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After Vowing to End Combat Mission in Afghanistan, Obama Secretly Extends America's Longest War

November 24, 2014
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Guests

Hakim

medical doctor who has provided humanitarian relief in Afghanistan for the last decade. He works with Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building nonviolent alternatives to war. Dr. Hakim is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize.

Kathy Kelly

co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a campaign to end U.S. military and economic warfare. She just returned from Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier this month. Her recent article is called "Obama Extends War in Afghanistan: The Implications for U.S. Democracy Aren’t Reassuring."

President Obama has secretly extended the U.S. role in Afghanistan despite earlier promises to wind down America’s longest war. According to The New York Times, Obama has signed a classified order that ensures U.S. troops will have a direct role in fighting. In addition, the order reportedly enables American jets, bombers and drones to bolster Afghan troops on combat missions. And, under certain circumstances, it would apparently authorize U.S. airstrikes to support Afghan military operations throughout the country. The decision contradicts Obama’s earlier announcement that the U.S. military would have no combat role in Afghanistan next year. Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, has also backed an expanded U.S. military role. Ghani, who took office in September, has also reportedly lifted limits on U.S. airstrikes and joint raids that his predecessor Hamid Karzai had put in place. We go to Kabul to speak with Dr. Hakim, a peace activist and physician who has provided humanitarian relief in Afghanistan for the last decade. We are also joined by Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, who has just returned from Afghanistan.


TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama has secretly extended the U.S. role in Afghanistan despite earlier promises to wind down America’s longest war this year. According to The New York Times, Obama signed a classified order that ensures American troops will have a direct role in fighting. In addition, the order reportedly enables American jets, bombers and drones to bolster Afghan troops on combat missions. And under certain circumstances, it would apparently authorize U.S. airstrikes to support Afghan military operations throughout the country. The decision contradicts Obama’s earlier announcement that the U.S. military would have no combat role in Afghanistan next year. This is Obama speaking at the White House Rose Garden in May.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: America’s combat mission will be over by the end of this year. Starting next year, Afghans will be fully responsible for securing their country. American personnel will be in an advisory role. We will no longer patrol Afghan cities or towns, mountains or valleys. That is a task for the Afghan people. Second, I’ve made it clear that we’re open to cooperating with Afghans on two narrow missions after 2014: training Afghan forces and supporting counterterrorism operations against the remnants of al-Qaeda.

AMY GOODMAN: Under the new order, U.S. troops will be authorized to attack not just al-Qaeda, but the Taliban, the Haqqani Network and other militants. President Obama reportedly backtracked from his decision to end the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan after a lengthy and heated debate within the White House. Top generals at the Pentagon and in Afghanistan reportedly backed the expanded mission. Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, has also backed an expanded U.S. military role. Ghani took office in September. He’s also reportedly lifted limits on U.S. airstrikes in joint raids that his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, had put in place.

Meanwhile, at least 40 people are dead in eastern Afghanistan after a suicide bomber attacked a volleyball match. According to the government of the province, at least 50 more were wounded at the tournament final. Most of the casualties were civilians.

In a moment, we’ll be joined by two guests. We’ll be joined from Afghanistan by Dr. Hakim, a medical doctor who has provided humanitarian relief in Afghanistan for the last decade. And we’ll be joined by Kathy Kelly, a well-known peace activist, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. We’re going to go to break, and then we’ll be joined by both of them in Chicago and Kabul, Afghanistan. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: To talk about President Obama’s secret order to extend the war in Afghanistan, we’re joined by two guests. Dr. Hakim is a medical doctor who has provided humanitarian relief in Afghanistan for the last decade. He works with Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building nonviolent alternatives to war. Dr. Hakim is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize.

And in Chicago is Kathy Kelly. She’s just back from Kabul, Afghanistan. She’s co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a campaign to end U.S. military and economic warfare. Her recent article is headlined "Obama Extends War in Afghanistan: The implications for U.S. democracy aren’t reassuring."

We begin with Dr. Hakim, who asked us not to show his face. Dr. Hakim, why don’t you want people to see your face?

DR. HAKIM: Well, security in Afghanistan has been deteriorating over the past few years in the face of the ongoing U.S.-NATO military strategy, and for safety reasons I’d rather remain unrecognized.

AMY GOODMAN: So, your concerns about this secret order that was just revealed in The New York Times that President Obama has signed onto? What has been the effect of the U.S. war in Afghanistan? And what do you think about this latest development?

