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As you read today’s piece by historian and TomDispatch regular Alfred McCoy, author most recently of In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, think of Afghanistan as the gateway drug for three Washington administrations. Within weeks of the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush and his top officials... Read More
How a Failed Drug War Will Defeat Trump’s Afghan Adventure
After nine months of confusion, chaos, and cascading tweets, Donald Trump’s White House has finally made one thing crystal clear: the U.S. is staying in Afghanistan to fight and -- so they insist -- win. “The killers need to know they have nowhere to hide, that no place is beyond the reach of American might,”... Read More
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The American Military’s Repetition-Compulsion Complex
Here we go again! Years after most Americans forgot about the longest war this country ever fought, American soldiers are again being deployed to Afghanistan. For almost 16 years now, at the command of three presidents and a sadly forgettable succession of generals, they have gone round and round like so many motorists trapped on... Read More
Last year, an internal report commissioned by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the agency that oversees Voice of America and other U.S. government-supported foreign news outlets, examined the “perception of U.S. international media in Afghanistan.” This study, obtained by TomDispatch via the Freedom of Information Act, concluded that Afghans saw U.S.-backed media as “useful” and... Read More
Scott Horton's Afghanistan primer will impress both casual readers and experts
I was one of the first American officials to arrive in Kabul at the end of 2001. The war that seemed to be ending back then is currently in its 16th year with no end in sight, and for those of us who were there at the beginning it now sometimes seems like it was... Read More
Photo by DaveBleasdale | CC BY 2.0
There are more parallels between an unfinished 1950s war in Northeast Asia and an ongoing 16-year-old war in the crossroads between Central and South Asia than meet the eye. Let’s start with North Korea. Once again the US/South Korea Hunger Games plow on. It didn’t have to be this way. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov... Read More
Media reports claim President Donald Trump let loose on his generals behind closed doors, blasting them royally for their startling failures in Afghanistan, America’s longest war. The president has many faults and is a lousy judge of character. But he was absolutely right to read the riot act to the military brass for daring to... Read More
In America's Afghanistan, it’s all history -- the future as well as the past, what’s going to happen, as well as what’s happened in these last nearly 16 years of war. You’ve heard it all before: there were the various “surges” (though once upon a time sold as paths to victory, not simply to break... Read More
The Folly of the Next Afghan “Surge”
We walked in a single file. Not because it was tactically sound. It wasn’t -- at least according to standard infantry doctrine. Patrolling southern Afghanistan in column formation limited maneuverability, made it difficult to mass fire, and exposed us to enfilading machine-gun bursts. Still, in 2011, in the Pashmul District of Kandahar Province, single file... Read More
"We are there and we are committed" was the regular retort of Secretary of State Dean Rusk during the war in Vietnam. Whatever you may think of our decision to go in, Rusk was saying, if we walk away, the United States loses the first war in its history, with all that means for Southeast... Read More
The explosion of a giant bomb in a sewage tanker close to the diplomatic quarter in Kabul is receiving much publicity because of the heavy loss of life and because so many foreign embassies were damaged. A BBC driver was killed and four BBC journalists were wounded by the blast. But, aside from spectacular incidents... Read More
Thrashing About in the Afghan Petri Dish
America’s war in Afghanistan is now in its 16th year, the longest foreign war in our history. The phrase “no end in sight” barely covers the situation. Prospects of victory -- if victory is defined as eliminating that country as a haven for Islamist terrorists while creating a representative government in Kabul -- are arguably... Read More
If you had asked Americans about Afghanistan before 1979, it’s a reasonable bet that most of us wouldn’t have known much about that country or even been able to locate it on a map. Perhaps only to the “freaks” of that era, in search of a superb hashish high, would its name have rung a... Read More
Afghanistan, as a crossroads of empire and a key stage in the Silk Road, is dotted with important archaeological sites that go back 5000 years and can provide insights into the evolution of civilizations across Asia and, in fact, civilization itself. Most of these sites are beyond the reach of the Afghan government’s woefully underfunded... Read More
Last week, as the mainstream media continued to obsess over the CIA’s evidence-free claim that the Russians hacked the presidential election, President Obama quietly sent 300 US Marines back into Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. This is the first time in three years that the US military has been sent into that conflict zone, and it represents... Read More
A lot of government/media misdirection going on concerning Afghanistan. I read the tea leaves over at Asia Times in a piece on Ashraf Ghani’s public lovefest with Nadendra Modi at the “Heart of Asia” conference. Pakistan and China were there, but got precious little “heart”. The piece is titled “The hole at the Heart of... Read More
Not long before Election Day, but thousands of miles away in the Afghan village of Bouz Kandahari, 30 to 36 civilians died (including a significant number of children and infants). Those deaths took place in a war Americans had largely filed in the library of forgotten events, though the conflict there is still fiercely underway.... Read More
