Hardly A Fair Trade

Seriously, how could we be sure whether or not we killed the exact Taliban responsible for last Saturday’s deadly attack? If we knew who and where these barbaric cretins were, we probably wouldn’t have lost the Chinook in the first place.

U.S. kills Taliban insurgents who downed SEALs’ helicopter

The retribution wasn’t long in coming.

An American airstrike killed the Taliban insurgents whose attack caused a helicopter crash that killed 22 Navy SEALs and eight other U.S. service members, military officials in Kabul and Washington said Wednesday.

However, Marine Gen. John R. Allen, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told reporters at the Pentagon that the main Taliban leader in the area remained at large. He did not identify that insurgent commander, the hunt for whom set in motion the events that led to the crash of the CH-47 Chinook helicopter on Saturday.

. . .

Special operations forces tracked down a group of “less than 10” insurgents and called in an airstrike from an F-16 fighter jet, Allen said. NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Kabul said the strike took place early Tuesday in the Chak district of Wardak province, close to the area where the Chinook helicopter was shot down.

See also:
U.S. Says It Killed Taliban Who Hit Copter
U.S. forces kill Taliban fighters who downed helicopter
Copter attackers found, killed in strike
US-Led Forces Kill Taliban Militants Behind Helicopter Attack
Strike kills insurgents who downed helicopter in Afghanistan, top commander says
Taliban helicopter shooter killed by United States
Military killed Taliban who downed US helicopter

There’s so many questions yet to be answered regarding this incident, including which CH-47 variant was shot down, why were so many SEALs crammed onto a single helicopter, and why was SEAL Team Six being used on what’s variously, so far been described as a rescue mission, a reinforcement, or an independent, follow on raid?

/this “we got the Taliban that killed our SEALs” makes for a heartwarming tale of revenge but, given how many times this story has already changed, I remain skeptically waiting for the real truth to unfold, if it ever does come out

Iran Plays Cash For Karzai

Could Hamid Karzai be any more corrupt? Iran arms the Taliban against Coalition forces and the Afghan army.

Karzai: We receive cash from Iran

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, has said that his office receives cash in bags from Iran.

The Afghan leader said on Monday that this method of aid distribution is transparent and helps cover government expenses. He also said that the US makes similar cash payments.

The comments came after a report on Sunday that Karzai’s chief of staff, Omar Dawoodzai, receives covert bagfuls of money – possibly as much as $6 million in a single payment – sent by neighbouring Iran in a bid to secure influence.

Karzai said the money was used for palace expenses, salaries and for “people outside,” but gave no further details.

The New York Times, citing an unnamed Afghan official, said that millions of dollars in cash channelled from Iran are used to pay Afghan parliamentarians, tribal elders and Taliban commanders.

US concern

Bill Burton, a White House spokesman, said world leaders should have “every reason to be concerned about Iran trying to have a negative influence on Afghanistan.”

He added Iran had a responsibility to exert “a positive influence on the formation of a government there, and to ensure that Afghanistan is not a country where terrorists can find safe harbour, or where attacks can be planned on their soil.”

Karzai said he gets money from several “friendly countries” but named only the US and Iran, the latter contributing almost $1 million twice per year. Karzai said he will continue to ask for Iranian money.

“The government of Iran assists (my) office with five or six or seven hundred thousand euros once or twice a year, which is official aid,” Karzai told reporters at a joint news conference in Kabul with visiting Tajik President Imomali Rakhmon.

See also:
Afghan president confirms large cash payments by Iranian officials
Karzai Says Iran, US Give Afghanistan ‘Bags Of Money’
Iran Is Said to Give Top Karzai Aide Cash by the Bagful
Karzai Admits Getting Cash From Iran
Hamid Karzai confirms Iranian cash
Karzai Says Iran Provides `Transparent’ Financial Aid in Euros or Dollars
White House says concerned about Iran’s “negative influence” on Afghanistan
US ‘concerned’ about Iran influence in Afghanistan
US ‘Skeptical’ of Iranian Motives in Cash Payments to Karzai Aides
Karzai’s bags of cash a conundrum for the U.S.
Karzai calls Iran payments to Afghanistan ‘normal’
Afghan President Karzai downplays cash from Iran; calls it ‘normal’
‘Let’s not make this an issue,’ says Karzai
Three Questions About Karzai Accepting Iranian Cash

The situation in Afghanistan gets more farcical by the day. Who the hell is the enemy, everybody?

