Fifty-one years ago today, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued his final, prescient warning about the rising power of the military industrial complex. More than half a century later, we find ourselves in a political system which has ignored Eisenhower’s sound advice as the influence of the war industry on our society reaches a crescendo. Nowhere is this “disastrous rise of misplaced power” more apparent than in the debate about the Pentagon budget taking place in Washington, D.C.

Eisenhower’s final speech is worth quoting at length:

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

“We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

“[I]nfluence...sought or unsought” is certainly a generous description of activity of war industry giants, which was already under way as Ike gave his speech. Were he in office today, Eisenhower likely would have foregone this nod to the possibility of naive goodwill from war profiteering companies. In the first three quarters of 2011, the military aerospace sector spent more than $46 million on lobbying, with war profiteering giant Lockheed Martin accounting for almost a quarter of that spending. In no way can we imply that today’s war industry is acquiring “unsought” influence. They’re working to buy our elected officials outright.

What’s more, this massive (yet “legal”) corruption yields results. During the deficit committee debates, everyone from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) cried very public crocodile tears at the thought of reducing the Pentagon’s spending to even the bloated levels seen at the height of the Iraq War. When the Pentagon announced a spending plan that allowed the military budget to continue to grow despite the massive economic and unemployment crises, McKeon took to the op-ed pages to raise the specters of a “hollow force,” a broken Internet, closed sea lanes and threats to our access to outer space thanks to a slowing of the growth of the military budget (along with the profits of some of his biggest contributors...I mean, c’mon, it takes a lot of money to keep your friends in the richest 0.01 percent.).

Eisenhower’s speech was so prophetic that even he could not have anticipated just how deep the rot would be in 2012. Some of his warnings, which seemed dire at the time, sound downright quaint compared to the disastrous diversion of national wealth to the war profiteers. For example, in a separate speech to the Society of Newspaper Editors, Eisenhower said:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. …We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.”

Those were the days, eh? Today’s war industry has perfected the pillaging of the hungry to an absolutely repulsive level by comparison. At best, each modern Lockheed Martin F-22 fighter jet costs the taxpayers $137 million, or 22.6 million bushels of wheat in today’s market. At worst, the jets--which have yet to fly in combat--have a lifetime cost of $678 million, or 112 million bushels of wheat. This massive theft takes place as the highest numbers of American households ever are now classified as “food insecure.”

The Pentagon’s plan protects the profits of the war industry--whose leading CEOs make so much from taxpayers that they put Goldman Sachs CEOs to shame--under the euphemism of “preserving our industrial base.” That’s total garbage language. If the U.S. were interested in protecting our industrial base in a way that put most people to work, we’d be heavily investing in civilian research and development to help our manufacturing sector gain and maintain a competitive edge (And, by the way, if the war industry actually cared about American jobs, they’d stop lobbying against “buy American” provisions in military spending legislation.). Viewed in this light, the Pentagon’s plan is just a profit protection scheme for war profiteers.

Eisenhower was right to be worried. We’re living in his nightmare. The most immediate thing we can do to get out of it is to push back--hard--against this latest attempt by the war industry and their allies to protect their profits at our expense. But the real work we have to undertake is the cultivation of “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry” so we don’t keep getting manipulated into handing over the bread of our mouths and the sweat of our brows to people who have more than enough.

Our War Costs campaign is working hard to get the truth out, and we hope you’ll join us.

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The Pentagon wants you to ignore some inconvenient facts about the failure of the escalation strategy in Afghanistan.

The latest Petraeus/Gates media tour is under way in preparation for the general's testimony to Congress next week, and they're trotting out the same, tired spin they've been using since McChrystal was replaced in disgrace last year. Despite the most violent year of the war so far, despite the highest civilian and military toll of the war so far, and despite the continued growth of the insurgency, they want you to believe that we're "making progress." While they spend this week fudging and shading and spinning, we'll waste another $2 billion on this brutal, futile war, and we won't be any closer to "victory" than we are today.

Let me make a couple of predictions about Petraeus' testimony based on experience. He will attempt to narrow the conversation to a few showcase districts in Afghanistan, use a lot of aspirational language ("What we're attempting to do," instead of, "What we've done") and assure the hand-wringers among the congressional hawks that he'll be happy to suggest to the president that they stay longer in Afghanistan if that's what he thinks is best. Most importantly, he will try to keep the conversation as far away from a high-level strategic assessment based on his own counterinsurgency doctrine as possible, because if Congress bothers to check his assertions of "progress" against what he wrote in the counterinsurgency manual, he's in for a world of hurt.

Here's what Petraeus' own U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual says about the main goal of a COIN campaign:

"I-113. The primary objective of any COIN operation is to foster development of effective governance by a legitimate government."

Not by any stretch of the imagination is the counterinsurgency campaign under Petraeus' direction serving what his own field manual says is the primary goal of his campaign. If we were looking for a legitimate government in Afghanistan, it's crystal clear that we backed the wrong horse. Hamid Karzai and his family are neck-deep in any number of corruption scandals, the most glaring of which involves the largest private bank in Afghanistan and a sweeping control fraud scheme that has already resulted in unrest across the country. (That scandal, by the way, is likely to result in a U.S.-taxpayer-funded bank bailout for Kabulbank, according to white-collar crime expert Bill Black.) The Karzai administration is an embarrassment of illegitimacy and cronyism, and the local tentacles of the Kabul cartel are as likely to inspire people to join the insurgency as they are to win over popular support.

Even if the Karzai regime where a glimmering example of the rule of law, the military campaign under Petraeus would be utterly failing to achieve what counterinsurgency doctrine holds up as the primary way in which a legitimate government wins over support from the people: securing the population. From the COIN manual:

"5-68. Progress in building support for the HN ["host nation"] government requires protecting the local populace. People who do not believe they are secure from insurgent intimidation, coercion, and reprisals will not risk overtly supporting COIN efforts."

