US Army Stressed After Nearly a Decade of War
Army Report: Crime, Prescription Drug Use Makes Soldiers ‘More Dangerous Than the Enemy’
NW YORK (July 29, 2010 — After nine years of war, the US Army is showing signs of stress because of repeated deployments and inadequate support for soldiers when they return, according to a blunt internal report released today. It blasts the Army’s leadership for failing to recognize the problem.
The figures in recent years are staggering.
The number of soldiers committing suicide has increased since 2004, surpassing civilian rates in 2008. Use of prescription drugs has tripled in the past five years; prescription amphetamines use has doubled between 2006 and 2009. One third of soldiers take at least one prescription drug and 14 percent of soldiers are on some form of powerful painkiller.
Crime is rising every year as well. Each year has seen an increase of 5,000 misdemeanors over the previous year, meaning soldiers are expected to commit around 55,000 such crimes in 2010. Sexual offenses have tripled since 2003. Domestic abuse is up 177 percent in the past six years.
Non-combat deaths among the force have increased steadily since 2001 to the point where the report says that in 2009 more soldiers died as a result of accidents and “high risk behavior” than at war.
“Simply stated, we are often more dangerous to ourselves than the enemy,” the report says.
The scathing assessment, commissioned by the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli, blames Army leadership for failing to realize the deteriorating trend.
“The Army realized too late that there was a very serious problem,” it says.
The study also faults Army leaders for failing to enforce discipline after violations, leading to repeat offenders whose problems spiral out of control.
“Soldiers are taking more and more risks, and gaps in policies are allowing it to happen. Ultimately, it poses the question: ‘Where has the Army’s leadership in garrison gone?'” the report asks, using the term for the period when soldiers are stationed at home between deployments.
While noting that Army service, particularly during a time of war when a soldier is almost sure to see combat, attracts individuals more prone to what it terms high-risk behavior, the study says the problems are exacerbated by inadequate leadership and screening of troops.
It suggests leaders are focusing only on preparing soldiers for their next deployment too quickly without allowing them sufficient time to reset after time in war.
In fact, the report says the Army’s current ratio of one year deployed and two at home is inadequate, suggesting that soldiers need at least three years at home before going off again to war to properly prepare.
The report suggests that the increasing suicide rates in the Army are due in part to inadequate attention from leaders and fellow soldiers. Nearly a third are the result of drug or alcohol abuse.
Of 1,038 non-combat soldier deaths between 2006 and 2009, the report found that 88 percent were due to high-risk behavior. Of that figure, 46 percent involved drug or alcohol use at the time of death and 20 percent were due to overdose.
Nearly 80 percent of Army suicides take place in the United States, most typically among married 23-year-old, caucasian, junior-enlisted males who have deployed at least once, according to the study.
The military has fought for years against the stigma of combat stress injuries like post traumatic stress disorder, yet the study accuses Army leaders of neglecting to recognize the symptoms of a potential suicide victim. It notes that according to a separate survey an estimated 13 percent of the Army suffered from PTSD, while only 9 percent of suicide deaths in recent years had been diagnosed with PTSD, suggesting many of the victims had fallen through the cracks.
In many cases, the report says, suicides were only discovered weeks after they occurred. In one example cited in the report, a soldier was discovered five weeks after he had taken his life only after his landlord complained that the rent had not been received.
“It is often only in hindsight (post mortem) that we see indications of undocumented high-risk behavior that provided opportunity for life-saving intervention,” the study says.
“In an organization that prides itself on never leaving a soldier behind, this sobering example speaks to the breakdown of leadership in garrison, which appears to be worsening as the requirements of prolonged conflict slowly erode the essential attributes that have defined the Army for generation,” it adds.
Alcohol and Drug Abuse
The study found that substance abuse strongly correlates to suicides and criminal acts, including violence, by soldiers. Again, it faults the Army for failing to adequately test for drug use.
However, it’s what it calls the “pervasive climate of prescription medication use in the Army” that is of most concern to the study’s authors.
“As we continue to wage war on several fronts, data would suggest we are becoming more dependent on pharmaceuticals to sustain the force. In fact, anecdotal information suggests that the force is becoming increasingly dependent on both legal and illegal drugs,” it says.
Soldiers are often prescribed drugs that can be filled “as needed” without an expiration date, which allows them to abuse the drugs even if they are not needed. The study suggests this policy also contributes to the sale of prescription drugs among the force by soldiers with open-ended prescriptions.
Illegal drug users are still of concern, particularly those that are repeat and serial offenders who have been allowed to remain in the Army. According to the study if a soldier tests positive for a controlled substance twice, there is a 90 percent chance he or she will test positive at least once more.
The study says one soldier even tested positive 17 times and had been allowed to remain in the Army.
The report documents disturbing increases of crime by soldiers. Additionally, many crimes go unreported to law enforcement and others do not face any disciplinary action within the Army.
“Crime is on the rise and discipline is seemingly going unchecked. In fact, approximately 1,054 soldiers who have committed two or more felony offenses are still serving in the Army today,” the study says.
In 2009 alone, 15,074 cases of soldier misconduct faced no known disciplinary or corrective action, or referral to law enforcement, it found. Only a fraction of domestic abuse cases were referred to law enforcement.
In one tragic case cited in the report, a soldier was accused of rape in 2000 and 2003, but a civilian law enforcement investigation could not provide enough evidence to prove the crimes occurred as alleged. In 2004 the same soldier was accused of raping three females and again in 2005 for indecent assault and indecent exposure. He was finally convicted of the 2004 rapes.
“When known criminals are not removed from the force, it sends a message to the rest of the soldiers in the unit that high-risk behavior, such as drug use, is acceptable,” the report says.
The study found an overlap in destructive behavior by some solders. When it cross referenced over 10,000 cases of serial drug users with 2,405 alleged serial criminal offenders since 2001, it fond 1,675 soldiers appeared on both lists.
Ultimately, the report lays blame at the feet of Army leadership for failing to identify troubled soldiers and discipline those who commit crimes, suggesting that doing so only begets more problems.
“Soldiers who are prone to practice high-risk behavior have little reason to question consequence, as they see there will likely be none,” the study says.
Still, the Army is also at war and faces the challenge of sending soldiers to both Iraq and Afghanistan. The study says “too many” soldiers entered the service on waivers and that “these soldiers may be among a critical mass that engages in high risk behavior and may commit suicide.”
“These data suggest either commanders lack awareness of these increasing problems or they are ignoring risk factors to retain soldiers to maintain unit deployment strength. In either case the results are tragic,” it says.
ARLINGTON, VA (July 29, 2010) — “Atrophied” leadership has led to more high-risk behavior among soldiers and ultimately more soldiers committing suicide, according to a blunt report the service released Thursday.
“It’s time for the Army to take a hard look at itself,” Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Peter Chiarelli said at a Pentagon press briefing.
The report, based on a 15-month review by the Suicide Prevention Task Force, asks: “Where has the Armyâ€™s leadership in garrison gone?”
Chiarelli said nearly 10 years of war has led to a generation of leaders who focus solely on preparing for combat. He pointed out that many of the Army’s platoon sergeants joined the service after 2001, so all theyâ€™ve ever experienced is an unbalanced, stressed Army that has had to prioritize tactical readiness over good order and discipline in garrison.
