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Pepe Escobar: The Horror, The Horror

24 March 2012 General 12 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

“We must kill them. We must incinerate them. Pig after pig… cow after cow… village after village… army after army…”  – Colonel Kurtz in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now

Hong Kong – It started way before a lone killer, a US Army sergeant, married with two children, walked into villagesin Panjwayi, southwest of Kandahar city, and “allegedly” went on a shooting spree, leaving at least 16 civilians dead.

This was Afghanistan’s Haditha moment – as in Iraq; or My Lai – as in Vietnam.

It had been building up via the serial drone-with-Hellfire bombings of tribal wedding parties; the serial secret US Special Forces’ “night raids”; the serial “kill team” murders in 2010; the ritual urination onto dead Afghans by “our men in uniform”; and last but not least, the Quran burnings in Bagram. Mission … accomplished?

According to the latest Post-ABC News poll – conducted even before the Kandahar massacre – 55 per cent of Americans want the end of the Afghan war.

US President Barack Obama once again stressed that 10 years into a war that has cost at least $400bn, the “combat role” of NATO troops will end in 2014. According to Obama, Washington only wants to make sure “that al-Qaeda is not operating there, and that there is sufficient stability that it does not end up being a free-for-all”.

Al-Qaeda “is not operating there” for a long time; there are only a bunch of instructors “not there” but in the Waziristans, in the Pakistani tribal areas.

And forget about “stability”. The “Afghan security forces” that will be theoretically in charge by 2014, or even before, are doomed. Their illiteracy rate is a staggering 80 per cent. At least 25 per cent become deserters. Child rape is endemic. Over 50 per cent are permanently stoned on hashish, on steroids.

The level of mistrust between Afghans and Americans is cosmic. According to a 2011 study that became classified by the Pentagon after it was leaked to the Wall Street Journal – the American military essentially view Afghans as corrupt cowards while Afghans see the American military as coward bullies.

Get a Saigon 1975 moment now or in 2014, the facts on the ground will remain the same: Hindu Kush-rocking instability.

Toss the COIN and I win

Afghanistan was always a tragedy trespassed by farce. Think about NATO’s original 83 restrictions on the rules of engagement, which led, for example, to a rash of French soldiers killed in 2008 because France, pressed by the US, stopped paying protection money to the Taliban; or think about Berlin calling it not a war, but a “humanitarian mission”.

Internal battles – unlike Vietnam – became legend. Such as the COINdinistas – the counter-insurgency gang, supported by then Pentagon chief Bob Gates – invested in a “new mission” and a “new military leadership”, winning against Vice-President Joe Biden’s CT PLUS strategy, as in less soldiers on the ground doing counter-terrorism.

The winner, as everyone remembers, was rockstar General Stanley McChrystal, who insisted that the Biden plan would lead to “Chaosistan”, which happened to be the name of a classified CIA analysis.

Stanley McChrystal – a Pentagon spokesperson during the March 2003 invasion of Iraq – badly wanted to change the culture of NATO and the US Army in Afghanistan. He wanted to destroy the culture of shoot-first-and-blow-shit-up and go towards “protecting the civilian population”. In his own words, he stressed that “air-to-ground munitions” and “indirect fires” against Afghan homes were “only authorised under very limited and prescribed conditions”.

He prevailed – shielded by his rockstar status – only for a brief moment.

Meanwhile, even if on one side the State Department, the DEA and the FBI would be warning about nasty drug smugglers and assorted criminals, on the other side the CIA and the Pentagon, praising them for good intel, would always win.

And everything was fully justified by an array of reluctant warriors/liberal hawks in places such as the Center for a New American Security – crammed with “respectable” journalists.

Hamid Karzai won the Afghan elections by outright fraud. His half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai – then provincial council chief in Kandahar – was free to keep running his massive drug business while dismissing elections (“the people in this region don’t understand it”).

Who cared if the Afghan government in Kabul was/is in fact a crime syndicate? “Loyal” local commanders – “our bastards” – increasingly got funding and even dedicated Special Forces as personal advisors to themselves and their death squads.

