On Monday the U.S. war in Afghanistan entered its thirteenth year.  --  "Americans are still fighting -- and dying," Stars and Stripes noted, but you wouldn't know it from mainstream news coverage.[1]  --  Yet "[w]ith nearly three months left in 2013, at least 102 U.S. troops had died in Afghanistan as of Oct. 1, according to the Associated Press -- more than during any of the first six years of the war," Heath Druzin said.  --  As if to make the point about mainstream media obliviousness, the Associated Press published, and Time posted, a long article on the war that did not even mention the anniversary.[2]  --  Afghan President Hamid Karzai, meanwhile, "marked the 12th anniversary of the U.S.-led NATO invasion of Afghanistan that dislodged the Taliban from power and ended up installing him as leader by saying that Afghan women have nothing to fear from a return of Taliban influence and that nothing has been really gained thanks to the foreign military effort in the country," the Christian Science Monitor reported.[3]  --  "[W]ith a war-weary American public and fights over the U.S. budget deficit at home for Obama, walking away from Afghanistan becomes more likely with each passing day and insult tossed at the U.S. and its partners," Dan Murphy said....

1.

WITH LITTLE FANFARE, AFGHANISTAN WAR DRAS INTO 13th YEAR
By Heath Druzin

Stars and Stripes
October 6, 2013

http://www.stripes.com/with-little-fanfare-afghanistan-war-drags-into-13th-year-1.245181

Monday marks 12 years since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, and for a conflict that’s been seemingly forgotten by most Americans who’ve grown weary of war, it seems fitting that the anniversary should be overshadowed by a domestic story:  the federal government shutdown.

More than a decade since the U.S. launched Operation Enduring Freedom on Oct. 7, 2001, there are still 54,000 American troops in Afghanistan.  That is more, by far, than at any time during the first seven years of the war, yet these days, they garner scant news coverage.  Most recently, Syria’s civil war and the use of chemical weapons as well as the federal government shutdown have buried Afghanistan news, even as Americans continue to die -- four were killed within a week in so-called insider attacks just at the end of September.

“There is a bloody war happening, and no one is talking about it,” said Ahmad Majidyar, an Afghanistan expert at the American Enterprise Institute and a frequent adviser to the U.S. Army.

The U.S. role is diminishing and casualties among members of the U.S.-led international coalition are down as the Afghan security forces take over more of the fighting.  But Americans are still fighting -- and dying.

With nearly three months left in 2013, at least 102 U.S. troops had died in Afghanistan as of Oct. 1, according to the Associated Press -- more than during any of the first six years of the war.  The military is whittling forces down to approximately 34,000 by February and the number of coalition bases has gone from a high of 800 to about 100 now.  But combat troops will be there for another 15 months, so we are likely still a long way from the last U.S. casualty in Afghanistan.

Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. sent in a small force heavily reliant on special forces able to quickly knock out the Taliban, who had sheltered the al-Qaida terrorists responsible for the attacks.  But Osama Bin Laden escaped, along with many other al-Qaida leaders, and it would be nearly 10 years before the U.S. tracked him down, hiding in a safe house in neighboring Pakistan.

After several years of relative calm following then-President George W. Bush’s declaration of victory in Afghanistan in 2004 -- a time when international troops were supporting nation-building efforts, and U.S. and world attention was focused on the continuing war in Iraq -- the Taliban regrouped.  They mounted a violent and effective guerrilla campaign that eventually pushed President Barack Obama to increase troop levels, sending a “surge” of 30,000 additional troops to the country in 2009.

Despite the surge, though, the Taliban remain entrenched, inflicting heavy casualties on Afghan forces -- who have largely taken over security responsibilities from coalition forces -- with little more than a year to go before all international troops are scheduled to leave.

Afghanistan is a topic seldom mentioned by the White House, and with public support for the military mission there having crumbled in the past few years, it’s easy to see why.

“President Obama talks about Afghanistan strategy maybe only once in a year,” Majidyar said.  “When he does talk about it, he talks about the end of the war and talks only of positive things.”

