ZARI, Afghanistan — Because of the poppies, the raw material for most of the world’s heroin, the list of things 1st Lt. Christopher Gackstatter and his 2nd Platoon can’t do in Sartok is far longer than the list of things they can.
Marching into the mud-walled village in this sun-baked district of southern Afghanistan on an April 24 intelligence-gathering mission, the boyish 25-year-old lieutenant and his roughly dozen riflemen and machine gunners are mindful of the many poppy-related prohibitions, developed over 12 painful years of war, that have been passed down to their Bravo Company by the higher unit, 3-41 Infantry, part of the Texas-based 1st Brigade of the 1st Armored Division.
They’re not allowed to actually step foot in Sartok’s many acres of poppy fields or damage the fields in any way.
The rules are fairly new and reflect a subtle but profound shift in the way the U.S. Army thinks about Afghanistan, its people and culture and conflict. Having furtively experimented with every possible approach to Afghan poppies since 2001 — from blissfully ignoring them to actively destroying them and everything in between — today the ground-combat branch has made peace with poppies, viewing them as a potential good thing for Afghanistan and the Army.
By Alexandra Zavis, Los Angeles Times
May 5, 2013, 5:02 p.m.
The jobs of the nation’s citizen soldiers are supposed to be safe while they are serving their country: Federal law does not allow employers to penalize service members because of their military duties.
Yet every year, thousands of National Guard and Reserve troops coming home from Afghanistan and elsewhere find they have been replaced, demoted, denied benefits or seniority.
Government agencies are among the most frequent offenders, accounting for about a third of the more than 15,000 complaints filed with federal authorities since the end of September 2001, records show. Others named in the cases include some of the biggest names in American business, such as Wal-Mart and United Parcel Service.
With good jobs still scarce in many states, the illegal actions have contributed to historically high joblessness among returning National Guard and Reserve members — as high as 50% in some California units — and created a potential obstacle to serving.
Taliban insurgents seized an Afghan pilot and nine foreign nationals from a transport helicopter after it was forced to make an emergency landing late Sunday night in eastern Afghanistan, authorities said.
The private helicopter, that was used to carry food and other items for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), was headed to Kabul from a NATO base in Khost province when it was forced to land in Azra district in neighboring Logar province, said the district’s governor, Hamidullah Hamid.
On board were seven Turkish engineers and three pilots: an Afghan and two Russians. Because it’s not always safe to travel by road in areas with heavy militant activity, engineers and others will often hitch rides in helicopters delivering supplies.
The aircraft landed in Logar because of equipment malfunction, said Din Mohammad Darwesh, the spokesman for the Logar province’s governor.
A suicide bomb and gun attack on a courthouse in the west Afghan city of Farah has left at least six people dead and 70 injured, most of them civilians.
Militants disguised as soldiers tried unsuccessfully to free suspected Taliban members, officials say.
After a fierce initial gun battle, shooting continued as militants took cover in at least one building.
Taliban insurgents said they were behind the attack in the strategic province, which borders Iran.
Khe Sanh — In the greenness of spring, this tiny plateau in southern Vietnam looks as tranquil as a cow pasture; in 1968, it was as cratered as the moon. In an epic battle, a Marine regiment defending Khe Sanh killed an estimated 20,000 North Vietnamese soldiers. In the half century since then, no enemy has again hurled thousands of troops against American forces; our firepower is too overwhelming. Here at Khe Sanh, 100,000 tons of explosives were dropped, ten times the amount expended in all of Afghanistan during the past decade.
In Afghanistan, we severely restricted our firepower in order to win popular support. That support was not achieved. Americans were viewed as infidel outsiders; they could not substitute for the absence of responsible indigenous officials. Although the Taliban were intensely disliked, the population did not rally behind a Karzai-led government that offered neither justice nor concern.
And although we rarely unleashed our ferocious firepower, every American patrol had such weapons on call - just in case. Thus we were able to have our cake and eat it too. But we did not provide the Afghan army with adequate firepower, because our military assumed the Karzai government would win over the population and cause the Taliban to wither away.
So we now face the situation where, like the South Vietnamese army, the Afghan army will be stretched too thin as we pull out. Afghan army patrols don’t have indirect weapons on call to help them out. Inside the sanctuary of Pakistan, the Taliban are certain to mass and then strike first against one outpost, and then another. Afghan units face at least partial defeat in detail, with the number of villages under government control likely to decrease from the current high-water mark.
President Obama has ruled against nation-building and reversed his previous rhetoric about “defeating the Taliban.” Our national interest demands prevention of a sanctuary for terrorists who aim to attack outside Afghanistan. Even as Afghanistan remains at war, we can accomplish our limited goal by aerial surveillance, bombing, and raids. A total disintegration of government control, however, would be a global defeat for the United States. A full unraveling is the worst specter facing the Afghan army, as it faced the South Vietnamese army after we pulled out in 1972. Once our troops left Saigon, Congress slashed aid and forbade any bombing, regardless of what the North Vietnamese did. In an effort in 1975 to consolidate, South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu peremptorily ordered a few units to pull back. This sparked panic and countrywide collapse.
Russia going back to Afghanistan? Kremlin confirms it could happen
Nearly 25 years after Soviet troops left Afghanistan in defeat, Russia may return – in order to service the Russian equipment that makes up the backbone of the Afghan military.
By Fred Weir, Correspondent / April 1, 2013
Almost a quarter century after Soviet troops left Afghanistan in defeat, Russia may return to the country by establishing “maintenance bases” for Russian-made military equipment after NATO winds down its operations there next year, defense ministry officials have confirmed.
Russian experts insist that it’s not an attempt to overcome Russia’s own version of the “Vietnam syndrome” – an agonized folk memory of the decade-long war in Afghanistan that arguably brought down the Soviet Union. Rather, they say the new engagement will be limited to commercial obligations, negotiated with NATO before it pulls most of its forces out, and will absolutely not involve any active military role.
