The bottom line is clear: Our vital interests in Afghanistan are limited and military victory is not the key to achieving them. On the contrary, waging a lengthy counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan may well do more to aid Taliban recruiting than to dismantle the group, help spread conflict further into Pakistan, unify radical groups that might otherwise be quarreling amongst themselves, threaten the long-term health of the U.S. economy, and prevent the U.S. government from turning its full attention to other pressing problems. -- Afghanistan Study Group

Sunday, April 20, 2008

News of the Day for Sunday, April 20, 2008

A boy looks at the remains of a burnt vehicle after an air strike in Baghdad's Sadr City April 20, 2008. Residents said one child was killed and four civilians wounded during the air strike on Saturday night in Sadr City.
(Kareem Raheem/Reuters) That dead child would of course be one of the 20 militants the U.S. is proud to have killed. -- C

Site News: The heart of what we do here has always been the daily update on combat and security incidents, and Whisker has continued to deliver. However, you will have noticed that in the past few days we haven't had the broader news and commentary that we normally add later in the day. I've been intending to provide some of those, but unfortunately I was busy every evening last week. It will happen however, not necessarily with complete regularity, but do look for more content here soon.

Reported Security Incidents


Clashes between U.S. forces and Sadrist fighters continue in Sadr City. Iraqi police and hospital officials say four men and two boys were killed. Reuters adds that 22 people were injured.

The U.S. claims to have killed 20 militia fighters in the "hottest night in weeks, including six killed in two separate helicopter attacks, 11 killed in two separate gun battles, and three more killed when they were trying to plant a bomb and it went off, "triggering a gun battle." No confirmation of any of this from Iraqi sources, however. For some reason this story gives the U.S. claim as 12 killed, not 20.

Seven injured by Katyusha strike in Abu Dsheer neighborhood of southern Baghdad.

Clashes between Iraqi forces and militias in New Baghdad (a Shiite district in the southeast of the capital) injure three, including one woman.

AP also reports a roadside bomb targeting a U.S. convoy in Baladiyat killed a bystander.

Sinjar, near Mosul

Gunmen invade a power plant, overpower the guards, and destroy it with explosives, causing a regional power outage.

Local council member and his brother are kidnapped and slain.

Baldruz (near Baquba

Gunmen at a fake checkpoint kidnap university students, then release them, but apparently still hold the drivers. Police told DPA that 40 students were seized and then released, but that four drivers are still held. Earlier, VoI reported that nine students and one driver were seized at a fake checkpoint near Baquba. It is not clear whether these reports refer to the same incident. Even more confusing, UPI says that 3 students and a driver were kidnapped. All we can say for sure is that some number of students and/or drivers have been kidnapped.

Anbaki (Diyala province)

100 bodies found in a mass grave.


Police man and his driver are killed, his wife is injure in an assault on their vehicle. This appears to be the same incident reported by Reuters as happening in an unidentified town near Baquba.

Rashad (near Kirkuk)

The bodies are found of two "contractors" working with "neighborhood security units." I'm not sure what this rather cryptic bulletin means. Are these mercenaries employed by the occupation to train and advise the Sahwa? That's what it sounds like but I caution against jumping to any conclusions. -- C

Other News of the Day

Muqtada al-Sadr gives a "final warning" to the Iraqi government and U.S. that he will declare a war of liberation if the crackdown on his followers does not stop. Excerpt:

BAGHDAD (AP) - Anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr gave a "final warning" to the government yesterday to halt a U.S.-Iraqi crackdown against his followers or he would declare "open war until liberation."

A full-blown uprising by al-Sadr, who led two rebellions against U.S.-led forces in 2004, could lead to a dramatic increase in violence in Iraq at a time when the Sunni extremist group al-Qaida in Iraq appears poised for new attacks after suffering severe blows last year.

Al-Sadr’s warning appeared on his Web site as Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government claimed success in a new push against Shiite militants in the southern city of Basra. Fighting claimed 14 more lives in Sadr City, the Baghdad stronghold of al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.


In the statement, al-Sadr lashed back, accusing the government of selling out to the Americans and branding his followers as criminals.

Al-Sadr, who is believed to be in Iran, said he had tried to defuse tensions in August by declaring a unilateral truce only to see the government respond by closing his offices and "resorting to assassinations."

"So I am giving my final warning … to the Iraqi government … to take the path of peace and abandon violence against its people," al-Sadr said. "If the government does not refrain … we will declare an open war until liberation.

General Rick Lynch says he can take 'em. Excerpt:

A top US general on Sunday warned that the military would strike back after hardline Iraqi Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr threatened to launch a new uprising by his militia. "I hope Moqtada al-Sadr continues to depress violence and not encourage it," said Major General Rick Lynch, commander of US forces in central Iraq.

