Archive | Afghanistan

Yes, It’s Time to Come Home—Now

Actually ending the war in Afghanistan.

by: Andrew Bacevich

As Americans learned in Vietnam, the only way to end a war gone wrong is to leave the field of battle. (Photo: Sergeant Joseph R. Chenelly / United States Marine Corps)

As Americans learned in Vietnam, the only way to end a war gone wrong is to leave the field of battle. (Photo: Sergeant Joseph R. Chenelly / United States Marine Corps)

Let’s open up and sing, and ring the bells out
Ding-dong! the merry-oh sing it high, sing it low
Let them know the wicked witch is dead!

Within establishment circles, Donald Trump’s failure to win re-election has prompted merry singing and bell-ringing galore. If you read the New York Times or watch MSNBC, the song featured in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz nicely captures the mood of the moment.

As a consequence, expectations for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to put America back on the path to the Emerald City after a dispiriting four-year detour are sky-high. The new administration will defeat Covid-19, restore prosperity, vanquish racism, reform education, expand healthcare coverage, tackle climate change, and provide an effective and humane solution to the problem of undocumented migrants. Oh, and Biden will also return the United States to its accustomed position of global leadership. And save America’s soul to boot.

So we are told.

That these expectations are deemed even faintly credible qualifies as passing strange. After all, the outcome of the 2020 presidential election turned less on competing approaches to governance than on the character of the incumbent. It wasn’t Joe Biden as principled standard-bearer of enlightened twenty-first-century liberalism who prevailed. It was Joe Biden, a retread centrist pol who emerged as the last line of defense shielding America and the world from four more years of Donald Trump.

So the balloting definitively resolved only a single question: by 80 million to 74 million votes, a margin of six million, Americans signaled their desire to terminate Trump’s lease on the White House. Yet even if repudiating the president, voters hardly repudiated Trumpism. Republicans actually gained seats in the House of Representatives and appear likely to retain control of the Senate.

On November 3rd, a twofold transfer of power commenced. A rapt public has fixed its attention on the first of those transfers: Biden’s succession to the presidency (and Trump’s desperate resistance to the inevitable outcome). But a second, hardly less important transfer of power is also occurring. Once it became clear that Trump was not going to win a second term, control of the Republican Party began reverting from the president to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The implications of that shift are immense, as Biden, himself a longtime member of the Senate, no doubt appreciates.

Consider this telling anecdote from former President Barack Obama’s just-published memoir. Obama had tasked then-Vice President Biden with cajoling McConnell into supporting a piece of legislation favored by the administration. After Biden made his pitch, the hyper-partisan McConnell dourly replied, “You must be under the mistaken impression that I care.” End of negotiation.

Perhaps the Democrats will miraculously win both Senate seats in Georgia’s January runoff elections and so consign McConnell to the status of minority leader. If they don’t, let us not labor under the mistaken impression that he’ll support Biden’s efforts to defeat Covid-19, restore prosperity, vanquish racism, reform education, expand healthcare coverage, tackle climate change, or provide an effective and humane solution to the problem of undocumented migrants.

It’s a given that McConnell isn’t any more interested in saving souls than he is in passing legislation favored by Democrats. That leaves restoring American global leadership as the sole remaining arena where President Biden might elicit from a McConnell-controlled GOP something other than unremitting obstructionism.

And that, in turn, brings us face to face with the issue Democrats and Republicans alike would prefer to ignore: the U.S. penchant for war. Since the end of the Cold War and especially since the terror attacks of 9/11, successive administrations have relied on armed force to assert, affirm, or at least shore up America’s claim to global leadership. The results have not been pretty. A series of needless and badly mismanaged wars have contributed appreciably—more even than Donald Trump’s zany ineptitude—to the growing perception that the United States is now a declining power. That perception is not without validity. Over the past two decades, wars have depleted America’s strength and undermined its global influence.

So, as the U.S. embarks on the post-Trump era, what are the prospects that a deeply divided government presiding over a deeply divided polity will come to a more reasoned and prudent attitude toward war? A lot hinges on whether Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell can agree on an answer to that question.

An Unexpected Gift for “Sleepy Joe”

As his inevitable exit from the White House approaches, President Trump himself may be forcing the issue.

One of the distinctive attributes of our 45th president is that he never seemed terribly interested in actually tending to the duties of his office. He does not, in fact, possess a work ethic in any traditional sense. He prefers to swagger and strut rather than deliberate and decide. Once it became clear that he wasn’t going to win a second term, he visibly gave up even the pretense of governing. Today, he golfs, tweets, and rails. According to news reports, he no longer even bothers to set aside time for the daily presidential intelligence briefing.

As the clock runs out, however, certain Trumpian impulses remain in play. The war in Afghanistan, now in its 19th year, offers a notable example. In 2001, President George W. Bush ordered U.S. forces to invade the country, but prematurely turned his attention to a bigger and more disastrous misadventure in Iraq. Barack Obama inherited the Afghanistan War, promised to win it, and ordered a large-scale surge in the U.S. troop presence there. Yet the conflict stubbornly dragged on through his two terms. As for candidate Trump, during campaign 2016, he vowed to end it once and for all. In office, however, he never managed to pull the plug—until now, that is.

Soon after losing the election, the president ousted several senior Pentagon civilians, including Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, and replaced them (for a couple of months anyway) with loyalists sharing his oft-stated commitment to “ending endless wars.” Within days of taking office, new Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller issued a letter to the troops, signaling his own commitment to that task.

“We are not a people of perpetual war,” he wrote, describing endless war as “the antithesis of everything for which we stand and for which our ancestors fought.” The time for accepting the inevitable had now arrived. “All wars must end,” he continued, adding that trying harder was not going to produce a better outcome. “We gave it our all,” he concluded. “Now, it’s time to come home.”

Miller avoided using terms like victory or defeat, success or failure, and did not specify an actual timetable for a full-scale withdrawal. Yet Trump had already made his intentions clear: he wanted all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year and preferably by Christmas. Having forgotten or punted on innumerable other promises, Trump appeared determined to make good on this one. It’s likely, in fact, that Miller’s primary—perhaps only—charge during his abbreviated tour of duty as Pentagon chief is to enable Trump to claim success in terminating at least one war.

So during this peculiar betwixt-and-between moment of ours, with one administration packing its bags and the next one trying to get its bearings, a question of immense significance to the future course of American statecraft presents itself: Will the United States at long last ring down the curtain on the most endless of its endless wars? Or, under the guise of seeking a “responsible end,” will it pursue the irresponsible course of prolonging a demonstrably futile enterprise through another presidency?

As Miller will soon discover, if he hasn’t already, his generals don’t concur with the commander-in-chief’s determination to “come home.” Whether in Afghanistan or Somalia, Iraq, Syria, or Europe, they have demonstrated great skill in foiling his occasional gestures aimed at reducing the U.S. military’s overseas profile.

The available evidence suggests that Joe Biden’s views align with those of the generals. True, the conduct and legacy of recent wars played next to no role in deciding the outcome of the 2020 presidential election (suggesting that many Americans have made their peace with endless war). Still, given expectations that anyone aspiring to high office these days must stake out a position on every conceivable issue and promise something for everyone, candidate Biden spelled out his intentions regarding Afghanistan.

Basically, he wants to have it both ways. So he is on record insisting that “these ‘forever wars’ have to end,” while simultaneously proposing to maintain a contingent of American troops in Afghanistan to “take out terrorist groups who are going to continue to emerge.” In other words, Biden proposes to declare that the longest war in U.S. history has ended, while simultaneously underwriting its perpetuation.

Such a prospect will find favor with the generals, members of the foreign policy establishment, and media hawks. Yet hanging on in Afghanistan (or other active theaters of war) will contribute nothing to Biden’s larger promise to “build back better.” Indeed, the staggering expenses that accompany protracted wars will undermine his prospects of making good on his domestic reform agenda. It’s the dilemma that Lyndon Johnson faced in the mid-1960s: You can have your Great Society, Mr. President, or you can have your war in Vietnam, but you can’t have both.

Biden will face an analogous problem. Put simply, his stated position on Afghanistan is at odds with the larger aspirations of his presidency.

At Long Last an Exit Strategy?

As a practical matter, the odds of Trump actually ending the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan between now and his departure from office are nil. The logistical challenges are daunting, especially given that the pick-up team now running the Pentagon is made up of something other than all-stars. And the generals will surely drag their feet, while mobilizing allies not just in the punditocracy but in the Republican Party itself.

As a practical matter, Acting Secretary Miller has already bowed to reality. The definition of success now is, it seems, to cut the force there roughly in half, from 4,500 to 2,500, by Inauguration Day, with the remainder of U.S. troops supposedly coming out of Afghanistan by May 2021 (months after both Trump and Miller will be out of a job).

So call it Operation Half a Loaf. But half is better than none. Even if Trump won’t succeed in reducing U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan to zero, I’m rooting for him anyway. As, indeed, Joe Biden should be—because if Trump makes headway in shutting down America’s war there, Biden will be among the principal beneficiaries.

Whatever his actual motives, Trump has cracked open a previously shut door to an exit strategy. Through that door lies the opportunity of turning the page on a disastrous era of American statecraft dominated by a misplaced obsession with events in the Greater Middle East.

Twin convictions shaped basic U.S. policy during this period: the first was that the United States has vital interests at stake in this region, even in utterly remote parts of it like Afghanistan; the second, that the United States can best advance those interests by amassing and employing military power. The first of those convictions turned out to be wildly misplaced, the second tragically wrong-headed. Yet pursuant to those very mistaken beliefs, successive administrations have flung away lives, treasure, and influence with complete abandon. The American people have gained less than nothing in return. In fact, in terms of where taxpayer dollars were invested, they’ve lost their shirts.

Acting Secretary Miller’s charge to the troops plainly acknowledges a bitter truth to which too few members of the Washington establishment have been willing to admit: the time to move on from this misguided project is now. To the extent that Donald Trump’s lame-duck administration begins the process of extricating the United States from Afghanistan, he will demonstrate the feasibility of doing so elsewhere as well. Tired arguments for staying the course could then lose their persuasive power.

Doubtless, after all these disastrous years, there will be negative consequences to leaving Afghanistan. Ill-considered and mismanaged wars inevitably yield poisonous fruit. There will be further bills to pay. Still, ending the U.S. war there will establish a precedent for ending our military involvement in Iraq, Syria, and Somalia as well. Terminating direct U.S. military involvement across the Greater Middle East and much of Africa will create an opportunity to reconfigure U.S. policy in a world that has changed dramatically since the United States recklessly embarked upon its crusade to transform great swathes of the Islamic world.

Biden himself should welcome such an opportunity. Admittedly, Mitch McConnell, no longer fully subservient to President Trump, predicts that withdrawing from Afghanistan will produce an outcome “reminiscent of the humiliating American departure from Saigon in 1975.” In reality, of course, failure in Vietnam stemmed not from the decision to leave, but from an erroneous conviction that it was incumbent upon Americans to decide the destiny of the Vietnamese people. The big mistake occurred not in 1975 when American troops finally departed, but a decade earlier when President Johnson decided that it was incumbent upon the United States to Americanize the war.

As Americans learned in Vietnam, the only way to end a war gone wrong is to leave the field of battle. If that describes Trump’s intentions in Afghanistan, then we may finally have some reason to be grateful for his service to our nation. With time, Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell might even come to see the wisdom of doing so.

And then, of course, they can bicker about the shortest path to the Emerald City.

Posted in USA, Afghanistan0 Comments

NATO chief rules out rushed, early exit from Afghanistan

By Jim W. Dean,

…from PressTV, Tehran

[ Editor’s Note: It comes as no surprise that NATO does not want to get out of Afghanistan any time soon. The reasons are the usual ones. First, any deployment closer to Russia is always a good thing, and any possible excuse to maintain it is sufficient.

Peacetime armies are always wanting to keep some troops trained to a war fighting capability. That includes the limited fighting we see NATO engaged in from their operational capacity inside their bases. Along with the US, NATO acts as a palace guard for the current Kabul regime, which has always needed foreign protection.

The other main reason, more important, is to keep intelligence gathering skills tuned up, especially with electronic gathering. Language skills need to be maintained, and the myth of defending Europe from attack from Eurasia has to be maintained to justify NATO’s existence at the level it is at.

Keep in mind my report last year how Germany said it could take five more years before its infantry soldiers all had two pairs of boots. That really shocked me.

And last, there is defending one’s cut of the drug trafficking business, which involves the use of military aircraft as the preferred method of transportation, typically flying into Camp Bondsteel in Romania as a first stop. The cash is divided and used in a number of ways, including flowing into political campaigns and the usual luxury items.

Rural Afghanistan people bear the brunt of fighting the Taliban, which is much more motivated, and the US justifies its existence by providing Kabul troops air cover when it can. Westerners still cannot get their heads wrapped around the salt of the earth attitude Afghanis have toward what they view as foreign invaders.

Sure they love the dollar, and there are many of them to get, but other than that, they have no use for outsiders, as you could say they are caught in a time warp, partly due to their own making.

If left on their own, they will continue killing each other over who is going to be the boss and get the bigger cut of the graft pie. They think, correctly, that if they don’t steal it, then the guy coming behind them will, which is absolutely a sure thing.