The United Nations reports that 2010 was the deadliest year of the war for civilians of the decade-long war, and targeted killings of Kabul government officials are at an all-time high. Petraeus often seeks to deflect this point by citing insurgent responsibility for the vast majority of civilian deaths in Afghanistan, but that is largely beside the point. As his own field manual makes clear, reducing the number of civilians killed by your forces is insufficient according to COIN doctrine. If you can't protect the population (or the officials within the host nation government!) from insurgent violence and intimidation, you can't win a counterinsurgency.

Petraeus and Gates like to talk around this blatant break in his own strategic doctrine by narrowing the conversation to what they call "security bubbles." In his recent remarks following his trip to Afghanistan, Gates spoke of "linking zones of security in Helmand to Kandahar." But those two provinces have seen huge spikes in violence over the course of the past year, with attacks initiated by insurgents up 124 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Today's New York Times explains one of the main reasons for these jumps in violence as U.S. troops arrive in new areas:

"[G]enerals 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."

The military escalations in Afghanistan have failed their key purpose under counterinsurgency doctrine, which is to secure Afghans from insurgent violence and intimidation.

While the U.S. government is failing to achieve its military objectives in Afghanistan, it's also failing to make good on the other components of counterinsurgency strategy, especially the civilian/political component. Here's what The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual says on p. xxix, emphasis mine:

"Nonmilitary Capacity Is the Exit Strategy

"The [counterinsurgency] manual highlights military dependence not simply upon civilian political direction at all levels of operation, but also upon civilian capabilities in the field. ...[T]he primacy of the political requires significant and ongoing civilian involvement at virtually every level of operations."

To meet this prerequisite for a successful counterinsurgency strategy, the administration promised a "civilian surge" to accompany the military escalation. But the March 8, 2011 edition of The Washington Post shows that the civilian surge has so far been a flop that's alienating the local population:

"Efforts to improve local government in critical Afghan districts have fallen far behind schedule...according to U.S. and Afghan officials familiar with the program.

"It is now expected to take four more years to assess the needs of more than 80 'key terrain' districts where the bulk of the population lives, based on figures from Afghan officials who said that escalating violence has made it difficult to recruit civil servants to work in the field.


"...Of the 1,100 U.S. civilian officials in Afghanistan, two-thirds are stationed in Kabul, according to the State Department.

"'At best, our Kabul-based experts simply reinforce the sense of big government coming from Kabul that ultimately alienates populations and leaders in the provinces,' a former U.S. official said."

As with the military side of the equation, the civilian side of the strategy is so badly broken that it's actually pushing us further away from the administration's stated goals in Afghanistan.

The costs of this pile of failure are huge. It costs us $1 million per troop, per year to maintain our occupation of Afghanistan. That's $2 billion every week. Politicians at the federal level are contemplating ugly cuts to social safety nets, while politicians at the state level are already shredding programs that protect people suffering in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. In this context, the admonitions from the White House and the Pentagon to be patient while this misbegotten strategy limps along the progress-road-to-nowhere seem perverse. The American people have been patient for roughly a decade now, but that patience has run out.

Petraeus and Gates want to you to ignore the ugly truths of the Afghanistan War: it's not making us safer, and it's not worth the costs. The escalation strategy isn't working. It's not going to work. Enough is enough. End it now.

If you're fed up with this war that's not making us safer and that's not worth the costs, join a local Rethink the Afghanistan War Meetup and follow Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

Fresh from the reported killing of more than 60 civilians, U.S. forces in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, killed nine boys gathering firewood on a mountainside. General Petraeus says he's sorry.

"We are deeply sorry for this tragedy and apologize to the members of the Afghan government, the people of Afghanistan and, most importantly, the surviving family members of those killed by our actions," Gen. Petraeus said in a statement. "These deaths should have never happened."

Too little, too late, general. Nine boys now lie among thousands of others who had a right to life independent of U.S. goals in Afghanistan, and "sorry" doesn't cut it, especially from the general who's tripling the air war over Afghanistan. Air strikes are the leading tactic involved when U.S. and coalition forces kill civilians. We know this. We use them anyway. These boys' deaths, or at least the idea of these boys' deaths, were factored in to a calculation and deemed insufficient to deter the use of air power long before they died, and their deaths don't seem to have changed Petraeus' or ISAF's calculus. Sorry doesn't cut it.

But at least Petraeus didn't try to blame the boys' families for blowing them up to frame him this time.

Sorry certainly doesn't cut it for the brother of one of the dead:

"I don't care about the apology," Mohammed Bismil, the 20-year-old brother of two boys killed in the strike, said in a telephone interview. "The only option I have is to pick up a Kalashnikov, RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] or a suicide vest to fight."

President Obama says he's sorry, too:

President Obama expressed his deep regret for the tragic accident in Kunar Province in which nine Afghans were killed. The President conveyed his condolences to the Afghan people and stressed that he and General Petraeus take such incidents very seriously. President Obama and President Karzai agreed that such incidents undermine our shared efforts in fighting terrorism.

Oh, good, he takes such incidents "very seriously." Here's a fun thought experiment: can you imagine President Obama (or any high-ranking visiting U.S. dignitary, for that matter) scheduling a visit to the graveside of any civilian victim of U.S.-fired munitions on his next trip to Afghanistan? Give me a call when the images from that photo-op make the front pages, would you?

I don't doubt for a second that President Obama and much of Washington officialdom think that they take these deaths very seriously. Yet, they continue to rubber-stamp funds and to approve a strategy and various supporting tactics that are guaranteed to cause future incidents like these. Because that's the case, they're conscripting tax money that we send to D.C. every year for the purpose of building our nation together into policies that we don't support and which kill people for whom we feel no malice. In fact, the strategies and tactics are so ill-conceived that they're putting our money into the hands of insurgents who kill U.S. troops.

From Talking Points Memo:

After nearly a decade of mismanagement, theft and fraud, the U.S. military still hasn't found a way to staunch the flow of what is likely hundreds of millions -- if not billions -- of dollars in lost fuel in Afghanistan, some of which is sold on the black market and winds up in Taliban hands, a TPM investigation has found.

