Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Runaway General

Read this article (PDF).

Michael Hastings, writing for Rolling Stone magazine, has set off a firestorm with this in-depth and surprisingly candid profile of General McChrystal, commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Put on-line this afternoon, the article has lived up to its pre-published hype.

The General has already been called to Washington and there is rampant speculation about whether or not he will be fired as a result of his comments critical of the President and his team.

Advisors to McChrystal speak freely – and profanely - in the article adding color with their disdain for the political process and the individuals in government who must sell this war to an increasingly skeptical and hostile US audience. It is very revealing.

The issued raised in the article are dramatic and comes down to this. Be careful what you ask for.

Only removing General McChrystal addresses the symptom and not the disease. What needs to happen is a serious examination of a foreign policy that gives the military a blank check. Unaccountable for aggressive tactics and civilian casualties, allowed to control development efforts through the Provisional Reconstruction Teams, and asked to help fight corruption.

If the new administration is serious about engaging the world with diplomacy it needs to reverse its budget priorities. Currently the military gets over $700 billion annually, the State Department – the agency that is supposed to engage with the world gets $50 billion. That must change.

In the coming week wikileaks is also scheduled to release documents and later video of a deadly US airstrike against civilians last year. It will certainly add to the debate.

Monday, June 21, 2010

World Refugee Day – Dangerous Trends

Yesterday was World Refugee Day. To put the crisis in context the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee released their annual report Global Trends last week.

The humanitarian impact of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are clear. Afghan and Iraqi refugees account for almost half of all refugees worldwide under UNHCR’s responsibility. The three countries hosting the largest number of refugees in order are Pakistan, Iran and Syria. The first two are almost exclusively Afghans, the last Iraqis (see figure 2).

While the number of refugee figures remained similar to 2008, the number of Internally Displaced People (IDP’s) reached an unprecedented 15.6 million. The increase was largely from tragic conflicts in Congo, Pakistan and Somalia.

Some of the figures they provide.

There were 43.3 million forcibly displaced people worldwide at the end of 2009, the highest number since the mid-1990s. Of these, 15.2 million were refugees; 10.4 million who fell under UNHCR’s responsibility and 4.8 million Palestinian refugees under UNRWA’s mandate. The figure also includes 983,000 asylum seekers and 27.1 million internally


Afghanistan has been the leading country of origin of refugees for the past three decades with up to 6.4 million of its citizens having sought international protection during peak years. As of the end of 2009, close to 2.9 million Afghan were still refugees. One out of four refugees in the world is from Afghanistan. Even though Afghan refugees could be found in 71 asylum countries worldwide in 2009, 96 per cent of them were located in Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran alone. Iraqis were the second largest group, with an estimated 1.8 million having sought refuge, mainly in neighboring countries. Afghan and Iraqi refugees account for almost half (45%) of all refugees under UNHCR’s responsibility worldwide.


Pakistan was host to the largest number of refugees worldwide (1.7 million), followed by the Islamic Republic of Iran (1.1 million) and the Syrian Arab Republic (1.05 million; Government estimate). Pakistan also hosted the largest number of refugees in relation to its economic capacity with 745 refugees per 1 USD GDP (PPP) per capita, followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (592) and Zimbabwe (245).


Afghan and Iraqi refugees accounted for almost half of all refugees under UNHCR’s responsibility worldwide; one out of four refugees in the world was from Afghanistan (2.9 million). Afghans were located in 71 different asylum countries. Iraqis were the second largest refugee group, with 1.8 million having sought refuge primarily in neighboring countries.


Some 251,500 refugees repatriated voluntarily during 2009, the lowest figure since 1990. In contrast, more than 2.2 million IDPs were able to return, the highest in at least a decade.

Additional Resource:

The Frame - World Refugee Day Photo Blog

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Challenges of Reintegration

Matt Waldman has an in-depth study on the challenges facing reintegration. Noting that reintegration is one step in reducing violence but that it only "addresses the symptoms of the disease, not the disease itself."

While economic pressure is a factor – the infamous $10 Taliban - there are often more immediate and fundamental reasons that drive people to fight. These include resistance to foreign occupation, civilian casualties, government impunity, tribal conflict and exclusion. These fundamental issues or ‘root cause’ highlight the need for substantial political reconciliation.

At its core, reintegration must offer something of value to all Afghans.

“Some believe its principal, legitimate role is to reduce violence, enhance community cohesion, and support a credible process of reconciliation. For General McChrystal, however, it is ‘a normal component of counterinsurgency warfare’ in other words, its central utility is as an instrument to weaken and potentially divide the enemy. Indeed, the US Military’s joint doctrine on Counterinsurgency Operations states that ‘offering amnesty or a seemingly generous compromise can also cause divisions within an insurgency and present opportunities to split or weaken it.”


Reintegration is more complex and difficult to accomplish than is commonly appreciated. There are significant obstacles, including lack of trust, insurgent cohesion, and revenge attacks on participants. There is also a dissonance between the economic incentives offered by reintegration and some of the powerful social, political, ideological, and personal factors that cause people to fight.

A well-executed reintegration scheme could have positive social, economic, and stabilisation benefits – and thus reduce the force of the insurgency – but if mishandled, it could do the reverse. Without intelligent design, effective delivery, and political resolve it has the potential to exacerbate local security conditions, undermine high-level talks, and even increase insurgent recruitment. It could also distract policy-makers from action to tackle the root causes of the conflict. Reintegration addresses the symptoms of the disease, and not the disease itself.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Military convoys put civilians "at risk"

One month after a deadly car bombing in Kabul the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs offers some insight into the levels of violence in the country by interviewing one of the wounded. It is not often that we have an opportunity to look behind the headline.

KABUL, 16 June 2010 (IRIN) - Only seconds after a convoy of armoured military vehicles passed Fawad Tokhi, 35, at about 8.20am in the south of Kabul city on 18 May, he was wounded in a suicide attack.

“I was bleeding. The only thing I could do was to call my brother and tell him that I was wounded,” Tokhi told IRIN at his home in Kabul. He was seriously hit in the chest and abdomen.

Officials said the blast killed six foreign soldiers and at least 12 civilians; another 47 civilians were injured.

I first blame foreign forces for unnecessary patrolling on city streets in busy hours of the day. Secondly, I blame the government for its inability to stop foreign forces from rambling on the city streets in their armoured cars. Thirdly, I blame the Taliban for their attacks which often kill and injure innocent people,” said Tokhi.

“I don’t understand what ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] achieves on busy streets in Kabul except creating traffic congestions and causing risks to people,” said Ahmad Wali, 19, who was injured in the same attack.

To illustrate what a magnet for violence that foreign forces have become in Afghanistan consider this.

“Foreign forces came to our village and said they want to asphalt the road but we said no,” said Shir Ahmad, a resident of Dara-e-Pachaye in Kabul’s Paghman District. “We know the road is good but we also know that an asphalted road brings ISAF patrols and with them comes suicide and roadside attacks.”

Two weeks after the attack, the New York Times reported that 30 Afghan’s had been shot to death and 80 wounded from passing convoys and at military checkpoints in the last six months.

We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat,” said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who became the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan last year. His comments came during a recent videoconference to answer questions from troops in the field about civilian casualties.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Unpacking $1 Trillion

A video message from the Quaker youth program in Old Chatham, New York.

Directed by Sergio Rico, Trillion is a powerful film about a very large number.

Additional Resource:

What's Your Trillion Dollar Plan?
Clever interactive game from Rethink Afghanistan.
Afghanistan 101 is a blog of the American Friends Service Committee
215-241-7000 · web@afsc.org