It will just be a smaller pie if the US and NATO left. The Russians sure as hell would not be going back. China might want to step in, but they would probably live to regret it Jim W. Dean ]

First aired on PressTV before being blocked

The Press TV Brussels correspondent used up most of the segment time, which started late, 10 minutes, which is usually do to more news clip coverage, so hence my longer intro than usual above. JD

Note: The video link to this interview has been broken…Jim

The NATO chief has ruled out an early exit of the western military alliance from Afghanistan, as violence continues to flare in the war-torn country.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the military alliance will stay in Afghanistan until security conditions allow it to leave. The remarks came less than a week after the US said it will cut the number of its troops in Afghanistan to 25-hundred, early next year.

The comment also comes at a time when the rising violence threatens to thwart ongoing peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban militant group. US-led NATO forces have maintained their presence in Afghanistan since 2003. The alliance currently has around 12000 forces there, more than half of them from the U.S.

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Interrelationship of Afghan and Pakistan Stability

The Taliban have welcomed Donald Trump’s Peace Tweet as a positive step towards the implementation of the US-Taliban peace deal

By Sajjad Shaukat Pak VT

In a tweet, the US President Donald Trump surprisingly announced on October 7, this year that all US troops in Afghanistan could be home by Christmas, putting an end to America’s longest war.

According to the US former officials, “Less than a month before the presidential election, President Trump’s abrupt vow to bring home troops from Afghanistan by year-end is a sign of how he may feel increasingly unchained to push through a foreign policy wish list he hopes could appeal to voters”.

US analysts warned that President Trump’s plan would weaken Kabul’s position in the intra-Afghan talks and would further strengthen the Taliban, who already have an upper hand on the ground.

Notably, a landmark agreement between the US and the Taliban was signed on February 29, 2020 in Doha-the capital of Qatar for bringing peace to Afghanistan.

In the agreement, it is committed that within the first 135 days, the US will reduce its forces in Afghanistan to 8,600 from the current 13,000, working with its other NATO allies to proportionally reduce the number of coalition forces over that period, while America would withdraw all forces from Afghanistan in 14 months. While the Taliban committed not to allow al-Qaeda or any other extremist group to operate in the areas they control.

In this regard, Laurel Miller, who served as acting US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said: “Trump appears to have put his re-election bid above US national security concerns and relations with allies, who serve alongside American troops in Afghanistan.”

Reacting to President Trump’s sudden decision, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated on October 9, this year that its members “would consult and decide together on when to leave Afghanistan…NATO will end its mission in Afghanistan only when conditions on the ground permit”.

On the other side, Taliban welcomed American President Donald Trump’s announcement and called it a “very positive step” towards the implementation of the US-Taliban peace deal.

It is mentionable that Afghanistan’s former Chief Executive and Chairperson of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah visited Pakistan on September 28, 2020 for a three-day trip, during which he met Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Quereshi and Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa.

In the joint conference, with Foreign Minister Qureshi, Abdullah Abdullah said that,

Afghanistan will never “allow its soil to be used by extremist forces, posing a threat to any other nation…the start of intra-Afghan talks between Kabul and the Taliban was an important opportunity, as it offered the best hope to the war behind us…Pakistan and Afghanistan are facing several shared serious threats and challenges, including terrorism, extremism…COVID-19…There is great scope for cooperation.”

Foreign Minister Qureshi assured Afghanistan that Pakistan completely supported its peace initiative, adding that Islamabad wanted to be “friends not masters with the neighboring nation…the new realization and recognition if we have to coexist in peace and build a common future…our security and stability is interlinked…a political settlement is the only solution to the Afghan conflict”.

However, these statements were part of optimism regarding the peace process in Afghanistan and Afghan ruler Abdullah’s double game.

For example, ignoring the fact that New Delhi is destabilizing Afghanistan and Pakistan, during his trip to India, in an interview with ThePrint, Afghan leader Abdullah Abdullah said on October 10, this year that in the meeting with PM Modi, he discussed Kabul’s talks with Taliban and empahsised India’s role in the process—India has been supporting Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and commander of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan Gen. Scott Miller called on Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, on October 8, this year.

According to ISPR, “matters related to mutual interest, peace and stability in the region; Pak-Afghan border management; and current developments in the Afghan peace process were discussed during the meeting. Special Representative for Afghanistan Ambassador Mohammad Sadiq was also present…The visiting dignitaries appreciated Pakistan’s positive role in furthering the Afghan peace process”.

Negotiations between Afghan government and the Taliban were finally held in Doha on September 12, 2020, but produced no results.

Concerning the negotiations, Zalmay Khalilzad predicted on September 25, 2020 that the Taliban would not accept a permanent truce until a political deal is reached with the Afghan government. He added that, in the Doha talks, the two sides have spent more than a week deciding agendas and the manner in which the two sides will be conducting the negotiations.

In this respect, at a hearing in the US House of Representatives, Zalmay Khalilzad warned on September 22, 2020 that violence in Afghanistan remains unacceptably high, and Washington expects more setbacks in ongoing peace talks between Taliban militants and the Afghan government to end two decades of war.

Mr. Khalilzad stated that the decision regarding Afghan peace talks in Doha will be made after the US elections in November.

Earlier, Afghan President Ghani has used various pretexts and delaying tactics in completion of the US-Taliban agreement, including release of the Taliban prisoners. Sometimes, he availed the opportunity of coronavirus pandemic, and sometimes he refused to set free those Taliban, allegedly saying that they had been involved in human crimes.

It is regrettable that on the direction of India, in the recent past, Afghan President Ghani accused Pakistan for terror attacks in Afghanistan.

In fact, New Delhi and Kabul, which are creating obstacles against a reconciliation between the Taliban and the Afghan government, are also exploiting America’s dual policy in Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran.

Regarding Indian activities in Afghanistan, the then NATO commander General McChrystal had pointed out, “Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan…[and] is likely to exacerbate regional tensions.”

Besides, a US-Taliban peace deal would likely render Indian proxy support against Pakistan ineffective. It suits Indian designs for Afghanistan to keep simmering, without moving towards peace.

In this context, reliable sources as mentioned in Pakistan’s media on August 18, 2020 disclosed that Afghanistan-based the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has merged with its splinter groups Jamat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) and Hizb-ul-Ahrar (HuA) in Afghanistan. Their sole objective is to restart terrorist activity in Pakistan, while simultaneously sabotaging efforts to restore peace and stability in its war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) and Indian RAW played a key role in their reunification. The agreement, reportedly, designated Mufti Noor Wali as the amir (Chief) of TTP, making him responsible for all planned terrorist activities inside Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Islamabad has long accused Kabul of turning a blind eye toward TTP and other terrorists who fled to Afghanistan to escape counter-terrorist operations in Pakistan.

According to the UN report of July 26, 2020, “The banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and its splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) continue to target Pakistan from their bases in Afghanistan…the significant presence of ISIL-K (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Khorasan) in Afghanistan”, which the UN warns “now pursues a global agenda”.

The UN report warns of “a strong presence of ISIL-India in Kerala and Karnataka. ISIL-K considers Afghan territory a base for spreading terrorist influence across the wider region…The investigators found links between Indian nationals and terrorist attacks in Sri-Lank”.

Taking cognizance of the present drastic situation, in his article published in The Washington Post on September 26, 2020, Prime Minister Imran Khan has warned against “hasty withdrawal of foreign powers from Afghanistan” and also cautioned that “regional spoilers could use instability in the worn-torn country for their own vested interests…no people have paid a higher price for the conflict in Afghanistan than the people of Pakistan…peace and political stability in Afghanistan could not be imposed from the outside…Only an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led reconciliation process, which recognises Afghanistan’s political realities and diversity, could produce a lasting peace…Pakistan continued to be the target of attacks launched by externally enabled terrorist groups based in Afghanistan…these terrorist groups pose a clear and present danger to global peace”.

It is worth-mentioning that Foreign Minister Qureshi met Zalmay Khalilzad at Islamabad on July 1, 2020. After the meeting, Qureshi stated that “Pakistan is ready to cooperate with regional and international stakeholders for enduring and peaceful political solution to the Afghan issue…the development of whole region depends on establishment of peace in Afghanistan…India has been continuously trying to destabilize Pakistan to divert attention from its internal chaos…India is interfering in Balochistan province of Pakistan at the same time it is also adversely affecting peace efforts in Afghanistan.”

Zalmay Khalilzad who, repeatedly, visited Pakistan and met country’s civil and military leadership admired Pakistan’s role in the US-Taliban peace dialogue. It was due to Pakistan’s key role in Doha that on February 29, this year, the US and the Taliban signed the historical agreement.

Afghan people have suffered from the War on Terror, security issues and political economic instability since the US invasion in 2001. In order to check Indian influence in Afghanistan, Pakistan played proactive role in development of damaged infrastructure as well despite monetary constraints.

Pakistan funded 400-bed Jinnah Hospital in Kabul, Nishtar Kidney Centre in Jalalabad, 200 beds Naeb Aminullah Khan Hospital in Logar, besides giving 45 ambulances to Afghan government—funded educational institutions in Afghanistan including Allama Iqbal Faculty of Arts in Kabul University, Sir Syed Post Graduate Faculty of Sciences in Nangarhar University, Liaquat Ali Khan Engineering University in Bulkh, Rehan Baba School and Rehman baba hostel in Kabul.

About 500,000 refugees-students are enrolled in various schools, colleges and universities in Pakistan—having been offered 3000 fully-funded scholarship for higher education for Afghan students. And around 35,000 Afghans have completed their graduation and Masters from Pakistan in last three decades.

Moreover, Islamabad built 75km Torkham–Jalalabad Road, additional carriage way on Torkham–Jalalabad Road, three internal roads in Jalalabad and digital radio link between Kabul and Peshawar—100 public transport buses and 7200 trucks given to Afghan government by Pakistan—held a week long free eye camp in Jalalabad and treated 4818 patients performed 357 eye surgeries, while distributed 4126 eye glasses. Pakistan has generously hosted nearly 3-5 million Afghan refugees for more than 3 decades.

Afghans are treated with respect in Pakistan. Islamabad’s investment in Afghan infrastructure development is praised by Afghans as well.

Therefore, Pakistan cannot afford instability in Afghanistan, as there is interrelationship of Pak-Afghan stability. India knows that peace in Afghanistan means peace in Pakistan. So, RAW will ensure that Afghanistan should never become a peaceful country.

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Has the US – Taliban Peace Agreement Died?

By VT Editors 

         By Sajjad Shaukat Pak VT

Afghanistan’s former Chief Executive and Chairperson of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation Dr. Abdullah Abdullah arrived in Pakistan on September 28, this year for a three-day visit during which he met Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Quereshi and Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa.

In the joint conference, with Foreign Minister Qureshi, Abdullah Abdullah said that Afghanistan will never allow its soil to be used by extremist forces, posing a threat to any other nation—the start of intra-Afghan talks between Kabul and the Taliban was an important opportunity, as it offered the “best hope “to the war behind us…Pakistan and Afghanistan are facing several shared serious threats and challenges, including terrorism, extremism…COVID-19…There is great scope for cooperation.”

Foreign Minister Quereshi assured Afghanistan that Pakistan completely supported its peace initiative, adding that Islamabad wanted to be “friends not masters with the neighboring nation…the new realization and recognition if we have to coexist in peace and build a common future…our security and stability is interlinked…a political settlement is the only solution to the Afghan conflict”.

However, these statements were part of optimism regarding the peace process in Afghanistan and Afghan ruler Abdullah’s double game.

In this connection, the Afghan government and the Taliban finally held in Doha-the capital of Qatar on September 12, this year—Among others, the key speakers at the event included Abdullah Abdullah, Taliban deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while the Foreign Minister Quereshi addressed the event through video link to bring the NATO’s prolonged war in Afghanistan to an end. But, it produced no results. So, some new developments has raised the question, has the US-Taliban Peace Agreement Dead?

In this regard, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy for Afghanistan, has predicted on September 25, 2020 that the Taliban will not accept a permanent truce until a political deal is reached with the Afghan government.

In the negotiations in Doha, the two sides have so far have spent more than a week deciding agendas and the manner in which the two sides will be conducting the negotiations.

Meanwhile, Taliban allegedly said that Afghan government have killed 65 Taliban militants during a battle in the nation’s eastern provinces as fighting continued to rage between the two sides, while they were holding peace talks.

While, Afghan government claimed that the latest battle took place on September 23, this year after the Taliban fighters stormed a military headquarters building in the Wazi Khwa district of Paktika Province.

In the recent past, Abdullah Abdullah allegedly stated that a number of Taliban prisoners who were released by the Afghan government as a condition for peace talks have returned to the battlefield.  He also said that negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar have been positive. However, it shows contradictory approach of the Afghan ruler.

In this respect, at a hearing in the US House of Representatives, Zalmay Khalilzad warned on September 22, 2020 that violence in Afghanistan remains unacceptably high and Washington expects more setbacks in ongoing peace talks between Taliban militants and the Afghan government to end two decades of war.

He added, “We are under no illusions about the challenges ahead…We expect that there will be obstacles…Since the talks opened in Qatar on September 12, the two sides reportedly remain far from agreement on virtually every issue.

Notably, Mr. Khalilzad stated that the decision on Afghan peace talks in Doha will be made after the US elections in November, explaining:  “I’m hoping that the negotiations will make some progress, but a decision will have to be made after elections as to what happens”.

The talks followed the US and the Taliban agreement, signed on February 29, 2020 for bringing peace to Afghanistan. Through the agreement the US and its NATO allies agreed to withdraw all troops within 14 months, while the Taliban committed not to allow al-Qaeda or any other extremist group to operate in the areas they control. US also agreed to reduce its troops in the country from about 12,000 to 8,600.

