Saturday, March 31, 2012
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Saturday, March 24, 2012
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
It doesn't seem like Lt. Col. Davis's whistleblowing got much coverage in the U.S. media. I'm posting this late but better than never.
By Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis
February 2012 | Armed Forces Journal
I spent last year in Afghanistan, visiting and talking with U.S. troops and their Afghan partners. My duties with the Army's Rapid Equipping Force took me into every significant area where our soldiers engage the enemy. Over the course of 12 months, I covered more than 9,000 miles and talked, traveled and patrolled with troops in Kandahar, Kunar, Ghazni, Khost, Paktika, Kunduz, Balkh, Nangarhar and other provinces.
What I saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground.
Entering this deployment, I was sincerely hoping to learn that the claims were true: that conditions in Afghanistan were improving, that the local government and military were progressing toward self-sufficiency. I did not need to witness dramatic improvements to be reassured, but merely hoped to see evidence of positive trends, to see companies or battalions produce even minimal but sustainable progress.
Instead, I witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level.
My arrival in country in late 2010 marked the start of my fourth combat deployment, and my second in Afghanistan. A Regular Army officer in the Armor Branch, I served in Operation Desert Storm, in Afghanistan in 2005-06 and in Iraq in 2008-09. In the middle of my career, I spent eight years in the U.S. Army Reserve and held a number of civilian jobs — among them, legislative correspondent for defense and foreign affairs for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.
As a representative for the Rapid Equipping Force, I set out to talk to our troops about their needs and their circumstances. Along the way, I conducted mounted and dismounted combat patrols, spending time with conventional and Special Forces troops. I interviewed or had conversations with more than 250 soldiers in the field, from the lowest-ranking 19-year-old private to division commanders and staff members at every echelon. I spoke at length with Afghan security officials, Afghan civilians and a few village elders.
I saw the incredible difficulties any military force would have to pacify even a single area of any of those provinces; I heard many stories of how insurgents controlled virtually every piece of land beyond eyeshot of a U.S. or International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) base.
I saw little to no evidence the local governments were able to provide for the basic needs of the people. Some of the Afghan civilians I talked with said the people didn't want to be connected to a predatory or incapable local government.
From time to time, I observed Afghan Security forces collude with the insurgency.
FROM BAD TO ABYSMAL
Much of what I saw during my deployment, let alone read or wrote in official reports, I can't talk about; the information remains classified. But I can say that such reports — mine and others' — serve to illuminate the gulf between conditions on the ground and official statements of progress.
And I can relate a few representative experiences, of the kind that I observed all over the country.
In January 2011, I made my first trip into the mountains of Kunar province near the Pakistan border to visit the troops of 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry. On a patrol to the northernmost U.S. position in eastern Afghanistan, we arrived at an Afghan National Police (ANP) station that had reported being attacked by the Taliban 2½ hours earlier.
Through the interpreter, I asked the police captain where the attack had originated, and he pointed to the side of a nearby mountain.
"What are your normal procedures in situations like these?" I asked. "Do you form up a squad and go after them? Do you periodically send out harassing patrols? What do you do?"
As the interpreter conveyed my questions, the captain's head wheeled around, looking first at the interpreter and turning to me with an incredulous expression. Then he laughed.
"No! We don't go after them," he said. "That would be dangerous!"
According to the cavalry troopers, the Afghan policemen rarely leave the cover of the checkpoints. In that part of the province, the Taliban literally run free.
In June, I was in the Zharay district of Kandahar province, returning to a base from a dismounted patrol. Gunshots were audible as the Taliban attacked a U.S. checkpoint about one mile away.
As I entered the unit's command post, the commander and his staff were watching a live video feed of the battle. Two ANP vehicles were blocking the main road leading to the site of the attack. The fire was coming from behind a haystack. We watched as two Afghan men emerged, mounted a motorcycle and began moving toward the Afghan policemen in their vehicles.
The U.S. commander turned around and told the Afghan radio operator to make sure the policemen halted the men. The radio operator shouted into the radio repeatedly, but got no answer.
On the screen, we watched as the two men slowly motored past the ANP vehicles. The policemen neither got out to stop the two men nor answered the radio — until the motorcycle was out of sight.
To a man, the U.S. officers in that unit told me they had nothing but contempt for the Afghan troops in their area — and that was before the above incident occurred.
