The Friends Committee on National Legislation, Peace Action, NETWORK, Just Foreign Policy and Voters for Peace (update: and other groups, see updated list of signers at end) are sending the following letter to President Obama, urging him to say yes to the Afghan government's request that the US support peace talks. An ad with the same message will run in the Politico on Wednesday, and can be viewed here:
UPDATE 5/12: the final letter, as delivered, is here:
Dear President Obama:
President Hamid Karzai’s visit to Washington this week will mark a critical juncture for U.S. policy in the war in Afghanistan.
After conducting “talks about talks” with Taliban leaders and intermediaries for more than a year, President Karzai will seek U.S. support to launch Afghan national reconciliation talks that include the Afghan Taliban. We strongly urge you to agree. Hindering Afghan efforts to resolve their differences can only prolong the war and increase its human suffering and material costs.
Recognition is growing that talks with Afghan insurgent leaders, including the Taliban, are essential to ending the war. President Karzai and other senior Afghan politicians support talks with the Taliban. More and more ordinary Afghans, including Afghan women professionals, believe that peace in Afghanistan cannot be achieved without including Taliban leaders in a national reconciliation process.
Below is the draft letter groups plan to send to President Obama early next week. The draft ad we hope to place in the DC press is here.
Dear President Obama,
President Hamid Karzai’s visit to Washington this week will mark a critical juncture for U.S. policy in the war in Afghanistan. President Karzai, after conducting “talks about talks” with Taliban leaders and intermediaries for more than a year, will seek U.S. support to launch Afghan national reconciliation talks that include the Afghan Taliban. We strongly urge you to agree. Hindering Afghan efforts to resolve their differences can only prolong the war and increase its human and material costs.
There is growing agreement that talks with Afghan insurgent leaders, including the Taliban, are essential to ending the war. President Karzai and other senior Afghan politicians support talks with the Taliban. More and more ordinary Afghans, including Afghan women professionals, believe that peace in Afghanistan cannot be achieved without including Taliban leaders in a national reconciliation process.
Britain and other NATO allies also believe that it is time to start talks with the Taliban. British Foreign Minister David Miliband made clear several months ago that while an eventual agreement should require all parties to sever ties with al-Qaeda, end armed struggle, and accept an Afghan constitutional framework, these requirements should not be preconditions for a dialogue.
Yesterday, an organization that lobbies on peace issues asked me to contribute money in the upcoming Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary between Senator Arlen Specter and his challenger, Representative Joe Sestak. I'm ready to donate. But first I need a key piece of information: which candidate will act to end the war in Afghanistan?
Both candidates are currently serving in Congress, so we can compare their records. Last year, Senator Specter strongly opposed sending more troops to Afghanistan, while Representative Sestak strongly supported sending more troops.
But now the troops are on their way, and the key question facing Members of Congress right now on the Afghanistan war is this: who supports establishing a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan?
Whichever one comes out first saying that they support a timetable for withdrawal, that candidate will get my donation. Perhaps the candidates will address this in tomorrow's debate.
But even if the issue is not addressed during tomorrow's debate, there is a straightforward means to test which is the Afghanistan peace candidate: who will be the first to co-sponsor the Feingold-McGovern bill, which would require the President to establish a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan?
The support of either one would give this effort a major boost.
McGovern's House bill, H.R. 5015, currently has 63 co-sponsors, but not a single one of them is from the great state of Pennsylvania. Yet there are 6 co-sponsors from neighboring New York, three co-sponsors from New Jersey, one from Maryland, and two from Ohio. Representative Sestak would be a great addition to this list.
Sometime between now and Memorial Day, the House is expected to consider $33 billion more for war in Afghanistan. This "war supplemental" is largely intended to plug the hole in Afghanistan war spending for the current fiscal year caused by the ongoing addition of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, whose purpose is largely to conduct a military offensive in Kandahar that 94% of the people there say they don't want, preferring peace negotiations with the Taliban instead.
Of course, by itself the number $33 billion is totally meaningless. To make it meaningful, we need to compare it to something - what else could we do with $33 billion?
If the Local Jobs for America Act (H.R. 4812) becomes law, it will create or save more than 675,000 local community jobs and more than 250,000 education jobs, according to the latest estimates from the House Education and Labor Committee.
According to the House Education and Labor Committee, the bill includes $75 billion over two years for local communities to hold off planned cuts or to hire back workers for local services who have been laid-off because of tight budgets. The bill also includes $24 billion, already approved by the House in December, to help states support 250,000 education jobs, put 5,500 law enforcement officers on the beat, and retain, rehire, and hire firefighters.