The deal also called for the release of thousands of Taliban prisoners ahead of direct talks. But, Afghan rulers were using delaying tactics in this respect. So, the full withdrawal of American/NATO troops was a central Taliban purpose.

But, less than 24 hours after the US-Taliban agreement, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had rejected prisoner swap with Taliban and refused to release the Taliban prisoners.

In a statement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed stated that the Taliban group was living up to its side of the agreement, and that it was willing to negotiate a countrywide cease-fire, including intra-Afghan talks, which had to begin within 10 days of the February 29 deal, but were still on hold because of the political bickering in Kabul.

Nevertheless, due to American pressure, Ghani had started releasing Taliban detainees. The Taliban had also freed many prisoners.

And in response to the air attacks by the Afghan government and the US, the Taliban have carried out almost 2,808 terror assaults. However, Taliban have not attacked the US or NATO troops, as they already stated. But, main purpose the attacks of the US-led Afghan regime were to create an obstacle in implementation of the US-Taliban deal.

Afghan President Ghani has used various pretexts and delaying tactics in completion of the US-Taliban agreement, including release of the Taliban prisoners. Sometimes, he availed the opportunity of coronavirus pandemic and sometimes, he refused to set free those Taliban, allegedly saying that they had been involved in human crimes.

It is regrettable that on the direction of India, in the recent past, Afghan President Ghani accused Pakistan for terror attacks in Afghanistan.

Showing dual policy, recently, Abdullah Abdullah called on America to ask Pakistan, which allegedly maintains ties to the militants, to pressure Taliban to agree to a cease-fire.

In fact, New Delhi and Kabul which want to prolong the stay of the US-led NATO troops in Afghanistan are manipulating the dual policy of America against Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran.

Afghan rulers think that in case, the US-led NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan, their regime will fall like a house of cards owing to the attacks of the Taliban. Even, India would not be in a position to maintain its billions of dollars investments and secret network in wake of the successful guerrilla warfare of the Taliban. So, both the countries want NATO’s permanent entanglement in the Afghan conflict.

Regarding Indian activities in Afghanistan the then NATO commander, Gen. McChrystal had pointed out: “Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan…is likely to exacerbate regional tensions.”

Besides, the US-Taliban peace deal is likely to render Indian proxy support against Pakistan ineffective. It will suit Indian designs, if Afghanistan does not move towards peace and, instead, keeps simmering.

In this context, reliable sources as mentioned in Pakistan’s media on August 18, 2020 disclosed that the Afghanistan based Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has merged with its splinter groups Jamat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) and Hizb-ul-Ahrar (HuA) in Afghanistan. Their sole objective is to restart terrorist activity in Pakistan, while simultaneously sabotaging efforts to restore peace and stability in its war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) and Indian RAW played a key role in their reunification. The agreement, reportedly, designated Mufti Noor Wali as the amir (Chief) of TTP, making him responsible for all planned terrorist activities inside Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Islamabad has long accused Kabul of turning a blind eye toward TTP and other terrorists who fled to Afghanistan to escape counter-terrorist operations in Pakistan.

According to the UN report of July 26, 2020, “The banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and its splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) continue to target Pakistan from their bases in Afghanistan…the significant presence of ISIL-K (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Khorasan) in Afghanistan”, which the UN warns “now pursues a global agenda”.

The UN report warns of “a strong presence of ISIL-India in Kerala and Karnataka. ISIL-K considers Afghan territory a base for spreading terrorist influence across the wider region…The investigators found links between Indian nationals and terrorist attacks in Sri-Lank”.

Taking cognizance of the present drastic situation, in his article published in The Washington Post September 26, 2020,

Prime Minister Imran Khan has warned against “hasty withdrawal of foreign powers from Afghanistan” and also cautioned that “regional spoilers could use instability in the worn-torn country for their own vested interests…no people have paid a higher price for the conflict in Afghanistan than the people of Pakistan…peace and political stability in Afghanistan could not be imposed from the outside…Only an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led reconciliation process, which recognises Afghanistan’s political realities and diversity, could produce a lasting peace…Pakistan continued to be the target of attacks launched by externally enabled terrorist groups based in Afghanistan…these terrorist groups pose a clear and present danger to global peace”.

Foreign Minister Qureshi met Zalmay Khalilzad at Islamabad on July 1, 2020. After the meeting, Qureshi stated that,

“Pakistan is ready to cooperate with regional and international stakeholders for enduring and peaceful political solution to the Afghan issue…the development of whole region depends on establishment of peace in Afghanistan…India has been continuously trying to destabilize Pakistan to divert attention from its internal chaos…India is interfering in Balochistan province of Pakistan at the same time it is also adversely affecting peace efforts in Afghanistan.”

Zalmay Khalilzad who, repeatedly, visited Pakistan and met country’s civil and military leadership admired Pakistan’s role in the US-Taliban peace dialogue. It was due to Pakistan’s key role in Doha that on February 29, this year, the US and the Taliban signed the historical agreement for bringing peace to Afghanistan.

Now, coronavirus pandemic which has affected almost every country has also enveloped Afghanistan.  The US has almost 7,406, 146 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with the death toll of more than 210,750 people.

Moreover, America is not taking much interest in implementation of the US-Taliban agreement, due to the election-campaign and in wake of the unending violent protests across the country after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died on May 25, 2020 in police custody in Minneapolis. During clashes, the police killed several black people.

By availing this golden opportunity, Afghan rulers may create complications which could castigate the US-Taliban deal. In these terms, question arises, has the US-Taliban Peace Agreement dead?

Posted in USA, AfghanistanComments Off on Has the US – Taliban Peace Agreement Died?

Where was Osama bin Laden on September 11, 2001?

By Prof Michel Chossudovsky

Osama bin Laden

Author’s note

The following article was first published 14 years ago on the 9th of September 2006, in the context of the 2006 commemoration of the tragic event of September 2001.  

***

“Going after bin Laden” has served  to sustain the legend of the “world’s most wanted terrorist”, who  “haunts Americans and millions of others around the world.”

Donald Rumsfeld has repeatedly claimed that the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden remain unknown:  “It is like looking for a needle in a stack of hay”.

In November 2001, US B-52 bombers carpet bombed a network of caves in the Tora Bora mountains of eastern Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden and his followers were allegedly hiding. These caves were described as “Osama’s last stronghold”.

CIA “intelligence analysts” subsequently concluded that Osama had escaped from his Tora Bora cave in the first week of December 2001. And in January 2002, the Pentagon launched a Worldwide search for Osama and his top lieutenants, beyond the borders of Afghanistan. This operation, referred to by Secretary of State Colin Powell as a “hot pursuit”, was carried out with the support of the “international community” and America’s European allies. US intelligence authorities confirmed, in this regard, that

“while al Qaeda has been significantly shattered, … the most wanted man – bin Laden himself remains one step ahead of the United States, with the core of his worldwide terror network still in place. (Global News Wire – Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, InfoProd, January 20, 2002)

For the last five years, the US military and intelligence apparatus (at considerable expense to US taxpayers) has been “searching for Osama”.

A CIA unit with a multimillion dollar budget was set up, with a mandate to find Osama. This unit was apparently disbanded in 2005. “Intelligence experts agree”, he is hiding in a remote area of Pakistan, but “we cannot find him”:

“Most intelligence analysts are convinced that Osama bin Laden is somewhere on the Afghan-Pakistan border. Lately, it has been said that he’s probably in the vicinity of the a 7700m Hindu Kush peak Tirich Mir in the tribal Chitral area of northwest Pakistan.” Hobart Mercury (Australia), September  9, 2006)

President Bush has repeatedly promised to “smoke him out” of his cave, capture him dead or alive, if necessary through ground assaults or missile strikes. According to a recent statement by president Bush, Osama is hiding in a remote area of Pakistan which “is extremely mountainous and very inaccessible, … with high mountains between 9,000 to 15,000 feet high….”. We cannot get him, because, according to the president, there is no communications infrastructure, which would enable us to effectively go after him. (quoted in Balochistan Times, 23 April 2006)

The pursuit of Osama has become a highly ritualized process which feeds the news chain on a daily basis. It is not only part of the media disinformation campaign, it also provides a justification for the arbitrary arrest, detention and torture of numerous “suspects”, “enemy combatants” and “accomplices”, who allegedly might be aware of Osama’s whereabouts. And that information is of course vital to “the security of Americans”.

The search for Osama serves both military and political objectives. The Democrats and Republicans compete in their resolve to weed out “islamic terrorism”.

The Path to 9/11, a five-hour ABC series on “the search for Osama” –which makes its debut on the 10th and 11th of September to marks the fifth anniversary of the attacks– casually accuses Bill Clinton of having been  “too busy with the Monica Lewinsky scandal to fight terrorism.” The message of the movie is that the Democrats neglected the “war on terrorism”.

The fact of the matter is that every single administration, since Jimmy Carter have supported and financed the “Islamic terror” network, created during the Carter administration at the outset of the Soviet-Afghan war. (See Michel Chossudovsky, Who is Osama bin Laden, 12 September 2001). al Qaeda is a instrument of US intelligence: a US sponsored intelligence asset.

Where was Osama on Septembers 11? 

There is evidence that the whereabouts of Osama are known to the Bush Administration.

On September 10. 2001, “Enemy Number One” was in a Pakistani military hospital in Rawalpindi, courtesy of America’s indefectible ally Pakistan, as confirmed by a report of Dan Rather, CBS News. (See our October 2003 article on this issue)

He could have been arrested at short notice which would have “saved us a lot of trouble”, but then we would not have had an Osama Legend, which has fed the news chain as well as George W’s speeches in the course of the last five years.

According to Dan Rather, CBS, Bin Laden was hospitalized in Rawalpindi. one day before the 9/11 attacks, on September 10, 2001.

“Pakistan. Pakistan’s Military Intelligence (ISI) told CBS that bin Laden had received dialysis treatment in Rawalpindi, at Pak Army’s headquarters.

DAN RATHER, CBS ANCHOR: As the United states and its allies in the war on terrorism press the hunt for Osama bin Laden, CBS News has exclusive information tonight about where bin Laden was and what he was doing in the last hours before his followers struck the United States September 11.

This is the result of hard-nosed investigative reporting by a team of CBS news journalists, and by one of the best foreign correspondents in the business, CBS`s Barry Petersen. Here is his report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BARRY PETERSEN, CBS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Everyone remembers what happened on September 11. Here`s the story of what may have happened the night before. It is a tale as twisted as the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

CBS News has been told that the night before the September 11 terrorist attack, Osama bin Laden was in Pakistan. He was getting medical treatment with the support of the very military that days later pledged its backing for the U.S. war on terror in Afghanistan.

Pakistan intelligence sources tell CBS News that bin Laden was spirited into this military hospital in Rawalpindi for kidney dialysis treatment. On that night, says this medical worker who wanted her identity protected, they moved out all the regular staff in the urology department and sent in a secret team to replace them. She says it was treatment for a very special person. The special team was obviously up to no good.

“The military had him surrounded,” says this hospital employee who also wanted his identity masked, “and I saw the mysterious patient helped out of a car. Since that time,” he says, “I have seen many pictures of the man. He is the man we know as Osama bin Laden. I also heard two army officers talking to each other. They were saying that Osama bin Laden had to be watched carefully and looked after.” Those who know bin Laden say he suffers from numerous ailments, back and stomach problems. Ahmed Rashid, who has written extensively on the Taliban, says the military was often there to help before 9/11.

(…)

PETERSEN (on camera): Doctors at the hospital told CBS News there was nothing special about that night, but they refused our request to see any records. Government officials tonight denied that bin Laden had any medical treatment on that night.

(voice-over): But it was Pakistan’s President Musharraf who said in public what many suspected, that bin Laden suffers from kidney disease, saying he thinks bin Laden may be near death. His evidence, watching this most recent video, showing a pale and haggard bin Laden, his left hand never moving. Bush administration officials admit they don`t know if bin Laden is sick or even dead.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: With respect to the issue of Osama bin Laden`s health, I just am — don`t have any knowledge.

PETERSEN: The United States has no way of knowing who in Pakistan`s military or intelligence supported the Taliban or Osama bin Laden maybe up to the night before 9/11 by arranging dialysis to keep him alive. So the United States may not know if those same people might help him again perhaps to freedom.

Barry Petersen, CBS News, Islamabad.

(END VIDEOTAPE) END

(CBS News,  28 January 2002 emphasis added, the complete transcript of CBS report sis contained in annex to this article)

It should be noted, that the hospital is directly under the jurisdiction of the Pakistani Armed Forces, which has close links to the Pentagon. U.S. military advisers based in Rawalpindi. work closely with the Pakistani Armed Forces. Again, no attempt was made to arrest America’s best known fugitive, but then maybe bin Laden was serving another “better purpose”. Rumsfeld claimed at the time that he had no knowledge regarding Osama’s health. (CBS News, 28 January 2002)

The CBS report is a crucial piece of information in our understanding of 9/11.

It refutes the administration’s claim that the whereabouts of bin Laden are unknown. It points to a Pakistan connection, it suggests a cover-up at the highest levels of the Bush administration.

Dan Rather and Barry Petersen fail to draw the implications of their January 2002 report.  They suggest that the US had been deliberately misled by Pakistani intelligence officials. They fail to ask the question:

Why does the US administration state that they cannot find Osama?

If they are to stand by their report, the conclusion is obvious. The administration is lying. Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts were known.

If the CBS report is accurate and Osama had indeed been admitted to the Pakistani military hospital on September 10, courtesy of America’s ally, he was either still in hospital in Rawalpindi on the 11th of September, when the attacks occurred or had been released from the hospital within the last hours before the attacks.

