Contrary to popular belief, the US actually has 189,000 personnel on the ground in Afghanistan right now—and that number is quickly rising.
By Jeremy Scahill | Rebel Reports | December 17, 2009
A hearing in Sen. Claire McCaskill’s Contract Oversight subcommittee on contracting in Afghanistan has highlighted some important statistics that provide a window into the extent to which the Obama administration has picked up the Bush-era war privatization baton and sprinted with it. Overall, contractors now comprise a whopping 69% of the Department of Defense’s total workforce, “the highest ratio of contractors to military personnel in US history.” That’s not in one war zone—that’s the Pentagon in its entirety.
In Afghanistan, the Obama administration blows the Bush administration out of the privatized water. According to a memo [PDF] released by McCaskill’s staff, “From June 2009 to September 2009, there was a 40% increase in Defense Department contractors in Afghanistan. During the same period, the number of armed private security contractors working for the Defense Department in Afghanistan doubled, increasing from approximately 5,000 to more than 10,000.”
At present, there are 104,000 Department of Defense contractors in Afghanistan. According to a report this week from the Congressional Research Service, as a result of the coming surge of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, there may be up to 56,000 additional contractors deployed. But here is another group of contractors that often goes unmentioned: 3,600 State Department contractors and 14,000 USAID contractors. That means that the current total US force in Afghanistan is approximately 189,000 personnel (68,000 US troops and 121,000 contractors). And remember, that’s right now. And that, according to McCaskill, is a conservative estimate. A year from now, we will likely see more than 220,000 US-funded personnel on the ground in Afghanistan.
The US has spent more than $23 billion on contracts in Afghanistan since 2002. By next year, the number of contractors will have doubled since 2008 when taxpayers funded over $8 billion in Afghanistan-related contracts.
Despite the massive number of contracts and contractors in Afghanistan, oversight is utterly lacking. “The increase in Afghanistan contracts has not seen a corresponding increase in contract management and oversight,” according to McCaskill’s briefing paper. “In May 2009, DCMA [Defense Contract Management Agency] Director Charlie Williams told the Commission on Wartime Contracting that as many as 362 positions for Contracting Officer’s Representatives (CORs) in Afghanistan were currently vacant.”
A former USAID official, Michael Walsh, the former director of USAID’s Office of Acquisition and Assistance and Chief Acquisition Officer, told the Commission that many USAID staff are “administering huge awards with limited knowledge of or experience with the rules and regulations.” According to one USAID official, the agency is “sending too much money, too fast with too few people looking over how it is spent.” As a result, the agency does not “know … where the money is going.”
The Obama administration is continuing the Bush-era policy of hiring contractors to oversee contractors. According to the McCaskill memo:
In Afghanistan, USAID is relying on contractors to provide oversight of its large reconstruction and development projects. According to information provided to the Subcommittee, International Relief and Development (IRD) was awarded a five-year contract in 2006 to oversee the $1.4 billion infrastructure contract awarded to a joint venture of the Louis Berger Group and Black and Veatch Special Projects. USAID has also awarded a contract Checci and Company to provide support for contracts in Afghanistan.
The private security industry and the US government have pointed to the Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker(SPOT) as evidence of greater government oversight of contractor activities. But McCaskill’s subcommittee found that system utterly lacking, stating: “The Subcommittee obtained current SPOT data showing that there are currently 1,123 State Department contractors and no USAID contractors working in Afghanistan.” Remember, there are officially 14,000 USAID contractors and the official monitoring and tracking system found none of these people and less than half of the State Department contractors.
As for waste and abuse, the subcommittee says that the Defense Contract Audit Agency identified more than $950 million in questioned and unsupported costs submitted by Defense Department contracts for work in Afghanistan. That’s 16% of the total contract dollars reviewed.
