May 9, 2012
U.S. military leaders are worried that recent outrageous conduct by U.S. troops in Afghanistan are stoking public anger against the foreign occupation, destabilizing the country and endangering U.S. and NATO troops there. They responded by telling their troops to behave. The AP reported “Military commanders warned to get troops in line” (May 3, 2012):
Military leaders are telling commanders to get their troops in line and refrain from misconduct such as urinating on enemy corpses, in a sharp response to the tasteless photos and other disturbing examples of bad behavior that have enraged Afghans and complicated war-fighting.
As military leaders gave their troops a refresher on proper occupation etiquette, President Obama made a secret trip to Afghanistan on the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden to sign a security agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai:
President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai have signed a strategic partnership accord that charts the future of US-Afghan relations beyond the end of the NATO combat mission in the country in 2014.
The deal does not commit the United States to any specific troop presence or spending. But it does allow the US to potentially keep troops in Afghanistan after the war ends for two specific purposes: continued training of Afghan forces and targeted operations against al-Qaeda.
So, essentially the President has reneged on his promise to end the war and occupation of Afghanistan. Democracy Now! ran a show that featured the critical commentary of Tariq Ali and Ann Wright. The U.S. seeks to establish a long term military base presence in Afghanistan, not for anti-terrorism operations, but for surrounding Russia and China. However, despite modeling the security agreement on the kinds of arrangements in existence in Japan, Afghanistan is not post-war Japan.
A series of public relations disasters by U.S. troops have made it extremely difficult to convince the Afghan people that a continuing U.S. military presence is a good thing for them. In January, 2012, a video appeared on the internet that depicted U.S. troops urinating on Afghan corpses:
The Marine Corps said Wednesday that it is investigating the origins of a video on the Internet that purports to show Marines in combat gear urinating on the corpses of three Taliban insurgents.
The brief video, which runs for less than a minute, began circulating on Web sites early Wednesday. It depicts four Marines laughing as they relieve themselves while standing over three prostrate bodies.
A caption asserts that the Marines are part of a scout sniper team with the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, an infantry unit from Camp Lejeune, N.C. Members of the unit were deployed to Afghanistan last year but returned in September.
The Marine Corps was quick to distance itself from the scandal:
“The actions portrayed are not consistent with our core values and are not indicative of the character of the Marines in our Corps,” she said in a statement.
Then on February 22, 2012, U.S. troops from Bagram Air Base burned Qurans at the nearby detention facility. The desecration of the Muslim holy book sparked a deadly wave of protests and violence across Afghanistan that resulted in 41 deaths and at least 270 injuries. As the New York Times reports “Obama Sends Apology as Afghan Koran Protests Rage” (February 23, 2012):
The potential scope of the fallout from the burning of several copies of the Koran by American military personnel this week became chillingly clear on Thursday as a man in an Afghan Army uniform shot and killed two American soldiers, while a crowd nearby protested the desecration of the Muslim holy book.
And all President Obama could do was say “uh, sorry.”
Then in April, photographs emerged of U.S. troops posing with body parts of dead Afghans. As the L.A. Times reported “U.S. troops posed with body parts of Afghan bombers” (April 18, 2012):
The paratroopers had their assignment: Check out reports that Afghan police had recovered the mangled remains of an insurgent suicide bomber. Try to get iris scans and fingerprints for identification.
The 82nd Airborne Division soldiers arrived at the police station in Afghanistan’s Zabol province in February 2010. They inspected the body parts. Then the mission turned macabre: The paratroopers posed for photos next to Afghan police, grinning while some held — and others squatted beside — the corpse’s severed legs.
A few months later, the same platoon was dispatched to investigate the remains of three insurgents who Afghan police said had accidentally blown themselves up. After obtaining a few fingerprints, they posed next to the remains, again grinning and mugging for photographs.
Two soldiers posed holding a dead man’s hand with the middle finger raised. A soldier leaned over the bearded corpse while clutching the man’s hand. Someone placed an unofficial platoon patch reading “Zombie Hunter” next to other remains and took a picture
The inhumane conduct of U.S. troops that has shocked public sensibilities is not an abberation; it is a product of the dehumanizing psychic conditioning of militarization and war. It is a necessary skill for troops to survive in war. To get a glimpse of this conditioning, I highly recommend Hell and Back Again, a powerful film about a Marine who is injured in Afghanistan and struggles to readjust to the terrifying normalcy of life back in the U.S. Like Restrepo, another powerful documentary about the war in Afghanistan, Hell and Back Again immerses the viewer in the “fog of war.” But unlike Restrepo, which leaves the audience disoriented by the surreal Apocalypse Now!-like meaninglessness and horror of it all, Hell and Back Again pulls the audience back to into the struggles of one Marine and his loved ones trying to piece together his life and make sense of what he has experienced. It forces us to face the mangled humanity that emerges from war, which can be more disquieting and terrifying than the senseless violence of the war itself. The website describes the film as:
From his embed with US Marines Echo Company in Afghanistan, photojournalist and filmmaker Danfung Dennis reveals the devastating impact a Taliban machine-gun bullet has on the life of 25-year-old Sergeant Nathan Harris. The film seamlessly transitions from stunning war reportage to an intimate, visceral portrait of one man’s personal struggle at home in North Carolina, where Harris confronts the physical and emotional difficulties of re-adjusting to civilian life with the love and support of his wife, Ashley. Masterfully contrasting the intensity of the frontline with the unsettling normalcy of home, HELL AND BACK AGAIN lays bare the true cost of war.
In 2009, U.S. Marines launched a major helicopter assault on a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan. Within hours of being dropped deep behind enemy lines, 25-year-old Sergeant Nathan Harris’s unit (US Marines Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment) is attacked from all sides. Cut off and surrounded, the Marines fight a ghostlike enemy and experience immense hostility from displaced villagers caught in the middle.
Embedded in Echo Company during the assault, photojournalist and filmmaker Danfung Dennis captures the frontline action with visceral immediacy. When Sergeant Harris returns home to North Carolina after a life-threatening injury in battle, the film evolves from a war exposé to the story of one man’s personal apocalypse. With the love and support of his wife, Ashley, Harris struggles to overcome the difficulties of transitioning back to civilian life.
In immense physical pain, Sergeant Harris grows addicted to his medication. His agony deepens as he attempts to reconcile the gulf between his experience of war and the terrifying normalcy of life at home. The two realities seamlessly intertwine to communicate both the extraordinary drama of war and, for a generation of soldiers, the no less shocking experience of returning home.
An unprecedented exploration of the moving image and a film of uncommon intimacy, HELL AND BACK AGAIN comes full circle as it lays bare the true cost of war.
Filmmaker Danfung Dennis wrote about his personal motivation to make the film:
Oct. 23, 2010 – This morning I learned a photographer friend was severely wounded after stepping on a mine in southern Afghanistan. He lost both his legs and is in critical condition.
I’m flooded by feelings of rage, sadness, helplessness and isolation. I think of my friends and colleagues that have lost their lives while doing their job. It all seems utterly senseless.
Unless you have a personal connection, the war in Afghanistan is an abstraction. After nearly ten years since the initial invasion, the daily bombings and ongoing violence has become mundane, almost ordinary. It is tempting to become indifferent to the horror and pain. It is much easier to look away from the victims. It is much easier to lead a life without rude interruptions from complex insurgencies in distant lands. But it is when we take this easier path, the suffering becomes of no consequence and therefore meaningless. The anguish becomes invisible, an abstraction. It is when society becomes numb to inhumanity; horror is allowed to spread in darkness.