/I’m getting to the point where I’m starting to think [expletive deleted] it, what’s the point of us even being there anymore?

All In The Karzai Family

What are we fighting for again?

Corruption fighting, Afghanistan style

Just how corrupt is the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan? It should be clear by now that President Hamid Karzai doesn’t want us to know. He’d prefer that we just keep sending our troops and our dollars, and not ask too many questions.

Karzai’s government announced this week that American and allied advisers, dispatched to Kabul to help investigate massive and endemic graft, will no longer be allowed to do any actual investigating. Karzai’s chief of staff told The Post that the government is still determined to eliminate corruption, but intends to do so “within an Afghan framework.”

And what a framework it is. Karzai is evidently upset that foreign advisers helped build a case against one of his high-ranking aides, Mohammad Zia Salehi, who is charged with soliciting a bribe — $10,000 plus a new car — from a money-exchange firm. In return, according to the charges, Salehi was supposed to derail an investigation into allegations that the company, called New Ansari, had illegally shipped $3 billion in cash out of the country. Most of the funds ended up in Dubai, where many of the wealthy Afghan elite have settled.

Salehi was arrested, but Karzai intervened to have him released from jail just seven hours later. Karzai has said that the use of wiretaps to build the case against Salehi was a violation of “human rights principles.” I wonder what other standard investigative techniques don’t fit within the “Afghan framework.”

A serious, sustained probe of high-level Afghan corruption might hit even closer to home for Karzai and his family. His brother, Mahmoud Karzai, is one of the major shareholders in Kabul Bank, the nation’s largest financial institution, which almost collapsed this week amid allegations that it was essentially being looted by politically connected insiders. Mahmoud Karzai lives in what the Financial Times describes as a “beachside villa” in Dubai.

President Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, is the most powerful political figure in the Kandahar region — and also, according to persistent allegations, a major player in Afghanistan’s illegal drug trade. He denies any involvement in the opium business, and Hamid Karzai vouches for him, so that’s that. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

See also:
U.S. effort to help Afghanistan fight corruption has complicated ties
Kabul Bank’s Dubai connection
The Karzai empire, villas in Dubai and fears over Afghan aid
Corruption Allegations Test Afghan Banking System
Karzai Family Ties Shielded Afghan Bank
Karzai’s brother made $1m from Dubai deal financed by Kabul Bank

Gee, we’re doing Karzai’s fighting for him while his whole family is picking our pockets.

/of course, a Taliban government would be worse but, apparently, not by much

In One Door And Out The Other

Your tax dollars, hard at work, heading for the airport, getting out of town.

Afghanistan: $4.2 billion in mysterious cash flown out of Kabul since 2007

THE “blizzard of banknotes” leaving Kabul airport is worse than originally feared, The Scotsman has learned, with at least $4.2 billion (around £2.8 billion) exported in cash over the last three-and-a-half years.

Congressmen in the United States voted to suspend $4bn in aid to the Afghan government last week, after media reports showed $3bn in cash has been flown out of the country since 2007.

US and British fraud investigators fear that most of the money leaving Kabul has been siphoned-off from international aid contracts, or made from the country’s rapidly expanding opium trade.

Documents seen by The Scotsman show that the Afghan Ministry of Finance puts the real figure at $4.2bn – at least $1.2 billion higher than previously feared.

“Our records show that $4.2bn has been transferred in cash through Kabul International Airport alone during the last three-and-a-half years,” Afghanistan’s finance minister, Dr Omar Zakhilwal, wrote in a letter to US Congresswoman Nita Lowey.

Ms Lowey, chairwoman of the aid appropriations sub-committee in Congress, has vowed not to send another dime to Afghanistan until she was confident “that US taxpayer money is not being abused to line the pockets of corrupt Afghan government officials, drug lords and terrorists”.

