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Vol. 76/No. 20      May 21, 2012

Obama says US forces in
Afghanistan through 2024
(front page)
Near the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Osama bin Laden, a gloating President Barack Obama delivered a “Speech to the Nation” May 1 from the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. He reminded listeners about the operation carried out under his orders and outlined promises for both a troop withdrawal and continued military operations in Afghanistan through 2024.

The announced plans highlighted the expanding size and role of special forces commandos under the current administration. This is getting another boost with the recent announcement of plans to give greater authority to special forces’ commanders.

The same day as Obama’s speech, hundreds protested in eastern Afghanistan against the killing of two people in a house raid that typified the kind of hunter-killer operations that have served as a cornerstone of military tactics led by U.S. special forces.

Another 23,000 U.S. troops are slated to leave Afghanistan by the end of the summer, Obama said, on top of 10,000 that withdrew last year. This would leave about 68,000 U.S. troops in the country.

By the end of 2014 the Afghans will be “fully responsible for the security of their country,” declared the president. But “international troops will continue to train, advise and assist the Afghans, and fight alongside them when needed.”

Obama explained that an undisclosed number of U.S. forces would remain beyond 2014 to help with “counterterrorism” and training as part of a strategic partnership agreement with the Afghan government through 2024.

He also pointed out that the U.S. government has been in direct discussions with the Taliban, clearly with the intention of integrating them into the Afghan government. “We’ve made it clear that they can be part of this future if they break with al-Qaeda, renounce violence and abide by Afghan laws,” Obama said.

Both liberal and conservative media commentators have commented that Obama’s speech was vague and made contradictory pledges. A New York Times editorial called it “A Missed Chance” to “fully explain his exit strategy from a war Americans are desperate to see brought to an end.”

“Does anybody really understand the U.S. policy in Afghanistan?” wrote Eugene Robinson, a staunch Obama supporter, in a Washington Post opinion piece. “Can anyone figure out how we’re supposed to stay the course and bring home the troops at the same time?”

The day Obama gave his speech, The Associated Press reported that residents from the village Bolan blocked a key road in the Laghman province, carrying the bodies of two people killed in a nighttime raid conducted jointly by U.S.-NATO and Afghan forces.

Mohammed Aziz Khochi said soldiers stormed his house at 2 a.m. “My sister thought thieves had come to the house and started shouting. One of her sons came out and the American forces shot him and killed him. Then her other son came out, and they killed him.” Kochi said security forces detained seven other men.

Villagers demand Afghan President Hamid Karzai put a stop to the night raids. Marching with the bodies, protesters vowed not bury them until the release of the seven who were arrested and an explanation given on what served as a pretext for the raid.

NATO said one of the men killed was a Taliban leader.

William McRaven, head of the Special Operations Command and commander of the raid that killed Bin Laden, is drafting proposals that would give his commando forces a “more flexible posture,” reported the Wall Street Journal May 7. The proposals were requested by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey “based on the lessons of the past 10 years of war,” Col. Dave Lapan, a spokesman for Dempsey, told the Los Angeles Times.

McRaven—who oversees more than 60,000 military personnel and civilians operating in at least 71 countries—would be given the authority to move special forces quickly from country to country and go where “militant and terrorist networks are deemed a threat to U.S. interests” without any formal Pentagon approval, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Special Operations Command would also be able to order air power, surveillance equipment, intelligence specialists and other support to back up commando operations.

McRaven is scheduled to brief Dempsey some time next month.

The day before Obama’s touchdown in Afghanistan, White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan gave a speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., in which he defended the use of drone and special operation assassinations, with some nuanced official distinctions between foreign nationals who pose “a significant threat to U.S. interests” and U.S. citizens who “poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.”

Brennan announced other official conditions, which essentially say the remote-controlled assassinations can be carried out in two types of countries: those that allow them and those that don’t. “There is nothing in international law that bans the use of remotely piloted aircraft for this purpose or that prohibits us from using lethal force against our enemies outside of an active battlefield, at least when the country involved consents or is unable or unwilling to take action against the threat.”

Meanwhile, the Pentagon budget for 2013 increases expenditures in three areas: putting more forces in the western Pacific to counter China’s growing military power, expanding special operations worldwide and increased use of killer drones.  
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