Soldiers who do well when deployed are often given something of a free pass for misconduct at home, and that risky behavior often goes unnoticed until it is too late, Chiarelli said.
The Army has set a record for soldier suicides in each of the last three years — 162 killed themselves in 2009 — and the pace has not slowed in 2010.
During peacetime, 99 percent of commanders filled out disciplinary action forms each month. Now that number is down to 65 percent, the report said.
“Now more than ever, our soldiers need firm, fair and consistent leadership,” Chiarelli wrote in the reportâ€™s introduction.
Leaders have “lost situational awareness,” “signs and symptoms are being ignored,” and “soldiers are taking more and more risks and gaps in policies are allowing it to happen,” according to the report.
The report recommends the Army reprioritize policies for discipline that have not been followed because “the force has been so stressed for so long,” Chiarelli said.
With the drawdown in Iraq and the Army slowly getting closer to all units having two years of dwell time for every year deployed, now “is the perfect time” to tackle this issue as leaders will have more time to focus on effective management, he said.
The second half of the report lays out recommendations for how the Army can fix the leadership problem. Officials assembled 32 databases of information to help guide leaders.
Chiarelli said the information showed that young soldiers new to the Army need the most attention. Leaders should be prioritizing their time with those soldiers.
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GRAFENWÃ–HR, Germany (July 28, 2010) — Starting this summer, researchers plan to survey up to 400,000 soldiers as part of the largest study to date of suicide and mental health among military personnel.
It’s the next phase in a $50 million, five-year study the Army and the The National Institute of Mental Health have been conducting since 2008 in hopes of identifying risk factors and providing a scientific basis for efforts to reduce troops’ suicide rates.
“This is an extraordinary opportunity to assist the Army in addressing a pressing military health issue,” NIMH director Thomas R. Insel said in the statement.
Historically, the suicide rate has been lower in the military than among civilians, but in 2005 that pattern was reversed. In June, there were 21 active-duty and 11 reserve soldier suicides, including seven in Iraq or Afghanistan, the most on record.
“While the stresses of the current wars (in Iraq and Afghanistan), including long and repeated deployments and post-traumatic stress, are important potential contributors for research to address, suicidal behavior is a complex phenomenon,” the NIMH statement said.
The Study To Assess Risk and Resilience in Service-members, or Army STARRS, will be conducted by researchers from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Services, University of Michigan, Harvard University and Columbia University as well as Army and NIMH scientists.
Over the next three years, the researchers plan to survey as many as 120,000 new soldiers doing basic combat training, according to an Army press statement. They also will collect information from about 90,000 “combat-seasoned” active-duty soldiers, including members of the reserve-component who have deployed.
“It is expected that as many as 400,000 Soldiers will eventually participate,” the statement said.
Participation is voluntary, the Army said.
The researchers will begin the confidential survey at basic training bases Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., Fort Jackson, SC, Fort Sill, Okla., and Fort Benning, Ga., then move on to bases where combat-seasoned troops are located, including Fort Bragg, NC, Fort Drum, NY, and Fort Hood, Texas.
Participants will be asked to complete a paper questionnaire, take online surveys, or participate in one-on-one interviews about their psychological and physical health, and history of exposure to adverse events, NIMH officials said.
The researchers also will seek information on suicide-related behavior, risk and protective factors and, when possible, ask volunteers to provide saliva and blood samples for genetic and neurobiological studies, the NIMH statement said.
Although it is expected to take at least five years to complete, the study should start producing information on who is at risk and how to protect them very quickly, according to the Army STARRS website.
So, with each new round of data collection and findings, investigators will be able to update and send their recommendations to the Army.
In addition to the surveys, researchers are reviewing existing historical information the Army has, including the personnel and medical records of soldiers who have committed suicide. It will examine factors related to and independent of military service, including unit cohesion, exposure to combat-related trauma, personal and economic stresses, family history, childhood adversity and abuse, and overall mental health, the NIMH statement said.
In comments posted on YouTube, Col. Chris Philbrick, director of the Army Suicide Prevention Task Force, said the study was crafted over a year ago to address the spike in servicemember suicides.
“It’s a comprehensive examination of the Army’s programs, policies, procedures,â€ he said. â€œDo we have the right resources? Are there gaps in our policies, for example?”
On Thursday the Army’s Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli will be releasing a report of a 15-month study the Army started when the Suicide Prevention Task Force was convened in March 2009.
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In an interview with NPR’s Robert Siegel, Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, said that, while multiple deployments certainly contribute to those issues, there are many other causes.
“I think it’s a function of many, many things,” he said. “I think that the two prolonged wars we’re fighting have caused stressors to occur in the force, but I don’t think they can be divorced from the other stressors that soldiers are under, including family and professional problems.
In the All Things Considered interview, Siegel read aloud an incredible footnote from the report:
At 24 years of age, a soldier — on average — has moved from home, family and friends, and has resided in two other states, has traveled the world, deployed, been promoted four times, bought a car and wrecked it, married and had children, has had relationship and financial problems, seen death, is responsible for dozens of soldiers, maintains millions of dollars of equipment, and gets paid less than $40,000 a year.
According to Chiarelli, although stigma associated with mental health issues remains a problem, the Army has made progress eroding it.
“We are doing everything we can to stamp out stigma,” he said. “That is our goal, and I think this report goes a long way in showing how serious we are about doing that.”
I think we’re taking a leadership role in telling our soldiers that they need to get the help that they need. And leaders need to set the kind of command environment that allows soldiers to get the help that they need for these very, very difficult issues.
The report was based on one year’s worth of data, from 2009. According to Chiarelli, he and his colleagues would like to have access to more information.
Addressing high levels of prescription drug abuse among the Army’s ranks, Chiarelli said that the service is working actively to identify alternative methods of pain control.
According to Chiarelli, the Army has to change the culture on bases in the US, as soldiers continue to fight two wars overseas, acknowledging that is a tall order.
“I believe that is something that we need to work on right now,” he said. “As the time that units and individuals spend at home increases, we’ve got to go back and emphasize some of these skills.”
We focused on those skills necessary to put our soldiers in harm’s way, and we deemphasized some of the other skills, because we just didn’t have time. Well, now’s the time to go back and look at those.
In 2009, at the outset of the survey that led to this report, Chiarelli spoke with Siegel on All Things Considered.
“Sir, this is – this is not business as usual,” he said at the time. “These numbers are high, and we are going to look at every single facet of the Army to make a determination on what we can find out, and what we need to do.”
Asked to reflect on what he’s learned in the intervening 15 months, Chiarelli said the issues are far more complicated than he expected, and he realizes there is “no single button you can push” to fix them.
Earlier today, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said that, “as a result of this study, the Army better understands how the stress of nearly 10 years of war has hindered the effectiveness of policies and programs designed to track the welfare of its people.”
The Army has much to do to restore the safeguards that have been neglected, but this report reflects the Army’s commitment to taking care of soldiers and reducing high risk behavior related to suicide and accidental death. The House Armed Services Committee will monitor the Army’s progress very closely and assist the Army’s effort wherever possible.