A White House spokesman declined to discuss whether Obama is avoiding public discussion of Afghanistan, instead issuing a statement about negotiations over a bilateral security agreement to keep American troops in Afghanistan past the end of 2014.

Media interest in the war has been waning for years, driven by Obama’s silence on the issue since the end of his troop surge, said A. Trevor Thrall, a professor at George Mason University and the author of War in the Media Age, which explores the intersection of the military, media and public opinion in conflicts since the Vietnam War.  Thrall said it isn’t the first time a president has tried to bury news about Afghanistan.

“Bush stopped talking about Afghanistan almost immediately after he shifted focus to Iraq,” he said.  “Afghanistan was truly a forgotten war (when) Obama took over and it became it again after the surge was over.  The result is the public really has no idea what’s going on there.”

In 2010, during the surge, it was hard for a reporter to find a cot at Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan, with journalists from around the world packed tightly into a tent that served as a media center, even battling over access to electrical outlets.  Now, it’s rare that embedded reporters even need to share a room at a major base.

The new challenge is getting approval to embed with troops at all, as the U.S.-led coalition has made it much more difficult, largely cutting off access to international troops on the battlefield at a crucial moment when NATO is handing more responsibility to Afghan forces.

U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, the former top military commander in Iraq, said the lack of public awareness worries him because international engagement is key to sustaining gains made in Afghanistan.

“If we continue on this [current military] path, I think Afghanistan can become a success story, and I worry that’s not being talked about at all,” he said.

Afghanistan was considered the “good war” with the just cause, the one everyone could get behind.  With its clear links to the 9/11 attacks, as opposed to Iraq’s, based as it was later learned on faulty intelligence, the war in Afghanistan was much more popular at first, Majidyar said.  Because of this, though, it also never generated the attention -- or the outrage -- of the Iraq war, which led to worldwide protests and heated debates of a kind never seen in relation to Afghanistan.

But now, many see Afghanistan as the foreign policy guest that has long overstayed its welcome.

America and its Western allies have gone from war fatigue to numbness.

There’s a “sense of exhaustion” among long-time Afghan hands in aid organizations and foreign service positions, who are often “tired and, in some cases, deeply fed up” with the situation in Afghanistan, said Graeme Smith, the International Crisis Group’s senior analyst in Afghanistan and author of *The Dogs Are Eating Them Now: Our War in Afghanistan*.

Public ambivalence about Afghanistan stems in part from the failures of the past few years, which, despite the surge of foreign troops, saw a sharp rise in casualties; violence remained above the pre-surge levels after the additional forces left, Smith said.

“The short attention span of the West is such that if the problem hasn’t been solved by now, maybe they figure it’s unsolvable, which is too bad because I think what Afghanistan needs right now is continued engagement,” Smith said.  “In a lot of ways, a lot of Afghanistan’s future depends on whether Western nations feel guilty enough about the mess they made to stay involved.”

Smith, who, as a reporter with the Toronto *Globe and Mail* was the only Western reporter living in the violent southern city of Kandahar, said the relative calm seen today in that city, the Taliban’s spiritual homeland, shows the stakes of continued international involvement and the fragile state of military gains.

Right now, the Afghan military and local militias, known as Afghan Local Police, have the city and surrounding area fairly secure, but the salaries for those fighters are paid for entirely by foreign funds.  Smith said that recently, some local commanders have complained that they haven’t been getting paid.

“Some of the [Afghan Local Police] are just Taliban, who have been recruited to the government side, and if they don’t get paid, they can easily go back to the Taliban overnight.”

Troops still serving in Afghanistan have mixed feelings about the lack of attention.

“It’s kind of sad, because I think some people are a little more occupied with the latest TV show,” said Lt. Uriel Macias, a Navy reservist assigned to a stability operations team in Kabul.  “But what is often forgotten is that we are still losing people all the time.”

Army Staff Sgt. Mike Toole, a member of III Corps based in Kabul, said he understands the dwindling interest back home.

