Friday, December 20, 2019
For me, a former enlisted Marine rifleman who served in Afghanistan in 2008, 2009 and 2010, watching the national-security intelligentsia reckon with their careers, and where they contributed to the quagmire in which the United States now finds itself, reminds me of a Pentagon press-conference transcript from March 2010. I don’t remember how I found it or really why I was looking for it at all. The presenter was Brig. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, the commander of the Marine Corps’s Second Marine Expeditionary Brigade, then the highest ranking officer in charge of the operation in which I participated in the winter of 2010: the battle to retake the town of Marja in southern Helmand Province from the Taliban. In its briefings, NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said that the mission, known as Operation Moshtarak, or ‘together’ in Dari, was “Afghan-led.” This was, and remains, a lie. The military officials knew it wasn’t led by Afghans, but they still emphatically made this false assertion and expected the press to repeat the phrase.
In the briefing after first phase of combat, Nicholson himself did not use the phrase “Afghan-led,” but he opened his presentation with false notes, highlighting the initial stages of the battle before summarizing what he cast as the positive performance of the Afghan National Army, whom we were fighting alongside. It was one of the major operations of President Obama’s new strategy in Afghanistan, one that highlighted the United States’ desire to eventually hand over the war entirely to the Afghan security forces — something that to this day has yet to happen.
We have some newer Afghan units that we have to partner with very closely. Really they’re just out of recruit training. So I think there’s a wide variety of the Afghan Army experience here in Marja, but I can tell you that I am exceptionally proud of their great service. These guys run to the sound of gunfire. And when I talk to the young Marines, they tell me how very happy they are to have them there. You know, Marines don’t search any of the homes. In an area this large, when you decide you’ve got to search a home, the guys going in are going to be Afghan soldiers. And they’ve done that very well; they’ve earned the trust and confidence of the Marines. And so over all, I think we’re in good shape.
Since these statements were made a decade ago, the Afghan security forces have undoubtedly bore the brunt of the fighting, losing more than 50,000 people after the Pentagon ended “combat operations” in 2014. Different units, especially among the commando forces, are well trained, reliable and somewhat effective on the battlefield. But what Nicholson said on March 4, 2010, to the Pentagon press corps was the perfect example of how the official version of the war in Afghanistan was infected with misinformation (sometimes deliberate, sometimes not) one speech at a time. Here’s how the falsehoods, or half-truths, in Nicholson’s briefing break down line by line.
“These guys run to the sound of gunfire.”
This was an overstatement by our commanding general. On Wednesday I asked one former mortar man from my battalion if he ever saw his Afghan counterparts run toward a firefight. He told me: “Only time I saw them run was when a platoon of them disappeared the night before [the start of the operation] and no one could find them.”
A former senior noncommissioned officer who took part in the battle said that the younger Afghan soldiers were skittish when it came to the fighting unless “the [press] cameras were near them or they wanted to show off.” He added: “However, they had some older guys that were all about the fight. They were old enough to understand why the Taliban were bad and didn’t want them in their country.”
“And when I talk to the young Marines, they tell me how very happy they are to have them there.”
As a young Marine (one of roughly a thousand in my battalion), this was never a sentiment I experienced. We knew little about the Afghan troops, had barely any cultural training and mostly avoided them at all costs, especially with the growing trend of insider attacks. “I’m just glad I’m in weapons company and don’t have to deal with them,” one 19-year-old Marine from my battalion wrote in his journal in January 2010. Another young corporal said, “I always felt a little leery with them around.” Another, a former squad leader in a rifle platoon, said there was “universal distrust and skepticism.” Not exactly a statement of a young Marine happy with his allies.
“You know, Marines don’t search any of the homes. In an area this large, when you decide you’ve got to search a home, the guys going in are going to be Afghan soldiers.”