McChrystal, to his credit, admitted that the Soviets in the 1980s did many things right (for instance, building roads, promoting central government, education for boys and girls alike, modernising the country).

But they also did a lot of things terribly wrong, such as carpet-bombing and killing 1.5 million Afghans. If only Pentagon planners had the presence of mind to read Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1970-89 (Profile Books), by former British ambassador Rodric Braithwaite, drawing on a wealth of Russian sources from the KGB to the Gorbachev Foundation; from the internet to a spectacular book by the late General Alexander Lyakhovsky.

You have the right to be misinformed

The Pentagon will never accept the withdrawal date of 2014: it goes full-frontal against its own Full Spectrum Dominance doctrine, which counts on scores of US bases in Afghanistan to monitor/control/harass strategic competitors – Russia and China.

The way out will be a ruse. The Pentagon will transfer its special operations to the CIA; they will become “spies”, not “troops on the ground”.

This will mean, essentially, an extension ad infinitum of the Phoenix Program in Vietnam, which carried out the targeted killing of over 20,000 “suspected” Vietcong supporters.

And that leads us to the current CIA director, media-savvy General David Petraeus and his baby – COIN field manual FM 3-24, the Pentagon’s answer to William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell as the marriage of counter-insurgency with the war on terror. And this, even after a 2008 RAND study titled How Terrorist Groups End stressed that the only way to defeat them was through a good old law enforcement operation.

 Afghan killings strain relations with US

Petraeus couldn’t care less. After all, his “information operations” – as in all-out media manipulation, coupled with the massive distribution of the proverbial suitcase full of US dollars – had won “his” and George W Bush’s surge in Iraq.

Proud Pashtuns were a much tougher nut to crack than Sunni sheikhs in the desert. They went so low-tech – fabricating tens of thousands of IEDs with fertiliser, wood and old munitions – that they in fact froze US technology dead in its tracks, leading to endless Pentagon newspeak reports on “vast increase in IED activity”.

Since Obama’s inauguration, the Pentagon had been playing extra-dirty to extract the exact war they wanted to carry out in Afghanistan.

They got it. Petraeus went on non-stop spin mode on “progress”. Local populations were “becoming more receptive” to US troops, even as a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) – the cumulative knowledge of 17 US intelligence agencies – remained grim.

Petraeus did what he does best: he remixed the NIE. He never admitted that the war would be over by 2014.  He cranked up airstrikes, unleashed Apache and Kiowa attack helicopters, tripled the number of night raids by Special Forces, authorised a mini-Shock and Awe, totally levelling the town of Tarok Kolache in southern Afghanistan.

After yet another US massacre in February 2011 in Kunar Province, with 64 dead civilians, Petraeus even had the gall of accusing Afghans of burning their own children to make it look like collateral damage. Good for him. At the time, his relationship with Obama was even improving.

The Obama administration is, in fact, convinced that Obama’s surge, led by Petraeus and scheduled to finish by September, has left Afghanistan “stable”, at least in the region known as “regional command east”; that’s what Petraeus dubs “Afghan good enough”.

Most of the country is in fact “Talib good enough”, but who cares? As for burning babies, cynics might qualify it as a feature of American exceptionalism. One just has to remember the Amiriya Shelter in Baghdad on February 13, 1991, when no fewer than 408 children and their mothers were burned to death by the US.

I’ll never look into your eyes… again

How not to remember the inimitable Dennis Hopper as the psychedelic photojournalist in Apocalypse Now, talking about Colonel Kurtz/Marlon Brando: “He’s a poet-warrior in the classic sense…”

“Poet-warrior” McChrystal was convinced Afghanistan was not Vietnam; in Vietnam the US was fighting a “popular insurgency”, unlike Afghanistan (wrong: the many strands bundled under the moniker “Taliban” have become more popular in direct proportion to Karzai’s disaster, not to mention that in Vietnam the official Pentagon spin was that the Vietcong were never popular).

Generals, anyway, don’t go on Kurtz-style killing sprees. Petraeus was promoted to unleash Shadow War Inc at the CIA. After he was sacked following a profile in Rolling Stone magazine – how rockstar is that? – McChrystal ended up rehabilitated by the White House.