Visual imagery can be a powerful medium for truth. The images of napalmed girls screaming by Nick Ut, the street execution of a Vietcong prisoner by Eddie Adams, the shell-shocked soldier by Don McCullin – these iconic images have burned into our collective consciousness as reminders of war’s consequences.
But, this visual language is dying. The traditional outlets are collapsing. In the midst of this upheaval, we must invent a new language. I am attempting to combine the power of the still image with advanced technology to change the vernacular of photojournalism and filmmaking. Instead of opening a window to glimpse another world, I am attempting to bring the viewer into that world. I believe shared experiences will ultimately build a common humanity.
Through my work I hope to shake people from their indifference to war, and to bridge the disconnect between the realities on the ground and the public consciousness at home. By bearing witness and shedding light on another’s pain and despair, I am trying to invoke our humanity and a response to act. Is it possible that war is an archaic and primitive human behavior that society is capable of advancing past? Is it possible that the combination of photojournalism, filmmaking and technology can plead for peace and contribute to this future?
It is these possibilities that motivate us to risk life and limb.
January 20, 2012
The New York Times article “Afghanistan’s Soldiers Step Up Killings of Allied Forces” paints a disturbing picture of the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan:
American and other coalition forces here are being killed in increasing numbers by the very Afghan soldiers they fight alongside and train, in attacks motivated by deep-seated animosity between the supposedly allied forces, according to American and Afghan officers and a classified coalition report.
A decade into the war in Afghanistan, the report makes clear that these killings have become the most visible symptom of a far deeper ailment plaguing the war effort: the contempt each side holds for the other, never mind the Taliban. The ill will and mistrust run deep among civilians and militaries on both sides, raising questions about what future role the United States and its allies can expect to play in Afghanistan.
Underscoring the danger, a gunman in an Afghan Army uniform killed four French service members and wounded several others on Friday, according to an Afghan police official in Kapisa Province in eastern Afghanistan, prompting the French president to suspend his country’s operations here.
The level of animosity between U.S. and Afghan people was exacerbated by the recent video clip of U.S. troops urinating on Taliban corpses:
One instance of the general level of antipathy in the war exploded into uncomfortable view last week when video emerged of American Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters. Although American commanders quickly took action and condemned the act, chat-room and Facebook posts by Marines and their supporters were full of praise for the desecration.
The article was based on a classified report “A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility” that was conducted by a behavioral scientist who surveyed 613 Afghan soldiers and police officers, 215 American soldiers and 30 Afghan interpreters who worked for the Americans. It was blunt in its assessment of the situation and sharply critical of public statements to downplay the killings as isolated incidents:
“Lethal altercations are clearly not rare or isolated; they reflect a rapidly growing systemic homicide threat (a magnitude of which may be unprecedented between ‘allies’ in modern military history),” it said. Official NATO pronouncements to the contrary “seem disingenuous, if not profoundly intellectually dishonest,” said the report, and it played down the role of Taliban infiltrators in the killings.
The classified report found that between May 2007 and May 2011, when it was completed, at least 58 Western service members were killed in 26 separate attacks by Afghan soldiers and the police nationwide. Most of those attacks have occurred since October 2009. This toll represented 6 percent of all hostile coalition deaths during that period, the report said.
September 23, 2011
War and the Tragedy of the Commons
In this seven-part series of articles on each environmental impact of US militarism, scientist and author Patricia Hynes provides an overview of modern, military pollution and the use of natural resources with a central focus on the US military superpower, a power without precedent or competitor. From Superfund and former nuclear weapons sites in the US to Vieques, Agent Orange, depleted uranium – particularly in Iraq – biowarfare research and the use of fossil fuels in routine military training and wars, Hynes examines the war machine as the true tragedy of the commons. -TO/lt
September 2, 2011
The western media has hyped the rebels’ “victory” in the war in Libya. But it’s impossible to know what is really going on if you only get the mainstream media. Reports are trickling out from independent journalists that contradict the disinformation being spread by mainstream media. Franklin Lamb reports in Countercurrents.org from Tripoli:
NATO is widely viewed as having violated the three main terms of UNSCR 1973, to wit, NATO did engage in regime change, it did take sides in a civil war, it did arm one side, and it did refuse to allow a negotiated diplomatic settlement which many here and internationally believe could have been achieved by early April, thus saving hundreds Libyan lives. NATO’s more than 160 days of bombing are seen as egregious violations of UNSCR 1973, Article 2 (7) of the UN Charter and numerous provisions of international law, all part of its campaign to secure Libyan oil and this rich countries geopolitical cooperation for the US, UK, France, Italy and their NATO allies.
On Monday night August 22, 2011 this observer met with Saif al Islam. He was not captured and he is not dead. At least not as of 11 p.m. 8/22/11 or roughly 24 hours after the NTC (National Transitional Council) and the ICC claim he was captured and was being prepared for transport to The Hague. Saif was defiant and he gave assurances that his family was safe and that NATO would be defeated politically for its crimes against Libyan civilians.
Saif took western camera man and reporter on a short tour of Tripoli showing them that NATO was not in control—not 95% in control of Tripoli as the NTC rep in London has been claiming since Sunday night and not 80% in control of Tripoli as the White House & NATO’s “Operation protect the Libyan civilians” CEO, Rasmussen, has claimed. But the rebels do appear to currently control large swatches of Libya’s capitol. A journalist named “Kim” S. from the UK Independent who has been with the rebels for the past more than two months and who seemed to literally sort of stumble into our hotel yesterday told me this morning that NTC claims made during the period he was with them were “complete bullshit.”
In “Western Media Reports on Libya False”, Stephen Lendman, writer and radio host in Chicago said:
When they talk about a conflict like this Libya one that is just an outrageous American-led imperial war for conquest; absolutely illegal and with no humanitarian concern for the Libyan people, even the so-called rebels are not rebels they’re mercenaries; they have been hired.
Most of them may not even know what they are doing. They were paid; they were brought in mostly from outside the country; they’re probably being paid more than they ever go before so, you know, you need a job and you get a paycheck and you were told “We want to liberate this country from bad people”. And they go in and do what they’re told to do because they want to keep getting their paycheck.
About the so-called celebrations in the streets of Tripoli – I absolutely discount them. There were polls taken a week or two ago that showed across the country including in the eastern part of the country in the Benghazi area – wherever they conducted these polls, which is not an easy thing to do in any country at war so you can’t vouch for the absolute accuracy of this – but polls showed the longer the NATO bombing went on the higher approval rating Gaddafi got; and the last numbers I saw – 85 percent of the Libyan people approve of Gaddafi.
A group of African intellectuals has written an open letter criticising the NATO-led military attacks on Libya, saying Africa ran the risk of being re-colonised.“Nato has violated international law… they had a regime change agenda,” said one of the signatories, University of Johannesburg head of politics, Chris Landsberg.“The re-colonisation of Africa is becoming a real threat,” he told reporters in Johannesburg. The letter was signed by more than 200 prominent Africans, including ANC national executive member Jesse Duarte, political analyst Willie Esterhuyse of the University of Stellenbosch, former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils, lawyer Christine Qunta, former deputy foreign affairs minister Aziz Pahad, former minister in the presidency Essop Pahad, Sam Moyo of the African Institute for Agrarian Studies, former president Thabo Mbeki’s spokesperson Mukoni Ratshitanga, and poet Wally Serote.
