About 25 countries have promised to send more troops to Afghanistan in response to President Obama’s call for extra support from Nato members. But France and Germany, the two European powers who could make a real difference, remain as hesitant as ever.
French and German leaders now face a painful choice. Should they finally embrace Nato’s efforts in Afghanistan more wholeheartedly – which would mean accepting significantly more human and material sacrifices? Or should they or conclude that the war has already been lost, or that “success” does not merit the cost, and abandon the mission altogether?
For their own good, they should choose the first option. They should remember that unlike the war in Iraq, which they strongly opposed from the outset, all Nato member states, including themselves, unanimously and unambiguously sanctioned the war effort in Afghanistan in 2001. But aside from the need to fulfil their alliance duties – and in fact even more important – they have clear national interests at stake in this strategically located central Asian state.
This is not about just about pre-empting future terrorist attacks on European capitals by stopping the Taliban from retaking the country. At stake in Afghanistan is the survival of the transatlantic alliance, Europe’s energy security and independence, and whether the deepening ties between Europe – especially Germany – and Russia, will eventually lead to the western integration of Russia, or instead, to it gaining a stranglehold over European energy security. In Afghanistan all three issues are interlinked. This fact remains largely ignored.
Let me explain: Afghanistan is a crucial energy transit corridor in central Asia, potentially connecting the energy-rich central Asian republics with the Arabian Sea and/or the Indian Ocean. Stabilising Afghanistan – not just temporarily to justify withdrawal, but for good – is crucial for the anticipated Trans-Afghanistan pipeline from Turkmenistan to India (known as Tapi) to be built and its security to be guaranteed.
The construction of Tapi is essential for Europe to diversify its energy supplies and reduce its dependence on oil and gas imports from the Gulf and Russia. Failure in Afghanistan, and by extension in Pakistan, would mean abandoning the construction of Tapi and in turn, pave the way for Russia to reassert its former hegemony in the region.
Should this transpire, European dependence on Russian-controlled energy supplies would increase hugely, giving Russia unprecedented leverage over Europe, both economically and politically. A Russia-dependent Europe would damage the transatlantic relationship beyond repair, wean the Europeans away from their former American partner, and split the west into two.
On the other hand, should the mission in Afghanistan succeed and Tapi be built, Europe could continue to deepen its economic and political ties with Russia without running the risk of falling hostage to Russia’s geostrategic ambitions (which are still very much alive); it would allow Europe to progressively integrate Russia into a united west.
Despite the emphasis in public on the need for more military assistance, the US knows that France and Germany will not be able to raise troop levels to any meaningful level. President Obama’s plea should rather be understood as a more general call for Europeans to do more – namely, to significantly increase their financial support and to bring their technical knowhow and nation-building expertise to bear. But most importantly, the US wants Europe to unmistakably embrace the US and Nato mission in Afghanistan publicly, in order to demonstrate revived western unity and strength.
Maybe the time has now come for French and German leaders to realise that the interests at stake in Afghanistan far outweigh the costs involved in pursuing them, and ensure that in a few years down the line the newspaper headlines will read “Mission accomplished” rather than “Afghanistan: where the west went to die – and did”.
With the Lisbon treaty finally having staggered into life, potentially endowing the EU with the political clout in the international arena it has long sought, both France and Germany are now hard-pressed to prove that they can live up to the responsibilities that great power entails.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
The surge of 30,000 U.S. troops into Afghanistan could be accompanied by a surge of up to 56,000 contractors, vastly expanding the presence of personnel from the U.S. private sector in a war zone, according to a study by the Congressional Research Service.
CRS, which provides background information to members of Congress on a bipartisan basis, said it expects an additional 26,000 to 56,000 contractors to be sent to Afghanistan. That would bring the number of contractors in the country to anywhere from 130,000 to 160,000.
The tally "could increase further if the new [administration] strategy includes a more robust construction and nation building effort," according to the report, which was released Monday and first disclosed on the Web site Talking Points Memo.
The CRS study says contractors made up 69 percent of the Pentagon’s personnel in Afghanistan last December, a proportion that "apparently represented the highest recorded percentage of contractors used by the Defense Department in any conflict in the history of the United States." As of September, contractor representation had dropped to 62 percent, as U.S. troop strength increased modestly.
As the Pentagon contracts out activities that previously were carried out by troops in wartime, it has been forced to struggle with new management challenges. "Prior to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, contracting was done on an ad-hoc basis and was not adequately incorporated into the doctrine — or culture — of the military," according to the CRS report. Today, according to Defense Department officials, "doctrine and strategy are being updated to incorporate the role of contractors in contingency operations."
The Pentagon’s Joint Contracting Command in Afghanistan has increased the size of its acquisition workforce and is adding staff to monitor performance. To enhance oversight, Congress has appropriated $8 million for an electronic system that will track all contract-related information for Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Thursday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ad-hoc subcommittee on contracting oversight, led by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), is scheduled to hold a hearing on the increase in the number and value of Afghanistan contracts. She plans to focus on ensuring that contracts are adequately managed and "whether contracting oversight lessons learned from Iraq are being applied in Afghanistan," according to her staff members.
