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7 reasons why by comparison with the USSR the US is losing in Afghanistan

The US is waging at inordinate cost a war in Afghanistan in which it has failed to come up with an achievable objective

Alexander Mercouris

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Today, shortly after admitting that the war in Afghanistan is being lost, US President Trump is wrapping up a strategy session with his top military and political advisers at Camp David to decide the strategy to turn the situation round.

Present will be the entire foreign policy team which following the recent purges of top officials is slowly shaping up as the definitive foreign policy team of the Trump administration: Generals Kelly, McMaster and Mattis, Secretary of State Tillerson, and the heads of the US intelligence community, DNI director Dan Coats and CIA chief Mike Pompeo.

These people are all without exception conservative establishment figures, and with the sole possible exception of Secretary of State Tillerson – who has shown a certain independence of mind on some issues – their approach to questions of war and peace can be summed up with the words: more of the same.

It is probably not a coincidence that the one senior Trump administration official who is known to have held different views about Afghanistan – former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon – was forced to quit just before the session.

That makes it a virtual certainty that the policy that is going to be announced for Afghanistan within the next few hours will be ‘more of the same’, apparently in the form of 4-5,000 extra US troops to ‘stabilise’ the situation there.

Needless to say any suggestion of talks with the Taliban to end the war – an idea now being actively promoted by the Russians as the only viable one – is being ruled out.

Steve Bannon for his part is known to have advocated a total pullout from Afghanistan, with the country being left to take of itself.  Needless to say, that option is being ruled out as well.

At this point a brief discussion of comparisons between the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s and the US war in Afghanistan, which has been going on continuously since 2001, is useful.

The differences are in fact profound and many, and here they are

(1) the USSR intervened in 1979 to stabilise the existing government of Afghanistan; the US intervened in Afghanistan in 2001 to overthrow its government;

(2) the Soviet presence in Afghanistan lasted a total of 9 years; the US presence in Afghanistan has now lasted for 16 years and is still continuing;

(3) the Jihadi rebels who fought the USSR and the Afghan government in the 1980s (the so-called “Mujahedeen”) were strongly backed by the US and by a coalition of US allies including Pakistan, Britain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.  They were provided with secure base areas in Pakistan and were also abundantly supplied with often sophisticated weapons including famously Stinger anti aircraft missiles.

By contrast the Taliban has received no overt support from any foreign government and has fought the US and the US led coalition largely on its own;

(4) The total number of Soviet troops who passed through Afghanistan in the 1980s is put at 620,000, though the actual number present in Afghanistan at any one time was never more than 80-104,000 (the latter is the absolute peak figure).

The total number of US troops who have passed through Afghanistan is surprisingly difficult to come by; however the peak number of US troops in Afghanistan at any one time seems to have been around 30,000.  To these of course should be added the various troop contributions made by various US allies, though these have varied widely both in number and effectiveness.

(5) Total irrecoverable losses of Soviet personnel in Afghanistan are put at 14,453.  US military deaths in Afghanistan as of 18th October 2016 are put at 2,386 military deaths and 1,173 US civilian contractor deaths.

Note however that these figures may not be exactly comparable.  The US figure apparently reports combat related deaths in the area of conflict (Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan).

Apparently the Soviet figure includes deaths of wounded personnel outside ‘the area of conflict’ (ie. in hospitals in the interior of Russia) and also the significant number of non-combat caused deaths caused by accidents and above all by sickness of which there were apparently many because of the partial failure of the Soviet logistic system in Afghanistan, especially in the early years of the Soviet intervention there.

To arrive at figures that would be fully comparable losses suffered by US allies in Afghanistan should also be added to the US totals.  Britain has for example reported 454 deaths as of 24th July 2015.

The total number of deaths suffered by the US coalition in Afghanistan was put at 3,407 in October 2015 inclusive of the US combat deaths the method of calculation of which is discussed above.

(6) A February 1987 a US intelligence assessment calculated the total financial cost of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan to the USSR as 15 billion roubles, which would have been about the same amount in 1980s US dollars.  Note that this includes both military and civilian spending including economic assistance.  This is now known to have been an overestimate based on an over-high calculation of Soviet casualties (assumed to be 30,000).

The total financial cost of the US intervention in Afghanistan has been officially estimated at $1 trillion as of October 2015 (unofficial estimates put the cost much higher, though other estimates pitch it lower at $780 billion).

According to official US government estimates the US is spending $4 million an hour on the military side of its war in Afghanistan.

