A soldier stands guard at an outpost in Afghanistan. (Reuters/Bob Strong.)
Here’s what President Obama won’t tell you tonight about Afghanistan.
What he will tell you, of course, is that the United States is drawing down its presence there. According to The Washington Post and AP, Obama will say “that 34,000 US troops will return from Afghanistan within a year,” reducing by about half the current American presence. And, says the Post, “The Pentagon is pushing a plan that would keep about 8,000 US troops in Afghanistan once the NATO military mission there ends in 2014 but significantly shrink the contingent over the following two years.” By 2016, says the Post, the Pentagon still wants to keep between 3,500 and 6,000 troops in-country.
That’s not fast enough. And part of the reason it’s not fast enough is contained in what Obama won’t say.
First, he won't say that both the United Nations and, now, the Afghan government admit that torture of detainees is widespread by the Afghan National Police. On January 20, the UN released a report reporting in some detail that torture was widely used by Afghan security forces, noting that “torture persists and remains a serious concern in numerous detention facilities across Afghanistan.” And the UN’s report was extensively documented:
UNAMA’s 139-page report Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees in Afghan Custody: One Year On is based on interviews with 635 conflict-related detainees held by the Afghan National Police, National Directorate of Security, Afghan National Army or Afghan Local Police, visits to 89 detention facilities in 30 provinces from October 2011 to October 2012, extensive interviews with multiple relevant interlocutors and on rigorous analysis, corroboration and examination of documentary and other material.
Yesterday, the government of Afghanistan admitted that it was accurate. Reports the Times:
An Afghan government panel on Monday acknowledged widespread torture of detainees, after a two-week investigation of a United Nations report citing rampant abuses.
At a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, the panel’s director said its inquiry had confirmed evidence that nearly half of the 284 prisoners interviewed in three provinces had been tortured during arrest or questioning.
Somewhat ironically, the Times adds that, despite the fact that nearly half the prisoners were tortured (by American-trained forces), torture is not “systematic,” according to the Afghans.
The second thing you won’t hear from Obama, who will undoubtedly mention the twenty children killed in Newtown, Connecticut, is that hundreds upon hundreds of Afghan children have been killed by the United States in Afghanistan.
A recent report by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, based on UN data, concluded that “attacks by US military forces in Afghanistan, including air strikes, have reportedly killed hundreds of children over the last four years, according to the UN body monitoring the rights of children.” And the UN committee take urged the United States to take “concrete and firm precautionary measures and prevent indiscriminate use of force to ensure that no further killings and maiming of civilians, including children, take place.”
But don’t expect President Obama, even as he reduces the American presence, to acknowledge these deaths. NATO has already pooh-poohed the UN report, calling it “categorically unfounded” and “false.” In doing so, NATO and the American command in Afghanistan echo the National Rifle Association in sheer ignorance of the facts.
For another example of a drawn-out, misguided government process, look at Senate Republicans' questioning of defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel.