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Ed Webb

After 'Missteps' And Controversies, Museum Of The Bible Works To Clean Up Its Act : NPR - 0 views

  • When the Museum of the Bible opened three years ago, its founders aimed to engage a wider audience with the Bible and its thousands of years of history. But the museum's ambitious goals have been overshadowed by a series of scandals, still unfolding, over antiquities — acquired in a five-year international shopping spree — that have turned out to be looted or fake.
  • Steve Green, the evangelical president of the Hobby Lobby arts and crafts chain and the museum board's chairman, started acquiring artifacts in 2009 for what would become a $500 million museum on prime Washington, D.C., real estate. (Museum officials have long said the institution has no sectarian or evangelical agenda.)
  • Hobby Lobby paid a $3 million fine in a Justice Department settlement for not exercising due diligence in acquisitions. The judgment directed the forfeiture of 5,500 clay tablets and other illegally imported items to the Iraqi government.
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  • fresh controversies — over previously acquired objects, including Dead Sea Scroll fragments found to be fake and items from Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt — have continued to dog the museum
  • the museum is discussing the return to Iraq of another 8,106 pieces. Hobby Lobby acquired them so haphazardly for the museum, he says, that it may never be known how they came onto the market
  • ome of these items may have even come from Iraq's national museum, which was looted after the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 and troops failed to protect cultural sites
  • Hobby Lobby acquired the items, most of them clay tablets, between 2009 and 2014 from sources in the U.S., the U.K. and Israel. Another 5,000 items, Egyptian papyri and textiles, acquired during the same period, also lack proper documentation
  • between 5% and 10% of the roughly 8,000 objects now being returned to Iraq are fake
  • The Museum of the Bible's latest issue is over an ancient Jewish prayer book from Afghanistan. The museum says it was "legally exported" from the U.K. and "acquired in good faith" with provenance information dating from the 1950s. Now, Kloha says, museum staff believe the book was taken out of Afghanistan after 1998 — decades after a UNESCO convention made it illegal to export antiquities without government approval. The Taliban, which controls many parts of the country today, is accused of widespread trafficking in antiquities.
  • The U.S. government's 2017 complaint against Hobby Lobby notes that Green was stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in 2010 while carrying a $1 million Bible without a customs declaration. The following year, U.S. Customs agents seized misidentified cuneiform tablets being shipped to Hobby Lobby from the United Arab Emirates.
  • the museum's reputation among scholars has made it difficult to arrange loans of works from other institutions
  • Iraqi's ambassador to the U.S., Fareed Yasseen, tells NPR that he would personally like to see Iraqi artifacts exposed to as wide an audience as possible. "To me, the Elgin Marbles should be in Greece, not in the British Museum, because a lot of people will see them in Greece," he says. "But if you look at the massive winged bulls [from ancient Iraq] you have in the British Museum ... or the Louvre, I mean honestly, if they were in Iraq, so few people would go there to see them. To be fair, looking at the issue as a world citizen, if you will, these are part of all our heritage. Anybody who has read the Bible can relate, right?"
Ed Webb

RSF yearly round-up: "historically low" number of journalists killed in 2019 | RSF - 0 views

  • With a combined total of 14 journalists killed, Latin America is now as deadly for journalists as the Middle East., with all of its wars.
  • more journalists (59%) are now being killed in countries at peace than in war zones. At the same time, there has been a 2% increase in journalists being deliberately murdered or targeted.
  • Worldwide, a total of 389 journalists are currently in prison in connection with their work, 12% more than last year. Nearly half of these journalists are being held by three countries: China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Ed Webb