“One reason neocons have been able to sow so much mischief is that they feed into deeply embedded American beliefs about democratism and ‘chosenness.’” – Paul Gottfried
Americans feeling let down by Barack Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan should take careful note of those who welcomed yet another “surge.” It might help them to identify the source of their seemingly endless wars.
For instance, in a recent Washington Post opinion piece, William Kristol described Obama’s West Point speech as “encouraging.” It was “a good thing,” he said, that Obama was finally speaking as “a war president.”
But if the comments on the Post website are anything to go by, few ordinary Americans take Kristol’s armchair warmongering seriously anymore. After all, as one poster quizzically asked, “A column by William Kristol the neocon that was wrong about everything from 2000-2008?”
Although Kristol, like the rest of the neocons, “erred” about Iraq’s WMDs and Saddam’s links to Al Qaeda and 9/11, it would be a fatal error indeed to dismiss him as a fool.
In order to understand what motivates Bill Kristol’s professed hyper-patriotism, with its consistently disastrous prescriptions, it’s worth recalling how his father, Irving Kristol, reacted to Vietnam War critic Senator George McGovern. The presidential contender’s proposed cut in U.S. military expenditure would, according to the “godfather” of neoconservatism, “drive a knife in the heart of Israel.”
“Jews don’t like big military budgets,” the elder Kristol explained in a Jewish publication in 1973. “But it is now an interest of the Jews to have a large and powerful military establishment in the United States … American Jews who care about the survival of the state of Israel have to say, no, we don’t want to cut the military budget, it is important to keep that military budget big, so that we can defend Israel.”
Following his father’s advice, William Kristol has been a fervent supporter of massive U.S. military spending. In 1996, he co-authored with Robert Kagan an influential neocon manifesto titled “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy.” It recommended that “America should pursue a vision of benevolent hegemony as bold as Reagan’s in the 1970s and wield its authority unabashedly.
“The defense budget should be increased dramatically, citizens should be educated to appreciate the military’s vital work abroad, and moral clarity should direct a foreign policy that puts the heat on dictators and authoritarian regimes.”
In response, another influential opinion-maker, Charles Krauthammer, hailed Kristol and Kagan as “the main proponents of what you might call the American greatness school.” It is hardly a coincidence, however, that all three advocates of “American greatness” care passionately about what Irving Kristol euphemistically referred to as “the survival of the state of Israel.” Or that many of those “dictators and authoritarian regimes” just happened to stand in the way of Israeli hegemony in the Middle East.
The following year, Kristol and Kagan co-founded the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), a pressure group which sought to advance their “neo-Reaganite” vision. In the late 1990s, they did this mainly by writing letters to Bill Clinton, urging him to oust Saddam Hussein.
In September 2000, PNAC published “Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” in which they famously acknowledged that “the process of transformation … is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.”
One year later, they got their wished for “new Pearl Harbor” on September 11. The mass murder of almost 3,000 Americans was, as Benjamin Netanyahu indelicately put it, “very good” for Israel.
Immediately, Kristol’s Weekly Standard began linking Iraq to the attacks. Writing in The American Conservative, Scott McConnell explained the strategy: “Their rhetoric – which laid down a line from which the magazine would not waver over the next 18 months – was to link Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden in virtually every paragraph, to join them at the hip in the minds of readers.”
The “Saddam must go” campaign, begun in a Kristol and Kagan editorial as far back as 1997, became so relentless that Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen dubbed it “Kristol’s War.”
The Iraq War has, of course, also been called “Wolfowitz’s War.” But it could just as aptly have been named after Perle, Feith, Libby, Zelikow, Lieberman, or any of the other pro-Israeli insiders who took America to war by way of deception.
In “Irving Kristol RIP,” Antiwar.com editor Justin Raimondo described Kristol’s legacy as “war, war, and yet more war, as far as the eye can see.”
Unless Americans soon realize that they’ve been deceived by those for whom “American greatness” is merely a means to advance “the survival of the state of Israel,” that legacy promises to be an enduring one.
* Maidhc Ó Cathail is a freelance writer living in Japan.