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KABUL, Afghanistan (July 30, 2010) — In a summer of suffering, America’s military death toll in Afghanistan is rising, with back-to-back record months for US losses in the grinding conflict. All signs point to more bloodshed in the months ahead, straining the already shaky international support for the war.
Six more Americans were reported killed in fighting in the south — three Thursday and three Friday — pushing the US death toll for July to a record 66 and surpassing June as the deadliest month for US forces in the nearly nine-year war.
US officials confirmed the latest American deaths Friday but gave no further details. Five of the latest reported deaths were a result of hidden bombs — the insurgents’ weapon of choice — and the sixth to an armed attack, NATO said in statements.
US commanders say American casualties are mounting because more troops are fighting — and the Taliban are stiffening resistance as NATO and Afghan forces challenge the insurgents in areas they can’t afford to give up without a fight.
“Recent months in Afghanistan have … seen tough fighting and tough casualties. This was expected,” the top US and NATO commander, Gen. David Petraeus, said at his Senate confirmation hearing last month. “My sense is that the tough fighting will continue; indeed, it may get more intense in the next few months.”
That forecast is proving grimly accurate.
The month has brought a sharp increase in the tragic images of war — medics frantically seeking to stop the bleeding of a soldier who lost his leg in a bombing, fearful comrades huddled around a wounded trooper fighting for his life, the solemn scenes at Dover Air Force Bare in Delaware when shattered relatives come to receive the bodies of their loved ones.
After a dip in American deaths last spring following the February capture of the southern town of Marjah, US fatalities have been rising — from 19 in April to 34 in May to 60 in June. Last month’s deaths for the entire NATO-led force reached a record 104, including the 60 Americans. This month’s coalition death count stands at 89, including the 66 Americans.
Some US military officers speculated that the spring drop in fatalities was due in part to the fact that many Taliban fighters in the south — the main focus of NATO operations — were busy harvesting the annual opium poppy crop, a major source of funding for the insurgents.
As the harvest ended and the pace of battle accelerated, more American troops were streaming into the country as part of President Barack Obama’s decision last December to dispatch 30,000 reinforcements in a bid to turn back a resurgent Taliban.
American troop strength stands at about 95,000, and by the end of August the figure is expected to swell to 100,000 — three times the number in early 2009. Commanders say more boots on the ground inevitably means more casualties.
With the additional troops, US commanders have been stepping up the fight against the insurgents in their longtime strongholds such as the Arghandab Valley, Panjwaii and Zhari — all on the outskirts of Kandahar city, the biggest urban area in the ethnic Pashtun south.
Much of the fighting in those areas involves brief but intense exchanges of fire. NATO and Afghan patrols also must maneuver through fields often littered with homemade bombs, which have become the biggest killer of pro-government forces.
The Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which begins around Aug. 11, may provide some respite in the bloodletting because Taliban fighters and Afghan government forces will be fasting, although some commanders believe the insurgents will keep up the pace in areas where the coalition is trying to step up their own operations.
Fighting around Kandahar is part of a NATO strategy to secure the city, the Taliban’s spiritual birthplace where support for the insurgency runs deep. US commanders have described Kandahar city as the key to controlling the Taliban’s southern heartland because of the city’s symbolic links to the insurgency.
As the US and its allies step up pressure around Kandahar, Taliban resistance has also intensified in Helmand province to the west and in Zabul province to the east. Those three provinces account for roughly 70 percent of the US deaths this month.
“We are going into places that have been significant support bases for the Taliban for the past several years, and they’re going to fight hard for those,” Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who directs day-to-day operations, said this month. “And that’s why we expect the casualties to go up.”
The rise in casualties is likely to erode support for the war in Washington and the capitals of the 45 other countries that provide troops — especially if NATO commanders are unable to show progress in curbing the Taliban. The Dutch are due to remove the last of their 1,600-member force at the end of this month, and Canada plans to remove its 2,700 troops next year.
Obama has promised to begin withdrawing US troops in July next year with the pace to be determined by conditions on the ground.
At the same time, there are signs that Afghan patience with the presence of thousands of foreign troops is running thin.
In the capital, Kabul, police fired weapons into the air Friday to disperse a crowd of angry Afghans who shouted “Death to America!”, hurled stones and set fire to two vehicles after an SUV, driven by US contract employees, was involved in a traffic accident that killed four Afghans, according to the capital’s criminal investigations chief, Abdul Ghaafar Sayedzada.
The contractor, DynCorp International, confirmed that its employees, working on a program sponsored by the US Department of State, were involved in an accident on the main road to the Kabul airport. In a statement, DynCorp said that when its employees got out of their vehicle, they and other DynCorp employees, who arrived at the scene to help, were attacked by the crowd, which burned their vehicles.
“Our condolences go out to the families of those who were killed or injured,” DynCorp said. “An investigation is under way.”
People at the scene claimed foreigners fired shots, killing and wounding Afghan civilians. DynCorp said the contractors fired no shots and that Afghan police helped move the contractors to safety away from the crowd. Hospital officials said the deaths and injuries were caused by the traffic accident.
Ahmad Jawid, who also was at the scene, asked: “Are we not Muslims? Are we not from Afghanistan? Infidels are here and they are ruling us. Why?”
Andrew Bacevich / TomDispatch – 2010-07-30 01:04:15
(July 29, 2010) — “In watching the flow of events over the past decade or so, it is hard to avoid the feeling that something very fundamental has happened in world history.”
This sentiment, introducing the essay that made Francis Fukuyama a household name, commands renewed attention today, albeit from a different perspective.
Developments during the 1980s, above all the winding down of the Cold War, had convinced Fukuyama that the “end of history” was at hand. “The triumph of the West, of the Western idea,” he wrote in 1989, “is evidentË‡ in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism.”
Today the West no longer looks quite so triumphant. Yet events during the first decade of the present century have delivered history to another endpoint of sorts. Although Western liberalism may retain considerable appeal, the Western way of war has run its course.
For Fukuyama, history implied ideological competition, a contest pitting democratic capitalism against fascism and communism. When he wrote his famous essay, that contest was reaching an apparently definitive conclusion.
Yet from start to finish, military might had determined that competitionâ€™s course as much as ideology. Throughout much of the twentieth century, great powers had vied with one another to create new, or more effective, instruments of coercion. Military innovation assumed many forms. Most obviously, there were the weapons: dreadnoughts and aircraft carriers, rockets and missiles, poison gas, and atomic bombs — the list is a long one. In their effort to gain an edge, however, nations devoted equal attention to other factors: doctrine and organization, training systems and mobilization schemes, intelligence collection and war plans.
All of this furious activity, whether undertaken by France or Great Britain, Russia or Germany, Japan or the United States, derived from a common belief in the plausibility of victory. Expressed in simplest terms, the Western military tradition could be reduced to this proposition: war remains a viable instrument of statecraft, the accoutrements of modernity serving, if anything, to enhance its utility.
That was theory. Reality, above all the two world wars of the last century, told a decidedly different story. Armed conflict in the industrial age reached new heights of lethality and destructiveness. Once begun, wars devoured everything, inflicting staggering material, psychological, and moral damage. Pain vastly exceeded gain. In that regard, the war of 1914-1918 became emblematic: even the winners ended up losers.