...When TPM asked Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), a longtime member of the defense spending panel, about the fuel losses on Wednesday, Moran was well-versed on the topic, noting that he and other members of the committee had received private briefings by defense officials about the thorny security, logistics and corruption issues posed by the fuel theft.

Over the years, the transport of the fuel into the country at times has involved agreements to siphon a portion to outside parties in order to guarantee safe passage of the trucks, Moran said, and some of that fuel has ended up in enemy hands.

This same news story also included mention of a report from last year that showed that U.S. taxpayer funds funneled through protection rackets was one of the insurgents' most significant sources of funding:

...A House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee investigation last year revealed that the companies under the host-nation contract often paid private security contractors to ensure safe passage through Afghanistan. The security contractors, in turn, made protection payment to local warlords in exchange for their agreement to prevent attacks.

"In many cases, the investigation discovered, these protection payments made their way into the hands of warlords and, directly or indirectly, the very insurgents that U.S. forces were fighting," Rep. John Tierney (D-MA), the ranking member of the national security oversight subcommittee, wrote in a January letter to Issa highlighting the problems with the trucking contract.

Even completed big-ticket completed projects intended to win hearts and minds for the coalition have resulted in new funding streams for insurgents. From Yahoo! News:

WASHINGTON - By pumping more than $100 million into a hydropower plant, the United States sought to improve the lives of Afghans and win the hearts and minds of tribesmen and farmers who might otherwise turn to the Taliban insurgency. Instead, a prominent outside Pentagon adviser argues, the bungled boondoggle ended up funding the insurgents while doing little to help the United States end the war and bring troops home.

...Half the electricity from the project in the volatile Helmand province goes to Taliban territory, enabling America's enemies to issue power bills and grow the poppies that finance their insurgency, he says.

With our money fueling the insurgency and our killing of civilians driving more people to join the Taliban's side every week, it's little wonder that the insurgency continues to grow in size and sophistication. But that brings us back to that calculation, the one that put those nine dead boys in the column titled "Acceptable Losses." With official promises that more troops would lead to more security for ordinary Afghans having collapsed so badly that they read like a bad joke, what could possibly justify this continued bonfire of lives and resources in Afghanistan? The war's not making us safer and it's not worth the cost. Dragging this out until 2014 won't change that one bit.

This week U.S. forces burned children along with the firewood they were gathering. If we allow this brutal, futile war to continue, you can bet that more children and more of our resources will be kindling to a fire that's not keeping anybody warm. The American people want our troops brought home, and it's time President Obama and Congress took that "very seriously."

If you're fed up with this war that's not making us safer and that's not worth the cost, join a Rethink Afghanistan Meetup near you and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

The movement to end the Afghanistan War is gaining momentum, and on March 12, it will gain some more. In a little less than two weeks, supporters of Rethink Afghanistan ("Rethinkers") will get together with their neighbors in hundreds of communities to talk about what can be done locally to stop the war. We're going to swap stories, share a coffee or a beer, and make the personal connections with other Rethinkers in our neighborhood that will carry us through to our goal of bringing our troops home. Join us in your hometown for Rethink the Cost, a worldwide Meetup for people who want to end the Afghanistan War. We've come a long way together already. When Brave New Foundation first started the Rethink Afghanistan campaign to push back against the growing drumbeats for military escalation, we faced some strong headwinds. The election of a popular Democratic president who was pro-escalation co-opted and confused the coalitions that had pushed for the end of the Iraq War. We were warned that strong public statements in opposition to the Afghanistan Wars and the president's repeated escalations of the conflict would cause us to lose funders and allies. For a while, these critics were right. We did lose funders and allies. But in the process, the Rethink Afghanistan documentary and ongoing new media campaign staked out important intellectual and moral territory in opposition to the escalations. individual Rethinkers and our colleagues in the nonprofit world probably experienced the same isolation in their professional and personal lives. But together we've maintained our moral clarity, and now that clarity is paying off. In the face of high-minded presidential rhetoric, charm offensives by generals and a think-tank community in D.C. that treats war like a game of Risk, we and our allies around the country have kept the real face of the war in front of the American people. We've documented the human cost, helping to break open cover-ups when coalition forces killed civilians. We've educated people about the war's costs, which this year will blow past the $400 billion mark just in direct expenditures. And we've shown that despite the assurances from Washington officialdom, this war isn't making us safer and it's not worth the cost. Over the past year, we've won the argument for public opinion, and now a solid majority of Americans oppose the war; solid majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents want Congress to act this year to speed up troop withdrawals. About a week ago, we finished running the first-ever anti-Afghanistan-War TV ad in Washington, D.C. This past weekend, the Democratic National Committee passed a resolution supporting a swift withdrawal of U.S. troops. The movement to end the war is gaining momentum. The funny thing is, people don't seem to know it. A while back, I wrote a piece on my blog titled, "In the Fight To End the Afghanistan War, It's Later Than You Think." I argued that the corporate media, outside observers and many activists have a poor understanding of the life-cycle of social movements, and that leads them to draw false, pessimistic conclusions about the strength of the anti-war movement at precisely the moment when the movement moves into one of its most powerful stages. This pessimism arises from the conflation of turnout at demonstrations and civil disobedience actions with the entire social movement to end the war, when widely accepted models of social movements, such as Bill Moyer's, predict that those aspects of the movement are expected to fade on the road to success. The simple fact is that the anti-Afghanistan-War movement has never been stronger than it is today, and an end to the war is coming within reach. Much of our inability to grasp how powerful we are as a movement is the insidious isolation brought on by activism in the age of the Internet. Even though we may know in our heads that we're one of many, many tens of thousands actively engaged in the struggle to end the war, sitting alone in a room with a laptop while the news media blare endless loaded stories and spin from pro-war officials and intellectuals, it's hard to feel the power we've built together. That's why it's critical we start getting offline together to see and hear one another in person and build the strong ties that only come from real-world interaction. These ties are the bonds that are going to give us the strength to get through the tough work that's waiting for us as we bring this movement to end the war to it's successful conclusion over the next several months. We are entering a critical phase in the struggle. The president promised a start to troop withdrawals in July 2011, and that date is fast approaching. While the Pentagon and its political allies have worked mightily to redefine that promise into meaninglessness, his and his advisers words at the start of the escalation invite an effort to hold him accountable. As the DNC resolution and growing Republican restlessness on shows, the platitudes offered by the pro-war faction are wearing thin. With fighting season in Afghanistan upon us, the terrible human costs are about to again become horribly apparent. And, all of these factors will converge this the start of the campaign season for the 2012 elections. This is our moment. We've got a real opportunity to push our elected officials into a real start to a significant withdrawal of troops. There are dozens of people in your neighborhood who want to help you end the war. Don't you think it's time you got to know them? On March 12, supporters of Rethink Afghanistan will get together in communities across the country for Rethink the Cost, a worldwide Meetup day. What happens at your local Meetup is up to you. Some groups plan to discuss what to do next locally to get their neighbors thinking about the cost of the war. Others may just share a coffee or a beer with like-minded people. The important thing is that we get offline and find the others in our hometown so we can build real relationships that will help us get to our goal. We hope you'll join us. If you're fed up with this war that's not making us safer and that's not worth the cost, join a Rethink Afghanistan Meetup in your area, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
General Petraeus and his public relations team reportedly engaged in a scummy attempt to deflect blame for an alleged civilian casualty event on Sunday, suggesting that Afghan parents caught in the crossfire of a coalition raid burned their own children to incriminate international forces. International forces led by the U.S. are accused of killing as many as 60 civilians during a several-day operation in Ghaziabad district in Kunar Province, Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the U.S.-led coalition has a long history of blaming the victims when they get caught in potentially explosive civilian casualty incidents, making this vile accusation particularly hard to believe.
To the shock of President Hamid Karzai's aides, Gen. David H. Petraeus suggested Sunday at the presidential palace that Afghans caught up in a coalition attack in northeastern Afghanistan might have burned their own children to exaggerate claims of civilian casualties, according to two participants at the meeting.

