Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Afghan-Americans to Pakistan: stop supporting terrorism

On August 14, almost 50 Afghan-Americans gathered outside the Pakistani embassy in Washington, D.C. to protest what they say is Pakistan’s ongoing support of terrorist organizations operating in Afghanistan. The protesters called for the United States Congress to stop funding the Pakistani government and for the Pakistani government to stop supporting terrorism networks operating in Afghanistan.

Marine vet honors fallen female troops with 160-mile run


When Marine Maj. Bridget Guerrero (ret.) set out to run a mile for each of the 160 female troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, she never thought that one of their moms would show up to support her along the way.

After training for months, Guerrero set out to run 160 miles around Washington’s Puget Sound from Thursday through Sunday. When she noticed a stranger among the crowd that came out to support her along the four-day trek, Guerrero introduced herself — and quickly realized the woman was the most important person there.

Re McClung, the mother of Maj. Megan McClung, an accomplished triathlete and the first female Marine killed during the Iraq War, had come to wish Guerrero well. She gave Guerrero her daughter’s service coin, which Guerrero kept duct-taped to her arm for the remainder of the race.

“To know she is running for my daughter … and to know that she is running with Meg’s coin and to know that funds she raises will pay forward to the daughter of another Marine — it’s overwhelming,” Re McClung wrote on Facebook.

In an interview Monday after she completed the run, Guerrero, who retired from active duty in 2000, said meeting McClung and running with her daughter’s coin made the purpose of her mission all the more salient.

“She said that Megan would be sitting on my shoulder the whole run,” Guerrero said. “I think we joked around and I said I hoped she wasn’t too heavy.”

Guerrero’s Valor Run honored McClung and the other 159 female service members who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. She hoped to raise $5,000 for various charities, including the U.S. Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, which dispenses money in McClung’s honor.

Guerrero said she ran to highlight the sacrifices of servicewomen.

“The media very rarely recognizes female losses, so when the average American thought of those losing their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan, they’d automatically think they were men,” she said.

She also hoped her run would highlight the inroads female Marines are making as new opportunities open to women in the Corps.

“A lot more occupational specialties are available to women, and with that comes a risk of losing your life — and there are 160 who have,” she said. “We want to honor the sacrifices that our sisters have made, and all of us are willing to make, just as much as the men are.”

Guerrero’s race was the second Valor Run since Navy Reserve Capt. Nancy Lacore founded the organization in 2014. Lacore said she hadn’t envisioned her race as something that would inspire followers, but was thrilled that Guerrero was taking it bicoastal.

“It validates for me that this is the right thing to do,” she said. “I never thought someone else would be crazy enough to do it.”

Guerrero, 47, enjoyed robust support along the 160-mile route, which began Thursday in Oak Harbor, near McClung’s hometown, and ended Sunday in Tacoma. At various points along the way she was joined by retired and active-duty service members, family members of deceased troops and in one case a very old friend.

Matthew Denney, a retired Marine who ran alongside Guerrero at amphibious warfare training in the mid-1990s, flew from his home in Bend, Oregon, early Saturday morning and met Guerrero along the third leg of her race. They hadn’t seen one another since 2001, but Denney ran 30 miles by Guerrero’s side.

“I originally tried to come up with a good reason why I couldn’t go run with her,” Denney said. “But this is something that warrants attention and support.”

Guerrero, a lifelong runner who served as a communications and intelligence officer with 4th Reconnaissance Battalion, was a member of the Corps’ marathon, super-marathon and pentathlon teams.

She lives in Edmonds, Washington, with her husband, Dan, son, Sam, and twin daughters, Claire and Ella.

Published in conjunction with Marine Corp Times Logo

Guantanamo detainee hearing resumes Wednesday

The pre-trial hearing for Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, accused of conspiring in the murders of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Published in conjunction with Military Times Logo

Afghanistan’s advances for women could disappear as soon as US troops leave

Women of Hutal village discuss building a women's center with the Maiwand District Governor - courtesy of Cythia Hogle

Women of Hutal village discuss building a women’s center with the Maiwand District Governor – courtesy of Cythia Hogle

WASHINGTON — In a rural village southwest of Kandahar, a local police force operates out of a posh modern facility surrounded by mud-brick buildings.