In other words, Osama’s whereabouts were known to US officials on the morning of September 12, when Secretary of State Colin Powell initiated negotiations with Pakistan, with a view to arresting and extraditing bin Laden. These negotiations, led by General Mahmoud Ahmad, head of Pakistan’s military intelligence, on behalf of the government of President Pervez Musharraf,  took place on the 12th and 13th  of September in Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage’s office.

He could have been arrested at short notice on September 10th, 2001. But then we would not have been privileged to five years of Osama related media stories. The Bush administration desperately needs the fiction of an “outside enemy of America”.

Known and documented Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda is a construct of the US intelligence apparatus. His essential function is to give a face to the “war on terrorism”. The image must be vivid.

According to the White house, “The greatest threat to us is this ideology of violent extremism, and its greatest public proponent is Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden remains the number one target, in terms of our efforts, but he’s not the only target.” Recent Statement of White House Assistant for Homeland Security Frances Townsend, 5 September 2006).

The national security doctrine rests on the fiction of Islamic terrorists, led by Osama who are portrayed as a “threat to the civilized World”. In the words of President Bush, “Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them. The question is will we listen? Will we pay attention to what these evil men say? We are on the offensive. We will not rest. We will not retreat. And we will not withdraw from the fight until this threat to civilization has been removed.” (quoted by CNN, September 5, 2006)

The “hot pursuit” of Osama in the rugged mountainous areas of Pakistan must continue, because without Osama, referred to ad nauseam in news reports and official statements, the fragile legitimacy of the Bush administration collapses like a deck of cards.

Moreover, the search for Osama protects the real architects of the 911 attacks. While there is no evidence that Al Qaeda was behind the 911 attacks, as revealed by nuerous studies and documents, there is mounting evidence of complicity and coverup at the highest levels of the State, Military and intelligence apparatus.

The continued arrest of alleged 911 accomplices and suspects has nothing to do with “national security”. It creates the illusion that Arabs and Muslims are behind the terror plots, while shunting the conduct of a real criminal investigation into the 911 attacks. And what were dealing with is the criminalization of the upper echelons of State.

Michel Chossudovsky is the author of the international best America’s “War on Terrorism”  Global Research, 2005. He is Professor of Economics at the University of Ottawa and Director of the Center for Research on Globalization. 

To order Chossudovsky’s book  America’s “War on Terrorism”, click here

Note: Readers are welcome to cross-post this article with a view to spreading the word and warning people of the dangers of a broader Middle East war. Please indicate the source and copyright note.

media inquiries crgeditor@yahoo.com

CBS Evening News with Dan Rather;

Author: Dan Rather, Barry Petersen

CBS, 28 January 2002

DAN RATHER, CBS ANCHOR: As the United states and its allies in the war on terrorism press the hunt for Osama bin Laden, CBS News has exclusive information tonight about where bin Laden was and what he was doing in the last hours before his followers struck the United States September 11.

This is the result of hard-nosed investigative reporting by a team of CBS news journalists, and by one of the best foreign correspondents in the business, CBS`s Barry Petersen. Here is his report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BARRY PETERSEN, CBS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Everyone remembers what happened on September 11. Here`s the story of what may have happened the night before. It is a tale as twisted as the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

CBS News has been told that the night before the September 11 terrorist attack, Osama bin Laden was in Pakistan. He was getting medical treatment with the support of the very military that days later pledged its backing for the U.S. war on terror in Afghanistan.

Pakistan intelligence sources tell CBS News that bin Laden was spirited into this military hospital in Rawalpindi for kidney dialysis treatment. On that night, says this medical worker who wanted her identity protected, they moved out all the regular staff in the urology department and sent in a secret team to replace them. She says it was treatment for a very special person. The special team was obviously up to no good.

“The military had him surrounded,” says this hospital employee who also wanted his identity masked, “and I saw the mysterious patient helped out of a car. Since that time,” he says, “I have seen many pictures of the man. He is the man we know as Osama bin Laden. I also heard two army officers talking to each other. They were saying that Osama bin Laden had to be watched carefully and looked after.” Those who know bin Laden say he suffers from numerous ailments, back and stomach problems. Ahmed Rashid, who has written extensively on the Taliban, says the military was often there to help before 9/11.

AHMED RASHID, TALIBAN EXPERT: There were reports that Pakistani intelligence had helped the Taliban buy dialysis machines. And the rumor was that these were wanted for Osama bin Laden.

PETERSEN (on camera): Doctors at the hospital told CBS News there was nothing special about that night, but they refused our request to see any records. Government officials tonight denied that bin Laden had any medical treatment on that night.

(voice-over): But it was Pakistan`s President Musharraf who said in public what many suspected, that bin Laden suffers from kidney disease, saying he thinks bin Laden may be near death. His evidence, watching this most recent video, showing a pale and haggard bin Laden, his left hand never moving. Bush administration officials admit they don`t know if bin Laden is sick or even dead.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: With respect to the issue of Osama bin Laden`s health, I just am — don`t have any knowledge.

PETERSEN: The United States has no way of knowing who in Pakistan`s military or intelligence supported the Taliban or Osama bin Laden maybe up to the night before 9/11 by arranging dialysis to keep him alive. So the United States may not know if those same people might help him again perhaps to freedom.

Barry Petersen, CBS News, Islamabad.

(END VIDEOTAPE) END

Copyright CBS News 2002

Hospital Worker: I Saw Osama

Jan. 28, 2002

Quote

“They military had him surrounded. I have seen many pictures of the man. He is the man we know as Osama bin Laden.” Hospital employee

(CBS) Everyone remembers what happened on Sept. 11 and, reports CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen, here’s the story of what may have happened the night before.

In a tale as twisted as the hunt for Osama bin Laden, CBS Evening News has been told that the night before the Sept. 11 terrorists attack, Osama bin Laden was in Pakistan. He was getting medical treatment with the support of the very military that days later pledged its backing for the U.S. war on terror in Afghanistan.

Pakistan intelligence sources tell CBS News that bin Laden was spirited into a military hospital in Rawalpindi for kidney dialysis treatment.

“On that night,” said a medical worker who wanted her identity protected, “they moved out all the regular staff in the urology department and sent in a secret team to replace them.” She said it was treatment for a very special person and “the special team was obviously up to no good.”

“They military had him surrounded,” said a hospital employee who also wanted his identity masked, “and I saw the mysterious patient helped out of a car. Since that time,” he said, “I have seen many pictures of the man. He is the man we know as Osama bin Laden. I also heard two army officers talking to each other. They were saying that Osama bin Laden had to be watched carefully and looked after.”

Those who know bin Laden say he suffers from numerous ailments — back and stomach problems.

Ahmed Rashid, who has written extensively on the Taliban, said the military was often there to help before Sept. 11.

“There were reports that Pakistan intelligence had helped the Taliban buy dialysis machines and the rumor was that these were for wanted for Osama bin Laden,” said Rashid.

Doctors at the hospital told CBS News there was nothing special about that night, but they declined our request to see any records. Government officials reached Monday night denied that bin Laden received any medical treatment that night.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday the United States has seen nothing to substantiate the report.

It was Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf who said in public what many suspected: that bin Laden suffers from kidney disease, saying he thinks bin Laden may be near death.

His evidence — watching the most recent video, showing a pale and haggard bin Laden, his left hand never moving. Bush administration officials admit they don’t know if bin Laden is sick or even dead.

“With respect to the issue of Osama bin Laden’s health, I just am…don’t have any knowledge,” said Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

The U.S. has no way of knowing who in Pakistan’s military or intelligence supported the Taliban or Osama bin Lade, maybe up to the night before Sept. 11 by arranging dialysis to keep him alive. So the U.S. may not know if those same people might help him again — perhaps to freedom.


America Attacks the World, The World Levitates Towards Russia, China

Ten Bush-Bin Laden Connections that Raised a Few Eyebrows

Twin Kabul Bombings: A Dark and Saddening Day in the History of Journalism

Afghanistan: Kabul Deadly Terrorist Attacks. US Embassy Had Foreknowledge

America’s War for Global Domination

American Terrorism

Posted in Middle East, USA, Afghanistan, C.I.AComments Off on Where was Osama bin Laden on September 11, 2001?

“I Could Live With That”: How the CIA Made Afghanistan Safe for the Opium Trade

by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

Opium poppy. Photo: DEA.

“I decided I could live with that.”

– Stansfield Turner, Jimmy Carter’s CIA director, on the extreme level of civilian casualties in the CIA’s covert war in Afghanistan.

The first indelible image of the war in Afghanistan for many Americans was probably that of CBS anchorman Dan Rather, wrapped in the voluminous drapery of a mujahedin fighter, looking like a healthy relative of Lawrence of Arabia (albeit with hair that seemed freshly blow-dried, as some viewers were quick to point out). From his secret mountainside “somewhere in the Hindu Kush,” Rather unloaded on his audience a barrowload of nonsense about the conflict. The Soviets, Rather confided portentously, had put a bounty on his head “of many thousands of dollars.” He went on, “It was the best compliment they could have given me. And having a price put on my head was a small price to pay for the truths we told about Afghanistan.”

Every one of these observations turned out to be entirely false. Rather described the government of Hafizullah Amin as a “Moscow-installed puppet regime in Kabul.” But Amin had closer ties to the CIA than he did to the KGB. Rather called the mujahedin the “Afghan freedom fighters … who were engaged in a deeply patriotic fight to the death for home and hearth.” The mujahedin were scarcely fighting for freedom, in any sense Rather would have been comfortable with, but instead to impose one of the most repressive brands of Islamic fundamentalism known to the world, barbarous, ignorant and notably cruel to women.

It was a “fact,” Rather announced, that the Soviets had used chemical weapons against Afghan villagers. This was a claim promoted by the Reagan administration, which charged that the extraordinarily precise number of 3,042 Afghans had been killed by this yellow chemical rain, a substance that had won glorious propaganda victories in its manifestation in Laos a few years earlier, when the yellow rain turned out to be bee feces heavily loaded with pollen. As Frank Brodhead put it in the London Guardian, “Its composition: one part bee feces, plus many parts State Department disinformation mixed with media gullibility.”

Rather claimed that the mujahedin were severely underequipped, doing their best with Kalashnikov rifles taken from dead Soviet soldiers. In fact the mujahedin were extremely well-equipped, being the recipients of CIA-furnished weapons in the most ” “expensive covert war the Agency had ever mounted. They did carry Soviet weapons, but they came courtesy of the CIA. Rather also showed news footage that he claimed was of Soviet bombers strafing defenseless Afghan villages. This footage was staged, with the “Soviet bomber” actually a Pakistani air force plane on a training mission over northwest Pakistan.

CBS claimed to have discovered in Soviet-bombed areas stuffed animals filled with Soviet explosives, designed to blow Afghan children to bits. These booby-trapped toys had in fact been manufactured by the mujahedin for the exclusive purpose of gulling CBS News, as an entertaining article in the New York Post later made clear.

Rather made his heroically filmed way to Yunas Khalis, described as the leader of the Afghan warriors. In tones of awe he normally reserves for hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, Rather recalls in his book, The Camera Never Blinks Twice, “Belief in ‘right’ makes ‘might’ may have been fading in other parts of the world. In Afghanistan it was alive and well, and beating the Soviets.” Khalis was a ruthless butcher, with his troops fondly boasting of their slaughter of 700 prisoners of war. He spent most of his time fighting, but the wars were not primarily with the Soviets. Instead, Khalis battled other Afghan rebel groups, the object of the conflicts being control of poppy fields and the roads and trails from them to his seven heroin labs near his headquarters in the town of Ribat al Ali. Sixty percent of Afghanistan’s opium crop was cultivated in the Helmand Valley, with an irrigation infrastructure underwritten by USAID.

In his dispatches from the front Rather did mention the local opium trade, but in a remarkably disingenuous fashion. “Afghans,” he said, “had turned Darra into a boom town, selling their home-grown opium for the best available weapons, then going back into Afghanistan to fight.”

Now Darra is a town in northwest Pakistan where the CIA had set up a factory to manufacture Soviet-style weapons that it was giving away to all Afghan comers. The weapons factory was run under contract to Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI). Much of the opium trucked into Darra from Afghanistan by the mujahedin was sold to the Pakistani governor of the northwest territory, Lieutenant General Fazle Huq. From this opium the heroin was refined in labs in Darra, placed on Pakistani army trucks and transported to Karachi, then shipped to Europe and the United States.

Rather belittled the Carter administration’s reaction to the Soviet-backed coup in 1979, charging that Carter’s response had been tepid and slow in coming. In fact, President Carter had reacted with a range of moves that should have been the envy of the Reagan hawks who, a couple of years later, were belaboring him for being a Cold War wimp. Not only did Carter withdraw the United States from the 1980 Olympics, he slashed grain sales to the Soviet Union, to the great distress of Midwestern farmers; put the SALT II treaty hold; pledged to increase the US defense budget by 5 percent a year until the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan; and unveiled the Carter doctrine of containment in southern Asia, which CIA historian John Ranelagh says led Carter to approve “more secret CIA operations than Reagan later did.”

Carter later confessed in his memoirs that he was more shaken by the invasion of Afghanistan than any other event of his presidency, including the Iranian revolution. Carter was convinced by the CIA that it could be the start of a push by the Soviets toward the Persian Gulf, a scenario that led the president to seriously consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons.