[Unnamed sources in the room for the conversation] said Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, dismissed allegations by Karzai's office and the provincial governor that civilians were killed and said residents had invented stories, or even injured their children, to pin the blame on U.S. forces and force an end to the operation.
Has Petraeus lost his mind? One better have some pretty solid evidence before accusing people who may have lost children or seen them badly injured of lying of hurting their own kids. From what I can tell, there's no evidence of parental abuse being responsible for the reported injuries of children. Petraeus and his spin shop are trying to get ahead of the story, throwing multiple possible accounts of what happened into the mix to blunt the outrage that will surely result when a story about an awful set of civilian killings hits the news. But lacking hard evidence, Petraeus' hypothetical seems ugly and vicious, relying on pervasive notions of Afghans as backward and barbaric to escape accountability. A Pattern of Blaming the Victim International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) press flak Rear Adm. Greg Smith claimed to have watched video of the attacks and said everything was just peachy:
During the next five hours, Smith said, surveillance drones tracked the fighters while the Apaches fired 30 mm Gatling guns, rockets and Hellfire missiles. "I have reviewed the footage and found no evidence women and children were among the fighters," he said. "Again, no civilian structures were anywhere near where these engagements took place. It was at night and in very rugged terrain."
And yet...
On Saturday, Wahidi, the provincial governor, sent a three-person fact-finding team up the valley to the village of Helgal. They returned with seven injured people, including a woman and a man, both 22 years old, and five boys and girls 16 or younger. Smith said they had burns and shrapnel wounds, none of them life-threatening.
Now, wait a second. Smith says there's no evidence women and children were among the fighters, yet also says that civilians had shrapnel wounds? Then Smith does what he tends to do when there's a potentially attention-getting civilian casualty incident: He blames the Afghan families:
The U.S. military "did have initial reports that the feet and hands of the children appeared to have been burned," Smith said. "We have observed increased reporting of children being disciplined by having their hands and feet dipped into boiling water. No one is claiming this is the case in this instance, but it may well be."
Recall that Smith did the same thing when U.S. special forces killed several Afghan civilians, including pregnant women, in Gardez, whom he said had been discovered "tied up, gagged and killed," presumably by the families of the women.
"[Smith] added, however, "I don't know that there are any forensics that show bullet penetrations of the women or blood from the women." He said they showed signs of puncture and slashing wounds from a knife, and appeared to have died several hours before the arrival of the assault force. In respect for Afghan customs, autopsies are not carried out on civilian victims, he said.
In the Gardez case, Smith was either inventing or conveying bald-faced lies. The women did not die "several hours before the arrival of the assault force." They died after special forces team members shot them, and one of them died while special forces troops dug bullets out of her to cover their tracks. Video Evidence? ISAF flaks have a bad habit of claiming to have incontrovertible video evidence that U.S. forces did nothing wrong which often doesn't pan out. Remember the Farah massacre? Dozens of civilians died, and Col. Greg Julian swore that our forces weren't responsible.
The footage shows insurgents streaming into homes that were later bombed, said Col. Greg Julian, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan. He said ground troops observed some 300 villagers flee in advance of the fighting, indicating that not many could have been inside the bombed compounds... Investigators later reviewed hours of cockpit video from the fighter jets as well as audio recordings of the air crew's conversation with the ground commander. Julian said the military would release the footage and other evidence in the coming days.
Despite Julian swearing he watched hours of cockpit video vindicating the bombers, the U.S. military later admitted (.pdf) that the pilots did in fact kill those civilians after the pilots lost contact with their intended targets before firing. Pardon me for not jumping to ISAF's defense, after they lied about the use of grenades at the Farah massacre, or claimed the Afghans they shot up at Gardez were "dead when they got there" with bodies stashed near food preparation areas. And pardon me also for not trusting a thing that comes out of Rear Adm. Greg Smith's mouth, the ISAF flak that tried to smear journalist Jerome Starkey for accurately reporting the facts about the Gardez killings. The job of an ISAF public affairs officer is not to tell you the truth, no matter how much that observation provokes their pique. The job of an ISAF PAO is to aid in the war effort by spinning events to the advantage of their side of the conflict. Smith is not a credible source (as proved by the Gardez/Starkey affair, if nothing else) and should be contextualized and held at arms length by any serious journalist. Enough Spin Already When asked about reports of his ugly attempt to blame the victims in Ghaziabad: "Petraeus, through a spokesman, declined to comment." I bet. ISAF seems to be talking out of several sides of their mouth. Were there no civilians in the area, or did locals in the crossfire invent a story? Did the parents burn their own children, or was there shrapnel in them? And how would shrapnel get into the kids if there were no civilians nearby? This story is still developing, but it bears many of the hallmarks of ISAF's past attempts to warp news coverage after attention-getting reports of mass civilian casualties surfaced. Enough spin. If ISAF has video of the events in question, it should be made available to the public immediately. There should be an independent UN investigation into the killings and maimings in Ghaziabad, and, unless he has hard evidence, Petraeus should also publicly apologize for trying to deflect blame onto the families who lost loved ones or saw their children injured. Frankly, this kind of talk is tawdry and disgraceful. Oh, and six more civilians were killed when one of ISAF's missiles hit a mud-built home in Nangarhar. If you're fed up with this brutal, futile war that's not making us safer, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

