The "War on Terror"

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The "War on Terror"

Post  eddie on Sat Jun 18, 2011 4:49 am

Cables From Kabul: The Inside Story of the West's Afghanistan Campaign by Sherard Cowper-Coles – review

Sherard Cowper-Coles, once our man in Kabul, has written the best account yet of another botched western mission

William Dalrymple guardian.co.uk, Thursday 16 June 2011 12.05 BST


'Kabul remains one of the poorest capitals in the world': the city in June last year. Photograph: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

In April last year, the British ambassador to Afghanistan invited me for a picnic in the Panjshir. I was told to report to the British Embassy in Kabul at 7am. Threading my way through a slalom of checkpoints and blast walls surrounding the British mission, I arrived to find the boyish figure of Our Man in Kabul, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, being hustled into a convoy of heavily armoured Range Rovers by his ever-present phalanx of bodyguards, walkie-talkies crackling and assault rifles primed.


Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West's Afghanistan Campaign by Sherard Cowper-Coles

For Cowper-Coles, it was a farewell trip at the very end of his three years at the helm of Britain's diplomatic effort in Afghanistan. For me, it was the second day of a research trip for a book I am writing about the first Afghan war. That war ended in 1842 with an entire British army being destroyed by poorly equipped tribesmen. The current situation is not as bad, but as our convoy drove through the scrappy roundabouts of central Kabul, I sat listening to Cowper-Coles's assessment of a campaign that was showing every sign of ending with as few political gains as Britain's three previous Afghan wars.

The evidence of failure lay all around us. Kabul remains one of the poorest capitals in the world. The US has poured around $80bn into Afghanistan, but almost all of it has disappeared into defence and security, and the roads of Kabul remain more rutted than those in the smallest provincial towns of Pakistan. There is no street lighting and apparently no rubbish collection. Less still is there security. The newspapers sometimes give the impression that Helmand is a frontline, separating Karzai's Afghanistan from the border areas ruled by the Taliban. In reality, the Taliban controls more than 75% of the country and Karzai's government holds just 29 out of 121 key strategic districts.

As we drove through the villages and towns of the Shomali Plain, Cowper-Coles's security turned on their jamming devices to block the call signals that might let off roadside bombs. No cars were allowed to come level with the ambassadorial SUV for fear of suicide bombers. Only when we reached the Panjshir, the Tajik anti-Taliban heartland, did things relax slightly. We visited the bleak domed tomb of Ahmad Shah Masood, on the crest of the valley, then had an oddly English picnic in the drizzle, with rugs and cucumber sandwiches and plastic cups of chardonnay. If you ignored the litter of wrecked Soviet APCs and downed helicopter-gunships, it could almost have been the Cotswolds.


William Dalrymple and Sherard Cowper-Coles in Afghanistan. Photograph: William Dalrymple

Cowper-Coles seemed genuinely sad to be leaving Afghanistan but he was frank in his assessment. All was not lost; there were still opportunities. But without a clearer political vision, the sacrifices being made by British soldiers were doomed to terminate in embarrassing withdrawal, with Afghanistan yet again left in tribal chaos and quite possibly ruled by the same government that the war was originally fought to overthrow.

He was equally frank in his dispatches to David Miliband in London; then later, on his return to Whitehall, to William Hague and David Cameron. He paid the price of his honesty. Despite being regarded as one of the most brilliant diplomats of his generation, he was blocked from getting the senior position he hoped for – in Paris, Washington or Delhi – and resigned from the Foreign Office.

But the FCO's loss is our gain, as it has allowed Cowper-Coles to write a characteristically frank memoir of his time in Afghanistan. Cables From Kabul is unquestionably the most important record yet published of the diplomatic wrangling that has accompanied the slow military encirclement of western forces in Afghanistan. It is also the best account I have read of how post-colonial colonialism actually works. As with Imperial Life in the Emerald City, Rajiv Chandrasekaran's now classic account of Yankee incompetence in Baghdad, Cables From Kabul is at its best exposing the mixture of arrogance, over-confidence and rudderless dithering that has defined the conflict. And it is all the more remarkable for being written by a sceptical senior insider.