Three weeks after Soviet tanks rolled into Kabul, Carter’s secretary of defense, Harold Brown, was in Beijing, arranging for a weapons transfer from the Chinese to the CIA-backed Afghani troops mustered in Pakistan. The Chinese, who were generously compensated for the deal, agreed and even consented to send military advisers. Brown worked out a similar arrangement with Egypt to buy $15 million worth of weapons. “The US contacted me,” Anwar Sadat recalled shortly before his assassination. “They told me, ‘Please open your stores for us so that we can give the Afghans the armaments they need to fight.’ And I gave them the armaments. The transport of arms to the Afghans started from Cairo on US planes.”

But few in the Carter administration believed the rebels had any chance of toppling the Soviets. Under most scenarios, the war seemed destined to be a slaughter, with civilians and the rebels paying a heavy price. The objective of the Carter doctrine was more cynical. It was to bleed the Soviets, hoping to entrap them in a Vietnam-style quagmire. The high level of civilian casualties didn’t faze the architects of covert American intervention. “I decided I could live with that,” recalled Carter’s CIA director Stansfield Turner.

Prior to the Soviet invasion, Afghanistan barely registered as a topic of interest for the national press, surfacing in only a handful of annual newspaper stories. In December 1973, when détente was near its zenith, the Wall Street Journal ran a rare front-page story on the country, titled “Do the Russians Covet Afghanistan? If so, It’s Hard to Figure Why.” Reporter Peter Kann, later to become the Journal’s chairman and publisher, wrote that “great power strategists tend to think of Afghanistan as a kind of fulcrum upon which the world balance of power tips. But from close up, Afghanistan tends to look less like a fulcrum or a domino or a steppingstone than like a vast expanse of desert waste with a few fly-ridden bazaars, a fair number of feuding tribes and a lot of miserably poor people.”

After the Soviet Union invaded, this wasteland swiftly acquired the status of a precious geopolitical prize. A Journal editorial following the Soviet takeover said Afghanistan was “more serious than a mere stepping-stone” and, in response, called for stationing of US troops in the Middle East, increased military outlays, expanded covert operations and reinstatement of draft registration. Drew Middleton, then a New York Times Defense Department correspondent, filed a tremulous post-invasion analysis in January 1980: “The conventional wisdom in the Pentagon,” he wrote, “is that in purely military terms, the Russians are in a far better position vis-à-vis the United States than Hitler was against Britain and France in 1939.”

The Pentagon and CIA agitprop machine went into high gear: on January 3, 1980, George Wilson of the Washington Post reported that military leaders hoped the invasion would “help cure the Vietnam “never again’ hangover of the American public.” Newsweek said the “Soviet thrust” represented “a severe threat” to US interests: “Control of Afghanistan would put the Russians within 350 miles of the Arabian Sea, the oil lifeline of the West and Japan. Soviet warplanes based in Afghanistan could cut the lifeline at will.” The New York Times endorsed Carter’s call for increased military spending and supported the Cruise and Trident missile programs, “faster research on the MX or some other mobile land missile,” and the creation of a rapid deployment force for Third World intervention, calling the latter an “investment in diplomacy.”

In sum, Afghanistan proved to be a glorious campaign for both the CIA and Defense Department, a dazzling offensive in which waves of credulous and compliant journalists were dispatched to promulgate the ludicrous proposition that the United States was under military threat. By the time Reagan assumed office, he and his CIA director William Casey saw support for their own stepped-up Afghan plan from an unlikely source, the Democrat-controlled Congress, which was pushing to double spending on the war. “It was a windfall [for the Reagan administration],” a congressional staffer told the Washington Post. “They’d faced so much opposition to covert action in Central America and here comes the Congress helping and throwing money at them, putting money their way and they say, ‘Who are we to say no?’ ”

As the CIA increased its backing of the mujahedin (the CIA budget for Afghanistan finally reached $3.2 billion, the most expensive secret operation in its history) a White House member of the president’s Strategic Council on Drug Abuse, David Musto, informed the administration that the decision to arm the mujahedin would misfire: “I told the Council that we were going into Afghanistan to support the opium growers in their rebellion against the Soviets. Shouldn’t we try to avoid what we’d done in Laos? Shouldn’t we try to pay the growers if they will eradicate their opium production? There was silence.”

After issuing this warning, Musto and a colleague on the council, Joyce Lowinson, continued to question US policy, but found their queries blocked by the CIA and the State Department. Frustrated, they then turned to the New York Times op-ed page and wrote, on May 22, 1980: “We worry about the growing of opium in Afghanistan or Pakistan by rebel tribesmen who apparently are the chief adversaries of the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Are we erring in befriending these tribes as we did in Laos when Air America (chartered by the Central Intelligence Agency) helped transport crude opium from certain tribal areas?” But Musto and Lowinson met with silence once again, not only from the administration but from the press. It was heresy to question covert intervention in Afghanistan.

Later in 1980, Hoag Levins, a writer for Philadelphia Magazine, interviewed a man he identified as a “high level” law enforcement official in the Carter administration’s Justice Department and quoted him thus: “You have the administration tiptoeing around this like it’s a land mine. The issue of opium and heroin in Afghanistan is explosive … In the State of the Union speech, the president mentioned drug abuse but he was very careful to avoid mentioning Afghanistan, even though Afghanistan is where things are really happening right now … Why aren’t we taking a more critical look at the arms we are now shipping into gangs of drug runners who are obviously going to use them to increase the efficiency of their drug-smuggling operation?”

The DEA was well aware that the mujahedin rebels were deeply involved in the opium trade. The drug agency’s reports in 1980 showed that Afghan rebel incursions from their Pakistan bases into Soviet-held positions were “determined in part by opium planting and harvest seasons.” The numbers were stark and forbidding. Afghan opium production tripled between 1979 and 1982. There was evidence that by 1981 the Afghan heroin producers had captured 60 percent of the heroin market in Western Europe and the United States (these are UN and DEA figures).

In 1971, during the height of the CIA’s involvement in Laos, there were about 500,000 heroin addicts in the United States. By the mid- to late 1970s this total had fallen to 200,000. But in 1981 with the new flood of Afghan heroin and consequent low prices, the heroin addict population rose to 450,000. In New York City in 1979 alone (the year that the flow of arms to the mujahedin began), heroin-related drug deaths increased by 77 percent. The only publicly acknowledged US casualties on the Afghan battlefields were some Black Muslims who journeyed to the Hindu Kush from the United States to fight on the Prophet’s behalf. But the drug casualties inside the US from the secret CIA war, particularly in the inner cities, numbered in the thousands, plus untold social blight and suffering.

Since the seventeenth century opium poppies have been grown in the so-called Golden Crescent, where the highlands of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran all converge. For nearly four centuries this was an internal market. By the 1950s very little opium was produced in either Afghanistan or Pakistan, with perhaps 2,500 acres in these two countries under cultivation. The fertile growing fields of Afghanistan’s Helmand Valley, by the 1980s under intensive opium poppy cultivation, were covered with vineyards, wheat fields and cotton plantations.

In Iran, the situation was markedly different in the early 1950s. The country, dominated by British and US oil companies and intelligence agencies, was producing 600 tons of opium a year and had 1.3 million opium addicts, second only to China where, at the same moment, the western opium imperialists still held sway. Then, in 1953, Mohammed Mossadegh, Iran’s nationalist equivalent of China’s Sun Yat-sen, won elections and immediately moved to suppress the opium trade. Within a few weeks, US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was calling Mossadegh a madman, and Dulles’s brother Allen, head of the CIA, dispatched Kermit Roosevelt to organize a coup against him. In August 1953 Mossadegh was overthrown, the Shah was installed by the CIA, and the oil and opium fields of Iran were once again in friendly hands. Production continued unabated until the assumption of power in 1979 of the Ayatollah Khomeini, at which point Iran had a very serious opium problem in terms of the addiction of its own population. Unlike the mujahedin chieftains, the Ayatollah was a strict constructionist of Islamic law on the matter of intoxicants: addicts and dealers faced the death penalty. Opium production in Iran dropped drastically.

In Afghanistan in the 1950s and 1960s, the relatively sparse opium trade was controlled by the royal family, headed by King Mohammed Zahir, The large feudal estates all had their opium fields, primarily to feed domestic consumption of the drug. In April 1978 a populist coup overthrew the regime of Mohammed Daoud, who had formed an alliance with the Shah of Iran. The Shah had shoveled money in Daoud’s direction – $2 billion on one report – and the Iranian secret police, the Savak, were imported to train Daoud’s internal security force. The new Afghan government was led by Noor Mohammed Taraki. The Taraki administration moved toward land reform, hence an attack on the opium-growing feudal estates. Taraki went to the UN, where he requested and received loans for crop substitution for the poppy fields.

Taraki also pressed hard against opium production in the border areas held by fundamentalists, since the latter were using opium revenues to finance attacks on the Afghan central government, which they regarded as an unwholesome incarnation of modernity that allowed women to go to school and outlawed arranged marriages and the bride price.

By the spring of 1979 the character of Dan Rather’s heroes, the mujahedin, was also beginning to emerge. The Washington Post reported that the mujahedin liked to “torture their victims by first cutting off their noses, ears and genitals, then removing one slice of skin after another.” Over that year the mujahedin evinced particular animosity toward westerners, killing six West Germans and a Canadian tourist and severely beating a US military attaché. It’s also ironic that in that year the mujahedin were getting money not only from the CIA but from Libya’s Moammar Qaddaffi, who sent $250,000 in their direction.

In the summer of 1979, over six months before the Soviets moved in, the US State Department produced a memorandum making clear how it saw the stakes, no matter how modern-minded Taraki might be, or how feudal the mujahedin: “The United States’ larger interest … would be served by the demise of the Taraki-Amin regime, despite whatever setbacks this might mean for future social and economic reforms in Afghanistan.” The report continued, “The overthrow of the DRA [Democratic Republic of Afghanistan] would show the rest of the world, particularly the Third World, that the Soviets’ view of the socialist course of history as being inevitable is not accurate.”

Hard pressed by conservative forces in Afghanistan, Taraki appealed to the Soviets for help, which they declined to furnish on the grounds that this was exactly what their mutual enemies were waiting for.

In September 1979 Taraki was killed in a coup organized by Afghan military officers. Hafizullah Amin was installed as president. He had impeccable western credentials, having been to Columbia University in New York and the University of Wisconsin. Amin had served as the president of the Afghan Students Association, which had been funded by the Asia Foundation, a CIA pass-through group, or front. After the coup Amin began meeting regularly with US Embassy officials at a time when the US was arming Islamic rebels in Pakistan. Fearing a fundamentalist, US-backed regime pressing against its own border, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in force on December 27, 1979.

Then began the Carter-initiated CIA buildup that so worried White House drug expert David Musto. In a replication of what happened following the CIA-backed coup in Iran, the feudal estates were soon back in opium production and the crop-substitution program ended.

Because Pakistan had a nuclear program, the US had a foreign aid ban on the country. This was soon lifted it as the waging of a proxy war in Afghanistan became prime policy. In fairly short order, without any discernible slowdown in its nuclear program, Pakistan became the third largest recipient of US aid worldwide, right behind Israel and Egypt. Arms poured into Karachi from the US and were shipped up to Peshawar by the National Logistics Cell, a military unit controlled by Pakistan’s secret police, the ISI. From Peshawar those guns that weren’t simply sold to any and all customers (the Iranians got 16 Stinger missiles, one of which was used against a US helicopter in the Gulf) were divvied out by the ISI to the Afghan factions.

Though the US press, Dan Rather to the fore, portrayed the mujahedin as a unified force of freedom fighters, the fact (unsurprising to anyone with an inkling of Afghan history) was that the mujahedin consisted of at least seven warring factions, all battling for territory and control of the opium trade. The ISI gave the bulk of the arms – at one count 60 percent – to a particularly fanatical fundamentalist and woman-hater Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who made his public debut at the University of Kabul by killing a leftist student. In 1972 Hekmatyar fled to Pakistan, where he became an agent of the ISI. He urged his followers to throw acid in the faces of women not wearing the veil, kidnapped rival leaders, and built up his CIA-furnished arsenal against the day the Soviets would leave and the war for the mastery of Afghanistan would truly break out.

Using his weapons to get control of the opium fields, Hekmatyar and his men would urge the peasants, at gun point, to increase production. They would collect the raw opium and bring it back to Hekmatyar’s six heroin factories in the town of Koh-i-Soltan

One of Hekmatyar’s chief rivals in the mujahedin, Mullah Nassim, controlled the opium poppy fields in the Helmand Valley, producing 260 tons of opium a year. His brother, Mohammed Rasul, defended this agricultural enterprise by stating, “We must grow and sell opium to fight our holy war against the Russian nonbelievers.” Despite this well-calculated pronouncement, they spent almost all their time fighting their fellow-believers, using the weapons sent them by the CIA to try to win the advantage in these internecine struggles. In 1989 Hekmatyar launched an assault against Nassim, attempting to take control of the Helmand Valley. Nassim fought him off, but a few months later Hekmatyar successfully engineered Nassim’s assassination when he was holding the post of deputy defense minister in the provisional post-Soviet Afghan government. Hekmatyar now controlled opium growing in the Helmand Valley.

American DEA agents were fully apprised of the drug running of the mujahedin in concert with Pakistani intelligence and military leaders. In 1983 the DEA’s congressional liaison, David Melocik, told a congressional committee, “You can say the rebels make their money off the sale of opium. There’s no doubt about it. These rebels keep their cause going through the sale of opium.” But talk about “the cause” depending on drug sales was nonsense at that particular moment. The CIA was paying for everything regardless. The opium revenues were ending up in offshore accounts in the Habib Bank, one of Pakistan’s largest, and in the accounts of BCCI, founded by Agha Hasan Abedi, who began his banking career at Habib. The CIA was simultaneously using BCCI for its own secret transactions.

