who will be there after withdrawal of another 150,000.

To protect our men who are in Vietnam and to guarantee the continued success of our withdrawal and Vietnamization programs, I have concluded that the time has come for action.

full: http://www.mekong.net/cambodia/nixon430.htm

* * * *


U.S. wants to widen area in Pakistan where it can operate drones
By Greg Miller
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 20, 2010; 12:25 AM

ISLAMABAD – The United States has renewed pressure on Pakistan to expand the areas where CIA drones can operate inside the country, reflecting concern that the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan is being undermined by insurgents’ continued ability to take sanctuary across the border, U.S. and Pakistani officials said.

The U.S. appeal has focused on the area surrounding the Pakistani city of Quetta, where the Afghan Taliban leadership is thought to be based. But the request also seeks to expand the boundaries for drone strikes in the tribal areas, which have been targeted in 101 attacks this year, the officials said.

Pakistan has rejected the request, officials said. Instead, the country has agreed to more modest measures, including an expanded CIA presence in Quetta, where the agency and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate have established teams seeking to locate and capture senior members of the Taliban.

The disagreement over the scope of the drone program underscores broader tensions between the United States and Pakistan, wary allies that are increasingly pointing fingers at one another over the rising levels of insurgent violence on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Senior Pakistani officials expressed resentment over what they described as misplaced U.S. pressure to do more, saying the United States has not controlled the Afghan side of the border, is preoccupied by arbitrary military deadlines and has little regard for Pakistan’s internal security problems.

“You expect us to open the skies for anything that you can fly,” said a high-ranking Pakistani intelligence official, who described the Quetta request as an affront to Pakistani sovereignty. “In which country can you do that?”

U.S. officials confirmed the request for expanded drone flights. They cited concern that Quetta functions not only as a sanctuary for Taliban leaders but also as a base for sending money, recruits and explosives to Taliban forces inside Afghanistan.

“If they understand our side, they know the patience is running out,” a senior NATO military official said.

The CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan has accelerated dramatically in recent months, with 47 attacks recorded since the beginning of September, according to The Long War Journal, a Web site that tracks the strikes. By contrast, there were 45 strikes in the first five years of the drone program.

But Pakistan places strict boundaries on where CIA drones can fly. The unmanned aircraft may patrol designated flight “boxes” over the country’s tribal belt but not other provinces, including Baluchistan, which encompasses Quetta.

“They want to increase the size of the boxes, they want to relocate the boxes,” a second Pakistani intelligence official said of the latest U.S. requests. “I don’t think we are going to go any further.”

He and others spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the clandestine nature of a program that neither government will publicly acknowledge.

Pakistani officials stressed that Quetta is a densely populated city where an errant strike is more likely to kill innocent civilians, potentially provoking a backlash. Unlike the semi-autonomous tribal territories, Baluchistan is considered a core part of Pakistan.

U.S. officials have long suspected there are other reasons for Islamabad’s aversion, including concern that the drones might be used to conduct surveillance of Pakistani nuclear weapons facilities in Baluchistan.

In interviews in Islamabad, senior Pakistani officials voiced a mix of appreciation and apprehension over the U.S. role in the region.

The high-ranking Pakistani intelligence official said the CIA-ISI relationship is stronger than at any times since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and that the two spy services carry out joint operations “almost on a daily basis.”

“I wish [our] countries understood each other the way the CIA and ISI understand each other,” the official said. But he also traced Pakistan’s most acute problems, including an epidemic of militant violence, to two decisions by the government to collaborate with the United States.

Using the ISI to funnel CIA money and arms to mujaheddin fighters in the 1980s helped oust the Soviets from Afghanistan, the official said, but also made Pakistan a breeding ground for militant groups.

Similarly, Pakistan’s cooperation since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has been key to the capture of al-Qaeda operatives and the success of the drone campaign. But it has inflamed radical elements in the country and made Islamabad a target of terrorrist attacks.

“We’d not have been here if we had not supported the Afghan jihad, if we had not supported [the response to] 9/11,” the official said, adding that it was “our fault. We should have stood up.”