Exactly one year ago, on February 13, 2010, the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan launched the first major military operations enabled by President Obama's 30,000 troop increase. President Obama and the high priests of counterinsurgency warfare, Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, made two major assertions about the escalation, that it would a) enable coalition forces to reverse the insurgents' momentum and b) increase security for the Afghan people. After a year of fighting, neither of those things happened. The escalation is a failure, and it's time to bring our troops home.

February 13, 2010: The Push into Marjah

Three hundred and sixty-five days ago, U.S. and other international forces began Operation Moshtarak, the invasion of Marja District in Helmand Province. Looking back, the hubris and hype surrounding this military operation boggle the mind. General McChrystal promised, "We've got a government in a box, ready to roll in," meaning that good governance and the extension of Kabul's writ would be implemented very rapidly. The operation was supposed to be a prototype for future campaigns in Afghanistan and a "confidence builder" for both U.S. forces and a restive political class in Washington, D.C., not all of whom were happy about the escalation or McChrystal's brashness in pushing it.

To put it mildly, Moshtarak failed to live up to the hype:

"[I]n the weeks leading up to the imminent offensive to take the Helmand River Valley town of Marjah in southern Afghanistan, the Marines' commander, Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, sat with dozens of Afghan tribal elders...offering reassurances that his top priority will be the safety of Afghan civilians." -- Chicago Tribune, February 10, 2010.

Almost immediately, this hype about an operation purported to be proof-of-concept for the population-protecting counterinsurgency strategy fell apart in the face of U.S.-caused civilian deaths. Just prior to the operation, coalition forces dropped leaflets on the largely illiterate district warning people to stay in their homes. An Italian NGO, Emergeny, warned that military blockades were preventing civilians from fleeing the area. At the same time commanders bragged that the "evacuation" of the residents would allow the use of air strikes without the danger of civilian casualties. These contradictions soon bore deadly fruit: On the second day of the offensive, U.S. troops fired a HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) weapon on a house full of civilians, killing roughly a dozen people. By February 23, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission reported that ISAF forces were responsible for most civilian deaths so far in the incursion.

As insurgents melted away (as all guerrillas do in the face of superior firepower -- to bide time and return once counter-insurgents are dug in) the "government in a box" hype fell apart as well. The coalition's hand-picked governor, Abdul Zahir, turned out to be an ex-convict who served part of a prison sentence for stabbing his own son. By July, he would be replaced as part of a "reform procedure."

Sending Afghan National Police forces to establish rule of law proved to be a cruel joke on the local residents:

"In the weeks since they were sent to Helmand province as part of the U.S.-led offensive in Marjah, ANCOP members have set up checkpoints to shake down residents, been kicked out for using drugs and shunned in some areas as outsiders, according to U.S. officials briefed on a recent analysis by the RAND Corp. ...More than a quarter of the officers in one ANCOP battalion in Helmand were dismissed for drug use, and the rest were sent off for urgent retraining. One Western official who attended the briefing termed ANCOP's role in Marjah a disaster."

As late as October 2010, residents of the town said the area was "more insecure than ever," and Reuters classified the Taliban re-infiltration as a "full-blown insurgency." And, although U.S. commanders want us to believe that the fighting in Marjah is "essentially over" as of December, the numbers tell a different story. According to the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, in Helmand Province, in which Marjah is located, the number of attacks by insurgents in spiked from 620 in 2009 to 1387 in 2010, a 124-percent increase [pdf].

A Wider Pattern of Failure

This pattern of hype ("Protecting civilians! Reversing insurgents momentum!") followed by a failure to deliver extended from Marjah to the whole of the escalation strategy across Afghanistan. Even after a month of fighting in Marjah in which U.S. and coalition forces were responsible for the majority of civilian deaths, Defense Secretary Robert Gates characterized the offensive in this way on March 8, 2010:

"Of course the operation in Marjah is only one of many battles to come in a much longer campaign focused on protecting the people of Afghanistan."

As was the case in Marjah, that broader campaign has utterly failed to protect the people of Afghanistan in terms of the reach of the insurgency, the levels of war-related violence and the number of civilians killed or injured in the conflict.

Although President Obama, General Petraeus and others have repeatedly asserted in public remarks that the U.S. has reversed the insurgents' momentum, reports from the Pentagon and from NGOs agree that the insurgency continued to grow in size and sophistication throughout 2010. By one measure, insurgent-initiated attacks this January are up almost 80 percent from last January. Worse, a new report from Alex Strick von Linschoten and Felix Kuehn at the Center on International Cooperation warns that the U.S. targeted killings of senior Taliban leadership is not only failing to retard the growth of the insurgency, but it's providing opportunities for much more radical junior leaders to take control of the operation, making the Taliban more susceptible to al-Qaeda influence and making the insurgents less willing to negotiate. In short, over the year in which the U.S. was pursuing its escalated military strategy, the insurgency got larger, smarter and more radical.