The leaders accused the UN Security Council of approving an illegal policy of regime change:
Landsberg said it was up to the Libyan people – and not the United Nations Security Council – to decide if their leader, Muammar Gaddafi, who had been in power for 42 years, had overstayed his welcome. The letter reads: “Contrary to the provisions of the UN Charter, the UN Security Council authorised and has permitted the destruction and anarchy which has descended on the Libyan people. At the end of it all, many Libyans will have died and have been maimed (and) much infrastructure will have been destroyed.” The Security Council had not produced evidence to prove that its authorisation of the use of force was an appropriate response to the situation in Libya. “Thus they (Security Council) have empowered themselves openly to pursue the objective of ‘regime change’ and therefore the use of force and all other means to overthrow the government of Libya, which objectives are completely at variance with the decisions of the UN Security Council,” reads the letter, which was also supported by the Congress of SA Trade Unions, the SA Communist Party and the Media Review Network. The Security Council also “repudiated the rule of international law” by ignoring the role of legitimate regional institutions in solving conflict.
The African leaders also accused NATO countries of being “rogue states”:
Landsberg said Britain, France and United States “continue to act as a rogue states”. “A rogue is an errant state that does not live by rules… the tragedy is that they are not likely to be charged in the International Criminal Court.”
In an interview on Global Research, John Robles says that the Libyan “revolution” is more of a western-backed insurgency than a true revolution of the people. He notes that “the African Union has refused recognition to the so-called Transitional National Council, consisting of what by all accounts is a fairly motley, heterogeneous grouping of anti-government forces in Libya, aided and abetted by major NATO powers like France, Britain, the U.S. and Italy and by Persian Gulf monarchies like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.”
Rather than withdrawing after the end of the Gaddafi regime, Robles believes that NATO will establish military bases in the country:
…assuming previous Yugoslav and Afghan precedents as a likely scenario, we have a lot to go on. We have the fact that the Turkish Foreign Minister announced yesterday that NATO’s role will continue in Libya after the installation of the rebel government, the so-called Transitional National Council.And similar soundings have emanated from major figures and NATO countries that suggest, far from NATO’s role ending, it may in a certain sense just be beginning. And that parallels almost identically what happened in Yugoslavia in 1999 and what has happened in Afghanistan in the past decade, where NATO bombs itself into a country and sets up military bases and doesn’t leave. The U.S. still maintains Camp Bondsteel in the contested Serbian province of Kosovo, which is a large, expansive base, by some accounts the largest overseas military facility built by the US since the war in Vietnam. And it remains there over 12 years after the end of the 78-day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.
Similarly, the U.S. has substantially upgraded air bases in Afghanistan, including those bordering Central Asian nations and close to the Iranian border, and there is no indication they are ever going to abandon them, as they are not going to abandon military bases in Iraq and other places. It’s a lot easier to bring NATO into one’s country or have it forced in than to get it out.
In a CNN interview, former CIA officer Michael Scheuer also blew the lid off of the fraudulent justifications for the US-led war in Libya. He describes the CIA’s role in backing the insurgent groups and the blowback that could follow.
This is especially troubling when you consider the composition of the Libyan rebels. According to Michel Chossudovsky, “The “pro-democracy” rebels are led by Al Qaeda paramilitary brigades under the supervision of NATO Special Forces. The “Liberation” of Tripoli was carried out by “former” members of the Libya Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). “ The New York Timesalso describes the now cozy relationship between the former al Qaeda linked organization and NATO. Training and supporting Islamist fighters sounds a lot like Reagan’s Afghanistan strategy that brought the world the blowback of 9/11.
Meanwhile Finian Cunningham reveals the hypocrisy of the “humanitarian” rationale for the NATO war on Libya. He reports that in the tiny Kingdom of Bahrain, “US Ally Kills Children… So When Is NATO Intervening?”:
This is the face of state terror against civilians in the US and British-backed Gulf oil kingdom of Bahrain – the latest victim a boy shot dead by police. But there will be no call by Washington or London for a Libya-style NATO intervention to protect human rights here. No call for regime change. No call for an international crimes tribunal.
Fourteen-year-old Ali Jawad Ahmad was killed on 30 August when Saudi-backed Bahraini riot police fired a tear gas canister at the youth from close range. On the day that was supposed to be a celebratory end to Ramadan – Eid al Fitr – people across Bahrain were shocked by yet another “brutal slaughter of innocents” by the regime and the stoic silence of its Western backers.]
It is scarcely believable that Washington or London is unaware of the Bahraini state terror over recent months and in particular the massive, indiscriminate use of tear gas on civilian homes. Bahrain – a former “protectorate” of Britain – has close links between its ministry of interior and British security personnel. The Gulf island is home to the US Navy Fifth Fleet, from where the entire Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea down as far as the coast of Somalia are surveyed. The territory of Bahrain is less than 60 kilometres long and only 17 kilometres wide.
March 31, 2011
Libya Conflict Highlights NATO’s Imperialist Mission
Saturday 26 March 2011
Having launched its Libyan regime change war to oust the Qaddafi dictatorship from the United States’ German-based Africa Command, the Obama administration this week arranged to continue its air war under cover of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance. Long understood to be a relatively benign and defensive alliance focused on European security needs, people across Europe and, increasingly, in the United States, are questioning how and why NATO is now focused on waging non-defensive wars beyond Europe.
From the beginning, 1948, NATO was about more than containing the Soviet Union, which in the immediate aftermath of World War II was a devastated nation whose occupation of Eastern Europe was as, George Kennan wrote, primarily designed to ensure a buffer against future invasions from the West. Think in terms of the devastation wrought by Napoleon, the Kaiser and Hitler.
Like the unequal treaties that defined 19th- and early 21st-century European colonialism in Asia, NATO has served as a fig leaf, providing a degree of legitimacy for the continuing US military occupation and related US political influence across Western Eurasia. Recall that Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser, wrote that US global dominance requires US hegemony of Eurasia, which in turn necessitates that the United States maintain toeholds (or more) on its western, southern, and eastern peripheries.
Twenty-first century NATO isn’t the cold war alliance that many of us grew up with. The collapse of the Soviet Union eliminated NATO’s cold war raison d’etre, thereby undermining the rationales for the foreign deployment of hundreds of thousands of US warriors on hundreds of US and “NATO” bases across Europe. The Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama administrations responded by transforming NATO into a global alliance to reinforce US imperial ambitions and the privileges of sectors of the European elite. Violating President George H.W. Bush’s pledge not to expand NATO a centimeter nearer to Moscow, in exchange for Gorbachev’s blessing of German reunification on Western terms Clinton began the process of expanding NATO to Russia’s borders, along the way creating the foundation for Donald Rumsfeld and company to renew the game of divide and conquer by playing “New Europe” against “Old Europe.” The US now has bases across Eastern Europe, and there will be more to come with “missile defense” deployments. In violation of the UN Charter, the Clinton administration used NATO to fight its war against Serbia, making possible the creation of Kosovo and the rise of its corrupt client political leadership there.
As the cold war wound down, NATO adopted doctrines permitting “out of area operations,” i.e. military interventions in Africa, the Middle East and beyond. With NATO’s role in the Afghan war, “out of area operations” became the alliance’s primary mission. Today, with 22 additional partnerships still more being planned for Japan, Korea and Southeast Asian nations, NATO is also being used to ensure access to the mineral resources of the Global South and to reinforce the encirclement of China, as well as Russia. Thus, we can identify a major reason that NATO is today fighting in support of a ragtag collection of Libyan rebels in that oil-rich nation. And, as a recent edition of Foreign Affairs put it, China’s rise does not inevitably mean it will become the world’s dominant nation. If NATO can be merged with the European Union, the West, it argued, will remain dominant through the 21st century.
During its recent summits in Strasbourg – enforced by massive and brutal police state repression against nonviolent protesters – and Lisbon, and under pressure from the United States, NATO has resolved to remain at war in Afghanistan at least until 2014. It has adopted a new “strategic concept” consolidating and pointing toward the expansion of the global alliance that can serve as a military enforcer for the United Nations or act in violation of the UN Charter. And NATO has been reaffirmed as a nuclear alliance, while its members have been urged to further increase their military spending.