When fighting eventually stopped, the victors were left not to celebrate but to mourn. As a consequence, well before Fukuyama penned his essay, faith in war’s problem-solving capacity had begun to erode. As early as 1945, among several great powers — thanks to war, now great in name only — that faith disappeared altogether.
Among nations classified as liberal democracies, only two resisted this trend. One was the United States, the sole major belligerent to emerge from the Second World War stronger, richer, and more confident. The second was Israel, created as a direct consequence of the horrors unleashed by that cataclysm. By the 1950s, both countries subscribed to this common conviction: national security (and, arguably, national survival) demanded unambiguous military superiority.
In the lexicon of American and Israeli politics, “peace” was a codeword. The essential prerequisite for peace was for any and all adversaries, real or potential, to accept a condition of permanent inferiority. In this regard, the two nations — not yet intimate allies — stood apart from the rest of the Western world.
So even as they professed their devotion to peace, civilian and military elites in the United States and Israel prepared obsessively for war. They saw no contradiction between rhetoric and reality.
Yet belief in the efficacy of military power almost inevitably breeds the temptation to put that power to work. “Peace through strength” easily enough becomes “peace through war.” Israel succumbed to this temptation in 1967. For Israelis, the Six Day War proved a turning point. Plucky David defeated, and then became, Goliath. Even as the United States was flailing about in Vietnam, Israel had evidently succeeded in definitively mastering war.
A quarter-century later, US forces seemingly caught up. In 1991, Operation Desert Storm, George H.W. Bush’s war against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, showed that American troops like Israeli soldiers knew how to win quickly, cheaply, and humanely. Generals like H. Norman Schwarzkopf persuaded themselves that their brief desert campaign against Iraq had replicated — even eclipsed — the battlefield exploits of such famous Israeli warriors as Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin. Vietnam faded into irrelevance.
For both Israel and the United States, however, appearances proved deceptive. Apart from fostering grand illusions, the splendid wars of 1967 and 1991 decided little. In both cases, victory turned out to be more apparent than real. Worse, triumphalism fostered massive future miscalculation.
On the Golan Heights, in Gaza, and throughout the West Bank, proponents of a Greater Israel — disregarding Washingtonâ€™s objections — set out to assert permanent control over territory that Israel had seized. Yet “facts on the ground” created by successive waves of Jewish settlers did little to enhance Israeli security. They succeeded chiefly in shackling Israel to a rapidly growing and resentful Palestinian population that it could neither pacify nor assimilate.
In the Persian Gulf, the benefits reaped by the United States after 1991 likewise turned out to be ephemeral. Saddam Hussein survived and became in the eyes of successive American administrations an imminent threat to regional stability.
This perception prompted (or provided a pretext for) a radical reorientation of strategy in Washington. No longer content to prevent an unfriendly outside power from controlling the oil-rich Persian Gulf, Washington now sought to dominate the entire Greater Middle East. Hegemony became the aim. Yet the United States proved no more successful than Israel in imposing its writ.
During the 1990s, the Pentagon embarked willy-nilly upon what became its own variant of a settlement policy. Yet US bases dotting the Islamic world and US forces operating in the region proved hardly more welcome than the Israeli settlements dotting the occupied territories and the soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) assigned to protect them. In both cases, presence provoked (or provided a pretext for) resistance. Just as Palestinians vented their anger at the Zionists in their midst, radical Islamists targeted Americans whom they regarded as neo-colonial infidels.
No one doubted that Israelis (regionally) and Americans (globally) enjoyed unquestioned military dominance. Throughout Israel’s near abroad, its tanks, fighter-bombers, and warships operated at will. So, too, did American tanks, fighter-bombers, and warships wherever they were sent.
So what? Events made it increasingly evident that military dominance did not translate into concrete political advantage. Rather than enhancing the prospects for peace, coercion produced ever more complications. No matter how badly battered and beaten, the “terrorists” (a catch-all term applied to anyone resisting Israeli or American authority) weren’t intimidated, remained unrepentant, and kept coming back for more.
Israel ran smack into this problem during Operation Peace for Galilee, its 1982 intervention in Lebanon. US forces encountered it a decade later during Operation Restore Hope, the West’s gloriously titled foray into Somalia. Lebanon possessed a puny army; Somalia had none at all. Rather than producing peace or restoring hope, however, both operations ended in frustration, embarrassment, and failure.
And those operations proved but harbingers of worse to come. By the 1980s, the IDF’s glory days were past. Rather than lightning strikes deep into the enemy rear, the narrative of Israeli military history became a cheerless recital of dirty wars — unconventional conflicts against irregular forces yielding problematic results. The First Intifada (1987-1993), the Second Intifada (2000-2005), a second Lebanon War (2006), and Operation Cast Lead, the notorious 2008-2009 incursion into Gaza, all conformed to this pattern.
Meanwhile, the differential between Palestinian and Jewish Israeli birth rates emerged as a looming threat — a “demographic bomb,” Benjamin Netanyahu called it. Here were new facts on the ground that military forces, unless employed pursuant to a policy of ethnic cleansing, could do little to redress. Even as the IDF tried repeatedly and futilely to bludgeon Hamas and Hezbollah into submission, demographic trends continued to suggest that within a generation a majority of the population within Israel and the occupied territories would be Arab.
“We are now able to create decision superiority that is enabled by networked systems, new sensors and command and control capabilities that are producing unprecedented near real time situational awareness, increased information availability, and an ability to deliver precision munitions throughout the breadth and depth of the battlespace… Combined, these capabilities of the future networked force will leverage information dominance, speed and precision, and result in decision superiority.”
The key phrase in this mass of techno-blather was the one that occurred twice: “decision superiority.” At that moment, the officer corps, like the Bush administration, was still convinced that it knew how to win.
Such claims of success, however, proved obscenely premature. Campaigns advertised as being wrapped up in weeks dragged on for years, while American troops struggled with their own intifadas. When it came to achieving decisions that actually stuck, the Pentagon (like the IDF) remained clueless.
If any overarching conclusion emerges from the Afghan and Iraq Wars (and from their Israeli equivalents), it’s this: victory is a chimera. Counting on today’s enemy to yield in the face of superior force makes about as much sense as buying lottery tickets to pay the mortgage: you better be really lucky.
Meanwhile, as the US economy went into a tailspin, Americans contemplated their equivalent of Israel’s “demographic bomb” — a “fiscal bomb.” Ingrained habits of profligacy, both individual and collective, held out the prospect of long-term stagnation: no growth, no jobs, no fun. Out-of-control spending on endless wars exacerbated that threat.
By 2007, the American officer corps itself gave up on victory, although without giving up on war. First in Iraq, then in Afghanistan, priorities shifted. High-ranking generals shelved their expectations of winning — at least as a Rabin or Schwarzkopf would have understood that term. They sought instead to not lose. In Washington as in US military command posts, the avoidance of outright defeat emerged as the new gold standard of success.
As a consequence, US troops today sally forth from their base camps not to defeat the enemy, but to “protect the people,” consistent with the latest doctrinal fashion. Meanwhile, tea-sipping US commanders cut deals with warlords and tribal chieftains in hopes of persuading guerrillas to lay down their arms.