An independent British study has estimated the total financial cost of the British intervention in Afghanistan to Britain as £37 billion.

(7) The USSR withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989 after the Soviet backed government there had been stabilised and when it was in secure control of all of Afghanistan’s main towns and cities.

Contrary to widespread predictions the Afghan government survived the Soviet withdrawal and only finally collapsed in the spring of 1992, several months after the USSR had itself collapsed, and only after Soviet aid to Afghanistan was stopped.

Even then the final collapse of the Soviet backed government was not caused by a Mujahedeen military victory but by factional infighting within the government which led to an internal coup.

The current US backed government is said to be losing control of more and more of the territory of Afghanistan despite the continued presence of US troops there, and clearly is not expected by the US to survive a full US withdrawal, as shown by the expected US decision to commit more US troops to fight there.

To summarise:

The war the USSR fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s was shorter and far more intense, with the Soviet army having to fight an enemy strongly supported by outside powers.

The result was that on any calculation the Soviet casualty and death rate was much higher, with the USSR forced to deploy to Afghanistan large numbers of troops who were required to engaged in regular combat operations.

However by 1988-1989 the Soviet backed Afghan government, which in 1979 had appeared to be on the brink of collapse largely because of factional infighting, had been fully stabilised as the Soviets had intended, enabling the USSR to withdraw its troops from the country.

The US since 2001 has been in Afghanistan much longer.  It has deployed fewer troops there than the USSR did against an enemy who has lacked overt foreign support. As a result it has suffered far fewer combat losses.

However it has made up for this by spending on its war far more than the USSR ever did.  Indeed the financial cost to the US of its war totally dwarfs the financial cost to the USSR of its war.

It seems moreover that most of this cost has been caused by the prodigious use of inordinately expensive weapons and logistics support rather than in providing Afghanistan with economic support, though in purely monetary times (though possibly not effectiveness) the economic support the US has provided Afghanistan has also completely dwarfed what the USSR provided Afghanistan in the 1980s.

However despite this colossal commitment of resources, in the time since the US intervened the government it created and imposed on the country has not stabilised, is said to be riddled with corruption, and apparently lacks legitimacy, whilst the enemy the US is fighting, far from being defeated, is gaining territory and appears to be growing stronger, despite having no overt external support.

What conclusions can be drawn from this?

The Soviet decision to intervene in Afghanistan was a disastrous error of which the USSR repented at leisure.  Having however made – and recognised – their mistake, the Soviets nonetheless went on to make the best of a bad job, waging war in Afghanistan effectively in a way that by 1989 meant that the mission – to stabilise and save the Soviet backed government – was successfully done.

It is a fundamental error – though one Western commentators can never resist making – to think that because the Soviet backed government eventually collapsed some months after the USSR had itself collapsed, that the USSR was defeated in Afghanistan and that the collapse of the Soviet backed government of Afghanistan was inevitable once the USSR withdrew.

On the contrary there is every reason to think that if the USSR had survived and continued to support Afghanistan’s Soviet backed government with arms and supplies at the same level that it did up to the moment of its own collapse, that the Soviet backed government which the USSR in 1979 intervened in Afghanistan to save would also have survived, in which case it would probably still be the government of Afghanistan now.

The US decision to intervene in Afghanistan in 2001 was also a disastrous error, though it has never in the US been officially recognised as such.

However the stated objective of the intervention – to achieve the capture of Osama bin Laden – was fully achievable diplomatically, with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and elements of the Taliban all committed to helping the US achieve it.  It was the US decision to intervene in Afghanistan militarily that made that impossible, facilitating Osama bin Laden’s escape, and ensuring his survival for a further ten years.

Since then the US has failed to hit on a coherent or achievable objective for the war it is continuing to fight in Afghanistan.  However it has continued to fight the war in its usual way, by trying to minimise casualties by fighting the war at astronomic financial cost.

The result is that no discernible objective is being achieved because the US has never come up with one.  Instead, in the absence of an achievable objective the US can realistically focus on and work towards, the US position in Afghanistan is all too predictably sliding towards defeat and crisis.

I am completely unable to see how ‘more of the same’ is going to change any of that, but judging from what we are hearing coming out of Camp David, that is what we are going to get.

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EU and Japan ink free trade deal representing over 30% of global GDP

The free trade agreement represents a victory for free trade in the face of growing protectionism

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In a bid to preserve free trade and strengthen their trade partnership, the European Union and Japan have finished a free trade zone agreement that has been sitting in the pipeline for years.

