Timetable Abandoned: U.S. And NATO To Wage Endless War In Afghanistan

The mainstream news media and alternative sources alike have seized on a  recent revelation – though it is hardly such – published by McClatchy  Newspapers that “The Obama administration has decided to begin publicly  walking away from what it once touted as key deadlines in the war in  Afghanistan in an effort to remove emphasis from Barack Obama’s pledge  that he would begin withdrawing US forces in July 2011.” [1]

An article in this series of over a month earlier, U.S. And NATO To Wage  War 15-Year War In Afghanistan And Pakistan [2], documented that much  and more, and any attentive reader of news on the Internet during the  preceding weeks would not have been surprised by the McClatchy feature.

On October 25 Edmund Whiteside, North Atlantic Treaty Organization  Council Secretary, spoke at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada,  and according to the local press said, “Expect the war in Afghanistan —  the longest military engagement in both Canadian and American history —  to continue for a ‘very long’ time.” In his exact words, “Afghanistan  will be a very long military venture.”

His position will be confirmed at the NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal  next week, as will a major commitment demanded by the U.S.-dominated  military bloc’s new Strategic Concept to be adopted at the meeting: The  retention of nuclear arms in NATO’s arsenal and the continued stationing  of American nuclear bombs in Europe. Whiteside also argued: “Canada  says that it doesn’t need ballistic missiles. But Canada is part of a  nuclear policy alliance. There’s no getting around that….” [3]

On November 8, the day before the McClatchy article appeared, the  spokesman for the 152,000-troop, 50-nation, NATO-led International  Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, German Brigadier-General Josef  Blotz, stated that “no timetable has been set for withdrawal of  coalition troops from Afghanistan.”

Blotz confirmed that “There has been no timetable yet.”

In regard to transferring security control to Afghan forces, he said,  “We will not [proceed] according to a fixed timetable, it will be  carried out based on conditions to be achieved over the next couple of  years.” [4]

On November 11, Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada spoke on the  sidelines of the G20 summit in Seoul, South Korea and said that “he’s  decided…to keep troops in Afghanistan in a noncombat training role  after Canada’s combat mission ends in 2011.”

Associated Press cited a senior Canadian government official verifying  that his nation “will keep 750 military trainers and 250 support staff  in Afghanistan until 2014….” [5]

A similarly bleak perspective on any withdrawal – or beginning of one –  next year was offered on the preceding day by the commander of British  forces in southern Afghanistan, Major General Nick Carter, who “gave a  devastating assessment of the war effort in Afghanistan.”

Carter admitted that “In my tour I lost 302 soldiers. Most of them  American. The cost in blood and treasure has been enormous.” He added  that NATO wouldn’t know if it was winning – whatever that word signifies  in a war already in its tenth year and escalating to new heights by the  day – until June of 2011, “when the fighting season begins again” and  the Atlantic Alliance and the Pentagon can “compare Taliban attacks with  this year.” [6]

The U.S. and NATO – the distinction is merely formal as recent estimates  are that 140,000 of the 150,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan now serve  under NATO command – have lost 633 troops in the war as of November 11.  That compares to 521 for all of last year and 295 in 2008. 1,184 of the  total 2,203 Western military deaths in the country have occurred in the  past 22 months.

Citing U.S. Air Force statistics, an ABC News report of November 10,  “Number of Afghan Air Strikes Highest Ever,” disclosed that the amount  of air strikes conducted in Afghanistan in October – approximately 1,000  – was the highest monthly total in the war that began in 2001, up from  700 the previous month, which itself marked a 172 per cent increase over  September of 2009.

The article also detailed that the amount of American and NATO combat  sorties so far this year, 26,948, exceeds the previous high of 26,474  from last year. [7]

Across the border in Pakistan, the U.S. has launched at least 20 drone  missile attacks that have killed 130 or more people since the beginning  of last month.

A violation of Pakistani airspace by a NATO helicopter gunship in the  Federally Administered Tribal Areas occurred on November 2 for at least  the fifth time since September, with one killing three Pakistani  soldiers on the last day of the latter month.

Earlier this month opposition parliamentarians in Pakistan “expressed  serious concern over the violation of Pakistani airspace by North  Atlantic Territory Organisation (NATO) forces” and “staged a walkout  from [a] Senate session in protest and strongly condemned the airspace  violations by NATO forces.” [8]

According to a feature in India’s Frontline magazine, “President Obama  has substantially increased defence spending and has expanded the war in  Afghanistan,” and “the Obama administration has wholeheartedly endorsed  the Bush administration’s policy of eliminating terror suspects using  pilotless high-tech drone aircraft.

“Instead of using the laborious technique of capturing alleged  terrorists from their hideouts in crowded cities and remote villages,  the drones just bomb the house or village where the suspects are holed  up. In the process, there has been huge collateral damage. Innocent  civilians killed far outnumber those killed in the fight against the  occupation.