A new conventional wisdom has taken hold, endorsed by everyone from new Afghan War commander General David Petraeus, the most celebrated soldier of this American age, to Barack Obama, commander-in-chief and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. For the conflicts in which the United States finds itself enmeshed, “military solutions” do not exist. As Petraeus himself has emphasized, “we can’t kill our way out of” the fix weâ€™re in. In this way, he also pronounced a eulogy on the Western conception of warfare of the last two centuries.
The Unasked Question
What then are the implications of arriving at the end of Western military history?
In his famous essay, Fukuyama cautioned against thinking that the end of ideological history heralded the arrival of global peace and harmony. Peoples and nations, he predicted, would still find plenty to squabble about.
With the end of military history, a similar expectation applies. Politically motivated violence will persist and may in specific instances even retain marginal utility. Yet the prospect of Big Wars solving Big Problems is probably gone for good. Certainly, no one in their right mind, Israeli or American, can believe that a continued resort to force will remedy whatever it is that fuels anti-Israeli or anti-American antagonism throughout much of the Islamic world. To expect persistence to produce something different or better is moonshine.
It remains to be seen whether Israel and the United States can come to terms with the end of military history. Other nations have long since done so, accommodating themselves to the changing rhythms of international politics. That they do so is evidence not of virtue, but of shrewdness. China, for example, shows little eagerness to disarm. Yet as Beijing expands its reach and influence, it emphasizes trade, investment, and development assistance. Meanwhile, the People’s Liberation Army stays home. China has stolen a page from an old American playbook, having become today the preeminent practitioner of “dollar diplomacy.”
The collapse of the Western military tradition confronts Israel with limited choices, none of them attractive. Given the history of Judaism and the history of Israel itself, a reluctance of Israeli Jews to entrust their safety and security to the good will of their neighbors or the warm regards of the international community is understandable.
In a mere six decades, the Zionist project has produced a vibrant, flourishing state. Why put all that at risk? Although the demographic bomb may be ticking, no one really knows how much time remains on the clock. If Israelis are inclined to continue putting their trust in (American-supplied) Israeli arms while hoping for the best, who can blame them?
In theory, the United States, sharing none of Israelâ€™s demographic or geographic constraints and, far more richly endowed, should enjoy far greater freedom of action. Unfortunately, Washington has a vested interest in preserving the status quo, no matter how much it costs or where it leads.
For the military-industrial complex, there are contracts to win and buckets of money to be made. For those who dwell in the bowels of the national security state, there are prerogatives to protect. For elected officials, there are campaign contributors to satisfy. For appointed officials, civilian and military, there are ambitions to be pursued.
And always there is a chattering claque of militarists, calling for jihad and insisting on ever greater exertions, while remaining alert to any hint of backsliding. In Washington, members of this militarist camp, by no means coincidentally including many of the voices that most insistently defend Israeli bellicosity, tacitly collaborate in excluding or marginalizing views that they deem heretical. As a consequence, what passes for debate on matters relating to national security is a sham. Thus are we invited to believe, for example, that General Petraeus’s appointment as the umpteenth US commander in Afghanistan constitutes a milestone on the way to ultimate success.
Nearly 20 years ago, a querulous Madeleine Albright demanded to know: “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” Today, an altogether different question deserves our attention: What’s the point of constantly using our superb military if doing so doesn’t actually work?
Washington’s refusal to pose that question provides a measure of the corruption and dishonesty permeating our politics.
Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University. His new book, Washington Rules: Americaâ€™s Path to Permanent War, has just been published.
WASHINGTON (July 28, 2010) — A treasure trove of classified documents released Sunday by Wikileaks, which sheds new light on the catastrophic failure of the nine-year war in Afghanistan, did not derail congressional efforts Tuesday to pass a $33 billion emergency supplemental bill to continue funding the occupation.
The House passed the spending package by a vote of 308-114. The bill will now be sent to President Obama for his signature. The money will be used to fund the troop surge in Afghanistan, which is part of the revised war strategy Obama announced in a speech at West Point last December.
The combined cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has surpassed $1 trillion and have claimed the lives of 5,620 US soldiers and hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Bloomberg reported that attempts by war critics to insert amendments into the supplemental bill “targeting Obama’s Afghanistan policies” failed to win support after Obama threatened to veto a bill that contained any provision he said would weaken his commander-in-chief powers.
“The amendment that came closest to passing would have required the administration to submit a report explaining how it intends to end US involvement in the Afghan conflict,” Bloomberg noted.
The bill cleared the Senate last week after Democrats removed $23 billion in unrelated, albeit critical domestic spending, such as $10 billion for state governments to stave off teacher layoffs.
The Associated Press reported that “in addition to stripping money out for teachers and student aid, the final bill omits more than $4 billion requested by the administration to finance settlements of several long-standing lawsuits against the government, including $1.2 billion to remedy discrimination by the Agriculture Department against black farmers and $3.4 billion for mismanaging Indian trust funds.”
But the bill does include “$5.1 billion to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief fund, $6.2 billion for State Department aid programs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Haiti and $13.4 billion in benefits for Vietnam war veterans exposed to Agent Orange,” bringing the total spending package to $59 billion.
Still, the number of Democrats who voted against the supplemental spending bill–102–nearly quadrupled, indicating that the raw intelligence reports released by Wikileaks may have had some impact on the final vote. Voting in favor of the bill were 148 Democrats and 160 Republicans. Twelve Republicans voted “no.” [The roll call can be found here.]
Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts) said lawmakers should not have voted on the spending bill “until we some questions answered” and “there is a full airing of all the” revelations in the Wikileaks documents.
“It is a mistake to give this administration yet another blank check for this war,” McGovern said. “We’re told we can’t extend unemployment, or pay to keep cops on the beat or teachers in the classroom, but we’re asked to borrow another $33 billion for nation-building in Afghanistan..I think we need to do more nation-building here at home.”
At his weekly press briefing Monday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) said funding the troops and debating the war strategy are two separate issues.
“The supplemental deals with funding those troops we have in the field now. Those troops are there now … they have a mission. I think the president of the United States made a mission that is a doable mission,” Hoyer said. “Now, we may want to reconsider that in a new Congress. The administration may want to reconsider that and [have a] debate about it. But the fact is, those troops are there now, and the money, as we have been told by the Pentagon, will be depleted as of the seventh of August.”
Defense Secretary Robert Gates made similar comments recently, saying the emergency spending bill needed to be passed by August or US troops would not be paid.
Gates made the same remarks when supplemental war bills were being debated by Congress while George W. Bush was president.
In 2007, Gates threatened to fire more than 200,000 Defense Department employees and contract workers because congressional Democrats balked at approving the administrationâ€™s spending package for funding the Iraq War.
But the Congressional Budget Office and the GAO told Congress that Gates could tap into the Pentagonâ€™s $471 billion budget to fund the war while Congress continued to debate the merits of giving the White House another â€œblank checkâ€ for Iraq. But the Congress soon blinked.
As Robert Naiman, a senior analyst at Just Foreign Policy and a regular Truthout contributor, pointed out earlier this week, “Under current law, the government can continue to pay for ‘essential national security expenses, including pay for troops’ without a Congressional appropriation.”