Three years ago it was built as a cooperative US-Afghan venture to be a focal point for the advancement of women in the community.

The Malalai Anaa Center for Women and School for Girls in Hutal village was the face of success for American policy in Afghanistan: a collaborative effort by the US military, the US Agency for International Development, NGOs and local leaders and laborers. It would provide vocational training, a girls’ school and a water source for the women of Maiwand District. It would be a prime example of the advances women have been able to make in Afghanistan since coalition forces moved in.

Except, now it’s gone.

As soon as US forces turned over the area to the Afghan National Security Forces in 2013, local police closed the center, ran the women out and commandeered the building for their own headquarters.

“We could have predicted it,” recalled Cynthia Hogle, a cultural adviser with the US Army’s Human Terrain System who coordinated the project.

“We didn’t have any plan for sustainability and relied on the [Afghan] government, who made empty promises” to continue supporting the center, she told Medill News by phone.

Advancing Afghan women’s rights has been a key US policy objective since 2001, when Congress passed the Afghan Women and Children Relief Act. Under the previous rule of the Taliban, women were banned from schools, work, health care and all manner of public life.

Significant gains have been made over the last 13 years. But some experts are worried that without sustainable support, those inroads will reverse as soon as US forces leave the country.

According to USAID, the agency primarily responsible for implementing US gender policy in Afghanistan, girls today comprise more than one-third of all school children. More than 40,000 women are enrolled in post-secondary education, and women now maintain an active and visible role in economic and political life, including holding 25 percent of the seats in the Afghan parliament.

Yet increasingly, those advocating for women’s rights in Afghanistan are subjected to violence and intimidation as well as government indifference, according to an Amnesty International report from April.

Throughout Afghanistan, the “common thread … is that the pattern of abuse against women human rights defenders is matched by the government’s systematic failure to provide an environment that protects them or to bring the perpetrators of abuses to justice,” the report claims.

Ill-conceived economic and political support from the international community makes the problem worse, AI says. Investment tends to be limited, focusing on short-term projects developed with little input from those who would benefit.

The US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the agency set up by Congress to oversee approximately $104 billion invested in the country for redevelopment, is also concerned. Last month, SIGAR released an inquiry letter into the joint US-Afghan Promoting Gender Equity in National Priority Programs (PROMOTE).

USAID’s flagship program for women’s empowerment in Afghanistan — and its largest in the world — plans to spend $416 million targeting 75,000 Afghan women ages 18 to 30 to become future political, business and civil society leaders.

But in the letter, SIGAR Inspector General John Sopko worried that “some very basic programmatic issues remain unresolved and that the Afghan women engaged in the program may be left without any tangible benefit upon completion.”

Donald Sampler, USAID’s assistant administrator for Afghanistan and Pakistan, acknowledged that the “context in which PROMOTE is being implemented is not an easy one,” but believes the program will be successful.

Sustainability will be achieved “by prioritizing local ownership of activities and employing Afghan organizations to undertake PROMOTE activities,” Sampler says.

Sopko, however, was unconvinced.

“SIGAR continues to have concerns about how USAID will implement the PROMOTE program, assess its outcomes, ensure its sustainability, and conduct oversight, concerns which are shared by other senior US and Afghan officials,” he said in an interview, adding that SIGAR will continue to monitor the program.

Even Afghanistan’s new first lady, Rula Ghani, was skeptical about the program in a speech last November.

“The immediate effect in Kabul [of PROMOTE] has been a flurry of NGOs, newly created or reconfigured with the view of attracting some of the windfalls of that budget,” Ghani said.

“I do hope that we are not going to fall again into the game of contracting and sub-contracting and the routine of workshops and training sessions generating a lot of certificates on paper and little else.”