The 2012 summit to be held in the United States, likely in or near Washington, DC, will be used to plan and build support for the continuing Central Asian and Long wars, to continue the “containment” and encirclement of China and Russia, to bolster the Pentagon and its obscene budget and to reinforce President Obama’s re-election campaign.
Western European peace activists and progressives have long opposed NATO. This opposition grew with the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, and it is worth noting that there is anything but unity about NATO’s Libyan war in elite European circles. Even Germany has turned its back on the war, leaving the goal of a united European foreign policy a short-lived dream, while Norway has reversed course, no longer contributing its air force to the war.
At the popular level, growing out of the 2008 International Conference on Afghanistan held in Hanover, Germany, a “No to NATO/No to War” network of leading European and US peace organizations has come into being. It organized counter-summit conferences and protests in both Strasbourg and Lisbon. Its members are rallying to oppose NATO’s Libya war and are planning a major demonstration in Bonn this November, when the tenth anniversary of the creation of the Karzai government there will be celebrated. And, with the next NATO summit to be held in the US in 2012, plans on both sides of the Atlantic pond are gearing up to oppose NATO’s wars, related military spending that is robbing our communities of essential social services and the alliance itself.
March 22, 2011
Interesting analysis from Stratfor of the U.S.-led war in Libya and the Westʻs conflicting imperatives: welcoming popular democratic uprisings while preventing repressive governments from crushing them:
Nevertheless, a narrative on what has happened in the Arab world has emerged and has become the framework for thinking about the region. The narrative says that the region is being swept by democratic revolutions (in the Western sense) rising up against oppressive regimes. The West must support these uprisings gently. That means that they must not sponsor them but at the same time act to prevent the repressive regimes from crushing them.
This is a complex maneuver. The West supporting the rebels will turn it into another phase of Western imperialism, under this theory. But the failure to support the rising will be a betrayal of fundamental moral principles.
The problem with Libya is that the government enjoys significant popular support from certain tribal factions, while the opposition forces are a loose coalition of tribes that oppose the Gadhafi regime, not a popular uprising.
Libya, the West and the Narrative of Democracy
By George Friedman
Forces from the United States and some European countries have intervened in Libya. Under U.N. authorization, they have imposed a no-fly zone in Libya, meaning they will shoot down any Libyan aircraft that attempts to fly within Libya. In addition, they have conducted attacks against aircraft on the ground, airfields, air defenses and the command, control and communication systems of the Libyan government, and French and U.S. aircraft have struck against Libyan armor and ground forces. There also are reports of European and Egyptian special operations forces deploying in eastern Libya, where the opposition to the government is centered, particularly around the city of Benghazi. In effect, the intervention of this alliance has been against the government of Moammar Gadhafi, and by extension, in favor of his opponents in the east.
The alliance’s full intention is not clear, nor is it clear that the allies are of one mind. The U.N. Security Council resolution clearly authorizes the imposition of a no-fly zone. By extension, this logically authorizes strikes against airfields and related targets. Very broadly, it also defines the mission of the intervention as protecting civilian lives. As such, it does not specifically prohibit the presence of ground forces, though it does clearly state that no “foreign occupation force” shall be permitted on Libyan soil. It can be assumed they intended that forces could intervene in Libya but could not remain in Libya after the intervention. What this means in practice is less than clear.
There is no question that the intervention is designed to protect Gadhafi’s enemies from his forces. Gadhafi had threatened to attack “without mercy” and had mounted a sustained eastward assault that the rebels proved incapable of slowing. Before the intervention, the vanguard of his forces was on the doorstep of Benghazi. The protection of the eastern rebels from Gadhafi’s vengeance coupled with attacks on facilities under Gadhafi’s control logically leads to the conclusion that the alliance wants regime change, that it wants to replace the Gadhafi government with one led by the rebels.
But that would be too much like the invasion of Iraq against Saddam Hussein, and the United Nations and the alliance haven’t gone that far in their rhetoric, regardless of the logic of their actions. Rather, the goal of the intervention is explicitly to stop Gadhafi’s threat to slaughter his enemies, support his enemies but leave the responsibility for the outcome in the hands of the eastern coalition. In other words — and this requires a lot of words to explain — they want to intervene to protect Gadhafi’s enemies, they are prepared to support those enemies (though it is not clear how far they are willing to go in providing that support), but they will not be responsible for the outcome of the civil war.
The Regional Context
To understand this logic, it is essential to begin by considering recent events in North Africa and the Arab world and the manner in which Western governments interpreted them. Beginning with Tunisia, spreading to Egypt and then to the Arabian Peninsula, the last two months have seen widespread unrest in the Arab world. Three assumptions have been made about this unrest. The first was that it represented broad-based popular opposition to existing governments, rather than representing the discontent of fragmented minorities — in other words, that they were popular revolutions. Second, it assumed that these revolutions had as a common goal the creation of a democratic society. Third, it assumed that the kind of democratic society they wanted was similar to European-American democracy, in other words, a constitutional system supporting Western democratic values.
Each of the countries experiencing unrest was very different. For example, in Egypt, while the cameras focused on demonstrators, they spent little time filming the vast majority of the country that did not rise up. Unlike 1979 in Iran, the shopkeepers and workers did not protest en masse. Whether they supported the demonstrators in Tahrir Square is a matter of conjecture. They might have, but the demonstrators were a tiny fraction of Egyptian society, and while they clearly wanted a democracy, it is less than clear that they wanted a liberal democracy. Recall that the Iranian Revolution created an Islamic Republic more democratic than its critics would like to admit, but radically illiberal and oppressive. In Egypt, it is clear that Mubarak was generally loathed but not clear that the regime in general was being rejected. It is not clear from the outcome what will happen now. Egypt may stay as it is, it may become an illiberal democracy or it may become a liberal democracy.
Consider also Bahrain. Clearly, the majority of the population is Shiite, and resentment toward the Sunni government is apparent. It should be assumed that the protesters want to dramatically increase Shiite power, and elections should do the trick. Whether they want to create a liberal democracy fully aligned with the U.N. doctrines on human rights is somewhat more problematic.
Egypt is a complicated country, and any simple statement about what is going on is going to be wrong. Bahrain is somewhat less complex, but the same holds there. The idea that opposition to the government means support for liberal democracy is a tremendous stretch in all cases — and the idea that what the demonstrators say they want on camera is what they actually want is problematic. Even more problematic in many cases is the idea that the demonstrators in the streets simply represent a universal popular will.
Nevertheless, a narrative on what has happened in the Arab world has emerged and has become the framework for thinking about the region. The narrative says that the region is being swept by democratic revolutions (in the Western sense) rising up against oppressive regimes. The West must support these uprisings gently. That means that they must not sponsor them but at the same time act to prevent the repressive regimes from crushing them.
This is a complex maneuver. The West supporting the rebels will turn it into another phase of Western imperialism, under this theory. But the failure to support the rising will be a betrayal of fundamental moral principles. Leaving aside whether the narrative is accurate, reconciling these two principles is not easy — but it particularly appeals to Europeans with their ideological preference for “soft power.”
The West has been walking a tightrope of these contradictory principles; Libya became the place where they fell off. According to the narrative, what happened in Libya was another in a series of democratic uprisings, but in this case suppressed with a brutality outside the bounds of what could be tolerated. Bahrain apparently was inside the bounds, and Egypt was a success, but Libya was a case in which the world could not stand aside while Gadhafi destroyed a democratic uprising. Now, the fact that the world had stood aside for more than 40 years while Gadhafi brutalized his own and other people was not the issue. In the narrative being told, Libya was no longer an isolated tyranny but part of a widespread rising — and the one in which the West’s moral integrity was being tested in the extreme. Now was different from before.