Earlier Tuesday, Obama, echoing statements often made by Bush, also urged Congress to swiftly pass the spending bill in order “to ensure that our troops have the resources they need and that we’re able to do what’s necessary for our national security.”
Obama also downplayed the significance of the documents released by Wikileaks.
“While Iâ€™m concerned about the disclosure of sensitive information from the battlefield that could potentially jeopardize individuals or operations, the fact is these documents donâ€™t reveal any issues that havenâ€™t already informed our public debate on Afghanistan,” Obama told reporters.
But House Appropriations Commitee Chairman David David Obey (D-Wisconsin), who was largely responsible for managing the legislation, said in the end he could not vote in favor of the bill.
“We have appropriated over $1 trillion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to date. â€¦These wars have been paid for with borrowed money,” Obey said before casting his “no” vote. “But â€¦ virtually everything we have attempted to do this year to address the economic crisis and emergencies on the domestic side of the ledger have fallen by the wayside.”
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ACTION ALERT: The Human Impact of Conflict in Pakistan Christoph Koettl / Amnesty International USA
Northwest Pakistan, including the Swat valley — once known as the “Switzerland of Pakistan” for its scenic and natural beauty — is now the center of a deadly triangle between the Taliban, Pakistani army forces and US drone attacks. Relentless fighting between these groups has left millions of civilians homeless and unable to care for their families. Countless more have lost their lives in this appalling, human rights-free zone.
As Parveen, a girl’s school teacher who now holds her classes in a tent after the original school building was bombed by the Taliban, sees it: “The few days we don’t hear gunfire or explosions, we feel really happy.”
The innocent men, women and children trapped in the middle of this violence are not acceptable casualties of war. The harm caused to them during such indiscriminate attacks is a clear reason why we must draw a line now. Act to ensure that the civilians of northwest Pakistan wonâ€™t be forgotten.
We created the website eyesonpakistan.org to help give private citizens and policy makers access to these previously inaccessible conflict zones. Our thinking was that if we could help people visualize the extent of the violence and human rights abuses in the region, then decisive action would be taken to correct it.
In just a matter of weeks, thousands have visited the website and by using our interactive maps have been able to see the destruction of Pakistan’s schools, hospitals, and homes with their own eyes. The BBC, Huffington Post and other news sites have reported widely on our efforts to expose abuses committed against civilians in the region.
Now that attention is finally starting to focus on Pakistan’s civilians, we must ensure that clear action steps will follow. Your support means that we can continue to provide compelling imagery and analysis of human rights abuses in Pakistan. This research reinforces our case that the Pakistani and U.S. governments must do more to protect human rights in their strategies for northwest Pakistan.
Christoph Koettl is the Crisis Campaigner for Amnesty International USA
Millions Suffer in ‘Human Rights Free Zone’ in Northwest Pakistan Amnesty International
(June 10, 2010) — Millions of Pakistanis in the northwest tribal areas live in a human rights free zone where they have no legal protection by the government and are subject to abuses by the Taleban, Amnesty International said in a major report released on Thursday.
“Nearly 4 million people are effectively living under the Taleban in northwest Pakistan without rule of law and effectively abandoned by the Pakistani government,” said Claudio Cordone, Amnesty International’s interim Secretary General.
The 130-page report, ‘As if Hell Fell on Me’: The Human Rights Crisis in Northwest Pakistan, is based on nearly 300 interviews with residents of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and adjacent areas of the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). The report gives voice to those whose experiences are rarely reported and reveals the abuses faced by the regionâ€™s residents.
A special Amnesty International website, Eyes on Pakistan, has also been launched to coincide with the report.
“There are still more than 1 million people who were displaced from their homes in Pakistan’s northwest tribal belt by the conflict with the Taleban whose plight is largely ignored and are in desperate need of aid,” said Claudio Cordone.
Amnesty International’s review of available information also suggests that at least 1,300 civilians were killed in the fighting in northwest Pakistan in 2009, from a total of more than 8,500 casualties (including combatants).
The report documents the systematic abuses carried out by the Taleban as they established their rule by killing those who challenge their authority, such as tribal elders and government officials.
They imposed their rule through torture and other ill-treatment, targeting teachers, aid workers and political activists. The Taleban have particularly targeted women and schools and health clinics catering to their needs.
Amnesty International was told of Taleban insurgents blocking roads to prevent civilians from escaping as villages fell under heavy bombardment by government forces. The insurgents also increased the likelihood of civilian causalities by dispersing themselves among civilians and in and around schools.
Successive Pakistani governments have treated the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan with disdain, ignoring the rights of the area’s residents, particular in FATA.
Over the past decade, Pakistan’s government has veered from appeasing the Pakistani Taleban through a series of failed “peace deals” to launching heavy handed military operations that include indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks.
The USA’s use of drones to target insurgents in northwest Pakistan has generated considerable resentment inside Pakistan. Amnesty International has called on the USA to clarify its chain of command and rules of engagement for the use of drones and ensure proper accountability for civilian casualties.
Many displaced residents of the area told Amnesty International that they had suffered under the Taleban and felt abandoned by the Pakistani government. In the words of one teacher who fled Swat with his family in March 2009:
The government just gave away our lives to the Taleban. What’s the point of having this huge army if it canâ€™t even protect us against a group of brutal fanatics? They took over my school and started to teach children about how to fight in Afghanistan. They kicked out the girls from school, told the men to grow their beards, threatened anybody they didnâ€™t like. Our government and our military never tried to protect us from this.
The residents of FATA continue to be governed by a colonial-era law, the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) of 1901, which denies basic constitutional rights and protections for the residents of FATA, including their rights to political representation, judicial appeal, and freedom from collective punishment.
“For years, FATA has been treated as a stage for geopolitical rivalries and is currently in focus because of the conflict in neighbouring Afghanistan and the search for al-Qaâ€™ida, rather than the rights of the people living there,” said Claudio Cordone. “The Pakistani government should not just respond using military force; it needs to provide and protect the basic rights of its citizens living there.”
The FCR gives a government-appointed Political Agent ultimate judicial and executive authority, including the ability to carry out communal punishment, including formal detention, by holding all members of a tribe potentially responsible for alleged infractions committed by any tribe member.
The Constitution of Pakistan of 1973 explicitly excludes FATA from the legal, judicial and parliamentary system of Pakistan, including barring residents from full representation in parliament and from bringing appeals to a higher court outside the territory.
The government of Pakistan has recently promised to reform the FCR but this has not yet happened.
“The Pakistani government has to follow through on its promises to bring the region out of this human rights black hole and place the people of FATA under the protection of the law and constitution of Pakistan,” said Claudio Cordone. “There is no quick fix for decades of misrule and the conflict of the past few years, but the road to recovery starts with recognizing the rights of the people of FATA.”
Amnesty International urges both the Pakistani government and the Taleban to comply with international humanitarian law by taking all measures to prevent loss of civilian life and buildings including hospitals and schools and allowing unfettered NGO access to provide food, shelter and medical supplies to the injured and displaced.
Read more: Eyes on Pakistan (Amnesty International website on human rights abuses in northwestern Pakistan)
(July 28, 2010) — For years, the government has denied that depleted uranium (DU), a radioactive toxic waste left over from nuclear fission and added to munitions used in the Persian Gulf and Iraq wars, poisoned Iraqi civilians and veterans.