Lynch, whose area of control includes the Shiite provinces of Babil, Wasit, Karbala and Najaf, said his forces were ready to take on Sadr and his feared Mahdi Army militia if they choose to fight Iraqi and American forces. "If Sadr and Jaish al-Mahdi (Mahdi Army) become very aggressive, we've got enough combat power to take the fight to the enemy," Lynch told a group of reporters from Western news networks.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pays a surprise visit to the Green Zone, where she says she perceives improved security and "a coalescing of a centre in Iraqi politics." No substantive purpose for the visit has been stated. Given what is actually occurring at this moment her statement can only be characterized as bizarre. -- C

Navy Lt. Sabrina M. Weiner accepts "other than honorable" discharge in a protest against misuse of naval personnel to make up for shortages of soldiers and marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. Excerpt:

Speaking publicly for the first time about it, Weiner says she was not against the war but the so-called “individual augmentee” program. In the past several years, that program has sent nearly 60,000 sailors from ships and bases to augment Army and Marine ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It is not an against-the-war argument but a people-accountability argument,” Weiner says. “I was proud to say I was a Navy officer. My problem is the way they are using us as IAs. It minimizes the job and training we do for the Navy.”

It cannibalizes the Navy — and Air Force — to cover up a shortage of Army and Marine troops to fight the wars, she argues.

For her convictions, she was jailed, flown across the nation in shackles and threatened with court-martial. Today she is scraping by in Everett, tutoring high school kids in math and enrolled in graduate studies at the Alden March Bioethics Institute based at the Albany Medical College in New York.

“I'm not another Watada,” she cautions, referring to the Fort Lewis Army active duty lieutenant, Ehren Watada. In 2006, Watada refused to accompany his Stryker Brigade to combat duty in Iraq, contending that the war is immoral and unconstitutional.

NYT's David Barstow lays out, in all its sordid detail, how the Pentagon pushes propaganda onto the TV news in the guise of independent analysis from retired military officers. This is a rare example of critical journalistic analysis of the profession. Even better, he deftly exposes the military-industrial-political-journalistic complex. Give this man a Pulitzer. -- C Excerpt (but do read the whole thing):

In the summer of 2005, the Bush administration confronted a fresh wave of criticism over Guantánamo Bay. The detention center had just been branded “the gulag of our times” by Amnesty International, there were new allegations of abuse from United Nations human rights experts and calls were mounting for its closure.

The administration’s communications experts responded swiftly. Early one Friday morning, they put a group of retired military officers on one of the jets normally used by Vice President Dick Cheney and flew them to Cuba for a carefully orchestrated tour of Guantánamo.

To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.

The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.

Did you know that active duty military personnel cannot get any redress for malpractice by military physicians, no matter how egregious? Neither did I, but Walter F. Roche Jr. of the LA Times tells us all about it. And note how the Republicans in Congress support our troops. Excerpt:

Medical personnel at David Grant Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base screamed at one another. A double dose of a powerful stimulant was mistakenly administered. When a breathing tube was finally inserted, it was misdirected. By the time a breathing tube finally was inserted correctly, Witt had devastating brain damage. Three months later, he was removed from life support and died. Witt, who grew up in Oroville, Calif., left behind a wife and two children, including a 4-month-old son.

"This medical incident was due to an avoidable error," concluded a previously unpublished internal report, a copy of which was reviewed by the Los Angeles Times.

Despite the report's harsh criticism of Witt's medical care, the bereaved family could not sue for malpractice, because Witt was an active-duty airman. Under limits stemming from an obscure Supreme Court ruling nearly 60 years old, military hospitals and their staffs are immune from malpractice claims - even for the most egregious lapses - if the victim is an enlisted man or woman on active duty.

A series of court rulings since 1950 have upheld the original decision, known as Feres v. United States, which denies members of the military the right to sue for damages over medical errors or even deliberate wrongs.

Feres defenders say the doctrine is necessary to protect the military from costly, time-consuming trials that could compromise military discipline. Representative Duncan Hunter of California, a Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee and a former fighter pilot, called Feres "a reasonable approach to ensuring that litigation does not interfere with the objectives and readiness of our nation's military."

Quote of the Day

Then you have this business where television will not show what we see, for reasons of so-called "bad taste". I remember once being on the phone to a TV editor in London when Jazeera were asked to feed some tape of children killed and wounded by British shell fire in Basra, and the guy started saying, "there's no point feeding us this, we can't show this"the first excuse was, "people will be having their tea, so we can't put it on", and then it was, "this is sort of pornography, we don't show this". And it ended up--it is mesmeric to listen to this stuff - the last thing was "We have to show respect for the dead". So we don't show any respect for them when they are alive, we blow them to bits, and then we show respect for themSo because of this - and these bloodless sandpits with ex-generals pontificating - it becomes a game; you start propagating this idea that war is primarily about victory or defeat - when in fact, it's about death, and the infliction of massive pain.

Robert Fisk