Barring the CIA from flying drones over Quetta, the official said, is one area in which Pakistan is now taking a stand.

In other areas, CIA-ISI cooperation has deepened. The agencies have carried out more than 100 joint operations in the past 18 months, including raids that have led to the capture of high-ranking figures including Mullah Barader, the Taliban’s former military chief.

The Pakistani intelligence official said the operations have been “mainly focused on Quetta.” Teams based there rely on sophisticated surveillance technology and eavesdropping equipment provided by the CIA. When a raid or capture is attempted, the ISI is in the lead.

The aim is “to capture or arrest people based on intel primarily provided by Americans,” the Pakistani intelligence official said. The effort has been underway for a year, the official said, but “now the intensity is much higher.”

Nevertheless, U.S. and Pakistani officials acknowledged that they have no high-profile arrests or other successes to show for their efforts. The NATO military official said there had been “intelligence-led” operations against Taliban targets in Quetta in recent months but described them as “small scale” in nature.

The two sides disagree sharply over the importance of the Quetta Shura, the leadership council led by Mullah Mohammed Omar that presides over the Afghan Taliban. Some senior Pakistani officials refuse to use the term “Quetta shura,” calling it a U.S. construct designed to embarrass Pakistan.

“I’m not denying the individual presence of members” of the Taliban in or near Quetta, a senior Pakistani military official said. “But to create the impression there is a body micromanaging the affairs of the Afghan Taliban . . . is very far-fetched.”

The push to expand the drone strikes has come up repeatedly in recent months, Pakistani officials said. The United States has also urged Pakistan to launch a military offensive in North Waziristan, a redoubt for militant groups including al-Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqani network, considered the most lethal foe of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Pakistani officials ruled out a sweep anytime soon, saying the country’s military is still consolidating its hold on territory in Swat and South Waziristan, where tens of thousands of residents were displaced during operations to oust militants last year.

The senior Pakistani military official said U.S. expectations have little to do with Islamabad’s own national security calculations.

“You have timelines of November elections and July x’11 drawdowns – you’re looking for short-term gains,” the official said, referring to President Obama’s pledge to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July. “Your short-term gains should not be our long-term pain.”

Correspondents Karin Brulliard in Islamabad and Joshua Partlow in Kabul contributed to this report.


November 15, 2010


Filed under: Afghanistan,Film — louisproyect @ 8:30 pm

On April 22, 2006 I reviewed a documentary titled “The War Tapes” that was made up of footage filmed by members of a New Hampshire National Guard Unit who had been given videocameras by director Deborah Scranton.

This is from that review:

For students of popular culture, the film will evoke two other works almost immediately. When the GI’s speak about their “job” in Iraq, they will remind you of the principals in “Cops,” Fox TV’s long-running “reality show”. Speaking into the camera, the cops talk about how much their career means to them, even if it involves being immersed in their city’s underbelly and being forced to confront “bad guys” on a daily basis at the risk to life and limb. This basically is the attitude that the New Hampshire National Guardsmen exhibit throughout the film, except that the “bad guys” are insurgents rather than crack dealers.

You will also be reminded of “The Perfect Storm,” another film about working class New Englanders filled with bravado and stoicism on another doomed mission. In close quarters either in a tent or in a HUMV, the New Hampshire National Guardsmen trade jibes with each other in dialogue that is strikingly evocative of the characters in “The Perfect Storm.” Although all of the major characters in “The War Tapes” eventually arrive home safely, there is no question that their lives will never be the same.

As fate would have it, within a year Sebastian Junger, the author of “The Perfect Storm”, would find himself in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley making a movie called “Restrepo” very much in the vein of “The War Tapes”. “Restrepo” was the last name of a Latino member of the unit featured in the film killed in action.  They named their small godforsaken outpost after him, a dubious honor no matter the noble intentions.