- By Alexis Madrigal
- December 15, 2009
SAN FRANCISCO — Chernobyl, the worst nuclear accident in history, created an inadvertent laboratory to study the impacts of radiation — and more than twenty years later, the site still holds surprises.
Reinhabiting the large dead zone around the accident site may have to wait longer than expected. Radioactive cesium isn’t disappearing from the environment as quickly as predicted, according to new research presented here Monday at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union. Cesium 137’s half-life — the time it takes for half of a given amount of material to decay — is 30 years, but the amount of cesium in soil near Chernobyl isn’t decreasing nearly that fast. And scientists don’t know why.
It stands to reason that at some point the Ukrainian government would like to be able to use that land again, but the scientists have calculated that what they call cesium’s “ecological half-life” — the time for half the cesium to disappear from the local environment — is between 180 and 320 years.
“Normally you’d say that every 30 years, it’s half as bad as it was. But it’s not,” said Tim Jannick, nuclear scientist at Savannah River National Laboratory and a collaborator on the work. “It’s going to be longer before they repopulate the area.”
In 1986, after the Chernobyl accident, a series of test sites were established along paths that scientists expected the fallout to take. Soil samples were taken at different depths to gauge how the radioactive isotopes of strontium, cesium and plutonium migrated in the ground. They’ve been taking these measurements for more than 20 years, providing a unique experiment in the long-term environmental repercussions of a near worst-case nuclear accident.
In some ways, Chernobyl is easier to understand than DOE sites like Hanford, which have been contaminated by long-term processes. With Chernobyl, said Boris Faybishenko, a nuclear remediation expert at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, we have a definite date at which the contamination began and a series of measurements carried out from that time to today.
“I have been involved in Chernobyl studies for many years and this particular study could be of great importance to many [Department of Energy] researchers,” said Faybishenko.
The results of this study came as a surprise. Scientists expected the ecological half-lives of radioactive isotopes to be shorter than their physical half-life as natural dispersion helped reduce the amount of material in any given soil sample. For strontium, that idea has held up. But for cesium the the opposite appears to be true.
The physical properties of cesium haven’t changed, so scientists think there must be an environmental explanation. It could be that new cesium is blowing over the soil sites from closer to the Chernobyl site. Or perhaps cesium is migrating up through the soil from deeper in the ground. Jannik hopes more research will uncover the truth.
“There are a lot of unknowns that are probably causing this phenomenon,” he said.
Beyond the societal impacts of the study, the work also emphasizes the uncertainties associated with radioactive contamination. Thankfully, Chernobyl-scale accidents have been rare, but that also means there is a paucity of places to study how radioactive contamination really behaves in the wild.
“The data from Chernobyl can be used for validating models,” said Faybishenko. “This is the most value that we can gain from it.”
Citation: “Long-Term Dynamics of Radionuclides Vertical Migration in Soils of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Exclusion Zone” by Yu.A. Ivanov, V.A. Kashparov, S.E. Levchuk, Yu.V. Khomutinin, M.D. Bondarkov, A.M. Maximenko, E.B. Farfan, G.T. Jannik, and J.C. Marra. AGU 2009 poster session.
Ali Waked | YNet News | 16 December 2009
Family members of a girl who shot a video showing an Israel Defense Forces soldier firing a rubber bullet at a bound Palestinian in the West Bank village of Naalin last year say the army has been harassing them ever since.
The relatives told Ynet that a massive IDF force raided their house on Wednesday night and left behind a lot of damage. The girl’s father and brother were then summoned for investigation.
An IDF official claimed, however, that the soldiers arrived to arrest a man suspected of rioting and that the incident had nothing to do with the videotape.
The girl’s family members said that soldiers arrived at their house at around 3:30 am. “They broke the windows of our car, which was parked outside, and did not leave one whole glass inside the house. They destroyed and ruined everything,” said the girl’s brother, Arafat Canaan.