Contracts, in the meantime, continue to be solicited and awarded. Over the past week, the military awarded a $44.8 million contract to a Florida firm to provide dogs and their handlers for operational use in areas of southern Afghanistan along the Pakistan border, where some of the most violent fighting is taking place.
The U.S. command in Afghanistan also published a notice that it would be seeking intelligence analyst services from a contractor that include "collecting, analyzing and providing recommendations necessary for the government to produce and disseminate intelligence products in several subject areas." The contract would be for one year, plus options for four additional years.
The Defense Logistics Agency disclosed that it is looking for a contractor that can provide distribution and warehousing services for U.S. and NATO forces in the Kandahar area, which is near the center of fighting. The contractor is to supply the workforce needed to receive, store, inventory and prepare shipment of up to 4,000 items using government-provided warehousing facilities and open storage areas.
In Fact, Buy a Lifetime Supply of Them!
By J. Speer-Williams
by Eric deCarbonnelIf you read any economic, financial, or political analysis for 2010 that doesn’t mention the food shortage looming next year, throw it in the trash, as it is worthless. There is overwhelming, undeniable evidence that the world will run out of food next year. When this happens, the resulting triple digit food inflation will lead panicking central banks around the world to dump their foreign reserves to appreciate their currencies and lower the cost of food imports, causing the collapse of the dollar, the treasury market, derivative markets, and the global financial system. The US will experience economic disintegration.
The 2010 Food Crisis Means Financial Armageddon
Over the last two years, the world has faced a series of unprecedented financial crises: the collapse of the housing market, the freezing of the credit markets, the failure of Wall Street brokerage firms (Bear Stearns/Lehman Brothers), the failure of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the failure of AIG, Iceland’s economic collapse, the bankruptcy of the major auto manufacturers (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler), etc… In the face of all these challenges, the demise of the dollar, derivative markets, and the modern international system of credit has been repeatedly forecasted and feared. However, all these doomsday scenarios have so far been proved false, and, despite tremendous chaos and losses, the global financial system has held together.
The 2010 Food Crisis is different. It is THE CRISIS. The one that makes all doomsday scenarios come true. The government bailouts and central bank interventions, which have held the financial world together during the last two years, will be powerless to prevent the 2010 Food Crisis from bringing the global financial system to its knees.
Financial crisis will kick into high gear
So far the crisis has been driven by the slow and steady increase in defaults on mortgages and other loans. This is about to change. What will drive the financial crisis in 2010 will be panic about food supplies and the dollar’s plunging value. Things will start moving fast.
Dynamics Behind 2010 Food Crisis
Early in 2009, the supply and demand in agricultural markets went badly out of balance. The world experienced a catastrophic fall in food production as a result of the financial crisis (low commodity prices and lack of credit) and adverse weather on a global scale. Meanwhile, China and other Asian exporters, in an effort to preserve their economic growth, were unleashing domestic consumption long constrained by inflation fears, and demand for raw materials, especially food staples, exploded as Chinese consumers worked their way towards American-style overconsumption, prodded on by a flood of cheap credit and easy loans from the government.
Normally food prices should have already shot higher months ago, leading to lower food consumption and bringing the global food supply/demand situation back into balance. This never happened because the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), instead of adjusting production estimates down to reflect decreased production, adjusted estimates upwards to match increasing demand from china. In this way, the USDA has brought supply and demand back into balance (on paper) and temporarily delayed a rise in food prices by ensuring a catastrophe in 2010.
Overconsumption is leading to disaster
It is absolutely key to understand that the production of agricultural goods is a fixed, once a year cycle (or twice a year in the case of double crops). The wheat, corn, soybeans and other food staples are harvested in the fall/spring and then that is it for production. It doesn’t matter how high prices go or how desperate people get, no new supply can be brought online until the next harvest at the earliest. The supply must last until the next harvest, which is why it is critical that food is correctly priced to avoid overconsumption, otherwise food shortages occur.
The USDA—by manufacturing the data needed to keep supply and demand in balance—has ensured that agricultural commodities are incorrectly priced, which has lead to overconsumption and has guaranteed disaster next year when supplies run out.
An astounding lack of awareness
The world is blissful unaware that the greatest economic/financial/political crisis ever is a few months away. While it is understandable that general public has no knowledge of what is headed their way, that same ignorance on the part of professional analysts, economists, and other highly paid financial “experts” is mind boggling, as it takes only the tiniest bit of research to realize something is going critically wrong in agricultural market.
USDA estimates for 2009/10 make no sense
All someone needs to do to know the world is headed is for food crisis is to stop reading USDA’s crop reports predicting a record soybean and corn harvests and listen to what else the USDA saying.
Specifically, the USDA has declared half the counties in the Midwest to be primary disaster areas, including 274 counties in the last 30 days alone. These designations are based on the criteria of a minimum of 30 percent loss in the value of at least one crop in the county. The chart below shows counties declared primary disaster areas by the secretary of Agriculture and the president of the United States.
