An American Diplomat and A British Soldier Tell their Leaders They Have No Clothes: No to the Afghanistan War Strategy

DitheringBritish Army Lance Corporal Joe Glenton faces court martial for refusing to return to Afghanistan. He defied a direct order by his commanding officer to not participate in the in the Saturday, October 24, 2009, Stop the War march in London.

Challenging his military command, Glenton told the 10,000 gathered for the march:

I expected to go to war but I also expected that the need to defend this country’s interests would be legal and justifiable. I don’t think this is too much to ask. It’s now apparent that the conflict is neither of these and that’s why I must make this stand.

It is distressing to disobey orders, but when Britain follows America in continuing to wage war against one of the world’s poorest countries, I feel I have no choice. Politicians have abused the trust of the army and the soldiers who serve, that’s why I am compelled and proud to march with the Stop The War Coalition today.

On the day that the United States suffered the greatest number of deaths in its 8 -year war in Afghanistan and in the month with the most casualties, an American diplomat assigned in Afghanistan resigned. As one of three U.S. diplomats who resigned in March, 2009 in opposition to the Iraq war , I had been wondering how long the next resignation from the U.S. government over war policies would take.

Six weeks ago, on September 10, 2009, U.S. diplomat Matthew Hoh sent a letter of resignation to the Director General of the State Department over his concern about the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. Hoh had served six years in the U.S. Marine Corps and had one combat tour in Iraq as a Marine Corps Captain and a second tour in Iraq as a Department of Defense civilian.

Hoh, who had been in Afghanistan five months as the Senior Civilian Representative for the U.S. government is Zabal province, questioned “why and to what end” the United States is in Afghanistan. Hoh said that “Like the Soviets, we continue to secure and bolster a failing state while encouraging and an ideology and government unknown and unwanted by its people.”… “The U.S. and NATO presence and operations in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and police units that are led by non-Pashtun soldiers and police provide an occupation force against which an insurgency is justified.” “The U.S. military presence in Afghanistan contributes greatly to the legitimacy and strategic message of the Pashtun insurgency.”

Hoh described the Afghan government as corrupt and said “Our support for this kind of government, coupled with a misunderstanding of the insurgency’s true nature, reminds me horribly of our involvement with South Vietnam; an unpopular and corrupt government we backed at the expense of our nation’s own internal peace, against an insurgency we arrogantly and ignorantly mistook as a rival to our own Cold War ideology.”

He commented that the US support “for the Afghan government in its current form continues to distance the people from their government. The Afghan government’s failings, particularly when weighed against the sacrifice of American lives and dollars appear legion and metastatic:

  • Glaring corruption and unabashed graft;
  • A President whose confidants and chief advisers comprise drug lords and war crimes villains, who mock our own rule of law and counternarcotics efforts;
  • A system of provincial and district leaders constituted of local power brokers, opportunists and power brokers allied with the United States solely for, and limited by, the value of our USAID and CERP contracts and whose own political and economic interests stand nothing to gain from any positive or genuine attempts at reconciliation, and;
  • The recent electoral process dominated by fraud and discredited by low voter turnout, which created an enormous victory for our enemy who now claims a popular boycott and will call into question worldwide our government’s military, economic and diplomatic support for an invalid and illegitimate Afghan government.”

Senior officials in the State Department including US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke tried to get Hoh to stay in the State Department arguing that if he “wanted to affect policy then he should be inside the state Department, not outside, where you can get a lot of attention but you won’t have the same political impact.” Holbrooke even said that he “agreed with much of Hoh’s analysis, although not his conclusion that the war wasn’t worth the fight.”

On Friday, October 23, Hoh decided not to remain in the State Department and made his resignation effective on that date saying he had decided to speak out publicly because “I want people in Iowa, people in Arkansas, people in Arizona, to call their congressman and say, ‘Listen, I don’t think this is right.” Hoh’s resignation became public with the Washington Post article on October 27.

I was in Afghanistan three weeks ago, returning for the first time since I helped reopen the US Embassy in Kabul in December 2001. Eight years ago I had hopes that a short term United States presence might help the Afghan people out of the cycle of violence and that roads, schools and clinics could be built quickly before our “welcome” was worn out. The Bush administration’s diversion to invade and occupy Iraq short-circuited those hopes.

Now eight years later, there is little security in the country, despite 100,000 international troops, including 68,000 U.S. military, plus 90,000 U.S. trained Afghan soldiers. According to a senior Army logistics officer, Afghanistan’s roads are mined by insurgents, forcing 180 U.S. military outposts to be resupplied by helicopters. “We don’t have freedom of movement on the ground,” a senior Army logistics officer says. “We’re resupplying between 30% and 40% of our forward operating bases by air because we just can’t get to them on the ground.”

In the three weeks since I left Afghanistan, Taliban forces breached the “secure” road in front of the Indian Embassy where 18 months ago they blew up virtually the entire building. Recently, the Taliban exploded a car in Kabul at a United Nations guest house and seven were killed.

When senior policy makers will not be honest with decision makers, sometimes it’s the more junior government employees who have the strength of character and courage to tell their Presidents and Prime Ministers when they and their policies have no clothes.

Matthew Hoh and Lance Corporal Joe Glenton have proven to be voices of conscience for us all.

Ann Wright

Republished from After Downing Street with permission.

Published by the LA Progressive on November 2, 2009
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