“After 12 years, people are going to get tired of it,” he said.  “I mean, we’re tired of it, so it makes sense to me.”

--Stars and Stripes reporters Josh Smith, Matt Millham, and Leo Shane III contributed to this report. 

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2.

Afghanistan

U.S. STILL EXPECTS TO SIGN PACT WITH AFGHANISTAN

By Deb Reichman and Patrick Quinn

Associated Press
October 7, 2013

The Obama administration is optimistic that a U.S.-Afghan agreement over the future role of American troops in the country can be finalized in the next few weeks despite two main sticking points and President Hamid Karzai‘s emotional outburst Monday alleging that the U.S. and NATO repeatedly violate Afghan sovereignty.

Nearly a year of negotiations have so far failed to yield a deal and it is still possible that the two sides will never reach an agreement.

The U.S. wants to keep as many as 10,000 troops in Afghanistan to go after the remnants of al-Qaida, but if no agreement is signed, all U.S. troops would have to leave by Dec. 31, 2014.

Roughly 95 percent of the dozen-page agreement is complete and the rest is penciled in until the two sides can agree on language, according to an Obama administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly about the negotiations.

U.S. and Afghan negotiators held their latest round of talks on Monday, focusing their attention on two sticking points -- both tough issues that remain unresolved.

Afghanistan wants American guarantees against future foreign intervention, a veiled reference to neighboring Pakistan.  Afghanistan accuses its neighbor of harboring the Taliban and other extremists who enter Afghanistan and then cross back into Pakistan where they cannot be attacked by Afghan or U.S.-led international forces.

The second sticking point is about the role and conduct of the counterterrorism force the U.S. wants to leave behind.

“The United States and its allies, NATO, continue to demand even after signing the BSA (bilateral security agreement) they will have the freedom to attack our people, our villages,” Karzai said.  “The Afghan people will never allow it.”

Karzai’s outburst came in response to a question about a NATO airstrike on Oct. 5 in Nangarhar province, near an airport used by U.S.-led international military coalition forces.  The coalition, which has opened an investigation into the incident, said its forces struck insurgents trying to attack the base and that no civilians were harmed.  The Karzai government claims five civilians were killed.

“They commit their violations against our sovereignty and conduct raids against our people, air raids and other attacks in the name of the fight on terrorism and in the name of the resolutions of the United Nations.  This is against our wishes,” Karzai said, using some of his harshest language to date against the U.S.-led military coalition.

Both parties were seeking to finalize a deal by the end of October -- a time frame that would give military planners enough time to prepare to keep troops in the country after the scheduled 2014 withdrawal.

Karzai said he will convene a council of elders in one month to help him make a decision on the pending agreement. If they endorse the agreement, then Karzai has political cover to agree to it.

The Afghan president is keenly aware that previous leaders of his country historically have been punished for selling out to foreign interests and wants to make sure that any U.S.-Afghan agreement is not seen in that context.  Karzai, who cannot run for a third term, is slated to step down at the end of next year -- the same time nearly all international troops are to have left the country.

Talks were formally suspended in June and didn’t resume until last month.  But even during the suspension, informal discussions were held with U.S. negotiators traveling to the presidential palace for sessions that were several hours long.

The official said the United States can only go so far on some of the Afghan demands.  For instance, the Afghan government had been asking that the dollar amount of future U.S. assistance be written into any agreement.  But while Obama can promise to request financial backing for the country, he can’t legally promise that Congress will send the money.  Any pact the two countries sign would be an executive agreement, not a treaty that would require the consent of Congress.

The agreement would give the U.S. a legal basis for having forces in Afghanistan after 2014, and also allow it to lease bases around the country.  If the U.S. does not sign the deal, it is unlikely that NATO or any of its allies will keep troops in Afghanistan.  Germany has already indicated it will not commit the 800 soldiers it has promised if the U.S. deal is not signed.

There currently are an estimated 87,000 international troops in Afghanistan, including about 52,000 Americans.

