eyes on the U.S.

Afghanistan: Anatomy Of A War That Couldn't Be Won

Op-Ed: By now, we can call the US intervention in Afghanistan a failure. It's what happens when you go to into a drawn-out conflict without a plan B...and other lessons to be learned before the next war.

A U.S. Marine at Ranje Bala village, Farah Province
A U.S. Marine at Ranje Bala village, Farah Province
Ansgar Graw

"In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns," wrote legendary Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu in The Art of War. In Afghanistan, Western politicians should have heeded this two-and-a-half-thousand year old axiom from the oldest known book on the strategy of war.

As terrible as it was, the recent shooting spree by a U.S. army sergeant that killed 16 Afghan civilians is not the reason why the war in the Hindu Kush has been lost. The seed of defeat was already planted in the overblown political goals of a campaign without a plan B. Had the military engagement not been so naively overloaded, "Operation Enduring Freedom" wouldn't have dragged on for over ten years -- and the apparently severely disturbed American soldier wouldn't have had the opportunity to go on a nocturnal rampage slaughtering women and children.

The refusal of the Taliban government in Kabul to close al-Qaeda training facilities in Afghanistan and hand Osama Bin Laden over to the Americans in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks was bound to provoke a strong reaction from the U.S. However, George W. Bush, who a year before had announced a "humble" foreign policy with fewer commitments abroad, could have tried to find other ways of dealing with that refusal.

And indeed, three days after 9/11, Bush told security advisers that he didn't intend to "put a million-dollar missile on a five-dollar tent." But after getting the cold shoulder from the Taliban, the UN Security Council and NATO paved the way for military intervention.

Within a few weeks, the Taliban had been chased out of Kabul, and two months later out of their stronghold, Kandahar. It was to be expected that the U.S. would continue its hunt for Bin Laden, which ended up taking nearly a decade. The West just couldn't accept Afghanistan as an al-Qaeda command center.

Tribal truths

American Neo-Conservatives encouraged Bush to turn the fight against terrorists into a "war against terror." It was a war that couldn't be won: a terror-free world is as unlikely as a crime-free city. According to the Neocon scenario, not only would the effort defeat al-Qaeda in Afghanistan – it would usher in democracy. As a goal, that's as honorable as giving women their rights and opening schools for girls. But anybody's who's been to Afghanistan knows just how far removed such values are from this archaic tribal society.

The Neo-Cons may have been arrogant in their assumption that Western values would follow troop presence, although the accusation that the real reason for the war was to get first dibs on Afghanistan's rich natural resources is absurd. Others besides the U.S. have mainly benefitted from the partial stabilization of the country. In late 2011, China signed an agreement that will bring it 80 million barrels of oil from Amu Darya over the next 25 years. Development of the substantial copper mines in Aynak had also gone to Beijing, three years earlier. And India was successful in its bid to develop the Hajigak iron ore mines.

True, in 2011 J.P. Morgan investors signed a deal to tap the Qara Zaghan gold mine – precious little in the face of the 1,900 U.S. soldiers (and a further 1,000 ISAF members) who died in Afghanistan and the humongous cost to American taxpayers.

The withdrawal of troops by 2014 may be accelerated after the recent shooting spree. The situation is reminiscent of the American defeat in Vietnam: as with the escalation of the Vietnam war in a last-ditch attempt to win it, Barack Obama -- who wanted Bush's Afghanistan mission to succeed -- tripled the number of troops, and massively upped the use of drones in the border area with Pakistan.

Obama's biggest triumph took place in May 2011 when a Navy Seal operation took out Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. But as the ranks of al-Qaeda leaders were being thinned, the number of young Islamists joining the equally violent Taliban continued to grow uninterrupted. And since Obama announced the withdrawal of forces in late 2010, the Taliban have known that they and the Afghans will be on their own soon again. That's when they'll try to regain power.

Illusions of democracy

A strategic partnership between Washington and Kabul looks very uncertain right now. Although Obama's intent was to leave some troops in the country, after the Koran burnings and the recent shooting spree, an Iraq-style refusal of a remaining military presence may well be in the cards.

The war should have been limited to its original purpose of destroying al-Qaeda structures. It would have been possible to hunt down Bin Laden without the 130,000 International Security Force (ISAF) soldiers. If American policymakers had taken out of the equation the goals of "nation building," and the illusion of democratization and the rule of law in one of the world's most corrupt nations, special commandos could have carried out the Bin Laden mission by themselves.

All this is easy to see in retrospect. But what now? The withdrawal is not likely to be called off even if the situation on the ground worsens. Focus now has to be on nuclear-armed Pakistan – on stopping extremists, supporting economic development, and stabilizing the government.

Read the original article in German

Photo - DVIDS

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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