Between 2011 and 2013, USAID spent almost $850 million on 17 women’s empowerment programs in Afghanistan, but were unable to demonstrate this money directly helped Afghan women, according to a December 2014 SIGAR audit.

Despite general improvements in the status of Afghan women, according to the report, there is “no comprehensive assessment available to confirm that these gains were the direct result of specific US efforts.”

The women of Hutal village might agree. The Malalai Anaa Center — named for a local heroine who led Pashtun tribesmen to successfully revolt against the British in 1880 — might soon be just a memory.

“Without the support of their government or the men in their community, all the work and progress will come to a halt and the hopes of the women will be dashed,” Hogle said.

“There are just too many challenges for them to overcome without some source of continuing support.”

Published in conjunction with Global Post Logo

Why the U.S. outspends the world on defense

WASHINGTON – Evan Siff comes from a military family. His great grandfather was a general, his grandfather was in the navy and so was his father. For Siff, staying close to that tradition was second nature.

But, he chose the academic route and pursued an MA in International Relations at Durham University in England. In his dissertation, he examined NATO as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy, and how that relates to US military spending.

If you ask him what he learned as a result of the degree, his answer will be unorthodox.

“When I was writing my thesis, I really examined why NATO didn’t go away. The fall of the USSR made it obsolete,” Siff said. “I found out some things that didn’t help my outlook on things at all…I had gotten pretty cynical. The more you study, you more you will realize how much lobbyists actually determine legislation in the U.S.”

And while most of his fellow-classmates moved into government jobs, Siff chose to work in public relations at Topaz Partners, a Boston-area technology PR firm, because he was disappointed in how “political” the military had become, especially when the U.S. is pouring millions and billions of dollars into two wars that seem too expensive. (Continued below graphic)

In U.S. Dollars. Source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
Graphic by Catherine Ngai

The current U.S. defense budget proposal of $708 billion for fiscal 2011, a 6.7 percent increase from the year prior of $663.8 billion. According to the Stockholm International Peace and Research Institute, this number surpasses defense spending in the next 10 countries combined. Some question why this number is so big and whether reducing it would help lower the nation’s budget deficit.

“The US military is the pillar upon which the stability and safety of the international system rests,” said Daniel Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Arlington, VA, in an interview. “It’s not in our interests to see the Middle East exploding into war or to see South Korea overrun by North Korea.”

Goure says that although the U.S. military budget is large, it acts as an international defense mechanism. He argues that the U.S. uses its military to keep peace internationally.

He also points out that if the entire defense budget were cut to zero, it would further exacerbate the debt situation instead of alleviating it. He reasons that eliminating the defense budget would mean firing the nearly 1.4 million men and women on active duty and the another 1 million in the Reserves and the National Guard. This would mean increasing the already high unemployment rate.

War Reporting: How to live and tell the tale

WASHINGTON–The War on Terror continues to claim the lives of soldiers, innocent civilians, and journalists. Safety training experts say war reporters have a lot to learn about protecting themselves while trying to get their story.  

“Too many times journalists are the only professionals on the battlefield or in a disaster zone quite unprepared for what they are going to encounter,” said Rodney Pinder, director of the International News Safety Institute. “International journalists do not appreciate the risks and local journalists have neither the means nor the opportunity to access safety training,” he said.

Since the start of the War on Terror, hundreds of journalists have died trying to cover the war. In 2010 alone, 46 journalists have been killed trying to report in hostile environments, including Iraq and Afghanistan. When compared to the Vietnam War, which claimed about 70 news media lives, these numbers reported by the INSI are shocking.

“Those who target journalists are professional killers – we need to be as professional in protecting ourselves,” said Pinder, adding that  hostile environment training can potentially save the lives of journalists, and help them save the lives of others.

INSI is an organization dedicated to the safety of­ journalists working in dangerous environments. Its goal is to “help journalists survive the story” by raising funds to provide training for free to journalists in need. Training programs come in around $3,000 a week and can seem cost prohibitive to freelance reporters. The program teaches journalists about the many aspects of personal safety, pre-deployment planning, conflict management, hostile crowd situations, ballistic awareness, safety from fire-arms, passage through checkpoints, coping with kidnapping, and basic first aid skills.