Last week marked the fifteenth anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan, the longest war in US history. There weren’t any victory parades or photo-ops with Afghanistan’s post-liberation leaders. That is because the war is ongoing. In fact, 15 years after launching a war against Afghanistan’s Taliban government in retaliation for an attack by Saudi-backed... Read More
Fifteen years ago this week, the US launched the longest war in its history: the invasion and occupation of remote Afghanistan. Neighboring Pakistan was forced to facilitate the American invasion or ‘be bombed back to the stone age.’ America was furious after the bloody 9/11 attacks. The Bush administration had been caught sleeping on guard... Read More
Anti-Russian hysteria in America reached its apogee this week as Democrats tried to divert attention from embarrassing revelations about how the Democratic Party apparatus had rigged the primaries against Bernie Sanders by claiming Vlad Putin and his KGB had hacked and exposed the Dem’s emails. This was rich coming from the US that snoops into... Read More
The longest war in US history just got even longer. As NATO wrapped up its 2016 Warsaw Summit, the organization agreed to continue funding Afghan security forces through the year 2020. Of course with all that funding comes US and NATO troops, and thousands of contractors, trainers, and more.President Obama said last week that the... Read More
It's a long way from landlocked Afghanistan to the South China Sea, but... The May 21, 2016 U.S. assassination by drone of Mullah Mansoor, the supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban, would have seemed to be a bad thing for the People’s Republic of China. Mansoor, after all, was the chosen instrument of the Pakistan... Read More
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A Multi-Trillion-Dollar Bridge to Nowhere in the Greater Middle East
We have it on highest authority: the recent killing of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour by a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan marks “an important milestone.” So the president of the United States has declared, with that claim duly echoed and implicitly endorsed by media commentary -- theNew York Times reporting, for example, that... Read More
Our ageing Russian-built helicopter flies into the Panjshir valley from the north, high over desolate, brown hills. We land at Changaram, a narrow point in the valley where lush, green fields and terraces cling to the sides of the mountains. All along the narrow dirt road are signs of the armies that have tried to... Read More
War reporting is easy to do but very difficult to do really well. There is great demand for a reporter’s output during the fighting because it is melodramatic and appeals to readers and viewers. This is what I used to label in my own mind as “twixt shot and shell” reporting, and there is nothing... Read More
America’s Opium War in Afghanistan
After fighting the longest war in its history, the United States stands at the brink of defeat in Afghanistan. How can this be possible? How could the world’s sole superpower have battled continuously for 15 years, deploying 100,000 of its finest troops, sacrificing the lives of 2,200 of those soldiers,spending more than a trillion dollars... Read More
In October 2001, the U.S. launched its invasion of Afghanistan largely through proxy Afghan fighters with the help of Special Operations forces, American air power, and CIA dollars. The results were swift and stunning. The Taliban was whipped, a new government headed by Hamid Karzai soon installed in Kabul, and the country declared “liberated.” More... Read More
Once More Down the Rabbit Hole
Ten months ago, on December 28, 2014, a ceremony in Kabul officially marked the conclusion of America’s very long war in Afghanistan. President Obama called that day “a milestone for our country.” After more than 13 years, he said, “our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming... Read More
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America’s Peculiar Brand of Global Imperialism
The United States is a peculiar sort of empire. As a start, Americans have been in what might be called imperial denial since the Spanish-American War of 1898, if not before. Empire -- us? We denied its existence even while our soldiers were administering “water cures” (aka waterboarding) to recalcitrant Filipinos more than a century... Read More
Afghanistan! Whether the story is the fall of a major city to the Taliban, the destruction of a hospital with staff and patients still in it, or the president’s announcement that U.S. troops will remain in that country until at least 2017, it’s true that you never feel there’s an exclamation point after “Afghanistan.” Fourteen... Read More
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Why Washington Can’t “Stand Up” Foreign Militaries
First came Fallujah, then Mosul, and later Ramadi in Iraq. Now, there isKunduz, a provincial capital in northern Afghanistan. In all four places, the same story has played out: in cities that newspaper reporters like to call “strategically important,” security forces trained and equipped by the U.S. military at great expense simply folded, abandoning their... Read More
The deaths in South Asia of three of the West’s ‘Great Satans’ were announced in recent weeks: Mullah Omar and Jalaluddin Haqqani in Afghanistan; and Pakistan’s Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul. I never met Mullah Omar though I was present at the birth and expansion of his movement, Taliban. Mullah Omar was a renowned combat veteran... Read More
Soon after 9/11, Ann Jones went to Afghanistan to help in whatever way she could, “embedding” with civilians who had been battered by the rigors of that war-torn land. Out of that experience, especially dealing with the crises of women, she wrote a powerful and moving book, Kabul in Winter. In 2010, she borrowed a... Read More
A "Martyr," a Murder, and the Making of a New Afghanistan?