The DEA had evidence of over forty heroin syndicates operating in Pakistan in the mid-1980s during the Afghan war, and there was evidence of more than 200 heroin labs operating in northwest Pakistan. Even though Islamabad houses one of the largest DEA offices in Asia, no action was ever taken by the DEA agents against any of these operations. An Interpol officer told the journalist Lawrence Lifschultz, “It is very strange that the Americans, with the size of their resources, and political power they possess in Pakistan, have failed to break a single case. The explanation cannot be found in a lack of adequate police work. They have had some excellent men working in Pakistan.” But working in the same offices as those DEA agents were five CIA officers who, so one of the DEA agents later told the Washington Post, ordered them to pull back their operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the duration of the war.

Those DEA agents were well aware of the drug-tainted profile of a firm the CIA was using to funnel cash to the mujahedin, namely Shakarchi Trading Company. This Lebanese-owned company had been the subject of a long-running DEA investigation into money laundering. One of Shakarchi’s chief clients was Yasir Musullulu, who had once been nabbed attempting to deliver an 8.5-ton shipment of Afghan opium to members of the Gambino crime syndicate in New York City. A DEA memo noted that Shakarchi mingled “the currency of heroin, morphine base, and hashish traffickers with that of jewelers buying gold on the black market and Middle Eastern arms traffickers.”

In May 1984 Vice President George Bush journeyed to Pakistan to confer with General Zia al Huq and other ranking members of the Pakistani regime. At the time, Bush was the head of President Reagan’s National Narcotics Border Interdiction System. In this latter function, one of Bush’s first moves was to expand the role of the CIA in drug operations. He gave the Agency primary responsibility in the use of, and control over, drug informants. The operational head of this task force was retired Admiral Daniel J. Murphy.

Murphy pushed for access to intelligence on drug syndicates but complained that the CIA was forever dragging its feet. “I didn’t win,” he said later to the New York Times. “I didn’t get as much effective participation from the CIA as I wanted.” Another member of the task force put it more bluntly, “The CIA could be of value, but you need a change of values and attitude. I don’t know of a single thing they’ve ever given us that was useful.”

Bush certainly knew well that Pakistan had become the source for most of the high-grade heroin entering Western Europe and the United States and that the generals with whom he was consorting were deeply involved in the drug trade. But the vice president, who proclaimed later that “I will never bargain with drug dealers on US or foreign soil,” used his journey to Pakistan to praise the Zia regime for its unflinching support for the War on Drugs. (Amid such rhetorical excursions he did find time, it has to be said, to extract from Zia a contract to buy $40 million worth of gas turbines made by the General Electric Co.)

Predictably, through the 1980s the Reagan and Bush administrations went to great lengths to pin the blame for the upswing in Pakistani heroin production on the Soviet generals in Kabul. “The regime maintains an absolute indifference to any measures to control poppy,” Reagan’s attorney general Edwin Meese declared during a visit to Islamabad in March 1986. “We strongly believe that there is actually encouragement, at least tacitly, over growing opium poppy.”

Meese knew better. His own Justice Department had been tracking the import of drugs from Pakistan since at least 1982 and was well aware that the trade was controlled by Afghan rebels and the Pakistani military. A few months after Meese’s speech in Pakistan, the US Customs Office nabbed a Pakistani man named Abdul Wali as he tried to unload more than a ton of hash and a smaller amount of heroin into the United

States at Port Newark, New Jersey. The Justice Department informed the press that Wali headed a 50,000-member organization in northwest Pakistan – but Deputy Attorney General Claudia Flynn refused to reveal the group’s identity. Another federal official told the Associated Press that Wali was a top leader of the mujahedin.

It was also known to US officials that people on intimate terms with President Zia were making fortunes in the opium trade. The word “fortune” here is no exaggeration, since one such Zia associate had $3 billion in his BCCI accounts. In 1983, a year before George Bush’s visit to Pakistan, one of President Zia’s doctors, a Japanese herbalist named Hisayoshi Maruyama was arrested in Amsterdam packing 17.5 kilos of high-grade heroin manufactured in Pakistan out of Afghan opium. At the time of his arrest he was disguised as a boy scout.

Interrogated by DEA agents after his arrest, Maruyama said that he was just a courier for Mirza Iqbal Baig, a man whom Pakistani customs agents described as “the most active dope dealer in the country.” Baig was on close terms with the Zia family and other ranking officials in the government. He had twice been a target of the DEA, whose agents were told not to pursue investigations of him because of his ties to the Zia government. A top Pakistani lawyer, Said Sani Ahmed, told the BBC that this was standard procedure in Pakistan: “We may have evidence against a particular individual, but still our law-enforcing agencies cannot lay hands on such people, because they are forbidden to act by their superiors. The real culprits have enough money and resources. Frankly, they are enjoying some sort of immunity.”

Baig was one of the tycoons of the Pakistani city of Lahore, owning cinemas, shopping centers, factories and a textile mill. He wasn’t indicted on drug charges until 1992, after the fall of the Zia regime, when a US federal court in Brooklyn indicted him for heroin trafficking. The US finally exerted enough pressure on Pakistan to have him arrested in 1993; as of the spring of 1998 he was in prison in Pakistan.

One of Baig’s partners (as described in Newsweek) in his drug business was Haji Ayub Afridi, a close ally of President Zia, who had served in the Pakistani General Assembly. Afridi lives thirty-five miles outside Peshawar in a large compound sealed off by 20-foot-high walls topped with concertina-wire and with defenses including an anti-aircraft battery and a private army of tribesmen. Afridi was said to be in charge of purchasing raw opium from the Afghan drug lords, while Baig looked after logistics and shipping to Europe and the United States. In 1993 Afridi was alleged to have put out a contract on the life of a DEA agent working in Pakistan.

Another case close to the Zia government involved the arrest on drug charges of Hamid Hasnain, the vice president of Pakistan’s largest financial house, the Habib Bank. Hasnain’s arrest became the centerpiece of a scandal known as the “Pakistani League affair.” The drug ring was investigated by a dogged Norwegian investigator named Olyvind Olsen. On December 13, 1983 Norwegian police seized 3.5 kilos of heroin at Oslo airport in the luggage of a Pakistani named Raza Qureishi. In exchange for a reduced sentence Qureishi agreed to name his suppliers to Olsen, the narcotics investigator. Shortly after his interview with Qureishi, Olsen flew to Islamabad to ferret out the other members of the heroin syndicate. For more than a year Olsen pressured Pakistan’s Federal Investigate Agency (FIA) to arrest the three men Qureishi had fingered: Tahir Butt, Munawaar Hussain, and Hasnain. All were associates of Baig and Zia. It wasn’t until Olsen threatened to publicly condemn the FIA’s conduct that the Agency took any action: finally, on October 25, 1985 the FIA arrested the three men. When the Pakistani agents picked up Hasnain they were assailed with a barrage of threats. Hasnain spoke of “dire consequences” and claimed to be “like a son” to President Zia. Inside Hasnain’s suitcase FIA agents discovered records of the ample bank accounts of President Zia plus those of Zia’s wife and daughter.

Immediately after learning of Hasnain’s arrest, Zia’s wife, who was in Egypt at the time, telephoned the head of the FIA. The president’s wife imperiously demanded the release of her family’s “personal banker.” It turned out that Hasnain not only attended to the secret financial affairs of the presidential family, but also of the senior Pakistani generals, who were skimming money off the arms imports from the CIA and making millions from the opium traffic. A few days after his wife’s call, President Zia himself was on the phone to the FIA, demanding that the investigators explain the circumstances surrounding Hasnain’s arrest. Zia soon arranged for Hasnain to be released on bail pending trial. When Qureishi, the courier, took the stand to testify against Hasnain, the banker and his co-defendant hurled death threats against the witness in open court, prompting a protest from the Norwegian investigator, who threatened to withdraw from the proceedings.

Eventually the judge in the case clamped down, revoking Hasnain’s bail and handing him a stiff prison term after his conviction. But Hasnain was just a relatively small fish who went to prison while guilty generals went free. “He’s been made a scapegoat,” Munir Bhatti told journalist Lawrence Lifschultz, “The CIA spoiled the case. The evidence was distorted. There was no justification in letting off the actual culprits who include senior personalities in this country. There was evidence in this case identifying such people.”

Such were the men to whom the CIA was paying $3.2 billion a year to run the Afghan war, and no person better epitomizes this relationship than Lieutenant General Fazle Huq, who oversaw military operations in northwest Pakistan for General Zia, including the arming of the mujahedin who were using the region as a staging area for their raids. It was Huq who ensured that his ally Hekmatyar received the bulk of the CIA arms shipments, and it was also Huq who oversaw and protected the operations of the 200 heroin labs within his jurisdiction. Huq had been identified in 1982 by Interpol as a key player in the Afghan-Pakistani opium trade. The Pakistani opposition leaders referred to Huq as Pakistani’s Noriega. He had been protected from drug investigations by Zia and the CIA and later boasted that with these connections he could get away “with blue murder.”

Like other narco-generals in the Zia regime, Huq was also on close terms with Agha Hassan Abedi, the head of the BCCI. Abedi, Huq and Zia would dine together nearly every month, and conferred several times with Reagan’s CIA director William Casey. Huq had a BCCI account worth $3 million. After Zia was assassinated in 1988 by a bomb planted (probably by senior military officers) in his presidential plane, Huq lost some of his official protection, and he was soon arrested for ordering the murder of a Shi’ite cleric.

After Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was deposed, her replacement Ishaq Khan swiftly released Huq from prison. In 1991 Huq was shot to death, probably in revenge for the cleric’s death. The opium general was given a state funeral, where he was eulogized by Ishaq Khan as “a great soldier and competent administrator who played a commendable role in Pakistan’s national progress.”

Benazir Bhutto had swept to power in 1988 amid fierce vows to clean up Pakistan’s drug-sodden corruption, but it wasn’t long “before her own regime became the focus of serious charges. In 1989 the US Drug Enforcement Agency came across information that Benazir’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, may have been financing large shipments of heroin from Pakistan to Great Britain and the United States. The DEA assigned one of its agents, a man named John Banks, to work undercover in Pakistan. Banks was a former British mercenary who had worked undercover for Scotland Yard in big international drug cases.

While in Pakistan, Banks claims he posed as a member of the Mafia and that he had met with Bhutto and her husband at their home in Sind. Banks further claims that he traveled with Zadari to Islamabad, where he secretly recorded five hours of conversation between Zadari, a Pakistani air force general and a Pakistani banker. The men discussed the logistics of transporting heroin to the US and to Britain: “We talked about how they were going to ship the drugs to America in a metal cutter,” Banks said in 1996. “They told me that the United Kingdom was another area where they had shipped heroin and hashish on a regular basis.” The British Customs Office had also been monitoring Zadari for dope running: “We received intelligence from about three or four sources, about his alleged involvement as a financier,” a retired British customs officer told the Financial Times. “This was all reported to British intelligence.” The customs official says his government failed to act on this report. Similarly, Banks asserts that the CIA halted the DEA’s investigation of Zardari. All this emerged when Bhutto’s government fell for the second time, in 1996, on charges of corruption lodged primarily against Zardari, who is now in prison for his role in the murder of his brother-in-law Murtaza. Zardari also stands accused of embezzling more than $1 billion in government funds.”

In 1991 Nawz Sharif says that while he served as prime minister he was approached by two Pakistani generals – Aslam Beg, chief of staff for the army, and Asad Durrani, head of the ISI – with a plan to fund dozens of covert operations through the sale of heroin. “General Durrani told me, ‘We have a blueprint ready for your approval,’ Sharif explained to Washington Post reporter John Ward Anderson in 1994. “I was totally flabbergasted. Both Beg and Durrani insisted that Pakistan’s name would not be cited at any place because the whole operation would be carried out by trustworthy third parties. Durrani then went on to list a series of covert military operations in desperate need of money.” Sharif said that he rejected the plan, but believes it was put in place when Bhutto resumed power.

The impact of the Afghan war on Pakistan’s addiction rates was even more drastic than the surge in heroin addiction in the US and Europe. Before the CIA program began, there were fewer than 5,000 heroin addicts in Pakistan. By 1996, according to the United Nations, there were more than 1.6 million. The Pakistani representative to the UN Commission on Narcotics, Raoolf Ali Khan, said in 1993 that “there is no branch of government where drug corruption doesn’t pervade.” As an example he pointed to the fact that Pakistan spends only $1.8 million a year on anti-drug efforts, with an allotment of $1,000 to purchase gasoline for its seven trucks.

By 1994 the value of the heroin trade in Pakistan was twice the amount of the government’s budget. A Western diplomat told the Washington Post in that year that “when you get to the stage where narco-traffickers have more money than the government it’s going to take remarkable efforts and remarkable people to turn it around.” The magnitude of commitment required is illustrated by two episodes. In 1991 the largest drug bust in world history occurred on the road

from Peshawar to Karachi. Pakistani customs officers seized 3.5 tons of heroin and 44 tons of hashish. Several days later half the hashish and heroin had vanished along with the witnesses. The suspects, four men with ties to Pakistani intelligence, had “mysteriously escaped,” to use the words of a Pakistani customs officer. In 1993 Pakistani border guards seized 8 tons of hashish and 1.7 tons of heroin. When the case was turned over to the Pakistani narcotics control board, the entire staff went on vacation to avoid being involved in the investigation. No one was disciplined or otherwise inconvenienced and the narco-traffickers got off scot free. Even the CIA was eventually forced to admit in a 1994 report to Congress that heroin had become the “life blood of the Pakistani economy and political system.”