During his first week in Kabul in 2007, Cowper-Coles goes to see the American ambassador, nominally his most important ally, only to discover to his horror that "Chemical Bill" Wood is planning unilaterally to spray the Helmand poppy crop with weedkiller, without telling the Karzai government, despite its known opposition; "Chemical Bill" tells Sherard that he is counting on British support. Later, both men are summoned to Karzai's palace and encouraged to help rescue one of the president's friends who is besieged in a Helmand village by the Taliban. Karzai's palace, though, doesn't seem to contain a single map and no one can find the village on the only one available: an old RAF chart Cowper-Coles unearths from his briefcase. "This," he comments, "was how the supreme command of the war operated." On another occasion, £70m of taxpayers' money is wasted widening airstrips in Kandahar for Tornado jets that were never needed.

Cowper-Coles writes well about the difficulties of playing second fiddle in what was primarily an American war. He is also revealing about the difficulties of managing the gung-ho military: "An army that is willing to fight and die must, almost by definition, be hugely optimistic, unquenchably enthusiastic... and, ideally, not too imaginative." Over and over again, he is told by military briefers that progress is being made "though challenges remain". The reality was almost always grimmer.

The main problem was the lack of a clear strategic plan. Having blundered in, the west found it had unwittingly taken sides in the complex Afghan civil war that has been running since the 1970s, siding with the north against the south, town against country, secularism against Islam, Tajiks against Pashtuns. We installed a government and trained an army that in many ways discriminated against the Pashtuns. It is the largest ethnic group in the country yet, under Karzai, Pashtuns from the south make up only 3% of the Afghan National Army. Not surprisingly, almost all Pashtuns supported the insurgency.

Cowper-Coles urged his American counterparts to see that ultimately the only possible solution was political. Military action and counterinsurgency were only of value if there was a clear overall plan. When I met him in Kabul, the Americans were still opposing the negotiations with the Taliban that he believed to be inevitable; he described Richard Holbrooke , his main opponent in this matter, as "a bull who brought his own china shop wherever he went".

Just before his death late last year, Holbrooke came around to Cowper-Coles's way of thinking, but arguably when it was too late; the Taliban were then so strong, even in the north of the country, that by 2011 they had little incentive to negotiate.

What the future now holds is anyone's guess. Karzai could hold on after western withdrawal, like Najibullah after the Russian retreat. The Taliban could roll over the country as the Vietcong did in Vietnam. There may be a return to the civil war that destroyed Afghanistan prior to the rise of the Taliban. Maybe it will be China's turn to try and conquer a country full of the mineral resources it so badly craves. But there can be no doubt that when historians look back on the current fiasco, with its tragic missed opportunities, Cables From Kabul will be remembered as one of the best and most well-informed accounts of how Britain lost its fourth Afghan war.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

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Re: The "War on Terror"

Post  eddie on Fri Dec 09, 2011 10:24 pm


Steve Bell. The Guardian.


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Re: The "War on Terror"

Post  eddie on Fri Dec 09, 2011 10:26 pm


Steve Bell. The Guardian.


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Re: The "War on Terror"

Post  eddie on Fri Dec 09, 2011 10:28 pm


Steve Bell. The Guardian.


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Re: The "War on Terror"

Post  eddie on Fri Dec 09, 2011 10:31 pm


Steve Bell on Obama.

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Re: The "War on Terror"

Post  eddie on Fri Dec 09, 2011 10:36 pm


Steve Bell. The Guardian.

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Re: The "War on Terror"

Post  eddie on Fri Dec 09, 2011 10:38 pm


Steve Bell. The Guardian.

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Re: The "War on Terror"

Post  eddie on Fri Dec 09, 2011 10:40 pm


Steve Bell. The Guardian.