In August, I went on a dismounted patrol with troops in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province. Several troops from the unit had recently been killed in action, one of whom was a very popular and experienced soldier. One of the unit's senior officers rhetorically asked me, "How do I look these men in the eye and ask them to go out day after day on these missions? What's harder: How do I look [my soldier's] wife in the eye when I get back and tell her that her husband died for something meaningful? How do I do that?"
One of the senior enlisted leaders added, "Guys are saying, 'I hope I live so I can at least get home to R&R leave before I get it,' or 'I hope I only lose a foot.' Sometimes they even say which limb it might be: 'Maybe it'll only be my left foot.' They don't have a lot of confidence that the leadership two levels up really understands what they're living here, what the situation really is."
On Sept. 11, the 10th anniversary of the infamous attack on the U.S., I visited another unit in Kunar province, this one near the town of Asmar. I talked with the local official who served as the cultural adviser to the U.S. commander. Here's how the conversation went:
Davis: "Here you have many units of the Afghan National Security Forces [ANSF]. Will they be able to hold out against the Taliban when U.S. troops leave this area?"
Adviser: "No. They are definitely not capable. Already all across this region [many elements of] the security forces have made deals with the Taliban. [The ANSF] won't shoot at the Taliban, and the Taliban won't shoot them.
"Also, when a Taliban member is arrested, he is soon released with no action taken against him. So when the Taliban returns [when the Americans leave after 2014], so too go the jobs, especially for everyone like me who has worked with the coalition.
"Recently, I got a cellphone call from a Talib who had captured a friend of mine. While I could hear, he began to beat him, telling me I'd better quit working for the Americans. I could hear my friend crying out in pain. [The Talib] said the next time they would kidnap my sons and do the same to them. Because of the direct threats, I've had to take my children out of school just to keep them safe.
"And last night, right on that mountain there [he pointed to a ridge overlooking the U.S. base, about 700 meters distant], a member of the ANP was murdered. The Taliban came and called him out, kidnapped him in front of his parents, and took him away and murdered him. He was a member of the ANP from another province and had come back to visit his parents. He was only 27 years old. The people are not safe anywhere."
That murder took place within view of the U.S. base, a post nominally responsible for the security of an area of hundreds of square kilometers. Imagine how insecure the population is beyond visual range. And yet that conversation was representative of what I saw in many regions of Afghanistan.
In all of the places I visited, the tactical situation was bad to abysmal. If the events I have described — and many, many more I could mention — had been in the first year of war, or even the third or fourth, one might be willing to believe that Afghanistan was just a hard fight, and we should stick it out. Yet these incidents all happened in the 10th year of war.
As the numbers depicting casualties and enemy violence indicate the absence of progress, so too did my observations of the tactical situation all over Afghanistan.
I'm hardly the only one who has noted the discrepancy between official statements and the truth on the ground.
A January 2011 report by the Afghan NGO Security Office noted that public statements made by U.S. and ISAF leaders at the end of 2010 were "sharply divergent from IMF, [international military forces, NGO-speak for ISAF] 'strategic communication' messages suggesting improvements. We encourage [nongovernment organization personnel] to recognize that no matter how authoritative the source of any such claim, messages of the nature are solely intended to influence American and European public opinion ahead of the withdrawal, and are not intended to offer an accurate portrayal of the situation for those who live and work here."
The following month, Anthony Cordesman, on behalf of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote that ISAF and the U.S. leadership failed to report accurately on the reality of the situation in Afghanistan.
"Since June 2010, the unclassified reporting the U.S. does provide has steadily shrunk in content, effectively 'spinning' the road to victory by eliminating content that illustrates the full scale of the challenges ahead," Cordesman wrote. "They also, however, were driven by political decisions to ignore or understate Taliban and insurgent gains from 2002 to 2009, to ignore the problems caused by weak and corrupt Afghan governance, to understate the risks posed by sanctuaries in Pakistan, and to 'spin' the value of tactical ISAF victories while ignoring the steady growth of Taliban influence and control."
How many more men must die in support of a mission that is not succeeding and behind an array of more than seven years of optimistic statements by U.S. senior leaders in Afghanistan? No one expects our leaders to always have a successful plan. But we do expect — and the men who do the living, fighting and dying deserve — to have our leaders tell us the truth about what's going on.