DR. HAKIM: Well, I think it’s good to look at some of the databases that are available in the States itself. A global terrorism database done by the U.S. government and the University of Maryland has shown that since the beginning of the war against terror in 2001, the number of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and in the rest of the world, in Iraq, etc., has increased. And so, if we looked at the graph of that increase and thought of terrorism, or the war against terrorism, as a cancer that needs to be treated—as a medical doctor, I would say the graph shows that the war against terror in Afghanistan—

AMY GOODMAN: We’ve just lost Dr. Hakim’s voice. We’re going to go back to him when we can. He’s speaking to us from Kabul. Again, he is not showing his face, out of concern for his safety. Kathy Kelly, you’re just back from Kabul. Talk about your response to this latest news. We just played the clip of President Obama in May saying that the troops would be pulling out, and now this secret order.

KATHY KELLY: Thank you, Amy. I think probably Hakim wanted to continue by saying that the war on terror has been a failure. And I think that the U.S. public knows that. You know, we learned about heated debate between the advisers to President Obama, but at what point is the court of public opinion consulted in any way? The news was released on a Friday night, and it was a leak that was disclosed to The New York Times, but apparently the decision was made weeks ago, before the most recent elections. And is it possible that because the Obama administration knows how unpopular this war is? A CNN poll that had been released in 2013 said 82 percent of the U.S. public disapproved of continued war in Afghanistan. And so, in spite of the pledge that the war was going to end, we now find out that, in fact, the war is going to continue.

And, you know, in the Saturday issue of The New York Times, we then learn that, quietly, the new administration in Kabul, under President Ashraf Ghani, has decided to resume the night raids. They want to call them "night operations" instead of "night raids." And this is a tactic that doesn’t require big sprawling military bases; it requires joint special operations forces, drone support, the capacity to use helicopters. And this is, of course, what the United States is now promising. Well, the night raids are a despised tactic.

I think it’s important for people in the United States just to try and imagine if people break into your home while helicopters are hovering overhead, and suddenly the women in the household are locked up, and the men are subjected to brutality. And maybe a crossfire does break out. Maybe there are Taliban people that are going to attack while the forces are there, and civilians are killed, and you can’t get them to the hospital. And this utter nightmare is taking place. Your home is being torn apart. Some people are going to be taken away and disappeared for months and months, under interrogation and possible torture. Well, of course nobody would want this to resume in their country. And it’s sure to prolong and exacerbate the war.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Hakim, I think we have your audio back. I expect it’s going to go in and out as we speak to you in Kabul. But your new president, Ghani, has called for this extension, apparently. What is your response to him?

DR. HAKIM: Well, the news reports in Kabul in the past 54 or 56 days, since President Ashraf Ghani’s inauguration, has shown that there have been about 41 street-side bombing attacks across the country, and 24 of those in Kabul. So, I think President Ashraf Ghani is caught in the same military madness that the entire U.S.-NATO coalition and the world is caught up in.

I had tried to say earlier, and my voice was lost in transmission, that a global terrorism database by the U.S. government and the University of Maryland showed that the number of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and across the world has increased since the war against terror began in 2001. So, as a medical humanitarian person, I would say that the world’s strategy in treating terrorism has failed, and we ought to re-examine it, and so does President Ashraf Ghani.

AMY GOODMAN: And the effects on the ground, Dr. Hakim, of this war? Can you tell us what’s happening? When we were trying to communicate with you by email, you said, "Sorry, today is a no-electricity day in my house." Explain the conditions on the ground.

DR. HAKIM: I think it would be good to give listeners a sense of what is happening in this country, devastated by four decades of war and a continued military strategy, by looking at what the World Health Organization announced in September as the suicide rate among Afghans. Afghans on the ground, in the daily living, are not coping. In this year up to September, there have been more than 4,000 Afghans, both men and women, who have set themselves on fire, self-immolation, and another 4,000 that have tried to poison themselves and kill themselves through drugs and poison. So we are in a situation where the people have problems with their basic human needs of food and water. Chronic malnutrition has always been a problem, certainly not helped by war. And then the other basic services that ought to be available for Afghans—healthcare, work—unemployment is officially at 36 percent, probably more. Some figures by local Afghan labor organizations put it as high as 80 percent. So you have hungry, angry people who are unemployed and who are killing themselves. So, on the ground, we know that this war against terror in Afghanistan has been failing from year to year. The number of civilian casualties reported—

AMY GOODMAN: We’ve just lost Dr. Hakim again in Kabul, but I think it’s worth continually going back when we get him. Kathy Kelly, if you could continue this thought?