Of course, as with other countries, there was a massive divergence between the narrative and what actually happened. Certainly, that there was unrest in Tunisia and Egypt caused opponents of Gadhafi to think about opportunities, and the apparent ease of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings gave them some degree of confidence. But it would be an enormous mistake to see what has happened in Libya as a mass, liberal democratic uprising. The narrative has to be strained to work in most countries, but in Libya, it breaks down completely.
The Libyan Uprising
As we have pointed out, the Libyan uprising consisted of a cluster of tribes and personalities, some within the Libyan government, some within the army and many others longtime opponents of the regime, all of whom saw an opportunity at this particular moment. Though many in western portions of Libya, notably in the cities of Zawiya and Misurata, identify themselves with the opposition, they do not represent the heart of the historic opposition to Tripoli found in the east. It is this region, known in the pre-independence era as Cyrenaica, that is the core of the opposition movement. United perhaps only by their opposition to Gadhafi, these people hold no common ideology and certainly do not all advocate Western-style democracy. Rather, they saw an opportunity to take greater power, and they tried to seize it.
According to the narrative, Gadhafi should quickly have been overwhelmed — but he wasn’t. He actually had substantial support among some tribes and within the army. All of these supporters had a great deal to lose if he was overthrown. Therefore, they proved far stronger collectively than the opposition, even if they were taken aback by the initial opposition successes. To everyone’s surprise, Gadhafi not only didn’t flee, he counterattacked and repulsed his enemies.
This should not have surprised the world as much as it did. Gadhafi did not run Libya for the past 42 years because he was a fool, nor because he didn’t have support. He was very careful to reward his friends and hurt and weaken his enemies, and his supporters were substantial and motivated. One of the parts of the narrative is that the tyrant is surviving only by force and that the democratic rising readily routs him. The fact is that the tyrant had a lot of support in this case, the opposition wasn’t particularly democratic, much less organized or cohesive, and it was Gadhafi who routed them.
As Gadhafi closed in on Benghazi, the narrative shifted from the triumph of the democratic masses to the need to protect them from Gadhafi — hence the urgent calls for airstrikes. But this was tempered by reluctance to act decisively by landing troops, engaging the Libyan army and handing power to the rebels: Imperialism had to be avoided by doing the least possible to protect the rebels while arming them to defeat Gadhafi. Armed and trained by the West, provided with command of the air by the foreign air forces — this was the arbitrary line over which the new government keeps from being a Western puppet. It still seems a bit over the line, but that’s how the story goes.
In fact, the West is now supporting a very diverse and sometimes mutually hostile group of tribes and individuals, bound together by hostility to Gadhafi and not much else. It is possible that over time they could coalesce into a fighting force, but it is far more difficult imagining them defeating Gadhafi’s forces anytime soon, much less governing Libya together. There are simply too many issues between them. It is, in part, these divisions that allowed Gadhafi to stay in power as long as he did. The West’s ability to impose order on them without governing them, particularly in a short amount of time, is difficult to imagine. They remind me of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, anointed by the Americans, distrusted by much of the country and supported by a fractious coalition.
There are other factors involved, of course. Italy has an interest in Libyan oil, and the United Kingdom was looking for access to the same. But just as Gadhafi was happy to sell the oil, so would any successor regime be; this war was not necessary to guarantee access to oil. NATO politics also played a role. The Germans refused to go with this operation, and that drove the French closer to the Americans and British. There is the Arab League, which supported a no-fly zone (though it did an about-face when it found out that a no-fly zone included bombing things) and offered the opportunity to work with the Arab world.
But it would be a mistake to assume that these passing interests took precedence over the ideological narrative, the genuine belief that it was possible to thread the needle between humanitarianism and imperialism — that it was possible to intervene in Libya on humanitarian grounds without thereby interfering in the internal affairs of the country. The belief that one can take recourse to war to save the lives of the innocent without, in the course of that war, taking even more lives of innocents, also was in play.
The comparison to Iraq is obvious. Both countries had a monstrous dictator. Both were subjected to no-fly zones. The no-fly zones don’t deter the dictator. In due course, this evolves into a massive intervention in which the government is overthrown and the opposition goes into an internal civil war while simultaneously attacking the invaders. Of course, alternatively, this might play out like the Kosovo war, where a few months of bombing saw the government surrender the province. But in that case, only a province was in play. In this case, although focused ostensibly on the east, Gadhafi in effect is being asked to give up everything, and the same with his supporters — a harder business.
In my view, waging war to pursue the national interest is on rare occasion necessary. Waging war for ideological reasons requires a clear understanding of the ideology and an even clearer understanding of the reality on the ground. In this intervention, the ideology is not crystal clear, torn as it is between the concept of self-determination and the obligation to intervene to protect the favored faction. The reality on the ground is even less clear. The reality of democratic uprisings in the Arab world is much more complicated than the narrative makes it out to be, and the application of the narrative to Libya simply breaks down. There is unrest, but unrest comes in many sizes, democratic being only one.
Whenever you intervene in a country, whatever your intentions, you are intervening on someone’s side. In this case, the United States, France and Britain are intervening in favor of a poorly defined group of mutually hostile and suspicious tribes and factions that have failed to coalesce, at least so far, into a meaningful military force. The intervention may well succeed. The question is whether the outcome will create a morally superior nation. It is said that there can’t be anything worse than Gadhafi. But Gadhafi did not rule for 42 years because he was simply a dictator using force against innocents, but rather because he speaks to a real and powerful dimension of Libya.
Libya, the West and the Narrative of Democracy is republished with permission of STRATFOR.
August 13, 2010
Thanks to Cory Harden for sharing this information:
On June 28, 2010, MHA-Hawai`i presented a Brown Bag Mental Health Seminar called “Understanding the Effects of War.”
Judge Michael Broderick, Lead Judge of the Special Division of the Family Court, which includes domestic abuse cases, explained that the most common theme among military families experiencing domestic violence is, “Where has he gone?” They are wondering why the soldier they love has come back, seemingly a different person.
“I do not hear this about any other category of person in my court.” He quoted:
* “He was one type of man before he was deployed, and he is another type of man after he has returned.”
* “I don’t recognize my husband.”
* “He never acted that way before he went to war.”
* “Ever since he came back from Iraq, he has not been himself.”
* “I want my husband back.”
* “He is an angry, depressed, suicidal person; he was never any of those things before he went to war.”
It is the Judge’s observation that war has significantly damaged the vast majority of men who appear on his domestic abuse calendar.
He explained that 5% -10% of the domestic abuse cases in his court involve soldiers; that equals to 15 a week, or about 720 a year on Oahu alone.
His is a civil, not a criminal calendar, which means the cases involve physical abuse, malicious property damage or extreme psychological abuse. These range from relatively mild (“shoved me in the shoulder”) to very severe (“threw me down the stairs, kicked me in the ribs, put a knife to my throat, and said, ‘If you ever leave me I will kill you.’”)
“Unfortunately,” said Judge Broderick, “most of the allegations involving soldiers are on the severe end of the spectrum.”
These severe cases involve choking, punching, threatening to kill the spouse/girlfriend, breaking down a locked bedroom door, calling 50 times a day, and sending 100 text messages over 48 hours. Many involve romantic jealousy – the accurate, or inaccurate, belief by the man that his wife/girlfriend is involved with someone else – and this often involves the period while the soldier was at war.
Children are often part of the restraining orders Judge Broderick issues, because, he said, “It has become crystal clear that children who are exposed to domestic violence, who hear it or see it, are damaged.”
Timing of when the military domestic violence cases come to his court is important. “These cases,” continued Judge Broderick, “come to court almost always within days or weeks of the soldier returning from the war.”