I first encountered senior-level equivocation during a 1997 division-level "experiment" that turned out to be far more setpiece than experiment. Over dinner at Fort Hood, Texas, Training and Doctrine Command leaders told me that the Advanced Warfighter Experiment (AWE) had shown that a "digital division" with fewer troops and more gear could be far more effective than current divisions. The next day, our congressional staff delegation observed the demonstration firsthand, and it didn't take long to realize there was little substance to the claims. Virtually no legitimate experimentation was actually conducted. All parameters were carefully scripted. All events had a preordained sequence and outcome. The AWE was simply an expensive show, couched in the language of scientific experimentation and presented in glowing press releases and public statements, intended to persuade Congress to fund the Army's preference. Citing the AWE's "results," Army leaders proceeded to eliminate one maneuver company per combat battalion. But the loss of fighting systems was never offset by a commensurate rise in killing capability.
A decade later, in the summer of 2007, I was assigned to the Future Combat Systems (FCS) organization at Fort Bliss, Texas. It didn't take long to discover that the same thing the Army had done with a single division at Fort Hood in 1997 was now being done on a significantly larger scale with FCS. Year after year, the congressionally mandated reports from the Government Accountability Office revealed significant problems and warned that the system was in danger of failing. Each year, the Army's senior leaders told members of Congress at hearings that GAO didn't really understand the full picture and that to the contrary, the program was on schedule, on budget, and headed for success. Ultimately, of course, the program was canceled, with little but spinoffs to show for $18 billion spent.
If Americans were able to compare the public statements many of our leaders have made with classified data, this credibility gulf would be immediately observable. Naturally, I am not authorized to divulge classified material to the public. But I am legally able to share it with members of Congress. I have accordingly provided a much fuller accounting in a classified report to several members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, senators and House members.
A nonclassified version is available at www.afghanreport.com. [Editor's note: At press time, Army public affairs had not yet ruled on whether Davis could post this longer version.]
TELL THE TRUTH
When it comes to deciding what matters are worth plunging our nation into war and which are not, our senior leaders owe it to the nation and to the uniformed members to be candid — graphically, if necessary — in telling them what's at stake and how expensive potential success is likely to be. U.S. citizens and their elected representatives can decide if the risk to blood and treasure is worth it.
Likewise when having to decide whether to continue a war, alter its aims or to close off a campaign that cannot be won at an acceptable price, our senior leaders have an obligation to tell Congress and American people the unvarnished truth and let the people decide what course of action to choose. That is the very essence of civilian control of the military. The American people deserve better than what they've gotten from their senior uniformed leaders over the last number of years. Simply telling the truth would be a good start.
Yep, irony can be pretty ironic sometimes.
Obama administration lawyers say her case is an example of why an insurance mandate is needed to prevent 'uncompensated care that will ultimately be paid by others.'
By David G. Savage
March 8, 2012 | Los Angeles Times
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
"The average fair market value of top-tier college football and men's basketball players is over $100,000 each.... [I]f college sports shared their revenues the way pro sports do, the average Football Bowl Subdivision player would be worth $121,000 per year, while the average basketball player at that level would be worth $265,000."
Monday, March 12, 2012
Very nice and point taken: older Americans didn't produce as much garbage as we do today; they re-used glass and paper bags, sometimes; and they washed and re-used cloth diapers... until 1970 when Pampers became a national brand.
Still, what this guy -- I guess technically not a Baby Boomer if he hit retirement age 5 years ago -- is saying is not so much untrue, as only part of the truth, which is that the Greatest Generation (1901-24), Silent Generation (1925-45), and then Baby Boomers (1946-64) each in their turn developed and promoted our modern American throw-away consumer culture.
They were not standing apart from it all these years, in their moral superiority, reminiscing about the good ole' days. They enthusiastically created this mess -- and profited nicely from it -- leaving the consequences (climate change; overflowing landfills; post-industrial ghost towns and urban blight; peak oil, etc.) to us "slackers" from Gens X and Y to handle.
I don't watch Mad Men, but I gather it's about Madison Avenue and the dawn of the ad age in the 1960s, when companies started selling us a lot of stuff we didn't necessarily need with catchy jingles; when convenience, especially around the house, was the operative word. These firms were staffed by the Greatest and Silent Generations. They pushed this way of life on us. So they can't shirk moral responsibility in their old age.
By Bill Morem
March 10, 2012 | San Luis Obispo Tribune
What Afghans need to understand is that, in America, Americans snap and go on shooting rampages all the time. So it's nothing personal against them; it has nothing to do with their nationality or religion. We Americans just tend to lose our s**t sometimes, grab a bunch of guns, and mow down lots of innocent people to blow off steam. It's this thing we do.