Dr Zakhilwal’s letter acknowledges allegations that Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s government is “assisting or partaking in this fraud” but the minister hits back by pointing out that most of the money America spends in Afghanistan circumvents the Afghan government.

. . .

The sheer volume of cash couriered out of the country’s main airport is huge relative to Afghanistan’s gross domestic product which was just $13.5bn last year, and it easily dwarfs the amount of tax revenue collected by the government.

The figure doesn’t include cash exported from any of Afghanistan’s other international airports, which include Kandahar International, Mazar-e Sharif, in northern Afghanistan, and the main US base at Bagram, north of Kabul.

. . .

Afghanistan relies on a cash economy and there is no limit to how much money can be exported, as long as it is declared to customs. Official records show most of the money that was declared leaving Kabul since 2007 formed part of the traditional Islamic hawala system, in transfers to Dubai. The often informal nature of the hawala contracts, based on trust, honour and lender’s reputation, make the transactions almost impossible for financial investigators to track.

See also:
4.2 billion dollars have left Kabul airport: report
4.2 billion dollar worth ‘blizzard of banknotes’ have flown out of Kabul since 2007
Afghanistan minister rejects US corruption allegations
Afghan leader: Foreign contracts fuel corruption
Finance Minister Calls for Probe of Afghan Money Network
US freezes $4b of aid to Afghans
US cuts $5.6b Afghan aid amid graft charges
Afghanistan: US lawmakers block $4 bln in aid
Over $4 bn in cash flies out of Kabul

It looks like Karzai and his cronies have put together quite the U.S. financed retirement fund.

/no wonder it seems that Karzai doesn’t really care which side wins in Afghanistan, as long as he can make it to the airport to don his golden parachute

Suicide Skunks At The Jirga Party

The Taliban bite Karzai’s hand as he tries to feed them peace.

Taleban send message of war to Karzai’s peace summit

The scene was set for something dramatic as President Karzai approached the lectern yesterday.

His capital city was in lockdown. More than 1,600 dignitaries — tribal elders, ministers, MPs and ambassadors — had gathered in Afghanistan’s most venerated tent for a conference about peace. An estimated 12,000 soldiers, policemen and intelligence agents were involved in keeping all of them safe. The rest of the country was enjoying a two-day holiday.

Moments into Mr Karzai’s opening address, however, he was interrupted by the whistle and thud of an incoming rocket. The Taleban — conspicuous by their absence — had, nonetheless, managed to get their point across.

Plumes of smoke rose from beyond the tent’s perimeter as two more explosions followed. Then the sound of gunfire filled the air. Mr Karzai had described the Taleban as brothers. They, in turn, were trying to kill him.

At least five rockets were fired during the morning, police said, with two suicide bombers killed and a third arrested after they were found hiding in the shell of a house under construction barely 500 metres from the Loya Jirga, or Grand Assembly tent. Undeterred by either the risk to his life — he has survived at least three assassination attempts — or to the credibility of his conference, Mr Karzai urged his audience not to panic. “Sit down, nothing will happen,” he said. “I have become used to this.” In a direct appeal to his “dear Taleban brothers”, he said: “May God bring you to your homeland. Don’t destroy your homeland, don’t destroy yourself.”

The President left the conference in an armoured convoy, as planned, while the rest of the delegates formed smaller groups to try to agree on a set of ground rules for negotiating with the Taleban.

See also:
Taliban targets Afghanistan peace jirga
Afghan Peace Assembly Opens Amid Attacks
Suicide bombers in burkas attack Afghan peace conference
Afghan Insurgents Fire on Peace Conference
Taliban Attacks Dominate First Day of Peace ‘Jirga’
Taliban attack Afghan peace conference as Karzai speaks
Militants attack Afghan peace conference
Taliban by attacking Afghan peace jirga lashes at process
Taliban rockets hit as Karzai leads rare Afghan peace jirga
In pictures: Militants attack Afghanistan ‘peace jirga’
Gunfire erupts near venue of Afghan peace jirga
Three blasts hit near Kabul jirga tent
Afghan opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah vows to boycott ‘peace jirga’
Afghanistan: why US changed its mind about Karzai’s ‘jirga’

Um, I don’t think the Taliban is much interested in making peace, and why should they be? They can strike at will anywhere in Afghanistan and Obama’s already announced that we’re going to start withdrawing next year.