When testifying to Congress immediately following President Obama's 2009 West Point speech, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen asserted the escalation would "improve security for the Afghan people." The past year proved him wrong. According to the Afghan NGO Safety Office's (ANSO) Q4 2010 report [pdf],

"Consistent with the five year trend...attacks by armed opposition groups continue to rise. This year they were 64% higher than 2009, the highest inter‐annual growth rate we have recorded... If averaged, the total of 12,244 armed operations (mostly small arms ambushes, below right) represents roughly 33 attacks per day, every single day of the year. ...[T]aking the national data as a whole we consider this indisputable evidence that conditions are deteriorating."

General Petraeus has taken to speaking of "security bubbles" in Kandahar and Helmand Provinces, but violence is up in those provinces by 20 percent and 124 percent, respectively, according to ANSO. Security in Afghanistan for Afghan civilians sharply declined in the period following the launch of the escalated military campaign.

This heightened level of insurgent-initiated violence, combined with attacks initiated by U.S. and coalition forces, led to a predictable result: 2010 was the worst year of the war so far for war-related civilian deaths.

President Obama and numerous Pentagon officials asserted that the escalation strategy, which began one year ago with the invasion of Majah, would enable U.S. forces to reverse insurgent momentum and protect the population. They were wrong. Measured by the standards of its backers, the escalation strategy in Afghanistan is a miserable failure.

Because It's Time

Let's have some accountability here. In the leaked strategic assessment that's largely responsible for getting us into this mess, General Stanley McChrystal used dire language to describe the "need" for escalation [pdf]:

"The long-term fight will require patience and commitment, but I believe the short-term fight will be decisive. Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) -- while Afghan security capacity matures -- risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."

McChrystal wrote those words in late August 2009, under Petraeus' supervision. The insurgency's momentum has not been reversed and security continues to deteriorate across Afghanistan. So let's take the generals at their word when they say we had to reverse insurgent momentum by late August 2010 to have a chance at defeating the insurgency. Let's also take the Pentagon at its word that insurgent "operation capability and geographic reach are qualitatively and geographically expanding." That means that today, on the one-year anniversary of the launch of the escalated military campaign, we're several months past the point of no return. And that's if you bought the analysis of those who thought the escalation was a good idea in the first place.

The American people have been more than patient with Washington, D.C. when it comes to the Afghanistan War. In fact, we've been downright indulgent, having forked over more than $375 billion in tax dollars and debt and having given the Pentagon almost a decade now to play Risk with other people's lives in other people's country. Every deadline that's been laid down has been fudged. Every justification that's been given for just one more big push has fallen apart. Every guarantee of a positive outcome has been junked. We've had enough.

Rethink Afghanistan and our supporters are tired of politicians making excuses for their failure to rein in this debacle, so we're doing a little escalating of our own. Starting on Sunday, February 13, Rethink Afghanistan will have a new ad on CNN in Washington, D.C., featuring the winners of our Because It's Time contest, calling for an end to the Afghanistan War. They represent the voices of the 72 percent of Americans who support congressional action to speed up the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The ad buy also coincides with the upcoming reintroduction of U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee's Responsible End to the War in Afghanistan Act in the House of Representatives. These actions send a strong message that we want decisive action from our elected officials to bring our troops home -- because it's time.

Today is the one-year anniversary of the launch of the escalated military strategy in Afghanistan. It's clear from the last 12 months that the escalation strategy is a failure. It's time to come home.

If you're tired of this war that's not making us safer and that's not worth the cost, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