You could even say we were treating them like we treat ourselves. Hey, we're exporting American culture! Although they'd probably refuse to take it that way, like, on the bright side I mean, because they're so surly and all lately.
Unfortunately, our cross-cultural dialogue has not yet reached the point where we can convey such simple, everyday realities to our distrustful Afghan brothers and sisters. (Sigh).
American Soldier Massacres 16 Civilians In Afghanistan
March 11, 2012 | AP
As Israel plays up the country's nuclear threat, the west should be seeking active dialogue with Tehran
By Peter Beaumont
March 11, 2012 | Observer
"Actions," said Samuel Johnson in his life of the English poet Abraham Cowley, "are visible." What are secret, Johnson added pointedly, are "motives".
In the case of Iran's nuclear programme what we know of Tehran's actions and motives are the following.
With some degree of "overall credibility" – according to the 2011 board of governors' report from the International Atomic Energy Agency – we know that Tehran, in all likelihood, made active studies of technologies associated with nuclear weapon design and payload design. By and large, the report believes, that activity ceased in 2003, coincident with the US-led invasion of Iraq.
We know, too, because it has been even more visible, that Iran has come close to mastering the nuclear fuel cycle as well, including enrichment of uranium up to 20%.
The problem with the present dangerous debate, as it has been framed ever-more closely through the exclusive prism of Israel's security concerns and its ever-louder threats to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities, is that far from illuminating what actually motivates Iran in its nuclear ambitions, it has tended to obscure Tehran's motives instead.
So what does Iran really want?
Writing in 2009, Kayhan Barzegar, an expert on Iran who has taught both in Tehran and in the US, described what he called the "paradox of Iran's nuclear consensus". He was attempting to lay bare the complex and competing historical, political and strategic considerations behind the theocratic regime's nuclear decision-making processes.
Referencing two centuries of internal criticism of Iran's failure "to acquire substantial power, influence and wealth", Barzegar cites more recent history that has persuaded many Iranians, not least in the country's elites, that the west, and Britain and America in particular, have long conspired to throw obstacles in the way of Iran's development both economically and as a major regional player.
From an Iranian point of view, there is ample evidence of this: from the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh's government in a CIA and MI6-led coup in 1953, after he nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, to western resistance to the shah's Esfahan steel manufacturing project to President Clinton's killing off a $1bn deal for the US energy company Conoco to develop offshore oil fields. It is a suspicion that has been amplified by the country's post-Islamic revolution politics.
Indeed, one of the bleakest of historical ironies is that the early revolution under Ayatollah Khomeini actually halted the western-supported civil nuclear programme in place under the shah and it was only persuaded that it needed to acquire nuclear weapons technology because of Iran's massive losses in the war with Iraq, then supported by the US, which saw Iran targeted with chemical weapons.
It is these twin considerations – a combination of desire for deterrence in a neighbourhood where there are five nuclear powers and a sense of frustrated regional ambitions – that have long driven Iran's pursuit of nuclear technology, summed up in its 20-year strategic plan, ratified by its powerful expediency council, which calls for Iran to "rank first in the region".
Iran's decision-making over its nuclear programme, not least its pursuit of weapons technology, is complicated by a number of other factors. Indeed, the 2010 US National Intelligence Estimate, in agreement with other analysts, argued that far from having already concluded it would build a bomb at any cost, Tehran is more flexible on the issue, "guided by a cost-benefit approach", a judgment recently endorsed by 16 US agencies that have studied the issue and concluded there is no evidence Iran is actively trying to build a bomb.
Indeed, as Barzegar argued: "There are quite a number of reasons why, from the perspective of the Iranian leadership, weaponisation is untenable, unnecessary and unwise."
If Iran's deliberate policy of ambiguity is one complicating factor, a second and equally important issue is how the nuclear programme, and the consequent international pressure on Tehran, has become ever more politicised in both the factional wrangling within the regime and the country's wider politics.
That has meant, counterintuitively perhaps, that as international pressure on Iran over its nuclear ambitions has increased, it has made it harder, not easier, for the regime to come to an accommodation as even some leading members of the Green opposition have criticised President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for any perceived concessions.
If the motivation of Iran is far more complex than that described by the present, simplistic debate, a question needs to be asked, too, about the motivation of Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and those of his Israeli allies who have been pushing most vigorously for military action.