How Biden Kept Screwing Up Iraq, Over and Over and Over Again - 0 views

  • Reviewing Biden’s record on Iraq is like rewinding footage of a car crash to identify the fateful decisions that arrayed people at the bloody intersection. He was not just another Democratic hawk navigating the trauma of 9/11 in a misguided way. He didn’t merely call his vote for a disastrous war part of “a march to peace and security.” Biden got the Iraq war wrong before and throughout invasion, occupation, and withdrawal. Convenient as it is to blame Bush—who, to be clear, bears primary and eternal responsibility for the disaster—Biden embraced the Iraq war for what he portrayed as the result of his foreign policy principles and persisted, most often in error, for the same reasons. 
  • “I think the vast majority of the foreign policy community thinks [my record has] been very good.” That will be important context should Biden become president. He’s the favorite of many in Democratic foreign policy circles who believe in resetting the American geopolitical position to what it was the day before Trump was elected, rather than considering it critical context for why Trump was elected. 
  • National Democrats embraced the war on terrorism with enthusiasm and, with few exceptions, were disinclined to challenge Bush on foreign policy even as that foreign policy became more militant and extreme
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  • Biden’s hearings highlighted the dangers of occupation, such as the basic uncertainty around what would replace Saddam Hussein, as well as the bloody, long, and expensive commitment required to midwife a democratic Iraq. “In many ways, those hearings were remarkably prescient about what was to happen,” said Tony Blinken, Biden’s longtime aide on the committee and a deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration. “He and [GOP Sen. Richard] Lugar talked about not the day after but the decade after. If we did go in, they talked about the lack of a plan to secure any peace that followed the intervention.”
  • But the balance of expert testimony concerned guessing at Saddam’s weapons program, the pragmatic questions of invading, and the diplomatic legwork of an action whose justice—if not necessarily its wisdom—was presumed
  • the regnant foreign policy consensus in America: Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and had sealed his fate by doing so. It was an enormous factual mistake born out of an inability to see that Saddam believed that transparent disarmament would spell his doom at the hands of Iran. This misapprehension led advocates to accept that the U.S.—preferably with others, but alone if necessary—was justified or even obligated to get rid of Saddam
  • Bush’s secretary of state, Colin Powell, convinced the White House to attempt securing United Nations support for the war. It was a cynical maneuver: the Security Council could accept additional weapons inspections but not war; Bush could claim he tried for an internationalist solution before invading unilaterally. Its primary effect was to legitimize the war in the eyes of uncomfortable congressional Democrats who had made the tactical error of disputing the war for insufficient multilateralism rather than arguing it was wrong
  • For Biden, the critical point, “what this is about,” was America daring to “enforce” U.N. Security Council disarmament resolutions that the U.N. was saying did not justify war. When the world stood against America, in the forum Biden considered critical and Bush considered pretextual, America would simply act in the world’s name. He approvingly quoted the infamous Henry Kissinger: “As the most powerful nation in the world, the United States has a special, unilateral capacity, and indeed obligation, to lead in implementing its convictions, but it also has a special obligation to justify its actions by principles that transcend the assertions of preponderance of power.” America’s confidence in its nobility was, in the end, all the justification it required. 
  • Biden acknowledged that the “imminence and inevitability” of the threat Iraq posed was “exaggerated,” although that recognition was irrelevant to both his reasoning and his vote. He performed an end-zone dance over Bush advisers who favored what he called the doctrine of preemption—a euphemism for wars of aggression—as if his vote did not authorize exactly the preemptive war those advisers wanted. The trouble Biden saw was that elevating preemption to a foreign policy “doctrine” would grant “every nation an unfettered right of preemption.” Left unsaid was that it would be better for America to keep that unfettered right for itself.
  • Nothing that followed went the way Biden expected. Bush did not share Biden’s distinction between the U.N. weapons-inspection process and the invasion. Iraq did not passively accept its occupation. And Biden did not reap the political benefit of endorsing the war that seemed so obvious to the Democratic consultant class in the autumn of 2002. 
  • Iraq was an abstraction to Biden—as it was, ironically, to the neoconservatives Biden had criticized—a canvas on which to project theories of American power