Technological innovation and smaller, lighter equipment, has made war reporting more dangerous than ever before. Now, more and more reporters are covering the news from the front lines, including camera operators. 

“Those in the military like reporters who­ embed in the battlefield because it establishes a trust between the media and those deployed, said Dr. Conrad Crane, lead author for the U.S. Army Manual on Counterinsurgency and director of the US Army Military History Institute, a part of the Army War College.

To live up to the networks standards of immediacy, fortifying this trust relationship between reporters and the military is necessary. But consequently, a reporter’s­ safety is often at risk­. However, despite how dangerous war reporting can be, it is an essential job that someone must do.

“Our job is to keep the outside world informed. Wars must not, cannot, be conducted in secret,” said Pinder. He believes that transparency in war reporting holds “the government and military accountable. Our reporting counters their spin and reveals actions they would like to keep secret,” said George Espers, a veteran Gulf War and Vietnam War reporter.

 “[War reporters are] the unsung heroes behind most of the news footage we see on our screens every day,” according to Pinder on the institute’s website.

 Being in a war zone is dangerous for anyone, but reporters can take certain steps to educate themselves before entering a combat zone. INSI is just one of many organizations dedicated to the safety of journalists. But at the end of the day, how to proceed successfully often relies on common sense.  

 “There is no guarantee in War. . . .Ask yourself, is this story worth the risk? No story is worth getting killed for,” said Espers.

Aid workers pay high price for USAID policy in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON –Security for aid workers in Afghanistan is deteriorating and nongovernment organizations blame U.S. development policies for putting more lives at risk.

The U.S. Agency for International Development requires that humanitarian aid projects in Afghanistan support the military’s war strategy, a policy that has made aid workers targets for the Taliban, nongovernment organizations say.

“There are more attacks on aid workers now,” said Ann Richard, vice president of government relations at the International Rescue Committee, a nongovernment organization with programs in Afghanistan. “Security for NGOs has gone in the opposite direction.”

USAID policies explicitly support the counterinsurgency war strategy in Afghanistan, and the agency allocates funding to nongovernment organizations based on how their projects “contribute to COIN goals,” according to agency guidelines. COIN is shorthand for counterinsurgency, the war strategy used in the Iraq and Afghanistan that coordinates military force with development and peacekeeping efforts to defeat insurgent groups.

USAID grants require aid organizations work closely with the military on projects such as “battlefield clean up,” where aid workers are sent to clean up post-conflict damage in communities where there was heavy fighting, Richard said.

Merging nongovernment aid projects with military operations has tarnished the apolitical, impartial image critical to the safety of aid workers, many organizations say. The general assumption among Afghans is that aid organizations are working for the U.S. military, said one aid worker who helps run medical programs for an organization that has worked in Afghanistan for more than 15 years.

“If there’s anger at the military, then often times the NGOs will have to pay for it,” said the aid worker, who asked not to be named for fear he might jeopardize the organization’s programs.

Three aid workers were killed in July when suicide bombers attacked the compound of Development Alternatives, a consulting group that helps implements USAID development projects in Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which officials said was a response to the recent surge of U.S. troops.

“Even the perception of being tied to the military can have tragic results,” said Brian Katulis, a national security expert at Center for American Progress and a former State Department official.

Development aid has been tied to counterinsurgency since the war strategy was implemented in Iraq during the Bush administration, but only recently have nonprofits started to collectively push back. The Obama administration has ratcheted up aid efforts in Afghanistan, where the need for infrastructure and humanitarian aid far exceeds that in Iraq.

Safety concerns are paramount in Afghanistan, where insurgents are killing civilians at a rate three times higher than they did during the Iraq war, according to a paper released in July by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The Taliban’s murder of 10 members of Christian organization International Assistance Mission on Aug. 5 has escalated fears among aid workers.

