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Ann Jones: Playing the Game in Afghanistan

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

How primitive the Afghans are! A New York Times account of faltering negotiations over a possible "strategic partnership" agreement to leave U.S. troops on bases in that country for years to come highlights just how far the Afghans have to go to become, like their U.S. mentor, a mature democracy. Take the dispute over prisons. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been insisting that the U.S. turn over its prison facility at Bagram Air Base to his government. (The recently burned Korans came from that prison's library.) The Obama administration initially refused and now has suggested a six-month timetable for such a turnover, an option Karzai has, in turn, rejected. No one, by the way, seems yet to be negotiating about a second $36-million prison at Bagram that, TomDispatch recently reported, the U.S. is now in the process of building.

The Times' Alissa Rubin suggests, however, that a major stumbling block remains to any such turnover. She writes: "The challenges to a transfer are enormous, presenting serious security risks both for the Afghan government and American troops. Many of the estimated 3,200 people being detained [in Bagram's prison] cannot be tried under Afghan law because the evidence does not meet the legal standards required to be admitted in Afghan courts. Therefore, those people, including some suspected insurgents believed likely to return to the fight if released, would probably have to be released because Afghanistan has no law that allows for indefinite detention for national security reasons."

Honestly, what kind of a backward country doesn't have a provision for the indefinite detention, on suspicion alone, of prisoners without charges or hope of trial? As a mature democracy, we now stand proudly for global indefinite detention, not to speak of the democratic right to send robot assassins to take out those suspected of evil deeds anywhere on Earth. As in any mature democracy, the White House has now taken on many of the traits of a legal system -- filling, that is, the roles of prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner.

Six months to learn all that (and how to burn Korans, too)? I don't think so. Or how about a really mature plan that, according to an Associated Press report, top Pentagon officials are now mulling over: to put whatever U.S. elite special operations forces remain in Afghanistan after 2014 under CIA control. The reason? Once they are so lodged, even though their missions wouldn't change, they would officially become "spies" and whoever's running Washington then will be able to swear, with complete candor, that no U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan. Even better, the CIA is conveniently run by former Afghan War commander David Petraeus and the U.S. public would no longer have to be informed about "funding or operations" for those non-troops. Now, that's how a mature democracy makes the trains run on time!

Had enough? Then try finding your inner khan with the indefatigable Ann Jones, TomDispatch regular and author of War Is Not Over When It's Over, who knows more about Afghanistan than any of us. Tom

Green on Blue
Dead Americans, Dead Goats, and Half a Million Gunmen on the Loose
By Ann Jones

Recent weeks have brought yet another sad chance to watch badly laid plans in Afghanistan go haywire. In three separate incidents, allies, most from the Afghan National Army (ANA), allegedly murdered six Americans -- two of them officers in the high-security sanctum of Kabul's Interior Ministry. Marine General John R. Allen, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, even briefly withdrew NATO advisors and trainers from all government ministries for their own protection.

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Until that moment, the Afghan National Army was the crown jewel of the Obama administration's strategy for drawing down forces in Afghanistan (without really leaving). Trained in their hundreds of thousands over the past 11 years by a horde of dodgy private security contractors, as well as U.S. and NATO troops, the Afghan National Army is supposed to replace coalition forces any day now and defend its own country.

This policy has been the apex of Washington's Plan A for some time now. There is no Plan B.

But what to make of the murders in the Ministry? An AP article headlined "Acts of Afghan Betrayal Are Poisoning U.S. War Plan" detected "a trend of Afghan treachery." This "poisoning" is, however, nothing new. Military lingo has already long defined assaults on American and NATO soldiers by members of the Afghan National Security Force (a combination of the ANA and the Afghan National Police) as "green on blue incidents." Since the military started recording them in May 2007, 76 NATO soldiers have been killed and an undisclosed number wounded in 46 recorded "deliberate attacks."

These figures suggest more than a recent "trend of Afghan treachery" (though Afghans are increasingly blamed for everything that goes wrong in their country). Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who perversely called the latest green on blue incidents signs of Taliban "weakness," told the press: "I've made clear and I will continue to make clear that, regardless of what the enemy tries to do to us, we are not going to alter our strategy in Afghanistan."

This is, of course, the definition of paralysis in Afghanistan, so much easier in the short term than reexamining Plan A. In other words, as the American exercise in Afghanistan rolls ever closer to the full belly-up position, Plan A remains rigidly in place, and signals that, from Secretary Panetta and General Allen on down, Americans still don't seem to get what's going on.

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Beware an Afghan Army

Many people who know Afghanistan well, however, have warned from the beginning against this plan to train up an armed force. I'm among the naysayers, and I'll tell you why.

First, consider what the plan proposes. The number of Afghan soldiers and police to be trained varies widely from one report to the next, but the last estimate I received directly from the Kabul Military Training Center called for 240,000 soldiers and 160,000 police (who, incidentally, are also called "soldiers" and trained in a similar manner). That brings the total proposed Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) to approximately four times the number of current coalition troops in the country.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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