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State Department Official/Ex-Marine Resigns Over Afghanistan Policy, Says War Is Over If You Want It

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[Artwork by SHEPARD FAIREY]

WASHINGTON POST: Hoh’s journey — from Marine, reconstruction expert and diplomat to war protester — was not an easy one. Over the weeks he spent thinking about and drafting his resignation letter, he said, “I felt physically nauseous at times.” His first ambition in life was to become a firefighter, like his father. Instead, after graduation from Tufts University and a desk job at a publishing firm, he joined the Marines in 1998. After five years in Japan and at the Pentagon — and at a point early in the Iraq war when it appeared to many in the military that the conflict was all but over — he left the Marines to join the private sector, only to be recruited as a Defense Department civilian in Iraq. A trained combat engineer, he was sent to manage reconstruction efforts in Saddam Hussein’s home town of Tikrit.

“At one point,” Hoh said, “I employed up to 5,000 Iraqis” handing out tens of millions of dollars in cash to construct shepardfaireypeacesoldier.thumbnail.jpgroads and mosques. His program was one of the few later praised as a success by the U.S. special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. In 2005, Hoh took a job with BearingPoint, a major technology and management contractor at the State Department, and was sent to the Iraq desk in Foggy Bottom. When the U.S. effort in Iraq began to turn south in early 2006, he was recalled to active duty from the reserves. He assumed command of a company in Anbar province, where Marines were dying by the dozens.

Hoh came home in the spring of 2007 with citations for what one Marine evaluator called “uncommon bravery,” a recommendation for promotion, and what he later recognized was post-traumatic stress disorder. Of all the deaths he witnessed, the one that weighed most heavily on him happened in a helicopter crash in Anbar in December 2006. He and a friend, Maj. Joseph T. McCloud, were aboard when the aircraft fell into the rushing waters below Haditha dam. Hoh swam to shore, dropped his 90 pounds of gear and dived back in to try to save McCloud and three others he could hear calling for help. He was a strong swimmer, he said, but by the time he reached them, “they were gone.” MORE

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Helicopter crashes in Afghanistan killed 14 Americans Monday, the deadliest day for shepardfaireypeacesoldier.thumbnail.jpgthe U.S. in the country in four years. The difficulty of the security situation was illustrated Monday, when a firefight with insurgents in the northwest province of Badghis was followed by the deadliest of the day’s crashes. The crash killed seven U.S. troops and three Drug Enforcement Administration agents, and injured 11 U.S. troops, one U.S. civilian and 14 Afghans. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization said it was unclear if enemy fire was responsible. The casualties mark the first DEA deaths in Afghanistan since the agency began operations there in 2005. In another incident early Monday, two U.S. Marine helicopters collided, killing four soldiers, military officials said. It was the heaviest single-day U.S. death toll in Afghanistan since June 28, 2005, when 19 troops died, including 16 killed when insurgents shot down a helicopter. MORE

NEW YORK TIMES: Calling for a broad, patient war strategy, John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Monday that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the American military commander in Afghanistan, was trying to do too much in a relatively short time. Senator Kerry, who traveled recently to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said his conversations with General McChrystal covered the importance of a “smart counterinsurgency” shepardfaireypeacesoldier.thumbnail.jpgapproach. “But I believe his current plan reaches too far, too fast,” Mr. Kerry said at a gathering here of the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent research organization. While Mr. Kerry did not mention numbers for the troop strength he would like to see in Afghanistan, he seemed to differ, at least implicitly, with General McChrystal, who is believed to be seeking up to 40,000 additional American troops. There are about 68,000 United States troops there now. Alluding to his and the country’s experiences in Vietnam four decades ago, Mr. Kerry called for a “redefined strategy” that would focus “on what is achievable as well as critical, and empower the Afghans to take control of their own future.”  MORE

karzai-fraud.jpegREUTERS: Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in a statement on Monday he will not sack Afghanistan’s top election official or make any changes to his cabinet, ahead of a Nov.7 presidential run-off. Earlier, his rival Abdullah Abdullah demanded that the head of the Independent Election Commission be sacked and three ministers be suspended before next week’s poll, which Afghans hope will end weeks of political uncertainty. MORE

THE GUARDIAN: He refused to say what would happen if his demands were not met by 31 October, but insisted that the chairman of the so-called Independent Election Commission (IEC), Azizullah Ludin, must step down from an organisation Abdullah accused of “bias, incompetence and widespread corruption…He has left no credibility for the institution and, unfortunately, for himself,” Abdullah told a press conference at his house in Kabul. The former foreign minister also called for the suspension of three key government ministers during the election period, and the closing down of around 500 polling stations in areas that are too insecure to be monitored properly by election observers. Even though shutting the so-called ghost polling stations is also a key demand of foreign countries that are paying for the election, the Guardian has learned that Afghan security chiefs including the heads of the army and intelligence service, have laid out a plan which would increase the number of polling centres.One diplomat described the proposal, as “simply astounding, given what went before”. Under the plan 6,605 polling stations would open, despite the near impossibility of arranging for election materials to be sent to so many extra centres in time for the 7 November vote. MORE

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