President Barack Obama told the Associated Press in an interview on Friday that he would consider keeping some American forces on the ground after the conflict formally ends next year, but acknowledged that doing so would require an agreement.  He suggested that if no agreement can be reached, he would be comfortable with a full pullout of U.S. troops.

“If, in fact, we can get an agreement that makes sure that U.S. troops are protected, makes sure that we can operate in a way that is good for our national security, then I’ll certainly consider that,” Obama said.  “If we can’t, we will continue to make sure that all the gains we’ve made in going after al-Qaida we accomplish, even if we don’t have any U.S. military on Afghan soil.”

--Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez in Kabul contributed to this report. Quinn reported from Kabul.


3.

KARZAI SAYS TALIBAN NO THREAT TO WOMEN, NATO CREATED 'NO GAINS' FOR AFGHANISTAN
By Dan Murphy

** Afghan President Hamid Karzai told this and more to the BBC in an interview out today. **

Christian Science Monitor

October 7, 2013

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Security-Watch/Backchannels/2013/1007/Karzai-says-Taliban-no-threat-to-women-NATO-created-no-gains-for-Afghanistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai marked the 12th anniversary of the U.S.-led NATO invasion of Afghanistan that dislodged the Taliban from power and ended up installing him as leader by saying that Afghan women have nothing to fear from a return of Taliban influence and that nothing has been really gained thanks to the foreign military effort in the country.

Karzai's remarks come as the clock is ticking on a so-called Bilateral Security Agreement to be inked between NATO and Afghanistan.  If an agreement isn't reached, including guarantees that U.S. forces won't be subject to Afghan law, all U.S. troops will depart from the country at the end of next year.  While there's still time for a deal to be reached, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said in July that an agreement any later than October would make planning for an ongoing mission beyond the end of 2014 much more difficult.

But Karzai's comments today to the BBC's Newsnight weren't exactly outreaching, and makes one wonder if he's not interested in retaining the services of foreign soldiers.  He's tried to use the drawn out negotiation over the BSA to wring more aid and weaponry out of the US, as well as far-reaching security guarantees.  But with a war-weary American public and fights over the U.S. budget deficit at home for Obama, walking away from Afghanistan becomes more likely with each passing day and insult tossed at the U.S. and its partners.

Today Karzai complained that the U.S. administration's descriptions of his government as an "ineffective partner" is because the U.S. "want us to keep silent when civilians are killed.  We will not, we can not."

He said that relations with the U.S. soured because the U.S. under President George W. Bush decided not to broaden the war to Pakistan in 2005.  Instead of fighting "in the sanctuaries and training grounds beyond Afghanistan," Karzai said, "the U.S. and NATO forces were conducting operations in Afghan villages, causing harm to Afghan people.

The Afghan President, asked if Afghan women should have any fear about a possible entry of the Taliban into government, answered:  "None. Note at all."

Karzai also said most of the "big" corruption in Afghanistan was the work of foreigners, not Afghans, and that much of the money spent was used to "buy submissiveness of Afghan government officials to policies and designs that the Afghans would not have agreed to."

He also said the massive twelve-year war effort has largely been a waste:  "On security front, entire NATO exercise was one that caused Afghanistan a lot of suffering and a lot of loss of life and no gains because the country is not secure.  I am not happy to say there is partial security because that is not what we’re seeking.  What we wanted was absolute security and a clear cut war against terrorism."

Below is a transcript of the BBC interview I took down while listening (which can be watched here.)  The interviewer's questions are approximations; Karzai's answers are his precise words.

KARZAI INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT


Q:  The country has come a long way in the last 12 years.  Why do the Americans call “you an unreliable ineffective partner?”

A: Because where they want us to go along, we won’t go along.  They want us to keep silent when civilians are killed.  We will not, we can not.

Q: Did you get on with Bush better than Obama?