But a little-known 1993 Defense Department document written by then-Brigadier Gen. Eric Shinseki, now the secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), shows that the Pentagon was concerned about DU contamination and the agency had ordered medical testing on all personnel that were exposed to the toxic substance.
Shinseki’s memo, under the subject line, “Review of Draft to Congress – Health and Environmental Consequences of Depleted Uranium in the US Army — Action Memorandum,” makes some small revisions to the details of these three orders from the DoD:
1. Provide adequate training for personnel who may come in contact with DU contaminated equipment.
2. Complete medical testing of all personnel exposed to DU in the Persian Gulf War.
3. Develop a plan for DU contaminated equipment recovery during future operations.
The VA, however, never conducted the medical tests, which may have deprived hundreds of thousands of veterans from receiving medical care to treat cancer and other diseases that result from exposure to DU.
The Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center recently reported that ten years of data confirm that service members tend to have higher rates of certain cancers compared to civilians, according to the Army Times. While researchers suspected that service members are diagnosed with cancer more often and at a younger age because they have guaranteed access to health care and mandatory exams, the data does not explain the disparities in diagnosis among branches of the military. For example, the rate of lung cancer among sailors is twice that of other branches, while Marines have much lower cancer rates across the board.
On Tuesday, the VA’s ongoing failure to treat and diagnose Gulf War related illnesses came up during a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee hearing where a veterans advocacy group urged Shinseki to undertake comprehensive research on the correlation between chronic illness and exposure to DU in munitions during the Gulf War.
Armed with Shinseki’s August 19, 1993 memo, Veterans for Common Sense (VCS), said the VA, and Shinseki in particular, have “a rare opportunity for a second chance.”
“In military terms, VCS asks VA for a ceasefire,” said Paul Sullivan, the executive director for VCS. “VCS urges VA leadership to stop and listen to our veterans before time runs out, as VA is killing veterans slowly with bureaucratic delays and mismanaged research that prevent us from receiving treatments or benefits in a timely manner.”
Sullivan, himself a Gulf War veteran, told the subcommittee that the VA has refused to listen to scientists and veterans who are concerned about DU, leaving thousands of veterans suffering from chronic illnesses related to the conflict unsure if they will ever receive a solid diagnosis to justify the benefits and treatment they need.
Of the 697,000 men and woman who served in Gulf War operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield between 1990 and 1991, about 250,000 suffer from symptoms collectively known as “Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses.” The symptoms include fatigue, weakness, gastrointestinal problems, cognitive dysfunction, sleep disturbances, persistent headaches, skin rashes, respiratory conditions and mood changes, according to the VA.
The VCS also petitioned Shinseki to investigate the 2009 termination of a $75 million research project on Gulf War illnesses at the University of Texas medical center. Last year the VCS filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records of the “internal sabotage” of Gulf War Veterans Illnesses research and the intentional delaying of research and treatment, according to Sullivan. The VA has yet to release any documents about the impeded research, and VCS filed a FOIA appeal on June 29.
Sullivan said the VCS simply wants the government to support independent testing on veterans exposed to DU, but the Department of Defense prefers a “don’t look, don’t find policy.”
“As a Gulf War veteran, I have watched too many of my friends die without answers, without treatment, and without benefits,” Sullivan said. “In a few cases, veterans completed suicide due to Gulf War illness and the frustration of dealing with VA.”
Sullivan testified as disturbing reports have emerged in recent months from Fallujah, Iraq, about the skyrocketing rates of birth defects and cancer, which are being blamed on DU-laced bombs and munitions used by US and British forces during a brutal coalition assault on the city in 2004. Iraqi human rights officials are reportedly planning to file a lawsuit.
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DU is a dense metal added to munitions and bombs to pierce tanks and armor, and the military seems to chose unrestricted use of the radioactive substance over its soldiers’ safety. Sullivan told Truthout that original medical tests ordered in a 1993 memo, which also called for personnel to be trained in dealing with contaminated equipment, were canceled after a training video scared soldiers.
“It was pulled after [the training video] was seen by some soldiers who became upset when they saw soldiers in moon suits holding Geiger counters, and the military realized that the training could present a problem in the battlefield where soldiers need to disregard exposure issues while trying to kill the enemy,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said that the DU “follow-up” program the VA consistently references was inadequate as it consisted of sporadic studies on only a small fraction of estimated 400,000 veterans exposed to the radioactive heavy metal.
“The VA does not listen to expert scientists. The VA does not even listen to Congress,” Sullivan said in his testimony. “Two decades of inaction have already passed. Gulf War veterans urgently want to avoid the four decades of endless suffering endured by our Vietnam War veterans exposed to Agent Orange.”
Sullivan said it took 40 years and an act of Congress to fund and sanction independent studies that proved the VA was responsible for providing benefits to soldier suffering from Agent Orange-related diseases.
The VA now recognizes that exposure to Agent Orange, an herbicide sprayed across Vietnam to kill foliage and expose guerrilla fighters, has plagued veterans with several deadly diseases and disorders.
VCS also advocated for the research on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that became the foundation of new PTSD rules, making it easier for veterans to receive benefits.
Last week, the VA announced $2.8 million worth of research on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, a sum Sullivan called “paltry.” A VA press release announcing the research does not mention DU. The release references a recent Institute of Medicine report that identified the quarter million veterans affected by various symptoms associated with Gulf War illness, which “cannot be ascribed to any psychiatric disorder and likely result from genetic and environmental factors, although the data are not strong enough to draw conclusions about specific causes.”
Popular medical science holds that kidney damage is the primary health problem associated with exposure to high amounts of DU. The heavy metal is 60 percent as radioactive as natural uranium, and is also linked to lung cancer in some cases and leukemia in even fewer cases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Some critics have claimed that the WHO and governments have suppressed links between DU and cancer.
The debate over the use of DU in conventional warfare will rage on as the Fallujah fallout continues, but according to Sullivan, there is only one way for thousands of Gulf War veterans at home to know the truth and receive the relief they deserve.
“After 20 years of waiting, we refuse to wait on more empty promises from VA. The first step is for Secretary Shinseki and Chief of Staff Gingrich to immediately clean house of VA bureaucrats who have so utterly and miserably failed our veterans for too long,” said Sullivan, vowing to petition Congress if the VA refuses to respond. “Our waiting must end now.”
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(July 28, 2010) — The US defence department is unable to account for almost $9 billion taken from Iraqi oil revenues for use in reconstruction, according to an official audit released yesterday.
The report by the US Special Investigator for Iraq Reconstruction says $8.7 billion (Â£5.6 billion) out of $9.1 billion withdrawn between 2004 and 2007 from a special account set up by the UN Security Council is unaccounted for. This is separate from $53 billion set aside by Congress for Iraqi reconstruction.
Though the special investigator found that some of the money was spent properly, Iraqis continually complain that they see little sign of their infrastructure being rebuilt after 30 years of war and sanctions.
Electricity, clean water and sewage disposal remain wholly inadequate and seven years after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein there are few cranes visible on the Baghdad skyline or any other signs of rebuilding. A total of 95 per cent of the country’s federal budget comes from oil revenue.