Afghan troops searched some homes, but Marines searched plenty of houses in Marja themselves. I would know because I was one of them. Searching homes was part of the American grunt routine, no matter what the brass said.On Wednesday, Nicholson, who is now retired, said: “I stand by my statement at the time. We saw some heroism from some Afghans and there were obviously some Afghans who underperformed. I think it was the right thing to do at the time, and it would be something I’d do again,” referring to integrating Afghan soldiers alongside the Marines and the broader strategy in Marja.In all, the general’s statements created a false picture, just surely as the lie about this “Afghan-led” operation was circulated by his headquarters. This glossed-over version of reality would then be repurposed in future congressional hearings and interviews, selling new variations of an already-failing military strategy to lawmakers. Now, nearly a decade later, the phrase “Afghan-led” is still plastered on Pentagon press statements as an irrevocable fact, despite that being, in many cases, the opposite of the truth.That is the number of housing units on American military bases across the country that are controlled by private corporations. The program has recently come under scrutiny after a report in September found that residents on 48 of the 49 bases inspected by the Army were dissatisfied with on-base housing, reporting problems ranging from mold and asbestos to poor water quality and exposure to sewage. The privatization initiative was at first a response to the armed services’ own inability to maintain adequate housing for service members in the 1990s, but abdicating control of these housing units to for-profit corporations has exacerbated the issue, leading to a breach of contract and negligence suit filed by 10 military families against Corvias Management, the company that has managed private housing at the military base in Fort Meade, Md., since 2002. Last week, the problem was taken up by Congress, where public hearings were held on the subject of tenant complaints and failures of military oversight. Read the full report here. — Jake Nevins, Times editorial fellow.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that Pakistan decided to stay away from the recently concluded Kuala Lumpur summit because of Saudi Arabia's threats of economic sanctions, Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah reported on Friday.
The meeting was shunned by Saudi Arabia and criticised for allegedly undermining the bigger Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Some analysts also suspected that Saudi Arabia's reluctance to attend stemmed from fear of being diplomatically isolated by regional rivals Iran, Qatar and Turkey, all of whom were attending the summit.
Saudi state news agency SPA also reported that on a call with Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohammad, Saudi King Salman reaffirmed that such issues should be discussed through the OIC.According to Daily Sabah, Erdogan, while speaking to Turkish media representatives, said that it was not the first time that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had put pressure on a country for doing or not doing certain things.
“Unfortunately, we see that Saudi Arabia pressures Pakistan. Now, there are promises that the country has given to Pakistan regarding the central bank. However, more than that, there are four million Pakistanis working in Saudi Arabia. They [threaten by saying that they] would send [Pakistanis] back and re-employ Bangladeshis instead,” Erdogan was quoted as saying. He added that the kingdom has also threatened to withdraw money it had deposited in the State Bank of Pakistan.
According to Erdogan, Pakistan had to comply with the Saudi wishes "due to its economic difficulties".
While not directly addressing the Turkish president's statement, the Foreign Office in response to questions from the media said that Pakistan did not participate in the Kuala Lumpur summit because "time and efforts were needed to address the concerns of major Muslim countries regarding possible division in the Ummah".
"Pakistan will continue to work for the unity and solidarity of the Ummah, which is indispensable for effectively addressing the challenges faced by the Muslim world," the FO spokesperson said in a brief statement.
'No representation from Pakistan at summit'
Pakistan was one of the first countries with which Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir had shared his plans for holding the summit when he met Prime Minister Imran along with Erdogan on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session in New York in September.Later, Imran Khan formally conveyed his acceptance of the invitation for attending the summit when Deputy Foreign Minister of Malaysia Marzuki Bin Haji Yahya called on him in Islamabad on November 29.Last week, however, reports of Prime Minister Imran cancelling his trip to Malaysia started making rounds. After his visit to Saudi Arabia on Saturday, the premier decided to stay away from the Kuala Lumpur summit. According to reports, he withdrew due to pressure exerted by the kingdom, which had extended a helping hand to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government during its early days to stave off an economic crisis.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had on Tuesday confirmed that there would be no representation from Pakistan at the summit of some 20 Muslim countries, which started in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.
Qureshi confirmed that Saudi Arabia and the UAE had concerns about the summit, saying the two countries were worried that the event could cause “division in Ummah” and lead to setting up of an organisation parallel to the existing Saudi-dominated OIC.
In view of the reservations about the summit, Qureshi said, it was decided that Pakistan would seek to bridge the gap between Riyadh and Kuala Lumpur and if that did not work there would be no participation in the summit.
Prime Minister Imran’s trip to the kingdom
was aimed at bringing Saudi Arabia and Malaysia closer and not for getting permission to attend the summit, the minister said at the time.