The present global economic outlook provided the needed spur to action to get the ball rolling again and now it has finally reached the end zone and scored another point for free and open trade against the growing influence of protectionism, which has been creeping up with alarming rapidity and far reaching consequences in recent months.

Under the deal, Japan will scrap tariffs on some 94% of goods imported from Europe and the EU in turn is canning 99% of tariffs on Japanese goods.

Between the European Union and Japan, the trade deal impacts about 37% of the world’s GDP, making it one of the largest and impactful of such agreements.

The Japan Times reports:

Top European Union leaders and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signed an economic partnership agreement Tuesday in Tokyo, a pact that will create a massive free trade zone accounting for 37 percent of the world’s trade by value.

European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker hastily arranged their visit to Tokyo after Abe was forced to abruptly cancel plans to attend a July 11 signing ceremony in Brussels in the aftermath of flooding and mudslides in western Japan.

Japanese officials said the signing is particularly important to counter intensifying protectionism worldwide triggered by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Negotiations on the pact between Japan and the EU, which started in 2013, had stagnated for a time but regained momentum after Trump took office in January 2017.

“We are sending a clear message that we stand together against protectionism,” Tusk said at a joint news conference with Abe after they signed the agreement.

“The relationship between the EU and Japan has never been stronger. Geographically we are far apart, but politically and economically we could be hardly any closer,” Tusk said. “I’m proud today we are taking our strategic partnership to a new level.”

Tusk stressed that the EU and Japan are partners sharing the same basic values, such as liberal democracy, human rights and rule-based order.

Abe also emphasized the importance of free and fair trade.

“Right now, concerns are rising over protectionism all around the world. We are sending out a message emphasizing the importance of a trade system based on free and fair rules,” he said.

The pact will create a free trade bloc accounting for roughly 30 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. Japan and the EU hope to have the agreement, which still needs to be ratified by both parties, come into force by March.

Under the EPA, tariffs on about 99 percent of Japan’s exported goods to the EU will eventually be eliminated, while duties on 94 percent of EU’s exported items to Japan will be abolished, according to the Foreign Ministry.

The EPA will eliminate duties of 10 percent on Japan’s auto exports to the EU seven years after the pact takes effect. The current 15 percent duties on wine imports from the EU will be eliminated immediately, while those on cheese, pork and beef will be sharply cut.

In total, the EPA will push up domestic GDP by 1 percent, or ¥5 trillion a year, and create 290,000 new jobs nationwide, according to the government.

“The world is now facing raging waves of protectionism. So the signing ceremony at this time is particularly meaningful,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said earlier this month on condition of anonymity.

“The impact for Japan is big,” the official said.

Fukunari Kimura, an economics professor at Keio University, said the EU is now trying to accelerate the ratification process.

“This is a repercussion of President Trump’s policies. They will try to ratify it before Brexit in March of next year,” he said in an interview with The Japan Times last week.

But the deal has raised concerns among some domestic farmers, in particular those from Hokkaido, the country’s major dairy producer.

According to an estimate by the Hokkaido Prefectural Government, the EPA will cut national production in the agriculture, fishery and forestry industries by up to ¥114.3 billion a year, with Hokkaido accounting for 34 percent of the predicted losses.

“The sustainable development of the prefecture’s agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries is our top priority. We need to make efforts to raise our international competitiveness,” Hokkaido Gov. Harumi Takahashi said during a news conference July 10.

Japan and the EU had reached a basic agreement on the EPA in December.

Tokyo also led negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact after Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal in January 2017.

In March, 11 countries including Japan signed the so-called TPP11, or a revised TPP pact that does not include the U.S.

“The Japan-EU EPA is another important step for Japan to strengthen its trade relationship with key trading partners, and demonstrate that trade liberalization is alive and well, even if the United States is taking a different stance,” wrote Wendy Cutler, a former acting deputy U.S. Trade Representative, in an email sent to The Japan Times last week.

“The EU deal also reduces Japanese dependence on the U.S. market and thus increases its leverage to resist unreasonable trade demands by the United States,” she wrote.

According to the Foreign Ministry, the EU, which accounts for 22 percent of the world’s GDP, was the destination for 11.4 percent of Japanese exports in 2016. In the same year, the figure for the U.S. was 20.2 percent and 17.7 percent for China.

In 2016, Japan’s exports to the EU totaled ¥8 trillion, while reciprocal trade was ¥8.2 trillion.