“Ever since he took office two years ago, Obama has made the deadly  drones a key instrument in his fight against the militants in  Afghanistan and Pakistan. The drones are also being used liberally to  target militants in Yemen and Somalia.” [9]

The Afghan war in its tenth year has expanded into a far broader  conflict, one which grows in both scope and lethality with each passing  week and will escalate yet further before it begins to wind down, if it  ever does.

President Obama’s pledge last year to “draw down” U.S. and NATO combat  forces from South and Central Asia – they are also stationed in  Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – next year is now revealed to be  the transparent political manipulation it was from the start.

A piece by Stephen M. Walt was published on the website of National  Public Radio on November 11, entitled “Foreign Policy: Bait And Switch  In Afghanistan.”

Walt is a professor of international affairs at Harvard University’s  John F. Kennedy School of Government, serves on the editorial boards of  Foreign Policy, Security Studies, International Relations, and the  Journal of Cold War Studies, and is the co-author of The Israel Lobby  and U.S. Foreign Policy with John Mearsheimer.

He wondered at the chorus of surprise, genuine or feigned, that has greeted the McClatchy article, stating:

“I don’t know anyone who thought the U.S. could turn things around in 18  months, and that particular deadline was little more than a piece of  political sleight-of-hand designed to make escalation look like a  temporary step. Reasonable people can disagree about whether Obama’s  decision to escalate in Afghanistan was the right one (I think it  wasn’t), but Obama’s straddle on this issue is one reason why some of  his most enthusiastic supporters have become disenchanted.”

Listing historical precedents, and at least hinting at the public’s  inveterate gullibility, Walt added, “there’s a long tradition of  presidents telling the American people that some new military mission  won’t take long and won’t cost that much. Nixon told us he has a ‘secret  plan’ to end the Vietnam War (he didn’t) and Bill Clinton said U.S.  troops would only be in Bosnia for 12 months (it was more like nine  years). President George W. Bush and his advisors said that the  occupation of Iraq would be brief and pay for itself yet we are still  there today. And now Obama has done essentially same thing: selling an  increase committed by suggesting that it is only temporary, and then  backing away from his own self-imposed deadline.” [10]

Further vows to deescalate the conflict, not only the longest war in  American history as was noted above but also in Afghanistan’s, will  predictably follow the U.S. political cycle, especially the 2012  presidential election and Obama’s presumed reelection bid, but will  prove as false as last year’s.

The Pentagon and what on November 19 and 20 will be officially unveiled  as global NATO have reaped substantial benefits from the war in  Afghanistan that both are reluctant to relinquish. They have insinuated  their militaries into the center of Eurasia for the long haul. And they  have built an international network of installations and military  partnerships to service the war, from the world’s first multinational  strategic airlift operation in Hungary to a transit base in Kyrgyzstan  through which at least 50,000 troops pass each month in and out of  Afghanistan and the subordination of the armed forces of scores of  nations in Europe and Asia.

In recent days, for example, the Afghan war has provided the U.S. and  NATO with unprecedented opportunities to expand their worldwide military  reach:

President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, which has the largest oil  and natural gas reserves in the Caspian Sea Basin and borders Russia and  China, visited NATO Headquarters in Brussels to meet with Secretary  General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Rasmussen “thanked President Nazarbayev  for his country’s support for the NATO-led International Security  Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan,” [11] and Nazarbayev announced  that “Several Kazakhstani troops will serve at the headquarters of the  international coalition in Afghanistan.” [12]

Admiral Giampaolo di Paola, Chairman of the NATO Military Committee,  visited Georgia to meet with the country’s defense and foreign ministers  and the chief of the Joint Staff of the Georgian Armed Forces and to  inspect the NATO-supported Krtsanisi National Training Center, the newly  established NATO Liaison Office in the nation’s capital, and the “33rd  Battalion of the III Infantry Brigade going to replace [the] contingent  of the 32nd Battalion currently deployed in Afghanistan.” [13] Georgia  fought a five-day war with Russia in August of 2008 and NATO is training  its armed forces for more than just the war in Afghanistan.

U.S. Special Operations Command recently concluded training exercises  for troops from the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Poland in Germany. The  Pentagon described their purpose as follows:

“Coordination and synchronization between conventional and special  operations forces (SOF) is crucial on the modern battlefield since both  share integral roles within an area of responsibility – whether it  involves intelligence gathering or conducting combat operations….[T]he  training event was part of an annual brigade-level mission rehearsal  exercise…to prepare conventional force units assigned to the U.S.  European Command area of operations for deployment to Afghanistan.” [14]

Lithuania and Poland have borders with Russia and both host NATO forces,  at an air base in the first and a training center in the second nation.  Earlier this month the Czech parliament approved the deployment of  additional troops, including special forces, to Afghanistan next year,  raising the nation’s NATO contingent to 720 soldiers.

Also this month, Polish troops trained at an Illinois Army National  Guard base an hour’s drive from Chicago, and a Polish officer involved  in the training stated: “We train together because we fight together. If  we train together we fight and work better in Afghanistan. It is good  idea to train together before we deploy. We are good soldiers and our  brigade was deployed in Iraq two times and in Afghanistan so we work at a  high level. We are ready.” [15]

The connection between nations supplying troops for the war in  Afghanistan and the U.S. committing to intervene on their behalf in  conflicts with neighboring states was recently affirmed by Philip H.  Gordon, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.