KATHY KELLY: Well, along with the concern for civilian casualties and the mothers who weep and say, "I can’t feed my children," and the thousands of children that are on the streets as child laborers—6,000 children in Kabul alone—the number—I mean, Amnesty International had reported that the war was displacing 400 people every day. And there are squalid, retched refugee camps as people are facing a very, very cold winter.

And, you know, the Pentagon has requested $58.3 billion for fiscal year 2015 alone for war in Afghanistan. These resources go to the hands of war profiteers and weapon makers and enormous expenditures by the Pentagon. I just read about a November 21st request from the Pentagon for $7,800,000 to beef up the Kandahar and Kabul airports, which will of course allow them to engage in the night raids and the drone attacks and the air attacks.

And the suffering that this causes for people in Afghanistan is lost on the U.S. public. There was an August Amnesty International report that details 10 case studies that are just gruesome and chilling, horrific, telling about the situations of civilians who have been killed by United States forces. And, of course, this should be entered into the U.S. media. It should be something U.S. people are talking about, and not a war that gets continued because of furtive movements on a Friday night.

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy, I wanted to ask you about a new analysis of corporate TV news that’s found there’s almost no debate about whether the United States—in this case, it was go to war in Iraq and Syria, but I think you could certainly extend that to Afghanistan. The group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, or FAIR, found that of the more than 200 guests who appeared on network shows to discuss the topic, just six voiced opposition to military action. On the high-profile Sunday talk shows, out of 89 guests, there was just one antiwar voice. It was Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation. I just want to go to a snippet of the clips of voices that appear in corporate media outlets.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Here’s what I’m tired of hearing from this administration and my friends on the other side and within my party, that this is somehow easy and really not our fight.

ED RENDELL: They have to act swiftly, because the president made a very good point. He believes he has the authority to do this on his own, and so do I.

BOB SCHIEFFER: So you’re talking about a massive response, not hitting one target, but hitting as many as possible.

HENRY KISSINGER: I think when an American is murdered on television for the purpose of terrorizing Americans, there should be a response that you cannot—you would not analyze in terms of a normal response to provocation.

WILLIAM KRISTOL: You can’t imagine the fight against ISIS going in such a way that we would say, "You know what? This thing is on the cusp. We need to send in 3,000 U.S. or 5,000 U.S. combat ground troops to win this thing"?

JAY CARNEY: Well, but again, that would be—that would be saying specifically only 5,000, not 5,005. What you—

WILLIAM KRISTOL: No, it wouldn’t. It would be saying—it would be leaving the option open, which is what a serious commander-in-chief does.

JAY CARNEY: I think the shorthand that a lot of people use about no boots on the ground is semantically problematic, because obviously there will be American military personnel with their boots on the ground.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Jay Carney, the former spokesperson for Obama, and before that, Bill Kristol and Henry Kissinger, Bob Schieffer, the CBS News anchor, the former governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, and Lindsey Graham, the U.S. senator—just some of the voices. But again, the overwhelming majority of voices on television, the range of the debate is "Boots on the ground or just bomb?" Rarely, almost never, do you hear someone say, "Do not attack." And yet, clearly, even within the White House, the debate that went on, according to The New York Times, because this was revealed by The New York Times in this late revelation of a secret order signed by President Obama to continue the war in Afghanistan, there was a debate within the White House that sounds like much more than we hear on television. Kathy, you’ve been going back and forth to Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m sure it’s well over a hundred times. Your thoughts on what this public debate would mean and what that sounds like in Afghanistan? We’ll ask Dr. Hakim that question.

KATHY KELLY: Well, isn’t it amazing that in spite of what is such a vise-like grip on education of the U.S. public that’s maintained by the military and by a very cooperative media, that you do get these huge percentages of the U.S. public who nevertheless believe that these wars have been failures, who don’t want to see the wars continue. You know, 94 percent of the U.S. public reportedly knew about the beheadings of men whose names I know by heart, and I was living in Afghanistan with barely any electricity or news coverage whatsoever, but I knew that Steven Sotloff and David Haines and James Foley had been killed. But people in the United States don’t know the names or the circumstances of children whose bodies were torn apart by drone attacks. They’ll never, ever know the names of the half-million children in Iraq who were starved to death because of economic sanctions. We need to be literate in those realities, as well, and the conditions endured by people who can’t escape our wars. And not to be made aware of that is dangerous for the security of people in the United States, because other people in other parts of the world are furious. They’re enraged, and they don’t want to continue subjecting themselves to the United States menace of our military.

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy, how many times have you been in Iraq and Afghanistan?

