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Levin talks up progress in Afghanistan, omits serious US war crimes

February 21, 2011

Earlier today Michigan Senator Carl Levin spoke on the GRCC campus about the current US policy in Afghanistan at an event organized by the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan. Just over 100 people were in attendance, with the audience being made up of World Affairs Council members, GRCC students and the general community.

Senator Levin only spoke for 20 minutes on the topic of Afghanistan and essentially reiterated the same comments he has posted on his website from a statement he made after a 2-day trip to Afghanistan in January if this year.

Levin’s main point of the short presentation was that there are signs of progress as the “regaining of former Taliban strongholds in Helmand and Kandahar” and the “increased confidence of the Afghani people in the Coalition forces and the Afghan National Army (ANA).”

Levin said he toured an area where some of the heaviest fight happened last year and where the Taliban have been defeated. He also emphasized that these areas are being “secured” by the Afghan security forces, which demonstrates the growing confidence that the Afghani people have in this new army.

However, this “evidence” that Senator Levin provided has been critiqued and challenged from numerous sources. First, the progress or confidence of the Afghan National Army and police forces that the US and Coalition forces have been training has come under question by a major study from the Afghanistan Analysts Network. This study contends that the Afghan security forces often fight against each other, attack civilians and are often infiltrated by Taliban insurgents who gain access to weapons and intelligence.

Another problem with Levin’s presentation of the so-called progress in Afghanistan is that he framed it as a debate between the Afghanis who support the Taliban and the Afghanis who support the US/NATO occupation. This leaves out a whole sector of the population that does not support either side in this war, people who are against both the Taliban and the US/NATO occupation. Groups like the Afghan Women’s Mission and RAWA have been organizing against the Taliban since they took power in the mid-90s and they have been consistent critics of the US/NATO occupation.

Another study, which challenges Senator Levin’s assertion that the US is making “progress” in Afghanistan due to the growth of the Afghan National Army, was released by the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO). This study states that, “Foreign military assertions that security in Afghanistan is improving are intended to sway Western public opinion ahead of a troop withdrawal and do not reflect the reality on the ground.”

The ANSO report further states, “militant attacks were up 64 percent last year compared with 2009, and an average of 33 incidents had taken place every day. While violence may have decreased in some areas, it had dramatically increased in others.”

Another point that Levin emphasized was the President’s commitment to reduce US troop levels starting this July. “Afghan people have greater confidence in the Afghan security forces in defeating the Taliban and protecting the people as well as finding roadside bombs and disarming them,” said Levin. However, Levin provided no evidence or sources to support both the claims that the Afghani people have confidence in the Afghan Army or that they are providing security other than antidotal stories of Afghanis having picnics in some parts of the country.

Levin did admit that the central government in Kabul is failing the Afghan people, mostly because of their involvement in corruption. However, Levin did not address the inherent contradiction in this fact with the consistent support of the Karzai government even after the last elections were identified as fraudulent.

After Levin finished his presentation he fielded questions from the audience. The first question that dealt with Afghanistan was around the issue of oversight of US funds going to Afghanistan for reconstruction. Levin said we have to do better with oversight, since a lot of our funds have worked against us and not for us. However, Levin failed to mention the amount of US funding for private security forces and other private contractors and the level of corruption that exists. Levin is very familiar with this reality since the Senate Armed Services Committee released a major report in October 2010 on the funding abuses with private contractors.

One questioner asked if the July 2011 data for US beginning troop withdraw could just allow the Taliban to wait it out. Levin didn’t think this was the case since there will be more Afghan Security forces by then. He went on to say, “the Afghans are fighters, they kicked out Soviets.”

It is true that some Afghanis fought against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, but the main forces fighting the Soviet Army was the Mujehideen, which was made up of Afghanis as well as people from other countries who embraced a more militant form of Islam. The Mujehideen received billions in US aid, but they were some of the most virulently anti-women sectors of Afghan Society, according to Sonali Kolhatkar’s book Bleeding Afghanistan.  This is an important point since Senator Levin stated that the Taliban hate women. It is true that treatment of women under the Taliban was brutal, but it ignores the legacy of the US support of the Mujehideen’s treatment of women and the fact that the Karzai government has also perpetrated serious crimes against Afghani women.

Levin also failed to include in his comments the fact that in 2010 more US troops and more Afghani civilians died than in any previous year since the 2001 US occupation began. He also failed to mention the increased US Drones attacks against civilians in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, the ongoing use of torture at the US military base in Bagram and the increased construction of US military installations throughout Afghanistan.

If one were to take into consideration these factors and weigh them against the comments of Senator Levin one would be hard pressed to find “progress,” at least progress that would benefit the people of Afghanistan.


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