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While I am thrilled that those abominations were fired, there are still problems with other contractors. Most of the contractors in Afghanistan are not military– they are hired to build roads, hospitals, etc. Some of the money to fund the Ta!ban may come from the hundreds of millions of dollars the U.S. Agency for International Development, or AID, pays to private contractors for building projects there.

AID’s inspector general has opened a probe into whether some of that money is actually going to the Tal!ban in what amounts to a massive protection racket. This wouldn’t happen if there were no private contractors. What happen to the Army Corps of Engineers?

In the north, and in Kabul is that there is essentially a protection racket. Taliban shakes down the local contractors, and particularly subcontractors, to try to get a percentage of the contracts they’re getting from USAID or the other international donors.

This is a lot of money– billion dollars a year on average into Afghanistan. Contractors build in a 20 percent cost out to the Tal!ban for shaking them down.”

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The Pakistani Tal!ban is dominated by three powerful commanders — Baitullah Mehsud, Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Maulavi Nazir — based in North and South Waziristan, the hub of insurgent activity in Pakistan’s tribal border regions, who have often clashed among themselves. Mullah Omar dispatched a six-member team to Waziristan in late 2008, and in February 2009, they formed a united council, or shura, called the Council of United Mujahedeen. In a printed statement the leaders vowed to put aside their disputes and focus on fighting American-led forces in Afghanistan.

The new Tal!ban alliance has raised concern in Afghanistan, where NATO generals warn that the conflict will worsen this year. It has also generated anxiety in Pakistan, where officials fear that a united Tal!ban will be more dangerous, even if focused on Afghanistan.”

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McChrystal’s strategy will be the last chance to turn things around militarily in the Hindu Kush. The Dutch and Canadian governments have announced that they intend to withdraw their contingents by the year 2011. (Interesting date!) Canadian forces have lost 128 of their soldiers. British troops stationed in Helmand province, a Tal!ban stronghold and the center of opium poppy production, have had 212 of their men killed. The de@th toll appears to have brought about a significant change in the way the British view the military effort in Afghanistan.

The “surge” will involve civilian personnel for the most part. McChrystal wants to send advisors and reconstruction specialists not just to Kabul and the provincial capitals but also to remote districts and villages. They are to develop relationships with the clans and village elders and to build confidence. They are also to find out if there are any Tal!ban willing to engage in talks and determine whether it is possible to distinguish between fundamentalists and moderates who would be willing to negotiate.

Why Afghanistan at all, Feingold asks? Because if we want Pakistan to oust them from their country, we need to do what we can in Afghanistan. There are good reasons to do this, and many more wrong reasons, IMO.”

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NATO Alliance’s burden-sharing in the fight against the Tal!ban is lopsided. The U.S. accounts for about 70,000 of the 110,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan. Either they need to step up to the plate or we need to match our troop levels to theirs.

“We are in Afghanistan to prevent it from once again becoming a safe haven for ter.r0rists who would immediately _attack_ not only the U.S. but also Europe,” NATO secretary general said. Afghanistan’s takeover by the Tal!ban and alQaeda “would quickly destabilize the region, including Pakistan, a _nuclear_ power, which would create a very dangerous situation,” he added. “This is not just Obama’s war,” he said. “Once the U.S. president has made his decision, Europe must do its utmost to support him.”

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United States
Troops currently in Afghanistan: 29,000, with about 19,000 serving in NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) effort and the rest serving under U.S. command

Troops: 7,800

Troops: 3,210

Troops: 2,880

Troops: 2,500

Troops: 2

Troops: 2, sometimes 3

Troops: 7

Troops: 9

Troops : 13 (Iceland has no military, so these are actually civilians that report to the Icelandic Crisis Response Unit, but the ISAF lists them as a troop contribution.)”

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Sorry, all of you who feel Obama was anti-war. You are certainly free to disagree, but don’t pretend he said he’d get us out of Afghanistan. I voted for him in spite of his very public statements:

“Remarks of Senator Obama: The War We Need to Win”

“During the campaign he promised to send two additional brigades — 7,000 troops — to Afghanistan. During the transition, military planners started talking about adding as many as 30,000 troops.”

“McCain, Obama find common ground in Afghanistan”

“Obama promotes wider war in Afghanistan: Another presidential race between pro-war candidates”

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“A large increase in troops would cripple Obama’s administration.

“100,000 troops in Afghanistan will suck up so much oxygen that it will almost certainly short-change other important efforts, and what’s more, will subvert other goals.

Shifting the civil/military balance back to the civilian capacity side – good luck with that. Getting more money out of Congress, which is already allocating $65 billion a year for the war in Afghanistan and facing mushrooming budget deficits for those civilian agencies. Not going to happen. Focusing the attention of policymakers on these key issues: even less likely.””

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“It’s not only the cost. We don’t even have enough troops!

“If President Obama orders an additional 30,000 to 40,000 troops to Afghanistan, he will be deploying practically every available U.S. Army brigade to war, leaving few units in reserve in case of an unforeseen emergency and further stressing a force that has seen repeated combat deployments since 2002.””

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Some good background from Seymour Hirsch in The New Yorker:

The Obama Admin has been negotiating with the Pakistani military to help them secure their n*kes in case of a crisis. In that country, the military and the government are separate entities, with different power centers. We have a deal with the military but not the government. In exchange for access to their n*kes, we give the military money to equip and train them and provide better military housing. Pakistani President and the people are very unhappy with us because we are working with the military to give us access to their n*kes.

We want Pakistan to move troops from the Pakistan/Indian boarder and help us with Afghanistan—to help keep all the insurgents in Afghanistan along with AlQaida. India has troops on the boarder too—and says Pakistan has 100 n*kes pointed at them. To get the Pakistanis to move their troops towards Afghanistan, we have to get the Indians to move their troops. We are trying to at least assure both sides that we will help them contain the n*kes from falling into j.i.h.a.d.i.s.t hands.

The biggest danger in Pakistan is not the Tal!ban. Pakistan is a secular country, but there’s concern that fund@mentalists can cause problems.The real problem is the top elite. When we give them money, the elites keep it. Economic injustice + corruption= r@dicalized people. Just what happened in Iran and Afghanistan.”

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act, Stimulus)

Stimulus can give you up to $2,500 a year for school

By now, everyone knows that the Obama administration’s stimulus bill is designed to get the economy moving again. However, you may not know that most of the bill’s $70 billion for education will go to low- to middle-income individuals.

A major part of the bill is a $13.8 billion tuition tax credit boost called the American Opportunity Tax Credit. This tax credit reimburses 100 percent of the first $2,000 of educational expenses for lower income students. For the next $2,000, students will receive a 25 percent reimbursement. In short, lower income students will receive $2,500 in education reimbursements per year.

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