Today is our 4,790th day in Afghanistan, and our 152nd day in Iraq.
We'll start this morning as we always do; with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing wars, courtesy of Antiwar.com:
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 2,350
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,127
Since our return to Iraq: 2
We find this morning's Cost of War
passing through:$ 1, 581, 426, 300, 000 .00
We'll head for Afghanistan this morning. One of the biggest challenges during our 13 years in-country is changing the economic base. Afghanistan has long been the world leader in opium, and farmers grow vast amounts of the humble source poppy. Despite more than a decade of trying, poppy production is as high as it's ever been.
Despite costly efforts to cut poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, production reached a record high this year, according to the United Nations.
The uptick in production could be tied to increasing insecurity in Afghanistan and economic uncertainty following disputed presidential elections. The process of selecting a new president lasted eight months and involved two rounds of voting, which pulled security resources away from the eradication of opium crops, reports The New York Times.
Around 89 percent of poppy production comes from provinces with large Taliban representation, according to the report from the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime. Since losing power in 2001, the Taliban has waged war against the US-backed Afghan government. Now foreign combat troops are pulling out, leaving behind a training mission under NATO.
The increase in poppy cultivation could yield just over 7,000 tons of opium, which is 17 percent more than in 2013.
The Christian Science Monitor’s Dan Murphy wrote earlier this year about the challenges of US-led poppy eradication in Afghanistan.
Trying to wipe out opium production in Afghanistan would have been a Sisyphean task no matter what strategy was deployed. It's a lucrative business, and poppies are easily cultivated, generating far more money for poor farmers and corrupt middlemen than any feasible substitution crop. During the height of the American counterinsurgency effort, winning over the general population to the side of the government and foreign forces was a big focus. The US found that tearing up crops and impoverishing farmers wasn't very popular.
The early eradication strategy was largely abandoned in favor of going after big opium dealers and encouraging farmers to grow other crops. But that really hasn't worked, either. The country's opium and heroin trade is a top earner, and with the military effort winding down, the business opportunities associated with aid and foreign military spending are set to decline.
Afghanistan's opium lords are not likely to go anywhere.
But despite that, we're still on-track to get out of there. We'll take a look at one of the forward operating bases, the old "Camp Leatherneck" to get some idea of how our withdrawal might be going.
KABUL, Afghanistan — When U.S. Marines withdrew from Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan's Helmand Province last month, they faced a task that was something like cleaning out a stuffy attic covering 10 square miles. In a series of multi-billion dollar decisions, the Marines and Pentagon planners decided what stayed, what went and what got tossed into the trash — or burned.
They decided to leave 420,000 bottles of water, which if lined up end-to-end would stretch for more than 50 miles. But they incinerated about 10,000 MREs that might have fed Afghans but were nearing expiration.
More than 7,500 computers were destroyed or given away. But the televisions remained. As for the 1.6 million pounds of ammunition stored on the base? Afghan soldiers taking over will be lucky to find even a single live bullet.
The Marines' departure from Leatherneck, the largest base closure to date of the United States' longest war, offers a preview of the decisions American military leaders are making as coalition forces withdraw from Afghanistan. Mindful of Afghan forces' limitations — and seething over the Islamic State's seizure of former American military compounds and equipment in Iraq — the departing forces here appear to be stripping bases down to just the basics.
Though about 20,000 American troops remain in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama has promised to reduce that number to 9,800 by the end of the December, with all troops gone by the end of 2016. So far this year, about 60 coalition bases have been closed or handed over to the Afghans. Another 25 remain, including sprawling Bagram and Kandahar airfields, and will likely be turned over to Afghan control within two years.
"We are trying to figure out how to leave as little as possible in terms of infrastructure and equipment, but on the other hand giving them as much as they can handle," said Col. Doug Patterson, logistics officer for Marine Expeditionary Brigade Afghanistan, who managed the pullout.
Before leaving Leatherneck, the Marines dismantled 300 buildings, flew out hundreds of armored vehicles and tried to use up their vast stockpiles of fuel. What was left included just concrete buildings and bunkers, generators, air conditioners, television sets and underground utilities.
Just since January, about 600 million pounds of U.S. military equipment have been transported out of the country, including 25,000 vehicles and 20-foot containers packed with everything from artillery pieces to coffee pots. The U.S.-led coalition plans to move out about 8,000 containers and vehicles before the new year, commanders said. The U.S. military's withdrawal from Afghanistan is expected to cost $5 billion to $7 billion, according to U.S. Central Command.
"It's been a very steady glide path," said Lt. Col. Michelle Ager, an Australian who heads the international coalition's Redeployment Cell. "We are nearly where we need to be to conduct" the post-2014 mission.
But of course, that presumes we leave at all. Look, I know it's Pat Buchanan, but he does make an interesting point. Did we just vote for more war?
“How do you like the Journal’s war?”
So boasted the headline of William Randolph Hearst’s New York flagship that week in 1898 that the United States declared war on Spain.
While Hearst’s Journal, in a circulation battle with Joe Pulitzer’s World, was a warmongering sheet, it did not start the war.
Yet the headline comes to mind reading the Wall Street Journal, whose editorial pages seem to have concluded that on Nov. 4 America voted for new wars in the Middle East, and beyond.
On Nov. 13, the Journal’s op-ed page was given over to Mark Dubowitz and Reuel Marc Gerecht of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Assuming nuclear talks with Iran conclude unsuccessfully by the Nov. 24 deadline, they write, we have four options.
Two involve continued or tougher sanctions. The other two are a preemptive war featuring U.S. air and missile strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities, or a U.S. attack to bring down Bashar Assad’s regime.
“Taking Mr. Assad down would let Tehran know that America’s withdrawal from the Middle East and President Obama’s dreams of an entente with Iran are over.”
It would surely do that.
But taking down the Syrian regime could also lead to a slaughter of Christians and Alawites, an al Qaida-ISIS takeover in Damascus, war with Iran, and attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and across the Middle East.
Which raises a question: What is this FDD?
Answer: A War Party think tank that in 2011, according to Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss website and Eli Clifton of Salon, took in $19 million from five rabidly pro-Israel givers.
Home Depot’s Bernard Marcus gave $10.7 million, hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer $3.6 million. Sheldon Adelson, the Vegas-Macau casino kingpin, chipped in $1.5 million.
Last week, Adelson and media mogul Haim Saban spoke of plans to dump hundreds of millions into the presidential campaigns of 2016.
What does the pair want from our next president? According to the Washington Post’s Phil Rucker and Tom Hamburger, action on Iran:
“Saban said that fundamentalist Iranians represent a real threat. If necessary to defend Israel, and as a last resort, he added, ‘I would bomb the living daylights out of the sons of bitches.'”
Echoed the 81-year-old Adelson, “I would not just talk. I would take action.”
Last year, at Yeshiva University, Adelson, who pumped $150 million into the 2012 campaign, said the U.S. should fire a nuclear missile into the Iranian desert as a warning to end their nuclear program, or the next atom bomb would be dropped on Teheran.
This billionaires boys club wants to buy U.S. foreign policy and a U.S. war on Iran. And the propagandists of FDD are paid to produce that war, in which they will not be doing the fighting and dying.
It will be interesting to see what the new Congress moves on first.