Happy birthday War on Afghanistan

Ten years ago the worst, dumbest, bound fail war in modern times started as the Bush regime chose not to treat the September 11 attacks as crimes but as a decleration of war. Like the even worse war on Iraq to follow we were lied into it, nobody in charge had any clue on how to go about it, nor felt the need to plan for anything but the world largest and most distasteful firework display. Ten years on and there are still American and British and Dutch troops there and Afghanistan has become something like a rite of loyalty for countries keen to stay on the good side of America. Nothing has been achieved but quite a lot of people have been killed.

Brian Haw

It doesn’t matter that Brian Haw was hanging around with D\avid I\cke kooks too much at the end of his life or that his death was posibbly hastened by putting his trust into quackery rather than proper medicine, nor do questions of how effective an anti-war protestor he was. After all, none of us managed to prevent the Wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, while the War on Libya has proved we haven’t even learned anything from those disasters. What mattered was that Brian Haw had the courage of his convictions to camp out in front of Parliament for years, serving as a living reminder to the fuckers who had voted for these wars that no, the people of Britain did not agree with them and thought them wrong.

He did this so well that the then Labour government created and implemented a law designed specifically to stop him demonstrating in Parliament Square. In typical New Labour fashion, they did this so ineptly that the resulting law applied everybody but him, as he was grandfathered in. (The law only allowed demonstrations to take place if at the start of a demo it had police approval, but Brian Haw had started his demonstration years ago, so…)

Somebody who managed to get under the skin of Blair and co to such an extent that they had to change the law to get rid of him (and failed) and who did so for all the right reasons, deserves our deepest respect.

Creeping back into Afghanistan

The government today announced that it would propose a new police mission in Afghanistan to parliament, even though it was this exact same issue that caused the previous government to stumble. But with the coalition partner (PvdA/Dutch Labour) that then objected now in opposition and the two parties that form the current minority government both having been firm supporters of the original proposal, it was just a question of time before it would be back on the agenda again.

At first view it looks innocent enough, to get some twohundred or so civilian cops to Afghanistan to help train the locals, but the devil is in the details. With them some 300 odd soldiers would be traveling back into Afghanistan as well, to provide security, support and liason duties with other NATO forces in the area. There would be four F-16 jets coming along as well, again to provide air support for this supposedly civilian mission. I can’t help but see this as the thin end of the wedge — once we have some fivehundred plus soldiers and cops stationed again in northern Afghanistan, it will become that much easier to extend and enlargen their mission and before you know it we’re creeping back into the war again. Which is something the current government parties, who didn’t agree with the end of the original Dutch involvement in the War in the first place, would not mind at all.

Ironically, the opposition against this proposal is likely to contain both Geert Wilders’ party and its fiercest critics, the PvdA and Socialist Party. The latter because it’s opposed in principle to any involvement, the former because it sees no good in letting “our boys” risk their skins for foreigners, especially when the government needs to cut spending on policing anyway and we need those cops on our streets….

Wikileaks saved Afghan asylum seekers from deportation

Wikileaks logo

If you look at the criticism leveled at Wikileaks in the wake of “Cablegate” as well as the earlier leaks of the Iraq and Afghan warlogs, it usually boils down to two points, often made at the same time: the leaks don’t tell us anything we didn’t know before and at the same time, they endanger (American) lives. Both are of course fairly opportunistic claims, usually made in bad faith but effective enough they’ve been repeated over and over again with each new round of leaks. So it’s good to learn about a counterexample that disproves both, as it turns out the revelations in the leaked Afghan warlords have made several Dutch judges decided to disallow the expulsion of Afghan asylum seekers.

Normally when judges decided whether or not a given country is safe enough to send asylum seekers back there, they depend on statements given by the ministry of foreign affairs. In the case of Afghanistan however no less than five judges found that Wikileaks’ Afghan warlogs proved that the country was not secure enough to force people to return there. When this became known, it lead to questions in parliament today, as government party CDA found it “remarkable” that judges would sooner trust Wikileaks than their own government, while opposition party PvdA wanted the ministry to start using the Wikileaks revelations in their statements, something the minister said was already going to happen…

So there you have it: positive proof Wikileaks is important.