In February 1989 Mikhail Gorbachev pulled the Soviet troops out of Afghanistan, and asked the US to agree to an embargo on the provision of weapons to any of the Afghan mujahedin factions, who were preparing for another phase of internecine war for control of the country. President Bush refused, thus ensuring a period of continued misery and horror for most Afghans. The war had already turned half the population into refugees, and seen 3 million wounded and more than a million killed. The proclivities of the mujahedin at this point are illustrated by a couple of anecdotes. The Kabul correspondent of the Far Eastern Economic Review reported in 1989 the mujahedin’s treatment of Soviet prisoners: “One group was killed, skinned and hung up in a butcher’s shop. One captive found himself the center of attraction in a game of buzkashi, that rough-and-tumble form of Afghan polo in which a headless goat is usually the ball. The captive was used instead. Alive. He was literally torn to pieces.” The CIA also had evidence that its freedom fighters had doped up more than 200 Soviet soldiers with heroin and locked them in animal cages where, the Washington Post reported in 1990, they led “lives of indescribable horror.”

In September 1996 the Taliban, fundamentalists nurtured originally in Pakistan as creatures of both the ISI and the CIA, seized power in Kabul, whereupon Mullah Omar, their leader, announced that all laws inconsistent with the Muslim Sharia would be changed. Women would be forced to assume the chador and remain at home, with total segregation of the sexes and women kept out of hospitals, schools and public bathrooms. The CIA continued to support these medieval fanatics who, according to Emma Bonino, the European Union’s commissioner for humanitarian affairs, were committing “gender genocide.”

One law at odds with the Sharia that the Taliban had no apparent interest in changing was the prophet’s injunction against intoxicants. In fact, the Taliban urged its Afghan farmers to increase their production of opium. One of the Taliban leaders, the “drug czar” Abdul Rashid, noted, “If we try to stop this [opium farming] the people will be against us.” By the end 1996, according to the UN, Afghan opium production had reached 2,000 metric tons. There were an estimated 200,000 families in Afghanistan working in the opium trade. The Taliban were in control of the 96 percent of all Afghan land in opium cultivation and imposed a tax on opium production and a road toll on trucks carrying the crop.

In 1997 an Afghan opium farmer gave an ironic reply to Jimmy Carter’s brooding on whether to use nuclear weapons as part of a response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Amhud Gul told a reporter from the Washington Post, “We are cultivating this [that is, opium] and exporting this as an atom bomb.” CIA intervention had worked its magic once again. By 1994, Afghanistan, according to the UN drug control program had surpassed Burma as the world’s number one supplier of raw opium.

Note: This story was more than two years in the making. I started reporting it in 1995 for the premier issue of a Portland-based magazine called Serpent’s Tooth: Reporting the Drug War, which was meant to be a cross between Ramparts and Paul Krassner’s The Realist, with plenty of sex ads to pay the bills. In fact, Krassner also wrote a scathingly funny piece for that issue, some ribald tale involving three of his favorite subjects: Bill Clinton, LSD and the virtues of masturbation. Alas, a few weeks before the magazine was ready to go to press, the trust-fund publisher pulled the plug on the entire venture after getting into a brawl with the editorial collective. In my experience, any time there’s an “editorial collective” in charge, the publication is destined for a ventilator, especially when cocaine is involved. So, after spending more than a year working on my big piece on the Afghan war and the opium trade, it was orphaned. Portions of the story later appeared in CounterPunch, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and the Twin Cities weekly, City Pages. And a version of it ended up as a chapter in our book Whiteout: the CIA, Drugs and the Press.

– JSC

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own
Eddie S. Glaudie, Jr.
(Crown)

The Green New Deal and Beyond
Stan Cox
(City Lights)

Marrow and Bone
Walter Kempowski
Trans. Charlotte Collins
(NYRB Press)

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

Old Played New
Christina Vane
(Blue Tip Records)

EarthSeed
Nicole Mitchell & Lisa E. Harris
(FPE)

Color of Noize
Derrick Hodge
(Blue Note)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is whiteouthbk.jpg

On March 16, 1998, the CIA’s Inspector General, Fred Hitz, finally let the cat out of the bag in an aside at a Congressional Hearing. Hitz told the US Reps that the CIA had maintained relationships with companies and individuals the Agency knew to be involved in the drug business. Even more astonishingly, Hitz revealed that back in 1982 the CIA had requested and received from Reagan’s Justice Department clearance not to report any knowledge it might have of drug-dealing by CIA assets.

With these two admisstions, Hitz definitively sank decades of CIA denials, many of them under oath to Congress. Hitz’s admissions also made fools of some of the most prominent names in US journalism, and vindicated investigators and critics of the Agency, ranging from Al McCoy to Senator John Kerry.

The involvement of the CIA with drug traffickers is a story that has slouched into the limelight every decade or so since the creation of the Agency. Most recently, in 1996, the San Jose Mercury News published a sensational series on the topic, “Dark Alliance,” and then helped destroy its own reporter, Gary Webb.

In Whiteout, Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair finally put the whole story together from the earliest days, when the CIA’s institutional ancestors, the OSS and the Office of Naval Intelligence, cut a deal with America’s premier gangster and drug trafficker, Lucky Luciano.

They show that many of even the most seemingly outlandish charges leveled against the Agency have basis in truth. After the San Jose Mercury News series, for example, outraged black communities charged that the CIA had undertaken a program, stretching across many years, of experiments on minorities. Cockburn and St. Clair show how the CIA imported Nazi scientists straight from their labs at Dachau and Buchenwald and set them to work developing chemical and biological weapons, tested on black Americans, some of them in mental hospitals.

Cockburn and St. Clair show how the CIA’s complicity with drug-dealing criminal gangs was part and parcel of its attacks on labor organizers, whether on the docks of New York, or of Marseilles and Shanghai. They trace how the Cold War and counterinsurgency led to an alliance between the Agency and the vilest of war criminals such as Klaus Barbie, or fanatic heroin traders like the mujahedin in Afghanistan.

Whiteout is a thrilling history that stretches from Sicily in 1944 to the killing fields of South-East Asia, to CIA safe houses in Greenwich Village and San Francisco where CIA men watched Agency-paid prostitutes feed LSD to unsuspecting clients. We meet Oliver North as he plotted with Manuel Noriega and Central American gangsters. We travel to little-known airports in Costa Rica and Arkansas. We hear from drug pilots and accountants from the Medillin Cocaine Cartel. We learn of DEA agents whose careers were ruined because they tried to tell the truth.

The CIA, drugs… and the press. Cockburn and St. Clair dissect the shameful?way many American journalists have not only turned a blind eye on the Agency’s misdeeds, but helped plunge the knife into those who told the real story.

Here at last is the full saga. Fact-packed and fast-paced, Whiteout is a richly detailed excavation of the CIA’s dirtiest secrets. For all who want to know the truth about the Agency this is the book to start with.

Posted in USA, Afghanistan, C.I.AComments Off on “I Could Live With That”: How the CIA Made Afghanistan Safe for the Opium Trade

Bounty Tales

by EVE OTTENBERG

The corporate press exploded recently with the dubious story that Russia paid the Taliban bounties to kill U.S. soldiers. This volcanic claim came without one quote for attribution. All sources were anonymous. The New York Times broke the story, but the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and CNN quickly followed suit, boasting that they had confirmed this tale. They had not. They simply parroted the same murky, unnamed, security state sources.

Meanwhile, the CIA was unenthusiastic and the NSA outright skeptical. With good reason. Even your average, media-befogged citizen can see that the Taliban, fighting the U.S. invasion for two decades, does not need bounties from Russia or anybody else as an incentive to kill U.S. soldiers. (And in fact, under Trump, only a few dozen U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan, far fewer than under Obama, so arguably, the bounties, if they exist, have not been very effective.)

In the immortal words of one twitter user, “Putin is hiding WMDs in the Gulf of Tonkin.” That this bounty tale was a fabrication of the first order was obvious to many. So was its purpose: to derail Trump’s peace negotiations with the Taliban. These negotiations are key for a desperate Trump. Anti-war voters put him over the top in the 2016 election, and he wants to snatch those votes again and thus must distract from his horrible, war-mongering record: bombing Syria, nearly starting war with Iran, bombing Iraq, sending more troops to the Middle East, assassinating high-ranking Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, putting a bounty on the Venezuelan president and on and on.

Trump needs a win to claim he’s a peacemaker. And he may get one with the Taliban. So: enter the corporate media, followed quickly by House Democrats and some Republicans. The war party kicked into high gear. Even though the Times published a “clarification” that the article was questionable some days later (a clarification buried inside the paper), the damage had been done.

On June 30, the House Armed Services Committee voted to block these Afghanistan troop withdrawals. Most votes were Democratic, though some Republicans, notably Liz Cheney, joined in. According to The Hill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) “would require several certifications before the U.S. military can further draw down in Afghanistan.” It prohibits expenditures to cut U.S. troop numbers. In other words, the House committee threw sand in the gears of bringing the troops home.

The NDAA also restricted Trump’s plan to remove “9,500 troops from German soil,” Glenn Greenwald wrote in the Intercept, “reducing the number of U.S. troops in this extremely prosperous, rich European nation from 34,500 to 25,000.” Fundamentally, the House committee disgraced itself: it sandbagged two of Trump’s very few decent moves. Hopefully the full House or Senate will strip this amendment out of the bill. If not, maybe Trump will veto it. Then no NDAA until the end of the impasse, which is basically a win for the world.

Meanwhile in South Korea, Trump is accused of letting the U.S. military situation go to seed. But so what? It could be argued that both Koreas should just declare peace and send the U.S. soldiers home. Not, however, according to a recent Foreign Affairs article by Sue Mi Terry, entitled “The Unraveling of the U.S.-South Korean Alliance.” This formerly CIA-associated author cites John Bolton’s new book approvingly, to complain that Trump is more interested in public relations stunts with North Korea than in preserving the military alliance with South Korea.

With this Foreign Affairs article, once again, the security state becomes hysterical at Trump’s very few unorthodox moves – moves which it feared so intensely, from the get-go, that it concocted the whole, phony Russiagate fiasco, which distracted and demobilized people for three and a half years from Trump’s many other atrocious policies, like tax cuts for billionaires, gutting environmental protections, withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate accord and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, and sanctioning countries all over the globe like there’s no tomorrow.

The war party scents danger. But frankly, it can relax. The likelihood that many of the U.S. empire’s over 800 foreign military bases will be closed is very slim. Trump may shutter a few, amid great fanfare about what a nonpareil peacemaker and deal-maker he is, but he is not suicidal. Nor is he up to the task of systematically dismantling the biggest, most aggressive war machine and military empire the world has ever seen, and even if he were, he would not want to become the next JFK. He is a show-man, full of bluster and braggadocio. As he himself has crowed – no president has been harder on Russia than he has.

Trump is more than willing to coddle the pentagon and to shower it with billions of dollars. He just wants fodder for the Trump Show. Alas for him, that show with its public relations stunts involve pentagon interests, and if there’s one thing the military has no sense of humor about, it’s attempts to curb its power. Also, the U.S. military has a very long, tenacious, institutional memory, as countries like Iran, Russia and North Korea can attest. And anyone who dares challenge those grudges, better be ready for the full force of the war party’s wrath and its media’s hysterical prevarications.

Posted in USA, Afghanistan, RussiaComments Off on Bounty Tales

Afghanistan: : What is to be Done?

by MELVIN GOODMAN

Photograph Source: Jayel Aheram – CC BY 2.0

The mainstream media is asking the wrong questions regarding the possibility of Russian bounties for American soldiers.  Over and over, they ponder what did the president know and when did he know it?  These were important questions that Senator Howard Baker asked of President Nixon during Watergate, but they are meaningless questions for Donald Trump, given his ignorance and indifference.  Trump has mishandled every foreign policy and national security issue for the past three and a half years; why would anyone expect him to get this one right.  The fact that he was making a series of calls to President Vladimir Putin regarding a return to the G-7 even as his National Security Council was discussing the bounty issue and the intelligence community was providing threat warnings to NATO members with troops in Afghanistan is simply too bizarre for words.

But there are relevant issues regarding the current problem of Afghanistan, which the mainstream media should address, and there is the question of what is to be done.  The problem with media coverage is once again the lack of context.  Therefore, some history regarding the United States, the Soviet Union, and Afghanistan is in order.  (And at the risk of blowing my own horn, as a CIA intelligence analyst in 1979, I produced in March the first assessment that anticipated the Soviet use of force in Afghanistan, which took place in December.  I couldn’t get it into the President’s Daily Brief or the National Intelligence Daily, but it was provided to the Warnings Officer at the Pentagon who circulated it widely.)

First, the history: Several months before the Soviet invasion, National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to begin a covert action program in Afghanistan.  Brzezinski’s purpose was to elicit a Soviet response that would include the introduction of combat forces, which he figured would be a drain on Soviet resources and interests.  When the invasion took place, however, Brzezinski falsely ascribed the use of force to Soviet imperialism and the “urge to the sea,” which was particularly risible in view of Afghanistan’s land-locked situation.  Brzezinski, an anti-Soviet troglodyte in his early years, was also responsible for the phony Soviet combat brigade tale in Cuba, which blocked the signing of a strategic arms agreement, and spreading the disinformation regarding a (non-existent) Soviet role on the attack against the Pope in 1981.