KATHY KELLY: Well, I traveled to Iraq 27 times during the period of economic sanctions. And, you know, NPR at one point told us, "We will never give you or your organization a platform." Well, we weren’t looking to call attention to ourselves. We just wanted them to go inside the hospitals and be with mothers and children who would never emerge with a healthy baby leaving the hospital.

I guess I’ve been to Afghanistan about 16 times. And sometimes that was because you could only get a one-month visa, so I might go out and go back in. But I’ve been so fortunate to live with Afghan Peace Volunteers and with Hakim, whose steady guidance and translation is always available to us, and with some very, very fine people from other parts of the world who have also gone over there. And by being with them, you get an entirely different perspective on the effects of the war, on the realities of poverty and displacement. And also, you’re living with young people who themselves have lost immediate members of their family, who themselves spent time in refugee camps, and yet there they are, like young social workers, fanning out, trying to find who are the neediest people for distribution of 3,000 duvets that they’ve enlisted Afghan widows and impoverished women to make. And, you know—

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy, you’ve been—

KATHY KELLY: —they’re trying really, really hard to overcome.

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy, you’ve been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize several times. You’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan scores of times. How many times have you been invited on the high-profile Sunday talk shows on television?

KATHY KELLY: Zero.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to Dr. Hakim for a moment, as you described working with him in Afghanistan. Dr. Hakim, what is the alternative to war in your country?

DR. HAKIM: Well, I think that young people everywhere, not just young Afghans, have got to wake up every day and build those viable alternatives to war, which means ban wars and weapons within their homes, communities, religious, workplaces, farms, restaurants, shop houses. And there are places in Afghanistan in the midst of this war that have banned wars, like emergency hospital and like the Borderfree Nonviolence Center of the Afghan Peace Volunteers. That’s one thing that they can do practically.

And there are many other related issues that young people can take action on. They can refrain from using fossil fuel energy, because a lot of the wars in the Middle East and in this part of the world is really a war over resources, like fossil fuels, gas and oil. If we do our daily part, that would help.

And then, in the area of learning, people have got to realize that the lack of debate you’ve just talked about shows that we are learning the wrong things. We only hear the war and military narrative. We need to be more curious, imaginative. We need to learn ways in which we can serve humanity, not get a profit.

And there are many, many other practical things that people can do on a daily basis, both in Kabul, Afghanistan, and in the rest of the world. And I would like to encourage everybody to do it. I’ve seen the Afghan Peace Volunteers try, despite the difficulties. So can American youth.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at a piece from Common Dreams that’s responding to the piece in the Times that made it clear what President Obama did, you know, quoting him in the Rose Garden saying, "American personnel will be in an advisory role [after this year]. We will no longer patrol Afghan cities or towns, mountains or valleys. That is a task for the Afghan people," that he said in May. And then, Common Dreams staff writes, "Never mind. The president has now quietly authorized an expanded role for the U.S. military in Afghanistan. The New York Times reported last night that Obama’s decision is the result of 'a lengthy and heated debate' between the promise Mr. Obama made to end the war in Afghanistan, versus the demands of the Pentagon. The Pentagon won. An official told the Times that 'the military pretty much got what it wanted.' Obama has also given the war in Afghanistan a new name: Operation Resolute Support." Dr. Hakim, your response to Operation Resolute Support?

DR. HAKIM: Well, before this, it was called Operation Enduring Freedom, and the change of name doesn’t change the basic, predominant strategy, which is kill, kill, kill. There hasn’t been a change in the strategy. There hasn’t been any other options. This decision to expand the mission here is not even a new decision. In 2009, there was another decision that Obama had to make, and that was whether to increase the number of troops by 30,000 American soldiers. And in the account by Bob Woodward in the book Obama’s Wars, Bob Woodward described how that process happened for Obama and the White House. Obama had to tell his war Cabinet, had to ask them, "Why is there no other option?" There was only one option, and that is the military option. So, Resolute Support is just a rehash of the same military option, the same war against terrorism, which has failed. And so, it’s going to fail.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. Dr. Hakim, I want to thank you. Dr. Hakim is a medical doctor who has provided humanitarian relief in Afghanistan for the last decade. He works with Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building nonviolent alternatives to war. In 2012, he won the International Pfeffer Peace Prize. And in Chicago, Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a campaign to end U.S. military and economic warfare. She’s just back from Kabul. And, Dr. Hakim, I look forward to seeing your face one day without fear.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Albert Woodfox—that name may not be familiar to you, but yet another court in Louisiana has said he should be freed. How is it that he’s remained in solitary confinement for 42 years? Stay with us.


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