/it doesn’t take Sun Tzu to figure out that all the Taliban have to do is wait until we leave and then go sack Kabul for the big win, can you say Vietnam strategy regurgitated?

The Noose Is Tight, There’s Nowhere For The Marjah Taliban To Go But Down

US and Afghan troops ring Taliban stronghold

U.S. and Afghan forces ringed the Taliban stronghold of Marjah on Thursday, sealing off escape routes and setting the stage for what is being described as the biggest offensive of the nine-year war.

Taliban defenders repeatedly fired rockets and mortars at units poised in foxholes along the edge of the town, apparently trying to lure NATO forces into skirmishes before the big attack.

“They’re trying to draw us in,” said Capt. Joshua Winfrey, 30, of Tulsa, Okla., commander of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines.

Up to 1,000 militants are believed holed up in Marjah, a key Taliban logistics base and center of the lucrative opium poppy trade. But the biggest threats are likely to be the land mines and bombs hidden in the roads and fields of the farming community, 380 miles (610 kilometers) southwest of Kabul.

The precise date for the attack has been kept secret. U.S. officials have signaled for weeks they planned to seize Marjah, a town of about 80,000 people in Helmand province and the biggest community in southern Afghanistan under Taliban control.

NATO officials say the goal is to seize the town quickly and re-establish Afghan government authority, bringing public services in hopes of winning support of the townspeople once the Taliban are gone. Hundreds of Afghan soldiers were to join U.S. Marines in the attack to emphasize the Afghan role in the operation.

A Taliban spokesman dismissed the significance of Marjah, saying the NATO operation was “more propaganda than military necessity.”

Nevertheless, the spokesman, Mohammed Yusuf, said in a dialogue on the Taliban Web site that the insurgents would strike the attackers with explosives and hit-and-run tactics, according to a summary by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant Internet traffic.

In preparation for the offensive, a U.S.-Afghan force led by the U.S. Army’s 5th Stryker Brigade moved south from Lashkar Gah and linked up Thursday with Marines on the northern edge of Marjah, closing off a main Taliban escape route. Marines and Army soldiers fired colored smoke grenades to show each other that they were friendly forces.

U.S. and Afghan forces have now finished their deployment along the main road in and out of Marjah, leaving the Taliban no way out except across bleak, open desert — where they could easily be spotted.

See also:
Outreach Precedes U.S. Offensive
Marines roll out Assault Breacher Vehicles for Marjah Afghanistan offensive
Taliban vow guerrilla warfare against Afghan, NATO troops
Taleban ‘ready to talk’ as Nato prepares for huge assault
Region known as Marjah won’t be another Fallujah
Countdown To A Battle
Washington begins new Afghan offensive
Afghan campaign seeks to avoid Iraq mistakes
Special Forces Assassins Infiltrate Taliban Stronghold in Afghanistan
SITE Intelligence Group
In Your Face Taliban, The Coalition Is Coming To Take Marjah And There’s Not A Damn Thing You Can Do About It

More than a few appropriate songs come to mind, but I like this one (unfortunately there’s no original video):

/hey Taliban, mind if we sit down right in the middle of your primary opium area of operation and kill or capture about 1000 of your “martyrs”?

Slouching Toward The Exit Door In Afghanistan

I’ve long suspected that, despite all of his hawkish bravado during the campaign about the necessity of winning in Afghanistan, Obama isn’t serious about achieving victory against al Qaeda and the Taliban at all.

The U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General McChrystal, has detailed his strategy and emphasized the urgency of the situation. McChrystal has called for 30-40,000 additional troops and clearly stated that we will most likely be defeated in Afghanistan without them. However, instead of immediately granting his field commander’s request, Obama is dithering and trial balloons concerning “alternate strategies” are being floated. With U.S. public support for the Afghan war waning, Obama’s got his finger in the political wind and the wind direction doesn’t bode well for American troops on the ground or United States security interests in the region.