Released on the eve of the December strategy review, the Pentagon's latest "Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan (.pdf)" shows that the insurgents' momentum has not been broken, despite repeated claims by U.S. and NATO officials. Here's how the report describes the insurgency, emphasis mine:
"...Organizationally, the insurgency's capabilities and operational reach have been qualitatively and geographically expanding, as evidenced by a greater frequency and wider dispersion of insurgent-initiated attacks; however, that spread is being increasingly challenged by the ISAF surge forces conducting operations. Despite the increase in ANSF and ISAF capabilities to counter insurgent attacks, the insurgents' tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) continue to evolve in sophistication."
Despite the boilerplate language attached asserting that new troops are "challenging" the spread of the insurgency, note that the report discloses that the spread continues. This description is virtually identical to that provided in the last progress report from April (.pdf):
"Organizational capabilities and operational reach are qualitatively and geographically expanding. ...Insurgents' tactics, techniques, and procedures for conducting complex attacks are increasing in sophistication and strategic effect. (p. 21)" well as a previous assessment of the insurgency from late 2009 (.ppt):
"Organizational capabilities and operational reach are qualitatively and geographically expanding."
In other words, the huge number of new troops sent to Afghanistan by President Obama over the course of this year has not stopped the spread of the insurgency. The report's clever phrasing, that the troop increase is "challenging" the spread of the insurgency without stopping it, invites the reader to give the Pentagon a grade of "E" for "effort," like your kindergarten teacher used to do when your coloring projects didn't turn out quite right. The truth is that the generals deserve an "F" for "failure" on this war:
  • The insurgency continues to grow and increase in sophistication.
  • War-related violence in Afghanistan is up 300 percent since 2007, and up an additional 70 percent since last year.
  • The number of civilian casualties is skyrocketing.
  • This year is already the deadliest year of the war for U.S. troops.
Given the failure of the escalation strategy to produce even marginally strategically significant success, it makes no sense whatsoever for President Obama to extend this failing war through 2014. Doing so will cost the American taxpayer, on the low end, close to half-a-trillion dollars. We need that half-trillion dollars at home to put people back to work, not wasted on a war that's not making us safer. If Congress and the president keep spending our dollars this way, no one should believe for a second that they're serious about getting our economy back on track. When we're talking about spending half-a-trillion dollars, an "E" for "effort" isn't good enough. This farce has hurt enough people and destroyed enough prosperity. The president should start bringing troops home immediately and finish doing so before the end of next year. Then we can use the money we're wasting on this dumb war to create some jobs, for crying out loud. If you are fed up with your government wasting hundreds of billions on a failing war, help us end it. Join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.
In more ways than one, the U.S.’s targeted killing program--including drone strikes in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen--is putting you in danger. Those who execute the strikes frequently kill civilians and stoke anti-American rage, providing opportunities for the growth of terrorist groups. The program also corrodes your rights at home. And the administration is pushing to make it worse. “Drone strike” is a common way of referring to an attack on a target individual or group using an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), usually an MQ-1 Predator or an MQ-9 Reaper. While the military does operate some of these drones, the “secret” drone war in Pakistan is largely carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency. These machines are piloted by remote from places like Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. UAVs like the Reaper and the Predator carry a variety of armaments, all the way up to 500-lbs. monster bombs with effective kill radius of about 200 feet. That’s roughly the size of San Francisco’s Union Square, if you need a reference. As ex-CIA operative Bob Baer puts it in Rethink Afghanistan's latest video, “you can’t help [killing innocent bystanders] with these weapons. They’re area weapons...If you get one person, you’re going to be killing 20 other innocent people, women and children.” That’s why estimates of the percentage of civilians killed in the strikes ranges from 28 percent all the way up to above 90 percent. They are not discriminate weapons. Killing civilians is a moral outrage. People living in areas hit by drone strikes have a right to life independent of U.S. goals or concerns in the region. And if there were no other problems with the strikes, the high civilian toll would be enough to make them unjustifiable. But civilian death tolls aren’t the only problem. The other glaring problem is that the drone program and the larger targeted killing program make us less safe by the day. We’re less safe because civilian killings outrage local people and turn them against the U.S. We’re less safe because we’re setting a bad precedent and undermining international law, making it more likely that UAVs will be used against us or our allies. And, we’re less safe because American citizens are now being put on kill lists without being given a trial. The fact that killing innocent civilians makes us less safe is a no-brainer. If your son or father or mother or sister was killed by a remote-controlled robot piloted by a Syrian, how safe would Syrians be from you? You may not turn into a militant, but more than likely you’d certainly be more sympathetic to people who want to hurt Syrians. Think about that in reference to the casualty statistics above in places like Pakistan. Or if you want to get more concrete about it, think about Faisal Shazad, an actual guy who actually tried to blow up a car bomb in Times Square because he was outraged about drone killings in Pakistan. In our new video, Baer poses a hypothetical question to get at this idea: how would we feel if Mexican authorities were bombing American towns in Texas and California and killing civilians, even if they were chasing drug dealers? When we're talking about, say, China, it's not such a hypothetical question. From Thursday’s Wall Street Journal:
ZHUHAI, China—China is ramping up production of unmanned aerial vehicles in an apparent bid to catch up with the U.S. and Israel in developing technology that is considered the future of military aviation. Western defense officials and experts were surprised to see more than 25 different Chinese models of the unmanned aircraft, known as UAVs, on display at this week's Zhuhai air show in this southern Chinese city. ...This year's models in Zhuhai included several designed to fire missiles, and one powered by a jet engine, meaning it could—in theory—fly faster than the propeller-powered Predator and Reaper drones that the U.S. has used in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
As early adopters of this technology, we are setting the standards for “normal” use of drones. Because of our use of drones in extrajudicial killings in other people’s countries where we’re not at war, “we’re setting precedents that will very quickly come back to haunt the U.S.,” as U.S. expert Philip Alston put it in our latest video. Watch out, towns in Texas, California. Or anyone helping people the Chinese government considers a “terrorist,” like the Dalai Lama. But set aside all the increased danger of terrorism thanks to drones. Put aside the threat posed to you and your family by an increasingly accepted norm in international behavior regarding killing people in other people’s country by remote control. Even if neither of those dangers were present, you’d be in danger from this program because now U.S. citizens are starting to show up on the kill lists--without trial. Regardless of what a person is accused of, even if it’s preaching jihad, citizens have a right to a trial before executions are summarily carried out. That’s a foundational principle of our democracy that protects us from being murdered by crazy politicians. The drone strikes and the placing of U.S. citizens on kill lists in this program puts all of us, and our democracy, at risk. We’ve got to stand up against this unconstitutional, violent campaign that makes all of us less safe now because the administration is rapidly expanding it, according to the Washington Post:
“The CIA's drone campaign in Pakistan has accelerated dramatically in recent months, with 47 attacks recorded since the beginning of September. ...By contrast, there were 45 strikes in the first five years of the drone program.”
The Post also reports that the pushing Pakistan to allow more drone strikes, including the area around Quetta. Escalating the not-so-secret drone war over Pakistan in this way would be, frankly, stupid and amoral. Quetta is not a dusty hamlet in some remote region of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. It has a population of almost a million people and is a Pakistani provincial capital. It is also surrounded by refugee camps. Firing area weapons on targets in Quetta is guaranteed to kill civilians and enrage the Pakistani public (which U.S. officials even acknowledged last year). We’d not only provide grist for al-Qaida propaganda machine--we’d cause more instability in a nuclear armed nation. Again, these strikes make the world more dangerous for you and your family. The safety of your and your family demands that we stop this unconstitutional, brutal campaign of extrajudicial killings outside war zones. Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistan campaign is partnering with the Center for Constitutional Rights to call for an end to these killings and for more transparency in the program. Please take a moment to watch our latest video and then sign the petition to stop drone strike and other killings outside war zones. You can learn more about this issue and CCR’s work to protect Americans from the bad effect of this program at You can join the 50,000+ other people fighting to end these strikes and the brutal, futile war in Afghanistan at

Pentagon PR Spending Video

The Pentagon's public relations machine is working overtime these days trying to sell a theme of "progress" in Afghanistan to push back against calls to end the war. The message machine behind this push is gargantuan, costing $547 million and employing more than 27,000 people. But, as our latest Rethink Afghanistan video shows, all that wasted P.R. money can't paper over the fact that the Afghanistan War isn't making us safer, and it's not worth the cost.