“And the more deployments, the more severe the abuse,” he reported.
One piece of good news: the Judiciary has recently convened a committee to look into the development of a Veterans Court, which would divert soldiers who are accused of certain crimes into treatment rather than sending them to jail.
June 16, 2010
General David Petraeus faints during grilling over US in Afghanistan
• Hearing suspended for the day as Petraeus recovers
• Dehydration, jetlag and lack of food cited as causes
Ewen MacAskill in Washington
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 15 June 2010 20.21 BST
America’s top commander, General David Petraeus, fainted during a congressional hearing as he was being grilled by senators sceptical about US strategy in Afghanistan.
His collapse came about an hour into the hearing as a Republican senator, John McCain, questioned him about recent setbacks. McCain stopped mid-sentence, his face frozen, as Petraeus slumped forward from his seat on to the witness table.
The hearing was suspended as Petraeus, looking dazed, was led out by army colleagues. He returned 20 minutes later, blaming not McCain’s questions but dehydration.
He told the senators he wanted to continue but the chairman of the Senate armed services committee, Carl Levin, overruled him, and postponed the hearing until tomorrow morning.
The hearing is being held against a backdrop of growing unease about the war in Afghanistan. A long-trumpeted offensive against the Taliban in Kandahar province had to be delayed until at least September, while there are fresh doubts over the loyalty to the US of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.
Casualties have been climbing in the last few weeks, with five Nato fatalities today, three of them British. Two of the British soldiers were shot dead in Helmand province and a third died from wounds sustained in an exchange of fire on Sunday, also in Helmand.
In Congress, both McCain and his Democratic colleague, Levin, pressed Petraeus on whether it was feasible for US forces to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan in July next year, the deadline set by the US president, Barack Obama.
“I am deeply concerned about our campaign in Afghanistan. Many of the key trends seem to be heading in a bad direction, perhaps even signalling a mounting crisis,” McCain said.
In the opening first hour, McCain and Levin both kept returning to the withdrawal deadline. Petraeus, 57, a four-star general who was treated last year for prostate cancer, seemed sprightly at the start of the hearing. He had returned to Washington to give evidence at the end of a week-long overseas trip and could have been suffering from jetlag or stress.
In the five minutes before he fainted, he turned pale, his eyes began to glaze over and his speech slowed down as if he had trouble gathering his thoughts. He was repeatedly sipping from a glass of water.
Reflecting opinion among politicians in Washington that there will be only a token withdrawal next year and that the US will be in Afghanistan for years to come, Levin asked Petraeus if he fully supported Obama’s deadline. Petraeus, who had earlier in the hearing qualified the deadline, saying it would be based on conditions on the ground, hesitated for what seemed like an embarrassingly long time. He finally said the military had to be careful with timelines.
Levin asked him if that was a qualified yes, a qualified no or a non-answer. Petraeus said it was a qualified yes.
McCain questioned him about an Afghan intelligence chief liked by the US but sacked by Karzai last week who claimed Karzai was losing faith in the US and planned to shift his loyalty to the Taliban. It was about then that Petraeus collapsed. After being escorted out, Levin, McCain and other senators milled around their desks. Levin made a brief announcement to say Petraeus was recovering: “He’s eating. He probably didn’t have enough water to drink coming in here this morning.”
Petraeus returned shortly afterwards to applause, shook hands with the senators and resumed his seat. “I was feeling a bit light-headed there,” he said. “It was not senator McCain’s questions. I just got dehydrated.”
Temperatures in Washington in the last few days have reached over 32C (90F), added to which Petraeus said he had not had breakfast that morning. His spokesman, Colonel Erik Gunhus, added jet lag to the list of possible explanations.
Petraeus, who is credited in the US with having turned the war around in Iraq, is being touted by supporters as a potential Republican candidate for the 2012 presidential race. Petraeus has denied he is planning to stand.
Question marks over candidates’ health have ruled out would-be candidates in the past.
June 8, 2010
President Obama is using more “extraterritorial” and “extralegal” tactics than Bush in the U.S. global and permanent state of imperial warfare. The following article from the Washington Post describes how the Obama Administration has expanded the use of special forces to conduct covert operations in 75 countries, up from 60 countries the year before. The U.S. is conducting illegal warfare in other countries without formal declarations of war or UN approval. Many civilians are killed in these long distance drone assassinations.
U.S. ‘secret war’ expands globally as Special Operations forces take larger role
By Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 4, 2010; A01
Beneath its commitment to soft-spoken diplomacy and beyond the combat zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Obama administration has significantly expanded a largely secret U.S. war against al-Qaeda and other radical groups, according to senior military and administration officials.
Special Operations forces have grown both in number and budget, and are deployed in 75 countries, compared with about 60 at the beginning of last year. In addition to units that have spent years in the Philippines and Colombia, teams are operating in Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.
Commanders are developing plans for increasing the use of such forces in Somalia, where a Special Operations raid last year killed the alleged head of al-Qaeda in East Africa. Plans exist for preemptive or retaliatory strikes in numerous places around the world, meant to be put into action when a plot has been identified, or after an attack linked to a specific group.
The surge in Special Operations deployments, along with intensified CIA drone attacks in western Pakistan, is the other side of the national security doctrine of global engagement and domestic values President Obama released last week.
One advantage of using “secret” forces for such missions is that they rarely discuss their operations in public. For a Democratic president such as Obama, who is criticized from either side of the political spectrum for too much or too little aggression, the unacknowledged CIA drone attacks in Pakistan, along with unilateral U.S. raids in Somalia and joint operations in Yemen, provide politically useful tools.
Obama, one senior military official said, has allowed “things that the previous administration did not.”
Special Operations commanders have also become a far more regular presence at the White House than they were under George W. Bush’s administration, when most briefings on potential future operations were run through the Pentagon chain of command and were conducted by the defense secretary or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“We have a lot more access,” a second military official said. “They are talking publicly much less but they are acting more. They are willing to get aggressive much more quickly.”
The White House, he said, is “asking for ideas and plans . . . calling us in and saying, ‘Tell me what you can do. Tell me how you do these things.’ ”
The Special Operations capabilities requested by the White House go beyond unilateral strikes and include the training of local counterterrorism forces and joint operations with them. In Yemen, for example, “we are doing all three,” the official said. Officials who spoke about the increased operations were not authorized to discuss them on the record.
The clearest public description of the secret-war aspects of the doctrine came from White House counterterrorism director John O. Brennan. He said last week that the United States “will not merely respond after the fact” of a terrorist attack but will “take the fight to al-Qaeda and its extremist affiliates whether they plot and train in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and beyond.”
That rhetoric is not much different than Bush’s pledge to “take the battle to the enemy . . . and confront the worst threats before they emerge.” The elite Special Operations units, drawn from all four branches of the armed forces, became a frontline counterterrorism weapon for the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
But Obama has made such forces a far more integrated part of his global security strategy. He has asked for a 5.7 percent increase in the Special Operations budget for fiscal 2011, for a total of $6.3 billion, plus an additional $3.5 billion in 2010 contingency funding.
Bush-era clashes between the Defense and State departments over Special Operations deployments have all but ceased. Former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld saw them as an independent force, approving in some countries Special Operations intelligence-gathering missions that were so secret that the U.S. ambassador was not told they were underway. But the close relationship between Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is said to have smoothed out the process.
“In some places, we are quite obvious in our presence,” Adm. Eric T. Olson, head of the Special Operations Command, said in a speech. “In some places, in deference to host-country sensitivities, we are lower in profile. In every place, Special Operations forces activities are coordinated with the U.S. ambassador and are under the operational control of the four-star regional commander.”
