Reporting Afghanistan

John Wendle

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Afghans without Americans

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Afghans Without Americans: A Preview of Soldiering When the U.S. Withdraws

After protests swept through Muslim countries last week and Afghan security forces killed a number of Coalition troops in insider attacks, U.S. commanders in Afghanistan decided that halting foot patrols would decrease the risk of angering locals. At the same time, limiting interaction between the U.S. platoons and their Afghan counterparts would minimize the risk of further green on blue killings. But while the measures were temporary, they gave Afghan soldiers a glimpse of what it will be like after the U.S. leaves – and the local troops, at least in Garda, did not like the view.

My latest story and photo up on TIME at Afghans Without Americans: A Preview of Soldiering When the U.S. Withdraws.

Read more by following at @johnwendle on Twitter.


Written by johnwendle

September 19, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Innocent Detainees Still Held at Gitmo

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Death at Guantanamo Underscores Need to Close Facility
Adnan Latif’s Death Highlights Trauma of Indefinite Detention Without Trial

(Washington, DC, September 12, 2012) – The death of a detainee at Guantanamo Bay on September 8, 2012, underscores the need for the United States government to either charge detainees in civilian court or release them, Human Rights Watch said today. The death of Adnan Latif, a Yemeni who suffered severe emotional distress and had attempted suicide several times, highlights the suffering experienced by people serving long-term indefinite detention without trial.

“The death of yet another detainee should draw the world’s attention to the ongoing tragedy of indefinite detention without trial at Guantanamo,” said Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch. “The Obama administration should follow through on its longstanding promise to close Guantanamo.”

Latif was first detained by Pakistani military authorities in late 2001 and sent to Guantanamo in January 2002. In 2004, Latif told a US military review board that he went to Pakistan for medical treatment for injuries he had suffered in a car accident and later to Afghanistan. The board rejected his plea to search for medical records that would support his account. The medical records, later obtained by Latif’s lawyers and sent to Human Rights Watch, described acute head injuries and recommended that he seek an additional operation.

As early as 2004, US Defense Department officials recommended Latif’s release, acknowledging that he took no part in any terrorist training. In 2007, Bush administration officials also recommended his release. Yet Latif and his lawyers did not receive this information until it was disclosed in federal court proceedings in 2010.

During his detention, Latif indicated he was experiencing severe hardship. In May 2010, before he even knew about the prior release recommendations, he wrote to his lawyer: “You are still looking for justice and seeking hearings [while] I am being pushed toward death.” Latif frequently engaged in hunger strikes, during which military personnel would force-feed him through a tube forced down his nose. His lawyer described arriving for legal visits and finding him emaciated, wearing a protective “suicide smock.”

“It is hard to imagine the suffering these men undergo after 10 plus years of detention without an opportunity for a criminal trial,” Prasow said. “Whether US lawmakers realize it or not, Guantanamo remains a serious obstacle to promoting human rights abroad.”

Following a challenge to the lawfulness of Latif’s detention, in 2010 US district judge Henry Kennedy, Jr., ordered Latif released, finding his story “plausible.” But instead of returning Latif to his home country of Yemen or seeking his resettlement in a third country, the Obama administration appealed the order to the DC circuit court, which in 2011 reversed Judge Kennedy’s decision.

The DC appeals court’s ruling not only affected Latif’s case, but also severely undercut the ability of other Guantanamo detainees to challenge their detention. It held that government evidence should be afforded a “presumption of regularity” requiring lower court judges to presume the accuracy of evidence obtained by government officials. This included information obtained in chaotic battlefield settings, unless there was clear evidence to the contrary, effectively shifting the burden to the detainee to prove that the evidence was false or unreliable. In June 2012, the Supreme Court decided against hearing the case, leaving the appeals court’s ruling the law governing Guantanamo detainee cases.

Following Latif’s death, 167 detainees remain at Guantanamo. Only six of them are facing active charges. Previously, the Obama administration had approved 57 of the remaining detainees for transfer, with an additional 30 Yemenis conditionally approved for transfer. Forty-eight detainees were initially recommended for ongoing indefinite detention; two of those original 48 have since died. Information on which detainees were designated for transfer and which were designated for ongoing indefinite detention has not been made public. Following the so-called Christmas Day airliner bombing attempt in December 2009 by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian who had trained in Yemen, the administration imposed a moratorium on transfers to Yemen.