“Someone has to help the Afghan people build a peaceful life. They’ve known nothing but weapons and war for so long,” says Oleg Tikhonov, deputy head of the Injured Afghan War Veterans in Sverdlovsk region, western Siberia.
But Russia must never repeat its past mistakes. There cannot again be any Russian troops in Afghanistan. After the past, it would be impossible to explain why Russian boys are dying there. You cannot do such things without the people’s consent,” he adds.
Over the past couple of years, Russia has become more active assisting the beleaguered NATO mission in Afghanistan, even granting the use of an important airbase in central Russia to help with resupply efforts. Russian leaders have repeatedly urged NATO not to leave in 2014, and to stay in Afghanistan until “the job is done.”
But most Russian experts say they are now resigned to the US pulling the plug in 2014 and, in a pattern familiar from previous wars from Vietnam to Iraq, abandoning the region to its own devices.
“Look at Iraq. The US lost interest in it, and nobody cares if it’s becoming engulfed in civil war,” says Vadim Kozyulin, a researcher with the PIR Center, a leading Moscow security think tank.
“The same process may happen in Afghanistan, and could develop much more quickly. The US effort in Afghanistan is about to end. It’s time for Russia to design a new effort, which means we have to take a share of responsibility on ourselves. We’re already playing the role of political and military leader in central Asia…. Even though [President Vladimir] Putin previously said we won’t send Russian specialists to Afghanistan, the Russian military now says we might create enterprises on Afghan territory to service military equipment. The situation is changing,” he adds.
“There has been a lot of harm done to Afghanistan, and many countries participated in doing it,” General Garayev says.
“But Afghanistan needs to be restored. Several generations have known only war, weapons, and death. We have a history with that country, and not only a negative one. The USSR cooperated with Afghanistan since it had a king. There is a chance here to work creatively. Nobody’s ever tried that before. We need to step carefully, but we should try,” he says.
For those that may have forgotten, the Northern Alliance that the USA used to oust the Taliban was a mostly Russian sponsored fighting force. The Taliban were (and still is) supported by American ally Pakistan and the US was openly courting the Taliban before 9/11 and other incidents.
On March 11, 2013, ex-mayor of San Diego Roger Hedgecock said on his syndicated radio program that the US should kill the president of Afghanistan and leave his body “lifeless on the nearest dirty, rutted street of your rubble capitol.”
Broadcasting from KFMB-AM, Hedgecock expressed angry in reaction to President Hamid Karzai’s recent statements suggesting the US and the Taliban seem to be colluding to destabilize Afghanistan. Hedgecock, a right wing talk show host since he left office under felony corruption charges in the 1980s, charged Karzai with corruption and with being unappreciative of US troops’ efforts. San Diego is home to many military bases and installations, including the Navy Seals, but Hedgecock himself avoided draft in the Vietnam war due to acne.
Depending whether you read the New York Times or the Washington Post, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is either saying that the US government is actively colluding with Taliban to destabilize Afghanistan, or their actions are just happening in parallel. The charge that the US would be working to destabilize the country is bad enough, of course.
The NYTimes’ careful wording:
Among Mr. Karzai’s critical comments on Sunday, which came at an early morning news conference in honor of Women’s Day, he charged that the American government and the Taliban, while using different means, had in effect colluded to keep Afghanistan unstable in order to justify a continued American military presence.
The WaPo’s version:
Afghan President Hamid Karzai lashed out at the United States in strikingly acerbic terms Sunday, implying that the American military was stoking violence in collusion with the Taliban to justify a prolonged presence here and charging that foreign troops were harassing Afghan university students.
They were fit and strong and humorless. “It’s difficult to say how many people I’ve killed,” a Tiger named Seetha, age twenty-two, told me. What I remember most from that trip are the tiny vials of cyanide that Seetha and every other Tiger wore around their necks, like pieces of jewelry. Capture at the hands of the Sri Lankan government often meant torture, so the Tigers weren’t taking the risk.
It was strange, meeting those women. They were impossible not to like, even to respect, despite—or even because of—their brutality. And that was it: they were as tough as the men. The Tigers, run at the time by a cult-leader-like figure named Velupillai Prabhakaran, started drafting women into the army not because Prabhakaran was a feminist but because so many of the men, after more than fifteen years of fighting, were dead. There was a surplus of women, and they wanted to fight. The headline that ran with my story was “Women Dying to be Equal.”
I thought of the Tiger ladies yesterday when I read about the decision, by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, to rescind the ban on American servicewomen in combat. The order was a long time coming. A dozen years ago, it would have been remarkable for American women to be shooting people and losing their eyes and legs in war. Not anymore. In the twelve years since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began, the military has been steadily pushing women into jobs that no one could call “non-combat” without stripping the phrase of its meaning. Nowadays, women fly Apache helicopters—giant, terrifying killing machines armed with rockets and cannon. Women fly medevac helicopters, often descending directly into firefights to carry away wounded soldiers as they take enemy fire. Members of what the military calls “female engagement teams” venture into remote Afghan villages—nearly all of which are contested by the Taliban—to talk to Afghan women because of the cultural barriers that stand in the way of American men. What’s “non-combat” about those jobs?
More: Women With Guns
The court gave one of the pair, a 27-year-old German, nine years in prison. His 23-year-old Austrian partner was handed six years and nine months.
The German was founding member of terrorist organisation the German Taliban Mudschaheddin (DTM), and, according to the federal prosecutor’s office, the two met in Afghanistan before both partaking in military training on the Pakistani-Afghan border.
In 2007, the older suspect published during the election campaign a video threatening to launch a holy war on Germany.