Thursday, November 21, 2013

Perpetual War In Afghanistan

Endless Afghanistan? US-Afghan agreement would keep troops in place and funds flowing, perhaps indefinitely

By Richard Engel, NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent

KABUL – While many Americans have been led to believe the war in Afghanistan will soon be over, a draft of a key U.S.-Afghan security deal obtained by NBC News shows the United States is prepared to maintain military outposts in Afghanistan for many years to come, and pay to support hundreds of thousands of Afghan security forces.

The wide-ranging document, still unsigned by the United States and Afghanistan, has the potential to commit thousands of American troops to Afghanistan and spend billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars.The document outlines what appears to be the start of a new, open-ended military commitment in Afghanistan in the name of training and continuing to fight al-Qaeda. The war in Afghanistan doesn’t seem to be ending, but renewed under new, scaled-down U.S.-Afghan terms.“The Parties acknowledge that continued U.S. military operations to defeat al-Qaeda and its affiliates may be appropriate and agree to continue their close cooperation and coordination toward that end,” the draft states.

The 25-page “Security and Defense Cooperation Agreement Between the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” is a sweeping document, vague in places, highly specific in others, defining everything from the types of future missions U.S. troops would be allowed to conduct in Afghanistan, to the use of radios and the taxation of American soldiers and contractors.

The bilateral security agreement will be debated this week in Kabul by around 2,500 village elders, academics and officials in a traditional Loya Jirga. While the Loya Jirga is strictly consultative, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said he won’t sign it without the Jirga’s approval.

The copy of the draft is dated July 25, 2013. As a working draft, it is particularly revealing because it shows the back and forth negotiations, as U.S. and Afghan officials added words and struck out paragraphs. The changes are marked by annotations still revealed in the text. The document is a work in progress. US officials say there have been more changes since July. The draft, however, does indicate the scope of this possible agreement with major implications for Washington, Kabul, U.S. troops and the continuation of America’s longest war.

Taken as a whole, the document describes a basic U.S.-Afghan exchange. Afghanistan would allow Washington to operate military bases to train Afghan forces and conduct counter-terrorism operations against al-Qaeda after the current mission ends in 2014. For that foothold in this volatile mountain region wedged between Pakistan and Iran, the United States would agree to sustain and equip Afghanistan's large security force, which the government in Kabul currently cannot afford. The deal, according to the text, would take effect on Jan. 1, 2015 and “shall remain in force until the end of 2024 and beyond.” It could be terminated by either Washington or Kabul with two years advance written notice.There is however what U.S. officials believe is a contradiction in the July draft, which would effectively ask American troops to provide training and confront al-Qaeda from the confines of bases. While it says operations against al-Qaeda may be necessary, it also says US troops will not be allowed to make arrests or enter Afghan homes.“No detention or arrest shall be carried out by the United States forces. The United States forces shall not search any homes or other real estate properties,” it says.“[The contradiction] was a matter of serious consternation at the highest levels” of the Obama administration over the weekend, according to one senior defense official. “It is the one remaining issue that could ultimately kill the deal." However, US officials believe that in a more recent draft, which was circulated among key Pentagon officials and US lawmakers on Monday, the US has won its position on this point.The document doesn’t specifically say how many U.S. and NATO troops would remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014. Afghan officials tell NBC News they hope it will be 10 to 15 thousand. U.S. officials tell NBC News the number is closer to seven to eight thousand, with an additional contribution from NATO. Factoring in troop rotations, home leave, and breaks between deployments, the service of tens of thousands of American troops would be required to maintain a force of seven to eight thousand for a decade or longer. The anticipated costs would likely run into the billions quickly.

Afghan officials tell NBC NEWS the agreement is critical to Afghanistan’s future stability. Without ongoing military assistance, training and funding, those officials say the government could collapse and Afghanistan would enter a civil war. If the agreement passes, the draft says Washington would commit to a long -term, indefinite military involvement in this land-locked Asian nation.

A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council did not comment on the draft version of the agreement, but said that "the President is still reviewing options from his national security team and has not made a decision about a possible U.S. presence after 2014.

The agreement circulating this week is unlikely to be the last. It first must pass through the Loya Jirga, then go onto parliament for final approval. “We’re looking at 60-days or more” before the US and Afghanistan sign any agreement, defense officials said. Here are highlights of the July draft of the bi-lateral agreement:American bases

While the document specifically says the United States would not seek “permanent bases” in Afghanistan, the US military would have “access to and use of the agreed facilities and areas.” Some of these areas would be for the “exclusive use” of US troops.“Afghanistan hereby authorizes United States forces to exercise all rights and authorities within the agreed facilities and areas that are necessary for their use, operation, defense, or control, including the right to undertake new construction works,” the document says.US troops would be allowed to carry weapons, wear uniforms and guard the perimeter of those areas. The agreement does not say how many “exclusive use” sites there would be in Afghanistan. The United States also would also be permitted to keep vehicles and aircraft in Afghanistan, take off and land from Afghan soil, and fly though Afghan airspace.  The facilities would be provided the US government “rent free,” but significant costs would mount in other ways. U.S. payments

The draft agreement says the Afghan government should “eventually” pay for all of its defense and security personal. But until then, “so long as the strategic partnership agreement so provides, the United States shall have an obligation to seek funds on a yearly basis to support the training, equipping, advising and sustaining of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), so that Afghanistan can independently secure and defend itself against internal and external threats, and help ensure that terrorists never again encroach on Afghan soil and threaten Afghanistan, the region, and the world.” The specific amount of payment is not stated. The money would be “managed by relevant Afghan institutions.