On Tuesday, Rep. Michael Honda signed his name to legislation put forward by Sen. Russ Feingold, Rep. Jim McGovern and Rep. Walter Jones that would require the President to establish a timetable for the redeployment of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
This is potentially a bellwether event, because Rep. Honda - together with Rep. Grijalva, who also signed his name to the McGovern bill on Tuesday - has been a leader on Afghanistan in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, including chairing the CPC Afghanistan task force. Rep. Honda has been very critical of the war, but he has not been an automatic supporter of anti-war legislative initiatives.
If the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" in Washington gets onto the McGovern bill in the next few weeks, the political space to be a "liberal" in Washington who supports an open-ended military commitment in Afghanistan will have largely evaporated when the House considers $33 billion more for war in Afghanistan between now and Memorial Day. Progressives in the House may be able to extract from the leadership a vote on a timetable for withdrawal when the House considers the war supplemental.
Senator Feingold, Representative McGovern and Representative Walter Jones have announced the introduction of legislation that would require the President to establish a timetable for the redeployment of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
In the Senate, S. 3197; in the House, H.R. 5015.
Feingold's announcement is here.
The bill can be read here.
You can ask your Representative and Senators to co-sponsor it here.
Thank you for calling your Representative urging them to oppose the proposed $33 billion supplemental funding for the war in Afghanistan.
Let us know how your call went by submitting a comment below. Sharing your Representative's name, whether you were successful in reaching their office, and any feedback you received from staffers would be especially helpful.
Commenting requires you to login or register for an account. Registering is easy -- no email confirmation required.
U.S. officials are "probing a possible attempted coverup" in the deaths of five Afghan civilians in February in a raid carried out by U.S. Special Forces accompanied by Afghan troops, the Los Angeles Times reports. Among the charges is that the bodies were tampered with by U.S. forces to conceal the cause of death.
But even as the U.S. is supposedly investigating, U.S. officials say allegations that bullets were dug out of the bodies as part of a coverup are baseless, the LAT says.
Jerome Starkey had reported in the Times of London that Afghan investigators said U.S. Special Forces soldiers dug bullets out of their victims' bodies. But U.S. Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, General McChrystal's spokesman, said no forensic evidence or eyewitness testimony had been presented to support that account, the LAT says.
Admiral's Smith's statements appear to be a classic non-denial denial. Apparently no-one outside the U.S.
In the next several weeks, Congress is likely to be asked to approve $33 billion more for the war in Afghanistan, mainly to pay for the current military escalation, whose focus is the planned assault on the Afghan city of Kandahar.
Some Members of Congress will vote no on the funding. A larger group of Members is likely to support efforts to pass language which would require an exit strategy or timetable for ending the war.
Barring some unforeseen event - like Afghan President Karzai joining the Taliban - an extrapolation from the recent past would suggest that neither efforts to block the funding, nor efforts to constrain it with real conditions, are likely to be narrowly "successful" in the short-run: extrapolating from the past, the most likely short-run legislative outcome is that the war money will be approved without conditions attached that would significantly constrain the war. This is especially true if 95% of Congressional Republicans continue to vote as a bloc to support the war.
Nonetheless, the fight over the war supplemental is tremendously important, because Congressional pressure can move Administration policy, even when critics of Administration policy don't command a majority of votes. This is especially true when, as in this case, critics are in the majority in the President's own party, and when, as in this case, the policy under pressure is an international policy which is also under significant international pressure.
During the House debate over the Kucinich resolution calling for a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan, Rep. Bob Filner, chair of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, pointed out that hundreds of thousands of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have gone to the VA for service-related injuries.
The video of Filner's statement is here.
A March 13 fact sheet from Veterans for Common Sense gives a more precise figure: they reported that 508,152 Iraq and Afghanistan veteran patients had been treated at the VA. This figure is from VA documents obtained by VCS under FOIA, and appears to be current through the end of FY 2009, i.e. through September 30, 2009.
The VCS fact sheet is here.
Note that these figures are very different from the official DoD statistics for "wounded" at icasualties.org, often cited in press reports. The total U.S. wounded figure given there for "Operation Enduring Freedom," which is mainly but not exclusively Afghanistan, is 5188 through March 2010, while the total US wounded figure for "Operation Iraqi Freedom" through March 2010 is 31716. That suggests the total U.S. "wounded" from the two wars is 36904, about 7.3% of the VA figure, which covers a slightly shorter period.
If for comparison to the VA figures, we just take the icasualties.org figures through September 30, 2009, that gives 31513 wounded for Iraq, 4174 wounded for OEF, for a total of 35687 wounded. 35687 is 7.02% of the VA figure of 508,152. So it appears that the DoD "wounded" figure is about 7% of the figure of vets who have been treated at the VA.