With not even 20% of Israelis believing that Israel should launch a unilateral attack against Iran, according to one poll, and the country divided over how effective a joint Israeli-US strike would be (Israel is not in a position to act alone), Netanyahu, even as he lectured American supporters, has failed to convince his own public.
More cynically, as a recent column in the Economist argued, Netanyahu's promotion of the threat posed by Iran, described in evermore apocalyptic terms, has been a convenient piece of "displacement" by an Israeli leader absolutely determined to avoid any meaningful engagement with the Palestinian peace process or bring an end to the occupation of the West Bank.
Because of this, a debate that should be about Iran's real nuclear ambitions and motives, and about how to engage with the regime constructively to prevent further proliferation, has been hijacked by a largely false premise.
For those of us who were intimate observers of the headlong charge to war against Iraq, it seems nothing more than a dispiriting rerun, not least in David Cameron's hyperbolic claim – counter to the weight of all current available evidence – that Iran is actively pursuing the construction of a intercontinental ballistic missile that could threaten the west, an assertion eerily reminiscent of Tony Blair's untrue claim that Iraq could strike British interests within "45 minutes".
A war with Iran is not inevitable, but it might yet become so if the debate does not become both more honest and realistic. Indeed, the west has misread Iran for the best part of a century and more, not least since the country's revolution.
To go to war twice in the Gulf within the space of a decade based on rhetoric, lies and misunderstanding would not simply be a tragedy but an utter catastrophe that would shame the west.
Friday, March 9, 2012
"Last year, the FBI received more than 16.3 million inquiries from people running criminal background checks on potential gun buyers. That's up from 12.7 million in 2008 and 11.4 million in 2007, FBI records show."
Thursday, March 8, 2012
"Israel can't do long-term, severe damage to Iran's nuclear infrastructure, so its chief purpose in bombing Iran would be to trigger Iranian retaliation and draw the U.S. into the war to defend Israel, and to finish off what Israel started."
"If I'm sitting here in the month of March 2012 reading [Romney's latest op-ed on Iran], and I'm an Iranian leader, what do I understand? I have nine more months to run as fast as I can because this is going to be terrible if the other guys get in."
"The regime in Iran is a very rational one," says the former top Israeli spymaster. And President Ahmadinejad? "The answer is yes," he replies, but "Not exactly our rational, but I think he is rational. [...] An attack on Iran before you are exploring all other approaches is not the right way."
Sunday, March 4, 2012
Friday, March 2, 2012
"The basic premise of a broker pitching a client is 'I'm going to be able to consistently generate 20 percent returns a year or I'm going to consistently beat the market.' They have no way to show any track record. They are managing hundreds of different accounts, each one is different. So I think it starts with a lie."
"In 2008, everything really crystallized for me. The market was melting down. But at the retail brokerages, there were analysts still picking stocks. Nobody said, 'Go to cash.' That's when you realize: This has nothing to do with taking care of clients and everything to do with generating gross commissions."
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Senator Reed: I presume that [a bombing campaign] would not be 100 percent effective in terms of knocking them out. It would probably delay them, but that if they're persistent enough they could at some point succeed. Is that a fair judgment from your position?General Cartwright: That's a fair judgment.Senator Reed: So that the only absolutely dispositive way to end any potential would be to physically occupy their country and to disestablish their nuclear facilities. Is that a fair, logical conclusion?General Cartwright: Absent some other unknown calculus that would go on, it's a fair conclusion.
|Feeling so blue in the Bluegrass State.|
Here we see Kentucky ranking last or near-last in yet more national rankings.
Rush says what Republicans think: Non-whites hate work, wipe their a**es with American flags, and vote Democrat
"But Obama is going to be campaigning exclusively to the people who are being pulled in the cart: The people that aren't paying income tax, the people that are on the federal dole. He has made the calculation that that's where he wins. It's clear to me that the Democrat Party has now made the determination that, of the people that vote in this country, a clear majority of them don't work. A clear majority of them don't want to work. A clear majority of them live and breathe on this class envy stuff, and are gonna vote for somebody who's gonna make sure their contraception pills keep coming; their welfare checks keep coming, their disability checks keep coming, their unemployment checks keep coming. Food stamps, you name it."That's his group. That's his constituency. Illegal immigrants or families of illegal immigrants. As many minority groups as he can create and convince they are victims of an oppressive America. And, in that calculation, he just casts aside white working-class families while setting up African Americans for Obama."