The scale of the sums unaccounted for are particularly striking given they cover periods well after serious fraud and corruption had been widely publicised in Iraq and abroad. The audit says that no organisation in the defence department was set up to oversee how money from the Development Fund for Iraq was spent.
It adds that “the breakdown in controls left the funds vulnerable to inappropriate uses and undetected loss”. Many of the organisations at the Pentagon that received funds failed to establish the accounts required to track the funds.
The report cited poor record-keeping and said most of the organisations at the Pentagon that received DFI funds failed to use required treasury department accounts. And while most of the money was at least partially tracked, the military failed to produce any records whatsoever for $2.6 billion.
Corruption in Iraq in general became all pervasive at the height of the violence in 2006-7 because of the difficulty in monitoring what was going on. Money was dissipated by main contractors sub-contracting work which was sub-contracted in turn with each company involved taking a profit.
In a separate development, the General Electric Company has agreed to pay $23.4 million to settle bribery charges relating to Iraq, the Security and Exchange Commission said yesterday. GE settled without admitting the charges which relate to a $3.6 million kickback scheme to win contracts to supply medical and water purification equipment.
Iraq is still no nearer to forming a government as a parliamentary session to discuss the new administration was postponed indefinitely yesterday. Iraq’s parliamentary election was held on 7 March but no party won an outright majority or has been able to put together a coalition which has a majority, largely because the Shia coalition which won the election in 2005 is split and has been unable to recombine. The Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law party has been unable to reach agreement with the Shia religious parties in the Iraqi National Alliance.
The stumbling block is Mr Maliki himself, who is refusing to step down despite the fact that he is deeply distrusted by potential allies in any future coalition. The US would like him to form an alliance with former Prime Minister, Ayad Allawi, whose al-Iraqiya party largely depends on Sunni votes.
The continuing political stalemate is eroding the legitimacy of the present government.
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(July 27, 2010) — The tens of thousands of documents posted online by WikiLeaks Sunday have provided a detailed and searing indictment of a criminal colonial war that the Obama administration has made its own.
In its sheer volume — 92,000 documents, 200,000 pages — the so-called Afghan War Diary makes an incontrovertible case that for nearly nine years the US military has conducted a campaign of terror and deadly violence against the Afghan people.
Consisting of battlefield reports written by US soldiers and officers, the documents record the deaths of civilians resulting from air strikes on their homes and the killing of Afghans on motorcycles and in cars and buses by trigger-happy troops manning roadblocks.
They lift the veil on the operations of Task Force 373, a secret “black” unit comprised of special operations troops charged with hunting down and killing alleged leaders of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
The unit worked off a list of at least 2,000 individuals who were sentenced to death by the Pentagon and the CIA without being charged, much less tried, for any offense. In the course of kicking down doors and calling in air strikes against those it targeted, the unit has managed to kill numerous innocent men, women and children.
Also exposed is the growing use of Reaper and Predator drones, unmanned aircraft that attack their victims from 50,000 feet, wreaking death and destruction on defenseless civilians without warning.
The documents likewise expose the systematic cover-up of atrocities committed by the US military. In a number of cases, civilian casualties listed in the reports were never made public. In others, the reports list civilians killed by US fire as insurgents.
This murderous character of the war, and the systematic lying by the military command, were brought home forcefully the day after the WikiLeaks release with the report of one of the worst massacres in nine years of war. The government of President Hamid Karzai publicly condemned a US-NATO rocket attack on civilians in Helmand Province last Friday in which as many as 52 people were killed, including entire families, most of them women and children.
While various news agencies managed to photograph the corpses and speak to residents of the area who had buried their families or driven the wounded to a local hospital, a spokesman for the US-led occupation forces said that there was “no evidence of civilian casualties.”
Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, told a press conference in London Monday that “thousands” of similar incidents revealed in the documents constituted war crimes that should be investigated and prosecuted.
Just as importantly, the documents expose the real view of the military on the ground toward the Karzai puppet regime which they are propping up. They reveal instances of grotesque corruption and sadistic violence by a collection of warlords, drug dealers and killers who constitute the pillars of the Afghan state and are hated by the Afghan people.
The Obama White House has responded to the leak by vowing to continue the Afghanistan war and issuing threatening statements about how the exposure of classified material placed the lives of troops at risk and endangered “national security.”
Keeping this material secret was designed not to protect American soldiers, but rather to conceal the reality of the carnage in Afghanistan from the American people, who are growing increasingly hostile towards this, Americaâ€™s longest war.
Comparisons are being made widely between the WikiLeaks revelations and the Pentagon Papers, which nearly 40 years ago exposed the lies underlying the American intervention in Vietnam and the criminality of the US war there.
The differences, however, are perhaps even more striking. At that time, when Daniel Ellsberg leaked confidential documents, members of the US Senate were prepared to defy the government and place them into the record, while the New York Times aggressively pursued the story, fighting court injunctions to publish the material.
Today, there is no significant figure in the Senate or the Democratic Party prepared to do anything similar. As for the media, there is little or no expression of revulsion or shock over the documents’ revelations of staggering levels of US violence against the Afghan population. The central focus of most coverage has been the legality of leaking these reports, not their chilling content.
For its part, the Times published its story only after urging WikiLeaks to engage in self-censorship and clearing it with the White House. The newspaper’s main conclusion is that the leaked documents demonstrate the need to intensify the war in Afghanistan and spread it more aggressively into Pakistan.
It has sought to spin the documents as evidence of a “hamstrung war” in which the US military has been subjected to too many restrictions while denied sufficient resources. The Times advances this line in the face of evidence detailing a staggering degree of brutality in Afghanistan.
That it was left to WikiLeaks, an online organization with a tiny fraction of the Timesâ€™ resources, to make these revelations is an indictment of the media as a whole. The Times and other news organizations, with their “embedded” reporters, are no doubt aware of many of the incidents revealed in the leaked documents, but chose not to report them. They, no less than the Pentagon and the political establishment, have conducted a systematic cover-up of the crimes against the Afghan people.
Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan — with American troop levels within the next two weeks reaching 100,000 (together with 50,000 NATO and other foreign forces) — has also been facilitated by the prostration of the â€œantiwarâ€ protest movement, which for all intents and purposes closed up shop in the wake of the November 2008 election.
After working for years to divert popular hostility to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan into the safe channel of support for the Democratic Party, the liberal and ex-radical groups that comprised the protest outfits have embraced Obama’s “progressive” agenda, largely accepting the official line that Afghanistan is a “good war.” There is no reason to expect that the massive body of evidence to the contrary disclosed this week will shift that position.
Despite the continuing mass opposition to the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, revealed in poll after poll, there is no doubt a degree of discouragement over the inability to shift US policy. Millions went to the polls to vote against war in 2008, only to get an Obama administration that has escalated the reign of terror against the Afghan people, while continuing the Iraqi occupation.
What is required is the organization of a genuine popular antiwar movement. Real opposition to war can be developed only as part of the independent political mobilization of the working class against the profit system — the source of militarism — and both the Democratic and Republican parties, which defend and promote it. This movement must advance the demand for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all American and other foreign occupation troops from Afghanistan and Iraq.
It must also demand that all those responsible for these wars of aggression — in both the Bush and Obama administrations — be held accountable.
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