By Rafia ZakariaThe treason case against Pakistan's former President and army Gen. Pervez Musharraf had languished for so long that it seemed that there would never be a verdict. On Tuesday, six years after the case had been filed, a Special Court in Islamabad finally delivered their verdict and sentenced Pervez Musharraf in absentia to death for high treason.
The decision threatens to throw an already restive Pakistan into political tumult as the judiciary sets up for a battle of wills against the military.
The charges of which Musharraf was convicted stem from the 1999 military coup that toppled Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. A three-member special court found Musharraf guilty of violating Article 6 of the Constitution: "Any person who abrogates or subverts or suspends or hold in abeyance, or attempts or conspires to abrogate or subvert or suspend or hold in abeyance the Constitution by use of force or show force or by any other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason" In Pakistani law, the court noted, the only punishment for high treason is death. This decision is the first time that a civilian court has sentenced a general from Pakistan's domineering military (which has undertaken three major coups in 1956 and 1977 and 1999 and ruled the country for 33 of its 72 years of existence) has been sentenced to death. Gen. Musharraf, long retired, is himself is in the United Arab Emirates seeking treatment for medical problems but the attorney general of Pakistan, called the trial "unfair" and announced that the government will be appealing the verdict in Pakistan's Supreme Court.
The death sentence against the general will almost certainly not be carried out because he is unlikely to ever return to Pakistan. The symbolic significance of the verdict, however, cannot be overstated.Given this, the Supreme Court of Pakistan is likely to be the site of yet another standoff between Pakistan's judiciary and its military. Another one of the charges on which the general was convicted was his 2007 move to impose "emergency rule" and fire Iftikhar Chaudhry, then the chief justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court, for refusing to kowtow to the General. That move sparked a lawyers' movement and such unrest in the country that the former general himself was forced to resign.
In essence then, the Supreme Court will now hear a case that considers in part whether an unelected military general has the power to depose the chief justice of the Supreme Court. If they, via some arcane loophole, say yes, they are limiting their own power as a separate branch of government; a move likely to spark further protests.If they uphold the verdict, the all-powerful military could very well take some future coercive actions against them.
It is a no-win situation.
The former President has his supporters in Pakistan but many resent what they see as the general's all too eager dalliance with the United States in the war on terror. Musharraf was in charge when then-President George W. Bush uttered his famous ultimatum, "You're either with us or against us." Gen. Musharraf told Pakistanis that he had no choice but to cooperate with the Americans, saying that then-Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage had told him: "Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the stone age."It's unclear whether these statements were ever made, but it is clear that Musharraf continued to enjoy the backing of the Bush administration even though he had long since lost support among Pakistanis. Musharraf's positioning of Pakistan as an ally in the war on terror, many Pakistanis held, made the country a target for terrorist attacks as it became yet another theater of war between insurgent Taliban, al Qaeda and a variety of other groups. More recently, according to research from New America, US drone attacks targeting the militants in Pakistan's tribal areas killed as many as 3,700 people, many of them innocent civilians.
The US is pursuing a peace deal with the Taliban and, according to recent Washington Post reporting, US officials knew that the war in Afghanistan was unwinnable.
The Post's Afghanistan papers have revealed the lies told by American officials regarding the war on terror in Afghanistan, lies which seem to have no consequences for the parties involved. In Pakistan, the judiciary has rejected this no-consequences approach and sentenced a general who was an American favorite to death for his violations of the truth and the law. With the United States withdrawing from Afghanistan, the world is realigning. Preempting the withdrawal, Pakistan has turned to China as its new best friend. Pakistan's new generals, now far more concerned with ensuring that the Chinese are happy, may not feel much allegiance to an old retired leader who has no use within this new order. If this is so, then it may well be that Pakistan's military establishment looks the other way as Gen. Pervez Musharraf's death sentence is upheld.
However, it doesn't appear that the military will be so sanguine about a death sentence for one of its own. In a statement released on Twitter, military spokesperson Major Gen. Asif Ghafoor said that the verdict had been received with a "lot of pain and anguish" within the Pakistani military accusing the courts of having "ignored due process." A man who "had served the country for over 40 years, fought wars for the country can surely never be a traitor."For the moment, former President of Pakistan Gen. Pervez Musharraf is just that. At least for now, a man who toyed with Pakistan's civilian institutions has been held to account. Whether justice ultimately prevails is unknown, but in this history-making moment for Pakistan, it surely has.