For a list of Secretarial disaster declarations, see here.
For a list of Presidential disaster declarations, see here.
The same USDA that is predicting record harvests is also declaring disaster areas across half the Midwest because of catastrophic crop losses! To eliminate any doubt that this might be an innocent mistake, the USDA is even predicting record soybean harvests in the same states (Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Alabama) where it has declared virtually all counties to have experienced 30 percent production losses. It isn’t rocket scientist to realize something is horribly wrong.
USDA motivated by fear of higher food prices
The USDA is terrorized by the implications of higher food prices for the US economy, most likely because it knows the immediate consequence of sharply higher food will be the collapse of the US Treasury market and the dollar, as desperate governments and central banks dump their foreign reserves to appreciate their currencies and lower the cost of food imports. Fictitious USDA estimates should be seen as proof of the dire threat posed by higher food prices, as the USDA would not have turned its production estimates into agrotesque mockery of reality if it didn’t believe the alternative to be apocalyptic.
While the USDA may be the worst offender, the United States isn’t the only government trying to downplay the food situation out of fear. As one Indian reporter writes, governments are lying about the looming food crisis.
… some experts and governments, in full cognizance of the facts, want us not to create panic and paint a picture of parched crops and a looming food crisis. This, they say, would push up food prices unnaturally, lead to hoarding and ultimately result in a situation where many more millions across the world would go hungry. And whether it is the developing world or the developed, it is those at the bottom of the pyramid who are the most affected in such scenarios.
This leads to a confusing divide between reality and government pronouncements, or even between the perspectives of government departments
Confusing divide between reality and government estimates
For months now, the media has been reporting two distinctly, contradicting realities. One of these realities is filled with record crops and plentiful supply, and the other is filledagricultural devastation and ruin. It has been a mad, frustrating experience to read about agricultural disasters and horrendous crop losses in virtually every state combined with predictions of a US record harvest, sometimes in the same article.
A Reality of record crops and plentiful supply
The accepted, “official” reality is found in USDA crop and WASDE reports. Here, the United States Department of Agriculture is projecting the largest US soy crop on record, at 3.3 billion bushels, and the second-largest corn crop at 12.9 billion bushels. (READ FULL FRIGHTENING REPORT HERE)
Upon the orders of Obama, the military warplanes on Thursday blanketed two camps in the North of the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, claiming there were “an imminent attack against a US asset was being planned,” ABC News quoted anonymous administration officials as saying on Friday.
The US air raids were then followed by a Yemeni ground forces attack.
The operation led to the death of around 120 people of whom many were civilians, including children, the report quoted Yemeni opposition as saying.
Obama also contacted Yemen’s President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, after the blitz in order to “congratulate” him on his efforts against ‘al-Qaeda,’ the US news outlet quoted White House officials as telling reporters earlier.
The latest development comes in the wake of recently intensified attacks on the country’s Shia Houthi fighters which has brought about a dire humanitarian situation in northern Yemen.
So far, the US officials have categorically denied any direct involvement in the air strikes on Houthi fighters, alleging they have only targeted growing al-Qaeda training camps, mostly located in southern parts of the Persian Gulf state. Yemen’s Houthi fighters however insist US fighter jets have been bombing their region, claiming the lives of civilians in their air raids.
The reports of the US military intervention in Yemen come as Saudi Arabia has also been lending full support to the Yemeni government’s crackdown on Yemen’s Houthi minority.
Yemen’s Shia minority have recently slammed foreign military intervention in Yemen and the United Nations’ apathy on the humanitarian situation and the “siege on civilians in northern Yemen.”
International aid agencies and some UN bodies including United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have voiced concern over the dire condition of the Yemeni civilians who have become the main victims of the conflict in the country.
The United Nations, which according to its charter is set up “to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace,” has failed to adopt any concrete measures to help end the bloody war.
A report issued by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) has claimed that Palestinians in the West Bank are not able to build on almost 44% of the occupied territory. The reason, claims UNOCHA, is that the occupying power, Israel, says these areas are reserved for the Israeli occupation forces and Jewish colonist-settlers.
The report also states: “The restrictions imposed by Israel on the use of the West Bank land, particularly areas classified as “C” (which are under Israeli security and civilian control, according to the Oslo agreement), are among the causes of poor living conditions of many Palestinians, where it is difficult for them to establish basic infrastructure facilities including schools, medical clinics and others.”
Adding that tens of thousands of Palestinians, unable to obtain building permits, start construction work without them, the report’s authors say this puts the new building at risk of demolition by the occupation forces. They note that 180 such buildings belonging to Palestinians have been demolished this year alone.
UNOCHA has called upon the Israeli authorities to stop the demolition of buildings immediately and to meet the Palestinians’ needs in regards to regulating construction, to freeze all settlement activities and to dismantle existing settlements.
Source: Ramallah (Palestine) – Quds Press Service