A: I had a very good relationship with President Bush in those beginning years there was not much of a difference of opinion between us.  The worsening of relations began actually in 2005 where we saw the first incidents of civilian casualties where we saw that the war on terror  was not conducted where it should have been, which was in the sanctuaries and the training grounds beyond Afghanistan, rather than that the U.S. and NATO forces were conducting operations in Afghan villages, causing harm to Afghan people.

Q:  Are you talking to the Taliban, personally?

A:  Yes we are.  Yes, we are.  We have our whole system engaged in several directions to bring stability and peace to Afghanistan

Q:  Is the goal to bring them into a power-sharing deal in government?
 
A:  Absolutely. They’re Afghans, where the afghan president, where the afghan government can appoint the Taliban to a government job, they’re welcome we will do that.  But where it’s the Afghan people appointing people through elections to state organs then the Taliban should come and participate in elections.  So to clarify this, yes as Afghans they are welcome to the Afghan government, like all other Afghans. Yes, as Afghans they are welcome to participate in elections as all other afghans.

Q:  U.S./U.K. audiences might ask what was all this for then?  Twelve years fighting, lives lost, and the Taliban can just walk back in and be part of government.

A:  Well the Americans have told us themselves in Washington in my last visit that the Taliban are not their enemies.  That they will not fight the Taliban anymore.

Q:  What are you talking about with the Taliban?

A:  If the Taliban have reasons for which they can not come they must spell this out.  If it is the Afghan constitution, they must come out and talk to us and allow the Afghan people and through the mechanisms that we have to amend the constitution.

Q:  Gains for women are tenuous.  By bringing the Taliban back aren’t you compromising those gains?

A:  The return of the Taliban will not undermine the progress.  This country needs to have peace.

Q:  But you know where they stand with women’s rights. Are you willing to sacrifice women’s rights?

 A: I’m willing to stand for anything that will bring peace to Afghanistan and through that to promote the cause of the Afghan woman better . . . there is no doubt about that.  Even if the Taliban come that will not end, that will not slow down.

Q:  So women in Afghanistan should not fear the return of the Taliban?

A:  None at all.  None.

Q:  The bilateral security agreement.  Let’s talk about that.  That defines the U.S. and Afghan relationship beyond withdrawal and if you push too hard they may not stay.  Does that worry you?

A: Well if the agreement doesn’t suit us then of course they can leave. The agreement has to suit Afghanistan’s interests and purposes. If it doesn’t suit us and if it doesn’t suit them then naturally we’ll go separate ways . . . if this agreement does not provide Afghanistan peace and security the Afghans will not want it.  That’s very clear.

Q:  Britain has made a massive contribution already.  Can you tell the British public what all these sacrifices were for because they don’t understand why they’re still here.

A:  All the prime ministers that came were in office in the past 12 years have clearly stated that they’re here in Afghanistan to provide security to the West in order to prevent terrorism from reaching the west in order to fight extremism here.  How much of that has been achieved is a question that the British government can answer alone.

Q:  Can you assess for me the criticism and failings that were experienced in Helmand (a major combat focus for British troops in past years).

A: It’s not only Britain. On security front, entire NATO exercise was one that caused Afghanistan a lot of suffering and a lot of loss of life and no gains because the country is not secure. I am not happy to say there is partial security because that is not what we’re seeking. What we wanted was absolute security and a clear cut war against terrorism.

Q: Some would say your legacy has been tainted by Afghan corruption, it’s the third most corrupt country in the world. Is that the legacy you wanted?

A: No of course not. Our government is weak and ineffective in comparison to other governments we’ve just begun. But the big corruption the hundreds of millions of dollars of corruption was not Afghan, now everybody knows that. It was foreign, the contracts, the subcontracts, the blind contracts given to people. Money thrown around to buy loyalties, money thrown around to buy submissiveness of Afghan government officials to policies and designs that the Afghans would not have agreed to. That was the major (part?) of corruption.

Q: Finally, there isn’t a single living afghan leader. They’ve all been killed. Are you concerned about your safety when you leave office?

A: Not at all, I’ll be safe.