“They used a loudspeaker and shouted, ‘We are the IDF, we are the IDF,’ without giving any warning, without telling us what they want.”
‘They did not leave one whole glass (Photo: Activestills)
According to the brother, his mother fainted during the raid, the soldiers attacked his father, forcibly removed two of his brothers from the house and cuffed them in the yard. He said a third brother, who was outside the house, was detained for six hours until the end of the raid.
Arafat added that dogs were brought into the house and caused destruction. He said he believes this was another attempt by the army to avenge the tape. “If they wanted to arrest, they would come and arrest. But to destroy an entire house only to leave behind a letter summoning me and my brother to meet with a Shin Bet officer? This proves they are driven by feelings of vengefulness over that affair.”
‘Soldiers were following orders’
The brother said that his sister documented the destruction caused by the soldiers and their entry into the house, and that the soldiers had threatened her not to film the incident. Arafat himself documents the anti-fence demonstrations in Naalin and says the soldiers’ arrival in the night was meant to also terrify him and make him stop filming the demonstrations and the army’s activity in the village.
IDF sources confirmed that a special force arrived at the house in Naalin in the night in order to arrest one of the family members on suspicion of causing repeated disturbances. A commotion broke out in the area during the detention.
The sources clarified, however, that the soldiers were following orders and were trying not to disrupt the other family members’ lives. The sources also clarified that the arrest had nothing to do with the video shot by one of the family members about a year and a half ago during an ant-fence rally.
It should be noted that the girl’s father was arrested several days after the video’s publication. He was accused of causing disturbances in the area, taking part in a demonstration, violating a closed military zone order and assaulting a soldier with a stick. He was released several days later, after a military judge accused the prosecution of acting unprofessionally.
First, welcome to our new US Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel endorsers. You have helped us pass the 400 mark of US academic endorsers. With well known author Barbara Ehrenreich adding her name to our list of authors, artists, musicians, and others, we now also have 110 cultural workers of conscience who have endorsed our campaign. Among organizational endorsements are Code Pink, the U.S. Green Party, and just recently the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation.
Nevertheless, the suffering of Palestinians continues unabated because of Israeli policies, including the continuing blockade of supplies to the civilian population of Gaza, and the ongoing repression in the West Bank.
As we approach the anniversary of the murderous assault on Gaza, we ask you to join us in demonstrating our solidarity with the people of Gaza and throughout Palestine by helping to build our BDS movement here in the US. Please ask your colleagues and friends — academics, artists, writers, journalists, musicians, etc. — to join you in endorsing our Mission Statement by going to http://usacbi.org
Think of what a statement we could make if we reached a goal of 500 US academic endorsers by December 31st, the day of the Gaza Freedom March. What a response that would be to Bar-Ilan University political science professor Gerald Steinberg, who snidely remarked in February 2009: “It [USACBI] is a festering wound and it needs to be countered, not ignored. The danger is not these 15 [founders of USACBI]; the danger is if it becomes 500.” http://www.thejewishweek.com/viewArticle/c36_a14790/News/New_York.html#
When you write to colleagues and friends, you may wish to mention some of our illustrious Advisory Board members: Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Hamid Dabashi, Lawrence Davidson, Bill Fletcher Jr., Glen Ford, Mark Gonzales, Marilyn Hacker, Edward Herman, Annemarie Jacir, J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Robin Kelly, Ilan Pappe, James Petras, Vjay Prashad, Andrenne Rich, Michel Shehadeh, and Lisa Taraki.
You might also want to remind them that progressive Israeli academics have joined our call, including Emmanuel Farjoun, Hebrew University; Rachel Giora, Tel Aviv University; Anat Matar, Tel Aviv University; Kobi Snitz, Technion; and Ilan Pappe now at Exeter.