  • Biden was unprepared to break from prevention, which is always the prerogative of hegemonic powers. Boxed in, he continued to argue that the trouble was Bush elevating preemption to centrality in foreign policy, and fretted that predatory states would cite that “doctrine” to prey on weaker ones. He neglected to see that all those states needed was the example of the Iraq war itself. Eleven years later, when Biden was vice president, Vladimir Putin cited Iraq as a reason the U.S. had no standing to criticize him for invading Ukraine. 
  • Biden praised the leadership of the Coalition Provisional Authority, a shockingly corrupt and incompetent organization. Its chief, Jerry Bremer, was “first-rate,” Biden said mere months after Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army, the greatest gift America could have given the insurgency
  • Rebuilding Iraq’s police force was left to former NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik, whom Biden called “a serious guy with a serious team.” Iraq’s police would soon become indistinguishable from sectarian death squads; Kerik would soon plead guilty to tax fraud and other federal corruption charges
  • By the next summer, with Iraq in flames, Biden continued his misdiagnosis. The original sin wasn’t the war itself, it was Bush’s stewardship—the same stewardship Biden praised in 2002. “Because we waged a war in Iraq virtually alone, we are responsible for the aftermath virtually alone,” he thundered at the 2004 Democratic convention. The intelligence “was hyped to justify going to war,” Biden continued, causing “America’s credibility and security [to] have suffered a terrible blow.” Yet Biden made no call for withdrawal. It was easier to pretend that Bush was waging a different war than the one he empowered Bush to wage. 
  • The U.S., unable to win the war it chose, would be better off reshaping the map of Iraq into something that better suited it. The proposal was a natural outgrowth of viewing Iraq as an abstraction. Now that Iraq had undermined American power, Iraq would be subject to a kind of dismemberment, a theoretically cleaner problem to solve than a civil war or a weak client state. In September 2007, Biden prevailed upon his fellow senators to endorse his proposal on a staggering 75-23 vote. There was no support for the idea among actual Iraqis outside Kurdistan, but they were beside the imperial point.
  • 2007 saw Biden’s most valorous act on Iraq. With the war a morass, Biden secured $23 billion, far more than the Pentagon requested, to buy Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, whose hull design proved more survivable against the insurgency’s improvised bombs. Replacing insufficiently armored Humvees with MRAPs was “a passion,” he said. While the number of lives MRAPs saved over the course of the program’s $45 billion lifespan has been disputed, the Pentagon estimated in 2012 that over 2,000 service members are alive today because of the vehicle. Biden counted securing the funding for the MRAP among his greatest congressional achievements.
  • Barack Obama had opposed the Iraq war, but was hardly afflicted with the “distrust of the use of American power” that Biden feared in 2004. Selecting Biden as his vice president laundered Biden’s reputation. No longer was Biden the man whose faith in American exceptionalism had driven the U.S. into a morass. He was the lovable uncle in aviators who washed his metaphorical Trans Am on the White House lawn. Obama gave him responsibility for a three-year project of U.S. withdrawal, one that Biden considers an accomplishment. 
  • Biden and other U.S. officials appeared at times dangerously unconcerned about Maliki’s consolidation of power that once again marginalized Sunni Iraq, which the war had already proven would give jihadis the opportunity they needed
  • Biden reflected America’s schizophrenic attitude toward ending post-9/11 wars, in which leaving a residual force amidst an unsettled conflict does not count as continuing a war.
  • “I’ll bet you my vice presidency Maliki will extend the SOFA,” the Times quoted him. Instead, the following year, the Iraqi parliament did no such thing
  • Biden is the last of the pre-Obama generation of Democratic foreign policy grandees who enabled the Iraq war. John Kerry and Hillary Clinton both lost their presidential bids, saddled in both cases with the legacy of the war they supported
  • A President Biden is likely to find himself a man out of time. Writing in The Guardian, David Adler and Ben Judah recently described Biden as a “restorationist” in foreign policy, aiming at setting the American geopolitical clock back to what it was before Trump took office. Yet now an emergent China, a resurgent Russia, and the ascent of nationalism and oligarchy across Europe, India, and South America have fragmented the America-centric internationalist order that Biden represents. While Trump has accelerated these dynamics, he is far less responsible for them than is the martial post-9/11 course of U.S. foreign policy that wrecked itself, most prominently in Iraq.
Ed Webb