He taught at Yale, went into consulting, is making a fortune on the conference circuit – distilling wisdom about “leadership” and the Greater Middle East – and was made an unpaid adviser to military families by Obama.

McChrystal sees Afghanistan as stuck in “some kind of post-apocalyptic nightmare”. Conrad’s “the horror… the horror…” is perennial. The Pentagon’s key lesson from Vietnam was how to seal off the horror, how to put it in boxes, and how to, voluptuously, embrace it.

So it’s no wonder McChrystal could not possibly see that he was starring as the remixed Colonel Kurtz – while Petraeus was a more methodical, but no less deadly Captain Willard. Unlike Vietnam, though, this time there won’t be a Coppola to win the war for Hollywood. But there will be plenty of Hollow Men left at the Pentagon.

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times. His latest book is named Obama Does Globalistan(Nimble Books, 2009).


  1. Just wait until the Taliban moves back in again. The greatest killer of muslims is other muslims.

    I would say most of us know most of the things in this article. As in Nam, the army is involved in an absurdity and doesn’t like it.

    Pepe Escobar, interesting name, it was the Pepes that brought down Escobar.

  2. Yes, I thought the name also odd, I wonder if it is the authors real name or simply a name he writes under.

    I found this interesting link that shows that members of the Islamic religion will riot for more than Koran burnings, in fact they seem to have more energy for rioting over Soccer.–soccer.html

    75 people were killed during the soccer game and they are rioting over the suspension of the club involved. Sometimes I wonder if these people understand why they pray five times a day. The act of prayer does signify acknowledgement of their religion and hopefully their relationship with god. Their actions tell a different story and sometimes I wonder if a lot of the Muslims are truly religious people or they simply put on the mantle of religion because it is what their culture expects of them. In reality being more like the Christians and Catholics of historical Europe in that they are trapped into acknowledging a religion they really do not subscribe to due to social sanctions if they declare otherwise. Of course, this is just conjecture on my part but their statements of faith do not correlate to their actions.

  3. From Wikipedia for what it is worth:

    The Halabja poison gas attack (Kurdish: Kîmyabarana Helebce), also known as Halabja massacre or Bloody Friday,[1] was a genocidal massacre against the Kurdish people that took place on March 16, 1988, during the closing days of the Iran–Iraq War, when chemical weapons were used by the Iraqi government forces in the Kurdish town of Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan.

    The attack killed between 3,200 and 5,000 people, and injured around 7,000 to 10,000 more, most of them civilians;[1][2] thousands more died of complications, diseases, and birth defects in the years after the attack.[3] The incident, which has been officially defined as an act of genocide against the Kurdish people in Iraq,[4] was and still remains the largest chemical weapons attack directed against a civilian-populated area in history.[5]

    That was done deliberately and not because someone mistook a bomb shelter for a command center.

    Alas for the world.

  4. mentally-ill or not, he deserve a trial. executed or acquitted! i don’t care! now Taliban got cause to fight!

  5. idk, are they already psychos or the war made them like that??? i believe it would both!

  6. I’ve been saying for a while now that this is a battle for the Middle East. The U.S. is griping about money problems, a good solution. . . . Pull our troops out before 2014. Heck the Afghans don’t like the Americans, so why not leave? Let them fight their own battles. The U.S. would be saving trillions of dollars.

    What I fail to understand is why does the POTUS feel the Afghans need to have a Republic like America? They have lived that way in their country for hundreds of years before America was even a nation. If another country came to America and decided to take over and force us to be something other than a Republic, heck, yes, we’d fight them as well. Just let them kill themselves off and bring our troops home.

    I’m not xenophobic, I have nothing against the Afghans or any other people so long as they don’t decide to strip me of my rights. That’s kind of what I see America doing to the Middle Eastern countries.

  7. I am saddened, as we all should be about the murders of innocents in Panjwayi. I am also saddened that a man by all reports a previously good man, was driven to do such a thing by something inside himself. No one can win in this situation, whateve the outcome.

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