For those who are concerned about academic freedom, you might point them to the FAQ on our website, noting, in particular:
This boycott aims at the practice of institutions and their representatives, not at the individual scholar, student or artist. Indeed, PACBI’s call is principled in this respect: it affirms the absolute right of individuals to academic freedom and holds institutions responsible to protecting those rights irrespective of nationality, race or religion. It targets institutional behavior rather than the individual right to opinion. In doing so, it sets an important and consistent standard for institutional protection of academic freedom as a universal, not a nationally or ethnically determined right.
Remember, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu noted, “The end of apartheid stands as one of the crowning accomplishments of the past century, but we would not have succeeded without the help of international pressure – in particular the divestment movement of the 1980s.” With your help, we can increase our contribution to the worldwide BDS movement to pressure the Israeli government to respect the human rights of Palestinians.
Please ask as many colleagues as you can to support the non-violent call for academic boycott, disinvestment, and sanctions. Go to usacbi.org for the Call/Mission Statement; and contact us at email@example.com
Many thanks from the Organizing Committee for USACBI
Following President Obama’s war speeches at West Point and Oslo —- two breathtaking exercises in political cynicism that killed any hope of authentic liberal reform — I’ve got only one question: Have the liberals who worshiped at the altar of “change you can believe in” had enough?
There was already ample evidence of Obama’s feeble commitment to peace, progress and justice. Ever since he started fund-raising for his presidential campaign, it’s been clear that the principal change in the offing was skin tone and slogans. One only needed to read “The Audacity of Hope” to see how thoroughly Obama was enmeshed in the neo-liberal orthodoxies of the Robert Rubin-Clinton wing of the Democratic Party. Obama’s impeccably establishment party credentials — that is, his fealty to the Democratic leadership of Chicago and Capitol Hill — practically guaranteed that he would hew to the status quo when forced to choose.
Even before he announced his candidacy for president, Obama endorsed the Iraq hawk Joe Lieberman for re-election to the Senate; then, when Lieberman lost the primary to the antiwar Ned Lamont, Obama made sure that he was never seen with the official nominee of the Connecticut Democratic Party, a bald act of realpolitik that helped Lieberman win as an “independent.” In the U.S. Senate, meanwhile, Obama’s voting record on Iraq war funding was identical to Hillary Clinton’s.
Liberals, exhausted by President Bush and heartened by Obama’s challenge to the pro-invasion Hillary, ignored their new hero’s record and fixated on his one major anti-Iraq speech, delivered when he was a state senator. Ironically, it was Clinton who best characterized Obama’s candidacy when she said that she and John McCain would “put forth” a “lifetime of experience” while “Senator Obama will put forth a speech he made in 2002.”
Indeed, apart from extraordinary ambition, there wasn’t much more to Obama than that one speech.
So what’s left of the liberal adoration of Obama? The first major defector among the camp followers was Gary Wills, who denounced the Afghanistan escalation as a “betrayal.” As Wills astutely noted in a New York Review of Books blog, “If we had wanted Bush’s wars, and contractors, and corruption, we could have voted for John McCain. At least we would have seen our foe facing us, not felt him at our back, as now we do.”
Then there’s Tom Hayden, the former radical and author of the Students for A Democratic Society’s Port Huron Statement, who was a belligerent booster of Obama during last year’s campaign. Hayden, too, is upset about Afghanistan, but not enough to cast aside his self-delusion about Obama. Claiming to speak for “the antiwar movement,” he laments that the “costs in human lives and tax dollars are simply unsustainable” and, worse, that “Obama is squandering any hope for his progressive domestic agenda by this tragic escalation of the war.”
Unsustainable? Tragic? There’s no evidence that Obama and his chief of staff see any limit to their ability to print dollars, sell Treasury bonds and send working-class kids to die in distant lands. And what “progressive” agenda is Hayden talking about? So far, Obama’s big domestic goals have been compulsory, government-subsidized insurance policies that will further enrich the private health-care business, huge increases in Pentagon spending and purely symbolic regulation of Wall Street.