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Re: The "War on Terror"

Post  eddie on Fri Dec 09, 2011 10:43 pm


Steve Bell. The Guardian.

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Re: The "War on Terror"

Post  eddie on Fri Dec 09, 2011 10:45 pm


Steve Bell. The Guardian.

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Re: The "War on Terror"

Post  eddie on Fri Dec 09, 2011 10:47 pm


Steve Bell. The Guardian.

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Re: The "War on Terror"

Post  eddie on Fri Dec 09, 2011 10:50 pm


Steve Bell. The Guardian.

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Re: The "War on Terror"

Post  eddie on Tue Dec 20, 2011 2:31 pm


Steve Bell.

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Re: The "War on Terror"

Post  eddie on Tue Dec 27, 2011 4:45 am


Martin Rowson.

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Re: The "War on Terror"

Post  eddie on Sat Jan 14, 2012 11:03 pm

Steve Bell on video of US marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters.

Anonymously posted YouTube video apparently shows American soldiers in Afghanistan desecrating corpses

guardian.co.uk, Friday 13 January 2012 00.37 GMT


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Re: The "War on Terror"

Post  eddie on Fri Feb 03, 2012 9:10 pm


Steve Bell.

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Re: The "War on Terror"

Post  eddie on Fri Feb 03, 2012 9:12 pm

^

Love Blair's Porkies/Medals on that one.

(Cockney rhyming slang: Pork Pies = Lies. )

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Re: The "War on Terror"

Post  eddie on Tue Mar 13, 2012 5:06 am

Steve Bell on the death of British soldiers in Afghanistan

UK mission in Afghanistan to continue despite the loss of six soldiers who were caught in a huge explosion

guardian.co.uk, Thursday 8 March 2012 00.17 GMT




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Re: The "War on Terror"

Post  eddie on Sat Mar 17, 2012 6:45 am

Steve Bell on the Nato mission in Afghanistan

The Guardian, Tuesday 13 March 2012


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Re: The "War on Terror"

Post  eddie on Sat Mar 17, 2012 6:48 am

^

....and the Goya original:


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Re: The "War on Terror"

Post  eddie on Tue Apr 10, 2012 11:28 pm


Steve Bell

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Re: The "War on Terror"

Post  eddie on Sat Apr 28, 2012 7:57 am

Mark Steel wrote a damning review of a book supporting the Iraq war for The Observer, which refused to print the review. Here it is:
**************************************************************************************************************
Nick ****ing Cohen
On What's Left

Exclusive to marksteelinfo - never previously published.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

What splendid timing. Out pops a book applauding the virtues of the invasion of Iraq, just when even the invasion's last bedraggled supporters in the American establishment are giving up on it. Even the head of the British Army has declared it a disaster. The United Nations have revealed that among the occupation's magnificent achievements is there is more torture in Iraq now than under Saddam. The debate about the scale of the slaughter concerns how many hundreds of thousands are dead. So here Nick Cohen not only cheers the decision to invade but declares his bemusement about why everyone else didn't join him. Maybe he's got another one coming out called "Why can't everyone see England are bound to win the 2006 World Cup?"

Much of the book comprises accounts of Iraqis who supported the invasion, with scorn for those opponents of the war who "wouldn't listen" to Iraqis who'd experienced Saddam's tyranny. But even the Iraq Survey Group sponsored by George Bush reported that 60% of Iraqis now support attacks on occupying troops, and amongst the most strident are those who suffered under Saddam. So does Cohen still think we should follow mainstream Iraqi opinion. If he does, presumably he's training to go out there and start firing, is he?

But there's also an extraordinary element to this book. As well as being a re-hash of all the insipid arguments used by fans of the war, (the anti-war movement didn't want Saddam to be deposed because they "Might have faced a Middle-East running short of dictators for them to salute" etc.), he claims his pro-war mania should be the true agenda for the left. So everyone vaguely connected to the left is reviled in this book for opposing the war: Amnesty International, Nelson Mandela, human rights lawyers, the lot. Everyone was wrong except Nick.