Chains of command
Gen. David H. Petraeus at the Central Command and others were ordered by the Joint Staff under Bush to develop plans to use Special Operations forces for intelligence collection and other counterterrorism efforts, and were given the authority to issue direct orders to them. But those orders were formalized only last year, including in a CENTCOM directive outlining operations throughout South Asia, the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.
The order, whose existence was first reported by the New York Times, includes intelligence collection in Iran, although it is unclear whether Special Operations forces are active there.
The Tampa-based Special Operations Command is not entirely happy with its subordination to regional commanders and, in Afghanistan and Iraq, to theater commanders. Special Operations troops within Afghanistan had their own chain of command until early this year, when they were brought under the unified direction of the overall U.S. and NATO commander there, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, and his operational deputy, Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez.
“Everybody working in CENTCOM works for Dave Petraeus,” a military official said. “Our issue is that we believe our theater forces should be under a Special Operations theater commander, instead of . . . Rodriguez, who is a conventional [forces] guy who doesn’t know how to do what we do.”
Special Operations troops train for years in foreign cultures and language, and consider themselves a breed apart from what they call “general purpose forces.” Special Operations troops sometimes bridle at ambassadorial authority to “control who comes in and out of their country,” the official said. Operations have also been hindered in Pakistan — where Special Operations trainers hope to nearly triple their current deployment to 300 — by that government’s delay in issuing the visas.
Although pleased with their expanded numbers and funding, Special Operations commanders would like to devote more of their force to global missions outside war zones. Of about 13,000 Special Operations forces deployed overseas, about 9,000 are evenly divided between Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Eighty percent of our investment is now in resolving current conflicts, not in building capabilities with partners to avoid future ones,” one official said.
The force has also chafed at the cumbersome process under which the president or his designee, usually Gates, must authorize its use of lethal force outside war zones. Although the CIA has the authority to designate targets and launch lethal missiles in Pakistan’s western tribal areas, attacks such as last year’s in Somalia and Yemen require civilian approval.
The United Nations, in a report this week, questioned the administration’s authority under international law to conduct such raids, particularly when they kill innocent civilians. One possible legal justification — the permission of the country in question — is complicated in places such as Pakistan and Yemen, where the governments privately agree but do not publicly acknowledge approving the attacks.
Former Bush officials, still smarting from accusations that their administration overextended the president’s authority to conduct lethal activities around the world at will, have asked similar questions. “While they seem to be expanding their operations both in terms of extraterritoriality and aggressiveness, they are contracting the legal authority upon which those expanding actions are based,” said John B. Bellinger III, a senior legal adviser in both of Bush’s administrations.
The Obama administration has rejected the constitutional executive authority claimed by Bush and has based its lethal operations on the authority Congress gave the president in 2001 to use “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons” he determines “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the Sept. 11 attacks.
Many of those currently being targeted, Bellinger said, “particularly in places outside Afghanistan,” had nothing to do with the 2001 attacks.
April 27, 2010
The American Military is Creating an Environmental Disaster in Afghanistan
By Matthew Nasuti
Global Research, April 27, 2010
Kabul Press – 2010-04-25
The American military presence in Afghanistan consists of fleets of aircraft, helicopters, armored vehicles, weapons, equipment, troops and facilities. Since 2001, they have generated millions of kilograms of hazardous, toxic and radioactive wastes. The Kabul Press asks the simple question:
“What have the Americans done with all that waste?”
The answer is chilling in that virtually all of it appears to have been buried, burned or secretly disposed of into the air, soil, groundwater and surface waters of Afghanistan. While the Americans may begin to withdraw next year, the toxic chemicals they leave behind will continue to pollute for centuries. Any abandoned radioactive waste may stain the Afghan countryside for thousands of years. Afghanistan has been described in the past as the graveyard of foreign armies. Today, Afghanistan has a different title:
“Afghanistan is the toxic dumping ground for foreign armies.”
The (U.S.) Air Force Times ran an editorial on March 1, 2010, that read: “Stamp Out Burn Pits” We reprint here the first half of that editorial:
“A growing number of military medical professionals believe burn pits are causing a wave of respiratory and other illnesses among troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Found on almost all U.S. bases in the war zones, these open-air trash sites operate 24 hours a day, incinerating trash of all forms — including plastic bottles, paint, petroleum products, unexploded ordinance, hazardous materials, even amputated limbs and medical waste. Their smoke plumes belch dioxin, carbon monoxide and other toxins skyward, producing a toxic fog that hangs over living and working areas. Yet while the Air Force fact sheet flatly states that burn pits “can be harmful to human health and environment and should only be used until more suitable disposal capabilities are established,” the Pentagon line is that burn pits have “no known long-term health effects.”
On April 12, 2010, the Richmond Times-Dispatch carried an article by David Zucchino who investigated the American burn pits in Iraq. He interviewed Army Sgt. 1st Class Francis Jaeger who hauled military waste to the Balad burn pit which was being operated by a civilian contractor for the Pentagon. Jaeger told Zucchino:
“We were told to burn everything – electronics, bloody gauze, the medics’ biohazard bags, surgical gloves, cardboard. It all went up in smoke.”
The Pentagon now admits to operating 84 “official” burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. The number of unofficial burn pits is not known. The Pentagon claims that it is phasing out its burn pits in favor of incinerators and that 27 incinerators are currently operating in Iraq and Afghanistan with 82 more to be added in the near future.
According to a website called the “Burn Pits Action Center,” hundreds of American veterans who came in contact with burn pit smoke have been diagnosed with cancer, neurological diseases, cardiovascular disease, breathing and sleeping problems and various skin rashes. In 2009, they filed more than 30 lawsuits in Federal courts across the United States, naming Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR), and its former parent company Halliburton. These companies were named because of their involvement in the LOGCAP (Logistics Civil Augmentation Program) contracts for Iraq and Afghanistan. Several KBR entities either managed or assisted in the management of the American military’s waste in both countries and allegedly operated some or all of the burn pits. Additional lawsuits were filed in 2010, including one in Federal District Court in New Jersey.
The lawsuits reveal that the Pentagon has ignored American and international environmental laws and the results appear to be the widespread release of hazardous pollutants into the air, soil, surface water and groundwater across Afghanistan. This is a persistent problem that continues today. Unlike Saudi Arabia which insisted that American forces cleanup their pollution after the war to oust Iraq from Kuwait in 1991, or the Government of Canada which likewise insisted on a strict cleanup of American bases on its soil, the Government of Afghanistan has been unable to force the Americans and their allies to repair all the environmental damage that they have caused and continue to cause. Afghanistan does not want to wind up like Vietnam. While American ground combat units withdrew from South Vietnam in 1972, neither Vietnam nor its people have recovered from the long term environmental damage and mutagenic effects that American military operations and their exotic chemicals caused.
This article summarizes the problem of America’s military wastes and examines the types of hazardous wastes that are likely to have been released into Afghanistan.
Part 2 of this series will address the contradictory responses by the Pentagon to this problem and it will explore one of the remedies that the Pentagon is currently implementing, which is to phase out the burn pits, replacing them with incinerators. The article examines the flaws in that strategy and why Afghanistan should carefully consider whether to permit the continued use of military incinerators.
Part 3 of this series will set out the recommendations of the author to the Government of Afghanistan on how to investigate and clean up the pollution of Afghanistan’s countryside caused by the burn pits, landfills and other disposal facilities used by American forces.