While Obama was speaking to the unfortunate cadets, I couldn’t help thinking of Richard Nixon and his “secret plan” to end the Vietnam War, a plan that entailed a long and pointless continuation of the fighting. Most liberals would agree that Nixon was a terrible president. Yet, for all his vicious mendacity, I think the sage of San Clemente had a bad conscience about the harm he did, about all he caused to die and be crippled.
Instead of shoring up Obama’s image of goodness, liberals really should be asking, “Does the president have a conscience?” Because if he does, he’s really no better than Nixon.
John R. MacArthur is publisher of Harper’s Magazine.
THERE HAVE BEEN A FEW DOCUMENTARIES BY ‘OLD MEDIA’ CREWS WHO DON’T UNDERSTAND THE NET AND SEE PEER-TO-PEER ORGANISATION AS A THREAT TO THEIR LIVELIHOODS. THEY HAVE NO REASON TO REPRESENT THE FILESHARING MOVEMENT POSITIVELY, AND NO CAPACITY TO REPRESENT IT LUCIDLY. WE WANTED TO MAKE A FILM THAT WOULD EXPLORE THIS HUGE POPULAR MOVEMENT IN A WAY THAT EXCITED US, ENGAGED US, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, FOCUSSED ON WHAT WE KNOW TO BE THE POSITIVE AND OPTIMISTIC VISION MANY FILESHARERS AND ARTISTS (THEY ARE OFTEN ONE) HAVE FOR THE FUTURE OF CREATIVITY.
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Israeli forces arrested several and scuffled with Palestinians while shutting down a cultural festival meant to proclaim attachment to Jerusalem on Thursday.
Organizers, including Prisoners’ Club President Nasser Kaws, were hustled out of the Damascus Gate area of the Old City of Jerusalem and detained by Israeli border police, prompting scuffles at the main entrance into the ancient streets. Also among those arrested was the secretary-general of Jerusalem’s Fatah movement Omar Ash-Shabi.
Crowds gathered at the site and groups sang traditional wedding songs, gathering in clusters around television cameras stationed on the stairs leading to the gate.
One participant in the event, meant to mark Al-Quds Capital of Arab Culture 2009 which comes to an end at the close of this month, told reporters, “Israel used to say they detain everyone who threatens it with weapons, but look, are these people threatening it? They are just celebrating.”
A performer at the Jerusalem event noted, “Israel is an occupation so it is its job to marginalize Palestinian culture, but we will resist with our willpower. No one can suppress the Palestinian people.”
Intended to be a yearlong event sponsored by the Arab League, Al-Quds Capital of Arab Culture was officially banned by Israel. The festival was marred by arrests and police raids.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem along with the West Bank in 1967 in a move not accepted by the international community.
Israeli forces also broke up a march planned by Palestinian scout troops and closed schools where cultural events were taking place.
Soldiers also surrounded the French Cultural Center and the British Council, where two simultaneous events were planned as the finale of Al-Quds Capital of Arab Culture. The two events were headed by Rafiq Al-Husseni the head of the Palestinian president’s office and the other by the Ahmad Ar-Ruwedi, the head of the Jerusalem unit in the president’s office.
Israeli officers handed out a written order from the Israeli minister of internal security stating that the cultural activities were prohibited. Ar-Ruwedi listed the schools that were shut down by Israel: St. George’s School, Freres, At-Tefl Al-Arabi, Az-Zuhour Kindergarten, Dar Al-Awlad, and the Refugees Girls School.
In Nablus, thousands also attended a celebration of Jerusalem as the Capital of Arab Culture, apparently organized by the local branch of Fatah. President Mahmoud Abbas gave opening remarks at the celebration in the northern West Bank city. Abbas told the demonstration that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Palestine. “Jerusalem is ours and it will remain ours,” he added. Also attending the event in Nablus was Sheikh Abdallah Bin Zayid Al-Nahyan, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, and a number of Palestinian Authority officials.