The Logic of Staying in Afghanistan and the Logic of Getting Out - Lawfare - 0 views

  • the current threat is not why U.S. forces are still in Afghanistan. The logic of staying in Afghanistan revolves around the future threat, specifically the threat that might materialize if the United States were to leave Afghanistan
  • Without U.S. air support, the Afghan army and police are unlikely to survive in the provinces. Kabul itself could fall. The Taliban would conquer either all or a significant portion of the country, capturing several cities, fertile croplands and various mineral resources.
  • In this environment, terrorists would have much greater freedom to do what they please. Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and like-minded groups would have access to poppies, farmland and cities for training, planning and resourcing. Other foreign terrorists would migrate to Afghanistan to join them
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  • The Taliban are opposed to the Islamic State and actively fight against them, but that has not changed their relationship with al-Qaeda. So, though unlikely to conduct terrorist attacks themselves, the Taliban are also unlikely to clamp down on al-Qaeda. The experience of U.S. retaliation for the 9/11 attacks has done little to chasten them, partly since they believe they have defeated the United States. In their minds, they taught us a lesson, not the other way around. Indeed, the Taliban promise in the Doha talks to prevent attacks on other countries from their soil parrots the assurance Mullah Omar gave before 2001 that Osama bin Laden would do no harm to the outside world.
  • The fact that a president cannot discount an attack does not mean that the United States must stay in Afghanistan. How do we know preventing attacks is worth billions of dollars per year in operational expenses and some number of fallen Americans? Key variables that a president would want to weigh for that decision are unknown and likely to remain unknown: How soon might an attack occur? Will it be within the next election cycle? How big will an attack be? Will it be another 9/11 or a smaller scale Islamic State-style event? How often will attacks occur? Can very limited interventions (like an airstrike on an al-Qaeda base) prevent them? The answers are highly subjective because they demand looking years into the future under different circumstances than today. What to do consequently depends more on point of view and risk tolerance than evidence.
  • Although critics argue that Afghanistan is only one of several terrorist safe havens facing the United States and deserves no special treatment, a very convincing case can be made that, as the home of the jihad, Afghanistan would be a source of inspiration for new recruits and a rallying point for foreign fighters
  • even small-scale terrorist attacks in the United States could breed paranoia and racism at home. Billions of dollars in operational expenses abroad may conceivably be worth preserving liberties.
  • The United States faces many threats, not all in the security realm. Why should such a high level of funding be devoted to dealing with one particular threat of unknown timing, scale and frequency? The funds could be better spent elsewhere. Additionally, the United States is a resilient nation. Americans suffer human loss every day and endure, and periodic terrorist attacks would be no different. It is even possible that U.S. homeland defenses, which have matured since 2001, could deflect an attack. From this point of view, spending billions in Afghanistan is a luxury, a high-end insurance policy against an exaggerated risk
  • The U.S. president and the American people need to decide if a terrorist threat of unknown timing, magnitude and frequency is truly so worrisome that it warrants spending billions and losing American lives.
  • The tricky thing is that as long as casualties on U.S. soil risk domestic backlash, presidents will find it hard to escape Afghanistan. If we want out, we need to temper our sensitivity to tragic albeit perhaps bearable terrorist attacks. Only our own fears dictate that we must stay in Afghanistan.
Ed Webb

Majorities of US veterans say Iraq, Afghanistan wars weren't worth fighting | Pew Resea... - 0 views

  • Nearly 18 years since the start of the war in Afghanistan and 16 years since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, majorities of U.S. military veterans say those wars were not worth fighting, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of veterans. A parallel survey of American adults finds that the public shares those sentiments
  • Veterans who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan are no more supportive of those engagements than those who did not serve in these wars. And views do not differ based on rank or combat experience.
Ed Webb