In 2010 and 2011, Congress imposed restrictions on the transfer of detainees out of Guantanamo, requiring the administration to sign certifications detailing the release plans and indicating that appropriate steps had been taken in the receiving country to mitigate any risk the return might pose. The administration has yet to provide such a certification in any case. In April 2012, two Uighur detainees – previously determined to be detained unlawfully – were resettled to El Salvador and in July 2012 Ibrahim al Qosi was returned to his native Sudan under the terms of his plea agreement in a military commission. Both these transfers fell within statutory exemptions to the certification requirement.

The press release can be read here

And more can be read on these issues at

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Written by johnwendle

September 12, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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The “opinion” piece below is interesting because it clearly shows the schism that divides the U.S. right now – and that name calling has replaced laying out facts. The rebuttal is further down the page by my dad and I think it is more interesting – because it has the ring of truth to it. After living in more-or-less rampantly corrupt countries for ten years now (Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Russia and Afghanistan) it is clear to me that very few of us pull ourselves up “by our bootstraps.”

Much of the progress any of us make in the world is based on the systems we are born into. If the system is corrupt (leading to poor school systems, bad or no healthcare, bribery, lawlessness, etc.) then it is harder for a person to do anything but live day-to-day, hand-to-mouth. If a person is born into a system that provides for a higher level of education, safety, health, etc. then those citizens can stand on the shoulders of their system and reach higher…

The choice should be clear

The joke goes like this. So a clown gets up in front of a crowd and says, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” Oh, wait a minute. That’s not a joke. Barack Obama really said that to a group of people in Virginia. Perhaps it is a joke — a joke on all of us.

That socialist rant by Obama could have been lifted directly from the pages of the novel “Atlas Shrugged,” in which Ayn Rand, having fled totalitarian socialism, wrote to warn us what happens if we allow ourselves to be misled by the Barack Obama-types in society, men of limited intelligence and no ability whose only purpose in life is to convince men of even less intelligence and ability to hold a gun to the heads of life’s achievers to make them surrender their genius and ability in support of the lazy and the corrupt.

The Barack Obamas of this world produce nothing and are not capable of producing anything. But Rand’s book ends on a positive note with the promise of a new Renaissance when the achievers will return and rebuild — but no such hope exists for us if the path of Obama is followed.

The election will give us a stark choice between the lazy and corrupt (Barack Obama) and the achiever (Mitt Romney).

Joseph K. Waltenbaugh, New Castle, Pa.

My dad’s response is below:

Far too often we confuse what we’re proud of with what we ought to be thankful for

In Sunday’s Letters-to-the Editor Joseph Waltenbaugh referred to the president of the United States as a clown and a socialist, a man of limited intelligence and ability, a man who is lazy and corrupt, whose only purpose is to mislead. In quoting the president (insufficiently and out of context) – “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen” – Mr. Waltenbaugh either missed the point the president was making in that speech or purposely missed the point so he could deliver his misguided rant. What tripe.

O’Toole was an orphan raised in Los Angeles. In 1939 he joined the US Marine Corps and spent all of WWII in a Japanese prison camp after being captured in the Philippines. He eventually became a master sergeant. In 1955 he became a mentor to me – quite like a big brother.

When I was first assigned to his unit I was under the impression I had raised myself up by my own bootstraps, having gone a lot farther in life than others in my own family and much farther than I had expected just several years earlier.

Sergeant O’Toole set me straight by pointing out all of the things in my life that preceded me and benefited me – that had been put in place by people I didn’t even know – the hospital I was born in, the roads and bridges to that hospital, the school system that educated me, the effective local, state and national governments of a freedom loving nation, an economic system allowing personal progress, those who preceded me in the marines who made it the great organization it was, these among many, many other things too numerous to list.

Men who “think” as Mr. Waltenbaugh do fail to understand the important point the president was making, the point my old friend, Sgt. O’Toole, made to me so long ago.

Even though I voted for Ike and he voted for Adlai Stevens he ultimately succeeded in fostering a realization that I was born on second base – I had NOT hit a double. Folks like Mr. Waltenbaugh are often born on third base while believing (and often bragging) they hit a triple.

Far too often we confuse what we’re proud of with what we ought to be thankful for. We all deserve better than the lame tripe dished out by the likes of Mr. Waltenbaugh.

