Afghanistan

Breaking: President Obama in Afghanistan

President Obama lands in Afghanistan, Tuesday May 1, 2012

President Obama lands in Afghanistan, Tuesday May 1, 2012

President Barack Obama landed in Afghanistan this afternoon on an unannounced trip.  He will meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and sign a strategic partnership agreement pledging U.S. support for Afghanistan for a decade after 2014 when the U.S. combat role is set to end.

Obama will then deliver a live, televised speech to the American people on live television at 7:30 this evening (Tuesday). He is expected to give an update on Afghan withdrawal plans.

Update—5 p.m.

Presidents Obama and Karzai have signed in Kabul a strategic partnership agreement between the two countries.

The Associated Press reports:

“The partnership spells out the U.S. relationship with Afghanistan beyond 2014, covering security, economics and governance. The deal is limited in scope and essentially gives both sides political cover: Afghanistan is guaranteed its sovereignty and promised it won't be abandoned, while the U.S. gets to end its combat mission in the long and unpopular war but keep a foothold in the country. The deal does not commit the United States to any specific troop presence or spending. But it does allow the U.S. to potentially keep troops in Afghanistan after the war ends…”

“At a signing ceremony in Kabul with Afghan President Karzai, Obama said the agreement paves the way for 'a future of peace’ while allowing the United States to ‘wind down this war.’ Karzai said his countrymen ‘will never forget’ the help of U.S. forces over the past decade.”

The Lesson of History

Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

Taliban militants launched a series of coordinated attacks across an area in Kabul, Afghanistan. Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

On November 21, 1967, General William Westmoreland, U.S. commander in Vietnam, delivered a speech at the National Press Club on war strategy. “We have reached an important point when the end begins to come into view,” he said, and outlined a “new phase” in the war where the U.S. would:

  • Help the Vietnamese Armed Forces to continue improving their effectiveness.
  • Help the new Vietnamese government to respond to popular aspirations and to reduce and eliminate corruption.
  • Help the Vietnamese strengthen their policy forces to enhance law and order.

Then came what is now known as the Tet Offensive. On January 30, 1968, the National Liberation Front launched attacks against cities and towns throughout South Vietnam. It was the beginning of the end, the evidence that U.S. strategy had failed.

Fast forward 45 years. U.S. strategy in Afghanistan emphasizes assisting the Afghan army and police forces to improve their effectiveness along with working to reduce corruption in the government. We hear encouraging speeches from politicians and generals. We’re told the end is in sight.

Afghanistan Massacre Shows War Has Failed

Demonstrators carry effigy of President Obama during a protest of a US soldier's

Demonstrators carry effigy of Obama during US soldier's killing 16 civilians. By Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty.

As is increasingly evidenced by developments in Afghanistan from gloomy intelligence reports to the Quran burning to the recent massacre of 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, it is long past time for the U.S. military to leave that country.

After weeks of tumultuous upheaval, the slaying allegedly by a U.S. Army Staff Sergeant is just the most recent incident undermining U.S. objectives to win hearts and minds. Frankly, that mission has long been lost.

We are still learning about the Staff Sergeant, a married father of two. It appears he was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan a total of four times. On one of those tours, he suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI), but was declared “fit for duty” by the U.S. Army. Afghans would certainly beg to differ. This is also more evidence that the U.S. military cannot be allowed to deploy troops with diagnosed psychological issues—such as Post Traumatic Stress or TBIs, a messaged pushed by a project called Operation Recovery.

Violence Makes Losers of Us All

If you were walking down the street and a stranger approached you and punched you in the face what would you want to do in that moment? Sure, this is an odd hypothetical situation, but really, answer the question.

Few would say, “I would want to give that person a hug.” Depending on the size of the attacker most would either fight back or run away. But let’s suppose you fought back, and even vanquished your assailant, pummeling him repeatedly for his dastardly deeds. What then?

Would he, through being beaten, come to understand his wrong in hitting you? No, he might start plotting his revenge, or his friends would think about getting you back for what you did. If they did, then you would have friends that would want to get them back. So it goes with the endless spiral of violence.

We have been fooled into believing that violence is a respectable solution for problems in our world. What we fail to see is the many problems that violence brings with it, beginning with more violence. Violence also brings hurt, fear, anger, a desire for revenge, death and enmity. 