The Sources or Means by Which the Various Wastes Are Being Released
The American military hazardous wastes that are believed to have entered the air, soil, groundwater and surface water of Afghanistan did so through the following methods (this list is partial only):
Burying/landfilling of the waste and ash
Leaking storage tanks, sumps and basins
Categories of Amercian Military Waste
The American military’s waste, at this time, cannot be completely characterized. The volume and variety of waste (i.e., thousands of different chemicals) are not known and there are certain to be classified items and materials which have been brought into Afghanistan for which there may be no documentation. Regardless of that, much is known about the materials and chemicals that the military routinely uses and about the waste that it routinely generates. Most American military wastes will falls into one of the following twelve (12) categories:
The Dirty Dozen:
1. Fuel leaks and spills. These include releases of aviation fuel, gasoline and diesel fuel. These releases would range from large releases at American airbases of hundreds or even thousands of liters, to minor spills at Forward Operating Bases and combat outposts as soldiers seek to refill diesel generators. Petroleum residues have the ability to leach rapidly into underground drinking water aquifers and create plumes that will permanently contaminate local wells. There is no known way to completely remediate a groundwater source after it has been contaminated with hydrocarbons.
2. Paints, asbestos, solvents, grease, cleaning solutions (such as perchloethylene) and building materials that contain formaldehyde, copper, arsenic and hydrogen cyanide.
3. Hydraulic fluids, aircraft de-icing fluids, antifreeze and used oil. Used oil is carcinogenic, anti-freeze is poisonous, de-icing fluids can contain hazardous ethylene and propylene glycol, along with toxic additives such as benzotriazoce (which is a corrosion and flame inhibitor). Hydraulic fluids can contain TPP (triphenyl phosphate).
4. Pesticide/poison leaks and spills: Afghanistan apparently has no list of the pesticides, fungicides, termiticides and other poisons that the Americans brought into Afghanistan and used, spilled and released into the countryside in order to control flies, mosquitos, ants, fleas and rodents. The military refers to such practices as “vector control.” It is expected that the list of such neuro-toxins and the quantity sprayed or spilled throughout Afghanistan is staggering.
5. Lead, nickel, zinc and cadmium battery waste and acids (which are toxic and/or corrosive).
6. Electronic waste (or E-waste). This includes computers, printers, faxes, screens, televisions, radios, refrigerators, communications gear, test equipment. They contain cancer-causing chemicals such as the flame retardant PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), PCDD (polychlorinated dioxins), barium, copper, lead, zinc, cadmium oxides and cadmium sulphides and trivalent antimony, which is eco-toxic.
7. Light bulbs. This may not seem important but many military light bulbs are fluorescent and therefore contain toxic levels of mercury. Disposal of these light bulbs in ordinary landfills is prohibited in the United States.
8. Plastics. The U.S. military uses thousands of different types and formulations of plastic. While most are harmless in their present state, such as plastic water bottles and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) piping, the military has been burning its plastic waste in Afghanistan. When burned, many plastics release a deadly mix of chemicals including dioxins, furans, benzene, di 2-ethylhexyl phthalates (DEHP), hydrochloric acid, benzo(a)pyrene (BAP) and various acids and chlorine gas (which is a neurotoxin). Breathing a few seconds of this mixture in a concentrated form would likely be fatal.
9. Medical Waste. Infectious disease waste and biohazard materials, including used syringes, bloody bandages, sheets, gloves, expired drugs, amputated limbs and animal carcasses.
10. Ammunition waste. Lead, brass and other metals from ammunition along with all the constituents of the propellants, including trininitrotoluene, picric acid, diphenylamine, nitrocellulose, nitroglycerin, potassium nitrate, barium nitrate, tetracene, diazodintrophenol, phosphorus, peroxides, thiocarbamate, potassium chlorate, vinyl fluoride, vinyl chloride, sodium fluoride and sodium sulfate.
11. Radioactive waste. When one thinks of radioactive waste, usually one thinks only of atomic weapons, but that is not the case. The American military routinely uses a variety of devices and equipment that contain radioactive elements or radioluminescent elements. These materials are referred to as “Radioactive Commodities” by the American military. The primary radioactive materials are: Uranium, Tritium, Radium 226, Americium 241, Thorium, Cesium 137 and Plutonium 239.
Some of the equipment containing radioactive elements:
Night Vision Devices
M-16 Front Sight Post Assemblies
M72 Light Antitank Weapons
T-55 Aircraft Engine components
M58 and M59 Light Aiming Posts
M4 Front Sight Post Assemblies
RADIAC Calibrator Sets and Check Sources
L4A1 Quadrant Fire Control Devices
Fire Control Azimuths
M-1 Muzzle Reference Sensors
Soil Moisture Density Testers
TACOM Vehicle Dials and Gauges
Radios, including VRC-46/GRC-106/GRC-19
Chemical Agent Monitors
Vehicle Depleted Uranium Plates
Depleted Uranium Ammunition, including 20 millimeter ammunition
Electron Tubes for Communications Equipment
Various types of Laboratory and Hospital Analysis and Testing Machines.
Note: The American military will likely insist that it strictly controls the disposal of radioactive waste, but such assertions are not credible. While there are strict regulations, the time and cost of complying with them in a war zone are such that base commanders in Afghanistan most likely ignored them, opting instead for throwing the waste into burn pits. The evidence for this is contained in Part 3 of this Report, which cites to a Pentagon-funded study of what American field commanders think of the Pentagon’s environmental regulations.
If the American military continues to insist that it did not release radioactive materials in Afghanistan it should document such assertions by releasing its records. The Pentagon should publicly release all data on every radioactive commodity brought into Afghanistan. They should all be listed in HMIRS (the Hazardous Materials Information System). The Pentagon should then detail where each commodity is today.
12. Grey and Black Water. The American military and its contractors in Afghanistan operate human waste facilities. The military refers to these as LSS (Latrine, Shower and Shave) facilities. They generate what is known as grey and black waste-water. Grey water from sinks and showers has as its primary pollutant soap residue (i.e., phosphates and other chemicals that generate what is known as BOD – biological oxygen demand, which means they can absorb all the available oxygen in streams and rivers so fish cannot breathe). Some American soaps contain additives such as MIT (methylisothiazolinone), which is under investigation as a toxin.
Latrines generate black water pollution. While the American military has to adhere to strict rules regarding the discharge of such waste in the United States, it faces no restrictions in Afghanistan. Latrines can be dug near ground water and even upgradient from surface water (so that discharges can flow into them). There are no known maps of all the American latrines. After a latrine pit is filled, it is apparently covered over with dirt and forgotten.
While environmental releases involving categories 1 and 12 above are a certainty, it is feared that millions of kilograms and millions of liters of wastes set out in categories 2 through 11 were all thrown into the hundreds of American burn pits in Afghanistan or dumped into secret landfills. If true, the American legacy to Afghanistan is not freedom, but pollution.
In February 2010, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs began an 18-month study of the burn pits in Afghanistan and their effect on human health. Afghanistan cannot wait eighteen months for the results of this study, it has to act now.
The author is a former U.S. Air Force Captain. He advised on environmental cleanups at Logistics Command regarding the Air Force’s most contaminated bases and depots. He then worked for Bechtel Environmental and was involved in Superfund cleanups across the United States and radiological cleanups at U.S. Department of Energy sites. He later served as a consultant to a group of environmental remediation companies, smelters and waste recyclers.
Sources for Further Reading:
Houston Chronicle – February 7, 2010 – “GIs tell of horror from burn pits”
Los Angeles Times – February 18, 2010 – “Veterans speak out against burn pits”
The New York Times – February 25, 2010 – “Health Panel Begins Probing Impacts of Burn Pits”
Salem-News – March 29, 2010 – “Sick Veterans Sue KBR Over Iraq and Afghanistan Burn Pits”
AFP – November 10, 2009 – “Troops sue KBR over toxic waste in Iraq, Afghanistan”
U.S. Department of the Army Pamphlet 700-48