You can hear more about the hyperpartisan 24/7 news cycle at Aaron Sorkin: The Writer Behind ‘The Newsroom’.

Written by johnwendle

July 23, 2012 at 7:53 am

A note from my Dad on Mitt Romney

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This is a note my dad wrote to his cousin Carol as a response to a forwarded email from her on why people should support Mitt Romney. I haven’t posted the forward, because its internet forward nonsense:
You asked for my response to this e-mail you forwarded. Shame for you! Never-the-less . . . here it is:
There is no doubt in my mind that Mitt Romney is a decent man, with good personal qualities, who treats his family and friends well and wishes life could be sweet for everyone. This, as below, is not relevant, not even necessary for a man or women to be a great president.
I’m sure he also has personal faults: Being for Vietnam and not volunteering to serve in the military as a young man is a downer for me; legally putting money off-shore and out of reach of the IRS is another; saying one thing at one time and place that will put him in good with listeners and then changing the message at another time and place to fit in with different thinking held by a different group also falls short for me. Additionally, lousy critiques of an opponent’s views is a turn off. But faults are not necessarily relevant to a man or women becoming a great president either. We all have faults; we all change our minds. We all are sometimes unfair.
I could go on in this vein but won’t.
For me, here’s the relevant conjunction of qualities for electing a leader: Are his or her ideas and proposals meant to move the society in an appropriate direction? Does he or she have the temperament and intelligence to deal reasonably with contrary reasonable ideas? Does the candidate’s prior experience indicate they have the necessary strength of character, intellectual honesty and curiosity and demonstrated ability to receive and effectively deal with negative information required to be the leader of a nation? These qualities in abundance and, necessarily, in combination are what to look for. Some presidents from our past had them and some didn’t. Political party isn’t the primary factor. The acumen of the electorate usually is. And whites not liking a black guy in our white house is regrettable.
The bottom line: The president has a 3-1/2 year record that is no more than a B- and a past that’s at least a B.
Mr.s Romney’s past is a B- or C and his present (based on his campaign and policy proposals) is, at best, a D-.
Among many negative problems, the nation is in the economic doldrums and President Obama is making the same mistakes President Roosevelt did in his first term — not going FAR ENOUGH in priming the pump. Additionally, he has been far to easy on investment banks and Wall Street.
But Mr. Romney (who, if he sticks with what he says — which he often hasn’t) will take this nation way down the wrong path. For much of the last five decades we’ve been heading in a direction that has put way too much power and money into the hands of the rich (many of whom were born on third base and believe they’ve hit a triple). Four decades ago CEOs made 40 times the income of their typical employee. Today it’s more than 400. When income distribution and wealth distribution is taken into account it becomes clear we are headed for calamity, economic followed by social. It’s bad enough that Democrats are ineffective in leading us to solutions. However, putting the circus owners into all three rings will bring down the tent. And then . . . even the clowns won’t make us happy.
Let me strongly recommend that you check out the information in:

Who Rules America: Wealth, Income, and Power

Wealth Distribution

It’s the Inequality, Stupid | Mother Jones

Income Main- People and Households – U.S. Census Bureau

Income inequality in the United States

Written by johnwendle

July 12, 2012 at 12:52 pm

ISAF casualty release 2012-06-C-014 (UNCLASSIFIED)

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I get these killed in action notices almost daily in my inbox from the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) HQ – the NATO body here:

Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Caveats: NONE


For Immediate Release

ISAF casualty

KABUL, Afghanistan (Jun. 7) – An International Security Assistance Force service member died following an improvised explosive device attack in southern Afghanistan today.

It is ISAF policy to defer casualty identification procedures to the relevant national authorities.

The boilerplate has only a few variables: the region – usually only varying between southern and eastern; and the cause – improvised explosive device (IED) or insurgent attack or a green-on-blue incident in which an “Afghan dressed in an army/police uniform opened fire on…”(Read more: The Koran-Burning Riots: Can U.S. and Afghan Troops Work Together?).

Emails like this are the only notice NATO gives that troops are still dying. There are never releases for Afghan troops – and that would be at a far greater pace. I’ll continue posting these when I receive them.