I went to Kabul, Afghanistan, in March to see old friends. By chance, I arrived the day after a woman had been beaten to death and burned by a mob of young men. The world would soon come to know her name: Farkhunda. The name means “auspicious” or “jubilant.” She was killed in the very... Read More
40 Years Later, Will the End Games in Iraq and Afghanistan Follow the Vietnam Playbook?
If our wars in the Greater Middle East ever end, it’s a pretty safe bet that they will end badly -- and it won't be the first time. The “fall of Saigon” in 1975 was the quintessential bitter end to a war. Oddly enough, however, we’ve since found ways to reimagine that denouement which miraculously... Read More
The other day, as I was reading through the New York Times, I came upon this headline: “Powerful Afghan Police Chief Killed in Kabul.” His name was Matiullah Khan. He had once been “an illiterate highway patrol commander” in an obscure southern province of Afghanistan and was taken out in a “targeted suicide bombing” on... Read More
How an American Fantasy Conflict Created Disaster in Afghanistan
[This essay is taken from chapter five of Anand Gopal’s No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyesand appears at TomDispatch.com with the kind permission of Metropolitan Books.] The sky clotted gray and the winds gusted cold as the men crowded into an old roadside gas station. It... Read More
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And the U.S. Is Losing Out
Call it an irony, if you will, but as the Obama administration struggles to slow down or halt its scheduled withdrawal from Afghanistan, newly elected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is performing a withdrawal operation of his own. He seems to be in the process of trying to sideline the country’s major patron of the last... Read More
In June 2014, as he was preparing to send 300 U.S. military advisers back to Iraq, President Obama hailed the American counterterror campaign in Yemen -- Special Operations advisers (and CIA operatives) on the ground, drones in the air -- as a “model” for what he hoped to do against the Islamic State. In September,... Read More
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What If It Weren’t Us?
Let’s play a game, the kind that makes no sense on this single-superpower planet of ours. For a moment, do your best to suspend disbelief and imagine that there’s another superpower, great power, or even regional power somewhere that, between 2001 and 2003, launched two major wars in the Greater Middle East. We’re talking about... Read More
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Five Bedrock Washington Assumptions That Are Hot Air
“Iraq no longer exists.” My young friend M, sipping a cappuccino, is deadly serious. We are sitting in a scruffy restaurant across the street from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. It’s been years since we’ve last seen each another. It may be years before our paths cross again.... Read More
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It's No Accident
2014 was a banner year for Afghanistan’s booming opium industry. According to a United Nations annual survey released on Wednesday, opium cultivation set a record in 2014, increasing by an impressive 7 percent year-over-year and up nearly 50 percent from 2012. Afghanistan presently produces 80 percent of the world’s heroin which provides billions of dollars... Read More
“Lord of our far-flung battle-line, Beneath whose awful Hand we hold Dominion over palm and pine— Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget—lest we forget! Far-called, our navies melt away; On dune and headland sinks the fire: Lo, all our pomp of yesterday Is one with Nineveh and Tyre! Judge of... Read More
From the beginning, it was to be “Russia’s Vietnam.” First the administration of President Jimmy Carter, then that of President Ronald Reagan was determined to give the Soviet Union a taste of what the U.S. had gone through in its disastrous 14-year war in Southeast Asia. As National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski would later put... Read More
After 13 Years of War, the Rule of Men, Not Law
On September 29th, power in Afghanistan changed hands for the first time in 13 years. At the Arg, the presidential palace in Kabul, Ashraf Ghani was sworn in as president, while the outgoing Hamid Karzai watched calmly from a front-row seat. Washington, congratulating itself on this “peaceful transition,” quickly collected the new president’s autograph on... Read More
You may not believe in the supernatural, but it’s still a certifiable fact. Your tax dollars are paying for ghosts. Just ask John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, who recently wrote to three U.S. commanders in that country suggesting that the Pentagon might be “unwittingly helping to pay the salaries of non-existent... Read More
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Why American Efforts to Create Foreign Armies Fail
In June, tens of thousands of Iraqi Security Forces in Nineveh province north of Baghdad collapsed in the face of attacks from the militants of the Islamic State (IS or ISIS), abandoning four major cities to that extremist movement. The collapse drew much notice in our media, but not much in the way of sustained... Read More
After 13 years of war in Afghanistan – the longest in US history – the US government has achieved no victory. Afghanistan is in chaos and would collapse completely without regular infusions of US money. The war has been a failure, but Washington will not admit it. More than 2,000 US fighters have been killed... Read More
Having nearly provoked war over Ukraine with nuclear-armed Russia, the Obama administration has now launched a full-scale crusade in Iraq and Syria against the evil Saracens of ISIS. America’s aerial might, including B-1 heavy bombers, is plastering ISIS miscreants. Washington’s Arab allies and rightwing governments in Canada and Australia have joined the fray. The British... Read More
Decisions have consequences. I wonder when there will be a Global Truth & Reconciliation Commission to deal with the ruinous decision of the United States to partner with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf nations to cultivate, employ, exploit and/or unleash jihadism and religious sectarianism to destroy unfriendly or unhelpful secular/socialist regimes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya,... Read More
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Topic Classics
Eight Exceptional(ly Dumb) American Achievements of the Twenty-First Century
Full Story of the Taliban's Amazing Jailbreak
"They Can't Even Protect Themselves, So What Can They Do For Me?"
Far from being a model for a “liberated” Iraq, Afghanistan shows how the U.S. can get bogged down Soviet-style.