The movie was filmed and directed by Junger and Tim Hetherington, both of whom were regular contributors to Vanity Fair magazine, a glitzy publication devoted mostly to gossiping about Eurotrash and hedge fund managers. It is also a place where you can read some first-rate journalism, including a column by James Wolcott who has mentioned the unrepentant Marxist from time to time. In the press notes for “Restrepo”, the directors set down their “non-political” ambitions, by now familiar to anybody who has seen the press releases for “The Hurt Locker”:

The war in Afghanistan has become highly politicized, but soldiers rarely take part in that discussion. Our intention was to capture the experience of combat, boredom and fear through the eyes of the soldiers themselves. Their lives were our lives: we did not sit down with their families, we did not interview Afghans, we did not explore geopolitical debates. Soldiers are living and fighting and dying at remote outposts in Afghanistan in conditions that few Americans back home can imagine. Their experiences are important to understand, regardless of one’s political beliefs. Beliefs can be a way to avoid looking at reality. This is reality.

But In January 2008 Vanity Fair you can read an article by Junger titled “Into the Valley of Death” that basically covers the same ground as the movie. Despite the above disclaimer about not making a political statement, he clearly is pessimistic about the goals of the war:

By many measures, Afghanistan is falling apart. The Afghan opium crop has flourished in the past two years and now represents 93 percent of the world’s supply, with an estimated street value of $38 billion in 2006. That money helps bankroll an insurgency that is now operating virtually within sight of the capital, Kabul. Suicide bombings have risen eightfold in the past two years, including several devastating attacks in Kabul, and as of October, coalition casualties had surpassed those of any previous year. The situation has gotten so bad, in fact, that ethnic and political factions in the northern part of the country have started stockpiling arms in preparation for when the international community decides to pull out. Afghans—who have seen two foreign powers on their soil in 20 years—are well aware of the limits of empire. They are well aware that everything has an end point, and that in their country end points are bloodier than most.

The film consists mostly of cinéma vérité footage of the soldiers dodging insurgent bullets, roughhousing with each other, or meeting with village elders to hear their complaints. This alternates with members of the unit back in civilian life reminiscing about Restrepo, which can best be described as a season in hell.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the alienation from their environment that these soldiers experience. Totally isolated from both the Afghans they supposedly are defending and indifferent apparently to the “rooting out the terrorists” ideology that justifies their presence, they seem more like contestants in a mortal version of the television show “Fear Factor”. Instead of eating worms, they eat bullets.

In one of the more powerful scenes in the film, we see the aftermath of a firefight that left one of their comrades dead. One soldier cannot help but sob. Since the dead man was considered a crack soldier, what chance did the others have? They press on, however, mostly out of loyalty to each other than any over-arching imperialist agenda, a growing tendency in American interventions over the past 30 years or so when the clash between naked reality and textbook ideals becomes impossible to bridge.

The characters in the film are largely forgettable with the exception of a handful. A perpetually smiling and baby-faced Miguel Cortez admits in an interview after he has returned to a “normal” life in the U.S.: “I can’t even sleep, honestly. I’ve been on about four or five different types of sleeping pills, and none of them help. That’s how bad the nightmares are. I prefer not to sleep and not to dream about it. … To sleep and just see the picture in my head is pretty bad.”

Another character has the unlikely name of Misha Pemble-Belkin, the Jewish son of parents he describes as “hippies” who were so antiwar that they would not permit him to play with toy guns. Now he is a tried and true killer just like the rest. The Vanity Fair article fills in some details:

A 22-year-old private named Misha Pemble-Belkin is sitting on the edge of a cot, cutting the pocket off his uniform. On his left forearm Pemble-Belkin has a tattoo of the Endurance, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship that became entrapped by sea ice in Antarctica in 1915. “It’s the greatest adventure story ever,” Pemble-Belkin says by way of explanation. He takes the pocket he has just liberated and sews it over a rip in the crotch of his pants, which he is still wearing. The men spend their days clambering around shale hillsides dotted with holly trees, and most of their uniforms are in shreds. Pemble-Belkin uses his free time back at the kop painting and playing guitar, and says that his father was a labor organizer who supports the troops absolutely, but has protested every war the United States has ever been in. His mother sends him letters written on paper she makes by hand.