Gates Doubts U.S.’s Afghan Strategy

President Barack Obama met with senior counselors for three hours Wednesday to launch his review of Afghan war strategy, amid indications that his defense secretary — the key link between the White House and the military — is among those undecided about the right approach.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the senior U.S. commander in Kabul, is advocating a manpower-intensive counterinsurgency strategy that focuses on protecting the Afghan populace rather than hunting individual militants. He submitted a classified assessment over the weekend calling for up to 40,000 U.S. reinforcements.

Mr. Obama met with senior military officials, diplomats and Cabinet members Wednesday as part of the review, which White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said was designed to “poke and prod” potential new approaches to the conflict.

The discussion focused on the political and security situation on the ground, according to an administration official, with military commanders detailing the gains made by the insurgency and top diplomats discussing the Afghan election results that were marred by fraud claims.

Mr. Obama focused his questioning on the current threat posed by al Qaeda and whether a resurgent Taliban would give al Qaeda leaders a new haven to regroup, the official said, which could indicate Mr. Obama is more concerned about the status of a threat to the U.S. than overall stability in Afghanistan.

In an interview Wednesday, a senior defense official said that Defense Secretary Robert Gates now worries that counterinsurgency might no longer be a viable approach for countering the Taliban violence roiling once-stable parts of north and west Afghanistan.

Mr. Gates, a Bush administration holdover, has emerged as one of Mr. Obama’s most trusted advisers, so his views carry significant weight in the deliberations.

“Even 40,000 more troops don’t give you enough boots on the ground to protect the Afghans if the north and west continue to deteriorate,” the official said. “That may argue for a different approach.”

A shift in Mr. Gates’s thinking would be particularly striking because he has long been a major advocate of counterinsurgency, which is credited with helping to sharply reduce Iraq’s once-unrelenting violence.

White House Eyeing Narrower War Effort

Senior White House officials have begun to make the case for a policy shift in Afghanistan that would send few, if any, new combat troops to the country and instead focus on faster military training of Afghan forces, continued assassinations of al-Qaeda leaders and support for the government of neighboring Pakistan in its fight against the Taliban.

In a three-hour meeting Wednesday at the White House, senior advisers challenged some of the key assumptions in Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s blunt assessment of the nearly eight-year-old war, which President Obama has said is being fought to destroy al-Qaeda and its allies in Afghanistan and the ungoverned border areas of Pakistan.

McChrystal, commander of the 100,000 NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has asked Obama to quickly endorse his call for a change in military strategy and approve the additional resources he needs to retake the initiative from the resurgent Taliban.

But White House officials are resisting McChrystal’s call for urgency, which he underscored Thursday during a speech in London, and questioning important elements of his assessment, which calls for a vast expansion of an increasingly unpopular war. One senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the meeting, said, “A lot of assumptions — and I don’t want to say myths, but a lot of assumptions — were exposed to the light of day.”

Among them, according to three senior administration officials who attended the meeting, is McChrystal’s contention that the Taliban and al-Qaeda share the same strategic interests and that the return to power of the Taliban would automatically mean a new sanctuary for al-Qaeda.

See also:
Obama, war council review Afghanistan strategy
McChrystal Now Just One of Many Leaders as Obama Rethinks Afghan Strategy
Crucial talks begin on US Afghan strategy
Top UN envoy joins call for rethink of Afghan strategy
U.S. Afghan Strategy Hinges On Reliable Ally In Kabul
Senate blocks commander’s testimony before new Afghan strategy
Afghan Decision Expected in Matter of Weeks
Don’t rush Afghan decision, Kerry cautions president
Poll: 50% oppose U.S. surge in Afghanistan
Gunfight At The D.C. Corral
The Taliban Is Serious About Winning In Afghanistan, Are We?

/once we’re gone, how long will it be before the Taliban is back in control of Kabul, executing women in soccer stadiums?