Norm Geras is still a dick

I haven’t paid much attention to old stormy Normy in years, but the warmad professor has not changed a bit. Blustering against a Guardian columnist skeptical about the War on Afghanistan, he goes for his old trick of defining acceptable and unacceptable dissent

Now, here’s something else it’s not at all difficult to understand. If P opposes C, not by giving due weight to the magnitude of the evil that is E, but by referring to it in belittling and sneering ways, as though anyone like R who takes E seriously, and disagrees with P about the advisability of course of action C, must be either of low intelligence or of dubious moral character or both, then she, P, might be thought by others not to have a morally serious attitude to the scope of the evil that is E, using evasion and mockery where a person of mature judgement would refrain from doing this in a matter of such gravity.

To use the War on Iraq as an example of how one should honourably disagree is sheer genius in its brazen cheek. It was after all his side, the people who wanted the war who “belittled the reasons or the motives or impugned the character” of anybody who did not share their passion. There was no reasoned argument, just all the sneering and belittling, evasion and mockery Normy wants his opponents to be guilty of. It’s just the teeniest, tiniest bit of projection going on there…

Afghanistan: the Warlogs

Yesterday The Guardian revealed it had recieved, via Wikileaks a massive collection of US military logfiles which showed the War on Afghanistan going even worse than we already knew about:

A huge cache of secret US military files today provides a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, Taliban attacks have soared and Nato commanders fear neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are fuelling the insurgency.

The war logs also detail:


• How a secret “black” unit of special forces hunts down Taliban leaders for “kill or capture” without trial.

• How the US covered up evidence that the Taliban have acquired deadly surface-to-air missiles.

• How the coalition is increasingly using deadly Reaper drones to hunt and kill Taliban targets by remote control from a base in Nevada.

• How the Taliban have caused growing carnage with a massive escalation of their roadside bombing campaign, which has killed more than 2,000 civilians to date.

Interesting material and I’ve seen people on Twitter refer to it as the Pentagon Papers volume II, but does it change anything significantly about our view of the war? The original Pentagon Papers had an impact because they were the first source to make fully clear the catastrophe the War on Vietnam was and how culpable the US military and government were in covering up the truth. With the current wars on Afghanistan and Iraq this was known or suspected from the start and too much shit has already come out to be too surprised by what’s in those logs.

But it is important as a cache of evidence, for historical purposes if nothing else, to show that once again those who were against the war from the start where right about it, that the reasons we opposed the war have been proven right. Not to brag, but as a warning for the next time our leaders want to sell us a humantarian intervention.

The raw logs are available as a torrent from the Piratebay, or downloadable in spreadsheet (.csv), database (.sql) or Google maps (.kml) format from Cryptogon. It’s only some 15 megabytes big, so easy enough to get.

UPDATE: a better torrent.

Mad bastards

As Nick Mamatas introduced this video, this is what the right wingers are scared of the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will mean to the US Army:

It’s great to see the yanks take up the traditional role of the poms so well. British squaddies have always prided themselves on how mad they are but this was a nice attempt at usurping that role. But it’s still not as mad as this:

UPDATE:a late entry courtesy of the Royal Navy:

Afghani civilians wanted to put in an entry in the hilarious music video sweepstakes as well, but the set was bombed by the US Airforce.

Balkenende sees his fourth government fall

But still doesn’t think it could be him, not his coalition partners who are to blame. The split that caused his fourth cabinet to finish pre-maturely was the War on Afghanistan. Balkenende and his party, the christian democratic CDA, as well as the junior partner the ChristenUnie wanted to extend the mission for a second time, while the social democratic PvdA wanted to leave Afghanistan this year, as agreed when the mission was extended for the first time. While the PvdA was always conflicted about Afghanistan, it had allowed itself to be won over for extention back in 2007 because of this promise that this would be the last time and the argument that not doing so would lose the Netherlands face in NATO, that Dutch troops were doing good work in the country and it would be a shame to stop this.