“It’s not a good situation,” said Beth Cole, director of intergovernmental affairs at the U.S. Institution of Peace. “The Taliban are circling Kabul. The days are waning.”

Since the start of 2010, there have been 76 attacks on nongovernment workers in Afghanistan, according to the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, an independent group that provides security information for humanitarian workers in the country. Fifteen of those incidents, which include violent attacks and abduction, occurred in July.

Several nongovernment organizations working in Afghanistan have stopped applying for USAID funding and are instead seeking more funding from private donors and the EU, aid workers reported. Still, many organizations say they cannot regain the trust they worked to earn in Afghan communities since long before the 2001 U.S. invasion.

Some argue that aid workers’ blame is misplaced. Because of the increased threat from insurgent groups, development organizations have to learn to work closer with the military, said Richard Owens, director for community stabilization at International Relief and Development.

“You cannot rely on your good relationship with the local communicates to keep you safe anymore,” said Owens, who has a background in coordinating military-civilian operations. “In a world where the Taliban exists, all bets are off.”

Nonprofits are “naive” to think association with the military puts them at greater risk, said Andrew Natsios, a professor of diplomacy at Georgetown University and USAID administrator from 2001 to 2006. The Taliban target aid organizations because they are bringing development to Afghanistan, Natsios said.

“Whatever is not 12th century in their world view is regarded as the enemy,” Natsios said. “What the Taliban is fighting against is modernization.”

According to media reports, the Taliban killed the Christian aid workers earlier this month because they were “spying” for the U.S. and “preaching Christianity.” The international group included Afghan nationals and had worked in the country for more than 30 years.

A senior adviser at one high-profile aid organization working in Afghanistan said his organization had been doing development work in Taliban-controlled areas because aid workers spent years proving to insurgents that they did not have a political mission. The organization is rethinking where they can send workers and type of projects they can do under increased security threats.

Development efforts have shifted to areas in Afghanistan where U.S. military forces are concentrated. Health programs in other areas of the country have been shut down, replaced by new projects in the south and east, where fighting is the heaviest, said Leonard Rubenstein, a public health professor at Johns Hopkins and former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow.

The inequitable distribution of aid runs contrary to nonprofit development practices that stress equitable resources across ethnic groups and has created animosity among some communities “who feel they are being penalized for being peaceful,” according to research by Andrew Wilder, an expert on governance and aid in Afghanistan at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Some nongovernment organizations fear communities that have lost development projects may lash out at aid workers, creating new conflict in previously stable areas.

“It’s actually counterproductive,” Rubenstein said. “You’re really shooting yourself in the foot.”

Media-military relations not improved by Pentagon’s ruling on Hastings embed

Freelance reporter Michael Hastings, whose Rolling Stone profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal ended the former top Afghanistan commander’s military career, has been denied an embed slot to join a military unit in Afghanistan, according to news reports.

In a Twitter posting, Hastings wrote, “to clarify @AP story: the embed had already been approved for september. now it has been disapproved.” He apparently was working on a story about helicopters and asked for the embed a month ago. The Pentagon acknowledged Tuesday that it had denied the request.

According to the Associated Press, Col. David Lapan “acknowledged that it’s ‘fairly rare’ for the military to turn way a reporter who wants to embed with front-line troops. ‘There is no right to embed,’ Lapan said. ‘It is a choice made between units and individual reporters, and a key element of an embed is having trust that the individuals are going to abide by the ground rules. So in that instance the command in Afghanistan decided there wasn’t the trust requisite and denied this request.’”

But Hastings says the embed was approved, which would show there was “the trust requisite” for at least someone in the military at one point.

Lapan’s vague use of lack of trust as a reason for denying an embed indicates a Pentagon public affairs office that will use this type of reasoning now and in the future to deny access to the troops in Afghanistan – or elsewhere – to any reporter who has written a story that someone in the chain of command finds annoying.

That is a serious precedent. If the military has no evidence that Hastings violated his embed agreement on a previous trip, the Pentagon ought to follow its own rules on his current embed request and approve it.

When Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced new rules requiring military officers and Pentagon officials to notify Gates’ public affairs shop before talking to reporters, a policy announced shortly after Hastings’ article was published, the secretary emphasized that he has often found news reports helpful, “a spur to action” to fix problems like the Walter Reed Army Medical Center problems a few years ago.

“This is not about you,” Gates said of those rules. “This is about us.”

The retaliatory attitude toward Hastings would seem to indicate otherwise.

Could Academic/Pro Collaborations Rejuvenate Embedded War Reporting?

DENVER – As budget cuts have decimated national security journalism, one of the first things to go has been the kind of deep and prolonged embedded reporting that keeps the public abreast of what is happening in the two wars that the United States is waging, in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The University of Oklahoma and veteran broadcast reporter Mike Boettcher have come up with an intriguing model for how to help sustain that kind of journalism, while also using it as a tool for teaching the next generation of national security journalists.

Boettcher , a visiting professor at OU’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, will work with students to produce multimedia content based on his reports from Afghanistan, for ABC News platforms including ABCNews.com, starting Sept. 1. The school and ABC will divvy up the costs, making it more affordable for both, Boettcher said in an interview here at the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

This is AEJMC’s 94th annual conference (it runs through Aug. 7), and more than 1,600 educators are spending their days and nights figuring how they – and their students – can best adapt to the cataclysmic changes in the media landscape.

A full day of pre-conference workshops Aug. 3 focused on how university journalism programs can help fill the gaps left by the cuts at mainstream media outlets. Many schools, including Medill, have established programs through which student journalists are working in cooperation with their professional counterparts on groundbreaking projects.

Under the auspices of the OU-ABC partnership, Boettcher and his son Carlos will spend a year embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan, recording footage and interviewing people involved at the front lines of that conflict. Multimedia material will be transmitted to Norman, Okla., where undergraduate and graduate students will prepare it for ABCNews.com and other ABC outlets.

Sarkeys Foundation, which is based in Norman, is funding the project.

Boettcher, who reported from Afghanistan for ABC News last summer, spent many years with NBC News after starting his career with CNN in 1980. He said that he plans to deliver lectures to students from the front lines, via Skype.

“I want to tell the personal stories of the men and women that are fighting this war,’’ said Boettcher. “This project will let me do that and still work with the great students at OU.’’

Charles Self, an OU journalism faculty member and past president of AEJMC, said in an interview that such partnerships are a tremendous boon to students, who get to work with a world-class journalist, even as he reports from the front line of the war in Afghanistan. But he said it could ultimately prove to be a model that could “save’’ foreign reporting, especially long-term embeds in war zones and other conflict areas.

“We know it works because we’ve done it,’’ said Self, referring to a recent pilot project in which Boettcher did a similar reporting/teaching effort in Iraq. “It’s a bargain for us because we don’t have to pay Mike’s entire salary, and it’s a bargain for the news agency because they don’t have to either.’’

Winners and losers in Afghanistan

As The Washington Post reports, Gen. David H. Petraeus and other commanders in Afghanistan are planning to allow commanders to have access to large amounts of money from a discretionary fund so that they can support reconstruction projects that should be done in a hurry. The money, says Petraeus, is “a weapon system.”

Not everybody agrees. International-aid experts point out that developing the infrastructure of a devastated country takes time and cannot be put on a fast track, regardless of how much money is poured into the projects. Often, the beneficiaries of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan are the tribal leaders who become business partners with American contractors and friends of U.S. military commanders and intelligence officers. As Jake Sherman, the associate director of a New York University project on peacekeeping and the security sector, told me, “You’re empowering alternative structures of power that have the potential to fight amongst themselves or against the authority of the Afghan state.” Under these conditions, certain tribal leaders end up as winners.

The losers are ordinary Afghans who are left out of the deals or, even worse, targeted because of the false tips that corrupt tribal leaders have provided. Altogether, international-aid experts believe that it is a flawed system that is based on cash payments, with potentially disastrous results for the Afghan people and their nation.