Qatari Emir's Timely Visit to Washington - LobeLog - 0 views

  • Sheikh Tamim’s visit to Washington comes as the pace of Afghan peace talks hosted by Qatar has quickened significantly and generated real hopes of a breakthrough in attempts to end one of the “forever wars” that President Trump inherited when he took office in January 2017. For nearly a decade, the Qatari government has allowed the Taliban to operate a political office in Doha at the request of U.S. officials who recognized the utility of having an address where peace negotiators could contact Taliban intermediaries
  • Talks between U.S. and Taliban negotiators began in October 2018 and increased incrementally so that, by the sixth round of dialogue in May 2019, the focus was on a lasting ceasefire, troop withdrawal, guarantees against terrorism, and an eventual political settlement with the Afghan government.
  • If the uptick in diplomatic activity in Doha can be sustained, it may put President Trump within distance of a breakthrough that eluded both Bush and Obama and an agreement the self-proclaimed dealmaker could embrace as the signature foreign policy success of his presidency so far.
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  • Qatari officials have offered to act as mediators between the United States and Iran and, together with counterparts in Oman and Kuwait, can play a role in facilitating the dialogue with Iran that the president has several times called for, again in an apparent bid to upstage and surpass the achievement of his predecessor
  • Early in the blockade, U.S. officials made it clear that they would not tolerate any spillover of tension into core U.S. security and defense interests in the Gulf, and pragmatic workarounds have evolved in response. Gulf chiefs of staff meet regularly, with U.S. officials in the room alongside them, and the White House has sought to push a Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA) of the six Gulf States plus Egypt and Jordan. However, those plans hit a snag when Egypt withdrew in April. Even if MESA were to get off the ground, it would at best be a poor substitute for a fully-functioning Gulf Cooperation Council that has been so fractured by the blockade of three of its members against a fourth, with no winners or losers from a U.S. perspective as all are close regional partners.
Ed Webb

PRESS RELEASE: While overall violence has declined in 2018, conflict is spreading | Acl... - 0 views

  • Despite a decrease in total fatalities this year, the majority of countries experienced more conflict, expanding the scope of political violence across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED)’s 2018 data show that both the number of new locations experiencing violence and the number of armed actors engaging in violence have risen since 2017. ACLED data also confirm that conflict hotspots like Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria still have the highest rates of organized violence and highest death tolls, with a combined total of nearly 100,000 reported fatalities this year.
  • While political violence decreased overall in volume, it also expanded. In 2018, more locations saw violence, more conflict actors emerged, more actors targeted civilians than before, and more countries saw disorder increase than decrease within their borders
  • Despite the growing prevalence of non-state actors, state actors remain the most violent actors worldwide: State actors in Yemen, Syria, and Afghanistan were active in the highest number of conflict events in 2018
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  • Conventional warfare dominates: The most violent countries in the ACLED dataset in 2018 are those with large conventional conflicts: Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Together, these four countries make up nearly 70% of all organized violence events recorded by ACLED in 2018
  • The war in Afghanistan is the most lethal conflict in the world: Afghanistan was by far the deadliest country covered by ACLED in 2018, with nearly as many fatalities as Syria and Yemen combined, and 30% of all fatalities reported by ACLED during the year at more than 41,000*
  • Syria and Yemen remain flashpoints: The conflicts in these two countries had the highest number of organized political violence events in 2018 and were also the most dangerous places for civilians. Syria alone made up nearly 40% of the total number of violence events recorded for 2018, while this was the deadliest year for Yemen since ACLED began monitoring the war in 2016, with over 28,100 fatalities
  • Syria is the deadliest place for civilians: In 2018, nearly as many civilians were killed in Syria (over 7,100) as were in Nigeria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and the Philippines combined (over 7,600 total)
  • The Philippines is a war zone in disguise: Over 1,000 civilians were killed in the Philippines in 2018 – more than in Iraq, Somalia, or the DRC – highlighting the lethality of Duterte’s state terror campaign dubbed the ‘War on Drugs’
Ed Webb

U.S. military apologizes for 'highly offensive' leaflets it distributed in Afghanistan ... - 0 views

