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General: Afghan war ‘long-term proposition’
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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 74/No. 33      August 30, 2010

(lead article)
General: Afghan war
‘long-term proposition’
U.S. Department of Defense/Staff Sgt. Bradley Lail, U.S. Air Force
Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, third from left, with Afghan National Army members August 2 in Bala Murghab Valley in northern Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama’s promise to begin withdrawing U.S troops from Afghanistan in July 2011 must be based on progress in winning the war, and that may be a “long-term proposition,” said Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, August 15.

“I didn’t come out here [Afghanistan] to carry out a graceful exit,” he said in the interview on “Meet the Press,” adding that when a drawdown could begin must be “conditions-based.”

To “win overall,” Petraeus said, “is going to be a long-term proposition” requiring “a substantial, significant commitment,” that “is going to have to be enduring.”

Petraeus made clear that the biggest U.S.-led military operations still lie ahead. By the end of August U.S. forces will have almost tripled to 100,000 from when Obama took office; non-U.S. NATO troops will be up to about 50,000.

An important component of Washington’s strategy is training Afghan soldiers and police to take over the fight against Taliban. But this hasn’t been going so well.

On the night of August 3, the Afghan army sent a battalion of 300 soldiers to drive Taliban out of Bad Pakh village, in Laghman Province in eastern Afghanistan. Unlike most operations it was not coordinated in advance with U.S. and NATO officials.

The Afghan troops were promptly routed by Taliban forces and had to be bailed out by U.S. and French troops. According to a U.S. military spokesperson, about 10 soldiers were killed and another 20 missing. The Red Crescent relief organization said the Taliban had destroyed 35 Ford Ranger trucks that each usually carry six or more soldiers, reported the New York Times.

A week after this debacle, Petraeus announced that this year’s goal of increasing the size of the Afghan National Army to 134,000 troops had been met three months ahead of schedule. A projected 109,000-member police force has also been put in place.

In addition to the 30,000 troops Obama ordered to Afghanistan last December, the Pentagon has been sending trainers to work with the Afghan army and police. Hundreds of artillery troops and air defense artillery soldiers from Fort Sill in Oklahoma and Fort Campbell in Kentucky were shipped to Afghanistan in July for a year. An 800-soldier battalion from the 82nd Airborne Division just got back from a three-month training mission.  
Civilian deaths spark protest
About 300 protesters, shouting “death to the United States,” blocked a highway linking the capital Kabul and southern Afghanistan August 12 after U.S. forces killed three civilians and arrested five others in the Zarin Khil village in central Maidan Wardak Province.

According to elders from that village, before dawn that day U.S. troops “stormed into a family’s house and shot three brothers—all young men—and then took their father into custody,” reported Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper.

Protesters told Tolo News that those killed were university students from Kabul in the province for the holidays, while NATO forces claimed they were “suspected insurgents.” The same day NATO aircraft fired on a house in the farming village Luchak in central Helmand Province killing another five civilians, the Times reported. The day before U.S.-led troops, while fighting Taliban forces in the same province, shot and killed an Afghan woman bystander.

In the first six months of this year, nearly 1,300 Afghan civilians have been killed, up 21 percent this year, according to a UN report. Including the 2,000 injured, overall civilian casualties are 31 percent higher. The report said Taliban were responsible for 76 percent of civilian deaths. U.S.-led forces killed 386 civilians during this period.

In an editorial August 13 that took up two full columns, the Times expressed its misgivings about the war. “We are increasingly confused and anxious about the strategy in Afghanistan,” it stated, “and wonder whether, at this late date, there is a chance of even minimal success.” Blaming the George W. Bush administration for not “invest[ing] enough troops, money or attention” to the war, it said, “Obama needs to do a better job right now of explaining the strategy and how he is measuring progress.”

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