Former director of central intelligence and former secretary of defense Robert M. Gates termed CIA’s support for the Mujahideen fighting the Soviets the agency’s “greatest success.”  This would be risible except for the fact that the same Mujahideen forces attacking the Soviets (more than 15,000 died from 1979-1989) were the forces who then turned their American-supplied weaponry on U.S. forces (nearly 2,500 Americans died from 2001-February 2020).  Meanwhile, Afghanistan remains a country of death and misery, and CIA supplies to the Mujahideen have fueled conflicts in the Balkans and Africa, and CIA-trained rebels have been involved in attacks against Americans.  So much for Gates’ “greatest success.”

Gates also promoted the false claim that CIA supplies of surface-to-air Stinger missiles to the Mujahideen convinced the Soviets to withdraw from Afghanistan.  In actual fact, President Gorbachev’s decision to withdraw preceded the arrival of the Stingers, and the intelligence community exaggerated the success of the Stingers against Soviet helicopters as well.  Like the early Brzezinski, the early Gates was also an anti-Soviet polemicist, who encouraged the use of force against the pro-Soviet Sandinistas in Nicaragua as well as against Muammar Qaddafi in Libya.

The United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, and Russian President Putin was the first foreign head of state to offer intelligence assistance and logistical support to U.S forces. Putin expected the United States to go after  bin Laden, and Moscow fully supported that objective. The U.S. blunder was to believe there were two strategic enemies—the Taliban government as well as bin Laden’s al Qaeda.  Al Qaeda was routed from Afghanistan in several months; at that point, the United States should have withdrawn from the country since the defeat of Taliban was not only unattainable but it wasn’t a vital national interest. The so-called U.S. “peace plan” is not a good one, but it is impossible to gain leverage in such negotiations when one party, the United States, has one foot out the door.

The mainstream media is accepting as fact that the Russians are encouraging attacks on withdrawing U.S. forces, and have placed bounties on U.S. and other allied personnel in Afghanistan.  There is no direct evidence of the role of Russian military intelligence (the GRU) in providing bounties for the deaths of U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan.  The National Security Agency is an outlier in the assessment of the intelligence community regarding such bounties, and the NSA has access to the best intelligence on the likelihood of Russian bounties. The Defense Intelligence Agency also lacks evidence that links the Kremlin to the bounty scheme.  The fact that the GRU has transferred funds to the Taliban is neither dispositive nor surprising.

The mainstream media is also arguing that Putin has adopted the tactic of bounties in order to delay the U.S. withdrawal and possibly cause the Trump administration to bring additional troops to Afghanistan.  This is unlikely because Russia would like to have some influence in the political future of Afghanistan and the last thing in Moscow’s interest would be to have a greater U.S. military presence in its sphere of influence.

We will probably never really know Putin’s role in any of this because a good covert action allows for plausible denial regarding the extent of Moscow’s actual involvement.  If Russia is going to be a player in Afghanistan, then the first requirement is a stable relationship with the ultimate winner there—the Taliban.  Russia appears to have had success in such an objective, but the United States needs to pursue the ultimate withdrawal from Afghanistan regardless of Russia’s actions.  In 1989-1990, we reneged on Secretary of George Shultz’s commitment to help Moscow stabilize the Afghan government in the wake of its withdrawal from the country.  Russia is not going to make it easy for the United States to extract itself from a strategically flawed commitment, but it does want U.S. withdrawal.

The United States should pay less attention to Russian covert action (or “active measures”) in Afghanistan; after all, Afghanistan is in Russia’s backyard and not ours.  In view of the intelligence and policy failures related to Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election of 2016, we need to pay more attention to possible Russian actions against the 50 separate electoral systems in the U.S. presidential election of 2020.

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What Do Russian Analysts Make of the Charge Moscow Offered Taliban Bounties on US Troops?

The history of outside forces helping wage war within Afghanistan—including the U.S. establishment of the mujahideen forces to fight the Russians in the 1980s—is a bloody history indeeed.

by: Nikola Mikovic

U.S. Soldiers navigate a stream during a security patrol in Chabar, Afghanistan, Dec. 3, 2009. The Soldiers are from Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 5th Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. (Photo: DoD/Tech. Sgt. Francisco V. Govea II, U.S. Air Force)

U.S. Soldiers navigate a stream during a security patrol in Chabar, Afghanistan, Dec. 3, 2009. The Soldiers are from Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 5th Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. (Photo: DoD/Tech. Sgt. Francisco V. Govea II, U.S. Air Force)

Russian officials deny the New York times claims that Moscow offered bounties to members of the Taliban movement for killing US soldiers, while the Kremlin-friendly analysts believe that the such “fake news” were fabricated in order to weaken the US President Donald Trump, as well as to serve as a pretext for more anti-Russia sanctions. From the Russian perspective, the US media are accusing Moscow of what the United States did during the Afghan war against the USSR.

Was the Taliban really funded and instructed by the Kremlin to kill the US troops? According to both, Moscow and the Taliban leaders, such claims are “ridiculous”.

The US establishment funded the Afghan Mujahideen who fought against Soviet invasion of the central Asian country in 1979. Some 14,000 – 15,000 Soviet soldiers were killed during the 10-years long war which aimed to prop up pro-Soviet Communist government. The conflict ravaged the country, killing an estimated one million Afghans and destroying the Afghanistan’s infrastructure.

After the Taliban movement took over the country in 1996, however, Russia established contacts with its leadership. Ever since, the Kremlin took a very pragmatic position. Moscow has never rejected any talks with representatives of the Taliban, as the radical movement is the reality of today’s Afghanistan. Even though in 2003 the Russian Supreme Court declared the Taliban a terrorist organization, a delegation of the Afghan movement held talks with Russian officials in Moscow after the US negotiations with the Afghan insurgents collapsed.

“These kinds of deals with the Russian intelligence agency are baseless — our target killings and assassinations were ongoing in years before, and we did it on our own resources,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, told the New York Times.

The Kremlin, traditionally, denies its involvement in any subversive activities aboard, while some Russian pro-government media indirectly tend to portray the whole story in the context of the Trump’s alleged fight against the so called deep state. In an article published by state-controlled RIA Novosti, author Ivan Danilov accuses The New York Times and other American media of demonizing and dehumanizing American police, as well as conservatives and Trump supporters.

“Apparently, the years of the “Russiagate” and absolutely fake accusations and fake files with anti-Russian compromising materials did their job: a significant segment of American society no longer believes its own media and its own power structures, and politicians can afford not only to directly blame the most authoritative media and their sources of lies, but also to act accordingly”, wrote Danilov, noting how President Trump accused The New York Times of being fake news, and how Richard Grenell, former diplomat and an ex-Director of National Intelligence, wrote on Twitter that “leaks of partial information to reporters from anonymous sources is dangerous”.

Some Russian authors suggest that the US media accusations against Moscow are based on an internal political struggle in Washington. According to Komsomolskaya Pravda daily newspaper, Donald Trump, who promised “a hundred times” to withdraw the US troops from Afghanistan, recently nearly fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the DIA director Robert Ashley as they “spent millions of dollars to resolve the situation in the Central Asian country, but there were no results”.

“This greatly affected the authority of Trump, who aims to be reelected in November. And who is to blame? The Russians, of course! They fuel the Taliban’s fighting activity with money”, sarcastically wrote Russian military expert Viktor Baranets.

Even though the Kremlin denies any involvement in this particular case, Russia is actively seeking to become an important player in conflict resolution in Afghanistan, where the interests of various regional and world powers come together. Besides Russia, China has also been stepping up its involvement in Afghanistan both militarily and economically. Beijing constantly voices worries that militants from Afghanistan could sneak into its restive Muslim-majority Xinjiang region.

Russia has similar concerns. Neutralizing potential threats from the side of terrorist groups from the south has been Moscow’s main interest for a long time. According to the Kremlin officials, Russia is worried about the increased terrorism activity in Afghanistan’s northern provinces, close to the borders of former Soviet republics such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. On the other hand, some Western analysts argue that Moscow is actually using this threat in order to increase its military presence in Central Asia.

In any case, Russia certainly has its own interests in and around Afghanistan, but whether the Russian military intelligence agency GRU offered bounties to the Taliban for killing American soldiers or not, the US will likely use this accusation as an additional instrument against Moscow. In the coming months, certainly before the US election, Russia – which many influential circles in Washington traditionally try to portray as a boogeyman – is expected to get another portion of sanctions.

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The War That Time Forgot

by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

Drone targeting footage, Afghanistan. Photo: USAF.

I hear it all the time. The most crucial decision of this century was the vote to go to war against Iraq. It’s meant to serve as a political line of demarcation, a sure-fire way to determine which politicians, celebrities and news personalities you can trust.

But there’s little question, to my mind at least, that the impulsive decision to invade Afghanistan was the more consequential and enduring tragedy, a political bloodletting that nearly every political leader, left and right, fell for, even putative peaceniks like Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul. This was the true moral test of our time and almost everyone failed, except Barbara Lee. She was the lone voice of conscience in the fall of 2001, a vote of dissent in a time of mass hysteria that has been vindicated time and again over the past 18 years.

Remember, the vote to go to war against Afghanistan, enacted only seven days after the 9/11 attacks, was actually a vote for an open-ended war waged against nebulous “terrorists” anywhere on the planet: Pakistan, Niger, Yemen, Somalia, Algeria. You name it. No questions asked. It was only Barbara Lee foresaw the consequences, how even a highflying critic of the rush to invade Iraq like Barack Obama could 14-years later use the hastily-written AUMF as a legal basis for launching airstrikes on ISIS forces inside Syria. Now, Donald Trump has claimed the same unilateral authority and used it to justify strikes against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and to justify the assassination of Qasem Suleimani. It’s the gift that keeps on killing.

What has the AUMF wrought? More than 18 years after the first US airstrikes hit Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad, the Taliban now control more of Afghanistan than they did on October 6, 2001, the day before a cruise missile strike destroyed Mullah Omar’s house. Last year was the deadliest year for US troops in Afghanistan since 2014 during Obama’s ill-fated surge. The Pentagon has long since stopped tracking the Afghan dead, but Neta Crawford, of Brown University’s Cost of War Project, estimated that by 2016 more than 111,000 Afghans had been killed in the war, at least 31,000 of them civilians.

Trump has repeatedly boasted about having secret plans in his desk draw to win the Afghanistan war in a week, but it would “kill 10 million people.” On April 13, 2017, US planes dropped a MOAB bomb on a suspected tunnel complex in Khorasan Province, the most destructive non-nuclear bomb in the Pentagon’s arsenal. Trump has since implied a willingness to consider using tactical nuclear weapons against Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIS positions in Afghanistan.

Because of the Pentagon’s $1.7 trillion secret slush fund for “anti-terror” operations, it’s almost impossible to calculate the total cost of the Afghanistan war to date. At a minimum, the US is spending about $52 billion a year waging war in Afghanistan. But, even as Trump expresses a desire to pullout US troops before the fall elections, this number is likely to rise, as US combat missions and airstrikes in Afghanistan have increased steadily since 2017 with little public debate or justification.

As recently as December 2019, top US military brass have described the war as a “strategic stalemate.” But it’s hard to determine precisely what this means since under Trump the Pentagon is “no longer producing its district-level stability assessments of Afghan government and insurgent control and influence”–the only real metric for judging the progress of the war. These reports, known as the SIGAR assessments, had provided quarterly estimates of the amount of land area and population under Taliban control or influence.

The final SIGAR report, issued in January 2019 before Trump pulled the plug, showed that only 53.4 percent of Afghanistan was under government control or influence, the lowest amount since SIGAR began tracking the data in 2015. The clear message is that 18 years into a war that has killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of people, the US is losing, even as one administration after another lies about the reasons we are there and the consequences, political and moral, for staying.

The so-called Afghanistan Papers, an internal review of the conduct of the war by the Inspector General’s Office, reveals that the Pentagon knew the war was hopeless from the earliest days and went to extraordinary lengths to hide this reality from the public and from the politicians who hold the purse-strings. The fraudulent depictions of the war spread virulently across three administrations. As Bob Crowley, a counter-terrorism advisor to CENTCOM during the Obama surge said derisively: “Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible.”

When revealed in the Washington Post, the story made a splash for a couple of days and then, like every other revelation about the Afghan catastrophe, dissipated from the headlines and from the political debate. The tempo of US airstrikes once again increased. A suicide bomber blew himself up in Charikar at a rally for Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, killing 26 and wounding 42. Trump proclaimed negotiations with the Taliban “dead” and put a hold on reconstruction funds. US troops were ambushed by the Taliban. A CIA special ops plane was shot down. And the UN reported that US airstrikes had killed 579 civilians and wounded 306 in the last year, an increase of 35 percent over 2018.

Just another few weeks in the war that time forgot.

The Exquisite Corpse Will Drink the New Wine

Booked Up
What I’m listening to this week…

The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood―and America―Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Greg Mitchell
(The New Press)

The Button: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power from Truman to Trump
William J. Perry and Tom Z. Collina
(BenBella Books)

The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think
Jennifer Ackerman
(Penguin Press)

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

Exquisite
Mekons
(Mekorpse)

Four Questions
Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra
(Zoho)

You Make Me Feel
Don Bryant
(Fat Possum)

Posted in USA, Afghanistan, C.I.A, PoliticsComments Off on The War That Time Forgot

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