  • The image shows a lion chasing a white dog that is meant to represent the flag of Taliban insurgents, which is white with the Shahada printed at the center. The Times obtained a copy of the leaflet from an Afghan official in Parwan. The Shahada, the most common recitation of faith for Muslims, states, “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his prophet.”Local officials in Parwan complained Tuesday night to the provincial governor, prompting a phone call to U.S. military officials in Kabul and at Bagram air base in Parwan.“It’s an insult to Islam,” said Waheeda Shakhar, spokeswoman for the Parwan governor. “It’s very sensitive that the Shahada is written on a dog, so it must be investigated.”
  • U.S. forces have been at war in Afghanistan for nearly 16 years, yet still find themselves tripping over cultural sensitivities
  • “The foreign forces don’t have any idea of what are the values of the Afghan people,” Shaheer said. “They’ve hired some interpreters and advisors who only know how to speak English, make money and gain trust, but really are strangers to the real values of the local people.”
Ed Webb

A Funeral of 2 Friends: C.I.A. Deaths Rise in Secret Afghan War - NYTimes.com - 0 views

  • there are at least 18 stars on that wall representing the number of C.I.A. personnel killed in Afghanistan — a tally that has not been previously reported, and one that rivals the number of C.I.A. operatives killed in the wars in Vietnam and Laos nearly a half century ago
  • Since 2001, as thousands of C.I.A. officers and contractors have cycled in and out of Afghanistan targeting terrorists and running sources, operatives from the Special Activities Division have been part of some of the most dangerous missions. Overall, the division numbers in the low hundreds and also operates in Somalia, Iraq, the Philippines and other areas of conflict.C.I.A. paramilitary officers from the division were the first Americans in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks, and they later spirited Hamid Karzai, the future president, into the country. Greg Vogle, an agency operative who took Mr. Karzai into Afghanistan, went on to run the paramilitary division and became the top spy at the C.I.A.The first American killed in the country, Johnny Micheal Spann, was a C.I.A. officer assigned to the Special Activities Division. He died in November 2001 during a prison uprising.
  • the C.I.A. helped build the Afghan intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security, which has long faced accusations of torturing suspected militants.
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  • paramilitary officers from the Special Activities Division have trained and advised a small army of Afghan militias known as counterterrorism pursuit teams. The militias took on greater importance under President Barack Obama, who embraced covert operations because of their small footprint and deniability.
  • The C.I.A. also spent more than a decade financing a slush fund for Mr. Karzai. Every month, agency officers would drop off cash in suitcases, backpacks and even plastic shopping bags. Mr. Karzai’s aides would use the cash to run a vast patronage network, paying off warlords, lawmakers and others they wanted to keep on their side.The slush fund, which was exposed in 2013, was seen by many American diplomats and other officials and experts as fueling the rampant corruption that has undermined the American effort to build a functioning democracy in Afghanistan.
  • The ranks of C.I.A. operatives aren’t easily replaced, said Mr. Stiles, the former counterterrorism analyst.“That’s going to be one of the challenges for the government,’’ he said. “How do we maintain the level of experience and expertise in a war that is going to last for another 20 or 30 years or longer?”
Ed Webb

Qatar Opens Its Doors to All, to the Dismay of Some - The New York Times - 0 views

  • the atmosphere of intrigue and opulence for which the capital of Qatar, a dust-blown backwater until a few decades ago, has become famous as the great freewheeling hub of the Middle East
  • what infuriates the Saudis, Emiratis, Egyptians and Bahrainis most of all is that Doha has also provided shelter to Islamist dissidents from their own countries — and given them a voice on the Qatar-owned television station, Al Jazeera.
  • The blockading nations — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — insist that Qatar is using an open-door policy to destabilize its neighbors. They say that Doha, rather than the benign meeting ground described by Qataris, is a city where terrorism is bankrolled, not battled against.
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  • In Doha, wealthy Qataris and Western expatriates mingle with Syrian exiles, Sudanese commanders and Libyan Islamists, many of them funded by the Qatari state. The Qataris sometimes play peacemaker: Their diplomats brokered a peace deal in Lebanon in 2008 and negotiated the release of numerous hostages, including Peter Theo Curtis, an American journalist being held in Syria, in 2014.But critics say that, often as not, rather than acting as a neutral peacemaker, Qatar takes sides in conflicts — helping oust Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya in 2011, or turning a blind eye to wealthy citizens who funnel cash to extremist Islamist groups in Syria.
  • that welcome-all attitude is precisely what has recently angered Qatar’s much larger neighbors and plunged the Middle East into one of its most dramatic diplomatic showdowns
  • “The Emiratis and the Saudis seem to have miscalculated their position,” said Mehran Kamrava, the author of “Qatar: Small State, Big Politics” and a professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar. “They thought that if they went all-out with a blockade, the Qataris would balk. But they haven’t.”
  • American officials privately say they would prefer Hamas was based in Doha rather than in a hostile capital like Tehran
  • Qatar is leveraging the wide range of ties its foreign policy has fostered. Food supplies and a few dozen soldiers from Turkey arrived in Doha after the embargo started on June 5.
Ed Webb

