No war come rain or shine
A string of wet and windy Pacific storms was not enough to cool the spirits of anti-war activists last night. Demonstrators assembled in Hollywood amid a steady rain to protest U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Among the groups demands were the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan, ending U.S. support of Israel and investment in jobs, education and health care.
Last week, the White House released a non-classified version of its annual review of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The report states that U.S. strategies are “showing progress,” but admits the “challenge remains to make our gains durable and sustainable.”
Last year, the U.S. sent 30,000 reinforcements to Afghanistan to keep from losing its delicate hold on the country. The review did not say if the additional troops were having an affect on overall strategy because it was too early to tell – the last reinforcements finished arriving only months ago.
Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times reported that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates was convinced the reinforcements were turning the war around, but the U.S. would still need at least four years to succeed in the country. One Marine commander, Maj. Gen. Richard Mills, interpreted fierce Taliban resistance as a sign of military success, saying, “The enemy is fighting with desperation.”
National Lawyers Guild director, Jim Lafferty, likened the upbeat assessments coming from Washington to those of the Vietnam War.
“These glowing reports from the politicos are something we’re used to,” he said. “The American people don’t believe it anymore. Our CIA and intelligence sources, who really know what’s going on, they not only know it isn’t true, they say it isn’t true.”
Last week, the LA Times reported that over a dozen intelligence agencies “contend that large swaths of Afghanistan are still at risk of falling to the Taliban.”
Ian Thompson of the ANSWER Coalition, a group that organized yesterday’s demonstration, said recent positive statements from Washington were contradicted by The New York Times that said U.S. and NATO troops have taken no ground and still receive heavy fire.
“What they are trying to do now is prevent a catastrophic defeat,” he said of the government. “They want to find a way out while still saying that everything is good and rosy and being accomplished.”
The word “civilian” appears nine times in the White House report, however none of the references refer to civilian deaths or casualties stemming from the foreign occupation.
According to a recent LA Times article, the Red Cross reports that it and its partners have helped 140,000 civilians displaced by fighting – 25 percent more compared to 2009. The Red Cross hospital, Mirwais, in Kandahar “admitted 2,650 patients with weapons-related wounds in 2010, compared with 2,110 in 2009,” reported the Times.
Reto Stocker, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross Afghan mission, told the Times that Taliban road-side bombs were the source of most civilian casualties, though he admitted that NATO airstrikes and checkpoint killings also played a role.
However, demonstrators don’t see a difference in causality of deaths, whether it comes from an NATO airstrike or a Taliban road-side bomb.
“The underlying cause of all violence is the occupation of that country,” said Thompson. “The people who are dying are dying because there is an occupation.”
Demonstrators gathered, amongst tourists and holiday shoppers, at the corner of Highland Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard. The group, nearly 60 in number, represented an array of issues, such as the plight of Palestinians, peace on the Korean peninsula and student interests.
Speaking to rain-drenched protesters, Lafferty stressed the need to keep demonstrating despite the indifference in Washington to ending the war. He cited a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll that reported 60 percent of Americans are not in favor of the war.
“The tide is turning,” he said. “They can’t keep it up forever, but we can. We can keep it up until every last troop is brought home and until that country is sovereign again.”