The document shows a long and hard series of negotiations, particularly on the issue of legal jurisdiction. The draft initially insisted that U.S. military personnel be subject to Afghan laws and, if accused of a crime, be tried in Afghan courts. This section in the July draft is crossed out. Afghan officials tell NBC NEWS the jurisdiction dispute appears to have been overcome, with U.S. troops only being subject to American laws.

The document suggests Afghan negotiators want a long-term U.S. presence, with U.S. forces and contractors providing intelligence, training and funding, but also to keep American forces as confined as possible. It shows Afghans want to keep their U.S. partners, but on their terms. It also suggests the United States is not confident that without a long-term commitment, the Afghan government can bring stability or effectively fight terrorism.  

NBC News' Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube contributed to this report

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Audra McDonald Was Paralyzingly Brilliant

Review by KCMetropolis:

American treasures with Audra McDonald

By Anthony Rodgers   

Tue, Nov 19, 2013

Tony and Grammy award-winning performer Audra McDonald graced the stage at Helzberg Hall this weekend, performing lesser-known songs from American musical theatre with the Kansas City Symphony.

I must confess that Audra McDonald is a musical idol of mine, and seeing her perform live was more extraordinary than I expected it to be. Her soprano voice has a gorgeous timbre and is malleable in settings ranging from intimate performances to the stages of opera and Broadway. Last Saturday, the Kansas City Symphony and Kansas City Young Audiences brought the Tony and Grammy award-winning artist to the Kauffman Center for Performing Arts and transformed Helzberg Hall into a shrine to the American song.The orchestra played as she walked onto the stage to a flood of eager applause, but with her first notes, she captivated the audience to silence. Opening with “When Did I Fall In Love” from Fiorello!, McDonald was enchanting and proceeded to present an array of American songs, many of which come from the realm of musical theatre. These selections were not, however, those of mainstream popularity, but were instead chosen by McDonald to highlight works and shows that are of interest to her and deserving of greater attention, including “I Double Dare You” and “My Buddy.” This mission to present hidden gems of the song world didn't stop her from singing more well-known songs like “Moments in the Woods” and “I Could Have Danced All Night.” She also performed songs from more recent productions, such as “Stars and the Moon” from Songs For A New World and “Go Back Home” from The Scottsboro Boys.

Her programming had a roller-coaster effect on the emotions. Two sweet, poetic lullabies—“Whose Little Angry Man” from Raisin, the musical adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun, and “Baby Mine” from Disney's Dumbo—were paired and followed by awkward and hilarious selections from Gabriel Kahane's Craigslistlieder, a collection of songs whose lyrics come from the advertisement website itself. McDonald also sang heartbreaking messages of love and the importance of making someone happy—“I'll Be Here” from Ordinary Days was so intense and beautiful that I became paralyzed listening.In addition to being a talented soprano, McDonald is a wonderful actress and demonstrated this skill through her characterization within each song. While she often gave personal anecdotes between numbers—many laughs were shared by all!—she became another person when singing, telling each story compellingly.

McDonald was accompanied by two groups of musicians. Joining her on tour was a trio consisting of Brian Hertz, piano, Gene Lewin, drums, and Mark Vanderpoel, bass. These three not only played well with one another in a combo setting, but also added tender and unexpected vocals to “Moonshine Lullaby.” The Kansas City Symphony supported McDonald by providing a lush score to the musical numbers. Sunho Kim, the evening's concertmaster, played the solo violin part of “He Plays The Violin” from 1776 seemingly with great ease, although sometimes her sound was lost in the volume of the orchestra. The hazy timbre achieved by the ensemble, however, during “Moon River” was hypnotizing, and an encore performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was icing on the musical cake.

While she has earned Tonys and Grammys, Audra McDonald also has the talent, humor, and heart to support her accomplishments. Performing a set of nontraditional American songs allowed her to demonstrate her brilliant voice and versatility as a performer in addition to inspiring listeners to expand their knowledge of these hidden gems and seek to make someone else happy.

REVIEW: Kansas City Symphony with Kansas City Young Audiences

Audra McDonald with the Kansas City Symphony

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

1601 Broadway Blvd., Kansas City, MO

For more information, call (816) 471-0400 or visit

Top Photo: Audra McDonald (Photo by Andrew Eccles)  

Bottom Photo: Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center For the Performing Arts (Photo by William Rosen)

Random Picture Post

Monday, November 11, 2013

Vote on ENDA

Employment Nondiscrimination – Passage - Vote Passed (64-32, 4 Not Voting)

Senators passed a bill prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity on Thursday after a week of negotiations and close procedural votes. The bill would bar employers from firing, refusing to promote or refusing to hire workers because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Similar bills have been introduced over recent years, and one passed the House in 2007 before dying in the Senate. This current piece of legislation extends equal employment protection to transgendered individuals for the first time. The bill exempts employers not subject to existing workplace discrimination laws concerning employees’ religions, primarily churches and religious schools. Before the final vote, ten Republicans joined the Democratic caucus in securing the three-fifths vote majority required to invoke cloture. The House is unlikely to vote on the bill.

Sen. Roy Blunt voted NO
Sen. Claire McCaskill voted YES

Of course. And it won't pass the House because John Boener won't even bring it up for a vote. What an asshole.