With the end of the current mission in sight — August 2010 is the deadline — the same approach was tried again by the CDA but for once Wouter Bos showed he could learn and didn’t fall for Lucy yanking that ol’ footbal back for the second time. Not that there’s much evidence of principles being at stake here, rather than more mundane party political reasons for refusal — local elections are imminent and the PvdA is not doing well. But if this means Dutch troops will finally leave a country they never should have entered in the first place — and fuck NATO.

The talking heads on the television have been having a field day with this. Much of the commentary has been bemoaning the fact that this silly argument is endangering tackling the very real problems facing the country. Why couldn’t the two parties have put aside their differences for the sake of the country as a whole? Which is the sort of recieved wisdom that always makes me want to hurl a shoe at the television. Afghanistan isn’t a trivial issue and neither should the differences between the various parties be. We used to understand that, but thirty years of pretending that political differences are only possible within a narrow neoliberal consensus has left both our politicians and commentators unable to do so. But even to them it must be clear that the “solutions” Balkenende IV offered for the economic crisis –spending cuts on all sorts of social programmes, more freedom for businesses to do what they want — goes directly to the heart of what the social democrats still stand for. Had it not been Afghanistan, something else would probably have shattered this coalition, which never was that strong to begin with.

Sadly, for socialists the outlook is bleak. The 2006 elections delivered the most leftwing parliament in decades, but still only gave us a rightleaning centrist government. With the rise of Wilders, the slow collapse of the PvdA and the Socialist Party, chances are the next parliament and government will once again govern from the right. On the other hand, having a strong, undivided leftwing opposition may be useful too, as we saw between 2002 and 2006, forcing the government on the defensive.

Ritual combat

That’s what the Tory-Labour fight about Aghanistan and how “the troops” need more helicopters and aren’t properly equipped feels like. It’s as if neither side wants to examine the actual mission in Helmand province and its inherent dangers to the troops, let alone the broader question of why the UK is in Afghanistan or whether or not it should pull out. Since both parties have supported the Aghanistan mission from the start, there’s a danger for both of them in a honest examination of these questions.

From the Tory side therefore criticism is limited to the supposed lack of helicopters in Helmand, without any concrete proposal on how to get them in time for them to matter. It’s not like Boeing has a showroom full of Chinooks waiting for that lucky first time buyer. Any order now has to go to the back of the queue so will take months to years to deliver. UK army procurement being what it is, it will probably take years before the order is placed as well. Then there’s the question of paying for it. If done out of the existing defence budget, something else has to go; if additional funds are needed, where are they going to come from. And how many helicopters would be enough anyway?

It’s easy to call for more helicopters, but without a concrete plan to get them and put them into action, just a cheap way to score points. Again though, if the Tories were to put forward concrete proposals this would lead to all kind of nasty questions about the mission. The same would happen were Labour ministers to call them out on this lack. And since neither the Tories nor Labour want to confront the true reality behind the UK presence in Afghanistan, this can’t happen.

The point is, the UK is in Afghanistan not to fight terrorism, or to make the UK safe from Al Quaida or Islamic terrorism — it already was until it started meddling in Iraq and Afghanistan — or to help the country “transition towards democracy” or any of that nonsense, but purely to appease America. The UK, as well as holland and the other NATO countries with a presence in Aghanistan are only there because America wanted us to and because we were scared back in 2001 of what the US would do if we didn’t. That NATO war declaration was the world’s most public “don’t hit me” cry, completely unnecessary and illogical but the circumstances were such subtlety wouldn’t have been appreciated. Since then we’ve been sort of chained to America’s Afghanistan strategy, the UK especially as Blair was so smart as to make the UK’s support open-ended.

Anything that triggers a honest re-apprasail of the UK’s role in Afghanistan runs smack dab into the nature of the UK-US “special relationship” and both the Tories and Labour have too much invested in that to want to open that can of worms. We may think the relationship is abusive at best, but for UKanian prime ministers it’s the only way to still be important ont he world stage.

On preview, I see that Jamie makes the same point more succintly. He also links to a comment thread on an earlier post on what “more helicopters” actually means that’s worth reading.