At a strategy meeting in Poland late last month he said: “I think there  is broad support among allies for the balance between NATO’s traditional  missions of Article 5, which is collective defence, and also the need  for the Alliance to deal with new security challenges around the world,  and we are very comfortable with that balance.” [16]

The Swedish parliament has extended the deployment of troops to  Afghanistan, where Sweden is engaged in combat operations and has lost  troops for the first time in two centuries, months after the government  abolished the last vestige of conscription to meet NATO  “professionalization” demands and announced a mandatory foreign  deployment obligation for all troops.

Last week German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg visited  Mongolia, which also borders China and Russia, and met “with soldiers of  the first Mongolian mission contingent, which had been deployed to the  German defense area in Afghanistan.” [17]

Against the backdrop of President Obama’s visit to Mumbai and New Delhi,  reports have surfaced that India could be enlisted to provide troops  for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.  Indian defense analyst Bharat Singh recently asserted that “The almost  9,000 Indian troops deployed on UN peacekeeping missions could easily be  re-deployed in Afghanistan.” [18]

In Bulgaria, where the Pentagon has acquired four new military bases –  including two air bases – since 2006, Defense Minister Anyu Angelov  recently stated that 7 percent of his nation’s defense – if it can be  called that – budget is allotted for the war in Afghanistan, where troop  strength will rise from 536 to over 600. He also said that Bulgaria  “will be setting no deadline for withdrawal of its troops from  Afghanistan.” [19]

Nevertheless, James Warlick, U.S. ambassador to the country, spoke at a  conference entitled Europe for Afghanistan: from Understanding to  Support held at the Military Club in the Bulgarian capital, saying  “Bulgaria could up its efforts in Afghanistan and do more.” [20]

The consolidation of a far-reaching military nexus for and dependent on  the Afghan war is not limited to Europe’s east. Last month “A small  corner of Cornwall [became] Afghanistan.” At the Royal Air Force St  Mawgan facility 1,000 troops from NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps  (ARRC) participated in “a major NATO training exercise, the first of its  kind in the UK” [21] in preparation for deployment to Afghanistan in  January.

“The ARRC servicemen were in the county preparing for their final  training before being deployed for operational service in Afghanistan  next year.

“Exercise ARRCade Spear II aims to offer recruits training ahead of  their work as part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.”  [22]

Shortly afterward, “328 soldiers, including 45 teams from the full-time  British Army, UK Territorial Army teams and entrants from foreign  armies” took part in Exercise Cambrian Patrol in Wales, “as one of the  most prestigious patrolling tests within NATO.” [23]

From Cornwall to Mongolia, Kazakhstan to Illinois, Sweden to Wales,  Poland to Georgia, Lithuania to India and beyond, NATO and the Pentagon  are strengthening military partnerships and networks around the Afghan  war. Neither Washington nor Brussels is in a hurry to abandon a conflict  that has allowed both to globalize their military roles.

1) Nancy A. Youssef, Obama officials moving away from 2011 Afghan
date
McClatchy Newspapers, November 6, 2010
http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/11/09/103468/obama-administration-moving-away.html#ixzz150vQO3tq
2) U.S. And NATO To Wage War 15-Year War In Afghanistan And Pakistan
Stop NATO, October 6, 2010

3) The Link, November 2, 2010
http://thelinknewspaper.ca/article/598
4) Xinhua News Agency, November 8, 2010
5) Associated Press, November 11, 2010
6) Daily Mirror, November 11, 2010
7) Luis Martinez, Number of Afghan Air Strikes Highest Ever
ABC News, November 10, 2010
http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/2010/11/number-of-afghan-air-strikes-highest-ever.html
8) Daily Times, November 4, 2010
9) John Cherian, Hellfire from the sky
Frontline, November 6-19, 2010
http://www.frontline.in/stories/20101119272305500.htm
10) Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy: Bait And Switch In Afghanistan
National Public Radio, November 11, 2010
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=131241642
11) North Atlantic Treaty Organization, October 26, 2010
….
Kazakhstan: U.S., NATO Seek Military Outpost Between Russia And China
Stop NATO, April 14, 2010

12) Central Asia Online, October 27, 2010
13) Ministry of Defence of Georgia, October 29, 2010
14) U.S. European Command, October 26, 2010
15) Belleville News Democrat, November 1, 2010
16) Polish Radio, October 29, 2010
17) Ulaanbaatar Post, November 5, 2010
….
Mongolia: Pentagon Trojan Horse Wedged Between China And Russia
Stop NATO, March 31, 2010

18) Daily Times, November 7, 2010
19) Sofia News Agency, October 26, 2010
20) Sofia News Agency, October 26, 2010
21) Pirate FM, October 14, 2010
22) This Is Cornwall, October 14, 2010
23) The Star, November 1, 2010

Rick Rozoff

Rick Rozoff is a journalist and blogger and many of his articles may be found at the Stop NATO blog.

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