But the most revealing scenes involve their commanding officer, a Captain Dan Kearney who is obviously more into the imperialist mindset than the men beneath him. In one meeting with the village elders, he admits that his men had killed some innocent villagers in the past but now it was time to put all that past them. As Dan DiMaggio put it in a review of the movie that was posted here, this was singularly arrogant:

In an astounding display of imperial arrogance, the leading U.S. officer, who took over from an apparently even more brutal commander named McKnight (whose watch resulted in many prisoners in Bagram and scores of civilians dead), asks that they “wipe the slate clean” and give the U.S. a fresh start. Can you imagine the Afghan elders – or the Taliban, for that matter – asking the U.S. to “wipe the slate clean” for 9/11, for which they were not even responsible? It also baffles the mind to see U.S. officers assume that the best way to win over Afghans is through bribery, which might help explain why they have found their best allies among the warlords who have made immense profits off the occupation (mirroring the American warlords running Halliburton and Blackwater), while the Taliban at times gains support for at least having some sort of moral code.

Some day an enterprising director will seek out those village elders as well as the insurgents who we know nothing about from “Restrepo” in order to tell their story. Despite their backwardness, they are fighting to expel oppressive foreigners from their native soil—an elementary democratic right that Hollywood is not ready to respect. It will take someone like Gillo Pontecorvo to make that kind of film. God knows we need someone like that right now.

Until that time comes along, “Restrepo” is not a bad introduction to the horrors of imperialism no matter the stated claim of Sebastian Junger to make a movie that was not about politics. It can now be rented from Netflix.

October 27, 2010

Bourgeois press can’t get its act together

Filed under: Afghanistan,media — louisproyect @ 1:48 pm

NY Times October 20, 2010
Coalition Forces Routing Taliban in Key Afghan Region

ARGHANDAB, Afghanistan — American and Afghan forces have been routing the Taliban in much of Kandahar Province in recent weeks, forcing many hardened fighters, faced with the buildup of American forces, to flee strongholds they have held for years, NATO commanders, local Afghan officials and residents of the region said.

A series of civilian and military operations around the strategic southern province, made possible after a force of 12,000 American and NATO troops reached full strength here in the late summer, has persuaded Afghan and Western officials that the Taliban will have a hard time returning to areas they had controlled in the province that was their base.

Some of the gains seem to have come from a new mobile rocket that has pinpoint accuracy — like a small cruise missile — and has been used against the hideouts of insurgent commanders around Kandahar. That has forced many of them to retreat across the border into Pakistan. Disruption of their supply lines has made it harder for them to stage retaliatory strikes or suicide bombings, at least for the moment, officials and residents said.

NATO commanders are careful not to overstate their successes — they acknowledge they made that mistake earlier in the year when they undertook a high-profile operation against Marja that did not produce lasting gains. But they say they are making “deliberate progress” and have seized the initiative from the insurgents.

full: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/21/world/asia/21kandahar.html

Washington Post, October 27, 2010
U.S. military campaign to topple resilient Taliban hasn’t succeeded

By Greg Miller
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 27, 2010; 12:47 AM

An intense military campaign aimed at crippling the Taliban has so far failed to inflict more than fleeting setbacks on the insurgency or put meaningful pressure on its leaders to seek peace, according to U.S. military and intelligence officials citing the latest assessments of the war in Afghanistan.

Escalated airstrikes and special operations raids have disrupted Taliban movements and damaged local cells. But officials said that insurgents have been adept at absorbing the blows and that they appear confident that they can outlast an American troop buildup set to subside beginning next July.

“The insurgency seems to be maintaining its resilience,” said a senior Defense Department official involved in assessments of the war. Taliban elements have consistently shown an ability to “reestablish and rejuvenate,” often within days of routed by U.S. forces, the official said, adding that if there is a sign that momentum has shifted, “I don’t see it.”

One of the military objectives in targeting mid-level commanders is to compel the Taliban to pursue peace talks with the Afghan government, a nascent effort that NATO officials have helped to facilitate.

The blunt intelligence assessments are consistent across the main spy agencies responsible for analyzing the conflict, including the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, and come at a critical juncture. Officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

full: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/26/AR2010102606571.html

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