Cohen WAS impressed however by Paul Wolfowitz, co-creator of the "Project for the American Century," and Bush's choice to head the World Bank for his uncompromising dedication to big business and militarism. Cohen met him in London, and admired his "warmth" and "coherence" and "sense of purpose."

So - the left should denounce everyone with a record of valuing humanity above profit and war, and revere the most prominent champions of profit who are prepared to fight wars to defend this. It would be like someone cheering all season for Arsenal in an Arsenal shirt, then saying he was doing this because he was the only true supporter of Tottenham.

And what a bizarre world he lives in, which writes off all those millions who oppose the war as either twisted lefties, or dupes of twisted lefties.

So there we are - Cohen is the only true person on the left, despite the fact that on the defining issue of our times he is angrily to the right of two ex-presidents of America, the Liberal Democrats, Joanna Lumley, Leo Sayer, Zoe Ball, Jimmy Hill, Pope John Paul II, Jacques Chirac, Dolly Parton, almost everyone in Africa and South America, the head of the British army and Cat bloody Stevens.

It might be worth reading a book explaining the 'virtues' of this war by Colin Powell, or even Paul Wolfowitz, as an insight into the thinking of those behind it. But this represents no one but himself. If you're really bored and fancy reading it, do something more useful, such as counting the ants in your garden or pushing an onion round the perimeter of Surrey.

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Re: The "War on Terror"

Post  eddie on Sun May 06, 2012 9:08 pm

Manhunt by Peter Bergen – review

Great investigative work and new sources make this a thrilling account of the long hunt for Osama Bin Laden

Jason Burke

The Observer, Sunday 6 May 2012


President Barack Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, 1 May 2011. Photograph: Pete Souza/AFP/Getty Images

It was, as Peter Bergen points out in this meticulously reported, pacy and authoritative book, the most intensive and expensive manhunt of all time. The hunt for Osama bin Laden, founder of al-Qaida and mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, cost, simply in terms of funds funnelled to American intelligence services over the past decade, somewhere around half a trillion dollars. At its heart was an astonishingly small number of CIA operatives, no more than would fill a small conference room, and an equally restricted group of senior policymakers.


Manhunt: From 9/11 to Abbottabad - the Ten-Year Search for Osama bin Laden
by Peter Bergen

Many have spoken to Bergen, a former television journalist who has a justified reputation as one of the most reliable and perceptive specialists in the now expansive field of "al-Qaida studies". One of the strong points of this excellent account of how Bin Laden was found and killed is much new detail. Bergen managed to get himself into the house in the northern Pakistani city of Abbottabad where Bin Laden lived from around 2005 – a significant scoop – and can thus tell us how the militant leader, his three wives and his many children and even grandchildren spent their time in hiding.

We learn, for example, that Bin Laden's two older wives, both academics, taught the children Arabic and read from the Qur'an in a bedroom on the second floor. Almost every day, apparently, the al-Qaida leader, a strict disciplinarian, lectured his family about how the children should be brought up. Nor were Bin Laden's living conditions particularly salubrious. A tiny bathroom off the bedroom he shared with his Yemeni third wife had green tiles on the walls but none on the floor, a rudimentary squat toilet and a cheap plastic shower. In this bathroom, Bergen tells us, Bin Laden (54 when he died) regularly applied Just for Men dye to his hair and beard. Next to the bedroom was a kitchen the size of a large closet, and across the hall was Bin Laden's study, where he kept his books on crude wooden shelves and tapped away on his computer. There was no air-conditioning.

Such details are important in part because they remind us that Bin Laden, for all the monstrosity of his views and acts, was human. There have been times in the past decade when the Saudi-born son of a construction tycoon and veteran of the Afghan war has appeared more myth than man. Bergen neatly skewers hyperventilating analysts who spoke of world war three or four, reminding us that Bin Laden, al-Qaida and contemporary Sunni militancy were never an existential danger to our societies and values in the way that previous threats have been.