Written by johnwendle

June 7, 2012 at 9:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Swirling Dervish

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Take a listen to The Green Tree Dervish just posted at This Land Press. This audio story by my sister, Abigail Wendle, tells how photographer Gaylord Herron got into the business with beautiful, audible visuals about trees and cameras.

Written by johnwendle

June 3, 2012 at 4:35 pm

The Taliban Offensive: NATO and Afghan President Karzai Clash over Messaging

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By Ishaan Tharoor

The 18-hour Taliban-led onslaught on Sunday that rocked parts of Afghanistan, including the heavily fortified heart of its capital, Kabul, is being spun in different directions by those locked in the struggle over the war-torn country. Taliban elders crowed that the audacious attacks were just the latest evidence of their fighters’ ability to hoodwink the local and international forces arrayed against them—landing yet another psychological blow against an occupying army heading out the door by 2014 with no clear victory in sight.

Adding to the unease, Afghan President Hamid Karzai blamed the raid on intelligence failures “especially [on the part of] NATO”—hardly a ringing endorsement of his would-be protectors. Reporters in Kabul, including TIME’s John Wendle, detailed the resignation and fatalism of some Afghans, who see the continued conflict as a direct outcome of foreign occupation. When asked if the attacks were carried out by Taliban combatants or agents of the notorious Pakistan-based Haqqani network, one Afghan official told TIME: “There is no difference. They are all enemy. They are all on the same side, fighting us. They fight because the U.S. and NATO are here.”

NATO officials in Brussels had to sing from a completely different song sheet, though, emphasizing the role Afghan troops played in repelling the raid. Briefing the press on Monday, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said: “These attacks were planned, coordinated and they grabbed the headlines, but they did not cause mass casualties and we have the Afghan forces to thank for that.” Lungescu went on praise the “growing capabilities” of the Afghan security forces, whose ability to tackle the longstanding Taliban insurgency is still very much in question.

In Brussels, it’s clear to all that the future and legacy of NATO’s decade-long mission in Afghanistan hinge on the integrity and strength of the Afghan army. To compensate for the impending departures of coalition forces, NATO plans to help Afghan troop numbers “surge” to an expected 352,000 men by October this year. Afghan forces have been handed direct control of large swathes of the country, including Kabul province. And, at least in NATO’s messaging, confidence in the Afghan security establishment has never been higher.

Addressing a handful of reporters on Monday, a senior top-ranking NATO official spoke of the challenge ahead. “It’s not surprising to us that there is still a determined adversary in Afghanistan, determined to cause maximum havoc and maximum harm,” he said. “But what happened [Sunday] in many ways is a reaffirmation that the strategy we are on is a strategy that is working.”

The official went on: “The kind of thing that we saw in Kabul [Sunday] is very different than the occupation and holding of territory that used to be the case [earlier in Helmand province and other parts of the country]. We are shifting the fight from a fight over territory to a fight of dealing with people who are trying to use terrorist methods. We see that as progress over time, and [a reflection] of Afghans taking the measure of their own security.”

Yet, as NATO prepares for a pivotal summit in Chicago this May, serious doubts hover over the alliance and its mission in Afghanistan. By the time of the conference, France, a key member state, may have elected a new President who has said he will withdraw his country’s soldiers ahead of schedule from their West Asian deployment. An internal report reviewing the alliance’s campaign in Libya — hailed by some in Brussels as proof positive of the NATO’s vitality — spotlighted the organization’s continued over-reliance on American capabilities; Washington tried to disguise its involvement in the 2011 intervention as that of a back-seat driver. Europe’s new era of austerity has accelerated the continent’s already waning interest in foreign imbroglios. Shrinking defense budgets have forced NATO officials to start peddling the term “smart defense” — a scheme for shared security strategies that optimistically aims to do more with less.

In Afghanistan, meanwhile, it remains hard to see any resolution of the war with the Taliban without peace talks and political reconciliation — a subject that was conspicuously absent in a number of briefings in Brussels on the situation in Afghanistan. Even as NATO praises the Afghan security forces its member states have now spent years training, “green on blue” shootings of coalition soldiers by rogue Afghan personnel continue. That’s a symptom not only of years of conflict and agony in a nation, but of a quagmire NATO and its partners are now fitfully trying to escape.

This story originally appeared at

Written by johnwendle

April 17, 2012 at 8:19 am

Posted in Uncategorized