16 More Lives and the Full Cost of War

A mourner cries over the bodies of Afghan civilians, allegedly shot by a rogue US soldier, 3/11/12JANGIR/AFP/Getty Images

Another 16 lives were added to the body count of the war in Afghanistan over the weekend.

All of them civilians, nine were children, including one three year old girl.

The alleged perpetrator, a U.S. Sergeant, killed many of the victims with a single shot to the head before he piled together eleven of the bodies and set them on fire.

There is no way to measure the loss for the families of the victims, no way to understand the harm done to peace process in the country and no way to calculate the additional deaths of Americans, Afghans and others from across the world this will likely cause.

There is no way to know the full cost of war.

Quran Burning at U.S.-run Military Base: 'Tailor-made' for Taliban

A. MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images

Pakistani activists protest burning of Quran at Kandahar Air Base. By A. MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images

The Taliban is attempting to capitalize on the outbreak of violence that followed the inadvertent burning of a Quran by NATO troops by characterizing the war as a conflict between infidels and Islam, analysts said.
   
"It's tailor-made to their argument that the United States is trying to desecrate and destroy Islam," said Seth Jones, an analyst at Rand Corp. and author of In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan. "It's patently untrue."
   
On Monday, a suicide car bomber launched an attack against the gates of a coalition base in Jalalabad, killing nine Afghans. The Taliban said the attack was revenge for the Quran burning, The Associated Press reported.
   
Over the weekend, two military advisers were found dead in their office at the Interior Ministry, a highly secure facility in Kabul. In response, NATO withdrew all its advisers from government ministries as Afghan police searched for a suspect in the killings.
   
The Quran burning threatens to undermine cooperation between Afghan and coalition forces, which is at the heart of the U.S. strategy to withdraw its troops and turn over security to Afghan forces, analysts said.

Anthony Shadid, 1968-2012

Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Anthony Shadid files a report by moonlinght in Iraq, 2003. Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Late last Thursday evening, getting one final fix of news before going to bed, I saw it. Anthony Shadid, the New York Times correspondent and Beirut bureau chief, had died from an asthma attack while ending a clandestine reporting trip into Syria. He apparently suffered the attack in a reaction to horses being used by smugglers helping him and a photographer leave the country.

When you read the news as much as I do, you learn which bylines to look for if you want the most comprehensive and well-written coverage of a story. Mr. Shadid was one of those correspondents.

In a career that included stints with the Associated Press, Boston Globe, Washington Post, and The Times; Mr. Shadid covered one of the most dangerous parts of the world — the Middle East. He was shot in the West Bank in 2002, kidnapped and beaten in Libya in 2011. He won two Pulitzer Prizes, in 2004 and 2010, for his reporting on the Iraq war; and has been nominated by The Times for a 2012 prize.

Military Chaplains Heed Call to Serve God and Country

Army Chaplain Capt. Joseph Odell mourns a fallen soldie. RNS photo via Odell.

Army Chaplain Capt. Joseph Odell mourns a fallen soldier in Afghanistan. RNS photo courtesy Joseph Odell.

Growing up in Kuwait, Asif Balbale thought he wanted to become a chemical engineer. He never imagined enlisting in the U.S. Navy, much less becoming an imam.

Balbale got his engineering degree after immigrating to the U.S. at age 21. With jobs hard to come by, he tried to enlist in the Army, but didn't weigh enough. Instead, he met the Navy's minimum requirements.

He was sworn in as a U.S. citizen in 2005 while deployed aboard the USS Boxer. Intending to apply for an officer program, Balbale, 31, mistakenly emailed a recruiter for the chaplain corps.

"God, I think, had better plans for me," Balbale said, looking back.

And so it is for a number of military chaplains who, by twists of fate or perhaps divine Providence, found their calling to become chaplains while on active duty.

Cold: From Maine to Afghanistan

While the mid-Atlantic basks in higher than normal temperatures, it isn’t like that everywhere. Two stories from The New York Times on the struggle for warmth.

In Maine, elderly and often disabled folks who can’t afford heating oil struggle for warmth. The energy assistance program of past years was slashed as part of federal spending cuts, resulting in 65,000 households in this state alone receiving less help, while the cost of oil has risen more than 40 cents a gallon. The basic need for heat becomes a full-time struggle.

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