'It felt like the heavens were falling': Afghans reel from Moab impact | World news | T... - 2 views

  •  
    Winning friends...
Ed Webb

How Many Guns Did the U.S. Lose Track of in Iraq and Afghanistan? Hundreds of Thousands... - 0 views

  • In all, Overton found, the Pentagon provided more than 1.45 million firearms to various security forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, including more than 978,000 assault rifles, 266,000 pistols and almost 112,000 machine guns. These transfers formed a collage of firearms of mixed vintage and type: Kalashnikov assault rifles left over from the Cold War; recently manufactured NATO-standard M16s and M4s from American factories; machine guns of Russian and Western lineage; and sniper rifles, shotguns and pistols of varied provenance and caliber, including a large order of Glock semiautomatic pistols, a type of weapon also regularly offered for sale online in Iraq. Advertisement Continue reading the main story Many of the recipients of these weapons became brave and important battlefield allies. But many more did not. Taken together, the weapons were part of a vast and sometimes minimally supervised flow of arms from a superpower to armies and militias often compromised by poor training, desertion, corruption and patterns of human rights abuses. Knowing what we know about many of these forces, it would have been remarkable for them to retain custody of many of their weapons. It is not surprising that they did not.
  • the Pentagon said it has records for fewer than half the number of firearms in the researchers’ count — about 700,000 in all
  • Overton’s analysis also does not account for many weapons issued by the American military to local forces by other means, including the reissue of captured weapons, which was a common and largely undocumented practice.
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  • In April, after being approached by The New York Times and reviewing data from Armament Research Services, a private arms-investigation consultancy, Facebook closed many pages in the Middle East that were serving as busy arms bazaars, including pages in Syria and Iraq on which firearms with Pentagon origins accounted for a large fraction of the visible trade
  • The American arming of Syrian rebels, by both the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Department, has also been troubled by questions of accountability and outright theft in a war where the battlefield is thick with jihadists aligned with Al Qaeda or fighting under the banner of the Islamic State.
  • One point is inarguable: Many of these weapons did not remain long in government possession after arriving in their respective countries. In one of many examples, a 2007 Government Accountability Office report found that 110,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles and 80,000 pistols bought by the United States for Iraq’s security forces could not be accounted for — more than one firearm for every member of the entire American military force in Iraq at any time during the war. Those documented lapses of accountability were before entire Iraqi divisions simply vanished from the battlefield, as four of them did after the Islamic State seized Mosul and Tikrit in 2014, according to a 2015 Army budget request to buy more firearms for the Iraqi forces to replace what was lost.
  • many new arms-trading Facebook pages have since cropped up, including, according to their own descriptions, virtual markets operating from Baghdad and Karbala
  • According to its tally, the American military issued contracts potentially worth more than $40 billion for firearms, accessories and ammunition since Sept. 11, including improvements to the ammunition plants required to keep the cartridge production going. Most of these planned expenditures were for American forces, and the particulars tell the story of two wars that did not go as pitched. More than $4 billion worth of contracts was issued for small arms, including pistols, machines guns, assault rifles and sniper rifles, and more than $11 billion worth was issued for associated equipment, from spare machine-gun barrels to sniper-rifle scopes, according to Overton’s count. A much larger amount — nearly $25 billion — was issued for ammunition or upgrades to ammunition plants to keep those firearms supplied. That last figure aligns with what most any veteran of ground combat in Iraq and Afghanistan could tell you — American troops have been involved in a dizzying number of gunfights since 2001, burning through mountains of ammunition along the way.
  • The data show large purchases of heavy-machine guns and barrels. This is a wink at the shift in many American units from being foot-mobile to vehicular, as grunts buttoned up within armored trucks and needed turret-mounted firepower to defend themselves — a matériel adaptation forced by ambushes and improvised bombs, the cheaply made weapons that wearied the most expensive military in the world.
  • a startlingly risky aspect of the Pentagon’s arming of local forces with infantry arms: the wide distribution of anti-armor weapons, including RPG-7s, commonly called rocket-propelled grenades, and recoilless weapons, including the SPG-9. Each of these systems fires high-explosive (and often armor-piercing) projectiles, and each was commonly used by insurgents in attacks. After the opening weeks of each war, the only armor on either battlefield was American or associated with allied and local government units, which made the Pentagon’s practice of providing anti-armor weapons to Afghan and Iraqi security forces puzzling. Why would they need anti-armor weapons when they had no armor to fight? All the while rockets were somehow mysteriously being fired at American convoys and patrols in each war.
  • a portrait of the Pentagon’s bungling the already-awkward role it chose for itself — that of state-building arms dealer, a role that routinely led to missions in clear opposition to each other. While fighting two rapidly evolving wars, the American military tried to create and bolster new democracies, governments and political classes; recruit, train and equip security and intelligence forces on short schedule and at outsize scale; repair and secure transportation infrastructure; encourage the spread or restoration of the legal industry and public services; and leave behind something more palatable and sturdy than rule by thugs.
  • The procession of arms purchases and handouts has continued to this day, with others involved, including Iran to its allies in Iraq and various donors to Kurdish fighters. In March, Russia announced that it had given 10,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles to Afghanistan, already one of the most Kalashnikov-saturated places on earth. If an analysis from the United States’ Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or Sigar, is to be believed, Afghanistan did not even need them. In 2014 the inspector general reported that after the United States decided to replace the Afghan Army’s Kalashnikovs with NATO-standard weapons (a boon for the rifles’ manufacturer with a much less obvious value for an already amply armed Afghan force), the Afghan Army ended up with a surplus of more than 83,000 Kalashnikovs. The United States never tried to recover the excess it had created, giving the inspector general’s office grounds for long-term worry. “Without confidence in the Afghan government’s ability to account for or properly dispose of these weapons,” it noted, “Sigar is concerned that they could be obtained by insurgents and pose additional risks to civilians.” Write A Comment
  • What to do? If past is precedent, given enough time one of the United States’ solutions will be, once again, to ship in more guns.
Ed Webb