Much of the first half of Manhunt consists of a useful account – brought up to date by new sources that have become available over the past 18 months or so and Bergen's own digging – of the early years of the hunt for Bin Laden. There are some nuggets of new information including a fascinating description of how rampant sexism within the CIA in the late 1990s stymied some analysts' efforts to attract attention to the growing danger posed by al-Qaida, and of later attempts to identify a bird heard chirping on one video recording issued by Bin Laden. (A German ornithologist was called in by the agency to try to identify its species and thus, perhaps, location.)

Bergen rightly points out how, by the end of the last decade, al-Qaida's brand had been badly tarnished and quotes documents captured in the Abbottabad raid that show how Bin Laden, increasingly out of touch with ground realities, even reflected on a new name for the organisation as part of a major relaunch.

After about a hundred pages, though already rattling along nicely, the narrative moves up a gear. Bergen describes how analysts assembled and matched a huge amount of information from multiple detainee interviews, from thousands of al-Qaida documents recovered on the battlefield or following arrests, and from open-source reporting.

Importantly, instead of mapping hierarchies, the hunters sought to build up a picture of horizontal connections. This new approach – part of a more general paradigm shift in terms of how militancy was understood – was critical.

Focusing on connections and links, rather than apparent ranks, meant different people were highlighted. These might be lowly in status – such as a driver – but high in significance within an organisation. In Iraq this helped with the hunt for the brutal Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was eventually tracked down and killed north of Baghdad in 2006.

In the case of the hunt for Bin Laden, the person that interested the hunters was a Pakistani who had grown up in Kuwait, who appeared to be some kind of fixer for al-Qaida. Nobody knew exactly what he did, but the efforts of senior captured militants to downplay his importance to al-Qaida set off alarm bells at the CIA. The analytical case that "the Kuwaiti" might be the key to finding the al-Qaida leader was first made in a memo by CIA officials in August 2010 titled "Closing In on Osama bin Laden's Courier". A month later, a second more detailed assessment titled "Anatomy of a Lead" was put together. By this time, Pakistani CIA "assets" had located him in the border town of Peshawar and had trailed him back to the Abbottabad house.

The house was put under surveillance. The CIA worked out from washing strung up that there were at least three women, nine children and a young man living there. Then there was the "pacer", the apparently tall figure who was seen walking in circles in the walled garden. Yet, despite their efforts, the final conclusive identification never came.

Instead, the hunters were reduced to probabilities. President Obama was briefed increasingly frequently. Some said there was a 40% chance that Bin Laden was there. Others went as high as 80%. But, in the end, it was all subjective. This makes Obama's decision to risk his presidency on a raid by special forces flying in from Afghanistan – not a stand-off missile strike or any of the other options available – all the more impressive.

So, on a Sunday night just after midnight, the residents of the Bin Laden compound were woken by explosions, says Bergen, basing his account on interviews with Pakistani intelligence officers who themselves interviewed Bin Laden's wives. Bin Laden's 20-year-old daughter Maryam rushed upstairs to her father's top-floor bedroom to ask what was going on. "Go downstairs and go back to bed," she was told.

"Don't turn on the light," Bin Laden then said to his wife Amal. These, Bergen says, would be the al-Qaida leader's last words.

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Re: The "War on Terror"

Post  Yakima Canutt on Sun Mar 03, 2013 11:12 pm

Freedom is the only way. It's the dream that we all share. It's the hope for tomorrow. What would you do for freedom? Would you think about all those war vets? And would you start to feel bad?

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Re: The "War on Terror"

Post  Yakima Canutt on Wed Mar 27, 2013 7:11 pm

How far would you go for a jihad? What would you jihad for truth or could you jihad for love? should it be that you would jihad for turducken?



cheers

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Re: The "War on Terror"

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