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May. 25 2010 — 9:18 am | 329 views | 1 recommendations | 3 comments

Afghanistan: ‘A bleeding ulcer’

Here’s an update on the progress of the Marjah offensive, straight from the mouth of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

“This is a bleeding ulcer right now,” McChrystal told a group of Afghan officials, international commanders in southern Afghanistan and civilian strategists who are leading the effort to oust the Taliban fighters from Helmand.

“You don’t feel it here,” he said during a 10-hour front-line strategy review, “but I’ll tell you, it’s a bleeding ulcer outside.”

That’s from the excellent Dion Nissenbaum for McClatchy.

I’ve been working on a rather lengthy Afghanistan piece that should be out in the next couple of weeks, in which Gen. Stanley McChrytsal plays a big role. About Marjah–I’ve been hearing criticisms that the expectations were too high, and the military, in a sense, oversold its importance.

There is also the bigger strategic question: why are we fighting for Helmand? It’d be like occupying the U.S. and fighting over Arkansas. No offense, Little Rock. But, I’ve been told that even when McChrystal got to Kabul last year, and the Helmand operation had started, there were serious doubts about whether or not Helmand was worth it. Regardless, they went ahead with Marjah, thinking that it actually was an important piece of the country to take control over.

May. 20 2010 — 9:13 am | 94 views | 2 recommendations | 1 comment

Iraq: If you helped us, watch your back

Wanted to direct your attention to a must read in Foreign Policy by Kirk Johnson. He highlights one of the least talked about yet troubling aspects of our Iraq withdrawal plan–all the Iraqis who’ve allied themselves with us are going to be left behind.

Why do we need to worry? Johnson cites what the insurgent-types have planned for those their fellow Iraqis who they view as collaborators:

I recently came across a frightening document that outlines another group’s designs for the coming U.S. withdrawal. Published in Fallujah by the Islamic State of Iraq, the umbrella organization composed of numerous insurgent and terrorist groups (including al Qaeda in Iraq), the manual sets forth their “balanced military plan” in chilling simplicity: “1) nine bullets for the traitors and one for the crusader, 2) cleansing, and 3) targeting.” They are practical: “This cannot be accomplished within one or two months, but requires continuous effort.” Those who believe the group’s threats have been rendered hollow by the surge might reflect upon the scores of victims from its triple-suicide car bombing that targeted foreign embassies just weeks ago. This past Friday, upon a string of attacks that killed another hundred Iraqis, the group’s “minister of war” declared: “What is happening to you nowadays is just a drizzle.”

Check out Johnson’s ‘The List To Resettle Iraqi Allies’ project here.

May. 18 2010 — 8:01 am | 82 views | 2 recommendations | 2 comments

Joe Klein: We’re Losing in Afghanistan

Howdy. I am on deadline, writing a piece that involves our current war in Afghanistan. So apologies for the low blog pace. But it means I’ve been k keeping an eye on what all the folks in media land are saying about that par particular conflict.

Here’s Time’s Joe Klein, following up on his cover story a few weeks back, saying things ain’t going well.

The adage is: if you’re not winning against a guerrilla insurgency, you’re losing. We’re not winning in Afghanistan… I must admit, again, I’m mystified about where this effort goes from here. Nothing I’ve heard from the U.S. military or other elements of our government leads me to believe we’re on the right track here. Indeed, it raises serious questions about the use of counterinsurgency tactics in a situation where there is no credible partner–and especially in a situation (unlike Iraq) where the insurgents are neighbors, not foreigners.

Klein is the second big foot type pundit to turn on the war in the past month. The other, David Ignatius at the Washington Post, recently wrote that “the underlying anxiety on both sides that the feasibility of the U.S. strategy for this war has yet to be proved.” (Ignatius criticisms are much milder than Klein’s. But, Ignatius can usually be counted on to cheer on these kinds of military adventures, as he had advised to Obama last fall to “roll the dice on Afghanistan.”)

May. 12 2010 — 7:32 am | 206 views | 1 recommendations | 3 comments

Afghanistan: ‘Courageous restraint,’ the new catch phrase

From the AP, via Military.com:

FORWARD OPERATING BASE RAMROD, Afghanistan — NATO commanders are weighing a new way to reduce civilian casualties in Afghanistan: recognizing troops for “courageous restraint” if they avoid using force that could endanger innocent lives.

The concept comes as the coalition continues to struggle with the problem of civilian casualties despite repeated warnings from the top NATO commander, U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, that the war effort hinges on the ability to protect the population and win support away from the Taliban.

Will the idea of heroism that doesn’t involve pulling the trigger catch on? I have my doubts. I think it’s going to be difficult to get regular soldiers to buy into this concept–which goes against the heroic narrative so embedded in military culture–anytime in the near future. That doesn’t mean they won’t follow the instructions–ie, don’t kill civilians–but I don’t see it being embraced in the field.

May. 7 2010 — 7:13 am | 8,953 views | 3 recommendations | 2 comments

Newsweek: What Went Wrong

I’m saddened by the for sale sign that’s been put up at Newsweek.  For what it’s worth, I hope they find a buyer who can keep the magazine alive. There are bunch of good people working there, and as the magazine’s recent cover on Afghanistan demonstrated, Newsweek still has the capacity to put out really strong journalism.

But since I need to get a bit of traffic to my site this month, I’m going to weigh in with my own personal view. What I think went wrong, and why. continue »

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    I'm the author of "I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story" and a regular contributor to GQ. Previously, I was the Baghdad correspondent for Newsweek magazine. My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Slate, Salon, Foreign Policy, the L.A. Times, and other publications of repute. This blog will focus on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other newsy foreign-ish things.

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