The Varnish of Vietnam | Foreign Policy - 2 views

  • Thirty years after the fall of Saigon, a new generation of policy-makers ignored the lessons of Vietnam and decided it would make fine policy and good politics to carry out regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq, to win those hearts and minds, to fight the insurgents, and to build democracy in sandy soil. They sent off a new generation — of professionals, not conscripts — to do the job, to the cheers of the home crowd and with the encouragement of the vast majority of the Congress, eager for vengeance, even if Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11. Once again, policy failed. We are now living with the unanticipated consequence of that war — widespread regional instability and conflict. And we have lost more than 6,700 soldiers with roughly 50,000 wounded Americans, along with another large number of post-combat stress disordered lives.
  • Leadership is not about "doing something." Leadership is not about "striking back." Leadership is about wisdom, knowing what you can change and what you cannot change. And it’s about speaking that truth in a clear, intentional way. American air strikes may save some Kurdish lives; they may defer the day the Iraqi government has to deal with its dysfunction; they may extend Basher al-Assad’s day of reckoning. But all they buy is time — and not a lot of time, at that. The real resolution of the mayhem in the Middle East is not in the hands of the United States. The real resolution of the mayhem in the Middle East is not in the hands of the United States. Striking IS, and failing to "destroy" them (a politically-chosen objective, if ever there was one) may lead, inexorably, to the commitment of more capability, resources, and, yes, American ground troops. It’s kind of a setup — in for a dime, in for a dollar; another broom, please.
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