So far, we've seen General David Petraeus give headline interviews on NBC, CBS, BBC, FOX News, and schedule an upcoming headline interview on ABC. He's given interviews to The New York Times and The Washington Post. He's kicked the Pentagon's P.R. apparatus, especially that of the U.S. 3rd Army and its paid contractors, into gear, churning out articles to push his narrative of "progress."

An investigation last year by the Associated Press uncovered the staggering reach of the Pentagon's P.R. apparatus:

"This year, the Pentagon will employ 27,000 people just for recruitment, advertising and public relations -- almost as many as the total 30,000-person work force in the State Department. ...[T]he Pentagon's rapidly expanding media now bigger in size, money and power than many media companies.

"$547 million goes into public affairs, which reaches American audiences. And about $489 million more goes into what is known as psychological operations, which targets foreign audiences."

It should surprise no one that General David Petraeus is working the levers of this message machine as hard as he can. After all, in the counterinsurgency (COIN) manual he co-authored, it clearly states:

"Information operations (IO) must be aggressively employed to...[o]btain local, regional, and international support for COIN operations." (p. 152)

The manual urges commanders to personally engage the media to convey their messaging (p. 163), and discusses the importance of information operations to "reinforce the will of the U.S. public." (p. 164)

All of this is Pentagon bureaucracy-speak, of course, for using taxpayer dollars to fight a propaganda battle at home against war opponents (or, in this case, some 60 percent of the American people) to prevent them from effectively pressuring their elected officials to end this misbegotten war.

But no matter how much the Pentagon spins their message into the mainstream U.S. media, the facts on the ground show that the insurgency continues to spread, that violence is increasing, that U.S. troop deaths are increasing, and that the U.S. lacks one of counterinsurgency's own premises for success: a legitimate host nation government.

You, American Citizen, are now the target, the "human terrain," in a taxpayer-funded campaign to sell a failing war strategy. The Pentagon knows what you think. They don't like it. So they're just going to try to pummel you with spin until you roll over and let them continue their ugly, futile waste of lives and resources.

At Brave New Foundation, we're working to get the word out through our Rethink Afghanistan about what's really going on in Afghanistan, but we need your help. Please join the tens of thousands of others getting together to fight back against the spin. You can connect with the movement in several ways:

Sign our petition to tell the next journalists on Petraeus' media tour to ask tough questions and expose his effort to extend the Afghanistan War.

General Petraeus is on a media tour to sell the idea that the U.S. military is "making progress" in Afghanistan, a well-worn message aimed at convincing elites to extend this brutal, futile war. So far, it looks like the mainstream media is buying it, hook, line, and sinker.

Petraeus kicked off his spin campaign this morning with an hour-long special on Meet the Press with David Gregory. The piece opened with a montage of Petraeus doing sit-ups, and later showed him jogging, with Gregory opining about him wearing out troops half his age. Gregory went out of his way to set up a "Petraeus saves the day" narrative, asking the general if the situation in Afghanistan reminds him of the "dark days" in Iraq just before Petraeus "succeeded" with the surge. Petraeus hammered home his one-word message relentlessly: progress. Gregory feigned tough skepticism, but betrayed his hero-worship with setups like, "Watch how savvy Petraeus is when he answers my tough question." Throughout, Gregory's sheepish grin conveyed the sense that he wanted to hug Petraeus instead of critically probe his assertions.

As Petraeus battered viewers again and again with his "making progress" theme, Gregory failed to ask probing, skeptical questions. When Petraeus mentioned "oil spots," as if the stain spreading across Afghanistan were one of security, Gregory failed to press him on the huge increase in civilian deaths, the 87-percent spike in violence and the incredible explosion of IED attacks over the last several months. When he brought up the outrageous TIME Magazine cover showing a woman's mutilated face, Gregory failed to mention the attack happened last year and that TIME Magazine's cover grossly distorts the choices before the United States. When Petraeus denounced the Taliban's recent killing of a pregnant woman, Gregory failed to press Petraeus on ISAF's own killing of pregnant women earlier this year in which bullets were reportedly dug out of a screaming woman by special forces troops before she bled to death. Gregory didn't do journalism today. He provided a platform for military spin.

Petraeus and Gregory jovially closed the interview by quoting Generals Grant and Sherman, with Petraeus saying he's no politician. Don't believe that for a second. The military wants to extend this war, and it sees American public opinion as an obstacle in getting what it wants. Petraeus admitted as much when he told Gregory that the point of his upcoming media appearances were scheduled in the hopes of showing "people in Washington" and the public that we're making progress (Finish your drink!) and to shore up support for the failing war effort. This media blitz is about Petraeus shaping public opinion to affect the political environment for a future push to extend the war far beyond the bounds implied by Obama's December 2009 West Point speech. In short, the military is turning its several-billion-dollar public relations apparatus on the American people, and the mainstream media is so far complicit. To quote one of my favorite bands, "There is a war going on for your mind."

If the media fail to ask hard questions, there's a chance Petraeus could get what he wants: the freedom to extend an extremely unpopular war that's not making us safer. We've got to push back, and we've got to do it now.

CBS' Katie Couric is next in line to talk to Petraeus during his high-profile spin campaign, so we're starting with her. Sign our petition to Couric and push her to ask tough questions about Petraeus' claims of "progress" and his attempt to extend the Afghanistan War. If you're not a Twitter user, don't worry--there are instructions on how you can participate without it.

General Petraeus' media blitz is just getting started. We've got to push our media--hard--to ask real questions and prevent easily disproved spin from polluting the debate. Petraeus wants to change public opinion, and he's spending your money to sell you a brutal, futile war that's not making us safer. If you're tired of this kind of manipulation, join the tens of thousands of other people working to end this war with Rethink Afghanistan.

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