The deal provides tariff relief for both parties and can improve the quantity of trade between them, expand the economy and create many jobs. It also helps to further diversify their trade portfolios in order to mitigate the prospect of a single global trade partner wielding too much influence, which in turn provides a certain amount of cover from any adverse actions or demands from a single actor. In this way, current trade dependencies can be reduced and free and diversified trade is further bolstered.

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The man behind Ukraine coup is now turning Greece against Russia (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 57.

Alex Christoforou

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On July 11, Greece said it would expel two Russian diplomats and barred the entry of two others.

The Duran reported that the formal reason is alleged meddling in an attempt to foment opposition to the “historic” name deal between Athens and Skopje paving the way for Macedonia’s NATO membership. Moscow said it would respond in kind.

Nothing like this ever happened before. The relations between the two countries have traditionally been warm. This year Moscow and Athens mark the 190th anniversary of diplomatic relations and the 25th anniversary of the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between the Russian Federation and the Hellenic Republic. They have signed over 50 treaties and agreements.

Greek news daily, Kathimerini says the relationship started to gradually worsen behind the scenes about a couple of years ago. What happened back then? Geoffrey Pyatt assumed office as US Ambassador to Greece. Before the assignment he had served as ambassador to Ukraine in 2013-2016 at the time of Euromaidan – the events the US took active part in. He almost openly contributed into the Russia-Ukraine rift. Now it’s the turn of Greece. The ambassador has already warned Athens about the “malign influence of Russia”. He remains true to himself.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris connect the dots between the Ukraine coup and Greece’s recent row with Russia, and the man who is in the middle of it all, US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt.

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Via Sputnik News

Actions similar to the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Greece do not remain without consequences, said spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova.

“We have an understanding that the people of Greece should communicate with their Russian partners, and not suffer from dirty provocations, into which, unfortunately, Athens was dragged,” Zakharova said at a briefing.

“Unfortunately, of course, we are talking about politics. Such things do not remain without consequences, do not disappear without a trace. Of course, unfortunately, all this darkens bilateral relations, without introducing any constructive principle,” she added.

On July 11, the Greek Kathimerini newspaper reported that Athens had decided to expel two Russian diplomats and ban two more from entering the country over illegal actions that threatened the country’s national security. The publication claimed that the diplomats attempted to intervene in a domestic issue, namely the changing of the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to the Republic of North Macedonia, the agreement for which was brokered by Skopje and Athens last month.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has vowed to give a mirror response to Greece’s move.

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Russia just DUMPED $80 billion in US debt

The US Treasury published a report naming those countries that are the largest holders of US bonds. The list includes 33 countries, and for the first time Russia is no longer in it.

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Russia has stopped “inching towards de-dollarization” as I wrote about on July 3rd, and has now energetically walked out of the list of largest holders of US government bonds, hence this update. For the two months ending in May 2018, Moscow has offloaded more than $80 billion in US Government debt obligations.

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The $30 billion “minimum” listing Rubicon has been crossed by Russia.

As of the end of May, Russia had bonds worth only $ 14.9 billion. For comparison: in April, Russia was on the Treasury list with bonds totaling $48.7 billion. Even then it was offloading US$ debt securities as Russia owned in March over $96 billion. At the end of 2017, Russia had US treasury securities worth $102.2 billion. It is anyones guess what Russia will own when the June and July figures are released in August and September – probably less than today.

This simply serves as a confirmation that Russia is steadfastly following a conservative policy of risk diversification in several areas such as financial, economic, and geopolitical. The US public debt and spend is increasingly viewed as a heightened risk area, deserving sober assessment.

So where have all the dollars gone? The total reserves of the Russian Central Bank have not changed and remain at approximately the equivalent of $ 457 billion, so what we are seeing is a shift of assets to other central banks, other asset classes, just not US$ government bonds.

During the same time (April-May) as this US$ shift happened, the Russian Central Bank bought more than 1 million troy ounces of gold in 60 days, and continues.

For comparison sake, the maximum Russia investment in US public debt was in October 2010 totaling $176.3 billion. Today it is $14.9 billion.

The largest holders of US government bonds as of May are China ($ 1,183.1 billion), Japan ($ 1048.8 billion), Ireland ($ 301 billion), Brazil ($ 299.2 billion), Great Britain ($ 265 billion).

Using the similar conservative metrics that the Russian Central Bank has been rather successfully applying through this geopolitically and economically challenging period with the US and the US Dollar, it may not stretch the imagination too much that other countries such as China may eventually follow suit. Who will finance the debt/spend then?

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